View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Friday, August 29, 2003

This We Needed

Just as I was trying to take in the news that a leading Shi'a cleric had been killed by a car bomb and wondering what the reverberations would be, I came across this via The Agonist:
The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq said today that an American helicopter crew intentionally dislodged a Shiite Muslim banner from a tower in the capital's Sadr City district two weeks ago, an incident that sparked violent protests in which U.S. troops killed an Iraqi boy.

In an abrupt reversal of denials issued at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said that as a result of a U.S. military investigation, "I think the aircraft was getting close enough to that tower in order to blow the flag down."
This, I believe, is the same general who okayed kidnapping a woman and her daughter in order to get her husband to turn himself in. The same one who authorized taking out a weapons dealer at a market without any warning. The same one who had the brilliant idea of putting Saddam's face on the body of Zsa Zsa Gabor on posters in an attempt to infuriate Baathists to the point of giving themselves away, enabling Sanchez's men to arrest them.

In any case, what the hell were these soldiers thinking? Why would you deliberately do something to enrage the populace? What could have been going through their minds?
Today, however, Sanchez said the military investigation revealed that "some of my soldiers in fact exercised poor judgment in this matter."

"The poor judgment that was exercised was twofold," Sanchez said. "One was in the . . . aircraft's proximity to the tower. There were some unsafe acts that occurred there. And the second one was in the leadership judgment that was being exercised by soldiers on that aircraft."
What effing "leadership judgment"?

Don't these guys get any training in the culture to which they're sent?

And also all over the blogosphere today is the story of the U.S. Army's little visit to the home of Salam Pax.

Another day, another Iraqi heart and mind.

Oh, no ...

A car bomb has killed SCIRI Ayatollah Baqer al-Hakim. The bomb exploded as worshippers were leaving the Tomb of Ali, the main mosque of Najaf and one of the holiest shrines to Shi'a Muslims.
The car bombing killed at least four others and injured dozens according to an aide to a key member of Iraq’s interim Governing Council, although some officials said the toll was higher.

“It happened shortly after prayers. It was a car bomb and up to 20 people were killed,” Adel Abdul Mahdi, an official of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told Reuters in Baghdad after receiving reports from Najaf.

Separately, the Dubai-based al-Arabiya network first reported five dead, but later raised the death toll to at least 17
Part of the entrance to the mosque is said to have collapsed, trapping people in the debris.

This can only mean trouble, serious trouble.
Chalabi blamed U.S. forces for not keeping the region secure and said the bombing was the work of Saddam Hussein loyalists who were trying to create sectarian discord in the country
But no doubt other Shi'ite factions will be suspected by al-Hakim's followers. This incident is going to undermine the U.S. even more and fuel even more violence and confusion in an already bad situation. Is this the beginning of the civil war many of us feared during the run-up to the invasion?

Yet none of the geniuses in the administration anticipated anything like this. Not that there weren't people trying to tell them--they just can't hear whatever doesn't fit with their preconceived notions.

Another in Honor of Dr. King

In "Dream Time," Billmon captures the difficulty and the hope of our racially-divided nation.

What Would Martin Luther King Say Today?

Go immediately to Tom Dispatch and read the moving BBC talk by Ariel Dorfman on King's "I Have a Dream" speech and what it has meant to his life and his part in the struggle against oppression. It really must be read in its entirety. It concludes:
What would Martin Luther King say if he contemplated what his country has become? If he could see how the terror and death brought to bear upon New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 had turned his people into a fearful nation, ready to stop dreaming, ready to abridge their own freedoms in order to be secure? What would he say if he could observe how that fear has been manipulated in order to justify the invasion of a foreign land, the occupation of that land against the will of its own people? What alternative way would he have advised to be rid of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein? And how would he react to the Bush doctrine that states that some people on this planet, Americans to be precise, have more rights than the other citizens of the world? What would he say if he were to see his fellow countrymen proclaiming that because of their pain and their military and economic might they can do as they please, flaunt international law, withdraw from nuclear treaties, deceive and pollute the world? Would he warn them that such arrogance will not go unpunished? Would he tell those who oppose these policies inside the United States to stand up and be counted, to march ahead, never to wallow in the valley of despair?

It is my belief that he would repeat some of the words he delivered on that faraway day in August of 1963 in the shadow of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. I believe he would declare again his faith in his country and remind us of how deeply his dream is rooted in the American dream, of how, despite the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, his dream is still alive and how his nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

Let us hope that he is right. Let us hope and pray, for his sake and ours, that Martin Luther King's faith in his own country was not misplaced and that forty years later his compatriots will once again listen to his fierce and gentle voice calling to them from beyond death and beyond fear, calling on all of us to stand together for freedom and justice in our time.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

A Shameless Plug

Just wanted to tell you about my new blog, Feast or Famine?

It's about food issues and policies, agricultural issues, water, hunger, and strategies that attempt to address all these. It will also have a personal slant at times. In addition, I'll try to highlight some good things that are happening on these various fronts.

Living here in rural Michigan has given me even more of an interest in food, especially in raising my own. It's given me greater awareness of what problems we citizens of the planet face in trying to feed all of us. I hope you'll check in now and then to see what's going on.


North Korea to Declare Itself a Nuclear Nation

Is Bush insane? Yeah, yeah, a rhetorical question ... Get this:
(CNN) -- North Korea has told multi-party talks in Beijing it is preparing to declare itself a nuclear nation and is contemplating testing nuclear weapons, a U.S. official said in Washington.

... The official said the North Koreans also told the meeting participants that they had the means to deliver nuclear weapons.

... However, plans for any formal bilateral talks between North Korea and the United States were ruled out by U.S. officials, despite an informal 40-minute meeting Wednesday between Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and his North Korean counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il.
No, don't actually talk to them, for heaven's sake! Instead, poke the hornet's nest and see if you get stung.

One thing for sure: the word "diplomacy" is one of the many not in Dubya's vocabulary.

How Many Deaths?

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) urges us all to contact the media and ask that they stop undercounting the number of deaths in Iraq. As I'm sure most of us lefty types have noticed, the media have taken to reporting only combat deaths, without explaining that fact to their audiences. In some cases, the military's own distinction between combat-related and non-combat-related deaths is questionable, as when a soldier was killed when his Humvee ran over a landmine: the military decided that the landmine had been placed there before the war, so the soldier's death was non-combat-related! (I should try to find the link to this story.) Regardless, for the most part, the great majority of the dead would still be alive had they not been in Iraq.

An extremely accurate count is given at Iraq Casualty Count. The authors describe their methods and give details, insofar as they are known, on every soldier's death.

The Iraqis, of course, are barely referred to in media reports. Visit Iraq Body Count for an idea of the numbers here. What does it say to the Iraqis that Western media don't even try to keep track of those killed? I think we know.

Finally, see Bruce Jackson's "The Little Deaths", in which the author writes of all the deaths, military, civilian, and journalist, ending on this note:
Every day, more deaths. More G.I.s killed and maimed in official attacks with demonstrable bad guys that get reported in the press. More G.I.s killed and dying by accident or for unexplained reasons that are noted only in those almost invisible minimal DoD press releases. More Iraqis killed and maimed by U.S. soldiers making their world safe for democracy.

Every day, the little deaths. This war that we won.

Report Card on Bush's "War on Terrorism"

Spending on the neocons' pipe dream in Iraq is soaring out of sight. American troops there are being attacked regularly and dying almost daily. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, coalition forces continue in bloody battles with the Taliban, while conditions there deteriorate into warlord-dominated anarchy far from any imagined "liberation" of the population.

All this in the name of the "war on terrorism." Well, Georgie, how's it going? What, exactly, have you accomplished since September 11, 2001? That's the question Ivan Eland takes on in the article linked to in this post's heading.

Obviously, the U.S. has not succeeded in doing anything in Afghanistan but digging itself into a deep pit, something we should have seen coming had we paid attention to the Soviet Union's experience there. Guerilla warfare continues, and our government--and presidential candidates, including, alas, Howard Dean--pushes for more troops to be sent there. Ridding the world of al Qaeda, particularly its leader, Osama bin Laden, and thus making the world safe from terrorism was the justification for bombing into smaller bits of rubble the rubble that was already Afghanistan. But the U.S. invasion of Iraq was made to order for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups seeking recruits:
America has created - not through malevolence but through negligence - precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens' rudimentary needs.

... Television images of American soldiers and tanks are deeply humiliating to Muslims, even those who didn't like Saddam, explained Saad al-Faqih, head of Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a Saudi dissident group in London. He told me that 3,000 young Saudis have entered Iraq in recent months, and called the war "a gift to Osama bin Laden."
Meanwhile, countries like North Korea and Iran have learned an important lesson: hang on to your nuclear capability. So much for the deterrent effect of showing that "we" (i.e., the Bush admin) mean business. Is it any wonder that North Korea is asking for a non-aggression pact with the U.S. before it agrees to take any steps toward ending its nuclear quest? Rather than making the world, or U.S. citizens, any safer, Bush has restarted nuclear proliferation and is playing chicken with a dangerous and desperate foe.

Eland notes:
Finally, has the administration’s widening of the war on terrorism to include nations and terrorist groups (for example, Hamas and Hezbollah) that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks made Americans safer? A broad war on terrorism—as opposed to a more narrowly focused war on al Qaeda—has swelled the ranks of Islamic terrorists streaming to attack U.S. interests and those of friendly nations in Iraq, the United States and around the world, according to U.S. officials. In fact, an upsurge of terrorism has already occurred in Indonesia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, India and the Jordanian embassy and U.N. headquarters in Iraq. Will the United States be next?
By any objective measure, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was before dreams of Empire became the sole director of U.S. foreign policy.

I haven't even mentioned how little has been done within the United States to render us less vulnerable to another 9/11. States and cities, crippled by budget deficits and unfunded federal mandates, are failing in the struggle to protect America's infrastructure. The Bush administration whips up fear and encourages a sense of helplessness in order to manipulate the public into going along with its program. It prefers the sweeping (if empty) gesture to the dreary details and the lovely vision to the muck of reality. It makes promises it cannot keep (and, in some cases, would not if it could) and mandates programs it will not fund. Above all, it prefers to inhabit a world that bears no relation to the one the rest of us actually live in, a world rendered more violent than ever before.

Housekeeping Note:

I'd like to be able to take comments on the blog and am trying to do so. Having a few problems--nothing strange about that for this non-techy. Please bear with me as I experiment and, inevitably, screw up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Additions to Links

I've added some new links I want to draw your attention to, oh faithful five or six readers ...

In the Blog category, be sure to visit these links:
Back in Iraq 2.0
Baghdad Burning
It's Still the Economy, Stupid
Juan Cole: Informed Comment
Just World News
Notes of an Iranian Girl
Steve Gilliard
A Taste of Africa
While all are definitely worthy of visits, I particularly like Baghdad Burning, written by a young woman in Baghdad who, before the war, was a self-described computer nerd (makes a nice companion blog to Where Is Raed?) and Steve Gilliard, who often guest-blogged for Kos. Just World News is a play on words; its author has long been involved in trying to build a just world. Informed Comment focuses on what's happening in Iraq.

In the News and Views category, check out these:
Democracy Now!
Information Clearing House
Iraq Today
Middle East Media Research Institute
Opinions You Should Have
The Smirking Chimp
Tom Dispatch
Wage Slave Journal
War Is Stupid
Do take a moment and look at the hilarious satire on Opinions You Should Have.

And finally, in the Organizations/Activism category:
Bread for the World
Bring Them Home Now
Center for Media and Democracy
The Hunger Project
The Hunger Site
Veterans for Peace

Hot Flash

Summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime ...

Although I've been exceedingly busy trying to keep up with the bounty from our gardens, that's not the only thing that's kept me from blogging. It IS the major thing, of course. Trying to get all the veggies into the freezer or into pickling jars eats up a lot of my day, along with weeding and harvesting. But sometimes Mother Nature prevents computer use ...

We stay off the computer during storms, of which we've had a few lately. We had one motherboard bite the dust due to lightning, despite the surge protector. The charge came through the phone line. So we take no chances.

Well, we had a helluva storm here last Thursday night, a natural fireworks display. The lightning strikes were simply incredible.

I'm afraid of lightning, always have been. If there's an electrical storm overhead, you'll find me cowering. "Stay away from windows" goes the advice, and I try to follow it--not easy in a house characterized by lots and lots of huge windows. I've been known to throw my pillow on the walk-in closet floor during midnight storms, just to get away from the lightning.

Thursday evening around twilight, as the sky blackened, the wind whipped up, hailstones started flying, and thunder and lightning--especially lightning--intensified, I headed for the basement, craven coward that I am. My nerves couldn't take the impressive, repeated, massive streaks and forks of lightning painting the sky. The lightning bolt would just hang there, arcing for perhaps two seconds or longer. I went to the windowless part of the basement to wait it out.

Then BANG! and simultaneous with the bang, a snapping sound, a flash, a beep from the smoke alarms, lights out, lights back on. "Oh my God!" I yelled up to James and Ethan. "We've been struck by lightning!"

"Yes, we have!" Ethan replied, as if this were the most cheery news possible. But to his credit he ran downstairs and put his arm around me. "See, we've been struck by lightning, and nothing happened to us."

"I smell smoke!" I said. After a moment J came running down the steps with a flashlight and fire extinguisher. The flashlight wasn't necessary, but he didn't know that, since the kitchen, unlike the basement, was without power.

A bit of investigating showed that the satellite receiver had been totally fried, despite the surge protector. We were smelling the aroma of incinerated electronics.

J found that two circuit breakers had been tripped, accounting for the power outage in the kitchen. He reset them and we were back in business.

Well, except for the phone. Both phone lines were dead. We wouldn't know until late the next day, after the line was repaired, that the cordless phone itself had been killed.

As the days passed, we found that other electronics were goners: E's guitar amp, the stereo, the CD player, the VCR, the garage-door opener ... The TV works, but is useless without the satellite receiver. The central vac can be switched on manually, but doesn't work at the wall hook-ups.

And then a couple of days ago we found out that the air conditioning wasn't working. When the repair person came yesterday, he found that the lightning strike had fried the circuit board. So now we're waiting for a new one to be shipped and installed (ever notice that whatever part is required never seems to be at the shop?).

It has been unbearably hot up in the loft, where the computer is stationed, so I wasn't tempted to the computer. But then yesterday, in the 5:30 a.m. cool of the morning, when I tried to turn on the computer ... nothing. It had definitely worked after the lightning strike; the surge protector had done its job. Most distressing to find that now I couldn't get the thing to come on.

Turned out that there was so much dust and cat hair behind the cover that the switch was inoperable. J vacuumed it out (I ran downstairs to the vacuum on the basement wall to turn it on, of course) and voila! Computer again! Internet again!

The ice storm in April got me thinking about buying a generator, and this little adventure has me wondering how much a whole-house surge protector would cost. Sheesh! But at least we don't have to buy a new computer.

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