Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins RIP

Well, no surprise, Matt Rothschild of The Progressive had warned at the start of the year that Molly might not last another month or two because of her cancer, but damn if she wasn't the feistiest loudmouth to come out of Tejas. She will be missed. Who's gonna rag on about the "dumber-than-a-fencepost Texas lege" now? Molly Ivins, presente!

Three Cheers for German Prosecutors...

... for issuing arrest warrants against 13 CIA operatives involved in "extraordinary renditions" in Germany. Of course, the U.S. will never extradite them. But the word needs to go out to U.S. citizens that any folks involved in aiding CIA proprietary airlines in North Carolina and elsewhere, serving as pilots and medics as well as active CIA agents, should be subject to international arrest, maybe even subject to the same extraordinary rendition procedures they inflicted on others. End of story.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mahdi Cults and Najaf End-Times

It's easy to roll our eyes and make fun of the "Soldiers of Heaven" cult in Najaf, that tried to eradicate Shia religious leaders, sparking a U.S. assault Sunday afternoon in which more than 250 eventually were killed. Shia killing Shia? Mehdis looking for the twelfth imam? What is this shit?

We forget that, wedged between the Iranian hostage-taking and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, was a very eerie event that took place on November 20 of that year. An internationalist Islamic army of 1500 tried to take over the Qaaba, the holy black stone of Mecca, sparking violent reactions by Saudi and international forces. The leader of that particular revolt also claimed to be a mahdi who would change the face of Islam's future, just as in the Jan. 28 Najaf event. The 1979 revolt may have been a sardonic footnote to everything else that went on that bleak fall, but it set the tone for a new kind of Western consciousness, one that turned Jimmy Carter into a de facto conservative, willing to listen to Zbig Brzezinski on CIA funding, and willing to bring back the draft.

We should not underestimate the ability of crazy end-times Islamic cults to set a new scary consciousness tone to the already wretched situation in Iraq. End-times thinking begets end-times thinking. The Evangelicals will be ready to goad the Zionists into attacks on Iran. Turkey will be ready to play turkey over the status of Iraqi Kurdistan (and with the way we've been treating Kurds in Irbil lately, we shouldn't think the U.S. has friends on either side of that divide). The Democrats have been thinking that Bush's surge will be a slow, inexorable push to a bigger meatgrinder. That might be the optimistic scenario. If Nov. 20, 1979 is any guide, multiple calamities could begin to erupt much, much faster than that. Allah Aqbar.

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATION: Patrick Cockburn of the Independent in the UK cites several Islamic Web sites and Shia sources to suggest that the "Soldiers of Heaven" was really a pilgrimage of Iranians for Ashura, and that the story was made up to justify U.S. attacks on Iran. Perhaps. The U.S. is certainly involved in a lot of covert efforts to prod Iran into a fight. But plow deeper into Cockburn's story, and you'll see admissions that Ahmad al-Hassani (Abu Kabar) was indeed involved in the Najaf incident, and that this group of pilgrims, from the Hawatim tribe, was "heavily armed." Maybe there was no cult attempt to attack Shia holy sites in Najaf. Maybe the U.S. and Iraqi governments both over-reacted. But somehow I'm inclined to show even more skepticism for Cockburn's take on this than I do the Iraqi government's.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Which Kind of Ethanol?

President Bush was rightly taken to task for pushing fiber-based ethanol in his State of the Union speech -- not because it isn't the preferred brand, but because it's years away. But at least Bush was smart enough not to run around insisting corn-based ethanol was in any way green. This point of view is being touted in both parties within Congress, led by Iowa caucus power lobbyists, and Archer Daniels Midland.
Kudos, then, to IEEE Spectrum magazine for listing corn-based ethanol among the loser ideas in its January 2007 "winners and losers" issue. Not only does ethanol production from corn take more energy input than the fuel it creates, but many projects are based on coal for fuel production. And the consequences of corn shortages could be profound. Already, Mexican consumers and farmers are protesting about the rise in corn commodity pricing combined with NAFTA dumping, and the days of "8 ears for a buck" corn may be gone. Before you slap that "ethanol is green" button on your shirt, think about the type of ethanol you're promoting.
Postscript: Thanks to the Lansing State Journal in Michigan for a Jan. 29 article that debunks corn-based ethanol. Can someone please throttle Corn Cob Bob?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What Mandy Moore and I Have in Common

Don't laugh. She told Jane magazine about her struggles with depression, saying "I'm a very positive person, and I've always been glass-half full. So it was like someone flipped a switch in me. I wanted to figure out why." Sounds like me. Since age 12, I was like a manic-depressive stuck on manic, and I wondered when the ol' switch would hit. Happened somewhere between 9/11 and Bush's second term, and it seemed like a permanent shift of tectonic plates.

I'm doing OK, trying to find little things to be joyful about each day, but the way in which depressive states of mind can overwhelm you really limits the ability to toggle that switch. Carrie Newcomer described this state of mind very well in her song "Below the Waves" from the CD Regulars and Refugees, about a woman whose depressive states feel like treading water without breaking the surface:

An unwelcome guest in your home,
That comes to stay and never wants to go.
Not so much a shadow but a visitation,
A haunting foreign movie with no translation.

There's buzzing white noise in my head,
Then sometimes so silent I'm almost dead.
One true thing I hold to dear and fast
is the voice that whispers "Darlin' this too shall pass."
Even when I'm dying for air.

This is a picture not complaint
And making full sentences has never been my strength.
Some call this thing the soul of sadness
Self-indulgence or a brilliant madness.
All I know is I'm dying for air.

Good luck, Mandy. I'll just use my mental state to watch Bush's State of the Union and try to turn it into a constructive option.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Next Step, Arrest the Musicians

Who will rid me of this noxious Recording Industry Association of America??!!! The latest antic, reported by Pitchfork today, involved the actual arrest of two hip-hop DJs who dared to have their own Web site to sell and manufacture music. Listen up, RIAA - the recorded form of music as implemented in CDs and LPs will be dead soon. It will only survive in home-brewed CDs cooked up by independent musicians operating out of their basements. All else will fail. The RIAA has less than a few years to live.

Five Minutes to Midnight

This morning, Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking moved the hands of the doomsday clock at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to five minutes to midnight -- one of the closest tick-ticks since the height of the H-bomb era. I'm of two minds on this move. One side of me says that the huge nuclear arsenals have been reduced since the Cold War, weapons have gone off alert, and global crisis seems less imminent than during most of the 20th century. But another side says that the social fabric of humanity is more frayed in this century than it has ever been. Nuclear weapons have proliferated to states and actors who are truly scary. Environmental conditions may have improved on some limited fronts, but global warming appears to have passed the tipping point already. Enlightenment principles have been tossed out the window in many cultures, and the Bush administration has erased the firebreak between nuclear and conventional weapons.
"The unthinkable seems more likely now than it ever has been," said Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve, speaking at the BAS conference. I'm afraid he's right.
We don't face the sheer terror of the two world wars or the Cold War of the 20th century. But things are falling apart, the center is not holding, and I'm afraid we're five minutes away from being toast, utter toast.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Spicy Sweet Chili - the Only Dorito That Matters

A lot of those "new" hot flavors of Doritos begin to fade into habanero-Anaheim sameness, but the new "limited edition" Spicy Sweet Chili is the best new flavor in 20 years. Like those little dipping sauces in Chinese restaurants, only crunchy. Everybody should try this, and if you think like I do, tell Frito-Lay to make this puppy permanent. And remember, I never do shilling or whoring unless I get no remuneration. Frito-Lay wouldn't even give me a free bag for doing this.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Carter Center Resignations

The resignation of several Jewish board members of the Carter Center, protesting Jimmy Carter's position on the Israel-Palestine debate in his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, stands as proof positive of the closed minds of most American Jews. Criticize Israeli government policy in Israel, and get a lively debate. Criticize Israeli government policy in America, and you'll get called a Jew-hater if you're a gentile and a "self-hating Jew" if you're a Jew. I've got news for American Jews: Israel is an expansionist, colonialist apartheid state who has nuclear weapons and isn't afraid to use them. Of course, it's surrounded by dangerous enemies, but it's also dangerously imperialist and dangerously macho itself. The off-the-record comments of IDF members to the Sunday London Times, suggesting that Israel might use nuclear-tipped bunker-busters against Iranian nuclear sites, is a perfect example of a very twisted Israeli psyche. Kudos to Jimmy Carter for saying the truths that needed to be said, and to hell with American Jews who can't face the truth about the Israeli state.

Kurdish Surge Calamity in Irbil

It was pretty apparent following Bush's Jan. 10 speech that this particular White House gang didn't have the slightest clue on how to "turn the war around," seeing as how no one in the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis had a clue on the history of the Mesopotamia region to begin with. The raid on the Iranian consulate in Irbil, carried out simultaneously with the president's speech, proved this. For those of you who are not Kurd-aware, the northern sector of Iraq has functioned as a de facto independent Kurdish republic since mid-way through the Clinton era, and the Kurds have always been our close allies during and after the attack on Saddam. (Of course, the Turkish government worries they will declare an independent state that will rile up Kurds living in Turkey -- who are brutally repressed there -- but that's another story.) The problem for Bush is that the Kurds also have traditionally been close to Iran. U.S. forces invaded the Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan on Jan. 11 (local time) and took six Iranians hostage. This not only enflamed the international community as much as our Monday bombing of Somalia, it also upset our Kurdish allies because they were not consulted. While few online news sources reported the aftermath, NPR's Morning Edition reported that Kurdish troops (our good buddies and allies until today) held U.S. troops under arms this morning and refused to let them go until Army Black Hawk helicopters came to rescue them. And this is the "good diplomacy" our surging troops will be practicing. Former NSA Director William Odom is right, this surge mission in Iraq will only serve to further fuck things up. We are alienating all our friends and heaping disaster on disaster. OUT NOW!

P.S. Raw Story carried this analysis and CNN YouTube clip, featuring John Pike of, predicting that the attack on the Iranian consulate was a deliberate U.S. provocation to force Iran into war. Chilling story, chilling video.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Fascists, Dogmatists, or Just Bigmouths?

Rick Perlstein reviewed Chris Hedges' new book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America in the Jan. 7 NY Times Book Review, and concluded that while Hedges may have some good points, he is a neophyte at studying the religious right, and concludes wrongly that evangelicals are more likely to turn to violence than they were in the past. Now, I loved Hedges' book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, and I hate to pick on him when some conservative Americans take pleasure in not just chiding him, but physically beating him.

Nevertheless, without reading Hedges' book, I think Perlstein has a point here. There are many authors, from the ones cited by Perlstein to the long-time students of the right like Chip Berlet, who have studied famous evangelicals like James Dobson and their less-famous bretheren for years. They have carefully observed when such groups choose violence, and when they merely talk a good game. People ask me if I ever feel threatened, living in an evangelical town like Colorado Springs. I tell them that the only evangelicals that talked violence tended to be anti-tax militants that clung to the Amendment 2 crowd in 1992, and they are long gone. There is plenty to criticize in Dominionist philosophy, and a lot of warning signals to send. But the left uses the word fascism too much, and Perlstein is right in suggesting Hedges may be too quick to assume evangelicals are ready to enforce right-thinking with violence.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Pynchon AtD Wiki

Finally finished Neal Stephenson's stunning Baroque Cycle trilogy, and it's on to Pynchon's Against the Day. I already disagree with the negative NY Times book review cited earlier in this blog. The book starts with a very funny, adolescent, Jules Verne style look at dirigibles at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, then moves on to violent labor unrest in Colorado, and a Tesla study of polar electromagnetic fields that is as scary and unsettling as anything in Gravity's Rainbow. You won't go far in this book without a guide, and an AtD Wiki already has been created!

What is startling, and may not have been intentional beyond mutual admiration, is how much Stephenson's trilogy serves as a bridge between Mason and Dixon and AtD. Many of Pynchon's works refer to the unifying power of "shit, money, and The Word," which is not explicitly referenced in Stephenson, but serves as a backdrop in all three books. In the end of the trilogy, Sir Isaac Newton, who has been trying to finish a "System of the World" based on calculus and capitalism, must resort to alchemy and the "Philosophick Mercury" to save his life. In AtD, Merle and Webb engage in a discussion of quicksilver, the Philosopher's Stone, and the anti-Stone (like the stone removed from Daniel Waterhouse?), which could have been lifted and condensed directly from Stephenson. Anyway, those who do not find the new Pynchon in the same league as Gravity's Rainbow haven't been paying attention.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Xiu Xiu in Disguise, with Glasses

Something about this cryptic indie-moper column in Pitchfork is incredibly funny, though I'm still not sure about the point regarding enforced poverty the writer is trying to make. Maybe it has something to do with Joni Mitchell's "Boho Dance." In any event, the references to Xiu Xiu, Guided by Voices, Walkmen, Minutemen, and Adbusters magazine are priceless.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Frigid Vigil

2007 begins with the 3000th US death in Iraq. We held a cold candlelight vigil in Acacia Park. These numbers may look small beside the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, but it's still a grim statistic, made grimmer in my case by a December death that broke my heart.