Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Halloween Parade

Greenwich Village is a fun place to be tonight. The streets are filled with costume-crafters milling around, some people in incredibly ingenious and ungainly rigs, so crowded that if you can hole up by the window in a restaurant or bar it's the only good way to take in the sights. One year I saw a giant glowing bug attack Manhattan. It was mounted on five or six bicycles. They just keep on coming, and remember, the next troll you see on the subway could be me. Here's the next-best thing to being there in Greenwich tonight, as seen through Lou Reed's eyes (from his album 'New York'):
There's a downtown fairy singin' out 'Proud Mary'
as she cruises Christopher Street
And some Southern queen is acting loud and mean
where the docks and the Badlands meet

This Halloween is something to be sure
Especially to be here without you

There's a Greta Garbo and an Alfred Hitchcock
and some black Jamaican stud
There's five Cinderellas and some leather drags
I almost fell into my mug
There's a Crawford, Davis and a tacky Cary Grant
And some homeboys lookin' for trouble down here from the Bronx

But there ain't no Hairy and no Virgin Mary
you won't hear those voices again
And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita...
you'll never see those faces again!
This Halloween is something to be sure
Especially to be here without you

There's the Born Again Losers and the Lavender Boozers
and some crack team from Washington Heights
The boys from Avenue B, the girls from Avenue D
a Tinkerbell, in tights.
This celebration's somehow got me down
Especially when I see you're not around

There's no Peter Pedantic saying things romantic
In Latin, Greek or Spic
There's no Three bananas or Brandy Alexander
Dishing all their tricks
It's a different feeling that I have today
Especially when I know you've gone away

There's a girl from Soho with a tee-shirt saying "I Blow"
She's with the "Jive Five 2 plus 3"
And the girls for pay dates are giving cut rates
Or else doin' it for free
The past keeps knock-knock-knocking on my door
And I don't want to hear it anymore

No consolations please, for feelin' funky
I got to get my head above my knees
But it makes me mad and mad makes me sad
And then I start to freeze

In the back of my mind, I was afraid it might be true
In the back of my mind, I was afraid that they meant you
Bah, bah, bye, the Halloween Parade
At the Halloween parade
At the Halloween parade
See you next year - at the Halloween parade!

Dr. Strange-feld, For Old Times' Sake

I don't see much political TV anymore, given that my home orbit revolves around a streaking asteroid of toddler-hood, so the net is like a big Tivo for me. George F. Will's fade-away from Dick Cheney (a.k.a. CEO of BushCo) was a nice Halloween present. It made me think back to when Tom Friedman turned on Donald Rumsfeld on Face the Nation, at the link above.

Except for the irreparable harm he has done in the world, and all the people he has blithely murdered, the surreal blustering dunder-headedness of Donald Rumsfeld will be missed. It's just too easy to write about. He has failed so utterly, so completely as SecDef and yet still has such confidence in himself that you probably have to go back to the British side in World War One to find an equally farcical, yet lethal, incompetence. (Lord Edmund Blackadder comes to mind.) Here Dr. Strangefeld is caught flat-footed in one of the may turd-piles of his lies. As with any pure narcissist, the stench doesn't faze him, because he recognizes it as his own.

George F. Will: "Cheney Still Doesn't Get It On Iraq"

Long-time conservative Newsweek columnist George F. Will, the bow-tied Beltway fixture known for never seeing a free shrimp cocktail he didn't like (and for being about as progressive as the Secret Service) has officially fallen out of the Cheney funeral procession. He now says "America is losing the war launched to deal with a chimeric problem (an arsenal of WMD) and to achieve a delusory goal (a democracy that would inspire emulation, transforming the region)." That was the genteel equivalent of a World Wide Wrestling Federation sneak attack coming from the top ropes. That's right mo-fuzz, that was the thoughtful conservative himself getting down with his bad word-smithin' self. And here comes Cheney's face repeatedly slamming into the corner turnbuckle:
In a recent interview with Vice President Cheney, Time magazine asked, "If you had to take back any one thing you'd said about Iraq, what would it be?" Selecting from what one hopes is a very long list, Cheney replied: "I thought that the elections that we went through in '05 would have had a bigger impact on the level of violence than they have ... I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence. I think that was premature."

He thinks so? Clearly, and weirdly, he implies that the elections had some positive impact on the level of violence. Worse, in the full transcript of the interview posted online he said the big impact he expected from the elections "hasn't happened yet." "Yet"? Doggedness can be admirable, but this is clinical.

Anyway, what Cheney actually said 17 months ago was that the insurgency was in its "last throes." That was much stronger than saying we were "over the hump" regarding violence. Beware of people who misquote themselves while purporting to display candor.

Wow. I feel like I'm sitting ringside at a Hulk Hogan Extravaganza wiping sprays of fake blood off of me. I can almost feel the righteous indigation, nay, rage, pouring off a stern honest journalist on the warpath. Almost.

To put Will's change of direction in proper context, he had to carefully calculate the need to curry favor with the present regime versus the next one; the nature of his position is that continued access to power, knowledge, and, most importantly, getting into parties and state functions with the good caviar depend on a finely tuned sense for detecting where the wind is blowing, and whom it favors. I'm too lazy to go look, but I'd be willing to bet Will wrote about twenty columns on how evil Saddam was and what a threat he posed in the run-up to the invasion, not including his pro-invasion slaverings before Gulf War One.

You'll notice that the sponsored links below Will's op-ed include things like:
"FATHER LAND: new fiction; 1939; the SS co-opts the Americans for Peace movement." Here's a new book title for you, Georgie: 'The Right Will Eat Itself.'

Monday, October 30, 2006

Web 2.0, Blogs, And Valuations

Google, in buying Blogger and YouTube, obviously has developed their own internal valuation metrics. My internal debates sometimes gnaw over whether they under- or overpaid, but in the end, what's a billion here or there. Blogs and podcasts are inherently subversive, anathema, and even hostile to industrial and post-industrial economic assumptions. It's almost as bad as being high on pot or nodding off on heroin. After all, we've only got 16-18 hours in a day to consume things, and if you're reading someone's else's blog or listening to a podcast, or heaven forbid writing or recording your own, chances are you are not out stimulating the Fertility Goddess of Economic Growth, and not burning offerings to the Horned God of Optimization. You're undermining free market philosophy itself by wasting your time on a creative act which can't be quantified, justified, owned, or monetized in the existing system.

Or can't it? Maybe free market acolytes who think that a proportion of society has to sink into poverty as a necessary frictional loss to hyper-competition are as ignorantly superstitious and cruel as Mayan priests whose orthodoxy upheld human sacrifice as the engine of prosperity. Could it be that creativity can be aggregated and monetized? Why not? Sitting around night fires, whittling and hearing tall tales is where every one of us came from.

Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube, and technically, there was nothing special about what YouTube did for content creators. They didn't pay a penny to anyone for their creativity. That must change, because there are only 24 hours in a day. If my ancestor whittled a figurine as he listened to your ancestor's auntie recount a story and gave it to her in appreciation, that was its own economy. She told my ancestor better stories, probably put in a good word for him with a pretty lass so her father's price was lower; my ancestor's bough was fruitful, and his branches ran over the well. I am here as a result, monetization made flesh. The schmo who didn't sufficiently honor your ancestor's auntie is gone from the gene pool.

Even if not a dime changes hands and this new-newcasting is only about free eyeballs and ear lobes, it's still deterministic. The future rides on what you decide to see, hear, create, and reward, and it doesn't need to wait for old money to validate it. The old money is trying to catch up but is uncomfortable over a lack of control, and over its own increasing weakness. My nagging intuition even tells me we're headed for a new currency basis. (If a pawned dollar is not backed by gold, not by control of oil, and not by Seven Fleets of mighty ships, what could back it?)

The thoughts above were partially triggered by Bruce at The River Blog, who linked to Les, who linked to the freethinker-artist dannygregory.com, who has his finger on the pulsing throat of our world and who wrote the post below:
If you're so great, why aren't you rich?

These are dark times for the nexus of art and commerce. Every industry that tries to make a buck from others� Creativity is moribund or in flames. The music business is more intent on suing children for downloading MP3s than trying to incorporate innovations in technology. The publishing business focuses a disproportionate amount of energy on the works of two dozen best selling and second rate authors. The movie business barely scraped a top ten list together last year. Network television bemoans the final act of geriatric shows like Friends and 60 Minutes, unable to generate anything new that mass audiences will flock to. Instead of intelligent, adult programming, they program sleaze. Fashion's top designers have become factories or left the business. Advertising is unable to come up with any strategy to combat Tivos.

Over the past decade, conglomerates have engulfed each of these industries. Huge businesses demand regular, increasing profits to feed Wall Street and are loath to bet on anything but a sure fire hit with mass appeal. They slather on bureaucracy and centralize decisions to minimize risk and surprise. But risk and surprise are the food and drink of creativity.

And yet, despite this Armageddon, we are in the middle of an enormous renaissance of creativity. Look around you. People are taking digital pictures. They're recording their own songs. They're shooting, editing, scoring movies. They're scanning artwork. They're writing essays. They're sharing stories, and recipes and patterns and ideas. They're supporting each other, inspiring each other, feeding and cheering and promoting each other.

The only problem�? Oh my god, no one's making money off all these blogs and personal websites and zines and chats. So they can't be real. They can't count. If they were any good, they'd turn a profit, right?

Just like cave painters had three-picture deals. Just like Shakespeare had licensing partners. Just like Mozart was a millionaire, Van Gogh was pursued by paparazzi, Nijinsky had his own MTV pilot� For most of human history, creative people made creative things because they had to. Now, perhaps, we're getting back to an understanding of how essential and human that is.

By the way, if anyone knows a major corporation that would like to sponsor this blog, please put them in touch with my corporate parent. Just kidding.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend, Pt. IV

Seems like it just keeps going back to Halliburton. If you recall, a few weeks ago I posted a YouTube clip of a convoy (one belonging to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root) coming under attack. At the time, I was unable to find the entire ABC News segment which aired driver Preston Wheeler's video footage and their interviews with him. Clear-headed commenter Grimgrin just posted the link over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, so I pass it along with hat-tip to him. You'll want to watch it again. The news segment contains additional information and confirms some earlier blogospheric suppositions:

1) the convoy went through the same kill zone twice as a result of going down a dead-end street;
2) the insurgent attacks were improvisational in nature;
3) the location was very close to Camp Anaconda, outside the city of Balad;
4) defense of the convoy was inadequate (interlocking fields of fire were not maintained);
5) response time of air support was in the forty-minute range (surprisingly slow);
6) it is Halliburton policy to fire drivers who are injured due to combat.

Since this video, Halliburton has largely outsourced its US truck drivers to others of less prosperous national origin, with Southeast Asia now the preferred source for contractor-drivers. They're much cheaper and pose far less liability, alive or dead. That's a prudent move, because the vulnerability of supply columns is going to prove the military's undoing in Iraq. The supply line is 400 miles long and goes back to Kuwait, a rocket-propelled grenade is too cheap and a truck is too soft and flammable for the outcome to be in doubt if resistance escalates or organizes further.

In the Winter War of 1940, Finland was invaded by Stalinist Russia. Finnish forces were initially outnumbered by more than 10:1, and were at an even worse disadvantage in weaponry. But they did have one advantage: the snow was deep, and they had good cross-country skis. The Russians put their field kitchens out onto the middle of frozen lakes; this afforded the kitchens the protection of distance, gave them good fields of fire, and made them relatively easy for troops to find. The Finns observed this, and devised a solution to their Russian problem: they put on their skis, and shooshed out to destroy the field kitchens and burn or take the food. With no food, the Russians quickly died of exposure, in fact so many died the number of casualties was never admitted to. The Finnish victory isn't very well known, but it belongs among the handful of greatest tactical triumphs against heavy odds in two thousand years of warfare.

I've related that anecdote on this blog previously because of its relevance to Iraq. Feeding our troops has been privatized, contracted out to Halliburton/KBR, and their method of getting it done is particularly vulnerable. They are the desert equivalent of field kitchens out in the middle of frozen Finnish lakes, as this video proves. A few rag-tag home-boys from a neighborhood took out a heavily escorted military supply convoy. This was a year ago, and should have been a major wake-up call for any effective military command structure, one which would trigger appropriate planning and counter-measures. The only thing that changed was better sourcing and PR control, and now you don't hear about attacks on convoys. The only reason we heard about this particular instance was because someone blew the whistle, and had the video to attract network attention.

In Iraq, insurgents have noted the supply column vulnerability and just issued a 52-minute video which proposes a doctrine to exploit it, known as "The Sword that Cuts the Arteries of the Infidels."

On Having Joined A Select Group Of Nations

Last night in a dream, I bought an H-bomb. It was from a company called Radioactive Factions, was kind of heavy but small enough to fit into the back seat of my car, and it cost $14,000. A great value. Originally, I'd bought the Bomb in order to infiltrate an expatriate Russian arms-dealing network (I repeat, this was in a dream) because I thought it irresponsible for them to go around selling cheap thermonuclear devices. After taking delivery of it, though, and while on the freeway tailing the dealer's old white Ford pickup back to his lair (it looked like he was heading for Everett, WA), my mind started working on the implications of Bomb ownership. I liked them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sun On The Charles, Liberty And Jail

I took the Red Line from Alewife station towards Boston's Logan Airport yesterday, just my luggage, my handheld and me after they kicked us out of the hotel at 11AM. The plan was to...well, I didn't really have a plan, but didn't have any more meetings scheduled, so it was ok to not have one for the day. My general idea was to maybe rent a car at the airport then head outside the city to visit the grand old man of my industry. But that was provisional; the train kept moving one stop closer to the Silver Line, not to a decision.

There was plenty to stew on while staring vapidly at advertisments in the subway car. Half the ads canvassed for clinical study volunteers ("Do You Have Memories of Childhood? Are You Right-Handed and Between the Age of 18 and 25?"), the other half offered some sort of health solution. One placard intended to ensnare MIT students into contract programming, I noticed it just as we rumbled underneath that institution, but all the others reflected the primacy of Hah-vad as the epicenter of the medical universe. Which, for me, was appropriate enough. The day before, I'd rounded up two of the smartest companies in my field (one of which invented and built the Internet) and put them in front of the most eminent group of epidemiologists on the planet. We attempted to solve an incredibly challenging technical problem in 45 minutes, and probably got even less time in which to do it than that.

Later that afternoon I met a good old friend and spiritual refugee, Eddy, whom I'd not seen for 20 years and who lives near Boston with his family. His dear wife H.G. had tracked me down two years ago, just after moving away from Boston, and this was the first time I'd gone back there directly. Interestingly, we were both graciously invited to go to a Boston Bruins hockey game. It was very enjoyable, in the way watching rival teams of Zulus engage in ritual combat while on stilts might be enjoyable, but it ended badly, with the enraged crowd getting violent and throwing everything they could get their hands on out onto the ice...Starbucks cups, bottles of water, ice cubes, half-eaten hot dogs, and even, incredibly, at least two glasses of beer. I've never witnessed such a sacrificial expression of disapproval. We went out after the game
and started to catch up on a couple of decades, talking with each other like natives in the tongue of a dispersed illiterate tribe, speaking both to preserve and try to make sense of a new land. This is how it is with ex-Mormons, who share a code which is merely secret, and not sacred.

The subway pulled away from under the intense intellectual gravity field of MIT, climbed up its tunnel and broke out into a beautiful late Fall day, crisp and bright as one ever could be to prettify the tracks and greater Boston, the trestle suspending us delightfully over the River Charles. As it happened, I was drawing near and heading directly towards the place my mother claims I was born, Massachusetts General Hospital. (Admittedly the birth certificate, if I could find it, backs my mom up on this point.) We made it across to Charles Station, stopped to let the passengers off, and before the doors closed some kind of salmon-brain urge made me pick up my luggage and get out. As surely when I was born forty-some years ago, and just as I've ever seen it since, the Charles Station is a mess of raw two-by-fours, planks, sheets of plywood, rebar, and corrugated sheets of steel and plastic flapping in the wind, with puzzled looking men and women dressed in orange vests, rubbing their jaws in contemplation and occasionally picking up a ruler. In Boston, this near-perpetual state of being is called "renovation." For once, it made me smile.

I stood on the station platform and attempted to have a conversation with my partner in business and crime while looking in the direction of my being's entrance into the world, well obscured by what has now become a massive complex of medical buildings employing thousands of professionals. Mass and General it truly has become. Whimsically, right on the river in front of the hospital, there stands a granite jail which ran until 1990, the Charles Street Jail, one of the oldest continually functioning prisons in the world. Actually it was ordered closed by a District Court in 1973 for violating the Constitutional rights of the prisoners there, something about the conditions being cruel and unusual, but it kept running anyway for another 27 years. The amazing impostor Frank Abagnale, who Leonardo DiCaprio played in the movie Catch Me If You Can, once escaped from it in the late 1960s. At some point it began to dawn on me that men in hard hats were swarming over it, and the granite had been cleaned. "What now?," I thought with the jaundiced views of a Big Dig victim, but made a mental note to look it up as I dragged my luggage away to find a place quiet enough to talk on a phone. I headed for John Kerry's brownstone on Beacon Hill, figuring there was nothing happening there. (It was nice and quiet, and
my "Hey, Senator Dipshit!" sign provoked no noticeable reaction.) Then I went over to the Ritz-Carlton to have three conference calls by the fireplace in the bar, judging which way to tackle Harvard's brave bull of a challenge.

I looked the Charles Street Jail up after getting home this morning, and it turns out a Seattle developer is turning the old gaol it into something quite different. He's calling it the Liberty Hotel.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I'll be traveling until Saturday morning for work, without a computer. That means no blogging. No blogging. The withdrawal symptoms will hit early and hard, but there's no avoiding it. Hope you guys stay well and see you soon.

Bush Family Social Security Plan

I alluded to the Bush family Paraguay Connection a couple days ago. It was rumored that they sent one of their daughters down to Paraguay to finalize a 100,000-acre land deal, and early this week people started going on record, in English, about the rumors. It's been all over the South American presses for the past week. The ranch would be in a land trust in Chaco, and sit smack on the middle of one of the world's largest underground acquifers.

The Washington Post doesn't do a convincing job of saying that First Daughter Jenna really was in lower South America fulfilling her dream to teach with UNICEF for 10 days. (Interestingly, the Post has taken its story down for the moment.) She met with US Ambassador James Cason, and then and spent an evening at President Duarte's estate. Cason's resume reads like a tour of US secret wars in Central and South America.

The property the family purportedly bought is a few miles away from a US military airbase,
Mariscal Estigarribia. 500 US special forces arrived there in 2005 for joint military exercises which involved passing out medical supplies to needy campesinos with heavily armed helicopters. Operation Commando Force 6. It never left, and then more troops are said to have followed. But despite the fact it can handle B-52 bomber staging and Galaxy C-5 Cargo planes, it's really not a US military base, according to a us.info.state.gov entry labeled "identifying misinformation." Allow me to misinform you more fully:

Rumsfeld's visit to Paraguay was preceded by rumors that he would push Duarte to allow the U.S. to have a permanent military base in the country for the purpose of "monitoring" Mercosur. After his talks with Rumsfeld, Duarte made it clear that "no world power is going to install any military base in Paraguay." He added that "Latin America has to integrate, form a power bloc without any kind of prejudices or exclusionary visions." Having shown his resistance to isolating Caracas, Duarte concluded by posing a counter-agenda to Washington's, calling on the U.S. to expand its markets for Paraguay's organic sugar, deregulate its markets for meat, and lower its tariffs on garments.

In Asuncion's view, Washington is welcome to keep helping Paraguay modernize its military, but deeper ties will have to be paid for with economic concessions.
Since I don't think this story will make front page news soon, let's ask ourselves the question: why would the Bush family be buying a county in Paraguay? My first intuition was a nasty one: nuclear fallout from a real war will tend to stay in the Northern Hemisphere, and Dubya, while fully prepared for the Rapture, is hedging the saved by Jesus bets on behalf of his less righteous daughters.

A more hopeful interpretation is spreading around the web right now, that it's an escape route in another sense. Paraguay has long been a haven for ex-Nazis. Dr. Mengele (the infamous "Angel of Death") went there, for example, after WWII and Paraguay's dictator, Alfredo Stroessner, refused to extradite him. Martin Bormann was long (incorrectly) rumored to have fled there. Juan Peron planned to go there to avoid prosecution. And their Senate voted last year to grant
U.S. troops immunity from national and International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction. (see "identifying misinformation" link above). Or maybe land is just a good deal and the Bushes know a buy when they see it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hello Darkness My Old Friend, Pt. III

Here's a third installment to my continuing series on the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal. TomS sent me an Asia Times article, "The Emerging Russian Giant, Pt. I" this morning; hat tip to you, Tom, and damn if the A-Times hasn't been burning up the charts lately with dynamite journalism. They must be included in the Real Stream Media Top 10 list.

The article's capable author, F. William Engdhahl vivisects Cheney with a cauterized scapel and it's obvious he has done deep, deep anatomy homework. He writes an exceptionally clear analysis of Russia's responses to Washington's efforts to loot, dismember, encircle, and enslave it after the Wall fell. Bottom line, Russia has been through very hard times but has maneuvered itself into a surprisingly strong position, has joined into a naturally symbiotic security arrangement with China, and much of this improvement was enabled by the past two years of increasing oil and gas price. Russia is starting to flex soft power muscles now, and its hard power military is probably (I thumbnail guess) more capable on a relative basis vs. the West than at any time since the mid-1970s...but in a way which relies more on qualitative superiority and flexibility than did the mass thrust doctrines of the Warsaw Pact days.

At the above left, you'll see the map which Cheney showed to oil, gas, and electricity men (including Enron's Ken Lay) in March, 2001. He touted the "blocks" on the West side of Iraq as virgin, unexplored territory chock full of oil and gas. They probably then divvied up those blocks based upon the dictates of Mr. Quid, Mr. Pro, and Mr. Quo, and nothing has so far abrogated whatever secret deals were made. The map is part of 7 pages of documents turned over by the Commerce Department under a March, 2002 court order handed down from Judicial Watch's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Cheney's Energy Task Force. Cheney was able to keep these seven docs in the dark until March of this year, and the proceedings are still secret. Using the charts, it's not too hard to connect the dots if you accept Robert's Rules of Order and combine them with human nature. In addition to maps of Iraq''s oilfields, pipelines, terminals and refineries, the documents include a list of "foreign suitors" for Iraq's oil. The game was how to keep foreign suitors out of a purported treasure trove. This meant walling off Russia militarily, and keeping China's nouveau riche suitors black-balled in the MidEast oil majors club.

Here is Engdahl's Cheney dissection, and in his boil-down we begin to glean how reality-based historians will approach the subject of the Bush Administration's ill-chosen moves:
...disregard for its allies as well as its foes. That reckless policy has been
associated with former Halliburton chief executive officer and now vice
president, Dick Cheney, more than any other figure in Washington.

The "Cheney presidency", which is what historians will no doubt dub the
George W Bush years, has been based on a clear strategy. It has often been
misunderstood by critics who had overly focussed on its most visible
component, namely, Iraq, the Middle East and the strident war-hawks around
the vice president and his old crony, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The "Cheney strategy" has been a US foreign policy based on securing direct
global energy control, control by the Big Four US or US-tied private oil
giants - ChevronTexaco or ExxonMobil, BP or Royal Dutch Shell. Above all, it
has aimed at control of all the world's major oil regions, along with the
major natural gas fields. That control has moved in tandem with a growing
bid by the US for total military primacy over the one potential threat to
its global ambitions - Russia. Cheney is perhaps the ideal person to weave
the US military and energy policies together into a coherent strategy of
dominance. During the early 1990s under father Bush, Cheney was also
secretary of defense.
If you read the article, the picture is as clear as anything Albrecht Duerer ever painted.

The Diebold Variations

To clarify, I don't think vote fraud is beneath Dims, and there is a long tradition of vote fraud in the United States. It just used to be harder because paper ballots had to be created, forged, hidden, or destroyed. Now it's a snap. Where Diebold voting machines preside, the results come down to a company run by fervent Pugs and the missing electrons can't talk. In other fields of endeavor this is called a flagrant conflict of interest. In elections it's known as "The Fix." Until paper ballots come back, ones where you get a printed receipt, and Diebold-type approaches are uninstalled, fixed elections are guaranteed.

(Graphics (c)2004-06 Rand Careaga. You can see about a dozen more Diebold Variations at Rand's website.)

Blogger Is Back

My apologies. The free blog publishing tool which also hosts the blogspot.com sites, Blogger (acquired by Google), had a mysterious unannounced outage yesterday, mysterious in that I couldn't access it at all, and there's no "sorry we screwed the pooch" message up this morning. Makes you wonder if recent Google acquisition YouTube's reliability will suffer.

Google is steadily losing bloggers to other places over their service outages, and I've been thinking about giving Word Press a try for our company's upcoming blog (InSpeech). Or using a hosted service. That said, Blogger is a great tool, and blissfully easy to set up and start using when you're wobbly with those html baby steps.

Even for a rank amateur, an all-day service outage was tough to take, especially since there were some fat incoming bogeys on the radar which went unreported by me. Like the Bush family buying a 100,000-acre ranch in Paraguay, and a hairpiece-raising article on global warming coming in the November 16th issue of the New York Times Book Review that will make the chattering classes freak out and start to focus on cutting down on the carbons.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It's, Like, Metro...But Natural. Get It?

Nebulous weather, traffic congestion as fun-filled as a bout of irritable bowel syndrome, 34 different types of weezing nether-precipitation between momentary sunbreaks, and the most resolutely annoying drivers in North America weren't enough to keep people away. Drastic measures were needed.

On Friday, the City of Seattle unveiled an absolutely brilliant plan to keep people from migrating to it, one which will also be effective in cutting down on the number of unwanted visitors. It's called the "metronatural" campaign, and it is the city's new slogan. It's perfect. The last slogan, "SayWA" (can you "say WA?") was an abject failure in forestalling an overwhelming increase in terrible tourists, transients, and refugees looking to mooch off the Puget Sound's goodness while stealing land and parking spaces and hassling our spiritually enlightened inhabitants. As you can imagine, the search for a more noxious prophylactic to kick off an aggressive ad campaign was understandably urgent.
It was time for a change.

"Come Visit Puke City" was a strong early entrant, but the anarcho-commissariat rejected it as too obvious and because it might attract out-of-town pukers, who are only allowed in specially designated areas. "The Other Shanghai" would've worked beautifully against the rest of America, but some Asians pointed out it would have an undesireable effect on their relatives. "The Respiratory Mold Capital of America," while perfectly accurate, was too technical. My personal favorite was "Lawyer Up, You Tourist Fucks" but the committee felt it overtly hostile and lacking in stealth. "Lichen Up Your Selves" was too upbeat. Surprisingly, my own inelegant throw-away submission, "Die, Eco-Nazis, Die!" made it into the semi-finals, but eco-nazis had infiltrated the panel. They tore off their $200 flannel shirts and stomped on them in rage, so there was little point in further debate.

The winning entrant had the inside track from the start. The city had wisely paid $200,000 to two homeless lesbians in Belltown (known by their street names, Mistress Shank and the Blob, doing business as 'Exclaim') to figure out what single word or phrase would repel the most people while still seeming to invite. "No problem," they said. "We personally repel everyone we meet on a daily basis. Fork over the money, you oppressive breeder, and you'll have your ad campaign."

Thus was born the metronatural ad campaign. 18-foot high letters spelling it out on the top of the Space Needle were unfurled to an incredulous world with all the confidence commensurate with previously unscaled heights of culture-jamming genius. I bow to the marketing acuity and bask in my metronaturality, savoring how the word stumbles off the tongue like a fumbling, embarrassed, failed bi-curious experiment gone horribly, gloriously wrong. Metronatural can be defined as the state achieved when failing to spot a transvestite in a strip club, and he/she/it sits on your lap and makes out with you for five whole minutes. Now that's metro-natural. Visit Seattle, and enjoy!

"We've Never Been 'Stay The Course'"

That's what our Preznit disclaimed on national TV to "Beltway Buddy" George Stepanopolous on ABC's This Week. And that's odd. Maybe he meant something different than what he said, or maybe he's like a speeding driver who's just looked up to see THAT on the left, and is standing on the brakes. It's really hard to tell. Either way, it seems like he's on drugs again, and there's definitely an echo in here:
BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]

BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]

BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course. [12/15/03]

BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We’ll stay the course. [4/13/04]

BUSH: And that’s why we’re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that’s why when we say something in Iraq, we’re going to do it. [4/16/04]

BUSH: And so we’ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]
Watch the video here.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cycles of Wealth And Democracy

Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress and touches even the ermine of the bench. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty.

National Platform Of The Populist Party, 1892

As societies consolidate, they pass through a profound intellectual change. Energy ceases to vent through the imagination, and takes the form of capital.
Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, 1896

I hate to break it to Thomas Friedman, but globalization isn't new. The wealthy elite have thought of themselves as immune from the tides for a long, long time, and they've always thought globally for their times. The planners of the Peloponnesian Wars did not differ markedly in spirit and motivation from Roman Senators, nor they from Spanish, Dutch, and British administrators, nor they from ours. All their cultures went through the same basic phases (agrarian, commerce, invention, manufacturing, and finance) collapsing to cycle through the sequence again or reach a point of stasis. For some reason, each generation of we
althy elites thinks of themselves as utterly unique, blessed with special powers of levitation. So far they have always been forced to return to earth, and the alignment of ego and reality has always hit them hard.

First, however, the tide of reality-based frictions hit the poor, who have no basic skills or holdings to fall back on when the elites begin to screw up their primacies. It does so even as the elites begin to levitate in the blossom of finance. The wage base shrinks as manufacturing is outsourced, slaves become more expensive, and the native new poor are usually too proud to grow food and too dumb to know how. They lack the social organization to weather the storm, and the elites feel threatened by any attempt by them to organize into more productive units. The democracies become repressive and undemocratic. The elites prepare to flee. Sound familiar?

It sure would be nice if we could learn from history and figure this cycle out for once. Will and Ariel Durant observed that successful civilizations start with getting pastoral and agricultural practices right, so probably the smartest thing for a late-phase wealthy democracy to do is encourage a broad-based return to agriculture. I don't see our leaders doing that anytime soon, so check out your local tilth and urban horticulture organizations, and farmer's markets. They are most likely the bones a new civilization will form sinews, muscles, and synapses around.

The Fightin' Myopics

America is known for its military might, and enthusiastically took on the "sole superpower" mantle with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I will shortly prove how false this self-conception is. For those of you still enjoying your security, I apologize in advance for interrupting your quietude. Nonetheless, you should know our knights in armor can no longer protect us, yet are still off in foreign lands spilling blood and dealing death in our name. They will come home angry paupers, but come home they must. All around our land, the voices are raising in number and volume to bring them back, and still the King will not hear. Why will He not? Must we now fill wagons with straw and set them alight?

Not only is the myth of US military dominance false, it was magnified by the preening, overweening military ineptitude of our hubristic leadership. "Incompetent" fails to describe them; observing their antics is like watching a blind person feel their way into a vintage Ferrari Daytona and go on a tire-burning joy ride. Kind of like Al Pacino did in Scent of a Woman, only at least he was smart enough to request and promptly listen to directional commands from a sighted passenger. This time, Pacino's driving alone, he's already torn the fenders off the car from bouncing it off guard rails and barricades, has plowed through crowds of pedestrians, and now he's floored it and is heading towards an overpass. Three things signify why US military might has become vulnerable and largely ineffective. Paradoxically, they are the very symbols of its might: aircraft carriers, missiles, and satellites.

For any given conflict, an accurate appraisal of the relative costs and benefits of defense vs. offense provides a good framework for devising winning and cost-effective tactics. In the First World War, the widespread use of machine guns made holding ground (blunting force) very cheap and advancing (projecting force) horrifyingly expensive. The most innovative planners and engineers were assigned to dream up solutions to the machine gun's defensive advantages, and their dreams led to weaponry and tactics known as "blitzkrieg." Blitzkrieg still dominates the thinking of the West's military planners. Despite that mindset, the questions which practically govern current or contemplated conflicts are ones like these: can a $100 rocket-propelled grenade, mine, or improvised explosive device knock out a $10,000,000 Abrams tank? (The answer governs to what risk you put an Abrams tank.) Can a $1,000 heat-seeking missile destroy $100,000,000 worth of helicopter? (This determines where you fly your helicopters.) Can a $100,000 missile knock out a $100,000,000,000 aircraft carrier? (The answer influences where and how you deploy an aircraft carrier.) If the answers are "yes," then you know defense holds the strategic advantage due to a technology advance.

In modern warfare, if you can see it, you can kill it, and aircraft carriers are so huge they're hard to miss. Their obsolescence has not been fully demonstrated much less widely comprehended, but in terms of expense and unwieldiness, they're the modern equivalent of mounted knights in shining plate armor. If they are put in harm's way, say off Iran's coast or Taiwan's, they will promptly be sunk or sent limping back to port. The defenses of carrier battle groups would be overwhelmed by the application of relatively cheap combined arms. The battle group's ships would quite literally be sunk by swarms of speed-boats, jet-skis, and missiles, and just as nasty peasants with projectiles drove the knight from the battlefield, muslims and buddhists with missiles are about to drive US carriers from the seas. This isn't a prospect we in the West should look foward to, but it is one we must accept, and the sooner we do so the better. Tactically, it is inevitable.

It used to be the US was the only country with truly effective missiles, and they were ungodly expensive, awesome things with no equal. That's no longer the case. American missile technology has been surpassed. (Hey, it happened with cars and children's toys, right?) Other countries, like Russia and China, have made improved missile-delivered weapons at a fraction of the cost, and they have sold them to countries such as Iran. They have surface-skimming missiles with superb guidance systems. They have steerable propeller-hunting missiles that travel 225 miles per hour under water. They have missile-mines which lurk on the bottom of the ocean and rocket upwards into the hulls of ships. They have missile arrays which launch from remotely piloted jets, and then the jets turn into kamikaze missiles. Masses of engineers educated in universities like Stanford and Cal Tech were given the technical challenge of taking out the most powerful force-projecting instrument of blitzkrieg on earth (a US carrier battle group) by the cheapest, quickest means, and they have made the Better Mousetraps. Chinese manufacturing expertise has cranked out those lethal mousetraps in the thousands. US military planners admit there is no known defense against them, except to not go near them.

Missile, meet satellite. Current US military doctrine as formulated by Donald Strangefeld and others relies heavily upon satellites for command, control, surveillance, and precision weapons guidance. The reliance is now so heavy it has truly become an Achilles heel; knock out the satellites, and you've largely knocked out the US military. Vulnerabilities from relying on satellite communication links were already exposed in the first, and more commonly in the second invasion of Iraq, leading to incidents of malfunction, confusion, stalled vehicle columns and many casualties from friendly fire.

Satellites make aircraft carriers look invulnerable by comparison; they can be taken out by direct fire, by electromagnetic pulse, and by stealth using magnetic "parasites" which can attach and then be switched "on" to disable or degrade battlefield support capability. Once again, Russian and Chinese engineers have been on the case, and they've developed the weaponry to jam a stick in the eye of the world's sole superpower, which they will do at the start of battle. It's why our forces are so vulnerable. And it's why Bush has made blustering statements that foreign weapons in space will be taken as acts of aggression. Will his bluster help our armies and navies if push comes to shove? Will another squadron of two-hundred-fifty-million-dollar-a-pop F-22 Raptor fighters maintain dominance?

Blitzkrieg required relatively cheap projection of force in order to enable fast advances over terrain. Blitzkrieg is over, or perhaps more accurately, war's pendulum has decisively swung back towards defensive supremacy, and it will travel in that direction for some time. Tactics lag technology, but technology defines tactics and the era of the landser, or fighting peasant, has returned. For a long time, there were still knights who thought they could've overcome the rabble's arrow and roundshot if they'd just put more courage into their charges.

(Graphic courtesy of a blind racing outfit from where I grew up.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stephen Colbert Lord Of The Rings Analysis: "Gollum Is McCain"

I love Lord of the Rings (LOTR), and have grown to appreciate what Tolkien consciously set out to achieve on a semiotic level. Sometimes you can't anticipate the uses myths will be put to, and a soul-mortgaged congressional whore, Rick Santorum (yes, he of the long-swirling pederasty rumors) used LOTR as an analogy for US occupation of Iraq. Colbert deconstructs this notion, and says, "You can count on me to be the eagle who saves Frodo and Sam."

Headlines Round-Up

Quite a banner day for the GOP...
  • California Attorney General: GOP Campaign Linked To Letter Threatening Hispanic Voters
  • House Clerk: Hastert’s Office Knew About Foley AND “Problem Group Of Members"
  • Camping Trips, Invitations For Sleepovers And Dinners
and the capper...


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hello Darkness My Old Friend, Pt. II

Ever hear about the Armageddon Plan? No? There's an article in the Atlantic I read a couple years ago which gives a tidy idea of what we're up against:

During the Reagan era Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were key players in a clandestine program designed to set aside the legal lines of succession and immediately install a new "President" in the event that a nuclear attack killed the country's leaders. The program helps explain the behavior of the Bush Administration on and after 9/11.

by James Mann
At least once a year during the 1980s Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld vanished. Cheney was working diligently on Capitol Hill, as a congressman rising through the ranks of the Republican leadership. Rumsfeld, who had served as Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense, was a hard-driving business executive in the Chicago area—where, as the head of G. D. Searle & Co., he dedicated time and energy to the success of such commercial products as Nutra-Sweet, Equal, and Metamucil. Yet for periods of three or four days at a time no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Searle locate Rumsfeld. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysterious Washington phone number to use in case of emergency.

After leaving their day jobs Cheney and Rumsfeld usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man—joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and one member of Ronald Reagan's Cabinet—slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a disused military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear would head to each of the locations.

Why would a Congressman from Wyoming and a CEO of a drug company be participating in succession-of-government nuclear attack drills? Cheney was Team Leader of the drills, and he invited Rummy to play the "Let's Run the Country, Everybody's Dead" game. For the past 30-plus years, the two have remained part of a hidden national-security apparatus. They started calling themselves the Vulcans, and they don't work for the Preznit. For the past five years, he's been their talking lap puppet, though that may be about to change.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend, Pt. I

Habeas corpus, in layman's terms, means you have the right to know what crime you're charged with. Why you're being held. We don't have that right anymore, because of the evil pictured here. As of today, you can now legally be held for any reason, for any length of time, anywhere so long as it might have to do with comforting the enemy. You can be tortured, and if you aren't, someone will be. If you think the Military Commissions Act isn't going to fundamentally change what it means to live in the United States of America, you're wrong. It's not going to take long to see what it means. Under the law, your mayor can be held as an enemy combatant. So can a Senator. And you? Me? In the view of a paranoid and repressive government, we're all consumer-insurgents. I bet Guantanamo will take credit cards soon.

This country was founded by men and women of great intellect who contemplated long and hard on nature, particularly human nature. It's now being run by people of great determination who deny nature, especially human nature. Our former government was intentionally structured so "it could be run by Devils" and still bear good fruit more often than not. But the Devils were never happy with their due, so after they were thwarted one too many times, they set out to break democracy's messy codes of pluralism, to pick out all its locks and install a unitary system. They have reduced the system to one key, which they hold. "It's ok," they say, "because our intentions are above reproach and we can do our job of protecting you better this way."

Devils, yes, and good intentions. A myth has long circulated in Christendom that before God sent his spirit children to gain bodies on the earth, there was a war in heaven. The war was over how earth would be run. God called for ideas, and two main plans emerged. First was Christ's plan, which called the spirits to take on mortal bodies and to have human agency and freedom of choice. Of course, choice meant sin. Christ's plan ensured unique experiences in which faith would be tested, and everyone would later be judged according to their situation and opportunities. When asked what to do about the huge amounts of sin his plan would generate, Christ said he would go down and take the sins upon himself from anyone who repented. Lucifer, Son of Morning, saw a terrible flaw in Christ's plan in that many of God's children would fail a test of faith, and so would never make their way back to him. Lucifer proposed a plan which ensured not one soul would be lost, and he would safeguard god's children by taking on himself their human agency and freedom of choice. In exchange, Lucifer demanded the full power and glory of God be given to him, in order that each choice he made on the angels' behalf would be the right one, so they would return free of sin. This is the equivalent of when Cheney says, "Our way of life is not negotiable, we will protect it for you," and then demands all power and glory be granted to the Office of the Presidency.

God rejected Lucifer's plan because he saw it as a power-grab dressed up as idealism, just as even the Washington Post's editors saw through the Cheney plan. They finally let the following story by Andrew Cohen run today about the loss of habeus corpus:
"Enormous and unchecked new power now has been given to a White House whose officials at first called Zacarias Moussaoui the "20th hijacker" but were wrong; who at first called Jose Padilla the "dirty bomber" but were wrong; who at first called Yaser Hamdi such a threat to national security that he could not even be allowed to talk to his attorney -- until they decided to set him free. Freedom from judicial review now has been given to the same administration officials who allowed Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen whom we now know that they knew was not a terrorist, to be transferred to Syria for torture. Vague or narrow definitions of torture now have been given to the executive branch operatives who are responsible for Abu Ghraib. New powers have been given to the people who brought us the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, the one that some legal experts say violates both federal law and the Constitution."
There's a lot we already know about this man above us, this Cardinal Richeliu we're full subjects to. You know he controls Halliburton. You know he headed the search committee for a Vice President, only to choose himself. You know he headed the US National Energy Policy Development Group, and that he went hunting with a Supreme Court Justice to keep its records secret. You know he shot someone in the face and his victim apologized. You know he's obsessively secretive, so there's a lot we don't know about him, too, but from what we see, we can guess there's probably much that needs concealing.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, "Men, in order to do great evil, must first believe that what they are doing is good." They don't just believe it. They're certain of it. Now you and I are in their clutches.

Dick Cheney does not believe in America. He doesn't believe we can pass a test of faith. He's trying to rig the oil game for us, stain us with a terrible brush, and in the process exalt himself. Like the Son of Morning he thinks, "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:14) He will fail, but if we do not resist, we will be marked forever with the tyrant's brand.
And I mean forever, if there be one. Whatever you wish to call your God or intuit from deep within you as the universal laws his personifications would uphold, you know together they surely hold usurpers and their followers in contempt. In the story of the War in Heaven, a third of the angels backed Christ, a third backed Lucifer, and while they fought a third sat on the fence. When it was over, Lucifer was cast down and became Satan, the devil, the father of all lies sent to deceive and to blind men and lead them captive at his will, even as many as will not hear God's voice, and his angels became the demons who dwell in the netherworld.

It is God's voice which invites all to come to him and share in goodness; he turns none who is sincere away, whether white or brown, black or yellow, man or woman, believing or not, free or slave. As the Founders understood so well, the sharpest point they won in private and fought for with their lives in public, we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

For Those About To Rock-Grass

Sometimes, there is hope in weirdness, and if that's true, then lurking behind that link above is the most hopeful thing you've seen in quite a while. A dear friend of mine whom we'll call "Da Northcoaster" discovered a band (if I recall correctly) by stealing, er I mean sharing, their music on Napster, then taking his brother to go see them when they played in their home town...at a nursery home. The band played on undeterred, and they've just kept playing their invention, which they call "Rockgrass." This is not a spoof. They're called Hayseed Dixie.

Maybe it's just me, but I like their version of AC/DC's "Shook Me All Night Long" better than the original. Basically, they take songs from grizzled metal bands like Motorhead, AC/DC, Guns n' Roses, and ZZ Top and play them in bluegrass style, translated into hillbilly. They've taken their invention on tour overseas, and are in the process of becoming an international sensation. I love to go to watch improv jazz, I do most every week, I like punk and grunge and have run to see the symphony and The Cars and Queen, but for pure fun you can't beat a good metal band, whether they're ZZ Top or the Velvet Underground. The metal bands start with a little kiss, and then you probably end up in jail. Now imagine all those bands with a banjo and fiddle, taking themselves none too seriously.

The Boston Herald says, "This is a phenomenally good album." Word Magazine (in the UK) says, "...like the Beverly Hillbillies suddenly gripped by a death wish." The Washington Post says, "...played with a fervor AC/DC could hardly imagine." The Jewish Telegraph (I'm not kidding) says, "This is a strong contender for Album of the Year."

God Bless America.
Flight Forward

In 1898, the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor. No one alive knows from what. The US declared war upon Spain and attacked its ships and garrisons in Cuba and the Phillipines, beginning a long and passionate relationship with those two countries. As wars go it was glorious, as were the bloody rebellions which followed. Teddy Roosevelt, by the way, did not charge up San Juan Hill as indicated in the graphic above. If he made it up there at all during the fighting, he mostly crawled up on his stomach like a slug because the Cubans, though not overly enthusiastic, were armed with brand-new bolt action Mausers. Our boys quickly learned there would be no more charging that day.

In 1964, the USS Maddox was attacked, after a fashion, in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson then announced there was a second attack on the USS Turner Joy (the National Security Agency, in 2005, admitted it never happened). Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, effectively giving LBJ a blank cheque to make war upon Vietnam so communists wouldn't storm the beaches at Waikiki. Our boys quickly learned to respect the will of the Vietnamese people. Computer chip maker Intel now has a facility in Vietnam.

In 4 or 5 days, there will be at least three carrier battle groups parked off Iran's shores. The USS Bonhomme Richard, the USS Eisenhower, and the USS Enterprise (which is due to rotate back). Starting a shooting war with Iran will be as easy as "sinking" one of our submarines. Why a submarine. Because one doesn't really have to be sunk, and because doing it with a surface ship is getting stale.

I wonder what we'll learn from Iran? Afghanistan is a wonderful place, and we have learned so much in Iraq.


Boosh has been getting more petulant in public than usual, since a lot of things aren't going his way. In the movie 'The Princess Bride,' the evil Vizzini's (Wally Shawn) pet invocation of exasperation was "inconceivable!" When the Dread Pirate Roberts keeps gaining on the kidnappers of the Princess, Robin Wright, Vizzini says, "Inconceivable!" The Preznit's equivalent invocation is "unacceptable!"

In the movie, the swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) tells Vizzini: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." It's the last phrase he utters, as he chokes on the arsenic he himself has poured. The Preznit's not happy, and "unacceptable" is not the most comforting word he could use, coming from someone who had a sceptre and crown painted onto the ceiling of the White House dining room.

Here's another invocation: Froomkin! No, I'm not trying to scare you by calling up a German poison dwarf. Dan Froomkin works for the Washington Post Online, and has a blog. Real journalists at the dead-tree WaPoo, a different division of the Washington Post Media Empire, have tried to get him fired numerous times. Froomkin writes the most-read pages in the Post. He discusses Boosh displeasure at length today, and I stole the above Princess Bride comparison from his column, "Bush in a Snit."

Monday, October 16, 2006

The October Surprise: A Brief View From Underneath

Many want to know The Whole Truth but no one can lasso it fully, especially not before it happens. When it comes to elections and the fate of our nation, you have your piece of the truth cow, and I have mine. Wait, I don't like where this metaphor is going, so I'll run with a more visually arresting one.

Jennifer Lopez makes the most of her very robust ass, and wherever she goes a conga line confirms its preciousness. People follow it all around, but those dancing in line often don't know where she's going next, and most don't inherently care, because her ass insures there will be cameras and parties wherever they go. Food, drink, drugs and a taste of fame. So it is with those on board the American Security Special, who likewise follow a volcanically, messianically insane self-centered ass.

Yes, you read correctly, I just compared the President (a.k.a. Preznit, or Dubya) of the United States to Jennifer Lopez (a.k.a. J-Lo, or Jenny from the Block). What's not to compare? They're both entertainers, they both have a single defining feature they employ to get coteries of obsessed twits to follow them slavishly around, they both love dressing up in costumes and they've both made gobs of money for a small group of greedy producers. The power of J-Lo's ass is such that it has forced some people to attend her concerts, even to buy her CDs. And the power of Dubya's conviction is such that it has forced some people to attend daily White House bible study sessions, even to make campaign donations for things he has no ability to deliver. Fortunately they
both don't sing and dance. Let's just be thankful for that. (As an aside, while googling for a good image, I discovered that someone named Dean has a Jennifer Lopez Butt Gallery.)

Plenty of people inside the conga line and out are debating whether the US will attack Iran before the mid-term elections. On what's known as the Left, attacking Iran is seen as a way of assuring a Pug victory, a wet towel to sink the country's teeth into and drown out all else on a way to election victory for the Reich Wing. But is that what would really happen? So many ex-partygoers on what used to known as the Right Wing are questioning why J-Lo took them into such a bad part of Brooklyn, and are wondering how they can drop out of the conga line before things get truly ugly, i.e., before they themselves get hurt. It's as if there's an awful lot of crack being passed around, and some ugly looking dealers are prowling around the party with Uzis under their jackets flashing hostile gang signs. It's still loud enough so you can slip out without anyone noticing, and it may be cold outside but if you can't catch a cab there's probably a subway within 10 or 20 blocks. It seems like many have been following this basic line of reasoning, and the party has been largely thinned down to its radical elements. So I question the basic assumption that an Iran attack wins the elections for BushCo.

For the Outside Threat dynamic to be effective in garnering support, you’ve got to have either a credible threat or one that you can dress up as a convincing Halloween character. We’ve been hearing about Iran for far too long, their costume is badly made out of amateur-hour papier mache, and it seems like the reaction to bombing them would yield a big collective groan all over America, except maybe in the reddest parts of the Heartland and the Mountain West. If it happened before November 7th, or on November 7th, K-Ro (Karl Rove) could expect losing the Senate, and not just the House. If there are votes to count.

Yet K-Ro is partying like it's 1999, so he's probably making a different calculation, maybe one which would practically invalidate election results or delay them altogether. Oddly enough, a carrier battle group led by the USS Eisenhower is whooshing its way to the Persian Gulf as I write this, ostensibly for multinational naval exercises off the Straits of Hormuz, through which most of the world's oil passes. It's also a strike force which is joining If they attack Iran before the Elections, Iran can't be un-attacked. In other words, then it wouldn't matter if the House and Senate go to the Dims. The War would have already started, setting things into motion at home which would greatly favor the White House, and encourage further radicalization at home. Would a Dim Congress stop a war with Iran? More likely they'd try to figure out how to best benefit from it; food, drinks, drugs and a taste of fame. They'd be in the conga line. They already are.

Starting another war is also consistent with the doctrines of "taking the fight to the terrorists" and with making a bigger, louder mess when you want to divert attention away from a previous mess that's getting people upset. (They call the last technique "making history.") If you attack your Outside Threat, bad costume or no, they can be counted on to fight back. And in Pakistan, I could see…a coup d’etat which throws Musharraf out of power and puts nuclear missiles into the hands of the islamo-fascists. That’s credible. A real vote-getter. An election-suspender. Either way, who could stop them, if they stopped the Elections? What if J-Lo decides to lock the doors and declares we must party in her honor until dawn?

Fear not. Moses stuttered, and he learned to speak with true power. Pharoah tried to buy him off, and he led his people out of servitude anyway. If Iran is attacked (and I'm not sure it will be, only that it's meant to feel threatened) new blood borders will begin to form right here at home, and a Red Sea will be waiting impatiently to be parted and crossed.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

We'll Get The Insurgent-Dudes Later. Sergeant, Pass The Cheetos!

I never heard Afghanistan had impenetrable jungles full of 10-foot high pot. It's what the chief of Canadian defense staff claims, I have no reason to disbelieve the man, and the title of the news story he's quoted in says it all: Troops Battle 10-foot Marijuana Plants.

If so, it's yet another reason to intensify the attack on Afghanistan. Poor people should not be allowed to grow, smoke, or otherwise consume pot because they'll just stay poor and not become fully functional producers/consumers, and besides, when Afghans grow fields full of pot they're violating the terms of their opiate production license. They must be stopped. The trouble is, the insurgents keep dodging into the impenetrable pot forests, which are too wet to easily burn and where soldiers can't follow. The Canadians tried burning a section of plants, and took out a patrol of their own men from the fumes. Apparently they didn't put their gas masks on.

Now, let's think about this from another angle. If you're an Afghan pot farmer, how do you get your crop out and convert it into cash? I'm not as up on my smuggling skills as I used to be, but in terms of Euros, it would probably take an eighteen-wheeler full of baled ganja to equal a briefcase-sized amount of heroin base. That would mean I'd have to worry about securing a transport system. A very good, secure transport system to take my babies to lucrative markets. It would be very difficult to truck the stuff all the way to, say, Germany or England. Now, let's think about NATO and US forces, flying all those cargo planes full of military supplies in, and flying back out...empty?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"Blood Borders"

Yes, the title above is suggestive, and sounds like a Steven Seagal movie about hunting down illegal immigrants, but it's not mine. It's how the Armed Forces Journal (AFJ) titled their article written by Ralph Peters on how to solve the Mid-east's current problems. The piece is a synopsis of the retired Lt. Colonel's new book, 'Never Quit the Fight.' Here is the AFJ editor's centerpiece on what Blood Borders means:
Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works.
Peters' argument is actually much more sophisticated, it holds water in a long (very long) historical context, and it provides an ideal horizon to plan towards. He considers borders to have meaning only if they are "organic." That is, national borders should correspond to meaningful ethnic, religious, and geographical fault lines. This is very interesting, and applicable to places in the world with stability problems stemming from too many "synthetic" borders. Almost every border in the Mideast (except for Israel) was drawn at the end of WWI across tribal, ethnic, religious, and geographical features, specifically aiming to dilute their powers and make it easier to retreat from parts of the region. It was a form of rear-guard colonialism, theoretically reducing the force levels required to hold the region, and the book 'A Peace to End All Peace' explains how the British led this process. Where borders are out of sync with ethnographic realities, Peters advocates either moving like peoples together, or re-drawing borders to include them. For example, he states that the 15% of Saudis who are tribal Shiites would be much better off in something called "The Arab Shia State" (the acronym for which would be 'ASS') where Shiites in Iraq are now. The Saudi state in the map above looks quite a bit bigger to my eye than the one at present, but Peters also thinks Israel must go back inside its pre-1967 borders.

There are a few minor problems with putting the general theory into immediate practice, however. The first is that it accepts the region will destabilize, and implies this destabilization should be selectively encouraged. The second is that it offers no immediate solution to energy extraction needs and the counterproductive havoc further destabilization would surely wreak. The third is that the Bush Administration likes it.

On this last point, the Bush Administration's Pentagon caused a major diplomatic incident when a Colonel used the map above in a powerpoint presentation in Rome to NATO. Turkish officers were in attendance. You will notice that, on the map, The eastern part of Turkey is partitioned off into a new state called Free Kurdistan. When they saw it, the Turkish officers stormed out of the briefing room cursing, presumably to go get their weapons. Things calmed down, but not by much, and the matter has been covered by the Bullshit Curtain. Bottom line, the Bush Administration lacks the subtlety to successfully implement this kind of plan, not to mention the skill. If they try to do so, "Blood Borders" might be too tamely named. (I'll come up with supporting links later today, when a toddler isn't walking on my back and body-slamming me.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Forgetting 9/11

"And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt."
(Book of Genesis: 17, 26)

While driving back from a company we'll call Macrohard last month, on a sudden whim I called up an old friend we'll call Al. We were talking about the upcoming 9/11 ceremonies, speeches, and toxy-foxy docudrama, in the midst of which Al said something like "Much better to forget it." Or it could've been "Lunch better show in a minute," since Al speaks an ancient regional dialect of English, and tends to murmur sagacious asides through his druidic beard in much the same way Rohrschach gave psychological tests. Whatever it was he said, I immediately got hungry for hawaiian chicken wings and steered the Lord-Mobile for Whole Foods, all the while thinking about the wisdom of basing foreign policy and societal mythology on reflexive grief response. Or as the Slavs and Serbs liked to call it, "Revenge."

On the night of 9/11, I was stranded in New Jersey, unable to get back to my future wife in Motherless Brooklyn on the other side of the smoldering ruins. Sleeping on a couch at work was not an option because they had evacuated and closed my building by mid-afternoon. For security, we were told. Why terrorists would strike the grounds of a deer and game preserve where the research labs of two old monopolies (we'll dub them Oilplex and YoYoTel) went to hide, I'm not sure, but their paranoia was my gain, and I'd found a B&B by early afternoon. There were no new rooms to be had that night. By 5PM I had dialed the phone hundreds of times to track down friends and loved ones. My mom was flying through Pittsburgh that morning, and news of Flight 93 going down prompted me to bail out of a meeting my manager wished to keep running, as if he were trying to wax a car in a sandstorm.

Everyone I knew was ok except my ex-boss on the stock exchange, and his trusted lieutenants. They were dead. It was his tradition to have a breakfast meeting with them every Tuesday in Windows on the World. When I worked for him, I would sometimes sit on a 27th floor window ledge in an apartment building just south and west of the Twin Towers, probably the closest of any dwellings to them, and fly paper airplanes at those large targets. If the wind was just right, the planes would get caught and carried up by gyres, and I had managed to hit them twice.

Still restless, feeling useless and guilty with no prospect of helping in any way, I told myself, "Pull yourself together. What would Hunter S. Thompson do now?" I went to the classiest restaurant I could find amongst the investment-banker-bedroom communities to observe the wreckage and interview witnesses. The restaurant was a steak house almost on top of George Washington's winter quarters near Morristown, and I parked myself resolutely on a stool under a TV near the bartop's maraschino cherries, lemons, and limes. The place was almost full already. I didn't want to get plowed, but I didn't want to be entirely sober, either, for the occasion was sombre, shocked and bleak, and the bartender would soon be overwhelmed. A good re-run of Lassie would've set most of us, including me, into tears.

Financial types, mostly men in Brooks Brothers, were still commuting back from the City, plodding in to take refuge in dark wood paneling, scotch, and tobacco. Average salary and bonus package on the far side of two-fifty a year. Pretty soon it was standing room only, everybody glazed under a kind of patina, half-looking at the TV re-play the images of the day for the seven thousandth time, which would occasionally announce a hope for survivors to be dug out. The networks were already identifying the the terrorists and pinpointing the rock they'd crawled from. Mohammad Atta. Southeast Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda. At this point, a gentleman lawyer to my left, with whom I'd been conversing, said, "Nuke em! I say nuke those motherfuckers. Right? Drop the bomb on the bastards." The sentiment was widely shared.

At the time, I remember thinking, "It's just the grief talking." But in hindsight, I'm not sure if it would've been worse to nuke them, compared to the causes our wrath and grief were channeled into. We could've taken the mountains of Kandahar and turned them upside down and inside out. It would've immediately balanced the ledger, killing only the impoverished innocents who lived there, sating our need to revenge a great wrong and somehow set it right, and scaring the organic shit out of every terrorist and country planning or even vaguely hoping to beset the United States for decades to come. Yet our leaders had far grander retaliation plans already in place, and the circumstances of 9/11 were far more byzantine and dubious than we knew at the time. Still, simple vengeance on the lair of the former freedom fighters would've been a whole lot cheaper, and it would've forced us to come clean with ourselves.

It was Lot's wife, not given the honor of a name in scripture, who looked back upon the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and was frozen by the unexperienced spectacle. It's a moment she never forgot. The sculpture above is made of salt, the idea of a local artist named Michael Magrath, and is part of a 9/11 memorial near Pioneer Square. There are three sculptures there, each made from a picture of a grief-stricken Iraqi, and
the rains will wash them away, probably sometime after Thanksgiving.

The Iraqi people are the greatest victims of 9/11, yet as a culture we will have little problem forgetting their travails. We were never much aware of killing millions of them in the first place, and there was little enough we could do about it as individuals. How we were set up as a whole decided their lot, and thinking about it reminds us not to dwell too long lest we have to change too much. In our minds, at least, which we still can own and even control, it's time to put 9/11 behind us so we can start to free ourselves to prepare to build a new country, when the hollowing of this one is complete. If I were to change anything about those sculptures I would make them light brown, as real salt is, when it is taken from the Earth.