Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Understanding Iraq

Understanding Iraq...

Iraq looms ever present in the news.Obviously after a while, all the suicide bombings leave one numb. Having lived through the Vietnam war, there are some echoes of that era, but 9/11 has also changed how we view this war.
At any rate one can make some attempt to figure this place out, how we got stuck to this tar baby, and how we might possibly get unstuck, hopefully someday. In this light I can highly recommend 2 books I have read, one of them appropiately entitled Understanding Iraq. The full title is:Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, of Outside Rule from Genghis Khan to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation by William R. Polk.
Here is the Kirkus review of Polks book: "

Kirkus Reviews
A supremely helpful companion to, and gloss on, the news from Iraq-news that, to all appearances, we'll be reading for years to come. Former State Department advisor Polk (History/Univ. of Chicago; Polk's Folly: An American Family History, 2000), who has lived in Iraq (and speaks fluent Arabic), provides a swiftly moving overview of Iraqi history from the dawn of Sumerian civilization to the present turmoil. He's concerned with finding continuities over long periods of time, noting, for instance, that southern Iraq has enjoyed "a tradition of revolt against government and landlords" dating back at least 12 centuries, while the powerful capital and its dynasts have always lorded it over the countryside. One thing is certain, he says: "Over its long history, the one group that has seldom 'owned Iraq' was its people." That is in part because Iraq has throughout that long history been ruled by outsiders, whether Persians or Mongols or Ottomans-or, more recently, Britain and the United States, both of which, by Polk's account, have made a terrible hash of things, and both of which have given the average Iraqi much reason to believe "in what might be called the James Bond school of politics," whereby shadowy agencies and governments are really in charge of things, presumably because Iraq has so much oil. Saddam Hussein knew how to exploit that sentiment, and so, Polk avers, do the insurgents who are making life so difficult for the American occupiers today. Polk adds that Iraq has another long tradition, a system of neighborhood self-government that tends to mistrust larger authority. The British dismantled the system in the 1930s, not trusting the decentralization of power, whereas under BaathParty rule the local councils were co-opted. The Americans have done no better than either, Polk argues: "They focused on the rulers and neglected the people." Learned, constantly engaging and full of pointed lessons for those wondering why the war has not ended, peace has not come, and no one in Iraq save Halliburton seems liberated."

One of the things I took away from Polks book is that the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds, have been living in the Mesopotamian area now called Iraq, for some 900 years now. To think an American occupation of 4, 6, even 12 years, is going to make these groups totally happy in their dealings with each other is to live in a Neo-con pipe dream.
In other words if they have had 900 years of dealing with each other, then American intervention is a blip on the cultural radar screen there. It is foolish to think we can untangle and set anew all these karmic undercurrents or that American free-market culture is the answer to their problems. Indeed our being there has attracted all the Islamic hard line extremists from varying regions that only add to Iraqs woes.

The second book: A Fist in the Hornet's Nest: On the Ground in Baghdad Before, During, and After the War, by Richard Engel, is one I read about a year ago.

Here is the Kirkus review:"Hustling young freelance journalist Engel, now an NBC regular, explains how he managed to stay put in Baghdad and cover the March 2003 invasion for American TV after the major networks' correspondents had either fled or been expelled. The author's diligence in acquiring fluent Arabic (with authentic Egyptian or Palestinian colloquialisms when circumstances dictated) initially paid off in his knowing who to bribe and how often while lining up everything from visas to prospective "safe houses" as war loomed in Iraq. For the reader, it pays off in an account that, while adding little to our understanding of how the military process ebbed and flowed, adds plenty about the all-powerful word on the "Arab street." Replete with spins and prejudices, as well as legitimate and useful insights gleaned from years in a closed society, the street operates as the prime means by which Iraqi citizens interpret events that the world at large may see in quite different terms. This system, Engel's experiences underscore, is unlikely to change as the result of either American conquest or postwar programs. Engel by no means matches the intrepid reporter stereotype: he's constantly figuring odds on where bombs will fall so he knows where not to be; he feels palpably vulnerable with "American" stamped on his visa; and he agonizes for days over where among several accomplished local liars he can place limited, yet essential, trust. Eschewing bravado, he simply states what it takes in these circumstances to show up and do the job. Yet he was intrepid enough to endure plenty of contact with the motley and hair-raising assortment of would-be fedayeen pouring into Iraq from virtually every Muslim state.Well-organized Shiite religious leaders now consolidating power (including militias tolerated by US forces), he predicts, will ultimately decide the shape of Iraqi "democracy" and thus the final outcome of a war into which we had no reason to rush. Insightful glimpse into the sausage factory of TV war coverage and the less palatable complexities it ignores. "

I found Engels book compelling reading. It was hard to put down. Notice that both authors learned to speak fluent Arabic, giving them certain insights, that Neo-cons sitting in think tanks in D.C. tend to ignore. Engel offers a vista of how Iraqis viewed the war, and what life on the ground is actually like.
Of course there is much more out there on Iraq, and these two books are like precis in a way. I merely recommend them to whoever might come across this blog, and might be interested in further informing their opinion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Back in the 1970's my friend J.K. and I used to discuss the status of Bolivia at that time. He was not my only friend who was acquainted with Latin America at that time. Over its life as a country independent from Spain, it has seen over 223 change of governments.
Lately what has been happening there is nothing short of revolutionary.
Miners, workers, Indian farmers and city dwellers all protesting together, to ask for some share of the potential wealth from gas and oil.
Naturally the corporate media in the U.S. has not covered the story too much, devoting a lot of time to J. Wilbanks, Natalee in Aruba, Brandon in Utah et al.
There is an excellent blog called Blog from Bolivia set up by : The Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba Bolivia and San Francisco California, which works globally to advance human rights . Here is a reply, one could say an add on to a recent post by Jim Shultz ,who is author of the Blog:"
jorge h said...
As a Bolivian living away for many years, I can remember a quote my father whispered in my ears as a child. From what I see, those words seem to become more real today.

"Los primeros seran ultimos y los ultimos seran los primeros"

500 painful years of inequality, 500 years of outright racism, 500 years of gruesome injustice fueled by an arrogant "One-solution-fits-all" policy enforced by the IMF and world Bank have managed to create the lab where a civil war is born. The people are tired of being cheated by their own leaders and the ruling elite, they are tired of being ripped off by foreign investors, they are tired of being sacked by the transnational corporations, by the World Bank, by the IMF and by Washington. They are tired of being poor and without access to basic services, they are tired of not knowing how to read, how to learn, how to look for a brighter future, they are tired of living in deep ignorance and a hopeless existance, they are tired of being second class and third class citizens. They are sick of being fooled and abused because they are indians. They are tired of being last and forgotten.

They now rise in anger, clutching stones in their hands through tears in their eyes and they will be heard in La Paz, the entire Bolivian Republic and around the world, because their plight is no longer just theirs, it has now become a global issue. You can bet their plight one day will be ours too. Bolivia, often referred as the poorest and most insignificant country in South America, now becomes the lightning rod of a global shift, a spark that ignites a resistance to failed policies that have only created more of the same, poverty and inequality. Policies that have only created unimaginable wealth for a conniving few and have made chaos and war the only language these few seem to pay attention to.My thoughts are with those who will lose their lives, there are innocents everywhere you look, my family is there and all my childhood friends are there, I swallow tears and watch in horror the insanity of war may force them to pay a high price in all this. We will never be the same when this storm passes, who knows what uncertainty lies in the horizon for this beautiful culture we know until today as Bolivia. I hope the world pays close attention, it's time for greed, corporate arrogance, obscene inequality, violent and subtle racism to begin their journey into the night. We are done with them, the Bolivian people are done with them."
from- - -
Beautiful words. I pray this is a new dawn for the Bolivian people.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

New revelations from 33 years ago

From Bob Woodward's recent article in papers just after W. Mark Felt revealed himself, I came across this interesting quote:

"There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to "identify every member of every hippie commune" in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society."

In 1972 at the same time I was 18 years old and about to enter college, and I thought the Nixon team were Nazis also. So the third ranking official at the FBI and myself both had the same view of the Nixon team.

And I think by Nazis it doesn't necesarily mean they wore swastika armbands or sang the Horst Wessel song each morning, though G. Gordon Liddy did like to watch Triumph of the Will. I think it just points to the might makes right, law and order, enemies list, bomb the Brookings Institute, do anything to save the plan mentality of this crew.
One has to also remember the Huston plan, which at one point recommended rounding up anti-war demonstrators and holding them in concentration camps in western states. Unfortunately, I think young people in their 20's don't know much about the Huston plan. Doing a web search I could not find nearly enough on it on the web. Though it was investigated more during the Church hearings in 1976. I mean to try to rectify this by adding an entry at Wickipedia.
see also : which is an amazing phenomenon.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Bill of Rights R.I.P. --- 1787-2005

Bush Implores Congress To Make Patriot Act Permanent

While addressing 150 officers at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus, President Bush challenged Congress to renew the Patriot Act long before 16 of its provisions expire.

"The president claims that the Patriot Act 'closed dangerous gaps in America's law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. Congress needs to renew them all and, this time, Congress needs to make the provisions permanent,' Bush said. "
June 9th, 2005.

There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: "A republic, if you can keep it." 1787.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Dream within a Dream

About 5 weeks ago I had a Dream within a Dream, which was sort of a first for me. The main dream started out with me for some reason camping out in a pup tent on the front yard of a white frame house in Eastern Colorado. It was on a bluff looking over extensive plains to the east. The house had a porch in front, with stairs on either side of the porch. My brother was also enscounced in a tent too, on the front yard.

For some crazy reason my tent was right next to the crushed gravel, near the road in front of this place. So as the dream evolved I was lying in a sleeping bag on a pad in this tent, and eventually I go to sleep within the dream. Then while asleep within this dream , I went into a dream in which at first I hear winds blowing. I dreamed I got up out of my bag, and look to the southeast, and for some reason the sky in that direction is a sepia brownish-yellow, and I clearly see a tornado, but it looks like it is way out on the horizon, but for some reason like I think it must be coming from Georgia. Very odd.

Though it looked to be hundreds of miles away, the wind was picking up all around , and I think to go alert my brother, and also it turns out two cousins of mine are also camping out on this front yard also.
Was not able to find his tent though, and since it seems the tornado is at least 80 miles away, I decide to go crawl back into my sleeping bag. I go to sleep,and then wake up feeling very cold. I look around and discover my tent, and bag covered with a light layer of snow. Then I got up again to go see if my brother is okay. A fuzzy part of the dream, as I think there was some conversation on the steps with him and my cousins. I then go back, dust off some snow, and get back into my bag. The next thing I know I am waking up in my bed feeling cold. It turns out the air-conditioning is on, but it also got down to 47 during the night, so it is extra cold in my bedroom.

So in this dream there was a going to sleep and having a dream while in a sleeping bag on a front yard in Eastern Colorado. The tornado being part of a dream within a dream. One could say twice removed from this waking world. And I believe the first time I can remember having a dream within a dream. Quite amazing for me.

By the way 2 days after this dream, there was a tornado watch, and several sightings along a line about 80 miles north of where I am in Texas. Strange. And I don't know what to make of this dream except the sepia colored dream seemed very real during its duration.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Peaks and Lamas

Peaks and Lamas

Peaks and Lamas by Marco Pallis is a favorite of mine and one of the few books that really changed the direction of my life. I came across a hard cover version of it I believe in 1979 at the Harwood Foundation Library in Taos, NM, back when I was living at Lama Foundation.

I found it to be an awesome book, mind blowing, mind enlarging, a doorway to a different world. Obstensibly it starts out as a story of a group of Englishmen doing mountain climbing in the Indian and Sikkim Himalayas of the 1930s. Soon, aided by Marco Pallis's unique prose you find yourself climbing spiritual mountains also. The world of Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalyas of the 1930s. A world of which perhaps only pockets survive now in Ladakh, Zanskar and Bhutan. I still feel like I got to know the Abbot Hermit Lama of Lachen, and took part in an attempt to climb Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world.
I first read this work 26 years ago and it still resonates within for me.
I note that a new paperback version of it is now available at You can get it for as low as $12.60. Amazing.
Here is a quote of the editorial review at

"After obtaining a copy of this out-of-print and rather elusive title, award-winning writer Wendell Berry highly recommended the reading of Marco Pallis's Peaks and Lamas. He praised the writing on travel and mountaineering, but he was especially drawn to the writing about Buddhism, and the chapters on Tibetan Art. Both Gary Snyder and Robert Aitlen joined in offering encouragement on this book. This remarkable text, unavailable for at least thirty years, is now aptly back in print. Peaks and Lamas is a one-of-a-kind classic book on mountaineering, Buddhism, and Tibet, offering rare beauty and depth for a whole new generation of readers."

This is a really great book to curl up with in the winter. A good introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, and also a thought provoker, if you are interested in the meaning of Life, or trying to discern the meaning of one's life. Also if you ever read The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, you'll love Peaks and Lamas. My highest recommendation.
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