Saturday, September 29, 2007

Smells Like Dead Congress

Quite a week for our country. There's good news and bad news. Allow me to start off with the good news: fascism is not all bad, and in the right situations, particularly during war, it can govern very efficiently. Plus, we've finally completed the "Fascism for Dummies" checklist (Note: shamelessly borrowed from Naomi Wolf.):

• Invoke an external and internal threat
• Establish secret prisons
• Develop a paramilitary force
• Watch ordinary citizens
• Infiltrate citizens’ groups
• Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
• Target key individuals
• Restrict the press
• Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”
• Subvert the rule of law

The bad news? Umm, the madhouse is in full skelter. As a poet in another empire once said, "Traveling down the measured Thames/ every passing signpost shows/ so many marks of weakness/ so many marks of woe." Our government is become like teeming masses of undead, claw-wielding things inside exoskeletons living at the bottom of silty rivers, waiting to feed upon the carrion of fresh parricides, obeying what the discordant, binary-limited hemispheres of congenitally diseased brain signals.

This week, the Occupier-in-Chief excoriated countries for not doing more on the human rights front, ignoring the black-masked Greek chorus chanticleering behind him in unison, "Irony! Hubris! Those who tempt the gods must die!" He topped that act with a greenhouse gas emissions conference which promoted the benefits of "clean coal burning" and no penalties for missing emissions targets. Actually, there were no targets. Diplomats and emissaries sent to attend from the world's 16 largest national economies had things like this to say: "This is effin' surreal, man. Later, insane-dudes."

The critters in the House of Reps failed to gain veto override numbers for extending SCHIPS, the state children's health insurance program. Bush will veto the bill, so about 5 million children must rely on the kindness of publicly-traded, profit-driven strangers for treatment. Charles Dickens is back in fashion. Remind me to pick up a copy of Oliver Twist. I'm sure each uninsured American child, particularly those under the age of 3, will be inspired to act with a heightened sense of personal responsibility, so as to avoid the illnesses and injuries which traditionally account for infant mortalities.

Then, the Senate passed an amendment calling for the "soft partition" of Iraq by a vote of 75-23. Soft partition? Like in Bosnia? Except for the hundreds of thousands of bodies lying in mass graves, that went very well. Nice to know 23 members of the Senate are still treating Iraq as if it had a self-determined government.

Next, Senators Lieberman and Kyl drafted an amendment to "Combat and Contain" Iran, which classifies the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard (basically, its army) as a terrorist organization. Though it is a "Sense of the Senate" resolution and not a law per se, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) referred to it as "Cheney's fondest pipe dream." In other words, it's bad. Build-a-bomb-shelter and stock-it-with-food bad.

Why? Well, it's true that armies are supposed to be annoying at the very least, and often strive to be downright terrifying, but designating a major part of Iran's armed forces as terrorists also makes them technically subject to the 2002 Iraq War Powers Act. In other words, the Senate just voted 76-22 (with McCain and Obama courageously abstaining) to give the White House the authority to attack Iran. Here's the relevant wording of the foul document:
(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat, contain, and [stop] the violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its indigenous Iraqi proxies;

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.
The thought of a nuclear-armed Iran doesn't send me to my Happy Place. And it's not #1 on my list of places to retire to, being behind China and Colombia. But, oh, that's right--Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons. Even if it did, and it attacked another country for the first time in 400 years, the strike area of its longest-range Shahab-3 missile is drawn in the map above. As of right now, Iran poses far less of a threat to America than Pakistan. To some American companies and to their investors, yes, it does pose a threat, in particular by wanting very little to do with them.

The edifices are clean in the District of Columbia, the architecture is classical, and the suits are expensive. But dear God, the stench--it's whoo-hoo! Getting overwhelming.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Psyche's News Roundup

For quite some time I've considered cross-publishing a great source of news links. Providing commentary is fun, at least for me, and it's also a luxury. There often isn't time to write a tenth of the posts I'd like to put up. So it's a good idea to concentrate a day's stories down into links with a bare minimum of descriptive commentary. Now, the great news filter, and I surely don't know a better one, is astrological/spiritual site named I've linked to it under my Real Stream Media section simply as 'Filter.' Lord Wife has been known to consult astrology, and although it failed to keep her from marrying me, I'm still a little bashful about the subject in its entirety. Either way, whoever runs possesses a dazzling intellect, part of which they use to diligently search through a staggering amount of media every day, so much that they've even linked to some of my posts. Which is how they came to my attention. So, Mr. or Mrs. Psyche, if you're out there, thank you for performing a great service. It's one I'd like to share with my readers.

Slideshow | Nine killed as Myanmar cracks down on protests
Dan Rather vs. CBS, and the truth about George W. Bush | Lawsuit alleges CBS tried to suppress the report on Bush's National Guard Service and the Abu Ghraib abuses
Video: Bill Clinton seethes with anger over bullshit MoveOn ad condemnation
TPM | Judge Rules Key Portion of Patriot Act Unconstitutional (we have a Bill of Rights?)
Timothy Karr: Verizon Blocks Pro-Choice Text Messaging - Media on The Huffington Post
Civil Liberties in an Age of Terrorism | The American Prospect (none for you)
Glenn Greenwald - Salon - DiFi is the new Joe Lieberman
The Raw Story | Pelosi: Democrats will hold Bush 'accountable,' despite inability to end war, unwillingness to impeach (takes credit for "changing the debate" which changed nothing at all)
Daily Camera: AP News - Israel lobbying for exemption to non-proliferation rules so it can legally import atomic material ("we're special")
Media Matters - Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are "phony soldiers"
Senate Passes Hate Crimes Bill; Larry Craig Opposes
Saddam asked Bush for $1bn to go into exile| News | This is London
Tom Tomorrow: The War on Rationality
Tom Tomorrow: Alan Greenspan
Intellectual property laws abused in quest to shutdown
August new homes sales fall more than expected: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance
Theoretical Geography | MetaFilter
Map of_humanity.jpg (JPEG Image, 2587x1728 pixels)
Protection racket | MetaFilter (Catholic Church and AIDS)
Life is complex: it has both real and imaginary components | MetaFilter
Oliver Sacks on Earworms, Stevie Wonder and the View From Mescaline Mountain
Is there consciousness in a vegetative state? Robert Burton explores evidence | Salon Life
ScienceDaily: Astronomers Find Gaping Hole In The Universe
Rethinking the age of sexual consent. - By William Saletan - Slate Magazine
Stealth Windows update prevents XP repair -
Google GMail E-mail Hijack Technique | Gnucitizen
Pierce Farm Watch: What the Creator wants you to know about pigs
Because There's a Crazy Cat Lady in All of Us | MetaFilter
Mind Hacks: The false progression of Louis Wain (another myth falls)
Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Part One) - Errol Morris - Zoom - New York Times Blog
Errol Morris: Editorial: Not Every Picture Tells a Story (Abu Ghraib)
YouTube - Herstory Playlist
Swallowing the Camel: The World's Weirdest/Stupidest Conspiracy Theories
Open Source God: 480+ Open Source Applications
FFFFOUND! (image bookmarking)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Knowledge Is Resistance: A 9/11 Debate Primer

Markets aren't free. Never have been, never will be. At their best, markets are protected by force of arms. At their worst, they're hostage to even bigger forces of arms, and must pay tribute. I was smelling a large rat by 5PM on the evening of 9/11, when the News reports suddenly went lock-step and reported the identities of all the alleged attackers. Before they even knew the identities of the other plane passengers. I kept my thoughts mostly private, but it struck me as very odd.

The more details came out, the odder it got. The idea that you can take a few Cessna lessons, get a copy of Flight Simulator, and elude the FAA and the US Air Force for two hours is a kooky proposition. It was never done because it couldn't be done. For about 30 years, the military has had shoot-down procedures in effect for hijacked flights. And if you actually set out to prove a plane flew into the Pentagon, as I did, you can't--because there's no footage of it. It was all either confiscated or censored. That's what a state does when it tries to keep a secret.

A myth which provides a ready scapegoat and an outside threat to focus anger on fears on is more readily believed than scrutinized. It appeals to our ingrained psychic needs. Yet the day after, when I saw Bush on TV, my worst suspicions were confirmed. I knew we'd all been had, even if it wasn't obvious how it could've possibly been done. Our collective belief systems were overloaded with a new type of pain, and after we convulsed, we believed what we were told. It's the old 'shock and awe' method of breaking horses. Only it works for entire countries, as Noami Klein and Roberto Cuaron explain in the six-minute video above.

I probably know in fairly good detail how 9/11 went down. It was done under the cover of a very large Air Force exercise that day, one which simulated an attack by a dozen hijacked passenger jets. That's why the FAA controllers kept asking, "Is this part of the drill!?" as the off-course planes blipped across their screens toward New York and D.C. These details don't really matter, though. What matters is we've been living for almost seven years under leaders who knowingly killed thousands of US citizens to manufacture consent for long, disastrous wars.

Bruce at the River Blog asked a far more articulate person than me, Chris Floyd (who runs Empire Burlesque) about 9/11. Chris is a very clean thinker, and I wanted to post his response:
"It's really quite simple and, to my mind, self-evident: the "official" story of what happened on September 11, 2001, is not a complete or accurate account. (We should of course speak of official stories, because there have been several shifting, contradictory scenarios offered by the great and the good in the six years since the attack. However, for clarity's sake, we'll stick with the singular for now, and will assume -- as the entire media and political establishment does -- that the report by the Hamilton-Kean 9/11 Commission is the final "official" version.)

To put it plainly, this official account is riddled with holes: unexplained inconsistencies, unprecedented occurrences, astounding coincidences, mysterious lacunae, and deliberate obfuscations. It is, in fact, a more improbable "conspiracy theory" than many of those suggested by the much-derided 9/11 truth movement.
The profound failures of the Commission report have been amply detailed elsewhere by many hands. For our purposes here it is enough to say that it was not a thorough, independent investigation in any way, and that such a probe is still needed: a genuinely independent, wide-ranging, in-depth investigation, with full subpoena powers and full access to all material, whatever its security classification -- and testimony under oath, and under pain of perjury, from every relevant official, including the president and the vice president."
Show me the confiscated videos of a novice terrorist pilot skimming the rooftops with his 737 for a mile and then slamming into the Pentagon. Please. You can't imagine how much I'd love to be wrong.

Feist: That Song From The Apple iPod Commercial

Your ears will be happy if you click on that vid, and chances are you've already seen a portion of the video on TV. Both the song and the artist are going to be around for a while, and she'll probably be back every now and then to bring some beauty to this blog. Leslie Feist was born in 1976 into the somewhat muted music scene of Nova Scotia. Her music is a product of the Canadian socialist welfare state, which gives money to artists and helps them with production resources. You wouldn't know it, but Feist used to front a punk rock band called "Placebo." She took a break after five years of screaming blew out her voice, and went acoustic in 1999, joining a great indie collective called Broken Social Scene.
Other now-hot Canadian acts like Arcade Fire, Rufus Wainwright, and The New Pornographers all received state support. I guess socialism can work when it comes to music as well as medicine?

Here are the lyrics to "1, 2, 3, 4:"

One Two Three Four
Tell me that you love me more
Sleepless, long nights
That was what my youth was for

OLD teenage hopes are ALIVE at your door
Left you with nothing
But they want some more

Oh, oh, oh
You're changing your heart
Oh, oh, oh
You know who you are

Sweetheart, bitter heart
Now I can't tell you apart
Cozy and cold
Put the horse before the cart

Those teenage hopes
Who have tears in their eyes
Too scared to own up
To one little lie

Oh, oh, oh
You're changing your heart
Oh, oh, oh
You know who you are

One, two, three, four, five, six, nine, and ten
Money can't buy you back the love that you had then
One, two, three, four, five, six, nine, and ten
Money can't buy you back the love that you had then

Oh, oh, oh
You're changing your heart
Oh, oh, oh
You know who you are
Oh, oh, oh
You're changing your heart
Oh, oh, oh
You know who you are

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Paper: Bush Back-Door Advising Top Democrats

I'm not familiar with The Examiner, supposedly a Seattle-based paper. If the article below is true, and if Reich-winger author Bill Sammon really did accurately quote Bush in his upcoming book (The Evangelical President), the preznidentialities below give full weight to Gore Vidal's observation that "There's only one political party in the United States. It's called the Property Party, and it has two right wings." Bush says that Clinton or Obama will not pull out of Iraq once they're privy to the same data he has.

Fully true or not, these quotes point to assumptions about the future price of oil, and those assumptions have to be far higher than what even the most dire Jeremiahs (derided and dismissed by the status quo as chicken-little alarmists) allowed themselves to say. If the price isn't higher than what they've projected, the costs of a prolonged occupation will bankrupt the country.

An armed US presence in Iraq is provoking an insurgency which is costing taxpayers @$500 Billion present-value dollars a year (by the reckoning of Joseph Stiglitz, that includes equipment depreciation & replacement, energy expenditures, and future veterans' benefits). That level of spending hasn't bought oil access, and production has steadily declined. Yet, according to the Bullshevists, a pull-out from the area containing the world's largest untapped oil reserves would result in an outcome so disastrous that it will force the Democrats will have to stay on regardless. Naturally, you have to wonder what dollar-per-barrel figure the advisers are using to compute their "data."

If we project out to include the next two terms in Iraq/Afghanistan occupations, the total elapsed obligation (rounding upwards) at 15 years could well be @$7 trillion. Let's say Iraq can be pacified, that it doubles the level of oil production by 2015 and starts pumping out one billion barrels of oil per year. To pay for the past costs of the war, the net profit of each barrel to the United States must be somewhere north of $1000 ($1,000 x 1 billion = $1 trillion), and that margin must continue to be realized for more than 10 years. That would imply a commercial price per barrel of at least $1,75o.

Sounds like quite a mortgage we're into there, something like a reverse-adjustable rate in which we pay tons of cash up front, our ability to pay withers, and we get thrown out of the house. It also sounds like the analysis to the White House assumes there is no meaningful alternative to or replacement for oil. If we pull out of Iraq, everything is lost anyway, and debts are irrelevant because we won't have assets to back them, large or small. Here are excerpts from the article:

Washington, D.C. - President Bush is quietly providing back-channel advice to Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging her to modulate her rhetoric so she can effectively prosecute the war in Iraq if elected president.

In an interview for the new book “The Evangelical President,” White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said Bush has “been urging candidates: ‘Don’t get yourself too locked in where you stand right now. If you end up sitting where I sit, things could change dramatically.’ ”

Bolten said Bush wants enough continuity in his Iraq policy that “even a Democratic president would be in a position to sustain a legitimate presence there.”

“Especially if it’s a Democrat,” the chief of staff told The Examiner in his West Wing office. “He wants to create the conditions where a Democrat not only will have the leeway, but the obligation to see it out.”

To that end, the president has been sending advice, mostly through aides, aimed at preventing an abrupt withdrawal from Iraq in the event of a Democratic victory in November 2008.

“It’s different being a candidate and being the president,” Bush said in an Oval Office interview. “No matter who the president is, no matter what party, when they sit here in the Oval Office and seriously consider the effect of a vacuum being created in the Middle East, particularly one trying to be created by al Qaeda, they will then begin to understand the need to continue to support the young democracy.”

To that end, Bush is institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president.

“Look, I’d like to make as many hard decisions as I can make, and do a lot of the heavy lifting prior to whoever my successor is,” Bush said. “And then that person is going to have to come and look at the same data I’ve been looking at, and come to their own conclusion.”


So far, Bush has been encouraged by the fact that Democratic candidates are preserving enough wiggle room in their anti-war rhetoric to enable them to keep at least some troops in Iraq.

“If you listen carefully, there are Democrats that say, ‘Well, there needs to be some kind of presence,’” Bush said.

A senior White House official said the administration did not put much stock in pledges by Democratic presidential candidates to swiftly end the Iraq war if elected.

For the article in full, read here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Current Reading: Violent Politics

Heard a bit of an interview with William R. Polk on National Public Radio one past weekend, in which he outlined a method for analyzing insurgencies which made a lot of sense. Basically, he says that 95% of the effective insurgent's job is political and social, and is only 5% military action. I was not familiar with Polk in the least, and having learned more about him now, feel somewhat slighted. It would've been good to know about him earlier.

Polk established the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, served as a foreign policy advisor under various presidencies, and has been an outspoken expert against the occupation of Iraq. He has also written a number of interesting books, including the one above titled "Violent Politics," which he discussed on NPR while I helped burn some more fossil fuels.

The chief worries of the most successful insurgents focus on getting food for the families and groups in their areas of operation. Alongside inciting ill will towards a foreign occupier via information campaigns, they would also pick up the garbage, assist with neighborhood watches and procure medical supplies. They would then carefully build a new command structure if one already in place couldn't be adapted to the task at hand. With these relationships in place, they can rely on the overt or tacit cooperation of the populace, and once that is secured, the insurgents have probably won.

Polk does a comparative study of insurgencies which developed into guerilla wars which include a nice sampling of conflicts. The American Revolution, the centuries-long troubles with the English in Ireland, the French in Algeria and Spain, and the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. He uses all these examples to illustrate the proof of his summary conclusion--the injury and enmity which give rise to determined, violent, self-organizing disorder are not borne of social distance, unshared values, skin colors, religions, or opinions. Though these can serve to exacerbate or escalate timing and nature of conflict.

Polk makes the case that occupations and insurgencies suffer from a simple, shared problem: people hate being ruled by foreigners, and seek self-determination. Some would say the United States is currently ruled by foreign, multinational entities which have been legally recognized as being immortal, and whose duty is to seek infinite profit. Some say it won't be long before these foreign rulers and their advocates openly strike at Social Security, as they've been doing with pension obligations.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Another Happy (Tasered) Citizen!

A student at the University of Florida asked John Kerry too many questions ("Why did you concede on election day when there was clear evidence of vote suppression? Why are you against impeaching Bush, when he's threatening to attack Iran? Were you and Bush in the Skull and Bones society at the same time?"). Even more importantly, he was a smartass. So it goes without saying that campus police grabbed him, dragged him to the ground, and tasered him.

The video of the incident might be disturbing to some, but really, I'm glad. Hopefully police will keep electrocuting anyone who mildly displeases them, especially young people for sassing off. I hope they taser sour-faced nuns, antagonistic customers in grocery store lines, and I hope they break into the subversive lunch meetings where the Rotary Clubs plot America's demise. We don't need free speech in America. What we need here is more people who are really pissed off, and what better way to accomplish that than with the loss of bladder control that comes with 5 or 10 thousand volts coursing through a human body?

I do think police may have gone a little far when they tasered a 56-year old woman to death in her wheelchair last year. True, she was a a paranoid schizophrenic who had threatened her sister with two kitchen knives and a hammer, but her effectiveness as a murderess was limited by her mobility. It may not have been necessary to taser her 11 times in under two minutes, causing her heart to permanently stop. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere...right?

Update: I forgot to link to the news item about the mentally ill woman being electrocuted to death in her wheelchair. Her name was Emily Delafield, and it happened in Green Cove Springs, Clay County, Florida.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Diplomatic Travel Suspended In Iraq

While providing security for a diplomatic convoy, guards employed by solider of fortune firm Blackwater USA killed 8 unlucky civilians and wounded 13 after an improvised explosive device went off in the road. It's understandable, totally. Some people turn the adrenaline faucet on 'HOT' when a balloon pops, and I bet if every commuter on America's byways were armed with machine guns, there might be Trouble. In my mind's eye, I see soccer moms cutting through inconvenient traffic with the aid of tommy guns.

Soldiers get scared when something explodes near them without warning. Their endocrine systems instantly go pedal-to-the-metal, they get angry, and they start shooting, in this case while assigned to protect a high-value target. This was yet another unfortunate incident among hundreds if not thousands which occurred in the netherworld of war. If you wish to, you can find videos of guards riddling Iraqi cars with automatic weapons for sport, laughing hysterically when their drivers crash. That's not a recommendation to search for them. It's just the truth.

This time, puzzling as a pig eating a popsicle, the Interior Ministry said it was revoking Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq.

First of all, security firms like Blackwater and their employees have successfully asserted in US courts that they were operating under the auspices of the Provisional Authority of Iraq and were not subject to prosecution for fraud, murder, or anything else. To them, Iraq has been a free-fire zone. Second, while it may be possible in the market-driven Best of All Possible Worlds, I doubt Blackwater ever went to the democratically elected government of Iraq and paid for a license, or were asked to get one. The US embassy in the Green Zone refused to answer questions of legal status, saying it was seeking clarification. Blackwater USA doesn't recognize the government of Iraq, they recognize who pays them, in this case the people doling out our tax dollars and pumping out greenbacks.

So when the US goverment in Iraq calls a halt to diplomatic ground travel in the wake of the latest Blackwater incident, it's as if they're suddenly taking the Interior Ministry seriously. Not the effect you would predict. There's more here than meets the eye. Events in Iraq may be moving faster than we think. At the very least, Blackwater may have to quickly re-incorporate so it doesn't have to extract 12,000 mercs from where it's making its fortune.

Al-Sadr Withdraws Support For Iraq's Government

This is the death knell for the nation formerly known as Iraq. Its elected leader, Nouri al-Maliki, just lost his bread-and-butter domestic support, and Moqtada al-Sadr's 32 political representatives won't be attending parliament sessions anymore, or consulting with Dawa, Fadhila, or Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, the parties which made up the Shiite voting bloc. The Fadhila Party pulled out in March of this year, reducing the Shia parliament majority to 115 out of 275 seats.

Previous readings of the tea leaves on this blog indicated this shoe was going to drop, as Maliki obviously has one too many masters and wasn't giving Sadr his due. The most populous section of Baghdad is called Sadr City, after all, and to his millions of followers, Sadr is nothing less than a messianic figure. Perhaps more importantly, Sadr City has Iraq's only effective police force and militia, along with the best medical, welfare, and food distribution systems. (The picture above is of a Sadr resident selling vegetables.)

While Maliki is said to retain a razor-thin majority, it's difficult to see how he can keep the government from formally dissolving or simply falling apart due to lack of interest. When that happens, Sadr City will be the anchor of what is seen as a new Shiite country emerging after tri-partition, known in policy circles as the "Shia Rump" of Iraq. One hopes a less anatomical name may be found before the event occurs.

You have to wonder how much, or if, a de facto partition accelerates the case for a bombing campaign on Iran. Sadr is a religious nationalist who wants peaceful co-existence with Iran, but complete independence. Still, there's a common border and religion, and while it might not be immediate, you'd assume Sadristan would soon be tightly allied with, and eventually folded into, Iran. Arabic nations counted as US allies in the region dread the prospect, and are probably giving a green light to "taking out" Iran's nuclear capability. As if it were only that simple.

Many observers, seemingly utopian Bush apologists, have for some time been preparing a meme like a shuffle of zombies: "the real goal of the invasion was partition." This doesn't square well, however, with the mechanics of oil extraction. One government is easier to control than three, at least two of which will want to hold oil workers and guards for ransom, torture them, blow them up, puncture their pipelines, or seize and re-sell their oil.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fritz Wunderlich Sings Handel-Xerxes-Holy Art Thou

I once trod amongst the Germans, so I know there is a tenor buried in that land, in Munich, born 1930 and died 1966. Had he lived longer, the whole world would've been in his hands. His name was Fritz Wunderlich, who as a widow's young son sang of mornings in the bakery where he made bread. The bakery's patrons demanded he take his voice to a conservatory and project it to others. Which he did.

My favorites of his are not yet on YouTube, but if you click on the video above, the finest tenor of the 20th century will sing 'Ombra Mai Fu' (Holy Art Thou) for you. The first of his songs I ever heard was 'Selig Sind, die Verfolgung Leiden' (Blessed Are The Meek), from Der Evangelimann, a children's bible opera. He lifted it up into the music of the spheres, and I'll see what I can do about tracking the performance down. It's been 25 years, an apostasy or two hence, and still I miss it.

Wunderlich's death was officially an accident, from falling down a flight of stairs. Every German I ever knew believed he was poisoned by a jealous rival.

A Whiff Of Chickenshit

Gareth Porter, a historian, policy analyst, and international studies professor known for refuting the Domino Theory in 1969, has broken an important story in the Asia Times about a serious rift in the US military command structure responsible for Iraq: Petraeus Out of Step With US Top Brass. We know desperation fosters disagreements in war, but there is probably a key signal contained in this story, particularly with regards to the Cheney effort to attack Iran.

Porter cites anonymous sources who state that relations between Admiral William Fallon and General David Petraeus are subject to "acute tension," rivaling the antipathy of Patton and Montgomery. Petraeus, the general commanding ground forces in Iraq, nominally reports to Fallon, a superior well-regarded for his effectiveness in stemming an Islamic insurgency in the Philippines. Reportedly, at their first meeting in March of this year, Fallon called Petraeus "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" for disapproving of the general's efforts to ingratiate himself. Apparently, the relationship further devolved from that auspicious beginning. To quote the article:
Fallon's derision toward Petraeus reflected both the Centcom commander's personal distaste for Petraeus's style of operating and their fundamental policy differences over Iraq, according to the sources.

The policy context of Fallon's extraordinarily abrasive treatment of his subordinate was Petraeus's agreement in February to serve as front man for the George W Bush administration's effort to sell its policy of increasing US troop strength in Iraq to Congress.

In a highly unusual political role for an officer who had not yet taken command of a war, Petraeus was installed in the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in early February just before the Senate debated Bush's troop increase. According to a report in the Washington Post on February 7, senators were then approached on the floor and invited to McConnell's office to hear Petraeus make the case for the "surge" policy.

Fallon was strongly opposed to Petraeus's role as pitchman for the "surge" in Iraq adopted by Bush in December as putting his own interests ahead of a sound military posture in the Middle East and Southwest Asia - the area for which Fallon's Centcom is responsible.

The Centcom commander believed the United States should be withdrawing troops from Iraq urgently, largely because he saw greater dangers elsewhere in the region. "He is very focused on Pakistan," said a source familiar with Fallon's thinking, "and trying to maintain a difficult status quo with Iran."
As Goethe once said, the sweetest sounds which reach your ear tend to be spoken by someone who voices your deep convictions. Having previously ranted on the subject of a nuclear-armed Pakistan, I agree with Fallon, and it's a welcome surprise to hear his alleged thinking. Any idiot analyzing the region's scenarios would carefully consider the composition and volatility of Pakistan, an unstable powder keg jiggling on the end of a cordite-sprinkled fuse. Quite an "ally." Lest we forget, the perps of 9/11 were harbored and financed from there. ("No one could have imagined...that terrorists could fly planes...into buildings.") That, and Petraeus is an ass-kissing little chickenshit in the best careerist tradition. While he's smart enough to plagiarize old counterinsurgency strategy, which is an improvement over predecessors, he's vainglorious enough to present the strategy as his own and accept the plaudits. The little chickenshit did not steal very well; the COIN manual has been written many times before, probably most accessibly to Petraeus by Bernard Fall, who reported what worked and what did not in Indochina and later Vietnam.

The signal is this: in response to an attack on Iran, in the Asia Times article, Bill Fallon stated there would be no attacking Iran on his watch. This is in contradiction to current intel on the drumbeats for that war dance. While Porter doesn't cite his source and doesn't back it up with the opinions of others, Fallon's conclusions are militarily obvious. Any attack on Iran will produce heavy fallout and blow-back. Buttressing that, Fallon is also said to be against a war with China, and Porter says he resisted moving three major carrier groups into the Persian Gulf back in February, which was a major worry at the time (and there were a total of six carriers there if you included Marine amphis carrying troops and jump-jets).

The article's pronouncements may be soft-sourced and thus speculative, but the reporter is pretty reliable, has an impeccable record of integrity over four decades, and has bullshit-dispelling proclivities. As for Fallon he has been in the Navy for 35 years, is from a more risk-taking culture than the Army, and his retirement is secure. If he resigns suddenly, you know what it means.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shimmy & Surge: The Iraq Withdrawal Sham

Don't you just wish you had your own personal PR team who could turn your worst foibles into triumphs and transmigrate your poorer qualities into behaviors worthy of emulation? Much as you may abhor the amazing hypocrisy of the Grasping Old Party and deride its delusional denizens, you've got to hand it to them for abilities which rival Rumplestiltzkin's. Now that I think about it, they are indeed Rumpelstiltzkinesque, routinely spinning random, disastrous crap into gold, and when they're contradicted you half-expect them to throw a dwarvish tantrum and stamp their feet through the floor. When it comes to words, they are to euphemism what Albert Einstein was to the atomic bomb, they are to spin what Chubby Checker was to The Twist.

Take "The Surge," for example. Surge. The word must have been carefully chosen from amongst many candidates by psy-op marketeers to best stroke the impulses of aggressive optimism. Heaven forfend it should be called a reinforcement or escalation. Amidst the barrage of recent Senate hearings, presidential addresses, and news articles largely extolling the virtues of its effects and the genius of its design, let's knife through to tendon and sinew, and get a couple of facts straight. What was the operational plan? What did it accomplish?

Originally planned as an all-out summer campaign focused exclusively on classical counterinsurgency (COIN) techniques, the Surge's main intent was to strengthen the Iraqi government's control. Obviously, the troop build-up in Baghdad and its western trouble spots (such as Anbar Province) has manifestly failed to meet that overall goal. By official admission, the government of Iraq is weaker than it was six months ago, and there have been open calls for the ouster of its elected leaders. Now, the escalation is set to last until next summer, while being called both a success and a withdrawal. The preznit said last night, "The more successful our troops are, the sooner they can come home." Yeah, and the beatings will continue until morale improves. Where are the Brothers Grimm when you need them? I don't recall a fairy tale about The Bullshit Artist.

It would be unjust to dismiss the improved planning behind the build-up, and it seems that General David Petraeus is a pretty good strategist. While failing in its large hope, the escalation seems to have had a couple of effects, each of which may be good, particularly depending upon how you look at them. First, the ethnic cleansing required to partition sections of Iraq behind "blood borders," i.e., borders often defined by features of terrain and legitimized by the consent of conflict, common ethnicity or beliefs, seems to have been hastened. Second, weapons, ground support, and air strike assistance were given to the tribal militias in Anbar who opposed Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In other words, tribal enmity towards external Saudi influence was finally put to use, and the intelligence and goodwill the militias were able to deliver hurt AQI enough so that politicians could find the nearest camera and declare the province pacified, the Surge a success. In fact, the province was so pacified Preznit Bush just visited it, to personally see the progress.

See the guy in the picture above, shaking preznit's hand? His name is Abdul Sattar abu Reesha, and he was a tribal sheikh who led anti-AQI operations in Anbar Province. He was killed yesterday, just before Bush was going to talk about him in a presidential address. The Anbar Province is far from pacified, and most of its people will not shun the influence and assistance of fellow Sunnis in Saudi Arabia because both are necessary for the long-term survival prospects of what we might now start calling Sunnistan.

As for withdrawal, the 2,500 troops Petraeus and Bush said are coming home in December were scheduled to rotate back anyway. For the troops said to be coming back next summer, the Surge was supposed to already be over, and a lot can happen before next year. It might be helpful to remember that the British occupation of Iraq in 1919 lasted for nearly 40 years, and they were announcing withdrawal all the way. Via Jonathon Glancey's article in the Guardian on April 19th, 2003:
In his memoir of the crushing of the 1920 Iraqi uprising, Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer L Haldane, quotes his own orders for the punishment of any Iraqi found in possession of weapons "with the utmost severity": "The village where he resides will be destroyed _ pressure will be brought on the inhabitants by cutting off water power the area being cleared of the necessaries of life". He added the warning: "Burning a village properly takes a long time, an hour or more according to size".

The Sons Of Norway

A lot of Scandinavians came to the American Northwest to cut timber, to fish, and to enjoy the same rain, cold, and early dusks they had in the Old Country. Quite some number of them took a short-cut and got dropped right off in Seattle or Portland. Just a couple of miles away in Ballard there are still people who say, "Ya sure, you betcha!," and even have "Uff da!" bumper stickers on their cars.

Still, when we drove by a Sons of Norway hall on the outskirts of Seaside, Oregon, it seemed quaint enough to bring on a little chuckle, as in, "Good to know you guys are keeping the faith." It reminded me of one of the yokes I heard at Scandinavian expense:

Q: Where do the Norwegian alcoholics go?

A: To Betty Fjord's!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Busy-ness and absence have kept me from my keyboard of leisure the past couple of weeks, so I've largely fallen down on the blog-job. It hasn't been without some rewards. For example, we got to take Labor Day weekend on the ocean in the aptly-named Seaside, Oregon. It's not an area we know well, or have ever been to, but we liked it and may well return.

Seaside evokes the feel of summertime Amityville as it was portrayed in the movie 'Jaws,' in which, except when a huge man-eating shark is stalking the beaches, the entertainments are pretty simple and family-oriented. It does compensate somewhat for the lack of sharks, most of whom the 48 degree waters must be too cold for, by being in a Tsunami Zone. There are signs posted all over with an arrow pointing in one direction, and the signs say something like this: "In Case of Tsunami: Run This Way Fast!"

Overall, the effect was a bit like nicely stepping back in time, and the sparsely populated Oregon coast even reminded me of the far-Upstate New York lake culture I grew up in. The crowds of families visiting Seaside weren't much different from those who would come to the amusement park my stepfather owned at Pine Lake Park, where as I recall, a seasonal Labor Day highlight would be when all the 500 or so employees of the White Mop Wringer, Co. would have their annual picnic in the grove.

The middle, lower-middle, and migrant worker classes all bring their families to Seaside. There are bicycle, scooter and paddle-craft rentals aplenty, fairly laid-back tourist traps, and unpretentious restaurants, with nary a chain or a franchise of any sort in sight. On the Friday evening we arrived, most restaurants closed by 9:30, the non-smoking, non-drinking billiards hall was completely empty, and the wait in line at the mobbed grocery store, a demographically appropriate Safeway, was 25 minutes long. The pizza place we had lunch at the next day was unchanged (except for most of the video games) from the 1970s, and the salt-misted beach we tried to build sandcastles on with Lord Running Boy had impromptu bonfire pits nestled all throughout its dunes.

Running Boy is about to crest on 3 and a half, so taking him out to the bonfires at night wasn't a responsible option, but he was intensely aware of their presence, announced them from our balcony repeatedly while jumping up and down and saying, "Look! They're having fun over there with fires! Let's go, Let's go!" Then when he was on the verge of sleep, someone out on the beach would send up a Roman candle or some firework, which would ignite fresh excitement and regret at missing out on something good. We have little doubt he will one day be a denizen of the bon-fires.

We explored a little when the surprisingly heavy road traffic allowed. Only a few miles south of Seaside lays the more upscale town of Cannon Beach, where the more prosperous classes go. There are art galleries, day spas, and eateries verging on the trendy, with many B&Bs and houses for rent. Still delightfully franchise-free, metaphorically breaded with panko and fried in Canola oil, not tallow. It was foggy until after mid-day, and just as we had finished playing with the corpse of a dead jelly-fish and were leaving the beach, the looming massif of Haystack Rock, pictured above more visibly, started to blacken a surprisingly large section of the mist. It is the third-tallest sea monolith which juts out of any ocean. We had been playing just north of it, oblivious, and our emerging perspective was just like this:

Friday, September 07, 2007

Homeland Insecurity

Security methods define the social interactions of nations and their people. As a house divided cannot stand, neither can an overly paranoid state. It's always tempting for those in power to err on the side of intrusion, but the consequences often trigger an escalatory spiral which leads to the destruction of the state's rulers, and sometimes to the state itself.

Like the corrosive action of salt on steel, large, high-powered human security forces erode the integrity of any system of government, devolving democracies into dictatorships, dictatorships into anarchies. The enforcers of security, if not kept in strict check, naturally abuse their functions and in so doing burn out the vulnerable welds they're assigned to safeguard. But how can greater security be bad?

One might say the tone of security governs a country. Whether in an airport, on a train, in a park, on a street, in a car, in a school, in your house, you and I can be held at gunpoint and pinioned to the ground as an indefinite prisoner on mere suspicion and derivation of intent. In fact, this could always happen to us in certain "wrong place, wrong time" situations, but there the safeguards and level of accountability were higher. Now it can happen for no reason at all, with no recourse, with no remorse. If we are mistakenly detained or harmed in security's name, the mistake is an exonerable act no matter how horrifying, how egregious the error. The odds of being on the catastrophically wrong end of the security apparatus are low, but because it can and will happen, it colors every conversation. As Ari Fleisher famously told a reporter after 9/11, you have to "be careful of what you say."

If the security apparatus is in the hands of minimum-wage earners, low achievers, and adolescents with machine guns, then you're living in a second-rate country that actively wants to treat its own people like crap. Pretty soon you'll have to squeeze toothpaste out of its tube at border crossings to prove it's not lethal plastique, senior citizens will have to prove their birth dates to buy a beer, and speaking of salt, people will be thrown in jail for improperly seasoning food.

These prospects would be intentionally ridiculous, yet they aren't. Senior citizens are being carded for buying wine, and a 20-year old girl was jailed for accidentally over-salting a cop's hamburger. (I got carded at a Whole Foods once, refused, and made the clerk bring the bottles of wine back. Chickenshit. If the gray in my beard isn't enough to convince, I'd rather stomp grapes.) And let's not get started on personal care products and borders. See, it's not enough to give followers of Islam a wide berth, to not associate with professors of Arabic studies, to not have "them" to dinner at your home or give to "their" charities. A "take the gloves off" security approach bleeds over into everything no matter how trivial, just as the rust spreads not through one or two sections but through all seams, weakening the welds which hold our system's structure together.

It's simple human nature. If you allow or encourage torture, you will attract men and women who like to torture people. The catalog of human agonies, even after such long practice, is not yet complete.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Why Hugo Chavez Is On "The List"

To the Bush Administration, Chavez is a communist Simon Bolivar who fetishizes Fidel Castro. But that's not the main problem with him. His ambition of turning South America into a Greater Latinate Co-Prosperity Sphere isn't such a bad idea, as, in proper hands, it potentiates the cheaper corruption of the region. And while it is in very poor taste for a dictator to read and quote Noam Chomsky, he only embarrasses himself. The problem is this: not only is Hugo stealing their oil money, he's giving it away to people who don't deserve it. For that, he must be killed. Via the Miami Herald:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government has pledged more than $8.8 billion in aid, financing and energy funding in Latin America and the Caribbean so far in 2007. Bandes is a Venezuelan state development bank. Below is a list of pledges sorted by type.


- $3.55 billion. Nicaragua: To build 150,000 barrel-a-day oil refinery. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $1.6 billion. Estimated financing per year under preferential oil deals to at least 17 countries. (Source: Chavez, March 15)

- $340 million. Nicaragua: Grants and loans to supply oil, nine electricity generators. (Source: Venezuela government statement, March 7)

- $240 million. Bolivia: Exploration of gas and oil fields. (Source: Bolivian Hydrocarbons Ministry, Aug. 8)

- $170 million. Bolivia: To build two liquid natural gas extraction plants. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $100 million. Nicaragua: To supply 32 electricity generators. (Source: Chavez, Jan. 10)

- $89 million. Nicaragua: To build 120 megawatt electricity plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $80 million. Haiti: To build 10,000 barrel-a-day oil refinery. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $63.7 million. Jamaica: For state oil company to buy 49-percent stake in Jamaican refinery. (Source: Jamaican Energy Ministry, May 18)

- $56 million. Haiti: To build 60-megawatt electricity plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $30 million. Bolivia: To build diesel electricity generation plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $28 million. Bolivia: To build thermoelectric plant. (Source: Bolivian Hydrocarbons Ministry, Aug. 8)

- $8 million. Cuba: To build liquefied natural gas re-gasification plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $5 million. Bolivia: Electricity-saving project. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $4.7 million. Bolivia: To set up 15 service stations to distribute fuel. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $4 million. Haiti: To build LNG re-gasification plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $200,000. Ecuador: Donation of two drills for oil exploration. (Source: Chavez, Aug. 9)

ENERGY FUNDING TOTAL: $6.369 billion


- $1 billion. Argentina: Planned bond purchases, including $500 million in bonds purchased in August. (Source: Chavez, Aug. 7)

- $100 million. Bolivia: Planned purchase of Bolivian government bonds. (Source: Cabezas, Aug. 2)

- $30 million. Nicaragua: Debt forgiveness. (Source: Chavez, Jan 10)

- $8 million. Guyana: Debt forgiveness. (Source: Rodolfo Sanz, Venezuela's deputy foreign minister for Latin America and the Caribbean, Aug. 9)

FINANCING TOTAL: $1.138 billion


- $250 million. Fund to finance joint economic projects in region's socialist-oriented countries. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $150 million. Dominica: Funding for housing, airport upgrade, scholarships. (Source: Chavez, Feb. 15)

- $135 million. Argentina: Bandes loan for Sancor dairy cooperative. (Source: Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas, Feb. 22)

- $88 million. Nicaragua: Grants and loans for tractors, AIDS treatment, sending 86 Nicaraguan athletes to sports tournament, 100,000 Hepatitis B vaccines, etc. An additional $2 million listed below under humanitarian aid. (Source: Venezuelan government statement, March 7)

- $30 million. Bolivia: Bandes capital for low-interest loans. (Source: Bandes president, May 7)

- $25 million. Ecuador: Bandes capital for new branch to offer low-interest loans. (Source: Bandes President Rafael Isea Romero, May 24)

- $21 million. Haiti: Fund to build homes, acquire unspecified equipment and provide medical aid by supporting the work of Cuban specialists offering health care to Haitians. (Source: Venezuelan government statement, March 3)

- $20 million. Bolivia: Grants for local infrastructure projects in health, schools, sports and other areas. (Source: Bolivian Public Finance Minister Luis Arce, April 12).

- $20 million. Nicaragua: Loans for rural poor, health care and education. (Source: Chavez, Jan. 10)

- $20 million. Nicaragua: Capital for Bandes branch for low-interest agricultural loans. (Source: Bandes president, May 24)

- $10 million. Nicaragua: Funding for social projects. (Source: Chavez, Jan. 10)

- $2 million. Guyana: Donation to build a homeless shelter. (Source: Guyanese Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally, Aug. 2)

- $875,000. Bolivia: Computers to digitalize Bolivia's national identification card system. (Source: Bolivian government announcement, April 13.)



- $350 million. Nicaragua: Donation to build Pacific-Atlantic highway. (Source: Nicaragua Infrastructure Minister Pablo Fernando Martinez, Jan. 22)

- $150 million. Bolivia: Asphalt plant. (Source: Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, April 30)

- $57 million. Haiti: Funding to expand Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien airports. (Source: Venezuelan government statement, March 3)

- $5.5 million. Bolivia: Funding for paving streets and other improvements to poor neighborhoods in La Paz. (Source: Bolivian government statement, July 14)

- $3 million. Haiti: Donation for garbage trucks. (Source: Chavez, March 13)



- $15 million. Bolivia: Donation for flood victims. (Source: Chavez, Feb. 26 and March 2)

- $2 million. Nicaragua: Free medicine. Announced as part of larger $90 million in grants and loans. (Source: Venezuelan government statement, March 7)

- $1.5 million. Peru: Two planeloads of earthquake relief supplies, with more planned. (Armando Laguna, Venezuelan ambassador to Peru, Aug. 22)



- $10 million. Bolivia: Funding to fix military barracks. (Source: Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel, May 21 and 22).

MILITARY TOTAL: $10 million


Geez! Pretty generous for a communist.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stealing History: Moqtada Al-Sadr, Jesus, & The Eschaton

The world is full of power and energy and a person can go far by observing, skimming off tiny slivers. We use rivers. And history almost repeats because we were here before, but not quite.

Example: It has become fashionable to say that Jesus is not a historical figure, that he is a construct who never existed as a person, that his particulars corresponded conveniently to the Zodiac, the duration of his mission was archetypal, his miracles mythic, his resurrection recycled. The key cross-armed assumption is that such an important personage would've been faithfully feted and meticulously recorded, that the records of Eusebius and Josephus, amongst others, were posthumously augmented by clumsy bishops. All that may be. What such analyses assiduously ignore, and I find far more interesting, are the environments that begged for a Jesus and the ones like them before. In other words, the environments which gave rise to Gods. The Zodiac may be right, and gods may be Wankel engines, their courses adhering to the confines of one well-greased eternal round. But every God is different from before.

Israel was an uncomfortable part of Rome. Jerusalem wish-wanted a revolutionary to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression, Jerusalem longed for The Mighty, and there must have been many, many other Christs, all lost to history, who were extinguished and executed in painful, anonymous deaths. Jesus may be a myth, the myth may be a vestige, an acid-wash composite, yet it remains. As for me...I suspect Jesus was an actual man, an Essene who traveled to the east, sampled Buddhism, and returned with a radically dissident philosophy which resonated with his time. He was the ultimate passive aggressor who accepted his fate.

There is a Jesus figure in Iraq today. He is similarly easy to dismiss because of his comic aspects, his youth, rumored homosexuality, hermeticism, and otherness. Despite these facts, Moqtada Al-Sadr will be the authority of Shia Iraq.
(Paradoxically, he is a strongly moderate influence.) He will provide leadership and welfare as the British depart from the South, his fervent followers believe in him, will die for him, and he will be the power behind a new government. As the singer/songwriter Dan Bern would say:
Everybody's waiting for the Messiah
The Jews are waiting
The Christians are waiting
Also the Muslims
It's like everybody's waiting
They been waiting a long time
I know how I hate to wait
Like even for a bus or something
An important phone call
So I can imagine, how darned impatient
Everyone must be getting!

So I think it's time now
Time to reveal myself
I am the Messiah!
I am the Messiah!
Probably, no press story you've ever read has explained what Shiites are. They are this: as Jesus said, the meek shall inherit the earth. That's how Shiites see themselves. They are the abused, the disinherited faithful. Of course the idea of the return of the Mahdi and a 12th Imam is a superstitious travesty, as is Christianity, but the followers believe. They genuinely believe that the 12th Imam will come to the world, bring Jesus with him, and establish peace on earth. After ordering fries with that and establishing justice, naturally. Does this sound familiar? Didn't think so. Pass the ketchup.

I've watched this guy's moves for a while. They are very, very good. Minimum of effort, studying the lilies. Solomon clad as one of these. He's not interested in fighting US or Coalition forces. He's simply waiting for them to go away, and knows what his people want. He doesn't command. He leads. Somewhere he is looking at a hundred dollar bill right now and saying, "Give unto Franklin, that which is Franklin's." And if a new Pontius Pilate is so stupid as to kill him, he will be a martyr without equal in the last two thousand years.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Future Of Public Schools

Having a youngster has made us start thinking about schools. Personally, I had hoped the problem would just go away, but our son is almost three and a half, keeps growing boisterously closer to school age, has not yet taught himself to read and shows little interest in mastering multiplication or division. Relatives just informed us last night that he seems to have a bright future as a boxer or a bouncer, so we know there's always that to fall back on. Ideally, however, we'd like him to have more options, and so have started checking out schools.

Our city has tended to take top marks for being the most well-read in America. Even though we've known full well that Republikaans do not believe a free, high-quality education should be a government deliverable and have sought to de-fund them in various ways while channeling money to religious, voucher, and "charter" schools, and we heard that school teachers in Detroit went on strike a couple of years back to get for the paper towels, toilet paper, and pencils they were buying out of their own paychecks, but it was still a surprise to look up our city's public high school graduation rate:
That's not counting all the kids who didn't make it to high school, who graduated but can't write well enough to explain something, who don't have the math foundation to make it in engineering, and who never learned items of common cultural significance, such as where Italians come from.

Fortunately, there are ways to be sure our child starts off to getting a good education. First, there's a lottery we can enter. I'm not kidding. If our name is drawn, our son can go to the special Japanese/Spanish immersion program where the higher-paid, more impassioned teachers are. (No choice on which language you get, though.) Next, there's paying $20,000+ in combined tuition and property taxes, the latter of which are largely said to be earmarked for the upkeep of public schools, in order to obtain the quality of education we and our parents received as children for free.

(Graphic courtesy of Cat In The Bag.)