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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Nukes, and other Illusions

November 29th, 2009 - 6:19 pm

The IAEA drools on, announcing (surprise!) that Iran hasn’t really complied with the tough demands of the Great Powers.  Nobel Prize Winner al Baradei, at long last headed for retirement, proclaims that the investigation is at a “dead end.” The Great Powers sternly demand that Iran be nice.  The mullahs give them the finger, announcing ten more enrichment facilities and warning they mightwalk away from the negotiations on which President Obama had based his “new policy.”

And now what?

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it?  Since I don’t know a living person capable of parsing it all, I turned to the dead for enlightenment.  For once, the ouija board worked well, and within a few minutes I was talking to my favorite spirit, the ghost of James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time the head of CIA counterintelligence.

JJA:  It just shows you how easy deception can be,  whatever the facts are.

ML:  How can you know it’s a deception if you don’t know the facts?

JJA:  That’s the beauty of it.  And sometimes they are so good at trickery, you lose even when you win.  Take the story of the Qom  reactor, for example.  As usual,  it was a secret project.  We found out about it.  Then–and this is rather alarming–they found out that we knew, and were about to go public.  So they preempted us, they announced it first, and then ‘invited us’ to go look…after several weeks.  During which time they carted off the damning evidence.  So what we’re left with is a dismantled facility, and a mystery:  how did they know we knew?  Did they penetrate us?  Or an ally?  Or the IAEA?

ML:  Don’t we know by now?

JJA:  You’d hope so, but I tend to doubt it.  Our counterintelligence isn’t very good.  The FBI seems more interested in Israeli lobbyists than US Army jihadists, after all…

ML:  Now the Iranians  say they are going to build ten more reactors.

JJA:  Yes, and for all we know, they have already started them.  Or some of them.  Or maybe none.  Haha, they tell so many lies it’s impossible to know when they actually make a true statement.

ML:  It might be like the usual magician’s patter, don’t you think?  You know, when he says “I will now make the rabbit disappear from my hat…”

JJA:  Exactly.  When he says that, the rabbit is long gone.  So when the mullahs roll up their sleeves, wave their wand, and say “we will now make ten reactors magically appear from nowhere,” they probably have some already.

ML:  So what’s the solution?  What should Obama do?

JJA:  First of all, stop acting as if he believed that his election has changed the world.  The Iranians really don’t care about the American president’s name, or his “special gifts,” or his rhetorical talents.  They want to destroy America.

ML:  And then there’s the history.  Every American president from Jimmy Carter to the present has tried to make a deal with Iran, and failed.

JJA:  Indeed.  That’s a logical corollary to the first point.   Add to that,  the last 8 years or so, with the French, Brits and Germans trying to broker some deal.  Another failure.

ML:  And so?  Is war inevitable?

JJA:  It’s not only inevitable, it’s on.  It’s been on for thirty years.  But no president has been willing to say so.  Somebody needs to shift the focus from the nukes–where they have great opportunities to deceive us–to the war, where we already know a lot and could know a lot more if opponents of the regime saw we were fighting back.

ML:  How?

JJA:  Most Iranians, including officials at very high levels of the regime itself, would believe that  we cannot be defeated once we decide to fight back.  They would try to help us…some already have.

ML:  Those defectors that the regime wants back so badly.

JJA:  Right, and you can be sure that there are others, in Iran, who are giving information to the Israelis, the French, the Brits…

ML:  And to us.  I met some of them back in 2001 and got some very valuable information about Iranian activities in Afghanistan.

JJA:  But as I recall, the policy makers didn’t want to hear about it.  Even Tenet was angry.

ML:  Yes, but he invented all kinds of nonsense about it in his book.

JJA:  Well (the ouija board started to spark, and Angleton’s voice was breaking up) if you don’t want to know the truth…

And he was gone.  I never got the chance to ask him how he thought we should fight back.  Next time…


Iran: They’re Just Killing Themselves

November 23rd, 2009 - 10:44 pm

Iraqi President Jalal Talebani flew to Tehran on Sunday, and today–Monday–he spent nearly three hours with Justice Minister Larijani.  When asked about the trip, the Iranian Ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, said that Talebani needed some special medical attention.  In reality, Talebani was acting as a middleman for the United States, and he had gone to Baghdad to try to strike a deal for the release of the three young American hikers who were seized by Iran several months ago.

It is not likely that Talebani, or anyone else, will be able to convince the Iranians to do that.  The regime had previously told the American Government that they would swap the hikers for three high-ranking Iranian defectors.  But even if the US were willing to pay such an expensive ransom–and it’s hard to believe they would send the three to certain death in Iran–it would require the agreement of the countries where the defectors currently reside.  Not very likely.  So the unfortunate hikers will continue to suffer.

Meanwhile, the death spiral of the Islamic Republic continues.  There is an epidemic of failed landing gear on airplanes either belonging to, or transporting officers of, the Revolutionary Guards.  The latest was a flight on Monday from Tehran to Mashad that had to return to Tehran and circle the air field for nearly two hours, burning off fuel and waiting for foam to be spread.  There were no casualties.

The same cannot be said for two young men who were recently murdered by the regime.  The younger was Ramin Pourandarjani, a 25-year old medical doctor whose career seemed guaranteed to soar; he graduated first in his class in Tehran.  At the time of his death–November 10th–he was working at the infamous Kahrizak detention center in Tehran, the site of mass torture following the anti-regime demonstrations in June.  He had initially refused to sign documents that claimed that a dissident had died of natural causes, when Pourandarjani could see the evidence of torture, and only signed after a month of intense pressure.  In recent weeks he had been visited by intelligence officers from the office of Supreme Leader Khamenei, who asked him what he had seen in Kahrizak.  He evidently saw too much.  His parents were called and told he had been in an automobile accident.  They were asked to authorize surgery, which they declined.  The next day they were informed he had died of a heart attack on November 10th.  His body was washed and wrapped in a shroud with no family member present, and then sent to Tabriz and buried there.

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The secretary of defense let off some steam on his airplane, warning of the terrible consequences of leaking information about internal government policy debates.  He’s “appalled.” Navy Times tells us that Gates said that “disclosures of sensitive information on any ‘options under consideration’ does not serve the nation well. Nor are they in the military’s strategic interests..”

When I first came to Washington, and for many years thereafter, I thought leaks were just awful.  How dare they?  Among other things, I thought–and this I still think–that it has a chilling effect on internal debate.  Because if you’re afraid that your remarks will appear in tomorrow morning’s PJ Media, you might not say it, and, after all, we do want a wide-open debate, don’t we?

One day I discussed this with Richard Helms, then the recently-retired former director of central intelligence and ambassador to Iran.  His answer surprised me.  “Leaks will stop the minute the top people want them to stop,” he said.  How so?  I asked.  “I was ordered several times by a president to find the source of a leak.  We found it every time.  And most of the time it was his secretary of state or secretary of defense, or chief of staff, or some other very important person.  Nothing was ever done.”

Q.E.D.  Leaks of the sort Gates is complaining about–that is, what options are being presented, and which way is the president leaning?– are part of the policy debate, and nobody knows it better than Secretary Gates himself.  The current leaks about Afghanistan policy show that, don’t they?  One day we hear the president is going to send in lots of troops;  the next day we learn that our ambassador in Kabul thinks it’s a lousy idea, and the White House says that the whole thing is in flux (or frozen solid).  It’s a two-cushion shot:  from trial balloon to congressional pronouncements to policy decision in the side pocket.  And everybody’s playing this game.

I really can’t see that such leaks are terribly damaging.  So people disagree.  So what?  It’s good, in the sort of rough-and-tumble society we know and love, to have a broad discussion.  If I had my druthers, I’d also like to know who holds what position, so they can’t pretend later on, if the policy goes bad, that they weren’t really on board.  Henry Kissinger once warned that the only reason to write a memo is if you want it leaked.  Which is a good lesson for historians:  you can’t always trust the official documents;  some of them were written to deceive you and the others.

On the other hand, there are leaks that damage the country and cost lives.  Those should be tracked down and the leakers should be punished.  But that requires an honesty of investigation and a commitment to internal discipline that are rare.  Take the Valerie Plame “affair,” for example.  The advocates of the special investigation–George Tenet’s CIA initiated it, I believe–generated oceans of ink and hours of video, claiming that the poor woman had been compromised.  Find the person who compromised her, and hang him.

So what happened?  It turned out that her “cover” wasn’t what the Savanarolas at the Agency and in the media said it was (nobody was ever charged with “compromising Valerie Plame’s cover”).  The leaker was identified–Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state–and nothing, but nothing, was ever done to him.  After all, he was protected by the secretary, Colin Powell.  (The lone victim was Scooter Libby, who hadn’t leaked at all, but had made a false statement to FBI investigators).

I’m all for prosecuting the Armitages of this world, but it isn’t bloody likely.  From the Pentagon Papers to the latest revelations of the details of our counterterrorist programs,  only the tiniest handful of government officials have faced prosecution.  Indeed, they are often hailed as heroes, as “whistleblowers,” even though they signed non-disclosure promises.

So I’m not impressed with Secretary Gates’s little tirade.  He knows all this.  So why is he venting?  If I had to bet, I’d put a small amount down on the square that says “he’s being outleaked.”

It’s undoubtedly sheer coincidence as Michael Rubin told the AP, but just as the debate over Hasan-Son-of-Allah takes on greater intensity, the Justice Department has moved to seize what is says are Iranian assets in America.  They have tagged four mosques and the Piaget Building at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, New York.

This is stage two of an ongoing action against the Alavi Foundation, and what the government alleges to be a front company, the Assa Corporation.  The government brief, in claiming that these organizations are simply agents of the Iranian regime, states that a series of Iranian UN Ambassadors, along with high-ranking officials such as a deputy prime minister (a post that has not existed for twenty years;  it’s now deputy president), have been involved in management.  Taken together, the mosques and the skyscraper are worth a lot (hundreds of millions of dollars);  the headlines rightly say this could be one of the biggest counterterrorism operations in American history.

It’s a counterterrorism operation because Iran tops the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, and other Iranian entities–banks and companies all over the world,  as well as Iranian officials–have been targeted by the US Government.

The unusual feature of the case is the move against religious institutions, the  mosques and schools associated with them.  I have been saying ever since 9/11 that this would prove to be an extremely messy problem, albeit an urgent one.  Radical mosques, whether (as in this case) Shi’ite or (as in the many more numerous Saudi-sponsored) Sunni ones are frequently centers of jihadi indoctrination.  The case of Major Hasan demonstrates this, as he was in close contact with imams of such mosques, as were some of the 9/11 terrorists.  Not all mosques produce terrorists, it has been said, but terrorists frequent mosques, and, as in the case of the assassin of Daniel Pearl, otherwise normal people have turned to jihad because they were inspired by books and sermons from radical mosques.

Yet we have traditionally insisted that even such incendiary texts and sermons are “protected speech,” protected by the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free religion.  As the AP story linked above puts it:

It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The story continues:

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The Sack of Iran. By Its Own Regime.

November 12th, 2009 - 8:39 pm

You may have noticed a lull in reportage from Iran; that is because the situation is unusually explosive, and there is a great deal going on beneath the surface, all of it very damaging to the stability and legitimacy of the regime.  Thus there is a clampdown on “news.”  I don’t know if foreign correspondents are aware of these developments or not, but they are very significant.

One is that the tempo of the internal battle against the regime has picked up, and not just in street demonstrations and chants of “Death to the Dictator.”  On the night of November 10-11 there was a very bloody gun fight in the area of Karaj, in which several senior Revolutionary Guards officers were killed or wounded.  No announcement was made, although you can see one of its effects in a Reuters story:

“Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards force has replaced its commander for the greater Tehran area, its website said…The “Sepah News” website did not give a reason for the appointment of Hossein Hamedani as new Revolutionary Guards commander in Tehran, replacing Abdullah Araghi.”

I believe that General Araghi was either killed or seriously injured in the Karaj shootout.  This is not the only high-level replacement in the IRGC in the past few days, nor is it likely to be the last.

There were equally disruptive political events in the Majlis (Parliament).  In a closed-door, unreported session of the Budget Committee, Ahmadinejad became so angry that he ripped up his notes and stormed out of the room in the early hours of the morning of the 11th.  He was upset about three things:

–Resistance to the oil/natural gas deal with Turkey;

–The fact that some members of the Majlis had found out about the details of the   deal;

–A report on the parlous state of the national economy, and the true extent of the IRGC’s role in it.

I noted some days ago that the deal struck on the occasion of Turkish leader Erdogan’s visit to Tehran involved a spectacular discount–50%–on the price of Iranian natural gas to the Turks.  These details had not been made public.  But, somehow, a copy of the actual agreement reached committee members, who were infuriated, and they threatened to vote against it.  Why, they asked, were the Turks entitled to buy huge quantities of Iranian gas at an outrageous discount, and then sell as much of it as they wished on the market?  Was this not tantamount to taking money from the Iranian people and just transferring it to the Turks?

Ahmadinejad was furious and stormed out of the meeting.  On the next day, the head of the energy commission, Hamid Reza Katuzian, a young deputy from Tehran who has expressed unhappiness with Ahmadinezhad in the past, went public with an interview in IRNA and other news agencies.  He said that Parliament might cancel the agreement, which would be a serious challenge to the authority of the supreme leader and the president.  This follows earlier clashes with Ahmadinezhad over energy questions, one of which saw the president deliver a blow( to the face) of the head of the national petroleum company, who balked at signing the agreement.  The poor man was fired, of course; his only satisfaction was the spectacle of Ahmadinezhad with his hand heavily bandaged.

Another scandal emerged in the form of a secret report from the former head of the Central Bank, with details on the last fiscal year (which ended in March, 2008).  The report contained the predictable details of the ruin of the economy, but it also described the amazing economic power of the Revolutionary Guards.  According to the report, direct and indirect RG activities–according to the report, there more than seven hundred RG companies OUTSIDE the country, in addition to their onshore businesses and front companies–account for more than fifty per cent of the nation’s business, ranging from oil and gas to ports and airports, thousands of hectares of fruit-producing land, real estate, construction (both private and public works) and housing.  In all probability, the RG has increased its share of the market in the last 8 months.  The actual figure may be closer to sixty per cent.

One participant reported Larijani (the “speaker” of the Majlis) saying “if this gets out, it’s the end of the system.”

Finally, many deputies are concerned about the impact of the cutback in subsidies on staples like bread, rice and milk, and of course on gasoline, much of which must be imported (and which are targeted for future sanctions in U.S. legislation that has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate).  In the closed meeting Ahmadinejad was asked if the cutbacks could be delayed until the spring, but the measures are already being applies.

In short, the people are systematically screwed, the RG are making lots of money (much of which goes outside the country to support the terrorists), and it’s not hard to understand why internal violence, especially against the Guards, is on the rise.

The Starfish Revolution?

November 9th, 2009 - 9:49 pm

Several thoughtful people have commented on an unusual element in the Iranian revolutionary movement, aka “The Green Path of Hope.”  Although there is a troika (Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami) that inspires many of the movement’s participants, there seems to be a lack of top-down leadership.  Indeed, Mousavi has been at pains to say that the people are the true leaders, that he is not creating a political movement but a “social network,” and that the strength of the Green Path derives from the spontaneous and creative actions of millions of Iranians.

It sounds a lot like the thesis put forward in the recent book, The Starfish and the Spider, which argues that top-down organizations are less successful than those that give maximum freedom to their people.  If you decapitate a spider, it dies, but if you lop off an arm of a starfish, it regenerates.  In like manner, despite a massive crackdown from the Iranian regime–thousands of arrests (now termed “kidnappings” by Iranian Tweeters), scores of executions, mass rape and other forms of torture, show trials and stern intimidation from political and military leaders, judges and clerics, the Green Path moves on, with its next publicly announced challenge to the regime set for December 7th.  Meanwhile, demonstrations and strikes continue across the country.

In the runup to the June 12th “elections” (at which time I noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have elections, it has circuses) I said that one could not imagine a less charismatic leader than Mir Hossein Mousavi.  His campaign appearances were lackluster, his debate with Ahmadinejad unimpressive, and his demeanor bespoke what he was: an architect and artist, a former bureaucrat who had left government twenty years before.  If there was a charismatic figure in the campaign against Ahmadinejad (whose charisma is well known), it was Mrs. Mousavi.  And that, I insisted, was itself a revolutionary development in a theocratic tyranny based on misogyny.  It wasn’t only her presence that shook up the Shi’ite establishment and inspired the crowds, but the things she said, notably her attitude toward head coverings.  She wears the veil, she said, and she believes that all Muslim women should.  But–and here is the revolutionary message–if a woman doesn’t want to wear it, she should be free to go without.

So it was that Mousavi, quite unexpectedly, found himself created the leader of a revolutionary mass movement.  In that sense, I entirely agree with Mehdi Khalaji when he says that if you want to understand what’s going on inside Iran today, don’t look to Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami; look at the people.  The movement came into being around the troika (in which Mousavi is first among equals).  And the movement by now has an ideology, a strategy, and a lot of momentum.  It aims to bring down the Islamic Republic–that is the clear meaning of the nightly rooftop chants against Khamenei–and replace it with a new government that will be independent of the Shi’ite elite.  It intends to do it without violence, insofar as that is possible, and it is counting on the force of numbers to accomplish its mission.

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It’s the (Religious) Ideology, Stupid

November 6th, 2009 - 9:35 pm

While we’re carefully NOT rushing to any conclusions about the Fort Hood terrorist attack, it’s useful to reflect on the recent indictments of two North Americans for preparing to carry out attacks on a Danish newspaper.  They are David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana.  Both are from Chicago;  Headley is an American citizen, while Rana, a native Pakistani, is Canadian.  They are charged with plotting attacks on the facilities and the employees of the Copenhagen Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, which famously published the famous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, provoking world-wide riots.

Headley, who changed his name from Daood Gilani three years ago (perhaps to make it easier to “pass” as an ordinary American), was in cahoots with an al Qaeda commander and another terrorist group in Pakistan, and was arrested when he attempted to fly there in early October.  Rana was arrested two weeks later.  Both were charged with conspiring to provide material support for the attacks, and Headley was accused of planning to participate.  Bill Roggio provides the details here.

This story is unusually interesting, because these guys were using the United States as a base from which to stage attacks elsewhere.  It’s a man-bites-dog story, the reverse of the usual one, in which foreign terrorists come to America to attack us.  Rana and Headley weren’t driven by hatred of America, nor by American foreign policy;  they were avenging what they took to be slurs on The Prophet.

In other words, the motivation was religious.  I don’t think anyone could say, as some are saying today about Fort Hood, that “it’s not about Islam.”  This plot to murder and maim Danish journalists and workers had everything to do with Islam.  One could well imagine the terrorists opening fire in Copenhagen and chanting “Allahu Akbar.”

I’m all for waiting until all the evidence is in from Texas before reaching any conclusions, but that should apply to everyone.  Notably to the FBI, which seems to have developed a conditioned reflex that requires the Bureau to announce, within seconds of any act of murder, “there is no evidence of terrorism.”  Which, in this case, is ridiculous, since it was precisely that.

All of which brings us back to one of the nastiest problems we face:  the indoctrination of Americans in this country.  If you look beneath the surface of these plots and murders, you will often find that the actual or would-be killers have attended radical mosques.  They don’t come to jihad by sitting quietly at home and reading the Koran.  They hear sermons, they are guided in the paths of terror, and they choose to become terrorists.  And in this country, those radical sermons and that incitement is traditionally treated as “protected speech.”  It’s protected by the First Amendment, and its guarantee of freedom of religion.

How are we supposed to deal with that?  On the one hand, we can’t permit such indoctrination to go unchecked.  On the other, it’s un-American to start censoring sermons and religious texts.

It’s a mess.  But we’d better get at it.

Faster, Please.

UPDATE:  As I suspected, Hasan’s mosque has a dark side.  As Stephen Schwartz explains here, in a very important article.

Accomplice to Evil Redux

November 4th, 2009 - 9:42 am

Big demonstrations still going on all over the country:  Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Zahedan, Arak, Mazandaran, Tabriz, Rasht confirmed so far, and no doubt we will hear of others in the next hours and days.  Lots of videos available online, showing an unprecedented level of violence, which is saying a lot.  Have a look:

  • Video: the treatment of wounded in a parking garage in Tehran:


  • Masses in Tehran:


  • A girl attacked:


  • Freedom, independence and Iranian republic:


  • A poster of Khamenei being torn up:


And don’t miss the extraordinarily detailed blogging of homylafayette.

What does it mean?  I agree with an “elderly woman” to Radio Farda:

I was in the demonstrations this morning. You can’t imagine the number of security troops that had been deployed. It looked like there was one regime agent for every protester. And all this to confront people with nothing to defend themselves with. I finally understood today how scared they are. This regime is over.

The regime has failed to intimidate the people;  the effect of the violence, the brutal savagery, the mass rapes, executions, and torture is to intensify their contempt (they trampled pictures of Supreme Leader Khamenei).

Alas, their contempt is not limited to their own tyrants.  It extends to President Obama, who today issued a masterpiece of appeasement and all but groveled in begging the leaders of the Islamic Republic to make a deal:

I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.

He could not spare a single word for the plight of the people of Iran, who were being beaten, clubbed, stabbed and shot as he issued his statement.  He went on:

We do not interfere in Iran’s internal affairs. We have condemned terrorist attacks against Iran. We have recognized Iran’s international right to peaceful nuclear power. We have demonstrated our willingness to take confidence-building steps along with others in the international community. We have accepted a proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to meet Iran’s request for assistance in meeting the medical needs of its people. We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community.

This is Jimmy Carter all over again, and just as Carter’s appeasement of the Islamic Republic led to the death of countless innocents, in Iran and around the world, so Obama’s appeasement will do the same.  He, and his administration, are accomplices to evil.  From Iran, via Twitter, comes the bottom line:

Gee the people of Iran seek to really CHANGE things and Obama says, let’s negotiate w/ the Nazis

Just so.

November 4th in Iran

November 2nd, 2009 - 10:04 pm

The Next Big Day.  Monster demonstrations apparently scheduled all over the country.  There will be time to “analyze” it during and after the events themselves, but one interesting footnote to the current Iranian revolutionary movement is its elegance.  Have a look at these posters for the “Green Path of Hope,” for example.  And these.  Both come from the most reliable web site for the Mousavi/Karroubi/Khatami opposition group.

In Praise of Dirt

November 1st, 2009 - 9:35 pm

All around me, people are rubbing their hands with a few drops of liquid that are said to kill germs.  I hear government officials lecturing us on washing our hands.  I read blog posts on how to cope with the menace of doorknobs.   And Phized at schools is more and more sterile, designed to prevent the kids from getting dirty.

At the same time, the near panic over swine flu, and allergy pandemics.  For a while there I thought there would be legislation to ban peanuts from American life, but that seems to have passed.  Delta Airlines hands out peanuts without any obvious protest.

Meanwhile, I remember my mother dragging me around to the houses of kids with chicken pox and mumps, so that I could get infected.  Why?  So that I could build up my antibodies.  Exposure to germs helps the immune system.  From which it follows that all this cleanliness and sterilization has a downside:  it makes us more vulnerable to infection.

And from THAT it follows that DIRT IS GOOD FOR US.  N’est-ce pas?

Me, I don’t use those little bottles.  Every now and then I do wash my hands–typically before meals and on other occasions I won’t describe here because this is a family blog–but I’m not going to get excited when I get dirty.  I do get a flu shot most years, but that’s more of the “infect yourself to get stronger” theme.

Has anybody checked to see if the compulsive clean hands people get sick more than us dirty folks?