Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sorry, George – it's nothing to do with you

(Why we haven’t been attacked again, that is.) Except, of course, that you’re doing exactly what Osama bin Laden wants you to do, you twit! Click on title for full story (bold is my emphasis).
Al Qaeda Strategic Vision: Engage the U.S. Overseas, Not at Home

June 27, 2006 10:09 AM

Maddy Sauer Reports:

Al Qaeda's strategic vision involves challenging the United States and its allies overseas using small- to medium-scale attacks, according to an online book available on extremist websites that has become the seminal jihadi textbook. The first English translation of the text is being circulated this week among DOD and government policy circles.

The translation is being released by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. As ABC News reported last month, the Center has been translating thousands of declassified insurgent and extremist documents that were seized in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abu Bakr Naji, an al Qaeda insider and author of the book, "The Management of Savagery," believes that the 9/11 attacks accomplished what they needed to by forcing the U.S. to commit their military overseas. He says 9/11 forced the U.S. to fall into the "trap" of overextending their military and that "it began to become clear to the American administration that it was being drained."

Note: Not that I've seen any sign that it has become clear to anyone in the "American Administration," except maybe for a few renegades, that it's being "drained."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

On a more serious note...

Unfortunately, since I didn't post earlier this week, I didn't get a chance to express my outrage and horror at the deaths of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon, the two soldiers whose bodies were found earlier this week. Horrible as the circumstances were, though, the mere loss of a loved one in Iraq (16 in the last week alone) has to be bad enough for the parents, children, other relatives and friends left behind that it can't get much worse.

In response to those on the right who have been calling for "revenge," a desire for vengeance may be a satisfying personal feeling and is certainly understandable, especially in those who, unlike Rush Limbaugh et al., knew and loved the deceased, but it has no place in policy decisions. I remember hearing the late Simon Wiesenthal speak several years ago, and after all this time I can still hear him, a man who lost his entire family and several years of his youth at the hands of the Nazis, insisting that justice, not vengeance, was what was needed, while also acknowledging the impossibility of meting out a proportionate justice to those whose victims numbered in the hundreds, thousands, or millions.

As promised, the sexy cat photos...

OK, OK, I was just kidding about the sexy part. This is Jake, whose mere presence has had Shadow extremely annoyed for the past few days, even though he's very friendly and doesn't bother her at all. Unfortunately she's convinced that all other cats are like her nemesis Beanie (aka Beanzlebub), who chased and pounced on her constantly in our last apartment. He only wanted to play (I assume) but couldn't seem to get it through his head that she's a dignified older lady who only plays when she feels like it. (OK, when she's resting on her back with her feet in the air she doesn't look that dignified.) Above and on the right is Shadow's reaction to Jake.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Book Review: A Dark Dividing

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne *****

What are the connections between two sets of conjoined ("Siamese") twins born eighty years apart and a ramshackle onetime workhouse named Mortmain (Dead [Man's} Hand)? These are the questions that down-and-out reporter Harry McGlen ends up answering after his editor assigns him to do a story on the enigmatic photographer Simone Marriot (née Alexander).

In this elegant and atmospheric thriller, Sarah Rayne shifts effortlessly among multiple viewpoints (the mothers of both sets of twins, Harry, and Simone, among others) without ever losing the thread of her complicated story, and keeps the reader turning the pages until the satisfying ending, which is the most difficult trick of all, since I find that books that start out with promising premises such as this one often fall flat at the end.

If you enjoy this book I would also recommend Thomas Cook and Robbert Goddard, who write a similar type of fiction – suspense tinged with a nostalgic sadness and often with an all too natural (as opposed to supernatural) horror.

Friday, June 23, 2006

My bad

Yes, I have been very bad this week, not posting anything, especially when such momentous events have been happening. Rick Santorum, obviously delusional as a result of the fact that he has something like the second lowest approval rating in the Senate and is way behind his Democratic opponent, announced that we found the long-sought weapons of mass destruction, but it’s a secret! Come on – wouldn’t the White House be yelling it from the rooftops if they had been vindicated?

Congress, continuing its slide into irrelevance, seems to have spent the last couple of weeks debating non-binding resolutions, although at least the Democrats have the excuse of not being able to bring real, meaningful laws to the floor since they’re not in charge. The Republicans also decided that they have no chance of ever capturing the black vote and have put off (forever?) renewing the Voting Rights Act. Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse and the journalist who broke the Florida “felon” purge story, also suggests that not renewing it allows them to violate its provisions with impunity.

In my personal life, it’s been a fun week since Shadow has been playing involuntary hostess to a very friendly little gray and white cat who got left behind (unintentionally) when his person moved. I keep telling her that his “pet parent” will be picking him up soon – I certainly hope so, nice as he is. At least she did let him up onto the bed last night, since I woke up with one on either side of me, so if we do have to keep him they won’t be at constant loggerheads. Maybe I can put up a picture later. I’ve seen in the comments that some people don’t think I have enough graphics.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Washington Post or The Onion?

I swear, this career summary for Zarqawi’s replacement (from the Washington Post), sounds exactly like something you’d write about the new CEO of a major company. You can’t make stuff like this up!

A veteran of the Zawahiri-led Egyptian Islamic Jihad and of al-Qaeda's organization in Afghanistan, Masri – also a pseudonym, meaning "the Egyptian" – has been in Iraq at least since 2003, officials said. Since the 2004 battle of Fallujah, he had been a trusted lieutenant of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the insurgent leader killed in a U.S. attack north of Baghdad last week.

Speaking to reporters today, Masri said that he was “excited” about his new position and was “looking forward to the challenge” of being George W. Bush’s newest boogeyman and chief evildoer. (my addition – can you tell?)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Some thoughts on recent events (in no particular order)

Karl Rove’s non-indictment: Bummer, but as has been said, it’s always possible that it’s in return for his cooperation on going after other, bigger fish. A good question raised on one of the blogs – why won’t his lawyer release the entire text of the letter? Then there’s the interesting saga of “Sealed v. Sealed” on Even if it’s nothing to do with Rove, what is it about? Has anyone else confirmed that this indictment exists? (Shouldn’t be too hard for anyone with journalism experience.) And to me, what Rove’s lawyer (or Fitzgerald’s letter) said seems to be very carefully worded legalese. “In a statement, Mr. Luskin said, ‘On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove.’” There can always be unanticipated events.

Dubya’s visit to “Iraq”: If, indeed, you can call the Green Zone “Iraq.” To paraphrase Randi Rhodes, take off your coat and stay awhile, sir. Get out, see the sights, meet the people. Unless, that is, you’re too scared. He’s essentially admitted that either he’s a coward or that, after three years, the place is so dangerous he can’t make a real visit, or both of the above. And all this stuff about closing the airport for an hour and then giving the “Prime Minister” only five minutes’ notice. First of all, in a real sovereign country, no one could shut down the main airport without the leader of the country even knowing. Secondly, the five minutes’ notice just shows that Maliki, however good his intentions may be, is nothing but a lackey to be summoned at a snap of the fingers from the Emperor. The complete and utter contempt shown by that little detail, and its reporting in the media, is going to do wonders for the perception (in Iraq and elsewhere) of Maliki’s independence and freedom from American control.

The suicides at Guantanamo and the government’s reaction thereto: Disgraceful. “An act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” I suppose that this means that those of our troops who have committed suicide will be court-martialed for desertion. And this from a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy: “A good PR move to draw attention.” Obviously a graduate of the John Bolton School of Diplomacy.

Worse than Ann Coulter: David Horowitz defending her on Larry King slandered half the country as well as, incidentally, his own party. “Conservatives...see half the country abandoning our troops in the field. You can’t support the troops and not support the war.” Evidently he isn’t aware of the Republicans claiming during the action in Kosovo that they could support the troops and not support the war, or the Commander-in-Chief.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Laura — worse than Dubya, in my opinion

As far as I’m concerned she’s worse because a) she’s smarter than he is, so, unless she’s medicated out of her mind, which may be, considering the “Stepford wife“ expression she usually wears, she knows that his policies are wrong, and b) she enables him in everything that he does.

Click on title for full story.

Area candidates embrace a visit by Laura Bush

By Cynthia Burton
Inquirer Staff Writer

As Republican candidates around the country avoid appearances with President Bush or Vice President Cheney, two in the Philadelphia area - U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Senate challenger Thomas H. Kean Jr. in New Jersey - welcome visiting Laura Bush today with open war chests.

"Laura Bush is safe," Republican political consultant Dave Murray said.

People don't blame her for the war in Iraq, rising gasoline prices, or unpopular administration policies.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

You mean she didn't just crawl out of a cesspit somewhere?

Daily Kos has a link to an excellent editorial written as a letter to Ann Coulter's mother(!) in her hometown newspaper (excerpt below) about her lovely daughter's slandering of the "Jersey girls." In case you haven't seen what Coulter said in her latest book, here's the worst of it: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

Peter Urban of the Connecticut Post writes:

Through my work, I met the New Jersey widows — and other 9-11 family victims — often over the last five years because Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, took up their cause.

Shays, in particular, has continued to fight for additional reforms that the 9-11 Commission recommended. He is driven largely by the memory of 87 constituents who died in the attacks. Those 87 individuals were your neighbors, too.

Anyway, the widows came to Washington and pushed for an independent commission and then lobbied for the commission's recommendations to be implemented. They never sought celebrity and I never saw them enjoying the deaths of those they held dearest.

Personally I find it hard to conceive of Coulter having a mother. Maybe her real mother was a hyena or whatever like in The Omen, and she was just given to this poor woman to raise. I always pictured her crawling out of a swamp or hatching like a reptile.

Anyway, maybe Mrs. Coulter could tell us what happened to Ann in her childhood to turn her into the pathetic hate-filled creature that she is today, and whether she is proud or ashamed of inflicting this wretched excuse for a human being upon an undeserving world. On the other hand, Ann’s utter narcissism and total disregard for others may be a result of her upbringing. I know that if she were a child of mine I would change my name and move to Australia rather than admit it.

(Regarding the use of a connection to 9/11 for fun and profit, Keith Olbermann reminds us that on 9/13/01, while the fires were still smouldering at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, “our Annie” was proclaiming her rage over the death of her friend Barbara Olsen — as if the attack had been aimed at her personally rather than the entire country, as she would say — and demanding that we “invade [the hijackers’] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” I’m still waiting for the former governor of Texas to invade Saudia Arabia, which provided 15 of the 19, or for Coulter to criticize him for not invading them.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's so good to know that our leaders are on top of things

Evidently I'm living in an alternate reality, since Congress feels that it has nothing better to do than to debate gay marriage, flag burning and the Paris Hilton tax cut. (I can't take credit for that last one, but the opponents of eliminating the estate tax cut should use it - over and over again. Or maybe the Barbara and Jenna tax cut, except that they haven't been too obnoxious lately.) This is the laziest bunch since Truman's "do-nothing" Congress and they still can't find anything to talk about besides this drivel.

I'm glad to see that at least some of the Democrats are taking the time to list some of the many, many other issues that are more pressing than any of these things - gas prices, Iraq, spiraling health care costs, New Orleans and the rest of the places in the Gulf that are still waiting for help, genocide in Darfur, etc., etc., etc.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chag Sameach

Shavuot begins tonight – have a good one if you celebrate it. Originally an agricultural festival celebrating the barley harvest and the bringing of the “first fruits” to the temple, it was historicized by the rabbis of the Talmud to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, fifty days after Passover. (The Christian analogue is Pentecost, which bears a similar relationship to Easter.) Traditionally, the book of Ruth is read on Shavuot. Not only is it set at the time of the barley harvest; it also chronicles the acceptance of the Jewish covenant with God by Ruth, a young Moabite woman who becomes the great-grandmother of King David and by extension an ancestress of the Messiah. It is believed to have been written as a rebuttal to the xenophobia that ran rampant after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile, when many of those who had remained behind and married non-Jewish women were forced to abandon them, along with their children. Shades of today’s immigration debate, a great deal of which is fueled by xenophobia, whatever legitimate concerns there may be.