,Malaysia, Nicaragua,adultery

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Death knell for Gilroy Garlic


A local industry facing extinction due to competition......from China.

To residents of the Santa Clara Valley, Gilroy and garlic were synonymous. Long before driving through Gilroy on Hwy 152 the smell from garlic processing plants made itself known to motorists. Not much garlic was actually grown in Gilroy but it became the center of garlic processing plants in California. I like the aroma of garlic and use it liberally in cooking. It is reported to contain properties that are beneficial to health. It adds flavor to food and, for me, that is what counts. In 1979 a few enterprising locals came up with the idea of holding a garlic festival. According to reports it became a well-attended annual event. Local charities benefit from it. I have never been to the Garlic Festival. For those who are interested, this year's festival is scheduled for July 27th, 28th, and 29th.

Found this item about Gilroy in the web site of Tom Schweich. It is a treasure trove. One does not have to be a botanist to enjoy his writing. Mr. Schweich,
"Independent Botanist and Vegetation Analyst" is with the Mojave National Preserve.

  • John Gilroy, a Scotch sailor and the first permanent non-Spanish settler in California, was left ashore in Monterey in 1814 by the Hudson's Bay vessel Isaac Todd because he was sick with scurvy. He settled in the Santa Clara Valley and married into a Mexican land grant family, whose rancho eventually became called "Gilroy's" (Gudde, 1969, p. 120).

This post is about the disappearance of Gilroy garlic from markets in the USA. A few months ago I found that garlic bought at local stores lacked flavor. Looked different too. At first I thought that perhaps it was only some stores that were selling the inferior garlic. Not so. Every store, large and small, stocked the same, small, unflavorful garlic. I checked and found that they were imported from China! Now, I have nothing against imported foodstuff from China as long as they meet safety standards. But why on earth must we buy Chinese garlic when garlic of high quality is grown right here in California. It is a damn shame.

The article quoted below, by Harry Cline of Western Farm Press describes the history of Gilroy's garlic industry and the competition from China.

The U.S. consumes about 300 million pounds of fresh or peeled garlic annually, and consumption is growing as garlic moves from a primary ingredient in many ethnic dishes to a mainstay in American kitchens and restaurants.

The growing consumption would seemingly paint a bright picture for California garlic production, but the drop in acreage gives a clue otherwise.

The reason: China.

It’s hard to discuss any aspect of agriculture or American commerce without bringing up China, the most populous nation in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people and one of the most robust economies, with an 11 percent annual economic growth rate.

China makes American business either salivate or cringe — it’s a huge market for U.S products, or a nemesis of staggering proportions that can literally flood the world with everything from sneakers to garlic.

For Christopher Ranch and California garlic growers, China is a nemesis.

A few years ago, China overnight flooded the U.S. with fresh and dehydrated garlic, and many SJV growers were expecting the crop to disappear.

Christopher says China went from a measly 50,000 pounds of garlic a decade ago to 2 million to 3 million pounds last year, and for the first time more fresh garlic was imported into the U.S. than was produced in California.

“For years, China didn’t have the quality to import into the U.S., and their bulbs were very small. What happened was, a group of U.S. people went over there and showed them how to grow garlic,” says Christopher, who has been to China to see firsthand what’s happening there.

Christopher Ranch, which also contracts for production of bell peppers, shallots, and ginger, isn’t involved in the dehydrated garlic business. U.S. dehydrated garlic producers have challenged the influx of Chinese product into the U.S., particularly calling attention to the safety issue. They contend much of the garlic exported to the U.S. is dehydrated unsafely and contains high levels of lead.

“I’ve seen their plants,” says Christopher. “Many of them are very modern, but the small farmers also bring dehydrated garlic in from the countryside to mix with product from the modern plants.”

The Chinese are shipping fresh garlic into the U.S. at a cost of $12 to $16 per 30-pound box. It costs U.S. growers and packers $25 to $30 per 30-pound box.

China grows two-thirds of the world’s garlic, mostly in small plots. Its fresh garlic is not as flavorful as California garlic, which is keeping California garlic in the marketplace against the cheap imports.

“Fortunately, the food service industry and the big retailers are sticking with California garlic because of the flavor and safety factor,” Christopher says. “They’re willing to pay more for those two things.

PATSY ROSS, right, Christopher Ranch marketer, learns the finer points of garlic grading from company partner Bill Christopher.

Patsy Ross, a marketing expert with Christopher Ranch, says, “We’ve lost the low end of the market to the Chinese, but we’re doing well in the high end and are cultivating that.”

Garlic is sold packaged or bulk; when packaged, it must carry a country of origin label.

“But, when it’s sold in bulk, it doesn’t have to the label,” Ross says. “The majority of consumers automatically assume that the garlic they buy in the produce department is from California — it may not be. We’re working with the California Grown program to get the word out to consumers to ask for California garlic.”

She says West Coast shoppers are willing to pay the extra 5 cents to 10 cents for California garlic. “Unfortunately, that isn’t the case on the East Coast, where shoppers are more price-conscious, even though it takes more imported garlic to flavor food than domestically-grown garlic.”

It’s easy to tell California-grown fresh garlic from imported. Domestically-grown garlic still has roots on the bottom of the bulb, while imported garlic is cleanly-shaven of most, if not all, roots.

California-grown garlic is heavier because it is more dense in soluble plant solids, with lower water content, a key to a high Brix score. It has a richer, more complex flavor than imported garlic.

This quality differentiation is one reason Christopher believes garlic will remain a viable crop for SJV producers.

“One can still make money growing garlic in the San Joaquin Valley. But it’s harder for us to get growers when processing tomatoes are $63 per ton, as they were this year, versus $50 per ton last year.” About 75 percent of his company’s producers are long-time contract growers.

Garlic is a long-season crop, planted in September and harvested in July. Christopher provides certified seed to growers, consults on growing practices, and directs the hand harvest, using 2,000 to 3,000 workers.

“Growers like garlic because, after it’s harvested, the ground is dry and can be worked a lot deeper than, say, after a lettuce crop, where the ground is wet after harvest.”

The biggest garlic growing challenge is white rot, which can be devastating; it’s one reason fields are rotated out of garlic for four or five years.

“Once white rot is in the soil, it’s there forever and the ground is no longer good for garlic,” Christopher says.

The industry has created a commission to fund research on white rot in both garlic and onions.

There is still good garlic ground in the valley, Christopher says, although he admits to concern about a shrinking land base as more permanent crops like almonds, grapes, and pistachios take row crop ground.

“We’re in the garlic business to stay, despite what China is doing. We’ll do whatever it takes to keep garlic as a viable crop for San Joaquin growers.”

Politically, Christopher has banded together with other specialty crop growers to get the federal government to enforce anti-dumping laws and to prevent Chinese garlic from avoiding high tariffs by being shipped to Vietnam and then to the U.S.

He says China is evading trade rules by allowing new garlic shippers to post a bond against any fines for dumping garlic into the U.S. below the cost of production. Established Chinese shippers must post a cash deposit against any dumping violations, but the new companies simply go out of business as soon as they are fined, and the bond is no longer valid.

“They just create another company and post another bond,” Christopher says, noting that more than $40 million in fines has not been collected.

“The Chinese have cost us a lot of business, but we’re hanging in with new marketing approaches.” His company once processed 90 million pounds of fresh garlic annually — now, it’s slightly more than 60 million pounds.

The Christopher family began farming in California in the 1880s, when Ole Christopher emigrated from Denmark to the Santa Clara Valley.

Don Christopher, a third generation California farmer, founded the family garlic company in 1956 with 10 acres. Christopher Ranch is one of the founders of the now-famous Gilroy Garlic Festival. Bill is Don’s son.

email: hcline@farmpress.com

Monday, June 25, 2007


In Islamabad, Chinese Masseuses and Burqa-clad Vigilantes


The Morality Brigade from Madrasa

Pakistan's President Musharraf has a new problem to deal with. Female students from Jamia Hafsa Madrasa, an Islamic school, brought attention to his government's failure to curb immorality by raiding a massage parlor and taking hostages. General Musharraf's administration is far from clean but the action of the morality brigade makes one think of the stone ages. My Iraqi blogger friend would say "Ya Habibi".

The New York Times:
Militant Students Capture Masseuses to Make a Point

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 24 — Dressed from head to toe in an all-enveloping black burka, Umm-e-Okasha joined a pack of students from her militant Islamic school on Friday night, and at midnight they drove to a massage parlor here in the Pakistani capital and rang the bell.

“There were about 25 Chinese women, dressed only in underpants and bras,” recalled Ms. Okasha, 24, a muscular high-school badminton champion who had shed her black garb for soft mauves, her face uncovered, during an interview inside the women-only confines of the school. “They scattered, but we managed to grab five.”

The vigilantes, including students from an affiliated school for men, shoved the skimpily clad Chinese masseuses into a car, gave them shawls for modesty and hauled them back to the school as hostages, she said.

Under pressure from Pakistan’s government, concerned about maintaining its friendly relations with China, the school released the Chinese masseuses on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours later.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Rabble-Rousers - A Fatwa Revived

The brouhaha over the Danish cartoons is a thing of the past, so Islamic fundamentalists needed another cause. They found it.....in the Queen's birthday honours list! The author Salman Rushdie was awarded a knighthood. The awards might mean something to the citizens of the United Kingdom. The rest of the world does not give them much attention; they are a relic of the days when Britannia ruled the world.

But to some rabble-rousing mullahs it was an opportunity to issue the call to the faithful to rise against the infidels and they responded in the usual fashion. Let's hope that saner voices in the Muslim communities would prevail over the fanatics.

Excerpts from a report in The Guardian:

While some British Muslims protested against the award of a knighthood to the writer Salman Rushdie yesterday, amid reports of strikes and demonstrations in India, Iran and Pakistan, others distanced themselves from the effigy-burning and calls for violent reprisals.

About 20 demonstrators protested at Regents Park mosque in London after prayers yesterday afternoon. Men with their faces covered to avoid identification waved placards, one of which read "God curse the Queen", and shouted slogans.

"We've come to demonstrate against the apostate Salman Rushdie," said one. "He has insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Salman Rushdie is the devil. We have a responsibility - he should be punished, he should be attacked. We should not be afraid of the kuffar [non-believer]. They say Tony Blair is going to be sent to the Middle East as a peace envoy. We hope he comes back in a box."

The protesters also burned a homemade St George's flag, to the cheers of some and the dismay others. "It is disrespectful to behave like this outside a mosque," said Mohammed Ahmed, a 24-year-old part-time charity worker. "This protest will do nothing to change the negative perceptions people have about our religion."

Mosque staff also distanced themselves from the demonstration. "We do not sanction this protest or the views they are expressing," said a woman from the director general's office.

In Srinagar, in India, shops and offices were closed yesterday in protest. In Iran, worshippers at Tehran university chanted "death to the English" as clerics claimed the fatwa against Rushdie was still in force.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Death Came to Zarghun Shah, East of Kabul


More Collateral Damage in Afghanistan * Blues On Bach

Yesterday, the morning after Father's Day, the following news item made me pause and think about the slaughter of innocents that is taking place while major powers go about establishing democracy (that is what they say) in various parts of the world. If that is their objective it is often not supported by facts. One gets the feeling there is more to it. Seven children in a school building in Zarghun Shah, in the province of Paktika, Afghanistan, got blown up. Officials issued the usual platitudes. No doubt there will be some appropriate noise from Prime Minister Karzai. He is a puppet, powerless to do anything and the world knows it. What has become evident during the past years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan is that to us the loss of civilian lives there does not mean much. It is almost as if they are lesser human beings. There is no outcry; the public remains apathetic; the media gives such news scant coverage. And the insurgents, whoever they are -- fundos, Taliban, al-Qaeda, get more recruits to fight for their cause.

Fisnik Abrashi, Associated Press
June 18, 2007
  • KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition jets bombed a compound suspected of housing al-Qaida militants in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven boys and several insurgents, officials said Monday.
  • Clashes in the south left dozens more suspected insurgents dead, officials said


Paktika Gov. Akram Akhpelwak said there normally is strong coordination between the government and the coalition and NATO, but that he was not made aware of the missile strike on the madrassa beforehand, resulting in the death of seven boys, ages 10 to 16.

Local authorities are working with NATO and coalition troops "to have better coordination and to not have these misunderstandings, but today we had a misunderstanding and the people will be unhappy," Akhpelwak told The Associated Press by telephone. "We will go to the area and discuss the issue with the people and apologize to the people."

Coalition troops had "surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building," said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman. He accused the militants of not letting the children leave the compound that was targeted.

"If we knew that there were children inside the building, there was no way that that airstrike would have occurred," said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Welch, another coalition spokesman.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it has sent a team with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission to investigate.

Afghan officials have recently said that civilian deaths are the main concern of Afghans, and President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for foreign troops to do more to prevent civilian casualties.

Listening to Blues On Bach by Modern Jazz Quartet. The disc includes Tears from the Children based on Prelude No.8 from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

John Lewis, Piano and Harpsichord
Milt Jackson, Vibraharp
Percy Heath, Bass
Connie Kay, Drums and Percussion
Label: Atlantic
ASIN: B000002I6B

Monday, June 18, 2007


Wild Flowers, San Francisco Peninsula and South Bay - Spring 2007


And a Butterfly

Father's Day came and went. Summer Solstice is three days away. We have had a few days when daytime temp. went well over 90°F but, overall, June has been unusually cool. Here in the San Francisco Peninsula there are still some wild flowers to be found. The display at Russian Ridge, however, has been far from spectacular due to sparsity of rainfall.

Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve

Canopy of Redwood Trees
©Musafir 5-28-07

Yellow Lupine
©Musafir 5-28-07

Serrated Onion
©Musafir 5-28-07

White Thimbleberry
©Musafir 5-28-07

Scotch Broom
©Musafir 5-28-07

Horse Parsley
©Musafir 5-28-07

Blue Eyed Grass
©Musafir 5-28-07

Wild Iris
©Musafir 5-28-07

Variable Checkerspot
©Musafir 5-28-07

Palo Alto Foothills Park - Los Trancos Trail

Morning Glory
©Musafir 6-6-07

Common Bluecup
©Musafir 6-6-07

Indian Pink
©Musafir 6-6-07

Mustang Mint
©Musafir 6-6-07

Clarkia (Farewell to Spring)
©Musafir 6-6-07

Long Ridge - Peters Creek Loop Trail

©Musafir 6-10-07

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) trees in bloom
©Musafir 6-10-07

©Musafir 6-10-07

"The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life."
--- Jean Giradoux


Sunday, June 17, 2007


Returning Veterans Caught in Bureaucratic Jungle


The Ugly, Depressing Truth Behind the Praise for the Troops

Dana Priest and Anne Hull -- the same team that exposed the terrible conditions at Walter Reed in February -- have collaborated on another report published in the Washington Post today. This time it is about the lack of care for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) . There are thousands of them caught in the bureaucratic jungle. Some have given up seeking help. The next time you hear the president or a politician talk about the sacrifice of our soldiers, think about what is being done for them when they return home wounded physically and/or mentally.


Army Spec. Jeans Cruz helped capture Saddam Hussein. When he came home to the Bronx, important people called him a war hero and promised to help him start a new life. The mayor of New York, officials of his parents' home town in Puerto Rico, the borough president and other local dignitaries honored him with plaques and silk parade sashes. They handed him their business cards and urged him to phone.

But a "black shadow" had followed Cruz home from Iraq, he confided to an Army counselor. He was hounded by recurring images of how war really was for him: not the triumphant scene of Hussein in handcuffs, but visions of dead Iraqi children.

In public, the former Army scout stood tall for the cameras and marched in the parades. In private, he slashed his forearms to provoke the pain and adrenaline of combat. He heard voices and smelled stale blood. Soon the offers of help evaporated and he found himself estranged and alone, struggling with financial collapse and a darkening depression.

Veterans Affairs will spend $2.8 billion this year on mental health. But the best it could offer Cruz was group therapy at the Bronx VA medical center. Not a single session is held on the weekends or late enough at night for him to attend. At age 25, Cruz is barely keeping his life together. He supports his disabled parents and 4-year-old son and cannot afford to take time off from his job repairing boilers. The rough, dirty work, with its heat and loud noises, gives him panic attacks and flesh burns but puts $96 in his pocket each day.

Once celebrated by his government, Cruz feels defeated by its bureaucracy. He no longer has the stamina to appeal the VA decision, or to make the Army correct the sloppy errors in his medical records or amend his personnel file so it actually lists his combat awards.

By this spring, the number of vets from Afghanistan and Iraq who had sought help for post-traumatic stress would fill four Army divisions, some 45,000 in all.

They occupy every rank, uniform and corner of the country. People such as Army Lt. Sylvia Blackwood, who was admitted to a locked-down psychiatric ward in Washington after trying to hide her distress for a year and a half ; and Army Pfc. Joshua Calloway, who spent eight months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and left barely changed from when he arrived from Iraq in handcuffs; and retired Marine Lance Cpl. Jim Roberts, who struggles to keep his sanity in suburban New York with the help of once-a-week therapy and a medicine cabinet full of prescription drugs; and the scores of Marines in California who were denied treatment for PTSD because the head psychiatrist on their base thought the diagnosis was overused.

They represent the first wave in what experts say is a coming deluge.

As many as one-quarter of all soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq are psychologically wounded, according to a recent American Psychological Association report. Twenty percent of the soldiers in Iraq screened positive for anxiety, depression and acute stress, an Army study found.

But numbers are only part of the problem. The Institute of Medicine reported last month that Veterans Affairs' methods for deciding compensation for PTSD and other emotional disorders had little basis in science and that the evaluation process varied greatly. And as they try to work their way through a confounding disability process, already-troubled vets enter a VA system that chronically loses records and sags with a backlog of 400,000 claims of all kinds.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Catholic Fundos Go After Amnesty International


A Cardinal of the Catholic Church issued an edict to the faithful to stop contributing to Amnesty International because of its support of abortion rights. It is no different than fatwas issued by Islamic mullahs when they perceive something to be against their interpretation of the sharia (Islamic law). It must be welcome news for the Bush Administration which has been very active in taking away not only women's right to choose but also in restricting means of birth control and propagation of sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. The holier than thou hypocrites have a simple message: "Don't do it." Did they commit what President Bush once described as youthful indiscretions? Don't ask.

The Guardian

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Hero of Albania - President G.W. Bush

What do the Albanians know that we don't ?

You could've knocked me down with a feather. Albanians like George Bush. No, Albanians love George Bush. Perhaps the only place on earth where he received praise. After being booed everywhere he went it must have given his ego a much-needed boost. What is he going to do when he returns to Washington,D.C ? He always claimed he paid no attention to polls. Now, with the Albanians solidly behind him, the president wouldn't give a hoot about what we Americans think of him and his presidency.

Jennifer Loven, Associated Press
June 10, 2006

Nearing the end of an eight-day trip, Bush got a hero's reception in this desperately poor country, still struggling to recover from being cut off from the rest of the world for four decades under the harsh rule of dictator Enver Hoxha. Hoxha died in 1985, and Albania emerged from isolation in 1990 but still is one of Europe's most impoverished lands.

Cannons boomed salutes from mountains overlooking the capital. Huge banners proclaimed "Proud to be Partners," and billboards read "President Bush in Albania Making History."

At home, Bush's job approval rating stands at its all-time low. But here, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Bush was Albania's "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times."

Throngs of people grasped Bush's hands, arms and fingers on the streets of Fushe Kruje, a small town near the airport where he stopped to chat in a cafe with business owners. Unused to such adoring crowds in America, Bush reveled in the attention. He kissed women on the cheek, posed for pictures and signed autographs. Someone reached out and rubbed his gray hair.

"Bushie, Bushie," people shouted. Some of the business people have received small loans under U.S. government programs.

The scene was uncharacteristically wild for a presidential crowd. Bush spokesman Dana Perino said later that the Secret Service assured Bush's safety, as always. "If they didn't think the president was safe, obviously they wouldn't have put him in that position," she said.


"Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense."
---The Mock Turtle, Alice in Wonderland

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


The Price for Arrogance


I. "Scooter" Libby Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Lying

If it were not for the appointment of Patrick J. Fitzgerald as special counsel to investigate the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, Mr. Libby would have continued to serve his boss, the vice president, and hatch plots/strategies to support the war in Iraq which they foisted on our nation.

Mr. Libby could still escape time in prison if he is pardoned by the president. One gets the feeling that the president is sympathetic. After all he,too, played a role in hyping Iraq's non-existent WMD to justify the war and it was former ambassador Joseph Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame, who incurred the wrath of the warmongers by his op-ed article in The New York Times. Perhaps the only thing deterring President Bush from granting a pardon is his abysmal rating in the polls. Pardoning Libby isn't going to make him look good, especially after what U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said: "He acknowledged Libby had been a public servant for years, foregoing income he could have obtained in private practice. But, the judge noted, "we expect a lot" of senior government officials. Libby's high position, Walton remarked, came with high obligations. Walton derided the attacks launched by Libby partisans and commentators against the CIA leak investigation, the trial, and the verdict. "The evidence overwhelmingly indicates Mr. Libby's culpability," he declared. He blasted Libby for discussing Valerie Wilson with reporters without considering that she might have been an undercover officer. "Government officials must realize," he said, "if they're going to step over the line...there are consequences." Source: Yahoo News

The president,however, might succumb to pressure from Vice President Cheney and other conservatives. As the saying goes, on this issue he is between the proverbial a rock and a hard place. He is probably praying for Libby to succeed in staying out of prison until the 2008 election as the appeals process moves through the courts.

The late Senator William J. Fullbright was a giant. The fact that he supported racial segregation is a black mark against him. He was an outspoken critic of the war against Vietnam, and his 1966 book Arrogance of Power, is a classic.

Reading about Libby's jail sentence reminded me of passages from the book.

The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission. The dilemmas involved are preeminently American dilemmas, not because America has weaknesses that others do not have but because America is powerful as no nation has ever been before and the discrepancy between its power and the power of others appears to be increasing....

We are now engaged in a war to "defend freedom" in South Vietnam. Unlike the Republic of Korea, South Vietnam has an army which [is] without notable success and a weak, dictatorial government which does not command the loyalty of the South Vietn amese people. The official war aims of the United States Government, as I understand them, are to defeat what is regarded as North Vietnamese aggression, to demonstrate the futility of what the communists call "wars of national liberation," and to create conditions under which the South Vietnamese people will be able freely to determine their own future. I have not the slightest doubt of the sincerity of the President and the Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense in propounding these aims. What I do doubt - and doubt very much - is the ability of the United States to achieve these aims by the means being used. I do not question the power of our weapons and the efficiency of our logistics; I cannot say these things delight me as they seem to delight some of our officials, but they are certainly impressive. What I do question is the ability of the United States, or France or any other Western nation, to go into a small, alien, undeveloped Asian nation and create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy racy where there is no tradition of it and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life. Our handicap is well expressed in the pungent Chinese proverb: "In shallow waters dragons become the sport of shrimps."

The Bushies, of course, remain oblivious. They live in a sort of dreamland of their making. But lately things have not been going well for them.....perhaps occasional nightmares haunt their sleep.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Congress, Democrats, Bush, Iraq


Latest polls reflect the growing dissatisfaction over Iraq. It seems as though the Democrats' period in the sun is fading fast. They failed to counter the president's tactics -- that funding cut off would leave our soldiers out on a limb. Republican lawmakers, of course, stood solidly behind the president. So, they got the money to continue.....for a while. 18 more soldiers died in the first four days of June. Source: Iraq Coalition Casualties

Washington Post
  • Growing frustration with the performance of the Democratic Congress, combined with widespread public pessimism over President Bush's temporary troop buildup in Iraq, has left satisfaction with the overall direction of the country at its lowest point in more than a decade, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
  • Almost six in 10 Americans said they do not think the additional troops sent to Iraq since the beginning of the year will help restore civil order there, and 53 percent -- a new high in Post-ABC News polls -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.
  • Disapproval of Bush's performance in office remains high, but the poll highlighted growing disapproval of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Just 39 percent said they approve of the job Congress is doing, down from 44 percent in April, when the new Congress was about 100 days into its term. More significant, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 10 percentage points over that same period, from 54 percent to 44 percent.
  • Much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents and liberal Democrats. While independents were evenly split on the Democrats in Congress in April (49 percent approved, 48 percent disapproved), now 37 percent said they approved and 54 percent disapproved. Among liberal Democrats, approval of congressional Democrats dropped 18 points.
  • Bush's overall job-approval rating stands at 35 percent, unchanged from April.
  • Many Democratic activists have complained that the 2006 midterm election results represented a call for a course change in Iraq and that so far the Democratic-controlled Congress has failed to deliver.
Then there is the high cost of gasoline. We are heading for a summer of discontent.

Washington Post

Among the nearly three-quarters of Americans expressing a pessimistic viewpoint, about one in five blamed the war for their negative outlook, and about the same ratio mentioned the economy, gas prices, jobs or debt as the main reason for their dissatisfaction with the country's direction. Eleven percent cited "problems with Bush," and another 11 percent said "everything" led them to their negative opinion.

The Congressman Who kept $90,000 in his home freezer

Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana has been indicted on bribery charges. From what is known, he followed the path of some Republican lawmakers who are now paying for their venality. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are reported to be "strongly" supportive of Rep. Jefferson.
  • If convicted on all counts, Jefferson could face more than 200 years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines the term would probably be much less. The 94-page indictment details 11 alleged bribery and fraud schemes involving his business interests in at least seven West African countries, including telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana, oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea, waste-recycling systems in Nigeria and the Nigerian sugar plant for which he sought Export-Import Bank financing.

Monday, June 04, 2007


Spam Kings and Those Who Keep Them in Business


News about arrest of Robert A. Soloway caused quite a few headlines in the past week. "Soloway, 27, used his empire of hijacked "zombie" computers to send tens of millions of unsolicited e-mail messages over the past four years, prosecutors allege. Described as a spammer since he was a teenager, he allegedly covered his digital tracks using Chinese servers, fabricated Web sites and the purloined identities of hundreds of Internet users whose names and e-mail addresses were slapped on the bulk mailings. He opened and closed bank accounts faster than creditors could track them, prosecutors said." - The Washington Post

Soloway and others like him certainly deserve to be punished. But it would be naive to think that our computers would be spam-free after he is put behind bars. Spam is here to stay not only because it provides a source of livelihood to unscrupulous people but also because there are millions of computer users who, for some reason, open spam. Call it an irresistible impulse -- the hope of getting something for nothing or for a pittance. The baits range from winning lottery tickets in UK; unclaimed million dollar bank accounts waiting for you in Nigeria; cheap drugs without prescription for erectile dysfunction, to amorous females pining for your company. We read about victims of spam being mostly the lonely, elderly people who are not savvy about the Internet. Yes, there are those but there are many others. If most of the victims were ignorant or senile retirees the spammers would have gone out of business a long time ago. The number of such victims is not large enough to sustain the multi-million dollar business in which spammers are engaged. And it is a global scourge.

Before Alan J. Soloway there were other "spam kings". Sanford Wallace thrived in spamming back in the 90's. In 2005, Scott Richter settled a $7 million law suit by Microsoft. Then there was the case of Alan M. Ralsky (I"m not a spammer," Ralsky said. "I'm a commercial e-mailer.") of West Bloomfield, Michigan. Before long a new kid will appear to claim Soloway's mantle.

Now, go open the message from Violet M. Box (I'm waiting for you) or from SCC (Our company has announced additional openings for new employees). Good luck.

"There is a sucker born every minute"
---Joseph Bessimer or David Hannum


Friday, June 01, 2007


Iraq - The Human toll of the Neocons' War


125 American soldiers died in Iraq in the month of May

How many more must die? It was not a merry month -- not for the hapless Iraqi civilians, not for the soldiers, and certainly not for the families of the dead and injured.

125, the highest number of military fatalities in a month since November 2004 -- and this after the troop surge. Total since the beginning of the war 3476. Yes, the president had mentioned that there would be increase in violence. He wants victory before troop withdrawal. The majority of Iraqis (Shias, Sunnis) do not want us there. To them we are an army of occupation. We have taken part in atrocities that have not endeared us. The president, however, is determined to continue. He has no choice. He and his team created the bloody mess and they want to save face. All the rest of it is just noise. Barring a few exceptions, the gutless, cynical members of Congress are doing their share of uttering mumbo jumbo.

Time for an Egghead President

Shouldn't be difficult to find when you think about the current one. Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post: "I want a president who reads newspapers, who reads books other than those that confirm his worldview, who bones up on Persian history before deciding how to deal with Iran's ambitious dreams of glory. I want a president who understands the relationship between energy policy at home and U.S. interests in the Middle East -- and who's smart enough to form his or her own opinions, not just rely on what old friends in the oil business say."
We can hope but our system is such that "friends in the oil business" have a lot to do with who gets elected.


I want a president who looks forward to policy meetings on health care and has ideas to throw into the mix.

I want a president who believes in empirical fact, whose understanding of spirituality is complete enough to know that faith is "the evidence of things not seen" and who knows that for things that can be seen, the relevant evidence is fact, not belief. I want a president -- and it's amazing that I even have to put this on my wish list -- smart enough to know that Darwin was right.

Actually, I want a president smart enough to know a good deal about science. He or she doesn't have to be able to do the math, but I want a president who knows that the great theories underpinning our understanding of the universe -- general relativity and quantum mechanics -- have stood for nearly a century and proved stunningly accurate, even though they describe a world that is more shimmer than substance. I want him or her to know that there's a lot we still don't know.

I want the next president to be intellectually curious -- and also intellectually honest. I want him or her to understand the details, not just the big picture. I won't complain if the next president occasionally uses a word I have to look up.

The conventional wisdom says that voters are turned off when candidates put on showy displays of highfalutin brilliance. I hope that's wrong. I hope people understand how complicated and difficult the next president's job will be, and how much of a difference some real candlepower would make.

I don't want the candidates to pretend to be average people, because why would we choose an ordinary person for such an extraordinary job? I want to see what they've got -- how much they know, how readily they absorb new information, how effectively they analyze problems and evaluate solutions. If the next president is almost always the smartest person in the room, I won't mind a bit. After all, we're not in high school anymore.


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