Saturday, December 29, 2007

Feist: I Feel It All

Leslie Feist strikes again, this time on Jimmy Kimmel Live, singing with her band on a commuter bus. She draws on the marimba, snapping fingers, an acoustic guitar, an unused sax horn, a guy blowing on a cross between a bagpipe a waterpipe and a keyboard, and lots of greek chorus vocals in the background. It's really on a bus, with the driver's head bobbing up and down to the groove. The suspension must've been pretty good, and transmitted a stream of an artist's past consciousness:

"No one likes to take a test, sometimes you know more is less, put your weight against the door, kick drums on a basement floor, stranded in a fog of words, loved him like a winter bird, on my head the water pours, Gulf Stream through the open door, oh fly away, just fly away, to what you want to make."

The full lyrics to 'I Feel it All:'

I feel it all, I feel it all
I feel it all, I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card inside, wild card inside

Oh, I'll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hold the gun!

I know more than I knew before
I don't know what I knew before
I didn't rest, I didn't stop:
Did we fight or did we talk?

Oh, I'll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hold the gun!

I love you more, I love you more!
I don't know what I knew before,
but now I know, I wanna win the war

No one likes to take a test
Sometimes you know more is less
Put your weight against the door
Kick drum on a basement floor
Stranded in a fog of words
Loved him like a winter bird
On my head the water pours
Gulf stream through the open door
Oh, fly away, flay away,
To what you want to make.

I feel it all, I feel it all
I feel it all I feel it all
The wings are wide, the wings are wide
Wild card inside, wild card inside.

Oh I'll be the one to break my heart
I'll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll end it, though you started it.

The truth lied!
The truth, it lied,
Oh, and lies divide.
I'll guess we'll meet again,
but lies divide.

We Don't Need More Heat In Washington, We Need More Light

The best peacemakers can hit the hardest when they need to. Barack Obama was elected as editor of the Harvard Law Review in 1990, the first and only black to win that post. He was a second-year student with a second-hand wardrobe living in a basement apartment in Somerville who wanted to go back to community activism on Chicago's south side. Every other Harvard Law Review editor over the past 30 years went on to clerk for a Supreme Court justice, become a corporate counsel, or work for an investment bank. His Law Review victory was ground-breaking, more significant than later becoming a Senator.

Obama is remembered as an even-handed peacemaker who routinely kicked both liberal and conservative ass upwards to better things in the vicious, petty agenda-debates common to law schools. "A lot of people at the time were just talking past each other, very committed to their opinions, their point of view, and not particularly interested in what other people had to say," said classmate Crystal Nix Hines
. "Barack transcended that."

Obama rocked the Dims hard with straight, sharp jabs in Iowa, six days before its primary.

On the Clintons:
"The real gamble, the risk, the real risk in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same players and expecting a different result. (Two weeks ago Bill Clinton warned a national TV audience that Obama would be a "roll of the dice," offering Hillary as a Sure Thing.)

On Change:
"We cannot wait to fix our schools, we cannot wait to stop climate change, we cannot wait to get universal health care... and we cannot wait to bring this war in Iraq to an end."

More on the Clintons:
"We don't need someone to work the system better because the system doesn't work for us. We don't need someone who says, ' I know how to work the game,' because the game plan isn't working."

On Edwards:
"Some people say, 'Well, Obama talks a good game, but he's not angry enough, he's too conciliatory.' I don't need lectures about how to bring about change because I've spent my life bringing about change. I turned down the big jobs to do community organizing in Chicago. I turned down the big money law firms to be a civil rights lawyer. I took on the lobbyists in the state legislature in Illinois."

On The United States:
"We don't need more heat in Washington. We need more light."

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In Defense Of Christ & Advent Calendars

Someone sent Isabelita, she who blogs in Wallingfjord at Learning To Sequence, an Adventskalendar. Even though neither she nor the sender are Christian. This, like Christmas itself, is weird. Now, if you don't know Adventzkalendars, they are funny-strange mnemonic devices devised by sadistic Germans to build up the Christmas suspense, turning up the pressure a little every day, each little paper door a port-hole to fresh horrors. Sick, hyper-competitive bastards. ("Twelve days of Christmas? Tscha! Eat our socks, you English. In Germany we get all 25!") Ok. I'm not doing a good job defending the calendars.

Whether you go in for the Nativity or the North Pole, or both (or not), if you speak English as a first language there's always plenty of fertilizer coming at you this time of year. Iz wishes, quite practically, that there was more chocolate in her Advent's calendar, and is turned off by the fictions about the baby jebus waiting behind each door. Christ, were he still cracking wise, would nail the whole concept of Christmas. He would point out how Christmas occasions all manner of evil, and he wasn't born then anyway. And say what you want about evils, but they're almost impossible to avoid.

Therefore, most of us here have to roll with the reindeer shit, and for those with young children there are few courses open outside of Buddha, Moses, and Mohammed but bowing to convention. Then suddenly you find yourselves standing in line for over an hour, outdoors in the freezing wind. Waiting for something useful, maybe, like free food? Coffee? A concert? No. You wait to see a complete stranger inexplicably dressed up like a murderous freebooter, as red as drenched from head to toe in fresh blood, all to put your little one onto the lap of this seasonal worker of questionable origins who you really hope isn't a child molester.

Then, when it's almost your turn to stop freezing and fork over 30 bucks so Santa can cop a feel (Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus. Run!), some officious elf sticks her head out of the faux North Pole workshop and intones, "Santa goes on break in three minutes!" You're three places away from Santa's Gate, you've been looking at the Apple store not 75 yards away for 75 shivering minutes, and now you're auto-scanning your whereabouts for weapons and thinking: "If you try to close that gate, little elf, I'll rip the points off your ears."

Ah, the ghosts of Christmas future. What the hell are we thinking? I mean as a whole culture, one which has gone alarmingly insane and tells lies to our children, lies which don't even bother to have a purpose. The pagans who ran Samhain and went in for sacrificing Tiny Tim around the solstices, at least they had a
plan. We've got sales and toys so frigging complicated you wonder if it's China taking a little prevenge on us for the opium wars. ("What? A 9-volt battery? Required to power a treaded race-bot that climbs walls? Sure. Got it right here. In my ass.") When I lost the Leatherman with the phillips-head screwdriver while surrounded by wires, styrofoam, cardboard boxes, those twisty cables you can't unwind and have to cut, and the 500 pieces of interlocking plastic (sorry to not be exaggerating) which have to go together somehow, first a panic, then a depressive funk, ensued. Lord Wife found the Leatherman after determined searching and we were like, "Christmas is saved!! Pass the Xanax."

I realize this is all sick, very sick. The best part is, there are children on their way here who think that chasing a Jack Russell terrier around the house with a rectal thermometer is the height of folly. A tradition, I kid you not, established last year. How do I get out of Christmas, or give it a purpose? I know it's supposed to be about giving, about Christ's birth, but maybe it should be more about holding back, and taking the lies about Christ out of it. Christ doesn't have a goddamned thing to do with Christmas. (Catholics, don't even try any of your weak Pope-ninja bullshit on me. I've been to midnight mass in Nuremburg's town square, Christmas headquarters, and Jesus was emphatically not there.) Maybe it should be about practical forgiveness, as in, "You know, you really got on my nerves this past year, and a couple times there I wanted to effin' kill you. Here! Have a Cuisinart, and let's treat each other better." Forgiveness. A way to start. First base to the home plate of not killing people.

Iz asked what Christianity was all about, given the crap they tried out on her in Episcopalian Sunday schools, not to mention the other religions with fraud and hypocrisy, i.e., just about all of them. Being an ex-missionary for Jesus, I'm supposed to still know. So I was provoked into a post-modern "Yes, Virginia" exchange. Here's part:
No, I don't mean Christ actually said anything. It could've been a mere construct, and there is no telling proof otherwise.

Yet if you look at the historical context, there are many (of his) quotes that don't fit preferred contemporary Jewish revolution or nascent Catholic/pagan order fantasies, and this seems to indicate actual statements of at least one provocative personality leaked through unexpunged. They are problematic for any organized religion, and largely ignored, yet they were left in. (Only a guess, but Jesus may have been an Essene, philosophers who traveled and studied in the East. Someones who came close to answering the desperate Jewish need for a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman occupation. But not close enough.)

Organized religions completely ignore quotes that don't neatly fit their purposes, but the Jesus texts are far more prolifically radical than Sunday schools acknowledge. For example there was not a word from the Jesus character about fire, nor brimstone, so Episcopal simply isn't "Christian" on that score.

It really doesn't matter if Jesus was a man, many men, or a god, the message was to reject the revenge-based mindset of Judaism and embrace a philosophy of self-actualization and positive action. Human desire for hiearchical control purposefully obscures the philosophy.
Jesus comes straight out and tells people, at one point, that if they wish to live immortally with god-capital-G, they all have to pick up and carry their own cross. No way around it, no easy answers, no blame, no Santa Claus. Here's Isabelita's reply, about as well put as can be:
I could accept that message, even in a religious context, if more so-called christians acted on it.
Amen, sister. I'll try to act more better, and hope you found more chocolate in that last Advent box.

Christmas Cheer Returns To Bethlehem

Even if it's hokey, it's still cool. I get all verklemmt when people stop shooting each other, for even a little bit:
West Bank (AP) - Hundreds of Christian pilgrims celebrated Jesus' birth on Tuesday in the West Bank town where he was born, in an atmosphere made markedly cheerier by the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after years of bloody conflict.

By midday, the ancient Church of the Nativity was packed with tourists waiting in line to see the grotto that marks the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The visit to Bethlehem was a first for Kiel Tilley, 23, a science teacher from Charlevoix, Mich.

"It's very powerful and meaningful to me," Tilley said. "It's very moving to visit a place which I always read about in the Bible."

The relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a U.S.-sponsored conference last month reassured him before his trip, he said.

"I'm always in fear something would happen," Tilley said. "But the peace process made me feel safer."

Hundreds of people from all over the world crowded the church's dark interior. Some stopped to look at part of the original floor about two feet below the current one, exposed in a fenced-off section in the middle of the church.

Some of the tourists inside the church wore Santa hats, and one carried the national flag of Indonesia, a country whose population of 235 million is nearly 95 percent Muslim.

The church, first built in the 4th century, looks like a fortress. Two rows of columns line each side of the long, narrow central hall.

Vendors mingling with the crowd in Manger Square hawked rosaries, handcrafted bags, popcorn, steamed corn and Turkish coffee.

According to Israeli border police, who monitored the entry of visitors into Bethlehem, 22,000 tourists had crossed over by midday, including about 7,000 Israeli Arabs.
Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War & The Beauty Parlor Reaganites

Former Reagan officials are angry about the new Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson's War. They say it aggrandizes how much a mere Texas Rep, a Democrat!, helped the Afghanis to forcibly eject Soviet occupiers. They dispute how much credit "the Avocado," CIA agent Gust Avrakatos, deserves for devising effective insurgency tactics. They claim Wilson and Avocado actively resisted sending Stinger missiles to the tribes, finally being overruled by Cap Weinberger, certified Cold War Hero. A blog called "Libertas" is one of many piling on the trope:
Sorry, Hollywood, THIS (Ronald Reagan) is the man who won the Cold War you wanted us to lose, not some cocaine-snorting, whore-mongering, alcoholic liberal… It was this man, the people who served him, Pope John Paul, Margaret Thatcher, the people in Eastern Europe who rose and followed the likes of Lech Walesa, our brave military, and a man named Ollie North who also sent covert arms to freedom fighters, but there will be no movies about him…
I'd love to see a movie about Ollie North! One which depicts a moral compass Heinrich Himmler would've loved, although of course the pic would have nothing to do with defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. That's why there's a movie about a cocaine-snorting, whore-mongering alcoholic liberal who delivered enough money to a wholly insubordinant, down-and-dirty CIA agent to blow up every Russian in the country, an agent whom the Republicans hated, feared, and tried to get rid of. At one point, Avocado controlled 70% of the CIA's discretionary budget for the entire world. On top of that, Wilson and Bill Casey got the Saudi government to match the US funding buck-for-buck.

The bad liberals begged for Stinger missiles to give to the mujahedin, and it was the Reagan Administration which wouldn't send them. It was the Reagan Administration which held up the shipment of sniper rifles for nearly 5 years on fears they would be used to target Russian generals. (Finally the rifles were sent, but without the night vision goggles needed to make them effective.) It was the Reagan Administration which held back the good stuff, fearing it would offend Gorbachev.

Wilson and Avrakatos were flawed bit players who thought up a solution and pursued it with single-minded determination. Just pawns, really, of Zbigniew Brzenski's 1980 plan to stick Afghanistan up the same Commie ass which took his native Poland and killed family members and friends. (Z-Big was Carter's national security advisor.) Still, the grasping and whining from people widely praised for engineering a "Morning in America" (which, if it existed at all, was made possible by hard policies of their predecessors), is beyond unbecoming. It's yet another unfortunate confirmation that duplicitous, perpetually insecure glory-whores rarely change. Reagan's whores claim the movie is liberally biased, a low blow to conservatives because the screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of two Liberal Wet Dream White Houses portrayed on television series "The West Wing" and in Michael Douglas movie "The American President." Clearly, Aaron Sorkin wants all Republicans to be lined up against a wall and shot, ergo speaks with forked tongue.

That the Reaganistas are not remembered for treating Afghanistan like a snotty Kleenex while basking in political glory is too bad. Once the Russians pulled out, the Tough Guys were too timid and dim-witted to maintain any presence and funding. In their stupidity, they did not rebuild Afghanistan, preferring to create a power vacuum into which were sucked the spores of the Taliban. Kool-Aiders will claim stability wasn't their responsibility, they couldn't have known it would go bad, the Cold War was won anyway, the Taliban wasn't formed until the Clinton years, yadda yada. Of course, that's also saying ignorance of basic statecraft is wonderful. In keeping with Republican style.

Meanwhile, after the Russkies hauled ass, a rich Saudi national named Osama bin Laden (OBL) stayed on in Afghanistan to build roads, dams, and schools, to further promulgate the Muslim reformation (Al-Qaeda), and to build a network so loyal to him that he hasn't been turned in despite a $40 million reward. Again, the tropes proclaim no connection between the CIA and bin Laden, that he never got any direct US funding, and the events in Afghanistan and Pakistan had nothing to do with 9/11. The rabid Puggies don't seem to realize the dreaded librul Sorkin adapted the bothersome movie's screenplay from a book, one funnily enough called Charlie Wilson's War. And they're missing the central plot point:

What if, instead of Osama bin Laden, we were the ones who stayed on to build the roads, dams, and schools?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Barack Obama Only Democrat To Defeat All Republicans In Zogby Poll

It's just a poll, but it confirms metrics and instincts that Barack Obama is the most electable presidential candidate. He's claiming more mindshare.

In a Zogby International poll, Hillary loses by 4 and 5 percentage points to Republican candidates Giuliani and Huckabee, respectively. Not good. Whereas Barack Obama performs a net 13 and 10 percentage points better against each, beating Giuliani by 9, Huckabee by 5. The numbers resound in terms of electability measures, and should cause further state-by-state coalescence of Party support around Obama.

Amongst voters declared Independent, Obama beats Giuliani by a crushing 56% - 31%, whereas Clinton trails Giuliani amongst Independents by 43% - 42%. Not even the swing voters go Democrat under her nomination, which is probably the most damning number in the poll. Winning candidates must attract swing voters. Hillary does edge a Romney race by 2, beats Thompson by 6, but loses to limping soldier McCain by a depressing 7. There must be hope in McCainville tonight.

Huckabee is the strongest candidate amongst the Republicans, but he probably can't win more than 1 or 2 small coastal states vs. Obama, whose United Church of Christ bona fides make him competitive in states like Tennessee, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia, and his mother's birthplace, Kansas. The Zogby results in full are here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Likeability & The Presidency

A couple of recent articles have come out regarding candidate likeability, and it's about time. If Tom Hanks ever decides to run for President, he'd probably win, because he maxes out surveys on the most liked personality. I mean, look at him. You feel like you know him, and how could you not vote for him?

Even back when the terms "branding" and "image alignment" only concerned livestock and mapmaking, likeability was key in who finally made it through the flaming hoops which guard the Oval Office. Candidates remain fond of saying, "For once let's keep the debate to the issues. Let's focus on policy, the challenges facing us, and who's best qualified to lead the country." Sure. That's the cue for Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh to jump in from their respective sties, noting that Hillary's face is wrinkled up like a 60-year old woman's, Barack's lips are the color of chicken liver, and Dennis Kucinich can't be elected because he wears funny ties.

It's always been a popularity contest. Scrolling down the post-WWII list points out how crucial the Like Quotient has been:

Eisenhower : I Like Ike
Kennedy : Camelot
Johnson : Screw Likeable! I Killed To Get Here
Nixon : Me, Too! And Don't Make Me Kill You
Ford : Who Am I, And Why Am I Here?
Carter : I Will Never Lie To You
Reagan : Just Win One For The Gipper
Bush One : Gosh-Darnit, There He Goes Again
Clinton : I Feel Your Pain
Bush Too : Preznit For Dummies

Those Presidents above with poor Like Quotients (Johnson, Nixon, and Ford) all got into office via the exceptional circumstances of assassination, resignation, impeachment, and succession. (Quick Aside: Was Ford Nixon's way of intentionally flipping the bird, his way of saying, "All right, Congress. Ok, America. You want to impeach me? Fine! I'll inflict the human equivalent of an Irish Setter on you. And I already wrote my own pardon for him."?) If I take a look at the corresponding list of losing candidates for these presidencies, it reads like members of The Society for Social Stiffness: Robert Taft, Adlai Stevenson, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphrey (likable, but stiffened by LBJ baggage), George McGovern, Gerald Ford, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry.

The Media Age amplifies human traits in the electoral process, egging on the gossip-driven attention to trite details, raising the effort required to assemble an overall impression. There are simply more bases which candidates must cover, and no longer can a John Quincy Adams or a Warren Harding become President just because Congress or a political machine knows he's a Good Man whose time has come. A fairly long get-to-know-you period came to be required to engage common opinion, commencing long before the plebiscite occurs courtesy of often gag-inducing media forced feedings.

The new "medium is the message" dynamic in politics made its grandest entrance on September 26th, 1960, when Dick Nixon and Jack Kennedy engaged in the first televised presidential candidates' debate. Nixon, just out of two weeks in the hospital, refused makeup to cover his pallor and five o'clock shadow. Kennedy was fresh and tanned from time in California, and didn't need any. On substance, the pundits declared Nixon the debate's clear winner. Subsequent polls of the 70 million viewers, however, showed a large majority thought Kennedy had won.

Perhaps his good looks, impeccable grooming, good humor, optimism, polished delivery, and articulate answers compared favorably to Nixon's obvious discomfiture, harsh demeanor, and complete lack of charisma. Enough people got past their issues with Catholics and the Irish to get Kennedy in, and he remains the only American President who was not an Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Likeability can overcome prejudices and unfamiliarity. Outside of Arkansas, who had heard of Bill Clinton? Or Mike Huckabee?

Ignoring a candidate's likeability is political suicide. Dubya may have a low approval rating, but he's more likeable than John Kerry, even on one of Kerry's best days, which are reported to occur once a decade. Vote fraud may have been technically responsible for Kerry's defeat, but Dubya's gee-shucks, Preznit For Dummies schtick was still working its mojo well enough to ward off the obvious. Let's face it, enough voters already hated Bush, the election shouldn't have even been close. Kerry's personality, reminiscent of a sheet of unfinished plywood, screwed it up.

Barack Obama is genuinely likable, particularly apparent when you see him in person as Lord Wife and I did last week. (Not much of a political blogger, am I? Took a week to get this post up.) Although Obama's extremely smart, he's able to be smart in a charming way, so he doesn't have to hide himself behind a mask. When he listens, he listens. When he responds, his brain and his mouth are both engaged. He's prepared, of course, talking points at ready, but the points are clothed with the real weave of his visions, ones which include people's obvious desires, realistic knowledge of what's doable, and intrinsically high standards. All without taking himself or others too seriously, still managing to seem "loose," comfortable within.

Hillary does the same thing, really, only when she does it, she comes off as a "cold, calculating bitch." One can more fairly deliver that label as "competent, brilliant woman," which she most certainly is. You could add "most determined, hardest working." The woman busts her ass. Yet something about her laudable efforts rings false, and she rightly fears admitting who she really is would scare us too much. Obama doesn't have that problem, so he comes off as likeable where Hillary comes off as deceitful.

We'll see if Obama's high Like Quotient can overcome Fears of a Black Planet as it previously got past fears of crippled leaders (FDR) and fears of papal control (JFK). This is a special-needs election, so it probably can. Huckabee's extremely high Likeability Quotient on the other side may transform this election into an epochal national crucible, one which decides not just the country's direction, but its fate. If both win their Party's nominations, it would make the symbolism complete; it's as if America has to choose once again between the bright yet unsure possibilities of Emancipation and the staid security of the Klan.

Psyche's News Roundup

Daily Kos: 272-142. No Strings Attached. Again. | Daily Kos: The Democrats Who Support George Bush's War

MediaBloodhound: Story of the Day: NY Times Buries Dodd's Filibuster Threat Victory

Glenn Greenwald - Salon - Media hostility toward anti-establishment candidates

WaPo: Froomkin: The Tell-Tale Stall

Democracy Now! | "The 2004 Election Was Stolen… Finally We Have Irrefutable Confirmation"

Another Milestone on the Road to Serfdom

Campaign for America's Future :: Conservative Minority Rules by Filibuster, Preventing Up or Down Vote on a Record Number of Bills

Daily Kos: White House confirms the following records destroyed in the 3rd floor fire: with UPDATES

Media Matters - Bill Clinton is right (and my wager for Al Hunt) (our corporate and insider media is killing America)

Discussion Forum on Bankruptcy and Foreclosures | TPMCafe

German Wikipedia Outranks Traditional Encyclopedia's Online Version -- Wikipedia -- InformationWeek

Wikipedia: COO wanted | MetaFilter (Carolyn Doran)

Original Research: Uh, what? (see above)

OPENhulu - Watch TV Shows for FREE! This is the new TV-Links! Watch Hulu Videos without an invite!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Invasigration," Or How Rome Really Fell

We've all heard how Rome was sacked and burned by Teutonic armies. You may not have heard how angry, unpaid migrant farm workers took it over. How the last Roman rulers welched on their deals with Alaric (whose name in old German means "Ruler of All"), why he was Rome's protector and besieger, and how he mysteriously broke through the impregnable strongpoint of Porta Salaria in AD 410, which stood firm until urban renewal claimed it in the late 1800s.

Anyone who has lingered on history's frigid shores and recorded its tides like baseball scores will speak of the strange and spiny forms they poked upon in its slow-draining pools. It's uncomfortable in those places, but it's where you get the chance to know better. In 406 AD, after too many bitter winters, failing harvests and plagues, the Rhine froze solid over. Impoverished western Goths, tiring of a steady diet of starvation and fighting desperate Huns from the East, walked over the ice and headed to the ancient equivalent of California. Human floes made towards Rome, the source of power, engine of growth, the marvelous marketplace which could absorb all labor. At least it always had. Life may not have been grand for the lowest ranks there, but subsistence was delivered in its bounty, and if you worked hard, you could send some money home.

One empire is Before, another is Since. Precedent to conflagrations, their Falls are fertilized by economic refugees attracted from afar, by star-struck servants, by burrowing bureaucrats mumbling low, by slaves abundantly provoked. The classic imperial paradox lies in keeping one's gates open enough to attract brilliant influxes of diverse talent while closed enough to dilute your native-born middle classes slowly into overtaxed transparency. Empires must burn bright and preach perpetual motion, until in their final stages they start applying the salves and ointments of public relations perpetually to their burns, but provide neither self-interest nor integrity with fresh basis for vitality. Capital flees to a better engine, or at least to the next-best, and the torch is passed, most often by means of victory in battle. Sometimes, rare as Rome, there is no compelling substitute, no victory. Merely unending chaotic strife which achieves no order.

Empires are like prolonged, successful chemical reactions. They must expand until,
facing hard choices of retreat or dispersal, they rapidly contract, or fall as hopeless romantics into entropy's embrace. Or perhaps: empires are more like families. To paraphrase Tolstoy, every happy empire is the same, every failed empire unique. Rome, for its part, fell after its Promise was over-extended and betrayed, hyped and hollowed into a gilded cage. What did Christian and slave mothers whisper to their Christian slave children? Even they must have whispered of deliverance from marauders, starvation, desolation, and wolves. Of bread. The Promise of Rome was prosperity and cooperation, feasts for the senses, security through Res Publica, some blessed separation of religion and state. The Romans were so like us it hurts, and it seems their self-image was nearly the same. Exceptional.

Even so, the erudite Western versions of Rome's final acts, the officially endorsed and hagiographic Historical Facts, they were rolled up in forgiving horse feathers. The Romans wrote their dramatic history to their own liking, and haven't been much taken to task. True, the decline and fall happened four or five centuries anno domini, yes, it was complicated, and yes, plenty of Germanni (in colloquial Latin, "spear-chuckers") applied to central casting for the role of Barbarian Horde. Yet far more tectonic fundamental forces than the Teutons and the Goths, forces which surpassed the control and comprehension of the actors, were the reasons Rome was burned in rage. It's strange how seldom, if at all, those factors are examined.

A tale was spun of Vandals and Visigoths, superhuman barbarians with big hands and feet who swept down irresistibly to dismantle all that was great and holy, bloody savages who couldn't be stopped. Then of course, capable of nothing else, they ushered in the next thousand years of the incompetent, illiterate, illegible Dark Ages. This is the central myth, the murkiest fallacy of Rome's demise. Easy enough to blame it on the Germanic tribes, who beat Julius Caesar himself into resigning to leave them to their wilds "east of the Rhine, north of the Danube."

Of these bloody savages, apologista wrote in language strangely akin to what we can hear in our times: "It wasn't our fault. No one could have imagined that jets. Would be used as missiles. To fly into buildings." As sins are still swept up and girdled into the guts behind cummerbunds, the Romans were cheerfully exculpatory, and contemporary historians do, after all, have to eat. Other empires less elegantly excused themselves gigantic stunning helpings of rapine, blindness, and incompetence. Spain had its blood-slathered conveyor belt of gold to worry about, Holland its water, wind, and java, the South its irreplaceable slaves, England its lethal appetite for coal. The Land of Burger King has had its equals in the fine art of threat conflation, and our trees are at home in all these forests. But are we Rome? Are we similarly doomed, standing likewise at the edge of a dozen centuries of darkness, about to be beaten by the great unwashed? There is much evidence to support a case for "yes." Let's examine some trees and forests.

Trees: Burger King upper classes over the last 50 years have entirely washed their hands of the military. To reinvigorate the services at their lowest post-Vietnam point, President Reagan attacked the Caribbean spice island of Grenada with full regalia. As if planned by Marius, our volunteer armies now increasingly attract disadvantaged and foreign conscripts who see a quicker path to benefits and full citizenship. Vigorous and wise military leadership is more likely to be passed to foreigners in the future, nicely congruent with Rome, whose legions were increasingly staffed and then commanded by the very Germans they so feared. Corruption is rampant, tax evasion for the rich is enshrined in law, the currency is devaluing. As each deck chair is frenziedly rearranged, the band plays on, because its musicians are being heavily tipped

Forests: Our leaders do not understand the threats they face, nor do they even want to. Practical stances such as those sully carefully cultivated Beautiful Minds, through which pass timeless thoughts like these: "The Scythians, they're the rotters to worry about. They may rally in Honduras and strike at the heart of the Republic. My friend's company was vandalized in Asia. It was terrible, and the risk insurance may not pay. The vandals breed like lice, yet they make unreliable workers. They harness their women as oxen. They eat their peas with forks. Their spies walk free in our streets even as they take our charity.
We must, we must extract more information. We're sorry if they go insane from pain, and we'll apologize someday. But we're scared. Oh! How could I forget the murderers of Samarkand? They hate us, and we must crush them. Again." These are the worries which distract from little problems like Global Climate Destabilization, drenching the planet in poisons conveniently absorbed through the skin, from screwing and killing people so badly for so long that their dearest wish is to strangle you to death with their own looped entrails. These were the thoughts of Caesars and their Senators.

Would the exceptional succession of fine Roman leaders in the second and third centuries have been able to deal with a huge, incipiently hostile human migration looking for shelter, warmth, food, and jobs? This was Alaric's source and base. It's very doubtful Rome could have absorbed millions of refugees, but if it had, yet more would have come.
Even if the Romans had absorbed the Goths and pushed back the Huns who drove them, they could not have changed the Continent's climate, which for some reason had destabilized. It was the beginning of the Little Ice Age. The problem was systemic, dwarfed possible solutions, and leaders were overwhelmed by hordes almost without regard to the quality of either.

Speculating on the specifics of an ancient weather disaster is dicey, but it's not going too far to observe--if the Rhine froze over and the climate so shook the Germans they left their ancestral homes, one can imagine how bad it must have been for the steppe-borne Huns who pressed south upon them. Climate was the precipitant or dominant actor in Rome's fall. As Burger King's military corrodes, as yet more economic refugees become immigrants, as the polar ice caps melt with what we're told is irreversible rapidity, we may do well to ponder the inequities of Mexico, the needs and desires of Central and South America. They're all much closer than Rome was to Germania.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Myth Of Multi-Tasking

I don't know about you, but my concentration and retention don't suffer at all when I'm simultaneously scanning emails, Instant Messaging two friends on the other sides of the country, and listening to punk rock in my left ear while conducting a four-party conference call. No. I only get distracted when my wife up and destroys this peaceful tableau by sneaking behind me and making me jump out of my chair when she asks, "Is there anything you need from the grocery store?"

Maybe The Depression Wasn't So Great?

Hard to know what we're facing, exactly...but it is large, and bears striking similarities to an earlier event. With some different responses to consequences. The Fed is offering huge secret loans to banks to launder their soiled mortgage-backed securities. I was looking for a quid pro quo bankers got in return for temporarily freezing home loan rates. Here it is. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke pins the blame for the Great Depression on John Maynard Keynes, the gent he says was not aggressive enough in creating "credit channels" (printing money) for banks. That may be, but there's a "pick your poison" issue Bernanke seems to overlook, and loss of confidence in a currency may construct no better course. Via a Telegraph UK article, "World Bankers Resort to Firebreak:"

"This is a drastic action. The central banks want to place a fire-break to stop credit tensions spilling over into the broader markets and becoming the catalyst for a global economic crunch," said Ian Stannard, an economist at BNP Paribas.

While yesterday's joint move was sketched at the G20 a month ago, and fine-tuned in encrypted telephoned calls over the past month, the final trigger seems to have been the spike in the crucial three-month money rates that lubricate finance. Dollar and sterling Libor spreads have vaulted in recent days. Euribor spreads reached an all-time high of 99 yesterday morning.

"A co-ordinated move like this has the 'wow factor'," said Paul Mackel, currency strategist at HSBC. "But there's a lot of scepticism over whether this will be enough medicine to end the credit crisis. Is it already too late?"

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, made his academic name studying the "credit channel" causes of depressions. He must have watched with growing alarm as the debt markets limped from one mini-crisis to another, failing to recover from their August heart attack despite three emergency rate cuts.

The asset-backed commercial paper market in the US has now shrunk for 17 weeks in a row, shedding almost $400bn (£196bn). Lenders are refusing to roll over short-term loans as they fall due, leaving borrowers desperately searching for other sources of money.

The crucial elements in the Fed's move yesterday is not so much the sum of money on offer - $20bn next week, $20bn the week after - but that all depository banks in America can draw from the tap anonymously, without the risk of being found out.

"People looked at what happened to Northern Rock in Britain and said we're not going to risk that, so hardly anybody has been using the Fed facilities," said Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG.

The Fed is now spreading the net wider by allowing all US banks to use the Term Auction Facility, which offers secrecy and allows them to hand in a much wider set of investments as collateral to raise money, including mortgage securities. Perhaps some credit will at last reach those in urgent need.

How I Got Through Childhood

1958, the year this ad came out, was a good year. Goood year. Gosh how I miss my Nembutal Elixir! Looks like the lucky kid in the poster got a double dose.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mucking Through The Mortgage Middens

Why does "Wall Street" exist?

Looking down from the bozosphere where theories live, its function is to finance innovation in exchange for higher average returns. Dig deep in the trenches, though, and you savvy up fast. You realize Wall Street's real job is to generate the most important thing in the universe: your bonus. Which should be an ample bounty borne on a padded carpet of minimal risk. That's what Wall Street is from the inside, when it works: a carpet ride designed to cushion you from banality, from boredom, and from risk while fleecing insufferable suckers.

People who want to live large are constantly seeking to engineer a popular sting, to hucksterize a wave of investors into waddling in and parting with their dough. Part tent revival, part holy temple, once a good scam is rolling, nothing can stop Wall Street from riding the wave until it really starts to crash. When the bodies pile up and the cops start to show up. Then the perps go look for a new wave. A lot of Wall Street types should be looking for a new wave right now, because like the S&L, junk bond, and dot-com crazes did before, the beautiful mortgage pipeline is going banzai.

The mortgage craze differs from the priors in an important respect. This time, they got people to bet their houses. Although the easy credit climate wasn't confined to housing, not hardly, housing is more or less the basis of broad prosperity. So when I hear the Fed say yet again that subprime write-offs won't spill over into the general economy, I think, "Hahahaha! These jokers should die."

Like ships with too little ballast, borrowers relying on top-heavy ARMs and exotic new payment schemes are more prone to capsize. Many mortgages are already "upside down," or value-negative, and exponentially more go upside-down every day. As credit naturally tightens across all borrowers, and banks have less money to lend because they've lost it, the process becomes self-accelerating. Even in a white-hot market like the San Francisco Bay Area, easy credit is gone: it takes $175k in household income to buy a million-dollar house, as it always should have. The problem, to quote (via Herb Greenberg) veteran mortgage salesman Mark Hanson, "...we have 90% fewer qualified buyers for 5 times the number of homes." 50x more homes on sale for every qualified buyer in the Bay Area. That's some powerful negotiating leverage.

Union Bank of Switzerland just wrote off $10 billion in quarterly losses and went to Singapore, the government of, for a cash infusion. 6,000 people in Cleveland just showed up to apply for 300 Wal-Mart jobs. These events are connected as directly as strands stretch across a spider's web.
What we're staring down isn't a subprime crisis. It's not even a housing loan crisis. It's a systemic global credit crisis, a cancer on the entire financial body which cannot be excised, but can only be induced to recede by either steady or severe credit adjustment. How bad? Hard to tell. At least property has implicit value, unlike many of the financial instruments based upon home mortgage loans. But even in relatively unscathed Seattle, my house's real value could drop up to 50%. The bright side? We like the neighborhood.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Impacts Of Iran's National Intelligence Estimate

One if by CIA, two if by Them and The Other 15 US Spy Agencies. (Update: The information in the fresh report, already available to many in Congress, finally came to light because staffers in agencies were willing to go on the record, with tape rolling, if it wasn't released. To put their lives on the line. Thank you, little big people. For a lively discussion of particulars, head over to Sic Semper Tyrannis in the right margin.)

As for the NIE mini-coup, that would be a "two." Cheney's office sent the report back three times while (according to the BBC) daily calling for bombing. They finally couldn't alter it or further block publication. The report says Iran has not had a boom-nuke program since '03, stopping one after we invaded Iraq to spread democracy. Internationally, the report has had immediate repercussions. Domestically, it signals a decline in President Cheney's ability to push the agencies around. At minimum.
Now, some very smart folks like uber-blogger IOZ ask, "How many divisions has the NIE?" and argue the report lacks import...that it won't stop an attack on Iran. Granted, and potentially true. Cheney could issue the command to flying space monkeys to bomb at any moment. But would the space monkeys still obey, and when you get down to it, how many divisions has Cheney? He has no direct authority, not unless Dumya is dead. (Perish the thought. No, really.)

Arguing the NIE's relevancy distracts from why it came out now, the mechanism by which it did, and its immediate effects.
Domestically, the report made it through a hostile steeplechase because NIE formulation is now vetted by multiple agencies, and does not allow reports to be drafted by special committees (such as the OSP, or Office of Special Plans) without inter-agency review. This is a significant albeit weird prospect. First, agency cooperation worked, and that itself is rare. Next, our would-be saviors are people who unleashed nocturnal death squads and gave Iran weapons technology (aka Iran-Contra) in exchange for winning an election and the release of Foreign Service hostages. But even they have reputations to uphold.

The unity of purpose engendered by a Pearl-Harbor-Like-Event has officially been reversed, and the desk jockeys inside the Beltway have rolled up their sleeves in anticipation of working with the next Administration.
Perception may not be reality, but heavily influences behaviors shaping it. Current perception looks like a unified anti-Cheney conspiracy: Iran is "A Dick Too Far," and policy should shift to multi-lateral pragmatism. It's time to deal with the Iranians, not by bombs but negotiations.

The coup has taken a long time. Over the past three-plus years, the Bush family along with the CIA, Nick Negroponte, Bob Gates, Condi Rice, and many rank-and-file professionals have been steadily fencing Team Cheney further and further in. They all want what's best for The Empire, of course, but the gradual realization has suffused that attacking Iran over its threat potential or antagonizing it with rhetoric, ineffectual guerilla proxies, and half-assed non-uniformed Special Forces teams are rotten ideas. The State Department has had a capable undersecretary in Nick Burns, who has wanted to bring the Iranians to the bargaining table from his first day under Condi Rice, and he's been gaining traction. As a measure of that traction, the "Iran is killing our soldiers in Iraq" meme has been downgraded. The battle for GWB's soul will continue, but Iran has been re-positioned as a potential threat, not an imminent threat. Come to think, who isn't a potential threat to the Bush Administration? Israel, I suppose, which says the report is purely bogus.

Internationally, the report's bogosity or veracity is irrelevant. Its currency is highly valued, the calculus of its effects straightforward, the timing impeccable. It appears right before the UN council meets to vote on a third round of sanctions, and just before Iran's Ahmadinejad meets with the Gulf Cooperation Council this week, where he will pitch the idea of mutual economic security. The US case before the UN is weakened, Ahmadinejad's regional case is strengthened. Israel's case for bombing Iran is marginalized, while Russia's case against a US missile shield extending into Poland and the old Eastern Bloc is strengthened. The Saudi case against demonizing the Shiites to the north is weakened, and the case for belatedly adding Cheney to The Dustbin of History is strengthened.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Springsteen: Put Your Makeup On, Put Your Hair Up Pretty, And Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City

Bruce Springsteen reads the papers like you and me, and he can't track or control events any better than we can. He just has a lot more talent, and a little more time.

I first heard 'Atlantic City' over 20 years ago, wasn't in country when it came out in 1982. It, along with the entire anti-industry, garage-recorded, pondering-of-America album 'Nebraska,' knocked my socks off. Much of the inspiration for the songs came from headlines and real stories that a great balladeer worked into poetry. The line, "Well they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night, now they blew up his house, too," referred to the murder of Philadelphia Mafia boss Philip Testa by Little Nicky Scarfo of Atlantic City. Springsteen saw the headline one morning, and knowing something of the Mafia via their control over his concert venues, he knew retribution would be coming--"Down on the Boardwalk they're gettin' ready for a fight, gonna see what them Racket boys can do." The full lyrics:

Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night now they
blew up his house too
Down on the boardwalk they're gettin' ready for a fight
gonna see what them racket boys can do

Now there's trouble busin' in from outta state
and the D.A. can't get no relief
Gonna be a rumble out on the promenade
and the
gamblin' commission's hangin' on by the skin of its teeth

Well now everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City

Well I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Now our luck may have died and our love may be cold
but with you forever I'll stay
We're goin' out where the sand's turnin' to gold
so put on your stockin's baby 'cause the night's getting cold
And everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Now I been lookin' for a job but it's hard to find
Down here it's just winners and losers and
don't get caught on the wrong side of that line
Well I'm tired of comin' out on the losin' end
So honey last night I met this guy
and I'm gonna do a little favor for him

Well I guess everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your hair up nice and set up pretty
and meet me tonight in Atlantic City

How Henry Kissinger Saved The World

Ah, the good old they were in Washington, D.C., 1972:
Nixon: See, the attack in the North that we have in mind...power plants, whatever's left--POL (petroleum), the docks...And I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no...I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? I just want you to think big, Henry, for chrissakes. The only place where you and I disagree is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about civilians, and I don't give a damn. I don't care!

Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher.
(From the Nixon White House tapes, recorded on April 25th, 1972. Made public by the National Archives on February 28th, 2002.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Smell Of Sulphur

Chavez, the dictator and Devil, was finally defeated by the forces of democracy. I mean Hugo in Venezuela, not my dance instructor Emilio in Ballard, though they both have faces only a Mayan could love. (Curse you, Emilio: I will learn to Merengue yet!)

While glorious, victory was a close-run thing,
righteousness out-pointing Chavez by 51-49. Even the Devil can overreach when he's possessing you, and that's when you can push him over the cliff while he's taking refuge in the bodies of pigs. As the Good Book says, behold, my name is Legion, for I am many. (Luke 8:30) Praise be to God and USAID!

You know what I don't get, though? Why Chavez lost the election. I mean, nothing else but divine retribution makes sense. No self-respecting dictator loses an election! Augusto Pinochet (Chile), god rest his Christian soul, never lost an election, at least not until the unwashed, misguided heathens voted him into exile in 1998.
Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay), the hardest working man in smuggling, never lost an election in 45 years. Tacho Somoza (Nicaragua), winning his first contest by the resounding score of 107,201 votes to 100, never lost an election to a living opponent, and even passed the baton on to his sons after he was killed by a commie poet. Rafael "Medals" Trujillo (Dominican Republic), the great patron of self-sculpture, never lost an election in 31 years. Not even to his own family!

I could go on, but let's skip over Haiti, Guatemala, Argentina, Panama, Honduras, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Brazil. And of course Cuba, the unholy mother of Miami. Dictators and devils should at least be reliable, and Chavez is a sorry, most untrustworthy dictator. It almost looks like he believes in democracy, which I find very disquieting. My faith is still strong, but in fact I can't decide whether to take comfort in the scriptures, or to sin by picking up that Harper's magazine that's been beckoning to me like a sway-hipped strumpet at the supermarket stand.

Will The US Bomb Iran...Or Should We Get Pakistan To?

At least one sober optimist says "No," almost convincingly enough to override my galloping skepticism. He said so in person, to an audience of me, my cousin-in-law, a fellow hordie, and 30-40 anti-war activists. How could this be?
I'm not an anti-war activist! And my cousin-in-law may be an NSA mole. What were we doing there?

Well...of course I think bombing Iran would be the dumbest thing since the Children's Crusade, but it was only with the knowledge and encouragement my spouse that led me to an evening of dominant paradigm subversion. Lord Wife is a medical researcher of considerable talents who's on about as many list-servs as Isaac Asimov if he had been into email and weren't dead.
Bombing Iran is a public health issue par excellence, so therefore, she knew that the Northwest International Health Action Coalition, along with a head-spinning variety of other organizations including the Network Opposing War on Iran (NOWI),was sponsoring a visit by Reese Ehrlich. Journalist. Author. NPR contributor. I and others went to the Keystone Congregational Church, not far from Casa Lord, to see him while my wife generously stayed home watching Lord Running Boy and his beloved cousin "Beatie" try to send each other to the ER.

Ehrlich was on tour promoting his book, 'The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of the US Policy and the Middle East Crisis,' and gave a slideshow detailing his visits to Iran and Kurdistan with Norman Solomon, on one trip accompanied for no explained reason by actor Sean Penn. They interviewed regular people while Sean Penn went first unrecognized, then was mobbed by paparazzi and autograph hounds. They met with journalists, and they crossed the border to see the anti-Iranian Kurdish guerillas (PJAK) who get their mayhem-funding from the US. Overall, Ehrlich's Iran spiel was well-reasoned, directly researched, delightfully positive and on-point; not only are we all sensitive people with so much to give, et cetera: too many important coalitions, not piss-ants like us, rather Coalitions controlling huge amounts of Money don't want Iran bombed. They want an Iran un-bombed not out of filial regard, but because they don't want oil prices to blow sky-high and make the looming recession any worse.

True enough. But has Reese Ehrlich ever witnessed The Attack Without Mercy? I didn't think so, and asked him: "Reese...if you were President...but you were from Texas, and were a former oil man...and your Vice President and mentor was a big-time Texas oil man...why would higher oil prices be so bad?"

Reese rightly answered that Bush and Cheney had obligations to all their Base, not just to the oil lobby. Rather than pointing out that those obligations don't matter much to, say, Israelis who think Iran has the launch codes to nuclear warheads on our Trident-class subs, or to religious fanatics who believe Armageddon will midwife The Messiah and The Rapture, or to national security hawks who believe Iran must be punished for humiliating The Empire even if it chooses to arm itself only with Stephen R. Covey inspirational date calendars, or to sadists who keep pictures of their dead victims in their desk and need to bomb stuff, I accepted his answer without antics. Actually, what I'd really, really wanted to ask him was, " you think we can we get Pakistan to nuke Iran for us? Like, you know, instead of Israel?" (Damn. Should've asked it.)

Bottom line, he was able to get me to keep a more open mind that, no, it is not a fait accompli that the US will bomb Iran. After all, there are so many points in his favor, he could be right, and my reactive paranoia could remain sub-clinical. His practical explanations for bias in media reporting were the best take-aways, in line with his book, which says:
"Most American reporters I met saw Iran as an evil society and a danger to the United States. While many expressed disagreement with President Bush's policies, they believed Iran was developing nuclear weapons that threatened America. In short, their views tracked the political consensus emanating from Washington. Rather than proceeding from reality, they filtered their reporting through a Washington lens. When a Washington official makes a statement, even a false one, the major media dutifully report it with few opposing sources."
To paraphrase and assemble his off-the-cuff comments regarding how media bias works, and what to do about it: as a journalist at a major news outlet, you have to publish the story your editor wants you to write. Your editor works for one of three news corporations, none of which is at all interested in journalism. If you still happen to have your own opinion, insist on working for major media anyway, and y
ou can't get a CIA or State Department official to go on the record with dissident information or views (thus risking their careers), you don't have a chance in hell at getting your story out. Pro-Washington, pro-Empire media bias isn't not only unsurprising, it's institutionally guaranteed. Read or listen to people interested in journalism, or advocacy, and make friends with Iranians.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Arab Oil Money Bails Out Citigroup

With a noose. Widely heralded as a wonderful thing in the US financial press, in reality Citigroup's deal for $7.5 billion in cash indicates outright panic. It was on very unfavorable terms. via Euronews:
Capital-starved Citigroup, the world's largest bank, has gone cap in hand to the Abu Dhabi's government investment arm, which has snapped up five percent of the bank for five billion euros. Above and beyond a price that values the banking giant at only 100 billion, the amount its market value has lost this year, Citigroup is paying a premium for its shot in the arm, as it is selling mandatory convertible securities to Abu Dhabi, with a fixed coupon of 11 percent, well above the average US junk bond yield of nine point four percent.

Abu Dhabi becomes Citigroup's biggest shareholder, and the purchase is just the latest international asset snapped up by an oil-rich Arab state, where cash is currently sloshing around looking for a home with the near-record oil price.

Gulf investors have splashed out this year to the tune of 47 billion euros, more than in the last two years combined. It is all part of their long-term strategy to build economies that can survive after their black gold dries up.
Where to start...ah, yes, the 11% interest rate. If my mortgage were 11 percent, let's see, I'd be paying twice as much for Casa Lord. Where can I find a CD which pays that? The Abu Dhabi bankers would rightly say the price they paid is fair, represents the risk associated with Citigroup stock and its termite-ridden loan portfolio, and was doing the company a favor by saving it. In terms of implied valuation, the biggest US bank is now a relatively small player on the global stage.

Dog The Bounty Hunter's European Vacation

via The Sunday Times UK:

AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

The admission will alarm the British business community after the case of the so-called NatWest Three, bankers who were extradited to America on fraud charges. More than a dozen other British executives, including senior managers at British Airways and BAE Systems, are under investigation by the US authorities and could face criminal charges in America.

Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.

Legal experts confirmed this weekend that America viewed extradition as just one way of getting foreign suspects back to face trial. Rendition, or kidnapping, dates back to 19th-century bounty hunting and Washington believes it is still legitimate.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Psyche's News Roundup

John Edwards Mocks Republicans Afraid To Take Questions From Democrats (if the Republicans cant handle the Democrats, how can they handle Al Qaeda?)

Rudy refuses to answer NYC questions - (beats up reporters)

Daily Kos: Rudy's Scandal Has a Name! (Sex ON the City - America's Playa)

Ron Paul on track to be biggest fundraiser - Jeanne Cummings -

Kucinich: Biden's Warning of Bush Impeachment in Case of Iran War "a bit late" | News and

President Bush: Faith key to international AIDS fight - | I Dont Think the American Public Really Gets It: We're *Borrowing* Money to Pay for War in Iraq

Center for Citizen Media: Blog Archive On Klein's Errors, Times Semi-Stonewall and the Nets Power

Specialized journalism, a partisan press, online journalism students and cheap laptops: More stuff to argue about

Poll finds more Americans believe in devil than Darwin | Lifestyle | Reuters (Land o' Goshen) U.S. Florida Governments Reject Idea of Accepting Losses on Pool Exclusive Banks Sell 'Toxic Waste' CDOs to Calpers, Texas Teachers Fund

Calculated Risk: Reelin' In the Suckers (relying on advice from bankers who are selling the CDOs)

Mortgage worries prompt pullout

Tommys parents avoided being foolish []

Nation & World | Sperm donor liable for child support, judge rules | Seattle Times

An adoptee uncovers the risks of knowing - Los Angeles Times

No Popcorn For Old Men

I've seen almost every known Coen brothers movie. I watched 'Blood Simple' in the International Cinema screening room in college, have quoted lines from 'The Big Lebowski' to my doctor ("Mark it 8, Dude!"), bought the soundtrack to 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?,' and 'Miller's Crossing' pretty much describes my job. Sometimes John Goodman storms unbidden down the flaming hotel hallways of my mind's eye with a shotgun roaring, "I'll show you the life of the mind, I'll show you the life of the mind!"

But I'm not going to see No Country for Old Men. I'm more curious about why the Coen brothers agreed to make the book into a movie at all. Those who have read the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, the title ripped off from a line in Yeats' Sailing to Byzantium (nice way to earn a Pulitzer, Co-mac), will know there's no artistic reason to make a movie out of it.

For those who haven't read it, nor seen the movie, I'll gladly spoil it with a review: there's a foreign super-assassin loose in New Mexico trailing stolen drug money. He has a strangely scrupulous, murderous moral code. He tracks and kills a Vietnam vet who found the drug money and wants to keep it. The sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones is a war hero but can't catch the killer because he's a super-assassin. After killing the Vietnam vet and recovering the money, the super-assassin, name of Anton Chigurh, goes and kills the dead vet's young, innocent wife. Why? Because he said he would do so, and a promise to death is a promise. Tommy Lee Jones then feels very bad, and retires, knowing that pure evil is still out there and he wasn't man enough to stop it. Are we redeemed yet? No. And we never will be. Roll credits.

So to the Coen Brothers: screw you. Yes, I do mean both of you, Ethan. Why don't you go and do a re-make of The Hudsucker Proxy. That'd be fun. Better yet, start making children's movies. Here's a suggestion from the Winnie the Pooh genre:
Christopher Robin Must Die
Now that would be progress. And Cormac McCarthy, you need to start writing children's books. How about this one?
Baby's First Meat Grinder
I'm sure Francis Ford Coppola would be willing to direct. Let him.