Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today remains Wednesday, 31 October 2007.

"Anything you can do ..."

Word, word up, comes to us this morning of the untimely death, yesterday, of Robert Goulet, at 73.

Some may scoff, but Goulet created the role of "Lancelot" in Camelot, and thee and me didn't.

And why those bastards cancelled the TV series Blue Light, well, that's why they be bastards.

As we say in the biz, "he had pipes".


Happy Halloween!

Today is Wednesday, 31 October 2007.

Over the years, many legends have attached themselves to HH, like barnacles.

HH says: perhaps, it’s just that, if one is in New York City politics long enough, all shit happens.

HH was not the CIA controller on the beach at the Bay of Pigs.

HH is not the Cigarette-Smoking Guy in the background of the Zapruder film of the Grassy Knoll in 1963. (He’s the one with the Swisher Sweet.)

HH has never been in Sarajevo, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Perhaps HH did a guest spot on The Bob Newheart Show, obsessing over why children didn’t enjoy his trick-or-treating gift of a plastic butter dish, custom-embossed “Happy Halloween kid Eliot Carlin Boo!”.

HH, neither confirming nor denying he was once a colonel in the French Foreign Legion, surely did not lead the French troops out of the fortress of Dienbenphu in 1954 while singing a classic Edith Piaf tune, but perhaps he played the piano:

However, were you on Avenue A, on the Lower East Side of Neu Yak Citee, on an hot August nite [first commenter to identify this rock ref gets recognition] in 1993, and thought you saw HH performing mouth-to-mouth and CPR, unsuccessfully, on a German shepherd who had apparently had a heart attack, while a mother and two children stood weeping by [unconscious Lennon ref], you would be correct.

And one more out of the Memory Bin:

One for the road:

Keep on:

And, for something really fright, Martha:

And Satie:

And how hobo Phil Ochs:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy As A Clam

Today is Monday, 29 October 2007.

The oldest known living animal is a clam found near Iceland, aged 405 to 410 years.


Unfortunately, this clam, alive since, say, 1600 CE, was killed in the process of "harvesting" and examination.

Obviously, this clam, during its life, did less harm than most so-called "civilized" human beings.

I'm reminded of the words of an American military gunman in South Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it".

Not that humanity always gets it wrong on the larger scales. There's always Edith Piaf (as with, e.g., La Vie En Rose):

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Of Long Memory

Today is Sunday, 28 October 2007.

On Wednesday, it seems almost certain that the lower house of the Spanish parliament will pass the “Law of Historical Memory”. Passage in the upper house is also virtually assured.

The law is a watershed because, for the first time, a Spanish government will legally condemn the 1936 coup and subsequent civil war by which the Spanish fascists, led by Francisco Franco, came to dictatorial power for almost 40 years, and the dictatorship itself. The law will reverse the verdicts of summary tribunals by which tens of thousands of Spaniards were condemned and subsequently assassinated by the fascists. (Relatives of the victims will then be able to have the verdicts set aside.) The law also mandates that local governments pay for recovery of remains from hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of mass graves.

Predictably, many of the Spanish right, nostalgic for the “good old days” of the Francoist police state, oppose the law. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Pamplona is typical when he advises victims of the dictatorship to “find ways to forget” because “you can’t change history”.

This is indecent sophistry. Of course, the dead will not be brought back to life. However, the Spanish dictatorship, as all instances of political gangsterism, must be condemned, whatever possible succor must be provided to the victims, and the perpetrators must be punished.

To do otherwise is to encourage such crimes to be committed again and again. One wistfully hopes to live to see the day when such activity of historical memory runs rampant across the planet, and in this country.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Love The Bomb

Today remains Monday, 22 October 2007.

22 October 1962, by happy coincidence, was also Monday.

Those of us born in 1952 were 10 years old.

On 22 October 1962, at 7 P.M. EDT, in a televised address, President John F. Kennedy announced that a naval blockade, a quarantine, had been placed around the island of Cuba, and that the US would be the sole judge of what cargoes could pass the line of quarantine.

Under international law, this is classified as an “act of war”.

But, of course, international law, as domestic law, is worth the paper upon which written: the actual enforcer is the underlying threat of violence.

A few years earlier, the US had placed missiles armed with nuclear bombs in Turkey, Italy, and the United Kingdom, within 15 minutes flight of impact on Moscow. The attempt of the USSR to place missiles in Cuba, with an impact flight of 15 minutes, was simply an attempt to even the odds.

As JFK and his minions knew. Grounds enough for them, to transport the world to the brink of global annihilation.

The invaluable source is The Kennedy Tapes: Inside The White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, edited by Ernest K. May and Philip D. Zelikow (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997).

Herewith, the smoking gun. The meeting on 16 October of the President’s crisis group.

RUSK [Secretary of State] Still, about why the Soviets are doing this, Mr. McCone [Director of Central Intelligence] suggested some weeks ago that one thing that Mr. Krushchev may have in mind is that he knows we have a substantial nuclear superiority, but he also knows that we don’t really live under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent that he has to live under ours. Also, we have nuclear weapons nearby, in Turkey and places like that. … And that Mr. McCone expresses the view that Krushchev may feel that it’s important for us to learn about living under medium-range missiles, and he’s doing that to sort of balance that political, psychological flank.

I cannot subscribe to the notion that the USA was on the side of the angels and the USSR was Satan. or the obverse.

Two evil empires.

The lesser of two evils is not The Good.

Here it is, auf Deutsch:

In English:

"Good night, and good luck."

Monday, October 22, 2007

More Immortals

Today is Monday, 22 October 2007.

On this date in 1962, during the "Cuban Missile Crisis", President John F. Kennedy declared a naval quarantine against Cuba, which, under international law, was the same as a declaration of war.

I had meant today's column to discuss same, but I'm still, as any member of the Congress can say, "extending and revising my remarks".

So let's groove on Phil Ochs, the late, the great troubador, and the ballad of the great labor organizer, Joe Hill:

Yes, all we have are hearts and songs to oppose "our betters" and their nukes:

And immortal Robert Johnson:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Immortals

Today is Saturday, 20 October 2007.

As my simmering fury continues regarding the Attorney General confirmation process farce, the "Cuban Missile Crisis", and today being the anniversary of the 1973 Nixon Saturday Night Massacre, how about for you, dear reader, two immortals, Chopin and Horowitz?

And dig those hands, even in old age.

Friday, October 19, 2007

W's Invisible Friend: 2

Today remains Friday, 19 October 2007.

An amplification of my remarks on the Unitary/Invisible Friend Theory of the Executive.

Some would argue that Unitary Theory should refer only to the notion (and I employ that term in the old Quaker sense, as a false idea) that the president is absolute and exclusive master in the Executive branch.

For example, UT advocates would argue that members of the boards of agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, which are authorized by statute, and unmentioned in the Constitution, should be appointed by the president without reference to the advice and consent of the Senate, and that their appointments should be terminable at the sole whim of the president. Thus, were the S.E.C. to investigate criminal activities by a publicly-traded company which had illegally contributed to the president’s campaign, and the president ordered the S.E.C. to cease its investigation, and the S.E.C. refused, the president could summarily fire its board and install minions who would grant his every desire.

An absurd example, some would object, could never happen. But there’s the rub with absolutes: if the president is entirely master in his own house, it follows inexorably that the president may commit acts which, while perhaps not in themselves criminal, have the direct effect of causing crime.

Some would argue that Unitary Theory does not include necessarily the notion of inherent or invisible presidential powers. I submit that it is obvious on the face of it that “exclusive” and “inherent”. The exclusive or Unitary Theory contends that there are no Constitutional constraints upon the Executive in the exercise of executive power.

This would mean that there is no check upon the Executive, and that Chief Justice John Marshall was an ass in Marbury v. Madison when he contended that only the Supreme Court could decide what the law is, and that in fact the law is what the Executive, backed by the full violence of its police and military powers, says it is. (I’m sure some of you were wondering why Marbury had not yet made an appearance.)

The only way to dispose of the quaint concept of more than two hundred years of checks and balances is by appealing to inherent, invisible, and imaginary powers unenumerated in the Constitution.

By necessity, “exclusive” and “inherent” are joined at the hip, go together like love and marriage, pork and beans, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

I should also mention that one of the most wicked consequences of the Unitary/Invisible Friend Theory is demonstrated in the case of Jose Padilla. The Bush-Cheney regime contends that the Executive has the inherent power to classify any American citizen as an illegal enemy combatant, arrest them, and detain them, without charge and by military force, for any length of time, including until death, without right of appeal to or any interference by civilian courts.

Dear reader, this means you, this means all of us.

In reply to a comment to my original remarks: I would support for Attorney General someone who has never offered any scrap of support for the pernicious Unitary/Invisible Friend Theory, who has actively opposed it, and who has actively opposed its foremost proponent, W. Bush.

W's Invisible Friend

Today is Friday, 19 October 2007.

Sorry for the absence. We enjoyed two days of glorious storms here, and as a result my joints were such as to preclude prolonged typing.

Before further reflections on the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, some thoughts provoked by the current confirmation hearings of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General.

There have always been Americans, really anti-Americans, who have lusted after a king or fuhrer to replace a Constitutional president who is the elected employee and servant of the Constitution and the American people. It is this faction which swooned when the disgraced Nixon claimed that there is “a secret reservoir of power within the Constitution”, such that “when the president does it, it means it’s not illegal”.

Josef Stalin couldn’t have put it better.

The intellectual distortions of the beliefs of the Founding Fathers which underpin this travesty, now known as the Unitary Theory of the Executive, began to take shape during the Reagan-Bush 1 regime, and achieved full poisonous flower in the early days of the Bush 2-Cheney regime. The essence of this theory is nicely encapsulated in an advisory opinion written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, promulgated on 25 September 2001.

Yoo claimed that “the President’s powers include inherent executive powers that are unenumerated in the Constitution”.*

Now, legal sophists such as Yoo claim to be “originalists”, creatures akin to biblical literalists. Originalists contend that the only permissible guide to interpreting the Constitution is the words of the Constitution itself, period. (Although they usually rush to quote, selectively and out of context, from The Federalist Papers in support of their distortions, thus putting the lie to their original claim.)

Obviously, the originalist position should then be that the President has only those powers, no more and no less, specifically enumerated in the words of the Constitution. Of course, they immediately violate their own principle by arguing that there are additional implied (i.e. “inherent”) powers hidden within the plain words of the Constitution, and that the President is the exclusive judge of the nature of those powers.

We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of the “invisible friends” invented by young children. “Mom and Dad, this is my invisible friend, Chester, and he says you must give me three desserts with every meal, every day”.

The proper name for the Unitary Theory of the Executive is thus the Invisible Friend Theory of the Executive. “Body politic, this is my invisible friend, Inherent Powers, and they say I have any powers I want”.

A fine summation of a second distortion of the Unitary Theory may be found in “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations”, a memo prepared for then-Attorney General Edwin Meese, and dated 30 April 1986.

The memo “rejected the mainstream view that the Constitution creates three separate institutions and then gives them overlapping authority over the government as a means of preventing the tyranny of concentrated power. Instead, the Founders cleanly divided the powers of government, assigning to each institution exclusive control of its own universe. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the April 30 report said. “But that is not jointly shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.””*

In other words, the Legislative may make any laws it wishes, the Executive may execute (or not execute) those laws in any way it wishes, and the Judicial has no say over the Executive. Obviously, this view is monarchical and dictatorial, not democratic.

Now, the Bush-Cheney regime has attempted to depict Attorney General-Designate Mukasey as a nonpartisan moderate. Nothing could be further from the truth, as is demonstrated by his testimony yesterday before the Senate.

“If by illegal [acts] you mean contrary to a statute, but within the authority of the president to defend the country, the president is not putting somebody above the law; the president is putting someone within the law.”

This statement is clearly based on the Unitary/Invisible Friends Theory, asserting as it does that any president may overrule any statute on the grounds of powers not explicitly granted by the Constitution, but contained in the president’s implied and hidden powers. It also relies on the view that the power of the president as commander in chief is unlimited, whereas the Constitution clearly designates the president as commander in chief of the military only, and not of the country.

If the president is commander in chief of the entire country, with unlimitable powers, he is effectively a military dictator, and there are no civilians: every citizen is merely a subject and a combatant, and thus fair game under the rules of war.

Mukasey’s weasel-worded answer to the question as to whether waterboarding is constitutional is also noteworthy. “I don’t know what’s involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional”.

The man has had a law degree since 1967, and yet he requires further study before he can even begin to venture an opinion on whether repeatedly drowning a person to a point just short of death is torture or not? This is not judicious caution: it is a zealot of presidential lawlessness thumbing his nose at the Constitution and the American people.

The Unitary/Invisible Friend Theory of the Executive amounts to the overthrow of the Constitution, and thus high treason. Bush, Cheney, and all their minions should be summarily removed from power and imprisoned.

[*These quotes are from the highly, nay, urgently recommended new book, Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy, by Charlie Savage (Little, Brown; 2007). The Yoo quote is found at page 122; the Meese memo at page 48.]

Reflections on the “Cuban Missile Crisis” will appear later today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming

Today is Tuesday, 16 October 2007.

It was Tuesday also on 16 October 1962, about this time, EST, 9.13am, when McGeorge Bundy (National Security Advisor) informed US President John F. Kennedy that the CIA had irrefutable proof that the USSR was installing nuclear-capable missiles in Cuba, and thus threatened the Eastern Seaboard (the real “Heartland” of America, in contrast to the pretentious, silly claims of e.g., Texas and Wyoming) with swift destruction, which many histrionic fools at the time labeled “a loaded gun at America’s head”.

In the mythology of the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis”, it is usually forgotten that America had already placed a similar loaded gun at the head of the USSR in 1959, when the Jupiter missiles were installed in Turkey.

In the propaganda of the time, as always, it was Good v. Evil, Us. v. Them. Regardless of on which side one was waiting for incineration.

“Our betters”, in the Brit phrase, didn’t kindly inform us of our impending extermination until Jack’s speech on 22 October.

The Museum of the Bourgeois is proud to present the first installment (and HH may update it more than once every day, since he's really hacked that these ... [your epithet here] ... almost began a nuclear war and exterminated hundreds of millions, not to mention the whole planet) of its first extended programme, a trip down a memory lane of the damned, those haunted days of 1962.

Don’t touch that dial.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yester-year.

Just to get you "In the Mood":

Monday, October 15, 2007

Today is Monday, 15 October 2007.

I have just had the melancholy privilege of reading the final book by the late David Halberstam of happy memory: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War (Hyperion, 2007).

(Blessed are those of us privileged to read his great book on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, as it came from the press.)

It is an excellent history of the military and political aspects of the war, infinitely enriched by many interviews with Americans who fought the war, by a master of the interview.

Read it, period.

Contempt for Douglas MacArthur is never far below my surface, and reading about a war in which he was, to incredibly tragic effect, a central figure, awakens the sleeping volcano of my anger. (A silly phrase, that, and wickedly chosen, since Dug Out Doug spoke, in Eisenhower’s phrase, “in purple splendor”, nice enough if one likes that sort of thing, but flat and empty on the page.)

MacArthur is a perfect example of a figure promoted far beyond their capabilities, but whose gifts of corrupt self-promotion make them difficult to remove.

Douglas MacArthur resembled in many ways his father, Arthur, a Civil War hero who rose to command American troops during the conquest of the Philippines, and was responsible for countless atrocities and the murders of tens of thousands of civilians. Both men were martinets, whose self-absorbed egos could never grasp why the entire world proved incapable of worshipping them as the greatest military geniuses of history.

It is a tribute to D. MacArthur’s for self-aggrandizement that he made his removal almost impossible even after making three of the worst blunders in American military history.

The first occurred at the beginning of the Pacific War in 1941, when the Filipino army (which Douglas commanded) was, even more than the American army, caught woefully unprepared. Given the financial exigencies of the Great Depression, it is quite possible funds would not have been appropriated for the Filipino army even if MacArthur had requested them. However, he didn’t even ask, convinced that “little yellow men” would never dare to challenge the great Douglas. Thus, even 9 hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he failed to mobilize for war, allowing the bulk of Filipino and American air forces in the Philippines to be pointlessly destroyed while parked on their airfields.

Given the sad state of his ground forces, there was probably no strategy by which MacArthur could have beaten the Imperial Japanese Army. Again, however, his ego led him to choose an approach which caused his forces to become bottled up on the Bataan Peninsula, and then isolated on Corregidor Island. (While on the latter, Douglas demanded, and received, a bonus from the Filipino treasury of $500,000, the equivalent of $10,000,000 today.)

Fearing the effect on American morale of MacArthur’s capture, FDR had him brought to safety in Australia.

(It is all-telling that, when MacArthur departed, he histrionically intoned, “I shall return”, not “We shall return”. The military, America, we are nothing: The General was All.)

After the Japanese surrender in 1945, MacArthur became the American viceroy. His main interest was in reconstituting Japanese industry and agriculture, and re-ordering its political system. He had scant interest in the American army of occupation, which swiftly fell into an abysmal state of unreadiness. Thus, when North Korean forces invaded South Korea in July 1950, and while MacArthur panicked and fell into deep depression, the undermanned and undersupplied American forces were swiftly driven into a small perimeter at Pusan. This failure even to be a good Boy Scout, and “be prepared”, was his second great blunder.

The Pusan Pocket was saved by the fact that Kim Il Sung, the North Korean dictator, had an ego as great and diseased as that of MacArthur. Kim allowed his inefficient supply lines to become disastrously overstretched, and failed to fortify the port of Inchon, allowing the Americans to land their forces there, in his rear, in September, provoking their retreat.

MacArthur now made his third great blunder. He should have sent his forces directly east across the narrow waist of the Korean Peninsula, thus trapping the bulk of the North Korean army and giving it the choice of surrender or destruction. Instead, he allowed many of them to escape while his forces rolled north, with the objective of conquering all of North Korea and unifying the entire peninsula under his own rule. Still enamored of his genius and racism, he knew the Chinese Communist army wouldn’t intervene, and, were they so stupid as to do so, he would crush them. He promised to have the first of the American troops “home by Christmas”. Instead, as his forces neared the Yalu River dividing China and Korea, the Chinese army delivered a devastating counterattack which chased the American forces back onto South Korean territory.

Again, MacArthur panicked, predicting the loss of all South Korea unless he was given a massive infusion of troops and permission to bomb China, with atomic weapons if necessary. Finally emboldened, Harry Truman replaced MacArthur as ground commander with Lieutenant General Matthew Ridgeway, one of the finest US combat commanders of European Theater, who stabilized the situation. MacArthur’s wounded ego now unleashed its full fury, and he repeatedly, even publicly and insubordinately, demanded the atomic bombing of China.

The last straw came when American intelligence intercepted messages from the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors in Tokyo to their respective fascist governments, wherein they reported that MacArthur had assured them he would arrange provocations which would, against the policies of his own government, lead to an American invasion of China and the use of atomic weapons. Truman fired Big Doug in April 1951.

MacArthur returned to the US amid a firestorm of hatred directed at Truman, who could not reveal the true reason for the dismissal, fearing the repercussions if other governments believed a prominent American general was scheming to start a world war on his own. (It would be years before the full extent of the General’s treachery and betrayal of his own country would become public.)

MacArthur tried to ride this wave of hatred into the Oval Office, but the more speeches he gave, the more he displayed himself as a pompous, out-of-touch relic, and he swiftly reduced himself to political irrelevance. He survived another 13 years, in a curious form of self-exile in a penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, marinating in self-delusion and bitterness.

It is instructive to note that MacArthur, during the entire time he was ground combat commander in Korea, spent not a single night on Korean soil. Instead, he always flew back to his palatial vice-regal mansion in Tokyo, always leaving Korea early, since he was afraid of flying in the dark. This, while American soldiers and Marines fought in summer-weight uniforms, in a winter where temperatures ranged from 0 degrees F. to -40.

Like Custer, MacArthur had come to see “his” [sic!] army as mere instruments of his personal glory. Unlike Custer, he cowered behind the lines, and, except for a few photo ops, refused to go anywhere near the front lines, where he (in his mind, undoubtedly “He”) might be harmed.

MacArthur was also guilty of continually directing his subordinates, or, more accurately, his Court, to falsify intelligence. (When some 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese soldiers had already entered Korea, MacArthur’s tame intelligence chief, the odious Willoughby, trumpeted a figure of 60,000 tops.)

And now, late in 2007, 4 and a half years into an accomplished mission, the majority of Americans look placidly on the carnage of Iraq, refusing to rise up and fire W. Bush and D. Cheney, the direct descendants of MacArthur, the contemporary masters of falsified intelligence, corrupt racism, and murderous ego.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Birthday GB

Today is Friday,12 October 2007.

Birthday of my friend GB.

Ralph Vaugh Williams:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Of Eleanor Roosevelt and "That Woman"

Today remains Thursday, 11 October 2007.

Blogger seems confused, having twice refused to accept my comments in the usual way, so I reply here to a comment on my column concerning Eleanor Roosevelt.

HH is not "picking on" Ms. Jenna Bush. The latter chose to become a public political figure when she campaigned for her father, a mass murderer conducting a criminal war of aggression and assassin of the Constitution.

As an ethical standard, "people have the right to choose how they live" is woefully inadequate. I suggest an amendment such as "so long as they don't harm others in doing so". It is the responsibility of all to judge when others are harming, and do that within our power to stop them.

Perhaps Ms. Jenna wrote the answer, perhaps she wrote the book. With such people, one can never be sure. (Jack Kennedy didn't write Profiles in Courage; W. Bush doesn't write the bulk of his speeches.) Ms. Jenna puts me in mind of what Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby: "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy --- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made ... "

As to the lamentable Ms. Spears: child abusers were often abused themselves; she is best left to the therapeutic professions.

If the recently engaged Ms. Jenna has children, one can only beg that she will have by then repented of the vile values of her parents and paternal grandparents, and so spare the next generation.

Goof of the Day: "That woman" or "that woman in The White House" is how reactionaries, back in the day, spoke of Eleanor Roosevelt, of whom they dared not speak her name.

And you knew the lagniappe was coming:

I would urge the maker of this otherwise fine video to remove the Noelle Bush reference. No child of Jeb or George should be ridiculed for escaping into use of heroin.

In Memory: Eleanor Roosevelt

Today is Thursday, 11 October 2007.


Eleanor Roosevelt, of blessed memory, "the First Lady of the World", in Harry Truman's happy phrase, was born on this date in 1884.

Eleanor Roosevelt died on 7 November 1962.


From Time magazine (10 Questions for Jenna Bush):

“If the war in Iraq is so noble, why aren't you and your sister serving our country there?”
--- Donald Pence, san francisco

“I understand that point, but there are many ways to serve our country, and I think my skills are better suited for teaching and representing the U.S. in Latin America through unicef. I respect the men and women of our country who are over there fighting. It is an unbelievably selfless thing to do. But if people really thought about it, they would know it's not even a practical question.”
--- Jenna Bush

Jenna, Jenna. All the dough-re-mi your folks spent on your fancy higher education and pickling, and this is the best you can do (or that you can approve, a lame answer your ghostwriters have done)?

Like Daddy, you must not have paid much attention to the study of History. If you had, you’d know that, throughout the vast majority of human history, the children of rulers are required, like the rulers themselves, to wield the sword.

But, of curse, you know that. What you meant to say is you don’t see any percentage in taking the chance of having your butt shot off, when lack of opportunity will drive plenty of poorer young folks, disproportionately not lily-Jenna-white, into the military with the lure of tuition for junior college.


Our cat companion is named "Eleanor Roosevelt".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quagmire in Afghanistan

Today is Wednesday, 10 October 2007.

On 7 October 2001, American and British forces began the invasion and conquest of Afghanistan. No more than in Iraq can an ending date for the war be reasonably projected. Given that both wars have been directed by criminally incompetent commanders at the highest level, this is hardly surprising.

The die had been cast long before 11 September 2001. Beginning in the late 1970s, neoconservatives had cast covetous eyes on Iraq. They believed that the overthrow of its Ba’athist dictatorship and its subsumation into the American imperial system (an easy task, to be sure, they said) would insure American hegemony over the Middle East and its oil for decades. This fantasy received formal codification in a 1998 open letter to President Bill Clinton from leaders of The Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative “think” tank (including disgraced and discredited former Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld).

11 September provided the pretext for the conquest of Iraq, as Rumsfeld himself made clear in National Security Council deliberations within hours of the attacks. The decision to conquer Iraq also made it certain that the U.S. military would become bogged down in Afghanistan.

The reason is that the neoconservatives, and particularly Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, had chosen a fatally flawed strategy for fighting ground wars. They believed that the demise of the Soviet threat had rendered obsolete strategies requiring large masses of infantry and armor. Their new strategy called for smaller troop deployments, supposedly “leaner and meaner”, whose main function would be to find and fix enemy units, which would then be decimated by airpower, leaving the infantry to mop up and collect candy and flowers from an indigenous population fawningly grateful for an accomplished mission.

This doctrine also meant that infantry would be supported by fewer tanks and less artillery, and would rely on mobility for protection, instead of on heavily-armored vehicles, as had been the case during the Cold War.

This meant that fewer infantry units were available for the war in Afghanistan, being held in reserve for the Iraq war. Thus, instead of deploying American infantry in the attempt to capture Osama bin Laden, American Special Forces were dispatched with large amounts of taxpayer cash with which to buy the “loyalty” of Afghan tribal mercenaries, who had previously been sympathetic to al-Qaeda. It is thus no surprise that bin Laden and many of his fighters were able to escape and remain at large.

The reliance on airpower, which is inherently less discriminatory between combatants and civilians, meant that any hopes of winning the hearts and minds of many Afghans would perish, like them, under American bombs. Also complicating the situation is the continuing American reliance on many of the same warlords who had so brutally and corruptly ruled over and ruined Afghanistan in the years between the departure of the Soviet military and the victory of the Taliban.

Also winning few friends is the American insistence on destroying the opium poppy industry. (Last year’s crop set another record level of production.) While the peoples of the Third World have abysmally low levels of access to morphine, the Bush-Cheney regime demands the eradication of the poppy fields, rather than their conversion to production for medical purposes.

While the Bush-Cheney regime continues to insist that victory is at hand, the signs read otherwise.

According to The Sunday Times (London), the British government has announced that the present UK forces (7,000) in Afghanistan will be rotated home in spring 2007, and replaced by 8,000 troops. This deployment will include additional Special Forces, as well as all four battalions (plus reservists) of the Parachute Regiment, the largest deployment of the latter since 1945. The Royal Air Force will send Tornado and Typhoon ground-attack squadrons to augment Harrier squadrons. An interdepartmental committee is preparing plans to hire additional mercenaries (“private security contractors”) to augment the over-tasked regular forces.

The only hope I can imagine for Afghanistan requires the same attempted solution I see for Iraq. These two wars of unilateral American conquest must be ended by placing Afghanistan and Iraq under international control. The motivation must not be American aggrandizement, but the welfare of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Otherwise, the wars and the suffering will continue indefinitely.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In Memory: John Lennon

Today is Tuesday, 9 October 2007.

The years I lived in New York City, whenever I was in the vicinity of 72nd Street and Central Park West, where is the Dakota, an elegant apartment building built from 1880 to 1884, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono once lived, and Yoko still, I paused in memory on the south side, where, on 8 December 1980, John Lennon was killed by a person not in possession of his right mind.

John Lennon was born on this date, 9 October 1940.

In Memory: Che Guevara

Today is Monday, 8 October 2007.

On this date in 1967, Ernesto “Che” Guevara was assassinated by the Bolivian military, under the supervision of a CIA mercenary. Che had been captured the previous day, while leading a small contingent of guerillas who hoped to spark a popular uprising against the Bolivian dictatorship.

There are those who hate Che, because the Cuban Revolution didn’t turn out perfect, and innocent people were undoubtedly harmed in its course. But at least he rebelled in hopes of justice and freedom, unlike the likes of Jefferson and Washington, who rebelled to channel a larger proportion of the profits of slavery into their own pockets.

Comandante Che Guevara: "Presente!"

Sunday, October 07, 2007

1: Vlad the Impaler

Today is Sunday, 7 October 2007.

Stay tuned: later today, musings on this 6th anniversary of the USA/UK attack on Afghanistan.

But your autuer, a long-time supporter of Soviet dissidents, says: Let’s start the day out right.

Soviet … oops! … Russian dictator Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (ex-KGB Soul-Mate of George W. Bush (“I looked into his eyes … I saw his soul”) and Butcher of Chechnya) was born on this date in 1952.

How better to wish V. V. Putin felicitations than to paraphrase what Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago, shouted at Senator (D, CT) Abraham A. Ribicoff, at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when Ribicoff nominated George McGovern for President, with the words, "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago", and Daley shouted, his microphone turned off, but his lips readable: “Fuck you, you [Daley said “Jew”, I say “Nazi”] motherfucker, fuck you”.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cradle 2 Grave

Today is Saturday, 6 October 2007.

I had planned on a day of columnar rest today, until a uniformed agent of the U.S. Government brought an envelope to my door this post-noon.

According to the enclosed letter: “ … That’s why the Gerber Life Burial Expense Plan is so important.”

According to the envelope, Gerber Life Insurance Company is “An affiliate of The Gerber Products Company”. According to the enclosed letter, Gerber Life Insurance Company is “A separate subsidiary of Gerber Products”. According to the return envelope, “Gerber Life was formed in 1967 and is an affiliate of the Gerber Products Company. We are proud to share in their long tradition of trust”.

Subsidiary or affiliate, that cute little Gerber Caucasian baby is featured on both the letter and the return envelope.

An entire new dimension to “Cradle to Grave”.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fryday Miscellany

Today is Friday, 5 October 2007.

I’ve begun reading Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnick (2000), and in the first few pages encountered this beauty: “We love Paris not out of “nostalgia” but because we love the look of light on things, as opposed to the look of light from things, the world reduced to images radiating from screens”.

The Republican Party styles itself as the party of small government and lower taxes, yet some 70% of the U.S. national debt of $9.1 trillion was incurred under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Running deficits and thus running up the debt is, of course, a transparently-sly approach to raising taxes, merely displacing the necessity of increased taxation to a future day. (I’m reminded of J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye cartoons: "I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today".)

It is with the rationalization of “fiscal responsibility” that W. Bush has vetoed an expansion of health care benefits to more American children. This from the fellow who has committed the American people to pay, over coming years, from $1-2 trillion for his failing conquest and annexation of Iraq. The man’s cruelty remains boundless.

At a Town Hall meeting in Pennsylvania on Wednesday past, Bush demonstrated that his fluency in the American language also remains boundless.

"You know, when you give a man more money in his pocket - in this case, a woman - more money in her pocket to expand a business, they build new buildings. And when somebody builds a new building, somebody has got to come and build the building. And when the building expanded, it prevented [sic] additional opportunities for people to work. Tax cuts matter.”

"My job is a decision-making job. And as a result, I make a lot of decisions.”

"I delegate to good people. I always tell Condi Rice, `I want to remind you, Madam Secretary, who has the Ph.D. and who was the C student. And I want to remind you who the adviser is and who the president is.'”

"I got a lot of Ph.D.-types and smart people around me who come into the Oval Office and say, `Mr. President, here's what's on my mind.' And I listen carefully to their advice. But having gathered the device [sic], I decide, you know, I say, `This is what we're going to do.' And it's `Yes, sir, Mr. President.' And then we get after it, implement policy."

"I'll be glad to answer some questions from you if you got any. If not, I can keep on blowing hot air until the time runs out."

Before the European invaders arrived, Manhattan was known as “Mannahatta”, or “land of many hills”. Read about an effort to re-construct what Mannahatta originally looked like, complete with computer-generated images, in The New Yorker:

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sputnik @ 50

Today is Thursday, 4 October 2007.

The 50th anniversary of the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, the first human-made artifact to orbit the Earth.

Sputnik was about the size of a basketball, employing the crude telemetry of its time (instrumentation could only measure atmospheric density). Sputnik’s most important function was to transmit a beeping tone back to Earth, supposedly illustrating the superiority of Soviet science and technology.

Hear the sound of Sputnik:

Of course, it wasn’t really much of a break-through moment. Once the relatively-paltry technical problems had been solved of building rockets capable of tossing thermonuclear bombs across the Atlantic and Pacific, orbiting a hunk of metal weighing 184 pounds was no great feat. The first American orbiter, Explorer-1, was launched 1 February 1958, and weighed 31 pounds.

Predictably, the American military-industrial complex sounded a ludicrous alarm: the Commies could lift a satellite 6 times heavier than the American! Of course, this actually reflected the inferiority of Soviet technology, whose less-sophisticated techniques always required greater mass to achieve equivalent or inferior results to the American. In point of fact, Explorer-1 carried a crucial piece of instrumentation, a Geiger counter, which provided the data which led to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts (highly charged particles – plasma – pinned in place by Earth’s magnetic field).

Sadly, predictably, the useful benefits of space travel (e.g., weather and communications satellites) were incidental to the true motivation: the militarization of space. The father of American rocketry, Werner von Braun, had learned his trade as a loyal acolyte to Adolf Hitler, directing creation of the V-2 rocket program at Peenemuende, where he employed tens of thousands of slave laborers from concentration camps, many of them perishing under the most brutal conditions. (In Mort Sahl’s immortal phrase: “Von Braun may aim for the stars, but he usually hits London”.)

In the 1950s, Von Braun lobbied fiercely for the construction of massive orbiting space stations, from which nuclear-tipped rockets could be fired to exterminate any location on Earth. (He hoped to achieve the uber alles he had failed to achieve for Nazism. Or as Tom Lehrer’s lyric put it: “Vonce it goes up, who cares vhere it comes down? Und I’m learning Chinese, says Werner Von Braun”.) Poor Werner: he had to settle for surface-to-surface intercontinental ballistic missiles.

(Incidentally, most of the people who thought they observed Sputnik crossing the night sky didn’t, as it was at best magnitude 6. What the vast majority saw was the third stage rocket booster, tumbling along in the wake of the satellite, and of magnitude 1. The first satellite visible to the naked eye was Echo-1, launched by the U.S. on 12 August 1960. It was a 100-foot in diameter balloon of metallized polymer, off which telephone, radio, and television signals were bounced and re-directed. Brighter than most stars, it was probably, during its almost 8-year life, seen by more humans, including your author, than any other human-made artifact in space.)

Your author remembers Sputnik well, and the great hopes for the next decade and a half, of a humane and humanly-useful expansion of humanity into space. It was not to be. Given the tragedy humanity has made of this planet, it is probably best that we are on the verge of so depleting Earth of many natural resources that we shall never colonize space.

(For more than 40 years, one of my favorite novels (particularly about the whole "space" issue) has been Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke (1955), philosophical musings disguised as a science fiction novel. The Talleyrand quote at the conclusion is worth the price of admission.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Blues for Woody

Today is Wednesday, 3 October 2007.

On this date in 1967, Woody Guthrie died of Huntington’s Chorea.

For once, I’ll just shut up and let Woody speak for himself: “America First” (about the America First movement and Charles Lindbergh’s fascist sympathies) and the heart-breakingly appropriate “So Long, Been Good to Know You”.


The 50th anniversary tomorrow of the launching of Sputnik into earth orbit will command the lion’s share of ink, but the first human-made object to enter outer space did so on this date in 1942.

The place was Peenemuende, Germany, and the object was a V-2/A-4 rocket, which achieved a height of 176 kilometers (109 miles). (Space begins at the Karman Line, or 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level, the height at which the earth’s atmosphere is so thin that neither fixed-wing nor rotary aircraft can function.)

It is sadly indicative of human history that this milestone was achieved during testing of a device meant to murder humans.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

In Memory: Charles Schulz

Today remains Tuesday, 2 October 2007.

I would be remiss if I did not honour the following.

The comic strip Peanuts, by Charles Schultz, debuted on this date in 1950.


Two kids, female and male, sit near edge of street. Charlie Brown, head ovoid rather than round, runs, approaching.

MALE: “Well! Here comes ol’ Charlie Brown"!


(Charlie Brown runs past in foreground.)

MALE: “Good ol’ Charlie Brown … yes, sir!”


(Charlie Brown having exited, Panel Right.)

MALE: “Good ol’ Charlie Brown … “


MALE: “How I hate him!”

Once Again, Failed Crusaders

Today is Tuesday, 2 October 2007.

Jerusalem was ruled by the Roman Empire, and then by its eastern half, the Byzantine Empire, from 6 BCE (Before the Common Era) to 614 CE (Common Era) (save for two short periods of revolt), when the city fell to the Persian Empire. Byzantium recovered it in 628 CE, then lost it again in 637 CE to the armies of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

In 1095 CE, Christian European armies, responding to a plea for assistance from the Byzantine emperor, invaded Palestine in the First Crusade. They captured Jerusalem in 1099 CE, and murdered nearly the entire population of the city.

On this date in 1187 CE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the armies of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. (The latter, known to most Europeans as Saladin, was a Kurd born in Tikrit, Iraq, later well-known as the hometown of Saddam Hussein.) European armies would not again control Jerusalem until it was conquered by the British army in 1917.

Most Europeans (and I include Euro-Americans) view the Crusades (which extended fruitlessly to 1291) in one of two ways. Many regard the Crusades as just and holy wars to reclaim the lands of Jesus from the demonic Muslim unbelievers. Others regard the Crusades as conventional wars of conquest and exploitation, carried out under the propaganda guise of the Christian religion.

My evaluation of the Crusades, and of all so-called “wars of religion”, is based on the venerable legal principle of cui bono, “who profits?” Do the spoils of victory wind up in the pockets of the warriors, or of the deity for whom they are allegedly fighting?

The answer is made clear by the indecent haste with which Godfrey (Lord of Bouillon and Duke of Lower Lorraine), one of the principal military commanders of the First Crusade, maneuvered to place himself and his heirs at the head of the newly-created Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Many Muslims regard the Bush-Cheney conquest and attempted neo-colonial annexation of Iraq to be the more-or-less modern equivalent of the Crusades. I agree. Then, the lust for conquest and exploitation was concealed under the veneer of religion. Now, the lust for conquest and exploitation is concealed under the veneer of “spreading freedom and democracy”.

The fundamental test for the sovereignty of a nation and a government is to posses an absolute monopoly of the legitimate use of force. Given that neither the USA/USE military nor its mercenaries (“private security contractors”) are subject to the orders of the Iraqi government or the jurisdiction of the Iraqi courts, the test is obviously failed.

The Maliki regime is a pseudo-government devoted to sectarian, not national, interests, temporarily collaborationist with the USA/USE military dictatorship.

The only course of action which stands even the slightest chance of persuading Iraqis that assistance has replaced exploitation as America’s motivation would be to immediately place all American military and mercenaries under the sole control of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Alas, it will be a frozen evening in Hell before Field Marshals Bush and Cheney surrender their fantasies to “bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus”, and so they will continue to write their wicked passions in torrents of blood of innocents.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Gimme Shelter! (2)

Today remains Monday, 1 October 2007.

One of my favorite novels of ideas is October the First Is Too Late, by the late Fred Hoyle, eminent British astronomer, which I first read in 1968, the year of publication. One could also pigeonhole it as “science” or “speculative” fiction, though, as he wrote, the science serves merely as “scaffolding” for traditional storytelling, and for discussions of “the significance of time” and of “the meaning of consciousness”.

Some kind soul has furnished the Internet with a PDF of Chapter 14, the most important. See

I am put in mind of issues raised by World Habitat Day.

Gimme Shelter! (1)

Today is Monday, 1 October 2007.

Today is World Habitat Day, designated by the United Nations to remind us that at least 1.6 billion human beings live without adequate shelter, disease- and contaminant-free water, or effective sanitation. That is 1 out of every 4 human beings.

This tragedy, of course, does not result from a lack of resources or imagination.

It results from the choices of the First World populations, and from the choices of the ruling elites in the developing and never-to-be-developed nations to endorse the choices of their First World brethren. The tragedy results from, for example, the choices that millions of Play Station contribute more to humanity than ensuring that no child dies of diarrhea caused by contaminated water supplies.

The tragedy results from the rejection of the ethical absolute that each must have the minimum necessary before anyone has the unnecessary.

Some will say, “Whining again”. But whining is a middle-aged Euro-American male complaining of the cost of a newly released golf club guaranteed to add ten yards to his game. Pointing out human suffering is not whining.

Some will take cover behind a saying attributed to Jesus: “The poor you will always have with you”. Others will claim that, “human nature” Being What It Is, drastic and murderous differentials in prosperity are The Natural Order of Things.

The inequities which have pervaded human society have resulted in an enormous social inertia which acts only to continually deepen the gap between haves and have-nots. The approach of nonviolent sustained incremental changes leading finally to a drastic reversal of selfish inhumanity for humane sharing has thus far not worked. The approach of violent compelling of people to be and do good has also thus far failed.

[Delightful: in the last sentence, my grammar check advises replacing “do good” with “do well”.]

“That mighty sculptor, Time”, may soon solve the problem for us: as resources dwindle and population becomes ever more unsustainable, nature may redress the balance by war, disease, and famine.

The quote in the final paragraph is the title of a book of essays by the great French writer Marguerite Yourcenar. I highly commend to the reader her novel, Memoirs of Hadrian.