Archive for December, 2005

On the Road Again

3

Last night, on a rainy Andean evening under a leaky awning in front of the Tienda Ortiz in Huaraz, Peru, we said goodby to our firstborn and out first grandchild, and headed to the MovilTours bus depot to catch the night sleeper bus down to the coast and the capital and then onward to Ecuador.

Joe has been living in the highlands of Peru for four years now, after graduating from Cambridge Rindge and Latin and spending an interesting year first teaching preschoolers and then working as a security guard in a crack hotel in Atlanta. In that time he has taken a small plot of land the Dowbrigade bought almost 30 years ago alongside a roaring mountain river and built a kind of Andean fairyland, a world apart composed of whitewashed adobe cabins, garden, patios bridges and paths, all within a compound so private that one can imagine being absolutely alone with the magnificance of nature. The tranquility is positively staggering, and remarkably rejuvinating.

We took the sleeper bus down to the coast despite the additional cost ($17 as opposed to $14 for a seven hour ride) because it supposedly contained individual beds, flat we hoped, so that we could sleep on the trip down. The Dowbrigade has long been afflicted by an inability to sleep on our back, or in any inclined or sitting position. Innumerable sleepless and miserable nights in buses trains and planes have convinced us to travel during the day, whenever possible, and to reply on powerful pharmecuetical sleeping aids when nocturnal travel is possible.

Of course, the downside of drugged sleep on public transportation, at least in South America, is that one is likely to wake up without one’s carry-on luggage, important documents, wallet and even shoes. Thieves down here (everywhere?) know enough not to pick on an alert, red-blooded and marginally paraniod American like the Dowbrigade under normal circumstances, but a staggering, glassy-eyed gringo is considered easy pickings. So we hoped springing for one of the nine individual compartments on the lower level of this double-decker sleepbus would save a night’s hotel fee and allow us to get SOME sleep on the drive down.

Guess again. The seats were super-wide and confortable enough, but would only recline about 75 degrees, leaving a two foot height difference between head and feet, and making stomach-sleeping impossible. Furthermore, the seats were not private, but merely separated by small curtains, and there were no power outlets.

We were hoping for the power outlets so we could implement Plan B – if we couldn’t sleep, we were hoping for a quaduple feature on the old iBook. Just before departing the highlands, we purchased an example of the latest media distribution innovation to hit the third world – bootleg 4-title DVDs. For years now we have marvelled at the ability of the video bootleggers to get professional-looking copies of movies which were still in the first-run cinemas in the states onto streetcorners in isolated backwaters of the third world seemingly at the speed of light. At a cost of about $1 a movie, you could get decent copies of almost all of the popular current films.

Well, now the bootleggers have moved on to the DVD format, and are packaging four films on one disk for a paltry $1.60. Just before leaving Huaraz, we bought one disk with Aeon Flux, the new King Kong, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the Cronicas of Narnia! 40 cents a flick! No wonder the Motion Picture Association is going ape-shit.

Right now we are waiting for a flight to Tumbes, in extreme northern Peru, from where we will attempt to cross the border overland into Ecuador tomorrow. Then another bus to Guayaquil, and friday the last stage to Manta Beach, where we hope to spend the rest of our vacation playing tennis, kite-surfing, plotting with the mayor and director of urban planning of Manta (our tennis partners)to create a self-contained retiremnet community for aging baby boomers who can’t afford to live in the States on their social security checks ($1,000 a month goes a LOT farther south of the border) and investigating the CIA-affiliated “private” contractors who are feverishly recruiting Latin American gunmen to work security details in Iraq for $2,000 a month.

Ecuador has better internet connectivity than Peru, so we hope to keep posting regularly. Stay tuned…

The Outer Limits of Globalization

ø

Sitting in the Plaza de Armas of Carhuaz, a small town of some 3,000
inhabitants, almost all Native Americans, one is struck by the contrasts
of cultures and world-views.  It is not quite a Clash of Civilizations,
except as the last echoing aftermath of the Indian wars of the previous
500 years. But it is one of the interfaces between emerging, all
encompassing Global Economy and Culture, and something much older, more
mature, and as different as living on another planet.

Sometimes it can be incredibly impressive to see how many of the accoutrements
of the Global culture are available in this tiny town on the absolute
periphery of Globalization. For example, we are posting this from a cybercafe
right on the colonial plaza. Within a few blocks one can purchase Brittany
Spears CDs, knockoff VCD’s.of recent Hollywood blockbusters not even out
on DVD yet in the states, newspapers, lottery tickets, Purina dog food,
barbed wire, wine, whiskey and beer, Ramen noodles, bicycles, disposable
diapers, disposable
razors,
Duracell
batteries, a dozen brands of cigarettes, imitation Bic lighters, ketchup,
Nikes, Coca-Cola, automatic drip coffee machines, and telephone calling
cards.

You can find all of the major medications; antibiotics, analgesics,
tranquilizers, antipyretics, ointments, syrups and salves.  You
can get your hair cut, dyed and permed, call or send a package anywhere
in the world. It is really a tiny miniature node of western civilization.
None of these products or services or habits are available to the Indians
living in villages or isolated groups of farms further up the mountains.

But this same ubiquity of fashion, this deep penetration of concepts,
memes and paradigms, can at times seem depressing, even deadly. As the
local population is sucked into the sights and sounds and sensations
of the Global Culture, mesmerized by cheap knockoffs and flashing Christmas
tree lights, we can’t help but feel that something important, even essential
and irreplaceable, is being lost in the process.

People are in danger of forgetting that life is possible, even in some
ways advantageous, without capitalism, consumerism and a hyper-stimulated
sensationalist culture.

We keep seeing a re-run of the same New World-Old World story that has
been playing out on this continent for the past 500 years.  The
actors change, and the scenery and staging, but the story line is repeated
over and over. Is it the inevitable march of Progress, or are we watching
the terminal phases of an insidious virus that has finally managed to infect
the furthest reaches of the collective consciousness of the human race.

Time will tell…

Planes, Toyotas and Moto-taxis

1

One of the reasons that we love the city of Carhuaz, high in the Peruvian
Andes, is that is has changed so little over the years. The people look,
talk, dress and act just the same. The same stores sell the same products,
and although the prices seem to go up thanks to the ubiquitous Latin inflation,
we suspect that measuered in work-units, it is pretty much the same.

What new buildings are erected look exactly like those they replace,
since all of the construction, farming, and cooking methods are unchanged
for hundreds of years. The social system and cultural events have
likewise not changed in hunderds of years, although they are ostensibly
quite different from those that existed around here before the Spaniards
arrived.

But one thing that has changed, radically, since we first started coming
here 30 years ago, is transportation. In the 1970’s pretty much the only
vehicles we saw up here were pickup trucks and land rovers. The roads were
in rougher shape, few were paved, and during the rainy season driving a
vehicle without 4-wheel drive involved a lot of pulling and pushing.

There were two buses a day down to the coast, old retired Greyhound
diesels, repainted and renamed, but with the faded profiles of the racing
dogs still on the sides. On the paved highway that ran down the bottom
of the valley, along and above the Rio Santa, one could catch a "Combi"
– an old VW bus that runs day and night up and down the valley, uniting
Caraz, Yungay, Carhuaz and the provincial capital of Huaraz, from where
there were buses to Lima on the hour.

A few years ago we began noticing a proliferation of private cars, sedans,
station wagaons and Asian automotive mashups of all kinds. The roads
were better, and people had more money, or so it seemed. There were even
taxi’s, and all of them looked the same.  They still do,  and
depending on his mood it eather makes the Dowbrigade feel right at home,
or creepily paranoid. For virtually all of the taxis, not only here in
Carhuaz but all up and down the Callejon, and especially in Huaraz (see
photo), are the same make and model; 1994 white Toyota Camry wagons – which
just happens to be the make model and color the Dowbrigade drives back
in the US of A.

Imagine – a whole fleet of White Whales.  Thousands of them were
imported during the early years of the Fujimori regieme, the Peruvian Nisei,
who was going to save the economy by attracting a flood of Japanese investment
(which never materialized) and who is now incarcerated in Chile with
dreams of returning to power after being deposed by the military and living
in exile in Japan.

One of his early initiatives was making new Toyotas available to taxidrivers
on extremely favorable terms, both for them and for Fujimori’s personal
friends who received the contract to facilitate the importation and sale.
Almost all of those vehicles are still on the road, and most of them
are taxis.

But after a ten-year reign as the lords of the backroads and the only
way for most people to get home, other than walking or burros (once everywhere,
now rarely seen), the Toyotas are being challenged by a new and lower-tech
alternative – mototaxis.  There are common all over Asia – we saw
our first one in Thailand a dozen years ago, where they were called Tuk-tuks.
A simple canvas-covered passenger compartment attached to the front of
a motorcycle in a sort of tricycle arrangement.

Obviously cheaper to operate, the mototaxi from the Plaza down in Carhuaz
to the Villa Maria costs 2 soles (62 cents) as opposed to 4 soles in
the Toyota. So some things do change.

If at First You Dont Succeed

6

We heard back from our trusted tech-tester that the Peru video we tried to post earlier this week “doesn’t decode correctly” which means no one can see it. Oh well, we can only plead difficulties of connectivity and lack of familiarity with the tools. Our original video, hot off Final Cut Express, weighed in at 160 mb for 7 minutes of video. After some experimentation we found that encoding it as MP4 got it down to 15 mb, and it played fine in Quicktime Player in that format, so we uploaded it to the Berkman server in that format. However, it seems either the format is inadequate or the file got corrupted in the upload.

So we went back to the drawingboard and created a highly compressed .mov file, which we just uploaded to the dowbrigade.com server via some free web-based ftp site we are accessing from the cyber-cafe in Carhuaz. Unfortuately the quality is so poor (much worse than either the original 160 mb QT .mov OR the 15MB mp4 file) we almost didn’t post it at all. But it serves as a raw cut, a work in progress, and we promise to clean it up and repost when we are back in Watertown.

If it still doesn’t work, leave a comment or suggestion and we will try again.

HERE IS THE NEW VERSION OF THE VIDEO

Breathless in the Andes

ø

A scary episode night before last. Up here at almost
10,000 feet, at the very edge of access to Western medicine, we suddenly found we couldn’t
breath.

It woke us up in the middle of the night, the feeling that we couldn’t
fill our lungs up, that we were underwater, that we were suffocating.
After a few moments of panic we turned on the naked bulb hanging from
the ceiling of our simple adobe cottage by twisting it in its socket.
Sitting up in bed, we could breath fine, but every time we tried to lie
belly down, our customary sleeping position, we just couldn’t fill our
lungs, and felt that suffocating feeling and accompanying panic, coming
over us again.

Soroche, or altitude sickness, is common at this altitude, although
not usually severe. It is marked by lightheadedness and headaches.  However,
it usually comes on as soon as someone reaches these altitudes, and diminished
in a few days. We have been up at this height for a week now, and never
suffered from acute soroche in the past, although we have been up to
5,200 meters, about 17.000 feet.

But we were spooked. Not being able to breath, especially so far from
the nearest medical auxiliary, is no laughing matter. We found we felt
fine sitting up, standing and walking, and even laying flat on our back,
we could breath fine.  But once we flipped over onto our stomach,
or even side, into an acceptable sleeping position, we couldn’t breath.

Shitting upright at 3:30 in the morning in a tiny Indian crossroads
two miles up the side of a snow-capped volcano, we began to have wild,
panicked
fears. Maybe we have pneumonia, and our lungs are slowly filling with
liquid so that soon we wouldn’t be able to breath in ANY position! Where
is the nearest place to get a chest x-ray, and how can we get there,
and what time do they open and how much will it cost? Should we borrow
our son’s cell phone to place a long-distance international call to Cambridge
Family Health in Inman Square? In order to get our of this valley, one
has to go UP, back over the Olympic pass
at over
13,000 feet. Would we make it, with or without oxygen. There is an airport
in the valley, but no regular flights – charter’s only.  How much
would a medical evacuation cost?

Now, a day later, all this seems ridiculous, but as any asthmatic will
tell you, not being able to breath is one of the most terrifying sensations
in the world.  At the time, we merely endeavored to pass the hours
until the rest of the people woke up.  We finished last Sunday’s
New York Times Magazine we had been carrying all over two continents.
We watched the second half of "Slingblade" on our laptop. Why do so many
of the greatest actors of our generation (Hoffman, DiCaprio, DiNero)
get off on playing retarded guys? Aren’t there any retarded actors to
play those parts? What about Tom Cruise?) Finally morning came and after
a hot shower, a hot cafe con leche and a cold glass of fresh-squeezed
orange juice, we felt absolutely normal, although a little bushed from
the short night of sleep.

Our current thinking on this disturbing nocturnal episode is that it
was related to something that happened while we were asleep. Within the
belief-system of the people and the place where we are now, there was
something, or someone, waiting for us in the dreamworld, intending to
do us harm. A malevolent spirit, or a shaman contracted by an enemy,
waiting to attack us in our dreams, so our wiser self refused to let
fall back into the dreamworld.

A more scientific interpretation of the same theory would say we were
having a bad dream so our body resorted to a self-defense mechanism which
did not allow us to assume a comfortable sleeping position. That same
afternoon we were able to take a nap, and last night we slept like a
baby.

Four more nights up at altitude and we are back down to sea level, first
a bus to Lima and then an internal flight to Tumbes, a rather funky little
smugglers city near the border between Peru and Ecuador. The plan is
to cross the border overland and arrive in Guayaquil on Thursday. Friday
to Manta, and the beach and the tennis court, and the mystery of the
missing mercenaries.

Dowbrigade, Newshound

1

Although we are ostensibly on vacation, the mind never takes a vacation,
or rather the mind takes its vacations when distracted by sex or powerful
psychotropic substances, from whence it sends back no post cards. But
up here at altitude, we have always found that the mind operates with
remarkable
clarity. Perhaps a combination of the clean air, physical exercise and
cool temperatures. In fact, when we go back down to sea level, as we inevitably
do, we feel ourselves being enfolded in layers of mental guaze, as if
part of our mind is going back to sleep.

At any rate, in our conversations with people down here we have become
aware of two stories which, were we a real journalists, and not on vacation,
we would dearly love to investigate and document. As it is, we will make
a typically slapdash bloggers effort to see firsthand, get some photos
or video, and some first-hand commentary. As a card carrying member of
the Pajamahadin, we can do no less.

The first story has to do with global warming, not that we would presume
to tackle such a transcendant topic in a comprehensive manner.  But
here near the visible line between earth and ice, there is clear physical
evidence that the environment is changing.

22 years ago the Dowbrigade visited the Pastorrouri Glacier, a 4-hour
trip overland from Carhuaz, our current location.  We went in a
pickup truck, which we parked in a frigid recreation area with a few
sorry soda pop stands and Indian women selling knitted hats, mittens
and scarves.  From
there it was an easy 15 minute walk to the snowline.

We climbed up on the glacer, and threw snowballs at each other. We slid
down an icy incline on green plastic garnage bags. Our son Joey, who
was 4 at the time, almost fell through a tiny crack in the glacier, ending
up wedged in and supported by his outstretched elbows. We got him out post
haste and retreated into the most incredible ice caverns we have seen
in our life – translucent, ethereal, magical – a natural fortress of solitude.

Joey is now 25 and owns the hotel where we are staying.  He tells
us that the ice caverns are all gone now, melted away, and that it is
too dangerous to let tourists just wander on the ice; too many holes, crevices
and soft spots.  The glacier has receeded so much that it now takes
an hour to walk from the parking place to the snowline. We are trying to
figure out how to get up there in the four days we have left, and if we
do, we will post our report.

The other story has to do with the war in Iraq.  Isn’t it icredible
how the most momentous news stories have repercussions on the local level
almost
everywhere in the world? It is a developing story we first reported almost
a year ago, involving allegedly CIA-affiliated private companies recruiting
Colombian gunmen to act as mercenary muscle in Iraq.

Since the initial reports there has been continuing confirmation in
the local press in Colombia and Ecuador, where the operation is supposedly
being coordinated at the Manta Airbase US Military Forward Operating Location.
"Rented" on a 99-year lease from the Ecuadorian government, this airbase
has basically taken over the logistics, surveilance and electronics roles
of the US Souther Command after they were kicked out of Panama with the
transfer of the canal.  Reports from Ecuador suggested that thousands
of young males, many with military experience but also some ex-guerillas
and drug cartel enforcers, were being signed up and shipped out.

Now, in Peru we are hearing the same stories. Young men from many backgrounds
but who know how to handle weapons, are being offered $2,000 a month
to work security details in the Middle East. $2,000 is more than a doctor
or a lawyer makes down here,  There are plenty of takers.

What happens to these people after they fall into the maw of the American
war machine? What do they actually do over there? So far, we have seen
no first-hand reports or interviews.  This recruiting has been going
on for over a year, at least in Colombia, but as far as we know none of
them have come home again to tell the tale. What exactly is going on here?

Next week, the Dowbrigade is heading to the scene of the crime, so to
speak, Manta, Ecuador, the center of the conspiracy. We’ll see if we can
get any of the troops at the FOL to go on record, or even just gossip,
about
the
Secret
Legions
of Latin Fighters in Iraq.

Dowbrigade Video from Peru

1

Time flows at a different pace at over 13,000 feet above sea level. We deep-sixed our wristwatch the day after arriving, and after a couple of days glancing at our naked wrist, we are back to solar time.

Most days, we take the dog, a Siberian husky named Wolfie, for a walk. He leads us down assorted paths, along rivers, over irrigation canals, past Hobbit-like homes and hovels, around fields and streams, and inevitably back to the Villa Maria.

We remember wandering these paths and trails as a youth, without at dog, getting lost on purpose, throwing stones at barking dogs, following the river looking for San Pedro cactus. Nowadays, we feel more confident with Wolfie at our side, both because he knows the way home and because his presence provides a certain degree of security.

In the afternoon we walk the mile-and-a-half down the mountain to town, to buy supplies, visit civilization, and use the Internet. It is a narrow but weather-proof dirt track, furrowed by pickups and taxis winding up towards the villages and isolated farmhouses further up the mountainside.

As one descends, there is a clear demarcation between the Town and the Country. Up by Joe’s place, on the small paths we walk in the mornings, and even on the upper reaches of the main road, the people all say hello to each other as they pass, even people they have never seen before. At least, “Buenos dias”. As one nears town, however, this charming politeness evaporates before the hard veneer of civilization. People pass each other in town, on the plaza, with no more mutual recognition than commuters at Park Street Station.

This morning, as we neared the invisible border of Civilization, we decided to try adding a decidedly non-Andean sound track. We whipped out our I-pod on which we had loaded a couple of playlists earlier that morning. Sometimes, we like creating playlists almost at random, soon after awakening, in a semi-sonambulent daze, like a Rorshack test of the day, choosing almost a random, but not quite, and setting the mood for the day to come. Only hours later, firing up the playlist, do we get a chance to consider and analyze what message there is in our choices.

Today’s set started with some Van Morrison, a nice mood-setter as we wound closer to town. Then, we recognized the opening strains of U2’s “Streets with no name”. The volume and the brilliance built and as Edge’s distinctive ringing guitar chords began to sing out like some giant silver bell. Suddenly, what did we see coming at us up the Carhuazian street but a municipal garbage truck (oh fly-festooned harbringer of Civilization) rocking and swaying up the cobblestoned street. On top was a grinning garbageman, in a grimy grey jumpsuit, ringing a giant bronze cowbell PERFECTLY IN TIME TO THE MUSIC. We knew it was going to be a good day.

Linked to this posting is an initial essay in VideoBlogging from Dowbrigade South. It was shot on our tiny Nikon 7900, which also took the flower shot above, transferred to the Mac Mini we brought down for Joey, cut and mixed, voiceover added from a handheld mp3 player as the Mini has no mic. Then we transferred it to a CD-RW, took it down the mountain to a 56k (on a good day) Cybercafe, and uploaded it to the Berkman server. We know it is crude, poorly mixed, badly shot, ill-lighted and too long, but it might be worth a look for anyone curious about what the Peruvian Andes or the Dowbrigade and his son look like these days. Since we are including it as an ENCLOSURE with this posting, any of you who aggregate video can subscribe to our RSS and theoretically get the videos that way. We hope it works, since we are kinda new at this stuff, decidedly analog, and an old fogey to boot. Hey Steve, now that we are using enclosures, does that make us a real Vblogger? Stay tuned….

Here is a link directly to the Video

Dowbrigade South

ø

sayonaraa

Short pause, while the Dowbrigade relocates to southern climes. Hopefully, tonight we will be reporting from Lima Peru. The past few days have been hectic and portentious. The few days before any big trip is tense and significant, one can feel the mood and tenor of the trip forming in the air as one switches over to travel insticts, routines and awareness. Like the first strains of a symphony, ghostly hinting at the major themes to be developed later. Little signs. Three times in the last two days the cashier at the market or store changed shifts JUST as the Dowbrigade arrived at the register. Patience. Yesterday, admiring the sunset, we almost fell through a hole in the ice and got dunked in the Charles River (as it was, just an icy foot and leg up to the knee) Careful. Three times in the last two days we have meet people we arranged to meet at exactly the right moment. Propicious timing, crucial on a trip. Stay tuned for travel tales…..

Why We Can’t Win, Why We Can’t Leave

ø

U.S.
Marine Pfc. Willis Tomblin, of Jackson, Ohio, reads mail from home
and then burns it to prevent insurgents from collecting personal information
about him, at his base in Karabilah, Iraq, seven miles from Syria,
Friday, Dec. 9, 2005.

(AP/Jacob
Silberberg)

 

Why we can’t win

Our
piece
on the growing similarities
between Iraq and Vietnam elicited some interesting comments.
James lays a host of post-Vietnam geo-political ills to our precipitous
retreat,
while Chad notes the presence of oil in Iraq makes it a different case
than Vietnam, which was purely political.

We couldn’t agree more.  Unfortunately, the presence
of so much crucial oil in Iraq has maneuvered us into a situation were
we cannot win and we cannot walk away.

The reason we cannot win in Iraq is a simple historical
fact, which has been well known since the Roman Empire regularly had
to put down tax rebellions and defiant vassal states. After winning
a war,
there are only two ways to deal with your defeated enemy. One, install
a government more aligned with your aims and requirements, either
a puppet government or a sympathetic local faction, and then leave.  Two
utterly destroy the people, culture and infrastructure of the country
to a degree that insures they will never bother you again.  That
includes killing men, raping women, razing villages, burning houses,
slaughtering livestock and basically not leaving stone piled on stone.

Occupation simply doesn’t work, and never has, except
in extremely short term emergency situations.  ANY group of human
beings will instinctually resist and eventually hate  outsiders
who come armed into their territory and tell them what to do, even if
they arrive as saviors from some greater evil. The longer the outsiders
stay, the more they will he hated.  Resistance
will lead to attacks.  Attacks will lead to self-defense, which
will produce brutality and non-combatant casualties. This in turn will
produce
martyrs, holy warriors, suicide bombers, orphaned children burning with
a white hot flame and dedicating their entire existence to making the
occupiers
pay.

Meanwhile our own troops are hunted like dangerous game,
brutalized themselves by fear, paranoia and the brutality with which
they are forced to respond. They are shot at, blown up, hunted, haunted
and vilified, and then they are dumped back on America’s streets.  The
full fruit of this misbegotten policy will not be borne for many years
to come.

We are convinced that in today’s world not only are
occupations doomed, but even prolonged military operations will prove
impossible to sustain. The reason is obvious – public exposure.

War used to be fought under the cover of distance and
darkness.  "The fog of war" was more a lack of public access, and
of reliable real-time information on what was happening on the battlefield. During
our War of Independence it took at least 6 weeks for the news of each
battle
to get back to the
King of England and the British public, and at least as long for their
King George to get his orders back to his troops in the field. Even during
World War II
the public got it’s war news from newspapers days later, and their images
from newsreels which were weeks old. 

Starting with Vietnam, Americans found that their wars
were in their face, or at least in their living rooms. In addition to
the immediacy of the moving images invading their homes every evening,
the monumental war machine was leaking like a sieve. The Pentagon Papers
exposed the rotten underpinnings of the war, and every time some particularly
sordid episode of war making turned up, like the Mai Lai massacre, there
seemed to be witnesses, cameras, and recordings around.

Today, things are a thousand times worse. Cameras are
in every pocket and on every wall, and leaks more common than legitimate
news sources. The pictures smuggled out of Abu
Ghraib
prison and the
flag-draped coffins were the forbidden images of last year.  Now,
the government is trying to keep the lid on its Gulag of secret prisons
in Europe and the Middle East.  Here’s betting that 2006 sees the
first smuggled images and first-hand accounts from "Inside the CIA’s
Secret Torture Prison".  An insatiable public needs to know.

Electronic news collection and distribution, combined
with the blogosphere and citizen journalism, have created a situation
in which it is almost impossible for an organization as large and unwieldy
as the US government to keep anything secret.

War is horrible – always has been.  But in the
past it was possible to keep it at arms length, and to romanticize and
paint it in patriotism and heroism.  The reality of modern warfare
and reporting is that in anything slower than a lightning blitzkrieg
like the initial attack on Iraq it is
impossible
to
orchestrate the press coverage
– and normal people will not abide with graphic evidence of the savagery
and ugliness of warfare in their private lives on a daily basis.

The Israelis essayed the only winning format for modern
warfare in the Six-Day War of 1967. Anything much longer than that is doomed
to failure. It is becoming increasingly clear that the winning play would have been
to topple Saddam, and then withdraw in a parade of praise and bouquets,
to a nearby redoubt like Kuwait (we didn’t save it for nothing, after
all) ready to reintervene should a similar threat to our legitimate interests
arise in the future.

We can’t win on the ground in Iraq, and the longer we
stick it out the more we will be hated, vilified and estranged from
our moral
compass.  Unfortunately,
we can’t afford to leave, either.  Tomorrow we will try to explain
why, and the answer might surprise you.

Why We Can’t Win, Why We Can’t Leave

ø

U.S.
Marine Pfc. Willis Tomblin, of Jackson, Ohio, reads mail from home
and then burns it to prevent insurgents from collecting personal information
about him, at his base in Karabilah, Iraq, seven miles from Syria,
Friday, Dec. 9, 2005.

(AP/Jacob
Silberberg)

 

Why we can’t win

Our
piece
on the growing similarities
between Iraq and Vietnam elicited some interesting comments.
James lays a host of post-Vietnam geo-political ills to our precipitous
retreat,
while Chad notes the presence of oil in Iraq makes it a different case
than Vietnam, which was purely political.

We couldn’t agree more.  Unfortunately, the presence
of so much crucial oil in Iraq has maneuvered us into a situation were
we cannot win and we cannot walk away.

The reason we cannot win in Iraq is a simple historical
fact, which has been well known since the Roman Empire regularly had
to put down tax rebellions and defiant vassal states. After winning
a war,
there are only two ways to deal with your defeated enemy. One, install
a government more aligned with your aims and requirements, either
a puppet government or a sympathetic local faction, and then leave.  Two
utterly destroy the people, culture and infrastructure of the country
to a degree that insures they will never bother you again.  That
includes killing men, raping women, razing villages, burning houses,
slaughtering livestock and basically not leaving stone piled on stone.

Occupation simply doesn’t work, and never has, except
in extremely short term emergency situations.  ANY group of human
beings will instinctually resist and eventually hate  outsiders
who come armed into their territory and tell them what to do, even if
they arrive as saviors from some greater evil. The longer the outsiders
stay, the more they will he hated.  Resistance
will lead to attacks.  Attacks will lead to self-defense, which
will produce brutality and non-combatant casualties. This in turn will
produce
martyrs, holy warriors, suicide bombers, orphaned children burning with
a white hot flame and dedicating their entire existence to making the
occupiers
pay.

Meanwhile our own troops are hunted like dangerous game,
brutalized themselves by fear, paranoia and the brutality with which
they are forced to respond. They are shot at, blown up, hunted, haunted
and vilified, and then they are dumped back on America’s streets.  The
full fruit of this misbegotten policy will not be borne for many years
to come.

We are convinced that in today’s world not only are
occupations doomed, but even prolonged military operations will prove
impossible to sustain. The reason is obvious – public exposure.

War used to be fought under the cover of distance and
darkness.  "The fog of war" was more a lack of public access, and
of reliable real-time information on what was happening on the battlefield. During
our War of Independence it took at least 6 weeks for the news of each
battle
to get back to the
King of England and the British public, and at least as long for their
King George to get his orders back to his troops in the field. Even during
World War II
the public got it’s war news from newspapers days later, and their images
from newsreels which were weeks old. 

Starting with Vietnam, Americans found that their wars
were in their face, or at least in their living rooms. In addition to
the immediacy of the moving images invading their homes every evening,
the monumental war machine was leaking like a sieve. The Pentagon Papers
exposed the rotten underpinnings of the war, and every time some particularly
sordid episode of war making turned up, like the Mai Lai massacre, there
seemed to be witnesses, cameras, and recordings around.

Today, things are a thousand times worse. Cameras are
in every pocket and on every wall, and leaks more common than legitimate
news sources. The pictures smuggled out of Abu
Ghraib
prison and the
flag-draped coffins were the forbidden images of last year.  Now,
the government is trying to keep the lid on its Gulag of secret prisons
in Europe and the Middle East.  Here’s betting that 2006 sees the
first smuggled images and first-hand accounts from "Inside the CIA’s
Secret Torture Prison".  An insatiable public needs to know.

Electronic news collection and distribution, combined
with the blogosphere and citizen journalism, have created a situation
in which it is almost impossible for an organization as large and unwieldy
as the US government to keep anything secret.

War is horrible – always has been.  But in the
past it was possible to keep it at arms length, and to romanticize and
paint it in patriotism and heroism.  But the reality of modern warfare
and reporting is that in anything slower than a lightning blitzkrieg
like the initial attack on Iraq it is
impossible
to
orchestrate the press coverage
– and normal people will not abide with graphic evidence of the savagery
and ugliness of warfare in their private lives on a daily basis.

The Israelis essayed the only winning format for modern
war in the Six-Day War of 1973. Anything much longer than that is doomed
to failure. It is becoming increasingly clear that the winning play was
to topple Saddam, and then withdraw in a parade of praise and bouquets,
to a nearby redoubt like Kuwait (we didn’t save it for nothing, after
all) ready to reintervene should a similar threat to our legitimate interests
arise in the future.

We can’t win on the ground in Iraq, and the longer we
stick it out the more we will be hated, vilified and estranged from
our moral
compass.  Unfortunately,
we can’t afford to leave, either.  Tomorrow we will try to explain
why, and the answer might surprise you.

Complete List of Satellites

5

This
is very cool – a complete database of all 800 active satelites in orbit
around the earth, including military
and "secret" intelligence sats. Who knew that the US still has more satellites
than all the other countries combined (413 vs 382)?

The listing includes
40 "spy" satellites with names like Mercury, Trumpet, and Orion run
by the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and manages US
spy satellites, as well as telcom, weather and satellite radio. It does not, however, include Dr. No’s secret satellite headquarters….

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 7 – Have you ever seen the distant
flickering of a satellite
in the
night
sky
and
wondered
what country it might belong to or what it might be used for? Now you
can indulge your curiosity with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Satellite
Database, the first comprehensive, easy-to-use repository of information
on the more than 800 active satellites.

"Until now, the general public didn’t have easy access to information
about all active satellites," said Dr. Laura Grego, an astrophysicist
at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "No one owns space, so everyone
has a right to know what’s up there."
The database is a free research tool for specialists and non-specialists
alike. It contains 21 types of data for each satellite, including: technical
information (orbit, mass, power, launch date, expected lifetime); what
the satellite is used for; and who owns, operates and built the satellite.

"We are launching the database not only to feed interest, but to start
a conversation about the best uses of space," said Dr. Grego. "People
can learn just how valuable satellites are by browsing through the database.
Satellites serve many practical functions, from weather forecasting and
television broadcasting to military spying. But many people aren’t aware
that satellites could become threatened, as some in the United States government
want to build weapons to destroy or interfere with satellites. It raises
a slew of scientific and diplomatic questions."

The
database
is in Excel format and can be downloaded on
the UCS
website
.

We Are the Champions of the World

ø

WASHINGTON
President Bush and Vice President Cheney are firing back at Democrats
who say the U.S.
should start pulling out of Iraq.

Bush has dismissed comments by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard
Dean who recently compared the Iraq war to Vietnam, calling it "plain
wrong" to think of achieving victory in Iraq, and talking of pulling
all American forces from Iraq in two years.

from CBN.com