It's all a matter of perspective.

Friday, September 06, 2002

I have just spent the better part of the day (in-between phone calls) reading this incredible article in the New Yorker about Saddam's genocide campaign against the Kurds of Northern Iraq, and Iraq's link to al Qaeda. (Linked to by Andrew Sullivan) It is a very long article, but well worth the read. It is sickening that the international community has allowed that creep to stay in power as long as he has. I will offer a few excerpts to give you the idea without having to spend the better part of your day reading it.

Gosden believes it is quite possible that the countries of the West will soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago—that what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning. "For Saddam's scientists, the Kurds were a test population," she said. "They were the human guinea pigs. It was a way of identifying the most effective chemical agents for use on civilian populations, and the most effective means of delivery."

Increased rates of infertility, he said, are having a profound effect on Kurdish society, which places great importance on large families. "You have men divorcing their wives because they could not give birth, and then marrying again, and then their second wives can't give birth, either," he said. "Still, they don't blame their own problem with spermatogenesis."

Baban told me that the initial results of the Halabja Medical Institute-sponsored survey show abnormally high rates of many diseases. He said that he compared rates of colon cancer in Halabja with those in the city of Chamchamal, which was not attacked with chemical weapons. "We are seeing rates of colon cancer five times higher in Halabja than in Chamchamal," he said.

There are other anomalies as well, Baban said. The rate of miscarriage in Halabja, according to initial survey results, is fourteen times the rate of miscarriage in Chamchamal; rates of infertility among men and women in the affected population are many times higher than normal. "We're finding Hiroshima levels of sterility," he said.

Then, there is the suspicion about snakes. "Have you heard about the snakes?" he asked as we drove. I told him that I had heard rumors. "We don't know if a genetic mutation in the snakes has made them more toxic," Baban went on, "or if the birds that eat the snakes were killed off in the attacks, but there seem to be more snakebites, of greater toxicity, in Halabja now than before."

Baban said that in Halabja "there are more abnormal births than normal ones," and other Kurdish doctors told me that they regularly see children born with neural-tube defects and undescended testes and without anal openings. They are seeing—and they showed me—children born with six or seven toes on each foot, children whose fingers and toes are fused, and children who suffer from leukemia and liver cancer.

Most of the Kurds who were murdered in the Anfal were not killed by poison gas; rather, the genocide was carried out, in large part, in the traditional manner, with roundups at night, mass executions, and anonymous burials. The bodies of most of the victims of the Anfal—mainly men and boys—have never been found.

. . .allegations include charges that Ansar al-Islam (a terrorist group that operates inside Iraq) has received funds directly from Al Qaeda; that the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992; that a number of Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan. If these charges are true, it would mean that the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought.

. . .about ten years ago Saddam underwent something of a battlefield conversion to a fundamentalist brand of Islam. "It was gradual, starting the moment he decided on the invasion of Kuwait," in June of 1990, according to Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at the University of Haifa. "His calculation was that he needed people in Iraq and the Arab world—as well as God—to be on his side when he invaded. After he invaded, the Islamic rhetorical style became overwhelming"—so overwhelming, Baram continued, that a radical group in Jordan began calling Saddam "the New Caliph Marching from the East." This conversion, cynical though it may be, has opened doors to Saddam in the fundamentalist world. He is now a prime supporter of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and of Hamas, paying families of suicide bombers ten thousand dollars in exchange for their sons' martyrdom. This is part of Saddam's attempt to harness the power of Islamic extremism and direct it against his enemies.

The man they introduced me to the next afternoon was a twenty-nine-year-old Iranian Arab, a smuggler and bandit from the city of Ahvaz. The intelligence officials told me that his most recent employer was bin Laden. When they arrested him, last year, they said, they found a roll of film in his possession. They had the film developed, and the photographs, which they showed me, depicted their prisoner murdering a man with a knife, slicing his ear off and then plunging the knife into the top of the man's head.

One day in 1999, Othman(Osoma bin Laden contact) got a message to Jawad(Al Qaeda smuggler mentioned in the preceeding paragraph), who was then in Iran. He was to smuggle himself across the Iraqi border at Fao, where a car would meet him and take him to a village near Tikrit, the headquarters of Saddam Hussein's clan. Jawad was then taken to a meeting at the house of a man called Luay, whom he described as the son of Saddam's father-in-law, Khayr Allah Talfah. (Professor Baram, who has long followed Saddam's family, later told me he believes that Luay, who is about forty years old, is close to Saddam's inner circle.) At the meeting, with Othman present, Mukhabarat officials instructed Jawad to go to Baghdad, where he was to retrieve several cannisters filled with explosives. Then, he said, he was to arrange to smuggle the explosives into Iran, where they would be used to kill anti-Iraqi activists. After this assignment was completed, Jawad said, he was given a thousand Kalashnikov rifles by Iraqi intelligence and told to smuggle them into Afghanistan.

A year later, there was a new development: Othman told Jawad to smuggle several dozen refrigerator motors into Afghanistan for the Iraqi Mukhabarat; a cannister filled with liquid was attached to each motor. Jawad said that he asked Othman for more information. "I said, 'Othman, what does this contain?' He said, 'My life and your life.' He said they"—the Iraqi agents—"were going to kill us if we didn't do this. That's all I'll say.

"I was given a book of dollars," Jawad went on, meaning ten thousand dollars—a hundred American hundred-dollar bills. "I was told to arrange to smuggle the motors. Othman told me to kill any of the smugglers who helped us once we got there." Vehicles belonging to the Taliban were waiting at the border, and Jawad said that he turned over the liquid-filled refrigerator motors to the Taliban, and then killed the smugglers who had helped him.

I asked (Kurdish Prime Minister) Salih to respond to the criticism, widely aired in the West, that the sanctions have led to the death of thousands of children. "Sanctions don't kill Iraqi children," he said. "The regime kills children."

The Kurds face an institutional disadvantage at the U.N., where, unlike the Palestinians, they have not even been granted official observer status. Salih grew acerbic: "Compare us to other liberation movements around the world. We are very mature. We don't engage in terror. We don't condone extremist nationalist notions that can only burden our people. Please compare what we have achieved in the Kurdistan national-authority areas to the Palestinian national authority of Mr. Arafat. We have spent the last ten years building a secular, democratic society, a civil society. What has he built?"

There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon, and a nuclear-armed Iraq would alter forever the balance of power in the Middle East. "The first thing that occurs to any military planner is force protection," Charles Duelfer told me. "If your assessment of the threat is chemical or biological, you can get individual protective equipment and warning systems. If you think he's going to use a nuclear weapon, where are you going to concentrate your forces?"

There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons. When I talked about Saddam's past with the medical geneticist Christine Gosden, she said, "Please understand, the Kurds were for practice."

Thursday, September 05, 2002

I was driving Wylie home tonight when he says, "It's Dark!"
"Yeah," I said, "That means that it is almost time to go night-night"
The boy bristles, "No, I not go night-night. I not tired."
I replied, "But Wylie, it is so much fun to go night-night. I love going to bed."
The boy gets a smug look on his face, "But Dadoe . . . you sleep in Momma's bed."
The most amazing coincidence happened yesterday. When I got home from work my mom was there waiting for me with two pairs of brand new slacks. She had not read my post, she just loves me!
James Lileks is amazing today. Really amazing. I am not going to reprint an excerpt because you need to click over and read the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Ode to my Favorite Pants

Two sizes too big in the waist, two inches too long in the legs. My favorite pants that I have ever owned came from J.C. Penney’s and were not purchased on sale. There were a gift from my momma for Christmas, but she let me pick them out. They were gray, and I might have preferred olive green, but that did not keep them from becoming my favorite pants of all time.

They were big and wide in the legs and pleated in the front which made plenty of room in the crotch. The pleats also made plenty of room in the butt, which is more important. I am bulky in the moneymaker. These fantastic slacks had cuffs folded over at the bottom of the legs that would collect dirt and lint and perhaps even crumbs while I was eating. If I had on sandals, the back side of the cuffs would tuck under my foot, between heel and sandal. If I had on sneakers or my favorite shoes (which are a whole other story) the cuffs at the bottom of the legs would tuck under the heel of my shoes and get walked on.

These were the very definition of comfort. Sliding my legs into them was like putting on a fresh coat of love. My flesh swam around in them all day and was never constricted. I wore them often – at least twice a week, sometimes more – for they made me feel like a man. I rarely dared to place them in the dirty clothes hamper, for who knew when they might return? These pants had to desperately need a washing to get one. If you love someone set them free, you might say? Not me with these fair slacks.

On Sunday mornings I would stand in front of my closet and contemplate, “How many Sundays in a row have I worn these. Have people started to notice? Does that even matter? There would be plenty of time to wash them from Sunday to Sunday. These people do not know that I wore them to work on Monday and Thursday. They are the most comfortable thing I own. I don’t care, I am wearing them.”

Those were the days, the good ole’ days, the days of the Haggar wrinkle free 40x32’s. When I look back on them my mind sees me as thinner, more handsome, smarter, and happier. When I look back on them I see a simpler, more honest time. A time when I was not so scared, not so alone, not so overwhelmed. When I look back on them, I long for them.

I first noticed them wearing out down where they had been walked on. I knew it would happen eventually, but why so soon? This did not seem like a crisis and I ignored it, continuing to wear the pants as if they were brand new and just as stylish and elegant as ever. Soon I noticed that the fraying went all the way around the pants leg. This was very disheartening, for they might not be easily passed off at work or at church any longer. It did not stop me, though. These were my favorite britches I had ever owned. Wearing them was like going home and I would not soon give it up. Perhaps their life could have been extended if at that point I had put them away for extraordinary occasions, but these were not pants that could be retired. These were not pants that would go gentle into the good night. These were rock-and-freaking-roll slacks and they would rather burn out than fade away. I would maintain my strict pants wearing regimen.

It was not long after that. No fabric can stand up indefinitely to the corrosive powers of crotch sweat. One morning I was dressing for work a little disoriented from the long winters nap. I lost my balance and my foot went right through the crotch of my chinos to the floor. There in the dark bedroom I finally had to accept the demise of these perfect britches. I knew they could never be replaced. I knew there was nothing in my closet that would compare. Bent over and pantsless in the twilight, I was overwhelmed. A bleak and lonesome tear slipped down my cheek.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Five glasses of wine a day 'halves risk of second heart attack'

Men who drink wine every day after suffering a heart attack have the risk of having another one cut by half compared with teetotallers, according to a French study.

The study followed 353 men aged between 40 and 60 for four years after their attack as part of a larger investigation aimed at seeing if the Mediterranean diet could prevent further heart problems and strokes.

All the men had suffered heart attacks of a similar level of severity, were taking similar treatments for their condition and led similar lifestyles.

The researchers monitored how much wine each man drank and divided them into groups - teetotal, drinking less than two glasses of wine a day, drinking about two glasses of wine a day and drinking four to five glasses a day.

The research, in the journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, said that men who drank more than two glasses of wine a day reduced their risk of having another heart attack, a stroke or heart failure by 50 per cent, compared with the non drinkers.

There were 36 of these complications (ie a second heart attack or stroke) among the teetotallers, 34 among men who drank less than two glasses of wine a day, 18 among those who drank about two glasses a day and 16 among the men who drank four or five glasses of wine a day.

Salon has an article this morning detailing the sad world of Christian end-times movies. A world so sad, in fact, that I lost interest after about half of the article. If anyone makes it all the way to the end, tell me what happened. This is the passage that made me change the channel:
The latest van Heerden release, "Deceived," is described in the press kit as inspired by "Contact" and "Seven," but is really closer to the old "Star Trek" episode "The Naked Time." More playful than the dire "Apocalypse" movies, it's set in a deserted observatory (erroneously referred to in the movie as a "space station") where everyone's worst sin emerges. Then a weary-looking Judd Nelson realizes what's going on: SETI@Home, the distributed-computing project for analyzing signals from space, is functioning as no less than Satan's own peer-to-peer AudioGalaxy network.

When a signal arrives with a suspicious duration of 6.66 seconds, the usual archetypal characters from rapture movies have their own plans for it. Louis Gossett Jr., as a power-mad general, wants to control it. A crackpot New Age radio host -- the kind of comic-relief character only found in Christian entertainment -- begins raving about how the signal will "evolve" humans to a "higher consciousness" (evolution frequently appears in these movies in conjunction with madness.) The eyebrow-cocking "dot-com billionaire" wants to sell it, exclaiming: "It'll be the biggest webcast in history!" And the lusty TV reporter, naturally, wants to corrupt Judd.

But when the foxiest lady around, a chaste space scientist and Christian role model (well-toned Michelle Nolden) persuades Nelson that the signal is evil, and thus shouldn't be studied, good wins out. All the un-Christian players who thought they were sophisticated receive comeuppances. The once-proud anchorwoman asks to borrow the Bible. Carl Sagan rolls in his grave.