Don’t surrender to helicopters.

October 25th, 2010

~ Is it about Ben Bernanke or is it about Sikorsky or is it about Afghanistan?

If you haven’t read all 400,000 pages of the latest Wikileaks release you just aren’t really a reader or you don’t know the first thing about publishing.  “Snail books” is what one might call traditional publishing, the old boys of Wall Street and of New York and the New York publishing houses that think that the world’s thought can be controlled by controlling the world of books and the lists of books that people should / are reading – otherwise known as the New York Times list of “best sellers” with every title and author bought before he or she writes a dime – referring of course to another dime novel or something.

Email; no dash now, no capital letter, it’s not an abbreviation for “electronic” mail; it’s just email now and that’s because like “V”- mail before it the letters get shortened (meaning to lower case) and the idea of victory gets lost in the rush of words.  Zap Mail never was reduced to just a “Z”; at least not by Federal Express, but then the Challenger got lost and too the dreams of empires based on facts – or was it “fax” and fax machines?  The point is that an email is a facsimile of nothing.  There is no signature, no sleight of pen, no cursive script or block letters or shaky handwriting still wet with emotion.  Email is dry; but, “snail mail” is no more anyway.  Pour salt on the escargot and all that is left is the shell.  It’s something my grandmother showed me.  She didn’t like the buggers that ate her flowers and other greens.  First things go slow, then they’re gone.

The important things are now published on the web.  The web is fast.  The web moves like helicopters and air power.  It hovers, darts in, darts out and brings things like firepower and money with a lightening speed that comes and goes so fast that there isn’t time for a stamp (meaning postage stamp) or even a hard or soft type cover (applying once again the metaphor of books).

Igor Sikorsky invented the helicopter of course and also made those first great flying boats for Juan Tripp, founder and promoter of Pan Am which was of course Pan American Airways – PAA for short; it too carried no small quantity of mail.  Igor is, like Juan, now dead.  The new Sikorsky just bought Eclipse Aviation, the bankrupt aircraft company based in Albuquerque.  I guess that makes the Eclipse jets almost like helicopters, given the name and all, almost like an Osprey.

They (meaning the military) fly Osprey’s out of Albuquerque.  The planes have two enormous rotors that tilt up to lift off and down to enable fast fly by wings.  The airflow is tremendous, so too the noise.  These planes do not make good neighbors.  Like with helicopters one should never try to surrender to one.  By standing orders they will kill you – the rotors, the prop wash (maybe the machine guns); it doesn’t matter – in any case you’re dead.

Above is a picture of an Osprey in New Mexico.  Flying these monsters at low elevations is where your last US dollars will be spent, so forget about health care, social security, or Saturday mail service.

So, why this very random post?  The point is that in the Wikileaks papers it was revealed that if Iraqi nationals tried to surrender to US helicopters the orders from the US commanders would be to “kill them”.  And the US military forces did.  They shot down (being a pun) and killed the unarmed civilians with hands held high.  “You can’t surrender to a helicopter”, this being something that everyone who ever watched MASH (on TV) certainly should know.  Helicopters, and “helicopter ben” are NOT your friends.  The American military is not your friend; unless of course there are no machines involved – no tanks, no Hummers, no helmets with internally mounted cell phones like those featured in the movie Green Zone – looks and moves like a machine, you can’t surrender.  Remember that!  A police car, a water cannon.  Machines take no prisoners.  Not ever.

So, amidst this insane information from a clearly insane world we try (in our daily lives) to find a bit of sanity.  Clearly, what is old news from Iraq is new news (yet unrevealed) from Afghanistan.  The rules of engagement have not changed.  The commanders there are the new ones here; the military always moves slowly.  Only the rotors are faster than a speeding bullet.  And only the internet  will make you free – but since it too is a machine; never surrender, or you may die.

Cars & Bars

October 21st, 2010

~ The web makes things so much easier if you remember to use it.

I really do know the difference between a C 47 and a Lockheed C 130 Hercules.  Both are, or could be, cargo planes – hence the “C” designation.  The C 47 was the military version of the most remarkable plane ever built, the DC – 3.  I have no particular fondness for jets.  Sure, jets travel high and fast; but, they leave so little of the romance of flying and seeing things from the air without the perspective of google is not necessarily a bad thing.

My mistake came in the form of a too quickly written late-night email to the Meridian International Center folks in response to their quest for information.  They had referenced interest in official state visits; in this case to Afghanistan.  I responded by referencing Ike’s visit to Kabul of December 9, 1959.  Air Force One, the first one, was a Boeing 707 that replaced the presidential prop plane that had served several earlier presidents before.  The new plane offered Eisenhower his first opportunity to ride in a jet.  He liked it.

The result was a major international trip across the world with stops including Kabul, Afghanistan.  The only air field (airport) in Afghanistan where the 707 could land was the new Russian built military field north of Kabul named Bagram; projected home for the newly supplied Afghan Air Force of Russian migs.  Neither the Russians nor the Afghans wanted Air Force One to land there or the Americans to be there on the base, but the Afghans did not want the Eisenhower visit to be canceled and after all Nikita Khrushchev had just visited Kabul some months before.

It’s hard to Google information about all of this because now there is an aircraft carrier named “Eisenhower” and it has been used to support military operations in (or against) Afghanistan and the word “Kabul” comes up a time or two.  The point is that two American Air Force airplanes landed in Kabul at Bagram for Eisenhower’s visit.  There was the 707 and a Lockheed C 130 Hercules that carried “support” for the presidential visit and according to the best information the presidential car, that 1956 black convertible limousine that was used for the Kennedy assassination reenactments as seen in the Warren Commission report.

Actually there were (are) two virtually identical 1956 Cadillac limousines that were used by Eisenhower for official parades.   Which of the two was flown to Afghanistan is not certain, as the previous link states, information is hard to get.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that evidently plans to use the specially protected car were thwarted in preference for the official Royal Rolls Royce which Khrushchev used to enter the Afghan capital so the presidential limousine sat in the belly of the C 130 until it was flown back to Teheran (Tehran) and then flown back to the U.S. or elsewhere.

No, a C 47 cannot carry a presidential limousine; the doors are too small, the weight of the car is too heavy.  But, a C 130 can.  The plane also carried Fred as it left Kabul, flying south for a tour over Marja (Marjah) and an aerial recon of the agricultural works and new farming village underway.  Fred pointed out the sites and features and took a few more air photographs of Qala Bist – a press report might have said, “President’s Cadillac over Marjah” but there was no one from the press on board.

America and Americans do love their cars.  It is nice to be able to take ones car (by air) with you, no need for OJ Simpson and Hertz.  How many times has a Cadillac been flown over Marjah?  I don’t know, but this was the American involvement in the Afghanistan that I knew – unpredictable, unexpected, random.

Check back.  Maybe tomorrow I can find the pictures.  Meaning of Ike and the jet.  The May of 1964 Warren Commission reenactment of the Kennedy Assassination using the Eisenhower limousine is here.   Still photographs of the car are in the Warren Commission report.  As noted by others in this link the question of why a 1956 Cadillac was used instead of a 1961 Lincoln Continental still seems relevant to this day, maybe the key is the length of the car.

Revisiting Afghanistan Revisited

October 19th, 2010

~ What happens when ones blog gets noticed while in a nation still at war.

But wait, the above sentence may really be a question.

I’ve been on my roof fixing the last of my leaks (I hope).  The Corexit continues to make life difficult.  The intensity of the solar radiation goes on unchecked.   The messaging from Liberia is still bad.  Can things get better or only worse?  That’s what governments are for.  To make life in ones country a little better.

So, on Sunday I got an E-Mail like from Afghanistan.  It was more like from the Meridian International Center, whatever group or organization that that is (or was) – I did not recognize the name.  They indicated an interest in information.  They referenced the names of experts.  They claimed to have a contract with the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  On the web “anything” can be true – or anything can be bogus; and bogus can be scary.

I have no interest in responding to requests for information from the Taliban, from Mossad, from the French or Russian governments or from countless others; which is good because as of yet “none of the above” have requested information.  So, in order to stay as far away from being labeled an “enemy combatant” as possible I started my research about “MIC” and their credibility before I in haste too quickly responded.

I don’t know if I was relieved to find out that the head of Meridian is the man that evidently claims to have started Homeland Security for the President (Bush) himself.  He is, he does – I guess he did.  I guess that fact alone has something to do about Afghanistan, the Taliban, 9/11, the latest Afghan War.   MIC’s President is also a lifetime member of the CFR – Council of Foreign Relations.

Admittedly, it is the Vice President for the Arts end of MIC that sent me the E-Mail.  The Center is planning an exhibition in Kabul and elsewhere and the suggestion is that they might be interested in photographs of my father “Fred” and project partners – Afghan “colleagues”.  It is the type of picture that my father generally avoided – he was really not much of a politician and it was the “higher ups” that usually got most of the publicity and credit when credit and publicity was due.

So with or without a picture of Fred and his small involvement in a century of relations between the United States and Afghanistan I’m sure that the MIC cultural exchange exhibit will do just fine – will it help the people of Afghanistan (or of America or elsewhere) – of that I do not know.

When I wrote “April the First” (circa 1989), the unfinished story about my experiences in going to and living in Afghanistan I made the observation about those (in life) that go to some far-off place to teach and not to learn.  It is my impression, as I have tried to convey in the website “Qala Bist”, that most of the American involvement in Afghanistan over the past fifty years has been to “teach” and not to “learn”.   It is sad.   Afghanistan as a nation and as a culture; even as an ancient nation-state had so much to offer.

When my father left Afghanistan in 1960 he left American farm tractors, American built airports, American aircraft and Pan American trained Afghan stewardesses that could offer “coffee, tea, or me” with the best of them.  He left American construction equipment, American designed buildings, American built roads and an American plan to develop the potentials of Afghan tourism.  Like Conrad Hilton (founder of Hilton Hotels and grandfather of Paris Hilton) as portrayed in the television series Madmen expressed, “I’m going to Americanize the world whether they want it or not.”

What is clear, what has always been clear over these past fifty years is that the “Americanization” of Afghanistan is not sustainable.   The larger question is whether “Americanization” itself is sustainable.  What existed in Afghanistan as late as 1958 was a society that was born and defined by the vicissitudes and vacillations of a largely adversarial onslaught of at least 3,000 years of history.  From this 3,000 year history the nation had learned (substantially) to live at peace within its borders and at peace with the the whole of the world and with a fundamentally ecologically sound and forever sustainable (though not perfect) cultural community.  Afghanistan was closer to Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a nation of “small independent agrarian farmers” than probably any nation since has realized.

Fred left an Afghanistan forever changed.  His best intentions were to “help” Afghanistan and the Afghan people and in so doing to help America and Americans as well.  What was created instead was a headlong rush that made Afghanistan a pivotal point in the cold war; which lead to “progress” and the Soviet invasion; which lead to drafting an “international” Arab militia; which led to bin laden; which apparently led back to Afghanistan and 9-1-1 and the war in Afghanistan that we’re in today.  There were no small number of broken promises along the way.

Fred too was forever changed by his experiences in Afghanistan.  His family too was mightily impacted and also changed.  Seven years after leaving his most promising son was dead and his wife soon would be.  Everything in his life (that went horribly wrong) could be traced back to 1958, 1959, or perhaps 1960.

In the sequential narrative of comments and letters that have been posted on Qala Bist.com under “Going to Afghanistan” (the series) we have not yet come to the point that Kenneth, my mother and I arrive in Afghanistan.  But to skip ahead it is important to point out that my mother too “worked” in Afghanistan.  She did not just “work” as an unpaid foreign service officer’s wife, she worked for and with the Afghan government.  It was not a “Department of State” position.  She also worked with educators in Afghanistan in establishing the Kabul International High School and served as the schools first principal.

Her cottage industry work put her in contact with “everyday” artisans and craftsmen as Afghanistan struggled in completing Kabul’s first International Trade Fair in which it would offer the best of its cultural products to the world.  She was the first woman to work closely with the Royal Government of Afghanistan in such an important and public capacity.  Had these early efforts received official American support American homes might be as filled with handcrafted items “Made in Afghanistan” as Afghan homes are filled with machine-made items made by American based corporations.  I guess the very concept at this point is a real stretch.

So, is Afghanistan’s future based on the extraction of mineral resources and the eventual creation of capitalism’s “factory towns” filled with chemical pollution?  Should Afghanistan be a “tourist destination” with a hundred Hilton type hotels and tens of thousands of “service industry” type jobs featuring Afghan women as maids and waitresses and housekeeping valets at the beck and call of foreign businessmen?  One generation away from a rural ranch lifestyle in Nevada loomed (for me) jobs as busboy, dishwasher, and change-boy in the Casino industry of Nevada – my story of America; maybe the Afghans and Afghanistan deserve something better.

The purpose of this post is not to cut off communication, but to start building it.  I am not saying that I don’t have a picture or too of interest – but, maybe the picture might be of “mom”.

The good news is that I seem to be posting again.  Maybe the winds will blow once again from the west and not from the gulf (of Mexico) that has literally divided us.  Maybe the sun will be cooler in the winter months before we can “have at it” once again next spring.  Maybe too there will be a life after Liberia and things can be more like they were before, but “hey” maybe not so much – remember:  America is still at war!  There IS a war on in Afghanistan and 100% of every dollar spent there by the United States is borrowed.

In Loco Parentis

October 1st, 2010

~ In 1966 things were different, but maybe not so much.

Two weeks ago I was in New Jersey.  Two days before that I was in New Brunswick and was walking around the New Jersey State College of Rutgers.  At the time Tyler Clementi, college freshman, was still alive.

So for a moment let us forget that the allegation has been made that Tyler Clementi was gay.  Let’s forget that the media frenzy about his death is based on his “gayness”.  There are other issues here, other aspects of the story, larger questions and larger revelations that I suspect are yet to be made.

Forty-four (44) years ago I too was an eighteen (18) year old college freshman.  I too was going to a State University, for me it was the University of Nevada which by name meant only the Reno campus then.  Nevada was a much smaller school then than Rutgers and certainly much smaller than Rutgers University is now.  The mascot for the University of Nevada was the wolf – the Wolfpack.  For Rutgers the mascot is the Scarlet Knight (replacing the earlier mascot “the Queensmen”).  Google for the information and you will soon learn that the Scarlet Knight is officially sexually neutral.

But I regress in revisiting the symbolic sexuality of the school as manifest in its mascots and in the folk lore.  Both wolves and knights are predators at heart, not prey.  Most college freshmen (and frosh women – “frosh” having its root in the word frog) do not choose the schools they attend by a desire to be a “wolf” or a “scarlet knight” or a “Queensmen”; they select their schools for financial reasons and by where one can get in.  Then one makes the best of what soon reveals itself to be a bad situation.

According to a recent poll 48% of high school students polled had engaged in sexual intercourse.  Modern perceptions created by the media would suggest that the figure should indicate more.  The poll suggests to the contrary – no, “everyone” is not doing it.  I don’t know if “everyone” was doing it in high school in Nevada or at Reno High (School).  The idea of 48% seems high.  Most “fast” guys at Nevada joined a fraternity and even my fraternity had a fairly high number of virgins and the older fraternity brothers were always finding new virgins among the college women that they dated.  There was no discussion regarding the number of virgin men meaning those that had not had sexual intercourse with other men – meaning male sodomy of course.  This was Nevada, a state school, the motto of the school was (or seemed to be) In Loco Parentis – meaning the school is your parents and like your parents you can expect the school to be strict.

There was a tradition (then) at Nevada that every year an incoming Freshmen would die.  Nobody said it was a conspiracy, nobody said it “had” to happen, the faculty and the administration was resigned to the fact as just an act of “fate”.  The death would usually happen in the first two months of school.  The year that I was a frosh the sacrifice to the Gods of Education was a young male killed in a skydiving accident somewhere near Carson City.  The parachute apparently failed to open, a long fall and he was dead.  What goes up and down and is green and red all over?  A frog in a blender.

Other years it was other students and other causes.  Some years there were car crashes, this years  skydiving accident was not the first (skydiving accident, or accident involving small planes).  The University debated banning “skydiving and pilot lessens” as activities appropriate for freshmen under the powers of in loco parentis, but the air force and Cessna and even Bill Harrah with his King and Queen Airs (airplanes, airplanes) were against this so the regents in time backed down.

What was taboo for eighteen year olds, especially Freshmen, was using tax payer paid State property for losing your virginity or for ratifying the lost virginity of others.  The assumption of the University, the regents, the administration was that parents did not send their sons and daughters off to college to “fuck” – the idea was that the college experience should be more focused on getting an education which unlike movies and television did not mean a sexual education.

No, dinosaurs no longer roam the earth.  In just one generation they’re mostly gone.  State financed dormitories no longer are segregated into “men’s dorms” and “women’s dorms”.  There are no longer sign in and sign out sheets at the always monitored dormitory front desk.  There is no longer an 11:00 P.M. curfew.  One no longer politely meets their “date” in the public scrutiny provided by the front dormitory lobby.  It was all about “in loco parentis” which meant something else then (in 1966) than it evidently does now.

It was not that nobody got “screwed” in 1966.  It was not that sexual intercourse, even among eighteen-year-old’s did not exist.  The issue was more about student rights and parental rights then – and the rights of the taxpayer to determine use of public (taxpayer paid for) property.  It was about the reason why a State University existed and for what reason expensive state financed dormitories existed.

At least three young people stand to have their lives ruined by the events at Rutgers University.  Some would argue that all three (being over 18) are adults – parents and in loco parentis principals should not matter, do not apply.  There are no victims here, just consenting adults in a “buyer” (or doer) beware world.  The moniker of the times (being so far removed from 1966) is “if you do it, it’s public” – the age of privacy is over.

So obviously Dharun Ravi was at least a little bit mad.  He (or his parents) had signed a contract for a (dormitory) room and couldn’t use it.  “You want to watch Ravi?”, “I don’t think so!”, “I have my rights, get out.”  “I’ll be busy until after midnight, which means 12:00.”  “Go sleep with Molly Wei or something, throw her roommate out!”.

Do we even know if Dharun and Molly were “doing it”.  Does it matter?  Is this “case” a case of property rights or privacy rights and if property rights are at issue what was the proper avenue of appeal for Dharun assuming that he had adult rights and wished to behave as an adult?  I’m not saying Dharun and Molly acted wisely, I’m suggesting that they had little real choice.

Let’s look at the debate.  In 1966 Dharun would take his case to the RA (Resident Assistant); the RA might take the case to the Dean of Men.  The Dean of Men (Sam Basta) might say, “kids say the damnest things, I want proof.”  So Dharun would have to have proof that the sexual conduct was taking place.  In 1966 it would require photographs; in today’s world a webcam would do.

If an attorney were to become involved the attorney would notify Sam that the photographs must be suppressed (age of the dinosaurs thing) – evidence is a violation of privacy; no evidence and “case dismissed” – Tyler keeps on sexing and the rights of Dharun to his room is denied, the contract with Rutgers is void, Dharun’s lawyer sues for a return of deposits, for moving expenses, for an apartment elsewhere in the city, for punitive damages and exemplary damages at the least.  Most probably Dharun’s attorney would sue Tyler too (and his parents as legally responsible, too, too).  Ms. Wei’s attorney would join the suit as an interested party and with good practice the case would go “class action” in about one month.

So which way was the better way to “out” Tyler.  By Tyler’s acts and behavior he “outed” himself unless he thought that the “theft of the dorm space” would be left alone.  Did Dharun act stupidly and impulsively by leaving the attorneys out of it?  The attorneys will be in it anyway.  Is this a good “case” for Luanne Peterpaul and her friends?  I think not.  What the case is primarily about is the question of whether privacy rights are superior to property rights and what the responsibilities of schools (meaning mostly colleges and universities) are in upholding contracts regarding the appropriate uses of university housing.

It is my impression that the pendulum of university permissiveness as is manifest by the cult of non-involvement in student activities and affairs has swung too far.  Parenthood is good.  Parent involvement and awareness is necessary.  If parents are not informed and do not get involved in loco parents must get involved.  If a university fails to be a “strict” parent the attorneys will soon own all the schools one class-action suit at a time.  The taxpayers will not be amused.

Sadly Mr. Ravi and Ms. Wei made the wrong choice.  They should have hired attorneys and “outed” Mr. Clementi through the use of the courts, not the internet.  In the future I do not believe that others will be so “dumb” when room-mates of either sex use educational facilities for sex and not for education.  A room contract is just that, a right to have room to sleep, to study, to use ones computer – when one has a room-mate there is no right to be left alone.

So this gets back to the art of sky-diving and in this case the selection of the George Washington Bridge (which is not located in New Brunswick over the Raritan River).  The George Washington Bridge in question is located in New York, about as far from New Brunswick, New Jersey as Reno is from Carson City, Nevada.  Why didn’t the parachute open then, or now?  Maybe it’s just fate.  Every year another freshman must die.  It kind of takes the veneer off college.