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Thursday, January 31, 2008
Bobby Fischer

 On 17 January 2008 Bobby Fischer the former American world chess champion died in his last adopted country Iceland BBC NEWS | Europe | Chess legend Fischer dies at 64. The one country that was still willing to take him. The scene of his greatest triumph Chess genius Bobby Fischer, from American hero to paranoid fugitive |

 I never played, never got, chess. It seemed unnecessarily complicated for a pass time. I went to the trouble of learning the basic moves and such. I might have played chess four maybe five times in my life.  I realize that in this I have sometimes been a disappointment to others who wanted someone to play with. I am fairly fixed on a policy of not making specific amends for being a disappointment to others. I have an inclination that to start down that road could tie me up for a number of years.

  All fame is fleeting the saying goes, but not so much in reality. Most fame is pretty resilient. There is always an ode for who comes in first or gets higher.  "the fame for every work is due to its inventor"(Pindar Olympian ode 13). Then if you behave it's dinner at the lyceum for life. If you manage to misbehave; though, they will be serving chicken asclepius, with a hemlock garnish. "Grace, which causes life to flourish, looks with favor now on one man, now on another" (op cit 7).  Possibly then there is no such thing as a free lunch.

 It's the waste that gets to me, not just of the potential for a long and brilliant career. Fischer was still very young at the time of the match in Reykjavik. As much as what this career might have meant to us, chess folk or American youth of a certain age for whom he was as valid a hero as any other. The waste with Bobby Fischer was also to himself; the loss of the opportunity to bask in the warm glow of extended fame. Chess players like mathematicians are under no obligated expectation to remain at the top of their game. There's plenty of time to spin your fame and ride herd on the young turks. Unlike actors or musicians, who are forever being asked to perform one more time. An actress who must continually tell people she played ingenues not mothers of ingenues and certainly not their grandmothers. Rockers, who are expected to crank out tunes of teenage angst into their fifties, then are slaged for not making it seem real. Well, that last might be structural to rock and roll, but such are the vagaries of fame.   Fischer could have let his championship go, declined to defend it and not been worse for it.

 If he had been able to settle down. Not even completely iced, but a channeled archness. The senior commentary position he seemed to have wanted could have been his. For this adoration; though, he needed the formal chess world which he tried to divide against itself. He needed an education, the education he figured he could dispense with once he found he could make a payday with his game. He only found himself used by those, clever and unscrupulous, at the last trying to break up U S led international sanction regime against Yugoslavia during the Balkans war. Becoming in the process an outlaw to the disinterested judicial machinery of his own country.

 The late faint morbid echos of this that were his occasional ranting sorties onto the Philippines radio airwaves. Where he had nothing to offer the world, merely coughing up lumps of calumny. 

 The penultimate chapter of his life the month spent in a detention cell at the Tokyo airport. Grossing over storage sheds of stolen memorabilia, falling into a victimized bitterness. This fate seemed undeserved even given his bile. Maybe he was right in a narrow and pointless sense. I could probably go on eBay right now and find some of his possessions. Someone did him a minor wrong thirty years earlier. You worry about that sort of thing and its the farm you buy on eBay. At end he stopped fighting off the notion of having peers. He had a home and some years of peace. He seemed to have accepted counsel that his years of interacting with the general public were over Google Trends: bobby fischer.

It's ok Bobby, we'll always have Iceland.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008
Desperate straits

At the beginning of the month there was a transit through the Straits of Hormuz by some Navy vessels, that became briefly newsworthy. The problem laid bare was speed boats plus armored cruisers plus maybe bombs equals trouble. I use the archaic term armored cruisers because they're not particularly armored, and it may encourage a more detached thinking. Two of the ships involved were the USS Port Royal (CG 73) a Ticonderoga class cruiser - Wikipedia and the USS Hopper (DDG 70) an Arleigh Burke class destroyer - Wikipedia. For the Iranians, just simple speedboats often called Boghammers, although formally this refers to models of industrial speedboats built by Boghammar Marin AB, a Swedish firm.

In the video the Navy provided, the maneuvers of the Iranian boats if not hostile are certainly aggressive and indicative of operational rehearsal of maneuvers to intercept US Navy vessels and gauge their reactions and counter moves President Calls Action of Iranian Boats 'Provocative' - While incidents of this nature seem to be uncommon occurrences, they are happening. A suicide attack (like what befell the USS Cole) may not be most likely scenario given that these are moderately complex maneuvers. Suicide bombings seem to be generally carried out by non-professional grade combatants. In the realm of near suicide missions (more acceptable to the military mind) there is the possibility of a massive waterborne explosively-formed-penetrator deployed against US vessels perhaps in concert with medium sized mines. These Boghammers do pose a threat to the US Navy Iran's Small Boats Are a Big Problem - New York Times.

More interesting was once the Navy released their account, The Iranians came forward with one of their own. In common they had only their mutual intransparent natures. This led some to question whether this tale of the tapes depicted one incident, different points of the incident or even from different incidents altogether. This disconnect added an extra layer of mystery and sinister suspicion to the incident.

The threatening voice on the tape central to the incident [I am coming towards you now, you will explode after a few minutes...] is rather obviously from a different source than the Iranian officers of the intercepting boats. This would have been as apparent to those on the ships transiting and to those responsible for putting that video release together latter, as it is to those receiving it as news commodity now. More so even. The Navy would have had additional means besides for ascertaining intrusion on the TBS circuit.

In the ten days prior to this incident I twice had referrer hits to Atomized here on the the terms Meakoning or MIJI (the more inclusive military acronym: Meakoning, Intrusion, Jamming, and Interference). These practices are hardly unknown. They are textbook Soviet military doctrine. In addition latter news stories reported this waterway, in fact, has a twenty year history of perverse or deliberate radio intrusion. Going under the handle "the Filipino Monkey" by tradition. (Navy Times via both TPM and War and Piece) It seems odd that the Navy would proffer the narrative they did without disclosing this. The Navy's handling of this incident failed as PR, if that was what was intended. Further in this seeming clumsy reaction to the Iranian boats raised questions about the Navy's operational awareness.

Fred Kaplans article in Slate contained an interesting quote

And yet, as Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, told the Boston Globe's Bryan Bender and Farah Stockman on Monday, the U.S. commanders have no systematic way to halt a conflict if it begins to spiral. "I do not have a direct link with my counterpart in the Iranian Navy," he said. "I do not have a way to communicate directly with the Iranian Navy or [Revolutionary] Guard." How to prevent war with Iran. - By Fred Kaplan - Slate Magazine.

It strikes me that this is something that Admiral Fallon CENTCOM, the theater commander, should put together. To provide a protocol for communicating with various levels of the Iranian command and control apparatus so immediate tactical misunderstandings do not lead to a major shooting war.

A minor thought here concerning the recent NIE on Iran (representing the intelligence communities professional estimate based on all available empirical evidence) that the President went to theatric lengths to distance himself from on his last mideast tour. Iran NIE Reopens Intelligence Debate. The message here: facts follow policy; the bureaucracy is treasonous and disloyal unless they fall in line. This needs to be considered carefully. It is the American people who are ultimately in charge and will ask where were the professionals and where their counsel? When it comes time to examine the smoking ruin this next round of imperial adventureism.

At the time of Pakistan's President Musharraf's initial declaration of Martial Law last year Admiral Fallon was in Pakistan. The announcement came apparently as the Admiral was heading back to his plane. It was getting a hit in Atomized's referrer logs on the text string "Admiral Fallon is a joke" that day that sent me to Google News to find out what the Admiral was up to. No available evidence suggests; however, that the Admiral's sensibilities compare unfavorably with this administration's foreio-milit policy. Recently there was a news item that a small team of senior administration officials, McDonnell and Hayden (unsure which gets top big-top billing), undertook a pilgrimage to Islamabad earlier this month to get things sorted, and left a day later without public words, or anything to show Pakistan Rebuffs Secret U.S. Plea for C.I.A. Buildup - New York Times. By the end of the month I read that Admiral Fallon was back in Pakistan quietly working on the same tasks Admiral: Pakistan OKs Bigger U.S. Role .

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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Cui Bono

I see that for nearly a month now I haven't written any posts obsessing over various segments of media-chosen current events. This is remiss, and it isn't as though I haven't been paying attention. Here are a couple of stories still at loose ends for which the sorting principle of Cui Bono applies.

Pakistan Post Bhutto. This is not a small story. Here more than anywhere else lies the potential for a grand unraveling of the United States participation in the Grand Game Militants Escape Control of Pakistan, Officials Say - New York Times. It is still worth asking who was responsible for Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Because Justice will be served by determining this and justice and rule of law is the one of the ways you hold the line. One can also ask what happens to U S policy now? In very general terms it cannot change. Pakistan's nuclear weapons must be kept secure from those inclined to irrationality. The autonomous regions of Pakistan and uncontrolled territory within Afghanistan (which shouldn't be thought of as lawless or anarchistic exactly) should be shrunk and controlled with regard to being safe havens of violent extremism. Or at least not be allowed to expand. Who benefits by Bhutto's assassination. Al Qaeda? Yes, depending on how much weight one puts on her declared intentions to control the Taliban on Pakistan's borderland, and this against her ability to actually put this into effect. Musharraf however gains directly with Bhutto and the US behind her as their preferred favorite he has to share power with a detested rival - as must all those aligned with him never part of the Bhutto family political machine. With her dead he shares nothing, he has all power. He has his security apparatus arrest a teenager or two, its all solved The Associated Press: 2 Arrested in Bhutto Assassination Plot. Even the US must come with hat in one hand and cash in the other C.I.A. Says Militant Was Behind Bhutto's Death.

Another murky question where it's useful to ask who benefits from what seems to have happened. Why did the CIA make then destroy tapes of the integration of prisoners from their extraordinary rendition program. This is a question central to the administration's drive to accumulate extra-legal powers on a number of fronts Account of C.I.A. Tapes Is Challenged - New York Times. The tapes where made not merely to record and assess the interrogation they were insurance, that the activities involved conformed to the political cover and instruction. When it became apparent that executive mandate could not might not legal authority for these action they became a liability. As much for the authoritarians in the bureaucratic shadows as for those that implemented them Station Chief Made Appeal To Destroy CIA Tapes - The removal of a direct photographic record at the least works to preclude an artificial judicial focus on the floor actors as happened with Abu Gharib. The person often named as the individual who made the decision to have the tapes shredded, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr, is also the person I mentioned in a post last fall for giving a speech at a conference saying the CIA decision-making and analysis would benefit from having more ethnic diversity.

The last issue is less clear to me. This years Democratic Caucus by which I mean the general run of the Democratic party politicking, why make it personal? Why fight on the level of gender and racial abstractions? I only have some partial answers. First it serves to make it a two person race, it cuts Edwards out. As well there may be campaign logic that in the Democratic primaries the black vote like the labor vote (to the degree these exists as such) must be won by one candidate or another. The race for the nomination has become more visceral more personal because more casual populist political referencing has been ineffective between these candidates. The Democratic primaries so far have had strong turnouts there may be an awareness that in an era of voter ennui and active voter suppression keeping base voters feeling engaged is critical or they may not come out on election day.

Considering that the general election will be conducted on level of unparalleled viciousness a conscious perhaps even somewhat agreed upon decision to broach the subject of race and gender to inoculate the candidates and rehearse solutions has been tendered. Paraphrasing Tip O'Neil's homily on politics; all politics keeps at least one foot in the fear filled darkness of non reasoning mass reaction. (cf Gustave Le Bon The crowd; a study of the popular-mind. []. London, T. F. Unwin 1896.) where our lurkers-at-the-threshold take notes Rove's rhetoric is a bid to stay relevant | - Houston Chronicle .

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains

I want to take a moment to speak of two lives in retirement. Both from New England. The first is John Mack, A UCC minister retiring in 2007 at age sixty-five. The paster of my church here in Washington for all of the nearly twenty years I've been a member until last summer. He was originally from Connecticut. His dream for retirement was to begin a second portion of work as an educator, a children's author, to hike in the mountains of Nepal. This was a man who held a retirement morning jog with his parishioners rather than a traditional dinner. The actual course of events was tragically brief. Hiking in the foothills of Mt. Everest he came down with pneumonia. Fearing his occasion for travel would be lost he pushed on towards base camp. This lead to high altitude pulmonary edema. After stays in hospitals in Nepal and New Delhi, over the holidays, there came a quickly arranged homecoming First Congregation Church Washington DC - News.

The other is John Shaw my grandfather, A minister retiring from the methodist church in Manchester Connecticut in 1975. Originally he was from from Vermont. His dream for retirement was traveling across America by motor-home. Even by the time he retired this possibility of adventure was replaced by attention to my grandmother who slide inextricably into Alzheimer's. During this period while I was off in the Navy he dutifully cared for her and spent his spare hours in consolation working for her brother (uncle Carl) and uncle Mason, who died only earlier this year Hartman, 81; hired seniors to sustain his business By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent | June 19, 2007, at their small company in Needham; Vita Needle . It wasn't what he had hoped for and while never a frail man at all he died only a few winters later.

The balance of work against retirement is a cautionary tale. A vocation is a calling. It comes capitalized and uncapitalized. Avocation: a calling away. You could say one is your life's labor and the other your life's love. The soul mate of your endeavor. I've never heard anyone explain convincingly why they should be different, only many to say they they often will be. I suppose it is that one you must have and the other you only desire. In between tiny useless moments of exemption, from chore and duty we call vacation, but essentially life is in yoke. Any path followed where some weight or duty is taken on, a true calling where there is no calling away, brings strong desire to examine the fields and bypaths to the sides. The unburdened respite. Here we pile our dreams.

My grandfather had time to read which many do not have - you need to read to write sermons every week. He loved weekends at the summer house in Pocassett, but he longed to travel across the America he saw becoming a great nation through the century. He wanted to witness for himself the truth of its parts and breadth. There is a story within the family that after the war he had an opportunity to take up a methodist position in the Philippines for a few years but my grandmother nixed it, too unsettled. She had no need to ever leave New England. Like many, like John Mack, my grandfather set his sense of greater adventure and wonder aside until the burden could be safely set down and he could retire from the glare of duties spotlight.

I exist in a state of avacation. The pathless life uncalled, but not without its second rate toil. Like the line in the Teenage Fanclub Song 'Everything Flows' from their album A Catholic Education I'll never know which way to flow, set a course that I don't know... I have no where, in particular, to go. No thing, to do. There is nothing behind me that impels me towards anything. No great preparation in my life. I am immersed in everydayness, and offer only that I take notes. I was upbraided (I suppose that would be the word) recently (TN!) for giving the impression of disdaining travel (and ambition). I don't believe I disdain travel so much as I admit to a touch of indifference, and of the delicate circumstances for delight in it. I took her admonition and signed the confession. I came across a quote not long after from the Bishop of Hippo: "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." "St Augustine: (The world is a book...") As I read that I recalled another: "People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering." St Augustine: ("People Travel...") Travel, it seemed after I took the harmony of these thoughts, is best done as part of a journey already set out on.

The image of the Delectable Mountains, which I named this piece for, comes to us from the english writer John Bunyan. His The Pilgrim's Progress. I recalled these mountains from a sermon John Mack preached some years ago. He was considering the pastoral life and reflecting on Loren Mead's book The shepherds of the delectable mountains : the story of the Washington County Mission Program [] at the time.

Delectable mountains is also, of course, a traditional quilting pattern The Delectable Mountains Pattern & its History . One of repeating peaks and valleys that takes its form and name from Bunyan while evoking frontier America. In Bunyan the Delectable Mountains are Immanuel's Land The Pilgrim's Progress (Gutenburg etext). One of the final stations on the way before the celestial city. A place of primitive delights. Of heights physical and spiritual and the sense of empowerment and danger they lend. The allusion is to Isaiah a vision of a wild deserted land of briars, bee's, grazing cattle and sheep with only curds and honey to eat. There are four shepherds that Bunyan has keep watch in these mountains: Knowledge Experience Watchful and Sincere. Their names speak to a lifetime's worth of dedication and service. In the peaks of the mountains are metaphoric dangers. The hill of error. The mountain that is caution, by there leads a path directly to the Doubting Castle. A door in the side of another hill is the hypocrites by-way to hell. Finally there is a high hill called clear where one can see to the gates of the Celestial City.

The community for Bunyan comes down King's Highway one by one or at most by two as wayfarers fall in together, and they come torn from society they left which is never more than Vanity Fair or the City of Destruction. Life is this continuous lonely journey. They do not gather, they do not covenant with each other. Life's journey is held as an individual struggle. It does not need to be cast so starkly. This is what John Mack preached for twenty years. The shepherds complement each other by turns. The people covenant together. The well arranged community shares its cares and burdens, and arranges respite by full and fair measure. In this is arrival.

Addendum 15 January 2008. John Mack died this morning.

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