Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: The Guards, By Ken Bruen

Over the years, I’ve created a formula for choosing a book for a summer vacation: Fiction, involves crime, and light enough to go with beer consumption. With this in mind I went with an Irish noir called: The Guards, by Ken Bruen.

I had never read a Bruen before but I love noir, and thought the Irish would have a good take on it. It did not disappoint. It was bleak, and hilarious; pithy, and poetic.

Jack Taylor is an ex-policeman, of the Irish Garda (Guards) the national force. He was fired for drinking and pissing off the wrong people. (He knew he was in trouble when the chief was giving him the: "Every man likes a pint every now and then but..." speech.) Now his job is finding things:

There are no private eyes in Ireland. The Irish wouldn’t wear it. The concept brushes perilously close to the hated “informer”. You can get away with most anything except “telling”.

What I began to do was find things…...
A woman whose daughter allegedly committed suicide, hires him look into the real reason for her death.

Doesn’t sound very funny does it? The case almost takes the back burner as Taylor narrates us through his drinking binges, his hatred of his mother, his failed relationships with women, his lack of money and his sordid friends. He begins the morning at the pub, where his “coffee” is topped up with Jameson’s. It’s like a very good Irish story teller at a local pub who you’re happy to listen to. He’s got his opinions on books, alcohol brands, music, the church, history, and of course the Irish. It’s charming and grim all at the same time. If you were a bar fly, he would be your best buddy.

Between blackouts, hospitalizations and hangovers, he actually works on the case, with the help of his dodgy friend Sutton. (Sutton has a murky past, probably ex-IRA and has killed people.) Taylor is a drunk and an amateur, and things often don’t go well. I would spoil it by describing some of the foul ups and surprises, but I can say it's laugh out loud funny. (If you like dark humor.)

I enjoyed Bruen's interesting chapter headings. It could be a title, a book or movie quote, or blankness. Sometimes even a bit of poetry like this:

… so smug believed-that desolation
had the limits full explored
I’m not much of a poetry guy, but that one stopped me in my tracks. The Black Irish blood in me can appreciate that sentiment.

If you like noir, and you get a kick out of Irish lyricism, you cannot go wrong with The Guards. Bruen has a series of Jack Taylor novels that I will explore further.

Electric Cars Still Need Energy

In the rush to go green, people have lost sight of common sense. Not So Fast With Those Electric Cars

It's a beautiful theory — highways full of electric cars emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants after being plugged into an outlet in our garages overnight. The problem, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, is that the effort may only shift the problem somewhere else.

"If you are using coal-fired power plants, and half the country's electricity comes from coal-powered plants, are you just trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another?" asks Mark Gaffigan, co-author of the GAO report. The report itself notes: "Reductions in CO2 emissions depend on generating electricity used to charge the vehicles from lower-emission sources of energy."

The GAO report says a plug-in compact car, if recharged at an outlet drawing its power from coal, provides a carbon dioxide savings of only 4% to 5%. If the feeling of saving the environment from driving an electric car causes people to drive more, that small amount of savings vanishes entirely
Sorry to spoil the party.

It's the Tribes, Stupid

Author Steven Pressfield gives the blogesphere a try with his newly launched site It's the Tribes, Stupid.

On the site he produced five videos, on his own dime, focusing on the Afghan (and Iraqi) conflicts and how the western forces must realize who we are fighting: The eastern tribesman. Pressfield makes the case that the US made a major mistake, blundering in and hoping the spread of democracy was going to be popular. Au contraire, these people do not want democracy, because they have a different way of viewing the world. Freedom for them has a different meaning. Democracy is a threat to rheir way of life and is to be fought off.

While researching Alexander the Great's conquest of Afghanistan, for his book The Afghan Campaign, Pressfield realized there were incredible similarities to the modern US action in that country.

I have a review of the book here: The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield. (This is one of my most popular posts.)

For anybody interested in the conflict and open to alternative viewpoints, it's well worth your time to have a look. Personally, I think Pressfield's angle is the best explanation of why, after eight years in Afghanistan and six in Iraq, we are failing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rage, Whining, Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories in Wake of Palin Resignation

The Palin phenomenon continues to amaze me. There is a big article that is making the rounds on right wing blogs is proof that a large section of the conservative movement has gone bat shit crazy.

Over at the National Review Online (NRO) is an article by a one David Kahane that is ludicrous, paranoid, and chock full of conspiracy theories. I thought it was intended to be satire but not to the people reading and commenting on it. Remember, NRO was founded by William F Buckley and was once considered a very highly respected, intellectual magazine.

The premise is a fictional narrative/confessional from a left wing operative. The story is that seeing that Sarah Palin was such a strong pick for the Republicans, the operatives decided to gather all the vast left wing conspirators and ruin her.

Read the full article here: I Still Hate You, Sarah


Not only were we offended at the sheer effrontery of McCain’s pick: How dare the Republicans proffer this déclassée piece of Wasilla trailer trash whose only claim to fame was that she didn’t exercise her right to choose? Where were her degrees from Smith or Barnard, her internships at PETA, the Brookings Institution, or the Young Pioneers? We were also outraged that the Stupid Party had just nominated a completely unqualified candidate nobody had ever heard of, a first-term governor of Alaska whose previous experience consisted of a small-town mayoralty. As opposed to our guy, Barry Soetoro of Mombasa, Djakarta, and Honolulu, a first-term senator nobody had ever heard of, whose previous experience had been as a state senator (D., Daley Machine) in Illinois. After eight long, illegitimate, lawless years of &*^%BUSH$#@! tyranny, how dare you contest this election?

And so the word went out, from that time and place: Eviscerate Sarah Palin like one of her field-dressed moose. Turn her life upside down. Attack her politics, her background, her educational history. Attack her family. Make fun of her husband, her children. Unleash the noted gynecologist Andrew Sullivan to prove that Palin’s fifth child was really her grandchild. Hit her with everything we have: Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, taking a beer-run break from her quixotic search for Mr. Right to drip venom on Sister Sarah; post-funny comic David Letterman, to joke about her and her daughters on national television; Katie Couric, the anchor nobody watches, to give this Alaskan interloper a taste of life in the big leagues; former New York Times hack Todd “Mr. Dee Dee Myers” Purdum, to act as an instrument of Graydon Carter’s wrath at Vanity Fair. Heck, we even burned her church down. Even after the teleological triumph of The One, the assault had to continue, each blow delivered with our Lefty SneerTM (viz.: Donny Deutsch yesterday on Morning Joe), until Sarah was finished.
OK. Take a breath. You can see the premise.

Here's a some other nuttiness:

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but maybe now you’re beginning to understand the high-stakes game we’re playing here. This ain’t John McCain’s logrolling senatorial club any more. This is a deadly serious attempt to realize the vision of the 1960s and to fundamentally transform the United States of America. This is the fusion of Communist dogma, high ideals, gangster tactics, and a stunning amount of self-loathing. For the first time in history, the patrician class is deliberately selling its own country down the river just to prove a point: that, yes, we can! This country stinks and we won’t be happy until we’ve forced you to admit it.

Did Sarah stand for “family values”? Flay her unwed-mother daughter. Did she represent probity in a notoriously corrupt, one-family state? Spread rumors about FBI investigations. Did she speak with an upper-Midwest twang? Mock it relentlessly on Saturday Night Live. Above all, don’t let her motivate the half of the country that doesn’t want His Serene Highness to bankrupt the nation, align with banana-republic Communist dictators, unilaterally dismantle our missile defenses, and set foot in more mosques than churches since he has become president. We’ve got a suicide cult to run here.

And that’s why Sarah had to go. Whether she understood it or not, she threatened us right down to our most fundamental, meretricious, elitist, sneering, snobbish, insecure, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders bones. She was, after all, a “normal” American, the kind of person (or so I’m told) you meet in flyover country. The kind that worries first about home and hearth and believes in things like motherhood and love of country the way it is, not the way she wants to remake it.
When I first saw this article, I read it thinking: oooh boy this is crazy. NRO will end up removing it. They didn't and it's making rounds on blogs.

I noticed it on popular Canadian blog Small Dead Animals yesterday, posted as Your must read of the week.

Be sure to check out the comments over there. Sample:

Posted by EBD:

David Kahane is my new hero. The guy knows what time it is, and he's not afraid to tap his watch and clear his throat, if you catch my drift.

Bang-on piece. Great to see.
This is what happens to people who only read the same blogs, listen to the same talk radio and watch shows like Glenn Beck. They lose touch with reality.

Two simple points of contention.

1. George W. Bush was in the White House for the last eight years, and up until 2006, had majority Republicans in both the House and Senate. If these vast left wing conspirators are that powerful, how do they explain that? (Funny too, they accuse Al Franken of stealing the election. Hmmm... do they really want to go there?)

2. Sarah Palin was not destroyed by the media. She destroyed herself when she opened her mouth. Even hardcore Republicans admit that she should "read up on international politics, etc." Which is an admission that she doesn't know anything. The public could see that, and that's why she's so unpopular.

If anything, the media has been soft on her. Look at this recent puff piece in Time Magazine:

Whether that is true or not, Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand. Résumés ain't what they used to be; they count only with people who trust credentials — a dwindling breed. The mathematics Ph.D.s who dreamed up economy-killing derivatives have pretty impressive résumés. The leaders of congressional committees and executive agencies have decades of experience — at wallowing in red ink, mismanaging economic bubbles and botching covert intelligence.

If ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it. "We have so little trust in the character of the people we elected that most of us wouldn't invite them into our homes for dinner, let alone leave our children alone in their care," writes talk-show host Glenn Beck in his book Glenn Beck's Common Sense, a pox-on-all-their-houses fusillade at Washington. Dashed off in a fever of disillusionment with those in power, Beck's book is selling like vampire lit, with more than 1 million copies in print.
In a way I'm glad Sarah Palin came along. It has exposed an element of the American right that had been under a rock for a while. Paranoia, whining, conspiracy theories. (These are not only the dominions of the far left.)

Polls say more than two thirds of Republicans strongly approve of Sarah Palin. Instead of dreaming up conspiracies, why don't they face that she's not a winner and try to win an election with somebody who might be? If not, it'll mean four more years of Obama, and more rage from them. It's hard to believe we're only six months into his term and these people think he wants to purposefully destroy the United States. Are the nutters going to snap out of this or is it going to get worse?

Final note: This line from the article, is the most pathetic whining: Did she speak with an upper-Midwest twang? Mock it relentlessly on Saturday Night Live.

Get a life.

China, India Scoff at Emissions Cuts

The G8 leaders made a bizarre promise to limit the global temperature increase to within two degrees by 2050. (Hey, I'm going to the beach Saturday, I'm hoping for sunny, 25C. Can you help me on that?) To do this, they plan drastic emissions cuts. Once again, though, they forgot to sign on major polluters China and India:

L’AQUILA, Italy — The world’s biggest developing nations, led by China and India, refused Wednesday to commit to specific goals for slashing heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting the drive to build a global consensus by the end of this year to reverse the threat of climate change.

As President Obama arrived for three days of talks with other leaders of the Group of 8 nations, negotiators for 17 leading polluters abandoned targets in a draft agreement for the meetings here. But negotiators embraced a goal of preventing temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and developing nations agreed to make “meaningful” if unspecified reductions in emissions.
For the good of the world they have to stop all these summits where statesmen grandstand and try to make historic deals.

The article explains why the developing countries are balking at the deal:

But the impasse over the 2050 targets demonstrated again the most vexing problem in reaching a consensus on climate change: the longstanding divisions between developed countries like the United States, Europe and Japan on one side, and developing nations like China, India, Brazil and Mexico on the other.

While the richest countries have produced the bulk of the pollution blamed for climate change, developing countries are producing increasing volumes of gases. But developing countries say their climb out of poverty should not be halted to fix damage done by industrial countries.
It's very simple. It costs too much money. They know it and we know it. Only over here they tell people that these cuts will actually make us wealthier and create endless green collar jobs.

When the money runs out in western countries, and China and India are the new superpowers we can point to folly like this as one of the causes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

US Right Echo Chamber Getting Louder

I had skimmed a few right wing blogs in the last few days triumphantly touting that the American public is moving further right. David Frum takes a closer look at the numbers and is not impressed:

We are not, in other words, viewing a big national shift from the left to the right. Rather we are viewing a shift among those who already described themselves as conservatives toward an acceptance of more extreme forms of conservatism.


What the Gallup poll seems to have discerned is not a change of substance, but a change in style. Over barely six months of the Obama presidency, the right has worked itself into a furious state of mind, not so much over any one issue in particular, but over the very existence of the Obama administration. Then we confuse our own mood of extremism with a more general swing to conservatism by moderates and liberals. That’s a big misjudgment – and a misjudgment that may lead to some very serious strategic mistakes in the months ahead.
I'm not an Obama fan myself, but is he really all that different from W. Bush? Crazy spending, subsidys, bailouts, increasing government stake medical coverage, continuing wars without a plan for victory, etc. Yet going to some of the old blogs I used to like on the right, you see them either screaming about Obama or praising the useless twit Sarah Palin ad infinitum. It doesn't seem to bore the bloggers or their audience.

GOP Implosion Watch

Headline at USA Today: Poll: Palin's support still strong among GOP

Sarah Palin's bombshell that she is resigning as Alaska governor actually has boosted her a bit among Republicans, a nationwide USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, though it also has dented her standing among Democrats and independents.

Two-thirds of Republicans want Palin, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2008, to be "a major national political figure" in the future. Three-fourths of Democrats hope she won't be.

Independents by 55%-34% would prefer she leave the national stage.
Not since William Jennings Bryan , who lost three Presidential contests for the Democrats, has a party refused to give up on a sure loser. Obama will be beatable with a decent candidate, but not the Whacko from Wasilla. Why can't these people see this?

Lame Duck British PM Lectures: Canada Ignores

Gordon Brown, who was never elected as Prime Minister of Britain and is so far down in the polls that he never will be, is lecturing the G8 countries on what needs to be done. He's not happy that Canada isn't going along with the plan:

And he hinted that international regulation of markets would be necessary, putting him at odds with countries like Canada and Germany, which would rather retain national regulators.

“I think that every country in the world is now having to look at its regulatory systems,” he said. “Let's be clear: If nothing changes as a result of the events in the financial crisis, then the world will be a more unstable place, and growth will be unsustainable. So things have got to change.”

The interview made it strikingly apparent how far out of step Mr. Harper's government has fallen from Western European and U.S. views, especially on climate change and international aid.

Mr. Brown outlined a “growth strategy for the world” consisting of African development funding, investments in climate-change reduction and reform of global institutions to create a worldwide regulatory framework.

While those ideas have won the broad support of the major European nations and of U.S. President Barack Obama, and are likely to set the agenda at the Italian summit today, they also differ sharply from the agenda of Mr. Harper's government, which has moved away from African aid, avoided a major role in carbon-emission reduction and shunned the notion of international regulatory bodies.
The tone of Doug Saunders' article in the Globe is that this is a bad thing. If Harper sticks to his guns and away from the peer pressure to conform, it'll be the first thing he's done this year that I would whole-heartedly approve of.

The western countries are starting to look like suckers. China sends aid to Africa but expects things in its interest, such as mineral rights, in return and doesn't lecture them on human rights. China also ignores climate change rules and grows at 9% every year. They must shake their heads at bankrupt western countries who call for more stimulus. (On loan from China itself.)

I like how Harper is taking a step back and being cautious about this madness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hitchens Still Faithful to Neo-Con Movement

Christopher Hitchens doesn't regret being a leading media proponent of the Iraq invasion and subsequent insurgency quagmire. Today in Slate Magazine he writes that the Iranian democratic uprising may have gotten a jumpstart from the US invasion next door.

Which brings me to a question that I think deserves to be asked: Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about "the liberation of Iraq," he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread.
The theory is not a slam dunk and even if it is: Sorry if I'm not that impressed on this angle as a selling point. The thousands of lives and trillions of dollars wasted don't seem worth it to me. Nowhere is it written in the US Constitution about the obligation to stabilize the governments of Iran, Iraq or Outer Mongolia.

Cognitive Dissonance: Palinites Deny Reality

It's a mystery to me that certain right wing conservatives refuse to acknowledge that Sarah Palin has no business being in a high political office. On Friday, she had a rambling, incoherent press conference explaining that she is quitting her job as governor of Alaska just over halfway through one term. If you haven't seen the speech check it out:

She's toast right? Not to everybody. Read this job dropping piece from Republican big shot Roger Stone: Palin's Plan

This moment came last week for Sarah Palin and her husband Todd. Sick of the derision of the media for her unsophisticated country ways, her plain speaking and consistently being held to a higher standard than her critics, Palin had had enough.
She didn't actually say this was the reason of course. This is Stone's interpretation. Also, how is she plain speaking? To me, that means speaking coherently, getting to the point. Not saying: "You betcha" to important policy questions. How in her speeches or interviews does she come across as plain speaking?

There is a stock excuse from Palinites: that media elites tarnish her because it is all about class and urban snobbery. They say unfair things against her. Nothing to do with her being stupid. Harry Truman used to get cracks about his rough country manner, his hick accent and lack of university degree. But you wouldn't find many who thought he was stupid. Bubba Clinton was from Nowhereville, Arkansas and if anything that helped his popular appeal. But again, nobody accused Clinton of being stupid.

It's about being unintelligent and inarticulate. If anything, I think some of the media are overly kind to her. That weird resignation speech, the media were earnestly trying to interpret what she said instead of merely saying the speech was nonsensical.

Palin could accomplish nothing more as Governor to burnish her "experience" credentials. Nuisance lawsuits and ethics complaints from garden variety left-wing nuts were costing her hundreds of thousands of dollars and paralyzing state government. Palin's accomplishments as Governor in boom times where behind her. The lot of a Governor today is painful cuts and delivering bad news for the next 18 months. Who needs it?
Do I even need to comment on this? Stone reasons that she quit because she had some tough cuts and bad news to deliver, and who needs it? Just what we want in a President. Lincoln: "Well, the Civil War isn't going well, so I thought I'd quit. Maybe I can run again in 1868 when things calm down again." Good God, does this man believe what he's saying?

Palin has the most valuable commodity a Presidential candidate can have - a base. Roughly 23% of Americans and 68% of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin. She alone has this kind of intense following. She alone can fill a large hall or small stadium anywhere in Republican Country. This is similar to the following that sustained Nixon through two defeats and his 'self-destruction' in 1962 to win the White House in 1968.
OK. A) Only 23% of Americans have a favorable view of her. And that math will win her the election? B) Stone uses another Nixon example. Ummm.., didn't he resign in disgrace and was the most hated political figure in American politics for a generation?

Here's a doozy:

Like Nixon, Palin needs some rehabilitation to her political image caused by the relentless attacks of the elitist media, the knife-work of the relatively talentless Republican Party pros like Steve Schmidt and her own self-inflicted wounds from the post election period that were born out of inexperience at this level of political combat. Like Nixon, Palin can re-make herself in the controlled environment of television. Instead of being tortured by smug media types like Katie Couric, Palin can demonstrate her better understanding of issues and articulate a case against Obama. She can be folksy and plain-spoken and above all, 'smart.' All hail the Conservative Oprah!
The first part about the elitist media is pure whining on Stone's part.(His memories of being picked last for sports when he was in school are coming back to him. Pathetic.)The stunner for me is that somehow, these Palinites are still blaming Katie Couric for how badly Palin's performance was during her interview. For example: Couric asked her what newspapers Palin reads to keep up to date on the issues of the day. She could not name one, even when pressed. Is this torturing somebody? The denial is clinical.

Look at the video of the newspaper question, and decide for yourself:

Almost every segment of the Couric interview, she comes off as batty. Stone however says that she's "smart"?

Here's his delusional view of the future:

Palin's "star-power," charisma, presence and genuineness cannot be discounted. No one can discount her moxie, her energy and her inspirational qualities. Her anti-elite middle-class message can have resonance again when the Obama economic policies likely fail. The Ivy leaguers and Hollywood crowd so high on Obama may be riding for a fall. The media has unfairly labeled her as "dumb." All she must do is disprove this...and she can have sixty minutes each week to do it.
Conservatives like Stone would probably be the first one to tell you that leftists are pie-in-the-sky unrealistic. The GOP are utterly shipwrecked.

Ear Drum Relief

News I missed while I was away:

Oxiclean guy buys it.

Does this now make the ShamWow guy the undisputed King of the Pitchmen?

Is It Possible Defeat a Guerrilla Insurgency?

I have come to conclude that the Iraq and Afghan conflicts are virtually unwinnable. Now that we're almost a decade into the conflcits, one has to wonder if a popular insurgency can ever be defeated. Robert Kaplan has a piece in The Atlantic on how the Sri Lankan government defeated the Tamil Tigers. It wasn't pretty, and the US and NATO troops will never be permitted to try the brutal tactics. Here's two examples:

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations.

Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists. That's what the Sri Lankan authorities did. Precisely because insurgencies are unconventional, there are no easy-to-follow infantry advances and retreats, so the media holds the power to shape a narrative for the public. Aware of the need for a compliant media to aid the war effort, the Sri Lankan government struck fear into the ranks of journalists. There were hundreds of disappearances of top opinion leaders.
In the run up to the Afghan War and more particularly, the Iraq War, was anybody asking if the Americans had a solution for a guerilla uprising? They lost Vietnam that way, you would think somebody might have. I guess nobody thought of it.

It should also be noted that it took Sri Lanka 26 years to totally defeat them. I can't see a democratic society accepting a commitment for that long.

Daily Salt Shaker Back From Ontario

I'll be back up posting today.