Thursday, July 31, 2003

Haiku on the Resignation of Retired Rear Admiral John M. Poindexter as Total/Terror Information Awareness Boss
(with reference to this previous posting)

Moo moo moo moo moo.
Chew chew chew chew chew chew chew.
Plop plop plop plop plop.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Immunity for Texas Tea Diggers?

Bush exec order
protects oil boys in Iraq;
scope scarily large.

Something New Under the Sun

Gays break into Brides;
same-sex vows in New York Times:
Who says there's no change?
MTA Report Card

Subway ratings in:
L on top, 5 on bottom;
G not too shabby

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Convicted liar,
after TIA, whiffs again.
That's strike two, Poiney!

When I read this article on the train this morning, I knew everyone and their mother's uncle's brother would be blogging it. But how can you resist? Talk about an insane idea. As I wrote in an e-mail to some friends, somebody oughta just put Mr. Poindexter out to pasture.

Ho! Time out! New development! I just went to the Times' site to get the URL for the story "Pentagon Prepares a Futures Market on Terror Attacks," and I find a brand-new article titled "Pentagon Abandons Plan for Futures Market on Terror" -- seems that somebody thought better!

Here are the most pertinent grafs (nos. 2 and 3):

"Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said today that the program would be dropped. And he asserted that he first learned of the Pentagon-sanctioned futures market through news accounts today after two Democratic senators disclosed the concept on Monday."

" 'I share your shock at this kind of program,' Mr. Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 'We'll find out about it, but it is being terminated.' "

Gee. I hope the Admiral has four stomachs.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Alas, Poor Herbie, I Knew Him Well

Last Bug rolls off line;
Beetles eradicated
at age 58.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

"For Young German Writers, All Is Ich," by Nora Fitzgerald, New York Times, July 24, 2003

Judith Hermann:

"There has been a very remarkable German revival," this mother of a preschooler said. "The older generation has been more interested in the past, the war, politics. My generation looks at itself."

In the last five years dozens of German writers — mostly 20- and 30-somethings living in and writing about the postwall Berlin — have sprung up like poppies. Most were first received with something approaching euphoria, praised by critics for the fresh power of their personal journeys in the newly reunified Germany.

"We were lauded for getting rid of the burdens of the past and the guilt," Ms. Hermann said. "We disregarded our past, neglected it, and it was seen as a strong, powerful energy." But "the mood now is different toward us," she continued, adding: "The critics are asking, 'How can they be so introspective? Can't they write about anything else?' "

Monday, July 21, 2003

You Keep A-knockin’ but You Can’t Come In

Two recent articles -- one in the May 24–May 30 issue of the Economist, and one on the front page of the July 20 New York Times -- report on current trends in U.S. policy toward refugees. The outlook, I’d say, is less than rosy.

Both pieces take as their jumping-off point the recent arrival of the first Somali Bantus in cities such as Phoenix, Tucson, and Salt Lake City; some 12,000 of them are slated to enter the U.S. in the next two years, under quotas set by the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The Economist article, a short affair of some 700 words titled “A home at last, but not for many,” declares bluntly: “America's refugee programme is in its worst state for two decades.”

Citing this year’s World Refugee Survey issued May 29 by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), the piece notes the downward turn in numbers in the past two years: “. . . only 27,100 refugees arrived in America in the fiscal year ending in September 2002, compared with 68,400 in 2001. Last year the government had given approval for 70,000 arrivals. Of the 50,000 ceiling set for this fiscal year, only 8,800 had been admitted by the end of March, the half-year mark.”

It’s hardly surprising that the number of refugees permitted to enter the U.S. has dropped steeply since Sept. 11, 2001. The time it takes for a security clearance has lengthened, sometimes to as much as several years, while asylum seekers wait to be given a "clean bill of health" by the CIA and the FBI, in addition to the usual going-over by the Department of State. (Although it is not mentioned in the USCR survey, the Economist claims, too, that some countries produce more than their fair share of fraudulent applicants, under the family-reunification program, and so presumably require closer attention from officials reviewing their cases.)

Apart from concerns connected with terrorism, though, there is also, the Economist writes, “a structural reason for the sluggishness.” While in the past the U.S. refugee program focused on a few persecuted groups (Soviet Jews and Vietnamese are the examples cited), the precious slots are now portioned out among more than 60 countries. As a result, even as the absolute number of refugees admitted to the U.S. has dropped, the extra time and effort needed to sort through such varied applications has boosted the cost of resettlement per refugee from $1,500, before September 11, to $4,000 today.

The drop in refugees admitted to the U.S., in turn, means there is less work to do for organizations that exist to assist them. And since their funding is based on the number of refugees they help, relief groups are, to put it mildly, bleeding jobs. To give just one example, again from the Economist: “Over at the Chicago office of World Relief half the jobs have gone as the agency's budget has fallen from $3m in 2001 to $1.6m. It has also had to close a ‘microenterprise centre’ that helped start 70 refugee-run businesses over two years, and a rehabilitation centre that helped disabled refugees.”

Eager to end on an optimistic note, the Economist's correspondent writes that the numbers of refugees expected to enter the U.S. in April and May -- 2,500 and 3,000, respectively -- were “the highest monthly totals since the terrorist attacks of September 11th.”

The New York Times piece, "U.S. a Place of Miracles for Somali Refugees," by Rachel L. Swarns, is more feature-y than the Economist's, fleshy with details from the daily lives of the Yarrows and the Edows, two Somali Bantu families recently resettled in Tucson, Arizona.

There is the amazement at running water, refrigerators, and flush toilets. There is the great relief at living in a place where bullets and death are not constantly, literally, at the door. There is the difficulty of integrating into an economy that is still soaked from the bursting of the '90s Internet bubble. And there is the occasional resistance to refugees in the communities where they are placed, by those who fear them because of their skin color, culture, or language, or because of the strain they expect the refugees to place on their social services.

Statistically speaking, the Times article takes a longer-term view than does the Economist, noting, for instance: “Over the past decade, State Department officials have increasingly shifted their focus toward Africa as wars there have displaced millions of people. [. . .] State Department statistics show that Africans made up 3 percent of the refugees resettled in the United States in the 1990 fiscal year. By 2001, that figure was nearly 30 percent.”

Swarns avoids judgmental language in describing U.S. refugee policy (of course this is typical of Times articles, unlike those of the Economist, which nearly always contain a clearly stated opinion on the issue at hand). But the graphic that accompanies her piece makes plain the same downward trend highlighted in the Economist:

Here is a similar graphic from the Economist:

Data from the State Department for the past 12 years (1990-2002) show a peak of roughly 125,000 in 1992, followed by a big drop in ’96, to less than 75,000, and then another plunge in 2002, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC.

This same table also neatly illustrates the changing geographic composition of refugees entering the U.S. in the last decade, as noted above.

Neither the Economist reporter nor Rachel Swarns of the New York Times chose to give their dispatches a happy ending. Reading the details of U.S. refugee policy, and the recommendations on said policy from the U.S. Committee for Refugees, it is easy to understand why. I myself have never liked happy endings as entertainment; but this, after all, is real life.

How was the war won?
Why, with air sorties and strikes:
Nine months, and six weeks

I am certainly no great follower of military affairs, but a front-page story in yesterday's New York Times by Michael R. Gordon, the paper's Chief Military Correspondent -- "U.S. Air Raids in '02 Prepared for War in Iraq" -- had some intriguing information in it.

(By the way, for some reason, as of Monday, at 5:45 p.m., the NYT's Web site had a second, identical version of the story, titled "U.S. Attacked Iraqi Defenses Starting in 2002.")

Anyone reading the news in the past few years knows that the U.S. and the U.K. had been bombing Iraq on and off ever since the Persian Gulf war of 1991. But now the numbers are in.

From graf 16 of Gordon's story: "From June 2002 until the beginning of the Iraq war, the allies flew 21,736 sorties over southern Iraq and attacked 349 targets, including the cable stations." [These cable stations "transmitted military communications between Baghdad and Basra and Baghdad and Nasiriya."]

Graf 18: "During that period before the war, American officials said the strikes were necessary because the Iraqis were shooting more often at allied air patrols. In total, the Iraqis fired on allied aircraft 651 times during the operation. But General Moseley [Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the chief allied war commander] said it was possible that the Iraqi attacks increased because allied planes had stepped up their patrols over Iraq. 'We became a little more aggressive based on them shooting more at us, which allowed us to respond more,' he said. 'Then the question is whether they were shooting at us because we were up there more. So there is a chicken and egg thing here.' "

Compare the numbers above to those of the war itself. Graf 10: "During the war, about 1,800 allied aircraft conducted about 20,000 strikes. Of those, 15,800 were directed against Iraqi ground forces while some 1,400 struck the Iraqi Air Force, air bases or air defenses. About 1,800 airstrikes were directed against the Iraqi government and 800 at suspected hiding places and installations for illicit weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles."

I admit to being unsure whether these numbers are comparable, given the different terminology used -- are a strike and a sortie the same thing? -- but it appears as if the number of strikes carried out in the nine or so months leading up to the war was roughly the same as the number carried out during the six weeks of the war proper (following the Bush administration's own dates: March 20 to May 1, 2003). Assuming this is true, it might change one's perspective as to when the war truly began.

The article also notes (graf 13): "Gen. Charles Wald, General Moseley's predecessor as the top American air commander in the Middle East, proposed a major attack to disable the beefed-up Iraqi defenses in early 2001. But the newly inaugurated Bush administration was not looking for a confrontation with Iraq at that time, and General Wald's recommendation was not approved."

Gordon goes on to describe the goals of the commanders of the air war, for readers who are interested in that sort of thing.

But here is the piece of information I think many people will be most interested in (graf 9): "Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of Defense Secretary Donald L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and all of them were approved."

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Refugees? Problem.
Security? Problem, too.
Risk of spiral down.

Refugees International, based in Washington, DC, has issued a set of "Observations from Iraq," in which two recently returned researchers report on the humanitarian situation in post-Hussein, U.S.-occupied Iraq.

The report reads as follows:

07/10/2003 - Shannon Meehan and Ada Williams, Refugees International Field Advocates, recently returned from Iraq after spending more than 9 weeks (April 12 – June 18, 2003) in the region looking at the overall humanitarian situation and the status of displaced persons. Based upon their extensive travels, interviews with the Iraqi people, humanitarian organizations and the Coalition Provisional Authority, Refugees International has the following observations:

Security remains a serious problem.

Improved security remains the key to humanitarian and political progress. “Unless law and order can be re-established promptly, there is a risk of a rapid downward spiral in the humanitarian situation in Iraq, and civilian relief agencies will not be in no position to respond.” (CARE Testimony to Congress) While NGOs are not yet directly targeted, it still remains difficult to respond to humanitarian needs. Some NGO’s warehouses have been looted and the Christian Children’s Fund cannot access some of Baghdad’s neighborhoods in order to serve children’s dire needs. (“Although access to the country of Iraq has been possible, security is still a matter of ongoing concern, and access to some areas is still problematic.” CCF Weekly Report)

Lack of security is also preventing Iraqis from moving freely and resuming their daily activities. This is particularly true for women. There are reports that women are not leaving their houses anymore because they fear for their security. There have been numerous reports of rape and girls are not attending school - their parents do not allow them to go outside the house or attend school. A Back-to-School campaign (prepared by UNICEF, UNESCO and OCPA) will have no effect whatsoever if the security situation does not improve by the beginning of the school year. All actors involved need to recognize the importance of the six Core Principles of a Code of Conduct of the IASC Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crisis.

Insecurity is an American problem as much as an Iraqi problem because it is slowing the pace of reconstruction. The U.S. must quickly mobilize an Iraqi force that can begin to take over some of the policing and security challenges.

Iraq continues to be plagued by a leadership vacuum, which is compounded by the lack of transparency and disorganization of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). As a result, humanitarian conditions are worsening.

The UN and international agencies are poised to work to resolve the problems facing Iraq, but there is currently no legal or structural framework to govern their response. If NGOs wish to help rebuild Iraq but do not know how to fit their work into an overall CPA plan for Iraq, they cannot respond effectively and they risk duplication of efforts. Particularly in the case of social services, NGO intervention should be part of a national plan. More importantly, the people of Iraq need to understand the Coalition’s objectives and participate in the rebuilding of their future.

It is important to emphasize that the participation of women is critical for Iraq. The CPA should not lose sight of the importance of women’s and children’s education and health issues. In addition, CPA must recognize that women’s former political status and participation in politics were quite high in Iraq since the 1950s. On this and other issues, the Coalition must do a better job of communicating its plans and of creating a sense of partnership with the Iraqi people.

The U.S.-led Coalition should rely more heavily on the United Nations.

The UN has vast experience in meeting humanitarian needs, rebuilding broken countries, establishing interim governments and building confidence in the future. What’s more, the UN operated in Baghdad prior to the last war and knows some of the players in Iraqi institutions. Greater participation by the UN and international agencies in reconstruction activities will add legitimacy to the post-war effort and increase effectiveness. Another advantage to increasing involvement of the UN and other international agencies is that they don’t face the same security challenges and constraints currently encountered by the U.S.

There is no humanitarian crisis, but the situation is so fragile that any of the chronic problems can easily become destabilizing and dangerous.

The sporadic electricity affects the cleanliness of the water supply, which in turn leads to increases in water-born diseases. Cholera and gastro-intestinal diseases are the major illnesses facing children in Iraq and are the direct causes of increased malnutrition. Fuel shortages also have an impact on the cleanliness of food. Without cooking fuel, families are not able to boil water or cook the food in the hygienic environment that existed before the war. An emergency system for the payment of essential government employees at hospitals, clinics, water treatment plans and other vital social services facilities is needed. The UN World Food Program is successfully meeting food needs. The Coalition must continue its efforts to restore electricity and water to the Iraqi people, as well as institute the systematic payment of Iraqi people until a more permanent system is constituted.

There is a growing trend toward economic displacement and human rights abuses in the urban centers, and increased ethnic displacements because local populations are taking solutions into their own hands.

For example, Arabs are being thrown out of homes in the North by the Kurds who wish to reclaim their former houses and lands. Palestinians continue to be evicted from their subsidized housing, many under the threat of severe violence. Lack of coherent policies, direction and leadership from the CPA to address these tensions are leaving the population without needed protections and without a sense that the CPA is dealing with crucial rule-of-law and property issues. It is important to act now to prevent ethnic rivalries from escalating by having the CPA support the deployment of UN Human Rights officers across the country.

There are approximately 130,000 refugees in Iraq comprising Palestinians, Iranians, Kurds, Turks, and Syrians.

In addition, there are a potential 1/2 million Iraqi refugees throughout the region and in Europe who would like to return or may be forced to return (Europe is pressuring Iraqis to return home). Returns to Iraq on this scale will require planning and dedicated support. RI concluded in the course of its mission that the CPA was simply overwhelmed by the complex issues surrounding refugees and displaced populations, and that it had already given up seeking solutions. This is a perfect example of where support from experts from the United Nations and the NGO community must be sought to devise effective solutions to enable Iraqi refugees to return in dignity.


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Haiku on Maxim of International Aid (and Empire-Building)

Expensive? You bet!
Donors say "okay" to pay
*if* they get to play.

July 14, 2003
U.S. Seeks Help With Iraq Costs, but Donors Want a Larger Say

WASHINGTON, July 12 — Faced with the huge cost of rebuilding Iraq, the United States has called for an international conference in October to be attended by dozens of nations — many of which opposed the war to oust Saddam Hussein — to raise billions of dollars to restore Iraq's economy.

But the Bush administration has run into a now familiar diplomatic problem. Potential donor nations say they are uneasy about financing a military occupation, and some American officials concede there will have to be more participation by other countries in deciding how money for Iraq is raised and spent.

"The donors want a say on the allocation of funds," said a Western diplomat involved in aiding Iraq. "They want credit for what they give, and they don't want to commingle their money with money for the occupation. The way things are set up now will have to be changed."

Among the nations that want a different structure for international aid to Iraq are Germany and France, two countries that opposed the war, although French and German officials emphasize that they are ready now to help rebuild Iraq.

In response to donor concerns, American officials are pressing for the creation of another element of the occupation bureaucracy, a trust fund for donations by other countries. But it is not clear whether the fund will be seen by donors as sufficiently independent.

"We've believed from the beginning that many donors would like to see a separate trust fund for donor contributions, possibly under the World Bank or the United Nations," said Alan Larson, the under secretary of state for economic affairs. "Now we are hard at work on it."

The call for aid comes at a time when the occupation of Iraq is costing the United States more money across the board. Last Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disclosed that military operations in Iraq were costing $3.9 billion a month, nearly twice the estimate the administration issued in April.

The more the United States needs others to help run Iraq, the more likely it is to share power. Some experts say the same dynamic could unfold militarily.

"The administration faces a classic trade-off between keeping control and getting outside participation," said James Dobbins, who has run or helped run the reconstruction of Kosovo, Haiti, Afghanistan and other countries. "This administration does not want to lose control, but they'll have to take another look at that position."

Mr. Dobbins, who is currently director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation, said that providing security in Iraq would probably require twice the roughly 160,000 foreign troops who are there now, and that other countries that join the rebuilding effort might not want to serve under the command structure set up by the American military.

Similarly, he said, international aid to Iraq may have to be carried out under an entirely different structure than the one currently contemplated.

"The United States will have to share power to secure resources for Iraq and to establish an image of legitimacy," he added.

The donor conference for Iraq is to take place in New York City in October. A preliminary meeting last month in New York drew more than 50 interested nations as well as representatives of the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and several independent relief organizations.

The financial reserves being used to run civilian operations in Iraq are going to run out at the end of the year, or perhaps shortly thereafter, and it is far from clear how much oil revenue will be available for Iraq's reconstruction.

The current supply of about $7 billion for Iraqi nonmilitary operations came from several sources, administration officials say. These include $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets frozen in American banks since 1991, $900 million found in hiding places in Iraq and $1.6 billion from Iraqi oil sold before the war.

In addition, the United Nations has set aside $1 billion in development funds for Iraq, and Congress appropriated $2.4 billion for Iraqi reconstruction contracts by the Bechtel Group and other companies.

Administration officials say this money will be used up by the beginning of next year.

Meanwhile, L. Paul Bremer III, the occupation administrator, has submitted a budget of roughly $6 billion for the rest of this year, and it is expected that the amount for 2004 will be considerably higher.

Oil revenues for Iraq, if the country somehow manages to resume pumping two million to three million barrels a day, could bring in $15 billion to $22 billion per year at currently projected oil prices, administration officials say. But a considerable amount of this money will have to be used to pay for food, medicine and other basic needs.

The Bush administration is exploring a number of ideas about how to use oil revenue to pay for the reconstruction, according to John Taylor, the Treasury under secretary for international affairs.

One proposal would generate tens of billions of dollars by "securitizing" the oil revenues — borrowing large sums up front and having them repaid over several years. But Mr. Taylor said that this idea would run up against Iraq's tens of billions of dollars in debt to foreign countries and companies, which would almost certainly challenge the first claim of any Iraqi "oil bonds" to oil revenues.

Other ideas include setting up a fund like Alaska's and making payments to individual Iraqis, perhaps by establishing individual retirement accounts. Some officials want to privatize Iraq's oil industry and use revenues for a widely held private company. Still others say that the revenues could be managed by a development board for use in major projects.

Administration officials say there may be resistance if other countries want some say in how money is spent for Iraq. Many officials are adamant that it will be the Coalition Provisional Authority, or C.P.A. — the current name for the American and British led occupation — that decides.

"It still hasn't entirely sunk into the international community, but the C.P.A. is the government of Iraq," said a senior administration official. "There are already unfortunate misunderstandings on that. But I cannot underline that often enough. The C.P.A. is the government of Iraq."

Monday, July 14, 2003

Harry Truman vs. New York Review of Books

Security Dems
Speak in voice of McGovern
Claims Wall Street Journal.

"In the aftermath of Sept. 11, [. . .] voters appear to have reverted to Cold War type. During the 2002 midterm election cycle, polls found that most voters rated national security as the country's top priority, even more important than the economy. And as defense and foreign policy issues have re-emerged, so too has the Republican advantage."

Kaplan is fooling himself if he doesn't realize that voters "reverting to Cold War type" is a direct result of the Bush administration's efforts to strike fear into the citizenry.

Mob Moves

In order to keep this blog "on message," I have decided to create a new blog concerning mobs only, Mob(b)log. All future news on mobs will be posted there.
It's a Mob's Mob's Mob's Mob's World

Thanks to my blogging of their event, I have kindly been invited to Minneapolis Mob #1, titled "Mob of America," taking place July 22. Unlike New York's Mob Project, the Minneapolites have a Web site, operated through Yahoo Groups:

Minnesota's Mobsters are already expecting more than 100 people to show up for their first foray. Elsewhere on the Web you can find a page with instructions for the the event, as well as for the Mob Project's MOB #4, scheduled for this Wednesday, July 16, in Manhattan, and a San Francisco mob, due to take place the same day.

And the photos are in from MOB #3, at the Grand Hyatt in Grand Central Terminal, a grand affair. 1) Satan's Laundromat; 2) Fred's Journal (click on the link that says "More ..." under the entry "1 July, 2003 | 7:50 pm").

Friday, July 11, 2003

Department of What Is It Good For

Cost or benefit?
Guns? Butter? What's your fancy?
Watch the bucks pile up.
Affirmative Action Mob

Beantown bandwagon:
Professionals add "color,"
mob downtown nightspots.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

More Mob in the News

July 3, sp!kded online ran a piece on the Mob Project, connecting it, as is the trend these days, to that of-the-moment book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, by Howard Rheingold.

July 8, USA Today's Whitney Matheson, in her "Hip Clicks" column, took note of the phenom, referring to it as a "trend" that is "spreading."
Wired jumps on board,
covers Mob phenomenon;
no carnage, all fun.

(Here is the mag's coverage of the second Mob.)

Mob project coming
to Minneapolis now;
read all about it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Life during wartime:
U.S. forces trashed airport
Cavil, or symptom?
How to waste time (keep refreshing):
Thanks to satellite
Man sees oil leave Iraq
Pipeline in pipeline?

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Too tired to do haiku right now, but here is the latest, if belated, update on media coverage of the Mob Project, an interview with a participant in MOB #2 on NPR's All Things Considered from June 20, 2003. (Here you can read the instructions for MOB #2.)

NPR's site bills the program as follows: "Michele Norris talks to Mike Epstein, a software engineer who runs a personal photo log on the Web, about the 'Mob Project.' " In fact the interviewer is clearly Robert Siegel, and he is somewhat patronizing, in my opinion. I was especially irked by his admonition to Epstein to "try to stay on the right side of the law." Gimme a break.

Tonight was MOB #3, and it was a smashing success, even though -- or perhaps because -- the site was changed at the last minute due to concerns about the cops being in on it, as they were on #1. Originally intended to take place at Grand Central Terminal, instead the third MOB was relocated to the lobby of the Grand Hyatt on the south side of GC, on 42nd Street.

Instead of following the original protocol, we each received a a slip of paper that read as follows:

*** MOB #3 ***

Change of Plans

If you are reading this, we have decided to change venues.

(1) By 7:02, walk out to 42nd St. and look for the main entrance to the Grand Hyatt. Enter and take the escalator up one flight to the main lobby. Loiter until 7:07.

(2) At 7:07, start taking the escalator and elevators up one floor, to the wraparound railing overlooking the lobby. Stand around it, looking down. Fan out to cover as much of the railing as possible. If asked why you are there, point down to the lobby and say, "Look."

(3) At 7:12, begin applauding. Applaud for fifteen seconds, then disperse in an orderly fashion.

(Note: the exit on that floor is not a pedestrian exit.)

It all went, as far as I could tell, entirely according to plan. The balcony was *full.* That is to say, there were people lining every inch of it, 360 degrees, and in some spots the downlookers were significantly squished. Clare said she counted 75 or 80 people on the long side of the balcony across from her. Multiply that by two, and add in the mobbies on the two shorter sides, and we're talking over 200 people. (I will update this info once I get a more credible count.)

The security staff did not appear overly concerned, though they were definitely on their walkie-talkies while we were on the balcony, and on my way out the front door, I heard one uniformed fellow say into his squawker: "Yeah, they're leaving now. No, I don't know where they're going."

The best part was definitely the applause. Some 30something blonde in a black fashion T-shirt and short (red?) dress had just come in when we all started to clap (a minute or so early, by my watch), and was standing at the welcome podium, talking to a hotel staffer. She looked up quizzically, shrugged, and then did a curtsy -- as if to say, "I have no idea why you're clapping for me, but seeing as you have bestowed on me this gracious honor, it is only fitting that I acknowledge your generous adulation." Absolutely charming.

Congratulations, Bill, on another MOB well done.