Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dinner with Barack Obama?

This is a historic moment in modern American politics. No one in living memory has come so far with so much support from small contributions. This fund-raising letter is one for the books!

Friend --

You've heard about all of these political fundraising dinners, hosted by Washington lobbyists and filled with representatives of special interests.

Contributions like these are at the root of what's wrong with politics. And John McCain and Hillary Clinton have built campaigns fueled by them.But our campaign is different.

In February alone, more than 94% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up just 13% of Senator McCain's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's.

Our funding comes from a movement of more than one million people giving whatever they can afford.

And in the next week, four supporters will be selected for a new kind of fundraising dinner.

Make a donation in any amount between now and 11:59 pm EDT on Monday, March 31st, and you could join Barack and three other supporters for an intimate dinner for five.

We're reserving two of those seats for new donors like you. If you've ever thought about making a donation to join our campaign, now is the time:https://donate.barackobama.com/dinner

This movement is changing the way campaigns are funded.More than one million individual donors have demonstrated that this election is about more than a candidate -- it's about each of us having a personal stake in the future of American politics.

Meanwhile, Senator McCain has raised more than 70% of his total campaign funds from high-dollar donors giving $1,000 or more. Senator Clinton has raised 60% of her funds from $1,000-and-up donors. And both Senator McCain and Senator Clinton have accepted millions of dollars from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.

Refusing to accept donations from lobbyists and special interests has allowed this campaign to answer only to ordinary Americans like you. And this dinner will be an opportunity for you to sit down with Barack and your fellow supporters and talk about the issues that matter in your life and in your community.

Get the kind of treatment that John McCain and Hillary Clinton reserve for special interests -- make a donation in the next week, and you could share your story and your ideas with Barack in person:https://donate.barackobama.com/dinner

With every single donation, we're building a movement to change American politics. Help the movement grow, and own a piece of this campaign today.

Thanks for your support,


David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

The press release about that dinner will be one of the best-crafted pieces ever. And it may be on You Tube before the popular press gets a copy. We'll wait and see.

Meantime, the McCain-Feingold Bill is, for practical purposes, obsolete! Money equals speech, they say...

Yeah. Right.

I've been in the food business long enough to know baloney when it comes along, and that money-equals-free-speech trope is just that: baloney.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Obama "Bargain" and Blues for Obama

On this Easter Day I give thanks that Barak Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, gave voice to rage and indignation from his pulpit. White people don't like hearing it, but he speaks for many black people who agree but dare not say so. Sooner or later that level of suppressed anger was sure to surface on the body politic. It is a great blessing that it has done so at a time when Barak Obama serves as interlocutor bridging the extremes of America's racial divide.

There have been many references to nuance and civil debate and complexity, but the fact is that for the first time since Black Panthers chanted about "Black Power" with fists aloft in symbolic protest, we no longer have to speak in code. (Well actually, it is not yet acceptable for white people to speak candidly -- we are still expected to speak in code -- But for Black Americans the gloves are off once again. Witness the bowed up reaction to Obamas "typical white person" reference. We can say typical white person all day long but someone half-black is not allowed to do so without finger-pointing.)

Early in the week, following Obama's More Perfect Union speech, Shelby Steele's wonderful piece of
rhetorical calisthenics in the Wall Street Journal describes "the bargain," advancing the idea that Obama is offering a "bargain" to whites. Like so many layers of protocol enabling post-slavery Black survival in America, the word bargain has a deeper meaning that the economic angle it suggests.

...Bargaining is a mask that blacks can wear in the American mainstream, one that enables them to put whites at their ease. This mask diffuses the anxiety that goes along with being white in a multiracial society. Bargainers make the subliminal promise to whites not to shame them with America's history of racism, on the condition that they will not hold the bargainer's race against him. And whites love this bargain -- and feel affection for the bargainer -- because it gives them racial innocence in a society where whites live under constant threat of being stigmatized as racist. So the bargainer presents himself as an opportunity for whites to experience racial innocence.

Okay, then. With that thumbnail summary describing one facet of how the Black minority is expected to behave in order to get along in a majority white society (here in the South we called it keeping in their place), the vulnerable corollary can be revealed. Power Line's Paul Mirengoff spins the consequences very neatly in the middle of a smart-sounding commentary, tucking these little lines neatly in the middle.

Barack Obama made his political breakthrough as a bargainer. By constantly referring to the national yearning (including, he said, by many Republicans) to "come together" as blacks and whites, Obama presumed we are not racists. His reward was an almost magical appeal to broad portions of the electorate.

Obama, of course, would like to remain a bargainer. But Steele predicted this would be difficult given the scrutiny presidential candidates receive because bargainers must wear a mask. Once we learn who they really are and what they really think about race, the magic is lost. They can no longer offer us the required assurances that they know we’re not racists, and hence they can no longer receive our unconditional love.

Obama, it is now clear, has been wearing a mask. No one who listened to his post-racial happy talk would have guessed that he regularly attends a church run by a pastor who preaches hatred of “White America,” much less that Obama is close to that pastor.

You catch that? Once we learn who they really are and what they really think about race.... Love that use of THEY. Now we know who THEY really are, don't we? From that point on, all credibility is shot. No amount of back-peddling, explanation or denial will ever put the toothpaste back in the tube. Now we know, don't we, that once he has been caught in one lie, everything else he says is open to reasonable doubt. I wonder if the writer is a trial lawyer.

Obama is in a no-win situation. No matter how he turns he will piss off someone. That wasn't supposed to happen until after the election. And make no mistake about it...when a man says stuff like "I'm not going to tell you what I think you want to hear. I'll tell you what you need to hear." [That's a little softer than when he said at the start of the campaign "...what you need to know."] he's not using the language of a "bargainer" in the sense that the essay indicated.

So what did he do? He looked his everyone straight in the eye and let them know he doesn't agree with what Wright said, but he doesn't aim to let this affair cause him to throw Jeremiah Wright under the bus.

That, in my eyes, is a mark of character.

This from the Nation blog is worth reading.

Blues for Obama

Win or lose, whatever happens next, Barack Obama is now established as one of those rare, courageous teachers who leads the country onto new ground. He has given us a way to talk about race and our other differences with the clarity and honesty that politics does not normally tolerate. Whether this hurts or helps his presidential prospects is not yet clear, but he has done this for us and it will change the country, whatever the costs to him.

His words should discourage the media frenzy of fear-driven gotcha. His speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday may also make the Clintons re-think their unsubtle exploitation of racial tension. But nobody knows the depth or strength of the commonplace fears streaming through the underground of public feelings. No one can be sure of what people will hear in Obama's confident embrace, beckoning Americans in all their differences, leaving out no one, to a better understanding of themselves.

The essence of the blues, as I learned to understand, is what Barack Obama accomplished in that speech--the beautiful and hopeful wrapped in pain and sacrifice, the despairing truths about the black experience in America that mysteriously exalt the human spirit when we hear the music. We don't need to understand why or define the meaning. In this case, Obama himself is the expression of what we are feeling. His speech will live on as a complex, exalting memory, whatever happens, because what he said about us is true.

Remember, this is a very shrewd politician, not just highly intelligent and worldly, but wise about himself. He must have understood fully the nature of what he was doing in this speech because all of his life he has coped successfully with the dangerous cross-currents of race. In that speech, Obama was taking all the risks onto himself, going where no one had dared to go before in politics with awareness he might personally pay a price. That is what leaders do, isn't it?

First, Barack Obama did not speak to Americans as though we are children. His discussion assumed that people could relate to a sophisticated explication of the American experience. He did not repackage the realities of race into uplifting myths. Above all, he did not leave anyone out of this generous approach, not his white grandmother for her folk fears of black strangers, not the cruel narrative of the African-American struggle, not the white working class whose immigrant stories have their own legacy of suffering and resentment. Nor would he renounce his friend and mentor Jeremiah Wright, the minister who expresses deeply felt anger and disappointment at the American story.

If you understand the risks Obama undertook, you can see the beauty and pain in what he did. He could not back away from the risks without betraying himself and all those people who are part of him. On the other hand, he was putting at risk his own great promise as a politician. In psychological terms, what's extraordinary is his refusal to split off himself and his own experience from those others. So he embraced them, knowing the risks. Then he tells us--audaciously--that we are capable of doing the same. Yet most of us do the opposite in everyday life, defining ourselves in contrast to the others we are not, idealizing our own selves by demonizing the others. Obama knows all this. He still insists we can do it. He has seen it happen in life.

Could Obama be right about Americans? The proposition itself is thrilling to hear. We feel ennobled by his hopeful account of who we are, but also a little scared. Obama didn't let anyone off the hook. He threw the choice back at the people. But what if he is wrong? We are scared to find out. His hopefulness makes us feel nervous for him.

Obama sounds like cool blues. The calmness of style, the strength of his self-confidence, pull us through the nervousness. If people have the opportunity to hear him in full and think about it, they will recognize the strength it took for him to open his arms this way, casting aside all defenses and evasions. With the hope and everything else he stands for, this guy is one very strong character.

Obama is the new politics, I believe, whatever happens this year. His way of talking and thinking will shape the future because I think he has got it right about the country.

And no, I don't think Barak Obama wrote that speech in the short time between when the Wright videos surfaced and when he delivered that speech. And I also don't believe he had a ghost writer putting it together for him. (Sorenson, for example?)

I think he has been thinking about what he was going to say from the start of this campaign, maybe even making a few notes ahead of time for future reference. That is not the speech of a man ticking off talking points. Those are the words of someone who gave the matter a lot of thought ahead of time. Those are the words of a reflective leader. That is the kind of person I want to answer the White House phone at three in the morning. He clearly thinks ahead.

Postscript: I didn't choose the word interlocutor above carelessly. Nearly fifty years ago, I'm embarrassed to admit, I participated in a couple of high school minstrel shows. That was before the Civil Rights Movement got into full swing and segregated white schools, even local civic organizations, could stage a variety show of local talent in the context of an old-fashioned minstrel, complete with black-faced end-men and a master of ceremonies addressed as "Mister Interlocutor." Mine was part of the mediocre talent of the stage band, but the end-men got all the best laughs with derogatory put-downs of the Black characters they portrayed. Anyone in denial that Jeremiah Wright's rage is without merit needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sullivan on The Speech

It is gratifying to see the entire text of Obama's speech on Drudge. No cheap shots. At least one man 's better angels appear to have been moved.

Andrew Sullivan is impressed...

This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

Good words from the man who coined the word Christianist.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama on Race in America

Deborah White got it exactly right:

Religious Tests in 2008: Only for Blacks & Mormons?

She says a lot. And so did Barack Obama. I rather doubt that many views were changed because so many minds are already made up.

But I'm impressed that he didn't throw his pastor under the bus. Really impressed.

What she said....

In his landmark speech today, Sen. Obama displayed a steely courage of his possibly unpopular convictions, unvarnished honesty, and an apolitical transparency unseen in the White House for decades. His remarks today are strongly reminiscent, in tone, of his equally courageous 2002 speech against the Iraq War.

I would have felt differently had he repudiated his personal friendship with his pastor of two decades, which would have been the most politically advantageous path. Which would be the path most hardened politicos would take.

But Sen. Obama didn't choose the path of political opportunism. Instead, in his wise judgment, he did the right thing. Again.

Today, I'm more convinced than ever before that Barack Obama is the right candidate at the exactly the right divisive time to be President of the United States.

But I'm left wondering when these bigoted religious litmus tests will end.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dr. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture (Updated)

Pancreatic cancer is one of the bad ones, aggressive and painful but mercifully fast. But Dr. Pausch has become a role model for how best to play a terrible hand when life deals you those cards. Last week he went to Washington to testify before Congress.
[September 26, 2007] Last week's lecture by Dr. Pauch has taken the country by a storm. The Wall Street Journal released yet another little video covering the story after the story.
Here is the second video for those who have already seen the first (below).
If by now the reader still is not in the loop, nothing I can write will matter. I watched the lecture in its entirety Sunday morning and it was as inspirational as going to church but without the liturgy.
(For the record , I also went to church...this is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for faith. Dr. Pausch is into living, learning, serving, loving and having fun. And nothing he says suggests for a moment that church and faith are not important.)
According to the follow-up video, the lecture has been released to public domain to stand as Dr. Pausch's legacy.

At Carnegie Mellon...Dr. Pausch's speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.

This story is too good to miss. This is all about integrity, staying on task and what it means to live your life to the fullest, no matter how long you live or don't.

H/T The Wandering Jew for the link. (Interesting. All those millions of WSJ readers already know. I'm from a different level of information sharing that gets news backwards...by blogging and reading the aggregator.)

If you don't have time to go to the Carnegie-Mellon site and watch the whole lecture (It's over an hour and a half) then you need to look closely at your time management practices. This is time well-invested. You don't have to watch the whole lecture at one sitting. You can stop, go back later and drag the timer icon to where you left off. No excuses.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Swan Lake Finale, Chinese State Circus

When Insults Had Class

From today's email spam...

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
- Abraham Lincoln

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
- Moses Hadas"

A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
- Winston Churchill"

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."
- Groucho Marx"

He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."
- Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one."
- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill"

Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."
- Winston Churchill, in response

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."
- Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."
- John Bright"

He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others."
- Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up."
- Paul Keating"

He had delusions of adequacy."
- Walter Kerr"

There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."
- Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt."
- Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge. "
- Thomas Brackett Reed"

He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them."
- James Reston"

He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."
- Forrest Tucker

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"
- Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
- Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."
- Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."
- Andrew Lang"

He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
- Billy Wilder

Remembering Alzheimer's

It's Saturday. This morning as I woke up I turned on the radio by habit and heard a man talking. Odd. Morning Edition doesn't happen on Saturday and Weekend Edition doesn't start for an hour or two. WABE has changed their schedule....
Turns out I was hearing a rebroadcast of The Infinite Mind's program last year, Remembering Alzheimer's.

The site is not easy to navigate because they are very much into selling the program, not giving it away, but this is one of their best. Those who have yet to discover this rich, informative series of productions are in for a treat. I've heard them for years on the radio and it is some of the best journalism being generated today.

Today's replay is a case in point. I heard the program when it first played last year but forgot. (Hmm...maybe I'm...No. Surely not...) so I don't plan to buy the CD or transcript.
But here is a link to highly-recommended listening.

"Remembering Alzheimer's" features American Public Media's Brian Newhouse who examines the impact that Alzheimer's had on his father and family. The show also includes conversations with leading researcher Dr. Marilyn Albert, Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, and Dr. Peter Reed, Senior Director of Programs for the National Alzheimer's Association.

Additionally, we hear a dramatic and gripping first-person account of what it's like to live with Alzheimer's, from James Smith, 47 years old, a former executive with American Express who was recently diagnosed with the illness.

With disarming candor the subject speaks clearly in a matter of fact manner about the onset and progress of his disease. At the time of the interview he has already equipped his car with a speaking GPS navigator with a "Go Home" button to push if he gets lost. He has had to use it a couple of times already, but this man, once an accomplished IT professional for whom multi-talking was an everyday practice, became self-aware enough to know that when he drives his car he cannot allow himself to listen to the radio, talk to passengers, or allow his concentration on the details of driving to slip. Safety is now his main concern as he faces his future with model determination to live every day as fully as his disease will allow.

The journalist also has more than a casual interest, having lost his own father to Alzheimer's several years ago, knowing that there is a genetic link to the disease. This is powerful, serious stuff. Highly recommended listening.

[As I said, navigation of the site is not easy. Here is a guide to discover the link to an audio feed. Home page first. There are two search fields. Use the first one and key in "Remembering Alzheimer's". On the Google search list click the first item. Another page opens with another search field. Don't search. Scroll down about nine or ten items (they are in reverse order by date) and look for "REMEMBERNG ALZHEIMER'S: A SPECIAL REPORT (broadcast starting November 28, 2007)." Look for the "Listen now" icon. The program is one hour.]

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Standard Operating Procedure" byErrol Morris

This documentary will be released soon. Hannah Mintz worked as a researcher on the making of the film. Her report and discussion with Errol Morris is from Al-Ahram Weekly.

After being awarded the Silver Bear trophy at last month's Berlin International Film Festival, Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure is sure to make a giant splash when it hits cinemas in the US in April. Morris spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about his film, which digs into the nightmare behind the infamous photographs of Iraqi prisoners taken at Abu Ghraib that shocked the world in 2004.

"The Abu Ghraib photographs serve as both an exposé and a cover up," Morris told the Weekly. "They peel back a curtain so that you get a glimpse of Abu Ghraib, but they fool you into thinking that that is all there is." The photographs depicting physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in autumn 2003 are horrifically familiar the world over. In Standard Operating Procedure, Morris seeks to investigate the less-known reality behind the photographs that people only think they understand.

Morris described his film, like a cake, as having three ingredients: "the photos themselves, which are the evidence, the retrospective accounts in interviews with the soldiers involved, and reenacted elements, which attempt to take you into the world of the photos."

"At the centre of the film is the story of the photos. Who took them? And in what order were they taken? This was a way of burrowing into that story of what happened on cellblock One-Alpha," Morris said. Even though the film includes more than 200 photos from the prison, Morris chose not to quickly riffle through them as filmmakers sometimes do. "I wanted each to have some kind of resonance," he said of the photos, which would churn even the strongest of stomachs.

The film's consideration of the photos as evidence is guided by an interview with Brent Pack, the US Army investigator charged with scrutinising the photos during the prosecution of the seven soldiers. Pack addresses the topic of Abu Ghraib by analysing exactly what the pictures depict. The interview with Pack reveals one of the film's strongest and most shocking points, which is highlighted in its title: that many of the famous and gruesome photographs from Abu Ghraib, including the hooded man with wires on his hands, do not depict criminal acts, but rather standard operating procedure of the US Military.

Another unsettling reality revealed in the film is that many of the abused prisoners were normal citizens, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. The hooded man with wires, for example, was completely innocent and, ironically, well liked by the soldiers. He was even allowed out of his cell to assist with chores in exchange for cigarettes.

While the photographs act as a framework for the film, Morris's deeply personal and emotional interviews steer the investigation. The viewer is able to look into the eyes of the young American soldiers who perpetrated the abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib. Remarkably, Morris succeeded in securing interviews with all five of the seven "bad apples," as they were dubbed by the Bush Administration, who were not serving jail sentences while the film was in production.
Morris's patented interviewing contraption, called the "Interrotron," allows his subjects to look directly into a camera, which is hidden behind a projected live image of himself. "The Interrotron focuses the relationship. It creates a kind of intimacy, a kind of frame," he said. "It creates this private place where people can talk and I can listen. I'm not there to pass judgment," Morris added of his interviews, which sometimes go on for days.

In addition to the first-person retrospective interviews, the film includes handwritten letters from Sabrina Harman, one of the "bad apples," the letters offering a glimpse of the thoughts of one of the soldiers around the time the abuses took place. "They are remarkable," Morris said, "because they are contemporaneous; they come from Abu Ghraib itself."
Morris acknowledged that he is drawn to subjects who have been blamed for crimes, and who it seems no one else is listening to. "Part of being an artist is extending sympathy where it has never been extended before." In his previous film, The Fog of War, which won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Morris interviewed the vilified Robert McNamara, who served as US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. "It's difficult not to come to like the people that I'm interviewing," Morris said.

But listening and extending sympathy does not mean absolution. "My being sympathetic with McNamara and my willingness to listen to him, doesn't mean I don't think he is a war criminal," Morris added. Similarly, "My liking these soldiers doesn't mean that I don't think that they did wrong. Quite the contrary, I know that they did wrong."
Morris hopes his film will raise introspective questions for the audience. "You are being introduced to a reality that people have not seen, and you have to ask yourself: what would you do? What kind of predicament were those soldiers put in?

Untrained, understaffed, ill-supplied. What does all of it mean about our military, our society? I would like everybody who watches the film to ask themselves the simple question: what would I do if I had been put in this position?"

Interestingly, like McNamara, the soldiers from Abu Ghraib do not apologise for their actions during their interviews. "The purpose of this movie was not to get these people to apologise, but to try to give an account of a reality that they were in, and that they helped to create," Morris said. "Maybe I don't exactly believe in redemption. Certain things can never be redeemed."
Morris was personally fascinated by the differences among the soldiers. "What they did, the reasons, and the excuses that they made to themselves: they're all different. But they all got trapped in this kind of evil nightmare," Morris said. "These soldiers were not innocent of bad behaviour, but they nonetheless were scapegoated. And many of the people responsible have never been held to account. In a Frank Capra film, it would be like Jimmy Stewart taking the fall, and Potter getting away with theft. It seems inherently wrong."

Reenactments of the infamous scenes comprise the final element of Morris's investigation. While some critics have said that the reenactments make the film less valid, Morris said they are "a way of putting yourself into the past and trying to think about the interviews." Morris has also received criticism for infusing his film with a hauntingly beautiful score by composer Danny Elfman. "Pursuing the truth isn't a matter of stylistic choices," he said. "I like to think that I am grappling with the idea of truth."

The stylized reenactments, which include vicious attack dogs and shadows of brutal interrogations, help Morris recreate the nightmare that was Abu Ghraib. "Everything in that place was a violation of the Geneva Conventions," he said. "Reenactments dramatize the horror of what was done there and show the terror and insanity of the place."

The reenactments attempt to capture the horrors from the prisoners' standpoint. "I think you feel the Iraqi sensibility all through the movie," he responded. "It doesn't exist in the form of interviews, but I think it exists even more powerfully in how the film is put together." Nevertheless, Morris has faced criticism for not including interviews with Iraqi prisoners. To this he has responded that this is primarily a film about America and Americans, although he has said that he attempted to find some of the prisoners in the best-known photographs.

One of the most haunting elements of the story Morris tells is that of Al-Jamadi, the Iraqi prisoner who was killed during an interrogation, likely by the US Central Intelligence Agency, and whose corpse was later photographed by one of the seven "bad apples". None of the soldiers who were punished were involved with Al-Jamadi's death, and to date, none of the CIA officers or others suspected to be involved in the murder have been prosecuted. This story serves to remind the audience that the infamous photos, while they depict abuse, do not necessarily depict torture. "I do not think that the whole issue of torture is at the centre of this story," Morris said. "The smoking gun is Abu Ghraib itself. The seven "bad apples" are a sideshow. It is all part of a much bigger picture. The worst stuff was not in the photographs," he added.

Morris's longstanding interest in the medium of photography, which predates the Abu Ghraib pictures, lies at the heart of this film. "In 100 years, I think the iconic photos of the war in Iraq will be those Abu Ghraib photos," Morris said. "Why does an iconic photo become iconic? Why do certain photos become famous?" Morris thinks there is more to the Abu Ghraib photographs than just their shock value: "They deeply capture something truly unpleasant about the war in Iraq," he said.
For Morris, it's all about humiliation. "You hear people say this is a war for oil, or this is an imperialist war to reassert America's hegemony. I see it in much simpler terms. To me it's a war of humiliation. Whoever started it, it started as a war of retaliation, revenge, spite, and humiliation. George W Bush wanted to show that he was more of a man, more important, a stronger leader," Morris said.

"This is a horrendous story of humiliation and re-humiliation. The US was humiliated during 9/11, then the US was trying to humiliate Saddam Hussein, regardless of whether he had anything to do with 9/11," he added. "These are pictures of sexual humiliation, that's what's so striking about them. Then the photos get out and humiliate the president. He then in turn humiliates the soldiers, deflecting blame from his own administration."

Morris said he would like to see the insanity of the war in Iraq come to an end, expressing dismay that the US has created a new face of evil to fill the vacuum left by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "The idea of American foreign policy -- if you can dignify it by calling it foreign policy -- is that the solution of the problems of the world should be through violence," he said. "I would like the Arab world to be our friends, and I hope that the film might play some small role in that regard."

Although this film does not directly try to pin the crimes of Abu Ghraib on officials higher up the chain of command, such as former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Morris says Standard Operating Procedure "is the tip of an iceberg." He added, "Frankly I would like to see the people who were responsible for this punished."

Morris's self-described "non-fiction horror film," Standard Operating Procedure, will be released along with a book of the same title written by Morris and Philip Gourevitch, who is the editor of The Paris Review, which deals with the topic in more detail. "I'd like all of this to trigger a new investigation into what happened there," Morris said.

"Making this movie is in some way my attempt to deal with my feelings about this war, which includes a mixture of anger, shame, powerlessness, embarrassment. I'm very glad that I've done it."

As I recall, events at Abu Ghraib were dismissed by a lot of people when the story broke as either the activities of "a few bad apples" or "no worse than fraternity pranks."

Salon has a comprehensive file about the prison, including more thumbnail photos than you really want to see.

This story and these images are playing a big part in how the world looks at America. Those of us in denial about their importance are contributing to the problem. In the same way that indignant Americans want Muslims everywhere to denounce extremists in their midst, so, too do others look to America for denunciations of what happened at Abu Ghraib.

A deafening silence sends a message in both cases. There is a saying in business that "What you permit, you promote."

Had it not been for last week's release of yet another trove of images I would not have blogged about this. But the release of this film and these new images will have the international awareness effect of tearing the scab from a deep wound. This is NOT the way to fight extremism by winning hearts and minds.

I'm done. Go on to the next post. Silently.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Prairie Erth" Excerpt, and another Lenten Reflection

I'm still making my way through William Least Heat-Moon's Prairie Erth. Great relaxation to be enjoyed in small rich doses. No plot line to keep up with. People who enjoy watching sunrises and sunsets, or walking in the woods...they might also enjoy this writing.

Today's chapter is only a few pages long. I found a place online where you can read a few pages at a time.

He's checking out an abandoned stone quarry and imagining the lives and times of those who put it there...who they were, how they lived, and if any of them might still be around. He went off looking for a survivor and found one McClory Stilley, former stone-cutter...

Here, beginning with page 274 and a few more to the end of the chapter, is what I read today:

Prairyerth: (a Deep Map) By William Least Heat Moon


One of this morning's readings from the Old Testament was the chapter form Ezekiel telling of the Valley of Dry Bones.

These two readings seem to have something in common.

Ezekiel 37

The Valley of Dry Bones

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.

He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' "

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' "

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.' "

Tomorrow is the first day at my new job.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I can tell you that these bones live!
It's a great blessing to start a new job a year short of qualifying for Medicare.
And when the commute is two miles instead of twenty-two and the price of gas continues to rise the blessing is multiplied.
Today I can say "Praise the Lord" with deep personal meaning.

Mideast Peace Song "In My Heart"

Alice at Mideast Youth writes...


This is one of several “peace songs” produced by Search for Common Ground/Common Ground productions. “In My Heart” is also the theme song from The Shape of the Future, a SFCG-produced documentary film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. David Broza and Said Murad (two well-known Israeli and Palestinian musicians) wrote the song; it was performed by David Broza and Wisam Murad.


I found it per accident a few month ago on YouTube and fell in love with it… I’ve been listening to it for weeks in a row and know by heart the lyrics – even in Arabic!


This song, a love song performed by an Israeli and a Palestinian has been broadcast simultaneously on Israel Army Radio and Voice of Palestine radio on Sunday, March 27, 2005.

The bilingual duet, entitled In My Heart, was sung in Hebrew and Arabic by Israeli David Broza and Palestinian Wisam Murad.


The two singers said they hoped the track would narrow the divisions between their communities.

Broza, who wrote the lyrics with Murad’s brother Said during sessions in Jerusalem that began two years ago, is well known in Israel for his folk and rock songs.


The Murads, Palestinians from Jerusalem, are known internationally as part of Sabreen, a group whose songs have explored the lives of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

An Israel Army Radio announcer and the head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) spoke on both stations, talking of their hopes for a new era of peace - but also sparring briefly in English over the airwaves.


“Have you stopped, sir, incitement messages in your broadcasts?” Army Radio’s Razi Barkai asked PBC director Adwan Abu Ayash. - “We did not start it,” came the reply.


Food Fight


Saturday, March 08, 2008

"We Are The Ones" Song

How did you get poop on your lemon?

This wonderful little video is making the rounds.
I guess we -- those of us in the food business -- earned it.

She covers many ways that bacteria get on lemon wedges... all except one:


Anybody think about that?

(Okay, then. Not to leave anyone out, here is a link to the Filthy Little Lemon video which is too nasty to embed in my blog.)

Saminkie, Baghdad Psychiatrist and Blogger

Colors of Mind is the English blog of saminkie, a young psychiatrist in Baghdad. His profile lists other blogs not in English.

He entered the room. He is a man in his 50s, wearing jeans, his hair is long and white. His hair was so long for an Iraqi. His hair touches his shoulders. He was so proud of it I think, cause as he sit, he took out his comb and start searching for a mirror. He did not find any. He looked at the window. It was of some help. He combed his hair. When he ended, I opened my mouth and said:
Mr. F, am doctor Sami, I knew that you are new here, I came to see you, to see what did happen that brought you here, and I would like to help you.
He said: first, I need to have a glass of water.
I brought him one. He thanked me. Then asked me: in what year did you graduate from college?
I answered: 2002. and I never said anything else for the coming 30 minutes.
He then started to talk. I cannot remember what he said but he started talking and he never ended. He shifted from one subject to another. I did not stop him. I managed to found that he had the DIGFAST (Distractability, Indiscretion, Grandiosity, Flight of ideas, Activity increase, Sleep deficit, & Talkativness. DIGFAST is a mnemonic to remember the DSM IV criteria for mania). I wondered how long he would continue talking. He was taking few sips of water every now and then when he felt that his throat is dry. The glass of water helped him to continue. He talked about Jean Paul Sartre, Selvador Dali, and many many others. He talked about philosophy. About sport, health, politics, Marxism, Islam, and many other things. 30 minutes passed so fast. I looked at the watch, it was 11:45 am, I opened my mouth and said to him: Mr. F, I have only 15 minutes left with you, and I want to ask you about something, told me about your sleep.
He started to lecture me again about health, sport. I opened my mouth and said: and your sleep? At that point he felt angry at me. Told me that am trying to control him. I made up my diagnosis then let him talk again for the 15 minutes then asked him my final question on that first interview: am afraid I got to go Mr.F.
I stood up, he did not.
I start walking slowly and asked him: we will see each other in the coming days more, is there anything I can help you with at time being ?
He answered: I want a white paper to draw you something.
I gave him 2 and went, telling him that I will see his drawings next time we met and that would be after one day.
The second day I went to the ward. The senior had discharged him. He was no more there, but he left me this drawing (see above the picture with the arabic writing; the other picture is a picture of a face who seems depressed, my diagnosis was BIPOLAR DISORDER, did the sad face symbolise his depression? and why a female? is this related to his long hair? did he wish to be a female? many questions I didn't ask)

Zelda: Ocarina of Time - Gerudo Valley (piano improvisation)

[This post from last year (July 1) is about Kyle Landry. You Tube suspended his account and pissed off a lot of his fans. I don't know the details but I suspect it has something to do with copyright litigation. Here's another video that started playing as I was putting this update together. Pretty nice. The YouTuber who posted it says Too bad kyle556's youtube account was suspended! Here is one of my favourites! INFO: I'm just uploading this because I love kyle's play, and I don't want to steal his videos or become famous or whatever... ]

I know nothing about this music or this musician. I came across it on tonight's You Tube "Top Favorites" thumbnails and it strikes me as musically satisfying. The theme is derived from a video game and a search turns up endless variants. The games and amateur musicians bore me. I got over being a musical snob, the result of two years' training at the college level many years ago. But poorly performed music of all kinds still gets on my nerves.

This snip lets me know that young people still have the capacity to recognize and produce music of lyric grace.
Three minutes.

Kyle Landry is seventeen years old and has been uploading to You Tube since March, 2006.

He's also something of a composer!
Hopeless romantic. Wonderful! I'm glad there are more coming along. He makes me feel better about the next generation.

Update from the Short Story site...

Also known as KylePiano, Kyle556 and Kyle 5556, Kyle
Kyle Landry is a solo pianist who has been playing since he was 8 years old. He originally joined this site with just a single video, though today has a library over literally hundreds of recorded performances. Kyle has made quite a name for himself at
YouTube, being among the top 20 most subscribed musicians of all time.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Connie Talbot Sings "Over the Rainbow" (Updated)

[Not much time this morning for reading and blogging. Again today I doing a re-post. Connie Talbot's following continues to grow. Not a day passes that this post fails to attract half a dozen or more hits. They come from all over the world but mainly Europe and the U.K.]

[August 16, 2007] It's two months after the original post [June 17, 2007] and the story of Connie Talbot has changed again. After stealing the hearts of many, including Simon Cowell who made a quick move to sign her up for a large contract, she has been dropped by the big shots who make or break deals. It seems she's just too young to be signed for a contract, so that part of her future is out the window.

Simon Cowell, the self-styled TV talent-show tough-guy, is in the news again for his ruthless behavior. But this time, Cowell has been blamed for picking on a six-year-old.
A string of reports are turning the screw on Cowell and his label Sony BMG for reneging on a vow to deliver youngster Connie Talbot a record deal. Talbot had shone so brightly on TV talent quest "Britain's Got Talent" that Cowell described her talent as "pure magic."
Cowell's imprint Syco Music and Sony BMG have the rights to pick up contestants for recording deals.

However, Talbot's performance of "Somewhere over the Rainbow" did not have a fairytale ending. Syco and Sony BMG ultimately declined to sign the potential star because, they claim, she was too young.

"There was some deliberation over the possibility of recording with Connie," Sony BMG says in a statement. "However the decision not to proceed was made with the best intentions for Connie, taking into consideration her age and that it would not be right to do so at this time."

I think they made the right decision. There are too, too many instances of child stars who don't grow up anything like normal, often with tragic results. (And I knew something was up when this post started to get more hits from searches than any others, starting about two or three days ago. Odd way to keep up with news, isn't it?)

FWIW, Connie Talbot has a Wikipedia article. Wikipedia is the go-to place for news. Last year's weather (tsunami, Katina, etc) had articles with near real-time updates as events unfolded. Same with the Virginia Tech shooting. There was a two or three line article started within an hour of the event which underwent numerous updates as the story developed. Here's a link to the You Tube time-lapse video illustrating the point.


June 17

It's Sunday night and we know that Paul Potts has won the final competition, but all the world by now already is in love with this child. Potts' final performances cannot be viewed outside the UK (yet) but this child's achievements are a matter of record. If you watch this video to the end, you can select her final performance from among the icons that appear on the screen. She sings "over the Rainbow" again with a light acoustic guitar accompaniment. Among other things she wishes her Dad a happy Father's Day.

Everybody can see those other clips anytime, but the video I am posting is Connie's initial breakthrough performance.
A cappella.
Be sure to see the other links as well.

Followup, July 15

This is a followup of the song as well as this little singer.

As of this writing, a month after her performance, traffic to this post remains strong. Connie Talbot is getting more interest that Paul Potts (and Barack Obama, for that matter, for whom interest seems to be waning). I guess there is something irresistable about the singing of sweet little girls.

Or it might very well be the song. In the comments you will find reference to another version of Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo.

And the reason for this followup is this week's feature on Riverwalk Jazz, NPR's program featuring the Jim Collum Jazz Band that plays historic recreations of jazz music from San Antonio every week.

This week's show focused on the work and legacy of Harold Arlen, the composer of Over the Rainbow. Wonderful piece of listening for anyone with the time. I never paid much attention to the tune's origins other than connecting it with the famous Judy Garland rendition and was unaware that Harold Arlen, the composer, was such an icon.

Regarding Harold Arlen’s gift for songwriting, Alec Wilder wrote in American Popular Song, "Arlen" entered the field of popular music at a propitious time, one in which he could spread himself and experiment...he is fully a product of American jazz, big band music, and American popular song."

Harold Arlen could have secured a spot in the history of American music by writing only one of his compositions, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," the signature song in his score for the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. This sentimental ballad is widely considered to be the 'number one' pop song of the 20th century.But from the very early days of his career, Harold Arlen also wrote riff tunes and rhythm numbers that were popular with jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. He used blue notes and blues licks in his compositions, even though he was quick to say that he didn't really write 'the blues.' At the Cotton Club in Harlem, Arlen wrote tunes for the Duke Ellington Orchestra and vocalist Ethel Waters.

In the 1930s, Arlen followed the migration of New York songwriters to Hollywood where they were in demand writing for movie musicals. In July 1938, Harold Arlen and his lyricist partner E.Y. Harburg signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to write the music for The Wizard of Oz. In just two months, they completed the score. Surprisingly, Arlen and producer Arthur Freed had to fight the studio to keep “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in the movie.

After the success of Wizard, Arlen continued to write great music for over 40 years, collaborating with top lyricists. With Johnny Mercer, he wrote enduring hits, "Blues in the Night" and "One for My Baby." In his long career, Arlen wrote over 400 songs for Broadway stage shows, Harlem revues and major motion pictures. Many of his songs, including “Get Happy,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” and “I’ve Got the World on a String” are considered essential standards by jazz musicians worldwide.

Much more at the link, including audio clips of historic performances of his music.

Harold Arlen Official Website

So speaking of "Over the Rainbow" here are a couple more video links that I like, particularly the last one. Both have the same music, but the story of Israel Kamakawiwo is just too great to miss.

Best Friends Video -- Pug and Toddler

Israel Kamakawiwo Sings Over the Rainbow

Thursday, March 06, 2008

To Help the Monkey Cross the River

[Making the jump from one job to another I'm cheating with my blog. Like TV. Re-runs, you know. This is from April 22, 2006. Someone found it with a Google search and as usual, I had forgotten it altogether. It's still great fun.]

Okay, then.
I live in the Atlanta area and listen to NPR as I drive to and from work. [This is about to end. My new job is six minutes from the driveway if I don't stop for gas.]

Poetry blogging. (Which I don't do much...)
Valerie Jackson, widow of the former mayor, hosts a literate program, Between the Lines, during which she interviews recently-published authors of all genres. Unlike many media types who would lead you to believe they are smarter than they are, she (like S-SPAN's Brian Lamb, by the way) has actually READ the material whe is discussing and done her homework about the writer.

Two nights ago I was listening (MP3 LINK) as she interviewed four local writers, poets, none of whom I knew (which certainly reflects worse on me than any of them) when I heard this delightful poem, read by the author, Thomas Lux. Not often, but occasionally, I laugh out loud as I drive alone. This was one such moment. It took some digging, but I found it on line. Time allowing, let yorself listen to the writer himself. It's a long program and without universal appeal, but I found it excellent. Penance, you think, for ignorance? This poem is toward the last quarter of the program if you want to cheat and drag the pin forward. (Minute 42)

To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Lenten Reflections, 2007 (Updated 2008)

[Another repost, this time from last year about this time.]

This year I have not been all that disciplined in a Lenten observance, but even without my intention or permission the Lord sometimes reaches out and gets my attention. Someone on the radio this morning mentioned that it was a year ago that the country received...let's call it a nudge, from it's immigrant population. Starting some time in March and culminating the first of May the country saw the most impressive public demonstrations that have happened in my lifetime, including those of the Civil Rights era. Far more people, more widespread and throughout the entire social spectrum...getting the attention of everyone, from those just at the edge of taking part to their adversaries who got all bent because these criminals, these lawbreakers, these invaders actually had the nerve to show their undocumented faces and act as though they were supposed to be respected as human beings. Cheeky, insolent, ungrateful people...coming over our border to have babies and suck the life out of our wonderful, otherwise exemplary social welfare infrastructure.

'Scuse me. Sometimes sarcasm just comes up in this ugly keyboard and jumps out before I can put a stop to it.

Anyway, I have been led to look for some inspiring music videos on You Tube to help me calm down. I found two that I am embedding and a link to another that cannot be embedded by the request of the source. I looked at a good many this Saturday morning and these are three I settled on.

Michael W. Smith, the gifted composing giant of contemporary (charismatic?) Christian music, has produced an impressive volume of original music. Much of it, like most modern pop music, tends to be repetitious, even boring to hear. But so does the music of Philip Glass for the unprepared listener. [When you're done here, go play with his online Glass Engine...his is a fun site to navigate.] And how may people could listen to more than one or two tracks from a complete collection of the Well-Tempered Clavier without falling asleep if they had not been schooled to appreciate a fugue? If Smith's music cannot reach you, that's okay. One day it may.

The first video is simply a slide show of scenes from Europe set to a background soundtrack of Michael W. Smith's Agnus Dei. All I could think about as I watched and listened was: How can anyone imagine that waging war is any way to be desired to waging peace? History shows us that wars are part of the ugliness of collective human behavior, that whenever that behavior surfaces it defiles even the most sacred of places and causes even people of piety to stuff their better impulses deep into their subconscious or at least hide them from others lest they be seen as unpatriotic at best, treasonous at worst. There can be no way that God needs or wants his children to be at war with one another.

Remembering how many ways the Mass has been realized musically all over the world in many cultures, and recalling the immigrant upsurge and the reaction it provoked last year, I thought of the Misa Criolla of Ariel Ramirez I heard many years ago just a few years after it was composed. The memory of it never left. You Tube has a variety of Ramirez' music and I picked this one from the lot. [This year, 2008, a video is available for embedding. Added below.] And again, as I watched the slide show and listened to the music, I had the same thoughts about waging peace against waging war.

The richness of the Latino culture can and will be a proud addition to everything we call American. Heck, they don't call it SOUTH America for nothing, do they? Watch, listen and be open to what is happening. If the exercise makes you a little uncomfortable, that's okay. And if it makes you uncomfortable to the point of anger, hit the stop button and move on.

For me, putting this post together has been one of the most satisfying exercises I have allowed myself to enjoy this week.

TTLB Ecosystem Renovation

From time to time I check to see where Hootsbuddy's Place falls by N.Z.Bear's metric. Back in the day, as they say, The Truth Laid Bear was the gold standard for ranking blogs. But as the numbers exploded the TTLB Ecosystem, which once seemed to include all blogs, became a minority population.

I don't see how he does it. Spammers and porn peddlers, like politicians and lawyers, seem always to be way out in front of everyone else. The numbers are breathtaking.

But when I checked the other day this blog had slipped from the nine thousands down to twenty-some thousand and sinking...But the category was no longer some slimy or creepy thing. Yesterday it was Adorable Rodent, and this morning a Flappy Bird. Neat, huh?

Not particularly important to me, but interesting. By the end of 2004, after a few weeks of blogging I came to terms with my own insignificance as a writer/blogger. The volume of truly intelligent and impressive writing out there is more than any mortal can ever grasp. It's like the ocean. You might get to the other side but even from outer space you'll never be able to see the whole of it except in pieces.

This is what N.Z. says...

Update 3/1/08: The Ecosystem is undergoing a major expansion, with many new blogs being added to the system. That means rankings may bounce around a bit --- but the new rankings will be an even more accurate representation of blogs' popularity in the blogosphere as a whole. Put on your seatbelt and enjoy the ride! --- N.Z.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"English" words borrowed from Arabic

admiral adobe aladdin albacore albatross alborak alchemy alcove alembic alfalfa algebra algorithm ali baba alkali alkanet almagest almanac amalgam amber antimony apricot arak arsenal artichoke azimuth azoth azure barberry bard bedouin blighty borax bougie buckram burgoo calibre camel camphor candy carafe carat caraway cipher coffee cotton crimson damascene dragoman durra elemi elixir fakir falafel fellah felucca fennec gazelle gerbil ghoul gibraltar giraffe guitar hajji halal halvah hammam harem hazard henna imam jar jasmine jennet jerboa jinnee julep kebab kismet kohl lemon lilac lime loofah lute macramé magazine marzipan mattress minaret mohair monsoon mosque mozarab mummy muslin nadir orange oud mater ramadan ream rook safari saffron sahara saice sash satin scarlet senna sequin sesame sheikh sherbet soda sofa souk spinach sugar sumac summit syrup tabby tabla tahini talc talisman tamarind tambourine tare tariff tarragon trafalgar vizier zarf zedoary zenith zero

Thanks, Leila Abu-Saba, one of my favorite bloggers. She's too modest, but from time to time lets readers get a peek at her rich and impressive heritage.

Nir Rosen on The Surge

Nir Rosen is a freelance writer. He speaks Arabic and looks like an ordinary person in Iraq. His latest in Rolling Stone, The Myth of the Surge, is a close examination of the fiasco being advertised as a success.

This is not the first time I have linked to his work.

Winning Hearts and Minds
Nir Rosen interview in Al Jazeera
Iraq Slogger -- New to the aggregator

...To engineer a fragile peace, the U.S. military has created and backed dozens of new Sunni militias, which now operate beyond the control of Iraq's central government. The Americans call the units by a variety of euphemisms: Iraqi Security Volunteers (ISVs), neighborhood watch groups, Concerned Local Citizens, Critical Infrastructure Security. The militias prefer a simpler and more dramatic name: They call themselves Sahwa, or "the Awakening."

At least 80,000 men across Iraq are now employed by the Americans as ISVs. Nearly all are Sunnis, with the exception of a few thousand Shiites.
As Spainhour talks to the sheik at the mosque, two bearded, middle-aged men in sweaters suddenly walk up to the Americans with a tip. Two men down the street, they insist, are members of the Mahdi Army. The soldiers quickly get back into the Strykers, as do Osama and his men, and they all race to Mahala 830. There they find a group of young men stringing electrical cables across the street. Some of the men manage to run off, but the eleven who remain are forced into a courtyard and made to squat facing the walls. They all wear flip-flops. Soldiers from the unit take their pictures one by one. The grunts are frustrated: For most of them, this is as close to combat as they have gotten, and they're eager for action.

"Somebody move!" shouts one soldier. "I'm in the mood to hit somebody!"

Another soldier pushes a suspect against the wall. "You know Abu Ghraib?" he taunts.

The Iraqis do not resist — they are accustomed to such treatment. Raids by U.S. forces have become part of the daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians. Every man in a market is rounded up and searched at gunpoint. Soldiers, their faces barely visible behind helmets and goggles, burst into a home late at night, rip the place apart looking for weapons, blindfold and handcuff the men as the children look on, whimpering and traumatized. U.S. soldiers are the only law in Iraq, and you are at their whim. Raids like this one are scenes in a long-running drama, and by now everyone knows their part by heart. "I bet there's an Iraqi rap song about being arrested by us," an American soldier jokes to me at one point.

As the soldiers storm into nearby homes, the two men who had tipped off the Americans come up to me, thinking I am a military translator. They look bemused. The Americans, they tell me in Arabic, have got the wrong men. The eleven squatting in the courtyard are all Sunnis, not Shiites; some are even members of the Awakening and had helped identify the Mahdi Army suspects.

I try to tell the soldiers they've made a mistake — it looks like the Iraqis had been trying to connect a house to a generator — but the Americans don't listen. All they see are the wires on the ground: To them, that means the Iraqis must have been trying to lay an improvised explosive device. "If an IED is on the ground," one tells me, "we arrest everybody in a 100-meter radius." As the soldiers blindfold and handcuff the eleven Iraqis, the two tipsters look on, puzzled to see U.S. troops arresting their own allies.

...On one raid with U.S. troops, I see children chasing after the soldiers, asking them for candy. But when they learn I speak Arabic, they tell me how much they like the Mahdi Army and Muqtada al-Sadr. "The Americans are donkeys," one boy says. "When they are here we say, 'I love you,' but when they leave we say, 'Fuck you.'"

Monday, March 03, 2008

A "revolution of rising expectations"

[Posted a month ago, February 11, this sounds better now than it did then.]

In the late Fifties and early Sixties a phrase was coined describing the social, political and economic changes manifest in what we now call developing or third world countries. That phrase, revolution of rising expectations, was a polite way to describe what became for some countries a future of economic progress and relative political growth and stability, but to others a future of grinding poverty, political oppression and chaos.

I thought of that phrase this morning as I came across this.

Someone got Barak Obama to comment on Lebanon. While he spoke against Syrian and Iranian meddling, and urged the disarming of Hizbullah, he also gave us this gem:

“Washington musts rectify the wrong policy of President George Bush in Lebanon and resort to an efficient and permanent diplomacy, rather than empty slogans,” he added. He also said that the US must cooperate with its European and Arab allies to sponsor an inter-Lebanese consensus on a stable and democratic Lebanon. (Now Lebanon)
Readers of this blog will find this painfully hilarious, and possibly indicative of Obama's ignorance of the situation in Lebanon. I don't expect the presidential hopeful to read Lebanese news every day, but really, the situation has gotten so repetitive that it should be clear that the above statement is at best moronic.

The writer goes on to conclude...

The only "change" I see from a Barack administration, as far as foreign policy is concerned, is the change that will befall the naïve president, and that will hit his supporters like a slap in the face.

Our moment is indeed now, not when Obama learns the ropes.

My comment here is not about Lebanon. Nor is it an indictment of Barack Obama. It is about what a reasonable person can expect to start happening if and when this man becomes president. And his chances are getting better and better.

I have the luxury of reading and studying all I want in my spare time and I know that the writer is not being extreme when he says that Obama's comment comes across as "hilarious." It's not the first time something like that has been said, and it won't be the last. Anyone new to the Oval Office is sure to confront tough, unexpected and in many cases insoluble challenges. Domestic issues are problematical, but foreign policy is about as messy and uncontrollable as natural disasters. Sometimes the best we can hope for is the least disgusting of several ugly options.

Barack Obama knows this. I think he isn't being specific deliberately. He knows that in order to get elected he must have the support of people he will later have to betray. It won't be a deliberate betrayal because it is in the nature of hope that even he believes, really believes, that with the right approach he can achieve the best for the most with the least sacrifice.

Obama is riding the waves of another revolution of rising expectations. It isn't a revolution of foreign countries this time. It is instead a subset of disillusioned, alienated Americans who for too long have had to settle for second-best or none at all...at work and play and in their political options. They can be found in both political parties, and outside politics altogether. Obama represents an alternative for those who feel left out. His message is saying Come back...come in and join the struggle...help me make us better. Jack Nicholson's line in As Good as it Gets comes to mind: "You make me want to be a better man."

I hope he's right. But when I allow myself to think clearly I know better. As we get older we realize that the way to hell is paved with good intentions. But at the moment I don't see anyone else with better intentions or fewer shackles than Barack Obama.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Russell Kelly and others on Tithing

Viewer advisory: If you are a tithing Christian this video may make you angry, so get past your righteous indignation and come to terms with the content. Even if you don't like the thrust of the piece, be aware that CBS Sunday Morning is not some obscure corner of journalism. This is mainstream media stuff.

Dr. Bob on Jonny Lang

...life in the fast lane is rarely kind. Many older and more mature troubadours than he have fallen to its brutal revenge — think Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, and a host of others — to whom the Roman candle of fame proved both furious and lethal. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll often prove a highway to hell, and Jonny Lang was driving that freeway with pedal to the metal.

Then something changed — drastically, almost cataclysmically. [more at the link]

This may be the best link you follow today. And he's put up four videos as well.