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  Tuesday   November 29   2005


To borrow a phrase from James Kuntsler, we have truly become the Clusterfuck Nation.

by Riverbend

We woke up yesterday morning to this news: Sunni tribal leader and his sons shot dead.

“Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms shot dead an aging Sunni tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds on Wednesday, relatives said…”

Except when you read it on the internet, it’s nothing like seeing scenes of it on television. They showed the corpses and the family members- an elderly woman wailing and clawing at her face and hair and screaming that soldiers from the Ministry of Interior had killed her sons. They shot them in front of their mother, wives and children… Even when they slaughter sheep, they take them away from the fold so that the other sheep aren’t terrorized by the scene.


If there is one story that illustrates how far beyond the pale this country has gone it's this. Do read it.

When Honor Is No Longer Possible: A Nation Beyond Forgiveness

Some stories are almost impossible to contemplate. This is one of them.

In June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead near the Baghdad airport. His death was most likely a suicide, a single gunshot wound to the head. His wife, who probably understood her husband better than anyone else, had no trouble identifying the cause:

In the military report, the unidentified colonel told investigators that he had turned to Michelle, Westhusing's wife, and asked what happened.

She answered:


Iraq killed Col. Westhusing -- but it was much more and much worse than that. One key fact you should keep in mind is that Col. Westhusing was an expert in military ethics. That is crucial for many reasons.

And here, a psychologist identifies the nature of the problem, but refuses to acknowledge its ultimate source or meaning. She unforgivably finds fault with Westhusing -- because placing the blame where it properly belongs is unthinkable to her:

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails and interviewed colleagues. She concluded that the anonymous letter had been the "most difficult and probably most painful stressor."

She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."


It's a flaw that moral values should outweigh monetary values in war? We are so fucked.

"Trophy Video" of Civilian Shootings By Contractors Emerges

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.


And be sure to read this one. Bush is planning to put the US Air Force under the command of the Iraqis.

Sy Hersh's new New Yorker article "Up in the Air"

HERSH: Well, you know, what I was writing about in The New Yorker this week is our plan is to pull out American troops if we start to do that. And I think the president probably will next year. But the war is not going to slow down. We're going to increase the pace of air operations. There's going to be more bombing in direct support of Iraqi units now.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what you write in The New Yorker magazine, the article entitled "Up in the Air." "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."

Wasn't this the US strategy in Vietnam after Nixon's re-election in 1972? Or do I have my history facts wrong?


  thanks to Eschaton

We'd like armored Humvees

I wish I had the time or energy or memory capacity to describe to you how wrong this whole thing has gone. It's just as you described it a couple years ago. We *can* make a difference here, and i believe in the mission as it looks on paper. But your president and his brain-dead colleagues aren't even trying to give us what we need to do it. the add-on armor HMMWVs are a joke. The terrorists target them b/c they know they offer no protection. The M1114s have good armor, but every time we lose one (i had one blown up monday, driver had his femoral artery cut -- will recover fully -- b/c there apparently is no armor or very weak armor under the pedals) it's impossible to replace them. So now I have to send yet another add-on armored vehicle outside the wire daily. The M1114s also have certain mechanical defects, known to the manufacturer, for which there is apparently no known fix. For example, on some of them (like mine) if it stalls or you turn it off, you cannot restart it if the engine is hot. We have to dump 3 liters of cold water on a solenoid in order to start it again. Not that much fun when your vehicle won't start in indian country. I wonder if DoD is getting a refund for the contract. Speaking of contracts, KBR is a joke. I can't even enumerate the problems with their service, but I guarantee they do not receive less money based on how many of the showers don't work, or how many of us won't eat in the chow hall often because we get sick every time we do.


In Baghdad, Capital Vistas Gradually Shrink With Insecurity


The fact is that the Army has until mid-summer 2006 to remain a viable force in Iraq. Both Guard and RA enlistments are coming to an end, and people cannot do more than three tours in Iraq. A fourth tour would pretty much guarantee a broken marriage and or severe injury. The human body can take only so much stress.


Insider Says Troops Want Out of Iraq Now

Apparently, one key thing that has really pissed off my brother-in-law and his friends is that young guys like them are being thrown into the position of making foreign policy on the ground. He said that his buddies around his level are being given entire towns to run in Iraq and essentially told to make up what to do. From what he hears, there basically is no overall strategy, just a bunch of LTs, CPTs, and Majors making it up as they go. My brother-in-law gave as an example the officer indicted for lying about his men tossing some Iraqis off a bridge. He knows the guy well and said he was just hung out to dry. The guy was caught between trying to figure out how to pacify the Iraqi town, keep his guys alive, and avoid international incidents. At the end of the day, he put his guys first, did the best he reasonably could, and still got screwed for it.


Military historian Van Creveld calls for US exit from Iraq

The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon — and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam.


Bush Has Shattered Mystique of American Power

The leak that revealed Bush's deep obsession with al-Jazeera
The US president planned to bomb the Qatar-based channel - that was the remarkable claim made in a top-secret memo. Why is the world's most powerful man so worried about a TV station?

Walker's World: New crisis for Blair's War

This will not be a happy Thanksgiving for President George Bush, but he need just look across the Atlantic to know it could be worse. His only reliable ally, Britain's Tony Blair, now seems to be facing the full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the Iraq war -- its justification, conduct and aftermath -- that Bush has been able to avoid.


Bush knew there was no Iraq-9/11 link

 01:43 AM - link


David Fokos


  thanks to The Analog Photography Users Group

 12:56 AM - link


Doubts grow over US Afghan strategy
It is four years since the fall of the Taleban regime. The United States has spent billions of dollars on its operations in Afghanistan - but what does it have to show for it?

With no end in sight to the insurgency led by remnants of that regime and insecurity still holding back development in large parts of the country, it is a question that many more people are asking.

There has been significant political progress, with the election of President Hamid Karzai last year and a new parliament due to convene next month after September's vote.

But it is almost as if this is happening in a parallel universe, some say. There is no sign of it translating into peace.

As the year nears an end, bombings and shootings continue almost daily in the south and east.

Such incidents have claimed at least 1,400 lives in the past year - the highest toll since 2001.


  thanks to Aron's Israel Peace Weblog

 12:50 AM - link


Old negatives found at estate sale

The following photos were scanned from a box of old negatives found at an estate sale in White Plains, New York, USA.


Here is a link to the thread about these pictures.

Found old negatives

 12:46 AM - link


Happy Peak Oil Day?


Fear of Losing Immortality

There's something I've been pondering for a long time about the reluctance of the collective conscience, particularly in the US, to accept the implications of peak oil theory. It's there, just below the surface, but drives many the various psychological defense mechanisms that people have built up.

It's the general philosophy that we as a species are above and apart from nature. It's found in many religions. It's definitely found in Star Trek. It's a pillar of both Communism and Capitalism. It's the universal idea that we are special, our superior brains separate us from the biosphere we inhabit. That we can transcend any traditional limits that nature sets for a species. That through ever greater technological innovation our species can continue to expand its size and consumption levels indefinitely into the future.

We have accepted this philosophy because the alternative is to deny our immortality. To accept the idea that humans could be subject to the same natural forces and limits as all other species of plant and animal on the planet - the idea that we are not special, except in our own eyes.

This is the central conflict between those who want to work toward a sustainable ecological balance and those who want to continue to delude themselves that humans can continue to extract ever greater demands on the natural environment. It's also a deeper insight into the implications of Darwin's Theory of evolution.


thanks to The Oil Drum

On The Prospects Of Using AAA Type Batteries As Peak Oil Mitigation Devices, and Other Observations

However, the epitome of cluelessness in this little survey for me is the exibit C, the article published in The Wall Street Journal titled The War Against the Car, by Stephen Moore, a member of this newspaper's editorial board (WSJ online requires subscription, but the article can be viewed here). It is really worth reading in its entirety (quoting a paragraph or two will not do it justice), if one wants to appreciate the degree to which we as a society have cut ourselves loose from the realities of the world. However, I still would like to comment on the two closing paragraphs of the article:

"The good news is that environmental groups and politicians aren't likely to break Americans from their love affair with cars -- big, convenient, safe cars -- no matter how guilty they try to make us feel for driving them. Instead they are using more subtle forms of coercion. The left is now pining for a $1-a-gallon gas tax to make driving unaffordable. Washington has also wasted over $60 billion of federal gas tax money on mass transit systems, yet fewer Americans ride them now than before the deluge of subsidies began. When the voters in car-crazed Los Angeles opted to fund an ill-fated subway system, most drivers who voted "yes" said they did so because they hoped it would compel other people off the crowded highways.

To be sure, if the entire membership of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace surrendered their cars, the world and the highways might very well be a better place. But for the rest of us the car is indispensable -- it is our exoskeleton. There's a perfectly good reason that the roads are crammed with tens of millions of cars and that Americans drive eight billion miles a year while spurning buses, trains, bicycles and subways. Americans are rugged individualists who don't want to cram aboard buses and subways. We want more open roads and highways, and we want energy policies that will make gas cheaper, not more expensive. We want to travel down the road from serfdom and the car is what will take us there."

It is quite clear that we, Americans, are suffering from an acute form of hystorical Alzheimer's desease, for which we may have to pay extremely dearly. We forget that "the end of history" as proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama, turned out to be a dangerous fantasy in the early XXI century. Apparently, many of us feel that we can always get what we want, if only our governing bodies develop the right policies. We have no appreciation for the specialness and uniqueness of our current transitory historical period, during which we still have options, and we mindlessly let this period lapse and thereby foreclose those options forever. We don't understand that ruthless competition for resources is much more common and much more fundamental as a driving force of history than, say, our cherished notions of democracy, human rights, and public welfare. We don't realize that investing into the infrastructure alternative to "big, convenient, safe cars" that we have such a strong love affair with today is what may save our economy from total paralysis in historically very near future, allow it to regroup, and thereby give our civilization a chance to fight another day. We think that our political and business leaders will solve these problems for us -- well, guess what -- our political and business leaders read Forbes and Wall Street Journal, and make public pronouncements in the spirit of the above argument by Dick Cheney. We are an infantile civilization that may be foreclosing its chance to grow up.


  thanks to Clusterfuck Nation

 12:40 AM - link


Hubble Heritage Image Gallery


  thanks to The Cartoonist

 12:21 AM - link

  Monday   November 28   2005

new orleans

“They’re still finding bodies”

It is strange to me, how quickly New Orleans seems to have slipped from the forefront of our national consciousness. I mean, it’s still in the news, of course, but at times it seems as though the country has shrugged its collective shoulders and moved on. It’s probably at least partly because the administration has little interest in reminding us of the massive clusterfuck of their Katrina response, but still it’s odd. For all practical purposes, we lost an American city. This is what we supposedly live in day-to-day fear of the terrorists doing to us. In a sane world, the howls of grief and outrage would still be echoing across the halls of power. Instead, we’ve got a collective “eh, whatever.”

Anyway, Time magazine brings us up to date, and it’s not a pretty picture.

They’re still finding bodies down here 13 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit–30 in the past month–raising the death toll to 1,053 in Louisiana. The looters are still working too, brazenly taking their haul in daylight. But at night darkness falls, and it’s quiet. “It’s spooky out there. There’s no life,” says cardiologist Pat Breaux, who lives near Pontchartrain with only a handful of neighbors. The destruction, says Breaux, head of the Orleans Parish Medical Society, depresses people. Suicides are up citywide, he says, although no one has a handle on the exact number. Murders, on the other hand, have dropped to almost none.

Mayor Ray Nagin opened up most of the city to returning evacuees last week, but only an estimated 60,000 people are spending the night in New Orleans these days, compared with about half a million before Katrina. The city that care forgot is in the throes of an identity crisis, torn between its shady, bead-tossing past and the sanitized Disneyland future some envision. With no clear direction on whether to raze or rebuild, the 300,000 residents who fled the region are frustrated–and increasingly indecisive–about returning. If they do come back, will there be jobs good enough to stay for? If they do rebuild, will the levees be strong enough to protect them? They can’t shake the feeling that somehow they did something wrong just by living where they did. And now the money and the sympathy are drying up. People just don’t understand. You have to see it, smell it, put on a white mask and a pair of plastic gloves, and walk into a world where nothing is salvageable, not even the mildewed wedding pictures.


 11:06 AM - link

portable analog storage device

It's been over a year since I've had a notebook. I had a sketch book that I used to keep photography notes in until I carried it with me on my trip to NYC and DC last year. I filled it up with my experiences during the trip, (I still need to finish that web site.) I haven't had a notebook since. Until now.

My Moleskine classic pocket plain notebook arrived from Ninth Wave Designs' eBay store. But first about the pencils. Until now I've used a Pilot G2 07 pen. Great pens. But I've been wanting to try out pencils. I was in OfficeMax recently and looked over all the pencils and bought some Mirado Black Warrior HB pencils. (That's the black one in the picture. Duh!) The big problem was sharpening them. I have a desk mounted pencil sharpener but the pencil is not always near the sharpener when it needs to be sharpened. I've become a regular at the Pencil Revolution blog and I noted that people seem to use the little handheld blade pencil sharpeners. I thought I would give one a try so at my last trip to OfficeMax (I admit I'm an OfficeMax junkie.) I looked for one. The only one they had was the orange Boston in the picture. What a revelation! It sharpens so much better then the desk mounted one. And you always have it with you to touch up the tip of the pencil. This isn't quite what I was looking for but I'm glad it was the only one they had. It fits nicely in the hand and has a container for the shavings. The lid rotates to cover the hole to keep your pocket nice and clean. Now I have an always sharpened pencil.

In my internet wanderings I had come across a pencil that has a cult following as the finest pencil ever made: the Blackwing 602. Alas, the are no longer made. Late to the party again! But the Blackwing users have been on the search for a replacement and one has been found: the California Republic Palomino: HB & 2B. Now I had been eyeing these pencils since I had read the review at Pencil Revolution.The Black Mirado Warrior sharpened nice and held a point well but did not lay down a really black line. The Palomino promised to do so I ordered six from the Pencil World Creativity Store. What a wonderful pencil it is. Both the Palomino and the Black Warrior are HBs. It's plain that not all HB pencils are the same. That was a surprise to me. I spent many years as a drafter. I tooking drafting in high school and we used pencils. When I started drafting at Boeing I used mechanical pencils and plastic lead on mylar and then ink on mylar before going to computers in the early 80s. All the HBs seemed to be the same back in the good old days. The Palomino lays down a much darker line but is obviously a softer lead and requires more sharpening. It is a joy to write with. It doesn't come with an eraser so I went to my local supermarket and bought some Foohy erasers. I passed on the scented ones. They work great. Now I'm ready to write and this brings us back to that notebook to write in.

The Moleskine notebooks come in a variety of sizes and styles. This is the smallest and it does actually fit in my shirt pocket, which means I have it with me all the time. It has a ribbon placeholder.

And an an expandable accordion pocket inside the back cover as well as an elastic that keeps the notebook closed. Now I have something to keep all my notes and jottings together. How did I survive without it?

I should mention one more thing. It was a blog that turned me on to pencils and the Palomino. It was also a blog that turned me on to the Moleskine notebooks: moleskinerie. Be careful of going to those blogs. You may become infected.

 10:58 AM - link

global climate change

Greenhouse-gas levels highest for 650,000 years
Climate record highlights extent of man-made change.

Current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in the past 650,000 years, say researchers who have finished cataloguing air bubbles trapped for millennia inside Antarctic ice. The record, which extends back over the past eight ice ages, shows that today's concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane far outstrip those in the past.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen 200 times faster over the past 50 years than at any other time during this period, says Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, Switzerland, who led the analysis.


  thanks to Magpie

 03:22 AM - link

incoming equipment

I'm waiting for two new photographic items. I've seem to have lost my Luna Pro light meter. Maybe it's just misplaced but I needed to act.

I know have a Weston Master V on it's way from Australia. I got it for a little over $15 including an invercone, neck strap and appropriate leather cases. The seller claims it's still accurate. It's a classic. No batteries. I seem to be moving backwards. Or maybe I'm just moving to simpler. I've been kind of wanting a good Weston for some time. I'm looking forward to it.

The other item I'm eagerly awaiting in extreme anticipation is a Pentax H1a.

That isn't the actual camera. Mine is Honeywell labeled.This was a deal I couldn't pass up. I went to browse the Rangefinder Forum Friday evening and there was this thread: Free: Pentax H1a, 55mm & 35mm lenses. My photography kit has small, medium, and large format rangefinders and medium and large format SLRs but no small format SLR. It's a type of camera that was pretty low priority for me but I've been keeping an eye out for a good deal. I've been wanting a M42 Pentax/Pratkica screw mount SLR. (I'm just an old fashioned kind of guy.) Actually, there are some incredible lenses available in the M42 mount, specifically the Pentax Super Takumars, that can be had for very resonable prices. And there are some nice cameras with that mount for good prices. The Asahi/Honeywell Spotmatic being the most famous. But recently my price point has been at zero. Which was exactly what the H1a was going for. I wasn't real familiar with the H1a other than a vague recollection from an article I had read but it was a Pentax with a M42 mount that would let me use the Super Takumar lenses that I was interested in. Without further thinking my fingers sprang into action and a message was sent to the owner of the H1a. Apparently my reply was within a minute of his posting the offer and the camera was mine. He only wanted $7 for shipping but I offered to trade one of my camera straps and the deal was done.

Then I thought that I might do some googling to see just what it was that I had traded for. I was very nicely surprised. Like my 5x7 Burke & James I ended up with a camera that I didn't know about but one that met my requirements perfectly. It predates the Spotmatic. It is the model that is at the end of the line of the design of the first modern SLR. Karen Nakamura has a nice write-up on it. Her's was the Asahi S1a which is the same camera as the Honeywell H1a. It is a meterless SLR which suites me just fine. None of my other cameras have a built in meter. Actually it comes with an external meter that mounts on top of the pentaprism and couples to the speed dial.

And it comes with two Super Takumar lenses — a 55/2 and a 35/3.5. I'm excited. I can't wait for it to get here.

Here is a site with a lot of information on the Pentax screw mount cameras and lenses.

Asahi Optical Historical Club

 03:07 AM - link

the big dick

The long march of Dick Cheney
For his entire career, he sought untrammeled power. The Bush presidency and 9/11 finally gave it to him -- and he's not about to give it up.
By Sidney Blumenthal

The hallmark of the Dick Cheney administration is its illegitimacy. Its essential method is bypassing established lines of authority; its goal is the concentration of unaccountable presidential power. When it matters, the regular operations of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department have been sidelined.

Richard Nixon is the model, but with modifications. In the Nixon administration, the president was the prime mover, present at the creation of his own options, attentive to detail, and conscious of their consequences. In the Cheney administration, the president is volatile but passive, firm but malleable, presiding but absent.


 02:09 AM - link

a conversation with gerry

"It's strange." "I don't understand." "How will I get home?" "You are home." "This is strange." "Is there a place I can go home to?" "This is your home." "I'm so confused." "Why was it so much better when I was upstairs and somebody else was around there?" "You don't want to take me home?" "This is your home."

In talking with Zoe about Gerry's Alzheimer's I brought up an observation. At one point, while I was talking to Gerry, She referred to Zoe and "her friend." Of course, "her friend" was me. She didn't connect me, the Gordy in front of her, with the Gordy that is with Zoe. Zoe has noticed the same thing. When she overhears Gerry and I talking it is apparent to her that when Gerry was referring to her by name that is sounded like Gerry didn't know who she was. It gets back to how well she fakes it. More and more Zoe and I are becoming indistinct in her mind. She appears to know us when we are with her. When we are not with her it's not so clear.

 02:05 AM - link

zen for the day

14. Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"


from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

 02:00 AM - link