Bookshelf: A Prayer for Owen Meany & Harry Potter - The Chamber of Secrets

On the night stand

I try to have a mix of books on my reading list. I confess I don't read nearly as much as I should or would like.

Earlier this year I finished A Prayer for Owen Meany.

The book is a coming of age tale set in the North East and touches on the turmoil of the Vietnam war, friendship, family and matters of faith. I would imagine the book would invoke a mix of feelings from those who take Christian faith seriously as there is enough material here to encourage and enrage.

For me, I read the book amidst an interesting context as I read late last year Catcher in the Rye. The two books follow the life of unusual young men. In Catcher, it follows a very small slice of the young teens life while Owen Meany's story arc is longer. What was striking to me was the contrast in the two lives. In Rye, the character is detached from any anchor and the inevitable consequences ensue. In Meany, we have a character with such a sense of destiny it is on one hand frightening and also assuring. Most of us live within that vast middle ground of these two extremes and so for me to read these two tales back-to-back was jarring and made me ponder those issues of certainty in life.

In terms of religious faith, Owen Meany describes the practice of religion and discusses some theological issues in an matter-of-fact way. So often in pop culture, I'm thinking of movies and television in particular, faith is a non-entity. Given that so many Americans claim some measure of belief in god, it has always struck me as strange that god is usually only referred to as an expletive.

Irving's willingness to weave concerns about faith is refreshing. His treatment is at times irreverent and raises questions about having "faith in faith."

All in all an interesting read. It was a bit long; thus, my interest in the story would flag but as I neared the end, the various details that seemed so randomly tossed in began to come into play as the characters hurtled toward the stunning conclusion.

The other book I recently finished is the second book of the Harry Potter series, The Chamber of Secrets. I have seen both films and look forward to the third, The Prisoner of Azkaban.

The books are quick reads with a page turning quality. Even though the characters are early teens, the issues are universal: doing what is right versus wrong, loyalty to friends, understanding that people are complex, learning to find one's place in the world and being at peace with who you are.

Some Christians complain about the books because they are about magic, wizardry and dark arts. Indeed, one shouldn't be blind to those elements; however, I think the issues of self-identity and exploration of growth and personal virtue far outweigh those concerns. The way I see it, those mystical elements are part of story telling and are understood by most readers as fictional. I am no more worried about those features than I am about the violence of the Roadrunner and the Coyote cartoons.

Anaheim Angels

The hot baseball ticket in Southern California is for the 2002 MLB champion Angels! I went last Sunday (recap and box score) and saw the Angels defeat Baltimore easily. I normally go for the budget seats but the most afforable tickets that still had availabilty was in the $30 section. Here is a another digital stitch.

No post about the Angels would complete without some photos of items in the tribute to the 2002 championship team. Here is the trophy.

Here is a t-shirt inside the display case.

And of course, here is the charming (to Angel fans) and ubiquitious and annoying (to opponents) Rally Monkey!

Angels have been hit hard with injuries but have still played well and remain atop the AL West!

NYT: Friedman's latest column on where we should go from here

I admit I tend to visit center-right and conservative news and commentary sites. I also visit some libertarian ones. Friedman is one of my few left-center writers I like to visit. I should try to find a few more so I can get a more complete picture of the marketplace of ideas. Click here for his latest. Unfortunately, the NYT eventually moves articles into paid archives. Since it isn't kosher to copy and paste the whole article, the typical blog practice is to excerpt and make comments which is what I'll do here.
Here's what I'd like to see:

We would take all the money the Bush team has wasted on P.R. campaigns directed at the Arab-Muslim world and put it into three programs: a huge expansion of U.S. embassy libraries around the world, which have been cut in recent years (you'd be amazed at how many young people abroad had their first contact with America through an embassy library), a huge expansion of scholarships for foreign students to study in America, and a huge expansion of our immigration service so it can quickly figure out who should get visas to study or work in America and who shouldn't.
I'd have to agree here with TF. The best way to advertise America is for people to meet Americans. Isn't that what people always say about us when we are abroad: we love Americans it is the government we can't stand! And as someone who went to graduate school, I know a lot of people come to the US to study and most go back to their countries having had a real look at our country. In the field of molecular biology, much of the heavy lifting by graduate students and post-docs are done by people from other countries, their best and brightest, so we benefit from them too!
We would adopt a 50-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax...
I'm still thinking about that one. TF being an NYT writer probably lives in New York where he may not need to drive as much and he certainly travels a lot being the international affairs writer so he must ride a lot of taxis overseas. Thus, he may be shielded somewhat from the price of gasoline. Here in Los Angeles, Mrs. Average Mom may have to buy 30 gallons of gasoline a week for her car to take her to work and the kids to school. Let's do the math: 30 gallons/week x $2.40/gallon x 52 weeks/year = $3744. Now tack on the $0.50/gallon tax: $4524. That is $780 more out of her pockets. For someone on Friedman's salary, that isn't a big deal. Thus, if we do a gas tax then I think we need to cut income taxes for the lower wage earners.
We would spearhead efforts in trade talks to reduce U.S., European and Japanese farm subsidies. Nothing would be more helpful to Pakistani, Egyptian and other poor farmers in the Muslim and developing worlds than no longer having to compete with our subsidized produce.
Agree. Libertarian free-traders have been on this soapbox a long time so far to no avail.
We would make a serious effort to diffuse the toxic Arab-Israeli conflict, including using NATO forces to separate the parties.
TF is being a bit too idealistic here. (1) Some NATO nations (as well as non-NATO) have troops in various hotspots including Iraq so there probably aren't a lot left to send anywhere else. (2) In addition, if NATO nations are already nervous about sending troops into Iraq can you imagine how nervous they would be sending them into the midst of the Israel-Palestinian conflict? Do you see the French or Germans sending troops to the Gaza or West Bank? Don't think so.
We would spell out that the war on terrorism is a long-term war on radical Islam and while force is necessary in that effort, it is not sufficient. We have to connect all of the above dots to strengthen Arab-Muslim moderates, because only they can take on their extremists.
Agree. In the end the old USSR fell under its own weight. Hopefully, the time will come soon when the moderate Islamics will realize the radicals are harming their present and destroying their future. As TF is fond of saying, you have to kill the dead enders in the basement but you got to bolt the door so more don't go into that basement and that latter task is partly our responsibility but mostly a job for the moderates.

Szoke Matyas Chardonnay 2001

Tried another wine from the little stash I bought from Blue Danube Wines. My past experience with chardonnay has been with the oak barrel kind. Not quite my taste. Just one of those things. But many think the oaky flavor is okay and even more than okay making chardonnay probably the most abundant wine in a typical market.

Interestingly, the Szoke Matyas Chardonnay 2001 is prepared in stainless steel barrels.

Aroma of peach and a hint of cut grass. Refreshing taste and no oak!

To read what Blue Danube says about the Szoke Matyas Winery of Hungary, click here.

Perspective sure would help

The Daily Dish from Sullivan is as close to a daily must read in the blogsphere as is possible. Here are two items (here and here) that provide some much needed perspective to the diet of bad news shown on the "mainstream" media. Sullivan reprints an email he received. Excerpt:
He has been in downtown Baghdad for a year in the middle of it all! He said that it's really like an inner city that has a lot of gang activity. The people that live there are happy that the troops are there and are very friendly and supportive (women and girls always blowing kisses, men waving and smiling!) They point out the "bad guys" and call them "Ali Baba"! He said that so much has changed for the good over there. Kids are back in school, adults suddenly have internet access and telephones where before they had no way of knowing what was happening in the outside world. Businessmen are tearing down old falling apart mud and stone buildings and building real businesses.
Sullivan reports an item from Yahoo! News. Excerpt:
On Sunday, for example, scores of masked mujahedeen, shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," paraded four men stripped down to their underpants atop the back of a pickup truck that drove through the city. Their bare backs were bleeding from 80 lashes they had received as punishment for selling alcohol. They were taken to a hospital where they were treated and released. Residents said a man found intoxicated last week was flogged, held overnight and released the next day.
Clearly the prison abuse by US troops is wrong and must be investigated and proper punishment delievered. But the critics who are running around like headless chickens decrying it have no sense of perspective.

As for the whole Iraq war, indeed, things are still chaotic but I keep hearing stories like the one Sullivan relays. Why don't these kinds of stories once in a while pop up on the mainstream media?

Science Thursday: tigons, ligers and sleep tight little rovers

Did you know that tigers and lions have been bred in zoos? Wow! Check it out here.

And here is the latest news on the Mars Rovers. Excerpt:
PASADENA, Calif. - The Mars rover Opportunity will be put into a "deep sleep" mode at night to save energy even though the step risks cold damage to one of its instruments, NASA said.
The twin rovers have less solar power because of the advancing winter in Mars' southern hemisphere and the accumulation of dust on their solar panels.

Opportunity has a more serious energy decline because a switch that controls a heater on its instrument arm is malfunctioning, leaving the heater on overnight even when it's not needed.

The only way to turn the heater off is to use the "deep sleep" mode, but it carries the risk of damage to Opportunity's miniature thermal emission spectrometer, known as Mini-TES.

Both rovers completed their primary missions and are on extended missions that could last for several more months if they can withstand the brutal martian cold.
Since I'm a scientist by profession and personality, I find all areas of science pretty fascinating and as I find interesting items, I'll blog them up. Perhaps I'll have to have it as a regular feature!

The experience of family

A couple times a week I drop by Scheherazade's blog. Her blog, or blawg, is a blend of behind the scenes legal profession items and observations on life. Regular readers of her blog will know that her grandfather is ill and doesn't have much time left and that her family is a close-knit one. As such, she has been posting as a way to sort through her feelings. This recent post gave voice to what I think a lot of us feel about life and family.

If you are mid-20s to mid-40s, check out the post and know that you, we, aren't alone in what we are experiencing.

Hope is an amazing thing

Am not a big navel gazing blogger. Though I suppose there have been a small number of posts that skate into the edge of that realm.

So today, how about a full-fledged triple somersault of a navel gaze?

It all started reading this item from Tamara Lawton (a pseudonym). Excerpt:
First, I was stunned. Then I felt a twinge in my heart, a flutter it took me a moment to recognize. All at once I felt all cartoony, twitterpated, and full of irrational exuberance.

For a moment, I felt confused and foolish for responding this way. It's not as though this man seemed at all interested in me. I doubt I'll ever see him again, or that anything will develop from that short, conference-based sighting. But later, as I wrote about it on the pages of my journal, chatted with my mom, and debriefed with friends, I slowly realized why I felt so good.

For the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful. Seeing this guy gave me concrete proof that the kind of man I want to marry exists, and reminded me that God is capable of bringing us together - if nothing else, at least into the same room!
But hope is dangerous. If I hope for marriage and children, I open myself to the possibility of yes and no. I concede that I will be disappointed if my story doesn't unfold this way. I acknowledge that although I've been able to accomplish most everything I've tried so far, there may be a part of my life, an important part, beyond my control. I recognize a yearning that the love of my family, an enjoyable career, and other meaningful relationships can't completely satisfy. I open my heart to risk love and my mind to wrestle with the difficult reality that the God I trust may allow me to experience heartbreak, failure, uncertainty.
As I read the article I felt alternating impulses to laugh and to cry.

Even though the writer is a woman, I could relate to the twinge in the heart, flutter of the stomach and the whole silly, giddy, goofy and special feeling of meeting someone who for a strange combination of totally rational and irrational reasons throws us for a loop. God has wired many (all?) of us to desire that thrill of hope, of possibilties firing the imagination and for that season, the world seems brighter and one's step feels lighter. Thinking about those memories brought a smile and a laugh.

However, I also I felt like crying because I can remember not so long ago thinking, like the author, I had lost that capacity because it had been so long since I felt that feeling. I felt sad because reading her article reminds me that that feeling - a good feeling and life giving feeling - is absent in my life and the distance between my current experience in this area of life and what I fondly recalled and once fervantly hoped for is so vast.

The persistence of memories is an amazing thing. For me, there are three.

I've known on a few handful of occasions that moment and that season. I can recall that surprised feeling: the possible realization of a dream that had been deferred and denied; the warm and weird feeling like the tingling of muscles you know you have but haven't used in too long. I can smile at those crazy times and they are still freeze framed in the memory so that hope does not fully fade.

Then there are recollections of tearful nights that stretch into mornings seen through sleepless eyes. There are memories of the aftermath of when that hopeful feeling turned into the shattered glass of reality as the dream dissolved; frozen moments when a cold heavy heart feeling drowned my longings as the knowledge of what could be but will not washed over me. Remembering it the tears don't flow anymore but the emptiness haunts.

And then there is that third feeling: nothing; there isn't even the energy to hope for the first and not a twinge of sadness at the second.

Am I glad to read Lawton's article? Are you?

Being in that third place isn't life.

Give me hope with the inevitability of pain over the safety of feeling nothing.

Pop culture watch: Avril Lavigne

Am usually behind the curve on pop culture so what else is new, right? Nonetheless, I try to see what is there.

I've only recently come across Lavigne's music. And as usual, I went to the web to get lyrics behind the angsty sound of Avril's voice.

Here are the words to "Complicated":
Uh huh, life's like this
Uh huh, uh huh, that's the way it is
Cause life's like this
Uh huh, uh huh that's the way it is

Chill out whatcha yelling' for?
Lay back it's all been done before
And if you could only let it be
you will see
I like you the way you are
When we're drivin' in your car
and you're talking to me one on one but you've become

Somebody else round everyone else
You're watching your back like you can't relax
You're tryin' to be cool you look like a fool to me
Tell me

Why you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you're acting like you're somebody else gets me frustrated
Life's like this you
And you fall and you crawl and you break
and you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
and promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it
no no no

You come over unannounced
dressed up like you're somethin' else
where you are and where it's at you see
you're making me
laugh out when you strike your pose
take off all your preppy clothes
you know you're not fooling anyone
when you've become

Somebody else round everyone else
Watching your back, like you can't relax
Trying to be cool you look like a fool to me
Tell me

Why you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you're acting like you're somebody else gets me frustrated
Life's like this you
and You fall and you crawl and you break
and you take what you get and you turn it into
promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it
no no no

Chill out whatcha yelling for?
Lay back, it's all been done before
And if you could only let it be
You will see

Somebody else round everyone else
You're watching your back, like you can't relax
You're trying to be cool, you look like a fool to me
Tell me

Why you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you're acting like you're somebody else gets me frustrated
Life's like this you
and You fall and you crawl and you break
and you take what you get and you turn it into
promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it
no no

Why you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you're acting like your somebody else gets me frustrated
Life's like this you
You fall and you crawl and you break
and you take what you get and you turn it into honesty
promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it
no no no
And check out the lyrics to "I am with you":
I'm Standing on a bridge
I'm waitin in the dark
I thought that you'd be here by now
Theres nothing but the rain
No footsteps on the ground
I'm listening but theres no sound

Isn't anyone tryin to find me?
Won't somebody come take me home
It's a damn cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Wont you take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I dont know who you are
but I... I'm with you

im looking for a place
searching for a face
is anybody here i know
cause nothings going right
and everythigns a mess
and no one likes to be alone

Isn't anyone tryin to find me?
Won't somebody come take me home
It's a damn cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Wont you take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I dont know who you are
but I... I'm with you

oh why is everything so confusing
maybe I'm just out of my mind
yea yea yea

It's a damn cold night
Trying to figure out this life
Wont you take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I dont know who you are
but I... I'm with you

Take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I dont know who you are
but I... I'm with you
I'm with you

Take me by the hand
take me somewhere new
I dont know who you are
but I... I'm with you
I'm with you
I'm with you...
What do you think?

Seems to me that the songs are striking a cord with listeners because they tap into the most basic need of human beings: authenticity and acceptance.

In "Complicated" the phrase that haunts me is, Life's like this you and You fall and you crawl and you break and you take what you get and you turn it into honesty promise me I'm never gonna find you fake it.

In "I am with you" there is the longing for someone, anyone to be with to face life with, Isn't anyone tryin to find me? Won't somebody come take me home It's a damn cold night Trying to figure out this life Wont you take me by the hand take me somewhere new I dont know who you are but I... I'm with you.

Where can we find such authenticity and acceptance?

Avril, a teen music sensation, is putting voice to the heart's longing of her generation but also I suspect if a middle aged guy like me can find resonance in her words, her music is reaching beyond her own demographic.

May I be completely non-PC and un-hip and say that the best place to look for that authenticity and acceptance is Jesus?

"Logic" says that if God knows everything about us, then what is there to talk about?

But the funny thing is that that "logic" simply doesn't apply in relationships. When we know someone who knows us and accepts us, we can tell that person everything. And indeed, we can have that kind of relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for us.

In the recent film "Passion of Christ", there are several moments where we see the power of Jesus' acceptance. There is the flashback when Monica Bellucci's Mary faces the stones of her accusers and Jesus stops them with his words and accepts her with his presence. There are the sequences of Jesus interacting wordlessly with Simon of Cyrene who helps Jesus carry the Cross. Lastly, there is the moments when Jesus speaks with the criminal on the other cross who sees that Jesus is no ordinary man and professes his faith.

All three showed their true selves to Jesus and received acceptance. That feeling has to be one of the most powerful experiences we can have in life.

If you find yourself moved by Lavigne's lyrics, look to God and find a church where Jesus is taken seriously.

That last part is really important.

When we take Jesus seriously, we recognize our flawed humanity and the need for forgiveness and acceptance by God. And it is these kinds of people who can at least try to be authentic for you and accept you and point the way to Jesus. Because those without Jesus are likely to leave you thinking of Avril's lyrics: I see the way you're acting like your somebody else gets me frustrated... You're tryin' to be cool you look like a fool to me...

Can you say and spell Trockenbeerenauslese?

A few blog posts back, I mentioned Blue Danube Wine Company. Based on the wine descriptions and recommendations of the owner, I placed an order and the other day I poped open my first wine from them.

I tried the Rosenhof Welschriesling Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) 1998. I found it refreshing and delightful as did my friends. We had the wine with some fruit for dessert. The aromas reminded me of apples and fresh cut celery. Does that sound, oh, so snooty to write?! I know next to nothing about wine and with my Asian genes, I can't drink too much. But I take in modest quantities now and then to enjoy the sensory experience: looking at the color while swirling it in the glass, detecting the aromas before I drink and then letting it linger on the taste buds. Sounds so hedonistic, eh? All in all, a nice wine to end the evening with for its sweet taste and crisp feel.

Here is the page where you can read more about what Blue Danube has to say about the Rosenhof winery. And here is the blurb about the wine I ordered: This grape - not to be confused with the Rhine Riesling - makes usually for relatively simple, easygoing wines. In this region it is also known as one of the grapes best suited to produce stylish and well structured sweet wines. The Rosenhof TBA is fragrant, lively and refreshing, stone fruits with almonds and autumn leaves. A very fine wine with lots of personality. People love it.

I got a few other wines from Blue Danube and as I try them out in dinner parties and celebrations, I'll blog back!

Three to four liters of sarin gas in Iraq shell is reporting that tests have confirmed that the artillery shell recently found contained sarin. Excerpt:
Tests of the artillery shell that detonated in Iraq on Saturday have confirmed that it did in fact contain an estimated three or four liters of the deadly sarin (search) nerve agent, Defense officials told Fox News Tuesday.

The artillery shell was left as a roadside bomb, the U.S. military said Monday. Two U.S. soldiers were treated for minor exposure to the nerve agent when the 155-mm shell exploded before it could be rendered inoperable. Three liters is about three-quarters of a gallon; four liters is roughly a gallon.
There is now an ongoing debate as to how serious this is. Of interest is whether the people who rigged it up to be a roadside bomb knew it contained sarin. Some speculate they simple didn't know as there are so many weapons laying around all over Iraq that they just used something they found in some munitions cache. This of course leads to the question of how many more are hidden out there?

I wonder if the Fox News story has been confirmed by other news sources?

Stay tuned.

Iraq issues roundup

Postrel quotes from an Op-Ed by Charles Freund. Excerpts:
Zarqawi's ghouls in this video don't merely behead Berg, as most accounts indicate. Beheading suggests a quick severing and a quick death.

What Zarqawi's friends do is butcher Berg — there's no other word for it. They don't use a sword or an ax; they use a knife. You can hear Berg screaming as Zarqawi's gang hacks at his neck and then pulls at his head until it comes off his body. They then hold his bleeding head in front of the camera. The tape is appalling not only for its utter bloodthirstiness but also for the total absence of simple human empathy.

Elemental empathy is a primary measure of civilization. The shame that Americans felt at the Abu Ghraib images is rooted in such empathy. Even in the dehumanizing context of warfare, which strains the empathy of all its participants, this is savagery.

But if this is a moment of comparative atrocity, the issue becomes whether the Zarqawi horror is capable of having any effect on the Abu Ghraib matter. The probable answer is that although the murder tape obviously doesn't make pictures of prisoner abuse any less disgusting or shameful, it does offer many of those who feel disgust and shame a different context in which to perceive those images.

The Abu Ghraib pictures reveal American soldiers humiliating their prisoners in a sadistic manner (in some images, the Americans are actually smirking). It's a painful sight because it is cruel on its own terms (we don't even know whether the terrorized individuals are actually guilty of anything) and because we regard such sadism as unworthy of our image of ourselves. By contrast, Zarqawi intentionally videotapes and distributes his bloody atrocity; the literal slaughter of an innocent is offered as an example of his righteousness. For Zarqawi, the question of unworthiness simply never enters the calculation; that the action is inhuman is its point.

Shameless brutality of this degree has the power to transform the shame of Zarqawi's enemies. Zarqawi has reminded his enemies that, unlike him, they are at least capable of shame.

Zarqawi's righteous snuff movie is an act of lunacy, a gift to his enemies, and, one hopes, an unwitting suicide note.
Appreciate Freund's perspective. The Abu Ghraib needs to be investigated as well as any other abuse reports but the total media frenzy and moral equivalence attitude among critics of the Iraq effort is just wrong and frustrating.

Instapundit does what he does best and pulls together links in this case about arguing for early elections as the best move in Iraq. Here is some of the things Kaus had to say:
The militias are growing stronger. The Iraqis are growing angrier (which in turn fuels the first trend). How does it help to wait, then? Wait until the militias are numerous and organized enough to really prevent or pervert elections? Wait until anti-American demagogues like Sadr have 80% popularity instead of 45%? Wouldn't it be better to have Iraqis go to the polls right now, before the militias fill the "vacuum" and take control? Why would an interim government picked by the United Nations and "composed of technocrats" be better than a government picked by speeded-up ration-card balloting? Who are these apolitical technocrats who will suddenly emerge as compelling, popular anti-American champions?
Nor does Zakaria (or anybody else I've seen) deal with the possibility of rolling elections held in more secure areas first. More fundamentally, although Zakaria raises the specter of civil war, he never explains why it would inevitably be so terrible if nationwide democracy were preceded by a period in which various ethnic groups controlled different regions (by the rough popular assent of the people in those regions) and jockeyed for national power. Is a Sistani-controlled Shiite government in Southern Iraq going to be a staging ground for Al Qaeda? More than a unified democratic Iraqi government? (I honestly don't know the answer to that. I'm asking.)
Head of Iraq Governing Council killed in a suicide car bombing in Baghdad. Just dreadful. Iraqi fanatics killing dedicated Iraqis who want to take responsibility for their own country. Our job must be to turn over the country to loyal Iraqis who want to help their country rebuild and prevent the tiny number but dangerous fringe lunatics who just want to disrupt things and seize power for themselves.

One word, one word only: UNBELIEVABLE

Lakers 74 Spurs 73 in what was probably the wildest finish to an NBA playoff game in history.

LAT-UCLA Festival of Books Follow-Up, Part I

In a prior post, I tried to give a run down of what was said by the panelists at the two sessions I attended.

For this post, I'll share my reactions to what they had to say.

The "China in the American Imagination" panel had a lively dynamic with four on stage. Lisa See has light hair and fair skin color and you would not guess she has roots in the Chinese-American immigrant experience. Anchee Min is a recent immigrant and her English is fairly good and she has good things to share but occasionally, she struggled for words. Ross Terrill is a Brit but life long China watcher. Iris Chang is an American born Chinese. I thoroughly enjoyed the varied perspectives each brought to the discussion. Also, the types of books they write are completely different.

Lisa's moderating style was just right: a few well place questions and let the panelists take it from there.

When Anchee said that her novels often delve into the Chinese sense of duty, I could feel a sense of connection to what she was saying. Even though I'm an American born Chinese, I have picked up that element of Chinese culture by osmosis from my parents and the church I went to. In Christian belief and practice, a sense of duty is considered a virtue but combining that with my cultural upbringing, that trait is stamped into my soul. And so when Anchee spoke of with sadness at how China's leaders have often failed in their duty to rule the people well, I felt it too. I'm an American citizen, as she is now, yet, I feel sad when I think of the times China has gone into non-productive phases and even self-destructive spasms.

Terrill pretty much stuck to historical and political observations on China and I think he was very effective in showing just how big China is and the large footprint it is making on the world stage. Admittedly, most attention is being focused on the Middle East, it would be wise to put many more eyes and ears on what is going on in China.

I'm not willing to view China as the next enemy for America to fight. Unlike the USSR that had so little relationship with the West, China is becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of the world economy. Thus, there is much incentive for them to moderate their views.

Speaking of ties to the world economy, I heard on the radio that they are now the second largest oil importing nation behind the USA which really came as a shock to me. I went to the internet to check it out and it is the case.

Thus, all this talk about the Saudi's "promising" Bush to lower the oil prices to help him get re-elected may be all a bunch of hooey because if China is able to buy up oil then demand will keep prices up even if supply were to be increased by the Saudis.

Update: Oil prices continue to rise despite Saudi promises to USA and Europe to ramp up production.

The other area of geopolitical concern which unfortunately didn't come up in the panel is the situation with Taiwan. World news savvy readers will know there was an election there recently and a very controversial and close one at that. In that web link, there is the startling data on the referendum question. Except:
1. The People of Taiwan demand that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved through peaceful means. Should Mainland China refuse to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the Government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?

2. Would you agree that our Government should engage in negotiation with Mainland China on the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?

For either referendum to be valid, more than 50% of eligible voters needed to cast ballots. More than seven million votes were cast on both referendum, but this amounted to just over 45% of the potential electorate. Despite the overwhelming support of those casting ballots (over 80% voted "agree"), neither measure passed.
It is going to be interesting to see how China and Taiwan interact with each other in the decades ahead. Clearly there is nervousness in Taiwan about China's saber-rattling.

Iris gave a good summary of the Chinese experience in America by pointing out the cyclical acceptance and rejection of Chinese in America. Last year, I saw Bill Moyer's Becoming American: The Chinese Experience so I have gotten a taste of the history she talked about. I can't recall if she was interviewed in the documentary but it wouldn't surprise me if she was.

Right now, my impression is that the American view of Chinese in America is generally favorable. Growing up in Los Angeles, I don't recall any outright blatant racism. Having traveled through about 1/2 of the USA, I can't say I have ever felt uncomfortable because of race reasons. I've been in some dodgy places but I think anyone of any race would have felt uncomfortable there. Anyway, there have been places where I'm sure the locals haven't seen many Asian faces so they look a second time and even a third time but I never felt any hostility.

In terms of meeting and talking to people, I'm guessing with a first name like Rene, I throw people for a loop. Some know that name is French so they think I might be Vietnamese because it was a former French colony. Sometimes, because I have a camera, they will think I'm a Japanese tourist! A few times, probably due to my facial features, people will guess I'm Korean. In any case, I view these experiences as people who are genuinely curious trying to figure me out and don't assume any racist intent.

Please check out my photo essays from my 2001 trip to China and Asia.

Single guy chef

Coq au vin = chicken in wine.

Sounds fancy and indeed the recipes can be pretty elaborate. However, being the single guy chef (will I get as famous as the Swedish chef?), I have to simplify things.

Marinating chicken overnight in refrigerator:
4 pounds of chicken
2 T olive oil
6-12 black peppercorns
Liberal sprinkling of garlic powder
Liberal sprinkling of onion powder
1/2 bottle Pinot Noir

Prepare vegetables:
4 stalks celery chopped
3 carrots chopped
1/2 - 3/4 pounds mushrooms sliced
12-16 pearl onions

Cooking chicken:
1 T olive oil
2 shallots chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
4 T thyme
4 T parsley
2 bay leaf
Saute a few minutes
8 slices of bacon
Saute a few minutes
Use slotted spoon to place wine marinated chicken into pot
Cook about 10-15 minutes
Add the wine marinade
Cook about 10-15 minutes
Use slotted spoon to remove chicken
Cook celery and carrot 5-10 minutes
Use slotted spoon to remove vegetables
Add 1-2 cans chicken broth and simmer to reduce the broth and wine marinade

I have no idea how much reduction should take place! Probably about to 1/4 to 1/2 the volume.
I skim off some of the fat that rises to the surface as there is LOTS!

Add back the chicken and cook 5-10 minutes
Add in the vegetables and cook a few minutes
Add the pearl onions and mushrooms and cook a few minutes

Thicken sauce with 3 T flour

Bon Appetit!

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, the amount of wine used can vary to personal taste: some like more, some like less. Also, the type of red wine can vary. I'm told that Pinot Noir is a light to medium-bodied wine. I'm sure those who like a more intense experience could use a more hearty red like a Syrah. If you try out the recipe, would love to hear back via the comments section! Enjoy!

Tom Peters on a Soapbox

Noted author, business consultant, motivational speaker, management guru, trend watcher and probably a few other descriptors printable and otherwise, Tom Peters sends out a monthly or so email newsletter with observations and web links. Here is an excerpt of a recent one:

Commit! Engage! Try! Fail! Get up! Try again! Fail again! Try again! But never, ever stop moving on! Progress for humanity is engendered by those who join and savor the fray by giving one hundred percent of themselves to their dreams! Not by those timid souls who remain glued to the sidelines, stifled by tradition, and fearful of losing face or giving offense to the incumbent authorities.


Key word: Engage

You Must Care

Make the time each day to offer an expression of appreciation to just one of your fellow human beings. It is the accumulation of such "small" kindnesses and acts of recognition and awareness and respect that add up to a life worth having been lived. In short ... you must care. You must wear your passion and compassion and engagement on your sleeve, and attend intensively to the moment. It will not come 'round again!

Key word: Care
Amen! Yes, sir!! Preach it, Tom!!!

Dodgers 7 Cubs 3

Sitting in traffic about to enter the stadium.

Parking, $10 parking. Tickets, $10. Hot dog, diet cola and bag of peanuts, $16.50. Dodger victory, priceless.

The computer did the best job it could stitching together the shots but as you can see there are lots of imperfections. If I was more careful in how I shot it, it would look better!

As much as LA fans like to see Gagne pitch, it was nice to see them win a game where he doesn't have to make an appearance.

Jeff Weaver showed good stuff with 8 solid innings mixing a low 90s fastball with his breaking pitches. In his early outings, he would have one bad inning which put the Dodgers in the hole. In his more recent starts, he has pitched well but the Dodger bats were asleep. But this time, it was the Dodgers who jumped to an early lead.

Chicago fireballer Kerry Wood's stuff was uncharacteristically in the low 90s and the Dodgers did the damage as Woods gave up a solo shot to Beltre and then a two-run homer to Jason Grabowski in the bottom of the second. Wood didn't return for the bottom of the third as he had a muscle strain.

The Dodgers added two more in the fourth and one more in the fifth.

Weaver passed the 100 pitch mark in the eighth inning so Sanchez was called into mop up the top of the ninth. The Cubs jumped on his first two pitches; one for a single and then a double to drive in one run. Then Sanchez struck out the next two and fouled out the final batter preserving the win. For the full box score, go here.

GO Dodgers!!

Red Wine Taste Off

Totally non-scientific small sample size test. Had a taste off with a handful of friends. In one corner, the $21 Burgundy wine recommended by the guy at the import wine shop. In the other corner, the $7 Turning Leaf California Pinot Noir I picked at the Ralphs because the price was right and the label looked nice. Wrapped them up in brown paper and did the blind taste off.

Guess who won?

Yup, the California!

Almost all felt the French wine had a bit more bite with hints of black pepper while the California was milder and smooth to the taste.

I wrote to law professor and wine blogger, Bainbridge and he was kind enough to offer these encouraging observations: Ultimately, taste is personal. Yet, taste also evolves with experience. Children love sweets, while adults often develop a preference for savory flavors. Folks new to wine often prefer wines with a single dominant flavor characteristic, while more experienced tasters often develop a preference for more complex wines.

Middle East: Intersection of economics and culture

Friedman makes some good observations about the Middle East. Excerpts:
I visited the Japanese cellphone company DoCoMo in Tokyo 10 days ago. A robot made by Honda gave me part of the tour, even bowing in perfect Japanese fashion. My visit there coincided with yet another suicide bomb attack against U.S. forces in Iraq. I could not help thinking: Why are the Japanese making robots into humans, while Muslim suicide squads are making humans into robots?

The answer has to do in part with the interaction between culture and natural resources. Countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China have relatively few natural resources like oil. As a result, in the modern age, their first instinct is to look inward, assess their weaknesses, try to learn as much as they can from foreigners and then beat them at their own game. In order to beat the Westerners, they have even set aside many of their historical animosities so they can invest in each other's countries and get all the benefits of free trade.

The Arab world, alas, has been cursed with oil. For decades, too many Arab countries have opted to drill a sand dune for economic growth rather than drilling their own people — men and women — in order to tap their energy, creativity, intellect and entrepreneurship. Arab countries barely trade with one another, and unlike Korea and Japan, rarely invent or patent anything. But rather than looking inward, assessing their development deficits, absorbing the best in modern knowledge that their money can buy and then trying to beat the West at its own game, the Arab world in too many cases has cut itself off, blamed the enduring Palestine conflict or colonialism for delaying reform, or found dignity in Pyrrhic victories like Falluja.
A senior Iraqi politician told me that he recently received a group of visiting Iranian journalists in his home. As they were leaving, he said, two young Iranian women in the group whispered to him: "Succeed for our sake." Those Iranian women knew that if Iraqis could actually produce a decent, democratizing government it would pressure their own regime to start changing - which is why the Iranian, Syrian and Saudi regimes are all rooting for us to fail.

But you know what? Despite everything, we still have a chance to produce a decent outcome in Iraq, if we get our eye back on the ball. Of course, if we do fail, that will be our tragedy. But for the Arabs, it will be a huge lost opportunity - one that will only postpone their future another decade. Too bad so few of them have the courage to stand up and say that. I guess it must be another one of those "Zionist" plots.
Is it a lot to hope for that things will turn around in the Middle East? Yes. But what is the alternative? Let Iraq descend into chaos? Let a whole swath of humanity be mired in a dismal situation?

In the end, enough of them will have to want change for it to really happen but in the meantime, we have to do whatever we can.

As Bush says about education in America, we can't consign a segment of our population to the soft racism of low expectations.  

Promising Malaria Drug

Saw this item over at NYT. Excerpt:
After years of hesitation, world health agencies are racing to acquire 100 million doses of a Chinese herbal drug that has proved strikingly effective against malaria, one of the leading killers of the poor.

The drug, artemisinin (pronounced are-TEM-is-in-in), is a compound based on qinghaosu, or sweet wormwood. First isolated in 1965 by Chinese military researchers, it cut the death rate by 97 percent in a malaria epidemic in Vietnam in the early 1990's.

It is rapidly replacing quinine derivatives and later drugs against which the disease has evolved into resistant strains.

To protect artemisinin from the same fate, it will be given as part of multidrug cocktails.
Like many tropical disease drugs, artemisinin is a fruit of military research. Chinese scientists first isolated it in 1965 while seeking a new antimalarial treatment for Vietnamese troops fighting American forces, said Dr. Nelson Tan, medical director of Holley Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drug in Chongqing, China.

Another antimalarial drug still in use, mefloquine, was isolated at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 1963 for American troops in the same jungles. Under the name Lariam, it is still issued to troops and sold to travelers.

Artemisinin, which has no significant side effects, quickly reduces fevers and rapidly lowers blood-parasite levels, which can keep small outbreaks in mosquito-infested areas from becoming epidemics.

Two years ago, Dr. Dennis Carroll, a health adviser to the United States Agency for International Development, said artemisinin was "not ready for prime time." But on April 30 at a malaria conference at the Columbia University School of Public Health, he led a session on ways to induce farmers to plant more wormwood.

Dr. Carroll said that more evidence had emerged that the drug was safe and that older drugs were not working. Also, the creation of the Global Fund expedited grants for it.

Dr. Stewart Tyson, a health expert with the British Department for International Development, said his agency changed its opinion about the drug after its experience in Uganda, where resistance to older drugs had climbed to 31 percent in some areas in 2003 from 6 percent in 2000.

The price of artemisinin cocktails has fallen from $2 per treatment to 90 cents or less as more companies in China, India and Vietnam have begun making them. (Older drugs cost only 20 cents.) Novartis, the Swiss drug giant, sells its artemisinin-lumefantrine mix, Coartem, to poor countries for 10 cents less than it costs to make, a company official said. The same drug, under the name Riamet, is sold to European travelers for about $20.
Even if enough artemisinin can be made, obstacles will arise, experts warned. For example, Dr. Kopano Mukelabai, a malaria specialist at Unicef, said shopkeepers would have to be trained not to sell one or two pills to patients who lacked the money for a full course of 12.

And what Richard Allan, director of the Mentor Initiative, a public health group that fights malaria epidemics, called "the love of chloroquine" will have to be broken. That quinine derivative, in use since the 1950's, is now almost useless against parasites, but poor people still buy it because it is cheap and lowers fever as aspirin does.

Also, counterfeiting will become a problem. In Kenya in 1997, Mr. Allan said, he found 120 versions of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine for sale, "ranging from very good drugs to talcum powder." A recent study of artemisinin drugs in Asia "found that 38 percent were fakes," he said. "We can expect the same thing to happen in Africa."

He favors giving artemisinin away to remove the counterfeiters' profit motive.
Here is an area where I part company with my libertarian leanings. Free market forces probably aren't strong enough to drive malaria drug research. It seemed to only make progress because the military needed it so that government driven research was essential. Also driving research would have to be humanitarian instincts.

How do you like the new look?

Blogger has rolled out a bunch of new features for blog managment and blog look and feel to the end user, you the reader. I decided to give my old template up and try out one of their new ones.

Genocide again: Who will step in?

Did you know some human rights groups are warning that ethnic cleansing maybe happen yet again in Africa?

Here are some excerpts from the Yahoo! News item I just linked above:
Bertrand Ramcharan and James Morris, chief of the U.N. World Food Program, spoke to reporters Friday after they briefed the Security Council on U.N. missions they recently led to the region.

"First, there is a reign of terror in this area; second, there is a scorched-earth policy; third there is repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity; and fourth, this is taking place before our very eyes," said Ramcharan, the acting U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

"The government clearly has supported the militias, organized the militias, and this is taking place with the knowledge and support, and active complicity of the government," he added.

But when asked if he held the government of Sudan responsible for the atrocities, Ramcharan said: "I condemn the government of Sudan and I do not think it was responsible."
What was that last statement? "I condemn the government of Sudan and I do not think it was responsible." Didn't he just say: "The government clearly has supported the militias, organized the militias, and this is taking place with the knowledge and support, and active complicity of the government,"


More excerpts:
In a report released Friday, the rights group Human Rights Watch said Sudanese soldiers and nomadic Arab militiamen, known as janjaweed, have killed thousands of black Africans and driven more than 1 million from their homes.

It accused the Arab-dominated government of providing weapons and air support to the janjaweed, who often sweep into villages riding camels and horses, and called on the Security Council to step in to help stop the bloodshed and look for evidence of crimes against humanity.

In his report, Ramcharan said it "is clear that there is a reign of terror in Darfur" and characterized the violence as "largely ethnically based."

He pointed to "a pattern of attacks on civilians including killing, rape, pillage, including of livestock, and destruction of property, including water sources."

The janjaweed "have operated with total impunity and in close coordination with the forces of the government of Sudan," according to the report, drawn in part from interviews with some of the estimated 110,000 Sudanese who have fled across the border into Chad.
In its report, Human Rights Watch likened the Darfur situation to the beginning of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when 500,000 people were slaughtered by a government-backed, extremist militia.

The international community has been widely criticized for not intervening to stop that bloodshed.

"Ten years after the Rwandan genocide and despite years of soul-searching, the response of the international community to the events in Sudan has been nothing short of shameful," the human rights watchdog said.
On PBS Now, Samatha Powers, author of Genocide: a problem from Hell, also described what is happening at the moment in Sudan.

She said the world is largely ignoring it. She remarked that the US is one of the few countries that has raised the issue in the UN but the pleas for intervention in Sudan are falling on deaf ears. She noted that the US military is spread so thin that the US probably won't send troops there and hasn't pushed as hard in the UN as she would like. Unfortunately, she said no one else appears willing to take on the task.

The world often sometimes asks the US to be the "world's policeman" and in the same breath hates America for doing so and condemns American when it won't act in that role. The US just can't "win" in world opinion.

A terrible situation is brewing in Sudan. US forces are committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and a few other places. Will anyone else step up to the plate and put their troops on the line to save these people in Sudan?

The world expresses outrage at the prisoner abuses in Iraq. Where is the outrage over what is happening Sudan?

Would the UN do better?

There has been so much talk about internationalizing the effort in Iraq by letting the UN take over. But is that really going to make much difference?

First of all, there is the huge UN-Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal that is still unfolding where UN corruption is being investigated. I don't doubt that the US led efforts have some deficiencies but to my knowledge there haven't been reports of outright corruption.

And now there is this item that says UBL will give gold as reward for killing US and UN officials. Excerpt:
CAIRO, Egypt - A statement attributed to Osama bin Laden offered rewards in gold valued at nearly $136,000 Thursday for the killing of top U.S. and U.N. officials in Iraq.
"The United Nations is nothing but a Zionists' tool, even if it worked under the cover of providing humanitarian aid," the statement said. "... Whoever kills Kofi Annan or the head of his commission in Iraq or a representative like Lakhdar Brahimi, he will be awarded the same prize of 10,000 grams of gold."
Even if it were logistically possible to substitute the UN for US forces in Iraq, they would come under attack just like US military units.

I certainly hope we can get more international support for our effort but in my mind those who call for a UN take over of the situation are being simplistic about it being a cure-all of what ails Iraq.

Ordinary guy as POTUS

Whether you agree with Bush or not, I think most people recognize that the guy is what he is. There isn't a pretense to be something other than what he is and that basic core person is a decent human being. The photo below and the news article accompanying it are making the rounds in the blogosphere and internet. Be sure to check it out here. I came across this Cincinnati Enquirer item because it was linked by blog biggies Drudge and Andrew Sullivan.

As of now, 103 blogs in the Technorati scan have cited the article. I wonder how many will link to the story by the end of the day?

Image source:

UPDATE: As for noon, Monday 10 May 2004, 340 blog links go to that article with the photo!

Trying to be ordinary daughters

Political trivia question: do you know the names of the Bush daughters?

Jenna and Barbara are their names and aside from their run-in with underaged drinking they have largely been out of the spotlight. I suppose at some point in the future they or someone else might write a "tell-all" book about what their lives are like being the kids of the President of the United States (POTUS). Being POTUS family members means they are under a microscope and face certain security dangers most of us can't imagine.

Thus, even an ordinary thing like graduating, Jenna from UT-Austin and Barbara from Yale, is news. And of course it is news that their parent's won't attend. Hat tip to Drudge.

Why won't POTUS and the First Lady go? The security measures needed of course.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will skip their twin daughters' college graduations later this month to avoid creating a distraction at the respective schools, the White House said Thursday.

"There are no plans at this time to attend these ceremonies," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Laura Bush. "The Bushes felt the focus should be on the students, and not how long the lines are to go through the metal detectors."

Jenna Bush is slated to graduate May 22 from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in English. Barbara Bush graduates May 24 with a bachelor's in humanities from Yale University.
Congrats Jenna and Barbara. Go onto a happy and successful life!


If you are a wine fan, be sure to check out Professor Bainbridge who is a law professor at UCLA and a huge wine expert and blogs up his reviews of the wines he samples.

As for me, won't be doing much wine blogging as my tolerance for alcohol is low being a fairly typical Asian person whose enzymes don't seem to process alcohol well. Nonetheless, in small quantities and special occasions, I'll have some.

A friend of mine was hunting for Hungarian wines and I was trying to find a specific type of Austrian wine and voila, isn't the internet amazing? Check out Blue Danube Wine founded by Frank Dietrich and Zsuzsanna Molnar. Their story is that they were in the computer and networking business and did a lot of their work in Eastern Europe. Now they are using their knowledge of that part of Europe to bring to America wines from Austria, Hungry and Croatia.

Iraqis dealing with Iraqi problems

Saw this item where Reynolds (Instapundit) cites NYT's John Burns' reporting from Iraq. The main point is that the US military could have stormed in and killed Al-Sadr but they being on the ground and at the scene detected that many Shiites turned against Al-Sadr. As such, the US held its fire and allowed Iraqis to take care of the Al-Sadr.

Reynolds wonders if something similar is happening in Fallujah. Excerpt:
This would seem to vindicate the U.S. strategy there, which many in the blogosphere have criticized as insufficiently militant. It now seems plausible that this will be settled without serious bloodshed -- and that if a violent solution is called for, it's more likely to satisfy than to inflame Iraqi public opinion. Does this suggest that the similar approach we're employing in Fallujah is also a good thing? I don't know (and some of the Shiite clerics in this story want us to be more militant there), but it certainly seems that there's a strategy here, one that stresses Iraqi self-governance as a key element. And that seems like a good thing to me.

This also suggests that those who thought Sadr represented a mass movement among Iraqis were seriously mistaken. The same is true, of course, with regard to the occupiers of Fallujah.
I know people are tired of Vietnam analogies with Iraq but there may be the point here and in a positive direction?

When the US began to pull out of South Vietnam, it began to "Vietnamize" the fighting. Unfortunately, the South showed itself unable to fight effectively after having relied on US military support for so long. In Iraq, the rapid transition to home rule maybe a lesson learned from Vietnam? Hopefully, the Iraq security forces and its people are up to the task.

Friedman's China Observations

Over at the NYT (registration required), Friedman's latest column is about China.

A few days back, I was at the LAT-UCLA book festival and blogged on the session on China. With Iraq and other Middle East flashpoints in the news, China has receded into the background of political discussion but looking at the numbers Friedman cites, it should be getting more attention. Excerpts:
The most striking thing about being in Asia today is hearing how much more important China's growth engine has become for companies all across the region ? and well beyond it. When Chinese authorities told banks last week to cut back their wild lending, commodity prices and stock markets tumbled all over the world. News that China is having regular blackouts because it can't buy enough crude oil is helping push up gasoline prices the world over.
And considering the huge amounts of foreign investment that have flowed into China in such a short time, "it's very hard to think that they could have invested that much money efficiently," remarked Robert Feldman, managing director in Tokyo for Morgan Stanley. "So the senior leadership is scared, because if they have a hard landing from bad loans you have a regime problem. [But] when they tried to slow the economy, they got real push back from the regions, who said, `You in Beijing have all that infrastructure. Why shouldn't we have a new bridge or road?' "

Given how opaque China's decision-making is, it's hard to predict how Chinese leaders will balance their obligation to behave in a way that promotes global equilibrium with their need to create millions of jobs each year in order to stay in power.

One can only say three things: 1. They've done a pretty good job so far. 2. The job gets harder every day. 3. No one will be immune to the fallout. The relationship of the world to China right now reminds me of that old banker's rule: If a client owes you $1,000, that's his problem. If a client owes you $1 million, that's your problem. China's stability is our problem.

Heavenly Father . . .
Back at the book festival, there was some discussion about how until 9/11, China was on the road to replacing the old USSR as the opponents in a bipolar geopolitical world. I don't know to what degree the CCP has expansionist designs and aims to spread an ideology that touts political totalitarianism and economic free markets.

What has been clear in recent years it they clearly have an aggressive drive for economic progress. Does that by definition automatically diminish military ambitions?

In the case of Japan post-World War II, the anti-military aspect of life was enshrined in Constitutional limits to the size of the military and what it can be allowed to do. China has no such official constraints. However, as China has become a huge importer and exporter and thus has ties to some many places, perhaps those ties that bind it to other nations also bind any military expansionist ambitions?

March Madness Bracketology Veepstakes

Here is an item from CNN that uses the NCAA Basketball Tournament format. Check it out and see what you think.

Here are my "guesses." Probably won't do any better than my selections for the NCAAs!

Southern Bracket: #2 seed, Bill Nelson, got to go with the Florida connection.

Showdown Bracket: #3 seed, Evan Bayh, it is all about the electoral votes and every state you can flip from the 2000 results is what both sides are after.

Gravitas Bracket: #1 seed, Dick Gephardt, of course, Dukakis selecting Bentsen didn't help (1988), Bush doing the opposite in choosing Quayle didn't hurt (1988) and two gravitas candidates in Dole/Kemp (1996) didn't win.

Women's Bracket: #7 seed, my long shot pick, Dianne Feinstein of California. No, Democrat Kerry doesn't have to worry about California's electoral votes. If it is actually close on the left coast then Bush is on his way to a 40+ state blowout and the celebration parties would have started long before polls close out here. Kerry maybe in a Mondale (1984) like hole in terms of the public's view of him. Mondale responded by plucking Ferraro from the House. She quickly was seen as not quite ready for prime time. Feinstein would be viewed as a serious choice and this could energize the party and the campaign and is just the ticket for Kerry to take the keys to the White House.

However, having said all of the above, in the end, if the economy is rebounding and the situation in Iraq has calmed down then Bush could be on his way to a 40+ state landslide. If the economy is rebounding but the Iraq situation remains chaotic, we could be in for another long night like 2000 and another state besides Florida might wind up with the microscope taken to their vote counting procedures. If the economy is stalling and Iraq is chaotic, Bush 43 will end like Bush 41 as a one-term presidency.

UPDATE: Here are the bloggers who have used the CNN article for blog posts... at the time I checked, 16 bloggers have done so.

Wonder if any of the Higher Beings of the blogsphere like Instapundit will pick up the bracketology veepstakes?

The Fallujah Confusion

Sullivan is concerned about the situation in Fallujah. Excerpts:
The U.S. is beginning to look both cruel and (a much bigger problem) weak. The huge propaganda victory handed to the enemy by the celebrations in Fallujah by Islamo-fascists shouldn't have happened.
It is no longer unreasonable to surmise that the administration is preparing to hand over power to any U.N.-blessed Shiite or Baathist general it can find, while indicating to the wider terrorist enemy that we will buckle under to pressure. At a critical moment when Fallujah should have been the occasion for a critical wiping out of the terrorist and insurgent infrastructure, we seem to have blinked. The consequences for our future credibility, for the lives of coalition servicemembers, for the lives of Western civilians, could not be graver.
Sitting here in Los Angeles, it is next to impossible to know what the situation really is in Fallujah. But certainly it appears that Sullivan's concerns are legit. In WWII, both Germany's and Japan's military were decimated and the occupation forces held essentially absolute control over the countries. We stormed into Iraq last year and the Iraq military melted into the cities and countryside and so the situation remains very dangerous and the worst possible scenario is that we leave and the Baathist's retake the country.

Held to a higher standard

This report and others of abuse of Iraqi prisoners is disgusting.

As someone who has supported and continues to support our effort in Iraqi, I am disturbed by these reports. These reports must be investigated and those responsible held accountable publically so the world sees that the US does hold to a higher standard.

Heading into the October international break

LA Galaxy have dropped two in a row and in both cases their defense was the culprit. As a result, they go into the MLS playoffs in fifth pla...