I arrived in Atlanta 3 hours late due to the snowstorm in the northeast. This might be the biggest storm I think since we started living in Jersey in 1999. I think the previous record for us was the 15 inches on Dec 30 (I forget the year 2000 or 2001). But I am missing this one (I am a big fan of snow.)

Iraq and WMD

I think the US is looking for some nasty stuff that it gave to Saddam in the 1980s. The Bush administration is worried since inspectors haven’t found the stuff and nobody destroys WMDs unilaterally and voluntarily.

Going Home

I am going home for a Valentine’s day weekend. Blogging will be light.

Valentine Poem

Kieran Healy, posting from the future, has a neat poem from the blogger to his Valentine.

Budgets and Wars

CalPundit is worried that the Bush administration has not budgeted for the Iraq war. It seems that’s not the first time. They did not budget for aid to Afghanistan for the 2003 budget either.

The United States Congress has stepped in to find nearly $300m in humanitarian and reconstruction funds for Afghanistan after the Bush administration failed to request any money in the latest budget.

One mantra from the Bush administration since it launched its military campaign in Afghanistan 16 months ago has been that the US will not walk away from the Afghan people.

President Bush has even suggested a Marshall plan for the country, and the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, will visit Washington later this month.

But in its budget proposals for 2003, the White House did not explicitly ask for any money to aid humanitarian and reconstruction costs in the impoverished country.

The chairman of the committee that distributes foreign aid, Jim Kolbe, says that when he asked administration officials why they had not requested any funds, he was given no satisfactory explanation, but did get a pledge that it would not happen again.

A spokesman for the US Agency for International Development, which distributes the money, says the reason they did not make a request was that when budgetary discussions began in 2002, it was too early to say how much money they would need.

Valentine’s Day and Extremists

I knew that religious conservatives in Pakistan did not like Valentine’ Day, but it was never a big deal. Most of the protests and shattering windows of shops and cars occurred on New Year’s eve. It seems like things have changed somewhat according to BBC:

Conservative forces in the Middle East and South Asia have cracked down on shops marketing Valentine’s Day.

In the Indian capital, Delhi, several people were reported injured when stores selling romantic cards and gifts were attacked by right-wing militants.

Police in Iran, meanwhile, are reported to have closed several shops in Tehran, while religious groups in Pakistan have held protests against the 14 February celebration.

Religious hardliners consider such Western occasions as decadent and an insult to Hinduism and Islam.

In Delhi, about a dozen members of the Hindu Shiv Sena Party attacked two shops selling Valentine items, completely destroying one of the properties. An eyewitness told the French news agency AFP: “They came in two cars and began shouting anti-Valentine’s Day slogans before entering the shop. “They smashed the glass windows, lights and other fixtures, and tore the cards.”

Security has been stepped up across the country to head off violent protests that have occurred in recent years. In the Indian city of Bombay, police will be on full alert to ensure Valentine’s Day passes peacefully, a senior police official, Himanshu Roy, told the BBC.

Authorities in Iran have shut stores selling Valentine’s Day products and ordered others to remove heart-and-flower decorations.

In Pakistan, fundamentalist students condemned Valentine’s Day as a day of shame and lust.

Well, may be Shiv Sena and Muslim fundamentalist groups should march together against Valentine’s day. That would be some sight!

Here is some more news about the crazy extremists of South Asia:

“[Valentine’s Day] is nothing but a Western onslaught on India’s culture to attract youth for commercial purposes,” said senior Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, son of group leader Bal Thackeray. Last week, Bal Thackeray said anyone wanting to avoid violence on Valentine’s Day should not celebrate it.

On Tuesday, 20 Shiv Sena activists stole cards from a shop in central Bombay. Shouting “long live Shiv Sena”, they burned the cards on the pavement outside.

Other Hindu fundamentalist parties like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal have also said they will oppose Valentine’s Day celebrations.

In Pakistan, the student wing of the fundamentalist Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami also called for a ban on Valentine’s Day celebrations. Khalid Waqas Chamkani, a leader of the wing in North-West Frontier Province, said: “This is a shameful day. The people in the West are just fulfilling and satisfying their sex thirst.”

However, celebrating Valentine’s Day, named after the Christian patron saint of lovers, has become increasingly popular in both India and Pakistan. Many hotels in both nations put on Valentine’s dinners and balls, while the media allow lovers radio and newspaper slots to broadcast messages.

One card stockist in Bombay said couples would celebrate the day despite the protests. “It is just sad for poor shop owners who are the unlucky targets,” he said.

Why can’t these extremists just let people be. Let them celebrate love on Valentine’s day or any other day they want. Does it matter if it is a Western thing?

Snitch Visas

Via Perverse Access Memory, I found the news about snitch visas for informants about criminals and terrorists.

The logic looked impeccable: Foreign terrorists lurk among foreigners, and foreigners want to live in America. So why not give foreigners a visa in return for ratting out suspected terrorists?

The idea, it turns out, has sputtered in practice so badly in the last 15 months that some experts think it raises questions about the wisdom of this tactic in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

The S visas —- nicknamed “snitch visas” and good for three years of legal U.S. residence —- were granted to just 35 informants and their relatives in the fiscal year after Sept. 11.

Congress created the program in 1994 for foreign nationals living here or abroad, and since has capped the number at 200 a year for criminal informants (S-5 visas) and 50 a year for terrorism informants (S-6 visas). Immigration advocates generally welcome the program as a gesture of cooperative faith in, not antagonism toward, immigrants.

Now, generally the visa stamped on one’s passport has the visa category (S-5 or S-6 in this case) printed on there. So what happens with these S visas? Can someone open up your passport and immediately realize that you ratted out a drug dealer or a terrorist? Is that even a good idea? Also, does “S” have anything to do with “snitch” or is it just a coincidence?

Zimbabwe Cricketers Protest Mugabe

Two members of Zimbabwe’s World Cup Cricket team, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, are protesting Mugabe’s despotic rule by wearing black arm bands during their World Cup game against Namibia. Andy Flower is a former captain of the team and Henry Olonga is their first black player. According to BBC,

Zimbabwe cricketers Henry Olonga and Andy Flower knew that they were taking a great risk by making a public protest against the government of Robert Mugabe.

Olonga has already been suspended by his club, Takashinga for wearing a black armband during the Namibia match but that is the least of their worries.

As the statement they released just before taking to the field said:

“People have been murdered, raped, beaten and had their homes destroyed because of their beliefs and… many of those responsible have not been prosecuted.”

While such high-profile people are unlikely to be physically attacked in the middle of the Cricket World Cup, Mr Mugabe and his supporters have long memories.

Certainly, their cricketing careers – in Zimbabwe at least – are in jeopardy.

The Zimbabwe Cricket Union, whose patron is cricket fan Robert Mugabe, is already considering what action to take against them for breaching its “non-political” stance.

[…]And the police have said no political slogans, songs, placards, dress or other “artefact associated with political parties” would be allowed at cricket venues.

But despite this, the cricketers’ action has brought attention back to “the death of democracy” in Zimbabwe.

And the statement is far more powerful, coming from the first black player in the national team, Henry Olonga.

Both players received loud cheers every time they bowled or batted, further adding to Mr Mugabe’s embarrassment.

The government mouthpiece, The Herald newspaper, noted that the two were “able to express themselves without any harassment or intimidation”.

But the police would have handed out instant justice to anyone making similar statements from the crowd.

Olonga says he is ready to pay the price of his action and accepted that he and Flower may now be in physical danger.

“We’ll have to deal with whatever repercussions come along our way as best we can but we believe in the greater good,” he told the BBC.

Here is their statement:

It is a great honour for us to take the field today to play for Zimbabwe in the World Cup.

We feel privileged and proud to have been able to represent our country.

We are, however, deeply distressed about what is taking place in Zimbabwe in the midst of the World Cup and do not feel that we can take the field without indicating our feelings in a dignified manner and in keeping with the spirit of cricket.

We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed.

We are aware that hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans may even die in the coming months through a combination of starvation, poverty and Aids.

We are aware that many people have been unjustly imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions about what is happening in the country.

We have heard a torrent of racist hate speech directed at minority groups.

We are aware that thousands of Zimbabweans are routinely denied their right to freedom of expression.

We are aware that people have been murdered, raped, beaten and had their homes destroyed because of their beliefs and that many of those responsible have not been prosecuted.

We are also aware that many patriotic Zimbabweans oppose us even playing in the World Cup because of what is happening.

It is impossible to ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe. Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings.

We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe.

We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right.

We have struggled to think of an action that would be appropriate and that would not demean the game we love so much.

We have decided that we should act alone without other members of the team being involved because our decision is deeply personal and we did not want to use our senior status to unfairly influence more junior members of the squad.

We would like to stress that we greatly respect the ICC and are grateful for all the hard work it has done in bringing the World Cup to Zimbabwe.

In all the circumstances, we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup.

In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe.

In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe.

In doing so we pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our nation.

It is great to hear such words from two very good cricketers. They have risked a lot by this protest and the international community and ICC (International Cricket Conference, cricket’s governing body) should make sure they are not punished.

Courtesy of commenter Amy Phillips.

Warne Scandal Bigger Than Iraq in Australia

Shane Warne

According to Yahoo! Sports:

Cricketer Shane Warne’s dramatic exit from the World Cup knocked the looming war with Iraq off the front pages in Australia as the sports-mad nation reacted with bewildered anger to the latest scandal engulfing its spin king.

“Devastated” ran the page one headline on Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, with The Australian newspaper concentrating on Warne’s declaration “I’m no drug cheat.”

The Australian labelled Warne the “stupid spinner,” after he was sent home from the tournament in South Africa Tuesday following revelations he had tested positive for a banned diuretic drug in Sydney last month.

Prime Minister John Howard took time out from a series of international crisis meetings on Iraq to express his sympathy for Warne and urge cricket authorities to deal with him fairly.

“He is a great Australian cricketer. My hope is he’ll be back playing for Australia before long,” Howard said in New York.

Warne’s family in Melbourne also spoke of their distress, with a source close to the family telling the Australian Associated Press the bowler had taken a pill given to him by his mother in circumstances that were “totally innocent”.

But there was little sympathy for Warne among newspaper commentators and radio talkback callers following the latest in a string of scandals that have tarnished the reputation of the man hailed as the greatest spin bowler of all time.

Critics cited Warne’s dealings with illegal bookmakers, a sex scandal in Britain where he was accused of bombarding a young nurse with suggestive phone messages and a general air of arrogance as evidence the bowler had “more flaws than the Empire State Building”.

They said Warne had let down his teammates and his conduct was naive, at the very least.

“When he dislocated his shoulder, Shane Warne must have damaged brain cells as well. What else will explain the numbingly dumb decision by one of the greatest cricketers in history to pop a diuretic?” Peter Jenkins asked in the Daily Telegraph.

However, there was some support for the beleaguered leggie. Respected Sydney Morning Herald commentator and former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck concluded: “It does sound like a minor matter, an oversight.”

Shane Warne is considered one of the best spin bowlers in cricket. However, his absence was not felt by the Australian team yesterday as they easily defeated Pakistan.

New Readers

Welcome. If you are following a link from Burt Lum’s article in the Honolulu Advertiser, the post he refers to is available here. While you are here, please go through my weblog. I have quite a few interesting posts about politics, Islam, Pakistan, etc.