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Monday, March 25th, 2003

It is a sunny, beautiful spring day in Pittsburgh Pa. Today was the first day since winter that I didn't need a coat in the morning. I even walked from my usual parking lot to work in a short-sleeved shirt.

I was visiting my family this weekend and I saw my mother receive a host of mindlessly forwarded emails that typically warn the novice user against pseduo-threats such as gang initiation rites (urban legends), and (hoax) computer viruses; or alternately pluck at easy-to-reach heart strings with saccharine to soppy 'feel-good' sentiments.
As I sat with my mother at her computer one of these latter styled emails came up. A cheesy 'midi' rendition of "god bless America" chimed over her laptop speakers, tiny 'gif' animated American flags blew in a virtual wind in neat rows surrounding some poem or sentiment about how great we (Americans) all are.

Last night as I drove home from work I stopped for gas and noticed that the station attended had a t-shirt with a take-off of the FedEx slogan: "When it absolutely, positively, has to be destroyed overnight: Marines."

My world, like most Americans, is spectacularly removed from the events of the war in Iraq. There is a very miniscule chance that I'll have anything to do with a bombing, or that I'll have to shoot someone from another country today.

I'm not going to debate about the justice or injustice of this war with Iraq now, but I'd like to raise a flag of thoughtfulness regarding war in general, because truthfully, I think that most of us in the United States have had too much of it sterilized for our mass-consumption.

As I considered this, I debated greatly the merits of posting images of the war here as a reminder, and a type of wake-up call. Ultimately I decided that it might be too sensationalistic to do so, and of course, I'm as removed from the bloody experience of war as the next civilian and can only exercise so much self-righteousness before being wholly ironic.

So instead of full-color images I thought it worthwhile to describe some photos that I recently came across on the internet.

One group of photos showed young, wounded, and frightened, captured American servicemen and women.
Another batch of pictures depicted the bullet-torn and bloody remains of American soldiers lying like nightmarish rag-dolls.
And there was a single photo of an Iraqi man holding the limp body of a very young girl among a pile of shattered blocks that use to be a building. The girls foot had been blown away leaving a grizzly mess of bone, artery, and ripped muscles.

These were only still snap-shots of war. No running, no sounds of crying, no acrid smoke. Just singular moments frozen and presented digitally over the internet. On our couches, in our living rooms, before our TVs, we are so far removed from war.

Whether one is for this war or against this war, we should all try harder to maintain an awareness of the price being paid, and we should demonstrate humility and decency and avoid jingoisms.

It is sunny in Pittsburgh today. It is a sweet day and the only distracting noise is that of road construction outside my office window. I am more fortunate than I comprehend.

Friday, March 21st, 2003

I'd written my representatives asking them to vote down drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), but given the present era of politics I wasn't too hopeful. But now, some excellent and surprising news:

Senate Votes Against Drilling in Arctic Refuge

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate rejected a provision to allow oil drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Wednesday, despite an intense lobbying effort by the Bush administration and the Republican leadership to approve the measure.

Conservationists, who have expended considerable effort lobbying against drilling in ANWR, applauded the vote. They consider ANWR the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System and contend that oil drilling would cause lasting damage to the refuge's wildlife and fragile ecology.

The vote is "a victory for wildlife and all Americans," said Brooks Yeager, WWF's vice president of Global Threats.

Opponents say drilling and ANWR do not mix.
The provision to open ANWR was removed from a budget resolution through an amendment offered by Senators Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and Lincoln Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican.
The Senate voted 52-48 in favor of the amendment, with eight Republicans joining 43 Democrats and one Independent.

These eight Republicans were Senators Chafee, Minnesota's Norm Coleman, Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Oregon's Gordon Smith, Ohio's Mike DeWine, Arizona's John McCain, and Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois.

The five Democratic Senators who voted to open ANWR were Louisiana's John Breaux and Mary Landrieu, Georgia's Zell Miller, and Hawaii's Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye.

"We have defeated similar proposals in the past, and I am pleased that as a bipartisan group we have stood firm in our resolve to protect the refuge," Boxer said.

The move by Republican Senators to tuck the ANWR provision into the budget resolution drew sharp criticism from opponents of drilling.

Supporters of drilling in ANWR contend the environment can sustain Alaskan wildlife and oil drilling. (Photo courtesy Arctic Power)
"Drilling proponents know they can't win on a straight-up vote, so they again tried to sneak a victory through the legislative back door," Yeager said.
"It doesn't matter what tactical gimmicks and tricks drilling advocates try to use," said Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "We stood on principle, and principle will trump procedure every time."

The Bush administration and supporters of drilling want to open a 1.5 million acre area with the 19.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain.

Opponents believe the coastal plain is the biological heart of the refuge and that oil drilling would have devastating impacts to its wildlife.

More than 100 species of wildlife and birds rely on the coastal plain of ANWR, including caribou, polar bears, wolves, grizzly bears, muskoxen, and arctic foxes.

And opponents of drilling contend that improving fuel efficiency would have a far greater impact on the nation's energy use and its consumption of foreign oil.

"The Senate's vote confirms the American peoples' determination that the nation's most treasured wildlife landscapes must not be sacrificed for short-term gain," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, senior vice president for conservation programs with the National Wildlife Federation.

"The people of this country do not want to exchange an irreplaceable legacy of wildlife and wild places for a few months worth of oil."

Supporters of opening ANWR to oil drilling contend that there are massive oil reserves under the refuge's coastal plain, and believe it can be drilled with minimal damage to the environment.

The coastal plain of ANWR looks like this for much of the year. (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS))
The amount of oil within ANWR's coastal plain is very much open for debate.
Advocates and opponents of drilling cite both ends of the range estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which runs from under three billion barrels to more than 16 billion barrels.

The mean estimate from USGS finds at least 5.2 billion barrels of oil is economically recoverable at $24 per barrel.

Although oil prices have risen above $35 per barrel in recent days, USGS estimates find that the mean amount of economically recoverable oil at this price is similar to the amount recoverable at $24 per barrel.

Bush administration officials say this oil could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil supplies, which could benefit the nation's security and economy.

The United States consumes some seven billion barrels of oil a year and at least four billion barrels of this total is imported.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton has been the Bush administration's leading proponent of drilling in ANWR and has said Congress can not afford to turn its back on the nation's "single greatest prospect for onshore oil."

As drilling in ANWR is a key part of the Bush administration's energy plan, it is unlikely Wednesday's setback will stop their efforts to open the refuge to oil development.

And Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican and leading advocate of oil drilling in ANWR, vowed during Wednesday's debate that he will continue fighting to open the refuge.

The debate over ANWR looks set to shift to the House, where a bill sponsored by Representative Don Young, an Alaska Republican, could move out of the House Resources Committee within the next few weeks.

For a few months of the year, ANWR's coastal plain blooms into glory.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: PROTECTED (for now)

(Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth)

But conservationists hope there is now added momentum for a House bill that seeks further protection for ANWR.
Proponents of opening ANWR "are up against a bipartisan dedication to the environment that gets stronger as our open spaces shrink and the stress on our wildlife increases," said Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat and sponsor of the House bill to protect the refuge.

Markey urged quick action on his bill, which he says will ensure ANWR is "preserved for future generations of Americans."

Spring started Thursday at 8pm and I could hardly be happier to see Winter go.

Monday, March 17th, 2003

One has to wonder why a story like this would be buried in the news as the US contemplates attacking another nation. I know! - We need more valuable national news resources spent on the Elizabeth Smart missing/found case.

Fake Iraq documents 'embarrassing' for U.S.
From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau
Friday, March 14, 2003 Posted: 10:43 PM EST (0343 GMT)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, February 5.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intelligence documents that U.S. and British governments said were strong evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons have been dismissed as forgeries by U.N. weapons inspectors.

The documents, given to International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, indicated that Iraq might have tried to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger, but the agency said they were "obvious" fakes.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to the documents directly in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council outlining the Bush administration's case against Iraq.

Media Watchdogs Caught Napping
By Leander Kahney
02:00 AM Mar. 17, 2003 PT

In the run up to a conflict in Iraq, foreign news websites are seeing large volumes of traffic from America, as U.S. citizens increasingly seek news coverage about the coming war.

"Given how timid most U.S. news organizations have been in challenging the White House position on Iraq, I'm not surprised if Americans are turning to foreign news services for a perspective on the conflict that goes beyond freedom fries," said Deborah Branscom, a Newsweek contributing editor, who keeps a weblog devoted to media issues.

Thursday, March 13th, 2003

Our goverment at work: "Freedom Fries"

Congress Nixes 'French Fries' in Fit of Pique
Wed March 12, 2003 08:03 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - France's refusal to back a possible U.S.-led attack of Iraq triggered a verbal food fight on Tuesday in the restaurants of the U.S. House of Representatives as "French fries" and "French toast" were replaced on menus by "Freedom fries" and "Freedom toast."

"This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican.

Ney's panel is in charge of the House's administrative needs. He took the action at the suggestion of Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican.
"I am grateful to Mr. Ney for standing with me today as we publicly declare our support for our nation's troops and our sincere disappointment in our old friends, the French," Jones said.

You have GOT to be kidding me...

Apparently the politics of, "if you aren't with us, you are against us" have taken yet another new, and bizarre twist.

However one feels about another war with Iraq, I marvel that anyone can conclude that France's opposition means that they are antithetical to the concept of freedom. Moreover, I'm amazed that our highest elected officials think that the best way to communicate this (inane) thought is by renaming fast food in their cafeteria.

It is a mighty irony if we don't grant our friends the freedom to reasonably disagree with us.

"If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."

- Noam Chomsky

* Editors Note (Added Irony): French Fries were invented in Belgium

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