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Michael Ubaldi, December 16, 2004.

Hold on to your Christmas liripipe, it's the Dell Dellf!

I'm the IT go-to guy at the office — in fact, I just finished a year-end report on the company's computing needs, happily referring to myself as "this department" — and since 2001, I've become a disciple of DIY. When it comes to laptops, Dell Inc.'s esteem has risen above Gateway's as far as our office is concerned, but since I can price out a no-monitor desktop using high-grade components from NewEgg for $800 and a similar Dell system runs over $1,300, I don't think even the gorgeous little Dellf can sell computers to hobbyists who build.

Having said that, she certainly makes computer-shopping easier on the eyes.

Michael Ubaldi, December 14, 2004.

What keeps pro-democracy dissidents focused and committed? Part faith, part humor. The caption, I'm told, reads "Our Atomic pursuits are persistent and peaceful!" More news of a rather serious nature at Iran Press News.

Michael Ubaldi, December 13, 2004.

Saturn craft Cassini-Huygens promises four years of scientific discovery — but in a little over ten days, on Christmas Eve, the most-awaited mission task will commence as the Huygens probe separates and descends into the vanilla shroud of moon Titan, camera and sensors at the ready. While spaceflight may not turn as many heads as Apollo 11 briefly managed, do yourself a favor and keep watch: this is history in the making.

Michael Ubaldi, December 12, 2004.

Extremism is not unyielding devotion to an ideal so much as it is unyielding devotion to an ideal that demonstrably has no practical or helpful application, and resides only as a figment of obsession.

Michael Ubaldi, December 2, 2004.

Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, though showing a bit of age and fatigue from Martian exposure, have operated far longer than their designers had ever hoped. Images, science and speculation are still pouring in, and for those of us who don't have the time to scour press releases and raw footage, NASA offers a fine solution: "Week in Review" highlight slide shows.

Michael Ubaldi, December 1, 2004.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority's Iranian desk director, Menashe Amir, on Iran:

"It's clear that the regime in Iran has reached a dead-end after 25 years," says Amir, himself a Teheran native. "The country has become much poorer. The population has grown from 37 million to 67 million. They need to provide 800,000 new jobs each year but can't. Poverty is spreading and many turn to prostitution. Even senior clerics in their Friday sermons speak out against the cost of living. When I ask callers why there has been no uprising, they say the regime is brutal and people are afraid. They point out that without American intervention, neither Afghanistan nor Iraq would have been freed of their oppressive regimes."

...Amir believes that the Iranian people would welcome an American incursion "with open arms," an appraisal that may raise eyebrows in view of similar appraisals by experts about Iraq before the US invasion of that country. However, Amir believes that the Iranian regime is ripe for falling, even without the intervention of foreign troops.

"If America invested in encouraging opposition groups inside and outside Iran, it would not need to send in a single soldier."

There's no shortage of oppressed people looking to the United States for a hand up out of hell. As for Iran, my friend Danny O'Brien recently commented on the irony of Ayatollah Khomeini's early-1980s' edict for mass childbearing that has left the majority of the country's population younger than thirty, energetic, contemptuous of dictatorship and desperate for Western-style democracy. Timely assistance from America and allies will ensure that this Saturn won't devour its brood.

For more, all the news on Iran you need is at Iran Press News.

Michael Ubaldi, November 23, 2004.

Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi advertises PersePolis 3D's best assets: "as you can see, there are no damned Mullahs anywhere in the pictures!"

Michael Ubaldi, November 18, 2004.

In the abject totalitarian hell of North Korea, cracks in the Kim regime have been spotted, widening and multiplying. The Chosun Journal repeats a widely noted report of Kim Jong Il's pervasive mug disappearing from public places. There's talk of rebellion. Let it be true:

Until now, the world has been under the impression that the North Koreans, shielded from information about the outside world, weakened by hunger and subject to the tyranny of a foolproof monitoring system, are incapable of rebelling. After all, didn't they succumb to collective hysteria in 1994 when, after living through decades of his cult of personality, they were suddenly faced with the death of Kim's father, the founder of the state, "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung? But the 22.5 million people of this country are not as submissive as they appear to be. In the bitter years of the mid-1990s, when the regime allowed up to three million people to die from malnutrition and weakness, demonstrations repeatedly flared up against the country's bizarre ruler who, with his blow-dried hair and eccentric uniforms, is partial to preaching to his exhausted citizens in so-called spontaneous lectures. Slogans against the dictator ("Down with Kim Jong Il") appeared on railroad cars, overpasses and factory walls. Flyers condemning the dynasty's unbelievable ostentation were even posted outside the Kumsusan Mausoleum in Pyongyang, where the elder Kim's embalmed body lies in state. In a new, soon-to-be-published book about North Korea, Jasper Becker, 48, a British author and journalist living in Beijing, writes that factories, military units, and even entire towns revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang.

If so — if the world has a chance to break into this abattoir and close it down forever — it's a miracle, and praise be.

Michael Ubaldi, November 16, 2004.

Japan continues towards a full realization of democratic autonomy:

As salty winds gusted off Tokyo Bay, a crack unit of Japanese commandos ascended the starboard ladder of a ship in a simulated hunt for weapons of mass destruction. They secured and patted down the crew, then searched the docked vessel until they uncovered its hidden cargo - a mock stash of sarin gas.

The training exercise late last month was all for the cameras. Japan, along with Australia, France and the United States, was showcasing its willingness to prevent the transit of weapons by terrorists and renegade states, particularly North Korea. But for Japan, a country that since World War II has eschewed any impression as an aggressor, the decision to take a leading role in a high-profile military exercise marked a rare display of force. It underscored another mission: to redefine this nation as more than just an economic power.

Even so, the country goes two steps forward and one step back. The commandos conducting the drill were not armed; the boarded ship was Japanese and its commander gave permission for his own interdiction. But somehow it's fittingly and comfortingly Japanese: intent, if understated.

Nearly a year ago I read an Yomiuri Shimbun editorial challenging Japan's pacifist foreign policy and the American-drafted constitution that — Cold War-influenced "reverse course" on military policy notwithstanding — enforced it. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution renounces the making of war, and in the post-Cold War world of terrorist-spiked authoritarianism, non-participation in the free world's defense hardly seems a practical solution. Since then the matter has met encouraging public response, an initial endorsement from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and, not without a little prodding from the United States' Secretary and Deputy Secretary of State, serious attention from the Diet.

In recent weeks and months, the prime minister has politically distanced himself from amending Japan's constitution, affecting a straddle by insisting that the country's desire to sit on the United Nations Security Council can be considered separate from the ability to defend itself and its allies. Tokyo lawmakers, who were conducting panel studies on constitutional alteration, also seem to have lost a bit of nerve:

Revision debate was expected to be on a political agenda as early as next year. But in a turnaround from its emphasis on constitutional debate during the Upper House election in July, opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) plans to focus on pension and other social security issues-a sore spot of the ruling coalition-in the next Lower House election.

"Our focus in the next two to three years will be a change of power," said Minshuto leader Katsuya Okada on Oct. 31. "Debate on constitutional revisions can move on, but carrying them out will be an issue in the future."

Minshuto made major advances in the Upper House election on the strength of its attacks against the government's unpopular pension reforms. The largest opposition party plans to delay specific revision moves until after the next Lower House election, to take place within three years.

Japan's perennial majority party, the Liberal Democratic Party, is apparently positioning itself to peel off DPJs who believe in and are willing to support constitutional revision. Debate ensues in 2005, though given the slight change of tide, it remains to be seen if domestic politics will take precedence over Japan's larger concerns. No amendment is expected, in the words of the LDP, much before 2008. Even so, there is reason to believe that progress will come with a less magnificent entrance:

Officials are now negotiating with the Pentagon a broad redefinition of the U.S.-Japan alliance, in which the United States is now largely responsible for the defense of Japan. On the table, Japanese officials say, is a new concept of "an alliance in global terms" in which the armed forces would work more closely with the U.S. military, both at home and on missions abroad.

Proponents of a more evenly distributed defense and expansion of the free world prefer that the Japanese confront their political anachronisms directly. But if form quietly follows function, we might be just as pleased.

Michael Ubaldi, November 5, 2004.

Bill Federer's American Minute:

She was the wife of the second President and the mother of the sixth President. Her letters provide some of the most valuable insights of the Revolutionary period. Her name was Abigail Adams. And on this day, November 5, 1775, in a letter to Mercy Warren, Abigail wrote:
Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Men? Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is... corrupting the Morals of Youth, and by his bad example injuring the very Country he professes to patronize... Scriptures tell us "righteousness exalteth a Nation."

The bearings of Truth and Right don't suffer from magnetic declination.