Sunday, April 30, 2006

Byzantium: The Decline and Fall

Byzantium: The Decline and Fall
by John Julius Norwich

Haven't been posting too much, but am amazed my blog has been around for a year now. It has evolved into sometimes scrapbook, sometimes political posting of current events, and sometimes , well odds and ends. But odds and ends that I find of interest.

Anyway I finally got back to reading Byzantium: The Decline and Fall by John Julius Norwich . Had started it a few years back, but it is the kind of book that requires sustained devoted attention. Managed to find the time now , and it is rewarding. Here is the initial editorial review over at Amazon:

"With this volume, Norwich completes his magisterial narrative history of Byzantium. As in the earlier volumes (Byzantium: The Early Centuries, LJ 3/1/89; and Byzantium: The Apogee, LJ 1/92), he seeks to rectify the negative impressions perpetuated by 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon. Norwich records the history of a brilliant civilization that endured for over 11 centuries. From the founding of Constantinople (capital of Byzantium) by the first Christian Roman emperor and Byzantium's first flowering, to its fatal weakening after the treacherous attack on Constantinople by Western knights in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the valiant death of the last Byzantine emperor in 1453 at the hands of the conquering Turks, Norwich has told Byzantium's story in elegant and moving prose. "

I found once I gave sustained attention to this book, it is hard to put down. A tragic story, but it fills end a part of history often neglected in the West. Norwich's narrative largely follows the tales of the various Emperors, and the problems they had to deal with in each reign. It doesn't really cover the art, literature, and culture of the decline. For that better to check out Warren Treadgold.

I think I became interested in Bzyantium from the time I first read Sailing to Bzyantium by Yeats. I was lucky enough to have taken a Classical Civ. course on Rome, at U.T., but that course only took us through the fall of the Western Empire .

Since I started reading about the Eastern Empire I have been hooked. Another 1,100 years of the Romani, and plenty to learn from and reflect upon. Anyway , I would recommend reading the first two volumes of Norwich's trilogy, before getting to this onePosted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

History, and the rubble remaining

"History? We don't know. We'll all be dead," Bush remarked in 2003.
"We cannot escape history," said Abraham Lincoln.
The living president has already sealed his reputation in history. --- from Sidney Blumenthal's latest Article, " Revolt of the Generals".

W's remarks show a pretty cavalier attitude towards 'History'. Afterall our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have to live with the consequences of the 'stuff' that happens now. Strategic and tactical errors of an empire tend to have consquences that effect future generations. In "W's shallow analysis, since his generation of Americans will be dead, it doesn't matter.

Just before reading this,,329461895-103677,00.html, I came across an article by Tom Englehardt at the Working for Change website,:

This passges tie in with what Blumenthal and others are noting:

"How time flies and how, to quote Donald Rumsfeld's infamous phrase about looters in Baghdad, "stuff happens." Looked at in the light of history, the incipient collapse of the Bush project seems to have occurred in hardly a blink. Its brevity is, in a sense, nearly inexplicable, as unexpected as water running uphill or an alien visitation. We are, after all, talking about the ruling officials of the globe's only "hyperpower" who have faced next to no opposition at home. In these years, the Democratic Party proved itself hardly a party at all, no less an oppositional one, and the active antiwar movement, gigantic before the invasion of Iraq, has remained, at best, modest-sized ever since. At the same time, in Iraq the administration faced not a unified national liberation movement backed by a superpower as in Vietnam, but a ragtag, if fierce, Sunni resistance and recalcitrant Shiite semi-allies, all now at each other's throats.

What makes the last few years so strange is that this administration has essentially been losing its campaigns, at home and abroad, to nobody. What comes to mind is the famous phrase of cartoonist Walt Kelly's character, Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Perhaps it's simply the case that -- in Rumsfeldian terms -- it's hard for people with the mentality of looters to create a permanent edifice, even when they set their minds to it.

And yet, it wasn't so long ago that every step the Bush people took on either "front" came up dazzling code orange, brilliantly staving off rising political problems. As a result, it took just short of five miserable years, which seemed a lifetime, to reach this moment -- years which, historically, added up to no time at all. Is there another example of the rulers of a dominant global power -- who fancied themselves the leaders of a New Rome -- crashing and burning quite so quickly? In less than five years, Bush and his top officials ran their project into the ground. In the process, they took a great imperial power over a cliff and down the falls, without safety vests, rubber dinghies, or anyone at the bottom to fish us all out. "

Thank you Tom Englehardt. The title of his article is:
"In the rubble ; History ambushes the Bush administration".
At the risk of quoting four paragraphs here is how the article ends:

"Undoubtedly, the Bush administration is not yet out of ammunition, either figuratively or literally. Even as they stand in the rubble of their world, top Bush officials remain quite capable of making decisions that will export ruins to, say, Iran and create further chaos in the oil heartlands of the planet as well as here at home. I don't sell them short, nor do I see a Democratic Party capable of taking the reins of the globe's last standing imperial power and doing a heck of a lot better. Still, there's something consoling in knowing that history remains filled with surprises and that the short, rubble-filled, disastrous career of the Bush administration looks likely to be one of them."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mani and Dharma stones at Rigzin Ling in northern California, just adding this as an interesting photo for whoever stumbles across the Time coast. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

October surprise

Well the disenchantment with the 'W' adminstration is fairly obvious now.With 47% of the American public strongly disapproving of Bush.

Meanwhile I was checking out the Mahablog and came across a link to an article by John Dean at, which begins : "President George W. Bush's presidency is a disaster - one that's still unfolding."

And then: "Now, in early 2006, Bush has continued to sink lower in his public approval ratings, as the result of a series of events that have sapped the public of confidence in its President, and for which he is directly responsible. This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we've moved on to another. "

What I found intriguing about the article is that Dean concludes that faced with possible widespread defeat for the Republicans in the fall, the Bush Adminstration will likely try perhaps 3 different kinds of a 'October' surprise. I advise reading the whole article but here are the concluding paragraphs:

" What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration. How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for "health reasons," and become a senior counselor to the president. And Bush will name a new vice president - a choice geared to increase his popularity, as well as someone electable in 2008. It would give his sinking administration a new face, and new life.

Bush's second and more likely, surprise could be in the area of national security: If he could achieve a Great Powers coalition (of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and so on) presenting a united-front "no nukes" stance to Iran, it would be his first diplomatic coup and a political triumph.
But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.) Another rabbit-out-of-the-hat possibility: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

If there is no "October Surprise," I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways."

Thus concludes John Dean who knows a great deal of insider D.C. and the way administrations work, and also unravel.

Friday, April 14, 2006

USA terrain in the 21st century

Our World and welcome to it. Posted by Picasa

This photo is not exactly contingent with this post. I just thought it was a cool photo to add to my blog. Not sure who reads this blog, but it looks like my profile has been checked out 156 times, so somebody must be giving it a cursory glance. Well, sometimes I get lazy about posting. Sometimes just doing some of the mundane things you do during a day, is plenty enough to fill up one's time.

I was reading up on some Delay commentary , I think at Huffington Post, and came across the article at a gasp' socialist' web site.
Entitled: The resignation of Tom DeLay and the crisis of the US two-party system. By Patrick Martin, --- 7 April 2006.
It gets interesting for me at this paragraph:

"The DeLay resignation was followed by an outpouring of empty moralizing from top Democrats and Republicans, as well as the media, and suggestions that his departure marked the end of an era, bringing a halt to the period when well-heeled corporate lobbyists obtained seats at the legislative table in return for lavish gifts and campaign contributions. In many instances, lobbyists literally wrote the legislation that was then introduced by their congressional front-men."

Then it continues with:

"Corporate money has always called the shots in Washington, but the past quarter-century has seen a qualitative intensification of this process and the rise to power of a political underworld—thuggish operatives who employ vast sums of money and unscrupulous conspiratorial methods, bolstered by a servile and compliant media, to do the bidding of the super-rich.

The social roots of this phenomenon can be discerned by asking the elementary political question: who benefits? The past 25 years have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the vast majority of the American people—those who must work for a living—into the pockets of an already moneyed elite. The figures are by now well-established: in 1979, the top one percent owned about 20 percent of the national wealth; by 2004, that figure had more than doubled. The real incomes of most Americans have stagnated, while the incomes of corporate CEOs and the ruling elite have rocketed upwards.

This process has continued under Republican and Democratic presidents and Republican and Democratic Congresses, in recession and economic upswing, in war and peace. It is the fundamental socio-economic fact of modern America, although it is generally disregarded or mystified in the commentaries of the corporate-controlled media."

Furthermore the writer adds:

"Corruption is not an accidental or external aspect of this process, but rather lies at its very heart. The entire society, including its political institutions, is poisoned by the relentless drive to accumulate ever-greater private wealth in the hands of a narrow, privileged stratum.

Billionaires, of course, do not generally stoop to engage in congressional committee staff-work or legislative vote-counting. For this they employ political operatives, largely drawn from the more unscrupulous and backward sections of the middle class. (DeLay was the proprietor of a small pesticide distribution business before launching his political career.)

It is not surprising that those who choose to make their political career by assisting the wealthiest in society to grow even wealthier do not represent the highest type of human material. The occupation of providing ideological justifications for personal enrichment necessarily encourages the basest desires for profiteering and self-dealing at public expense. DeLay, Abramoff & Co. are not an aberration, but the logical outcome of the increasingly reckless and criminal plundering of the United States by the corporate elite and its two political parties."

I found this at WSWS . I don't necessarily subscribe to everything he says here, but, I think many ordinary Americans sense this is what has been going on. At some point the middle and working classes of this country are going to be hollowed out shells of their former selves, and the poltics of this country will get very strange. Even stranger than they are now.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Came across this quote

I came across this quote:

"In some ways, you know, people that don't exist are much nicer than people that do."

---- Lewis Carroll.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Tightening the Noose

There has been a lot of coverage about Tom Delay resigning, but I have been frustrated, in searching, and trying to find out exactly what the Justice Dept. investigations unit is actually doing, i.e. what are they up to in regards to Delay. Here is some of what I have been able to glean.
This is from Media Matters:

" On March 31, former DeLay deputy chief of staff and Abramoff associate Tony C. Rudy pleaded guilty to conspiring with Abramoff to commit fraud. In his plea agreement, Rudy admitted that while working in DeLay's House leadership office, "he received money and other things of value from or at the direction of Abramoff and others, including $86,000 in payments to Liberty Consulting [a firm founded by Rudy and run by his wife, Lisa Rudy], tickets to sporting events, meals, golf and golf trips. During the same period, defendant RUDY routinely performed official acts for or at the behest of Abramoff and others, which were motivated in part by the things of value he received."

Rudy's plea agreement also reportedly implicated former DeLay chief of staff and Abramoff associate Edwin A. Buckham, whom the agreement referred to as "Lobbyist B." According to the plea agreement, while Rudy was working in DeLay's office, "Liberty Consulting received payments for service to be performed by his wife. As Rudy knew, Lobbyist B shared some clients with Abramoff. Rudy made the arrangements for payments through Abramoff and Lobbyist B." In an April 5 article, The New York Times reported that Buckham "was among Mr. DeLay's closest associates, and the Justice Department is seeking to build a conspiracy case against him [Buckham], people involved in the case said."

see also:

Then we have this from the Washington Post:

" The pending resignation of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), once one of the most powerful lawmakers in Washington, comes amid a federal criminal investigation that already has reached into his inner circle of longtime advisers.

The picture appeared to darken further last week. DeLay's former chief of staff Edwin A. Buckham, the lawmaker's closest political and spiritual adviser, was described in court documents filed by the Justice Department as someone who collaborated with the others -- Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy and former DeLay aide Michael Scanlon. They arranged payments, trips and favors that the department's investigators charged were part of an illegal conspiracy, according to the documents.

DeLay himself was formally designated as "Representative #2" in the documents, a title that cannot be considered a good omen. The lawmaker designated in the same documents as Representative #1 -- Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) -- has been cited by the Justice Department as having received "things of value" for performing official acts.

DeLay and Buckham also have not been accused of wrongdoing by federal prosecutors, and they have both asserted their innocence.
But some of DeLay's official actions in Congress clearly fall within the scope of the continuing investigation: Last week's guilty plea by Rudy cites as part of the evidence of conspiracy a letter that DeLay wrote on behalf of an Abramoff client and legislation that DeLay supported on behalf of a client of Abramoff's firm.

The central legal challenge for DeLay is more likely to arise from the work of the federal task force, made up of FBI and tax agents, Interior Department investigators, and prosecutors from the Justice Department's public integrity unit. A grand jury subpoena issued by the FBI in February for records of the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit group formed by Buckham, specifically asked for any documents related to DeLay; his wife, Christine; Buckham's lobbying firm; Rudy; and a variety of contributors to the group from among Abramoff's client list."

Ah, well, here we get at some of the kernal of a possible case they are building against Delay. But, in Sugarland this is hardly mentioned at all.
Delay prefers to portray all his problems as the liberal medias fault, and as due to what he refers to as, a ' War on Christianity'.

Actually what he has to worry about are - - " the federal task force, made up of FBI and tax agents, Interior Department investigators, and prosecutors from the Justice Department's public integrity unit."

One can only suppose he jumped ship early, to 1) avoid another indictment while in office, and 2) start assembling a larger legal team.

Meanwhile like the Dark tower of Sauron in Morder, a lot of his power has come crashing to the ground. Sic transit Mundus.

The quoted paragraphs are from a larger article by- R. Jeffrey Smith Washington Post Staff Writer, at the Washington Post.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Beatles: The Biography -- by Bob Spitz

Well, I realize I haven't posted for a while. Have been doing a lot of genealogical research, and I get carried away with this.

Meanwhile at the local library, I picked up The Beatles: The Biography -- by Bob Spitz. Here is the capsule review from Library Journal:

"Surprisingly, relatively few of the hundreds of Beatles books over the years comprehensively document the band's story. Spitz (Dylan: A Biography) claims to have written the definitive work, and it is certainly far more detailed than Philip Norman's Shout!, the last serious attempt by an outsider to tell the Beatles' tale. Spitz spent several years cobbling together the story from new interviews with old Beatle friends and hundreds of existing sources (including discredited John Lennon biographer Albert Goldman's archives, which may raise eyebrows). The band's family histories and early years are told with flair and fairness in unprecedented depth-this is the book's biggest contribution to Beatles scholarship. But once Beatlemania hits, Spitz loses steam: the group doesn't even invade America until well over halfway through the narrative. As familiar stories of the Beatles' prime years take over, sloppy, head-scratching errors start to creep in; certain stories ingrained in Beatles legend, such as how they arrived at the finished recording for "Strawberry Fields Forever," are ignored. With the band sinking into dysfunction, Spitz relies more heavily on sources that take a negative tone, and the book sputters to an abrupt end, ignoring the lawsuit that Paul McCartney filed against the others to dissolve their partnership formally. Despite these flaws, The Beatles emerges as the most complete chronicle of the Fab Four to date, at least until Mark Lewisohn finishes his massive three-volume Beatles biography in 2016."

I haven't finished it, but tend to agree with this review. It is hard to put down when it is describing the childhood of the Beatles, the Quarrymen, and the Hamburg era, but it does seem to run out of steam as it gets towards 1966 thru 1969. Still, the first part of the book is fascinating, and it does explore the Beatles, as a phenomena, pretty thoroughly.