The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Friday, December 09, 2005

World Cup Draw, plus "Furry Friday Friends"

It’s the 2006 World Cup Final Draw Day, so expect some kind of elated, ho-hum and/or confused comment from yours truly later today. If you cannot watch it on television, you can follow it LIVE via the World Cup website. German public broadcaster ARD is the one showing it here, so their site has plenty of goodies, click here.

Here’s another piece from the same website:
Time to Make Friends in Berlin

What can I say? It’s always time to make friends in Berlin and if I’m around I’m one of them. Especially if you buy me a beer.

If you don’t like soccer or football, you probably like animals. So I thought I’d introduce the newest member of the animal kingdom as well as two long lost brethren.
By the way, I am not referring to the bizarre – i.e. many have wondered why he has a jersey but no shorts – World Cup mascot, Goleo (pictured here with Heidi Klum, (c) REUTERS , Kevin Coombs.) This creature is, unlike the supposed one below, clearly a hoax.

Ok, here are your new Furry Friday Friends:

Exhibit One: The Thylacine, a.k.a. Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus)
Since it's the Website of Everything’s Animal of the Day today, this magnificent (and sometimes tired) beast is more than worthy. In addition, your intrepid author once had the great privilege of walking the cragged hillocks and lush forests of its native habitat, Tasmania. And while I saw numerous tracks and hairballs, and even what was likely a fresh thylacine shadow sun-blasted onto a cliff wall, I was not blessed by its presence. An elusive feline indeed, but extinct? I don’t think so…

Exhibit Two: Sasquatch, aka Bigfoot/Yeti/Abominable Snowman, (Orangutanus canadianus) This wonderful, and friendly, giant is always deserving of love and attention from us humans. After all, Sasquatches are primates, our closest relatives. Since childhood I have learned much about this often erroneously identified as non-existent humanoid. There were many a day when I would sit in our backyard in Washington D.C. hoping for one to appear out of the depths of the adjacent Glover Archbold Park. Unfortunately, one never did. And on our family trips into the foothills of Maryland and West Virginia, my brother (and parents too) was so boisterous as to keep them at a safe distance from el homo sometimes sapiens.

Still-frame from the famous Patterson-Gimlin party reel
with Sasquatch. Look at him moon-walk pre-Billie Jean!
Michael stole that too...

So you can imagine me counting my lucky stars, when some twenty years later I shipped out to Vancouver in western Canada. At last, I found myself in the Pacific Northwest, where practically every local had shared a steak and some berries with Sasquatch. From my base in paradisiacal North Vancouver, the residential area closest to the great temperate rainforests and Coastal Mountains, I began many an expedition and I was not disappointed.

Exhibit Three: Borneo Possum Cat (unofficial name of Felix borneous) Supposedly, some random 'explorer' has made yet another ‘discovery’ of a new furry friend. While I welcome the wider public’s presumed acceptance of the Borneo Cat, I must point out that this tail-gater has been around for millennia. Unlike the aforementioned duo, I have had no real personal contact with this mammal…yet.

Caught in the Spotlight: Borneo Possum Cat Chilling on a Friday Night
(c) World Wildlife Fund, WWF

But during my trek across the nearby island of Java, I heard only good things from many who had met it. Thus, I look forward to a future meeting, which may be caught on film by some new kind of wacky camera that makes your eyes glow. Furthermore, I had the pleasure of being in the immediate vicinity of an oft-ignored relative of the Borneo Possum, the Iriomote Cat, a few years back. And back in Washington DC, the trash-eating raccoons hinted that their cousin had an easier time finding yummy treats over there in Southeast Asia.

But these tales are best saved for next week/month/year’s installment of: “Furry Friday Friends” You may look forward to more-than-alleged encounters with not just the shy Iriomote Cat and DC raccoons but also with the Stewart Island Kiwi, the Adaman Sea Giant Squid and many, many other wonders of nature.


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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I Ain´t Playing Your Hate Game No More"

This post bears the hallmarks of a raving rant sans mucho humor, but I will leave it as written. If you struggle through it - or even if you don't - please read this excellent piece on American Future. It does a much better job of explaining where I am coming from.

Even better, if you can access the long Paul Berman essay on recent French books that AF links to, do so. His exposé's clarity and brilliance truly puts the icing on the cake. Finally, this classic Dissent Magazine musing (and the others in the Wikipedia entry) by the leftist Berman adds further insight, especially for those on that end of the spectrum.


As expected (please see my two previous posts on this, here and here) the media today is chock-a-block with outrage pieces on CIA flights, renditions and the obsession with the U.S. lack of perfection. The twist is that they have now realized – I (somewhat fortuitously) hinted at this yesterday when mentioning that the German Interior Minister knew – that the German government was involved and informed. Schröder the swinging and campaigning anti-American was a hypocrite of the first order. Nothing new there. More interesting: not only did journalists here fail to accurately convey the debate in the U.S., they also came up short domestically. Investigating your own government usually ranks quite high in the journalistic creed, but sometimes an obsession sidetracks you. End result: bad reporting across the board.

Down, boy! OK, here are some links with minimal comment. Selection criteria: that they mention the role of the German government and are NOT hysterical (that proved hard.) A cursory search for “CIA, Germany etc.” via Technocrati or Yahoo! results in a lot of moral outrage, characterized by relativism, i.e. jabberwocky that merits no attention. Anyway, I hope you find these posts informative, even if you do not agree with their thrust. There is still hope for reconciliation if all of us chill just a little.

What can I say? People seem prone to thinking that anyone not accepting their belief that the U.S. has finally been exposed as the main human rights violator in the world, and that President Bush and Secretary Rice are threats to humanity, are deluded. So if a blog belittles this their truism, it is suspect. How upside down things have become! The polarization, as I see it, begins with the absurd accusations vis-à-vis the United States that people like me must then counter. For that effort, we are besieged by Michael Moorists and respond in kind etc. etc.

And all the while, sane criticism of our governments AND manifestations of real injustice get lost in this rabid discourse. And for that we can thank the Crazies. In the U.S., these are the people that hate President Bush enough to say and do just about anything; and in the rest of the world, these are the people that hate the U.S. enough to say and do just about anything. I am not about hate, never have been and never will be.

Real injustice? I just saw the documentary on North Korea mentioned here. You can find it online if you know your bit torrents etc. The suffering will make you cry, and if you then understand that nearly none of the outrage is directed at North Korea, you will feel as deflated as I do.

How very, very sad that people choose to spend ALL of their time on other matters that I then feel obliged to respond to. Even when I try employing some attempt at humor, I can hardly laugh at this alternate reality. It is so disproportionate as to begger belief. Billions across the globe are deprived of basic liberty and security. Yet the baying of these self-righteous folks - who speak for no one but themselves and whose ideal societies would seem to be the bastions of ivory tower intolerance they stew in - is directed elsewhere.

Lewis Carroll and George Orwell realized that people would sink this low...I still cannot really believe it. But it is from these people that I fear authoritarianism, from the people who once tried to relativize Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler. From the leader-yearning fundamentalist elites - who now cannot see the true nature of Bin-Ladenism for all the rotting peat in their murky swamp homes - who claim to care and know what's best for you.

I do NOT fear the elites that believe that the people know what is best for themselves. If you believe in the people you are part of, how could you?

Don't people read their history? Don't they look around the world they live in?

I live in a city that was home to a fascist dictatorship just sixty years ago, and then half of the city had that replaced by a cheap Stalinist imitation. If you read about what those days were like, or how it came to be that way, and you still rave about U.S. fascism, I can only pity you.

My brother has been to North Korea, and my uncle once met the craziest of them all, Kim Il-sung. His son is not much better. I have personally been to the SLORC's antimatter Myanmar/Burma and Communist Laos. Unfortunately, these regimes are not history. They are for real and represent hell on earth.

And if that's too abstract, the latest creeping dictatorships can be found in Venezuela and Russia. If you read about these places or have the chance to visit, you can sense the asphixiation of freedom. These infernos are not figments of anyone's imagination, and when their people are free they will confirm this for today's apologists of fascism.

For now, the only appropriate response would appear to be to not waste any more time, leaving the crazies to wallow in their Wonderland. No more rants concerning their useful idiocy from me. I urge others to resist the temptation as well. Focus on real injustice instead, at home and abroad. That’s the master plan. From here on in.

But when a real danger rears its ugly head, I will be there.


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Monday, December 05, 2005

Jabberwocky, Get Ye Back! The Doctor is In

Tonight, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to arrive in Berlin. Folks here are focused on what they plan to tell her – as well as being somewhat concerned that she might arrive on a secret CIA flight, which their radars will fail to detect. But they are forgetting that it is she who is the messenger. Instead of the desired kowtowing you can expect some much needed tough love.

Dr. Rice, not least because she is just that, a ‘Frau Doktor’ ( the possession of a PhD guarantees worship around these parts,) enjoys considerable respect and admiration here. Much of this comes from her work during the Two plus Four Treaty talks, which cemented German reunification in 1990. Another doctor, Dr. Merkel, certainly remembers. Ms. Rice was always a friend of Europe, so one can hope that these sauceboxes pay close attention to the constructive criticism she will dish out.

Tables are turned. Dr. Rice tends to
offer better advice than my childhood
sweetheart Lucy ever did to good
ol' Charlie Brown.
(c) Charles Schultz

As I hinted at in my Euro Flu post last night, this is one important house call. The Doctor is In. So make use of it.

In keeping it short, I close by linking to the one story everyone seems to be talking about here. In yesterday’s Washington Post, the great Dana Priest (surely up for the Pulitzer Prize next year) told the tale of a rendition gone horribly wrong. The victim was a German national and the disgraceful saga involved an overly ambitious junior Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official, a former Soviet spy mistress, Macedonian police, real Black Ops and a meeting between the U.S. Ambassador and the German Interior Minister.

If you read the whole thing, I can guarantee an eye-opening experience. Aside from the ‘shocking’ details, you will also be served up a nuanced view of a story that is being distorted beyond all recognition by the media and politicians over here. That alone may prove enlightening. Since they can't break stories on their own, that kind of distortion is all they seem to be good for.

You would think that for once, they might ask if their own penchant for editorializing the news as well as the obsession with jabberwocky and conpiracy might be preventing from acting as journalists. But no. Lastly, should you read the article, you’ll get a taste of what Condy Rice is likely to tell her European friends.


UPDATE: Found a good story in the German press on the Secretary's visit. Since I've been castigating the Fourth Estate here, I thought I'd better link to it. Here's Mathias Rüb's piece (in German) from the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung. The headline reads "CIA Flights: No Kowtow During Berlin Visit." Like I said. Furthermore, it actually goes into some detail about the debate in Washington, and as someone who wonkishly follows this, I find it quite representative.

It also cites numerous sources in the "extremely pro-European State Department" who are getting sick and tired of European preaching and the ever-increasing signs of anti-Americanism. I mean, if you're losing these folks, you're in trouble. I think Rüb is cautiously telling his readers, from his perspective as a Washington-based correspondent, that he himself agrees with this analysis.

Funny how when someone actually spends time in e.g. the U.S., they come to realize that they no longer accept the stereotypes available at home. In this case, the supposed lack of debate in the U.S., which in fact is much more vigorous than it is here. In addition, Germans who are often themselves subjected to ludicrous generalizations, will tend to empathize with Americans once they realize they share the very same problem.

Finally, Rüb´s article offers a mea culpa, and acknowledges that the German media has been ignoring all kinds of stories in the American press re: CIA, renditions etc. for close to a year. My point would simply be that if they had been doing their job, Germans would have a broader understanding of the issue they're now so outraged about. And this is turn would have helped cool some very hot heads.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Euro Flu: These Kind of Hypocrites Make Me Sick

An open letter to the hypocrites of Europe.

Dear holier-than-thous,

I found something you might not appreciate. So I thought I'd be so kind as to pass it on, and help you rechannel you tunnel vision. And since your illness is making me nauseous, I'm acting out of nasty self-interest.

I really did try to resist since I knew that doing this would make my Sunday night blood boil. But having read this editorial in the Wall Street Journal, I realized that it needed to be disseminated far and wide, pronto. And that it was exactly the remedy you needed to get your rehabilitation off on the right foot.

Here are some lengthy excerpts, but it really needs to be read in its entirety. Only then can you hope to feel somewhat cleansed:

"Europe is enthralled by another American "torture scandal." Governments demand the truth behind allegations, first made by the Washington Post last month, that the CIA has operated covert prisons in Europe and secretly transported terrorist suspects through European airports. Human Rights Watch claims to have located the prisons in "New Europe"--Poland and Romania.

The outrage on the Continent is deafening...

We'd be the first to applaud Europeans for finally concerning themselves with moral principles instead of commercial interests. Many of the Middle East's problems, including terrorism, would be easier solved if Europe were seriously concerned about morality...

Unlike American companies--recently defamed in Germany as "(blood) suckers" and "locusts" by the former government--European firms are quite busy in Sudan. The chamber of commerce and industry in Stuttgart has enthused over what great opportunities Sudan's oil resources offer to German companies.

Lest people think they are doing something morally reprehensible, the salesmen from Stuttgart prefer to describe the massacres of black Africans in Darfur as "political disturbances." The German economics ministry, which sponsored the German pavilion at last February's trade fair in Sudan, will also support next February's event, the chamber of commerce assures its members.

Where is the outrage? How does that jibe with supposed European values?

In much of Europe's public debate, the true meaning of human rights has degenerated into a tool that gives anti-Americanism an aura of legitimacy. The real, horrendous human-rights violations in the Middle East, North Korea, China, Cuba, etc., are largely ignored or relegated to news blurs on the back pages. For front-page coverage, you need an American angle...

The fact that Europe routinely sends back thousands of asylum seekers to countries where they could be tortured does not make the front pages, though...If (Amnesty) could have proved that some of those poor souls trying to reach Europe to start a better life were in fact terrorists, and if (it) could have also somehow implicated the U.S. in their expulsion, it might have been able to get an audience for (the) complaints...

Anti-Americanism is so prevalent in Europe that it has permeated almost all areas of public discourse--from arts to politics to economies. "American conditions" is a popular German slur against alleged social coldness in the U.S.--one that former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has "successfully" used to reject necessary economic reforms. And just as it has poisoned the economic debate in Europe, anti-Americanism also poisons the debate about how to deal with terrorism. Any measure that involves the U.S. is almost immediately tainted as being beyond the pale."

There was a time when I would say that I was ashamed of the European stupidity and hypocrisy they detail. There was even a time - far longer ago - when I would have tried to explain or relativize it. Nowadays I do not even come close to feeling the kind of connect that would justify such shame.

Instead, it leaves me slightly cold. But most of all, I feel sorry for those dog-paddling in this putrid cesspool. The only shame I feel is personal. For the fact that I once patiently tried to explain this warped ideology of anti-Americanism as anything but pathological.

It is so very sad and I envy those that do not speak the languages I do. They do not have to hear the hatred and mistrust. Nor are they subjected to the innuendo, historical revisionism and the moral bankruptcy that run like rapids here.

The worst thing of all is that even if you think I risk crossing the 'bridge too far,' taking many steps back will not help much. If even a fraction of these hostile sentiments exists, it truly appears to be an Everest-sized mole hill. People here are projecting; they look in the mirror and feel ill, and spew their bile upon the U.S. And as is wont to happen, I gag when seeing them getting sick.

I want to feel good again and I want to feel so when looking people in the eyes, not by avoiding them. So here's to hoping that they will find themselves a cure. I, for one, am rather tired of offering remedies that are taken for poisoned apples. So, get well and give me a call when the long winter is over. I'll be waiting and doing just fine.


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Old Swede, Bad Swede & Carl Barks

The weekend is almost over, but somehow my Friday encounter with the Old Swede still lingers. Who was that masked bandit? And why did he sucker-punch me?

That night, in tune with my neverending quest to find the most obscure spots in Berlin, we wound up at the Eschenbräu brewery. It was on the Internet but not on any map. Its location in an underworld cellar of a decrepit student dormitory that time forgot, situated in Wedding, the least inspiring hood in all of Berlin, leaves a lot to be desired. It´s the kind of place from which you never leave unscathed.

It was "Alter Schwede" (Old Swede) night, so named since they were tapping a keg with eponymous beer. The kegs were buried in the courtyard as part of some secret fermentation process or perhaps as part of the gimmick I think I heard the brewer mention before mayhem set in. No, no, it was all very civilized. The basement was full of old-school West Berliners and lost tourists. We all sipped the potent brew and laughed merrily.

Alter Schwede is actually an expression in German, which means something like 'old chap' or 'old pal.' This country has an odd affinity for Sweden, so I suppose it's some kind of tribute. Less reverential is the expression "Behind Swedish Curtains," which is a slightly outdated reference to prison. In the 17th Century, Swedes terrorized and occupied Prussia so maybe that's understandable.

Following up on the prohibition post that introduced Systembolaget, i.e. the Bad Swede alcohol monopolist, I have now had the great misfortune of watching the video in question. To remind you, this tax funded propaganda is supposed to convince the European Union that Sweden's alcohol policy actually makes more sense than scuba diving in a jacuzzi.

Click here, watch the 'Dear Mr. B' video and weep. Sure, it's kind of funny (though 'borrowing' from South Park and Michael Moore techniques is not terribly original) but the underlying preachiness makes me as queasy as the thought of one more Old Swede beer right about now. And it reminds me of the Big Brother attempts to quash free speech in Sweden last week.

For more info on this authoritarian campaign, from the perpetrator's perspective, see here. This material offers the unvarnished version of what is anything but as funny and cutesy as the little film.

Lastly, something nice that happened after the Eschenbrau experience. We wound up in a gallery-bar nearby called Cafe Cralle. Another little oasis in a generally bleak area, but the real highlight was the collection of gigantic Carl Barks' Donald Duck prints on the walls. Carl Barks was an American cartoonist, a genius to many. He drew and wrote some of the most bizarre Duck Tales, including the legendary one featuring the square eggs. Check out this article about Barks as well.

When we were leaving I completmented the exhibit and the bartender promptly handed me a flyer with this quote by Barks himself:

"I always felt myself to be an unlucky person like Donald, who is a victim of so many circumstances. But there isn't a person in the United States who couldn't identify with him. He is everything, he is everybody; he makes the same mistakes that we all make. He is sometimes a villain, and he is sometimes a real good guy, and at all times he is just a blundering person like the average human being, and I think that is one of the reasons people like the duck."

In Sweden, Donald Duck goes by the name of "Calle Anka" (Carl Duck!) and since yours truly is also a Carl, I earned that nickname. I figured it just had to do with the name or perhaps a little with the Duck's legendary temper tantrums (an inspiration to John Patrick McEnroe one would think.) Looking at that quote, it's not really about being a victim, but rather being true to yourself. And so that nickname for this Old Swede suddenly makes more sense than ever.


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