Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sisyphus rests

Eleonore Weil

David Seaton's News Links
This, barring unforeseen events, extremely unforeseen, will be my last post till the beginning of September. On Friday I will begin one of those month long, August vacations that southern Europe is famous for. I'm going up to the mountains to sleep and to read and to walk and to sleep some more.

I won't even read the papers except on weekends, however, I'll be going into a town to a cybercafé about once a week or so to check my mail and I'll moderate any comments here at the blog then. so, if you send any, be patient.

Going away for a month is something I look forward to as a columnist, but dread as a blogger.

As a columnist, I am glad to be relieved of the pressure of my weekly deadline, but as a blogger I feel like Sisyphus rolling my rock up the hill, building readership month after month, only to watch it roll back down the hill in August as many regular readers of News Links, finding nothing new posted, finally drift away... never to return (sniff). This is the story my tracker told me last year and I imagine it will be the same story this year too. So, in September I shall take up my rock and follow Sisyphus... again.

Therefore, to those of you regular readers who drift away, never to return, ciao, it was nice to have you, que te vaya bonito.

For those who do remember to return in September: thank you very much for your persistence and loyalty.

I decided that if there had to be just one set of images to last a whole month the best thing I could do would be to put up a little exhibition of my wife, Eleonore Weil's, latest work in Photoshop. She is a very experienced and talented artiste peintre and she has been working very hard recycling her world into this new medium, as she would like to try her hand at editorial and advertising illustration. I think her stuff is really good. You'll say I say that that's because I'm her husband, but believe me, it's more the other way around.

Who knows, among the summer visitors there might be someone who'd like to send some work her way and the rest of the visitors will get some eye candy.

Neat, huh? That's just a little sample of what she is doing.

Have a nice summer and I hope you'll find your way back to News Links in September. DS

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Failing to rewind

David Seaton's News Links
People are all like, "whaddya, whaddya?"

"David, are you endorsing John McCain?"

No, not really.

I thought that the best possible candidate for president this year was Al Gore.... and I still think so.

First, because I consider him the "President in Exile". He won and we were all robbed.

Gore was against the war in Iraq and probably he would have paid attention to the CIA report on Bin-Laden that Condi and Dubya ignored. Much of what has been bad in these eight years, including stiffing Kyoto and torturing prisoners, would surely have been avoided had Gore been installed in the White House in January 2001.

To top it off, Gore is now a Nobel Prize winner. He is universally recognized as a person of "vision" with real live, clearly stated, well known, credible, unflipfloppable positions on some of the most important issues of our time.

Electing him president this year would have been the closest thing to rewinding history I can think of and a true, unmistakable message to the world of the repudiation of George W. Bush and all his works.

Al Gore shouldn't have had to even run for the nomination this year. He should have been drafted at the convention in an act of acclamation with everybody applauding everybody like the sort of thing that the Bulgarian Communist Party used to be famous for.

I understand that some people find Al Gore dull. To those people I suggest they buy a video game and press the buttons till they grow hair on their palms.

As to Barack Obama.

When the Democratic field was narrowed down to Hillary and Obama I had trouble believing how decadent it all was. A "dynastic wife", like Sonia Gandhi or Cristina Kirchner running against a fairy tale. The winner to run against a semi-crippled, septuagenarian of questionable temperament.

This in a country of 300,000,000 people, the richest, most powerful nation on earth, a country that thinks itself "a light unto the nations", a nation of fabled ice-cream.

This is not to deny Barack Obama's talent. Not since Ferdinand Waldo Demara has anyone gone farther with less reality to back him up.

If he had ever been the successful governor of an important state or even the mayor of a big town or done something difficult and dangerous in his short time in the Senate I could buy this. But no.

Who knows, Obama might have made a good Veep on Gore's ticket and after eight years in that office, he would have had an easy, natural shot at the presidency. As it is, if he loses this year simply because people don't want to vote for a "question mark", it is going to set back race relations in the USA by decades. There won't be a black person in America that will ever believe that Obama lost for any other reason than because he was black.

But, that is still no reason to put the atomic bomb in the hands of a "question mark".

So, no, I am not a big fan of McCain's, but he seems real to me.. "The last man left standing". I don't think Dennis Kucinich is going to get elected in a write-in campaign, so I guess that leaves John McCain. DS

Monday, July 28, 2008

Barack Edsel?

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Monday shows that Barack Obama’s Berlin bounce is fading. Obama now attracts 45% of the vote while John McCain earns 42%. When "leaners" are included, it’s Obama 48% and McCain 45%. Both Obama and McCain are viewed favorably by 56% of voters.(...) Obama enjoyed two very strong nights of polling on Thursday and Friday. His lead grew to six-points for results released on Saturday (see recent daily results). However, polling on Saturday and Sunday showed the candidates much closer with single-day results similar to polling from before the Berlin speech. Obama earns the vote from 77% of Democrats, McCain is supported by 82% of Republicans. Unaffiliated voters are evenly divided.
David Seaton's News Links
It simply isn't happening.

Barack Obama was received like a movie star in Europe and John McCain has had what everyone considered his worst week ever, chock full with fluffs and nonevents. Bloomberg's description is perfect:
Obama's eight-day trip to the Middle East war zones and Europe was almost perfect. The Democratic candidate looked and sounded presidential and reassuring, while avoiding missteps.

The contrasts, often unfairly, with McCain at home were stunning. One looking vigorous in a helicopter over Iraq, the other in a golf cart with former President George H. W. Bush -- 155 years of age between them.
...and yet the polls aren't moving.

I titled this post "Barack Edsel", because I'm actually old enough to remember the Ford "Edsel".

It was the classic, textbook case of an enormous marketing blitz designed to sweep the nation, that didn't sweep.

The father of a friend of mine bought one, neither he nor his kid ever lived it down.

For those of you too young to recall the Edsel fiasco, this is how Wikipedia describes it:
The Edsel was introduced amidst considerable publicity on "E Day"—September 4, 1957. It was promoted by a top-rated television special, The Edsel Show on October 13, but it was not enough to counter the adverse public reaction to the car's styling and conventional build. For months Ford had been circulating rumours that led consumers to expect an entirely new kind of car when in reality the Edsel shared its bodywork with other Ford models.
My reading is that at this time, with the economy in the tank, two wars going badly and Maliki shilling for him, Obama should be at least 20 points ahead of McCain.

I saw the other day, that at this point, Jimmy Carter had a 30 percent lead on Gerald Ford. Obama, on the contrary, has the slimmest of leads and hasn't broken the 50% barrier. (cough, sputter, putt, putt)

Contrary to what many think, I believe that the "undecideds" are looking for the merest excuse to swing to McCain. He can fumble and flub all he wants and it doesn't touch his numbers, but any serious gaffe or "October surprise" will sink Barack Obama like a stone.

It seems to me that McCain would have to be found wandering around Washington confused and unable to find his way home to lose this one. DS

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ich bin ein hawaiianische Chicagolander

The recently arrived-at conventional wisdom that by releasing troops from Iraq, the dire situation in Afghanistan will somehow magically improve also requires a more rigorous scrutiny. McCain and Gates are talking about deploying an additional 10,000 soldiers or three combat brigades there; Obama would send two. That would take total US and Nato force levels to, at most, 82,000 troops, plus 145,000 Afghan army and police of varying reliability. But to attain a lasting improvement in security while creating critical breathing space for reconstruction and institution building, a much larger presence may be deemed necessary. General Dan McNeill, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, has estimated 300,000 well-trained, disciplined security personnel are needed. Some US counter-insurgency experts say an additional 150,000 fighting soldiers are required. These huge numbers should give pause, especially to Obama. Having opposed the Iraq quagmire and scored political points for doing so, the Democrat is in danger of putting his name to another escalating foreign military adventure that while arguably more justified, is just as likely as Iraq to go badly, bloodily wrong. Simon Tisdall - Guardian
David Seaton's News Links
It's true: Barack Obama reminds one of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The grace, the glamor, the "soaring" rhetoric; it's all there.

The ecstatic Berlin crowds (the "extras") complete the picture.

I loved JFK... I was only sixteen when he got elected, I was heartbroken when he was killed. American politics have never recovered from that trauma.

However, part of my growing up politically was to sadly discover that JFK was probably the worst president of my lifetime. Much worse than Jimmy Carter, even worse than "The Decider" himself.

And paradoxically, part, probably the greatest part, of what made JFK so bad, was how well he spoke.

He literally talked the United State of America into Vietnam.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more.
How do you like them apples?

Of course, we found out that we couldn't "pay any price" or "bear any burden" (although we could get a hernia trying) or "meet any hardship" or "support any friend" or "oppose any foe"... Nothing like it...

It was all bullshit and it cost the lives of a couple of million South East Asians and 50,000 Americans and it ruined the dollar and ruined American politics.

If there was any lesson the American people should have learned, it was that one.

Hot off the wires:
This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO's first mission beyond Europe's borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.(...) People of Berlin - people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.(...) It is in pursuit of those aspirations that a new generation - our generation - must make our mark on history. People of Berlin - and people of the world - the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. Let us build on our common history, and seize our common destiny, and once again engage in that noble struggle to bring justice and peace to our world.
How do you like them apples?

If you stop and think about it, isn't it wonderful, truly God's gift to Americans and to the people of the world at large, that George W. Bush is such a lousy speaker?

Because, have no doubt:

I come before you to say, that this is our time.

This is the moment.

People of Berlin and of the world.

This is the moment

The moment, that when, and if, this young and brilliant man gets elected President of the United State of America,

That will be the moment,
proud citizens, that our time will have come... again... to talk ourselves into some mighty deeeeeeeeeep and righteous shit sir... and that's a natural fact. DS

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sri Sri Radovan Karadzic

Radovan Karadzic
The infamous fugitive, long charged with war crimes, was not in a distant monastery or a dark cave when caught at last, but living in Serbia's capital. Nor was Radovan Karadzic lurking inconspicuously, but instead giving public lectures on alternative medicine before audiences of hundreds.

He was hiding behind an enormous beard, white ponytailed hair topped with an odd black tuft, and a new life so at odds with his myth as to deflect suspicion.(...) The fatigues-wearing leader of the Bosnian Serbs was unrecognizable in a guise that was part guru and part Santa Claus. As Dragan Dabic, the former psychiatrist worked for years in a clinic in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, practicing alternative medicine. He even lectured on videotape at local community centers, in an open and active life that would appear to be an extraordinary risk for one of the world's most wanted men.

"For an older person, he had very many interests," said Maja Djelic, 28, a Belgrade resident who, like Karadzic, wrote for the magazine Healthy Life. She said they also met for coffee and conversations, about acupuncture and the Internet, at a café called Biblioteka in central Belgrade. Karadzic, she recalled, was very interested in improving his Web site.

"He said, when being introduced, 'My name is Dr. Dabic, but call me David,' " she said, adding that the two met last November. During an interview Tuesday, Djelic referred to him as Dr. David, not Karadzic.

"He was really friendly and really open and had a way of speaking with people," Djelic said. She said that he did not speak with a Bosnian accent, and that he seemed like a valuable member of the small alternative-medicine community here, not someone who could have been the force behind the notorious Srebrenica massacre and the deadly siege of Sarajevo.

"I still don't believe it's the same person," she said, though the editor in chief of the magazine confirmed in interviews with numerous news outlets that Karadzic, under his assumed identity, had written for Healthy Life. IHT
David Seaton's News Links
I have been intensely interested in oriental religions and philosophy since I was about ten years old. I must have been one of the youngest kids in "Greater Chicagoland" to have ever read Lao Tze, Suzuki, Alan Watts or the Upanishads, but I confess that despite, or perhaps because of my lifelong, passionate interest in things spiritual, I've come to be wary of almost anyone who might be classed as "New Age" or a spiritual faddist. You know, one week it's yoga, next week reiki, week after that shiatsu or ayaguasca. Like G.K. Chesterton said, people who don't believe in anything end up believing in everything.

That's why I laughed out loud when I read that Radovan Karadzic had disguised himself as a guru and nobody around him ever caught on... No flies on this mass murderer. A perfect disguise.

There are no surroundings imaginable that are as uncritical or less "judgmental": where intense and skeptical scrutiny is more discouraged, than the ones "Dr Dabic" immersed himself in. No safer place for a cynic to hide.

Taking a cue from the article above, I sought out Karadzic's web page (BTW, how many mass murderers do you know that have their own web page?)

Now, my opinion of
Radovan Karadzic, up till now, has been simply what I had read in the papers and online when he was doing his mass killing: impersonal reprobation, and a special dislike of his old haircut.

However, just a moment ago on visiting his web page, I came across this collection of "Dr Dabic's Favorite Chinese Proverbs", in English, and they really gave me the creeps. Here is the lot:
10 favorite ancient Chinese proverbs as selected personally by Dr. Dabic:
  • Behind every able man, there are always other able men.
  • Teacher opens the door, but you must enter by yourself.
  • A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.
  • He who cannot agree with his enemies is controlled by them.
  • If your strength is small, don't carry heavy burdens. If your words are worthless, don't give advice.
  • A flawed diamond is better than a common stone that is perfect.
  • Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
  • If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, teach people.
  • You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.
  • The one who gives up his own, should dig two graves.
That last one makes you believe in the devil, doesn't it?

Even the devil can quote scripture.

And what murderous, self-regarding, inhuman vanity hides behind, "A flawed diamond is better than a common stone that is perfect?"

Every proverb in the list is filled with sinister nudges and winks.

How he must of cackled to himself when lecturing to his rapt audiences.

If I ever thought that Karadzic was simply part of Hanna Arendt's "banality of evil"; just another gray, Eichmann-like brick in the wall of the 20th century's mass produced savagery, it disappeared when confronted with Dr Dabic's insolent narcisism.

They say that Karadzic has asked his jailers for a shave and a haircut.

When the barber has finished, that will be the end of the Dr Dabic incarnation. Requiscat in Pace. DS

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going out on a limb: Is it going to be Bobby Jindal?

McCain is seeking a way to wrest the headlines back from Obama and there is some media speculation that he could announce his choice of vice-president this week. He is due to visit New Orleans on Thursday, an unusual location given that Louisiana is not a battlefield state, and that could point to Bobby Jindal, the governor of the state, whose relative youth - he is 37 - and Asian Indian background could be a counter to Obama. McCain's Louisiana visit coincides with the centrepiece of Obama's overseas visit, a speech in Berlin. The columnist Robert Novak, who has good contacts among Republicans, said a decision on vice-president would be made this week. The Guardian
David Seaton's News Links
It looks like McCain is going to try to finesse Obama's "World Tour", by timing his Veep nominee to coincide with it.

I would like to go out on a limb and make a prediction. It´s either going to be Sarah Pallin or Bobby Jindal.

Sarah Pallin would be interesting, she is a wildly popular governor and is so beautiful that it is not even sexist to say so: it only reveals a certain latent heterosexuality on the speaker's part.

Having said that, I don't think it will finally be Sarah Pallin, because the Hillary women who are not going to vote for Obama, are not going to vote for Obama, because they are not going to vote for Obama, and Pallin wouldn't draw one single female vote more out of that group.

I think it is going to be Bobby Jindal.

If McCain chooses Jindal it would be a master stroke.

As a person of color Jindal can run against Obama in ways that McCain can't and his lack of experience is no problem as Obama has set the bar very low on that point.

In fact it could be argued that Jindal has much more actual experience in administrating than either Obama or McCain. He also has strong economic creds among conservatives. Precisely what McCain lacks. He is "modern", witty, socially conservative, a child of immigrants... Brilliant student, Rhodes Scholar... the works.

As the governor of Louisiana he is also a person of color who Southern whites feel comfortable with; also a Catholic, he is a perfect fit for the blue collar Reagan Democrats... And to top it off, if the Republicans are looking for a way for white people to vote against Obama without feeling racist, Jindal is the key.

I think his being a southern governor, an economic whiz (former McKinsey consultant, etc) AND a person of color is practically irresistible... The story of his parents as immigrants plays well to the American Dreaminess ... and to complete the picture, he has a beautiful wife, straight out of a Bollywood film.

Some Democrats, of all people, consider Bobby Jindal too young.

Jindal is a baby, but in the same sense as Obama (if compared to McCain).
Jindal is apparently a fiscal conservative cult figure, with a proven record of cost effectiveness. Compared to Obama he has massive experience in actually administrating things. Jindal's main thing is that he is young, smart and dark of hue (sound familiar?) It allows folks who are not convinced by Obama to vote McCain without feeling guilty for having voted against a person of color.

They can vote against "The Audacity of Audacity" without feeling racist.

Many still think McCain will pick Mitt Romney because of his economic credentials, but I don't think it will be Romney because as a Mormon, the social conservatives don't trust him, and independents find his manner distasteful. A McCain-Romney ticket would just look like another bunch of rich white men.

Besides, Mitt Romney would be too boring and wouldn't make much of a media splash. Media splash is very important because it obvious that the media are trying to black out McCain.

Jindal's would splash like hell. He has got most of the Obama media pluses but a much clearer ideological profile. Whether or not you like that profile is another matter. But at least he has a firm point of view.

I have no clear view of Obama except that he really would loooooooooooooove to be president and will say and do anything to get there.

And there are a lot of very suspicious characters, like the NYT and the TV networks, who would also say and do anything to help him.

Why is this?

Because, frankly I think the system is now in panic mode.

As I see it, Barack Obama is the system's "political lightning rod", a man whose mission is to draw off all the progressive energy that is building up in US politics and in one single, brilliant flash, conduct it harmlessly into the ground.

Personally "my inner Lenin", rather than see all that energy wasted, would prefer it kept in the darkening clouds for a rainy day -- and there are some mighty rainy days on the way.

Don't I want "change"?

Of course I do, but it would have to be "change I can believe in"... not a chump's change. DS

Monday, July 21, 2008

Iraq and Afghanistan: Does America still beat its wife

David Seaton's News Links
"Do you still beat your wife?" is the classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" question. There is no satisfactory answer to it.

The situation the United States finds itself in the Middle East and in Afghanistan is like a bookshelf filled with tome upon tome of similar questions.

Just as to answer to the wife beating question is self-incriminating, and based upon a hopefully false premise -- that you beat her in the first place -- so it is too if we try to describe Iraq and Afghanistan today as an "either or" proposition.

Taking troops from the "wrong war" and putting them into the "right war" is simply to make worse a shameful situation, one that might be salvaged to some extent, and then setting off merrily to fall into a bottomless pit.

The war in Iraq is/was a criminal error and the USA is stuck with the results. As Colin Powell said, "you break it, you own it." We broke it and we own it. the situation, not the country, but almost the country.

In my opinion George W. Bush is a straight forward war criminal and should be tried by the Hague Tribunal, just like Milosevic or Charles Taylor. I also agree with Barack Obama when he says that the invasion of Iraq distracted the United States from the priority of catching Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. However I would put emphasis on the use of the past tense... It was a distraction, it no longer is.

Osama bin Laden is not the priority he once was and the "terror" (that threatens the USA) is not being fought in either country today. Terror that could affect the USA is to be fought in the immigrant communities of Europe, whose passports grant them visa-free access to the USA, not in benighted Waziristan.

The United States should never have invaded Iraq... but it did and that cannot ever be changed. It is still a matter of argument whether the USA invaded Iraq for "oil" or for "Israel", I think that both were factors, but whatever the reason, it has been a disaster for both oil and for Israel.

Like many people caught in a criminal situation, the United States has to brazen it out. Repentance, Confession, Restitution, followed by Absolution, which is how Christians are supposed to handle such situations, are unfortunately none of them options for a superpower.

Much is still at stake in Iraq.

Take this example:

Do you think that people all over the world happily accept dollars in payment: dollars which the USA prints at its pleasure like bubble gum cards with nothing to back them up except a huge current account debt... and its military power? Do they accept this near worthless paper just because they think we are cute?

Try to imagine your life if America had to buy Euros in order to pay for oil.

In my opinion America's real challenge in Iraq today is to extract itself with mastodontic leisure in order not to terminally destabilize the Middle East.

Most of the Middle Eastern regimes are clients of the USA, this includes an extremely precarious Egypt, with its 70 million people, and most of the major oil producers... excluding Iran.

Any American enthusiasm for accepting Maliki's (of all people's) endorsement of a pre-established date for a complete American withdrawal from Iraq might have consequences similar to those that June to August 1914 had in Europe. A vortex of unforeseen consequences.

At this point the United States must not be seen to bow to any pressure, especially from a rogue puppet like Maliki, a man that the USA installed in the first place.

"Act in haste (invade Iraq) repent at leisure" (leave at a time entirely of our own choosing) should be the guiding principal.

The damage has already been done, it cannot be undone, there is no hurry now. If the USA gets neither oil contracts, bases nor any safety for Israel out of this disaster, it will not only be (justly) accused of criminal behavior, but also thought (justly) to be weak, feckless and stupid. On this point of being thought weak and stupid. the opinion of "nice" people is not as important as the opinion of, say, Russia and China.

If the United States, just because invading Iraq was a criminal mistake in the first place, now "declares victory" and withdraws within a time frame not entirely of its own choosing, a general war may break out between Israel and its neighbors within weeks or months. This is not a serious option and neither McCain or even Obama will finally do that, no matter what they are saying today.

Hold on, it gets worse.

Iraq is a war that strains America's armed forces "to the breaking point", but in fact has been "managed", by a relatively small number professional troops and a pack of venal contractors.

Iraq is civilized, modern country, which we have done our best to destroy, but it is still able to re-organize itself. The situation, in Iraq, miserable as it is, could drag on for years and the USA would still control some of the world's best oil fields at what would probably be a decreasing cost to its forces.

Afghanistan is a completely different story. it never was organized, it never was "civilized"... Afghan's are famous for being the most recalcitrant and bloody minded people in the world... They are famous for that and for flying kites.

To quote my favorite pundit, William Pfaff,

There is a civil war going on in Afghanistan. There may soon be a civil war in northern Pakistan. The Taliban are involved in both, and the United States has every interest in staying out of both. (...) The Taliban believe in a deeply obscurantist mixture of fundamentalist Islam and traditional tribal practice. They belong to the Pathan (or Pushtoon) people, which means that they are kinsmen to more than 40 million other Pathans in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in Central Asia, whom no one has conquered since Alexander the Great. (...) The vast majority of Taliban undoubtedly are ignorant even of the existence of the United States of America, other than those currently being bombed by the United States in Afghanistan or Pakistan. At one point in their tangled history they afforded hospitality to their fellow-traditionalist Muslim, the Saudi Arabian Osama ben-Ladin. That was their big mistake. The Bush administration made the bigger mistake of becoming entangled with them, for which the United States will eventually be sorry. Barack Obama should think again about what he proposes to do.
To "win" in Afghanistan would mean bringing back the draft in order to put boots on the ground of every inch of Pakistani Waziristan for the next decade (at least). It would probably cause the disintegration of Pakistan itself and destabilize all of South Asia... And still lose!!!

Iraq and Afghanistan have no real connection to each other except the idiocy of George W. Bush. They are a "do you still beat your wife?" equation, to which their is no clean answer.

The harm done in and to Iraq can never be undone, the harm the USA does in the near future, to itself and those oil rich criminals upon which our way of life so depends, is still in the hands of the US armed forces.

Afghanistan, thought erroneously to be the "war we cannot lose", should be left to its own devices.

To not do so invites the fate that Rudyard Kipling so colorfully described,
"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier."
If I didn't think Barack Obama was a total opportunist who will say anything at any time to anyone, I might take what he says about Iraq and Afghanistan seriously and get seriously concerned.

One takes comfort where he can these days. DS

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Nobody here but us cyclists, boss

For the third time in three years, the Tour de France was thrown into turmoil Thursday as one of its leaders failed a drug test in midrace. Riccardo Riccò, an Italian rider who has already won two stages this year, was escorted away from the start of the 12th stage by the French police. He was the third cyclist to have tested positive for the banned blood-boosting drug EPO this year. The team he rode for, Saunier Duval-Scott, immediately withdrew from the race.(...) Riccò's disqualification came on the 10th anniversary of the Festina scandal, when institutionalized doping among cycling teams came to the forefront with the arrest at the 1998 Tour of a team director with a car full of performance-enhancing drugs. IHT

"The rest of the Tour de France may offer a bizarre new form of excitement, with people watching to see who the latest is to get snared by the EPO test. (...)The self-importance with which Ricco answered critical questions over the last several days begs comparison with other riders (Lance Armstrong and Michael Rasmussen, for example), who have responded in a similarly arrogant way. … Stock in cyclist credibility has taken a steep dive in value. And an up-to-date EPO-test won't be able to help that much, either." Neue Zürcher Zeitung (courtesy Der Spiegel - english)

"No se puede esperar de los seres humanos facultades sobrenaturales." "You can't expect human beings to have supernatural powers." Fidel Castro, Julio 14 de 2008
David Seaton's News Links
We have been seeing an increasing number of doping scandals in every sport where doping is relevant, which would leave out, maybe, bridge.

Right now the Tour de France, perhaps sport's most demanding event, is the center of morbid attention and even the victories, or especially the victories of recent multiple Tour winners, Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong are suspect. Suspect, because before their amazing strings of Tour wins, little had been heard from either Armstrong or Indurain, therefore cynics believe that their doping was as record breaking in its sophistication as their later deeds on the bike.

Testing science has been playing catchup.

The lesson here is that science is perfectible, creating ever harder to detect dope and simultaneously creating ever more ingenious tests for detecting said dope. What passed inspection a few years ago, won't pass this year: wait till next.

We might call this period that we live in, "the age of optimization": everything is being tweaked and fine tuned constantly.

Anyone who is reading this blog needs a computer to do it and must be conscious of how much the computer has sped up their lives: how much more productive each of us has become with this tool in our hands, and with the Internet added, multiplying that productivity by a magnitude.

However, at some point this pressure to perfection, this process of optimization, of greater and greater productivity, becomes somewhat oppressive and the feeling of fraternity (sorority?) and solidarity with the battery chicken occurs in the more empathetic among us.

We too, like the cyclists and the chickens, are being tweaked and optimized and it appears that we are as helpless in the face of it all as the chickens, if not the cyclists, are. DS

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Afghanistan/Pakistan: the new "Vietnam"?

Pashtun tribesman - photo by Thomas Cole

David Seaton's News Links
As a blogger and as a columnist, I'd love to always be original or be a huge expert on a specific subject, but I am what is known as a "generalist", a jack of all themes and a master of none.

If I pride myself on anything, it is on my taste in experts and guides. I have learned who to ask, what to ask, and who
to trust and when to trust them and when not and to all of this and all of them, I owe my living.

I happily stand on the shoulders of giants and every now and then, they put me in range of a slam dunk.

Two of my all time favorite experts, William Pfaff and Juan Cole, have both written about Barack Obama's strategy for the war in Afghanistan. A strategy which might be defined as "out of the frying pan (Iraq) and into the fire (Afghanistan). Briefly, to take troops from Iraq and take them to Afghanistan to "fight Al Qaeda".

Pfaff and Cole both coincide in their advice: Bad idea, don't do it.

Please read the quotes below with great care.

Age before beauty, first at bat, William Pfaff:
Barack Obama has announced his intention to commit himself to another disaster in the making. As president, he would dispatch reinforcements “to fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” During the campaign has repeatedly attacked George Bush for going to war against the wrong enemy, Iraq, in the guise of fighting Al Qaeda. Now he will reinforce the fight against the Taliban, once again in the guise of fighting Al Qaeda. The Taliban are not Al Qaeda, any more than the Iraqis were. There is a civil war going on in Afghanistan. There may soon be a civil war in northern Pakistan. The Taliban are involved in both, and the United States has every interest in staying out of both.(...) At one point in their tangled history they afforded hospitality to their fellow-traditionalist Muslim, the Saudi Arabian Osama ben-Ladin. That was their big mistake. The Bush administration made the bigger mistake of becoming entangled with them, for which the United States will eventually be sorry. Barack Obama should think again about what he proposes to do.
Now for Juan Cole:
If the Afghanistan gambit is sincere, I don't think it is good geostrategy. Afghanistan is far more unwinnable even than Iraq. If playing it up is politics, then it is dangerous politics. Presidents can become captive of their own record and end up having to commit to things because they made strong representations about them to the public.(...) We who admire him don't want Afghanistan to become an albatross around the neck of a President Obama. I am old enough to remember one of the things that nearly killed the Democratic Party as a presidential party in the US, which was the way Lyndon Johnson let himself gradually get roped into ramping up the US troop presence in Vietnam from a small force to 500,000, and then still not win. Afghan tribes are fractious. They feud. Their territory is vast and rugged, and they know it like the back of their hands. Afghans are Jeffersonians in the sense that they want a light touch from the central government, and heavy handedness drives them into rebellion. Stand up Karzai's army and air force and give him some billions to bribe the tribal chiefs, and let him apply carrot and stick himself. We need to get out of there. "Al-Qaeda" was always Bin Laden's hype. He wanted to get us on the ground there so that the Mujahideen could bleed us the way they did the Soviets. It is a trap.
Both Cole and Pfaff coincide that Osama bin Laden is not really the issue. I myself believe that Tora Bora was the unique chance to get him and the US blew it. After that the USA has "taken the bait" and fallen into Bin Laden's trap and should extract itself forthwith.

In the middle of the above extract Juan makes, for me, the most important point:
We who admire him don't want Afghanistan to become an albatross around the neck of a President Obama. I am old enough to remember one of the things that nearly killed the Democratic Party as a presidential party in the US, which was the way Lyndon Johnson let himself gradually get roped into ramping up the US troop presence in Vietnam from a small force to 500,000, and then still not win.
Why is this so important?

Two important premises that I argue from after reading Pfaff and Cole:
  • If Barack Obama is sworn in a President of the United States, his first objective, as it is the objective of every young man who has ever been elected president, will be to get reelected president. 2012 will loom before him like a chimera and will color his every thought, his every word and his every action.
  • Democrats with no military experience are obsessed with not being viewed as wimps (Republicans like Bush and Cheney are too, but the Republicans don't attack them). President Obama, not the world's most mannish boy to begin with, will want to prove beyond a doubt to everyone here and abroad that he has big, big, big, cojones.
That need to prove his masculinity was what broke Lyndon Baines Johnson, perhaps the only potentially great president after Roosevelt and cost a million dead Vietnamese and 50,000 dead Americans.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the smartest, big hearted, can do, practical and experienced men to ever sit in the White House. Barack Obama is not worthy to tie LBJ's sandal, or at least nothing in his brief public life would give him any right to presume so. Therefore I think Obama would be much more vulnerable than Johnson to prove he had the "right stuff". That is the formula for disaster, because, don't kid yourself, to "win the war" would finally lead, escalation by escalation into an invasion and dismemberment of Pakistan and that is the abyss, the bottomless pit of America's self destruction if ever there was one.

Quite reasonably you could point out that McCain is also in favor of "winning".

Sure he is. The only thing he has going for him is that people may doubt his health, sanity and temper, but nobody, but nobody, anywhere, is ever going to doubt John McCain's cojones. Which means that if it becomes obvious to military experts that America has to pull out of Afghanistan or suffer the same fate there as the Soviets did, McCain will be able do it without anybody (especially the "Republican attack machine") calling him a wimp or doubting for one moment his patriotism. He has that credit, which would be vital in this situation.

As to Iraq: finally the US will have to content itself with the "legacy" of having removed Saddam Hussein and created a freely elected government in Baghdad. Drawing the line under that would allow Americans to still think that they are somehow "special" and save another few trillion dollars and God knows how many lives.

As Pfaff says,
Barack Obama calls the Iraq prime minister’s demand for an American troop withdrawal schedule “an enormous opportunity.” He is right, and it must be accepted. This is what the majority of the American public voted for, but didn’t get, from the midterm American election of 2006.

Instead the Bush government gave Americans the surge. The surge has resulted in Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s demand for a phased American withdrawal from Iraq. Bush expected the surge to produce victory, whatever that might mean, and the right to dictate the terms on which the United States would stay in Iraq, not leave.

Those terms were made known earlier this year: total American exemption from Iraqi law (meaning extra-territorial legal status), veto over Iraqi government decisions, control over Iraqi military and police operations, authority to arrest and imprison Iraqi citizens and foreigners, immunity for American contractors from Iraqi law, and control of Iraq’s airspace.

The surge did the opposite. It created the conditions for Maliki’s demand that the U.S. and its allies leave. General David Petraeus built cement walls in cities to separate Sunnis from Shi’ites. This meant reciprocal ethnic cleansing in sensitive areas, to suppress conflict.

Petraeus paid Sunni tribal groups to fight foreigners – the self-named “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia” – and to keep order in their areas. He encouraged the Maliki government to impose its authority on the radical militia controlled by the young Shi’ite leader, Moqtada al-Sadr.

This created the conditions in which rival power groups, as in Basra, provisionally settled the power issues at stake between them, which would have (and possibly will again) produce conflict when the occupation ends.

The surge segregated groups, imposed truces, and made provisional arrangements to buy peace between factions. It thus created conditions in which the Iraqis want the occupation to end.

Some in Washington don’t want this because the Pentagon has built bases throughout Iraq it certainly does not want to give up, and the State Department has built in the Green Zone the world’s biggest American embassy, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools, leaking roofs and flooding toilets, and a fast-food shopping mall complete with blast shelters, just for Americans, and is anxious to move in and run Iraq. Is all this to be sacrificed to an unwelcome Iraqi sovereignty?

No one knows; but it begins to look that way, as according to the latest reports, American and Iraqi officials have now abandoned negotiations, leaving it to a new American president to take up the matter.

Barack Obama, if elected, would do well to immediately accept the Maliki demand, and leave no U.S. forces behind that could pull Americans back into Iraq. Give the Iraq government what it wants, and leave the disaster of the past six years totally on the account of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney
Who knows, if the US did that, maybe someday,
when today's dead have turned to dust, the Iraqis might even feel grateful.

But to use that retreat to up the ante in Afghanistan, thus ignoring the experience of both the British and the Russians there, would be the height of folly and lead to disasters that would turn the Vietnam horror into a dry footnote in the theses of future Chinese historians. DS

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shake your booty! What, no booty left?

"This is by far the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression" Nouriel Roubini
"A total collapse of the US financial system, while not inevitable, is a contingency which should now be planned for." Martin Hutchinson, Prudent Bear
David Seaton's News Links
There is a lot of talk these days about the role of humor in American politics; whether or not a candidate is a suitable butt for jokes,
whether or not they can "laugh at themselves" and so on and so on. Whether or not humor is "appropriate".

The American national pastime of navel gazing aside, whoever the next president of the United States is, he should, without delay, get fitted out for an getup like the fellow in the photo is wearing... make up and all. Because that is going to be the role of the next POTUS on the world stage in the foreseeable future.

Losing two wars is something the world can chalk off to youthful folly, people seem ready to forgive and forget
unprovoked invasions and the deaths and torture of hundreds of thousands of human beings; but destroying the livelihood of millions of people around the world though ideologically driven, financial frivolity is a little harder to swallow. They are going to resent it.

Whatever the world looks like in 2012, it's going to look as different from today as the world looked after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

If I were the next president of the US, I would try to inspire the people with a ringing speech.
My fellow Americans (pause): This is the time (pause, with meaningful gaze into the middle distance) This is the time (pause) for the American people... (pause) to dig deep into the wellsprings and treasures of our popular culture (long pause) to dig deep into our roots (pause), in order to find the strength and the inspiration to carry us through the difficult days to come.

My fellow Americans, Try this on for size.
(marine band strikes up, POTUS sings in a pleasing baritone):
Once I lived the life
of a millionaire
Spending my money
Oh I didn't care
Taking my friends out
For a mighty good time
Buyin' high priced liquor
Champagne and wine

Oh but just as soon

As my money got low
I couldn't find nobody
And I had no place to go

In my pockets, not one penny

And as for my friends,

Man, I hadn't any
So, if I ever get my hands
On a dollar again
I'm gonna hold on to it
Till that big eagle grins
Cause it's mighty strange,

Without a doubt

Nobody wants you

When you're down and out

"Nobody wants you when you're down and out" - Jimmie Cox

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Taint funny McGee

David Seaton's News Links
The New Yorker and I go a long way back, my parents had a subscription before I was born: divorced, they had two subscriptions and I literally (or illiterately) began to read the New Yorker before I even knew how to read... I even like the smell and feel of the magazine's paper and ink from those days.

Also as a little boy I loved the drawings and writings of James Thurber, all of which proceeded from the magazine and I
had a precocious taste for New Yorker cartoons, (plus "Pogo,"of course), that marked me as a bit different from my Disneyed little chums.

Anybody who is a snob before they turn five is likely to be incorrigible.

This is just to make clear that the New Yorker and I are family and I tend to take their covers on faith. Frankly, I can't imagine ever taking sides against the New Yorker on anything.

If I had to speculate, I would say that someone at the New Yorker Magazine is very, very, very pissed off at Barack Obama. This could be for any number of reasons ranging from his policy flip flops, down to a snub at a cocktail party.

What I am sure of that it is not just "innocent" satire. Innocent is the last word I would ever apply to the New Yorker... or to Barack Obama for that matter.

I agree with Mike Huckabee, in my opinion America's sharpest, most human and most interesting politician, when he was asked on Fox if the cover was just satire,
HUCKABEE: Well, I don't know how clear it is, though. It's clear to people who keep up to politics, but if you're walking down the corridor of an airport, you just happen to look over the bookstore, you're just going to see that image, and, frankly, I don't know that the average person who doesn't know "The New Yorker," who doesn't read the article, is going to get that it's satire.

COLMES: If you see an image of Barack Obama -- Michelle looks like Angela Davis, you know, assault rifles, burning flag, Osama bin Laden, who in their right mind would take that seriously?

HUCKABEE: A whole lot of people who don't bother to do anything other than just look at the image. Believe me, I've been a candidate, I'm telling you that there are a whole lot of people that don't get beyond the surface.

There are a lot of people who follow every bit of the news, but there are many Americans who just read the headlines or they hear the lead story, they don't dig down deep.

That cover -- I can understand why Obama was, you know, pretty burned about it. He was more burned than the flag over this.
The cover pictured above, which has caused such an uproar, is also an occasion to riff on an article in today's New York Times. Here are some choice bits:
What’s so funny about Barack Obama? Apparently not very much, at least not yet.(...) Comedy has been no easier for the phalanx of late-night television hosts who depend on skewering political leaders for a healthy quotient of their nightly monologues. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and others have delivered a nightly stream of jokes about the Republican running for president — each one a variant on the same theme: John McCain is old.

But there has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race.(...) anything approaching a joke about Mr. Obama himself has fallen flat. When Mr. Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently tried to joke about Mr. Obama changing his position on campaign financing, for instance, he met with such obvious resistance from the audience, he said, “You know, you’re allowed to laugh at him.” Mr. Stewart said in a telephone interview on Monday, “People have a tendency to react as far as their ideology allows them.”(...) There is no doubt, several representatives of the late-night shows said, that so far their audiences (and at least some of the shows’ writers) seem to be favorably disposed toward Mr. Obama, to a degree that perhaps leaves them more resistant to jokes about him than those about most previous candidates.(...) Of course, the question of race is also mentioned as one reason Mr. Obama has proved to be so elusive a target for satire.

“Anything that has even a whiff of being racist, no one is going to laugh,” said Rob Burnett, an executive producer for Mr. Letterman. “The audience is not going to allow anyone to do that.”(...) One issue that clearly has some impact on writing jokes about Mr. Obama is a consistency among the big late-night shows. Not only are all the hosts white, the vast majority of their audiences are white. “I think white audiences get a little self-conscious if race comes up,” Mr. Sweeney of Mr. O’Brien’s show said.(...) Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the ABC late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” said of Mr. Obama, “There’s a weird reverse racism going on. You can’t joke about him because he’s half-white. It’s silly. I think it’s more a problem because he’s so polished, he doesn’t seem to have any flaws.”
Humor is a royal gate into the subconscious and I think this article gives a key to an important thing that the white, college educated American middle classes are looking for in Barack Obama. In a land steeped in irony, the land of the loud raspberry, you are not allowed to laugh at him.

It isn't permitted to laugh at him because in the acceptable discourse of genteel America, it is not allowed to ridicule a person of color for any reason at all no matter how absurd they are and if anyone does so, it is permitted to look down on that person as a despicable, ignorant, racist, pig.

One of the most comical situations in American life is to see a well educated, middle class, white American confronted with that rarest of creatures, an obnoxious African-American (some do actually exist, I'm told) and watch the good lady or gentleman tie him or herself into knots rather than to just tell a putz of color to get stuffed.

Mind you, this is totally hypocritical; skin color still blinds middle class Americans to obvious absurdities. For example, it allows middle class Americans to applaud and to nod approval when a person raised entirely by a white middle class family, with the means to send him to good prep school, solely because of his skin color, has the nerve, the unmitigated chutzpah to lecture the African-American community, as represented by the NAACP on "personal responsibility".
"Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff. But I'm not going to stop talking about it." While it is right to assail Washington and Wall Street for some of the inequality in the country, "we also have to demand more from ourselves," he said.(...) Obama reiterated his campaign stance that, even if they are disadvantaged, American blacks have to "do more in our own lives" rather than point the finger elsewhere.(...) "It starts with teaching our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they are worth; and teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception; that what makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
This speech is entirely and cynically pitched toward the white middle class and is as enormously cruel and insensitive as the "clinging to guns and religion" remark he made about poor whites.

The plight of contemporary poor black youth and the plight of poor white youth stem from dis-industrialization. I grew up in a town with a large black community and attended junior high and high school with African-Americans and in the 50s they all had fathers with jobs. Real working class, unionized jobs. Those jobs no longer exist.

It is cruel to say,
"What makes them men is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
It is cruel because as human beings, men and women, be they black or white, have to fuck and children just happen: most of us just happened.

But to "raise a child" is also quite an ordinary thing that doesn't require courage so much as it does money and that in turn means steady jobs that pay enough to have an orderly home life. Poor blacks do crack and smack and poor whites do meths because... there are no jobs for people with little education that pay enough to make a home and to raise a family: they have no future.

Getting back to the point I raised before: America's educated, white, middle class want a president that can't be laughed at.

George W. Bush is the world's laughing stock, a figure of fun for the whole planet. This raucous laughter pains the educated, American middle class: these are people who travel and experience this derision and contempt as a personal affront, and who, behind their mild exterior, are as proud as Old Nick.

If nothing else they want the laughter to stop.

Bush is the laughing stock of the world, in part because of his ineptness, but mostly because America's chickens are finally coming home to roost, the next president is going to preside over a situation of near or perhaps real collapse of America's long held positions in both economic and military spheres.

Any post-Bush honeymoon the next president may have with the world will be very short lived and whoever he is, he too will soon be greeted by angry demonstrators all over the planet and by governments, like the Russians and the Chinese, that are not going to cut anybody any slack just because they are in their 70s or because their hair is curly and their teeth are pearly.

Obama or McCain, the next few years are going to be humiliating, but with president Obama, America's educated middle class and their wannabees will be able to smugly dismiss the jeering disrespect of the world as crude and ugly racism and thus maintain some sense of their own superiority and their belief in American Exceptionalism.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Google Streets enters into "mono no aware"

Screen capture of my childhood home, from Google Streets
David Seaton's News Links
"Mono no aware", which in Espanglés would mean, "the monkey hasn't got a clue", is in fact, a Japanese term of art which, roughly translated,
"describes beauty as an awareness of the transience of all things, and a gentle sadness at their passing. It can also be translated as the "ah-ness" of things, of life, and love."
Lets continue with John Paul Gillespie's fine essay on the subject:
According to mono no aware, a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard; the moon partially clouded more appealing than full. The sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty; the flowers of the most famous variety, somei yoshino, nearly pure white tinged with a subtle pale pink, bloom and then fall within a single week. The subject of a thousand poems and a national icon, the cherry blossom tree embodies beauty as a transient experience.
Google has developed a new wrinkle called "Google Streets", which is the nerd's somei yoshino sakura.

Last night I used Google Streets to look up some of the houses I lived in as a child. Places where I haven't set foot and hardly thought about in nearly 50 years.

It was strange to use the mouse to follow the streets of my long ago childhood like a robot diving camera exploring the Titanic.

Like a robot or like my own ghost wandering unseen among its once familiar objects.

I found that I remembered where everything was, each corner that had to be turned to get to each place and floods of memories, few of them happy, at every poke of the mouse.

A Spanish friend of mine, wise in the ways of intellectual property, born and raised in a dictatorship, says that Google has to keep inventing all these toys in order to justify the sinister amount of information, all tied to our IPs, that they are gathering from and about us.

However, if you are old enough, and far away enough from your roots, and you truly want to schlep mono no aware, Google Streets is for you. DS

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gagging on the Kool-Aid

The Kool-Aid Man
Some Obama supporters worry that the spectacle of their candidate eagerly embracing his old rival, Hillary Clinton, and traveling the country courting big donors at lavish fund-raisers, may have done lasting damage to his image as an arbiter of a new kind of politics. This is a major concern since Obama's outsider credentials, have, in the past, played a large part in his appeal to moderate, swing voters. In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June's NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent. Newsweek
David Seaton's News Links
There are all kinds of independents, left, right, center... you name it. They probably only have one trait in common: an aversion to drinking Kool-Aid.

Drinking Kool-Aid is about commitment, sacrificing core principals can only be justified, if it can be justified, in pursuit of a great cause.

Certainly, nothing could be more absurd than to drink a Kool-Aid with no ideological content whatsoever.

Newsweek wonders:
But perhaps most puzzling is how McCain could have gained traction in the past month.
This election is not about McCain, it is about Obama, McCain cannot win, but Obama can lose.

My reading of Barack Obama that he is his own space or he is no space at all. His secret has been the charm of his difference. If he loses that special quality, and by now there is little left, it will be like Cinderella's coach turning back into a pumpkin and all the pretty horses back into scurrying, little mice.

That is what is happening now, I predict it will go very fast once it starts and that some of the super-delegates may begin to have second thoughts by the end of the month.

The Democrats have thrown a once in a generation opportunity away. DS

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I couldn't believe what I was hearing

David Seaton's News Links
I admit that I had thought that Amy Winehouse was just another one of the media grotesques, a sort of Paris Hilton with a beat.

I thought that her big hit "Rehab" was a catchy update of the Stax/Atlantic sound, sung in blackface. I sang it in the shower, hummed it in the metro.

This afternoon I was having coffee in my local, when the video shown above was played on some music channel and then, suddenly I discovered that I was listening to a very fine, an extraordinarily fine, potential saloon singer.

A saloon singer, by my definition, is someone that is able to take an ordinary, flat, tin pan alley lyric, and through what Noel Coward called "the power of cheap music", to mysteriously and effortlessly enter uninvited into some of the painful inner reaches that we, the most empathetic of anthropoids possess... as if they had been given a pass key.

A saloon singer is not a jazz singer. Billy Holiday was a saloon singer and Ella Fitazgerald was a jazz singer -- to name the two finest of their species. Someone said that when Billy Holiday sang, "my man is gone", your heart broke and when Ella sang the same line, it would be "my man is gone. He went out for cigarettes, he'll be back in ten minutes, can I take a message?"

You don't even have to understand the lyrics for this to work. Edith Piaf was perhaps, with Lady Day, the greatest saloon singer that ever lived and when I was a kid and didn't understand a word of French, I used to play her records over and over again. It's in the voice, not the lyrics.

There is one line in Amy Winehouse's song, "Back to Black", that goes, "I died a hundred times"... and bang there she is right into the special place that only saloon singers find, with nothing... and she does it every time she sings the line.

If this young lady doesn't die of a drug overdose, or ruin her voice, she could recreate saloon singing, be the female Sinatra.

If they finally do drag her off to those ten weeks of "rehab", she says she doesn't have time for, I suggest that she take some time and a piano player and go over the great American songbook. She could wash her face and shave her head, cut the stepin fetchit and live to be a hundred. It's there, she has it, I hope we don't lose it. DS

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Living in interesting times

World leaders have proclaimed a "shared vision" on climate change, but failed to bridge differences between rich and emerging nations on curbing emissions. BBC
David Seaton's News Links
I guess it is because we are nearing the long Spanish vacation time, which I hope to spend under a pine tree reading William James's "The Varieties of Religious Experience", but these days writing about current affairs is getting to be like pushing a long dead, ripened pig through a swimming pool filled with treacle.

Today's "story" is the G8

The G8 meeting in Japan is a huge non-event. Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has this delicious parody of a G8 communique by Alan Beattie on his blog:
An ineffectual international organisation yesterday issued a stark warning about a situation it has absolutely no power to change, the latest in a series of self-serving interventions by toothless intergovernmental bodies.

“We are seriously concerned about this most serious outbreak of seriousness,” said the head of the institution, either a former minister from a developing country or a mid-level European or American bureaucrat. “This is a wake-up call to the world. They must take on board the vital message that my organisation exists.”

The director of the body, based in one of New York, Washington or an agreeable Western European city, was speaking at its annual conference, at which ministers from around the world gather to wring their hands impotently about the most fashionable issue of the day. The organisation has sought to justify its almost completely fruitless existence by joining its many fellow talking-shops in highlighting whatever crisis has recently gained most coverage in the global media."
It is nice to know that I am not alone in my spleenfulness.

Most of the photo-ops
I see these days of world leaders meeting, performing stunts, eating together, shaking hands and generally bonding, remind me of the banality of the picture of Archduke and his lady getting into their limousine to be driven around Sarajevo way back in June 1914, moments before one of history's most earth shaking events. I keep wondering who will be the Gavrilo Princip that finally sets our gooey mess alight.

Certainly things don't look auspicious this summer. Soothsayers and the like are rather grim.

Being a multi-Celt, gifted most unwillingly with the second sight, and wary of things that go bump in the night, I admit that I am much weighed down with dark forebodings.

Having trained as an artist, I see no contradiction between being a historical materialist and keeping hats off of beds.

May the roof above us never fall in. And may the friends gathered below it never fall out. DS