Agam's Gecko
Saturday, May 22, 2004
As crude oil prices rose to record levels, so have fuel prices for consumers of the end commodity. Picture was found completely serendipitously, on Asymmetrical Information, a blog by Jane Galt, and "from the desk of Mindles H. Dreck" who I presume is Jane's co-author. AP photo from CNN.

I had followed someone else's suggestion to read her article regarding fashionably morbid fatalism - ideas spurred by a book about George Orwell and coloured by remembrances that anyone who was a kid during the '60's could relate to. Thought provoking for sure, so I checked the main page for more recent pieces. An eclectic mix of social, economic, political and other stuff, including a public service announcement about how to guard against roaches in the apartment for newcomers to the big city. I'm paging past it, not really reading it, when I found this as her final advisory point:
9) Buy a gekko This is somewhat extreme. Clearly, it won't work for those who don't like lizards, or have pets, such as cats, that will try to kill the gekko. But they are remarkably effective at getting rid of your roach problem, if you're willing to tolerate occasionally finding a lizard perched on your shower head. Myself, I'll take a nice clean lizard over a filthy old roach any day -- though I'm not really at lizard-buying point yet.
Yeah, or you could just live where geckos come with the territory .... heh heh ..... Hear that, little?

When the now-deceased General Ne Win seized power in Burma back in 1962, he dubbed his regime the "Burmese Way to Socialism". Decades of absolute mismanagement followed, leaving the country a pathetic basket case. When a popular demand for democratic reform materialized in 1988, it was put down with a fierce brutality - and a body count - which made the Tienanmen Square massacre one year later seem like a minor disturbance by comparison. Enter the junta of military thugs which continue to rule until today.

The State Law and Order Restoration Council - later to be known as the State Peace and Development Council - was somehow persuaded to allow national elections, which were by most accounts free and fair, and which took place in May of 1990. The National League for Democracy swept the polls, taking more than 80% of the seats in the national parliament. The generals, in a state of confusion and shock, maintained that the elected representatives were to be charged with conducting a National Convention for the purpose of drafting a new constitution for the country - certainly these NLD people could not expect to just start running the country just like that. Parliament was never allowed to convene, and the "convention" turned out to be a total sham which wasted everyone's time and dragged on endlessly for years.

A small number of countries took meaningful steps against a regime which is unambiguously known to be guilty of virtually every crime against humanity in the book. The Association of South East Asian Nations felt it was a good idea to admit the regime to its regional grouping. Burma - or officially, Myanmar as the generals unilaterally changed the country's name - will become chairman of ASEAN in 2006. The prospect of such a vile regime actually leading the 10 member association freaks a lot of people out down here. They certainly were hoping for democratic reforms long before this. The ambush of Aung San Suu Kyi and killings of many of her party workers almost exactly one year ago, and her re-arrest and detention (which continues until today), had spurred some slight increase in lip service from Burma's ASEAN partners. The Thai government launched an initiative they dubbed a roadmap to democracy, while the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin maintained his "constructive engagement" stance and shielded the Burmese junta from any serious concrete measures. Burma's rulers were most appreciative, and signed on to the plan.

So this week, a key component of Thaksin's roadmap for Burma is taking place. In a specially built convention centre outside Rangoon, a brand new "constitutional convention" is taking place. It appears as a stage managed process which observers could be forgiven for viewing as simply a reprise of the first 13 year long fiasco - which met rarely and accomplished nothing. The leader of the National League for Democracy, the indisputable winners in the last act of free will of the Burmese people, remains in detention. The party continues to be prohibited from re-opening offices which were closed following last year's attacks on them. Consequently the NLD has said that they cannot participate in such a sham under these conditions.

Some countries are standing steadfastly with the long suffering people of Burma - the United States and a few European states (I've heard nothing from Canada). What really knocked me off my chair was the statement from spokesman of the Thai foreign ministry this week. He expressed the Thai government's disappointment with the National League for Democracy! The party's decision not to participate while its top leaders remain either in prison or under house arrest, is seen as a regrettable action. The logic behind this is mind boggling.

However if the Thaksin government actually does believe this is a sensible response from them as the originator of the roadmap initiative, then I would have a suggestion for them. On the next occasion for ministerial level meetings between Burmese and Thai representatives, Mr. Thaksin and, oh let's say about 4-5 of his government's top officials, shall check themselves into the comfy accommodations at Rangoon's Insein Prison for the duration. Place themselves under the detention of their dialogue partners. I mean, if they feel that this scenario is so proper for the NLD to accept, what could be the objection?

UPDATE: I hear that even the international diplomats are boycotting the meeting, so the NLD seems to be in good company.

The Media Research Center, in an article titled Prison Abuse Trumps Saddam's Mass Graves, writes:
To illustrate a fraction of the bias problem, we counted the number of prisoner-abuse stories on NBC's evening and morning news programs (NBC Nightly News and Today) from April 29, when the story emerged, through May 11. There were 58 morning and evening stories. Using the Nexis news-data retrieval system, we counted the number of stories on mass graves found in Iraq from the reign of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and 2004. The number of evening and morning news stories on those grim discoveries? Five.
Emphasis, mine. Via LGF

This one is just as I found it on Instapundit. I haven't "read the whole thing" yet, but it's too good not to pass along. Jan Haugland looks at European writings on the danger of Americanism.

One should not underestimate the danger of Americanism, or its seductive power. It offers devotion to a culture of nothingness, independence, lack of restraint, a freedom from all obligation, from all honor, from all consideration.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Okay, some of you will be too lazy to follow the link, so here: "By now you may realise this anti-American text is not of recent origin. It was printed in Das Schwarze Korps, the Nazi SS weekly, on 14 March 1944." But it sounds as fresh as tomorrow!
Courtesy of Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit.

I've no idea what Scarborough Country is, but that's apparently where Hitchens was when he said this. It's funny - this sure encapsulates how much I feel differently now about things. I used to dislike Hitchens because he'd spoken rather rudely about some people I admired, and I used to like Moore for that old TV show he used to do and his crusade against Bush after the election. I even subscribed to his mailing list! Now Hitchens has me going, "I wish I'd said that," (though I still think he was rude and wrong about those people - but maybe he's changed too, who knows?). And I think Michael Moore is just a dumb jerk whose chief notable attribute is that he has the biggest unaugmented boobies in Hollywood.
"But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities." - Christopher Hitchens on "Scarborough Country."

Via Andrew Sullivan

Blame for the sentiment toward violence and armed jihad among some southern Thai muslims can be laid squarely at the doorstep of certain radical Islamist schools which are well funded and supported by Saudi and other Arab interests. Maybe it's payback for the Saudi royal gems scandal, from way back in the distant mists of time, and never fully explained. Whatever it is, it's not a very friendly thing to inflict on another country - the same phenomenon has been growing in Indonesia too. For years, moderate Thai Muslims who traditionally practice a syncretic and tolerant form of the religion (again just like most Indonesians traditionally have done), travelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt to study in Islamic schools and universities. Many of them returned radicalised and motivated to advance the global jihad. In recent years the madrassas have come to Thailand, in the interests of more efficient indoctrination, and we can see the results. This (above linked) Independent UK article is most informative, and also contained a particularly worrying passage indicating something which I'd not been aware of until now:
One senior Thai government official in Pattani said that he was aware of the first signs of "ethnic cleansing" in Narathiwat, one of the south's Muslim-majority provinces. "Some Thai Buddhist families have been told to leave under the threat of violence," he said on condition he not be further identified.

I also have some objection to one other part, in that I don't agree that the Free Aceh Movement (Aceh Merdeka) should be lumped together with Jema'ah Islamiya or al Qaeda. Aceh is a whole different issue, and the nationalists there - whether those working politically or the armed group who was party to a ceasefire until the Jakarta government unilaterally ended it - do not associate themselves in any way to the radical Islamic jihad movement.
Numerous regional leaders from JI, al-Qa'ida and the Free Aceh Movement are known to have spent time in southern Thailand since the attacks on New York on 11 September 2001.
Aceh figures frequently flee from government suppression to Malaysia where they have asked for protection from UNHCR offices. The armed part of the Free Aceh Movement (known as AGAM - yes it's an accronym as well as an Acehnese name - a fact that had me sweating a couple of times on my last trip) is known to have come shopping for weapons in southern Thailand. It's unfortunately true that weapons are easy to buy here, most of which are smuggled over from Cambodia and benefit from extensive police and army corruption here. The Tamil Tigers have been supplying themselves through this market for years. So those elements of mafia / corrupt officials / smugglers / southern criminal gangs have certainly been in contact with some of the Aceh nationalists. It was even surmised that the January thefts of armaments in the south were for the purpose of selling them to Aceh, but this has never been established. But it's just reaching too far to tie all this together to link Aceh with JI and al Qaeda. GAM (the political wing) have a firm desire to internationalise their struggle and get some international sympathy like East Timor had. The growing internationalisation of the problem, with UN involvement and ASEAN participation in observing the ceasefire and subsequent negotiation process, is exactly what scared Megawati's administration and caused it to declare military emergency and launch all out war to crush any hope of self determination.

UPDATE: Not a good week in the south. A policeman and several other people have been killed this week, and a coordinated set of bombings of Buddhist temples on Sunday. Narathiwat was not targeted to my knowledge in the big attacks last month.
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Bomb blasts rocked three Buddhist temples in Thailand's troubled Muslim south Sunday, wounding at least one person in the latest violence to hit the restive region, police said.

The temples, located in three separate districts of Narathiwat province, were hit by bombs within minutes of each other. One temple suffered damage to its roof and pillars.

I stumbled on this set of exerpts from a Washington Post article on a dormant Canadian blog. I was following up to find something else, and noticed this posting. Only then I realised I was looking at a page written before the Iraq war. The paragraphs chosen for quoting are those selected by the original blog writer, who called himself "Authentic Liberal". I found the full article well worth reading (link at the end).

"The left in America has for a long time now resembled not so much a political movement as a contest to see how many schismatics could dance on the head of a pin, a conversation that has gone from being national to factional to simply eccentric. At some point, progressive politics reached a state where freeing Mumia was considered critical and electing a Democratic president was considered optional.

"Then came Sept. 11, and the left found itself plunged into a debate on a subject of fundamental importance. And this was a debate in which to be of the left was to be, by definition, involved: In al Qaeda and in the Taliban and in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, liberal civilization faced an enemy that represented nearly every evil that liberalism has ever stood against.

"What was the left going to do? A pretty straightforward call, you might say. America has its flaws. But war involves choosing sides, and the American side -- which was, after all, the side of liberalism, of progressivism, of democracy, of freedom, of not chucking gays off rooftops and not stoning adulterers and not whipping women in the town square, and not gassing minority populations and not torturing advocates of free speech -- was surely preferable to the side of the `Islamofascists' [...]

"The debate is over. The left has hardened itself around the core value of a furious, permanent, reactionary opposition to the devil-state America, which stands as the paramount evil of the world and the paramount threat to the world, and whose aims must be thwarted even at the cost of supporting fascists and tyrants. Those who could not stomach this have left the left -- a few publicly, as did Hitchens and Rosenbaum, and many more, I am sure, in the privacy of their consciences. Last weekend, the left held large antiwar marches in Washington, San Francisco and elsewhere. Major media coverage of these marches was highly respectful. This was `A Stirring in the Nation,' in the words of an approving New York Times editorial, `impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers.' [...]

"There is, increasingly, much that happens in the world that the Times feels its readers should be sheltered from knowing. The marches in Washington and San Francisco were chiefly sponsored, as was last October's antiwar march in Washington, by a group the Times chose to call in its only passing reference `the activist group International Answer.' [...]

"International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is a front group for the communist Workers World Party. The Workers World Party is, literally, a Stalinist organization. It rose out of a split within the old Socialist Workers Party over the Soviet Union's 1956 invasion of Hungary -- the breakaway Workers World Party was all for the invasion. International ANSWER today unquestioningly supports any despotic regime that lays any claim to socialism, or simply to anti-Americanism. It supported the butchers of Beijing after the slaughter of Tiananmen Square. It supports Saddam Hussein and his Baathist torture-state. It supports the last official Stalinist state, North Korea, in the mass starvation of its citizens. It supported Slobodan Milosevic after the massacre at Srebrenica. It supports the mullahs of Iran, and the narco-gangsters of Colombia and the bus-bombers of Hamas." - Michael Kelly, January 23, 2003 in the Washington Post.

The Post doesn't allow long term access, but the article is archived on FrontPage magazine.

Michael Kelly was killed in Iraq, just a few days before the fall of Saddam's regime. I think, if I remember rightly, he was the first journalist to be killed there (and it wasn't in combat, but some sort of HUMVEE accident).

Last week, a report that some of Saddam's chemical WMD have been found, in the form of a sarin-filled artillery shell. This is the stuff the Om Shinrikyo cult used in the Tokyo subway attacks. Now it is independently confirmed that indeed it was sarin. The shell contained three to four litres - a single drop is enough to kill. Early accounts seemed to be trying to minimize the find, hinting that it was likely a leftover from pre-Gulf War I - though without actually claiming so. Now it seems that this has been discounted, and that the vintage is much more recent. Another shell containing mustard gas agent was also found. Not much attention about this in the mainstream media yet. Here is another earlier article on what WMD programs have been located prior to this latest find.

The Ansar al-Islam guerilla jihadist camp in Iraq was known to be engaged in chemical and biological weapons development, and evidence of this was left behind after the occupants fled their place in the opening days of the war. The leader of this al Qaeda linked terrorist group had a keen interest in this type of weapon, and many of the suspects involved in European cases of attempted chemical or poison attacks, had been trained by this man, Abu Musab Zarqawi. Zarqawi had been based in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's heydays, and he remains there today. Zarqawi has been linked to other terrorist operations in Europe, including the Madrid train bombings, as well as the car bomb attack on the UN station in Baghdad which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello and caused the UN to promptly pull out. Zarqawi took credit for the beheading of Nick Berg, and intel analysts have since concluded that he was very likely the man who carried it out.

Whether the sarin found originated with Saddam's WMD program or with Zarqawi's is impossible to guess. Saddam can't hurt anyone anymore, nor pay for suicide attackers as he used to, and hopefully the same will soon be said about the animal Zarqawi. In a little noticed story this week (notice how the Nick Berg story disappeared completely after one day, and the Abu Ghraib pics are still leading almost a month after it broke), four men have been arrested in the Berg murder case. Unfortunately, one of them wasn't the mad Jordanian. I would hope, at the very least, that these four (if they actually know something that might lead to his capture) would be made to wear women's underpants with flowers on them until they talk. No kid gloves please.

Who could forget that unbelievable explosion last month in North Korea, the one the NK regime were so reticent to talk about? The one that destroyed a town only hours after Dear Leader Kim Jong Il himself passed through, on his way home from his ardent kissing sessions with Jiang Zhemin in Beijing? Evidently there is still
more to the story...[That url looks like it may not be a permanent link]
A North Korean missile shipment to Syria was halted when a train collision in that Asian country destroyed the missile cargo and killed about a dozen Syrian technicians.

U.S. officials confirmed a report in a Japanese daily newspaper that a train explosion on April 22 killed about a dozen Syrian technicians near the Ryongchon province in North Korea. The officials said the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port.

A U.S. official said North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles.
A separate article from the same World Tribune site (probably best if you want to find the originals is to just start from the front page) stated that:
The source said North Korean military personnel with protective suits responded to the scene soon after the explosion and removed material only from the Syrians' section of the train.

The technicians were from the Syrian technical research center called Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche Scientific (CERS). Although CERS was established to promote science and technology development, it has been viewed as a major player in Syria's weapons of mass destruction development program. [...]

The Syrians and North Koreans who transported the victims were also reportedly wearing protective suits similar to those worn by the North Korean military figures who arrived on the scene immediately after the accident, the source said.
A different report (which I've misplace the link to) on South Korean newspaper, said that seismic listening stations (apparently for the purpose of detecting unannounced nuclear testing) located in Japan, Australia, Hawaii and elsewhere have pegged the explosion as something just under magnitude 3 on the Richter scale, and calculate that it would require approximately 8 times the amount of explosives which the North Korean gov't claims were involved. Their story (and they're stickin' to it, I'm sure) is that a train carrying fertilizer and a tank of petroleum were being shunted around on the tracks, when it carelessly came into contact with live electrical wires. The result as we know, was one destroyed town and hundreds of dead townsfolk.

Remember the al Qaeda attacks on the Saudi Arabia housing complex one year ago? In an interview with the Independent UK, employees for a security company on contract with the Saudi National Guard (which protects the royal family) allege that members of the Guard knew about the attack in advance, and were likely to have helped al Qaeda with maps. The Saudis had also organised a training exercise on that day which removed nearly all of the security staff on duty, leaving the compound virtually defenceless. One of the security instructors said, "There is no doubt we were set up. Someone in the upper echelons of the Saudi National Guard knew the bombing was imminent."

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