Monday, April 30, 2007

Cherries Blossom In Japan

On the train into Tokyo from Haneda airport, I learned my first Japanese words. It was early morning, and a low, moisture-heavy fog sheltered from a struggling sun, hunkering down in the reclaimed coastal dike-squares like pillows floating on ponds. Green shoots spiked up here and there, as would garnishes out of many bento boxes. Pointing to the fields passing by on either side of the train, I asked my handler, a young woman whose sole purpose was to convey my ignorant body safely to the agency, "How do you say, in Japanese?" After a long hesitation, she answered "ko-may." Then, even more contemplatively, she added: "Go-han."

As a child, I had vowed to go to Japan, not just to visit, but to live there and learn the language and the culture of a great people. Knowing the words made me happy. Of all the words you could start off with knowing, they were probably the best. At this point, I should admit my experiences in Japan are mismatched with my powers of description. What I would wish to express in fulgence can't be done, there are only selected stark and subtle contrasts to call upon.

So here is the central one, in fundamental form. In the country where I and millions of my age were born, we were, by comparison to our fellows in Japan, born alone. We were left to cry ourselves collectively to sleep in scientifically superior cribs, to fortify our Dr. Spock-approved minds and gain a leg up on our independent thinking. Yet most places in the world had not heard of Dr. Spock, did not circumcise their male children, their geneologies were not convoluted mysteries worthy of research, but simply venerated as ancestral bloodlines tracing back in time. That's what babies in Japan were born into. And I was not.

We're all born alone, emerging from the same traumatic tunnels, and those of us who ascend successfully writhe and squall as equal bastards. If we live in older cultures, it's tremendously important that we're covered right away with blankets, and for a longer time, with a mother's breasts and kisses. In modern cultures the mind is encouraged to forget what the body still misses. Axioms state that people are the same everywhere, and like Wittgenstein said, that's "true enough," but here is where I run up against my powers of description. The social systems of head-hunters in Palau are probably more open, flexible, and more recent than those a student, a businessman, a tourist or a diplomat can experience in the highs and lows of cosmopolitan Tokyo.

"Kome" and "gohan" are the Romanized spellings of the words I heard on the train. Both mean rice. Kome is the word for rice growing in a field. Gohan is the word for cooked rice on the table, but more commonly, gohan means food, harvest, meal, tribute...the closest translation we would have for it on our side of the world would be "daily bread," as in when Jesus said, "Give us this day..." In Japan, everything, everything goes back to rice. The pictogram for "field" which rice comes from, the pictogram for it is pervasive and embedded in their character-based writing. For a long time, the ancestors of everyone I met, from beggars at the bottom to businessmen at the pinnacles of their professions paid homage to rice, bowing over it in the same reflexive gestures of thanks. As would I.
Later, I would learn that eating rice was once an act of worship, and some children were still told the soul of a deity inhabited each grain. There was not as much respect accorded to fields, except when it came to golf, and the rituals for that are very different. The field means toil in quadrillage for eons, just like those I first saw on the train from Haneda. The West is fond of calling Japan "The Land of the Rising Sun." A more accurate translation would be "The Owners of the Sun." Rice was blessed by a sun which, reasonably enough, rose first on the Japanese.

Lord Wife invited me to a lecture at the school of public health the other week about the puzzle of longevity in Japan, which usually tops the old folks expectancy list. She is taking a course being given by a deft scientist named Dr. Steven Brezuska. She invited me to the particular lecture because its subject was, translated into my non-epidemiological terminology, "Why Do Japanese Live So Damned Long?" The Doctor's thesis is that people there live long because they have a low income inequality rating, or inversely, a high equitable society rating, and that this rating had much to do with the administration of Douglas A. MacArthur, who set out to institute a more equitable society, one which would endure and serve as a socialist bulwark against very large, very near, very Communist neighbors. As the hero in the Princess Bride said, "Drink a little poison every day, so it can never hurt you." Only I've never drunk a little Japanese poison. The lecture was fascinating and thought-provoking. It bothered me, dragged up many memories, and I've been thinking about it ever since. Why Do They Live So Damned Long? I've been there, and they have absolutely no right to. And I can tell you, they're not trying to outlive anybody.

Abstracted from the special case of my owners of the sun, the equity thesis is this: systemic inequality begets insecurity, insecurity begets stress, stress secretes hormones which engender deleterious health effects. and over time, the accumulated secretions and the social isolations which form them lead to early death, not to mention unhappiness, sickness, mistrust, crime, and violence along the way. I'll pick up where the theories leave off. Being poor sucks, and if you're constantly confronted by rich people who think they're intrinsically better than you, it starts to piss you off. If you're an 85-year old widower and your grandchildren don't visit, the barrel of the .45 in your basement starts to call you. The man who taught me to mow lawns faced that fate and took it, and I have a share in it. This isn't maudlin, or unreasonable. This is how social cohesion works everywhere, it's just that in America our minds have begun to forget what our bodies miss. Some come right out and say that the path to becoming fully human has always started out with a mother's kisses. There are still places not long removed from tribes, which, despite having taken on the full neon armor of modernity, haven't yet forgotten. Japanese mothers breast-feed their children, on average, until they are 4 years old.

Trying to describe it is a vainglorious task. I was so foreign to it, and it was so foreign to me, that I should give up, but this exercise forces me not to, and anyway, there are no shortage of recollections. I walked alone through the park of the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo, and the first words I comprehended were spoken by a 2-year old. He was riding serenely in a seat on the back of his mother's bicycle, and after nonchalantly turning toward me like he owned those Gardens, he spotted me, burst into tears while pointing at me and screaming, "Mommy, mommy, no, what is it!?" His terror was unfeigned, but his mother paid no outward attention, and rode stoically on. Days later, the I had met on the plane from L.A would wait for me aand It was nearly impossible to be a gaijin male in public and not smoke there. At one point I smoked a pack a day of "Mild Seven Lights."

The philosophy of social Darwinism to which our society currently subscribes has built-in anti-tribal downsides, and while winning the rat-race lottery bears big rewards, it pits us against our neighbors, friends, and families. Then it is temporarily dispersed. Eventually a knowing regent on a deathbed says, "Apres mois les Deluge," his or her children are killed, and the system is reset. Throughout history, wealth is like salt water being drawn in and then expressed out by the body of a jellyfish swimming through time, a process of flexing systole and diastole, a means of propulsion. It is how humans and their social systems seem to operate on wherever our novelty-seeking journey takes us.

I'm not a card-carrying Sartre-trained communist who wants to tear the contact lenses out of rich people's eyes. I don't want to make a Disney ride of the simulated Cambodian Killing Fields of Dith Pranh and scare the bejeesus out of everyone holding a 401k, progressively taxing them all the way. Be that as it may, if a society figures out how to spread the bounty halfway evenly without destroying the motivation to get it in the first place, I figure that's a good thing. Admittedly, that's a difficult balancing act, but it happens sometimes, as 8 out of 10 historians agree.

(systole and diastole)

Which brings me back to Japan. The longevity data are impressive. But they don't show anything much, really. Just that the Japanese top the heap in that department. If you lived there, though, it's more impressive, because then you'd know they're not actually trying to outlive anybody. For example, sixty years into the past century these people were sending young men with two hours of flight training off to the rather sporty task of diving planes into American warships. How could that be? Almost everything Westerners believe about Japan is wrong. When I lived there, I routinely walked by men in suits puking their drunken guts out by night, and there was no shame in that. It was seen as blowing off stress. As a male, it was rude and nearly impossible not to smoke cigarettes in public, as they were proffered instantly; only a claim like, "It's regrettable, my dear man, but I have lung cancer and my doctor has ordered me to take a temporary break from tobacco" would fend off repeated generosities. And at first, the language barrier was too high for that task.

'Baghdad Burning' Blogger To Flee Quadrillage

A young Iraqi blogger known as "Riverbend," whose reports on the war and occupation were so eloquent and thoughtful they were collected and made into a book, is leaving. Her family knew it was time to go when Coalition Forces started erecting a wall around A'adhamiya and the remaining Sunni sections of Baghdad. Here's an excerpt from her post, which is worth reading in full. If you do read it, it's difficult to avoid confronting the full reality of what the United States, my country, is doing in Iraq:
The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, "Oh look- we're just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!" And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn't enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It's time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of "Shia areas" and Shia out of "Sunni areas".

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq's history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven't been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?
She goes on to note that Jordan and Syria have begun to turn refugees away, and how difficult it is to decide what to leave, and what to save. Riverbend's blog tagline is, "...I'll meet you 'round the bend, my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend." I hope she makes it out, that she survives to see the gang of criminals who did this and worse to her and so many others be "brought to justice," to see their own parlance and metaphors turned upon them, so they twist slumped and slow on creaking ropes in the wind.

They are, by the small and large definitions of the term, truly War Criminals. Mass murderers. Most people say that justice is never going to happen, or isn't a realistic hope. Maybe they're right. Yet even the all-powerful Stalin, near the end, having steeped so deeply in evil, was not immune to a justice born of his own paranoia. He slept on a sofa, never left the security of one room, feared to eat food, and nightmares devoured more and more of his sleep. Admittedly, maybe Stalin had more of a conscience than the collective Bush Administration, but the "Clash of Civilizations" they have conflated is far from over. First I wish you safe arrivals, Riverbend. Then justice.

Correction To Slap-Down

Al C. writes in to slap down a falsehood in my last post. Al is something of an LBJ career buff, and he pointed out that Lyndon Johnson was never Governor of Texas, as I asserted in the context of voting fraud. Rather it was Johnson's successful run for the 1948 Senate run which was plagued by flagrant vote fraud of the old-fashioned sort. Here's the Wikipedia entry on it:
1948 contested election
In 1948, Johnson again ran for the Senate and won. This election was highly controversial: a three-way Democratic Party primary saw Johnson facing a well-known former governor, Coke Stevenson, and a third candidate. Johnson drew crowds to fairgrounds with his rented helicopter dubbed "The Flying Windmill". He raised money to flood the state with campaign circulars, and won over conservatives by voting for the Taft-Hartley act curbing unions and by criticizing unions on the stump. Stevenson came in first, but lacked a majority, so a runoff was held. Johnson campaigned even harder, while Stevenson's efforts were poor. The runoff count took a week as the two candidates see-sawed for the lead. The state Democratic committee handled the count (not the state, because it was a party primary), and it finally announced Johnson won by 87 votes. There were many allegations of fraud on both sides. Thus one writer alleges that Johnson's campaign manager, John Connally, was connected with 202 ballots in Duval County that had curiously been cast in alphabetical order. Robert Caro argued in his 1989 book that Johnson had rigged the election in Duval County as well as rigging 10,000 ballots in Bexar County alone.[9]
However, the state Democratic convention upheld Johnson. Stevenson went to court, but—with timely help from his friend Abe Fortas—Johnson prevailed. Johnson was elected Senator in November, and went to Washington tagged with the sobriquet "Landslide Lyndon".
Thanks, Al! Especially for the picture above, a Google Image returned from the search terms "eating crow."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Slap-Down Tool #1: Voting & Election Fraud

I decided to start a regular numbered series surfacing practical argument-squashers for friends and family that can be printed out, e-mailed, or otherwise quoted. I'm calling it "Slap-Down Tools." The idea isn't to go after one side of the Property Party specifically, but you can be sure BushCo et al will be coming in for some blind-side hits. This first one's about vote fraud, as catalogued in one McClatchy News Bureau article published in the Columbia Tribune. Anybody gives you any guff about vote fraud being a bunch of hot air, this article will cut them off clean at the shins.

There was a friend I had once who used to get totally wound up defending the merest hint of Republican vote fraud in either the 2000 or 2004 elections, objectively stating that vote fraud is a Democratic invention and that I should not worry my little head about malicious claims about ballot boxes being thrown into dumpsters in Florida. As it happens, we both live in Washington State, and when there was a razor-thin election here for governor with the Democratic candidate coming out ahead in a re-count, well, not everyone wanted to accept that re-count. (Hey, at least there was one.) In a righteous rage, the former friend took his entire family to picket the Capitol building in Olympia without any qualms.

C'mon. Let's get real here. Vote fraud is nothing new. Both major parties have done it for a long time in this country. Lyndon Johnson won the governorship of Texas with votes from the graveyards and the sage brush of some counties. The nature of local machine politics in the 1800s made ballot-box stuffing an almost standard procedure, and in the 1900s, bums were paid to dress up in disguises and vote as many times as they could before getting caught. At least there was a paper trail back then. Here's the lead-in to the Slap-Down article, Access Denied:
The Bush administration has systematically worked nationwide and notably in Missouri to restrict voter turnout in ways that favor Republican candidates in close races.
By GREG GORDON of McClatchy Newspapers
Published Sunday, April 22, 2007
For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Department of Justice political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President George W. Bush’s popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

Facing nationwide voter registration drives by Democratic-leaning groups, the administration alleged widespread election fraud and endorsed proposals for tougher state and federal voter identification laws. Presidential political adviser Karl Rove alluded to the strategy last April when he railed about voter fraud in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Suppressing voter turnout in Missouri was just one scheme in one state. Every State Attorney General is a Republican appointee, and every one of them was expected to tilt the playing field for votes as far as they could towards, of course, the Republican candidates. When Rove's strategy got blown out of the water in the 2006 mid-term elections, and he looked like an ass for losing majorities in both the Senate and the House, State Attorney heads were going to roll. Eight of them were fired for not delivering the goods. So the next time someone comes up telling you how Bush vote fraud never happened and that Karl Rove is an honest political operative, tell them, "Give me a *&#@%@ break," and then rub this article in their face as a favor.

The group that's in power now has carried out what is probably the most brazen and certainly the most high-tech vote-tampering schemes of all time. They've pioneered new methods in voter suppression, vote-shaving, vote-spoofing, systemic intimidation and election-fixing. At this point, if someone you know argues otherwise, they are insulting your intelligence and doing serious damage to their own.

(Update:) Thanks to Hordie Al C., I stand corrected re: Lyndon Johnson. He was never Governor of Texas, as the next post above-stream discusses. By sheer coincidence, the explanation involves a green bikini and a crow.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Conspiracy Theorist Of The Week: Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich
is a 6-term Congressman from Ohio. He is the former mayor of Cleveland. In Congress, he Chairs the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and is a Member sitting on the Committee on Education and Labor. He 2003 recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award. In addition to being from Cleveland, he is a conspiracy theorist, so he must be dismissed from polite society.
  • Video interview with Justin A. Martell of Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth 4/5/07:

    Justin A. Martell: Would you in any way maybe address the 9/11 Truth Movement?

    Congressman Kucinich: First of all, you have to understand that all over the country people are concerned about whether or not they've been told the truth about 9/11. And the way that the administration handled 9/11, taking us into a war against Iraq that had nothing to do with 9/11, deepened people's suspicions about the possibility there may have been a cover-up. Because, why would the government lie about a cause for war? And so, what I'm saying is that I respect the concerns people have about whether they've been told the truth or not.

    Because I want to be President of the United States, I know that unless you address that lack of trust, you're not going to be able to successfully lead a nation. And I want to be quite specific about this. It's my intention as Chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee to focus in on two areas that I've -- there are a number of areas, probably dozens of areas that haven't been appropriately probed -- but I know of two, that I'm looking at. I'm not at liberty to discuss exactly what they are, but our committee will hold hearings on two discreet areas that have major implications with respect to the story that Americans have been told about 9/11."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wow. A Winged Victory. Wearing Nikes!

Amazingly, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) program (aka Spy on Peace Groups), found it was counterproductive, and is shutting it down. The new undersecretary for defense intelligence, James Clapper (applause!) made the call:

How The Iraq Occupation Will End

Quadrillage. It means sectioning, quartering, setting up troops in fortified village posts and in neighborhoods to observe and direct counter-insurgency operations. The idea is to have Gary Cooper holed up in the sherrif's office, like he was in 'High Noon.' Only better armed. To keep the Sherriffs from being overwhelmed, it takes a heavy network of intelligence, firepower, quick-reaction cavalry, air and ground asset support. And to provoke its hair-trigger response doesn't take much.

As a way to quell insurgency, quadrillage's main disadvantage is that its outposts are static and in the very midst of the populations they aim to control. In Iraq, our soldiers lack the vital advantage of intelligence, so as sectioneurs they are constantly observed for weakness. Every coming and going is noted. Every order for food is seen. Near Baqubah yesterday, an outpost was rammed by a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives. The entire garrison of US troops was blown up, with a reported 9 dead and 20 wounded. The same Baqubah which T.E. Lawrence stormed with a bunch of Arabs on camels to sound the death knell of the Ottoman Empire.

Iraq is like the movie 'Fort Apache, The Bronx,' only worse: unless there is a political path to a viable treaty, quadrillage does nothing but turn troopers into vulnerable targets. Meanwhile, the only path to treaty BushCo is pushing is "Stay the Course." This is not a course. It's an exercise in futility. It places our troops within reach of angry people who regrettably but understandably want to kill them. And until we pull back, that's what's going to happen. If our troops are exposed, they will be attacked, and by spreading them around into smaller, less defendable forts, quadrillage makes them more vulnerable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Le Vote

People make fun of France for being a nation of grognard surrendur-monkeys who mince over little morsels of unpasteurized cheeses, can't even make a decent beer, and are bitterly envious of America. I went to Provence on vacation once, not far from where Richard "The Neo-Con Prince of Darkness" Perle lives. Yeah. Sometimes I still dream of the morning markets where they sell flowers and wild mushrooms and those little morsels of unpasteurized cheese. I was happy as a clam. Too happy. To pry me out of France they had to shoot me with a tranquilizer dart, and threw a net over me so I could be shipped kicking and screaming back to the Greatest Country Ever. But anyhow, where was I...oh, right: I wonder how Americans will be stereotyped 50 years from now if, ahh, Asians happen to run the world?

The turnout for France's Presidential election was 80%. Nicolas Sarkozy, a Hungarian immigrant's son running as an anti-immgrant conservative, led the polls with a 30% take. Segolene Royal, a hard-ass officer's daughter running as a liberal, took 24% of the initial votes. Now it goes to a run-off. Whatever happens, France will be going through a few convulsions, as in, this is not your father's Chirac-mobile. I'm rooting for Segolene, of course, because Sarkozy's solution is to turn France into a police state. France had to deal with German invasions twice in the the last century, so she should be able to handle diversity.

Speaking of diversity: can you imagine who America would elect if 80% of the voters turned out now? (Hint: rhymes with "Osama.")

Here's an excerpt from the Yahoo! news story, which I won't bother to link to because the link will be broken a week from now. Seems the French
can be out-done in the condescension department:
But France also is a nation deeply troubled, still haunted by riots by young blacks and Arabs in poor neighborhoods in 2005. Decades of high unemployment, increasing competition from more dynamic economies like China's, and a sense that France is losing influence in the world made this a passionate campaign.
("Umm, is there a Kettle here? Call for Mr. Kettle! Ah, there you are, sir. Allow me to introduce you to Mr. POT!") Maybe, maybe someday sooner than we think, America will have 80% of its voters turn out for a Presidential election. Like France, this country needs answers, and on all the same issues. As for votes, if the Bush Dynasty has taught us anything, it's that you have to turn out in overwhelming numbers.
Harper's Weekly News Review

Harper's, the oldest continuing publication in the US, puts out a news round-up every Tuesday. I'm on their e-list, and sometimes (depending on the week and who does the compilation) it can be very good:

The United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision
that the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is
legal. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before
the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the firing of
federal prosecutors; Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) told
Gonzales his ability to lead was in question, and Senator
Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) asked Gonzales to resign. One
prominent Republican said the hearing was like "clubbing a
baby seal." A series of attacks in Shiite districts of
Baghdad killed at least 158 people, the largest number of
people killed in a single day since President Bush
increased the number of troops in Iraq three months
ago. "I wish the war was over," said Karl Rove. "I wish
the war never existed." Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr,
upset that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will not support
a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, convinced six
cabinet members to quit. "We are free because we are not
in the government," said Bahar al-Araji, a Sadr
legislator. "If the prime minister doesn't do what we
want, we can do something to the prime minister. We can
make him leave the government." Defense Secretary Robert
Gates said that if the vacancies were filled with members
who could broaden representation in the cabinet, it
"probably would be a positive thing." Britain banned the
phrase "war on terror," and Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid declared that the United States has lost the war in

Boris Yeltsin died. In Rio police clashed with drug gangs
in a shootout that left at least 19 people dead. Brazilian
Justice Minister Tarso Genro announced that the federal
government would send hundreds more police officers to the
city. "For young people," said a spokeswoman for nonprofit
Observatory of the Favelas, "this is a genocide. And I
don't mean that as a metaphor. It really is a genocide."
President George W. Bush, who had planned to unveil
sanctions against Sudan during a speech at the
U.S. Holocaust Museum, agreed to U.N. Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon's request for more time to pursue diplomacy,
and Sudan agreed to allow more than 3,000 armed U.N. and
African peacekeepers into Darfur, where
government-supported militia are accused of killing as
many as 400,000 civilians. Presidential candidate Dennis
Kucinich shut down his campaign website for 24 hours in
order to create a virtual "moment of silence" to honor the
dead at Virginia Tech. Representative Louie Gohmert (R.,
Tex.) argued against a hate crime bill from the floor of
the House. "If you are going to hurt someone," he
characterized the bill as saying, "if you are going to
shoot them, brutalize them, please make it a random,
senseless act of violence like Virginia. Don't hate them
while you hurt them." A senior U.N. inspector revealed
that in the past two months Iran has doubled its capacity
to enrich uranium, and Senator John McCain entertained a
crowd at a campaign rally in South Carolina by singing
"Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of "Barbara
Ann" by the Beach Boys.

A Stanford study concluded that pollution from ethanol
could be a worse health hazard than that from gasoline,
and a report detailing the effects of global warming in
North America predicted the end of "a reliable snowmobile
season" by mid-century. One centimeter of snow accumulated
on the drought-stricken Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in what
China claimed to be the first artificial snowfall. A
12-foot-long minke whale spent two days frolicking near
the polluted waters of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New
York, then died. "These are days for tears," said an
onlooker. In Hungary, a truck on its way to a
slaughterhouse overturned, releasing 5,000 bunnies; 500
were killed and 4,400 recaptured, but 100 hopped to
freedom. Restaurant owners in Hong Kong were fining
customers who did not eat all their food, and Toto,
Japan's leading toilet maker, was offering free repairs
for 180,000 bidet toilets after several burst into
flames. Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson
gave a speech at the Religious Action Center of Reform
Judaism. "I'm earning money," he said, referring to his
life in the private sector. "You know that's sort of part
of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong
with that." Angry crowds in India were burning Richard
Gere in effigy, and doctors in New York City removed a
woman's gallbladder through her vagina.

-- Claire Gutierrez

Monday, April 23, 2007

Quadrillagerie a la Arabienne, Denouement a la Baghdad

Above is the medieval city of Cordoba, Spain, walled as it was when it still had Moslem rulers. They're building walls around and between various ethnic neighborhoods in Baghdad, and this is the final state of the execution of quadrillage, the historical counter-insurgency practice of walling the women who support the insurgents into camps and gain control over them, so as to strangle the insurgency. It's not looking good for the walls, first for their connotations to the Israeli wall erected in Gaza, but more importantly because Al-Sadr is strongly against them in concept. If Sadr City is walled, Iraq's Sadrist PM Maliki will lose his core support, and he and his lieutenants will be quickly removed from power.

Continued application of force does not work in the Mid-East. Never has. Diligent maintenance of a byzantine network of treaties and developing a stretchy fabric of stability is what has always worked there.

"The political divisions which prevail in the Near East today should not blind us to the underlying cultural and psychological unity of the region as a whole....the far-reaching interdependence of the local states and territories imposes on the interested foreign power the obligation to approach the entire region as a unit...any foreign policy in the Near East which is not a comprehensive regional policy is an invitation to bankruptcy...."
E.A. Speiser, The United States and the Near East (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), pp. 226-227.

Professor Efraim Speiser was professor of semitics at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously he served as Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Baghdad and was an authority on Mesopotamia, and was Head of the Near East Section of the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS during WWII. (Book quote courtesy of Professor Kiracofe.)

As Kiracofe points out, "Americans have been in the region since the early 19th century and there are no excuses at all for current US policy. Most certainly not the excuse 'If we had only known...' We did know, we do know."

Google Directions: New York To London

If you go to Google Maps and get directions from 'New York' to 'London' you get a simple 64-step plan to make it there. First they have you drive Northeast to Quincy, Connecticut and tell you take a right off of the Long Wharf at Step 23, rather than directing you to jump into the East River from any number of available docks, roadways, and bridges in one of New York's boroughs. Smart. This way, they shaved a week or two of total time off the trip by heading overland and getting further up the coast.

But here's where it gets weird. After you jump into the ocean at Quincy and swim across the Atlantic at Step 24: "Swim across Atlantic Ocean, 3,482 mi.," they want you to crawl ashore at Pont Vauban in France and go through Le Havre over towards Dieppe. This does not make sense to me; rather than make landfall in France and go through all the rigamorole of getting over to the ferry to cross the English Channel from Boulogne, it would seem far more efficient to swim directly to England's traditional port of embarkation, Plymouth.

Someone should bring this navigation error up with the Google people, as it could save on some travel inconvenience.

(h/t to Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis for surfacing this.)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Respect Yourself

A high-pressure taproot of the Blues was the Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta. As plantations go, it started late, in 1895, long after they said slavery was over. But they still needed someone to cut sugar cane down in the swamps.

Charlie Patton, Son House, and Wille Brown all lived at the same time on Dockery Farm at its peak, when 2,000 black men and women labored there. And there was more than blues growing, there was gospel and rhythm, too. Roebuck 'Pops' Staple was born on the farm in 1914, and he went on to move up to Chicago and have a big family, just dying in 2000. His family, they could all sing and play like an angel's jailbreak in churches or anyplace else, and before they got famous the Staple Singers attracted the attentions of Martin Luther King, Jr. Shortly before he got killed, he heard them in an Alabama church and liked their sound and message so much he asked them to tour with him.

The YouTube clip above is from a Black Pride concert, probably in 1971 in Oakland Stadium. The Staple Singers had scored a #1 hit a year later with their old stand-by. "I'll Take You There," ("ain't no smilin' faces, lyin' to the nations") which Dr. King had heard and loved in that church choir 5 years before. By 1972, it was not a particularly happy time for the Black Pride movement, the country as a whole was limping, Vietnam was winding down, Watergate was winding up like an wife-beater's haymaker and the Watts riots were looming. But Pops Staple and his family put on a show in Oakland, you can see the dignity and hope in the crowd, and I feel privileged to have found the footage. Here are a few lyrics from the hope and righteous dignity they sang:

If you disrespect everybody that you're runnin to
How you gonna think everybody's gonna respect you?
If you don't give a heck about the man with the Bible in his hand
Just get out the way and let the gentleman do his thing.
You the kinda gentleman who want everthing your way?
Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day!
Respect yourself. Respect yourself. Respect yourself.
If you don't respect yourself ain't nobody gonna give a good cahoot.
Respect yourself. Respect yourself. You oughta respect yourself.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Occasional Quote Du Jour

"Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom." - Marilyn Ferguson

(Marilyn Ferguson is someone who set out to change the world, and did. Her fingerprints are on many of the major scientific breakthroughs of the past century. She served as a facilitator, translator, instigator, leader, insurgent, inspiration, agonista, and nurturer. Amongst other things, she inspired Al Gore to start the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future, probably one of the best things to happen in Congress in the last 30 years.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bring Me The Head Of Alberto Gonzales, Pt. III

Ok, not quite the head, but they're getting warmer, warmer. I caught some of Abu's well-coached responses in the Senate hearings this morning, enough to know he was flying through some heavy bipartisan flak:
"The best way to put this behind us is your resignation," Sen. Tom Coburn (Republican) of Oklahoma bluntly told Gonzales, one conservative to another.
And here are some more dubious exchanges (courtesy of

Gonzales' introductory statement: "I shoulda been more precise… My misstatements were my mistakes, no one else's… I have been extremely forthcoming with information… not the actions of someone with something to hide…"

Responses to Committee Chairman Sen. Leahy (D-VT.): "I can only recall… I don't recall… I did not know… it appears… I was not responsible for… I have no recollection… Again, Senator, I was not responsible for compiling that… I don't recall a specific mention… It appears… as I recall… I don't recall Senator Dominici ever…That rationale was not in my mind, as I recall… Senator, that's an answer that I have to get back to you… Senator, I'd like to give you that information, but…"

Responses to Sen. Specter (R-PA.): "Senator, I don't want to quarrel with you… Based on what I thought, what I understood was going on… I believed that was ongoing… I don't recall… What I recall is… I don't recall whether Mr. Mercer presented me the numbers… Senator, I have no recollection about that, but I presume that that is true… Senator, I do recall having a conversation with Mr. Rove… Senator, you're talking about a series of events that occurred over possibly 700 days… putting it in context, Senator, I would say that my involvement was limited… Senator, of course, in hindsight…"

Reponses to Sen. Kennedy (D-MA.): "I think that's a fair question, Senator… I was not the person in the Department who had the most information… Since then, I have gone back and looked at the documents available to Congress… I'm not aware that anyone… I believe that I had a good process… Senator, I did not review the document… Senator, I think it's a good question… I don't recall in connection to this review process Mr. Sampson was involved in… I don't recall everyone who was there… Senator, there may have been other discussions…"

Responses to Sen. Brownback (R-KS.): "I do not recall what I knew about… I just don't recall the reason… It appears there were concerns about… Now, in hindsight… I'm not aware of any new facts here… She's the other person, quite candidly, Senator, that I don't recall… I myself was confused, quite frankly, when I testified… Generally, I recall…"

Responses to interjection by Chairman Leahy: "Sir, I don't recall sending a follow-up quite frankly. I don't know if it was a mistake or misstatement in my testimony… "

Responses to Sen. Kohl (D-WI.): "Senator, I was never aware… Senator, again, this is a process that was ongoing that I didn't have transparency into… With all due respect Senator… he's the person who has the answers… Senator, I'll go back and see if there is something that I can do… We've done great things!..."

Senator Feinstein (D-CA.): "Senator, I don't recall specifically the genesis of the idea… I don't have any recollection about the mechanics of the legislative process… As I recall, his updates were brief… as Mr. Sampson gave me updates, I don't recall… I accept full responsibility… Senator, I don't recall making the decision that day… I don't recall exactly when I made the decision… Senator, I don't recall knowing whether… Senator, I don't know that…"

Catching some of the exchanges in the car during our morning routines, Lord Wife observed of Gonzales, "He's a sniveling little toady, isn't he?" A stone-walling little toady, I replied. He repeatedly responded with the most condescending sort of lawyerly contempt. Gonazales has no intention of resigning, and he doesn't have to. He's one of the inner circle, and the circle's strategy is to grind down the clock, to exhaust the energies of a procedurally pissed-off Congress and let it pass. Yet Gonzales is one of the key legal minds who choreographed the contorted legal gymnastics which unleashed American snatch-and-grab torture operations upon the world, thereby stripping our troops, agents, and allies of former Geneva Convention protections and less formal niceties. Moms, dads, and children who travel abroad are paying the price every week for Gonzales doctrines.

Even if Gonzales were to resign, it's within the purview of the Bush Administration to choose another Attorney General to send up for confirmation. Harriet Miers? John Bolton? Fred Thompson? Bunkie Hunt? Maybe the scholarly torture-sweetheart John Yoo could fill in for the job. During these hearings, Gonzales made it clear he's a made man and is not going to resign. Despite all the harsh words from Senators of both parties and the bad-liar responses, there's no constitutional solution for what to do.

This is a case which devolves to The People: bring us the head of Alberto Gonzales. I'll come right out and say it: this man insults the spirit and the rule of laws he swore to uphold, he has placed a heavy thumb on the scales of blind justice, and our country would be a much better place if he either resigned or expired. His expungement could serve as a catalyst to progress back to higher standards. I don't like violence, and maybe there's a better way to move forward through concerted PR, but the blusterings of Congress won't accomplish much against this complete absence of conscience.

I'm hereby expressing my Constitutional right to Free Speech: if the head of Alberto Gonzales were to show up on a lawn in Chevy Chase tomorrow morning, it would be a reason for the world to celebrate. Just my opinon, and I have no plans to make it happen. What am I advocating? I'm a conservative, not an extremist. He should resign. It would improve things, but that's not on the progam. Stonewalling is the order of the day. Gonzales is a festering, boiling pustule on the remains of our democracy. He is brazenly tempting Fate at our expense. Feed the world. Let them know it's Christmas-time.

Bomb-Bomb-Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran Redux

In response to an audience member's question, "When do we send 'em an airmail message to Tehran," the good Senator from Neverland quipped, "You know that old, ah, Beach Boys song, 'Bomb Iran?'" And then he actually starts in on the first few words. Guess his staff must've played him the YouTube mash-up that went around a few months ago. How viral. Bye-bye-bye, John-John McCain. Here are more extensive and touching performances on his album, 'John McCain Sings Streisand.' (No, really. Honest to God. I'm not sure what the hell this is, but you've GOT to watch it.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh, Here We Go Again...

Ismail AX. The shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre, Cho-Seung Hui, died with the words "Ismail AX" written, or tattoed, in red on his arm. I happen to know what it means. In the Jewish tradition, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac with a knife. In the Muslim tradition, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael with an axe. Why, may I ask, would a student of South Korean descent chose to have that, of all things, on his arm. You have to be paying pretty keen attention in your Intro to World Religions class to pick up on that bit of Islamic lore. You'd have to be a theology student, or you'd have to be someone studying your enemy very closely. You see, Ismail AX means "sacrificial son." In the parlance of jihad, it means suicide bomber.

Here's another weird crinkle in the tin foil. Cho-Seung Hul's older sister Sun-Kyung graduated from Princeton and works for McNeil Technologies. It's a doozy. Their motto is: "Empowering People. Delivering Results." McNeil Technologies provides outsourced spooks and goons the goverment uses to do work that's too sensitive, dirty, or boring (if you can imagine that). It's like the Stasi, only owned by a private equity firm, Veritas, which has at least two partners who sit on the Council on Foreign Relations, one of whom sits on a certain DynCorp's board. Click that link if you want to know who's moving the opium crop out of Afghanistan. McNeil's web site and its CEO are pretty up-front about their services:

McNeil’’s Intelligence and Language Center (ILC) provides unmatched expertise in the areas of Intelligence and Language Services. The combination of Intelligence and Language guarantees our clients mission success.

Our services and capabilities include:

* Intelligence Architecture Operations in support of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).
* Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) which supports the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other government agencies, and
* HUMINT (Human Intel) operations in support of DIA, or with federal counter Intel outsourcing effort.
* Linguist operations, with linguists deployed in various theaters of operations,
* Translation operations which include document and website translation,
* Testing, Training and Research of language and cultural awareness.

God, I love the smell of growth industry in the morning. Smells like...napalm. Is there a connection between Ismail AX and McNeil Technologies? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. Fear will be spread across all the universities of the country from this incident, the committees who run schools are petrified, and there will be intrusive security consequences at public and private places of learning because of it.

Specifically, I'm not saying this was an Office of Special Plans operation to delay Senate examination of the US Attorney General or Kucinich's filing of impeachment papers on Cheney, although those were actually delayed. It's probably all pure bullshit and coincidence. But I am saying this is pretty damned weird. I'm saying the press is going to play this for all it's worth, I'm saying there's a "Muslim" spin waiting to happen, and I'm saying loud and clear that an event like this tends to benefit the providers of large-scale security. Such as McNeil Technologies and its owner, Veritas. They're who benefits. They're the bad direction to go in. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, and dubious mo-fos such as these have been planting some bad seeds down deep, hurting the hell out of our country.

I'm saying let's not get snookered by fear. We don't need to be locking down our universities and doing to them what we've done to airports because one messed-up kid shot up a class building. Locking them down and securitizing them will be just like living in East Germany, Rumania, Russia, but even there, you could carry a bottle of shampoo through a security line. Maybe instead we should consider a Start acting like a grown-up nation. Maybe we should even do a little...gun control. I know, I know, that's crazy talk, I need to go double up on my medication.

Ahh, there, that's better. Still, maybe jilted boyfriends are a little quicker to reach for gats because we live in a society which, already hooked on violence, now has adopted a policy of pre-emption from the Top On Down. The Virginia Tech tragedy couldn't be connected to the way our leaders act. Could it?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Keb' Mo On The West Wing

I was feeling a little down about Old Glory today, but I'm a die-hard patriot, and I'll suck it up. My partner went to see Keb' Mo last week and heard something like this. From sea to shinin' sea.

Regina Spektor: On The Radio

One more reason for keeping the borders open, despite the risks:

This is how it works
You're young until you're not
You love until you don't
You try until you can't
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again.

Breaking: Articles of Impeachment To Be Filed On Cheney?

Dennis Kucinich is Da Man. Quoted from the Sleuth at WaPo Online:
Looks like he's reached his boiling point.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the most liberal of the Democratic presidential candidates in the primary field, declared in a letter sent to his Democratic House colleagues this morning that he plans to file articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney.

Kucinich has made ending the war in Iraq the central theme of his campaign. He has even taken aim at the leading Democratic presidential candidates in the field for their votes on authorizing the war.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to impeach the president, vice president and "all civil Officers of the United States" for "treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Sources tell the Sleuth that in light of the mass killings at Virginia Tech Monday, Kucinich's impeachment plans have been put on hold. There will be no action this week, they say.

Kucinich's office had no comment on the Congressman's "Dear Colleague" letter -- which apparently was drafted over the weekend, before the school massacre -- or on what the focus of articles of impeachment against Cheney would be.

But Kucinich shouldn't hold his breath on getting anywhere with his impeachment plan. "We'll see a Kucinich Administration before we'll see a Cheney impeachment," quipped one Democratic aide.

Here is the text of his letter, a copy of which was forwarded to the Sleuth:

April 17, 2007

Dear Colleague:

This week I intend to introduce Articles of Impeachment with respect to the conduct of Vice President Cheney. Please have your staff contact my office . . . if you would like to receive a confidential copy of the document prior to its introduction in the House.



Dennis J. Kucinich

Member of Congress

Soooo, while they're saying the Kucinich Gambit doesn't have a chance in hell of succeeding, at least someone's doing it, and you never know how far the ball will roll. Cheney is about as popular as chiggers at a beach party; some people like that kind of thing, but they're in a pretty weird minority. And as I and many others have said before, a Cheney impeachment is exactly where you need to start off. He's the Architect, he's the Godfather, and what good would impeaching Bush do? Cheney's official position is VP. Do we want him as our f@&$%#* President? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

I don't see the mass killings at Virginia Tech as a serious reason not to file impeachment papers, and I don't see Kucinich backing off. It's all the better that he's seen as an outsider and isn't taken seriously because, oh, he's been right on just about everything, and he has a big schnozz, a funny name and funny hair. Maybe this is the Stealth Impeachment. If nothing else, it'll be on the historic record, and that is Progress. If he files the papers, I will be sending Den-K's campaign some money-love.

Here's Pat Lang's take on the Wolfowitz woes (starting out with a Financial Times quote, Pat's commentary is below the break):
"It is important to understand what is not at issue here. It is not Mr Wolfowitz’s unpopularity, even though his role as an architect of the Iraq war made him disliked from the start. It is not failures of management, even though his reliance on a group of outside appointees made him mistrusted by many inside and outside the Bank. It is not disagreements over development doctrine, where some convergence of views has occurred. It is not a romantic relationship with a subordinate, itself hardly a rarity in today’s world.

The issue is whether the failures of corporate governance are serious enough to damage the Bank’s moral authority. In a world where curtailing corruption and improving governance have become central to the practice of development, the world’s premier development institution must, like Caesar’s wife, stand above suspicion." FT


IMO, he is a war criminal. Men were hanged after WW2 for "planning and waging aggressive war." What did he (PW) do? IMO, he was at the heart of the conspiracy to persuade GWB to invade Iraq (for whatever set of reasons that you prefer), depose its ruler, destroy its government and substitute another more to our liking. Is this not "planning and waging aggressive war?"

And now this over educated and deceptively mild mannered nitwit has literally and figuratively screwed himself out of a job. His penchant for such behavior has long been known among the cognoscenti in Washington. Under most circumstances I would not take notice of such personal details in his mis-spent life, but in this case I can hardly wait for the denouement.

Of course, the MSM is much more interested in the moral drama of Imusgate, but, what can one say about that? pl

Quiche Du Jour: La Belle Net-Age

Hehe. I looked up the domain. It's open.

A Message From The Irony Overload Broadcast System

Having worked at two of the involved companies, I thought this was pretty rich:
Several companies, including Yahoo, AT&T and Microsoft, are encouraging regulators to take a close look at Google's planned purchase of online ad company DoubleClick....
In a statement Sunday, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith called for regulators to give the deal a hard look. "This proposed acquisition raises serious competition and privacy concerns in that it gives the Google DoubleClick combination unprecedented control in the delivery of online advertising, and access to a huge amount of consumer information by tracking what customers do online," Smith said. "We think this merger deserves close scrutiny from regulatory authorities to ensure a competitive online advertising market."
Never try to con a con-man, as the saying goes. And never try to out-monopolize a monopolist.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Al-Sadr Pulling His Representatives Out of Parliament

6 of the 37 seats are being abandoned to protest the lack of a pull-out date, which the Maliki government had tentatively promised. Maybe I'm wrong about the Maliki/Sadr machinations, but it would seem this is the opening salvo in dissolving the Government in order to create a partitioned Shia "Rump" Iraq which is free of Sunnis. Either way the effects and outcome will be the same. This strengthens Iran's hands further.

On the military side: don't forget about the bridges. They are critical to the supply roadnet which runs through the Shia southeast sections of Iraq. When Iran (or Al-Sadr, for that matter) gives the word, those bridges will be blown, and Coalition (mostly U.S.) ground forces will be in deep doo-doo.

Deadliest Shooting Rampage In US History

At least 33 people were killed at Virginia Tech by a lone gunman. It's unclear what his motive was, and his name has not yet been released. This is another black day for the families of the young people shot and killed, and for our country.

I've been saying for some time that terror would follow us home from Iraq, just not in the same way GWB means it, and it will follow whether we stay there or not. Because we unleashed it. I'm not predicting that the killer is a Marine returned from Iraq, although it might turn out that he is, I'm saying the entire atmosphere of our country has been poisoned. It's been Limbaughterized, Ann-Coultrified. This is the terror we've unleashed in Iraq popping up like fire-ants from the same unholy nest. The Iraqis live with this kind of thing EVERY DAY, only it's more organized. The longer we stay in Iraq, the more things like this will happen here.

Below, one of the victims, Derek O'Dell, describes the shooter as being an Asian man in his 20s randomly shooting the students in his classroom:

Wilfred Owen: Dulce Et Decorum Est

A few posts back I wrote about the passing of a hero of mine, the subversive absurdist writer Kurt Vonnegut, best known for his anti-war novel. Not really knowing why, I titled that post with the well-worn line from a Horace Ode, the one which was told to so many English children before they were sacrificed on the altar of a dying Empire's pride. At the time, the line simply surfaced in my mind, somehow previously connected or at least located nearby in memory. It was the closing, knock-out blow in a Wilfred Owen poem, the Wilfred Owen who became the friend of Siegfried Sassoon, trench-dwellers and then fellow-travelers in World War One who met on shell-shocked convalescent psychiatric leave. A lot of effort was put forth to launder their friendship into something more publicly acceptable, but the two poets were more than only friends. Sassoon also introduced Owen into a talented literary circle, who taught him technique and turns of phrase, presumably the consonant para-rhymes which became his signature and elevated his works to a perch upon which school-children would later alight.

A friend from the former Empire, whom I refer to as Al C., caught the reference. It seems he, too, when in high school was made to read what was for there and then one of the most potent anti-war elixirs written. Wilfred Owen had a nervous breakdown, and to heal himself, he forced himself to go back and write about what he had seen. Then he went back to lead his men and face his demons despite his disgust for the war and the people running it, and on top of Sassoon's strenuous efforts to stop him. He died leading his men across a canal to take an enemy position, posthumously winning the VC and promotion to Lieutenant. News of his death reached his home town of Shropshire just as its church bells started to ring in celebration of the Armistice.

I went back and looked up what is considered to be the greatest anti-war poem of the past century. It is about a Weapon of Mass Destruction, then called something less euphemistic. The painting above is by John Singer Sargent, and a much larger canvas version hangs in London, in the War Museum. It is titled "Gassed:"

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Regina Spektor: Better

Michael Butler burned a CD for us this past week by Regina Spektor, a girl born in Russia who first started playing the cafes in the East Village where my wife grew up and went to school, and we can't stop listening to her. She has so many great songs and lyrics it's hard to choose which one to put up. There's a Youtube video someone took of her playing to a live crowd at a Tower Records live, with clips of a bunch of her songs, and while she gets fun and frisky there, all the songs are incomplete. It seems "better" to showcase one of her full songs. She's the Bomb.

553 Secretaries of State

In an address to his beloved Heritage Foundation, Vice President Richard "Dick" Cheney denounced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria, saying:
"By the wisdom of the framers, that power rests in the hands of one commander-in-chief, not 535 commanders-in-chief on Capitol Hill," the vice president said. "I might add that we don't need 535 secretaries of state, either."
The framers didn't have a Capitol Hill when they formed our government. They just had written something which is "just a goddamned piece of paper," as our current Commander-In-Chief is fond of referring their Constitution.

But let's really think about this for a minute. The wisdom of the framers dwelled for quite some time on the topic of avoiding foreign wars, and I'm true-North positive they would've been vehemently against getting our asses kicked in one. In fact, I bet in the current situation Adams, Jefferson, and everybody down to old Button Gwinett would be sending every representative they could to the Middle East so they could see what it was like, talk to the leaders over there, beg for their patience and forgiveness, and tell them the Commander's days are numbered. Many of those secretaries of state would send the message that Cheney wouldn't know the wisdom of the framers if it was crammed down his gurgling craw with the toilet plunger of freedom.

The wisdom of the founders would have applauded Nancy Pelosi's successful offensive, having elegantly run the PR table against the Bush Administration, and if I had to guess, I'd say the Founders would've started to make arrangements for a more Open Source Commander -in-Chief, one holding far less prerogative to keep launching futile thunder, fire, and sword without limit, result, or check.

553 Commanders-in-Chief. At the moment, I can't think of a better idea. Send them all to stroll the markets and cafes` of Damascus and Baghdad, to talk with the parliamentarians whose cafeteria was bombed, to see the glorious struggle for progress up close. It would be so enlightening, and would enliven a debate which, if Mr. Cheney's remarks are at all definitive, has grown unyielding, hostile, and repetitive.

Next stop for Nancy Pelosi: Iran. You go, girl.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Barbeque At Karl's Place

I think that's an old Seagate drive poking out of the campfire. For anyone who has noit hung around with IT gnomes, people who walk around in the company of trolls wearing T-Shirts or holding mugs which say, "For behold, I am root," here's some news: when you delete an email, it stays on your hard drive. All you're deleting is the pointer to it. And if you delete it locally on your hard drive by re-formatting it, or by physically throwing it into the red hot glowing coals of a roaring fire, that still doesn't delete the mail. If it was ever sent over the internet. There's the server which holds your mail, the recipients' machines who you sent your electronic missives to, and all the servers which serve them.

Not to mention that there is, to comply with law, at least a three-layered back-up system at the White House consisting of mirrored servers, tape drives, and probably redundant off-site servers in a bomb-proof hole deep in the ground.

For Karl Rove to "lose" four years of e-mail through an IT mistake is not just a bad lie, it's actually funny. Funny that they expect people to believe it. For those mails to be gone from White House servers, some serious strong-arming had to be done on IT professionals, people who tend to take their jobs pretty seriously, and who would've known that what they were being told to do was illegal. People who took oaths and signed papers saying they would do no such thing. Then a lot more strong-arming would have to go on at corporations, news rooms, state offices, congressional staffs, lobbying firms, and Internet Service Providers all over the country. Rove's email vaccuuming project would've been a massive undertaking performed under the authority of a State Secrets Act.

And even then, they're still not gone. His tainted mails are still out there, sitting on servers and inboxes all over the place. Also, I know about scandals, fraud, lawyers, crooks, damage control and deleting e-mails from personal and direct experience. And I wouldn't be too surprised if a White House backup tape or two just happened to have rolled behind a desk. Not everybody in government has lost their scruples. And whether or not those mails surface, it's becoming more likely every day that Karl Rove's dead and bloated body will.

Mental Note: Read 'World Domination For Dummies'

After wearing out his welcome at the World Bank in his first four hours on the job, the executives representing the other 23 contributing nations to the International Monetary Fund have finally figured out how to get rid of yet another comb-licking New American Century Trotskyite: Paulie "The Puke" Wolfowitz.

Their plan: go back to consult with their governments and get the ok to re-convene and fire his ass. Should happen sometime next week at the regularly scheduled IMF board meeting. As I have a First Life, I'm a little weak on my World Bank history. Administration advisors with a record of overseeing epic catastrophes seem to have an odd way of winding up as World Bank President (see McNamara, Ignoramus, Robert J.), but I don't think any one of them has ever been fired. Chalk up another first for the Bush Administration.

Ironically, the insiders have hit Wolfie with a double whammy, the first one being a delicious charge of corruption (he had pissed off the sagacious, sanctimonious, self-righteous snakes there with an anti-corruption campaign at the most corrupt institution in, well, the World), the second with linking that corruption charge to his mistress, whose salary he had summarily doubled. Wait a minute! That word. "Mistress." Nah. That's not right. No way he had a mistress. Wolfie's been framed! Nice job, guys.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spinning In From The Cold

Karl Rove's dog ate 4 years worth of e-mails, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq sent a suicide bomber to detonate its share of
parliament, and our quiet downstairs tenants flew to a wedding in San Francisco. Leif the former rock star left to go back home, and our Mr. Butler went back to his sister's submarine base. We were all introduced, thanks to Michael, this week, to Regina Spektor. She was trained as a classical pianist in Russia, and grew up in Brighton Beach. It was about time to know Regina, and right now I might now be happier than I've ever been. That's the impact real art always has on me.

With the downstairs tenants gone tonight, we blared the stereo the loudest it's ever gone, the dial goes to 13 I think, and Lord Baby got into proper spirits and ran around the fireplace to dance with us in the living room. We tossed him up to our curved ceiling by his legs and by his head with all of us laughing and giggling until we got sweaty and tired. Then we threw him into the pillows on the couch and got sweatier and more tired. He would bounce down, laugh, bounce up and turn around again, point at the most rested one of us and say "Your turn!" Off we would go again, dancing in our windows, in full frontal view of our neighbors. We danced until a half an hour ago, with loud music, Indian war whoops, and no regrets. With lots of dizziness from the spins.

I thought of Japan today, and necessary deceptions. I thought of Germany and Austria, Switzerland, Rumania and the former Czechoslovakia, of blood matted thick in black hair in Korea. Of indulgences in Sweden and Denmark, of Norwegian tax fugitives and holidays in Verbier, of Finnish guts and losing a tooth north of Beijing, of getting harmlessly sick in the Yucatan, of spying for Mormons and the prisons in Yugoslavia, of the marble sculptures in La Spezia and the Mossad in Los Angeles.

I let two members of my team smoke hashish in Amsterdam. I woke up without alarm clocks in Provence and wondered about the wonderful things I would eat and drink that day. I think of never getting to see Bali/Sri Lanka. Of falling in love with my beautiful wife outside the Jimi Hendrix Museum before our first date, calling her a good girl/noble woman on our entrance to the Microsoft party, of stuffed squab and unpastuerized cheeses after swimming all day under the cliffs of the Calanques, of lawsuits and dinners with the money-men pushing airline TV. I think of a British Foreign Service agent and his Oxford cricket bat which cast no shadow, pouring amicable Sambucas into our relaxed and ice-filled glasses by his blue and private pool. The satellites passed above all our heads unobserved despite their precise schedules tonight, and our son looked up at the stars with us and fell finally asleep to one more blessed, stolen day of peace.

The automatic in my bookshelf does me no good. Truth be told it never did, and the tomahawk in my old tuxedo closet is just a hopeful heirloom. The secret to resistance isn't in your weakness, but in your temptation, and how to hide your sweetest downfalls. The consequences I delayed so long are called parenthood, the true adventure has arrived, and there are no defenses against the intrusions.

My Three-Year Old Draws Better Than Me!

A lot better. After a couple of abortive tries, the Artist Formerly Known as Lord Baby drew this image on his magnetic sketch pad in about 10 seconds. He titled it "Buddha!" This is pretty cool, since I've seen less distinguished efforts hanging proudly in the Museum of Modern Art, plus the beloved tribal elders who gave him the pad for his birthday are...buddhist!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dulce Et Decorum Est, Pro Patria Mori

Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. I wept because he was a very brave man, and because he saved my life. That is not to say he shoved me out of the way of an oncoming car. I mean he made me a better human being, deflecting me from certain courses of action which I would now be very ashamed of. Even worse than ashamed of.

I've read many of his novels, which collectively reminesce of Twain. In fact, he named his son Mark after that author, whom he greatly admired. Like Twain, Kurt somehow managed to be low-brow and high-minded, spare and rich, cutting and astringent, penetrating and restrained, witty and terrifying, throw-away and profound. I refuse to use the word genius lightly. In writing, Kurt Vonnegut was a genius. A gentle one, too, and humble. Here's a review of Slaughter-House Five I wrote on Amazon last year, shortly after reading the book in Dutch as Schlachthuis Vijf:
I had to read this book in Mr. Marcinec's AP English class in Johnstown High School, New York, geographically near where it was written and in part situated. At the time I was still planning on going to a military academy, and reading Slaughter-House Five got under my skin, changing my plans and my life. If it weren't for this book, I might well be directing operations against Iraqi civilians right now. Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut, thank you! Thank you from here to Tralfamadore.

Subsequently I learned that wrapped up in the roots of science fiction and fantasy, in the genre's very first impulses, was a response to the kind of atrocious killing first experienced during military conflicts of the 20th century. The technologically dominated nature of those conflicts was very different from earlier killing fields, and what its victims experienced could not be accurately described by reaching back to any touchstones because new realities had leapfrogged old language. The enormity of horror had rendered language and the conventions it rests upon obsolete. Mere words were no longer enough.

The horror could only be communicated elliptically, at removes by application of epic myth, by satire, or even by moving, as Vonnegut did, entirely outside the box of cellular matter itself. How he must have struggled as a writer to devise a way to free himself from literature. But he did. It's no coincidence that war veterans like Tolkien, Heller, and Vonnegut all pioneered new literary devices, ones which new genres collected around and together came to overshadow traditional literature by the latter half of the twentieth century, both in book sales and cultural impact.

Vonnegut projects himself into the device of Billy Pilgrim, a gawkish, hapless citizen-soldier at the mercy of huge, implacable forces. Yet, in the book, Billy simultaneously lives a blessedly bourgeois post-war existence as a dentist in upstate New York. And also in a breeding pod-slash-zoo with a beautiful mate, the actress Montana Wildhack, on an alien planet. Billy went insane. But did he? Vonnegut writes "outside time" and imagines how alien beings in a string-theory universe would view the impersonal, mechanized brutality he experienced as a prisoner of war.

He was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge and was a POW in Dresden when it was fire-bombed in World War Two; (he hated semi-colons, so I just used one). Slaughter-House Five was an animal slaughter house, a meat locker which served as a bomb shelter for his group of prisoners and their guards. No one else wanted to use it. Seven US POWs in Dresden survived, probably 150,000 Germans and POWs from other countries did not on that night, expiring by breathing superheated air, bursting into flames, or suffocation. That's what a fire-storm does, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the single most lethal bombing attacks of that war. Dresden was. Vonnegut personally dug thousands of dead, rotting civilians out of the basements of that city, once considered the most beautiful in Europe, for weeks after its meaningless destruction. Old or young, he wasn't dumb, and he knew he had witnessed one of the greatest atrocities of his century.

In performing such grisly work, unendurable for most of us, I believe Mr. Vonnegut had to set his mind and senses aside in order to function, and whatever mental refuge he went to formed the kernel of his masterpiece. While digging and removing himself from the present, he may have determined to write an anti-war story unlike any other, one to stand the tests of all time as a lasting plea against industrial butchery and the looming dehumanization it presages. He succeeded. He triumphed. In writing the book, he freed his spirit from a culture based on aggression and also freed his body from the machines it makes for the task. He quit his job working in public relations at General Electric. And because of what he wrote, I did not go to war.

2,000 years from now, when people study war (assuming we make it so long), Slaughter-House Five will remain. Slaughter-House Five resonates like a post-modern "Go tell the Spartans."
Vonnegut wrote many more books. All reflect his philosophies as a humanist and free-thinker, and all express the absurdities he saw in the machinations and the urges of humans to lie and steal in order to achieve dominion over others. He lived in an intellectually glorious world of wampeters, foma, and granfalloons, and he refused to stop thinking and speaking his mind. That is what I meant by very brave. He was a subversive of the ancient order, a culture-jammer extraordinaire, and quite a wampeter himself. That is to say, he was an object with its own gravitational field, which many un-related things could revolve around. He has taught and influenced writers from those as celebrated as John Irving to ones as unwashed as me. He was Morpheus. If you read him, and you got him, you had to choose between the red pill and the blue, and there's no going back once you do.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. That's Horace, and the Latin is commonly translated in the West as, "Sweet and honorable it is to die for your country." Vonnegut knows translation well enough to have called bullshit on that spin. What it means is what it literally says: "It is sweet and proper to die for your fathers." I don't know who my father was. And even if I did, fatherhood is something you have to earn. This was a father who earned my love, and who gave me giant shoulders to ride upon.