Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Revolution: The aftermath of creating an American peasantry?

Note: I'm leaving back to Iraq on Saturday, to explore downtown Baghdad and other fun things like that. I made a proposal to MNFI that I do a story on the bunches of weapons caches found in Baghdad recently and they accepted my idea. Now all I need is to pay off the airfare I charged. Please feel free to donate to my "Jane Tours Sadr City" fund! Just go to http://paypal.com and donate to jpstillwater@yahoo.com.


Last week I went to the Berkeley Public Library, looking for a book-on-tape to listen to while driving around town in my 1990 Toyota Tercel that gets 35 miles per gallon but still takes $45 worth of gas to fill up its puny little tank. But the only book-on-tape I could find there was John Reed's "Insurgent Mexico". Didn't they have anything better than that?

"John Reed is old hat," I said to myself. "That book was written in 1910. How could it possibly be relevant today?" Well it was. It turns out that John Reed was the freaking INVENTOR of Gonzo Journalism. And the Mexican Revolution? Aye, Carumba! Totally exciting. This revolution came about after Mexico's peasant class had been deliberately and systematically pushed to its very limits of endurance by wealthy land-owners, bankers, industrialists and government officials -- to the point where these hard-working bottom-of-the rung peons finally stood up to the rich dudes and said, "Basta!" Enough! "We can endure no more."

The book made for great driving entertainment. It's a wonder I didn't run any more red lights than I did.

Then a journalist friend called me this morning and we started chatting about Africa. "Let's talk about possible American military intervention in Darfur," he said. "Remember when Mia Farrow suggested that they should send in Blackwater? That was a crazy idea. Sending in Blackwater would just create another Somalia or even end up igniting all of Africa. What Farrow should have said is that Americans need to put economic pressure on China instead."

And why would that work?

"Because if China's economy goes too far downhill, then its leaders will have to deal with China's peasant class once again -- like the mandarins had to do back in the old days. You gotta remember that China's peasant class is still a major force to be reckoned with. Look how Mao was able to organize it and use it to take over the country. And the leaders in China today know this. At all times they are totally aware that this particular wolf is galloping along behind their sled, that their peasant class is already operating without a safety net, are the poorest of the poor and, if further bad times arrive because China can no longer sell its goods to the West, they might find another leader like Mao and stage another revolution."

That got me to thinking. "You know, there's no peasant class here in America, so American corporatists and politicians don't have to worry about that." Well, maybe we have some illegal aliens. And some homeless guys and some ghettos...but....

But what WOULD happen if American corporatists and their politcians in Washington continue to be allowed to chisel away at the American economy, and things really get bad here too? Would a new American peasant class be created? And if so -- and if things in America really got desperate enough -- would there be a revolution here too? "Insurgent America"? Aye, Carumba!

As American corporatists continue to work their little butts off in order to create their ultimate wet-dream of "cheap labor" here in the US as well as abroad, might they also be creating some kind of Frankenstein's monster peasant class that will eventually come back and bite them in said little butts -- when the villagers they are trying so hard to create out of America's former middle class start coming after them with torches and pitchforks?

American corporatists need to be careful what they wish for.

Perhaps they too would benefit from driving around town (past all those home-foreclosure signs and boarded-up banks) while listening to John Reed's "Insurgent Mexico" book-on-tape.

PS: A revolution in America -- either by peasants or not -- might be happening here sooner rather than later if the economy continues to fail at the startling rate that it is now bob-sledding straight down. According to Kitco columnist Darryl Robert Schoon, "Since 1913 when the Federal Reserve first issued its debt based paper money in the US, the paper US dollar has lost 95 % of its value, a loss of 95 % over 95 years. Perhaps in five more years, 100 years after the creation of the Federal Reserve, the US dollar will have lost 100 % of its value—which means in five years the US paper dollar will be worth nothing."

PPS: According to journalist Mike Whitney, our current banking system is also hard at work trying to create a new American peasant class. "As the bank-runs increase, the FDIC will be forced to admit the truth, that they don't have the resources to deal with a problem this big. Currently, the FDIC has only $53 billion in reserves to guarantee $4 trillion in total bank deposits. The entire system has a mere $267 billion cash in the vaults."

And Whitney is also pretty pissed off about that new housing bail-out bill. He claims that American homeowners probably won't see a penny of that money. "None of congress's back-room maneuvering has anything to do with 'providing a lifeline for the struggling homeowner', as Senator Dodd claims. That's all bunkum. The homeowner won't get a lick of help from this bill. Its just another handout for the brokerage fraternity.... The whole system has been rejiggered to serve the needs of a few greedy bankers on top of the food chain.... The truth is, the big money guys have taken a wrecking-ball to the financial system and now they've moved on to the real economy. By the time they're done, we'll be picking through the rubble just to feed our families."

Welcome to Peasantville, America.

My only question now is, "Just exactly how bad must the economy get before the soon-to-be-nascent American peasantry finally starts to wake up?"

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What goes on in Wall Street, stays on Wall Street....

When I was a little girl, my mother used to tell me again and again just exactly how POOR our family was. That's all I heard. "We don't even have enough money to buy even the basics," was my mother's constant mantra. But looking back on my childhood, what she said just doesn't make sense. We owned our own home. We had two cars. My mother vacationed in Europe. And every Saturday she would take me shopping up at the new Stonestown mall near San Francisco and I would sit outside her dressing room and wait patiently while she tried on and then bought yet another expensive suit at Livingston's. Then, afterwards, she would treat me to a hot caramel sundae at Blum's.

Something here just didn't add up.

If we were so poor, then where was our cardboard box home under the freeway? Where was the government cheese?

My parents grew up in the Great Depression and, back then, they really WERE very poor. But after that? After the Great Depression was over and they both had well-paying jobs? They developed a propensity to not talk about how much money they had; to hide their true worth behind closed doors, even from us kids. In our family, talking about money became even more verboten than talking about sex.

I'm beginning to get this deja vu feeling that Wall Street (including their special friend and ally, the Federal Reserve) is acting this way too, keeping the true reality of its wealth carefully hidden from the rest of us. The more I read about the supposed mess on Wall Street right now -- all the bailouts, disappeared profits, etc. -- the more I'm beginning to suspect that we "children" (aka the American people) will never really know what kind of shell games are going on right under our noses. How much money has Wall Street really lost recently? And how much of their new poverty mantra is just a bluff while they are secretly moving bunches of money around behind closed doors -- at our expense?

When the dust finally settles on the tailspin that is America's current economic meltdown, will the bankers and mojo-men on Wall Street be living in cardboard boxes under the freeway like the rest of us? Or will they somehow manage to still be buying suits at Livingston's and taking European vacations?

Somehow I think that the American people are being misled, but that we may never find out how or for how much -- and that what is "going on in Wall Street" will be staying on Wall Street for a long long long time. I think that it will only be after we naive American middle-class "children" have been forced to grow up -- as our homes are foreclosed on, our jobs disappear and our paper money no longer means anything -- that we will discover what the true reality is.

Or, more than likely, we may never find out what "goes on in Wall Street...."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How come our favorite online news services didn't get credentialed for the national presidential conventions?

(Photo is of me, covering the CNN primary debate in South Carolina)

Dear TruthOut, OpEd News, Lone Star Iconoclast, Common Dreams, Black Commentator, Smirking Chimp, Counterpunch and Novekeo:

I just called the Congressional Press Gallery to see if I had been credentialed to cover the Denver and Minneapolis conventions. I hadn't been. That wasn't really a big surprise. But then I started asking the press gallery rep if any of the online progressive news services that I write for -- even occasionally -- might have gotten credentialed so that perhaps I could go to the conventions on their coat-tails instead. "What about OpEd News?" I asked. No.

"TruthOut maybe? Counterpunch? The Black Commentator?" Nope, nope, nope.

"Novekeo? The Lone Star Iconoclast? How about The Smirking Chimp?" Zero, zip, nada.

"Common Dreams?" No. "What about the Huffington Post?"

"No, not them either. We don't credential blogs." But then the guy looked again. "I take that back. They have been credentialed." Whew!

Either none of the rest of you applied to get credentialed to these incredibly important events or else your credential applications have been turned down -- in which case, if I was you, I would be totally pissed off.

The mainstream media has blindly supported the war on Iraq, lobbied for the congressional deregulation laws that led to our housing foreclosure crisis and dollar destabilization, gave the 2000 and 2004 election fiascoes a pass, etc. Yet they are being credentialed and you are not?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dear John: The only way to "win" in Iraq is to leave

(Photos are from the Green Zone -- a monument to Saddam, the press room at CPIC, reporters at a press conference before they all packed up and ran off to Afghanistan and the Iraqi parliament meeting at the convention center next door to CPIC)

I figure that with Afghanistan getting all the top news focused on it these days, all those crowds of TV crews and MSM journalists that follow the action will be hanging around Bagram and Kabul right now, and so if I go over to Baghdad instead, I will have the entire Combined Press Information Center in the Green Zone all to myself. Plus if I went over to Iraq right now, I could send some more accurate dispatches back to poor sweet be-nighted John McCain, who needs all the help he can get.

"Dear John," I would write, "you've got it all wrong. That's happening over here in Iraq right now isn't just an old-school type of 'war' that American troops can win or lose. We already 'won' that kind of war here, back in 2003. But in case you haven't noticed, things have changed a lot in Iraq since 2003 and we can no longer call it a 'war' any more because there are just too many other factors involved.

"Aside from your run-of-the-mill opposition to the American occupation here, there's also a surrogate war going on between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel now. Then there's the various turf wars happening here -- something like the 'wars' between the Blood and the Crips back home. Plus there's criminal activity, violence of opportunity and a religious civil war happening too. Heck, the US military is hardly even the target over here any more."

So. How does one define 'victory' in a situation like that?

"I figure that the only way to find out if America has been victorious over here or not is to have our US troops leave Iraq. Then if the place still stays in one piece after we've gone, then America has won. Thus we will never be able to truly claim a victory in Iraq until after we have gotten out!" Sorry, John.

Or, just maybe, there might be another way for us to claim victory in Iraq while the US military is still there. Here's a valid benchmark we could use: If it's possible for someone, anyone -- like me, for instance -- to walk down the streets of Baghdad without getting kidnapped, blown up or sold into prostitution, then America just might have already won this "war".

Hey, if it will help McCain to finally get an actual clear picture of what is going on over in Iraq and hopefully put an end to all his misinformed talk of "winning" this "war", I'd be willing to take that chance and go do it myself.

But going to Iraq costs money -- and I'm totally broke.

I just sent in a request to get re-embedded in Iraq starting August 1, 2008. But if you want me to serve as the canary in the coal mine over there and test out whether or not the "war" in Iraq is actually over, don't bother to send money to McCain -- or even Obama. Send money to ME!

PS: You think that I'm kidding about this? I'm serious as a heart attack. This is my own personal fund-raiser I'm conducting here, the "Send Jane Stillwater back to Iraq" summer pledge drive. I've just about reached my limit regarding the places that I can afford to go to that can be paid for by my monthly Social Security check. So pleeeze help out. Each of you could make a small donation to my PayPal account at
http://paypal.com, typing in "jpstillwater@yahoo.com" where it says "send money".

Or else a million of you could just go to http://amazon.com/ and buy my book.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Operation Hydra: Air Force disaster relief training, flying all over California, GWB & me....

With all of us internet buffs getting such a wide selection of interesting articles in our inboxes each day, why should you bother to read this story -- which is, after all, rather long? Because it is a detailed account of the state of our armed forces' readiness capabilities in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack here in America -- and also anywhere else on the globe. This is important information to know. Plus I took some fabulous photographs. And also you will learn what a wus I am when it comes to flying and what secret ingredients the Air Force puts into their box lunches.

Several months ago I received a phone message from a public affairs officer stationed at Travis Air Force Base in northern California, asking me if I wanted to go on a six-day trip to Iraq in order to report on one of their med-evac teams deploying there. "You would be leaving from Travis on June 16." Well, yeah, count me in -- except at that point I was already IN Iraq and thus missed the phone call and didn't get to go. But a week later the PAO called me back and asked if I wanted to participate in a one-day training exercise to be staged at Travis on July 17 instead. "It's called Operation Hydra." Yawn. But I signed up anyway -- and it turned out to be really interesting too.

On July 17, 2008, I was supposed to wake up at 5:00 am and trundle off to Travis but the night before that I had gone to my housing co-op's board meeting wherein our current "Six Million Dollar Board" somehow managed to postpone our co-op's annual elections yet again -- elections that would probably have deposed them. So it looks like now we are going to have to either wait until the villagers throw this board out with torches and pitchforks -- or else let the board stay in power, costing our co-op yet another six million dollars, shutting us down permanently and forcing me to start looking for another cheap place to live ASAP.

But after all this excitement at the board meeting, would I still manage to wake up at 5:00 am the next morning? I did.

I'd never been to Travis AFB before but after spending some time at Al Assad airbase in Iraq with its blast wall-and-gravel decorating theme, Travis was the ultimate "Camp Cupcake". It even has its own "Passenger Terminal" -- which isn't just a pre-fab Quonset hut either.

So. I arrived at the front gate, it was cold and windy, and I had no idea what to expect. Would they be giving us name tags? Coffee? Breakfast? And how long would it take before I managed to get lost?

Then me and three other journalists were met at the visitors center by the base PAO and caravaned off to a parking lot where we got on a bus for a tour of the flightline. Impressive. Suddenly we were on a vast runway, covered with whole bunches of massive C-17s, KC-10s and C-130s. "The KC-10 is a great little aircraft," I was told. It didn't look so little to me. "It is used for troop transport." And for transporting us. "Your plane is located at the other end of the flightline, which will give you an idea of how large it is. Travis is one of our larger facilities. We can park almost 90 wide-bodies here. Any questions so far?"

"Er, where's the ladies' room?"

Then we went off to a briefing room and the colonel in charge of the whole mission arrived tell us all about "Operation Hydra" in depth. What exactly IS this mission about, you might ask. Not a clue. I should have googled it before I came. "Search. Hydra. Travis. I'm feeling lucky." But now we were about to get totally briefed -- as soon as they could get the projector to work.

"We are an air mobility command, aka a Contingency Response Wing," said the colonel, "and you are going to see us in action today. For instance you will be in a jumbo aircraft as it lands on a dirt landing strip." Yikes!

"Why are you going to do that?" asked a journalist. "In order to be able to land anywhere in an emergency?"

"Yes. For instance, in Afghanistan this is the routine form of landing facility available." Then the projector started to work, the PowerPoints came on and the briefing began in earnest.

"We are the Contingency Response Wing -- the CRW. We are a small operation, a boutique wing. Very small, very organized, very responsive. In an emergency such as Katrina, we can get there within hours. Our operations include global reach laydown, airbase opening and theater-wide air mobility command and control. We also control in-transit visibility." And this all means what? We were about to spend the day finding out.

"The CRW is expert in packing and delivering cargo to relief areas and also to airbases that have been captured during wartime. Our specialty is 'Rapid Port Opening.'" Apparently they can also tag all their cargo and track it like FedEx. "What is unique about this wing is that it is so mobile." They can do everything that the big Air Force commands and bases can do except the CRW does it all on the fly. They also carry troops into air operations and then come back in and pick them up, "Preparing the joint teams for airlift." And they also track all this stuff too. Their motto is, "Lean, light, first to the fight."

"Here is a photo of our mobile command and control system, which can fit on a small trailer." Apparently they can set up a whole airbase control tower and airfield out in the middle of Timbuktu within minutes. And they can repair aircraft, police the area, set up shelters and defend the base while they are doing it. "There are only 700 people in our wing." That IS boutique. "We are very operation-oriented. We have no supply-side and no back-up. We go to the airfields and open them up in hot spots and during national disasters."

Then they gave us a copy of their PowerPoint presentation. Here it is:

•What we do well: Rapidly deploy small tailored teams

•What we do best: Provide highly effective units cross trained in many specialties, successfully operate as teams many times our size

•How we work best: Call us with your Air Mobility requirements, and we will send the right team to accomplish the mission

Then the colonel ran off to go supervise some other aspect of Hydra and another colonel took over. "We have 1,000 people and 22 aircraft taking part in the emergency deployment exercise this week. There is also air-drop training, night-vision training, in-air refueling exercises, etc -- all taking place in a real-life environment. We will be performing over 300 missions this week."

Apparently the scenario for this exercise is an imaginary 8.0 earthquake and tsunami. "We are emphasizing humanitarian relief in this operation. We are a 911 force and can 'get out of town' in 12 hours." Or less.

Then the presenter talked about Rapid Port Opening again. Oh. That's like starting an airfield from scratch. And the PowerPoint presentation listed what we were going to do today. "8:45 am: Continental breakfast". I'm there.

"We are trained to defend ourselves while we set up a base if necessary but usually it is the Army or Marines that seize a base first and we only go in after it is semi-permissive. We remain there for a maximum of 45 days and then we turn the airbase over to either the regular military or to a humanitarian relief organization such as FEMA. When the Pakistan earthquake hit, we helped the Pakistanis get online in the areas that were devastated."

Then we got back on the bus and drove around the flightline a lot. Where's the continental breakfast!

Then we got on a plane. "We're going to Schoonover next." Apparently Schoonover is a dirt landing strip out in the middle of nowhere. "This will be a low-level flight. It's going to be bumpy. Let us know if you need a motion-sickness bag." Good grief. Did I pack my homeopathic remedy for stress prevention? No? Oh crap.

But we went up. And we came down. And it WAS bumpy. And I survived.

There originally had been 20 or 30 of us reporters signed up for this junket but somehow only four of us showed up. Chickened out, did they? Ha!

Once on the ground, it became obvious that we were on the GROUND. This here was the dirt landing strip they had told us about. "Where the freak are we?" I asked.

"Schoonover is part of Fort Hunter-Leggett, located between King City and San Luis Obispo." It looked like a Boy Scout camp, lots of tents. "With a 12-hour's notice, we can deploy any place in the world. Our mission here is to bring cargo in -- this is a humanitarian operation. This whole base was constructed right now. Everything you see came in by air." Even those earth-movers and that 18-wheeler? "Yes." Maybe they flew in the continental breakfast too? It's 10:15 am already -- but I still have hope.

So. Out here in the middle of nowhere, they already got a FedEx-type operation set up for cargo transfer. We stepped into a tent. It was air-conditioned! Cargo-tracking computers were already set up. "This is our Rapid Port Opening Element." Where were these guys when I had to pack up and move all by myself with only a Berkeley Bowl Marketplace shopping cart to help me last week!

"As soon as we hit the ground, everyone knows what their priorities are." Er, lunch? "We can do lunch for 1,000 earthquake survivors." Oh.

"We set up the supply lines here and then we just keep pumping the supplies through this point for as long as needed."

"So you could feed 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 earthquake victims?"

"Yes. From here, the goods are shipped to the NGOs for distribution, down the road." Blankets and food and medicine. "The technology allows us to track it all so that there are no losses or duplications," said another colonel. There seems to be a lot of colonels involved in Operation Hydra. Good. I like colonels. Most of them really seem to know what they're doing -- go-to guys.

"But in America, in case of emergency, reliance on active-duty military is the last resort."

"You mean because of Posse Comitatus?"

"Yes. Katrina was rather the exception. And the CRW is also very scale-able. We can supply only ten people or 115 or up to the entire CRW."

Then we talked to some med-evac personnel. "If you were an earthquake victim," they said, "we would triage you, find you an airlift, stabilize you and get you on the plane and out ASAP."

Then everyone in our tour group got back on the plane. And I got to sit up front with the pilots! "Over there is the drop zone," the co-pilot pointed out Good grief. Am I also gonna have to jump out of the plane? "Do you want to?" Only if it doesn't involve knees -- or if I get free knee-replacement surgery thrown in.

Then we started to taxi down the dirt airfield in our jumbo jet -- it was just one runway, hay bales on each side, dirt, really short. OMG Becky!

As a general rule, I tell everyone that I talk with in the military that I am a Progressive who is writing to inform other Progressives that, yes, there is incompetence and avarice in the White House, but that the US military is well-trained and staffed by intelligent, efficient and caring people despite the jugheads who pretend to be their commanders-in-chief. Or words to that effect (maybe I soften the message up just a bit). And most military types that I talk with get my point. But one officer I talked with at Schoonover, when I told her about my POV, just turned her back on me and walked off. Humph. But seriously. Conservatives and Progressives need to learn how to communicate with each other -- and to understand that the military is doing a good job at whatever they are told to do. And if we want them to do a good job at working in America's best interests instead of just making oil companies rich and promoting corporatism, all of us -- Left and Right -- have to be organized and brave and to fight to change the military's mission if we want to have a bright future for our country. We must do this together. For America. Hey, I can be as patriotic as the next person. Just wind me up and stand back!

Meanwhile back on the plane....

We were off the ground in less than the length of one football field.

Our pilot was a woman.

Why oh why had I asked to sit up front!

California's entire coastal mountain range and its wide coastal valley stretched out below us -- part of America's breadbasket. And lots of housing tracts. But the view from this place was just too much panoramic vista for me. Then some buzzers went off in the cockpit. That's it. That's enough. Get me DOWN. But not straight down, if you please.

Then another siren went off and an automatic-pilot mechanical voice started screaming, "Altitude! Altitude! Altitude!" I'm gonna sit in the back of the plane on the way back.

Holy cow! There's the runway. And then the pilot floated this thousand-ton sucker down and in like a leaf. And my out-of-body experience was over. For now.

We landed right next to a cabbage patch. And a golf course.

Back at the Boy Scout camp at Schoonover, I had asked one colonel about the training required to be in this wing. "Most of the people here come already trained in their specialty. We just hone their skills."

"Do people volunteer to serve in this wing?"

"Actually, yes. They like the adventure and the variety. We go all over the world at the drop of a hat. It beats working at a desk job or staying in one place for a whole tour of duty." I know what he means. Back home I get bored. But I'm certainly not bored now. Terrified, but not bored.

Then we got out of the plane and we were in Salinas. Oh. Salinas is famous for its lettuce. Hence the cabbage patch.

"Here at the Salinas municipal airport, it is a more urban environment," minus the cabbage, "giving us a chance to train while trying to fit our operation to already-existing infrastructure," said another colonel. Then they showed us more air-evac training, using manikins on stretchers to practice loading disaster victims onto the plane.

Another CRW colonel joined our briefing. "We haven't played one round of golf since we've been here, honest!" he joked. "With only 120 people in our wing, we still have the tasking capabilities to work 24 hours a day for 60 days. Our mission here is to accept cargo and keep the planes running in and out. But we do not distribute relief supplies as a general rule -- the NGOs do that. Also, in an emergency disaster situation, victims will try to get to airports because they know that's where relief supplies will be coming in, so we have to work with that factor as well. And we do all that with just 120 people.

"Salinas is an example of a permissive, improved area. Here we have the CRW and we also have the Kentucky National Guard helping out too. Salinas airport has offered us complete support for this operation and the Kentucky Guard is learning how to coordinate with our planes coming in and out." This particular Guard unit works out of Louisville, where UPS has its main office. "So, many of these Guardsmen work for UPS and know the tracking technology already."

Then the Kentucky Guard colonel spoke up. "We already understand very well the actual airlift operation itself. We were in Somalia, Bosnia and Zaire." So apparently being here today in order to learn how to coordinate with the Air Force CRW is important -- but they already showed up knowing how to move their bottoms FAST when the spit hits the fan.

"Any questions?"

"Yes. Where is the ladies' room?" And they lead me to the most fancy port-a-potty I've ever seen. Unbelievable. A sink, a flush toilet, a mirror, the works. I was so impressed I took a picture of it.

Then I had a nice conversation with one Kentucky Guardsman. "We are a very active unit. We were first responders for Katrina and 9-11 as well as for overseas. We also work with the drug demand reduction program." When not on active duty, he is employed by Toyota and apparently Toyota is very liberal in its commitment to letting its employees serve.

"I myself only serve three or four weeks a year but many of our guys serve three or four months a year. But we work alongside regular full-time Army personnel and our skill sets are up to their standards."

"Does your unit have a nickname? Like the Marines' Devil Dogs or something?"

"Er, no. But we have a motto. 'Unbridled Spirit'. It's also Kentucky's state motto." Works for me. I wanna be an Unbridled Spirit.

Then we went off to the A-E tent. "Areomedical Evacuation".

"90% of the med-evac in Iraq is done by the National Guard," I was told. "It used to take us ten days to get the wounded out. Now we get them out in three days -- giving us a 98% survival rate. We are the first medical group to arrive at CRW locations." Then we went into another air-conditioned tent. Maybe I could live in a tent like this -- after my housing co-op's "Six Million dollar Board" gets done running our property into the ground.

Then the reporter next to me dropped a bombshell. "Mr. Bush will be at Travis today."

Say what!

"Yep. He's coming here to raise money for the Republicans." Good grief!

"Can we actually get to go see him?"

"Maybe, if you wait around long enough. But frankly if you've seen one Bush, you've seen them all."

"But I've been trying to get that man thrown into jail for eight long dreary unsuccessful years now -- so I'd at least like to know what the guy looks like." Seeing as how I practically the president of the anti-Bush fan club and all that.

"I don't think that you would be allowed into the event," said another reporter. "The guest list is pretty strict. Plus only the White House press corps is credentialed for this." Ah, the usual Bush tap-dance with freedom of speech. "Also, I hear that they are charging $850,000 a plate at his fund-raiser." $850,000 a plate! I could live for the rest of my freaking LIFE on $850,000. And not only that, but Bush is flying here at us taxpayers' expense? Just to go to a partisan fund-raiser? Isn't that illegal? Hey, I pay my taxes. Shouldn't I be allowed to go to the fund-raiser too? Apparently not.

Meanwhile, back in Salinas, we got back on the plane, they handed us some box lunches and the plane backed up. "That's something that most planes can't do." The chicken patty in my sandwich looked and tasted like Spam. Plus Rice Krispie Treats, a fruit cup, some BBQ potato chips and an apple. Then there was a huge jolt and we were back in the air. I'm such a wus. I hate to fly.

Then an EMT told me that they were having a resuscitation demonstration right in the middle of the cargo space, so I rushed over to see that. There was a whole EMT crew resuscitating and operating on a medical dummy right there in the bowels of the freaking plane while in flight. It was better than an inflight movie. It was surreal. They did everything to that poor dummy except take out his tonsils! And we were only in the air for 20 minutes between when we went up and when we came down.

And speaking of coming down, we didn't need no stinkin' stewardess to tell us when to get back to our seats. Our plane started to go down really fast and we knew. Ah, the fine points of flying mil-air!

"We're at Castle AFB now. It's near Merced." Castle is serving as the hub of the Hydra operation. "Planes fly in from Fort Bragg as well as from Travis. This is a closed base so most of us are down here from Travis -- and about 200 are out from Fort Bragg. We run the operation's nerve center from here." We got out of the plane and it was hot. Rats! I left my truckers cap back in the plane.

We met another colonel here and he had a coolness cap....

There were more medical tents here on the flightline and more crash-test dummies. But they weren't wearing caps.

Then we went to the mobile command site, in a tiny pre-fab that had been flown in here -- or could be flown in to any location anywhere on the globe. In case of a huge emergency, this equipment/personnel combination had the capability to supply total air traffic control for the entire state of California.

"Where'd you get your training?" I asked one of the officers.

"At the Hurburt AOC -- Air and Space Operations Center -- in Florida. Also, we set up this entire facility less than two weeks ago." And they run most of their communications off of Dell laptops.

"Many countries throughout the world have air forces. But what sets us apart from the others is our vast air and space operations capabilities."

Then we went to the heart of the center, a room about the size of my bedroom, filled with computers. How to describe them? Mini-mainframes in plastic transit cases, light enough to be carried by one man -- or by three of me and a dolly. "They are totally transportable." I am so jealous! At home, I gots a 1995 computer hooked up to Windows 98. I can't even get re-runs of "America's Greatest Dog" on it and can play half a game of Free Cell solitaire while waiting around for each screen change. You bet I'm jealous.

"Can you deliver one of those to my house? Here's the address. Say, on Friday between 1:00 pm and 5?" The colonel just laughed. Cool stuff!

"We have to get you back to Travis right now because they are going to shut down the airspace for Air Force One pretty soon." Then we'd be stuck at Castle for the next eight or ten hours, waiting for Bush to finish his fund-raiser. So we went back to the plane. Oh, look! There's my cap. Yea!

"Why are there so many colonels here?" I asked a colonel.

"They have all come here for the exercise. They come from as far away as Kentucky and Hawaii."

"So then the Air Force doesn't just promote people to colonel at the drop of a hat?"

The colonel laughed again. "No."

Okay. It's been a very interesting and informative day. I've been very impressed with the CRW's abilities to handle things in the event of an emergency and can now sleep sounder knowing that we're safe. But now we gotta go fly back to Travis so, as GWB is fond of saying, "Bring it on!" And when I get back, should I try to party-crash the Bush fund-raiser? No. If Bush wants me there, he's going to have to beg.

"Survivor Iraq" vs. "Survivor Afghanistan": Which reality show will get the top rating this year?

(Photo is of Survivor Jane, in Baghdad, wearing Mom jeans)

After five whole years of being one of the highest-rated shows on TV ever, "Survivor Iraq" is starting to slip in the popularity polls and "Survivor Afghanistan" is starting to edge up instead. What's with that? Now everyone wants to be a contestant on "Survivor Afghanistan" and no one is watching "Survivor Iraq" any more.

I want to be a contestant on "Survivor Afghanistan"! But then I want to be a contestant on "Survivor Iraq" too. Remember how at the beginning of each episode they show us photos and videos of all the contestants and flash their names on the screen? That could be me! "Jane -- Grandmother blogger from Berkeley". And the reward challenges? My mind boggles at the possibilities. First contestant to get an oil pipeline through the Khyber Pass? First to sign an oil deal with the Kurds in Tikrit? First to have a weapons manufacturing lobby in Congress? First to purchase a dispensation from Pope GWB?

Can't you just see it now -- Jeff Probst conducting tribal council inside a mock-up of a cave in Tora-Bora while wearing one of those cute little sky-blue flak jackets like the one Richard Engel wears on MSNBC?

"Survivor Iraq" vs. "Survivor Afghanistan"? Forget about them. What we really need right now is a reality show entitled "Survivor America". And just imagine the immunity challenges. Which contestant can get solar energy to replace fossil fuels the fastest? Who can drag the most Senators away from the AIPAC lobby? Who can replace the most decaying infrastructure and build the most highways, schools and hospitals? Who will be able to repair the damage done to our military by Bush and Cheney first? And here's the biggest challenge of all -- which contestant can get us SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE!

In a truly honest race for the highest reality show ratings on television, I think that "Survivor America" would win hands-down. But no network producer in Washington is EVER going to put that show on TV -- not as long as "Survivor Iraq" and "Survivor Afghanistan" can still line up so many enthusiastic corporate sponsors.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Richard Engel's book "War Journal" gives us the Big Picture on Iraq & may help us predict what will happen there next....

I haven't written any articles recently. Why? Because I've been comparing some of the stuff that I've been writing with some of the stuff that I've been reading by other journalists and it's giving me an inferiority complex!

There is some excellent stuff being written these days, by some of the great minds of our times. Not only do they express their views better than I do, they have a lot more spot-on ideas than me as well. It's almost embarrassing. And one of those hot-spit writer guys who I find so intimidating is Richard Engel, an NBC correspondent in Iraq. Not only can that man write up a storm, but he sees the Big Picture over there too.

Being able to see the Big Picture in Iraq is not a talent possessed by just anybody. For example, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lack it entirely -- and apparently on some levels even Engels agrees about that. After an hour-and-a-half long interview with George W. Bush, Engel stated in his book, "The President [sic] had done a lot of reading. Since he'd invaded Iraq, he'd earned two Ph.Ds' worth of information about the country and the Middle East. He'd met all the players and had access to information that only a president could have. But he still had no idea how to deal with Arabs."

In "War Journal: My Five Years In Iraq," Engel describes the beginning phases of the war -- where everyone, even the Iraqis, was all hopeful and thought that things would turn out okay. Then came the next phase, where all hell broke loose, apparently due to Bush's tactless efforts to shut the Sunnis out of power and humiliate them. After the American military arrived in 2003, "The [Sunni] officers were unceremoniously given a few hundred dollars and told to buzz off. It was humiliating. It would have been more dignified from an Iraqi perspective to lock the officers in jail. There is no shame in Iraq for being punished, even unjustly. It can be a source of pride. Insulting a man's honor and rank, however, demands retribution." So the Sunnis, humiliated and rejected by the Americans, started to turn into insurgents instead.

In addition, the Shia started to flex their muscles and to not only shut the Sunnis out of power but to torture and kill them as well. And the Sunnis weren't exactly innocent either. They too were busy torturing and killing Shiites. And of course the Kurds were busy grinding their own axe as well. The result? Civil war!

Engels then describes the current phase of the "war" in Iraq. He appears to present the case that at some point our soldiers stopped being occupiers and turned into referees in the new bloody and cruel civil war instead. "By the spring of 2006 America's mission in Iraq had changed yet again. First, U.S. troops were told they were 'liberators' ....The troops then became 'warriors for democracy'.... The third mission was to defend Iraqis from terrorists." And the people who Bush was describing as "terrorists" were merely highly-enthusiastic participants in the new Iraq civil war between the Sunni, Shia and Kurds.

From my take on what Engel has written, it seems that at this point in time American troops have become about the only thing holding Iraq together and keeping it from going into "self-destruct" mode.


After reading some of Engel's gory descriptions of the mutilated and desecrated bodies turning up on Baghdad's "Killing Fields," it appears that many Iraqis seem to take great joy in torturing each other and blowing each other up -- and, as a result, our troops have now become the premier source of law and order in Iraq. And Petraeus' policy of de-emphasizing the large U.S. mega-bases and having many smaller command outposts spread throughout the country instead seems to be actually working to bring about the rule of law.

Engel quoted one Army captain in his book as saying, "The American troops are now popular here. It has changed 100 percent."

And one Baghdad resident stated that he didn't trust even the Iraqi police because in many cases they too had become just another cover for more civil war militia activity. "When the [Iraqi police] come with the Americans, we don't have a problem. But when they come by themselves, we don't trust them and don't know if it is a real mission or not."

And HAVE things finally settling down in Iraq these days -- now that American troops under Petraeus' direction have left the large bases and are out patrolling the streets like cops on a beat? Engels makes it sound like they have. And I am actually glad that he might be right. Hey, we may have dodged a bullet here. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld blew it completely but our soldiers on the ground seem to be actually pulling the Bush-Cheney mafia's chestnuts out of the fire. Good.

But what will happen next?

Engels writes movingly about the plight of the Iraqi professional class, many of which have been forced to flee the country. Doctors and lawyers and engineers have been forced to become refugees in Syria -- and to turn a blind eye while their daughters work as pole dancers in Damascus strip joints and prostitutes on the streets in order for their families to survive. "They were young girls -- most looked around fifteen -- parading on an elevated stage as a fat singer with acne scars wearing a shiny suit wailed out songs into speakers turned up so loud they crackled and hissed.... Some of the girls looked six or seven years old.... Some of the other girls held the little girls' hands so they wouldn't fall down in their high heels." Just think of it. If the rule of law is finally established in Iraq, these families would be able to come home.

If America had the money and the soldiers to stay over in Iraq and continue to help sort things out, then, if I understand Engels correctly, there might finally be some sort of peace over there. BUT AMERICA DOESN'T. We don't have that luxury. We don't have the soldiers. And we don't have the money. Period. End of discussion.

American soldiers are doing a great job of keeping the peace in Iraq. But -- in my opinion -- no matter how good a job that they do, the truth still remains. America can no longer afford to keep up this pace. We simply cannot. Or as Engels himself states, "Where does this go? How much longer does this war go on? This strategy of U.S. troops trying to keep the two sides apart, pushing them back, you could do this for years. You could do this for decades even. What we need is a solution to end this war."

I highly recommend Engel's book. His strong grasp of the Big Picture in Iraq is so impressive that it makes me afraid to write anything else ever again. But even I have a basic grasp of elementary-school math -- and even I understand that Americans simply cannot afford to pay for Iraq any more. Which brings up that same question again. "What WILL happen next?" Between the coming U.S. elections, the coming economic depression here and the current volatile situation in Iraq, we are about to find out.

"But, Jane," you might say, "if America does step out of Iraq, then Iran will rush in to fill up the gap. And Saudi Arabia." Well, hey. Good for them. Go for it, I say. Maybe they, unlike Bush, will know how to "deal with Arabs".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The special "Savo Island's got Talent" issue of my housing co-op newsletter

(News Update: This newsletter was SUPPOSED to be a humorous parody of Piers Morgan's TV show, wherein we would have him desperately searching around for some new talent to run for my housing co-op's board of directors in our annual elections on July 26, 2008 -- but forget about that. Our current "Six Million Dollar Board" has just stalled off board-member elections for yet another two months.

So if you were thinking that you've got talent and wanted to run for our Board, who knows when you are going to be able to get a chance because this particular Board is perfectly capable of putting off another election for YEARS! For instance, back in the 1990s, they managed to stall off one annual election from July 1995 to April 1999. Hey, that takes talent for sure! But here's the original newsletter anyway:)

Things are about to change bigtime here at my housing co-op. HUD has finally forced our current no-talent board of directors -- currently nicknamed the "Six Million Dollar Board" because that's approximately how much they have cost our co-op so far -- to set a date for our annual board-member election. Now all we need is for some TALENTED people to run for the board. And maybe we could even get Piers Morgan, that nasty Brit who is a judge on the TV show "America's Got Talent," to judge our election too.

Do you think that you have any talent? Come on out and run for our board!

"But Piers," you might ask, "what are the qualifications for running? Do I need to know all the HUD regulations? Be able to read an accounting spreadsheet? Know anything about re-hab?"

"Nope. All you gotta do is show up at board meetings for three hours once a month. Even you can do that."

That's all? That's it? "Don't I even have to live at Savo Island?"

"No, not even that. In fact, it actually helps if you don't, because then you won't be tempted to just work in your own self-interest like several board members already do, and you will be free to watch out for ALL Savo residents' interests instead. Plus if our current board of directors -- with no experience and no talent at all -- can do it, then anyone can. Even you." Geez, Piers, you don't have to be THAT nasty. "HUD and the management company do most of the work. All you gotta do is show up."

"But how many candidates will be going through to the finals this season?" I asked.

"Well, ordinarily only three board members would be elected, but this year I'm saying that Savo residents need to chuck the whole lot and start over from scratch. As far as I can tell, the current board has cost Savo approximately six million dollars in lost HUD subsidies, re-hab delays, rents not collected, units left vacant, etc. No one can be worse than the bunch we got now." Piers is always a bit harsh.

"So if all goes well, Savo will get a new board on July 26. But then what? What about the re-hab!" I cried. "With new people at the helm, will we finally be getting that started any time soon? Like before the rainy season comes?"

"It looks like the re-hab is finally getting started," I was assured.

"But will a new board be able to deal with the dry shingles, the fire hazards and the results of the latest REAC inspection!" I continued to whine. "How will I know that a new board can handle all that?"

"Look," growled Piers in his most Simon Cowell sort of way, "if you want things to change around here, YOU gotta run for the board. Are you gonna do this? Or not." Sure. I'll run for the board.

I got talent!

Then I demonstrated true talent from the bottom of my heart. "If elected," I said, "I'm going to do everything I humanly can to save our Section 8 subsidies, work in Savo's best interests, get the re-hab back on track, get more money coming in and less money going out and try to secure the option of getting us new doors during the re-hab that will come with see-through fan-light panels at the top so that our entry-ways will have more light and not look so much like a tomb!"

Piers wasn't really all that impressed with this demonstration of my talent -- but he did put me through to the next round. And now it's YOUR turn to audition for the new "Savo Island's Got Talent" show. Please apply to be on our Board of Directors ASAP!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The "Hanoi Hilton" revisited -- and making plans for the new Baghdad Hilton too

(Photos are of the new Hanoi Hilton, John McCain trying to sneak in the back door of the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco in order to avoid demonstrators, and McCain trying to get me killed by giving me false intel about safety conditions in the streets of Baghdad.)

John McCain used to be a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and, according to the 1973 U.S. News and World Report version of his experiences there, he was held in "a small area of Hoala Prison which was built by the French in 1945. It was known as the 'Hanoi Hilton' to Americans." And, ironically, approximately 35 years later there really IS a Hilton hotel in Hanoi -- only this one is actually owned and run by the real Hilton hotel chain. I bet you that even Paris Hilton goes there now -- and brings her chihuahua too.

Once the war in Vietnam ended, things in Hanoi changed a lot.

But not much has changed in Iraq since Bush and Cheney coerced us into slogging into that "WMD" quagmire back in 2003. That "war" has taken on a life of its own and just keeps going on and on and on. But, hey, let's be optimistic. Maybe someday another Presidential candidate will also emerge out of the POW camps in Iraq as well. Oops, my bad. Thanks to the Bush mafia's example of condoning the torture and murder of Iraqi POWs, Iraqi insurgents appear to have followed suit and, as a result, there are currently only three American POWs being held prisoner by Iraqi insurgents. However, those three POWs surely look like Presidential material to me! Hang in there, Spc. Ahmed K. Altaie, Pvt. Byron W. Fouty and Spc. Alex R. Jimenez. I'll vote for you in 2012.

So. What's my point? That torturing and killing Iraqi POWs is a good way to keep the American POW population down? Hardly! That's something Bush or Cheney would think up, not me. MY point is that there are two particular similarities between the Iraq war and the war in Vietnam that I would like to bring up right now, just in case you might have missed noticing them yourself -- which is not likely because they stick out like a sore thumb.

First, there is the civil war similarity. "If we leave Iraq now while it is in the midst of a civil war, there will be slaughter and chaos," we are told again and again. This has become one of the main justifications for continuing the occupation of Iraq. But weren't we told the same thing as a justification for occupying Vietnam? If memory serves correctly, there used to be a huge civil war going on in Vietnam 35 years ago -- and Johnson and Nixon kept telling us that if America pulled out of Vietnam, whole bunches of Vietnamese would be slaughtered as a result and that country would fall into chaos forever. Yeah, well, the civil war in Vietnam ended as soon as American troops left, and the entire country is now governed by the rule of law.

Second, there is the "Domino Theory" similarity. "If we leave Iraq now, the entire Middle East will fall into Islamofascism". Nixon and Johnson also kept telling us that if America pulled out of Vietnam, all of Southeast Asia would go Communist. Wrong again. Regarding the threat of all of Southeast Asia going Communist, that didn't happen either. Not only does corporatism now have a major foothold in Vietnam but none of the other Southeast Asian countries fell to Communism either. You can now find American-run sweatshops all over Southeast Asia -- and there are now Hilton hotels located in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and even China. Heck, even China has fallen to corporatism these days.

There was no major slaughter and chaos after Nixon pulled out of Vietnam -- and Southeast Asia didn't turn Commie either. So I guess that both of those theories were wrong. And I'll bet that they will prove wrong in Iraq as well.

There's a moral here, guys. Here it is. "If American troops pull out of Iraq right now, by the year 2038 we could have Hilton hotels open for business in Baghdad, Fallugah, Basra AND Mosul." So. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR!

PS: Here is an excerpt from a forthcoming book by a political commentator and former active-duty Marine who won a Purple Heart in Vietnam. Sewart Nusbaumer's book is tentatively entitled "Campaign Addict" and describes his harrowing adventures on the 2008 presidential primary campaign trail and at various "Flying J" truck-stops along the way. And while in Chicago, Nusbaumer interviewed one Chicago Gold Star mother who had lost her son in Iraq:

"This war is going to be like Vietnam, in vain," said Barbara. As she looks out onto Halstead Street, cars drive by, a woman and her young son pass us. But I doubt she sees them. "You ask people 15 years down the road and they won't know anything about this war. Like Vietnam. Are Americans really that unappreciative of the lives that keep them free?"

I'm jolted!

Her son's death had nothing to do with Americans being free -- she knows this. Jonathan died in Iraq as those who died in Vietnam, not for freedom, but in vain. I say in a low voice, shaking my head slowly, "I don't know the American people anymore." And I wonder how could the majority of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11 when there was not a shred of evidence? How could Americans support an invasion and occupation of Iraq without proof of weapons of mass destruction? How could Americans allow Jonathan to be killed when Iraq was not an imminent threat to America? I don't know Americans anymore.

It's all as if Vietnam never happened. As if Americans never learned that they cannot trust their government to tell them the truth. As if they never learned that they cannot trust their government with their sons' lives. Maybe there never was a Vietnam, for the majority of Americans.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wanna go to North Korea in September? Here's your chance!

My friend Mrs. Hwa Young Lee just called me. She is trying to put together a tour to North Korea, leaving from China on September 19 and returning to China on 27, 2008. "Jane, do you know anyone who might be interested in going? I need ten more people in order to make up a group."

"Not off hand," I replied, "but let me ask around." Would YOU be interested in going? This tour sounds great! And the highlight of the entire trip will be when you get to attend North Korea's famous and and fabulous Mass Games. "What are Mass Games," you might ask. Imagine an entire stadium filled with 100,000 people all either dancing on the field or flashing cards from the bleachers. Lovely.

"How much will this cost," you might ask. "$2,999 for everything except airfare to Shenyang and you can get a good deal on flights to Shenyang from http://bargaintravel.com." Hey, com'on. This is an opportunity of a lifetime! Go for it!

"But how can I find out more?" Just e-mail my friend Mrs. Lee at hwayounglee43@yahoo.com. You stay at the fabulous Chilbosan Hotel in Shenyang, fly to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and spend a week visiting places, meeting people and eating DPRK food.

"What kind of food do they eat in the DPRK?" Who knows. KOREAN food! You will love this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Trust me. Just do it.

"And can I bring my pet cocker spaniel?" Er, no.

PS: Somebody just e-mailed me a photo of GWB getting boo-ed when he threw out the first ball at Nationals Park. "Imagine what they could have done if they had access to flashcards!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3gWUrZq6kQ&feature=related

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bad money karma: The falling dollar & its effect on a former South African bantustan village -- and me!

(Photos are of Motswedi's high school, some school children I taught there, the women's stationery samples and the box they rode in on)

Last summer I spent two months living in Motswedi, a small village in a former South African bantustan. I loved Motswedi! The people I met there were what my Aunt Evelyn used to call, "the best people on earth". And, really, it wasn't out in the middle of nowhere -- even though the nearest internet connection was in Zeerust, 20 miles away. They had electricity. They had standpipes within walking distance of every home. They had a high school. And they had friendly people who would do anything for you.

I miss Motswedi!

And two weeks ago, I got a HUGE package in the mail. It was from Motswedi. "We have a women's paper-making cooperative here," wrote my friend Letta. "I'm sending you some samples. Could you try to sell them for us?" Sure.

"My daughter Ashley works down the street from a stationery store," I wrote Letta back. "Let me go see if they will market them for you." That would be great! The samples she sent were wonderful. They'd sell like hotcakes. I'd be helping out "my" village. I'd be doing good deeds, they'd have income, this was perfect!

But I hadn't counted on George W. Bush throwing a monkey wrench into my plans. Good grief! Is there nothing that this man can't keep from ruining? What's his PROBLEM! First he ruined Christianity's reputation for generations to come. Then he screwed up the peace dividend. Now he's gone and ruined the economy. Humph.

America used to be a land of overflowing wealth. There was extra money to spend on almost anything. You could always get your neighbor to buy extra boxes of Girl Scout cookies or buy tickets to a raffle or whatever. Nowadays you can't count on hitting anyone up for ANYTHING. This economy has no extra cash.

But how can I explain this to my friend Letta and the women's crafts cooperative? That America is no longer the place with Deep Pockets? How can I tell them that when I trundled off to the stationery store yesterday with my box of samples under my arm, the stationery store was CLOSED. Closed. It had gone out of business. Oops.

What to do now? I have three choices. I can sell the samples myself out in front of the grocery store (along with a basket of apples and a sign that reads "Will work for food"). Or I can buy the samples myself, using the money I get after I sell off that silver urn my mother left me -- silver is now selling at $18.50 an ounce (up $6.50 an ounce from the last time I checked on silver prices a few months ago). Or I can sell the stationery to YOU.

If you want to buy some wonderful stationery made by the wonderful women of a former South African bantustan village out of wonderful paper they have hand-made themselves, contact me! That is, if GWB hasn't already completely depleted your bank account and foreclosed on your home....

PS: A set of three cards with envelopes costs 70 rand, er, nine dollars -- including postage (that is, if you don't live at the South Pole). And the memory books run from nine dollars up to $15, depending on the size. I can be reached at jpstillwater@yahoo.com. And type the word "Stationery" in the subject line so that I will know it's from you.

And if you want to buy items directly from the women of Motswedi themselves, contact Letta Sehume at the Khadija Community Arts and Crafts Project, PO Box 24, Motswedi, 2870, Northwest, South Africa. Tel: 018 365 1138, Fax: 018 365 1138, e-mail: khadijacp@yahoo.com (but don't expect an answer any time soon -- Letta's gotta go off to Zeerust to access her e-mail.)