< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: September 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brother Robert Smith

I apologize to regular A9 readers for the repeated memorial announcements, but it seems over the last twelve to eighteen months, a lot of people I care deeply about have passed away... Since this is my blog, I'll be writing about that. And another service announcement. It has become great sport from the leftiest of left blogs to the rightiest of right to try and figure out exactly what my identity truly is. A lot of people know me only by pseudonym, and almost everyone knows that is intentional. It is likely that what I'm about to write will reveal, at least to those clever enough to piece it all together, exactly who I am. If so, I ask that you take satisfaction in knowing something others do not. If not, then just keep reading, maybe one day :)

Brother Robert Smith died on September 12, 2006. I've been so busy that I only recently found out. It appears many people thought I already knew. Of course, I knew it wouldn't be long, but I would not be the first of his pupils to say that I've always a deep suspicion Brother Robert would never leave this earth. Aerodynamically designed to exhibit Newton's First law, many of us believed "Bro. Ro" as he was often affectionately known as, was a permanent fixture on this earth. So needless to say, though I was well prepared for such an eventuality, I also was schocked to the point of tears that someone I loved so dearly had left this earth.

In just a brief Googling of Bro. Ro's death, one can quickly surmise this was no ordinary man. He made a dramatic impact on the people he came in contact with.

Dr. Jose Yulo states:
After sixteen years at the helm, he journeyed to Annapolis, Maryland, and soon became one of St. John's College's most respected and influential tutors. Even among the august faculty at St. John's, Bro. Robert held place all his own. He deftly practiced his patient, yet uncompromising socratic method, enabling many students to descend unscathed yet humbled from their own Mt's Olympus. All the while, he provided a moral ethos of decency and kindness, gifts essential to softening the socratic's more pointed tendencies. I will always remember and be grateful for the times where he was giving of his time and insight. R.I.P.
Brother Donald Mansir reflects:
“Brother Robert was one of the most influential of the Brothers in the curriculum at Saint Mary’s College,” said Brother Donald Mansir, chair of the Bishop John S. Cummins Institute and teacher in the Saint Mary’s Integral Program. “A true son of Saint La Salle, a friend to hundreds of students, and an inspiration to many of the greatest minds of the last century, Brother Robert will be terribly missed."
What many people might not realize is that Brother Robert is one of the secrets of the vitality of Western Civilization. I kid you not. Go to Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lazard, or any such monolithic investment bank and you'll hear people at the very highest echelons of power whisper fond memories of conversations with Brother Robert. Take a trip to to Columbia Univ., Princeton Univ., Oxford or Chicago, and you'll hear the very tops of these institutions whisper regrets about Brother Robert's passing. All this from a man who seemed shorter than he really was, balder than he seemed, and more concerned with helping any old student than with getting his book published next month.

St. John's College, apparently, is forced to have two memorial services for Bro. Ro, one this weekend and one on Nov. 11th. I hope to be at both. But let me tell you why I hope that...

Brother Robert completely and utterly changed my life, as he has done for so many. His kindness, gentleness, and respectful style were a model of how to turn boys (and girls for that matter) into free men (and women). His ability to correct illogical, distasteful, or uncivilized rhetoric in a school where open-ended, no boundary discussions were as essential as air to fire completely upended today's popular notions of how to deal with unbridled intellectual curiosity. He corrected without any sting, molded without any force, shaped without any design.

Were it not for Bro. Ro, I would never have experienced the Orthodox religion in any real way. For those that truly know me, this is obviously a rather important statement in my life. One summer Bro. Ro invited me to attend a retreat with him at a Greek Orthodox monestary. The memory of that retreat stays fresh in my mind each and every day. Of course, what combined it into the ever powerful moment it has come to mean for me was his constant discussion with me about iconography. He collected them. He had become an expert on them. And his thoughts infused within me and helped solidify what would come to be one of my most fondly held beliefs.

Bro. Ro also taught me Greek. Well, that isn't completely true, two others were my tutors and "instructed" me in Greek. But I never really got it until I started translating for Bro. Ro. I just had a great deal of confidence when I was him. Confidence to be completely wrong, but enough love of learning to continue trying no matter what the result. Ha! Thinking back on all that makes me laugh. We must have sounded like brain damaged ancient Greeks to Bro. Ro. But we had a joyous time doing so, and we all came away with greater proficiency, greater appreciation, and most importantly, greater respect for the thoughts the Byzantine poets than any classics major could ever hope to have.

Spending an evening with Bro. Ro, eating good food, drinking excellent wine, reading great books and viewing fine art, all while probing his mind for clues while he encouraged you to probe your own. This should be the education of all, luckily, it was an education which I was able to partake in for a time.

As those Johnnies out there reading this already know, Rabelais would not be Rabelais were it not for Bro. Ro. A number of quotes come to mind, and I'm sure he'd appreciate that I can't narrow it down to just one, so here are my favorite two...

When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink.

And of course,

Tell the truth and shame the devil.

God bless Bro. Ro, and thank you Heaven for allowing a few of us the moments to spend with him. For anyone wanting to speak with me about Bro. Ro, I'll be in Annapolis, MD over the weekend and hopefully again on the 11th. See you there.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Starting Your Own Shop

I've started businesses before. Even though technically I was an "owner" in them, it was materially different than now, where I am one of two "principals". Big difference. Some of the things I've noticed about starting your own shop are the following:

You can never rely on a common language once you start your own shop. You'll desperately want to fall back onto lingo and trade specific language which you've acquired over the years. But no one, not even people with fairly similar backgrounds, will ever be able to decipher exactly what it is you're talking about. The reason for this is simple, you're the boss. They want to emulate how you talk. When you're just one of several directors, that isn't a problem, everyone adopts their language to the way the "big boss" talks. But what I didn't realize is that when you're the big boss, and everyone is trying to adopt your language, they all sound like they are speaking in tongues. I spend an inordinate amount of time restraining my use of trade lingo because it simply gets in the way and makes my co-workers sound like raving lunatics.

Employees who aren't "principal owners" don't really understand that you own the place. It all seems like a corporation to them, and from the outside they are right. But from the perspective of a principal, when your staff purchases, say, a printer, they think they are purchasing it for the fund, or the firm, the institution, the "corp" or whatever. What they don't realize, and what doesn't even make sense to them immediately after you tell them, is that what they just did was buy you a printer. It seems to me this is because the vast majority of people in this country have never worked for themselves. They always work for someone else. This can make things complicated if you don't look out for it. Your sense of ownership and their sense of ownership are very, very different.

Starting up is easy and fun even though it is hardwork, moving from startup to management is a pain in the fucking ass. Seriously! Finding space, getting furniture, logos created, your first big money, all that stuff is exhilirating and meaningful. Turning all of that exhiliration into repetitive processes which can be scaled so that you don't have to make every single decision
is very, very hard. It all comes down to talent and drive. Finding people with the talent to go from startup to management is easy, finding people with the drive is hard.

Well anyway, about a year ago today I was staring at a business proposition on Excel. Now I stare at my name on the wall when I walk into work each day. Guess some reflections are warranted.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A bonehead maneuver

I thought the GOP was supposed to be the evil geniuses of the bunch... always ready to exploit a weakness... quick to sniff out the other side's wounds... ready to chomp on their jugulars.

The "sanitized" version of the National Intelligence Estimate which President Bush ordered declassified, seemingly in order to save his own political hide, will end up destroying his majority in the House. History will look back on this as the single stupidest political decision ever made by a sitting President. A first class political "bonehead maneuver".

Quotes like this: "the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror" when cast against the current perception of the Iraq war will undoubtedly cost Bush seats in the next election. I think the only question now really is just how many seats will be lost?

I thought Bush and his Texan advisers were gunslingers... but I just can't imagine a seasoned gunfighter going out right before the final firefight and giving his enemy extra bullets.

The Regional Conflict Gambit

Raising eyebrows.
Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani warned that Iraq was prepared to "make trouble" with its neighbors if nations such as Iran, Turkey and Syria did not "stop interfering in our internal affairs."

In an interview with NPR's "Morning Edition" to be aired today, Talabani, a Kurd, said Iraq was prepared to support opposition groups in neighboring countries as a recourse for what he said was meddling in Iraq. Iran and Turkey each have sizable Kurdish minorities that have been pushing for increased self-determination.
I wrote about this here last year. I don't think this is an empty threat any longer. The possibility of a region wide, decades long conflict which completely reshapes the map of the mideast is better than 50%.

Once again, the US is caught in the middle, and more than likely on the wrong side of history.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Clinton Interview

In the much talked about Clinton / Wallace interview, Bill says a lot (as usual). The best part of the interview though is this short exchange between Wallace and Clinton...
CW: Do you think you did enough, sir?

WJC: No, because I didn’t get him.

That pretty much says it all.

Who we Torture

The ongoing torture debate, and present disgust at making types of torture legal, seems to be missing the point in my opinion. So let me concede some of the more absurd points which proponents of torture make. Let me concede, no matter how absurd it truly is, that torture works. Let me concede the intel we get from torture is actionable, and that it can prevent the next type of the death which the purveyor is known for. Let me concede all of that. I still think, even with that, we miss the point. The point is who we torture? What safeguards are in place to determine that? What balance is there to the selection criteria?

Let's throw it open. Assume we concede that the "known ______" means we have one of these sons of bitches in our cell and we believe they may know about the next event... I ask you:

All in favor of torturing known Al-Qaeda operatives stand... those not in favor, remain seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known Iranian Qod Force operatives please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known Irish Republican Army operatives please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known abortion clinic bombers please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known Ku Klux Klansmen please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known street gang members please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known child molesters please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known armed robbers please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known drug dealers please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known drunk drivers please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Of those standing, all in favor of torturing known cigarrette manufacturers please remain standing... those not in favor, please be seated.

Still standing? Well, don't forget that smoking kills 400K people a year in the US. Now are you still standing? If you weren't, would you like to? 400K people. Fewer people would die in a chemical, biological, or rudimentary suitcase nuke attack. And yet this happens every single year. I feel the same way about torture as I do the death penalty... if we're gonna have this evil, let's fucking use it where it will help most. If not, let's live like honest people.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

How to Win the Moral War - Real Adaptation

India, home of the second (or third depending on who counts) largest muslim population in the world, and a victim of a recent domestic terrorist attack, is figuring out that excellent results can be achieved by fighting terrorists on their turf: the moral plane.
At least two of the clerics have been suspended from their posts, but that hasn't satisfied everyone. Students at one madrassa in north India denounced the clerics, and in the city of Meerut, where a mufti, or cleric, had been caught on camera, the congregation at one mosque refused to offer prayers until he came before them, admitted to taking the money, and apologized.
This should be tracked closely by opinion polls, and I hear it will be. Whenever those polls come out I will try to post (if someone else hears about them, please comment as well). Of course, even better than driving a wedge between "principled" and "greedy" is to get the native population to question the legitimacy of those guerrillas which they shelter.
The "cash-for-fatwas" scandal has also led to a renewed debate on what constitutes a fatwa, and who has legitimate authority to issue one.
Yes. That's the spirit. More than likely utterly unintended, but a perfect example of a vibrant, questioning, open culture. It should not be a shock that this adaptation resulted first in India (the world's largest and most diverse democracy) as India has one of the most republican governments (and federalist governments) in the world. That this adaptation seems like a distant memory here is of course - a sign of the times.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Housing Prices

Things have a long way to go before they really go "down" in Fairfield County, CT... but one thing is for sure ... things in the real estate market over $1M ain't good. And when it ain't good in places like Fairfield Co., it ain't good for Republicans.

I'm just guessing that means we're about to see something we haven't seen since the late 80s, early 90s. The LA Times has a good graphic of what that means here.

Point being, if Dems really want to win in November as opposed to just sitting around and performing purification rituals and other rites of tribal passage, they need to do one really simple thing...

Connect the evaporation in home equity to the cluster fuck in Iraq.

If you think about it, both are really just symptoms of the same disease.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Torture Offensive

I was wondering last night, does it make good political sense to push for torture ahead of an election? I saw a headline in a local rag up in the western part of the state, fairly Republican up there, "Bush wants to break Geneva Conevention on Torture". Not sure if that's accurate, but that was the jist of it. That doesn't play well, clearly, and the law of diminishing returns is always working against such schemes. But why push for torture now? Do you really want to make this election about Abu Ghraib?

Well, maybe you do if you know something that I don't (or didn't).
Urgent news from Abu Dawood, one of the newly appointed commanders of the al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan:

Final preparations have been made for the American Hiroshima, a major attack on the U. S. Muslims living in the United States should leave the country without further warning.

Hat tip John Robb. But why am I finding out about this from a Canadian news outlet? Must not be a very big deal I guess.
Yes a bigger attack than September 11th 2001. Brother Adnan [el Shukrijumah] will lead that attack, Inshallah.
Oops. Guess it is a big deal. So shouldn't Adnan's picture be up all over the place? I suppose we don't know enough about him though, probably just a phantom in the dark.
He is an American and a friend of Muhammad Atta, who led 9/11 attacks five years ago. We call him "Jaffer al Tayyar" ["Jafer the Pilot"]; he is very brave and intelligent. Bush is aware that brother Adnan has smuggled deadly materials inside America from the Mexican border. Bush is silent about him, because he doesn't want to panic his people.
Uh. Nevermind that. I guess that explains it doesn't it? Jesus. But I suppose it's too vague a threat? Not actionable? Not specific enough?
Muslims should leave America. We cannot stop our attack just because of the American Muslims; they must realize that American forces are killing innocent Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq; we have the right to respond back, in the same manner, in the enemy's homeland. The American Muslims are like a human shield for our enemy; they must leave New York and Washington.
Unless of course you're a Muslim living in New York and Washington. Looks like al-Qaeda understands responsive government.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Different Disney Perspective

Bloggers are all agog about the right wing slant of the Disney Docudrama on the "steps" along the "path" to 911.

Here's another point of view--never mind the Clinton bashing, the bigger issue is how W comes off. Sorry to put it this way, but W doesn't "come" at all in the Monday night version. In fact, except for an oddly mis-timed ("time-compressed"?) speech on 911, where he's mouthing platitudes even before the full scope of the disaster is clear (as the movie itself points out), there is almost zero Bush "presence."

In fact, his "order" to shoot down flight 93 is so obscure that the movie only quotes Cheney to the effect that he has "received" the president's order. No representation in the film of Bush actually giving that order. (Where to start on that one? Do you not give your order directly to those who are to carry them out, Mr. President? Do you expect that the military can lawfully obey an order that is only quoted to them by the vice-president? -- not under the law -- Why did rather more than an hour pass before you gave any orders at all, Mr. President? When you were doing the pet goat, when it was already clear how severe the damage to the towers was, did you not think there was something for a poor president to do? Oh, that's right, presidents have such a difficult job--what with decisions and all. I know, W, it's so hard that you almost certainly just told Shooter Cheny to do whatever he thinks best, you'll back him up)

The almost total absence of Bush from Part 2 of the DisneyDrama doesn't look to me like a pro-Bush slant. Could Disney have been so insulated from public opinion as to imagine that "less is more" when it comes to showing Bush as the commander in chief?" Old, fat, impotent, white men at Disney can be that insulated, to be sure, but are they that incompetent?

And then of course, the scorecard at the end--carrying out the 911 commission's recommendations--something like 5 to 12 (grade F vs. grade D), with only one A (intercepting terrorist money). Not exactly a ringing endorsement of efforts to protect the homeland.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bush's Iran Policy: or, What's a Poor President to Do?

First, shut up the political rhetoric about Iran. Make Rummy, Cheney, Rove, and everybody else in your administration shut up, too.

Second, tell the truth about how rapidly Iran is progressing toward a nuclear weapon. Answer: not very, so no immediate hurry, but no time to waste in fashioning an effective policy, either. Since you and the British can't be credible any longer on account of Powell's UN fiasco on WMD's, then develop a covert collaboration with those who could still be credible--maybe the Russians, maybe the Egyptians, maybe the Pakistanis--who would join in documenting the facts of Iran's progression towards a nuclear weapon.

Third, fire Armitage and Rove for outing Valerie Plame, since compromising her and the company she ran dealt a severe setback to our intelligence on middle east WMD's.

Fourth, shut up again.

Fifth, privately inform the Iranians that we have the means to know when their enrichment passes the point of peaceful use, and that when it does, we will regard it as an imminent threat to ourselves and our allies and we will destroy their facilities (which is admittedly a very difficult task if they are deep underground, but then what's an air force for if it can't take out even a deep facility?)

Sixth, start a crash program in alternative fuels, and get prepared for gas and oil rationing until those fuels come on line. Tell Halliburton to go to hell and get some honest, competent businesses to do it.

Seventh, redeploy the American troops to secure positions inside or outside of Iraq, so they can be protected from local or Iranian retaliation, in case we have to act against Iran. Quit running up and down the streets and highways of Iraq triggering IED's and ambushes that kill our troops.

Eighth, if the Iranians pass the point of no return, shut up and destroy their facilities.

Ninth, get your collaborator to explain the facts that required the strikes; and don't smirk.

Tenth, shut up about enforcing the non-proliferation treaty. You already broke it with India.

Some of these things would be public actions that would be accurately perceived by all. Since we haven't seen any such actions from you, Mr. President, we know you are not serious about stopping the Iranian threat.