The British architects Alison and Peter Smithson coined the term "brutalism"in 1953, from the French béton brut, or "raw concrete", a phrase used by Le Corbusier to describe the poured board-marked concrete with which he constructed many of his post-World War II buildings. The term gained wide currency when the British architectural critic Reyner Banham used it in the title of his 1966 book, The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic?

The headquarters of the FBI at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue is probably the most impressive example of brutalist architecture in Washington DC, and every aspect of it expresses the brute force of government in the Twenty-first Century, except for a vast expanse of netting which completely swaddles the top two floors.

"Why is all that netting up there?" I asked a cop on guard at the exit of the parking ramp, and he said...

"To keep the building from falling on your head."

"And who would I ask if I wanted a serious answer to that question?"

"That is a serious answer," said the cop. "The building is crumbling, and chunks of concrete were falling on the sidewalk."

"Thank you, officer, and I'm sorry for doubting you," I replied, and maybe I could have eventually figured it out for myself, but now I have a source.



Of course this post would be a lot more interesting if it included my photo of FBI headquarters, but you can't post images on MYDD.


And of course nobody bothers to answer. 

An Astounding Success for Grass-Roots Environmentalism

Yacouba Sawadogo was not sure how old he was. With a hatchet slung over his shoulder, he strode through the woods and fields of his farm with an easy grace. But up close his beard was gray, and it turned out he had great-grandchildren, so he had to be at least sixty and perhaps closer to seventy years old. That means he was born well before 1960, the year the country now known as Burkina Faso gained independence from France, which explains why he was never taught to read and write.

Nor did he learn French. He spoke his tribal language, Mòoré, in a deep, unhurried rumble, occasionally punctuating sentences with a brief grunt. Yet despite his illiteracy, Yacouba Sawadogo is a pioneer of the tree-based approach to farming that has transformed the western Sahel over the last twenty years.

Transformed the western Sahel! And I gave up the Sahel for dead 10 years ago! But was there any real basis for this apparently very good news?

Yes indeed!

"In the drought years, people found themselves in such a terrible situation they had to think in new ways," said Sawadogo, who prided himself on being an innovator. For example, it was a long-standing practice among local farmers to dig what they called zai-shallow pits that collected and concentrated scarce rainfall onto the roots of crops. Sawadogo increased the size of his zai in hopes of capturing more rainfall. But his most important innovation, he said, was to add manure to the zai during the dry season, a practice his peers derided as wasteful.

Sawadogo's experiments proved out: crop yields duly increased. But the most important result was one he hadn't anticipated: trees began to sprout amid his rows of millet and sorghum, thanks to seeds contained in the manure. As one growing season followed another, it became apparent that the trees-now a few feet high-were further increasing his yields of millet and sorghum while also restoring the degraded soil's vitality. "Since I began this technique of rehabilitating degraded land, my family has enjoyed food security in good years and bad," Sawadogo told me.

And it even gets much, much better!


Amazingly, underground water tables that plummeted after the droughts of the 1980s had now begun recharging. "In the 1980s, water tables on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso were falling by an average of one meter a year," Reij said. "Since FMNR and the water-harvesting techniques began to take hold in the late 1980s, water tables in many villages have risen by at least five meters, despite a growing population."

Studies have documented the same phenomenon in some villages in Niger, where extensive water-harvesting measures helped raise water tables by fifteen meters between the early 1990s and 2005.

Water tables in Burkina Faso and Niger have risen by 5 meters and even 15 meters! And it's mostly illiterate farmers digging holes and adding a little manure!

That's grass-roots activism that I can believe in!

And meanwhile, what kind of "leadership" can Africa expect from the Leader of the Free World?

Our Clown in Afghanistan (Updated)

The American idea of "foreign policy credentials" is an imbecile package tour of seventeen countries in seven nights and six days, so now there's yet another sound-bite photo-op American clown named Barack Obama runnning around Southwest Asia talking about how to "finish the job in Afghanistan," and all the Americans who happen to like this particular clown can't stop cheering for his plan to "finish the job in Afghanistan," as if we had a job in Afghanistan that anyone could ever finish...  

But this particular clown thinks maybe two extra brigades will "finish the job" that an enormous Russian army never finished, and even the relatively intelligent British colonial generals never finished, and even Alexander the Great never "finished the job in Afghanistan," but Barack Obama thinks he can "finish the job in Afghanistan" with two more brigades, even though nobody in the universe has any idea what this particular job may be, or how anyone could determine when and if we ever "finished the job in Afghanistan," unless you realistically redefine "the job in Afghanistan" as killing every living thing in that god-forsaken country, and it's obviously way too much to expect that a clown like Barack Obama will notice that's exactly the job we're doing, and it's obviously way too much to expect that a clown like Barack Obama will realize that maybe the Afghans don't want us to "finish the job in Afghanistan" because most of them understand that the only job we ever had in Afghanistan that anyone could ever finish is the job of killing every living thing in that god-forsaken country.

Meanwhile, the two or three Democrats who realize that our real job is killing every living thing in Afganistan can still claim that our clown Barack Obama is infinitely better than the psychotic Republican clown John McCain, and all three of those clever Democrats are absolutely right to support our clown Barack Obama against the psychotic Republican clown John McCain, because there's only room for one party in the first-row seats of this demented circus that used to be the United States of America, and unless the insane clown posse in those front-row seats includes Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Americans may not enjoy the benefits of universal healthcare while our hillbilly hired guns "finish the job" of killing every living thing in Afghanistan.

In the only substantive comment out of 15 so far, Gil44 objects to calling our army in Afghanistan "hillbilly hired guns," and maybe he has more respect than I do for "firing artillery into villages from 37 kilometers away" on the chance you may hit an insurgent, or maybe his respect for our army in Afghanistan is based on admiration for some dweeb killing everybody in a wedding party with a Predator drone that he's "piloting" by computer from an Air Force base in Maryland, or maybe it's the bombadiers dropping bombs from 30,000 feet on "suspected insurgents" that inspires him with respect, but "following orders" isn't a valid defense for war crimes committed by volunteer soldiers, and for victims of the back-door draft of stop-loss orders, it's time to refuse to follow orders that violate the Geneva Conventions, and sacrifice careers and risk military prison instead of collaborating with genocide and inflicting more "collateral damage" that isn't really "collateral" any more... It's the main component of everything we do in Iraq and Afghanistan, and anybody who still hasn't noticed that all we're really doing is killing millions of muslims (with one lame excuse or another) is dumber than any hillbilly I ever knew, and I have known some incredibly dumb hillbillies.

With that significant proviso, it really isn't much of an insult to call someone a "hillbilly hired gun" compared to any reasonable description of the rest of the American public. At least those hillbillies who are actually on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq believe in something enough to risk their lives for it, unlike the candy-ass Barack Obama, who wouldn't get within 5,000 miles of a war zone without a huge security apparatus all around him. The rest of the American public cares more about gas prices and discounts at Walmart than genocide, and if it ever really comes down to a serious attack on the United States... something more like 10,000,000 Nazis instead of 20 half-witted Arabs with box-cutters... the only thing worth defending in this vast consumer shit-hole will be last remaining life-and-death ideals of those same "hillbilly hired guns" and their families.

It's also worth remembering that not every black American is a resentful, over-privileged, hate-America freak like Michelle Obama, and it makes more sense to include black soldiers in Afghanistan in the category of "hillbillies" than to classify them by color alone and assume that they have more in common with infinitely "entitled" and soulless hustlers like the Obamas than they have in common with the hillbillies they serve beside in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Update:"Why Not" has added a whole series of well-written and intelligent comments about the phony rationale for invading Afghanistan under this diary. It isn't exactly new to me, but it's a very compact and accurate appraisal. I usually assume that anyone who bothers to comment on MyDD would already understand the futility of trying to "pacify" Afghanistan by force of arms, but apparently Obamabots only appear here to blurt out cheers for their favorite con-man and insults for everyone else, and they remain as ignorant as worms about the state of the world, except for whatever yarns their sociopathic Messiah chooses to spin for them.

There's more...

Grandpa John, Brother Barack, and Uncle Ralph

Bill Clinton was the father who keeps his pot where you can find it, and gives you a call-girl for your sixteenth birthday. Reagan was such a perfect throw-back to the all-knowing fathers of 1950s TV that half the country still can't believe he was a terrible father and half-witted President. The enormous fatherly presence of Franklin Roosevelt could bounce a whole nation on its knee.

There aren't any "national fathers" running for President in 2008. Instead we get a nasty grandpa, a tricky older brother, and a know-it-all uncle.

Uncle Ralph is the childless (and doesn't want any) uncle who constantly belittles his sister for ruining her seven children. He couldn't make it any clearer that he doesn't really want to be President if he campaigned in a bathrobe.

Grandpa John is the grandpa who pinched you for spilling your milk, and then his best friend Phil tried to bite you (with his false teeth) for whining.

Barack is the older brother who somehow convinces you to trust him again and again. "Open your mouth and close your eyes!" Then he feeds you a spider.

I would have settled for a "national mommy" instead of this family freak-show that makes me want to spend next Christmas in a bar.

There's more...

A Modest Proposal for Environmental Resurrection

Common Dreams is currently hosting a self-congratulatory little article by Jane Etherington about how bourgeois suburbanites can make a "positive impact" on the environment by drying clothes on clotheslines instead of burning energy in dryers, and in response to my predictably sarcastic comment, someone asked me for a better "solution" than Ms. Etherington's pitiful, white-bread environmentalism.

Unfortunately, I don't have any "solutions," no matter how radical, and neither does anyone else. It's a testament to the nullity of public debate on this issue that anyone can even ask about "solutions," as if we were still living in 1964, when there was still a chance to avoid catastrophic degradation of the environment.

What we can do now is give future generations a little hope for partial recovery, and even this relatively modest aim would require a radical commitment equally repulsive to liberals, conservatives, and virtually everyone else except a few shock-troops from ELF and anti-whaling pirates from GreenPeace.

The first order of business is shutting down as many oil fields as possible, from Texas to Saudi Arabia, and denying any remaining fields access to global markets. Russia would defend its fields with nuclear weapons, but its pipelines to Europe and China are still vulnerable. Shutting down oil production involves significant military action, and significant risk of military retaliation, but there is no risk-free strategy that offers any possibility of diminishing the worst consequences of an already inevitable ecological collapse. If remaining oil reserves find their way into the atmosphere, however slowly, all conceivable counter-measures will be overwhelmed.

The second order of business is preventing further destruction of the rain-forest in Brazil and elsewhere, and none of the relevant countries will act without compulsion. The alternative is allowing lumber barons and peasant scavengers to finish cutting the lungs out of the planet.

The third step is replanting forests on a global scale, and transplanting most of the bourgeoisie from their unsustainable suburbs to mobile work-camps on the frontiers of desertification.

As radical and even absurd as my suggestions may appear to so-called "concerned citizens" of all political persuasions, not even the most radical program offers any prospect of "solutions" for us or our children, and all we can really hope for is a slightly better chance of recovery in the distant future.

There's more...

No War Ever Ends

They call it missing in action, but those soldiers are missing at home, too, at every wedding and every graduation and every holiday.

Sometimes you meet an old man who has children and grandchildren now, and he never had a father. You meet amputees who had twenty good years ahead of them, playing softball or throwing a football around on Thanksgiving or pushing a stroller and lifting a baby ever so carefully out of it...

No war ever ends.

I remember Mr. Bush in the Press Club video, looking under a table for WMDs and all the elite reporters laughing, Karl Rove and Rumsfeld laughing and all the elite reporters laughing with them. Remember them!

There's always broken souls and crazy men raging in bare rooms, and women who wake up screaming, and children alone in the dark, listening.

Names and dates of birth on tombstones and monuments, and a mother who remembers every birthday, soldiers buried in consecrated ground and others unburied in jungles and wastelands. This was the father who would have given the bride away. This was the brother who would have been the best man.

No war ever ends.

There's more...

Obama Fiddles While the Constitution Burns

The mainstream media love showmanship more than they love anything except low corporate taxes, so it isn't much of a surprise that the networks and old media outlets like the Washington Post are on exactly the same page as the unprincipled showman Barack Obama.

Forget about those "FISA Follies," says the Washington Post. Don't worry about what the Senator Chris Dodd called "abandonment of the rule of law" in a great speech announcing his filibuster of the FISA bill.

"Mr. Obama nailed it the other day when he explained his new position -- "that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people," says the Washington Post. And why is Mr. Obama so right about the FISA bill?

Because "no one can claim with certainty that his or her communications were monitored," says the Washington Post.

Harharharhar!!! Those fascist clowns at the Washington Post are incredibly funny! Don't worry about burning the Fourth Amendment and abrogating your right to privacy, because the whole operation is so secret you won't ever know it happened!

So the mainstream media are disappearing the destruction of the Bill of Rights and Google News couldn't even find enough news about it to make the Top 50 stories this morning, but Barack Obama's plan to turn the Democratic National Convention into a political Super Bowl was all over the networks.

Only hours after Obama announced he would make his speech at the 76,000-seat Invesco Field at Mile High instead of the Pepsi Center, executives at ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News Channel held a conference call to discuss how it affects their carefully considered plans to pool camera coverage of the event.

There it is! The absolute essence of corporate news in America! Forget about the destruction of the Bill of Rights and get those cameras ready for the humongous spectacle of the coronation of Brack Obama!

But however much Mr. Obama may have already won the nomination in his own mind, it all depends on non-binding expressions of preference by super-delegates, and it isn't absolutely impossible that those same super-delegates might suddenly discover a vestige of reverence for the Bill of Rights in their miserable souls, and insist on nominating a Democrat with real principles like Chris Dodd, instead of Barack Obama, no matter how much all the Obamabots in the peanut gallery may scream when the ring-master of their little circus is passed over.

There's more...

A Comedy Oba-marathon

Will Barack Obama parachute into Mile High Stadium to accept the Democratic nomination?

Unlike fans of movies like The Sting, who laugh along with con-men while they bilk some unsympathetic rube, I never thought Barack Obama was funny.

Obama's waffling about NAFTA was obviously unfunny way back in March, but he waited until Hillary Clinton conceded before he made it obvious enough for the naive "youth vote" that gave him the nomination.

Obama's right-wing support for an individual right to bear arms was obviously unfunny way back in February, but he waited until Hillary Clinton conceded before he made it obvious enough to wake up the New York Times.

Obama still wasn't funny when he did a 180 degree back-flip about FISA and flip-flopped about public campaign financing, and even out-pandered George W. Bush by offering Jerusalem to AIPAC and finally made his unprincipled political gamesmanship obvious enough even for blind-faith Obamabots like Paul Woodward at War in Context.

It wasn't even funny to me when tens of thousands of Obama's most dedicated supporters on petitioned Obama to oppose the God-awful FISA bill while Markos Moulitsas was simultaneously telling them to forget about trying to run the circus from their seats in the peanut gallery.

But when Obama topped it all off by deciding that not even the gigantic Pepsi Convention Center in Denver is gigantic enough for a cosmic event like the nomination of Barack Obama, and the Democratic National Convention has to be turned into a political Super Bowl by staging it in the super-gigantic Mile High Stadium...

Now that's funny.

But it would be even funnier if this super-gigantic nomination never happened, and the super-delegates locked up the Convention until it nominated a really principled Democrat like Chris Dodd, who was filibustering against warrantless wire-tapping while Barack Obama was planning a colossal freak-show in Denver.

There's more...

Boss Obama

Who would have thought that a dedicated Obama-doubter like me would post a diary that's almost nothing but a quote from Markos Moulitsas, but here it is:
"The Obama campaign is still very much a top-bottom operation. They've made it very easy for people to hop on the bandwagon, but those in the back of that wagon still get no say in where the campaign is going."
Bob Ostertag posted this quote in an article on Common Dreams, without a link, and it was surprisingly hard to track down, but as of right now the New York Times article in which it appears is posted on, where the largest group of posters is trying to pressure Obama to do the right thing about the FISA bill, as Mr. Ostertag also explains in his excellent article.

The "Truth" About Obama's Religion

It isn't every day that even a self-important and formerly fairly good newspaper like the Washington Post announces "the truth" about a contentious issue like Barack Obama's religion, but now we have it from their otherwise undistinguished staff writer Eli Sastrow, who was only recently promoted from reporting on swimming, where his cosmic insight was wasted on stories like Ziegler Sets Meet Mark in 400 Freestyle.

Lately the Post has been dispatching the Jimmy Olsen of their national news desk to hotspots like Flag City, Ohio, where he finds a few rubes who are so amazingly stupid that they haven't figured out the truth about Barack Obama!

On the television in his living room, Peterman has watched enough news and campaign advertisements to hear the truth: Sen. Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, is a Christian family man with a track record of public service. But on the Internet, in his grocery store, at his neighbor's house, at his son's auto shop, Peterman has also absorbed another version of the Democratic candidate's background, one that is entirely false: Barack Obama, born in Africa, is a possibly gay Muslim racist who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

This set-up illustrates the keen analytic skills that Mr. Sastrow honed at swim meets from Petaluma to Podunk: Either you believe that Barack Obama is a "Christian family man,"or you believe he's a "gay Muslim racist." Which sounds more reasonable to you?

Mr. Sastrow also slips in another bogus distinction that old media outlets like the Washington Post would love to see us all accept: The "truth" belongs to newspapers, TV news, and even campaign advertisements, and the internet is dismissed along with other rumor mills like grocery stores and auto shops.

But in spite of the awesome authority of the Washington Post (Colin Powell's speech about Saddam's WMDs was "irrefutable") I can't quite accept that the difficult question of Barack Obama's religion is reducible to a ludicrous contrast between "Christian family man" and "gay Muslim racist."

The myth that "Barry Soetoro" attended a madrassa in Indonesia has been sufficiently debunked, but the only hard evidence about Obama's religious affiliation as a child is his listing as a Muslim on his elementary school registration. Friendly journalists and the Obama campaign usually disappear this document with a lot of hand-waving about how Obama's step-father Lolo Soetoro occasionally had a beer and wasn't really a "devout" Muslim, but Soetoro's spotty attendance at the local mosque doesn't mean he also ignored the core Muslim requirement of Salah, ritual prayer performed five times every day. Did little Barry pray beside his step-father, or did he somehow stand outside the rhythm of everyday life in an Indonesian household?

The story of Barack Obama's church in Chicago is so famous that even the hicks in Hickville know it backward and forward, and Eli Sastrow's pitiful rhetorical tricks probably can't sell a preacher like Jeremiah Wright and a couple of patron saints like James Cone and Louis Farrakhan as witnesses that Barack Obama has much in common with the sort of "Christian family man" you might encounter in an auto shop or grocery store in rural Ohio.

How far did Barack Obama ever subscribe to the semi-Christian black-power ideology of James Cone and Jeremiah Wright? Whatever his other motivations may have been, Barack Obama joined Trinity Church when it was politically convenient to belong to its powerful congregation, and he left it when it wasn't.

So the question of Barack Obama's religion is significantly more complicated than the Washington Post portrays it, and their silly division between Christian "family values" and gay Muslim racism dissolves into more difficult issues like the relative power of childhood training compared to Barack Obama's formerly convenient membership in a powerful congregation.

Does a politically convenient association with the black-power "Christianity" of Jeremiah Wright really run deeper than Barack Obama's childhood immersion in the rhythms of Islam?

The real situation is probably even more shadowy than any division, and it may be that Barack Obama chose the ethnocentric ideology of Jeremiah Wright's church in Chicago precisely because it resonated so deeply with his experience of Islam as a child in Lolo Soetoro's house in Jakarta.


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