Monday, February 28, 2005

Questions for the Wichita Police

The BTK killer has been apprehended, and this guy's profile fits everyone's expectations. It's easy to say "why didn't you catch this guy earlier?," but I have to ask "WHY DIDN'T YOU CATCH THIS GUY EARLIER?!!!":

1) It was clear that the killer was male and lived within Wichita and its suburbs for many years
2) Wichita and its suburbs have a total population of only 300,000
3) It had been determined that the killer went to Wichita State University
4) It was clear that the killer had a detailed knowledge of the area, its geography, and its streets
5) It was clear that the suspect would have routine or official access to people's property and homes
6) One of the victims lived on the suspect's street
7) The killer's voice was caught on a 911 tape
8) The killer had sent numerous communications over the years to authorities, pleading for more attention

The suspect, a Wichita State University grad and 30-year Wichita resident, is a code enforcement officer who routinely snooped around people's property, taking pictures. Neighbors described him as strange, "two-sided," and prone to odd behavior. If this guy wasn't on someone's suspect list, then they should be fired.

One other, unsettling note. This guy kept some of the belongings of his victims, and spent a lot of time over the years communicating to authorities. I remember a scene in the great movie "The Dead Zone" where Christopher Walken divines that the mother of the serial killer knew of her son's activities. This may be grossly unfair, but I want to know what the wife knew.

Update: Here's a video - he apparently also worked as a home alarm technician.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tales of the Middle East, Part I

Bahrain, Arabian Gulf

(or how I corrupted Saudi Arabia’s youth)

“Mr. Mark, can we go see ‘The Show?’”

In the mid-90s I was tasked with training the overseas agents of the global shipping firm of which I was employed.

This assignment brought me to the island of Bahrain - a small Arabian Gulf sheikdom fueled by its oil reserves located directly off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Because of its declining oil reserves, it has had to diversify and liberalize its economy into banking and tourism. It’s where many in the region go to play, and Manama, the capital, is where we scheduled the training sessions.

Participants flew in from across the region, including Iran, Oman, and Kuwait (the war aftermath had died down), but most of the attendees were from Riyadh and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Many of them were young, probably the sons of each agency’s owner.

The training got off to a bad start because the customs agents had seized the training video that was buried deep inside my checked luggage. Even in the relatively liberal Bahrain, inappropriate video tapes were strictly forbidden. The clerks in the Bahraini customs agency must have been seriously disappointed with their late-night viewing of a confiscated tape on the joys of cargo containerization.

As per custom, the first night I hosted a dinner for the entire assembled group. After an enjoyable meal, I began to hear rumblings about some after-dinner activities. Finally one of the Saudis approached me and deferentially asked: Mr. Mark, can we go see ‘The Show?’”

Being the polite American host, and mindful of international relations, I quickly acceded, although not knowing what to. Soon we were at the top of one of the few office towers in Manama, seated at a club overlooking the city.

The long causeway joining the Saudi Arabian mainland and Bahrain is notorious – Mercedes’ and BMWs were crashed nightly along the guardrails heading in a westbound direction, as young Saudis, resorting to binge drinking, returned home from an evening of partying in the “liberal” Bahrain, where alcohol could be purchased from one of the few clubs. As my young cadets took their seats at “The Show,” and awkwardly ordered their drinks, I began to wonder if things might get out of control.

But my bigger concern was the building anticipation amongst my guests of “The Show” and how to maintain some level of professional decorum in what I expected might become a compromising situation. Anxiously awaiting the curtain, the group looked both eager and reticent at the spectacle to come. I didn’t think this would be a routine night out in Tehran or Jeddah.

Lights dimmed, smoke swirled around the curtain. A soft, slinky jazz music began to play. Spotlights focused, and out stepped the star of the show.

The group’s eyes widened, their jaws dropped, and they sucked in every moment. . . Me? I couldn’t believe what I was seeing:

A stocky, middle-aged Russian woman with a butch haircut and expressionless face, loosely wrapped in a light-colored fabric that only left her hands, upper neck, and a small section of the top of her feet bare, legs firmly planted, slowly waving her arms in a see-saw motion to the music. Sheer ecstasy.

Thirty minutes later the siren was gone and the show was over. My group fumbled for cigarettes and quickly lit up in the afterglow. And luckily no one wrapped their cars around the Bahrain causeway.

You see I learned that night that excess is an unquenchable thirst, but deprivation is just as unsatisfying as well. The world is supposedly getting smaller and smaller and more interconnected, but our collective cultural norms might not ever find significant points of convergence. And that's a reality that weighs on our expectations for peace and harmony.

There’s a lightyear of distance between the poles of Vegas and Riyadh. And those two shows aren't likely to end.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Mullah and his Daughter

A joke from Khaled Hosseini's fine novel "The Kite Runner":

"Did you hear what Mullah Nasruddin did when his daughter came home and
complained that her husband had beaten her?"


"He beat her too, then sent her back to tell the husband that Mullah was no
fool: If the bastard was going to beat his daughter, then Mullah would
beat his wife in return."

The battle over how Sharia is to be applied to women in Iraq is beginning. And it's not culturally insensitive to say that the treatment of women in many Muslim countries that practice traditional Sharia is horrific, from honor killings, to burqas, female circumcisions, no-rights divorce, and sanctioned beatings. Inspired by the Koran or not, extremists in these tribal societies are locked in an obsession with subjugating women to maintain their own "honor."

From a newly liberated Iraqi woman:
"They said what I am wearing is devil clothes," she says of the time she was
recently turned away from the main mosque in Baghdad's Shiite Kadhimiya
neighborhood. She pulls incredulously at the shapeless black robe that got her
banned because openings between the fasteners revealed flashes of the long
formless dress underneath."

This is the canary in the coal mine. It's the treatment of women that will decide if Iraq succeeds, and if the Middle East can throw off its barbarity.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

No iPod Gold Rush

No Gold Rush

Apples adjusts its iPod Mini assortment. . . I never did understand the buzz around the device's color options, when this is the critical accessory.

Shifting The Debate

. . . Has Bush shifted the debate from Climate Change to "cleaner" air and "standard of living?" And from CO2 caps to break-thru technologies? It seems so. After all, when did CO2 become a "pollutant?"

The Shakespeare Charade

. . . is in full view here. (via Andrew Sullivan). The rest of the story is here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Before You Book Your Summer Vacation. . .

. . . consult these exotic destinations. Via Indepundit.

What We've Suspected All Along. . .

Does this mean we can take a discount at the register?

A Stunning Revelation. . .

from DailyKos:

"One of my dirty little secrets -- I read very few books. In fact, the only time I read books is when I'm traveling, at the airport and on a plane. There are only two authors I have ever gone out of my way to read everything they've written -- Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr."
Now I've enjoyed the writings of both Thompson and Vonnegut, but for the Left's leading blogvoice to confess to a reading list that is limited to these two writers is another indicator of the intellectual paralysis and myopia that has gripped that side of the political spectrum.

A side comment on Vonnegut: I attended one of his few speaking engagements in the late 80's, as he was a favorite of mine at the time (he since has become overwhelmingly morose and misanthropic, never able to shake his experience during WWII when he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden as a POW).

During the lecture he explained that all stories map to the shape of either a "V," in which the protagonist starts off with good fortune, falls into predicament (the bottom of the "V"), and then heroically recovers, or an inverted "V" in which the protagonist starts off in bad circumstances, achieves success (top of the inverted "V"), and then ends in his misfortune.

Vonnegut concluded his lecture by explaining that his stories didn't map to these universal truths, but resembled a flat line at the bottom of a page. You can see why Vonnegut just might be the next Thompson.

More interesting insights on Thompson here from TigerHawk:

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Trouble With Barry

Orange, Beetle, or Jamba?

In three weeks I'll be making my annual pilgrimage to Scottsdale, Arizona to watch my team gear up for opening day. And being a Giants' fan seems to carry a certain stigma around the country, as if the team has somehow facilitated the diminishing of Ruth's and Aaron's legacy by organizing itself around the perceived cheater, Barry Bonds, who is likely to surpass both men in the record books.
But this post isn't an apologia for Bonds. Barry will have to live with his legacy and his kharma. And I think the full truth will out over time. The trouble with Barry is he's a damn good ball player, absolutely riveting to watch, and his talent can't be simply dismissed as steroid-enhanced. Asterisks, doubts, and before/after pictures will forever be associated with Bonds' career, but whatever his sins, you're not likely to see them displayed in the shards of a corked bat or a bookie's betting slips. Whatever line was crossed, it will remain elusive and unquantifiable.
And Barry has made it difficult for fans to rally behind him. His aloofness, underlying shyness, and perpetual chip on his shoulder doom him from ever being the people's favorite. But I've watched him for too long to not appreciate the intensity with which he plays, and the physical genius of his performance at the plate.
When you sit in the right field boxes at Giants Park (no corporate names for me), near the visiting player's bullpen, you need to bring your glove for protection. Bonds' line drives are vicious, and you need some defense from that change-up that he tags just a little too early. Barry has to live with his actions, but his critics will also have to live with what I expect will be another record-breaking season. And that's the trouble with Barry.
UPDATE: Bonds' press conference here:

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Are Zoos An Anachronism?, Part II

Elephants on Prozac?

In response to my recent posting on the health of elephants in zoos around the country, and the bigger question of the continuing utility of zoos, I received two impassioned emails from a docent in a midwestern zoo (names withheld) taking issue with the article's suggestion that zoos are no longer needed:

There are at least four aspects of a well run zoo: education, conservation, research, and recreation. The thing most commonly seen at zoos is the recreation aspect because that is the most obvious and is easily observed. However, being a docent, I am involved in the education aspect. We give tours; we have classroom presentations, mostly for grade school kids; we recruit and train teen volunteers who then do some educating of their own, but mainly help out with the grunt work of running and maintaining a zoo (receiving more education in a hands on way).

(Our zoo) does have at least two African elephants, but I have never seen them engage in the kind of repetitive behavior you seem concerned about. Of course enrichment, i.e., offering significant mental challenges to the brainier species (and even the not so brainy species) probably explains why the elephants here don't lapse into that kind of behavior.

Are the animals better off in this setting than in the wild? If you're interested in saving threatened and endangered species I'd say yes. But that's a value judgment. You can offer arguments that zoos are an anachronism, and I'll agree with you that some of them should just go away, but facilities such as (ours) permit research and conservation that wouldn't otherwise be done.

The original article cited elephants being given anti-depressant drugs to modify their repetitive behaviors; it seems that there are facilities with committed volunteers such as the good docent writing above that do not have that problem.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Alive! Comes Alive

The Andes, known for its unique cuisine

Remember this book? In 1972, the Uruguayan rugby team's plane crashed high in the Andes while on its way to a match with Chile.

72 days later, 16 of the 45 people on the flight survived their ordeal. They had to eat their dead teammates to survive.

And this week an American hiker has unexpectedly stumbled on the wallet of a survivor of the crash. Via Sydney Morning Herald:

The wallet's owner, Eduardo Strauch, said memories came flooding back to him of the harrowing 72 days stranded on the mountain at freezing temperatures.

(The wallet) will be handed to Strauch next week. "It reminds me of some happy moments we had up there on the mountain, spiritual moments as well as all the suffering and pain we went through," he said on television.

After 10 days on the mountain, the survivors heard on their radio that rescuers had given them up for dead. That was when they decided to dig up some of the dead bodies they had buried in the snow nearby and eat them.

Of the 45 people on the flight, sixteen survived 72 days on the mountain. They were only rescued when two of the survivors struck out to find help and ran into a Chilean man on horseback.

Shaking Spears has obtained an updated picture of Mr. Strauch, which can be seen here.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Schumer's Fuzzy Math Calculator

Will he do tax returns too?

Charles Schumer, senior Senator from New York, is now in the financial services business, doling out advice from his website on the negative rate of return of the Bush personal savings accounts for Social Security.

Negative rate of return? How can that be, when the existing Social Security program
returns about 1% on the money you pay in, and for certain minorities with lower life expectancies results in a negative rate of return over the life of the cash flows. You could put your money into U.S. Treasury bonds and get 4-5% guaranteed, right?

Well, check out Chuck's new Social Security to Social Insecurity
calculator on his website. Just like Fidelity, Chuck is providing the tools for you to make sound financial decisions.

According to Chuck, if you are 25 years old, with an average salary of $50,000, your promised annual Social Security benefit would be $26,584, but your Bush plan benefit would be $18,198, leaving an annual cut from Bush's plan of $8,386, or a 32% reduction!

Wow! That's a lot! But wait, what are these assumptions? Chuck ignores the reality of the stock and bond markets, and how, with virtually no incremental risk, you could achieve a rate of return 3-4 times the existing program. Here's where his calculator uses fuzzy math - it avoids the rate of return comparison altogether, and factors in "price indexing," and its potential benefit reductions, to provide the negative comparison between the existing and proposed, partially privatized, system.

Price indexing refers to the pegging of benefits to increases in the cost-of-living, instead of the rise in wages. This policy, along with the raising of the retirement age, and the potential lifting of the cap on payroll taxes, are all being considered in various iterations as potential solutions to the Social Security program's pending insolvency. Private accounts would require borrowing to pay for the initial redirection of cash flows, but, over time, the greater rate of return should increase the pie of benefits to payout. But the long-term problem can't be solved by the modest personal account initiative alone, and will require other reforms to close the gap.

So Chuck's calculator isn't really a calculator at all. It's a slick assault on Social Security reform as a whole, and offers no solutions to those of us who aren't likely to see its "promises" kept.
Update: via PrestoPundit; Krauthammer tells it like it is. And we could use more ideas like this.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Jerry and Jennifer

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown continues to offer up solutions. Which are having an effect. And he knows how to blog. (h/t Instapundit.)

He has a regular weekend TV segment here in the Bay Area where he talks with a local reporter over coffee at a downtown Oakland Starbucks. And, despite my initial encounter with this man, he comes off as the most creative and free-thinking politician around.

My initial encounter with Jennifer Lopez in the Elmore Leonard classic Out of Sight suggested that she was loaded with talent. . . but after seeing her performance in the Grammies, it's no surprise she's decided to take some time off for re-tooling. . .

Speaking of Elmore Leonard, there isn't a better crime writer out there today. Check out this, this, and this.

"Sod Off, Swampy"

As a UC Berkeley undergrad, the Communist Worker's Party used to barge into my lectures from time to time, banging drums, blowing whistles, and chanting slogans. We'd just sit there in bewilderment.

Looking back, I wish I'd acted more like a British Oil trader. According to one of their "victims," when Greenpeace attempted to interrupt their livelihoods to make a political statement in support of Kyoto, the reaction was swift:

Via the Times Online:
“The violence was instant,” said Jon Beresford, 39, an electrical engineer from Nottingham. “They grabbed us and started kicking and punching. Then when we were on the floor they tried to push huge filing cabinets on top of us to crush us.”

Last night Greenpeace said two protesters were in hospital, one with a suspected broken jaw, the other with concussion.
Talk about your Clash of Civilizations. Green "swampies" vs. Spivs. There isn't likely to be a rematch.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"There Is No Time To Lose"

BBC's Global Warming Proof - Mt. Hood in Late Summer

"I call on the world community to be bold, to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol and to act quickly in taking the next steps," he said. "There is no time to lose." - Kofi Annan, Feb. 15, 2005.

And so it begins. 141 nations have signed on to the pact, with much fanfare and political posturing. What Americans may not realize is how much this issue dominates the news coverage in Europe, where virtually every weather "anomaly" is presented as another sign of the gathering climate-change storm. Tony Blair is making it a centerpiece to his upcoming campaign. Chirac is calling for a 75% cut in emissions by 2050, and the Euro-press is filled with evidences of pending apocalypse, including the BBC's website showing pictures of glaciers and mountains that are offered as de facto evidence of man-induced warming.

But how do you square this hysteria and support for Kyoto with the pact's best-case scenario?:

Even if fully implemented, Kyoto would brake rising temperatures by just 0.1C by 2100, according to U.N. figures, tiny compared to forecasts by a U.N. climate panel of an overall rise of 1.4-5.8C this century.

Nevermind the absurdities of climate modeling that produces outcomes that differ by 400%. Kyoto is not meant to produce a result, but to constrain, isolate, and politically wound the U.S. It's why Chirac feels he can keep upping the ante relative to further cuts: it's a risk-free way to score political points.

Meanwhile, with respect to these pictures: I've been flying over the Sierra Nevada mountain range for years; some years the snow is heavy (this year), some years are light. And glaciers recede and grow. Is this news?

Update: via Samizdata, and here: "Aliens Cause Global Warming"

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Peter Jennings Gets Out of the Office

When Bill Clinton became President, he nominated his friend Webster Hubbell to be Associate Attorney General, and gave him instructions to find out two things: Who killed JFK, and whether UFOs were for real. This story struck me at the time as speaking volumes about Clinton's character. Both are interesting discussions, but not the sort of thing you give priority to when nominating your Associate Attorney General.

Along those same lines, Peter Jennings is now on the UFO case. And he explains his choice of topic by saying:

"One of the great frustrations common to people like me ... is not getting out enough."

Okay. Peter Jennings' idea of "getting out" and meeting the average American is chasing down UFO stories. In Jennings' world, isn't that what's going on in those Red states?

Are Zoos An Anachronism?

One of the best fiction books published in the last few years is Life of Pi, a highly imaginative novel about, among many other things, a young Indian boy's survival in a lifeboat following a shipwreck in the Pacific Ocean.

Pi Patel is the son of a zookeeper. And in the early sections of the book Pi puts a unique spin on the essential goodness of zoos, arguing that it is the Wild that stresses animals and limits their capacity for happiness and play. The zoo becomes protection from predators and the daily uncertainty of finding food.

It was a charming section of the book, and most of the zoos I've seen recently have made a concerted effort to expand and naturalize the habitats of the animals. But elephants seem to be the biggest draw to zoos, and they are often the most difficult to manage, leading to stories like this:

Oxford University researchers contended 40 percent of zoo elephants display so-called stereotypical behavior, which their 2002 report defined as repetitive movements that lack purpose. The report said studies have shown zoo elephants tend to die younger, are more prone to aggression and are less capable of breeding compared with the hundreds of thousands of elephants left in the wild. Moreover, critics say many zoo elephants, though hardy, spend too much time cramped indoors, get little exercise and become susceptible to infections and arthritis from walking on concrete floors.

And these challenges lead to this:

Some zoos give animals behaving stereotypically the same antidepressant drugs found to ease compulsive behaviors in people.

With the Crocodile Hunters and Animal Planet channels, you wonder whether the zoo is still required to familiarize the public with exotic animals. And you wonder whether or not Pi Patel has a point.

Monday, February 14, 2005

What's In A Name?

. . . via TigerHawk, check this out and put your sense of identity into historical perspective. . . for some reason I couldn't find "Spear."

Has The Shi'ite Hit the Fan?

. . . Robin Wright isn't the most objective source for this analysis, but the question remains: Have we sowed the seeds of a transparent, secular, democratic Iraqi government, or have we just created a greater Iran?:

From the Washington Post:

"Thousands of members of the United Iraqi Alliance, a Shiite-dominated slate that won almost half of the 8.5 million votes and will name the prime minister, spent decades in exile in Iran. Most of the militia members in its largest faction were trained in Shiite-dominated Iran. "

And our guys didn't do too well:

"Conversely, the Iraqi secular democrats backed most strongly by the Bush administration lost big. During his State of the Union address last year, Bush invited Adnan Pachachi, a longtime Sunni politician and then-president of the Iraqi Governing Council, to sit with first lady Laura Bush. Pachachi's party fared so poorly in the election that it won no seats in the national assembly."

Which leaves us with the $64,000 question:

"There's the assumption that the new government will be close to Iran or influenced by Iran. That's a strong and reasonable assumption," (Arab analyst) Khouri said. "But I don't think anyone knows -- including Grand Ayatollah [Ali] Sistani -- where the fault line is between Shiite religious identity and Iraqi national identity."

Iraq's Arabs and Iran's Persians have had conflicts throughout history, but we can't bank on this to trump a pan-Shi'ite alliance. The ultimate goals of our geopolitical strategy in the Mideast are to "drain the swamp" of terrorism, secure the free flow of oil, and inhibit the development of nukes, primarily through the promotion of democratic forces. I don't take anything away from the history-making precedent of the elections, but it might have resulted in a buffer around Iran and emboldened Shi'ite clerics. The Shi'ite might have just hit the fan.

John, Better Check The Pre-Nup. . .

Teresa is giving hints . . . and as predicted here.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Christo's Clothesline

Christo Hangs His Laundry

From USA Today:

The weather was windy and cold as the first fabric dropped from one of the 7,500 16-foot-high gates, creating what the artists billed as "a visual golden river" along 23 miles of the park's footpaths. More than 1 million square feet of fabric was used by the artists.

Its official title — "The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979-2005" — refers to the artists' conception of the idea 26 years ago. It was expected to take about two hours to drop the fabric from all the gates.

"It's a waste of money, but it's fabulous," said student Shakana Jayson. "It brings happiness when you look at it."

"It's a bit insane, but that's why everybody is here," said Ali Naqui, who was brought to the unveiling against his will by his fiancee.

Bold, avant-guarde art, or waste of money? You've got to give the guy credit for visually stunning, creative ideas, but the (clothes) line between art and crap can be as thin as orange fabric. What do you think?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Dinosaur Eating Dogs. . .

Puppy Chow

. . . have been discovered from the Mesozoic Era, some 130 million years ago:

"Scientists in China have uncovered the fossil remains of two mammals that lived around 130 million years ago. The finds will revolutionize current thinking about life during the Mesozoic era (248 million to 65 million years ago), a time when both dinosaurs and mammals arose.

One incredibly well-preserved fossil—of an early mammal known as Repenomamus robustus—had the remains of a small dinosaur in its belly. It is the first evidence that mammals dined on dinosaurs.

R. giganticus was a squat, powerful mammal with large fangy front teeth," Anne Weil, a paleontologist at Duke University said. "And believe me, it's not something you'd like to have hold of your leg."

The two early mammal species were probably predators, not scavengers, say the scientists. Their teeth were large and pointy, and their jaw musculature was strong. This suggests that they were capable of capturing, holding, and ripping apart their prey. The juvenile Psittacosaurus dinosaur found in the stomach of the R. robustus fossil looked to have been dismembered and swallowed in chunks, rather than chewed.

You Know the Stratford Case is Lost. . .

. . . when they have to resort to the theory that Shakespeare suffered from syphilis to explain his erratic, illiterate signatures and his odd "retirement" in his late forties - (From the Feb. 1 issue of the research journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.) and World Science:

Shakespeare mentioned sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms – and treatments – in several of his plays and poems, including Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, and Sonnets.

In Shakespeare’s time, one of the treatments for syphilis, inhalation of mercury vapor, was worse than the disease. Ross suggests that Shakespeare’s tremulous signature on his will, his social withdrawal in later years, and even his baldness might all be due to a mild degree of mercury vapor poisoning.

I've got another explanation.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Global Warming Reporting Par Excellence

Don't wait for the data, just report it. . . and it will be true. Global temperatures are now being predicted by NASA and Reuters:

A weak El Nino and human-made greenhouse gases could make 2005 the warmest year since records started being kept in the late 1800s, NASA scientists said this week.

Apparently both a weak El Nino and a strong El Nino cause a rise in global temperatures, and nobody in this story seems compelled to explain the apparent contradiction:

The spike in global temperatures in 1998 was associated with one of the strongest El Ninos of recent centuries and a weak El Nino contributed to the unusually high global temperatures in 2002 and 2003, NASA said.

The story goes on to reinforce the point that specific geophysical events can impact global temperature:

Short-term factors like large volcanic eruptions that launched tiny particles of sulfuric acid into the upper atmosphere in 1963, 1982 and 1991 can change climates for periods ranging from months to a few years.

But this point can't be left hanging because it de-emphasizes the impact of your SUV on CO2 levels:

While climate events like El Nino. . . affect global temperatures, the increasing role of human-made pollutants plays a big part.

And to add to the general confusion, the piece ends with

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday the current weak El Nino will diminish and end during the next three months.

Does that mean warming, or cooling? Get your stories straight.

There's a Cancer Growing. . .

. . . on a certain media organization. Meanwhile, John Dean, who said there was a cancer growing on the Nixon presidency thirty years go, is debating the ethics of confidential sources, and the identity of Woodward's informant.

Interesting that there is one man who straddles both the Eason Jordan and the Watergate stories. . .

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Bono: Pro Bono a No No

Via the Englishman and Socialized Medicine; Bono gets taken to task for his private property rights hypocrisy. . .

. . . but I'll still be going to his concert at San Jose's HP Pavilion on April, 9. . . .Will Carly be there?

The Definition of Gesture Politics

Does anybody actually believe that the E.U. initiative to curb Iran's nuclear program will yield results? The Iranians certainly don't. They're even getting surly about having to go through the motions. . .


Condi gets tough (with Europe).

Iraq's Jefferson?

Ayatollah Sistani

Put me in the camp that is hopeful but skeptical of Cheney and Rumsfeld's optimism about the direction of Iraq's new political class. I want to be optimistic, but the euphoria of the elections can't hide the fact that Ayatollah Sistani now holds all the cards, and I don't know if he's playing with a full deck.


"Iraq's women are encouraged to vote as they want but, under Sistani's teachings, they won't be able to shake the hand of any man other than a father, brother or husband. (Sistani also forbids music for entertainment, dancing and playing chess.)"

Not exactly Mr. Enlightenment. And then there's the fact that he's not even an Iraqi. He's Iranian. And he couldn't vote in the elections because of his nationality. And the Shi'ite alliance list he put together includes

religious parties who in the past have openly advocated an Islamic state on the Iranian model. Hussein al-Mousawi, who heads the Shiite Council, a secular party, called the leading members on the victorious list "extremist Shiite Islamists who believe in the rule of religious clerics."

Sistani apparently has not met with any Americans, but maintains his power by rising above the competing interests at play, and keeping silent on the key issues, like Sharia, that will shape the future of Iraq. The Iranians know that they want his ear:

Iranians have poured into Shia areas in southern Iraq, and even bought up some of the houses in Sistani's neighborhood, either to be close to him, or to keep an eye on him. Recently the Ahl ul Bait World Assembly, a religious charity closely linked to Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, opened an office in Najaf to promote the doctrine of clerical rule.

So an Iraqi democracy, free of the control of the clerics and the stifling practices of traditional Islam, is no certainty. And the man who has the power to be Iraq's Jefferson isn't talking. Yet.

Tell Me That It Isn't True

. . . and you thought Philadelphia Eagles fans are crazy. . .

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Holy Shi'ite

On Fox this past weekend, I caught a snippet of Bob Beckel, Democratic campaign consultant, and Charles Krauthammer, columnist, discussing the emerging political situation in Iraq, and how the newly elected Shi'ite majority might drift toward radicalism.

Why Fox felt that Beckel and Krauthammer would be equally matched on this subject is beyond me, what with Beckel's penchant for home massages while his wife is out shopping, and Krauthammer's doctorate degree in psychology and overall brilliance in foreign policy discourse.

Beckel noted that Allawi's ticket was losing, and that the Sunnis would be extra upset about seeing one of their own relegated to the back bench.

The problem is that Allawi is a Shi'ite, and Krauthammer had to say that Beckel was an uninformed idiot on national TV. Of course that was no revelation.

But the bigger question remains. Will the Shi'ite's go radical? Is Sharia Law the ultimate destiny for Iraq? We've got contradictory reports. First, we heard that Ayatollah Sistani, spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shi'ites, was supporting Sharia as the sole source of law and legislation in Iraq, and then we heard the retractions. The issue really comes down to the difference between "the" source and "a" source:
The current wording in Iraq's interim constitution, approved in March by the country's main political parties including secular-leaning Kurds, Christians, and others, is that "Islam is the official religion of the state and is to be considered a source of legislation".

There is a huge amount hanging on that determinant. And Rumsfeld, Rice, and Cheney are banking on Sistani's moderation to carry the day in the drafting of their new constitution.

In 1926, Kemal Ataturk of Turkey formally abolished Sharia law. As a result, Turkey has a fully secular legal framework, taken directly from Swiss civil and Italian penal codes. In 1930, Turkish women gained the right to vote and to run for election. Had this reform not been undertaken, Turkey wouldn't be leading the Islamic world in terms of their being a fully functioning, modern democratic state.

If Sharia takes hold as the principal basis of civil life within Baghdad, our work there in overthrowing Saddam will be overshadowed. But the scenes of Muslim women queuing to dip their fingers in blue ink suggest that there might not be any turning back.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Uncovering Shakespeare: Why it Matters

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Six years ago I absently grabbed a magazine prior to boarding a plane for a cross-country flight.

That magazine was the Atlantic Monthly, the set of articles titled The Ghost of Shakespeare.” When I landed six hours later, I was stunned with what I had read. And my ability to appreciate the greatest writer of the English language would be radically changed for the better.

Sure, I’d heard about the authorship question. I’d chalked it up to another meaningless pursuit of cranks and conspiracy theorists. But this article was a sincere effort to present scholars from both sides of the issue, and to let them each make their respective cases. But it could never be a fair fight when all of the facts are laid on the table.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, Da Vinci codes, or Area 51. I think Oliver Stone and Art Bell are certifiable nut cases. But this isn’t about conspiracies or contrarian thinking, it’s about history, biography, politics, literature, and the Elizabethan milieu. And it has monumental importance to appreciating the most brilliant written works that the world has yet seen.

I, along with Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, John Gielgud, Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Orson Welles, James Joyce, Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Sobran, Malcolm X, among a legion of others, believe that the plays weren’t written by Stratford Will, but one of the “wolfish Earls,” - Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the "best at historie and comedie,” nephew of the originator of the Sonnet form, literary prodigy, tutored by the translator of the Ovid (key source of many of the Works), patron of the Chamberlain’s men acting company, and Court insider, yet who stopped writing under his own name as a young man.

And this matters not only to set the historical record straight, but because it can, like it did with me, make the context of the plays and sonnets come alive, finally giving voice to the real man behind the pen. Art comes from the inner Self, you need to know who that Self is. By knowing the man, you will better understand and appreciate his work.

And I’m convinced that one of the reasons that Shakespeare is not more accessible to high school kids and grownups alike is due to the insistence on promoting the empty and contradictory biography of the grain merchant from Stratford, and the inability to draw a relevant connection between the cardboard cutout caricature of Stratford Will (Shakspere) and the majestic themes of the plays. If you believe that a writer’s work is a mirror into the soul of the artist and reflects his life narrative, then Oxford, as Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, scandal-plagued, erratic, yet brilliant, was ground zero of Court intrigue, drama, disappointment, politics, envy, and ambition within the Elizabethan court. And the plays directly reflect his life, loves, scandals, tragedies, and direct observations of the ongoing Carnival that surrounded Elizabeth and royal life as a whole.

I’m no Elizabethan or Shakespeare scholar, just the average middle-age guy trying to expand his literary vocabulary and sort through my interpretation of the facts. And this issue has been boiling for centuries. But the scholarship has heated up over the last few decades, and the evidence for Oxford is becoming stronger and stronger. Perhaps the tipping point has been reached with the recent discovery of Oxford’s bible (tellingly found within the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington), meticulously footnoted and underlined with phrases, verses, and margin notes that correlate closely to references within the Works. But let’s look more closely at the evidence leading up to this latest find.

There are few things as patently fraudulent as the 5-inch thick “biographies” of Stratford Will when all that is known of this man is three signatures indicating marginal literacy, some grain merchant transactions, illiterate daughters, petty business dealings and bit parts in London, and a will that is absent any suggestion that he had ever written a letter, let alone the English Canon.

What we do know about Will simply cannot be reconciled with the Works – being born into a countryside home devoid of books, leaving school at 13, getting married at 18, having three children, working at the butcher’s shop and stables, and then miraculously in his mid-twenties, writing poems and plays from source documents in French (eg Hamlet), Latin, Italian (eg Othello), and Greek, referencing geographies, countries, and cities that he had never traveled to, and courtiers to whom he had never met, including documenting obscure court battles on the Continent (Love’s Labour’s Lost, dated by many to the late 1580s – Will would be mid-twenties - was a play written for private performance in court circles, and includes allusions to an obscure visit of Catherine de Medici to the Court of Henry of Navarre at Nerac in France, and parodies of several other courtiers). Upon his “retirement” to Stratford in his late forties (what writers do you know stop writing and retire in their forties?), Charlton Ogburn notes:

“(Stratford Will’s) last years were spent in affluent leisure in a fine house he had owned for two decades, and this house remained in the possession of his daughter and granddaughter while three collected editions of Shakespeare’s plays were published in which their author was hailed as his nation’s triumph. Are we really to imagine that nothing in the form of a letter, a note, a bit of manuscript, would have remained of Shakspere’s (Stratford Will's) had he been the greatest of writers?”

Most Elizabethan poets wrote eulogies of Queen Elizabeth upon her death in 1603, but not “Shake-speare.” Nor did King James summon, as he did other poets, Will to participate in the translation of the Bible. Indeed upon Stratford Will’s death in 1616, nary a peep or mention from anyone throughout England. His Sonnets, published when Stratford Will was forty-five, but after De Vere had died, are prefaced with these words: “From our ever-living poet” (not a phrase for a living person) and reference the author’s high birth” (does that sound like Will?) and his bearing of the Queen’s funeral canopy - which Oxford had done.

Stratford Will may not have left anything literary for his wife, but he did ensure she got his second-best bed.

And there are few things as compelling as mapping Oxford’s life to the plays and Sonnets. Many have tried to impute Will’s biography into Hamlet because of its psychological force and intimacy, of course to no avail. In fact, Hamlet reads like Oxford’s autobiography:

Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s head minister, has long been recognized by scholars as the model for the character Polonius in Hamlet. In the play Polonius counsels Laertes, his son, “to thine own self be true,” “be thou familiar but by no means vulgar,” in a series of lines similar to Burghley’s famous published precepts. Except Burghley published them in 1618. Hamlet first appeared in Quarto in 1603. How Stratford Will could have had intimate knowledge of the Queen’s minister’s sayings and write a caricature of the man is brushed over by Stratfordians. But for Oxford it would have been easy – he grew up in Burghley’s household as his royal ward and married his daughter.

And Oxford, like Hamlet, was captured by pirates in the English Channel, and both were scholars, athletes, poets, and patrons of acting companies. Hamlet’s famous soliloquy was derived from a book to which Oxford wrote a preface, and Ophelia and Laertes directly overlay the lives of Oxford’s wife and brother-in-law, including his rocky marriage. Oxford’s mother, like Gertrude in the play, quickly remarries after his father mysteriously dies.

This post couldn’t possibly summarize all of the scholarship that has gone into this question, but Tom Bethell’s Atlantic article is a good place to start. From the Sonnets, which are dedicated to a suitor to Oxford’s daughter, through to the plays which draw upon all of the experiences (tours of Italy and France) and knowledge to which Oxford was trained (law, history, language, as well as royal skills such as falconry), you can feel the man’s life crying out from the pages.

And Oxford had lots to cry about. The theater, and even public writing in general, was discouraged amongst Noblemen and Gentlemen within Her Majesty’s service – the Globe Theater was viewed as slumming. Pseudonyms were common, and references to brilliant men suppressing or hiding their works to avoid retribution are common amongst observers of the time. With Oxford, I believe it was well known within the inner circle of the court who and what he was; but for the public at large his authorship required a mask.

Yes, there remain questions. Oxford died in 1604, and some of the plays have historically been dated after this year. But on deeper review it is clearly shown that conventional dating of the later works was based more upon performances rather than original references or manuscripts, and Stratfordians for years have been trying to explain clear, early references to key works which don’t fit into Will’s biography. Oxford’s early sonnets, written as a teenager, bear remarkable resemblance to Shakespeare’s great works, and suggest an early version of great things to come. Yet Stratfordians prefer to discount this poetry as inferior. Take up the issue and make up your own mind.

Oxford was praised in a written speech during one court appearance with the interesting metaphor thy countenance shakes spears. . . " and his crest features a roaring lion brandishing a spear. In Sonnet 76, the author notes “That every word doth almost tell my name, Showing their birth, and where they did proceed.” I think it’s time that the words are married to the man.

All of this does matter if, to you, the Works have seemed difficult, remote and from a different world. Pick up this storyline, as I did, and see for yourself if it doesn’t make a difference.

References: "The Case for Oxford" - Tom Bethell, October 1991
"The Man Who Was Shakespeare" - Charlton Ogburn 1995
Links: Harper's, Oxford Society, Oxford Authorship, Alias Shakespeare

Friday, February 04, 2005

How Not To Serve an Aperitif. . .

. . . taking a fine tradition a little too far. . .

Jacques' Favorite Word

. . . reading this article today from the International Herald Tribune by a French magazine editor, I noted this phrase:

"personally, I do not hesitate to opt for the second approach, but on the condition that the modalities are carefully defined."

The writer was speaking about the changed dynamics in Iraq post-election, and what this means from a French and European foreign policy standpoint.

What stuck out is the term "modalities", and the fact that it's Chirac's favorite word, whether he's talking about Turkey's integration to the E.U., lifting Iraq sanctions, invading Afghanistan, U.N. arms inspectors, or agricultural subsidies. The French elites love the word.

Checking the diplo-speak dictionary:

modalities: The ceremonial forms, protocols, or conditions that surround formal agreements or negotiations.

There you have it. It's Chirac's, and the French political class' favorite word because it's all about the trappings of policy, not the content. It's the process of the process. You can talk about the "modalities," without having to talk about action, risk, morality, national interest, sacrifice, or money. The Ivory Coast can be in a shambles, but as long as those modalities are being discussed, all is well.

Somehow I don't think "modalities" is in Bush's speechwriter's (or Bush's) vocabulary.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Around the Horn

Today we have a Top Ten list of our favorite intellectual's ass-kickings, via NRO.

The evil depths to which the Iraqi insurgency will go knows no bounds. . . expect to see a decapitation video soon. . .

Having lived in the Philadelphia area for three years about a decade ago, I don't find this surprising. . .

Econopundit answers a concerned reader with some inconvenient evidence from one of today's leading Global Warming-proponent scientists. . .

And John Howard has shaken up the French diplomatic corps in Davos, stating the obvious, and getting the expected reaction. . .