Monday, January 29, 2007


If you thought the unexpurgated title was "clusterbomb," give yourself a point.

It turns out that a significant part of those Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (a/k/a cluster****s) the Mandarin wrote about recently were made in the good old U S of A and sold to Israel on the condition they not do exactly what they ended up doing after all: firing them into civilian areas.

Leaving a lot of unexploded bomblets that look like the photo - the kind of
brightly-colored thing that a kid might pick up. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

Yes, Yogi, its déjà vu all over again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why is this man smiling?

I get the feeling he knows something we don't know. Jeez, I hope the word "Iran" isn't in there anywhere....

Bizarro Condi Rice: Bizarro President! The situation in Iraq is hopeless!

Bizarro Shrub: Excellent news! Send in more troops!

Bizarro Condi Rice: That will make Iran very happy!

Bizarro Shrub: Just what I didn't intend! Time for me to wake up from my nap! [falls asleep with loud thunk as his head hits his desk]

Apologies to Saturday Night live. And to my reader(s) for using Bizarro twice.

Original photo caption: President Bush arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, January 22, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chuck Hagel said it best....

What a speech. Click me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Oh, lovely. China can shoot down satellites now.

The newspapers are reporting that China shot down one of its old weather satellites last week with a ground-launched missile, something only the US and the former Soviet Union had managed to do until then. The satellite was in orbit about 500 miles up.

As a grad student in Chinese Classics back in the early 1970s, the Mandarin learned an important lesson about China from an old professor. The professor, referring to the year the Mongols conquered China, said: “Remember, young Mandarin, in China, everything after 1280 is journalism.” China takes a very long view of history and the place of “the present” in history. What happened yesterday or last week may not ring the kind of alarm bells for them that we hear in the West.

So, keeping in mind that “too soon to tell” has a long fuse in China, there are a couple of worrisome points to consider. One is the threat from such a weapon in China’s active arsenal, and the other is the threat of future sales of that weapon to others. Iran comes to mind.

China’s military forces are large, but generally regarded to be poorly equipped, at least when compared to first-world forces like ours or Britain’s. A lot of our military advantage is based on advanced technology. A missile that can shoot down our spy or communication satellites would be an effective way to partially blind our theater forces and make the battlefield more level for the Chinese, with millions of infantrymen fixing their bayonets. Public information sources suggest the elliptical orbits of our recon satellites have maximum and minimum altitudes of about 600 and 160 miles respectively. So a missile like the one the Chinese fired is right in that ballpark.

China is thought to export about $1 billion in arms a year, though sophisticated weapons may not make up a large portion of that. Chinese weapons performed poorly during the Gulf war, which hurt their reputation. In the particular case of Iran, however, China has been a major supplier of missiles over the years, beginning with anti-ship cruise missiles like the NY-2 Silkworm in the 1980s and the newer C-801 and C-802 in the 1990s.

More disturbing have been China’s sales of ballistic missiles to Iran, including an export model (the M-11) of their famous Dongfeng 東風 (“East Wind”) series. Now, admittedly, these aren’t the ICBMs that had many of us early-cohort Baby Boomers hiding under our wooden school desks back in the late 1950s. They have a maximum range of less than 400 miles. The point is that Iran is a long-time client of China’s missile sales force, and with China’s demand for petroleum, especially motor gasoline, soaring, the banker in me sees an obvious deal lurking in there somewhere.

And, don’t forget that Pakistan has a long history of writing big checks for China’s latest models of export missiles as well, so the plot in that whole neck of the woods could definitely thicken.

As the new Congress settles down to business, it will also be interesting to see if this somehow percolates into the Congressional debate, but -- as the Mandarin said -- it is “too soon to tell.”

Unless of course, the Chinese missiles pop a couple of our GPS satellites and then millions of Americans in SUVs, wandering around lost and low on gas with their fancy $2,000 navigation units on the fritz, pull over at the next payphone and call their Congressmen to complain.

Footnote: The Mandarin just took a quick peek at the mainland Chinese-language blogosphere, and an unscientific impression was that the hits on “satellite” (卫星) and “missile” (飞弹) were dwarfed by the ongoing tizzy over a Starbucks cafe in the Forbidden City.

Cross-posted at Watching Those We Choose

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and the Buddhist concept of Hell

The Mandarin is a bit of an awards show junkie, so he was curled up in front of the TV last night watching the Golden Globe awards. (His excuse was that it was business related, since the Mandarin’s day job is somewhat related to the entertainment industry.)

During the show, one of the presenters mentioned that William Monahan, who wrote the script for Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed,” based his script on Siu Fai Mak’s original screenplay for the 2002 classic Hong Kong film, “Internal Affairs.”

At that point, the Mandarin switched back to “Mandarin mode.” Because she got it wrong, a mistake the Mandarin has noticed too often in reviews and discussions of Scorsese’s excellent film. The English title of the original film was “Infernal Affairs,” with an “f.” And the Mandarin being the Mandarin, prepare yourself for the explanation.

The basic plot setup of both films is the same: two young police academy graduates are chosen for dangerous undercover assignments. One is assigned by the head of Internal (with a “t”) Affairs to be convicted of a crime, go to prison, and infiltrate a major crime family. The other is secretly already connected to that crime family and is assigned by its head to infiltrate the police hierarchy. Each becomes a mole in the other’s organization and neither knows of the other’s role. Years pass (ten years in the original) and each group begins to suspect they are penetrated by a “mole” from the other. The irony sharpens when each mole is assigned to discover the identity of their opposite number.

The Chinese title of the original film is 無間道, Mou gaan dou in Cantonese. (It is Wu jian dao in Mandarin, but because the original film is in Cantonese, the Mandarin will use Cantonese here.) Dou 道 (rhymes with "no") is the usual word for “road.” Mou gaan, literally “without gaps,” or “uninterrupted,” is an abbreviation of mou gaan dei yuk 無間地獄, a translation of the Sanskrit Buddhist term avīcinakara, the “endless hell.”

Unlike popular Christianity, with its one hell where souls suffer for eternity, popular Buddhism has over a hundred different hells. Some are cleverly designed on the principle that the punishment should fit the crime, for example one where gluttons suffer in a hell that is a perpetual banquet where they cannot eat anything because their mouths are too small for even a crumb of food to enter. There are sixteen principal hells, eight “cold,” and eight “hot.” Mou gaan dei yuk is the eighth and lowest, or “hottest” of the hot hells.

Most Buddhist hells are different from the Christian hell in one key way: after a period of suffering sufficient to compensate for their bad karma (“deeds”), souls reenter the cycle of rebirth and have another chance to live a better life on the path to nirvāna (imagine a dot under the second “n”), or enlightenment. In this way, Buddhist hells are more like the Catholic Purgatory. Once their punishment ends, the Catholic soul in Purgatory goes to Heaven and the Buddhist soul in hell is reborn on Earth.

All except souls in the mou gaan hell. Among those hundreds of Buddhist hells, this one is the real Hell. The meaning of mou gaan dei yuk, or avīcinakara, is “the hell without any interval (of rebirth).” The soul in the mou gaan hell effectively never gets out: the instant they are reborn, they end up right back where they were: in hell. Sort of like Michael Corleone’s famous line from “The Godfather, Part III:” “Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in.”

This concept of endless, unremitting hell is why, despite the prominent role of police internal affairs in the story, the Chinese title is translated “Infernal Affairs,” as in Dante’s “Inferno.” The Chinese title means simply, “The Road to Hell.” The English title is a clever play on words.

For the Mandarin to explain in detail how the concept of the mou gaan hell works itself out in the plot would spoil the film, but those of you loyal Mandarin readers who have seen it will understand.

As a final footnote (the Mandarin never met a footnote he didn’t like), there is also another – unintentional? -- play on words in the title. The intended reading of the title is “The Road (dou) to Hell (mou gaan).” The words mou gaan dou can also be read as “the uninterrupted (mou gaan) path (dou),” which translates another Buddhist Sanskrit term: ānantayamārga, the uninterrupted path to nirvāna, in which all impediments are removed in one lifetime and no further rebirths are needed before the soul achieves enlightenment.

It seems to the Mandarin that this contradiction of opposites, a phrase (mou gaan dou) that can mean both the road to endless torment in the mou gaan hell, and the short path to enlightenment, is actually a symmetry of opposites. It mirrors the theme of the movie, a kind of cinematic analog of the ubiquitous Yin-Yang symbol. The black of the crime family and the white of the internal affairs officers, locked in a rotating cycle of eternal interdependence. And in each half, a tiny kernel of the other, the “mole” of the opposite color, at its center.

And who knew all those long afternoons in Professor Chi's graduate seminar in "Chinese Buddhist Literature" back at Indiana University in the 1970s would bear such unlikely fruit thirty years later: an on-line movie review. Must be the Mandarin's karma.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Condi stands by her man

Shrub, ignoring the Mandarin’s recent lecture on Confucian “Rectification of Terms,” went on TV last night to tell the nation:

1) “Stay the course” is out and we have a whole new strategy, which basically looks like staying the same course with some modest changes in tactical focus, and... oh, by the way,... 22,500 more troops going in, mostly to try to occupy and hold Baghdad’s Shiite stronghold Sadr City by force. Oh, lovely.

2) Sending 22,500 more troops into Iraq isn’t an “escalation,” it is just a harmless little “surge.” Kind of like when the tachometer needle on your car fluctuates up and down a bit when you are at a stop light instead of pointing at the same number all the time.

3) Despite having promised to give every consideration to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, he incorporated (almost?) none of them into his “new” so-called “plan,” and is doing the exact opposite of one key ISG recommendation, to get US ground forces out of the business of trying to prevent Baghdad’s ongoing (Fawlty Towers flashback: “Don’t mention the (Civil) War”) factional struggle.

4) We know Shrub has a short memory, but to have forgotten a humiliating drubbing by the voters in the recent elections, and instead of using his speech to try to persuade the American people that they should support his strategy, he merely listed the things he was going to do, whether they (we) like it or not. He’s the decider and he’s decided.

That kind of hubris takes balls. Big ones.

And Condi, who should know, is showing us exactly how big they are in the photo above.

Original photo caption: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 11, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Iraq war as a metaphor for adjusting lawn sprinklers

Today, the Mandarin took advantage of a warm sunny day in Southern California to adjust his lawn sprinklers. His neighbors recently built a "small" retaining wall that - besides encroaching about 18" into the Mandarin's yard - left a strip of bare dirt along the foot of the wall where a swath of Mrs. Mandarin's carefully tended ground-cover (Lampranthus productus a/k/a "Purple Ice-plant") had been trampled to death by the neighbor's crew. So, after she replanted the affected area this morning, it was the Mandarin's job to adjust the sprinklers in that part of the yard so the tender new plants would get enough water to prevent transplant shock.

In the process of experimenting with different spray heads and aiming patterns, the Mandarin realized his struggle was a metaphor for Shrub's war in Iraq. Or more accurately, the struggle of Shrub's handlers to manage the war in Iraq by manipulating the contents of Shrub's head. Since the neocons are out and President Bush (#41) has mobilized his alumni network to attempt resuscitating Shrub's presidency, their first task - actually going on this week - is to empty out the bad old Iraq ideas in Shrub's head and replace them with new ones they hope will finally do the trick.

The little hollow tube gizmo in the picture is called a Shrub Head (made by "Lawn Genie").

The way a shrub head works (the kind in the picture anyway), is that you attach it to the sprinkler pipe, and then any one of a number of different inserts can be screwed into the empty space in the middle: 1/4 circles, 1/2 circles, full circles, adjustable inserts,... you name it, they make it.

So, if you screw a 1/4-circle insert into Shrub's head (sorry, the Mandarin can't help mixing metaphors here), then the fully-assembled shrub head will do one thing and one thing only, come hell or high water, till the sun cools and the stars go dark, and that is spray water in a 1/4-circle pattern wherever you have aimed it. Nowhere else.

Well, after two trips to the local hardware store and several mini-soakings, the Mandarin finally found the combination of shrub head inserts to do the trick. As an old Army Stability Operations geek, it gradually dawned on the him that getting good coverage with lawn sprinklers is a lot like stability operations. The trick is making sure the plan makes sense, the correct resources are available, and the implementation is effective.

And to do that, sometimes you have to empty out the old contents of your shrub head, flush it out with clean water, then screw in something new, turn it on, cross your fingers, and stand back. Way back.

Photo courtesy of Home Depot.

Monday, January 01, 2007

"Shrub mourns death of 3,000th U.S. soldier in Iraq"

When the Mandarin read the article under that headline, all he could think of was young ex-Lieutenant John Kerry's riveting question to a Congressional committee back in 1971: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam -– How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Shrub, of course had Daddy fix it so he didn't have to worry about that particular honor.

Footnote: Just over 95% of those killed (2,863) have died since Shrub announced the "end of major combat operations" under the now-infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner.

He should be ashamed.