Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Street Cred

From newly crowned Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates:

"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come"

Impair our credibility? Like 3 1/2 years of ineptitude has not already done that? Is that what it all comes down to, our precious reputation? Forget the Iraqis, because it's all about us, isn't it? Well, guess what? Saving face is a dead end. Strategically, we have lost in Iraq. Every terrorist and insurgent in the world has seen that they can bog down a super power if they are patient.

If strength of will and willingness to apply force were all that was necessary to overcome an insurgency in an alien landscape then Afghanistan would still be a Soviet client state and Chechnya would be the summer playground of the Moscow elite. There are simply some things that are impossible. At some point Wisdom must overcome Machismo.

Let's face it, the person whose reputation is on the line is one George Walker Bush. In January of 2009, our enemies will be forced to reckon with a potentially competent leader of the world's sole super power. Oh sure, there'll be a mess to clean up and America will be less safe than it might otherwise have been but Bush's fiascoes will be relegated to history. The new President will move forward: new alliances will be made and new strategies employed.

What Shrub doesn't understand is that history is not riding on his every decision. There are times and situations where Men of Importance step forward and leave their mark on the world. This is not one of those times and George is not one of those men. The Iraq crisis was created from whole cloth by Bush's cronies, not thrust upon him at a time of urgent necessity. James Buchanan certainly faced a nation in need of a solution but history has largely passed him by. Being President does not automatically make you indispensable. Wanting to be a Transformational President does not make you one.

Gospel Truth?

A follow up to my previous post.

James, "the brother of the Lord," was no Christian.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from the actions of James as portrayed in The Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and other early church writings is that the understanding of Jesus held by the Jerusalem church was radically different from that we have from Paul and have inherited as Orthodoxy. James' ruling in the Council of Jerusalem was, in effect, that Paul's Gentile converts must keep the same Noahide Laws that uncircumcised "God Fearers" had been required to keep for years. James was maintaining the status quo vis-a-vis Jew and Gentile. There was no "equality in Christ." He still considered himself and all the other members of the Jerusalem church as fully Jewish. He makes a point of how zealous his followers are for the Temple. When Paul arrives in Jerusalem, James even forces Paul to make a public show of visiting the Temple. Does this sound like a "Christian" church as we know it or more like a sect of Judaism.

One might argue that James was not one of the Apostles and that members of Jesus family did not understand his mission: But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor." (Mark 6:4). Now Peter is portrayed as such a muddled wimp in both the Gospels and the Epistles that one would not expect him to prevent a power play by a relative of Jesus. But what about the "Pillar" John? It strains credulity that James would have been allowed by the Holy-Spirit-led "True" Apostles to rise to the leadership of the group had he not been a long time follower of Jesus.

Now, we have a brother (or cousin, if you are Catholic) of Jesus chosen to lead the Home Church. What happens when James is murdered by the Chief Priests? Who takes over as head of the Jerusalem Church? Is it one of the Apostles? No? Perhaps they were all busy being martyred somewhere. Actually, the church chooses cousin Simeon, another relative of Jesus, as the second Bishop of Jerusalem. They keep it in the family?! Very curious and not at all what one would expect given the Universalist Theology that Paul is selling in Asia and Rome.

This all raises a question: Who would understand Jesus intentions better - those who knew him his entire life and followed him in his ministry? Or, Paul who never met Jesus and even claims to have spent the first three years as a Christian in Arabia, avoiding those who had known Jesus personally?

Gospel Truth

The minister at the church I attend has been saying some things in about the Bible that I found a little hard to swallow so I sat down and read the four Gospels, Acts and the "credible" Epistles. Haven't caught the guy in any fabrications - for now - but found it interesting.

  • The writing in the Gospel of John is terrible! I couldn't have forced down one more "I am with the Father, I came from the Father, You do not know the father because you do not come from the Father...".
  • The parables are dense on purpose. Jesus was not trying to teach anyone with those parables. He told his disciples that he uses parables so that the people will not understand. Then he goes off and teaches the disciples the Truth plainly but in private. No wonder the Gnostics all believed there were secret teachings. The Synoptic Gospels state quite plainly that they existed. Now, one might argue that the Apostles shared the True Teachings they had learned directly from Jesus but we don't have any reliable records of these.
  • I like Paul's letters. The voice is so personal. They provide a link to a flesh and blood personality from 2000 years ago. Not that I take everything he says at face value, but at least the writing is less academic than the Gospels and Acts.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Fortune Cookie

From an actual fortune cookie I got at the Mandarin House restaurant. today:There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
Lucky Numbers 37,16,5,24,8,10

Monday, October 9, 2006


Aside from the cogent debunking of the Kiefer Sutherland, "ticking time-bomb" fantasy trotted out by President Bush in support of torture, this article makes these two final observations:

... why does any rational American leader condone interrogation practices "tantamount to torture"?

One answer to this question seems to lie with a prescient CIA Cold War observation about Soviet leaders in times of stress. "When feelings of insecurity develop within those holding power," reads an agency analysis of Kremlin leadership applicable to the post-9/11 White House, "they become increasingly suspicious and put great pressures upon the secret police to obtain arrests and confessions. At such times, police officials are inclined to condone anything which produces a speedy 'confession,' and brutality may become widespread." In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.

As we slide down the slippery slope to torture in general, we should also realize that there is a chasm at the bottom called extrajudicial execution. With the agency's multinational gulag full of dozens, even hundreds, of detainees of dwindling utility, CIA agents, active and retired, have been vocal in their complaints about the costs and inconvenience of limitless, even lifetime, incarceration for these tortured terrorists. The ideal solution to this conundrum from an agency perspective is pump and dump, as in Vietnam—pump the terrorists for information, and then dump the bodies. After all, the systematic French torture of thousands from the Casbah of Algiers in 1957 also entailed more than 3,000 "summary executions" as "an inseparable part" of this campaign, largely, as one French general put it, to ensure that "the machine of justice" not be "clogged with cases." For similar reasons, the CIA's Phoenix program produced, by the agency's own count, over 20,000 extrajudicial killings....

Yes, I am "obsessed" with this torture issue.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

We have met the enemy ...

I realize that only a few (okay, probably two) people are likely to read this, but...

I found this information here (scroll down to This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like). An excerpt:

...Is waterboarding torture? Anybody who considers this practice to be "torture lite" or merely a "tough technique" might want to take a trip to Phnom Penh. The Khymer Rouge were adept at torture, and there was nothing "lite" about their methods. Incidentally, the waterboard in these photo wasn't merely one among many torture devices highlighted at the prison museum. It was one of only two devices singled out for highlighting...

...The similarity between practices used by the Khymer Rouge and those currently being debated by Congress isn't a coincidence. As has been amply documented ("The New Yorker" had an excellent piece, and there have been others), many of the "enhanced techniques" came to the CIA and military interrogators via the SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape] schools, where US military personnel are trained to resist torture if they are captured by the enemy...

There you have it. Bush and Cheney have taken their "alternative" interrogation techniques from our enemies, the Soviet Union, North Vietnam and North Korea. The old saw about becoming your enemy always seemed exagerated until now.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Not scared yet?

For those who think that worries of an American Fourth Reich are alarmists, consider this report from the Washington Post concerning the new anti-terrorist legislation:

As a result, human rights experts expressed concern yesterday that the language in the new provision would be a precedent-setting congressional endorsement for the indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, "has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies.

The definition applies to foreigners living inside or outside the United States and does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant. It is broader than that in last week's version of the bill, which resulted from lengthy, closed-door negotiations between senior administration officials and dissident Republican senators. That version incorporated a definition backed by the Senate dissidents: those "engaged in hostilities against the United States." [emphasis added]

So here we have a bill which would grant the President the ability to designate a US citizen an enemy combatant. Remember this administration is pushing for no Habeas Corpus protection for enemy combatants - no court review. The government would be able to swoop down on you at night, take you off to a remote facility without access to a lawyer and hold you indefinitely. As I recall, locking up people without charges or review was one of the Founding Fathers' complaints against George III. Ironic.

Thank goodness they only do this to brown people.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I was reading Keith Olberman's blog about the President's apparent fury at Colin Powell's letter opposing any narrowing of the Geneva Conventions. That's when I got a little scared. One can argue (not very convincingly IMHO) that "alternative" interrogation techniques are necessary when faced with an Islamofascist menace. Then, arguing that the President should be granted expansive power to spy on anyone at anytime - temporarilly, of course - is necessary to protect America. All the W-stickered folks driving down Interstate 65 (the majority in Red Alabama) would feel that this is reasonable.

What scared me was the realization that the greatest danger is not to the Constitution. It may yet be rendered moot, but that is not it. This grave threat is not to our servicemen and -women, although they will face greater risks if ever they are captured. This calamitous eventuality is not that we might lose our moral authority and hence the hearts and minds of potential allies- it may be too late, there. The danger that most scares me at this moment is that, by letting our guard down, by attempting to trade freedom for security, we will walk blindly down the path to tyranny.

Sounds melodramatic, I know, but there was nothing inherent in the German psyche that caused so many to tolerate or even support the Nazi party. There was nothing insane about the French who turned their neighbors over to Madame Guillotine. There was nothing depraved about the great mass of Southerners and other Americans who tolerated slavery. By and large these were fairly normal people dealing with the conditions of their times, the insecurities and deprivations. They were people just like you and me who, preyed on by demagogues of fear and hate, felt they had no other choice.

So there is the terror that has been kindled in my heart tonight. I fear that America, my country, will allow itself to ruled by obedience to authority, intolerance of dissent, suspicion of difference, and blind reaction to fear.

1984? Perhaps not, but history teaches us to be wary. I just don't know that we have the strength and wisdom to keep the watch.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006


The nephew of a friend of mine has died of alcohol poisoning. He was a 19 year old college student.How long are we going to wink at college drinking? "I know it increases highway deaths, accidental injury and unwise sex but let them have a little fun. They're just college students!" What a load of crap! Put aside for the moment the fact that this was illegal drinking. If we expect 19 and 20 year olds who do not have the good fortune to be be born rich and/or academically inclined to go out and get real jobs, pay rent, die in Iraq, etc, why do frat boys get a free pass to be stupid? Other young men do some pretty stupid things too but they don't get a I'm-in-college-so-I get-to-be-stupid card.

My wife's comment was that she had been warned of the longterm dangers of drinking but never the real risk of alcohol poisoning.

(Originally posted on myspace)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lead Like Jesus?

I saw this book on a co-workers desk and had to wonder what a book with this title would be like. Here's the rough outline I plan to send to my publisher:

How to Lead Like Jesus
by Scott Ferguson author of Cooking with Buddha

Step 1: Be God Incarnate - It really impresses 'em at staff meetings if you can turn the coffee in to mocha. Rising from the dead may be best saved for shareholder meetings.

Step 2: Surround yourself with 12 guys who are completely clueless about your goals and strategy. You can probably round up at least twelve from Sales.

Step 3: Speak in parables to maintain the pristine state of those you hired in Step 2. Can you imagine the memos?

Step 4: Assign a PR guy in Damascus to try and straighten it all out after you "retire".

** Okay, I haven't actually read Lead Like Jesus. It is by the same author as The One Minute Manager. Since I barely held my lunch through three chapters of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and only by some miracle actually finished Who Moved My Cheese, I think I would rather spend my money (and time) on a double latte half-caf while writing snarky blog entries.

(Originally posted on myspace)

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Then get you a shovel ...

Go to your broker and, very calmly, cash in all your mutual funds and IRA investments. Place the crisp bills in a plastic bag and proceed to your backyard...

From Paul Ferrell's article at MarketWatch.com

Harvard Business School Prof. Max Bazerman was speaking to a conference of 75 Wall Street big shots, guys commanding six- to seven-figure incomes for managing your money. Bazerman opened by auctioning off a $100 bill. Simple rules: The highest bidder gets $100. And the second highest pays what he bid, but gets nothing. Forty hands quickly pushed the bidding to $95. Then an institutional money manager and a pension-fund trustee broke the $100 barrier, where both were guaranteed losers.

Imagine: Two of America's financial geniuses caught up in a hotly contested duel, pushing the bids up, up, up ... to $465! Bidding $465 for a $100 bill!

If you've ever doubted that investors are dominated by an irrational rat brain the professor adds this scary observation: "I've played this game perhaps 600 times, and I've never seen the bidding stop below $100." Yikes! The best and brightest managing our $8.3 trillion mutual fund industry are just as irrational as the rest of America's 95 million average folks who trust them with their money.

... Then, get you a shovel and dig a great big hole and throw your money in. Fill in the hole and plant geraniums on top. (NB: Do this at night while your neighbors are asleep)

(Originally posted on myspace)

Monday, July 17, 2006

George Bush - Suuuuper Genius

You may have read about it in the papers without realizing the full significance of it. Back in 2003, under the cover of darkness, the United States military undertook a daring operation. Employing all the covert resources at its disposal the men and women of the armed forces carried out the President's orders to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Sadaam Hussein. This seemed like a straightforward and reasonable action. To the uninitiated.

As the years have passed, the plan, cleverly named Operation Iraqi Freedom, has been carried out more or less as foreseen by the architects in the Pentagon and State Department. Each day brings news of another successful bombing or attack. Unseen and unnoticed the Iraqi military is being trained to use small arms and 70 or so vintage Warsaw Pact tanks. Meanwhile the Iraqi Air Force is gaining experience in the operation of several dozen helicopters and propeller driven observation planes. With patience and knowing silence, U.S. planners watch their scheme come to fruition.

"But wait a minute," you interject, "Did you just say the Iraqi military has only 70 tanks and a few Hueys and Cessnas?" You must be unusually paranoid to notice that. A Senior Administration Official can easily pass you off as some sort of fringe crank. You are no real danger to the plan. Even if you accuse the administration of indefinitely starving Iraq of the ability to defend itself "until its army is fully trained," only the New York Times would print your allegations.

You are too simple to understand the true brilliance of President Bush and his advisors. You see, the chaos in Iraq is not the result of poor planning or incompetence. On the contrary, a failed state in the heart of the world's most important petroleum producing area is exactly what is intended. The greater the disorder and civil unrest that befalls Iraq, the better. Of course, timing is crucial to this operation and Ambassador Khalilzad has had to bring all his talents to bear in order to orchestrate events. At the risk of compromising national security I will reveal final phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In early 2007, with his Presidency rapidly coming to an end, President Bush will announce that the U.S. mission in Iraq has been accomplished and our troops will withdraw from the region. The situation on the ground will be such that public opinion will be overwhelmingly supportive. Shortly after the last U.S. Marines have evacuated the Green Zone, Iran will announce that the violence being perpetrated on its fellow Shiites in Iraq has left it no choice but to send Revolutionary Guards into Baghdad in order to stabilize the situation. At this point George W Bush's place in history will be assured. The quagmire so carefully crafted by Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney will entrap the Iranians for the foreseeable future. Their ability to influence the Middle East will be greatly curtailed and, in need of foreign currency to support their military, they will be forced to sell the U.S. and Israel all the oil we can consume.

Or... we plan to prevent Iraq from ever having a viable national defense in a volatile part of the world, requiring a string of permanent U.S. bases from which America can control the shipment of oil to the rest of the world. But that would be crazy.

(Originally posted on myspace)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Take my droid... please!

I was staring at the coffee machine in our office. The fancy LCD display on the front was flashing Empty Bin. This little beauty has a bin where all the individual-serving, hermetically-sealed coffee packets go to die. The now soulless vessals must be tossed in the trash periodically and I am perfectly happy to do my part. Hey, the joe's free! On this occasion, however, the first thing that pops into my wee twisted brain is, "Oh My God! The bin is empty!"

The English language being the gloriously ambiguous enterprise that it is, I can indulge my sense of humor like this many times a day. It's a queer little life, but at least it's mine. But what if this is the secret? What if our quest to build machines that can use language will never succeed until we realize that we must include a sense-of-humor in our creations? And how about some irony, too? Sarcasm, maybe? In order to converse, an artificial mind will have to be aware of the motives and intentions of others. Perhaps paranoia and low self-esteem are just what is needed. Then good ol' Hal 2006 would have to figure out what we were all thinking - we might be conspiring against it! Is this so far fetched? We already know that our nearest relatives in the primate world display most of the same vices as we human beings.

Do you think I could get a grant to study a first rate paranoid mind like, say, Woody Allen?

(Originally posted on myspace)