All Strung Out

Should you ever journey past CIA Headquarters, driving from US Route 495 down the George Washington Parkway in the direction of Roosevelt Island, there is an exit not far after  the CIA which leads to Chain Bridge Road.  Make a left, as it were, by making a right onto the cloverleaf, and cross back over the Parkway, then start down Chain Bridge Road toward Chain Bridge, which, for some reason, is located on North Glebe Road.  It’s Virginia, go figure.  On the left, as you descend a rather steep hill, you will see an entrance to the heavily guarded, well surveilled, impressively garrisoned and impregnably fortified Saudi compound.  If you can’t make it to the capital city of the greatest nation on earth in person, then check it out with the satellite photographs so widely available on the Web these days; and BTW – if you do, follow Chain Bridge Road up and back between North Glebe Road and the George Washington Parkway a couple of times – you are looking at the rooftops of the US government spook safe houses where the really dirty business gets done, the offices of several US government agencies so secret, they wouldn’t dream of blacking out the satellite photos, and the cleverly disguised surface facilities of a vast underground complex which links the White House with CIA Headquarters, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill and the NSA, among others.  See that huge building with the slate roof overlooking the Potomac?  Does the phrase “undisclosed location” ring a bell?  Because it’s sixty stories down in the bedrock, right underneath that building.  Nice neighborhood.
It is certainly no secret that Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, and that many of his partners in atrocity are from there, too.  And, I would suspect, among the informed and knowledgeable readers of this blog, it is likewise no secret that George Herbert Walker Bush routinely used a Dior handkerchief to expunge his lips after exhausting them on every male member in the House of Saud.  I suppose we have T. E. Lawrence, King George V and Woodrow Wilson to thank for that, what with them rewarding a bunch of Neolithic Bedouins with some of the best oil-bearing real estate on the planet in return for nothing more than random murder, rape, arson, torture, mutilation, desecration, looting and miscellaneous irregular light cavalry support for the bona fide troops of the British Empire in that long ago and nearly forgotten, reportedly epic struggle prosecuted in the name of Democracy, Freedom, and Justice, represented by England, France and America, against the Forces of Evil, as embodied by the crippled Kaiser Wilhelm II, the besotted Hapsburg Dynasty and a deranged, syphilitic Turk named Enver Pasha.  One would hope that since 9/11, we have learned that the Saudis are much less like the quirky, appealing and lovable characters portrayed by Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn, and much more like those fanatics with box cutters who lurked in the back of the airliners on that fateful day.
Once one is inside the Saudi compound, one is, according to international and US law, in Saudi Arabia.  Consequently, inside that compound are things that should never be described in a respectable Web log, or even in this Web log; things which would offend the moral sensibilities of any American, be they staunchly devoted to the election of Hillary Clinton as our next Commander in Chief or proponents of a quick, painless military coup to instate George W. Bush as President for Life.  Yes, pretty much across the entire spectrum of American politics, from one pathetic, shortsighted, selfish, uninformed, half-witted extreme to the other, there is nobody prepared to read what it’s really like inside Saudi Arabia.  So if you experienced the least scintilla of envy concerning anything I have mentioned about myself in my previous postings, please let me submit for your consideration the proposition that, with the places I have to go and the people I have to deal with, even if you can do my job, I bet you wouldn’t be able to stand doing it, not for twice what I get.  No lie, it’s damn rough to be discreetly visiting the john every couple of hours, not because of having mistakenly dined at the wrong Taco Bell, but rather so you can puke your guts out in sheer revulsion and utter disgust.  Not that the day I visited was anything special, no, to the contrary, it was just another day at the Saudi compound, where I witnessed the things that you, dear reader, would also witness, every day, were to you visit Saudi Arabia – not that you would ever be allowed to visit it, of course, for any reason other than a pilgrimage to Mecca, where all you would see would be other pilgrims.  What is remarkable though, in my estimation at least, is that these things can take place a short drive from the bland and pleasant suburbs of North Arlington.  There’s just nothing like our great nation’s respect for diplomatic immunity, folks, especially for that of our very good friends with lots and lots of petroleum.  Dior handkerchiefs, anyone?
Ironically, the purpose of the meeting I had to attend at the Saudi compound didn’t even concern the Saudis very much.  No, I had to spend nineteen hours in an opulent, well-upholstered, tastelessly decorated enclave of backward, autocratic, repressive, medieval tribal culture because the current prime minister of Iraq had dispatched a Sunni member of his government to Washington to do his bidding.  He did that because he’s a Shi’ite and wishes to curry favor with the Sunnis outside of Iraq, and the Saudis, with Mecca, Medina, Jiddah and all that, are Sunni Central.  I’m speculating, but I think he’s trying to get some leverage on the Sunni insurgency in Iraq by getting cozy with powerful Sunnis in neighboring countries.
Finally the Iraqi bozo slithered in, wearing a bizarre off-white pastel lilac-tint burnous with gold thread trim and about ten pounds of Arab bling-bling, including a huge and obscenely ostentatious platinum Rolex.  He was smarmy as a Hummer salesman when gas is three dollars a gallon – ritual apologies, unavoidable delays, observance of important diplomatic protocols, yadda, yadda, yadda.  So of course, he has to stop to eat before we can do anything else – one thing experience has taught me is that fat, greasy third-world politicians never work on an empty stomach.  The entree was houbara bustard –  as if I needed it; although I bet he does, along with a fistful of Viagra every night.  Plus, the houbara bustard is an endangered species, CITES Appendix I, as a matter of fact; I felt like asking him why he hadn’t ordered us a couple of panda steaks instead.  Did I mention that houbara bustard tastes like dry, tough, dark wild turkey meat that has been marinated at room temperature in a used tire overnight with 20,000 mile blackened motor oil and urine?  Well it does – but Arabs believe it to be extremely rude if you don’t eat when they do, particularly when what they have shoved in your face is considered a rare delicacy, a big-time status symbol and also nothing less than a mighty and significant holy honor.
Now, when in Saudi Arabia – and I was, in every legal and cultural sense – you had damn well better do as the Saudi Arabians do, or else; and “or else” means exactly that – I could have been summarily shot, slowly stoned to death or ritually beheaded with a scimitar, three hundred feet from Chain Bridge Road, and there would have been nothing I could have done to stop it, nor would there be any consequences for the Saudis.  In Saudi Arabia, everyone, including foreign visitors, possesses their life at the sole discretion of The Exalted, Most Wise and Resplendent Monarch, Blessed Custodian of the Two Most Holy Mosques of Al-Masjid al-Haram and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, Peace be Upon Him, and the Blessings of the Prophet Mohammed; and Peace Be Also Upon the Prophet at the Mention of His Holy Name; Allah Akbar – and his duly appointed representatives, of course, of whom there were plenty on hand, watching me carefully and with no particular subtlety. 
Supporters of the World Wildlife Fund who are reading this will be delighted to know, however, that while fulfilling the glaringly obvious imperatives of my social obligation, I got my karma back as I cracked a new porcelain crown, which I just had put on last month, when I bit down on a piece of bird shot the chef had neglected to excise from the carcass.  The Saudi nobility hunt these little godforsaken feathered monsters – which they must, since the houbara bustard promptly dies when placed in captivity –  as a kind of sacred tribal ritual.  Traditionally, they are supposed to be taken by falcons, but none of the young bucks in Saudi Arabia bother with riding out into the blistering hot desert atop a stupid horse with a squawking falcon perched on their arm anymore – it’s strictly air conditioned monster 4X4 trucks and shotguns these days.  No doubt the creature I was forced to consume as a dire and dead-serious matter of Bedouin etiquette had been blown out of the sky by no less than a fully initiated male member of the House of Saud; then transferred, along with the rest of that day’s carnage, in ritual pomp to the Royal Palace; never touched by a woman, and flown direct to Virginia with dozens of others, iced down in a shipment with diplomatic-pouch status.
Then my host wasted another three hours over huge plates of hyperglycemic Middle Eastern pastries, eight cups of Arabian coffee and six cups of tea.  He followed that with snifters of B&B, Chambord, Grand Marnier and Remy XO, which no Moslem ought to be drinking in the first place.  But you’d never know that if you saw how the Saudis drink any time they can get away with it – I doubt there is a nightclub or gourmet restaurant in the DC Metro area with a better bar or wine cellar than the Saudi compound – sure, why not, it’s in Virginia, not the Arabian Peninsula, isn’t it?  All that, and my host never said a single, solitary word; gorging himself was obviously much too important for him to mar the experience by talking business with me.
But at last, His Nibs reared back, let go with a belch that lasted fifteen agonizing seconds and rattled the glassware, grunted with satisfaction, slowly knit his fingers in front of his ample belly, thoughtfully pursed his slick, wet lips and finally deigned to explain his reason for summoning me to dinner and a floor show in the Ninth Circle of Hell.  It’s because of situations like this my standard contracts stipulate that, for client site meetings, I get paid for all my time, from the moment I arrive at the appointed place until I leave.  Otherwise, I would lose an average of forty percent of my billable client meeting hours getting jerked off by clowns like, ahem, let’s say “Ahmed,” here, or the random SES snotwad and his butt-scratching troupe of brownie snacker federal division directors.
But I must admit, when Ahmed finally cut the cake, I nearly defecated a brick.  Folks, what Ahmed wanted consultation about is so outrageously absurd that, once I tell you, it will be obvious that neither I, nor anybody else, could have made it up.  I kid you not, Ahmed flew all the way from the oozing, dripping, suppurating, puss-filled, fistulate sphincter of the universe, ahem, I mean, Iraq, to ask me for advice on how to hang people.
It seems that there have been a few problems with hanging the likes of Saddam Hussein and his cronies, and try as they might, nobody in the Iraqi government can figure out how to do it properly.  What’s more, despite the fact that there are over one hundred thousand Americans in Iraq at the moment, the Iraqi government is incapable of finding a single Yankee who will give them any useful pointers so they won’t screw it up. 
“Ah, horse hockey,” I told Ahmed, “there were plenty of Americans in Iraq who could have told you how to hang somebody.  Neck-tie parties are as American as apple pie, race riots and sexual frustration.  But there isn’t a single American in Iraq right now who isn’t a de facto or de jure representative of the executive branch of the United States Government.  So they won’t talk to you about that kind of thing because they’re afraid the New York Times will find out they told you, and then they would have to spend a couple of decades in a US federal prison so the current administration can avoid blame and embarrassment in the international community for encouraging what countries like Sweden, Germany, England, and – you will pardon the expression – Denmark, currently regard as a cruel, inhumane, barbaric, shocking, horrifying, sadistic and gruesome form of punishment.”  Ahmed nodded, knowingly. “Abu Ghraib,” said he.  “Gesundheit,” said I.
Hanging people properly is a challenge, to be sure, but it certainly isn’t rocket science.  Getting the knot to perform a cervical dislocation instead of something less pleasant to watch is the key.  Back in the day, when folks used to get the whole family up early on Sunday morning, pack fried chicken picnic lunches, go to services, and afterwards drive their surreys down Gallows Road to enjoy watching an afternoon of good old Virginia public hangings, the hangmen knew their stuff and a splendid time was had by all.  A good hangman used applied physics to ensure the crowd got what they came to see – the shuddering convulsions of the human body suddenly detached from the brain, that “dance at the gibbet” which pirates used to talk about.  Arrgh, aye, matey, the dance at the gibbet – done properly to a male, a good gibbet dance included a colorful, obvious and action-packed  climax, which was considered by many to be the best part of the show.  It was as much an art as a science, really, and done right, hangings were a crowd pleasing, applause provoking, cheer rousing, conversation starting, appetite-whetting festive spectacle of family fun for all law abiding, God-fearing Americans; the perfect prelude to a community baseball game on the courthouse lawn and a quilting bee with supper in the basement of some local church.    
And the science was pretty simple by today’s standards, nothing more than a straightforward application of physics as discovered by Sir Isaac Newton.  Here we have gravity, and instead of an apple, we have a person with a noose around their neck accelerated by that gravity at a constant rate.  Sure, you need some empirical data, a few simple statistical techniques such as linear regression, and Newton’s equations of motion derived from a bit of elementary calculus, but in a surprisingly short time, it is possible to establish a very good correlation between how much the lucky lady or gentleman weighs and the length of the rope necessary to hang them in a proper manner having the necessary panache and showmanship.  The results were compiled nearly two hundred years ago in what is known as the Hangman’s Drop Tables.  In such tables, rope lengths, presented, for example, by the inch, are expressed as a function of weight, for example, in increments of one pound avoirdupois.  Each size of knot made with a given number of turns out of rope having a specified composition and diameter has its own Drop Table.  So, first decide what kind of rope you will use, what diameter that rope will be, and how many turns you want to put in that bad boy knot.  Then go get the Drop Table for that spec, weigh your special guest of honor, and, starting at the bottom of the knot, measure off the required length of rope, solidly belaying it on the gallows scaffold at the end point.  Sure it’s physics, but it ain’t like it’s quantum orbitals, string theory or the search for the Higgs boson.  Basically, it’s something that an Iraqi engineering professor could figure out, de novo, if he had to, with nothing more than the equipment, a hand calculator and some human cadavers to experiment with.  I sure couldn’t imagine there being a shortage of human cadavers in Iraq these days, so I explained all this to Ahmed and suggested that, if the Iraqi government can’t find a decent set of Drop Tables somewhere in one of Iraq’s libraries, they could always cook some up from scratch.
“Plenty of dead people we have,” Ahmed replied, “also rope, but no engineering professor.  No scientist.  No mathematician.  All gone.  All run away from Baghdad.  Not come back.  Iraqi government officials no good at math.  This is problem.  Also finding library with such a book in it; this we have not found.”
That explains the gory stuff that’s been going on at the gallows in Baghdad, I suppose.  Because if the rope is too long for the weight, the noose tears the head off – very bad form, at least in the traditional esthetic of hanging as practiced in the good old U.S. of A.; and just exactly what happened to Barzan Ibrahim, one of Saddam’s sidekicks, last week.  On the other hand, if the rope is too short, the designated entertainment doesn’t do the gibbet dance either – they just slowly strangle instead, often making loud, rude, unpleasing noises, struggling and twirling around at the end of the rope, and obviously not living up to their full potential for wholesome family fun.
“The U.S. Army has a manual,” I said, “did you ask them for a copy of it?  This manual, it is the Army manual on executions and it has a drop table in it.”
“We ask, they fax over that page of manual,” Ahmed replied, “but Ibrahim very fat; his weight not on table, so we have to guess.  So we think – fat man need longer belt, no?  Fat man need bigger pants, bigger shirt, too.  So we guess fat man need more rope.  But head come off, pop, like that.  I have on cell phone video.  You like to see?”
“No thanks,” I demurred, “If you had examined the sequence of rope lengths that did appear in the drop table the Army faxed over to you, you would have seen that there is an inverse relationship between the length of the rope required and the weight of the person being hanged.  Using the method of finite differences, you could then have extrapolated the table to find the correct rope length to hang Ibrahim, assuming, of course that you used the same type and diameter of rope, as well as the number of turns in the knot, that the Army execution manual specifies.”
“What is ‘inverse?’  Not understand ‘finite differences’ and ‘extrapolate.’  Is mathematics, yes?  I told you, no scientist, no mathematician, no engineer in Baghdad.  All run away, not come back.  Iraqi government officials not good at those things.  Also, Army fax over one page, not whole manual.  We use same rope Saddam used, also knot tied like his people used to tie.”
With that, I figured I had a fairly complete characterization of the problem.  There was no point, of course, in suggesting that the Iraqis ask the US Army for some of their rope, tied in a proper mil-spec knot so they could compare it to what they were using on poor devils like Ibrahim.  I could close my eyes and see the headlines on the back of their lids: “Army Gives Iraqi Government Hangman’s Noose.”  No way that was going to happen – especially when it looked like the Army wouldn’t even part with a complete copy of their execution manual.  So I took out my laptop and went on the Internet and did a search for hangman’s drop tables.  Though I had to go over fifty pages into the SERP, I found quite a few, and several of them had accompanying documentation that mapped the tables to their rope type/rope diameter/knot turn parameter spaces. 
Ahmed looked a bit sheepish when I showed him the results.  “How you find on Web?  We look on Web many hours, for days, not find anything.”
“It’s all in knowing how to search,” I replied.  “To find these, you need to search on the key word ‘hangman,’ exactly match the string ‘drop table’ and add Boolean OR search terms for ‘rope,’ ‘diameter,’ ‘knot’ and ‘turns.’  Then go through the links retrieved until you find an example of such a table instead of just an article or something else that only mentions the words.  Then save the relevant information and continue examining the results until the relevance of the word and string matches begins to semantically diverge.  It’s a bit of work, but as you can see, it doesn’t take all that long.  I’ll download these pages in HTML format onto a CD so you can have them.”
This puzzled Ahmed. “What I do with CD?  Put in video player?”
“Ah, no, you put it in a computer’s CD drive.  Then you use your browser to read the files from it,” I explained.
“CD not on Web.  How I put CD on Web so I can use browser to see it?” Ahmed continued.
“Your browser doesn’t care whether an HTML page is on a server or on your own PC.” 
“Browser not care?” Ahmed was getting lost trying to grasp the concept.
“When you go to the Open function or select a new tab in your browser, you can navigate to files on your PC hard drive, your PC floppy drive or your PC CD ROM drives.”
“You show me.”
So I spent another hour walking Ahmed through the steps to open a browser, point it at the HTML files on a CD drive and display them.  Then we spent another half hour while I showed him how to print.  During this time, he decided to sit right next up close and cosy with me so he could see my laptop screen, and I noticed that Ahmed did not seem to have bathed in at least a week, was cultivating a world-class case of halitosis; and, judging from his eye-watering B.O. and the intense, blistering mustard-gas-and-phosgene scent of his copious flatulence, had apparently been gorging on a diet of camel cheese, sheep eyes and goat testicles lately.  Momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be consultants.
Then, as our little tutorial session ended, I handed Ahmed the CD.  “No, no,” he insisted, gesturing frantically at my laptop.  “I take with.  You show me on this, I take with.”
All I ever keep on the hard drive of my laptop is open source application software and Linux; I keep everything else on memory sticks and disks.  So I put the CD in the slot and handed him the machine.
“Ahmed, before I leave, I have a suggestion.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, you tell,” he said with a smile as he admired his new laptop.
“If somebody weighs more than 150 kilos, why don’t you just shoot them?”
“No, no,” Ahmed frowned and shook his head, “shooting too, how you say – dignity; too dignity.  Shooting military execution.  These men criminals.  We hang.”
“Well, Ahmed, as a practical matter, if a person gets to weigh as much as Ibrahim, sometimes their necks just aren’t strong enough to hold their bodies at the end of a rope, no matter how short the drop is, no matter what kind of rope or knot you use.  So even if you employ these extended drop tables and use the types of rope and knots they are designed for, you could still end up tearing somebody’s head off.”
“If God wills, then it happen.  Anyway,” he winked, “I use cell phone camera to watch later.”
I bid Ahmed goodbye, and was rewarded with a reeking bear hug and two big slobbering kisses on either cheek.  Then I left, went home and took a long, hot shower, because, for some reason, I felt like I’d just spent a week cleaning out dirty monkey cages; and after reading this far, you may feel like that, too.  If so, by all means, go grab a quick shower.  I’ll wait.
In addition to my hours, of course, I billed the Iraqi government for that laptop – replacement cost plus my usual fifteen percent administrative overhead fee, and put in an estimate of my dental plan’s deductible for replacement of the broken crown as an ODC.   The check cleared today, so I figured why not write a blog post about it.  My close encounter with a member of the Iraqi government has convinced me that they have discovered an entertainment value in hanging that was totally lost on us here in America – when the head go off “pop,” that apparently makes them just as happy as watching a good gibbet dance.  As executions of the previous regime members continue, I bet they find fun and entertainment in the slow-twisting, eye-bulging, larynx-crushing strangle version pretty soon, too.  Yeah, I have the feeling that after a just few months, there simply isn’t going to be any such thing as a bad hanging in Iraq. 
Gotta go now – after an extended stay at the Hinckley Hilton in DC, filled with the kinds of debauchery, food and drink not available in Baghdad these days, Ahmed is heading back home tonight – is there a single strip club, escort service, whorehouse, gambling den, stretch limousine business or Middle Eastern bakery in the Metro area that will not miss him sorely?  I can’t say for sure where all of that lost four billion dollars went, but I can guess pretty well where about a hundred grand of it disappeared since Ahmed hit town.  I bet he spent every cent without ever touching soap, water or toilet paper, gadding about town in that absurd burnous, decked out with his bling and Rolex, gassing people left and right with unrestrained blasts of a corrosive flatulence that could etch concrete, knocking rats off dumpsters with his outrageously fetid breath, and still getting the VIP treatment all the way anyhow, because he was dressed up like a rich Arab and so lavishly squandering such enormous amounts of money.  Now he’s outta here, flying luxury class from Dulles, where he pointedly invited me to meet him again and formally see him off, probably thinking my presence will make it easier for him to get on the airplane in the first place.  So, on the way to the airport, I’m stopping at Neiman Marcus in the Tyson’s II Galleria to buy a box of Dior handkerchiefs for him to give Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq.  I know Ahmed’s going to be showing off his new laptop to everyone and I don’t want his boss to feel slighted – there goes that tribal Bedouin etiquette again.  I figure it’s dollars to donuts, if he keeps dealing with the Saudis, old Nouri’s going to need plenty of them; besides, as a certain former leader of the western world can attest, those Saudi palace floors are rock hard solid stone, and four Dior handkerchiefs, properly folded, can also serve as an excellent pair of kneepads.  But before I go, I’ll leave you with this final thought – it’s impossible to hang a Hapsburg – due to their noble inbreeding, they have no chins.