Ernesto, Day 1 Update

A quick update. The radio said Ernesto was racing toward the coastline, now at tropical storm strength. They said it will be impacting our weather starting tomorrow morning, so it’s vitally important that we stay tuned to Richmond’s Morning News with Jimmy Barrett for all our weather-related news. Otherwise, we could die.

The governor has already declared a state of emergency, and it’s easy to see why. Even though I had my rain jacket on, the steady downpour of light rain still managed to get my pants a little wet as I walked to the parking lot. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it home. I didn’t see any incidents of cannibalism on the drive up I95, but it’s just a matter of time now. I hope we make it through the night. Will try to keep you posted.

A Pause To Scold Blogspot

On the off chance anyone is reading this from a Blogger or Feedburner RSS feed, you might be wondering about the seemingly random order of posts. For example, this post that I wrote first thing Monday morning would have just shown up in the RSS feed today (Thursday). The reason? Blogspot sucks. Even for a free service, it sucks. The Atom API for publishing posts seems to have a success rate of about 50% these days. And if a post doesn’t publish the first time, I sometimes forget to try to re-publish it until many days later, at which time the news I’m writing about is hopelessly obsolete. (Fyi these posts actually originate on my personal blog, and are then cross-posted to Blogspot.)

Ernesto, Day 1

We’re hunkering down for Ernesto here in Richmond. In the spirit of those brave bloggers who fought off the looters and stayed online in New Orleans last year, I’ll also try to stay online and report on this disaster.

It’s already starting, too. Last night, after an extended period of foreboding cloudiness, it started raining. We decided to risk sleeping, even though we heard and saw occasional thunder and lightning. It was terrifying, because we almost never have thunder and lightning here in Richmond during the summer, but we knew we’d need the rest for the days ahead.

It rained steadily all night, but we were lucky — there was no apparent damage when we got up. The ground was very wet, though, and there were small puddles of water collected in some low-lying areas. We’ll be keeping an eye on those.

Despite the danger, I decided to risk driving to work at the normal time. I didn’t take any chances though — I put on my rain jacket. The driving conditions were horrific. The occasional spats of light rain caused many otherwise perfectly safe and attentive commuters to wreck their cars. One accident blocked all three lanes of I95 south. I had to take a time-consuming detour through the confusing, poorly-paved roads around Phillip Morris. It’s a wonder I’m still alive.

Must save my strength now. I heard Ernesto was building back up to tropical storm strength. Will report more later, if I can.

Sharia Creeps Into Zanzibar

I’m sure my throngs of adoring fans have wondered what’s up: It’s been a combination of a slow news week and a busy work week. Anyway, today I noticed this curious example of impending Sharia law on CNN: Zanizibar Muslim leader: Ban Freddie Mercury party. I, for one, was personally offended by this news because Queen is one of the most musically-talented and technologically-superior bands in history, and any move to ban a celebration of their members or their work is tantamount to crushing the human creative spirit under the iron bootheel of fascism. “You say God, gimme a choice.” The Show Must Go On.

High School Bible Study?

Here’s something different from the usual body counts and scare-mongering hurricane watches: While skimming over Ahh, the Tolerance of Mudcat Sanders on LeanLeft, I saw that one of the platforms of the Democratic Party in Alabama is to teach Bible literacy in public schools. I can’t verify whether that’s actually true or not, since nobody gave me a convenient link to follow and the Alabama Democratic Party web page is hopelessly complicated, but let’s assume it’s true.

One might think that studying the Bible in a public schools is an automatic breach of church and state, but I don’t necessarily think so. The trick would be leaving out the meaning of the Bible, and concentrating on the history. Beyond its religious implications, I think it’s an important historical document that deserves some study. After all, it’s been a central figure in much of western history for 2000 years. I could easily imagine a completely secular high school class that discusses where the Bible came from, who wrote it, how it came to be in its present form, who ordered the different translations, etc. I think a similar examination of the Qu’ran would also be appropriate in the same class, especially in light of current world events.

Then again, based on my own experience, high school age is far too immature to have a rational discourse on such lofty topics. :)

Slow Monday

Ye gods, there’s nothing at all to write about. The Islamic Courts Union continues to take over Somalia, making them a possible future target in the war on terror. The media continues to desperately hope that a massive super-hurricane blows into New Orleans this season. A bunch of people died in various violent Middle Eastern countries, while the number of people that died in America from routine traffic accidents remains unreported. And Iran continues to rattle sabres, daring anyone to stop them.

A Look At Iraq, Part 2

Last time, we learned that, for our own interests and those of the civilians in Iraq, we can’t leave until the Iraqi government can function on its own. Otherwise, we leave Iraq ripe for takeover, just like Somalia is now.

Strangely, the Iraqi government doesn’t seem terribly interested in solving any of its own problems. Or perhaps I should say that the members of the Iraqi police and military don’t seem terribly interested in cracking down on the bad guys. This is something I didn’t expect back in 2003. I’m not precisely sure what the deal is — maybe it’s a cultural difference. Maybe they don’t have any emotional investment in a revolution they didn’t start. Maybe they like the atmosphere of fear and suffering that their inaction creates. Maybe there’s more money to be made from chaos than from order. Maybe they’ve lived under the thumb of Sadaam’s brutality for so long that they’re incapable of seeing any strength in peace.

On one hand, with such an atmosphere of Iraqi indifference, it’s tempting to pull out and let the Iraqis reap their own rewards. Why should we do their dirty work for them and take all the heat when civilians get killed? But on the other hand, since we forced this change upon the people of Iraq, I think we still have some responsibility to stay until the change is complete and order is restored.

But perhaps more importantly, if we leave, it will be viewed by every Middle Eastern nation as an American defeat, and that’s intolerable, especially after what just happened in Lebanon. I hate to repeat that tired old Bush talking point, “it will embolden the enemy,” but it will. Look at how much praise Hezbollah is getting for “standing up” to Israel, and how much the average Muslim now idolizes Mr. Nasrallah. That’s the kind of elevated status that awaits the various insurgent groups, if we leave.

Also, if we leave Iraq, there’s a good chance that Iran will take over in all but name, as they have in Lebanon. (Iran is already backing Shia militias in Iraq.) And the mullahs of Iran, I am almost completely convinced, are the new enemies of the western world. Their global power and influence are growing at somewhat alarming rates, and they are firm in their convictions to spread “submission.”

A Look At Iraq, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about Iraq lately. For some reason, this week seems like a good time to re-evaluate what’s going on there.

First a little history: I wasn’t crazy about the invasion in 2003, but I wasn’t against it either. I basically just went along with it. I saw Sadaam as more of a nuisance than a threat — I didn’t think we were in any imminent danger, but I suspected he was slowly working his way toward becoming a threat to the Middle East region again. I thought his departure was a good thing, and I still think so. And after Sadaam was ousted and major combat operations ended, I thought we owed it to the Iraqi people to stay and help clean up the mess.

When I evaluate Iraq, I try to look at the situation the way it is, not the way it might have been. Critiquing the run-up to the war and the immediate aftermath is only useful in crafting political rhetoric. I have no doubt that things could have been handled better at every stage of the operation, but in my view, all of that is now ancient history. We are entangled in Iraq, whether we like it or not, and we should examine the situation from that standpoint.

As of now, I remain opposed to leaving before the mission is complete, but I’m increasingly unsure about what the mission actually is. I used to think we were just holding off the bad guys while we rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but now I’m thinking that after three years we’ve probably done about all the rebuilding we can do there. (At this point, it looks like the insurgents are destroying more infrastructure than we did.) Now we seem to be trying to hold off the bad guys until the Iraqi government asserts itself.

So what’s a successful mission? I suspect a “victory” for the United States means a strong, moderate, autonomous Iraqi government that can control its borders and keep its population from killing each other. Anything less than that will leave the region worse off than before. (As a bonus, the new Iraq should be friendly toward the United States.) Unfortunately, I think these goals are still very, very far in the future, and Iraq will therefore need an external police force for many, many years to come, and I fear most Americans, accustomed to instant gratification and 24-hour news cycles, won’t be able to endure it.

But why not leave? What’s the harm? Here’s the problem, as I see it: Right now, Iraq looks like another Afghanistan or Lebanon or Somalia. Technically, there’s a government, but they don’t have much power and not much of an army, which leaves the door wide open for anyone to come in and take over, including any number of extremist militias. If it weren’t for the Coalition forces on the ground in Iraq, the insurgents wouldn’t be scurrying around planting militarily useless roadside bombs, they’d be taking over towns, enforcing strict Sharia, and usurping the government. (See current events in Somalia for an example of what would happen.)

To be continued…

Bring On The Sanctions

Great news! Iran is still leading us toward the next World War! They refused the package of incentives the UN offered for them to give up nuclear enrichment, offering instead a meaningless counter-proposal. So bring on the sanctions, baby!

Diplomats say that sanctions could include a ban on the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Iran, international refusal to grant entry visas to people involved in Iran’s nuclear programme and a freeze of their assets, and a ban on investment in the country.

Um, excuse me? Those are the sanctions? They don’t exactly sound like the kind of sanctions that could bring Iran to its knees. I mean, first of all, Iran buys missiles from North Korea (or maybe it’s the other way around, I forget), and something tells me North Korea isn’t going to abide by any UN sanctions. And seeing as how they’re building their own nuclear stuff, I’m not quite clear on how banning the sale of nuclear technology to them is going to do any good.

I guess the freezing of assets and the ban on investment would hurt some, but it doesn’t sound very impressive. I’m trying to imagine how these kinds of sanctions would have worked against Germany or Japan in the 1930s, and I’m just not seeing it. Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic.