Saturday, August 31, 2013

Piping-hot detective action !!

Things are heating up  over at our sister site.
People have been clicking on this (a free full story),  and actually, it's not too bad:

A surprise ending, which, instead of   (lazily) providing a denoument,
opens up a whole new perspective ....

Plus this:

Introducing a series of free teasers.

Frank Freeze

You try to look up old friends online -- but unless his name is something like “Rrfschwnkl Rbbowttzz”, you’re going to get far too many hits.  (Good luck with my name -- some frigging baseball player  messing up the mix.)

So -- here is a ring, cast into the waves,  to see what it  might  bring …

“Parsons College”. "North Carolina".  “Academic Year Abroad”  (AYA).  Paris.  Geneva.  “Dr. Deginger”.  Far too much wine, and cheese fondue.  (And standing stock-still, for birds …)
Later:  A visit in Berkeley.  Linguistics.   (I still have our conversation on tape.)

I turned you on to Loomis & Sternberg, 
and you turned me on to Glenn Gould.

So, before one of us dies --
Hi there.

[Update 5 Oct 2013]  Dear Mr. Rbbowttzz:
It was nice hearing from you.  I'm sure you're a very nice person, despite what you wrote.
However, I don't actually know you, don't-you-know.  The use of the name "Rbbowtzz" was purely by way of illustration, though I now understand that it is an old and honored surname in your part of the forest.

Brilliant, Mr President

Just listened to the speech.   The President has, at the last minute, pulled a rabbit out of the hat -- calling Congress’s bluff.  With one stone, he has knocked several birds off their perch.

The speech was a coup de théâtre, and possibly planned de longue date.
The President, remember, was trained as a Constitutional scholar, long before he entered the sordid world of Presidential politics.  And quite possibly, late of an evening,
alone in his study, the fire dying in the grate,
over well-aged brandy, and a pipe replenished from the Turkish slipper that he keeps on the mantlepiece,
while the city slumbered, unencumbered with the cares
that line his stoically aging face,
he reasoned thus:

“For decades now, the Republic has been facing some disturbing trends.
(1) The ever-expanding reach of an Imperial Presidency;
together with (partially in consequence)
(2) The marginalization and (consequent) infantilization of Congress.
The latter, secular trend  has been conjuncturally exacerbated by the tantrums of the Republican Freshmen.
(3)  In an age of increasing American interventionism, there is a troubling Constitutional vagueness about who can launch an act of war.  True, the Constitution states that Congress has the power to do so -- but it refrains from stating that nobody else does, independently of Congress;  and in view of recent history, this conundrum has now become key.  
(4) True, there is the well-meaning War Powers Resolution of 1973, but that suffers from two key weaknesses, one internal and one external:
(i) The President can unleash what is an Act of War in fact if not in name without consent of Congress, so long as he gets around to “notifying” them within 48 hours;  further, he can ravage any countryside he pleases for up to sixty days before, in the absence of Congressional consent, he would have to withdraw forces -- but by then the war is a fait accompli;
(ii)  The Constitutionality of this Resolution itself  has never been settled, and is logically dependent upon the clearing-up of (3).
(5)  Even the modest provisions of the War Powers Resolution have often been honored in the breach:  for instance, the deployment of the Stuxnet virus against Iran, something that we would consider an act of war if launched against us, was done without consultation or public acknowledgement.

Now, if I take these considerations before the American people, they will fall into a deep sleep before the legal problems have even been posed, let alone argued;  and if I go before the Congress, the freshman in their beanies will throw bananas at me.    How, then, to concentrate the public mind upon these dilemmas.  What I need is (as Doctor Justice would probably put it) a coup de théâtre -- a boffo plot-twist; a jump-the-shark.”

(The pipe has now gone out; the brandy-glass stands empty.  An insight blooms, and he relaxes back in the old leather chair, that once belonged to Madison.)

“I have it.  I shall threaten unilateral military intervention into a MidEast slaughterhouse, and shall channel George W. Bush in the lead-up.   In coordination, Secretary Kerry will channel Dick Cheney.  The nation will be riveted to their TV sets; debate will flourish, pro and con.
Some Congressmen will jump up and down, demanding a voice in the decision, but no-one will pay them any attention.  Yet, in a dramatic last-minute development, I shall go live, right after the U.N. inspectors have left the theatre and everyone is expecting an imminent attack;  I shall re-iterate my conviction that the deed should be done;  but then, at the eleventh hour, I shall take Congress at its word, observing that the larger context in which this present mess in Syria is only a ripple, is whether the Congress shall continue the role envisioned for it in the Constitution, or whether it shall devolve further into a mere sideshow for media-hogs.”

Gratuit !
Lisez le conte entier

This approach masterfully compassed several objectives at once…

(A)  Had the President begun by saying he would launch against Syria only with Congressional approval, the matter would have dragged on, and not gotten Bashar’s attention.  By the time they eventually got around to a vote, the baseball season would be in full swing, some other atrocity would have happened somewhere else, and the Aug 21 incident would have dropped out of the public’s tiny attention-span.
(B)  Had the President approached Congress for approval from the outset, he would have met the usual wall of non-cooperation by those solons whose idea of governance is bashing Obamacare.   But by pretending to go forward unilaterally, he suckered them into a trap:   They demanded a say -- and now he gave it to them.
(C)  By drumming up edge-of-the-seat interest in his proposed intervention, the President managed to “run it up the flagpole” internationally, before committing himself.  Okay, so the British refused to salute.  Interesting …
(D)  He has managed both to sound extremely forceful, and to delay the actual implementation till whenever.  This gives time for the U.N. inspector’s report to come in;  for cooler heads to prevail;  for new intel to surface concerning possible rebel use of these same weapons; etc.
(E)  He is requiring each member of Congress to stand up and be counted -- put their money where their mouth is.
(F)  And if, ultimately, Congress votes nay,  the President can honor this just as Cameron honored the will of his own Parliament, thus avoiding a rash and parlous act, while yet not really climbing down or taking it all back:  rather,  the original interventionist proposal shall have been (to use the term of the dialecticians) ‘sublated’ -- aufgehoben.
(G) And if, after all this, Bashar should nonetheless go ahead and once again deploy chemical weapons, then there will be no more U.S. hand-wringing and uncertainty:  We’ll know the drill.   Obama will once again go before Congress, and if this time they vote Yea, he might even get the Brits to come in with him.  We  shall  see …

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
Relief for beleaguered Nook lovers!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

~ ~ ~

The Russian President likewise made a notable speech, remarkable for its apparent tone of moderation.

“I would like to address Obama as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate: Before using force in Syria, it would be good to think about future casualties,” Putin told Russian news agencies in Vladivostok during a tour of the country’s flood-stricken Far East.
Next week’s Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg would be a good forum for discussing the Syrian issue, he said, “so why not take advantage of it?”
Putin said he was sure the attack was the work of rebels trying to provoke international — and especially American — involvement in the Syrian conflict. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, he said, would have had no reason to use chemical weapons at a time when it had gained the upper hand in the fighting.
Putin said he and Obama have not discussed Syria since the incident occurred.
“The U.S. president and I certainly discussed this problem at the G8” summit in June in Northern Ireland, he said. “And, by the way, we agreed then that we would jointly facilitate peace negotiations in Geneva, and the Americans committed themselves to bringing the armed opposition to these negotiations. I understand this is a difficult process, and it looks like they haven't succeeded in this.”

Vl. Putin, announcing his new career as a male model for Hathaway shirts

But have a care.   Stalin too was a master of bluff avuncular public moderation, while murdering opponents behind the scenes.  And indeed the reporter goes on to comment:

The Russian president is fond of needling his opponents, often adopting a tone of apparent reasonableness tinged with a considerable amount of condescension. A U.S. assault on Assad’s regime would do nothing to hurt his standing, at home or in many countries abroad, where his contempt for Washington tends to play very well.

~ ~ Посмертный Одобрение

"Если бы я был жив сегодня, и в настроении для тайны,

это то, что я хотел бы читать: "

Я не делаю случае развода

Мерфи на горе.

Иосиф Сталин, и я одобрил это сообщение.)

~ ~

[Update 4 September 2013]   Contrast French autocracy:

Édouard Balladur :  «Il faut agir en Syrie»
L'ex-premier ministre défend le principe d'une intervention en Syrie et refuse un vote préalable du Parlement.
[Update 6 October 2013]  Since we posted this, the succession of military and diplomatic victories for the Obama administration  has been dazzling. Putin came round; Al-Assad has caved; and even Iran is making nice again. 
When the surprise Russian-American-Syrian initial agreement on chemical weapons was announced, we had to listen to professional Obama-bashers bloviate in the media about how, for technical reasons, dismanteling was technically impossible.  Turns out the things mostly hadn’t even been weaponized, and the dismanteling has already begun:

In normal times, this all would be the Talk of the Town;  only, the Republicans have shut down the town, and a cowed media retreats from objective assessment before the shrillness of partisan mudslinging.   Yesterday saw another triumph of intelligence planning and special-forces implementation, in which one of the few remai ning original al-Qaeda top brass was not only neutralized, but actually captured alive.   Likewise commendable was the simulataneous SEAL retaliation against the Shabaab on their home turf. By any rational measure, everyone would simply salute these carefully planned and flawlessly executed triumphs; but as the NYTimes put it on today’s front page, “the simultaneous attacks are bound to fuel accusations that the administration was eager for a showy victory.”

Again, no point even polemicizing against the Teabaggers on this:  truly we have reached post-consensus politics when they throw tantrums even about matters on which the most consensus exists -- the need to fight al-Qaeda.   You might try, not to polemicize, but to satirize this state of affairs, by imagining an apple-pie-and-motherhood scenario in which the First Lady praised the value of mothers breastfeeding and being denounced for it by, say, Michelle Bachmann -- except that that actually happened.  The satirist shrugs and casts his pen aside.


In yet another journalistic scoop, the World of Doctor Justice has just been supplied with the Concept of Operations plan for the upcoming festivities (er) hostilities, code-name OPERATION BASH BASHAR.   This information comes to us by way of a lowly file-clerk -- who, however, has access to absolutely everything -- working at the supersecret installation two miles beneath the Fortress of Solitude, where they store the Secret Plans.

Enemy action:  Passes gas.
US response:  Whap ‘em!  Shock ‘n’ awe.

So far so good.   As is well-known (or at least widely believed), the U.S. military works up a range of purely hypothetical attack scenarios, just in case something comes up -- intervention in Haiti, a take-down of Iranian comms infrastructure, even an invasion of Liechtenstein.  (Dust that one off, gentleman!  That insolent mountain nation must be brought to heel !!)   With years to work on these, most of them are probably militarily pretty good.  But what we’re not so good at is looking ahead a few “ply” (to use the chess-player’s terminology):  having contingency plans for each of a spectrum of possible countermoves by the opponent. 

Here is how things played out in our last two adventures:

CONOPS Afghanistan:
Go grab Ben Laden;  return home to ticker-tape parade.
Unforseen development:  “Uh, sorry sir, we let Ben Laden escape.  Now what?”
Contingency plan:  None.
Dubya’s response:  Well, as long as we’re here, let’s do some *nation-building* !  I’m gonna own this entire godforsaken quagmire.  Hell, we’ll still be here in a decade.  This thing’ll last more than twice as long as WWII.

Go grab Saddam’s WMDs; return home to ticker-tape parade.
Unforseen development:  “Umm … There weren’t any.  But meanwhile the last vestige of civil order has broken down.”
Contingency plan:  None.
Dubya’s response: Well, as long as we’re here, let’s do some *nation-building* !  I’m gonna own this entire godforsaken quagmire.   This thing’ll make Afghanistan look like the teddy bears’ picnic!  Bring it on !!

So okay -- we go whap Syria;  by the time you read these lines, the Tomahawks may already be flying on their merry way.   What are our contingency plans, in the following quite possible scenarios?  
Courtesy of that Lowly File-Clerk, I have them right here before me, in a password-protected lockbox.  (Lessee now,  password, hmmm, mebbe try…. SWORDFISH.  -- Yep, that worked.)

Unforseen (but easily foreseeable) Development 1:
Like every previous dictator in similar circs, Bashar does not immediately fold, but thumbs his nose at us.   Parading (real or faked) videos of hospitals, kindergartens, and baby-hamster farms  supposedly destroyed in the U.S. onslaught, he says:   “Just for that, now I really will use nerve-gas!”, and he takes out another farmful of adorable baby hamsters.
US response [OPERATON HAMSTERS REVENGE]:   Whap ‘em again!  More shock, more awe!

Unforseen Development 2:   In retaliation, Hizbollah launches largest-ever rocket attack against Tel Aviv.
US response:  What?!  They wouldn’t do that, would they?

Unforseen Development 3:  Iran makes good on its publically stated threat to retaliate, by blocking the Persian Gulf.
US response:  Umm… We register a very frosty note of protest  at the United Nations,  and disinvite the Ayatollahs from next year’s Easter egg roll on the White House lawn.

Unforseen Development 4:  Putin, long simmering over the humiliations suffered by the former Soviet empire, responds:  “We understand your concept of the surgical strike, Mr. President.  In a measured response, we shall now sink just one (1) of your warships.”
US response:  (splutter …. splutter …)

Unforseen Development 5:  Israel takes advantage of the world’s being distracted by all this, to quietly do what it has been yearning to do for a long time, and drops a nuke on each of Iran’s suspected uranium sites.
US response:  Um … er ….  Cross that bridge when we come to it.

Unforseen Development  6:  In a dramatic extension of the Syrian Electronic Army’s recent successful cyberattacks against sophisticated targets like the New York Times, unidentified cyberwarriors manage to mess up ATC in CONUS, grounding all flights.   Unclear is whether a rogue group is behind the attack, or state actors.  Some indicators seem to point to China or North Korea -- or even Russia -- as the culprit, taking this opportunity to test their offensive malware at this propitious time, knowing that the U.S. will be quick to blame Syria or Iran.
US response:  Hmm … The matter requires further research.  Forming a committee …

Unforseen Development  7:  Liechtenstein, emboldened by the West’s paralysis in the face of chaos, invades Andorra.
US response:  … . Ahh…. Have to get back to you on that.

Unforseen Development  8:  In one of those freaks of military fortune, an American cruise missile lands on the facility where President Assad and his entire high command were meeting to strategize.  Decapitated, the regime instantly collapses.  Rebel groups, spearheaded by the al-Qaeda-associated ANF and ISIL, take over.   After a brief struggle (cf. AQIM vs. the Touareg rebels in Azawad), al-Qaeda seizes the reins of power.  It now controls all of the late Assad’s vast stores of chemical weapons.   They begin to survey the region with a meditative eye …
US response:   (TBD)

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading: "
(Ich bin Carl von Clausewitz, and I approved this message.)
~         ~

[Note to the reader.    The above is SATIRE;  no actual classified material was compromised while dreaming it up.  Repeat:  SATIRE.   Though also, unfortunately, the literal truth.]

[Update, a few minutes later]  Based on his speech, the President would appear to have thought ahead several ply.    So the above scenarios are now directed to our solons in Congress.  Remember -- You can’t vote just for the nose of the camel;  you’ll be embracing the whole beast.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Updates to Essays

Click on the title  for the essay in full.

To “The Umbrella Man”:

Arthur Koestler, on the attitude of himself and his companions in Cloudcuckooland, up to the shock of September 1939, when they finally realized that the time of postponements and appeasements had finally passed:

They had lived so long under the sign of the Umbrella,
that they found it difficult to believe
that the age of the Sword had come.
-- The Scum of the Earth (1941, 2nd. edn. 1955)

[Anyone who is inclined to see a parallel with certain quite current events, is free to do so.]

To “De Amore”:

Marriage is a duel to the death, which no man of honour should decline.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Manalive (1912)

Man to Matrimony:  Are you satisfaktionsfähig ?
Matrimony:  Aye;  and there is little else that is, here below.

The enigma of a woman’s heart,
finally espied  by a Private Eye,
for less than the price  of a Valentine …
This Rose
[Kindle]  [Nook]

On the extra profusion of different string theories, a mathematician remarks dryly,

It was hardly an idea calculated to appeal to a man with a taste for desert landscapes  … There are more than 10^500 versions of string theory  lounging indolently about.
-- David Berlinski,  The Deniable Darwin (2009), p. 532-3

Freudian Found-Monostich

 Das Wort ist hier wirklich    wieder zu Zauber geworden.
 -- S. Freud, Seelenbehandlung (1905)

[Weiteres von diesem grossen Dichter  hier.]

(ode to bug)

We here salute   the least of God’s creatures,
the  (humble bug),
beside whom   e’en the Humble Woodchuck
doth seem proud.

Nay,  but for the bug,
the Ladder of Nature  had collapsed,
lacking a footing.

Oft kroch ein Käfer kribbelkrab
Am hübschen Blümlein  auf und ab.
-- Wilhelm Busch

And here we have a little poem written by an actual bug.
(Here you can see him actually writing it.)

O Noes !!

O ...  Noes!  Da it-tle bug!
Bug  not  know!   Bug all confused!
Meb-beh   kit-teh    eat     da bug !!!
Allgone bug   go allgone !!!!!!   (runrunrun)

(Fragments of consciousness, like sparks --
nay   like  fireflies
in the dark …)

Thumbnail summary for the busy business-man:

Recent figures released by the Department of Agriculture
reveal that there remain only 934 Americans
who have yet to savor the pleasures
of the pistol-packing, wise-cracking
Murphy Brothers, P.I.s.
If you are among these unfortunate few,
make up for lost time here:


Thursday, August 29, 2013

“You Broke it, You Bought it.”

When I was but a boy -- when Ike was in office, and a young fellow with the improbable name of “Elvis” was causing heads and hips to shake -- some stores sported signs saying

You Broke it, You Bought it.

Ever-mindful of the awful sanctions that the stern adult world could impose, I moved gingerly among the aisles, lest inadvertently I should upset some costly item beyond my means -- my means at the time consisting entirely in my allowance of a nickel a week, quickly spent.
It is a lesson worth remembering.


America has been fortunate, in having had very little indeed to do with Syria, throughout its history.  France was involved for a time;  later (to a lesser extent) Britain;  but no-one can blame us for the mess that Syrians have made for themselves.

All that will change, the instant the first Tomahawk lands near Damascus:  we will be blamed for every ill that Syrians have suffered since the age of the Hyksos.  Count on it.

Just sayin’.

~ Celebrity Endorsement ~
“To distract my mind from current troubles,
I like to dig into a gritty mystery,
starring those tough-talking, two-fisted Private Eyes,
the lovable Murphy Brothers.”
(My name is Bashar al-Assad, and I approved this message.)

Meanwhile across the pond:

The Joint Intelligence Committee produced the dossier on Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD arsenal, used by Tony Blair’s government to justify joining George Bush’s invasion of Iraq; a deeply flawed document which became a byword for manipulation and fabrication, even of intelligence to suit a political agenda.
The report the JIC presented today into another tranche of WMDs, this time belonging to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, was written in much more measured tones, acknowledging that much of it was from open source material – videos, testimonies of patients and medics – and not really revealing anything significantly secret.
In the process it failed to make a case for war.

And in case you imagined that Syrian Christians are cool with U.S. intervention, check this out:

Already weary of this WMD summer re-run?
Why  not read a gripping mystery instead!
Check in with the Murphy Brothers,
two-fisted, wise-cracking  Private Eyes:
Yule B glad U did!


Und täglich grüßt das WMD …

A wry comment in a Swiss publication:

Hat sich da der Friedensnobeltraeger Barack Obama mit seiner Syrien Rhetorik nicht selbst an’s Bein gepinkelt; muss er sich doch die Frage stellen wie es moeglich sein koennte, dass er sich ein paar Tage vor dem 12. Jahrestag von 9/11 in eine Situation manoverierte, wo er an der Seite von AlKheida kaempfen soll?

(The salty expression could be rendered as  “The President pipi’d down his own pants-leg”.)

Linguistic bonus:  pronunciation and etymology of the name Bashar al-Assad.

[Update 14 June 2014]  An unusually fine article about the crumbling of Iraq:
 Check out the "Readers favorites" Comments in particular.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

La mise en scène

Remember Baghdad Bob, or whatever he was called -- Saddam’s spokesman back in 2003:  Who, as our forces closed in -- smoke visible on the horizon, and rumors of war in the rear -- still giddily chattering to the cameras that all was well, the U.S. Army was nowhere near?   It made a kind of sense:   His manner seemed to say, “I have to say these things because otherwise Saddam will have my balls for breakfast;  but I’m saying them in a silly way, so that the victorious occupation forces won’t treat me like a hardliner, but maybe will allow me to become the host of a game show."

Understood.  But why, in the name of all that’s nameable, has the State Department, in these parlous times, chosen a spokeswoman who looks and sounds like an ex-cheerleader (maybe not so ex-, in fact), bubble-headed and unbelievable?  Tonight, defending the Administration’s apparent intention of rolling forward with violent intervention without waiting for the U.N. report (though there is no threat to the homeland, immediate or otherwise) nor for a sorting-out of just who gassed whom when and why,  she sounded like a Barbie doll, or even a Betsy-Wetsy.

Gare le Gröfaz !

We earlier remarked upon that gross ungainly coinage,  the widerliches Unwort  Gröfaz”.  It sounds like something coined by Christian Morgenstern, to frighten the children (Benimm dich doch, sonst fängt dich der Gröfaz!) :

Yet the word’s unsung  in song or story.  Herewith  we remedy this,  after the manner of Morgenstern:

Der Gröfaz ist ein gräßlich Ding,
dem Greif an Greuel  nicht minder.
Er grübelt grimm  im Grabenring,
und grunzelt gen die Kinder.

Falls Sie im Doktor-Justiz-Sammelsurium
weiterblättern möchten,
Bitte hier klicken:

[17 XII 2013]  Zudem (was neues):

«GroKo» – eine Wortschöpfung hat es in sich. «GroKo» steht für grosse Koalition und meint die Formel, nach der die neue deutsche Regierung zusammengesetzt ist. Noch bevor die neuen Minister der Regierung ihre Sessel besetzt haben, hat die Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache «die deutsch-lateinische übel verhackstückte Chimäre ‹GroKo› zu ihrem Wort des Jahres 2013 erhoben», wie unser Autor Klaus Bartels schreibt. «Wenn das ein Wort sein soll», so Bartels weiter, «dann hat die Schweiz doch längst schon ihre glücklich allseits koaleszierende, koalisierende ‹Zaufo› – richtig: die Zauberformel.»

Dieses Unwort klingt genau so häßlich wie das unbeweinte « Gröfaz », doch schmeckt es ein bisserl nach Christian Morgensterns Wortküche !

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guidelines for interpreting mystery dramas, in movies, radio, or television

* The slutty girl is the murderess.

* Importance of the corpus delicti:   If the body is missing, the alleged victim is alive, either kidnapped, or participating in some scam.  Alternately (a minority plot, that of Chasing the Dime), it is being kept in cold storage, for safekeeping, so as to frame the innocent protagonsit.

*  The arrogant or nasty guy -- though an asshole -- is probably not the Mole.   But a character who makes your skin crawl, for reasons you can’t quite put your finger on … watch out.

* Whatever just happened, has roots in something that happened  long, long ago …

(For more on thrillers, try here.)

(And here.)             (And here.)