27 February, 2011

The Adventures of Busty Steele: Mercenary In Leather will be back after these messages...

It looks like this weekend decided to be lazy on my behalf. Yesterday, all I did was go to Kinkos and print out the second draft. I've been admiring it since, but haven't made the slightest effort to begin the third draft. Of course yesterday I also slept for twelve hours, so I think I made the decision to be lazy last week sometime.

In the middle of those twelve hours I was woken up for work-related reasons, so life's an ever-unfolding challenge blah blah blah.

Speaking of which, Qaddaffi isn't going to get out of this one. Like every other dictator, he'd staved off the Islamists and the Americans for decades. His country is just an arbitrary conglomeration of tribes and oil fields, the alternative to him is chaos. We knew it, that's why we didn't bump him off earlier. But he's one of the people that got a message when we took out Saddam, about how easy it was, how Iraq did not unite for their dictator, and how he'd better play nice with WMD inspectors.

In Egypt, the alternative is not chaos (yet) so Mubarek left much more peacefully. Now the Muslim Brotherhood, the democrats and the military power have to figure out what to do next. Qaddaffi's accrued a lot of hardcore killers over the years, and they didn't restrain.

[When he finally addressed the protests and massacres, Obama stressed "the whole world is watching". They already know that and it already doesn't bother them. Would it be better if the world wasn't watching?]

Qadaffi says he'll die as a martyr, because like every other Middle Eastern leader, he aspires to the gold ring of Caliph-in-the-making. This is a civil war within Islam as the leaders play king of the hill. There is no time left, but Qadaffi's decided to go down fighting, rather than escape with his life like Mubarek did (unless Mubarek's dead, rumors have been sketchy, and like everyone else in the despot club, he's quite old.)

The House of Saud just increased the oil money bribes to every citizen. They have Mecca and Medina, as long as they can fend off betrayal on their home turf, they're good. But they're also in a bind, since not a bit of that wealth comes from Saudi Arabia itself, but rather from the money capitalist nations give them. The same nations who pointed to Saddam, told him he was gone, and made it happen.

Of course the west doesn't have any idea what to do or say about it. Although I am no fan of the administration, everything they do will be wrong for reasons far beyond their control. The best they can do is cover their own asses, not the most flattering leadership position to take, but one they're good at. It's not like they can bribe their citizens to stay loyal.

Wheels are spinning off of things that some people didn't even know had wheels. What beliefs, what practices, what cultures have the most staying power, those will be the winners of whatever comes next. Somali pirates have so far gotten away with killing four Americans. And there must be a lot of Muslims who wonder why they can't have nice easy worldwide spiritual leadership that changes peacefully the way Catholics have.

If that isn't depressing enough, while writing this I did the third draft of Page 1. Fifty-five corrections need to be made. Oh my...

Some times you can really identify with Daffy Duck. Just when you think you've got everything under control...

Now that's just an indignity, I'm not able to embed "Pronoun Trouble" or "Wabbit Season, Duck Season" or any other cool Looney Toons.

So here's something I just discovered, a blog that reprints and extensively comments on early Peanuts strips.

19 February, 2011

Harry the Hat and Gary have a meeting up at Melville's...

Four months to the day after I started writing the first chapter, I've finished the second draft of the book. That was a gruelling experience, going through every single word to make sure it fit. That said, there were some bits I'd forgotten that I really liked, and I was quite impressed with how the whole 'make it up as you go along' thing worked. I've still got to do at least a third draft, making sure the characters, plot and themes are actually consistent. Everything *feels* right, but there are a few places where I'm not sure it *is* right.

It's actually somewhat educational. I tend to polish quite a bit even while writing the first draft (believe it or not), but very few pieces I've written were scrutinized this much. I must have made 60 changes per page at least, basically one edit every fifteen words. I'm a damned good writer, and it's humbling to see so much that needs to be fixed. In the last few weeks, even the prospect of getting closer to done wasn't an incentive to keep slogging through pages.

Work is going reasonably well. I'm running an arms room and putting up with some long hours and odd problems that arise. Challenging to get used to, but sort of fun that way as well.

Currently a number of Middle Eastern countries are in flames. Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Iran, not to mention Egypt and probably others I've forgotten. There's not a lot of news. A blonde infidel woman who dressed as a whore was sexually assaulted in Egypt by a group of Muslim men who shouted "Jew". Fortunately she was saved by Egyptian women and soldiers, but it's not likely other Western newscasters will journey out too far. It's almost as horrible as covering the Tea Party.

By the way, where are the men of the Muslim world on the assault of Lara Logan? That is a total breaking point between civilization and barbarism. The demonstrators in Egypt seem to be a mixture - that varies for every individual - of desire for freedom and liberty, desire for order and stability even to the point of despotism, desire to be good Muslims and desire to be Egyptians. No nation is civilized where a woman can not walk by herself with a reasonable expectation of safety, even an infidel dressed like a whore. Non-negotiable.

Or, as a British imperialist is once reported to have said, we'll respect their customs as long as they respect our custom of shooting anybody who treats a woman that way.

I'm sure anybody in Egypt who has the slightest inclination towards American interests would jump at the chance to find this mob and serve them up on a platter. It would make a nice test of a civilized legal system, conclusively proving their guilt before execution. But what about those Egyptians who don't have an inclination towards American interests? Where do they stand on this animal behavior?

The leftist internet sites I peruse all work to avoid the elephant in the room that it might have been an expected response of violent Muslim men to sexually assault an infidel woman. Those that don't digress into hair-splitting definitions of rape and privacy in general - with regular references to the awful Republican patriarchy - assume that the assault was committed by thugs of Mubarek's regime with no evidence whatsoever. Then there's the sickos (the kind who defend Roman Polanski, Julian Assange, John Edwards, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, shariat law even when it contradicts their supposed feminism) who think Logan had it coming for being a "warmonger".

But hey, the left is suddenly all about freedom in the Muslim world. Showing no trace of irony, the current demonstrators in Wisconsin are claiming solidarity with Egyptian demonstrators, against governor Hitler Mubarek. Showing his usual good sense, even the President has already opined, first stipulating that he knows nothing about it, but then saying it's clearly an assault on unions and therefore bad. Way to be President of the entire nation there, champ.

Despite every bit of evidence that entitlement spending is creating a crisis in every state and nation, public teachers in Wisconsin are calling in sick to go demonstrate - some of them bringing their students - rather than even consider any changes to their contract that would bring them down to the taxpayer's level. This just four months after said taxpayers voted Republicans for governor and both houses of the legislature. Somebody's cranky.

What do they think they're doing by claiming solidarity with the Egyptian demonstrators? The Muslim Brotherhood is probably the largest and most influential organization in the world still in existence that openly sided with the Nazis during the war, and played a large role in the on-going popularity of "Mein Kampf" (which FYI translates to "Jihad") Are they so blind as to not see who is waiting to profit from their lunacy?

I guess not, they don't have a chance, but they're out there anyway. There's no money. An engine won't move if there's no gas.

It sounds like there's a Tea Party planned this weekend, now that everybody else who had to work for a living has some time off. They already voted for people who promised to cut spending, public employees have no real basis for this strike. They think they're oppressed now, wait until they see their fellow Wisconsans coming out after morning prayers tomorrow.

Here's the montage of "Cheers" clips set to the full-length theme song on its 200th episode spectacular. I'm not sure why I've been thinking of the series lately, but for whatever reason I've been suddenly recalling some line or scene, whether or not I cared for them at the time.

It's still an interesting show. I think, this clip is the first video I've seen of the show in quite some time, but I found myself laughing anyway at how many forgotten moments there were. I barely recall what episode half of them were from, and almost none of them came to mind when thinking about the show before this.

This montage was biased towards physical comedy, but as I remember there was a surprising amount of it in the show. Surprising, but you don't think of "Cheers" as a show about physical comedy. Somewhere between "Night Court" and "Family Ties" on the sitcom scale [courtesy of the Nick-At-Nite "Better Living Through Television" scale of measurement], there was actually physical humor. Sam and Diane's slap-fest, or almost any time Kirstie Alley was genuinely funny. Think about that, yeah the writers gave her some good lines, but the places Rebecca works the best are when she's doing something physical, jumping over the bar or something. Without that, she collapsed into whining and the last seasons really look like the writers had a memo 'don't forget to give Kirstie something to do this week' when putting together every new episode.

The show also worked as an ensemble, where any of the characters were capable of holding a main plot or a sub-plot. I understand it was something of a pioneer in season-long story arcs for the characters, which I assume grew out of the Sam-Diane-Rebecca relationship. It did bring the domestic/romantic comedy into the workplace - unlike "Taxi" or "Mary Tyler Moore", two workplace sitcoms preceeding "Cheers" from the same creators. [Random example: David Lloyd, who wrote MTMs "Chuckles Bites The Dust" wrote the very physically-active "Woody's Wedding" late in "Cheers" run.]

The ensemble cast really helped bring the show to the gold standard of television as episodic entertainment, that of characters we want to see again and keep current on their latest adventures. The kind of show comics used to be good at. I would like to think that it was the last great show, but I stopped watching TV ages ago. After "Cheers", there was "Seinfeld" and then "Friends". Ray Romano had a show, and "Two and a Half Men" has been on for many years before it became "Will Charlie Sheen Live To The Next Episode?" To me the sitcom is dead, but there are many viewers who disagree with me.

On an NBC Anniversary special several years after the show ended, most of the cast reunited, in character, to be there. It was nice to see them all again, as was the reunion for a mid-late episode of "Frasier", a show that had nearly as much objective success as its parent, but never came close to being the same cultural touchstone. As a then-current NBC star, Kelsey Grammar had his own segment of the same anniversary show.

Amusingly, it was interrupted by Bob Newhart, complaining about all these people from NBC being at a CBS function. "Bob, this is NBC." Bob says that's not what he heard, pointing to Bill Dailey sitting in front of him, next to Barbara Eden. "Um, Bob, I was on CBS too." Later Bob showed up and mentioned his first show did run briefly on NBC, and introduced some other guest. It was a fun show, as many various casts as possible were brought out, and in character.

It was followed a few months later by a similar show on CBS which did the same thing. Highlights of that show include John Schneider and Tom Wopat doing a gawdawful country-music medley of CBS theme songs and a clip of Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette waking up in bed, again. "Oh Bob, not that dream about the three woodsmen again."

"Cheers" has been released in full on DVD, I even have one season (somewhere). As has "Frasier", and even "The Bob Newhart Show." Unfortunately, "Newhart" has not been released beyond its first season, which is a shame. It's a show that really stands up, especially because it was so untopical. Except for the outfits and a very few pop culture references, there's nothing whatosever to place what time it was made.

And it was hilarious. "Newhart" was Bob's attempt to follow up his earlier show, with Mary Frann and Tom Poston backing him up. Mary Frann did an excellent job in the extremely unenviable position of following Suzanne Pleshette's footsteps, but watching the first season, nothing prepared me for how awesome Tom Poston was. If the adjectives "understated" and "zany" can be combined, and then given steroids, that's his version of George Utley, banal handyman extraordinaire.

Steve Kampmann was very good as Kirk, the compulsive liar and slimeball who operated the cafe next door. The character was just too limited to be useful, too little Ted Baxter, too much Frank Burns. In the second season, he was given a girlfriend (Cindy the clown) and then written out. Also in the first season was Jennifer Holmes as Leslie Vanderkellen. They gave her lots of interesting things to do, but it just wasn't working. Like Markie Post's early appearances on "Night Court" (or possibly Harry Morgan's appearance in MASH soon before COL Potter showed up), when Julia Duffy makes an appearance having a fling with Kirk, it's clear what direction the show will need to go.

The first season includes most of the characters who would be around for the entire series, mostly as quirky townsfolk. The Mayor and his crony, the sheriff who spoke in monotone, Larry, Darryl and Darryl. These characters and more would go on to dominate the show, but they're all in the first season. Really, Peter Scolari as Michael Harris, producer of Bob's tv show, would be the only change in the cast for the rest of the show. And Michael and Stephanie's baby, if you want to count her.

Dammit, Youtube also doesn't have Bob Newhart's appearance on the Murphy Brown show, come to retrieve his secretary Carol, the one competent assistant Murphy found during her entire show.

Speaking of that show, funny how that one doesn't seem to be remembered anymore. It was topical, no doubt about that. I remember it as being funny too, but it's been a while. That show ran into problems, some of which affect most sitcoms (changing cast members), too much topic-of-the-week, and some of which it brought on itself. In the long run, who was supported by that big deal about Murphy having her baby? Candice Bergen herself said (years later) Dan Quayle was right about a father's importance.

It wasn't the first show to jump the shark after having a baby. But all the extra attention given to the issue because of Murphy's baby - no thanks to Mr. Quayle; I know the Vice-President doesn't have anything better to do, but geez, doesn't the Vice-President have anything better to do? - went away, and then the kid just interferred with their storylines. So they ditched the kid, freely admitting it in E! TV retrospectives and the historical record. Towards the end, when ratings were dropping, they did an oh-so-touching arc about Murphy and breast cancer, and brought the kid back magically aged enough to feel sorry for her. Way to help prove the Muslims wrong, guys.

11 February, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1: The Wrath of Khan

This is going to be a disaster. Much like the Watchmen movie, this seems to have been made by people obsessively-nerdy enough about the source material to get every little detail right, right down to large chunks of dialogue. And, much like the Watchmen movie, it's just not possible to get it right.

As I was waiting for the video to load, I asked myself what the best way to approach an Atlas Shrugged movie would be. This was before I made the Watchmen connection, but I thought the best way would be to keep the plot. Don't explain the thinking behind the story, just take them and as much of the plot as you can dramatize, change everything else.

Other than the twist ending - which I'll admit was a clever change - Watchmen was a lurid pulp-inspired degradation of the graphic novel's brilliance. It was now possible to recreate the comic shot for shot, but as Mark Twain would say, you have the notes but not the music. I don't think the movie bombed (certainly not as badly as Frank Miller's The Spirit, which I've never seen), but that is how it's seen in hindsight.

Atlas Shrugged is in a similar category, with even more connections to pulp fiction and lurid materials. The dialogue alone would make it almost entirely unfilmable, and with so much of the story happening in narration, the whole idea looks pointless.

That's what I mean about taking the plot and doing something else with it. It still builds up to Galt's speech and all the reasons he has for making it, but most of his words would have to be scrapped. Hell, in the original book, he made the speech on RADIO.

With the digital revolution in filmmaking, it's much easier to make a personal vision in movies, although it comes at the expense of real styles. There's a mind-numbing similarity to digital effects - the slo-mo shot is the one that annoys me the most - and the coloring and special effects that can be made by having actors standing in front of green screens. It's why Hollywood has finally been able to film things that for so long were impossible. The Star Wars prequels, Watchmen, the Frank Miller oeuvre, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter: The Franchise, and now Atlas. It takes far fewer people and smaller operations to file actors into a room with a green screen, film them doing their stuff and making the rest on a computer.

Visually, it looks like it could be interesting, although I admit I've never given much thought to what the characters would look like. Rand's writing style was sufficiently intrusive to ward off those thoughts, for me anyway. It's not that English was a second language to her, Tolstoy wrote in Russian and the translations of his writing are majestic and eloquent. Nah, it's just Rand.

I tend to prefer her two earlier books, The Fountainhead and We, The Living, which are each more readable and less overbearing with the philosophy. People talk much more like actual people, and have more complicated personalities - bad people doing good things, good people doing bad things - and they're shorter, which makes the plots work even better. And she did nail the plots, which in all three books are tightly-wound interweaving threads that dramatize whatever ideas she's conveying and build naturally to strong endings.

I don't know if this movie will be a bomb. Someone's obviously invested in a trilogy. If the box office take isn't there to release the sequel, my guess is the three parts (most if not all of which are probably filmed by now) will be put together on the DVD, just to hit those who did like it, or are at least willing to give the whole thing a shot.

As far as I know the other adaptations of her books remain mostly of interest to die-hard fans other than myself. She wrote the screenplay herself - awww, all by her lonesome - for The Fountainhead, which starred Gary Cooper at was a decent hit of the day. It's not a bad movie, but I tend to doubt it would appeal to anybody except Rand fans, Cooper fans or general fans of 1940's office dramas, which probably doesn't include too many people who weren't around for the 1940's. We, The Living, The Movie was, amusingly enough, produced by Fascist Italy because they thought it was a movie about how awful communism was. The Nazis, being more careful about copyright theft and understanding the book a little better, told them to suppress it. I have no idea if Rand knew about the movie at the time, but years after the war someone gave her the film itself, and reportedly liked it.

The Incredibles has often been called a movie about Objectivism/libertarianism, and I might agree with that, kind of. I'm a huge fan of the movie, but I think many of these criticisms miss the point that unlike every other movie I've referred to in this post (except Star Wars) The Incredibles were created to be a film first and foremost. The characters were meant to move and do things for a constantly-moving camera, and the story was what got them to do it.

The plot was certainly of a high quality. With the exception of the Mirage subplot, everything was flawlessly incorporated from beginning to end. Yes, the characters are incredibly (!) similar to the Fantastic Four, but every scene shows extensive work to make them original characters. It's not that easy to just come up with a whole new archtype.

[Literally. I once did a comic serial starring a quartet of superheroes, and spent many hours designing each character and the group as a whole so they would not be FF rip-offs. None of that work shows up on the page. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. Anybody would read the story and assume I ripped off the FF. A lot of that time was spent trying to add or drop a member, and three or five characters just weren't workable. Four worked.]

The FF were never intended to work as a family sitcom the way the Parrs do. Their superpowers aren't such blatant extensions of their personalities and roles in the family. The Incredibles had to be able to function in all of those areas and make it work.

Which they did. One thing that's amazing is how much story there really is. There's only the one scene at dinner that really sets up the family dynamic until the second act is almost done, and then it's an awesome ride through the climax. Frozone only makes a few brief appearances in the beginning and then is off-screen until the big fight at the end, but he's one of the main characters. There's just brief character bits or interludes in a montage that sum up the Parrs' home life, but it's a rich and varied tapestry amidst everything else that's going on.

As an example, look at Dash's interest in sports, which gets mentioned in virtually every one of those character bits. He's gotten in trouble at school for putting a tack on the teacher's chair in class, but even the videotape doesn't show him. Bob is thrilled, "they got you on tape and you still got away with it? Wow, how fast do you think you were going?" Dash can barely be seen in this shot, but just look at him start bouncing with glee when he finds out Dad's impressed. Bob and Helen argue about it that night. Later on, in the montage, father and son go out to throw and catch the football, over several miles. This is a skill that comes in handy in the big fight when they've got the Omnidroid's control mechanism. "Dash, go long!" And of course the final scene is Dash at the track meet. That's a sit-com plot, but fits in seamlessly with the superheroics, and the social commentary.

03 February, 2011

Let's play "Sid and Nancy." I'll be Sid.

I was idly thinking, as opposed to busily thinking. Most of America's political disagreements about what the government should do about our problems could be worded as simply as "cut spending first" or "raise taxes first". Different people have different levels of veneration for these ideas, but in the short term, as far as what government actually can do. So why don't the two parties put their views thusly on the ballot in 2012?

You go into the booth, you check your choice for President and Veep, Congress and maybe Senate. You vote for Proposition 23 and get your "I Voted Today" sticker. And you decide if you agree with (or against) 'cut spending first' or 'raise taxes first'. So whoever wins the election, that's their mandate. No earmarks, no fact-finding tours. These hearings will be on f*cking C-Span, unlike Obama's campaign promise.

If they don't design and implement procedures to tax or cut, everybody resigns. Their successors take over within the guidelines of the Constitution. They are then charged with completing the task within a year (in time for the '14 elections), and drafting a Constitutional amendment to make whatever they have done legal.

I don't think it should then come to a nationwide vote in 2014 though. The populist in me says 'of course it should', but the kid in me loves the frosted side, I mean says 'populism isn't everything.' [I bet nobody out there got that pop culture reference]

One of the great things about our system is the specific duration of tenures and the way they vary between the branches. The House is up for election every two years no matter what. But it's only one-sixth of the federal governent. [Perhaps coincidentally, they also have repealed Obamacare, which nationalized one-sixth of the economy. More on this later. Maybe.]

The Senate has three times as long to deliberate, and the chief executive has the average, plus a completely different set of duties and skills. Supreme Court Justices are in office until they retire or die. I don't have any strong opinions for or against these term limits (except for the President, two terms tops). I like the irony of a lifetime tenure in a republic like ours, and think the judicial side is improved by it. If people want to keep voting for the same bozos in Congress for a half-century, they should have the right to do so.

This idea should be a populist vote that up to a point, and I think it would go a long way towards working the poisons out of the body politic. After that point however, the Republic part should take over. The '14 midterms should be treated as normally as possible. With the way much of the world order is eroding before our eyes, American citizens show up like they always do, fewer in the midterms.

The 'spend less first' and 'cut taxes first' ballot will spell this out as simply as possible - well, minus my own musing on terms in office anyway - that no similar vote will be on the ballot for '14. This will not be an opportunity for populism that will damage.

If the elected Congress fails to meet the one-year deadline and their successors fail to carry out the 'spend or cut' mission AND fail to draft an amendment, then I don't know what the repercussions would be.

It's been a while since I've read how amendments are made ("when a mommy and a daddy constitution love each other very much...") so I'm not sure where the movement would go from there.

Speaking of Obamacare, the administration has been issuing more waivers to the law for its buddies in the unions and other corporate buddies - even ones that pressed the administration to enact this health care law, strange - and just today they singled out GE to get out of some EPA regulations. As the President would say, "Winning The Future???" I prefer "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", but that's just me.

It's not the hypocrisy that's annoying so much as how blatantly they know they'll get away with it. Their own supporters won't withold votes, and they're the ones crying about money being spent on political ads.

Also, over half the states are suing to repeal it, and a judge just threw it out as completely unconstitutional. Last November was a popular mandate, and I think more could be done along those lines. It should definitely have a specified mission and a limited period of time. When Obama mentioned Sputnik recently, someone point out that the mission to the government wasn't to get man into space, it was to do it in a short period of time. The only way to get it done in time was to bring in outside interests, private by definition. [This is also where Ike saw the military-industrial complex come into effect, but that's another train of thought.] It's government contracts for the companies, and can get better results for the space program.

[Many have noted the irony of the guy who finally cut funding for America's space program should refer to Sputnik when trying to inspire a nation. Give him a break. The man has spent his whole life rarely voting anything other than 'present' and he's not going to change now. Look at his reaction to North Korean missles and riots in Iran and Egypt.]

Speaking of Egypt, it's looking like the pro-democracy faction has spoken and is ready to finish speaking now. The Muslim Brotherhood, with roots back to the 1920's and were big fans of Hitler, is probably the most prepared organization in the country, except possibly the army.

Nothing's going to happen without the Brotherhood taking a role, or else outright fighting everybody else. I would like to believe that these protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and possibly elsewhere are inspired by western ideals of democratic freedom. And I think a lot of that is present.

But the Brotherhood, big fans of Hitler remember, have a large amount of support as well. I guess topical 90 year old German political theory is just what today's young Muslim male is into. Or maybe it's the jihad [or "struggle", as in "Mein Kampf"] and hatred of Jews.

I would like to think that the outbreaks of violence have been limited to individual thugs on either/any side singling out a specific opponent for short-range or long-range goals. Islam is experiencing a civil war which goes unnoticed because the right is called racist and Fox News-loving and the usual, and the left isn't interested in what *those* people do. Gulags and slaughterhouses in southeast Asia after the US departed Vietnam didn't bother them, and if we lose this war, dead Muslims won't either.

Now the people who want democracy are retreating. Hopefully the Brotherhood and the government thugs will shoot each other and destroy the worst of both sides. Reportedly, and I am not an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, they actually practice more intellectual diversity in their various cells through the Middle East. If they can be infected with an anti-Shariat Stuxnet virus, we've got 'em. The Egyptian military is strong and effective - it rules the country of course - and reportedly respected by the people as well. They want change. One might even say they hope for it.

The danger is that the Brotherhood has too much popular support and get full license towards their judenhass. Egypt and Jordan are the two countries most immediately troubled by riots, and they're the only ones who've ever been able to make a peace with Israel. It could get real bad real quick.

A few plus sides. After initially supporting the demonstrators, Iran made calls for restraint from violence. Even China is now banning "Egypt" from search terms on China's internet. We may not be looking at an outbreak of Jefferson-style democracy any time soon, but there are encouraging signs. When al-Sadr returned to Iraq after several years in Iran, some of his supporters were noisy. He told them (in English) to shut up. He was only a simple cleric and was ashamed by their behavior. Today Iraqi citizens attacked an Iranian embassy. Most of the Middle East is ruled by despots who might be very willing to leave with their lives and a sizeable amount of loot.

A few down sides. They want shariat law and they hate Jews. In time, the distinctions will return between Arab, Kurd, Persian, black African, Sunni, Shi'ite and more. For the moment, they are as united as the Middle East has ever been since the time of the Prophet. If they do not choose freedom, or fail to choose it strongly enough, or fail to keep it, they will be united in open war.

Iraq and Afghanistan are notable successes we have to argue. Other states in the region which are out of oil also feel similar pressures to liberalize if the rulers want to keep their perks. A dozen years ago, when my parents married in the UAE they had to get government permission to serve wine at the wedding. Now Dubai is a hotspot for Americans in the Middle East to go party when on leave. Things do change.

For a decade now, what do you think Muslims from all over the world have been talking about when they meet on the hajj? Malcom X described meeting blue-eyed blondes and whites in plural when he made the pilgrimage 40 years ago, one doubts that the racial composition has become significantly less white since then.

It's not looking good for that optimistic scenario though. Still, when Obama was melting down and caving in on the tax cuts, he promised that he'd be eager to refight the battle in two years. [A temporary truce, what a... Muslim concept.] Like Nancy Pelosi comfortably expecting to be majority leader again in two years, I think they're using their access to highly classified information to bet on their political futures. They don't know or care how they'll look for doing so as long as it works. And we might be nearing a breakthrough in the war effort.

We're near some flashpoint on the home front as well. Let's hope we can win the future.