September 30, 2004

Politics: An email from Farnaz Fassihi

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April
when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when
Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began
spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a
foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the
country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of
landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there
were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

Mr. Fassihi is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Iraq
Read the rest of the article at Poynter Online

Politics: Patriotism Given Different Meaning

by Mark Shields

There was no official announcement, no press release. But make no mistake about it. As demonstrated daily in the language used by those who wage and those who analyze this uninspiring presidential campaign, the historic meaning of the word "patriotism" has been totally rewritten.

Don't take my word for it. Just listen. No longer is a patriot someone who has selflessly put the common good before personal comfort or someone who voluntarily sacrifices for the safety of country and countrymen. That is outdated patriotism. No, in the fall of 2004, after being successfully hijacked by partisans, "patriotism" now has nothing to do with one's personal conduct or courage. "Patriotism" now means ideology.

To be a patriot by today's debased rhetoric is easy. It involves no personal risk or discomfort, no sacrifice of any kind. You will pay no price. You will bear no burden. All you have to do is to give relentless and uncritical backing to the unilateral invasion and occupation by the United States military of agreed-upon unfriendly countries.

Consider the following facts: In spite of his personal doubts about the wisdom of his country's war policy in Vietnam, this young man from a privileged background with an Ivy League degree volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam where he was honored for bravery. Convinced that the U.S. policy in Vietnam was mistaken, John Kerry returned to civilian life where he publicly sought to change the U.S. war policy.

(One could argue that if he had succeeded in changing U.S. policy that John Kerry would have effectively spared our incumbent president and vice president from the painful moral conflict of choosing whether to answer or to avoid their nation's draft call to military service.)

Our second young man came from an even more privileged family background and also possessed an Ivy League degree. When he secured a coveted position in his home state's national guard, he was asked if he would volunteer for overseas duty and he officially declined to do so. But George W. Bush, like Dick Cheney, unflinchingly supported the U.S. war in Vietnam. True, neither chose to personally serve in the war he supported. But let it be noted that they never criticized or protested any Vietnam policies of the U.S. government. By contemporary illogic, that, coupled with their creation of and passionate advocacy for the U.S. war in Iraq, qualifies them as patriots. But not John Kerry.

Where did we go so wrong? Why have we forgotten the wise Republican president who said during the First World War, when dissent was being attacked as disloyalty, that "to announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, it is morally treasonable to the American people." Thank you, Theodore Roosevelt.

Patriotism now means talking tough, being tough-minded - which mostly consists of endorsing U.S. military action to solve problems and publicly disparaging international diplomacy. You can also find an overload of tough-talking, tough-minded types in the political press corps. Virtually none of the press bus "patriots" ever risked corrupting his views of the country's military or warfare by personal exposure to either military service or combat. By their lights, if you dare to question, let alone oppose, the next U.S. war du jour, then you are a hopeless wuss.

When he was praised for his leadership of U.S. troops in the first Gulf War, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf declined: "It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle."

As for me, I prefer the old-fashioned patriotism when personally brave Americans are willing to sacrifice for the common good and the national interest. This patriotism has taken many forms. It included accepting the rationing of meat and gasoline, buying bonds, collecting scrap metal and waste paper, sharing with our neighbors, raising vegetables and even paying higher taxes. These are all the acts of patriots.

Patriotism is not position papers or macho swagger, nor is patriotism the property of any political party or ideology. Of course, those who courageously risk their life and limbs on behalf of the nation are indeed patriots. Such a list would include former Sens. Bob Kerrey and Max Cleland, and current Sens. Chuck Hagel, John McCain and, yes, John Kerry.

Patriotism is truly very personal.

reprinted from the Joplin Globe

September 27, 2004

Weird: Taking It To The Mattresses

Most little girls want dolls to sleep with. Grown up men? I want a horse head pillow, ala The Godfather. I don't like violence, guys. Blood is a big expense.


September 21, 2004

Politics: Big Lies For Bush

Imagine if supporters of Bill Clinton had tried in 1996 to besmirch the military record of his opponent, Bob Dole. After all, Dole was given a Purple Heart for a leg scratch probably caused, according to one biographer, when a hand grenade thrown by one of his own men bounced off a tree. And while the serious injuries Dole sustained later surely came from German fire, did the episode demonstrate heroism on Dole's part or a reckless move that ended up killing his radioman and endangering the sergeant who dragged Dole off the field?

The truth, according to many accounts, is that Dole fought with exceptional bravery and deserves the nation's gratitude. No one in 1996 questioned that record. Any such attack on behalf of Clinton, an admitted Vietnam draft dodger, would have been preposterous.

Yet amazingly, something quite similar is happening today as supporters of President Bush attack the Vietnam record of Senator John Kerry.

Weird: Saint Clinton

Get your Saint Clinton coaster and coffee mug now...All the kewl kids at work will have them soon!

Politics: Moral Cowardice

From Talking Points Memo by JM Marshall:

On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It's the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

We have a more immediate sense of what physical bravery and cowardice are. In fact, when we speak of bravery and cowardice, the physical variety is almost always what we're talking about. It's whether or not you can charge an enemy position while you're be fired at. It's whether you're immobilized by the fear of death.

Moral cowardice is more complex. A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.

The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaida. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.

He and his advisors knew that if they levelled with the public about the costs of war -- in dollars, years, soldiers -- he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.

The sort of forward planning that would have made a big difference in post-war Iraq was scuttled or attacked because it would make the job of selling the war harder. Those who sounded the alarm had their careers cut short.

Once we were in Iraq and it was clear that we had been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction -- a judgement that's been clear for more than a year -- he wouldn't admit it. And he still hasn't. A year and a half after we invaded Iraq and he still can't level with the American people about this. He still relies on his vice president to try to fool people into thinking Hussein was tied to al Qaida and the 9/11 attacks.

More importantly, once it became clear that the president's plans for post-war Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He's preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he'd made a mistake and open himself to all the political fall-out that entails. And that's not something he's willing to do.

The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.

For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers' funerals like they were burying victims of the plague -- because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.

Everyone has these tendencies in their measure. No one is perfect. But they define George W. Bush.

The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam war but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asks him to say it to their face, those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, fail to prepare for the aftermath and then refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.

That's the argument John Kerry needs to be making. And he needs to make it right now.

September 20, 2004

Unstoppable: People

When I was my daughter's age I didn't have many friends or companions. In fact it never really occurred to me to be bothered by the lack much until I was her age. Friends just weren't particularly important in a world that was full of family and my own thoughts, they got in the way and they were largely a chaos that I didn't care for.

As I grew older I began to experience that sense of loss keenly. I started measuring myself against others and found myself lacking in social skills that other people seemed to come by naturally. In fact, despite a reasonable facsimile of those natural emotional responses that everyone else seems to express as easily as breathing I've never been absolutely comfortable in that sort of skin. My small talk is always forced and sometimes inappropriate. My attention is never focused on the important matters of conversation. I get lost in people's words because I'm fascinated by the musculature of their faces. My words are too thoughtfully chosen and I'm full of too long pauses in the way I speak.

Eventually though, I socialized. At one time I was in an almost constant juggle of people surrounding me, I could count on visitors and phone calls. I met a woman whom I would have a child with through that constant dance. It was exhausting, but challenging. Occasionally I'd meet people I was actually sympathetic to. Some people even chose to label my social missteps as intelligence or as a sort of deepness of thought that I would never claim myself. I've high standards and expectations though, and worse an unlovely face and soul. Eventually I drove them all off one by one, or shattered their winsome expectations of perfection by convincing them of my inner cruelty and lack of compassion. It's true, really. Yes, I understand what you're thinking and why - I simply don't care most of the time.

Even I get attached though. Mostly to children, especially to children. Children have simple motivations that become increasingly more complex and unsympathetic as they grow older. You can smile at a child and have them smile back without worrying about the hidden chain of synapses behind their brains linking their impressions of you to some dark and ugly place in their soul.

My father and I were talking about evil the other day though. He, of course, was championing the idea that evil was some black and white manifestation - something clearly stated upon someone's character. I, on the other hand, have always seen clearly that if there were such a thing as a manifest evil then it would be clearly marked upon all mankind for our selfishness and so there should be no such thing as a black and white evil but only the knowledge that wrong is at least as much about perception as action. Children, having no education at all and only that selfishness inherent to humanity seem to prove that theory to me.

The world seems wrong to me though, if not evil. I'm wrong to want to see people I miss. The world is wrong that they keep themselves from me, warts and calousness aside. I know people that I shall never love or like, is it too much to ask for at least a handful of people to make a similar effort on my behalf? Sometimes it's as if I'm the only person in the world who figures out anyone. And sometimes it's as if for all that I understand about people I can't know them at all.

September 13, 2004

Unstoppable: Ivan

Well folks, as you might know (or might not know) I'm very near to the projected path of one humdinger of a storm now. The good news is that you're probably not going to even notice that I'm gone, thanks to me falling behind on posting lately. The bad news is traffic.

Traffic, you say? Yes, traffic. You see, here in the Florida Panhandle we don't have nice eight lane evacuation corridors threading through our quaint homlets and villages. We don't have multiple good paths to interstates even in a lot of cases. Sure, it's changing a little year by year and the gracious folks at the FDOT have decided to suspend tolls on the bridges that keep those touristy masses from drowning on our beautiful white sandy beaches during this hurricane but once you've fled the storm surge there basically isn't much else place to go.

Where do you go then? You flee to this long parking lot we call I-10, or if you're lucky you get to spend 8 or 10 hours driving at 5mph northward though clumps of cotton fields and shitting cows in the pouring rain until you're granted access to I-65. Where else, nowhere. That's right, unless you've got some notion of getting out and picking that cotton or shitting with the cows you're pretty much stuck with the worst of all possible best options. I can understand why some people want to stay behind, I'm 32 feet above sea level and I'm considering whether or not it would be cool to stick around and see if the roof gets ripped off just to avoid sitting in a car.

In any case dear readers, I'm probably not going to be around to cajole you for a while with my opinions. Not that I've been doing that muchu lately anyways, for which I apologize. I wish I could blame the storms, but who are we kidding? Wish me and everyone else a safe passage. Who knows, it could still all hit Texas and let Texas take a turn for once this summer.