Sunday, October 02, 2011

Rilke: Fall Day

Summer in Seattle has grown lackadaisical this past half decade, arriving late after a listless don't-plant-tomatoes Spring, then coming on fast, staying sunnier and hotter than the slugs can stand, then lingering long. It didn't really leave here until this weekend, and that distinctive change of seasons feeling I've long associated with football, and is closely tethered to the sensation of lying down in a muddy or even flooded field and stretching, has arrived like a linebacker diving into a blocking dummy. It's in the joints and the bones, in the muscles and the glands, and these call up consciousness. They call up thoughts of tangy cider made from frost-sweetened apples, and gallons that need to come home.

By assumptive agreement or ancient reflex, or possibly the marital telepathy couples can develop, Lord Wife and I invited friends over for dinner for last night, then went shopping for lamb. It was lichen-fed Icelandic lamb and I got a whole leg of it, something that doesn't happen every day or year. Fit for a Viking feast cooked slow with salt and fennel, served with wine plundered from the south of France. Rilke, master of his craft, wrote about the compelling feeling of seasons lost and impending, and the available translations into English in no way conveyed his power nor maintained his rhyme and cadence. So I gave it a go:

Lord: it is time. The summer's gone, you know.
Send shadows long over the sundials,
and loose thy winds across the meadows.

Let each fruit swell full on tree and vine
and send us yet two more southerly days
for urging consummation, to chase
the last sweet drops into heavy wines.

He who has no house now builds no better.
He who is alone will long stay so,
will sit, and watch, and write long letters,
and in the lanes will pace to and fro,
restless, as the dry leaves blow.

Friday, July 01, 2011

When Diplomacy Won't Work

There’s a turf war going on in my yard.
Dandelions are crowding out grasses
with their unauthorized settlements
of fat sprawling leaves. They've set
up dictatorships commanding
all subjects to wear yellow turbans.

I am determined on regime change,
having been influenced in favor
of green by pretty catalogs from seed growers
makers of fertilizers and weed killers.
But I am constrained from chemical warfare
by a higher authority--my wife--and her allies
the deer, who are neutral, nibbling equally
on both sides, and the salmon who swim
around in the saltchuck at the end of our street.

The dandelions have learned to keep
their heads down during mower assaults.
I've lowered the blade in retaliation
but the enemy counters by early ripening,
releasing brigades of midget paratroopers
to spread terrorist cells wherever they land.
Collateral damage body count averages
six slugs per skirmish but I say if the little
buggers can't get out of the way
they deserve what they get.

I have a plan.
I will raise the debt ceiling and mobilize
a children's army to dig up the dandelions,
a nickel a pop. It will be a holy war.
When the number of holes
exceeds the number of dandelions,
I will know I am winning.

In the end, I will win.
God is on my side.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Syria Is Going Up...

And I could go to the chalkboard and write out the geo-calculus, but choose to spare us both. If you think instability and region-wide wars in the Arabian Peninsula or maybe wars spanning the world are bad, then it's bad. Or, if you dislike seeing peaceful demonstrators dispersed with machine gun fire, it's bad that way too. Which is what's on this video, and why Syria shut down their internet to keep the official world from seeing its murderous badness.

I'm working on a post about how the collapse of the global financial system crafted 30-odd years ago is linked to food hyperinflation and the revolt of much of the world's non-rich. Also, Israel and the US are planning to strike Iran's nuclear facilities in July or August. No links, no sources, but the chalkboard has grown a bit full.

Syrian leadership may be forgiven for having a poor understanding of how digital media proliferates around their edicts, but they certainly understand corruption, and seem to know that CNN producers repackage their news from Google searches and have the attention spans of salt and vinegar potato chips. So this may or may not hit the MSM anytime soon.

The Assad Part Deux regime may have 6 months left, give or take, and the "How to Buy Some Time" section of their playbook is now being heavily scrutinized. Torture, machine-gun, placate, and then buy off? Or buy off, placate, re-machine-gun, and then flee? So many children to beat into informing on their parents, so little time. Fortunately, I don't care, because my masters in the Empire have finally given me this:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Schrodinger's Terrorist

In 1935, Edward Schrodinger conceived a thought experiment to point out the incompleteness of current quantum mechanics. If a live organism was put into a sealed box, and then the principles used to describe subatomic particles were applied to said organism, it would, probablistically speaking, be both alive and dead. You really can't tell until you open the box. For this symbolic paradox, Schrodinger chose a kitty.

The Obama Administration recently declared Osama bin Laden dead, offering mathematical proofs instead of opening the sealed box. For domestic political consumption, assuming a re-election is intended, this is an elegant solution. For military policy, it only has value if victory is declared and intent to pull out is demonstrated with fair rapidity. It surely gives admirable leverage to that end, yet if unused, the value turns vengefully negative.

A handful of Taliban just besieged a naval base in Karachi. They kept it up throughout the night, even destroying US drone aircraft, citing as their motivation the violation of Pakistan's sovereignty in whacking the Cat. With that attack, not to mention others, the cracks in the US-Pakistan alliance have riven into gaps. In the morning, Pakistan announced China is going to turn the commercial port of Gwadar (in Balochistan, 70 kilometers from the border with Iran) into a naval base as part of a "string of pearls" strategy to protect oil imports.

The US badly miscalculated its bin Laden mechanics. With no signals forthcoming as to a draw-down, Pakistan must actively seek allies with better chances of keeping its own domestic pressure cooker from turning into steam and shrapnel. Pakistan needs oil, it needs food, it needs to maintain balance of power versus India, and it will find them from less toxic and far more proximate benefactors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Regina Spektor: Blue Lips, Song and Lyrics

He stumbled into faith and thought,
"God, this is all there is?"
The pictures in his mind arose,
and began to breathe.
And all the gods and all the worlds
began colliding
on a backdrop of blue.

Blue lips, blue veins...

He took a step but then felt tired.
He said, "I'll rest a little while."
But when he tried to walk again,
he wasn't a child.
And all the people hurried fast,
Real fast, and no one ever smiled.

Blue lips, blue veins...
Blue, the color of our planet from far far away.

He stumbled into faith and thought,
"God, this is all there is?"
The pictures in his mind arose,
and began to breathe.
And no one saw, and no one heard.
They just followed the lead.
The pictures in his mind arose,
and began to breed.

They started out beneath the knowledge tree.
Then they chopped it down to make white picket fences,
and, marching along the railroad tracks,
they smile real wide for the camera lenses.
They made it past the enemy lines
just to become enslaved in the assembly lines.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Case-Schiller Housing Price Graph

We like our house and will never flip it unless a nice couple in Paris or Denmark wants to trade.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Battle of Chernobyl

Can't seem to write anything about the Fukushima disaster yet. This documentary tells the hair-raising story of Chernobyl.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homo Fukushimaensis

You can compartmentalize former lives successfully, balance them down into cool dormancies but the problem is you can't predict why or when they'll heat up which ones or what parts. You only know that they come back in waves and packets of eternal radiation rolling real and ghostly in your wakefulness and dreams.

Japan comes back with clarity. In my first airy hours there, I landed at Haneda, or Wing-Field, and was met by a young guide whose only mission was to get me to headquarters. It was o-hanami, when cherries pop out undeniably into pink blossoms, the Yeats in your heart burgeons on through your blood and only a pagan festival will do. Dawn was breaking too and the Tokyo-bound train passed through a steady succession of coastal rice paddies and hamlets. In its originating night, fog had settled down into a latticed matrix like lozenges of gallium arsenide between over-sized transistors, into flooded rice fields below dikes arraying off into hazy whites. My guide, who had probably woken up at 3 or 4AM local time to come retrieve her cargo, sat in silence, certainly, and what might possibly be described as aggrieved judgement. It was hard to tell. Everything was hard to tell. The Disorient Express.

Travel and you'll see how hemispheres and continents have their own ideas of trees. Even the grasses are different. The rocks, the weeds, the doorknobs. New sceneries, so plush, so manufactured, so old ran along my moistened window north and to my right. An acutely angled sun sidled up behind to jostle the sheltering fog, poking it first then stirring it up sprightly out of beds like pillows being fluffed and shifted one last time over sleepy heads. With my sleeve, I rubbed the grease patches my nose had left off the glass and asked the guide, "How do you say the word for the rice? What's in there? In Japanese?"

To insist on learning something in her language at that ungodly hour was typically inconsiderate. So gaijin, so outside-person. But there's no help for that. Some years later Kyoko would accuse, "you Americans, you always have to ask why." A half-minute later my companion said, "Ko-may. Go-han." By which she meant, "Rice...Food." Those little clicks and exhalations are loaded with a cultural power their translations can't approach. In that land they approximate a term more like "Staff of Life," but even that falls short. I spoke my first words in the language of the rising sun with the rehearsal of intended memory.

As a child, rice had been fair forced into my mouth from Rice-a-Roni boxes, and came with Chinese restaurant food for free. The Japanese, however, have a dissenting proverb: to grow one grain of it, a grandmother had to bend over in a shit-field for an hour. Live there, and you learn the monsoons come every June and reverse the weather's prevailing direction from easterly winds to west. The west wind's are insistent, and they carry, well, one hesitates to say rain. It's an airborne flood robust enough to drench every inch of you if you walk or ride a bike or motorcycle, warm water driven sideways up underneath your mackinaw, to run all icky down or up your neck and back, up your shins and into your ass crack, into your sneakers, your boots or spongy shoes. Most of these will mold up spectacularly, hairier with green than a neglected loaf of Wonder Bread if not well-rubbed with oil or soap on that evening.

The neon lights of Ginza would come sooner, and they made Manhattan's Times Square look antiquated and dirty, dingy and half-hearted. Ginza was 20 years more clever, clean and unyellowed, and its videotronic interweavings had cogently combined to form the world's biggest, most colorful bug zapper. It bathed me in hellacious beauty, stunned my eyes with variegations of ostentatious wealth and styles my pupils' backsides had never yet reflected, much less dwelt upon. Here was a city and a country cavorting in abnegations of a prior and now completely invisible defeat, working to overcome the insecurities of a small but proud island nation with no natural resources, dancing the steps to be richer than the West. Nuclear power made it possible.

There was someone named Karen on the long flight over. Despite being already engaged to a nice Mormon girl, I agreed to meet her under the Ginza clock tower, and did so in what had immediately become a whole different world. Walking hip to hip with someone whose job was simply to be herself, slower than normal while the throttle of one of the world's rarest and most unmuffled cars was blipped, I realized we were keeping pace with two teenage boys in a 1966 Iso Rivolta. Both were driving, after a fashion. 5, 10, 20 blips and they'd jerk forward 20 or 30 feet then come tautly to a halt. There were many others doing versions of likewise.

In a tortured, halting procession down the well-lit strip there came a brand-new chaffeured Rolls Royce, its tuxedoed passengers drinking from champagne glasses, there was a prim and pretty girl on display behind the wheel of a white Jaguar XK 12o wearing a matching angora sweater, there was a plethora of garden-variety Ferraris, Porsches all with their windows open in a circus of consumption with everything but jugglers on horses. There might've been horses there but we didn't notice. There was a lot going on, and but for the closeness of humanity it would've been cold out. It didn't seem cold. We were all of us floating on the deliciously flying fuck of it, blessed and knowing it, unleashed and transmogrified. I feel as privileged as those kids trying to cruise in the Rivolta. More privileged. We were energized, and some white horses would've been perfect.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

21st Century Intelligence Test

This is a multiple-choice word problem. Your government has announced the tap water in your local municipality (of 36 million people) has been poisoned due to a radiation leak at a nearby nuclear power plant. This level is unsafe for infants, and possibly other living organisms which are made from infants. Reporting about the plant has suddenly gotten very quiet. You should:

a) Go buy bottled water;

b) Wait for the Ministry of Denial to raise the safe limit to levels above current contamination;

c) Leave town now before the panic-driven wave of irradiated cannibalism and general mayhem begins.

d) BTFD (Trader acronym for "Buy the Fucking Dip")

Everything Is Under "Control"

So glad to know that everything is just fine at the Fukushima nuclear reactors, and that I was being a damned fool to go out and get things that block the uptake of radioactive iodine-131, bind with caesium-137 and -134, and to tally the beeps from my Geiger counter keychain. And the 130 gallons of drinking water, the portable garage, the Mac-10, the inflatable roadblock, etc? All unnecessary frivolities of a paranoiac.

So far, so good, just a few extra x-rays for the people in the Pacific Northwest, which the media tells me is actually *great* for your health! Such a relief to know that a bunch of fate-tempting dipshits in engineer suits aren't poisoning my children from halfway around the world, but that they're actually helping them!

I Was Wrong

There. I finally admitted it. When you're wrong, you're wrong. In the previous post, I said that NATO would invade Libya. That was completely ham-headed.

I should've said the United Nations would first pass a resolution to invade Libya, then demand that the Arabic world invade itself, then hand over operations to NATO after the Arabic world told the UN to fuck off. And I should've said that no one is going to have the foggiest notion about how to get 1.5 million barrels of light sweet crude flowing out of there again, and mentioned that Libya also sits on top of a huge fresh water aquifer. Thus the word "invade."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Big Picture: Oil Curtain Meets Domino Theory
We're off on the road to Morocco
This camel is tough on the spine
Where they're going, why we're going, how can we be sure?
I'll lay you 8 to 5 we'll meet Dorothy Lamour
Living under a rock and listening to swing music isn't a bad way to go. Get yourself some root beer, a tall glass and vanilla ice cream, drop in a couple scoops and let it fizz. Put on some WWII-era classics like Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train" or Jimmy McHugh's "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer." Garand-damn-teed, you'll start feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in no time. It's way more scientific than scientology, more meditative than meditation, and takes even less effort than Methodism. But sometimes a rock just isn't thick enough, or worse, is equipped with a wireless network.

Empires do not sensibly retreat or reduce expenditures, but follow a repeating, well-established pattern of symptoms:
"One symptom is widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay, with its many corollaries. The second is a growing religious fervor, church-state relationship, or crusading insistence. Next comes a rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a corollary downplaying of science. Fourth, we often find a considerable popular anticipation of a millenial time frame: an epochal battle, emergence of an antichrist, or belief in an imminent second coming or Armageddon. Last, these empires are prone to a hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach, often pursuing abstract international missions that the nation can no longer afford, economically or politically."

Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy
The West's inflatable, indispensable clown punching bag, Moammar Qaddafi, has fled from Libya. The largest tribes there, ones sitting on petroleum reserves which make their dust storm farm one of the world's 10 largest oil exporters, called for his departure. Said tribal chieftains also threatened to cut off oil exports to whoever was responsible machine-gunning protestors, by which they mean said West. From there it has devolved to civil war, and oil and gas exports from Libya have stopped. Germany, Italy, and China are sending warships. Add this to the 20 or so other South Vietnam-type US-funded regimes that are coming down, and I'm frantically searching the living room for back issues of People magazine. I'm hoping to find one from no later than 1996.

Regimes in Tunisia, Algiers, Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Iran are either toppled or teetered by waves of revolt ignited by skyrocketing food prices and no prospects. Bahrain, home of the US 5th Fleet, also looks like it's toast, and I've probably forgotten a few others like Oman. Food protests are now spreading across India and China. (Note: The Federal Reserve Bank is a primary cause of the rampant commodities inflation after a massive and continuing policy of money supply creation. The conversion of this money supply to things of actual value is known as Gresham's Law.) Saudi Arabia's sclerotic sheikhs won't last the summer, and the bin Laden family, the country's largest employer, is poised to serve as kingmaker.

In other news, Obama's State Department seems bumblingly oblivious, and it even continues to insist a CIA assassin caught red-handed in Pakistan should enjoy diplomatic immunity, effectively ending a crucial alliance over one thug's incarceration. Obama's minions appear to be consuming far more powerful anti-depressants than root beer floats, and they grasp neither the simplest repeats in pattern of outcomes, nor the enormity of their scale. This President has instead chosen to frame the collapse of dictators hand-picked by the US, skillful enforcers who have provided decades of brutal stability and oil exports, as healthy "democratic reform." This must be a lot like watching a man being torn to death by pit bulls and hearing him repeat, "I really love dogs! I really love dogs!" Yes, maybe the earth is just going through one big fit of democracy right now. Maybe the new Mid-East governments will only put up a few Twitter feeds and Facebook group pages while we continue to pump out all their remaining oil.

As Vincent commented on the earlier Oil Curtain piece, the Muslim Brotherhood seems well positioned to take over in Egypt and elsewhere. The structures of the current host nations for these mutinies simply don't favor near-term reform by any democratic process, and the global economic system is now rapidly destabilizing. Whereas the Koran was conceived as a road map for social justice, stability, equity, and charity, the precise improvements desired by the protestors. What is more likely to win: parliamentary democracy, or shared authoritarian tradition? While the Muslim Brotherhood isn't driving the bus yet, they and the chimerical "al Qaeda" can position themselves near the steering wheel and ready themselves to provide governing bodies with practical reach, or what I call waste management services. Whoever can keep the streets clear of garbage in these countries will end up running them, and the mosques are already organized by neighborhood. At minimum, religious thought leaders will have powerful seats at the bargaining tables, ones not well disposed to US, UK, or NATO interests as currently configured.

Whatever political spots you choose to sport, I think we can agree that Domino Theory, when applied to the cradle of crude, sounds expensive. My spots are known, and if a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to hear it, I may ask, "What did the state of Israel have against that tree?" But the problems in these forests and deserts are far bigger than Israel, and even I can't pin 2010's 70+% increase in the price of wheat on one hyper-paranoid enterprise in deviousness. In fact, purely from a stress level perspective, i
t's a great time to not be an Israeli. (When asked a couple weeks ago what effect the revolts in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt are having on the collective psyche of America's land-based aircraft carrier in the Mid-East, Hassaf, the considerate former citizen of Jerusalem replied immediately, "Hysterical fear.") The UK, and later the US, went to extraordinary pains to arrange Israel and the Mid-East just the way it was circa November 2010. That arrangement is gone.

Sucking vanilla ice cream and root beer up a straw to the tunes of Glenn Miller means you choose not to experience hysterical fear. But it doesn't stop you from pondering the effects of your fellow citizens paying $5 per gallon gasoline this year. That roughly equates to oil at $150/bbl. Every 1 penny increase in the price of gasoline means 1 billion consumer dollars is removed from the US economy. $5 gasoline means a gross domestic product reduced in the neighborhood of 10-15%. At the micro level, many people already have to make choices between getting to work or eating well, or between eating and freezing. At the macro level, $5 gasoline is the sword of hyperinflation and the shield of demand destruction beating each other to smithereens. $5 gasoline may not even be possible, as $125 per barrel oil might take out the whole global economy before that happens. Like it did in 2008. One way or the other, oil is going to be a lot harder to get out of the Mid-East, and I'm frantically searching my living room for copies of People Magazine, hoping to find some from no later than 1996.

Empires don't reduce and they don't retreat borne on reason's wings. Empires collapse. Don Quixote was written by Cervantes many years after the effective fall of the Spanish Empire, one that was based on the most bloodthirsty forms of gold extraction, silver collection, and which was increasingly subject to the dictates of a religion completely disconnected from all semblance of sensible statecraft. In other words, it was just like this one. But at least the Alzheimer's-riddled old Don had some windmills to tilt at. The United States now devotes 54% of its annual budget to paying for current and previous wars. Offer this empire solutions, offer it alternatives, and it declines. It doesn't believe in windmills, it thinks they're only for wooden clog-wearing wusses. It doesn't want solar panels, rather the internal revenue service gives businesses tax breaks for using oil and gas. The empire's government is going to shut down this next month, its credit rating should have been cut in 2008, and public workers are beginning to strike across its states. Federal, state, and municipal debt are at a higher level than when they were singing "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me) at the end of 1945.

NATO is going to invade Libya unless someone kills its punching bag clown over the next few days. Once again, that sounds expensive. So here's a rhetorical question, and a serious one, meaning I don't know the answer: what do you think it would take for the US to give up control over Saudi Arabia's oil?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

China Shifting Orientation

Pun intended, and this is important. If you've been watching, the overall impression you get is of a ship listing over because it's turning as fast as it can. There's a frenzy of activity observable above deck, you can see the proverbial fire drill, and hopefully it will hold together for a few more months. China's ship of state is clearly preparing for a heavy impact and is out of fiscal policy maneuver room. Their huge dam of saved foreign exchange dollars is flooding even more quickly into world equities and commodities. I expect its government to announce a currency liberalization soon, now that it's inflating anyway.

China's money supply increased 53% over last 2 years.

"The latest numbers show inflation is soaring out of control in China. The CPI is up 4.9% year-over-year, up from 4.6% in December. The PPI clocked in at 6.6% compared with 5.9% last month."

Producer price inflation index crests 6% in China.

China's inflation statistics clouded by data reporting changes

China a net seller of US Treasury holdings for second straight month.

Must be a coincidence, Mr. Treasury Secretary.

The world's largest gold producer, China, imports as much gold in January 2011 as the first six months of 2010.

China crude oil imports up 27% in January

The appetite for gold and diesel, physical delivery thereof, has hit the insatiable button. The entrepreneurial elites have either direct or familial memories of the Cultural Revolution, and fear something like it may happen again.

Cotton prices up by 44% so far in January and February of 2011; Chinese textile makers cornering supply, amid 95% cotton price increase since September 2010.

China hoarding grain in response to drought and global supply squeeze, imports running 9x higher than 2010.

Yes, that wheat import number is really 9 times higher. The current drought may have wiped out a third or so of their winter wheat crop, as well as Russia's. Cotton prices have so far averaged up by 1% per day this year.

China hoarding food staples, world food prices continue to rise

They're hoarding corn, wheat and rice supplies. Adverse weather across the globe has already hit grain production, and futures contracts are now on steroids. They like not starving, and they vote (with dollars).

Chinese passenger car sales plunge 10.3% in January.

Automakers who dreamed of selling tens of millions of cars there probably never traveled much in the lesser cities where they play Whack-a-Scooter. General Motors did sell more cars there in 2010 than in the US, but the government has rolled back its previous tax incentives on passenger vehicles.

China-based hackers knock Canadian government agencies offline.

This Digital Journal article does not sensationalize the attack, and explains why it may not be government a.k.a. signals intelligence hackers as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation accused. However, I've been seeing a definite increase in the number and target values of similar attacks, which have recently included successful server hacks on the Pentagon, utilities, and oil exploration companies. Militarily, even simple Denial of Service is an ideal asymmetric weapons, being cheap and effective if well-timed.

China's power output growth slowed dramatically in the latter half of 2010.

The chart from this article is above the title, comparing claimed yearly quarter-on-quarter GDP growth against power demand. In the 4th quarter of 2010, power consumption was only 5.5% higher compared with 2009, a time of relative contraction, while claimed GDP growth remained at a 9.8% growth rate. In other words, the low Q4 demand for power and the overall downward trend makes the growth claim implausible. The power side of this chart looks very much like a double-dip recession. The relaxed power consumption figures would seem to indicate a global structural recession, if not depression or systemic failure. If these power figures are valid it means foreign marketing and design companies cut back on orders to their lowest-cost manufacturer of widgets on the planet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Behind the Oil Curtain: Why Egypt is America's Poland
For one so long prepared, and still possessing courage,
as must be so in a prince granted such an estimable city,
steadfastly grip a port-hole now and force yourself to listen,
forswearing any plaintive or coward-wrought entreaties.
Dwell instead on these reveries, dwell on their sweet choruses,
dwell on dazzling tunes borne aloft by strange and fantastic processions.
Dwell mightily, and give proper farewells to the Alexandria you're losing.
It was in center of the shipyards in old Danzig where the Soviet Union first felt its Warsaw Pact herniate. A young trouble-making electrician from Chalin came to work there in the late 1960s and founded the USSR's first and only trade union. The emergent union promptly struck in 1970, just after the government decreed an increase in food prices; their strike was put down in the traditional Soviet manner and 30 of its members were killed.

Suppressing the shipyard union then became the secret police's top priority. Despite a standard arsenal of techniques, they failed to quell Solidarity's membership or expunge its widely circulated underground weekly newsletter. When the next food-price hikes occurred in 1980, the shipyard's strike rippled across Poland, inspiring the government to officially recognize Solidarity and cave to their demands. Moreso, the government soon fell, martial law was declared, and interim rule passed to General Jaruzelski. I and others sent the Poles bars of soap, that being their most common aid request. Lech Walesa, Solidarity's founder, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. He later became Poland's president following its first free elections in 1990.

The regimes in remaining Warsaw Pact nations either experienced revolts or simply sued for divorce, collapsing the Soviet Union. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan is widely perceived as a primary catalyst of disintegration, but consistently wasteful, inflexible, inequitable and incompetent policies that generated determined internal resistance may well have had much stronger influenced on the demise's timing. Determined internal resistance is hereby mentally noted, as illustrated in the pic above the title.

Egypt's narrative arc may differ from Poland in aspects. Its ongoing revolt can genuinely be argued to spring from generational, technological, ideological, demographic and unemployment angles; but Egypt revolted because of high wheat prices, not the existence of Twitter. It's the same desperate anger that began to blaze under the keystone of Russia's Cold War strategy against the West, Poland, and heat and gravity pulled down the Warsaw Pact like dominoes. They were the Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Rumanians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Estonians, Albanians, and Cossacks who were second- or third-class subjects of the Kremlin, or even its designated enemies. This same exact process of too much heat and gravity on populations, on peoples denuded by predatory centrally planned regimes, who are now contemplating even grimmer futures than they became accustomed to, and whose leaders have long answered to foreign powers giving less than a toilet flush about them, is now resounding throughout Egypt and the rest of the countries shrouded behind the Oil Curtain.
Hopefully world history will not remember this time very well, as that will mean it didn't devolve into a major war.

The Oil Curtain. That phrase has been ringing in my head for awhile, soon after Obama inhabited the White House, and it became immediately clear his main goal was not to "change the culture in Washington" but to simply keep the plates spinning and the vomitoreum going. Obviously I'm drawing a comparison between the Soviet Union and the United States some readers or family members may not be comfortable with. Unfortunately, the analogy fits all too well, and it won't take very long to fit even better. In a Part II I'd like to discuss why the US is not likely to intervene directly in Egypt, but will feel forced to nearby.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Crude Awakenings

A natural gas pipeline to Israel blew up Saturday in Egypt. This would appear to support a possible Oil Shock scenario I floated in my last post, Why Israel May Abandon Zionism. A follow-up post on that theme could also be titled, "Why It Might Not Do Any Good."

Port workers who keep the Suez Canal running went on strike today:

"Suez Canal Company workers from the cities of Suez, Port Said, and Ismailia began an open-ended sit in today. Disruptions to shipping movements, as well as disasterous econmic losses, are expected if the strike continues. Over 6000 protesters have agreed that they will not go home today once their shift is over and will continue their in front of the company's headquarters until their demands are met. They are protesting against poor wages and deteriorating health and working conditions.

In a bout of synchronicity or purposeful timing, Wikileaks published 4 memos today quoting Sadad al-Husseini, a Saudi oil exec, as stating their reserves in the ground have been overstated by 40%, or 300 billion barrels. He began making these disclosures in 2007. The US Embassy in Riyadh acknowledged the validity of Husseini's statements in a later cable:

"Our mission now questions how much the Saudis can now substantively influence the crude markets over the long term. Clearly they can drive prices up, but we question whether they any longer have the power to drive prices down for a prolonged period."

This is no surprise here at the world headquarters of Adored by Hordes. Back during the oil shocks of the 1970s, the oil export limits of oil-producing member nations were based upon their stated reserves, thus providing powerful incentive to inflate said reserves in order to bank more dollars during the embargoes. The reserve estimates were never subsequently written down by any OPEC member country, and have been treated as state secrets ever since.

Which is why I've assumed Iran's regime has continued to pursue nuclear energy production despite knowing that Israel or the US would bomb whatever plants they build. To Israel, an Iran with a nuclear power plant is equal to an Iran turning Tel Aviv into fluffy black powder. The Iranian regime sees the pressure readings coming back from their fields, and tailors the cloaks and daggers of their diplomacy with available materiel. Almost all of Iran's revenues come from oil sales, yet they rescinded gasoline subsidies 3 weeks ago in a time of rising prices and a context of unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan. Its oil exports seem to have been shrinking by 10-12% per year since 2007.

Finally, a regiment or so of Marines are presently being dispatched to Egypt. US warships are already near the Suez Canal. Since the families of high-ranking Marines only got notice of upcoming foreign deployment on Sunday, the grunts will have to be airlifted onto their ships. The stated mission: get US citizens out. Kind of a tall order while parked in the Suez Canal, ey?

In terms of global trade, the Suez Canal is disruptive, but fairly minor. Next stop? The Straits of Hormuz, where @20% of the world's oil sails through, and it's not too hard to predict that Israel be sorely tempted to seize some big fat oil tankers. Sorry for skipping over last Wednesday's informative meeting with Hassaf the Informative Dissident, but things have been hopping around here.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Why Israel May Abandon Zionism
"We will not be silenced! Whether you're a Christian, whether you're a Muslim, whether you're an atheist, you will demand your goddamn rights, and we will have our rights, one way or the other! We will never be silenced!"
Cairo Protester, January 25th, 2011
Last Wednesday Lord Wife and I went to meet an Israeli dissident for an evening. His name is Hassaf and we know him from our kids' co-op school. The school's annual auction was our reason for being there, having bid on and won "Understanding the Palestine-Israel Conflict." Because a couple of other co-op school parents were there, both of whom had traveled across the region in their youth, in addition to two local peace-active scholars, the main focus of dialogue was the region's history of conflict following Israel's formation.

Hassaf is a deeply thoughtful, fair-minded, and forthcoming man who decided to leave his country rather than run afoul of the Shin Bet (the secret police), so I did my best to shut up and learn something while the others questioned and commented. I failed the first objective and said far more than I intended, but it was hard not to succeed on the second, since Hassaf is the perfect perch on which to have one's thoughts provoked.
The elephant in the room, the current tsunami of pan-Arabic civil and economic unrest, waited patiently in the wings, its trunk peeking out occasionally.

Obviously what's going on in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and soon to be Syria and Saudi Arabia is huge from Israel's perspective, because it spells d-o-o-m. (Note: a handy Barometer of Badness for the tsunami's strength is the price of oil, which has already crested $100/bbl.) To me, of course, what's happening is expected. The equation is child's play. You take Western client states with decades of stability achieved through brutal repression, a strong and largely homogeneous religion, a young unemployed demographic, then you add rampant inflation in food commodities and top it off with a wheat crop failure in Russia. Take away bread and sugar and this is what you get. Really, what else could you expect?

What's not child's play is the immediate and long-term effects on Israel, aka "US interests in the region." That's what I was brooding on last Wednesday night. It's had time to percolate and its coming out right now despite it being in the middle of my workday, perhaps because we'll be meeting with Hassaf again this Wednesday night. A lot of commentary or causation could be laid out here. But there's no time so here's the deal. Every single day that Mubarak, Egypt's military dictator for the past 30 years, stays on is bad for everybody. Every day he stays, support for the Muslim Brotherhood swells.

Mubarak must be convinced to step down at once, with safe haven assured for his family and the metric tons of gold they got out last week. The longer he attempts to stay, the higher anti-Israel sentiment of succeeding governments will be, as well as its cohesion and duration across them as a group. It's already too late, but fast action in Egypt and ginger diplomacy with the replacement(s) would ameliorate the effects of a possible, and probably a likely, near-term oil shock. Two words nobody in our media is mentioning: Oil Shock. The Happy Chatter I've heard most out of the twittering heads is about democracy breaking out in the Mid-East. Democracy in the Mid-East? Give me a fucking break! Democracy in the Mid-East is about as useful as a refrigerator of ping-pong balls. Nitroglycerin-filled ping-pong balls.

[ed. note: Some very smart analysts see voting democracies as a positive way forward. Whereas I see them as quick paths to majority rule by Islamists. My opinion is formed by having seen my own government taken over by religious radicals, ones who still effectively set its policies, and by having been a young eyewitness to the formation of their plans.]

The Obama Administration is, unfortunately, too locked into its own foreign policy ass and damage control processes to accomplish anything like fast, effective action. Therefore, Israel will find itself in a truly interesting position: having aggressively settled the hell out of Palestine and boxed its bothersome inhabitants into a tiny fraction of the available land mass, generating pan-Arabic enmity, it can now turn around and make concessions, very soothing concessions. Such as would provide the next Western client state successors, such as probably El Baradei in Egypt and the bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia with quick victories and credibility. This means stabbing its own Zionists from the front, and from the back or the side will do just as well. If it can stab them down, Israel can reestablish a semblance of stability.

I see that opening, at least, and will allow myself a wallow or two in my own optimism, even for at least one more sentence. Implementing concessions may not deflect all the existential problems coming for Israel, not least its own neuroses and habits, but giving up its Zionist political strategy (adopted in order to generate immigration) buys more time. More time is a good thing, right? (Wow. That wallow felt really nice.) One must admittedly recognize the solution verges on the politically insufferable, and if so that's too damned bad. Again, the equation is pretty easy here. Over time, a reunified pan-Arabia defeats Israel via mere copulation, and there are already just too many Arabs to kill. The biogenetic weapons Israel has tried to come up with, ones which could selectively attack only Arab populations and spare Jews, haven't materialized. Trouble is, Arabs are every bit as Semitic as ancestral Jews, much moreso than European Jews, having all come from father Abraham.

Pacifying the anger is now a far more fruitful course, since the opposite tack manifestly failed as of Sunday, January 30th, 2011. Now, as a gloomer and doomer, it would be remiss of me to not repeat that it's probably too late. Many things have changed, human nature isn't among them. Peoples do change when they've exhausted other options. Well they're exhausted, baby, and leadership's inattention to and denial of bad fundamentals on the ground went on far too long. It's out of control now and no known countervailing force exists which can contain the Mid-East's grievances. Except maybe, just maybe making a half million or so hostile, entitled, crazy-ass-racist religious radicals move out of settlements built with US foreign aid. Oh and until that happens, as an aside, anyone reading this would be well advised to go buy at least 50 gallons of gasoline...and browse Craigslist for a moped.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Truths, Realties, and Double Santa Claus Theories

My son, previously dubbed Lord Running Boy (LRB), is now a 6-year old first grader. His teacher asked to speak with Lord Wife and me after school about his behavior one day this past week, an oft-recurring theme this year, and she started off like this:
"Well...there's an incident I need to bring to your attention, and the timing might not be, kind of another shock for you. It's hard to, well, I'm not sure what your belief systems are at home, but..."
Our attention? "Another shock" and "belief systems" along with Mrs. L's ginger, reluctant tone shoved us onto the parental Def-Con 4 footing, a place from whence the mind rushes to worst-case scenarios. Did he start a fight? Is a window broken, or a taboo? Did he tell his classmates America is running out of gasoline and their parents are going to starve? (Some of our household commentary, lacking context, might be embroidered by an eavesdropping child.) I was thinking property damage could be involved, resigned myself to his suspension or a lawsuit and hoped one wouldn't last too long or the other cost too much.

His teacher, a professional and compassionate woman with young children of her own, explained that our boy disrupted the class by suddenly climbing up onto his group desk and proclaiming to a room chock-full of 26 kindergartners and first graders, 
"Everybody! I have an important announcement...Santa Claus is not real. Santa Claus is your mom and your dad!"
As she described it, a pregnant pause was followed by one child's plaintive denial and went from there on to general uproar. We could easily picture frowns of doubt and consternation rippling across the room, little faces shooting red, pairs of fists starting to clench. She said one boy's body tensed so rigidly for so long she was afraid he would pass out. There was crying and staring blankly into space. In response to these defenses, our son maintained his position and emphasized it: "No. Research has been done. There is evidence. Santa Claus is DEAD!" 

About this time, Mrs. L switched into damage control mode, casting LRB's conspiracy theories into doubt by parsing, as the philosopher Kierkegaard might call it, her monstrous paradox through a public school's handy diversity filters and addressing her charges: 
"Class, LRB may think Santa isn't real, but every family believes differently, and what's most important is what your own family believes."
Order was eventually restored by moral relativism and insinuating our son is a crackpot, so have a merry Wiccan/Kundalini/Bacchus Chanukah. Peace out, and fair enough. But she went on to tell us that later in the library, by the aquatic-themed books, two girls she sees as class leaders apparently berated LRB for his outburst. While she didn't hear what was said, after it was said he retreated to cry inconsolably behind a further bookshelf. I had been wondering whether to come clean with her or not, and here was my cue. It wasn't about our belief systems, or our mostly futile attempts to raise something more than a Wanting Machine brainwashed by commercials for labor-arbitraged plastic toys screwed over transistors. No, we had done our level best to preserve the Santa mythos, and he figured it out all on his own.

The previous night I'd read him a bedtime story, "A Grumpy Santa Claus." After we finished, he leveled his gaze at me and said with an air of gravity, "Uhh, know I know that Santa's fake, right?" I did know, and had observed his first seeds of doubt and the detective case he opened last Christmas with a rhetorical question: "I can't understand it. Why would Santa forget my Star Wars Lego ship after Grandma wrote it down on the letter?" (Answer: both Lord Wife and I have small businesses and families, with the obligations they entail. By the time we got to Toys R Us, they were sold out.) From there he soon progressed to time-honored logistical doubts. How, after all, is it possible to visit every house, fit down a chimney, or gain access to the disadvantaged families who live in locked condos and apartment buildings? Santa's sleigh must be rocket-powered, reindeer could never fly fast enough. And what are elves, anyway? They look more like dwarves than magic people, and not very productive ones.

I confirmed his assertion, but coolly asked how came to such a radical conclusion. As if addressing a simpleton he said, "Dad, I saw you and Mom wrapping presents on Christmas Eve." Sometimes a Teaching Moment is subtle, and sometimes it beats you on the head like a five-pound salami. I explained that while Santa isn't "real," it's not that simple, either. First, a long time ago in Amsterdam there was a real man named Santa Claus who became famous for giving presents and candy to children, especially to poor children, and who really wore a red coat. Next, his idea, of giving gifts to kids on Christmas, especially to those who were poor and good, was so powerful people wanted to keep it going. So he remains real in a sense, and taking on the role of Santa is fun. Lord Running Boy sought final clarification: "Yeah, but he died, right?" 

Some teacher. What I should have told him is truth is volatile, corrosive, people fight over it and it's a lot like nitroglycerin which when mixed carefully with sawdust stabilizes into dynamite so you can nestle lethal carrots of it under where you want to blow something up and activate it with blasting caps. It can be the most beautiful light-bringing thing or be treated as a terrible crime all at the same time. I should have said it's best to practice with small amounts first, use long fuses and take good cover because reality is a currency we must necessarily agree upon every day, and don't tell this to your class tomorrow because everybody has agreed there should be a Santa and children must believe in him until, as Mrs. L informed us, they're in 3rd grade. When truth disagrees with reality and you choose to set them close together you'll get burned by your own blast and you might even die. Furthermore, feudal aristocracies successfully convinced people the earth was flat for a thousand years, when even the Bible clearly said it's round. So think hard about that one if you're going up against Santa.
Despite his emotional injuries and those he inflicted on his classmates, we don't know that it's not for the best. At least he may have learned early what we learned much later, although to be honest we're proud of this son's ability to pursue and can take being known as the parents of the boy who ruined Christmas in easy stride. The principle I wish to delve more into for myself, and to somehow get all my sons thinking about too, is how simply seeing the truth is the easy part. The bigger trump to be pursued lies in the clever art of conflict resolution, of applying just the right myrrh-scented balm to human wounds and desires.

The next night I sent him back with a message for his classmates, that Santa is still real in some ways, and you get more presents from your parents if you believe in him. We all know how there are lies that draw smiles and truths which draw tears. He imparted the message, and I'm not sure what the right thing was to do, but he had a good day and maybe he's on his way to learning how to skillfully manipulate the credulousness of his classmates without taking too much advantage of them.

Would Martin Luther King Love Him Some Warz?

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Saw this story and was enraged enough to post it. The general counsel for the Department of Defense, Jeh Johnson, speaking at today's Pentagon commemoration of Dr. King, seized the opportunity to enlist his posthumous support (courtesy of Salon):
“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack,” he said.

Johnson goes on to argue that American soldiers play the role of the Biblical Good Samaritan cited by King because they "have made the conscious decision to travel a dangerous road and personally stop and administer aid to those who want peace, freedom and a better place in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in defense of the American people."
Given that Dr. King privately deplored war, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and publicly gave a speech themed "My Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam" at Manhattan's Riverside Church in 1967, the Pentagon lawyer might just have his tranquilizer dosages set to Bobsled Run.

In that forthright 1967 speech, Dr. King factually defined the United States as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," and defied it for dropping "thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8000 miles from its shores." Some statements he made from that pulpit may well have gotten himself marked for assassination; either way, at a distance of 43 years it rings like prophecy:
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
He went on to call for an immediate cease fire and full US withdrawal from Vietnam. As for Jeh Johnson, David Dayen of FDL put up the full transcript of his remarks, in which he recalls graduating from Morehouse College, getting chummy with MLK III, and traversing the mazes of overt and veiled racism on his way to career success. And, hopefully, not yet all the way to spiritual death.

Dr. King's techniques for persistent and pressing yet non-violent change were but a subset of his far more liberating message, one deeply embedded with a solid understanding of gospel principles. We would do well to review and keep those principles, which easily transcend any creed, uppermost in our minds as we face the challenges of building the church of Earth. In the meantime, give unto the Pentagon that which is the Pentagon's.