Saturday, November 15, 2003


Bark Bark Woof Woof

Mustang Bobby has a blog....no, not a dog, a blog. Although he may have a dog too. And a cat. And a fish named Rhonda. Thats certainly a possibility.

Gross Cloistered Ditherings 

Slacktivist nicely fillets some recent cloistered ditherings from Daniel Gross.

GROSS: We've all seen the symptoms. A table of four raging over Bush's Iraq policy while sampling the $58 tasting menu at Virot, an expensive new bistro on the Upper West Side. A middle-aged man clucking over the deficit while fondling home furnishings at Restoration Hardware. The thirtysomething lawyer seething over the neutering of the Environment Protection Agency with one side of her brain, while weighing that classic conundrum -- Cape Cod or Tuscany next summer? -- with the other side.

Read it all here

I'd like to stick around for a while but I must be off. I'm busy polishing my English Regency tea service and thinking of replacing the Egyptian motiffs in my grand dining hall with something more rococo-revival.

Sorry, we have no bananas... 

we have no bananas today, or tomorrow or the next day or the next day or the day after the next day....

Atrios points to a dumb post, possibly the "Dumbest. Post. Ever."

Which reminded me of this:

Bananas are a Dying Breed
Thanks to selective breeding, our favorite fruit can neither reproduce nor defend itself from disease

The banana is about to disappear from store shelves around the globe. Experts say the world's favourite fruit will pass into oblivion within a decade. No more fresh bananas. No more banana bread. No more banana muffins or banana cream pie.

Why? Because the banana is the victim of centuries of genetic tampering. Scientists say they will be unable to prevent the extirpation of the banana as an edible commercial crop. And its demise may be one more powerful argument in the hands of those who are concerned about genetic modification of foods.

The banana's main problem is that it has become sterile and seedless as a result of 10,000 years of selective breeding. It has, over time, become a plant with unvarying genetic sameness. The genetic diversity needed to cope with environmental stresses, such as diseases and crop pests, has long ago been bred out of the banana. Consequently, the banana plantations of the world are completely vulnerable to devastating environmental pressures. ~ continue reading here

by Robert Alison
Globe and Mail
July 19, 2003

The Rise and Fall of the House of Banana...(continued)

First edible bananas date back 10,000 years to South-East Asia. Half a billion people in Africa and Asia depend on them as a staple food. [...] The Cavendish banana now being eaten across the globe lacks genetic diversity, he argues in an article in New Scientist magazine, and its survival is threatened by:

- Panama disease, caused by a soil fungus, which wiped out the Gros Michel variety in the 1950s

- Black sigatoka, another fungal disease which has reached global epidemic proportions

- Pests invading plantations and farms in central America, Africa and Asia alike.

Bananas could split for good
Thursday, 16 January, 2003
BBC News

Friday, November 14, 2003

Must Be Something in the Water 

From The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland via Juan Cole:

An overwhelming 87% said that, before the war, the Bush administration portrayed Iraq as an imminent threat...

Though the all-powerful Clenis can't be ruled out either. Beyond that, I'm stumped.

Have we got a deal for you! 

Yep, the deal under which Bush has agreed to show the 9/11 commission the Presidential Daily Briefings.

First, the terms of the deal won't be made public.

Second, what we do know of the deal says that Bush gets to edit the papers before showing them to the commission. 17 minute gap, anyone? Needless to say, the families know this is fucked, and are saying so.

What I want to know is, why are Democrats even participating in this farce?

The Chickenhawks Come Home to Roost 

Josh Marshall has a trenchant post up about the corner we've backed ourselves into in Iraq. He points out that in many ways this winter is a replay of last, with an isolated U.S. trying to persuade a skeptical world to share the burden of its imperial adventure, only this time the need is real, not theoretical. Unfortunately, we pretty much burned all our diplomatic bridges in between, and not just over Iraq: South Korea's reluctance to get involved is in no small measure the result of our high-handedness towards North Korea/South Korean rapprochement, for example. The Bushies, Marshall notes pungently, mistook "preeminence as omnipotence"; now we're all paying the price.

I'd like to add one more thread to Marshall's. First, the obvious: from the beginning, the hallmark of Bushism in all its forms has been a contempt for institutions, an impatience with process, a disregard for dissent. At one level, of course, it's because they are radicals, and show a radical's hostility to the system that they seek to destroy.

But even radicals can be competent; such radicals would recognize that the art of statecraft is one that applies to all governments, just like the law of gravity applies to all planets. The Bushies, it's been clear since at least 1990, disdained any such recognition that the world is a complicated place, and that the interlocking set of relationships that define world politics, however amoral and expedient, form an ecology that we tinker with, let alone break, at our peril.

This attitude is hardly surprising. These were, after all, people who, almost without exception, avoided any direct contact with the consequences of their own ideas, a character flaw most notoriously symbolized by their eagerness to have other people fight wars they supported, but also in their subsidized, think-tank backgrounds, and paradoxically anti-intellectual, ideologically driven outlooks.

Clinton, an intellectual, recognized the complexities of governance, and governed accordingly, to the frustration of even his supporters; so, too, did veteran and ex-CIA bureaucrat, George HW Bush. So while Shirk's future brain trust silently fumed under the latter, and openly loathed the former, they were held in check by the very institutions they despised.

In Shirk, however, the chickenhawks found their own useful idiot. Shirk not only lacked any appreciation of nuance in diplomacy, he was uninterested in acquiring it. Marinated in privilege, his class prejudices and intellectual sloth reinforced by the simplistic moral nostrums of philistine right-wing evangelism, Shirk's success in business and politics derived instead solely from his ability to keep his sponsors happy and get everybody out before the roof caved in (a talent the Bush family in general seem preternaturally blessed with). Self-reflection and humility are not marketable commodities among hucksters. In this, his cheerleading past was a pretty good prologue.

Shirk's deficiencies were abundantly clear to anyone who paid attention during Campaign 2000, yet, as Bob Somerby and Gene Lyons and a few others have pointed out, Shirk's very liabilities were transmuted by a puerile press corps into something approaching virtues. Drunk with utopian fantasies about the business cycle, enslaved to the cult of celebrity, and deranged by years of sexual McCarthyism and pseudo-scandal politics generally, the Fifth Estate pretty much decided that the Most Powerful Office on Earth could be run on autopilot--indeed would run better on autopilot, or at least in a manner congenial to the thumbs-up/thumbs-down, nuance-free media culture. Thus, what mattered in the new millennium was finding the right cheerleader to occupy this now largely ceremonial post. That the cerebral, technocratic Al Gore still managed to actually get 600,000 more votes than the cheerleader probably only confirmed his backers in their contempt for the popular intelligence.

Now, a year away from a referendum on this experiment in slash-and-burn governance, we are staring a bottomless fiscal hole, a steady stream of "transport tubes," near-complete international isolation, a bureaucratic revolt at CIA and State, deteroriating infrastructure, and the first net loss of jobs since Hoover, all amid a steady worsening of the conditions that preceded 9/11.

If this is success, I don't how much more of it we can stand.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The American Consensus Project: 

A grassroots documentary filmmaking proposal from Emma.

"I envision American Consensus to be a discussion with Americans. I’d like to hear from people across the country and from all different backgrounds. Initially, I thought about going out and doing the documentary myself, but this has a number of downsides. The biggest is that I wouldn’t have the time or money to interview a truly broad range of Americans. But I also don’t have access to many Americans. So then I wondered: why not see if I could get filmmakers from around the country to interview people in their communities?"

"So, while I'm away, I'll leave this question with you. Are you interested?"

Much more insight, information and logistical support via: Notes on the Atrocities

It's a good idea. Anything to coax NTodd away from taking any more pictures of those gawd-damned cats is a good idea.

Go see for yourself.

Marching to the Tuck of the CPB Drum 

Big Daddy Coonrod's boy Tuck won't be crossing no line into none-a-that seamy advo-cacy bidness. No seh. It's all just straight-shootin' re-portin' and honest tucket.

Robert Coonrod, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said he had been concerned that some of Moyers' work had crossed the line between reporting and advocacy and had expressed that to Pat Mitchell, PBS president. The CPB is one of the PBS system's chief funders, providing $22.5 million to the system for programming.

"I think we should have more perspectives on public television than we have now," Coonrod said. "We have to put it into the context of good programming."

Coonrod said the CPB is likely to provide seed money to help start Carlson's show. The organization does not fund "Now with Bill Moyers."


Carlson, the bowtied commentator who will keep his job on CNN's "Crossfire," said he's aiming for something more compelling than the "eat your peas" television of most public affairs shows.

He'd also like to get beyond the few dozen Washington officials that are regulars on political talk shows, he said.

"The standards are going to be pretty clear -- tell me something I don't know and no lying," he said. "They're simple, but you rarely see that on TV, so it's harder than it sounds."

A pilot for Mr. Carlson's show featured 10 guests, including Ann Coulter, a political conservative, a lawyer and an author of best sellers "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton" and "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right." - via: TVWeek

"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it! It's yours.'" ~ Ann Coulter, FoxNews/Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001

Thank you for your contributions and support for new standards in public broadcasting. I can't wait for the first episode of the AnnSpeak Roadshow or maybe something like Morning Sedition with Rush Limbaugh! What's Neal Boortz up to? Think of it, the Nooze Hour with Neal Boortz. Think of the graphic image marketing possibilities. "Nooze, Spoortz and Boortz!". "Good programming" ideas are hard to come by these days. Now shut up and eat your peas.

AWOL Moms And Other Interesting Stuff 

Trish Wilson has a searing commentary about that "military AWOL mother" of seven kids, who had been ordered by a judge to not report for duty in Iraq, (since the military dad had already been ordered to Iraq), and then was threatened by her commander with a court marshall if she didn't.

I caught a piece of the story on O'Reilly, who interviewed the mother's attorney, there was some discussion that some of the children were the father's from a previous marriage so that the military mom was actually a military step-mom, and some passing reference to a prior custody battle, but no discussion of the children's birth mom. Turns out two of the children have a birth mom who had been caring for them until a custody battle gave them to the father and his new wife, and it was the judge in the custody case who insisted the mother could not deploy or lose those two children.

Trish pieces together the story for you, and the half-assed way the media has covered it. She doesn't forget to notice how all this is affecting the seven kids in the home. And she raises all the right questions about why no one seems interested in why the birth mom has been excluded from being part of the solution for at least two of these kids to the very real problem of two military parents who are fighting a war in Iraq.

Trish also has an interesting post that uses McDonald's attempt to keep "McJob" out of the new Merriam-Webster's dictionary, to describe the increasing use of appeals to public sentiment by opponents of progressive extensions of human rights.

And as long as you're there, don't miss this post about "metrosexuality," , or this one about "EBay antics," and whatever you do, don't miss this killer response to Monsieur du Toit, DuToitglodytes and Other Irritants.

We've Always Been at Peace with Eurasia 

So now that the country is becoming ungovernable amid escalating terrorist attacks, the plan is to declare victory and get out of Iraq as soon as possible, with guns ablazing.

Interesting. I seem to recall thunderous denunciations being made in the wake of 9/11, of any policy that appeared to address terrorist goals, as unspeakably evil appeasement. Now we're tripping over ourselves to give said terrorists more or less exactly what they're after, lest they spoil Shirk's prom night next September.

"Objectively pro-terrorist," anyone?

I guess Clinton's mistake in Somalia was in not handing over the keys to the Presidential palace to the street vendor selling Kitfo Helper on his way out.

Various Offenses 

Great moments in slutty ingratiatory PR gibberish. And they wonder why people call em' media whores. Some guy named Jeff Bieber insults the intelligence of everyone who ever lived in Baltimore and pretty much anyone, almost anywhere else, even remotely functionally literate, alive or dead.

"We were looking for a fresh, different voice that we could build a franchise around," says executive producer Jeff Bieber, 50, comparing Carlson to legendary social critic and humorist H.L. Mencken (1880-1956).


Carlson's father, Richard, was head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in the early '90s. The younger Carlson has never given money to PBS, but says its acclaimed documentary series Frontline made him a true believer.

Nov. 12, 2003
For PBS, Tucker Carlson the right guy for new series
By Gail Shister, Philadelphia Inquirer


Axis of the Golden Spurs ~ and other highlights from the Harpers Index:
(heads up via: TalkLeft)

October 2003

Percentage of Americans who will save less than $100 on their 2006 federal taxes as a result of this year's tax cut: 88

Average amount these Americans will save: $4

Year in which House Republicans thrice rejected an amendment to upgrade the U.S. electrical grid: 2001

Number of Virginia Republican Party officials fined this year for eavesdropping on Democratic Party conference calls: 3

Years after the Watergate break-in that deputy campaign director Jeb Magruder admitted hearing President Nixon order it: 30

Year in which Donald Rumsfeld gave Saddam Hussein a pair of golden spurs: 1983

Sept 2003

Price of the oil-field supplies sold to Iraq by two Halliburton subsidiaries during Cheney's tenure: $73,000,000

Amount Pat Robertson has invested in Liberian gold mining: $8,000,000

Estimated number of soccer balls the U.S. government sent Iraq this summer to help "bring life back to normal": 60,000

Amount New Zealand's Fire Service spent this year on a TV campaign against cooking while drunk: $201,300

Maximum number of miles that Ford's most fuel-efficient 2003 car can drive on a gallon of gas: 36

Maximum number its 1912 Model T could: 35

Percentage of the bombs dropped on Iraq this year that were not precision-guided: 32

Average age at which an American believes that adulthood begins: 26



Using that Biblical method of determining adultery by coitus consequently means determining marriage by coitus. By pointing out the biological impossibility of coitus for homosexuals together, the decision unwittingly indicated that "same sex marriages" are equally impossible.

It also (unwittingly) shows that polygamy is very possible, indeed. History's first recorded "adultery" word and adultery-determined-by-coitus commandment were written by Moses, who married two wives!

Yeah, I know what ya mean. I knew a guy named Coitus. He was from New Jersey. Always telling everyone else what to do. But I don't think he spelled his name like that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Judging The Judges 

As you've no doubt heard, the Republicans have scheduled thirty hours of debate on the only four of Bush's nominees to the Federal Judiciary Democrats have opposed. The thirty hours, which begins tonight, is a response to the Democrats' threat to fillibuster the four nominees, which the Republicans are labelling as somehow scandalous, because it's a tactic rarely if ever used in the past. Their own machinations that successfully denied approval to over fifty of President Clinton's nominees are somehow not scandalous because Republicans did not rely on the fillibuster. Of course, they were the majority party, the Democrats are the minority. The fillibuster means that approval of the nominations can only be had by a two-thirds 'yea' vote.

MoveOn thinks we ought to let the Senate Democrats know we're with them and is suggesting we keep them company through the long hours ahead via this petition that is a MoveOn/DNC joint effort.

Go , sign the petition. It only takes a moment.

The Platonic Form Of Clueless 

Yes, I know, Plato's forms, or archetypes, or universals, or ideas aren't meant to exist in the everyday world, Plato not being a big booster of "the word made flesh" type of proposition, but you tell me if this NYDaily News column by Stanley Crouch isn't a form of clueless perfection.

For years, Crouch has cultivated a maverick reputation, a man too independent, too free of cant, too original to be pegged with left/right labels. Personally, I've usually found him entirely too pegable, but this little poisened pen letter to "the press," taking "it" to task for its "coverage of casualities in Iraq" reaches new depths, even for Crouch.

Contemplating that coverage, he's glad this press corps wasn't around 150 years ago, when two years into the Civil War, Lincoln, faced with "unprecedented" casuality lists, needed time to find a new General who could win the war, i.e., Grant, because, golly gee, with them being all negative and harping on casualities like they do today, well....Crouch never says, "damn, if the Union might not have been defeated," but you're meant to fill in the blanks.

Crouch allows that Bush et al have made some mistakes.

In our moment, President Bush puffed out his chest too soon, and now too much is expected in too short a time. Plus, the stated goal, the purpose, of the war in Iraq changes shape too often for the President to get an understandable message through to the nation.

And what's Crouch's problem with the rest of the media noticing the above? Actually, so clueless is his explanation, I'm not sure, although perhaps what we have here is nothing more nor less than the obligatory careerist reference to "Bill Clinton" as an icon of the unsavory.

This is all grist for a press corps that has had nothing messy to talk about in high places since Bill Clinton was literally caught with his pants down in the Oval Office. That was scandalous, but it didn't have the dramatic power of Watergate or the uprising against the war in Vietnam or the Pentagon Papers.

The media have been itching for big trouble at the top, and so now the efforts of a small group of determined terrorists is being described as creating a quagmire.

Of course what was unsavory was less what the President did or did not do with Monica Lewinsky in the oval office than what Ken Starr and his merry band of men and elves did in their search for "the whole truth," one more reminiscent of Savanorola than of Jefferson, Adams, or Madison, i.e., ascertain and then publish the minutest details of private sexual behavior between two consenting adults that turned out to have no relevance to anyone beside the principals themselves and those who knew and cared about them. [see the first ten pages of "The Human Stain."] So, in that same spirit, let me point out that we still can't be sure whether the President's pants were actually "down," or whether they were "up" and only his fly was open.

As it happens, Crouch's history lesson is as clueless as his commentary. During those first two years of losing major battles to the south, the press attacks on Lincoln and his war policies were brutal and unstinting. A cursory glance at any issue of Harper's Weekly for those years makes hash of Crouch's basic supposition. Nor is discussion of press attacks on Lincoln missing from any decent book on the Civil War.

The press today, bad press, bad press, is faulted for not putting the number of casualities in perspective, showing that they're remarkably low, compared, I guess, with Civil War casualities, when, remember, to be wounded was pretty much a death warrant.

But what brought my epiphany that what was before me, shimmering in the light of my computer monitor, was an actual Platonic form were these words:

Our greatest American skill has almost always been improvising, discovering the solution in motion, looking away from the music paper and following the dictates of our ears when we heard something in our heads that sounded better than what we were looking at on the paper.

That is where we are in Iraq, and the Bush administration would do well to make that clear to the public.

Improvise? This President? Change policies, "in motion," to meet the demands of an ever-changing situation on the ground? Our "bold" "bring 'em on" leader, steadfast, unmovable, who never acknowledges a change of policy even on those rare occasions that there is one, which is actually okay, because it turns out it isn't a change at all, only a shift in how we're meant to percieve the policy? That President Bush? Should make clear to us that we need to give him room to "riff?"

Mr. Crouch, sir, Bush's whole Iraq policy is just one long riff, and he is as likely to be able to riff on his riff, as a shark is to improvise a new way to attack. Both creatures are designed to move only forwards; neither is capable of looking back, or sideways, or at themselves.

Okay, maybe I'm over the top, with all this talk of Platonic forms.

Maybe I should just have called what Crouch has to say "hooey." But give me this, if it is just an example of hooey, it's hooey of a very high order.

Twilight of the Gods ~ recapitulated 

Who says history doesn't repeat itself. Lets play a fill in the blanks game. My own entries appear below in bold type. Each entry is preceded by a number, *1-*15. The original words as they appeared before I replaced them with my own 15 twenty first century entries are listed at the bottom of the post. Compare this twentieth century editorial below with our current twenty first century state of political affairs.

That *1 - George W. Bush has *2 - distorted, obfuscated and lied must be plain to everyone. All the great reforms in government that were to follow his elevation to the purple have failed to show themselves, and he has been *3 - succored by Congress in a manner almost pathetic. His appointments, with few exceptions, have been atrocious, and he is still surrounded in the White House by the same political buzzards who rounded up delegates for him in *4 - 2000 and brought about his nomination. His tolerance of such gentry seems to be almost unlimited: he apparently lacks all sense of smell. No President was ever put into office by a sorrier gang, and none ever revealed a more unashamed gratitude afterward.

In his statecraft no plausible principles are visible. He remains silent about most of the questions that engage the country, and from his acts one can deduce nothing save the fact that he is eager to be renominated and reelected in *5 - 2004, and willing to do anything to bring the business about. No one, at this writing, knows what he actually thinks of *6 - insert your own issue here. He has spoken of it idiotically as a *7 - insert your own list of buzz phrases and platitudes here, and that is about all. Does he believe that it can ever be enforced? He doesn't say. Does he believe that it is intrinsically just, wise and tolerable? No one knows. All that is plain is that he believes the *8 - American Enterprise Institute, NRA, TVNews-o-mercial make believe-land, etc... and the *9 - Religious Right are still strong enough to give him help year after next, and that he is ready to play with them so long as he believes it. To that end he is apparently willing to sacrifice anything, including even the integrity of the judiciary.

During the campaign of *10 - 2000 much was made of the hon. gentleman's political innocence, and it was represented that he had nothing to do with the whooping up of religious bigotry that went on; indeed, he himself let it be known that he was "instinctively" opposed to it. But now the exultant babblings of *11 - Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Judge Roy Moore, Rush Limbaugh, etc... and company make it obvious that he was well aware of everything that was done, and that he made no honest effort to stop it. In other words, he profited knowingly and willingly by the dreadful performance of such fanatics as *12 - insert your favorite monomaniacal right wing wagtail here. A plain word from him might have shut them off: he'd probably have been elected anyhow. But he preferred the disgrace of their support to the honor of a frank man. And since he has been in office he has done nothing whatever to put them down, and is manifestly ready to do business with them again, and on precisely the same terms that prevailed *13 - three years ago, in *14 - 2000.

It is very hard to understand such a man. By what standard of values does he judge himself? What is his honest verdict when he looks into his shaving-glass of a morning? The Presidency is in his hands, and there is nothing higher for him to look for in this world. One would naturally expect a man in that situation to give some thought to the essential decencies - to devote himself to making sure, not of his immediate benefit, but of his ultimate reputation. But *15 - George W. Bush seems either unwilling or unable to take that view. He prefers to go on as he came in - playing shabby politics, consorting with creatures from the abyss, contributing his miserable mite to the destruction of free government among us.

It is a picture so depressing that it seems somehow fantastic. It is difficult to imagine any man of sound sense throwing himself (and democracy) away so tragically.

The above editorial is a bastardization of the original written by HL Mencken, August 1930 / "Gotterdammerung", The American Mercury. A critical excoriation of the Herbert Hoover administration. Mencken's original words, those sequentially replaced above, are listed below.

1- Dr. Hoover
2- blown up
3- kicked about
4- 1928
5- 1932
6- Prohibition
7- Noble Experiment
8- Anti-Saloon League
9- Methodist bishops
10- 1928
11- Deets Pickett
12- Bishop Cannon
13- two
14 1932
15- Dr. Hoover

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

To The Men And Women Of The Armed Forces 


We all know that the icon of the spat-upon returning Vietnam vet is one of those myths that just won't die. The real abuse of those who served in Vietnam came from their own government, who exposed them to powerful chemicals without telling them, who provided only the most truncated GI bill benefits, and who ferried them in and out of this country with as little fanfare as possible.

Still, I was pleased to hear someone like Tim Robbins, a fervent questioner of the Bush administration's war policies, when asked by a questioiner after a speech given at the Washington Press Club, what he would say to the men and women serving in Iraq, and to those who were then clearly at that point of a full-scale invasion of that country, Tim replied that he'd say something like, thank-you for serving your country, because there is always honor to be had in such service, even when the military action is wrong, or foolish, or self-defeating. Tim's argument, he was clear on, was not with the men and women who were about to carry out the Bush doctrine, but with the administration who had formulated it.

My approval for the Armed Services in a previous post was understandably questioned by readers like "khr," as well as others. So let me clarify. I'm not naieve about what is probably going on "on the ground," as they say, in Iraq. The "we're here to help you, we're here to fight you as we see necessary, so we can control you so we can help you" logic of this occupation is a deadly one. For the occupiers as much as for the occupied.

As for what responsibilities, and at one levels of command, the individual soldier is responsible for his actions, you won't find a better discussion than this statement by Christian Bauman Atrios recently pusblished at Eschaton.

For a sense of what it's really like for the actual Americans charged with making this occupation work, I urge everyone to read this five part series published in the AsianTimes Online.

The reporter, Nir Rosen, follows the day to day "slog," of 1000 soldiers who make up "the 1st Squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), based in Fort Carson of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and currently stationed in al-Qaim, at the western edge of Anbar province, bordering on Syria." Rosen talks to the soldiers, watches what they do, talks to Iraqis and watches how they react, and pays attention to all the details. He finds anger, misunderstandings, ambivalence, reasons to be pessimistic, reasons to hope. Some soldiers succumb to understandable anger, others succeed in attaining a remarkable empathy. I think the series illustrates what I was trying to say about my own sense of pride in the representative nature of our Armed Services, and their level of decency and professionalism.

Today, Veterans' Day is meant to be one of commemoration; what better way to do that than to get to know what thousands of young Americans are experiencing in Iraq?

And what better way to do it than to take advantage of this Washington Post feature, "Faces Of The Fallen," a highly useable data base of pictures and information about the Americans who have died in Iraq. I spent the morning with these heartbreaking snaptshots and brief bios. It won't make you feel better about this war, but there is still something healing about it.

Rules of the Game 

Ask advice on buying a printer cartridge, get tortured as a terrorist suspect.

Monday, November 10, 2003

In Service To Her Country 

Lori Piestewa was the first American servicewoman to die in Iraq.

She was twenty-three and the mother of a three year old daughter, Carla, and a five year old son, Brandon, when her Army maintenance unit was ambused near Nasiriya. Her body was found several days later, in a shallow grave. Lori was a Hopi, and after her divorce, lived with her parents on the Hopi reservation in Arizona. She joined the army to better herself.

My compatriot, the Farmer, pointed me to this moving story about an multi-nation commerative service to honor Lori Piestewa, held on the Big Cypress Seminole reservation last Friday.

Florida's Seminole community closed a protective circle around one of its own Thursday, honoring Lori Piestewa, the first American servicewoman killed in the Iraq war.


On a cord around her neck, Percy Piestewa, Lori's mother, wears a talisman, a laminated snapshot of the two smiling young women.

The photo was taken in February, when their company shipped out for Iraq. A month later Piestewa was dead, and Lynch was taken prisoner by Iraqi troops.


Sonny Nequaya, a Comanche, traveled with several family members from Apache, Okla., to chant, drum and dance at the ceremony. Dressed in feathered hats, beaded garments and moccasins, the Comanches' voices echoed through a large open-air auditorium on the reservation where several hundred Seminoles, Comanche, Navaho and other Native American tribe members fanned themselves in the still heat.

Read the rest. Native-Americans understand that ceremony matters.

Updating Pvt. Lynch 

Atrios has an interesting post on his reaction of the Lynch affair, somewhere. Sorry, I can't seem to find the link.

Billmon at Whiskey Bar has a much longer one on the subject, as always, an original and fascinating addition to the discussion.

And Jeanne at Body And Soul, picks up on a new attitutde toward the waifish war hero over at Fox News.

My own thoughts in the post below were a provisional attempt to wrest the little blonde from West Virginia from the fickle clutches of Drudge, Fox and talk radio, and to view her, the person of Pfc. Lynch, from some other perspective than a propogandist's.

The weekend has brought new confusions to the story of exactly what happened to her in Iraq. Reports about TIME's selections from the Bragg book tell of her battling with Iraqi surgeons getting ready to amputate her leg, yelling at them not to. Apparently, the book claims that the amputation was considered necessary before she was airlifted to another hospital or to Baghdad; there is also a suggestion that she was being readied for a role in a propoganda film. None of this comes from Jessica herself, who doesn't remember anything from the time of her capture, until she woke up on the hospital from which she was rescued.

The doctors at this latter hospital are already denying the story told in the book. As to the matter of rape, the book makes some such claim based on "medical records," although which records isn't made clear. It sounds like the records might be from the initial hospitilization in Germany. No actual medical rape investigation was done, but injuries suggest, according to this version of what happened, she was anally penetrated. There are quotes from family members verifying their belief, based on what they've been told about those medical records, that this did happen.

I think it is these reports that caused the always excellent "Pansypoo," to question, in a comment to my post, Lynch's believability. I would caution all of us to wait to see what Jessica has to say for herself, and to remember that both she and her family are often only reporting what others say happened. What still stands out to me, is her refusal to be fit into other people's narratives. I should also have pointed out that Jessica has called Lori Piestewa, with whom she was best friends, the real hero, and that Jessica has also fully supported Shoshonna Johnson in her attempts to get the kind of disability benefits awarded to Jessica.

Bush Boom, eh? 

So in the same month that the United States, amid much self-congratulation, added 126,000 jobs, Canada, at 1/10 the size, added roughly half that many. I'm no economist, but to me that figures out to five times the jump on a population-adjusted basis, and without budget-destroying tax cuts or shredding of the social safety net.

Maybe Bushonomics works better, the farther away from it you are?

Sunday, November 09, 2003

More Reasons To Thank All the Jessica Lynchs 

Through-out the nineties, the right carried on a curious campaign of hostile criticism against the US armed forces. It was a major component of that decade's share of the never ending rightwing declarations that the culture wars, which for the right have always been politics by other means, are still going on. The wedge issue was expanded roles for women in the military. The targets of rightwing ire, who else but "radical feminists," (as if there were any other kind in the rightwing world view), and their pandering puppets in the Clinton administration, of which the most important was the "Pander-in-Chief," Bill Clinton.

Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness, another one of those right-wing front groups, was the pointwoman for most of the attacks, but the likes of Kate O"Beirne and Laura Ingraham got in their licks, too, often attacking the top ranks of the military for being afraid of the feminist lobby, and BTW, without ever being accused of being unAmerican, or rooting for our enemies.

The right has never acknowledged the reality that in an all volunteer armed forces, women doing jobs that take them to the edge, if not right into combat zones, is inescapable. It has nothing to do with feminists or whose in the Presidency, it has always had been a case of military necessity. That's why the Bush administration has done nothing to restore the rules on how women are allowed to serve back to the pre-Clinton days.

One of the most effective of the right's attacks on the notion that women in the military should do no more than hover at the edges of the action was the question they loved to ask, about how America would feel when women soldiers became POWs, when women soldiers started coming home in body bags. The implication was that Americans would fall apart and demand, if not a return to the days of the WACs and the WAVEs, but at the very least, to a military use of women that vindicated the gender views of the right, and further isolated from the mainstream, the feminist left.

Well, now we have the answer to that question. In Iraq, three women became POWs, and one of them, Pfc. Lori Piestewa, tragically, returned in a body bag, but the Rockies didn't tumble, Gibralter didn't crumble, and the American public took it all in stride. In the case of Pfc Lynch, they fairly grooved on her story, at first, anyway, and no place more than on Fox News.

Pfc Lynch presented a real problem to Donnelly and most other rightwing commentators. Here's Jane Chastain in an April 10th column typical of the way many on the right struggled with how to respond to Jessica's story.

Private Lynch survived the ambush in Iraq of the Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, but can she survive the ambush of the feminine forces of political correctness that placed her in harm's way.

These people want to use her to promote their theory that men and women soldiers are the same.


The feminists found willing accomplices in Democrat presidents Jimmy Carter – who viewed war as unnecessary – and Bill Clinton, who wasn't above hiding behind the skirts he was unable to lift.


Unfortunately, all these changes in law and regulations were made with little fanfare, little mention in the press. Also, a myth was perpetrated that once combat positions were open to women, they simply would be allowed to decide if they wished to accept these dangerous assignments.

That myth was shattered on March 23, 2003, when the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company was ambushed after being lost, resulting in the capture of Pfc. Lynch, who is one of the more fortunate members of her unit.


No one doubts the bravery of the women of the 507th. Let's just hope that Pfc. Lynch is as brave in confronting the feminists, when it comes time to address these truths, as she was in standing up to the paramilitary in Iraq.

Will she become a soldier of truth – or remain a prisoner of political correctness?

Of course it's nonsense to say that feminists tried to use Lynch; for the most part, we were wise enough not to to hype the clear reality that Americans were willing to accept that when women become soldiers, some of them are going to get captured, and some are going to get killed.

Here's Elaine Donnelly in a story posted at Free Republic, dated in June, asking some hard questions of the Pentagon about what happened to the women taken capture in Iraq. I suspect that many on the left would applaud some of the questions. But in Donnelly's case they betray a gnawing anxiety that the Bush administration is playing the story all wrong. In the comments thread that follows, there is mainly angry support for Donnelly's take on why Lynch's story supports everything Donnelly's ever thought or said about women in the military, but there are some surprises there, too.

When at the end of this week, ABC began to leak some of what Lynch says in her interview with "Diane," the Freeper mood and hearts began hardening toward Jessica, but even here, they're are a few surprises.

Of course women soldiers are still dying in Iraq. And they're still working side by side with their male compatriots, asking for no quarter, giving none. My take on what I've seen in the film from Iraq is that this is an armed forces that truly represents America today, men and women of all races, from red and blue states, working together as comrades, with the utmost professionalism. I'm not talking about what they're being asked to do. They don't have control over that. And please, no comments that they're war criminals for not refusing to serve. Anyone who believes that simply hasn't read enough of the testimonies of those who've been the victims of war crimes.

In their obsession with the ruination of all American instutitions, especially the American military, by the forces of so-called "political correctness," it just might finally be the rightwing that is falling out of step with the mainstream.

Thanking Pvt. Lynch 

From the beginning of this saga of the rescued Jessica Lynch, I was impressed by the quiet dignity with which her family and community conducted themselves. For them, it was always about caring for this gravely injured young woman, and one another. In Germany, when her parents discovered from her doctors that Jessica had suffered neither knife nor gun wounds, they told us. There were a few on camera interviews with neighbors and friends, but not many, and the question of Jessica's herosim was never a cause that either her family or friends took as their own. The controversies swirled around them, without ever distracting them from the central task of healing Jessica, whose intrinsic bravery was not an issue for those who knew and loved her. Yes, the Pentagon asked them to be quiet. But I had the feeling such a request wasn't necessary. In their unemphatic way, this family from Palestine, West Virginia, insulated by the strong bonds of a rural community, managed not to be used by either the media or the government. They might owe the American public what information they had about their daughter, because we all seemed to care so much, but that was all they owed us. (If you haven't had an opportunity to read the Farmer's musings on liberals and their perennial failure to formulate a rural election strategy, you can and should find it here, check out the comments, too, and here.)

While arguments raged about what the true story of her rescue was, and whether or not the Pentagon and/or the press had used her to advance a story line of brave, good American soldiers versus bad, brutal Iraqis, save one, her family and her community kept to themselves and out of the limelight, seeming to understand just how distorting a lens it can be. The long stay in the hospital in Germany before she could come home to continue treatment here spoke to the gravity of her injuries. While she struggled through what had to be an arduous rehab, her parents, friends, and fiance shielded her from the press and from us.

When she was finally ready to come home to West Virginia, pundits said we'd be inundated with little Jessica, the waif/soldier, and speculated on the huge killing she was about to make off the media synergies that would package and repackage her story, her image, pieces of her image, her meaning, Jessica as icon was going to be irrisistible, to her as much as to us. Remember the network letter to her, CBS wasn't it, explaining all the multiple ways she could market herself and her story?

It never seemed to occur to any of these chroniclers of celebrity, often media stars in their own right, that there might be something, even several somethings more important to Pvt Lynch and those who mattered to her than fifteen minutes of stardom. In fact, except for a brief view of her during her public homecoming, and a brief speech, we saw and heard little from her or her parents or her community.

Yes, eventually she signed a book deal, and a TV movie deal. But that was all. And Rick Bragg insured a certain level of quality for the book, while wisely, she had nothing to do with the TV movie. No one should begrudge Pvt. Lynch the money she will make. She could have made more, she could have given multiple interviews, with Barbara WaWa as well as with Diane I'll empathize till you barf Sawyer. She could have posed for covers of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Seventeen. She could have allowed herself to be feted on Broadway, in Hollywood. She could've have been seen gleefully proclaiming she was going to DisneyWorld.

I might be wrong, but I'm betting she won't. And for that, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to that little town in West Virginia for nurturing a family like the Lynchs, and the real Pvt. Lynch, whose strong sense of who she is, and was, coupled with her concerns for the many soldiers whose suffering will not be chronicled, guided her not to make "the most" of her temporary fame. With any kind of luck, we won't weary of Jessica Lynch before we have an opportunity to appreciate and learn anew, how extraordinary "ordinary" people turn out to be, as we're beginning to, now that she's getting her first opportunities to set the record straight.

What's In a Flag? 

Well, according to our old friend, Rick Berke, quite a lot. Sorta....Depending...

In an article with the almost Zen title, "What You Can Say Can't Hurt You Until It Can," Berke takes a whack at the Howard Dean Confederate flag flap and discovers that no one should have been surprised because Dean's been making that point about needing to appeal to Southern whites, including those stars and bars references, all year. So, what was different this time? Context, says Berke. "Context is all," he tells us, which will come as a shock to those of you who've read Berke's concertedly out of context coverage of Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

The context now - Dean's the front runner among eight other Presidential wannabes gunning for Dean; Confederate flags on the back of pickup trucks being an irresistible target, all of them were bound to take shots at it.

Berke's point? If any reader can tell me, please avail yourself of the Comments to do so.

To make Dean look like an amateur? To make the other contenders look like cynical grandstanders? To make Times' readers loath politics and politicians even more than they do already by fixating on the most meaningless details of the political process in an analysis that does nothing more than plug in the already well-known, mainly meaningless, and certainly too oft-repeated cliches of what passes currently for political reporting. Whatever his intentions, Berke handily accomplishes all three.

Let's take a look at how a real journalist discuses the politics of the prior week. Sidney Blumenthal writing in Salon finds a connection between Dean & Da Duking Dems, and last week's triumph of Republican outrage, the disappearing CBS miniseries about The Reagans, uniting them under a title drawn from the lyrics of Dixie, "Old Times There Are Not Forgotten."

Blumenthal also points out that Dean as early as last March had expressed his belief that the Democratic party shouldn't and couldn't give up on getting the votes of white Southeners and any other whites who've been split off by a successful Republican policy of dividing Americans from one another over wedge issues. Unlike Berke, Blumenthal takes the time to give us what Dean actually said then:

"I think the Republicans, ever since 1968, with Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, have divided us on race issues. Look, when I go to the South, I talk about race deliberately ... If we're going to have elections about race, we might as well talk about it openly. I want white males, particularly in the South, to come back to the Democratic Party. And the case that FDR made was, look, when was the last time you all got a raise? When was the last time your kids got decent health insurance? What kind of schools do your kids go to if you can't afford a private academy?"

For Blumenthal, Dean's mistake last week was his shorthanding of the issue, which left out the context of Nixon and FDR and his own committment to an honest discussion about race. Blumenthal doesn't make the mistake of shorthanding why the Confederate flag is still such a potent wedge, and unlike the rest of the pundit class, who last week seemed to have developed partial amnesia about that symbol's continued potency to stir defensive anger in the hearts of white Southerners, said pundits proclaiming that Dean had alienated both blacks and especially Southern whites, who don't care to see themselves in pickup trucks flying tiny Confederate flags. Maybe not, but an awful lot of them don't care to give up the regular sized version of that flag, especially when flown over state capitals.

Blumenthal is just as good on what happened to make "The Reagans," disappear from the CBS lineup, and finds the connection between that story and the flag flap in Reagan's role as the Republican President who consolidated Nixon's southern strategy, firmly placing the GOP in the position of being the bulwark against any further advances on majority rights by the civil rights movement.

Have I mentioned what a pleasure it is to read a journalist who can actually write well.

Ronald Reagan and the Confederate flag, after all, have long been for the Southern Republican Party the equivalent of apple pie and motherhood.


Once a Republican mole filched a copy of the script, the Republican Party chairman, Ed Gillespie (former chief lobbyist for Enron), assumed the disinterested pose of historian. The owl of Minerva perched on his shoulder, he called on CBS to yank the series or put a warning on the screen that would flash every 10 minutes that it was make-believe.


Leslie Moonves, the CBS president, abased himself with ritual abject apologies. In the battle for control of imagery, CBS was no match for the RNC. The Republicans know far better than a network the ruthless business of going negative.

Blumenthal reminds us of "certain crucial events" having to do with Reagan's actual words and positions on civil rights whose absence from "The Reagans," didn't bother Gillespie.

Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it "humiliating to the South"), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. "If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house," Reagan said, "he has a right to do so."

Neither the words or positions changed that much during Reagan's presidency.

I recommend you read the whole article. Which brings us to the problem of linking to Salon articles that require one to be a subsriber. At the risk of seeming to be a shill for David Talbot, let me suggest that non-subscribers reconsider. Salon has some of the best left of center reporting and commentary anywhere. You can get Salon Premium with ads for only $22.50 a year. And you can get a month pass/ subscription for $6. All past articles are archived and available.

Yes, Talbot has published Paglia, Sullivan and Horowitz. That's okay with me; in a context like Salon's their bent reasoning and sodden prose shows up ever more clearly by contrast with any article by a Sid Blumenthal.

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