Saturday, June 07, 2003

Charlie Wilson of Texas
Financial Times has an book excerpt about Congressman Charlie Wilson .

I first encountered Charlie Wilson through Molly Ivins. She seems to have a genuine soft spot for the man, in spite of his unredeemably sexist attitudes and, worse yet, his impeccably Republican credentials. According to the author of this book, Charlie Wilson singlehandedly helped the Afghans to defeat the Soviet Army by pushing thorugh financing for the mujahedeen. It's a story of one man's crusade to support a people's bid for freedom and all the unexpected consequences than can flow from a good deed.

Charlie still believes that he did the right thing, but is predictably pissed off about the current state of affairs:

"I truly believe that this caused the Berlin Wall to come down a good five, maybe ten, years before it would have otherwise. Over a million Russian Jews got their freedom and left for Israel; God knows how many were freed from the gulags. At least a hundred million Eastern Europeans are breathing free today, to say nothing of the Russian people. It's the truth, and all those people who are enjoying those freedoms have no idea of the part played by a million Afghan ghosts. To this day no one has ever thanked them.

"They removed the threat we all went to sleep with every night, of World War III breaking out. The countries that used to be in the Warsaw Pact are now in NATO. These were truly changes of biblical proportion, and the effect the jihad had in accelerating these events is nothing short of miraculous.

"These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world. And the people who deserved the credit are the ones who made the sacrifice. And then we fucked up the endgame."

Amen, Charlie.

I Meant to Blog Yesterday, But...
Susan posted this , and since I am constitutionally unable to let one of those go, I went to work at it. The solution is not difficult, but you have to think in two directions at once...

Besides, the news seem to be full of HILLARY'S BOOK. I'm bored with the whole Clinton-bashing thing already. Soooo twentieth century, you know? He's a loose zipper and she's ambitious; so were FDR and Eleanor...whoops. That's another demon couple, isn't it?

AND I've discovered a new writer: Alexander McCall Smith. I've spent twelve deliciously stolen hours pleasurably meandering through three of his books. I'll be blogging about him later, but so far I can tell you that he's single-handedly moved Botswana to the top ten places to visit in my book.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories, A Good Read, And A Place Not To Be Missed
Just finished Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Before my enthusiasm sends you out to fork over your hard-earned bucks at Borders, let me warn you: this book is either for the serious paranoid or for the absolutely hardheaded realist. The first will find that it reveals, in fictional form, the truth that cannot be spoken out loud (literally, in the book); the realists with a taste for magical realism will find it a thumping good read.

Those of you that are just brushed gently with paranoia stay the heck away from this one. It will send you straight to Google to find out about some of these things. And you will find them. Most of them. And it will make you wonder whether the rest of the stuff, the real over-the-stop stuff, is actually real.

Brown blends reality and fantasy into thick stock and simmers it with enough James Bond and Indiana Jones to serve it up Hollywood-style. It adds Leonardo, Opus Dei, the Templars, the Louvre, Westminster Abbey, and the (real?)life of Jesus, and a small, elegant, mysterious place called the Rosslyn Chapel, stirs it with jealousy, anger, and religious persecution, and tops it off with a sly sense of humor. And there is enough fact in the stew to keep you wondering.

Let me save you some time: yes, Leonardo was into cyphers and codes and yes, some scholars have pointed out the strangeness of the Last Supper; yes Opus Dei exists just as described (except for the murderous monks, one hopes); yes, the Templar stuff is absolutely correct; the strange facts about the (real?) life of Jesus have been floated about for at leasts 75 years that I know of; and there is such a place as the Rosslyn Chapel.

Here, if you don't believe me.

There was a time when the Grail obssessed me, and the story of the St. Clairs (Sinclair in the later spelling) is inextricably bound in legend to it, so when it came time to visit Scotland I scheduled a morning stop in Roslin, the little town outside of Edinburgh where the Rosslyn chapel can be found.

We arrived very early on a rainy fall morning. The Chapel was not open yet, so we took a walk in the little cemetery and strolled a short way into the glen, towards were I thought the ruins of Roslin castle would be. It had the same air as it must have done when St. Walter Scott wrote his homage; impossible to believe that a major highway into a large city passes nearby. It's a place full of death and history and spooky enough even in daylight to send you scurrying back to the safety of the modern buildings at the entrance to the grounds (modern in the Scottish sense, mind you!).

We returned to the chapel grounds just in time to see a couple opening up. They were wonderfully kind, and allowed us into the chapel before it was fully lit and ready for the day.

Oboy. Take all the x-Files you've ever seen, tie it together with all the Stephen King you have ever read, and you don't come close. It would not have surprised me to see a knight in full armor kneeling at the altar in the stained-glass twilight. Maybe I was predisposed to expect such things, but my companion, who knew nothing about the place except that the crazy Cuban wanted to spend some time in the rain in the middle of a damn hayfield instead of in a nice cozy Edinburgh pub noticed it too. Rosslyn made an instant convert, and finally I was the one who dragged him away.

It also happens to be exquisitely beautiful. You can spend a whole day exploring the carvings and still need more time. Literally every inch of surface is carved. You'd think it would appear godawful to our modern minimalist-tainted taste, but Rosslyn is as it should be.

And yes, Brown's protagonist does find the Grail there. Sort of.

But you can't drink from it.


Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Salam Pax is....
In The Guardian!.

An Interesting Thought...
Kos points to an interesting development: as the current administration cuts federal taxes, the states are forced to hike taxes to make up for the shortfall. And that may provide a windfall for the Democrats:

Ironically, Bush's tax cuts and refusal to bail out the states will force many, many Republican governors to turn to tax increases. And while Bush may get his glowing moment in the spotlight, he's damning his party at the lower levels -- exposing their "tax-cutting" mantras as nothing more than rhetoric.

This, in turn, will help elect more Democrats at the state level, bolstering the party's bench, and helping shape the national agenda from the bottom up (as the GOP's moderate governors did in the late 90s, leading to Bush's election).

I think if the Democratic party was halfway to a primate they could see this as the oportunity it is. A great deal of important day-to-day decisions are made at the state and local levels. They should be pinpointing the winnable races, and throwing resources at them.

Of course, we are talking about the Democratic party (sigh)...

Y'all Say Much Better Than I Could...
What Julia says. In spades.
Update: Julia tells me somehow my links take you to the whole of her blog instead of the one item I was referring to. Doesn't matter. Start at the top and work your way down. Go, Julia! Go, Julia! Go, Julia!

Topical poetry from The Cowboy.

From Randy, who covers Latin America better than anyone I know, a link to the Amnesty International's report on the crackdown on Cuban dissidents.

Rick tells us his take on the FCC rules.