Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Leroy Jenkins, RIP

The violinist on the left, not the loudmouth avatar in Worlds of Warcraft, you idiots! Leroy succumbed to lung cancer over the weekend. If you don't own his groundbreaking album, Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America, you should.

To Hell with Self-Esteem

You could smell this coming for years, what with the silly-ass "Pumsy the Dragon" efforts to teach self-esteem in the early 1990s. Sure enough, researchers at San Diego State University are reporting unprecedented levels of narcissism among college students. This study falls into the "Well, duh" category.

When self-esteem is leavened with social responsibility, you end up with autonomous, strong individuals who recognize a shared need to help others. When "It's all about me" is repeated as a mantra, you end up with a self-obsessed society that pays no attention to true news on foreign affairs, environment, politics, economics, but instead twiddles over minutae regarding celebrities. (And thank you, Saturday Night Live, for the enlightening skit on Wolf Blitzer and Anna Nicole Smith Feb. 24.)

Don't even get me started on social-networking sites. There is a great grassroots component to MySpace and YouTube, encouraging those with talent to share music and video without a mediator. But when the dominant personality on such a site is a person that simply wants to be famous, without seeing the need for actually doing anything to be famous, you end up with the worship of the superficial. Lakshmi Chaudry told us where this might lead in an essay in The Nation.

To the vain, preening peacocks that make up most of modern society, a challenge: try making it through a whole day, discussing societal news and trends, without making a single self-referential statement. No matter what Time magazine said in its Person of the Year issue, it really isn't all about you.

Friday, February 23, 2007

She's Lost Control

Oh boy - a feature-length film on the life and death of Ian Curtis of Joy Division. I can hardly wait.

The Other Shoe Drops in Somalia

When the U.S. sent AC-130 gunships into Somalia Jan. 1 to conduct direct assaults on the Council of Islamic Courts, it was pretty obvious there was a bigger story going on, one the U.S. press was blithely and pointedly ignoring (hey, it was New Year's, everyone was hung over, right?). The New York Times has remedied this with a front-page story by Michael Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, detailing how Task Force 88 of the Central Command used an Ethiopian airfield to launch its assaults, and shared satellite intelligence with the Ethiopian military. The effort also involved F-15s flown from al-Udeid air base in Qatar, and U.S. Navy ships operating off the coast. The effort was allegedly made to track "key al-Qaeda operatives" around the small village of Ras Kamboni, but the few Islamic Courts activists tracked down in the swamps represented a sad result for a major U.S. military operation. Make no mistake, there is new terror activism going on in North Africa, but the CIC that temporarily took over Somalia was a relatively moderate Islamic bunch. Even a source like The Economist claims the U.S. would have been better off working with the CIC than providing CIA payments to the former warlords (the same factions that took down our Blackhawk in 1993) and shmoozing up to the current Ethiopian government. Linking Ethiopia closer to satellite bases in Qatar and Djibouti could be a mistake. Let's remember the great "intelligence base struggle" in the Horn of Africa during the Ford and Carter years, when the U.S. expanded and abandoned the Kagnew base in Ethiopia (now a part of Eritrea), while the U.S. and Soviet Union squabbled over an intelligence base in Berbera, Somalia. Allegiances flew back and forth all over the place during the Horn of Africa war in 1977. Payback time was reached in the warlord battles of 1992-93. And still we never learn. U.S. covert forces will be up to their necks in the collateral damage spun from the Task Force 88 actions on New Year's Day.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charles Gocher of Sun City Girls, RIP

Charles Gocher of Sun City Girls, the band's resident bard and grump, has died of cancer at 54. Since you won't see much on the news wires, go to Sun City Girls for more info. The Bishop brothers have big shoes to fill.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Robert Seldon Lady: Naming Names

Now that Germans, Italians, and other NATO members are indicting CIA agents (mostly operating under false names) left and right for participation in the "extraordinary rendition" scandal, isn't it about time that U.S. journalists drop their silly reticence to name the key players, solely out of fear of violating Intelligence Identities Protection Act? The Italian Web site 4law, backed up by Wikipedia et al., says that the main planner for the kidnapings is Robert Seldon Lady, who was operating out of Milan during most of the period in question. He's now a retiree living in the U.S. Other key personnel included Jeffrey Castelli, then CIA station chief in Rome; Col. Joseph Romano of Aviano Air Base; and agents Sabrina De Sosa and Ralph Henry Russomando. Why isn't this regularly reported in the U.S.? Since Web reporting is international by nature, we can only chalk it up to the chickenshit nature of U.S. journalists.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A New US Space Base in Australia

The US government signed a pact with Australia Feb. 14 to use an existing Australian intelligence base at Geraldton, north of Perth, as a ground station for a Pentagon voice-band communication network called Mobile User Objective System.

I write a blog for EE Times in which I provided a recap of US space bases in Australia, MUOS and similar systems, and the danger of a new Pine Gap flap. Rather than repeat it all here, I'll just send you to my other blog entry. It's important to keep track of these basing agreements as they arise.

Army Land Grabs and Dead Cattle

Ranchers in southeastern Colorado found themselves doubly screwed by the feds this week. On Monday, the USDA denied disaster status and low-interest loans to ranchers who lost dozens of cattle when January blizzards on the plains stranded them for hundreds of miles in all directions.

To add insult to injury, the Pentagon on Valentine's Day approved the Army's effort to seek millions of acres of land between Pueblo and Trinidad, to expand the Pinon Canyon training site for Fort Carson. In most cases, this affects the same ranchers that were denied USDA aid. The area is massive, encompassing several small towns between Trinidad and La Junta. The Army already conducted a series of Environmental Impact hearings last fall, and now apparently has to go through the same process again. Expansion opponent Bill Sulzman wonders if a boycott of the EIS process might be in order.

Country-cowboy singer Michael Martin Murphey is planning a benefit concert for the ranchers' blizzard losses in Pueblo on March 18. Meanwhile, the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition is moving into full swing in response to the Pentagon action. What is a travesty is that some Colorado environmental groups seem to tacitly support Army expansion plans, under a twisted belief that the Pentagon would be better land stewards than a bunch of libertarian ranchers. Environmentalists should never work with the Pentagon. Even if ranchers and tree-huggers may not always see eye to eye, we need to support these folks in getting the disaster relief they need, and in opposing the Army's crazy plans for extending Fort Carson to the New Mexico border.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This Man Loves Hedge Funds. Really.

Ever since The Washington Post morphed from pseudo-liberal to neoconservative, it started adding some truly awful pundits. Among the worst was the Brit spoiled Fauntleroy, Sebastian Mallaby. This wanker has given us some wonderful excuses on why it would be beneficial for the United States to assume the Victorian mantle of the British empire yada yada -- at least he's more honest at preferring global dominance than some of his colleagues.
But in the Jan.-Feb. Foreign Affairs, Mallaby has outdone himself, arguing against any regulation of hedge funds. Some of his points on the self-regulation of hypercapitalism may have merit, but he never addresses the central moral problem of hedge funds and super-wealth -- that it is simply wrong for any individual, even a mathematical genius, to make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Hedge fund managers accumulate much greater personal wealth than investment bank partners or Silicon Valley CEOs, and Mallaby doesn't have a problem with that. Yes, the most obvious problem with hedge funds is the ones that go bad, like Long Term Capital Management and Amaranth Advisors, but the more insidious (and obvious) problem is that at a time of growing income disparity, it is simply wrong for anyone to make that much money from global flows of capital. And Mallaby is morally bankrupt for not recognizing that.
CORRECTION: As of two weeks ago, Mallaby has left the WP to join the Council on Foreign Relations as head of the Greenberg Center of Geoeconomic Studies. Heaven help us all. And thanks to Doug Henwood for pointing this out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Superbugs in Iraq (and Walter Reed)

Wow, did Wired magazine have an unexpected scoop in the February issue! Steve Silberman tells us of the arrival of a superbug, Acinetobacter baumanii, among wounded soldiers in Iraq, and in evacuated soldiers taken to many Army field hospitals. This little sucker sounds worse than MRSA. Silberman wisely points to two distinct problems giving rise to AB: the universal danger of superbugs, immune to most antibiotics, which has few resolutions; and the logistical problem of the Combat Support Hospital, one of the many unpleasant and unforeseen side effects of Donald Rumsfeld's "revolution in military affairs," based on a leaner, meaner Army. Hey, we could spend all our time worrying about MRSA or AB or avian flu, and some concerns may be overblown, but the fact remains: there will be pandemics in our future which our technology can't sidestep, and some may be based on our ill-considered occupation of foreign nations.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Powers Finished, Clemenceau Up to Bat

Finished Richard Powers' The Echo-Maker, winner of the 2006 National Book Award, last night. While not my absolute favorite of his many stellar works (odd that it was the only one to take NBA), this is a beautiful piece on the nature of consciousness and sibling relationships. It was strange to find so many people on various online review sites say they thought the book "dragged." I found its pace and its character interplay to be ideal. Maybe everyone just looks for more car chases and burning buildings these days. Anyway, I'd recommend Powers' entire body of work any day.

Next up, the official version of Gary Clemenceau's Banker's Holiday. I reviewed the galleys for the Cold.Steel.Press web site at the end of the year, and I stand by my observation then. This book is fast-paced, ruthless in indictment of corporate culture, and is scary as hell and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time. Can't wait to read the Official Version.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Circle and Magik Markers

I got introduced to Southern Records' "Latitudes" series last summer courtesy of Sir Richard Bishop and his "Fingering the Devil" release. This week I picked up two other "Latitudes" releases - "Tyrant" by Circle and "The Voldoror Dance" by Magik Markers. Circle is a Finnish band that claims to be death metal, but they sound more like improv jazz. Magik Markers have a ton of CDs, and I'm embarrassed to admit this is the first one I've heard. They're drum- and rhythm-driven metallic noise, like a mix of Harry Pussy and early Comets On Fire, and I just love 'em to death. Both releases are highly recommended.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Pynchon Done, On to Powers

Finished Against the Day on Jan. 31, and it's on to Richard Powers' Echo Maker. I honestly thought AtD was the equal to Gravity's Rainbow, perhaps almost better. It's certainly complementary. Where GR is cold, sterile steel with a plot following a hyperbolic curve, AtD is warm, human, with plots reaching multiple crescendos in the last hundred pages. AtD might almost give one a greater reason for hope - where Blicero's death star on the GR final page is no joy to anyone, the Chums of Chance "fly toward grace" at the end of AtD, and many characters live through diversity and begin hopeful lives together. Sure the paranoia is there, involving WWI and Ludlow and Palmer Raids this time instead of WWII, but there's something almost sweet about AtD. Incidentally, picked up Zak Smith's Gravity's Rainbow Illustrated, too, and it adds a whole new dimension to Pynchon's classic.