Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis Notes

Something tells me I need a notepad to track comments, links and reflections on last week's visit of Pope Francis to the US.
This Facebook exchange comes first.

Brian:  They can joke and prod Ben Carson about his take on a Muslim being president, but the wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope by the media and his reception by President Obama, Congress, and New York removes all doubt that the U.S.A. is still a nation based on Christianity, regardless of the statements made by President Obama and others, declaring the opposite.
John:  Why not just anoint the nation Roman Catholic? He sure fell short of a good many non-Catholic Christians finding fault with a big chunk of his messages. And not all are in a twist about abortion and queers. Just yesterday I ventured into a corner of evangelical Christianity to hear a man let me know he had been monitoring what the pope said and did, and when he spoke to the UN he never spoke the name of Jesus even once. To him that was all the evidence he needed to cast a dark shadow over everything else he may have done or left undone.

I don't know about where you live but anti-Catholic sentiments are alive and well where I live. There are plenty of people regarding the pope's visit as sacrilegious. Some may have serious arguments about whether or not he may be the anti-Christ. Do your own search for "is the pope the antichrist" and see what comes up. I get nearly two million links.

Saying that the president and others are "declaring the opposite" implies a binary take on what the president and others have said. It's the old "if you're not for us then you're against us" dichotomy. Declaring that the country is based on many faith traditions -- one of which is Christianity -- is not the same as saying the country is "not based on Christianity." This nuance is missed by many of the same people who argue that those of us who are pro-choice regarding abortion must therefore be pro-abortion. To my knowledge no one is PRO-abortion, even women who face that terrible CHOICE.

That same warped reasoning applies to what Dr. Carson and many others keep saying when they advocate a test of faith for the presidency. Ironically we went through this same mess leading up to the election of JFK. I remember it as though it were last week. And today's maligning of Muslims is every bit as ugly as the way Catholics (and anyone who didn't agree with their critics) were being criticized at that time. As Yogi Berra would say it's deja vu all over again. 
Brian:  I was being a bit facetious, but it's doubtful that an Imam, who is the leader of the Great Mosque of Mecca, a Protestant leader, or any other world religious leader would receive such coverage. 
John:   If your comment had any hint of being facetious I missed it. It reads pretty serious to me. As for a visiting imam, you're right. Unless and until the number of Muslim American followers reaches the numbers of Catholics it's not likely they would receive anything like the reception received by Pope Francis. The treatment and reception of the Dalai Lama is more comparable. That's not too bad but it's nothing close to the festivities of the week we just passed.
So during his sojourn in America the Holy Father surreptitiously met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. News of this didn't become public until after he left, but that news went a long way toward upsetting a lot of people who never imagined he would do such a thing. The official Vatican response has been to mute the story.

Pope Francis hung out privately with gay friends before accidentally shaking hands with Kim Davis
02 OCT 2015

Pope Francis

Pope Francis held a private meeting with a longtime friend who is gay one day before meeting briefly with anti-LGBT county clerk Kim Davis in a reception line.

Yayo Grassi, who has known the pope for more than 50 years, brought his longtime partner and several friends to the Sept. 23 meeting at the Vatican Embassy, reported CNN.

Pope Francis personally arranged the brief visit by email ahead of his visit to the United States, said Grassi — who had been a student in the pontiff’s literature and psychology classes in 1964-1965 at Inmaculada Concepcion high school in Argentina.

Grassi, who lives in Washington, D.C., told CNN that Pope Francis has known for many years that he is gay, but he had never condemned his sexuality or his same-sex relationship.

“He has never been judgmental,” Grassi said. “He has never said anything negative.”

Yayo Grassi (Facebook)

The Vatican sought to downplay the significance of the pope’s meeting with Davis, who was jailed six days last month on contempt of court after she refused to follow court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A senior Vatican official said Pope Francis met briefly with Davis along with several dozen other guests who had been invited by the Vatican ambassador to meet with the pontiff.

Pope Francis did not know the details of Davis’ situation and did not offer conditional support to the defiant county clerk, the official said.

Grassi, however, said the pope contacted him three weeks before the visit and invited him to meet with him.

“He called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi told CNN.

The Vatican made an oblique reference to Grassi in its statement distancing the pope from Davis.

“The only real audience granted by the Pope at the nunciature (embassy) was with one of his former students and his family,” the Vatican said in a statement.

“That was me,” Grassi said.

Vatican to Replace Diplomat Who Set Up Kim Davis Meeting
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has been controversial as the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S., is on his way out, sources say.
March 14 2016 
The Vatican is replacing its controversial ambassador to the U.S., who arranged the meeting between Pope Francis and antigay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis last fall. 
Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò will leave the position of apostolic nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador, and will be replaced by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, a French-born clergyman who is currently the nuncio to Mexico, Catholic magazine America reports, citing Sandro Magister, a blogger who covers the Vatican.
[More at the link.]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Might Putin Do in Syria?

What will Russia do in Syria?  The question is impossible to answer even for Putin, because even he cannot reliably predict the future. Every move he makes, not only in Syria but everywhere, carries calculated risk. And the risk-reward calculus is an ever-changing target. Marvin Kalb offers this during last night's interview with Margaret Warner on PBS Newshour.
Vladimir Putin is a Russian czar. He’s kind of a mix of Peter the Great and Stalin. He’s got both in his veins. And he looks out first and foremost for the national security interests of Russia.
Listen closely to this interview and let the question of what might Putin do in Syria play in the background...

I was made aware of The Soufan Group by one of my Twitter contacts who monitors their analyses. The links below are all internal to that group's assessments, but all I have checked appear to be timely and accurate. And there is nothing secret here. This information is widely available from ordinary news sources.

This brief from The Soufan Group does not mention Putin (oddly since it is dated yesterday) but the analysis of Assad and Syria rings true. Reading between the lines, it is clear that Assad's moves are anything but random. Like Putin, he makes cold-blooded calculations about what best serves his interests. His risk-reward formula may look strange from outside, but his use of barrel bombs is targeted,not random. See the highlighted portion below.
For decades, the maintenance of autocratic regimes in the Middle East has been an exercise in popular bribery—and the Assad regime was no different. Before the start of the war, the Syrian economy was centered on a strong state, and designed in such a way so as to benefit those close to the government—primarily the Alawite elite—over all others. The remainder of the population was largely supported by government redistribution of resources in the form of subsidies, especially for fuel and food. The central government kept unemployment levels relatively low through its support for the agricultural sector, and through a bloated public sector. 
By the beginning of the protests in 2011, this artificial system had begun to crumble. Between 2006 and 2011, a severe drought crippled the agricultural sector, which accounted for 22.93 percent of Syrian GDP in 2009. In some regions of the country, as much as 60 percent of arable land and 85 percent of livestock were affected, and 800,000 agricultural workers lost their jobs. The subsequent rise in food prices removed a central cog of the popular complacency mechanisms that the Assad government had constructed, and the calculus for the general population changed. Without the support of subsidies, fear of the regime was no longer sufficient to prevent popular unrest. 
Now, after four years of war, both the government and the opposition forces find themselves facing a similar dilemma: how to maintain control of territory and resources while providing for the civilian populations under their control. The Syrian economy has been devastated by the war, and the current battleground is as much about economics as it is about politics. Oil resources—always important in conflict—are strategically vital to both the opposition and the regime. As the war drags on, control of agricultural resources has become increasingly important for the sustainability of each side. Control of border crossings is also critical, particularly for opposition forces along the northern border with Turkey
The Syrian government, for its part, has a distinct economic advantage over the opposition groups. The Assad regime remains in control of the central governance structure that ran the country before the war. Central banks are still functioning—albeit with dwindling reserves—and much of the bureaucratic structure is still operational, even in areas controlled by the rebels. The provision of services is significantly more consistent in regime-held areas than in rebel-held areas, helping to maintain popular loyalty in those territories. 
Before the war, Damascus and Aleppo were the economic powerhouses of Syria. Though Aleppo is now partially under rebel control, government air power has essentially destroyed any manufacturing capacity in rebel-held areas, preventing the opposition from generating revenue or providing for its own forces. The regime forces have done the same in rebel-held Idlib, which lies on key routes to Turkey and to the coast. The indiscriminate nature of Syrian government bombardment serves two central purposes: to drive out civilian populations, and to destroy any infrastructure that the opposition forces could use to support themselves. 
In addition, the highly publicized territorial losses of the regime have often been strategic, rather than acts of desperation. Though the regime only controls roughly 50 percent of the territory in Syria, the areas it does hold are vital to its sustainability. The Assad regime still controls much of the most productive agricultural land in the country, especially along the coast and the western border with Lebanon. Though it has lost the majority of the border with Turkey, the regime maintains one strategic beachhead at the border town of Qamishli, northeast of regime-held al-Hasakah. 
Of the rebel groups operating within Syria, the Islamic State has arguably the strongest economic base, drawn primarily from oil revenue generated from captured fields in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, the Islamic State controls the majority of the oil producing regions, providing it with a key strategic resource and a ready supply of cash from black market oil and gas sales. The Islamic State also controls a key agricultural corridor along the Euphrates, from Raqqa all the way to the Iraqi border. While the loss of these oil producing regions have hurt the Assad regime, continued support from Iran—and to a lesser extent, Russia—has allowed the regime to cover the energy shortfall, albeit at a higher cost. 
Other rebel groups have developed their own strategies for acquiring key resources, to include: seizing cash reserves from state banks; looting captured government bases; selling industrial equipment; and kidnapping for ransom. However, the majority of economic support for rebel groups continues to come from foreign supporters, whether in the Gulf, Turkey, or the West. This reliance on foreign aid—and the necessity of maintaining control of border crossings in order to smuggle resources in—makes the economic base for the rebel groups significantly more tenuous. While the Assad regime has suffered severe setbacks since the start of the war, its economic base remains more stable. The Syrian government has, in many ways, adopted a siege mentality, and the Assad regime and its international allies are prepared for a long winter.
Two conclusions are clear. First, the Syrian diaspora is fueled deliberately, at least by Assad and possibly by Russia.  Those who are leaving may or may not have been loyal to Assad, but all happened to live in areas targeted for destruction by the conflict. Second, by reducing the number of bona fide loyalists, Assad is in effect rationing a shrinking source of resources, both financial and material, retaining only what he needs for survival.

How Putin puzzles into this quagmire has yet to be seen, but hopefully he will see the destruction of ISIS to be in his long-term best interests. Ultimately, of course, all parties will benefit from any cease-fire leading to peace, but that remains a fantasy at this point. Meantime, I found this at Soufan. 
The Islamic State cannot be bled to death but it can strangled; in part by denying the group fresh foreign fighters.

September 30, 2015

Events of the last twenty-four hours illustrate why I am opposed to military actions as a means of conflict resolution. The outcome may indicate which side or coalition are more powerful, but not which are right. One reality governs the outcome -- which side is victorious.
Russia has now joined the conflict involving Syria, ISIS, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Kurdistan. That makes seven recognized entities, not counting the US and a dukes mixture of groups trying to replace Assad, despite whatever chaos that would add to an already multifaceted conflict.

ISIS is the fountain of a conflict involving the other players, all of which share the common goal of destroying ISIS. That aim, the destruction of ISIS, is the only unifying force.If ISIS magically vanished overnight, however, that unifying goal would quickly give way to squabbling among this "accidental army" with each seeking a status quo ante, with rewards added for good work.

For insane reasons the president is being criticized for extricating America from this mess. Not counting centuries of shifting empires and tribal fighting, the roots of this conflict go back as far as World War One and involve a multitude of languages, religions and cultural traditions. And it's not an exaggeration to suggest that Syria, though we think of it as a single country, is a microcosm of several of these linguistic, religious and cultural groups.

So today Russian air strikes are reported in Syria, but not at targets known to be ISIS. In other words, Russia is protecting Assad by taking out rebel groups opposing him. If Assad did the same thing (or worse, using barrel bombs) he would be condemned for "killing his own people." Never mind, of course, that "his own people" are trying to destroy him. And I have heard at least one news report calling them "our allies."

Let's get something straight. Russia cannot be expected to do what the US has failed to do -- juggling multiple conflicts at once, hoping somehow it all works out. From where I stand it appears Putin is systematically doing one task at a time. And if he succeeds in emasculating ISIS (which is a long shot) he will get credit for succeeding where the US failed. 

As for Assad "killing his own people" my guess is that targeted military strikes are preferable to barrel bombs. [Wrong. See my note below.]   Prior to the Russian arrival I had an irrational wish that barrel bombs might stop since every barrel bomb is a gift to ISIS, and a Russian presence might be reassuring to Assad.  Reality, however, is more savage. Putin is a tyrant, too. It takes one to know one. He and Assad are BFF.

Update, a day or two later...
I was wrong about my layman's guess about the difference between barrel bombs and sophisticated air strikes.  An NPR reporter says people in the dangerous areas have adapted to the approach and destructive results of Assad's planes. They can be heard coming and people have learned to take cover, sometimes in underground shelters dug for that purpose. When the bombs are finished they then come out to resume their activities ("buying tomatoes" or other activities, for example). But the Russian planes are so high they cannot often be heard, and the strikes are sudden, severe and unexpected. Sophisticated air strikes are apparently far more terrible than barrel bombs.

September 28, 2015

WASHINGTON: In keeping with its increasingly aggressive behavior over the past two years, Russia is deploying lethal and long-ranged anti-aircraft defenses to keep Western forces out of three key regions: the Baltics, the Black Sea, and, now, the Levant. From where NATO’s top commander Gen. Philip Breedlove sits, the Russian forces flowing into Syria don’t look like counter-terrorists out to stop the Islamic State, which Vladimir Putin has said is his highest priority. They look like the first pieces of a layered “anti-access/area denial” system that could complicate US and allied operations in Syria and well beyond.

“Anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD, is a growing problem,” Gen. Breedlove told the German Marshall Fund this afternoon, speaking just hours before Putin’s teeth-clenched meeting with President Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The northernmost danger zone or “bubble” is the oldest, based out of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania. “Kaliningrad is a large platform for A2/AD capability,” Breedlove said. His subordinates Gen. Frank Gorenc and Lt. Gen. Ben Hodgeshave warned taht Kaliningrad-based missiles reach well into Polish airspace and could shut down NATO reinforcements to the Baltics in a crisis.

To the south, by contrast, Russia lacked a suitable forward base — until last year. “[Since] their occupation of Crimea, Russia has developed a very strong A2/AD capability in the Black Sea,” Breedlove said. “Essentially, their [anti-ship] cruise missiles range the entire Black Sea, and their air defense missiles range about 40 to 50 percent of the Black Sea.”

Now, it seems, comes Syria. “As we see these very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Breedlove said. “We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into these airfields. We see some very sophisticated air-to-air [fighter] aircraft going into these airfields.”

The Islamic State has no air force that Russia might use such sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons to counter, Breedlove continued. “These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL,” he argued, despite Putin’s publicly stated priorities.

Based on the military forces Russia is actually putting in place, Breedlove said, he believes Putin’s top priority is to protect Russian access to airfields and warm water seaports in the Eastern Mediterranean. The second priority, in service to the first, is to prop up Russia’s host, the Assad regime. Then third, he said, “After all of that, I think that they will do some counter-ISIL work to legitimize their approach to Syria.”

So what can NATO do about these expanding bubbles of no-go zones? First of all, in the Baltic and the Black Seas today, the alliance’s force can just go there, Breedlove said “to contest that they are not forbidden spaces” but international airspace and waters. Second, in case the shooting starts, it needs to invest in forces that can break the bubble.

“As an alliance, we need to step back and take a look at our capability in a military sense to address an A2/AD challenge,” Breedlove said. “This is about investment. This is about training.”

That investment must be across the board, Breedlove emphasized. “We have made great progress since Wales [i.e. the alliance’s 2014 summit],” he said. “We have increased the readiness and responsiveness of our NRF [NATO Response Force] and certainly the VJTF [Very High Readiness Joint Task Force]. We have given the SACEUR back authorities to alert and stage forces, etcetera….. but it’s not enough.”

“What really deters, I think, that is we increase the readiness and responsiveness of the entireNATO force structure,” Breedlove said, not just elite quick-reaction units like the NRF and VJTF. “We have to get to these investments, exercises, and training scenarios that raise the responsiveness and readiness of the whole force.”

Barack Obama was elected and re-elected in large part because a critical mass of Americans were and are opposed to sending US troops into foreign conflicts. As in many other matters (firearms safety, abortion and women's rights, response to climate change, the role of religion in public life, federal vs state powers of government, educational metrics and expectations) the public has been deeply polarized by a toxic mixture of partisan politics, the ability of vast fortunes to shape reporting narratives and a communications-industrial complex with three or four near monopoly players laced together with trans-national corporate and banking enterprises. 

Added to this picture is a presidential/Congressional election putting incumbents on pins and needles and challenger candidates into attack mode. Policy and position statements are larded with escape clauses and layers of plausible deniability, and even then armies of spinmeisters shape virtually any casual remark into whatever damning or supportive contour fits their particular agenda. 

The president advocates regime change in Syria putting him at odds with Putin who recognizes Assad as the legitimate head of state and all who oppose him as terrorists. One man's rebel is another man's traitor and it's hard to discern the difference when all blood, bullets and artillery look the same on the battlefield. Dead children might be the victims of a savage monster or the unfortunate collateral damage of legitimate targeting, depending on who makes the judgement. But in either case they are equally dead. And in the bitterest irony of all, American-made instruments of war are serving all sides of this conflict, having been donated, traded, sold, resold or captured -- or whatever provenance each might have. 

Now comes China...
China’s military advisers ‘heading to Syria to help fight ISIS’ – report

Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently asked about Russia’s presence in Syria, to which he replied that Russia’s activities are limited to supplying weapons to the Syrian government, training personnel and providing humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

“We act based on the United Nations Charter, i.e. the fundamental principles of modern international law, according to which this or that type of aid, including military assistance, can and must be provided exclusively to the legitimate government of one country or another, upon its consent or request, or upon the decision of the United Nations Security Council,” Putin told CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ show.

Putin reiterated his support for Syria’s regular army – the army of President Bashar Assad. “He [Assad] is confronted with what some of our international partners interpret as an opposition. In reality, Assad’s army is fighting against terrorist organizations,” Putin said.

Russia’s president added that US attempts to train a Syrian opposition to take on Islamic State have failed. The US had aimed to prepare up to 12,000 fighters, but only 60 managed to complete the training and only four or five actually fought with the opposition, while others fled to IS with American weapons, Putin said, citing US Senate hearings.
“In my opinion, provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations Charter,” he said.
Back in December, 2014, China offered to help Iraq in fighting Islamic State militants, volunteering to assist with airstrikes, but said it would not join the US-led coalition against ISIS.

In one of the latest atrocities committed by IS, the terror group used an online magazine to post pictures of two hostages, one Norwegian and one Chinese, putting the men up “for sale.”


[Web translation -- make of it what you will]

Sheikh al-Sham readers:  Jihad today to impose my eyes Baham Vlijahd each according to his ability, and I call upon Muslim scholars to declare jihad ...

Page Mujahid Sheikh Karim Rajeh
to Jihad !! ...
the name of God the Merciful
to Jihad ...
neighborhood on the Commission presented the heavens and the earth .. 

[O ye who believe! Fight those who Iloncm of the infidels and to find harshness in you]
[those who believe and migrated and struggled in the way of Allah with their wealth and themselves the greatest degree of God. And those are the winners] 

O Muslims everywhere, no longer a secret to a what Ebih unbelievers of cunning and deception and the power they prepared for us, and here they are Russians entering Syria Bakdahm and Qdeidahm and their flight kill and destroy, and cunning Americans and Western countries from behind .. and here they are they activate the Persians predecessors in entry Syria Ieithoa havoc, killing and sabotage, and here is Iraq destroyed before, and here they are treacherous rulers give them tincture of legitimacy - as they claim - in entering our country, though they called them to enter under the false cover of the legitimacy of their law. 

What I heard that the governor calling for the occupation of his country by the ruler of Syria .. Amazing to see and hear it !! And the whole world sees and hears, and we are in the era of human rights, and any such person and any rights to him !! And the rights of dogs in the world enemy that sabotages our homes greatest of human rights in the Arab countries, in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Yemen, in other of our countries. 

This in any case their business and their law as they claim, what is our business and our law are we?
We are the people speak and act according to our energy, and our rulers, we curse God and the angels and all the people understand .. traitors who have betrayed God and His Messenger, and the nation and peoples. And I say and issue fatwas including said scholars, and said scholars? 

They said: (If the infidels entered the town from a Muslim country - and here they are Russians entered Syria and before them the Persians enemies of Islam - and encamped close to her jihad to impose on them, they shall be the people of that country pay the infidels as they can, even if This obligatory includes boys and women, If he can not the people of that country get them moved obligatory to the nearest country of them, and so that the reign obligatory Muslims as a whole, they struggled Vmak, otherwise Baa angrily all of God, the enemy infidel and enabled from their necks and their country and their money and their women and their faith. 

I say: infidels; because it has become today a blatant, it is a war against Islam and Muslims and their country and their money not Shi only because they are Muslims, and Muslims only .. war carried out by the mixtures: Alawites, Shiites, Russians, Europeans, secular, Majnon .. and the Russians are doing a holy war, as you say their church .. If it is a war between infidelity and Islam, between polytheism and monotheism, between the devil and the Muslims .. Oaraftm you gawk of Arabs and non-Arabs who owed ​​the infidels allegiance ??. 

I therefore address the rulers honest people, and peoples vanquished, and the general Muslims that jihad has become an obligation in kind on Muslims . 

Jihad wider than the fighting, and fighting is part of jihad, it is as much as arms Vlijahd weapons, or pen Fbkulm, or tongue Fballsan, or money Fbalmal, or stone Fbahadjr, or nail Fbalozafar, or boycott of all kinds Fbalmqatah .. Vlijahd all what God gave him from scientific or material or physical ability or otherwise ... and we have to start with those rulers who Tgam devoid of honor and religion and patriotism. And here Jerusalem go and received the blessing of the Holy rulers who claim they are Arabs and that they belong to Islam. 

The Shiites Fmqatathm and jihad is the duty because they are sowing evil, and led the aggression and support.
I declared Jihad and Ojoppe at all levels and Juba in kind on every Muslim, and I hope that Lefty Muslim Scholars and their synagogues should be Jihad for the sake of God, and that the move in the countries of the entire world .. and he pointed out on the right dumb devil. 

Mohammad Karim Rajeh / Sheikh readers Sham

Monday, September 21, 2015

Afghanistan Notes -- 2006

[Reposted from my old blog, for future reference...]

Afghanistan -- What's going on?


I thought we had turned the corner in Afghanistan, that US foreign policy might have got it right for once. Reports have been that the Taliban has been overcome, it's dispicable domination of ordinary people has been undermined, Afghan economy and politics are on the way to entering the twenty-first century and the country is on the mend.

But the daily news is once again reporting that the situation in Afghanistan is not as secure as we have been led to believe. What's an ordinary guy to believe? Wasn't there a war there about five years ago? Didn't American military people get killed and wounded? Before the Iraq adventure got underway, did we or did we not move ahead with smug assurance that in Afghanistan, at least, we might have got it right? Those of us who never like any kind of war at all had to be quiet and respectful of what our government was doing because all the indications were that the State Department and all the rest of the president's men (and women) were going about God's work, cleaning out a nest of vipers terrorizing a population, blowing up historic statues and behaving like a herd of bulls in a china shop trying to become modern.

Reports out of Afghanistan are no longer bright. It seems that opium production is at an all-time high and the Taliban is having a resurgence. These two reports alone are enough to be confused about, since the ultra-religious zealots who make up the Taliban are probably as opposed to drugs as they are against sodomy. It's all too confusing.

Homework time again.

When I heard Kandahar mentioned again I remember that when it was first in the news I was working with a young Pakistani assistant manager who was in the unhappy position of having to work with me. This was about seven years ago. I have this habit of going on line to keep up with current events, and often I come across information that is either not widely known or directly contradicts popular opinion. (A woman from Sarajevo who worked briefly with me was surprised when I asked her specific questions about her home country. This was during the time that Yugoslavia was coming apart and Serbs in Belgrade wore bulls-eye teeshirts in one of the most impressive public demonstrations of our lifetime. I had just finished one of Misha Glenny's books and was able to sketch an outline map of what was soon to be referred to as the formerYugoslavia.)

So this poor guy was just as naive about his own country as most Americans are about the USA. When I asked him hard questions about why so much of the country remained backward in the Twentiety Century he replied with canned excuses about their "Third World' status and how hard it is to change attitudes. He was partially correct, of course, but also blindingly ignorant about everyday realities that foreign reporters were discovering almost daily.

For example, as a good Muslim he could not imagine that the practice of sodomy was anything but a rarely-encountered terible sin, certainly not the everyday social phenomenon that was being reported from Afghanistan. Google "birds fly over Kandahar" and see what comes up. It was harsh of me to chide him, a young Pakistani, for the foibles of Pashtun tribesmen in Afghanistan, but as an educated young man with a bright future, it would have been unfair to let him remain ignorant of realities that the rest of the world was learning.

I still recall how delicately the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990  was treated because Islamic society could not come to terms with the notion of any good Muslim's committing suicide. The idea seemed so alien at the time, even among Muslims but we have we come a long way since then. That was before the WTC attack. People tend to forget how quickly attitudes and opinions can change.

I think part of the answer lies in the very different nature of society in that part of the world compared to what we take for granted. Tribalism is a term about which most Americans have no understanding. I know I don't. When I hear the word I think of Tarzan movies and documentaries about South America or remote areas of Indonesia. I don't think of the Middle East or South Asia as much, although the term "tribal" has been applied in reports of those regions since before the Vietnam Conflict. Sometimes we just ignore some words and imagine that we understand what they mean when in fact we have no idea.

Segmentary lineage is a term that I came across this morning. It explains the dynamics of tribalism in simple language. This is from Wikipedia. [2006 version]
A segmentary lineage society is characterized by the organization of the society into segments.A simple, non-anthropologist's explanation is that the close family is the smallest and closest segment, and will generally stand with each other. That family is also a part of a larger segment of more distant cousins, who will stand with each other when attacked by outsiders. They are then part of larger segments with the same characteristics. Basically, brothers will fight against cousins, unless outsiders come, and then they will join together. An old Arab saying expresses this idea: "Me against my brothers, me and my brothers against my cousins, me and my cousins against the world."
The ancient Hebrew nation (the Israelites) is one of the more well-known examples, with 12 tribes originating from one common ancestor (Abraham). The largest segmentary lineage society today is the Pashtuns.  
Woo-hoo! Pashtuns!

See this.   ["...without involving the Pashtuns, a Pakistani security analyst told him, having a stable government in Afghanistan "would be simply impossible." (The Taliban is made up mostly of Pashtuns.)"] 
This is old news, by the way.

This morning I heard that they were the group behind the current "insurgency" in (no, not Iraq) Afghanistan. The report said they were furnishing the Afghan Taliban with both arms and manpower, that there were millions of Pashtuns in a vast popultion of potential recruits...

I find it all very confusing. I'm sure there are people in high places who would be glad to explain it to me in a manner that would make me feel all better about opening the Afghan wound yet again, but I don't think I would find those explanations convincing. Too many credibility issues, I'm afraid.

I'm not an isolationist by any means. But I am also not the kind of interventionist that thinks a big stick is always the answer. From where I am looking we have been there and done that and it hasn't worked. I don't know all the answers but I do know a few questions I would like to ask, starting with the biggest national cognitive dissonance in US policy, both foreign and domestic: How and when will we come to terms with the realities of drugs in the world?

Time to link back to a post I put together a few weeks back. Michael Yon, whose credibility remains intact in my view, raises some on point questions and proposes something other than military remedies. Meantime, I am left to recall that here in the Deep South, right at the buckle of the Bible Belt, we still have a lot of jurisdictions that are called "dry."
Q: Dry, you say? And what's that? 
A: "Dry" what we call a city or county that doesn't allow alcohol consumption in one form or another. Sometimes it's okay to sell it by the drink but not by the bottle. Sometimes it's illegal altogether. Depends on where you are. Never mind that all you have to do is cross the county line and enjoy all you want. Never mind that big investments might avoid joining your tax base because they want nothing to do with your provincial local ordinances. 
Q: So how come "dry" jurisdictions still exist in these modern times? 
A: Easy. There are two forces that work together to keep such laws on the books. Churches and bootleggers. For very different reasons, neither wants drinking to be legal. You heard of politics making strange bedfellows? Do you need any plainer example?
I don't want to oversimplify a complicated situation, but I have an idea that what is going on in Afghanistan is not very different from the illustration above. Try plugging in "global pharmaceuticals" and Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex" instead of churches and bootleggers, and see what you think.

I didn't see this from CFR until October 7.
Really looks like a muddle.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Israel Kamakawiwo Remembered

[Reposted from my old blog. I haven't checked to see if all the links work but I copied enough content in case they fail.]
Israel Kamakawiwo Sings Over the Rainbow (Updated)
Boy am I a nut for YouTube!
This is the same music as the previous video but thanks to Dr. Bob's comment here is the artist who did the singing.

Here's something to watch for: About three-fourths of the way through, I spotted the most poignant image...a ukulele left alone in the forest with no one there to play...followed by the funeral celebration at Makua Beach.

The late Israel Kamakawiwo ("Iz") was one of Hawaii's most beloved singers.
The Wikipedia article is a good tribute.
Throughout the latter part of his life, Iz was significantly obese and at one point carried 757 pounds on his 6 foot, 2 inch frame. He endured several hospitalizations and died of weight-related respiratory illness on June 26, 1997 at the age of 38. 
The Hawaiʻi State Flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Iz's funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be accorded this honor, and the only non-politician. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.
Jack Boulware's account of this song's first (and only) recording is a must-read.
Honolulu, two a.m. Music producer Jon de Mello is sleeping when the phone rings. It’s Israel, one of the artists he represents for his Mountain Apple record label. And Israel is wide awake. He often has problems at night because his weight upwards of 700 pounds forces him to sleep while hooked up to an oxygen tank. He tells de Mello he wants to record, right now. “You got transportation?” asks de Mello. It’s difficult for Israel to move around, he needs a few people to help him get dressed, get in and out of places. The studio is about 15 minutes away. 
“Yeah,” says Israel. “My guys are here.” “Get in the car,” says de Mello. “I’ll meet you over there.” In the car, de Mello wonders what he wants to record. They’ve been discussing a bunch of possibles from a songbook. But it’s Israel, you never really know for sure what he’s going to do. A traditional Hawai’ian hula. A John Denver song. A theme from a TV show. Could be anything. 
A young engineer named Milan Bertosa sits in his recording studio, waiting. He was planning to go home, until some Hawai’ian guy with a lot of letters in his name called up and wanted to record something right away. It’s late, Bertosa is tired, but the voice was insistent, saying he only needed half an hour. A knock at the door, and there stands an unimaginable sight. De Mello, whom Bertosa recognizes, stands about five foot two and 100 pounds. Next to him, the largest man he’s ever seen, a gargantuan six-foot-six Hawai’ian carrying a ukulele. De Mello introduces the two, they get Israel situated in a chair, and Bertosa starts rolling tape. 
Israel leans into the microphone, says: “Kay, this one’s for Gabby,” and begins gently strumming the uke. His beautiful voice comes in, a lilting “Oooooo,” then slips into the opening words of “Over the Rainbow,” from “The Wizard of Oz.” Bertosa listens behind the glass, and within the first few bars knows it’s something very special. He spends most of his time recording lousy dance music. This is otherworldly. An incredibly fat man, elegantly caressing a Hollywood show tune, breaking it down to its roots, so sad and poignant, yet full of hope and possibility. Halfway through the tune, Israel spirals off into “What a Wonderful World,” the George David Weiss/Bob Thiele hit made famous by Louis Armstrong, then melts back into “Over the Rainbow.” He flubs a lyric, and tosses in a new chord change, but it doesn’t matter. It feels seamless, chilling. Israel plays five songs in a row, then turns to de Mello and says, “I’m tired and I’m going home.” “Gets up and walks out,” says de Mello. “Ukulele and a vocal, one take. Over.” Israel never played the song again.
Actually he did play it again, but never the same way. His later performances and recordings always varied. The music and lyrics came out different each time. He sang as the spirit moved him.

Here is another account from Milan Bertosa, the technician who made the original recording.
"Literally, Iz was a house carrying an 'ukulele," Bertosa said of the musician's size at the time - perhaps at the 450-pound level. "We had these floating floors, separated from the mainboard, and I felt the floors move when he walked." 
Bertosa summoned security to fetch a steel chair so Kamakawiwo'ole could sit.
"When he started singing, I said to myself, 'Oh, this is what I'm supposed to be doing for a living.' He did 'Over the Rainbow' and 'What a Wonderful World' in one take and 'White Sandy Beach.' Then a cowboy song, which was incomplete and so was never released. Then it was over, in 15, 20 minutes." 
Bertosa recalled the notable gaffes - the incorrect lyrics, the chord changes - that went over the head of Kamakawiwo'ole's fans but irritated the music publishers when the song snowballed years later. "It was just full of mistakes, but that didn't matter," he recalled. "Israel changed the melody; he dropped a piece here and there. But you don't stop (recording) that stuff. It was my job to capture it." 
He said he gave Kamakawiwo'ole a cassette file of the session and saved the original on a digital file. And as a favor to a client, Kamakawiwo'ole was not charged a dime for the session. 
Bertosa was personally haunted by the sweet innocence and purity of the big man with the big voice and the catchy uke strumming. 
"The 'oooos' just came out - that's the way he played 'em," said Bertosa, who loved the tracks so much, he shared them with his family once. 
"Because I was privy to the performance, my sense of it included hearing Israel breathe; so much of his work involved his breathing. The guy was large, managing to make music above and beyond the constant effort of being, of staying alive. One thing hit me: he could make music."