Saturday, March 31, 2007

Iran Inside (TM)

As you can see from the video, Iran is an oppressive society which deserves to be squashed like an insolent dung beetle in a regime-changing river-dance of righteous fury. For example, 60% of college students there are women, forced to learn against their will without tuition while their families are held hostage, balanced precariously on the edge of death. In fact, people there are so scared that the rate of violent crime on Western tourists is the lowest on earth. Gee. Now that's oppressed! You couldn't catch me there being drawn and quartered by camels on a ski slope. Look closely, and tremble, because Iran is about to attack San Francisco and blow up the Golden Gate Bridge.

(Thanks to Naj at Iran Facts for the vid. Rick Steves also had a special on travel to Iran today on his NPR radio show.)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Dubya Rule #3.2-1: When Faced With Crisis, Distract With Catastrophe

What, you didn't think I was going to go with another cheery "We are the world, we are the children" post, did you? Here's how the track-side announcer would sum up the post below: "Gentlemen: start your bomb shelters!"

A French aircraft carrier named for le Generale Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (R91) is in the Arabian Sea off Iran. The Russians pulled all their contractors out of nuclear construction sites in Iran, including those at Bushehr. The outlines of a significant re-alignment of Mid-east countries against the US poked through the media. Iran's President visited the Saudis in early March, and later two kings named Abdullah (Saudi Arabia and Jordan) declined White House requests to get together for dinners, for April 17th and September, respectively, citing scheduling conflicts. After the Arab Summit met again, purportedly over Palestinian right of return (cough*cover story!#hack), the United Arab Emirates denied their airspace as flyover lanes for an attack on Iran. The USS Nimitz Strike Group departed from San Diego for the Persian Gulf two days ago, to relieve the USS Eisenhower Strike Group parked in the Persian Gulf since December. Counting the Marine coastal aircraft carriers, this makes five carriers in the region with a sixth on the way.

Swiss and Russian intelligence, the two services which have infiltrated the Mossad most deeply, believe they know the date and time of the attack schedule. There is a story by Webster Tarpley quoting retired General Ivashof, and stating it'll go down on 4AM Good Friday, April 6th, and last until 4PM. I believe that about as much as oil traders believed it, who drove up crude futures prices to $70+ per barrel this week. Rumors of Iranians firing on a US ship were all over the C
hicago Board and major exchanges Tuesday. Not sure if any of it is true, but it's getting to be true enough. All the pieces are in place.

Conveniently, a good ol' fashioned Sneak Attack will have a salutary effect on the Most Important Entity in The Universe, or MIETU, also known as the Bush Administration. All the stuff about the Justice Department strong-arming US attorneys, the FBI using the Patriot Act to watch people take showers, Congress voting to get troops out of Iraq, and the housing market making a vast, distinctive sucking sound, it's all going to go bye-bye, swept down the media memory hole when the first nuclear-tipped GBU-28 penetrates the earth in Iran and spews dirty fallout by the kilo-tons up into the dusty air. "We make history?" Yeah. And "we" also make big, stinking, hellish messes.

Even if the attack is constrained to twelve hours of strikes, and the Bushehr reactor isn't hit (reportedly part of a deal with Russia), this is likely to widen the war in the Mideast, starting by re-intensifying, by fanning, and by dropping napalm on simmering Shia ill will in Iraq and practically getting down on our knees and begging them to cut our supply lines. I'm not digging the bomb shelter quite yet, but I have made some more financial moves to hedge for extra downside risk. And it might not be a bad idea to fill up some Jerry cans with go-juice, or make that long-contemplated switch to bicycling. Things could get hot fast, or they could get hot slow. But they're getting hotter.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

'Twas Beauty That Killed The Beast

BushCo and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have a lot in common. An odd comparison? Not really. They share the same law firms, know the same representatives. They like to push little people around in pursuit of maintaining a status quo which favored them, but which is eroding, and they both like to employ overkill levels of firepower to that end, believing it has a deterrent effect. To them, firepower is cheap, and they want their wars conducted by the old rules. They want this to the point of delusion, so invading Baghdad equates in their minds to taking Berlin, and nailing grandparents of teens for pirating an $8 DVD imparts a rush akin to sailing triumphant into Tokyo Bay.

The problem is, the're dealing death out from outdated models which are no longer relevant. They don't understand the new world which has arrived, and they're in raging denial about it. Consider what they're up against: children hop with internet and cell phones paid for by Mommy or the University of Gimme-Hat State, can not only put up copyrighted content onto their MySpace page, they can actually form a band and compete against Britney Spears for people's attention, then sell their songs for 50 cents, over and over. Or they can agonize soldiers of the US Army, which calls their style of fighting "Net War."

BushCo, like the RIAA, is fighting people who won't toe its line, who refuse to live by Burger King's rules. Their establishment is really one and the same thing, and it's getting out-maneuvered and invalidated by people who put their own sweat and creativity into the game, and see the world in a fundamentally different way. Their distribution and aggregation models are entirely different and on a new order of complexity, and their concepts of property rights and fealty are entirely at odds with power structures they see as not just totalitarian, but more importantly, not relevant.

As I said in a post awhile back, "Predicting The Anti-Surge," two guys in a pickup truck in Iraq can tie down a whole platoon and have it running every which way all night long. Two kids with an iMac in Van Nuys can keep teams of $400/hr lawyers busy for a long time. This is a point worth some meditation. Those two sets of kids can lose that battle, and sometimes do with nasty consequences, but there's always four more guys the next night, and eight more the next, and just who do you think is going to win these wars?

BushCo and the RIAA are two manifestations of a far-ranging media totalitarianism. You need a decoder ring, or an Ethernet card, to say much against it. So we went ahead and built them. They want to enforce a world where if you're not safely inside the Denial Ring, you're Little People. But as my friend Still Life Living said, in a recent voice-mail, we're entering into an interlude like unto when Bob Dylan, iconic folk singer, eschewed the acoustic and went electric. SLF said, "Back then, Dylan going electric was a signal to everybody that they could start to think for themselves."

If you have a blog, and there are millions of us now, it forces you to think for yourself every once in a while. Sometimes every day. And if you think for yourself, you're part of a cultural insurgency. You've literally gone electric, and you're part of the cultural critque. You're down with the dissidents who have decided to share a new awareness, and there's no going back. It was shared awareness which brought down Stalinism, and they called it the Samizdat. It was people meeting and sharing their stories about what was or was not true, like we share information now about antiques and VCRs, politics and cars, and it is the awareness and shared understanding which decide the fate of systems. Welcome to the Samizdat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The USS Reagan In South Korea

It's currently in Pusan after joint operations with the Japanese Navy in the Phillipine Sea. This is mildly good news, given that I doubt the US will attack Iran unless the USS Reagan is there, what witha all the symbology surrounding Republican Party ancestor worship and America's cinematic pseudo-savior.

The USS George HW Bush, dedicated by the former naval aviator of the same name last October, won't be ready until 2009, so it will miss the party. Speaking of symbology, the USS John F. Kennedy was decommissioned on March 23rd of this year and is being sent to a Philadelphia scrapyard. Lest any foam-skippers come here and tell me what an idiot I am for linking the decommissioning of the Kennedy with the Bush being laid in, or with the Reagan cruising generally east-wards, here are a few facts: the US Navy traditionally names its vessels for former sailors, for naval victories, or more rarely for heroic high-ranking military officers from other services. John F. Kennedy was a former naval officer who served with distinction, whereas Ronald Reagan wasn't and didn't, although he made some spiffy propaganda movies having something to do with the Navy (as in, "Hellcats of the").

You can bet the Bush Administration wouldn't have allowed, say, a vessel named the USS Barry Goldwater to be decommissioned even if it was armed with muskets and had to be rowed into combat by the combined efforts of all the contestants in the Cambridge/Oxford Regatta. So although I could be wrong the USS Reagan is clearly intended to be a symbol of Republican might, and the impulse to venerate Ronald Reagan is nearly reflexive, one which would urge the carrier into attendance at Iran's comeuppance. That, and it is the most technically advanced aircraft carrier in the arsenal, so the Navy would naturally want to try it out with a well-readied crew, one which just got off conducting a few joint wargames.

Again, I could be making too much of one ship, and the signs of an imminent attack on Iran keep building: the Russians have pulled their construction staff out of the nuclear plants and facilities they were building; there is a flurry of troop activity on the Iraqi side of the Iranian border; Patriot missiles have been deployed in strategic areas; 15 British Marines were captured while boarding a ship in Iranian waters; Iran's President was barred from attending UN meetings; the UN meetings resulted in a vote for stiffer sanctions on Iran; and things are generally heading in a crappy direction. All I've got to bolster my happy yellow-alert mood is a hunch. Still, the location of the USS Reagan would seem to be a pretty useful piece of information, and it's something I try to keep track of. Let's hope my hunch is right.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain And Its Silent Past

Spain is one of my favorite countries, I have known many wonderful people from there, and eventually traveled there simply from having known them. At one time I contemplated going there to become a resident. Yet all the time I knew that in the Spanish Civil War, where George Orwell played in the 1930s, 500,000 people rapidly died. It was a convulsive, vicious, polarizing war with no escape hatch. Reliable estimates say about half the dead were grabbed out of their homes at night, taken outside town, brutalized, tortured, and shot. But no one will talk about it now except a few old victims and loose-tongued witnesses. The civil war is wrapped like a mummy behind a curtain, where its blood began to coagulate, to congeal, and in a blessed silence has begun to heal. Few want to peel back that velvet curtain, and sometimes the best conspiracy is silence.

Giles Tremlett has written a great book about Spain, and I doubt he would disagree with me. The fascists under Franco won the civil war in 1939, and took control of all institutions. In the mid-70s, for example, married women couldn't have bank accounts without their husbands' consent. Yet today, 50% of the elected cabinet in Spain are women, and it would be difficult to imagine a more glorious, ferociously liberated female lot than the Iberians. Few seem to miss Franco. Although Catholic, Spain recently legalized gay marriage. A repressive past, a progressive present. What the hell happened?

I don't really know. But Spain is a testament to how fast things can change, and that they sometimes can do so for the better.
Strolling To Cafes On Balmy Nights In Baghdad

Below is a snippet of Wolf Blitzer interviewing CNN's Michael Ware in the wake of John McCain saying Iraq is getting hap-hap-happy, video courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

BLITZER: Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and -- whether it's General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?

WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on earth can a westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.

I mean, if al Qaeda doesn't get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don't descend upon you, or if someone doesn't tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you'd barely last 20 minutes out there. I don't know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.
In Case You Missed This

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An elite U.S. Marine Corp unit accused of killing at least 10 Afghan civilians has been called home early after commanders decided they could no longer operate effectively, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The order to remove the 120-member unit came from Maj. General Francis Kearney, who commands U.S. Special Operations forces in the Middle East and central Asia, after local anger over the March 4 fighting hampered their mission.

``General Kearney assessed that the relationship was damaged to the point that the unit could not as effectively conduct counterinsurgency operations, so he moved them out,'' said spokesman Lt. Col. Lou Leto.

Afghan officials say U.S. Marines shot dead at least 10 people during fighting outside Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan near Pakistan. New York-based Human Rights Watch says between eight and 16 civilians were killed.

Hundreds protested against the U.S. military after the violence and President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident.

The U.S. military at the time cited a "complex'' Taliban ambush involving a suicide car bombing and gunfire in a populated area.

The military said the Marines, members of a highly trained special operations force, fired in self-defense and that 16 civilians died in the suicide raid and subsequent fighting. The group was several months into a six-month deployment.

The U.S. military has since opened an investigation into the deaths. Leto said that an investigating officer had visited the area to interview local people.

No provincial or central Afghan government official has confirmed the U.S. military's account that the convoy came under rebel attack.
Harper's Weekly Review
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a timetable for
ending the Iraq war by a six-vote margin. The bill
mandates American withdrawal in September 2008 if the Bush
Administration meets certain benchmarks, earlier if it
does not. Several Democrats voted against the timetable
because it was not sufficiently antiwar, and Republicans
derided the inclusion of domestic provisions benefiting
spinach growers, citrus farmers, salmon fishermen, and
peanut storers. "What does throwing money at Bubba Gump,
Popeye the sailor man, and Mr. Peanut have to do with
winning a war?" asked Representative Sam Johnson of
Texas. "I will veto it," said President George W. Bush,
"if it comes to my desk." British troops pulled out of
Basra; two days later, rival Shiite factions began
battling over a government building that had been been
evacuated by the military. In the Green Zone, a press
conference held by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was interrupted by a
nearby rocket attack. Ban, frightened, ducked behind a
podium, and the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to
impose new sanctions on Iran. Iranian officials claimed
that American authorities had prevented President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad from attending the Council meeting by delaying
his visa, and in the Iraqi territory of the Shatt al-Arab
waterway, Iranian forces captured and detained 15 members
of the British Royal Navy. Oil reached $62 per
barrel. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, discussing last summer's conflict in Lebanon,
said that he was "damned proud" of U.S. efforts to delay a
cease-fire, and White House press secretary Tony Snow
announced that he would soon undergo surgery to remove a
growth from his lower abdomen.

Al Gore returned to Capitol Hill to testify that global
warming is a planetary emergency. Rep. Ed Markey of
Massachusetts called Gore a prophet, and Rep. John Dingell
of Michigan addressed him as "Mr. President." Joe Barton
of Texas, the leading Republican on the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, told Gore he was "totally wrong" and
that, if need be, Republican lawmakers would stay late for
an "all-out cat fight" with Democrats. Ralph Hall, also of
Texas, speculated that Gore's attack on the energy
industry could result in war "when and if OPEC nations
abandon the U.S.A.," and Roscoe Bartlett (R., Md.) said
that he thought it was "probably possible to be a
conservative without appearing to be an idiot.
Predicting The Anti-Surge

Quadrillage, the counterinsurgency theory subscribed to by commanding General David Petraeus in Iraq and which puts the purge into "the Surge," relies on a system of outposts, each manned by a small core of US troops backed by a larger domestic garrison. If an outpost comes under attack in a vicinity which has been previously "purged" of insurgents, cavalry from the a Regional HQ will ride in to relieve the fort, the insurgents will be killed or driven off, and the inhabitants of the sector will be punished and re-pacified as appropriate.

If the population isn't sufficiently pacified in the first place, however, pacified enough to deny tacit or active support to insurgents, and the insurgents manage to survive or elude the house-to-house sweeps, you've got trouble in Quadrillage. All available data indicate that's precisely what has happened. The number and intensity of Sunni/al-Qaeda attacks has started to increase again, and many of them have benefitted from either amazing luck or startlingly good intelligence. 9,000 unemployed Sunni males reach combat age in Iraq every month, and the insurgency does not suffer from a lack of fresh manpower, weapons, or funding. Even while the Mahdi army, SCIRI, and Dawa stand down to observe the surge, the violence has increased.

Here comes the denouement. The Sunni insurgency will scout Coalition outposts and catalogue how to attack each and in what sequence; they will previously ensure that, at the appropriate time, a domestic garrison either provides lackluster support or doesn't show up at all; they will then attack the squad in the outpost and either overwhelm them or melt away, and then focus on their primary objective: ambush the column sent to relieve the outpost. This will probably occur at night and the story will likely go unreported in the US media, which will only see one part of the operation, not the coordinated whole. Initially it'll just look like unconnected chaos. Then when garrisons are overrun, only the delusional die-hards will deny what's going on.

Over time, all the insurgents have to do to win militarily is to keep pressure upon the outposts and provoke relief responses over and over. The responses alone will grind the Coalition forces down through operational pressure (i.e., without heavy casualties) because 2 or 3 guys in a pickup truck can tie down a platoon-sized force, plus maybe a helicopter or two, for most of a night. They can use dispersion as a force multiplier and equalizer. Eventually, the sheer asymmetry of cost effects will exhaust the occupying force, and the insurgency will graduate into a guerilla status, able to win back sectors and return in daylight to dish out reprisals on collaborateurs. This is how Quadrillage failed in Vietnam and Algiers, and this is how it will fail in Iraq. If Native Americans had cell-phones, they probably could've defeated it, too. Just like before, the pros will keep saying, "Well, we were never defeated militarily."

The Achilles heel of Quadrillage is that armies truly stink at pacifying populations. In fact it's difficult to imagine a task armed fighting forces are less suited to; it's like asking child molesters to run a kindergarten. Meanwhile, each mini-fort is static and exposed, and unless the population it covers is truly pacified, they will betray it.

Who amongst us thinks it's not too late to pacify the Sunnis in Iraq?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Decoding The Sub-Prime Debauchery

I use the word "debauchery" to distinguish what's happening with high-rate mortgages (aka "sub-primes") in the US from other times. As financial schemes go, the systematic promotion of high-rate mortgages to low-wage workers shares elements of the S&L Crisis, the South Sea Bubble, the Leveraged Buyout Craze, the Tulip Mania, and the Great Crash of '29, except it's all rolled into one debacle.

There's a professional investor class referred to as Wall Street which is always looking for the next sure thing, always trying to set it up even while the current sure thing unravels. Ideally, they want to fleece people with new financial instruments while calling it the American Dream. That may sound cynical, but it isn't. It's clinical. I worked on Wall Street and took the drastic measure of living on the Stock Exchange for about 6 months until it began to dawn on me how the global monetary system, electronic markets, and modern financial instruments work.

Making the Easy Money is where it's at, and money's mavens are not interested in morality, just risk/reward ratios. The sub-prime market was a pootie 'tang. Low risk, high reward...for a while. Problem is, the geniuses who think the new financial "instruments" up rarely understand them, and if they ever have any notion of the consequences they may have on the overall financial system, those notions are quickly suppressed.

Giving money to the lowest rungs of hourly workers to buy houses on adjustable-rate plans, then encouraging them into re-fi packages and collecting high fees and interest, well, I'm sure it seemed like a great idea at the time. And with the rest of America was also told to treat property appreciation like an ATM card, it was only being fair to the unprivileged classes, cutting them in on the whole American Dream action. Except their adjustable rates went up as high as 20% when they kicked in. Only fair, it says so right in the contracts, and it's perfectly legal.

Here's the really crummy part. The Fed thinks it can contain the sub-prime collapse with stimulus elsewhere, that the effects won't ripple through the entire system. They no more understand what's going to happen than I know how to forge and cast a 20-foot long brass cannon. In may case, at least I would know it had been done before. They don't have that going for them, and more than two dozen sub-prime lenders have gone belly-up in the past two months. What's bad about that? At some point, We, The Taxpayers are going to get hit with a double-whammy butcher's bill: we're going to be told we're bailing out Wall Street while, in most areas of the country, our property values get whacked by about 50%. Or the Fed panics and hyper-inflates to avoid that scenario, thereby causing a capital flight to Asia, exacerbating the agony. But given the moral courage and knowledge distilled into the confines of the Federal Reserve Board, there's no cause for worry.

There's an excellent synopsis of how the sub-prime scheme worked here:

Subprime lenders peddle new kinds of mortgages, often requiring no money down and made at "teaser" interest rates that soon rise. They target marginal borrowers with weak credit or questionable incomes who previously might not have gotten a loan at all.

By last year, subprime loans made up 20 percent of the market for new mortgages.

But as the housing market cools, thousands of subprime borrowers are struggling to keep their homes. A number of subprime lenders, saddled by failed loans and a shortage of cash, have folded or staggered. In some particularly hard-hit neighborhoods in Denver's suburbs — one of a few metropolitan areas where the problem is especially grave — home after home sits dark.

Clearly, this isn't how the American dream is supposed to play out, but who's to blame?

The experience of families like the Snearys show how the squeeze created by questionable lending can quickly be compounded by family economic crises, a lack of planning and knowledge, and the rapid shifts in a real estate market that once seemed unstoppable.

"You were set up to fail," one real estate agent told them.

While the American dollar has displayed remarkable, even unprecedented, resilience to the many abuses it has suffered in the past 30 years, it's possible for a financial system to undergo one too many Sure Things and become rotten from stem to stern. When they're jiggering property values with massive economic stimulus, we've probably reached that point. On the bright side, real investing is boring, and involves things like making spaghetti for 75 cents rather than ordering a pizza for 20 bucks, taking the difference and putting it into something likely to go up in value over time. Savings=Investment. As a country, we will always have that option open to us.
Rumi & Me

The breeze at dawn
has scents to tell you:
don't go back to sleep.
People cross back and forth
over the doorways
where two worlds meet.

If ears can learn
to listen mouths
begin to speak.
The door is round,
and open now;
don't go back to sleep.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Damned If What You're Feeling Isn't Change

Sorry for not posting more, was busy at work this week, trying to kip over a domino or two to mow down chain reactions and make us all less pissed off and free, on average. I'm on a strange mission shared by a few fervent, hidden cranks. We wake up in the morning, and think, "How do I make corporations treat people better? What would force them to reward loyalty, and decrease caller hold times to nothing? How can I keep my people from being turned into chattel? What can I do today to undermine, torment, and use the Divine Right of Capital's force against it?"

On a nicer level, we've been preparing for Lord Baby's 3rd birthday party tomorrow. As HopeSpringsATurtle quite rightly pointed out as she does so many things on her cracking-good blog Deep Confusion, he can no longer be called Lord Baby as of tomorrow, for a baby he is no longer. Lord Toddler? No, he ceased being a toddler long ago, when he started playing soccer with older kids in the park. Mentally, and for that matter physically, he was never a toddler. He skipped over it. I'm open for suggestions.

Will our future selves send Terminators back in time to stop us, and will they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? These are the kind of things I think of in the shower, or driving in the car. Most non-violently, of course. Sometimes I can't see with the steam coming up in my eyes, or for the traffic lights and fears in my life; as a culture, we're happily drugging ourselves and our children up into abbatoirs. To be frank, part of me thinks of stepping out of that kind of culture, and building an extensive underground bunker in Belize. But over high divides and great distances, I can peek out to see our more sustainable lights.

I see the ends of tunnels, lit by flaming swords. It's not always going to be this way, you see, and we will not be subjugated to alien legal entities. We'll figure them out, decode and get above their data. We're never going to stop and we're going to kick their asses even if it means dying down to a few of us, if our children are any guide we're far too determined and devious, just like the Ace of Base prophesy in their delightful schlag-musik song, "Beautiful Life":
You can do what you want, just seize the day
What you're doing tomorrow's gonna come your way
Don't you ever consider giving up. You will find.
Not much went on this week. Congress approved a bill to get the troops home from Iraq, the White House promised to invoke Executive Privilege, sub-prime housing continued to devolve like a mo-fo, and the Iranians captured 15 British marines. Ok. No big deal. "We can contain the spill, we are built to thrill. Don't worry, be happy." I did not look up real estate plots with natural springs in Fairbanks, Finland, New Zealand, Tierra del Fuego. or Antarctica.

I've stood in Paul Revere's bedroom. It was really small. In addition to what he's famous for, he was a small business-man, raised about twelve kids, and was the best silver-smith in the Western Hemisphere. I wondered, "How the heck did he pull this off?" I don't know, and can't compare. But, yes, these bastards are crazy, and a change is gonna-come. For my small part, I just figured out today how to make one of the world's mightiest corporations do a good thing. It might give us all flaming data-swords, and it won't be able to help itself. Buy low, sell high. ;-)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Scotsman And An Afghan Walk Into A Bar

From "The Places in Between," by Rory Stewart, pages, 122-123:
How much do you pay for a wife in Scotland?" asked Dr. Habibullah.
I told him.

"What is your religion?"
"Jesewi--Christian," I said.
"You believe in God?"
"One God?"
"Would you marry your mother's sister's daughter?"
"I don't think so."
"How about your mother's brother's daughter?"
"Your father's brother's or your sister's daughter?"
"No, not them either."
"Then who would you marry?"
"Probably someone not related to me."

Silence. Habibullah's questions suggested he was interrogating a Stone Age tribesman about kinship structures, but these were not anthropological questions. They were religious questions. Islam, much more than Christianity, is a political and a social religion. Clear rules govern who and how you can marry. In this region most people married their first cousins.
A tall beared man came running after us. He ignored my greetings entirely and asked Dr. Habibullah, "What religion is he?"
"He's a Jahdui--a Jew," said Dr. Habibullah.
"No, no, I'm an Esawi--a Christian."

Dr. Habibullah turned around, looked at me, and then said to his friend, "I can't work this out--is there a difference?" Many people who fought in the holy war against the Russians must have known less about other religions than Dr. Habibullah. The man led him aside and whispered to him, and then we were on our way.

"That man was a mullah," said Dr. Habibullah. "He said that you can marry our daughters--you are a type of Muslim."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

One Word

Building a diary for my son in these interesting times was a fundamental excuse and motivator for this blog. At 2:55 Eastern Standard Time today, he turned 3 years old, and he is a holy terror of darling and domineering great affections. I would like him to know things early, and given promising indications, someday soon he will read.

Boys from humble means can reach their dreams, if they but reach smart and humble, decided, bold and far. I would like to tell him there's nothing stopping him, but in truth there are many things, prejudices and protections aplenty. Nonetheless, bequeathed no rights or pedigree, his father drove among other things at 26 a bank CEO's Jaguar V-12 with the top down to watch princes play polo at Windsor, to know an Italian contessa barefoot by way of Scotland, to have dinner with King Juan Carlos discussing TV on airplanes, to meet artists, and to predict avalanches in Switzerland. There are choices and terms for every decision, luck plays a large part, and you can't let the fine print freeze you. You don't have to leverage every opportunity into stunning riches. I sure didn't, and see no reason to sweat it. Finding your best self is the important thing, and if you follow your instincts, have some fun, and try to do some good on your path, son, you will do me proud.

Brian Eno and John Cale captured the feel of footloose times in "One Word," a song from a one-off, stream-of-consciousness album they released back then called "Wrong Way Up." Great album. You could tell they were bumming around doing interesting things, then got together, wrote about it and jumbled them up into their considerably pooled musical talents. I listened to them while traversing Europa, and the lyrics are observational, evocative, and distant. They convey the art of travel, and bring back scenes from intensely concentrated social interactions which were often above my head, but remain indelibly imprinted in memory. Back then, I thought I'd be back the next summer, working for the interests of money in London, or Copenhagen, or Geneva. Like the song says, it is miles away.

At the moment, fast times consist of driving to a park with detritus on the floor and spare nappies in the boot, and I wouldn't trade my blessed life with Lord Wife and Lord Baby for anything. For his bigger, formal birthday party this Sunday, I am buying us a remote-control plane, and we will terrorize park-goers while we learn together. For our instigations and future adventures, here are lyrics from former flighty times:
Night-time is falling on the Louvre.
It's been a lazy afternoon.
We walk to the house, the air is clear,
The water's still moving in the pool.
You say One word, the same sound.
It makes the world go 'round.
One word; we fight. You'll see
We're in the same place,
but not the same spin.
If it fades away, let it all fade away.
We were miles away, we were miles away,
We were miles and miles away.

Remember this oil by Augustus John?
These are the ones I found in Rome.
There are few things I keep for long.
When does your plane leave for Cologne?

I recall (One word) the train I saw;
People danced, that's all it took
again, to turn them around.
One world, a strange world
we're in (no sound). We'll find
The same things, the same things
are everywhere around.
Never'll see,
with time, with time
we'll dance again, we'll dance again.
If it all fades away, let it all fade dancing away.

All the sounds I heard (One word),
on a summer night (I found),
and the quiet words are all it took
which we exchanged. I felt (to turn around);
she was pulling back (she watched).
to emphasize. (He sighs.)
I was falling (He waits)
into Mona Lisa's eyes (a touch of her eyes).
And she turned, and then
she turned, she turns away,
she was far away. She won't let him
(she was miles away) touch her any more today.

She was miles away.
She was so many miles away.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On The Care And Feeding Of Fighting Dogs

Al C. alerted me that General William Odom was on Charlie Rose tonight, which means he's reaching a wider audience. Odom's message is simple: get out, get out, get out of Iraq. And he would know. He was the Soviet intel expert who convinced Z-Big (Zbigniew Brzezinski), Jimmy Carter's able SecState, that the Bear could be trapped and killed in Afghanistan.

I know of no other general or ex-general who speaks in such disturbingly candid English. Unfortunately, Lord Baby has his own insurgency going and has taken over the environs of the TV, and my parliament has not yet authorized a private media-harem room with a large new flat-screen. Such is envisioned. But no Charlie Rose viewing for me tonight. As the saying goes, "when my people push I yield, when my people yield I push."

Like Odom says, the longer we stay, the worse it gets. Recent American history agrees. It's not a question of lacking brutality, we have plenty of that, it's one of its insensate application. For example, the neocons are now knowingly funding Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. It's curtains, if it's come to that, and it can't be cleaned up by staying. Odom references these sentiments in a clip from last September at the Iraq Forum in the Capitol Building. (Note: the sound quality is poor, but his message on Charlie Rose is probably the same.)

It's tough for a foppish Top Dog to step out for a breather, no matter how badly it's bleeding. But it would be very smart at this point. "Cut and run" is an effective pejorative. It also means a chance to get stitched up. This old dog will have to fight again.

The Hard-Hitting Investigative Journalism Of...The New Yorker, Pt. I

After the bushies took office, I began to notice the awesome level of control and control (C&C) they exerted over almost every mainstream media (MSM) outlet. But they couldn't quite get a handle on a few outlets, those which are private, secure, charity-funded, or simply below the radar. So you could still get hard journalism, you just had to go to odd places like the New Yorker, Vanity Fair (why, I don't know), Harper's, and to industry rags like Aviation Week. It's still the case today. The New Yorker's George Packer went to Iraq to do a dynamite piece on what it's really like to live there, to have worked with the Americans, and to have had high hopes for the future of Iraq. Its starts off thusly:
On a cold, wet night in January, I met two young Iraqi men in the lobby of the Palestine Hotel, in central Baghdad. A few Arabic television studios had rooms on the upper floors of the building, but the hotel was otherwise vacant. In the lobby, a bucket collected drips of rainwater; at the gift shop, which was closed, a shelf displayed film, batteries, and sheathed daggers covered in dust. A sign from another era read, “We have great pleasure in announcing the opening of the Internet cafĂ© 24 hour a day. At the business center on the first floor. The management.” The management consisted of a desk clerk and a few men in black leather jackets slouched in armchairs and holding two-way radios.

The two Iraqis, Othman and Laith, had asked to meet me at the Palestine because it was the only place left in Baghdad where they were willing to be seen with an American. They lived in violent neighborhoods that were surrounded by militia checkpoints. Entering and leaving the Green Zone, the fortified heart of the American presence, had become too risky. But even the Palestine made them nervous. In October, 2005, a suicide bomber driving a cement mixer had triggered an explosion that nearly brought down the hotel’s eighteen-story tower. An American tank unit that was guarding the hotel eventually pulled out, leaving security in the hands of Iraqi civilians. It would now be relatively easy for insurgents to get inside. The one comforting thought for Othman and Laith was that, four years into the war, the Palestine was no longer worth attacking.

The Iraqis and I went up to a room on the eighth floor. Othman smoked by the window while Laith sat on one of the twin beds. (The names of most of the Iraqis in this story have been changed for their protection.) Othman was a heavyset doctor, twenty-nine years old, with a gentle voice and an unflappable ironic manner. Laith, an engineer with rimless eyeglasses, was younger and taller, and given to bursts of enthusiasm and displeasure. Othman was Sunni, Laith was Shiite.

It had taken Othman three days to get to the hotel from his house, in western Baghdad. On the way, he was trapped for two nights at his sister’s house, which was in an ethnically mixed neighborhood: gun battles had broken out between Sunni and Shiite militiamen. Othman watched the home of his sister’s neighbor, a Sunni, burn to the ground. Shiite militiamen scrawled the words “Leave or else” on the doors of Sunni houses. Othman was able to leave the house only because his sister’s husband—a Shiite, who was known to the local Shia militias—escorted him out. Othman took a taxi to the house of Laith’s grandfather; from there, he and Laith went to the Palestine, where they enjoyed their first hot water in several weeks.

Maybe I'll excerpt the whole article in a series.

The Lame Report

Here's a nice snippet to make sense of the motive and means behind the US Attorney Firings Scandal:
Congress continued its inquiry into the role of the Bush
Administration in last year's firing of eight U.S
attorneys. D. Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff for
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, resigned after
claiming, in an apparent attempt to save Gonzalez from the
charge of lying to Congress, that he did not tell his
superiors at the Justice Department that the White House
wanted to fire the prosecutors. The Justice Department
released a March 2005 email from Sampson to then-White
House counsel Harriet Miers, in which he ranked all 93
U.S. attorneys on their loyalty to the Administration and
made a "target list." In other emails, he cited a
little-known provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes
the Attorney General to replace U.S. attorneys without
Senate confirmation, and consulted with Miers about the
possibility of replacing between 15 and 20 percent of
U.S. attorneys, "the underperforming ones," and leaving
the "loyal Bushies."
(Excerpted from Harper's Weekly Review)

The White House is offering Congress interviews with Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, accompanied by two deputy White House counsels. No testimony, no transcripts, no transparency. Lame!

Colonel Ted Westhusing's Suicide Note

Ted Westhusing graduated 3rd in the 1983 West Point class. As a senior, he served as honor captain for the Academy, and later taught at the school. He went to Iraq in 2005 and served under General David Petraeus, now Commanding General, Ground Forces, Iraq, whom he addresses in his suicide note. Westhusing, a deeply religious man known for his honor, ran counter-terrorism efforts and coordinated Army operations with US Investigation Services (USIS), a mercenary firm owned by the Carlyle Group. He became despondent over apparent USIS corruption and the refusal of his commanders to do anything about it:
Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name] -- You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff -- no msn [mission] support and you don't care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied -- no more. I didn't volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way. All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more. Trust is essential -- I don't know who trust anymore. [sic] Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness? No more. Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it.
COL Ted Westhusing
Life needs trust. Trust is no more for me here in Iraq.
A feature article containing the above note and referencing other files from the Army's investigation into Westhusing's death ran in the Texas Observer. He was an honor captain to the last, and it's difficult to imagine a more damning indictment.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bring Me The Head Of Alberto Gonzales

Digby predicted months ago that the attorney firings were going to be huge. In addition to being a lot smarter than I am, Digby apparently has nothing else to do but sit around his apartment and blog, so of course I took his words as nothing short of oracular, and lo, they are now coming to pass.

Congress is all about procedure, so to a regular schmo in the lumpeninvestoriat like myself, focusing on the attorney firings is like going up to a naked employee who is in the act of vigorously committing incest on his office desk on Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, tapping him on the shoulder, and saying, "Excuse me. We have to talk. Your attire is only permitted on Casual Friday." My approach would be to first drop a copy machine on his head, and begin to sort out an obvious debacle from there.

The US Congress seems remarkably incapable of talking about big issues, strongly preferring to attack them elliptically, probably so We The People don't set up a guillotine. As I understand it, here is the attorney hubbub in a nutshell: Bush can fire whatever attorneys he wants, but is supposed to inform Congress about it first. The fact that they got fired for threatening to investigate corrupt Republicans, or for failing to prosecute innocent Democrats is, congressionally speaking, a secondary issue. What bugs Congress most is that they were kept out of the loop. And for that, there will be hell to pay.

Or, more precisely, there will be Congress-persons to pay. The back-room is where I'm fairly comfortable, given that it's where I dwell in my line of work. The Dims loooove the attorney firings because it gives them leverage. They know they can get a lot promised in return for "not going there," i.e., not exposing just how dirty the inner workings of the White House have been under Rove, and take the resignation of Abu Gonzales as a public victory in the bargain. But if I were a Senator, I'd have to be pretty dumb not to realize by now that the Bush Administration never, ever negotiates in good faith. They're incapable of following through on a promise they don't like, and they never pay up in good money.

So in this case, I'd sit in that back room, shake hands with a big smile and say, "We have a deal. You give me my propers and the head of Alberto Gonzalez, and we'll stop digging into your ribs on this one." Then I'd let Gonzales resign. And then I'd go right ahead and subpoena Bush's inner circle, starting off with Rove and Miers. Then, amongst other things, I would make sure not to fly on any private planes for awhile.

(As for the graphic and title above, they refer to the Sam Peckinpah movie, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. If any of you were wondering what it would be like to live in a Sam Peckinpah movie, we've been doing it for a few years now.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Green Mountain Boy

"I want testimony under oath. I am sick and tired of getting half-truths on this," Leahy said. "I do not believe in this, we'll have a private briefing for you where we'll tell you everything, and they don't."

Senator Patrick Leahy, Vermont
March 18th, 2007

It's about bloody time. The one thing you can say about this new Congress, they sure can multi-task. But before Harriet Miers and Karl Rove are allowed to be subjected to withering, public questions from the "Democrat Party" about how they fired public prosecutors for not bringing in enough votes, the White House is either going to stone-wall or cite Executive Privilege. They've only got a couple days to change their story for the fourth time. Of course, there's always the Fifth.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What I Did Not Tell On My Trip To Congress,
by Valerie Plame

I took a sacred vow to cast no shadow, and was not prepared to be spun in from the cold. So I testified as a ghost.

For the people and their advocates, it was necessary to focus my testimony on unclassified elements, namely, that by betraying its own secret agents, the Administration handicaps our effectiveness and punctuates the average duration of our lives. Whether their hit squad knew my "covert" status or understood legal intracacies was immaterial; disclosing the identity of your country's agent is treason, and on this sole point I dwelled. "Plame sheds little light in leak case," run the headlines, and yes, I prepared my words with all the non-spontaneous disciplines of the most robotic Republicrats. And I trusted the cameras to record the salience of my features, which I've previously used to such advantage for our country.

What stories I could have told. I have sworn not to divulge things, which, for future reference, will be classified for as long as the United States remain so. And for me, many confidences go far beyond. It would have been interesting, however, to transcend these narrowly focused transgressions and place them in a wider, more accurate, more easily understandable and sensational context. Let me put it this way: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.

I did not recount how my operatives in the Counter-Proliferation Division, Mid-east, repeatedly foiled pathetic, amateurish attempts by Dick Cheney's Office of Special Plans (OSP) to plant evidence linking Saddam Hussein's regime to "weapons of mass destruction." I might have pointed out that it was the White House, not me, which characterized a smear campaign against my husband, a man who had formerly secured the freedom and lives of many CIA, reporters, and State Department staff. I would have also liked to tell how my country's best agents in Iran, grown over 20 years of my careful cultivation, have been figuratively and literally burned after my identity was disclosed.
My people were in their nuclear program, some have been sent back as double agents, and our intelligence capability there has been wrecked. Would Congress understand, or care?

I did not mention that my cover firm, Brewster Jennings, had been outed well before my husband went to Niger to debunk White House claims the doomed Iraqis were trying to buy uranium ore they had no ability to use. I did not relate any hint of how my elite team stopped a shipment of VX nerve gas into Iraq near Turkey's border, nor how they initially overrode the Vice President's authority. I made no mention of the same OSP operation, after we were called off it and when it crossed into northern Iraq, when it lost nearly 100 of its agents due to poor coordination and multiple air strikes. Our vigilant, uncoordinated Air Force had observed unusual activity. I did not direct Congress to read the press stories released, planted, and later erased in major US papers after that debacle, which previously announced that VX had been found in Iraq. I did not disclose how high the nerve gas was blown.

Naturally, I didn't explain why the real target of Dick Cheney's rage was not my husband, nor me, nor even Brewster Jennings, which had been a key US asset since its role in the formation of the Arab-American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia (ARAMCO) more than 50 years ago. I didn't disclose why Cheney's wrath included all the competent and non-compliant elements of the Central Intelligence Agency. I chose to intimate that every field agent, analyst, and beaurocrat in the CIA, DIA, and DOD are threatened by the publication of state secrets through media outlets. We all understood the signifigance back then. It is my duty to eventually reveal that the Message sent by the Office of Special Plans was crystal clear: "Cross us, and you'll be crucified."

My plan is to out-live Dick Cheney, to live better, to live well, to discuss Curious George with my children as they grow up, and one day, to tell almost all.

Quiche Du Jour: Rule Breakers

A great artist told me once, "You gotta learn the rules so you know how to break 'em." Although the self-portrait above does not convey much in the way of outrageous impudence to us today, it very much did back then, and Albrecht Duerer was such a successful rule-breaker he has been called by many the first "Modern Man." Artistically, he was an innovator, and socially and religiously he was a revolutionary.

I remember the first time seeing an image of one of his paintings, a rabbit, in a well-worn high school social studies book. Though utterly realistic and a wholly unsentimental likeness of a rabbit, it still managed to be a masterpiece. Later, Duerer was largely responsible for securing the city of Nuremburg's support of Martin Luther, when most of Bavaria did not.

To break a system, you get inside one you want to change, and then you start breaking its rules to make good things happen. If you keep making the good things happen, people will try to find your "corruption handle" to get you under control. They'll start to panic if they can't find it, but you'd better not have an obvious handle if you want to follow through on your revolutions, no matter how tiny they may be.

Friday, March 16, 2007

To The Scandals, A Sacrifice

The scandal flurries continue, and I haven't posted for a couple of days. It's kinda like when you've known a hard winter was coming, and you finally get that unmistakeable feeling when the season turns. The first serious snow starts to accumulate and has the "I can keep falling all month" quality to it. You could check the barometer or the weather channel or the newspaper, but instead you go make yourself some wimpy kind of herbal tea you almost never drink except maybe when you were home sick from school, like chamomile, only you're not a kid anymore and you stand at the living room window sipping your wimpy herbal tea, savoring nature's implacable harsh realities and wondering if the cycle of sacrifice ever really ended.

I could've written about the state attorneys who got fired for not dancing Republican enough. I could've written about the bottom dropping out of the sub-prime mortgage market. I could've written about more soldiers getting the shaft. I could've written about markets not going up forever. I could've written about an ex-CIA beauty holding 9/10ths of her story back, and may yet. Every one of these, you could see it coming from a long way off. They're just details from the same stories we've been making since we started, as a species, to wear clothes. All those corny old sayings run through your head: rust never sleeps, the bells toll for thee, and it's going to get deep.
Nature can't be denied.

You can almost smell the tang of iron, the noble old scent which blood emits when it hits the air anew; no minor official or minion will do. The tree has been split, and then pried apart with great force to create a highly tensioned, yawning place. It waits to embrace another king in its Golden Bough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Chance To "Pile On" To Fox News

The Rahm Emanuel-Clinton Club Wing of the Democratic Party, a club I refer to "the Dims," contracted with Fox News to host televised debates in Nevada among the current crop of candidates. That's right, the Democratic Party contracted with Fox News. What the hell were they thinking? There's a web site Fox Attacks, where you can go sign a petition asking the Democratic Party what they were smoking this time.

First, Obama boycotted the debate in return for the "coverage" he got from the network known for its balanced, intensely balanced, insanely fair and balanced reporting. (The clip above, a compendium of Fox-and-balanced attacks on Barack Obama, is well worth watching. You kinda get the idea the guy scares them a little bit.) Now Edwards has dropped out of the debates.

So maybe Hillary can show up and debate, oh, I dunno, maybe Dennis Kucinich? Like, for an entire hour. Over her Iraq War vote. I would actually watch that, because I have a big old-fashioned non-flat screen Philips TV with an actual vacuum tube in it, and there's a good chance it would implode. But it's far more likely either Fox or the Dims will simply cancel the debate. Good.

Monday, March 12, 2007

South America Invites Bush To Stay

And I think they're holding signs saying, "Thank You!"

Army Surgeon General Let Off The Hook

The name of the derelict Surgeon General was Kevin Kiley, who had angrily told Congress he never once toured the facilities at the Army's main medical hospital, snarling, "I don't do barracks inspections." Yesterday he was asked to retire, and did so, admitting it was "for the good of the Army." This may sound like progress, but in truth the Army wimped out. Kiley should have been summarily relieved of his command, demoted, and brought up on an Article 143 (dereliction of duty) charge. Only that or similar decisive action will send the right signals to soldiers and the nation they serve.

Last month, The Washington Post published a series of articles on Walter Reed Army Hospital conditions, how they and their families were burdened by obstructive, Kafkaesque layers of red tape and were consistently under-graded in terms of their true disability. But it's like that all through the system for veterans. Defense Secretary Gates forced Army Secretary Francis Harvey to resign and sacrificed Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, in charge of Walter Reed only since August 2006. Kiley, who should have been knocked on the head first, got the kid-glove treatment. Further investigations into the hospital scandal will be led by former Senator Bob Dole and Secretary of Health Donna Shalala. Right.

Ever notice how no one talks about the number of wounded? There are no official statistics to release. Compiling them or discussing the sheer numbers of them would, to use Cheney-speak, "undermine support for the troops." And Iraq is not just a physical meat grinder; it's the hardest duty there is psychologically, putting troops under constant stress of a type they weren't trained for. In addition to the physically wounded, most soldiers who went on patrols month after month will suffer from some lasting level of PTSD.
Conservapedia: Boston Massacre Entry

In addition to a panolpy of other virtues, the woman I refer to here as Lord Wife (pictured a couple posts back) also reads this blog. She's a writer and researcher, so naturally she went to check out Conservapedia, the new antidote to liberal referencing inaccuracies. For comparison, she looked up "The Boston Massacre" on both resources. Here, in its entirety, is the Conservapedia entry:

The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770, when British soldiers fired into a crowd of colonists who had been throwing snowballs at the soldiers. The British killed five, including the African American Crispus Attucks.

At the trial of the British solders involved in the massacre, the defendants were represented by John Adams who believed that all people were due a fair trial and who would later become the first Vice-President of the United States and the second President of the United States. John Adams defense of the solders lead to the acquittal of six of the eight charged and the conviction of the remaining two on charges of manslaughter, rather than murder. Near the end of his life Adams described his defense of the British solders as "one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country." [1]

Compare it to the Wikipedia entry, which is lengthy, so I'll abridge to a single quote by the same John Adams, picking up exactly where the Conservapedia article ends:
"Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right. This however is no Reason why the Town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favour of the Governor or Minister, who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies."
Why the Conservapedia author(s) took the concluding sentences off the Adams quote is a good question. Though I can think of many reasons, many uncharitable, maybe the motive was nothing more than to simplify a noble sentiment of the speaker. Upholding the more complicated, sometimes costly and cluttered ideals of diversity, dignity, and democracy conveyed in the full statement is a lot to expect from any populace. Yet an idealized security, appealing and simple to so many, has its own incalculable price. In 1770 and the years which followed, it treated people throwing snow-balls as enemy combatants, and every traveler as a potential terrorist. Maybe democracy is done, maybe the vacant seats have won, But you know how, back on the East Coast of the United States, there are still historical markers in front of old inns which say, "George Washington Slept Here?" Well. Something tells me that all over the world, there will be signs many years from now which say, "George Dubya Fucked Up Here."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Future Wife In Manhattan, Near Me With Basil

She is, in certain fractions of the calendar, six years younger than me.

When this picture was taken, I'd flown back from Switzerland through Iceland and had just taken a jet-lagged cab right past her on Washington Square. We had crossed paths before in London, but probably not so near. I was heading south from 76th Street with Eliot, to meet Robert De Niro's father, an artist in Tribeca.

If a car had slowed, if a truck had turned, if a transmission had failed, I might have looked to my right on a warm Spring night, stopping to see my future wife in the evening lights. Life is funny. All those taxis and time lapses,
before we took the same flights.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Religion Is Good For Children And Makes People Moral

Larry Wilson: Ex-Steuben pastor pleads guilty to sex abuse charges. A former Steuben County pastor faces up to 32 years in prison following his guilty plea Monday to felony sexual abuse charges. David J. Troup, 39, of Frog Hollow Road, Painted Post, pleaded guilty Monday to all charges in a Jan. 18 indictment. The most serious charge, first-degree course of conduct against a child, carries a maximum sentence of five to 25 years in state prison. [...] State Police arrested Troup in October following a report from the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. They identified the victims as two boys younger than 11 years old and said the incident occurred in the town of Woodhull in July 2005.

Jeff Brumley: Trinity Baptist faces new abuse lawsuit. The second negligence lawsuit in just more than a week was filed Thursday against Trinity Baptist Church, also saying the Jacksonville church hid knowledge of alleged sexual abuse of children by former Pastor Robert Gray in the 1970s. [...] Adam Horowitz, the Miami attorney representing the plaintiff, filed a similar lawsuit Feb. 21. As with that action, the new suit says the church failed to provide a safe environment for the girl, that it concealed its knowledge of other abuse claims against Gray and that it did not report what it knew to authorities.

Former Ft. Worth Priest Convicted of Abuse. A former priest was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in prison after being convicted of molesting an 11-year-old boy in the early 1990s. The Rev. Thomas Teczar, 65, of Dudley, Mass., was a priest in the Fort Worth Roman Catholic Diocese until his departure in 1993. [...] The victim, now in his late 20s, testified Wednesday that Teczar used threats, persuasion and the use of his Mercedes to entice him to have sex and keep it a secret when he was 11 years old. Teczar told him he could have him taken away from his mother, the man testified before a state district judge. [...] Before moving to the Fort Worth area, Teczar had worked as a priest in the Worcester Diocese, where he was forced out after being accused of inappropriate behavior with a teenage boy. He is no longer in active ministry.

John Spano: California law violates gays' rights, ex-priest says. Defrocked priest Michael Stephen Baker, 59, said the provision denies equal protection of the law to gay people. He cited a provision of the U.S. Constitution that has been used to advance racial and gender equality. Baker, appearing in court with a trimmed gray beard, is awaiting trial for allegedly molesting two boys — one who was unconscious — during weekend Catholic youth trips. Baker's case is the one Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has said "troubles" him the most. Baker confessed to Mahony his interest in children 20 years ago. He was sent for treatment, allegedly molested more children, and was defrocked by Mahony in 2000.

(Reposted here from American Samizdat.)

Republican '08 Front Runner Giuliani

Two words: Bernard Kerik. (OK, a few more words: churlish ex-wives.)

Ann Coulter Visits Saigon

Bear in mind, I am not advocating that anyone kill or otherwise do violence to Ann Coulter, the kind of karma she has accumulated for herself does invite blowback. Jesus Del Norte had this pic up on Church and Empire, and the masterful juxtaposition of "ironography" appealed to me. Blowback of the media kind, art in the Photoshop Age.

So Far, So Good!

"US and Iran Hold Rare Direct Talks," reads the headline, a story lead few if any people alive have ever seen before. The opposing king cobras were wisely held in their respective baskets and did not attend, and the meeting was left to the pros. While there are still many reasons to temper expectations and the magic carpets reportedly stayed firmly planted on the floor, this really is Jake-and-Elwood-somersault-fantastic news. It's progress, a thing I've been unable to say regarding the Mid-east for my entire adult life. Rahim's Rules of Order were followed:
The chief Iranian envoy, Abbas Araghchi, said he restated his country's demands for a clear timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces, which he insisted have made Iraq a magnet for extremists from across the Muslim world.

"Violence in Iraq is good for no country in the region," said Araghchi, deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs, at a post-meeting news conference.

Araghchi said he did not meet privately with Khalilzad, but that all dialogue "was within the framework of the meeting" — which he said had "very good interaction by all the delegations."
They met their meeting's primary objective, which was to form a plan to meet again to figure out how to get the oil flowing again:
Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told reporters there were "direct exchanges and meetings and discussions" between the U.S. and Iranian delegation.

He also said the participants at the meeting agreed to take part in future groups to study ways to bolster Iraq's security, assist displaced people and improve fuel distribution and sales in one of OPEC's former heavyweights.
The meeting was nearly disrupted by mortar fire, and it's still unclear whether they'll next meet in Istanbul (for safety) or Baghdad (for PR value). If the Great Eight (G-8) attends, which would be the best, it'll almost certainly occur in Turkey in April:
"(Iraq) needs support in this battle that not only threatens Iraq but will spill over to all countries in the region," al-Maliki said — shortly before mortar shells landed near the conference site and a car bomb exploded in a Shiite stronghold across the city.

The delegates proposed an "expanded" follow-up meeting, which could include the G-8 nations and others, in Istanbul, Turkey, next month. Iraqi officials, however, say they want the next meeting to take place in Baghdad.

The meeting also gives a forum to air a wide range of views and concerns including U.S. accusations of weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria, and Arab demands for greater political power for Iraq's Sunnis.
This means Sunni delegates will be at the next meeting, which at least gives Arabs some hope and provides a means by which to halt the accelerating momentum of violence. As they say in Turkey, "Wunderbar!"

(I borrowed the Persian art graphic from Naj, whose excellent blog, "Iran Facts" I just added to my favorites list at right.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

And today the nations meet in Baghdad, between the Tigris and Euphrates. Former empires convene with one which is faltering, as if to form an exclusive club, whose first meeting is to decide who controls the energy. Sharing Iraq's oil equitably amongst its people was the only political solution, the one carrot able to balance so many sticks; a black carrot and a black mustache bound its deep divisions, for a time, into a nation. It was a nation which once did our bidding, and attacked the Iranians for expelling our treasured corporations, those which bring us foreign tribute in the form of cheap, distilled, beautifully combustible Go-Juice. Now Iranians are come unbowed to Baghdad, to discuss how to stabilize Iraq. Addled heads in narrow frames can repeat hubristic sound-bites, but the longer, wider, more perspicacious gaze of history sees all, and its dry whisper will not deny. Iran arrives as victor.

The quote in bold above is attributed to Henry Kissinger, who a dozen days ago finally deliberated his glabrous hulk across the protesting earth to the Foreign Affairs podium, to call for a Time Out:

The international conference should be the occasion, as well, to go beyond the warring factions in Iraq to moving toward a stable energy supply. It would be the best framework for a transition from American military occupation. Paradoxically, it may also prove the best framework for bilateral discussions with Syria and Iran.

American military policy in Iraq must be related to such a diplomatic strategy. Unilateral withdrawal on fixed timetables, unrelated to local conditions, is incompatible with the diplomacy described here.

The willingness of other countries to participate in such an effort depends importantly on their assessment of the balance of power in the Middle East after the end of the war in Iraq. A successful diplomacy requires that American power remain relevant and available in support of a coherent regional policy.

After the Thirty Years' War, the nations of Europe organized an international conference to set rules for ending the war, after the continent had been left prostrate and exhausted.

The world now has a comparable opportunity today. Will it seize it while it still has a margin of decision, or must it wait until exhaustion and despair leave no alternative?

Ironic, and I suppose fitting that a senior mass murderer once again slips the leash on his juniors. Cheney and Rumsfeld absolutely despised Kissinger in their Nixon days, and when they came to run the Ford Administration, it was payback time. And you know what they say about payback, when the chance comes 'round again.

Henry Kissinger is an evil poison dwarf straight out of an unsavory fairy tale, but his view of history is long, and his comparison of the Mid-East to the Europe of the Thirty Years' War is apt indeed. Islam is in the throes of a Great Reformation not unlike what occurred to Christianity after Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses in Wittenberg Castle on All Hallow's Eve, 1517. The Christians had the printing press. The Muslims have the Internet. He understands this.

One wonders how the cabal which makes waste lands and calls them democracies is digesting this attempt to head off war. The Baghdad conference is great progress, and I pray it succeeds. Yet I am also aware of who prays it does not, and that they possess means far more immediate, immoderate, and inflammatory than prayer. I wonder about the time and manner in which they'll choose to forestall the diplomacy efforts. Will they use an Iranian missile-mine plunged into the underside of the USS Pretext, a GBU-28, or will they resort to tommy guns like an Edward G. Robinson movie?

Henry Kissinger is able to place the problematic consequences of inconsiderate action into a wide array of context. Whereas, Cheney and Rumsfeld would have little understanding of such analogies, less interest in them. Their view is no longer than dogs when disturbed from licking themselves, suddenly moved to howls by music from a sweet-strung Stradivarius. While the indoor concert plays, if great care isn't taken to chain the bloodhounds and lock them securely into the maintenance shed, they will surely disrupt the evening's proceedings in a most irreparable way.

The ghost of Alexander paces Babylon tonight, re-counting his plunder of Bactrian gold. The forgotten Sumerians, the Hittites, the Chaldeans join the Egyptians and the Ottomans to line the muddy Tigris, singing chants of empire, prayers for prosperity and peace. Let the snake find its deep hole, the scorpion its crevice, and the hyena its exit.

One Word

Building a diary for my son in these interesting times was a fundamental excuse and motivator for this blog. At 2:55 Eastern Standard Time today, he turned 3 years old, and he is a holy terror of darling and domineering great affections. I would like him to know things early, and given promising indications, someday soon he will read.

Boys from humble means can reach their dreams, if they but reach smart and humble, decidedly, bold and far. I would like to tell him there's nothing stopping him, but in truth there are many things, prejudices and protections aplenty. Nonetheless, bequeathed no rights or pedigree, his father drove among other things at 26 a bank CEO's Jaguar V-12 with the top down to watch princes play polo at Windsor, to know an Italian contessa barefoot by way of Scotland, to have dinner with King Juan Carlos discussing TV on airplanes, to meet artists, and to predict avalanches in Switzerland. There are choices and terms for every decision, luck plays a large part, and you can't let the fine print freeze you. You don't have to leverage every opportunity into stunning riches. I sure didn't, and see no reason to sweat it. Finding your best self is the important thing, and if you follow your instincts, have some fun, and try to do some good on your path, son, you will do me proud.

Brian Eno and John Cale captured the feel of footloose times in their song "One Word," a song from a one-off, stream-of-consciousness album they released back then called "Wrong Way Up." Great album. You could tell they were bumming around doing interesting things, wrote about it and jumbled it up into their considerably pooled musical talents. I listened to it while traversing Europa, and the lyrics are observational, traveling and distant. They convey the art of travel, and scenes from intensely concentrated social interactions which were often above my head. Back then, I thought I'd be back the next summer, working for the interests of money in London, or Copenhagen, or Geneva. Like the song says, it is miles away.

At the moment, fast times consist of driving to a park with detritus on the floor and spare nappies in the boot, and I wouldn't trade my blessed life with Lord Wife and Lord Baby for anything. For his bigger, formal birthday party this Sunday, I am buying us a remote-control plane, and we will terrorize park-goers while we learn together. For our instigations and future adventures, here are lyrics from former flighty times:
Night-time is falling on the Louvre.
It's been a lazy afternoon.
We walk to the house, the air is clear,
The water's still moving in the pool.
You say One word, the same sound.
It makes the world go 'round.
One word; we fight. You'll see
We're in the same place,
but not the same spin.
If it fades away, let it all fade away.
We were miles away, we were miles away,
We were miles and miles away.

Remember this oil by Augustus John?
These are the ones I found in Rome.
There are few things I keep for long.
When does your plane leave for Cologne?

I recall (One word) the train I saw;
People danced, that's all it took
again, to turn them around.
One world, a strange world
we're in (no sound). We'll find
The same things, the same things
are everywhere around.
Never'll see,
with time, with time
we'll dance again, we'll dance again.
If it all fades away, let it all fade dancing away.

All the sounds I heard (One word),
on a summer night (I found),
and the quiet words are all it took
which we exchanged. I felt (to turn around);
she was pulling back (she watched).
to emphasize. (He sighs.)
I was falling (He waits)
into Mona Lisa's eyes (a touch of her eyes).
And she turned, and then
she turned, she turns away,
she was far away. She won't let him
(she was miles away) touch her any more today.

She was miles away.
She was so many miles away.