"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Okay, can we call call them facists now?
Digby turns over a rock and shines a light on the brownshirts of the group Family Security Matters. As the blogosphere has started to notice their lunacy, a number articles from their site have popped down the memory hole according to Digby. But this one on how George W. Bush has a duty to the American People, God and Righteousness to declare himself President for Life and stage a military coup and how the right thing to do would have been to pre-emptively nuke Iraq in the first place. I kid you not. And this is not the Birchers or the Mayberry Militia, this is clearly a well organized group with some money behind it that is going to transmit this kind of stuff until it enters the mainstream to the point that someday soon you'll see Katie Couric asking on the nightly news "Would it be so wrong if George Bush declared himself President for Life and used the Army to round up the terrorists and dirty hippie dissenters and anarchists in America? He'd be just like the great Julius Caesar! Hail Dubya!"

Monday, August 20, 2007

British General says "Bring the boys back home"
When the commander of the army says it's time to pull the troops out, it's time to pull the troops out. And he's been saying so for nearly a year now:

General Dannatt, speaking on a visit to Afghanistan, did not repeat the statement he made in October last year that Britain should "get out [of Iraq] sometime soon", but the thrust of British military thinking is clear enough - the key campaign is now in Afghanistan, and anything that can reduce and even eliminate the British commitment in Iraq can help in that task.
"The army is certainly stretched. And when I say that we can't deploy any more battle groups at the present moment, that's because we're trying to get a reasonable balance of life for our people" he told the BBC.

Further down in the story is a choice anecdote that goes a long way to explaining why the British are leaving and the country is sliding further into the crapper:

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the senior British officer in Basra, General Jonathan Shaw, got short shift when he started lecturing American officers on counter-insurgency.
"It's insufferable, for Christ's sake," was the reported reaction of one senior figure closely involved in US military planning.
"He comes on and he lectures everybody in the room about how to do a counter-insurgency. The guys were just rolling their eyeballs. The notorious Northern Ireland came up again."'
Ahh, yes Northern Ireland, where the British Army found out that torture is counter-productive to defeating an insurgency and that negotiation works in the long run. I can see why the American officers would roll their eyes, after all the British have decades of experience fighting insurgents in Kenya, Ireland, Malaysia, Oman, and other assorted corners of the globe over the years, while the U.S. Army's experience with counter insurgency since World War II has been limited to the howling success of Vietnam and training and arming death squads in Central America (and CIA assistance to their friends the Taliban, but let's not bring that up) What could Tommy possible have to teach GI Joe?
As we used to say back in the Sault, "You can always tell an American, but you can't tell him much."
The British are right to pull out and redirect their efforts to Afghanistan. The U.S. will be trapped in Iraq for as long as they think they can still have "peace with honor" when fighting a native insurgency and will be stuck in the middle of a sectarian civil war. There are ways to win before the end of the 2012 election cycle, but they are brutal and will ensure the "terrorists follow us home" -- There is no happy ending for Iraq at this point. Even if the U.S. forces could go out tomorrow and by noon unerringly and without any collateral damage, put a bullet between the eyes of every single person in Iraq who has engaged in violence against the U.S. forces or other Iraqis -- basically the neo-con wet dream -- the insurgency would not be over. Because every brother, father, son, cousin, brother-in-law and friend of those now dead insurgents would be looking for pay back.
That is what is happening now as the U.S. forces go around kicking in doors, roughing up or arresting innocent Iraqis out of frustration or in error, calling in airstrikes that kill civilians, being there to be the target of car bombs that kill Iraqis. They are creating a nation of "martyred heroes" for Al-Quaida to put on their recruiting posters.
Partitioning the country might be a long range solution, but is likely to be a bloody disaster. I'd love to see the U.S. clean up its mess in Iraq, I just don't know how they will ever do it. I don't think that bell can be unrung. And the British are well advised to get out while the getting is good.

Stranger than Fiction
This is just too bizarre to have been invented from scratch -- I'll be interested to see how much of it checks out, but it would explain the Turd Blossom's recent resignation. Besides, how often do you see a story headlined "I'm the proud owner of Karl Rove's father's solid gold cock ring"?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Spies and spirits haunt Gibson's 'Spook Country'

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Spook Country

By William Gibson

G.P. Putnam's Sons

384 pp, 25.95 dollars

Both spies and the spirits of the dead are thick on the ground in William Gibson's latest novel, Spook Country. While the novel has no literal supernatural element, its protagonists spend much of their time chasing spooks of one sort or another.

Gibson, who made his bones as a science fiction writer in the 1980s and '90s--he virtually invented the cyberpunk subgenre and famously coined the term "cyberspace"--has moved away from the genre's focus on the future, but keeps technology in the forefront in this, his ninth novel, while also weaving in some subtle satirical commentary on the post-9/11 national security state and the U.S. "cold civil war."

Set in February 2006, the story follows an outline familiar to readers of Gibson's previous works such as Pattern Recognition and Neuromancer: A specialist is set on a quest to find some sort of mysterious technological grail unrelated to their area of expertise by shadowy, powerful figures while in a parallel plotline other shadowy figures set other specialists on a collision course.

In Spook Country, rock-singer-turned-journalist Hollis Henry has been hired by Node, a magazine touted as "a European version of Wired, it seemed, though of course they never put it that way." The magazine may or may not actually exist, though it apparently has big money behind it. Her assignment is to write a feature on the new field of locative art--virtual reality (VR) installations tied to particular locations via GPS coordinates.

After interviewing a locative artist in Los Angeles who specializes in celebrity death scenes--a VR rendering of River Phoenix dying outside the Viper Room, a virtual shrine to Helmut Newton at the scene of his fatal crash outside the Chateau Marmont--Henry is told to track down the artist's technical advisor, a slightly paranoid GPS whiz kid who refuses to sleep in the same place twice. The journalist is also told to pay special attention if anything involving global shipping or iPods comes up.

Unsurprisingly, both the artist and his technical adviser just happen to be big fans of Henry's old band. On an unannounced visit to the techie's workspace, she catches a glimpse of a VR rendering of a shipping container that the GPS expert definitely did not mean for her to see, and the chase is on.

Meanwhile, Gibson introduces us to Tito, a Chinese-Cuban from Havana whose entire family has relocated to United States where they have continued the family espionage business on a freelance basis. Tito has been delivering iPods full of data to an old man in New York's Washington Square and communicating with his extended family of spies in Volapuk, a Russian-based "universal language" that uses Western keyboard characters to mimic the cyrillic alphabet. He is being watched by Brown, another spy who may or may not work for the U.S. government. Brown has abducted Milgrim, a hapless Ativan junkie and Russian scholar, to translate intercepted text messages.

Clearly, those aforementioned collision courses are full of twists and turns. Spook Country has fewer straight lines than a spilled bowl of ramen. The plot tends to be a bit baffling for the first part of the book, but when the pieces start to fit together Spook Country draws the reader in like a black hole.

Gibson provides plenty of spooks of both sorts. In addition to the VR ghosts of the locative artists, Henry is haunted in her own mind by the memory of her former band's bassist, dead of a heroin overdose. Tito is consumed with questions about the death of his father and constantly influenced by the spirits that make up his deeply held belief in Santeria.

On the more corporeal side of the coin are Tito's clan of clandestine operatives; the clearly-connected-but-not-necessarily-legitimate Brown, who is occasionally cartoonishly right-wing and not quite as capable as he thinks he is; and the nameless old man from Washington Square, a former senior U.S. intelligence agent with a serious hate of the neo-conservatives and war profiteers who have taken over the U.S. government and its agencies. Somewhere between the two lies the unorthodox billionaire Belgian advertising genius Hubertus Bigend, and his minions, who first appeared in Pattern Recognition.

Gibson uses the various secret agents and operatives both to poke fun at America's obsession with security and to ask some pertinent questions about the country that has, as one character puts it, "developed Stockholm syndrome toward its own government, post 9/11." After ratcheting up the tension as the competing factions seek out the mysterious shipping container, Gibson's climax turns out to be more of an elaborate practical joke than an epoch-making transformation, though it is hardly a letdown.

In addition to a familiar plot structure, Gibson also leans on some his favorite themes, including the notion of subcultures and smaller social groups serving as tribes and substitute families. Locative artists, Bigend and his employees, and fans of Henry's indie rock band are all discrete, self-sustaining phylums of humanity with their own social rules and goals. Henry never mentions her biological family, but her ex-bandmates behave like siblings despite their acrimonious break-up, willing to advise her, admonish her and bail her out of trouble with an axe handle as needed.

In his early work, one of Gibson's stylistic touchstones was the use of familiar brand names for futuristic, far-fetched or ironic products he invented for the sake of the story. The future has now caught up with the futurist and left him behind. What is the use of inventing ironic or iconic brand-name gadgets in world where magnetic levitation beds exist and Adidas really does make a boot named after a German antiterrorist squad?

As always, Gibson's greatest strengths as a writer remain his ability to conjure up realistic, gritty, urban settings and create an atmosphere from subtle changes in tone. His previously muted dry humor is more in evidence here, but his tight prose still sings like a high-tension wire and his characterization is as original and exact as ever.
(The Daily Yomiuri, Aug. 18, 2007)