Saturday, September 30, 2006


More than any other "advanced civilization", the United States encompasses several universes: the larger one is a world of information that is tailored and controlled via built-in censorship.  In its orbit, but hidden by (seeded) clouds, there is a moon that waxes and wanes.  Seemingly barren, it is covered not with moon dust but with facts that fall there from printed pages and digital images:

When you know how far back Rumsfeld and Cheney go (NYRB, October 5th), it's much less surprising that Cheney should support Rumsfeld no matter how many other supposedly major players demand his resignation, as revealed by advance tidbits of  Bob Woodward's latest book "State of Denial".  It says President Bush stood firm by his Secretary of Defense.  Significantly, there is no mention of Cheney's position.  Could the much-vaunted stick-t0-itness  of the President be in reality Dick Cheney's determination to carry through the neo-con agenda, with Rumsfeld in charge of actual combat?

Here's' another example of parallel universes that has been on my mind since last week: the Hungarian Prime Minister was caught on tape confessing that he had lied to the Hungarian people about the country's economic situation.  Did the Hungarians fill the air waves with learned debates about how much he knew and when he might have known it?  No, they took to the streets.  They threatened to burn down the parliament - an impressive nineteenth century building on the banks of the Danube, not some communist-era monstrosity.  For days and nights on end they besieged the state broadcasting building and burned cars, demanding the resignation of their elected leader.  Just for lying about the economy!  What would the Hungarians have done if they'd been lied to about a war - or if Danube flood victims had been treated as were Katrina's?  Having lived under Communism for forty-odd years, the Hungarians take their freedom seriously. But that's not all: the Europeans have always taken seriously the idea pompously expressed in the American Constitution but unnecessary in theirs, because self-evident (sic): in a democratic society the people are expected to demand with force if necessary the removal of a government that fails them.

In the American parallel universe  - parallel to most other advanced universes, like tracks that never meet - you will increasingly risk going to jail for that, especially until the Supreme Court strikes down the latest legislation that Congress has allowed itself to be railroaded into passing with respect to "enemy" combatants.  If the President - or his henchmen in trench coasts - decide you're against them, you could be held for years without them having to provide you with a legal justification - the famous "habeus corpus" that's been the basis of Anglo Saxon law since 1215 (twelve hundred and fifteen A.D. see Magna Carta, you learned about it in school.)

Are Americans caught in a parallel universe from which there is no escape?

Friday, September 29, 2006


According to string theory, we live in one of several parallel universes, oblivious to the others.  Even without esoteric mathematics, that's increasingly true.  Thanks to a permanently blind-sided media and a self-censoring opposition, Americans, in particular, still don't know why they're being attacked on all sides

The democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, tells the United Nations General Assembly that they've seen the devil, in the person of the president of the United States, and Democrats from Bill Clinton to Charlie Rangel chide him.  I'm sorry I didn't catch the name of the late-night WBAI commentator who reminded Rangel that it was President Bush who brought religion into the debate by declaring that certain countries are part of an 'axis of Evil"....  Occupying a more lofty position than the NY State Representative, Bill Clinton could allow himself to say he wished Chavez "hadn't done it".  You could tell he agreed with the substance if not the form, but unlike those with privileged acces, the average voter didn't get to hear the rest of Chavez' speech, so he probably didn't catch that nuance.

Mr. Average Voter was privvy to the complaints of commentators that New York has to play host to people who insult the President, but who in the media linked this  to Chavez' suggestion that the General Asssembly meet in another country?   Reports of Chavez' foreign minister being detained at JFK like a terror suspect were justified by the fact that he arrived late for a flight and wanted to purchase a ticket with cash, as if this harassment had nothing to do with Chavez having left his silk gloves behind.  That was on the level of Bostonians wanting to get rid of the Citgo sign that has been a familiar landmark in that city for fifty years because it belongs to the Venezuelan oil company (the one that offers low-cost heating oil to poor Northeasterners...).

At least Clinton blew new life into CNN when he teamed up with Christian Amanpour to air a debate about why the world is fighting over God, with the participation of greater and lesser public figures from various parts of the world.  The contrast between Jordan's youthful Princess Rania and Israel's perennial statesman, Simon Peres, who could hardly ungrit his teeth, suggests that tomorrow's Sabras will be Palestinian.

The September 11th New Yorker provided a really useful tribute to nine-eleven: George Packer introduced Mahmoud Taha, a Sudanese who was already theorizing about a modern Islam in the sixties.  One regret: Packer fails to tell us how Sudan ended up perpetrating genocide in Darfur.  In that same New Yorker, Lawrence Wright reveals that  "for the new theorists of jihad, Al Queda is just the beginning".  What I retain from his long and  detailed essay is that, like the Communists, who believed changing the relations of production would result in the end of inequality, Islamists believe that an Islamic caliphate will "bring falseness to an end" leading the human race to "the shore of safety and the oasis of happiness."

Toping off this remarkable issue is the portrait of a major Al Queda informer by Jane Mayer.  He confirms that inequality is the real cause of modern jihad.  Even Bin Laden, who never lacked for anything, declared in the early nineties that: "We cannot let the American army stay in the Gulf are and take our oil, take our money..."

Just as in real estate the three things that count are location,location, location, it's safe to bet that the political affairs of all parallel worlds evolve around equality, equality, equality.   The devil is in the details.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


First a word of explanation for those who ask about the title of this blog: otherjones is a salute to an American heroine and to the magazine that bears her name; but also, looking forward, a statement about otherness: accepting it is the real challenge of the 21st century.

Now on to A and non-A (with humble apologies to the mathematically inclined):  At the same time as some 117 (or however many) non-aligned countries were meeting in Havana to thumb their noses at the United States, our President continued to behave as though this country had already transported itself to another planet.  Much was made on the Sunday talk shows of his unsurprising preference for being strong and wrong rather than right and weak.   No one linked the two facts.

One thing that finally did emerge from the primordial darkness that covers the most powerful nation on earth is that (someone said it quickly, softly) there was no exit strategy for the war in Iraq because we weren't planning to leave.

On "Meet the Press" the Democratic challenger for a Senate seat for Virginia, former Navy Secretary Webb, forced incumbent Senator Allen to explain why we're building permanent bases in Iraq if we're not planning to stay.  Allen was no more convincing on that score than on why he called Webb's cameraman "macaca".

Is it unpatriotic to wonder whether the reason why 130,000 American and 130,000 Iraqi troops can't overcome 5,000 insurgents (or even 10,000) because the deal is to give the United States a so-called reason for staying in Iraq indefinitely?

Whatever bottom line eventually revealed by leakers and/or history, the non-A's (who include most if not all the major oil producing countries) manage to fit in their tent people of all persuasions.  They are brought together by the common determination to oppose the A's  - whom they supply.

Richared Clarke, in his "Against all Enemies" has some interesting things to say about our past relations with Iran, in particular Dick Cheneys role in oil politics.  I'll dot the i's next time.

Monday, September 11, 2006


We've all seen those historical films, with courtesans in splendid costumes crowding the throne room, while raucous crowds filled the plaza outside.

In real life, we've criticized the advent of government as spectacle, but now we have government-as-spectacle purged of crowds.

Did you see the solemn procession of President and Mrs Bush (hips swaying just enough to catch the eye without being lascivious (God forbid!), flanked by (I think) Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki and what might have been a secret service man, down the endless ramp to the still desolate quarry of what was the World Trade Center, to lay two wreaths in the pools of water that mark the spot where the towers stood?

Bagpipes were playing, but the camera kept close in - strangely close in.  At times it reached street level, but only barricades were visible: no people.  No people on the rooftops (sniper's paradise!), no people anywhere.

It was so eerie!  After laying the second wreath in the company of a lone Marine, as the President and Mrs. Bush walked back to the ramp to exit the scene, the secret service man appeared briefly at a respectable but watchful distance, a woman in jeans (I think) hovering behind him, then he disappeared again, only to rejoin the presidential couple as they reached the ramp.  (More careful observers will forgive any lack of precision here, I was not taking notes and only realized the full import of what I had seen this morning.)

This morning I mentally compared yesterday's scene with those of preceding years, and feel quite sure that then, the stage on which the solemn remembrance played out, was full of people.  Turning on the TV,  I see that this morning's ceremony, like those of years past, involves crowds: Mayor Bloomberg, not the President, presiding.

Friday, September 8, 2006


Saw a remarkable film from Netflix last night: The Syrian Bride.  Made in 2004, it illustrates, with great delicacy, what happens to a Druze family living in the Golan Heights, when the daughter is to be married to a Syrian television star originally from the same village: once she crosses the border as a bride, she will never be allowed to return.  In the film, even the border wedding falls victim to the bureaucratic intransigeance of both Israelis and Syrians, as a frustrated UN intermediary gives up the ghost.

But the real story is the contrast between the lives of hip Syrian women, and that of the bride's sister, (the main character), whose husband fears he will be taunted for not being able to control her when she insists on getting a college degree.  That is where sex and oil come in.

It would be banal to say: "It's the oil, stuipid!"  But  just as truly, sex is the other half of the equation that describes the so-called terrorist threat.  The West, led by the United States, is determined to have access to a maximum of the world's oil for the coming years, until economical power substitutes can be developed.  To that end, it is trying to gain the final say in how oil-rich countries are run.  The Venezuelans' problem with that is underdevelopment: they need to control their oil so they can fight poverty.  Saudi Arabia and other Islamic oil producing countries have a different problem; the presence of foreign oil workers and troops is seen by many as an affront to Islam.  That affront lies not only in the foreigners status as un-believers, but in a commercial system in which men encourage women to flaunt their sex instead of keeping it  demurely under wraps.

It's common knowledge that Muslim rulers engage in typically western behavior far from their subjects' eyes, but there are some, like Zawahiri,  Bin Laden and mullahs great and obscure across the world, who find this abhorent.  The number of Western women who voluntarily wear headscarves should tell us that there is something relevant about that stance.

Sex and vulgarity don't mix any better than do oil and water.

Thursday, September 7, 2006


Or rather, what have we learned?  Forty-seven years ago, a man from an island sixty miles from the United States, came to the United Nations General Assembly to lay out his determination to seek a better life for his people.

That man, Fidel Castro, is still the leader of his country, notwithstanding the attempts of nine American Presidents to topple him. Meanwhile,  the ideology that he later espoused has been replaced, on the American radar, by another one , which will be represented this month in a speech to the U.N. by the president of Iran.

Like Castro many times before him, Ahmadinejad will declare that his country poses no threat to the world, and that there are good, objective reasons for his policies. (However different the ideologies of Communism and Islamism may be on the surface - the former being atheistic - both gain strength from inequality and greed.)

As with Castro, most of the leaders assembled in the great hall will more or less grudgingly admit that the Iranian president's case is reasonable.  Failure on the part of the United States to support Castro's initially reformist policies led, three years after his rise to power, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, still considered to be the closet the world has ever come to World War III.

At the very least, we could have learned, in the forty-four years since, that no ideology is forever, and no ideology is worth blowing up the world for. As the Democrats prepare to fight accusations of being soft on terrorism in the mid-term elections, they would do well to start by pointing out that the search for common ground with potential enemies is a sign of wisdom, while only mindless bullies use the weapon of fear.

Failure to separate our obligation to apply the Non-Proliferation Treaty without discrimination to Iran, under reasonable scrutiny, from Israel's refusal to make a better bed for itself in the Palestinian house, could make World War III a reality.

Monday, September 4, 2006


Everywhere one surfed on the news or Sunday talk shows it was question of Iran. Of preparing for sanctions, or war with Iran - or sanctions that would ultimately lead to war.

And yet, one image stuns the mind: that of Tehrani’s in their shiny cars, tooting and carousing in the night streets - just like Italians.  Two-term President Khatami was considered by reform-minded Iranians, not to have been able to go far enough, but it seems he has succeeded at least in obtaining for Iranians the right to enjoy the material benefits of modernity. Speaking
at an American university, the white turbaned  ex-President Khatami hopes America will support moderate Islam, instead of worrying about the one represented by terrorists.

In a televised debate, the Republican Senator from my state of Pennsylvania, Rick Sanatorium, declared Khatami shouldn’t have been given a visa.  For some unfathomable reason, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell was quoted in the National Review as saying that “Sanatorium delivers”. He picked the unprepossessing,  unpersuasive Bob Casey because his father was a much respected politician to defeat the number three Senate Republican, and the DLC agreed.

In this year of all possible Republican dangers, if the Democrats didn't’t even have the guts to anoint the much more articulate and knowledgeable Chuck Pennachio, how to hope they will be strong enough to prevent a nuclear strike on Iran’s deeply buried research facilities?

In an on-line newsletter “Money and Markets”, John Burke dots the i’s and crosses the t’s:  Saudi Arabia has the largest oil supplies, Iraq has the third largest.  Burke warns that Iraq is for all practical purposes being taken over by Iran, which will then control the largest world oil supplies.  When you know that Saudi Arabia is a Sunni monarchy, while Iran and Iraq are now ruled by Shi’ites, the violence we’re seeing in Iraq may be only the forerunner of a broader sectarian conflict engulfing the Muslim world.

Burke’s  Aug 14th headline reads: No Truce from Wars!  Your Defense...But he’s not interested in the life and death consequences, merely on what it means for savvy investors. Unlike our news anchors and pundits, Burke recognizes that it is highly unlikelyh that the U.S> and its allies will pull out of the region, adding:  “The prolonged conflict in the region puts more than half of the world's oil reserves at risk, and the West will do everything to protect its access”.... driving the demand for both (a) conventional military hardware and (b) anti-terror technology. Therefore, a diversified portfolio of defense stocks should address both needs.”

We should have a (Maheresque) new rule that all news anchors should precede information about Iran, Iraq or the MIddle East with the sentence:  “The United States will do anything to protect its access to oil”.

That way, everyone would know that whatever the news of the day, if it doesn't fit into that frame, it's irrelevant.