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Wildly Different Estimates on Najaf Rally

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 12:21 PM EDT

I blogged earlier about the thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr followers who protested the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in Najaf today.

Well, it appears there is a major dispute over how many "thousands" were actually there. According to this CNN article, the U.S. military's estimate is "5,000 to 7,000." According to this Reuters article that I cited earlier, it is "tens of thousands." And according to this Agence France-Presse article and this BBC article the number of participants is in the "hundreds of thousands." If that's true, did the military really think they were going to fool anybody with that "5,000 to 7,000" nonsense?

Hoo-boy. Who to believe? We'll keep digging...

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Stunning New Book from Iraqi Government Insider Illustrates Blunders, Ignorance

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 12:03 PM EDT

An Iraqi official who has served as Iraq's trade, defense, and finance minister at various times since 2003 has written a book about his country's four years under the American occupation ("The Occupation of Iraq," published by Yale University Press). According to the AP, it is a detached and nonpartisan look at the United States' and Iraqi government's failings.

Ali Allawi, cousin to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was educated in the United States and Britain and demonstrates no preference for the Sunni or Shiite sects within Iraqi society and its badly divided government (he belongs to a secularist political party). He slams a lot of people, but most of all the Americans.

Snippets of Allawi's book, from the AP:

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order."
First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.
What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders.

The lies that led to war and the missteps after the invasion that led to failure are all documented in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of 'success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

There have been a lot of great books about the Iraq War, from Ron Suskind to Thomas Ricks to Michael Gordon to Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Now it looks like there is an Iraqi equivalent.

A Peaceful (!!) Rally in Iraq. Bad News for American Troops

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 10:37 AM EDT

Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation." The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, "We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases."

In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It's safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.

Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we've got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?

Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to "hundreds of thousands."

A Los Angeles Neighborhood Disturbance... With Strange Origins?

| Mon Apr. 9, 2007 10:21 AM EDT

A thirty-foot pole with a robotic arm on top sits on a street corner in the town of San Pedro, outside Los Angeles. As pedestrians walk by, a giant eye at the end of the arm tracks them with a stream of light.

People are concerned. Is there a camera involved? Is this the newest form of public surveillance in an era of already-compromised civil liberties? Or is it a simple prank?

Actually, it's a public art piece. And it's name? Mojo.

Read more about how Mother Jones is driving the Orwellian future here. (PS - Can we sue for copyright infringement?)

Party Ben's Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - LA Edition

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 7:39 PM EDT

Okay, I'm sorry, the big list is a day late, but sometimes when you're in Los Angeles, heavy drinking gets in the way of blogging. I've only been in town a few short hours, so in fact this Top Ten will have little to do with this pubescent metropolis, and actually, there's still a couple things to mention from my trip last week to New York. Sorry, LA; New York still wins.

10. Community Service, Indie 103.1, Fridays 10pm – 12 midnight
Alright, here's one cool thing in LA. Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan, otherwise known as the Crystal Method, have become possibly America's most knowledgeable purveyors of progressive breaks. Their Friday night show manages to push the envelope with new sounds while keeping it friendly with the goofy, geeky banter of the hosts

9. The Ponys - "1209 Seminary" (from Turn the Lights Out on Matador)
Robert Christgau seemed to kind of dis the new Ponys album (but, wow, it still gets three stars, like everything else in Rolling Stone) and while I don't think this Chicago four-piece is necessarily rewriting the rule book, their Sonic Youth-y alt-rock reminds me of why I got into radio in the first place

8. Paul Wall "I'm Throwed" (from Get Money, Stay True on Atlantic)
While this doesn't compare to the majestic "Sittin' Sideways," the Houston rapper is still making weird, weird tunes. Is that a car alarm? What is that? How do I get to be a hip-hop superstar so I can use, like, truck-backing-up noises for a smash hit single?

7. Mark Ronson "Stop Me" (from the forthcoming album Version)
This UK DJ and producer has made a name by covering current hits in quirky, often soulful styles, and while this version of the Smiths' 1987 swan song won't replace the original, it does recontextualize it as a kind of "new standard," reminding us of how spine-tinglingly brilliant the Smiths were even as they were falling apart. "I still love you/Only slightly less than I used to" – God almighty, and this is like a third-tier Smiths song!!

6. Charlotte Hatherley - "I Want You to Know" (from the forthcoming album The Deep Blue)
If you ask me, Ash were one of the most underrated bands of the last 15 years. Thanks for asking. Now their guitarist emerges from the background with a sound that's slightly more mature, somewhere between Belly and the Pixies. Nice

Natural Wonders Of The World Face Destruction from Climate Change

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 3:39 PM EDT

Ten of the world's greatest natural wonders face destruction if the climate continues to warm at the current rate. The endangered wonders, warns the World Wildlife Fund, include the Amazon, Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs, Chihuahua Desert in Mexico and the US, hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean, Valdivian temperate rainforests in Chile, tigers and people in the Indian Sundarbans, Upper Yangtze River in China, wild salmon in the Bering Sea, melting glaciers in the Himalayas, and East African coastal forests. "From turtles to tigers, from the desert of Chihuahua to the great Amazon – all these wonders of nature are at risk from warming temperatures," says Dr Lara Hansen, Chief Scientist of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme. "While adaptation to changing climate can save some, only drastic action by governments to reduce emissions can hope to stop their complete destruction." --Julia Whitty

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Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic

| Sat Apr. 7, 2007 3:25 PM EDT

A new study shows that selfless and social behavior is not a product of religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tend to appear together, the correlation is due to both environmental and genetic factors. The Journal of Personality, via Blackwell Publishing, reports that the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. According to study author Laura Koenig, religiousness occurs beside altruistic behaviors because there are genes that predispose them to it. "There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways," says Koenig. --Julia Whitty

Weird Weather Watch: Apocalypse, Soon

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 9:23 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times reports that the same U.N. body that released the sense-knocking report in January, released a second part of the study, which enumerates the likely consequences of global warming, if it continues at its current pace.

Not good news, people. Not at all:

North America can expect more hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires, the report said, and the coasts will be flooded by rising sea levels. Crop production will increase initially as the growing season gets longer, but climbing temperatures and water shortages will ultimately lead to sharp reductions...

Africa will suffer the most extreme effects, with a quarter of a billion people losing most of their water supplies. Food production will fall by half in many countries and governments will have to spend 10% of their budgets or more to adapt to climate changes…

Rising temperatures and drying soil will replace the moist rain forest of the eastern Amazon with drier savannah, eliminating much of the habitat that now supports the greatest diversity of species in the world.

At least 30% of the world's species will disappear if temperatures rise 3.6 degrees above the average levels of the 1980s and 1990s...

Honestly, I don't know what to say, and will just repeat to you what Al Gore says at the end of An Inconvenient Truth: Stop driving, and start making environmental regulations your top political—and personal—priority.

Massive Climate Change in the American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 9:10 PM EDT

Read about this and other weird weather phenomena on our environmental blog, The Blue Marble.

Weird Weather Watch: Massive Climate Change in American Southwest

| Fri Apr. 6, 2007 9:08 PM EDT

The Nation, the New York Times, and other reputable papers reported this week that the American Southwest is not experiencing a drought, as previously thought, but rather shifting to a significantly drier climate on a permanent basis. As a consequence of human activity, temperatures will increase by as much as 9 degrees (and if you've ever been to Phoenix, you can imagine how hot that will really be). Think major water problems, species extinction, likely large-scale human migrations, and certain animal migrations.

So see New Mexico while you still can. It's exquisitely beautiful, even to this water-loving Yankee.