Sunday, December 17, 2006

Quick Hits on a Chilly Sunday Morning (Again...)

This is starting to feel like Groundhog Day... it's early Sunday morning in Minneapolis, it's downright cold outside, and here I am at Dunn Bros. again suckling at the teat of free Wi-Fi. Seems like I've been here before. I'm heading home today after spending this week in Minneapolis for my Grandmother's funeral (here's her obituary, lovingly and nostalgically written by my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Judy), and hopefully I'll have time for some more regular posting. That said, with work and impending Christmas cheer (and let's not forget the current Hanukkah cheer), posting will most likely be on a reduced holiday schedule (i.e., Morning News Roundups and then whenever I get around to it).

It's been hard to follow the news the last couple of days, so I'm playing catch-up. But here are a few tidbits that are worth sharing...

Iraq's (Decidedly Less Than Civil) Civil War
  • Iraq's schools, long touted by American officials as a success story in a land short on successes, increasingly are being caught in the crossfire of the country's escalating civil war.

    President Bush has routinely talked about the refurbishment and construction of schools as a neglected story of progress in Iraq. The U.S. Agency for International Development has spent about $100 million on Iraq's education system and cites the rehabilitation of 2,962 school buildings as a signal accomplishment.

    But today, across the country, campuses are being shuttered, students and teachers driven from their classrooms and parents left to worry that a generation of traumatized children will go without education.

    Teachers tell of students kidnapped on their way to school, mortar rounds landing on or near campuses and educators shot in front of children.

    This month insurgents distributed pamphlets at campuses, some sealed inside an envelope with an AK-47 bullet.

    "To the Honest People of Baghdad," one pamphlet read, "we want you to leave the schools, hospitals, institutes, colleges and universities until the illegal government of [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki is put down. We want your full cooperation on this." [LATimes]

  • Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms staged a mass kidnapping on Sunday at the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in downtown Baghdad, police said. An official of the Iraqi aid group said the assailants abducted 20 to 30 employees and visitors, but left women behind. [WaPo]

  • Ahhh... the power of soccer (from MSNBC's Blogging Baghdad):
    The afternoon was growing darker as evening approached. Friday prayers had ended hours before. But the streets of Baghdad remained eerily quiet. No car bombs booming. No echoing rounds of small arms fire. And, most unusually, no reports of deadly IED's, mass kidnappings, or summary executions.
    Where were all the people? They were watching TV, at home, in coffee shops, alone, or with fellow Sunnis or Shiites or even with Sunnis and Shiites.

    All Iraqis eyes, it seemed, were fixed on one collective screen, watching, live via satellite, as Team Another crew went to a local coffee-shop at a nearby hotel. ''Football is the only thing that can unite Iraqis,'' offered up teenager Hassan Hadi, a Shiite, during the match. Omar, the waiter and, at 33, an opinionated Sunni, had this advice, ''I wish that Iraqi politicians would deal with politics the way Iraqi people deal with a soccer championship, and just clear their hearts.''

    Iraq competed for the Gold Medal in soccer at this year's Asian Games, in Doha, Qatar. And rightly so, for despite all of the chaos, the targeted killing, the ethnic cleansing of whole neighborhoods, Iraq managed to field a team that not only showed up, but came to play. Iraqis themselves couldn't believe that their squad of under-23-year-olds actually defeated South Korea, one of the world's strongest soccer powers, in the semi-finals.
    We called in updates on the radios: half-time and no score. Qatar just scored a goal. Twenty minutes to play and Iraq was out of gas. We were in injury time, still 1-0. Then the game was over.

    There were no celebrations. But, within minutes of the whistle, the explosions began. First a car bomb. Then a mortar round. Before long the war we seem to hate to call “civil” was back to normal. And the news wires started to turn out the routine stories -- a tribal sheikh with ties to British forces is murdered in a drive-by shooting in Basra; two U.S. Marines die from their wounds in al-Anbar combat, etc, etc.

    For a respite of 3 hours, the Killing Fields became a kind of Field of Dreams. Iraqis fantasized about winning, about being the best, and -- even better -- forgot about their wretched state.

BushCo's War
  • The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

    A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

    In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

    Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained".

    He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. "I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)," he said.

    "At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos." [The Independent]

Climate Crisis
  • North Carolina has significant potential to develop wind and other alternative energy without drastically increasing customer bills, a study prepared for the N.C. Utilities Commission says.
    The report, presented Wednesday to state lawmakers, concluded that untapped renewable energy could provide enough electricity to offset the need to build 1,800 megawatts of power generation, the equivalent of two power plants the size of Progress Energy's 900-megawatt Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County. [News Observer]

  • Asian Development Bank (ADB) commissioned a report, which states that “Asia’s greenhouse gas emissions will treble over the next 25 years rapidly.” The report shows a detailed analysis about the link between transport and climate change in Asia.
    The report points out China as the world’s fourth largest economy, and the number of personalized cars and other transport means could increase by 15 times than at the present, which goes over 190 million vehicles over the next 30 years. It also says that the traffic in India will also increase by same levels and over the same time period.

    The emission of CO2 may rise 5.8 times for India and 3.4 times for China. The British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett urged India to control the greenhouse gas emission in order to prevent climate change. [Green Diary]

  • Planting forests to combat global warming may be a waste of time, especially if those trees are at high latitudes, new research suggests. Scientists say the benefits that come from trees reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide can be outweighed by their capacity to trap heat near the ground. Computer modelling indicates that trees only really work to cool the planet if they are planted in the tropics.
    Dr Bala and colleague Ken Caldeira, from the Carnegie Institution of Washington, used a computer model to determine the impact which forests in different parts of the planet would have on temperature. Their analysis indicates that three key factors are involved:

    • forests can cool the planet by absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide during photosynthesis
    • they can also cool the planet by evaporating water to the atmosphere and increasing cloudiness; a deck of white clouds reflects incoming solar radiation straight back out into space
    • trees can also have a warming effect because they are dark and absorb a lot of sunlight, holding heat near ground level [BBC]

  • Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end.

    State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Flemish-speaking half of the country had declared independence, and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from a military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane.

    Only after a half-hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."

    It was too late. Many Belgians had already fallen for the hoax.

    Frantic viewers flooded the call center of the RTBF network, which broadcast the stunt. Embassies called Belgian authorities to find out what was going on, while foreign journalists scrambled to get confirmation. [WaPo]

  • “As Mark Twain might have said, the rumors of iTunes’ death have been greatly exaggerated,” said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore. “In contrast to a recent research report indicating that iTunes sales have declined by 65 percent, comScore data show that iTunes sales actually grew 84 percent during the first three quarters of 2006 versus year ago.” The research firm also said that there was a 67% increase in the number of iTunes transactions and a 10% increase in the dollars spent per transaction in the same time period. [iLounge]

Finally, if you're in the mood for holiday music, the WaPo wraps up a review of 12 interesting discs, including one of my new favorites -- Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas. I'd also highly recommend The Klezmatics' tribute to Woody Guthrie, Happy Joyous Hanukah (as noted by Robert Christgau in his Consumer Guide, which is now featured at MSN Music)
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