Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cravings in my sleep...

The first time I made these, I did actually use hazelnut liqueur and chopped hazelnuts for the decoration, but ever since, I've been using almond extract and slivered almonds on top. And last night I was dreaming of them, G-d help me.

I made these for the first time in several years this past June and have been craving them ever since--but not dreaming about craving them. Yesterday's buttery pie crust did this to me, I just know it!

So now I have an ARMY of chocolate frosted shortbread hearts here.

They're just too easy to make if you're willing to commit the fat and calories--and this is not a low-fat or low-calorie treat, not even if all you do is take one nibble!! Here's how you start: soften 1-1/2 lbs of butter *grin* Do you see where this is going? Add a little flour, not too much or you'll overpower all that yummy butter, then add a medium amount of sugar--again, don't want to drown out the butter with too much sweet--add a dash of almond extract and voila, shortbread waiting to happen. You have to sink your fingers into the silkiness of it, roll it around between your fingertips until it crumbles under your will. Having overpowered the butter with your own two hands, you can now have your way with it (that means chill, roll out, cut with shaped cutters, bake - the usual steps).

Then of course, you dip the warm cookies in a bowl of melted chocolate--which you have not been eating from!!--and if you can't figure out what to do with the nuts from looking at the picture, you don't deserve to eat them.

I can probably hold out, since (Clearly, I could not hold out and I've eaten the 3 that got "too dark" to frost--thank gawd I stopped at 3, these things are RICHER than half my meals!! Hey, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it! This army of cookies is going off to some US Army soldiers--half to Iraq, half to A-stan--and I'll be safe from the harm they could do me just as soon as I get these suckers bagged up and out of my sight)

I bought an orange today yesterday and that means I have all I need to make some of these "healthier" (do that hahahahahaha thing for me now) frosted orange-honey spice cookies. I'm with Evan, worshipping at the altar of orange-honey spice cookies, though the shortbread hearts are tempting. I've got it! I could make both recipes, eat one (okay, six of one, half a dozen of the other) of each type and then ship the rest out to the sandbox!! Yeah, that's the ticket (*evil grin*)

Israeli Support Even More Dire

In a followup to my post of exactly one month ago today, where it was noted that 25% of all Israelis are living BELOW the poverty level, I did a little Googling on the situation. It's actually come up in the Israeli press but the news is not good.

Ynet refers to those in the "north" of Israel, in the Kiryat Shemona region that took all of the Katyusha rocket fire this summer, as "Israel's third world." There used to be an area of Tel Aviv referred to as Israel's third world. Amazing that the fertile farmlands of the north are now being referred to this way.

But not so amazing when one recalls over a thousand Katyushas pounded on the region in just one month, literally igniting the land and burning out both the forests (deforestation that will take 50-60 years (to recover), the people and the once-productive economy. The environments in both Israel and Lebanon have suffered as a result of this summer's "war."

Bank of Israel Governor, Stanley Fischer, told both Ha'aretz and The Jerusalem Post it's going to take a pace of least 5% growth per year for 10 years for Israel to reduce poverty significantly. He noted:
"If we don't succeed in growing, we will pay a very high price, so there is a need to balance defense needs and security needs, and we still have not arrived at the perfect balance."
Fischer also praised the behavior of Israeli citizens during the war in the North, who
...against expectations...brought their money into the country, as opposed to in the past, when they rushed their money abroad. This proves that they had faith in the economy, and that is a good sign.
He went onto report that this summer's conflict in Lebanon
...cost the economy about 8% of GDP, reiterating his assessment made during the fighting that it would cost between 7% and 9% of GDP, or up to NIS 5 billion (about USD $1.2 billion)

How can you help?
  • The OU (the Jewish Orthodox Union) has a dozen or more ideas.

  • Friends of Israeli Firefighters needs new equipment now more than ever!

  • The United Jewish Federation has suggestions of how you can donate your time and effort and spirit without spending a dime.

  • discusses why Christians can/should help - in case the fact that the Pope's life was recently threatened by the RIFs doesn't give you enough impetus, consider this discussion over at DhimmiWatch on what it's like to have Christmas without Christians in the Holy Land (or why you should be supporting Israel's efforts to make the Holy Land accessible to all people, of all religions)

  • The United Jewish Communities AKA the Jewish Federations of America, also have special funds set up (as well as activities which you can help with or just participate in to show your support).

  • And last but not least, my favorite American organization that does nothing in the US but help Israel: Hadassah. In Israel, Hadassah does far too much life-saving and life changing work to list here - go rummage through Hadassah-Israel's web site to see some of the uses to which dollars sent through Hadassah in the US will be put. Outside the US, visit the Hadassah International web site to find the Hadassah gals near you--they are everywhere in this world you want to be!

American Soldier on YouTube

Nod to Blackfive (as usual) for pointing me to this new YouTube Space. There are a bunchaton of videos, you should browse through them, but the lyrics to the song accompanying this photo montage are something you should listen to - even without the pictures. Just close your eyes and listen and then open your eyes, at random, and look at what your "letters from home" are doing.

Then sit down and write down to send a letter from home. If you don't have anyone in Iraq (or Afghanistan) to send a letter to, there are lots of places to get a name--the Barfly Baking Brigade has 3 POCs who each have dozens of others who'd love to get a letter, some cookies, some books, some contact (one of our 3 POCs is on an aircraft carrier--there's 5000 people all at one address, how easy can it get?) If you don't want to join the Barfly Baking Brigade Yahoo! group, that's fine. Contact Soldiers Angels and volunteer to penpal with someone--they have lists and lists of names and addresses!!

If you're not American or want to support some of the other allied forces defending the Iraqui people from the dictatorships waiting to spring up, try one of the following (for British and Aussie soldiers, there are generic addies and you can trust the local chaplain to get your letter to someone who really needs the pickmeup at the time your letter arrives).

British Soldiers in Iraq:
HQ MultiNational Div (SE)
Basra, BFPO 641

British Soldiers in Afghanistan:
HQ Helmand Province Task Force
Camp Bastion, BFPO 792.t

Australian Defense Forces (watch this awesome video of the ADF at work) uses one generic email box to reach all ADF'ers on the lines. You can specify a person's name in the subject or at the top of the message and it will be printed out and delivered to them (in case they don't have net.access where they are) or if you want to write generically, don't worry, the Aussie chaplains are good at reading who needs a pickmeup, too. Someone who needs your note will get it. Read over the ADF page of Current Ops to decide where your letter can do the most good, then send an email - FREE of charge! - to and specify (in the subject line or first line of your letter) where you want it delivered (or to whom). Could it be any easier?

If you would rather chat "live" or get to know someone before just writing a blind letter, the Canadian Forces have a bulletin board setup - login, post a note, chat with a few of the CF folks over in Iraq or Afghanistan who are online at the time. Be sure to remember, if you post to the CF bulletin board, that it's a military forum and your conversation may be recorded (I am not saying this in jest, but pointing out that it might seem casual or friendly but it is an official pipeline of communication so watch your mouth...erm, typing ;-))

On paper, you can write to the CF in Iraq (no enclosures or packages! just letters) at "Operation Archer"

Any Canadian Soldier
PO Box 5058 Stn Forces
Belleville ON K8N 5W6

Check the CF list of op names if you want to write to some Canuck in a location other than in Iraq. See Related Post on Red Friday (see also Red Shirt Friday for support of the US Troops, a program by the folks at Freedom is not Free)

No matter whether you write to someone specific or anonymous, to an American, Canadian, Brit or Aussie - just write to someone. You don't have to send "stuff" just send your time and effort to write a letter. It really will mean much more than you might think or realize. Until you've been there, you just don't know what a godsend it is to receive a letter "from home" (that is, from some human being who gives a damn that you're alive). Once you've been "there" you really never forget, esp. the letters from home.

See Related Post on Accountability.


Frontline reports...

FRONTLINE reports from the lawless tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a region largely under Taliban control and off-limits to US troops.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 - Check the PBS web site for local times and stations. Come back online afterwards to discuss it!


Friday, September 29, 2006


The name "Pashtidah" might actually be a word in some language, I don't know, but the food to which it refers is a popular Israeli staple for Shabbat. Or anytime. It's quick, it's easy, it's usually pretty good. Basically, it's a quiche in a pie crust, but the secret lies in the pie crust, if you ask me.

Having practiced for years on apples, blackberries and even more than one blueberry pie, I have the buttery crust part down. First off I "prick" the crust and blind bake it to the halfway point. The time it takes to blind bake is just enough to prepare the filling.

For Pashtidah (the entree not a dessert pie), my filling always seems to start with "sautee some diced onions and diced mushrooms." And of course, in the bowl, you start with "beat 4 eggs, add 1/2 c. of grated cheese," but yesterday's quick "toss it together" effort did not have nearly enough cheese.

I should have looked up the recipe before making it instead of going from memory and checking "What did I forget?" when it came out looking like this.

But the crust came out great and that's the important part ;)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On the Third Night of Ramadan...

(sung to the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas)

Youths threw stones at passing people and cars, windows of parked cars were smashed, bus shelters were demolished, cars were set ablaze, a youth club was arsoned and a shop was looted. Two Molotov cocktails were thrown into St.Peter’s hospital, one of the main hospitals of central Brussels. The fire brigade was able to extinguish the fires at the hospital, but youths managed to steal the keys of the fire engine.

On the Second Night of Ramadan...

Ten cars were set on fire in the Brussels borough of Schaarbeek. On Monday night, several car and shop windows were smashed and one shop and five cars were set alight in the Brussels Marollen quarter.

On the First Night of Ramadan...

Violence broke out on Monday evening in the working class Marolles district of Brussels after news that a 25-year-old inmate of North African origin had died on Sunday. According to Snapped Shot, the prisoner was apparently poisoned, but there were no external signs of injury on his body. Autopsy reports, thus far, are inconclusive.

The list of "peaceful retribution" for this is just too long to recount here--and recounting of last year's record would take an extra page or two. Snapped Shot has already collected all the links, plus click-through's to last year's Ramadan Riots, because apparently, it is indeed a new tradition to kill and vandalize as a part of the holy month in the "Religion of Peace."

Note:At the start of Ramadan, the story out of Brussels was the donation of 40 million euros ($51 million) of aid to the "Palestinians," but I guess gifts for Ramadan are not appreciated. Next year, let's forego donations of aid in honor of Ramadan and see if fewer people are injured or killed. The money might be the problem here.

Another Day, Another Tunnel

Update:According to The Jerusalem Post, today, Egyptian security forces destroyed a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. Chief of Israel's Shin Bet Security Service, Yuval Diskin, accused Egypt today of allowing Palestinian gunmen to smuggle 19 tons of weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip since Israel withdrew from the coastal area last year. Naturally, Egypt denies any such thing. The tunnel, which was three meters (10 feet) in diameter and ran eight meters (26 feet) under the surface, started in a deserted building on the Egyptian side of the border town of Rafah and crossed into Palestinian controlled Gaza.
On Thursday (love that time zone effect!) the IAF air strike on a weapons runner in Rafah killed a 14 year old girl. Hopefully, she wasn't one of the gun-runners, but no actual confirmation of that can be made or denied. Sick how children--male and female--are used by the terrorists to move and protect weapons, isn't it?

The "Palestinian" terrorists seem to really like to dig tunnels. The latest was dug 25 meters underground and reached Egypt. But this is only the latest of many, many tunnels these RIFs run all over the Gaza Strip. I'm surprised the whole block of land doesn't collapse and fall off into the sea (no, we should all only be so lucky!)

Since Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer, turning over control of the border to Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (whoever that means today), cross-border smuggling of weapons and explosives has increased considerably, according to the IDF.

The tunnels aren't just used to smuggle weapons and explosives--this is how they kidnapped Gilad Shalit and carried him off to Egypt. And they're still kidnapping people using the tunnels, this time one of their own, a journalist! The Jerusalem Post reports no one's laying claim to the latest kidnapping nor is there any apparent reason for kidnapping Abu Amr, who is known to his listeners as Abu Basel, the host of a popular talk show that is broadcast every morning in the Gaza Strip.

I think the reason is apparent enough: it's the "Palestinian" way of life. This is how they make a living--since international aid was cut off, the money launderers put out of business, and the "leaders" are unable to even sit and talk, this is pretty much all they've got left to do: violence against each other. Pretty sad, but why am I not surprised?

Tony Blair, Love Him or Leave Him

England's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is being loved and loathed, in equal parts, across the British press and the blogosphere. His final speech as leader of England's Labor Party makes for interesting reading. Read the transcript here.

If you prefer video, pop over to Hot Air where a selected segment addressing Blair's plea to the Brits to wage on in the WOT is embedded for your convenience.

If you prefer the loathing party, join Richard at EU Referendum for a slice and dice of Mr. Blair's record.

To get a roundup of all the opinions in the English press, leave England and check Australia's Herald Sun for a comprehensive set of quotes.

Neither The Jerusalem Post nor Ynet had anything new to add to the AP News feed - Ha'aretz didn't even carry a story of the speech, which focused a significant chunk of time on the global WOT.

Halliburton Convoy Allegedly Attacked, Abandoned by US Troops

Video allegedly recording events in Iraq approximately one year ago are surfacing today, courtesy of former Halliburton employee, Preston Wheeler, who was driving one of the trucks involved in the alleged incidents. Watch the video yourself right now or on ABC News tonight.

According to ABC News Journalist, Brian Ross, the Halliburton convoy made a wrong turn and this is what happened.

Ross reports on The Blotter
Once insurgents opened fire and disabled four trucks, the personnel carrier can be seen racing ahead.
The tape documents the final 15 minutes of the convoy's run out of Camp Anaconda, near Balad, Iraq. On the video segment shown, I see only two vehicles--the one carrying the videographer and one ahead of it. I don't actually see a "personnel carrier" at all. I definitely see the gunfire near the videographer stirring dirt on the road.
Wheeler says it was 45 minutes before a U.S. military force returned. By then, Wheeler says, he had seen two drivers shot at point-blank range.

Wheeler says the military commander took a wrong turn, and the convoy ended up in a neighborhood known as an insurgent stronghold.

Wheeler says Halliburton did not provide any of the drivers with maps or even rudimentary drawings of the location.

He says when he was hired by Halliburton he was promised the trucks would be equipped with bullet proof glass and armed guards every third truck.

I notice all this is Wheeler's word. Still, he was the only survivor and "his story" is written by the survivors, right?

My initial reaction to the video was "Why on G-d's Green Earth are they unarmed in the middle of a war zone?" then I read the above remarks alleged Halliburton had provided "one armed guard every third truck." If it were me, I'd get licensed and carry my own, thanks (or not go into a war zone no matter what the employer claims - geez! use your head, idiot!)
Wheeler says he was told not to talk to the press. A Halliburton security guard wanted to delete the video of the ambush so that it would not become public, he says. "He was afraid it was going to get on the Internet," Wheeler says.

Gee, guess the Halliburton security guard was right--it made it to the net, even if it took a year to do so!

So, where's the rest of the film?

Afghan Pres. Karzai on WOT & Bush on NIE

There's no point in duplicating the message for the sake of duplication but only to say something new. HotAir has it all--including an embedded video capture of the remarks from FOXnews, and has even linked through to LGF, the Washington Post (transcript of the press conference) and other reactions to yesterday's press conference.

The declassified segments of the NIE report are available in PDF straight from the DNI. From the first page, it's obvious why drama-seeking media would try to pick and tear at President Bush on this--like Bush said, it's campaign season. The dirt-hunting has begun.

Bottom line first:
  • The Global Jihad has not gotten better or worse as a result of the US/NATO-led forces in Iraq. Yes, the Propaganda War will use victories to claim "success" and will attempt to hide "failures" (which basically equals either (a) failure to kill large numbers of innocents; or (b) failure to kill oneself, thereby getting caught in the act)

    To suggest that the violence was not going on in A-stan (or Iraq) before the US showed up is absurd!! It's been going on for years. (Did you not even watch/listen to A-stan's Karzai's remarks on the video? Go on over to Hot Air and listen again now)

    Get over yourselves if you think America can cause--or by our mere existence, stop--the kind of Global Jihad that has been building all this time. Definitely, in the last 5 years, the internet and media have seen their roles in the WOT grow by leaps and bounds.

  • President Bush twisted but didn't outright distort the message of the report. He didn't lie, he didn't evade and he didn't actually say he was quoting anything. He also didn't write the report, nor did he even voice endorsement or condemnation for it or its message.

    All that President Bush did do was paraphrase his understanding of what the report said--perhaps, paraphrasing poorly.

    I don't really see (or can't find) any political agenda in his remarks as compared to the report. Now, if he had actually voiced an opinion about the report, then we'd have something to discuss. But he didn't so we don't. Deal with it MSM. Again, I say, get over yourselves.

Below are some selected quotes from the PDF (emphasis added by me, discussion interspersed):
We also assess that the global jihadist movement—which includes al-Qa’ida [sic], affiliated and independent terrorist groups, and emerging networks and cells—is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.
Then I'd suggest we (back here at home) stop treating this like a cross between Vietnam and an isolated incident. Take a lesson from Israel on how to cope with security--stop pretending there's no war and starting fighting the War on Peace. The "front" for that war is not simply where bombs go off or where the Enemy has already been; it's where bombs could go off or where the Enemy might go in the future.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralized, lacks a coherent global strategy, and is becoming more diffuse. New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge. The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.
Have we really only now figured out that there is a shared purpose among the RIFs? The Enemy is not hard to find. Just follow the money--and stop feeding new sources under the aegis of "international aid." Or are we in the business of funding both sides of this War?
Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq “jihad;” (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims— all of which jihadists exploit.
I think this report fails to factor in the rest of Asia and the Middle East. Iraq--or even Al-Qaeda--is not some lone island of discontent, nor is the problem simply a "slow pace of real and sustained...reforms" but rather corrupt political leadership that is sustaining (or halting) the reforms. It's like the NIE report has put the problem upsidedown. Gee, why am I surprised?
The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution— an ultra-conservative interpretation of shari'’a-based governance spanning the Muslim world— is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.
Here's the next mistake--not understanding the Enemy. The so-called "Muslim world" is not so simple as the NIE report would like to make it. There is a millenia-old blood feud going on between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and some of the "bad guys" (from a western world viewpoint) are Sunni and others are Shiite. So, how are we supposed to evaluate this and determine an appropriate direction of approach when our governmental evaluators so obviously are clueless as to who the players actually are?

While I recognize this NIE report is trying to focus on the problem in Iraq, there is just no way to discuss Radical Islamic Fundamentalist violence and propensity towards Global Jihad without discussing Global RIFs and Global Jihadist groups. Taking the Iraq violence out of context and trying to examine it under a microscope with blinders on is just not going to work. When will we get this?
We judge that most jihadist groups—both well-known and newly formed— will use improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments. Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.

Well, finally!! On page 3 of 4 (barely 4) of the selected tidbits from the NIE we get one cognizant remark. About time. I'd say "better late than never" except that coming late to this party is pretty much akin to forfeiting the game. Here's the last tidbit from the NIE report:
We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the Internet to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train, and obtain logistical and financial support.
No kidding! And if the allied forces (NATO-led or otherwise) are smart, they'll turn to us here in the blogosphere for volunteers to communicate, propagandize, recruit, train and obtain logistical support of the fight for the Free World.

Alas, I fear we are on our own, bloggers, so blog all day and pray all night ;)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Afghanistan: What's Gone Wrong?

A better question might be "What's gone right?" at least in light of the "rash" of successful jihadists killing NATO-led allied forces and the civilians who keep trying to find safety behind them. This morning, for instance, 18 Afghans died as a suicide bomber detonated himself at the entrance of the governor's office in southern Afghanistan. The 18 dead included 6 Afghan soldiers and 12 civilians who were said to be making pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Washington Post (and Reuters) report that "U.S. and NATO troops are up against a much more intense insurgency than expected and NATO has called for more troops from member nations." Near Kabul, a bomb placed under a bridge hit a convoy of NATO-led troops, killing one Italian NATO soldier and seriously wounded two of his compatriots. The Taliban also claimed that attack.

The Washington Post article claims that the sister of the Italian killed said the troops should leave Afghanistan. Nearly 140 foreign soldiers have been killed in violence or accidents during operations this year, including at least four Italians. Last week, three suicide bombers killed at least 19 people across Afghanistan on Monday, including four Canadian soldiers in an attack that tested the NATO alliance's claim of success in driving insurgents from this volatile southern region. Canada boasts a significantly large force among the NATO troops.

Just prior to last Monday's bombing, NATO's Supreme Commander, U.S. Gen. James Jones, spoke of the successes of operation Medusa, the campaign NATO is fighting in southern Afghanistan. The Canadians are, to say the least, not impressed with Operation Medusa's success--and not due to losses they've suffered. This is war, there are losses, everyone knows it and reluctantly perhaps, accepts the loss of life as the price of freedom. The negativity, however, is stemming from the lack of followup with the Afghan people. General Jones notes "After all, there have been many wars, conflicts and battles [in Afghanistan] already and what did these villagers ever get out of them that would make their lives better?" The answer, sadly, is not much or nothing. Unless you count a stronger Taliban force as an achievement. I'd rather not.

Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who spoke at the UN on Thursday said, "Success cannot be assured by military means alone. This we all recognize. For success also requires a strong and unwavering civilian contribution — educators, engineers, election advisors, direct and technical aid. The list is lengthy. But the contribution is essential."

But will maintaining NATO troops and sending money solve the problems? Journalist Jefferson Morley takes a serious, in-depth look at the answer, but I warn you, first he rips through the EU and British press, then he stomps on the Canadian press. Seems the only media coverage Mr. Morley approves of is his own. Gee, why does that not surprise me! But at least he's collected a lot of articles in one place, giving the coverage a much-needed voice--even if it's not his own.

Abu Ghoush, Hummus and a Whole Lot More

Without a doubt, everyone in Israel will agree, the Hummus of Abu Ghoush is legendary, the stuff of dreams, the very best in the world.

Abu Ghoush is the name of a little Muslim town tucked into the hills of Jerusalem. It's also the name of an all-Arab commando unit of the IDF. I don't know if I'd say as Ynet does, that it's a prototype for co-existence, because Abu Ghoush the community, the people, have been co-existing in Israel for hundreds of years (estab. in 1520!) Maybe "prototype" is right--they were the first and have always been the strongest and quietest of Israel's Arab communities, and certainly the most loved and cherished by the Jewish State.

I remember when the intifada first broke out, back in 2000, the Arab residents of Abu Ghoush were as outraged as their Jewish neighbors. I know that the Arab residents of Abu Ghoush have always supported Israel's right to exist, just as Israel has respected the Muslim community's right to remain Muslim and still be a part of the State of Israel.

In fact, I know Abu Ghoush has always been a shining example of good people rising above the RIFs War on Peace and insisting on being good neighbors and friends--simply because it's the right thing to do.

Despite closures at the start of the intifada in 2000, Jews from Jerusalem insisted on patronizing restaurants in Abu Ghoush, running checkpoints to do so--and it wasn't just because there lived the best hummus in the world (though that sure was a kicker for me!! I didn't like hummus until I tasted the real deal in Abu Ghoush (I went to The Lebanonese Restaurant at the end of the lane--ironic, huh?)

As the IDF reports
In reality, the Abu Ghosh rescue unit functions as a sort of Homefront Command commando unit or, as Captain Amir Ben-David puts it, "Homefront Command's advance unit in the professional field of rescue operations."
The unit's strength, explains Captain Ben-David, lies in its skilled and experienced members, "but more than that, they're also men who very much want to contribute. They volunteer because they want to help the country in which they live. They give above and beyond. They have incredible motivation.
The people of Abu Ghoush are loved by the people of Israel because of not only how much they give, but because of who they are. The little Arab town is still a favorite destination for Jerusalemites looking to have a really good meal because all visitors are welcome in Abu Ghoush. Come with a smile and you'll get your smile back--tenfold. And of course, the single best culinary treat in the world: Hummus from Abu Ghoush (are you getting the feeling I like this stuff? :-))

Even though you can't get authentic Abu Ghoush hummus in the States, go get one of those cheap substitutes, raise a piece of pita in salute to Abu Ghoush--the Homefront Command, the community that won't give in to the WOT, and scoop up (in spirit) some of the best hummus in the world! Thank you, Abu Ghoush, you make the world a better place.

ROE, a la UN Farce

As Ha'aretz reports, "[Israeli] Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that the Israel Defense Forces' withdrawal from south Lebanon is being delayed until rules of engagement have been agreed upon with the international peacekeeping force."

According to Ynet, however, ground troops will withdraw and the IAF will just keep on keepin' on with the aerial sorties.
Among the issues to be discussed will be the apparatus for dealing with issues in real time and the method of joint reporting and investigating of every unusual incident.

This is to say, the UN's presence in Lebanon is known to be a farce, so there's no reason to believe anything will change now. Either UNIFIL agrees to cooperate with Israeli intelligence or the IDF can't hand over "guard duty" to forces more interested in the photo op than the real op. The Washington Post has a suprisingly good analysis of the situation. Even the Lebanese and Hezzies are waiting to see what precisely UNIFIL is up to here.

Read more on the uselessness of UNIFIL at the EU Referendum.

Rah, Rah, RAH! Spider Robinson

This collaborative effort sounded too good to be true. The buildup and promo, for a year or more before release, convinced me I could expected to be disappointed. No such luck. No disappointment, Variable Star is a fantastic! It delivers on every promise and is truly a collaborative effort.

The plotting and characters are unmistakeably Heinlein. The voice telling me about them, however, is immediately recognizable as "pure Spider" at his snappy happy best. It's weird to be reading something where I recognize so much of BOTH authors. I've read collaborative works before, and usually, you cannot tell where one author stops and the other begins. They are a seamless pair. Not so here--and that's a good thing, because Spider couldn't be better-suited to speak a Heinlein story if he'd spent the last 50 years practicing reading it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some part of Spider's brain has been getting signals from Heinlein for the last 50 years (and Heinlein's been dead since 1988 for those of you who didn't know ;-))

Heinlein's Future History (from Harriman and Leslie LaCroix to dreams of colonizing Ganymede) is the setting, Spider's unmatched sense of irony is the diction, Heinlein's sense of pacing sets the flow, with little bits of Spider jolts whipping you along into the century. It's just a perfect meshing, matching visitation from beyond--and that's only the first 3 chapters!

You have to get this book--or if you want, White Dwarf Books will get Spider to autograph it for you (alas, no way to get RAH to sign books from beyond the grave--give him a break, he wrote it from beyond the grave, you ingrate!) If you can't afford to buy the HC (yet), start saving your pennies and get thyself to the library--it's in! Then buy this book as soon as you can. You're going to want to read it again and again and again. Check out Spider's Tour Schedule if don't want to buy online and be sure to shake his hand (just be sure he gives it back to you).

Oh, and here's the icing on the cake part: half of the proceeds are being donated to fund the $500,000 Heinlein Prize for commercial manned spaceflight. Support mankind's reach for the stars. Buy a copy of this book.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bechtel vs.The Generator Man

So who's the Generator Man? Well, it's like this. Here in America, we get power from the power company, you know, nice neat little cables that run safely up and away (or underground where only idiots can dig themselves into trouble). Said power companies here in the US give us totally uninterrupted service 24/7 at a relatively known cost (which we may not like but at least it's regulated--just like the voltage and current are in those cables) and nothing short of an Act of G-d (you know, a storm) will be an acceptable reason to us Americans for a power outtage.

Now, let's take a look at the Middle East. It doesn't quite work that way over there. First off, power isn't regulated the same way. Oh, I don't just mean the costs (naturally those are at the mercy of whoever holds the, uhhh, power) but no, the voltage might spike at any time for any number of reasons and brownouts as the power grid switches and reloads are pretty much a daily expectation--on a good day.

If you're in Iraq, right now, it's even worse. There's a war going on there, you know? Power grids are pretty typical targets for destruction, so you can just imagine. But still there are civilians trying to actually live--not to mention military and government officials (both Iraqi and our fair fellows in the allied forces trying to fight the War).

So what you get is a Black Market for Power Generation. As always, when a product makes a profit in the black market, you get a grey market cutting in on it, too. The Black Marketeer in Iraq is called The Generator Man--he's the local shyster who owns and runs the neighborhood power generator when the power grid shuts down--and it does, right on schedule. The NY Times has a pretty sour picture of the Generator Man, but there's another culprit here. The Grey Marketeer aka Bechtel.

Waaaaaay back in January, 2004 the US government "awarded Bechtel a $1.8 billion contract--on top of $1.1 billion in work already granted--to become a leading contractor in Iraq." (see CNN Money for how well that idea was working out right from the start).

But wait! There's more!

How well has Bechtel performed its pivotal role in Iraq? The company has been criticized by military and coalition officials there; in particular, they've complained that some of Bechtel's efforts to repair Iraq's power grid and schools have been slow or slipshod, and questioned whether cost-consciousness may be to blame.

Bechtel defended its work, and according to the aforementioned March, 2004 article in CNN Money, "in fairness, the security situation in Iraq is so chaotic that the company has at times been forced to halt work and evacuate its employees." (I don't find it fair when you're handed more than 2 billion dollars over 2+ years to go off and do slipshod work or pinch pennies to ensure yourself a profit back home). But some past and present employees say damaged morale, the pressure to cut costs, and other aftershocks from the BEn problems have affected even the critical work in Iraq. "The cost cutting is across the board," a former longtime manager says. "Everyone is sharing the pain."

Well, not everyone. The Generator Man is doing just fine. And how's Bechtel doing? Oh, life is catching up to them. Just last month, two years after they were already blowing the job,
"A comprehensive U.S. government audit has exposed gross mismanagement by the company." (no kidding!) As AlterNet points out:
As the auditors plan to expand their investigations to all of Bechtel's $2.85 billion in Iraq contracts, they are sure to discover a pattern of failure. Not only should Bechtel be dropped from all of its failing contracts, but the company should be required to refund all misspent U.S. taxpayer and Iraqi funds so that Iraqi contractors can get to work and real reconstruction can finally begin.

On Sept. 30, 2006, all unobligated money for reconstruction in Iraq reverts back to the U.S. Treasury. This means that unless action is taken now to ensure that this money goes to Iraqis, U.S. corporations will keep their billions, while Iraqis are left with failed projects and little money to recover.

There's only 5 days left. So what's Bechtel's status? What will become of The Generator Man's happy little business? Is anyone out there even watching to find out?

Well, Bechtel is pretending they did a fine and dandy job and everyone's happy as a clam with their results. Not true. The Generator Man is just as unhappy as his neighbor-customers--but he has a better air conditioner so maybe he's a little happier. And who's out there watching all this? USAID claims to be, but they're not doing much. They've issued this "2006-2008 Strategy Report" which, basically, says zero about how the country's power generation problems are going to actually be solved.

Then there's the US State Dept. who's supposedly overseeing this whole budget overrun. They said in a daily press briefing, "While our $680 million contract with Bechtel captures the media spotlight, it certainly does not define our engagement with the Iraqi people." Well, no, you haven't factored in The Generator Man yet.

And how's Bechtel doing? In 2005 they reported $18.1 billion in revenue. Guess they're doing a-okay. Oh, and Mr. Bechtel himself is listed as #103 on Forbes List of 400 Richest Americans. Just barely missed the top 100, guy, them's the breaks. Maybe next year, if you can keep doing nothing in Iraq but getting paid prettily for it.

Bottom line, it's up to the American public--again. If you're in the San Francisco area, you can join this anti-Bechtel protest on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at Bechtel's corporate Headquarters.

While I'm pretty much against every single thing these folks think about the War in Iraq, at least someone's going to rally against the Bechtel and Halliburton leeching of the American tax dollars to stand around for years and do nothing, while the US Army Corps of Engineers takes all the blame for the utter lack of progress. Well, except for The Generator Man. He's pretty happy with the rate of progress. To be honest, if I had to choose between Bechtel and The Generator Man, I think I'd go with the local guy. At least he's not sitting in an air-conditioned office blaming the US military for his profits.

AP = Al-Qaeda Propagana?

I thought we'd already answered this question! Apparently not! The Boston Herald has finally noted what Blackfive discussed a week ago, with an update a few days later.

The Associated Press insists none of this is true, but I'm with Herald columnist, Jules Crittendon:
I’m thinking, Bilal Hussein looks like an accessory to murder. I’m thinking, I hope the U.S. intelligence agents who have him are getting good information out of him. And I’m wondering, who does The Associated Press want to win this war?

The real question should be, however, when are we going to have had enough and stop letting the American Propaganda Machine feed us lies? If American journalists won't dig a little deeper for the truth, we can do it for ourselves--the internet works, the blogosphere is busy--but then, remind me why we'd need to buy newspapers or have talking heads on TV? Hmmm, I think I see an area for recouped costs in our futures.