by Gilles d'Aymery
"Anything that can go wrong, will -- at the worst possible moment."
(Swans - March 12, 2007) BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH, or should it better be referred to les giboulées de Mars, with all their cumulus congestus and cumulonimbus? Every year, February and March are toughies for me. I get into very low morale, a state that is clinically defined as being depressed. Check my writing on a yearly basis and you'll see how much I get silent during that period, which should not chagrin anybody much since to say the least I do not have Frank Rich's following, and to state the obvious I am not being paid much of anything for my endeavors. And why should people care anyway? Take a look at Iraq or the entire African continent among the many places we plunder so that I can whine in relative comfort and you will instinctively sense that indeed everything is relative. Still, I've had my load of it and want to unload it right here, so that I don't lose the few marbles that remain in my wasted mind. Enjoy the ride, or skip it altogether. Why should I care? Honestly, I do not. As said, I'm depressed.
SWANS BACKED BY HEZBOLLAH: Once a month or so, I check "Swans statistics" or logs; you know, how many requests the site gets, where from, etc. I can find out what other sites link to a page on Swans (from all over the world). I can find out the searches that Netters do on Google or Yahoo or whatever other search engines exist in Cyberspace (Google beats them all). I can also find out people who steal Swans' pieces in their entirety but put a link to the original URL. Funny, if I wanted to steal, I would not advertise where from I am stealing, but what do I know...I am not an American and 90 percent of the stealing is done by Americans. So, I'm checking the logs and find out that a blogger named Joshua Landis -- an "Assistant Professor of the Modern Middle East in the History department and in the School of International and Area Studies [at the University of Oklahoma] and Co-Director of the Center for Peace Studies in the International Programs Center" -- allegedly wrote that a Swans contributor, Mohammed Ben Jelloun, was "writing at at [sic] Hizbullah backed think tank."
ERR, EXCUSE ME, I don't have enough problems with daily life and the "authorities" that I now need backing from Hezbollah. For a low-life that I am and a so-called legal alien (aka a Martian), I surely would like to avoid the attention of the FBI and the local constables (e.g., Santa Rosa, California's, pitiful and spiteful police officers). So, I felt that addressing the academic was in order -- it would not enhance my good name but it would hopefully straighten the record. I sent the sage professor the following e-mail:
Dear Professor Landis,
Certainly, the International Programs Center and Center for Peace Studies at The University of Oklahoma must have a legal department where you can obtain legal counsel. You may want to ask them whether the statement you made on February 19, 2007 in regard to the Web site I own and, by association, my good name falls within the libel laws of the United States.
On February 19, 2007, in your blog SyriaComment.com, in which you write in your capacity as Co-director, Center of Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma -- please, see http://joshualandis.com/blog/?m=200702 and scroll down to the February 19th entry, "Will Saudi Arabia Solve America's Problems?" and further down to the sub-entry "Lebanon and Syria - The Coup." You wrote:
Many Lebanese government figures claim that Hizbullah wants to carry out a "coup" against the Lebanese state but has failed, thanks to stalwart western support. Hizbullah, however, insists that far from wanting to overthrow the government or change Lebanon's consociational form of government, it merely wants better representation for the opposition, commensurate with its numbers. [embedded: http://www.swans.com/library/art13/jelloun3.html ] Mohammed Ben Jelloun, writing at at [sic] Hizbullah backed think tank has this to say:By demanding a national unity government and a veto power over major decisions, Hezbollah and its allies are sticking to the consociational (multi- confessional) letter and the republican (patriotic) spirit of the Lebanese constitution.End quote.
"[A] HIZBULLAH BACKED THINK TANK" ???
Are you saying or inferring, Sir, that Swans.com is backed by Hizbullah? Do you have any information or evidence supporting your claim?
Anyone who does a "whois" search on Swans.com can find out that the site is fully owned by me. Anyone, who would take the time to look at our funding -- please, see http://www.swans.com/about/donate.html -- can figure out quite exactly where our miserly money comes from -- private donors.
Again, please, check your legal department about Libel laws in the United States.
I may not start a legal action against you and the CPS, but I certainly can embarrass you and the University of Oklahoma by disseminating as widely as I can (and I can) the paucity of your intellect and how it reflects on Academia. Your colleagues, peers, and superiors, should be ashamed of your behavior.
Please, Sir, issue a correction and apologize for your libelous comment.
FOR GOOD MEASURE, I made sure to copy that e-mail to Christopher B. Howard, Ph.D., Chair of the Center for Peace Studies, Deputy Executive Director of the International Programs Center, the Max and Heidi Berry International Programs Chair, Associate Vice President for Strategic & Leadership Initiatives, and Director of the Honors College Leadership Center; as well as Professor Joseph Ginat, the Co-director of the Center for Peace Studies; and to the International Programs Center itself (ipc AT ou.edu) so that his peers and colleagues could join the fun. I also copied Swans' internal listserv or mailing list so that they would be happy to learn that they were writing at a "Hizbullah backed think tank." I felt that Mohammed Ben Jelloun would also have a keen interest in that little comical drama. So I copied him too; and I even added a friendly researcher with his own beefy mailing list.
THE AMIABLE PROFESSOR sent me a short answer, which he intentionally failed to copy to his peers. It read: "Yes, I will be happy to print a correction. Sorry for the mistake. Best, JL." How can I claim that he failed "intentionally" to copy his peers? For two simple reasons. First he did not fail to copy our mailing list, Ben Jelloun, and the friendly researcher. Only Professor Howard, Professor Ginat, and the IPC were not copied. Second, eleven minutes later another e-mail landed in my in-box. This time it was copied to the joyous company in its entirety and was slightly longer:
You are absolutely right. Sorry for the confusion. Of course I was not referring to your site, of which I know nothing, but to the document of Ali Fayyad, which you kindly quote as follows:
"A document (August 28, 2006) entitled "Hezbollah and the Lebanese State, Reconciling a National Strategy with a Regional Role" and signed Ali Fayyad, politburo member and director of a think tank closely affiliated with Hezbollah, is being explicit about it."
I will include a correction in my next post.
OH MY, OH MY, all of the sudden we were now on a first name basis and I was being told that I had quoted the "document of Ali Fayyad." I scrambled real fast to Ben Jelloun's piece to find out whatever I had quoted. Yes, indeed it was there, in the third paragraph. Out of curiosity I checked the citation that Professor Landis had appended in his original post. I could not find it anywhere in the body of the essay, till out of frustration and despair, I did a search on "(patriotic)" and, what d'ya know, it came up. The good professor was citing what is known in the publishing business as a "teaser," or a "deck," or a "blurb"; that is, according to Arthur Plotnik (The Elements of Editing, Collier Books, 1982), "a line or two . . . . to accompany the title and pull readers into the article." (p. 23) So, in short, I had quoted a reference to Ali Fayyad in the third paragraph of an article written by Mohammed Ben Jelloun, and the citation used by the good professor was not even in the body of the text. Wow! (Incidentally, I noticed that the good professor had reposted the latest article of Sy Hersh in the New Yorker.) I thought it was about time to get more acquainted with Joshua -- remember, we are on a first name basis now -- and I visited the Web site of the International Programs Center at the University of Oklahoma, and found Joshua's bio. You wouldn't believe how well educated this cherubim is. Remarkable. And he's fluent in French too (a big plus in my book).
NOT KNOWING whether I should shoot back an angry missive or laugh him off, I elected the later and wrote with a bit of caustic, sardonic, acidic, and acerbic prose of my own a last e-mail that I copied to the full gallery:
Dear Professor Landis,
Thank you for your response. That I know:
1) I did not quote anything. It's the author of the article, Mr. Mohammed Ben Jelloun, a sociologist and political scientist, who wrote the passage you are quoting in your answer.
2) Mr. Ben Jelloun was NOT "writing at at [sic] Hizbullah backed think tank." He was mentioning a document signed by Ali Fayyad, a "director of a think tank closely affiliated with Hezbollah." Mr. Fayyad...not Mr. Ben Jelloun.
3) Then you went on to insert a quote by Mr. Ben Jelloun in your post that was a) unrelated to Mr. Fayyad, and b) not even included in the body of the article.
You appear to have received a stellar education (Swarthmore B.A., Harvard M.A., Princeton Ph.D.), but I wonder, did it ever include an English 101 course?
I see that you are fluent in French, so maybe, after all, "tout n'est pas perdu." Mr. Ben Jelloun's article is also published in French on Swans. Perhaps, if you read the French version, you'll better grasp what Mr. Ben Jelloun was actually writing.
Please, let me know when your correction is published.
(BTW, did you obtain permission from the New Yorker and Seymour Hersh before reposting in totality Mr. Hersh's latest article? Or, would it be that you did not take an Ethics 101 course either?)
I SUPPOSE we are no longer on a first name basis because he did not bother to answer my e-mail. But to be fair, without excusing his sloppy writing in the first place, Professor Landis issued a correction and an apology in his post dated March 3, 2007, "News Round Up":
Correction: In my article Will Saudi Arabia Solve America's Problems? I incorrectly wrote that Mohammed Ben Jelloun "was writing at a Hizbullah backed think tank." This is wrong. Ben Jelloun is a sociologist and political scientist unaffiliated with any party. I should have written that "Ali Fayyad is a director of a think tank closely affiliated with Hezbollah." Ben Jelloun was quoting from an article by Mr. Fayyad, who is affiliated with Hizbullah. I apologize for any insult to Mohammed Ben Jelloun or to those associated with the website "Swans Commentary" that published his excellent article, all of whom are unaffilliated [sic] with Hizbullah. I recommend everyone to read Mohammed Ben Jelloun's fine article, "Hizbullah's Democratic Demands." Best, Joshua Landis
AS THEY SAY, better late than never. Mohammed Ben Jelloun had this to say about that little episode, which clouded his good name and that of Swans: "Thanks, Gilles." (You're welcome, Mohammed.) To be honest, I am so desperate for money -- just figured out that Jan and I have spent over $20,000 in the past seven years to operate Swans (computers' hardware and software, access charges, and the like) and have only raised $2,500 to date...an ominous presage of things to come -- that were not Hezbollah on the US State Department shit list, and were I not a legal alien that could be sent to Guantánamo, or deported at a moment's notice, I'd gladly take their money, assuming they've ever heard of Swans. Hell, I'd take the money from the Devil "hirself!" Still, it remains that neither Mohammed Ben Jelloun, nor Swans, nor I, are in any shape or form "backed by Hizbullah."
POSSIBLY WORSE THOUGH, imagine the shape of American Academia and the future of education if our universities are infested by the likes of Joshua Landis. In spite of his impeccable resume the man is a sloppy writer at best and an intellectual fraud at worst. Now I better appreciate, kind of, why I never finished my Ph.D. It was not out of laziness, but out of thirst for well-constructed thinking. It reminds me of what Margaret Mead once said: "My grandmother wanted me to have a good education, so she kept me out of school."
UNLUCKY SOD is an old British expression that describes a person going through unfortunate experiences. Here, in the U.S., it's known as Murphy's Law, or in smaller circles, Finagle's Law. As much as I would have wanted to pursue the Landis aggravation, circumstances did not permit. Earthlink, the network service provider that holds my well-documented, decade-plus-old e-mail address, had an unpleasant surprise in store: Hundreds of return-to-sender e-mails in my in-box on a daily basis. Hundreds! More on this in a moment.
I AM NOT SURE WHEN IT ALL STARTED. Perhaps it was the day, late January, when I tried to separate our two dogs who got in a fight on 9th Avenue in San Francisco. I ended up having my left hand mauled by Priam, the head of the herd. A trip to St. Mary's Emergency Room did not produce any positive result. (I've learned since then that St. Mary's should be avoided at all costs. They have a pitiful record of healthcare. I don't know how accurate it is but my experience there adds to the litany.) I ended with a mauled hand that the local doctor in Boonville fixed to the best of his abilities. Five weeks later, I still cannot use my ring finger. It won't even flex. The nerves of the entire hand are so shattered that I can't carry anything. Two fingers out of five remotely function at the keyboard. Forget about everything else.
TOO BAD, because it started raining again, after a long dry spell. Some may recall that in January of 2006, we had a leak developing in our bathroom. We thought it came from a faulty downspout that was leaking right on top of the corner of the house and straight through the ceiling. We sawed off the downspout and hooked it to a plastic hose that we ran across the deck. It just happens that the roof of the bathroom is covered by a wooden deck made of fir boards and cannot be accessed without removing the boards. The leak seemed contained. Later on that year, we replaced the entire gutter -- 30 feet-plus of it -- so that the water would be directed to the other side of the house and directly out in the open wild. No more leaking downspout. No more black plastic hose lying on the deck. Life was supposedly good. That is, till it started raining hard again in the past month or so. The leak in the bathroom reappeared. Jan and I laid tarps on top of the deck. I was impeded by my mangled left hand. Rain kept coming. Jan was back in San Francisco. The deck not being angled down, the water kept falling on the tarps. The bathroom leak was back. Jan would ask me the status. I'd answer I did not look. There was nothing I could do. To reach out to that roof, I need to remove about 300 square feet of fir decking. To do so, I need to remove screws that refuse to be unscrewed -- about 1,000 of them. One in 10 comes out. All the others (90 percent) have to go through a special process. Take a wood chisel, cut the wood through around the screw head, grab the screw head with pliers and as gently as possible (if not the head will break) unscrew the darn screw. Then you need to replace the fir boards with 4'x8' plywood sheets (you need a few of them) to be able to walk on that deck when not working on fixing the roof. The idea being that when you work on the roof you get the plywood out and when you stop working on the roof, you put back the plywood so that you and your dogs and cats can function without risking hurting themselves or going through the roof down into the bathroom. Get it? Now, I ask you, how do you do this with a mangled left hand? How do you do this with only one hand available? Answer: You do not. You simply let the leak have a life of its own. And it breaks your spirit.
ELECTRICITY ANYONE? Then, one evening, the power goes down. That's it, kiddo, you are no longer on the grid. Nothing works. You are in the boonies and in the dark. Makes you feel a part of an Iraqi neighborhood (without the bloodshed). Better go to bed. It'll be another day. Another time, the satellite service goes down. The following week, the TV satellite goes down. Then it's the turn of the phone line; for the second time in a few months the tone goes dead. In other words, when it rains, it pours.
BACK TO EARTHLINK: About one week ago, I began receiving a few back to sender messages. Hmm, I usually get a few of those on a bi-weekly basis, after sending the Swans Release e-mail to our distribution list. People move, change their e-mail address, or have their e-mail in-box full and can't receive new messages. I expect them. This time, however, the return-to-sender messages were about messages that I had not sent in the first place. They were messages about Viagra or "Pills from Canadian pharmacy!" Those spammers (and scammers) were using my e-mail address in the envelope of their spams in the Return-to field. It began with a few, and then turned into hundreds a day. I contacted firstname.lastname@example.org but got a form-reply that announced they were not the proper venue to address my technical problem. Abuse@earthlink.net was an improper e-mail address. It should have been email@example.com. Abuse@abuse.earthlink.net could not help, according to their responses. I was not providing them with specific enough information. So, I had a first on-line chat with Jade, a friendly Earthlink representative. I won't reproduce it here. He advised that I contact http://securitycenterkb.earthlink.net/fraudmi.asp?route=email and fill a report. Did it, but got an error message when I submitted the report. Did it again; error again; did it; error; did it; error... Okay, another on-line chat, this time with Mark. "Nothing personal Mark, but I've been at it for over 5 hours to try to have you guys look into this [problem]." Back and forth and back and forth till, "Mark F: Wait while I transfer you to my supervisor. Please wait while I transfer the chat to 'Dave A'." "'Dave A' says: Thank you for contacting EarthLink LiveChat, how may I help you today?"
DON'T YOU love that question, "how may I help you today?" You know you are in for another ride. Dave, like Mark and Jude before him, gave me the standard responses: 1) "Your system is infected by some sort of virus/worm that is sending mail on its own to random users." Nope -- checked my system out. No virus. No way they can take control of my machine since I have a firewall and I disable my TCP IP connection, especially at night. If TCP IP is disabled, how can they control the machine, and how come I receive these return-to-sender messages in the morning, while my virus-free machine had the TCP IP connection disabled all night? Makes no sense. "use http://securitycenterkb.earthlink.net/fraudmi.asp?route=email to file a report," says Dave the supervisor. Argh, Dave -- Jude said just the same. The form does NOT work. Every time I submit the info, I get a message: "We're sorry, the page you were looking for cannot be displayed." What else? "Fine," says 'Dave A,' "I will escalate the issue to our engineers from my end." "Dave, have your people check my trash can and my in-box. Please. It's coming from all over the place. It's evident that it is part of a spam scheme..." 'Dave A': "Once I escalate the issue our engineers will contact you and resolve the issue." Okay, thanks. Please HELP solve this problem...
NO ENGINEER ever contacted me. At the time of this writing the return-to-sender messages seem to have receded, though I don't know for sure and have no idea of whatever the "engineers" have done. The discomforting part of the story is 1) you can be brought down to your knees by a people flooding your e-mail in-box with hundreds or thousands of messages at any one time and 2) you religiously pay your $19.95 a month to a service provider but cannot have a live interaction with a real human, but through a "live chat" through a computer screen. Welcome to the world of Cyborgs. Humans are gone. We are all virtual now.
TOO MUCH to process, too much to take, week after week. Back to sleep.
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.