Friday, July 28, 2006


The Impromptu Renegade House Concert at Whole Wheat Radio just ended. Two hours of Danny Schmidt, Larry Zarella and Esther Golton live from the Wheathole in Talkeetna, Alaska. About 20 people were lucky enough to actually attend. Another 75 of us tuned in online. The three artists are hardly household names but their music is excellent. Photos are here. I wish I could do audio but I can't so you'll have to trust me that the concert was a LOT of fun, even if I was sitting at a computer the whole time.

I had the opportunity to meet Jim Kloss (aka Jimbob) and Esther Golton in 2003 when I visited Alaska. They are Appalachian Trail thru-hikers--they met on the trail in 1991 and have been together since--who stepped away from normal life to live in Alaska and ended up running one of the most unusual internet radio stations on the web. If you are tired of the limited selection of music on commercial radio, Whole Wheat Radio is the answer. You will hear a far, far greater variety of singer songwriters and styles of music than you are likely to get anywhere else. You've probably never heard of The Clumsy Lovers, Garrison Starr, Sloan Wainwright, Nick Carter and Tracy Grammar, Bryndle or Lucy Kaplansky but they are featured along with many others on WWR And it's not just a passive listening experience; listeners can request music at any time. The only restriction may be a specific format for a show. Otherwise, requests come up quickly.

WWR is mostly automated, a testament to Jim's programming skill, but it's by no means formulaic. Sometimes it's hard to tell what the format is at many times--the variety is amazing--but it's almost always interesting. Occasionally, Jim and Esther are on live, ranting or just talking. In between, a community of "Wheatheads" are logged on to the chat, requesting music and offering ideas. And then, there are the occasional House Concerts, like the one tonight.

Give it a listen. Maybe someday you'll end up listening to live music in a small cabin in Talkeetna.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Good Place to Start

Boris at The Galloping Beaver has the first of a series of posts on the reality of the Middle East these days. I recommend it highly.

Soldiers' Words

Everybody and his dog seems to be blogging today's Washington Post story about US troop morale in Iraq. The article shows 48 blog links, about double the number when I saw the story a few hours ago. I guess I'm number 49 (or higher by the time I finish writing).

The story speaks for itself and reminds me all too much of fighting in Vietnam when I was there during the final stages of US combat in that country. Their words now sound pretty much like mine 35 years ago.

"It sucks. Honestly, it just feels like we're driving around waiting to get blown up. That's the most honest answer I could give you," said Spec. Tim Ivey, 28, of San Antonio, a muscular former backup fullback for Baylor University. "You lose a couple friends and it gets hard."

"No one wants to be here, you know, no one is truly enthused about what we do," said Sgt. Christopher Dugger, the squad leader. "We were excited, but then it just wears on you -- there's only so much you can take. Like me, personally, I want to fight in a war like World War II. I want to fight an enemy. And this, out here," he said, motioning around the scorched sand-and-gravel base, the rows of Humvees and barracks, toward the trash-strewn streets of Baghdad outside, "there is no enemy, it's a faceless enemy. He's out there, but he's hiding."

It's hard to say how general these sentiments are among American forces. I know from reading the memoirs of Iraq veterans and meeting some of them that they want very much to find some meaning in their sacrifice. It's only natural. In combat, you do things that would be criminal in any other setting. The justification is that those actions are necessary to protect your country. But Iraq has been a star-crossed enterprise from Day One. The lies that led the US into the war now rob the the value from Americans' service and sacrifice.

Recognizing that your sacrifice was for little or nothing is far from easy . Look at all the Vietnam veterans that still think they were robbed of a victory by anti-war demonstrators and the press when in fact it was American politicians and generals who sent them on a hopeless mission that had more to do with the leaders' egos and misreading of the conflict in Vietnam. Even I, who never saw my service as anything but a waste, still find that it weighs heavy on my mind.

Iraq is not Vietnam, we are constantly told. That's true. Iraq is much hotter. But when it comes to the waste of Americans' sacrifice and service, it is all too much like Vietnam. No doubt in 35 years, Iraq veterans will still be debating the value of their sacrifice.

In the meantime, all I can say is that the individual sacrifices of American troops in Iraq are courageous and honorable. The dishonor and shame belongs to the war's architects.

Further Into the Valley of Death...

Juan Cole notes an ominous development in the mid-east. Former adversaries within the Muslim world are now joining together against Israel and its chief sponsor, the United States.

The Israeli occupation of Jerusalem has long been an al Qaeda bugbear. It sent Richard Reid to case El Al, israeli airlines. It hit Israeli tourists in Mombasa and the Sinai. But Bin Laden always avoided investing in an area where there was already an active insurgency. He also could not join in with heretical Shiites like Hizbulah.

Ayman al Zawahiri today made a change in both policies. He wants al Qaeda to pile on in Gaza and to defend Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The Sunni Arab regimes have been reluctant to press too hard for ceasefire because they see Hizbullah as an agent of Iran. This foot dragging has been unpopular among the public. Al Qaeda is now playing to that gallery.

As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Muslim world. The US, too, will suffer.

Zawahiri has turned to pan Islam and the Near Enemy. He is willing to help Nasrallah and the Qassam Brigades. It is a historic about face. It could be significant. More later.

Much, much more, I am sure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Which Superhero Are You?

Answer a bunch of questions and find out. I did and got the following result. I answered "no" to the push-up bra question.

(hat tip to J-Walk.)

I am Supergirl

Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
Iron Man
The Flash
Lean, muscular and feminine.
Honest and a defender of the innocent.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Home Team Advantage

Two excellent stories in Asia Times reinforce what I said the other day regarding the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon.

Sami Moubayed writes tha Hezbollah is banking on home-ground advantage to withstand the Israeli assault. Moubayed notes that Hezbollah is indigenous to Lebanon. Unlike the Palestinians when they were driven out of Lebanon by the Israelis in 1982, Hezbollah has strong allies in its home country. He also notes another strength of Hezbollah: its guerilla doctine.

Guerrilla warfare, by definition, operates with small, mobile and flexible combat groups that do not wear uniforms and can blend with society, hide in forests, mountains and bunkers, and avoid being spotted as "the enemy target". They do not have a front line. Today, one cannot find similar Hezbollah military bases and training camps in Lebanon. As a Western observer put it, when walking through south Lebanon, one can feel Hezbollah but one cannot see Hezbollah.

Pepe Escobar reiterates this theme:
...Hezbollah's asymmetrical war effort is absorbing everything thrown at it. Resistance is fueled by a mix of beggar's banquet anger, creative military solutions and Shi'ite martyr spirit. Hezbollah fighters are using olive-green uniforms to confuse the Israelis. According to Jane's Weekly, Hezbollah has done a perfect Vietcong - its fighters operating in a network of underground reinforced bunkers and command posts near the Lebanese-Israeli border almost unassailable by Israel Defense Force bombs.

Escobar also ties the invasion to the Neo-Conservative plans for the new middle east and finds those plans lacking.

So this is the way the "war on terror" ends - not with a single bang but with the multi-sonic bangs of asymmetrical actors getting re-energized in their fight against the US-Israel axis. The Israeli army could not put down a Shi'ite guerrilla outfit in southern Lebanon - nor a bunch of stone-throwing Palestinian kids, for that matter. The US Army could not cope with a bunch of scruffy Sunni Arabs armed with fake Kalashnikovs. Sunnis or Shi'ites, stateless or in failed states, freedom fighters or "terrorists", they simply will not go away.

Pursuing their own logic, equally impatient Washington neo-cons and Israeli Likudniks would cherish nothing better than the wholesale destruction of civilian infrastructure in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, and then in Syria and Iran.

What happened in Iraq, and is still happening in Gaza and now in Lebanon, spells that the world will have to get used to a new reality. But against this, the asymmetricals will not only be lurking in the shadows; they will retaliate.

Another "quick victory" turns to dust in the harsh reality of the Mid-East.

Monday, July 24, 2006

House of War

Anyone attempting to understand American diplomatic and military policy in these early years of the 21st Century should read House of War by James Carroll. This magnum opus (512 pages, over 1600 footnotes) surveys six decades of Pentagon dominance over American foreign policy. Carroll’s thesis is that since its dedication in January 1943, the Pentagon has served as the primary driver of American policy in the world. From the Dresden firebombing to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the arms race with the Soviet Union to the war on terror, the military-industrial establishment centered in the Pentagon has driven America’s toward war and militarism. Carroll describes this seemingly inexorable force as a Niagara, heading toward the abyss.

Carroll is no disinterested observer. His father, Lieutenant General Joseph Carroll was the first head of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in 1947 and later became the longest serving head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The son roamed the marbled halls of the Pentagon (sliding in his stocking feet, actually) as the American military grew in the wake of World War II and the Soviet Scare. Duck and cover drills in school gave way to his father’s dramatic assignment that in the event of a nuclear attack on Washington, James should drive his mother and brothers south to Richmond. Only then did the full force of America’s precarious position dawn on him.

But that precariousness was always far less than imagined. Since the end of World War II, generals, admirals and their supporters have issued dire warnings of impending peril, always insisting that America develop and deploy more lethal weapons to counter a growing threat from the Soviet Union and monolithic Communism. Fear has always been their ultimate weapon, according to Carroll.

Despite these warnings, America’s Cold War adversary was nowhere nearly as dangerous as predicted. The “missile gap” that helped elect John Kennedy president turned out to be non-existent. When the new Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, pushed the various services on their estimates of Soviet ICBM’s he got estimates in the hundreds from the Air Force. When he demanded that the Air Force prove their estimates, they could not. He soon discovered that the Soviet Union had a total of four deployed ICBM’s.

What McNamara was seeing was the third-generation effect of intelligence entities whose missions were defined so emphatically by the individual services that their ability to serve a broader national interest was almost entirely destroyed. He was confronted with a deeply embedded organizational corruption, the kind of morass that would drive an exacting manager like him crazy.

By 1961 the arms race and militarism had taken the forefront in American policy. The shift was from the State Department (preventing war) to the Defense Department (preparing for war). Carroll is careful to note that countervailing forces always stood in opposition but never prevailed. Secretary of War Henry Stimson proposed in 1945 to share nuclear technology with the Soviets in order to avoid “a secret armament race of a rather desperate character”. President Truman’s failure to take this step away from war set the pattern that continues to this day, a pattern which Carroll notes has largely set the military free from virtually all civilian control. Sure, the president makes the final decision but the structures of command, control, communication and intelligence–the C3I systems–are under military control. The civilians have virtually no role until the situation is almost too late.

Not always. John Kennedy rejected advice to attack Cuba with nuclear weapons in 1962 and in the following year secured passage of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. But the resistance was sporadic, still the juggernaut ran on with more and ever more powerful weapons, even beyond the end of the Cold War. Regarding the September 11 attacks, Carroll writes,

September 11 remains the defining event of the young American century, yet if the long history recounted in this book reveals anything, it is that the US responses to 9/11, while immediately defined by the administration of President George W. Bush, were prepared for by all that had been unfolding in one presidential administration afer another since 1943.

That Hell’s Bottom in Virginia [site of the Pentagon] should have instantly formed the center of the government’s reactions, instead of Foggy Bottom in Washington [State Department], was the result of five decades of Pentagon ascendance of over the State Department.... That war dominated America’s post-9/11 responses echoed what the United States had been doing since the end of the Cold War, when it refused to dismantle the huge military establishment it had created to oppose the now dissolved Soviet Union.

What keeps House of War from being completely hopeless is Carroll’s recognition that popular forces and individuals have managed to keep America and the world from plunging over that abyss. Carroll cites John Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev, anti-Vietnam War protesters, the Nuclear Freeze, the Sanctuary Movement and Phillip Berrigan, among others, as counterweights to the seemingly inevitable militarization of America. These forces offer hope for change. Carroll dreams of a different future.

I have written the book about the great Building into which my father took me as a child, before I could see anything but greatness. I have written this book as a way of honoring my parents, and loving them. Once my father warned me of the danger of a coming war, and he commissioned me to do something about it. So I have written this book. Like every other person who lives long enought to bury his father, I learned from him the ultimate lesson of my own mortality. How briefly on the earth we are. Too briefly, I insist, not to find another way to live than by killing. More than for my parents, I have written this book, in love, for my children. And for everyone’s. Let us cherish their future.

Carroll’s personal odyssey through the Pentagon's history demonstrates that more is required than simply changing the party in power. Real change will come only when America is able to look at the world realistically, without fear.

I Wish I'd Said That

Billmon addresses the same point I made in my last post. He just does it so much better.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Latest War

My hesitation in writing about Israel’s attack on Lebanon is not so much a matter of me trying to figure out what I think as it is my doubts about whether I can add anything new to the topic. With Juan Cole and Chris Albritton observing and analyzing the situation, anything I can say, they’ve already said better. But I still feel compelled to weigh in the subject. So here’s my take.

Israel has jumped into a quagmire in much the same manner that the US did in Iraq. The Israelis had every right to act against Hezbollah guerillas attacking their forces and communities. Self-defense is every nation’s right. But the broader attacks on the Lebanese people and their infrastructure far from the border will cost Israel what sympathy the rest of the world holds for that nation’s right to self-defense. Just as the world stood with America after the 9-11 attacks and supported action against al-Quaeda, much of the world abandoned America when it turned its guns on Iraq, a nation that had no connection to those attacks.

Like America in Iraq, Israel (with BushCheney’s overt support) is hoping to change the local dynamics in its favor, to reduce the threat posed by terrorists. But the broader attacks on Lebanon will only serve to engender support for Hezbollah and greater animosity toward Israel in much the same manner that the Iraq War has inflamed the Islamic world against America. America and Israel have always been viewed as allies. These days it seems that the two nations are joined at the hip as they plunge into a spiral of ever escalating violence.

In the end I think Israel will find no more security in this latest attempt to secure its borders than it has in the past. As long as the Arab world harbors and encourages such opposition to Israel, the mid-east will find no peace. And therein lies a tragedy that has no apparent end. I don’t pretend to have an magic solution or even a plausible policy beyond live and let live. In a previous post I wrote:

...Jews and Muslims belong to the region...A century of posturing, hate, brutal war, oppression and geopolitics have so muddled the situation that, barring the second coming of Abraham himself, I’m not sure that any mortal can resolve the conflict. I do believe, however, that a necessary first step is for each community to acknowledge their common heritage, recognize the other’s right to exist and come to terms their brutal pasts. Without that step, at once so simple and so difficult, neither community will find peace or security.

I still don’t see politicians on either side of the divide offering anything better. My only hope is that the people will somehow get ahead of their so-called leaders.

The Never Ending Story

The Washington Post quotes an Israeli tank commander on operations in Lebanon:

Hezbollah's tenacity, he said, was understandable.

"We knew they were going to do this. This is territory they say is theirs. We would do the same thing if someone came into our country."