Friday, February 29, 2008

Cheney's secret energy task force: $4 per gallon

Cheney's energy policy
In light of all the other egregious constitutional transgressions that this administration has inflicted on the country over the past seven years, the matter of Dick Cheney's secret energy policy meetings seems venial.

But, do you remember, back in early 2001, right after Junior usurped the Oval Office, that one of the first acts of his administration was to convene an Energy Task Force, headed by former Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney? The task force was created to develop an energy policy for the young administration.

Cheney, of course, in his madly obsessive way, conducted the meetings in secrecy. Citing "executive privilege," he refused to disclose the recommendations of the task force, its policies, or even its constituent members. He defied a lawsuit brought by the General Accounting Office, and another by third parties Judicial Watch and Sierra Club filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

All this defiance was based on principle, said Dick. The vice-president needed "unvarnished advice" from his counselors. If a person feared that his name would be exposed to the public, his advice would be tempered by that knowledge. Big Dick couldn't have that.

Well, in the twisted zeitgeist that the Bush administration has created since seizing power, that flimsy explanation comes as close to making "sense" as any that it is likely to produce.

But, now, let's have a look at what has transpired since the policies, apparently derived from the Energy Task Force, have been implemented.
  • In 2001, at the end of the Clinton administration's tenure, gas prices for the American consumer were somewhere around $1.70 per gallon. Now, post-energy task force, with the price of crude oil climbing about $100 per barrel, experts predict that gas will be selling at around $4 per gallon within weeks.
  • Oil company profits are at record levels. Exxon Mobil profits for the year 2007 were $40.6 billion dollars. The record profits are attributed to surging oil prices.
The Washington Post reported in November 2005, that it had obtained documents that identified the members of the task force. They were:
  • James J. Rouse, then vice president of Exxon Mobil and a major donor to the Bush inauguration;
  • Kenneth L. Lay, then head of Enron Corp.;
  • Jack N. Gerard, then with the National Mining Association;
  • Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute;
  • Eli Bebout, an old friend of Cheney's from Wyoming who serves in the state Senate and owns an oil and drilling company.
Okay, conspiracy-theorists, let's put all of this together, shall we? Given that gas prices and oil company profits are at record levels, and that the members of the energy task force were all resource extracation executives who have directly benefited from increased energy prices, and that Big Dick fought like a rabid, slavering beast to keep it all under wraps, is it such a stretch to imagine that the meetings of said task force went something like this?

Somebody's gonna get gutted...
Big Dick: Boys, we live in a great country. Look at the size of the federal surplus. The hard-working people of this country are capable of producing incredible wealth. My question to you all is this: why aren't we grabbing it for ourselves?

[Cautious looks pass back and forth between the various parties.]

Big Dick: You see, boys, the people in this country will work and they will produce. But in order to create all this wealth, they need energy. Nothing happens in this country without gas. And gas is what we have to offer. And, boys, people will pay for it.

[More cautious looks. The tension in the room is rising.]

Big Dick: And, let me tell you something else, boys. We're leaving a lot of money on the table. They'll pay more than this buck-and-a-half crap we've been offering. Buck-and-a-half! Chicken feed! I mean, what the hell? Are we running a f**king charity organization?

[Much chortling and guffawing.]

Ken Lay [timidly]: Good one, Dick.

Big Dick: Shut up. The point is, people will pay more --3, 4 bucks a gallon! They'll bitch about it, but they'll pay it. So maybe they'll have to give up their kid's college fund or flip a few extra hamburgers. Maybe they'll have to give up their cable tee-vee channels. They'll do it. They've got no choice. They need the gas.

[A stunned silence. Could Big Dick really mean what he's saying?]

Big Dick: Don't get timid on me boys. We've worked long and hard for this day. Now, we've climbed the ladder and the apple is within our reach. I had to call in some serious favors to get that thing in Florida to happen, and, by God, no pussy-ass bulls**t about fairness or duty is gonna get in the way of me getting my due. It'll work. I've got a plan, trust me.

[Everyone drops his gaze...calculating, imagining the power, the wealth...]

Big Dick: Now, look at me boys. Look at me, damn you!

[Big Dick glowers at each of them, one at a time, weighing them, testing them with his daunting visage. He extends his index finger toward each one as he speaks, his voice heavy with menace.]

Big Dick: If any one of you goes soft on me, I will personally hunt you down and gut you. I'll feed your guts to my hunting dogs. I'll find your family and toss 'em out on the street. If any one of you so much as hesitates, by God, I'll do it. Now, I've laid it out for you. This is the way it's gonna be....right?

[A palpable air of breathless tension hangs over them all. You had to give it to Big Dick: he was the only one who would have the guts required to make this thing, this dream, come true. None can brave Big Dick's gaze as he scans the room.]

Big Dick: It's settled then. Let's get to work. Meeting adjourned.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Temptation's price


Temptation's shape is that of cunning snake,
Or sometimes of the soft-curved female form;
But whether it be flesh or scaly worm,
I've yet to see a man that could forsake;

Though cynic I may seem to hazard stake,
I venture this, your witness to confirm:
When siren sings e'en holy saint will squirm,
His fall assured despite his pious quake;

For some the urge to sin is torment strong,
Temptation's price is their imprisoned hell:
Their peace is forfeit with their loathsome urge;

Alas, for we, who cannot see the wrong
On whom their guilty condemnations swell;
From us, their weak humanity they'd purge!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Who knows where the time goes?

A family from the early 20th century
A photo of a family from the early 20th century. Who are these people? What were the stories of their lives? What were their tragedies and triumphs? Where were they born? How did they live? How did they die?

Recently, for some reason, a brief, seemingly insignificant episode from my college days came to mind. Some classmates and I were in the library, cramming for a test. I remember pausing for a moment and gazing up at some old photographs of foresters and timber men from the early 20th century hanging on the wall of the spacious lounge area. "How many of those guys are still alive?" I asked a friend.

He glanced up quickly. "Doubt any of 'em," he said, shrugging.

We resumed our studying.

Metzgers and Cariagas
This photo is roughly 39 years old. It is a picture of my family at my grandparent's farm outside Salem, Oregon.

On the left is my grandmother, Gertrude. She was born in 1917, to missionary parents in China. She married my grandfather and had 3 children (all present in this picture). She spent much of her life working in the public school system as an administrator. She died of cancer in 1987.

The man in the center, holding up the young girl, is my father, Ross Cariaga. He was born in Fresno, California in 1941. At the time this photo was taken, he had 3 children with my mother (all pictured here). He would go on to have 4 more children with subsequent wives. He worked as an instructor and football coach for many years at the Oregon Institute of Technology. He died of complications arising from Lupus in 2001.

The young woman in the back, behind Dad's left shoulder is my Aunt Jenifer. She was born in Salem in 1944. She lived most of her life in sunny Southern California and worked as a legal administrator. She died of leukemia in 2003.

The photo was taken by my grandfather, William Robert (Bob) Metzger. He was born in 1916 in Gresham, Oregon. He worked as a teacher and counselor in the Oregon public school system. He died of "natural causes" on New Year's Eve, 1999.

The other subjects in the photo are (in the front row) myself, my sister, Paige, my brother, Eric, and Mom. In the back row, my Uncle Wayne is standing next to Grandma, and Aunt Jenifer's then-husband Howard O'Brien is on the right. None of us has passed as yet.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, all of the people featured in this photograph will have transitioned to the next phase of existence. For a time, each will be remembered and, in that way we humans have, revered for his or her contribution to the blessings of the day. But that remembrance will be short-lived. Inevitably, we will fade and be forgotten.

Although this may seem sad, it is not, really. Each of us leaves his or her mark on humanity simply by touching the world around us. An act as significant as a lifetime's labor to provide for a child, or as simple as a smile given to a stranger on the street, creates an effect that spreads outward, like the waves that emanate from the proverbial pebble dropped into a pond. The effects we set into motion, simply by existing, go on forever. Just as matter and energy cannot be destroyed, neither can our tiny but absolutely essential part in the impossibly complex clockwork of the Universe be erased.

We humans, with our primitive perceptions, can sometimes grasp at that concept of eternity. The key is not to fully understand it (since that is beyond our capabilities) but simply to know that it is true. We're part of it; each of us.

And who knows where the time goes?



This song is by Sandy Denny. She was born in 1947 in London. She spent much of her life writing and performing music. She died in an accident in 1978.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

¡Cumpleaños felices a Chae!


Hoy mismo, en el año 1991, mi hermana, Chae, nació. Aunque su vida haya empezado apenas, ella ya visto mucho.

Chae nació a una familia muy grande. Ella es la sexta niña de nuestra familia, y la tercera de las hijas de mi padre. Ella es muy sana y consciente de nutrición. Ella es atlética y le gustan los deportes de invierno. ¡Y que bonita, la chica!

Chae es una estudiante excelente, sobresale en la escritura. Ella tiene una afinidad para idiomas y estudia actualmente el español, como su hermano más viejo. Ella es una hermana buena a su hermanito, Seth, y una ayudante a su madre, Tami.

Recientemente, Chae vino a Portland para visitarnos y todos nosotros gozamos su compañerismo. En aquel momento, yo vine a darse cuenta de que Chae no es ya una niña, pero una adulta joven, casi se prepara para ir adelante en el mundo. Agridulce a mi.

Desde la muerte de mi padre, en 2001, Chae y yo hemos establecido el hábito de hablar juntos dos o tres veces por semana. Yo la he mirado crece. En mi corazón, tengo dolor y felicidad mientras yo veo que ella no es la niña inocente y herida que fue.


Te quiero, hermanita.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Consequences of a failed surge: Turkey invades, Serbia defies

For the last 3 months, Bush apologists have been huffing and puffing about the success of the "surge" in Iraq. But a quick look at the hastening of international events casts doubt on any claims of progress. Meanwhile, political developments appear more and more to be leading us toward World War III.

Is the "surge" working?

Violence? What violence?
Bush apologists say that overall violence has fallen off in Iraq due to the increased troop levels brought about by the "surge." Putting aside the fact that American casualties over the last four months (128 since October) don't lend a lot of credence to that assertion, all we need do is look at the stated objectives of the surge, back when Junior was pushing it, in early 2007.
  • The Iraqi government was to take responsibility for security by November 2007.
  • The Iraqi government was to pass legislation that provided for the distribution of oil revenues amongst all Iraq's ethnic groups.
  • The Iraqi government was to spend $10 billion on reconstruction and infrastructure.
  • Iraq was to hold pronvicial elections.
  • Iraq was to reform de-Baathification laws, and establish a process for modifying the Iraqi constitution.
Well, not a single one of these objectives has been met. You can read an assessment from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace here. In light of the failure to meet these objectives, the reduction in overall violence (to the extent that it is even real) would seem to be something that is, at best, a temporary ceasefire between warring factions.

Turkey has had enough

Turkish troops bound for Iraq
Meanwhile, Iraq's neighbor to the north, and an ostensible NATO ally, Turkey has apparently decided that the surge is not working. Frustrated at the Iraqi government's inability to deal with the problem of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) rebels lobbing mortars across the border, Turkey launched an incursion into Iraq on February 22.

Back in October, Junior and company had urged Turkey not to invade, pleading for Ankara to give the Iraqi government a chance to address the problem and squelch the PKK. Well, the attacks have continued and the Turks have learned what everyone else from Tony Blair to victims of Hurricane Katrina have known for a while now: promises from this White House are like so much cotton candy. They just melt away to nothing.

The White House responded to the Turkish invasion with a mealy-mouthed whimper: "It's obviously not an ideal situation," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. "We hope that this is a short-term incursion so that they can help deal with the threat."

Serbs scoff at Condi

Party time in Belgrade
American prestige suffered a huge setback last week when the American embassy in Belgrade was set aflame in protest to the United States recognition of Kosovo as a sovereign state much to Serbia's chagrin. International laughing-stock Condi Rice appeared impotent and toothless. "We do hold the Serb government responsible. We've made that very clear," she whined. "We don't expect that to happen again."

When an American embassy is attacked like that, while Serbian police and firefighters stand idly by, it is a direct slap at the administration and at Condi, specifically. The Serbs know the administration's credibility is so low that there is nothing it can do in response.

World War III looms

When the "surge" inevitably failed to bring about any real political change to the conditions in Iraq, America appeared helpless and weak. And, when American prestige is as low as it is, the possibility for political miscalculation is huge. A similar set of conditions existed in 1914 Europe. But, unlike back then, when the problems were somewhat centered in the Balkans, today's potential powder kegs stretch to all corners of the globe.

Many of the dangers that exist were not created by the Bush administration's illegal invasion of Iraq. But Junior, in his who-cares-about-tomorrow manner, has burned up nearly all of America's credibility and prestige in trying to defend that invasion, leaving this country helpless to effect the course of events. The administration's short-sighted and greedy agenda has made us all hostage to the political calculations of people like Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Osama bin Laden, and Pervez Musharraf.

Keep your seat belts fastened, folks.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hey, Senator McCain...just thought you might want to know...

Uh, Senator McCain? Don't look now, but...

Senator McCain, I don't want to bring you down. I mean, you only just finished gutting your Republican rivals for the nomination, and are just starting to get the right-wing nut jobs in line. But, just in case you aren't aware of it, your presidential campaign is on fire. And I don't mean that there is a hint of smoke. I mean it's burning. It's burning like Chicago in 1871, burning like a Frank Zappa guitar solo. Your campaign is burning so hot that Greenland's glaciers retreat 5 meters every time your name gets mentioned in the news cycle.

It doesn't seem fair, does it, Senator? You just can't seem to get a break. What do people have against you?

Never mind how you were so angry with your campaign people that you fired John Weaver and Terry Nelson back in July 2007 because you couldn't raise any money and nobody seemed to know or care that you were running for president. That's ancient history.

Never mind the recent New York Times story about your relationship with a female lobbyist, 30 years your junior. Never mind that she had clients with matters before the FCC to whom you wrote letters to help move things along in your official capacity as a senator. That story is just a smear by the liberal media.

Never mind that this story dredged up old memories of your days in 1989 as one of the Keating Five, when the Senate investigated you for your involvement with Charles H. Keating, Jr. and his failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. It was all Cranston's fault.

Never mind the hubbub with the FEC that came about when you cleverly applied to Bethesda Bank for a campaign loan using forthcoming federal funds as collateral, only to now try to back out of the public funding restrictions since you're the heir apparent to the Republican throne and those fat corporate checks, however grudgingly signed, are starting to roll in. Damn those pesky campaign finance laws anyway. They're too complex.

Never mind that the rabid conservative panjandrums don't like you and never have, even though you've bent your knee and kissed all the right --er --rings and tried so very hard to suck up to them with your flip-flopping on tax cuts and the use of torture in interrogations. In the long run, those people are just stepping stones, eh, Senator?

Never mind that your colleagues in the Senate, even the Republicans, view you as a hothead and a potty-mouth and are a little bit scared by you. They're just angry because you're a maverick, right?

And never mind even, that just today, your campaign co-chairman, Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ) was indicted for fraud, extortion, and money-laundering. You can't keep track of every sleazy thing that the people around you might get into.

All of that is just part of the rough-and-tumble of politics, right, Senator? Why can't everyone be professional about it?

It was just politics back in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential campaign when Karl Rove spread rumors about your wife's use of drugs, and your child's legitimacy. It would have been petty for you to defend your wife and your daughter, right, Senator? You had your political future to think about after all.

You showed character and professionalism by letting it all go and embracing Junior four years later in the 2004 presidential campaign while he was smearing one of your fellow combat veterans.

What's a little slander between friends, eh, Senator?
And you're not afraid to break things up with a joke or two, right? Just like back in 1998 when you cracked that joke that went the reason Chelsea Clinton, who at the time was 17 years old, was so ugly was because her father was Janet Reno. (Million laughs, that one, Senator. Really.) Or, like when you made that (hilarious) joke about bombing Iran while mimicking that old Beach Boys tune. Or that other joke about being in Iraq for another hundred years. (That was a joke, right?)

But now, in spite of everything you've done, your campaign is burning to the ground.

It doesn't seem fair, does it, Senator? You can't catch a break. It's almost as if people don't like you, Senator. It's almost as if there are people that don't think you'd be a good president, people that think you're mean and nasty and probably not all that stable.

For the life of me, I can't imagine why.

Dig that smile!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hey Nineteen! Junior's monumental accomplishment.

Congratulations, Junior!

Well, well, well...

Junior has finally managed to stand on his own two feet and achieve something of his very own: a 19% approval rating, according to the American Research Group. He now has the worst approval rating of any president in the history of any poll measuring such.

Bush has surpassed the lows of Clinton (36%), Bush the Elder (29%), Reagan (35%), Carter (28%), Ford (37%), Nixon (23%) and LBJ (35%). He has even smashed through the concrete floor set by Truman (22%).

Let's face it, folks. You don't get a 19% approval rating merely by being incompetent. You've got to augment incompetence with malevolence and cruelty and arrogance, and you've got to be so obvious about it that even a child can see it.

This is a stellar achievement. Of course, anyone to the political left of Genghis Khan has long known that Junior is worthless. But he's into new territory now. Even "movement conservatives" are turning away from him.

Well, Junior, here's one for you from one of my favorite bands, Steely Dan.


The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian, make tonight a wonderful thing...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sorry, kids; it's still Junior's War

Portrait of Bush, constructed from photos of people killed in his war
Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to a video produced by the GOP that, apparently is being promoted as a mitigation of Junior's responsibility for the disaster in Iraq. Here's the link:

http://www.bercasio.com/movies/dems-wmd-before-iraq.wmv

The link to this video was accompanied, of course, by the usual conservative sniveling:
Democrats, some Republicans, and the anti-war coalition continue to call this “Bush’s War”. They continue to claim that Bush and Cheney lied to the American people! Were Clinton, the people in his administration, the Democrats, and Congress lying when Clinton was President in the late 90’s, or after the attacks on 911? Some people want to take credit when things are going right, or when some poll says it’s the popular thing to do, but will blame others when things are not going well, lose an election, or some poll says it is no longer popular. Maybe this is why it’s called politics. Some folks will accuse, blame, and do or say anything to gain power and control. --Anonymous Bush apologist
Even putting aside the red-faced, indignant tone of this little diatribe, don't you find this pathetic? What we have here is a display of the typical tactics conservatives use when the pathos of their behavior is exposed: avoidance of responsibility, obstinate refusal to face the facts, panicked finger-pointing.

Let's examine, first, the implication of the video. Apparently, the statements on the video are meant to indicate that Bush and Cheney were not lying when they made their claims about WMD in Saddam's Iraq. After all, the video shows various Democrats saying that they too believed Saddam had WMD. Well, sorry, conservatives. None of the statements in this video are as pronounced and absolute as these:
[Saddam Hussein] now is trying through his illicit procurement network to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium. --Dick Cheney, September 8, 2002, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press
We do know that [Saddam Hussein] is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know there have been shipments going into . . . Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to—high-quality aluminum tools that only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. --Condoleeza Rice, September 8, 2002, appearing on CNN's Late Edition
And we believe [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. --Dick Cheney, March 16, 2003, appearing on Meet the Press
And, of course:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. --Junior Bush, January 28, 2003, State of the Union Speech
For conservatives, the distinction between general statements such as those in the video, and specific (false) statements like those quoted above is probably too subtle to grasp. But most Americans can discern the difference. It is one thing to say that Hussein likely had or was seeking WMD. It is another thing, entirely, to say that he was currently acquiring and enriching uranium and was already in possession of nuclear weapons. (There is a complete report on the false statements made by the administration both pre- and post-invasion available at the Center for Public Integrity's website.)

Now, let's examine another aspect of the sentiment expressed by our anonymous conservative friend: Since there was an apparent consensus that Saddam either had or was seeking to acquire WMD, Bush was justified in initiating an invasion. Well, I'm not sure how one comes to that conclusion. There are many countries that have WMD. I don't think anyone would argue that we should invade France, for example.

The Democratic statements in the video express a suspicion that Hussein may have WMD. In fact, Senator Jay Rockefeller, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Evan Bayh all make statements that indicate a willingness to support an invasion of Iraq. In my mind, this is just an indication of the personal cowardice of these individuals. Their statements were made at a time when Junior Bush had high approval ratings, a time when these Democrats probably imagined that Junior would get away with his lies.

But there was that vote in Congress, which came in the temporal post-911 sweet spot (from a Karl Rove perspective) just before the 2002 mid-term elections. Here, at least, is an area where the administration showed competence. By forcing cowardly Democrats to either vote for war authorization or vote against it and risk being labeled as defeatists, the administration achieved their sheen of legitimacy for the war. And look how well it worked! Even today, people like our conservative friend are using that vote as evidence that Bush acted in response to the general political consensus.

Regardless, no matter how many obscure Democratic statements conservatives dredge up, the fact remains that Junior and his gang pushed aggressively for an invasion using false information. They used every sales pitch they could to make it happen: they lied about the effort it would require. They lied about the cost. They lied about a non-existent connection between Hussein and the 911 attacks.

Then, after they had rushed the country into the war over the objections of millions, they mishandled and mismanaged it to the point that 5 years into it, there is no end in sight.

Well, I guess there's nothing to say, but "Mission Accomplished." After all, prominent members of the Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, himself, have gotten filthy rich as a direct result of the invasion. (If that don't make you smell a rat, you ain't got no nose, as they say).

Sorry, kids. This is Junior's war. He and his gang are directly responsible for its consequences. Although I harbor no illusions that the suffering he has imposed on the world will bother him, he is nonetheless responsible for it. He gets to live with it. So do we all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Los hispanos y el dilema de John McCain

¡Atrapado!

El pobre, John McCain. Debe parecer injusto a él que los conservadores fanáticos los cuales que forman el margen del GOP no le aceptan. Ahora, cuando él es el republicano nominado aparente, la obstinación de ellos está negando McCain su habilidad a formular una campaña efectiva por la elección general.

De su punto de vista, él ha besado los anillos de todos las personas apropiadas por los siete años pasados: Jerry Falwell, George W. Bush, y otros. Y todavía él aguantó las mofas de conservadores recientemente a la conferencia CPAC. Mire el video aquí:



¡Hilarante!

Pero atiende la razón por las mofas. El asunto de inmigración ha inflamado las pasiones de la base ignorante. A ellos, McCain es un apóstata porque él sostuvo la política de Bush y los ejecutivos corporativos (a veces llamada "el programa de trabajadores de huésped.") A la base, la política es una rendición, una transgresión sin perdón. "¡Amnistía!" ellos chillan.

McCain, sin duda, mira los sondeos que indican que los candidatos Democratos estan divididos un poco por líneas raciales. Ahora parece que Hillary Clinton está la candidata más sostenida por los hispanos, mientras Barack Obama está favorecido por los afro-americanos. Del punto de vista de McCain, y como un republicano genuino, esto es una ruptura que está listas para ser explotada.

Pero la base no le permite. Ahora, miramos los resultados de las políticas de temor y fanatismo. Cuándo Karl Rove usó todas las tácticas odiosas a elegir Junior Bush en 2004, él creó una trampa de que McCain ahora debe tratar de escapar. No será fácil; quizás no es posible.

McCain está atrapado: por un lado, él debe acallar la base inquieto, pero, por otro lado, no puede enajenar la mayoría de los votantes con una apelación abierto al racismo. Del hecho, su campaña está paralizada por decisiones previas de su héroe falso, Junior Bush.

Bien, hay nada más que reír.

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book review: John Updike's Rabbit series

John Hoyer Updike
Among modern American writers, the name John Updike figures prominently. The author of nearly 2 dozen novels, and half as many short story collections, as well as poetry and literary criticism, Updike is recognized as a leader in the art of fiction. His most famous work is a series of four novels depicting the life of a middle-American man, Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.

The series begins with the 1959 novel, Rabbit Run, which depicts a young, restless Harry (nicknamed "Rabbit"). Rabbit is something of a local celebrity in the small Pennsylvania town of Mount Judge, having been a star on the high school basketball team. Over the course of the novel, Rabbit, feeling trapped by the responsibilities of his new wife (Janice) and two young children, and sensing that, already, the world is looking past him, abandons his family in reckless pursuit of his own selfish interests. Various prominent persons in Rabbit's life coax and cajole him toward accepting his responsibilities while he flirts with the idea of casting it all aside. He discovers that he has power over the people that depend on him and he enjoys it. At one point, Rabbit relates to Ruth, a lonely young woman with whom he has taken up, what he has learned from the experience: "If you have the guts to be yourself, other people'll pay your price."

The second novel in the series, Rabbit Redux (published in 1971), picks up some 10 years later. Rabbit's marriage has survived in spite of the loss of his infant daughter to a tragic accident that occurred in the first novel. In Redux, Janice gets restless and abandons Rabbit and their son, Nelson, in pursuit of an adulterous relationship. Rabbit, now a single parent, gets involved with a crowd of social radicals spawned by the turbulence of 1960s America. Just as the struggle for civil rights and the sexual revolution found their way into living rooms across the country, so too for the Angstrom household. Quite literally, Rabbit invites the radicalism and turbulence of the era into his house with huge consequences to himself, his son, and his estranged wife.

In the third novel, Rabbit is Rich (1981), Rabbit has attained a level of respectability and financial success working as the manager of a Toyota franchise owned by his mother-in-law. Set in the middle '80s, the Reagan era, the novel relates how Rabbit and Janice cope with the problems (both real and existential) of middle age and the encroachment of life's inevitability.

The final novel, Rabbit at Rest (1990), takes place in the late 1980s. Here, we find Rabbit, retired and wintering with Janice in Florida, where they have purchased a condominium. Rabbit has developed a heart condition that threatens to kill him. Throughout the novel, Rabbit, now resigned to "has-been" status, searches for reasons to care. He struggles to find peace with his son, Nelson, who has a family of his own and a serious drug problem, and to resolve all the relationships that have somehow endured through Rabbit's many failings.

The series, taken in total, provides a fascinating portrayal of middle America from the early 1960s through the late 1980s. Rabbit, himself, is a complex character. There is little to like about him, in truth. He is selfish, hedonistic, and cruel. But, as the series develops, the reader comes to recognize that, for all his faults, Rabbit is not evil. More likely he is the product of a young society that does not accept the concept of limitations, of restraint, of prudence.

My own encounter with Rabbit began almost randomly. My (ex-)wife and I were browsing at a bookstore in Lincoln City, Oregon, when I happened upon a copy of Rabbit Run. I had read a short story in college (I think it was Pigeon Feathers) and I recognized Updike's name as someone who "should be read." So, I bought the book and proceeded to dive in. Well, the story grabbed me, right from the start. I was a young man of some 30 years at the time, and I recognized in Rabbit some of the baser of my emotions: the arrogance and infallibility of youth, the solipsistic belief that the Universe radiates out from one's self. Intrigued, I continued, years later, with Rabbit Redux, and then Rabbit is Rich, but was disappointed with these latter two books. Rabbit's experiences in the two sequels were more dated, more specific to the eras they sought to portray; they lacked the universal appeal of Rabbit Run.

By the time I got to Rabbit at Rest, some 15 years after I started the series, my expectations had been considerably lowered. But then, Updike knocked me for a loop.

In the series denouement, Rabbit Angstrom sees the world in the cold light of disillusionment. Age has brought about his comeuppance: he recognizes all of his failures, all of his petty disasters. Here is a man who, stripped of the armor of success and youth, has learned that the entire world does not revolve around him.

Updike is at the height of his powers with this novel, which neatly bookends the series. Issues that are raised in the first novel are addressed and resolved with Updike's masterful usage of various literary devices: The guilt Rabbit feels over the accidental drowning of his infant daughter (in the first novel) is assuaged when he rescues his young granddaughter, Judy from drowning, ultimately at the price of his own life. Just as the first novel opened with young Rabbit Angstrom impulsively joining some youngsters in a pickup game of basketball, then using his strength to dominate them, the penultimate scene of the final novel shows Rabbit again joining a pickup game to test himself against the restraints of his fragile heart. It is almost an act of ritual suicide.

I remember being aggravated at the end of Rabbit Run because Rabbit, who had abused and degraded everyone around him, never seemed to get what was coming to him. But by the end of Rabbit at Rest, I was weeping for him, weeping for this complex person, a failure on so many levels, but basically a well-meaning, confused man. His parting words, delivered to Nelson as Rabbit lies dying on his hospital bed, convey a haunting wisdom that I'm still trying to grasp: "Nelson, all I can tell you is, it isn't that bad."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Contempt citations issued for Bush aides

Well, it finally happened: the House of Representatives voted yesterday to hold former White House legal counsel, Harriet Miers, and White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, in contempt of congress for their refusal to answer subpoenas. The subpoenas were originally issued in an attempt to get to the bottom of the firings in 2006-2007 of US attorneys. Both Miers and Bolton cited executive privilege in declining the summons.

Accused!
The vote in the House yesterday was 223 in favor and 32 against. Most of the Republicans, knowing they could not win the vote, stormed out in protest, following their leader, well-known inebriate, John Boehner (Ohio).

This is the first time in 25 years that Congress has voted on a contempt citation. Contempt of Congress is a felony. In short, this is a Big DealTM.

The White House reaction was typically smarmy and pompous. Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said: "This action is unprecedented, and it is outrageous. It is astonishing and deeply troubling that after months of delay on passing a bill that will help our intelligence professionals monitor foreign terrorists who want to kill Americans, the House has instead turned its attention to the silly, pointless, and unjust act of approving these contempt resolutions."

Well, sorry, Dana. But you see, a subpoena is a subpoena. I grant that I am not an objective observer, but doesn't it make sense that Congress enforce its subpoenas? Would Congress not be setting a dangerous and destabilizing precedent if it did not pursue this citation? (Besides, outrage from a person with Dana Perino's...er...gravitas...is a bit much. She once admitted on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" show that she didn't know about the Cuban Missile Crisis. "It has to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure," she said.)

"It has to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."
But, of course, White House outrage is hollow. The administration knows that they have no legal or ethical ground to stand on here. It's just for show, like the chest-thumping of a demented primate. The game now is to stall and run out the clock.

Normally, when a contempt citation is issued, the Justice Department appoints a US attorney to pursue the matter. But Attorney General Mukasey has already indicated that he will not do so. The House of Representatives will respond with a legal demand, put forth by the House General Counsel. In short, we're going to court.

Not gonna do it. Sue me!
The process will be long and drawn out and may end up before the Supreme Court. But, of course, progress may be so slow that the Bush junta's term may expire before anything is decided. That's what they're counting on.

If the case does reach the Supreme Court, precedent weighs heavily against the administration. In the 1974 case, US vs. Nixon, the Court ruled 9-0 that executive privilege is not absolute and cannot be used to cover up potential wrong-doing. (This was the famous battle for the Watergate tapes.)

But the administration's firewall, if everything else goes wrong, is the configuration of today's Supreme Court, with its Samuel Alito/Clarence Thomas/Antonin Scalia/John Roberts bloc of "unitary executive" advocates.

The fix is in.
This on-going constitutional crisis is inexorably creeping toward its conclusion. But the administration has anticipated this day and has built up a series of legal and procedural defenses. It is sadly ironic that the one area in which Cheney and the powers-behind-the-throne have shown competence (since we all know Junior doesn't have the cognitive capacity to come up with this stuff himself) is their ability to use bureaucracy and byzantine procedure to protect their pathetic asses.

They have shown contempt not only of congress, but of the United States citizenry in general, and most especially the rubes that were fool enough to believe in them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, Maty Bombay



I never did deserve to see thee smile
In morning light that filter'd through the pane
And stripped away the shadows of my guile;
Well, ev'ry searing pleasure brings its pain;

For stripped, am I, of all before thy face,
Abash'd before thy strange humility;
(Americans know little of this grace,
Imagining a false gentility;)

Thy honor razed the fortress of my pride;
My throne is broken 'neath thy gentle hand;
My petty merits shattered, cast aside:
Thy humble virtues melt my castle sands;

Allah be praised: His daughter is my wife!
I'll never know another for my life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tami McClain-Cariaga sailing through the Universe

Tami and family, 1997
Today is the birthday of Tami McClain-Cariaga, the widow of my father, and the mother of my two youngest siblings, Chae and Seth Cariaga.

Tami is an amazing woman: indefatigable, smart, strong, kind, and tolerant. I have known Tami for 25 years now, as astounding as I find that to be. She's an excellent, responsible parent and a truly remarkable human being.

In my father's last years, as he was dying of Lupus and mostly bed-ridden, Tami not only cared for him, but fed, clothed, and cared for the two young children and the numerous animals under their care in the house on the shores of Klamath Lake. Now, nearly 7 years after Dad's passing, Tami continues to raise the two kids, more or less on her own, and maintain her house in Minden, Nevada.

Tami and Dad, near the end, 2001
She's an animal lover, having 3 dogs and 4 cats, each of which is well-cared-for and loved. She's a devout Catholic, involved in her church and community. She's an active and involved mother, making sure her two kids have plenty of activities from snow-boarding to Cub Scouts to soccer to any number of other extracurriculars. (She's also a Republican...an excellent reminder for me that Republicans can be good human beings.)

There are so many things I admire about Tami. She laughs and smiles a lot. She is always positive, never downbeat. She laughs at even the most stupid of my jokes. But the trait I most particularly admire is Tami's kindness and her willingness to believe that people are, at their core, good and decent.

Tami's road has not been easy. Widowed at a young age, with 2 small children, I have never yet heard her complain about her lot in life. She's never even slowed down.

Tami and family, 2005
Well, Tami, you're definitely an inspiration to me. Just by leading your life with your natural courage and determination, you set an example that I can only dimly hope to follow.

Tami Cariaga sailing....sailing through the Universe!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Paint a picture, write a poem!


Some days, it just gets to you...you know?

I'm talking about the doom and dread that pervades the subconscious of those of us who are managing to survive without too much trouble.

For much of the world, the perils of existential examination are moot: when you're picking through a garbage dump outside of Calcutta for your dinner, you're probably not inclined to ponder the larger meaning of life. But for those of us blessed (and I do mean blessed) with having, through the accident of Fate, been brought into a kinder and gentler version of the world, the menace of moral and existential introspection loom. To be sure, we do what we can to avoid it, with our televisions and computers and Ipods and name-your-distractions. But sometimes, perhaps when some defective person, unable to stave off despair, gets drunk and drives his car into a power line, the lights flicker off, the television screen goes dead, and we are stuck in our homes, blindly groping for something to grab onto and avoid falling into the abyss. We sense the monster lurking in the darkness.

Because, whether or not each of us has the courage to face it, the fact remains that these mortal coils through which we view this particular aspect of the Great Creation will eventually falter, breakdown, and cease functioning altogether. It's true individually, and it's true in the larger, collective sense.

You know it, don't you? Deep in your heart, you know it. And it sears like cold iron. It's not just that each of us is destined to die, but that civilization, society, indeed, the entire human species cannot last forever.

In its infinite mercy, the Great Whatever endowed us with a mere one-dimensional perception of time. We cannot foresee the end. We can only sense that it is out there, looming. And it is natural to be afraid. Not afraid for ourselves, individually, but afraid for those whom we love, and for the things we've created.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation may recall perhaps, the episode, entitled "The Inner Light," in which Captain Jean-Luc Piccard finds himself in a dream world that is facing environmental catastrophe. The people on this doomed planet ultimately realize that their time as a race is coming to an end. They endeavor to pool their resources and work together to create a space probe containing information about their culture and their people, a commemoration of themselves, which they launch in the hopes that someone somewhere will find it, unlock its secrets, and remember this long lost people.

When I have the courage to face it (maybe "courage" isn't the right word, I don't know), my heart breaks for this beautiful, hateful, vulgar, gentle, noble, virtuous, and infinitely-complex thing we call humanity. In my heart, I know we cannot be saved.

But we can leave something behind, can't we? We can put down a marker for some who-knows-what in some far-flung who-knows-where that we were here, and that we were, in our virtuous and horrible and noble and fallible way, beautiful. Can't we?

In the end, if there is anything we can leave behind that will relate what we are or were, I believe it is our art. So, let me urge you: For all our sakes, paint a picture! Write a poem! Shout out our "mighty YOP!" Don't do it for yourselves; do it for all of us. Our art can be our legacy, our "probe" into the Great Beyond.

In that way, we can live on.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The problem with Hillary


In these days of ever stranger bedfellows, there is an old Arabic proverb that has been bandied about (to the point of cliché) to explain some of the more unseemly political alliances of the day: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Using this maxim as a guide, one might imagine that Hillary Clinton would be the presidential candidate of choice for progressives/liberals. After all, Hillary's long list of political enemies reads like Madam DeFarge's knitted register of people to be beheaded. Hillary has long been the target of some of the most nasty attacks that the right-wing can muster up with their limited and crippled imaginations. Granted, Hillary is not much of a progressive, her 1993 health care initiative notwithstanding, but her enemies are a Who's Who of the very worst that the Republican party has to offer. Surely, if such hideous creatures as Tom Delay, James Dobson, and Rush Limbaugh hate her, she can't be all bad, eh?

Well, speaking as a progressive, I'm afraid that just ain't enough.

Hillary Clinton will always have this problem: as a United States Senator, when she was in a position to show courage by defying the Bush administration's most egregious excesses, she deferred. She went along with them, lending them a sheen of credibility and providing them with a method to diffuse accountability as their lies became apparent to the world.

As the Bush administration initiated its propaganda campaign for an invasion of Iraq, we were subjected to all manner of stories, some of them preposterous on their faces, about the threat that Iraq posed to the United States. (The Center for Public Integrity documents the lies on its web site.)

The campaign was so obviously full of lies and false assertions that many people could see through it from the start...everyday ordinary people who were not privy to intelligence briefings or classified information. They came out in their millions against the war in 2003.

Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton (and John Kerry and John Edwards) voted to give Junior the authorization to use force against Iraq if Saddam Hussein did not comply with various UN resolutions. Now with the lies exposed to the point where even many Republicans can see them, Hillary uses the same line as the Bush administration to defend that sorry decision: "It wasn't just me. Lots of people were fooled."

Well, sorry, Hillary. It is certainly true that many people were fooled, were made fools of, by the Bush administration. But you, with your access to the real dope, must have known that it was a lie. J'accuse, madam. You went along with the lie for one reason only: you thought Bush would get away with it. In the time before the invasion, Junior had high approval ratings, and the nation was still dazed by the 911 terrorist attacks. It would have taken an extraordinary amount of courage to stand up to Bush and his war drums. And we all know how scarce is that kind of courage within the Democratic party.

With that vote, and with your subsequent plaintive excuses, you expose yourself as a hack, an amoral pragmatist, who will do whatever you deem most likely to advance your political stock.

If the Democratic party pathetically nominates you, I can't say you won't get my vote. My disgust for the Republicans is too strong to not be registered in that small way. But it will be a joyless vote, cast in despair.

We knew the Iraq invasion was a lie all along, Hillary. You did, too. But you chose to go along with it, in the belief that the Bush administration could keep the lid on, could continue to fool just enough of the public to maintain the facade of legitimacy.

That's your problem, Hillary. You believed they were competent. Sucks to be you.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Do you dig the Beatles?


The Beatles are probably still my favorite band of all time. Besides writing and performing great tunes, they defined an era in western culture. An examination of the musical transitions the band underwent from 1962 to 1972 clearly shows that this was a band that was never content to rest comfortably on the (unprecedented) success they had achieved. They were always pushing forward, trying new things.

So, in the interest of Friday fun, I invite you to take part in my Beatles poll.

Beatlemania!
Who is your favorite Beatle?
John
Paul
George
Ringo
No favorite, I like them all



Thursday, February 07, 2008

John McCain is thrown into the lion's den


Nice kitties!

Remember the Old Testament story about Daniel, the adviser to King Darius, who, through the political manipulations of his enemies, was thrown into a den of hungry lions?
When King Darius put the good and wise Daniel in charge of all the presidents and princes, they vowed to seek revenge on Daniel. They convinced the king to sign a law making it a crime for a man to seek the help of any god or man, except the king, for 30 days. The punishment was to be thrown into a den of hungry lions. They then told the king that Daniel prayed to his God three times a day and was unfaithful to the king. King Darius was forced to throw Daniel into the lion's den. Then a great stone was laid upon the mouth of the den.
Alas, for John McCain. It seems that he is something of a modern-day Daniel. As his delegate count has risen, he has more and more become the target of extreme right-wing vitriol that has heretofore been reserved for Bill or Hillary Clinton or John Kerry or Ted Kennedy.

The deliverers of this vitriol are none other than the most rabid of right-wing pontificates: Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, et alia. According to them strict adherence to a solid party line is required. Any slight deviation is viewed as apostasy. This destructive bent is yet another result of the slash-and-burn political brinkmanship of Karl Rove.

Well, McCain knows that, unless he can somehow becalm the roiling waters of the Republican base that is supposedly represented by these media blow-hards, his candidacy (which is already faced with the daunting task of overcoming the miasma of the Bush legacy) is doomed. Yesterday, McCain even went so far as to urge his critics on the right to "just calm down."

Well, today he is thrust into the lion's den. Specifically, he is going to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). This is an event that is fraught with peril. Not only for John McCain, who, rumor has it, faces the possibility of being booed off the stage, but for the Republican party in general. For this analogy, I've cast McCain as the "good and wise Daniel," but he has a notoriously bad temper and it will be interesting to see how he responds if things go badly.

I believe that what we are actually witnessing are the opening salvos of the ideological war that is about to take place within the Republican party in the wake of the devastation wrought by Junior Bush. Many Republicans believe (whether they admit it or not) that this administration is going to be judged harshly by history and that the coming election will be a crucible of pain for them. They are preparing themselves to be exiled to the wilderness for a time.

But now the question becomes (staying with the biblical metaphors) who is to be their Moses? Will it be Senator John McCain who, from the right-wing point of view, is a compromiser, an ideologically contaminated hack who will surrender the cherished tenets of the cobbled-together coalition of ultra-rich corporate titans and frightened religious zealots? Or is there someone else, anyone else, that can take point during the inevitable march across the desert that is to come?

Returning to the story of Daniel:
The king went home and grieved. He arose early in the morning and hurried to the den of lions, crying out, "O Daniel, thou servant of the living God, has thy God been able to deliver thee from the lions?" Daniel responded from within, "O King, live forever. My God has sent his angel and shut the lions' mouths that they have not hurt me, because I have not sinned against him; and also, unto thee, O King, I have done no wrong."
Daniel was released from the lion's den. King Darius then praised Daniel's God as the living God whose kingdom would never be destroyed and whose power would never end.
Well, I suppose the "living God" that McCain is hoping will deliver him from the ravenous lions is the phantom of Ronald Reagan. We'll soon see how that turns out for him. Regardless, the GOP is on the cusp of a vicious, fratricidal war that is sure to destroy many people who richly deserve to be destroyed.

I find it all delicious, personally. In their take-no-prisoners donnybrook, the Republicans, and most particularly the right-wing extremists within that party, will expose each other's hypocrisies and callowness. The ravenous electoral lions that were created by Republican appeals to bigotry and religious zealotry have grown to adulthood and are now rabid and raging, tearing apart the world around them.

Schadenfreude? You bet your ass!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Day trip to Agra


I remember getting out of the van, seeing the Agra Fort over there, across that muddy moat with the little trickle of muddy water meandering in the muddy streambed. The Fort looked like some sandcastle that thousands of little sun bathers, sometime, way back in the long dream of this timeless land, had dug out of the river basin, with thousands of little sand shovels and sand pails. And time and the sun had hardened it, compacted it, made it dense and strong.

And, then, maybe that’s when the Muslims came and used their skills, the skills that came from watching the stars and the moon, and from learning about the magic of numbers, to carve those palaces and mosques, and dungeons from those mounds of sand. And the thousands of dark, strangely serene people sprang up from the sandy soil all around it, and lived out their lives, and then laid down and melted back into the sand, and then rose back up again, like the tide of an impotent sea: impotent because the walls of the Red Fort withstood the ceaseless ebb and flow all around it.

The men wore loose cotton shirts, and sandals, and baggy cotton trousers tied close around their waists. And the women wore brightly colored shifts and saris. And they were all so dark that when they smiled you were taken by how white their teeth were. Or when their eyes widened, you saw only the whites, and the dark features around them were obscured, and you were startled by the limpid whiteness, and you stroked your chin and turned your thoughts inward.




But I just couldn’t take my eyes from across that bridge that spanned the muddy moat with the little trickle of muddy water meandering in the muddy stream bed. Beyond it was the Gate. The vast arch that led into the opulent fortress the Muslim kings used to guard their marbled jewel that lay across the river. The Gate, with its iron-wrought portcullis that could drop right down, like a set of jagged incisors, slicing through everything, shutting off the view of the soft parts of the throat, shutting that glimpse of pillowed bedrooms, and innately carved walls with semi-precious stones set into the depictions of peacocks and flowers. And it was strange to think that these were the same people, through some convoluted lineage, through some infinitely complex maze of genealogy, that had built the Alhambra, half a world away, in the dry and friendly hills of Iberia.


And then, just a glance across the river, across the vista, past the women threshing clothes in the muddy, meandering river with children running about their feet, to that white marble jewel with four domed towers set about a domed building, and... no, it can’t be marble. It can’t all be marble, and, surely, if I look closer I’ll see the ruse. No, it can’t be the way it seems from here, standing on the bridge that spans the muddy moat with the little trickle of muddy water. It’s something else, some vision, something someone dreamed about somewhere. And it shines, or shimmers, or somehow defies you to accept it, because, well, we’ve all heard the name, we all know about the mosque that Emperor Shah Jahan had built for his wife, for the mother of his fourteen children, because he loved her and he could afford it. But the photos and the name, Taj Mahal…that’s not it. Those couldn’t possibly be representations of this thing, this vision that I’m seeing over there, across the muddy, meandering river with the women threshing their clothes and the children running around their feet.

But then, just as I was squinting, trying to discern clearly whether or not it was real, or some ethereal phantasm, there was scraping and scratching, down near my feet, where I was standing on the bridge that spanned the muddy stream bed with the trickle of muddy water.
“Here they come,” said Edward. He was a lawyer for an oil company, out of Singapore. And he knew what that made him in my eyes. But somehow, on this long bumpy ride down from Delhi, we had got past all that, and even exchanged some jokes and travel stories. And he was always glancing down at his cell phone, tapping in text messages to his wife, back in Singapore.

And then I looked down, and there they were: more of the dark people, but these were somehow incomplete: they pulled themselves along with their arms, and they had twisted, gnarly clubs instead of legs, and humps instead of backs, but they still had those limpid whites set in the dark faces, and then, when they got up next to you, they stretched out a hand, and the dark pools inside the whites turned up at you, and you felt fear and revulsion and shame and…but no, no. Don't face that now; better to wait until you’re back at the hotel room, in the dark, after the Sikh has come to turn down your bed and brought you an evening aperitif, and you have turned off the television and the darkness has come down whether you wanted it to or not. No, go back to that vision, over there, beyond the meandering river, go back to Shah Jahan and the love he had for his wife, and how these brown people that grew up all around the Red Fort had achieved tolerance, and openness, and acceptance, and how it all came down to that, even for these poor creatures dragging themselves through the dirt to beg for a rupee.
And Edward was a corporate lawyer, but he was still a human being, and we looked at each other, standing there on the bridge that spanned the muddy stream bed and we each saw the other’s jaw stiffen as our eyes met: me, clutching my camera and trying not to think about it, and he, finger poised over the keypad of his cell phone, where he had been tap-tap-tapping out a message to his wife, back in Singapore, and we…said…nothing. Nothing. We said nothing.
Our guide, an old Hindu man who could speak English as well as Hindi, and who made a pretty good living taking rubes like Edward and me to carpet shops and clothing stores, where he received his kickback from the salesmen after they had plundered our credit cards, stepped out of the van, brushed past the twisted forms at his feet, took each of us by the elbow, and shepherded us toward the gate. “The Agra Fort was built by Hindus, sometime before 1080,” he began...