Tag Archives: Friday Afternoons

ELL Pic of the Day (#166)

I need to go fishing soon….good for the soul…and, yes, fishing on Plum Island would be a good 6th triathlon event

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Friday Deep Smarts 7: Nightmares for Erics

I had the pleasure last night of meeting some folks for drinks and dinner at Boston’s Algonquin Club, one of those cool places that I would love to be a member of, if I actually lived in Boston and had a need for a place to take clients and friends and cheats and liars. I am hoping to be invited back for another event, in part so I can check out in detail the David Roberts prints behind the second floor bar. If I ever do open the Ball Bar one day, the only pictures on the wall will be Roberts prints and  old Rho bandit composites (borrowed from the house, of course). And the men’s room will have the daily paper stapled to the wall above the urinals. I always stay for an extra round in a place that has the courtesy to provide you a little light reading.  And speaking of light reading:

Eric Shimp’s daily walking wide-awake nightmare (and happy birthday to his oldest): Is there anything more flummoxing for the father of a daughter than attempting to help them with their hair? It seems so simplistic and yet we arrive at this position with virtually no training. Every time that I have to hurriedly do my daughter’s hair on her way out for school, she ends up looking like: a) Nick Nolte’s mugshot, or b) Every kid that has ever been shown in the background on Cops during a meth house bust. Even putting in a barrette is beyond my capabilities.

Eric Lapham’s musical nightmare: “Long gone from ol’ Kentucky, long gone, ain’t I lucky”…yeah, this song will get under your ears in a good way.

Eric Marshall’s social media nightmare (because this may suck him into Twitter): World War Two tweets from 1939…seriously, this is one of the reasons I am on Twitter, for stuff like this: Finnish children now arriving in Sweden, after being evacuated from Helsinki & other cities threatened by Soviet bombs

Speaking of Soviets and because Eric Shimp is in Geneva ushering the Soviets into the WTO: Russia, once one of the great centers of Western literature and music–the land of Turgenev and Tchaikovsky–looks increasingly like Nigeria with snow.

Eric Shimp’s basketball nightmare (that I may develop a shot like this): His step-backs hardly ever even required a fadeaway because he sold the first few steps of the drive so convincingly. The best basketball moves take on something like a personality. Hardaway’s crossover was a happy little trick. Jordan’s turnaround was imperious and taunting. Roy’s step-back combined a little of both.

Finally, an Eric-free combination of hoops and food (providing insight on being a team): you don’t just throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, then throw it on top of something, then fry it up and put it in a tortilla and put in a microwave, heat it up and give it to you and expect it to taste good. You know?

Friday Deep Smarts, 4

Because it’s almost Thanksgiving…six weeks of gluttony and good cheer, capped by New Years Eve…

Because in November football matters more than anything else (except turkey…and veterans…and stacking firewood): To this day, I still like it when some jayvee option team like Navy pulls an upset against some asshole BCS conference school. So I really like the option, and yet I STILL hope the Broncos lose every game by 50 points from here on out. That’s how much you’ve overcovered Tim Tebow, ESPN. You’ve made me hate the option: THE SCRAPPIEST OFFENSE OF ALL.

Because U2 has become a recurring theme: On the way, you listen to the “early stuff.” The Joshua Tree pumps through the speakers of your Lexus SUV (no judgment—you have two kids!). The harmonies soothe. The lyrics are straightforward. You recall a simpler time before car seats and prostate exams. The nostalgia is so thick you have to wipe it from your face. You haven’t looked at your phone in nearly 11 minutes.

Because the Arab Spring isn’t over (and this is a good source for following day-to-day developments): Activists say Syrian troops have made sweeping arrests in Hama province as President Bashar al-Assad faces a growing challenge to his rule.

Because Second Row is not a seating section: RTE Radio’s Michael Corcoran is a longtime rugby commentator who apparently has not seen many a finish quite like Saturday’s Munster-Northampton game in his day. So we understand that he is excited. We do. It sounds very exciting! We just don’t understand a word of what he’s saying.

Because we all need to speak Mandarin like Shimp: Everyone assumes that the Chinese political system is going to open up—but what if it doesn’t? What if, in other words, China becomes fully integrated into the world’s economy, yet it remains also entirely undemocratic?

Because I am an East Coast Elitist who reads the New York Times every day: Why do the fancy classes still take this guy seriously? Forget evil. We’ve lost our clear sense of what stupid is.

Because I can’t help myself: Before you read further, ask yourself these three questions: 1) What percentage of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign aid? 2) What percentage should go to foreign aid? 3) If your answer on (2) was “0,” is any foreign aid at all worth any expense? Walk away, answer those questions and come back.

Friday Deep Smarts, 3

Today should include some deep thoughts on what it means to honor those who serve,  but I’ll stick instead with the usual scattershots (sports, politics, mega-trends and micro-issues)…but I have to say this: no other place in Europe had as long-lasting an impact on me as Verdun. “Countless white crosses in mute witness stand” only begins to get to the gravity, the enormity, the pain, and the enduring sorrow of the place. As much as we should remember veterans and honor those whose serve, we should also recall our own human capacity for consistently killing each other in wars to end all wars. Recall, remember, recognize, react…and reflect on countless white crosses.

Ok, sermon’s over, on to the week’s deep smarts, leading off with a guest author: from Eric Shimp: In today’s NYT, unbelievably awful.  Where to start? 

If the US proposes to China to negotiate a debt for Taiwan deal, then the US (and the author of this piece) must understand how the Chinese negotiate – meaning that for Beijing, control of Taiwan will immediately become the floor for such negotiations, not the ceiling;  Saying the US has no strategic interests in Taiwan is tantamount to saying we have no strategic interests in the security of the Pacific Ocean.  Taiwan would present to China an enviable platform for power projection via air and sea throughout the region.  The status quo denies the PLA Navy operating room in much of the East China Sea, and presents a hazard to Chinese excursions farther south.  Besides, China’s preoccupation with and defense spending on Taiwan prevents it from diverting those funds elsewhere militarily. The author’s misreading of Chinese beliefs, strategic perspectives and objectives are legion.
The US views US Naval presence in Pacific as a guarantor of regional trade and security.  Beijing views it as an imminent threat always on China’s doorstep, a major vulnerability for a country that imports oil and gas and other natural resources via sea lanes; For Beijing, the battle today is very MUCH geopolitical, if you harbor any doubts, just ask all of Southeast Asia for comment…
Beijing will continue to spend on defense in a major way, regardless of outcomes in Taiwan.  Beijing wants great power status in a 19th century way, we misunderstand or ignore this at our own risk.
Let’s say the US negotiates away Taiwan’s freedom for debt forgiveness, I truly enjoy the author’s utter disregard for how such an act would be received by our allies throughout Asia-Pacific.  Such a move would utterly undermine US standing in Asia and elsewhere. Dumba$$ or D-bag, can’t quite decide which is more accurate description of the author…

Smart mega-economic stuff:  In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton warned his readers about falling for the “deceitful dream of a golden age.” Manufacturing is just that. Once the employer of many at high wages, those days are long past, so to dream of a manufacturing future for the United States is to pine for excruciating poverty.

Smart politics stuff: Apart from the implications for the country about electing someone so seemingly duplicitous, his erstwhile supporters ought to be especially upset: If a major part of his appeal is slashing the size of government, it looks like he’s just playing them.

And finally, smart investment advice: Even if the legislation passes, the state’s farm brewing movement will be slow to develop. Hop plants take three years to reach maturity, and harvesting and processing equipment is scarce.

Friday Deep Smarts

winding down the week towards the Bloody Mary hour and using some quiet time to do some deep reading:

Inside, Outside, Upside Down

The drone-assisted death of American citizen and al Qaeda wankah Anwar al-Awlaki is a great prelude to the Underwear Bomber trial — which should be starting soon — as it provides a perfect example of the difference between how the US should handle terrorists at home and abroad.

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab goes on trial, news stories and opinion pieces will undoubtedly question whether the US taxpayer should foot the bill for his detention and trial, when he is 1) unquestionably guilty, and 2) guilty of terrorism, for which we’ve killed others in recent years. The grand-standers will scream about “lawyering-up” his case and demand to know why he should have any legal rights if he was trying to blow up a plane and kill as many innocent people as he could.

In contrast, today’s news brought out some hand-wringers demanding to know when it became ok for the US to kill its own citizens without a trial and a conviction. Al-Awaki, after all, was an American…and the argument that he lost his citizenship when he committed treason isn’t one I would want to try out in court (unless the intel services were ready to provide the details on his operational activities. His public speeches can’t count against him).

So the underlying question becomes this: when should the US use the courts to prosecute suspected terrorists and when should the US use lethal force (without a trial or any due process)? When should citizens (and anyone else) get all the advantages of “innocent-until-proven-guilty” and when should the US exercise unrestrained hellfire on bad guys? Honestly, I think its as simple as a line in the sand…or, less figuratively, the difference between being on American soil and off (although Abdumutallab’s case stretches “soil” to mean airspace and, for all purposes, American custody). A terrorist in the US or in US custody gets everything the law has to offer, including the punishments for committing crimes. A terrorist outside the US gets the same treatment as any other enemy combatant (to use a familiar phrase): the rights and warning and safety that usually comes before a missile hits. Outside our borders, it is a war and terrorists like al-Awalaki should expect no safe harbor, anywhere. Inside our borders, we give everyone — everyone — equal protection before the law. In the Underwear Bomber’s case, that may seem like an absurd extension of courtesy and prime example of our litigious nature. But we’re not al Qaeda – we don’t rush to judgment, we don’t condemn people based on their religion or ethnicity, we don’t kill people we just don’t like.

I can hear the “Classic Material” response: “Yes, but we do kill people — even American citizens like al-Awalaki — with drone strikes more frequently now than ever before.” Yup. But you don’t launch a drone strike without months, maybe years, of intelligence gathering and analysis, planning, cost considerations, political risk calculations, and careful execution. These aren’t like shooting spaceships in Asteroids.  By the time the missile leaves the drone, countless people have ascertained the target’s terrorist actions and potential threat to US citizens and interests. It is not a judge and jury, more an experts roundtable and an experts filtering process. Bottom line – the US is killing bad guys. Really bad guys.

And I can also hear the Abellian response: “Yes, so why should the Underwear Bomber get a trial? It just gives him a platform, when we all know he’s guilty.” He gets a trial because everyone in this country gets a trial when they get caught doing something wrong. If you don’t like that, consider whether you want that principle in doubt when you’re falsely accused of something. And consider who — and with what evidence and procedures — you want determining what goes to trial and what is just a case of “everybody knows he’s guilty.” As for the platform for propaganda, what are we afraid of? Will the Underwear Bomber, able to speak freely in a court, unmuzzled by the very state he sought to harm, make such a compelling case for jihad that we should be afraid? Is our own system that fragile?

Yes, the inside-outside principle isn’t philosophically sound and will probably be made messy by some future case that confounds everything above. But what would work better? Trying to arrest guys like al-Awlaki? Or summarily executing guys like the Underwear Bomber? Pre-9/11, the counterterrorism community could vacillate between a law enforcement and a military approach to terrorists. Post-9/11, the answer is both, with the border serving as the bright line between the two.

On 9/11 and the decade since

This has been weeks in the works (in terms of writing), a decade plus in terms of thinking, but I needed to put down a few thoughts on 9/11….

Religion

As much as I try to understand political views that run counter to mine and as much as I separate the person from the politics, as much as possible, I make no effort to understand people who, since 9/11, have decided Islam is a religion of hate, intolerance, and jihad against the West. Having spent time in the Muslim world and appreciating that the battle within Islam has driven so much violence and conflict, I’m intolerant of the views that all Muslims are suspect, Muslims are trying to impose Sharia’ law on the US, and Islam – in and of itself – is violent. Two simple facts: 1) since 9/11, more Muslims have died from attacks by al Qaeda and al Qaeda-like/associated groups than have people of any other religion, and; 2) not all terrorist attacks in the West since 9/11  have been perpetrated by Muslims. The first fact, to me, illustrates how much the main conflict is within Islam, not between Islam and the West. The second fact tells me Islam has no monopoly violence or terror.

Music

Yeah, I know it was composed and written in the shadows of the Berlin Wall in the lead-up to celebrating that wall coming down. And, yeah, I know it is about a band on the verge of breaking up. But no song, not even The Rising, which I know and respect, compares to U2’s “One” when I think about 9/11. I can’t listen to it — even the bluegrass cover — without thinking about those last weeks of September and early October 2001.

I didn’t live through Vietnam — I was too young, really, to experience it…alive, but not really living through it —  but I saw “Miss Saigon” in Boston in 1993 or 1994 and I will never think about that conflict without the music from that show going through my head. Someday someone will compose and write something about 9/11 that is the Miss Saigon for my kids. I need to remember to ask them and then try to hear whatever it is through their ears.

Iraq

I’m still vexed over my own support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A few weeks before the war started, probably mid-February 2003, I remember accompanying US ambassador to Kuwait Richard Jones to Boeing’s Rosslyn office for a meet-n-greet with former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Pickering, during which Ambassador Jones briefed about 15 senior Boeing officials on Jones’ view of the upcoming war. He used the terms “shock and awe” a few times and repeatedly stressed the regional fear of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. If I had any doubts prior to that meeting, they were gone by the time we got back to Foggy Bottom.

And once the shooting started, an email exchange with a soon-to-be-National Security Council rising star, Meghan O’Sullivan, permanently colored my view of what was happening on the ground. O’Sullivan was in Kuwait, working for whatever the transitional authority was at the time, and she was trying to make sure the war didn’t make gasoline and kerosene scarce in Iraq — Meghan knew, and her bosses knew, that the Iraqi people would need gas for their cars and kerosene (or the whatever the equivalent is) for their homes and stoves, but no one had any idea what the daily national consumption was or whether Iraq’s neighbors could and would ship supplies to Iraq. So over a hotmail account, I got emails asking, 1) do we have stats on Iraqi energy consumption, down to as much detail as possible; and 2) could we please have our embassies in the region go ask the local governments to ship free gas to Iraq for the Iraqi commuters. That the requests came over a hotmail account doesn’t seem odd now (although it freaked me out then), but the complete lack of knowledge and preparation struck me as nearly criminal. How the hell did we not know this stuff and plan for it? We spent so much time gearing up for this war and didn’t think about some of the most obvious consequences? Everything that flowed from those first few failures in post-war planning — no cops, too many contractors, and so on — never surprised me and always reminded me that from Day 2 we were missing a plan for Days 3 through the end.

But growing doubts about post-invasion planning and competent execution is different than growing doubts about why I supported the war in the first place. Thankfully, Andrew Sullivan helps. It was easy to believe three things in 2003, before and after March: 1) Saddam had WMD and might use them; 2) a Saddam-free democratic Iraq would be good for the Middle East, and ; 3) if you disagreed, it was probably because you hated George W Bush, not because you had real doubts about 1 and 2. Because it doesn’t make sense now doesn’t mean it didn’t make sense then…its just a lesson in trying to see the world through eyes that aren’t shrouded in concrete and steel ash.

Allies and Friends

I was in Germany on 9/11 and didn’t get back until the Saturday after the attack. I spent most days walking around Frankfurt, checking in with the Consulate and talking to Germans. The front gate at the Consulate was a sea of flowers and German teachers were bringing their classes to pay respect. On 9/12, the morning walk for coffee was quiet, as though every person had the same heaviness in the heart. Every foreigner I spoke with was sad for Americans — “we are all Americans” was not just a political speech, it seemed to be what people genuinely felt. My hosts, an Australian and a Lebanese, were profoundly saddened by the attacks, even, in the case of my Lebanese friend, though 9/11 was one day compared to a childhood growing up in war-torn Beirut.

Four years later, over dinner with friends in Cairo, an Egyptian woman who had previously traveled to the US and loved it said she would never go back. She was horrified by the war in Iraq and angry that 9/11 had become, in her eyes, a way for the US to wage war on Islam, for Americans to lump all Muslims together as “terrorists.” She was wrong about a lot of things, but her attitude – and the sharp contrast between where she had been and where she was, with respect to respect for the United States — was disheartening.

In contrast, I learned through experience to love the French. No other country did more on counter-terrorism (and, yes, that includes the Emiratis, but more on that in a second). Set aside my love for The Tour and the French national soccer team and Cote du Rhone — based solely on what I saw in a year at the NSC and three and a half years total working CT finance at State and Treasury, the US has no better ally in combating terrorist groups around the globe, at every level, on every issue. Yes, Israel is a great ally. No, Israel is not our greatest ally on counterterrorism (please see me in 20 years for full details, when I can write without censure).

The Emiratis

Sometime in 2004-2005, I went to Abu Dhabi and sat in on a dinner with the Crown Prince. I was traveling with a superstar and we had just come from a big conference in Saudi Arabia, where she was a huge hit. After a meal filled with mostly stories and joking and family and goodness and light, the Crown Prince, MBZ, got serious and said something to the effect of: “if 15 of the 19 hijackers had been from the UAE, we would not have looked for excuses or someone else to blame.” MBZ then reminded the group of what the Emiratis had done since, including boots on the ground in Afghanistan. MBZ truly was/is a prince among men, but his point resonates all these years later. Who did step up after 9/11 and take responsibility for their actions and take action against the people and ideas that led to that attack? Ten years is too soon to know all the names of the righteous and the good, but the list right now includes the Egyptians who protested in Tahrir Square (and allowed freedom of worship for Muslims and Copts during the protest), every single person who has talked to a Muslim American and recognized they are a person and not a terrorist or wanna-be-jihadist, and countless analysts at the Agency and trainers at US Navy bases who worked hundreds of thousands of hours to make sure Osama bin Laden’s last image was an American shooting him dead.

Tent-Makers

That is no way to end this, so here is one last thought: in Tent-Makers in Cairo sometime between 1995 and 1997, I was waiting as Maureen drank tea with a merchant and bargained over the right price for a wall-hanging (that is now somewhere in the attic) and I watched a scene in front of me…and old man had some tea on a tray, likely delivering it to another foreigner haggling with a merchant, and a group of shabaab, teenage boys, went careening by, knocking into the old man just enough to spill his tea onto his hands. He stood there angry and at the edge of exploding and another old man walked by, saying to him again and again “al’hamdula’allah, al’hamdula’alla”….God is great, God is great….reminding the old man God is greater than some spilled tea. I’d like to think that has been the US since 9/11. We’re the old man, understanding that God – and we – are greater than one tragedy, greater than one attack…we’re resilient…confident…blessed with abundant patience and willingness to see what is good in others. Yeah, we’ve slipped up a few times, with horrible consequences…and I am not blind to the failures nor will I sell short or diminish our successes, but the larger point is that over all we’re still here, we’re still free, we still believe every person deserves respect, and every person deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.