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31 December 2006

Happy New Year! / Publicke Notice

Vleeptron will be closed for a few days
so we can go see this.
(When you get there, click to hear sound clip.)

Happy New Year to All!
A better 2007!
More Love! More Beauty!
More Adventures! More peace!

Easter Sunday: Do it Vleeptron's way / also, theme of my favorite Rose Bowl Parade float from last year

The Moon crater Lilius -- he was so non-famous that no portraits of him seem to have survived -- and Christopher Clavius. He has a crater, too, where the Monolith was uncovered in "2001."

Knuth's Algorithm is a modern housebreaking of the method devised for the new reformed Gregorian calendar by 16th century Neapolitan astronomer Aloysius Lilius and the German Jesuit mathematician Christopher Clavius. They transformed the earlier method agreed on at the Council of Nicea in 325.

Because The Last Supper was a Passover/Pesach, the whole mess references the moveable feast of Passover in the Hebrew lunar calendar.

You can either move to Pasedena and take this programming course from Mike Vanier and Donnie Pinkston at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), or you can read all about the Easter Sunday Date algorithm here on Vleeptron.

If you want to see what Pasadena looks like, watch the television broadcast of The Rose Bowl Parade on New Year's Day. Every float must be made entirely of flowers or plant material. (My favorite float theme from last year's parade was "We Forgot What Our Theme Was" by the Oakland Bhang Growers Association.)

While he was discovering that Nebulae are really faraway Galaxies, how faraway they really are, and that the Universe is expanding, Edwin Hubble lived in Pasadena and hung out with Aldous Huxley and Walt Disney.

Parts of this filched document have been filetted for relavence. I mean, do you care that there's a Quiz on Tuesday?

These guys say Donald Knuth's Algorithm works for any year from 1582 to 39999 (in the Gregorian calendar).

As Vleeptron advised the last time this Thang came up: If you're not using Knuth's Algorithm, you could find yourself in all your Easter vestments on the steps of your cathedral at sunrise and wonder where all your sheep are. Accept No Substitutes.

Essay Question: What's the date of Easter Sunday 39999, and will they have settled that big dustup between Good Works and Faith by then? Who won?


C track: assignment 2

You will write a program called easter that will compute the day of the year on which Easter falls, given the year.

Description of the algorithm

This algorithm is taken from Donald Knuth's famous book The Art of Computer Programming (see the references below).

GIVEN: Y: the year for which the date of Easter is to be determined.

FIND: The date (month and day) of Easter

STEP E1: Set G to (Y mod 19) + 1.
[G is the "golden year" in the 19-year Metonic cycle.]

STEP E2: Set C to (Y / 100) + 1. [C is the century]

STEP E3: Set X to (3C / 4) - 12. [X is the skipped leap years.]
Set Z to ((8C + 5) / 25) - 5.
[Z is a correction factor for the moon's orbit.]

STEP E4: Set D to (5Y / 4) - X - 10.
[March ((-D) mod 7 + 7) is a Sunday.]

STEP E5: Set E to (11G + 20 + Z - X) mod 30.
If E is 25 and G is greater than 11 or if E is 24,
increment E.
[E is the "epact" which specifies when a full moon occurs.]

STEP E6: Set N to 44 - E. [March N is a "calendar full moon".]
If N is less than 21 then add 30 to N.

STEP E7: Set N to N + 7 - ((D + N) mod 7).
[N is a Sunday after full moon.]

STEP E8: If N > 31 the date is APRIL (N - 31),
otherwise the date is MARCH N.

Note: all divisions in this algorithm are integer divisions, which means that any fractional remainders are thrown away. Also, the comment "March ((-D) mod 7 + 7) is a Sunday" is technically only true for years after 1752, because there was an 11-day correction applied to the calendar in September of 1752. You don't need to mention this in your comments, since it doesn't affect the Easter computation.

Note 2: We will be adding another step to make the algorithm work nicely with our C program; see the description of the program below for more details.

Note 3: Just because the great Don Knuth wrote this algorithm this way doesn't mean that it's written in a nice or easy-to-understand way. In particular, the use of single characters as variable names is usually a very bad idea (because single characters don't have any meaning to the person reading the code), and we don't want you to do that in this program. Knuth was trying to describe the algorithm in as short a space as possible; you don't have that restriction.

Explanation of the algorithm

Ever wonder what those monks did during the Dark Ages, all secluded away in their distant mountaintop monasteries and things? Well, it turns out that they were busy calculating the date of Easter. See, even back then, there wasn't much point in spending any effort on calculating the dates of holidays like Christmas, which as everyone knows, is on the same day each year. That also went for holidays which have become a tad more obscure, like Assumption (August 15th).

But the trouble with Easter is that it has to fall on Sunday. I mean, if you don't have that, all the other non-fixed holidays get all screwed up. Who ever heard of having Ash Wednesday on a Saturday, or Good Friday on Thursday? If the Christian church had gone and made a foolish mistake like that, they'd have been the laughingstock of all the other major religions everywhere.

So the Church leaders hemmed and hawwed and finally defined Easter to fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

I guess that edict must not have been too well-received, or something, because they then went on to define the vernal equinox as March 21st, which simplified matters quite a bit, since the astronomers of the time weren't really sure that they were up to the task of finding the date of the real vernal equinox for any given year other than the current one, and often not even that. So far so good.

The tricky part all comes from this business about the full moon. The astronomers of the time weren't too great at predicting that either, though usually they could get it right to within a reasonable amount, if you didn't want a prediction that was too far into the future. Since the Church really kinda needed to be able to predict the date of Easter more than a few days in advance, it went with the best full-moon-prediction algorithm available, and defined "first full moon after the vernal equinox" in terms of that. This is called the Paschal Full Moon, and it's where all the wacky epacts and Metonic cycles come from.

So what's a Metonic Cycle?

A Metonic cycle is 19 years.

The reason for the number 19 is the following, little-known fact: if you look up in the sky on January 1 and see a full moon, then look again on the same day precisely 19 years later, you'll see another full moon. In the meantime, there will have been 234 other full moons, but none of them will have occurred on January 1st.

What the ancient astronomers didn't realize, and what makes the formula slightly inaccurate, is that the moon only really goes around the earth about 234.997 times in 19 years, instead of exactly 235 times. Still, it's pretty close -- and without computers, or even slide rules, or even pencils, you were happy enough to use that nice, convenient 19-year figure, and not worry too much about some 0.003-cycle inaccuracy that you didn't really have the time or instruments to measure correctly anyway.

Okay, how about this Golden Number business then?

It's just a name people used for how many years into the Metonic cycle you were. Say you're walking down the street in Medieval Europe, and someone asks you what the Golden Number was. Just think back to when the last 19-year Metonic cycle started, and start counting from there. If this is the first year of the cycle, it means that the Golden Number is 1; if it's the 5th, the Golden number is 5; and so on.

Okay, so what's this Epact thing?

In the Gregorian calendar, the Epact is just the age of the moon at the beginning of the year. No, the age of the moon is not five billion years -- not here, anyway. Back in those days, when you talked about the age of the moon, you meant the number of days since the moon was "new". So if there was a new moon on January 1st of this year, the Epact is zero (because the moon is new, i.e. zero days "old"); if the moon was new three days before, the Epact is three; and so on.

When Easter was first introduced, the calculation for the Epact was very simple -- since the phases of the moon repeated themselves every 19 years, or close enough, the Epact was really easy to calculate from the Golden Number. Of course, this was the same calendar system that had one leap year every 4 years, which turned out to be too many, so the farmers ended up planting the fields at the wrong times, and life just started to suck.

Pope Gregory Makes Things More Complicated

You probably already know about the changes Pope Gregory XIII made in 1582 with respect to leap years. No more of this "one leap year every four years" business like that Julius guy said. Nowadays, you get one leap year every four years unless the current year is a multiple of 100, in which case you don't -- unless the current year is also a multiple of 400, in which case you do anyway. That's why 2000 was a leap year, even though 1900 wasn't (I'm sure many of you were bothered by this at the turn of the millenium).

Well, it turns out that the other thing Pope Gregory did, while he was at it, was to fix this Metonic Cycle-based Easter formula which, quite frankly, had a few bugs in it -- like the fact that Easter kept moving around, bumping into other holidays, occuring at the wrong time of year, and generally making a nuisance of itself.

Unfortunately, Pope Gregory had not taken CS 11. So instead of throwing out the old, poorly-designed code and building a new design from scratch, he sort of patched up the old version of the program (this is common even in modern times). While he was at it, he changed the definition of Epact slightly. Don't worry about it, though -- the definition above is the new, correct, Gregorian version.

This is why you'll see Knuth calculating the Epact in terms of the Golden Number, and then applying a "correction" of sorts afterwards: Gregory defined the Epact, and therefore Easter, in terms of the old definition with the Metonic cycles in it. Knuth is just the messenger here.

So what is this thing with "Z" and the moon's orbit?

It's just the "correction" factor which the Pope introduced (and Knuth later simplified) to account for the fact that the moon doesn't really orbit the earth exactly 235 times in 19 years. It's analogous to the "correction factor" he introduced in the leap years -- the new formula is based on the old one, is reasonably simple for people who don't like fractions, is also kind of arbitrary in some sense, and comes out much closer to reality, but still isn't perfect.

What about all the rest of that stuff?

Ah, well, you wouldn't want me to make this too easy, would you? My hope is that, after this brief introduction, that code up there will not seem quite so mysterious, and that you may, in fact, be able to figure out, if not exactly what's going on, at least most of the stuff that's happening in there.

Easter computation

The allowable years are in the range 1582 to 39999 ...


Donald Knuth, The Art of Computer Programming, vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms.

The Art of Computer Programming is a three-volume set (although more volumes are being written) which is a definitive treatment on computer algorithms written by Donald Knuth. The books are usually referred to simply as "Knuth vol. 1", etc. They are extremely dense and not really suitable for beginners, but they are good if you need to look up an algorithm and learn more about it. Knuth virtually invented the field of mathematical analysis of computer algorithms, and is still going strong.

29 December 2006

PizzaQ!!! help Easter Bunny find Shortest Path to give Fabergé Easter Eggs to 13 lucky kids!

Yes, of course, click.

Okay, this should give ramanuJohn and everybody who reads Vleeptron
in Cafe Internet Sofia plenty of time to win some Pizza -- hmmm this time a whole Large from Florentina's (best in town) with 3 toppings of the winner's choice. Mushrooms. Anchovies. Pineapple. Whatever the winner's heart desires.

Of course the first question to tackle is: How many unique Paths could the Easter Bunny possibly hop? (How many Paths do you have to sum and analyze?) 1 slice plain pizza for first correct answer just to that.

As before with Santa's Toy Night,

* the Earth is Flat,

* Easter Bunny Centre is at the center at x = 0 and y = 0 .

* The map is laid out in standard Cartesian x-y coordinates,

* the units are Kilometers, and

* the Easter Bunny always hops in a straight line between two children.

I forget when (Western churches) will celebrate Easter Sunday 2007. It's some kind of Mel Gibson Tequila Car Accident between a primitive farmer's Lunar Calendar and the Reformed Gregorian Solar Calendar. The Vleeptron Advanced Mathematics Research Institute (VAMRI) will return to this matter within the next few weeks.

But first correct answer (Path and Path Length in Km to 2 decimal places of precision) wins the Pizza.

You can do this. Really. YOU CAN DO THIS.

Or better yet -- you don't have to. Let your ordinateur do it for you whilst you sleep or play pool or get into some kind of Affengesselschaft.

After the Easter Bunny seized control of Russia and assassinated the Tsar and Tsarina and their children, the Easter Bunny stole all the Fabergé Easter Eggs the Romanovs used to give each other as Easter presents.

But this Easter he's giving them back to these 13 lucky girls and boys!

Of course Peter Carl Fabergé didn't do all the work himself, he had a studio of dozens of craftsmen in St. Petersburg. Each craftsman would spend weeks or months creating one of these fantasies in precious jewels and precious metals. Then he would bring it to Fabergé for the master's approval.

Fabergé would closely examine the work. If Fabergé didn't think it was perfect, he would smash it to a million bits with a huge hammer, right there in front of the man who made it.

27 December 2006

ramanuJohn solves the Santa PizzaQ!!! ramanuJohn is AWESOME!!!


Bob Merkin said...

Is it possible that this mathematical problem is beyond the skills of all readers of Vleeptron?

That's scary.

It's going to be early April before Anna, Benjamin, Chloe, David, Eloise, Freddy and Gemma get their presents.

Wed Dec 27, 10:04:59 AM 2006

RamanuJohn said...

4887.891293962863 kilometers

Wed Dec 27, 10:47:30 AM 2006

Bob Merkin said...


Vleeptron confesses that, failing any answers from anybody on Planet Earth, I went into Undernet #math and bothered and harrassed that bunch and tried to shame somebody into trying to answer it. [I threatened to sing ABBA's Greatest Hits thru their speakers until they solved the problem.]


And it's The Right Answer!

Santa left the North Pole and flew to Chloe's house, then to Eloise's, then to Freddy's, David's, Anna's, Benjamin's and Gemma's, and then back to the North Pole, and the Trip Meter read 4887.89+ km, and there ain't no shorter way to do Christmas Eve 2006.

Of course Santa could do the same path backwards and that would also be the shortest path.

Uhh, Thanks ramanuJohn! you kick ass!

Shoulda said, but I was trying to design the problem so nobody had to mess with more than 2 decimal digits, but if u say the whole thang is 4887.891293962863 , that's fine with moi. You can place each child's toy to less than the width of 1 human hair with that kinda precision.

Vleeptron is deeply grateful and honored that ramanujohn has done this humble problem this honor.

so like rama ... where u from, who r u, nosy crap like that. no goddam robot solved this proble. you r a HUMAN BEING!

Also you have earned 1/2 of a pepperoni pizza to your account. shipping not included, but e-mail me if you're ever anywhere near Northampton or Amherst Massachusetts USA, you will get your well-won pizza! (And I know the best pizzerias in the Five College Area.)

Wed Dec 27, 11:32:10 AM 2006

Bob Merkin said...

rama -- share.

what lingo did you write your proggie in?

(or did you do it in your head, or just use a 4-banger calculator?)

have you taken a combinatorics course?

(do you teach a combinatorics course?)

write a brief bit about what the Travelling Santa Problem means to you. Was this your first TSP? Tell us some Advanced Stuph about the importance of TSP.

Are we not Men? Are we not Women?

hey! CH! can't you get the time right on your clocks???

Rock Crystal Clock by Joost Bürgi,
Swiss clockmaker (Europe's best)
and co-discoverer of logarithms.

Prague circa 1623
Gilt brass, silver, rock crystal
mechanism: brass
height: 18.6 cm

I Didn't Know What Time It Was

music: Richard Rodgers
lyrics: Lorenz Hart

I didn't know what time it was
then I met you.
Oh, what a lovely time it was,
How sublime it was too!

I didn't know what time it was
you held my hand.
Warm like the month of May it was,
and I'll say it was grand.

Grand to be alive, to be young,
to be mad, to be yours alone!
Grand to see your face, feel your touch,
hear your voice say I'm all your own.

I didn't know what time it was
live was no prize.
I wanted love and here it was
shining out of your eyes.

I'm wise,
and I know what time it is now.

* * *

Okay, what's the most famous industry in Switzerland, huh?

Clocks! Watches! Time! Zeit! le Temps! Tempo!

So anyway

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH

has this website of a World Clock.

What time is it anywhere on Earth? Wherever you are, they got a clock with your Time!


Not so good this morning with my clock, so I have e-mailed them:


uhhhh ... your World Time Zone Map ... It says New York is 08:47 right now ... but ... I'm in that zone and it's 09:47 . You're an hour slow for my zone.

Please fix, or people could miss their ferry like I almost did in Helsinki.

Merci / Danke / Grazie


Actually the World Clock is worse than that this morning. If you have a date with Lindsay Lohan tonight, don't rely on this World Clock or you'll be way late. Or way early.

How do *I* know what time it is? I got one of them nifty Atomic Clocks on the wall, what decodes the official radio Time Signal from the US Government! And they Never Lie and Never Get Anything Wrong!

And now let the Federation that can't get the time right speak for itself:


The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH, with its headquarters in Bienne, is the Swiss watch industry's leading trade association.

We are a private, professional, and non-profit association, currently bringing together more than 500 members representing more than 90% of all Swiss watch manufacturers (finished products, watch movements, components, etc.).

We have, among others, as our mission

* to contribute to the development of the Swiss watch industry

* to establish a permanent link between its members to promote their joint interests

* to represent the Swiss watch industry in dealing with the Swiss, foreign and international authorities and economic organisations

* to protect the interests of its members in the drafting of national and foreign legislation, as well as during international negotiations to defend its members' interests by means of legal proceedings.

* As a meeting place for our members, we strive to provide common interests, to coordinate the policy wishes of the industry and to help conditions in the foreign markets to provide optimal benefits for the watch business.

* Our organization is also designed to provide its members with a very large range of services in the legal, economic and commercial fields. It acts as a priviliged entity when dealing with the authorities, the media and the public in general, both in Switzerland and abroad. Our chief antennae in the world (permanent offices) are located in Hong Kong and Japon.

© Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH 1997 - 2006
All Rights reserved.
Rue d'Argent 6, CH-2502 Bienne, Switzerland
Tel. +41 (0)32 328 08 28, Fax +41 (0)32 328 08 80

Logos and Models are protected by their respective Right Holders.
Last update : March 23, 2005

Click Now! Cliquez Maintenant! Soyuz Rocket Going into Space in a few minutes from Kazakhstan!

The Soyuz 2-1b ready to lift off
on Launch Pad No. 6 at Baikonur
Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan!


Successful mission by Starsem and Arianespace orbits COROT science satellite

On Wednesday afternoon, December 27, Arianespace and Starsem successfully launched the stellar observation satellite COROT for French space agency CNES.

The 1,717th launch of a Soyuz family launch vehicle took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz-Fregat 2-1b version of the launcher lifted off as scheduled at 8:23 p.m. local time on December 27, 2006 (14:23 UTC, 3:23 p.m. in Paris).

Arianespace, Starsem and their Russian partners confirmed that the launcher's Fregat upper stage accurately injected the COROT satellite into its targeted circular polar orbit. Two successive burns of the Fregat upper stage were carried out for this mission, placing the Corot spacecraft into its polar orbit at an altitude of 896 kilometers, 50 minutes after liftoff.

Mission r?ussie pour Arianespace et Starsem : le satellite COROT du CNES est en orbite

Dans l'apr?s-midi du mercredi 27 d?cembre 2006, Arianespace et Starsem ont lanc? avec succ?s le satellite d'observation stellaire du CNES, COROT.

Le 1717?me lancement de la famille Soyuz (version Soyuz 2-1b/Fregat) s'est d?roul? depuis le cosmodrome de Baikonur au Kazakhstan. Le d?collage du lanceur a eu lieu comme pr?vu le mercredi 27 d?cembre ? 20 heures 23, heure de Baikonur (14 heures 23, Temps Universel et 15 heures 23, heure de Paris).

Arianespace, Starsem et leurs partenaires russes confirment que l'?tage orbital Fregat a plac? avec pr?cision sur l'orbite polaire circulaire vis?e le satellite COROT. Pour r?aliser cette mission, il aura fallu deux allumages successifs de l'?tage orbital Fregat. COROT a ?t? alors inject? sur son orbite ? une altitude de 896 km, 50 minutes apr?s le d?collage.


These French Rocket Guys are in Kazakhstan now, gonna launch a Soyuz! They put on a Really Slick Pre-Launch Info Show, with lots of slick animations and real cool interviews! Watch it on your computer! Quick! Quick! Vite-Vite! Schnell! Pronto!

Wherever you are, if that GMT stuff confuses you, figure out when the launch is on

* * *

Watch the launch live!

Launch Date: Wednesday 27 December 2006
Launcher version: Soyuz 2-1b
Payload: COROT
Customer: French CNES national space agency
Mission: Space science
Payload prime contractor: Alcatel Alenia Space

Time of launch: 13:55 GMT
[USA East Coast: 08:55 am]

Follow the launch live on the internet!

(Starting 25 minutes before lift-off).

Video streaming will be available in RealMedia and WindowsMedia formats.

~ ~ ~

Lancement en direct sur Internet !

Date de lancement: 27 d?cembre 2006
Lanceur: Soyuz 2-1b
Charge utile: COROT
Client: Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales
Mission: Science spatiale
Constructeur charge utile: Alcatel Alenia Space

Heure du lancement: 13:55 GMT
[ USA East Coast: 08:55 am]

Suivez le lancement en direct sur Internet!

(Diffusion ? partir de H-25 mn).

Des flux aux formats RealMedia et WindowsMedia seront disponibles.

Live Streaming Video & RichMedia powered by

26 December 2006

Das Versprechen / a promise

Es wird in 2061 zurückkehren.
Il retournera dans 2061.
Retornará em 2061.
將在 2061 年歸來。
Het zal in 2061 terugkeren.
Это возвратится в 2061.
Det returnerer i 2061.

25 December 2006

Elmer, the giant wild cat of Vleeptron (Felis downeastus)

PizzaQ: Find Santa's shortest path on Christmas Eve!

click 2x is advised

Okay, here's the Christmas PizzaQ. 1/2 pepperoni.

Santa Claus must fly his sleigh of toys from the North Pole to 7 houses, visit each house only once, and then fly back to the North Pole.

On Santa's map, the Earth is Flat, and laid out in standard x,y coordinates, in kilometers.

The North Pole is at the center, at

x = 0
y = 0

Each house has a pair of x,y coordinates relative to the North Pole.

Because the Earth is flat, Santa always flies in a straight line between two points on the map.

Santa is in a hurry and doesn't want to fly around the Earth all week.

What's his shortest path on Christmas Eve?

An Answer should look like this:

North Pole - Anna - Benjamin - Chloe - David - Eloise - Freddy - Gemma - North Pole


North Pole - Chloe - Eloise - Anna - Gemma - Benjamin - Freddy - David - North Pole

and the total length of the Route you think is the shortest:

21345.18 kilometers

Santa Claus / St. Nicholas / Father Christmas / Kris Kringle / Pere Noel / Sinterklaas / Der Weihnachtsmann
toy List / 24-25 December 2006

map coordinates
kilometers from 0,0 = North Pole

child ...... x ..... y . toy
....Anna -382.69 0104.47 Delft doll
Benjamin -922.59 -269.72 Space Ray Gun
...Chloe 0431.68 0222.36 iPod
...David -459.36 0389.88 Wii
..Eloise 0804.91 0546.52 Pony
..Freddy 0736.61 0796.63 Drums
...Gemma 0100.87 -389.71 Geiger Counter

24 December 2006

23 December 2006

The wonderful locomotive which runs on marihuana! Tierra de los Sueños' violent history in song

Click for larger & clearer.

It is extremely difficult to communicate with Tierra
de los Sueños. All mail, and now Internet service, must cross the Waking Zone / Zona de Vigilia, an extremely difficult natural barrier. But once in a while, Postalo Vleeptron receives a piece of mail from TdSPosta.

This letter is quite remarkable. We know almost nothing about the history of Tierra de los Sue
ños. We know that the Conquistador don Jorge Saperstein arrived there in 1531, and as he knelt in prayer for his safe voyage, a bunny ran up and kissed him on the nose -- thus Saperstein's landfall is called Beso de Conejo to this day. (In 1991, a hand-tinted postcard was received which shows the Plaza Grande of the capital city Pesadilla, and the magnificent statue which commemorates the bunny kissing don Jorge.)

After that, nearly all Tierra de los Sue
ños' history is a blank, until the receipt of this remarkable song.

We apologize that we have not yet had time to translate the historical text, and we also regret that we don't have a clue as to the tune. Feel free to make up your own tune if you wish to sing this amazing song!

Canción Tradicional
Tierra de los Sue

Ya murió la cucaracha,
Ya la llevan a enterrar,
Entre cuatro zopilotes
Y un ratón de sacristán


La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no puede caminar;
Porque no tiene, porque le falta
Marihuana que fumar

Cuando uno quiere a una
Y esta una no lo quiere,
Es lo mismo que si un calvo
En calle encuetr' un peine.


Las muchachas de Tierra de los Sue
Son lindas como una flor,
Y hablan tan dulcemente
Que encantan de amor.


Las muchachas de Las Vegas
Son muy altas y delgaditas,
Pero son más pedigüeñas
Que las ánimas benditas.


Las muchachas de la villa
No saben ni dar un beso,
Cuando las de Albuquerque
Hasta estiran el pescuezo.


Un panadero fue a misa,
No encontrando que rezar,
Le pidió a la Virgen pura,
Marihuana pa' fumar


Necesita automóvil
Par' hacer la caminata
Al lugar a donde mandó
La convención Zapata.


Las muchachas son de oro;
Las casadas son de plata;
Las viudas son de cobre,
Y las viejas hoja de lata.


Todos se pelean la silla
que les deja mucha plata;
en el Norte Pancho Villa
y en el Sur Viva Zapata!



"La Cucaracha," canción tradicional cómica-satírica de origen hispánico, es horriblemente antigua. Francisco Rodríguez Marín, en su libro "Cantos populares españoles", publicado en 1883, recoge una versión de esta canción, con una letra compuesta en la época de las guerras contra los moros:

De la patillas de un moro
tengo que hacer una escoba,
para que barra el cuartel
la infantería española.

Del pellejo del rey moro
tengo que hacer un sofá,
para que se siente en él
el Capitán General.

De las costillas de un moro
me atrevo a formar un puente,
para que pase la España
y su ejército valiente.

El gran escritor de la Tierra de los Sueños José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi, en su libro La Quijotita y su prima, publicado en 1818, habla ya de la canción y dice quién la introdujo en Tierra de los Sueños:

Un capitán de marina
que vino en una fragata
entre varios sonesitos
trajo el de "La Cucaracha".

Mientras en Tierra de los Sueños continuaba esta comadre musical su propia evolución política, en España también se transformaba según las necesidades de las luchas sociales e institucionales. Durante las guerras carlistas, el pueblo de Asturias agregó a "La Cucaracha" estas patitas para que pudiera caminar mejor por esos montes guerrilleros (1871-1873):

Del pellejo de Amadeo
tengo que hacer una bota
para que Don Carlos lleve
el vino para su tropa.

De los huesos de Amadeo
tengo yo que hacer un puente
para que pase Don Carlos
con su partida valiente.

Entretanto, en Tierra de los Sueños, cuando Napoleón III (El Tonto) organizó la intervención francesa para imponerle a los cuates un emperador austríaco (Maximiliano), las tropas patriotas mandadas en aquel momento por el general Porfirio Díaz le agregaron otra pata más a "La Cucaracha":

Con las barbas de Forey
voy a hacer un vaquerillo,
pa' ponérselo al caballo
del valiente don Porfirio.

En 1913 se produjo una verdadera revolución en la letra de "La Cucaracha". Muy natural, porque esto ocurrió durante la Revolución de Tierra de los Sueños. A la canción se le agregaron versos de escarnio contra el general Victoriano Huerta, viejo malandrín, rastrero, hipócrita, estrafalario, borracho, marihuanero, ridículo y malvado. Lo único bueno que se le podía reconocer en la vida era la excelente marihuana que fumaba de día y de noche. Tenía el uniforme con eternas manchas de grasa y de vino y despedía un olor a basura y a suciedad antigua, inmemorial. Sus bigotes eran lacios, con restos de comida vieja y olor a marihuana rancia.

Por alguna razón que no me puedo imaginar, la gente le puso el apodo de La Cucaracha. Huerta caminaba tambaleándose de una manera grotesca porque invariablemente se encontraba borracho. Pero cuando no andaba con sus tequilas puestas, caminaba tambaleándose de una manera grotesca porque además de las virtudes ya enumeradas era cojo y patituerto. Unos decían que Dios lo había querido perjudicar al crearlo porque sabía de antemano lo malvado que le iba a salir ese retoño. Otros afirmaban que el tipo se había vuelto malo para pagar todos los favorcitos que había recibido de Dios. Sea como fuere, Victoriano se las arregló para trepar hacia el poder dejando en el camino un reguero de cadáveres. Sus hazañas incluyeron el asesinato del Presidente Francisco I. Madero y la invitación que extendió a los gringos para que invadieran el territorio de Tierra de los Sueños.

De la letra más generalmente cantada por las tropas revolucionarias, transcribo aquí algunos versos:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha
ya no puede caminar;
porque no tiene, porque le falta
marihuana qué fumar.

Se debe recordar que Huerta fumaba marihuana y en esto por lo menos tenía buen gusto.

Ya murió la cucaracha
ya la llevan a enterrar,
entre cuatro zopilotes
y un ratón de sacristán.

Un panadero fue a misa,
no encontrando qué rezar,
le pidió a la Virgen pura
marihuana pa' fumar.

Nueva alusión a Huerta, y lo de "panadero" tiene que ver con sus amasijos políticos.

Pero la Revolución de Tierra de los Sueños fue un movimiento de facciones y, como es lógico,
cada facción tuvo su propia variante de "La Cucaracha".

Hubo Cucarachas villistas, zapatistas, carrancistas y, en algún momento, incluso huertistas. Por ejemplo, antes de la Convención de Aguascalientes (1914-1915), todavía creían los partidarios de Huerta que podían destruir las fuerzas de Carranza y por eso cantaban así su propia "Cucaracha":

Ya se van los carrancistas,
ya se van haciendo bola,
ya los chacales huertistas
se los trayen de la cola.

Sin embargo, como Huerta logró hacerse odiar de todos los gentes de Tierra de los Sueños, las versiones de todas las tendencias incluyeron estrofas contra este sujeto tenebroso, traidor y cucarachudo.

Aquí van algunas estrofas zapatistas, que se cantaron mucho en el estado Morelos desde 1915 en adelante:

Oigan con gusto estos versos
escuchen con atención,
ya la pobre cucaracha
no consigue ni un tostón.

Todo se ha puesto muy caro
con esta Revolución,
venden la leche por onzas,
y por gramos el carbón.

Siguen decenas de estrofas, protestando contra la pobreza, la carestía de la vida, la especulación de los comerciantes y los privilegios de los grupos poderosos. Porque eso sí, los zapatistas de entonces, como los de ahora, siempre andaban protestando contra las injusticias sociales.

Cuando mi General Emiliano Zapata se peleó con Carranza, sus soldados le pusieron otras patas a "La Cucaracha":

De las barbas de Carranza
voy a hacerme un calabrote,
para amarrar el caballo
de mi general Coyote.

El "General Coyote" era el gran revolucionario zapatista Nabor Mendoza, valiente y parrandero, en cuyo honor compuso un corrido el poeta Celedonio Serrano Martínez, con el título de El Coyote, Corrido de la Revolución . Pero sigamos viendo la bronca zapatista contra Carranza:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no quiere andar la danza,
porque no tiene, porque le faltan
los anteojos de Carranza.

Pero fue Francisco Villa, el gran Jefe del Norte, muy amigo y compadre mío, quien más enriqueció "La Cucaracha" con letras demoledoras contra sus enemigos. Son incontables las versiones villistas de esta canción. Algunos botones de muestra:

Con las barbas de Carranza
voy a hacer una toquilla
pa' ponérsela al sombrero
de su padre Pancho Villa.

Aquí don Venustiano Carranza no solamente aparecía como un "hijo de mala madre," sino además como uno de los muchísimos hijos naturales de Pancho Villa.

Una cosa me da risa:
Pancho Villa sin camisa;
ya se van los carrancistas
porque vienen los villistas.


When a fellow loves a maiden
And that maiden doesn't love him,
It's the same as when a bald man
Finds a comb upon the highway.


The cucaracha, the cucaracha,
Doesn't want to travel on
Because she hasn't,
Oh no, she hasn't
Marihuana for to smoke.

All the maidens are of pure gold;
All the married girls are silver;
All the widows are of copper,
And old women merely tin.

My neighbor across the highway
Used to be called Doña Clara,
And if she has not expired
Likely that's her name tomorrow.

All the girls up at Las Vegas
Are most awful tall and skinny,
But they're worse for plaintive pleading
Than the souls in Purgatory.

All the girls here in the city
Don't know how to give you kisses,
While the ones from Albuquerque
Stretch their necks to avoid misses.

All the girls from Tierra de los Sueños
Are as pretty as a flower
And they talk so very sweetly,
Fill your heart quite up with love.

One thing makes me laugh most hearty --
Pancho Villa with no shirt on
Now the Carranzistas beat it
Because Villa's men are coming.

Fellow needs an automobile
If he undertakes the journey
To the place to which Zapata
Ordered the famous convention.

Macaca 3: The weird and vile ideas of yet another Southern Republican Congressman

If you click once or twice and pray, maybe you can read it. I hope so, because I can't find this story about U.S. Representative Robin Hayes, Republican from North Carolina, on-line, so if you can't read it off this image, I'll have to retype the whole thing.

But here it is in a Nut Shell: Hayes was talking to the Rotary Club, and told them America can't Cut & Run, America must Stay The Course and achieve Victory in the Iraq War.

And one more thing. As long as the US military finds itself armed to the teeth with Shock & Awe and occupying a Muslim country, Congressman Hayes ...

... also said stability in Iraq depends ultimately on "spreading the message of Jesus Christ, the message of peace on earth, good will towards men.

"Everything depends on everyone learning about the birth of the savior," he said.

Well, there. He said it out loud. It's official now:

It's The nth Crusade!
Kill Or Konvert All Heathens!

Hmmm anyway I filched this story from another remarkably funny blogeusse, wonkette. (Actually she's several people, which is cheating.)

Look. I'm not much of a South Basher. I know that, in issues like race and justice, my beloved New England and even my Massachusetts have tons of flaws and fuckups. We don't have so Enlightened a historical track record to point fingers at other regions.

But what up with the Caucasian South? I thought these jerks were trying to get with the 21st Century.

Macaca Macaca Macaca and Trent Lott are just spewing and hurling all over the place in public lately. White national politicians from the South are just making public speeches and sending letters on their Congressional letterhead that are just FREAKY! Racist. Anti-immigrant. Muslim-bashing. Jew-cringing. (George Allen got very testy with the press corps when they asked him about his Jewish ancestry, which, apparently, was news to him.)

And now this Holy Dweeb is dragging poor Jesus into this mess. He says the whole point of the Iraq War is for Christian America to Christianize the savages in time for Christmas.

What the fuck is wrong with the voters of Virginia and North Carolina that they keep electing these racist intolerant fuckhead bigots? (Mister Macaca blew it and lost the Senate race to the dark horse Webb.)

Blacks can vote in these places now, too (if Jim Crow Nouveau = The War On Drugs hasn't locked them up and disenfranchised them). Is the NAACP and Urban League in a profound coma? Uhhh ... is there still a CORE and a SNCC? Or did they achieve Victory decades ago and go out of business?

What percentage of African-Americans are registered to vote in New Mayberry? How many showed up in November? Did they vote for Hayes and Goode?

Why are these local Democratic parties slumbering and snoring through this Dixie Renaissance of Public Bigotry and Intolerance? (Goode began his political life as a Democrat, but flipped.) Each election, isn't there a better candidate the Democrats could run against these sick trogolodyte fucks?

If these are the creeps the Republicans are running, and the Democrats have no better candidates -- well, there's a new alternative. Vermont's voters just sent a Socialist to the U.S. Senate.

Maybe it's time for the Socialists to scout out Dixie. Maybe there's a Silent Majority of decent Americans who are looking for their candidate.

It's ugly. It's the United States of America, and it's just fucking ugly.

Is a damn Yankee telling the Rebs that they need to Straighten Up and Fly Right?

You bet. And I have credentials. I was born and raised 50 miles SOUTH of the Mason and Dixon Line! I grew up under Segregation!

And now my Old South is coming back. What up with that?

22 December 2006

2 dead psychos in 1 week! Happy happy joy joy!

This total fuckhead mass murderer scum fascist thief is dead, too. Two in one week! Happy Holidays!


click on
and you can see 'em all!
Find the ones who are still in power!

Text © 1990 Dennis Bernstein & Laura Sydell.
Art © 1990 Bill Sienkiewicz
Eclipse Enterprises, P.O. Box 1099
Forestville, California 95436


President of Chile

On July 2, 1986, 18 year old Carmen Gloria Quintana was walking through a Santiago slum when she and photographer Rodrigo Rojas were confronted by government security forces. According to eyewitnesses, the two were set ablaze by soldiers and beaten while they burned. Their bodies were then wrapped in blankets and dumped in a ditch miles away. Witnesses who spoke out about what they saw were beaten and arrested. Such events are not unusual since "Captain General" Augusto Pinochet seized power from democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973, and buried Chile's 150 year old democracy. "Democracy is the breeding ground of communism," says Pinochet.

The bloody coup, in which Allende was assassinated, was carefully managed by the CIA and ITT, according to the Church Committee report. Tens of thousands of Chileans have been tortured, killed, and exiled since then, according to Amnesty Intemational. A U.S. congressional delegation was told by inmates at San Miguel Prison that they had been tortured by "the application of electric shock, simultaneous blows to the ears, cigarette burns, and simulated executions by firing squads." Despite Chile's bad human rights record, the U.S. government continued to support Pinochet with international loans. Even the state-sponsored car-bomb assassination of Chile's former Ambassador to the U.S., Orlando Letelier, did not convince the U.S. to break with Pinochet. Chileans called for his removal in a 1988 election, but he clung to the presidency until 1990, and remains the commander of Chile's army.

Turkmenistan's President-for-Life is no longer Turkmenistan's President-for-Life

New Poem

Topple the golden statues
Melt them down into a Lake of Gold
Reprint the paper money
Mint all the coins anew
Pull down the giant portraits
Change the calendar back again

Try to dance more slowly
Smile a little less broadly
Grin less, cackle softer
Find a few people who just naturally weep all the time
Hire them for a few days
Else there'll be no weeping

There is much work to do

Old Poem / 08 October 2005

The Saparmuratiad

He's the President-for-Life
He can laminate his Wife
He rides 'round Ashgabat in a Rolls-Royce
Made of Uncle Ben's Converted Rice

He's the President-for-Life
Don't you give him any Strife
Or he'll boil you in Halvah
And fillet you with an Obsidian Knife

He's the only President Turkmen are ever going to See
In the cavernous Grand Ballroom every afternoon at Three
He inspects the nation's Cheerleaders and says:
"Wash me that one, perfume that one,
Scent this thin one, scrub that fat one,
And later in the evening, bring them hence to Me."

He's the President Forever
He's the Kaiser Permanenter
When Turkwomen and Turkmen
Gaze æons in the Future
In the Presidential Palace
They still see Saparmurat the Moocher

Underneath Turkmeni soil
Shitloads natural gas and Oil
At his feet Western investors all must kneel
As you shiver in December
In your Western flat, remember:
He's the guy with whom you need to make a deal

There's his ass, prepare to kiss it
With your tongue, try not to miss it
He prefers it anticlockwise, so get real

Here's the 10000-Smrski
You can buy with it a Pepsi
And some deep-fried balls of Kopetdag Goat
Just in case you'd been forgettin'
That's his Countenance, his Punim
And he's also grinning at you on the 50000 Note

There he is on the one million
That's still he on the quadrillion
I could swear that's he again
On the front of the septillion

And knock me over with a feather!
Both in sunshine and bad weather
There's the President-for-Life on the gazillion!


The New York Times
Thursday 21 December 2006

Saparmurat Niyazov,
Turkmen Leader,
Dies at 66

by C. J. Chivers

MOSCOW -- Saparmurat Niyazov,
the authoritarian president of Turkmenistan, died unexpectedly today, the Turkmen government said, raising questions about succession and stability in a nation that is an essential supplier of energy to Europe.

Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's president who died Thursday, was known for his iron rule, lavish personality cult and eccentric decrees, for instance ordering doctors to take a pledge of allegiance to the president, rather than the Hippocratic oath. Here are some of his notable comments:

"I admit it, there are too many portraits, pictures and monuments. I don't find any pleasure in it, but the people demand it because of their mentality."

"All I wanted was a small, cozy house" -- not the $100 million gold-domed, white marble presidential palace built for him.

"Anyone who complains about going without sausage or bread for a day is not a Turkmen."

"We shall conduct reforms, but not by copying what you have in America, all that sexual stuff. If I allowed all those sexual shows on TV or the newspapers, the people would stone me."

Mr. Niyazov, who gave himself the name Turkmenbashi, or the Head of All Turkmen, had ruled his sparsely populated nation since becoming chairman of the Turkmen Communist Party in 1985, when the country was a Soviet republic.

He weathered the Soviet Union’s collapse, becoming the president of independent Turkmenistan, pushing through a constitution that concentrated power in his hands and embarking upon a megalomaniacal career as president for life.

While other post-Soviet countries suffered disorder and, in some cases, revolutions or war, Mr. Niyazov lorded over Turkmenistan with a sprawling security apparatus and a fantastically well-developed personality cult. He was 66 and had suffered from heart disease, but never publicly anointed a successor.

Intrigue immediately followed his death. According to the Turkmen constitution, upon the death of a president, the chairman of the Majlis, the country’s lower house of parliament, becomes the acting president.

But in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, power passed instead to a deputy prime minister, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and the state news agency announced that the prosecutor general had opened a criminal investigation against the Majlis chairman, Ovez Atayev.

The news agency also said that the People’s Council, the upper house of parliament, would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday. Under the constitution, the council selects presidential candidates who would stand in a special election in two months, according to Michael J. Denison, a professor at the University of Leeds who specializes in Turkmen politics.

Turkmenistan, located in Central Asia next to Iran, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea, contains many of world’s largest natural gas fields and provides gas to Russia and European countries.

Foreign governments and energy analysts expressed misgivings about the expected succession battles ahead, and what they might mean for stability and the intense international competition for the gas reserves.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, encouraged Turkmenistan at a joint appearance in Moscow to conduct a legal and orderly succession.

"We hope that the transfer of power will remain within the framework of the law," Mr. Lavrov said, according to Interfax.

Goldman Sachs sent a note to investors saying the abrupt political change "throws into question the country’s political stability and control over its substantial natural gas exports."

It added that with Mr. Niyazov gone, the United States and perhaps the European Union might compete with Russia and push Turkmenistan to consider new export routes and weaken the position of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly. Gazprom relies in part on Turkmen gas to meet commitments to its customers.

There was no publicly clear front-runner to follow Mr. Niyazov’s long reign, and speculation ranged from insiders of Mr. Niyazov’s circle to exiled opposition leaders, at least two of whom said that they planned to return home.

Mr. Niyazov’s son, Murat, was also a potential candidate, in part because in 2005 Mr. Niyazov arranged for the deletion of a line in the constitution requiring the president to be an ethnic Turkmen.

Mr. Niyazov was married to a Russian woman; their son is half Turkmen. The constitutional change allowed Murat Niyazov to qualify for the post, although it was not clear whether he had the support to overcome a reputation as a playboy with little backing from the country’s five principal tribes.

Acting President Berdymukhammedov is related to Mr. Niyazov. But Mr. Denison said in an e-mail message that he is a relatively unknown political figure and "probably not a long-term successor."

One opposition figure, Khudaiberdy Orazov, a former chairman of Turkmenistan’s central bank, said the appointment of Mr. Berdymukhammedov and the criminal charges against the Majlis chairman signaled that the country’s security services were influencing events.

The security services, he said, successors to the K.G.B., played a large role in Mr. Niyazov’s rule and would try to select a president of their choosing. “We’ve been afraid of this, because having lots of blood on their hands, they are a force that does not want democratic rule,” he said by telephone from Sweden, where he lives in exile.

Inside Turkmenistan, a country largely closed to Westerners, there were signs of official mourning.

Holiday decorations were removed from the streets of the capital. State television showed a portrait of Mr. Niyazov against the sounds of the funeral march from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, according to a resident of Ashgabat reached by telephone.

Such somber pomp was hardly universal, and critics of Mr. Niyazov recalled a dictator who created an almost otherworldly totalitarian state.

Mr. Niyazov forbade independent news media and opposition parties, jailed rivals or drove them to exile, and imposed his name, words and image on all manner of public discourse and life. His face appears on Turkmen currency. His name, given to streets and buildings, is in such abundant local use that it replaced the word January on the official Turkmen calendar.

His pronouncements, many of them disconnected from the normal affairs of state, were sometimes strange enough to assume an irreverent life on the Internet. He banned video games, gold teeth, opera and ballet, and once encouraged his people to chew on bones -- good, he said, for their teeth.

It was the sort of declaration that made him the most bizarre dictator in a region dominated by autocrats, but was also a small part of his political canon. The Ruhnama, his semi-autobiographical book of philosophy, poems and instructions for moral living, is required reading in colleges and schools, and is displayed throughout the country, including in mosques.

In Prague, Yovshan Annagurban of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen Service said it was difficult to predict what course Turkmenistan would take now, after suffering decades of repression that reach back to the Soviet Union and became even stranger in Mr. Niyazov’s time.

"The problem is he destroyed everything," he said. "He corrupted everything and everyone around him. People at the top as well as ordinary people do not trust anyone and everyone."

Nikolai Khalip contributed reporting.


The New York Times Magazine
Sunday 5 January 2003

When a Kleptocratic,
Megalomaniacal Dictator
Goes Bad

by Ilan Greenberg

"Do you see our baby president on top of the world?"
Marat, my driver, said, pointing to the sky. I craned my neck out the window to see an immense bronze bull with an even larger black metal globe astride its horns. Finally I saw him: a comparatively tiny gold figurine, the president as baby, maybe five stories up, nuzzling the whole earth from just below the North Pole; a golden kidney bean of an infant incongruously attached to the rest of the sculpture like a raccoon clinging to the top of a tree. "It represents our president when he was orphaned in the 1948 earthquake," Marat explained.

The first rule for a cult of personality is ubiquity. The presence of the ruler must permeate the lives of the ruled. And so Turkmenistan, a country situated uneasily between Afghanistan and Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, is carpet-bombed with the image of its strange, kleptomaniac president, Saparmurat Niyazov. His face appears on every denomination of Turkmenistan's currency. A golden profile of the man is broadcast on a corner of the two national television stations at all times. Large stone Niyazovs guard the vestibules and walkways leading into every government building. Billboards of Niyazov's image plaster almost anything vertical and are planted upright at intersections. In the mid-90's Niyazov changed his name to the more all-encompassing Turkmenbashi, which translates into ''father of all Turkmen.'' He renamed the country's only significant port city after himself. In the capital, Ashgabat, where spectacular fountains have been built in every cranny yet water is rationed to two hours a day, Niyazov's massive salute to his infant self occupies the city's main square.

Like the other formerly Soviet republics in the Central Asian tinderbox, Turkmenistan has made the transition to freedom only in the sense that it is ruled now by a local dictator rather than by one in Moscow. Turkmenistan also shares with its neighbors rampant corruption and economic calcification masked by wealth from natural resources -- in Turkmenistan's case, plentiful reserves of natural gas. But even in this unstable region, which has suddenly become a focal point for the war on terrorism, Turkmenistan stands apart. A year or two ago, it was a wobbly country ruled by a profoundly weird and corrupt but apparently benign dictator. More recently, things have grown even weirder, and darker.

On Nov. 25, someone opened fire on Niyazov as he drove his own car in a motorcade through the capital. The president escaped unharmed in the attack, arousing suspicion that he choreographed the incident himself to justify and intensify a crackdown against his supposed enemies. Niyazov, to the surprise of no one, immediately fingered the shooters as thick-necked Russian "mercenaries," and among those arrested was a man holding dual American-Russian citizenship. More than 100 people have since been arrested -- there are reports of security forces picking up entire families. Turkmenistan's best-known dissident, Boris Shikhmuradov, a former foreign minister, was arrested on Dec. 26 and charged with engineering the attempted coup.

In recent weeks Niyazov's suspicion has turned against Uzbekistan. Tensions between the two neighbors had already been churning because of Turkmenistan's increasing military presence along their shared border. On Dec. 16, Turkmenistan raised the stakes by sending security police surging past guards into the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat to search the complex for suspects tied to the assassination attempt. Neighboring countries do have reasons to dream of regime change in Turkmenistan: Niyazov's schizophrenic decision-making is irksome to neighbors in urgent need of stable, predictable and dependable allies.

But analysts and diplomats, most of whom believe the attack was bona fide, say the coup plotters are probably home-grown, burbling out of the slushy soup of family and tribal divisions as they vie for power in the government with Communist apparatchiks who never went away.

Or it could have been a mob hit. "I wouldn't be surprised if we're looking at mob warfare, something out of 'The Sopranos,'" says Theodore Karasik, an expert on Central Asia at RAND, the policy center in Santa Monica, Calif. Western analysts say it has been rumored that Central Asian drug cartels have members in very high positions in the Turkmenistan government.

The first thing a visitor to Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat, notices -- after Niyazov's image -- is the spectacular building boom. The aesthetic looks as if it sprang from the imagination of a "Star Wars" set designer: neo-Roman monoliths upholstered in white marble, detailed in Persian kitsch. The newest government buildings are vast and low-slung, set back from large concrete concourses where no one seems to walk. The facades are all gleaming white, full of columns and imposing gold domes, but there is also lots of tinted glass and modern, sharp corners. Yet many of the buildings -- perhaps the majority -- are half-finished, and the idle construction skeletons all over Ashgabat give the impression of a city flash-frozen, like something thrown on dry ice.

This odd building boom belies Turkmenistan's accelerating downward trajectory. A quarter of adults are unemployed, according to estimates by diplomats, and underemployment numbers are much higher. Public education has been cut from 10 years to 9. The universities are in such poor shape that they have essentially been decredentialed by every other country in the world. Visas to go abroad -- especially to neighboring Iran -- are just about impossible to get. An elite government position is the ticket to wealth, reinforcing the universal perception that corruption has metastasized throughout officialdom. Meanwhile, the government enforces a strict maximum wage on public-sector jobs -- the vast majority of all work. For example, a bank teller cannot be paid more than $36 a month. To pay his cooks a living wage, a restaurant manager told me, he creates fictional employees and disperses the extra salaries to his staff.

A few years ago the government wowed citizens with eye-opening banquets of free vegetables and fruit spread along city sidewalks, financed by natural-gas exports; now Turkmenistan experiences frequent food shortages. During cotton season, soldiers have been known to board intercity buses to abduct the passengers for weeks of unpaid work picking the fields. Western diplomats estimate that Niyazov has spirited between $1.4 billion and $2 billion from the national treasury into foreign accounts.

Last spring and summer the government responded to an increasing sense of chaos by unleashing a crackdown. On Aug. 11, dissidents were arrested at Ashgabat's main outdoor market for handing out leaflets accusing Niyazov of political oppression and of stealing the country's wealth. After a Russian documentary showed starving Turkmen farmers, the government banned cable TV. Foreign newspapers -- including the Russian papers that were a news staple for people in the cities -- were also banned, leaving the bulk of Turkmenistan's five million people essentially cut off from the outside world.

Though the assassination attempt in November has led to emphatic incidents of repression, Turkmenistan's symptoms of decay are usually more subtle and insidious. Niyazov has effectively destroyed primary education in Turkmenistan. Schoolchildren study almost exclusively from a single text, a disorganized, quasi-religious memoir-cum-national history written, of course, by the president. The book, ''Ruhnama'' (the word means ''soul of the people''), is a hodgepodge of bland exhortations on how to live a moral life (''Do whatever lawful thing your parents tell you to do'') and Niyazov's own treacly poetry and putative rules for governing ("The main target in agriculture until 2010 is to increase the production of grain and cotton"). The book lashes out at the Soviet Union for mistreating Turkmen, but Niyazov is careful to omit mention of his long career as a Soviet apparatchik. "Ruhnama" also contains examples of the handwriting of the "Beloved Leader Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great."

Niyazov's bizarre antics, an Alice in Wonderland marvel to outsiders peering through the looking glass, are actually an instrument for political domination. Last summer, Turkmenistan's nominal Legislature passed the president's request to change some of the names of the days of the week and the months to his first name, his new last name and words associated with his name. (In an act of filial generosity, he ordered April to be renamed for his mother.) For Turkmen the stunt had serious political implications. One European diplomat living in the country told me that for many citizens, "Niyazov abusing the Legislature like this, turning what is supposed to be a serious meeting into a place to pass yet more cult-of-personality nonsense -- that was the last straw."

Analysts say that the country's growing instability has unpredictable and potentially dangerous implications for American interests in this strategically vital region. "All the issues that concern Americans -- drugs, transnational crime, terrorism, ethnic problems -- are a black hole in Turkmenistan," says Karasik at RAND. "This is the kind of place that can show up on the front page in a few years and take everyone by surprise."

Western diplomats say analyzing the country is like trying to get a fix on the view out the window while dining at a revolving restaurant. The small diplomatic and NGO contingent living in the country are by and large in Ashgabat, and field reports are hard to come by. Uncertainty is magnified by the sheer mystery of what will happen when Niyazov ultimately departs the scene. Because he is at the center of Turkmenistan's continuing trauma, his departure would seem to suggest a better future. But he is stripping the country of the essential elements of a stable future, like education and functioning economic and political institutions. The president's health is a constant source of rumor -- he is 62 and had heart surgery in 1997. Western diplomats say the president doesn't dare leave the country for fear of a coup and has made such a regular habit of firing or jailing his ministers that he has turned the government into a talent vacuum.

turkmen still get some carrots along with their sticks. The most cherished political sop: free gasoline. Electricity, which is actually generated from natural gas, is nearly free. Housing is heavily subsidized -- rarely is anyone's monthly rent more than $30. A one-way airline ticket costs a whopping $1.50 for travel within the country.

"Ashgabat is beautiful, yes?" waved Marat as he lighted a cigarette -- smoking is only allowed in cars and indoors -- and pumped his aging BMW with free gas.

We were heading for Mary, a four-hour drive east from Ashgabat toward Afghanistan. I went to Mary because I was told it is the city Niyazov likes least. According to people there, the president's hostility is a consequence of a murky, long-ago altercation between Niyazov's father and a Mary resident. A pleasant city of hidden courtyards and flowering trees, Mary feels more like a big village, where people keep goats and cows in their courtyards and the dawn is pierced by the call of roosters. Mary hasn't escaped the obligatory billboards and statues, but it seemed to have fewer than other cities.

In front of the train station, I met Kirvar, a compact, mustachioed man of about 40. Kirvar used to be a cigarette smuggler, but he switched to legally importing cars from Turkey after losing his contacts with customs officials. Turkmenistan is at the crossroads of one of the world's largest heroin routes, and drugs, Kirvar told me, are ruining Mary's young people. He suggested we get into his Russian Lada for a drive.

"She's one," he said, pointing to an attractive teenage girl who, like almost all women in the country, was wearing a traditional Turkmen long satiny dress. "I know her father. I think he's aware of what she's doing, but we don't talk on the subject." Inside a Mary discotheque a young Turkmen woman with streaks of dyed blond hair didn't hesitate to tell me that the going rate for heroin is $2 a dose.

Official corruption, the suppression of moderate forms of Islam and a sense that social problems like drug use are beyond the control of the government have led people in neighboring countries to embrace a harsh political Islam. It's hard to say whether Turkmenistan will follow a similar path. The country has a mostly Sunni Muslim population, and the state is avowedly secular. But the nation's school-age elite is now getting a grounding in political Islam. The force promoting political Islam here comes out of Turkey, the country with the closest ties to Turkmenistan. A private group led by a Turkish missionary named Fetullah Gulen has opened 14 ''Turkmen-Turk'' magnet schools in the country. The schools boast computers, teachers trained in Turkey and much better facilities than local schools.

I paid a visit to a Turkmen-Turk school in the northeastern city of Dashhowuz. A third-grade class offered to demonstrate its English, and when I agreed, one light-haired boy stood up and began singing the Beatles' ''Yesterday'' in a clear, strong voice. After a few minutes of his solo, the rest of the class joined in. It was a strangely affecting performance, punctuated by the way the children concluded the song by turning to each other and applauding.

Although the schools are financed with Turkish money and students are taught mostly by Turkish teachers, classroom walls are covered with aphorisms taken from "Ruhnama" (albeit in English), and a shrine to the president's book takes center stage in the school's lobby. The schools also, very covertly, proselytize their version of militant Islam, which includes advocating the need for Islamic law. "This is the one radical influence that I know about in Turkmenistan," says Shirin Akiner, a lecturer in Central Asian studies at the University of London.

"Being religious wasn't compulsory, but it was coerced," says Vepar, a 20-year-old university student who graduated from a Turkmen-Turk school and then studied in the United States under a grant offered by the State Department. "After a couple of months boys stopped looking at girls. I always tried to argue with their views, to not be a zombie about things. But they wanted us to pray five times a day, and they noticed who didn't. People would talk about making the country Islamic."

I met Ayna and her husband, Muhamed, in a restaurant in Dashhowuz, a listless place studded with candy-colored Soviet-era concrete apartment blocks and brick-and-dirt houses with sheet-metal roofs that sharply repel the unyielding desert sun. Ayna and Muhamed, both in their mid-20's and carefully groomed, were eager to discuss their lives -- a daring act in Turkmenistan, where talking unsupervised to a reporter can be dangerous. Ayna projected a very modern ironic distance when she talked about her predicament -- the predicament of being Turkmen. Ayna was the only person I spoke to in Turkmenistan who wanted me to publish her whole name. But at times even she lapsed into dejection. "My mother tells me I'm too free with my language," she said. "But I have nothing to lose. I don't have a job, anything to think about. I don't have a good life."

Muhamed, consumed with his inability to make money, turned ashen with anger once he started on his narrative. He toils 15 hours a day, every day, to earn about $8 a week installing home satellite dishes across the border in Uzbekistan. The pay is good by local measures, but for Muhamed the job is not only backbreaking, it's humiliating. He has already helped build three private businesses: installing and servicing cable TV systems, selling new cars for a German automaker and starting Dashhowuz's first photo-processing store. Each time his job was taken away when Muhamed's boss decided business was robust enough to fire him and install a friend or a nephew in his place. And it wasn't only jobs he lost, but capital as well. To start the cable business, he sold his car; for the car-sales job, he moved his family into his mother's apartment, splitting the $17 monthly rent. Muhamed is well aware of how capitalism works elsewhere, asking me about the requirements for lines of credit in the United States and the availability of small business loans. Now he has given up altogether on Turkmenistan's sputtering private sector. "I want a government job," he said.

My stay in Dashhowuz coincided with a presidential visit. The foreign ministry had denied my request for an interview with the president -- in fact, it denied my request for an interview with anyone in the country. I was eager to catch a glimpse of Turkmenbashi the Great, the man whose imprint on this country was so total. The police had cordoned off his route from the airport, but I was allowed to linger on a side road near enough to see the street he would be traveling on. Children were allowed to crowd the intersections. It was a clear, hot autumn morning, and the children distracted themselves with ice-cream bars and sodas.

Suddenly, the kids were calling out -- screaming, really -- as a motorcade of black Mercedes-Benzes slowly moved toward us. From out of one car emerged a chunky man with very black hair, a mechanical smile and an overflowing fist of what I was to discover later were American $100 bills. The children seemed to understand the proceedings. They stuck out their palms as Turkmenistan's president-for-life, the nation's very own secular ayatollah, doled out the bills. Television cameras recorded the act of benevolence.

I thought of the last thing Vepar, the student with an independent mind, had said to me: "These people are not forever. I just hope the new people will come as soon as possible. And in a peaceful way." With the children running to their parents clutching enough money to cover the rent for half a year, Niyazov returned to his sedan. The driver pumped down on the accelerator, and with the free gas given to every citizen of Turkmenistan, the car moved past my line of sight, and he was gone.

Ilan Greenberg, formerly a reporter for The Asian Wall Street Journal, is a writer based in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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