Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hundred Years Starship: Expect Countless Volunteers

NASA has announced the Hundred Years Starship, a manned spacecraft mission to Mars that will leave the astronauts there for good to colonize the planet.

Leaving the Earth permanently I expect will draw countless volunteers for many plausible reasons, not the least of which is an eagerness to escape the failings of this planet, its leaders, and its inhabitants. If given the choice, many would leave. So far, there is no choice.

A mission to colonize Mars and ultimately the entire universe will appeal to many types of people. Wealthy thrill-seekers who can afford to pay their own way and enter the history books won't be hard to lure and will be demanding a seat on the next rocket. Those who feel Earth is a failure will see the mission as a new hope of a better life and future for their descendants, whereas a future here can leave one feeling like everything has been for naught.

It will eventually be a great challenge to weed out volunteers who would do the mission more harm than good: secret saboteurs, criminals, mental defectives, and those will might soon feel a sense of "volunteer remorse" and demand to be sent back!

Regardless of whether this particular mission succeeds or never gets off the ground, eventually the human race will need an exit strategy from Earth, either because we ourselves threaten to destroy it, or an asteroid in our path can't be stopped, or the sun stops shining billions of years from now. Earth has an expiration date, and that can't be ignored.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR Should Be Audited for Political Bias

NPR recently fired Juan Williams for inoffensive comments he made about Muslims, and it proves how far afield publicly-funded media outlets like NPR have strayed.

Taxpayer-funded news media such as NPR should be regularly audited on their political content and slant, to determine if there is obvious bias in one direction or the other.

No one seriously questions that NPR has a liberal bias. But why should taxpayers fund them when they attempt to present themselves as objective?

Steps should be taken not only to determine NPR's slant, but to demand immediate steps to balance their coverage by hiring conservatives as reporters and editors.

When was the last time NPR was audited to determine its political stance? Calls are already being made to strip NPR of its government money, and that would be a good start toward righting this wrong that has been allowed to continue for too long.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama & Mao Think Alike

Obama's shocking statement that "We can absorb a terrorist attack" has justifiably garnered condemnation and left his remaining supporters scrambling for some plausible explanation to toss out and hope the public buys.

It's striking that Obama is callous toward any victims and complacent in terms of national security, the same as Mao Zedong. In 1958, Soviet officials were considering whether to give China the nuclear bomb. Mao talked about a war with the United States and said he wasn't worried about retaliation against China, because his country could withstand the loss of 300 million people and still have plenty left!

Even given that Obama is an unqualified, neo-Socialist president, and the worst in modern times, somehow it it still shocking when someone--anyone--in his office makes such statements showing such a disconnect with reality.

I wrote earlier about Obama's psychological cross-circuits, as well as the fact that he is not anywhere near as intelligent as many claim him to be. Surely many in the media are afraid to call him unintelligent, or stupid, for fear of being branded as racists. But no one can seriously make the case anymore that Obama is a "genius" or has any sort of exceptional intelligence. The facts prove the reverse.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Best Spy Fiction of 2010

Update: Dec. 6, 2010

Introduction

The spy/espionage thriller was expected to die off in synchronization with the fall of the Soviet Union, but here in 2010 it is without question a thriving genre (and Soviet Russia seems undead as well).

Many heavy-hitters published this year: Clancy, Silva, Thor, Flynn, Le Carré, and Cussler. Best-selling thrillerists don’t get much bigger than that.

Russia remains a prominent setting, joined these days by the Arab world, which has dominated discussion in the public arena since 9/11, with its never-ending parade of extremists vowing to blow up as many Western innocents as possible, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Readers expect a fair amount of realism and precision with strong echoes of current geopolitics and international intrigue—Tom Clancy still the reigning champ on those grounds; plots that might play themselves out in the real world; and since anything seems possible these days, it’s not that hard to craft something plausible. The trick is to go beyond what has happened and is happening in the real world and write something creative.

2010 could well be remembered as the Year of Secrets Revealed. International espionage accounted for several of the biggest news stories of the year. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange published thousands of classified documents stolen by a gay US Army soldier. The Anna Chapman Affair exposed a ring of deep undercover Russian spies operating in the US, and Chapman’s subsequent risqué photo shoots made her the world’s most famous female ex-spy. A Hamas official was assassinated in an Abu Dhabi hotel, with fingers pointed at Israel’s Mossad. Photos of the execution team members were splashed across TV screens and newspapers around the world.

Overly talkative former CIA agents such as Valerie Plame Wilson just won’t shut up. A movie was released based on her book, Fair Game. It seems the espionage business has never been so foremost in the news and in the minds of the public.

Surely book sales are reflecting the public’s thirst to know more. No doubt in addition to fiction reflecting recent events, we will soon see biographies of Chapman, and something on Assange.

This is an edited listing of prominent spy novels (and one short story collection) published in 2010. It isn’t always easy to categorize which books belong in the Spy category and which, for example, belong in Political Thrillers, or Military Fiction, or other pigeonholes.

• Baldacci, David. Hell's Corner. Grand Central Publishing, 2010.
• Berenson, Alex. The Midnight House. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Clancy, Tom. Dead or Alive. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Cussler, Clive, and Justin Scott. The Spy. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Dryden, Alex. Moscow Sting: A Novel. Ecco, 2010.
• Eisler, Barry. Inside Out: A Novel. Ballantine Books, 2010.
• Flynn, Vince. American Assassin: A Thriller. Atria, 2010.
• Freemantle, Brian. Red Star Rising: A Thriller. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.
• Furst, Alan. Spies of the Balkans: A Novel. Random House, 2010.
• Grant, Andrew. Die Twice. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Hinshelwood, Tom. The Killer. Thomas Dunne Books, 2010.
• Lawson, Mike. House Justice: A Joe DeMarco Thriller. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010.
• Le Gallo, Andre. The Caliphate. Leisure Books, 2010.
• Lustbader, Eric Van. Last Snow. Forge Books, 2010.
• Lynds, Gayle. The Book of Spies. St. Martin's Press, 2010.
• Neetz, Roger E. Embassy Intrigue. American Book Publishing, 2010.
• Penzler, Otto. Agents of Treachery. [Short stories.] Vintage, 2010.
• Reich, Christopher. Rules of Betrayal. Doubleday, 2010.
• Rimington, Stella. Dead Line. Knopf, 2010.
• Silva, Daniel. The Rembrandt Affair. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Steiner, Peter. The Terrorist: A Thriller. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Steinhauer, Olen. The Nearest Exit. Minotaur Books, 2010.
• Stone, David. The Skorpion Directive. Putnam Adult, 2010.
• Thomson, Keith. Once A Spy: A Novel. Doubleday, 2010.
• Thor, Brad. Foreign Influence: A Thriller. Atria Books, 2010.

Also Noted:

• Elliot, Jason. The Network: A Novel. Bloomsbury USA, 2010.
• Le Carré, John. Our Kind of Traitor: A Novel. Viking Adult, 2010. Not quite my idea of an “entertainment.” This is a terrible bore. Le Carré has admitted he thought of defecting to Russia; with his shouting at President Bush (a stand-in for shouting at Western democracy), his politics don’t seem that far removed from those of Kim Philby & the others. Drooling applause from unconvincing (but not unexpected) reviews in the New York Times & Washington Post.
• Maines, Bethany. Bulletproof Mascara. Atria, 2010. A Mary Kay lookalike company is also a spy agency.

Read "The Best Spy Fiction of 2011"

Read "The Best Spy Nonfiction of 2011"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Al Gore's Delayed Return

Where is Al Gore? He is at the New York Times, the flagship newspaper of the liberal media, defending as best he can his discredited global warming hysterics.

Why did he delay so long in responding? While he hid, his reputation took hits from formerly friendly quarters who are now fearful of associating themselves with someone who is an international laughingstock.

He hesitated so long because he had to. And he responded with an essay because it saved him from having to answer in-person questions. Gore has an "expert staff" of global warming enthusiasts who supplied him with his latest talking points. He had no choice but to wait for them to deliver something to him before he could issue a written statement.

And the statement itself is pure Gore. The advocacy of unproven science that fits his own personal goals garnished with a huge dollop of emotional attacks against his political enemies. When he mentioned media "showmen" I wondered if he wasn't talking about MSNBC's band of clowns, such as Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews. But no, he made it clear that he didn't mean them, but anyone and everyone at Fox News.

And what about the "science"? His scaremongering about vanishing polar bears, himalayan mountains and the Amazon rainforest were a deliberate attempt to falsely claim the "science is settled" when in fact it never has been.

The United National Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gave special prominence to those scenarios in their notorious 2007 report.

Gore now finds himself facing the Institute of Physics, which issued a statement condemning the unscientific research handed down to the entire world from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Perhaps the IOP aren't real scientists, Al?

The corrupt IPCC certainly has no intention of backing down and has issued a statement standing behind its conclusions while announcing an "independent" panel to review its own procedures. Any such panel would naturally return a heavy indictment against them.

Gore has no choice but to ride out his climate change horse wherever it may tread. It isn't as if he can just walk away from it as he is inextricably bound to it more than any other person in the entire world.

But is he having second thoughts? Surely there was a time he once didn't doubt man-made global warming but his delay this time and his deliberate avoidance of uncomfortable questions is indicative of a former believer who now privately entertains serious doubts about his religion. And that must be difficult when you are the messiah.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FBI Closes Anthrax Letters Case

The FBI investigation into the 2001 anthrax letters case has been formally concluded, the Justice Department said today.

The investigation found that Bruce Ivins acted alone in planning and executing these attacks.

As written here earlier, there is no doubt that Ivins was responsible for the letters and the deaths resulting from them.

Unfortunately, some people have been suckered into believing otherwise (within the pages of the Wall Street Journal no less), promulgating some sort of conspiracy theory, Sen. Pat Leahy among them.

The report concluded that the anthrax was not weaponized as some have written. Here is the excerpt from the report:

Throughout the course of the investigation, repeated challenges have been raised to this finding that the spores were not weaponized. The challenges have their root in an initial finding by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (“AFIP”) that, upon gross examination, the spores exhibited a silicon and oxygen signal. However, subsequent analysis of the spores by Sandia National Laboratories, using a more sensitive technology called transmission electron microscopy (“TEM”) – which enabled material characterization experts to focus its probe of the spores to the nanometer scale – determined that the silica was localized to the spore coat within the exosporium, an area inside the spore. In other words, it was incorporated into the cell as a natural part of the cell formation process. “The spores we examined lacked that fuzzy outer coating that would indicate they’d been weaponized,” stated Dr. Paul Kotula of Sandia, who personally examined the spores from the 2001 attacks. When presented with these results, Dr. Peter Jahrling, a USAMRIID scientist who had reviewed the initial AFIP results and stated publicly in late 2001 that the spores had been weaponized, retracted his earlier statement, telling the Los Angeles Times on September 16, 2008, “I believe I made an honest mistake.”

The report at the Justice link above makes note of new information about Ivins' strange habits which is interesting reading for those who need more reassurance that he was the man.

I suppose some will continue believing Ivins wasn't the culprit, but it serves us no purpose to ignore the truth and invent alternate realities.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tiger: Shut Up and Play

Tiger Woods will speak publicly for the first time in 3 months tomorrow in front of millions watching on TV.

Apparently he has something to say about his marital infidelity, hi sexual issues, and perhaps his current preferences among his wife and various bimbos he has been associated with lately.

An apology will be offered--probably not to the aforementioned bimbos but to the fans, his publicist suggested.

Golf? Will he discuss golf? Unsure.

But why is Tiger saying anything at all? Does he really owe the fans an apology? Are the fans entitled to know anything about his personal life anyway?

Yes, Tiger is a hypocrite, playing the faithful family man to the adoring, gullible fans, but those of us in this modern world know that is usually a lie and not to be taken at face value. Phony marketing surrounds all celebrities.

Tiger should just shut up and play. No more about his bimbos. No more about his unquenchable sexual desires. Let the golf clubs do the talking.

He needs to play again so when other golfers win tournaments, there won't be an asterisk next to their name (*Tiger Woods didn't play!).

Tiger owes us, the fans, nothing but golf. Let's not allow the marketing vampires, the sponsors, the advertising schmucks, or Tiger himself lead us to believe anything else.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

No Global Warming Since 1995

Phil Jones, the professor at the center of the Climategate affair, has admitted that there has been no "statistically significant" global warming for the past 15 years.

The world may have been warmer during medieval times as well, he said.

Meanwhile, skeptics are outraged that President Obama plans to dramatically increase funding for global warming research despite all the scandals.

The science is not settled. Has anyone seen Al Gore lately?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Greatest American Literary Generation

Mark Lawson, an Englishman, has written with typical Brit incomprehension about American literature, claiming, absurdly, that the generation of writers represented by the recently deceased Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, and John Updike, may have been "the greatest literary generation the country has ever seen or ever will see."

Lawson wouldn't know it, but this generation always knowingly stood in the shadow of the previous generation represented by the likes of William Faulker, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, et cetera. That generation of writers towered above Mailer and his peers. It's not even close, and Mailer and the others knew it.

And then there are those 19th Century giants--Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Whitman, Twain, and James. Is Lawson really so clueless that he thinks Mailer et al were a greater generation than them? And how does Salinger fit in, not having published anything in decades?

I've come to expect nonsense whenever Brits talk America, but this takes the chapbook. Apparently they need to live with their distorted dreams about our country as they still can't face reality. How else to understand so much misunderstanding?

Mailer's generation is the weakest and one must ask why that is, not pretend that it was the best! Can our giants from days gone by never be matched again? Is it all downhill from here?

Surely there are great writers today, but the emphasis creeps inexorably away from "serious" literature and toward the mass appeal "genre" stuff, primarily because economics dictates it, and economics is king of this world.

It's sad that the recently departed writers are no longer here, but let's dry the tears and properly understand their place in the American pantheon of letters.

E-Book Piracy to Follow MP3s

With the cost of e-books rising from Amazon's former $9.99 standard, the only logical result will be a burgeoning and thriving piracy culture, the same that exists for music mp3s.

Some e-books are priced near $15 for the Kindle edition, and many people just won't pay that and will look for alternatives, either a pirated edition of the same book, a different but cheaper e-book, or no e-book at all.

A Wharton professor is quoted in a recent news article that "I would be scared to death about a culture of piracy taking hold. I wouldn't mess around with price increases."

But book publishers aren't listening, and from what I've seen at recent BookExpo America conferences, they aren't rational about the entire issue and are heading for a massive pushback that they will quickly regret.

Piracy is the biggest threat to the book publishing industry. What is being done to thwart it or even consider what might be done about it? And here it comes with those higher prices publishers are demanding without thought to the consequences.

The book publishing industry, with MP3s in mind, locked up the e-books with DRM. But that's like Prospero trying to lock his abbey from the Red Death.

Anyone can quickly and easily digitize a print book and make that file available on the internet. Happens all the time, and it's coming to a bestseller near you.

Liberal Media: Blizzards or Not Prove Global Warming

It doesn't matter if there is less snow, as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. predicted for Washington DC, or if there are historic blizzards of the kind visited upon the nation's capital this week.

It all equals global warming, and the liberal media and liberal scientists sing from the same climate change church hymn book. Their belief in the religion of global warming is as unshakable as Osama bin Laden's belief that God is a terrorist.

Time magazine, a true believer, tells us the freezing blizzards don't disprove global warming but are actually consistent with it.

With Al Gore hiding in his igloo until the snow melts, the New York Times exalts Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with a prominent blog, as their champion on the "science" of global warming. Quoting from his blog, the old Times notes that a recent government report (yes) concluded that in the coming years we will see more snow in the Northeast and less in the Southeast.

There you have it, from the leader of the old media, north is cold and south is hot, and the government, having spent your tax dollars, says so.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where is Al Gore?

Washington, DC and the East Coast are currently in the grip of an historic snowstorm, which seems to contradict Al Gore's global warming scaremongering.

Why isn't the mainstream media interviewing him, demanding that he explain the discrepancy? Why isn't he appearing on every nightly cable news show? Has anyone seen Al Gore?

His deafening silence suggests he has no answer to the freeze, and secretly knows he is perpetrating a scam. Otherwise he would be demanding airtime to calm his supporters and assure them that all is well and the cold weather means nothing in the greater scheme of things.

The entire concept of global warming has taken many hits lately as climate scientists admit they fudged their numbers. Researchers who previously believed the numbers proffered them in the scholarly journals now aren't so sure.

Gore picked global warming as an issue he could ride as the Earth's top guru and messiah. Leading a religion beats political office any day.

Are the news shows trying to reach Gore for some statements? Is he hiding in an igloo? Where is Al Gore? Come out, come out, wherever you are!

He is on the phone, at this moment, demanding from his "experts" rationales he can spout, not only explaining away the blizzards, but providing him with plausible-sounding reasons why the snowstorms are additional proofs of global warming!

Miss Me Yet? Bush & Obama

George W. Bush left the White House as an unpopular president because hostilities in Iraq dragged on and on and our soldiers kept losing their lives to IEDs years after the Iraq army had been defeated.

If everything had been mopped up quickly, despite the lack of WMDs, Bush's popularity wouldn't have suffered as it did.

Obama is becoming more and more unpopular for different reasons. The economy is reaching historic lows and voters gradually understand that he isn't up to the job, which should have been clear to all before he was elected. Obama's ideas for improving things are misguided; he is a Socialist out of step with the vast majority of Americans.

More importantly, he killed a lot of people's dreams. They romanticized about him and vote for him based on those rosy reveries. Betray someone's dreams and you can expect retribution.

Many people who voted for Obama thought "no one could be worse than Bush." They know better by now, don't they? They miss Bush, not because Bush was a great president but because he was better than Obama.

Given the above, the billboard near Wyoming, Minnesota makes sense only as an indictment of Obama. If the country were traveling in the right direction and if Obama was hugely popular, then the billboard would rightly be viewed as an indictment of Bush (but why anyway at this point in time?).

The election of 2008 represented a breakdown of the entire process. Obama, unqualified and far too liberal, had no business being nominated by the Democrats. And John McCain was not even close to being the most desired candidate on the Republican side. Two mistakes vying for the most powerful office in the land.

The voters didn't do their job. The reason Congress has the lowest approval rating in history and the reason incompetent leaders rule over us is because the voters are incompetent as well. No one wants to talk about the role voters play in all this, but the horrific results of every election are their fault.

What we really "miss" are good citizens doing their job and electing quality politicians. We aren't there yet, "miles to go before we sleep." Change the system? Voter education? This won't be solved anytime soon. Enjoy the ride.

Update: As I said above, the billboard is pro-Bush. It's a conservative t-shirt.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Dubai Can't Keep Its Tower Up

The world's tallest skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has closed only a month after it opened.

But even when it was open, the building was largely empty of tenants. Why was the tower built? Not for tenants and not for tourists.

Large skyscrapers and towers are often called "phallic symbols" because the underlying reasons for their construction are tied not to necessity or economics, but to salve psychological wounds and uplift sagging psyches.

Muslims have been busy lately spending oil revenue not on improving the lives of Muslims but instead erecting giant skyscrapers and mosques that look down on the smaller towers and churches of the Christian West. Not just in the United Arab Emirates, but increasingly in countries such as the UK and US.

Islamic culture has been outshone and surpassed by the West over the past millennium. Arab morale has taken a beating all these years and the oil reserves beneath their land, which need only to be brought to the surface, provide the means to enlift those ragged spirits. Giant edifices are a visual way to give the appearance of competing and besting the West at their own game. No matter that the large structures are a sham.

Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world supported Osama bin Laden after 9/11. Finally they had won a battle against the dominant Crusaders!

And now an Islamic country builds the biggest skyscraper and, shazzam! Psychic rejuvenation for an entire culture. The submerged worry, of course, is that Muslims know they've already lost and it's all over.

But if oil fuels the worldwide Islamic ego, what happens when the wells run dry? Arab nations want to diversity their economies so they aren't so dependent on oil, but that goal remains to be attained. Can Islam sustain its place without oil? And if it can't, will Islam dry up as well? Will it shrink back to its former role before the West filled its coffers?

The Muslim skyscraper is empty and no one knows when it will open.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Christopher Hitchens, Ex-Dauphin

Christopher Hitchens has written recently that he noticed a change in Gore Vidal after 9/11. The old subversive man of letters became a crackpot, having said that the terrorist attack was probably an inside job engineered by George W. Bush.

Vidal had anointed Hitchens as his dauphin, but without the same blood, it all trickled down the drain. Another literary marriage doomed to divorce.

The truth is that Hitchens had never acknowledged or understood that Vidal was a crackpot until after 9/11, either choosing to ignore the obvious or keeping those thoughts below the surface.

Vidal has always promoted bizarre ideas that suit whatever his current agenda might be. For example, back in the 1970s, in an essay for the New York Review of Books, he equated Norman Mailer with Charles Manson. Vidal doesn't choose to reprint that one much these days, if at all.

Hitchens has noted that Vidal doesn't reprint certain essays that he thinks might prove embarrassing, such as some of his 9/11 baloney, suggesting he may not really believe what he writes and is merely trying to goad the unwashed masses. It has always been Vidal's modus operandi to float dubious ideas as if they were settled truths that conservatives refuse to accept.

Vidal for his part, has in so many words withdrawn Hitchens' dauphincy, or un-dauphined him, claiming that Hitchens wanted to be his heir but became frustrated when Vidal chose not to expire in a timely manner.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

DHS Releases Quadrennial Homeland Security Review


The Department of Homeland Security released its first ever Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) today.

The purpose is to "outline a strategic framework to guide the activities of participants in homeland security toward a common end."

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (Democrat), praised the report, and James Carafano, a conservative with the Heritage Foundation, called it "an incredible achievement."

There is no mention of the words such as "Islam" or "Muslims" but instead "violent extremism" is used.

Some Highlights:

Threats & Hazards
• High-consequence weapons of mass destruction
• Al-Qaeda and global violent extremism
• High-consequence and/or wide-scale cyber attacks, intrusions, disruptions, and exploitations
• Pandemics, major accidents, and natural hazards
• Illicit trafficking and related transnational crime
• Smaller scale terrorism

Global Challenges & Trends

• Economic and financial instability
• Dependence on fossil fuels and the threats of global climate change
• Nations unwilling to abide by international norms
• Sophisticated and broadly available technology
• Other drivers of illicit, dangerous, or uncontrolled movement of people and goods

The 5 DHS Missions:

Mission 1: Preventing Terrorism & Enhancing Security
• Goal 1.1: Prevent Terrorist Attacks
• Goal 1.2: Prevent the Unauthorized Acquisition or Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Materials and Capabilities
• Goal 1.3: Manage Risks to Critical Infrastructure, Key Leadership, and Events

Mission 2: Securing & Managing Our Borders
• Goal 2.1: Effectively Control U.S. Air, Land, and Sea Borders
• Goal 2.2: Safeguard Lawful Trade and Travel
• Goal 2.3: Disrupt and Dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations

Mission 3: Enforcing & Administering Our Immigration Laws
• Goal 3.1: Strengthen and Effectively Administer the Immigration System
• Goal 3.2: Prevent Unlawful Immigration

Mission 4: Safeguarding & Securing Cyberspace
• Goal 4.1: Create a Safe, Secure, and Resilient Cyber Environment
• Goal 4.2: Promote Cybersecurity Knowledge and Innovation

Mission 5:Ensuring Resilience to Disasters
• Goal 5.1: Mitigate Hazards
• Goal 5.2: Enhance Preparedness
• Goal 5.3: Ensure Effective Emergency Response
• Goal 5.4: Rapidly Recover

CIA Moonlighting Policy Under Scrutiny

The CIA's policy of allowing employees to moonlight for private companies has been revealed in a new book, "Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy."

According to a Politico report, Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein wants answers, and CIA watchers were surprised to hear about it.

Each request is taken on a case-by-case basis, a CIA spokesman said. Other Intelligence Community agencies also allow outside employment with prior approval.

The policy allows employees to make extra money, prompting them to stay instead of leaving for more lucrative private jobs.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Iron Staircase (Book Review)


The Iron Staircase
Translation of: L’Escalier de Fer
By Georges Simenon
176 pp. Harvest/HBJ 1981

Etienne Lomel believes his wife Louise might be poisoning him. Although he is only 40, he is in terrible physical condition. He is breathless after walking up stairs, visibly losing weight, and always tired and apathetic.

After eating meals, he often feels a burning sensation in his throat, dizziness, and a pain in his chest. The doctors aren’t sure what the problem is and tell him to make a note of what happened just before each attack—what he ate, what he was doing.

Sometimes he feels ashamed of his “evil thoughts” that maybe Louise wants him dead. Perhaps it isn’t really true. After 15 years of marriage, he still loves her and wants to continue their relationship. But is she having an affair?

They live above a stationery shop. It is his wife’s business, having inherited it from her father. Everything belongs to her. Lomel owns nothing of his own and must ask her for money. He is totally dependent on her. She’s the boss. The iron staircase of the title leads from the first floor up directly to their bedroom and the other rooms where they live.

Lomel often stands at the top of the staircase listening to what is said downstairs at the shop. He wonders about the men Louise meets there every day—perhaps she is serious about one of them? He spends his days fretting and speculating about his wife while trying to recover from his illness.

We learn how Etienne and Louise first met 15 years ago. She was married to her first husband at the time. Etienne came to her shop on business and they soon began an affair. Louise’s callousness is seen when her sister-in-law died: all it meant to her was the chance for a long rendezvous with her lover, Etienne, since her husband had to go away for the funeral.

Etienne and Louise agree to marry, but what about her husband? During one of his visits, she tells Etienne that her husband has become seriously ill. After a few weeks, the husband dies. Etienne doesn’t question her about it.

He believes she poisoned her husband, as she might be poisoning him now, to get him out of the way and marry a younger man. Etienne has the same symptoms that her previous husband had immediately before he died: weight loss, tiredness, and heart trouble. For the 15 years of their marriage, he had never asked his wife how her former husband had died.

Part II opens with Etienne seeing a doctor and asking if it’s possible to determine if he is the victim of arsenic poisoning. At first, the doctor isn’t sure. Etienne resolves to stay with Louise in spite of her and not to die. He takes the blame for his poor attitude. He tells her and their friends that he is a new person.

Later he goes to the doctor again for more arsenic testing and the doctor finds positive results. Etienne finally has proof that Louise is trying to murder him. He tries to figure out what he will do. The doctor suggests he is obligated to go to the police but Etienne refuses to give him any information and leaves.

Etienne goes back home and acts naturally. Whenever he eats or drinks something he believes is spiked with poison, he leaves the house and throws it up. He decides to spy on his wife by following her and find out where she goes. Etienne sees her at the post office where she reads a letter that makes her very happy. He sees her receive additional letters in the following days, probably from the same person, her new lover.

Etienne follows his wife as she leaves the shop one day and sees her go to a restaurant. He waits and after an hour, he sees her leave arm-in-arm with a man. He sees them kiss as they part. He recognizes the man as Roger Cornu, son of a printer in their stationery shop.

Even now, knowing everything, Etienne still wants to keep Louise, and to keep living. He realizes he is as much to blame as his wife for the death of her former husband, since he agreed to marry her while she was still with him. Feelings of guilt over the death of the ex-husband often possess him. He wants their relationship to remain as it is, keeping to themselves with their silent secrets.

Etienne follows Cornu to his workplace and home, not finding him. But he is told the name of the restaurant where he usually hangs out. He then goes to a gun shop and buys a revolver. Afterward, Louise will understand, he believes, because he did the same thing she did before. He can’t afford to lose her because he is completely dependent on her.

He goes to Cornu’s favorite restaurant and sees him there, writing a letter, probably to Louise. Etienne then goes to Cornu’s home and lies in wait for him during the night. When Cornu arrives, he notices Etienne standing outside, and calls to him. Etienne is surprised Cornu recognizes him so easily, but shouldn’t have, since they are so similar, two steps on a staircase.

Simenon masterfully sets up the reader throughout the narrative for the strange, brutal resolution. Etienne hesitates to pull out his gun. He is unable to kill Cornu, as he is the same as himself and Louise’s ex-husband. Unable to change from the kind of person he is to someone like his wife, he can’t traverse the “iron staircase” that separates them. Cornu, knowing his own guilt, is stunned that Etienne doesn’t pull out a gun and shoot him. He bids him goodnight and goes inside. Half an hour later, sitting outside, Etienne shoots himself.

Long out-of-print in English, The Iron Staircase, with its psychological drama and pervading existentialist atmosphere, echoes Simenon’s French peers, such as Sartre and Camus. It is one of his finest efforts.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Top 10 Places to Move the KSM Trial

The plans of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to hold the trial of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) in Manhattan have gone awry.

Security and cost concerns have reached a fever pitch, not to mention the longstanding opposition to granting a terrorist at war with America a civilian trial instead of facing a military tribunal.

At the least, a new venue is needed and various sites are being proposed. Here is the list of the top 10 places to move the KSM trial:

10. Dearborn, Michigan. The Muslim capital of America and the home court in the "Great Satan" for KSM. Holder would select this locale if he wants to be sure KSM receives a trial decided by a jury of his peers.

9. Los Angeles. Holder would track down and recruit the same jurors from the OJ Simpson trial on the grounds that as long as Obama wants to do favors for terrorists, like giving them the same rights as all Americans, this is a good way to do it. Marsha Clark, Chirstopher Darden, and all those lovable defense lawyers would be asked to reprise their roles as well.

8. Austin, Texas. The home base of Alex Jones, leader of the "9/11 was an inside job" conspiracy theory. Jones could be called in as an expert witness (and simulcast on his radio show) that KSM, Osama bin Laden, and al Qaeda had nothing to do with 9/11. It was a plot by George W. Bush. A plane never crashed into the Pentagon, no, it was a missile. Holder and Obama seem like the sort of folk who would be ripe for this explanation.

7. Las Vegas. Where does a show trial belong if not in the entertainment capital of the world? If you want a good show, you go to Vegas. Nevada Senator Harry Reid would be granted the right to give a campaign speech during the proceedings and distribute his campaign literature in the lobby. It's only fair since he's got a tough election coming up.

6. Washington, DC. Specifically, Rep. Barney Frank's apartment, the same one from which a male prostitution ring was run. Holder and Obama are prostituting the American justice system with this trial, so what better way to drive home the symbolism. And Barney won't mind, he can use the opportunity to expand his rolodex.

5. San Francisco/Berkeley. Ask the locals: Are you with us or against us? What do you suppose they would say? Holder would ask them all: We can release into your community KSM or George W. Bush; which one do you want? KSM, of course, playing the modern-day role of Barabbas.

4. Parmatown Mall, Parma, Ohio. The location of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's local office near Cleveland. Kucinich, one of Congress' most liberal members, has stated that KSM and Osama bin Laden deserve the same basic rights as all Americans, according to the Constitution. This civilian trial is a victory for him. Congrats. The trial participants can shop in the mall during downtime but be careful in the parking lot.

3. Governors Island, New York. This former royal hangout has been trumpeted as a great location by some, despite the lack of a jail, its proximity to NYC, and the security problems of transporting KSM there. But on the plus side, the Smothers Brothers were born there, and high comedy is expected.

2. Chicago.
Obama's old stomping ground, not to mention Al Capone. You can get any kind of verdict you want in Chicago as long as you know how to play the game, and Obama may not have a clue how to govern in a democracy, as opposed to a socialist state, but he knows how to play a Chicago-style game.

1. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Forget the civilian trial. Judge KSM at a military tribunal, and then hang him. Everyone wins. Or hold him there until he croaks. Legal experts say, oh no, military tribunal judgments aren't as tough as those in civilian courts because the former wants to prove it's fair and the latter wants to prove it's not a pushover. But the experts forget the question here isn't about getting the right verdict, it's about the rights we should give to terrorists as war with America.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bin Laden Joins Global Warming Scam

It is a well-established fact that global warming hawkers, such as the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have used faulty and dishonest research and numbers in attempting to promulgate their agenda.

Many people are rejecting the idea of man-made global warming as they realize they have been had by unscientific research crafted to further the economic interests of its adherents.

Little surprise, I suppose, that Osama bin Laden has now entered the fray, blaming global warming on the United States and the Western world. He is looking for ways to injure the US economically, and prodding the world to reject US goods is seen by him as simply another weapon in his anti-US crusade. Whether he really believes in global warming or not is beside the point.

Bin Laden continues to struggle in maintaining his own relevance. Recently he took credit for the (failed) Christmas Day attack on an airliner bound for Detroit. Bin Laden has been running and hiding since 9/11, afraid to pop his head out of its hole for fear the US will blow it off. His personal survival is his priority.

President Obama recently said since 9/11, "we" have put in a series of measures that make us much safer now than before. "We?" It was the Bush Administration that gets the credit, not Obama. Thanks primarily to George W. Bush, bin Laden remains a peripheral figure, unable to do anything but take credit for failed attacks and issue ignorant statements about global warming.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

O'Keefe: Right Idea, Wrong Approach

Conservative activist James O'Keefe wanted to record embarrassing video of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu's office staff ignoring phone calls from constituents, according to his lawyer. He was arrested with others and charged with interfering with the phone system.

Landrieu's constituents have long been complaining that they can't get through to her office. She has become notorious for a special deal that gives Louisiana $300 million in Medicaid money in exchange for her health care bill vote.

Landrieu's shameful behavior, and the corrupt political system operating under the Democrat-controlled Senate and Obama's Administration, should be front-page news.

O'Keefe, unfortunately, seems to have taken the wrong approach. He should never have done anything illegal. And there is no need for that, since so much corruption and poor service to voters can easily be uncovered legally.

Update 012910: O'Keefe has posted a statement. It's up to the courts whether any laws were actually broken.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why Aliens Ignore Us

The Royal Society in London has been discussing the reasons why we haven't made contact with aliens from other planets.

We have been listening to radio waves from outer space and sending out our own for 50 years but still no contact. Why?

There are 3 reasonable explanations:

1. There are no aliens. There is no one out there to hear our signals, or see our TV images, or visit the Earth. We are alone. If that is the case, it suggests life on Earth is an experiment and that we really are the center of the universe, despite our position on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. But why such a large universe for life on only one planet? What's the game?

2. Aliens are unable to contact us. They can't send signals that reach us, or that we understand. Perhaps they haven't sent a signal in our direction. There are technological hurdles that they haven't surmounted. They can't visit us in person, most likely because the distance is too great.

3. They refuse to contact us. Would advanced civilizations really want to contact us? Are we a desirable civilization? There are dangers. Whenever a more technologically advanced society on Earth interacted with a lesser society, the result was often tragic for the less developed people. Perhaps aliens fear us, and what we might do to them. It could be they are already aware that we have nothing that they want. We could be seen by aliens as galactic "trailer trash." Backward, ignorant, violent, and dangerous with nothing to offer them. They may well be "hiding" from us to delay any potential interaction.

If they were out there and amenable to communication, it seems we should have heard from them by now. There is some problem, without question, and the problem is one that we haven't really come to grips with yet. We don't want to believe the truth. We aren't ready for it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Osama bin Laden Answers His Son Omar


A few days ago, an interview with Omar bin Laden, one of Osama's sons, was published in Rolling Stone magazine. He was asked if his father was planning more attacks against the West. He answered:
"I don't think so," Omar says. "He doesn't need to. As soon as America went to Afghanistan, his plan worked. He has already won."

As if on cue, Osama has apparently released an audio message claiming responsibility for the Christmas day airline bombing attempt on a plane bound for Detroit. In addition, bin Laden, in a direct contradiction to the words of Omar, said he is planning more attacks as well.

In 2008, Michael Scheuer questioned whether Omar is an al Qaeda disinformation agent and merely pretending to be a messenger of peace.

Omar has his own twisted logic and conflicting emotions about his father and the West, but to view him as a willing agent for al Qaeda is absurd. He would never be accepted as such a person and it is obvious from his interviews that he is at war with himself in trying to come to terms with his family obligations, his father's legacy, and his own beliefs.

Could Omar turn to the dark side and unequivocally support his father? Yes, but that hasn't yet happened. And it may never happen. The uncertainty will always remain.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Massachusetts Done with Kennedys


Debate "moderator" David Gergen asked Massachusetts Senate candidate Scott Brown about blocking health care reform if he won "Ted Kennedy's seat" and Brown famously responded that it wasn't Kennedy's seat, it was the people's seat.

That's true, and it was a memorable line, but it also can't be denied that symbolically, the seat was Kennedy's and to continue the symbolism would be to elect Martha Coakley, a Democrat who would vote for Obama's health care plan.

But with the Republican Brown surging in the polls and seemingly poised for a historical upset, there may be more going on here than just a repudiation of ObamaCare and the scary governance of the Democrat-controlled Congress.

By electing Brown, Massachusetts is symbolically breaking with the Kennedys, and indicating that the Kennedy legacy has run its course and the people want to move forward, leaving the Kennedys behind. A big part of Brown's appeal may be a rejection of big government as championed by Ted Kennedy.

If Massachusetts rejects a continuation of the Kennedy legacy, what would that portend in the future? Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 in the state. Overturning that demographic won't happen overnight. But this is an opportunity for voters to indicate they've become weary and exhausted with the Ted Kennedy legacy and are looking for a new approach.

UPDATE: 01/19/10: Not only did Brown win, but a poll released today found that the vast majority of Massachusetts voters don't want a senator to carry on Ted Kennedy's legacy but want someone to "go in a new direction with fresh ideas."

To what extent were they all "going along" with Ted Kennedy's big government politics merely because he was a member of the American Monarchy--the Kennedy Family, and now that he is gone and no one to continue, will it all fall like a house of cards?