Tuesday, May 27, 2008

FARC Offers to "Give Up"

Call me unconvinced.

A lot of talk about the FARC and what is likely to happen now that Marulanda is dead. What I offer is pure speculation. I have no sources and I have intentionally resisted reading other attempts at armchair quarterbacking as I didn't want to bias my opinion.

That being said, I think there are two likely scenarios.

Scenario 1: The slow death march on

I find this scenario the most likely. The new leader of the FARC is a former academic who has long been said to be the intellectual or philosophical leader of the group. While I have zero evidence in either direction, I generally believe that academics who fight in the jungles for failed ideas are pretty committed to those failed ideas. In other words, I can't imagine that an academic who has long served as the ideological leader of a failed ideology is suddenly more likely to give up those long held beliefs because the leader of the group died.

In fact, I think the opposite is more likely. This situation is not like the Israeli-Palestinian talks of 2000-2001. In that situation, you had a revolutionary leader at the negotiating table with a palatable deal on the table that his underlings wanted to accept yet that he could not. And so, the conflict continues. To the contrary, Marulanda was never at the table. He was never at the point of making a peace deal. Instead, the FARC were continuing to pressure for absurd concessions from the government just to *have* talks. So, all commentary about the FARC being more willing to "negotiate" should be seen through the lens of previous "negotiations": Ridiculous requests as prerequisites to any and all talks.

Scenario 2: Fragmentation

It could be said that this is already underway. The FARC have been getting beat back on various fronts (although not all - they are still strong in certain areas). But it does appear that the war has been creating fractures in the organization - especially in terms of communication. Uribe and his policies should be duely credited for that.

Now that Marulanda is deceased, it seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the organization will continue to fracture. There are undoubtedly those who want to quit the war and are dissolutioned with its offer. Distraction and a weakened chain of command at the top likely will create more space for the dissolutioned to leave the organization without fear of reprisal (the rule is: leave and get shot).

Ultimately, I think that both scenarios are likely to happen at once. I find total capitulation entirely unlikely. Instead, I think we'll see a number of stories about the FARC's willingness to negotiate, the government's willingness to offer amnesty to ex-FARC soldiers outside of Colombia (Uribe offered France recently as a place for ex-combatants), and generally, more hope that the war will end. But guerrilla wars don't end like inter-state wars. Instead, they're like grapes that rot on the vine and eventually color and stain the earth with their memory. In all likelihood, my children will inherit a land still healing from the FARC's legacy.


Indiana Jones

Saw it last night. Kinda sucky. Watch it on cable when it comes out if you are interested. But don't pay to see it. It just isn't worth the hassle. More evidence that Lucas has lost whatever magic he had back in the 80s. Not that we needed any more evidence. The Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars were an unmitigated disaster. He really hasn't made any good movies since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (or Willow if you didn't like that one). That's almost 2 decades of crappy, yet commercially viable work.

Anyway, I won't give any spoilers here. What I will say is that when one becomes so fascinated by what technology can do, to the extent that one forgets that stories need to be compelling and at least marginally believable, acting needs to be good, and enemies need to be credible, one becomes...George Lucas. And that's a bad thing. Lucas is Hollywood's best special effects guy who unfortunately thinks he can not only write, but also direct. And he's likely a billionaire because of his Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises (and subsequent production companies). He'll always be credited as a legend for those two franchises but in my mind, his legendary status ended in the 80s.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

2 Bits

We had an earthquake here - 5.6 on the richter scale from what I've seen. It was pretty freaky. Went on for at least a minute. The press say some people died (6 I believe). Anyway, no damage or anything like that that we've seen.

And, in other news, the founder of the Farc, Marulanda, is apparently dead. It's a pretty big story down here. Not sure if it really means anything for the future of the FARC but people seem to be rejoicing anyway.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The ruminations of a madman

Yesterday an ex-soldier walked into a business, took 20 people hostage, and threatened to blow them up with a grenade if his monthly retirement was not paid. It was a startling, but not particularly shocking event. Last night, I watched it all on TV. One of the great things about Colombia is that they always get it on tape and they always show it on the nightly news. So, I watched as one of the "media" sent in to speak with the man turned out to be a copper who tackled him and retrieved the grenade. All very James Bond or Bruce Willis -esque.

This event would have just been another story in Locombia - chalked up to the crazed ravings of a lunatice except for one tiny tidbit. During his media session, the ex-soldier had an employee of the business read out a statement. The statement, in itself, was more shocking than the grenade.
The ex-soldier claims that the top levels of the military and police have $20 million peso bounties out on a between 7-10 politicians. That would be shocking in itself, right? I mean, no national military should be actively seeking the assassination of its civilian controllers. But, every single name read out on that list was a senator or congressman who is actively investigating President Uribe and his connections to the paramilitaries. In other words, it looks very much like the President or some of his functionaries asked the military to deal with "the problem".

Knowing Colombia, I'd give 5-1 odds that the ex-soldier's list is accurate. It will likely never be proven. But, it raises a point that I've been wanting to make for some time. Colombia, more than any place I've ever seen, is a "why not" culture. Gotta problem with a pesky journalist? Why not just have him killed? Gotta problem with some local land owners? Why not just push them off their land? Oh, they're objecting? Why not just kill a few of 'em so the rest get the point? And so on.

It's more complicated now, but it's completely conceivable that one of Uribe's allies went down this road as well. Some senators are getting awfully close to Uribe's paramilitary ties? Why not just have 'em shot? Of course, Uribe himself is too clever by half to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. And in all likelihood there will never be any finding which confirms the ex-soldier's hit list allegation. But there will be wild speculation and now that this alleged hit list is public, the politicians alleged to be on it, are likely safe. So, I don't know if we should be castigating or praising the madman. It's very possible he saved lives by jeopardizing others. Something for the philosophers to sort out.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For those considering Windows Vista

Reconsider. Don't do it. I have just recovered from a major meltdown, courtesy of a Windows Vista Update. After transferring all my data to an external hard drive, I restored the system to the original form and started over. A colossal waste of time and effort. Thank you Microsoft.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Scuba Diving

I write this missive not as the landlubber that I once was, but as the sea-goer that I now am. For I am a qualified scuba diver now and my instructors would wish to see the change. From the unsteady skiff to under the sea and back again, I have passed the trials and received my certificate which makes me more expert in diving that I was a month ago while less expert than an expert.

Off the coast of Cartagena, there are a series of islands that fall under the name “Islas de Rosario”. Upon one of these, one of the larger ones, there is a very expensive hotel which also serves as a base for Diving Planet, a company which leads diving excursions and teaches diving to newbies. To reach the island, one has to take a boat over open water. Over mostly calm seas, the trip is about 50 minutes. And it is hot. The sun bears down upon you like a great yoke or mantel that has to be carried with only brief moments of relief. Thirty layers of sunscreen would never be enough.

CSI was kind enough to loan us Warrick Brown for the weekend. He was to be our instructor. There were three of us in the course, my wife and I and a surly teenager. I say “surly” although I should just say a “typical” teenager since he was no different from the stereotype. Angst and a bad attitude seem to be sold under trademarks these days.

Our first dive was merely to get accustomed to the sea just like “diving” in a pool was to get accustomed to the equipment. These types of excursions are extremely important. The sea has currents, pools do not. Undertaking the various tests and trainings without the pool experience would increase the level of difficulty and likely result in more injuries and complications.

In that first dive three notable things happened. From the start, I found out just how painful diving can be on the ears. It’s a problem that still lingers and I can only hope that my doctor is correct in his assertion that there is no permanent damage. I’m not one used to physical limitations. As a boy, showing no discernible talent or ability, I played ten seasons of soccer, two seasons of baseball, two seasons of basketball, and tried out for the Junior High baseball and football teams before concluding that for me, sports are better watched than played. But not once did I allow the dearth of athleticism that I have been blessed with to infringe on my ability to try.

The ear problem would be the first time I have been physically unable to continue trying. And I don’t want to underestimate the problem. Including today, it’s been five days since my last dive and my ears are still partially blocked, they’re popping like rice crispies, and my right eardrum routinely feels like someone is jabbing a very sharp needle directly into it. The doctor suggests that this will clear up naturally. His theory will be tested next week when I revisit him. In the meantime, I maintain hope that slow improvement is coming each day.

If I can not continue diving, it will be extremely disappointing because the second discovery from the start is that diving ranks somewhere between totally awesome and whatever comes after. The fish, the coral, the wildlife, all of it is superbly sublime. We swam amongst schools of fish, we held aquatic spiders (my term) in the palm of our hands (it helps when your instructor is a Marine Biologist teaching scuba diving while he finishes his thesis), and we saw countless other things that were impossible to catalogue. The marketing material is right. When you dive, you see more species than you would ever see in any other activity which leaves you with an almost unprocessable information overload to the point that after the dive you basically just sit there and say “huh”. It would be a shame to lose out on that.

The aforementioned surly teenager had an encounter in the sea on that first dive. Swimming along quite peaceably, no doubt working as hard as possible to *not* enjoy himself (and failing), he was fish food. A rather large, hungry looking sea marmet was coasting along amongst us and seeing the curly crispiness of the boy’s hair floating enticingly in the clear Caribbean Sea, our friendly neighbor went in for a nibble. I imagine that curiosity overtook him as it is common for fish to see scuba divers in that area and that the question had been nagging at Mr. Fish for quite some time: Do these funny looking land walkers taste good or not?

Unfortunately, we never got an answer from Mr. Fish for the teenager’s violent reaction sent the fish scurrying away. I can only imagine the human flesh is not as tasty as the many other things that fish have to eat. I’d like to think that our teenager had a sudden realization that in the cosmic sense he was no more or less important than the average bit of seaweed. At least to the fish. For all teenagers seem to have an overinflated sense of self importance (I think they’re selling that under trademark as well) and at the least, Mr. Fish treated him as little more than yet another morsel for nibbling. Sadly, my wants are probably just that, my wants, for our teenager continued to maintain his surliness and aloofedness for some time. But, slowly, and I have to think that this is because it takes an extreme amount of energy to maintain surliness and angst especially when one is doing something that is, by all measures, extremely fun, our teenager started to change to the point that at the end of two days, I thought he might almost be human. At least there is hope yet.

We made a total of four dives. The first and last were the best but in those we had virtually no actual “activities” to engage in. They were mostly enjoyment dives. Our instructor was extremely confident and capable and in his trustworthy hands, we were led through the course successfully. Of course, this raises another point. Virtually all scuba instructors are the same, moreso under water. I don’t know why this is, but they are all extremely nice and caring and careful. I say this not as a complaint. All things being even, I much prefer a capable instructor than an incompetent ass who risks my life through malfeasance. Instead, I mention this because I found the instructors so interchangeable as to be ultimately uninteresting. For there’s nothing particularly interesting about cloned underwater personalities. Although, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that their “sameness” was, indeed, and interesting puzzle that I have yet to work out.

And so ends my first scuba adventure. I can only hope that my ears clear up over the next week and that the doctor clears me for future dives. We have our eyes set on Providencia an island farther out in the Caribbean and a much better site for diving. It would be unfortunate to miss out on such an experience.


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