A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

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Monday 23 December 2002

PERSIAN PICKLED GARLIC 

We wanted to give a present of garlic pickle to someone who has a passion for it. She had some once in Iran that was 50 years old which was offered as an extremely special treat. It was, she said, very dark and had the consistency of jam. The elegant Zoroastrian who gave us her mother's recipe says it is fine after 2 weeks, though in her family part of each batch is laid down for future consumption. She thinks leaving the skins on gives a nuttier taste but her husband likes them peeled first, rather than doing it as he eats them. They are a nice addition to a robust plate of mixed hors d'oeuvre or with other pickles and cold cuts, or served with salted nuts, cheese and strong drink -- provided the food to follow is powerful enough to stand up to the pungent taste of garlic. ,

Garlic cloves, peeled or unpeeled as you prefer, to fill a glass container (these following amounts will do for any size up to 2 lbs); 

Place all of the dry ingredients in a jar, then cover completely with the vinegar.

To save his life, The Git cannot recall where he found this recipe ten years or more ago. He has reproduced the photocopied page in the hope that someone recognises it so he can thank the author. This is the most amazing pickle The Git has ever tasted and as the preamble states, gets better the longer it is stored. Funny thing, produced commercially it would require a Use By: date. The Git likes to make it before the skins have dried, so it gains the nutty taste referred to, but doesn't need peeling when eaten. No prizes for guessing what The Git is doing today :-)

-oOo-

Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk:

What Does Regime Change in Iraq Really Mean?

The buzzwords in Washington concerning Iraq these days are "regime change," which in a sense is surprisingly honest. It means the upcoming Gulf War II will not be about protecting Kuwait or stemming Iraqi aggression. The pretenses have been discarded, and now we've simply decided Saddam must go. We seem to have very little idea, however, what a post-Saddam Iraq will look like. We should expect another lesson in nation-building, with American troops remaining in the country indefinitely while billions of our tax dollars attempt to prop up a new government.

With this goal of regime change in mind, the administration recently announced plans to spend nearly $100 million training an Iraqi militia force to help overthrow Hussein. A NATO airbase in southern Hungary will be used for military training. The problem, however, will be choosing individuals from at least five different factions vying for power in Iraq, including the fundamentalist Kurds in the north. Given the religious, ethnic, and social complexities that make up the Middle East, do we really believe that somehow we can choose the "good guys" who deserve to rule Iraq?

Of course any of these groups will be happy to use American military power to remove Hussein, and will form a short-term alliance with the Pentagon accordingly. Their opposition to the current government, however, should not be mistaken for support for America or its policies. As we've seen so many times in the past, the groups we support in foreign conflicts rarely remain grateful for long.

Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are perfect examples of our onetime "allies" who accepted our help yet failed to do our bidding for long. Both gladly welcomed American money, weapons, and military training during the 1980s. With bin Laden we sought to frustrate the Soviet advance into Afghanistan, and many Pentagon hawks undoubtedly felt vindicated when the Russian army retreated. Yet twenty years later, bin Laden is a rabid American-hating madman whose operatives are armed with our own Stinger missiles. Similarly, we supported the relatively moderate Hussein in the hopes of neutralizing a radically fundamentalist Iran. Yet this military strengthening of Iraq led to its invasion of Kuwait and our subsequent military involvement in the gulf. Today the Hussein regime is belligerently anti-American, and any biological or chemical weapons he possesses were supplied by our own government.

We've seen this time and time again. We support a military or political group based on our short-term objectives, only to have them turn against us later. Ultimately, our money, weapons, and interventionist policies never buy us friends for long, and more often we simply arm our future enemies. The politicians responsible for the mess are usually long gone when the trouble starts, and voters with a short attention span don't connect the foreign policy blunders of twenty years ago with today's problems. But wouldn't our long-term interests be better served by not creating the problems in the first place?

The practical consequences of meddling in the domestic politics of foreign nations are clearly disastrous. We should remember, however, that it is also wrong in principle to interfere with the self-determination rights of foreign peoples. Consider how angry Americans become when Europeans or Mexicans merely comment on our elections, or show a decided preference for one candidate. We rightfully feel that our politics are simply none of the world's business, yet we seem blind to the anger created when we use military force to install governments in places like Iraq. The unspoken question is this: What gives us the right to decide who governs Iraq or any other foreign country? Apparently our own loss of national sovereignty, as we surrender more and more authority to organizations like the UN and WTO, mirrors our lack of respect for the sovereignty of foreign nations.

-oOo-

Life from Scratch?

No more ambitious goal than mapping the human genome could tantalize a pair of pioneers who guided that project through to its completed encyclopedia. But Dr. Craig Venter, one of the map's most prolific contributors, and Dr. Hamilton Smith, a Nobel laureate, researcher and physician, have announced an even grander plan.

Winning a three-year, $3-million (U.S.) Energy Department grant, the pair plan to create a single-celled organism with the minimum number of genes necessary to sustain life. To begin the plan, computer simulations will attempt to mimic what genetic starting materials might be needed for life, mainly feeding, reproduction, and death.

Their recipe is not entirely one constructed from scratch. First all genetic material will be removed from an existing organism called Mycoplasma genitalium, a tiny organism that lives in human genital tracts. The 25-person research team led by Venter and Smith will then synthesize an artificial string of genetic material, resembling a naturally occurring chromosome. If the project goes according to their outline, this basic biochemical soup will then contain the minimum number of M. genitalium genes needed to sustain life.

By first 'gutting' their mycoplasma to its minimal genetic needs, they will then try to stitch the pieces back together and see if they can reassemble the whole. A hollowed-out cell membrane will encase the simplified chromosome, and its basic life-sustaining capabilities will become the new and never-before-seen organism. According to the scientists' interview with the Washington Post: "We are wondering if we can come up with a molecular definition of life," Venter said. "The goal is to fundamentally understand the components of the most basic living cell."

If successful in a petri dish, their experiment would then have spawned a new human-made species on Earth. For astrobiologists, such a prospect offers up an intriguing kind of milestone- one not unlike how first creating amino acids from simpler biochemicals shaped the subsequent origin of life debate.

The story goes on to discuss the hot-topic area of nanobes: are they alive, are they as ubiquitous as claimed?

Learning from Nature 

If nanobes are ever proven to be alive, they would challenge our understanding of life on Earth. Based on everything we know about biology, it does not seem possible for modern living organisms to be smaller than 200 nanometers.

"If current nanobes can be shown to be living entities, then Earth harbors life forms whose chemistry we do not understand," says Knoll. "That would be interesting."

Although such a revelation would change our comprehension of life, Knoll doesn't think it would dramatically affect astrobiology.

"We already acknowledge that unfamiliar life is possible," says Knoll. "I don't think that it would change the philosophy or search strategy for life detection."

"Until more advanced forms are discovered, nanobacteria are astrobiology," says Folk. "Nanobacteria are the primordial life form on Earth, as well."

Since his discovery of nanobes in Italian hot spring deposits, Folk says he has found nanobes in such things as bird bath scum, decayed leaves in streams, brownish water from old flower bouquets, air filters, tap and well water, hair, feces, blood, gallstones, chicken egg shells, clam shells, and teeth. He says that nanobes are virtually everywhere - one only need look for them.

Nanobes at 35000x magnification

Nanobes at 35000x magnification. The debate continues-- Are these structures living entities fully capable of self replication? Credit: Nanoworld

"I would say, cattily, that those who say NO [to the existence of nanobes] simply have not looked for small life forms," says Folk. "All those who have looked, have found them. Over half a dozen labs have succeeded in culturing colonies of organisms of this minute size, and some of these labs have succeeded in obtaining DNA, detecting the organic chemistry of living tissue, and even revealing structure of cell walls or membranes."

Despite such assertions, Knoll maintains that those who insist nanobes are alive have yet to prove their claims.

"No one has as yet convinced a skeptical microbiological community that the very small structures under discussion are living entities fully capable of self-replication," says Knoll. "Or that if they are, what novel biochemistry makes this possible." Full story.

Very interesting indeed!

Thought for the day:

Science is the topography of ignorance.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Current Listening:

Popol Vuh -- Seligpreisung


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Tuesday 24 December 2002

Why Do They Hate Him?

An article by John Yatt from the Guardian of December 2, 2002 attacks Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings with amazing hostility. He not only dismisses the book as "a fake, a forgery, a dodgy copy" but he also attacks it as harmful, "The Lord of the Rings is racist." He ends with this judgement, "Strip away the archaic turns of phrase and you find a set of basic assumptions that are frankly unacceptable in 21st-century Britain."

This kind of hostile reaction is neither unique to John Yatt nor unique to our time. It's been going on since The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954-5 in the U.K. and 1965 in the U.S. Tom Shippey writes in Tolkien: Author of the Century that "In 1956 Edmund Wilson, then doyen of American modernist critics, had dismissed The Lord of the Rings as 'balderdash', 'juvenile trash', a taste which he thought was specifically British (...a prophecy about to crash in flames as the American market conversely took off)." (p. 307) Shippey notes a "general phenomenon of intense critical hostility to Tolkien, the refusal to allow him to be even a part of 'English literature', even on the part of those self-professedly committed to 'widening the canon'." (p. 305)

I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by Tom Shippey after having read his recent book on Tolkien. He is now a professor at St. Louis University and is also, by the way, an informative and hilarious speaker. During the Q&A, I read out a few phrases from John Yatt's article and asked Shippey to talk more about why Tolkien continues to get these hostile reactions from the literary establishment.

Shippey's first response was "They're bastards!"

...

The theme of The Lord of the Rings is that the Ring, the ring of power that is so tempting, must be resisted. If it is not resisted than the individual who gives in becomes a ringwraith. "...people make themselves into wraiths. They accept the gifts of Sauron, quite likely with the intention of using them for some purpose which they identify as good. But then they start to cut corners, to eliminate opponents, to believe in some 'cause' which justifies everything they do. In the end the 'cause', or the habits they have acquired while working for the 'cause', destroys any moral sense and even any remaining humanity. The spectacle of the person 'eaten up inside' by devotion to some abstraction has been so familiar throughout the twentieth century as to make the idea of the wraith, and the wraithing-process, horribly recognizable, in a way non-fantastic." (p. 125)

No wonder we love Tolkien so much! In an extremely original and artistic book, he gives us a vision that we are longing for. Not another variation on the themes that gave us the horrors of the 20th century, but a principled refusal to play the game of power at all. In Tolkien's moving vision, the good comes not by massive righteous slaughters and crusades to stamp out badness but by the strength of will of "small" people to protect the ordinary, beautiful things of family and home and to resist the temptation to use power to do it.

Seen in this light, Tolkien's book has a powerful and very relevant message for those of us who are Hobbits in a world controlled by wraiths. No matter how dark it gets, don't give up hope. Stay true. Have courage. Help may come from unexpected places.

Full story.

-oOo-

Researchers Uncover Extreme Lake -- And 3000-Year-Old Microbes -- In Mars-Like Antarctic Environment 

NSF-supported researchers drilling into Lake Vida, an Antarctic "ice-block" lake, have found the lake isn't really an ice block at all. In the December 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reveals that Antarctic Lake Vida may represent a previously unknown ecosystem, a frigid, "ice-sealed," lake that contains the thickest non-glacial lake ice cover on Earth and water seven times saltier than seawater. Because of the arid, chilled environment in which it resides, scientists believe the lake may be an important template for the search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars and other icy worlds.

Researchers previously thought Vida was one of several Antarctic lakes that are frozen to their beds year-round. However, using ground-penetrating radar, ice core analyses, and long-term temperature data, the researchers now show that Vida has a thick light-blocking ice cover, a vast amount of ancient organic material and sediment, and a cold, super-salty, liquid zone underlying the ice -- an environment that remains liquid at temperatures under -10°C, well below the freezing point of pure water.

...

From the cores, the scientists found a layered chemical and biological history preserved in the ice, and revived viable microbes that are at least 2,800 years old.

"The ice covers of these lakes represent an oasis for life in an environment previously thought to be inhospitable," said Priscu. "These life forms may possess novel ice-active substances such as antifreezes and ice nucleation inhibitors that allow the organisms to survive the freeze-thaw cycles and come back to life when exposed to liquid water," he said.

"Importantly, the cold temperatures preserve DNA extremely well making them perfect 'ice museums' for the study of ancient DNA," Priscu added. Research on the ancient DNA will provide an evolutionary and functional history of the microorganisms, he said, and he believes the findings might help scientists draw implications for the type of life that may exist in Lake Vostok, a huge lake which lies more than 4 km beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. 

Full story.

-oOo-

Nanobacteria: surely not figments, but what under heaven are they?

by Robert Folk

Summary: Nannobacteria are very small living creatures in the 0.05 to 0.2 micrometer range. They are enormously abundant in minerals and rocks, and probably run most of the earth's surface chemistry. Although I conjecture that they form most of the world's biomass, they remain "biota incognita" to the biological world as their genetic relationships, metabolism, and other characteristics remain to be investigated.

...

The idea of the existence of nannobacteria has been greeted with howls of disbelief by the majority of the biological community, who contend that these minute bodies cannot be bacteria because they are too small to contain the necessary genetic machinery for life. Even if they are not "normal" bacteria, they can easily be cultured (Figure 2) and those grown for a few days look exactly like those occurring in rocks and minerals (Figure 3) as old as 2 billion years or as recent as today, and are dead ringers for those occurring on Mars as to size, shape, and surface features (see McKay et al. 1996). Although DNA analysis of mineralized nannobacteria has yet to be done, some attempt has been made by medical researchers who find "nanobacterial" cells the same size as those I have observed, with cell walls that are very tough and that are resistant to acids, stains and poisons. Because of the tough walls special methods are required to isolate the DNA which occurs as very short strands (O. Kajander, Univ. Kuopio, Finland, personal communication).

Full story.

-oOo-

Amino acid found in deep space

An amino acid, one of the building blocks of life, has been spotted in deep space. If the find stands up to scrutiny, it means that the sorts of chemistry needed to create life are not unique to Earth verifying one of astrobiology's cherished theories.

This would add weight to ideas that life exists on other planets, and even that molecules from outer space kick-started life on Earth.

Over 130 molecules have been identified in interstellar space so far, including sugars and ethanol. But amino acids are a particularly important find because they link up to form proteins, the molecules that run, and to a large extent make up our cells.

Full story.

-oOo-

The Git has just finished reading Cosmic Life Force by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramsinghe:

Another correspondence that impressed us tremendously came from the spectrum of cosmic dust within the Trapezium nebula in the constellation of Orion. Here dust particles were heated by surrounding stars to a temperature of about 175 degrees above absolute zero. The heated particles radiated their own energy over infrared wavelengths and in so doing displayed a characteristic spectral signature of the material of the dust in .the wavelength range 8-12 micrometres. This spectral signature was once thought to support a model of the dust involving mineral grains, that is to say particles similar to household dust. But even the very best fits possible for such a model left a great deal to be desired, as can be seen in the upper panel of Fig. 4.4. The lower panel shows what happens if the cosmic dust is of a biological nature. Here the curve was calculated from data obtained in the laboratory for a mixed culture of micro-organisms actually present in a sample of water taken from the local River Taff, one of the many polluted waterways containing large microbial floras that criss-cross the British Isles. The river flora involved here included both purely carbonaceous micro-organisms and numerous types of siliceous micro-organisms (diatoms) where polycondensations of the molecule Si(OH)4 occur in cell walls. This naturally occurring mixture of micro- organisms might be thought to be fairly generally representative of the micro-organisms that occur in the wider cosmos. 

The upshot of these arguments and correspondences with data is that some form of microbiology must be operating on a cosmic scale. And indeed why not? To confine microbiology to the planet Earth, where perchance we happen to have stumbled upon it, is an artificial constraint, as unrealistic as it is restrictive. Nor is the Earth sealed away, microbiologically speaking, from the rest of the galaxy, either now or at any earlier epoch. Anyone concerned with sterilising surgical wards or spacecraft will tell you that the indomitable hardihood of micro-organisms, combined with their readiness to multiply, presents a formidable problem. Given the right nutrients and conditions, a bacterium divides into two in about a couple of hours. These then further divide into four, eight... and so on, until essentially all the nutrient medium is used up or until the culture becomes extremely concentrated. If a culture medium in which bacteria can grow can be imagined to extend from a terrestrial laboratory to reach out to the edge of the galaxy in a contiguous manner , the total conversion time of nutrient matter into bacteria would be scarcely a few weeks. This simple thought experiment drives home the point that cosmic biology cannot easily be subjugated. As far as conversion of nutrients to micro-organisms goes, the actual conversion time will be longer only because the galactic culture medium is necessarily broken up into separate, discrete bodies within cometary clouds, as we have noted in earlier chapters. A realistic conversion time across the galaxy on such a picture is undoubtedly longer than weeks, but not much longer than a geological epoch consisting of 100 million years.

Of course, according to mainstream science (until recently anyway), all of the above is complete bunk. Bacteria receive scant attention in general biology texts. Most professional biologists ignore them. They are virtually unknown outside scientific circles except in the contexts of disease and decay. Yet, as any scientifically literate organic farmer can tell you, the workings of the biosphere depend absolutely on the activities of the microbial world. 

Trendy texts describe biodiversity in terms of large organisms with insects topping the species count. Squeeze out any insect, examine its life juices under the microscope and you will find a myriad distinct microbial species. A teaspoonful of living soil contains billions of microbes -- so many different types that accurate numbers remain unknown. At most only a few of these microbes would be known to us; only about 5,000 non-eukaryotic organisms have ever been described. By contrast, half a million insect species have been catalogued. We know almost nothing about microbial biology, despite all life on Earth relying on it for sustenance.

The reason we understand the microbial world so poorly is that microbes are incredibly tiny. Individual microbes are invisible. The existence of microbes was recognized only some three hundred years ago when Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope. Even under the microscope, the simple structure of microbes prevented their classification by morphologists. Their simple rod, or spherical shapes lack the large structures used to characterise plants and animals.

Only in the late nineteenth century with the development of pure-culture techniques could  microbes be studied as individual types and characterised to some extent. Nevertheless, the pure-culture approach to the study of the microbial world seriously constrained the view of microbial diversity because most microbes refuse to reproduce in standard culture media. Add to this the standard world-view that rocks begat bacteria, bacteria begat higher plants and animals, and only the latter are a worthwhile study.

It is only with the recent development of DNA/RNA technologies that microbes have commenced receiving the intensity of study that they so richly deserve. As is usual with any new area of scientific endeavour, The Git expects the truly fascinating discoveries to come from the likes of geologist Robert Folk and astronomer Chandra Wickramsinghe. Let's face it, the biologists have spent most of the last 138 years denying the reality of Louis Pasteur's easily replicated demonstration that life comes only from life. In the words of Brig Klyce: "One can only wonder what the history of biological science would be if this principle had been taken as fundamental."

Thoughts for the day:

The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplemented in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.

Albert Michelson (in 1903)

In the Beginning there was nothing, which exploded.

Terry Pratchett

Current Listening:

Bob Marley -- Survival


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Wednesday 25 December 2002

Tasmania's perennially popular weather forecast presenter, meteorologist Mike Pook, made his last broadcast on ABC TV on Christmas Eve. Mike had the rare knack of explaining in simple terms (without being simplistic) what the weather charts meant; as time went by, the satellite images; and latterly the model output images. His broadcasts meant a lot to the farmers, fishermen, orchardists, yachties and others who rely upon accurate weather forecasts. Mike will be sadly missed.

Mrs Git cried and The Git admits to some stinging of the eyes as an icon of seventeen years standing passes. Of course, since Mike and his wife Anne live nearby, we won't really miss Mike in a physical sense.

-oOo-

The Git forgot to mention that a couple of days ago, Thomas and he received acceptances from the university. Now all we have to do is prepare a feasible budget. Of course when the cottage sells, we will have sufficient funds to cover all likely expenses and The Git hopes to find at least some casual work sharing his skills while at the university. Of course that means finishing the cottage, a task made somewhat more feasible as his back has been almost free of pain for several days now. And Mrs Git can help during here vacation of almost two weeks.

Adding to The Git's workload is the finishing of his second major opus: The Pompous Git's Guide to Gardening, the Universe and Everything! This work is currently some 200 A4 pages (one inch longer than American Letter) set in 11 point Zapf Elliptical for ease of onscreen reading. It already contains all of what The Git considers the essential data for growing vegetables and fruit successfully, in the one volume. There is little difference in that respect between the new book and that published by Southern Holdings: Complete Organic Gardening. Where it differs is including far more background information -- the why of things -- in The Git's inimitable, discursive style. Much of this latter was excised by the publisher from the original book "because humour offends some people", but many readers remarked on how much they enjoyed what remained.

Also Southern Holdings severely restricted the bibliography in the original "because we didn't publish those books". Not only will that book list grow, it will contain comments about what The Git found worthwhile in those books.

Initially, The Pompous Git's Guide to Gardening, the Universe and Everything! will be available as a free download in Microsoft Word (version 9, a.k.a. 2000) format, followed later by an HTML 4 version and if requested, an Adobe PDF version. Personally, The Git loathes Adobe Acrobat -- the idea was good, but its execution leaves me cold. Other formats will be considered if they are supported by a direct File, Save as... from Word. While using MS Word as the initial format will undoubtedly annoy some, if not many, it remains my word processor of choice. Unfortunately, Word creates execrable HTML, so the Word version will be available long enough for readers to point out major deficiencies before the tedious conversion to HTML occurs. Thereafter, updates will accumulate in a separate downloadable HTML file that will be merged into the main versions of the document once every few months.

Payment for the book will be entirely voluntary and through the same methods as paying for this website and will be a suggested payment of $US10. For those who prefer paper, you have not been forgotten, though that will only be available around mid 2003 and naturally will cost somewhat more. That will also be formatted A4, perfect bound, on 80 gsm bond paper and set in a prettier typeface than Zapf Elliptical, likely ITC New Baskerville, but ITC Garamond and Bitstream Arrus are also contenders. 

Yesterday, The Git wrote: 

It's a fact of the writer's life that the enjoyable part is everything that comes before writing down one's thoughts. Some trains of thought compel one to write -- it's almost as if the piece writes itself. The hard part is writing all the bits in between to knit everything together into a coherent whole. Hardest of all is the reading and rereading to eliminate as far as possible misunderstanding and if at all possible, simplify the language to ease understanding. This book undoubtedly suffers from various parts having been written at different times and for different reasons. To a degree, I have quite given up on making it a coherent whole and beg your forgiveness for that. It seemed to me that the final stage, polishing for clarity, was more important. That is a task that can never be complete, so if you have any suggestions in that regard, please feel free to contact me. One of the advantages of a book in electronic form is that it can be quickly adapted to incorporate improvements. Mostly, I write about my personal experiences, rather than at second hand. Where I do write about others, it's generally because it relates to thoughts I have had, or am having. In a word, this book is intensely personal. It also tends to ramble because topics that seem quite unrelated to the specialist seem to me quite the opposite. This will either annoy the hell out of you, in which case be grateful you didn't waste your money yet, or you will find it entertaining and challenging, as do the regular readers of my Internet website.

The first draft is quite near completion and should be up within two weeks.

-oOo-

Unlike most Christmas days, we won't be going to Jane's for her chicken and champagne breakfast! Jane has decided to break tradition and go to her daughter's place for the day. Mrs Git will be cooking a turkey with a traditional bread, sage and onion stuffing for lunch, so The Git will have to think of something nice for breakfast -- perhaps Welsh rarebit on toast. Then he can make the garlic pickle described on Monday.

In the afternoon, Tony, one of our nearby neighbours is coming by for a chinwag and a beer, or three. His wife works at the local old folks home and her shift starts in the afternoon. It will be a chance to catch up on the local gossip and forget about computers, writing and research for a few hours.

Thought for the day:

I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays -- let them overtake me unexpectedly -- waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: "Why this is Christmas Day!"

David Grayson

Current Listening:

Kevin Bloody Wilson -- Kev's Christmas Carols


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Thursday 26 December 2002

Christmas was as usual for us, a fairly uneventful, cool to mild day. Neville from across the road dropped by for a beer and a natter while The Git peeled a couple of kilos of garlic for the famous Persian Pickle. Neville's brother, Tony, arrived later in the afternoon with a bottle of Gramp's Cabernet Merlot, a fine Barossa Valley wine. The Git is now up-to-date on all the important local gossip, none of which is of the slightest interest to anyone outside our local community.

After a sumptuous feast of turkey with all the trimmings, and between visitors, we decided to watch the Lord of the Rings DVD Thomas had purchased as a sort of communal Christmas present for everyone. Unfortunately, the first DVD refused to play, though we could view the files. Mysteriously, DVD two played OK, but Thomas was suspicious and went onto the Internet. Sure enough, we were the victims of some new variant on copy-protection (a.k.a. fucking the customer over) and a download of an older version of the Hollywood DVD decoder drivers fixed the problem. Of course that means the DVDs that needed the newer version will no longer play until we reinstall the later drivers.

Thomas said that it could be worse. A friend's parents now own multiple standalone DVD players to cope with three region settings -- US, Europe and Australia -- and compatibility problems between newer DVDs and older players. Oh what fun! It seems to The Git that this sort of insanity is going to promote much more piracy if the pirates can say: "And we guarantee that this Div/X (or whatever) will play on any machine!" You can buy a fairly decent multimedia PC for the cost of six DVD players!

The other communal gift that Thomas purchased was yet another excellent book of Michael Leunig's cartoons: The Stick and other tales of our times. Here are some samples:

Merry Suitcase Idiot Poem One in Four
A Ruined Life Journalism Sayings Way of Life

Mysteriously, Amazon has not a single Leunig title for sale! Could it possibly have something to do with Humour and Americans?

The Penguin link reveals very little about Michael, an intensely private person and definitely not your average newspaper cartoonist. He is a committed Roman Catholic and on that count one might be tempted to say religious. Michael is more than that, he's a deeply spiritual person and that shows in many of his cartoons. His mixture of whimsy, spirituality, sadness and humour have made him something of an Australian icon. These days, he lives in North East Victoria on a farm with his family.

The Git met Michael briefly when he was cartooning for the short-lived Melbourne newspaper Nation Review back in the 1970s. Here's one of his cartoons from that long ago era when Sam Orr (Richard Beckett) entertained us with stories of fine wining and dining with The Lady from the Grey Havens, and John Clare, a builder's labourer, was our finest classical music critic:

Uranium Truck

-oOo-

The day's highlights were seeing the welcome swallow nestlings are now out of their nest for feeding by their frantically busy parents, and the nine wood ducklings attempting to fly. They almost have the hang of it...

Thought for the day:

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.

HL Mencken

Current Listening:

Robin Williamson -- American Stonehenge


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Friday 27 December 2002

A first -- one from my not-quite sainted Mother:

THE WORM TURNS by M. A. Sturm

Two Hoons, decided to rob a bunch of Little Old Ladies, henceforth referred to as LOLs. These particular LOLs lived in a retirement village in a conveniently secluded part of town. Figuring that they would be easy meat, these two hoons banged into the door of the room where the LOLs met, making as much noise as possible. They brandished imitation guns which fooled the old folk into thinking that they were the real thing. 

"Give us your money, your watches and your jewellery!" 

Terrified, the oldies fumbled in their handbags, pockets etc. One old biddy sat stoically with the handles of her handbag, tightly wound around her wrist. "Come on, come on get moving or I'll shoot ya!" 

"Go ahead, see if I care! If you kill me I go straight to paradise. But as for you, old Nick is waiting to shove his pitch- fork up your bum to roast you over the eternal flame!" 

Taken aback by this defiance, the hoon tugged at her handbag, but she held on tight. "Come on, come on, give me your credit cards!" the defiant one cackled.

"Being of sound mind, I don't have a credit card for yobbos to steal. I can just picture you, wriggling on the end of that pitch fork. There ain't any civil libertarians to defend crooks down there. You have to take your own responsibility. No use complaining it's your mother's fault or your father's fault or whoever. They accept no excuses in Hell. You go there for a very good reason... You're no damned good. Y.W.R.I.P. (You won't rest in peace)..." 

Suddenly, her stoic defiance inspired the other old biddies to act. Grabbing sticks, walking frames, umbrellas etc., they beat the two hoons to a pulp.

Later, at the Coronial enquiry the Coroner in justifiable anger thundered his displeasure at their misbehaviour. "You aren't allowed to take the law into your own hands," he howled in frustration. He was more used to holding inquests on raped and violated LOLs. It was as if the worm had turned , dragged the bird into its hole and eaten it! The whole idea went against the grain. It could start a trend. He couldn't send all these little old ladies to jail. The victims of crime might start a revolution against the status quo. They might actually demand... Justice! Shock! Horror!!! 

His voice sank lower as he tried to evoke people's compassion for the dear departed! "Those boys had all their lives in front of them. They could have been rehabilitated. I'm putting you all on a good behaviour bond for two years." 

"I should live so long," muttered the defiant one. "At my age, I don't even buy green bananas!"

Note: hoon Australian slang. Origin unknown. A lout, a rough; a crazy person, a clot; a ponce.

-oOo-

They call it "The Everest of Sailing", the Sydney to Hobart yacht race that traverses some of the most difficult ocean sailing on the planet. One commentator mentioned the day before that this year's classic would be "uneventful" as the weather prediction was for relatively benign conditions. I just managed to catch the words "we always get a Southerly Buster somewhere along the way" from one of the competitors as the mirth caused by the commentator temporarily had me in stitches. That made the start, a melée caused by strong rain reducing visibility to almost nil, seem almost inevitable. 

There were bumps and spills throughout the field. Trumpcard was the first retirement, after Loki smashed into its stern. Then, just beyond the heads, Valheru's skipper, Anthony Lyall, feared his boat was going to be "cut in half" when Peugeot Racing sliced into it.

The sailors' refrain that the Sydney-to-Hobart is yachting's Everest was given tragic credence in 1998 when mountainous seas tore the fleet apart, killing six.

But yesterday - despite the race looking more like Mt Kosciuszko than the big one - the cliché became fact when Sir Edmund Hillary was the starter.

"A couple of years ago when you had that really wild weather it was not too dissimilar to a big storm on Mt Everest when you were battling for your survival," he said.

Too presumptuous to offer the sailors nautical advice, the man who made his name rushing "madly up mountains" had a simple piece of wisdom: use your skills and take great care but, above all, "give it hell and get there first".

Full Story

-oOo-

And more from the SMH. In a more prosperous year, The Git would have expected a copy of Keith Windschuttle's landmark new book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History:

Our history, not rewritten but put right

At a ceremony in the Kimberley district of Western Australia, Sir William Deane, then governor-general, apologised to the Kija people for an infamous massacre by whites at Mistake Creek in the 1930s. He told the assembly: "I'd like to say to the Kija people how profoundly sorry I personally am that such events defaced our land, this beautiful land."

While the brutal dislocation of Australia's indigenous population has rightly become an acknowledged chapter of national shame, the accusation of genocide is something altogether different.

Deane, for one, might one day reflect on his role in defaming the Australian people on the basis of shabby evidence. Mistake Creek indeed.

As the historian Keith Windschuttle points out in his landmark new book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, (Macleay Press, 2002): "... Deane got the facts of this case completely wrong. According to the Western Australian police records, the incident took place in 1915, not the 1930s. It was not a massacre of Aborigines by whites and had nothing to do with a stolen cow. It was a killing of Aborigines by Aborigines in a dispute over a women who had left one Aboriginal man to live with another. The jilted lover and an accomplice rode into the camp of his rival and shot dead eight people. This is not the kind of incident for which the Governor-General of Australia should be apologising.

"Even though he had been using the same incident in speeches for at least two years, Deane never bothered to do the most elementary research to find out the facts."

Deane has qualified his accusations by stating, as he did in his book, Directions: A Vision For Australia (2002): "It matters not whether this particular story is accurate in all its details, for the elements undoubtedly occurred in many parts of our nation in the 211 years of European settlement."

Windschuttle responds in his book: "But, of course, it does matter greatly whether stories about crimes of this magnitude are accurate in their details, and it is most surprising to find a former judge of the High Court thinking otherwise. If the factual details are not taken seriously, then people can invent any atrocity and believe anything they like. Truth becomes a lost cause."

Full Story

Needless to say, Windschuttle's book has incensed those who insist that we accept collective guilt for all real and imagined offences committed by our forefathers.

-oOo-

Regular readers will know that The Git Family are not great fans of television. Christmas television is even worse than the drivel that usually oozes from The Box, so we have been watching the occasional movie to satisfy our needs for staring at a screen. First up was All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone, starring Lew Ayres and Louis Wolheim. This is one of the several great anti-war films The Git's father took him to see when he was a tadpole and is likely the best. Mind you, he remembered less of it than he did of Chaplin's 1940 classic The Great Dictator that outraged so many American admirers of Adolf Hitler, or A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Sirk's 1958 masterpiece. The Git also seems to recall seeing a movie based on Wolfgang Ott's intense novel about submarine warfare, Sharks and Little Fish, but cannot find a reference to it anywhere.

Currently, we are halfway through watching Gone with the Wind and idiots that we are, are enjoying it as a great comedy!

-oOo-

Certain nameless Merkins have taken offence with the cartoons by Michael Leunig posted on Thursday. In deference to your "sensitivities", here's another:

No Understanding Any Time

Thought for the day:

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand.

Josh Billings

Current Listening:

Family -- Only a Movie


Top

Saturday 28 December 2002

Eolake Stobblehouse wrote:

Merry Christmas!

I have noticed that a majority of letters that wish me the same quickly add "or whatever you celebrate" or words to that effect. To be honest, while I appreciate it, I think that such "PC-ness" is an overreaction. There is such a thing as being too sensitive.

Sure, I understand that the theory is that you don't want to offend by assuming what religion I may belong to, or not. But really, even though I am religious, and I am in fact not Christian, I would never think of being offended by somebody wishing me a happy Christmas, or Hanukkah or whatever. It is just somebody wishing me a pleasant time! Why would I be offended!?

The fact is of course that almost all human societies have some sort of holiday around this time of year, when the light starts returning (on the Northern hemisphere anyway). Small wonder, it is a wonderful time.

So whatever your religion, color, or creed, have a good time now. :)

Eolake Stobblehouse

Of course, as The Git wrote recently, some people seem to deliberately set out to be offended. Here's a piece that I forwarded to a mailing list that someone managed to find offensive:

Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they travelled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate.

The widowed elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son's trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.

As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action.

The art collector anxiously awaited more news, fearing he would never see his son again. Within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season- a season that he and his son had so looked forward to-would visit his house no longer.

On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.

As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, "I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you." As the two began to talk, the soldier told of how the man's son had told everyone of his father's love of fine art.

"I'm an artist," said the soldier, "and I want to give you this." As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man's son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man's face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the solider, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace.

A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went above the fireplace, pushing aside thousands of dollars of paintings. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given.

During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy's life would live on because of those he had touched. He would soon learn that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart. As the stories of his son's gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamoured.

He told his neighbours it was the greatest gift he had ever received. The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation. With the collector's passing, and his only son dead, those paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift.

The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world's most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many would claim "I have the greatest collection."

The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum's list. It was the painting of the man's son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent. "Who will open the bidding with $100?" he asked. Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, "Who cares about that painting? It's just a picture of his son. Let's forget it and go on to the good stuff." More voices echoed in agreement.

"No, we have to sell this one first," replied the auctioneer. "Now, who will take the son?" Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. "Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That's all I have. I knew the boy, so I'd like to have it." "I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?" called the auctioneer. After more silence, the auctioneer said, "Going once, going twice. Gone." The gavel fell.

Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, "Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!"

The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, "What do you mean it's over? We didn't come here for a picture of some old guy's son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what's going on here!."

The auctioneer replied, "It's very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son... gets it all."

Author Unknown

Puts things into perspective, doesn't it? Just as those art collectors discovered on that Christmas day, the message is still the same -- the love of a Father - a Father whose greatest joy came from his son who went away and gave his life rescuing others. And because of that Father's love... whoever takes the Son gets it all or is this just in Christmas stories

Apparently, this showed that I am a "moral relativist". Of course, The Git is relatively moral compared to George Bush:

In an April 10 speech urging the Senate to support a bill banning human cloning in the United States, Bush called the practice "deeply troubling" and said "even the most noble ends do not justify any means." 

"Life is a creation, not a commodity," he had said. "Our children are gifts to be loved and protected, not products to be designed and manufactured."

Full story

So loved and protected that they must have the crap bombed out of them!

-oOo-

Grote Reber, Who Built First Radio Telescope for Astronomy, Dies at 90 

by ANAHAD O'CONNOR

Grote Reber, a pioneering radio astronomer who built the first substantial radio telescope dedicated to astronomy and put it in his backyard in Wheaton, Ill., died on Friday in Tasmania, Australia, his home for some 50 years. He was 90.

Full story

A Great Rebel who proved that amateurs can make major contributions to science.

-oOo-

Book on men caring for selves is blank Associated Press

STAYTON, Ore. - Jordan and Lindy Schweiger have written a book that can be read in one sitting - in one moment, actually.

"Everything Men Knew About Taking Care of Themselves Before Women Came Along" is the name of the 96-page book. As most women could guess, all of the pages are blank.

The Schweigers - who publish under the pseudonym Dr. Ever E. Mann - came up with the idea when they heard about a similar blank work. The couple surveyed people at shopping malls in Texas, where they lived at the time, to come up with a title for their book.

When they considered what to do with money from the sales, they realized they wanted to help a charity. The result: 100 percent of the book's profits will go to the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service in Salem, which provides assistance to women and children who survive domestic violence.

"We're making fun of men, but the reality is, there's a serious problem," said Lindy Schweiger, 20.

The Schweigers were students at Oregon State University until spring, when they quit school and their jobs to move to Texas. They recently returned to Oregon, settling in Stayton. They are trying out entrepreneurial ideas and want to write more books in the future, maybe even with words in them.

ball_women05.gif (16191 bytes)

Thought for the day:

I was a gangster for Wall Street: I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914; I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in; I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Bros. in 1909-1912; I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916; and I helped make Honduras "right" for American fruit companies in 1903. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints.

Smedley Butler (commanding general of the U.S. Marine Corps)

Current Listening:

Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards) -- I'm a Bear in a Lady's Boudoir


Top

Sunday 29 December 2002

The Git forgot! Friday, he had a chat with his doctor about the nuclear-generated X-Rays. The Git has arthritis. Old age -- wearing out -- time for the scrap-heap! 

-oOo-

Details of U.S. victory are a little premature 

By ERIC MARGOLIS Contributing Foreign Editor Toronto Sun December 22, 2002

On the frigid night of Dec. 24, 1979, Soviet airborne forces seized Kabul airport. Elite Alpha Group commandos sped to the presidential palace, burst into the bedroom of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and gunned him down. Columns of Soviet armour crossed the border and raced south toward Kabul.

It took Soviet forces only a few days to occupy Afghanistan. They installed a puppet ruler, Babrak Karmal. Moscow proclaimed it had invaded Afghanistan to "liberate" it from "feudalism and Islamic extremism" and "nests of terrorists and bandits."

Soviet propaganda churned out films of Red Army soldiers playing with children, building schools, dispensing medical care. Afghan women were to be liberated from the veil and other backward Islamic customs. The Soviet Union and its local communist allies would bring Afghanistan into the 20th century.

Two years later, Afghans had risen against their Soviet "liberators" and were waging a low-intensity guerrilla war. Unable to control the countryside, Moscow poured more troops into Afghanistan. The Soviet-run Afghan Army had poor morale and less fighting zeal. The KGB-run Afghan secret police, KhAD, jailed and savagely tortured tens of thousands of "Islamic terrorists," then called "freedom fighters" in the West.

Fast forward to December, 2002, and a disturbing sense of deja vu. A new foreign army has easily occupied Afghanistan, overthrown the "feudal" Taliban government and installed a puppet regime in Kabul. Western media churn out the same rosy, agitprop stories the Soviets did about liberating Afghanistan, freeing women, educating children. The only real difference is that kids in today's TV clips are waving American instead of Soviet flags. The invaders have changed; the propaganda remains the same.

America's invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, was billed as an epic military victory and the model of future imperial expeditions to pacify Third World malefactors. Since then, news about this war-ravaged land has grown scarce. America's limited attention has turned elsewhere.

Afghanistan in chaos

In fact, America's Afghan adventure has gotten off to as poor a start as that of the Soviet Union. The U.S.-installed ruler of Kabul, veteran CIA asset Hamid Karzai, must be protected from his own people by up to 200 U.S. bodyguards. Much of Afghanistan is in chaos, fought over by feuding warlords and drug barons.

There are almost daily attacks on U.S. occupation forces. My old mujahedin sources say U.S. casualties and equipment losses in Afghanistan are far higher than Washington is reporting - and are rising.

American troops are operating from the old Soviet bases at Bagram and Shindand, retaliating, like the Soviets, against mujahedin attacks on U.S. forces by heavily bombing nearby villages. The CIA is trying to assassinate Afghan nationalist leaders opposed to the Karzai regime in Kabul, in particular my old acquaintance Gulbadin Hekmatyar.

North of the Hindu Kush mountains, America's Afghan ally, the Tajik-Uzbek Northern Alliance, has long been a proxy of the Russians. The chief of the Russian general staff and head of intelligence directed the Alliance in its final attack on the Taliban last fall. Russia then supplied Alliance forces with $100 million in arms, and is providing $85 million worth of helicopters, tanks, artillery and spare parts, as well as military advisors and technicians. Russia now dominates much of northern Afghanistan.

The Taliban, according to the United Nations drug agency, had almost shut down opium-morphine-heroin production. America's ally, the Northern Alliance, has revived the illicit trade. Since the U.S. overthrew the Taliban, opium cultivation has soared from 185 tons a year to 2,700. The Northern Alliance, which dominates the Kabul regime, finances its arms-buying and field operations with drug money. President George Bush's war on drugs collided with his war on terrorism - and lost. The U.S. is now, in effect, colluding in the heroin trade.

Anti-American Afghan forces - the Taliban, al-Qaida, and others - have regrouped and are mounting ever larger attacks on U.S. troops and, reports the UN, even reopening training camps. Taliban mujahedin are using the same sophisticated early alert system they developed to monitor Soviet forces in the 1980s to warn of American search-and-destroy missions before they leave base. As a result, U.S. troops keep chasing shadows. Canadians fared no better.

In the sole major battle since the Taliban's overthrow, Operation Anaconda, U.S. forces were bested by veteran Afghan mujahedin, losing two helicopters.

The ongoing cost of Afghan operations is a closely guarded secret. Earlier this year, the cost of stationing 8,000 American troops, backed by warplanes and naval units, was estimated at $5 billion US monthly!

The CIA spends millions every month to bribe Pushtun warlords.

Costs will rise as the U.S. expands bases in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan - all placed along the planned U.S.-owned pipeline that will bring Central Asian oil south through Afghanistan.

The UN reports the Taliban and al-Qaida on the offensive, Afghan women remain veiled and the country is in a dangerous mess. Declaring victory in Afghanistan may have been premature.

Eric can be reached by e-mail at margolis@foreigncorrespondent.com Copyright © 2002, CANOE, a division of Netgraphe Inc.All rights reserved.

-oOo-

China Prepares to Invade Taiwan

by J. R. Nyquist

On Nov. 26 a Pravda headline asked, [is] "Beijing Waiting for U.S.-Iraq War?" The article is about U.S. concerns that China might strike Taiwan if the U.S. attacks Saddam Hussein in the Middle East. (1)

Is this a realistic possibility? The future remains uncertain, but an invasion of Taiwan remains high on Beijing's list of "things to do." The Communists in the Far East are restless. In late October several warships from China's North Sea Fleet sailed east of Taiwan. The move was part of an ongoing and complex military exercise in the South China Sea. Taiwan's defense minister, Tang Yao-ming, said the exercises were "unprecedented." Addressing the Taiwanese (Republic of China) legislature, Defense Minister Tang begged legislators to purchase four U.S. Kidd-class destroyers.

In late November the Chinese used bad weather to mask amphibious exercises in the South China Sea. This was the fourth straight year the Chinese military practiced a coastal invasion, and it was the second year Chinese commanders succeeded in hiding their amphibious capabilities and new combined arms tactics from U.S. intelligence. As for human spies and infiltrators getting a look at Chinese capabilities, the Washington Times alleges that U.S. government policy "limits conducting human spying operations in China to avoid upsetting Beijing." (2)

On its side, China is aggressively scouting the waters around Taiwan. Since March Chinese spy boats have been spotted along Taiwan's eastern shore on several occasions. Hong Kong's Ming Bao newspaper reported that Beijing's navy is following a special directive to "make preparations for military struggle against Taiwan." This directive was issued last March by President Jiang Zemin.

On Monday the People's Liberation Army "rebuffed" U.S. questions about Chinese arms sales to rogue states during high-level strategic talks. The Chinese refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan; they also refused to limit the export of missile and nuclear technology to "axis of evil" countries by denying that such exports are taking place. According to the Washington Times, one U.S. official said: "The continued proliferation by China of nuclear, chemical and missile-related materials and technologies remains a problem." (3)

In violation of its international commitments, China has long been exporting weapons of mass destruction to terrorist regimes. U.S. officials are often too timid, perhaps too sensitive to U.S. economic interests to consistently enforce laws that would activate sanctions against Chinese companies. The Clinton administration briefly imposed sanctions on Chinese companies on two occasions in the 1990s. The first occasion involved missile sales to Pakistan and the second occasion involved chemical weapon sales to Iran. At the time no sanctions were imposed on for China's exporting germ warfare equipment and cruise missiles to Iran. (4)

Is there a connection between China's military buildup and its exports to rogue states? There may be a strategic connection. It is no mean coincidence that Iraq's new air defense system was installed with Chinese assistance. Meanwhile, China's military buildup opposite Taiwan has continued for four years. This buildup involves the deployment of hundreds of short and medium range ballistic missiles. According to USAF Major Mark A. Stokes, an air attaché at the U.S. embassy in Beijing from 1992 to 1995, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is preparing a powerful first strike against Taiwan. In a report issued in 1999, Stokes wrote: "The People's Republic of China, is developing one of the most daunting conventional theater missile challenges in the world." He further stated: "A large arsenal of highly accurate and lethal theater missiles serves as a 'trump card,' a revolutionary departure from the PLA of the past. The PLA's theater missiles and a supporting space-based surveillance network are emerging not only as a tool of psychological warfare, but as a potentially devastating weapon of military utility." (5)

Surprise attack is part of the Chinese war plan against Taiwan. Stokes' 1999 report said the PLA was planning to use 400 missiles in an opening volley that would decapitate Taiwan's political and military leadership, forestalling any effort to preemptively disrupt China's missile forces with air strikes. Targets would include Taiwan's defense ministry and the presidential palace. In terms of its plan, Beijing is respectful but not fearful of U.S. military intervention. In a 1999 strategic directive from China's Central Military Commission to all corps-level commands, China's strategic leadership stated that nuclear war with America was an option because America would recoil in horror after the loss of one city while China had the toughness to prevail despite much heavier losses.

It is in this context that North Korea's war preparations and Russia's friendly overtures to China must be viewed. A regional war in the Middle East involving U.S. forces might tempt China to launch an attack. The North Korean military buildup is significant in this regard as well.

On Dec. 5 the U.S. government reminded the North Koreans that they had promised not to develop nuclear weapons. But the North Koreans, backed and supplied by China, have thrown defiance in the face of the Americans. After 1994 the United States gave a great deal of aid (especially food and fuel aid) to North Korea on the basis of Pyongyang's promises. Now that North Korea has broken those promises, true to Communist form, tensions are on the rise. Last week the United States government described the situation in North Korea as "very serious." As if to make matters worse, the North Koreans recently admitted to having operational nuclear weapons. In October they admitted to secretly enriching their uranium stockpile for the construction of additional nuclear weapons.

Sino-Russian relations lie at the core of the emerging Far East crisis. Conventional analysts may think this an odd fact, but nothing seems to have changed in the region since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, except that China and North Korea are stronger than ever and armed with mass destruction weapons -- and Russia is working closely to build up China's military potential.

According to Dr. Alexandr Nemets, writing in Newsmax, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided "to use all means and tools for the expansion of weapon exports to China." Russia's defense industry is now tied to China's military, and is China's leading supplier of advanced weapons.

Last month the Chinese and Russian foreign ministers, along with President Putin, decided to transform the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into a military bloc. (This organization combines the former Soviet states of Central Asia with China and Russia.) Russia is absolutely committed to modernizing the Chinese armed forces, and has promised to deliver shipments of SU-30 MKK fourth generation Russian fighters to China. The list of Russian military items being shipped to China is very large, and very worrisome. (6)

The two articles above from Neil Baird.

-oOo-

The February Dragon has arrived early this year. Yesterday, The Git sat on the front deck of The House of Steel and watched a plume of smoke partway to Hobart. He thought it might have been at Leslie Vale, but seems to have been at The Grove according to The Mockery: Flames threaten beach township.

-oOo-

And it's off to visit with friends after a spot of gardening.

Thought for the day:

I know war as few men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.

Douglas MacArthur

Current Listening:

Billie Holliday -- All of Me


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© Jonathan Sturm 2002