I've come to say farewell to my loyal pet betta fish, Bender. Bender was a truly special fish who passed away far before his time. While some people will argue that fish have no awareness of the world outside of the tank, I believe that Bender was different. He would float for hours and watch me sit at the computer as I played games and wrote nodes. He would do aquatic flips and twirls when I returned home at the end of the day and he caught sight of me coming into the room. And now he rests, motionless, at the bottom of the tank.

It's unrealistic to believe a fish will live as long as most other pets do. Nevertheless, I came to expect Bender would just always be there, providing some color and life to my computer desk/shelf unit. Now his spirit swims free. Goodbye, fishy friend. Peace to you in the great beyond.


Note to self: never allow my grandmother to help out by cleaning the fish tank in the future. Despite being told how to clean the tank, she came up with her own way that resulted in mold growing undetected in the bottom of the tank, leading to death in the water.

Happy birthday to me!

This writeup is two days late. Twenty-nine years ago yesterday I decided to be early for once in my life. I found the experience so traumatic, I resolved to never do so again.

However, the day before that only three years ago I made sure my soon to be ex-wife was on time for once, moving her and her stuff out of what had up until then been our house and into her own. On the same day, at my insane ex-wife's insistance, a new roommate moved in with me. The same one that had lived with us until approximately a year before - Cheri. However, we were both somewhat uncertain as to how we'd get along on our own.

That night my new roommate and I went shopping together for the first time. Whereas my ex-wife would take three hours to shop for a single stick of celery, Cheri and I made it in and out of the store with a cart full of groceries in under 20 minutes. I felt dazed by the speed.

Since that left us with an extra two hours and forty mintues to kill, we went to the video store where I caught sight of a lone DVD of Dead Alive waiting for me on a shelf. "Oh yeah!", I said as I picked it up, remembering how I laughed until I cried when I saw it in the theater. I turned to the woman next to me, expecting to look down into the hard eyes of that bitch, instead finding myself looking at breasts in a sweater. I quickly raised my eyes to look straight ahead into the amused and inquisitive eyes of my old friend and new roommate, and, slightly embarrased but still happy, I suddenly couldn't find words. Left otherwise defenseless, I held the box up in front of my grinning mug for her inspection.

On recognizing it, she said, "Oh, absolutely, yes!" and smiled wide as well.

And at that moment we both realized, with complete certainty, we would get along just fine. That's the best early birthday present I can remember.

Happy Anniversary, honey! (Only two days late.)

Now, it's time to go to bed. I must go grocery shopping tomorrow.

My website, HongPong.com, got eaten by upgrading to Mac OS X 10.3. I could just put it together again, but I decided that I need to give the blogging activity a rest for a while.

In its place I put this sweet collage that I made in Photoshop this weekend. Inspired by the solar flare storms and the ghastly violence in Iraq, the picture gives the image of a world on fire.

My favorite part is the casualty chart growing out of Paul Wolfowitz's nose.

As far as my usual ramblings on neo-cons are concerned, unlike the usual Internet armchair theorists, I've attempted to be a real political journalist. I interviewed a Middle East expert, Columbia U.'s Prof. Rashid Khalidi, when he visited my college for an international politics conference in October. Khalidi is a unique thinker, someone who sees the war like very few people. He believes (as I do) that the 1996 Clean Break document is a key insight into neo-con thinking, as he talked about for several minutes during his conference speech. Here are some excerpts from the interview, which is only available here:
http://www.macalester.edu/weekly/101703/news01.html

  • You said in your talk regarding Iraq that "there are much worse days to come." What leads you to this?

    ...(Alienation has been) exacerbated by the civil war that (Ahmed) Chalabi is trying to foment between the Shia, to whom he's posing as the champion of, and the Sunnis. The United States is on the point actually, I'm afraid, of incurring hostilities of more than just a lot of disgruntled Sunnis, and former Baathists, former soldiers, and so on, a few jihadis and others who are coming in, but maybe also the largest single group in Iraq, which is the Shiites.
  • What do you believe are the central principles of neo-conservativism? Do you believe it carries an outer moral ideology for mass consumption, and an elite truth for the few?

    Yeah, Seymour Hersh in his articles in the New Yorker about these people has argued that these are people who studied under Leo Strauss or under disciples of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, people like Wolfowitz himself, (Pentagon policymaker) Abram Shulsky and others, and that they came away with a sort of neo-Platonic view of a higher truth which they themselves had access, as distinguished from whatever it is you tell the masses to get them to go along.

    There is a certain element of contempt in their attitude towards people, in the way in which they shamelessly manipulated falsehoods about Iraq, through Chalabi. Chalabi, of course, being part of this group, having studied at the University of Chicago as well, although he was doing his mathematics Ph. D. when they were doing politics degrees.

    The other thing I would say is that there is another element in some of them, of a belief in force, which doesn't come just from Strauss and Wohlstetter, who was actually Wolfowitz's dissertation supervisor. It comes from Strauss via Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the head of the Revisionist strand of Zionism, which was an extreme nationalism which very much believed in force. I think that that view is very widely spread among the neo-cons.... They are people for whom reality is probably less important than their ideology, and their moral certitudes.
  • Were the neo-cons turning their ideology into intelligence data, and putting that into the government?

    I can give you a short answer to that which is yes. Insofar as at least two of the key arguments that they adduced, the one having to do the connection between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, and the one having to do with unconventional weapons programs in Iraq, it is clear that the links or the things they had claimed to have found were non-existent. The wish was fathered to the reality. What they wanted was what they found...
  • Is there a connection to be drawn between Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith and the Israeli settler movement?

    Feith is a (law) partner of Zell, and Zell is a leading settler. He lives in a settlement; he is an advocate of expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. He and Feith are ardent committed extremist Likud supporters, that is to say they support a policy of Israel's expansion, they support a policy of crushing the Palestinians, they support the expansion of settlements....
Indian summer is a good time to set one's house in order. The cold winds and rain of recent weeks hint at winter, but we are given a brief reprive to prepare for the real thing.

Of course the fool in me wants to interpret the reprive as a promise; or the abberation for the norm, and to fiddle away these days. Instead, I will make a short list of Indian summer resolutions:

1. I will redouble my efforts at work. Not because I hope to be appreciated, or to recieve any immediate reward; but because I want to feel comfortable there, and I want my work to be mine.

2. In general I will devalue instant gratification. It used to seem like the only thing worth striving for, and I believed in its worth even after it led to addiction, depression, physical and spiritual degradation. Until I can place the quick fix in its proper place, I won't strive for it at all.

3. I will be more verbal about my appreciation for my friends and loved ones, and slower to look for ways that they have acted wrongly with me or others. I will do the same thing internally with my attitude toward myself (as soon as I get done making resolutions).

4. I will not interpret promises where there are none. Until I can tell the difference, I won't even interpret them where they are. This will be especially hard when I feel I have done a service and deserve some form of compensation. It is natural for me to serve, so I will experience service as its own reward.

5. When I find that I am not acting how I feel I should, I will simply look at my behavior, note the positive change I feel should be made, and stop thinking about it. Any more focus than that would lead to a tailspin of self-punishment, and would bring down more people than just myself.

Hmm. Grocery shopping seems a good idea, but, Procrastination rears it's ugly head.

My Day....

  • Architecture test..building identification. I hate writing quickly sooo much.
  • Celebrating All Souls day with a peculiar Catholic sect who still use pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. Slightly weird, but then this is the religious centre of Scotland. Bible-bashers aplenty.
  • Large burger with bacon, cheese and extra-jalapenoed (if that's how you say it) chilli. Yum.

Of Strelas and Second-Guessing

Yesterday's helicopter downing in Iraq graphically demonstrates the degree to which the lack of pre-war planning for the aftermath has begun to cost the United States military, its soldiers, and the Bush administration. In a week which has seen the number, sophistication and variety of attacks on Coalition forces rise dramatically, the world is left to watch Bush and company spin stories about how the attacks are the results of 'desperate partisans' while their most solid alliance (that with Britain) struggles to contain the rising disagreement between the two nations over intelligence inside Iraq.

The weapon used to down the CH-47 Chinook just south of Fallujah was a SA-7 Strela, a MANPADS weapon from the Iraqi army arsenal. 'Hundreds' of those weapons are missing from Iraqi army stockpiles, according to the Washington Post. This brings back the specter of Vietnam most graphically; helicopters, originally the symbol of American military might, turned at the war's end into the symbol of American retreat from South Vietnam with the famous shot of a Huey atop the Embassy compound evacuating personnel.

Here's a big piece of the problem, as I see it. Leaving aside (for now) the rationale for the war in the first place, one fact which is clear now (and was clear then) is that Saddam Hussein and his disciples had ten years to prepare for the guerrilla resistance which is springing up. The U.S. had made it quite clear what their intentions where, and had made it even clearer what would happen when Iraqi military forces met U.S. forces in set-piece battles. The effectiveness of Saddam's 'vanishing act' alone should indicate the degree of difficulty the U.S. has had and will continue to have in gathering intelligence inside Iraq. The Administration and the U.S. DoD's public statements, at the opening act of this fracas, were full of confident evaluations of the results of combat against the Iraqi military. With a few points of contention, I have no problem with that; they were essentially correct, and even the serious miscalculations during 'major combat' (my favorite example: sending Apache attack helicopters unsupported against an entrenched and dispersed armor unit south of Baghdad) do not bely the fact that the U.S. forces had Iraq's military completely outclassed.

The problem then, as it remains now, was what happened afterwards - and on that note, the Administration was resolutely blindered. Much reference was made to 'liberated Iraqi peoples' and the like, implying parades and confetti. No serious analysis, it seems, was done of what the challenges would be in maintaining an occupation and reconstruction effort with a ten-year-in-the-making preplanned resistance infrastructure. Nor, for that matter, what appears to be a constant influx of suicidal and/or trained and experienced fighters from around the world who have been itching (it seems) to have a go at the U.S. on 'home turf.'

Okay, enough. As the title says, second guessing. Here's the real meat: What do we do now? There is little coming out of Washington except 'We're winning! This proves it!' and little coming out of the field commands except casualty statistics and parries of reporters' questions.

This is the problem that no-one seems to be willing to touch. The Democratic candidates, for all their rhetoric about the miscalculations of the Bush administration, have been almost completely silent as to what a better plan might be. Republicans have been caught up in defending or critiquing their leader, and have been no more help. That seems to leave it up to us, the citizens of this country, to figure out what the heck we need to do.

Those are our forces, not Washington's; our soldiers, and our allies. They are stuck in a rapidly degrading situation while we sit here at home and debate how to de-elect or re-elect our president in a year's time. We need to spark debate not so much on what Bush and company did wrong (leave that to the election spindoctors) but on how we fix it. Despite a feeling that national security and military operations are best left 'to the experts' we have to be involved in this. The reason is simple - those operations and forces are intended to provide for our security. In order to do that job, we need to be clear on what 'our security' means: what should the goals in Iraq have been, and what are they now?

The Administration seems to be floundering from one position to another. The original public justification of WMD, after taking a beating and sparking a scandal within the administration with the Valerie Plame exposure (seen anything about that in the news recently? Me either) seems to have fallen beneath the rug of the Oval Office. We're now told that the War on Terror seems to have demanded it, despite the fact that at the outset, the one thing that did seem to be pretty clear was that Saddam did not have operational links to al-Qaeda. How, then, is this our objective now? Simple: the debacle in Iraq has been labeled a 'terror' operation, which means it fits. Convenient.

I beg to differ here: whatever the motives, means and methods used against our forces there, no matter how hideous, all of it can and must be looked at as a resistance against occupation. We are a foreign power, and we are occupying Iraq - regardless of how you look at the reasons for doing so. Thus, trying to lump the ongoing combat over there into the War on Terror is not only semantically incorrect, but (in my opinion) weaselly expediency of the worst kind. I in no way support the attacks on our forces, but to try to justify the problem (as the Administration is doing) by applying circular labeling is just this side of treasonous, in my opinion.

There is, possibly, a broad path which will take us out of this semantic and strategic trap that the Bush administration seems to have gotten us into. That is as follows: The United States must remove itself from the position of dominant occupier and target inside Iraq as soon as possible.

This is not going to be easy. Bush and company managed to alienate nearly the entire international community in undertaking this mess, meaning it will be nearly impossible to simply transfer the mantle of authority to a well-meaning international coalition. Furthermore, our continuing fumbling around in Iraq is costing us any goodwill we might have had from the Iraqi population, as the anecdotal 'bystander' quotes from the helicopter downing yesterday indicate (see the Washington Post for examples). However, it is likely that Iraq is suffering from the influx of foreign jihadi and suicide fighters, and (as Britain insists) the resistance is an organic net of groups with various agendas who have been conveniently provided with a common target (us) rather than a hierarchical organized group reporting to the remnants of the Ba'athists and Saddam. At the very least, there are enough weapons floating around Iraq and its neighbors, and the borders are porous enough, that it seems unlikely that the only fighters involved are prewar Saddamists.

Furthermore, Saddam has demonstrated before that he is perfectly willing to support groups with whom he has no common positive goal so long as it discommodes his enemies. Given the history of internal strife in Iraq, there would be no shortage of groups with disparate motives who would happily accept resources to attack the Coalition if they were offered. As Saddam has shown, he can be ruthless in quelling internal dissent, so there is no reason to think that he and/or his team would not prefer domestic chaos if it hurt the U.S., banking on their ability to crush internal opponents if the Coalition occupation is forced to withdraw.

In any case, Bush and co. are right about one thing: these attacks and their architects are showing no concern or regard for Iraqi civilians. At the moment, however, the populace appears willing to overlook this or attribute their losses to the Coalition's presence. I would propose that in order to demonstrate the danger of allowing the types of people coming in to carry out these attacks free reign, the U.S. should accelerate all efforts to turn over internal authority to native Iraqi institutions, and avoid statements like 'the long hard slog' and 'In it for the long haul.' This is not because we intend to abandon Iraq, but because we intend to restrict our exercise of power to military operations designed to destroy personnel, materiel and institutions we object to.

The U.S. attacked Iraq because the misbehavior of its government placed the conflict between Saddam and the U.S. in the international arena, where the U.S. excels at the use of force. The current occupation is demonstrating yet another time the different requirements between classic combat operations and governance by force. The U.S. is unwilling to engage in governance by force (a fact for which I remain profoundly grateful) and yet it is being forced towards this position by the attacks. The initiative has been ceded to our opponents inside Iraq, whoever they may be, because the U.S. military does well only when it has a defined, visible opponent against whom it can focus its combat power. The U.S. military, by design, is not a law enforcement organization. However, that's what Bush and Company seem to be trying to use it for. The British discovered the hard way the difference between a combat military and a civil governance military in Northern Ireland. The U.S. military is set up, designed and intended to protect the U.S. through the conduct of military combat operations with the goal of deterring or destroying a known and visible opponent. This is a good thing; it makes it harder to use the U.S. military to, say, crush internal dissent.

However, in Iraq, we're doing just the opposite. We are attempting to utilize the U.S. military to enforce civil order. It's not built for that. In Vietnam, the U.S. military was essentially successful at defeating the Viet Cong as long as they attempted to engage as a military opponent; the Tet Offensive was their last gasp at classic military operations before two critical changes. One, they began receiving massive Northern support, and two, they reverted to the more-effective and less-costly civilian infiltration, terror and guerrilla tactics that came to dominate that war.

In Iraq, we are witnessing that same shift. The military of Iraq has been essentially destroyed and disbanded by the U.S. and its allies; therefore, the fight has shifted from one aimed at defeating or denying access to the U.S. military to one that, by intention or unfortunate happenstance (although I believe intention) is aimed at forcing the U.S. military to attempt to maintain order. Maintaining order is a much, much harder job; in order for you to fail, your opponent must simply disturb things (the more noisily the better) rather than actually defeat you. Plus, the U.S. forces, sitting in a culture with which they are not familiar and subject to constant harrassment, will likely respond as they did in Vietnam (and as the Russians did in Afghanistan) by slowly losing their respect for the local population and infrastructure in favor of the use of (fire)power to preserve their own lives. This is not an indictment of the U.S. forces; merely a natural response of a military organization to hostile surroundings, and a necessary one. If the organization cannot convince its personnel that it cares enough about their safety to authorize the use of force, the negative consequences for discipline and effectiveness cannot be overstated.

A military is based on the notion of 'us' and 'them' - you can't have a military without that basic concept. In the U.S. case, the 'them' is defined in training and in peacetime experience as 'the people we're shooting at' which is how it's supposed to be. A military, properly used, is good for only two things (to re-use one of my favorite aphorisms, stolen shamelessly from a respected professor of mine): breaking things and killing people. It is the job of policymakers and strategists to determine how that capability can be applied to the task of achieving the goals they have had set before them (ideally) by their constituency.

So, in a roundabout fashion, back we come. It's our job, as Americans, to determine what we have a military for. Traditionally, it is to serve as a last option to preserve American territory, lives and sovereignty - and to do so by unleashing as much hell as possible at 'them.' Attempting to 'housebreak' it to do other tasks that don't involve that simple bit of clarity reduces its effectiveness, as the U.S. military admits when it requires units that have been 'trained up for peacekeeping' to undergo several months 'retraining' in order to take up their turn in rotation for 'ready' units.

What to do, then?

My answer, simplistic as it is, is this: return the conflict to an arena where the U.S. can maximally utilize its traditional advantage. Withdraw from the task of 'maintaining order' inside Iraq as quickly as possible. Continue to respond to any requests for material assistance from the Iraqi people and government, with as little delay as possible. This is how we should demonstrate commitment to the future of Iraq. BUT:

Make it clear that attacks on U.S. nationals and allied personnel, while carrying out any mission of assistance or delivery of aid, are therefore acts of sovereign nation war between Iraq and the nations whose assets have been targeted. As such, they run the risk of inviting the kind of full-bore response that the U.S. military is good at. Removing U.S./Allied forces from day-to-day duty inside Iraq would go a long way to demonstrating to the populace 'caught in the middle' that we aren't the ones trying to prolong this fight. However, any such withdrawal must be accompanied by the threat (and exercise, if it is required) of external military reprisal for guerrilla actions that occur.

After all, unlike the Israelis, we do not have a stake in the land, here. We're not there to preserve Iraq for our use (are you listening, George?). We may not have even had a decent reason for being there in the first place. But we can strive to normalize our relations with the Iraqi people, as opposed to attempting to maintain order ourselves through gross misapplication of U.S. power on the ground.

Whew. That wasn't as clear as I'd have liked. I'll have to revisit it. Comments welcomed.

It's not often that you make real genuine human contact in Paris. It's a very closed city; the women are beautiful but aloof, the men well-dressed but rude. Even the dogs manage to be spiteful by shitting all over the sidewalk. This dynamic is most noticeable when you enter a supermarket of some sort, where the checkout girl (I'm not being a sexist pig. At my local marker, Ed, she happens to be a woman) treats you as if you are doing her a great injustice by purchasing spaghetti and red sauce so you don't have to starve that night.

All of this changed today. I got to the checkout link just before it grew to epic proportions. There was only one person in front of me, and he only had a few things to buy. I secrectly did the arm pump and began to put my stuff on the conveyor belt. All of a sudden a high-pitched voice piped up from the back of the line.
"J'ai deux choses!"
It was an old woman proclaiming that she only had two items and that she wished to skip to the front of the line. French people in general have a fair amount of respect for their elders and so everyone just let her go. Not I, though; the girl had already started scanning my items. I got out my backpack just as she was saying to me, "Sept euros, s'il vous plaît." The total had come out to exactly seven euros; I kind of like it when that happens. I gave her a ten-spot and started to throw my stuff in my backpack.

I took the time to glance at the woman behind me and, of course, she had three things. I saw several people in line rolling their eyes. I was putting the last things in my backpack as the girl was checking out her stuff - two chicken breasts, some merguez, and three granny smith apples - and as I was slinging the pack over my shoulder, I heard, "Sept euros, s'il vous plaît." I turned to look at the total and there is was: 7.00€. The girl, who looked like she was of Indian origin, was cute, with a small shiny stud in her nose, but when we shared two or three seconds of smiling at each other, she suddenly became drop dead gorgeous. I left the store, unable to "wipe that smile off my face" for a couple of hours. My frozen pizza tasted better than usual tonight.

Lots of folks wrote me privately recently to suggest I put my recent (October 28, 2003) daylog about Las Vegas, Nevada to that node instead of letting it linger and eventually fade away in the daylogs.

So I have. I'm not sure whether to leave the old one where it is (since it's not "hurting" anything as a daylog entry) or to request a nuke since I've effectively "moved" it. Requesting a nuke is probably best in a karmic sense, so it doesn't look like I'm just noding for numbers or fishing for votes, which I'm not (that I know of :)).

Today has otherwise been boring, but I think I have more stuff to add to my Vegas writeup anyway, so that might entertain me later.

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