Monday, March 31, 2008

Cliquot or not Cliquot?

This is Not a Game is done, and sent to the publisher, and with hours to spare!
You see me on the verge of pouring the drink I owe Traci, for betting against myself, except that Traci's not here, and I'll have to buy her the drink somewhere else.
Looks like I'll have to drink it myself.
I realize it's not on my diet, but perhaps in this case I can make an exception . . .


Got Rich?

So if you've got some spare millions lying around, and you want to purchase something solid and real-estate-y to keep your dollars from shrinking evermore, or if you've got lots of euros or yen and want to get into real estate bargains in the States, where your foreign currency will buy more every day, then here's the deal for you.
This is Kathy's mother's house in Sag Harbor, N.Y., now for sale. This is a large, spectacular one-of-a-kind Victorian gingerbread house, lovingly maintained. It's on Main Street, it's near all Sag Harbor's trendy attractions, and it's zoned commercial so you can put a business in it.
It's lovely. If we could afford it, we'd live in it ourselves.
Click the link for a view of the gorgeous interiors.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008


I'm hungry all the time, therefore I must be on a diet.

A 1700-calorie, lowfat diet to be precise. With good nutrition. I've used this formula twice before, and once dropped forty pounds with it.

Another element is that I try to burn at least 500 calories per day in exercise, which means I'm really scraping by on 1200 calories per day.

Excess weight is melting away, not surprisingly.

But I'm hungry all the time. Or, if not hungry, I have cravings.

Normally I am indifferent, if not actually hostile, to fast food. But in my current state, when I pass by a Burger King I think longingly of grilled meat patties and french fries. The sight of a Pizza Hut is accompanied by the sound of angel voices. And the local burrito stand causes me to salivate--- actually it causes me to salivate even when I'm not on a diet, which is certainly a part of my problem.

But I resolutely keep my eyes front and my attention focused on the carrots or the handful of grapes I allow myself as a snack.

Finishing a novel, working on the Mystery Project, and dieting--- all at the same time. Damn, I am a disciplined creature.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Alibi (1)

The Alibi, Albuquerque's free weekly alternative, is carrying an interview with me.

This is on the subject of martial arts and, tangentially, fiction.

The interviewer caught me before I fully caffein'd for the day, but I managed a modest degree of coherence despite the handicap.

I also include a martial arts self-defense technique which I'm sure you will all find handy.

Please note that an excess of qi has turned my skin a brilliant pink. Not my best color.

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Alibi (2)

Where have you been? I hear you ask.

I've been hunkered over a keyboard trying to finish the novel. Doing well, too.


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Glorious 24th

It's Kathy's Birthday!!!!
Send presents!!!!

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Sunday, March 23, 2008


Three years ago today I drove myself to the hospital at midnight, with a burst appendix.

Everything since that day has been an improvement.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Newspaper of Record

I'm in the Sunday New York Times. Be sure to reserve your copy at your local Starbuck's.

It isn't a rave review in the front part of the literary supplement, unfortunately, but an investigation on the state of the field following the death of Sir Arthur Clarke. Also quoted are Charlie Stross, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Ian McDonald, so (alas) it isn't all about me.

A twenty-minute, wide-ranging interview got cut down to a single quote, but that's par for the course.

Still, as a writer with a book just coming out, this is not a bad gig.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

New Car Time

Assuming that you're a few bucks ahead in life, now is the time to (1) buy real estate and (2) buy a car.
Assuming the bank will give you credit, which of course is the rub.
Popping the housing bubble produced bargains, if you can find and afford them. And while credit is really tight, for those who can be "approved" for low or zero APR, car dealers are willing to give you lots of free stuff if you can only move the cars off their lots.
I have a 2000 Eclipse with 107,000 miles, which means it's mere minutes from every seal blowing out and the water pump exploding (which is what happened to my last Eclipse at more or less the 110,000-mile mark).
I happen to like sporty cars. Because I live in the middle of nowhere, and because it's a 15-mile round trip to the nearest grocery store or post office or bank, when I drive somewhere I want it to be fun, goddammit! (And also I don't want my water pump exploding when I'm 45 miles from home. Which has happened.)
So one of the sporty cars I was interested in was the Nissan Altima coupe. So I took one for a drive, and talked with the sales guy for a while, and was a bit disappointed that the APR they were offering was higher than the interest rate on my house. Perceiving this, the sales guy said, "I can give you a much better APR if you buy the four-door, cuz they're not selling as well."
"What's the difference between the two-door and the four-door?"
"Other than the doors, nothing. Oh yeah, and the four-door has a thousand-dollar rebate and a lot of extras on it that are, basically, free, like a sun roof and fog lights and sporty wheels and this weird little secret compartment in the dashboard that can be used for firearms and contraband."
"Show me a four-door," I said, quick as usual on the uptake.
So now I own a four-door Nissan. It purrs very well. The contraband and the firearms have yet to be installed.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

R.I.P. Arthur C Clarke

One of science fiction's Greatest Generation has passed away.

Arthur, may we meet at the Fountains of Paradise.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Sprucing Up the Old Web Page

Thanks to Siristru, my web page has had a thorough spring cleaning, and no longer looks so very twentieth-century!

It has much the same content, just better organized and far more attractive.

Feel free to browse about.

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French Rights!

I'm pleased to report that the French rights to Implied Spaces have been sold to Editions l'Atalante, headquartered in the lovely, hospitable, and historic city of Nantes.
All you francophones should be able to put your hands on a copy within the next year.
Meanwhile, for those of you reading in English, here's your link.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy St. Urho's Day!

Today is St. Urho's Day, a day for hard drinking, wearing green and royal purple, and cursing grasshoppers.

It is not to be confused with the festival of that Irish guy, what's-his-name.

I have sent you all a St. Urho's Day card, which you may access here.

Illonen St. Urho's Paivaa!!! (Happy St. Urho's Day!!!)


Friday, March 14, 2008

Sprint to the Finish

I just finished writing the sprawling middle bit of This is Not a Game, the current novel.

The middle bits are always the problem. When I start a book I always know the beginning, and I always know the end. Getting from one to the other is sometimes easy, and sometimes it's like getting from the British side of the Somme to the German side of the Somme in April of 1916. Intact. Without a tank. With your 80 pounds of gear. And all your friends.

I generally know many of the "beats" in the middle part, but somehow it doesn't seem to help. The plot points keep accumulating in that aggravating way they do.

That's the problem with writing character-driven fiction. You keep finding new ways and new places to illuminate character. Sometimes I wish I was just a hardware guy. "Build your zap gun. Then zap. The end."

This is Not a Game has been fun to write despite the inevitable mid-book sprawl. Another piece of good news is that the narrative has sprawled, as it were, in the direction of the climax. The more stuff I deal with in the middle, the shorter the finish will be. I only have two chapters left to go.

My deadline is April Fool's Day. Can I finish my two chapters in time?

Any bets? Either way?

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Ditch. Diggin'.

So in addition to karate kamp, I have a new reason for muscle soreness today.

Kathy and I spent part of the weekend digging a ditch.

Or rather, not digging, but digging out.

Along one side of our property runs an irrigation ditch. We get precious little use out of it, since due to the brilliant engineers who subdivided our area, our property is actually higher than the water level in the ditch. Despite the ditch's general uselessness, we are obliged to maintain it.

Every spring we go out and burn the weeds that have grown up around the ditch, and do various other bits of maintenance. Because the ditch has a tendency to silt up over time, it also has to be dug out every few years.
I let this job slide too long. I had reasons: hospital visits followed by overlong recoveries, deadline pressure, and a desire to, now and again, have fun.
So Saturday morning we set to work. It went well and quickly until we encountered the part of the ditch that had been infiltrated by tree roots. After some trial and error, we developed a successful method.
Kathy would back down the ditch ahead of me, hammering with a pick to break up the sediment and chop up the roots. I would follow with a shovel, lifting out the result. (It was easier for Kathy to use the pick than to heave up a shovel full of dirt.)
After Kathy tuckered out, I used pick and shovel solo till the sun got high and I decided enough was enough. By which time Kathy had visited our local Burritos Alinstante and had a tasty and healthful meal waiting for me.
After doing this Saturday and Sunday, I now have a whole new set of screaming muscles. And so does Kathy.
About a quarter of the ditch remains. Having got the method down by now, I'll be doing the job on the next available weekday morning, while Kathy is resting her muscles at work.
After which, I'll make a run for the Tiger Balm.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Translated From The Russian

Here's the best joke I've heard in the last 24 hours.

Vladimir Putin and Russia's newly-elected President Medvedev go to a restaurant. The waiter comes up and says, "What will you have?"

"I'll have the steak," says Putin.

"And what about the vegetable?" says the waiter.

"He'll have the steak, too," says Putin.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008


I spent Friday at the karate school, doing stuff. Doing lots of stuff. It was the quarterly organizational meeting, so the school was full of school owners and managers from New Mexico, Arizona, and elsewhere.

So we started out with all the self-defense techniques, of which I have heard there are 749 (I haven't counted, myself), and then all the forms. Then a break for lunch, then a written test, then a bunch of other stuff.

At some point I realized that I was re-qualifying for my fourth degree black belt. Re-qualifying? Since when do we have to re-qualify?

Since now, apparently. Shut up and work on that horse stance.

I sort of sucked. For a whole host of reasons--- overwork, health issues, lack of time, surgery, the death of my teacher--- I haven't been concentrating on Kenpo as much as I have been in the past. And so I forgot some of the material, including losing a couple of the katas halfway through, and not being able at all to remember what was supposed to happen next. (That was after the dehydration really got to me--- I really needed to have slammed down a half-gallon of Gatorade after the first forty-five minutes, and maybe I would have been able to keep the brain working.)

I am now really, really sore. But I got through it, which was part of the point.

So let's flash back to my online diary from June 1999, and the overjubilant message I wrote at the time. This is when I was ready for the damn test, and was nine years younger and still had all my body parts.

If the format is strange, it's not my fault.

I am back. I am in remarkably intact physical shape, all things considered.
And I am now a Ssu Tuan, or Fourth Dan as the more Japanese styles would have

Because the fourth degree test is different from the others, mine took place
ahead of the rest, and started on Thursday night. There were four other folks
testing with me-- a large number, though hardly a safe one-- it was nice not
to be the sole center of attention for the entire senior staff. The number of
candidates was sort of surprising, considering there are only maybe a dozen
fourth degree or higher black belts in the whole system.

I had seen a couple of fourth degree tests before-- I don't know why they
allowed me to view them, but they did. The one I saw last year lasted about
ninety minutes of 110% furious crank, plus various oral and written
assignments. Ninety minutes seemed pretty endless, but I tried to prepare
physically for it, and for the various attempts to screw with my head that I
knew would prevail.

By fourth degree, they figure you know the material, so they're not interested
in having you perform it as such. They're interested in seeing how you
perform the material while under extraordinary stress, and so what they want
you to do is not just do a kata, but do the kata while standing on your head
and singing Pagliacci. They want to strip you of everything but your absolute
essence and find out what you're made of-- and what you're made of better be

Thursday dinnertime we assembled at the school and the group mindfvck began
when we were asked to solve, or more properly create, a koan having to do with
our assignment. (Which was to create 45 individual self-defense techniques
for use with various situations.) We discussed this over dinner-- I had half
a salad and saved the rest for later-- then brought our conclusions, such as
they were, back to the school.

I knew the test was split into two sections, so I figured that the first
night's would be the orals, the written test, and probably a demo of my 45
techniques. I wasn't expecting a whole lot of physical exertion. I was

We did warmups and a lot of basic kicking and punching. Then I did my 45
techniques, after which the judging board told me I had not done them with
sufficient intensity, so could I please do them again. This also was not
intense enough, so I did them a third time. By this point I was foaming at
the mouth and shrieking. I was then told to do the techniques for =another=
judging board, and then a third.

I was beginning to think longingly of the five quarts of Gatorade I had in the
cooler in the back of my car. If I'd known I was going to have to exert
myself to this extent, I would have brought some into the school and got a
swallow now and again.

Then we did forms. But not just forms-- the judges did things like number the
five longest kata in our system, then call off the numbers more or less
randomly, forcing us to switch from one kata to the next in the middle of the
performance, or pick up another where we'd left off. I believe that large
chunks of kata began to slip off my plate during this part. Then we did all
five weapons forms while carrying all the weapons at once, shifting from one
to the other as necessary and sticking the unused weapons in our belts-- which
is difficult when one of them is a six-foot hardwood staff.

I was pretty much finished by the end of this. One of the things that kept me
going was listening to the gasps and wheezes of the other candidates. I
figured that however much I was suffering, I wasn't suffering as badly as they
seemed to be, and if they could keep going, so could I.

After which we were asked to perform one of the advanced katas in the system,
and to comment on it orally. "Discover what the crisis point in this kata is,
and perform it." As it happens, I had the answer to this one, but answering
it only got me into further trouble, as I was then asked to perform the entire
kata, and lecture on it at the same time, with comments from the other
candidates and questions from the judging board. This led to much discussion
of the Void and the Chuckle of the Monkey and Throwing Down the Altar and
Killing the Buddha and other philosophical, mystical, and symbolical points of
view, as explicated through body movement. I had a feeling I was doing this
pretty well. I'm not a mystic, but I can talk like one if I have to, and at
inordinate length.

Mostly, though, I was thinking of the Gatorade.

Then we discussed our koan. Turns out we had pretty much nailed it.

Once we got through the physical part, the atmosphere lightened considerably.
We made jokes, the judges laughed, and vice versa. (When the Grand Master
makes a joke, you'd better laugh.)

I left the school with a soaked gi and a buzzing brain. The first part of the
test had lasted just short of three hours. I'd got jolted with too much
adrenaline, and I didn't sleep well at all.

Next morning we shifted to Apple Valley Ranch in the Manzano Mountains, which
we'd rented for the weekend. It's owned by Fred Abscher, a bearlike man who
created Kojosho karate, a modern syncretic style which is sufficiently
successful that it is now being taught in Asia. He's a friend and former
rival of Da Boss, and they sit on one another's governing boards.

Here at 7500 feet, early in the morning, we started all over again. The
judging board wanted to see us perform the entire kenpo system-- all 749 self-
defense techniques and 27 kata. [Note: there are more kata now.] We sang, we juggled, we did kata standing on our head and singing Pagliacci. We did forms with our arms alone, or with our
feet alone. We did a lot of the forms more than once. We did the sword form
five times, twice with extra-heavy swords. We rolled in the dust, we breathed
dust, we spat dust. We did forms while standing on fence posts. I stepped in
a hole while doing a spin kick and blew out my right knee, but I kept on

Once again, the labored wheezing of my comrades helped me through it. There
were a few points where I began feeling faint, but I managed to fight through
them. This time there were frequent Gatorade breaks. The strong wind
evaporated our sweat and kept us cool, though it filled our clothes with a
fine grit.

At length we staggered back to our tents. Our test was over. The two parts
together had taken about six hours, somewhat more than the ninety minutes I'd
trained for.

For the rest of the weekend, we were expected to help the candidates for first
through third with their tests (which were much more programmed and
predictable than ours, though we managed to slip in a few sadistic exercises
we'd derived from our own experience).

The senior staff kept telling me I'd had a great test, and they were very
impressed. They really liked my orals, and they thought my stances were very
good in the performances. (They were? All I remember is staggering around on
uneven terrain.)

Saturday night all 86 candidates plus their support staff trooped into
Albuquerque for a public show at Carlisle Gym on the UNM campus. The show was
an abbreviated version of the test, and featured a great many impressive
displays of martial prowess by the various candidates-- the katas were
particularly awesome, I thought. Mixed with this were some inaudible
inspiration readings by people utterly lacking in performance skills, and a
lot of shouting a la Parris Island. My own contribution was one short cane
kata, which was disappointing to me. I was prepared to do a lot of grand stuff
and kick some audience butt, but by the time the show got around to the fourth
degree candidates it had run an hour late, so I did my cane form and let my
juniors have the glory. At the end of the show, we were all publicly awarded
our new belts in a lengthy but impressive ceremony.

Next morning was the physical test, in which as an old guy with no knees left
I was perfectly prepared to let everyone else have the glory. There were a
lot of horrible running, jumping, and duck-walking exercises, for which I
awarded myself a doctor's excuse. I just sort of paced up and down alongside
the runners-- did a lot more laps, and probably burned about the same amount
of calories. Then came three minutes of pushups, with only the third minute
counting, and since pushups do not require knees, I managed 87 of them in 60
seconds. (Hey, believe it, I have my support team as witness, and they did
the counting.) I did 47 situps under the same circumstances. I found painful
substitutes for the other exercises, monkey squats and squat jumps, and then
went through the obstacle course and onto the 2.5-mile Victory Run-- or, in my
case, the Victory Trudge. The fourth degree candidates were supposed to hang
around at the end of the pack and pick up anyone who had fallen down.

Accompanying me on the tail end was a mid-teenish girl named Catherine, who
had suffered a severe knee injury the day before, but wanted to do the run
anyway. Her support team guy carried her on his back the whole way. I
offered to spell him-- I can carry weight so long as I'm not doing anything
high impact-- but in true heroic fashion he kept on going, even up the steep
hills at the end of the course.

I did in fact run the last half-mile or so, after the course got onto grass
and my knees could stand the impact.

The end of the test wasn't very romantic, as the senior staff decided that the
last part of the fourth degree test would consist of policing the camp site
after everyone left. After fifteen years of study, and reaching the rank
where I am entitled to be called "master," hauling leaky garbage bags
certainly served as an exercise in renewed humility.

On the other hand, the camp site manager was very happy. "I hope we have
karate people every week! None of the business picnics ever helped me pick up
the garbage!"

When I got home I was definitely in weird shape mentally. That amount of
effort bends the psyche in strange ways. It took a night's sleep before I was
able to function with any degree of normality. (If you call this normal, that

Today I exercised my mastery on the lawn tractor, and in losing my temper with
my mortgage holder, who wants to keep all the money from my insurance

I really miss karate kamp. Real life sucks.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

War for the New Century

So. Heard of Henry Okah?

Probably not. But he's invented a new paradigm for waging war, straight out of a science fiction novel.

The guy puts his army together from another country by cellphone, as if it were a flash mob. He has his own merchant marine to carry off his hijacked bunker crude, his own arms company to sell guns to his own army, and a thirty-billion-dollar business, funded by petroleum mostly stolen from Royal Dutch Shell and the Nigerian government. By disrupting the economy, he weakens his enemies by the same degree that he is empowered himself.

Call him thug or terrorist or freedom fighter, he's leveraged 21st Century technologies into a brand new way of making war.

He's in prison now, and unlikely to see freedom anytime soon, but you can't as easily put a new paradigm behind bars.

This might be as powerful a model for future asymmetric warfare as the IRA example was for, say, al-Qaeda.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Brassieres of the Ancient Vikings!

According to the Scotsman, a recent archaeological dig has turned up evidence that Viking women wore metal brassieres. Apparently this ingenious technological advance was suppressed for a millennium or so by the Church.
Archaeologist Annika Larsson sez: "The garments had an aesthetic lingerie effect as well as providing support. I think Viking women would have chatted about clothing styles and designs in simple fashion shows while their men were away marauding."
An argument for the historical existence of the chainmail bikini! As a lad raised on the pulps, I can only give Ms Larsson two big thumbs up!

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Lei Feng Day

To all you Maoists out there, have a happy Lei Feng Day!

For all you Brits, I hope you had a good Mothering Sunday!

For those of you in Western Australia, have a great Labour Day! (Those of you in Eastern Australia have to wait till October, apparently.)

Those of us in the States will have to make do with the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Turkey: Two Revolutions

Our friends in Turkey are living through interesting times.

Firstly, members of the "Deep State" have been arrested for, among other things, conspiring to assassinate the Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk. Supposedly this killing was the beginning of a series of bombings and assassinations that would lead to a military coup overthrowing Turkey's (moderate) Islamic government of Prime Minister Erdogan.

The "Deep State" was originally a stay-behind outfit organized by the U.S. to conduct guerilla operations in the event that Turkey was overrun by the Soviet Union. It morphed into a shadowy organization of paramilitaries, generals, criminals, and fascists dedicated to an extreme nationalist position defending "Turkishness." In the past they've supported military coups, used the war against the PKK as a cover for smuggling heroin to the West, prosecuted journalist and writers such as Pamuk for "insulting Turkishness," and murdered journalists, Armenians, and Christian missionaries.

Now with 33 members under arrest, including two generals, the time may have finally come for a peek under this slimy rock. Whatever is found there, it isn't going to be pretty.

In the meantime, the (Islamic) government in Turkey seems to be trying to re-invent Islam by re-interpreting, and in some cases re-writing, the Hadith, the second holiest book in Islam after the Qur'an.

To clarify: in Islam the Qur'an is the literal Word of God--- not "The Gospel According to Mohammed," but God's actual words as memorized by the Messenger Mohammed, then orally transmitted to his disciples, who memorized the passages in turn. In time, these were written down. This is reflected in the name of the book, Qur'an, which means "the Recitations."

The Hadith is not the word of God, but of his Messenger. It's a collection of Mohammed's opinions, interpretations, and judgments (Mohammed was also a judge). It also has biographical stories about the Messenger and his contemporaries.

The Hadith is the source of much Islamic law and custom: passages have been used to justify the veiling and confinement of women, stoning and amputation as punishments, treatment of adulterers, honor killings of women, etc. etc.

The Turkish scholars working on this project are attempting to put certain passages into a historical context--- thus rendering them, here in the 21st Century, inert--- or possibly purging some altogether, on the grounds that they were someone else's opinions that were added later and attributed to Mohammed, in the same way that the Epistle to the Hebrews was falsely attributed to St. Paul. For this they're using all the same methods of scholarship (Higher Criticism) that have been used for generations by Biblical scholars, but are quite new to Islam.

In this, they're attempting to reverse the pronouncements of 12th century theologian al-Ghazali that "close the doors of Enlightenment [Ijtihad]." This rejection of Ijtihad, which among other things was a method of evolving new rules for Muslims, has resulted in an Islam that seems stuck in the Middle Ages, unable to evolve in such a way as to adapt to modern challenges by any means except war and terror.

The transformation sought by the Turkish scholars is in the guise of restoring the primacy of the Qur'an, which in general is a much more moderate book than the Hadith. A good move, this--- "We're more conservative than the conservatives!"

Some of the Western reporting on this issue has mentioned an Islamic "Reformation." Let's hope not--- it's not like we need a 30 Years' War in the Middle East. But we do need a Muslim Enlightenment.

Good luck to the Turks on both their revolutions. Down with the Deep State! Long live Ijtihad!

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Lots of Zeroes

So--- the Iraq War has cost three trillion dollars so far.

That's $3,000,000,000,000.00, if I have counted all the zeroes correctly.

That's the conclusion reached by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, and Linda Bilmes, in their new book. Some interesting factoids:

. . . they have produced a picture of comprehensive obfuscation and bad faith whose power comes from its roots in bald fact. Some of their discoveries we have heard before, others we may have had a hunch about, but others are completely new - and together, placed in context, their impact is staggering. There will be few who do not think that whatever the reasons for going to war, its progression has been morally disquieting; following the money turns out to be a brilliant way of getting at exactly why that is.

Next month America will have been in Iraq for five years - longer than it spent in either world war. Daily military operations (not counting, for example, future care of wounded) have already cost more than 12 years in Vietnam, and twice as much as the Korean war. America is spending $16bn a month on running costs alone (ie on top of the regular expenses of the Department of Defence) in Iraq and Afghanistan; that is the entire annual budget of the UN. Large amounts of cash go missing - the well-publicised $8.8bn Development Fund for Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority, for example; and the less-publicised millions that fall between the cracks at the Department of Defence, which has failed every official audit of the past 10 years. The defence department's finances, based on an accounting system inaccurate for anything larger than a grocery store, are so inadequate, in fact, that often it is impossible to know exactly how much is being spent, or on what . . .

"There were actually so many things - some of it we suspected, but there were a few things I couldn't believe." The fact that a contractor working as a security guard gets about $400,000 a year, for example, as opposed to a soldier, who might get about $40,000. That there is a discrepancy we might have guessed - but not its sheer scale, or the fact that, because it is so hard to get insurance for working in Iraq, the government pays the premiums; or the fact that, if these contractors are injured or killed, the government pays both death and injury benefits on top. Understandably, this has forced a rise in sign-up bonuses (as has the fact that the army is so desperate for recruits that it is signing up convicted felons). "So we create a competition for ourselves. Nobody in their right mind would have done that. The Bush administration did that ... that I couldn't believe. And that's not included in the cost the government talks about."

Then there was the discovery that sign-up bonuses come with conditions: a soldier injured in the first month, for example, has to pay it back. Or the fact that "the troops, for understandable reasons, are made responsible for their equipment. You lose your helmet, you have to pay. If you get blown up and you lose your helmet, they still bill you." One soldier was sued for $12,000 even though he had suffered massive brain damage . . .

Yet on another level, Stiglitz is unsurprised, because such decisions are of a piece with the thoroughgoing intellectual inconsistency of the Bush administration. The general approach, he says, has been a "pastiche of corporate bail-outs, corporate welfare, and free-market economics that is not based on any consistent set of ideas. And this particular kind of pastiche actually contributed to the failures in Iraq."

. . . By way of context, Stiglitz and Bilmes list what even one of these trillions could have paid for: 8 million housing units, or 15 million public school teachers, or healthcare for 530 million children for a year, or scholarships to university for 43 million students. Three trillion could have fixed America's social security problem for half a century. America, says Stiglitz, is currently spending $5bn a year in Africa, and worrying about being outflanked by China there: "Five billion is roughly 10 days' fighting, so you get a new metric of thinking about everything."

And it is the world economy that is at stake, not just America's. The trillions the rest of the world has shouldered include, of course, the smashed Iraqi economy, the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead, the price, to neighbouring countries, of absorbing thousands of refugees, the coalition dead and wounded (before the war Gordon Brown set aside £1bn; as of late 2007, direct operating costs in Iraq and Afghanistan were £7bn and rising). But the rising price of oil has also meant, accoring to Stiglitz and Bilmes, that the cost to oil-importing industrial countries in Europe and the Far East is now about $1.1 trillion. And to developing countries it has been devastating: they note a study by the International Energy Agency that looked at a sample of 13 African countries and found that rising oil prices have "had the effect of lowering the average income by 3% - more than offsetting all of the increase in foreign aid that they had received in recent years, and setting the stage for another crisis in these countries". Stiglitz made his name by, among other things, criticising America's use of globalisation as a bully pulpit; now he says flatly, "Yes, that's part of being in a global economy. You make a mistake of this order, and it affects people all over the world."

And the borrowed trillions have to come from somewhere. Because "the saving rate [in America] is zero," says Stiglitz, "that means that you have to finance [the war] by borrowing abroad. So China is financing America's war." The US is now operating at such a deficit, in fact, that it doesn't have the money to bail out its own banks. "When Merrill Lynch and Citibank had a problem, it was sovereign funds from abroad that bailed them out. And we had to give up a lot of shares of our ownership. So the largest shareowners in Citibank now are in the Middle East. It should be called the MidEast bank, not the Citibank."

And so on.

It's not so much whether the Iraq War was/is justified--- you can argue about that till the cows come home--- but whether the money could/should have been spent in some other way that would have better protected America's interests.

This administration--- the worst ever. More corrupt than Harding, more obtuse than Buchanan, more profligate than Reagan, more bellicose than Polk (and with fewer results).

It's the numbers, stupid.

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