Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Comedian Wayne Federman presents a short piano lesson demonstrating the three fundamentals of playing in the style of Chico Marx.
Your turn. Click the keyboard to activate a Flash Virtual Piano.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
“Fishing is a constant reminder of humility and of human frailty -- for all men are equal before fishes.” - Herbert Hoover
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Click to enlarge images.
Money Tales from the Great Depression
By Rob Baedeker, Special to SF Gate
Amid the din of impending-recession rumors, I've noticed friends voicing anxiety about their jobs, finances and futures, and after hearing and reading an increasing number of reports on economic anxieties, I've also started to worry about how dire it might get.
I wanted to collect some firsthand accounts of how bad the American economy actually has gotten in the past, at least in living memory. So I sought out some perspective from those who had grown up during the Great Depression.
I suspect that, like me, many middle class Americans have a hard time imagining giving up their iPods, let alone selling apples on the street to make ends meet, and it seems worthwhile to keep in mind the sorts of real, large-scale hardship that can befall any country at any time.
And, although it's hard to find an expert today that would predict an economic calamity akin to the 1930s slump, I wanted to put a check on my own (and media pundits') occasionally alarmist tendencies by contrasting the recent forecasts about the current downturn with stories from a real historical enormity. In other words, it could be much, much worse.
Finally, I simply wanted to add a few more Great Depression voices to the record. As one of my interviewees, Naomi Zipkin, put it, "There aren't a lot of us here anymore — and soon there aren't going to be that many people around to talk to."
Following are excerpts from my conversations with five individuals who were born in the 1910s or '20s and grew up during the prolonged economic downturn that followed the U.S. stock market crash of 1929. They talked about their memories of the hardships that they — or their parents, friends or relatives — endured, and about how their experiences during the Depression may have affected their views of money and finances.
Alice (not her real name) was born in Pomona in 1923 and grew up in the San Fernando Valley. She now lives in San Clemente (Orange County).
"I remember when they came and took our car away — that made a big impression," she says. "And I remember my mother worrying about what to feed us.
"My father was a real estate broker. Then the housing market crashed — sort of like today but 10 times worse. Nobody was buying homes. What little money my parents had was gone when the banks closed.
"My father starting raising some vegetables in our yard. I remember we didn't have new clothes; you grew and your clothes didn't fit anymore. I never went to a dentist; I had crooked teeth.
"My grandmother lost her only son in World War I, so she was a Gold Star Mother and got $50 a month. So there were times when she'd send part of that to my mother to help us out.
"The Depression made a saver of me; that's been the most important thing, ever since. When I was young, my father once tried to explain to me how a bank could close. Can you imagine trying to explain that to a kid? For a long time I didn't have a great trust of banks.
"My father had a friend named Oscar who had quite a bit of money. After the bank closures, he didn't trust banks, and he buried his money in fruit jars in his back yard. When the Depression was over, Oscar dug up all the jars and bought (some real estate) with the money.
"It still scares me to death when people run up big credit bills. That's not something I could do. I'm very careful. My house has to be clear, so that no one can take it away.
Lucille Gold was born in New York City in 1920. She now lives in Oceanside (San Diego County).
"My mother and father were immigrants," she says. "They came here (from Russia) before World War I as teenagers. My father got to be very rich in the 1920s: He opened a chemical company of sorts. I never knew, but I suspect it might have had something to do with Prohibition. Our family was rich — we had a nanny and lived in the upper Bronx in a very elegant home. My father also invested in a lot of things like radio and film. And then he lost everything in the stock market crash.
"I remember listening in to lots of my parents' conversations after my sister and I were supposed to be in bed. My mother would be crying, wondering what we would do ... She found a job as a bookkeeper for another family, and my father applied for New York City welfare. I remember it was $25 a week for a family of four.
"We had an uncle who had come to California and invested in real estate, and who was not hurt by the Depression. He let my family live rent-free in an apartment that he owned in the Bronx. That was one of the ways we survived.
"I've had a fantastic life — not rich, but full of wonderful things. What the Depression really did was make me very political and very radical. I can't understand the political apathy I see in this world today. I resent living in a country that prides itself on being so rich and yet people still have to worry about getting old, getting sick, losing a job."
Naomi Zipkin is Lucille Gold's younger sister. She was born in 1926 and currently lives in Walnut Creek.
"My father was a real romantic, and one of his great pleasures was reminding our mother of their anniversary in late December with a gift of a dozen long-stemmed red roses," she says. "Roses at that time in New York were very costly, and finances were a real problem for my family. (During the Depression) he would bring home these roses and my mother would, as they say now, 'go ballistic.'
"We were reliant on welfare for period of our lives. I can vividly remember my parents eating differently from my sister and I. In Jewish custom, my mother fed us well — she would buy good nutritious food for us; I don't remember what (my parents) ate instead.
"I still have some of the Depression mentality, and I'm 81. I still find that decisions I'll make are kind of based on the sense of you only have yourself that you can count on for security. Life isn't always predictable.
"I also probably came away with a sense of the importance of having savings, and not wanting to be reliant upon my children, for example — having them actualize themselves in the way they need to, and not feeling responsible for my husband and me.
"When I graduated from college, I knew that I'd have to go out and go to work; one didn't think of anything else. Grad school was only for the wealthy. I would have loved to go to graduate school. I look at my grandchildren, and my grandson just graduated from college, and he's not sure what he wants to do with his life. He'd like to spend some time thinking about what he'd like to do next — I think it's wonderful, I'm not judging it — but in no way would that have fit into my own expectation for myself."
Nathan Zipkin is Naomi's husband. He was born in Los Angeles in 1921.
"We never had money for clothes," he remembers. "In those days people darned their socks; it was not like today where you throw them away. In the summer time we didn't wear shoes.
"There was always food in our house, but dinners quite often were just potato soup or just rice and gravy. My mother sacrificed a lot for us.
"FDR declared a bank holiday after he first became president. When it was over, the bank that my parents had some savings in failed — it was gone. They lost all their savings — about $1,000. Even as a young kid, I could understand this was a serious thing.
"Then my parents started having trouble paying their mortgage. Congress had passed a law setting up the HOLC (the Home Owners' Loan Corporation). You had to apply to them, and I remember my mother going down every day to the office of the HOLC to try to get them to give us relief — to lower the payments on the mortgage — similar to what they're talking about today, but for different reasons. One day my mother came home and said, 'They approved our application.' She broke down and said, 'We're not going to lose our house.' That was 1934; I'm going on 87. I was a young kid then, but I can still remember it clearly.
"I know that in my high school years, which were 1936 to 1939, I was thinking, 'I have to get a job out of high school, what am I going to do? There was no emphasis on going to college; my father had been an orphan and he labored. He was never out of work during the Depression. He owned a little laundry store and he worked long, long, long hours. He was gone in the morning while it was still dark, he came home after work, exhausted, had dinner and fell into bed. And then he'd get up and do it again, morning after morning. Shortly after I graduated from high school in June, 1939, I got a job in a laundry for $12 a week; it was a 50-hour week that we worked.
"One son of mine is doing very well now — he's a consultant in a computer business. I keep talking to him and saying, 'Whatever you're saving, be sure you're saving a large enough chunk, so if you're out of work for a couple years you'll be able to live. I don't know if relaying my situation to my kids had an impact. From time to time I've told them what it was like.
"What I don't want to do is ever be in a position where I'd have to go to (my children) for help. I can't emphasize how important Social Security is in our lives, and in my mother and father's lives. I keep thinking what's going to happen with my kids; I think this country is going to be faced with a major financial upset. There will be some hard times."
John Manola was born in 1917 in East Orange, N.J. He now lives in Philadelphia.
"My father worked as a mason," he says, "and when the Depression came, he lost his job, along with many, many others. I remember hearing my folks talk about not having any income at all. He got unemployment of some kind and then eventually got a job with the WPA.
"My uncle had a very good job on Wall Street; he lost everything. He almost committed suicide; he became very emotionally disturbed.
"I remember that my mother would cry a lot when she couldn't pay the bills. (Collectors) would come to our house and she'd have to talk to them. I remember hearing all this.
"The Depression made me realize how I had to work for everything. I started to have little jobs. My mother's brother had a chicken farm and he asked my mother if I would want to sell some eggs. I would take the eggs out and sell them.
"The experience of growing up during the Depression has definitely permeated my life. One thing it made me do is save. You always have to have something to fall back on. And I've always been careful with credit cards.
"I think when I hear that word 'recession' now, I really feel it more than maybe some people that didn't go through (the Great Depression). When I started reading about the latest recession news, I called my broker — I have a few things in stocks and so forth — and I asked him, 'Am I to be afraid about this?' The fear is there. But I trust that something will adjust.
"I'm not fatalistic; I'm more optimistic than pessimistic, but I still have sort of a feeling of how quickly things can disappear. And I also know that you really don't have to have too much to get along. You can get along very well with very little. You don't have to keep trying to be a millionaire. If I won $1 million, I wouldn't know what to do with it."
White House photo of the day from the White House Photo Blog. Photo: Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME. Click to enlarge image.
Amongst the things that Barack Obama
carries for good luck
are a memorial bracelet for Sgt. Ryan Jopek, who died in Iraq, a gambler’s lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child.
Barack just doesn't get it.
"... from Sgt.... uh... uh..."
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
red blood cells
Plato insisted that the most beautiful things were invisible — that perfect forms are too perfect to see.
Well, Plato would have loved the Wellcome Image competition, which limits itself to photographs of subjects that can’t be seen by the naked eye.
See more at the Welcome Image Awards 2008 Gallery.
read more covertress photography
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Twas the night Iran went nuclear, when all through land
Not a word was made mention; they were mute as the sand.
The scientists displayed enriched uranium with care.
To inspect it, their leader soon would be there.
The children of Israel were snug in their beds,
While visions of sufganiyah danced in their heads.
They dreamt of latkes and kugel and brisket well-seasoned
And hadn't a care; Hanukkah was the reason.
Back in Iran, there arose such a clatter,
Mahmoud was ecstatic; he was mad as a hatter.
"Israel won't exist exist; their land will be hexed,
Then America, watch out, for you will be next!"
"Now Bushehr! now, Natanz! now, Karaj and Arak!
We have nuclear weapons and we will attack!
The cities of Satan shall crumble and fall!
And, Allah willing, they'll be nothing at all!"
To the world he said naught, but went straight to his work,
Ordering warheads filled, he went truly bizerk.
Atop his weapons, he grinned and whooped as he posed,
Then giving a nod, to the launchers they rose!
Secured in his bunker, to his team gave a whistle,
And away warheads flew on Shehab-3 missiles.
He triumphantly exclaimed, as they climbed out of sight,
"Merry Christmas infidels, and to all a good-night!"
Monday, September 22, 2008
Hale Receiving Instructions from Washington - Johnston, Henry P. "Captain Nathan Hale." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Volume LXI. June To November, 1880.
Capt. Hale, In the Words of an Enemy
"[Maj. Robert Rogers, the daring New England frontiersman and guerrilla commander] detected several American officers, that were sent to Long Island as spies, especially Captain Hale, who was improved in disguise, to find whether the Long Island inhabitants were friends to America or not.
Colonel Rogers having for some days, observed Captain Hale, and suspected that he was an enemy in disguise; and to convince himself, Rogers thought of trying the same method, he quickly altered his own habit, with which he Made Capt Hale a visit at his quarters, where the Colonel fell into some discourse concerning the war, intimating the trouble of his mind, in his being detained on an island, where the inhabitants sided with the Britains against the American Colonies, intimating withal, that he himself was upon the business of spying out the inclination of the people and motion of the British troops.
This intrigue, not being suspected by the Capt, made him believe that he had found a good friend, and one that could be trusted with the secrecy of the business he was engaged in; and after the Colonel's drinking a health to the Congress: informs Rogers of the business and intent.
The Colonel, finding out the truth of the matter, invited Captain Hale to dine with him the next day at his quarters, unto which he agreed. The time being come, Capt Hale repaired to the place agreed on, where he met his pretended friend, with three or four men of the same stamp, and after being refreshed, began the same conversation as hath been already mentioned.
But in the height of their conversation, a company of soldiers surrounded the house, and by orders from the commander, seized Capt Hale in an instant.
But denying his name, and the business he came upon, he was ordered to New York. But before he was carried far, several persons knew him and called him by name; upon this he was hanged as a spy, some say, without being brought before a court martial."
Excerpt from Consider Tiffany's manuscript history of the American Revolution. [pictured here] The page on the left (verso) contains Tiffany's account of the capture of Nathan Hale by Maj. Robert Rogers.
Tiffany's account of the capture of Nathan Hale fits the facts as we know them so well that one is tempted to accept it as being substantially true. Tiffany's story reflects badly on Hale's judgment but not on his moral virtue. His ineptitude as a spy does not diminish his patriotism; on the contrary, it gave him the opportunity, however hateful, to display it in its most magnificent dimensions.
The "martyr-spy" of the American Revolution and the patron saint of the American intelligence establishment; Hale's statue stands today just off the main lobby of CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.
As a 21-year-old captain in the Continental Army whose spotless moral character was universally admired, Hale courageously volunteered in September 1776 for the dangerous mission of reconnoitering British army positions in the New York City area; he was captured and hanged on Manhattan Island on Sept. 22, 1776.
Ardent patriot writers of the 19th century depicted Hale's death in theological tones, describing how the young hero, alone amidst a sea of hostility, established a moral superiority over his tormentors and died triumphantly, uttering the imperishable sentiment:
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Old Faithful Geyser as seen from Observation Point. Photo: DeskTopScenes.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Who's going to win the race for the White House?
Let's have some fun. -- Let's ask Tarot.com! (Religious folks, please bear with me, I promise, this really will be fun.)
In case you can't read my question, I asked (trying to be as specific as possible):
"Will Barack Obama win the 2008 U.S. presidential race?"
Actual screenshot of question and answer from Tarot.com.
What does the answer to my question mean?
At #0, the Fool is the card of infinite possibilities. The bag on the staff indicates that he has all he needs to do or be anything he wants, he has only to stop and unpack. He is on his way to a brand new beginning. But the card carries a little bark of warning as well. Stop daydreaming and fantasizing and watch your step, lest you fall and end up looking the fool.
A woman is tied and blindfolded within a cage of swords. This is the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" card. The Querent is in a situation where they're afraid to move. If they move, they'll get cut. However, the ropes that bind them, the blindfold over their eyes, are their own fears, keeping them still, immobile. And so the longer they stay, the more they constrain and entrap themselves. Ever been in a situation where you're afraid to say anything, so afraid that you second guess yourself, end up saying nothing, tying yourself in knots? But speaking up is going to get you cut to ribbons? That's this card. The Querent must have the strength to endure the cuts, else they'll stay trapped. They must move, for the longer they let the situation continue, the worse it will get.
Ah, the dreaded three of swords. Three swords pierce a heart. Against the background of a storm, it bleeds.
You were warned that the peace established in the two of swords couldn't last. What sharp words or cutting ideas have created here, not surprisingly, is pain and heartbreak. This card often relates to love-triangles; but remember this is an air sign, so what the Querent believes to be true was likely due to something they heard wrongly or were falsely told, a wrong idea they got into their heads. It does not lessen the fact that hurtful words are going to be exchanged.
There is, however, an up side to this card, however bleak. Prior to now, the words and thoughts - possibly poisonous words and thoughts - have been bottled up. They now come out into the open, the cutting truth. I don't like you, or, I didn't say that, or, I'm sorry, but it's your best friend I love (ouch!). So, well, now the Querent knows; no more waiting, obsessing, wondering, worrying. Either blood or poison can drip out, and the Querent can get on with their life. They now know how things stand and can act on that, instead of on false beliefs, gossip and misconceptions.
Sorry, Obama. It seems a presidential win for you just isn't in the cards...
no matter who you know.
"Andrew - Keep up the good work. - Barack"
Yes, thanks Andrew! ;) - c
Thursday, September 18, 2008
BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!
JOHN MCCAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.
HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure (right from Day One!) that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.
GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.
DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?
COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.
BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of road?
AL GORE: I invented the chicken.
JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.
AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white? We need more black chickens.
DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.
OPRAH: Well, I understand that this chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed access to the other side of the road.
NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.
PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.
MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No bird gave me any insider information about crossing.
DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.
JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth? That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you may become gay, also. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side.' That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.
GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why a chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.
BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it had experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.
ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.
JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens crossing roads together.
BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken 2008, which will not only cross roads, but will integrate with those that lay eggs. Henhouse Explorer is an integral part of eChicken 2008. This new platform is much more stable than previous versions.
ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road pass beneath the chicken?
COLONEL SANDERS: Which way did he go?
The United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., is among the most architecturally impressive and symbolically important buildings in the world. It has housed the meeting chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives for almost two centuries. Begun in 1793, the Capitol has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored; today, it stands as a monument not only to its builders but also to the American people and their government.
President George Washington laid the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol during a groundbreaking ceremony for construction on Sept. 18, 1793.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Obama Tries to Stall GI's Iraq Withdrawal
"The problem with what Obama did is twofold. First, Senator Obama has no authority to negotiate on behalf of the executive branch, which has sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Second and most important, Obama attempted to interfere against the interests of the United States. He can ask all the questions he wants, but when Obama started pressing Iraqi officials to stop negotiations with the executive branch — in other words, break one level of diplomatic contact and freeze a military alliance in time of war — that crossed a line and clearly violated the Logan Act. It also makes clear that Obama would do anything to get elected, even harm diplomatic relations between the US and an ally." - from Ed Morrissey for Hot Air
"Life clocks are a lie! Carousel is a lie! There is no renewal!"
O.K., so Obama didn't come out with a statement decrying this report as a lie. The actual statement from the Obama camp is not so comical:
Obama’s national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said, "In fact, Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a 'Strategic Framework Agreement' governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office."
Is it my interpretation, or did Ms. Morigi just admit that Obama attempted to circumvent U.S. policy?
Read the Background Material...
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Lehman Brothers folds. Story and photo by The New York Times.
By David Silverman for Harvard Business Publishing.
"Why would you want to start a company now?"
I've heard that a lot lately. The economy is down and getting worse, so it would be a terrible time to launch a new enterprise.
Or is it actually one of the best times to be innovative?
I did a little research and came up with a surprising list of companies that were founded during the worst economic downturn in US history, the Great Depression.
There were plenty of big names, and a lot of them are all about innovation:
- Texas Instruments
- Interstate Bakeries (makers of Twinkies, a food that would allegedly survive any disaster)
- The Pittsburgh Steelers (one of the few franchises to survive from that time)
Unemployed men stand in line for free coffee and doghnuts during the Great Depression.
And it wasn't just the giants. There were also smaller companies that are still around today: Rubenstein Supply Company, Kansas City Steak, and Loehmanns Department Store. And there were introductions of new products that have lasted ever since such as Nestle's Nescafe and Kraft's Miracle Whip.
I particularly liked this quote from Purina's website where they explain how doing something new (celebrity endorsements) leads to survival and success:
"Consumer products companies rely heavily on new products, advertising and promotion to compete for scarce Depression dollars. Ralston Purina also masters the art of celebrity endorsements by sending Dog Chow® Checkers dog food to the South Pole with Admiral Byrd in 1933. That same year a cowboy named Tom Mix agrees to hawk Ralston cereals, and an army of young Straight Shooters pledges allegiance to Purina."
Why did so many long-lasting companies and products come from the Great Depression? While there's no question that a bad economy makes it tougher to raise capital and win customers, the reality is that good ideas implemented well always have room to succeed. From another point of view, limited consumer funds means that more attention is given to every purchase, and therefore the best new ideas and products have a better chance of success during a downturn because the competition can't provide the same value.
Bread line during the Great Depression. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica.
Whatever the media might say, we certainly haven't fallen as far as bread lines and veterans camping out in front of the White House. Which is to say, in a perverse way, that this downturn is possibly not bad enough for the toughest to really prove themselves. Though while we may not get Twinkies, we will not see a lack of new companies benefiting from the strictures of a slowdown.
What do you think? Is it better to keep your day job during a recession, or would you pursue an entrepreneurial dream regardless of the larger economic conditions?
See the Complete Downturn Survival Guide
read more covertress money
Monday, September 15, 2008
Click to enlarge image.
The FBI has published their most comprehensive statistical product—their latest annual Crime in the United States 2007 report—and there are dozens of charts, tables, and documents to explore.
Among the many numbers for 2007, the big picture is clear: crime is down.
Nationwide, violent crime fell for the first time since 2005. Property crime declined for the fifth straight year. And each of the seven specific offense categories—from aggravated assault to murder—was down from 2006.
A few more top line numbers:
- An estimated 1.4 million violent crimes were reported last year, a drop of 0.7 percent compared to 2006.
- Property crimes fell 1.4 percent in 2007, to an estimated 9.8 million.
- Larceny/theft offenses accounted for two-thirds of all property crimes, and victims of property crimes—excluding arson—collectively lost an estimated $17.6 billion.
read more covertress FBI
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Seven years after 9/11, the US has declared the Afghan-Pakistan border region to be the new frontline in its war on terror.
By M. Ilyas Kahn for BBC news
Kabul's writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province.
Since 9/11, this region has been in turmoil. In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the Taleban have a major base. The chief commander is Mansoor Dadullah. From there they control militant activities as far afield as Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west, Oruzgan in the north and parts of Kandahar province in the east. They also link up with groups based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan.
The Helmand Taleban, unlike comrades elsewhere in Afghanistan, have been able to capture territory and hold it, mostly in the southern parts of the province. They constantly threaten traffic on the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.
Nelofer Pazira, the star of the movie "Kandahar", returns to her native Afghanistan. In the hope of tracking down her childhood friend Dyana -- whose story inspired the feature film. Photo: jfilm.org.
Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual centre of the Taleban movement and also the place of its origin. The supreme Taleban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made the city his headquarters when the Taleban came to power in 1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, preferred it to the country's political capital, Kabul.
As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar has seen some high-profile jailbreaks and assassination bids, including one on President Karzai.
The Afghan government has prevented the Taleban from seizing control of any significant district centre or town. International forces have large bases in the airport area as well as at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the western suburbs of Kandahar city.
But the Taleban have a strong presence in the countryside, especially in southern and eastern areas along the border with Pakistan. Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taleban have used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistan province of Balochistan, as a major hideout as well as other Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.
Mullah Omar is probably in hiding in Kandahar or Helmand.
Teun Voeten Kak Afghan District, Zabul Province, (50 miles NE of Khandahar, Afghanistan. July/August 2004 Together with the newly formed Afghan National Army, the US Army (C-Company 2-35) (Charly Company, 2nd Batallion, 35th Infantry Regiment) is on operations in Zabul Province, a stronghold of the Taliban and a very traditional Pashtun area. The operation is called "Lightning Resolve', with the dual aims of elimination of armed Taliban elements and securing a secure environment for the voter registration for the upcoming October presidential elections. US Army on patrol. Photo: Jeremy Clawson.
Zabul, Toba Kakar
Afghanistan's Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar, along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The mountans are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured them for al-Qaeda suspects.
Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special circumstances. In early 2002, Taleban militants fleeing US forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul. Occasionally, Taleban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes when infiltration through South Waziristan is difficult due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border guards.
Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Oruzgan and Kandahar. There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.
Taliban fighters in Wana, South Waziristan in February 2005. Photo: Reuters.
South Waziristan, Paktika
South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), is the first significant sanctuary Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan after 9/11. Militants driven by US troops from the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town, Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis. Some moved on to urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and fought the Pakistani army during 2004-05.
The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is Baitullah Mehsud. The western half, along the border with Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where the chief commander is Maulvi Nazir. The Mehsuds only live on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs inhabit both sides of the border.
These sanctuaries directly threaten Afghanistan's Paktika province, where the US-led forces have a base in the Barmal region and several outposts along the border to counter infiltration. Pakistani security forces also man scores of border checkposts in the region.
However, infiltration has continued unabated and the number of hit-and-run attacks on foreign troops has been one of the highest in this region. Militants based in the region are known to have carried out strikes as far away as the Kandahar-Kabul highway.
Tribal leaders from Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area meet with Pakistani Army officials in Miran Shah on February 17, 2007 in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The Pakistani military and the elders signed a peace deal in September 2006 to end fighting between Taliban and Pakistani forces, as well as stopping cross border attacks into Afghanistan. NATO says, however, that Taliban incursions into Afghanistan have increased since the deal. The Pakistani armed forces, which has many of its 80,000 troops stationed in the tribal areas guarding the border, says the Afghan government and NATO should stop blaming Pakistan for Afghanistan's internal problems. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images.
North Waziristan, Paktia, Khost
The North Waziristan region is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost. North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from where militants have been successfully destabilising not only Paktika and Khost, but other Afghan provinces such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and Logar. Groups based in Waziristan region are known to have carried out some recent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.
Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost and Paktia. During the Taleban rule of 1997-2001, these provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of the Kandahari Taleban who held power over the rest of the country. In the current phase of the fighting they coordinate with the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with their own leadership that dates back to the war against the Soviets in 1980s.
The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani is based in North Waziristan. He has wielded considerable influence over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan. He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region. Mr Haqqani is now an old man, and his son Sirajuddin has taken over most of his work.
There are many Arab and other foreign fighters in North and South Waziristan. This is due to Jalaluddin Haqqani's close links with the al-Qaeda leadership. He married an Arab woman in the 1980s.
In view of the sensitivity of Waziristan region, US-led forces have set up a large base in Khost from where they conduct operations not only along the Waziristan region to the south but also in parts of the border region in Paktia and Nangarhar provinces to the north.
In 2007, Afghan refugees repatriated from Pakistan return to the Sanjawal Cantt area of Attock for the first time since Russia attacked Afghanistan in 1979. Photo: Attock News.
Kurram, Khyber, Nangarhar
As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan guerillas against the Soviets in the '80s discovered to their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is just 90km away. But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that opposes the Taleban for religious reasons, the Taleban have not been able to get a foothold here. Analysts say this is the main reason why the Taleban have taken so long to improve their strength in areas around Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.
Some militant groups in the Khyber tribal district have carried out attacks on foreign and Afghan troops in Nangarhar province. But the Pakistani government has kept a close watch on them. One reason may be to curb the ability of these groups to block the highway through Khyber which serves as the main conduit for supplies to international forces in Afghanistan that come via the Pakistani port of Karachi.
Two Afghan National Army Soldiers talk with a local Afghan during Operation Saray Has July 19, 2006, near Forward Operating Base Naray, Afghanistan. The ANA worked with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), during Operation Saray Has. Photo: U.S. Army.
Mohmand, Bajaur, Kunar
Analysts have long suspected Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region to be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders. The Mohmand and Bajaur tribal districts are also believed to be the stronghold of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the main Afghan guerrilla leaders of the 1980s. Mr Hekmatyar fought the Taleban in 1990s, but after 9/11 started working with them. The actual extent of cooperation is not known. The groups in Mohmand and Bajaur are members of an umbrella organisation which is headed by South Waziristan's Baitullah Mehsud known as the Tehreek-e-Taleban (Pakistan Taleban).
Militants based in Mohmand and Bajaur have been striking at installations and supply lines of international forces based in the Narai region of Afghanistan's Kunar province. In recent months, they are also reported to have crossed the Hindu Kush foothills to carry out attacks on foreign troops in the Sarobi, Tagab and Nejrab areas around Kabul.
Marketplace at Ghazni town, Afghanistan. Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Oruzgan, Ghazni, Wardak, Logar
For a long time the Taleban were unable to maintain sustained pressure on the country's south-central highlands. But with safe sanctuaries in the border region - from the Baramcha area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of Pakistani Balochistan, the Waziristan country and Bajaur-Mohmand territory to the east - the Taleban finally have the capacity to challenge the government in this region. The roads in Ghazni and Oruzgan are not as safe as they were a couple of years ago and officials are losing the will to maintain the government's authority.
Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taleban groups have multiplied in secure border regions over the last few years. Safe havens have also afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new recruits. The Waziristan region is also known to be a haven for young suicide bombers and trained in remote camps. The Taleban also appear to have had access to sophisticated military equipment and professionally drawn-up battle plans.
The strategy appears to be the same as in 1980s - 'death by a thousand cuts'. Sporadic attacks on the security forces and the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have also crept closer to Kabul. At the same time, the Taleban have destroyed most of the education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link between the central government and the isolated agrarian citizenry.
Oruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak on the left and Logar on the right. Safe and quiet until less than two years ago, both these provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by Taleban fighters. The same is true of militants putting pressure on Kabul from Sarobi and Tagab in the east, with their tentacles stretching back to Laghman, Kunar and Bajaur.
In July, 2007, Pakistani troops came under fire at Swat, North West Frontier Province, as a convoy was hit by a double suicide car bomb blast. Photo: BBC News.
A former princely state, Swat, in northern Pakistan, was governed by a British era law which a court declared unconstitutional in early 1990s, triggering a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic law in the district.
The insurgency was effectively put down in 1994, but it re-emerged after 9/11, and was joined by many battle-hardened militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring district of Dir. During a 10-month long operation that still continues, the security forces have disrupted the infrastructure of the militants but is still to clear them out of the area. The militants have been targeting the security forces, the police, secular politicians and government-run schools.