U.S. embassy in Iraq, a perfect folly

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker is in charge of the world's largest embassy, situated in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces on a 42-hectare stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire.
Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire.

Only the Great Pyramid of Giza remains today.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs and gods; nowadays, at least, it’s easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black-marble Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, from her remarkable brain for the US veterans of that war.

Frank Gehry dreamed up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation’s world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all – an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration’s vision of a US-reordered Middle East.

We’re talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted US Embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 42-hectare stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad’s embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, senior architect and project manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm’s Web site): “We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our
resources to make our client’s vision a reality.”

And what a vision it was! What a reality it has turned out to be!

Who can forget the grandiose architecture of pre-Bush-administration Baghdad: Saddam Hussein’s mighty vision of kitsch Orientalism melting into terror, based on which, in those last years of his rule, he reconstructed parts of the Iraqi capital? He ensured that what was soon to become the Green Zone would be dotted with overheated, Disneyesque, Arabian Nights palaces by the score, filled with every luxury
imaginable in a country whose population was growing increasingly desperate under the weight of United Nations sanctions.

Who can forget those vast, sculptured hands, the Hands of Victory, supposedly modeled on Saddam’s own, holding 12-story-high giant crossed swords (over piles of Iranian helmets) on a vast Baghdad parade ground? Meant to commemorate a triumph over Iran that the despot never actually achieved, they still sit there, partially dismantled and a monument to folly; while, as US-based journalist Jane Arraf has written, Saddam’s actual hands, “The hands that wrote the orders for the war against Iran
and the destruction of Iraqi villages, the hands handcuffed behind his back as he went to trial and then was led to his execution, are moldering underground.”

It is worth remembering that when the American commanders whose troops had just taken Baghdad wanted their victory photo snapped, they memorably seated themselves, grinning happily, behind a marble table in one of those captured palaces; that American soldiers and newly arrived officials marveled at the former tyrant’s exotic symbols of power; that they swam in Saddam’s pools, fed rare antelopes from his son Uday’s private zoo to its lions (and elsewhere shot his herd of gazelles and
ate them themselves); and, when in need of someplace to set up a US embassy, the newly arrived occupation officials chose – are you surprised? – one of Saddam’s former dream palaces. They found nothing strange in the symbolism of this (though it was carefully noted by Baghdadis), even as they swore they were bringing liberation and
democracy to Saddam’s benighted land.

And then, as the Iraqi capital’s landscape became ever more dangerous, as an insurgency gained traction while the US administration’s dreams of a redesigned American Middle East remained as strong as ever, its officials evidently concluded that even one of Saddam’s palaces, roomy enough for a dictator interested in the control of a single country (or the odd neighboring state), wasn’t faintly big enough, or safe enough, or modern enough for the representatives of the planet’s New Rome.

Hence Missouri’s BDY. That Midwestern firm’s designers can now be classified as architects to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our time. And the company seems proud of it.


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Bottled Water Boom is Hurting the World’s Environment

bottled water photoBetween 1978 and 2006, the consumption of bottled water in America went up 2,000 percent, with about 700 name brands of water battling for shelf space

(CORVALLIS, Ore. ) – Around the world, factories are using more than 18 million barrels of oil and up to 130 billion gallons of fresh water a year to create something that, by and large, most people don’t need. But the product is so amazingly popular that sales are going up 10 percent a year, just like clockwork.

The big success story? Bottled water. And the resources mentioned above are just to make the plastic containers.

Another 41 billion gallons of water is then used to fill them – water that is often just tap water, and other times has less frequent monitoring for safety or purity than if it had come out of a tap.

“Bottled water has become an incredibly big business, up to $100 billion per year,” said Todd Jarvis, an assistant professor in the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University, and a research hydrogeologist with the OSU Institute for Water and Watersheds. “There are enormous amounts of money to be made here. Some of the profits make our business majors blush, and everyone wants in. It’s just astonishing.”

Jarvis, who has studied the issue for 15 years and makes frequent presentations on it, arrived long ago at a simple conclusion – bottled water is not worth the price, and the people buying it often have no idea of the environmental repercussions. When his students learn the truth about the water itself and hear about the drawbacks of this burgeoning industry, he said, they often change their behavior.

“There have always been, and still are some places in the developing world where bottled water is necessary for health concerns and relief efforts,” Jarvis said. “But in most of the world it was a niche item until the 1970s, when Perrier spent millions on advertising, and the industry just took off. It hasn’t looked back since, and now in America we’re spending $20,000 every minute of every day on bottled water.”

Between 1978 and 2006, the consumption of bottled water in America went up 20 times, or 2,000 percent. Large soft drink companies dominate the market.

With bottled water, Jarvis said, any past issues of health and safety now take a back seat to convenience, taste, and perhaps most important, trendiness.

About 700 name brands of water compete for shelf space, and tap water that originally cost maybe five cents a gallon can be sold now for $4 a gallon. Doesn’t take a business genius to see how that pencils out.

The water itself, Jarvis said, is generally fine – usually no more or less safe than tap water, which in the United States is among the safest in the world.

Worth noting, however, is that community water supplies are subject to fairly strict and constant monitoring required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, while bottled water is considered a “food” and entails much less frequent monitoring for safety and quality by the Food and Drug Administration or individual states. Tests of bottled water have at times found contaminants.

“There doesn’t seem to be any correlation between safety and bottled water consumption in the U.S.,” Jarvis said. “New York City, for instance, gets its water from a very carefully managed watershed and has some of the best drinking water in the nation – and also among the highest per capita consumption of bottled water.”
And some of the myths surrounding water, Jarvis said, need to be checked.


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150 war protesters heckle president

 President Bush pauses during remarks at a New Jersey Republican Committee fundraiser at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center Wednesday, May 30, 2007 in Edison, N.J.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)<br />

EDISON — As protesters chanted “Hey Bush we know you — you’re a thief, a liar, and a killer too!” the presidential motorcade sped into Raritan Center Wednesday for a Republican fundraiser.

Shortly after 5 p.m., President Bush arrived at the New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center to raise money for the state’s Republican Party and was jeered and heckled by approximately 150 protesters who had gathered for a rally in a nearby parking lot.

Hazlet resident Richard Fuller, 72, was part of the unwelcoming party. The retired schoolteacher and Monmouth County Green Party coordinator clutched a sign reading: “W’s Report Card: death, destruction, debt, deficit, deceit.” Each “D” was highlighted in red.

“Somebody said the marks weren’t low enough — he should’ve gotten an “F,’ ” Fuller said.

The protesters held signs, sang songs, waved flags and heard speeches for about two hours prior to Bush’s arrival. Bruce Springsteen tunes blared at times. Along an adjoining roadway, more protesters held signs and engaged passing motorists to honk for support. One sign read: “How many pints of blood are in a gallon of gas?” Another read: “Impeach the Murdering Liar.” Another simply read: “Bad Bush. Arf! Arf!”

Perhaps the most moving item held by protesters was a long string from which 54 placards hung — each with the face, name and hometown of a New Jersey soldier who has died in the Iraq war thus far. The placards also listed how each was killed.

Lawmakers join in

The rally was sponsored by New Jersey Citizen Action and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. The broad-based coalition of organizations and associations was joined by Choi, state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th Dist., and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, D-Union, in the parking lot. Serving as a backdrop was a school bus painted red, white and blue with the slogan “Bus for Change.” The bus is operated by a small grass-roots group of anti-Bush citizens.

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Jenna Bush bowls for children on visit to Jamaica

JENNA Bush, the 25-year-old daughter of United States of America President George Bush, spent two weeks in Jamaica recently on a fact-finding mission exploring issues concerning Jamaican children.

Bush, who arrived in the island on April 28 and left on May 8, met with a number of organisations which focus on child rights and HIV including Panos Caribbean’s youth journalist group in Kingston.

“I had the opportunity to meet some great Jamaicans who are advocating on issues relating to HIV, fighting stigma and discrimination against persons who are infected, and those who are fighting against violence in their communities,” said Bush, in an exclusive interview with ‘Our Own Voice’, a project of the youth journalist group of Panos Caribbean.

Our Own Voice features children and young people who advocate for children rights through the media. They write and produce their own programmes for radio and newspaper.

Bush, who works with UNICEF’s Education Policy Department in Panama, Latin America, visited several projects that UNICEF funds in Jamaica. Some of these included Children First in Spanish Town, St Catherine, Rural Family Support (RUFAMSO) project in Clarendon, and the Eastern Peace Centre on Windward Road in Kingston. She was accompanied by a team from ABC news network.

During the visits she interviewed a number of children – information which she will use in her own efforts to fight HIV-related discrimination and stigma. Bush, a teacher by profession, has become passionately involved with various causes including children and HIV.

“My mother (Laura Bush) took me to Africa to show me the programmes that they have there for people who are living with HIV. My family plays a big role in my life especially my father, George W Bush,” she said. A particularly outstanding part of her visit to Jamaica has been riding the ‘Bashy’ bus, a mobile HIV-testing clinic and counselling service for young Jamaicans. “Travelling on the Bashy Bus to Bog Walk High School, was a wonderful experience,” said Bush. Despite reports of high crime in Jamaica, Bush said she felt very safe in Jamaica.


Piehole Comment:  I imagine anybody would feel safe with a bevy of secret service men at your beck and call.  Why isn’t she is Iraq asking questions of Children there?

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Whatever you say, Mr. Dictator. We feel safe now.

It’s just one of those obscure little unreported conspiracy theory-ready hunks of floating White House detritus, a couple of foul-smelling documents no one really wants to touch and no one knows quite what to make of, probably means nothing, probably being misread anyway, all a bit overblown and strange and not all that important and not all that different than the way things are now.

Unless, you know, it’s not. Unless the violent twinge of queasyparanoia crossed with that uncontrolled bout of colon-clenching sighing you experience is deadly accurate and your radar for all things sinister and Rovean is right on target as you read about the delightfully titled National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51 and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20, wherein it is calmly and furtively revealed that, in essence, George W. Bush owns your sorry ass.

Or, to put it another way, it looks like the Bumbling One just gave himself ever more power. Power to control and dictate the entire government, power to really spread the gospel of happy GOP incompetence, power to command the entire wobbly American universe should some sort of epic — or not so epic, as the case may be — calamity strike the homeland.

It goes something like this: Should any “decapitating event” occur in America that somehow incapacitates the D.C. power structure, should “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions” take place, well then, all power and decision making would devolve to the White House, which would then attempt to orchestrate our very survival and oversee all essential governmental functions with none other than the president himself as, well, Super-Mega Lord Decider. With extra crayons.

You know, a dictator.


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