Saturday, December 31, 2005

2006 Really Packs a Wallop

It's getting down to the last minutes of 2005, at least in my time zone, and that means time to sum up. My situation is as follows:

I have a job writing about how the military beaches whales with its sonar and leaves bombs lying around for housing developments to be built over. (Also on the work front: sincere congratulations are due to the Marine Corps, which used about 1.4 million gallons of biodiesel in 2005 and is going towards an all-bio fleet as soon as possible.)

Instead of partying hardy, I am about the only person I know in this city of the damned, laid up at home with a screaming case of jungle rot on my willy. I have tried to use this opportunity to get some writing and reading done, but it's hard to concentrate.

I have eaten all my Christmas cookies and there is now literally no set of foods in the house that would go together to make a meal. I seriously considered the possibility of either a pasta sandwich or chocolate syrup on cereal. My last dinner of 2005: trail mix and some nutty choco bits. And some wine. And I have yet to crack open my $20 bottle of champagne because it isn't midnight yet.

It is cold as a witch's tit in this house because the heater works only as it sees fit. This is still preferable to my last place, where I suffered ghost attacks and crushing unemployment.

I have been able to look out my dining room window into this other person's house since I moved in. That alleviates the occasional feeling that I have no reason, ever, to be in the dining room.

I feel wiser, on the whole, and I think the year was salutary in the sense that I cleared away a lot of the dead wood from my past life and started down a road I'm pleased with. On the other hand, what would New Year's be without a little crime scare? As I finished typing the last sentence, someone tried to get into my house. It sounded an awful lot like the drunken fumbling of keys, and it could have been some reveler trying the wrong door on the block, but I called the popo anyway and have just now officially rung in New Year 2006 watching the clock on my phone go to 12:00 and holding a steak knife. I wouldn't share this with the reading public except to stress the importance of neighborhood activism and a stronger commitment to our nation's schools. Education is the key, everyone. Education. Get them on the right path early.

This puts in perspective the total meta-oddity of even having a blog. I sit in this chair, where I should probably be a little more scared than I am -- although the guy seems to have left my door, I can still hear him shuffling around and talking to himself a few spots down the road -- and my instinct is to keep typing, as though nothing will really happen to me as long as the magic keeps flowing through the fingers. In the olden days, the man of the house would have gathered everyone into the storm cellar and loaded Grampa's old pea shooter full of nails, ready to defend his property to the death. Instead, it's 2006 and I stare at the screen, freshly transplanted from the West Coast, with no real stake in this city yet, and blather on as though it's all some sort of literary event. We have totally lost our perspective on reality, we modern people, or else I just want something quiet to do until the fuzz arrives. I could be watching the World Poker Tour, or The Godfather (the whole trilogy is playing tonight), but I am somehow convinced that it will make enough noise to draw attention to me. Funny how you react to things a lot differently in real life than they do in the talking pictures.

So bring on the postmodern, inappropriate musing. Let's stroke our chins, shall we, and wonder aloud: What is worth writing about this evening? I met someone who works for National Geographic and told her I'd like to write for them one day, and she seemed convinced I was insane to want anything to do with that bunch of badly paid alcoholics and head cases. This failed to deter me, of course -- I just love to travel. I made new friends in this cold, strange city fairly quickly, including the inevitable British guy at work, and kicked off my job with a sterling performance. But that's all recent history. What happened in the first three quarters of the year? It went like this: It's my birthday!, I wish I were out of school, I am totally on academic cruise control, ---- and I are trying to write a sitcom, oops I graduated, playing poker for a living is very lucrative when you're good at it, I am surfing between family homes and my girlfriend's apartment for three months, I should get serious about looking for a job, I'm in Washington looking for a job, nobody in Washington who gives jobs cares that I'm here, huh? I got an offer?, I fly back to Washington at my own expense, I'm hired. There were plenty of blips on the screen during those nine months, especially discovering that you only miss being in school once you're not there any more and may never be again. Also among them: finishing 100 pages of the first of what will probably be many drafts of my promising novel/novella (and then leaving it, like so many other projects, on the back burner for a while) and a bunch of other stuff I've decided isn't meant for this post, or even this blog. Sorry to disappoint. You can imagine the unliterary frame of mind I'm in as I wonder where the police are. I could have been dancing a pas de deux with Mr. Felony out there for about half an hour now.

So, as I take stock of my surroundings -- empty cookie tin full of wrappers, bottles of whiskey and champagne sitting on the counter, pile of "former resident" mail on the corner desk, The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes enjoying pride of place next to the laptop, a collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs on the chair, piles of poker chips all over the place -- I find my biggest regret is that 2006 started with neither a bang nor a whimper for me. Just a slight feeling of paranoid euphoria. I'd meant to at least be up in my room meditating and listening to Enya or something. Now I'm waiting for the cops to arrive. Happy bloody New Year to you, too, America.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Last 48 Hours Have Been Really Exciting

I mean that in the way Brent Spiner says it in Independence Day, as in aliens have been destroying everything I hold dear.

I didn't go in to the office today, for a couple of reasons, the greatest of which is my embarrassing infection. I will not describe the symptoms here except to say my problem could easily be mistaken for chlamydia. If I didn't know better, I'd say I caught it off a toilet bowl. (Medical personnel have told me this is impossible. This does not change the fact that A Guy Thing is a taut, well-plotted film.) After doing some free research on the World Wide Web, which is really handy for self-diagnosing things before paying someone else to do a "urine dip," I concluded that I had to get some help. So I went to Planned Parenthood.

The good news is that I'm not pregnant. The bad news is that I am on an expensive regimen of pills. Those bastards only take Blue Cross Blue Shield. (If you are not familiar with my hilarious medical history, please search my blog for "poison oak, costly rashes and.") So I am at home listening to bluegrass, drinking a fine bottle of Sangiovese and wondering what the tests will reveal. Everyone was very kind while I was there, although they kept asking me what the problem seemed to be, which got old after having to say the same thing for the third time I'd already had to write on the form. I'd shrug and laugh it off except my birthday's coming up and it seems inevitable that I will spend it taking antibiotics to keep the fucker from spreading to my kidneys. If it were a sitcom it would be funny. But these are my privates.

So, the inside of a Planned Parenthood, for the curious, is not interesting. It is very much like any other outpatient clinic, except on my way out I heard a girl shyly say she needed a pregnancy test. She and her friend were laughing about it, in a Kafkaesque sort of way, and then I saw her rest her head on her friend's shoulder and start to fill out the form as I walked out the door. This, after overhearing a conversation between a nurse and a staffer outside my waiting room that ended in a long, huskily whispered exchange and then cackling laughter right before the nurse came in. That was not funny. (Also not funny was the cold, which I had to endure sans coat today because I rushed out the door in a hurry to catch the bus.) She said it should take a few days to find out what was wrong with me, then presented me with a bill that turned out to say "$187" in small print at the bottom when I gave it to the receptionist for inspection. If you've ever heard the sound a blimp makes as it slowly loses air and descends into a waiting fire, that was the sound I made.

To cheer myself up I bought about $70 worth of hooch on the way back to the metro, which is easier to do in D.C. than in the Commonwealth of Virginia, let me tell you. (You can't get it on Sundays! In this day and age!) I thought I should give myself an excuse to use my fancy new wine aficionado set, which has come in very handy, thank you. Ahhh, I just took another drink. And another and another.

A brief, disjointed anecdote. Last night, while suffering the effects of my diseasedness, I got off the bus and approached my street only to be spotted by a young Mexican guy, who strategically met me in my path and mumbled something unintelligible. I could tell he was drunk, and I don't know what came over me but I started spouting Spanish. See how much of this you can understand. Soy periodista, hombre. No tengo dinero. Lo siento. (No tengo dinero: the eternal complaint of the periodista.) He said another something, which made me reach for my ace in the hole, namely no habla Espanol. For some reason today this episode made me think of a story a friend told me about being in Spain and demanding to be told where she could go rockclimbing sin ropa, as in bouldering without rope, except ropa, to put it mildly, doesn't mean rope. I think all my words fit in the right order and everything, but it seemed like an appropriately hopeless swing and miss all the same. He kept asking me for money, I gathered, and I pointed to my ear and shook my head. I could swear he said "You suck" before wandering off.

So, long story short, the highlight of my day was lunch at a place called "La Madeleine" in Old Town Alexandria. I mean to share it with others. The soup is exquisite. I wrote most of an essay in my head and then had to go get my pee tested, managing to forget most of the good parts. (It was about how James Wood isn't as great as he used to be. This is an essay that needs to be written. When I am back over the weather I might get to it.) Good thing the office was bare as Ma Hubbard's cupboard today, or I might have had some explaining to do about why I went all the way to Farragut North and didn't bring back any scoops on environmentally friendly paintball strategies.

The one nice thing about having an astronomical cable bill every month is that it comes with all the movie channels you could ever want, and I have recorded Before Sunset to enjoy with my wine. All in all, if you discount the psychological damage and attendant lack of exercise, things are actually looking up.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Oops, There Goes Rabbit

The title of this post owes a hat tip to some Eminem lyrics I won't repost here. If you can tell me what line precedes it, you understand my thinking and you win a prize.

I'm at work after a few well-deserved days off, having crunched away at the end-of-year omnibus issue full time last week. My performance on the job has been nothing short of miraculous so far, getting three articles in each issue (and the front page top spot each time!) and deftly handling the Washington big shots like an old pro. The office is quiet this week -- most people, including the Big Cheese, are away on extended holiday while the potzers and the new guy take their turns "making phone calls" while the city hums with the sound of crickets, because that's all there is. That and the few tourists silly enough to come here in the dead of winter.

Yesterday I took some time to establish my Dining Guide to D.C. -- thanks mostly to the internets, I can now show my girlfriend a good time when she comes to visit in a few weeks. (I even found a German restaurant that serves black beer and peppered potato soup; if you say no to that, you're no kind of woman in my book.) I eagerly await the chance to act like I'm the one who knows his way around town. I still pay cash on the bus. No self-respecting local pays cash on the bus.

Today it's me and my colleague -------- sitting around trying to get work done, although he asked me what I've been reading lately (I waltzed in with a few books under my arm) and we talked about litchratchur for a while, where we are both clearly more comfortable. He wants to be a writer. I did not ask to see his stuff for fear of being upstaged.

After work today I'm heading to a cafe I know to read the evening away. It'll be kind of nice to have everyone out of town, so I can feel good about not doing anything with any of them. We writers are all essentially a solitary lot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Force of Balkan History Has Overtaken My Weblog

I'm genuinely torn about how to respond to the latest comment from Croatia's (probably sole) representative at this blog, found at ''The Gauntlet is Thrown Down.'' On the one hand, I think I've probably stirred a pot I didn't mean to, and I don't want to say anything I couldn't take back later. On the other, it seems like letting the whole exchange end without further input would be a little lazy and unfair of me. This is part of why I set up this blog, although I didn't think it would take quite this form: I like political discussion, and I'm glad to have one on my front page. That having been said, this is a little more serious than ''Republicans are greedy'' or ''Why don't Democrats have any ideas about health care reform?'' This is literally a man's, and a country's, ruined past we're talking about. It would almost be flippant of me to say I'm in over my head a little.

So let me go forward with some trepidation. This started when I wrote about Ante Gotovina being arrested and irresponsibly called his supporters ''bloodthirsty millions,'' which I would like to apologize for and retract. Croatians of the early 1990s have a legitimate claim to being victims of an aggressor with superior numbers and a relative unconcern for the laws of war, and I don't want to suggest any ultimate moral equivalence between Serb and Croat behavior during that period. I think I've stayed fairly well on the side of reason in my commentary so far, however, when it comes to describing Croatian President Tudjman's outlook on the ''Serb question,'' on which he was unapologetically nationalist and exclusionary. This is primarily where I take my cues when it comes to deciding what I think Ante Gotovina was told to do during Operation Storm -- that is, not only ''retake the region'' for Croatia but to burn out every ethnic Serb in sight. I admit I could be wrong. But Tudjman does most of my arguing for me (see his quote from the previous post) and I think the burden is on the defense here to show me where I'm wrong. You could fairly argue that Gotovina isn't responsible for the words of his superiors and that he acted more honorably than his leaders' attitudes would suggest, which remains to be seen at trial, but my point is that the commenter returns again and again to what happened to Croatia during those years, which was undeniably an atrocity (a fact spelled out in a book I cited in one of my first few posts on this blog, several months ago, which I have read and highly recommend), and I want to keep the focus on Gotovina's direct responsibilities. As I tried to suggest by mentioning the case of those three Kosovar defendants, everyone is capable of war crimes, even if they didn't start the war or want to fight it. I realize Croatia suffered under Milosevic, and under the communists before him. I realize, as the commenter has told me, that he experienced the sort of ugliness, warfare and heartbreak I can only imagine. There's no denying the gap in stature here. But I don't believe that means I have nothing to offer to the discussion. The commenter has kept a fairly tight lid on his emotions, having not told me to go to hell, and I thank him. I don't like the feeling that he thinks I have it easy, sitting here in the U.S. sniping away at people I know nothing about, while he has to live with memories I don't even want to consider. So I am going to continue with the provisional understanding that he thinks it's worth it to consider the evidence, whether or not I'm the source.

The only link the commenter provided in English -- the rest are in Croatian and are unavailable to me, since I don't know anyone who could translate them -- was the article I linked to as an ''apologist.'' Written by Jeffrey Kuhner, an editor at the extremely conservative Washington Times, owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, it lays out a scenario in which Bill Clinton could be indicted for war crimes because of Operation Storm, and argues that Gen. Gotovina helped American interests by stopping Milosevic. This is one of the main arguments I tried to address earlier: Operation Storm did not help stop Milosevic and was not about the broader war effort, to my understanding. It was about getting rid of ethnic Serbs who had lived in Croatia for a long time. Here is a report on what happened during and after Operation Storm that relies on news articles and UN/EU field analysis, which, if even half true, puts the lie to claims that Croatians did nothing wrong in Krajina. The footnotes include some work done by Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times and author of a short but powerful book on what his career did to his soul. (I should note that although I could have cobbled the same sources together and written my own very similar article, if given a few weeks with nothing else to do and no employer wondering where the hell I was, this link comes from The Emperor's New Clothes, a site with some deeply embarrassing pro-Milosevic leanings. Take it with a grain of salt, if you like, but in this case the evidence speaks for itself even if the messenger is unreliable.) Again, there's no comparison when it comes to Milosevic and his crimes lined up against the Croatian ''crime'' of response and retaliation. Overall, the Serbs were the bad guys, and they should face their past. But, despite the fact that I was not there, I can say with certainty that none of this excuses the conduct of Operation Storm. Nothing I have read about it does not include the words ''burned-out homes,'' ''civilian deaths'' and ''thousands evicted.'' Was this all justifiable from a military point of view? I don't know what the commenter believes and I won't speak for him. My answer is no.

A little about Serbian Krajina is probably in order. (Click here to read the Wikipedia take on it, which seems to conform to the well-known facts and the fairness of which is not in dispute, which is more than a lot of articles can say.) Its history is as confused and complicated as most of the Balkans, with the usual amount of third-party meddling. In the relatively recent past, it was part of Yugoslavia after being used as a military buffer territory by the Austrians against the Ottoman Empire. During the Nazi period the pro-German Croatian government (the Ustashe) took the opportunity to kill a lot of ethnic Serbs, which led to widespread mistrust and ethnic resentment during the Cold War years. Milosevic used this sentiment, against the Croatians and pretty much every other group, to gain support during his runup to power. He in turn started killing Croatians, Bosnians, Kosovar Albanians and anyone else he could blame, and each national government found itself at war with its neighbor. Into this mix were thrown ethnic _______s (take your pick: Albanians, Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, Slovenes) living outside their ethnic country of origin -- these were often seen as potential spies and were treated harshly, sometimes with some justification, usually not. Operation Storm was based on the idea that the Krajina Serbs, who had gained independence from Croatia with help and arms from their big brother Serb government partners, were going to help Milosevic wipe out the rest of Croatia. This is where history becomes personal, and where it stops being quite so academically clear-cut. Milosevic said roughly the same thing about the Kosovars who wanted independence from his criminal rule: that they were opposed to Mother Serbia and would undermine the whole country unless they were stopped. We in America tend to think they had every right to independence, since he was such a thug. The Krajina Serbs can be thought of in somewhat the same vein, as Croatia's Kosovars -- members of a historically persecuted ethnic minority who saw an opportunity to leave Croatia and join with Serbia. At first they tried referendums on independence, which passed because voting was coordinated by and confined to ethnic Serbs (but was opposed by the rest of Croatia), but after Milosevic stepped in they became very hardline and started their own ethnic cleansing campaign to drive non-Serbs out of Krajina. The Croats responded in kind. This paragraph from Wikipedia tells it best:

Although it was less violent and so attracted much less attention from the international media, a parallel process of ethnic cleansing took place in the Croatian-held parts of the Krajina and in other parts of Croatia. Thousands of Serbs were forced to leave their homes through fear of reprisals, pressure from Croatian nationalists and paramilitary actions. Many took refuge in the Serbian Krajina, occupying homes vacated by Croats. Similarly, exiled Krajina Croats moved into homes vacated by Serbs elsewhere in Croatia.
Everyone, in other words, took ethnic sides and started shooting at their neighbors.

Operation Storm happened in 1995, well after these events in 1991. The Croatian government, under Tudjman's leadership, decided to retake those parts of Serb Krajina that had belonged to it. (The intervening years consisted of a Croat vs. Krajina Serb war followed by three uneasy years of ceasefire, during which Serb Krajina was acknowledged as independent from Croatia for the time being but never recognized politically by most countries.) The Krajina Serbs were economically devastated, reliant on a corrupt leadership in Belgrade and politically split between two rival leaders. Croatia attacked and succeeded in winning the territory back. The commenter is of course correct that Serb Krajina, at its height, accounted for about one third of Croatia. It is understandable that the government wanted it back. That's not what the dispute is about. The dispute is about how they went about getting it back. According to Wikipedia,

Prosecutors have indicated that, had he not died, President Tuđman probably would have faced indictment for his actions in the expulsion of the Krajina Serbs.

The trial will determine, I believe fairly, whether Gotovina led an overly aggressive ethnic cleansing campaign in the course of that operation or whether, as the commenter and others suggest, he and his troops were exercising their legitimate military imperatives in a time of war. Everyone recognizes that Croats killed innocent Serbs during Operation Storm. The question is whether that was official policy, i.e. whether Gotovina knew about it or could do anything about it. I haven't seen the prosecutor's notes, and the commenter hasn't seen the defense team's notes. We can't really prosecute this case on my blog. So, as a way of saying ''I don't know what else to say,'' I'd like to close this discussion by thanking the commenter for calling me on some uncalled-for language, for making me re-examine the evidence, for reacquainting me with a period of history we all tend to forget about and for being a worthy opponent. If he has anything else to say, I invite him to do so, with the caveat that I may not respond again in this format.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Gauntlet is Thrown Down

An anonymous commenter had a few words for me regarding my take on suspected war criminal Ante Gotovina's recent arrest. His (I'm assuming it's a man) full statement is available in that post's comment section, but select portions are reprinted here because I think they demand a response. Feel free to see whether I'm taking anything out of context.

He writes: "Unfortunately you should know that there are 4,2 mln croatian citizens of which around 80% of them are Croats which gives 3,28 mln Croats in total. 'Bloodthirsty milions' is something that only stupid man without any common knowledge of recent war history in Croatia could wrote."

This is true, and I should have checked the numbers before shooting my mouth off. I don't think there are literally more than 2 million people in Croatia who hold Ante Gotovina to be a personal hero, and the commenter is right to call me out. That having been said, I submit that in general terms I'm not far off in my estimation of his support base. Reuters writes the following: "A survey in a Croatian newspaper on Sunday said 53 percent of Croats thought Gotovina's arrest was bad news for Croatia. Only 5 percent thought he was guilty as charged." And I want to stress that the Gotovina legend is by no means a small one. The Scotsman, not exactly a bastion of anti-Croat sentiment, reports that "The indicted Croatian general Ante Gotovina, awaiting trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, could receive 100,000 Christmas cards from supporters in his home country who see him as an independence war hero." Even if he's somehow found not guilty, a prospect that grows less likely every day and will only diminish as the trial progresses, there's something that doesn't sit right about that figure. It's well known that his assignment during wartime, within his area of operations, was to drive out as many Serbs as possible, whether or not they were enemy combatants. The whole basis of his indictment is the charge that he oversaw the killing of more than a hundred, and the forcible removal of around 150,000, ethnic Serbs in Croatian territory. Relevant portions of the indictment read as follows (note the year is 1995, well after the outbreak of hostilities, not 1991, at the beginning):

"On 4 August 1995, the Republic of Croatia launched a military offensive known as 'Oluja' or 'Storm' ('Operation Storm'), with the objective of re-taking the Krajina region. Ante GOTOVINA was the overall operational commander of the Croatian forces that were deployed as part of Operation Storm in the southern portion of the Krajina region, including the municipalities, in whole or in part, of Benkovac, Gracac, Knin, Obrovac, Sibenik, Sinj and Zadar. On 7 August 1995, the Croatian government announced that the Operation had been successfully completed. Follow-up actions continued until about 15 November 1995. In early August 1995, following the re-taking of the Krajina region, Ante GOTOVINA moved his headquarters to Knin, the capital of the Krajina region, which was located within the Split Military District."


Count 1, Persecutions, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces directed violent and intimidating acts against Krajina Serbs, including the plunder and destruction of their property, thereby forcing them to flee the southern portion of the Krajina region. These acts were intended to discourage or prevent those who had already fled the area, either immediately before or during Operation Storm in anticipation of an armed conflict, from returning to their homes. The effect of these violent and intimidating acts was a deportation and/or displacement of tens of thousands of Krajina Serbs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The Prosecution alleges that the following two acts were natural and foreseeable consequences of the joint criminal enterprise, and on that basis also contributed to the offence of persecutions."

Count 2, Murder, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces murdered at least 150 Krajina Serbs by means of shooting, burning or stabbing. Specifically referred to in this Amended Indictment are the murders of 1 person in the Benkovac Municipality, 30 persons in the Knin Municipality, and 1 person in the Korenica Municipality.
Listed in the Schedule, attached hereto, are further particulars of such murders. Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, the accused Ante GOTOVINA knew or had reason to know that forces under his effective control were about to murder Krajina Serbs as described in paragraph 28 above, or had done so. The accused Ante GOTOVINA failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the commission of such acts or punish the perpetrators thereof."

Count 4, Wanton Destruction, includes this article: "Between 4 August 1995 and 15 November 1995, Croatian forces systematically set fire to or otherwise destroyed villages, homes, outbuildings and barns belonging to Krajina Serbs, killed their livestock and spoiled their wells. Thousands of dwellings in the Municipalities of Benkovac, Donji Lapac, Drnis, Gospic, Gracac, Knin, Korenica, Obrovac, Sibenik, Sinj and Zadar were destroyed."

It goes on like that for a while. The whole idea that Gotovina was some sort of freedom fighter, driving out an ethnic fifth column, is terribly hollow. Frankly, it sounds a lot like the arguments now being made on his own behalf by Slobodan Milosevic. The Krajina Serbs themselves won their independence from a Croatian government they felt was oppressing them. Gotovina retaking the area did nothing to protect Croatia from outside invasion.

The numbers may seem comparatively small in the context of all-out ethnic warfare, which is essentially what was going on in the Balkans in the early to mid-'90s. The problem, I think, is that the commenter wants to suggest that not only were Croatians victims of the oppressive Yugoslav government -- an arguably true statement -- but that Gotovina was right to do what he did, which is an indefensible statement. If you want to talk about history, sure, go down that road. But the crimes he's accused of are essentially reducible to premeditated murder and persecution. If you are found to be guilty of the things he's charged with, there are no outs for you, legal, historical or otherwise. If he really knew nothing about it, then he will be found not guilty and will go free. My fear is that the commenter believes everything the charges say about the man and thinks there's nothing wrong with it.

He writes: "...the good General is 'suspected' of leading an illegal ethnic cleansing operation during the Yugoslav breakup... - he is really suspected but not guilty until proven, even you should know that."

I do know he has not been found guilty. I also know indicted co-conspirators Mladen Markac, Rahim Ademi and Ivan Cermak gave themselves up to UN authorities after their warrants were made public, and that Gotovina went into hiding instead. I also know that Saddam Hussein is and will be found guilty of his own crimes against humanity. If you don't like my standards of evidence -- pieces of which are here (see the end of this post for a relevant quote), here (his old boss), here and here, for starters -- you're free to engage in a debate with me about calling someone guilty before the court says I can. I'm comfortable with my perspective on the matter. I don't see any reason to believe Gotovina is or will be found innocent. The commenter, I can only surmise, believes he may be found guilty but should walk nonetheless. I'm not really sure because he doesn't address Gotovina's guilt or innocence directly in his response, only my characterization of the Balkan situation.

To whit, he writes: "It was not Yugoslav breakup, it was legitimate showing of will of one nation to free itself from comunist totalitar regime that was surpressing any mode of freedom including freedom of thougt."

I'm not sure this is a historical argument so much as a statement of principle. Croatia fought a war of independence as part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, so you can parse that however you like. I wholeheartedly sympathize with the oppressed millions living under tyrannical regimes of every stripe, and I think a bad government is the worst thing you could wish on your enemy. But this isn't the same thing as an analysis of what Gotovina is supposed to have done. Given the commenter's tone here, I can only guess that he sees Croatia primarily as the underdog in the fight, and as such it is/was entitled to do whatever necessary to "free" itself. The whole point in this case is that the methods of achieving "freedom" for Krajina were no better than the terrorism Croats suffered under Milosevic and others before him. Once freedom fighters embrace the methods of their oppressors, they lose their claim to the moral upper hand.

Finally, he writes: "Trying to show croatian guilt for defending itself is far away from any truth. [...] Please, don't say that victim and agressor are the same. Just remember Vukovar & Dubrovnik, you need no more than that and don't let real perpetrators to slip away."

The real perpetrators have indeed slipped away, at least a few of the big fish, although this has nothing to do with Gotovina. His actions were not at all analogous to defending Croatia from Serb invasion, a canard that has been passed around in endless permutations for a long time. ("I did it because they were attacking my people." This is, or can be, the rallying cry of the despot.) Vukovar and Dubrovnik were glaring instances of aggressive, punitive action by the Serb military, and Croatians are right not to give Serbia any leeway when it claims to be the little guy. But all of this obscures the point in the same way as before: none of this makes stooping to their level the right (or legal) thing to do. Arresting and trying Gotovina in no way excuses or pardons Serb or Bosnian warlords, and the UN tribunal prosecutors have said as much. All are punished. Anyone who loves Croatia should want to see its record restored to some level of integrity. Insisting Gotovina did nothing wrong when he led an ethnic cleansing campaign is not the way to go about that project. Unfortunately the commenter is not the only apologist writing in English. (For a less dramatic and very interesting, albeit pro-Gotovina, discussion of the case on a well-educated religious web board, see here. A misleading conversation at the board leaves the impression that UN prosecutors are weaselling their way into an indictment of Gotovina as part of a farfetched "criminal enterprise" legal trick, which is not true. The case fact sheet at states "Pursuant to the orders of Ante Gotovina, these forces allegedly carried out the acts as charged in the indictment. According to the indictment, Ante Gotovina, by his acts and omissions, encouraged others, including Croatian civilians, to also perpetrate those acts that are mentioned in the indictment. Further, the accused had a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety and he failed to fulfil this duty." The prosecutors will have to prove this, of course -- the important thing is that Gotovina is charged with direct authority and complicity, not the lesser charge of essentially being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the board members seem to think.)

It's worth noting that very few Croatian generals (or any generals) come out looking good from the era. The Franjo Tudjman government is widely understood to have been a nationalist and irresponsible period in Croatian history, with a terrible political record. (Tudjman died of cancer a few years ago before he could be indicted.) For Gotovina to be innocent of the charges against him, he would have to rise far, far above the standard of his contemporaries. I'm not saying it's impossible, only that you have to see Gotovina as a beacon of light in very dark company, and I've never seen any reason to view him that way.

Before I forget, an interesting case recently concluded at The Hague in which two Kosovars charged with running a detention camp were set free and a third was sentenced to 13 years. Not a lot of people know even Kosovo had its share of war criminals in the bad old days.

And as promised, the quote from that link. The speaker is Tudjman, then president of Croatia and the man giving Gotovina his orders.

"PRESIDENT: Prime Minister Valentic, with the Serbs in Croatia, those who are now leading Knin and Baranja, no. But that is just a small group, and they still depend on Belgrade. And the problem is, will the international community force Belgrade to stop supplying them? The moment when Serbia is forced to do this, then we are going to solve the question of Serbs in Croatia. Then that miserable group of some 10 to 20 percent will leave Croatia and then we shall solve that.

And it is clear that we shall not be able to solve it. But should we begin only with that premise, then that means war, which the world will not permit. That is not the only focal point, only the question of national minorities in Croatia. Such problems exist throughout the world, in the Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East, etc. The international community is oriented toward the resolution of these questions in a peaceful way - for example, as the relations between the Arabs and Israel are being resolved - and that directs us to follow that path, not by war; whereas in our country there is a growing understanding that Croatia must resolve the problem by war, contrary to international norms, meaning by ethnically cleansing the Serbs from Croatia.

That is happening in practice because we cannot hide that they have the information that in Slavonia, western Slavonia, some thirty Serb villages disappeared from the face of the earth, and that now these three, four Serb villages were eradicated. This creates a certain picture of Croatia on which we cannot build our political status or economic relations with the world. Understand that."

If Gotovina wasn't engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign, he had to be pretty much out of the loop. But being the head commander of one of Croatia's biggest offensives of the 1990s puts him pretty squarely in the loop. You can judge for yourself.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

And He Was Enjoying Such a Fine Cognac on The Beach

I wrote earlier in the life of this blog about the Milosevic trial ongoing at The Hague. Somewhere in there I mentioned the sinister figure of Ante Gotovina, hero to the bloodthirsty millions of Croats who wanted to see their neighbors' heads on a collective pig pole. The good General is "suspected" of leading an illegal ethnic cleansing operation during the Yugoslav breakup -- doing his dirty work under cover of the fog of war, or so he thought. Well, last week he was caught lounging around the Canary Islands and is now going to answer a few questions for the authorities. This has boosted morale at Interpol and hopes are running high that nailing Karadzic and Mladic, who I labeled as "the Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri of Balkan fugitives," could be soon to follow. Read the article.

Political News, Everyone

Bush says Congress saw the same intelligence he did before invading Iraq. Dianne Feinstein asked Congressional researchers to verify that statement. They came back with a verdict: completely untrue.

By the way, the title of this blog entry owes a hat-tip to Ricky Gervais of "The Office" (original version), who follows the line by explaining why he and his pet mutt Nelson ("named after Nelson Mandela, the great leader") have been banned from Wernham Hogg. The scene, like most others, is worth the price of the series all by itself.

Like a Debutante, Except in Boots

I've been putting myself out there socially as much as possible, since this is a town where it pays to know people and I don't know people yet. (For instance, if there were an announcement about a film festival where Kate Hudson was scheduled to give a short speech about baby seals and the flier said "Anyone who's anyone in D.C. will be there," I would not be there. So far, despite my badgering the publishers of "Who's Who" down the street, I am no one in this town.) Friday was the office Christmas party, where I was a big hit with my old lampshade-on-the-head routine and my offensive imitations of the boss, including some well-timed flatulence that really helped sell a punchline. Afterwards I went home and tried to take it from a 10 to about a 4 -- sit around smugly, enjoy some cheap sherry, read a book. But life, as the old saying goes, is what happens when you're making other plans, and JC arrived on the scene -- the telephone scene -- and told me there was a to-do in the District. I sauntered back out into the cold, as I always do, although it was after 9:00 and I was really cherishing my stuffed bear and Martin Amis collection. In order to arrive at the appointed place at the appointed time, I had to wait for the bus next to a lunatic Hispanic gentleman who pretended -- the word is not too strong -- to understand what I was saying, nodding and saying "Yes, I know, I know" and grinning like a con artist. It wouldn't have been half as bad if I hadn't really needed some answers out of him, like "Did the 10A arrive already?" and "What time is it?" and "Which bus are you waiting for?" ("Yes, I know! Ha ha ha!") When you don't speak the language, please remember that faking it is a not a viable strategy.

Eventually I left him behind and waited at a different stop for a different route, which came promptly, validating my somewhat callous behavior. Then it was three Metros to the spot, where I met him as expected (he'd planned to meet at a Starbuck's near Dupont Circle and it was closed when I got there -- he said we weren't meant to go in anyway) and where we continued to a house party, if that's what you can call four drunks sitting around blasting away at full glasses of imported Scotch. This is what happens, just for your information, when most of your friends are law students fresh from the semester's final exam. Making your living from studying patent law really makes you want to drink yourself stupid.

I sampled a curious concoction from Sicily, one of only two people man enough to do so, that looked about as green as absinthe -- and I mean the real stuff, not our namby-pamby watered-down Absente -- and tasted about twice as strong. It really was like drinking 150-proof freshly mown grass. I wish I remember the name, but someone told me this was the last time I'd ever be able to drink this, so likely as not someone brought it back from the home country anyway. We all sat around, agreeing that it was fine not to be in school -- although I had a bit of a different take on it than these poor suckers -- and wondering what to do with ourselves. Ardbeg, Talisker, port: these all made their merry way around the table, again and again, and let me tell you that I cannot drink nearly as much Scotch as these people. The last straw was the black-haired son of Greek immigrants downing three fingers of 12-year-old single malt in a trice without so much as cocking an eyebrow. (That is when you know you are going to "vacate," in lawyer's parlance, which he did soon after.) Eventually the last of the popcorn was eaten and a few of us decided to head out and make a night of it. J can be very convincing when he offers to shepherd you around town and show you a good time. So we went.

The first spot was unmemorable and we left soon after arriving. (Greek had followed us at first, but he went to a friend's apartment to sleep it off. This was fine because he had spent the walk to the bar speaking obscenities in his mother tongue.) We proceeded to a spot called Utopia, which I have to say was a real winner: nice ambience, live jazz -- sounding good without being unspeakably loud -- swell drink menu, appropriately urbane waitstaff, etc. We had two drinks there, despite my earlier vow to J that I would drink nothing and despite the Scotch and a revolting bottle of Amstel Light, and finally took a cab back to his place, where I slept on the couch.

In the morning he appeared in the living room with red underpants, a confused look and a screaming hangover. He had a hot train to catch and for time's sake I had to drive him, in his fancy new lawyer car, to Union Station where he was ticketed to the NYC. I was left to navigate my way, quite helplessly, back to his place some blocks away. After driving donuts in the pickup/dropoff area for about five minutes, I found my way out into traffic and promptly got lost, wandering aimlessly up and down the streets, knowing the intersection I had to get back to, not knowing why I was still lost when I got there. Where to park? Where do I turn in? What is that green fire hydrant doing over there? I broke down and called him, now ensconced on the 11:35 to Manhattan, and he talked me through it, even generously (if unadvisedly) offering to let me use the car for the day. I thought about it. Then I parked and decided I wanted nothing more to do with driving these misbegotten roundabout streets.

I got home and packed my Christmas gifts, then my roommate -------- (the shifty fellow) kindly drove me to the nearest FedEx where I shipped everything -- not exactly in the nick of time, since it was about 5:00 on a Saturday and the last express pickup had been some hours ago -- and from whence we proceeded to "grab some Chinese," as bachelors have it. We had a good talk and he gained my friendship and nodding respect. He knows things.

In the evening I had a party invitation to follow up on, so I hopped a bus -- always to go into the city, I must hop a bus, a most undignified affair in winter -- and headed to Crystal City Metro Station, as usual, thence to Foggy Bottom by way of L'Enfant Plaza and Metro Center, neither of which I would have gotten off at had I known where I was going. The problem was this: I am new to cell phone etiquette, and I had forgotten to charge my nearly dead unit before leaving the house. I had to place a call to my friend ----- (a hilarious guy from work, unbeknownst to the rest of those fuddy-duddies) to ask for directions, and actually managed to do so except he did not answer. I told him I was on the subway and didn't know where to go exactly -- I had an intersection to head to from earlier in the week that he'd handed me furtively, but not knowing the city I didn't know which stop to "vacate." I turned my phone off to save battery after leaving him a message, thinking I'd turn it back on in five minutes, eagerly anticipating some final instructions that would save me the embarrassment of screaming for help. I turned it on as planned, dialed my message box and was greeted with the following: "Hi, it's ----..... Uhhh, it's about two thirty my time, whiiiiiich I thiiiiiink means it's abooooouuuuuut four" and then a beep because the phone was dead. I submit to the reader that everyone was at fault here.

I found the place after a stranger let me use his phone on the street -- I offered to take off my boots so I wouldn't run away with it, and he looked like he was weighing the possibility before telling me it wouldn't be necessary. The party was a fine time, especially because of the outrageous seventh-floor view from the window wall overlooking Foggy Bottom. Even at night the town is worth staring at. I made myself as much of a nuisance as usual, splashing my head in the punch bowl and accusing people of spying on me. My workmate suggested a game in which we pick people's most outstanding physical flaw and exploit it in conversation, which we played from the safety of a couch without the attendant shame of having our own foibles thrown back in our faces. He, for instance, has a haircut that looks fresh off the assembly line. I couldn't figure out how to use that, but the brilliant assemblage of lawyers, magistrates and noblemen surely would have laid him low. He did put a permanent chit in his bank account with a notice that a certain partygoer was the spitting image of an early Bond villain, someone "who looks like he could really make trouble for Double Oh-Seven." You kind of had to be there to see this person to appreciate how hilariously apt the whole thing was. Saggy eyes, thin beard/moustache, pale skin, humorless expression, like a Soviet apparatchik trying to steal a missile.

Eventually I gambled that the Metro was still running at 2:00 -- thankfully it does, which I thought should be the case -- and finally got home around 3:00, after a short jaunt in a taxi with a driver from Gambia, where he often returns. Good guy. Deep, hearty voice. Hat.

Today I took it easy. I have been eating the same box of leftover veggie fried rice all day and wish I could put something better in my system. I'm headed to Chris' house for dinner and to meet his other daughter, fresh from her second year of architecture undergrad. I hope I am not the evening's main entertainment. I am running on empty after doing the old soft shoe all weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I Get My Christmas Goose Early This Year

My laptop arrived, heralding a new age of peace and prosperity. I don't know what spirit got hold of the UPS driver who brought it all the way from Malaysia in such a hurry, but he must know how I feel about him. For every computer the postal service brings, an angel gets its wings, or so the rhyme goes around the neighborhood. I haven't listened that carefully yet, though -- it could be something about stopping polluters.

It Starts When You're Always Afraid

I was mildly chastised this morning for not locking the door on my way out. Never mind that someone else was still in the house; the tradition, before I ever appeared on the scene, has been to lock the door whenever you darken the frame, passing in or out, for any reason, no matter if it's broad daylight and the living room is full of strong men and whisky. "You never know, because people are doing their own thing and not watching the door," I was told. I can play a lot of ball. A lot. But this is too much ball, or will be one day a few months from now. Something to consider as you wonder whether to move into a townhouse -- the fearsome, neverending crime rate and attendant paranoia will suffocate your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dissing Rumi

One of my roommates approached me while I was in bed reading last night. She knocked on the door and asked whether she could open it, as if I'd be worshipping Ba'al or flashing out the window, and opened it without a flourish. She said the following: "I don't know -------- (our other roommate) that well, but it's just a good idea not to leave money lying around the house." This is my bus fare, which I keep near the door every day. The point is that by standing in my doorway, she was also standing right outside his door. I asked if he was in. "Yes," she said, "he's in there watching television."

The Bus

Last night it was very difficult to get all the way home. Timing the buses is tricky when you don't know the schedule by heart, which I don't, so I left the office at precisely the wrong moment not knowing any better and ended up facing a half-hour wait for the next 10P at the Crystal City Metro stop. I decided to gamble, because even at a balmy 27 it felt more like 16, and went to catch the 10A a few blocks up. It was dark. I was afraid. When I got to the right street a hulking bus loomed out of the pitch, but its front display lights weren't working and I couldn't tell which route it ran. It was just across the intersection from me -- I was facing it -- but the lights were against us, which served me right because I had crossed to this wrong side of the road, wondering where exactly the stop was. At the last moment it drove past me, the feeble side window flashing 10A just for spite, and I wailed as it disappeared into the Virginia gloom. I ran alongside it knowing things were hopeless. Then I walked to dinner.

I was thinking I'd eat someplace near a different stop I know, so I had Thai, and just as the check was coming the bus drove past the window where I had been enjoying the fine neon view. I thought I could time it. I was wrong. It was dark. I was still afraid.

I finally got home, and this morning there was an adorable Russian girl, about four years old, kicking her feet in her chair and talking with her grandmother. I don't speak Russian, but I think the girl said she didn't want to sit near me any more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

High Times at the National Gallery

After my episode, J took me to a greasy spoon and then had to get back to law school, so I walked myself to a fine neighborhood bookstore and bought a signed copy of a Claire Messud novel. (Look her up. Especially who she's married to.) Then I mosied, which is not too strong a word, all the way to the National Art Gallery, where I enjoyed the fine collection of old illuminated manuscripts -- a traveling exhibit, or at least temporary -- and the rest of their offering, which is truly the national offering. Eventually I went to Chris' house for dinner and watched "The Third Man." Normally I'd expound on the meaning of all this a bit more, but I'm writing from work and there's something unsettling about doing anything here. When my Christmas laptop arrives I will be in better form.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All Scotch and No Water Make Me a Sick Boy

For all of you who thought I'd abandoned the blog: nothing could be further from the truth. It has been on my mind. I just haven't had the internets handy lately. I ordered a new laptop, sort of a Christmas present to myself, and lo and behold it's scheduled to arrive "between the 24th and the 26th," whenever that means. So once that's safely ensconced in my warm hands, you can read regular fascinating dispatches every night around meal time. Until then, things are going to be spotty. My old clunker won't connect, is the problem.

Long story short, I went out with J.C. again last night (and I don't mean the Lord), this time in the company of his band of merry men and women, some of whom can literally drink a crew of sailors under the table. It was somebody's birthday and I was tangentially connected to one of her satellite friends, and in this town that's more than enough to get you in the door, so there I was at the Black Cat getting a hangover handed to me every fifteen minutes or so, except of cource I didn't know it at the time. I woke up this morning on J's couch pullout to the sounds of the TiVo humming its way through a recording of Meet the Press. Lindsey Graham forcefully reminded the country, and this is a direct quote, that "The Vice President is not the Vice President of Torture." He gave a weird rendition of "Reading my Talking Points" throughout the morning, staring at his piece of paper for seconds at a time, staring off into space for others. J and I went out to breakfast at one of his favorite neighborhood spots, a greasy spoon with supposedly good grits that I couldn't finish because my gut was rotted all the way through. I am slowly recovering. At least I can type. That's big.

Back to work tomorrow. I get to re-edit my own stories AND my editor's.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Old Friends and Sharp Cheddar

I tracked down my old friend J.C. last night, and I don't mean the Lord. We spent a delightful evening at his friend's restaurant -- Sonoma, in Southeast (barely) -- where they serve you a wide array of lovingly hand-crafted cheeses as an appetizer, provided you order and pay for them. We also had a bottle of wine and both had to send back the gnocchi, which they didn't tell us was made in fish broth with roe. It tasted like scales. Sad.

As a side note, I should remind everyone to be careful what you wish for. Everyone where I come from wistfully chuckles about seeing "real seasons," but in my case "real seasons" turned into four inches of snow last night. So J.C. gets the last laugh.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Puttin' on the Ritz

Here is how I ended up out on the town Friday evening: I decided I would just ask people whether they'd like to hang out after work, and I started with the British chap who works around the corner from my desk. He's about my age and seems to have worked there for a little while, so I figured he'd know the neighborhood and know how to show the new guy a good time. Little did I suspect that he has a Mormon friend, and that they had already planned "a dinner" (his words) for the night. Now, the important thing to remember about him is that he's the office heartthrob, at least so far, and that his dashingly proper good looks have won the open admiration of the men and women of the office alike. He is always faultlessly appointed and speaks with a slight air of bemused distraction. I thought he was just being British. It turns out he is gay. I'm not the first one to miss it. More on that in a moment.

The next person I quarried was the former reporter of a little newspaper in northern New Mexico -- I won't name any names in this post, on the one-in-a-million chance I could get Dooced -- but he said he had "a thing" (again, his words) and that he had another thing after that, so no luck. I didn't really have a strategy any better than nabbing people as they crossed my field of vision, so I wasn't especially disappointed, although the British guy WOULD have been, how do you say, fun to get to know better. On my third try I struck paydirt with the new girl at the office, who said she and her friends were going out for happy hour after getting off (an unintentionally hilarious term!) and invited me to join them. I waited for everyone to finish their hard work while I prayed for return phone calls that never came, and finally we were on our way, having picked up a few extra members of our gaggle on the way out, including one of the senior editors. We walked and talked and ended up at Jaleo in Crystal City, which was delightful if a bit expensive (since we missed happy hour after some delays) and where I got to know the other guy in the office also about my age, who apparently has some sort of solid social alliance with the new girl, both of them having come on board a week apart and both being called "newbie" around the office ever since, to great fanfare and amusement. They both started calling me Fetch, as in "me a danish," maybe as a term of endearment, probably because they fear that I will upstage them. I told them my office nickname is going to be Hercules, not Fetch, and they both cowered and started to wail.

The Guy -- for now I will call him G and her NG -- told me a funny story about the Brit that went something like: "I was at a party with him and I had made a few joking comments that he misunderstood as sexual interest. He was there with his boyfriend and took me aside to tell me he was with THAT guy and was I okay with that." You sort of had to be there, drinking sangria, to understand why it was so ribald and amusing, but I think you get the gist of it. Anyway, the editor made a very nice gesture and a lot of friends by paying for everything before ducking out. The rest of us, a gaggle of Young Urban Professionals dressed in jackets against the cold weather (except me, who tied mine around my waist in the 20-degree black of night and showed my bare arms to the gods), headed out into the big city for a round of serious drinking and carousing. I soon decided I would not drink and carouse as much as the rest, because I do not want to and because at the time I preferred the taste of coffee. So at the first bar I ordered a coffee and a hot fudge brownie. I'd give it all about an 8.5 and I would say it was a good choice.

We bounced around for most of the evening, at one point taking the Metro to Farragut West just to go to an Irish place called Mackie's (or Mackey's or some other name that stank of whiskey). On our way back to Crystal City our party, which numbered five in all and four after we left the pub, encountered a distraught girl crying into her hands at the Metro stop, which was underground like the rest and which was at least warm enough not to freeze her tears. None of us knew what to do -- one of the girls asked her whether she was alright before being brushed away. We stood there, all our jokes and fun sort of evaporating before our eyes, wondering whether we should offer to get a cab for her or -- what? Thankfully a black gentleman appeared and handled it with a lot more class than we were capable of, helping her to her feet, asking her what was wrong, helpfully guiding her onto the subway when it arrived, sitting next to her in the car, talking with her soothingly, letting her rest her head on his shoulder. It was a sort of incredible scene, actually, something real after the unreality of the joust. After she got off to go to her car, we asked him what had happened and he told us she thought her boyfriend had left her. They'd been together all evening and when she turned around to see him on her way down into the subway he wasn't there and his phone wasn't answering. I don't know how distraught she really needed to be -- it didn't sound like he'd secretly broken up with her and run off into the night; more likely he was as worried someplace as she was -- but his stepping up made everything feel like it had turned out for the best. Finally we went our separate ways and G drove me home, thankfully sober after enough time spent unpickling in the cold. I had a very good time and will do it again.

When I got home I curled into bed with my trusty lamp, which finally arrived through FedEx, and read a few pages of "The War Against Cliche" by Martin Amis, which has been like an old friend since I got here. (You may note it was the first book I've purchased in D.C., at my roommate's bookstore with her substantial discount.) I went to bed feeling like I'm finally really living here, not just shacking up while I go to work. And incidentally, my congressional press credentials photo looks very flattering.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tender Mercies

On Tuesday night I had to improvise a transportation route home, since I'd previously taken a roundabout way to get my cell phone. I stood there in the dark waiting for the 10A, that trusty purveyor of human baggage, and wondering when the hell it would show up, enjoying the sights at the corner of S. 15th and Eads, which include a Bank of America and a dark building. I called the Washington Metro Association. It was not helpful. Most of you who know me know that cold and gusty winds do not bother me and that I am superhuman, so you should take it as an indication of the weather that I say it was feckin' COLD that evening. To be frank, my nipples hardened and began to chafe against my shirt. A guy walked by looking like a typical Washington stooge, and I asked him whether he had change for a dollar because I'd forgotten my quarters. He reached into his voluminous pockets, withdrew a princely sum and gave it all to me, in copper and silver, saying "No worries, man." That helped keep me a little warmer. For a little while. Then the bus still didn't show up, and I peered into the night, weeping.

Fantastic Update

The conference ended without much fanfare, although I did conduct several interviews in the presence of military minders and one without. The problem with getting anyone from the defense industry, even a scientist, to talk is that they're risk-averse and don't want to be quoted by name for fear of displeasing their overlords. I had to get lucky and stumble across key people who either a) liked me and were friendly or b) were so high up that they couldn't possibly say anything without attaching their name and title to their words. I did some of both. I wrote one story. It hasn't been edited yet.

On another note, I went to lunch with my two editors yesterday (Thursday) and was able to enjoy some fine Spanish food at Jaleo, a tapas bar in Crystal City. It was terribly cold on the way there, or so my editor said -- I didn't feel a thing, which was a real improvement over Tuesday night, which you can read all about above. I jokingly put my arm around his little frame and said "Do you want me to keep you warm?" Don't worry, he laughed.

I got my congressional press credentials officialized and am now allowed to wander the halls of the capitol without being disturbed, almost as if I belong there. I have to say there's something intoxicating about being one of the general hubbub of people pacing in and out and up and down in these halls of power. It's sort of why I came here, really -- in Phoenix there's no such place that can make you feel important.

I'm about to go out with some colleagues for happy hour. I invited a few guys I've taken a shine to but they were "busy," one with a dinner with a Mormon friend, the other with "a thing." I will not be speaking to them again. They are cold, hard men.