Agam's Gecko
Monday, January 31, 2005
Well, the event of the week is surely what took place yesterday in Iraq. Anytime that I have seen a population showing such enthusiasm to demonstrate their freedom and exercise self-determination after having had these long denied them (such as the massive voter turnout in Cambodia for its first fair election), I find the event incredibly inspiring. How much more so, when the population is acting under intimidation from nihilistic brutes who have demonstrated their ruthlessness in a most extreme fashion. To have seen the people of East Timor participating in their referendum in Sept. 1999 while thuggish militias were threatening their slaughter (and did their best to carry out the threat), and to know that more than 90% of eligible Timorese voted anyway, is to have seen the true power of freedom.

I also remember far fewer life and death issues or risks in my own voting life in Canada, indeed the act was always absolutely risk-free. Yet the knowledge that this is an act that people across the world have fought and died for -- that in too many places they continue to die for it -- always made the day take on somewhat of a sacred character for me. Yesterday's act of freedom in Iraq raises that to a new level.

I was not surprised at all by the large turnout, despite the bloodthirsty threats from al-Zarqawi and his ilk. In fact it was very good of the Jordanian butcher to lay things clearly on the line just a few days before election day, quite likely spurred to declare his hand by President Bush's own words just days before. While the think-tanks and experts and editorialists from the "newspapers of record" had been sneering for months and months over the President's assertion that the terrorists and Baathist fighters were simply fighting to forestall democracy, and that these thugs were simply opposed to freedom, their conventional wisdom was thrown on its ear and the sneering suddenly stoppped -- for the chief terrorist himself had declared that indeed, President Bush was correct. John F. Burns (the best journalist in Iraq, both during and after Saddam) in the New York Times quoted from Zarqawi's last scare tape:
"We have declared an all-out war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology ... Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."


The man identified as Mr. Zarqawi, who has claimed responsibility for many of the insurgency's most brutal attacks, including dozens of bombings causing mass casualties as well as kidnappings and beheadings, railed against democracy, saying supplanting the rule of God with that of a popular majority was "infidelity itself." The fit punishment for any Muslim "apostates" joining in, he said, was death.
These people promised to bathe Iraq's streets and roads with voters' blood, for democracy was the enemy of God. As of this writing, it is estimated that three-quarters of eligible voters took their places in voting queues, as potential terrorist targets, thereby declaring People's victory over the forces of evil. That doesn't mean problems are over, far from it. But now all the cards are on the table, and the stakes are clearly delineated. That big majority of Iraqi citizens constitute the "Iraqi street" (or as the big media pundits love to refer to it, the "Arab street"). Zarqawi is not the "Iraqi street" (and how can he even be an "insurgent"? -- he isn't even an Iraqi). Michael Moore's freedom fighter, leader of the Iraqi Minutemen, as he called them, is revealed as one who feels called by God to slaughter every voting infidel in Iraq. Which means the more than 10 million Shias, Kurds, Sunnis, Assyrian Christians and other smaller minorities who joined in common purpose yesterday.

I just listened to Christopher Hitchens comment on this "Arab street" thing, pointing out that the thugs are not only far removed from Iraqi mainstreet, they aren't even an Iraqi back alley. They not only don't represent the street, they're not even the gutter in the back alley or even the sewer beneath that gutter. It took millions of Iraqis to bravely go out and queue up yesterday to drive that fact home -- and let's hope the mainstream Western media finally wakes up to that at last. Hitch was in fine form, participating late last night (Bangkok time) in an election day panel discussion with Iraqi radio host Ahmad Al-Rikaby. Ahmad founded Radio Dijla in Baghdad, and was hosting this program of discussion, phone-in callers from Iraq, comments from a studio audience and two in-studio bloggers, with the support of Spirit of America. Viewers heard callers from all across Iraq, telling of their experience of the day. The program was carried on C-SPAN.

By this time of course, voting was finished and it was already clear that the violent attacks of the day had not derailed the process, although about 30 people are thought to have been killed by Palestinian-style individual suicide bombers. One fellow from Mosul provided me with my headline, when he described a quiet morning with few visible voters out and about. Then, he said, at some point "the fear vanished" and people started to venture out, to do what they had in their hearts to do. Like Hitchens had said at another point, fear can be contagious, but courage can also be contagious. The program moderator asked the Mosul caller if he remembered what time it was when the "fear vanished", and he estimated it was around 11:00 am. "That's a good time," Ahmad quipped, "for fear to vanish -- just after breakfast." Another caller, this one from Kirkuk I think, expressed that "happy and joyful are words which are too small to describe Iraqis' mood today." The momentous quality of January 30, 2005 is something that non-Iraqis can probably only guess at, and I think there's plenty of evidence from yesterday's Iraqi street scenes for that. I'll remember one elderly woman in a wheelchair after voting, talking to a CNN camera with words whose eloquence echoed even through the translation. She conveyed the import, the determination to embrace freedom at any cost, and the unity of Shia, Sunni, Kurd etc. in an Iraqi identity -- and the line of men queued up some distance behind her erupted into applause.

The two bloggers in the Spirit of America studio were watching the blogosphere in two languages. An Iraqi student from Princeton was watching the Arabic language blogs and news sites like Jazeera and BBC Arabic, while the English language blog world was monitored by Michael J. Totten (who has long had a place in my bookmarks and sidebar). It was a pretty cool way to present a program like this, using a lot of different media for input. They even had some internet video sent from Iraqis showing some pretty enthusiastic looking street campaigning from the night before -- a busy downtown intersection full of traffic, placards waved from pickup trucks loaded with campaigners, and all honking horns like it was New Years Eve. Maybe it was.

And maybe today will also be the beginning of a 'new year' attitude from the quagmire brigade -- i.e. most of the mainstream media (MSM). I wasn't totally surprised by the massive turnout, simply because since 2003 I've been reading normal Iraqi people like Omar and Mohammed at Iraq the Model, their brother Ali now at his new blog Free Iraqi, Zeyad and Hammorabi and the Messopotamian, and lots more. If I wanted to know what regular Iraqis are concerned about, hoping for, or just their day to day lives, I could hear it directly from them, rather than the MSM. I had some idea that these people were closer to the mainstream of Iraqi society than the "MSM experts" were willing to admit. The ItM brothers were branded by some , er, radical progressives or something like that, of being American imperialist dupes if not CIA operatives simply because they were deemed not anti-American enough, and therefore inauthentic Iraqis. But of course, if one read them regularly, one would recognise these charges as just somebody's wishful thinking. I could think of few things more authentic than some of these freedom-loving Iraqi blogs.

The evidence has been out there for some time for a democratic heartbeat in that country, and perhaps yesterdays events will be enough to convince the doomsayers -- especially the incessant drumbeat of doom from the single-minded legacy media. Like Christopher Hitchens said last night, anyone who relied on that media alone for his or her picture of Iraq, would have been truly shocked by what happened on election day. Indeed, I saw some correspondents reporting from the opening of pollstations, almost gleefully recording the absence of voters. At the end of the day though, the citizens of Iraq have with their election, provided in Hitchens' words, "... a fantastic indictment of the Western press corps." Right on. The infamous Robert Fisk has apparently said (as quoted by Hitch) that, "Iraqis are looking forward to this election about as much as the German people looked forward to the bombing of Dresden." Ha. Hahahha. Hahahahohohohaha. People got to be idiots to fall for that schtick now.

This news came to me by email from the International Campaign for Tibet on Saturday, but due to a trip to Singapore last week and Petchaboon on the weekend, I haven't had the opportunity to post anything for almost a week. Tenzin Delek has had his death sentence commuted to life in prison. So while this news is a relief for the many Tibetans who admire and love the Rinpoche, especially in his home region of Lithang, Kham province, the struggle will go on to convince the Chinese government that their sham trial does not make the highly regarded monk into a terrorist. He has a reprieve from death, which for an innocent man is a welcome step, but far from the end of the story. I've written on this case before so I won't delve into it again here, but just felt that readers should get this piece of news if they haven't already. One pertinent additional info is that another monk who had worked on community projects with Tenzin Delek, Tashi Phuntsog was arrested just days after the Rinpoche, in 2002. Tashi was a healthy man in his early 40's when he went into prison then. He was released this month by the Chinese authorities, apparently having served only 3 years of his 7 year sentence. Upon release, Tashi Phuntsog was unable to walk, or to speak clearly. That's what 3 years in a Chinese prison will do to you, providing you are a Tibetan who retains his identity and pride.

It's sometimes disappointing to realise just how accepted is the Chinese Communist Party line on happy singing Tibetans enjoying their autonomous and quaint lifestyle under the wise leadership of the guardians of the people's contentment (or however the Party rhetoric goes, these days). While in Changi Airport last week, I took advantage of the new, free internet stations located throughout the terminal, and used this page to check in on some of my favourite bookmarks (that's one handy use for a blog for sure). So even while away from home, I knew that Jakartass had some questions for me, and that Simon World had put up a short piece on Tibet's Panchen Lama, drawn from what sounds to be a sugary-sweet and heartwarming report of his domestic life in The People's Daily -- which is of course the Communist Party's official mouthpiece, or Party organ, or the Party's official mouth organ, whatever... to the English speaking world. So the 11th Panchen Lama eats breakfast like other mortals, goes to take his lessons in English and scripture, plays on his laptop computer where he also does his homework, and so on and so forth. Just a normal boy, except that he's put forth as the 11th in the lineage of the Panchen Lama, which to the Party's official political mouthpiece writers, somehow makes him Buddha, or God or something.

Except for one small thing: Tibetans have never accepted this Chinese-appointed "reincarnated Lama". The boy has only seen his traditional place at Tashilunpo Monastery a few times, and each time he was taken there it was under extremely heavy security, with snipers on rooftops, opaque-windowed motorcades and the whole nine yards. Very few people of Shigatse even got a glimpse of him, he was whisked in and out for political show purposes, not because the people of that region had any need for him to visit. The monks of Tashilunpo and people of the Shigatse area accept the boy who was selected in the traditional way, the one which went through all the prescribed processes conducted by a council of monastery representatives as a search team. This process was conducted a couple of years following the 10th Panchen Lama's death, with the acceptance of the Chinese government. The leader of the search team, Tashilunpo abbot Chadrel Rinpoche, had assurance from the authorities that he could conduct this exercise according to traditional practice, and was also told that there should be no problem with his contacting the Dalai Lama in exile, with regard to this process. The search proceeded.

And the search succeeded. Whether one believes in this sort of thing or not, Tibetans have a lot of experience in finding their reincarnated teachers. It's often narrowed down to a couple of candidates after much arduous travel through the country, often in disguise, by the search teams. Boys of appropriate age are considered, any unusual stories surrounding their birth or their young lives are given due attention. Physical signs or birthmarks sometimes give an indication, recognition of a predecessor's objects, or any other unusual abilities a child might have, are taken note of. Meditations are done, particulary in conjuction with searching the vista of a sacred lake for dreams or visions to guide the way to the reborn Tulku. Once the team feels they've found the true reincarnation, they will ask through several methods of divination for a confirmation. If that comes up wrong, they'll start all over again. Once past all these proceedures, in the case of the Panchen Lama's spiritual inheritor, the choice will be presented to Dalai Lama for his counsel. In the case of Dalai Lama's reincarnation, the Panchen Lama would be similarly consulted, and would make the final confirmation. In this way, Dalai and Panchen are responsible for recognising each other.

Abbot Chadrel Rinpoche was sure that they'd found the 11th Panchen after a long search, and from what I've read about it, whoever were the Chinese handlers who were supposed to care about such things, they didn't take much interest at the time. Chadrel Rinpoche sent his findings to Dalai Lama in India, and after some days of meditating on it, he replied with his consent. Dalai did not pick the boy, but simply gave his consent as per tradition, to the findings of the Tashilunpo abbot and his team of monastic searchers.

As soon as this became public, the Chinese government denounced everyone involved, arrested most of the monks involved in the "plot", apprehended the young Panchen Lama (his name is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima) who, along with his parents, have not been seen publicly again. The Chinese government quickly installed their own choice as 11th Panchen Lama (which is quite a feat for avowed atheists indeed), and this is the individual written about in such glowing, wholesome and patriotic stories in People's Daily as "A Day in the Life of a Panchen Lama".

One of the remarkable things about the whole fiasco, is that the Tibetans evidently had some well-founded beliefs that the CCP would allow them to conduct their own cultural practices. Only a year or two earlier, the 17th Karmapa was located in Tibet (the 16th had died in exile) according to Tibetan traditions of the Kagyu school. The boy, Urgen Trinley Dorje was enthroned without any interference by the Chinese government, in that the choice was confirmed by Dalai Lama, and the CCP leaders of the time consented without fuss. The Tibetans trusted that they had established their rights in these cultural and religious matters. But they learned with the Panchen experience, that when there are nosy Chinese communist party member atheists who are convinced of their own ability to pick religious leaders, nothing is certain. Chadrel Rinpoche had the next 9 years in solitary confinement to ponder that problem. He was released from prison last year, well past the time his sentence had expired. He is in frail health (sound familiar?) and under house arrest now. The above mentioned Karmapa later bristled at Chinese control and at age 14, escaped into India in the first days of 2000.

That's about where it stands today. Diplomats ask about the welfare of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, officials tell them he is studying well in some undisclosed place. Once, a few years back, they got to see a photo. The Chinese-picked Panchen lives in Beijing, studying well. Tibetans have no use for him. His portraits should be adorning Tashilunpo; however the people would rather use Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's picture, which of course is highly forbidden. So they leave his throne empty, and continue to pay respects to the previous Panchen. This is the extent of political expression in Tibet today.

I couldn't tell from Simon's article, if this glowing puff piece from People's Daily is presented completely seriously or not. Kind of like, what does a "living god" like to eat for breakfast sort of stuff, one wonders if there's any sarcasm there. Anyway the good old MSM doesn't have much to say about any of this, so people can understandably be only getting one side of things. With People's Daily, of course one is guaranteed to be getting the CCP line, and nothing else. But just one thing I wish to set right in Simon's short comments, and it was nice that he included a quote from the mouth-organ as an example for me. Chinese media always translate the title of Tulku or Rinpoche (both are used for reincarnated lamas, holders of lineage titles) into Living Buddha (and presumably whatever the Chinese equivalent is). This is totally wrong, or at least it's wrong enough that it constantly gets misinterpreted to be wrong. "The Living Buddha enjoys high tech gadgets, and Rice Crispies for breakfast," and things to that effect. Simon relays this official People's Daily construction, as "China's officially approved re-incarnation of Buddha". Tibetans do not consider their very highly numerous reincarnated lamas, as "Living Buddhas" or "living gods", and I think that any Buddhist -- Tibetan, Thai, Khmer, Lao, Burmese, Sri Lankan etc. -- would positively cringe at the idea that a bunch of CCP party hacks had correctly found the official reincarnation of Buddha! The Maitreya has come? And he's what? A patriotic Marxist?

Similar misapprehensions frequently and similarly cling to Dalai Lama. He's not a living god, as he has probably explained to journalists and anyone who'll pay attention several thousand times in recent years. Yet the so-called reliable media are not much better than People's Daily, and usually refer to him with this living god business, or at least remarking that Tibetans believe him to be a living god. Complete nonsense! They certainly revere him in a very intense way, but they don't think he's God. He also, like Panchen, is not the reincarnation of Buddha himself. Buddha was also not a living god, but a human being. No Buddhist I've ever met thinks of him a god. Now if one understands what a Boddhisatva is, one could say that Dalai Lamas are traditionally (that is, all of them and not just this current 14th) believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, known as the Boddhisatva of Compassion.

But just be careful; the New York Times hears you talking like that, and suddenly Dalai Lama is the Buddha of Compassion, then the next thing you know, he's the Buddha reincarnated. Then it wouldn't surprise me if the next iteration was a feature in NYT weekend magazine on The Buddha - Reloaded, or worse.

Anyone interested in reading deeper into the Panchen Lama controversy is encouraged to go through the archives of the Tibet Information Network (link on the sidebar). They even have a translation of the previous Panchen's famous 70,000 character letter to the Chinese politburo just prior to his mysterious death, a letter known as the "Poisoned Arrow" (if I recall correctly, it was Mao himself that dubbed it with such power - "a poisoned arrow aimed at the heart of the Party"). TIN is not affiliated with any activist organisation or political group, it is truly an "information network" in the best sense of the words.

Just a few things I want to get into this before posting it. I'm getting way behind here, with more stuff I wanted to write about that I'll just keep for next time. Fellow blogger in Jakarta, who goes by the name of Jakartass, wonders just how, and by what magic incantations Agam in Bangkok is able to view Indonesian television, and what's more, get better reception than he does! Well I suspect that if he suspects my reception is better than his, then he probably knows that I get it from a bird in the sky. Or rather two birds, named Palapa and Telkom. And since a few years back when the networks all went digital (I originally used to watch them with an analog receiver), picture quality is great. Even TVRI is digital now.

Jakartass has also made a discovery regarding the venerable public affairs network, MetroTV, and which I can confirm. Indeed, just after reading a bit of his blog last Friday in Changi airport, that evening I noticed a newsreader finishing his program with an invitation to write to him, with an email address "at" metrotvnews.com. This is obviously something quite new, and the website itself (which I checked out at the airport too) looks much like a placeholder while the site is being built. I had also looked for some MetroTV web presence during this past tsunami month, and started from Media Indonesia Online, since both Media Indonesia and MetroTV are part of the Media Group of Surya Paloh. Surely if there was a MetroTV website, there would be a link -- but the only thing is an online feature to send SMS messages to Metro programmes. So J, good catch! You probably caught it just after the placeholder page went up. Patience, man! Here's hoping their web presence will do justice to their good name.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Last week, I linked to a letter from a serviceman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, which was reprinted on the Global Recon section of Command Post. I thought it was valuable not only for the details of their day-to-day activities to extend all available capabilities toward saving and preserving life, but also for the genuine compassion expressed by the writer. A little different slant on the relief efforts by the Lincoln and her crew, is offered in this article, written under a pen name by a career Navy officer on the Lincoln.

I have heard that many times already during this operation, that things have frequently ground to a halt because of some international politician, UN bigwig, or news celebrity who needed to be catered to. Now it seems that chauffeuring around disaster tourists -- that is, international relief workers who are too high up their various food chains to actually sleep in tents near to the people they are supposed to be helping -- is the new duty for the hard-pressed Sea Hawk helicopter crews. Add to that, the directive from the host country that training flights from the deck of the Lincoln may not take place in Indonesian waters (the pilots must have such flights frequently, or lose their proficiency -- and must re-qualify), and the choppers are burning more fuel and time running back and forth between the desperate emergency camps of Aceh, and international waters. But because there seems to be an ongoing, pressing need for more experts conducting assessments, many of these unnecessarily long chopper flights are carrying the life-saving cargo of international disaster assessment coordination experts back and forth between their guest bedrooms aboard the Lincoln and the field locations where they presumably spend their days assessing things.

I certainly don't intend to tar all the international volunteers with the same brush, but I just bet that the volunteers are sleeping in tents with or near to the disaster victims, and that these people who expect to be put up on a warship (about which I would guess, most of them would normally not have anything nice to say, nor indeed about the US military, period) are a small number who think nothing of eating up far more than their share of available resources. Some of whom seem to have a distinct lack of basic social graces, even while accepting the free food:
He said something along the lines of "Nice china, really makes me feel special," in reference to the fact that we were eating off of paper plates that day. It was all I could do to keep from jerking him off his feet and choking him, because I knew that the reason we were eating off paper plates was to save dishwashing water so that we would have more water to send ashore and save lives.
Whatever these "coordinators" are doing to warrant the special treatment, while thousands of others are able to stay ashore in the Land of the Rencong, they certainly cannot be so oblivious to limited available resources and the allocation thereof. Asked by a ship's officer who would be paying for all the meals they were eating, the leader of a relief group replied, "We aren't paying, you can try to bill the U.N. if you want to."

Damn stingy Americans. (and no, I don't mean that, it's sarcastic irony... or something)

This was spotted on Best of the Web Today:
Who Did You Call 'Stingy'?

"Tsunami-struck Thailand has been told by the European Commission that it must buy six A380 Airbus aircraft if it wants to escape the tariffs against its fishing industry," reports the Scotsman:
While millions of Europeans are sending aid to Thailand to help its recovery, trade authorities in Brussels are demanding that Thai Airlines, its national carrier, pays £1.3 billion [$2.43 billion] to buy its double-decker aircraft.
Jan Egeland could not be reached for comment.
Oh Ho! I bet not! Best of the Web Today, a fine addition to anyone's daily read, from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Pages.

Well, it's a better headline than another ACEH UPDATE, isn't it? Plus I thought I should explain the rencong reference above in the tourist post. The two commonly used figurative names for Aceh, are Serambi Mecca (Mecca's Veranda) and Tanah Rencong (Land of the Rencong). A rencong (ren-chong) is a small traditional Acehnese weapon, something of a ceremonial or symbolic object like the Javanese keris.

There are a lot of positive and negative indications, pertaining both to the Aceh conflict and the process of recovery on the part of many refugees. The number of refugee encampments is reported to be dropping -- probably due as much to the intolerable camp conditions as anything else. But to me it sounds like an indication that people are taking their lives back into their own hands, which can only be a positive thing. I think that no matter how often we have seen the clear evidence of deep trauma over this past month, and not just in Aceh of course, it is just not possible for us to fully appreciate just how heavily this trauma really weighs people down. The sheer prevalence of the feeling among survivors, "why did I live?" and even "what have I left to live for now?" when one has lost every single member of one's family, must make the camps very difficult to stay in. The numbness and shock has to dissipate before grieving could even begin, not to mention acceptance of the reality. The reality is that the Indonesian government now gives the number of their dead and missing as 228,422. There are thought to be over 600,000 homeless.

Imagine sitting in a crowded camp with nothing to do but wait... and think. People are starting to rebuild on their own, as they begin to get past their trauma and grief, and then their boredom. Some of the refugees have found alternate shelter with friends or extended family, while some have just decided to start rebuilding their homes and towns with whatever is at hand. This is a good sign, but of course it doesn't mean the crisis is over -- there are still many inaccessible areas which have yet to receive much in the way of help or supplies. The emergency aid efforts will be needed for some time yet, and they still need to reach into more locations along that "ground zero" stretch of coastline. Speaking of which, the Electric Lamb Mission has been outfitting and stocking the Batavia for a base of operations. She was due to depart Padang last Friday, so she ought to be up the coast by now and reaching some of those communities. Batavia joins two (or is it three?) other ships already working in the area under the organisation of this Padang-based effort.

Tomorrow will be the one month mark following the disaster. Last week, the first and only two United Nations helicopters began contributing to the international effort. Sorry to be a little repetitive, but the Australian, Singaporean, Malaysian and American militaries have been delivering aid from the first days, and the Indonesian Navy naturally also have their ships in the effort. Civil society is great, but isn't it also great that there are these other outfits which can respond when help is needed, not three weeks later? Heretical thoughts, I know -- especially since everybody is now under the leadership, direction and coordination of UN bigwigs. Supposedly.

There is a good roundup of the Aceh situation over here at Dogfight at Bankstown (cool blogname), with many links to all the good, bad and ugly stuff -- including this account of one group of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), now finished with their grief, and ready to continue the fight. The other side of this is the report of recent days regarding a Finnish-sponsored peace meeting between the Indonesian government and the GAM leadership, which would be mediated by a former Finnish president in Helsinki. The news media seems to have missed something in reporting this, at least the ones I've seen. If true, it represents a real policy adjustment by the government -- which has gone to great pains since Megawati relaunched the war against GAM, to avoid any internationalisation of the dispute. Could it be so quickly forgotten that her government singlehandedly scuttled an ongoing peace process which was being shepherded along by the Swiss-based Henri Dunant Centre? There were several other high-profile figures helping in the reconcilliation process -- for example retired American General Anthony Zinni was quite involved. The process advanced so far as to have an ASEAN-based peace keeping mission accepted by the Indonesian government, under the leadership of an officer of the Thai army, which was by all accounts quite effective and well respected.

Then one day, a number of GAM's political negotiators set out for Banda Aceh's airport, to begin their journey to Tokyo and participation in a peace conference there. They were apprehended by police, arrested, put on trial, convicted of their charges, and remain in prison to this day. That was the end of the "Aceh peace process" and "internationalisation of the dispute". The Thais and other ASEAN peacekeepers went home, Henri Dunant Centre was asked to remove itself from Aceh and get on home, and within days TNI airforce jets were shown bombing "separatist hideouts" in Aceh. Since then, the involvement of any international body or representative has been a line that absolutely would not be crossed.

Until now, if this report is true. What a difference a tsunami makes. Maybe President SBY is also a difference here, and we might dare to hope for a new approach to the Aceh issue. I hope so.

I just noticed that I made a silly mistake in the Zhao Ziyang article I posted last Monday, when I called current president Hu Jintao the "former governor of Tibet". I must have been writing hurriedly, because everybody knows that the big cheese in any Chinese province is the Party Secretary. The "governor" is basically a nobody -- in fact they probably even allow Tibetans to hold that position now. It sounds good and means nothing. The Party is the sole legitimate people's leadership for evermore, and Party Secretary in any jurisdiction is the top dog. I've corrected the article, and made a note of the correction in an update to the article.

I also notice that that day's posting got screwed up somehow, and I'll try and repair that. It's all there but part of it got posted again (incompletely) for some reason. Oh, and one correction to my snide remark last week about Germany, Syria and Canada not allowing Iraqi expatriates to vote on their national territory. I've just watched a news report about the process for Iraqis voting in Syria, to they're off this list of shame. That leaves Germany and Canada. Lovely. Shown up by Syria.

Oh, one more: Winnipeg Times got taken over by a 6 year old apparently, so it's off the blogroll (no idea what happened to Raskolnikov...).

Besides being the one month mark after the tsunami disaster, tomorrow January 26 represents a couple of other important calendar marks. Tomorrow will be exactly two years since Lobsang Dhondup was denied his appeal in a Chengdu "court", led away and summarily shot to death. His co-accused, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche also had his death sentence upheld by Chinese "justice" on that day, which offered him the mercy of having this sentence held back as a reprieve for two years. This period expires tomorrow as well.

It was a fine time for our lovely and talented Prime Minister of Canada to visit the Peoples Republic of China and declare the wonderful progress which has been made by that totalitarian state, in the area of human rights. As near as I can gather, he made some squeaking noises about two Chinese-Canadian journalists who were denied permission to accompany the Canadian party -- denied visas without justification by the lovely and talented Chinese Communist Party state aparatus, that is. One Conservative Party MP had planned to visit the home of the late Zhao Ziyang to pay his respects, but upon inviting Mr. Martin to join him, the PM replied that his dance card was regrettably filled up already. Did the word "Tibet" even escape the Prime Minister's lips during his tour? What was it that he promised us all last April? Does Canada have any clout at all anymore?


Last Friday I was pretty annoyed at a couple of Boxers, and there are some interesting replies to one of these which I can offer this time around. First of all, if anybody wants to read the original hatchet piece without registering for the NYT, you can get it here. Just remember that it's fundamentally a rehash of conspiracy-minded um.. moonbat-like accusations which were raised, and debunked by the blogosphere at large, months ago.

Whether you bother with Sarah Boxer's piece or not, please do yourself a favour and read Ali's reaction to it. After all, he was the one she used the most to make her pitch, so only fair to read his take on it. Do yourself another favour and read his brother Mohammed's take on it. The whole kerfuffle has now been picked up by the BBC, seemingly as a way to simply repeat Boxer's misleading hooks, including her prize quote which she infers is the only genuine thing Ali said during their phone interview. She twisted and recombined his words, and flatly misquoted him - as he states very clearly at the above link -- and BBC jumps at the chance to reinforce this to a world audience. "Iraq blog spat leads to web chaos"?? Where do they find such excellent headline writers?

I'm just itching to quote from both Ali and Mohammed's pieces, but I can't select just a paragraph or two above the others. These guys (and brother Omar) are extremely admirable and brave people, full of the idealism and hope for the future of their country which will surely carry them far, and faith in the power of freedom to transform people and nations. By the way, Mohammed is running for the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party in this weekend's election. One could not find a better couple of bloggers to be reading during this historic time, than Iraq the Model and Free Iraqi.

But I just have to share a bit of fun at Boxer's expense, a taste of a masterpiece at Truth Laid Bear by N.Z. Bear, creator of the blogosphere's Ecosystem. Sandwiched between the following two paragraphs, is Sarah Boxer's tedious hack job:
When I telephoned a man named Ali [name witheld-agam] in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A CIA operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet.


"Me and my brothers," he said, "we generally agree on Iraq and the future." (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: "My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions."

Now that seems genuine.
Whereas, sandwiched between these two paragraphs, is N.Z. Bear's tasty satirical response:
When I telephoned a woman named Sarah Boxer in New York last week, I wondered who might answer. A DNC flack? A hack posing as a journalist? Someone paid by The New York Times to craft hatchet-jobs on Iraqis who dare to express thanks to America for deposing Saddam? Or simply a lazy writer with some confused ideas about fact-checking and objectivity? Until she picked up the phone, she was just a ghost on the page.


"Me and my journalistic colleagues", she said, "we generally agree on the important things about reporting: spelling; grammar; having a killer lede." But there is one important difference: "Other journalists think checking facts and not floating unsubstantiated rumors that might get people killed are an important part of journalism. I have my questions."

Now that seems genuine.

Well, maybe not exactly a thousand words, but maybe a few dozen anyway. Here is the picture, and here is the caption to hook you with:
Protesters, many carrying signs and wearing homemade aluminum hats, walk through the streets of Portland, Ore., Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, during a demonstration against the inauguration of President Bush for his second term.
You read that right: many were "wearing aluminum hats". Do anti-inauguration protesters feel they have more gravitas when they voluntarily play the part of the so-called "tin-foil hat brigade"? Are they just having fun, or really believe they are protecting themselves against nefarious broadcasting of mind-melting Bushitler Beams, or maybe even the devastating Zionist Neo-Con Rays from Krauthammer himself?

On a related note, I came across a comment somewhere recently, I know not where -- but whoever it was that wrote this question is a genius, whose riddle has me completely stumped. After the Prince Harry wearing - a - Nazi - tunic - to - a - fancy - dress - party kerfuffle, some big shots in the European Onion started making noises that all Nazi paraphernalia and symbolism should be banned EU wide, the way it is in Germany. I have to wonder whether there would be this much fuss if the boy had worn a hammer and sickle armband instead of the swastika. After all, that ideology actually killed way more people, and still rules the most populous country on earth, while the Nazis (evil and murderous as they were) have, after 60 years, become the legitimate butt of jokes -- in addition, of course, to the never forget, never again part. Or did somebody forget to tell Mel Brooks? Anyway, the genius commenter on somebody's blog (my humblest apologies to the uncredited sage) has presented a conundrum which has me stumped. If the Euros ban the swastika, not only might it inconvenience traditional followers of the Hindu faith, but how ever will the Bushitler bashers be able to properly vent and protest against their adversary again? Without Nazi symbols? Hmmm?

Afterthought: The speech was terrific. If the reader is one of those who has a physical aversion to W, hates the sound of his voice, or for whatever reason just couldn't stand to listen to it, give yourself just a little leeway here, and read it. There hasn't been this much idealism from a president, or so much emphasis on the power of freedom, since John F. Kennedy in 1961 (I saw it, and many of the recent ones on C-SPAN last weekend). Read it with JFK in mind, and it may seem very different. I think it's a great speech either way.
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!
Monday, January 17, 2005
Zhao Ziyang, who for 15 years has been a silenced but still potent symbol for the Chinese idealists and reformers, died this morning in Beijing. He had not been seen publicly since his abrupt purging from his positions within the Communist Party and government following the Tiananmen student demonstrations of 1989, which resulted in the murder of many students and their supporters by the Peoples Liberation Army, as well as the end of political reforms in the one-party state.

Zhao will always be remembered for those last appearances on the square, his emotional address to the students and his valiant attempt to avert catastrophe in their showdown with an increasingly intolerant Party leadership. He tried, he failed to achieve his goal, and with some very hard-line elements in the leadership clique then arrayed against him, he became a scapegoat for the entire episode. The old man was banished to an address in or near the party's leadership compound Zhongnonhai, under constant guard (and they needed to continually rotate the guards, because they kept becoming sympathetic with their prisoner). This was the man who was intended to be Deng Xiao Peng's successor, who was clearly a progressive thinker (by Communist Party standards), and under that circumstance, the country's moves toward economic and political reform seemed to be on track to continue. So much hope and optimism seemed to be embodied in this figure, who was set to lead through the next phase of China's political maturing process. Then one day, no one saw or heard from him again. Disappeared, just like those rivals of Stalin or Khruschev would disappear, even from photographs.

It might be well to remember that the Tiananmen demonstrations were triggered by another death -- or rather, the funeral ceremonies (if I recall correctly) -- of a reformist Communist Party leader, Hu Yaobang. The Chinese students and their idealistic supporters admired Mr. Hu, his legacy united them, and they dedicated their non-violent struggle on the square to his memory. By the way, Hu Yaobang is also remembered by Tibetans for his 1980 visit to their occupied country as the Chinese Communist Party General Secretary, when he said:
"We feel that our Party has let the Tibetan people down. We feel very bad! The sole purpose of our Communist Party is to work for the happiness of people, to do good things for them. We have worked nearly thirty years, but the life of the Tibetan people has not been notably improved. Are we not to blame?"
Yes, of course -- who am I to refute the Party's own General Secretary? He did accomplish some easing of the onerous restrictions on Tibetans at that time, and for a few years during the early 1980's they had some room to breathe, and were even allowed several visits from representatives of the exiled Tibetan government in India. The hardline factions in the Party were shocked at the massive emotional reception these delegations generated, and the tolerance period was soon ended.

Today, another Mr. Hu rules the roost. Hu Jintao, the mysterious former Communist Party Secretary* of Tibet, whom nobody seemed able to describe any of his ideas or thoughts about anything (except that he was a good dancer), today has solidified his hold on the top post and fully sidelined his predecessor Jiang Zhemin. Zhao's death today reminds everyone that this man didn't really just disappear from public view, he was there all this time; and that the Communist Party has been afraid of what he represented, his symbolism, afraid of this frail old man right up until the end of his life. Will the Chinese citizen remember and honour him, as they did with an earlier reformer 15 years ago? Would the current leader, who crushed expressions of Tibetan national identity, culture and religion when he ruled that land, even allow them to if they were so inclined?

* UPDATE: Hu Jintao was of course, not the governor of Tibet (as I had written originally), but Party Secretary of the Tibet "Autonomous" Region. Party Secretaries always trump governors in China. Duh!

Almost two weeks ago, I mentioned how MetroTV had re-united a young boy who survived the devastation in Aceh, with his older sister in Banda Aceh. Dede had been on his own for more than a week, as far as he knew he was the only survivor of his family. On about Day 8 he was taken by volunteers to safety in Medan, and there he happened to be comforted by the wife of the President. This event was recorded by television cameras -- a much noticed event it was too, because Ibu Negara (the Nation's Mother) expressed her wish to adopt Dede, as he had no one left of his family. Dede thanked her but politely declined -- he had to go back and find his missing family. His older sister, who is married and lives in Banda Aceh, saw the event and contacted MetroTV, who promptly set up a satellite video link for Dede and his sister to see and talk to each other.

This exact type of thing is happening every day -- children and parents finding each other through MetroTV's help. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll write it again. MetroTV has been absolutely fantastic throughout this whole ordeal. They had so many contacts from the public, people who had caught a glimpse of loved ones for a moment on a news report, that they've set up a special facility where they run these tapes continuously, and anyone can come to view. For many, this is the only sliver of hope they have, the only way to know that a loved one is still alive.

Yesterday, a Metro reporting crew were informed that Dede's younger brother and sister had also survived, and had been transferred by some volunteers to a relative's family in Sigli (on the north coast, east of Banda Aceh). The Metro folks took us viewers with them to the small house in rural surroundings, to meet the two youngsters and the family who has been caring for them. They provided the children, a girl about 3 and a boy about 10, with a comfortable but lengthy ride to where their brother was staying. When Dede held his baby sister tightly, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. In fact I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye watching it, anywhere. I know the Metro folks are going above and beyond the call of duty. When Dede finally released his little sister from his arms, still sobbing, he went directly into very emotional hugs with all the Metro crew present.

There have been a number of similar stories aired this past weekend. It's good to see this, because the hopeful stories, the chance that such things can happen, is in large part what keeps up the spirits of those who are making them happen.

I've made some additions and repairs to the blogroll / sidebar links. The BAKORNAS disaster bulletins (Indonesian language) are available on a new "Aceh Recovery" site -- the link now points to an index of these useful field updates. Aceh Media Center added, the link goes to latest news in Indonesian (sorry, the English page is not getting updated much). The Electric Lamb Mission link now goes directly to latest updates instead of the welcome page. The additions to "Asia Blogs" should have been made weeks ago, but better late than never. Check Jakartass out for a expat's views from Jakarta, Macam-Macam for an Australian take on South East Asia (mainly Indonesian issues, but prepare for anything -- macam-macam means a variety of all kinds of this 'n that), and the 2Bangkok front page for those who enjoy "almost being there". I leave 2BAngkok's tsunami coverage index in place for now under the tsunami heading, as long as the editor continues updating it. For keeping up with the progress on our common disaster recovery efforts down here, be sure to check the Indonesia Help blog regularly, now featuring a block of latest tsunami news reports from around the region, on the top of the page.

Added Peaktalk from Vancouver, and Times of Winnipeg from Agam's previous hometown from a previous life, to the "Can-Con" section. For non-Canuck speakers, can-con does not refer to an ability to deceive anyone (as in, "I can con him easy!"). No, it's something of a vital ingredient for our movies, music, books, magazines, television, even food I think -- and regulated by government. Agam's Can-Con is completely voluntary, however, and free of government regulation. And last but not least ..... comedy! Scrappleface and Iowahawk have in stock all your satirical needs -- and then some. Necessitating a heading name change, find them under "Toons & Satire".

Following confusing proclamations from various political and military figures regarding the degree of tolerance the Indonesian government was having for all this foreign military emergency help, it seems that cooler heads have at long last prevailed. I for one felt a bit embarrassed to hear some of these last week, although one expects it from the Laskar groups, it sounded discordant coming from Vice Presidents of countries in crisis. Over the weekend the tone was softened by statements from the Defence Minister and people in the President's office, among others. The minister clarified that the touted three month deadline for international forces to "get out of Indonesia", was in fact just a benchmark and not a deadline. Paul Wolfowitz, who was visiting Jakarta, helped ease the pressure a little by affirming that his country was not slighted by those calls during the second week of their emergency help, to get out of Indonesia. The United States had no intention beyond helping in a humanitarian emergency, and Wolfowitz hoped that the Indonesian authorities would be able to meet their own timeframe for assuming the logistics requirements themselves. As a former ambassador to Indonesia, he's familiar with the society (and even showed that he hadn't forgotten all of his language ability yet).

As to the restrictions on foreign volunteers due to the ongoing threats from GAM guerrillas, thankfully this policy doesn't seem to have hampered the relief efforts yet. It is curious that so much is made of the threat of GAM attacks, when GAM itself has been calling for a cessation of hostilities, and TNI officers have been confirming that their war goes on as usual -- in direct contradiction to their own commanders. I was shocked when I read last week in the Indonesian press, and the fact was repeated on televised newscasts, that since the tsunami struck on Dec. 26, there had been 101 GAM members killed by soldiers, and one TNI soldier killed by GAM. Who's being the aggressive one again? This seems to agree with charges that the military has been actively attacking GAM camps and hideouts, or suspected sympathisers. If anything untoward happens, never mind the details and facts -- it was GAM's fault. This is the automatic position taken at all times by TNI, regardless what actually happened. For this reason, I have difficulty believing that they have killed over a hundred people, and that they were all in self defence.

Incident: A wild episode of shooting happens in the middle of traumatised Banda Aceh. Confusion over what exactly happened. TNI spokesman assures all that this was definitely the work of GAM. No question about it. It was GAM, GAM, GAM, who else? Reuters, AP, AFP wireservices take that at face value, the stories are written and transmitted across the world. Down at the bottom of the story, might be a line or two about one witness who thinks it was a troubled TNI soldier who did the shooting. The next day the minister responsible for the disaster management, Alwi Shihab, confirms that yes indeed it was a traumatised soldier who lost control and shot off his gun wildly. "Nothing to do with GAM at all," said Mr. Shihab.

This kind of thing is not going to make the Acehnese people feel confident, to know that facts don't have any bearing on what the army says and does. GAM will continue to be the default "at fault" at all times. Officers say that young foreign volunteers in the province are in danger from GAM. Although I don't recall GAM ever killing foreigners, I do recall TNI killing some a few years ago. Not intentionally of course, just firing guns wildly at a beach in the middle of a pitch dark night, a beach where a German couple were hoping to sleep without bothering anyone. The military knows well that in many areas, villagers are not comfortable with them. They are sometimes afraid of them. There is a reason for that.

So the military certainly needs some pointers in public relations, and engendering trust. Now also their credibility with reporters is going to be shakier than ever. I do think that the perception of ingratitude which inevitably arose from some of the more belligerent sounding statements of politicians, was more damaging to Indonesia's reputation. I find it hard to understand that these people were unaware of how petty they would sound to others. I imagine that I hear commotion from my neighbour's house. I run outside, there's been a sudden explosion, and the place is ablaze. I drag over a water hose, get my own family to help and call assistance from other neighbours. We're all in the midst of working together to save his house, and it looks like we start to get control of the fire, might even save the house. My neighbour looks at his watch, sizes up the remaining blaze, and announces, "Great everybody, now I want you all off my property in 20 minutes!" Not quite the perfect analogy but....

Have a look at this letter from a serviceman on the USS Lincoln, about his experiences of these few weeks on the relief effort. And from Malaysia's Star Online, Global Sikhs Aceh Relief have been helping isolated towns along the coast who have waited 3 weeks, in a similar fashion as the Electric Lamb Mission boats are doing. The citizens' fleet is growing.

I meant to offer this link a while ago, for some relief from all the sadness. Again, better late than never -- and a wai in the general direction of Macam-Macam for the link. Cheer up lads, it could have been worse.

"The Secretary General was right to say disaster relief is a race against time. Fortunately, nations capable of running at the crack of the starting gun are providing the U.N. the time necessary to find its shoes."

Subway crash in Bangkok this afternoon, reported as being caused by computer fault. That sounds fishy, this is a state of the art system. They felt the need to say it wasn't terrorism. Hmmm.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
This was the name bestowed upon the rescue and relief operations launched by the non-Indonesian first responders -- the coalition of the willing which quickly joined with the United States in the early days of the disaster to move ships and aircraft into the area and begin distribution of the tons of material that would mean life or death for thousands of Acehnese people. The ad hoc coalition has since been "disbanded", and their efforts theoretically "folded" into the UN's "coordination and leadership". Whichever way it's framed, the work goes on, the dozens of sorties per day by the big transport planes and choppers, medical and other teams are reaching ever further afield to reach the people who are still in desparate need. I will continue to hope that this vast collaborative effort could still live up to the original theme -- Operation Unified Assistance.

Just how unified that assistance will be in the coming weeks and months, is a question that seems up in the air today. Most surprisingly, it is the Indonesian authorities themselves who seem to be shaking the unity of the mission, and at the same time raising doubts about who is in charge of policy, and who speaks for the government. There have been conflicting positions right from the start, within the military itself. The Army top brass said that TNI will be 100% devoted to relief efforts, and had accepted the call for a total halt to hostilities, offered on the part of GAM. At the same time, officers in Aceh say, "The war against GAM continues." This is not very coordinated or unified, and it's only within one organisation. The President himself has not appeared very decisive, which is a surprise for me, and VP Jusuf Kalla begins now to look like a loose cannon, which is not such a surprise.

Whoever it was that decided it would be a good idea to facilitate the movement of hundreds of the previously mentioned Mujahidin of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and the thugs of FPI into Aceh, I can see where such facilitation can conceivably come from anywhere within the TNI and not necessarily from political leaders. It's known that there are officers and elements in the military which are quite sympathetic to the Islamist movement. As with the general public, I believe such radical sentiments are a fringe within the military, not a mainstream ideology. I can see how such facilitation could have happened without necessarily any direction from above. But... when these radical ideologues begin calling for infidel rescuers to get out of Aceh within one month, and the Vice President then backs them up with some almost belligerent-sounding language of his own, it makes me begin to wonder who is in charge of policy.

Vice President Kalla said that he wants all foreign military contributions to the emergency rescue effort, to be gone out of Indonesia within 3 months. Well fine, it's very likely that by that time the emergency aspect will have diminished, refugees will have proper structures to stay in, supply lines will be well enough established to keep a steady flow of everything essential for life, functioning health systems, transportation, communications infrastructure etc. So maybe by then there will be no point in having Australian and Singaporean service men and women doing any of this stuff, because the Indonesian government will have everything well in hand. Maybe. But even if so, it just doesn't sound so good to hear Mr. Kalla seeming to echo those anti-"kafir", anti-US or anti-whatever comments from the loony thugs of FPI et al. These people are worried that the Acehnese will become contaminated by too much contact with these foreigners, when in fact the Acehnese have never been xenophobic to begin with, as those demagogues are.

It looks bad from the outside to hear such things from within leadership circles, and it comes across as pettiness, insecurity and ingratitude toward a world which is only trying to help. I don't think many people actually have this attitude toward the assistance operations, but those that do, now have reinforcement of it from some of their leaders. I listened to a woman phone caller to Metro yesterday, saying that she didn't like to see those foreign soldiers doing humanitarian work, because it made her feel like they wanted to "take over" the area. Some people are just going to have this kind of suspicion, it will be dispelled in most cases by actions not words. They will watch, and most will realise that the assistance was offered with genuine concern, not with a hidden plan to take control of part of the country. A few loonies of course will never have their suspicions dispelled, but I'm sure that the woman caller would eventually realise that a Japanese medical team was not in Aceh to occupy and oppress the place.

Now we have a new directive from the government, not satisfied with their earlier attempts to frighten relief operations out of certain regions of Aceh, and not satisfied with their subsequent strategy of simply ruling sectors off limits on grounds of rebel activity. The ruling came out yesterday, that foreigners are henceforth restricted to Banda Aceh and Meulaboh. You want to go outside the city? Fill in some forms, take them to the police and wait for approval. I wish I could believe this is just a minor rule to ensure some local officials have an avenue for extracting a little bit of "smoothen out the process" money from rich foreign journalists. But I think they are truly serious, they expect to keep all those foreigners confined in two places, and minimise contact between them and the Aceh population. I have thought that one of the non-horrible results of the disaster is that it will be difficult to again close off Aceh so completely as they had done since martial law imposition in May 2003. But it's evident that some of the elite are obviously wasting no time in trying to close the door again.

Here is another mission to deliver assistance in a unified and coordinated way, to the most desparate areas still waiting for help in Aceh. The folks in Padang who sprang into action on Day 1, and who I have been referring to as the "Mentawai - Aceh" effort, now has a website with more information on their daily progress and what they've been finding in the field. They are committed to reaching, and assisting as needed, the communities on the many offshore islands and remote parts of the coast. One of their boats, a ferry called the Sumber Rezeki was at Tapaktuan last weekend, moving up to Calang this week. They have been the first help that many of these have seen to date, and you can follow their activities and daily updates from the field, at The Electric Lamb Mission.

I'm sure the site will soon have some photos of the activities of the crews and medical teams on these boats, but in the meantime we can read about them in Newsweek magazine: Building Sea Bridges.

Somewhere along the way during the past few days, while searching out information on latest conditions on the coast, I came upon a link to the US military's page for news on US Defence Dept. relief operations. It's actually quite a good source for getting a handle on current state of affairs, up to date news articles on what role the various ships and the other assets are fulfilling, and so on. There are some interesting details in there, such as how some creative folks among the ships' crews designed and built 20 mass distribution water manifolds, out of things they could find on their ships -- including stuff that was slated to be returned to home bases, as surplus. The ships are producing over 400,000 gallons of drinking water from sea water every day. I've read elsewhere that the Australians have about the same production capacity with the land-based equipment that they brought in. The Navy NewsStand also has a tsunami relief operations page.

A child salutes heli liftoffThe Children of Lamno is a short photo-essay, of which the sailors are putting up daily. The children in the pictures really love acting up for the camera, but this boy is for real. He won't be an easy mark for the mujahidin later. Another good one is People of Meulaboh. All photo-essays and news articles are indexed together, here.

They use some awfully funny spelling on the captions and titles - like the Mglaboh on the above series, and Calang is given in the old spelling, Tjalang. There was another series or two taken at a place called "Jalan", and I thought, "yeah, they landed and asked where they were.. Jalan Diponegoro Apasaja... and it was recorded Jalan (street). Of course it's actually Calang again! In another series, some devastated place and a damaged mesjid obscured by some trees. The caption said that the survivors were flying the "emergency" distress signal, or some such. Part of the international system used by seafarers to communicate with flags and pennants. Of course it was the Red & White, the national flag! So the caption writing could use a bit of work, but the pictures are terrific.

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