From the NY Times:
What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses
. . .
Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year.
Peanut recall grows as feds find problems at plant
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and GREG BLUESTEINWASHINGTON (AP) -- The salmonella outbreak spawned one of the largest ever product recalls Wednesday by a Georgia peanut plant where federal inspectors reported finding roaches, mold, a leaking roof and other sanitary problems. Managers at the Blakely, Ga. plant owned by Peanut Corp. of America continued shipping peanut products even after they were found to contain salmonella. . . .
Associated Press Writers
The official count is 500 sick; eight dead.
Once more going to places we shouldn't* . . .
The new book is due out later this year. Anyway, this a quick backgrounder. The story the video goes with has a slightly different perspective from one Cuban family's point of view. Read it here ...
And sorry about the ad that occasionally pops up at the beginning . . .
* Or went, or might have but didn't, or couldn't possibly have, or tried hard not to - whatever the lawyers' formulation of the day is I'm supposed to use, insert here.
As the Bush administration wound down, a number of stories filtered out of the White House concerning Iran's nuclear program. The headlines focused on two thing - the alleged vetoing of an Israeli plan to bomb an Iranian facility, and a U.S. covert operation against the Iranians.
The person or persons who mentioned the covert program ought to be shot, but that's another issue.
Buried inside the stories and implicit in some of the details was the fact that Iran probably now has enough nuclear material for one bomb. Which means that within a relatively short time, they will have enough material for two or three. (I'll skip the details here for space. You need more than one warhead since you want to be able to test the design and still have a bomb left in case you need it. As a practical matter, a country would probably need or at least want material for anywhere from four to six warheads before a test; the test announces that you have the weapon and, certainly in this case, invites an immediate strike from Israel if you don't have something to retaliate with. The design, by the way, doesn't have to be tested on your soil.)
Nothing looming on the horizon seems likely to prevent Iran now from "harvesting" additional material. Its missile program, while far from perfect, is already capable of sending a warhead to Israel.
We haven't formally entered a new era of Middle East calculus yet, but we're only a few months away.
Except as a deterrent against an invasion or direct attack, Iran's nuclear program may prove next to useless; nuclear bombs handcuff responsible leaders to a much greater extent than conventional weapons. But that surely remains to be seen, and the next steps of "engaging" Iran over the issue will be extremely interesting.
If you want to understand why the banks are continuing to implode, and how we got to here, pick up Phillips' book. It's not very technical, yet lays out the situation pretty well.
(If you like politicians - either party, but especially the Republicans - some of it will be hard to take, but hey. And I assume you're not reading it if you're a banker...)
The amazing thing is that the book was published last April, which means he was writing it in 2007, before the end result he writes about actually happened. It reads as if it was written this week.
So X* calls up the other day, in a bad mood. Deal he's been working on since Grant died still hasn't been pulled together.
"I told my agent two weeks ago to nail it down," he said. Being a fiction writer, he used more colorful terms, but that's all I can without burning the pornography filters.
"Sucks," I said. "Deals are taking a lot longer now because everyone's afraid. I myself - "
"That's not it. He hasn't even called the editor."
"Sucks," I said. "But how do you know?"
"He hasn't gotten to it," said X. "Because he's busy. You know what he's busy with?"
"Doing that six-figure deal for Y?"
"I only wish. [Actually, he hates Y, but that's another story.] No, he's been drinking lattes."
"Give me a break."
"Go on Facebook and check it out..."
It turns out that X's agent has been drinking lattes, and quite often. A partial transcript from Facebook showed that, at the very time X called him and got his voice mail, said agent was:
- 'enjoying a latte'
- thinking about getting a latte
- 'imbibing a Classic Coke'
- researching the caffeine content of a double latte
- 'thinking about going to the movies'
- 'bored with cheesecake'
- 'sharpening his pencils on an old-style pencil sharpener'
- 'cutting my toenails'
The type of cheesecake was unspecified. The posts also reveal that the agent "works" from roughly 10:30 to 10:45 a.m., when he heads out for lunch, and 2:15 to 3-ish, whereupon he goes to pick up his kid from Angel School, whatever that is.
"I'm impressed that you have an agent who uses the word 'imbibing'," I told X. "But cutting your toenails in the office - kinda gross."
"It may not have been the office," said X. "He gets his email on an iPhone now. He's mobile."
"No kidding. Why do people waste their time posting this crap? To let you know they're not working?"
"At least he's not saying what he thinks of you."
"Who cares what he thinks of me - I want him to get the deal done. Or at least answer my phone."
"Maybe you should start writing that on your Facebook log thing. Like 10:50 - Thinking of my agent and the deal he hasn't done . . . 10:51 - Researching methods of offing my agent . . . 10:52 - Settling on an axe as the best method . . ."
There was silence on the line for a moment.
"Gotta go," said X finally.
I wished him luck. Asking him why he had an agent who drank lattes would have to wait for another time.
* Name and a few details omitted to protect the guilty.
The Thai government Monday sentenced an Australian novelist to three in jail for "insulting" the Thai monarchy - by writing a novel critical of the monarchy. Self-published, the book is reported to have sold ten copies.
The monarchy has played a critical role in the country, providing stability and inspiration during a time of change. Sentencing someone to prison for "insulting" it seems very much at odds with the values the present king has espoused.
Link to NY Times story.
Over the weekend, the North Korean military stirred the geo-political pot by announcing that they were taking an "all-out confrontational posture" toward South Korea. At the same time - more or less - North Korean officials also said that they had "weaponized" roughly 31 kilograms of plutonium. (The general consensus is that that amount translates into four to six bombs; the actual amount used depends on the specific design.)
Those developments are in sharp contrast to the government's recent overtures to the Obama administration, including a request (denied, as far as I know) to attend the inauguration.
More of the same from North Korea, which has always believed in the carrot and stick approach when negotiating? Or is there a power struggle going on for control after (or maybe even before) Kim Jong il, now in bad health, dies or steps down?
The latter seems most likely. The statements by the military seem designed to show that it controls the country's might - and that Kim's successor must come to terms with it if he wants to rule.
Will North Korea's army give up the nuclear weapons if they see that as their most important "chip" in internal politics?
On the other hand, if you were playing poker, would you discard three aces and try to win with only a pair of deuces?
Today's Wall Street Journal features a story on a "secretive" Wall Street fraternity - they mean that literally - with a kind of gallows humor tone.
I can understand partying as the ship sinks beneath you, but this blew me away:
"Today, the FBI put out a warning that Al Qaeda was planning an attack to cripple the U.S. economy," inductee Martin Gruss joked later in the evening. "I've got news for them, Congress has already done that."
Oh, now I get it. Congress - aka the American public - bails out Wall Street for a phenomenal sum . . . hundreds of billions, with hands still out . . . but Congress is the problem.
Now I see the attractions of the French Revolution . . .
(Here's a link to the story - you probably need a subscription though.)
By now you've heard of Chesley B. Sullenberger III and his copilot (unnamed in early reports, but surely as worthy of praise), who managed to ditch an A320 in the Hudson River without losing a single passenger.
I'm sure there was a bit of luck and maybe divine intervention involved, but I want Sully and crew whenever I fly...
But hey, you know this guy was good - he drove F-4s for the Air Force ...
Item: The NY Yankees have hired a high-rolling real estate company to try to sell premium seats at the new stadium.
Seems about a fourth of the real estate in the prime areas hasn't been sold. What a shock. I mean, seats that went in the range of sixty bucks are now costing . . . what? three-fifty?
But shouldn't someone tell Randy Levine that real estate agents aren't exactly pounding the ol' pill these days?
So the Guru calls up and asks: "Remember that time last year when Xxxx* was around and we were in that place and he got a little excited and things got hairy and someone called the police and the fire alarm went off and we had to sneak out by pretending we were with the paramedics?"
Guru: "Do you happen to remember what you had to drink? I'm filling out the expense report . . ."
* Name redacted to protect the guilty from probable and multiple parole violations
New age couple-types do their yoga together every morning . . . but not quite in peace and harmony . . .
Him: If you keep chanting when we finish yoga, I'm going to start singing. I don't think you want to hear what's going on in my skull when I'm meditating.
Chuckee at the car place was all wrenched up the other day because he heard the New York governor wanted to tax Coke at 18 percent.
"You know what that's going to do to my overhead?" he moaned when I brought the car over for some new wiper blades.
"I didn't know you drank soda," I told him. "All you have is beer in that machine out back."
He blinked at me. "Oh," he said, and went off to fix someone's clutch.
This is the core of the situation in Gaza. The scene takes place in a beleagured hospital in Gaza City:
Within minutes, another car pulled up with four more patients.One was a 21-year-old man with shrapnel in his left leg who demanded quick treatment. He turned out to be a militant with Islamic Jihad. He was smiling a big smile.
“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting,” he told the doctors and anyone else who would listen.
He was told that there were more serious cases than his and that he needed to wait his turn. But he insisted. “We are fighting the Israelis,” he said. “When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.” He continued smiling.
“Why are you so happy?” someone asked. “Look around you. Don’t you see the misery that you are helping to cause?”
A girl who looked about 18 was screaming from pain as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded was looking around helplessly. A man had a head injury, with parts of his brain coming out. He was on a stretcher, his family wailing at his side.
“Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.“But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”
From a longer dispatch in the NY Times, available here. There are very few options when dealing with this kind of madness.
So I wake up in the middle of the night and realize there's a massive hole in the end of the book . . . which means ripping out one hundred pages and fixing it, like yesterday . . .
From now on, no more going to sleep.
So instead of another six or eight inches of snow, we've had an inch or so of ice . . . which is real purty, except, it's an inch or so of ice . . .
Which raises the question . . . what happened to the WWII surplus flamethrower I had in the barn?
The story of the Dieppe hero who wasn't (see the post below) begs its own questions, most importantly why did I feel it necessary to include in the book at all.
The story he told was compelling, though, and certainly if it had been true I would have included it, just as nearly every other author has. But he wasn't a Ranger, and after I debunked it for myself I debated whether I should include it at all. I didn't feel angry that the man had received honors and had gone done in history for something he didn't do. On the contrary, I felt sorry for him - my impression was that he felt so much survivor guilt, and perhaps shame at not being able to live up to whatever he thought he should have done under fire, that he invented a story that made him look like an action hero to compensate. Revealing that seemed almost like compounding his wounds and pain.
And who was I to pass judgement? I wasn't there; who knows how I would have reacted that day, under those circumstances, at that moment. We all like to think we will be brave under every circumstance, on every occasion, yet of course that is impossible. Who are any of us, really, to judge what another person does? True judgement can only be rendered by God.
And yet, anyone reading his story must think, can only wonder, why if this man was able to achieve what he claimed to achieve, others couldn't. That reason alone made it important to include the story somewhere, even if ultimately it might be tangential to the rest of the tale.
After I finished the book, I realized the story of his bravery, and non-bravery, echoed in many ways one of the important themes of the work - what courage really is, and how those who come later attempt to retrieve and relive that courage. In many ways, the battle - all battles - that we revisit can tell us as much about ourselves as about the men who fought it. If we're willing to look at it with clear eyes, and struggle for the truth.
One of the wrecked landing craft; yes, those are bodies in the wreckage.
The Allied raid at Dieppe in 1942 was largely a disaster, an incredible and horrific bloodbath for practically everyone involved.
Rangers at Dieppe focuses, obviously, on the small band of American Rangers who were there. But there are still a few untold or under-told stories from that day. One of the most moving for me is that of a Canadian soldier who received war honors for acts he clearly never could have done. He was credited - and officially still is - with having made the furthest penetration into the city, and achieving what can only be described as an odyssey of bravery that took him in a long semi-circle around and behind the German lines. His stories have been recounted in just about every book on the battle, accepted there as true.
The man's account is a longish footnote in the book, where I briefly debunk it. Two things about it continue to intrigue me, though: first of all, what the soldier really did, namely help others in the water board a boat and escape under murderous fire, was a fairly heroic and selfless act, certainly under the circumstances. Reality may not have been stronger than fiction, but it was certainly good enough. And secondly, the people listening to the story when it was first told, from the official debriefers to the unit commanders to the army historians, clearly had some psychological need to believe what the man said, just as he undoubtedly had some sort of psychological need to say it.
It wasn't that you needed to know something about the city as well as the battle to say the story wasn't true; the tale was so incredible that it stood out as utter nonsense. Yet even after this was pointed out by others who had been there, the official army historian - whose work is incredibly painstaking in nearly every way - still wouldn't let himself believe the truth.
We're all brave in our dreams and in our hearts. Reality can be a different matter. The hard part is knowing where the line between the two lies. And sometimes, the need for courage is so critical that we have to blur the line. Fiction becomes more important than reality.
There's at least one other official story of heroism that's bull, by the way, but we'll leave it to some future historian to debunk it.
The book's website: www.rangersatdieppe.com
Rangers at Dieppe comes out in paperback this week, which is cool. The only problem is that, due to circumstances beyond my control, a number of changes I wanted to make weren't included in the paperback.
I was mostly hoping to make a few corrections to some small mistakes. The most embarrassing is a section in the book where I inexplicably described an M-1 carbine rather than the M-1 rifle. It didn't harm the story, of course, but it's one of those things that make you cringe later on - kind of like walking through a really fancy restaurant with toilet paper on your shoe. (I wouldn't have minded the mistake so much if I hadn't known the difference, but that's another story . . .)
On the other hand, that error has been very fortunate. A number of readers have taken the time to set me straight - most very kindly - and have shared incredible stories of their experiences, or their fathers' or grandfathers', during the war. I've learned a lot and gained a lot in the process.
It's almost as if I did it on purpose. I didn't. But I'm glad I got a chance to talk to these guys and gals.
The book's website: www.rangersatdieppe.com
Militants have launched six such attacks [rocket-propelled assaults on NATO depots and staging areas] in Peshawar since the beginning of December, destroying some 300 Humvees and other military vehicles as well as supplies worth millions of dollars. While these raids have obvious consequences for international troops in Afghanistan, they also mark a new level of insecurity for Peshawar, a city of universities, kebab stands, and carpet dealers that has always had an edgy border-town vibe but that now seems increasingly vulnerable to a Taliban takeover.
Article in Slate detailing what's going on in Peshawar, on the border with Afghanistan. You can judge the government's seriousness by the pay gap between what it pays officers and what the Taliban pays its fighters.
The story mentions the possibility of residents forming a vigilante militia to take matters into their own hands, something I'd never heard of before.