Agam's Gecko
Friday, January 21, 2005
That was the slogan for a brand of table salt many years ago, but it also seems to describe the Indonesian government's current and mounting water-borne problems. In addition to dealing with the massive loss of life in Aceh, the apocalyptic scale of destruction, and the severe condition for hundreds of thousands of refugees now living virtually out in the open, serious flooding has struck in several other parts of the country. The seasonal rains have been making life more difficult for survivors of the tsunami, many with little more than a tarpaulin to huddle under, turning their camps into quagmires (a word which has been thrown around like, um... salt since Oct. 2001 -- remember when Afghanistan was a quagmire? -- but these are actually valid, literal examples of this phenomenon). Quick. Get Ted Kennedy and John Kerry over there to see what a real quagmire looks like.

Parts of south Sumatra and Kalimantan have experienced very high floodwaters this week, and I think there were some other areas as well in addition to the capital. Jakarta is prone to flooding in certain areas pretty much every year, largely as a result of not having sufficient canals to handle the sudden volume, and because existing canals and rivers are allowed to become clogged with refuse. So it is an annual event, the sight of city residents wading (or swimming) out their front doors, floating grandmother to safety on a rubber inner tube, stacking furniture atop each other in an attempt to keep some valuable things dry.

It wasn't so very long ago that Bangkok had the same problems. The Chao Phraya River is considerably larger than the Ciliwung, which runs through Jakarta, and when the River of Kings rises, there ain't nothin' going to stand in its way. October was often the month in which we could go and watch the sampan races on Sukhumvit Road. Heh, I'm kidding -- the sampans were too busy doing public transportation to engage in such frivolity! But at least they had boats over on Sukhumvit. Luxury! We 'ad to wade through in middle of road, dodging traffic at the same time. Not enough depth to stop the SUV's, trucks and buses, but too deep to actually see which gaping hole you were about to step into if you were foolish enough to try your expedition along the footpath (which city crews had thoughtfully been digging up just in time for the flood season).

So my sympathies are with those flooded unfortunates, including the pair in one funny shot I saw last night on SCTV. Two soaking rats, huddled together under some sort of culvert, up on their hind legs, and hugging each other. I kid you not, and yes I mean actual rats. Even rat-haters would have gone, "Awwww." Of course I do not take any entertainment value out of other people's problems, but it often seems like the people having the problems (and this goes for past Bangkok floods too), are actually laughing and playing enough for the both of us. Now natually they would all prefer not to be up to the collarbone in dirty water, but the ability of folks in this area to keep a positive attitude in the face of hardship is quite remarkable, and something that I've indeed remarked on before. They could teach even the English something about their famed stiff upper lip -- in other words, how to maintain this stiff upper lip with a very large smile.

Even so, a scene on Metro this week was something straight out of Monty Python. Close up on reporter Leo Samosir, a head shot of him describing the situation in Kampung Melayu -- the classic reporter stance with hand mike held up in front. Behind him we see the crowded little houses of the kampung, and the laneway full of brown water. The cameraman slowly un-zooms, revealing Leo standing chest-deep in the lane. "This is Leo Samosir, Kampung Melayu, reporting for Metro TV." Minutes later we transfer to reporter Hendriawan in another part of the city, literally up to his neck in floodwater, reporting as if it's the most natural thing in the world. One thing about those Metro reporters, they really get into their story! Check out Jakartass for a more up close and personal account of Jakarta's annual ordeal.

Back in Aceh, the town of Teunom has again become cut off from aid relief by road access, due to rains and flooding. Teunom is right smack in the middle of "ground zero", about midway between Calang and Meulaboh. Four-wheel drives and cargo trucks winching each other through the deep quagmire of what was once a road. Man, I haven't seen quagmire like that since the Trujillo - La Ceiba drive (when northern Honduras was isolated by floods in the mid '70's - Hurricane Somebody, maybe it was Ted). More video this evening from Aceh Tamiang regency, showing very high floodwaters, which the people say have been this way for a week already.

There have been some positive scenes this week though, people in various places are beginning to take things into their own hands and rebuilding homes out of the scrounged but useable timber, roofing, windows from the remnants of their towns. But there have also been some scenes which have been among the most disturbing ones to date. Some of the boats which have gone to help out in the Banyaks (Kepulauan Banyak - "The Many Islands" just south of Tapaktuan) were shown retrieving bodies which had been in the sea all this time. Trust me, you'd rather not see this. The narrator said they had retrieved 65 bodies up to that point, in this area. Everyone knows how the corpses bloat up after a few days, and fish also do their damage. Relief workers often mention now, how difficult this work is after so much time, the deterioration of the remains is extremely disturbing for them. Just a glimpse is already disturbing. On the side of a path, a small stack of victims' bodies. The one on top is clearly distinguishable, fully clothed, the expanded body filling the shirt and pants surely much more than he ever did in life. Yet his head, absolutely clean, gleaming bleached white bone only.

Yes indeed folks, it seems to have indeed been a case of plain old boring incompetence, which resulted in Monday's train crash. In fact The Nation daily called it a "schoolboy error". Driver instructed by central control to release parking brake. Driver instead switches off emergency airbrake system. Driver answers control by verbally confirming his action, something like, "Switched off B09." (code for airbrake system switch). Control room confirms, "OK Driver Acebrain, switched off B09." Told to do one thing, driver does a different thing, and control confirms the completion of that wrong action, and everything's hunky-dory. As the Nation quotes the governor of the Mass Transit Authority, "They worked like parrots - just repeating what others said without thinking about whether it was the correct procedure." Train rolls down a grade, toward the loaded train sitting at the Thailand Cultural Centre Station. There were about 200 injured, but most of those were quite minor, and only a few required hospital attention. Check 2Bangkok's special coverage for the latest.

I didn't exactly have a good feeling on (I think it was) last Monday night, when I watched the news coverage of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's ongoing terrorism trial in Jakarta. An unexpected development had occurred -- an American was testifying for the defence. Not just any old American either, but one who had been an official translator for the State Dept. When I watched the tape of Fred Burks striding across the courtroom, his lanky frame seemed to exude a body language that said, "I will be as obsequious as you can wish for." Or maybe his body was simply ashamed that his mouth was about to betray his own honour as well as his country.

Dressed in batik shirt and with a short, clipped beard, Mr. Burks proceeded to sing like a canary about a 2002 meeting at which he was to serve as translator for then President Megawati. Present were US Ambassador Ralph Boyce, National Security Council specialist on Indonesia Karen Brooks, an unnamed CIA officer acting as "envoy" for the White House, Mrs. Megawati and Mr. Burk. Mr. Burk was invited in order to provide simultaneous translation for Ibu Mega. He told the court that pressure was exerted upon the President to secretly arrest Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and turn him over to the Americans. Megawati said she couldn't do this, and who knows whatever this "pressure" was, because she obviously never did do it. I didn't hear any such complaints when Hambali was arrested by Thai officers in Ayutthaya (just north of us here in Krungthep) with assistance of US agents, and he was then turned over to US custody. Get what you can out of him, I thought at the time, and I didn't care if they had to put panties on his head either. If you want to save others' lives, you got to be tough. The Indonesians didn't complain at that time, over their terrorist-citizen being turned over to American authorities.

An American Expat in Southeast Asia has some great insight into this whole affair, and even more interestingly into Burks' own background. Burks had resigned from government service just last month, because he found the confidentiality provisions too onerous. He has since been regaling anyone who will listen, with tales from all the private meetings which he had sworn by oath to keep confidential. The AE in SEA has the early accounts of all this from last Friday here and here, and another post here showing some ridiculous contradictions in the media accounts of his testimony. He also includes some screenshots of Burks in court, and from his interview with SCTV. Beyond Wallacia has more on Burks' background and possible motives for his actions, and updates with links to more on the case from Belmont Club.

I watched the interview that AE in SEA mentions (he posted a screen capture too), and confirm that he admitted having lied to Ms. Brooks. He had promised her that he would keep the proceedings confidential. But he felt that he had not betrayed anyone else, and had been obliged to come forward because "the Indonesian people would be damaged." Actually I think the American Expat is right when he writes, "Mr. Fred Burks is on a crusade to destroy any possible goodwill towards the United States and in the process is doing all he can to stoke the fires of Islamic fundamentalism." Immediately after his courtroom performance, he called a meeting for reporters and academics at the Indonesian Society for Middle East Studies (ISMES), which he entitled "Bush's Lies," where he was the sole speaker, apparently to plug his conspirazoid website. You know the drill: Osama, al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya don't actually exist, but are simply fictitious creations of the CIA, etc., Bush is the world's biggest terrorist, and so on and so forth. Apparently Mr. Burks also blabbed the name of the "unnamed" CIA officer who was representing the White House at the 2002 meeting.

At the same time, we have another shining example of individuals within the bureaucracy actively working against their country at a time of war. Leaks from the CIA or other agencies have resulted in another Seymour Hersch extravaganza, wherein he reveals secret intelligence operations in Iran, even providing locations and travel routes. Evidently for some people, the act of damaging George Bush is worth any price, even the endangerment of the lives of one's own service people. David Frum has a few thoughts on the storytellers pumping Seymour Hersch full of it, and the damage they've done (despite his article being "riddled with obvious inconsistencies and mistakes" according to intelligence officials who responded to the story).

What is it with Boxers all of a sudden? I watched with interest some of the confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice this week, and what the hell is up with Barbara Boxer? I haven't seen a creepier performance in quite some time. She managed to regurgitate all the ignorant canards of the past year, including the ones that were firmly put to rest by the Sept. 11 Commission itself. It's like she hasn't been paying the slightest attention to developments in these issues, obviously had not read (or not comprehended) the Commission report at all, and here she was indignantly hammering Condoleezza on the same stuff. She repeatedly made the same mistake that some newspapers made the day after the Commission report was published, freely substituting "operational coordination" for "longstanding connections" (Saddam with al Qaeda) and vice versa. Condi had to go through it all again for her. Boxer insisted that in the legislation which authorised the use of force against Saddam, there was only one reason given for the proposed action, and one reason only. There was no other rationale for the invasion, not a single one, except for weapons of mass destruction. She virtually shrieked that it was, "WMD, period."

Well no it wasn't, and Condoleezza was exceedingly patient with her -- except when she flatly asserted that Condi had absolutely no regard for the truth. Man, if it had been me, I'd have probably walked over and slugged her. Here's a Boxer moment from last year, and I'm sorry I didn't save the source, but I did read a direct quote on it somewhere. Barbara Boxer described the terrorist bombing of Madrid trains on March 11, which killed around 200 people, as "that Spanish railway accident." There is Ms. Boxer's alleged affection for the truth.

For those who might still be interested, LGF kindly dug out and posted the relevant part of that legislation (known as Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002). The section posted at that link contains all the Whereas clauses; that is, the things that are stipulated as the fundamental reasons for the Be it now resolved that... section. Just have a quick scan over those Whereas's, and then try to convince anybody that Barbara Boxer isn't completely out to lunch with her "WMD, period." Grandstanding or lying, you decide.

Condi was confirmed by the 18 member Senate committee, with a vote of 16 - 2. Voting against: Barbara Boxer and John Kerry. (John Kerry is just recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to affirm to Arab leaders that America is just botching up the whole darn world something awful). Harumph! The haughty looking, French speaking war hero must have been conferring with Fred Burks. Careful John, he won't keep your secrets! And Sen. Joe Biden, sheesh. Actually I missed a lot of his preening and pontificating, as his monotonous droning puffery and "gee whiz I sure do love myself" attitude just kept hammering me into a deep slumber, from which I had to fight hard to remain conscious. Twenty minutes later, and Condi still hadn't had a chance to get a word in. Why, she could have brought the room down in convulsions of laughter with a simple, "What was the question again, Senator?" after a performance like that. If Biden was any more full of himself, he might well spontaneously collapse into a black hole.

This all being played out immediately after the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, it was a nice reflection to realise that while Colin Powell was saying his farewell to his State Dept. family, Condoleezza Rice was preparing to take over the helm. I haven't seen this truth much mentioned, apart from this quote, which was posted by the InstaPundit:
In September 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the eulogy for three of the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. What King could not know was that, within earshot of the blast, just blocks away at her father's church, was another little black girl, a friend of the youngest victim, who 42 years later would be on the verge of becoming America's foremost diplomat.

This year, the Martin Luther King holiday, marking what would have been his 76th birthday, falls on Jan. 17. The next day, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee opens hearings on the nomination of Condoleezza Rice to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of state.

It's a stunning juxtaposition that offers those who knew King, lived that history and ponder his legacy an opportunity to wonder: How might they explain Rice's rise to him? And what would he make of it?

She is, after all, the literal fulfillment of King's dream -- a woman judged not by the color of her skin but by the content of her character. She is also living proof that King's eulogy was prescient, that "these children -- unoffending, innocent and beautiful -- did not die in vain."
Which then reminded me of the recent arrest of a man down in the American south somewhere, for participation in the murder of three election registration workers during those dark days when civil rights workers paid for their idealism with their lives. That must be at least 40 years, and justice has thankfully not forgotten its unfinished business. How differently the media treated the slaughter last month of election registration workers in the middle of a Baghdad avenue, while an AP photographer snapped an extensive sequence of the murders.

I leave it to Condi herself to put things into perspective, after listening to some Senators drone on and on about what a hopeless mess Afghanistan is, the quagmire in Iraq, the foolish, ineffectual leaders now running those countries (or the scheming, thuggish brutes, take your pick). Noted as "Quote of the Day" on Steven Vincent's excellent In the Red Zone:
No compromise I have yet seen made by Afghan or Iraqi leaders has been as bad as that made by the Founding Fathers in 1789 when they declared that my ancestors were three-fifths of a man.

-- Condoleezza Rice, during [Jan. 18] Senate confirmation hearing
I did mention two Boxers in this tale, and indeed the other one is named Sarah. Sarah writes for the Arts section of the New York Times, and possibly thought it would be an artistic touch for her to ignore the case of recent baseless allegations against one of Agam's favourite teams of blogging brothers, Iraq The Model, from some decidedly loopy moonbats, fail to do basic background research, and then proceed to regurgitate the hatchet job as if it were her own. (There must be a thing with Boxers and regurgitation). Omar and Mohammad, who I have referred to numerous times here, and who I've been reading since they started their blog in about November 2003, visited the US last year on a trip sponsored by a civic group which has assisted the growth of Iraqi civil society since the fall of the Baathist regime. They spoke at some seminars about democracy and the blog phenomenon in Iraq, and had a few media interviews. Apparently someone at the White House contacted the fellow who had been shepherding the brothers through these engagements, and arranged for them to meet President Bush when they were in Washington. They agreed, but their other brother, Ali, who had stayed behind at home, worried that this level of publicity could endanger the family (Ali has now started his own blog, Free Iraqi).

A group of far lefty loons emerged from under their rock to accuse the three brothers of Iraq the Model, of being paid CIA agents. Rationale for this? Well, they're Iraqis, and they don't hate America, so obviously it's a CIA job. Not only that, their site (on the free blogspot just like me) was traced to a host someplace in the US, registered to an outfit called "CIATech Solutions". Well that's it then: it says CIA (abbreviation: Complex Internet Applications) right there in black and white! Case closed! These are supposed to be technical people, with their own blog-like site, and they don't understand how free blogs work? Hey, I bet Agam's Gecko is located on some machine somewhere registered to the same outfit! Yippee! I'm a CIA agent already!

Then one "middle east specialist" named Juan Cole (who I'm getting awfully tired of seeing interviewed on Lehrer News Hour as an "authority" on Islam or something), who also has his own self-promotional blog, gave his gullible credence to the Martinis' charges, because of course the vast majority of Iraqis agree with him and not the ItM bros. Well the bros have many friends around the world, a lot of people who have gained an immense amount of understanding of the situation in their country simply by reading their day to day experiences and observations. Many of these friends are prominent writers themselves (Roger Simon, Belmont Club, many others), some of whom had spent time getting to know Omar and Mohammad during their visit to the States. Juan Cole and his "arguments" were ripped to shreds, to the extent that I think he hasn't said a word about it all since. The accusations are as specious now as they were then, and largely based on ignorance about how such pages are hosted (by the way, Blogger is run as a branch of Google, which is an obvious CIA front). Both Martini Republic and Juan Cole ended up as completely dumbass fools, and rightly so, and have all stopped propagating this little conspiracy theory.

Then along comes Sarah Boxer to make her own piece of performance art out of it all. If you haven't got a registration for the NYTimes, don't bother with it just for this piece. It's definitely not worth the bother. There's nothing new at all, everything is rehashed from months ago, and it's all been thoroughly debunked. Not only is the piece basically regurgitated junk, but she feels the need -- even after hearing Ali's well-founded fears for his family's safety if their full identities are revealed -- to give all their full names in her article. Such thoughtless idiots need to be kept well away from newspaper rooms. What the hell is it with Boxers these days, anyway?

As for whether the brothers, or Juan Cole Martinis are closer to the perspective of most Iraqis, or even of most Baghdadis, please see this poll of nearly 5,000 Baghdad residents conducted by Al Sabah newspaper, translated by another Iraqi blogger and noted on Iraq the Model as well as other Iraqi sites a few weeks ago.


Will the security problems cause you to?

Not come out and vote the day of elections = 18.3%

Come out and vote the day of elections = 78.3%

Do you support military action against the terrorists?

Yes = 87.7%

No = 11.1%

Don't Know = 1.2%

Another Iraqi blog that I've read for quite some time, is Healing Iraq. Of course this is an excellent time to be following these writers, with the elections coming up in 10 days. And something that Zeyad wrote the other day was quite startling to me, regarding the overseas voting provisions for expatriate Iraqi citizens. Canada has refused to cooperate with Iraqi democratic progress:
Iraqi exiles abroad (estimated to be about 3 million) with proof of their Iraqi nationality can vote at Iraqi embassies and consulates. About ten voting centers will be available worldwide in the UK, Sweden, USA, Jordan, Iran, Australia, and the UAE. Germany, Syria and Canada, all of which contain sizeable Iraqi communities, have refused to allow Iraqis to vote inside their borders.
Germany, Syria and Canada. Lovely.

UPDATE: Syria allows Iraqis to vote, leaving Germany and Canada the odd ones out. Shown up by Syria. Great.

Well, here is as good as anywhere to insert a quote and link that I'd put aside for use just before the Indian Ocean disaster. It was just a single little anecdote from the current Iraq, which seemed to epitomise some of the more widely ignored aspects of the country, and of course it came from one of Arthur Chrenkoff's wonderful series, Good News from Iraq. But I'll add a little extra in advance of the weeks-old story, just in case any conspiracy theorists decide that Arthur, Agam, Mohammad and Omar are all CIA stooges and plants. This is something Mr. Chrenkoff wrote in introduction to the latest installment of his series:
It has been a mission of this fortnightly column, now in its nineteenth edition, to bring to readers' attention all that "gets overlooked if not ignored" in Iraq: the advancements of the political and civil society, the rebirth of freedom, economic growth and reconstruction progress, generosity of foreigners and positive role played by the Coalition troops in rebuilding the country, and unremarked upon security successes. Contrary to some critics, the intention has never been to whitewash the situation in Iraq or to downplay the negative; the violence, bloodshed, disappointments and frustrations are all there for everyone to see and read about in the mainstream media on a daily basis. But to point out positive developments is not to deny the bad news, merely to provide a more complete picture. As voters faced with the defining foreign policy issue of the new millennium we owe it to ourselves to be fully informed about the state of affairs in Iraq. And that means both the car bombs and rebuilt hospitals.
Thank you Arthur, you've been doing an awe-inspiring job of it too.

As I said, this was from December, so it would have been the previous, or even the next previous installment of Chrenkoff's compilations, which I happened to be reading via Opinion Journal.

There's good news and bad news here, first the bad news: America isn't going to quit in Iraq. Now for the good news: America isn't going to quit in Iraq:
An Iraqi businessman was negotiating several months ago to sell a prime piece of commercial real estate in central Baghdad. He had tentatively agreed on a price with a Kuwaiti investor, who planned someday to build an electronics superstore on the 3,000-square-meter property. But after President George W. Bush was re-elected in November, the Iraqi jacked up the price by 25 percent. The prospect that a re-elected Bush administration would stay and fight--and ultimately stabilize Iraq--had instantly made his property more valuable.
Bad news for the buyer, good news for the seller. George W. Bush is good for Iraqi property values!

Chrenkoff also has something to say about the NYTimes smear on the Iraq the Model bloggers. Read him regularly for great regular roundups of generally ignored stories from Afghanistan and the Islamic world, as well as Iraq. He applied the same talents to Tsunami coverage lately as well. Man, those Polish-Australians have got some stamina!

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