Blog Archive

Monday, July 27, 2009

I have a Twitter

How come?


No internet for a while pretty soon... but I don't want the blog to die... Also I'm sure in the Great Adventure there will be plenty of thoughts that might warrant being instantly communicated to the world.

Also, my mom is worried about my solo hikes and climbs.

So this ads another measure of security. To let her know I am ok... and heaven forbid I shouldn't be... if there was cell reception I could aid rescuers, even if there wasn't battery life enough to call out of somewhere.

My plans tend to change often... so even leaving an advance plan behind with someone might be pretty worthless if I decided at the last minute to change it.

I just wish you could text message a picture from your camera phone to twitter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Marie Antoinettes of Health Care

July 21, 2009

Prescribe Them Cake
The Marie Antoinettes of Health Care


Marie Antoinette, contrary to popular opinion, never said a solution for the starving masses of revolutionary France in the late 18th century was, "Let them eat cake." But, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) apparently said something close to it.

At a public meeting, one of Grassley's constituents asked him, “Why is your insurance so much cheaper than my insurance and so much better than my insurance?” He then asked, "How come I can’t have the same thing you have?” Grassley's response was a flip, “You can. Just go work for the federal government.” Grassley, who opposes universal health care, is happy with health care programs paid for with tax dollars and available for every member of Congress, all Congressional staffers, everyone in the executive and judicial branches, and the military and their families. He doesn't even oppose Social Security and Medicare. He just doesn't want the masses to have the same quality of medical care that Senators have.

In response, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has led the fight for universal health care for more than four decades, writing for the July 27 issue of Newsweek, argues that "quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to."

The liberals, and most Democrats, are outraged that 46–48 million American citizens still don't have health care coverage, and millions more have such minimal coverage that they often decline to get medical help when necessary. About 62 percent of all bankruptcies are the result of extraordinary medical costs, according to a report to be published in the August issue of The American Journal of Medicine. Of those who declared bankruptcy because of medical bills, "78 percent of them had health insurance, but many of them were bankrupted anyway because there were gaps in their coverage like co-payments and deductibles and uncovered services," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the study's senior author, told CNN. "Other people had private insurance but got so sick that they lost their job and lost their insurance," she said.

Liberals complain that the problem has become even more acute during the Recession when every day about 12,000 workers are losing health insurance, either because of forced layoffs or because a company cuts back on its insurance coverage for its workers. They question why the same drugs sold in Canada are significantly less expensive than ones sold in the U.S., and why the conservatives have blocked all attempts for Americans to go to Canada to buy the less expensive drugs. The liberals also point to a scientific study by the Commonwealth Fund that concluded, "Despite having the most costly health system in the world, the United States consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries." That study also concluded that the U.S. "fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries [Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom], and as shown in the earlier [studies], the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, efficiency, and equity." Of the top 50 economies in the world, only the U.S. doesn't have universal health coverage.

Two major competing plans—Single Payer and Public Option— are proposed to alleviate the problems of health care coverage. Under the Single Payer health care system, there would be one program, similar to Medicare but with all citizens covered. Although President Obama, as a senator, advocated the Single Payer system, he now believes the best proposal is the Public Option. The Public Option plan allows more than 80 million workers to keep or change their insurance coverage, buy into the government-run public plan, or go uninsured. The Public Option plan would protect the insurance industry, while reducing costs; the Single Payer system would threaten the industry, and relegate it to providing only supplemental or special needs insurance. The Public Option plan allows workers and employers to keep their own insurance or to enroll in the government insurance; there would be no choice in Single Payer system. Advocates of the Single Payer system argue that by enrolling all citizens into one system, costs would be significantly less because of the ability to negotiate with the health care industry and the probable reduction in administrative costs. The Public Option would also influence drug companies and health care providers, but the result could be less reduction than under the Single Payer system. Both Single Payer and Public Option plans eliminate or significantly reduce deductibles and co-pays.

The conservatives, and most Republicans, don't buy into either plan. Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.) explained one of the major reasons why conservatives will do everything they can to block health care reform. DeMint told about 100 leaders of Conservatives for Patients Rights, July 17, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Of course, DeMint may be an unofficial paid puppet for the parts of the health care industry that doesn't want reform. During the past five years, DeMint received $2,917,870 in campaign contributions from the health care industry, according official campaign reports published by Michael Steele, chair of the Republican National Committee, agrees with DeMint's "analysis" of what defeating health care reform can do to the Obama presidency. “I think that’s a good way to put it," he told reporters at the National Press Club, July 20. For his part, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and possible Republican candidate for president, gleefully claimed on talk radio that health care reform "could be the bill that drags his whole presidency down and they look back on it and suddenly the whole thing is unraveled."

Disregarding the absurdity of Republican statements that place partisan politics above health care reform, the conservatives have other issues. They complain they don't want government running any part of anything, especially health care. They ignore provisions of proposed Single Payer legislation that remove the middle-men insurance companies. They claim that no bureaucrat should step between a physician and a patient. Of course, they don't mind that private enterprise, in the guise of the megagoliath insurance and drug industries, do that all the time.

The conservatives argue that competition between insurance companies keeps costs low, but they ignore a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that concluded that about 30 percent of all health care costs are for overhead expenses, including executive bonuses and aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns by drug and insurance companies. They disregard the reality that patients and their physicians, dentists, optometrists, and other health care providers will determine the best treatments, and not an insurance clerk reading myriad pages of rules and regulations established by—who else?—insurance companies. They ignore the fact that universal health care coverage would reduce "cherry picking," the enrollment of only healthy persons in order to "maximize profits." The Public Option plan allows insurance companies to continue to "cherry pick," but has provisions for those who are denied coverage to enroll in the Public Option plan. Under the Single Payer system, there would be no denial because of pre-existing conditions. Conservatives falsely claim there won’t be any choice when government takes over health care, but disregard the reality that under both plans Americans can still choose whoever they wish to be their health care providers. But if the conservatives want to push what they call the terror of "no choice," let them realize that even with excellent private insurance, patients currently have no choice in some situations. Those who go to an emergency room already have no choice of personnel. Except in the smaller hospitals, hospitalized patients, no matter how admitted, usually receive care from anonymous residents and hospitalists who are neither the patient's primary care physician nor the patient's own specialists.

In yet another attempt to scare the working class, the conservatives tell the masses that government-run health care will be as much a boondoggle as the Post Office. But, while every organization has myriad problems, six days a week a member of the working class, a letter carrier, comes to almost every house or business in America and cheerfully delivers the mail on time, stopping occasionally from 10-mile routes to chat.

Conservatives claim that a universal health care system will cost $1 trillion, overlooking a reality that health care costs are currently about $2.2 trillion a year. They conveniently forget that George W. Bush, with the approval of a lame Congress, ran up far more than $1 trillion in debt during his two terms and that the cost of the unnecessary war in Iraq, begun by a jingoistic president and vice-president who lied to the people, will easily cost more than $1 trillion.

Nevertheless, the conservatives are right about two issues. They are right that the proposed Public Option plan doesn't specify which taxes are to be raised or what would be required for both individuals or businesses to become part of a national insurance plan. However, proposals for the Single Payer system, such as one proposed in Pennsylvania, will impose a 3 percent personal income tax; each business would pay 10%, significantly lower than what most businesses that insure their workers currently pay. Additional revenue would be from existing programs, including Medicaid.

Conservatives also are right that there will be some fraud and the cost will probably be far greater than the projections, something that is part of almost every large private business and government-run programs. However, the conservatives conveniently ignore the reality that the Bush–Cheney Administration, again with little Congressional concern, handed out innumerable multi-million dollar no-bid contracts, often to their friends and business associates, and did little to investigate cost over-runs, wasteful spending, and fraud.

Although President Obama is firm that there would be no additional tax for persons making less than $250,000 a year, conservatives are worried that the government will increase taxes for anyone making a net of $1 million a year or more. Apparently, impoverished conservatives and their conservative representatives must protect millionaires from harm.

About six of every ten Americans, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll in February 2009 say they want the government to provide universal health care coverage. Groups as diverse as the AFL–CIO, the AARP, and the American College of Physicians want universal health care coverage. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, only one-third of physicians oppose universal health care coverage.

"America's health care system," said Walter Cronkite in 1993, "is neither healthy, caring, nor a system." Nothing has changed since then.

Sen. Grassley has no worries about health care coverage. Under a quasi-socialist system for all three branches of government, including the military, he gets the best medical, dental, and optometric care in the country. As for the rest, like his conservative colleagues, Sen. Grassley believes that cake is the best medicine for those without adequate coverage.

Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, award-winning social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush. You may contact him through his website, Assisting on this column were Rosie Skomitz, Ron Stouffer, and Rosemary R. Brasch

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Song of the Saw

"Song of the Saw", the second collab with Dan for the Ghosts album, got added to the player at the savage ideal site:

Dan's noise drums and composition + Christian's field rec's & voice samples.

Hear more of Dan's stuff if it interests you at

The apocalypse sample... Especially for that album.

To the native Americans, to the people in Africa who were kidnapped and enslaved, to the eastern mountain lions and elk who were hunted to extinction, to the big tress most all of whom were cut down, to the air that's choked with poison, to the fish who swim in the same, to the miners who died in explosions and cave ins that killed hundreds at a time, to the people who had everything they owned burned to the ground in 1864-65 in the defense of "an outmoded value"... etc... American history has been nothing short of an Apocalypse. The Southern variant of it has exceeded the norm not only in its level of brutality but in its innovative construction of a mythology of lies with which to ease the conscience of life in such a way.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

They Got Some Splaining To Do

I generally distrust the New York Times. It's foreign policy usually sucks ( ex: has a terrible record of manufacturing deceit to support the invasion of Iraq, and cheer leading whatever human rights atrocities Israel sees fit to subject its neighbors too). However, this is a pretty awesome article about the moral hypocrisy of the antiquated, out of touch, and hypocritical decision makers in the US Congress.

I've reproduced the article here... but I encourage you to check it out on the NYT website to take full advantage of the various titillating hyperlinks.


July 19, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist
They Got Some ’Splainin’ to Do

AS political theater, the Sonia Sotomayor hearings tanked faster than the 2008 Fred Thompson presidential campaign. They boasted no drama to rival the Clarence-Anita slapdown, the Bork hissy fits or the tearful exodus of Samuel Alito’s wife. There was rarely a moment to match even the high point of the Senate’s previous grilling of Sotomayor — in 1997, when she was elevated to the Second Circuit. It was then that Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri previewed the brand of white male legal wisdom that would soon become his hallmark at the Bush Justice Department. “Do you believe there’s a constitutional right to homosexual conduct by prisoners?” he asked. (She aced it: “No, sir.”)

Yet the Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-régime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent.

The hearings were pure “Alice in Wonderland.” Reality was turned upside down. Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here. The senators seemed to have no idea they were describing themselves when they tried to caricature Sotomayor as an overemotional, biased ideologue.

At least they didn’t refer to “Maria Sotomayor” as had Mike Huckabee, whose sole knowledge of Latinos apparently derives from “West Side Story.” But when Tom Coburn of Oklahoma merrily joked to Sotomayor that “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do,” it clearly didn’t occur to him that such mindless condescension helps explain why the fastest-growing demographic group in the nation is bolting his party.

Coburn wouldn’t know that behind the fictional caricature Ricky Ricardo was the innovative and brilliant Cuban-American show-business mogul Desi Arnaz. As Lucie Arnaz, his and Lucille Ball’s daughter, told me last week, it always seemed unfair to her that those laughing at her father’s English usually lacked his fluency in two languages. Then again, Coburn was so unfamiliar with Jews he didn’t have a clear fix on what happened in the Holocaust until 1997, when he was 48. Party elders like Bill Bennett had to school him after he angrily berated NBC for subjecting children and “decent-minded individuals everywhere” to the violence, “full-frontal nudity and irresponsible sexual activity” of “Schindler’s List.”

The antediluvian political culture of Coburn and his peers, for all its roots in the race-baiting “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, is actually of a more recent vintage. It dates back just 15 years, to what my Times colleague Sam Tanenhaus calls conservatism’s “most decadent phase” in his coming book “The Death of Conservatism.” This was the Newt Gingrich revolution, swept into Congress by the midterms of 1994. Its troops came armed with a reform agenda titled the “Contract With America” and a mother lode of piety. Their promises included an end to federal deficits, the restoration of national security, transparent (and fewer) House committees, and “a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.”

That the class of ’94 failed on almost every count is a matter of history, no matter how hard it has retroactively tried to blame its disastrous record on George W. Bush. Its incompetence may even have been greater than its world-class hypocrisy. Its only memorable achievements were to shut down the government in a fit of pique and to impeach Bill Clinton in a tsunami of moral outrage.

The class of ’94 gave us J.D. Hayworth and Bob Ney of the Jack Abramoff casino-lobbying scandals. Ney, a House committee chairman, did 17 months in jail. It gave us the sexual adventurers Mark Sanford, John Ensign and Mark Foley. (All these distinguished gentlemen voted for articles of impeachment, as did Gingrich, their randy role model.) The class of ’94 also included a black Republican, J. C. Watts, who at least had the integrity to leave Congress in 2003 to become a bona fide lobbyist rather than go on a K Street lobbyist’s payroll while still in public office. He was a fleeting novelty; there’s been no black Republican elected to either chamber of Congress since. Today the G.O.P.’s token black is its party chairman, Michael Steele, who last week unveiled his latest strategy for recruiting minority voters. “My plan is to say, ‘Ya’ll come!’ ” he explained, adding “I got the fried chicken and potato salad!”

Among Sotomayor’s questioners, both Coburn and Lindsey Graham are class of ’94. They — along with Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama attorney general best known for his unsuccessful prosecutions of civil rights activists — set the Republicans’ tone last week. In one of his many cringe-inducing moments, Graham suggested to Sotomayor that she had “a temperament problem” and advised that “maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection.” That’s the crux of the ’94 spirit, even more than its constant, whiny refrain of white victimization: Hold others to a standard that you would not think of enforcing on yourself or your peers. Self-reflection may be mandatory for Sotomayor, but it certainly isn’t for Graham.

In his ’94 Congressional campaign in South Carolina, Graham made a big deal of promising to enact term limits. At the Clinton impeachment, he served as a manager of the prosecution. That was then, and this is now. Graham hasn’t even term-limited himself — an action he could have taken at any time unilaterally — and his pronouncements on marital morality (unencumbered by any marital attachments of his own) are a study in relativism. On “Meet the Press,” he granted absolution to his ’94 classmate Sanford, now his state’s governor, for abusing his office with his taxpayer-financed extramarital “trade mission” to Argentina. “I think the people of South Carolina will give him a second chance,” he said, as long as “Jenny and Mark can get back together.” Maybe Graham judges the Sanfords by a more empathetic standard than the Clintons because the Republican lieutenant governor who would replace Sanford is already fending off rumors that he’s gay.

Graham has also given a pass to his ’94 classmate Ensign, now a Nevada senator. Ensign not only committed adultery with an employee but sat by as his wealthy parents gave the mistress and her cuckolded husband nearly $100,000 to ease their pain. Ensign’s lawyer deflected questions that this beneficence might be hush money by claiming it was part of the senior Ensigns’ “pattern of generosity.”

When asked about these unsavory matters, Graham said that an ethics investigation of Ensign “isn’t high” among his priorities. This moral abdication still puts him on a higher plane than Coburn, who has been a murky broker in Ensign’s sexcapades. The husband of Ensign’s mistress told The Las Vegas Sun that Coburn urged Ensign to give him and his wife more than $1 million to pay off their mortgage and “move them to a new life.” Too bad no one thought of that one for the “Contract With America.”

Coburn maintains that he has immunity from testifying in any Ensign inquiry because he counseled Ensign as “a physician” and an “ordained deacon.” Coburn is an obstetrician and gynecologist, but never mind. What’s more relevant is the gall of his repeatedly lecturing Sotomayor last week on the “proper role” of judges — even to the point of reading her oath of office out loud. Coburn finds Sotomayor’s views “extremely troubling.” There’s nothing in Sotomayor’s history remotely as troubling as Coburn’s role in the Ensign scandal. Or as his inability to grasp Al Qaeda any better than he did the Nazis. In 2004, he claimed in all seriousness that the “gay agenda” is “the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today.”

You’d think that Coburn’s got some ’splainin’ to do, but as Washington etiquette has it, we spent the week learning every last footnote about Sotomayor while acres of press coverage shed scant light on the shoddy records of those judging her. The public got the point anyway about this dying order and its tired racial and culture wars. With Sotomayor’s fate never in doubt, it changed the channel.

Much of the audience was surely driven away by the sheer boredom of watching white guys incessantly parse the nominee’s “wise Latina” remark. This badgering was their last-ditch effort to prove that Gingrich was right when he called Sotomayor a racist at the start of the nomination process. She confronted that overheated controversy directly. “I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment,” Sotomayor testified.

It’s the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Grey Lies Rule the World

I wish the world away
I wish I was someone who can't relate
Your pity little torture
Burning human insect cage

It's the same thing every day
Different face but lies remain
We are still marching off to war
New weapons knocking at the door

Grey lies rule the world
It's so easy, don't you know
Did you feel the voice beside your head
Telling you this world was ending

Locked up and alone
Do you feel isolation
Like I feel...
We could be hiding in someone

Ill considered actions in the New Economy
Tag along with excess as you stretch mentally
A whiff of desperation can translate into hate
Footsteps on the staircase families accept their fate

When the needle hits red as your mind is want to do
Spurned on offers, intimidation through the roof
Forget the sweet nothings whispered in your ear
Listen all you want, you're learning nothing here

Life in suspension where all vision is blurred
All is forgotten like the tolerance you learned
I know a higher price emerging from despair
Escape into a bullet my illusions and the fear

Where do you run and who do you trust
Disassociation fantesy or lust

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jesus Christ

I need to go out and do something immoral after watching this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An Afghan Article- Russian Lessons

From a "conservative" source... but very interesting!

Russian Lessons:

We aren’t the first to try nation-building in Afghanistan

Paul Robinson

We met on a wet winter day outside Altufievskaia station at the northern end of the Moscow subway system and drove into the countryside. Once the senior official responsible for Soviet economic and technical assistance to Afghanistan, Valerii Ivanov has had frequent visitors from the West since 2001. Each time, he explained his experiences developing the Afghan economy, and each time his visitors nodded politely and promptly ignored everything he said.

The situation in Afghanistan now is quite different from what it was in the 1980s. President Hamid Karzai enjoys genuine popular support, unlike the Soviets and their allies in the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. The Taliban, despite their safe havens in Pakistan, receive nothing on the scale of money and weapons that the Mujahideen did in the 1980s. Nevertheless, casual dismissal of the past reveals a dangerous smugness as well as a profound ignorance of the Soviet-Afghan relationship.

Overshadowed by the publicity for President Barack Obama’s surge of additional troops to Afghanistan, the promised civilian surge of economic and technical assistance has attracted far less attention. Obama has pledged “a dramatic increase in our civilian effort,” including at least 600 nonmilitary advisers and billions of additional dollars of economic aid.

To win the war, however, the United States has to use its dollars much more effectively than Ivanov and his fellow Soviets did. To date, it has not done so. In May, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, Marine Corps Gen. Arnold Fields, published his first audit report. Despite billions already spent, he could not be sure that U.S. funds had been well used.

America’s British and Canadian allies have also been talking of shifting their focus from combat to economic development. But their aid performance has been no better. A recent internal assessment for the British Department for International Development noted that more than half the UK’s projects were likely to fail and only 4.5 percent provided “value for money.” Nipa Banerjee, formerly Canada’s senior aid official in Afghanistan, wrote in February 2009, “There seems to be little concrete evidence that aid activities are having a positive impact on the lives of Afghans. Despite deployment of vast efforts, impact on the ground appears inadequate.”

Simply increasing the amount of aid is not the solution. The problem is neither too little money nor too few civilian advisers. These were not the problems for the Soviets either. Something deeper was, and is, at fault.

It suits our prejudices to imagine that the Soviets were solely agents of destruction. Yet while one arm of the Soviet state blew things up, the other built them, repaired them, and trained the local people to maintain them. In the upstairs office of his dacha, at the end of a bumpy village road that could do with some reconstruction of its own, Ivanov printed off a list of projects the Soviets had completed. The relevant archives had disappeared, he complained, apparently tossed out by some bureaucrat in the 1990s, a time when Russians were trying to expunge any memory of their years in Afghanistan. (As a historian, I can only despair at such vandalism. Nevertheless, I have been able to confirm most of the details from other sources.)

Long before and all through the military occupation, the Soviets built roads, electric power stations and power lines, irrigation canals, factories, housing, grain elevators, bakeries, wells, automotive repair plants, airports, technical colleges, and much more. They trained tens of thousands of Afghan specialists, provided hundreds of thousands of tons of humanitarian assistance, and distributed food, seed, and fertilizer. They built schools and hospitals, too. “Equipment and medicines for two clinics, school desks and blackboards, furniture and clothing for young children,” were among the aid delivered to Kabul, a 1988 issue of Sotsialisticheskaia Industriia reported.

Soviet economic and technical assistance to Afghanistan got underway in earnest in the mid-1950s during the premiership of Mohammed Daoud. The primary aim was political—to ensure that Afghanistan was friendly and stable—and the underlying economic premise was that Third World countries remained backward because of a lack of capital and the lingering results of colonial exploitation. Development meant building an independent industrial economy from its basic infrastructure up, using foreign aid to compensate for the lack of capital. The resulting industry would in turn generate more capital, which could be used to pay off debts and invest in more industry, thus kickstarting a virtuous circle of economic growth.

This logic meant that development became a simple engineering problem, a matter of building “stuff’,” which in turn was meant to generate more “stuff.” It was, in a way, an extension of Lenin’s equation that communism = Soviet power + electrification.

The problem was that although the roads were built, the electrical stations constructed, and the canals dug, nothing followed. Roads did not increase commerce, electricity did not encourage private factories, and irrigation failed to boost agricultural productivity. A Soviet economist lamented that, despite all the aid, GDP per capita actually declined in the 1960s. Although it rose slightly in the 1970s, the gain was insignificant. “If the current tempo is maintained,” another Soviet expert commented, “Afghanistan will never reach the global average.”

In part, this was because of the industrial model. Both Soviet and Western aid largely bypassed the agricultural sector and did nothing to help the mass of the rural population in what is, after all, an almost entirely rural country. Irrigation projects—the Soviet-built Jalalabad and Sarde irrigation systems and the American-supported Helmand Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA)—absorbed most of the money earmarked for agriculture. They did more harm than good. The HAVA, for instance, managed to reduce, rather than increase, agricultural production, as it led to waterlogging and later salination of the irrigated fields.

The industrial model was not the only problem. Soviet analysts eventually identified two key failings: lack of human capital and weak institutions. In so doing, they discovered something the West has only woken up to lately.

Building “stuff” that the local people lack the skills to use or maintain is counterproductive. Irrigation systems led to sodden and salty fields because farmers, though skilled in thousand-year-old water-management techniques, did not know how to deal with the additional flows of water produced by new dams and canals. Similarly, there was a reason industrial productivity was low: there were too few trained personnel. Moreover, at the national level, sophisticated economic plans could be written only with the help of foreign advisers, and there were not enough people to manage and supervise.

Worse, foreign capital and new infrastructure did not generate additional investment because social and political institutions militated against it. As an American report noted, “The traditionally wealthy and powerful landowning and trading interests had previously seen a threat in the growth of a new group of industrialists and had supported those who advocated the dominance of government enterprise.” These groups therefore used their political power to ensure that the taxation system favored the importation of consumer goods that they traded, while discouraging investment in domestic industry.

Soviet economist E.R. Makhmudov drew similar conclusions, but took matters an important step further. Because economic progress was blocked by the landowning and trading interests mentioned above, “The experience of Afghan industrialization showed that resolving this problem required complete fundamental reforms of the entire social and economic structure of traditional society. … This experience demonstrated that in the conditions of a developing state … industrialization is not only a social-economic, but also a political, problem.”

The Communists’ solution only made things worse. They chose not to reform but to smash the institutions that they believed stood in the way of progress. The Soviet-backed regime had almost no understanding of rural society, and its members were brutal, incompetent, and corrupt. The result was counter-revolution and war. This undid any benefits economic aid might have brought. Until the security situation improved, the economy could never prosper, but the security situation would never improve unless the regime changed its behavior.

The Soviet leadership was well aware of this. Acknowledging that the obstacles to growth were institutional and human, the Soviets trained tens of thousands of Afghan technicians and sent thousands of advisers to work in Afghan government agencies even as they prosecuted the war with growing intensity. This was the Soviet equivalent of what we now call “capacity building.”

In scale, this effort far surpassed anything so far attempted by NATO, but it still failed to improve Afghan governance. Soviet officials complained that their Afghan colleagues took the presence of advisers as an excuse to do even less work than before. Furthermore, the advisers were not always very good. As Gen. M.A. Gareev commented, “It wasn’t so much the fault as the misfortune of our civilian advisers that they were typical products of our cadre system, trained to be loyal executors, capable only of putting into life the line that the party had given them.” Most importantly, the Afghan regime refused to alter its brutal and fractious behavior, confident that the Soviets had little choice but to continue supporting it anyway.

The lesson here is that the barriers to development lie not in a lack of aid but in poor human capital and weak social and political institutions. Although Western economists came rather later to this conclusion than the Soviets, most now accept it. Practice, though, continues to lag theory. Too often, those tasked with development still view it—as the Soviets initially did—as an engineering problem, a matter of building roads, factories, and schools.

The 2009 U.S. inspector general’s audit report cites the renovation of a power station in Khost. After installing three new generators, the Americans handed the plant over to the Afghans, only to find that within a few months two of the three no longer worked. Similarly, the British have invested millions of dollars into digging hundreds of wells in southern Afghanistan in an attempt to “win the hearts and minds” of villagers. The new wells bypass existing institutions for the stewardship of water resources while not putting anything in their place. Afghans, not used to having unrestricted access to so much water, have responded by pumping with abandon. As a result, the water table has dropped, increasing the danger of drought. Meanwhile, according to Nipa Banerjee, nearly half of the schools in Kandahar province sit empty because there are no teachers to staff them. Yet the Canadian government is pressing ahead with plans to build even more schools. Such failures are entirely typical and predictable. They reveal how “hearts and minds” operations, undertaken to support the short-term goals of counterinsurgency, can have damaging effects on long-term development.

In some respects, Soviet advisers, despite their failings, were somewhat better than ours. Ivanov, for instance, studied Dari at the School of Oriental Languages. As he and his wife recounted over a bowl of homemade borscht, rather than living in a fortified compound, he had an apartment in the Soviet-built Mikrorayon district of Kabul with his family (unthinkable for a contemporary adviser) and drove himself without escort to work every day (at least as unfathomable).

The flow of Western advisers is driven by supply rather than demand. The Afghans get what we send them, not what they ask for. Few high-ranking civil servants are willing to go to Afghanistan. As a result, the West sends young and inexperienced personnel to “mentor” much older Afghan colleagues. Few have any knowledge of Afghan languages. Valerii Ivanov told me that his Afghan contacts say that they laugh when these zealous Westerners tell them how to manage their affairs. Now President Obama is promising to send hundreds more. We can hardly imagine that, if he can actually find that many—and so far he appears to be having trouble—such a large number will really consist of highly experienced, properly qualified personnel with appropriate cultural understanding. More will not mean better.

Worse, in our efforts to fight the Taliban, we are providing Afghanistan with a massive army, a huge police force, and vast numbers of schools, hospitals, roads, and so on. All of this has to be paid for. The Afghan state cannot do so, nor will it ever be able to. When the Soviets left, Najibullah’s regime survived only as long as Moscow paid the bills. The same will be true for Karzai and his successors.

Only if a state relies on taxes levied directly from the citizenry does it have to respond to those citizens’ needs. It is no coincidence that rentier states that rely on oil or gas revenues or on foreign subsidies are associated with autocratic government and corruption. The Soviets could not improve governance in Afghanistan because the government relied on the army to stay in power, and the Afghan people did not pay for the army, the Soviets did. Our efforts to improve Afghan governance may fail for exactly the same reason.

Unless there is a significant improvement in the quality of aid, President Obama is likely to be disappointed in his belief that a redoubled development effort will help bring peace to Afghanistan. The country probably needs less aid rather than more. It needs to tax its own people directly. (It scarcely does at the moment, and has little incentive to as long as the foreign checks keep flowing.) It needs a small army, not a big one, and a manageable social infrastructure, one it can afford. As happened in the past, pumping in more aid and sending in more advisers will simply reinforce the institutional barriers to progress. The pursuit of our immediate military goals is condemning Afghanistan to perpetual governmental, and thus economic, failure.

At the end of our discussion, Ivanov’s son-in-law drove me back to the metro. It was snowing, not light, fluffy flakes but the kind of slush—half snow, half rain—that feels much colder than it is. To add to the gloom that evening in Moscow, I went to the cinema to watch a film about Admiral Kolchak, supreme commander of the anti-Bolshevik White government during the Russian Civil War. The West backed Kolchak too, providing him with money, weapons, and advisers. He lost—a failure more political than military in origin, caused by shockingly poor governance and an utter inability to gain popular support. It was not a good omen.

Paul Robinson is a professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. He is completing a book on the history of Soviet economic and technical assistance to Afghanistan.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

New Songs / Album / Live set

The new live set has tons of drums in it... club accessible... more lighthearted.

It's also a rejection of Apocalypticism... which is odd for someone in the "industrial" genre to undertake.

You see I had planned to write a "desert punk" album, about the ghost towns and The Freedom and the myths of the old west and forgotten times and places and our idealization of them, sort of like what I had already done for the east coast with Ghosts Dance Lightly on the Puncheon Floor. But instead of doing that I got laid off, and broke, and I had to sell lots of gear, and I couldn't afford to go to all those places out here that I had researched and wanted to get found sounds and inspiration from.

Before everything went totally to hell I think it was right to write songs like "side effects".... now though that everything has gone to hell reminding people of the impending doom facing their civilization is a little moot... people don't need doom and gloom right now, and the only ones for whom such 'end of the world' perspectives are really attractive are the right wing psychos freaked out about a black president... that nazi who went to my brother's job and started shooting people was like that.... way not cool... I can't think of anything more cliche, unimaginative, and disempowering that to write another Apocalypse album right now.

The conclusion I have reached, that the song tempos / tones / lyrics, etc... reflect, is that when things are going to hell, people don't need artists to pour even more doom and gloom and fear upon them. Banging out your frustrations industrial drumming style is alright... but beyond that we need songs that are more positive, upbeat, and affirming.

You'll either love it or hate it, but I think these songs are pretty damn good. They'll be played twice at live shows this weekend. See you there.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Why Funding Wars is Good for Babies and Your Garden

(Good links in the origional article: )

By David Swanson

The executive director of something called the National Security Network, named Heather Hurlburt, offers -- I kid you not, and that's really her name, so try not to hurl -- Six Reasons to Love the Supplemental and Celebrate Progressives in Government.

Hurlburt begins with her own warning not to vomit:

"Usually, there are lots of reasons for progressives not to love supplemental spending bills. And I won't argue that this one is perfect. But before you get too queasy, consider six ways that progressives in Congress and the man at 1600 Pennsylvania turned 'more of the same' into 'change.'"

Oh thank goodness! What a relief! For a minute there I thought we might have to consider breaking out some… well, frankly, some mild criticism of the new emperor. I know, I know, it's not appropriate. But I was thinking, you know, another $97 billion off budget for wars, more dead bodies, more displaced families, more people who hate America, more debt for our grandkids, plus $108 billion for European banksters stapled onto the same bill. I mean, I was almost ready to suggest possibly, I don't know, phoning the White House to ask for the best talking points on this one. But Heather has saved us. THANK YOU, Heather! I suppose we should at least read the six reasons after Hurlburt finishes her prefatory remarks:

"Perhaps most important, the bill offers shifts in momentum that progressives can build on -- prioritizing economic support for poorer countries, even in an economic downturn; stopping the advance of the conservative effort to turn back the closing of Gitmo and ending of torture; and ending the apparently ceaseless expansion of defense budgets. It also marks various brands and blocs of progressives coming together to promote each other's goals -- i.e., successfully managing American's security and international engagement. And that's worth showing a little love."

Jackpot! That's six bonus reasons before we even get to the six reasons. We're home free! Wake me when it's primary season.

Except, I'm wondering why the word "war" hasn't come up yet, and I'm not actually totally sure of that very first reason, once I've put my beer down:

"shifts in momentum that progressives can build on"

What IS that, exactly? Maybe I need MORE beer. Or maybe the other reasons clear it up. Let's see.

"prioritizing economic support for poorer countries, even in an economic downturn"

Now, I'll admit this SOUNDS good. But isn't Afghanistan the third poorest country on earth, a place where people fight because it's the only available career move? And doesn't this bill prioritize bombing those people's houses with unmanned drones? And doesn't that make everything worse in every possible way? I mean, am I supposed to believe Heather Hurlburt or my own eyes? Now, the bill does contain funding for the financial overclass in European countries, but aren't European countries, even in the east, richer than Afghanistan or Iraq, the places we're focused on bombing and shooting? And doesn't the IMF have a tremendous record of leaving nations around the world worse off than it found them? If we wanted to provide aid to poor countries couldn't we simply stop bombing and occupying them and instead, you know, provide aid?

"stopping the advance of the conservative effort to turn back the closing of Gitmo and ending of torture"

You know, these look like two more reasons to vote for war funding that have nothing to do with war funding. If the war funding is not a good thing, and all these other proposals are, why not just do them without the war funding? The thinking cannot possibly be that all this other stuff does more good than the war funding does harm. Can it? Hurlburt never makes that claim. But then, surely she can't just be picking out the smaller supposedly good reasons to vote for something she knows stinks to high heaven. Can she?

In any event, this bill does NOT close Guantanamo. Nor does it do anything to end torture. In fact, it funds the expansion of massive military bases where hundreds, if not thousands, of people are imprisoned by our nation completely outside the rule of law, virtually guaranteeing that torture will continue, as reports - keep - telling - us - it is.

"ending the apparently ceaseless expansion of defense budgets"

If you're like me, this was where you really tossed your tamales. Think about this. At the request of President Obama, the 111th Congress just recently passed the largest military budget in the history of the known universe. It had virtually nothing to do with "defense." And now an "emergency supplemental" based on no emergency whatsoever is supposed to be added on top like icing. This is $85 billion that Obama wants for wars that have been dragging on for the better part of a decade, plus $12 billion Congress wants to generously pile on for things like airplanes the Pentagon has no use for. And yet, by passing this disgusting swill and shoveling it onto Obama's desk for his signature, Heather Hurlburt tells us we are ending the expansion of "defense" budgets. And you thought the age of miracles had ended long ago!

"marks various brands and blocs of progressives coming together to promote each other's goals -- i.e., successfully managing American's security and international engagement"

That would be truly wonderful, Heather, but -- I don't know how else to put this -- WHAT the Cheney are you TALKING about?! Is the peace movement promoting someone else's goals? No, because the peace movement opposes this murderous, racist, and borderline genocidal legislation. Are any social justice groups promoting peace? That's rhetorical, of course. Or, by "brands and blocs of progressives" does Heather mean completely unprogressive things like the "National Security Network" and astroturfers compliantly maintaining their silence, like True Majority,, Open Left, TPM, Campaign for America's Future, and the Center for American Progress?

All right. Settle your stomachs, and get ready for the Six Descending Circles of Hurlburt Hell:

1. It marks the first turn-back of conservative efforts to push the Obama Administration to the right on torture. Some progressives want to force the Administration to release photos of Abu Ghraib abuse -- others believe that allowing Senator Lieberman and Graham to set that policy legislatively takes away the Administration's freedom of action and sends the wrong message about what photos might be suppressed, and why. And they won!

Pushing the Obama Administration to the right on torture would require dressing the president in a black hood and sticking a whip in his hand. This administration has converted torture from a crime to a policy preference, guaranteeing its continuation, has openly instituted preventive detention and rendition, and has claimed unprecedented powers of secrecy in order to cover up torture secrets. Now, let's look at what happened, because it really was a progressive victory, but you'd never know it from Hurlburt. The "some progressives" who want to force "the Administration" to release photos are actually courts of law. The photos were ordered released. Many of us want the transparency we were told we were voting for. We want all of these photos released and more and videos and memos and all the rest, and this evidence is NOT just from Abu Ghraib. Many of us would be happy to have the photos turned over to a prosecutor, but we also believe the public should know what its government is doing and that the opposite belief is not progressive at all. From Hurlburt's twisted prose, you'd think Lieberman and Graham were trying to force the photos released. They are actually trying to defy the courts and prevent the release of any such photos or videos. The court decision was based on a law, a law created by Congress. The problem with Lieberman and Graham's proposal is not that it would impose the inconvenience of a law on the emperor, but that it would create a dangerous exception to a good law meant to restrain imperial abuses. Maybe in her next list Hurlburt will fill us in on the right "message about what photos might be suppressed, and why." In the meantime, Hurlburt's "And they won!" is exactly right, assuming you were able to invent an antecedent for "they." Progressives who favor the rule of law prevented the inclusion of a ban on releasing photos and videos of torture in the war supplemental. Having won that victory, however, it is now in the past. We should learn from it and move forward. The question before us is whether to support a war supplemental, and the fact that it could have had something else bad in it is irrelevant. Notice that reason number 1 for the war funding has nothing to do with the war funding. You want to end torture? Save $96.5 billion, and invest $0.5 billion in a special independent prosecutor's office.

"2. It makes it clear that the priority pathway for Guantanamo detainees is civilian trials in United States courts. Even as Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and their wacky friends continue to suggest that American courts and prison guards can't do their jobs -- the same institutions that currently hold dozens of convicted terrorists, including the only convicted 9-11 conspirator -- Congress explicitly endorses bringing detainees to the US for civilian trials. That's a welcome rebuke to the drumbeat of "Khalid Sheikh Mohamed infiltrates your supermarket" we've been hearing on the Senate floor for the last month. I don't want to downplay the importance of the points still in contention -- where and how we imprison convicted detainees, and how we convince other countries to take in detainees if we don't take any ourselves. But with civilian trials a process begins which puts some of those decisions clearly in the hands of the executive and legislative branches -- and inside the rule of law, which was progressives' goal all along. Without civilian trials, no pathway to the rule of law exists. *Sometimes, the devil really is in the details. And these are devilish on both national security and human rights grounds. I don't want word getting out on where detainees are going 45 days in advance. Downgrade this to 'waiting to see the next move.'"

Hmm. Reason number 2 for the war money, again has nothing to do with that $97 billion for war. And what it does have to do with it gets completely wrong. The priority pathway for Guantanamo detainees is release and ought to include compensation and apology, because most of them are completely innocent of terrorism, having been purchased on the basis of no evidence or seized as soldiers, with no evidence against them ever having been found. The small minority of prisoners in Guantanamo -- not to mention Bagram and all the other sites -- who are not released, ought to be given fair and speedy trials and be released or punished according to the outcome. That ought not to be the "priority pathway." It ought to be what it has always been: the law. The law doesn't need Congress's endorsement. Congress should make laws, not endorse compliance with them. And citizens should act, not "wait to see the next move."

"3. It will move money to prevent meltdowns in countries hit hardest by the economic crisis. That's what the IMF money is for -- Pakistan, Hungary. And no, this isn't your 1990's 'Washington consensus' lending, with the kind of conditionality that the left loves to hate. This is in some ways the IMF returning to its original core mission -- stepping in as a temporary lender-of-last resort to economies in dire straits. The countries in question want the money. And, fiscal conservatives, it's a loan from us to the IMF. Backed by gold reserves. We get it back."

Well, what do you know. Reason number 3 to fund wars has nothing to do with war funding either. If I didn't know better, I'd say Heather was avoiding the subject. And once again, what Hurlburt does focus on, she gets upside down. A huge coalition of actual progressive groups did the same thing that 41 progressive Congress members did: demand that the bill be altered to prevent the usual destructive policies by the IMF. These progressives (oh, excuse me, leftists who love to hate things) were turned down flat. This IS the same old IMF that the nations it has "helped" in the past tend to hate. And the argument of the conservatives is that we don't have any money to lend even if we dream of getting it back. We'd still have to pay it back with interest to China or wherever it came from.

"4. It builds Obama's credibility overseas. Obama jammed a major increase in IMF support for poor countries hard-hit by the economic crisis into the April G20 Summit, over the objections of Europeans who wanted to focus only on re-writing market regulations and leave struggling countries (like Pakistan) to fend for themselves. Moving this money to the IMF in just two months will make it clear globally that Obama can deliver on his promises and heighten the likelihood that others deliver on theirs as well. And, as CAP's Nina Hachigian points out, this will increase our credibility at the IMF at a moment when China is building its own oomph."

Um, still no mention of the war funding in the war funding bill, and only two more loaves and fishes left to go. I, for one, do not think Congress should be in the business of passing catastrophic policies because the guy who is supposed to execute the will of Congress already ran around the world promising that Congress would do so. That's exactly backwards.

5. It's smaller. In a break from Bush Administration practice, the Obama Administration shifted a significant proportion of the Iraq and Afghanistan warfighting expenses back into the regular budget -- where they can be analyzed and debated and held up against other priorities.

Well, there you have it. The war funding is good because it's not as much war funding. Well, guess what, Hurlburt, progressives have a plan to make it even smaller and therefore even better. The plan is to pin down the 51 members who voted against it last time when it was guaranteed to pass, the 89 members who promised not to vote for war funding anymore, the 85 members who claim to want an exit from Afghanistan, and the 73 members who call themselves part of the Out of Iraq Caucus. We want at least 39 of these people to finally once and for all put our money where their mouths have been. We are close to having that many commitments.

6. It could be the last of its kind. The Obama Administration has also pledged to move all of the war-fighting expenses that are actually regular and foreseeable into the regular budgets. So there's a decent chance that, in future, members of Congress from all sides will lose the ability to push unpopular projects through by tying them to money for the troops on the ground.

Oh, well that settles it. Because the whole practice of passing this sort of bill is offensive and counterproductive, and there's not a single good word to be said about funding these wars, and because unpopular projects like bailouts for foreign banksters get loaded into bills like this one, the proper -- nay, the PROGRESSIVE -- thing to do is to let this bill pass, go home, and wait for the next move.

How's your stomach?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Band Member



Power and MIDI cables hardwired in. Up/Down octave control by power toggle switch. MIDI channel select & synth program select available via red buttons by the display. Pitch bend and mod wheel on neck. Door hinge and bolt lock lets entire front panel lift for repairs / cable changes / upgrades. If you'd like one to, I'd be happy to build one for a reasonable price :)

I'm Doing Shows!

Come to these:

Hear some songs, though the set will mostly be new stuff:

You can also download the first album I did for this at

In order to make this show more worth watching I'm building a secret weapon of mass attraction in my kitchen. Almost finished, I think it might actually work!


Forget Shorter Showers

This article is awesome. There is so much personal do it your self environmental auto eroticism going on around here, it makes me want to burn some tires or something in protest of people's narcissistic short sightedness. Sorry but I can't afford a prius, ok?

By Derrick Jenson

Published in the July/August 2009 issue of Orion magazine

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.

Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

Or let’s talk waste. In 2005, per-capita municipal waste production (basically everything that’s put out at the curb) in the U.S. was about 1,660 pounds. Let’s say you’re a die-hard simple-living activist, and you reduce this to zero. You recycle everything. You bring cloth bags shopping. You fix your toaster. Your toes poke out of old tennis shoes. You’re not done yet, though. Since municipal waste includes not just residential waste, but also waste from government offices and businesses, you march to those offices, waste reduction pamphlets in hand, and convince them to cut down on their waste enough to eliminate your share of it. Uh, I’ve got some bad news. Municipal waste accounts for only 3 percent of total waste production in the United States.

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

So how, then, and especially with all the world at stake, have we come to accept these utterly insufficient responses? I think part of it is that we’re in a double bind. A double bind is where you’re given multiple options, but no matter what option you choose, you lose, and withdrawal is not an option. At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one—if we avidly participate in the industrial economy—we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do). The first is that it’s predicated on the flawed notion that humans inevitably harm their landbase. Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.

The second problem—and this is another big one—is that it incorrectly assigns blame to the individual (and most especially to individuals who are particularly powerless) instead of to those who actually wield power in this system and to the system itself. Kirkpatrick Sale again: “The whole individualist what-you-can-do-to-save-the-earth guilt trip is a myth. We, as individuals, are not creating the crises, and we can’t solve them.”

The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide. If every act within an industrial economy is destructive, and if we want to stop this destruction, and if we are unwilling (or unable) to question (much less destroy) the intellectual, moral, economic, and physical infrastructures that cause every act within an industrial economy to be destructive, then we can easily come to believe that we will cause the least destruction possible if we are dead.

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Warm air and sawdust is sticking to my body.

There's an almost finished homemade keytar sitting on my table.

I recently realized that all my stories seem to end with me loosing money, something I own breaking, or getting ripped off by someone somehow.

I'm supposed to do this show in 10 days, which is cool, but I need to keep this pace of getting ready for it... which means I am trapped here to bake on this great plain with out air conditioning. But two people who said they would be drummers are not returning phone calls or emails. This is bad.

Strange women, strange habits, strange communication...

Bonanza, Utah, is the desolate outpost of scraggly humanity huddled round a few oil wells from The Road Warrior.

The biting insects of the White River have made their presence felt. The guide book's suggestion to put on your bug spray before you exit your vehicle was not made in jest.

But the OFF works, and the water is a great temperature for floating in. The canyons were very beautiful... The historians I accompanied were entertaining and full of interesting facts and perspectives. I smoked a cigar and saw a good Mark Twain impression. Heard the stories about Durango and Chief Ouray and Meeker. Met a friendly Air Force pilot and two kids from Americorps, on bikes in the heat of the day and a long way back to Rangely.

In an odd mood. Need to stay away more. The temperature is too hot for the bitterness of the irony in Denver. But we can boil it down to a few key points, that, when you have something you don't want it and when you want something you can't have it. And no matter wherever you go, there you are.

The literary value of these dehydrated mumblings is dropping off considerably.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Crescent Mountain

Crescent Mountain is located in the Front Range foothills near Denver. It is off Hwy 72, which is just North of Golden and South of Eldorado Canyon State Park.

How Crescent looks from the junction of 93 and 72 on a rainy afternoon in June

As a result of its unique geology, this is probably one of the least visited of all the foothills. Depending on your tastes you will either love it or hate it. With no set trails, there are a myraid of different routes you can choose, with it being pretty much impossible to climb the mountain the same way twice. But however you choose to go, you're looking at a pretty solid class three climb for ~ 2,000 feet straight up out of the parking lot. From the road (see above pic) the abrupt elevation and spare foliage gives a sheer cliff like appearance to the mountain. But unlike the neighboring Flatirons, the uplift here resulted in a series of scraggly boulder outcrops, like giant steps, going all the way up. There is some foliage in between each clump of granite, and when you get to the top it actually becomes sub-alpine with denser pine, aspens, moss, wildflowers and ptarmigans.

The mountain isn't a far drive from Denver, it isn't crowded, and you're not gasping for air from the minute you leave the parking lot. In addition to being an enjoyable climb in its own right, Crescent provides convenient conditioning for some of the state's higher and more technical peaks. Before you consider that final move on the Whetterhorn, or sliding across Kelso Ridge or Capital peak, you might want to get more familiar with your own abilities and limits somewhere a little closer to home, and where the consequences are a lot less grave (Crescent's many gullies allow for pretty easy non-technical descents from any elevation- just watch out for the poison ivy near the parking lot).

The view up from the parking lot:

Two pictures of the unique geology:

Closer up at each position you can choose from a series off different "steps" to ascend the next rock. Or if you don't like the way any of them look, you can usually go around them either left or right.

That last picture is a good example of the sort of lessons this mountain teaches. The liberal abundance of hand and footholds on that outcrop suggest that one could probably ascend it. However, there's a pretty good amount of exposure from the top. So, would it be "worth it" to give this section a try? In the case of the above picture, I decided that "no", it wasn't, so I went around. Still, I do like to carry a rope with me on this mountain, just in case I find that I've got myself into a place that might be a little tricky to get out of.

Being a relatively high foothill (8,945 Ft), there's a nice view from its top.

Here's one panorama, click for a larger image:

The view East towards the plains

On the particular afternoon that I took this picture, the weather had decided to take a turn for the worse. See the storm forming over the Front Range and blowing my way?

The cloud got closer and began to thunder and hail... when this happens you want to get off the summit and crouch down under a rock or a ledge by the tree line, so as to avoid the lightning.

The cloud passes

And the rain is incredibly localized. Look how it just avoids downtown Denver

On the way down from that particular trip I spooked a deer, and then got to see one of these

So... Crescent mountain is a fun mountain. The technical and endurance challenges your body will face there are equal to the mental ones your mind will encounter while route finding. I have done that climb four times. Twice I've given up before the top because I either found myself far up a route that was getting a little too exposed, or because the weather turned bad... and I have never tried it without backing off a certain rock face and trying to find a new way around it at least three or so times.

To get there, take 72 West from its intersection with 93. Pass the road for the private ranch, and immediately afterwords at a bend in the road there will be an area to pull over to the right (north). Cross the creek with the two logs placed there on the upstream side of the parking lot and follow the climbers' trails to the base of the mountain. These trails disappear within 100 yards and then you are on your own. When you are done with the climb, was your shoes off in the creek to get ride of any poison ivy oil you might have encountered in the drainages.

Handy tip: Put a piece of strong duck tape over the toes of each of your hiking boots to protect them from rubbing up against the rock too much.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Irresistable Illusion

by Rory Stewart

We are accustomed to seeing Afghans through bars, or smeared windows, or the sight of a rifle: turbaned men carrying rockets, praying in unison, or lying in pools of blood; boys squabbling in an empty swimming-pool; women in burn wards, or begging in burqas. Kabul is a South Asian city of millions. Bollywood music blares out in its crowded spice markets and flower gardens, but it seems that images conveying colour and humour are reserved for Rajasthan.

Barack Obama, in a recent speech, set out our fears. The Afghan government

is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency . . . If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can . . . For the Afghan people, a return to Taliban rule would condemn their country to brutal governance, international isolation, a paralysed economy, and the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people – especially women and girls. The return in force of al-Qaida terrorists who would accompany the core Taliban leadership would cast Afghanistan under the shadow of perpetual violence.

When we are not presented with a dystopian vision, we are encouraged to be implausibly optimistic. ‘There can be only one winner: democracy and a strong Afghan state,’ Gordon Brown predicted in his most recent speech on the subject. Obama and Brown rely on a hypnotising policy language which can – and perhaps will – be applied as easily to Somalia or Yemen as Afghanistan. It misleads us in several respects simultaneously: minimising differences between cultures, exaggerating our fears, aggrandising our ambitions, inflating a sense of moral obligations and power, and confusing our goals. All these attitudes are aspects of a single worldview and create an almost irresistible illusion.

It conjures nightmares of ‘failed states’ and ‘global extremism’, offers the remedies of ‘state-building’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, and promises a final dream of ‘legitimate, accountable governance’. The path is broad enough to include Scandinavian humanitarians and American special forces; general enough to be applied to Botswana as easily as to Afghanistan; sinuous and sophisticated enough to draw in policymakers; suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy. It conceals the conflicts between our interests: between giving aid to Afghans and killing terrorists. It assumes that Afghanistan is predictable. It is a language that exploits tautologies and negations to suggest inexorable solutions. It makes our policy seem a moral obligation, makes failure unacceptable, and alternatives inconceivable. It does this so well that a more moderate, minimalist approach becomes almost impossible to articulate. Afghanistan, however, is the graveyard of predictions. None of the experts in 1988 predicted that the Russian-backed President Najibullah would survive for two and a half years after the Soviet withdrawal. And no one predicted at the beginning of 1994 that the famous commanders of the jihad, Hekmatyar and Masud, then fighting a civil war in the centre of Kabul, could be swept aside by an unknown group of madrassah students called the Taliban. Or that the Taliban would, in a few months, conquer 90 per cent of the country, eliminate much corruption, restore security on the roads and host al-Qaida.

It is tempting to assume that economic growth will not make Afghanistan into Obama’s terrorist haven or Brown’s strong democracy but rather into something more like its wealthier neighbours. Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan were at various points under the same Muslim empires. There are Persian, Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik populations in Afghanistan, and the Afghan Pushtun are only arbitrarily divided by the Durand Line from their Pakistani kinsmen. The economies are linked and millions of Afghans have studied and worked in Iran or Pakistan. There are more reasons for Afghanistan to develop into a country like one of its neighbours than for it to collapse into Somalian civil war or solidify into Malaysian democracy. But Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan present a bewildering variety of states: an Islamist theocracy, a surreal mock-tribal autocracy, a repressive secular dictatorship, a country trembling on the edge of civil war, a military dictatorship cum democracy. And it will be many years before Afghanistan’s economy or its institutions draw level with those of its neighbours.

Pakistan, which is often portrayed as a ‘failed state’, has not only the nuclear bomb and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence but also the Friday Times and the National College of Arts. Progressive views are no longer confined to the wealthy Lahore elite: a mass commercial satellite television station championed a campaign to overturn the hudud ordinances, which conflated adultery and rape; 1500 women were released from jail as a result. There is no equivalent in Afghanistan of the Pakistani lawyers’ movement, which reinstated the chief justice after his dismissal by Musharraf.

Every Afghan ruler in the 20th century was assassinated, lynched or deposed. The Communist government tried to tear down the old structures of mullah and khan; the anti-Soviet jihad set up new ones, bolstered with US and Saudi cash and weapons supplied from Pakistan. There is almost no economic activity in the country, aside from international aid and the production of illegal narcotics. The Afghan army cannot, like Pakistan’s, reject America’s attempt to define national security priorities; Afghan diplomats cannot mock our pronouncements. Karzai is widely criticised, but more than seven years after the invasion there is still no plausible alternative candidate; there aren’t even recognisable political parties.

Obama’s new policy has a very narrow focus – counter-terrorism – and a very broad definition of how to achieve it: no less than the fixing of the Afghan state. He presents this in a formal syllogism. The final goal in the region is

to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.

A necessary condition of the defeat of al-Qaida is the defeat of the Taliban because

if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban . . . that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.

Such efforts are hampered by the nature of the Afghan economy and government. We must implement a counter-insurgency strategy, which includes

the deployment of 17,000 troops [to] take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east

but also adopt a more ‘comprehensive approach’, aiming to

promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government . . . advance security, opportunity and justice . . . develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs.

Finally, Afghanistan cannot be addressed without addressing Pakistan:

To defeat an enemy that heeds no borders or laws of war, we must recognise the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Or, in the pithier statement made by Obama last October:

In order to catch Osama bin Laden we have to win in Afghanistan and stabilise Pakistan.

Obama, then, combines a negative account of Afghanistan’s past and present – he describes the border region as ‘the most dangerous place in the world’ – with an optimism that it can be transformed. He assumes that we have a moral justification and obligation to intervene, that the US and its allies have the capacity to address the threat and that our global humanitarian and security objectives are consistent and mutually reinforcing.

Afghanistan was ‘the right war’. In Iraq, one could criticise the breaking of international law, the lies about weapons of mass destruction, the apparent corruption of contractors, the anarchy in Baghdad and the torture at Abu Ghraib. But the intervention in Afghanistan was a response to 9/11, sanctioned by international law and a broad coalition; the objectives were those of self-defence and altruism. Al-Qaida has killed and continues to try to kill innocent citizens, and it is right to prevent them. It is also right to defeat the Taliban, to bring development and an effective legitimate state to Afghanistan, and to stabilise Pakistan. The elected Afghan government and the majority of the Afghan people support our presence. And the international community has the capacity to transform the situation.

Policymakers perceive Afghanistan through the categories of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, state-building and economic development. These categories are so closely linked that you can put them in almost any sequence or combination. You need to defeat the Taliban to build a state and you need to build a state to defeat the Taliban. There cannot be security without development, or development without security. If you have the Taliban you have terrorists, if you don’t have development you have terrorists, and as Obama informed the New Yorker, ‘If you have ungoverned spaces, they become havens for terrorists.’

These connections are global: in Obama’s words, ‘our security and prosperity depend on the security and prosperity of others.’ Or, as a British foreign minister recently rephrased it, ‘our security depends on their development.’ Indeed, at times it seems that all these activities – building a state, defeating the Taliban, defeating al-Qaida and eliminating poverty – are the same activity. The new US army and marine corps counter-insurgency doctrine sounds like a World Bank policy document, replete with commitments to the rule of law, economic development, governance, state-building and human rights. In Obama’s words, ‘security and humanitarian concerns are all part of one project.’

This policy rests on misleading ideas about moral obligation, our capacity, the strength of our adversaries, the threat posed by Afghanistan, the relations between our different objectives, and the value of a state. Even if the invasion was justified, that does not justify all our subsequent actions. If 9/11 had been planned in training camps in Iraq, we might have felt the war in Iraq was more justified, but our actions would have been no less of a disaster for Iraqis or for ourselves. The power of the US and its allies, and our commitment, knowledge and will, are limited. It is unlikely that we will be able to defeat the Taliban. The ingredients of successful counter-insurgency campaigns in places like Malaya – control of the borders, large numbers of troops in relation to the population, strong support from the majority ethnic groups, a long-term commitment and a credible local government – are lacking in Afghanistan.

General Petraeus will find it difficult to repeat the apparent success of the surge in Iraq. There are no mass political parties in Afghanistan and the Kabul government lacks the base, strength or legitimacy of the Baghdad government. Afghan tribal groups lack the coherence of the Iraqi Sunni tribes and their relation to state structures: they are not being driven out of neighbourhood after neighbourhood and they do not have the same relation to the Taliban that the Sunni groups had to ‘al-Qaida in Iraq’. Afghans are weary of the war but the Afghan chiefs are not approaching us, seeking a deal. Since the political players and state structures in Afghanistan are much more fragile than those in Iraq, they are less likely to play a strong role in ending the insurgency.

Meanwhile, the Taliban can exploit the ideology of religious resistance that the West deliberately fostered in the 1980s to defeat the Russians. They can portray the Kabul government as US slaves, Nato as an infidel occupying force and their own insurgency as a jihad. Their complaints about corruption, human rights abuses and aerial bombardments appeal to a large audience. They are attracting Afghans to their rural courts by giving quicker and more predictable rulings than government judges.

Like some Afghan government officials, the Taliban have developed an ambiguous and sometimes profitable relationship with the drug lords. They are able to slip back and forth across the Pakistani border and receive support there. They have massacred Alokozai elders who tried to resist them. They are mounting successful attacks against the coalition and the Afghan government in the south and east. They are operating in more districts than in 2006 and control provinces, such as Wardak, which are close to Kabul. They have a chance of retaking southern district towns such as Musa Qala and perhaps even some provincial capitals.

But the Taliban are very unlikely to take over Afghanistan as a whole. Their previous administration provided basic road security and justice but it was fragile and fell quickly. They are no longer perceived, as they were by some in 1994, as young student angels saving the country from corruption. Millions of Afghans disliked their brutality, incompetence and primitive attitudes. The Hazara, Tajik and Uzbek populations are wealthier, more established and more powerful than they were in 1996 and would strongly resist any attempt by the Taliban to occupy their areas. The Afghan national army is reasonably effective. Pakistan is not in a position to support the Taliban as it did before. It would require far fewer international troops and planes than we have today to make it very difficult for the Taliban to gather a conventional army as they did in 1996 and drive tanks and artillery up the main road to Kabul.

Even if – as seems most unlikely – the Taliban were to take the capital, it is not clear how much of a threat this would pose to US or European national security. Would they repeat their error of providing a safe haven to al-Qaida? And how safe would this safe haven be? They could give al-Qaida land for a camp but how would they defend it against predators or US special forces? And does al-Qaida still require large terrorist training camps to organise attacks? Could they not plan in Hamburg and train at flight schools in Florida; or meet in Bradford and build morale on an adventure training course in Wales?

Furthermore, there are no self-evident connections between the key objectives of counter-terrorism, development, democracy/ state-building and counter-insurgency. Counter-insurgency is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for state-building. You could create a stable legitimate state without winning a counter-insurgency campaign (India, which is far more stable and legitimate than Afghanistan, is still fighting several long counter-insurgency campaigns from Assam to Kashmir). You could win a counter-insurgency campaign without creating a stable state (if such a state also required the rule of law and a legitimate domestic economy). Nor is there any necessary connection between state-formation and terrorism. Our confusions are well illustrated by the debates about whether Iraq was a rogue state harbouring terrorists (as Bush claimed) or an authoritarian state which excluded terrorists (as was in fact the case).

It is impossible for Britain and its allies to build an Afghan state. They have no clear picture of this promised ‘state’, and such a thing could come only from an Afghan national movement, not as a gift from foreigners. Is a centralised state, in any case, an appropriate model for a mountainous country, with strong traditions of local self-government and autonomy, significant ethnic differences, but strong shared moral values? And even were stronger central institutions to emerge, would they assist Western national security objectives? Afghanistan is starting from a very low base: 30 years of investment might allow its army, police, civil service and economy to approach the levels of Pakistan. But Osama bin Laden is still in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. He chooses to be there precisely because Pakistan can be more assertive in its state sovereignty than Afghanistan and restricts US operations. From a narrow (and harsh) US national security perspective, a poor failed state could be easier to handle than a more developed one: Yemen is less threatening than Iran, Somalia than Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan than Pakistan.

Yet the current state-building project, at the heart of our policy, is justified in the most instrumental terms – not as an end in itself but as a means towards counter-terrorism. Obama is clear about this:

I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved.

In pursuit of this objective, Obama has so far committed to building ‘an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000’, and adds that ‘increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed.’ US generals have spoken openly about wanting a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers (in a country with a population half the size of Britain’s). Such a force would cost $2 or $3 billion a year to maintain; the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. We criticise developing countries for spending 30 per cent of their budget on defence; we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 per cent of its budget.

Some policymakers have been quick to point out that this cost is unsustainable and will leave Afghanistan dependent for ever on the largesse of the international community. Some have even raised the spectre (suggested by the example of Pakistan) that this will lead to a military coup. But the more basic question is about our political principles. We should not encourage the creation of an authoritarian military state. The security that resulted might suit our short-term security interests, but it will not serve the longer interests of Afghans. What kind of anti-terrorist tactics would we expect from the Afghan military? What kind of surveillance, interference and control from the police? We should not assume that the only way to achieve security in a developing country is through the restriction of civil liberties, or that authoritarianism is a necessary phase in state-formation, or a precondition for rapid economic development, or a lesser evil in the fight against modern terrorism.

After seven years of refinement, the policy seems so buoyed by illusions, caulked in ambiguous language and encrusted with moral claims, analogies and political theories that it can seem futile to present an alternative. It is particularly difficult to argue not for a total withdrawal but for a more cautious approach. The best Afghan policy would be to reduce the number of foreign troops from the current level of 90,000 to far fewer – perhaps 20,000. In that case, two distinct objectives would remain for the international community: development and counter-terrorism. Neither would amount to the building of an Afghan state. If the West believed it essential to exclude al-Qaida from Afghanistan, then they could do it with special forces. (They have done it successfully since 2001 and could continue indefinitely, though the result has only been to move bin Laden across the border.) At the same time the West should provide generous development assistance – not only to keep consent for the counter-terrorism operations, but as an end in itself.

A reduction in troop numbers and a turn away from state-building should not mean total withdrawal: good projects could continue to be undertaken in electricity, water, irrigation, health, education, agriculture, rural development and in other areas favoured by development agencies. We should not control and cannot predict the future of Afghanistan. It may in the future become more violent, or find a decentralised equilibrium or a new national unity, but if its communities continue to want to work with us, we can, over 30 years, encourage the more positive trends in Afghan society and help to contain the more negative.

Such arguments seem strained, unrealistic, counter-intuitive and unappealing. They appear to betray the hopes of Afghans who trusted us and to allow the Taliban to abuse district towns. No politician wants to be perceived to have underestimated, or failed to address, a terrorist threat; or to write off the ‘blood and treasure’ that we have sunk into Afghanistan; or to admit defeat. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble; Obama’s motto is not ‘no we can’t’; soldiers are not trained to admit defeat or to say a mission is impossible. And to suggest that what worked in Iraq won’t work in Afghanistan (or that what worked in postwar West Germany or 1950s Souh Korea won’t work in Afghanistan) requires a detailed knowledge of each country’s past, a bold analysis of the causes of development and a rigorous exposition of the differences, for which few have patience.

Sober, intelligent ambassadors who were sceptical about Iraq presided over the troop surge in Afghanistan. Aid agencies, human rights activists and foreign correspondents have not opposed it. Politicians – Republican and Democrat, Conservative and Labour – have voted for it; the United Nations, Nato and Washington think-tanks support it. And finally, many Afghans encourage it, enthusiastically.

The fundamental assumptions remain that an ungoverned or hostile Afghanistan is a threat to global security; that the West has the ability to address the threat and bring prosperity and security; that this is justified and a moral obligation; that economic development and order in Afghanistan will contribute to global stability; that these different objectives reinforce each other; and that there is no real alternative. One indication of the enduring strength of such assumptions is that they are exactly those made in 1868 by Sir Henry Rawlinson, a celebrated and experienced member of the council of India, concerning the threat of a Russian presence in Afghanistan:

In the interests, then, of peace; in the interests of commerce; in the interests of moral and material improvement, it may be asserted that interference in Afghanistan has now become a duty, and that any moderate outlay or responsibility we may incur in restoring order at Kabul will prove in the sequel to be true economy.

The new UK strategy for Afghanistan is described as

International . . . regional . . . joint civilian-military . . . co-ordinated . . . long-term . . . focused on developing capacity . . . an approach that combines respect for sovereignty and local values with respect for international standards of democracy, legitimate and accountable government, and human rights; a hard-headed approach: setting clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success.

This is not a plan: it is a description of what we have not got. Our approach is short-term; it has struggled to develop Afghan capacity, resolve regional issues or overcome civilian-military divisions; it has struggled to respect Afghan sovereignty or local values; it has failed to implement international standards of democracy, government and human rights; and it has failed to set clear and realistic objectives with clear metrics of success. Why do we believe that describing what we do not have should constitute a plan on how to get it? (Similarly, we do not notice the tautology in claiming to ‘overcome corruption through transparent, predictable and accountable financial processes’.)

In part, it is because the language is comfortingly opaque. We can expose Rawlinson’s blunt calculus of national interest by questioning the costs, the potential gains or the likelihood of success. But a bewildering range of different logical connections and identities can be concealed in a specialised language derived from development theory and overlaid with management consultancy. What is concealed is our underlying assumption that when we want to make other societies resemble our (often fantastical) ideas of our own society, we can. The language of modern policy does not help us to declare the limits to our power and capacity; to concede that we can do less than we pretend or that our enemies can do less than we pretend; to confess how little we know about a country like Afghanistan or how little we can predict about its future; or to acknowledge that we might be unwelcome or that our presence might be perceived as illegitimate or that it might make things worse.

We claim to be engaged in a neutral, technocratic, universal project of ‘state-building’ but we don’t know exactly what that means. Those who see Afghanistan as reverting to the Taliban or becoming a traditional autocratic state are referring to situations that existed there in 1972 and 1994. But the international community’s ambition appears to be to create something that has not existed before. Obama calls it ‘a more capable and accountable Afghan government’. The US White Paper calls it ‘effective local governance’ and speaks of ‘legitimacy’. The US, the UK and their allies agreed unanimously at the Nato 60th anniversary summit in April to create ‘a stronger democratic state’ in Afghanistan. In the new UK strategy for Afghanistan, certain combinations of adjective and noun appear again and again in the 32 pages: separated by a few pages, you will find ‘legitimate, accountable state’, ‘legitimate and accountable government’, ‘effective and accountable state’ and ‘effective and accountable governance’. Gordon Brown says that ‘just as the Afghans need to take control of their own security, they need to build legitimate governance.’

What is this thing ‘governance’, which Afghans (or we) need to build, and which can also be transparent, stable, regulated, competent, representative, coercive? A fact of nationhood, a moral good, a cure for corruption, a process? At times, ‘state’ and ‘government’ and ‘governance’ seem to be different words for the same thing. Sometimes ‘governance’ seems to be part of a duo, ‘governance and the rule of law’; sometimes part of a triad, ‘security, economic development and governance’, to be addressed through a comprehensive approach to ‘the 3 ds’, ‘defence, development and diplomacy’ – which implies ‘governance’ is something to do with a foreign service.

By contrast, in 1868, Rawlinson’s views were defeated. Sir John Lawrence, the new viceroy, persuaded Lord Derby’s government that Afghanistan was less important than it appeared, that our resources were limited, and that we had other more pressing priorities. Here, in a civil service minute of 1867 (I found this in Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac’s Tournament of Shadows), he imagines what would happen if the Russians tried to invade:

In that case let them undergo the long and tiresome marches which lie between the Oxus and the Indus; let them wend their way through poor and difficult countries, among a fanatic and courageous population, where, in many places, every mile can be converted into a defensible position; then they will come to the conflict on which the fate of India will depend, toil-worn, with an exhausted infantry, a broken-down cavalry, and a defective artillery.

He concludes:

I am firmly of opinion that our proper course is not to advance our troops beyond our present border, not to send English officers into the different states of Central Asia; but to put our own house in order, by giving the people of India the best government in our power, by conciliating, as far as practicable, all classes, and by consolidating our resources.

Lawrence does not predict what the Russians might want to do in Afghanistan. Nor does he attempt to refute Rawlinson’s vision of stability, his economic theories, his moral justification or his idea of moral responsibility. A modern civil servant might express such an argument as follows:

the presence of Nato special forces, the challenging logistical and political conditions in Afghanistan and lack of technological capacity, are likely to impede al-Qaida in Afghanistan from posing a significant threat to UK or US national security. Instead development in South Asia should remain the key strategic priority for the UK government in the region.

Lawrence, as viceroy of India, might have been expected to have a more confident or arrogant view of British power than policy-makers today. But in fact he believed that the British government lacked power, lacked knowledge (even though he and his colleagues had spent decades working on the Afghan frontier) and lacked legitimacy (he writes that Afghans ‘do not want us; they dread our appearance in the country . . . will not tolerate foreign rule’).

But he undermines the fantasy of an Afghan threat as much through the rhythm of his prose as through his arguments. His synecdoche, ‘the Oxus and the Indus’, emphasises to a domestic policymaker the unknown and alien nature of the landscape; the archaism ‘wend’ illustrates the circuitous routes; his repetitions enact the repetitive and tiresome journey. He highlights the political and religious energies of the resistance (placing them ‘every mile’) and suggests internal divisions without asserting them (by describing Afghanistan not as a single state but as ‘countries’). His concessive subjunctive ‘let them’ reflects his attitude of uncertainty about the future. It is not an assessment of the likelihood of a Russian march but an enactment of its potential and it reduces the army by the end of the sentence to a decrepit band on the edge of the Indus, which it would be difficult to perceive as a threat.

The rickety and elaborate hubris of the Russian march – stretching through sub-clauses and rhetorical tricks, and weighed down with 11 emotive adjectives – contrasts with the British response in solid words, bolstered by a homely proverb and buttressed with strong caution. He does not draw analogies with other countries in other historical periods. The argument is contingent, cautious, empirical and local, rooted in a very specific landscape and time. It expresses a belief not only in the limits of Russian and Afghan threats but also in the limits of British power and capacity.

Rory Stewart is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Carr Center on Human Rights Policy at Harvard.