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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Burning 


You all should check in with Baghdad Burning from time to time. While providing some of the best actual reporting in Iraq, she also somehow manages to make me feel better.
If ANYONE should get the Nobel Peace Prize, it should be my favorite Puppet- Ahmed Chalabi.

Iraqi political debates were never pretty. Lately, they’ve been worse than ever. [They] will usually begin about two current parties or politicians- say Allawi and Jaffari. Someone will say something like, “Well it’s too bad Allawi didn’t win… Now we’re stuck with that Da’awachi Jaffari…” Someone else will answer with, “Oh please- Allawi is completely American. We’ll never have our independence if he gets power.” A few more words will be exchanged in a ‘debating’ tone of voice. The voices will get sharper and someone will drudge up accusations… In no time it turns into a full-scale political brawl with an underlying religious intonation. No one knows just how it happens- how that frightening thing that is an Iraqi political debate develops and escalates so quickly.

At some point there is silence. This is the point when both sides are convinced that the other one is completely inane and ridiculously intractable. It’s sort of a huffy silence, with rolling eyes and lips drawn into thin slits of scorn.

I’ve learned the best way to mediate these arguments is to let them develop into what they will. Let the yellers yell, the shouters shout and the name-calling and innuendos ensue. The important part is the end- how to allow the debating parties to part friends or relatives, or (at the very least) to make sure they do not part sworn enemies for life. It’s simple, no matter what their stand is, all you have to do is get a couple of words in towards the end. The huffy silence at the end of the debate must be subtly taken advantage of and the following words murmured as if the thought just occurred that moment:

“You know who’s really bad? Ahmed Chalabi. He’s such a lowlife and villain.”

Voila. Like magic the air clears, eyebrows are raised in agreement and all arguing parties suddenly unite to confirm this very valid opinion with nodding heads, somewhat strained laughter and charming anecdotes about his various press appearances and ridiculous sense of fasion. We’re all friends again, and family once more. We’re all lovey-dovey Iraqis who can agree nicely with each other. In short, we are at peace with each other and the world…

And that is why Ahmed Chalabi deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

And, I guess, a bit sadder, too.

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Heads 


Let's face it. Men need to start wearing hats again. I mean, it's time. Why is it only old black men and some Jewish people wear hats? Why do only they have any class anymore? Firm brims. Dented tops. Hands on knees on heads on shoulders. Hats.

I watched Miller's Crossing tonight. A fine, fine film. A fine film. Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld was talking about the film in those love/hate Special Features, and said the Coen Brothers told him what they wanted him to shoot was a handsome movie about hats. And, by God, that's what he did.

When men would rather turn over than rat on a friend. And those who did rat, one way or another, boy, that wheel would come back around. When dames weren't afraid to flash a little leg, but they could also sling heat and huck dishware like a twenty-win southpaw. When Mac was Mac and Eddie was Eddie, and everyone knew the score or, at least, knew their position. Yeah, those were the days. Crumpled dollars in crumpled pockets, and no way we weren't gonna have us a nice time tonight. The score, the position. When throwing a cigarette in the gutter had more gravity, and telling her everything was the toughest thing and the easiest thing you ever did. I'm talking about those days. Tall streetlights, nosy little dogs.

Where have those days gone? When you wear a hat, you're thinking about respect the minute you walk out the door. Every time you adjust it. Every time you take it off. And there's reasons and times to take it off, well known reasons and times. Because you're wearing a hat, after all.

You hang it on a hook. Above your jacket. Take your time. Look around. No rush. See?: Everyone loves you! You take your hat off, you take your time, you enter with a little confidence, a little personal something. Let's have a chat, so and so, here's the thing, I see what you mean, how's Friday, cigarette? No. Time, time time. Nothing but time. But, also, hey. No bother to the host, no, you're just here for a minute. You'll just take your hat off. Hold it in front of you with both hands. No time for coffee. Or you do it yourself, hung right where the other hats and jackets go. Wait at thresholds. Sit up straight. Here you are. Respect.

There are reasons and times not to take your hat off, too. Sometimes. Sometimes the hat stays on. In long shadows. In late afternoon light, when you just have to take care of something. When you can't ignore it anymore. When you grimmace. When you just gotta. You maybe pop it on and off for a second? No. Tip it, even? Nah. The hat stays on. And you know they know.

We're wearing hats. A cat dies, a kid dies, a man wants to beg your forgiveness, you're waiting for your change, the wind catches you off guard, an old girlfriend, an old boss, jesus does the sky look beautiful, you know just what to do with your hat. It covers your head. It covers your head. And you know it's there, and you can take it off or put it on any time you choose.

To throw. To block rain. To wave away the stink of that thing you didn't want to find, damn it, man, it's time again for hats! What else will save us now? Who will sit down long in a chair and drop his hat on his knee and tell us it's all been taken care of? When will I tip my hat to the young singer who just came out of her dressing room? What will we toss our playing cards into for crying out loud?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Swimmin' In It 


Some of us get concerned about peak oil every couple months, but then get distracted by bills or girls or "Arrested Development." But buried here on page something of the NY Daily News, is a very alarming story.
Next up for oil? $100 a barrel?

That's the view from analysts who may have considered that prospect a long shot just a few months ago. And to be sure, some still think that's a stretch from the current $55 level, short of a major disruption like a terrorist attack.

But momentum is gaining for a view that sees rising crude prices as more than a temporary spike due to speculation or terrorism fears. If that's true, New Yorkers can expect to be socked for items from gasoline and heating oil to rent and groceries.

"It [$100 oil] is totally realistic within a year or two," said Stephen Leeb, who tracks oil for his own investment firm.

Leeb fears the massive economic growth under way in India and China is fueling an appetite for oil way past what OPEC and other producers can supply.

"There's increasing concern that there is no spare capacity, the Saudi's are not opening the spigots like they have in the past," said Rick Mueller of Energy Security Analysis.

Higher prices would pop up in other unexpected places.

Gas-guzzling trucks deliver goods to stores. Restaurants and apartments must be heated. TV sets and medical equipment include oil-based plastics. And lower airfares could disappear as cash-starved airlines struggle with high jet fuel costs.

The Long Island Rail Road, which pushed through a 5% fare hike this month, counts $400 million in energy costs as part of its $8 billion annual budget.

Oil isn't just money for sheikhs and cowboys, and building Hydrogen cars won't solve the problem. Petroleum rules. It's all we know in our synthetic society. This is why no one wants to believe that it will be all gone in 50 years. When will we start worrying?

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Sally Can Sell Seashells to Shore Up Social Security! 


Alan Greenspan thinks we should throw old people a few bones, provided those now in their youths work more and spend less. Sounds like a plan.
U.S. lawmakers must move swiftly to shore up the Social Security retirement system to avoid economically crippling budget deficits in the future, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Greenspan said benefit cuts almost certainly will be needed to cope with a rising tide of retirees, and Americans may have to work longer to finance their retirements.

He noted that spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is projected to swell to 13 percent of the nation's total economic output by 2030 from 8 percent today.

"Under existing tax rates and reasonable assumptions about other spending, these projections make clear that the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, in which large deficits result in rising interest rates and ever-growing interest payments that augment deficits in future years," he said.

Is it not clear that the "free market" is on an unsustainable path, and the private ownership of health care is a large part of the problem? Is it not clear that our culture pimps consumption, and those that aren't bankrupt by their medical bills are bankrupt because of credit card debt? The only thing that can happen is disaster, because that is what it will take to get people to look at the unsustainability of our entire system. Greenspan proposes, as usual, a band-aid, designed to allow corporations and private capital as much room to flow as possible, while telling us, the mere citizens of the country, to work harder and longer and restrain our spending. While we're bombarded with advertisements and remortgaging our homes for surgery.

I am not a "blame society" kind of guy. I believe the ultimate responsibility, for everything, lies with the individual. This is a powerful and empowering idea. However, some discussion of the systemic causes of things would certainly help individuals to make better choices for their own destinies. And Alan Greenspan is no benevolent philosopher king.

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