September 2007


A minor adventure:
I’ll be posting this week and weekend (and so forth), but my regular readers might find the schedule to be off here and there, because I’m on a month-long tour into the Spanish language.  I’m so close to being bilingual, and yet: I’m not.  So I’m taking my fate and my frustration with the word ‘almost’ and packing it into a suitcase along with my shoes, my verb book, and my toothbrush.

La Profesora, la Bruja
That's her.As far as U.S. language education is concerned, I think I’ve had most of the problems and some of the benefits.  One semester out of eight I had a native Spaniard, but Dios, that was high school, ages past; in one university semester I had a very good speaker who had traveled all over the Spanish-speaking world.  Two semesters I had the witch from hell, who quite frankly knew little Spanish at all.  The poor woman was ninety years old and her feet hurt, so I don’t blame her–much–but on the other hand, she was wasting time . . . . I learned no Spanish from her except how to say “the devil himself”.  Hmmm.  Wonder why that stuck.

The rest of the professors had exceedingly diminished expectations of our spoiled, Amer-anglicized students (yes, the students from hell, or at least, Purgatory).  Almost all of them are in it to endure only, because we try to keep Spanish-speaking people on the other side of the border around here.  Oh, don’t get me started on that one.

Las frases mas ridicula
Another problem I find with U.S. language instruction: I always learned how to say things I would never say in normal conversation.  My brother has a joke about this: he says, that in Spanish he learned to say “Tengo un lapiz muy grande” which is, “I have a big pencil”  and then we both just laugh.  Pues, quisiera a decir mas que esta, y en la semana que viene, lo empezare’.  (I want to say more than that, so next week, I will get started on it). 

How my coworkers have suffered
uh, Que sufrio’ mis colegios,
(I think).
So, I have spent a lifetime making attempts at the workplace to engage Spanish speakers in conversation, with some good results.  We shall see how it goes. 

So, perhaps upcoming:
Por eso, los que vienen:
La LoteriaOne great thing about going now is I’ll be able to report some different kinds of news than usual.  Some really important issues for my own home state (the U.S., if you haven’t figured it out by now) are obscured by celebrity nonsense, Congressional scandals, next years’ Presidential elections, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. 

But there are more immediate issues just to the South.  New/upcoming issues in Latin America include some important referendums for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), at least one new Chinese consulate in Latin America, new rulings at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).  Who knows what else I might find out–once I can talk like a sensible person–but more importantly, listen with understanding.

Photos: Witch from easleys.com; JohnTunger, with La Loteria game piece.

Everything but Iraq, since this troubled state got its own post earlier.

Asia-Pacific:
♦ Almost like sports scores with the trade wars: China is now finding small nematodes in U.S. wooden crating.  Something undisclosed was wrong with some U.S.-origin frozen potatoes (no French fries today), and some vitamins and fish oil were guilty of false advertising.  As far as the ick factor in the product du jour goes, we’ve had melamine, lead, fugitive weeds, dirt, worms, and steroids.  Things to look out for next: spit, arachnids, cockroaches, slime molds, and stem cells, depending upon which side of the Pacific you’re on.
♦ Talks between U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and DPRK Ambassador Kim Kye-gan went well in Geneva.  This coming Wednesday, Mongolia hosts the next chapter in the Six-Party Talks with diplomats from North Korea and Japan attending.
♦ The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum is in Sydney this week, with tons of security and a kick-off on climate change issuesAllan Gyngell at The Australian Age has a great backgrounder on the history of the organization, its sometimes sagging progress, and real achievements.
Australia’s contribution to Pacific stability at The Strategist.

Former Soviet Union:
♦ At NewEurasia.net, Ben Paarman looks at possible changes in Central Asia’s relations to great powers via the tired metaphor of the Great Game.  A great read  for Central Asia watchers.
♦ Get up-to-date on the new problems in the Caspian/Kazakhstan oil at the Kashagan field, at FPA Central Asia.
♦ Russia is going to put missiles in Belarus, if NATO is going to put them in Poland.
♦ Anna Politovskaya, the brave, committed, and murdered Russian journalist, would have been 49 this past week.  Robert Amsterdam documents the investigation as driven by political agendas rather than a desire for justice.

Latin America:
♦ Mr. Obama, U.S. Presidential candidate, said during his campaign that the U.S. should consider diplomacy with Cuba and opening up remittance payments, and the LA Times explains why.  H/T: Boz.   Then Professor Weeks sums up the anti-Castro backlash as diplomatic amateur hour in two paragraphs. 
♦ In a move to be imitated by world leaders everywhere, Lula declines a third presidential term.
Grief and destruction from Peru’s earthquake.

Middle East: and North Africa:
A call for unity within Islam, and the adoption of a social agenda, with a look at what makes Hizb ut-Tahrir compelling, at Tabsir.net.
Aquoul has a three part series on Moroccan elections, which is a very interesting beginning on learning the politics of the state.  Part 1 discusses the role of the King in Morocco’s democracy; Part 2, the situation for a free media; and Part 3, on interior security and political parties.  It’s referenced and the comments are good, too.

Afghanistan:
Taken in part from The Afghanistan Aggregator at FPA Central Asia, which has more:
♦ David Rohde on the Taliban v. Afghanistan’s police: the new tactics of the Taliban, including 102 suicide bombings, IEDs–against a police force which is rife with corruption and under-trained, under-equipped, etc, at the NYT.
♦ The last 19 South Korean hostages were freed over the past two days, in small groups at various collection points.  Of 23 hostages from the ROK kidnapped July 17th, two male hostages had been killed, and two previously released.  The South Korean goverment had to agree to withdraw their troops (as previously planned) by the end of the year.  They also had to agree to respect Taliban isolationism, including no missionaries (no surprise) but no visitors of any kind.  An undisclosed ransom has also likely been paid.
♦ Now that the hostages are freed, a backlash against the alleged reckless endangerment of missionaries by Church societies will begin.
♦ A Taliban spokesman has reportedly vowed that the Taliban will continue their kidnapping activities.  And so it seems: the Taliban possibly captured as many as 100 Pakistani soldiers this week.  And Mayor Shah is still missing from last week.  German hostages are still missing. 

Iran:
♦ Mr. Ahmadinejad says Iran has met its centrifuge goal: 3,000 in 164 cascades.  However, this is disputed by analysts in Europe, who say that Iran’s activity has actually lessened, which is disputed by Iran.
♦ So is this deterrence?  The U.S.-planned 1200 military targets in a three-day swipe over Iran, if necessary.
♦ After the U.S. was threatening to list the Quds force as a terrorist organization, Iran replaced its leader.  The new leader is: Brigadier General Mohammed Ali Jafari, replacing General Yahya Rahim Safavi, who has been its leader for the past decade. 
♦ Iran plans to build two new refineries in its southern region/Bandar Abbas.  Also, a new oil dock is being designed for incipient construction.

Energy Issues:
Prices as per August 31, 2007: Brent crude, USD 72.38 per barrel; West Texas Intermediate, USD 73.87.
See also Kashagan field in FSU above, and Iran’s refineries, in Iran above.

Happy Labor Day Norteamericanos, doing no labor–unless, of course, you are in a service industry.  For those of you in the service field, I hope your next day off is very nice.

 

There was Way too Much to editorialize concerning Iraq this week, so it gets its own special edition in the Weekly Rambling Intelligence feature . . .

Announcements:
One: Iraqi Slogger has gone membership only, USD 60 per month as of today.  It’s a great site, aggregating all the Iraq news, and this is your last week to link to it from Ramblin’ Gal (so you can enroll).  Two: for those of you very interested in Iraq affairs, this week Joshua Foust at the Conjecturer gave the blow-by-blow daily readout, which he does extremely well.  This post will get you started

Congress gets a Clue, or Three:
This is so funny/not: finally the Congressional members on FFMs in Iraq realized they were living in a fantasy when they discovered the cheat sheet each person in the Green Zone had on them about their Iraq votes.  It’s very sad when our best personnel in the most dangerous place have to act like they work for Dear Leader.  And it seems to suggest that partisanship, and not military knowledge, continues to run this effort right into the ground.

Worse, this information was available in Harper’s years ago, en embryo, with the wallet sized card the soldiers carry around to remind them how to treat the press.  It’s fatuity that has kept this realization from Congress for so long.  Maybe it will also come to mind that their gratuitous FFMs could be diverting staff from real work–but nah. 

For a different delegation, reality did rear its head: or its surface-to-air missile: evasive maneuvers as the last delegation left.  They were actually being shot at, which is such a bummer for the spinner’s orchestration.  Maybe they can call it the parting strains of the 1812 2007 Overture.  Or maybe that will make these lawmakers feel more falsely akin to the troops who put up with this as a matter of course. 

An independent commission set up by Congress notes the corruption and sectarianist bents of the Iraqi Police.

The U.S. General Accounting Office reports that only three of the eighteen benchmarks are being met, not eight out of eighteen (again an almost useless way to measure the benchmarks), which has electrified Congress yet again– But here’s a surprise: Bush fights back.

Matt Taibbi on the cost-plus contract at Rolling Stone: cronyism created the police academy rendered unusable by poor plumbing, a stock-exchange started by a 24 year old Republican American neophyte–and more.  It reeks.  And if you don’t trust Rolling Stone, you can read GAO Report No. 07-711, DOD cannot ensure that US-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces, (pdf, 25 pages), or the one-page Highlights.

The U.S. is not processing enough applications for Iraq refugees who have assisted the U.S. and are most at risk if things get worse: this goes double for those who have worked with contractors and are not acknowledged as being at risk.

Iraq in Iraq:
The Kurdish Region now has a fatal cholera outbreak

I see little political rapprochement-this Iraq analyst sees that political decisions are not so much the problem as that politics has not translated to economic policies, and that neither politics nor economics has been taken to the people.  One case in point: the relatively more-stable Kurdish areas are having difficulty providing utilities to its citizens, because the central Government has not built any power infrastructure in the region.  Therefore, the KRG has made its own arrangements with Qatar.  Yet another reason why the center cannot hold.

The good news is that General Petraeus solicits independent thinking and analysis from his junior officers.  One report he received was leaked to the Washington Post, which says that Iraq’s central government is a participant in Civil War.  All are denying it, because it will serve no purpose in the field, but many are acknowledging its truth in private.

Violence in Karbala, when Shia religious observation was rendered deadly between Sunni/Shia and then became inter-Shia factional fighting between Sadrists and SIIC elements.  On Tuesday, Mr. al-Sadr declares a ceasefire for six months, which, after SIIC headquarters in Najaf, Kufa, Baghdad and Iskandaria are bombed, has actually lasted more than six hours.  However, the Sadrists insist they will not take it well if their members are detained, questioned, or otherwise interfered with.  Huh.

Following al-Sadr’s lead, the Iraqi government calls for a universal cease-fire: not the other way around . . .  not too much good news this week. 

About two weeks until the September Benchmark Report. . . I’ll probably do this again next week.  There’s plenty more news where all this came from; this post could be twice as long . . .