22 08 2011

The sacrifices of the last six months are finally coming to fruition for the anti-government forces in Libya. Using a fairly clever maneuver, the rebels surged into Tripoli from the sea and the west, and joined with their fellow anti-government fighters already within the city. Savage fighting ensued as the poorly-disciplined rebels closed with the better trained and better equipped government forces in Tripoli. Many of Qaddafi’s troops have either surrendered or merely slipped away into the city, but the “Brother Leader” still has a significant cadre of troops armed with heavy weapons throughout the city, and combat in urban areas is the most unpredictable and bloody form an already-unpredictable and bloody enterprise can take.

The National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi have been cautioning their people that the war is not yet over, and the NTC leadership seems to be aware of the fact that digging Qaddafi out of his fortresses in Tripoli will most likely be a matter of weeks, but the people in the NTC-held regions are rejoicing anyway. After a long series of lightning attacks followed by undignified routs, the people of Libya are eager to get down to the business of re-building their country- which will probably be much harder than wresting it away from their despot has been.

Amid all the celebrations- in Libya and elsewhere- a truly ugly dialogue has sprung up in the US. Instead of celebrating the courage, dedication, and sacrifices by the people of Libya, a large number of people in this country have been jockeying for position to take “credit” for a victory which does not yet exist. This shameful activity can be easily found on the bread-and-circuses crap which pretends to be the mainstream media in the US, but is most evident in online forums and chat rooms. People from both sides of the American political divide are eagerly claiming this not-yet-existent victory for their favorite political party. To all of these arrogant shitbags, I have only one thing to say:


The people of Libya have stood up to be counted and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to overthrow a tyrant. Far too many Libyans have died in their attempt to make Libya free, and many more will doubtless make the ultimate sacrifice before they achieve this noble goal. At the start of the uprising, those who demonstrated against Qaddafi literally risked their lives to speak out, but they did so anyway- by the thousands. Even Qaddafi turning anti-aircraft guns on the protesters in the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli didn’t stop the people of Libya from speaking out against him. The sort of courage and dedication the people of Libya demonstrated in the face of torture and death deserves better than a bunch of lard-assed Americans claiming that the “victory” was the result of any particular political philosophy on another continent. While Libyans were dying in the streets, Americans were getting distracted by such ephemera as the football strike/lockout. Unless you travelled to Libya and put your one-and-only tender skin in harms’ way, all of you democratic and republican partisan hacks need to shut the fuck up.

Not quite as loathsome, but still repellent, are the talking heads on some “news” channels whose only interest in the Libyan uprising are what it will do to the price of oil. Here’s a clue chit for those creatures- what is happening in Libya is more important than oil. It’s more important than the state of the Dow. It’s more important than any quarterly earnings statement ever written. The Libyan uprising is a truly popular rebellion against a ruthless dictator, just as were the earlier uprisings against Arab strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. The political repercussions of this “Arab Spring” are already being felt throughout the lands of Islam, where other rulers are growing worried about their previously-quiescent people. Despots like Assad in Syria, the ruthless Imams in Tehran, and the House of Saud are finally forced to face up to the fact that keeping their people poor and ignorant no longer works in an era where any teenager with a smart phone can outwit government censors with impunity.

There are those in the US and Europe who are wary of this “Arab Spring”, fearful that the newly self-liberated lands will become havens for Islamic extremism. Too fucking bad. The people in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya have chosen to write their own futures, and this is as it should be. Their countries. Their rules. Their decisions. In lieu of poking our noses into the internal affairs of other nations, why can’t we- as a culture- just try to deal with each country on its own terms? If the people of Tunisia want to elect an Islamist government, that is their choice. If the NTC in Libya abruptly decides they don’t want to sell oil to kaffir anymore, too bad. It’s their oil. If the Yemenis decide to grow closer with China or Iran, that’s their business. If we in the west want to do business with the new governments across North Africa and the Middle East, we need to accept that we must do so on their terms. Trying to manipulate or dictate policy to these new nations will be merely repeating the mistakes of the past. Let’s try learning from those mistakes.

For a change.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Time of Your Life by Green Day

End of the Beginning

15 08 2011

Sorry (again) for the long gap. I had a flat tire, my mother died, the cat was sick, I had to have emergency surgery, and I took a vow of silence.

Ok, maybe not. Would you believe my computer suddenly decided that it was a good day to die? A day or two after I wrote my last post, my formerly state-of-the-art six-year-old beep box achieved sentience and ran amok- assuming you substitute “frying the motherboard because the cooling fan on the video card gave up the ghost” for everything before this. After several attempts to replace various components to resurrect the computer failed expensively, I tossed the bloody thing and bought a new desktop. I generally dislike purchasing systems from big-box stores, but a cow-orker clued me in on a sweet system at the local Worst Purchase. To make a short story long, I got a system enormously better in every way than my old one for about $150 less, and all I had to do was take it home and plug it in.

Sadly, the antiquated wireless router I’d been using without trouble with the old box was not compatible with the new operating system, which fact I only discovered after wasting considerable time speaking with profoundly unhelpful tech support people in Bangladesh. At my wits end, I dug through the operating system and found a couple of clues which led to to  yet another evening trip to Least Vend for a router from this decade. After loading the appropriate files from the various storage media to which they’d fortunately been transferred before the old computer became an ex-computer, I have finally returned to the etherwebs.

Thrilling tale, eh?

On to more substantial things. Remember Libya? Largish country in north Africa, known for its malevolent despots, a metric butt-load of interesting ancient history, and something else … oh, yeah! A particularly uncivil war.

Most of the US appears to have lost interest, since more “important” news have long since eclipsed the matter from the headlines. Oh, there will be the odd mention in an off-hand, afterthought sort of way on one or two media outlets once a week or so, but such things as missing white girls, redneck stripper fugitives, and the nefarious antics of our political class are apparently much more important to the average American.

The rebels have managed to get recognized as the legitimate government of Libya by a significant number of countries (the US among ’em) while continuing to demonstrate a profound unwillingness to learn from their military mistakes. Mind you, this recognition is a major advance diplomatically, but it has very little effect where it matters most- on the ground in Libya. In this area, Ghaddafi is still managing to stay on top … for a given value of “on top”. Despite the Brother Leader’s monopoly on trained military personnel with more-or-less modern equipment, he has been unable to use this enormous asset to his advantage because anything that looks even remotely like heavy military equipment keeps getting smithereened by modern aircraft operated by professional military personnel. In my opinion, about the only thing keeping the rebels from giving the entire Ghaddafi family the Benny the Moose treatment is the rebels themselves.

Even after several months of learning the hard way that enthusiasm and a Kalashnikov aren’t enough to successfully tangle with well-trained and equipped troops, the Libyan rebels keep repeating the same mistakes. They’ll make a series of advances against government forces and capture/liberate towns, villages, and other strategic points with little strategic planning beyond, “We’re going to Tripoli“. Ghaddafi’s troops give the rebels attackers a bloody nose and fall back to prepared positions. When the brave and enthusiastic rebel fighters charge bravely and enthusiastically after the retreating government forces, they get bravely and enthusiastically stalled out in the open by trained soldiers behind fortifications, and then they get bravely and enthusiastically shredded by artillery. The rebels haven’t yet managed to develop the unit discipline necessary to cope with these vanilla-simple tactics, so the survivors retreat. The government troops then re-take the ground they had just lost. Some of those strategic points have been captured and liberated a half-dozen times by both sides.

The tide may actually be turning, however. The rebels have recently started trying to operate strategically. In lieu of merely charging headlong at any government forces they happen to locate, rebel forces have begun taking (and holding) real estate of actual strategic value- cutting Ghaddafi off from key roads and oil-producing areas. Either someone on the rebel side has been paying attention, or some “advisory personnel” from one of the countries friendly to the rebels have been giving some rational advice which is actually being listened to.

Assuming the rebels can develop some discipline and retain control of strategic points for long enough, Uncle Muamar and his flunkies may be in for a short drop to the end of a rope. Presumably, his military leaders can see where this is heading. I wonder how long it will take for one or more senior military personnel among the government forces start negotiating with the rebels to be allowed to go into exile in exchange for Ghaddafi’s corpse.

It isn’t the beginning of the end, but it might be the end of the beginning. I hope so, anyway. It will probably take a couple of generations for Libya to recover from this revolution. If the rebels manage to get rid of their loonie Leader, their sacrifices so far might not have been in vain. There’s been entirely too much death and destruction already.

Current status: I have returned!

Current music: In a Big Country by Big Country

Blast From the Past

27 03 2011

“All this has happened before, and it will happen again.”

Since last I added anything to this blog, a massive amount of newsworthy stuff has happened. I’ll take them in order of importance (in my opinion).

Despite the fact that various celebrities have been doing their best to distract us, the US public has actually been paying attention to non-celebrity-related information. Granted, that non-celebrity-related information is pretty important stuff, but this has never before been an impediment to the feckless American public from quickly losing interest once some media-celebrated attention whore exposes a nipple, says something desperately stupid, or drives a car into a school bus full of nuns. It’s as if the general population in the US wasn’t composed entirely of thick-skulled sub-morons with the attention spans of drunken gnats. Who are these people, and what have they done with the easily-distracted masses of citizens we’ve all come to expect?

Next on the agenda is an agenda. Various state politicians seem to be bent on re-making the country in their image- one state at a time. This would be less of a problem if that image was not a dystopian wasteland filled with technopeasants and their corporate overlords. Worse, these politicians seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that they have the power to do so despite all evidence and case law to the contrary. Between the upper mid-west states trying to destroy public employee unions, the regularly-scheduled xenophobic legislation coming out of Arizona, and the nonsensical rulings of the Texas Commission To Replace All Book Larnin With The Bible, the overall results of the last big election cycle has been a non-stop churn of Willful Public Stupidity- with a side order of Political Hubris. Assuming the voting public can maintain their current level of attention to such important matters, the next election ought to be a doozy.

One of the situations which has maintained its odd grasp on the American attention span is Libya. While the world dithered about no-fly zones, the rebels in Libya were learning the age-old lesson of what happens when enthusiastic but unskilled mobs encounter trained killers with few morals but lots of good equipment. After getting almost to the outskirts of Tripoli, the undisciplined rebels started getting their collective asses handed to them by Gaddafi’s remaining cadre of troops plus the few thousand mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa the “Brother Leader” had managed to hire. In the space of a week, the rebels had gone from knocking on the gates of Tripoli to desperately trying to protect Benghazi. Literally in the nick of time, the French, British, and US cavalry arrived to save the day- sort of. The Libyan military has the same relationship to the modern militaries of the US, France, and Britain that the rebels had to the Libyan military. No contest. Without landing a single soldier (despite the presence of 1200 Marines off the coast), the international coalition enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya eviscerated Gaddafi’s armored units wherever they were spotted out in the open. This had the effect of breaking the siege of Benghazi- arguably a good thing, since Gaddafi had made very clear his intent to send his killers through the city house by house to eliminate the rebels. It also had the unintended effect of sending the surviving Libyan armor into the cities. Such is the case with Misurata, where Libyan tanks are indiscriminately shelling the city- slaughtering civilians while simultaneously using the proximity of civilians to protect them from air strikes.

Personally, I do not agree with the current UN decision (although I understand it). If the idea was to protect the civilian population, air power alone won’t be enough. Either go in with everything (politically untenable), or look the other way while Gaddafi slaughters the rebels and sows the smoking ruins with salt. The UN in particular and the world in general have a long history of choosing the latter. We collectively sat on our asses while innocents were butchered in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. While I’m on the subject, we’re doing exactly that in the case of Ivory Coast and Bahrain. Either shit or get off the pot. If the international community is going to use force to protect innocent lives, we need to do so across the board. That includes Chechnya, Iran, Ivory Coast, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and any other place where unrest threatens to destroy the lives of innocent civilians. If we (the international community) are willing to use military force against the sovereign government to protect Libyan civilians, then the same rules should apply to Britain, Russia, France, China, and the US as well.

Lastly, we look at Japan. The earthquake was bad enough- the worst in Japan’s history- but Japanese engineers have been building in anticipation of just such a calamity. The buildings and infrastructure adequately withstood the shaking. The tsunami was another matter. Nothing man-made was going to do much good in the face of a thirty-foot wall of water with enough water behind it to reach sixty miles (one hundred kilometers) inland. The catastrophic effects of the tsunami (upwards of ten thousand dead and hundreds of thousands displaced) have actually been overshadowed by another effect of the tsunami- the damage to the nuclear reactors at Fukushima.

Better authors have covered the “Nuclear Power for Dummies” and “Radiation Exposure for Dummies”, so I won;t belabor those topics. I will ask a cogent question: how is it that the enormous death toll of the tsunami has so completely been eclipsed by the fight to stave off a complete meltdown at Fukushima? Is it just because it involves (insert spooky voice) radiation? At worst, if Fukushima Daichi or Daini melt down, the area will be uninhabitable for a long time. It would probably completely transform Japanese culture and possibly cripple Japan as an industrial nation. That’s just economics. We are not facing the specter of huge numbers of dead people from a meltdown, and everything else can be dealt with. We are facing the reality of large numbers of actual people who are facing lack of food, water, and medical care because everything that could have dealt with those problems was destroyed by the tsunami. Not potential victims- actual real live people. Let’s do what we (the international community again) can to help those people so the Japanese government can focus on the fight at Fukushima.

Speaking of Fukushima, there are fifty or so people still at the plant, fighting to get power restored and keep the reactors cool. These people are firefighters, engineers, and middle managers, for the most part. Every last one of them volunteered for the job, despite the knowledge that they were risking their lives. It’s been a couple of weeks, and already several of them have fallen victim to high doses of radiation. The rest of them are still on site, desperately fighting to repair damage caused by a thirty-foot wall of water and the subsequent problems with the reactor systems. If you pray, add these men and women to your prayers. I do not pray, but I am awestruck by their heroism. The least we can do is make sure their sacrifice is not in vain.

Current status: Humbled

Current music: Waiting for the End by Linkin Park

The Shores of Tripoli

7 03 2011

A most un-civil war is going on in Libya. It hasn’t been getting a great deal of press here in the States, but the rest of the world is watching.

By the way, There are somewhere on the order of two hundred different ways to spell the name of the Libyan leader, and the man has been known to use at least three different variations of the spelling himself, so I’m not gonna get into it. I’ll use the spelling I got from Al Jazeera over the weekend and stick with that. Feel free to get outraged or annoyed by my choice.

After more than four decades, a lot of the people in Libya have finally had enough of the “Brother Leader”. Most of the eastern half of the country is in open revolt, and Qaddafi’s influence appears to be mainly limited to the area immediately around Tripoli and a few partisan strongholds such as his home town of Sirte. Here’s a map:

The map belies the real picture, of course. Libya only has about six million people, and two million of them live in Tripoli. Even with that advantage, he seems to have thoroughly botched the response to the initial demonstrations last month. In the face of peaceful protests, Qaddafi sent in armed goons who had no compunction about using live munitions against their own citizens. When some of his troops refused to fire on fellow Libyans, Qaddafi reportedly had several hundred of them executed by more “loyal” troops. When he started losing control of some of his military units, he resorted to hiring mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa. At the moment (subject to change on short notice), Qaddafi seems to have a large percentage of his core military units on his side, along with several thousand security personnel within Tripoli, an unknown number of mercenaries (many of whom seem to lack even basic military training), and the members of his home tribe, the Gaddadfa. This makes the numerical odds slightly in the rebels’ favor, offset significantly by the better training and equipment among the loyalist troops (units of which are commanded by his sons).

After managing to really piss off a significant percentage of his remaining populace, Ka-Daffy was somehow surprised when the peaceful protests turned to open revolt. The initial successes of the rebels may have been a surprise, but Qaddafi had only himself to blame. Aside from his monumentally thick-headed response to the initial protests, Qaddafi has been segregating and isolating his people for forty years to prevent any serious rivals from emerging. As an unintended consequence of his political maneuvering, the isolated segments of Libyan society finally managed to find common ground: They really hated Qaddafi’s guts, and were in no mood to accept the “Brother Leader’s” son as the new head of the government. The scattered tribes and fragmented social groups within Libya didn’t have much else to lose, either- especially after Qaddafi declared he would hunt them down house by house. Now, it’s win or die.

So far, there has been a lot of dying in Libya. Unconfirmed estimates of the death toll keep spiralling into the multiples of thousands, and Qaddafi’s remaining “loyal” military seem to be going out of their way to attack hospitals being used by the opposition. There have been documented cases of Libyan tanks firing on hospitals in rebel-held territory, and loyalist troops have been seen riding in commandeered ambulances, firing indiscriminately into crowds. Helicopter gunships and strike aircraft have also been employed against civilian populations, although these incidents are becoming less common. Qaddafi (or his advisors) might be getting leery of possible international intervention if he keeps bombing unarmed civilians, or they might just be conserving fuel and ammo in the face of arms embargoes and a huge lot of actual armed civilians to use for target practice.

A word about international intervention. A great deal of blather has been forthcoming from many quarters about the lack of a coherent international response to the de-facto civil war in Libya. Some of this blather has been coming from Libyans fighting Qaddafi, in a weird sort of mixed message Americans should be familiar with by now. The rebels are almost universally of the opinion that they do not want foreigners getting involved, followed almost immediately with plaintive queries as to why the international community is not getting involved. I heard an interview on NPR this afternoon with a man fighting Qaddafi who said firmly that Libyans did not want any foreign help, but that they would remember who did not help them. I’m pretty sure that is a textbook definition of “discontinuity of meaning”.

In reality, there is a lot the international community could do, but not a lot that the international community could do as a matter of practicality. Among the rich western nations who could waltz in a declare peace at gunpoint (and make it stick), there exists a fiction commonly referred to as “international law”. This fiction has no basis in objective reality except for the fact that those rich western nations believe it does. Confused? Don’t be.

As long as the North Americans and Europeans believe that international laws have some effect, then those international laws have an effect. That effect may be largely in preventing the Europeans and North Americans from getting mixed up in messes like Libya, but it is a real effect- whether or not other countries routinely violate those same rules when it suits them. You see, the Europeans and North Americans also violate the rules when it suits them, but they feel bad about it afterward. A lot of the populations in Europe and North America do try to make their governments at least pay lip service to international law, with varying degrees of success based upon national temperment and how bad off a given country is economically.

That brings us to a weird little episode in the Great Libyan Tragedy/Farce- the arrest and detention in Libya of six SAS troops and two junior diplomats from the UK over the weekend. I’ve never worked with the Special Air Service, but I’ve worked with some American special-forces types who have. The SAS has a well-deserved reputation for being tough, disciplined, and very, very dangerous. The only way any group of SAS troopies could get captured by Libyan security guards near Benghazi would be if the SAS were under orders not to resist. The fact that the Opposition party in Parliament has been trying to make political hay over the incident is not exactly playing fair. The Government can’t explain the actual facts in open debate, and the Loyal Opposition knows this, so they’re trying to parlay the incident into a general impression that the Government has dropped the ball in this particular foreign mess.

Speaking of foreign messes, what should the international community do about the civil war in Libya? Visibly aiding one side or the other is politically undesirable, because it sets a horrible precedent which may come back and bite the ass of the intervening country when they have internal problems. Sitting back and watching what happens, while the preferred method of statecraft throughout the last few centuries, has the disadvantage of having a ring-side seat for the odd genocide (see Rwanda and Darfur for recent examples). Furthermore, the Libyan rebels do not want a few thousand US Marines coming ashore to deal with Qaddafi for them. Even at the cost of several thousand dead young Libyans (who have next-to-no training and have been trying to overcome well-equipped regulars with enthusiasm, AK-47s, and- sometimes- sticks), I tend to agree. If Libya frees itself from Qaddafi, the Libyans deserve to do it on their terms. If they ask for help, I think we should give it to them, but I want the Libyans to win.

So, what do we do? My suggestion would be to fly in planeloads of medical supplies and ambulances to Benghazi. Those cannot possibly be construed as military aid- except by that loon Qaddafi, of course. To assuage Qaddafi fears that the aircraft are bringing in only medical supplies and ambulances, allow a Libyan government observer (strictly supervised by a squad of Marines) and someone from the International Red Cross/Crescent examine each aircraft before it lifts off. So long as only medical supplies and ambulances are being delivered, there’s no harm in this program. If Qaddafi or his flunkies don’t agree or don’t like it, warn them very thoroughly that any attempt to interfere with the delivery of humanitarian aid will result in a large-scale repeat of the US bombing of Libya in 1986. In fact, every time a plane with Libyan markings comes within three hundred kilometers of one of the aid flights, NATO should destroy a few Libyan aircraft on general principles. After a couple of iterations of this program, Qaddafi will either stop or run out of aircraft.

On the ground, in the meantime, it’s turning into a meatgrinder. Qaddafi’s troops have better training and equipment, and a lot more of it. This is bad for the rebels. Unfortunately for Qaddafi, he can’t unleash all of that military might on the rebels, because a large portion of those forces are busy keeping the lid on in Tripoli and other areas controlled by the government. Pull those troops out of Tripoli to smash the rebels in Ras Lanuf, for example, and the populace in Tripoli might overwhelm the security forces left behind. All told, dear old Muamar is in a tough spot. I think that’s a good thing.


Current status: Interested

Current music: This Is Why We Fight by the Decemberists

In The Company Of Heroes

16 02 2011

I realize the American fetish for quickly moving on to the Next Big Spectacle has largely washed the events of the last few weeks out of our collective memories, but there are some heroes of the revolution in Egypt who have gone largely unsung (in the US media, at least).

Let us cast our minds back to January 30th. The protests were still ramping up in intensity, and the Egyptian Army had already moved into Cairo and surrounded Tahrir Square. Despite the efforts of Mubarak’s goon squads, the protesters had refrained from erupting into mass violence. During those tense hours when security forces in disguise were attacking the protesters with rocks, molotov cocktails, and occasional sniper fire, Mubarak ordered the Army to open fire on the protesters.

I have mentioned before that the Egyptian Army is largely composed of conscripts, and also that the Army is widely seen as a way out of the poverty which is the normal lot of most Egyptians. Due in part to the close working relationship with the US military, Egypt’s military is considered to be a generally professional force- even by western standards. The Egyptian military is very highly regarded by most of the citizens. When the Army first arrived at the Square, the protesters welcomed them warmly with cheers and patriotic songs, and the soldiers were visibly sympathetic to the protesters.

When the order came, some of the soldiers dropped their rifles and joined the protesters. The others looked to their officers and unit leaders for guidance. The unit leaders and tank commanders- generally the sons and grandsons of former soldiers- pulled out their cell phones and called their ex-military parents and grandparents and asked, “What should I do?” Unknown to most of the world at the time, History held its breath. Would Tahrir Square become another Tiananmen?

From the earlier generations of Egyptian soldiers came the reply. You should not fire upon your fellow Egyptians. Disobey this order. As we now know, the Army listened, and chose to refuse to massacre their countrymen.

There are those who, from the comfort and safety of their homes in the US, claim that the military refused the order out of concern for their extensive commercial interests within Egypt’s economy. Egypt’s military does have wide-ranging commercial enterprises throughout the economy, and this may have been a factor in the larger decision on whether or not to open fire on their own people. This does not take away from the very real and very personal risks those men took by telling their President, “Sir! No sir!” Disobeying such an order took enormous amounts of courage, for President Mubarak would have dealt very harshly with the Army had he retained his position. The Army leadership decided that the President had issued an illegal order, and they would refuse to carry it out. Under similar conditions in China and Iran, the troops turned on their own citizens. To their everlasting credit, the Egyptian military proved that they really are a professional force and refused to emulate the butchers of Tehran and Beijing.

Despite my philosophical distrust of military rule, Egypt’s military has shown that they are the guarantors of liberty for their countrymen. Perhaps the military will come to be a stabilizing force such as the Turkish military, or they may turn into another military government such as Myanmar (Burma). What the future may bring is always in doubt, but there are some unshakable truths which offer some hope that the future may not necessarily be too terrible: The people of Egypt are better off today than they were on January 25th, and the soldiers of Egypt’s Third Army proved to be far, far better men than their recently-deposed President.

Current status: Hopeful

Current music: Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

Chickens, Home to Roost

3 02 2011

Looks like the Revolution will be televised this time- despite the efforts of Egyptian police and security forces, who are doing their best to muzzle anything resembling a free press both inside and outside of Egypt. Journalists and reporters have been beaten and arrested whenever they are found.

Even in the face of this media crackdown, Al Jazeera has been doing excellent reporting from inside Egypt- especially from the chaos in and around Tahrir Square in Cairo. MSNBC has been carrying excellent video from Cairo and Alexandria, and Reuters and the BBC have been doing yeoman’s work getting the word out to the rest of the world in defiance of Mubarak’s attempts to shut down anything even loosely related to the truth.

For those who have been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks, the people of Egypt, inspired by the so-far-successful revolt in Tunisia, have been protesting against Egypt’s de-facto President-For-Life, Hosni Mubarak. After more than a week of ever-larger protests throughout the country, Mubarak went on Egyptian TV and vowed to not run for re-election in the upcoming September elections, and asked the protesters to stop protesting. The protesters thought about it for about 30 seconds and decided that wasn’t good enough. They want Mubarak out immediately, if not sooner.

Mubarak is now in a tough spot. If he orders the Army to crush the protests, there’s a very real chance they’ll tell him to pound sand. So far, the Army has shown a lot of sympathy for the protesters, and the protesters share the average Egyptian’s reverence for their professional military. Worse still, most of the Egyptian military officers have deep ties to the US military. Many of their officers are graduates from US military academies, for example, and US troops routinely practice desert warfare with Egyptian troops in Egypt. Furthermore, most of Egypt’s military budget is based on the more than one billion dollar military aid provided by the US, and Congress has been not-so-silently warning Mubarak that using equipment purchased with US money against the protesters will cut off the money tap.

What to do? What to do? Mubarak took a lesson from the Green Revolution in Iran and brought in a bunch of thugs to attack the protesters. Mobs of supposedly pro-Mubarak protesters gathered in Cairo and assaulted the anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. Unfortunately for Mubarak, he didn’t have enough secret police to dress in civilian clothes and send into the streets on his behalf, so he was forced to hire a bunch of regular Egyptians to augment the disguised police. Several hundred “Mubarak supporters” piled into Tahrir Square with whips, clubs, fists, and Molotov cocktails … and found themselves facing several thousand very angry anti-Mubarak protesters.

Oddly enough, when the anti-government protesters captured some of these “Mubarak supporters”, they found Police ID cards on them. Despite the violence, the anti-government protesters refrained from tearing the now-revealed police limb from limb and just turned them over to the Army around the Square. The Army, for its part, did try to keep the two groups separated, but were sort of hampered by their desire to avoid taking sides. The troops around the Square did act forcefully whenever one of the “Mubarak supporters” started using firearms, but not quickly enough to prevent a half-dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries among the anti-government protesters.

The protesters improvised barricades and shields and weapons from what they had on hand, and drove the “Mubarak supporters” out of the Square. Injured protesters were carried to improvised aid stations and clinics set up inside the Square and in some of the buildings nearby. Doctors from the area joined in helping patch up the wounded, and protesters have been amassing medical supplies, food, water, and shelters to keep up the fight.

Mubarak really stepped on his dick with this move. All this little stunt has done was harden the protesters’ attitudes toward the regime. The deaths and violence have demonstrated to the whole world that Mubarak has no intention of giving up his rule, and he’s willing to spill the blood of his own people to stay in power against their will.

I have already stated my dislike for the US government’s habit of cozying up to ruthless murderers and despots in the interests of “stability” or in support of international political interests (however defined). Let me amplify that opinion a bit: The US government should pull its collective head out of its ass and call for Mubarak to resign. Immediately. The US government and military should apply pressure on the Egyptian military to force Mubarak out of the country and hold immediate elections. I submit that allowing the people of Egypt choose their own destinies is better than continuing to support a brutal dictator. If the Egyptians vote in a bunch of radical Islamists to run their country, that is their fucking business, and interfering in their right to choose their own government is absolutely in violation of the principles this country supposedly supports. Half-hearted calls for both sides to play nice aren’t going to cut it. If America really stands for liberty and self-determination, then we need to let Egypt choose its own destiny- whether or not we agree with their choice.

Here are some excellent sources of information and opinion on the situation in Egypt:

Pictures of the clashes in Tahrir Square

An article from the Washington Post

Excellent article from the Guardian UK

Democracy in the Arab World from the Economist

Mubarak holds Egypt hostage from Foreign

Remember the Green Revolution in Iran from a while back? I mentioned it above, and said that Mubarak seemed to be trying to copy Iran’s moves in dealing with the crisis. Here is what the protesters have to look forward to if they lose: while the rest of the world has been fixated on Egypt, Iran has been quietly executing scores of people who were arrested during the unrest after the elections. Mubarak has already demonstrated his willingness to shed other peoples’ blood to keep Egypt in his grip. If he succeeds in crushing the protesters, the survivors will likely envy the dead. If for no other reason, that is why Mubarak must not be allowed to remain in power.

So, what can we, the People, do about it? Write and email and call your Congresscritters. Now is not the time for stupid partisan hackery. Now is the time for the US to speak out in favor of the right to self-determination. Tell your Representatives and Senators and the White House to cease their bickering long enough to take care of something really important: the possible birth in blood and fire of a new Egypt.


Current status: Hopeful

Current music: Cold Wind to Valhalla by Jethro Tull

Blood and Ballots

30 01 2011


I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the news out of North Africa the past couple of weeks. Tunisians deposed their government using largely massive street protests. The despot ruling the country, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, chose to take the money and run in lieu of using the Tunisian military to crush the protests. Best of all, getting rid of the President-for-Life did not involve foreign invasion- especially by the US.

The US government has been extremely cozy with Tunisia’s dictator for a long time, providing him with international legitimacy in exchange for Tunisia’s strategic position. As a result, the US government was pretty slow to catch on to the fact that Abidine ben Ali was on his last legs, politically. Once this fact became glaringly obvious to everyone on the planet, the Administration was slow to react, and still haven’t come up with a policy for the new reality on the ground in Tunisia.

That brings me to Egypt. The US has been providing Egypt’s President-for-Life, Hosni Mubarak, international legitimacy and billions of dollars in military and economic aid for the last thirty years. In a stereotypical Arab strongman manner, Mubarak completely failed to use this loot to improve the lot of the average Egyptian. Instead, he built up his military and security forces, and made sure a lot of that money went into his pockets and trickled down to a few of his cronies. There’s an old joke that applies, here:

“Mr. President, I’ve noticed that you’re spending billions on the Army, but nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor.”

“This is so. When the Revolution comes, I want to be ready.”

Based on the scenes from the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, Mubarak lost his bet. Most of Egypt’s troops are conscripts drawn from the very people Mubarak’s government would have them put down. Far too many of them have been seen joining the protesters. Worse (from Mubarak’s point of view), the US government has loudly warned Egypt to avoid using a military bought and paid for by the United States against those protesters.

Other than that, the US government has been characteristically slow to respond to the protests, even as the rest of the world watched in awe. The American response to a (literally) world-changing event can be reduced to the following: “Play nice.” High-order platitudes and vague calls for restraint aren’t going to cut it. US Middle-East policy is being changed on the streets of Egypt by ordinary Egyptians- both the military and the protesters.

Let us take a look at those protesters. Middle-class Egyptians are joining beggars, students, and off-duty military personnel in protesting against Mubarak’s rule. There have been well-documented cases of protesters providing first aid to the security forces who have been injured, and they also joined together to protect the National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo from looters until the Army could arrive to provide security. For those who weren’t following the news from Egypt until the protests started, a large number of Muslim Egyptians did the same thing for Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority when the Copts were attacked by radicals. Muslims formed human chains to protect the Copts from violence in a show of rationalism and tolerance rarely seen anywhere, let alone in what the US refers to as the Middle East. When interviewed by western media outlets, most of those protecting their Coptic neighbors said some variation of the same ideal: “We are all Egyptians. They are our brothers.”

There are a large number of people in this country who could learn from those Egyptian Muslims.

Leaving aside geopolitical strategy (which the US government is historically incapable of managing adeptly in any case), we should be siding with the protesters. Those people marching in the streets of Egypt’s cities want nothing more or less than something we Americans take for granted: a say in running their own country. Mubarak and his cronies have grown rich and completely disconnected from the realities of life in Egypt, and the US government has encouraged him to do so. I, for one, am very tired of my government propping up dictators, despots, and presidents-for-life in the name of global strategy. The people of Egypt deserve the chance to make their own future- whether or not that future meets the approval of the US government.

I say we- as a nation- would be better served by dealing with the people who protected their christian countrymen from violent fellow Muslims than with a self-serving thug who enriches himself at the expense of his people and his country.

Current status: Amazed

Current music: I Write Sins, Not Tragedies by Panic! At the Disco


31 12 2010

We are quickly drawing to the end of yet another dreary orbit around our home star (unless you’re reading this in the UK, in which case it’s already happened), so I will post some random odds and ends in lieu of the stereotypical “End of the Year List” you will find at many other sites.


Bad Astronomer asked his readers to tweet him what made them become a skeptic. He got roughly 500 responses, most of which seemed to indicate that skeptical behavior was the result of a sudden inspiration. He collated them and posted the results on his blog, and they make informative reading.

My path to skepticism was a bit more gradual. Neither of my parents were religious, and my father was particularly intolerant of bullshit in any form. This gave me little impetus to fall into any given belief system. I also read heavily as a child, and my choice of reading material gave me even more reason to question everything. Heinlein, in particular, helped me develop a healthy lack of belief in anything without supporting evidence.

I suppose this upbringing makes me one of the lucky ones. I never had to weather the emotional and mental torment of casting aside long-held beliefs, because I never really believed in any of that crap anyway. I have no objection to anyone following whatever path they choose- provided they do not try to force me to live in accordance with their beliefs.


The Barefoot Bum is one of the blogs I read regularly. Despite the fact that he and I agree on very little, I enjoy reading the output of intelligent minds such as his.

One particular point on which we disagree is communism. He is an avowed communist, and I am more of a rational anarchist (to steal a term from Heinlein).  I am not particularly wedded to capitalism, but I tend to believe a capitalist system of some sort allows greater freedom for individuals than communism. Under communism, the individual is subservient to the society as a whole. I don’t like the idea of  being a servant to anyone.

Recent articles have dealt with the need to overthrow the capitalist system in order for a communist system to be put in place. Since people are unlikely to spontaneously evolve a culture which would allow the peaceful transition from one to the other, Barefoot Bum postulates a revolution to make it happen. To his credit, he makes some very cogent observations about the necessity for the actual revolutionaries to avoid being part of the new ruling party, and points out the very real hazards of any revolution. Even more to his credit, he acknowledges that any such revolution would be made by a small fraction of the population, and may therefore merely repeat the cycle of ruling elites being overthrown by small groups which become the new ruling elites. This sort of intellectual honesty is hard to come by- especially on the internet.

For those wondering, I have no particular love for the government as currently operated. That said, I am willing to work with the established guidelines to modify and improve the way our country is run. Going back to Ed Howdershelt’s Four Boxes (There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order), in the event we, the People, have to open that Fourth Box, I will not be joining in any putative communist revolution.


I recently received one of those ridiculous snail-mail adverts for a local car dealer with a key enclosed. Supposedly, I was guaranteed to win one of an assortment of wonderful prizes, including up to one hundred thousand dollars in cash. Not being a total idiot, I recognized the advert for what it was- a cheap way of increasing foot-traffic to the dealership. Just for giggles and grins, I read through the weasel-word section on the inside. As I had suspected, in addition to the unlikely probability of winning one of the lavish prizes on the front page, the contest rules section said that I would get three gold one-dollar coins for playing their silly game.

I thought about about it and decided it had been a long time since I fucked with a salesman. I drove to the dealer (about 2 miles away) and asked the first salesman I ran across how to redeem my prize. I own two cars- both completely paid for, and they are in great working order with low mileage. I therefore had less than zero interest in buying one of the dealership’s cars.

I used to sell cars- not that I was very good at it. I know what car salesmen are like. One of the things salesmen like to do is play upon the customer’s need to appear to be dealing in good faith and with fairness. Salesmen will therefore play little mental tricks to make you feel that you somehow are obliged to them in some way. This feeling of obligation will be used by the salesman to try to emotionally maneuver you into buying something to avoid wasting their time.

After asking me a bunch of silly questions to determine how much he might be able to fleece me for, my victim prepared his little sermon on why the dealer’s vehicles could lengthen my penis, get the weeds out of my lawn, cure cancer, and end global warming- but only if I bought one today. That’s when I cut him off at the knees. I’d been doing research on several SUVs in the aim of eventually buying one to replace one of my cars. I told him what three vehicles I was interested in and why, and none of them were sold by that dealership. Then I told him that the median price on the three vehicles I wanted was about $35K, which put him on the ropes again (the dealership’s crappy SUVs started at $50K), and that I was not interested in financing second-rate vehicles from him for more than a first-rate SUV would run me from another dealer- especially since I would probably be paying cash.

I really enjoyed myself, especially when he retreated to the manager’s office to “verify my prize”. This is a common tactic used to fool the customer into thinking the salesman was working for them, but is usually used to let the sales manager get one last chance to set the hook. When my victim returned with three new (gold-colored) one-dollar coins, he confirmed my suspicions by mentioning that the dealership did have a TDI Jetta on the lot. Since that was not one of the vehicles I was interested in, I just took my three bucks and left.

So I got to torment a salesman for a half-hour or so, and got paid three dollars into the bargain. Since the dealership already had my name and address, I left them with nothing more than a floor traffic statistic.


Snow doesn’t particularly bother or thrill me. I’ve lived in snow country, and I’ve lived in places where snow would be a major miracle. I can take it or leave it. But here in the Shallow South, the locals seem to go more batshit crazy than usual when the first few flakes of God’s Dandruff come wafting out of the sky. I grant that the 15 to 20 inches of snow we got in this area was basically an entire winter’s worth of snow in a normal year, but whole cities closed down. There are places at sea level within the continental US where twenty inches of snow would be considered a normal winter day.

The drivers around here immediately transformed into one of two types: the timid creeper and the brash dasher. Both types had about the same probability of accident during the first 72 hours after the snow started. There were more than four hundred accidents on the highways in the greater metro area, every one of which was directly attributed to operator error.

Me? I just stayed at home and watched it all on TV. I know how to drive in snow and ice, but I also know that I live among Jethros. My skills on the roadway meant nothing when everyone around me was determined to be as stupid as possible behind the wheel, so I stayed out of it.


I have discovered a wide variety of good beers which help make my life more tolerable. I have previously written about the fact that some beer reduces the constant pain I have lived with for ten years. The one I like best also seems to work the best, which is a damned shame because I cannot get it anymore. The beer in question is called Sara, and is a buckwheat ale from Belgium. I used to be able to buy it through my local outlet, but it is no longer available in this state anymore. Fortunately, I have found others which do the trick and also taste good.

A friend of mine turned me on to a tasty ale called Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale. This is really tasty stuff, which works pretty well. Another lovely brew I discovered on my own is called Gulden Draak, which is very tasty, but a little pricey. When I was in Italy, I discovered a beer called Samichlaus, which ought to named one of the wonders of the world. I recently found a local outlet for this beer, and have re-acquainted myself with it. I used to drink Murphy’s and Guinness, but they don’t seem to have the same effect on my pain, so I have left them behind except for the occasional indulgence. Too expensive for regular use, but tasty and effective is a beer called Tripel Karmeliet. This is a Belgian beer which has been triple-brewed with three different grains. I love the stuff, but cannot afford it often. Another style of Belgian beer which I like and works well is Lindeman’s Lambics. This is a beer which is double-brewed- once with grain and once with one of several varieties of fruit. They’re a bit too much like wine coolers, but they do the job on my pain and aren’t too horribly expensive.


A long time ago, I saw a lecture on C-SPAN by a man named Thomas Barnett, who had written a book called The Pentagon’s New Map. This was a very interesting and entertaining lecture which essentially pointed out that almost all future US military operations would take place in very specific areas of the globe which had little or not connectivity to the rest of the world. Critics on the left tended to excoriate the book and its author for imagined racism (which I did not find when I read the book), but I found it to be depressingly prescient in many ways.

With that in mind, please go to and take a look at their predictions for which countries are most likely to implode or explode in the coming year. Note that this list makes for depressing reading.


I hope to be back on a more regular posting schedule soon, but I also hope I’ll win the lottery. We’ll see how it goes. Until next year (since it’s still 2010 as  I type this), be good. Pass it on.

Current status: Reflective

Current music: Heart and Soul by T’Pau

Mad As Hell, and They’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

27 12 2009

The peaceful Green revolution from this past June is gone. The people of Iran are tired of bleeding. They’re beginning to make their oppressors bleed as well. The protesters are starting to strike back- especially against the Basij.

Pay attention! This could be a threshold moment.

Here are some pics lifted from an Iranian blog:

And the Beat Goes On

27 12 2009

While Americans relaxed in the post-coital afterglow of the holidays, the young people of Iran once again took to the streets in defiance of the religious madmen who rule their country. While we watch the news amid peace and plenty, young people with literally everything to lose are clashing with the police in the streets of every major city in Iran.

Today is the celebration of Ashura– in memory of one of Muhammed’s grandson’s who died in the battle of Karbala. This is a major holiday for shi’a, and the supposedly devout rulers of Iran seem to be repeating the actions of the sunni despot Yazid. Every drop of blood they spill while slaughtering their own people only creates new reasons for the survivors to turn against their rulers.

At least the western media is actually starting to cover these protests in Iran. I predict that state of affairs will last until another celebrity kicks the bucket, but for the moment, Americans can watch as the young people of Iran struggle for their own independence and freedom.

Because of our past associations with Iran, we cannot do more than watch. The sins of our past prevent us from lending a hand when the protesters desperately need it. What we can do is pay attention and tell others about what we see and hear. The rulers of Iran are expending enormous efforts to silence the protesters and prevent their message from reaching the rest of the world. The very least we can do is defy the despots in Tehran and spread the word.

People are striving for freedom, and paying for their efforts in their own blood. Despite the differences in language or religion, their actions make them our brothers in spirit. Don’t let the murdering tyrants in Tehran commit their atrocities behind a veil of silence.

Current status: Angry

Current music: Let it be by the Beatles