Iraq: a mistake

In today’s NYT opinion page, Thomas Friedman does his best to drown the fish, I mean to turn the agressive, cynical US adventure in Iraq he applauded in 2002-3 into yet one part of a larger attempt to transform the whole Middle East politically. This is an idea he has come to see as misguided. He is almost on the same page as David Brooks who a couple days ago defended the thesis that mistakes were made because intelligence was faulty or partial. No reason therefore not to re-elect the Democrats and Republicans who voted for the Iraq war: they were just misguided by faulty intelligence. No kidding. No recognition of the lies that hundreds of thousand of people demonstrated against in late 2002 and early 2003, no acknowledgment that this whole political class (except some experts who knew something about those countries) failed the country in this ill-thought adventure, no admission that the media, beginning with the NYT, played the enabler’s role in the tragic story. His final words:

We’ve spent more than a decade of lives and treasure trying to “fight terrorism” to fix a part of the world that can’t be fixed from the outside. It has been a waste. I wish it had worked. The world would be better for it. But it didn’t.

He is not yet prepared to admit it was a criminal act built on a lie he helped spread.

blessed isles

Where is grandpa?
Gone on the water, far away, for a long time
He doesn’t answer calls.
What is dead?
Are we dead? or living
the flip of a sign, gone fishing,
the catching of striped bass on the Er island,
the rustling and blooming of trees at the little house.


From Poems new and collected, by Wisława Szymborska (Harcourt: 1998), a centerfold thought for my hard-thinking friends, titled:

An opinion on the question of pornography

There’s nothing more debauched than thinking.
This sort of wantonness runs wild like a wind-borne weed
on a plot laid out for daisies.

Nothing’s sacred for those who think.
Calling things brazenly by name,
risqué analyses, salacious syntheses,
frenzied, rakish chases after the bare facts,
the filthy fingering of touchy subjects,
discussion in heat–––it’s music to their ears.

In broad daylight or under cover of night
they form circles, triangles, or pairs.
The partners’ age or sex are unimportant.
Their eyes glitter, their cheeks are flushed.
Friend leads friend astray.
Degenerate daughters corrupt their fathers.
A brother pimps for his little sister.

They prefer the fruits
from the forbidden tree of knowledge
to the pink buttocks found in glossy magazines–––
all that ultimately simple-hearted smut.
The books they relish have no pictures.
What variety they have lies in certain phrases
marked with a thumbnail or a crayon.

It’s shocking, the positions,
the unchecked simplicity with which
one mind contrives to fertilize another!
Such positions the Kama Sutra itself doesn’t know.

During these trysts of theirs, the only thing that’s steamy is the
People sit on their chairs and move their lips.
Everyone crosses only his own legs
so that one foot is resting on the floor
while the other dangles freely in midair.
Only now and then does somebody get up,
go to the window,
and through a crack in the curtains
take a peep out at the street.

waste +

The site chosen for a waste recycling yard north of the UCSC farm (see my previous post) is at odds with the 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The Mitigated Negative Declaration of March 2015 purports to fit {“be tiered to”) the 2005 LRDP. It contradicts its letter and spirit.

Section 3.4 of this March 2015 Office of Physical Planning report (page 13) on the consistency of the recycling yard project with the 2005 LRDP begins by asserting that the addition of institutional support space by the project is within the scope of the plan. Soon, however, it recognizes the annoying fact that

The proposed 6.1-acre site for the Recycling Yard is designated Site Research and Support (SRS) (approximately 3.2 acres) and Protected Landscape (PL) (approximately 2.9 acres). The proposed recycling yard is not consistent with either of these land use designations.

It then breezily contends that

A minor LRDP amendment to change the land use designation of 3.7 acres of the site to Campus Support would be required. This would include 1.6 acre of PL lands and 2.1 acres of SRS lands. The remainder of the 6.1 acre site would be used for a new access road and storm water detention areas, which are consistent with the PL and SRS land use designations. The potential environmental effects of the LRDP amendment are analyzed in this Initial Study in Section 6.10, Land Use and Planning. Existing and proposed LRDP land use designations for the Project sites are shown in Figures 3-3 and 3-4.

This is not a minor LRDP amendment. On the contrary, it is a major break with the spirit and the letter of the LRDP. The 2005 LRDP, carrying on a unique vision of the founders of the campus that continues to have a great positive impact on everyone’s life at UCSC, made a crystal clear decision not to allow any building in any Protected Landscape area, and above all in the Great Meadow, which the map below indicates goes right to the Farm and the Arboretum. Here is the key passage from page 69 of the 2005-2020 LRDP document:


The natural landscape of UC Santa Cruz has been recognized from the campus’s inception as a unique asset that distinguishes UCSC from other universities. In addition to the 420 acres in the CNR, approximately 505 acres of land have been designated in this LRDP as Protected Landscape in order to maintain special campus landscapes for their scenic value and to maintain special vegetation and wildlife continuity zones. To the extent feasible, Protected Landscape will be retained in an undeveloped state as the campus grows. Any development within Protected Landscape will not impinge on its overall character.

The meadows south of the developed center of the campus will be maintained as undisturbed grassland. In these meadows, no building will be allowed. Agricultural research that maintains the visual quality of the lower meadows may be allowed.

It wouldn’t be a minor amendment to build the recycling yard facility in that part of the Great Meadow. Below, the land-use map for the campus up to 2020, from page 66 of the revised edition of the 2005 LRDP. The whole Great Meadow is designated Protected Landscape (PL). The “Village”, farm, Arboretum + are designated SRS (Site Research and Support).


The Great Meadow, including its southern reaches, should not be used for a waste recycling facility. If this facility needs to be built—absent a large, scaled up facility for the whole region—another site must be found (Campus Support area?).

To sum up: the notion of building a waste recycling facility in the Great Meadow (a 20,000gsf+ building and road) contradicts the 2005 LRDP plan and the original spirit of the place as defined by the original builders. As recognized by the LRDP, the farm and the arboretum are of a different nature entirely, especially the farm with its light wood buildings.

Additional note: on my daily passages near the site, I have noticed there are now more containers than a few months ago. Is this part of a “degrading” and physical as well as psychological preparation of the site for construction? I append a picture taken on April 24, 2015, of the site where this large facility is planned (nearly 20,000gsf and 35′ high in part):

zero waste @ UCSC

This summer, to meet its 2020 goal of zero waste, UCSC plans to begin building a recycling yard north of the farm to compost organic matter and sort waste. The project is detailed in the March 9, 2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by the Office of Physical Planning & Construction. The deadline given for public comments is confusing. Page 6 of the document says that comments must be made by 5:00PM on Friday, April 9, 2015. But April 9, 2015 is a Thursday. Does it mean Friday April 10? The local Sentinel paper had a short article on March 27, 2015. An informative essay on the regional aspects of this question was published in a March 2014 article by Good Times.

I have two questions. The main one is about UCSC’s rush to build a relatively small and expensive facility in 2016 to meet a 2020 deadline of zero waste (meaning 95% diversion), when a more effective, cooperative, scaled up, and less costly solution could be a regional facility for the region from Santa Cruz to Watsonville?

The basic facts as I understand them are:

  1. 40% of landfill waste, both at UCSC and in the region facilities, is organic waste (food debris + green waste). When it is dumped in a landfill, it becomes a major emitter of green house gases, especially methane. It is important to separate it, techniques and machines exist to do that efficiently and produce clean, rich compost rapidly, and there is a market for the end product.
  2. The goal of zero waste by 2020 (95% diversion) given by UCSC and UCOP is the same as that of California’s AB 32. This bill has the effect of urging the city of Santa Cruz, the county, Watsonville, and other local agencies, to look for a regional solution together because of scale and cost. One of the main reasons for the push, as I wrote above, is the considerable emission of methane in unsorted landfill.
  3. The cost for the UCSC project would be $5 million. According to the Good Times article, the public works operations manager for the city of Santa Cruz, Mary Arman, speaks of a minimum project cost of $1.5 million and makes it clear that for treatment of organic debris, the cost would be high and volume is critical.

The region therefore is working on the same issue that UCSC faces. Since a solution is being discussed actively regionally, it would behoove UCSC to explore the options in cooperation with local agencies rather than go solo on this project. I would prefer to see the regional options discussed and factored in. It is possible that a future composting facility in the region would not suit UCSC’s need because of its distance, and incurred costs, including transportation. Still, it makes sense to see UCSC get or remain involved in a full deliberation of the regional possibilities. For water, another essential good, UCSC could have developed its own water system, yet decided to rely on the city’s facilities. Can’t it continue to do the same for waste?

My second reaction concerns the location of the UCSC project. It is at the bottom of a beautiful meadow used by many cyclists and walkers. It is right north of the CASFS Farm, with its appropriate small buildings, and near the Arboretum. The pictures taken in the 3/2015 Draft Initial Study are taken from far and do not give me a good sense of the impact this road, yard and building(s?) would have on visitors and bicycle users. The project is judged to have little aesthetic impact (page 26 of the Draft Initial Study document). On the contrary, it seems to me that the project will have a major negative scenic impact.


  1. 3/2015 Draft Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration;
  2. A page from the UCSC sustainability office: 7/31/2012 Landfill & Solid Waste Task Force Report;
  3. The short article from the Sentinel, 3/27/15;
  4. The longer article on composting solutions for the Santa Cruz area from Good Times, 3/2014.


Israeli PM Netanyahu came and went. He spoke to AIPAC and to a sycophantic Congress. He was invited by Boehner et al. Both could see many immediate advantages in snubbing the White House.  More disturbingly, many in Washington and Israel have chosen the war path regarding Iran and the Palestinians, who are the big unspoken part of this recent hoopla. Ever since Obama, at the beginning of his first mandate, exhibited some signs of being serious about negotiations toward final resolution talks with Palestinians on the basis of UN resolution 242, there was no love lost between the administration in Washington and the Israeli right. The PM’s short-term goal is to exploit the Israeli very conservative and understandable feeling regarding security and defense of the country. He will continue the same policy he has been elected to do. The advantages of this short-term policy include above all the freeze of any kind of negotiations with Palestinians, who are lumped together with what he portrays as the barbaric enemies in the neighborhood. There are good reasons for the fear, if not for the fear-mongering, as Iran has been a declared enemy since 1979 (an undeclared one since WW II) and can be easily portrayed as fanatically opposed to Israel. PM Netanyahu is tapping into this broadly shared concern.

The long-term goal for Israel’s present government is to delay the normalization of US relations with Iran. The problem is that it is very difficult to imagine any semblance of order, let alone peaceful resolution of festering conflicts, occur in the region without a normalization of relations with Iran. The US and Iran in fact share many interests and have good reason to cooperate with each other regarding Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq (especially about the jihadist and sunni militancy and territorial gains), Turkey (the Kurdish question), and especially Syria and Lebanon, as well as the Persian Gulf. Nothing in these areas can be done without Iran. In effect, and for quite a while, Iran has been helping the US with the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance in the present attempt by the Iraqi government to recover control of territory in the north and northeast of the country. Yet, the sanctions against Iran have been just short of all-out war. The recent theatrics in Washington show how difficult it is to attempt to find some diplomatic path once the logic of war is on, no matter the obvious costs in the past.

This recalculation of US interests in the region is deeply unsettling to the present government of Israel. In 2002-3, the government led by Sharon was happy to be on the side of those in and out of the US government who were successful in pushing for the Iraq war .  The net effect of that on-going, undefined war (war on terrorism) was to dismember and weaken Iraq to such a point that its direct enemy and competitor, Iran, could simply sit and wait to become by default the most important state in the region. Seen from the Israeli government’s point of view, this very negative consequence of a terrible mistake it applauded at the time can only be corrected by more war against Iran. Economic and military war to slow down and cripple at all costs the obvious demographic, political, and military power of that country. In fact, it is likely that a non-theocratic, democratic Iran would continue to claim the right to enrich nuclear fuel for civil needs. It is not in the short- or long-term interests of the US to go along with the war logic that the Israeli PM and his de facto allies in Washington would like to pursue no matter the consequences. It doesn’t seem to be in the long-term interests of Israel either. The leadership of Israel must know it when they talk to Chinese or Indian leaders who surely have a very different take on the future role of Iran in the region if only because of their rapidly increasing needs for oil and gas.

On the rhetoric ploys: they are becoming dangerously thin even for Washington, and the tactical advantage PM Netanyahu is drawing from the present Washington’s landscape risks creating more division. It will increase the number of people for whom the Israeli PM’s claim regarding the cruel history of Jews as ground for today’s policies is wearing thin. This history can hardly continue to justify Israel’s silently tolerated nuclear-weapon status (non signatory to the NPT), its bullying of the Palestinians, its refusal to have any kind of significant negotiations with them, and now its interference in US affairs.

go go go

go go go
work! work tadkozh!
papier. de l’eau. on va à la cuisine?
ouvre le robinet, un pot, mets-le sous l’eau
mets le couvercle, visse, dans l’autre sens
un pinceau bleu
trempe-le dans l’eau
jaune, rouge, bleu, vert?
frotte, frotte
le pinceau au papier
l’encre, la plume, encre violette

work tadkozh
work tadkozh


A film called Patterns of evidence was shown last Monday in a number of theaters across the country, and is showing again this Thursday Jan 29, at the Regal Santa Cruz Theater on Pacific. Cost is $12.50, just enough for a decent bottle of evanescent spirit and a little manna but no quail.

The film claims to be a documentary and examine “scientifically” the evidence for the story of the exodus in the Bible, together with its related stories of Abraham, Joseph, Joshua. As in the disastrous discussions on evolution vs creation(ism), it sets things up—a debate!—as if there are only two sides, and the public can decide for themselves what the evidence means! There is indeed a pattern, that of bamboozling the public. The on-going “debate”, if the public falls for it, should make a little money for its promoters.

I was alerted to the existence of this film a few weeks ago and tried to know a bit more. I looked at the links and watched a few snippets. Very interesting attempt, in terms of modern transformations of religious minds, to go back to a kind of history where facticity and dates are taken to be unproblematic and the real history of the writing of the exodus story never has a chance to be told. It’s another effort to pretend to meet archaeologists’ and historians’ objections to the notion of a historical exodus located sometime in the second millenium: if not in Ramses II’s time (to accommodate the figures given in the Bible), then even more improbably in the Hyksos period (1720 to 1550 or so). It doesn’t ask itself any question about the writing of the story: when was that done, by whom, in what circumstances, and for what purpose? The story of that writing is much more interesting as well as intellectually and theologically more demanding than the tons of suppositions attempting to prove that it happened as told in the book of Exodus.

The language used by the authors of this film and those behind them (I don’t know what the groups are: certain evangelical Christians?) is devious. They speak of “skeptical scholars” who “contend it never happened.” I myself am not skeptical and I don’t contend it never happened. With most scholars, all I say is that there is no evidence whatsoever matching the exodus story as told in the Bible. All kinds of insuperable problems arise if you try, beginning with attempts to isolate and date the “event”.

I’ll give a tiny example of the silly problems one encounters when analyzing “evidence.” It has to do with the supposition regarding an eastern wind that would have helped to dry a shallow body of water then used by the fleeing Hebrews (that word is a problem too). Is there a dry eastern wind (or a western wind for that matter) that blows that way in northern Egypt? I couldn’t find evidence for it in northern Egypt. It is however a well known phenomenon in Palestine. Did the writer(s) at the tail end of the Israelite and Judaean monarchic period (i.e. 7–6th c. BCE) assume the conditions of their own locale for those of northern Egypt? Probably so, but this needs to be argued, very much like it needs to be shown how this text, a book of Exodus, arose at a time of extreme tensions with empires in the eighth to fifth c. BCE (Assyrian > Babylonian > Persian), when Egypt itself collapsed under them (not without rebelling repeatedly, however). Etc…

marching in France

These are some of my impressions and thoughts on what went on yesterday in the whole of France, not only in Paris. The media in the US, and I’m talking about centrist media such as NPR or the NYT, were getting it wrong this morning in their “shows” or “stories” or on the printed page. They framed the demonstrations only and narrowly as a response to terrorism. Half wrong in the case of the NYT whose top title this morning was: In Paris, Huge Show of Solidarity Against Terrorism. These demonstrations were much more than that. The spirit of these demonstrations was that of solidarity but certainly not narrowly set as being “against terrorism”. It was much broader than what even the participants could imagine, it seems to me and to the family and friends I talked to. The marches were above all a referendum on the need to go beyond social and religious divisions. How is one to do that? Clearly, no one knows exactly what to do in schools, communities, political parties, or even religious institutions. The integration of large impoverished populations in a gloomy economic and ideological landscape, when all -isms have collapsed and religion is the only glue left standing for many, is a daunting project. And is it still a project? The demonstrators were saying yes. They were expressing their hope, their profound desire for the sort of unwritten future Ross Douthat wrote about recently in the NYT. So, the solidarity and unity they were showing in these demonstrations was not primarily or only a brave collective reaction to terrorism. That is straight-jacketing them into a much narrower purpose than the participants expressed yesterday. It conveniently and unthinkingly makes them part of the catastrophic, all-out rhetoric and war on terror the US has been waging since 2002–3.

I speak of a referendum and the expression of a hope as well as a statement on fundamental values of the republic, because huge, unheard of, demonstrations were held yesterday not only in Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, or Lille, but in hundreds of medium-sized and small French cities. For instance, Lannion, a small city of ca. 20,000 people in northern Brittany, had 20,000 people marching. Rennes, a city of 210,000, had 115,000 demonstrators. The tally so far: about 1.5m in Paris, perhaps a total of 3.7m in the whole country, according to the wiki on the “Manifestations des 10 et 11 janvier 2015”.

The testimony by the brother of Ahmed Merabet catches much better than my words above how deeply felt is the need to go beyond violent solutions. Ahmed Merabet was killed Wednesday as he lay on the ground, wounded. I translate his brother’s moving message to families and to the world:

French of Algerian origin, of Muslim confession, very proud to bear his name, Ahmed Merabet, to represent French police and defend the values of the Republic, liberty, equality, fraternity. By sheer determination, he got his diploma of police inspector and was soon to leave the beat. His colleagues describe him as a man passionate for his work. Ahmed was a man of commitment and had been taking care of his mother and family since his father’s passing twenty years ago. Pillar of his family, his responsibilities didn’t keep him from being a protective son, a whimsical brother, a doting uncle, and a loving companion. Devastated by this barbaric act, we share the suffering of all the victims’ families. I speak now to all racists, islamophobes, and antisemites, that one must not confuse extremists and Muslims. Mad men have no color or religion. I insist on one more point: Stop amalgamating everything, stop triggering wars, burning mosques or synagogues. You are attacking people. It will not return our dead or give peace to families.

Many people are critical of the absence yesterday of Obama, Kerry or Biden, side by side with the marching forty-four leaders of European and other countries. I think it is fortunate that the US was only represented by its ambassador and that even Eric Holder, the attorney general, who was in France for police work, was not at the demonstration. The fact that Obama, Kerry, Biden, or god forbid the Clintons, were not there, gives everyone in Europe a better chance to understand the demonstration as a broad and historical statement of belief in freedom, equality (justice), and fraternity, not as a narrow, negative, mirror response to terrorism. The US let itself being sucked into a rhetoric of global war on terrorism as an end-all. The demonstrations in France remind me of the huge US demonstrations against mindless war at the end of 2002 and beginning of 2003. The media at the time tried not to report on them or on their spirit, which was very similar to that of yesterday’s demonstrations. Publications like even the NYT did their best to pull everyone towards war. They succeeded all too well in dragging the US into an unwinnable war. Yesterday’s demonstrations are a call and a reminder that war-mongering is not the solution. The absence of the US heirs and managers of an endless war against terrorism gives Europeans a chance to reexamine the path they are to take. The criminal fanatics who decided upon the attacks of last Wednesday in Paris are expecting more division and violence. It remains to be seen if people, communities, parties, and policy makers will give them satisfaction.

Je suis Ahmed

Among the victims of the Paris criminal attack was an officer of North-African origin, Ahmed Merabet. Soon, there was a new hashtag in circulation, Je suis Ahmed, more politically clear than the “Je suis Charlie” one. Charlie-Hebdo continued an old tradition of satire that struck many as often playing with fire. A family member who practices Islam tells me he was offended by what Charlie-Hebdo did in its mockery of that religion. He adds there are many ways to express disagreement, and that many Muslims now worry about the reactions of the public.

A large demonstration is planned in Paris for Sunday. I hope the demonstrators, speakers, thinkers, and media will be able to show how much they value both freedom and inclusiveness. Perhaps they will avoid the rhetoric of war and exclusion. I hope they will not fall for what may have been the main goal of those who ordered the crimes at Charlie-Hebdo‘s headquarters and at the Hyper-Cacher store, and that is: to radicalize the situation. I hope especially that France will reject the deeply misleading rhetoric of terrorism and the failed all-out-war stance adopted by the US and its allies (including France in Syria). See Edgar Morin’s reaction in Le Monde.

Gildas Hamel