Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Next Bahraini Ambassador to USA Might be a Jewish Woman

The King of Bahrain is surprisingly broadminded in his diplomatic appointments. According to today's Washington Times story:

"The kingdom of Bahrain, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, is preparing to appoint a Jewish woman as ambassador to the United States, according to reports from the island nation in the Persian Gulf."

"A spokeswoman for the Bahraini Embassy in Washington yesterday said she could not confirm the report because the king has not yet announced a replacement for [current Ambassador] Mr. Belooshi. Several foreign-policy experts here said they think that her appointment would mostly likely make Mrs. Nonoo the first Jewish diplomat representing an Arab nation."

Geographically, Bahrain is just 26 kilometers away from Saudi Arabia across the handy King Fahd Causeway, but it's a world apart in other ways.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Oh ...... Bama"

Just when I thought the election season couldn't get even more entertaining, along comes this pleasantly folk-rockish Dylan parody about Barack Obama's pastor problem. Really well done. This is my idea of what political satire ought to be like.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

They'll Always be An Engla- uh, Manche Region

The EUcrats are drawing new administrative regions over the map of Europe, hoping to soften up the recalcitrant old national identities that have refused to die and make way for the European Constitution. Here's how the new plan will disperse England.

The new European plan splits England into three zones that are joined with areas in other countries. The "Manche" region covers part of southern England and northern France while the Atlantic region includes western parts of England, Portugal, Spain and Wales. The North Sea region includes eastern England, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and parts of Germany. A copy of the map, which makes no reference to England or Britain, has even renamed the English Channel the "Channel Sea."

German ministers claimed that the plan was about "underlying the goal of a united Europe" to "permanently overcome old borders" at a time when the "Constitution for Europe needs to regain momentum".

The idea that German ministers are re-drawing the map of Europe - again - ought to be enough by itself to give people pause.

And for another thing, how would Shakespeare be effected? Would Henry the V [which is being performed now at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Virginia, by the way] have to say "Cry God for Harry, the Manche region, and St. George!" Please, no!

I hope the good people of England will remember the words of the Bard and once again gird themselves against the "less happy lands" of the continent and send this plan back to Brussels.

"This fortress built by Nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happy lands."

Just ask yourself: "What Would Winston Churchill Do?"

Taking Your Child to Work is Now Optional

It's almost the fourth Thursday in April, and that means it's time for Take Your Child to Work Day. TYCTW Day used to be every day (see this and this, for example), but now it's just once a year, and is a much happier experience for everyone.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gons Nachman Has a Date with the Judge

Gons G. Nachman, Esq., will be sentenced on July 11, according to this U.S. Department of Justice press release.

The release had a bit of information I hadn't seen before, and which explains the basis for the charge that Nachman had misused his Diplomatic passport.

Nachman also pleaded guilty to misusing his U.S. diplomatic passport by using it for personal travel to Brazil in November 2007 after he had been removed from that country by the U.S. Ambassador

So, it looks like he was expelled from post shortly after being interviewed by DS agents in September, 2007, then returned a few weeks later, probably to pick up his girl-friend/fiancee with whom he then traveled to Costa Rica to finagle her a visa before returning to the U.S.

Nachman could be sent away to prison for about 10 years. Since friends of his evidently read this blog, I heartily recommend that one of them send him this handy 92-page guide to doing time in a Federal prison. Except that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons does not permit conjugal visits, he should find the experience tolerable. Unless he simply can't resist getting naked in inappropriate surroundings, he ought to earn some time off his sentence for good behavior and could be released just before his 50th birthday.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What Happens in the Congo, Stays in the Congo

Two new comments were sent today to this post about Gons Nachman. First, we get some new information:

Anonymous [#1] said...
I know from visa official contacts that Nachman got the "fiancee" a visa in San Jose in January by mis-representing himself as an FSO on leave between assignments (when he was already suspended and under investigation). If she really is his "fiancee" he should have applied for a K visa for fiances, and as a visa officer he knew that. He committed visa fraud at least 3 ways in helping her to get a visa -- and that's called alien smuggling. She should never have been granted a visa because she was applying outside her home country, but of course, she couldn't get one there because he'd already been caught.

And two hours later we hear from a defender of Nachman:

Anonymous [#2] said...
I know Mr Nachman for many years, I think he is one of the most decent human beings that I know. The alleged crimes did not happen in the USA, but in CONGO where the age of consent is 14. Mr. Nachman simply had consentual sex. in CONGO. And he documented the encounters in pictures and videos. As for his fiancé, she comes from a wealthy family and also she is a law student. The truth is that they traveled to Costa Rica to get engaged.

This story is just getting better and better. If the marriage plans progress - and I hope they will - I promise to open a gift registry at the prison commissary in the Federal Correctional Institution where Nachman will do his time.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Connecting the Dots from Beijing 2008 Back to Berlin 1936

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has opened an exhibition on the 1936 Olympic Games,"The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936," which you can explore online. The exhibition was shown once before, in 1996, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Games. Presumably, they are bringing it back now because people are drawing parallels between the Berlin Games and the 2008 Beijing Games.

Incidentally, as the Olympic torch makes its way to Beijing I've noticed several press references to the modern German origins of the Olympic torch ceremony. The New York Times ran a good article on it that highlighted Leni Riefenstahl's role in creating the myth of the torch run out of Wagnerian allusions and giving it a contemporary political meaning:

So Riefenstahl [in her film Olympia] creates the myth the Greeks never got around to telling, creating a filmic counterpart to the opening of Wagner’s “Ring,” in which an entire world gradually emerges from elemental fragments ...... Humanity is given its purpose; the relay begins. The torch is conveyed from one bearer to the next and ends in Berlin at a 110,000-seat stadium where it ignites an altar of flame. Through shimmering heat the sun itself can be seen, vibrating in sympathy. And Hitler salutes the cheering crowds ...... This passing of the torch thus demonstrates a lineage of inheritance — a historical relay — making Nazi Germany the living heir to Ancient Greece. A claim was being staked.

Reportedly, Jody Foster has purchased the rights to Leni Riefenstahl's autobiography and will portray her in a movie, but that project seems to have been hung up for years. Riefenstahl is such a fascinating figure that I can't understand why she hasn't received far more critical attention. Sergei Eisenstein can be studied and even revered for his brilliant and original films despite the fact that those films served the political interests of the Soviet Union. But evidently not all Political Cinema is the same, and the special opprobrium that attaches to Nazism prevents treating Riefenstahl apart from her political context.

Personally, I find someone like Riefenstahl all the more fascinating for the fact that her high artistry was put to an atrocious political purpose. Another such figure is Jacques-Louis David, the great Neoclassical painter who served the French Revolution's Reign of Terror as, in effect, its artistic director. Studying David's paintings, like Riefenstahl's movies, is a great way to access the self-image of the mass movements they romanticised, and maybe to understand the appeal they held for so many.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gons Nachman, Former U.S. Vice-Consul and Incurable Romantic, Pleads Guilty

Gons Nachman, the former Foreign Service Officer whose legal troubles I have been following (here, and here), pled guilty yesterday to charges that will probably put him in prison for nine to eleven years, under Federal sentencing guidelines.

Here's the Associated Press story, via WTOP News:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - A former U.S. diplomat pleaded guilty Thursday to possession of child pornography in a case that also included allegations that he pressured visa applicants in Brazil for sex.

The plea deal includes no admission, however, to allegations that Nachman pressured attractive Brazilian visa applicants for sex. In a court affidavit, a State Department investigator said she interviewed several visa applicants in Brazil who had sex with Nachman after being aggressively pursued by him. One of the women told agents that Nachman "took advantage" of her. The plea bargain prohibits the government from bringing more serious charges against Nachman, including production of child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

Up to that point in the proceedings, it was a normal day in court. But then Nachman's lawyer made a special request of the judge, WTOP reports.

Thursday's hearing ended on an unusual note. Nachman's attorney told the judge that Nachman was trying to marry his fiancee but was having difficulty doing so because the jail where is being held prohibits such ceremonies.

"Are you asking me to perform the wedding?" Judge Gerald Bruce Lee asked.

Gates said that would be wonderful, and the judge appeared to be considering the idea until prosecutor Ron Walutes pointed out that the fiancee is a 21-year-old Brazilian national - a profile not entirely dissimilar from some of Nachman's victims in the case.

Lee then said he thought the logistical difficulties of obtaining a marriage license while incarcerated made such a ceremony unlikely, though he did not rule out the possibility if Nachman's lawyer could figure out a way to make it work.

Now that I know Nachman has a Brazilian fiancee, a comment I received to an earlier post about this case is coming into focus. Someone pleading Nachman's case asked me:

How solid could be this case if the main “witness” was emotionally linked to Nachman? Don’t you think this could be some sort of revenge?

The fact that he was a member or founder of the "Naturist Student Society" is not even worth to be mentioned, how this could affect on his performance as a Foreign Officer?

As a comment, do you know how the prosecutors got the “evidence”? do they used a judge order to search his apartment or his computer? At least in my country, an order is needed to search a house or an office, and this kind of mistakes can be used even to get any “evidence” useless.

I replied:

Nachman is charged with producing and possessing child pornography, misuse of his diplomatic passport, and making false statements. The case against Nachman relies on physical evidence as well as witness testimony.

He possessed illegal things [child porn] and signed his name to untruthful statements on official documents.

Much of the evidence seems to have come from Nachman himself. According to news reports, Nachman kept diaries in which he recorded sexual encounters with girls as young as 14 [which is a serious crime here in Gringo-Land], and he made statements to investigators admitting to that and other criminal violations.

Nachman's defense lawyer hasn't alleged that any of the evidence against him was gathered improperly.

So, to answer your questions, I do not think that Nachman is the victim of a revengeful witness, not do I think the evidence against him will be thrown out.

p.s. - I don't think Nachman's college nudist activites effected his performance as an FSO. I think it was his predatory sexual behavior with children and visa applicants that effected his performance as an FSO.

If Nachman does manage to marry the lucky 21-year old, is there any chance whatsoever that she will not get a visa?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's the End of the World as We Know It (But Probably Not)

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Lieberman, ID-Conn, had a hearing yesterday titled "Nuclear Terrorism: Confronting the Challenges of the Day After." You can watch it at the Committee's website.

Witnesses included Ashton B. Carter, Co-Director, Preventive Defense Project, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; Cham E. Dallas, Director, Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense, University of Georgia; Roger C. Molander, Senior Research Scientist, RAND Corporation; and John R. Gibb, Director, New York State Emergency Management Office.

Today's press accounts give you the flavor. The Washington Post story quotes Cham Dallas saying: "I definitely conclude the threat is greater and is increasing every year with the march of technology." The Washington Times further quotes Dallas regarding the chances of a nuclear explosion in Washington: "It's inevitable ... I think it's wistful to think that it won't happen by 20 years."

Those predictions are only the latest in a long line that go back to the beginning of the nuclear age. H. G. Wells, Albert Einstein, and Arnold Toynbee, to name just a few, all warned us that we're hopelessly doomed. In 1946, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the nuclear bomb himself, assured us that three or four men could blow up New York City with smuggled nukes (see Graham Allison's Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, 2004, page 104). John McPhee reported in The Curve of Binding Energy (1974) that "to many people who have participated in the advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but more and more apparent that nuclear explosions will again take place in cities." Last but not least, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has its "Doomsday Clock" that ever since 1947 has been wavering a few minutes away from midnight; incidentally, the clock currently shows we are 5 minutes away from the end of the world, but don't be unduly alarmed, we were only 2 minutes away back in 1953.

Of course, none of the predictions came true. A wonderful corrective to the alarmist trend was provided last January by John Mueller, Department of Political Science at Ohio State University. His paper, The Atomic Terrorist: Assessing the Likelihood, delivered to the Program on International Security Policy, University of Chicago, reviews the many predictions, past and present, of imminent doom and applies calm reason - that rarest of things! - to a risk analysis about terrorism.

Mueller concludes:

[T]he likelihood that a terrorist group will come up with an atomic bomb seems to be vanishingly small ... [And] ... the degree to which al-Qaeda--the chief demon group and one of the few terrorist groups to see value in striking the United States--has sought, or is capable of, obtaining such a weapon seems to have been substantially exaggerated.

It's unfortunate that Senator Lieberman's Committee stacked the panel in favor of alarmism at yesterday's hearing. A few voices like Mueller's would have provided a much-needed sanity check.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Huge New Embassy Nears Completion

No, not the one in Baghdad (although that one was certified as "substantially complete" yesterday and will be occupied starting in May), but the one the Chinese are building in Washington DC.

Like its Green Zone counterpart, it will be gigantic, at least by the standards of Washington's diplomatic community, having at least 250,000 square feet. The next-largest of the 15 embassies in the new International Drive complex are the embassies of Nigeria and Malaysia, at about 100,000 square feet each.

From the article linked above:

Although the Embassy was designed largely in the West (by Chinese-Americans I.M. Pei, Li Chung and Chien Chung), it is being built by a consortium of four massive companies from the East: the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the Shanghai Construction Group, General Corporation and China Rilin Construction Group. Many of these construction giants have been involved in building the gleaming new Chinese skylines of cities like Shanghai. Secrecy and security have been paramount concerns on the construction site in Washington. Few visitors have been allowed inside to glimpse the building’s progress. The construction site’s gates are monitored night and day by watchful Chinese guards who carefully inspect every shipment and container entering or leaving the compound. Virtually every worker and contractor has been brought in from China or somewhere outside of the United States, and virtually every step in the design and construction phase is inspected to ensure that no "unexpected modifications" slip through. There is virtually no local content in the entire edifice.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that the Chinese have been taking Fortress Embassy lessons from the U.S. State Department.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What Peter, Paul, and Mary Can Teach Us About Iraqis

Or, rather, what they can teach us about why an "impoverished historical imagination" prevents us from understanding non-Western cultures.

Over on the History News Network, William J. Astore, associate professor of History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and previously of the U.S. Air Force, posted a recollection of his first-hand experience with the clash of civilizations. Here's the introduction:

While I was the Associate Provost at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, we received an urgent request early in 2004 from a U.S. official working with Iraqi schools. The official wanted help translating the song, "Don’t Laugh At Me," from English to Arabic. The song, which appears on the Peter, Paul, and Mary CD Songs of Conscience & Concern, is used in U.S. elementary schools to promote tolerance. Its first lines are "I’m a little boy with glasses/The one they call a geek/A little girl who never smiles/’Cause I have braces on my teeth." The refrain urges: "Don’t laugh at me/Don’t call me names/Don’t get your pleasure from my pain/In God’s eyes we’re all the same." Rather safe and innocuous lyrics, one might think.

Well, some might think that. [Hear the song for yourself] But the translation didn't go smoothly at all, which would not surprise those of us who do not share the wide-spread assumption that inside every foreigner is an American trying to get out. Astore concludes:

I learned much from this experience. If we can’t translate song lyrics to promote diversity and tolerance, how can we "translate" democracy? It seems as if the Bush administration assumed no translation was necessary: the Iraqis would embrace democracy because it was "the end of history," in the Francis Fukuyama sense, the unchallengeable culmination of our political evolution as humans.

All too true. By the way, Fukuyama [see his web page at Johns Hopkins University] was once a member of the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. Department of State, and his philosophical influence still lingers in the Department.

On a personal note, I was appalled to learn that innocent schoolchildren are still being force-fed Peter, Paul and Mary songs. Mrs. Bailey, my Junior High School social studies teacher, played their songs over and over again in class - which tells you how ancient P, P, and M are, since I'm a grandfather now! I dreaded seeing her haul out that portable record player and spinning up "If I Had a Hammer," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Puff, the Magic Dragon," and the rest of the Hippy folk song canon, presumably trying to inculcate in us kids a mid-1960s style of consciousness and concern. Her attempt backfired in my case. Whenever I hear one of those songs now, which is usually when I'm channel-surfing past a Public Broadcasting Service station, I wince, and remember thinking "if only I had a hammer, Mrs. Bailey, it would be the last damn time anybody played that record."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering

Here's breaking news from the BBC:

"Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed due to the "gross negligence" of driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi, an inquest has found."

Didn't that happen back in 1997? And yet the British are still wallowing in it, complete with official inquiries. The BBC's "Have Your Say" page on that story has 2,630 public comments entered after only one day, very few of them from people critical of all the sob-mongering.

What has happened to the famous British sense of reserve, the stiff upper lip? What should have been a tragic event worth a day of mourning has turned, more than a decade later, into a neverending saga more melodramatic than a Mexican soap opera. With all due respect, Diana just wasn't that interesting in the first place.

Personally, I hope Dianamania is only a strange aberration and not evidence of a change in British national character. I'd hate to think that the land of my grandparents has gone as goofy as Oprah's audience.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Unabomber's Reading List

(Ted Kaczynski: bomber and bibliophile)

Twelve years ago tomorrow, April 3rd, FBI agents arrested Theodore Kaczynski at his ramshackle cabin outside Lincoln, Montana. Found inside the cabin were a live bomb and the original manuscript of the Unabomber’s Manifesto (which had been produced on a typewriter, of course, since Ted rejected computers along with most products of industrial society). Among the many items the FBI seized from the cabin were 257 books.

After his conviction, Ted Kaczynski filed a lawsuit seeking the return of most of the seized items, especially the books. Here’s an eight-page typed list of the titles Ted wants back, which was filed with his lawsuit. The books are listed by title only, so in some cases you have to be familiar with the work to recognize the author.

It’s an impressive reading list, including serious fiction (Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, James Fenimore Cooper, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, Tolstoy, George Orwell and Arthur Koestler), classic political literature (Caesar’s Gallic Wars, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War), and lots of histories on the French and Russian revolutions. One of those histories – Louis XIV and the Twenty Million Frenchmen – is a fairly obscure academic work that I know only because I had it in a specialized readings seminar in graduate school; he couldn't have come across that text casually, but probably only because he made a conscientious effort to track down the works cited in his other reading about the French Revolution.

How many of those 257 books have you read? I’ve read about a third of them, and I still own about 50 (including the Euell Gibbons books, I’m a little embarrassed to admit). It was a shock to realize that the Unabomber and I love some of the same books. What’s more, I see that two books in particular, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, shaped Kaczynski’s world view, as they also did mine.

Hoffer’s True Believer was obviously a big influence on Ted's philosophy since, in the opening and the closing of his Manifesto, Kaczynski uses Hoffer’s concept of the believer-type to analyze leftists, arguing that they are disappointed people who are attracted to a mass movement to compensate for a lack of satisfaction in their personal lives. Kaczynski might even have met Hoffer since both were connected with the University of California at Berkeley around the same time. Kaczynski was an associate mathematics professor there from 1967 to 1969, a period when Hoffer spent one day a week on campus as a visiting research professor.

The Conrad influence is unstated but just as apparent. It was noticed even during the Unabomber investigation. In 1995, a Professor of English at Brigham Young University suggested to the authorities that characters in The Secret Agent provided a rationale for the bombing of professors and scientists. After he was arrested, Kaczynski stated to investigators that he’d read the book more than a dozen times, and he also may have sometimes used the pseudonym "Conrad" when he left his cabin to deliver his bombs.

You can read The Secret Agent on-line courtesy of the Gutenberg Project:

I went back to The Secret Agent after seeing it on the Unabomber’s reading list, and a particular passage jumped out. Mr. Vladimir, a Czarist secret policeman, is instructing Verloc, an anarchist and agent-provocateur, on the finer points of Propaganda of the Deed. As Vladimir narrows down the selection of targets for Verloc, he says:

“Pay attention to what I say. The fetish of to-day is neither royalty nor religion. Therefore the palace and the church should be left alone … The demonstration must be against learning—science. But not every science will do. The attack must have all the shocking senselessness of gratuitous blasphemy. Since bombs are your means of expression, it would be really telling if one could throw a bomb into pure mathematics.”

Did a passage in a novel written in 1907 provide the inspiration that led to a string of attacks in the 1990s? Why not? Almost certainly, Kaczynski first read that passage in his teenage years. I can easily imagine the young anti-social math geek rolling that idea over in his mind: express myself by throwing a bomb into pure mathematics? Hell, yeah. And that is essentially what he did, considering that the Unabomber's targets were scientists whom he selected for no reason other than the “shocking senselessness” of killing them.

I’d be tempted to recommend that Homeland Security ought to round up agoraphobic middle-aged white men who read lots of old books and have an unhealthy fascination with bombs, except that description comes way too close to yours truly.