Monday, May 31, 2010

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It's been a busy few weeks.

Israel is supposedly threatening to park a submarine off the coast of Iran, a submarine (German-made - how's THAT for irony?) capable of launching covert intelligence missions or lofting a nuclear-tipped cruise missile into downtown Tehran.

Now, Israel will never confirm or deny it has a nuclear arsenal, an assertion that raises knowing grins and winks. Iran, for its part, is saying that any naughtiness in its front yard will be dealt with forcefully. Stay tuned. Things will get nuts.

Meanwhile, six ships were sent out in an attempt to run the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip. These ships were attacked by the Israeli Navy, and there are reports that ten people died. The Israelis deplore the loss of life, but insist that the dead brought it on themselves.

China didn't condemn North Korea for its actions in sinking a South Korean warship, but that's not too surprising. Not because China likes what North Korea's doing - China's trying to portray itself as a responsible superpower, but the DPRK keeps acting like a child in the throes of the Terrible Twos.


If Beijing condemns the DPRK, there's the possibility that it could tip Little Kim over the edge. And Pyongyang is already making a lot of warlike noises - discontinuing joint efforts, abrogating the agreement designed to limit maritime clashes and so on. It decreed that the 1953 Armistice was void last year or so, so keep your eyes on that.

Which leads me to Afghanistan.

The Graveyard of Empires has many groups of troublemakers causing grief for the US and NATO troops who are trying to help the country by dropping bombs on it and then flooding it with money and goodies. We've been bombing Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds and camps in Cambodia - er, Pakistan - and now the head general and chief poobah over there, General McChrystal, is saying that the Taliban are training in Iran.


This makes about as much sense as an earlier assertion made by the United States that the Shiite Iranians were training and supplying the Sunni Iraqis who were bombing the bejesus out of us. I didn't buy it then, and I ain't buying it now, Fancy Pants.

So there you have it. Three very warm spots, all poised to get a lot warmer.

Interesting times.

Memorial Day, 2010

A taste of Af

City sand has its own taste
Not the country’s dust,
But darker.
It’s stronger – bitter parts
Under infantry foot.
Under 500 years going and coming.
Kipling’s finest up and over –
Through the pass,
Through the places where soldiers stood
In stolid white snow.
Cemeteries in the pass where Alexander’s own
Fell on the square rocks.
Paved with smoothed over river rock,
This open grave – white, bare.

Kabul sand polishes everyone’s edges.
Tajiks sharp on the cusp
And Northern Alliance coming down
Hard in the fray.
They all want each other’s throats.
Their wives lost in the fight –
Save for pointed heels and
Gold bangled over fine red henna.

Eastern sand and southern sand,
Pakistan sand crooked as broken teeth,
Herati sand pure and rising to the top.
Nothing mixes and there is no space in between.
If God loved this place he doesn’t now.
If He breathed in the brass bullet casings
And the diesel air and spiteful prayers.
A place for lust and dirty children
And the things night can hide.

What things grown men can hide-
In the dark corners of their own children’s rooms.
In the big shadows of a capital with no master and no disciple.
No scope for all things to come together
The sand and the dust and the dirt that makes things grow-
When it is left alone.

But we’ve put our fingers in it
And the stirring and stamping won’t leave
Much for the growing.
Dust bowls and cyclone air will take the rest.
Every village is filled with it now –
Dust from our bombs and inside our APCs.
Dirt scrubbed from our rifle actions
And ground into our sweaty palms like Mississippi silt.

And still nothing grows.
I’ve taken a knee in seventeen villages –
On street corners and broken down roundabouts,
On highways and in shattered homes.
On helo pads and plywood chapel steps,
On the backs of dead men-
And screaming vile women.

They will, all of them, bend or break –
It is either them or me.
It’s either winning or losing
And putting in its place
What does not belong,
Sand of a different taste and hue
That cannot tell me it is sorry.

Rob Densmore, 2009


1,000 Americans have paid the ultimate price in The Graveyard of Empires.

How long, O Lord, How long?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Two Parties, or Twenty?

I hear a lot lately about the failure of the two-party system in the United States, and I want to make a couple of points.

Remember Ross Perot, back in the late Eighties and early Nineties? Everyone thought he was the bee's knees and was a fantastic and fresh alternative to his Democratic and Republican rivals. But when push came to shove and when faced with the actual ballot, most of the voters went with either of the two main party candidates. Perot didn't get much of the popular vote.

We see the same pattern developing with the Tea Party supporters - while they're shouting about destroying "politics as usual," opinion polling has indicated that they're more like to vote the straight Republican Party ticket rather than look elsewhere.

I paid a great deal of attention to the British election last week, where no party won a clear majority in the House of Commons. The winner of the popular vote, the Conservatives, had to make concessions and strike a deal with the third-place Liberal Democrats in order to gain enough seats to form a stable government. Had incumbent Prime Minister Brown tried to form such a coalition, he would have had to forge a coalition with three or four minor parties that had won ten or fewer seats.

One of the main differences between the British party system and ours, I think, is that each of the major parties here have factions and wings within them that the British have set up as separate parties. Anti-immigrant? There's a faction for that in the Republican Party. Environmentalist? There's a seat for you in the Democratic Party, and so on.

An opinion I read once about the American political system was that it wasn't perfect, but it was ten times better than the next best system. Which should tell you a lot about the imperfectibility of human nature.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Oh, sweet mother of mine,
It's only for you I pine!
I'll try to get bail
And I'll drive up to jail
And I'll spring that sweet mother of mine!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Today's Lesson - the First Bank Bailout

From Caesar and Christ, by William Durant (Simon and Schuster, 1944, pp. 331-332):

The famous "panic" of A.D. 33 illustrates the development and complex interdependence of banks and commerce in the Empire. Augustus had coined and spent money lavishly, on the theory that its increased circulation, low interest rates, and rising prices would stimulate business. They did; but as the process could not go on forever, a reaction set in as early as 10 B.C., when this flush minting ceased. Tiberius rebounded to the opposite theory - that the most economical economy is best. He severely limited the governmental expenditures, sharply restricted new issues of currency, and hoarded 2,700,000,000 sesterces in the Treasury. The resulting dearth of circulating medium was made worse by the drain of money eastward in exchange for luxuries. Prices fell, interest rates rose, creditors foreclosed on debtors, debtors sued usurers, and moneylending almost ceased. The Senate tried to check the export of capital by requiring a high percentage of every senator's fortune to be invested in Italian land; senators thereupon called in loans and foreclosed mortgages to raise cash, and the crisis rose. When the senator Publius Spinther notified the bank of Balbus and Ollius that he must withdraw 30,000,000 sesterces to comply with the new law, the firm announced its bankruptcy. At the same time the failure of an Alexandrian firm, Seuthes and Son - due to their loss of three ships laden with costly spices - and the collapse of the great dyeing concern of Malchus at Tyre, led to rumors that the Roman banking house of Maximus and Vibo would be broken by their extensive loans to these firms. When its depositors began a "run" on this bank it shut its doors, and later on that day a larger bank, of the Brothers Pettius, also suspended payment. Almost simultaneously came news that great banking establishments had failed in Lyons, Carthage, Corinth and Byzantium. One after another the banks of Rome closed. Money could be borrowed only at rates far above the legal limit. Tiberius finally met the crisis by suspending the land-investment act and distributing 100,000,000 sesterces to the banks, to be lent without interest for three years on the security of realty. Private lenders were thereby constrained to lower their interest rates, money came out of hiding, and confidence slowly returned.*

*Footnotes: Tacitus, Annals, vi, 16-17; Suetonius, "Tiberius," 48; Davis, Influence of Wealth, I. Renan, in Lectures on the Influence of Rome on Christianity, 25, and The Apostles, 170, compares Tiberius' relief measures to the Credit Foncier of France in 1852; and Haskell compares the situation with the "easy money" period in the United States, 1923-9, the crisis of 1929, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (The New Deal in Old Rome, 183, 188).

The UK Elections

Back on Thursday night, a major circus took place in the United Kingdom, as millions of people went to the polls. I took the advantage of the Internet and C-SPAN to watch the returns:

Actually it wasn't at all like that.

The outcome of the election, marred as it was by hundreds being turned away from polling stations when they closed at 10 PM, resulted in a clear win for the Conservative Party in the actual vote. However, the actual vote translates to seats in the 650-member House of Commons, and the winning majority was 326 seats.

The Conservatives could only muster 305 seats, and now the bidding war starts.

Prime Minister Brown, stubbornly clinging to his post, is reportedly trying to assemble a "coalition of losers" comprising his own Labour Party (which only got about 27% of the vote), the Liberal Democrats (the third-largest party with about 57 seats) and a collection of the smaller single-digit parties. By the English Constitution, as incumbent PM Brown gets first crack at trying to set up a workable majority government.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, made an open and public bid for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to ally with the Tories, which would create a rather interesting coalition. Either way, there would probably be another general election probably later this year.

The back room deals and talks that are going on remind me a lot of the BBC / Masterpiece Theater production House of Cards, featuring the late and great Ian Richardson as the deliciously evil Sir Francis Urquhart:

A Moment of Pure Revelation

There are times when even I experience a moment of pure revelation, a moment that opens my eyes and whispers in my ears that everything I knew about a certain subject was Wrong. They aren't very often, but all the more profound for that.

Here is one of those times.

The staff of the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran was taken hostage and held for 444 days, not being released until the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in January 1981. The continued hostage situation was a major contributing factor in the defeat of the incumbent Carter Administration. These facts are not in dispute.

Which makes this report (hat tip to Crooks and Liars) a revelatory moment. It was bruited about that the Reagan Campaign had met representatives of the Iranian Government before the election and arranged to delay or even scotch the Carter Administration's negotiations over the hostages. Now, twelve years later a Congressional investigation failed to find any evidence of this.

Enter the Russians.

Two days before the Congressional committee released its findings a confidential report was sent to Washington by People's Deputy N. Kuznetsov. In the report it was revealed that Reagan's people (including Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense) had met with Iranian representatives in Madrid and Paris. The basis of the agreement was that, in exchange for the hostages, the US would supply Iran with parts and expertise to maintain its air force as well as giving Iran weapons through intermediaries such as Israel (which handled things through third parties).

Which shows that Reagan achieved his electoral victory on the basis of a deception, if not outright treachery. It really shouldn't surprise me based on the later Iran-Contra Scandal, but there it is.

So I get to rewrite my internal memory files.

And it takes a moment of revelation to do that.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Obligatory Friday Sex Post

Despite its public persona as a state riven with Tea Partiers, meth labs, crotchety retirees and full-blown Know-Nothing antichoicers, Birthers, and kooks, Florida is actually quite a progressive state. We have a welcoming attitude toward all sorts of immigrants such as piranhas, Siamese walking catfish, Australian Melaleuca trees, kudzu, boa constrictors and pythons, for example.

We also have theme parks for people who want their exposure to culture emptied, steamed, whipped into a fondue, garnished with lark's vomit and spoon-fed to them.

Yes, Florida is a fairly nice place, and we place great stock in personal freedom. Which to some people, apparently, means the God-given right to have sex with animals.


Yes, indeed. Appalled by stories about people doing Da Nasty with dogs and goats, state legislators have attempted in the past to put a law on the books making this kind of activity a crime. You see, bestiality is not a crime in Florida - it's usually covered under "cruelty to animals" (although no one bothers to ask the goat).

So a law was put forward by State Senator Nan Rich, a Democrat, and it enjoyed widespread backing from both sides of the aisle in both houses.

You can guess what happened next.

You're right - the law failed to pass.

Now, to be fair, this had nothing at all to do with some GOP legislator standing up to defend the time-honored rural rite of passage known as stump-training. It had to do with two factors: The 'ick' factor which prevented it from being spoken of openly (children are allowed to view sessions of the Legislature in order to see professional-grade lying and malfeasance in action), and the fact that the law got buried in an omnibus agriculture bill.

But wait a moment, you say. That bill could have passed, right? Yeah, it could have, except that it showed up in one version of the bill, not in another, and somewhere between the two the entire matter died as the Florida House let the clock run out without taking up the agriculture bill, which killed the law for another year.

Florida - where it's unlawful for gays to adopt children, but where a man can become a professional goat-shagger.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Stupidity: A Rant

Of all the things that are guaranteed to stuff lint up my nose, nothing works faster than stupidity. I shall illustrate my point.

It seems that the police were within a downy pubic hair of losing Faisal Shahzad after he attempted to blow up a Nissan Pathfinder in the middle of Times Square a few days ago. Why? Seems that the FBI put him on the 'no-fly' list a few minutes after Shahzad boarded the plane that he hoped would take him to Dubai. Now, had the plane taken off, it could have been recalled, or the Air Force could have been sent to divert the plane and bring it back.

But the fact of the matter remains that someone could have moved faster - like putting the news out on the TSA's Twitter page, which could have saved a few minutes.

But they caught him, you say, and Shahzad was stupid in that the attempt was so amateurish. Right, says I, and it's a tribute to good old-fashioned police work. However, now we see the squealing of the Pussies and Whores - "We shouldn't have read him his Miranda rights!" "We should strip him of his citizenship!"

I heard this stupidity from Senators John McCain (R-Arizonastan) and Joe Lieberman (I-Couldcareless). Well, boys, hate to burst your bubbles, but Shahzad is an American Citizen, with all the rights that American Citizens have, and therefore (pace Jose Padilla) has all the rights enumerated under Federal law for American citizens. If you agree that a Muslim terrorist forfeits all legal protections by his actions, will you agree if the alleged terrorist is Christian? how about Jewish? Or does the stupidity and hypocrisy extend only to people with brown skins and funny names?

Moving along, NYC Mayor Blooomberg suggests that the government make it harder for suspected terrorists to buy guns. Makes sense, right? Wrong, according to Senators Susan Collins (R-Maplesyrupstan) and Lindsey Graham (R-Closet). Perish the thought that the government should make it, you know, difficult for anyone to exercise their Second Amendment right to have more guns than the 82nd Airborne.

Think about this a second - we want to strip all civil rights away from a suspected terrorist, but we don't want to restrict their opportunity to buy firearms. Stupid, right? And it's rather telling that McCain wants to strip Shahzad's rights away from him, while Glenn Fucking Beck is defending the decision to Mirandize the guy.

Moving along, the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon rig has given the lie to the assertion that drilling is actually quite trouble-free. This hasn't stopped the "Drill, Baby, Drill!" crowd from regrouping and doubling down on the idea (started by William (Wrong About EVERYTHING) Kristol) and now Sara Palin's gotten into the act. Her assertion? We should do more offshore drilling, but let American companies do it rather than unwashed foreigners like British Petroleum.

Never mind the fact that the company that was working on the rig at the time was headquartered in the United States, while BP leases the site and owns the actual rig.

What packs lint up your nose today?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

No Surprise At All

Yep, this is Florida State Senator Mike Bennett (District 21-Bradenton), looking at porn on his Government-Issued Laptop Computer during the recent 'special' session of the Legislature up in Tallahassee.

He's a Republican, of course.

The best part of this is the voiceover, as Bennett surfs porn and other stupidity as the person speaking talks about how a piece of legislation disrespects the women of Florida.

Yes, people of Florida.

THIS is what our Elected Representatives were doing when they were supposed to be governing.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

March of the Scumbags - Sine Die at Last!

Well, the "special" legislative session in Tallahassee has ended, not with a bang but with a whimper.

Charlie Crist vetoed the "Let's Screw the Teachers" bill that would have erased tenure and put teachers' salaries at the mercy of the TV-addled kids whose parents are too wrapped up in Glenn Beck reruns to help educate them properly, and managed to whip together a $70 billion dollar budget that really just kicks the can down the road a few more miles.

However, the GOP majority in the State House did manage one last tawdry parting shot - a vicious, disgusting little amendment to a health care bill that is now on Crist's desk. The amendment requires all women seeking an abortion to have an invasive ultrasound (where the ultrasound probe is actually inserted into the vagina) and to have a woman seeking an abortion provide written testimony that the child is the product of rape, etc. before getting approval for the procedure.

In a way, this travesty is just a retread of the same draconian bill that was recently passed in Oklahoma. Good job, Florida GOP - you're managing to equate yourselves with the unlettered idiots who let Oral Roberts live among them for so many years. When he died the very ground breathed a sigh of relief in Tulsa.

Just to remind you assholes - Abortion is LEGAL in the United States and has been for about 37 YEARS now. It's the law of the godsdamned land.

The Republican Party spent the entire Reagan Administration and afterward squealing like piggies about "Getting Big Government Out Of Peoples' Lives."

Yeah, but they have no qualms about ramming Big Government up into a woman's uterus.

But I can understand them, in a sad and twisted way - the current conservative won't admit it, but they want women to go back to the "Good Old Days" when they were the property of their menfolk and chiefly charged with supplying acres and acres of babies to the factories and the military. The GOP has no care whatever for a child after it's born, but they get the vapors at the merest idea that a woman can make a free and informed choice about her own body.

The Legislature adjourned last night. Thank Cthulhu, Kali and Moloch for that.

May 1, 2010

Today is May the First!

Happy May Day!

Blessed Beltane!

Long live the social revolution! (I'm just tossing that in to give people conniptions.)