Thursday, July 29, 2010

My August Break: Further Reading for NewsLinkers

"Summer Tale" by Eleonore Weil

David Seaton's News Links
Like I do every year, inshallah, I am taking the month of August off: this year I am retiring to my dacha/hill-station in the mountains outside Madrid.  As always, I leave with the firm proposal to do nothing at all except read, sleep and walk.. but reality will interpose itself in the form of a front porch that needs to be stripped, sanded and repainted. Oh well.

Every year, when I go off, I try to leave something for my regular readers to enjoy, a treasure trove of goodies, so that they will not have forgotten me (sniff) by September.

This August I've decided to leave a long list of links to articles I have collected over the last few months in the course of my work, a few random things  that I enjoyed when I found them and that I hope my readers may find interesting. I confess that I am too lazy to sort them out as to subject matter or even importance, but you'll find them in roughly chronological order, with the most recent first. I have taken the trouble to re-test the links before pasting them in, but I can't guarantee how long they'll work. Enjoy! DS

List of Articles

Easy Money, Hard Truths - New York Times
The Machines That Ate the Market - Businessweek
Austerity Does Not Produce Prosperity - Huffington Post
Legendary Investor Is More Worried Than Ever  - Wall Street Journal
The short sale of American icons - MarketWatch
How U.S. drug policy is making Mexican cartels more deadly - Foreign Policy
The history of the toilet - Guardian 
An American Chernobyl - ClubOrlov
The New Poor: In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind - New York Times 
Thieves Flood Victim’s Phone With Calls to Loot Bank Accounts - Wired
Detroit Saved from Detroit by Marijuana - BlackBook 
Martin Hutchinson: Thatcher, Papandreou or Adenauer? - The Prudent Bear 
A Sampling of Chinglish - New York Times
Woody Allen: Will the real Avatar please stand up - New Yorker
Chinese leaders revive Marxist orthodoxy - Asia Times
Google Delivers Foreign Tongues at the Press of a Button - Der Spiegel
Amartya Sen: The economist manifesto - The New Statesman
Powerful People Are Better Liars - Harvard Business Review
Seeing Tongue, Spray-On Skin, Transplanted Hand: Military’s Extreme Medicine Wing - Wired
The Exotic in the Eyes of African Beholders - New York Times
Iqbal Z. Quadir: The economics of social progress - McKinsey 
Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land - New York Review of Books
It's Impossible To "Get By" In The US - Zero Hedge
Tony Judt: What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy? - New York Review of Books
Gideon Rachman: Cameron’s Tories point to isolation - Financial Times
Super-sizing the "Last Supper" - Reuters
Why writing software is not like engineering - University of San Francisco   
The History of the Honey Trap - Foreign Policy 
How I Got the Goods on Madoff, and Why No One Would Listen - Businessweek 
Porn: Good for us? - The Scientist

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Some second thoughts about the Af-Pak Wikileaks

Julian Assange
From The Weekly Standard: One of the more interesting aspects of the WikiLeaks document dump is the persistence of intelligence reports indicating collusion between al Qaeda, al Qaeda-affiliated parties, and Iran. By itself, this should not be surprising. The 9/11 Commission, Clinton-era federal prosecutors, and many others have found evidence of such cooperation. Still, it is widely assumed that such an alliance is impossible due to theological differences between Sunni al Qaeda and the Shiite mullahs. The WikiLeaks documents demonstrate, once again, that the world does not abide by armchair assumptions. Our terrorist enemies are not mindless automatons. When it comes to confronting their common enemies, collusion is the order of the day.

"Think the worst and you'll be right" Spanish proverb
David Seaton's News Links
To start off with I love the idea of WikiLeaks: the dirty linen of the powerful on public view... irresistible. I was very impressed by the video of the murder of the Reuters journalists in Baghdad and I was eagerly waiting during the countdown for the 300,000 secret items that WikiLeaks handed over to the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, which have been compared to Daniel Ellsberg's "Pentagon Papers" and initially I was very impressed by the breadth and depth of "linen" now on display. Certainly the futility of war  in Afghanistan was on full view for the world to see.

I began to have second thoughts on the flimsiest of motives: I was repelled by Julian Assange's face when I first saw it: the eyes, the mouth. I immediately thought, "wow, this guy sure could make a good  living playing petty thieves or perverts in police procedural films with a face like that". I looked him up in Wikipedia and saw that he had a pretty funky childhood and youth, more like Colton Harris-Moore the barefoot-bandit's than Daniel Ellsberg's but with the difference that I kind of like the barefoot-bandit's face. But hey, I thought, he who is without strange parents, let him cast the first stone. Live and let live.

However, you could say that my antenna were up and quivering already when I read the first items of the leaks that pointed to a connection between Al Qaeda and Iran. I thought, uh-oh, that sounds familiar, that is the same rap the neocons tried to hang on Saddam Hussein in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and there are still quite a few Americans who think that Saddam was involved in 9-11.  As it so happens that at this very moment the Israel lobby and the usual suspects are busy baying at the moon trying to drum up support for an attack on Iran -- as they always have been, "real men go to Tehran" --  isn't it convenient that this damning bit of evidence connecting Ahmadinejad with Osama bin Laden comes wrapped up conveniently in the most impeccably progressive of packages and just when America's politicians are looking for campaign donations?

Well, you might ask, doesn't this massive leakage damage the war effort in Afghanistan, and I would ask in return, when did the neocons ever give diddly squat about the war in Afghanistan, which they have always considered a distraction from more important affairs, like trashing Iraq and Iran? I mean, after all, what threat does Afghanistan pose to Israel?

So, could this enormous flood of leaks from WikiLeaks about the war in Afghanistan in reality be protective covering for a massive misinformation operation, one which kills two birds with one stone: weakens the distracting Af-Pak war effort and provides some sort of personal reason for Americans to want to attack Iran? Certainly, when I read the article in the neocon bible, Rupert Murdoch's, "The Weekly Standard", which I quote above, I began to get that old feeling: been there, done that, here we go again.

So I would say, whoa there, lets stop and go though all of this with a fine tooth comb and see where they want to take us with all of this: because I would agree with President Obama, when he says that Afghanistan is the "good war", in the sense that it is "good", if it keeps us too busy there to get into even worse trouble elsewhere... Kind of like methadone for American militarism. DS

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reading Don Quixote, while Iceland takes a leak

 Gustavo Doré's Don Quixote

David Seaton's News Links
This summer I am rereading the world's first, and still probably the world's best novel, "Don Quixote", by Miguel de Cervantes. The first time I read it, my Spanish was nothing like it is today, nor is the life experience that I bring to the book now in any way comparable to the weltanschauung of the boy I was then. Every page holds treasures that I missed before, and what is most amazing of all, is how, despite the archaic, 17th century Spanish, the book is still more "modern" than any contemporary best seller: the truth about human beings never grows old.

Don Quixote is such a funny book because Cervantes uses the most prosaic details of everyday life in La Mancha, which is like a Spanish Peoria, as the triggers for the Don's delusions of knightly feats of daring-do. It is the quality of his marvelously bald and plausible descriptions of warts and all reality that makes Don Quixote's delusions so hilarious, noble and pathetic. For example, windmills, as common in La Mancha as grain elevators in the Middle West, become giants to his mad eyes, sturdy, no-nonsense country girls become fairytale princesses and the 17th century Spanish equivalent of two dollar hookers in a fleabite motel become noble ladies in a mighty castle... it goes on and on...

Imagine the owner of a gas station on the steppes of Indiana, who watches old "A-Team" reruns till he goes mad and starts to think he is "Mr. T" and then goes out armed to the teeth on a "mission": that is basically the starting point of this greatest of books. Not that hard to imagine in an American context is it?

However, don't get the idea that inventing this stuff is simple, it takes the genius of a Cervantes to pull it off. Normally reality is funnier than anything that you or I could ever dream up, but Cervantes's way of looking at the contrast between who we think we are and who we really are is available to all.

An example of Cervantes's method applied to the contemporary USA: imagine a president of the USA that thought that he could make the waters recede and the climate change, while all the secret information in the Pentagon was heading for Iceland. DS

Sunday, July 25, 2010

America: if it's broken, fix it

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) - Vedute di Roma
Every time I come back to the United States, the airports, the roads, the public spaces look to me more tattered, battered, old-fashioned. Modernity is no longer self-evidently here. Timothy Garton-Ash, The Guardian

At a time when China is building hundreds of miles of subway lines, tens of thousands of miles of highways, a couple of dozen nuclear power plants, and a network of tens of thousands of miles of high-speed intercity rail lines, the US struggles to launch a single substantial project. China saves and invests; the US talks, consumes, borrows, and talks some more.  Jeffery Sachs - Financial Times
David Seaton's News Links
The two quotes above, and the articles they originally appeared in, go straight to the heart of America's central problem: decadence.

What other word than decadence could describe not rebuilding a crumbling, decrepit homeland, its political arteries clogged with leftover scraps of Cold War ideology and wounded self-esteem, a land with its potholed roads and tumbling bridges.

What other word than decadence could describe leaving the homeland to rot, while at the same time spending uncountable treasure fighting (and losing) counterinsurgency wars a world away?

What other word but decadence could describe not fixing a moldering school system, that is literally a Polaroid of the country's future, while sending aircraft carrier battle groups to the Persian Gulf and Korea, perhaps to set off another trillion dollar war?

That something so obvious, something that so many people would favor, such as using their tax money for rebuilding the country that they pay taxes in, shows so little sign of happening indicates a paralyzed political system.

Perhaps the issue of rebuilding America might recycle US militarism and substitute its mass of "rice bowls" for an endeavor more positive that would generate equal or superior wealth; that would end political paralysis and also end massive unemployment in the USA...

Could the simple obviousness of all this be the very reason that the country is not allowed to focus its energies on doing it? If the previous sentance makes sense, it shows how far we have come down a road to ruin.

Not fixing what is broken, not renewing what is worn and tattered and not rebuilding what once was one of the best, if not the best, public education system in the world, makes the "audacity of hope" into the hollowest of slogans.

To me the mystery of the Obama presidency deepens and thickens, the distance between what was sold and what is being delivered is so great...

The positive side of Obama's election is that it has shown that the American people are still able to dream and to hope on a big scale and the down side is that the country's great tradition of "there is one born every minute" is also still very much alive. These two currents in America's personality seem to have joined together in this presidency. DS

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The mystery of Barack Obama thickens

A year after President Barack Obama's political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating has dropped to a negative 44 - 48 percent, his worst net score ever, and American voters say by a narrow 39 - 36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Quinnipiac University
David Seaton's News Links
Obama's falling poll numbers are not a great mystery, the economy is bad and people are suffering, it is natural that whoever is in office when things are this bad is going to see it reflected in the polls. What I do find mysterious is how Obama's once legendary power to communicate and inspire the American people seems to have totally left him, leaving the impression of a politically tone deaf technocrat.

This tone deafness is extraordinary in any professional politician: even the most modestly endowed of them, down to a town alderman, usually possess an innate ability to connect with people. Even George W. Bush, America's worst president, was able to take a bullhorn, climb up on a pile of rubble, put his arm around a fireman and be an inspiring leader, if only for a moment.

I can imagine a hundred reasons for Obama's policies to come unstuck, the ability to inspire and the ability to get things done are not the same, Obama had never actually done anything before becoming president he was elected because of his power to uplift and inspire.

As many lovers will testify, the ability to seduce and the ability to perform do not always go hand in hand. In Presidential politics John Kennedy was a perfect example. JFK never ever really got much done, but he never lost his power to seduce and to charm the American people. Time has revealed a disturbingly dark side to Kennedy that I'm sure the future will never reveal in Obama, but Kennedy's way with words and his ability to sway people never left him, no matter how mediocre his actual performance was. But Obama's power of seduction seems to have left him completely.

In a previous post I wrote that this disappearance of precisely the qualities that took Barack Obama meteorically from total obscurity to the White House, in an astoundingly short time, was so sudden, so abrupt, that it reminded me of some sort of witch's curse from a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, as if his "three wishes" had been used up getting to the presidency and the Good Fairy had decamped... Cinderella's carriage turning into a pumpkin and the horses into mice. Magic to get there and poof, the magic disappears...

I'm not surprised that he can't get much done, Bush left things so screwed up that even FDR or Lincoln would have had trouble sorting it all out, but I cannot remember anything as mysterious as Obama's sudden lost charisma in a whole lifetime of observing politics and politicians. DS

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Chicken Little of the Week (Year?)" Award

BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling operation may have triggered an irreversible, cascading geological Apocalypse that will culminate with the first mass extinction of life on Earth in many millions of years. The oil giant drilled down miles into a geologically unstable region and may have set the stage for the eventual premature release of a methane mega-bubble. (...) "The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region "boils over," ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain). The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life, and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide..." The warning signs of an impending planetary catastrophe—of such great magnitude that the human mind has difficulty grasping it-would be the appearance of large fissures or rifts splitting open the ocean floor, a rise in the elevation of the seabed, and the massive venting of methane and other gases into the surrounding water.(...) The people and property located on the greater expanse of the Gulf Coast are sitting at Ground Zero. They will be the first exposed to poisonous, cancer causing chemical gases. They will be the ones that initially experience the full fury of a methane bubble exploding from the ruptured seabed. The media has been kept away from the emergency salvage measures being taken to forestall the biggest catastrophe in human history. The federal government has warned them away from the epicenter of operations with the threat of a $40,000 fine for each infraction and the possibility of felony arrests. Why is the press being kept away? Word is that the disaster is escalating. Methane is now streaming through the porous, rocky seabed at an accelerated rate and gushing from the borehole of the first relief well. The EPA is on record that Rig #1 is releasing methane, benzene, hydrogen sulfide and other toxic gases. Workers there now wear advanced protection including state-of-the-art, military-issued gas masks. Reports, filtering through from oceanologists and salvage workers in the region, state that the upper level strata of the ocean floor is succumbing to greater and greater pressure. That pressure is causing a huge expanse of the seabed-estimated by some as spreading over thousands of square miles surrounding the BP wellhead-to bulge. Some claim the seabed in the region has risen an astounding 30 feet. The fractured BP wellhead, site of the former Deepwater Horizon, has become the epicenter of frenetic attempts to quell the monstrous flow of methane.(...) A huge gash on the ocean floor—like a ragged wound hundreds of feet long—has been reported by the NOAA research ship, Thomas Jefferson. Before the curtain of the government enforced news blackout again descended abruptly, scientists aboard the ship voiced their concerns that the widening rift may go down miles into the earth. That gash too is hemorrhaging oil and methane. It’s 10 miles away from the BP epicenter. Other, new fissures, have been spotted as far as 30 miles distant. (...) Methane levels in the water are now calculated as being almost one million times higher than normal. If the methane bubble—a bubble that could be as big as 20 miles wide—erupts with titanic force from the seabed into the Gulf, every ship, drilling rig and structure within the region of the bubble will immediately sink. All the workers, engineers, Coast Guard personnel and marine biologists participating in the salvage operation will die instantly. Next, the ocean bottom will collapse, instantaneously displacing up to a trillion cubic feet of water or more and creating a towering supersonic tsunami annihilating everything along the coast and well inland. Like a thermonuclear blast, a high pressure atmospheric wave could precede the tidal wave flattening everything in its path before the water arrives. When the roaring tsunami does arrive it will scrub away all that is left.

"Cor, 'at's better out than in, innit?" (British expression celebrating flatulence)
David Seaton's News Links
All I can say is that the world better end soon or I am going to become a total skeptic.

I mean, I believed in the great Swine Flu epidemic and spent most of last winter frantically washing my hands and sneezing into my elbow while I waited for the economy to collapse and the euro to disappear, but the idea of the world ending in a huge, cosmic fart off New Orleans really takes the cake.

Where does this appetite for immanent catastrophe come from?

I live among some of the world's most skeptical people, the Spanish, and they have a saying when somebody comes up with a story like the one above, "ya será menos", which translates more or less as, "by now it's probably less". Most Spanish people believed that the whole swine flu thing was a conspiracy of Donald Rumsfeld's to sell Tamiflu, while I was washing my hand twenty times a day... "ya será menos" they said and it turns out they were probably right.

Being American, I naturally love this catastrophe stuff and lap it up, but this methane-end of civilization story is really jumping the shark and if the Gulf of Mexico doesn't crack a rat, and soon, my reactions to such future chickenlittleishness will be... Ya será menos. DS

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Er, uh... it seems the world is coming to an end... whatever.

We are witnessing (how) a peak in a parabolic finance/asset/stock bubble of world proportions, is going to pan out. I think the entire credit crisis can be looked at from that perspective. We are merely witnessing the relentless unwinding of the biggest financial bubble in history. And, ominously, this particular bubble has grown from the end of WW2 to the present. That is one HUGE economic bubble, and this one envelops the entire world. This is not just a bubble in one country's economy. We are talking about the deleveraging of the greatest economic/finance bubble in history. Once the level of leverage reached 60 to 1, it becomes impossible to stay ahead of the deleveraging, even for central banks. The implications are staggering. Every major economy in the world is involved. The outcomes of deleveraging this monster bubble, represented by the green oval, will be what I term Credit Crisis II. At 60 to 1 leverage, a loss of 1 to 2% wipes out the capital. Christopher Laird
David Seaton's News Links
These days the zeitgeist is rich with "end of the world" scenarios. The one I have quoted above is one of the milder ones: in it the waters are not going to rise or oil peak, in it sentient life on our planet is not directly threatened, we simply have to "deleverage", that is to say, pay back all the money we owe... all of us... simultaneously.

If I understand even a tiny bit of its implications, it would seem that most, if not all, of the wealth of our world is fictitious and that right now we are, every man jack of us, everywhere in the world, more or less in the position of a holder of Confederate currency and bonds on the eve of Appomattox.

Here is another quote from "gold bug", Mr. Laird:
Cross linkages reveal that it is virtually impossible, even with bailouts, to purge the ever growing $500 billion and counting losses of capital from the banking/financial system. The latest numbers being speculated on are the losses will be over $1 trillion (IMF) and $2 trillion or more (Roubini).

Now, maybe $2 trillion doesn't sound like a lot compared to the entire world economy. The trouble is, that capital is leveraged anywhere from 10 to 50 times by the financial system. Fannie and Freddie have 60 to 1 leverage.

Losing $2 trillion of capital will totally wipe out the entire world financial system for a decade because of the leverage at 60 to 1. Basically, unless those losses can be purged in some way, it has to be earned back over a period of years/decades. That essentially cripples the entire world financial system.
If all this is so and it plays out as Laird prophesies, it will mean levels of universal, simultaneous social unrest such as has never been seen in all history and will require massive government intervention and the nationalization of practically everything to keep people eating and maintain the basic infrastructure of civilized life... socialism, you might call it.. the question will be, if it is going to be coordinated internationally by the G-20, the EU, IMF and the WTO or will it be "national socialism", with all the baggage those two words carry. Whatever the remedies employed, we would be looking at a situation every bit as game changing, more so probably, than the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Raptured or ruptured?

Experience tells us that it probably wont be as bad as Laird paints, although experience is an all too faulty guide to totally new situations.

But, until the sky finally falls, the sheer proliferation of "Chicken Little" wannabes like Christopher Laird seems significant in itself... The ice is melting, the cows are farting, the oil is peaking, Jesus is in the green room, Obama is a communist, take your pick.

Me, while waiting for civilization to collapse, for the trumpets to sound, I think I'm going to chill out with a Spanish summer classic called "tinto de verano", which is basically one to one chilled red wine with iced Seven-Up.

Very nice stuff on a sweltering summer night, taken in good company, watching the world go by, sitting in a sidewalk cafe. DS

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

War in the Middle East: from Yellow to Red Alert

War drums are beating in the Middle East. In a short time, the United States has increased the number of its carrier strike groups opposite Iran to three, and reports are raining down of a tightening ring of American and Israeli concentrations all around the Islamic Republic. On the diplomatic front, the Israelis are unusually concerned about their international image (for example, making concessions in Gaza) while their top officials - including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself - are shuttling between Jerusalem and Washington. Victor Kotsev - Asia Times

I ask myself: what are Israeli warships doing for the first time in the waters of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and Iran’s maritime areas? Fidel Castro - Granma

The temptation for President Obama to double down on Iran will grow rapidly as he concludes that Afghanistan will remain a festering sore as far as anyone can peer into a murky future, hardly a recipe for success at the polls in November. With a war in Afghanistan, which is bound to get worse, and a military theater in Iraq replete with sectarian violence, the bombing of Iran may give Mr. Obama a three-front war - and a chance to retain both houses of Congress.  Arnaud De Borchgrave - Washington Times
David Seaton's News Links
In fighting summer forest fires there is a critical point, which might be expressed as (+35º -30% +35Kph): If the temperature is over 35 degrees Celsius, the humidity is less than 30% and  the wind is blowing harder than 35 kilometers per hour, a major forest fire could and probably will break out at any moment.

When you have the optimum conditions in a long, hot, dry, summer, one windy day, a piece of broken glass in the sunlight, a cigarette, a field mouse chewing through a wire or an arsonist trying to buy charred land cheaply: in an instant, anything can set off a fire that consumes thousands of acres and many lives.

This might be an apt metaphor for the situation in the Middle East right now.

If you are following the news, you can see that the tinder is dry and there are potential sparks aplenty: Iran, flotillas, settlers, Gaza, Hamas, Hezbollah and the alembic of Israel's coalition politics. Nothing new there, but for the "red alert" there also has to be a high wind.

What is the equivalent of the "high wind" in today's Middle East?

To my mind there are two factors that make me fear that a war in the Middle East could be imminent.

The first is simply meteorological. In the summer there are less clouds in the sky than in the autumn and air strikes are easier to carry out.

The second is that both Democrats and Republicans would like to win the midterm elections in November and neither one of them would want to do or say anything to offend the powerful Israel lobby at a time like this.

That means that a rather attractive window is open at this moment for Israel to attack Iran.

The question remains, is the USA going to attack Iran simultaneously or are all those US carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf just to keep watch on the Israelis?

Of course, even when all the elements are there, the low humidity, the hot weather and  the wind, forest fires are not inevitable... but at that moment you are mostly dependent on luck. Such, I fear, is the case today in the Middle East. DS

Monday, July 12, 2010

World Cup Final: Spanish victory, Dutch self-betrayal

"I'm all for teams going into matches with a gameplan, but I just don't think there is any place in football for the way the Netherlands approached this match. They kicked the opposition up and down the pitch for 120 minutes - but in the end, Andres Iniesta ensured World Cup glory went the right way, to Spain." Alan Hansen - BBC Sport
David Seaton's News Links
Rinus Michels, the man who "invented" Dutch football, the man who created "The Clockwork Orange", must be turning over in his grave,while watching the Dutch selection lose yet another World Cup final after playing some of the ugliest, most mean-spirited, thuggish, anti-football in living memory.

Finally the elegant football of Spain won out, a style based on intricate collective passing and possession: sublime, brilliant and beautiful, where sheer skill defeats brawn and size.

The irony is great, because the Spanish style is actually the maximum expression of the classic Dutch style, created by Michels in Ajax Amsterdam in the 1970s and developed by him in Barcelona with Johann Cruyff as a player and continued by Cruyff later as Barça's coach, later perfected by Cruyff's disciple Pep Guardiola. This is the same style that Louis Van Gaal (also ex-Ajax, ex-Barcelona) is also introducing successfully in Bayern Munich and which is the heart of the exciting new German national team.

"Total football", the original Rinus Michels concept, means everyone defends and everyone attacks in a constant flow... this is Barça's football and there are seven Barça players on the Spanish squad. What they do is dominate the entire field beginning with the center field. The only way to occasionally defeat it is like the USA did last summer in the Confederations Cup, like Switzerland did in the first round, like Paraguay nearly did in the second round and like Inter Milan did to Barça in this year's Champion's League and Holland tried to do on Sunday night: park a bus in front of the goal and pray you can score on a fast breaking counterattack. There is no other way.

This perfection was a long time coming. For a football obsessed nation, with some of the world's best club sides, a mysteriously long time.

Why it took so long for Spanish football to come up with a winning formula has an interesting story behind it.

Old Spanish republican loyalists returning from exile in the 70s gave me an interesting angle on this process.

In the 1920s and 30s, they told me, Spain played a similarly technically skillful and elegant football as they do today, but, as football is a working class sport, so naturally most of the best players and coaches of the time were men of the left, thus when the Civil War was lost, they were either dead, imprisoned, purged, or had emigrated. Those were the days without video so all their accumulated skills were lost to Spain. This was football's version of ethnic cleansing.

The fascist regime had very few qualified trainers and I was told that, for example, the technique of "putting English" or a curve effect on the ball in a free kick, had been completely lost. The fascists tried to supplement the lack of basic skills with something they called, "la furía española", somehow overwhelming the opposition with their hairy chested macho temperament... since Spanish people are generally some of the smallest in Europe, this tactic led to many disappointments.

Finally, in great part thanks to the Holland-Spain connection, Spain has rediscovered a style that fits their natural proclivities: elegant, incisive and rather tauntingly cruel, something perfect for players like Xavi and Iniesta, who Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times calls the "brilliant midgets", to defeat bigger, stronger and faster men... Bullfighting with the opposing team as the bull.

In present day Spain's cheerful implacability on the football pitch, you can see why the Tercios de Flandes had such a run back in their day... also at Dutch expense.

There is even ideology involved in all of this.

When American wing nuts accuse soccer of being "socialist", they may have a point, at least in referring to the Barça-Spain way of playing the game.

This way of playing football is not about stars, it is about supremely skilled individuals pooling their talents and playing "all for one and one for all", where that most socialist of formulas, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs", is rigorously applied: they all need and want the ball all the time. When they lose it, they all try to get it back and then when they get it back, they pass the thing around and around until they all get their share of it... the only problem is that  they refuse to share the ball with the other team.  Oh, well, like Joe E. Brown told Jack Lemmon, "nobody's perfect". DS

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tea Time: the sense behind the nonsense

No better proof of a dysfunctional -- and broke -- system of government than the U.S. Congress passing additional funding for the Afghan war -- $300 billion thus far -- while simultaneously denying the unemployed an extension of benefits -- and then taking a 10-day Independence Day vacation. Arnaud de Borchegrave

It is irrefutably clear to us that if we do not make substantial cuts in the projected levels of Pentagon spending, we will do substantial damage to our economy and dramatically reduce our quality of life.  US Reps Ron Paul and Barney Frank

"Today it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism" Slavoj Zizek

David Seaton's News Links
At the end of the Second World War the United States was the only industrialized country that had not been bombed into rubble. As they rebuilt and reequipped themselves, the world's demand for all the goods that America could produce was infinite. That simple fact is at the heart of America's phenomenal post-war affluence: the good jobs with high pay and all that came with it. The story of America's perceived decline is no more than the story of the rest of the world's development. This is not difficult to understand, it is pure logic.

Logic is not a painkiller.

People are in pain, their self-image and self-esteem are being shredded at an accelerating rate in this crisis.

A system that was considered almost maternally friendly has been seen to have become predatory, hostile... eating its young. The effect is that of being caught up in a natural disaster: fear, panic, malaise, anger, paranoia are the reigning emotions. To address them in an aseptic technocratic manner is politically tone deaf.

People are suffering right now and their emotions are right at the surface, on the boil. They must be expressed. Only the Tea Party expresses them, they have the field to themselves

Since because of the Cold War, left-wing populism, with its echoes of "class warfare", has been extirpated from the USA, the only populism remaining is right-wing populism... So that is what we have right now. People who once would have supported Huey Long, now support Ron Paul or Rush Limbaugh. The important thing is express the hurt and anger.

Many commentators dismiss the Tea Party movement's disparate mixture of people that runs from socially tolerant libertarians to Christian "right to lifers" as not making much sense. They miss the point totally.

Not making any sense is part of their attraction.

Movements of this type don't have to make sense, in fact they often work better if they don't make sense. Wonkish, technocratic logic short circuits the emotions and gives them no outlet; it is totally inadequate in the face of the situation, in the same way as an forensic surgeon's autopsy findings would not be read at a funeral instead of a preacher's eulogy of the dear departed.

"No-drama Obama" is exactly the wrong tactic to take.

It was the emotions that he stirred that carried him into the White House and strangely enough this power to move people seems to have deserted him as soon as he achieved his goal... like a curse out of a fairy tale.

This loss of the power to move people seems to have left him naked and unprotected facing the obviously race-driven hostility of the right.

You have to ask yourself why a centrist president, seemingly beholden and in thrall to every sort of corporate lobby and special interest is being called a "socialist"?

This makes no sense, why is Barack Obama being called a "socialist" of all things?

Because, although the word "socialist" is an insult in much of America, it is considered much more politically correct and acceptable than the "N" word.

That simple.

America is the land of the euphemism, where "enhanced interrogation techniques" stands for "torture" and "collateral damage" stands for dead women and children spread over a foreign landscape.

When Foxy Tea Partiers say, "I want my country back", what they mean in sanitized, Amspeak is "get that c**n out of the White House!". For these people to have an African-American in the White House is the final stake through the heart of their tattered self-image. There is no way that president Obama could ever please them except by applying for the position of White House butler. Trying to triangulate this emotional stew, to find some mythical center for himself is a fool's errand. That center might exist for a white president like Bill Clinton right now, but it  certainly doesn't exist for a black man named Barack Hussein Obama.  He must give his base as much emotional food as his mere existence gives his enemies or his presidential charisma will disappear like Cinderella's horse and carriage.

Obama might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

Just as the mere sight of his his face charges up the right:  it is foolish of him to cool off his supporters with flat technocracy. He must strive to give them what they thought they would get when they voted for him.

They could forgive him failing in the effort and still love him, but they will never forgive him not making the effort.

During World War One, a French general was accused of taking his army "to the Rubicon".... and instead of crossing the Rubicon, of simply passing out fishing poles and inviting his soldiers to fish.

Like the French general in the story above, Obama has arrived at the banks of the Rubicon and instead of crossing it has invited his base to sit down and fish. DS

Sunday, July 04, 2010

My memories of the Fourth of July

David Seaton's News Links
Fourth of July, like Christmas, is something that connects a lot of us directly with our childhood.

Most of my Fourth of July memories center around summers spent in the little village in west-central Illinois where my maternal grandmother was born and raised.  A village where my Glaswegian great-great grandfather's gravestone is the only one in the older part of the graveyard that he didn't carve himself... He was a marble carver who spent his life carving angels, tiny lambs and fancy mausoleums, he built the family's red brick house with his own hands in the 1840s.

The village sits between the Illinois river and the Mississippi, a little over a half hour's leisurely drive from the hometown of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Samuel Clemens: Hannibal Missouri.  When I look back on that part of my childhood I feel like a refugee from Walt Disney's "So Dear To My Heart"... which perhaps I am. I've been away a long time, but as they used to say, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy.

And at the center of those Fourth of July memories is the county fair: the pie baking contests, the 4-H stock judging, where proud, water-combed, farm kids competed for best of show with the animals they had raised that year and then at night, when it got a bit cooler, the harness racing. The delicate arrogance and the mincing strut of the trotting horses pulling the whizzing sulkies and the subtle strategies  of the drivers in their luminous silks, played out under the moth besieged lights of the fairground race track.

On the last night of the fair, the grand finale was always (at least forever in my memory) "Jack Kochman's Hell Drivers": Jack and his drivers roaring stock cars down the track onto a ramp and then jumping a long line of cars or deliberately crashing them and the suspense of waiting for the driver to climb out of the wreck unhurt and wave to the cheering crowd. And then, after the dust settled and the lights lowered... bam, whooooooooooo, pop, pop, BOOM, pop, pop, bappitybappitybap... whoooooooooooo, BOOM... sizzle.

The fireworks.

From the melting ice cream on your sticky little fingers late on a sweltering summer night, to the "bombs bursting in air", the "Fourth" is something that overwhelms you with its sense of occasion even before you learn how to talk. These pre-verbal memories are the secret door to self-knowledge. And every year they roll around to remind you of how much time has passed. DS