Month: November 2010

Secrets, lies, and the threat posed by those sneaky, rug-making Persians

Updated below:

The Pentagon Papers are a thing of the distant past, and the New York Times isn’t exactly giving Julian Assange the Ellsberg treatment. In fact, it gave its war-adoring soldier fanboy reporter the assignment of penning a hatchet job on Assange.

Still, the Times was on board (sort of, and selectively) with the latest wikileaks release, tens of thousands of cables showing the U.S. government in a most unflattering light. To my eyes, the most newsworthy were the ones where Hillary signed off on outright spying on diplomats from other countries, including the secretary general of the UN. Credit card numbers! DNA samples! Oh my  God! How low can you go? “Mr. Secretary General, I notice a stray gray hair there. One sec, I’ll just … Got it! See, that didn’t hurt, did it? Uh, no, I’ll just put it in this little plastic pouch for safekeeping…..”

Pretty shocking, right?

For the Times, not nearly as important as … drum roll, please … what the cables revealed about What a Major Threat Iran Represents! Especially now that we know Arab princes don’t like the Persians, and are afraid of them, and want America to stop them in their phantom nuclear weapon-making.

Three reporters cobbled together a compendium of Iran Threat-related snippets, and wove a narrative about just how hard it has been to convince the Russians and the Chinese and Italians to isolate and confront Iran–in the Tom Clancy-worthy phrase, to “cut off the head of the snake.”

That last quote was from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has a very low opinion of Iran, for reasons the Times doesn’t quite spell out.

To its credit, the Times does actually use the phrase “Arab obsession with Iran” and briefly mentions “the uneasy sectarian division of the Muslim world, between the Shiites who rule Iran, and the Sunnis, who dominate most of the region,” but in  general takes the worries of the corrupt Gulf oligarchs at face value, as they show how RIGHT the Times has been to pursue its own obsession with Iran (which is, after all, Our Threatiest Threat.)

One would have wished for a little more context here, something like that supplied by the Guardian (bold face mine in all instances below):

Arab-Persian enmity, with a strong undercurrent of rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims, dates back centuries but increased markedly after the overthrow of the shah and the Islamic revolution in 1979 and is now viewed as a struggle for hegemony in the region. The conservative Sunni-ruled regimes in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states detect the “hidden hand” of Iranian subversion, sometimes where none exists.

Or better, like that offered by Jason Ditz at

The calls to attack are nominally presented as about Iran’s civilian nuclear program but seem to center around the king’s belief that Iran is uniquely “evil” and needs to be stopped to save the region. Given that the Saudi King and the Iranian Supreme Leader are extremely influential in two rival sects of Islam, the effort seems more aimed around getting the US involved in a Holy War of sorts than stopping Iran’s modest civilian enrichment program.

That Saudi Arabia is putting forth so much effort to start a major regional war along sectarian lines would be troubling in and of itself, but doubly so as the Obama Administration has just completed agreeing on the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia.

The $60 billion arms sale was couched as important for regional stability. Yet this is the exact same Saudi government that is pressing for the Obama Administration to start a major, region-wide war which would destroy any such stability. It seems then that the arms sale is more about enabling Saudi Arabia to potentially start this major war themselves.

Yes! You’d think a $60 billion arms sale to an Iranian rival–and the only crazier, more unstable, and religiously unhinged regime in the region–would merit a mention in the Times account, but you would be thinkin’ wrong.

Shockingly, the Times offers the last word to an appalling little piece of racist nonsense offered by Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, who is quoted in one cable as saying:

“Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.” His greatest worry, he said, “is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.”

Forget about the carpet weirdness, that last line is PERFECT. Team B thinking at its best.

If you don’t know about Team B, you should spend some time googling around on the subject. Basically, it boils down to this:

Not finding evidence of Something is just more proof that that Something is there, and further, the not finding it just means that the people hiding that Something are incredibly sneaky.

This little exercise in tautology is a recipe for a long and lucrative career in the government of the United States. You are never right, but never wrong!

The track record of Team B is not so good, but these clowns stay in government no matter what. With Russia: embarrassingly wrong. With Iraq. Ditto. And now with Iran.

No matter what intelligence and inspections show, the U.S. government KNOWS those sneaky, rug-making sons of bitches are up to something. And now we have the word of a Crown Prince.

Update: FAIR goes into more detail on just how much spin the Times is putting on the cables, by comparing the Times’ selective excerpting with the cables themselves (which are not available from the Times, but can be viewed at the wikileaks site itself, or the Guardian’s.)

FAIR also has a succinct description of the Times’ behavior in all of this:

WikiLeaks document dumps are largely what media want to make of them. There’s one conventional response, which goes something like this: “There’s nothing new here, but WikiLeaks is dangerous!” But there’s another option: “There’s nothing here, except for the part that confirms a storyline we’ve been pushing.”

Securitainment: the last remaining American growth industry

Job security: The FBI shows how it’s done!

Not only did the Feds build this guy up in order to knock him down, they prevented him from taking a job that might have distracted him from their creepy entrapment campaign.

Anyway, I do sleep more soundly knowing this guy will never see the light of day again. And that the other threat to our nation’s well-being, Willie Nelson, will have to fight hard for his freedom in the coming months.


But it may also just as easily be the case that the FBI — as they’ve done many times in the past — found some very young, impressionable, disaffected, hapless, aimless, inept loner; created a plot it then persuaded/manipulated/entrapped him to join, essentially turning him into a Terrorist; and then patted itself on the back once it arrested him for having thwarted a “Terrorist plot” which, from start to finish, was entirely the FBI’s own concoction.  Having stopped a plot which it itself manufactured, the FBI then publicly touts — and an uncritical media amplifies — its “success” to the world, thus proving both that domestic Terrorism from Muslims is a serious threat and the Government’s vast surveillance powers — current and future new one — are necessary.

He also dares to talk about the elephant in the room, the Why Do They Hate Us thing:

We hear the same exact thing over and over and over from accused Terrorists — that they are attempting to carry about plots in retaliation for past American violence against Muslim civilians and to deter such future acts.  Here we find one of the great mysteries in American political culture:  that the U.S. Government dispatches its military all over the world — invading, occupying, and bombing multiple Muslim countries — torturing them, imprisoning them without charges, shooting them up at checkpoints, sending remote-controlled drones to explode their homes, imposing sanctions that starve hundreds of thousands of children to death  — and Americans are then baffled when some Muslims — an amazingly small percentage — harbor anger and vengeance at them and want to return the violence.   And here we also find the greatest myth in American political discourse:  that engaging in all of that military aggression somehow constitutes Staying Safe and combating Terrorism — rather than doing more than any single other cause to provoke, sustain and fuel Terrorism.

Still more adventures in clueless farming

On Wednesday I completely lost it with my cattle, then was charged by the bull. And it rained.

My herd–seven cows, four yearlings, seven calves, and a borrowed bull–were grazing near a field leased to a neighbor. As is often the case when they’re next to something they like, in this case fifty acres of corn stubble, a couple of calves sneaked under the electric wire. The wire’s current, supplied by a solar fence charger, had been weakened by three consecutive gray days, so the mamas thought nothing of crashing through the wire after their calves. First one, then three, and then the whole herd was out.

Usually I can lure them back with some feed on the back of the truck and indeed most of them came across the wire, which I had dropped–but then one turned around and the rest followed.

My fuse was short to being with that day, and the high winds and pelting rain didn’t help, so I started running to cut them off and turn them around, all the while shouting like a lunatic. “You fucking stupid cows” in dozens of permutations.

Well. That only succeeded in getting them a little wild. When you can see the whites of their eyes, it’s time to go inside for coffee. Instead, I decided to set out on foot after the bull, who was wandering away from the herd with a couple of cows in tow. In the past, I’d been successful in getting around him and turning him, and he has never shown any hint of aggression, but the combination of howling winds and bellowing farmer brought out the bull in him, and he turned, bucked three or four times, then charged, about five steps’ worth, which still left him fifteen feet or so from me when he skidded to a stop, tearing up deep chunks of soil.

It was a display, and not an attack, but it got my heart pounding and my brain thinking two thoughts: 1. Damn, he can MOVE! and 2. How stupid! One-on-one with a bull in slippery corn stubble, without even a stick, a hundred yards to the nearest tree line. If he had attacked … well, I don’t want to go there.

Actually, make that two thoughts and a question: How long would it take the family to come out looking for me?

Cows: not expecting the Spanish Inquisition

The large animal vet experience is medieval, yet quintessentially modern. Imagine a session with the Grand Inquisitor, all sharp, scary smoking implements of torture … assisted by a fast-talking pharmaceuticals sales rep.

I had to bring my best heifer calf in to the vet not once but twice last week. My neighbor trailered her in for me, and took the opportunity to have some work done on a couple of his cows, including one that he had dehorned. That was a singularly stomach-turning procedure. The cow’s head was tightly secured by squeeze gate and taut contorting ropes; then, without any anesthetic, a high-powered sawz all-type contraption sheers the horn off at the bud. The horn clatters to the concrete as blood spurts in all directions. And then the cauterizing fills the air with a sickening smell of singed hair, bone and blood.

Not long after that cow made it home, she miscarried.

My calf’s procedures were less nauseating. She had been in the first time because she was bloated and frothing. The vet crammed a pipe down her throat and then ran a plumber’s snake through, pushing a large chunk of a hedge apple out of the esophagus into the stomach. We thought that was the end of it, but the next day she was bloated again. The second procedure involved screwing a trochar and cannula into her side, puncturing the rumen, and letting the gas escape. She deflated like a balloon, and seems to be doing well, eating, nursing, pooping. She still has a hole in her side. She seeps and makes funny wheezing noises through it. Eventually, it is supposed to work its way out. Crossing fingers on that.

Cows are not pets, I know, but even so, having seen what I’ve seen, I would have to draw the line at dehorning. Why not just raise polled, i.e. hornless, cattle? I was however impressed by the trochar procedure, and will be even more so if it saves the life of my calf. Not so keen on the numerous medicaments suggested (and sometimes given without being requested) by the vets.

In my two years as a novice cattleman, I have yet to see my fundamental ideas disproven: that keeping cows healthy is a matter of keeping my herd apart from other cattle, moving them often when the grass is growing, feeding them exclusively grass and hay, and letting the mamas do most of the doctoring.

Having said that, I know I have learned only a tiny fraction of what I need to know. I am still a dilettante at this farming business, and will likely remain so until I’m too old to do the work.

It’s SHOW TRIAL time again!

Judge Lewis Kaplan opened the envelope with the charge sheet in it, read the verdict to himself, and then read it again. “There will be no outbursts,” he said, a statement that seemed odd given that there were no Ghailani family members present. The young foreman spoke from the raised jury box as Ghailani watched intently. Count one: not guilty. Count two, not guilty. By the time the foreman got to count four, the courtroom felt as if it had been transported to another galaxy. Count five: guilty. Counts six to 286: Not guilty. The words rang out over and over again, to no apparent reaction; far from outburst, it seemed as if no one had anything to say. By the end, the defendant stood convicted of one charge—conspiring to damage US property

Really, why does anyone even bother? The Right will throw a hissy about anything short of torturing terrorists to death on Pay Per View (even some on NPR are wringing their hands about this shameful acquittal of a terrrist!). And Obama defenders will point to this travesty as a demonstration of the return of the “rule of law” when of course, we are talking about some sort of stylized theatrical display where the disposition of the accused is never in question.

BECAUSE, as Glenn Greenwald notes, even had Ghailani been acquitted on all counts, “the Obama administration had made clear that it would simply continue to imprison him anyway under what it claims is the President’s ‘post-acquittal detention power.'”

It’s supposed to be extremely difficult for the Government to win the right to put someone in a cage for their entire lives, or to kill them. Having lived under a tyranny in which there were very few barriers impeding the leader’s desire to imprison or otherwise punish someone — and having waged a war to escape that oppression — the Founders designed it this way on purpose. And they did so with the full knowledge that clearly guilty and even extremely evil people would sometimes receive something other than the punishment they deserve. Here’s how Thomas Jefferson weighed those considerations, as expressed in a 1791 letter: “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”

“The inconveniencies attending too much liberty”–now there’s a notion from another time. So really, why bother? This is still about tiny distinctions between two parties who are in agreement about the Government’s absolute right to “put someone in a cage for their entire lives” regardless of what happens in their rigged courts.

“a nation where No lovely thing can last”

For what it’s worth, Wendell Berry gets a good deal of the blame and/or thanks for my move, from New York City to my wife’s family farm in central Kentucky, and for my haphazard Adventures in Farming.

For some time, I wrote a blog inspired in part by a poem of his.

So far my actual agrarian experience has not exactly resembled that enjoyed by Berry on his Henry County farm. I am not using draft horses, and, in spite of my best efforts, am surely not making the wisest use of the land and resources at my disposal. Nor am I writing with pencil and 1957 vintage Royal typewriter. My household has not one, but four computers, as well as four vehicles, all with between 140,000 and 210,000 miles on the odometer.

In darker moments, I think my rustic idyll seems more akin to that of the fictional farmer Jean de Florette, an eager, idealistic city-slicker accountant who moves to Provence from Paris, and is driven to madness, to bankruptcy, to death, by unkind weather and scheming provincials. (At this point, I am only partway to madness. Bankruptcy and death still seem to be a good way in the distance.)

Still, Berry’s ideas and attitude loom large over many of my daily actions. Sometimes I feel I should have a wristband engraved with the letters, WWWD (What Would Wendell Do?).

I came face to face with him at a Kentucky Book Fair a few years back. He signed the book I had asked him to sign, and looked up with expectation of conversation of some sort, but all I could conjure was a Ralph Kramden-esque “hummana hummana”.

It has dawned on my in recent months that I am not him, and can never be. There are some, many of his ideas and practices that I strive to adopt, but he has set the bar at a great height. I try as much as I can to be sustainable and conscious in everything I do, but realize that most of the time I fall far short. I realize he might tut-tut the fact that I like to play golf, have 6,000 songs in my ITunes, quaff a 30-pack of Old Style every week, subscribe to women’s fashion magazines. I am pretty sure he would not find much to be amused by in Zoolander or Caddyshack.

Having gotten all that out of the way, I would submit, without fear of overstatement, that he would get my vote for the Greatest Kentuckian Living (well back in the distance: a boxer from Louisville, and a girl singer from Butcher Holler). His poetry can be absolutely transcendent. (start here for a sampling); his fictional world a rival to that of Faulkner for completeness and depth; and his essays are at once uplifting and, as I have hinted here, impossibly challenging.

He will be speaking in several venues in Danville for the entire day, which is pretty thrilling to me. If child care obligations can be rearranged, I am hoping to see him at least once, if not twice.

In preparing for his visit, I have been re-reading some of his essays, and have come across some things I had not seen.

I particularly enjoyed his “Why I am NOT going to buy a computer” from 1987, which comes complete with a series of passionate reactions from readers of Harper‘s magazine, where it was reprinted in the late 80s. Berry’s answers to those reactions, also included, show the man at his most crotchety (to me, a good thing) and most caustic.

Through the genius of hypertext (an innovation Berry finds close to hilarious), that essay links to “The joy of sales resistance”, featuring one of his most contrarian, unpopular (and spot-on) ideas, that education has been turned into just another commodity.

This is another highly acerbic essay, one in which Multiculturalism, the Free Market, and Unlimited Economic Growth come in for a mauling. Though written in the early nineties, it contains what would be a great manifesto for the modern conservative movement, and a large segment of the Democratic Party (although it would surely not be recognized as satire):

Reduce the Government. The government should only be big enough to annihilate any country and (if necessary) every country, to spy on its citizens and on other governments, to keep big secrets, and to see to the health and happiness of large corporations. A government thus reduced will be almost too small to notice and will require almost no taxes and spend almost no money.

Looking for an arbitrary way to wind up this drifting meditation, here, without further comment, a poem from A Timbered Choir—The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997:

The year begins with war.

Our bombs fall day and night,

Hour after hour, by death

Abroad appeasing wrath,

Folly, and greed at home.

Upon our giddy tower

We’d oversway the world.

Our hate comes down to kill

Those whom we do not see,

For we have given up

Our sight to those in power

And to machines, and now

Are blind to all the world.

This is a nation where

No lovely thing can last.

We trample, gouge, and blast;

The people leave the land;

The land flows to the sea.

Fine men and women die,

The fine old houses fall,

The fine old trees come down:

Highway and shopping mall

Still guarantee the right

And liberty to be

A peaceful murderer,

A murderous worshipper,

A slender glutton, Forgiving

No enemy, forgiven

By none, we live the death

Of liberty, become

What we have feared to be.

“And now, they’re coming for your social security money!”

This George Carlin routine on the American Dream (“because you have to be asleep to believe it”) is aging rather well, sadly.

Tweeted today by Glenn Greenwald, who called it “3 of the most politically insightful minutes of political commentary ever.” No argument here.

“Ultimately politicians will do as they please”

Comparative responses to being boiled alive:

France: “Aux barricades!”
UK: “We are all in this together!”
USA (USA!): “Hey, Glee’s on tonight!”

Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Some students feel that it’s unfair that the people who got their education for free – for example our parents’ generations are now placing their budget deficits onto us. As someone who didn’t vote in the last election, the current political situation makes me feel even more disillusioned than before, if the coalition was to collapse in the next 6 months I wouldn’t vote again because policy changes such as this have shown that despite voting patterns, ultimately politicians will do as they please.

Zadie un-friends Mark Zuckerberg

"Let's take another. Not haughty enough."

Zadie Smith has major problems with Mark Zuckerberg’s world. Fair enough. Hear her out. Her ruminations on The Social Network in the New York Review of Books are quite good, and provocative (and I might add I’m looking forward to her new books column for Harper’s).

This is her best point.

Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: Doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?


With Facebook, Zuckerberg seems to be trying to create something like a Noosphere, an Internet with one mind, a uniform environment in which it genuinely doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you make “choices” (which means, finally, purchases). If the aim is to be liked by more and more people, whatever is unusual about a person gets flattened out.

… Finally, it’s the idea of Facebook that disappoints. If it were a genuinely interesting interface, built for these genuinely different 2.0 kids to live in, well, that would be something. It’s not that. It’s the wild west of the Internet tamed to fit the suburban fantasies of a suburban soul….

Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is. A Mark Zuckerberg Production indeed! We were going to live online. It was going to be extraordinary. Yet what kind of living is this?

Nearly forty years ago, Wendell Berry, who to this date has not heard of Mark Zuckerberg, (and quite possibly never will), anticipated the flattening out of personality problem presented by being reduced to your “Wall”:

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

The Mad Farmer’s advice:

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

I love that bit about the fox!

Ironically, there is a Facebook page for Wendell Berry (4,487 likes!).  Pretty good for someone who does not own a computer, and never will.

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