Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fred Thompson: "I'm, Well...Announcing My Candidacy's Announcement"

There are plenty of reasons to dismiss Fred Thompson's run for the Repuglican Nomination for the Presidency. He's a failed lawyer who claims to have brought down the Nixon Administration (Nixon's comment on learning the young Fred would be handling part of the Watergate hearings: "But he's the dumbest son of a bitch alive!" Erlichmann: "It looks like we're stuck with him, sir."), a lounge-lizard lobbyist, an outstandingly mediocre Senator, and a one-note actor valued for his ability to emote blithe superiority and hawkishly cynical ambivalence. As an added bonus, his face looks like it got caught in the tracks of a Caterpillar at a garbage dump. You can probably see where I'm heading with this:
He's the perfect Republican candidate.
Mitt Romney may be born to wear a dark suit, and Giuliani may assuage the latent longing for Mussolini that lurks in us all, but did either of them appear on Law & Order (I mean for more than 5 minutes) or star as the Navy Admiral in Crimson Tide and about 20 other Cold-War-paranoia movies? I don't think so. Although he has no religion to speak of, Fred makes the fundies feel all warm inside every time he trails off with a "Well..." Nobody else on The Trail can do that. No one can call him a pretty boy. He has no voting record to speak of. He's pure image, false as a storefront in a 50's Western.

But can a shiftless, anti-intellectual idiot beat a "cold, calculating" latter-day Lucretia Borgia? Could the same idiot win against a "naive" (black) man? Maybe he won't run?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Security Lapse In Heart Of White House

In a chilling display of cunning, pranksters eluded the Secret Service to sabotage Karl Rove's black Jaguar in the most secure private driveway in the world. The car was defaced with thousands of Post-It notes, an "I Love Obama" bumper sticker, two bald eagles, an elephant, and then wound up with plastic wrap. Obviously the handiwork of Al-Qaeda. Or K-Street lobbyists.

Gosh, it would be really hilarious if they find Rove's body in the trunk.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Highly Civilized Mob Censures Bush In Effigy

The Onion fills the gap in media coverage again:

Armed with neatly lettered signs, and umbrellas in the event of rain, the {demonstrators} milled about the Capitol for several hours, chanting the anti-Bush slogans "Bush Must Go Through The Same Channels As Any Other President to Take Military Action—That Actually Falls Under Congress' Purview" and "Down With The Idea Of Executive Privilege, Both In General And As It Relates To Bush" before performing the mock censure.

Although some members of the crowd initially incited a metaphorical impeachment of the president, a majority felt that would be far too harsh a symbolic action to take. After agreeing on the censure, the decorous riffraff whipped themselves into a relative frenzy and clamored single file to the National Mall with the meticulously crafted Bush effigy.

When the Democratic Congress returns from celebrating the month of August and then solemnly observes Labor Day, it shall be similarly rife with umbrage.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Morning: The Velvet Underground

Good morning, and good day! We're off to the Zoo with Lord Running Boy before he destroys the house or more of its contents. This is the kind of music I'd like to be listening to, something quiet and contemplative and dreamy while the cool morning breezes caress the skin and waft streams of steam gently off the tea. But I don't have that. I have a war-whooping three-year old bundle of ambush jumping on me, hoisting open the window, tearing leaves off the tree while being restrained from climbing it, and yelling out to the neighborhood that he is very much Alive. "Hello, people! I'm a-go to the Zoo!" Who has indeed jumped on me numerous times in the course of writing this post. Live blogging. I've heard this song many times, and can play it in my head. But here is the video, and here are the lyrics:

Sunday morning, praise the dawning
Its just a restless feeling by my side
Early dawning, sunday morning
Its just the wasted years so close behind

Watch out, the worlds behind you
Theres always someone around you who will call
Its nothing at all

Sunday morning and Im falling
Ive got a feeling I dont want to know
Early dawning, sunday morning
Its all the streets you crossed, not so long ago

Watch out, the worlds behind you
Theres always someone around you who will call
Its nothing at all

Watch out, the worlds behind you
Theres always someone around you who will call
Its nothing at all

Sunday morning!
Sunday morning!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rudyard Kipling, Back In Fashion

Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles, and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;

At the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased,

And the epitaph clear:
"A Fool lies here, who tried to hustle the East."
Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay, and Hindu was his first language. He uses "Aryan" in its correct sense above, meaning someone of Indo-Iranian ethnicity. Kipling had direct experience in the Eastern mind, and considered himself an Anglo-Indian. Along with his poetry, verse, and his fore-shadowings of science fiction, much of his writing concerned the East, including many of its fairly tales. Kipling lived a sort of dissident life in Brattleboro, Vermont until 1896. Able to see colonialism from a number of angles, he both disturbed and mollified his contemporaries with his knowing, somewhat veiled satirical stilettos, and his prophetic publications on that subject.

For example, many in England were heartened by "The White Man's Burden," and widely used it for decades as justification for continuing occupations. The phrase entered common parlance as a real duty, to improve the lot of the benighted heathens with the application of Christian faith, military discipline, and economic reforms. In reality, Kipling's 1899 poem was written in a voice of purely caustic satire. Its subtitle is The United States and the Philippine Islands, and it can only be read as a warning to America upon its invasion of the Phillipines, as it can be seen embarking on a road of difficulties and disillusions, traveled by Britain long before. The poem is worth reading in full, but here are two selected verses:
Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.
It comes as a surprise to me that literary authorities argued, and still maintain, that the poem should be read as a ringing endorsement of imperialism. Kipling's other works of the time, critical of imperialism and sympathetic to the poor soldiers sent to enforce it, do not support that supposition. Maybe the Main Stream Media has deeper roots than we know. The painting above, 'The Gallery of H.M.S. Calcutta (Portsmouth) is by James Tissot, an artist whose subject matter was often the leisure and grandeur of a prior country's Victorian Age.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Guest" Post: Will And Ariel Durant On Democracy

As a form of government, the advantage democracy saliently presents over others is the facility to possibly promote those most able, regardless of caste, to positions of leadership by common approbation, achievement, and consent. If any system can figure out how to promote its most capable minds, its advantage will be potent.

In contrast to dictatorship or aristocracy, arrangements which guarantee the systemic promotion of hermetic stupidity, timidity, corruption, and neglect, democracy at least holds out a chance for meritocracy. It assumes fundamentally that intelligence and ability are not the provinces of class or heredity, but intangible, competitive qualities which are vastly improved by an equal access to knowledge. Dummies may live and struggle in democratic squalor, but their children, if they make their way smartly through the system, could be elected President or Prime Minister. As was Bill Clinton on his merits in the former United States, and John Major on his in the United Kingdom. Clinton was the illegitimate son of a cleaning woman and a traveling salesman, born and raised in a state best known for its obscurity. John Major dropped out of school at sixteen and was the son of a former vaudeville musician.

We live in a special time, in that more information flows to our fingertips more freely than ever before, just after the tireless cheerleaders of dictatorship seized upon electronic megaphones to lead the crowd in chants. But how does democracy, on the whole, compare to the Platonically cycling formulae of aristocracy and dictatorship?
All deductions having been made, democracy has done less harm, and more good, than any other form of government. It gave to human existence a zest and camaraderie that outweighed its pitfalls and defects. It gave to thought and science and enterprise the freedom essential to their operation and growth. It broke down the walls of privilege and class, and in each generation it raised up ability from every rank and place. Under its stimulus Athens and Rome became the most creative cities in history, and America in two centuries has provided abundance for an unprecedentedly large proportion of its population.

Democracy has now dedicated itself resolutely to the maintenance of public health. If equality of education can be established, democracy will be real and justified. For this is the vital truth behind its catchwords: that though men cannot be equal, their access to education and opportunity can be made more nearly equal. The rights of man are not rights to office and power, but the rights of entry into every avenue that may nourish and test a man's fitness for office and power. A right is not a gift of God or nature but a privilege which it is good for the group that the individual should have.
The Lessons of History, pp. 78-79

Recent posts regarding democracy's drawbacks set me to searching for what some better thinkers on civilizations had to say. To a person who studies the classics at the expense of noticing modern surroundings, the word "democracy" will have a very different meaning to them than it does to the average person. To the Greeks and Romans, for example, democracy was an unfortunate aberration, a time between aristocracy and monarchy, and the word automatically calls up scenes of dreadful disorder and bloody vengeance. To us today, it is a representative-driven device for balancing and managing power, diluting, re-distilling, and applying it as carefully debated circumstances require.

The Durants note, along with their fellow traveler Arnold Toynbee, the main weakness of democracy as a system: its easy susceptibility to bribery. If they were alive, and had the chance to sit on my couch for some tea, I suspect they would quickly notice that there is a new kind of nation, ones which have surpassed borders. One example they might train their capable minds on would be Walmart, which currently comprises the fourth-largest economy in the world. I wonder what they would call it, and how they would describe its effects on the old systems of aristocracy, democracy, and dictatorship.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Philip Atkinson Lampoon: "Conquering The Drawbacks Of Democracy" Reply

"The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead.”

If you don't recall the name, Philip Atkinson is or was a contributing editor for Family Security Matters (Matters? Yes it does. More than sanity!). He wrote the nostrum above as part of "Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy," an op-ed which made people, myself included, wonder whether he was taking the piss, was part of a government psy-op, or was serious. How a disabled clerk came to write for a flag-waving, cross-bearing organization connected to Dick Cheney, I do not know. But there is a page cached by Google with his article on it, and he has written much in a similar vein elsewhere.

As part of his conviction that the West is a declining civilization, Atkinson expressed a longing for a Bush President for Life, and for America's adoption of the dictatorial ideals of the Roman Empire in its final centuries. I would speculate that he read Toynbee's 1950s reference to democracy being a form of last-phase government, yet lacked the intellectual rigor or background to realize Toynbee didn't mean to impugn democracy as a bad thing, rather, as the highest although naturally impermanent evolution of government.

I have Philip Atkinson's personal email address ( so in the spirit of possible fun, I will send him the following:

Dear Philip:

I read your historically informed editorial on FSM with enthusiasm. It was truly a "Must Read," and an affirmation of the most obvious lessons of civilization. Why was it not given more time in the spotlight? Finally, someone came forward and uttered what we really think! My congratulations to you, sir.

I do have some concerns to share, fine points of disagreement on the way to explaining a plan one hopes you'll seriously consider. The main thrust is put thus: is returning to the Roman model and razing one recalcitrant country and killing all its people really enough? Would not a return to quasi-prehistoric times be superior in many ways? By creating a greater gap, as it were, between civilization and barbarian than the Romans enjoyed?

By starting a wider, surprise nuclear war, for example, we could get rid of nearly all undesireables and genuinely start anew. Such a sweeping, albeit ruthless act would engender, in effect, a return to the Garden of Eden. After a few short years of sheltering to escape any fallout and suitable desolation, re-growth would ensue, and there would then be resources for colonization and peace in abundance. I ask you: is this not better in many ways than needing to constantly manage unbiddable, lazy, obnoxious and unruly savages?

While I realize this idea is a less sophisticated alternate to the biogenetic targeted warfare plan now circulating the upper echelon of government (as Operation Vigilant Mutation), it has the decisive merit of being actionable now, and surer. The weapons are proven effective to the task and readily at hand. We need not develop new ones with undemonstrated efficacies bearing unanticipated, possibly counterproductive effects. Whereas a Nuclear Die-Off is as our greatest leader would say, do-able. We can strike immediately.

While I may not object to its central tenets, your proposal for an American Caesar has a somewhat discomfiting drawback, in that you incite treason by advocating the overthrow of the US system of government itself. Even the barbarians who serve as proof of democratic decline did not attempt so lofty a goal--indeed, terrorists have recently proven quite happy with democracy as a system once they held free and fair elections. While your bold approach differentiates you from those terrorists, it also exposes you to certain scrutinies, perhaps by the Department of Homeland Security itself. In short, while theoretically laudable, your plan may prove too domestically ambitious to be practicable.

Finally, your proposal's high risk profile precludes its employment. The hypothesis that punishing one country like Iraq will bring all other countries to heel ignores the risk of retaliation in kind by others, beady-eyed others, who already possess nuclear weapons, and is likely to test false. Sadly, this is where we differ from the Roman Empire, which never contended with Germanni and Picts harboring nuclear missiles. If you live, as you may well, in Washington, D.C. or its environs such missiles might impose brutish and short personal consequences upon yourself. However salutary the object may be, the in toto retaliatory risk from a limited deployment of nuclear weapons for the purpose of an exemplary genocide is, as they say in these deplorably modern times, a "deal-breaker."

No, the central problem with your proposal is not that it goes too far--simply that it does not go far enough. I strongly suggest you lend your support to our Nuclear Die-Off Proposal (NDOP). Your talents of persuasion would be most welcomed, and I think you'll find an inviting and stimulating home for a classically minded intellect. Won't you join us?

The NDOP, Mr. Atkinson, maximizes the long-term odds of survival for enlightened, nobler people such as ourselves. We contemplate pre-emptive strikery on the grandest scale in history, free from the petty restraints of diminutive, ineffective committees. Has a surer cure for a civilisation in democratic decline yet existed? Our enemies will die like flies in an incinerator, which is to say, as humanely as possible under the exigencies forced upon us. We are an elite group, and have formed a Political Action Committee to see the necessities through. We will submit the mock-up links for our interactive web site, "Friends of The Solution," in a following mail. I look forward to your further correspondence and support.

Pierce T. Inverieraghty, Esq.
One does what one can. He's right about one thing. The crimes of this administration are so legion there can be no going back for them. If Caesar had returned obediently from Gaul, he probably would've been promptly assassinated by the Senators. If and when this clique falls from power, it would mean jail, or worse. At this point, not just the Bush Administration but the entire nation, the entire "West," shares in these crimes against humanity. Which goes a long way to explaining why the Clintons ("The Surge is working.") are busy donning the Neo-con mantle.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Holding Hands In Tehran

Yes, that's a picture of the Iraqi Prime Minister and Iran's President. Holding hands. They look as if they're singing Nat King Cole: "There's a smile on my face! For the whole human race! Why it's love!"

Zoey & Me of Cat in the Bag found the picture at The Fat Lady Sings, which posted it on August 9th. Didn't see it, or hear about the visit? Neither did anyone else who doesn't rely on Al-Jazeera for their Mid-East news.

So. Questions. What exactly was the PM of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, doing in Tehran two weeks ago? Coming only 2 days after US and Iranian officials held "frank exchanges" in Baghdad, why would he want "stability talks" with Iran? And why is Maliki visiting Syria today, where Damascus called on him to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq? Why is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's President (the guy smiling like a prom queen in the picture above) planning on visiting Iraq? When the President of Afghanistan's Poppy Flower Trade Association (PFTA), Hamid Kharzai, visited the US at about the same time Maliki was in Tehran, why did he describe Iran as "a helper and a solution" on CNN? He then went home to greet the Iranian President in Kabul, who gave him US$250 million in aid for a water plant, dental college, and medical equipment.

Bush's stinging, Zeus-like response to Karzai was: "I would be very cautious about whether the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force." Pardon me while I don a filthy London Fog trench coat for my Columbo routine: I'm confused. Gosh. I hate to be a bother, but...what with being a Sole Superpower and all, I thought maybe it didn't have to take this kind of guff?

I realize you folks who read this blog don't need Columbo to connect the dots for you, but I was genuinely surprised to see all these developments unfold in a two-week time period. They point to a wall which is hidden from our view, which has glowing writing on it. I'll close with this quote from another news article:
After departing from Kabul, Mr Ahmadinejad was due to fly to Turkmenistan before going on to Kyrgyzstan to attend a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a body created by Russia and China to address regional security threats, foster economic integration and counter US influence in central Asia.

Iran has observer status with the organisation but is trying to form closer links. Mr Ahmadinejad is expected to meet the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Hu Jintao, the president of China, at the meeting.
Iran is going to become a full-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It's an anti-NATO club whose membership looks like this:

An attack on Iran (put off by the Whack House until early 2008, according to a source) will mean retaliation from Russia and China. One would hope for some restraint, but Pootie just sent the nuke-packing long-range Tupolev-95 bombers back on patrol. They buzzed Scotland and Guam, and fighters were scrambled in each case. Feeling a bit chilly in here. Maybe the trench coat wasn't such a bad idea.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Ride Of The Valkyrie, Apocalypse Now, And The Sergeants' Revolt

The New York Times, Sunday, August 19th, 2007
By Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray, and Jeremy A. Murphy
Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the "battle space" remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a "time-sensitive target acquisition mission" on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse - namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington's insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made - de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government - places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict - as we do now - will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. "Lucky" Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, "We need security, not free food."

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
##Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.##

Karl Rove Mis-Quotes Napoleon

via Huffingtonpost:
Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove continued his farewell tour Sunday with an appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press." Rove repeated his attacks on Hillary Clinton, citing her negative ratings, and faced tough questioning from substitute host David Gregory on the legacy he will leave. Rove attempted to justify the White House's handling of Iraq by quoting Napoleon, saying "Your battle plan doesn't survive the first contact with the enemy."
Yeah. Um, actually, Napoleon didn't exactly say that. He said this: "Your battle plan doesn't survive the first contact with the enemy. Especially when it sucks ass."

(At just past the 3-minute mark in the YouTube clip above, CBS interviews Rover back when he was devising dirty tricks for CREEP in the Nixon White House. )

One Toke Over The Line, By Brewer And Shipley

In the spirit of the previous post's title. Brewer and Shipley got into a lot of trouble for the song, which many radio stations banned. Richard Nixon's VP, Spiro Agnew, denounced it as un-American, and the artists were dubbed subversives by the FBI. And they're still playing it. The lyrics:

One toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Awaitin' for the train that goes home, sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Whoooo do you love, I hope it's me
I've been a changin', as you can plainly see
I felt the joy and I learned about the pain, that my momma said
If I should choose to make a part of me, would surely strike me dead
Now I'm one toke over the line sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
I'm waitin' for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

I sail away, a country mile...
Now I'm returnin', and showin' off a smile
I met all the girls and loved myself a few;
Ended by surprise, like everything else I've been through
It opened up my eyes and now I'm--
One toke over the line, sweet Jesus!
One toke over the line.
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
(Don't you just know) I'm waitin' for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

Don't you just know
I'm waitin' for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line

I want to be...
One toke over the line, sweet Jesus
One toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
Don't you just know I waitin' for the train that goes home sweet Mary
Hopin' that the train is on time
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over the line
Sittin' downtown in a railway station
One toke over line
One toke, one toke over the line!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

One Post Over The Line, Sweet Jesus

OK. It's fun time. HopeSpringsATurtle, she who is the thinking blogger of Deep Confusion, said in a recent comment that whatever I post seems to make her brain or her heart hurt. Well, enough to hurting those precious organs. Farewell to all that, Hope, ye fair lassie! We've got the makings for comfortie-food tonight, as I fry us wee cookies in a skillet pan and cue up Invasion of the Body Snatchers, politic-style.

The editorial below, "Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy" was written by Philip Atkinson and published as a dead-serious "Must Read" by Family Security Matters. That organization is a conservative front group and brainchild of the former head of opposition research for the Republican National Committee, the national socialist hit-woman Barbara Comstock. Before the editorial was pulled due to what must have been horrified feedback, Google cached it and the most popular web haven for radical conservatives, The Free Republic, already had a lively debate in its comments section going on. The debate was really hopeful, ironic, and funny, because their most common considerations were:
a) whether the editorial was written in jest;
b) how it could further damage the Republican Party;
c) democracy is tricky but spare us this repugnant spew;
d) put down the ICBM bong now and back away from the pile of crystal meth!
Even I wondered if this naked lunch was for real, but it is. Here is the editorial the conservative commenters excoriated as too Other, its alien spores borne on poop-smeared high heels tracking through The Base:
Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy
By Philip Atkinson

President George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2005 after being chosen by the majority of citizens in America to be president.

Yet in 2007 he is generally despised, with many citizens of Western civilization expressing contempt for his person and his policies, sentiments which now abound on the Internet. This rage at President Bush is an inevitable result of the system of government demanded by the people, which is Democracy.

The inadequacy of Democracy, rule by the majority, is undeniable – for it demands adopting ideas because they are popular, rather than because they are wise. This means that any man chosen to act as an agent of the people is placed in an invidious position: if he commits folly because it is popular, then he will be held responsible for the inevitable result. If he refuses to commit folly, then he will be detested by most citizens because he is frustrating their demands.

When faced with the possible threat that the Iraqis might be amassing terrible weapons that could be used to slay millions of citizens of Western Civilization, President Bush took the only action prudence demanded and the electorate allowed: he conquered Iraq with an army.

This dangerous and expensive act did destroy the Iraqi regime, but left an American army without any clear purpose in a hostile country and subject to attack. If the Army merely returns to its home, then the threat it ended would simply return.

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation's powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans.

As there appears to be no sensible result of the invasion of Iraq that will be popular with his countrymen other than retreat, President Bush is reviled; he has become another victim of Democracy.

By elevating popular fancy over truth, Democracy is clearly an enemy of not just truth, but duty and justice, which makes it the worst form of government. President Bush must overcome not just the situation in Iraq, but democratic government.

However, President Bush has a valuable historical example that he could choose to follow.

When the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment his tenure as consul (president) ended.

Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world.

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become “President-for-Life” Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.
# # Contributing Editor Philip Atkinson is the British born founder of and author of A Study of Our Decline. He is a philosopher specializing in issues concerning the preservation of Western civilization. Mr. Atkinson receives mail at
Bush as Caesar. Phew! The fascist death-lizards took off their masks for an hour or so, and you just saw their most devout, reptilian wishes in print. How is this scary idiocy comfort food, Hope and the rest of you may ask? Well...hit the print key on your computer. Take this editorial, show it to the relatives and friends who think you're too liberal, and they'll suddenly agree to agree with you. They'll read it and say, "Yep. That's a death-lizard all right! I'd recognize one anywhere. Haven't seen one alive in these parts since '73. Fetch me my shotgun from the closet, will you?" So you see, we're all Americans. Left and right, black and blue, straight and not, we like the schizophrenic, down-in-the-mud, bubbling, gurgling, steaming, stinking conceptual distilleries of democracy. The Freepers do, too. They are with us, and are beginning to get turned off as they see the BushCo-promoting "think tanks" reveal more of their true anti-American agenda. We may have our differences, but we're happy with a powerful, proven, adaptable, equitable system of government, even given its known inefficiencies. And we hate dictators.

By the way, Family Security Matters is an off-shoot of the Center for Security Policy, a more waspish precursor of the Project for a New American Century. In other words, they're the core of the Bush Administration and the Military Industrialists. The Mother Ship. They're the people who don't want to enslave us. Just to save us! By endorsing an alien entity: a Bush dictatorship.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Global Equity Markets Panicked, Fed Signals US Bail-Out

The stock chart above is clear evidence that The US Federal Reserve Bank yesterday told the managers of its largest financial institutions, presumably over lunch, that they would step in to halt the market's slide by:

1) dropping margin requirements on options, futures, and index funds from 50% to 15%;
2) directly buying highly leveraged options, futures, and index funds to force the purchase of their underlying stocks;
3) dropping interest rates.

This is exactly what the managers wanted to hear, and it looks like they spread the word. Benchmark stock averages like the Dow Jones came back like Lazarus from the tomb to make back a 340 point deficit in little more than the final hour of trading. This is the stuff of market legend, and a mathematical event of a lifetime. A two-day chart of the more broad-based Standard and Poor's average of 500 stocks is attached above, which records the slide and places the late rally in perspective. This is the picture of a market in panic, with bankers finally pulling out every stop they can think of to get it to level out. Which it did. The last half hour of trading was the steepest rise I ever remember seeing. The line on the chart is nearly vertical.

Yes, I am assuming the Fed is engineering a bail-out based on limited data. Yet I also know the assumption is correct because the amount of confirming information is so voluminous. The far more pressing question are, for which I don't have any confident assumptions and little confirming information: will the Fed's intervention package
work? And for how long?

The answer to those questions will have a huge impact on almost every single person reading this post. Anyone who has a pension, who receives a Social Security payment, who owns stock or bonds, who is indebted, who holds the debts of others, who pays taxes, who has a mortgage, who has a job. Who has parents or children, who eats and breathes. If your house is paid off and you have fifty or more pounds of precious metals stashed away, or if conversely you are homeless and are reading this over a public library's internet connection, don't sweat it. It's only central banking, publicly-traded capitalism, and post-Keynesian economic theory on trial.

George Soros likens the modern global financial system to blood flowing through a body's organs. New York is the heart, London is the lungs, Tokyo is the liver, Hong Kong the pancreas, and so on. In his mental model, places like Thailand and South Korea are somewhat less essential extremities, and when the vital central organs are threatened, the extremities, much like in a human body, tend to be starved of blood first. The Fed's move yesterday didn't immediately get blood going back to the extremities. I'm checking weak pulses right now.

Asia continued its white-knuckled blood loss today. I forget which organ South Korea might be, but yesterday it fell by almost 7%, its biggest one-day decline ever. It dropped by a further 3% today. Asia's largest market, Tokyo, dropped by 5.4%. Kuala Lumpur was down 5%, Mumbai down 2.3%, Shanghai down 2.28%, Manila down 2%. Thailand, which took steps to become more independent of Western monetary policy, only dropped half a percentage point.

European markets just turned upwards. As I write this, London suddenly turned up from down 1% to up 3.3%. France and Germany are following suit. And my assumptions about the Fed dropping interest rates were confirmed in real time. The Yahoo headline reads, "Fed Turns Around Stock Markets."

Honestly, I hope it's true. God help me, but I hope the party doesn't end with a bad bang. Still, there are consequences of trading one bubble for another. In the last week, well over a trillion dollars of new credit was injected into the financial system, that is to say money was created electronically and given to banks, in many instances to buy securities no one else wanted and to redeem debts. Normally, this would be called a "massive bail-out," yet that term is deemed too harsh in these polite times to apply.

The immediate consequences of bailing out bad decisions by bankers and lowering interest rates will be a quickening of inflation, or dollar devaluation. The longer consequences of juicing the market and dramatically lowering margin requirements will be that next time, the blood may well stop flowing entirely. It is axiomatically believed now in US economic theory that the Great Depression could have been avoided if the Fed had more quickly stepped in to not just drop interest rates, but to provide direct stimulus by printing massive amounts of money and forking it over to buy more stock. That proposition is now being tested, and its outcome will be an authoritative lesson referred to through the unfolding century. The lesson, as far as I can see, will be that sticking already over-heated asset markets into the microwave is a truly bad idea.

(Update: The Dow opened 125 points up off the bell. Love that juice! Now it's up 269 points. Now 287, all in the first 4 minutes. Pass the jug, baby. Pass the jug.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Iraq: It's The August Place To Be!

It's 117 degrees in Baghdad, and the water pumps are silent. No running water. Typhus and cholera cannot withstand the power of The Surge, but if those peaceful maladies claim any victims, they won't count. We won't hear about them. We also won't hear what the ground commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, really thinks. Because the White House is going to write his report on the Surge effects for him.

The video attached above, "Inside The Surge,"tells the story from the ground, with troopers in A Company of a Stryker battalion in Baghdad. If you want to see reporting like the best of what came out of Vietnam, watch. Soldiers speak, complete with their names and rank. They speak of being pushed beyond maximum endurance and giving out. (Their suicide rate just hit an all-time modern high.) As a reminder, Vietnam ended not because of civilian resistance at home, but because US regular Army and Marine units could no longer function as effective fighting forces in the field. They did not want to be there, and could see they were doing no good. The mission was too muddled, the fantasy was too far gone.

One can only wonder what the Iraqis are feeling as their proto-government has its August vacation. More than a vacation. In truth, many of their representatives have fled for the hills like caged badgers, and will never set foot in a parliament building again. In the video above, a taxi driver is killed, shot through the throat while looking for his fare's address because the soldiers of 2nd Platoon were nervous about snipers. They thought he might be spotting for the enemy.

I read a news article on the Huffington Post this weekend in which a journalist interviewed a disaffected PR unit and got them to go off-script. The Press Affairs Team blurted out stuff like this:
Lieutenant X: "We're just keeping beat-down soldiers in-theatre. It's a numbers game. And Jee-zus, it's hot! This war makes absolutely no freakin' sense anymore."

Specialist Y: "They keep telling us to write positive stories. But why can't we just tell you the..IED!! GO, GO, GO, GO! HIT THE HORN. HIT 'EM. DON'T STOP!!" (Fires machine gun.)

Captain Z: "No, it's ok, we're past it. OK. Calm down. Everybody ok? OK. Pull over to the shade. Over there. That building there. On the right. Whee-ooo. I'm fixin' to get heat stroke again. Where the hell's my hemorrhoid cream?"
Ok, it was a little different than that. A lot different. But having just blown a half-hour unsuccessfully Googling for the story, you can treat the quotes as apocryphal. The point is, the grunts are feeling burnt out and hopeless. The writer of the article even got some officers to go on record describing the condition of the troops. (In short: pretty damned bad.) The PR team assigned to the reporter was supposed to refer to their positive talking points, not tell him how crappy things really are. The press team just didn't give a damn, and conveyed an attitude of extreme disaffection. You can imagine how pissed the troops are if the Fobbits are at the end of their tethers. Kilroy isn't there anymore.

(Update: Found it. Originally published by the Guardian UK, it is titled "Fatigue Cripples US Army in Iraq." The Free Republic has issued an 'MSM Treason Alert' over it and their commenters are having seizures so severe two of them spilled bottles of Miller High Life across their keyboards. (You can tell by their spelling.) I highly recommend reading the article if you haven't already. It's a crack in the curtain, and that's how the light gets in. Here's a short quote:
This is a different kind of war,' says [Major Stacie] Caswell. 'In World War II it was clear who the good guys and the bad guys were. You knew what you would go through on the battlefield.' Now she says the threat is all around. And soldiering has changed. 'Now we have so many things to do...'

'And the soldier in Vietnam,' interjects Sergeant John Valentine from the same unit, 'did not get to see the coverage from home that these soldiers do. We see what is going on at home on the political scene. They think the war is going to end. Then we have the frustration and confusion. That is fatiguing. Mentally tiring.'

'Not only that,' says Caswell, 'but because of the nature of what we do now, the number of tasks in comparison with previous generations - even as you are finishing your 15 months here you are immediately planning and training for your next tour.' Valentine adds: 'There is no decompression.'
The Army is being ground to bits, grunt by grunt, while twits like Tim Casey from the Heritage Foundation are going on media offensives saying, "Wow. It's a great thing for soldiers to serve their country. The Surge is working. And it was their free choice!" Ah-ah--reality check--the surge is not working. It's 117 degrees in Baghdad, and there's no running water. We can fill in the blanks.)
The Cheney: Its Camoflage, Morphology, And Evolutionary Cycle

The clip above shows the impressive ability of an appropriately adapted Cheney to imperceptibly blend in with a host populace. Notice how it made reassuring noises while wending its way into a position of central authority, much like a heart-worm uses the circulatory action in a mammalian venous system to eventually reach its target. I offer a draft entymological synopsis for your peer review.

Larval ("Human") Phase:

In this stage the cheney's external carapace is strikingly human-like, and it will attempt to use its considerable powers of mimicry to pass itself off as a human being. It must be careful to shield its internal systems from investigation, however, since its body is actually composed entirely of a combination of cesium, concentrated evil collected in a bolus within the chest cavity, and a malleable semi-organic compound known as floama. The larval cheney will seek positions of power in order to fulfill its primary evolutionary imperative of maximizing human suffering.

Pupal Phase:

In the pupal stage the cheney's floama begins to coagulate, causing decomposition of the human-like carapace and therefore substantially heightening the risk of detection. Adults who have become acclimated to the cheney in the larval phase may not notice the decay of its outer layer; however, it must be careful to avoid dogs and small children. If its quest for power has been successful, it will use this power to attempt to shield itself from further inspection.

As notable as the physical degradation in this phase is the ethical corruption, which accelerates greatly as the bolus of concentrated evil reacts with the cesium and begins to disperse, slowly permeating the organism. The extreme and clearly non-human level of malice exhibited by the pupal cheney may arouse suspicion, but it will generally be able to continue to evade detection long enough to complete its metamorphosis. Eventually the floama will achieve full realignment and the evil will dissolve the now-vestigial outer carapace, leaving...

Adult Phase:

...the fully mature, adult cheney. No longer constrained by its pre-adult need to operate invisibly within human society, and virtually indestructible due to its fully-hardened floama superstructure, the cheney is now free to openly indulge its preferred diet of human young.

NB: This discussion has focused on the dick cheney; cheneys grown from other harvested body parts such as the lung or elbow may exhibit slight variations in morphology (e.g. in the corona capitis of the adult phase).

(Apology: I have left the credit to the end, hoping that you'll think I wrote the above. Alas, except for the first paragraph above, I did not, but stole this piece o' resistance from The Distant Ocean, found via Scruggs, both bloggers well worth checking out.)

U.S. Drops Out Of International Math & Science Study

Of course it would humiliating to have our butts kicked by Cyprus and South Africa, countries the U.S. edged out in 1995 to avoid the worst science and math ranking in the world. So last year the Bush Administration decided to not participate in the study. Exceptionalism is ok to a point--hey, we're Americans. Go ahead, call us dumb. Believe me, we can get over the emotional stigma--but it probably shouldn't extend to multiple-choice testing.

This international drop-out behavior is like showing up to school on the last Finals Day just so you can cut the test and hang out behind the dumpster with the greasers, smoking the good stuff you save up for special occasions. If there's the shape of an "L" already on your forehead, do you really need to get it fire-branded on?

The study, called TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) Advanced 2008, measures how high-school seniors are doing in algebra, geometry, calculus and physics with students taking similar subjects around the globe. In the past, the American results have been shockingly poor. In the last survey, taken in 1995, students from only two countries—Cyprus and South Africa—scored lower than U.S. school kids.
The MSNBC story quotes "some conspiracy theorists" (those are the words used in the article) who think the Feds dropped out of the test to avoid another beating (What? Our schools haven't improved in the last decade??). The commissioner of the Department of Edjucation's National Center for Edjucation Statisticks dismissed the accusations as drivel, citing budget concerns for the estimated $3-10 million it would cost to administer the tests:
“We looked at the countries who are participating, our scarce resources and our overextended staff,” says Schneider, “and we decided to give it a pass."
Yes, and they gave our youth a hall pass to go hide out behind the dumpster. They really do want us to be dumb, and the roaring battles we hear are part of a war on enlightenment. The fault, dear Bluto, lies not in the stars, but in our social darwinism and reflexive urges to privatization that we are underlings.

(Via the always-correct to three decimal points Hope at Deep Confusion.)

Time For Another Vacation?

I leave the country for a few measly days, and Karl Rove takes the opportunity to resign in order to take care of his family, and to take up a quiet life outside politics. (Urr-humph!*hmm-bullshit*hakk!) Sure. Now watch for his visage to appear, along about December like the Ghost of Christmas Future, behind the right elbow of presidential candidate Clinton or Giuliani. Or both of them. Gotta cover those bases.

While I obliviously strolled the grounds of kinda-sorta-foreign estates, the residents of Jackson Hole, Wyoming marched on Dick Cheney's vacation home to topple his statue (Burning in effigy being against the fire code.) Curiously, the hostile crowd was not dispersed by napalm canisters dropped from the squadron of F-22 Raptors which patrol the airspace above the erstwhile Presidente's head. Could be they got too close to the compound to safely take out with heavy ordnance; could be he's slipping. Now, I could see the Chainster having a subdued day due to poor health, maybe even dozing off contentedly while a few peasants revolted. It happens to the best of tyrants, but...he had his attack-wife Lynne with him. Speaking of Christmas, She would rather make garlands and wreaths out of demonstrators' intestines than let them engage in such doorstep effrontery. Something must be going seriously out of whack for Team Whacked for their vacation to have been disturbed in their home state.

And now this. David Walker, the US Comptroller General, came out of the closet to announce that he is...sane. He then compares US policies to that of a bankrupt Roman Empire. (Crap! I was just going to do my 300th post on that!) What's next? The masses are going to stop watching Jerry Springer's 'New Trailer Park Idol,' march on Washington, and call for a people's plebiscite? OK, no feasible way, but still, here's what Walker had to say after looking over America's balance sheet:

The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

Maybe going to Canada was a sign. Revolution by vacation. Maybe it's time to really pull out the stops and go visit most of Congress at their summer homes on the Cote d'Azur to see if more aggressive relaxation will fan these flames of weirdness into a regular Robes-Pierrean Reign of Terror. To the vineyards! Grab a cheese wheel, and man the wine-barrel barricades!


Back from Canada. To America. So much alike, so many contrasts. For example, did you ever hear the phrase, "Blame Canada first?" Well, you have now. I invented it. And as the comedian Lewis Black says, living in America is like "being on the Titanic every single day and being the only person who knows what's going to happen."

Victoria's English Inn & Resort failed to impart comparable angst. It was more like being part of the Swiss Family Robinson, with yummy extras like good books, a sumptuous dining room, cacophonous kitchen, and a highly efficient wait-staff. Very cool.

The border crossing into the US was just like Canada's, except there were not one but two of them, starting with the first check-point at the ferry terminal in Victoria harbor, where a sign states like some freakazoid Zen master: "You are now on U.S. soil." Hmm. (Technically, it was linoleum.) Yeah, and instead of providing any hint of welcome such as we received on entering the Great White North, US customs agents have been trained to assume you must be smuggling a couple bricks of blow and possibly have a bomb in your pants. (Heheh!)

The reception may be chilly but it's perfectly understandable, professional, and polite...if we're coming from a starting point of paranoid delusion. Which, it's quite obvious we are. Canada "gets it." On our way to the ferry terminal, we saw people laughing at something in a shop window, so we stopped to look. It was a T-shirt. It said:

Canadians are just like Americans
except they're un-armed
and get Health Care

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Excused Blog Absence: Fleeing The Country
A spontaneous chance for a few days' vacation came up, and when assessing options, Lord Wife and I quickly came to the same conclusion: let's leave the country! It would provide a respite, at least until we return on Monday, from the culture of protective stupidity which reigns supreme and wraps us daily up in its sticky, chemically-treated gauze, as George Orwell expressed with such prescient exactitude in 1984:
A Party supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign
enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before
the power and wisdom of the Party. The discontents produced by his bare,
unsatisfying life are deliberately turned outwards and dissipated by such
devices as the Two Minutes Hate, and the speculations which might possibly
induce a sceptical or rebellious attitude are killed in advance by his early
acquired inner discipline...called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the
faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any
dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing
to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they
are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought
which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means
protective stupidity.
Our short time here in re-visiting Canada has been delightfully free from the harsher effects of the US Curtain of Insecurity. People seem, rather they are, so outgoing and friendly because they aren't as afraid to speak to each other, exchange addresses, or refexively treat you as an individual instead of a threat. Crossing the border is quick and friendly. Refreshing.

Orwell wasn't really prescient, he just developed a finely granulated understanding of human nature through disillusionment, betrayal, survival, and their opposites. I think he would have liked Canada very much. Naj, we will have a latte' in your favorite cafe soon--I'm at the right latitude, just on the wrong coast!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lookout Below: Global Financial Acid Reflux

This is big. Watershed. The sub-prime implosion is spreading to international banks, including the oldest bank in France, which halted trading of key US mortgage-backed security funds because they can't pay scared investors by foreclosing on homes. In response, the EU Central Bank opened the credit window as wide as it would go, pouring out $100 Billion new Euros yesterday. Overnight interest rates went up anyway, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average went down almost 350 points. The Federal Reserve and the largest US banks couldn't stem the tide, even by buying underlying stock derivatives at 100:1 leverage.

American Home Mortgage, a top-10, well-respected mortgage lender, filed for Chapter 11 protection 3 days ago. If you are holding regular mutual 401k funds, and were considering taking them out into something more defensive, now would be a prudent time. The skids might be averted yet, but if not, here's how the official blame might be pronounced: it's irresponsible of people to not pay their mortgages, and the French were irresponsible to start the avalanche. Nothing to do with the past decade's monetary policy of easy loans to rubes. Nothing to do with inflated appraisals, property flipping, and hefty closing fees to look the other way. Nothing to do with giving zero-down home loans to the tune of a million dollars.

Time to duck:

PARIS -(Dow Jones)- French bank BNP Paribas (13110.FR)sparked renewed credit market concerns Thursday after its asset management unit said it temporarily suspended three of its asset-backed securities funds because of a lack of liquidity in the market.

BNP Paribas Investment Partners suspended the calculation of net asset value, the issuance of subsciptions and redemptions in the funds.

The market for ABS - securities backed by assets such as mortgages, loans, leases and credit-card debt - has come under pressure recently as a related consequence of problems in the U.S. subprime mortgage market. BNP Paribas’ move follows similar action this week by WestLB Mellon Asset Management, the asset management joint venture of German state bank WestLB AG and the Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK).

BNP Paribas said that “the complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the U.S. securitization market has made it impossible to value certain assets fairly regardless of their quality or credit rating.”

As a result, the bank said it would suspend three funds - Parvest Dynamic ABS, BNP Paribas ABS Euribor and BNP Paribas ABS Eonia, which are now worth a total of around EUR1.6 billion, down from around EUR2 billion two weeks ago, a spokesman said.

All funds combined at BNP Paribas Investment Partners are worth more than EUR350 billion.

“The situation is such that it is no longer possible to value fairly the underlying U.S. ABS assets in the three above-mentioned funds” and “therefore unable to calculate a reliable net asset value, NAV, for the funds,” the company said.

The bank has been unable to find prices in the relevant parts of the U.S. credit markets since Monday, Alain Papiasse, head of BNP Paribas’ asset management services division told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.

BNP Paribas Investment Partners, the unit managing the funds, was able to find prices quoted as late as last Friday.

“Since then, liquidity in some parts of the U.S. credit markets has dried up. To be honest, I don’t know why,” Papiasse said. There is no primary issuance and it’s impossible for those seeking to refinance ABS-related funds with any link to the mortgage market to do so, he said.

The valuation of the funds and the issue and redemption process will be resumed as soon as liquidity returns to the market, BNP said.

Concerns Throughout Money Markets

The suspensions sent further shock waves through an already sensitive money market.

“There is a certain degree of herd behavior here,” said Cubillas Ding, analyst at research and consulting firm Celent.

“Securitized assets that have underpinnings in the U.S. subprime market may now be difficult to put a price tag on, given market sentiment - as there is still lingering uncertainty whether the meltdown has greater knock-on effects down the line,” Ding said.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Glenn Gould: Arias From The Goldberg Variations, 1-7

Sorry for my unexcused blog absence this week, there has been much to talk about going on in the world of First Life, most of it not so good if you're into the whole freedom thing. Turning to beauty has always been effective as an antidote, so I will offer you this.

The virtuoso playing these Arias was once a very young, very quiet and sensitive boy living on the edge of a very quiet and sensitive lake. With the help of a cheap upright piano and the indulgence of his mother, he taught himself how to play in the cold winters and abbreviated summers of Ontario, Canada. His name was Glenn Gould, and he had the ability and the inherent sense of early fascination to listen closely, very closely, to every sound. Throughout his later life, he exhibited behaviors consistent with what is now known as Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

The obsessive focus of his form of Asperger's was sound. The lake would freeze and unfreeze, and Glenn would listen to it as only a pure, intensely unadorned child prodigy could. Do not ask me how, but he instills the contrapuntal cycles of the north country and the abiding love for a boyhood lake into his music, giving it a quality so unique that even a layman like me can recognize it.

My first exposure to him came late. It was when Dr. Hannibal Lector savored a movement of the Goldberg Variations on-screen in the smash horror hit, 'The Silence of the Lambs.' Securing my own copy of that music became immediately necessary. When I first heard a recording played loudly enough, I thought, "He hits notes like a dragon's claws sift through treasure. But..who is that insufferable twit singing along in the first row? Will someone not make him shut up?" Gradually I realized that the twit was Glenn Gould himself, singing along with his performances, humming into the microphone, swept on and up into pieces he made his own.

Where other piano players are trained by drill and rote, Gould played internally. By that I mean it was apparent that he practiced music not at the keyboard, but in his mind, as he strove to understand what its composer meant. He loved life's sounds, looked for patterns of order in them, and presumably, classical music for him was light meditation. When I first saw footage of him play, his startling relationship with the piano keyboard, which made him look a paraplegic crabbing across a field, made me think, "I knew it! He's not a piano player at all. He's a contrarian eccentric who happens to use a piano." Gould didn't like applause. He would write hostile or satirical reviews of his own performances and send them to publications under pseudonyms like Sir Nigel Twitt-Thornwaite, purported British conductor. He played his last concert at the height of his popularity, abruptly retiring. He went on to catalogue the sounds of the North Country, and record conversations in diners. There's a very good biopic entitled Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould.

On the piano, in its sounds, he is dream itself. Affliction becomes gift, and he throws terse packets of dynamite, free from preconception or wasted motion, instantaneous response, conflicting and soaring emotions alive in the moment. The notes are pure and uncommonly precise expressions of joy, from a homeboy who achieved mastery early on and you know is winging it a little different every time. The demons which he could slay, he slayed while very young. So personal yet so close to perfection is his music that recordings of it were sent into space on Voyager One. If there are aliens out there, we want them to hear Glenn Gould, even if we have made only one of him.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Data Mining For Terrorists

If you're looking for needles in haystacks, the best thing you can do is make the haystacks smaller. Not bigger, as Congress just did before its recess this week. What was shamefully approved is bass-ackwards, and absolutely guarantees innocent people will be hurt and many lives ruined. 44 Dims voted for ADVISE (Analysis Dissemination Visualization Insight and Semantic Enhancement) an All-Seeing Eye by yet another name. Not only is this no better than the cumbersome state surveillance programs Russia, East Germany, and Cuba employed to their respective demises, it's even less effective.

The prerequisites for an effective, workable data mining effort to look for and thwart terrorists are as follows:

1) No Damage from False Alarms
If innocent people are harassed by surveillance, it provokes former loyalists to resist. There are plenty of gun nuts in this country. And they have guns. Hassling them on the way to their machine-gun target-practice picnic is a horrible idea.

2) Precise Search Parameters
The phone message which is said to have triggered the 9/11 operation was, "The match is set for tomorrow." Little League soccer coaches use something like this phrase every day. What is the expense of placing all of them under surveillance?

3) Local Law Enforcement
Ounces of prevention, pounds of cure. Having Scotland Yard or the FBI swoop down in helicopters from a central location based upon a heuristic is impractical. Appropriate local response and reporting feeding upwards from the street, not down from the server, is the best way to foil bad guys.

4) Presence of Threat
In every airport, I have to take my decaying Pumas off and lay them under the snout of a sensor to scan them for traces of plastique. (Talk about false positives...uggh! One more trip in those old Pumas and it's Strip Search City.) Culturally, this is mongoloid. It's more likely a pilot will dive my passenger jet down into the ground because of a messy divorce than from a bomb in a ying-yang's sneaker. The former has happened, the latter has not, and the overly perspicacious search processes piss productive members of society off, making them surly.

Make everyone a suspect, and you make everyone an enemy. Perhaps you recall Total Information Awareness, a government effort to build and cross-reference data profiles on everyone in America. It was originally placed under the loving hands of former Admiral John Poindexter, Iran-Contra Fart Laureate. A Senator named Rockefeller, one of the most powerful people on the planet and one of the richest in terms of real wealth, for some reason residing in West Virginia, wrote a letter to the White House (one correctly addressed to Dick Cheney). Rockefeller insisted that the TIA program be stopped, rather curiously stating in his letter that a copy of the original would be preserved for safekeeping. A few months later, in September of that year (2003), Congress officially defunded the Total Information Awareness program.

A few other means came to be employed. By May 2004, the General Accounting Office (GAO) published a report which listed 122 federal data mining programs. The report didn't include Tangram, a military project, or MATRIX, a state-run program.

Most of us, particularly those of us with credit cards, are real beneficiaries of data mining. True, it's annoying if I go to a Brooks Brothers store in a distant city and my card is turned down because an algorithm is trying to protect me from buying a $2,000 business suit. It's less annoying if Google ad-spams me with something it guesses would catch my fancy, even if I click on one of the ads twice per decade. It may even be useful, on occasion, when Amazon pushes a book with decent odds of interesting me based upon my past buying patterns (I stick with the classics: Adventures in Dry-Shaving, Plato's Republic, Make Your Own Kon-Tiki Out of Toothpicks). The consequences of screwing up in each of these scenarios aren't too traumatic, and can even be pronounced in imperfect, evolving geek-gasm aggregates, as good.

Terrorist attacks are of such low incidence that a system which tries to predict them by watching everyone will suffer from a base rate fallacy six orders of magnitude (100,000,000:1) higher than a real or planned incident. But throwing away our civil liberties for a chimera? Priceless. Not to mention the ongoing cost of sending secret agents (fully loaded cost more than $1 million per year each) on itchy-trigger-fingered wild goose chases. How impressive. How dramatic. Action-oriented...pathetic.

Pardon my lack of eloquence. This sucks. Can we move to Peru, and become useful to a war-lord? Everything we do here will be looked at with the presumption that we're criminals. If you draw out ten grand in cash, you'll be sifted, weighed, and found wanting. Why would you do that, unless you had evil intent? Probable cause. It ain't paranoia if it's in the data, baby. All that cash would make you an Out Lier, fleeing with thousands of dollars.

Here's the deal: the Dimocrats sold the remains of our peace and quiet down the river so they could go on summer vacation. This is going to come back and bite them deep in the ass like a cross between a large-mouth bass and a pirhana. Meantime, let's refer to Lao Tzu's rules: you have to cleanse your side of traitors before facing your enemy. Could the needle be more obvious???