Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Valentine's Day Reminder, And Where Those Flowers Come From

I'm one of "those" people who only have a vague idea of when holidays or birthdays occur, and get by through the kindness of strangers, relatives, and the collective unconscious. When is Mother's Day? Sometime in the spring. Christmas and New Year's Day, got those down, but Thanksgiving is ever-elusive, and the mnemonic for my wife's birthday is "D-Day plus 6." A friend alerted me that Valentine's Day is coming up in a couple weeks, so I started griping about how we're expected to plunk down $75 for a dozen roses despite flowers having been outsourced like everything else.

Turns out my friend knows a lot about the cut flower business, the globalized state of which is much worse than even I suspected. Basically, imported cut flowers are grown in toxins like banned ozone-depleting methyl bromide, tended by impoverished campesinos in factories, hosed down with enough pesticides to kill said campesinos, and the carbon footprint of each frantically delivered bouquet 5 lbs. Hoo boy. "Happy Valentine's Day, honey--here's your environmental devastation! Complete with human rights abuse." I asked for a good info source and he sent over a white paper:
The Environmental Impact of Cut Flower Imports

Analysis, Publication Review and Reference Guide

By William Armshaw

Beautiful cut flowers, harvested in mountainous regions of Columbia or Ecuador, refrigerated, then rushed to delivery in the US, are a miracle of our modern globalized economy. As with any other mass-produced imported agricultural good, there are significant environmental costs, both in production and in transport, that are not readily apparent to the American Consumer or legislator.

Since the Andean Trade Preference Act of 1991, cut flowers from Columbia and Ecuador are allowed to enter the US duty-free. The act has failed in its original intent, to encourage campesinos to grow crops other than Coca. However, it has supported a robust market for flowers grown for the US Market.

Summary of Findings:

ß The cut flower industry is huge, with Americans purchasing annually some $6.4 billion worth of stems and bouquets. The Society of American Florists estimates 215 million roses alone are sold at Valentine’s Day.

ß The vast majority of cut flowers are imported. 80% are imported from Columbia or Ecuador, including roughly half of all roses and more than 90% of carnations and chrysanthemums. Colombia alone has over 100,000 flower workers toiling under many square miles of greenhouses.

ß Flower importing is a “Race Against Time” – cut roses survive for only 10 days under optimal conditions: they are refrigerated throughout their journey from the Andes to the Miami distribution hub, where they are usually put onto a 2nd airplane for distribution within the US – all at the optimal temperature of 34 degrees F.

ß A bouquet of flowers has a high lifecycle carbon footprint: conservative estimates suggest that the air transportation to the United States alone creates 3.1 pounds of carbon per bouquet – and that does not include carbon released via constant refrigeration, by distribution within the US, in production, or in the manufacture of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemical agents. The New York Times, reviewing PepsiCo's efforts to identify the carbon footprint of Tropicana brand orange juice, found that the “production and application of fertilizers” and other chemical agents accounted for a far larger share than had been predicted. It is safe to say that the lifecycle carbon footprint of each bouquet of flowers is at minimum 5 pounds of carbon.

ß As with most monoculture agricultural production, large amounts of dangerous chemicals are used in growing operations, including many agents, such as methyl bromide and methyl parathion, which the United States and European Union deem to be too dangerous or too toxic for use within the US. Florverde, the primary Colombian growers' association, claims that exporters there apply nearly 90 pounds of active ingredient per acre per year. 36% of the toxic chemicals applied by Florverde plantations in 2005 were listed as extremely or highly toxic by the World Health Organization.

Major Environmental Issues Related to Imported Cut Flowers:

Global Warming Effects
ß Carbon released from Fossil Fuels used in cultivation
ß Carbon released from Fossil Fuels used in fertilizer production
ß Carbon released from Fossil Fuels used in refrigeration
ß Carbon released from Fossil Fuels used in transport
ß Methane release from rotting flowers (Methane has a stronger climate change effect than carbon – about 24 to 1).

Environmental Effects within Host Countries
ß Contamination & environmental effects of fertilizer runoff
ß Pesticides (production and ancillary contamination)
ß Fungicides (production and ancillary contamination)
ß Refrigerant (production and ancillary contamination)
ß "Off Gases" from nitrogen-based fertilizers, greenhouse sanitizers, etc.

Effects on Health of Workers in Host Countries
Note: wages in flower work in Colombia and Ecuador are about $150/month, which is a sustainable wage for source country economies. Issues of “Economic Justice,” while significant, will not be considered here
Andean monoculture rose production requires ample and frequent does of herbicide, nematicide, and fungicide. Worker rights and worker health are not a priority: A 2007 study by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) found that more than 66% of Ecuadorean and Colombian flower workers were plagued by work-related health problems -- including skin rashes, respiratory problems, and eye problems -- due to toxic pesticides and fungicides. ILRF, drawing on the work of Harvard School of Public Health researcher Philippe Grandjean, also found that "flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages."
Environmental Health Perspectives found that "[o]ver 50 percent of respondents who worked in fern/flower farms reported at least one of the symptoms of pesticide exposure -- headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, skin eruptions, fainting and so on."

Richard Wiles, vice president of research for the Environmental Working Group, says that consumers are buying roses that, toxicity levels suggest, should be handled by workers wearing gloves. Wiles suggests that pesticide residue on the petals of imported roses is fifty times that allowed on food imports.

In summary, Imported Cut Flowers are Beautiful, and the speed at which they are flown around the world is nothing short of a modern miracle. However, both the farming practices used and the sheer number of miles of refrigerated rapid transit involved mean that South American cut flowers are a luxury we can no longer afford, and certainly are not worthy of favorable trade incentives.
Add imported flowers to the list of things to NOT buy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Psyche's News Roundup

Web exclusive: 'Obama the conservative' by Johan Wennström | Prospect Magazine January 2008 issue 142

Obama pulls ahead in rout --

George W. Bush, Jr. - The Dark Side - Bush Jr.'s Skeleton Closet

iComment: Be Heard BBC Documentary: al-Qaeda "Organization" is a fiction with no basis in reality

Countrywide Financial Earnings - 1 in 3 Subprime Mortgages Delinquent

What Our Top Spy Doesn't Get: Security and Privacy Aren't Opposites (like liberty vs control)

Is the Tipping Point Toast? -- Duncan Watts -- Trendsetting

YouTube - Bill Hicks on Marketing

Foreign Policy: The List: The World’s Biggest Military Buildups

This Modern World, by Tom Tomorrow | Salon Comics (Dems united as never before)

AlterNet: Rights and Liberties: The End of Privacy

Think Progress » Bush: ‘Life’s pretty comfortable inside the bubble.’

Interrogator Shares Saddam's Confessions, Tells 60 Minutes Former Iraqi Dictator Didn't Expect U.S. Invasion

Wall $treet Week with Fortune| PBS | Buffett: Why I'm not buying the U.S. dollar

The great fiscal stimulus package ... of 1929 - MarketWatch

Target Tells a Blogger to Go Away - New York Times

The Autumn of the Multitaskers Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy

AlterNet: Health and Wellness: How Teenage Rebellion Has Become a Mental Illness

Hunter-gatherers | Noble or savage? |

The murky demimonde of Amazon's Top Reviewers. - By Garth Risk Hallberg - Slate Magazine

Freed From the Page, but a Book Nonetheless - New York Times (Steve Jobs: "people don't read anymore")

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ashura & The Shiite Passion Plays

Naj, a friend and Iranian ex-pat who runs Iran Facts (link at right margin), has written an enlightening summary of the Ashura festival in Iran, one which bears similarities to Christian passion plays held around the world. As celebrations re-enact the martyrdom of Jesus, so Ashura commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, inspiration of the Shi'ite faith. Naj explains Ashura's significance, in particular the basis of the schism between Shi'ite and Sunni forms of Islam, as expressed in the street plays known as ta'ziyeh (lit. "compassion, mourning"):

As a dramatic form it has its origins in the Muharram procession commemorating Hussein's martyrdom and throughout its evolution the representation of the siege and carnage at Kerbela has remained its centerpoint. Ta'ziyeh has never lost its religious implications. Because early Shi'ites viewed Hussein's death as a sacred redemptive act, the performance of the Muharram ceremonies was believed to be an aid to salvation; later they also believed that participation, both by actors and spectators, in the Ta'ziyeh dramas would gain them Hussein's intercession on the day of the Last Judgment.
People, Sunnis much included, have criticized Shi'ism as medieval, gruesome, superstitious. Again, parallels between Shi'ite and Sunni conflicts are fairly comparable to those between Protestantism, expressive folk forms of Catholicism, and the body with claims originating authority over all things Christian. In the late 1700s, the Catholic Church banned passion plays in Europe, particularly Germany, as being too bloody, boisterous, and pagan-bordering. Oberammergau soon gained a passion play monopoly through a deal in which they changed their celebration's title, toned down the edgy displays, and charged for tickets, drawing about half a million visitors once a decade ever since (and for a one-time 350th anniversary in 1984). Outside Germany, the popularity of passion plays has spread, and are practiced in South and North America. Shi'ites are by no means alone in re-enactments of suffering, or in practices seen as beneath the dignity of other groups who supposedly share the same religion.

Demographically, Shi'ites are the fastest-growing segment of Islam and already significantly outnumber Sunnis, a fact which gives the lie to the deterministic 'Clash of Civilizations' logic. (Which goes, in short: other religions are quickly out-breeding Christianity, ergo the West must attack while the chances for success are still high. Thus the Iraq grab and the Iran end game.) Naj again provides a quick history check:

In the first years of the sixteenth century, when under the Safavid dynasty, Persia, which had always been a strong cultural power, again became a political power, Shi'ite Islam was established as the state religion and was used to unify the country, especially against the aggressive Ottomans and Uzbeks who were adherents of Sunnite Islam.
All anecdotal evidence indicates that religions exhibit a strong tendency to schism over time, not to unify. Judah was but one tribe of Israel, and ten went missing somewhere. Islam is technically an off-shoot of Judaism, and recognizes Christ as an important prophet. (How about "United" Methodists? Ha!) Islam is about to schism further, and of course the Bush Doctrine is based almost entirely on the opposite assumption. Wahabist philosophers may have correctly diagnosed and exploited the West's weaknesses, but they overlooked their own glaring problems: their chances of unifying Islam are extremely low in the absence of a Western Crusaders, encouraging a personal relationship with the Koran invites the attendant dangers of differing interpretations, and Iran is a bigger threat to al-Qaeda than the US ever will be.

'Foreign policy' means getting other countries to do what you want. If a capable diplomat keeps the principle of religious disunity mind, much can be quickly done with little more than travel vouchers and a free hand to first extricate a mired foot from the Mideast, then a leg, then maybe two. Not to mention greatly improve relations with Iran, which shouldn't be further driven into Russian or Chinese embraces; Iran should be engaged and helped in their goal to generate nuclear power, unravelling their biggest knot of anxiety: depleted oil fields.

A policy of de-escalation in rhetoric and force re-deployments will work immediate wonders, eroding support for mirror-image radicals who stir the embers of conflict. Iran may have old vendettas with the US and fully share in Islamic enmity for Israel, but it hates al-Qaeda, and in the equation of Realpolitik, it can be a policy anchor, a successful, eventually friendly counterbalance for non-violent containment.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Immigration Officials Detaining And Deporting US Citizens

First, they came for the people with funny names...
Marisa Taylor, McClatchy News - Thomas Warziniack was born in Minnesota and grew up in Georgia, but immigration authorities pronounced him an illegal immigrant from Russia.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held Warziniack for weeks in an Arizona detention facility with the aim of deporting him to a country he's never seen. His jailers shrugged off Warziniack's claims that he was an American citizen, even though they could have retrieved his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes and even though a Colorado court had concluded that he was a U.S. citizen a year before it shipped him to Arizona.

On Thursday, Warziniack was told he would be released. Immigration authorities were finally able to verify his citizenship.

The story of how immigration officials decided that a small-town drifter with a Southern accent was an illegal Russian immigrant illustrates how the federal government mistakenly detains and sometimes deports American citizens.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bush's Legacy

There you go, hard stats in one handy chart to go along with all the anecdotal doo-doo. I knew Boosh's rep was heading south when I heard my 80-some year old genuine-conservative aunt say plaintively, "I wish someone would just shoot him."

Click on chart to enlarge, or you can go to Think Progress for a clearer view.)

We've Already Tried A Retarded President...Why Not A Vegan?

The word "jeremiad" used to be employed off-handedly conversations, back when more people were subjected to the morality-building rigors of seminaries and Sunday schools. The word was coined for the prophet Jeremiah (lit. "god throws"), who was reviled by the people of Jerusalem for loudly calling them to righteousness. He explained Babylon's hold over them could be thrown off but for their iniquities, and Jeremiah would commonly walk in public wearing a wooden oxen yoke over his neck. He advised his king, Zedekiah, not to plot against Babylon, rather to focus on strengthening his own people. The advice was rejected.

Jeremiah was quite the killjoy, writing a book about how badly the Jews were screwing up, followed up by the Book of Lamentations. Finally in 591 BC, a short-changed Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem for three years. King Zedekiah was forced to watch all his sons murdered just before his eyes were put out. Jerusalem was sacked and burned, the ark of the covenant was lost, the residents carried off into captivity for 70 years. When the Jews went to Egypt, they insisted on taking Jeremiah with them, having become accustomed to his rants, and to him being right.

We have our own Jeremiah here. I didn't realize Kucinich is a vegan, until 'Because he was right' was published by The Stranger. Dennis Kucinich's jeremiad are things of beauty, really, and I'd even been thinking of sending him some money. Maybe he can bribe a news agency to let him into a debate someday, rather than getting excluded. Money is probably a bit late for this cycle, but Kucinich pretty much sealed the deal for me by calling Bush a liar on the floor of Congress today, and announcing he would file articles of impeachment on Bush next Monday. (See article at: Rep. Kucinich creates commotion in House, claims President 'lied')

The article at The Stranger is a hoot, and worth a read. A snippet:
This is a candidate who announces, on national television, that he would refuse to shoot a Hellfire missile at Osama bin Laden if given the opportunity; a guy who prattles on about the interconnectedness of humanity and his plans for creating a cabinet-level Department of Peace; a man who brags about the wonderfully low blood pressure his animal-cruelty-free diet has brought him (memo to the Kucinich campaign: Americans like their leaders carnivorous and on the verge of cardiac arrest, thank you very much—see, for example, our last two presidents: Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney).
It tells the story of a rather remarkable man, one from a region (Cleveland) that's being gutted and carried off into the modern version of captivity, yet who gives us both a lesson and a reason for hope. Read more.

Psyche's News Roundup

Rep. Kucinich creates commotion in House, claims President 'lied' (you know, "lied" as in "lied")

In Private, Bernanke Tells Horror Stories - Washington Whispers (

The Anonymous Liberal: Why Ignore Clinton's Obvious Deficiencies as a General Election Candidate?

Why Hillary Clinton Should Withdraw From the Race Today - 2parse/blog

Woke up it was a FISA morning - The Seminal

Feingold: "I Really Do Disagree" With Reid On FISA - Politics on The Huffington Post

NPR: U.S., Iraq Ponder Long-Term Treaty (don't need no steenking Congress)

Justice Nomination Seen as Snub to Democrats - NYT: Bradbury Wrote Pro-Torture Opinions)

The Fifth Columnist - How Bill Kristol landed that 'Times" gig

EconLog, Why Do the Poor Commit More Crime?, Bryan Caplan: Library of Economics and Liberty

BBC NEWS | Business | Rogue trader to cost SocGen $7bn Worldwide N.Y. Regulator Pushes Banks to Rescue Bond Insurers

Corporate Personhood

Teen changes immune system | The Daily Telegraph

Gazans knock down border, flee to Egypt - Yahoo! News

Study: False statements preceded war - Yahoo! News (935 lies)

Independent Study Finds Bush "Unequivocally" Lied U.S. into War with Iraq

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

George Soros On The Markets (Breathe, Markets! Breathe!!)

The financial wizard and Bush basher extraordinaire, George Soros, sent me an email:
Dear Colleague,

I thought you would be interested in my article on the market crisis that appeared in today's Financial Times.

George Soros

The worst market crisis in 60 years

By George Soros --- Published: January 23 2008
The current financial crisis was precipitated by a bubble in the US housing market. In some ways it resembles other crises that have occurred since the end of the second world war at intervals ranging from four to 10 years.

However, there is a profound difference: the current crisis marks the end of an era of credit expansion based on the dollar as the international reserve currency. The periodic crises were part of a larger boom-bust process. The current crisis is the culmination of a super-boom that has lasted for more than 60 years.

Boom-bust processes usually revolve around credit and always involve a bias or misconception. This is usually a failure to recognise a reflexive, circular connection between the willingness to lend and the value of the collateral. Ease of credit generates demand that pushes up the value of property, which in turn increases the amount of credit available. A bubble starts when people buy houses in the expectation that they can refinance their mortgages at a profit. The recent US housing boom is a case in point. The 60-year super-boom is a more complicated case.

Every time the credit expansion ran into trouble the financial authorities intervened, injecting liquidity and finding other ways to stimulate the economy. That created a system of asymmetric incentives also known as moral hazard, which encouraged ever greater credit expansion. The system was so successful that people came to believe in what former US president Ronald Reagan called the magic of the marketplace and I call market fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe that markets tend towards equilibrium and the common interest is best served by allowing participants to pursue their self-interest. It is an obvious misconception, because it was the intervention of the authorities that prevented financial markets from breaking down, not the markets themselves. Nevertheless, market fundamentalism emerged as the dominant ideology in the 1980s, when financial markets started to become globalised and the US started to run a current account deficit.

Globalisation allowed the US to suck up the savings of the rest of the world and consume more than it produced. The US current account deficit reached 6.2 per cent of gross national product in 2006. The financial markets encouraged consumers to borrow by introducing ever more sophisticated instruments and more generous terms. The authorities aided and abetted the process by intervening whenever the global financial system was at risk. Since 1980, regulations have been progressively relaxed until they have practically disappeared.

The super-boom got out of hand when the new products became so complicated that the authorities could no longer calculate the risks and started relying on the risk management methods of the banks themselves. Similarly, the rating agencies relied on the information provided by the originators of synthetic products. It was a shocking abdication of responsibility.

Everything that could go wrong did. What started with subprime mortgages spread to all collateralised debt obligations, endangered municipal and mortgage insurance and reinsurance companies and threatened to unravel the multi-trillion-dollar credit default swap market. Investment banks' commitments to leveraged buyouts became liabilities. Market-neutral hedge funds turned out not to be market-neutral and had to be unwound. The asset-backed commercial paper market came to a standstill and the special investment vehicles set up by banks to get mortgages off their balance sheets could no longer get outside financing. The final blow came when interbank lending, which is at the heart of the financial system, was disrupted because banks had to husband their resources and could not trust their counterparties. The central banks had to inject an unprecedented amount of money and extend credit on an unprecedented range of securities to a broader range of institutions than ever before. That made the crisis more severe than any since the second world war.

Credit expansion must now be followed by a period of contraction, because some of the new credit instruments and practices are unsound and unsustainable. The ability of the financial authorities to stimulate the economy is constrained by the unwillingness of the rest of the world to accumulate additional dollar reserves. Until recently, investors were hoping that the US Federal Reserve would do whatever it takes to avoid a recession, because that is what it did on previous occasions. Now they will have to realise that the Fed may no longer be in a position to do so. With oil, food and other commodities firm, and the renminbi appreciating somewhat faster, the Fed also has to worry about inflation. If federal funds were lowered beyond a certain point, the dollar would come under renewed pressure and long-term bonds would actually go up in yield. Where that point is, is impossible to determine. When it is reached, the ability of the Fed to stimulate the economy comes to an end.

Although a recession in the developed world is now more or less inevitable, China, India and some of the oil-producing countries are in a very strong countertrend. So, the current financial crisis is less likely to cause a global recession than a radical realignment of the global economy, with a relative decline of the US and the rise of China and other countries in the developing world.

The danger is that the resulting political tensions, including US protectionism, may disrupt the global economy and plunge the world into recession or worse.
Sheesh, I really have to be more careful about giving out my personal e-mail. George is such a crank, but unfortunately the old chap seems to be right about everything above, except for the part about the ability of the Fed to stimulate the economy without filling long-term bond yields with helium. They're already out of room, and this is going to hurt.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Memoriam: Cramer, 1992?-2008

I have no rituals for death, and don't want any. It would be my preference if death were exceptional, not universal, transitional rather than final. 21-gun salutes routinize tragedy and minimize personality, and better, it seems, are the flowers planted and picked than bought professionally arranged.

When I met Cramer, his name was Latte, which we considered a misnomer, one surprisingly ill-applied. We could see an inherent ferocity, even a dominance, in the essential nature of the beautiful, long-haired, all-black Maine Coon despite his neutered status. I was skeptical about Latte's arrival or continued presence; my girlfriend C. had a co-worker whose new boyfriend did not get along with her cat, and she asked me what I thought of taking it in. I provisionally assented, knowing her long history of cat-keeping, smiling on her intentions and figuring it might be innocuous enough. But I maintained a right of first refusal. If I didn't like the creature, it could look elsewhere for a home.

Being an itinerant creature myself, I'd had no pet of my own since a small turtle, George, crawled under the refrigerator or went lost down an air vent when I was 4, seeking shelter from my clumsy inspections. C. was a "cat person," but I had limited patience or understanding for animals who generally seemed rather stand-offish, entitled, having too high an opinion of their own intelligence. All true, from a certain perspective. I envisioned one day getting a dog, a big loyal one, possibly a Golden Lab.

Cramer arrived in a cat carrier, complete with his own supply of cat food, deposited by a bureau while we discussed his presence. As a stealth bomber confuses radar, so does his fur confuse light, absorbing almost all of it but for his green eyes, so it was impossible to get a good look at him in the carrier. Finally his owner opened the carrier's door, and a black torpedo instantly made its way low and fast across a dozen feet of floor, hopped up on the arm of the couch with alacrity, climbed my shoulder, and started nuzzling, purring, licking, and biting my left ear. He had made his decision, and mine, and there wasn't much way of backing out of it. I was his human from then on, and he was my familiar, to the extent that C. was hurt and later expressed jealousy. When we broke up, there was no debate over the fate of the luxuriant long-hair, he who shed so much over the years I could have made a sweater, a blanket out of him, whose fur once dragged along the ground. Such hair, it would've been possible to harvest his wool like a sheep every spring. To wear him like he wore me, so often drooling on my shoulder.

The reason Cramer and his former owner's boyfriend didn't get along was clear. One night after their closer acquaintance, Cramer shat into the boyfriend's jeans while they were crumpled on the floor. In the morning, said boyfriend hopped into his jeans and pulled them up, with distressing results. A variation of "He goes, or I go," was bruited, and the cat lost that battle. Later, on helping that boyfriend move his stuff to her apartment, I realized Cramer was right about him, and that appropriate summary action had been taken. Before moving, due to his girlfriend's apartment contract, he had his Golden Lab put down, dismissing her as "just a dog."

My new companion was highly individuated, eccentric, intelligent, and prone to a certain clownish exuberance when not murdering prey, so I named him Cramer in recognition of the Seinfeld comic known for exquisite pratfalls, and also for a benignly rich venture capitalist I had recently met with, last name Cramer, The spelling was intended to be less derivative, and to allow for fortune in life, a position which he soon achieved. We kept him on dry food until he moved us on to smoked salmon, cream cheese, shrimp, crab, etc. He had a gourmand's nose for good food, his tastes running from tuna to vindaloo, from spaghetti to tortilla chips and salsa. He tried to like caviar, knowing it was a delicacy, but it just wouldn't take. My house, its location on a relatively quiet street, its ready access to its yard, its trees, was bought with Cramer fully in mind. I didn't take a waiting job in London because of England's quarantine policies, and somewhere along the way, I gained a healthy appreciation for the intelligences which dwell in cats, and learned that they were the only animals to ever domesticate themselves.

This cat manipulated his media. I once jumped in front of a van to save his life while he lolled in the street. The driver jammed on the brakes, the cargo collapsing like falling buildings inside. Cramer loved Japanese maple trees, there were two big round-full ones off the sidewalk in front of our house. He would climb up in them to wait for us or to ambush passers-by, the only warning of his presence a curious shaking of the red pointy cover of leaves. Then out would pop his head to trill or meow, and sometimes he would just leap onto my neck. He terrorized a large swath of neighborhood, a hard-nosed soldier who never lost a fight to another outdoor cat (yet restrained and reticent indoors). I once saw him leap five feet into the air from a stationary position to land, all-star wrestling style, on top of his tackle-sized orange tabby opponent. His only misfortune came by one or more crows when he was 4 or 5, always checking eaves and trees for the presence of crows thereafter.

He hated going to vet clinics. They hated having him. The last occasion, he had to be held down by two assistants wearing chain-mail gloves, with one very wary vet giving shots, each one precariously contested with a couple of violent near-escapes with ear-rattling, threatening, vengeful howls. So we got a house-call vet from then on, who came today at 1PM to mercifully end a grand life.

The weather was kind today, the winter sun full rare and shining, so Cramer's last hours were spent mostly outside. I carried him around the perimeter of all his former territory, pausing at each square, and when we got back to the property line he asked to be set down, where he defiantly marked his redoubt one last time. Then he basked with the sun's warmth in his favorite spots, surveying all that was his, purring, his head occasionally drooping down to a rest on a window sill or welcome mat. And then my old friend drifted off on a ketamine high, to a death more merciful and gentle than many of us humans are likely to find, held in the same place I met him, next to my left ear.

Death is unfortunately natural, and fully appreciating life is unfortunately not. Both are things I struggle with. Over time, I began to more appreciate the surprises one is thrown, and the lessons in them. So it is here. To a mere feline, I owe a debt of profound gratitude, a thing I never contemplated nor thought possible. Yet I was Cramer's human, and he changed my mind about not just himself, not just about cats. He changed my perspective about life and individuality amongst all creatures, be they great or small. He makes me think the Lord God made us all.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Barack Obama Won Nevada

That's right, contrary to every major news story, he won Nevada. I just happened to notice it over the weekend, in a Hawaiian newspaper story posted on the Drudge Report--Hillary Clinton will take 12 Nevada delegates to the Democratic Convention, while Barack Obama gets 13. I don't pretend to know how, nor am I inclined to research the Rube Goldberg state electoral procedures, during which the Clintons unsuccessfully sued to invalidate the votes of the largest union there, the Culinary Workers, which endorsed Obama. Bottom line, he won 13-12 in a state which Hillary Clinton led by 25 polling points 4 months ago.

Kind of interesting that the national press didn't focus on that fact, instead only reporting that he was defeated in the popular vote. If Corporate Media consistently dumps on a candidate, that's probably a good reason to take a closer look at them. The Howard Deaning of Obama continues, along with others who find even less favor. What coverage John Edwards has gotten makes people think he's either a) unctious or b) is the most right-wing Democratic candidate, Ron Paul is ejected by bouncers, Dennis Kucinich is crossed off the guest list. Pundits shake their compensatory shotguns in anger about liberal media bias, the lovely status quo is protected, and the elites keep on singing their anthem: "They Can't Overcome."

(Update: Open Left put it way better:
I've learned two things today. First, the Democratic presidential nomination system is not particularly democratic, since the system of delegate selection is different than the concept of one person one vote. Second, I have learned that the national media is not actually covering the Democratic presidential nomination campaign. If the media was covering the Democratic presidential nomination campaign, then they would have projected Barack Obama as the winner of the Nevada caucuses, projected New Hampshire as a tie between Clinton and Obama, and declared that Clinton finished second in Iowa. That is, after all, what actually happened in the Democratic presidential nomination campaign, which is based on delegates, not popular votes from states. Instead of covering the Democratic presidential nomination campaign, the media is instead covering who wins the popular vote of individual states. While what the media is covering is interesting and closer to the concept of one person, one vote, it isn't the Democratic presidential nomination campaign.

Until the national media declares that Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election because he won the popular vote, I will continue to assert that Barack Obama won the Democratic caucuses in Nevada. To agree with one statement without agreeing to both statements is to be caught in a logical contradiction. If delegates to the national convention don't determine who won a state in a nomination campaign, then the Electoral College doesn't determine who wins the Presidency in a general election. We all know, of course, that both of those propositions are false.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pro Football, Seattle Style

At the end of 'This Is Spinal Tap,' heavy metal band stalwart Nigel Tufnel contemplates retirement for the 57th time:
"Well, I suppose I could, uh, work in a shop of some kind, or … or do, uh, freelance, uh, selling of some sort of, uh, product. You know … like maybe in a, uh, haberdasher, or maybe like a, uh, um … a chapeau shop or something …"
At the end of the Seattle Seahawks season, coaching stalwart Mike Holmgren contemplates retirement for the 57th time:
"I've always wanted to buy a bookstore. You know, sell some of those muffins and a little coffee. I don't care if we make any money. I don't want to lose a lot of money, but we could visit with people and get books. People say I could never do that. The cynics in the world say if you've been in this business, to all of a sudden do that, you can't do it. I would say, 'Maybe, maybe not."
Mmm-hmmm. Let's see, an NFL ex-head coach running a book can just see the customer relations possibilities. "Tolstoy? You're buying Tolstoy?? Jesus Christ in a sidecar, dumbass, that's for high school. Is that where you want to go? Maybe you need to start doing a better job in here! Aiming a little higher! Maybe you failed to notice our display, our prominent goddamned display of the past 25 Booker Prize winners. Which is nearly hitting you in the ass! Put down Anna Frickin' Karenina, let's get underneath your personal bullshit and get down to work. Here's a copy of The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. Get over to that reading desk and I don't want to see you move for at least two hours! We might make you into a halfway decent reader yet."

Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, recognizing a clever negotiating ploy, put the kibosh on Holmgren's dreams of lattes and little muffins by forking over the Jimi Hendrix Museum, the San Francisco Reserve Bank, and an undisclosed country (rumored to be full of benighted savages waiting to receive chocolate chip cookies and the light of Christ) to keep Holmgren on The Farm for another year. And Mike, if you're serious about this bookstore thing and not just weirding us all out, I have the perfect place for you: it's just up the street, with the best books in town, wonderful coffee and muffins. It's called Third Place Books.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Opium Crops Started In Iraq

Should have predicted this one. It will no doubt be used as proof of close al-Qaeda ties between Iraq and Afghanistan:

The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghans with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north- east of Baghdad. (via Patrick Cockburn, The Independent UK.)

At this point, Al-Qaeda is the least of Iraq's problems. It's only logical that farmers are getting into opium, which if I think about it, is actually a positive step: people who live in failed states need money and jobs, and opium is a great cash crop. It does give some indication of how bad things have gotten for people in the Sunni Triangle. Michael Massing reviewed a book about the Iraqi journalists who work and write for the McClatchy Newspapers, which set up a blog they run called Inside Iraq. He summarizes that Iraq is what the end of the world looks like:

The overwhelming sense [from the McClatchy journalists' blog] is that of a society undergoing a catastrophic breakdown from the never-ending waves of violence, criminality, and brutality inflicted on it by insurgents, militias, jihadis, terrorists, policemen, bodyguards, mercenaries, armed gangs, warlords, kidnappers, and everyday thugs. "Inside Iraq" suggests how the relentless and cumulative effects of these vicious crimes have degraded virtually every aspect of the nation's social, economic, professional, and personal life.

Despite all the mortuary work and make-up, all the sartorial wonders of The Surge, the country formerly known as Iraq is a corpse. As in dead country, not walking. BushCo and Congress, the corporate media and the chattering classes regularly pull up a dolly and pop back a coffin lid, they point out that the thing inside has finely rouged cheeks, a nicely pinned-back business suit, that its limbs (lifted with a complex array of monofilament lines) move so as to appear amazingly life-like, and that it even plays pre-recorded speech. Two non-trivial problems: it's still frigging dead, and it makes everyone who looks too closely at it puke.

As soon as the Shiite and then the Sunni extremists who we paid to fight other Sunni extremists stop getting paid, they'll start blowing up Western troops with greater enthusiasm. Our crusaders are not welcome in Iraq, where opium production now looks like a smart way out. In context, it probably is. At least something is growing.

(With thank-you credits to Empire Burlesque, Inside Iraq, and Cryptogon.)

Adding Link To Chris Floyd's Empire Burlesque

Reader, sparring partner, and commenter Still Life Living suggested that I link to Chris Floyd, a former NY Times journalist who runs a high-octane blog. Generally, of course, my policy is to provocatively ignore or mock SLL's advice insofar as time allows, but in this case I simply want to go visit Empire Burlesque much more often. It's one of the best sources of international reporting and commentary, period. (SLL, you do realize, this bespeaks mere aberration, not detente. En garde.)

Sometimes we wonder if blogs do any good, if they can change anything. I suppose the ants harbor similar doubts when they're toiling along carrying grains of sand and what-not, following some trail of pheromones; yet bloggers like Chris Floyd left the New York Times, and are great reasons not to read the mouthpieces anymore. We may not yet fully glimpse the unfinished edifice, or care to know its full design, but we're building something, something large.

Priming The Pump

The next time you're using a Tektronix printer and some cotton parchment to print up $100 bills, remember, it's not counterfeiting. It's economic stimulus. Sixteen crisp new bills comin' atcha, hot off the press.
Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The Bush administration is close to completing an economic-stimulus proposal that will include $800 rebates for individuals and $1,600 for households as well as tax breaks for businesses, people familiar with the plan said.

The proposal is subject to revision as administration officials consult with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington, the people said.

President George W. Bush will lay out the "principles'' of the economic package tomorrow, though it's ``too early'' to unveil a final proposal, according to his spokesman, who declined to provide details. Congressional leaders say a stimulus package may be as much as $150 billion.


The plan the administration is close to proposing includes a temporary elimination of the bottom tax rate, which is now 10 percent, and a consequent lump-sum rebate to all taxpayers, according to the people.

Businesses would get a tax break under the plan that would allow them to deduct 50 percent of the price of new equipment they purchase this year. Small businesses would be able to deduct as much as $200,000 in new equipment purchases, up from the current $112,000 limit.

Asked about the details, a Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment.

By the government's own measures, which include throwing yarrow sticks and consulting the I Ching, wholesale prices were up 6.3% in 2007. Now that's stimulus.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Little Big Man:

Kucinich asks for New Hampshire recount in the interest of election integrity
DETROIT, MI – Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, the most outspoken advocate in the Presidential field and in Congress for election integrity, paper-ballot elections, and campaign finance reform, has sent a letter to the New Hampshire Secretary of State asking for a recount of Tuesday’s election because of “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.”

“I am not making this request in the expectation that a recount will significantly affect the number of votes that were cast on my behalf,” Kucinich stressed in a letter to Secretary of State William M. Gardner. But, “Serious and credible reports, allegations, and rumors have surfaced in the past few days…It is imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery – not just in New Hampshire, but in every other state that conducts a primary election.”

Also, the reports, allegations, and rumors regarding possible vote-count irregularities have been further fueled by the stunning disparities between various “independent” pre-election polls and the actual election results," Kucinich wrote. "The integrity, credibility, and value of independent polling are separate issues, but they appear to be relevant in the context of New Hampshire’s votes."

He added, “Ever since the 2000 election – and even before – the American people have been losing faith in the belief that their votes were actually counted. This recount isn’t about who won 39% of 36% or even 1%. It’s about establishing whether 100% of the voters had 100% of their votes counted exactly the way they cast them.”

Kucinich, who drew about 1.4% of the New Hampshire Democratic primary vote, wrote, “This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy. It is about the integrity of the election process.” No other Democratic candidate, he noted, has stepped forward to question or pursue the claims being made.

“New Hampshire is in the unique position to address – and, if so determined, rectify – these issues before they escalate into a massive, nationwide suspicion of the process by which Americans elect their President. Based on the controversies surrounding the Presidential elections in 2004 and 2000, New Hampshire is in a prime position to investigate possible irregularities and to issue findings for the benefit of the entire nation,” Kucinich wrote in his letter.

“Without an official recount, the voters of New Hampshire and the rest of the nation will never know whether there are flaws in our electoral system that need to be identified and addressed at this relatively early point in the Presidential nominating process,” said Kucinich, who is campaigning in Michigan this week in advance of next Tuesday’s Presidential primary in that state.
Kucinich may have ears that stick out too far to be countenanced by post-modernity. He may never get another chance to say, "I read it," when asked why he voted against the Patriot Act. Though he may be small in stature, he has the heart of a tiger. He's a man. I wish we lived in the kind of place, like Denmark or Sweden maybe, where he could become President.

New Hampshire Recount

Dennis Kucinich is paying for a democratic primary vote hand-recount in New Hampshire, scheduled to start Wednesday, January 16th. The optical scan counts were performed by Diebold, and a comparison of the scanned Clinton/Obama votes vs. their hand-counted votes is rather remarkable:
Head to head comparison - corrected numbers
Clinton: statewide optical scan tally
95,843 52.73%

Obama: statewide optical scan tally
85,910 47.27%

Clinton: statewide hand-count tally
16,767 46.75%

Obama: hand count
19,097 53.25%

1/5 - 1/7 Real Clear Politics seven poll average (head-to-head pairing)
Clinton 43.9%
Obama 56.1%
The closeness of the match of the two candidates hand-count with the Real Clear Politics seven-poll average (1/5 - 1/7/08) - compared with the divergence of the optical scan tally - remains under investigation.

(via The River Blog, originally posted at News From Undergound, data from Election Defense Alliance.)

"We Used To Fry Squirrels In A Popcorn Popper"

Huckabee. The gift that keeps on giving.
After pulling an upset in the Iowa caucus, Mike Huckabee has now placed a respectable third in two northern primaries, New Hampshire and Michigan, but he has hopes of doing much better in South Carolina.

Huckabee spoke to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough from Columbia, SC, saying enthusiastically, "South Carolina's a great place for me. I mean, I know how to eat grits and speak the language. We even know how to talk about eating fried squirrel and stuff like that, so we're on the same wavelength."

"Mika, I bet you never did this," Huckabee went on, addressing Mika Brzezinski. "When I was in college, we used to take a popcorn popper, because that was the only thing they would let us use in the dorm, and we would fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room."

Full article here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bush World Tour: Bombing Auschwitz

Now that doctors aren't using it anymore, "First do no harm" should really be a motto for heads of state, even elected ones. POTUS 43's visit to any furren country is always an occasion for hi-jinks which can run the gamut from amusing gaffe on to casual sexual harassment, then straight to casus belli. His recent visit to Israel left a rich vein for historians to mine, along with a bunch of very unimpressed Palestinians rolling their eyes and pantomiming self-abusive gestures.

I mentioned in a previous post that Bush was moved to say at the Israeli Holocaust Memorial, "We should have bombed Auschwitz." In this case he meant as a way to save lives, not to kill more condemned people, but this statement can cause some confusion given his enthusiasm for capital punishment, and a grandfather who funded the first eugenics center in the US (at Yale, 193x.) As a holographic trademark of all that is Bush, this one's hard to top. It's gangrene burlesque, and distills a whole lot of misguided, drunken, pathetic, fumbling, insane, violent ignorance down into just five words. We should have bombed Auschwitz. It's a nearly perfect representation, not just of Himself, but of the entire murderous Bush family.

Let's just say that his revanchist wish had been granted. Heck, throw in Sobibor. Bergen-Belsen. Dachau. Treblinka. Throw in the other 190 camps, too. True, I admit, concentration camp inmates would have had the privilege of dying cheerfully from the explosions and concussions of Freedom Bombs, knowing they were sent down by the good guys. But what else would have happened? Would the German guards have put up with it? "How dare zose Amis," they would have said in the ensuing movies, "zey haff no right to kill our prissoners. Vee vill show zem. Line ze Yuden uppen and shooten zem at once!!" Extreme? Unlikely? The reaction would've been right in line with the deadly farce and legal dada-isms of what Germans still refer to as "die Kah-tzet," the German proununciation of the letters KZ, short for "concentration place."

It is a matter of record that Jewish authorities asked the War Department to bomb the rail lines leading to Auschwitz, that the request was rejected, and that there has been a raging debate over the "whether or nots" ever since. George McGovern, once a bomber pilot based in Foggia, Italy, later said we should have bombed the gas chambers at Auschwitz to slow the killing. Holocaust docents consistently condemn Roosevelt for not bombing Auschwitz. To these good people and kind sentiments, I have a few respectful observations:

1) while I agree it would have been good symbology, how exactly would bombing the rail lines or the gas chambers have helped? Lives would not necessarily have been saved or prolonged.

2) the Auschwitz Protocols on which many assumptions are now based, were written by two escapees in 1944 who quoted rumors as fact, as is apparent from the report itself and from later contradicting statements. While the rumors may have been true, military operations, some history notwithstanding, are usually not launched on hearsay.

3) President Roosevelt, the Pope, and others did effectively intervene, diplomatically prevailing upon Admiral Horthy to stop the deportation of Hungarian Jews on July 9th, 1944. These parties used the Auschwitz Protocols to convince Horthy and his prime minister in their decision. Those who were saved surely appreciated these efforts more than bombs.

4) a serious investigation into the gas chambers leaves their existence, location, and extent of operation in doubt. While this doesn't absolve the Nazis of their super-abundant war crimes whatsoever, it shows they did not require gas chambers to kill millions of victims, a fact which calls bombing as a solution further into question.

The US should have done much more, much earlier to save European Jews from the Nazi regime. The book 'The Abandonment of the Jews' explains why it didn't happen, how they were turned away. By the time the question came to bombing concentration camps, it was far too late, and I suspect had they been bombed, the same voices might now be condemning the brutality and idiocy of the perpetrators. It simply wasn't practical at the time, and had it been attempted, the unintended consequences would likely have far outweighed the benefits. Even the statement "bomb Auschwitz" is, philosophically, an oxymoron.

In BushWorld, however, in the special place, all bombs hit their desired targets. Bombing concentration camps would not cut wires nor destroy fences, bombs would not scare people into running away to find cover, which would not result in temporary break-outs, which in turn would not mean a massive security risk, so all the inmates would not have to be shot upon contact. In BushWorld, the German high command would not be effervescing that the Allies were willing to take time out of their busy schedule of strategic bombing to go after propaganda targets. They would have been greatly distressed that we were saving their worker-Jews by bombing them, and they might have even sued for peace. The world would've stood in awe, the Russkies storming westward ho would've said, "Aww, the hell with it. Let's go home," and Eastern Europe wouldn't have gone commie.
Because we can control everything with bombs. Like magic. Just the right amount of bombing will always do the trick.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Petroliana, Part One

From the detritus of the past, little dots can be sifted up, bits by themselves which convey little meaning at the removes we may find our societies and souls. Yet they can often be connected into plots which yield meta-meanings, and by those, I mean empyrean meanings. These live in a netherworld with neither up, nor down, nor axis, but are the eternal forces which suspend in love and lightly gird a primum mobile, which watches down on the hubbub of our material heavens. They are best perceived from the perspective of eons, the kind of meanings which govern life.

Is it possible to back up far enough, to achieve perspective that sees truths in their less temporal forms? The only aid I know is history. I am thinking of a museum at Zaandam, a grassed-over industrial complex on the outskirts of Amsterdam, a museum made only of windmills. A quarter-millenium ago, on a dam squared off from Zaanstad by canals, is the birthing place of Europe's industrial revolution. Where there were once a thousand windmills packed tight together, four remain. One of the twisting, creaking propellor-houses, the one known as "De Schoolmeester," mixed the slurry for the very paper upon which the Declaration of Independence was penned.

The Dutch offered fine parchment at a bargain price. Their industry and empire was powered by the wind their coasts braced up in such abundance, geographically untethering makers from reliance on water wheels, while uncontracting the miserable muscles of many serfs and slaves. Rather improbably, the Dutch became an energy cult which ruled the earth by harnessing and learning the finer points of atmospheric dynamics, and with this lever they extended their lowlands out into the sea, using wind to pump out water, going so far as to transform their country's visage on maps. Such was the reach of their agency, and their royal symbol was and remains the orange tree. Dutch primacy would only be eclipsed by the hell-fires of coal, an alien substance to them, one which released far more energy, far more predictably, than wind.

What a regime was coal. I am thinking of southern Provence, where at a villa not far from the winter lair of Richard Perle, we were surprised by a bookish, bespectacled woman who had come down from Birmingham to study what were once the last functioning coal mines in Europe; the shafts at nearby Hely d'Oissel closed in 1962. As a scholar, she thought the mines' importance self-evident. She would explore them for herself, so she could transform their remnants into wisdom. To me, she put in mind all the rail and factory museums in England, where the next major expansion of the industrial revolution ensued after its breeze-kissed delivery in Holland. The copious red brick of the professor's native Birmingham once enclosed naught but teeming machines and workers, blacked with carbon. Over that period, her country transformed the world, tormenting much of it and burning half the coal on earth.

English industry was so amazingly productive, its products so awesomely ubiquitous, so restlessly scientific, that it would bend world language itself with its force. While the reverend Adam Smith walked near the factories of Glasgow, gazing at slag heaps and contemplating the nature, causes, and repercussions of wealth, other natives were swinging cheap sturdy steel blades to hack trails through jungle vines a half-globe away, but every blade bore the stamp of Manchester. It's where the word "machete" came from. Britain's vast wealth and fluency with coal brought mastery over pan-Arabia, the richest source of coal's more potent liquor. Oil. Yet its imperial destiny was wedded to coal, and oil was a mistress it never really mastered or particularly delighted in. England was burdened with an infrastructure almost exclusively configured to burn coal, and at the start of the Second World War, 90 percent of its homes were still heated by it, its trains still ran on it, as many would be right into the 1970s. If coal stoked hell-fires, oil was the scorching fire itself, sunshine liquified and sunk back into the earth, and it was to be the province of another culture with special affinity.

In 1771, George Washington bought 250 Virginia acres because they held oil and gas springs. Blessed affinity, and I am thinking of my favorite gas station in the world. It was under a 50-foot high 'Atomic' sign, set down a side embankment across the highway from the south end of both Sacandaga Lake and the Adirondack Park, where my grandparents had met and, after the War, built a lakehouse they called 'the camp.' It was about a half hour's drive away from their house, which I grew up in, and their hearts were in the Adirondacks. In summers, the Atomic station was a natural spot to fill the tank of my grandparents' conveyance, a Mercury Comet, with its gasoline. The pumping smelled distinct, intoxicating, and permeating in a pleasant way, and I was not afraid, not then, to breathe the hydrocarbon vapors deep. I almost savored them, as I savored being with my grandparents, going to the large reservoir where they could relax into softer versions of their selves. To me, gasoline was freedom and discovery, even unfolding possibility, and the station's store would greet me with the sheltering cold of its ice cream freezer, its garishly colored plastic toys, and the delicious, complex menage of candy smells coming through their bright plastic wrappers. My favorite candy, once I was old enough to fit it into my mouth, was the cinammon-hot ferocity of the Fireball, which I would pop out of its wrapper and into my mouth while still under the looming sign.

The United States of my birth was a self-sufficient energy culture still brimming with oil, a net exporter to other countries, and the gusher was still the defining characteristic of American power. Oil defined everything about twentieth-century America, and it was arguably was the country's true uniting force. Oil took a population already far more mobile than its overseas forebears, in fact vocationally, inherently, and geographically mercurial by comparison, sat them on explosive devices, and set them out onto open roads to have fun. Is it any wonder that, as a people, we're nostalgic for Route 66? That one of our favorite literary decodings is called On the Road? Even amongst my father's father's generation during the time of Ford Model As and Ts, before Kerouac imagined tossing back a drink in a roadhouse bar, the favorite vacation was to get out and see the country, roam the wilderness, and scale the mountains. With a car, and preferably a fast one.

The whole country's built around speed, and that's not going to change. It's right on our national self-selected D4-7 allele, a spot at the DNA drive-in that's a marker for mania. No, it doesn't seem like the system could change if it wanted to, with Congress bought like rouged whores milling around sailorpreneurs. Smart writers I link to and read, smart people I know and spend time with, they largely don't buy that it can change. They say it largely doesn't matter who winds up running this Financial Services Cruise Ship next. Well, now, Merrill Lynch and Citibank selling their bodies to Singapore and the Arab Emirates, that's change without much choice, a deflowering certainly not on kind terms. Not the kind of change we want.
Change isn't always a choice. Sometimes it's an empyrean dictate, a verdict from the seraphim regarding the fate of the nephilim.

If there isn't a difference between candidates and possible futures, why is the whole world watching, expectantly waiting on whom we will choose? If there is not such a thing as good government, then why must we have one? This post is long enough already, so I'll follow with a Part Two. Right now, I am thinking about taking off on a beautiful day from Schipol airport, the jet climbing and curving gently over the Zuider Zee. I'm looking down at fields of glinting diamonds on the shore, forty square miles of solar panels
like windmills squashed flat, black, and shiny, catching the sky and all the colors of its prism, and sending it into my eyes.
The Idiocy Of Hope

"Hope" is conspicuosly derideable catch-phrase, almost as chumpy as "Change." Why would anyone who wished to be taken seriously choose such words?

"America is just a country, and Obama is just a politician," says ueber-blogger IOZ. Comedy writer Jon Schwarz at A Tiny Revolution even quotes him in the context of criticizing the liberals:
American liberals understand the invasion and occupation as a terribly aberrant, uniquely un-American act foisted on a frightened country and unprepared world by the avatar of awfulness, notre dauphin, Gee-Dub Bush. Their liberalism is essentially personality-driven—ironically, given their loud disdain for the Bushite personality cult. It is the liberal-progressive conviction that the necessary component for good government is good people. People, you know, like them.
Yeah. True enough. We're all idiots, all in denial of our worser selves. Yet maybe there's a basis for wanting people more, as Jon and IOZ say, like us. I'm as skeptical as they come; disillusions have piled up on me like six feet of snow. Schools, cities, churches, friends, nations, sanities, businesses, bodies. I'm wanted in four countries, and know it's all lies, and I know evil, too, up close and personal, in places IOZ or Jon Schwarz will be lucky to never get near.

The only chance at redemption is borne on faith. Faith requires hope. Hope is the lottery, the little lies you tell yourself to keep moving, striving for something better. Hope is "I believe, O Lord, please help me in mine unbelief."
Hope needs goals, things to live and take that next tired step for, and it doesn't take a genius to know that a "necessary component of good government is good people." When you're freezing and dying and wondering what's the point, every step becomes a harder choice, and that's where our country is at. We are ruled by robbers, murderers, and corporate rapists who know they are poisoning us. Let us now come out and speak the unspeakable, my friends: America is dying, and may be past hope.

Great leaders study possibilities, and know how to nurture hope to coax out the best hope. Tyrants simply destroy these qualities and rule on fear. And what have we lived under for the past 7 years but tyrants so craving and ghastly they'll cheerfully kill their own people as a ruse? Smart people keep telling me the election doesn't matter, that there's no policy differences between Clinton and Obama, and McCain is on the same kabuki stage anyway, nothing will change. I say "Bullshit!" Answer me some questions on this day, and tell me leadership and goals make no difference:

1) Would having John Edwards as Attorney General instead of Abu Gonzales have made a difference in the Justice Department's actions, and to the poor bastards we've tortured and threatened across the world in the name of gilded freedom?

2) Would having Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of State make a difference when dealing with other countries, versus dealing with hissing oil wraiths who fly in on their Nazguls?

3) Do you want to have lived for 36 (8+4+8+8+a possible 8) years under White Houses continually occupied with Bushes and Clintons, and do you think Hillary Clinton will throw her precious lobbyists over for you? (Of whom she says, "Lobbyists are constituents, too.")

4) Will you want to call yourself an American after Bomber McCain's elected?

5) What would the rest of the world think if they see America has elected a black man? Might that not send a message that the American people can CHANGE?

Yeah, I'm playing the race card, and it's a bad-ass ace, one who is the successful disciple of a populist radical. Symbology is paramount; why do you think Ronald Reagan chose a fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered, to give a "states' rights" speech in August, 1980? What was he symbolizing when he later laid wreathes on the graves of SS soldiers in Bitburg? I'll tell you a secret: it wasn't "Up With People." Yet as Peggy Noonan said yesterday, she who wrote the speech for the thousand putrid points of light, "Barack Obama isn't Bambi. He's bulletproof." She also said the democratic party doesn't know what it's got with him. I used to link to Peggy Noonan, even though I despise everything she stands for, because she's an oracle of the Other Side. And she's right. Most Democrats don't know just how powerful and radical Obama is. Most have even forgotten that he demonstrated on the streets of Chicago in October 2002, and stood to speak against the coming invasion of Iraq.

Only one remaining candidate actually has goals for this country, goals like single-payer health care. For one possible motivation, he said, "On the very day she died of cancer at the young age of 53, my mother's biggest worry was her health care bills." Is that somebody too LIKE US, IOZ? Does that strike you as manipulative, pro-lib cult-of-personality shit to you, Jon Schwarz? Whereas, let's examine the Clintons' goal for health care...having previously failed, they think the only path is to alleviate corporations of the burden of paying for benefits, and keep the insurance companies happy. But that's a goal for corporations, not for people. Does that goal matter?

In studying how to keep uppity countries under foot and thumb, intelligence agencies in the 20th century codified a principle which was intuitively obvious, yet highly profound: the most resource-efficient way to suppress opposition is to eliminate its reasons for hope. In fact the doctrine was called Killing Hope. All through a system, you must allow your opposition no chink easily exploited through non-violent means. Control the unions, break the strikes, control the ballot boxes and the vote-counts. Usually, this will frustrate the opposition into violence, and once they resort to it, you have them: you can call overkill down upon them. Get them to give up hope, to despair, and all you'll have to put up with is the bitter laughter which takes suppression's hand out for an occasional dance. It worked all over South and Central America, in the Caribbean, in Africa. Getting people to despair on voting and collective action worked.

Lord Wife and I are heading out the door to go caucus for Obama. We don't even have to hope. We don't have to live in a country that airs the gangrenous sins of the Bush Administration. We just have to admit that every other actor whoe remains to wear a mask on the annoying, dissonant, decrepit kabuki stage is a ghoul, a carrion-eater who will work with immortal entities called corporations to kill our hope and our children. And Barack Obama might not be.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Lou Reed And John Cale: Style It Takes

Taking the last SwissAir flight from Heathrow back to Basel, I was one of the few people going through the airport after landing. Things shut down early in Switzerland, even on a Friday night, so I drove back to my apartment through what might as well have been a combined curfew and blackout. Dead beat but unable to sleep, I turned on the TV to see John Cale singing this piece. It was catchy, and the setting was strange. It took a minute to sink in that the founding members of the Velvet Underground had gotten back together for the first time and were performing a requiem for Andy Warhol at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Warhol had played mentor and barb, promoter and stifler to the band. Like a surreal Colonel Tom Parker, Warhol introduced, showcased, pushed, and had "creative differences" with them. Eventually they had a falling out and never spoke to each other again. But after Warhol died in 1987, Cale and Reed, who also weren't speaking to each other, got together to go over their scrapbooks and start writing Songs for Drella. ("Drella" refers to a nickname coined by one of the actors in Warhol's interminable films, Ondine, who had pegged Warhol as a perfect cross between Dracula and Cinderella. The nickname stuck.) Though not always an unreserved fan of any of the artists involved, I was pleased to witness an artistic achievement. The song and album really capture Warhol's artistic energy, optimism, and determination, and he really did want to put the Empire State Building on all our walls, so we could watch the sun rise above it in our rooms. The lyrics:

You’ve got the money, I’ve got the time.
You want your freedom, make your freedom mine;
’cause I’ve got the style it takes--
and money is all that it takes!

You’ve got connections, and I’ve got the Art.
You like my attention, and I like your looks;
And I have the style it takes--
and you know the people it takes!

Why don’t you sit...right...over there?
We’ll do a movie portrait;
I’ll turn the camera on, and I won’t even be there--
A portrait that moves, you look great! (I think.)

I’ll put the Empire State Building on your wall.
For 24 hours glowing on your wall;
Watch the sun rise above it in your room--
wallpaper art! A great view!

I’ve got a brillo box and I say it’s art.
It’s the same one you can buy at any supermarket;
’cause I’ve got the style it takes--
And you’ve got the people it takes.

This is a rock group called the Velvet Underground.
I show movies on them, do you like their sound?
’cause they have a style that grates--
and I have art to make!

Let’s do a movie, here next week.
We don’t have sound,
but you’re so great,
You don’t have to speak!

You’ve got the style it takes (kiss)
You’ve got the style it takes (eat)
I’ve got the style it takes (couch)
We’ve got the style it takes (kiss)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weird Blogger Error

Wasn't allowing comments, not from me anyway. So Jon and Caitlyna, sorry for not answering earlier on the Law of the Sea thread. Nothing like typing into a void! Will get back ASAP.

Bush On Israel
"I wish as many people as possible would come to this place. It is a sobering reminder that evil exists, and a call that when evil exists we must resist it."
Ok, ok, that was intentionally out of context. Bush said the above while visiting the Holocaust Memorial. Humans are supposed to have the capacity for self-reflection, but sometimes they don't get that far, with ironies tending to sail past the heads of paranoid megalomaniacs. On the same day, he said the allies should have bombed Auschwitz. Sigh. Even when he right talk the English, he screw up it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Iranian Speedboats, US Warships, The Straits of Hormuz

The US has just filed an official protest against Iran for the actions of its coastal patrol speedboats, which are alleged to have crossed the bows of warships passing through the Straits of Hormuz, dropping boxes into the water in front of them. Iran has denied the allegations, said the US videos used footage from an earlier incident, and released its own video, the second attached above. An examination of the videos will find that the US version is irrelevant to its claims legal or otherwise, and the Iranian video provides a clear-cut basis for complaint.

When CNN first reported the story, my impression was the White House was caught flat-footed, with no prompt statement, no press conference, no apparent preparation. If the incident had not been genuine, one would expect much quicker reaction times; perhaps Iran used the occasion of Bush's first visit to Israel to do some buzzing of Navy ships. Over the next days, both the Pentagon and Washington got on the story and pushed it into "harassment," a "clash" and a "skirmish." Opportunism and orchestrated outrage begin to seem more likely. From the videos and counter-claims, a careful viewer can't really tell what happened, how non-routine the behaviors were on either side, or how close it came to acts of war.

With a formal protest lodged by the US, the incident will be taken seriously, yet the case against Iran is a loser. In the second video above, the Iranian patrol boat captain hails vessel 73, which replies to his hail and identifies itself as a coalition warship. The Iranian then requests the vessel's course and speed. The warship replies that it is "operating in international waters," and gives the same reply to repeated requests for clarification of course and speed. The warship's reply is false, since the Straits of Hormuz are only 21 miles at their widest, and much narrower for large-ship navigation. Ships can't pass through there without being in territorial waters claimed by either Oman or Iran under the transit passage provisions of UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the second video, regardless of time authenticity, the US Navy violated the Law of the Sea. Technically, Iran's territorial water limit extends up to twelve miles off shore, and vessels including warships can take "innocent passage" through it, and the Straits of Hormuz. Yet nations have the right to temporarily suspend innocent passage in specific areas of their territorial seas if doing so is deemed essential for the protection of their security. Therefore, if the coalition warship were on Oman's side of the ill-defined territorial border, it should have answered as such, claiming right of passage granted by Oman; if it were in the very well-defined shipping lanes exercising innocent passage on either Omani or Iranian territorial waters, it should have expressed that right (as it did in the first US video). If the ship were on Iran's territorial waters, transit passage law grants the Iranians every right to demand information on course and speed. Additionally, they could also unilaterally deny innocent passage under UNCLOS, and approach and demand to board vessels inside their territory which they deem a threat to their security.

Given past US actions in its waters, and its recent hostile stance, there's abundant basis for Iran to cite the US as a security threat. On 18 April 1988, the U.S. Navy waged a one-day battle against Iranian forces in and around the strait. The battle, dubbed Operation Praying Mantis by the U.S. side, was launched in retaliation for the 14 April mining of the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58). U.S. forces sank two Iranian warships and as many as six armed speedboats in the engagement. On July 3, 1988, 290 people were killed when an Iran AirAirbus A300 passenger jet was shot down over the strait by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes. There is still lingering controversy about the event, considered among the most controversial tragedies in aviation history. On January 10, 2007, the nuclear submarine USS Newport News, traveling submerged, struck M/V Mogamigawa, a 300,000-ton Japanese-flagged large oil tanker just south of the strait. (Wikipedia credit for links in this paragraph.) The tanker had suddenly slowed before impact, indicating the US submarine was attempting clandestine underwater passage in its prop wash. Hardly innocent transit.

Does legality matter in the Persian Gulf? Not yet, and Iran may have reason to feel contemptuous of the UN's impartiality. Ultimately, however, legality could become very important, and knowing how laws regarding coastal sovereignty are supposed to be handled calls the competing official versions out into clearer, less bullshit-clouded light. Coalition Vessel 73's claim that it was in international waters was intentionally idiotic and insulting. A US Navy spokesman said that the speedboats were "a heartbeat away" from being blown up two days ago, that may be so, and it's impossible to precisely assess what happened in this incident. In contrast, it is not at all difficult to assess that the routine passage of US warships through the straits is an act of war should Iran choose to define it as such, and is inherently dangerous. Iran's daily restraint indicates very high levels of patience and discipline on the part of its Navy and government, as well as on the part of the coalition warship crews. Otherwise, a far worse "clash" would have already occurred.