Friday, May 01, 2009

Back to blogging, but not here so much

It looks like 2009 will indeed be another Year of the Dog. Make that Year of the Three Dogs. Because a couple of months ago we unexpectedly acquired an addition to our pack, Bamm Bamm, from a friend in Germany who felt we could give him a perfect home. We're doing our best. ;)

Bamm Bamm is an almost four-year-old brown and white border collie with a very sweet temperament, excellent manners (unless you leave him alone in a room with food accessible), and already highly developed frisbee skills, thanks to his previous owner. A few photos:

photo by Andreja Rener

2009 is also apparently The Year of the Frisbee Club: Slovenia's first dogfrisbee club, Flipsi, was officially established in March, and contributing to its successful operation is keeping me pretty busy. For more information about our activities, check out our website and blog.

I may still blog here occasionally, but most of my efforts will be on display over at the Flipsi blog. I also finally broke down and joined Facebook, so anyone who is so inclined can find little tidbits of news about me there.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Life is short. Aim high and bite hard!

This post might be better entitled "Send me money!" but that seemed a little too blunt even for me. First of all, apologies to my two or three faithful and curious readers for leading you on and then failing to deliver. This blog back in June was not, apparently, on the verge of being revived. Though it all depends on what the meaning of "on the verge of" is. Using a geologic time scale, four months is a mere femtosecond. And I've spent most of that femtosecond happily and busily running around doing fun things with dogs, leaving no time for blogging. Back in January I started composing a post entitled "2007: The Year of the Dog", because dog activities and accomplishments had dominated the events of that year. I never got around to finishing it, because The Year of the Dog became Two Years of the Dog, and dogging continued to take priority over blogging. No idea what 2009 has in store. Possibly The Year of Muddling Through, or The Year of the House (one of these femtoseconds I really need to get cracking on that project, I'm about to go through my fifth winter with no central heating). Maybe even The Year of the Blog. Or even better, the Year of the Book. Two Books, actually. But for now, I'm still in the dog phase, and pretty intensively at that.

So why do the dog and I need your money? Because at the European Championship in Dogfrisbee, my canine partner Lyra and I finished sixth in the Open Freestyle category, thereby qualifying for an invitation to the USDDN Disc Dog World Finals in Cartersville, Georgia. I never dreamed of ranking that high so early in our career; we've only been doing this sport together for a little over a year. We both love it, and make a good team. Years of playing frisbee as a kid helped me develop a pretty good throwing arm, though it was with a Doug, not a dog--Doug's my big brother and was about my only opportunity to practice throwing balls and frisbees in an era when girls were not supposed to enjoy or be good at sports. For her part, Lyra is a natural athlete and loves to leap, chase and catch just about anything. Frisbees are probably further down the list than pine cones, sticks, balls, and squeaky toys, but in the absence of those other four she'll enthusiastically pursue a plastic flying disc.

So, here we are with an invitation to the World Championship and no funds of our own to make it happen, since just about all my discretionary income over the past year or so has already gone for traveling to and participating in seminars and competitions elsewhere in Europe (primarily the Czech Republic and Germany), and buying frisbees. So I've put out an appeal for donations to my fellow Slovenian dog sports fans and competitors (you can read more here if you know Slovene). The response has been terrific but we're still short a few hundred euros. If you live in Slovenia and would like to help send a representative from this country to the World Championship in Dogfrisbee, email with your pledge.

The title of this post is a quote from Bryan Lamky, canine judge at the EC and former world-class competitor, who in turn was inspired by his partner Tatiana. Words to live by!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

So who is this dude Obama anyway?

Scary swarthy Muslim terrorist?

Old school Marxist with a radical liberal failed ideology?

A god?

The embodiment of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream for America?

A system-saving better brand of toothpaste?

I like Dennis Perrin's take (last link above) but I think Jeremiah Wright may have summed it up best:

"He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Back to blogging

This blog is on the verge of being revived. Usual topics--dogs, politics, walks. Just a head's up for anyone who still checks this site. And a preview of things to come:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Blowback 101

I don't have time to provide the background to this or elaborate further just now (there are reasons why I haven't been blogging much of late), but just in case anyone happens to migrate over here from the comment I left at The Washington Note, below is the text of the editorial I was referring to (I also mentioned it briefly in a post here over a year ago). The editorial was written in late 2002, for a local newspaper in Lafayette, Indiana, where I happened to be living at the time, in response to the establishment of Purdue University's "Homeland Security Institute."

'Blowback 101': The Missing mission of Purdue's new security institute

I welcome Purdue University's initiative to establish a new Homeland Security Institute. Few tasks are as important as ensuring the safety of citizens. But there's something missing from the list of “critical mission areas” serving the strategic objective of preventing terrorist attacks.

It's American foreign policy.

What is it that our government does around the world that makes America such a favored target of terrorists? It's a reasonable question, and a 1998 report by the Cato Institute asked it outright: “Does U.S. intervention overseas breed terrorism?” In a word, yes. Author Ivan Eland analyzed the recent historical evidence and found a strong correlation between U.S. military intervention abroad and terrorist attacks against the United States. His conclusion: “The United States could reduce the chances of such devastating and potentially catastrophic terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of military restraint overseas.”

In other words, terrorism against our population can be prevented if our government can be restrained from bombing other nations and propping up despotic, unpopular regimes with American military power. Hardly a surprising or controversial conclusion, but certainly worth bearing in mind by anyone working in the field of homeland security.

I suggest the institute offer a course called "Blowback 101" or "How to avoid creating lethal enemies in the first place: What can we learn from the failed foreign policies of the past?" An interview given by former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998 is especially instructive here, and sure to spark a lively class discussion.

Brzezinski boasted that CIA aid to the mujahedin in Afghanistan actually began well before the Soviet military intervention -- that it was in fact deliberately intended to provoke the Soviet Union into invading, thereby giving the Soviets their Vietnam and contributing to the collapse of the regime. Asked whether he regretted having supported Islamic fundamentalism, that is, having given arms and advice to future terrorists, Brzezinski replied, "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"

Let us hope that graduates of Purdue's Homeland Security Institute will learn from miscalculations like Brzezinski's. Unfortunately, concerns about Afghanistan, the Taliban and even al-Qaida no longer occupy the American political mind, which is currently fixated on Iraq. Yet here, too, lessons from the past abound. For instance, just how smart was it to provide Saddam Hussein with massive military aid during the Iran-Iraq war, including the materials for making chemical and other weapons of mass destruction?

Americans must be slow learners. As part of the new global war on terrorism, 67 countries have received or are about to receive U.S. military aid, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Thirty-two have been identified by the State Department as having "poor" human rights records, or worse, the same group reports. So don't be surprised if today's partners in the coalition against terror turn out to be the Osamas and Saddams of the future.

Perhaps the most significant discovery of the new Homeland Security Institute will be one we already know, from disciplines as diverse as agriculture and theology: What a man sows, so shall he reap.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lyra takes up a new sport

And seems to be rather good at it. Or maybe it was just beginners' luck.

Results from our first disc dog competition, at Stromovka Park in Prague, July 29:

Freestyle Beginners

Super Minidistance Open

Here she is, posing with her winnings:

And here are a couple of action shots of Oli, with whom I tried one round of minidistance, without having done virtually any training at all.

At this stage of the game, her misses

are more frequent than her catches

but I expect with time and training her skill level will approach more closely her level of enthusiasm.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Border/aussie blogging

Quick round-up of recent news before we head off on the next adventure--walking the Pot spominov in tovarištva/Path of Remembrance and Comradeship around Ljubljana to commemorate the liberation of the city from Nazi/Fascist occupiers on May 9, 1945. For more information about that event and about the commemorative path and walk, see here, here, (both in English), and here (Slovenian wiki entry). Report will follow.

Some holiday postcards from Lyra--in addition to an afternoon jaunt to the seaside (no pictures, she said she was too busy swimming in the ocean to mess around with taking photographs), the next day she got to attend a picnic in the village of Krka, where the source of the Krka River lies.

I got her back from her foster family in time for an agility competition on Saturday April 28 in Ptuj, where she finished fifth. The course for the agility run was extraordinarily challenging. There was only one clean run, and 13 of the 23 A2 competitors were eliminated. Considering the circumstances, Lyra did okay. We got 10 faults for missing a difficult slalom entrance, twice, and 3.88 seconds in time penalties while we corrected it (twice!). Everything else was good apart from a very slow teeter. Still working on that one. After the first run we were in seventh place.

In contrast to the agility course, the jumping course was almost ridiculously easy. There were nine clean runs, including ours; Lyra's was the fourth fastest, a respectable showing for us. With a fifth place overall, we didn't bring home a cup this time, but she did acquire some points towards the national championship, in which she is currently (after three competitions) leading.

We also got in a third run (jumping) for the team. She ran clean, the only one of our three-member team to do so. A little slow since by then she was tired, and the day was hot. A nice feature of the Ptuj grounds is the stream that runs alongside; Lyra took frequent dips but even so the heat got to her.

No photos or videos this time, sorry.

I do, however, have a few shots from the Open Day hosted by the Komen Kennel Club on Sunday April 29 (click to enlarge):

The Postojna and Ajdovščina kennel clubs were invited to do an agility demonstration in the afternoon. Unfortunately someone forgot to truck in the obstacles, so we improvised a little show to fill in the time and amuse the spectators while waiting for the agility course to arrive. As you can see, Lyra and I did a little impromptu frisbee:

Okay, she missed that catch, but you gotta admit it's a spectacular leap.

Olivia got in on the action, too.

In fact, Oli, despite her relative inexperience and clumsiness with the frisbee compared to Lyra, arguably turned in the better performance. Lyra was distracted, unfocused, and hard to motivate--she's supersensitive to environmental factors and clearly didn't feel comfortable in the setting. I finally managed to coax a few of her trademark leaps out of her, but for much of the time her chasing was half-hearted and her catches mediocre.Oli , on the other had, displayed an enthusiasm, will to work/play, intense focus, and desire to please that were extremely gratifying. She just needs to hone the technique a bit (well, me, too). She shows this drive and enthusiasm for just about any task we give her--frisbee, agility, obedience, tricks. Very fun to work with. I would love to see her try out herding--I bet she'd be brilliant.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eni grejo na počitnice, drugi pa v šolo

I am temporarily Lyra-less. J and D swung by to pick her up and take her with them on an afternoon jaunt to the seaside. Whenever she does well at a competition, she is rewarded with počitnice pri Jani in Deanu. (The "jockey" only gets a beer.) Her last major vacation with J and D was in January. Things look a little different now. Instead of shoveling snow, I have been mowing dandelions. I can't really call it grass. But I couldn't quite finish the job since I ran out of gas for the lawn(dandelion)mower and couldn't refill the tank since yesterday I poured what was left in the gas can into my car's tank so I could drive to Sežana to pick up a desperately needed prescription for antihistamines.

Oli has school this evening in Ljubljana. Fortunately I got a payment today, so I can buy gas for the trip.

This is a fairly typical day in my life.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Good dog, happy woman

So what if my house is a mess, my garden a disgrace, my love life pathetic, my finances precarious at best? I have a damned fine dog, and that's what really matters. (Two fine dogs, actually, but this post is dedicated to Lyra.)

Saturday I left the house shortly after 5 a.m. to travel to an agility competition at the other end of the country, in Gornja Radgona. Okay, that's not as impressive as it sounds once you realize I live in a country the size of New Jersey, but a three-hour drive one-way by my standards is a long haul.

I very nearly didn't go. As with last year's competition in distant Slovenska Bistrica, I found myself in the (not atypical) situation of having lots of work and little money. A sensible person would have made a serious effort to earn more and spend less. Specifically, she would have stayed home and translated (and cut the grass and cleaned house) instead of taking the whole day off and spending money on entry fees and travel expenses.

Last year I took the sensible option, and regretted it. This year I sensibly decided to act irresponsibly. Good move. No regrets. We had a terrific time, enhanced even further by winning a cup, a bag of dog food, and a dog blanket:

photo by

Thereby breaking the Eukanuba curse that we somehow incurred last season. I had set what I thought was the attainable goal of ranking in the top three in the Eukanuba Cup for our category, but with the exception of the first competition of the 2006 Cup (which was also our first time na stopničkah), our worst performances invariably occurred in the Eukanuba competitions, and we finished the season a mediocre seventh or eighth in the Cup.

Videos of our Saturday runs available here (agility run) and here (jumping run).

Despite taking our sweet time on the teeter-totter, which was even more fearsome than usual, we were second after the agility run, since so few dogs had clean runs (the course was a challenging one; nearly half the competitors were eliminated after the first run). Jumping was clean and relatively fast--we had the best time of the clean jumping runs--but not quite fast enough to make up for our slow agility run and overtake the first-place dog, Kala.

This follows a second-place finish at Ajdovščina on April 7:

(Videos: agility run, jumping run)

Saturday was an upbeat conclusion to an otherwise stressful and generally crappy week, marked by an extraordinarily high pollen count which set my allergies raging, controversy and conflict in village relations over the erection of industrial-sized streetlights along our narrow unpaved rural lane that would illuminate my yard as though it were a shopping mall parking lot (considered by some a sign of progress, by others unnecessary and unacceptable light pollution), major challenges at work, and dissatisfaction in my love life (such as it is). After experiencing a series of mini emotional breakdowns, I'd decided it's time to seek help from a professional therapist. But now I'm thinking--who needs therapy when you have a border collie and agility?*

And music. Check out song #11--my personal favorite.

And speaking of dog therapy--check out what Tina and Chica have been up to, bringing good cheer to residents of a retirement home.

*Sorry, Elizabeth, if this catches on, you may be out of business.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

If you say so

Monday, March 19, 2007

A week in my life: March 11-17

It was a good one, despite me being sick the whole time. It started out with a leisurely Sunday afternoon walk through the Karst landscape in the company of a visiting friend and Lyra, who knew exactly what to do when we came across a kal:

A kal, for those who may not be able to read the Slovene Wikipedia article linked to, is a small Karst pond, a depression in the landscape that fills up with rainwater (and may dry up during a severe drought). In the past they were used as a source of drinking water for human households (before being superseded by wells, which offered a cleaner and more constant source of water for human consumption) and for watering the livestock which were driven to pasture every day:

(The pond pictured above is now a road; for more photos and information about Karst ponds go here and here.)

Typically, every Karst village has a man-made kal; a couple of weeks ago, during a village party held in part by the Kopriva kal, a local woman now in her sixties recalled going there to wash clothes in her childhood.

This particular kal, which Lyra so happily made use of,

is a natural pond, located beside a piece of land (one of about thirty) that belonged to my ex-husband and has now passed to our daughter. It's about half an hour's walk from the village along a track just wide enough for a tractor. About 18 years ago we spent several days cutting wood on that land; as we worked, Miloš mentioned drinking from the pond in his childhood, when he and his mother and grandmother would be out there mowing in the hot summer weather (by hand, using scythes--before the land became overgrown by brush and trees).

On the way back, we stopped to play some tug of war:

The weather was stupendous all week long. My health was notably less than stupendous. I had a nasty head cold, characterized by a very sore throat, long and frequent fits of explosive incontinence-inducing sneezing, and nonstop production of vast loads of thick yellowy snot. Lovely. Tea helped. And being outside—it was actually easier working outside than in, though my physcial stamina and consequently labor productivity were low.

On Monday I finished raking the old dead grass and cleaning up the brush around the property, transplanted strawberries, and sawed, split and stacked some wood cut from my pasture in January and hauled home a few weeks ago. Tuesday (having canceled my Ara EFL classes since I couldn't talk) I dug up the garden bed by the garage, scattered manure pellets, planted black currant and white currant bushes (no red to be had, will add later), and installed tomato poles--at the edge of my yard as a slalom obstacle for now, since tomato-planting won't occur till later in the year. Wednesday I dug up the garden beds by the cottage and the flower bed in front of the house, planted a few flowers, and sowed lettuce and radicchio. Thursday I again tackled the pile of wood, sawing the ca. one-meter-long pieces into shorter lengths with the chainsaw (2-3 cuts), splitting the thicker ones, and stacking the cut and split pieces in the shed under the garage, before heading up to Ljubljana for agility lessons. Where I nearly expired, since I couldn't breathe, run, or call out commands to the dogs for shit.

On Friday I took the day off. I had day care for the dogs, drove to Nova Gorica, took the train up through the lower Soča Valley and Baška Grapa to Bohinjska Bistrica (map here), where I luxuriated in the pool and especially saunas at Vodni park Bohinj. Outstanding. I was practically alone in the saunas (just two other people) and the Turkish (steam) sauna in particular was just what my respiratory system needed. For the first time in a week I could use my partially unclogged nostrils for taking in air. Stopped off in Most na Soči on the way back for a scrumptious dinner with a friend, got home about 10 p.m., exchanged greetings with the dogs, fell into bed.

On Saturday we went to an agility competition in Prestranek. No need for an extremely early start, since it's only about 40 minutes' drive and now that we're in dvojka (level 2), we start later. Oli came along and behaved very well. And we got a delivery of seven dog frisbees and got to try them out. AND...we were second in the competition! We had a clean first run (agility)--she did the teeter without much hesitation or prematurely jumping off and she entered and proceeded through the slalom from our "bad" side without mistakes, a performance good enough for second place after the first run. I got disoriented in mid-course during the second run (jumping), momentarily lost sight of the next obstacle, had a terrible line, and she ran by a jump while I was trying to recover, picking up five faults. After that mistake I wasn't expecting to place but other competitors also made mistakes, and we somehow managed to retain second place overall. A nice end to the week, and a good start to the 2007 season.

photo by

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AIPAC Democrats

Inside America's powerful Israel lobby
Before and after the dinner, the presidential candidates and their colleagues from Congress schmoozed with the AIPAC delegates. Circulating through the crowd, Joe Biden made sure his presence was registered. "Hi, I'm Joe Biden!" he said repeatedly, adding several times, "I've been hanging out with AIPAC for years!"


Following the dinner, Clinton and Obama held competing dessert receptions in the conference center -- in rooms about 25 yards apart -- both eager to highlight their pro-Israel credentials.


Leaping Lyra

(Click to enlarge photos.)

It's a border collie thing.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

This day in history

International Women's Day (IWD) originated as part of a protest against the abysmal wages and working conditions which women faced in textile factories. On March 8, 1857 women workers in the garment industry in New York City stopped working to draw attention to their conditions; 12-hour days, lack of benefits, sexual harassment, sexual assault on the job, and unfair wages. Three years later women garment and textile workers formed their first union, but conditions did not improve significantly. Fifty years later on March 8, 1908, women once again mobilized to ask for change. This time they were also demanding an end to child labour and lobbying for votes for women.

The protests about working conditions did not move the government to change the labour laws until a fire on March 25, 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 145 women in New York City. They were locked in the building to ensure that they would not take breaks away from their stations even to use the one washroom, which did not work adequately.
Police and onlookers standing by the bodies of women who leapt from the burning building in the Triangle Factory fire, New York City on March 25, 1911:

The factory conditions which led to the deaths of these women were common in the 1,463 sweatshops existing in the garment industry of the time. The women worked in a sea of flammable materials with no sprinkler systems. The fire escapes, which did exist, were accessed by inward opening doors, many of which were locked. Eighty thousand workers marched through a pouring rain to the funeral held for the women who perished.

The government was silent. No laws were immediately changed. The following January 11, 1912, fifteen thousand women garment workers went on strike, demanding shorter working hours, an end to child labour, safe working conditions, and equal pay. Their claim was, “Better to starve fighting than starve working.” The women stayed out on strike for nearly three months.

Their slogan and song – “Bread and Roses” – rang through the streets – bread a symbol of economic security, and roses symbolizing social justice and a better life.

The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912:

Each year on March 8, women around the world take time to reflect on the current status of women and demand equity under the law, safe and equitable working conditions, and freedom from violence in society at large.
Reflect on this, please:
Outrage following more Bangladesh garment worker deaths

Three tragedies hit Bangladesh factories in one week, leaving scores dead, wounded

Hundreds were reported dead or injured following three separate incidents in the Bangladesh garment and textile sector last week, according to various local and international news and Bangladeshi trade union reports. [...]

[...] The spate of tragedies began on Thursday, February 23 when a fire, possibly caused by an electrical short circuit, destroyed the four-story KTS Textile Industries in Bangladesh's port city of Chittagong. Initial reports stated that 54 were killed and at least 60 were injured, however other sources peg the death toll at several hundred in what local garment workers rights' advocates are calling the worst tragedy in the history of the Bangladesh garment industry. Over 1,000 workers were reportedly in the factory at the time of the 7 p.m. fire. According to the workers, the exits were locked. [...]

Garment workers participating in a national strike March 2nd 2006 in Bangladesh to demand justice in the wake of recent deaths and injuries in garment and textile factories:

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Good question

"Do they have a nice broad roof on that embassy to land helicoptors on?"

--from a commenter responding to a Washington Post article about the billion-dollar mega-embassy the Americans are constructing on expropriated land in the center of Baghdad.

Update: It appears that the photo is of the current US Embassy, which is housed in a palace built under Saddam Hussein. See comments for more information.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Snowier adventures of a frolicsome border collie

This time from Tamar:

Olivia also got to play in the snow--we got about 25 cm here on Thursday. Not much left now, after two days of strong sunshine, but it was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Me neither

Not that I ever said I would support John Edwards, but after reading Bob's post I can say with 100% confidence that Edwards will never get my vote. As Bob says, "That Edwards believes that Iran is a threat, and that he feels it is more important to speak to Israelis than to Americans, is enough to cross him off my list."

Bob raises a good question: "Why is it that most states get two senators, while Israel gets 100?"

Democrats are, if anything, even more reflexively pro-Israel than Republicans. As Joe Biden helpfully explained to Jewish journalists in October, 2006, the Democrats' support for Israel "comes from our gut, moves through our heart, and ends up in our head. It's almost genetic." (No need to cross Biden off my list; he was never on it. I cannot stand the man or his politics.)

Compared to this sorry bunch of Democrats, Hagel is looking better all the time. He got the lowest score--3.88 on a scale of 1-10--of all the 2008 presidential candidates ranked for Haaretz by a panel in response to the question "How good is the candidate for Israel?" (Note, though, that the best qualified candidate of all, Dennis Kucinich, is not even on Haaretz's list.) And Hagel has been one of the most vocal opponents of Bush's escalation of the war on Iraq.

But on virtually all the other issues his politics could not be further from my own. A 0% rating by NARAL on women's reproductive rights. A 100% rating by The Christian Coalition. An A grade from the NRA. Supports Bush 95% of the time, favors privatizing social security, opposes more federal funding for health care.

No. I can't.

New blog in town

It's called Piran Café, and is described by author "Pirano" (a fiendishly clever pseudonym) as "a tremendous waste of precious time." I'm pretty sure he meant his time, not the reader's time. For readers, I'd say it's well worth a (daily) visit. Want to learn about the hazards facing Martin Strel in his attempt to swim the entire length of the Amazon River? Need some shopping tips for just the right souvenir that best represents Slovenia's cultural contribution to the world? And do check out my cameo appearance here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snowy adventures of a frolicsome border collie

Lyra is visiting friends this week in Ljubljana. Yesterday it started to snow in the northern, alpine part of the country (the Gorenjska region), and so Lyra and her friends went off to frolic in the white stuff. Photographic documentation follows (click to enlarge):

Oli and I are stuck in the rainy Karst. We saw a bit of white stuff today when it hailed, but mostly we have mud and puddles on the ground. Oli doesn't mind the rain, or the mud. She's been taking advantage of Lyra's absence to play with her frisbees. Getting rather proficient. And quite muddy. No photographic documentation, but use your imagination to visualize a wet, muddy blue merle aussie with brown where the white markings used to be. (Photo below was taken a month ago, above Bohinj. She was clean then.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Won't Bernie Sanders please run for president?

Because I sure as hell won't be voting for Hillary or Obama.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform, transcript courtesy of Democracy Now!:
[...] If you are concerned, as been said, about healthcare, if you are concerned about foreign policy and Iraq, if you are concerned about the economy, if you are concerned about global warming, you are kidding yourselves if you are not concerned about corporate control over the media, because every one of these issues is directly controlled and directly relevant to the media.

Let me just talk about a few. Four years ago, George W. Bush told the American people that a third-rate military power country called Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that they were about to attack the United States of America. That's what he told us. I can tell you, because I was there in the middle of that, in opposition to that -- that day after day, those of us who oppose the war, among many other things, would be holding national press conferences that you never saw. I can tell you, as you know, that hundreds of thousands of people in our country were so disgusted with the media simply acting as a megaphone for the President that they turned off American media, and they went to the BBC or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In terms of the war in Iraq, the American media failed, and failed grotesquely, in exposing the dishonest and misleading assertions of the Bush administration in the lead-up to that war, and they are as responsible as is President Bush for the disaster that now befalls us. Media plays a role. And the disintegration of Iraq, the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, of over 3,000 Americans, the cost of hundreds of billons of dollars out of our pockets -- directly related to the failure of the media.

Let me touch on another issue, an issue that I am deeply involved in. If you were to ask me what the most significant untold story of our time is, in terms of domestic politics, I would tell you very simply that that story happens to be the collapse of the American middle class. Simply stated -- I don’t want to speak at great length on it, but simply stated, despite an explosion of technology, huge increase in worker productivity, tens of millions of our fellow Americans have seen a decline in their real wages and are working longer hours for lower wages. In fact, what you probably don't know is that the working people in our country work longer hours than do the working people in any other industrialized nation on earth.

How did that happen? How did it happen today that a two-income family has less disposal income than a one-income family did thirty years ago? How does it happen that thirty years ago, one person working forty hours a week could earn enough money to take care of the family; now, you need two, and they're still not doing it? Now, one might think that this is an interesting story. One might think that globalization and disastrous trade policies, which have lowered the standard of living of millions of American workers, might be a story that should be covered.

What I can tell you is that when NAFTA was first passed over ten years ago -- and I strongly opposed NAFTA -- we did some research. We did some research. We went through the editorial pages of every major newspaper in America, every single one of them was prone after, and today, despite a $600 billion trade deficit, the loss of millions of good-paying blue-collar and white-collar jobs, these corporate titans are still in favor of unfettered free trade, despite the disastrous impact it has had on America's workers.

Now, what is all of this about? What happens? If the reality of working people's lives are not reflected in the TV, in the newspapers, what happens? This is what happens. People lose their jobs, because corporations shut down. Just had an instance in Vermont this week. 175 workers shut down, lost their jobs, because of free trade.

People working long hours, people working for lower wages, they turn on the television set, they do not see that reality. What they see is the issue is personal responsibility. You can't afford healthcare? You're losing your pension? Then the problem is with you. Work a little bit harder. It is not a systemic problem. It is not a problem that can be solved by government. It is not a problem which asked you to be involved in the political process. You are the only person who can find a job that pays you a living wage. That's your fault! And you are the only person who can’t find a job that provides you with healthcare. That's your fault! And you're the only father who can't afford to send your kid to college. That's your fault! Don't get involved in the political process. It won't do any good. So people turn on the television -- they’re hurting, they're exhausted -- they do not see a reflection of their reality in the media. They do not understand that participation in the political process can bring about change, and that is not by accident.

When we wake up in the morning and we brush our teeth, for better or worse, we see our own reflections in the mirror. When we turn on the television, somebody is providing us a mirror to the world, and what we want is that mirror to reflect the reality of ordinary people and not the illusions of a few.

Talk about healthcare. We are told that it is quite amazing. After sixteen years in the Congress, you hear these guys getting up on the floor announce, “We have the best healthcare system in the world. Yeah!” 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Even more are underinsured. We pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Costs are soaring. Best healthcare system in the world.

But, you know, go out on the street and ask people how many major countries in the world do not have a national healthcare program, which guarantees healthcare to all people. And you know what? Most people do not know, because they have not seen it reflected in the media, that the United States of America is the only nation on earth that does not guarantee healthcare to all of its people. They do not know about the healthcare systems in Scandinavia. They do not know about European healthcare systems. And the only thing they will hear about the Canadian healthcare system are the problems that that system has. That's what they will hear.

I can remember in the early 1990s, during the early years of the Clinton administration, there was a lot of debate about the need for real healthcare reform. Do you happen to know which piece of legislation in the House had far more support than any other concept? You probably don't. It was legislation to support a single-payer national healthcare system. That's a fact. But, as somebody who was involved in that fight, we would turn on the television and say, “Hey, single payer has more support than any other concept. Are you going to talk about single payer?” “Oh, no, no. We don’t talk about single payer. It's not feasible.” Virtually no coverage about what a single-payer concept is about. Virtually no coverage about international healthcare and how other countries are doing a better job than we are doing.

In terms of the environment. In terms of the environment, if we are told over and over again that there is a serious scientific debate about the causation of global warming or whether global warming actually exists, it has an impact upon our consciousness. Why should we break our dependency on fossil fuels, why should we move to sustainable energy, if there is a debate among the scientific community? And that is, in fact, what you hear in the media. Well, you know what? There is no debate among the scientific community.

Now, here's an issue that I’m sure you see on the TV almost every night -- it probably bores you, you see it so much -- and that is that the United States today has the most unfair distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth. I was joking. You don't see that on television very often. Now, here is at issue, you know, which is of enormous significance from an economic point of view, as well as a political point of view, as well as a moral point of view. Richest 1% of the population in America owns more wealth than the bottom 90%. Richest 13,000 families earn more income than do the bottom 20 million families. In many ways, in my view, we are moving toward an oligarchic form of society. Do you think that maybe this is an issue that should be thrown out there on the table? Do we think it's a good idea that so few have so much and so many have so little? But that is an issue that is beyond the scope of what establishment media is literally allowed to discuss.

Now, I have been in politics for a long time. I have been asked a thousand questions by media. Not one member of the media has ever come up to me and said, “Bernie, what are you going to do to deal with the outrage of America having the most unfair distribution of wealth of any country on earth? What are you going to do about it?” Have you ever heard any political leader ever being asked that question? Why not? Why is that issue outside of the scope of what we are allowed to talk about?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pay me in poetry

One of the more interesting aspects of my line of work is the opportunity it provides to learn things I likely never would have encountered otherwise. This morning, for example, in the course of editing an article summary, I was introduced to the Chinese poet Li Bai (or Li Po), apparently considered one of the two greatest poets in Chinese literary history. Before today my knowledge of Chinese poetry was nil; now, thanks to the article I'm editing, Wikipedia, and hyperlinks leading to pages such as this one, I am practically an authority on the life and poetry of Li Bai. I now know, for example, that he "is best known for the extravagant imagination and striking Taoist imagery in his poetry, as well as for his great love for liquor" and that he "is said to have drowned in the Yangtze River, having fallen from his boat while drunkenly trying to embrace the reflection of the moon."

Of course, this aspect of my job has its drawbacks as well, since what should be a perfunctory fifteen-minute editing task can easily turn into an endless excursion through the vast fields of human knowledge. I don't need any of this background information to correct the common errors in word order, subject-verb agreement, use of articles, and so on in the texts I work with, but curiosity drives me to find out more, even as it reduces my labor productivity and hence hourly wage (I'm paid by the page, not the hour). But think how much more impoverished my life would be if I had never read this poem:

Alone and Drinking Under the Moon

Amongst the flowers I
am alone with my pot of wine
drinking by myself; then lifting
my cup I asked the moon
to drink with me, its reflection
and mine in the wine cup, just
the three of us; then I sigh
for the moon cannot drink,

and my shadow goes emptily along
with me never saying a word;
with no other friends here, I can
but use these two for company;
in the time of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me; I sit and sing
and it is as if the moon

accompanies me; then if I
dance, it is my shadow that
dances along with me; while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow
into friends, but then when
I have drunk too much, we
all part; yet these are

friends I can always count on
these who have no emotion
whatsoever; I hope that one day
we three will meet again,
deep in the Milky Way.

So the theorizing on the cause of his death appears to have some basis. As for his hope of meeting his friends deep in the Milky Way, perhaps it was fulfilled; if not, he may at least feel some satisfaction knowing that, according to Wikipedia, a crater on the planet Mercury has been named after him. That, along with a thousand or so poems, still delighting random readers more than 1200 years after his death, is a better legacy than most of us get to leave.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A plan for Iraq

Summarized here:

The McGovern-Polk Plan Summary and Highlights

1. Staying in Iraq is not an option. Withdrawal is not only a political imperative but also a strategic requirement. Withdrawal is not without cost (neither is staying), but it is also inevitable and we will pay costs at some point. The decision to withdraw soon will not require additional expenditures ­ on the contrary it will effect massive savings. We are not advocating "cut and run" we are urging an orderly withdrawal on a reasonable schedule that will prevent further damage to U.S. interests.

2. The Iraq government would be wise to request the short-term services of an international force to police the country during and immediately after the period of American withdrawal. Such a force should be temporary with a firm date fixed in advance for withdrawal. Our estimate is that such a force would be needed for two years during this period the force would be slowly but steadily cut back. It's focus should be limited to public security. Such a force would be most acceptable if its composition were drawn from Arab or at least Muslim countries, as suggested by Brent Scowcoft in a Washington Post column of January 16, 2006.

3. During the period of withdrawal if the Iraqi government requests U.S. assistance the U.S. should do all it reasonably can to assit it in embodying and training a permanent national police force. Once the American troops are withdrawn, the Iraqi public is unlikely to continue to support the insurgents, so the level of combat is almost certain to fall. This has been the experience in every comparable guerilla war. The American withdrawal plan should include a provision of $1 billion to help the Iraq government create, train, and equip such a force ­ the cost of four days of the American occupation.

4. America should immediately release all prisoners of war it holds and close detention centers. Physical control of former members of the Iraqi regime who have been indicted by the Iraqi government should be made to the Iraqi government. A respected nongovernmental organization should be appointed to process claims of and pay compensation to those who have been tortured as defined by the Geneva Convention.

5. America should not encourage the growth and heavy armament of a reconstituted Iraqi army as such have frequently acted against civil governments and Iraqi citizens. The U.S. should encourage the transfer of soldiers it has already recruited to a national police force or to a national reconstruction corps. The U.S. should commit to an allocation of $500 million, the cost of two days occupation, for the training of a national reconstruction corps.

6. Withdrawal of U.S. forces must include immediate cessation of work on U.S. military bases. Fourteen so-called "enduring bases" are under construction and five are already built ­ massive bases amounting to virtual cities.

7. Americans should withdraw from the Green Zone, their vast sprawling complex in the center of Baghdad. The U.S. is spending $1 billion on its headquarters in the Green Zone, which contains or will contain some three hundred homes, Marine barracks and 21 other buildings along with its own electrical, water and sewage systems. This should be turned over to the Iraqi government.

8. Before the turnover the U.S. should buy, rent or build a "normal" embassy for a much-reduced complement of U.S. officials. This should be outside of the Green Zone so it is symbolically not part of the occupation.

9. Mercenaries (euphemistically known as Personal Security Detail) now amount to 25,000 armed men ­ a force larger than the British troop contingent ­ hired directly or indirectly by the U.S. government. They must be withdrawn rapidly and completely. The way to withdraw them is simple ­ stop the payments we make to them.

10. The U.S. must assist in digging up and destroying the land mines and unexploded ordinance and clean-up the depleted uranium in artillery shells and their targets. Much of this work should be turned over to Iraqi contractors in order to employ Iraqis but it does require professional training. The U.S. should make available a fund of $250 million ­ one day's occupation ­ to assist in the survey and planning the removal.

11. Rebuilding should be, and can be, done by Iraqis, alleviating the socially crippling rate of unemployment. The U.S. should make a generous contribution to this effort in the form of grants and loans through the Iraqi government. This will also increase the power of the government. The U.S. should also allocate funds for survey, planning and organization of the rebuilding of the Iraq economy ­ a sum of $1 billion (four days of wartime expenditures). After this survey the U.S. and Great Britain should determine in consultation with the Iraqi government what it is willing to pay for. Parallel to reconstruction should be the demolition of the ugly monuments of warfare, i.e. dismantling and disposing of miles of concrete blast walls and wire barriers erected around American installations. Further U.S. destruction of Iraqi cultural sites, including building military installations on top of them, needs to be corrected and a fund of $250 million (one day of war) should be made available to assist in the restoration of these sites. Rebuilding should also include civic institutions where the U.S. should provide fellowships for the training of lawyers, judges, journalists, and a variety of nongovernmental social workers. This should cost $500 million (two days cost of war). Many skilled Iraqis have left their country and the U.S. should assist in encouraging their return, another $500 million should be provided for this effort.

12. An independent accounting of Iraqi funds is urgently required. This will cost approximately $100 million. If funds were misappropriated or misused they should be repaid.

13. The U.S. should make reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of lives and property it caused. The British have already begun to do so in their zone. The U.S. already authorizes individual military units to make condolence payment of up to $2,500. This amount compares to $400,000 paid to beneficiaries of an American military casualty. If the number of unjustified deaths is 50,000 and compensation is $10,000 per person the probable total allocation would be approximately $500 million. If the number of those incapacitated is between 15,000 and 25,000 (the best we can make) and the same payment is made the total cost would be about $200 million.

14. The U.S. should not object to the Iraqi government voiding all contracts for petroleum exploration, development, and marketing made during the American occupation, so these can be renegotiated or thrown open to fair bidding.

15. The U.S. should encourage with large-scale assistance various UN agencies ­ including the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the Food and Agricultural Organization ­ as well as nongovernmental organizations to help reconstitute organizations to help reconstitute the Iraqi public health system. While this is a massive undertaking the total cost of such rebuilding would only amount to eight days of the occupation, about $1.7 billion.

16. Finally, America should express its condolences for the large number of Iraqis killed, incapacitated, incarcerated, and/or tortured. A simple gesture of conciliation would go far to shift our relationship from occupation to friendship. It is a gesture without cost but with immense value.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More on the sentencing of Saddam Hussein

A politically astute Slovene acquaintance responded thusly to Craig Murray's wish that Saddam Hussein had been tried at the Hague:
But trial at the Hague was of course impossible. The US-appointed judiciary had to work hard to find the one Hussein crime that the US (probably) was not involved in. All his considerably more serious offenses - starting with his first murder (attempted assassination of president Abdul Karim Qassem, in which Hussein personally fired shots that killed his driver - the attempt was of course organized by the CIA), through the Halabja affair (accomplished with poison produced with know-how and equipment from the USA), to the bloody crushing of the Shia rebellion in the south in 1991 (when the USA obligingly allowed the Republican Guard to pass through US lines, and ignored Iraqi helicopters flying into the Basra area, and prevented Shia insurgents from getting weapons from Iraqi army depots in the south) - all were accomplished with considerable US support or at least a green light. The problem with war crimes and crimes against humanity is that anybody who was in position to prevent them but didn't can be charged with aiding and abetting.

Interestingly, if they actually hang him, it will be an extra-judicial killing, that is, murder, attributable to the US of A. According to the Hague Protocol and the Geneva Convention, any government set up by or with consent of the occupying force is a puppet government, and it has no legitimacy: the occupying force bears full responsibility for anything that a puppet government does.

Wouldn't that be the ultimate irony: Dubya charged with the murder of Saddam Hussein?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

And in other election campaign news...

...former U.S. ally and CIA asset is sentenced to death by hanging for crimes againts humanity.

Will Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and accomplices be in the dock next?

Riverbend comments. As does Craig Murray.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Okay, now I understand how it works

American midterm elections: a primer

This educational video was produced in 2002, but the process is pretty much the same in 2006. (h/t to commenter marquer at Hullabaloo)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This guy also gets it

How to cut and run
We could lead the Mideast to peace, but only if we stop refusing to do the right thing
By William E. Odom
Lt. Gen. WILLIAM E. ODOM (Ret.) is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University.

October 31, 2006

THE UNITED STATES upset the regional balance in the Middle East when it invaded Iraq. Restoring it requires bold initiatives, but "cutting and running" must precede them all. Only a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops — within six months and with no preconditions — can break the paralysis that now enfeebles our diplomacy. And the greatest obstacles to cutting and running are the psychological inhibitions of our leaders and the public.

Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq; creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain; and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that U.S. forces invaded.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.

Read the rest here. Sober analyis and sound advice from the guy who also said, more than two years ago, "I'm not sure I want to help the administration move on. I'd rather impeach them."

Will the Democrats listen, or do anything to solve the problems should they gain control of one or both houses of Congress next week? Of course not. They won't cut off funding for the war, and they won't impeach the war criminals who launched it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The U.S. has lost the war and "should pull out very fast"

So says John Brady Kiesling, a former career foreign service officer who resigned from the State Department in early 2003 in protest over the Bush administration's impending invasion of Iraq.

Kiesling, who resides in Greece, just returned from a speaking tour in the U.S. to promote his new book, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower. It's on my reading list, along with ex-diplomat Craig Murray's memoir, Murder in Samarkand.

And countless other titles, of course. But I have a particular interest in Kiesling's book since I did an interview with him over three years ago for the Slovene newspaper Delo. It was published in Slovene translation in Sobotna priloga, a magazine supplement that accompanies the Saturday edition of the paper. The original English version is posted below; many of Kiesling's comments about Iraq have proved prophetic.

At the time the interview was published, Slovenia was being pressured by American government officials to sign a bilateral agreement granting immunity to American nationals from prosecution before the International Criminal Court. To its credit, Slovenia, which had signed and ratified the Rome Statute, refused (although to its disgrace, Slovenia's government has betrayed the nation's founding principles and its citizens by caving in to American pressure on a number of other international issues. But this is a long story, to be told on other occasions.)

Although in an earlier post I spoofed my own efforts over the years--hell, I'm old, better make it over the decades--to make the world a fairer and more peaceful place, characterizing them as mostly exercises in futility, I like to think that publishing this interview when and where I did may have made a small positive difference to the outcome. An arm-twisting American "immunity team" had descended on Slovenia on June 2, 2003, and set a June 30 deadline for signing a bilateral agreement--or else. Of course, the "or else" consisted of largely empty threats, but even though Slovenia as a nation was in a strong position, its foreign minister, the execrable Dimitri Rupel, had time and again displayed his penchant for kissing American ass, and speculation was rife at the time that once again he would embarrass the nation he was supposed to be serving and faithfully execute the bidding of his American masters instead.

The Kiesling interview was published June 14, 2003. In it I asked Kiesling about his views of the ICC. He was strongly supportive, and went on to give Slovenes some advice on how to hold firm in the face of superpower bullying. Who knows, maybe his words instilled some Slovene government officials with the courage and confidence they had previously lacked.

Here is the full text of the interview:

Looking for signs of intelligent life in American foreign policy

Interview with former American diplomat John Brady Kiesling published in Delo, June 14, 2003

In early February of this year, credulous leaders from the Vilnius group of countries, helpfully coached by American neoconservative lobbyist Bruce Jackson, were coming to the conclusion that America’s “compelling” evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and links to international terrorism called for urgent and forceful intervention. About the same time, seasoned American diplomat John Brady Kiesling was watching events unfold from Athens with a sinking heart.

Kiesling had long suspected that the Bush administration’s case for war on Iraq was bogus. He worried that it would bring neither security to Americans nor freedom to Iraqis. A career diplomat with a master’s degree in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archeology and years of field experience in southern Europe and the Caucasus, he was particularly sensitive to the damage that such a war would inflict on America’s relationships and alliances abroad. As Political Counselor at the American Embassy in Greece, he was expected to persuade Greeks to back a policy in which he himself had no confidence. The set of “talking points” provided to him and his colleagues to make the case for war were, he recalls, “pretty pathetic” and unlikely to convince “an audience of sophisticated people who have some experience with the world, who are profoundly nervous about the Middle East and terrorism, and who would like to see some signs of intelligent life in American foreign policy.”

Unfortunately, the Bush administration values loyalty from its members above all else, including intelligence. It was clear that no dissent on Iraq, whether it came from European allies or the State Department’s own experts, would be tolerated. And so, after nearly twenty years of conscientious service, Kiesling felt he was left with no other option. “I concluded that if I resigned I would at least have the right to speak out and be heard, for at least fifteen minutes anyway,” he told me in a phone interview from Greece.

Since the publication of his eloquent and heartfelt letter of resignation on February 27 in The New York Times, Kiesling’s voice has been heard for perhaps longer than fifteen minutes. In the months since his resignation, he has, by contributing numerous interviews, lectures, speeches, and articles, helped to open up a much-needed debate about the troubling direction of American foreign policy under Bush. Currently at work on a book about the role of America in Europe and the world, Kiesling parts company with the Bush administration on more than just Iraq: the current U.S. stance on the International Criminal Court, he said, makes him “furious.” And he confesses to having “a guilty secret”—a belief in the European Union as “a successful force for democracy and development,” in striking contrast to the United States, which, he has said, “as far as most of the world is concerned…currently has no useful vision to offer.”

In his letter of resignation, Kiesling wrote that “the policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests.” Other State Department resignations followed his own, and there is no telling how many more sympathizers still work within the system. One day, perhaps, an American government led by a different president will conclude that it is wiser to listen to such voices of reason than to unleash toxic and unwelcome policies on an apprehensive world.

Your resignation was prompted in part by the realization that the White House never really wanted inspections or diplomacy to work, that it was determined to go to war no matter what. At what point did this become clear to you?

I went through ups and downs on this. I was very down in September of last year. Then when we decided to go to the United Nations, I thought that the UN would be able to stop this war, or convert it into something legitimate. All of our Iraq diplomacy throughout 2002 consisted of the drumbeat of weapons of mass destruction. No other arguments were being made. And that argument struck me as incredibly flimsy. I tried to make the best of it, but from a political point of view it was stupid to go ahead on that basis if we could not provide our allies with evidence that was better than what we had. So that made me nervous—the fact that we were pushing so hard with so little convinced me that something was going wrong.

The decision to go to the UN made me feel a little better. Certainly it gave us time. But the whole inspection process was kind of a roller coaster itself. The American public heard only about the deceit and the evasion, while Saddam’s own people were pledging full compliance, but I’m not sure the American people heard that part of it. It was clear that the certainty that the US would intervene militarily if he didn’t comply was causing Saddam to gradually open up, and that process meant that there was no urgency to go to war at all. The only urgency came from our military build-up in the region.

It’s hard for me to tell at exactly what point I realized that the war was going to happen no matter what. There was something in Bush’s facial expression on television one moment in early February that told me it was all over. It had been all over a long time before then, but my remaining faith disappeared then.

Now that the war has actually been waged, how would you assess the current situation? And what happens next?

All the plans we thought we had have evaporated. I don’t know that [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz and company were actually dumb enough to believe that [the leader of the Iraqi National Congress] Ahmed Chalabi had sufficient viability and credibility to serve as any sort of a leader, but certainly once they got in, they discovered that he didn’t. So now they’re improvising and fumbling. And while they fumble, the center of gravity is moving toward those few groups that know what they want, like the hard-core militant Shia theocrats and the people who want an autonomous Kurdistan. The Sunni are caught in the middle, with no real legitimate leadership of their own, but terrified to be caught between the Kurds and the Shia. We went in with the understanding that the only viable solution was a state with a federal structure, with the northern part dominated by Kurds, a central part dominated by Sunni, and a Shia-dominated south. If that’s going to happen, the borders had better be set pretty quickly before the groups can start fighting over them. I think the framework needs to be put in place. There’s no earthly mechanism that would cause the contending factions to be able to settle on a federal constitutional structure on their own, left to their own devices. I’d argue that we need to have the United Nations come in and bless the process. We need to diffuse responsibility for the new shape of Iraq as widely as possible, because if it’s an American plan, it will not last. It will crumble because it has no legitimacy at all, whereas if there is a broader international political fig-leaf, there will be enough vested interests in maintaining stability to keep it propped up at least long enough to give the population a breathing spell.

The sad fact is that anything that has a “Made in USA” stamp on it makes the local population puke. They’re simply not going to tolerate it. But we need to find a way to live up to our responsibilities while creating a structure that has some claim to legitimacy, that isn’t simply imposed by US force on an unwilling and hostile population. Frankly, I don’t know how to do it. If I knew how to do it, I might have been more easily persuaded of the need to take out Saddam Hussein. But I really don’t.

The Kurds don’t want to be worse off than they were, so a federal state is the minimum they will accept. I’m not sure the other parties will be as happy with that. But if it’s a good enough package, with lots of money and guarantees of democratic rights, they might accept it. In the Shia territory this means basically coming to terms with a theocratic Shia federal state. We will either have one with US blessing, or one without US blessing, but we’ll have it regardless.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about how American foreign policy has effectively been taken over by the Pentagon, with the State Department relegated to a very minor role. Administration officials Paul Wolfowitz at the Department of Defense and Richard Armitage of the State Department recently denied the existence of any conflict between the two departments. But what is the reality from your perspective?

The reality from my perspective is that these are very powerful men with a lot of ideological similarities who certainly would never stoop to saying anything nasty about one another in a meeting, and certainly not with the president watching. But there is a very sharp competition going on, and within that competition, the State Department has won an occasional battle but has always had to pay for it, whereas the Pentagon has been much better at winning and not paying for it. There’s definitely tension and conflict between the two departments.

Is the Pentagon winning?

It certainly was, but I get the feeling that since the war in Iraq ended the Pentagon has pulled back quite a bit. Iraqi reconstruction has to be paid for, and the bureaucratic logic of the situation is that the Pentagon would have to pay for it, and the Pentagon would prefer to spend its money on tanks and weapons and so on. So Rumsfeld is going to try to find a way to gradually pull the Pentagon back from involvement in Iraq, but that’s hard. And I think that gradually the United Nations is going to have a role, and the State Department, and AID [United States Agency for International Development, a government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide], and all these other organizations that Rumsfeld has nothing but contempt for. But Iraqi reconstruction is such a mess, and so expensive, and he will not cover himself with glory from it, so he doesn’t mind farming it out to others.

How should we interpret the replacement of retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner by ex-State Department official Paul Bremer as chief administrator in Iraq? Some say that this is an indication that the State Department is getting more involved again, while others point out that Bremer’s primary affiliation is to the group of known neoconservative ideologues that so dominate this administration, and it doesn’t really matter which department he’s from.

Bremer reports to Rumsfeld, that’s very clear. Bremer’s own ideology is actually pretty slippery. He is a very shrewd bureaucrat who adopts whatever ideological coloration is required. He endeared himself to Rumsfeld by being a real counter-terrorist hawk, and of course that’s an easy way to win brownie points in Washington under any circumstances. So what Bremer really thinks, I don’t think anybody really knows. If Bremer is successful in Iraq, Rumsfeld will take the credit. If Bremer fails, Rumsfeld will remind everyone that Bremer is really a State Department guy.

Recently we heard Rumsfeld say that Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction may have been destroyed before the war, and Wolfowitz said that the weapons were used as the main pretext for war in Iraq primarily “for bureaucratic reasons.” This has sparked demands in both Britain and the United States for investigations to find out whether the administration manipulated intelligence and lied to Congress and the public about the threat posed by Iraq. Do you think anything will come of this?

Well, what can they say? They did manipulate. Rumsfeld and all these people had talked themselves into absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They don’t know much about the Middle East, the intelligence was pretty ambiguous, they misread Saddam, and they thought it was fine to fudge the evidence, assuming that once they went in they would find something. They miscalculated badly. And so they deserve to be hung out to dry, because the whole doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, even assuming you agree with it, requires that you act only on good intelligence, and our intelligence was crap.

But do you think the people responsible will be held accountable in any way?

I’m fairly skeptical, but I think they’ll be a little more cautious in future. That’s about the best that I can say now. Unfortunately history tells us that the people who do best are the ones who don’t apologize for having lied, they just keep on doing it. But this has really added to the political cost that Tony Blair is going to pay. I suspect that Bush will pay a lesser cost since the American public is not nearly as curious about it.

How badly has the US damaged its relations with the rest of the world over Iraq?

The damage is fixable. The only problem is that the way we fix it is by showing a competence and perseverance in Iraq that I don’t think we have. If we fix Iraq, and make it better than it was when we broke it, then people will judge us more kindly. Also the president’s personal commitment to the Middle East peace process is important. I don’t want to be too cynical about it—but given his reluctance to pay attention to this process before, it’s clear that Bush was genuinely shocked by how much of a mess he made in Iraq, and is now trying to make up for it and redeem himself. I hope he succeeds, but I’m not that optimistic. The Middle East peace process is very, very difficult. The United States has to try, because nothing will happen without the personal prestige of the American president and the wealth and power of the United States government being brought to bear on the issue. The personal prestige of the American president works better when the president has a slightly clearer idea of what’s going on, but who knows, maybe he’s learning.

So you wouldn’t rule out progress in the Middle East peace process during this presidency? Or do we simply have to wait and hope we get something better in 2004?

I don’t rule anything out. I think that it’s possible that we can move the Middle East peace process a stage down the road toward a Palestinian state, but it will require a huge amount of attention over the next few months. I think President Bush has made a personal commitment to Tony Blair to make this effort, and I believe Bush does take this kind of personal commitment seriously, even though he doesn’t take telling the truth to the American people very seriously.

Your resignation from the State Department in February of this year was the first public resignation since 1994, when five State Department officials quit their jobs because they were frustrated by the Clinton administration's inaction on the crisis in the Balkans. You shared this frustration. But did you also consider resigning at the time?

Not at that time. I was always on the fringe of the Bosnia policy. As a Romania desk officer, I was providing moral support and helped with some of the drafting of the dissident activities. My involvement with Bosnia was purely voluntary, and if things got too intense I had the option of stepping back. I was appalled and disgusted at what was going on, but I wasn’t up against any moral crunch, and I didn’t think I had the seniority to really make a difference.

How did the change in US policy towards Bosnia come about? What finally led the US to intervene?

Basically it seemed to come down to too many dead bodies on television. Prior to that Clinton’s feeling had always been that the situation was too difficult and messy for him to want to get involved. There was a permanent bureaucratic battle going on, though the battle lines kept shifting. The State Department and part of the Pentagon were in favor of intervention, but most of the Pentagon felt it would be a quagmire, so the military tended to give assessments that were unrealistically negative—that it would require too many troops and cost too much money and so on.

Wasn’t the lack of a clear exit strategy also cited at the time as a reason not to intervene?

Well, anytime there’s a clear exit strategy, it’s because someone is lying. Exit strategies never really work, but you have to be able to convince skeptics, particularly in the US Congress, that we’re not going to be there forever.

Some people argue that even in the absence of an Iraqi arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, there was a compelling moral case for military intervention and regime change in Iraq. You were one of the earliest advocates of intervention in Bosnia, yet you opposed war in Iraq. What is the difference between the moral argument for intervention in Iraq as compared to that in Bosnia?

I would argue that certain kinds of humanitarian disasters generate a kind of legitimacy. To put it brutally, enough blood on the pavement generates legitimacy. When people are dying in large numbers, and there is a real prospect that military intervention will save lives, then this creates a moral obligation for the international community to act. There can never be a full accounting of costs and benefits, but in the case of Bosnia it seemed to me that the status quo was evil and many thousands of people were dying unnecessarily, and that we could stop it at a relatively small cost and offer something better.

There were times in Iraq’s history when equally terrible things were taking place, and we did absolutely nothing. The moment we chose to intervene in Iraq was actually not one when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering his own population with any particular enthusiasm. The short-term costs of the war would certainly be worse for most Iraqis than the continuation of the status quo, and the long-term situation was based on a whole bunch of imponderables, most of all on the willingness of the United States and the international community to pay billions of dollars that we don’t and won’t have in order to make things better. There was not enough blood on the pavement to generate a kind of moral momentum to intervene. You could argue that the time to intervene was when Saddam Hussein was gassing the Kurds at Halabja, but he was our ally at the time.

How many more people inside the system share your concerns, and what issues or actions would be flashpoints for them?

I think if we started any new wars against Syria or Iran, there would be a large number of resignations, because it would mean that all of our Middle East policy had collapsed in a heap. Also our relations with our allies would be even more seriously damaged than they already are. I’m not expecting war with either of those; I think we’ll see some saber-rattling but not actual war.

What about some kind of covert action in Iran?

My strong belief is that we’re living in a fool’s paradise if we think that there’s the kind of motivated opposition that we could work with in Iran the way we worked with the Contras in Nicaragua. Iran is a little more civilized. We could make a mess there, but a mess in Iran doesn’t actually serve our interests. At the moment there is basically a status quo state that is not very strong and doesn’t have control over all of the activities within the country, but if we were to destabilize it, there are thousands of Iranians who would love to do us harm, and if control broke down, they would be far freer to do it. Covert action aimed at the destabilization of the current regime would be an insanely stupid thing to do.

But is there sufficient awareness of this among the people in the US administration responsible for promoting one policy over another?

I don’t know. I think so. The Europeans have much better ties to Iran than we do, and I think they could give a more realistic assessment. I don’t think Tony Blair is ready for another bruising of the kind he’s gotten so far over Iraq. I think we’re smarter than to do that. I hope we are.

What are your views on the International Criminal Court? As you know, the United States is pressuring a number of countries, including Slovenia, to sign a bilateral agreement granting immunity to American citizens before the ICC. Do you think this administration’s objections to the ICC are justified?

The US view of the ICC is one of this country’s greatest embarrassments. I hated dealing with it when the issue came up. The whole point of the ICC was that in the course of the 1990s enough truly horrible things happened that we and the rest of the civilized world concluded that we needed some international body to try war criminals and serve as a deterrent to future war crimes. We all agreed with this, and then suddenly the issue was hijacked by the worst kind of American rabble-rousing populists, you know, the UN-bashers and the like. President Clinton basically shirked his responsibility on this one. He saw that it was politically a losing issue. So we ended up making a mockery of our principles—at least what I thought were our principles; at this point it is clear that the rejection of the ICC is perfectly in keeping with the principles of certain members of this administration.

The International Criminal Court was a courageous attempt to move international law a step forward. Then the United States lost its nerve, for completely spurious reasons. We had already gutted the ICC to the point where there was no plausible threat from it to us. It was not going to be taken over by hostile UN Assembly members and used to embarrass Henry Kissinger. We have a system that will punish war criminals and the primary jurisdiction lies with the individual states. It was not our finest hour; our position on this issue made me furious. I understand why some states feel compelled to give in to US pressure—that’s normal when you’re a small state and a large superpower is behaving childishly and irrationally—but I’m embarrassed for the US.

Slovenia seems to be holding firm on the issue for now, in large part due to the intense counter pressure applied to the Slovene government by civil society, which is strongly supportive of the ICC and increasingly critical of current US policy. Do you have any advice for countries on the receiving end of this administration’s bullying and manipulative tactics?

The key thing to remember is that all of the countries who are joining the European Union in this tranche have nothing to worry about. The United States does not have any meaningful bullying power which it cares to exercise. It will use guilt, it will use threats, but there’s not a lot that it can really carry out. On this particular issue it would be helpful if the European Union would be a little bit clearer, but then the EU is trapped, too: they are not sure how nasty the US is willing to be on this issue, and they don’t want countries to suffer unnecessarily. So the EU has basically decided that it’s up to the member states to make their own arrangements, but they have signaled to the accession states that whatever they do had better be “EU-compatible.”

I would say that Slovenia can get away with just making earnest noises and doing nothing. There are other countries that are more easily browbeaten; Romania, for example, is in a more awkward position. Romania tried to have the best of both worlds by signing an agreement very rapidly with the US and then saying that they had to wait for EU permission before ratifying it.

This is not an all-or-nothing issue for the United States, and a country like Slovenia, because it doesn’t need a US troop presence for peacekeeping or anything, can say to the US, “Look we are loyal friends of the United States, but we are also loyal friends of international law, and a good friend does not ask another good friend to violate their principles except in a time of supreme emergency, which this is not.”

So far the only concrete threat that has been made publicly is the withdrawal of 4 million USD in military aid.

The point is that this military aid is in US interests as well as Slovenia’s interests, and everybody knows it. It is not in US interests to weaken the bonds of affection between the US and other militaries. So even if it’s cut off, it will be restored eventually. If Slovenia politely says that it is too difficult for a democracy like ours to sign this agreement, the long-term consequences will be minimal.

Does the NATO alliance have a future, and if so, what is it likely to look like?

The original purpose for NATO is gone. There’s no question about that. That said, I think NATO is helping the European integration process, and as such may have a few years left to run. There is a major philosophical question as to whether NATO should be turned into an instrument of either the United Nations, which the US would not let happen at this point, or else of the community of nations, and serve as a highly competent organized planning and logistical body that will make military intervention, when it’s required, as effective, cheap, multilateral, and surgical as possible. NATO does have incredible infrastructure for intelligence, for planning, for communications and the like. I’m happy to put it to use, but it needs to be put to use within an international framework. That’s the big question. In a reinforced international community, where the UN is made more disciplined and stronger, NATO could be quite helpful. But that vision is not one that most Americans would share at this stage.

Is there a danger of NATO, under US domination, turning instead into what International Herald Tribune columnist William Pfaff termed last fall as “a self-financing foreign legion for the Pentagon?”

If the European Union develops a little more unity and discipline, so that the American voice in NATO is not quite as dominant, then I think that NATO has a lot of useful work to do.

What does diplomacy at its best look like?

Diplomacy is essentially the tending of human relationships. Our current theory of foreign policy is that we don’t need relationships because we’re powerful, so we can either demand that people do things or we can pay them to do things. And this is of course nonsense. Human nature doesn’t work that way. People do what you ask them to because they know you, they trust you, they have some sense that your interests and theirs coincide. And the job of a diplomat serving in, say, a country like Greece, where personal relationships are really everything, is to have contacts with the whole of the meaningful spectrum, and that’s not just politicians, but also academics and journalists and occasionally with real, ordinary people for a reality check, and certainly with the business community. There needs to be a point of reference, so that when Greeks think of Americans, they think of American diplomats and recognize that we have a shared tradition and shared interests and shared values, and that when things need to happen, I pick up the phone, the ambassador picks up the phone, we make a request, and they say “we’ll do it because we trust you.” Personality is crucial, and one of the most bizarre things I saw was Warren Christopher, who, although he was a very decent person, didn’t like talking to people. He didn’t establish empathy with people, and as a result our diplomacy was much weaker. Whereas with someone like Richard Holbrooke, though I have some doubts about him, there was no question that he invested his personality in real relationships, and he used those relationships to get people to do things they would not have done in the absence of that relationship.

In closing, is there any particular message that you would like to convey to Slovenes?

The basic point that I would like to make is that the European Union is a grand and visionary thing, and it’s a great experiment that I and a lot of Americans strongly endorse. It is crucial that Europe and the United States stick together. Our relationship goes through ups and downs, but in the long run our interests are the same. Both sides have to work permanently to tend the relationship.