Saturday, October 2, 2010

Pumpkin headed mushroom

Now THIS really caught my eye

In less than 150 words

At Counterpunch, William Blum provides this 149-word synopsis for understanding post World War II US foreign policy complete with documentation:


The secret to understanding US foreign policy is that there is no secret. Principally, one must come to the realization that the United States strives to dominate the world. Once one understands that, much of the apparent confusion, contradiction, and ambiguity surrounding Washington's policies fades away. To express this striving for dominance numerically, one can consider that since the end of World War Two the United States has:

1. Endeavored to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which were democratically-elected.
2. Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
3. Waged war/military action, either directly or in conjunction with a proxy army, in some 30 countries.
4. Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.
5. Dropped bombs on the people of some 30 countries.
6. Suppressed dozens of populist/nationalist movements in every corner of the world.

The United States institutional war machine has long been, and remains, on automatic pilot.

Chomsky, and other, of course, offer the same analysis. This synopsis is worth memorizing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

We need warm

We need warm, accepting, human beings
Who have learned life's most important lessons:
that life is not easy,
that we all stumble,
that we all fall,
that we cannot pull ourselves up all by ourselves,
(much less by our bootstraps)
that along the craggy, rocky way,
there have always been helping hands,
and guiding lights,
and guardian angels,
and that when we finally learn to forgive ourselves,
then, and only then,
do we learn to forgive others,
and become warm, accepting, human being

Barack Obama spoke here

My dentist, Julianna, tells me that she and her husband saw Barack Obama speak here, at the high school auditorium early in 2007. They were both impressed by Obama's pitch for college students to quit focusing on business courses and to study the harder sciences - engineering, math, physics, chemistry, instead. Julianna's husband, the bag-piper, works for Motorola, and (as best I recall Julianna's telling) Motorola can't find enough American-born engineers to fill their staffing needs.

I strenuously disagree with the premise. This country's educational programs need to produce more poets, more artists, more mimes, more theologians, more comics, more story-tellers, more historians, more teachers, more philosophers, more statesmen, more public servants, more musicians, more mystics, more heretics, more healers, more listeners, more critical thinkers, more writers, yes, even more informed bloggers.

My country wages destructive, preemptvie, illegal, immoral wars as ruthlessly and viciously as any nation that ever stood. My country asks its most creative scientific minds to envision how it shall wage war 30 years hence. My country's politicians don't think beyond the next election cycle. My country's media elites would have our citizens believe that social justice is a communist plot to keep prayer out of the public schools. My country's financial elites would have us all believe that "the market," the private sector, and "capitalism" can solve the problems of all of mankind, once and for all, until, of course, they can't, at which point, the government must come to the rescue -- the rescue of the richest, that is, at the expense of the poorest.

No. We don't need any more cold, calculating number folks (like I used to be).

We need warm, accepting, human beings who have learned life's most important lessons: that life is not so easy, that we all stumble, that we all fall, that we cannot pull ourselves up all by ourselves, that along the way, there has always been a helping hand, a guiding light, a guardian angel, and that when we finally learn to forgive ourselves, then, and only then, do we learn to forgive others.

Portents of things to come

Went mid-morning walking today
And the sun shone so warm and bright
Above an infinitely blue sky
That it would have been possible
To miss the south-wind carrying
A chilling breeze, a portent of
The things that are to come.

October, mostly my favorite time,
And not merely because of Halloween,
Adam James' favorite holiday, and all
Those wonderful memories of Adam and Peter
Wearing grim reaper costumes
And the delightfully silly smiles
They wore too, smiles
That come so naturally to vaguely aware boys.

Nor because of the tree leaves transforming
Into their true colors, so grandly,
So vividly, so majestically, and then
So suddenly gone, save for the odd withered one or two
That hang on so valiantly (or so habitually)
Until the gusty winds of March
Finally persuade them to leave that to which they clung,
As attached as I am to this house,
To this neighborhood,
And to my memories.

October holds the promise of the greatest grandness
Of the trees; so grand that thoughts of winter's
Harshness are pushed somewhere deep into the recesses
Wherein dwell the hopes and dreams of a silly boy
Who once loved in a silly, hopeless, helpless way,
That comes so naturally to the vaguely aware.

Well, come, October, my old friend.
Welcome, October, my old dream.
Well, come, October, my desperate beginning.
welcome, October, my bitter end.

Tangerine-shaped moon again tonight

Tangerine-shaped moon again tonight, so white
Low riding in the pitch-black cloudless Eastern sky
Hovering, just hovering, not resting any any table-top
house-tops or tree-tops,
Looking more like it's being held ever so still
By some invisible puppeteer's strings

But how'd the moon move there tonight, midnight,
What arc did it travel?
What course did it take?

There is so much that I don't know,
That I still need to learn.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Coming by it honestly

Noted by Professor Juan Cole:

It isn’t odd that atheists and agnostics know a lot about religion. They’ve looked into it in order to come by their doubts honestly.

Paraphrasing: It isn't odd that students and war protesters know a lot about American foreign policy. They've looked into it in order to come by their doubts honestly.

Either the betrayer or the thief

Presently am reading Denis Johnson's novel: Tree of Smoke - A Novel. In it there's a homily which reminded me of a sermon I heard given here in town at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in November, 2006.

What were today's readings? He'd lost the book again, the schedule of liturgy. He hadn't actually consulted it for years, just read what he wanted, whatever verses the Book opened to. "Here's something." He read in English: "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies ..." He tried to explain in the local dialect what he thought might be meant by "bowels and mercies," and ended by saying, "I'm not sure what it means. Maybe how we feel toward our families."

He sought Matthew 27:5 -- And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

And now the homily. "In English today." He gave no reason why. Maybe it went without saying that the Joe's presence suggested this courtesy. Not that any of them would understand his thoughts in any language. Superstitious vampire-worshippers. But he himself had once seen the aswang flying with a child's bloody limb between her jaws.

"I've told them I'm going to do the homily in English. I don't really have anything prepared. We speak of our reading today, about Judas Iscariot the traitor: And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.

"He goes back to the temple, to the ones who paid him to betray his Master. He want to give back their dirty silver but they won't take it. Ever think why? Why they turn down perfectly good money? Nobody paid me to betray Jesus, but what does it matter, eh? I could never pay them back. They would never take back their dirty money."

In over thirty years he hadn't spoken at such length in his native language. He let it run on, the English coming out of his head as out of a loudspeaker. "My grandmother used to use that expression, 'bowels and mercies.' I never asked her what it meant.

"I remember how I rejected my grandmother. I loved her very much, I was her favorite, but then, when I came to my early teens, twelve, thirteen, she came to live with us, and I was very unkind to her. She was just some old woman, and I was very unkind.

"I don't like to remember that. The memory is very bitter. My grandmother love me, and I treated her with disrespect. I felt no love for anyone.

"Here, of course, where the people are so poor, so sick, you can't love them. It would pull you under. You wold go under. Everyone here knows how to love, but love them back -- it's quicksand. I'm not the Christ. No man is the Christ.

"Other times we're the their on the cross, the one who got crucified next to Jesus, the thief who turned to Jesus and said, 'Remember me when you get to your Kingdom.' And Jesus had mercy and said, 'This day you shall be with me in Paradise.' I really think we have to be one of the other. We're either the betrayer, or we're the thief...

But of course, the sermon which this reminded me of was nothing like the one above. At the UCC, the Assistant Minister spoke on the parable of the prodigal son, and she made this point: that there were different levels of meaning to the parables of Jesus, and how frustrating it must have been that his disciples only seemed to get the surface level of meaning.

On the surface, the prodigal son is the story about a father and a son; yet, on another level, it is the story about a father and TWO sons, the one who was off put that his father would make such a big deal for the return of the prodigal, while the son who had faithfully served could make the Rodney Dangerfield complaining, "I don't get no respect." On yet another level, this story is about the other brother, and how he too, is prodigal, so ultimately, the story is about us, how sometimes we are the prodigal son, and sometimes the brother, and how, at our best, we can forgive.

Marat in the courtyard,
Marat underground.
Sometimes the otter, and
Sometimes the hound

Sometimes the betrayer,
sometimes the thief.

There must be some kind of way out of here,
Said the joker to the theif.

And this, I think, is ultimately why we must read fiction -- to make these connections, to see our lives in the lives of others, and theirs in ours.

Terror Threats and Alerts in France

Terror Threats and Alerts in France is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

By Scott Stewart

The Eiffel Tower was evacuated Sept. 28 after an anonymous bomb threat against the symbolic Parisian tourist attraction was phoned in; no explosive device was found. The day before the Eiffel Tower threat, French authorities closed the Gare Saint-Lazare in central Paris after an abandoned package, later determined innocuous, was spotted in the train station.

These two incidents serve as the latest reminders of the current apprehension in France that a terrorist attack is imminent. This concern was expressed in a very public way Sept. 11, when Bernard Squarcini, the head of France’s Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (known by its French acronym, DCRI), told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the risk of an attack in France has never been higher. Never is a long time, and France has long faced terrorist threats, making this statement quite remarkable.

Squarcini has noted in recent interviews that the combination of France’s history as a colonial power, its military involvement in Afghanistan and the impending French ban on veils that cover the full face and body (niqabs and burqas) combined to influence this threat environment.

A Month of Threats

After the French Senate approved the burqa ban Sept. 14 — which will go into effect next March — a bomb threat against the Eiffel Tower was called in that evening, causing French authorities to evacuate the site and sweep it for explosive devices.

On Sept. 16, five French citizens were abducted from the Nigerien uranium-mining town of Arlit in an operation later claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a claim French Defense Minister Herve Morin later assessed as valid. In July, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared that France was at war with the North African al Qaeda franchise after the group killed a French hostage it had kidnapped in April. Fillon’s announcement came three days after the end of a four-day French-Mauritanian offensive against AQIM militants that resulted in the deaths of several militants. After the offensive, AQIM branded French President Nicolas Sarkozy an enemy of Allah and warned France that it would not rest until it had avenged the deaths of its fighters.

French officials have also received unsubstantiated reports from foreign liaison services of plans for suicide bombings in Paris. National Police Chief Frederic Pechenard told Europe 1 radio Sept. 22 that in addition to the threatening statements from AQIM, the French have received specific information that the group is working to target France.

On Sept. 6, Der Spiegel reported that authorities were investigating reports provided by the United States that a German-born Islamist extremist arrested in Afghanistan has warned of possible terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere in Europe — including France — planned by jihadists based in Pakistan. This story hit the English-language media Sept. 28, and included reports that the threat may have involved plans to launch Mumbai-like armed assaults in multiple targets in Europe.

In the words of Squarcini to the press, these combined incidents mean “all the blinkers are on red.” This statement is strikingly similar to one in the 9/11 Commission Report attributed to then-CIA Director George Tenet, who said that in July 2001 “the system was blinking red.”

While an examination of the current threat situation in France is interesting, it is equally interesting to observe the way that the French are handling their threat warnings in the media.

The Threat Environment in France

While its neighbors such as Spain and the United Kingdom have suffered bloody attacks since 9/11, the French so far apparently have been spared — although there are some who suspect the yet-unsolved June 2009 crash of Air France Flight 447 may have resulted from foul play, along with the explosion at the AZF fertilizer plant in September 2001.

France has long been squarely in the crosshairs of jihadist groups such as AQIM. This is due not only to its former colonial involvement in North Africa but also to its continued support of governments in countries like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia deemed un-Islamic by jihadists. It is also due to France’s military commitment in Afghanistan. Moreover, on the domestic side, France has a significant Muslim minority largely segregated in slums known in French as “banlieues” outside France’s major cities. A significant proportion of the young Muslim men who live in these areas are unemployed and disaffected. This disaffection has been displayed periodically in the form of large-scale riots such as those in October 2005 and November 2007, both of which resulted in massive property destruction and produced the worst civil unrest in France since the late 1960s. While not all those involved in the riots were Muslims, Muslims did play a significant and visible role in them.

Moves by the French government such as the burqa ban have stoked these tensions and feelings of anger and alienation. The ban, like the 2004 ban against headscarves in French schools, angered not only jihadists but also some mainstream Muslims in France and beyond.

Still, other than a minor bombing outside the the Indonesian Embassy in Paris in October 2004, France has seemingly been spared the type of attacks seen in Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005. And this is in spite of the fact that France has had to deal with Islamist militants for far longer than its neighbors. Algerian Islamist militants staged a series of attacks involving gas canisters filled with nails and bolts on the Paris subway system in 1995 and 1996, and during the 1980s France experienced a rash of terrorist attacks. In 1981 and 1982, a group known as the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction attacked a series of diplomatic and military targets in several French cities. Algerian militants also hijacked an Air France flight in December 1994, a situation resolved when personnel from the French Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) stormed the aircraft in Marseilles and killed all four hijackers.

“Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence in the United States for trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight with an explosives-stuffed shoe in December 2001, staged his attack out of France.

In 2001, French authorities broke up a French-Algerian terrorist cell planning to attack the U.S. Embassy in Paris. The six militants, some of whom French authorities had linked to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Also in 2001, Algerian extremists were convicted in connection with an aborted plot to attack a Christmas market at Strasbourg Cathedral on New Year’s Eve 2000.

In January 2005, French police arrested a cell of alleged Chechen and Algerian militants, charging members with plotting terrorist attacks in Western Europe. According to French authorities, the group planned attacks against government and Jewish targets in the United Kingdom as well as against Russian diplomatic and business targets in Western and Central Europe. Other targets included tourist attractions and crowds in the United Kingdom and France and French train stations.

More recently, in October 2009, French particle physicist Adlene Hicheur and his brother, Halim, who holds a Ph.D. in physiology and biomechanics, were arrested and charged with helping AQIM plan terrorist attacks in France.

In the final analysis, France is clearly overdue for a successful jihadist attack, and has been overdue for several years now. Perhaps the only thing that has spared the country has been a combination of proactive, skillful police and intelligence work — the kind that resulted in the thwarted attempts discussed above — and a little bit of luck.


France has a national security alert system called the Vigipirate, which has four levels:

* Yellow, which means there is an uncertain threat.
* Orange, which signifies there is a plausible threat.
* Red, which signals a highly probable threat.
* Scarlet, which indicates a certain or known threat.

The Vigipirate level has been set at red since the aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings. This level is probably justified given that France is overdue for an attack, and French authorities undoubtedly have been busy investigating a large number of potential threats since the decision was made to raise the level to red. Still, as we have long discussed, this type of warning system has a tendency to get some attention when the levels are initially raised, but after five years of living at level red, French citizens are undoubtedly experiencing some degree of alert fatigue — and this is why Squarcini’s recent statements are so interesting. Apparently, he does not have the type of hard intelligence required to raise the threat level to scarlet — or perhaps the French government does not want to run the political risk of the backlash to the restrictive security measures they would have to institute if they raised the level. Such measures could include dramatically increasing security personnel and checkpoints and closing certain metro stops, train stations and airports, all things that could be incredibly disruptive.

Generally speaking, a figure like Squarcini would not provide the type of warnings he has recently shared in the press if his service had a firm grasp on the suspects behind the plot(s) about which he is concerned. For example, the FBI felt it had good coverage of groups plotting attacks in some of the recent thwarted plots in the United States, including the group arrested in May 2009 and charged with plotting to bomb two Jewish targets in the Bronx and shoot down a military aircraft at an Air National Guard base. In such a case, the director of the FBI did not feel the need to alert the public to the threat; he believed his agents had everything under control. Therefore, that Squarcini is providing this warning indicates his service does not have a handle on the threat or threats.

Information about a pending threat is not released to the public lightly, because such information could well compromise the source of the intelligence and endanger the investigation into the people behind the plot. This would only be done in situations where one has little or no control over the potential threat. There are numerous factors that would influence the decision to release such information.

Perhaps one of the first is that in a democracy, where public officials and their parties can be held responsible for failure to prevent an attack — as the Aznar government in Spain was following the Madrid train bombings — information pertaining to pending threats may also be released to protect governments from future liability. Following every major attack in a democratic nation, there is always an investigation that seeks to determine who knew what about the threat and when. Making threat information public can spare politicians from falling victim to a witch hunt.

Alternatively, some suggest that French authorities are being pressured to make such warnings to distract the public from domestic problems and Sarkozy’s low popularity. Many also believe the French government has been using its campaign against the Roma as such a distraction. Sarkozy, widely perceived as law-and-order oriented and tough on crime and terrorism, is indeed struggling politically. While the current warnings may provide such a beneficial distraction for Sarkozy, it is our assessment that the terrorist threat to France is very real, and is not being fabricated for political purposes.

Warnings also can be issued in an effort to pre-empt an attack. In cases in which authorities have intelligence that a plot is in the works, but insufficient information to identify the plotters or make arrests, announcing that a plot has been uncovered and security has been increased is seen as a way to discourage a planned attack. With the devolution of the jihadist threat from one based upon a central al Qaeda group to one based upon regional franchises, small cells and lone wolves, it is more difficult to gather intelligence that indicates the existence of these diverse actors, much less information pertaining to their intent and capabilities. In such a murky environment, threat information is often incomplete at best.

Whatever Squarcini’s motive, his warning should serve to shake the French public out of the alert fatigue associated with spending five years at the red level. This should cause the public (and cops on the beat) to increase their situational awareness and report suspicious behavior. The suspicious package seen at the Gare Saint-Lazare on Monday may well have been reported as a result of this increased awareness.

As the jihadist threat becomes almost as diffuse as the criminal threat, ordinary citizens who practice good situational awareness are an increasingly important national security resource — a complex network of eyeballs and brains that Squarcini may have been attempting to activate with his warning. With the burqa ban scheduled to begin next spring, French troops in Afghanistan and the ongoing conflict with AQIM, the threats are likely to continue for the near term — meaning France will remain on alert.

This was quite interesting:

Squarcini has noted in recent interviews that the combination of France’s history as a colonial power, its military involvement in Afghanistan and the impending French ban on veils that cover the full face and body (niqabs and burqas) combined to influence this threat environment.

making it sound as if France were to pull its troops out of Afghanistan and repeal its ban on nigabs and burqas, the terrorist threat would be reduced. But, sigh, if France were to do that, then the terrorists would win.

But, if the French government deemed that the lives of French citizens were of more value than the "victory" that would be claimed by "the terrorists" for getting a country to repeal it's nationally mandated dress code (and while they were at it, to let girls wear head scarves in schools again) then rescinding the ban would make sense.

Supposedly the French equivalents of the Rush Limbaughs and Charles Krauthammers who would go apoplectic, and that wouldn't do. And heaven forbid that a nation remove its military from a country of one of America's many chosen wars, why, that would mean loss of face and disgrace for the U.S.A. even though it would make French soldiers safer.

In the final analysis, France is clearly overdue for a successful jihadist attack, and has been overdue for several years now. Perhaps the only thing that has spared the country has been a combination of proactive, skillful police and intelligence work — the kind that resulted in the thwarted attempts discussed above — and a little bit of luck.

Then too, perhaps the only things making France "clearly overdue for a successful jihadist attack" have been the decisions of the French government to support the U.S. long war against Muslim nations and to stir up anger and resentment amongst its Muslim populations by banning dress codes expressing a deep and abiding belief in the traditions of Islam.

Consider the reaction of French citizens to a law that banned the wearing of crosses.

And this:

France has a significant Muslim minority largely segregated in slums known in French as “banlieues” outside France’s major cities. A significant proportion of the young Muslim men who live in these areas are unemployed and disaffected.

To be an unemployed Muslim is to be in violation of the Koran's strictures. Perhaps the French government ought to seek solutions to this particular unemployment situation. That too might go a long ways towards lessening the terrorist threat.