Weblog Archives




  Saturday   July 28   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

Line of parked cars and a tree — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

This is the last of this series of old Oak Harbor. Tomorrow is another series with a change of pace and then there is another series waiting after that.

 01:13 AM - link


“Stop Telling Lies To Yourself, American.”

I figure a lot of people missed this terrific discussion from Sunday night, where an Iraqi medical relief worker, Dr. Maryam, who cares for war orphans, told us bluntly:

Stop telling lies to yourself American. We know that your racist brutal murdering war criminal troops came from your society and reflect its values. we know that because we see how they behave and have to bury their victims. If you are stupid enough to think we feel anything but hatred and contempt for your soldiers and the country that sent them to make war on my people then you are a fool.

As to Saddam bad though he was your country is far worse.

And then this:

Irak is a better transliteration. The quote you are referring to is this:

“The only thing these sand niggers understand is force and I’m about to introduce them to it.”

And is from a senior American officer. It is a perfect example of how your troops regard us. Which is why we highlight it.


Late Nite FDL: Ordinary Germans Like Ourselves

The things that Iraqi children’s physician Dr. Maryam had to say to us all here at FDL last night have stuck in my head all day, to the point that for me to write about anything else tonight would probably be fruitless. Pach touched on the discussion earlier today, but there were some things that I would like to add to the mix.

It was sort of heartbreaking to watch our earnest, sincere readers come rushing into the fray insisting that they’re (we’re) nice Americans who want to stop the war, but to a woman like Maryam, who has been dealing with the consequences of American imperialism since the first round of American bombings in 1991, there are no nice Americans. Democrats or Republicans, we are all complicit in what has amounted to genocide.


As I am an Iraki and as my job is to treat children maimed and deformed by the weapons your country uses and then prevented me from getting the medicines used to treat those cancers you will forgive me if I tell you that you too are telling lies to yourself. What we know is that when it comes murdering Iraki civilians that there is no difference between the cynical and corrupt party called the Democrats and the cynical and corrupt party called the Republicans. Both are infected with the belief that America has the right to behave as it wishes especially when the people being killed are not white.

 12:37 AM - link



  thanks to By Neddie Jingo!

 12:24 AM - link

book recommendation

Misquoting Jesus:
The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

by Bart D. Ehrman

This is a fascinating book. The Bible is supposed to be the inerrant word of God. However, it seems that scribes that had been copying the Bible for 1,500 years took liberties with God's inerrant word. The oldest Greek texts seem to have some significant differences with what passes for the Bible in English. This book is a study of how that happened. Ehrman was a born again Christian when he started studying the ancient texts. Now he is an agnostic. Were that all the other Fundamentalists would do the same thing. Things would be a lot better. It is quite a detective story trying to figure out what the original texts said. Even if they were written by humans.

The Bible Delusion

Those who call the King James Version of the Bible the unerring word of God have a slight problem. The New Testament of the KJV (as the King James Version is usually referred) was translated into English from a version of the Greek New Testament that had been collected from twelfth-century copies by Erasmus. Where Erasmus couldn't find Greek manuscripts, he translated to Greek from the Latin Vulgate (which itself had been translated from Greek back in the fourth century). Here the problem splits into two problems. First, Jesus spoke Aramaic --- his actual words, never recorded, were only rendered in Greek in the original gospels. Thus, the KJV consists of Jesus' words twice refracted through the prism of translation. Second, Erasmus's Greek New Testament was based on handwritten copies of copies of copies of copies, etc., going back over a millennium, and today is considered one of the poorer Greek New Testaments. It is this second problem that Ehrman spends most time on in Misquoting Jesus, a fascinating account of New Testament textual criticism.

Many people have a vague notion that all the original biblical texts are preserved in vaults somewhere, and translators work from those original texts. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The earliest surviving versions of the gospels are handwritten copies dating from centuries after the original texts were written. Also, we don't just have a single version of each gospel; we have many versions, and even more fragments. The trouble is, none of the versions agree with each other. As Ehrman puts it, there are more points of disagreement between manuscripts than there are words in the Gospels. So which one is right? How can one tell what the original authors intended?


  thanks to dangerousmeta!

The Book of Bart
In the Bestseller 'Misquoting Jesus,' Agnostic Author Bart Ehrman Picks Apart the Gospels That Made a Disbeliever Out of Him

Where does faith reside? In the soul? The mind, the marrow of the bones?

In the long hours of the night, the voices of the evangelical preachers on the AM dial seem to know. Believe, they say. Then daylight comes and the listeners' questions fade.

Bart Ehrman is a sermon, a parable, but of what? He's a best-selling author, a New Testament expert and perhaps a cautionary tale: the fundamentalist scholar who peered so hard into the origins of Christianity that he lost his faith altogether.

Once he was a seminarian and graduate of the Moody Bible Institute, a pillar of conservative Christianity. Its doctrine states that the Bible "is a divine revelation, the original autographs of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit."

But after three decades of research into that divine revelation, Ehrman became an agnostic. What he found in the ancient papyri of the scriptorium was not the greatest story ever told, but the crumbling dust of his own faith.

"Sometimes Christian apologists say there are only three options to who Jesus was: a liar, a lunatic or the Lord," he tells a packed auditorium here at the University of North Carolina, where he chairs the department of religious studies. "But there could be a fourth option -- legend."


 12:20 AM - link

  Friday   July 27   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

Porch — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 11:18 PM - link


The Siren Song of Elliott Abrams
Thoughts on the Attempted Murder of Palestine

"Coup" is the word being widely used to describe what happened in Gaza in June when Hamas militias defeated the armed security forces of Fatah and chased them out of Gaza. But, as so often with the manipulative language used in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel, the terminology here is backward. Hamas was the legally constituted, democratically elected government of the Palestinians, so in the first place Hamas did not stage a coup but rather was the target of a coup planned against it. Furthermore, the coup -- which failed in Gaza but succeeded overall when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, acting in violation of Palestinian law, cut Gaza adrift, unseated the Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas, and named a new prime minister and cabinet -- was the handiwork of the United States and Israel.


Still Looking Busy in the Mideast

In his latest effort to look busy on the Israeli-Palestinian front, President Bush has now proposed a regional conference to be chaired by Secretary of State Condi Rice, in which Israel would join its Arab neighbors at the table. But lest this sound like a peace conference, don’t be fooled. Its purpose, a U.S. official told Haaretz, will be “to review progress toward building Palestinian institutions, look for ways to support further reforms and support the effort going on right now between the parties together.” If that sounds mushy, that’s precisely the intention. It’s all about “looking busy” without actually doing anything; “bolstering” a new Palestinian regime whose purpose in Israeli and American eyes is simply to serve as a gendarmerie for Israel’s security.

Israel has no interest in discussing a final-status two-state solution with Abbas. It has made clear that it will confine itself to “confidence-building” measures, such as taking Fatah gunmen off Israel’s wanted list if the movement agrees to turn its weapons on Hamas. The latest gestures fall well within the approach recently explained to Jewish Republicans by Elliot Abrams, White House Middle East policy director. As the Jewish Daily Forward reported, Elliot reassured his audience that “lot of what is done during Rice’s frequent trips to the region is ‘just process’ — steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries ‘on the team’ and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East.” In other words, looking busy.


The Dissembling of Dennis Ross

Having presided over the failure of the U.S. to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, he now puts himself forward as a sage among sages (lately by writing a book about “statecraft” in which he introduces some of the .101s of diplomacy as if these were prophetic revelations, and always evading the policy failures he helped author). More insidious, however, are his efforts to shape the U.S. response to the current situation in the Palestinian territories.

That the U.S. should be talking to Hamas is blindingly obvious to anyone who believes in settling conflicts peacefully, and there are plenty of reasons to believe Hamas is open to a pragmatic dialogue — not least the fact that it’s leaders keep stressing the fact that they want to talk. But Ross exposes the hardline gatkes he has on beneath that pragmatic suit in his latest contribution to the New Republic (where Likudnik gatkes are something of a uniform, I suppose.)


Yes, Bush Is Naked, What of It?
On the Middle East Catwalk with the Bush Administration

The Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about the emperor's new clothes might accurately describe current U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- except for one important detail. In the fairytale, the emperor's courtiers are careful never to let on that they can see their monarch's nakedness; in the case of U.S. Middle East policy, there is what playwright Bertolt Brecht might have called an epic gap between some of the actors and their lines. Plainly, very few of them believe the things that the script requires them to say.


Israel’s Primal Myth: A Barrier to Peace

Forget about Hamas, the wall, Gaza and the occupied territories. There can be no peace in the Middle East until Israel and the Palestinians deal with one key issue: the Palestinian demand that Israel recognize their right of return. That demand is based on the Arab charge that the Zionist state created the refugee problem in the war of 1948-49 by a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. It’s an accusation that Israel’s leaders have consistently rejected. Jewish soldiers could never commit such crimes. It was the Arabs themselves, they say, who created the refugees.

It has become increasingly evident, however, that the Israeli position is, in fact, a self-serving myth created when the Jewish state was born, perpetuated ever since by the country’s leaders and still blandly accepted by Washington.


 09:56 AM - link


Photography of the Unexpected and Neglected Architecture


  thanks to Joe Reifer - Words

 09:40 AM - link


Jim Kunstler put this one on he non-blog website so you will have to scroll down to "July 16, 2007", but it will be worth it for the depression that only Jim can induce.

Psychotic Break
by Jim Kunstler

A curious phenomenon worth attention from pathologists in the financial press is the now nearly complete de-coupling of the finance sector from the salient ominous trend in the oil sector: the fast-developing permanent oil export shock. By that I mean a severe decline in export ability by those nations currently supplying the US, Europe, China, and Japan -- an export decline that will far exceed actual production decline rates in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, the North Sea, Mexico, and Iran.

This story or scenario developed by Jeffrey Brown and statisticians at The Oil Drum.com, is pretty easy to understand: production declines in these nations will combine with greater internal oil consumption to severely curtail exports in a shockingly brief time frame. The populations of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Iran are growing; car sales in Russia are up 50 percent this year; even Norway is using more of its own oil every year. These nations are consuming about 25 percent of their total liquids (regular crude plus natural gas liquids and condensates). Basically, the picture shows that net exports from these nations will run to zero in nine years. And they will be low enough within five years to throw the importing nations into complete economic paralysis.

The situation is even darker for the US because our number three source of imports, Mexico, is showing production declines far worse than the other exporting nations, suggesting not only that the US will receive no oil from Mexico in only two or three years, but also that the Mexican economy is likely to collapse and plunge that nation into political turmoil -- just what we need along our 2000-mile border.

It's against this background that the stock market melt-up of 2007 presents a virtually psychotic picture of disconnection from reality, because the oil story says, essentially, that the global economy as we know it can't possibly continue to operate, and that therefore investment in its future operations is certain to go up in a vapor.


Refined Excuses

Been wondering why you’re paying $3.00 a gallon — or more — lately? The main reason, according to Jad Mouawad of the New York Times, is because there’s a bottleneck in US refining capacity, which means that the least little disruption causes higher prices:


Peak Tech?
by Jim Kunstler

Go anywhere in America, among any class of people -- from the Nascar morons to the Ivy League -- and one expectation is pretty universal: that technology will only bring us more wonders and miracles, and it will certainly save-the-day where our energy problems are concerned. This would seem natural for people living in an age when a simple cassette SONY Walkman is superceded by an 80-gigabyte iPod in one generation. But what if this assumption is off? What if peak technology occurs roughly in the same wave as peak energy?

Of course, another nearly universal expectation is that we will go through an orderly transition between the end of the oil fiesta and whatever comes next -- implying, naturally, that some new sovereign energy resource is out there in destiny's green room, getting prepped up, waiting to be sent on-stage. The confusion about this, induced by strenuous wishing, is such that most people expect the next energy resource to consist of technology itself.

This has been the heart of my beef with the rosy future crowd. Energy and technology are not the same thing, not interchangeable or substitutable. If you run out of one (energy), you can't just plug in the other (technology). I certainly believe other energy resources exist besides oil and methane gas, but I maintain that we will be grossly disappointed by what they can do for us, given what we are currently running in society. Nor am I categorically against the idea of using these other things: solar, wind, bio-fuels, what-have-you. I can even be persuaded on nuclear with its many hazards, if that's the only way to keep the lights on. But all of these things will not preclude the extreme necessity to make severe changes in our manner of daily living -- and to do so rather quickly.


 09:31 AM - link


COSMIC VIEW: The Universe in 40 Jumps

Kees Boeke's Cosmic View is a classic on learning about the scale of things. It is similar to the Morrison's Powers of Ten, but aimed at a younger audience. Its legacy includes Charles Eames's film Powers of Ten, the resulting book by Philip and Phylis Morrison, and several similar books which followed. Unfortunately, the problems Kees hoped to address, including peoples' understanding being fragmented by scale, remain as pressing today as they were in 1957.

The first picture, from which we start, is as we said already one of a child sitting in front of the school, with a cat on her lap. It is drawn on a scale of 1 to 10. This means that a centimeter on the drawing is in reality 10 centimeters. A centimeter (abbreviated "cm.") is the hundredth part of a meter, which corresponds to the yard as a unit of length. To be precise, a meter is 3.37 inches longer than 1 yard. One centimeter is therefore nearly 0.4 inch. In both length and height, the picture measures 15 centimeters, or nearly 6 inches. An arrow shows the direction of north.


  thanks to Neatorama

 09:09 AM - link


A change of US plan for Pakistan

Thus Washington suddenly finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. It is no longer a matter of a "moderate center" accruing in Pakistani politics and providing "a basis for the whole society to fight terrorism", to quote Boucher. The immediate concern is, short of an outright army coup, Washington has to figure out how Musharraf's continuance in office can be ensured.

In the present supercharged political climate in Pakistan, the probability is high that a civilian government that takes over power in Islamabad will be highly sensitive about the public attitude with regard to the United States' blatant interference in Pakistan and its perceived hostility toward Muslims worldwide. In short, any abdication by Musharraf or the Pakistan Army from the political scene becomes simply inconceivable for Washington at this juncture.

The stakes are very high for US regional policies. Under a representative government formed on the basis of civilian supremacy, US intelligence agencies wouldn't be able to have a free run within Pakistan as they can under Musharraf's acquiescent regime. It is also a virtual certainty that the Pakistani courts would begin to look into the horrific cases of the "disappearance" of hundreds of Pakistanis in security operations involving US intelligence agencies during the course of the "war on terror".

Most critically, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in Afghanistan may be seriously jeopardized. Boucher virtually told US Congress members on July 12 not to fiddle with Musharraf's regime. He warned: "Much less frequently mentioned is Pakistani cooperation in facilitating the logistical support of the United States and NATO forces deployed in neighboring Afghanistan. Most of our support for coalition forces in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan."

Given the interplay of these complex factors, Washington may have to resort to the one available "exit strategy" - imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan. It is not Washington's problem that the survival of Pakistan is in the medium term critically dependent on the restoration of democracy and rule of law. For the present US administration, the priority will be to salvage the war in Afghanistan. It doesn't want to leave a legacy of losing two wars in a row. If the end justifies the means, Washington will not hesitate to engineer a pretext for the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan.


  thanks to The Agonist

 08:57 AM - link


Sometimes something has to hit me over the head several times before I finally become aware. I just watched a video about Henry Wessel. I had seen some of these pictures and the more I saw, the more I liked. He has a book out that I have ordered from my local library. I did a search on this blog to see if I had posted about him before. It turns out I have. First in 2004 and then again last year. The first link has a link to photographs. The second link has a link to an article about him. The thing that stood out to me in the article was that Henry has used only one camera and one lens. A M series Leica with a Canon 28mm lens.

It doesn't matter what he used. His images are simply amazing. Be sure to watch the video:

Henry Wessel

"In a still photograph you basically have two variables, where you stand and when you press the shutter. That’s all you have."
-- Henry Wessel


  thanks to The Online Photographer

 12:47 AM - link


Biofuel Mania Ends Days Of Cheap Food

The era of cheap food is over. The price of maize has doubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index in India has risen 11 per cent in one year, and in Mexico in January there were riots after the price of corn flour - used in making the staple food of the poor, tortillas - went up fourfold.

Even in the developed countries food prices are going up, and they are not going to come down again. Cheap food lasted for only 50 years.

Before World War II, most families in developed countries spent a third or more of their income on food, as the poor majority in developing countries still do. But after the war, a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the green revolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long, steep fall in the real price of food.

For the global middle class, it was the good old days, with food taking only a tenth of their income.

It will probably be back up to a quarter within a decade. And it may go much higher than that because we are entering a period when three separate factors are converging to drive food prices up.


 12:13 AM - link


Stephane Halleux


  thanks to Eric Blume

 12:07 AM - link


The Answer Is No

Recently I wrote an article discussing whether municipalities, specifically New Orleans, had an obligation to bring low income people back from evacuation. In the article I discussed and asked the question does the city owe the poor a return ticket back to poverty and to their slums?

the answer is a resounding no! It appears that many jurisdictions are rezoning and allowing previously zoned areas to expire so that they can remove the makeshift trailer parks that FEMA created after the Katrina catastrophe. The modern day “Hoovervilles” are becoming unwelcome to the local governments. These governments want to evict the evacuees and shut down the trailer parks. According to these jurisdictions the trailer parks have become crime-infested, pockets of poverty. There are some who believe that it is not about crime or poverty, but has racial implications. The residents in these jurisdictions have a concern about poor, black people living in their neighborhoods.


 12:01 AM - link

  Thursday   July 26   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

Brick chimney — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 11:55 PM - link


It ain't Just About Subprime

Markets are tanking today, probably because of the spread of the contagion in loans out of subprime:

Countrywide dropped the other shoe on Tuesday, admitting that the bad loans aren't contained to the subprime niche as many had wished.

Delinquencies on subprime loans widened to nearly 24% in the latest quarter, Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, said Tuesday. See full story.
But the shocker was that delinquencies on prime home equity loans more than doubled to 4.6% in the most recent quarter from 1.8% a year ago, giving the lie to the notion that the problems in the mortgage market could be confined just to the subprime sector, which caters to those with impaired credit.

This isn't unexpected, the Agonist never thought it would stay only in suprime. In 6 months people will be looking back at 4.6% as a good number.


The greedfest is ending

Major investment banks this week failed to find investors for billions of dollars in loans for the buyouts of Chrysler and the British firm Alliance Boots. Rather than having have made a “bridge loan” until they found investors, they must now carry these risky loans on their own books. This is mockingly known as a “pier loan”, as in “a long walk off a short pier.”

This is a direct result of the metastasizing subprime debacle. Credit is getting harder to get. Investors don’t want risky stuff anymore.

Countrywide Financial blew up Tuesday, announcing terrible earnings. The CEO said “Home price depreciation at levels not seen since the Great Depression,” and that prime mortgages, not just subprime are in trouble.


 11:28 PM - link

let there be light

Last night I finally got time to get down into the basement and play with my Vivitar 285 strobes. They worked great. With the Paramount sync cords the Vivitar 285 flashed every time and the other Vivitar 285, with the Sonia optical slave, followed.

The first order of business was taking a picture of a new version of a strap for gordy's camera straps. I had designed a neck strap with double attach strings for medium format cameras like the twin lens reflex Rolleiflex and single lens reflex Hasselblad. However, most of them seem to be ending up on the little Ricoh Caplio GX100. There was a thread at dpreview, in the Ricoh Talk forum, started by a customer. It's resulted in several sales but also some criticism on the long strings. In fact, the long strings were to get the split ring away from the body on the medium format cameras, not a requirement on the Caplio or other digital cameras. I made some short attach strings for them.

I tried making a snoot and playing around with that but I have a way to go. I need to get some black drinking straws to make some gridded spots. I've always used light gray seamless paper. I bought some black seamless a while back. I finally did some shooting with it.

I did this shot for a SLR thread at Rangefinder Forum. Black on black came out better than I would have thought. A trio of not your usual SLRs. A 2 1/4 square Salut-S, a 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 Graflex, and a 35mm Pentax H1a. It's nice to be able to adjust the strobes differently. I had the right 285 at full power and the left one at 1/4 power. They were shooting into umbrellas.

A couple of days ago I ran into Blaine at the Whidbey Coffee Cafe in Freeland. We spent the time catching up. He was surprised when I mentioned I had a Zeiss-Ikon Box Tengor. (He turned me on to the Box-Tengor.) I apparently haven't take a picture of it so here it is. It was made in the late 1930s. I thought I got it for around $15. It may have been closer to $25. They usually go for around $50 to $60. For a box camera. But a very sophisticated box camera. It has 3 f stops and 3 focus ranges. It is done very simply and in a very clever manner. I will have to do a show and tell. The tape is replacing a screw that holds the front panel and the removable back needs some tape on the other side. Everything else is in very good shape.

Using the Vivitar strobes is a joy. I will have to get more. I can gang them up. O. Winston Link used banks of flashbulbs. I'm thinking of using banks of Vivitar 283s.

 01:32 AM - link

  Wednesday   July 25   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

778 — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 02:39 AM - link

  Tuesday   July 24   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

Gordon Keyes — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 02:54 AM - link

  Monday   July 23   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

726 — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 12:27 AM - link

  Sunday   July 22   2007

give us this day our daily photograph

Creative parking — Oak Harbor

gordy's image archive index

 01:30 AM - link

end of empire

Epitaph for a Hyperpower

Great Powers never see their decline coming. It took Britain thirty years after its devastating losses in the First World War before it began seriously to dismantle its empire. The collapse of the United States as a Great Power will happen so much more swiftly, because its wounds are self-inflicted. Yet there is no certainty that awareness of its plight will occur any faster than it did in Britain.

Current political discussion in the United States finds absolutely no one among the pundits or politicians facing up to the awful reality confronting America. It is as if the U.S. still holds unrivaled hegemonic power across the globe, as if its military power is as puissant as it is feared, as if its economic strength towered over all other nations, and as if its moral standards can be regained and polished to their former luster.

These are illusions on every single count. America’s soldiers and marines have been stalemated by Saddam’s insurgents and their home-made IEDs, and America’s air power has shown itself to be a counter-productive force of destruction, matched in intensity and affect by car bombs and suicide bombers. Decades of wasteful domestic consumption and the dismantling of its manufacturing base have been accompanied by staggering amounts of internal and external debt. America as a beacon of personal liberty and defender of freedom is like a maiden who has lost her virginity but insists on lecturing all others about her moral superiority.

What is especially revealing is the fantasy that prevails in the U.S. that a country can commit its most catastrophic foreign policy decision, yet avoid catastrophic consequences. Even critics of the war who foresaw its vile results still insist that the U.S. must do everything it can to avoid the break-up of Iraq into a failed state that will become an even more hospitable training ground for terrorism than Afghanistan under the Taliban. Supporters of the war insist that “if we pull out of Iraq now, we will just be back there in ten years battling an even worse enemy.”

How is this battle to be joined? If the country was not ever willing to discuss enforcing conscription in the face of “World War IV” and its “greatest enemy since Hitler and Stalin”, where is it going to get the strength now or ten years from now to raise the 500,000 troops it will need at a minimum? And even if it did, how are these average Americans, steeped as they are in complete ignorance of the world outside their borders, and utterly unfamiliar with any other language or culture, going to be successful in fighting an insurgency in the Middle East? If the U.S. military is right that it takes at least ten years to overcome an insurgency, where is the plan here and now to educate tens of thousands of Americans in Arabic to prepare for living a decade or longer in a foreign culture?


 01:21 AM - link

book recommendation

The Last Days of the American Republic

by Chalmers Johnson

This is Chalmers Johnson's third book in this series. Also see: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic

Empire v. Democracy: Why Nemesis Is at Our Door

By the time I came to write Nemesis, I no longer doubted that maintaining our empire abroad required resources and commitments that would inevitably undercut, or simply skirt, what was left of our domestic democracy and that might, in the end, produce a military dictatorship or – far more likely – its civilian equivalent. The combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, an ever growing economic dependence on the military-industrial complex and the making of weaponry, and ruinous military expenses as well as a vast, bloated "defense" budget, not to speak of the creation of a whole second Defense Department (known as the Department of Homeland Security) has been destroying our republican structure of governing in favor of an imperial presidency. By republican structure, of course, I mean the separation of powers and the elaborate checks and balances that the founders of our country wrote into the Constitution as the main bulwarks against dictatorship and tyranny, which they greatly feared.

We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire. Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play – isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy.

History is instructive on this dilemma. If we choose to keep our empire, as the Roman republic did, we will certainly lose our democracy and grimly await the eventual blowback that imperialism generates. There is an alternative, however. We could, like the British Empire after World War II, keep our democracy by giving up our empire. The British did not do a particularly brilliant job of liquidating their empire and there were several clear cases where British imperialists defied their nation's commitment to democracy in order to hang on to foreign privileges. The war against the Kikuyu in Kenya in the 1950s and the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 are particularly savage examples of that. But the overall thrust of postwar British history is clear: the people of the British Isles chose democracy over imperialism.


“Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic"
An interview with Chalmers Johnson

It goes back to probably the earliest warning ever delivered to us by our first president, George Washington, in his famous farewell address. It’s read at the opening of every new session of Congress. Washington said that the great enemy of the republic is standing armies; it is a particular enemy of republican liberty. What he meant by it is that it breaks down the separation of powers into an executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are intended to check each other -- this is our most fundamental bulwark against dictatorship and tyranny -- it causes it to break down, because standing armies, militarism, military establishment, military-industrial complex all draw power away from the rest of the country to Washington, including taxes, that within Washington they draw it to the presidency, and they begin to create an imperial presidency, who then implements the military's desire for secrecy, making oversight of the government almost impossible for a member of Congress, even, much less for a citizen.


 01:13 AM - link

the caliphate

The Pessoptimist in Istanbul: Will Bin Laden Win?

Today I am in Istanbul in a hotel overlooking the Sea of Marmora. I am here for -- of all things -- a conference on the Durand Line. Of course it is about much more than the Line itself, demarcated by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 as the limit of the dominion of the Amir of Afghanistan.

Today this line through a mountainous, arid, sparsely populated area is regarded by Pakistan, and most of the world, as the international border with Afghanistan, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized it as such. Above all, the people living around the line have never recognized it as a border. They were there before these states. They wonder who gave Durand or anyone in London, Kabul, Delhi, or Islamabad the right to divide them?

There is nowhere more different from the Durand Line than the Sea of Marmora. This morning I walked along the seafront, by a stone wall that once constituted the fortifications of the entry to the Golden Horn and the Strait of Bosporus. Yesterday from the terrace of my hotel, my colleagues and I saw an enormous container ship traveling from the Black Sea through the Strait and outward to the Mediterranean. Would it then cross the Suez canal and enter the Indian Ocean?

The ship was registered with the Maersk shipping line; I remembered seeing the same containers while driving from Kabul to Jalalabad in the spring of 2005 with Omar Zakhilwal, head of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency. The main road from Kabul to Sarobi was closed for construction, so we had to take the old road, over the Lataband Pass, the same route taken by the Army of the Indus when it retreated under fire from Kabul to Jalalabad in 1841. The Army of the Indus, however, had long since mutated into the Armed Forces of Pakistan, and today most of the traffic was in the other direction. Truck after truck lumbered with full loads of Maersk containers headed for Kabul from the port of Karachi via Peshawar and Jalalabad, carrying, what? -- Ukrainian airplane parts shipped from Odessa (where my great-grandfather was born) through the Strait of Bosporus and on through the Sea of Marmora?


  thanks to Informed Comment

 12:13 AM - link

book recommendation

Brave New War:
The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization

by John Robb

This is a profoundly disturbing little book. Robb's position is that the open source warfare we are seeing developing in Iraq, where small groups are able to take on and defeat large states, is going to undo the last 350 years of the rule by nation states. The Thirty Years War, which ended in the Peace of Westphalia, established the modern nation state. It was a war that only left the big boys standing. Only a nation state could wage war on that scale. That is coming to an end. Throught the miracle of modern technology, small groups can, with a small investment, cause major damage. Think flying airplanes into buildings. Think blowing up Iraqi pipelines. Think IED. In the Spanish Civil War Germany developed the war techniques that they used so effectively in WWII. Iraq is the proving ground for a new warfare. We are spending a whole lot of money on a worthless military. Robb has some solutions but they have about as much chance of being put in place as solutions for global warming. Another shit storm coming.

Inside the Brave New War, Part 1

Q: Tell me a little about your new book:

A: Right after 9-11, the analysis that I saw from the media and military was insufficient to explain what we were facing -- too much hype and too little analysis. So I started a weblog, Global Guerrillas, that used my operational and analytical experience combined with my experience in the high tech field to put together a new framework that made more sense. That in turn led to the book Brave New War.

One of the first things I noticed was that rapid globalization was forcing a correspondingly rapid evolution of warfare to take advantage of the new conditions. Global systems themselves like the Internet amplifies actions in a non-linear way which creates feedback loops that can dramatically escalate the impact of violence.

9-11 is a great example of how the underlying dynamics of globalization make a radical acceleration in conflict possible. Small groups can now produce results from actions that far exceed anything in history. However, this isn’t restricted to Islamic terrorists. Warfare is evolving is across the board at a rapid rate. I see it everywhere from Brazil to Columbia to Nigeria and Iraq.

That poses a big problem for the US military. They don’t have an historical guide to work from. Our previous experience with guerrilla groups in Vietnam, and beyond, operated substantially differently than what we see out there today. Today, there are no cohesive centralized movements to fight. No wars of national liberation. Warfare is now an open-source framework of loose organizations.


Inside the Brave New War, Part 2

Q: Tell me more about the idea of a systempunkt.

A: Over the last decade or so, the science of networks has progressed rapidly. What the science is telling us is that the networks we rely upon are optimized for efficiency and to a certain extent, resilience against random failures. The downside of this is that they handle intentional attacks very poorly. So, if a terrorist picks the right node to attack, the entire network can cascade into failure, very much like a line of dominos.

he term systempunkt is based on the concept of the schwerpunkt (a German term for the point of greatest emphasis or concentration) in mechanized warfare. The schwerpunkt is the place in the enemy’s battle line you would focus your efforts to get a break through (think the Ardennes in the battle for France during the early days of WW2). The systempunkt is similar except with networks. The systempunkt is the node in a network that will cause a cascade of failure if removed. Here’s how it applies to warfare.

In our increasingly urbanized world, we are highly dependent on systems. You can visualize this by thinking of an inverse pyramid. All of us and everything we do is balancing on the tip of that pyramid, which represents the systems that provide us with energy, fuel, transportation, communication, etc. The systempunkt is that tip. To topple the pyramid, all you need to do is kick out that point. It’s important to understand that this isn’t just theory. It’s being used in the real world in a plethora of conflicts, with the fastest rate of advance in Iraq. The repeated attacks against the oil and power networks in Iraq have sent it into a cascading failure from which they haven’t been able to recover from.

Q: So 9-11 was the ultimate systempunkt?

A: Yes and no. Al Qaeda recognized after the fact that its attack had a major system disruption payback. But it took them a while for bin Laden to figure it out and start to incorporate it into their tactics. In fact, bin Laden specifically mentions that Al Qaeda realized a return on the investment for 9/11 that turned a $500,000 investment into $80 billion or so in damage.


Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization

What if warfare was reinvented and nobody bothered to tell the Pentagon?

That is the thesis to John Robb’s Brave New War. Globalization, the Internet, cellphones, etc. have created a world in which information spreads very fast, can not be contained, and is available to all. This allows small, highly mobile groups working in loose networks with others to not only create open source software that benefits everyone, but also to create open source warfare whereby just a few can effectively block and cripple nation-states they oppose.


John Robb has his own blog where he posts about these issues.

Global Guerrillas
Networked tribes, infrastructure disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. An open notebook on the first epochal war of the 21st Century.

 12:05 AM - link