December 2nd, 2006


a thousand times more frightening

I have read a lot of mysteries, spy stories, and true-crime nonfiction over the years. This is my escape reading. Many of these stories involve gruesome scenes and frightening events. I sometimes can't wait to get back to the book to find out if the protagonist is going to make it out alive. But none of these books has had the effect on me that Imperial Life in the Emerald City has.

I recently introduced this book in this journal so I won't repeat that, just say it's the nonfiction story of how our government and "the coalition of the willing" handled Iraq after the initial invasion.

I thought it would be primarily about the green zone, as the title implies. And yes, there is much about how that part of Iraq was transformed from Saddam's private quarters into a safe, comfortable, home for the occupiers and a very few Iraqis.

Much more, though, it explains the details of who was doing what in those early days. How everything went so horribly wrong, from the appointment of Paul Bremer to head the interim "government" to the individual decisions made by unqualified heads of departments. We have known, the more savvy of us, that people were appointed to top posts in Iraq based on their adherence to the party line. We have known that most of those people were in no way qualified for the jobs they held. This book shows just how, step by step, their decisions made the worst of an already bad situation.

It is truly horrifying. Detail by detail, conversation by conversation, email by email, Chandrasekaran outlines the destructive nature of this neocon overlordship. How they insisted on implementing their bizarre notion of economics against international law, common sense, and the advice of persons who actually understood what was going to happen and was already happening.

I'm rating this book a ten. And wishing that just a few more people in this country would actually read books once in a while.

the joy of scouting

I have been reading a book on nature photography, in which the term "scouting" is used. One scouts for good subjects. I have spent quite a bit of time scouting around here, but didn't call it that because I thought of it as finding something to photograph. I didn't think of it as finding something and then remembering it for a later time. So I often came home feeling a bit like a failure because I didn't actually take any pictures on those expeditions. Now that I call it scouting, though, no failure me.

Today I went scouting. Late afternoon is a good time for light, so I wanted to see what some different subjects looked like then. Because of the hills around San Luis Obispo, I often find that the late afternoon sun just misses what could be a gorgeous location. Today I went to check out Cal Poly's various side roads. I went to the arboretum and plant shop, almost bought some plants but thought how silly, what with my moving out and all, then I went to the poly market, a little market that sells poly-made products as well as the usual staples students need to survive. I hadn't been in there since before it was remodeled a few years ago.

It now features a cool deli with soups, sandwiches, pizza, and a refrigerated case with some great-looking wraps, and, of course, poly cheeses, jams, plants. I bought three different types of cheese, some cal poly chocolate bars and a few other items and left well-satisfied. From there I drove on some new roads that lead up and around new dorms. So close up against the hills - I bet a lot of students take off up the hillside on off times, just exploring. I know I would have.

I did not find ideal locations to photograph but I always feel stimulated by the activity at the college, and I was pleased to find all the plants in the plant shop. I want to go back after my new home is installed and pick up some for the house.