Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A New Feudalism

Everywhere jihadis are on the warpath. Iraq is besieged by daily terror bombings. Pakistan and Afghanistan are battlegrounds. Secular politicians are assassinated in Tunisia. Egypt is experimenting with a return to Mubarakism. Syria is being cracked. The United States is fighting a secret war in Somalia. Where is all the funding coming from? One can't help but come to the conclusion that the U.S. is in bed with the imams bankrolled by the Gulf Arab states.

Secularism and social democracy -- transcendent in the 19th and 20th centuries -- are now deemed too expensive and dangerous by Western elites. A new feudalism is coming down the pike. And while religious fundamentalism is too much on the wane in the West to provide a sturdy cage for social control, racial identity and entitlement are ready at hand. The strategy for domination and a continuing rollback of rights will be race based. We're already seeing it with the Supreme Court's scrapping of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Obama might not be a progressive, but he was elected by a progressive majority with impressive margins -- twice. After the first election the Supreme Court served up its Citizens United decision. When that didn't work and Obama was reelected in spite of the unlimited amount of money spent on attack ads the Supreme Court decided to repeal the Voting Rights Act. The idea is to disenfranchise the progressive majority. And if that doesn't work, if citizens still find a way to vote, then I'm sure other repressive measures will be concocted. This is the direction we're headed in.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

SAA Secures Khalidiya District in Homs

A particularly good assessment of the current military situation in Syria can be found this morning on BBC's website. Written by Paul Wood reporting from Beirut, it stands out because it is not twisted, like so many stories that appear in the Western press, to fall in line with U.S. foreign policy. This policy demands that atrocities by rebel forces be downplayed, ignored, excused, blamed on the Syrian government while battlefield gains by the Syrian Arab Army be downplayed, ignored, explained away.

In "After Khalidiya, Syria conflict goes on," Wood reports that the main rebel-held neighborhood in Homs has fallen to government forces. The focus will now shift to securing Aleppo. Wood's assessment for the near future is difficult to dispute:
Some analysts are already speculating that this is the beginning of the end of the armed rebellion. 
Western diplomats dealing with the armed opposition believe the government may be able to establish a "secure area" running from Damascus all the way up to Hama, a city 45km (28 miles) to the north of Homs, or even to Aleppo. 
What happens now may depend on the extent of foreign intervention. 
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been sending weapons to the FSA for some time. The US is moving towards sending small arms. The UK is contemplating such a step, but would only do so after a vote in Parliament. 
It would probably take a very large influx of weapons to break the government's momentum.
However, that does not mean that the armed uprising will be extinguished. 
President Bashar al-Assad has had to use his own foreign fighters, from Hezbollah, to pursue his offensive. 
He does not have enough loyal manpower to chase the rebels into the countryside, the mountains and the deserts. 
Even if the government takes back the big cities and the main roads, Syria will remain divided, the conflict far from over.
There was nothing in today's New York Times about the SAA victory in Khalidiya. In the Gray Lady, for the most part if not always, the only news coming out of Syria that is fit to print is the horror and suffering of war caused entirely by a brutal dictator named al-Assad. It's a cold war, cartoon version of ongoing events, and the news is sculpted to fit that perspective. In other words, it's propaganda.

Worrisome is the presence of Robert F. Worth reporting from Cairo in the absence of David Kirkpatrick. Hopefully Kirkpatrick is just taking some time off -- he's still listed as the Cairo bureau chief on the NYT website. Worth's writing has that spooky quality ("spooky" in the Langley sense), while Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim have been consistently excellent reporters going back to the first days of the Arab Spring.

Monday, July 29, 2013

In Praise of Cahoots

The way I figure it, you get one night -- Saturday -- when you're not under the gun from the work week. That's it. Hopefully you can relax and recharge your battery. I got lucky this weekend. Though I didn't sleep as soundly as I could have Saturday night, when I did my laundry Sunday morning, a pair of cotton slacks and a nice blue cotton button-up shirt with thin charcoal and white stripes emerged from the dryer good enough to wear today without having to haul out the iron and ironing board and give them the once-over. This almost never happens. It was like magic.

That's my work story.

I've been totally immersed -- I'd say submerged -- in The Band. Yesterday I spent the entire day in bed, after expediting the laundry, reading Levon Helm's memoir (written with Stephen Davis) This Wheel's on Fire. In the afternoon and evening I must have listened to The Basement Tapes four to five times in a row. Saturday night I saw a solid British documentary, Bob Dylan & The Band: Down in the Flood (2012):

But what has really got me hooked is Cahoots (1971), The Band's fourth album. It's incredible. Pay no attention to Christgau's B-minus grade; the record is a straight A. Robbie Robertson's writing and Richard Manuel's singing dominate:

Manuel even sings a song with Van Morrison, "4% Pantomime":

What's bizarre to me, a  true believer in The Band, is that I had almost no knowledge of Cahoots. I knew "Life is a Carnival" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece" because the former is on The Last Waltz while the latter is a Bob Dylan gem that appears on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II.

Apparently The Band shied away from performing most of the songs live because the sound of the album was too hard to replicate outside the studio, at least that's what I read in the written material that accompanies Rock of Ages (1972).

Syrian National Coalition Agrees to Peace Talks, But Not Really

Michael Gordon has a story this morning that based on the headline, "Syrian Opposition Leader Says He Would Meet Assad Officials," seems like a real breakthrough. The Syrian Opposition has dropped its opposition to peace talks in Geneva. There only precondition now is that there be a deadline to conclude negotiations. At least that's what is conveyed at the outset of Gordon's report, which is mostly a coming-out in the New York Times for new Syrian National Coalition frontman Ahmad al-Jarba. Read on until the end of story and it becomes clear that the opposition isn't seriously considering negotiating with the Syrian government anytime soon:
Discussing his plans to govern areas that had been wrested from Syrian government control, Mr. Jarba acknowledged that Shariah courts had been set up by Islamist rebels but said his goal was to replace them with civil courts. While saying there were no preconditions for attending the Geneva talks, Mr. Jarba said that the opposition was asking that the Assad government take "positive steps," including the release of prisoners, that the coalition could present to the Syrian public to show that attending the talks was worthwhile. 
Mr. Ghalioun [a Syrian National Coalition member] said the opposition had told Mr. Kerry in their meeting that such steps also needed to include an end to artillery attacks, airstrikes and missile launches by the government forces. 
That, he said, prompted Mr. Kerry to ask what the resistance might do in return, an important question as the opposition coalition does not control all the rebel groups, especially extremist factions like the Al Nusra Front. 
Mr. Ghalioun quipped that the opposition would renounce the use of chemical weapons, which American officials say the rebels neither possess nor can access. 
Mr. Jarba said that Mr. Kerry had mentioned that the opposition could put Mr. Assad on the defensive politically by attending the talks. But Mr. Jarba said he had little confidence that the Geneva talks would yield a breakthrough.
So Kerry jawbones the opposition into agreeing to talks, but the opposition has no real intention of attending. The shift seems to be purely rhetorical.

Speaking of rhetoric, check out the latest somersault from Anne Barnard. Writing about a funeral procession on Straight Street which runs through the Old City District of Damascus, Barnard says,
Trumpets and drums beat out the soaring refrain of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The white coffin, heaped with daisies, spun like a helicopter rotor above the crowd as the pallbearers danced past a mosque to a neighboring church, both centuries-old structures striped with light and dark stone. 
Women ululated and threw rice. The dead man, a Christian, was to have been married, but he and his Muslim driver were kidnapped and killed south of Damascus, two more victims of Syria’s civil war, and the funeral was the closest thing he would have to a wedding. 
“Syria! Syria!” the crowd called, hailing the young man, Fadi Francis, as “a martyr of the neighborhood.”
Note how it's not the opposition, the rebels, that  kidnapped and murdered the young Christian but "Syria's civil war." This is not reporting, it is propaganda.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #31

I believe I started this letter but never finished it. It went undeleted because I probably intended to return to it. I never did; or if I did, I did a "Save As" and forgot to delete this file. As I continue to work through these letters that record my first two years in New York City, which were also the last two years of my marriage, I might come across a finalized iteration.

When I returned from California the winter of 1989 I had difficulty finding work right away. I passed the idle days reading Mark Twain, Jack London and Ivan Turgenev novels. This did not please the wife. She suggested that I sign up to be a test subject in one of the many studies being conducted in the university's health sciences complex where our married-student housing was located. I reluctantly agreed. So for $10/hr. I was poked and prodded and queried in multiple day-long torture sessions. It was not worth the small amount of money that I earned. And in one case -- I was a subject in two different studies -- I wasn't paid, despite numerous follow-up phone calls, for many months. This is the study that I refer to below.

The research psychiatrist whose study it was administered my test in two sessions. The first day I was injected with amphetamine, required to complete a variety of cognitive performance evaluations, and injected with either a placebo or Haldol; then I repeated the cognitive evaluation. The idea was to induce schizophrenic effects with the amphetamine and then see what impact the Haldol had. The testing was demanding and lasted all day. But I left still feeling buzzed from the speed, jubilantly stopping off at the deli on my way back to the apartment and picking up several quarts of beer. I really enjoyed watching Vertigo on television that night.

There was a gap of several days or even a week before the next round of testing. I was pretty sure that on the first day that the second injection I had received had been the placebo and not the Haldol. Nothing would prepare for what was to happen in round two. For some reason it was scheduled on a Saturday when the health science complex was abandoned and largely dark in the low light of a winter afternoon. I got my injection of amphetamine, did my cognitive skills testing, and then was returned to a small room for my second injection. Once I received it I knew right away that it was the Haldol. I went from flying high to plummeting instantaneously to earth, crushed and crumpled. At the time I likened it to jumping off a high cliff above rocky ocean breakers, a huge bag of dirty laundry lashed to my back.

For the rest of the day I was truly in the slough of despond. I saw the world for what it was, a filthy riot of selfishness where nothing ever works out and love is always feigned. The clinical term for what I was experiencing is dysphoria. It amazes me that I signed up for another study after what I went through with the Haldol, but that speaks to the power of a brow-beating wife.
Spring 1989
When Ashley and I first moved in together, rather, I should say, when Ashley left her girlhood home on Ashland Street to come to Berkeley (for, truly, that's when our living together began, even though we hadn't yet rented the 2210 Durant #11) we were very young. I was 18 and Ashley was 17. And I can't begin to tell how different the world looked then in my mind's eye. Ashley rode down I-5 on a Greyhound bus the day after her high school graduation; I, in my fully adolescent and automatic happiness, took BART to meet her at the bus station in San Francisco. But anyway, what got me on this particular path of thought is this memory I have in my head (which is more of a picture -- a snapshot -- than a full-blown memory), a memory which was conjured  up during one of the two all-day guinea pig amphetamine/Haldol torture sessions -- Dr. Malaspina taking blood, giving uppers, and administering injections; I, trapped in a small room with an overactive brain and suffering sensitive soul, trying to be as polite as tea and crumpets. At one point, flying on the speed, I stumbled upon this remembrance of me and Ashley, 18 and 17, just moved into 2210, walking back from the Safeway on Adeline. -- We had these huge army duffel bags on our backs, duffel bags we had bought in Ashland, each stuffed with about three grocery-bags worth of groceries. You see, we would  walk down to the Adeline Safeway (the one by the Berkeley Bowl) on Saturdays and buy -- try to buy -- a week's worth of food and supplies. We never really thought of shopping any other place, like the Co-op or Berkeley Bowl; we were too young, too unthinking, like travelers pulling off the interstate only after seeing a sign for the Golden Arches.  Because we would stock up as best we could, by the time we got to the check-out counter the cart was gorged and puking.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Silver Surfer by Stan Lee & Moebius

After finishing a 5K race last Sunday morning I indulged in an hour of relaxation on my mattress on the floor. Nestled in clean sheets with a cup of strong coffee in hand, I fully enjoyed the Moebius and Stan Lee Silver Surfer. The comic book is a reissue of the two-part Silver Surfer: Parable from 1988. It tells the story of Galactus returning to earth for payback. The resulting fear and chaos is exploited by a New Age Jimmy Swaggert. But the Silver Surfer, who is living incognito as a homeless person at the beginning of the narrative, saves the day. The message is a complicated one. After besting Galactus, the Surfer is feted at the United Nations and implored by the general assembly to assume the role of divine leader. In thought bubbles the Surfer muses:
It is madness!
They thirst for leadership as a child thirsts for mother's milk.
Surely this is why they so often fall prey to tyrants and despots. 
Why cannot they realize that the truest faith is faith in oneself? What has made them so desperate to have others show them the way?
The Surfer sees that the only way to disabuse his audience of their lust to worship is to demand their total obeisance: "My every command has to be obeyed without question. My every whim gratified. My every desire fulfilled." This alienates the assembly. The people turn on the Surfer and reject him. The comic ends with the Silver Surfer on his board traveling the spaceways alone.

This is a beautiful comic book. In Moebius' comments contained in an afterword he explains how hard he worked on it, and it shows. The art is airy and spacious, and the pastel colors amplify this feeling of spaciousness; also, a sense of the late 1980s is conveyed: a post-war social compact is still vaguely intact but you can tell it's on its way out.

Below are scans of the first five pages of Silver Surfer to give you a taste of Moebius' mastery:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Last Waltz, Pt. 2, Rick Danko 1977

There are two great tracks -- The Last Waltz-level great -- on Rick Danko (1977), "New Mexicoe" (a live version of which appears above) and "Sip the Wine" (below):

Almost all the songs on the 10-song debut solo album by the bass player and vocalist for The Band are good if not excellent. Four of the tracks Danko co-writes with Hippie founding father Emmett Grogan ("Brainwash" is particularly good). Every day last week at work I listened to the album on YouTube. I never tired of it (which is more than I can say for my Oi! immersion of Cock Sparrer and Sham 69's Tell Us the Truth, both from 1978). And that's what makes the poor sales of Rick Danko, followed by his label (Arista) promptly dropping him, so hard to explain. I've come to the conclusion that the album, like Levon Helm's first post-Last Waltz album, Levon Helm and RCO All-Stars (1977), was ahead of its time.

To give Robbie Robertson some credit, as the guy responsible for the break up of The Band and making of The Last Waltz, he saw the end of the Hippies coming, and he got out on his own terms. This is from Robbie Robertson's introduction to the 2002 re-mixed re-released The Last Waltz concert album.
Many of the artists who performed in The Last Waltz have gone on to make great music through the years, and some are still doing brilliant work today, but the spirit of those times turned a corner and never came back. It's been said that the inspiration of those times came out of the war in Vietnam and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. It was, for sure, a powerful time. There was so much creative electricity, and everybody kept raising the bar higher. Nobody knew it then, but it would be a long time before we'd see that kind of passion in music, movies, and the arts again. 
If the '50s were about rebels without a cause, then the '60s and the '70s were about rebels with a cause. But by the time The Last Waltz came out [the spring of 1978], that revolution was over. It had served its purpose, and everybody was moving on.
This is the fundamental Hippie mistake. It's the belief -- to crib part of the title of a Jimmy Breslin book about the Congressional effort to impeach Nixon -- that the "Good Guys Finally Won." This is slothful thinking. Nothing of the sort happened. Nixon skirted justice. Yes, he resigned in infamy to avoid impeachment, but his handpicked successor pardoned him the next month.

But by Thanksgiving 1976 it's water under the bridge. The peanut farmer who campaigned as a purifier, a national redeemer, is headed to the White House. The Hippies, as drug-addled as ever, are licking their chops in anticipation of continued commercial success and some guilt-free corporate cock sucking. You can see this in The Last Waltz when Scorsese interviews Danko at The Band's Shangri-La Studios in Malibu. Danko plays Scorsese a sample of "Sip the Wine," and you can tell he's ready for solo stardom:

At least this is what I thought when I was enamored with the film back in the early '90s. Now it's not so clear to me. But back then, from the summer 1990 to the end of 1992, I was suffering too much from being dumped by my wife -- my sweetheart, my missing half -- to be curious about tracking down the solo work Danko did after The Last Waltz. I had everything I needed in a song that The Band performs, with Danko on lead vocals, early on in the documentary:

"It Makes No Difference," written by Robbie Robertson, was my separation anthem; I drank and brawled and typed my way clear of my wife while listening to it. I owe a lot to that song. Its great sadness was my life at the time. It helped get me through, which is what art is supposed to do.

And I realize now that The Last Waltz documents a time which corresponds to the collapse of my parents' marriage and the dissolution of our nuclear family. Between the autumn of 1976 (when The Last Waltz is performed) and the spring of 1978 (when The Last Waltz is released) my parents went through a nasty divorce.

My father, who is the coach in the team photo above, showed up drunk to the soccer game at which this picture was taken. He reeked of alcohol. He had been fighting with my mother. Their days as a couple were finished, and he was rebelling against the knowledge. When he got to the field he put everyone in different positions. I was the star, a midfielder, and he stuck me back on defense. -- I'm the kid, middle row, far right, sporting the longest hair, a Prince Valiant cut not unlike Rick Danko's. Everyone on the team was pissed, which you can tell by the large number of frowns. I can't remember if we won or lost. I think we must have lost. One thing about the game I do remember is dribbling the ball from in front of our own goal up to midfield where, to spite my father, I launched a shot. The goalkeeper for the opposing squad misjudged the ball's flight, ran out too late to catch it; and instead, it bounced over his head and into the net for a score. A couple months later and an hour north up Highway 101 The Last Waltz takes place.

By immersing myself in the film and soundtrack during my own divorce it's clear to me that I was unconsciously tapping into the heart of darkness, looking for a cure in the poison. And that cure for me was Rick Danko.

Imagine my shock, my horror, when, in 1991, at the end of my period of marriage mourning, I took my new girlfriend, a woman with whom I would spend the next decade, to see The Band at the Lonestar Roadhouse in Midtown Manhattan and it turns out Rick Danko is an obese grinning buffoon plucking clownish riffs on his bass as Yuppies, hopping up on tables, wriggle ass and cheer him on. I don't know what was more shocking, the sight of Danko or Helm. Danko could have been an impostor. He looked nothing like his younger slender self. His face appeared completely different, and his bloated trunk bore no resemblance to the lithe herky-jerky roots rocker memorialized in the Scorsese picture. Helms looked like a mummified version of The Last Waltz Levon. A wizened gnomish frail old man with raisins for eyes, I saw him exiting a tour bus that was parked in front of the bar on West 52nd St. He was being led by a young woman who I assumed was his daughter.

Before the second song was finished I told my girlfriend that we should go. So we walked out. My heroes had not lived up to expectations. And, like a petulant child, I was upset.

It causes me some pain to relate this. Our heroes should not be disposable. And it caused me pain these last two weeks studying Rick Danko. Not because the music is bad; no, the music is excellent. What caused me pain is that at first I dismissed it, jotting down on a legal pad "boozy, coked-out" and "Hippie TV Party." Then the sound kept getting better and stronger until I fell in love with every song. I had judged too soon, just as Arista had. The album was a legitimate path forward for the Hippies, one that was not followed; it needs to be re-issued.

Look at the Soundstage from early 1978 where Danko performs the material on his album. There's something monstrous about the shaggy full-on Prince Valiant combined with disco duds. (Hippies couldn't figure how to package themselves once they arrived in the mainstream.) Nonetheless, this is how the world looked in 1977-1978. I remember sitting in a junior high school classroom in Southern Oregon the last day of school, and what I remember -- the vibe -- is exactly what appears on this Soundstage video. Whatever it is -- whatever Zeitgeist moved on the face of deep when the Hippies started to go extinct -- it can be found here:

Uncle Sam's Absurd Stance on Syria

Colum Lynch has a story, "Kerry presses Syrians to commit to peace talks in first U.N. visit as top U.S. diplomat," about John Kerry's maiden voyage to the United Nations as Secretary of State. After calling on Syria to come to the negotiating table for peace talks Kerry met with the new head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, whose position remains the same: no peace talks with the Syrian government.
The Syrian opposition, which remains deeply divided, has so far refused to participate in peace talks without an assurance that they would result in Assad’s exit from power. A top Syrian rebel leader, Gen. Salim Idriss, who had been expected to participate in an informal briefing of the Security Council, which is scheduled for Friday morning, canceled his appearance this week. 
The intense focus on a diplomatic outcome signaled continuing U.S. misgivings about the prospect of arming a fragmented opposition, which includes extremists groups linked to al-Qaeda. The military balance of power in the country has recently shifted in favor of government ­forces.
The U.S. position is absurd. It demands peace talks and then sets conditions for those talks that make negotiations impossible: Bashar al-Assad must agree to relinquish power and Iran cannot participate. In actuality the United States has no desire to talk. The Syrian Arab Army is gradually grinding away, accumulating territory. The territory under rebel control is in the Euphrates valley stretching from war-torn Aleppo, where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) held a Ramadan ice-cream social and tug-of-war, to Iraq and in the Kurdish northeast where the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is already at work setting up a government.

In neither area is the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in control. At this point it is merely a front group -- a cut-out, a fiction -- maintained by the United States and its allies among the Gulf sheikdoms. The FSA fiction allows the United States to publicly call for peace while planning and supporting war. At some point down the road, if ISIS does maintain a foothold in Idlib or elsewhere and/or the Kurds are successful at formalizing control in the northeast, a Western intervention can be rationalized as a necessary effort to restore the territorial integrity of the region.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Crackdown Coming to Egypt

Instability is mounting in Egypt. Tomorrow protesters, responding to a call from commander of the military, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, will fill the streets and public squares and violence will be the likely result. The only question is how much violence. Will the clashes between opposing groups -- Muslim Brotherhood vs. Tamarod/Mubarakists -- be so great that the military cracks down with a heavy hand and martial law is declared? It is a distinct possibility. The United States, unhappy with el-Sisi's handling of the post-Coup transition, has held up the delivery of four F-16s.

General el-Sisi is going back to the well. The best part of the coup so far has been the June 30 protests. The robust turnout, inflated wildly, had Western news consumers, myself included, feeling that Morsi had to go. The initial queasiness I felt when the military intervened, suspended the constitution and locked up Morsi in an unknown location has only gotten worse since July 3.

The coup is indefensible. But el-Sisi is going to give it a go. (See yesterday's Moon of Alabama post, Egypt: Preparing The Repression, for a good discussion of el-Sisi's call to fill the streets.) The gamble is that enough protesters will show up to justify General el-Sisi's obvious next step: a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

One aspect of the coup has been a complete success -- for the Israelis. Eighty percent of the tunnels connecting Egypt to Gaza have been shut down by el-Sisi's military. Gaza's economy has basically ground to a halt. The story, "Gaza’s Economy Suffers From Egyptian Military’s Crackdown," is told today in the New York Times by Fares Akram. I was somewhat aware that the commerce trafficked through the tunnels is taxed by Hamas, but I had no idea the extent to which Gaza's economy -- and the Hamas government -- relies on such traffic:
More materially, Hamas relies on the taxes it collects from the underground trade. Experts have estimated the group’s annual budget at $900 million. Hamas employs almost 50,000 government workers in Gaza, and two-thirds of the budget is said to be spent on salaries. 
Omar Shaban, a Gaza economist and the director of PalThink, an independent research institute, said taxes collected from the tunnel trade made up about a third of the budget. Additional income has come from taxes on local businesses, many of which also depend on cheap commodities from the tunnels that are now in short supply. Fuel from Egypt is sold here at half the price of fuel imported from Israel.
General el-Sisi can count on some powerful allies -- Israel, Saudi Arabia, et al. -- when civil war blows up in Egypt.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bloom is Off Egypt's Coup

There are wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Egypt. One could go on. The Congo, Myanmar, etc. There is even war at home with a national security apparatus spying on its citizens while a Republican Congress guts any program that benefits the working class. Everywhere there is war.

In Egypt the bloom is off the June 30 protests that led to the July 3 coup by the Egyptian military. Esam Al-Amin has a devastating article, "The Grand Scam: Spinning Egypt’s Military Coup," that appeared on the Counterpunch website over the weekend. In it he exposes the hypocrisy of liberals like ElBaradei and the active role played by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Mubarak loyalists. But what particularly grabbed my attention was the section devoted to the preposterous inflation of protester turnout on June 30, which, at least in the Western press, was gullibly reported as fact:
By June 30, every actor knew his part. By mid-afternoon Tamarrud announced that the number on the streets were over 10 million. Soon the number became 14 then 17 then 22 million. Eventually the media claimed that the June 30 demonstrations across Egypt were the biggest in the history of mankind with as many as 33 million people in the streets. Military planes flew in formations entertaining the crowds in the skies above Tahrir Square throwing Egyptian flags and bottled water, and drawing hearts as a show of love and affection to the demonstrators. The army even provided a military helicopter to Khalid Yousef, a famous movie director known for his support of the opposition and hostility to the MB. Yousef recorded the crowd and produced a film that was immediately shown not only in every anti-Morsi TV network across Egypt but also on state television. Within hours, every media outlet claimed that the numbers were in the tens of millions with people in Tahrir Square alone reaching between 5 and 8 million. On the day of the coup, fireworks, laser shows, and festivities were on full display.
As I have argued before there is no doubt that there was a huge public outcry and anger against Morsi and the MB. But were the numbers as high as claimed? In October 1995, hundreds of thousands descended on the National Mall in Washington D.C. for what was promoted as the Million Man March that filled the entire area. The organizers claimed to have reached one million while the DC Park Police estimated the crowd to be four hundred thousand. The area of the national mall is about 146 acres. Thus, there were between 2750 people (police estimate) to 6750 people per acre (organizers’ estimate). In other words, there were 0.7-1.7 people per square meter. 
In contrast, the area of Tahrir Square is 12.3 acres. As Amjad Almonzer, a communication engineer and a Google Earth Expert, conclusively proves: even if all side streets to Tahrir Square were included, the area would not exceed 25 acres. Even if four people were counted per square meter and dozens of surrounding buildings were removed, there would be no more than 400 thousand people on that day. If the 5-6 million number promoted by the proponents of the military coup were to be believed, it means that there were 50-60 people per square meter (5-6 per sq. ft.), clearly a physical impossibility. Even if one million were at every inch in Tahrir Square and all the surrounding streets, there would have to be 10 people per square meter, another impossibility. Even BBC eventually questioned these inflated numbers
So at best there were less than half a million people in Tahrir Square at the peak of the demonstration and there were probably an equal number across Egypt. Therefore, the will of the Egyptian electorate was sacrificed when one or two million people protested for a day or two.
Kareem Fahim reports today of 12 deaths from yesterday's street battles, the highest number since the July 8 massacre of Morsi supporters by security forces:
The latest fighting in Cairo was apparently set off by Mr. Morsi’s supporters, during a provocative march near the opposition stronghold in Tahrir Square. Other clashes were murkier, and on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood accused the police of joining attacks on its supporters or providing cover for plainclothes thugs. At a news conference, medics displayed graphic pictures of victims with gunshot wounds. In a protest square near Cairo University for Mr. Morsi’s supporters, cars gutted by fire or with smashed windows marked the site of fighting that killed nine people. 
“We want security!” a sobbing man yelled to friends who tried to console him. A mother and her two children, carrying suitcases, made their way out of the square. 
The violence has peaked as Mr. Morsi’s supporters have intensified their protests with daily marches in cities around Egypt, to publicize what they call a “putsch” by the army. The marches also seem designed to create the kind of chaos that the Brotherhood accused Mr. Morsi’s opponents of fomenting to undermine his presidency.
The coup plotters hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood would fall into line and agree to participate in the elections outlined in the transition process set forth by interim president Adly Mansour. When they did not and peaceful protesters were gunned down while in prayer, the likely outcome pointed to civil war. Mass violence didn't immediately break out following the July 8 massacre of 54, but events have been moving steadily in that direction.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Time to Kill"

Falling asleep on the train this morning listening to "Time to Kill," the only single to chart off The Band's third album, Stage Fright (1970), I understood fully the meaning of young love and the sense of limitless possibility that the Hippies enjoyed for a little while.


War for as Far as the Eye Can See

The news from yesterday is that ministers for the European Union declared Lebanon's Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Hezbollah responded dryly with the statement, “It appears that the decision was written with an American hand in Zionist ink.” This from an article, "European Union Adds Military Wing of Hezbollah to List of Terrorist Organizations," by James Kanter and Jodi Rudoren. Since the blacklist covers only Hezbollah's military operation, much of which is kept confidential, and not the many social organizations that the Party of God operates, it is unclear how much of an impact the EU decision will have:
After the decision, [William] Hague [British foreign secretary] sought to reassure member states that support for Lebanon, including significant aid payments, would remain intact.
Kamel Wazne, a Lebanese analyst and director of the Beirut-based Center for American Strategic Studies, said that by designating only the military wing of Hezbollah, the Europeans appeared to want to maintain dialogue with others in the group, including members of Parliament and the cabinet. He doubted such a strategy would work.
Others called the European Union’s action a significant setback for Hezbollah, partly because it could provide the United States with a new legal basis for strengthening its own sanctions against Hezbollah’s commercial and fund-raising activities in a way that could then pressure the Europeans to do the same.
The toughened European sanctions against Iran, including an oil boycott, evolved in the same way under American pressure, said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group in Washington that supports sanctions. “Today’s military designation was a powerful symbolic blow,” he said. “It hasn’t been a death blow. But it’s certainly laid an important predicate.”
A bigger story in today's New York Times is from Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, "Pentagon Lays Out Options for U.S. Military Effort in Syria." Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey enumerates in a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin the military options available for intervention in the Syrian civil war. Never mind the lack of public support for another war in the Middle East. Never mind that the opposition against the Syrian government is led by forces that the United States is at war with. The only important thing is that al-Assad must go, even if it creates an enormous failed state in the heart of the Middle East.

To Dempsey's credit, he alludes to all this, albeit gingerly. The options for intervention are listed as follows:
If ordered by the president, General Dempsey wrote, the military is ready to carry out options that include efforts to train, advise and assist the opposition; conduct limited missile strikes; set up a no-fly zone; establish buffer zones, most likely across the borders with Turkey or Jordan; and take control of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. 
“All of these options would likely further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime,” General Dempsey wrote. But he added: “Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next. Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”
Dempsey says that it will cost $1 billion a month to impose a no-fly zone.

Clearly the Pentagon, at least the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is mindful of the folly of declaring war on Syria. But this doesn't faze the people's elected representatives, who are going ahead with support for Obama's covert war conducted out of Jordan:
The plan to supply the rebels with small arms and other weaponry is being run as a covert operation by the Central Intelligence Agency, and General Dempsey made no mention of it in his letter. 
On Monday, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said that despite “very strong concerns about the strength of the administration’s plans in Syria and its chances for success,” the panel had reached a consensus to move ahead with the White House’s strategy, without specifically mentioning the covert arms program. Senate Intelligence Committee officials said last week that they had reached a similar position. 
A Syrian opposition leader said in an e-mail Monday night that with the Congressional reservations largely addressed, American arms would most likely begin flowing to the rebels within a few weeks. “We think August is the date,” the official said. 
In an interview, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, expressed disappointment at the Congressional approval. “Arms do not make peace,” he said. “We would like to see the delivery of arms stopped to all sides.”
In anticipation of the arrival of weaponry, jihadi fighting units are scrubbing religious names in favor of innocuous labels like "9th Brigade." But Congressional reservations are not largely addressed. Politico is reporting that a vote is forthcoming in the House on whether the military aid is consistent with the War Powers Act.

One Obama administration shift noted by Landler and Shanker is the acknowledgement that the Baathist-led Syrian government is not going anywhere anytime soon:
[T]he White House began publicly hedging its bets about Mr. Assad. After saying for nearly two years that Mr. Assad’s days were numbered, the press secretary, Jay Carney, said, “While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.”
Those last four words represent a subtle but significant shift in the White House’s wording: an implicit acknowledgment that after recent gains by the government’s forces against an increasingly chaotic opposition, Mr. Assad now seems likely to cling to power for the foreseeable future, if only over a rump portion of a divided Syria.
Covert support for one side, dominated by Wahhabi jihadists, in a civil war where the other side is supported by Mother Russia -- we've seen this before in Afghanistan, and it didn't end well; in fact, it's still playing out, with the full impact of negative repercussions yet to be tallied. One thing is for sure, war fills the horizon for as far as the eye can see.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Puke-Filled Juice Containers + Patti Smith + Mogwai

There are a few regular features to this blog. There's a daily comment on what's in the newspaper. For the last couple of months I've been focusing mostly on Syria. The ongoing civil war there is not only altering the Sykes-Picot Middle East, but it's exposing the fundamental schizophrenia of U.S. foreign policy. We are officially at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates yet we are officially supporting the Syrian National Coalition, which is working in concert with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

In addition to the daily news comment, there's a Friday night "Hippies vs. Punk" post, a Saturday morning Marvel Comics post and a Sunday late afternoon "Colt 45 Chronicle." Finally, there's a Monday "Remember! Work!" post where I recount something from the work day and as an aside relate whatever music I've immersed myself in the preceding weekend. I'm going to cut back on the weekday evening posts, which were pretty marginal anyway (usually a comment about a run and a song, heard on my iPod, that had tickled my fancy). Also, the Sunday morning post on a recently-released-to-DVD Hollywood big-budget movie has become sporadic of late. So I can't say that I'll be doing it regularly.

The "Remember! Work!" installment for today has to with what I've come to realize is the most stressful part of the rat race -- the morning commute. Once I actually get on the train everything is fine; in fact, it's probably the best part of my day, or at least one of the best. I'm relaxed; it's almost always quiet, except for Fare Enforcement walking through the car now and again checking cards with their handheld scanners. No, the nasty part is getting down the hill to the train station. I give myself 20 minutes to make the trip from apartment door to train door, and that includes a stop at the Starbucks. And there is always a line at the Starbucks. We serfs need our performance-enhancing caffeine to compete in the rat race. Sometimes I jog. Sometimes I sprint. Mostly I walk at a brisk pace. The stress comes at the stoplights. There are a couple extremely busy intersections, and I can usually jump the light on those pretty quick; it's just that by leaving myself only 20 minutes, I have very little time to spare standing waiting for a signal to turn green.

One treat from today at the office is the story a coworker had about cleaning up trash this past weekend around an apartment building she and her husband own in the Fremont neighborhood. Apparently she discovered two large juice containers filled with vomit that were shoved back in the bushes. I asked what kind of juice. She said Sunny Delight or Sunny some-such-thing. I asked how could someone puke into such a narrow opening. She said that the container actually had quite a wide mouth. When I went to the grocery store tonight I sojourned at the the orange juice cooler. Sure enough there was one big plastic bottle, Sunny something, that had a very wide mouth.

My musical immersion happened yesterday post-5K. First, I listened to the two-disk Sons of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys (2013). Then the four-disk Occupy This Album: 99 Songs for the 99 Percent (2012). Sons of Rogues Gallery is topnotch; Occupy This Album is a little spotty but has some great stuff:

Improved Reporting of Syrian Civil War + ISIS Terror Bombing

As Anne Barnard has been on assignment in Damascus, Ben Hubbard and Hwaida Saad have taken over the daily coverage of the Syrian civil war and there has been a marked improvement in the reporting. Take this morning's offering for instance. In "Across Syria, Violent Day of Attacks and Ambush," the most newsworthy items are placed at the top of the story -- a significant government victory in the town of Adra and ongoing clashes between Kurdish militia and rebels on the northern border with Turkey -- while the news -- bloody fighting in the coastal province of Tartus heavily populated with Alawites and Christians -- that seems to be more like opposition propaganda and is sourced only to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is placed at the bottom. This order would likely be reversed if Barnard had written the story, and without the caveats that "The account could not be independently confirmed."

It's a refreshing departure for the New York Times, putting it more in line with the reporting provided by Reuters and The Associated Press. Here are the important paragraphs in Hubbard and Saad's story. First, on the rebel setback in Adra:
In the deadliest attack, government forces ambushed a group of rebel fighters in the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, and left dozens of dead bodies lying in the sand, according to video broadcast on Al Manar, a television station run by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group and political party that supports President Bashar al-Assad. 
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad group based in Britain that tracks the conflict through a network of contacts on the ground, said on Monday that 65 people had been killed in the countryside around Damascus, including 58 insurgent fighters. The ambush in Adra accounted for 49 rebel deaths. 
It was another blow to the rebel movement. The momentum in the civil war has shifted in favor of Mr. Assad, whose forces have rolled back a number of rebel gains near Damascus, the capital, and elsewhere. Infighting among rebels who took up arms to topple Mr. Assad has allowed his forces to solidify their hold on central Syria and gradually expand their reach.
Next, the Kurds vs. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS):
Clashes have been raging for days across the ethnically mixed strip of land along the northern border with Turkey, pitting mainstream rebels and extremist groups linked to Al Qaeda against Kurdish militias. The Kurds, Syria’s largest ethnic minority, seek greater control of their own areas and fight to keep the rebels out. 
On Sunday, Kurdish fighters surrounded the local leader of one of the groups linked to Al Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, inside a school he and his fighters were using as a base near the border town of Tel Abyad. Activists said the Kurdish fighters did not storm the school to detain the group’s leader, who is known by the nom de guerre Abu Musab, because they feared he would blow up the school. 
To push the Kurds to grant him safe passage, rebels and the group’s fighters detained hundreds of Kurdish civilians. The two sides finally reached a deal and the group’s leader was released in return for the 300 detained Kurdish civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory group. 
Syria’s Kurds have used the erosion of state control during the civil war to push for greater autonomy in their areas. This has increased tensions with the area’s rebel fighters, many of whom hope to found an Islamic state. Other rebel groups resent the extremists who have joined the fight in Syria to serve their own ends.
With ISIS blowing up mostly civilians throughout Iraq, 250 people have been killed since the start of Ramadan, there has been sparse New York Times reporting from Baghdad. Tim Arango, who had been reporting from Iraq, hasn't been heard from since he covered the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul this June. This is a big failure for the Gray Lady. There is an obvious connection between the violence in Iraq and Syria; it's a regional jihad bankrolled no doubt by wealthy Wahhabis. I am reminded of the Rumsfeldian neoconservative wisdom, "When you've got a problem, often the way to solve it is to first make the problem bigger." Or something to that effect. But if the Times accurately covered the regional nature of the jihad and whose money is making it possible that would queer the anti-Assad pitch of the U.S. State Department that the paper has been parroting in its daily reporting.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #30

Drinking and fighting (with friends), the cruel story of youth. But this is after all the "Colt 45 Chronicle." Not a lot of pyrotechnics in this letter though, which is to my college buddy Shale. A lot about fellow Berkeley man Matt Biondi who had just won a number of gold medals at the Seoul Olympics that summer and who I gush about drunkenly (and laughably) based on a momentary glance he cast in my direction one sunny Sunday afternoon. But I catch myself mid-epistle, leaning heavily on Nietzsche in the process. Shale was a Nietzsche man all the way.

The fantasy, the palm at the end of my drunken young-man mind, that closes the communication is a recurring one -- the full house, the children asleep, etc. Now it's obvious to me that, like a lot of people from broken homes, I was trying to restore some sort of idealized lost unity; that, and, living in a high rise and working in the megalopolis, I was feeling isolated.
Autumn 1988 
Oh, my God, you wrote! With tapes no less. The clouds part and a single dove descends, lighting on my brow and filling me with the Spirit -------------- Diogenes marches into Athens; the Pig spits banquet brew in a whore's face; we all dance on D. Boon's grave.
A lot of water under the bridge since we last talked, too much to recapitulate here. Suffice it to say that we rambled out of Berkeley on a Saturday afternoon and were married in Reno on a Saturday night; drove across USA and then into NY; Ashley is going to school, and I have a boring/shitty job. Terri was here when we arrived but soon went to Guatemala to see Colum. Now she's back. Colum was here for a brief time doing a story on crack with a friend of his from Columbia. The last night he was here I drank too much. Terri and I, Johnny Walker Red label and a case of ol' Adolph. We got into a fight, Colum and I that is. I don't remember what I said. I feel pretty crummy about the whole thing. I puked later on that evening. One thing's for sure, this place is plenty overrated. I'm ready to climb back into the driver's seat and rediscover the West. Biondi and all those gold medals started me thinking about Berkeley again. I used to walk by that gym every day. You had to look up. The pool was on my route to campus. Once, when I was on my way down from the fire trail during one of my seasonal displays of physical assiduity -- I had run the fire trail three days in a row, or something like that -- I had an encounter with Biondi. Harmon pool was straight ahead and I was feeling good, turning on the speed and shining that shine you can only beam after five-plus miles. Biondi shot me a look, which was simply the look of humble and beneficent respect from a colossal and world-historic athlete. I had forgotten all about this until I was watching TV. So I started rooting for him. He became Berkeley and Berkeley became him. -- Oh, man, I know, beer-tear waxing over now-jaundiced adolescence. I'm not pumping atavism, no "Use and Abuse" herds-feeding-yonder(ism) here; it's just that it beats anything else, truth-value wise, at this juncture. Anyway, I came home Friday evening after performing the 9-to-5 eternal return, and I see your package on the table. I rip it open and read the letter, and bam! I do the reverse hermeneutic and shoot into the future. You said something about a commune. So I immediately started thinking about the time when Ashley and I have the full-blown manor house, behind which is an austere chalet, the one with your name plate always polished. Ashley is at the hospital, the kids are in bed, and, tossing my head up to a big fat clock on the wall, seeing that it's a quarter 'til, I dart out the door and down the path -- to Uncle Shale's. I hit the door, but before even touching wood, the fridge case-full and the stereo speaker-loud, are calling me in. I stride in and your just slurping down your last drop of java, text still in hand. Alright! Where's the beer?
Who the fuck fights the good fight anymore? Thank God for you, man. Toadies, featherweights, that's the shit filling the box seats, let alone general admission.

Anne Barnard's Schizophrenic Syrian Civil War Reporting

Anne Barnard has been working overtime in her reporting on the Syrian civil war to paint the conflict as an oppressed people rising up against an Alawite Stalin, Bashar al-Assad, bent on ethnic cleansing. Any Syrian who supports the government is either a dupe, a Shiite zealot or a regime goon. 

The latest installment in this effort -- since last week Barnard, Beirut Bureau Chief for the New York Times, has been reporting from Damascus -- is "Enlisting Damascus Residents to Answer Assad’s Call." And despite its toeing of the U.S. State Department line -- Barnard highlights the role of Iran in training pro-government neighborhood militias -- reality, even if it is always shunted to the bottom of her stories, finds its way into the piece:
In an apartment draped with philodendrons in the nearby Shiite quarter, Bassem Wehbe described why the militia was needed. A Sunni gang had kidnapped him from his nearby grocery store, he said, taunted him with sectarian slogans and chopped off his finger with an ax. His finger still bandaged, he played a video of the act that the captors had sent to his family. 
He said he tried to reason with his captors — who he believed were Syrians influenced by televised sermons of radical clerics in Saudi Arabia — telling them of the Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages and business dealings common in the Old City. 
“They said, ‘No, this period is over,’ ” Mr. Wehbe said. “Is it possible we were in this country?” 
A few days later, Christians packed the Street Called Straight, carrying the coffin of a man killed by kidnappers to a nearby church. 
Watching was one of the militiamen from the park, who had said earlier that he joined only to protect the neighborhood. Now, he said he would happily deploy to fight rebels in the suburbs. 
“The best way to defend,” said another militiaman, “is to attack.”
For a more nuanced assessment of support for the al-Assad government than Barnard's, check out "The Plight of Syrian Minorities," which appears on the Counterpunch website this weekend. Written by Anna Haq, a pseudonym, religious minorities -- Alawites and Christians -- are described as not being mindlessly sectarian; rather, they are secular minded and not generally in favor of the Baathist ruling party under al-Assad. It's just that the rebels are so bad there is no longer any choice but to support the government. Here are the passages that grabbed my attention:
Despite the claim of the opposition that the government has lost its credibility, the Assad regime has established its control not only militarily but also among those who remained on Syrian soil. In Homs, the army made major advances in the neighborhood of al-Khaldieh where the armed rebels gathered after the fierce battles of Baba Amer. On their route to Khaldieh, the armed rebels forced the inhabitants of old Homs, mostly Christians, out of their homes over night. Those who could not leave (the elderly and the sick) sought refuge in the Jesuit Monastery in Bustan al-Daiwan. The rebels would like to think that these sixty hostages might be there only ticket out of a foreseeable siege. Meanwhile, in retaliation for the bombardment of al-Khaldieh, and of what might seem a last hope to wreck havoc among civilians, the rebels have been firing mortars at the neighborhoods of Akrama and al-Nuzha. Concentrations of Alawites and Christians, these neighborhoods seem perfect to target allegedly pro-government civilians. 
Of course, not all Alawites and Christians are pro-Assad. Unless directly related to the Assad family, Alawites remain largely peasantry communities. Like many of the Christian minority, urban Alawites are middle-class civil servants who cannot afford a taxi ride toward Beirut or Amman and prefer a dignified death in their homes to the humiliation of refugee camps. “I have been labeled pro-government without given the chance to express my political views,” says Hisham furiously, his gesticulations are wider than the skype window. “This revolution erupted against the tyranny of the Assad family but the Sunni rebels proved to be more barbaric than the Assad army could ever be.” The recent rebel attack on al-Qumeirah checkpoint generated some attention to the plight of minorities in Syria, yet the Alawites have been spared such sympathy. “It is bad enough that the media ignored the situation of religious and ethnic minorities since the eruption of the revolution. Now that they remembered us, they seem to marginalize the Alawites,” Khaled confirms while compassionately tapping the 20-years old Hisham on the back. “I am Christian but I am anti-Assad. Well, I was anti-Assad but the rebels left us no choice. I volunteer for my neighborhood checkpoint to protect my loved ones,” adds Hisham. 
The slaughtering of 14 young men at al-Qumeirah checkpoint was the latest scare in west Homs. The bodies of the four soldiers and ten young civilians were found decapitated, heads were taken as trophies. The checkpoint is one among few others set by the government around al-Zara but maintained mostly by civilians to guard their villages from the rebels treading the path from Lebanon to al-Husun. The recent attacks served as a reminder to religious and ethnic minorities of their plight: they are alone in their fight. Earlier in the conversation, Adnan wondered: “where were the BBC when a Christian engineer was slaughtered in his bed in Homs in March 2011? Do they know that he made an exceptional contribution to the Civil Engineering department at al-Baath University for which he received a prize he did not live enough to enjoy? Where were they when many other youth were murdered in their beds by the rebels? Where is the Syrian Coalition? Are they ever going to denounce the barbaric acts of the jihadist? Do they think they can win the liberals back with their cowardly silence?”
The reality of the Syrian civil war, convincingly presented in this one story, is what has Anne Barnard working overtime trying to obscure. The rebels have very little domestic support at this point. The most active rebel military units are Kurds and foreign fighters of Al Qaeda affiliates. The U.S. government cannot officially acknowledge this since it does not support Kurdish statehood, and it is at war with Al Qaeda affiliates. Yet the Obama administration is committed to providing military aid to the opposition. It's a schizophrenic position, the strain of which is reflected in Barnard's reporting.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Week is a Long Time

The ocean of time that laps through the doors of one's perception in the span of 168 hours is too sublime for the mind to comprehend. We use crude notations to give us a sense of what has gone before, but it's hopeless. We're animals trapped in the present permitted snatches of past presents.

I am resting up today for a 5K race tomorrow. So I didn't go out for my usual early Saturday morning eight-mile run. But I'm missing the mobility now. Movement is everything.

I did read an interesting blog post this morning on Naked Capitalism. It's a cross post from Wolf Richter's Testosterone Pit. Tokyo Electric Power Company has been systematically lying about the radiation exposure levels caused by the meltdown of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Here's what caught my attention:
All this came at a very inconvenient time: TEPCO is cooling the reactors and spent fuel rods with a constant flow of water – 400 metric tons per day – and then stores that contaminated water in tanks on site. But some of them have been leaking due to sloppy workmanship. Plus, it cannot indefinitely build new tanks for that endless flow of water. So, it is trying to get approval to just dump that contaminated water into the Pacific. Whatever isn’t already leaking into it.
For some reason I was under the impression that the reactors had been sealed and stabilized. I had no idea that they're still hot and requiring constant inundation with water to keep from burning and that the water has to be stored because it's radioactive. I consider myself informed. It just goes to show you that we are trapped in the present. You change the images on the screen for a few days and we forget what has gone before.

Thor: God of Thunder #9

Another Marvel NOW! title, along with All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, that is gorgeous to look at and well written is Thor: God of Thunder. Written by Jason Aaron with art by Esad Ribic and colors by Ive Svorcina, Thor: God of Thunder tells the story of three Thors -- Thor, the young man when he wielded an ax; Thor, the man with the hammer we have come to know over the decades; and Thor, the one-eyed old man All-Father ruler of Asgard  -- as they battle Gorr the God Butcher across space and time to prevent him from setting off his deity-annihilating Godbomb.

Below are three pages from Thor: God of Thunder #9. The Thors fight Gorr in outer space:

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Last Waltz, Pt. 1

We've come to the Hippies vs. Punks Rosetta Stone (at least my personal touchstone) -- The Last Waltz (1978).

A conceit is indulged here. The conceit is that I am an everyman personification of Hippies vs. Punks. I was born the year Kesey and the Merry Pranksters kicked off the Aquarian Age with their bus ride across the country to the 1964 New York World's Fair, and I was raised by parents who went from being solid middle-class liberals to commune-founding Hippies. When I set out on my own as a young man fresh from the university I did so flyin' the flannel, a symbol of Hardcore Punk popularized by bands on the SST Records label. And my first run as a bachelor, at the age of 25 after I parted company with my wife, was done under the guiding light of The Last Waltz.

At the time, from 1990 to 1992, I was living in the crack-infested neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Morningside Heights. I repeatedly viewed, usually drunk and stoned and usually with my buddies, VHS copies of the Scorsese documentary of The Band's final concert at the Winterland Ballroom.

It's a great -- if not the greatest -- rock concert movie. It speaks especially to young men who are coming to the end of their 20s and realizing, as we were, that the high life is actually hard work.

But essentially The Last Waltz, both the film and the album, is a love letter to male beauty, virility, camaraderie and the adoration of women. As Robbie Robertson tells Scorsese early in the documentary, explaining how he came to get a job playing with The Hawk, Ronnie Hawkins, "He called me up, and I said, 'Sure I'd like a job. What does it mean? What do I do?' And he said, 'Well, son, you won't make much money, but you'll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra.' " This is what appealed to me as a newly minted bachelor on the dark side of my 20s, carousing the streets of upper Manhattan.

There are many reasons to class The Band as an Uber Hippie group. They were Dylan's band when he made his famous first electric tour of Europe in 1966. Following Dylan to Woodstock, The Band moved to Saugerties, NY, and in 1969, with "The Weight" a featured song in the Uber Hippie movie Easy Rider, they performed at the Uber Hippie music festival.

The more I thought about it this past week, the more I came to conclusion that The Last Waltz -- filmed on Thanksgiving Day in the California Bay Area, only three weeks after Carter squeaked by Ford in the 1976 presidential election, and released to theater audiences the spring of 1978 --  is Hippies vs. Punks ground zero. The period of time from performance to final product is the same time the Punks knock off the Hippies.

I realized too that the movie runs through my life at critical moments: when I graduate from high school in 1982; when I make my first run at being a bachelor, 1990 to 1992; and then again in 2002, during the 25th anniversary re-release, when I make my second run at being a bachelor. I'm now on my third attempt, and I think I've finally got it. And that's part of the realization -- I was trying to be like the guys in The Band -- desired by and enmeshed with women -- but they had it wrong. I think the key to happiness is to be able to avoid women.

All week I listened to Rick Danko (1977). (The cheapest used copy one can get on Amazon is $66.95.) Danko is my favorite member of The Band; he was also the first to be signed by a label as a solo artist (by the ghoulish Clive Davis for Arista Records). Much was revealed by my study of this album. The eventual fate of Danko with Arista is a perfect example of what was to happen to the Hippies forthwith in the late 1970s. But that's next Friday night.

Tonight, suffering a TKO from the work week (I didn't even make it to the grocery store) and with a race Sunday morning, I'm just priming the pump for what will be multiple Hippies vs. Punks posts on The Last Waltz.

No-Fly/Buffer Zone for Syria Still in the Works

The Gray Lady is not just the paper of record, it is also a vital propaganda organ for the United States government. Take, for instance, today's story by Michael R. Gordon, "Touring Refugee Camp, Kerry Sees Mounting Syrian Suffering." There is nothing newsworthy here. The massive size of the Zaatari refugee camp on the Jordanian border with Syria has been subject of previous reports. We know that its population is over 100,000, the majority of which are children, and that it is costly to operate and that the United Nations has struggled with its administration. The point of the story is not about refugees and the audience that six of them had with Secretary of State John Kerry. The point of the story is to keep the bad idea of a no-fly zone in the news. Refugees are quoted plaintively demanding military succour:
But as frustrated Syrian refugees appealed for Western military intervention to halt the attacks by the Syrian government’s forces, Mr. Kerry’s visit soon became a graphic illustration of the limits of the Obama administration’s policy. 
“We are not satisfied with the American answers,” said Jamalat Abdulraouf al-Hariri, 43, after her meeting with Mr. Kerry. 
“We just need an action,” she added, noting that the refugees wanted the United States to establish a no-fly zone or a protected area for civilians inside Syria. “We always hear words.”
Kerry's response is quoted at the end of the story:
“We are trying to help in various ways, including helping Syrian opposition fighters have weapons,” Mr. Kerry added. “We are doing new things. There is consideration of buffer zones and other things, but it is not as simple as it sounds.”
And the propaganda function is fulfilled. When the story appeared yesterday on Google News the lede was about no-fly zones. So once again no-fly zones are in the news, despite the fact that the Syrian government is widely regarded to have all but won the civil war. An interesting alteration is how a "buffer zone" is now being introduced along with "no-fly zone" as an interchangeable term when clearly it is not. Establishing a no-fly zone would do little to change the facts on the ground because much of the fighting is conducted without air power. But a buffer zone entails claiming Syrian territory by full military means.

It is important to keep in mind here what Franklin Lamb reported on the Counterpunch web site last month, that the prevailing wisdom of Congressional staffers he polled on Capitol Hill was that a no-fly zone would be in place by the end of summer.

The story today tells me that a no-fly/buffer zone is still in the works. War pig Senator John McCain's block on General Martin Dempsey's second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pending his fulsome proclamation of support for the rebels is more proof.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gray Lady Discovers Reality of Syrian Civil War

The newspaper of record is finally trying to get atop of the Syrian civil war story. Ben Hubbard, who has been reporting from Cairo on the coup in Egypt, spells Beirut Bureau Chief Anne Barnard and provides a frontpage story, "Momentum Shifts in Syria, Bolstering Assad’s Position," that appears top of the fold right-hand side of this morning's New York Times national edition. In it, Hubbard gives a bird's-eye view of developments that have been well underway for several weeks but have been given short shrift by Barnard; the long and short of which is that the rebels are coming apart at the seams -- despised by local populations that they're purportedly liberating, fighting among themselves and distrusted by their state benefactors -- and that the Syrian government is steadily consolidating its territory on the battlefield.

To be sure, Hubbard doesn't abandon the Gray Lady's anti-Assad bias; but he does curb its enthusiasm for the rebels (Barnard consistently reports on the rebels through the rose-colored glasses of the Arab Spring). There are some choice passages:
Even fighters who had hoped that Mr. Assad would end up deposed, dead, jailed or exiled like other autocrats singled out in the Arab Spring uprisings have begun to acknowledge the emerging reality. 
“If the revolution continues like this, the people will revolt against us,” said a rebel commander from the central city of Homs, where Mr. Assad’s forces have made gains in recent days. 
The commander, who wanted only his first name, Ahmed, used to protect his family, criticized his fellow rebels for putting the interests of their brigades ahead of the wider anti-Assad struggle and accused them of hoarding powerful weapons or selling them for a profit. That lack of unity has prolonged the war and made their mission harder, he said. 
“If a regular Syrian comes and asks me what we have given him, I don’t know what to say,” Ahmed said.
Hubbard quotes Free Syrian Army leader General Salim Idris basically tossing in the sponge, saying the West wants to maintain al-Assad in power:
“They do not want the fall of this regime; that is why they are not helping,” said Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the Free Syrian Army, a loosely knit umbrella group that has been soliciting aid and that is supposed to funnel it to vetted groups while keeping it from extremists. 
General Idris accused the West of delaying with endless meetings, summits and requests for new “guarantees” that extremists would not get arms, and said this left the rebels at a huge disadvantage against Mr. Assad’s forces.
The reporting of the Times from Egypt has always been much stronger than the coverage of Syria, which is a testament to David Kirkpatrick. Barnard's reporting seems to follow the basic contours of the official position of the U.S. government. And while Hubbard's article is a welcome improvement, he does make one glaring omission. In recounting state support of the rebels, he mentions Saudi Arabia and Qatar; but he fails to mention the role the Central Intelligence Agency has played in providing logistical support as well as the rebel training base it runs in Jordan.

Hubbard, writing with Hwaida Saad, also has a story about yesterday's murder of al-Assad supporter Mohammed Darrar Jammo in southern Lebanon and the battle between the Wahhabis and the Kurds in the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain:
Along another Syrian border, fighting among Syrian rebels, extremist groups and Kurdish militias killed 29 fighters in Syria and at least one civilian in Turkey.
The clashes in the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain pitted Syrian rebels and extremists linked to Al Qaeda against Kurdish militias that have used the chaos of the civil war to push for greater autonomy.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts on the ground, said the clashes began Tuesday when extremist fighters attacked a Kurdish patrol and took a Turkish militiaman captive.
On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters seized control of most of the town and the nearby border crossing with Turkey as fighting spread to nearby areas, the observatory said, adding that at least 29 combatants had been killed since Tuesday, 10 of them Kurds.
Reporting from London, Alan Cowell has more bad news for the Syrian opposition in his story "Britain Said to Step Back From Push to Arm Syrian Rebels":
After leading a determined push with France to remove legal hindrances to arming Syria’s rebels, Britain is apparently signaling a more cautious approach, even as British newspaper reports say Prime Minister David Cameron has retreated from the idea altogether.
The car bombs and mortar attacks will continue as the SAA continues operations. But at this point it appears the Syrian government has won the civil war.