Passing anecdotes and thoughts on politics, history, lit, sports or whatever...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Total War

How quickly the world changes, generally for the worst. I am quite shocked by Israel's latest excessive antics, manifesting itself in hyperbolic rhetoric and disproportionate agressive actions. Hamas kidnaps an Israeli soldier in Gaza a few weeks ago; undoubtedly, this is to arrange a prisoner swap. Israel, in an attempt to seize the soldier, has bombed a power station that was owned by the USA incidentally. They have also killed over 80 Palestinians as they have run frequent bombing sorties into Gaza. Today, Palestinians blew a hole in the wall seperating Egypt from Gaza: when a resident of Gaza is that desperate to get away, you know it is bad. I don't think everyday life is entirely that pleasant in the Strip.
Actually I mispoke, the whole was blown open to let Palestinians back into Gaza...

This excesive response really references the techniques of former fascist regimes that the Jews are quite acquanted with: the Nazis. If a prisoner escaped from Sachenhausen or Auschwitz, the gendarmes would often kill 10-50 prisoners as a reprisal. This lets you know that your people are going to suffer for your actions. I am not trying to equate kidnapping a young soldier to escaping from a prison camp, rather the similarity in punishing other innocents in reprisal for the actions of unrelated individuals. This technique to dissuade will only lead to further escalations of violence. What do the Palestinians really have to lose at this point?

While watching the film Munich recently, I had a thought about the development of Israel. I have recently moved away from the usual poorly thought out left wing stance automatically condemning Israel as evil without thinking about the nuances of the conflict, or attempting to empathize with their experience and situation in the world. I recently read Amos Oz's book "A Tale of Love and Darkness." One begins to understand the real struggle that the Jews experienced in finding a safe place to exist. There were the massacres on the Pale settlements in Galicia during WW1. There were vicious massacres in the Ukraine in 1919. Moreover, the usual virulent anti-semitism that pervaded the cultural climate of fin-de-siecle Europe symbolized by the Dreyfus Affair in France. Jews were migrating to Palestine throughout the early 20th century. The Germans were more than happy they were leaving, but still felt the need to air radio broadcasts to the arabs which incited violent reprisals from Palestinians. Palestinians revolted about the growing number of Jewish refugees and many were killed by the British protecting the Jews. Following WW2, there was much rhetoric by the Palestinians about another genocide and a desire to fire up the ovens again. Well, this is just a little bit insensitive considering the events that just took place right?

1948, Israel declares independence, kicking off the conflict that will dominate the post-war world: the arabs vs. Israel. Egypt, TransJordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq attack Israel and Israel triumphs at the cost of 6,000 casualties. I believe that this constant state of attack that Israel endured created a Holocaust mentality that informs domestic and foreign policy. Israel needs to come to an understanding that they aren't in survival mode anymore. They cannot strike with such force because a total of 3 people have been kidnapped. They need to show some restraint and diplomatic finesse before they start bombing airports and engaging in the belligerent operations in civillian areas. Yes Haifa was hit, the damage was minimal. After 9/11 the USA even managed to show some restraint; we didnt start carpet bombing Kabul the next morning.

Some other interesting developments:

Israel is claiming that the missles that crashed into Haifa were made in Iran. The subtext is that Israel is trying to find a reason to hit Iran. Also, they fear that Hez and Hamas are transferring their prisoners to Iran. So what if the missles were made in Iran... Does this mean that Lebanon should be able to hit the USA as Israeli missles that crashed down on their airport were American made? Can the Turkish Kurds bomb the USA as the Turks use American helicopters to annhilate their villages?

Watching CNN last night, I heard an anchor (filling in for Anderson Cooper) say that one of the real tragedies is that the people of Haifa no longer feel safe nor know what is coming. I dont know when the last time a denizen of the Gaza Strip felt safe...

Bush has declined to intervene in a cease fire and "refuses to pressure Israel to cease." He has "promised that he will urge Israel to limit damage." Uhhh when did he plan to do that, when there are done levelling Beirut? He is concerned about the stability of the Lebanon goverment. How ethical of GW.

I am not trying to deny the suffering of Israeli citizens at all; nor do i think that the government there necessarily represents their country anymore then our government represents anyone I know. Israel has a much larger capacity to inflict conventional war wounds and needs to give diplomacy a chance. I know they are trying to geographically move Hez off their northern flank, but the people that live in Northern Israel and Southern Lebanon are the ones that will pay.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Syd Barret

I see that I have been chastized for not writing on my blog enough. Well, my lame excuse is that work was a bit frantic for awhile... I am rededicating myself!

I am really sad to see that Syd Barret passed away a few days ago. Here is a story at the BBC:

Syd Barret was one of the most influential and brilliant musicians to emerge in the 1960's. He started Pink Floyd while in art school in 1965: they were the offspring of his original unsuccessful project the Abdabs. Most of the quality music he wrote came within a 6 month period. Although he completely lost his mind by 1968, he managed to record some brilliant instrumental and pop works. At first his lyrics have a sing-song melodic appeal, but always with an unsettling undercurrent:

Jugband Blues - It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm much obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here.
And I never knew the moon could be so big
And I never knew the moon could be so blue
And I'm grateful that you threw away my old shoes
And brought me here instead dressed in red
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song.
I don't care if the sun don't shine
And I don't care if nothing is mine
And I don't care if I'm nervous with you
I'll do my loving in the winter.
And the sea isn't green
And I love the Queen
And what exactly is a dream
And what exactly is a joke.

The catatonic, meditative guitar sequences punctuate all of his pop and instrumental pieces. He develops a stacato- violent improvisational strain, that fades in an out of white noise, in the long intstrumental "Interstellar Overdrive." "Astronomy Domine" is similar in theme, featuring an ominous and expansive instrumental break. Barret broods the wistfully melancholic Joyce poem, "Golden Hair," capturing an elusive moment as it passes.

He is also the subject of many tales the must border on urban myth. One describes how he is questioned on live television, but does not answer. He begins to slowly lunge toward the camera in silence with a blank look on his face until the network cuts to another piece. Another story emerges that states: he poured out a jar of Mandrax, smashed the pills into tiny pieces and mixed the crumbs in with a jar of Brylcreem. He then poured the bizarre concoction onto his head and walked on stage. As he was playing, the pill-paste started to melt under the heat of the stage-lighting and dribbled down from his scalp so that it looked like his face was melting. He would refuse to get off the tour bus, only to come up on stage and stare into space, playing the same chord over and over again. Unfortunately, I have also read that he would hit his girlfriend as he inched closer to madness.

In the end, he lived an anonymous life in Cambridge; I believe that he lived with his mother for quite sometime. It is sad to see him go.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tax Cuts

I hope you are all as enthused as I am about Bush's new tax cuts. While you would think that, as a good Christian, Bush is very concerned about struggling families with no health care surviving on Wallmart wages; he is not. Instead, Bush seems preoccupied with the top earners in America:

The bill, which was passed yesterday by the House and is expected to clear the Senate as early as today, has two main provisions. The first, and dearest to the hearts of President Bush and his allies in Congress, is an extension of the temporary low tax rates on investment income. The top 10 percent of income earners will get almost all of the benefits, and everyone else will get crumbs.

We all know how these upper income families struggle to get their children new BMW's and to pay outlandish tuition fees at Stanford. Perhaps this is just one benefit of Bush's tax cut preoccupation. Conservatives have been trying to dismantle the New Deal government of FDR since Reagan. By reducing the income of the federal government, they are left with no choice but to slash government programs. They would not touch the defense budget, even though it accounts for 50% of our budget. This conservative philosophy is known as "Starve the Beast." Amazingly, Wikipedia actually has an entry:

Starve-the-beast or choke-the-beast is a conservative political strategy which uses budget deficits to force future reductions in government expenditure, especially spending on socially progressive programs. The term "beast" is used to denote government and the social programs it funds, including publicly-funded health care, welfare, and educational financial aid, the implication being that expenditure on such programs, or the programs themselves, is wasteful or destructive.

It appears the earliest reference to "starving the beast" as a doctrine was made during the
Reagan administration by White House budget director David stagnant, to describe its fiscal philosophy.

A current example is the
tax cutting policy of the Bush administration in the United States. He said on 24 August 2001 "so we have the tax relief plan, which is important for fiscal stimulus, coupled with Social Security being off limits except for -- except for emergency. That now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that's good for the taxpayers, and it's incredibly positive news if you're worried about a federal government that has been growing at a dramatic pace over the past eight years and it has been."
A well-known U.S. proponent of the strategy is Grover Norquist.

Conservatives have been upset for years that FDR's model has won out as opposed to radical free market solutions. After privatizing electricity in California, I would assume that we can all see some very troublesome aspects of privatizing. Infrastructure should function as not for profit. It is intended to provide for people, not create wealth for the protected oligarchic top 5% of the country.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Fateless- Warning some plot revealed

I saw Fateless a few weeks ago; it still sticks with me. The film is directed by a Hungarian, Lajos Koltai; he was primarily a cinematographer, most notably for Istvan Szabo. "Sunshine" was an amazing movie, so I was hopeful that Koltai would not butcher one of my favorite novels. Fateless was written in 1975 by the Nobel Prize winning Hungarian, Imre Kertesz. The movie follows the book quite closely from what I remember. One of the films haunting elements is the representation of camp scenes in a montage that lacks a narrative frame; it invites one into the confines of misery.

Hungary was a German satellite state during WWII, which enabled Hungarian Jews to live in relative peace form much of the war. There were some massacres at the beginning of WW2 by national Hungarian forces under Horthy and anti-semitic laws in the 20's and 30's; they did avoid mass deportations to concentration camps until 1944, when Horthy's loyalty wavered and he was rendered effette by the German allied Arrow Guard. It is at this time that Marcel is arrested on his way to work and deported with some other Jews. They are held with no idea of what will become of them in various places. Briefly he finds himself in Auschwitz and is then shipped off to Buchenwald. Slowly Marcel's expectations of the world alter.

What I find fascinating about the movie is that it risks total boredom. Life in the concentration camps has been represented in such wildly disparate ways. We have the fire and brimstone of Elie Weisel, the middle ground of a Tadeusz Borowski, or the tame version of Kerstez. Weisel would have you believe that you actually entered hell: flaming pits where lucid individuals are thrown in, torture and cruelty at every turn. In many readings of first person accounts of the Holocaust, I don't often find the Weisel version. One was not generally tortured and brutalized every second of the day. Your treatment did depend on the general character of the Kapo you served under though.

Fateless explores the reality of life. Waiting. Standing. Starving. The 3-4 hour roll calls, standing in the brutal cold ill clothed or in stifling heat. Trying to perform hard labor with various injuries and few calories. In one scene you see jews merely mimicking work. What is the value in this? Perhaps it seems that I am trying to belittle the experience of the Holocaust? Not at all. If we sensationalize the Holocaust to an unimaginable horror, then we may fail to see the reality of another one manifesting itself before our eyes. I feel the same way regarding representations of living under fascism. The German historian Sebastian Haffner wrote a great book entitled "Defying Hitler"which describes and characterizes life under Hitler when he took power. Life did not really change that much for the average German. It did change for the Jew, but the radical changes were years away. When Jews were banned from most employment, Haffner stated that they found alternate ways to provide for themselves. While it seemed unfair to him, he did not characterize it in an extreme fashion. Of course, your average European was accustemed to a certain degree of anti-semetism. These historical moments are human experiences and should be recognizable by humans, not far distant hells that one cannot imagine.

Are we living in the beginnings of a form of fascism? Hard to tell. It is not out of the question; it would certainly have its own face. Halliburton has been awarded a government contract to build detention camps for "immigration emergencies" or "to support the rapid development of new programs." While speculation of the potential uses of these camps may be left-wing rhetoric, the actual construction of them is a reality. Is it a new Dachau for politcal undesirables, or a back up plan given the intense weather patterns etc... we are experiencing? Given the lack of any mainstream media coverage or mention by Bush, many of us will assume the worst. Either way, the warning signs are there.

The reality of the camp survivor's immediate post-war experience is not often represented in novels or films. Often, we have a dramatic moment where the protagonist stumbles into a person he hasn't seen since before their deportation; I am thinking of "Europa Europa" here. Marcel makes the journey back to Budapest only to discover an ersatz regret regarding his misfortune or fear and indifference. In an encounter on a bus, Marcel is asked questions by a fellow denizen. The man seems appalled by Marcel's answers. His family friends greet him, but all interactions are uncomfortable and are shaded with a shame.

Bikram Yoga

Well, my out of shape self took the plunge into physical fitness. This was a somewhat whimsical action, partially determined by peer pressure from 2 co-workers. I knew I was to find absolute misery; you can't really understand misery until you are there though. So I wandered down to the Tenderloin, Polk and Pine. Bikram Yoga is done in a preheated room of about 105-110 degrees. You feel like you just stepped into the jungles of Vietnam. You lay on the floor watching the ceiling fan, "Shit Saigon. I'm only in Saigon."

The workout lasts one and a half hours and features 26 repeated postures. Within three minutes you start to sweat. The smell is somewhere between sweat, dirty feet and cleanser. Attending a group exercise like this, certainly makes one a little self-conscious. Most of the people around you are in superb shape, contorting in ways you are convinced impossible. Within about 20 minutes, I had to sit as my head was spinning and waves of nausea were beginning to induce a direction I didn't want to go, vomiting in the room. So you sit there while everyone else continues to contort; you do feel a bit lame. Eventually the waves of nausea passed and I regained my position as yoga master. I do feel a big difference in my body after having done this. Surprisingly I am going to voluntarily go back for this sadistic treatment again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chechnya and Georgia

Perhaps I glossed over the American role in the Republic of Georgia? I know you caught that and thought, how can I trust him again. Well in a desperate attempt to redeem myself, I return to Georgia. The former president of Georgia, Shevardnadze, had to confront two breakaway regions in his country: South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both of these uprisings were supported by the Russians. The Abkhazians were resisting the Georgification of Georgia following the fall of the Soviets and their subsequent independence. Supporting these movements did not endear the Russians to the Georgians and Shevardnadze. There were also requests at the time to remove Russian troops from Georgia completely.

The Georgians paid the Russians back by allowing the Chechens to run guns from Georgia to Chechnya to fight for their independence. It was well known that hired mujadeen fighters from the Bosnian War were now fighting in Chechnya as well. Oddly, Clinton was on the move against right wing jihadis, but ignored the Chechens. I have even read accounts that the USA supports the Chechens, but am not sure of their veracity. The reasoning would be to extract oil facilities in Grozny from Russian hands. To ignore the Chechens is odd as they have committed at least as many terrorist attacks as Al-Qaeda. It is the goal of the USA to dominate this oil, as it is with the Middle East. Even if it does not use the oil itself, it would hold a trump card in negotiating with future world powers such as China and India.

The Americans were in a tough spot when they wanted to invade Afghanistan. They did not have a place to build up troops, not the time to really do it. They had to invade before the winter of 2001. We needed the Russians to give us the ok to use Central Asian airfields from which to bomb. Moreover, since we could not insert a sufficient force in that time, we needed contacts in the Northern Alliance; we were to use them as a proxy force. The Uzbeks and Tajiks that supplied much of the the army were aligned with the Russians.

The Russians would give us the nod to use their air bases and would put us in touch with the leaders of the Northern Alliance in exchange for the USA to stop criticizing the Russian position and actions toward Chechnya and to stop the gun running between Georgia and Chechnya. Us forces were introduced and coincidentally, Shevardnadze soon fell out of power.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


The resource wars that Michael Klare explained have truly begun. It has always existed, but is now going to be the major preoccupation of major powers: USA, China, India, Russia, EU. Currently, Africa supplies us with about 14% of our total oil imports. The USA would like to increase this to 25 % by 2015. The US is now deciding whether they want to install a military base in Ghana to protect the oil flow from West Africa. The role of the military is not to protect us from attack, rather to secure natural resources; what a radical departure from the Clinton years which sought global stability. We now seek to destabilize in order to secure resources.

Now Ghana will attract anti-American elements which will ultimately threaten the stability of the country. I fear it is only a matter of time until the US intervenes in Nigeria; only a few days ago, rebels attacked oil pipelines in southern Nigeria, impeding up to 20% of Nigeria's output; this of course causes the price of oil to increase, resulting in negative pressure on western economies. How long will the USA stand for this, if we are not already involved covertly.

Another example finds American counter terror troops landing in Tblisi, Georgia in 2002 to be stationed in the dangerous Pankisi Gorge area that borders Chechnya. Of course the proximity to the Caspian Sea suggests the inevitable explanation, oil. Not ony does the USA want the oil flowing west, they want to alienate Russia and Iran from drilling and exporting this oil. Instead our newly found allies, Georgia and Azerbaijan, should enjoy this privilege. The US troops were sent to train elite Georgian commandos who had a curious job, protecting the oil pipelines that ran from the Caspian oil fields to western markets. This was part of the war on terror. Were we hunting down hired mujadeen fighters finding refuge in Georgia from Chechnya? It appears not.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


What are the odds that we will bomb Iran this March? There are a few mitigating circumstances that could contribute to such an action. What will the consequences be? Far reaching or immediate?

As we know, Iran is not particularly close to developing a nuclear weapon that it can use. Bush has said as much previously. The Israeli elections seem to be the biggest variable that will determine a course of action. The incumbent, Olmert, might want to show that he is tough on Iran. Netanyahu of the Likud party, likely challenger, has stated that a nuclear Iran is not an option. I feel that Iran going nuclear is non-negotiable for Israel; they will not allow their leverage to deteriorate in this way. To rush any action, based on this variable, would be a political move and a disaster.

There is also the creation of the Iranian Bourse: a stock exchange for securities trading. This will end, or damage, the hegemony that the petrodollar has enjoyed. Most left wing critics site this as the most likely cause of any military action as the actual production of nuclear weapons are years away. Saddam was trading oil in petroeuros as well; critics have also interpreted that US military aggression was triggered by this action. The value of the dollar is inflated as countries need to use US currency to purchase oil. William Clark states, "In essence, the U.S. will no longer be able to effortlessly expand credit via U.S. Treasury bills, and the dollar's demand/liquidity value will fall. " This is problematic as we are increasingly running a monumental deficit.

If the USA uses tactical nukes, or arms Israeli bombers with them, Iran is likely to fire a hail of rockets at US bases and maybe into Europe. They could hit the green zone in Iraq, decapitating the US leadership there. Hezbollah is also Iranian backed and may be able to hit us at home; this might eventually lead to a full scale invasion/bombing/nuke attack on Iran. We can see where this is going.

I have seen predictions like this from the left before that turned out incorrect. The dynamic of the bourse leads me to believe that some action will be taken. The USA will generally go to war only if its economic interests are at play.