Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Do We Really Look That Slow, Mr. Snow?

Ok, since the reporter who asked the original question didn't have the spine to say it, once again I will do the dirty work for the media. Here's how the transcript would have looked had I been in the press-room:

Tony Snow: What do you gain from a transcript?...the answer is, not much.

Dr. Cassandra Herzog: Tony, first of all, let me thank you for asking such a pertinent and, frankly, courageous question. As much as it pains me to challenge the words exiting what must be the most honest and pristine mouthpiece in all of Christendom, I would have to disagree with your answer. And by the way, kudos on answering your own question. I wish we in the White House Press Corps could do that sometimes, on those very rare occasions when you're not wholly generous with the truth...

Tony Snow: ...Let me interrupt you there, Mrs. Herzog...

Dr. Herzog: ...It's Dr. Herzog, Tony, you dear little thing, and no, I think that we in the corps owe you the courtesy of answering one little itty bitty question from you, when you spend all your valuable time constructing clear, concise, and, dare I say, brutally honest answers for our big, bad, angry, liberal questions. So...where was I? Oh yes, your answer is shite. To use nice and simple politico-speak so that all my colleagues can follow along, a transcript gives the whole affair some measure of transparency and accountability. I am really quite baffled, Tony...may I call you Tony?...

Tony: Yes, but I really...

Dr. Herzog: Shut up, Tony...anyway, I am really quite baffled that you people have yet to catch on. You are NOT omnipotent, and the entire population of the United States, whose best interests you so condescendingly suggest to have at heart, is hip to your bullshit. We are buried in it and it smells most foul indeed. You are liars, all of you, and you will do whatever it takes, usually with the most brazen arrogance imaginable, to achieve your small-minded and petty aims. You should all be as ashamed as yourselves as the American people are, and yet you all continue on as if God's holy light is shining forth from your every orifice and those who don't see this clear sign of your holy mandate can piss off. Well, we see an entirely different substance emanating from your orifices, Tony, and it's called Satan's spooge. And here's a follow up question that this spineless yellow-belly sitting next to me should have asked: What do YOU gain from NOT having a transcript? And the answer is...oh, yes Tony, you're on to something with the whole answering your own question thing...AND THE ANSWER IS...deniability and question!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Review of Big Dead Place

Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarctica
- Nicholas Johnson
260 pp., Feral House Press
Reviewed by Adam Boyd Gilman

With his rookie offering, Big Dead Place, Nicholas Johnson has dispelled the government-sponsored, media-authored myth of Antarctica as “pristine frozen laboratory,” an untamed frontier peopled by a brotherhood of patriotic souls who risk their lives hourly for the advancement of humankind through scientific endeavor. Instead, readers are introduced to McMurdo Station and South Pole Station—claustrophobic, diesel-soaked outposts filled with foul-mouthed garbagemen, drunken ironworkers, hammer-swinging cooks, and an impressive cohort of petty bureaucrats. This Antarctica, try as one may, cannot be co-opted as a metaphor for the perseverance of the human spirit; it is a metaphor for an entirely different aspect of the human condition, a stupor brought on by an unbalanced ratio of purpose to activity, with the scale tipped decidedly to the latter.

Fingees (Antarctic shorthand for “fucking new guys”) show up at McMurdo ready to test their mettle against the harshest climate on earth. Full of romantic fantasies of isolation, frostbite, starvation, and their own unflappability, they are primed to join the ranks of the world’s great explorers. This illusion, Johnson explains, quickly dissipates as they find themselves performing thankless tasks in a glorified supply depot, attending teeth-grinding policy meetings and safety classes, and all the time being watched over and reprimanded by a team of shameless, power-drunk corporate lackeys, little Eichmanns on ice. It’s hard to maintain a sense of higher purpose in the face of such overwhelming inanity.

Johnson carries out his fervent debunking—his own higher purpose—through a skillful blend of Antarctic pop history and anecdotes from his personal experiences at McMurdo. The former consists of tales of madness and mayhem in varying degrees, focusing on juicy tidbits that most conventional histories omit. There’s the story of Mawson and Mertz, explorers who lost their food supply, along with a fellow expedition member, in a crevasse several hundred miles from base camp. Forced to butcher their sled dogs, they unknowingly ingested toxic levels of Vitamin A stored in the dogs’ livers. “As a result,” Johnson writes, “the men’s flesh and hair began to litter the floor of their tent at night. Puss-filled cracks opened on their faces. Their scrotums bled.” (p. 65) Soon after, Mertz went mad, biting off his little finger, wondering aloud whether he was man or dog, and shouting the words “Ears! Ears! Earache!” before succumbing to one of the several illnesses racking his body. “Irreverent interpretations” such as the above do tend to highlight the bilious underbelly of the continent’s past, but they fail to hide Johnson’s unabashed reverence toward the most harrowing journeys of discovery on the seventh continent, and the men who undertook them.

When it comes to his own time on the ice, he is far less prone to romanticize. He relates his own experiences with a dark and brutal humor that can alternately set the reader on edge, boil his blood, and bust his gut. Like any good contrarian, Johnson relishes the brazen existence of his foil, living in a bizarrely comforting symbiosis with that which he detests and fears; in this case, it’s the Raytheon Polar Services Company, a subdivision of the colossal defense contractor. Rooting through McMurdo’s trash for evidence, keeping meticulous records of any and all interaction with management, planting his ear to the wall, he collects stories of hypocrisy, violence, vindictiveness, PC skittishness, spin and other brands of ugliness. And he loves every minute of it. Despite the overwhelming number of these stories, however, Johnson still manages to convey what it is he loves about McMurdo: the sense of camaraderie that he and his fellow grunts share as they thumb their noses at the system and its minions. It’s what keeps them coming back year after year to a frozen microcosm of the worst America can offer.

For updates on the B.D.P., check out Johnson’s website at

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Disastrous Layoffs or Reform at Last?

Monday saw the beginning of massive civil service layoffs by the Federal Government of Nigeria. In a move widely criticized by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and affiliated trade unions, the government plans to sack 33,000 of its 160,000 federal civil servants from now through October. Malam Nasir el-Rufai, Federal Capital Territory Minister and Chair of the Public Service Reform Committee, has stated that the workers getting the axe "are people who in the first place should not have found their way into the service." This is the largest and most ambitious move yet by the PSRC, which is part of President Olusegun Obasanjo's government reform efforts.

Depending on whom you listen to, these firings are either the necessary first step in creating a functioning bureaucracy and eliminating corruption in civil service hirings, or they are the precipitators of a massive economic crisis in a country that is already ranked as the 13th poorest nation in the world. The government contends that the civil service has been bloated by decades of patronage hirings and phantom workers, fictitious names added to the payroll to fatten the wallets of federal officials. The NLC, which represents 29 Nigerian labor unions, has a different take. The fear is that adding 33,000 workers to the ranks of the country's unemployed will have serious economic and social ramifications.

It is hard to believe that thousands of families will not be adversely affected by these layoffs, but the government's actions are necessary and worth the risk. Despite being the most ardent critic of the cutbacks, the NLC need only look to its 2006 "New Year Statement" to find that it supports the government's actions in principle. The statement applauds President Obasanjo and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for their "unprecedented progress in the anti-corruption war" and calls for "more thorough, result-oriented and comprehensive measures against corruption at all levels and in all spheres of life." While this particular measure does go against the NLC's other stated goal of lowering unemployment levels by creating new jobs, the leaders of the Congress must surely recognize that the most effective way to attract new investment in Nigerian industry is to create an efficient bureaucracy and a functioning government infrastructure. In the long run, by creating a civil service that has the capacity to grant promotions or raises to workers, as well as letters of dismissal, based solely on ability and performance, these layoffs will be a significant step toward lessening the negative economic impact of Nigeria’s corruption.

Related articles and URLs (of the cut and paste variety):

Nigeria Labour Congress' 2006 New Year Statement:

Nigerian Newspaper Articles:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Alan Dershowitz is an Ass

I can say that here, thank god. It feels good to get it out. Above is a link to a recent diatribe he published on the Huffington Post. And here is the comment I wrote in response:

Mr. Dershowitz has anticipated his critics and has done what any good pundit does, dismissed them preemptively as hateful lunatics. By suggesting that his polemic will lead "the worst anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bigots to crawl out from under their rocks," he is categorizing anyone who might have a slightly more levelheaded criticism of his viewpoints along with the basest of scum.

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you Mr. Dershowitz. I am neither anti-Israel nor anti-Semitic. I do not deny Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation, but I do deny its right to murder innocents and to treat Palestinians as subhuman, just as I deny Palestinian terrorists' rights to murder innocent Israelis, and Iran's right to nuke anyone.

Perhaps you might take the time and, utilizing your sizable intellect, ponder what an Israeli strike on Iran might precipitate. Certainly, if Iran and Israel existed in a vacuum, a preemptive strike might be seen as a rational move. They do not, however, and such a move, in the present climate, could make a hopeless situation that much worse. The tipping point is dangerously near in the Middle East and you are suggesting the international community should sit back and allow Israel to hasten its arrival. You, sir, are an ass! (ok, so that last part I added in later)

Politicus Interruptus

A recent report by the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks revealed one obvious fact and one not so obvious factoid about the upcoming election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The former is that the election, scheduled for July 30, has already been tainted with allegations of fraud. Nineteen of the thirty-three presidential candidates have called for a suspension to the election campaigns, citing growing evidence of irregularities in voter registration, as well as a complete lack of transparency. The latter is that three of the candidates are sons of prominent Congolese political figures: Joseph Kabila, who has been serving, at least nominally, as president since the assassination of his father, Laurent Kabila, in 2001; Zanga Mobutu, son of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown by Laurent Kabila in 1997; and Guy Patrice Lumumba, son of the first prime minister Emery Patrice Lumumba, an outspoken anti-colonial leader who was overthrown by Mobutu and his Belgian backers in 1960. Quite an impressive line-up, if you ask me.

(see article at

Of course, the commander of the 2,000 strong EU peacekeeping force in the DRC, German General Karlheinz Viereck, is convinced that his hi-tech monitoring set-up, which consists of three illuminated wall maps and some computers on a military base in Potsdam, will produce a "clean and orderly" election. The command post will coordinate the 800 troops who are unlucky enough to be stuck in the DRC, 3,500 miles away from Potsdam, and 385 miles away from the remaining 1,200 soldiers of the EU mission stationed in Libreville, Gabon. The primary task of this EU detachment, which will be stationed at the Kinshasa airport for the duration of the election, is to support the 17,000 truly unlucky UN peacekeepers, the majority of whom come from the non-EU nations of India, Pakistan, Nepal, South Africa, and Uruguay. These 17,000 souls are charged with the task of monitoring the election in a country of 2,345,410 Sq. km. and 58 million people, or nearly 215 times the area and 29 times the population of Kosovo, which was patrolled by a UN force of 40,000 during its transition to democracy. This is the arithmetic of apathy. I'm not saying the west has ignored the epic tragedy in the DRC since the inception of MONUC in 1999; France was kind enough to offer 3 troops and 3 observers and, in a true display of generosity, the UK has offered up a whopping 7 observers. The ever-magnanimous United States, seeing as this is a perfect opportunity to assist in the growth of a nascent democracy, has sent 0 troops and 0 observers, but, to be fair, it does cough up 27% of MONUC's operational budget.

(see article at

Despite the fact that there are 50,000 polling stations in the DRC, which means MONUC would be spread quite thin were it to provide security to the entire electorate (0.34 troops per station), the head of the UN mission to the Congo, former U.S. Ambassador Bill Swing, expressed his confidence that the largest election operation ever attempted by the UN will go off without a serious hitch in a recent interview with the State Department sponsored Washington File. Ambassador Swing is concerned mainly with the logistics of getting the 1,800 tons of ballots to the polling stations by the 30th, and with maintaining security during the election, not with ensuring that the election is free and transparent.

Swing also claims, in the same interview, that the violence in the eastern DRC is finally subsiding, after years of warfare, famine, and disease have claimed approximately 4 million lives. According to his account, the local and foreign sponsored militias operating in the eastern half of the country, which borders the Great Lakes states of Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda, as well as Tanzania, Zambia and Sudan, are operating within a few containable "pockets of instability." Despite the recent ambush of a Nepalese unit serving under MONUC, which left one dead, three wounded, and seven in the hands of the militia, Swing is confident that his forces will be able to provide the necessary security during the elections. They will have to do so without air support, as MONUC's helicopters and airplanes will be busy shuttling ballots.

(see article at

Where Swing sees a few "pockets of instability," others see a deteriorating security situation. Timothy Raeymaekers, fellow with the Conflict Research Group at the University of Ghent, is one of those cassandras who sees the glass half empty. According to Mr. Raeymaekers, the conflict has worsened since the establishment of the transitional government in 2003, due mainly to the fact that the government has become yet another player in the plundering of the resource-rich east. There is a long list of individuals, companies, and governments that have an interest in keeping the eastern DRC rife with chaos and ripe for the picking. There are economic forces at work that an election, particularly a fraudulent election, is not going to reverse. Eighty percent of the world supply of coltan, a rare metal used in electronic devices, is in the eastern DRC. There will not be a sea change in central Africa until the true source of its instability is recognized and challenged head-on, and this will not happen until the consumers of products made with the DRC's plundered resourses wake up and take action. Though I'm not sure of the most effective way to do this, I started by sending Motorola an email asking them to explain their policy on acquiring coltan. I received a reply with a number for their Media and PR department: 847-668-7086.