Friday, February 29, 2008

Shoulda Been a Used-Car Salesman

And the implosion of traditional journalism continues. In the space of eight hours Feb. 29, I watched the company I've worked for for umpteen years split itself into four pieces, and then learned that my old alma mater, The Albuquerque Tribune, stopped publishing on Feb. 23. The lights go out, one by one....

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fraud by Consensus in Kosovo

Those stupid Serbs, acting like brats again, burning down the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, whining about Kosovo independence when everyone, including the U.S. government and all major EU nations, think it's a great thing. When the majority of nations are cheering, they must be right, right? Wellllll.........

I want to distinguish myself from some Western Marxist-oriented thinkers who tend to cheer on the Serbs simply because they're slavic pals of the Russkies - writers like Edward Herman, for example. I'm not one of them. I think that far too many Serbs followed nationalist rabid dogs like Milosevic and Seselj in the 1990s who deserved the moniker of fascist. But everything that happened in southern Serbia from 1999 on was a fraud concocted by the U.S. and NATO to preserve Western military dominance.

I'm grateful to the Globe and Mail in Canada for being a rare voice of reason amidst all the Western self-congratulation. To put it bluntly, this is all about "getting back" at the Serbs for their dalliance with Milosevic. I am offended by the way many Serbs acted in the Croatia and Bosnia crises, yet there was no "ethnic cleansing" or "genocide" in Kosovo prior to NATO bombing in 1999. Clinton merely decided to draw a line in the sand, ignoring the fact that the KLA was led by terrorists and drug-dealers, and sent Madeleine Albright to Rambouillet with a mission of giving the Serbs "negotiation" terms that amounted to "How would you like to have your ass kicked?" Since the bombing ended, the main goal of the UN mini-state has been to protect the vast U.S. military base, Camp Bondsteel. UN insiders say there is no way to make Kosovo a viable state. Yet we all cheer, and watch violence erupt in Belgrade and say it must be due to Serb fascist hotheads. Thank goodness for people like Diana Johnstone who tell the truth about this crazy world-turned-upside-down.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is This All There Is?

What does Lindsay Lohan's odd New York magazine photo shoot with Bert Stern, emulating Marilyn Monroe's 1962 session, have to do with the new study on the front page of The New York Times showing skyrocketing rates of suicide among 45-to-54-year old men (and increasing at an even faster rate among women of the same age)? You know it would have something to do with death and prescription drugs, as everyone is urging Lindsay not to pull a Marilyn, and the Times was hunting for a cause for middle-age suicide's popularity amidst all the Lunesta and Ambien floating around.

But I'm seeing something broader and eerier, touching on a subject Adbusters magazine has been hitting on for years. The Canadian anti-consumer journal, which has tended to be anti-script-drug without going all Tom Cruise about it, warns that corporations lull consumers into believing so utterly in the power of products and pills to provide meaning in their lives, that it can send some people into a spiral from which they never recover. The harsher analysts watching baby boomers go all morbid in midlife say that they're crybabies compared to the Greatest Generation, those stoic folks who put up silently with the Great Depression and WW2. Adbusters would respond that the silent majority never had to put up with the barrage of unhealthy messages telling boomers they could have it all, that the capitalist cornucopia would never end, and that there would never be a lull in success or a time for growing old.

Well, hell, now we've got a recession and a massive national debt, corporations are cutting out mid-level managers and making middle-agers feel worthless, and none of those prescription pills do jackshit except cause Ambien zombie driving. Need anyone ask why suicide is more popular among this segment?

And what about the young? If the Lohan-Spears syndrome is any indication, the 20-somethings are more narcissistic than any generation before, and more prone to turn every bad wrinkle in life into a drama-queen crisis -- and one publicized on Facebook and MySpace, thank you very much. Lindsay's seen the craziness of her peers, the accidental death of Heath Ledger, and seems to be saying that if all the wheels fall off her Landrover, she wants to turn it into a marketable item. Hence the photo shoot. To envision what comes after the boomer suicide craze, remember what Karl Marx said about how "history always repeats itself twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." The farces are omipresent already, except that there's nothing very funny about Marilyn Monroe retakes or campus massacres, just as there's nothing very funny about a lonely 53-year-old man filling his garage with carbon monoxide.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Di, Dodi, and a Conspiracy So Vast

Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrod's and father of the deceased Dodi, told a coroner's inquest Feb. 18 that his son and Princess Diana were murdered by British and French secret agents acting at the behest of the Royal Family, particularly Prince Philip. Obviously, this is the kind of thing that rekindles interest in a decade-old death and generates buzz in both print and online. The sad thing is that there are far too many people on the planet that appreciate the paranoid mindset. There's all kinds of proof the royals were creepy people and that Diana was not loved, but murder by MI-6? More like death by paparazzi!
As one blog commenter told the Guardian, sure you can show that Prince Philip was educated in Baden by people close to the Nazis, but that "doesn't prove a goddamn thing."
The way in which conspiracy theories kill critical thinking has been addressed quite well by people like Chip Berlet. But there are still great minds of my generation that have been destroyed by the search for the ultimate conspiracy -- take Global Outlook magazine, for example. There are indeed power structures that run the world, but searching for vast conspiracies is the business of small minds, not open ones.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Got a problem with wayward spy satellites leaking hydrazine, revealing their own secrets, and leaving large parts of themselves all over the globe? The solution is simple: shoot down the suckers with the new improved Navy SM-3 missile, on board every Aegis cruiser involved in theatre missile defense! In advance of a Valentine's Day press conference at the Pentagon, the Associated Press reported that that the DoD already had decided to shoot down USA 193, an experimental satellite of the National Reconnaissance Office, before it falls to Earth in early March.

USA 193 was an experimental spy satellite, reportedly built by Lockheed-Martin and launched on a Delta-II rocket from Vandenberg AFB in December 2006. The New York Times cited specific problems with an imaging device on the satellite, but Jonathan's Space Report said that the satellite was meant to test several types of imagers, including radar, and that the satellite itself failed.

John Pike at assumes the most important reason to shoot the satellite down is the toxic hydrazine used as a propellant. Security specialists wonder, since the satellite was intended for experimental sensors, if the intelligence agencies want the satellite destroyed before curious eyes can examine what's left of the payload. And critics of missile defense wonder if the whole show is just a way to promote the handy-dandy Aegis cruiser and its resident missile.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Thou Shalt Not, Except Sometimes

The State Department has taken a distinct and troubling new step by praising the assassination by car bomb of Imad Mughniyeh of Hezbollah. Not that I'd disagree too much, mind you -- the man who planned the 1983 Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks, and several of the Beirut Hezbollah kidnappings of the late 1980s, is probably indeed better off dead. A strict Christian approach to confronting evil would say that one can never rejoice over another's death. But let's face it, I was overjoyed the day Augusto Pinochet bit it, and will probably feel similarly for, say, Henry Kissinger or Dick Cheney (not the president, who is too much of a bumbling tool of the powerful). But I know I'm wrong to have a "party on the gravestone" view, and it seems troubling that the governments of the U.S. and Israel would make an official statement to praise a murder.

Warrantless Surveillance and the Lookalike Parties

To no one's surprise, the Senate completely caved in Feb. 12 and provided the White House and the National Security Agency everything it wanted in gutting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, including full indemnity for phone companies that get conned into performing illegal surveillance. The New York Times was smart enough to realize that the big issue was not simply how much of FISA was destroyed, or to what extent carriers could parade their "get out of jail free" cards, but rather the degree to which cowed Democrats in both houses of Congress, even when in a majority position, give the president everything he wants so as not to look "soft on terrorism." As the Times article points out, this does not bode well for Guantanamo, waterboarding, extraordinary renditions, habeas corpus, or much of anything else in the Bush imperial presidency. It's nice to have two lookalike parties - note that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did not vote.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Kathy Kelly Goes to Amman

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence never stops moving, she's been in Colorado several times over the last few years. On Feb. 9, she updated peace activists with stories from Amman, Jordan, where she has been witnessing the horrible conditions of Iraqi refugees trying to escape the violence in her own country. One nice thing about Kathy is that she does not minimize the tribulations of formerly rich citizens of Iraq, saying that the upper classes under Saddam are suffering every bit as much as the urban poor. In fact, criminal gangs in Baghdad have been identifying those refugees who might possibly have money left, and kidnapping their relatives so that they can get ransom that will impoverish the victims. The strategy seems as perverted as the ransom-grabbing efforts of Latin American "rebel" groups like FARC, who have been protested in recent weeks by thousands of people who are sick of seeing criminal tactics be touted as something revolutionary.

Kelly described helping a teenage British girl film interviews and testimonials from Iraqis in Amman. After some horribly unnerving stories, the British filmmaker woke from a nightmare muttering "I shouldn't be filming this, I shouldn't be filming this." Kelly's message for Americans in any aspect of the Iraq occupation is, "We shouldn't be causing this." But when we are so numbed as to the impact of our own actions, Kelly said, we ask ourselves "what percent of causation would we be comfortable with?", and decide that we can all live with a little planetary domination as long as we don't have to see the blood.

Kelly will be participating in a peace walk that will travel from Chicago to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Her organization is one that deserves help from all of us.

First 2008 Keepers: Giddy and Gloomy

There's been an overabundance of press buzz about the Columbia University white-boy Afro-beat band Vampire Weekend, and yes, I'd say it's mostly deserved -- with reservations. Think of English Beat or early Police filtered through Paul Simon's Graceland and you've got the idea. It's easy to listen to the new self-titled CD and say it's overproduced, with too much orchestral background -- except when you're dancing or hopping around to the three-minute arrangements. It's like the first time hearing that classic old ska band, The Selecter -- sometimes you can't help but dance.

Then there's Jamie Stewart's latest outing as Xiu Xiu, this one even more surreal than the last CD, The Air Force. Given Jamie's explicit gay politics, the title is an exercise in irony, as is the rest of the album. But it's fascinating to hear an off-the-wall piece like "Guantanamo Canto" be followed by a straightforward cover of David Bowie's/Queen's "Under Pressure," with Michael Gira sharing lead vocals with Jamie. I know a lot of people say they find Jamie's voice one big whine, his lyrics more self-obsessed than Bright Eyes', his arrangements too full of strange noises to be comfortable. But I find myself liking Silicon Valley's Xiu Xiu more with each album.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Broken Models, Free Lunches

As we catapult in slo-mo toward what may be the most significant recession in decades, I keep hearing the same analogy being offered in industry after industry regarding broken models of economic transactions betwixt developer and end consumer. In the business in which I work, journalism, the models of revenue generation are so broken, with ad revenues both in print and online predicted to take another steep drop in the next two quarters, that people are beginning to wonder how any news coverage outside of superficial-opinion blogs will be subsidized any more. See Brian Fuller's regular coverage of this in Greeley's Ghost.

The same is true in the electronics industry I write about. Chip developers hear of crises in broadband delivery mechanisms from everyone ranging from the top of the chain (Netflix, YouTube, Facebook) to the carriers, to the communication-equipment manufacturers, yet no one will pay them adequately for developing complex chips to handle high-speed communications. Repeat the model in the music industry, automotive, light industry, medicine -- supply chains are universally ripped asunder, folks, and they are not being cobbled back together.

In the "stakeholder" movement to push for corporate social responsibility, activists often talk of corporations having to plan for "externalities." In other words, environmental regulations, labor issues, human rights issues, are long-term external costs that don't fit into normal quarterly business plans, so companies have to work the externalities in to the way they do business.

Why wouldn't the same be true for individual consumers? We have gotten very used to the idea of free lunches in our lives, particularly since the advent of the Internet. In addition, global systems of energy, communications, and trade have gotten so complex, as Arthur C. Clarke would say, they become "indistinguishable from magic." If you wave a magic wand, you don't have to pay anyone, right?

This same factor works in state and municipal budgets. Pity the Midwestern industrial-belt states, overtaxed but unable to sustain infrastructure any longer. Then look at Western states, where libertarianism is so ingrained, folks don't want to pay for public renovation and park-system and infrastructure projects. The new model may be the mid-Atlantic and Deep South states, where people are willing to pay a little extra to get municipal redevelopment that actually works.

This might be the way to look at repairing broken supply chains in the private sector, at least as far as the end consumer is concerned, by repeating the mantra "No one rides for free, folks." We need to make explicit all the hidden costs of running shows, from maintaining a broadband Internet to making sure our bridges are in adequate states of repair. Sometimes that means paying higher bills with explicit (and well-explained) charges for externalities people take for granted. Sometimes that means (gasp) higher taxes. How do we convince people that they've been feeding off too many free-lunch troughs and that higher taxes might be good for them? Hell if I know. I just know I've lost my libertarian friends.