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PR Noir | Sep 28, 2003 23:17

The ritual of the Saturday clean-up around ours is invariably a prelude to going to the movies. This weekend was no exception though there wasn't much to choose from. It came down to The Stones' Gimme Shelter versus a noir festival at the Chauval in Oxford St. I favored the latter. The Girlie didn't mind either way.

Noir it was.

So we went to see a new print of a unique 1957 number called Sweet Smell of Success, which if you have anything to do with journalism or PR you really should see. Tony Curtis plays slime-ball publicist Sidney Falco to Burt Lancaster's egocentric and ruthless JJ Hunsucker, star New York columnist. Falco lives off his ability to place items in Hunsucker's column. The film starts with Falco in desperation. He has been frozen out after failing to end a relationship between Hunsucker's dependent sister and a very straight young jazz guitarist.

The performances of the two leads are pretty terrific. Apparently this is the film that showed Curtis was more than just a pretty boy.

About an hour into the film I realized the Girlie and I had our wires crossed: she leaned across and asked if this was about the Rolling Stones. I told her it wasn't, no, Tony Curtis wasn't playing Mick Jagger, but I thought Lancaster could do a passable Charlie Watts.

She slumped back in her seat, not seeming to know what I was on about.

Anyway, there are other stars in this film, not least 1950s New York and cinematographer James Wong Howe whose monochrome is sumptuous from start to finish. He concocts many great shots of the city, its bars, street and clubs and a wonderful title sequence.

Some of the dramatic scenes are stunners too, especially when Falco is playing off two columnists drinking in a classic deco bar to place a smear against the unfortunate musician and again at the end, where Hunsucker effectively destroys his victim. Here five characters take part in a brilliantly choreographed segment, with each in turn moving up into the foreground to speak and Falco circling permanently in the back, chipping away destructively.

Director Alexander Mackendrick and screenwriters Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, of course, demand a mention. Sweet Smell is a bit melodramatic, but in the best possible way. If you get a chance, see it.

Before going out that morning, I feel compelled to mention, I discovered the Girlie has a hobby. I've always thought she needed an interest outside school and sleeping, so this was a welcome discovery. While cleaning the house, I found about half a dozen "fluff rings", you know, the things you pull out of the clothes-dryer filter, placed neatly on top of each other in the laundry to form one big "fluff ring" about a centimeter thick.

I was about to throw this out but she told me not to. She is collecting them.

Now I confess these rings have at times fascinated me as well. Why, for instance, are they always that funny mauve colour? No matter what you are drying, they always come out the same.

Also, when I do throw them away, it is always with a slight pang of regret. They look as if they should have some sort of use, we just can't figure out what it is. To add further to their allure, these fuzz rings don't appear to have a name. Yes they are fluff and they are lint, but neither of these terms is quite precise enough for something so, so … elemental.

If you have any suggestions for uses for dryer fluff or their proper name, drop me a line. And if there really is no name feel free to coin one. But in the meantime I've done some research and it looks as if the Girlie's new hobby is fairly unique. The internet does reveal some activity in the navel fluff space, indeed there have been academic studies undertaken here in Australia and there is at least one avid collector.

However, fluff ring collecting looks like virgin territory, apart from this site that suggests it as an ingredient of an especially durable kind of home-made paper.

Sorry, I'm obsessing. I'll go now.

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The Girlie downshifts | Sep 25, 2003 14:57

There's been lots of talk over here about "downshifting", moving out of high-pressure corporate jobs to adopt more "flexible" employment arrangements (read that as contracting). Telecommuting, usually from some central coast or Blue Mountain beauty spot, is growing fast.

It's an international trend, of course, but given added impetus here by abundant lifestyle opportunities. Do some work, pop down for a surf, do some more work, go for a walk. It's a winning formula. According to international pollsters telecommuting has doubled since 2000.

Anyway, I think the Girlie has been reading the papers, as she's given Michel's Patisserie the bad news: she's only going to work on Monday evenings, having previously done Monday to Wednesday. Management took the news badly, of course. It is rumoured they considered closing down totally, such would be the impact of losing their star table-wiper. However, despite this strategic set-back it now looks as if Michel's will soldier on, and the Girlie is already working on her new "flexible" lifestyle.

Rather than going surfing or out for a walk, this involves eating everything she can find in the house and then going to bed. Fair enough. That's exactly what I would do. In fact it's exactly what I did at her age.

This was my set-up: I lived in an old silver caravan half way down our garden in Ranui, in West Auckland. The caravan was parked under a willow tree, to keep the temperature just so in summer.

From my caravan I had a little intercom running up to the kitchen. When I woke up, say at three in the afternoon, I'd buzz on the intercom and ask for a cup of tea and toast … and maybe some biscuits, chocolate if there were any. A few minutes later, my Irish Mum, bless her cotton socks, would come wandering down the garden with a tray.

Then, ever so slowly, I'd ease myself into what was left of the day.

As with most strapping kiwi lads in the 1970s, it was my job to mow the lawn. Needless to say by the time I got up and ready, well, it was almost dinnertime, wasn't it? Or I'd have to go out…

Come Saturday I'd blearily hear the lawnmower roaring closer and closer to the caravan and then feel it thumping angrily against the tin sides.

"Jeez," I'd think, "keep the racket down, some of us are trying to sleep."

My Dad would mow the tricky bits around the edge of the caravan, dwelling there noisily, much longer than he needed to. I'd eventually poke my head around the door and say something lame like: "I was just about to do that."

Despite this, I certainly don't make a practice of delivering brekkie or any other meal to the Girlie. She acts, as teens do, sullen and permanently hard-done-by. But the Girlie has a TV in her room, and a computer, and access to the internet, and a digital camera and a Walkman.

That's serious cargo.

So don't talk to me about hardship, Girlie. You don't know how lucky you are. In my day we did it tough.

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Wistful | Sep 24, 2003 01:12

The dead hand of John Howard is causing some understandable wistfulness among liberal types here. Many are appalled at his new order of ultra-conservatism, Australia's toadying foreign policy, measures that look designed to undermine state healthcare and to deliver monopoly to local media barons.

Above all is the sheer lack of leadership and inspiration.

But what strikes me is the imitation. Something happens in the US or UK and it immediately gets echoed here. Blair accuses the BBC of bias, the Libs attack the ABC. George Bush invades rogue nations, it suddenly becomes urgent for Downer to exert his power in the Pacific. The US backs away from multilateralism, so does Australia.

I've been reading Don Watson's fabulous insider story of the Keating years Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, all 700 pages of it. Apart from being extraordinarily well written it's a great primer on how this sorry state came to be. Keating of course lost to the "man with the airbrushed past". He lost because both he and Labor had lost energy for the fight after four terms in office and because Howard managed to paint himself a fictional divide, between the "elites" and the "battlers". He was on the side of the battler and, of course, everyone sees themself as a battler …

Keating was aloof, appeared arrogant, appeared too smart and disconnected and talked about the republic and APEC when he should have talked about jobs, education and health. He could easily connect with people but seemed to stop trying. It was just too much.

According to Watson, he wanted to destroy Howard, not just beat him. The hatred these two carry for each-other is visceral. It is when he is in a street-brawling mood that Keating is, oddly, at his most endearing, to me anyway.

Here's Keating talking to Watson by phone from Israel in the lead-up to the 1996 election: "I think that little bastard's done us some damage," he said. "Ignore him," I said, not wanting politics to spoil any miracles the Holy Land might work. "I'm not going to ignore him," he said. "I'm going to drive an axe into his chest and lever his ribs apart."

Howard is a famous nobody. Where others may try to develop character and conviction, he eschews both. If a policy is unpopular, he'll drop it. If it's popular, he'll co-opt it. His backflips on GST, immigration, Medicare, French nuclear testing, native title, education vouchers and the republic are a matter of record and were patently obvious. For John Howard nothing is a matter of principle.

Keating tried to draw attention to these U-turns. He said Howard was trying to slide under the electoral wire. Watson writes: "He was, and he could be seen; and he knew he was and he knew he could be seen! And still they said they'd vote for him. And still one could not help feeling the media coverage contained the message that this was not gutless or duplicitous, but clever politics."

Unbelievably Howard even went green for a few weeks.

Keating asked, now that Howard was all things to all people, "if next we would hear him say he was a Fabian socialist?"

But no one was listening.

And now it looks like Labor is just as gutless, only far less effective. Crean measures every word in a very faux Howard style. But that's not the way back for Labor. Focus group politics delivers sameness and what they need is difference and a leader of at least Keating's stature to carry the people with them.

One of those points of difference, it seems to me, is the ground of economic responsibility that the right is abandoning for big spending on defence. Make no mistake, this will have to be paid for eventually and it will be paid for out of social programs. Maybe that is the intention.

There have been several articles here recently about Gen-X resentment at the benefits us boomers received. They are now footing the bill. But if you want to see a prime example of boomer-led inter-generational theft, you don't have to look much further than the irresponsible spending of a John Howard or George Bush.

As for Keating, in the manner of retired Aussie PMs he still drops a rock in the pond every now and then. And welcome those rocks are.

Keating was often accused of arrogance, but his defence to this charge should be remembered: "The test of arrogance, Keating said, was how you treat the community."

Watson comments: "In the office and in the campaign he had treated the people conscientiously and with integrity. Howard had not released the policies by which the electorate might judge him. He had 'danced past the press gallery for a year.' That was arrogance."

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E-pistles | Sep 19, 2003 02:03

I've been remiss in not acknowledging some of my correspondents and following up on an item raised earlier. You may remember I asked for details or confirmation of the New Diyala Bridge contract, an Iraqi reconstruction project supposedly worth a cool $50 mill to George's business cronies.

Thanks to Richard P, Dave P and Chris M for further links, but they all seem to lead back to the same story. I'm almost ready to declare this a fake unless someone can come up with some corroboration.

Going, going …

Following Wednesday's post Brendan S informed me Wellington has its own Arthur Stace: "Those with keen eyesight may notice the occasional ice block stick with 'Brain Research' scrawled on it. Sometimes 'Brain Research' is written in other places, but I've mostly noticed the ice block sticks. Could be an idea for our own sculpture? Maybe a large one in parliament grounds?"

What can I say to that? Kiwis are weird.

Mark E reckons there was an Aerobics Oz girl called Cheetah. Or was it a quirk of his adolescent memory?

I thought Cheetah was on Gladiators, Mark.

Paul C responded to my comments about the fake letters used to support allegations Iraq was trying to buy radioactive "yellowcake" from Niger: "I wonder if they included the paragraph, 'and I need your help to transfer 1,000,000$ out of this country.'

Mark G filled in some details about Canberra I missed when I was down there: "You talked about the portraits but didn't mention the copy of the Magna Carta in the central hall. I think the APH's collection of exhibits is a good example of Canberra's weirdness.

"There are some nice pictures, a model boat, a few tea sets, and they blew about a million dollars on one of the better versions of the Magna Carta. I'm thankful you missed the civic artworks down Alinga Mall too, they're bloody embarrassing.

"If you ever come back there are three other good things I'd recommend. National Library (often has very good exhibitions), Questacon (fantastic for kids) and the High Court (nice just to walk through, easy to get to)."

Finally, several of you reacted to Granny's orgasm, including Raewyn, who said: "Lovely column today - you really know how to hook the reader in to the story. Granny's line had me laughing out loud (which is a rare enough event)."

Aw, shucks. And it was all true!

Keep 'em coming. We can see the site statistics growing nicely each month, but it's even better to get your feedback.

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Word on the street | Sep 17, 2003 13:54

By now half the world knows the story of Arthur Stace, the reformed bum, metho drinker and WWI veteran who roamed the streets of Sydney for 37 years writing the word "Eternity" in his own unique style. It was a one word message that stuck, to become immortalised on the Harbour Bridge at the millennium.

Well, there is now another message on the streets, all over the city centre, out to Newtown and beyond. The message is not quite as uplifting as Stace's; you have to remember it, go home and plug it into your computer. It reads: "www.brokenman.net: Find your voice".

When you plug it in you go on a journey, following various paths to, well, nowheresville. Along the way you encounter homilies such as "10 people that speak make more noise than 10,000 that are silent." Apparently something wonderful will happen, but who knows what? The creator of the site has, however, managed to sell some CDs off the back of it. In all, not particularly spiritual, enlightening or even coherent.

Stace was practically illiterate. He heard the word that would become his signature shouted by a fundamentalist preacher.

"He repeated himself and kept shouting 'ETERNITY, ETERNITY' and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write 'ETERNITY'. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket and I bent down there and wrote it."

It's one of those cases where less is definitely more. You really don't need to hear anything else. The power of the word, the beauty of the style in which it was written and finally the mystery and persistence of the writer's mission became the stuff of legend, with documentaries and a flurry of newspaper articles leading up to Stace's ultimate memorial on the bridge at midnight on 31 Dec 1999.

Much more coherent than "brokenman" Jordan and infinitely more amusing is John Howard's web log:

"Canberra makes everything look lame. Except the ALP, who look lame in any state. Canberra just makes them look like, super-lame. I told Simon Crean that, and he was all, "Yeah? Well the Liberals are like, super-lame times one hundred!" And I'm like, "Then the ALP are super-lame times infinity plus one, no returns!" So he stuck his tongue out at me then ran off like a baby. He's so immature."

I Googled to try and find out who is behind the site but without luck. So then I dropped them an email.

And here's the reply:

"Rob,

My name is Ruth, I'm 17, I live in Melbourne, and I enjoy long walks along beaches and romantic candle-lit dinners. I have a dog I don't really like and a computer that I do like, but I'm fairly sure it's going to die soon. The dog, unfortunately, is in good health. My current ambitions include finishing year 12 without going on some sort of killing-spree through the school staff room, and to somehow utilise the technology used in anti-terrorist fridge magnets to repel scientologists from stopping me on the street to offer free personality tests.

As for media, yeah, I had a fleeting 15 minutes last year when the SMH did an article about the site (I think it's still available online if you chuck it in google). I think it got a write-up in a few other things, possibly the Bulletin... bah, I can't remember. Have also done a few interviews on radio about it. Haven't done much media stuff for a while, because clearly major world events like the break-up of J-Lo and Ben Affleck, and Shane Warne's sex life take precedence.

Hope that helps,

- Ruth"

I was hoping it'd be something as perfect as that.

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Epiphany on Circular Quay | Sep 11, 2003 12:02

This morning I had one of those moments, one of those profound moments when the spirit, poetry and everyday life come into alignment. Unexpectedly, you are transported onto a different plane, away from daily mundanities onto the plane of the highest senses.

The plane of art.

I didn't have the correct change for the bus this morning so I walked out to the point in Drummoyne and caught the ferry instead. It was one of those beautiful Sydney winter's days, the harbour flat as glass, the sun pouring down and the arch of the Harbour Bridge refreshed, renewed and once again providing the grandeur and beauty you'd long taken for granted.

The ferry zipped along, picked up another load of passengers at Milson's Point and then turned for the Quay. We shot under the bridge and then slowed to drift up to the wharves.

That's when it happened. James Joyce would have called it an epiphany, in his terms a moment of deep artistic insight. On the foreshore at Circular Quay, at 8.30, in the middle of the peak commuting hour, the girls from Aerobics Oz Style were stepping it out, out, out …

It must have been a shoot for their summer series, as the the silver bikinis shined bright in the morning sunlight. There it was: the sun, the harbour, the bridge, the Opera House - and the girls from Aerobics Oz Style. I was not only uplifted, I was transported back, back in time nearly twenty years to my little suburban nest in Avondale.

The Oz girls used to join us almost daily in our little home. The mother of my children, she who must be obeyed no longer, was constantly trying to keep in shape. I'd lounge on the couch and Vick would do whatever it was that people were doing that week to keep fit. Naturally there were always some vital accessories - one week it would be little rubberized weights, the next weighted wristbands, the next something else.

Remember Step?

To do step you had to have these foam rubber steps. We had those as well. You couldn't possibly step from your back garden onto the verandah, that wouldn't do at all. You had to have the foam rubber steps. And then there were the endless latest, newest exercise videos. In time, and quite a short time it was, these would all end up unused in the spare room.

But one thing that never changed, never went out of fashion, was Aerobics Oz Style. I never worked out to it of course. But this morning I realized the lasting impact the show has had. I could still remember the girls' names - well, two of them anyway. There was Effie, the little blonde who never said anything, just jumped around and looked oh so cute. Then there was June. June was the stern, dark-haired leader. Her deep European accent demanded respect. She would have been just like a James Bond Euro-spy, except she was doing aerobics. June …

June ...

Anyway, both Effie and June are still on the job, so to speak. Twenty years on and still stepping it out, out, out on the foreshores of Sydney.

You need those kinds of constants in this tough old nasty old world.

Quite independently, I've had my first run for the year and switched to skim-milk lattes. They call them "skinnies" over here. I've had to retrain my barristas, who usually have a cup ready for me as soon as I appear around the corner from my office. They tell me this is the week: they've had five or six regulars switch to skinnies in the last few days.

You can feel it in the air. Summer's on the way. It's shape-up time.

Anyway, the awards are on. The Netguide Awards, that is, and there are all sorts of categories you might want to nominate your favourite website in, best website, best design, best personal blog ...

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Granny has an orgasm | Sep 08, 2003 06:00

Having courted a media beat-up with her upcoming book on the beauty of young boys, Germaine Greer throws another rock in the pond today with publication of the latest edition of Quarterly Essay.

White Australians, she says, should accept they are Aboriginals and that Australian culture is Aboriginal. After all, if you emigrated to France from Australia three generations ago, you would not still be calling yourself Australian, you'd be calling yourself French. So most white Australians should call themselves Aboriginal.

Aboriginal culture, she says, is the best of Australia. Australia should embrace its heritage as the world's foremost hunter-gatherer society, ditch the governor general and become a republic headed by a council of elders.

Greer doesn't realistically expect her suggestion to be adopted: it's about "imaging society" you see. In fact, she expects, as always, her views will offend just about everybody.

Quarterly Essay itself is an interesting endeavour, bringing intellectual controversy to the fore every few months and frequently winning significant column inches in the daily media. Over here debate occurs relatively frequently about the role of the "public intellectual". It is considered a part of normal cultural life, that the country's elite thinkers should contribute to public debate. And with people like Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes and many others willing to contribute, that debate can get pretty lively.

Anyway, I expect the noise of the inevitable backlash will be heard all the way over in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, I had to step out to get a needle for my gramophone. Yes, it's that old comedy sketch: the old guy walk into the music shop and asks for a needle for his gramophone…

Anyway I knew better. I wandered into the new Virgin Megastore that arrived in George St a couple of weeks ago, with strangely little fanfare for a Virgin launch. It occupies one of the grand stone temples to finance down near Martin Place. After browsing around and picking up a couple of CDs for a birthday bash later, I ask at the counter if they sell styluses.

Indeed they do. The girl asks her friend if she knows anything about them. She doesn't. Then they call across the floor to a cool looking dude to help me out.

"I need a stylus for my turntable," I ask, pretty confident the lingo is okay. I give him the remnants of my old one, which had been sitting in my pocket for weeks.

He looks at me oddly: "What sort of deck have you got, man?"

"Ahh," less confidently, "it's a Technics," I say.

He seems to approve and takes me over to a cabinet where he outlines my options. Buy a new stylus or upgrade to a new cartridge. The new cartridge will make the stylus easier to get and cheaper, he says.

"I DJ at night and I recommend one of these," he says holding up a $70 box.

Well, you can't argue with a DJ. "Okay, are you sure this'll fit in my 'deck'?" I ask, hoping he doesn't hear the quote-marks.

He asked what model it was. I didn't know.

"I bought it in 1978."

At this point he pretty much gave up on me being some kind of older fellow hipster DJ-guy.

"Just hang on to the receipt," he says.

Dealing with young people can be so fraught. Later, at the pub on Manly Wharf I handed over the CD I'd bought and wished my workmate Amanda a happy birthday. It was quite a family do with kids running around, older folks and a few others from work. The birthday girl was in the process of downing a shot. I had a beer and then offered her another.

"I'll have a Cocksucking Cowboy," she says, giggling.

So I wander over to the bar and ordered a VB - and a Cocksucking Cowboy.

The barmaid serves the beer, but says I'll have to go inside for the shot. They don't have cocktails on the wharf, you see. So in I go, up to the bar and order a Cocksucking Cowboy. Somehow it seemed okay when I ordered it with a beer but it was very odd going to the bar and ordering just a Cocksucking Cowboy. On its own. Nothing else.

Try it sometime. At 2 in the afternoon.

The barmaid pours it and looks at me: "Enjoy," she says.

"It's not for me," I feel compelled to say. "It's a girl's drink."

She looks at me oddly.

"A birthday girl, I mean."

"Wish her a happy birthday from me," says the barmaid.

I don't.

Amanda skulls her Cocksucking Cowboy. Her grandmother, with a strong European accent, was sitting across the table.

"What's that, Amanda?"

"Oh, it's a shot, Gran. With Bailey's and stuff."

"Yes, but what's it called?" I prompt.

Amanda looks at me unfazed.

"It's a Cocksucking Cowboy, Granny," she shouts.

"Ohhh!" says the old lady, before going quiet for a couple of minutes as the conversation continues.

Then she pipes up:

"About fifteen years ago," she says, "I think it was fifteen years ago, I had an ... Orgasm!"

Back home I spend an hour working out how to install the new cartridge in my "deck". It does fit. How cool is that?

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Alternative theories for war | Sep 03, 2003 22:34

We've heard so much about WMDs, oil, human rights, the spread of truth justice and the American Way in the last few months, but lingering in the background there are other theories about why the US went to war with Iraq. Personally I favour oil plus daddy's unfinished business, but these two are worth a look.

The business case
In the August 25 issue of BusinessWeek Harvard professor of economics Robert J. Barro gives a solid outlook for the second half of the financial year, attributing this lift to a number of factors, the first of which is growing defence spending.

Spending is $US76 billion higher than it would have been before September 11 2000, and 25% up over 2001. According to his analysis each dollar of defence spending lifts real US GDP by 75 US cents, equating to an increase of $US57 billion in 2003 GDP or 0.6% of total.

Crucially, he notes, the results would be different for wars in which productive capacity was destroyed, not something the US has traditionally had to worry about to any significant degree.

For the US war is good for business. And what's good for business is good for America. This isn't the first time war has served its purpose to rev-up the US economy

Forget oil, it's all about water
It is common knowledge water rights are a key issue between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is also an issue with Syria and between Turkey and Iraq.

But how could these essentially local issues be considered a cause of the US invasion of Iraq? After all, Iraq is a downstream state. Its water supply is threatened by the activity of others, particularly dam-building in Turkey, but it has little ability to threaten the water supplies of neighbors. Does it?

Well, the existing water supply maybe. But according to this site Iraq was an obstacle to a grand water supply scheme that would have benefited US ally Israel considerably.

The so-called "Peace Pipeline" would have tapped the source of the Tigris and Euphrates in Turkey to deliver water to gulf states and Israel, to the considerable detriment of Iraq. Will we see some variant on this scheme reemerge now the US has knocked out the key political obstruction?

Another argument can be made around what the US promises to do in Iraq. When the occupier talks about the "reconstruction of Iraq's economy" we probably think of getting oil pipelines working, power plants operating, getting productive capacity moving again. But is "reconstruction" being used as a euphemism for "restructuring"? And will that restructuring take the form of the good old-fashioned crony capitalism George and his buddies specialise in? The signs are already there in the way reconstruction contracts are being awarded. There's not an open tender or selection process in sight.

The Iraqi economy will be rebuilt, for sure, and it will be rebuilt along different lines. There's nothing essentially wrong with that. After all, the pre-war economy was built for the benefit of Saddam's family. However, it is now distinctly possible it will be rebuilt for the benefit of George Bush's mates and benefactors. This crew has never done business in a free market in their lives. They wouldn't know what a free market looks like and would run a mile and grease any number of palms rather than engage in fair and open competition. Like George himself, they make their money by wielding their political influence to win exclusive favours.

So, has the military been used to grab markets? Undoubtedly. Is George Schultz's old company Bechtel getting ready to control the Iraqi water supply through privatization, as it did in Bolivia and elsewhere? We'll have to wait and see.

Former Army War College professor and CIA analyst Stephen Pelletiere, in an op-ed in the New York Times, has suggested a bigger geo-political picture.

Pelletiere says when the Iranians seized Halabja, they were aiming to control the Darbandikhan dam, the largest in Iraq. Control of Iraq's water, he says, would "alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that probably could not be challenged for decades...."

While Pelletiere's credibility on some fronts is doubtful (he has been known to suggest the gassing of Halabja was undertaken by the Iranian not the Iraqi military, despite massive evidence to the contrary), you only have to look at a map to see where those rivers run.

Meanwhile…
No Right Turn and numerous other blogs have carried the item below in recent days. However, I can find no way of verifying this story. I've tried numerous different Googles, but can find nothing official or even from a reliable source on the subject. In fact, this is the only item that even mentions such a contract. It's all a bit smelly.

If anyone out there can shed some light, drop me a line.

"One of my cousins works in a prominent engineering company in Baghdad- we'll call the company H. This company is well-known for designing and building bridges all over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who'll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA wanted the company to estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out and assessed the damage, decided it wasn't too extensive, but it would be costly. They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number they tentatively put forward- $300,000. This included new plans and designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel expenses, etc.

Let's pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let's pretend he hasn't been working with bridges for over 17 years. Let's pretend he didn't work on replacing at least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let's pretend he's wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number they estimated- let's pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let's just use our imagination.

A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge would be around- brace yourselves- $50,000,000!!"

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