Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010... locked and loaded

"I know that history will be dominated by an improbable event, I just don't know what that event will be."
Nassim Nicholas Taleb - "The Black Swan"
David Seaton's News Links
I put the quote from Nissim Taleb above this post, because it is, with the oracular pronouncements of Donald Rumsfeld and Yogi Berra, the most intuitive and insightful summing up of the art of prediction that I have ever read.

Anyone who studies history or has lived a few decades, and still has all their marbles, will easily recall how few of the major events he or she has lived through were ever predicted.

Therefore, making predictions is a mugs game, however at year's end people who entertain others by commenting on the affairs of the world are expected to come up with a few predictions for the coming twelvemonth. To make specific predictions, then, would be foolish, but it might be interesting to look at situations that are pregnant with, well... situations.

Now, with the attempted Christmas bombing of Flight 253, Osama bin Laden is luring the USA into yet another quagmire, this time in Yemen. As Steve Clemons writes in The Washington Note:
Bin Laden, hiding somewhere in Pakistan, remains the single most significant sculptor of global affairs today, pushing the buttons of an American superpower as well as other regimes, so that they engage in emotional, knee jerk crusades that undermine what is left of a global equilibrium and the perception of American power.
It is bad enough that the USA, like some wonderful, Spanish fighting bull in a dream, will charge endlessly after every red cloth offered it until it collapses... the tactics being used to fight the terrorists (their doesn't seem to be any strategy) are extremely counterproductive.

I have placed a video mash-up of America's remote control air "war on terror" above this post, because I think the blowback from the use of these instruments will be devastating, even though they appear so efficient and at the same time so sparing of American lives. Never has the cultural gap between civilizations been wider than on the question of drone attacks with Predator missiles.

How so?

It has been amply noted and much criticized, that Islamic culture is overly masculine, with an archaic, some say medieval, sense of honor and virility. This form of warfare is a studied insult to that archaic masculinity.

The sort of nameless terror caused by a drone attack; coming as it does literally out of the blue, is the sort of thing that makes small children wet their beds; but the effect it may be causing on some hard men, and the Afghan Pashtun, Yemenite tribesmen or the Hausa of Nigeria are hard men indeed, could be radically different.

This "antiseptic" form of warfare, where one's comrades and kin; women, old folk and children are vaporized from a model airplane... flown by some overweight desk jockey several continents away... between sips of coffee, is so insulting to a traditional culture's sense of honor and masculinity, that it just might make a fellow want to up and fill his underpants with dynamite and  go off and do something rash.

This brings us to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young Nigerian terrorist that attempted to blow up the Christmas flight to Detroit. This is a major and perverse twist that Al Qaeda is giving to America's paranoia industry.

For some thirty years Hollywood's favorite villains that weren't chillingly blond Nazis, have been those with Arab faces... to the point that an immigrant Syrian cleaning lady might draw extra attention at an American airport. A face like Umar Farouk's is never seen on a Hollywood villain, it wouldn't be politically correct.

Umar Farouk has a West-African face, one like you see a hundred times every day of your life, in any American city. If you are an American you may very well see something like it in the mirror when you shave.

This is not an exotic Arab or a Pakistani face. This is a face seen in America for some three hundred years, ever since colonial times: a face as American as chitlins and chicken fried steak. The only thing that might distinguish Umar Farouk's face from hundreds of thousands of Americans, is the prayer bruise on his forehead, a sign of piety that very devout Muslims often bear from hitting their forehead on the floor five times a day at prayer for many years... a bruise easily lost in the darkness of Umar Farouk's skin.

Umar Farouk's face is a portent, for America's Arab and Pakistani population is very small, but Americans of West-African descent make up a sizable proportion of the US population... the majority in Washington D.C., to name an extremely sensitive and significant American population center.

American police are known to practice racial-profiling and being stopped and questioned for no other reason than their color is what Barack Obama described as "every African-American man's nightmare". Well dressed black men are routinely stopped and questioned on suspicion of everything from dealing drugs to stealing hubcaps... now suspicion of being a  terrorist will be added to the list. You can imagine how all this is going to play out.

I believe that al Qaeda deliberately gave Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab a faulty detonator so that he could be captured in flagranti and his picture published in all American newspapers with the word, "terrorist" underneath it.

His picture, right out of a  high school year book, linking an arch-typical West-African face with the word "terrorist"  ultimately could do more damage to American society than if the plane had actually crashed. An attack on a "soft target", like a crowded shopping mall, by someone looking like Umar Farouk Abdulmutalla wearing an exploding vest, might raise all of America's ancestral ghosts from their graves.

Conclusion: if we had only half the knowledge of Al Qaeda's weak points as they do of ours, we might at least fight this war to a draw.

Moving on to other situations pregnant with situations.

As grave and debilitating as it is, finally the war on terror is merely a running sore. There are other areas where an unexpected blow might have more immediate and traumatic consequences:

We have been living through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, some think there is "light at the end of the tunnel" and some don't. Wall Street is in the first group and most everybody else is in the second.

There has been much talk about the need for deep reforms to avoid a crisis like this reoccurring. Somehow all this talk has come to naught. It seems that Wall Street has been able to neutralize any meaningful reform. Names like Rubin, Summers and Geithner are given to explain this lack of White House enthusiasm. Be that as it may, it stands to reason that if certain policies and systems caused a disaster and those systems and policies are not changed and reformed then the disaster could be repeated. So, if suddenly some sovereign default that dwarfs Lehman Brothers occurs, something that brings everything crashing down around our ears... again, we shouldn't be amazed or even startled... just stuffed, as the British would put it.

Next China:

China is where everybody in the know appears to have placed all  their hopes. America is China-dependent. Now China is almost as opaque a place as its bitch Tibet (formerly Shangri-la). All the most important decisions there are taken within innermost circles the Chinese Communist Party, which has got to be the world's tightest clique.

It might be feared, since they have come to capitalism from Marxist-Leninism, that the Communist Party of China is using capitalism as a tool to empower China without actually believing it to be the "end of history". Who knows? But it all comes down to that... the whole financial system now belongs to a group of people, who direct an organization created by Mao Tse Tung.

Now two alternatives strike me: (1.) the CPC doesn't really understand the workings of capitalism nearly as well as they seem to think they do, or, (2.) That looking at it so coldly they understand the workings of capitalism much better than we do. Either alternative could produce a disaster so sudden and so devastating that we would have to invent the candle-powered Internet in order to continue this conversation.

I haven't talked about a war with Iran, because as terrible, cruel and disastrous as that would be, it wouldn't be much of a surprise. Finally I imagine that, like seemingly happens with most everything else, "George W. Bush" will be cunningly repackaged and sold under the brand "Obama". I don't know if this constitutes change, but I know I believe in it.

When a dark horse becomes a black swan:

Everybody seems to have forgotten Korea, but a war on the Korean peninsula could bring globalization crashing down in a matter of days. The US armed forces are stretched to a point in Afghanistan and Iraq that to fight a war in Korea would probably require using atomic weapon  in the first few days just to keep the American soldiers there from taking unacceptable casualties. What would China do if atomic weapons were used on the North Koreans? Who knows? Maybe sell a lot of dollars?

Impossible? Check these facts from the Center for Defense Information:
More than 11,000 DPRK artillery weapons are pointed at over 10 million citizens in Seoul. North Korea’s 1.2 million-man Army is the world’s fourth largest fighting force. Two-thirds of those soldiers are stationed within 60 miles of the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), along with thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers.(...) war on the Korean Peninsula would likely mean hundreds of thousands killed and enormous damage. It must be avoided if at all possible. A negotiated solution should be sought, and be pressed upon the North’s government by all the means available.
A bitch of a war, if it ever got started, and an attack on Iran might be too much for North Korea's paranoid leadership. Not very likely, but it would dwarf anything except a major movement of the San Andreas fault.

Well, as I began this piece, none of these are really predictions, but simply pointing out what I have called "situations pregnant with situation".

So enough of this New Years cheer. Let us close today's chat with the advice of this traditional American folksong:
Jay Gould's daughter said before she died
Papa, fix the blinds so the bums can't ride.
If ride they must, they got to ride the rod.
Let 'em put their trust in the hands of God.
I'll close by saying that, despite all its perils, may 2010 be a beautiful and fulfilling year for all my readers. DS

To Lisa (1953 - 2009)

Down upon the steaming dregs of memory,

Where luminous squid and grinning dolphins feed

Where goddesses lurk, whose humid armpits reek of gold

And the gnawed over carrion of love gone cold

There I stumbled upon you,

Lost in the traffic of time's fell speed

Beyond all touch and comfort

Beyond all loss and need

Never was death so real

DS 12/30/09

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from News Links

The Holy Family with St Anne,
1628, Rubens, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

David Seaton's News Links
I have been posting this same piece every Christmas since 2006, so you might call it an "instant tradition". I wrote it in the depths of Bush's "war on terror", but I don't see any reason to change a line of it.


Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, or to think of them and to remember them lovingly
if they are very far away or no longer among the living. It is also a time when Christians are urged to wish for 'peace on earth, good will to men' and consequentially obliged to practice the Christian virtues of forgiving and loving their enemies. However, in order to truly love one's friends and to truly forgive and to begin to love one's enemies, it is obviously essential to first begin by being able to distinguish between one's friends and one's enemies. This is not always as easy as it would appear at first glance.

Today the relations between Islam and Christianity need, more than ever, to be examined and revised. Westerners ignorance and lack of appreciation of Islam is doubly aggravated by their ignorance of Muslim's traditional knowledge and esteem of Christianity... An esteem born out by the number of Muslims named, "Miriam," (Mary) and "Isa", (Jesus).

Tragically, little is known in the West of Islam's affection for the Virgin Mary
(Umm Isa) to whom an entire chapter of the Koran is devoted. Karen Armstrong, a former nun and perhaps the English language's most interesting writer on comparative religions, published the article quoted below in The Guardian back in December of 2006. It makes a perfect Christmas meditation in these times of hatred and intolerance. DS

The Muslim prophet born in Bethlehem
Karen Armstrong - Guardian

Abstract: In 632, after five years of fearful warfare, the city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz voluntarily opened its gates to the Muslim army. No blood was shed and nobody was forced to convert to Islam, but the Prophet Muhammad ordered the destruction of all idols and icons of the Divine. There were a number of frescoes painted on the inner walls of the Kabah, the ancient granite shrine in the centre of Mecca, and one of them, it is said, depicted Mary and the infant Jesus. Immediately Muhammad covered it reverently with his cloak, ordering all the other pictures to be destroyed except that one. This story may surprise people in the west, who have regarded Islam as the implacable enemy of Christianity ever since the crusades, but it is salutary to recall it during the Christmas season when we are surrounded by similar images of the Virgin and Child. It reminds us that the so-called clash of civilisations was by no means inevitable. For centuries Muslims cherished the figure of Jesus, who is honoured in the Qur'an as one of the greatest of the prophets and, in the formative years of Islam, became a constituent part of the emergent Muslim identity. There are important lessons here for both Christians and Muslims - especially, perhaps, at Christmas. The Qur'an does not believe that Jesus is divine but it devotes more space to the story of his virginal conception and birth than does the New Testament, presenting it as richly symbolic of the birth of the Spirit in all human beings (Qur'an 19:17-29; 21:91). Like the great prophets, Mary receives this Spirit and bears Jesus, who will, in his turn, become an ayah, a revelation of peace, gentleness and compassion to the world.(...) The Muslim devotion to Jesus is a remarkable example of the way in which one tradition can be enriched by another. It cannot be said that Christians returned the compliment. While the Muslims were amassing their Jesus-traditions, Christian scholars in Europe were denouncing Muhammad as a lecher and charlatan, viciously addicted to violence. But today both Muslims and Christians are guilty of this kind of bigotry and often seem eager to see only the worst in each other. The Muslim devotion to Jesus shows that this was not always the case. In the past, before the political dislocations of modernity, Muslims were always able to engage in fruitful and stringent self-criticism. This year, on the birthday of the Prophet Jesus, they might ask themselves how they can revive their long tradition of pluralism and appreciation of other religions. For their part, meditating on the affinity that Muslims once felt for their faith, Christians might look into their own past and consider what they might have done to forfeit this respect.  READ IT ALL

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The old shell game: act two

"If the climate was a bank the US would already have saved it." Hugo Chávez in Copenhagen
David Seaton's News Links
When it is possible for Hugo Chávez to deftly sum up the United States administration in one short and witty phrase, things are not going well.

I went to the movies last night with a European -- whose identity I shall protect -- who like most progressive Europeans has been completly besotted by Barack Obama for months and months and has given me no end of flack for my own lack of enthusiasm for "The One".

Right before the feature started they put on the trailer of Michael Moore's new film, "Capitalism - a Love Story" and in it, George W. Bush suddenly appeared, horrible smirk and all, and I was amazed to hear this person exclaim, "I miss Bush!"... There was no time then to ask why, but a couple of hours later, out in the street, I got the chance:  "You miss BUSH? Why do you miss BUSH?"

"Well", this person shamefacedly said, "it's hard to explain, it came over me all of a sudden, I hadn't seen him since he left the White House, and there he was  on the screen and it was just like when he was president, I knew exactly who he was and more importantly I knew exactly who I am and with Obama I don't." I thought that was as good a definition of the situation right now as any I am likely to get.

My theory is that my friend's confusion was exactly what the meteoric rise of Barack Obama was all about: a political version of the old shell game.

Bush's problem was that it was always much too clear under which shell the pea was lurking and too many people were catching on to the game. What was needed was to substitute a tied tongue for a silver one. It worked like a charm at first, but now the natives are restless.

As Bush himself said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again".

Frank Rich of the New York Times doesn't cut to the bone as playfully as Hugo Chávez, but he hits pretty hard with this phrase:
"Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image." Frank Rich - NYT
Maybe the roughest of all is Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history.
What I find amazing is the surprise.

Rolling all this around in my mind, I suddenly remembered a wonderful advertisement I saw quite a few years ago. I wish I had cut it out and saved it, but quoting from memory, it went more or less like this. The ad appeared in the soft-core porn mag, Hustler, and it was for pills, creams and lotions guaranteed to enhance sexual pleasure and performance. At the bottom of the ad in big, bold letters it said, "These products are genuine placebos".

Assessing the havoc that Bush had wreaked upon America's power and prestige and the rather awkward questions so many Americans were driven to ask by his bumbling and fumbling, it seems clear that the good and the great who decide this sort of thing realized in their wisdom that what America needed was a "genuine placebo" and that Barack Obama was just what the doctor ordered.

It is obvious to me, that when he proclaimed "a change we can believe in", either Barack Obama was trying to fool everybody or that he was fooling himself, but most probably it was a combination of both.

However, somewhere, some people, knew exactly what they were doing and what was going on. Matt Taibbi's article in Rolling Stone is probably the clearest, easiest read, road map of what it was all about and who these people are.

H.L. Mencken proclaimed that "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public" and a movie producer once said that "when the American public walks its knuckles drag on the ground." The desire to simultaneously fool and be fooled, which is universally human, is especially pronounced in Americans... Think Madoff and Madoff victims, some of them thought to be America's shrewdest  people...I repeat, what surprises me is the surprise.

Maybe it's my age, the Spanish say that the devil knows more because of his age than because he is the devil, maybe it's that, but as my readers know, I never expected anything else. The United States is a "regime" if ever there was one, and thick-skinned, solid, interlocked and long lived oligarchical regimes like America's die hard.

I was a close observer of both the Portuguese "carnation" revolution and the Spanish transition from Franco to democracy and both were near run things, with a lot of unfinished business til this day and many explosive situations still hanging fire.

Anyone that believes that such an old and established, battle-hardened system of privilege  as America's can be changed only by a mass of enthusiasts voting one day and then going home and waiting for it to happen by itself is just like the person who is sitting at home waiting eagerly for FEDEX to bring them their "genuine placebos".

I think my friend was groping toward an important truth, to wit: the Bush presidency was a lovely "teaching moment". There was an excitement in learning, as my friend said, "who he was and who I am".

Some of those who came out for Barack Obama will be made cynical by what is happening now, but others -- hopefully a critical mass -- will be made serious, on reflection. The first conclusion they should come to is that until the American people themselves become the biggest of all lobbies and pursue their interests with the same concentration as Wall Street, the Insurance lobby, AIPAC and the NRA do, there will never be any change that we or anybody else can believe in.

That simple, that difficult. DS

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Massimo Tartaglia and Berlusconi's busted face

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said he is considering tougher limits on freedom of expression and pledged to crack down on social networking sites that “instigate” violence against the prime minister.(...) The internet is one of the few sources of news and information in Italy that aren't subject to some form of control by Mr. Berlusconi. His family media empire owns one of the two major Italian news magazines, two daily newspapers, and three of the seven major TV channels. Three more of Italy's major channels are run by his government. While there are a number of independent newspapers, Berlusconi has sought to limit their room for maneuver, bringing lawsuits against newspapers that have reported on his extramarital affairs and allegations that he used call girls.
Christian Science Monitor

David Seaton's News Links
Till Berlusconi took it over Italy occupied a special place in my mental landscape. If not the "mother" of western civilization -- that would be Greece -- it was the "stepmother" of western civilization, perhaps the "wicked-old-stepmother" of western civilization.

Some of the affection was a Hollywood construct, of course. Soon after WWII, Hollywood was quick to give Italy a fresh coat of paint, so  that, while, after all these many years, Germans are still the favorite Hollywood villains, Mussolini's people were given an immediate free pass, complete with "Roman Holidays" as the "moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie" and with Sophia Loren trotting her marvelous gazongas to the tune of "presto, presto do your very best-oh, live a your life with a zip and a zing".

But it wasn't all Hollywood horse apples. There were Antonioni, Fellini and Berlinguer, Vitorio and Marcello, Adriano Celentano and Mina, Alberto Sordi, Alberto Moravia and Rita Pavone too. They weren't all a dream...

Then the land that spawned Leonardo da Vinchi  excreted Silvio Berlusconi, a toxic mixture of Rupert Murdoch, George Bush, Count Dracula, Ronald McDonald and Wayne Newton. You could say that Italy doesn't do things by halves.

I truly cannot think of any leader since Adolph Hitler who has single-handedly  taken such a fine country and so spoiled it and despoiled it as Berlusconi has Italy: George Bush doesn't even come close, half the job was more than done before he could lay a hand on the United States.

Then the other day a computer geek named Massimo Tartaglia took an alabaster  model of Milan's cathedral and tossed it into Berlusconi's face making rather a mess of that much lifted part of the "cavilieri's" anatomy.

Something that a 19th century anarchist would have pulled off with a pawnshop pistol or a homemade bomb, injuring or killing innocent bystanders, a crazy Italian geek did with simple souvenir. Humanity has advanced.

Signor Tartaglia immediately got himself a fan club in Facebook of about 200,000 members until Berlusconi's government got it taken down. There is a new one which has just opened and is picking up a couple of hundred fans per hour and was just over seven thousand when last I looked. Here is the link if you wish to sign up.

Something in Massimo's nose of a Roman emperor and  his mad eyes make me think that it might be a bit too soon to write Italy off just yet. DS

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prize Day at News Links

Reading his acceptance speech
Why did Obama accept the Nobel Peace Prize when he had already decided to take the war in Afghanistan to its ultimate consequences? Nobody forced him into an act of cynicism. Fidel Castro
David Seaton's News Links
Today the President of the United States received the Nobel Peace Prize. He read a stirring speech in which he used the Nobel Peace Prize to justify America's wars.

In my opinion this was one of the most interesting presidential statements since Bill Clinton speculated on the meaning of "is". In case you have forgotten that one, it went like this:
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true." (footnote 1,128 in the Starr report)
In order to celebrate Obama endeavoring to reach Clinton's superb mastery of the fine American art of euphemism,  I have thought up a little contest to choose other unlikely prize winners. 

Here is my tentative list of possible awards, readers are encouraged to add to this selection by posting their own suggestions:
  • Nobel Prize for Literature: Dan Brown
  • Nobel Prize for Economics: Bernard Madoff
  • Nobel Prize for Physics: The Diet Coke + Mentos Development Team
  • Pulitzer Prize: Rush Limbaugh
  • Oscar of Hollywood for Lifetime Achievement: Sonny Tufts 
  • Something for poor Tiger Woods, but I haven't figured out just what yet
I am sure you can think up better stuff than this list and I am looking forward to reading them. DS

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Up in smoke

David Seaton's News Links
We are going to change the climate...

...cause it's too hot...

...too hot...

...The climate...


...and we are going to organize Afghanistan too... we've got to... you know...

...stay.....the ...course...

...stay on it... know...

...stay as long as...


...and we're going to regulate the financial sector...

...cause those guys steal a lot...

...uh huh...

....a lot, yeah...

...don't laugh, this is serious shit man...

... lots of stuff to do... fix the schools...

....all the dumb kids...

...fix them too...

.....and repair all the roads...

...and the bridges...

...and the trains...

...lots of busted and worn out stuff...

...lots of other stuff too... change the climate...

...Did I say that before? ...

... Too hot...


... Lot's a stuff...

...We're gonna do it all man...

...Well, went to to the moon once...

... really, did, no shit...

...but of course when we got there...

...there was nothing there up there...

...but we went there... ...

...stayed the course... Afghanistan, nothing there either...

...the important thing...

...stay the course...


...and we came back too from the moon... and that's real important too...

... stay and leave...

...come back and all...

... after going...

... uh, huh...

...isn't it?
...Like Afghanistan...

...we're supposed to come back from there too...



...Hey, you got anything to eat around here? DS

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Street Musicians, Madrid, Christmas 2009

David Seaton's News Links
One of the many changes that has come over Madrid since Spain joined the European Union has been the appearance of eastern Europeans, who were rarely seen here before, and among them numerous street musicians.

Since Spain has such strong popular musical traditions itself, this might seem like taking coals to Newcastle, but in fact it has livened up the street scene considerably.

One of my favorites is a pickup group of buskers who I long ago baptized the "All Bucharest Big Band". Today was the first time I ever came across them with a movie camera in my hand, so I filmed them, which was something I had always wanted to do.

I like them  because they seem to embody hard work, cheerful suffering and the joy of music all in one little band. I wish they could become famous and  get to have groupies and trash hotel rooms too. DS

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

After the ball was over: America after Bush

After the ball was over
Nellie took out her glass eye
Put her false teeth in water
Corked up her bottle of dye
Put her false leg in the corner
Hung up her wig on the door
And all that is left goes to bye byes
After the ball
After The Ball Was Over

David Seaton's News Links
After reading Obama's speech and watching the video, I thought everything he said was reasonable... if he had been talking about Panama or Grenada... but Afghanistan, where every foreign invader over thousands of years has failed? At a moment when Americans are massively out of work and on food stamps?

The only ray of hope I find is that more and more Americans are beginning to ask the right questions and that consciousness is growing. Consciousness is everything in politics, it is really the force that moves mountains.

America has history's most highly developed industrial mechanisms to answer what seems to be its unquenchable thirst for irreality, but reality, that miserable son of a bitch, just wont let up.

I have a great faith in America, its fertility and capacity to produce on that day when reality finally wins its battle to emerge. That will be the day when our "Nellie" of the song, our grotesque, paralyzed oligarchical system, finally goes to "bye byes".

Right now, Obama seems bent on being Nellie's new boy-toy, giving the old girl one last thrill. It takes a hard heart to deny them their moment of magic, doesn't it? DS

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Here we go again

President Obama has decided to expedite the deployment of 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan over the next six months, in an effort to reverse the momentum of Taliban gains and create urgency for the government in Kabul to match the American surge with one using its own forces, according to senior administration officials. New York Times
More soldiers committed suicide this year than in any year for which we have complete records. But the military is now able to meet its recruitment goals because the young men and women who are signing up can’t find jobs in civilian life. The United States is broken — school systems are deteriorating, the economy is in shambles, homelessness and poverty rates are expanding — yet we’re nation-building in Afghanistan, sending economically distressed young people over there by the tens of thousands at an annual cost of a million dollars each. Bob Herbert NYT

David Seaton's News Links
I guess finally this is just who we are and what we do: go around killing people and blowing things up. If it wasn't Afghanistan it would be somewhere else.

"Looking on the Bright Side of Life", as the song puts it, at least while pouring sand endlessly down the Afghan rat hole, the US armed forces will be too overstretched to contemplate a war with Iran and since a war with Iran might send the world economy right over the edge into the pit, I suppose it is just as well to keep them puttering uselessly around Afghanistan and out of any real trouble.

And in keeping with my Pollyanna mood, I suppose that although quite a few human beings will get killed and maimed in this thing, Afghans mostly, but Americans too, there wont be nearly as many humans killed and maimed as there would be in a war with Iran.

In short, if the US armed forces really have to be somewhere, killing somebody, better Afghanistan.

They used to say about the Bourbon royal family that they "learned nothing and forgot nothing", but it looks like the USA is going the Bourbons one better by forgetting everything and learning nothing. 

More than decadent the USA is beginning to look and act senile. DS