Friday, September 23, 2005

 

Elections in Afghanistan

There is an article by Declan Walsh in the Guardian on the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan last weekend. Turnout numbers released yesterday indicated that turnout was low (36% in Kabul, the capital, and about 53% nationally) and down from around 70% turnout for the Afghani presidential elections. Walsh indicates that whatever the explanation for the low turnout (and there are several, ranging from threat of violence to the simple fact that one might expect better turnout for a presidential election than a parliamentary one), it could spell bad news for the future of Afghanistan.
But there are also greatly worrying reasons why Mr Karzai should be concerned about the fall in turnout. After just one year of democratic rule, there are signs of rapidly swelling disenchantment.

In a country awash with weapons, corrupted by drug money and threatened by a resurgent Taliban, this is a dangerous development.

The inclusion of dozens of warlords and militia commanders on the ticket disgusted voters who thought Mr Karzai and his US allies had come to usher the gunmen out of the door, not hand them the keys to the house.

The crawling pace of reconstruction is also brewing trouble. After making a string of heroic promises in late 2001, the west is letting Afghanistan down. Only around $10bn (£5.5bn) has so far been spent on reconstruction, according to most estimates.
Furthermore, even successful elections do not necessarily result in smooth governance (as one can see in Iraq also).
The provisional election results are due on October 3. Analysts are predicting mayhem in the early months of parliament, particularly because of the lack of political parties. Nobody is quite sure how Mr Karzai will build alliances, pass new laws or run the country.
We'll see. Karzai is also trying to maneuver the path or the role of the U.S. occupying forces in the country, surely something that is going to effect his relations with differing parliamentary factions. Meanwhile, there is an article in the Washington Post about Iran having the world's highest rate of addiction to opium. And, gee, whaddayaknow, it's right next to Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of opium. So there's no doubt that the U.S. is not the only country with interest in what goes on in Afghanistan (of course).

Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

India and Iran

There is an interesting article in the Guardian today by Randeep Ramesh about the close relationship between India and Iran. I am no expert on this -- far from it -- so I suggest you go read the article.

 

Rudy G.: Sharon is like Babe Ruth

I'm reading in Ha'aretz today that Rudy Giuliani thinks that Ariel Sharon is like Babe Ruth. What? Other than the fact that they are both men of, shall we say, large appetites, I am failing to see the connection here.

UPDATE [26 Sept.]: Many thanks to Mike Odetalla for allowing me to reprint his essay, Desecrating the Memory of Babe Ruth. Here it is:
I was appalled to read that, while on a speaking tour in Israel, Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said Sharon reminds him of baseball legend Babe Ruth. How Mr. Giuliani arrived at the conclusion of comparing Ariel “the butcher of Beirut” Sharon and Babe “the sultan of swat” Ruth, is beyond even my wildest imagination.

Although I was born In Palestine and came to America at the age of 8 in 1969, soon afterwards, I discovered the game of baseball and grew to love the game with all of its subtle nuances, idiosyncrasies, and especially its rich and wonderful history.

As a youngster, I learned how to play baseball in the youth league, which was named after baseball legend Babe Ruth (the Babe Ruth League). It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the game, and as I became better at it, the more I wanted to learn of its history, reading as many books as I could find in our small school library about the sport and the many colorful and gifted players that played it.

In 5th Grade, we were assigned to do a report on our favorite athlete or personality. Although I was a huge Detroit Tigers fan, I skipped past legends Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Mickey Cochrane, and decided to do my report on George Herman Ruth Jr., “the Babe”, The Great "Bambino".

I checked a couple of books about Babe Ruth and the great New York Yankee teams of the 20’s and 30’s, a period where the Yankees dominated all of baseball, especially the 1929 team, which is still widely regarded as the greatest baseball team of all time.

For a period of more than 20 years, Babe Ruth was the most famous athlete in America as he tore through the record books with his superhuman exploits on the field. Children were naturally attracted to the larger than life Babe, and he to them, spending much of his time in their company.

By the time he retired in 1935, Babe Ruth, through his feats on the baseball diamond and lifestyle, had achieved legendary status not just in New York, but the entire country. In 1936, he was among the first 5 baseball players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Babe Ruth's popularity and fame were so widespread that even America's enemies knew of him. Almost a decade after he had bashed his last home run, his presence still was felt.

Babe Ruth's record of 60 homers in 1927 stood up for 34 years.

During World War II, when Japanese soldiers charged American troops, they would sometimes scream, "To hell with Babe Ruth." Not "to hell with FDR" or "to hell with Douglas MacArthur," but "to hell with Babe Ruth."

What bigger compliment could an American receive?

Ruth was a man of mythic proportions. He became even more than the ultimate American sports celebrity. He was "a unique figure in the social history of the United States," wrote Robert Creamer in Babe: The Legend Comes to Life. "For more than any other man, Babe Ruth transcended sports, moved far beyond the artificial limits of baselines and outfield fences and sports pages."

After doing my report and presenting it to the whole class in a Yankee Jersey with the number 3 stitched on the back, signifying the number that he wore on his Yankee uniform, I was instantly transformed into a fan of the Great Bambino, a fascination that is still with me today.

How Rudy Giuliani could ever compare the war criminal Ariel Sharon, a man whose hands are soaked with the blood of thousands of innocent men, women, and children to the loveable, smiling Yankee giant, is sacrilegious.

The only thing that Babe Ruth ever destroyed was baseballs and records, unlike Ariel Sharon, who also known as the "bulldozer" for his penchant for wreaking havoc and destruction on the Palestinian people, their property, and rights.

There are many photographs of Babe Ruth, smiling, playing, and signing autographs while surrounded by large groups of smiling little children. On the other hand, there are many gruesome photographs of dead and horrified little Palestinian children in the wake of a "visit" by Ariel Sharon.

Babe Ruth used to stop in the middle of residential neighborhoods and throw the ball to little children as he played catch with them, while Ariel Sharon and his infamous and brutal Unit 101 were documented throwing hand grenades throw the windows of Palestinian homes where little children were cowering in fear with their parents.

Looking at the 1930's era watch, with the smiling mug of the Great Babe Ruth on the dial that is prominently displayed on my office desk, I know of no two human beings could more different from each other than the Babe and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

I guess in the world of "political prostitution", whereby Rudy Giuliani resides and is hoping to capitalize by cuddling up to Ariel Sharon and his Zionist constituency in the hope that they will help him in his eventual bid to becoming the next president of the United States, desecrating the name and memory of an American icon by comparing him to a war criminal is "acceptable", but not to this longtime fan of the Babe and the concept of justice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

 

Chaos in Basra

The British occupation of Basra in the south of Iraq has often been presented in the American media as being a much more controlled situation than the rest of Iraq (other than perhaps the Kurdish areas of the north). This was attributed to a more competent British occupation, a region that was dominated by the Shia Iraqis who were politically, religiously, and in some cases militarily organized (and also pleased to see Saddam Hussein out of power), and so on. In any case, whatever order existed there seems to be in serious danger of falling apart following the arrest by Iraqi authorities of two British soldiers and the ensuing British prison raid to free the two. Helen McCormack of the Independent writes:
In the rioting that ensued, British control of the city, in the Shia-dominated south of Iraq, began to look seriously under threat. Two Iraqis were reported dead in the rioting, with 15 Iraqis reported injured, along with three British soldiers....

As an uneasy peace was maintained in the city last night, all the indications were that yesterday's violence could be repeated today.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post has only a small link on its front page with the headline "British Stage Prison Rescue of 2 Soldiers," which seems to me to hardly be the main story here. The prison rescue is hardly newsworthy compared to the rioting and anger that have surfaced in Basra in its wake. I'm heading over to Juan Cole's site to read more about this (he has quite a bit on the differing accounts of what led to the arrest of the two British soldiers, how the British reacted, what happened after that, etc.).

UPDATE [11:08 am]: Looks like the firebrand cleric is up to it again. That's right, Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement seems to be heavily wrapped up in the anti-British antagonism and anger in Basra. Go read Juan Cole, for real. He's got a much better handle of what forces are at play here.

Monday, September 19, 2005

 

Villa Gregoriana, a view of the waterfall. (photo by my dad)

 

Tivoli, view from the bridge over the Aniene River, Temple of the Sibyl and the Sibella Restaurant. (photo by my dad)

 

Tusculum, the Roman site above Frascati, view over the Colle Albani (photo by my dad)

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