FDR’s Last Deal (Pt. II)

10/04/2016 § Leave a comment


If you haven’t please read Pt. I first

In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and had then President Amin “removed” in favor of Babrak Karmal, who had become a Marxist as a student, and using him the Soviets tried to make Afghanistan a soviet-style republic, but the Afghani people rejected their “reforms” which blossomed into full scale civil war. The old Pashtun tradition of the warrior defending his homeland against invaders reconstituted once again in the form of the Mujahideen.

Queue Charlie Wilson, famous Texas politician, and his friend from the long horn state and benefactor Joanne Herring. Using both money and their political contacts all over the world, not just in the US (Herring happened to be a friend of General turned President of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq) the Texas power brokers exerted pressure on those who could tip the tide in Afghanistan. Using overt and covert means and their own Vietnamesque problems battling the Mujahideen the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989. It was about this time that the then prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, warned G. W. Bush that he was “…creating a Frankenstein (sic)” through the US funding of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. One of Hekmatyar’s deputies was the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

Remember those dams American firms like Morrison Knudsen built in the early 50’s? They did indeed turn Helmand province into a fertile place. The slightly salty water turned the soil more base in Ph, which is perfect for the growing of papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. This cash crop was a ready supply of money for the many warlords in a post-Soviet Afghanistan trying to plug up the power vacuum.

Osama bin Laden “was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a son of Yemeni Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, a billionaire construction magnate with close ties to the Saudi royal family,” and Alia Ghanem, a Syrian. This not only ties bin Laden to the Saudi royal family, but to the upper crust elements of Syrian society. He is a Bedouin Arab, through and through, and a Sunni, to boot.

The rest is recent memory for the rest of us. The main points I want everyone to take away from this is:

  1. This is a war against the West by fundamentalist elements of Wahhabism
  2. That fundamentalism has its beginnings in the Sunni Islam fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia
  3. Believing the higher, if not highest levels of Saudi government and society were not involved in 9/11 then the West is to be in denial
  4. The West has no one to blame but itself for this festering blight on Islam
  5. But now we are here and must deal with it

Pretending that political correctness is some how appropriate or even by any measure useful in this war is foolish and blind. The West’s enemies aren’t interested in political correctness. How foolish it is as well to continue to entreat with your enemy as the US does with Saudi Arabia.

FDR’s Last Deal

10/03/2016 § Leave a comment

Wahhabism, Afghanistan, Opium, and Texas, and How These Things Have Shaped the 21st Century

destruction_of_buddhas_march_21_2001The face of Wahhabism

I think its the same God as I worship, just in another way.
Joanne Herring, in an interview.1

This month: a history lesson. Before your eyes glaze over with boredom I would just urge you to get through this as much as possible because this is the most important history lesson anyone in the west could possibly learn, and has implications for the future as well as ignored warning from the past. And check my facts, I don’t expect anyone to blindly accept what I have to say without verification. But its all there, in the history and on the wall. All you have to do is read the signs.

We Americans, much like our British Forebears, are often really just trying to be helpful. Unfortunately the world is less like a Peter O’Toole film and much more like a horror themed Kafka novel.

Well after the British Empire poisoned and rotted China from within using opium in its madness to acquire Chinese Tea at cheap prices, it turned its hungry Victorian gaze to Africa and the Middle East. Both Germany and the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands in the early 19th century) had started their greedy crawl through these areas, the clash of both Britain and the Netherlands led to the Boer War, but the English went further, to the Saudi penninsula, and encountered the Bedouin people, and their religion, Wahhabism. Before the 20th century they were inconsequential to the British, just another indigenous people that plagued and were ruled by the Empire in its constant march toward more and more resources, power, money. But the Bedouin’s religion was and continues to be a powerful weapon, more powerful than an arsenal of nuclear bombs, as we’ll see.

As the 20th century opened up several things happened that have shaped and guided the world, I probably don’t have to go into too much detail. WWI has probably been the greatest engine of change the world has ever seen, more so than WWII in some respects. It redrew the map of Europe in profound and immediate ways, it completely decimated political alliances, rendered ancient ruling European families irrelevant, and rendered the way wars and diplomacy were used and manipulated in forever after. It was the reception party of the 20th century, the bloodiest century for human kind yet. Geopolitical rivalries came to the surface and broke open like puss-filled wounds; the Battle of Sedan is a glaring example. It could be argued that this closing battle of the Franco-Prussian war sowed the seeds of WWI and WWII; leaving Franco-Germanic relations in a jumble. The way the French acted during the Treaty of Versailles conference seemed very much like payback for Sedan, which was still fresh in the mind of both belligerents, and therein may have lain some of Hitler’s motivation, a viper in Germany’s womb.

Elsewhere during the insanity of the first world war the British with maddening self-righteousness defended itself from the indignation of the Ottoman Empire, that decaying bastion of medieval autocracy. And there to aid the British in their struggle with this empire were the Bedouins. With the help of the British army officer/poet T. E. Lawrence the Bedouin tribes of the Arab Peninsula united just long enough to cast the Ottomans out during the Arab Revolt.

One other poisoned pill the war produced of course is the Arab–Israeli conflict in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. In this letter from Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild the British Empire declared its support for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. I don’t begrudge the Jewish State but there’s little other way to color this declaration other than one of the most disastrous plans ever implemented in the 20th century.

Once again the west would call upon the Bedouins for help in the form of secure access to petroleum which was flowing like water from the gulf states. It was during WWI and its conversion from agrarianism to complete mechanization that the West decided that petroleum was indispensable to that conversion and the economies it created. Therefore aboard the USS Quincy an ailing president Roosevelt worked out a deal with Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud. This meeting would have great, and grave, consequences for the West and perhaps the entire world, for in it FDR created a deal that would nourish and give legitimacy to the most hostile and anti-western idea the earth has ever known.

fdr_on_quincyThis meeting is described in some detail in Adam Curtis‘ documentary Bitter Lake. According to Curtis the main tenet of this meeting between FDR and King Saud was an agreement that the West would continue to receive oil at cheap prices in exchange for arms, training, and the promise that the west would not touch the prevailing religion of the area; Wahhabism. Many have misquoted the film painting the meeting as King Saud asking FDR for permission to spread Wahhabism throughout the world in exchange for oil. What Curtis’ point here actually is that Saud asked that the West not interfere with Wahhabism. Never the less this doesn’t appear to be what the meeting was about at all; rather the meeting appears to have been more about Palestine and the Jewish Homeland question2. But apples and oranges, Curtis’ main point is still sound; that Wahhabism is a force to be reckoned with, and the reckoning is coming.

Because I doubt Saud asked FDR for permission to spread Wahhabism throughout the world however doesn’t mean the Saudis didn’t try to do this very thing. Whatever the reasons the result is a massive shift of capital from the West to Saudi Arabia.

Afghanistan has been the keystone and gateway of the Silk Road to Europe for millennia. The constant wars for control of this key piece of real estate and its rather rough terrain have made its Pashtun (among other) people some of the toughest warriors in the world. Combined with the uncompromising tenets of Sunni Islam brought by the Arabs in the 640’s and eastern traditions of multi-generational goal building made the people of this Silk Road way post hard as nails.

In early 1950’s Afghanistan was a poor and undeveloped country but was sitting on a nice sum of cash by clothing a war devastated Europe. With this cash Afghanistan’s last king tried to bring his landlocked, backwards little country into the 20th century. American companies like Morrison Knudsen descended on Afghanistan with money, expertise, and dams. Dams to make the Kabul valley into a sort-of bread basket for the middle east. The idea was to turn Afghanistan into a bastion of democracy in the middle east. This may have been what America wanted, but its certain that America didn’t ask the Afghan people what they wanted. The Kabul Valley did indeed however become very fertile.

Continued next time.

1Adam Curtis; Bitter Lake, (BBC, 2015)
2Lewis Lipkin; The Intriguing Meeting of FDR and Ibn Saud, (Think Israel, 2005)


09/26/2016 § Leave a comment


Me and my grandmother. Not really, only the old lady is anywhere near to being accurate.

Today is my paternal grandmother’s birthday

I’m really sorry I didn’t get to know her better. As well as giving me better insight into my horrible father (even she had some bad words to say about him) she was a complete enigma.

She was born here, in the United States, in Alabama, where she raised my father, amid a miasma of 1930’s racism, jim crow, a fantastic repertoire of Irish and Bluegrass standards, and depression-era common sense.

Let me first describe this bizarre, lovely, and yes, unpleasant, woman.

She claimed to drink a quart of moonshine (plus more, on occasion) a week, moonshine that she made herself, and had made since she was “a weedling”. She smoked a pipe or more a day of Virgina Burley, never that “Turkish Shit”, and chewed the stuff as well. No, I never kissed her, if I could help it. And the south would never die, if she could help it; although she was extremely upset when Dr, King was executed in Memphis in 1968, saying to her deathbed “those no good Tennesseans…” which of course caused no little amount of conversation at family gatherings south of the Mason-Dixon line.

This story was of great confusion to me all my life and to this day as I absolutely recall my father shaking in fury during news casts of the Kent State shootings, yet lecturing me to “watch out” for Negroes.

They’ll take your wallet.” he’d tell me out of the corner of his mouth.

As he lectured me on the darkness that wafted about black people he was kicking my mother’s ass. Physically. Just because that’s what he wanted to do. I guess.

Although of completely average means, appearance, and manner, my grandmother was a fantastic bluegrass musician. She was a virtuoso pianist, violinist, guitarist, banjo virtuoso, and Jew harpist. I mean. fantastic. She was incredible, and could hurl out bluegrass standards with the best of them. Why she never was invited to the Grand Ol Oprey, or any of those other outlets of the time is beyond me. She could recite or play by tune any of the old bluegrass standards, as well as a few Irish ones. Danny Boy was of course a favorite of hers. I was once treated to a live version of Dueling Banjos between her and my high school friend Andrew who was learning guitar at the time. In deliverence style they battled together, doing great justice to that standard, and just like Jon Voight my friend got completely bulldozed by my grandmother and her banjo. She was incredible.

She lived to be 99. How do people do that? Live like lunatics, against all known common sense, and live life to the fullest until they die?

I am led to understand that she was fully able to care for herself until she died of an embolism at 99. I certainly don’t agree with her politics, but I’m not exactly sure I disagree with her means of exiting this world. Not in the slightest.

She wasn’t an evil person, I would disagree with that. But on the other hand, not exactly the most righteous. Where was God in this? Taking a break?

DRM Must Die

09/17/2016 § Leave a comment


What the hell is up with DRM and Copyright? This is a screen cap of a book available in e format from Amazon. That’s great. My problem: the book is 800 YEARS OLD. How is it POSSIBLE to claim any kind of rights on a work that’s been in the public domain for 720 years?

My understanding of copyright and digital rights, a derivative law, in America (no, I’m not going to become an expert in world copyright law), is that a work is considered to be in the public domain after 80 years. If no one comes forward to contest the conversion (which is the loophole that the Disney Company uses to keep tight, butt-clenched tighter than a 500 ton press, control over Mickey Mouse et. al.) then the work reverts.

The reasons we allow fallow works to go into the public domain is because we know that humans are mortal, and sometimes they create things that have a greater value to society that the sum total of the human that created them.

I might contest the value to humanity of the idea of Mickey Mouse (Mr. Natural had a much bigger impact and comment on society in my opinion), but it doesn’t matter what value artistic works have or don’t on a society that recognizes others my pick up the torch and carry on the values of the work in question in a mortal world.

The rules on public domain are pretty clear: THE PUBLIC OWNS THE WORK IN QUESTION. That doesn’t mean that simply because I found your radio flyer sitting out on your front yard having been unused for a few weeks or centuries I now get to keep it and sell it as though I own it. THIS is effectively what is going on with people (“people” like Amazon) claiming ownership rights on works over 800 years old.

I recently saw what I know to be a BLATANT example of this on youtube, of which I’m sure there are copious examples.

I’ve been in to the classic blues recordings of Robert Johnson since I discovered him in the mid 80’s; and his music has certainly been famous since hippies were writing “Clapton is God” on bathroom stalls since the 60’s and those in the know knew “God” was actually Robert Johnson.

The definitive publication of Johnson’s recording were the two LP volumes released by Columbia records in the 60’s and re-released over the years. These are the records people “in the know” went to for the complete collection of Johnson’s works to that date. In them one could hear for themselves the inspiration for Elvis, Chuck Berry, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, certainly Eric Clapton, and countless others.

These albums SPECIFICALLY noted in the liner notes that all selections were in the public domain. That not a slippery, shades of gray, depiction of the legal status of those works.

Its a specific assertion of a legal entity that has precedent, from over 200 years of examples.


The problem here is simple: when copyright laws were drafted, the drafters either didn’t take into account or couldn’t have foreseen, that legal constructions such as corporations, could be seen and dealt with under the law as living people. The very entities the law seeks to bestow benefits to, are assumed to have a finite life span. But corporations can live forever, or at least much longer than any actual human being. Thus the Disney corporation can re-assert the ownership rights on Mickey Mouse for ever. A blatant flaw in the legal construct of copyright.

The entire book on copyright, invention ownership, and trademark needs to fixed. Its a broken old 19th century horse trying to keep up with everyone else on a 21st century highway. Its time to fix it.

We Could Be Heros

09/05/2016 § Leave a comment

AFP_FU9HP-3464Pleasant portrait. The photos of Theresa I’ve seen rarely show her smiling.

There’s really nothing quite like having your heroes unmasked in front of your eyes. Several years ago while watching hours of Kurosawa films with my film-o-phile best friend Alvin we watched an ad for the classic Richard Attenborough-directed Ben Kingsley portrayal of “Gandhi” (which should illustrate just how long ago I’m talking about.) My friend spat out the name “Gandhi” as if it were poison. I was of course shocked. Hardly a week went by that Alvin didn’t spout off about something that I didn’t know anything about, that was interesting, and it was only after I did the research that I would figure out how wrong he was (and he was often wrong, to varying degrees, but still it made for an interesting friendship.)

Alvin, a self-described director-of-sorts himself (apparently he dabbled in film in college), also believed that skillful editing had nothing to do with the fact that a one hour episode of Iron Chef took exactly one hour even with commercials. To this day I sincerely hope he was screwing with my mind.

Alvin went on to describe how at Gandhi’s direction the division of the Hindus and the Muslims into greater India and the Pakistani nation resulted in incredible bloodshed on both sides. There was certainly truth to his view, but it was much more nuanced than one might guess from that simple blanket, and obviously biased, statement. (I never did understand how Alvin’s bias lay exactly, but the way he relayed the story to me had some obvious negative slant.)

As I would later discover the bloodshed was going on before Gandhi helped push the division through, so laying the horror specifically at the feet of Gandhi is pushing it a bit. He also shook his head vigorously at my mock observation that his opinion of conservatives made him appear as though he could swear they were blood-thirsty aliens from the far side of the galaxy.

“They very well may be…” he replied with no mockery in his voice.


Canonization is the Nobel Prize of the Catholic world; it shouldn’t be given out lightly. Even though it requires the silly  proof that two miracles can be shown to have been preformed by the nominee (I really take that as more of idealized attributes than a pair of prerequisites) it is indeed an example and symbol of what heights human kindness can rise to a world of base inaction.

It was with great surprise that I read several years after my conversation with Alvin a magazine article that Mother Theresa has a rather callous hand with her charges; the poor and indigent of Calcutta. As I researched her life- over the last several years and for this column, I would find the truth more nuanced and less black and white than I thought.

Much like a Kurosawa film her life had deeper meaning and covered cracks than the usual story as seen from the slip cover.

Christopher Hitchens, the atheist’s atheist, produced a BBC documentary of her work based on a treatise of her finances by Aroup Chatterjee. Not surprisingly it was a less than glowing review of her life and work. She also accepted awards from dictators and appears to have possibly promoted her causes even to the cost of the people under her care, to a small extent. Vijay Prashad had some particularly scathing words to describe her work.

I don’t particularly wish anyone ill, least of all after they are dead. And I certainly don’t believe Theresa was a jaded publicity whore making HER mark in the world at the cost of the thousands who suffered in Calcutta (today’s Kolkata) during her tenure, and still do to this day. Is the world a better place for her having been in it? I think so. But maybe there’s something to be said for our heroes becoming larger than life after they’re gone.

Thoughts on Scrum

11/21/2015 § Leave a comment


After a few years (10 to be more precise, wherein I was aware that a development methodology was in place in my shop, before it was always “get it done” and “all hands on deck”)  of experiencing several software development cycle models and reading this slashdot entry regarding scrum I have a few thoughts on the subject and its high time I published them. First, let me say that my time spent in software development has been in the trenches, not at a managerial level, if that makes any difference. Still, I’m well aware of budgets, schedules, marketing requirements, all that. But the lingua franca of those subjects was never clearly spelled out to me, I simply absorbed them, as most of us probably do as we traverse the maze of the software business. And it is a maze, standing from my vantage point.

So when I tenured into this business the model had usually been “Customer wants *this*. They may or may not not realize they want *this*, but ultimately they want this. Take spreadsheets and the saga of Lotus 1-2-3. I clearly (like a bell) recall a business manager friend of mine for PG&E (That’s Pacific Gas and Electric for you who are not part of the American West Coast fauna) talking about software in the 80’s or so saying, during the introduction of IBM’s killer app for the 8086 PC; “Software is great, but when we’re cost analysing a proposal, we want to see those figures spread out.” and he went on to describe how the business preferred to have sheets of graph paper spread out on long tables, and if figures changed accountants with pencils would run up and down those tables changing figures as they changed in other parts of the sheets and so on. I have no idea how long he lasted with PG&E but I can’t imagine long because I can’t see people putting up with that nonsense when Lotus 1-2-3 made that mode of spreadsheet processing completely and utterly obsolete.

Every software developer since has been trying to create the next killer app. And with that have come people legion trying to create killer anything else; especially business logic.

“We’ll create the next killer business logic…” I can only imagine. So how’s that working out for you.

The next killer app for business logic had been “Agile” development, and the main (arguably) tool in Agile’s arsenal is scrum.

Agile software development is a “methodology” whereby people rush around complaining about schedules and pushing procedures. Not much different from any other “methodology.” At least in my experience wherein scrum was a thing, that’s what I’ve seen. And unlike many things in my life, I can definitely say this has been my exact experience with scrum, to greater or lesser degrees. I’m not even joking a little.

Which isn’t surprising, adopting a discipline is like adopting a puppy; sure sounds like fun, but then you have to take care of it. Then the reality sets in.

We have to do what?”

Software development disciplines are just that, disciplines, and they have to be followed, nurtured, improved on, and fed. And unlike waterfall, which requires and overseer, sure, scrum requires a “scrum master”, and a development manager is usually not a good candidate for that position. Scrum mastering requires a hands-on overseer, and with schedules and deadlines and enhancement requests and liaison (to development and business development ) management  I frankly don’t see manager’s doing this; hence the invention of the “scrum master”, which is usually a developer being taken away from development time to “scrum master”. This is not from the Agile Bible, but from past experience.

In very recent experience, I’ve taken note of scrum and how it effects the development cycle. My overarching criteria in evaluating any process (or anything in that matter, in order, looks like this:

  • Is it simple?
  • Does it add value
  • Does it add structure to the process?
  • Are its iterations faster, or smaller in scope?
  • How easy is it to implement?
  • Did everyone involved find it less intrusive than the system in place before?

This is really just an off-the-cuff list but I think the points are relevant, even if others might position them differently. However, given these points as a frame of reference, I’m not so sure scrum adds value.

If a system requires a “master”, the implication is that the system on its face is already so complicated that a traffic cop is required for it to function at all. An engineer dedicated to the proper functioning of a development system already requires some time to learn the system and when to step in when a red light condition occurs, by definition. This requires some investment in study of the methodologies, depending on how much of the process you want to implement.

I knew we were in trouble in my last experience when I arrived for work on morning and my manager had the Scrum Master’s Bible sitting on his desk. Before long I (as sole software developer for the product) was charged with architecture as well as prototyping and production and required to fit it within the strictures of this agile system.

I can tell you the effort was a complete failure. I did things my own way and that manager went on to bizdev. It simply didn’t work. I’ve read opinions on the agile cycle being more effective in smaller dev teams. Well I’m here to tell you it certainly isn’t appropriate for teams of one, especially when that that team is making architectural decisions. So what, teams of 3? 5? What is the proper size of a scrum team?

I’m a firm believer of the “tool for the job” paradigm. You don’t need a hammer for all jobs, sometimes a tab is best.

Silent Sword II

10/15/2015 § Leave a comment

A dark space reveals a figure chained to a galley bench. The figure is of a man dressed in rags, he has been shaved bald, and beaten. Only the noises of the creaking ship and from above of the other men rowing in time to the galley driver are heard.

Alone and in chains it was difficult for the man to see his next move. Chess masters think in terms of moves ahead. Sometimes, however, an opportunity presents itself…

Suddenly in a flash of lights and a bellow of temple trumpets a vision appeared before the man.

The Buddha of the Western Paradise appeared before the man flanked by peacocks and 4 dakinis, and seated on a lotus throne.

“SILENCE!” roared through out the bowels of the galley uttered by no one in particular. The man’s eyes bulged out witnessing this spectacle, his body strained against his chains.

The dakinis covered their mouths in laughter, their bare breasts jiggling in their mirth.

The Buddha peered down at the man. “Its ok, they know you’ve taken a vow.”

He then extended a finger and used it to lift the man’s chin.

“Yasuda chan, I’ve seen you in better straits.”

The Buddha then became stern, peered further into the man’s face, and whispered:

“Hamaguchi Yasuda, the bakufu shogunate is corrupt, and it is time for a change. The world is changing, but Japan has not. For the sake of Japan, for its people, I am going to change her karma. I am going to change your karma. You were a master swordsman, I hope for your sake you still are. Very soon, you will be released. You will immediately and without reserve take the sword up yet again and be my tool for that change.”
That’s it for now. More later.