Stand On Zanzibar  

Posted by Big Gav

A large number of dead dolphins have been found washed ashore in Zanzibar. Normally in these situations, speculation about the cause tends to focus on sonar from submarines and on seismic exploration.

Hundreds of dead dolphins have washed up along the shore of a popular tourist destination on Zanzibar's northern coast, and scientists have ruled out poisoning.

It was not immediately clear what killed the 400 dolphins, whose carcasses were strewn along a 4km stretch of Nungwi on Friday, said Narriman Jidawi, a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine Science in Zanzibar. But the bottleneck dolphins, which live in deep offshore waters, had empty stomachs, meaning they could have been disorientated and were swimming for some time to reorientate themselves. They did not starve to death and were not poisoned, Jidawi said.

In the US, experts were investigating the possibility that sonar from US submarines could have been responsible for a similar incident in Marathon, Florida, where 68 deep-water dolphins stranded themselves in March last year. A US Navy task force patrols the East Africa coast as part of counterterrorism operations. A Navy official was not immediately available for comment, but the service rarely comments on the location of submarines at sea.

The deaths are a blow to the tourism industry in Zanzibar, where thousands of visitors go to watch and swim with wild dolphins, said Abdulsamad Melhi, owner of Sunset Bungalows, perched atop a small cliff overlooking the beach.

While trawling through the BBC's links on Zanzibar I also came across this report which mentions there is a bit of the unfortunate practice used in some third world countries of dynamite fishing in the area, which could possibly be a potential factor (though there are plenty of dolphin and whale strandings in countries which don't practice explosive based fishing techniques, but do have underwater drilling and military exercises). The report itself is on "Eco-Islam" in Zanzibar, which on the face of it is probably a good thing for the local area, though I wouldn't want to see environmentalists and Islam get too closely asociated in the minds of people in the West - each group has enough trouble with the more demented parts of the "conservative" world without being conflated into one big green bogeyman.

So - that covers submarines and primitive fishing techniques - how about oil exploration in the area ?

I had a little discussion at The Oil Drum recently with Bob "are humans smarter than yeast ?" Shaw and Leanan about Tanzania. Bob speculated that Tanzania might be one of the first countries to fall off Duncan's Olduvai cliff (Olduvai Gorge itself is actually located in Tanzania). My feeling, based on my travels through the country a decade ago, was that it was so poor that it made minimal usage of oil already (the GDP per person is $210 a year, and I suspect much of that is generated by tourism in the Serengeti, Arusha / Kilimanjaro area and Zanzibar, and therefore wouldn't notice even if the most dire doomer predictions related to peak oil were to come true (other than even fewer tourists passing by on the roads - which are some of the most pothole ridden on the planet I might add). After doing a little research it seems the country is somewhat dependent on food aid (at least during droughts), so I guess some parts of the country would notice if the aid dried up during a post peak crash.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Tanzania currently produces no oil and has no known oil reserves (as of 2002). While Tanzania hasn't produced any oil thus far, I have noticed that local company Hardman Resources has bought up some exploration interests in the south of the country in the Ruvuma basin (Hardman has also just raised a chunk of money on the London AIM to fund exploration in Tanzania, Uganda, Guyana and Surinam). The Ruvuma is in the south near the Mozambique border though, which is a long way from Zanzibar, so it seems that even if exploration has started, its not going to cause dolphin deaths 600 odd miles away in Zanzibar.

After doing a bit of digging around, it appears that the old slave coast could be quite a prospective region for oil. Reports from a few years ago indicate that other companies that could be exploring include Brazil's Petrobras, who have exploration rights around Mafia island (still a distance south of Zanzibar) - Shell and French company Maurel & Prom also have interests in the same area. It seems that exploration around Zanzibar itself may be stalled as various the Zanzibari and Tanzanian governments squabble over the sharing of revenues (Tanzania is a union of the old colonies of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and Zanzibar seems to maintain a degree of autonomy) - this may explain some of the political violence on Zanzibar itself in recent years. As far as exploration in 2006 goes, all I can find is this report on Rigzone that Nabor Industries expects to have one rig working in Tanzania this year, and this report about another Australian company - Bounty Oil and Gas - who may be doing some more exploration in the country.
As his plane climbs above the vast Rufiji delta on the Tanzanian coast, Peter Byrne tells me about the region's deep history. "In the Miocene era, the Rufiji was one of the biggest rivers on earth," he says. "Zanzibar and Mafia Island broke away from mainland Africa - Mafia was much later but it was part of the same process." That massive geological shift is one of the reasons oil companies have the fabled spice island of Zanzibar in their sights. But it looks as if Zanzibar's smaller cousin, Mafia - where Byrne runs Kinasi Lodge, a luxury hotel - will be the first place in Tanzania to see serious oil exploration.

The Dutch arm of Shell is in negotiations with the Tanzanian government for licences to prospect four deep-sea areas or "blocks" in the Rufiji delta and another four off Zanzibar. Petrobras of Brazil is bidding for a block about 15 miles (24km) off Mafia, while the French company Maurel & Prom hopes to drill on Mafia itself and areas of Mkuranga district on the coastal mainland. In time, the whole western flank of the Rift Valley inland may be drilled, as seismic and hydrocarbon tests have shown that this too has potential for oil.

The oil in Tanzania's coastal belt was discovered in the 1960s but it is only recently, with western governments searching for alternative sources to the Middle East, that these paradise isles are being taken seriously as drilling sites. Withnegotiations on Zanzibar bogged down between the island and the mainland over which should benefit (semi- autonomous Zanzibar is unhappy with a proposed 60:40 split of profits), Mafia and its tiny neighbour Chole seem likely to be the first to see exploration, perhaps within a year.

Mafia and Zanzibar are part of a lush reef-based network of islands and atolls dotted along Tanzania's Indian ocean seaboard. A slowly growing tourist destination, Mafia is about 30 miles (50km) long and 10 miles (17km) wide, surrounded by a host of tiny islets. It has a population of 50,000. The capital, Kilindoni, is a one-horse, or half-a-horse town. There are no telephones and only a few cars.

Mafia is one of the world's richest marine habitats - home to a marine reserve run by the Tanzanian government with support from the World Wildlife Fund. As well as fish (more than 400 species) and other marine life, from dolphins to both green and hawksbill turtles, the area is home to many species of birds, including black kites and lilac-breasted rollers. There are also said to be dugongs (sea cows), among the world's rarest creatures, in these islands.

Now economically sleepy, Mafia was once a busy entrepôt dealing in gold and ivory from the interior, coconuts, mangrove poles for housebuilding and tortoise-shell. The last two had serious ecological impacts, but slavery was Mafia's darkest business. It was legally abolished only in 1922, four years after the first world war and the establishment of British rule on Mafia. That came after the ousting of the Germans, who had ruled from 1890, after long periods of Arab and Portuguese dominance.

Much of the archipelago's commerce, including slavery, depended on the monsoon winds that blow variously across the Indian ocean: the north-east monsoon (the kaskazi) from December to March and the south-east monsoon (the kusi) from April to November. It was these winds, filling the sails of dhows, which once made the area rich. Oil may do so again, but at what ecological cost? And will oil revenues supplement the meagre incomes of local people?

Another factor in the mix is that the region is host to two Unesco world heritage sites: Zanzibar's Stone Town and the ruins of the coastal city of Kilwa on the mainland. Shell said at the end of August that the company henceforth would avoid exploring or drilling on sites that carry these designations.

While I was writing this I noticed a new article appear on Google News about a new exploration deal signed with a British explorer by the Tanzanian government, which has a little summary of companies with rights in the country, which indicates that Antrim Energy are the only company with rights around Zanzibar - a search of their recent announcements seems to indicate they are concentrating on the North Sea and Argentina though...
Dr Msabaha also said the Selous basin is still a virgin area that was first explored for petroleum by Shell International in the early 1980s. ’The signing of the agreement brings to eleven the number of firms prospecting for oil in the country along the coast and offshore in the Indian Ocean.

The other companies involved in oil exploration (respective areas in brackets) are: Petrobras of Brazil (Block 5, east of Mafia island), Ophir Energy Company of Australia (Block 1, east Mtwara), Ndovu Resources of Australia (Ruvuma basin-Mtwara and Lindi regions), Nyuni, east of Songo Songo) and Artumas Group Inc of Canada (Mnazi Bay gas). The rest are Maurel and Prom of France (Bigwa and Mafia channel), Antrim Resources of Canada (Pemba and Zanzibar) and Panafrican Energy (Songo Songo Development block).

On the subject of offshore exploration, check out "Multiwhat ?" for tales of life on an exploration vessel - currently trying to solve NZ's gas depletion problem off Taranaki by the sounds of it (though maybe they're just searching for oil).

In other African oil news, Namibia has invited India to participate in joint exploration of oil, gas, and mineral resources in the country (which may have similar offshore potential to its neighbour Angola to the north, which has been a significant producer for some time).
Namibia is believed to have rich resources of oil and gas offshore, and most of it is unexplored. The development gives further momentum to India's efforts to ensure its energy security. It comes only a day after Uzbekistan, one of the 10 largest producers of oil and gas, offered exploration facilities to India.

Meanwhile Exxon is tryng to resolve a dispute with the government of Chad, which seems to have fought off rebel forces for the time being.
Exxon Mobil said on Wednesday it was still talking with Chad's government to try to resolve an oil revenues dispute that could shut off the central African country's oil output at the end of this month.

The company said in an e-mail that landlocked Chad's 170,000 barrels per day (bpd) oil production was "at normal levels" despite recent attacks in the country, including a raid on the capital by rebels fighting to topple President Idriss Deby.

Chad's government has said it will halt oil output at the end of April unless the World Bank unblocks frozen production royalties or the Exxon Mobil-led consortium operating in the country pays at least $100 million to circumvent the freeze.

Kilimanjaro - 1990 and 2000
One of the reasons I came to visit Tanzania was to climb Mt Kilimanjaro - back in 1997 there was still quite a large snowcap on the summit, though it seems that global warming and soot will have caused the snow to disappear shortly (after around 11,000 years in place atop the mountain).
For most of us in the west, the African mountain Kilimanjaro is known for two things: its summit is the point on the planet at which one can see more surface area of Earth than from any other location (the North American champ for that is Mount Diablo, which I can see from my back window); and, although it sits close to the equator, its summit is perpetually shrouded in snow, a fact immortalized by Ernest Hemingway's 1938 short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Make that, "was perpetually shrouded."

In 2000, images from Landsat, one of the various Earth-observing satellites, took an alarming picture, showing that much of the snow and glaciation at the Kilimanjaro summit had disappeared in just ten years. The 1990 and 2000 photos are shown to the right; click them for larger versions at NASA. At the time, scientists estimated that the remainder of the ice and snow would be gone by 2015.

They now have to revise their estimates. Recent photos (small version to the left, click for larger) show that very little of the mountain's snow remains; what's left will probably be gone in a just a few more years. Before the decade is out, Kilimanjaro will lose the snow which covered it for the last 11,000 years -- the snow which fascinated travelers, inspired artists, and gave it the name "shining mountain."

Whether or not global warming is involved in the disappearance of Kilimanjaro's glaciers in particular has caused quite a bit of controversy in the past - just one data point thrown into the debate between between scientists and global warming deniers - the science (and disinformation from the denier camp) behind it all is discussed at length at Real Climate.
When the interesting and thought-provoking work of [Kaser et al] emerged from the machinery of the skeptics' disinformation operation, it had mutated beyond all recognition. The reports put out by the Heartland Institute are typical. The first of these, which came out under the banner "Global Warming Fears Melting," is headed by a quote from Patrick Michaels starting, "Kilimanjaro turns out to be just another snow job ..." and goes downhill from there. All subtlety, tentativeness, context and opposing evidence has been lost. The study is presented as a broadside on one of the central tenets of global warming, in a fashion echoing skeptics' coverage of the "hockey stick" issue. Even when the work is quoted directly, it is quoted without the context needed to make sense of the claims. Notably, the quote "Mölg and Hardy (2004) show that mass loss on the summit horizontal glacier surfaces is mainly due to sublimation (i.e. turbulent latent heat flux) and is little affected by air temperature through the turbulent sensible heat flux." is intended to give the impression that air temperature can make no difference, whereas we have seen that the results of [Moelg and Hardy,2004] are compatible with several ways in which air temperature can affect ablation.

The skeptics' press, especially as echoed in Crichton's State of Fear states that the Kilimanjaro retreat can have nothing to do with anthropogenic global warming, because it began in the 1880's, before any appreciable CO2 response is expected. The error in this reasoning was discussed in the previous section. This situation here is reminiscent of the ubiquitous "Little Ice Age" problem. It is a fact of life for attribution studies that the climate changes associated with the end of the Little Ice Age overlap with the beginning of the era of industrial warming. Thus, a graph will always give the superficial impression that the present trends are just a continuation of something that began before human influences were much in the picture, leading one into the fallacy that the causes of the beginning of the trend are the same as those responsible for its continuation.

The Heartland Institute's propagation of the notion that the Kilimanjaro glacier retreat has been proved to be due to deforestation is even more egregious. They quote "an article published in Nature" by Betsy Mason ("African ice under wraps," Nature, 24 November, 2003) which contains the statement "Although it's tempting to blame the ice loss on global warming, researchers think that deforestation of the mountain's foothills is the more likely culprit." Elsewhere, Heartland refers to this as a "study." The "study" is in reality no scientific study at all, but a news piece devoted almost entirely to Euan Nesbit's proposal to save the Kilimanjaro glacier by wrapping it in a giant tarp. The article never says who the "experts" are, nor does it quote any scientific studies supporting the claim. The Mason news article is what Crichton quotes as "peer reviewed research" proving that it is deforestation, not global warming, which is causing the Kilimanjaro glaciers to retreat. (George Monbiot's article in The Guardian documents a similar case of systematic misrepresentation of glacier data by skeptics.)

While I'm going on about Tanzania and Zanzibar, one thing that always come to mind whenever Zanzibar is mentioned is John Brunner's great book from back in 1969, "Stand on Zanzibar", which explored a lot of the memes which the peak oil world find so fascinating, such as overpopulation and resource depletion, and what the world of the future would look like as these problems became a reality.

As I read it 20 odd years ago I won't attempt to come up with more detailed review of the book - though I will note that the style would seem very unusual compared to a modern novel - I sometimes wonder about how much the use of language has changed in the anglo saxon world over the past 35 years - its almost like we've been drained of creativity in a way - I wonder if Chomsky has ever opined on this subject, given his expertise in linguistics, brain structure and propaganda models ?.

Here's a long snippet from a review of the book by Charlene Brusso, which kind of makes me want to dig it out of my old boxes next time I retun home - maybe it planted some of the seeds in my mind which make me so curious about these sorts of topics. Brunner was a man with an excellent eye for future trends - even foreshadowing simple things like reality TV.
Brunner's Hugo-winning 1968 novel about individual responsibility and the dangerous consequences of social apathy returns to print at an excellent time. I first read Stand on Zanzibar as a university student back in the early 80s. It was an "old" book then, but it never really read like one. Now, a decade later, it still doesn't.

Readers who're used to a nice tight linear narrative will need to do some work to get into Zanzibar. But that's okay, because it will force you to think, and thinking is exactly what this book wants you to do. Brunner's story unfolds as a somewhat structured montage, an interwoven series of linked sections; the style is similar to the work of high-tone literary writer John Dos Passos, whose short, quick scenes cobbled together seemingly at random produce a synergy of mood and story. Brunner's structure is slightly more complex, but in many ways easier to follow, since each wide-flung piece really does connect plotwise to all the others.

The novel opens by setting Context with a powerfully thematic quote from Marshall MacLuhan. In short:
"A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding."

Brunner plunges us into the novel's dysfunctional, overcrowded, media-saturated world via a random channel flip across the story spectrum with SCANALYZER, providing an "INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface" between the reader and "the happening world."

The core of the novel focuses on NYC apartment mates Norman House and Donald Hogan. Like everyone else in this world, although they share living quarters, and sometimes even girlfriends, they really don't know each other. Norman is an up-and-rising young exec at super-mega-international-corporate-conglomerate General Technics (current motto: "The difficult we did yesterday. The impossible we're doing right now"), home of the most powerful supercomputer in the world, the celebrated Shalmaneser. Through subtle and not-so-subtle manipulation, Norman has used his African-American heritage as a politically correct lever to unlock company doors his brains and experience might not otherwise open. Now that he's reached the upper echelons on the company, however, he can't shake a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, a worry that there must be more to things, that somehow he's missed something important.

One secret he's missed is that Donald Hogan is a spy, one of the rare "Dilettanti" recruited by the government for their skill at synthesizing information, the ability to sort and cross-reference ideas and discover patterns. Mild-mannered and quiet, with an obscure degree in history and biology, Donald would never draw suspicion. He's spent the last ten years of his life, every work day, at the New York Public Library reading a little bit of everything, filing regular reports on patterns he's noticed, all very low-key. In the back of his mind is the concern that someday he might be "activated," called on to serve in a more active capacity in one of the world's political hotspots, like Yatakang, a socialist island empire off the southeast coast of China -- but why worry about something that will probably never happen? Still, Donald's innate pattern-matching instincts can feel something is up. Pieces are pulling together. Wheels are being set into motion. The world is going to change. Big-time.

Brunner sets the story in motion with two seemingly unconnected discoveries. The first is the change of power in the tiny African country of Beninia, (pop. 900,000) where refugees of civil war from three neighbouring countries have settled, all members of tribes hostile to one another -- yet Beninia has known nothing but peace since it was granted independence from British colonial rule. The credit for this has gone to Beninia's president, Zadkiel F. Obomi. But once he retires, who will lead and protect this tiny country with no war, but also no literacy, industry, or technology?

Elihu Masters, the US Ambassador to Beninia as well as Obomi's friend, approaches the board of General Technics with an offer. If GT will help educate the population and build the needed infrastructure, Beninia will allow them sole rights to exploit the vast, untouched mineral and oil reserves offshore for a period of time. Before he knows it, Norman is in Beninia, where murder is practically unknown; where the closest word the language has for anger means "insanity."

But then the second discovery is announced. In a crowded US where reproductive privilege is offered only to those with a clean genotype, babies are a rare and jealously hoarded luxury. But now the Yatakang government announces that famous geneticist Dr. Sugaiguntung has invented a way for everyone, even those with the most undesirable genes, to have perfect children. US citizens being the privileged souls they are, of course they want to know 1) When can we get access to this technology? And 2) Why didn't the US discover it first? ...

Brunner also wrote 2 other novels around that time which could also be considered classics - "The Shockwave Rider", which was probably the first book to ever explore the idea of computer virus' and worms (not to mention a unversal worldwide computer network) - which again showed a lot of foresight for something written in the early 1970's - I read it when I first started messing around on the internet around 1985 and found it a real eye opener. The other one is "The Sheep Look Up" which I haven't read unfortunately. The snippet below is from one of the reviews on Amazon.
Many people nowadays look back on the brief burst of environmental awareness (alarm) and criticism of corporate power which occurred in the 1970's as quaint,naive, slightly ridiculous. One prior reviewer of this work refers to the "hysteria" of the period.

What strikes me most strongly about _The Sheep Look Up_, billed as a 'sequel' to his big hit _Stand on Zanzibar_, is not its quaintness but its frightening accuracy. While Brunner guessed wrong on a number of counts -- for example, we haven't *quite* killed all the whales yet! -- there were trends which he read astutely and forecast correctly.

In particular he forecast increasing solipsism and isolationism in American politics and cultural life; he predicted a decline in the quality of political life, to the point where the American presidency would be occupied by a semi-literate figurehead whose job is to recite comforting and irrelevant platitudes into a microphone on his way from one glamorous gig to the next. His "Prexy" character seemed like a good fit for Reagan a while back, but the current Bush (the 2nd of that name) is an even closer match.

Brunner forecast the dumbing down of media, the intrusion of advertising into the most intimate spaces of daily life. He forecast the sidelining of "healthy lifestyle" products and choices into a yuppie trend (organic food becoming a boutique item) and the demonisation of environmentalists as "terrorists" and criminals. He forecast a degradation of community life, the rise of private security forces, and an increasing gap between (very) rich and (powerless) poor people.

He forecast the multiplication of resistant strains of pathogens, though he did not specifically call out the abuse of antibiotics in agriculture as a prime cause. He did not foresee the consequences of synthetic estrogens; and his view of genetic engineering is by and large more positive than it would have been if he had been writing today with the legal shenanigans of Monsanto, Syngenta and their ilk in view (Brunner would have loved the story of Percy Schmeiser -- he might almost have written it himself). He forecast the ubiquitous use of tranquilizers in daily life, but he did not foresee the current fad for pathologizing ordinary behaviours (particularly in childhood) and administering psychotropics to children. The rise to enormous power of the pharmaceutical companies was not on his radar (Mike McQuay, however, took notice of that trend in his own grimly dystopian future private-eye novels).

When I first read _Zanzibar_ and _Sheep_ I was just a kid. Now, almost half a lifetime later, I find that the concerns, the anger and grief and bitterness that Brunner articulated so fluently in the 1970's are far from dated. If anything, his work seems fresher and more poignant now than it did then -- I have witnessed 30 additional years of the indiscriminate damage and vandalism we call "growth" in the interim.

Many things "date" Brunner's work -- in particular his thoughtless, stereotypically "Seventies" sexism, which becomes wearying to the modern reader after only a few chapters. The core issues of his work, however, have worn well; clearly it was possible as long as 30 years ago to predict many of the negative consequences of a deeply dysfunctional way of life -- overconsumption, overpopulation, concentration of power in the hands of large corporations, irresponsible use of finite resources, and so forth. His work serves as a depressing reminder that even though we may know we are heading in a wrong direction -- and even have writers able to point out the possible consequences -- and even publish those writers -- we can and do continue in happy denial towards the very dystopia that our "out there" novelists predict for us.

I could probably go on and on about books from that era, but I think I need some sleep - instead I'll just give you a link to a post on Crooked Timber about 1973 (I'd like to give that whole period around the first oil shock some more investigation one day - its certainly fertile ground for the tinfoil world in particular, with sorts of wild theories about the Bilderbergers, Club of Rome, Nixon, Kissinger, various Rockefellers and the whole "Limits to Growth" idea that underpins things like peak oil and global warming).

I'll close with a couple of snippets from the indefatigable Billmon, pondering the cost of the Iraq war and the possibility of an echo of another period of the early 1970's - Watergate.

First on the cost of trying to control middle eastern oil:
Actually, it's more like the old joke about government contracting: Why buy one when you can get two for three times the price?

Except this is no joke.
Projected Iraq War Costs Soar

The cost of the war in Iraq will reach $320 billion after the expected passage next month of an emergency spending bill currently before the Senate, and that total is likely to more than double before the war ends, the Congressional Research Service estimated this week . . .

When factoring in costs of the war in Afghanistan, the $811 billion total for both wars would have far exceeded the inflation-adjusted $549 billion cost of the Vietnam War.

I guess we can only give thanks that the casualty count (on both sides) hasn't matched the "inflation-adjusted" total for Vietnam -- yet.

I thought this bit was particularly intriguing:
Of the total war spending, the CRS analysis found $4 billion that could not be tracked.

That kind of money will pay for a lot of poker-and-prostitute parties -- or, if my suspicions are correct, a lot of black operations.

In June of 2003, when I first started thinking about the costs of our imperial misadventure in Iraq, the USA was spending an estimated $3 billion a month on the enterprise -- a cash flow I guesstimated might reach $5 billion a month once the reconstruction costs (which at the time the Cheney administration was still insisting would be paid for out of Iraq's own oil revenues) started to kick in.

At the time, "expert" opinion was starting to warn that the United States might have to stay in Iraq for up to five years, which would have brought the total tab to something like $300 billion. The trolls howled that I was pulling these numbers out of my you-know-what.

But now we're already up to $320 billion after only three years, and "expert" opinion is warning that we may have to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq for at least another decade.

Then on Watergate II (and here's a matching tinfoil decoration to demonstrate just how much the past - in particular the early 1970's - could be echoing into the present - assuming some of these things ever stopped):
I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the news (from Harper's via TPM Muckraker) that Porter Goss, director of the CIA, may be implicated in a hooker service for corrupt (and horny) congressmen paid for by defense contractors and run out of -- you really gotta love this part -- the Watergate Hotel.

So what are we supposed to call this new scandal? Watergategate?

It sounds like a game of can-you-top-this played by a couple of spy novelists (say, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum) after a night of snorting cocaine and downing tequila shooters. Or maybe a screenplay cooked up by Fellini and Costa-Gavras -- with some help from Spike Lee and Salvador Dali.

And yet the story appears to have at least some roots in reality -- or what passes for reality here in the long, sad twilight of the American republic. Why, you can even read about it in the Wall Street Journal, which doesn't go in much for surrealism (not the fictional kind, anyway):
Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.

You have to love it: Whores buying whores for whores. Even Jeff Gannon and his White House "sources" couldn't top that.


On the other hand, Goss has a lot of enemies, including just about the entire career staff at the CIA, which he has been industriously purging of suspected Democrats at the behest of his White House masters. (If Porter ever turns up dead, the suspect list is going to include half of the McLean, Va. phone book and most of the world's professional assassins.) So who knows? Maybe it's just ex-spook disinformation -- like the bit about the couple of dozen senior White House aides who were supposed to be indicted in the Plame case last October.

But, if it turns out to be true, the implications really will take us into Clancy and Ludlum territory. The blackmail potential alone is worth a chapter in anyone's paranoid conspiracy thriller.

Who else might have known about Porter's semi-alleged extracurricular activities, and what price would they have been in a position to charge for that information? And how would that price have been paid? The Cheneyites obviously put Goss at the agency because they believed he would be their loyal henchman (and he's certainly proved them right) but did they have the added security of knowing where, and with whom, their boy was spending his Saturday nights?

OK, I know I'm getting carried away here. But this is really creepy stuff -- and only contributes to the impression I sometimes have that we're now living in the only banana republic armed with nuclear weapons. (Or, as I've also been known to call it, North Argentina.)

I mean, we've got political purges underway in the organs of state security; a one-party legislature run by guys who write their names above the urinals at expensive K Street restaurants ("For a good time, call Duke") and -- according to Harper's -- limo services tied to call girl rings pulling down multi-million dollar contracts with the Department of Homeland Security, which itself sounds like a name dreamed up for the movie Brazil.

And to finish, a Bush joke from Past Peak:
President Bush has picked FOX newsman Tony Snow to be his press secretary. Snow once said that President Bush was an embarrassment, a leader who has lost control of the federal budget, and the architect of a listless domestic policy. Good thing for Snow Bush doesn't read the newspapers. — Jay Leno


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