Friday, August 31, 2007

Camp Gordon

Had my parents had an easier time having children, I might well have been born in Augusta, Georgia. At the beginning of the Korean War, my father was 22 years old and got drafted into the Army. He did his basic at Fort Ord in Monterey, but before his induction he persuaded my mother who was then 20 to marry him. Many years ago I found a letter from my dad to my mom about how she had taken the bus to Fort Ord from my grandparents' house in Sacramento just to catch a possible glimpse of my dad.

After a four hour bus ride in the rain each way, she barely saw him or maybe didn't see him at all. She cried the whole bus ride back to Sacramento where she stayed with my grandparents, her new in laws. Dad's letter was consoling her, telling her how much he loved her, and how good it made him feel that she had taken that long ride even if they hadn't gotten to see one another. I had never doubted that my parents were in love with one another. This was just more proof. It's odd thinking about things like that now becaues my mother's now been married to my stepfather almost as long as she was married to my dad. A few years ago, she told me that she'd decided to be buried with my stepdad, not because she didn't want to be near my dad but because she didn't want her remains anywhere near the rest of his family.

My dad's family was too big and had too much money to stay completely happy for any length of time. He was the eldest son, but had either the good luck or the misfortune to be born with an easygoing personality. He believed that life's pleasures should be enjoyed. He loved to cook, to smoke cigars, and to share stories with anyone who cared to tell them. He died when I was twenty two and I loved the fact that it seemed that every one of my childhood friends would make a point for years after that of saying how nice my dad was.

When friends visited, it wasn't unusual for them to hang out with my parents as much if not more than they hung out with me. It struck me as perfectly normal that my father would find out what they liked to eat and cook it for them if they stayed for dinner. They only had to say they liked it on that first visit. It also seemed just the sort of thing that parents did for him to talk to them about whatever they were doing or wanted to do. He wasn't the sort of Dad who insisted on giving advice nor did he expect any of my friends to have particular kinds of answers about their plans. He was unfailingly positive with them and I realize now that he had a knack for making people feel good about themselves.

For whatever reason, my Dad never managed to do the same with his brothers and sisters and his parents. Whenever he spent time around them, he was different. There always seemed to be unwritten rules, it was never safe to relax, and I always had to put on my best face around my dad's side of the family particularly my grandparents.

Anyway, my mother spent the first couple months of her marriage living with his family while he served in the U.S. Army. My grandfather took to her immediately which naturally meant that my grandmother and at least half the family refused to do likewise. Towards the end of basic training at Fort Ord, someone came into my Dad's barracks and asked if anyone there knew how to type?

Unlike most Americans, I did not come from an especially gung-ho family. My Dad saw the opportunity and immediately raised his hand. Typing might have been a woman's work, but it got him to Camp Gordon Georgia instead of the snow-covered front lines of Korea shooting at native-Chinese forces from the other side of the Yalu River.

"How fast do you type soldier?"

"Private F*** insisted that he could type seventy two words a minute."

The first day in the forms office at Camp Gordon, the entire Army Signal Corps gathered round him to see this Chinese private with the pleasant demeanour type seventy two words a minute. At that point, Dad still typed with two fingers. He was bright though, so he picked up office skills quite quickly. As soon as he settled in, he sent for my mom and they began the "together" part of their married life in the married soldiers quarters there in Augusta, Georgia.

There was also a small Chinese community in Augusta. One day, my dad walked into a grocery store and the guy behind the counter, George Tom, happened to be his age. They started talking and within a day or two my dad was learning to shoot pool from a Chinese guy with a thick southern drawl. My parents became close friends with George and Ida Tom. It might have been the happiest time of my dad's life. For the next twenty years, he always referred to the Toms as his best friends even though he didn't see them for close to ten years after his return to California. Mom and Dad liked the circle of friends that they found in Augusta so much, they even gave some thought to staying there after his Army commitment ended. They didn't. My Dad decided that as an eldest son, he needed to return home to help his father with his many business interests even though he himself didn't much care about business.

My parents returned to California with a bunch of stories about George and Ida and the others. Every few months, my mother would make authentic southern fried chicken just the way she'd learned it from one of their Chinese friends in Augusta. Years later I visited the Toms in Augusta. Their kids had southern accents and worshipped the Allman Brothers. They had a band and there was a drum set in one of the back bedrooms. You haven't lived until you see a bunch of Chinese guys with southern drawls make like ZZ Top.

I mentioned a couple months ago that my stepson got married and that his wife had joined the army. After several bureacratic mishaps that I dare not recount, she finally got her assignment. For those several months, despite the fact that they were married my stepson and his wife were fifteen hundred miles apart for all but a handful of nights for the first two and a half months of their marriage. Naturally, when she got her first permanent assignment, she was sent to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. Their first home as a married couple will be in the married soldiers' quarters there. Ironicially, there was a point where it looked like she was going to be sent to Korea, one of those places where military families do not have the option of following.

My dad never met my wife or our daughter whom we named after him despite the gender thing. I don't know what he would have made of the fact that she isn't Chinese or that she came into our marriage with kids of her own. I'm definitely not sure what he would have made of some of the rough patches I've had with my stepson. Strangely enough, just before the word came that they were headed to Fort Gordon my stepson sent me an e-mail saying he wanted us to spend more time together. For whatever reason, I'm thinking my stepson and daughter in law winding up there is sort of a sign that the spirit of my mom and dad from early in their marriage is out there looking out for all of us. Augusta was a happy place for them. Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened had I wound up growing up there instead.


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The Chinese Stranger

My blog friend Dale wrote about one of his scarier back yard adventures the other day, I thought I’d share one of my own. We have three dogs. Chance and Lucky are a pair of border collies. Belle, the sheltie, ate our daughter’s Ipod once so I refer to her as the “4 gig Idog”. Every time she barks, Apple charges 50 cents to her Itunes account. We took two of them for a walk because we only have two leashes. The Idog chewed through the third leash so we had to leave Chance behind. We got back from the walk. My wife stopped to chat with our next door neighbor and Chance wouldn’t let me close the gate because she wanted her turn to go for a walk. I obliged.

A few nights ago we had a full lunar eclipse. Tonight was a full moon. The bottom half of our street has no lights. When it gets dark it’s just tree branches and an occasional house light. The dog and I walk by a driveway and an unfamiliar Japansese woman is standing at the foot of the street staring into her cellphone. The glow from the backlight of her cellphone frames her face like something from a scary movie. Actually, I know the exact movie. It’s this Korean horror movie my wife and I got from Netflix several weeks ago, Arang. This girl appears in the movie, the guy sees her face, blood starts to flow everywhere, and he chokes to death. Of course, if this were a scary movie, my dog would notice the ghost lady and start barking. Instead, my dog just keeps walking and looking for things to sniff.

I walk to the end of the block and the dog and I turn around. This time the Japanese lady has suddenly appeared at the foot of a different driveway, but she’s still staring into her glowing cellphone. She steps towards me. I do a quick check for flowing blood at my feet, but there’s no sea of red.
“Excuse me, can you help me please?”

The woman explains that she’s looking for the house where she’s staying. She has the address, but can’t remember where it is. I want to ask her if she happens to be a ghost from a Korean horror movie, but figure that might offend her on the off chance that she isn’t one. Besides, I’m still inhaling and exhaling more or less normally and I hear no dissonant violins or synthesizers behind me. She asks me if I can show her how to find #756. which is X’s house, an Indian woman and her non-Indian husband.

I don’t know most of my neighbors, but I’ve never seen any east-Indians on my block. No shock, the name of the people who own the house this lady is staying in rings no bells. It turns out the woman’s not Japanese. She’s Chinese like me. Talk about embarrassing. I’m supposed to spot that sort of thing, but I’m just not good at spotting differences between Asian groups. I did see a Christopher Walken movie recently and was convinced that he looks Chinese these days, same thing with Bruce Willis. My wife insists its’ their plastic surgery, but I’d just as soon that not be the reason.

The woman asks me if I’ll walk her up what turn out to be several random driveways on my own street as she looks for the house she’s supposed to be staying at. It turns out that she flew in from Singapore the night before for an herbal healing seminar at a nearby college. She’s been to the United States once fifteen years ago, but that was to New York City. She’s never seen a neighborhood quite like mine and has no idea how the streets work nor can she reach the people she’s staying with on her cellphone. I check again and note that I’m still breathing normally. There is no pool of blood at my feet and the dog is not mysteriously responding to cues that I can not see.

We keep stopping at the spookiest house on my block which she is certain can’t be the right one, but it’s the only one that might fit the address she’s written on a folded white sheet of paper. I learn that her name is Dian and that she used to live in Indonesia as well though her family is from Fuzhou , China ( I think that’s right). She asks me what part of China my family came from, I tell her Guangdong. She nods then corrects my pronunciation.

As we walk into the third driveway, I hear a woman shouting but I don’t respond. Each time we get to what might be the right door, Dian asks me if I’d mind coming to the door with her. I ask her which island she grew up on in Indonesia. She looks at me blankly and says “Indonesia, you know where that is?”

“Yes, I do, but which island?”

We walk for a bit longer as she asks me if I’ve ever been to Singapore. I first say “No” then remember that I was in the airport once there or was that Kuala Lumpur? “ Damn, there went my chances to be Miss Teen America.

For some odd reason, she says “You know Bali?”

I nod.

“That’s where my family was, but we went back and forth from Fuzhou, to Bali, to Singapore.”

Now this is the weird thing, she’s finally pretty sure that we’ve found the right house, but this is where the Daw….’s live and they’re definitely not East-Indian. Since, we’ve run out of addresses and have determined that there is no 756 on the street, we try it anyway. She knocks first. No one answers. She then pushes open the door to reveal an empty living room and entry way.

Dian keeps trying to invite me in for a drink. She’s either really grateful or I still have it (not likely). An East Indian woman appears from the kitchen. That family’s dog slips out their front doorway. Dian asks me in again. I tell her that I live at 8** up the street, come say Hi and meet my wife. She hands me her business card, but it’s too dark to read.

The dog and I get home. My wife still isn’t there. She finally appears from the street side of our front yard and sees me. “Where’d you go? I’ve been looking for you. Didn’t you hear me calling after you?”

How do I explain that I was ducking down a driveway with some strange woman who wanted me to hang out with her? I tell my story and keep saying “jet lag” to explain why the woman seemed so disoriented. Maybe we should have her over or something? I suggest. My wife looks at the card which says “Spa and spa supplies” , shrugs, but definitely doesn’t say “What a good idea!”

"So when the heck did the Daw*(#$'s move out? How come we never noticed?" I ask.

I suddenly have this vision of dropping by the Daw*(* house tomorrow night and finding them still living there with no older East Indian woman anywhere in sight. A shiver runs through me, but there's still no pool of blood around me, so I figure I'm safe for now.

We both look up at the full moon and go back into our house. Years ago, any time my parents would see another Chinese person pretty much anywhere that would be reason enough for my dad to go start a conversation. It was the most embarrassing thing for me as a kid because I didn’t want even more reminders that we were different from most of the people around us. So many years later, that odd bond of being overseas Chinese never quite faded out of my life. Suddenly, it made me miss my father.


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Another One Out the Door (Alberto Gonzales Resigns)

Okay, I'll bring it up. What do you think of the body language between the President and the First Lady in this photo?

I was sorry to hear about Alberto Gonzales’s resignation last Friday afternoon. With Karl Rove’s departure, I’d been looking for a new supervisor for my work with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (VRWC) and this guy seemed like an almost ideal boss in some ways. After following his Congressional testimony, it was clear to me that he recalls almost nothing anyone does good or bad. In addition, imagine calling in sick on Monday morning when you really spent the weekend snowboarding in Tahoe or waterboarding in Guantanomo, “Hey Al, I understand my telling you I was sick yesterday was maybe a little misleading but I was really talking about that Monday morning and I didn’t say it was me who was sick.”

What was he going to do? If I gave him the same sort of excuses for being late with my work and not doing my job that he gave America, how could he have done anything about it? Even if he had given me a rough time, I could have told him, “Hey Al, so I lied. What you going to do about it? It’s not like you can torture me. Besides, you're not accusing me of doing anything criminal, so that means I should keep my job right?"

It’s all very sad. Those Democrats and I say this as one of them can be so partisan about things like transforming the Justice Department into Republican Party Campaign Headquarters. It’s not like there’s been any history of CREEPs in the Justice Department since John Mitchell. Isn’t it the Democrats who used to endorse affirmative action? Why are they so mad about our hiring and firing people based on say religious affiliation and loyalty to the Republican party instead of competence? I’m just so glad the VRWC is above partisanship. It was good of the President to point that out when he announced Al’s resignation. People often accuse the President of not being very bright, but clearly his understanding of what’s unproven but useful partisanship vs. what’s unhealthy partisanship is far more subtle than average minds like mine can comprehend.

Need I mention that Alberto Gonzales never took steroids and never shot dogs. What's America come to when someone like Alberto Gonzales who worked his way up from being the son of an immigrant worker who never completed elementary school rises to be Attroney General and is still expected to do his job? This was truly a sad day. Had he been the son of a former President of the United States and white, no one would expect him to do his job. Clearly, his critics were hypocritical racists.

If only Al had stuck around to prove how wrong that darned senate committee is with all those nasty things they’re saying about him and the Justice Department. I’m sure that once he recalled all those important decisions and meetings that he participated in, he would have set the record straight. To be honest, I was a little worried that a guy who wanted to spy on everybody can't seem to remember anything, but now that I've had a chance to think about it maybe it's better that way.

Speaking of straight, it hasn’t been easy to find jobs in the VRWC lately. A while ago, some senator tried to recruit me to work for him from under the divider in a restroom stall at Union Station. It shows you that you shouldn’t believe all the listings you see on Craig’s list.

In the meantime, it’s gotten harder and harder for me to find someone in the conspiracy to supervise me. Dick Cheney didn’t like the fact that I exposed his past as an international assassin. Don Rumsfeld said that I should never have mentioned that he completely lost track of 190,000 assault weapons that were supposed to go to Iraq. Duke Cunningham wanted me to pay him before I could work for him. Secretary of State Rice complains that I’ve never given her credit for improving U.S. relations with Iran. Even among the Republicans just running for President instead of just working for him, it’s been tough. Fred Thompson is letting people go instead of hiring them. Rudy Giuliani wanted me to explain how he was one of the 9/11 rescue workers even though most of them seem to be actively opposing his candidacy. I heard that when Michael Vick got his one phone call, he used it to telephone Mitt Romney.

In the meantime, I seem to be on special assignment for the next few weeks to explain how the Surge is working even if haven’t achieved any of the objectives it was originally supposed to achieve. I miss working for Karl.

Anyway, Mr. Attorney General, I'm sorry that I never got the chance to work for you directly. Of course, I can claim that I did and you probably couldn't tell. Besides, I'm actually better qualified than say Monica Goodling. How scary is that?


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Confessions of a Jelly Bean Gobbler

Someone brought a sack of jelly bean samplers from Jelly Belly into my office the other day. Each clear-plastic-wrapped sampler contained a dozen assorted jelly beans. Jelly Belly claims to make “gourmet” beans which means that they get adventurous with the flavors. They refer to the more exotic ones as “spice”. I tend to eat jelly beans and M&M’s in groups of about half a dozen. Okay, I’m a pig. I generally don’t examine the mixture in my hand to cull out the weird ones before I ingest them. Traditional jelly beans taste more or less the same regardless of color. In fact, for many years the only flavor that got imposed on a jelly bean was in the shell. The rest of it was just that sticky sugar mix on the inside. Once you got past the shell, the rest was identical.

About twenty years ago, someone got the idea that the flavor could and should be added to the sugary mass on the inside as well. I don’t know if this was inspired by Ronald Reagan who apparently had a thing for jelly beans, but companies like Jelly Belly also started branching out from the traditional, red, green, blue, orange, pink, yellow. Brown, coffee, black (okay they had black in the old days as well), mango yellow, spotted, and striped, all began to appear. Even worse, they had to make up flavors for these colors. We’re talking peanut butter, cinnamon, espresso, curry, etc. While individually, these flavors can be interesting enough, they shouldn’t be mixed. It doesn’t happen very often anymore, but if you’ve ever had the experience of taking a sip from a carton of milk gone sour you would know that upsetting the expectations of the palate can be very unsettling.

J K Rowling got this level of horror at modern era jelly beans just right in Harry Potter with Bertie Botts’s magic beans that included flavors like booger, ear wax, etc. Btw….Turkish Delight , an early name for jelly beans (they were invented late in the 19th century) plays a prominent role in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

No doubt, there are people out there who eat jelly beans one delicately shelled and intricately colored example at a time. I’m sure they hold the things up to the light, sniff the bouquet, and see if they can get the shell to melt in their mouths before they chew. One of my best friends from childhood, Paul, was fastidious in that way. He’d even figure out a sequence for consuming his chain of jelly beans. He wound up being a copy editor for a major newspaper. How weird is that? Maybe too, there’s some sort of feng shui for the proper ingestion of the jelly bean. I’m just not one of those folk.

I’m perfectly happy consuming a small sampler of jelly beans in two random gulps. I suspect I’m not the only person the in the world who’s like that. Think about it. Who’s going to buy more jelly beans, someone who examines them and eats them one at a time or someone like me? So why the heck would you put together handfuls of fundamentally incompatible flavors? It’s disturbing to bite into a bunch of artificially fruity goodness and then stray onto something like peanut butter or licorice.

Naturally, I had about ten of the packs before I figured all this out. I just hope this doesn’t happen to Dots or Gummi Bears. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out why Gummi Bears generally taste better than Gummi Worms and what the difference was between a U-No Bar and a Kit-Kat or why Kit-Kats are made by Nestle in some countries and Hershey’s in the United States?
In my home town, there was a business called the “Antique Apple Nursery” which may have shifted to a successor company called “Trees of Antiquity”. My town’s main business used to be Gravenstein Apples which didn’t stay competitive commercially late in the twentieth century as varieties that stored better pushed local farmers to sell their orchards to developers. Trees of Antiquity makes a point of keeping alive fruit varieties that may actually taste better but aren’t sold in supermarkets any longer. Perhaps, they’ll have to do the same thing with non-gourmet jelly beans and other obsolete candy varieties.

Some I rarely see or haven’t seen in many years,

1) Beeman’s Pepsin Gum
2) Nestle’s Milk Chocolate Bar
3) The Big Hunk
4) Candy Cigarettes
5) Fruit Stripe Gum
6) Charleston Chews
7) Adams Black Jack Gum
8) Almond Joys
9) Lifesavers
10) Sugar Daddies


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Thursday, August 23, 2007

What the President Learned from his Experience in Vietnam (Bush addresses VFW in Kansas City)

This is a serious question as in I mean no disrespect,Why does the symbol for the VFW look so much like the symbol on the left?

Ever since George W. Bush got into politics, the following question keeps coming up, “Where was W. during Vietnam?”

Unlike Al Gore and John Kerrey, the current President did not go there as a member of the armed forces during the war. Yesterday, the President spoke in Kansas City to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and expounded on his personal version of the lessons of the War in Vietnam.

To summarize, the President apparently believes that the U.S. should never have withdrawn from Vietnam. There’s probably not much question that a more orderly withdrawal may have saved lives, but that’s not the lesson I took away from Vietnam.

1) US Power was not unlimited
2) Superior technology alone could not defeat a determined opponent on his home turf
3) History, culture, and tradition mattered. (it also helped to listen to the French)
4) Clear achievable objectives are part of any strategy for success
5) Do not play Russian Roulette with anyone who looks like Christopher Walken

By 1972, the only question among serious policy folk was how to withdraw and when. If there was a failure in that regard, it was a failure to plan for any kind of orderly exit. This President seems to be suggesting that we stay whether or not we have a plan even if we can’t “win”. Or worse yet, he suggests that any attempt to withdraw from Iraq will be the end of Western Civilization and Democracy. So you talked us into going there, it was a terrible mistake compounded by your incompetent management of the occupation, and now you’re saying there’s no way to leave without bringing down the entire country? Was there a disclaimer somewhere that I forgot to read when you got that Congressional resolution passed to use force against Saddam?

My view doesn’t really matter. I wasn’t there and I’m not a historian. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli General largely credited with being the tactical mind behind the Seven Day war, did come to his own view of the War in Vietnam. I think his “lessons from Vietnam” do matter. If you don’t feel like reading the link, Dayan noticed that the US had lost the war before the US realized it.

In the same speech, the President worked in a number of references to books perhaps to confirm Karl Rove’s assessment of his soon to be former boss as “the best read man I know”. He brought up Graham Greene’s “Quiet American” and indulged in a meandering history of the Korean War. He also spent considerable time comparing Iraq to World War 2 Japan as a successful exercise in bringing democracy to a country that had dramatically different cultural traditions. Of course, that war was run competently for the most part and the US did not trump up its reasons for declaring war on Japan. There’s also the rather significant matter that the US left the Emperor in place after the war and that Japan itself was a country with a relatively homogeneous culture, unlike either Iraq or the more generalized enemy he calls “Terror” and “Enemies of Freedom”. In the meantime, here’s the Vietnamese view on the President’s take on Vietnam.

One other point about the President’s thoughts on the lessons of Vietnam. For some reason, he didn’t mention the fact that had the U.S. stayed there with no clear strategic objective other than a steadfast resolve not to withdraw for fear of losing face, it’s likely that at least a hundred thousand more American soldiers would have died there. In fact, it was sort of chilling to note that he either implied or assumed that no one would have died had the Americans stayed in Vietnam. The names on the Vietnam Memorial would have been spilling out into the Lincoln Memorial. Even worse, National Guard units might have had to be called there to fill the manpower gaps.

Wow, I answered my own question about the VFW sybmol...Amazing thing the Internet.


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Monday, August 20, 2007

Andy and Tessa Slow Down (post-Bachelor comments)

"When the fantasy wore off and the reality set in, we both realized that we weren't ready to be engaged….We're taking things much slower."
Those are the words of officer-doctor-triathlete-Bachelor fodder Andy Baldwin about the state of his relationship with Tessa Horst. It’s understandable. The two got off to Personal Bests at the end of their initial plunge in the Bachelor triathlon. When Andy went to one knee with the Hawaiian sunset in the background, they were well ahead of Prince Lorenzo, fellow Dukie Doctor Travis, and Jesse Palmer who already had a one way ticket to the waiver wire of love even before his show finished airing. Perhaps Andessa just read the rose petals. When it comes to off-camera relationships, it’s not an all out sprint. Pacing matters. It's also worth mentioning that apparently Andy may be transferred from Pearl Harbor earlier than he had expected, so the vagaries of military service matter as well.

My first thought when I saw the story was to check to see if Bevin Powers had been spotted on flights to Hawaii. I’ve learned however that Bevin Powers posted on her myspace page that she has since found a boyfriend. Maybe the guy at the tattoo parlor burst into tears about having to work in the presence of other tattoo artists and she realized that they had a “connection”. Maybe Bevin ran off with the drill sergeant from the Bachelor boot camp episode.

Maybe it’s Mark Philippoussis? You want to talk about a dud dating show. It didn’t help that a friend told me that the Australian tennis player was already being spotted at Southern California parties in the company of a younger woman who hadn’t been one of his choices before Age of Love even finished airing. Still, when two of the women drop out of the final four for reasons of their own, you’ve got a reality disaster in the works. Btw, if one of the contestants goes on camera to whisper the number of orgasms she can achieve or provide in succession in the bachelor’s ear, you at least make sure the number’s audible. Those hot tub scenes on the Bachelor suddenly felt awfully classy after that. Did anyone consider introducing Jennifer Braff from Age of Love to Scott Baio? They’re even quite close in age. There are a lot of cross-dating show matches that would be very intriguing.

Of course, Bevin Powers might have found a really nice guy. Off camera, without Fleiss editing, she’s probably a terrific young woman who deserves to be happy. I’d say the same thing about Tessa and Andy. (ironically, Tessa and Bevin are now physically closer to one another than either is to Andy) They seem like a nice couple who deserve a chance to let their relationship progress normally. It’s bizarre that we talk as if any “Bachelor” couple who doesn’t marry three weeks after the show ends is somehow a pair of losers.

One of the appeals of the triathlon is that you don’t have to have the fastest time to feel like a winner. For most of the competitors, the point is to finish what you started and to push yourself beyond what you thought were your physical and mental limits. Okay, so they’ve gotten off the bicycles for a little bit after they crossed marker one, still being together after the show aired. As we head to marker two, the beginning of the next Bachelor Season on September 24, (Brad Womack, a 34 year old Austin, Texas bar owner is Bachelor 11), Andy and Tessa have fallen off the blistering pace set by Trista and Ryan. This doesn’t mean they won’t finish. In fact, they could still finish ahead of say Mary Delgado and Byron Velvick and/or Charley O’connell and Sarah Brice. Even if they don’t marry in the end, I don’t think it means that the Bachelor process “failed”.

The personal best test or interpersonal-best if you will can be measured simply enough, did the show result in an actual romance at the end. I don’t think anyone doubts that Meredith and Ian was a real romance, they just didn’t get married. It didn’t mean that fans wound up saying “What a farce!” I think most viewers felt the chemistry was real enough, the two tried, but it didn’t work out. Any anger about that one is limited to the whole business of Meredith telling Matthew that she really wanted a ring from him.

Bachelor fans get turned off when the final two just aren’t sincere about the process. Jen Schett was likely the all-time worst because it was clear that she never invested emotionally in the choice. Most believe that she already had a post-Andrew Firestone boyfriend even while the show was filming so didn’t even go through the motions. Bob Guiney appeared to use his Bachelor 15 minutes to woo his eventual Soap Opera Star wife and to sell CD’s for his band. Lorenzo, Travis, and Jesse Palmer all appeared to pick a woman they could safely dump rather than someone they really wanted to take a chance on.

I’d already mentioned Age of Love’s near complete lack of chemistry. When Mark chose Amanda Salinas, it felt like that speech they used to give at the end of Miss America about if the winner is unable to perform her duties… fwiw, My niece actually once wound up being the final choice on one of these shows. She’s an actress. She saw the experience purely as a means to get some exposure. They gave her a ring and at the end she immediately asked the producers if she could go on the cruise given to the winners “separately” rather than together. Btw My niece is a very nice young woman. It’s just that she never saw the experience as anything more than a tv show. Any illusion that it was anything else was just that. She also said that Kate Beckinsale is very nice in real life. I know that has nothing to do with Bachelor talk, but it's good for search engine counts and it's actual relative of a friend gossip (not very good gossip though).

Even if they're not still "trying" or even if Tessa ran off with a talking muffin, didn't like the Bevin footage, got upset when Gatsby(Mitch Thrower) and Andy didn't come home one night, or was convinced to delay the engagement by her best friend Samantha, Andy Baldwin and Tessa Horst already met their responsibility to reality television. I hope they finish their triathlon at the pace that works for them. Whether it’s separately or hand in hand, I wish them well.

Sirlinksalot bachelor stories

Other Chancelucky Bachelor reviews

other Chancelucky reviews


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Friday, August 17, 2007

The Rove Identity (the last Karl Rove adventure?)

Before we move on to my latest and maybe last VRWC adventure, let’s start with a little trivia. What do William Blythe and Leslie King have in common? Answer- they both grew up to become president of the United States. William Jefferson Blythe decided to take his stepfather, Roger Clinton’s, surname when he turned fourteen. Leslie King’s father left early and his mother married a man who informally lent his stepson both his first and last names. Leslie King legally became Gerald Ford at age twenty two. Bottom line, America really is a place where people from very modest backgrounds can become president.

There isn’t a lot of information about either president’s biological father, but we do have names, birth certificates, etc. As some of you know, I’ve spent the last two years moonlighting for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (VRWC) under the direct supervision of Karl Rove who surprisingly announced that he was leaving his position as Deputy White House Chief of staff at the end of this month. Unlike Clinton and Ford, there's no public information about Karl Rove's birth name. Before I get into my big VRWC scoop, here's some of what's publicly known.

First, Karl Christian Rove was reportedly born on December 25, 1950. Some have suggested that this makes him the anti-Christ because it is also the day that North Korea invaded South Korea. When Karl Rove was 19 years old Louis Rove and his mother Reba Wood Rove decided to divorce. Until that time, Karl Rove had believed that Louis Rove was his biological father. Louis Rove left the family because he had decided to come out of the closet. In 1981, twelve years later, Reba Wood Rove committed suicide in her car via carbon monoxide poisoning somewhere on the roadside in Nevada. Apparently around 1989, Karl Rove successfully tracked down his biological father, but the man refused to acknowledge that Karl Rove was his son and did not pursue a relationship with him.

To his credit, Karl Rove has always honored the fact that Louis Rove treated him as his own son. In addition, he has never made a public issue of the fact that his stepfather was gay.

In this age when virtually any personal information about any famous person can be found on the Internet, I was rather surprised to discover that I couldn’t find any mention of the name of Karl Rove’s biological father. Apparently, he was formally adopted by Louis Rove at a very young age. I do know that in some states, it was the custom to seal the birth records of adoptees, but in this case, Rove’s mother continued to raise him. This does put Rove’s role in the Valerie Plame disclosure in a fascinating psychological light.

A number of people have commented on the possible impact these events may have had on Rove the political strategist. In his autobiography, My Life, Bill Clinton suggests but doesn’t spell out a line from William Blythe and Roger Clinton that may well have led to Monica Lewinsky. I have no idea how the events of Karl Rove’s life shaped his adult personality and style. Perhaps they made him a bit more ruthless as many suggest, perhaps they had no impact at all as Karl tends to tell people. It’s even conceivable that they made him more compassionate than he might otherwise have been.

Now that Karl Rove may be leaving public life,here’s what may be my last VRWC scoop. Karl’s real name is either “Jason Bourne” or "David Webb". I have uncovered the “real” story. It has nothing to do with the difficult events of his childhood.

The Rove Identity
(based on the book by

In the summer of 2007, the man we know as Karl Rove and the President of the United States, let’s call him “W”, are riding alone together on the capitol subway to the senate office building.

W: But 30% of America still likes me, right?

KR: Yes, Mr. President. Millions of people still support you. They can’t explain why or defend it, but they still like you.

W: And there are lots of people who don’t like Hillary Clinton?

KR: Absolutely.

W: She’s not right for America because she has big thighs and forgave her husband.

KR: Exactly. America will never stand for that in a president. Besides, she has no penis.

W: Really?

KR: No brain and no heart. That’s not a problem. (points at W) But America will never vote for a President with no penis.

W: That’s why I tell people, if America really wants a woman President, they should elect Condi. She even follows football.

KR: TMI Mr. President. TMI.

W: It’s not like I’ve seen it. I just felt it from behind when I asked her to do to me what we were doing to the American people.

KR: Mr. President, some information really does need to be subject to executive privilege.

W: I was thinking the other day that Hillary doesn’t even mountain bike. Could you imagine her trying to dress up in a flight suit and land on an aircraft carrier? She’d probably try to talk about Universal Health Care or something instead of killing terrorists. I just can’t see her being presidential like that. Would she know how to give Angela Merkel a back rub at just the right time?

There’s a tapping sound on the shell of the capitol subway, Karl looks up then slips his glasses into his jacket pocket. Suddenly, a gang of men in ninja suits descend upon KR and W.

W: You want me? Bring ‘em on!

They advance anyway. W jumps under the seat. Only his cowboy boots are visible. KR pops up and advances on the ninjas, throws three karate chops, kicks two of them in the solar plexus. One of the attackers starts to run away, Karl then reaches into a pocket and whips out a blackberry, presses a button, and the last Ninja falls over and dies.

W: (now back in his seat) Talk about Mission Accomplished. How did you do that?

KR: I’m not sure. All I remember is that I sent out those talking points on my Blackberry and that last guy dropped dead.

KR looks out of the Capitol subway window. He then grabs the president, pulls him through the hole in the roof entered by the ninjas, grabs a sprinkler pipe while holding W on his back, and transits it hand to hand all the way back to the Capitol, where KR calls in secret service protection for W. KR bounds down the Capitol steps, jumps into a cab, pushes the driver out of the car into the middle of the street, floors the accelerator, ditches the cab outside the District. We next see him making a survivalist camp somewhere in the woods.

A camera shot back to the floor of the Capitol Subway car reveals a document on the floor next to one of the dead ninjas, a congressional subpoena for the President and his deputy chief of staff.

Cross Cut to Dick Cheney’s office with the vice-president and a faceless minion (FM)

FM: Mr. Vice President, just so I have the story right for the press. How is it again that the vice president is not part of the executive branch?

DC: The Vice President presides over the senate. The office is therefore beyond the executive branch. This is the reason why it’s the vice president who really runs the country.

FM: Do you really think I should include that last part?

DC: That’s up to you Worm Tail.

Another faceless minion comes running into the Vice President’s office.

FM2: Mr. Vice President, something happened in the Capitol Subway system. Rove has broken loose.

Dick Cheney opens a drawer and pulls out an AK47 with an American Flag embossed on the stock.

DC: What are you idiots waiting for? We’ve got to stop him before he gets to the New York Times.

FM2: Mr. Vice President, it’s not the Times or the Post anymore who report these kinds of things. It’s bloggers.

DC: We’ve got to stop him before he gets to Yearly Kos.

FM2: Where’s the fucking GPS we implanted on him?

DC: (points to FM2. FM2 looks up and points a finger at himself) Yes, you. (FM2 begins to shake his head vigorously, but Dick Cheney shoots him dead then turns to FM1) That’s not the first man I’ve shot in the face.

FM1: Mr. Vice-President, you don’t have to shoot me. Please Mr. Jackal. I’ve been your friend ever since we knew you as “Carlos”.

DC: A little too late. (he shoots the second man. We next see him jumping into a helicopter on top of the Executive Office Building) I’m Rove’s handler. I guess I’m going to have to handle him. (the sound of a gun safety snaps off over the whirr of the helicopter blades)

Crosscut to Karl Rove’s survival camp in the woods of Northern Virginia. He is using his Republican party tie as a headband as he roasts two dead rodents on a makeshift spit. With his shirt off and a full dose of adrenalin, Karl now looks like a very weird take on Matt Damon. He pulls off his White House ID and looks at his own name tag.

“I’m not Karl Rove. That’s not my real name. Who the hell am I? Who was I before I became this cold-blooded political killer?”

Rove pulls another Blackberry out of his pocket and begins studying his list of contacts. He discovers that he has 347 messages from the Republican National Committee and fifteen messages with exclamation points from the Office of the Vice President. Camera cuts to a shot of Rove donning a disguise and slipping on to a commercial flight.

KR: This TSA bullshit, is so ridiculous. They took away my water bottle and moisturizing cream, but they ignored all the spy equipment that I checked on. I miss Air Force One.

He looks out the window of the plane and a flashback sequence begins with a mystery young man (mym) who looks like a much younger version of Karl Rove.

DS: You really want to help your country. You’re a perfect candidate for special political operatives school, The Rat Fuck Academy at the School of the Americas.

MYM: Whatever it takes to keep President Nixon in the White House. He got us Peace with Honor in Vietnam you know.

DS: Well, to be honest it’s bigger than that. You’re a perfect candidate though.

The younger man is taken into a darkened-locked room. He is bound to a chair and a black hood is placed over his head. Two men pour a bucket of water over his head at random intervals.

MYM: Mr. Segretti, why are you doing this to me? I told you I’d help you. I’d do anything for the Party.

DS: You’d call someone a lesbian just to win an election. You’d insinuate that someone molested children?

MYM: Sure, I’ve already stolen stationery from an opponent to send out fake press releases. I’ve taught students how to literally go through our opponents’ garbage.

DS: And you feel no guilt about it?

The voice of a third man is heard.

3rd Man: It’s remarkable, I’ve never seen anyone with less remorse. It’s why I made him the chairman of the College Republicans after he cheated in their election.

DS: You were a great Republican party chairman.

3rd Man: I’ll be an even better CIA director. This guy has talent.

DS: Waterboard this little fucker…..

3rd Man: I don’t like having to this, but it’s in the name of freedom. Right Segretti?

DS: Absolutely. After all, we work for the President of the United States, we can do whatever we want.

They pull the mystery young man’s drenched head out of the water.

3rd Man: Ask him if he’d out an undercover CIA agent and then lie about it? (Segretti asks the question)

MYM: Well….wouldn’t that be treason? I thought I was supposed to be helping the United States?

The mystery young man’s head is plunged back into the water and we hear a scream.

DS: We haven’t broken him yet, but we will. He’ll be the perfect political killing machine. Efficient, quick, and totally without conscience. He'll be leaking to Robert Novak before the year is out. He can already kill a Federal prosecutor's career on command. Doesn't even ask about the family. In fact, he seems to prefer attacking the family members first.

3rd Man: Read my lips. This one looks like a keeper. See if he wants some pork rinds.

Cut back to the plane as the stewardess announces the landing at SFO. KR jolts forward in his seat and rubs his eyes. He rents a car and drives to a modest looking home in a small town north of San Francisco at three in the morning.

CL: Okay, who the Ken Starr is outside my window? (he’s holding an airsoft pistol) I’m not afraid to use this. I’ve shot live turkeys and this one can launch a rubber pellet at almost 300 feet per second.

KR: Chancelucky, don’t shoot. It’s me Karl.

CL puts the airsoft gun down then helps Karl Rove climb through the window.

CL: Karl, couldn’t you just have e-mailed me? I didn’t even know that you made house calls.

KR runs to CL’s phone and rips it out of the wall. He then ducks below window level as he searches for electronic surveillance devices.

KR: CL, I need your help.

CL: Of course Karl, but please don’t wake up my wife.

KR: They’re after me now.

CL: Karl, who’s they?

KR: Dick Cheney’s inner cabal.

CL: I thought you were one of them.

KR: They turn on everyone who gets in their way.

CL: What happened?

KR: I don’t know. A couple days ago, we were hanging out in the White House basement while Dick was shooting a couple dozen pheasants there and he starts talking about starting a war with Iran.

CL: Wow.

KR: Anyway, there’s this sharp pain in my head. I started seeing all these dead bodies and starving children. It was the damndest thing.

CL: Karl, regular people call it a conscience.

KR: For some weird reason like I had Tourette’s or something I say, “Dick, we could maybe get away with it, but it would be wrong.”

CL: So what happened next?

KR: Nothing really. The Vice President doesn't say a word. He just turns and gives me this look.

CL: And?

KR: I then say “Right, Carlos?”

CL: As in Carlos the Jackal, the most famous contract killer in the world?

KR: Wow, I’d never thought of it that way. Anyway, Dick just goes back to shooting more pheasants. He hits a secret service agent or two, but nothing out of the ordinary. We leave the White House basement together and for the next couple days, everything’s pretty much normal. I send out a couple dozen talking points about Iran’s ties to both Al Qaeda and the Obama campaign. I get a couple reporters to make fun of Elizabeth Edwards’s cancer. You know the usual.

Then I’m chatting with W on the Capitol Subway and we get attacked by Ninjas. I didn’t even know that I knew karate.

CL: Karl, I’m just a blogger who works for the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy sometimes. How the hell do you expect me to help you?

KR: CL. I need to know who I really am?

CL: Well this is Northern California….Perhaps we can find a New Age cult that can help you.

KR: You’re a truly Great American CL.

The sound of helicopters is heard above the house. KR looks out the window and spots four black helicopters. He motions for CL to run to the garage and hop in the car. CL protests that he has to get Mrs. CL first.

Suddenly Mrs. CL comes out of the master bedroom in her nightgown. She’s carrying an anti-tank weapon that she mounts on the deck as she calmly shoots down all four helicopters. She then waves CL and KR towards the car and tells them to go without her.

KR: That was pretty impressive CL.

CL: That’s why I warned you not to wake my wife up. You should have seen what happened to our neighbor who used to run his leaf blower every weekend. Anyway, I guess she can take care of herself while we’re gone.

KR: I sure wouldn’t want to fight with a wife like that.

CL: No shit. Last week, she said she wanted to vote for Hillary. I didn’t say a thing.

KR: Hillary’s not so bad. People just need to listen to what she really has to say.

CL: Karl, are you all right?

KR: Sure. All things considered. Why do you ask?

CL: I’ve never heard you talk that way about Hillary before.

KR: Who? What?

CL and KR drive to Nevada.

KR: Why are we going here? Did you win one of those four night two day free stays? If you did. I wouldn’t take the bait. Most of them are scams.

CL: We’re going back to your past Karl.

KR: What do you mean?

CL: A couple weeks ago, I realized something. No one’s ever seen your birth certificate.

KR: You mean my real name might not be Karl Christian Rove and I maybe wasn’t born on Christmas Day 1950?

CL: You think maybe the middle name Christian might have been a clue?

KR: Wow….Never looked at it that way CL.

CL: The record says you were born in Denver and nobody seems to know the name of your biological father.

KR: Wow, just like Jesus.

CL: The next thing anyone knows is that your mother marries a man named Louis Rove and your family winds up in Nevada for some reason.

KR: There were jobs in places like Reno.

CL: Or maybe Area 51 happens to be in Nevada.

They park next to a barbed wire fence that bears a sign. “This Installation Does not Exist. Go Back Now!”

KR: You think this might be Area 51?

CL: Just guessing here, but what do we have to lose?

Karl cuts the wire and they slip into a warehouse. On one side of the warehouse is an assortment of abandoned flying saucers. The other end has the bodies of unfamiliar sentient creatures preserved in a blue liquid. The two men barely seem to notice as they head for a stack of DVD’s.

CL: I think it might be these. They’re labeled “Turd Blossom”.

KR whips out a portable DVD player.

KR: That's Don Segretti, my first mentor. I knew that he didn’t do anything wrong really. They just used his prosecution and prison sentence as a cover. Now, there’s Lee Atwater, my other mentor. I can’t believe they killed him at the end when he started asking for forgiveness for all the terrible things he’d done. He was a great man.

CL: Karl, look at this one.

In a split screen, there’s a scene at CIA headquarters with the then Director of the Agency interviewing Segretti.

DS: We have completed his training. We’ve turned him completely.

Head of CIA: We’re going to make Carlos his handler.

DS: You mean Dick Cheney? Isn’t that the idiot who’s convinced the Russians want to bomb us from space?

Head of CIA: I trust Dick Cheney and this is the last time anyone calls him Carlos. Understand?

DS: He’s ready.

Head of CIA: He’s going to go by the name Karl Christian Rove?

DS: We even gave him papers saying that he was born on Christmas Day. He’ll do anything we want. He can destroy someone’s life without giving it a second thought. How's that for Irony?

Head of CIA: Well, if you've ever really read the Bible, it's not that ironic.

DVD cuts to a split screen scene with a date stamp in the eighties. In one screen, a very drunk young man is seen crashing his car into a bunch of garbage cans. He’s wearing jeans, a flight jacket, and pulls out a tin of chewing tobacco and says something about his father that's too slurred to be understood.

In the other screen, a brash young officer in a flight jacket drips with charisma. Lee Atwater and the man’s father who sounds much like the former Director of the CIA are heard talking.

LA: Segretti says that Rove is so well trained that he can make this drunken idiot President of the United States. He’s the ultimate weapon. Cheney’s going to handle both of them.

Man with Voice of Director of CIA: After they’re through, I’m going to look like the last great Republican president. God help us all.

KR turns to CL.

KR: My God CL, I can’t believe that I thought that idiot had any kind of charisma. I see the video now and this is the last guy who should have ever been President. I'm so embarrassed.

CL: Karl, it wasn’t your fault. They waterboarded you. You did this because you wanted to be a loyal American. They twisted you. We’re going to get your real identity back.

Cuts to a scene of Dick Cheney in his office. He is opening an unmarked package containing two DVDs labeled “copies only, we have plenty more, Carlos".

A week later Karl Rove quietly resigns from his duties as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President. Dick Cheney does not comment.

More adventures with Karl Rove

Juan Cole on Karl Rove in Salon.

New Yorker article on Karl Rove


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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cheney and Rove in 0'8

I've been keeping an eye on the declared Republican candidates. None of them seem to understand Iraq nearly as well as this fellow. I'm pretty sure had this guy been President instead of George W. Bush, he would have avoided many of the mistakes that we made in Iraq.

Now that Karl Rove is free to work openly for a campaign, I hope these two get together and help set America on the right path.


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Real Surge

AP Photo Samir Mizban

I’ll keep this one brief. Here’s another story out of Italy about arms traders doing their thing in Iraq possibly with and possibly without the Americans knowing about it.

This article mentions that the Iraqis are converting over to the use of M16’s instead of AK47s. So we have former Soviet bloc weapons, arms dealers, the MAFIA, Bosnia all jumbled together in this one. One figure that jumps out is the 750,000 AK47s intended for the Iraqi police. Either that’s a lot of spares or there’s an awfully big party in the works.


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Streaks of Memory

Yesterday, my wife decided to have an impromptu garage sale. Among the many lost “treasures’ hidden in boxes there was my college yearbook from my freshman year. I transferred out right after that year and have relatively few connections to that single year spent in the Southwest. I’ve only stayed in touch with one classmate, my roommate from that year. Otherwise, I probably haven’t seen anyone from my time there in more than twenty years. A few weeks ago, I had one of those six degrees of separation moments. My daughter played on a volleyball team with another girl who has a relatively unusual last name. We were talking to another parent who was describing this girl’s father. Lo and behold, he was someone I went to college with there that year. I didn’t know him well at all and doubt that he’d remember me. We were in a class together. He was a very outgoing fellow, happened to be unusually tall, and talked to all the attractive women in the class quite freely, something I was way too shy to attempt.

Anyway, I see the yearbook sitting out of the box in our garage and reflexively look up my daughter’s friend’s father in the index. Out pops…and I mean so literally, three pages and two photos from a time when mass streaking was a popular activity. If you’re not a baby boomer, “streaking” was sort of the mob event of its time or a version of some of the pictures on done live. Basically, you and hundreds of your friends would take off all your clothes then walk down some major thoroughfare. It was usually done at night and at least at this school a broad cross-section of the student body participated.

It generally wasn’t sexual and it was an interesting bonding experience. Btw, I never participated. Streakers could be the nerdiest guys in the dorm, the jocks, foreign-exchange students, the popular females, and any males or females who fell between those groups. It actually had sort of a bonding effect similar to fraternity initiations. While there were some folk who freelanced their streaking, the mass events may have been done that way because it was more or less impossible for whoever was in charge to identify and discipline say two hundred and fifty naked people.

So, there was a picture of my daughter’s friend’s father walking naked down a major street in a major city with various anatomical details on display. There was also a similar picture of him involving a dog, beer glasses, and a basketball. In addition, there was a “senior message” type page which included multiple uses of the term “wasted”.

My daughter made me scan one of the photos. My wife saw the first one and said “You can’t let her send that.”

My daughter scanned them anyway and e-mailed them to her friend where they may or may not be circulating across the east coast. It’s too late now, but maybe I shouldn’t have let my daughter see them. Once she did, it was inevitable that she’d send them off to her friend. Who could resist?

I’d totally forgotten about the “streaking” phenomenon. I don’t know if daughter’s friend’s father had as well. Although our daughters were good friends, we someone never did see one another during the season (long story). I only figured out that he was the same guy who had been in my history class on the last day of their season playing together. I imagine if he had forgotten, he’ll remember now.

In the same year, I forged a press pass to see Richard Nixon talk to reporters at the height of Watergate, there was also this outbreak of naked people running through the library, marching down Main Street at night, and trying to get served in the dining hall. The next time I hear someone my age tell their kid that “You must be crazy to put compromising pictures of yourself up on”, I’m going to have to smile.


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Honey, I Lost a Planeload of Assault Rifles (GAO Report on US Equipment not reaching Iraq) )

Even though I’m a liberal, I grew up with fantasies of James Bond, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission Impossible, etc. As much as I talk about the rule of law, open government, and checks and balances, I’ve always had a soft spot in my bleeding liberal heart for the possibility that America really does have super-competent covert agents who protect us from harm. They might not follow the letter of the law, but they understood and always respected its spirit. If it can’t be James Bond, even Kiefer Sutherland might do. Sadly, despite the right’s tendency to confuse the show 24 with the real war on terror, James Bond and Jack Bauer aren’t real. I was especially reminded of that when I came across the July 31, 2007 GAO Report, Department of Defense Cannot Ensure that US Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security Forces.

It turns out that the U.S. funded equipment was 110,000 AK 47s, 80,000 pistols, Body armor, and protective helmets that American taxpayers paid for to help make us safer back in 2004-2005. The Department of Defense didn’t use normal channels to procure the equipment. Instead, the weapons came through Bosnia (buy American doesn’t seem to be an important thing when it comes to taxpayer-funded arms sales) and was supposed to be flown by a Moldovan Airlines to Iraq and then distributed to Iraqi police through the Ministry of Interior and Iraqi army units through their Ministry of Defense.
The American General in charge of supplying the Iraqi units with these weapons was a guy named, David Petraeus. Because the DOD didn’t use normal channels, the arms buy didn’t adhere to any standard DOD procurement procedures. All of the weapons simply disappeared.

Most people believe that most of the weapons wound up with insurgents. Some point to a story of an entire Iraqi unit that suddenly disbanded and began fighting against the coalition instead of with it back in 2004. It’s possible that the weapons have turned up in places like Somalia, the Sudan, or even with Columbian drug lords. For all we know, the items may be getting sold at weekend gun shows throughout the United States to believers in the second amendment. The group in charge of the operation never even recorded the serial numbers of the weapons. This wasn’t James Bond or Jack Bauer as much as it was straight out of the Nicholas Cage movie, Lord of War (a kind of parable about freelance arms dealers).

A year ago, when I started following the DOD report known as Measuring Stability and Progress in Iraq, I noticed that the Iraqi police were being issued AK47’s. It’s not a big deal, but it did strike me as a little odd that the US was supplying another country with Russian-licensed weapons. The only people who ever answered my question told me, “Gee, the AK47 is a great assault rifle and that’s what the Iraqi army and police used traditionally.”

Well if we disbanded the army and De-Baathified most of the police, why reequip them with Russian weapons? There must be plenty of starving U.S. munitions makers who would gladly have cranked out m-16s for them. Similarly, why was a Moldovan airline involved in delivering this stuff? Btw, the Moldovan airline, Aerocom, was criticized by the UN for arms dealings in Liberia. Furthermore, if these units are supposed to work with Coalition forces, isn’t there a matter of interoperability?

Another odd thought is that if the insurgent/terrorists wound up with body armor in 2004-2005, many of them actually had proper US standard body armor before our own troops in Iraq did thanks to this adventure. There are also stories that Petraeaus has been arming Sunni groups who have indicated some willingness to take on Al Qaeda (some say the same groups have also been fighting the Shiite dominated government). Given this story, I’m wondering how these groups were being armed and to what actual end.

These are my questions:

1) Why did they need secret arms sales to supply Iraqi soldiers and police? We had authorized 19.2 billion dollars to do so officially. So why so secret and why such a weird delivery path?

2) The more I read about the war, the more I worry that incompetence is the real enemy. Why is everyone so focused on “corruption” when simple incompetence is this blatant? I’d say the same thing about the justice department scandal. If no one there can remember any significant decisions or key details, then does it matter if someone did something criminal? You shouldn’t have idiots running a major Government agency. Anyway, according to the GAO the Department of Defense was at the top of the chain of command for this disaster. At the time, Donald Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense. The White House surely knew by 2005 that the DOD had lost 110,000 AK 47s, shades of the ammunition dumps that went unsecured after the invasion in 2003. Honestly, I’m a little worried about General Petraeus’s name being in the middle of this thing and the way the White House now seems to be leaning on him as their man in Iraq.

The GAO report comes with a response from DOD that essentially says, “Yes, bad things happened. We’ll implement some controls next time.” My question, was anyone really held accountable for this disaster? And why is DOD swearing to fix the procurement system for these side deals in August 2007? As in, once it happened, shouldn’t they have fixed it? So, how many of these weird adventures have there been? The 2007 Measuring Stability report did note that the Iraqi army is doing an inventory of available personnel and equipment. I thought Republicans were supposed to be good at “management”. What’s going on here?

3. Why does this whole story smell strangely similar to Iran-Contra and Oliver North, John Negroponte, Robert Gates, et al. ? Mmmmm....hold on, maybe I don't need an answer to that question. :}

4. So, where are James Bond and Jack Bauer these days? It sounds like the other side had their equivalents. Where were ours? Could that have anything to do with the administration outing its own agents?

see also Viktor Bout the man behind Aerocom and the inspiration for Lord of War


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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Geometry of Closets (fiction)

this story was accepted for publication by the Summerset Review

New Yorker article on Asperger's


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Sunday, August 05, 2007

755 and a Bunch of Walks

I happened to turn on the tv Saturday night for the second inning of the Giants-Padres game. Barry Bonds hit Clay Hensley’s fourth pitch deep into left center field to tie Hank Aaron. Ironically, Hensley once was suspended from the minor leagues for steroid use (he was sent to the minors right after the game). Bonds was so sure of this one that he stopped to admire his swing then just walked-trotted the bases. The crowd greeted the event with a mixture of respectful cheers and boos. Someone threw a ball back on the field from the left field stands, though it wasn’t the actual ball. Major League Baseball puts a special but invisible mark on each of Bonds’s balls these days to prevent multiple claims of having the actual artifact.

In his next three at bats, Bonds got walked. When he hit number 754 against the Marlins eight days earlier, he was walked his next four times up. Okay, Bonds likely did use the stuff (unlike Hensley and dozens of others though he’s never tested positive), but isn’t anyone going to say anything about how gutless all these so-called major league pitchers are? Barry Bonds is going through what may be the worst hitting slump of his Giants career (he had one truly bad year his second season as a Pirate), he’s forty three years old, and the pitchers still treat the guy as if he were Babe Ruth in his prime. Personally, I find the collective lack of guts of roughly half of national league pitchers a bigger scandal than the steroids thing.

In 1973, the year Aaron broke Ruth’s record, Hammering Hank drew 39 walks in 340 at bats. In his final season, he drew 35 and hit .229 as a designated hitter for the Brewers. Babe Ruth, in 1927, his signature year when he hit 60 home runs, the Bambino drew 137 walks. With two months of the season left, Bonds has 113. At this point, Bonds is presumably clean. One can argue that it’s not the numbers that tell you how special a player is in any sport, it’s the respect shown by opponents on the field. The record that will soon belong to Bonds may be tainted, but no player has ever been shown this kind of respect. The pitchers are sending the clear message that Bonds is every bit the equal of Ruth and Aaron.

Let’s go more contemporary. Alex Rodriguez, whom everyone insists is clean, became the youngest player at 32 to hit 500 home runs for his career. Still in his prime and in the midst of a great year even by his standards, Arod has 65 walks so far. Albert Puljos, the best of the younger hitters in the game, has 24 home runs (3 more than Bonds) and 67 walks this year. While the walk totals are also a measure of the three sluggers supporting casts (Ryan Klesko who hits behind Bonds has all of 5 home runs this year), it still suggests that pitchers treat the ancient and slumping Bonds as at least as dangerous as either Arod or Puljos. How weird is that? Actually, how incredible is that?

That’s the irony. There are great chunks of Barry’s career when he wasn’t juiced. Even Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the authors of Game of Shadows, wrote that Bonds did not do the evil deed until 1998. Given the intense level of scrutiny since BALCO broke, I also assume that Bonds has been clean for the last 3-4 years (BALCO broke in 2003). I have no idea what the residual benefits of prior steroids and HGH use would be btw, but every other player accused of using them reverted shockingly quickly to mediocrity after they stopped. Take a look at Brady Anderson, Bobby Estellela, Marvin Bernard, etc. Even stranger, most steroid users become more brittle with age. For instance, within two years of hitting his 70, Mcgwire was all but out of baseball. Okay, maybe Barry wouldn’t have home run records, but the controversy obscures some pretty remarkable feats.

Consider this. At age 43, Bonds has stolen 5 bases without being caught. In 5 seasons, he’s stolen 21 bases and been thrown out once. Barry has more home runs after age 40 than any player in history. Based on the way the pitchers are still responding to him, he’s not exactly done and he basically missed an entire season at 41 with a knee injury. At 43, he still plays left field, not very well these days, but quite remarkable in its way because he hasn’t yet taken advantage of the designated hitter rule (except when the team plays in American League parks). Has there ever been a 43 year old guy whom a major league team depended on as their main slugger?

I don’t condone what Barry Bonds did, but I think he deserves his moment. To hear his critics, it’s as if the entire baseball drug scandal will be purged if we can somehow torture Barry Bonds like something out of Shirley Jackson’s story “the Lottery”. Bonds is really not the guy who screwed up the “sacred” numbers of the game. Sammy Sosa has fours seasons of 60 or more home runs. Rich Aurilia had 37 home runs in 2001 and no more than 23 in any other season, yet his name has never been linked to the scandal or Ernie Banks. Jason Giambi has an MVP award, a huge contract, and the apparent forgiveness of Yankees fans. Booing Bonds doesn’t change any of those things. If you want to punish Barry Bonds for doing steroids in a way that will truly get to him, the answer is very simple- make sure that Jeff Kent gets into the Hall of Fame before he does or possibly even worse have the two go in together.

Maybe I shouldn’t have popped up from the couch and started cheering when Barry tied Hank. I know there are reasons not to, but when he hits 756 either this week or some time in late September, I’ll probably do the same thing. Whatever he did, I, in more than forty years of watching baseball, have never seen a hitter whom pitchers tried harder to avoid even when he wasn’t using.


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Friday, August 03, 2007

I35 and the Mandate of Heaven

First off, it must be terrifying to be driving on a high bridge and have it collapse while you’re mid span. I’m deeply sorry for the victims and their families and friends.

I had a friend, Stephanie, who died a few years ago, but who had a lifelong fear of driving across bridges. Since our group of friends lived in three different parts of the Bay Area, her phobia frustrated all of us. After all, it usually meant that we had to drive to wherever Stephanie was and she had a more or less ready excuse for not going to any events that were on our side of the bridge if she didn’t want to. Anyway after that bridge in Minneapolis fell into the Mississippi, I’m reminded that Stephanie’s phobia wasn’t so irrational after all.

In the meantime in sort of replay of Katrina, there’s already a media war going on between Republicans and Democrats about whose fault it was. They haven’t finished counting the bodies of course, but the President managed to mix paying respects to the victims this morning with castigating Congress for not passing his version of the Federal Budget.

“I’m so sorry for your loss….btw since I’ve got your attention let me remind you to vote Republican this fall.”

It wasn’t the most presidential way to handle the matter, but since the 2008 Republican convention is in Minnesota, I’m sure they’ll make things right before next summer. The Democrats are pointing out that the Republican Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, vetoed a gas tax that would have financed bridge reconstruction roughly a year ago (Pawlenty did sign a 1.1 billion dollar appropriations bill that included highway and bridge repairs though- these things are always a little more complex than the talking points ever hint at) and that President Bush shortchanged a highway funding bill two years ago as well. Fwiw, there was a 2005 American Society of Civil Engineers report that gave America’s infrastructure a D grade.

The Chinese believed in something called the “Mandate of Heaven”. In very rough terms, they saw natural events like storms, earthquakes, and comets as nature’s commentary on whether or not the right folk were in charge. In February 2003 while the Administration was preparing for the invasion of Iraq, the Challenger Space Shuttle fell out of the sky. With my ancient Chinese hat on, I saw the Challenger as heaven’s message that American technology wasn’t quite as fearsome or advanced as we thought. It was an Icarus moment, yet the administration pressed on.

Four years later, a bridge fell into the Mississippi during rush hour. It just happens that the Mississippi serves as America’s river, the waterway that symbolically divides east from west in our culture. New Orleans and Minneapolis are the two cities that mark the southern and northern ends of the river. For close to six years, my ears have rung with reverbrating reminders of threats from beyond our borders. If Michael Chertoff can have gut feelings, I can have them too. Could there be any clearer message that while we are obsessed with threats from the outside, our society is crumbling from the inside?

All those years my friend Stephanie was afraid to drive over bridges, I speculated that her phobia was metaphorical. Though she was warm, thoughtful, and always as interested in you as she seemed interested in talking about herself, she became more and more socially isolated over time. When she died, it took three days before the authorities could figure out who to notify. I suppose it’s not that strange that the I35 collapse causes me to think about Stephanie. I just never thought I’d be identifying with her phobias quite this strongly. In the meantime, I suspect that nature isn’t just talking to Al Gore. I think the I35 disaster is trying to tell us something more than “fix your bridges”.


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Rufus Wainwright (concert review and notes)

Not long after the intermission of his two and a half hour show at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa, a leder hosen-clad Rufus Wainwright was striking a Judy Garland pose, jaw out, arm bent and doing a tribute to her versions of Gershwin’s A Foggy Day and Noel Coward’s A Talent to Amuse. Wainwright may have one of the strongest voices in pop music. It’s clear, hauntingly resonant, and capable of a kind of brio that lets him pull off a Judy Garland tribute without any attempt to sing up in her register. So, here was a lanky man in greenish leder hosen and sequined vest, channeling Judy Garland to the accompaniment of a lone grand piano in front of a not quite sold out audience of middle-aged mostly heterosexually coupled white folk in the California wine country who simply listened and applauded. It was a breathtakingly transgressive moment. It looked like something out of the audition rounds of American Idol, yet Wainwright’s musical performance had no trace of drag show camp. There were no winks to the audience, no pretense to being a lookalike or move alike of Garland herself, etc. Wainwright was serious about the songs and the music for their own sake.

Moments later Rufus Wainwright was rocking out on guitar with his eight man backup band that included a three piece horn section and just before the Garland he was singing solo to his own piano accompaniment an almost techno-trance song, “I’m Leaving for Paris”.

Believe it or not, even well before this second act I was already convinced that Rufus Wainwright was the most eclectic musical performer I’d ever seen . He had opened his show in a peppermint-striped suit and silver jester shoes and sang, played guitar, accompanied himself on piano, with minimal breaks between songs for a set that included bits of Schubert, hints of Elton John (one of his patrons), a bunch of straight ahead rock and roll, occasional baroque touches, and political protest (“I’m Tired of You America” and a song about buckling bridges). At times, the music was loud,fast, and thick with guitar washes and French horn solos. At others it was bouncy and danceable, “Sans Souci”. From time to time, he would make clear that his love songs were written about men by a man, even when he was singing in character as a schoolgirl in a song about an affair with an art teacher. He then closed the first act of the show with the disco-inspired “Between My Legs" complete with special guest from the audience for some sort of youtube promotion.

While he certainly inherited his parents musical talent (he’s the son of Loudon Wainwright, a folk singer once compared to Dylan, and Kate McGarrigle, the possessor of one of the great harmony voices in folk), Rufus is the showman of the family. Somehow, in addition to being a sharp lyricist with a strong almost shameless feel for hooky refrains “Why’d You Have to Break All of My Heart” or "Nobody's Off the Hook", Wainwright revealed an operatic sense for building the drama in his stage act. The peppermint-striped straight-on opening set gave way to a second that included the Judy Garland, a tribute to 19th Century Irish Tenor John MCormick, and god knows what else until he sets up a false ending with his talented and flexible band each getting a solo then walking off the stage as they worked down from eight to a lone amplified banjo solo.

After a standing ovation, Wainwright reappeared in a white bathrobe for what turned out to be a planned five song encore. This started with inviting Sean Lennon and band, his warmup act, on stage to jam on Lennon’s father’s song “Across the Universe”. Lennon had studiously avoided any John and Yoko references during his own act. The spectacle of these two second generation performers who are both quite pointedly musically different from their parents (though Sean Lennon’s voice can sound hauntingly like John’s when he wants it to) doing a 60’s style on stage jam proved a touching emotional release. Rather than end there, Wainwright then moved to the piano to sing a ballad that segued into an Edith Piaf tribute sung in French. There was another false ending followed by Rufus donning earrings, high heels, then taking off the white bath robe to reveal thigh high stockings and full drag, for a full on Garland tribute complete with a corps of male backup dancers (I assume this was part of his all Judy Garland concert show done in New York a few months ago), “Get Happy”.

So let’s do the tally here. The guy has a great voice. He writes traditional lyrics about as well as anyone out there, subtle, fresh, yet strangely familiar. He’s musically well-informed and doesn’t try to hide it. He takes the drag show tradition and manages to make it feel perfectly normal. He’s got a relaxed patter (he’s sort of defiantly swishy) with a biting sense of humor when he does talk. He knows how to construct an act as a dramatic spectacle that goes beyond just playing music in front of a bunch of people. Can anyone else in pop music do all that?

Not too shocking, Wainwright hasn’t fully caught on in the US yet despite being named Rolling Stone’s best new artist back in 1998. His most recent album, Release the Stars, hit #2 in England. This tour is one more attempt to break him out in America which probably explains why the second song of his act was “I’m Tired of You America”.


Here’s the funny bit. A few months ago, my wife and I had watched the Leonard Cohen tribute concert movie, “I’m Your Man”, which featured large doses of Rufus Wainwright. Cohen and Wainwright both have Canadian roots. Both men also lived at the Chelsea Hotel for a long stretch of their lives. The wife loved the movie and Rufus. I had liked him fine as a straight on interpreter of Cohen’s music, but that was it. Anyway, we hadn’t been to a concert together in a long long time and the guy was in town. I didn’t even know that he was gay before we saw the concert last night. I was figuring that he was going to sit at the piano and sing troubadour-type folk songs. It’s nothing I would have thought to go to had it not been for my wife and my feeling that it was time to surprise her with a date-like evening. Once in a while, I guess it’s healthy to stretch your own musical boundaries.

Even more obscure. Years ago, I attended a boy’s boarding school in New England. When I was a tenth grader, they had a Saturday concert by upcoming folk singer Loudon Wainwright. It was one of those rare school events that wasn’t mandatory, so I didn’t have to go. It was maybe a year or two years before Rufus was born. Everyone else came out of the thing excited about some song about a dead skunk in the middle of the road. A couple years later at the same school, we had one of our rare dances (most of the schools were starting to go coed so the “mixer” thing was a dying concept). One of the hipper seniors was very excited to have gotten this hot band from Boston. The bus from the girls school never showed up. The band turned out to be Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, a bunch of super cool folk who dressed in black and were beyond hip. If you’re into rock history, the Modern Lovers were one of these prophetic groups who never got their due. They were punk, new wave, and had this strong Velvet Underground androgynous but sexual tinge, before any of those concepts had hit the mainstream.

There was nothing left to do but sit downstairs from the dining hall and listen to the Modern Lovers play a set. I sipped on cokes from cans while my schoolmates not so subtly took hits from joints and gulps from whiskey bottles to drown their sexual frustration which would have likely been just as frustrated had the girls school shown up. My schoolmates hated the Modern Lovers. Guys started shouting “Do you know any Allman brothers?” Richman responded, “We’re the Modern Lovers and we don’t do covers. We only do Modern Lovers music.”

I heard a few mutters of the three letter “F” word directed at Jonathan Richman. By the end of the evening the only one listening was the hip senior who had brought them to the school and the faculty chaperone. Personally, I had no idea what to make of the experience other than there were worlds of music I wasn’t ready for.

Thirty four years later, I’m at a concert featuring Loudon Wainwright’s son who is more influenced by the Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman’s take on the eclectic troubadour tradition than Dylanesque folk singer. A lot of time has passed and my tastes and sensibilities have sure changed a lot. I’d say that’s a good thing.


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