What Does The Iraqi Government Actually Govern?

Former United States ambassador to Croatia, Peter W. Galbraith, writes an outstanding Op-Ed in the New York Times:

He asks the question, “What does the Iraqi government, in fact, actually govern?”

1. The South is governed by theocratic militias of well over 100,000 men. During the formal occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2004, the American-led coalition allowed Shiite militias to mushroom and clerics to impose Islamic rule in the south, in some places with a severity reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban.

2. Kurdistan has long had effective independence: The Iraqi Army is barred from the region, the Iraqi flag prohibited, and central government ministries are not present.

3. In the Sunni center of the nation and Baghdad, the government has virtually no control beyond the American-protected Green Zone. The Mahdi Army, a radical Shiite militia, controls the capital’s Shiite neighborhoods, while Qaeda offshoots and former Baathists are increasingly taking over the Sunni districts.

For the United States to contain the civil war, we would have to deploy more troops and accept a casualty rate many times the current level as our forces changed their mission from a support role to intensive police duties. The American people would not support such an expanded mission, and the Bush administration has no desire to undertake it.

His recommendation:

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.

This would be best accomplished by placing a small “over the horizon” force in Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan is among the most pro-American societies in the world and its government would welcome our military presence, not the least because it would help protect Kurds from Arab Iraqis who resent their close cooperation with the United States during the 2003 war. American soldiers on the ground might also ease the escalating tension between the Iraqi Kurds and Turkey, which is threatening to send its troops across the border in search of Turkish Kurd terrorists using Iraq as a haven.

From Kurdistan, the American military could readily move back into any Sunni Arab area where Al Qaeda or its allies established a presence. The Kurdish peshmerga, Iraq’s only reliable indigenous military force, would gladly assist their American allies with intelligence and in combat. And by shifting troops to what is still nominally Iraqi territory, the Bush administration would be able to claim it had not “cut and run” and would also avoid the political complications — in United States and in Iraq — that would arise if it were to withdraw totally and then have to send American troops back into Iraq.

Breaking News on Face Blindness!

From the New York Times article mentioned in the previous post:

Face blindness differs from pervasive cognitive disorders like autism because it usually involves only one specific symptom. Still, face blindness is sometimes accompanied by other problems, especially difficulty in finding one’s way around…

OK, if you know me, you’re rolling around on the floor, laughing, at this point, because I am not only famously face-blind; I am famous for getting lost while driving. I literally was briefly lost three times while driving today:

  (1) Driving to my good friend and carpool partner, Industry Figure Larry Helmerich’s house, where he has lived for 15 years,

  (2) Driving to Alcatel, where I have worked for 9 years,

  (3) Driving to lunch at a place where we have eaten regularly for 9 years.

For many years, I rode bicycles with my good friend, Industry Figure John Blackburn, and he laughed when he read this post: “I thought of the number of times after our rides when I saw your car sail past the restaurant where we were supposed to be having our post-ride breakfast.”

We always ate at the same restaurant. I had driven there hundreds of times. Still could sail right past it.

Humans have got funny old brains, and that’s the truth.

Test Yourself for Face Blindness!

I’ve mentioned before that I am rather significantly face blind; I find it very difficult to recognize faces, even my own, or those of people I know well. The July issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A has published a new study about the disorder, finding that it is inherited in 1 of 40 people (and autosomal dominant, affecting men and womean equally and passed down from parents to children if just one defective gene is transmitted), and there’s a New York Times article about it that has a fun link where you can test yourself – you may be surprised!

Dr. [Heather] Sellers, a professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., has a disorder called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, and she has had it since birth. “I see faces that are human,” she said, “but they all look more or less the same. It’s like looking at a bunch of golden retrievers: some may seem a little older or smaller or bigger, but essentially they all look alike.”…

The researchers say the phenomenon is much more common than previously believed: they found that 2.47 percent of 689 randomly selected students in Münster, Germany, had the disorder…

Dr. Grüter is himself prosopagnosic. His wife and co-author, Dr. Martina Grüter of the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Münster, did not realize he was face blind until she had known him more than 20 years. The reason, she says, is he was so good at compensating for his deficits.

…but the important thing is that the article in The New York Times includes a link to test yourself for face blindness! There are two different tests, both of which ask you to recognize faces without the benefit of ears or the major facial hair.

On one of the tests (the ‘Famous Faces’ test), I scored a pathetic 9 faces recognized out of 30, or 30%, where the average normal score is 85%! Plus, I was slow: it took me 30 to 45 minutes to complete, where Larry Helmerich didn’t need more than a few minutes, and John Blackburn literally finished in a single minute; their scores are shown below.

Test yourself for face-blindness (and tell me your score!)

Read the New York Times article

Read the abstract of the report in July issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A

“It’s more fun to compete!”

Famous Faces Test:
100% - John Blackburn (30/30 faces, 1 minute)
100% - Chris Gibson
100% - Sylvia Chappell, my wife (30/30 faces)
 97% - Larry Helmerich (29/30 faces)
 97% - Craig Burt, one of my sister's sons (29/30 faces)
 97% - Sean Chappell, my son (28/29 faces)
 95% - Bill Standley
 93% - Stephen Newell
 93% - Jeff Lorenzini (27/29 faces)
 93% - Ravi Govil
 90% - Curt Welch
 90% - Allen Akin
 90% - Michael Tague
 88% - Mathieu Duval (21/24 faces)
 87% - Randi (Larry and Sally Helmerich's daughter)
 79% - Richard Lorentz (23/29 faces)
 76% - Chris Burt, one of my sister's sons
 75% - Ron Traver
 72% - Leah Newell
 60% - Sally Helmerich, Larry's wife
 60% - Chris Ravenscroft (18/30 faces)
 59% - Tom Harvey
 57% - Jan Burt, my sister (12/21 faces)
 5x% - Milt Brackmann, my mother's brother
 52% - Pat Hilligoss, my father's sister (12/23 faces)
 45% - Marilyn Chappell, my mother (9/20 faces)
 43% - Jean Kuhne, my mother's brother Ron's daughter
 32% - Ruth Gerken, my mother's brother Ron's daughter
 30% - Tom Chappell (9/30 faces, 30-45 minutes)

Old-New Faces Test:
 96% - Sean Chappell     (19/20 target, 29/30 nontarget)
 96% - Ravi Govil        (19/20 target, 29/30 nontarget)
 94% - Bill Standley     (20/20 target, 27/30 nontarget)
 92% - John Blackburn    (16/20 target, 30/30 nontarget, 2 minutes)
 90% - Leah Newell       (17/20 target, 28/30 nontarget)
 88% - Curt Welch        (20/20 target, 24/30 nontarget)
 86% - Chris Gibson      (18/20 target, 25/30 nontarget)
 82% - Larry Helmerich
 82% - Jeff Lorenzini    (17/20 target, 24/30 nontarget)
 82% - Michael Tague
 80% - Allen Akin
 78% - Chris Ravenscroft (18/20 target, 21/30 nontarget)
 78% - Tom Chappell      (15/20 target, 24/30 nontarget)
 72% - Tom Harvey
 70% - Chris Burt        (16/20 target, 19/30 nontarget) [one of my sister's sons]

The Online Cambridge Face Memory Test:
[An improved version of the older Old-New Faces test that varies head angle and lighting,
which wasn't publicly available back when this piece first appeared] 
 85% - Linda Wallace, my mother's sister Marce's daughter
 52% - Ruth Gerken, my mother's brother Ron's daughter


Low Scorers: Note that the seven lowest scorers on the Famous Faces test are all relatives of mine.

Sally Helmerich (FF: 60%) says, “I recognize people by their voices.” Before Chris Ravenscroft (FF: 60%) knew this, he said the exact same thing! Apparently, by the time that you’ve gotten down to 60% on the Famous Faces test, you’ve got an appreciable deficit.

Tom Harvey writes: “On the famous faces test, I was slightly screwed up by some previous insider knowledge (Jeff mentioning XXX being in the test). I also found myself declaring unfamiliarity with certain people that I’d watched entire movies that they were in (XXX, XXX) or people that are generally ubiquitous even to celebrity-ignorers such as myself (XXX). I could attempt to justify this, but maybe my score should have been lower.”

The Famous Faces test was insanely difficult for me, as my score (FF: 30%) attests. I’d tell you some of the mistakes I made, and you’d howl, but it would keep you from being able to take the test.

On the Old-New Faces test, I felt as if I were cueing on things like how the photographs were lit, rather than genuinely recognizing or not recognizing the faces. I later wrote to the researchers, recommending that they use different photos of the same subjects, instead of always using the same photos for the same subjects, and they said that indeed, they do that now in their non-public lab tests, because they found that people who had a good visual memory but who had poor facial recognition were able to “cheat” the test. [Edit: that improved test, the Online Cambridge Face Memory Test, has now replaced the Old-New Faces test on the web site, but I haven’t yet gone back and tried it.]

High Scorers: On the Famous Faces test, my wife Sylvia got 100%, our son Sean and my sister Jan’s son Craig both got 97%, while on the Old-New test, Sean has the top score of 96%.

Sylvia (FF: 100%) has always been Scary Good at recognizing faces, especially out of context, which I can never, ever do.

John Blackburn (FF: 100%, Old-New: 92%) has near-perfect pitch, and yet is also great at recognizing faces!

I once sat at a table with Bill Standley (FF: 95%, Old-New: 94%) and about 9 other co-workers. We had all been asked to bring in baby pictures of ourselves, and they were shuffled up, and then the game was to match up the babies to the adults. They all looked like a bunch of golden retrievers to me, but Bill Standley just whipped through those pictures, 100%, like the babies were sitting there at the table next to him.

Delicious Chili Recipe from Industry Figure Sally Helmerich

What with World War III breaking out over the Middle and Far East, I’m naturally not going to let my blog go silent. And here it is, my response: “Chili is delicious!”

My old friend Industry Figure Larry Helmerich’s wife Sally is a great cook, and the thing is, after 20 years of delicious meals at their house, she happened to mention that she never adds salt while cooking. I had never realized; I was usually too busy asking for seconds.

Now, the thing is, salt is this awful toxic stuff, that we totally need to live — that is, of course, we need it, but like a lot of other things, we have much easier access to it than we were evolved to handle. Just reducing salt in your diet lowers blood pressure by as much as a single blood pressure medication, and it’s clearly (to me, at least) preferable to reduce salt rather than take extra medicine.

So, for your eating pleasure, here is the way-awesome chilli recipe that I asked Sally for before I knew that it didn’t have any salt added while cooking. (There’s some salt in the canned beans and tomatoes, but it’s great with the reduced-salt version of the beans, so be sure to get that).

The recipe here is basically Sally’s, though the only time so far that I’ve made it, which was this evening, I made a few small changes to the ingredients and procedures, and since it was delicious, I’m presenting them here. Also, where the recipe gives you options, I have underlined the choices that I made.

1 lb. lean cut of beef, fat trimmed, cut into 1″ cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped (or cheat and buy the chopped onions in the freezer section and use 1/2 the package)

Brown the meat in a small amount of oil, or in Pam, over medium heat.

Add onions and cook until the onions are starting to become transparent.

In a crockpot or dutch oven, stir together the following:

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (you can use the plain or Mexican variety), undrained
1 15 oz. can of beans of your choosing (kidney, black, pinto), undrained
    I used the reduced salt beans, with half the salt of regular canned beans.
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
(At least) 2 cloves garlic (I used 2 1/2)
(At least) 1/4 tsp. chipotle chili pepper powder
(At least) 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper powder
1 large chili (Anaheim or Pasilla)
1/2 Serrano chili, seeded

Add the meat and onion mixture to the crockpot mixture.

If using a crockpot, set low and cook at least 6 hours.

Serve garnished with cilantro.

I made a double recipe using the glorious All-Clad 8 Qt. Stainless Steel Stockpot, cooking on simmer for several hours, and it was already delicious after 2 1/2 hours. I then reduced the heat to low and am planning to cook it for at least another 2 1/2 hours, and then have another bowl – for Science!

I made another batch tonight (23 July 2006) that I thought was even tastier. Substitutions:

2 tsp. cumin
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili pepper powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper powder
1 large Anaheim chili (chopped, rather than whole)
1 Serrano chili, with seeds

Sylvia, who likes foods to be what we call in California “moderately spicy”, said that the chili fumes from the cooking were making her eyes feel funny, and went to the store and bought some sour cream for insurance. The chili was amazing with the sour cream and cilantro. Next time, perhaps I’ll try using even less salt, by sustituting for some of the canned foods.