View from the Loft 

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


Saturday, November 01, 2003

The Question of Withdrawal

Lately, rumors have been floating about the possibility that BushCo will get some or many or all of the troops out of Iraq by election time next year. He's clearly in trouble over the continuing casualties and violence in Iraq, and as we all know, anything, and I mean anything, can and will be sacrificed for the sake of re-election--even the neocon dreams of "reshaping the Middle East," aka world domination without end. From Dubya's point of view, if he's not the one holding the reins, US domination is pointless.

I can do no better than to point you to two interesting reads on this issue. Check out Billmon's discussion of the likelihood of the administration finding some way to extract us from the roiling mess they've gotten us into. Be sure to read the comments, and go here to read some further refinements (scroll down to "The Modified Bug Out Road"). Read Tom Englehart as well for "Why We Must Leave Iraq."

Soldier Charged with Cowardice

A Fort Carson, CO soldier has been charged with cowardice and could face prison time and a dishonorable discharge.

Sgt. Pogany's crime? Responding as a human being to the sight of a mangled human body:
The unit was working on Sept. 29 out of Samarra, north of Baghdad, when Pogany saw the body of an Iraqi man brought into the Army compound.

Soldiers on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle killed the Iraqi after he was spotted shooting a rocket-propelled grenade, Pogany said.

Pogany had never seen anything like that. Shortly after, he said, he began shaking, couldn’t focus and kept throwing up his food.
This soldier repeatedly asked for help and instead was told to "get his head out of his ass and get with the program." He was denied treatment for combat stress and instead threatened with a court-martial.

The Army can't even remember the last time it brought charges of cowardice against a soldier.

If this is how the Army is treating its soldiers, look for a few more incidents like the ones at Fort Bragg last year, when veterans of the war in Afghanistan killed their wives and, in two of the three cases, themselves.

News Flash! Iraq "Still Dangerous"

Whoa, dude! Ya think?

These guys are right on top of things! After a week that saw no less than 233 attacks on US forces, the Pentagon has finally admitted that maybe things aren't quite as rosy as previously painted.

Rumsfeld Not Sure Whether He's Lost His Mojo

Mainly 'cause he don't know what the hell mojo is.

New Site Tracks Afghanistan Casualties

I'm adding a new link to the blog. Lunaville, which already brings you the Iraq Casualty Count database, now features the Operation Enduring Freedom site. Go there for the latest news on Afghanistan casualties and other items of interest.

I'm So Naive


The other night I was watching CSI--a guilty pleasure, to be sure, and one I don't like admitting to--and learned about plushies and furries.

The CSI episode featured a dead man wearing a raccoon suit and led investigators to PAFCON, the Plushies and Furries Convention (well, the show is set in Las Vegas, after all).

When I mentioned plushies and furries to my daughter and son, they said, "Oh yeah, plushies and furries." As in, Where the hell have you been?

I don't know. As one of the characters on CSI said, "Whatever happened to normal sex?" To which another character shot back, "What's normal? Freud said the only abnormal sex is the lack of it," or something of the kind.

Plushies and furries. Sheesh.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Urgent: Contact Senator Levin!

All you Michiganders out there--really, everyone who cares about stopping Bush's judicial appointees--please contact Senator Carl Levin and oppose his negotiations with Sen. Orrin Hatch that would create two new judicial seats in return for Levin's backing off on opposition to wingnut appointees.

I can hardly believe that Levin, a man I've always respected, would stoop so low, but there it is, unless some other story comes out and contradicts this one (which I devoutly hope, yet despair of). According to the Washington Times,
Particularly galling to many Republicans is that Mr. Levin is demanding that one of the new seats go to Michigan Judge Helene White, who was nominated by President Clinton but never given a hearing by Republicans. Judge White is married to Mr. Levin's cousin.
The story claims that
Hoping to protect the deal, people on both sides of the negotiations have tried keeping the discussions secret. But earlier this week, The Washington Times reported the deal, which outraged many conservatives who compared the talks to "negotiating with terrorists."
Well, this liberal is outraged, too. What can Levin be thinking? Bush's appointees will cause decades of problems as this country attempts, after the pResident's departure, to get back to some idea of democracy and fairness, and all Levin can think of is getting his cousin's wife a judicial appointment?

I'm also made nervous by the fact that some Republicans love the idea of the extra judicial seats:
Some Republicans also said the confirmation of four Bush nominees from Michigan would be a real plum for the GOP. Currently, that appellate court has six Republican nominees and six Democratic nominees. The panel decides many crucial cases, such as those dealing with the organized labor.

"These judges are important, and there are four of them," Mr. Rushton said. "This is a chance to get four judicial nominations confirmed [to the 6th Circuit], which could change the philosophical direction of that circuit. Conservatives should understand that.
Please, call or write Senator Levin and tell him that you oppose any such negotiations with the Republicans. In the past I have supported Mr. Levin, but I will have a hard time voting for him again should he cut a deal with Hatch.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True

Our book group scheduled a discussion of this turgid novel for next Tuesday, and I'm hoping that if I express some of my dislike here, I won't come off quite so ... opinionated? contemptuous? snobbish? ... that evening.

I had reservations about this book from the start, since I was one of the few who did not jump on the Wally Lamb bandwagon when She's Come Undone was published. Lamb isn't satisfied unless the plot puts its protagonist through all conceivable bad situations, with some of them repeated for good measure. He likes putting mental hospitals and predatory homosexuals into his fiction, as well. But what I really couldn't forgive him for in She's Come Undone was the way he wrote about sex, ostensibly from a woman's perspective. Those scenes came off as completely unconvincing to me, and, as I've often said during discussions of the book, I thought if I'd had to read about one more "bucking pelvis" during a female orgasm, I might have tossed my cookies.

But I tried to keep an open mind, and indeed, for about a third of the book, I was surprised and relieved to find the story compelling. It was a brief honeymoon period, deeply overshadowed by the forced march through the rest of the book.

The novel is the tale of twins, told by the dominant (and dominating) twin, Dominick (note the subtle use of that name. Sigh.) His brother, Thomas, suffers from classic paranoid schizophrenia. In the book's opening action, Thomas amputates his own hand to protest America's violence, in particular, the Gulf War. In a series of flashbacks Dominick describes the twins' rocky childhood with an abusive stepfather and meek-as-a-mouse, beaten-down mother. The story also makes clear Dominick's struggle to differentiate himself in every way possible from his weaker, more feminine twin. A manuscript written by the twins' grandfather and bequeathed to Dominick just prior to his mother's death gives us the family history.

For Lamb, enough is, well, never enough. Nearly all, if not all, major events occur twice in the novel, to various members of this doomed family. Just about every imaginable catastrophe befalls someone in Dominick's family, if not him, and just about every one has a forerunner back in the family chronicles, whether it's the death of a baby, madness, sexual weirdness, or whatever. Apparently writing about twins meant, for Lamb, the merciless doubling of whatever came to hand.

And he has to beat us over the head with the twin symbolism, going so far as to have a psychiatrist point out that twins have figured large in myth. How dumb does he imagine his audience to be, anyway?

Much of the book was irritating because it dwelt so much on adolescent males and their non-stop obsession with female body parts. Why Lamb felt that all those conversations just had to be included, I don't know. But for Lamb, if doing something once is effective, then doing it several times must be even moreso. You can't accuse the guy of understatement, I'll say that.

One of the book's most egregious flaws is that Lamb never convinces us--or never convinced me, at any rate--of the closeness of the twins. A great deal is made of how close twins are, how each twin is not only a mirror image of the other, but almost a completion of the other, but never does Lamb convince me that that is the case between Dominick and Thomas. All we really see are Dominick's efforts to distance himself from Thomas, to distinguish himself from that which he sees as weak and powerless. Gender stereotypes come into play here as Dominick works hard to please his stepfather, while Thomas secretly plays dress-up with Mommy. So far apart did these two seem to me that I visualized them as looking completely different from each other, despite their being identical twins! One of them I saw as resembling a particular friend of mine, the other as Ted Danson. Weird.

Finally, although this is by no means an exhaustive list of my complaints, the writing sucks. When it is not in the upper ranges of hysteria, it is as flat and pedestrian as you can get. The dialogue will never stick in anyone's mind for its wit, pithiness, pathos, or anything else, perhaps with the exception of the little speeches we get from Dr. Patel, the shrink. The tortured plot--if plot it can be called-- the long list of improbable coincidences, and the equally improbable happy ending should be attempted only if one can write like Charles Dickens or Charles Palliser (author of The Quincunx).

In short, finishing the book was, as I remarked to a friend, like slogging through hip-high wet cement. As I breathed a sigh of relief upon finishing the novel, I swore, "No more Wally Lamb!" An easy vow to keep.

Michigan for Dean

Michigan for Dean urges all of us Deaniacs to pledge to vote for Dean on February 7 and to urge our friends to do the same. Go here to pledge your vote.

You can vote in the caucus in person, by snail mail, or--for the first time--by Internet. I'll try to have my act together enough to send out reminders by the last week in January.

Another "Holding Tank" for Sick and Injured Soldiers

Another group of soldiers, about 400 of them, are on "medical hold" at Fort Knox. With the 600 at Fort Stewart, GA, that makes about a thousand soldiers stuck in limbo and in conditions that jeopardize their health.

According to UPI,
The apparent lack of care at both locations raises the specter that Reserve and Guard soldiers, including many who returned from Iraq, could be languishing at locations across the country, according to Senate investigators. ... Following reports from Fort Stewart, Senate investigators said that the medical system at that post was overwhelmed and they were looking into whether the situation was Army-wide.
These figures make me wonder exactly what the total is for sick, injured, and wounded soldiers. If there are a thousand languishing at these two bases, who knows how many at Walter Reed, others in Germany, mental health cases in the hundreds, then how many incapacitated soldiers are we talking?

White House Secrecy--and Historical Revisionism

Maybe you've already heard about this, although my spouse wasn't aware of it yesterday until I mentioned it to him.

The White House website has taken action to prevent search engines from indexing and archiving a huge number of directories, all having to do with Iraq.

Here's the telling detail:
Earlier this year, the White House changed pages on its website which claimed that "combat" was over in Iraq; these pages were changed to say "major combat."

These changes were noticed and proved by readers because Google had archived them before the changes were made.

With the new robots.txt file, any future changes will be extremely difficult to spot - and even more difficult to prove.
We can only hope that some public-spirited individual or institution will do something to preserve the WH website archives. BushCo's lies need to be showcased and proven. That this administration will stoop to tactics like this is no longer surprising--we expect nothing else from the pResident who promised to "restore honesty and integrity" to the White House--but it remains contemptible, and, in the end, scary. Scary because it shows how little there is in this administration of anything remotely resembling integrity, morality, or concern for the interests of the American people.


You may have noticed that I've changed the title of my blog, though not the URL. Or I may have alerted you to this fact.

I thought about stopping the blog entirely, but let some days pass before doing something that felt so drastic. Blogging becomes a habit after a while, although in my case not established to the point of having to do it every day. As a matter of fact, I was caught between wanting to blog and not wanting to blog, something that contributed (I think--we'll see if that's borne out in the future) to the recent scantiness of my posts. (Thanks, Hannah, for picking up some of the slack.)

Instead of quitting, I decided to go back to the title I originally used last year, before the war began to take up all the space on my blog. It's time for me to move away from that narrow focus, which begins to depress a person. Life is bigger than current events and politics, and I want my blog to reflect that.

Of course, if crisis mode should suddenly be appropriate, all that could change. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

I've kept the URL because that's what I'm listed as in blog search tools and in friends' bookmarks. So there's a little disjunction between URL and title--not a big deal, right?

I may also be removing or adding links as this blog evolves. The template stays until I can find or make one I like better, or perhaps until my current paid Blogger account expires--I may move to a different host at that time.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Why Pre-War "Intelligence" Failed

Sy Hersh's article in the New Yorker is a must-read. It confirms everything we suspected about the way intelligence was handled by the administration before the war: that unfiltered data was handed to top officials, who then cherry-picked whatever they thought would bolster the case for war.

As if that weren't bad enough, crucial resources in the war against al-Qaeda were diverted to everything Iraq. People, equipment, and ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed. To me, that adds up to sacrificing the safety of the American people in order to mire us in a war that was never necessary and has now killed over 300 of our troops and thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.

This administration's arrogance, secrecy, and insistence on total control makes for the very opposite of democracy--as we all know by now. Go read the article.

Black Hawk Down

Here is a photo of the Black Hawk helicopter shot down on Saturday by an RPG.

I guess the resistance is really becoming desperate if they'd do something like this, huh?

Israeli Soldiers Shoot Peace Activists

Two peace activists with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the same organization to which Rachel Corrie belonged, were shot in the legs by Israeli soldiers at a Palestinian refugee camp after they escorted children away from soldiers who entered the camp.

The soldiers were said to have fired indiscriminately inside the camp, despite the fact that, according to the ISM workers, all the people there were unarmed and no shooting was coming from within the camp.

It should disturb every thinking person of any religion (or none) that Israel has come to countenance actions such as this. For a people who suffered oppression throughout history, it should be unthinkable to visit such atrocities on another group of people. But Israel justifies every such action in the name of self-preservation, and those of us who protest are smeared with the epithet "anti-Semite." That's nonsense. Firing indiscriminately into a refugee camp for no discernible reason is simply inexcusable in its brutality and injustice.

I'm also very afraid that some of our soldiers in Iraq are getting very near to becoming like these Israeli soldiers--that they view "the enemy" as subhuman and even children as targets to be shot at. An occupying army is an ugly thing. We need to get our troops out of Iraq now.

In Iraq, SNAFU

I'm assuming you all know what SNAFU means.

I wonder if Wolfowitz will keep up the rosy-spectacles attitude re: Iraq after he survived a rocket attack on the hotel in which he was staying. A U.S. soldier was killed and 15 people were wounded in the attack, in which 8 rockets slammed into the heavily guarded hotel in Baghdad.

Think it was intentionally aimed at Wolfie? I do. Not only that, but the whole episode points to a grave security failure and, most likely, to some good intelligence on the part of the resistance. Inside job? Probably, just as in the case of that police station or the UN. We have an utter failure here to secure anything in Iraq.

Just another day under the occupation.

Intelligence Problems in Iraq

No, I'm not talking about the brain-power, or lack thereof, of BushCo. I'm talking about the quality of intelligence being gathered in Iraq--you know, spy-type stuff.

A recent report details the incompetence of those tasked with gathering sensitive information in Iraq:
A report published this week by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., uses unusually blunt language to identify the intelligence problems and to recommend solutions. In discussing the training of intelligence specialists, for example, it states that commanders reported that younger officers and soldiers were unprepared for their assignments, ``did not understand the targeting process'' and possessed ``very little to no analytical skills.''

In a related assessment, the report also states that reserve troops specializing in civil affairs and psychological operations sent earlier this year to Afghanistan received ``marginally effective'' training before their deployment. ``The poor quality of mission preparation was inexcusable given that the operation was over a year and a half old,'' it concludes.
High-tech equipment, such as unmanned aircraft, are not being put to use, or are being put to use in inefficient or inappropriate ways. When will these guys at the Pentagon learn that High Tech is not the answer to everything? Their faith in the god of High Tech matches the rest of this administration's faith-based agenda.

Apparently, the folks doing the intelligence work, for whom one might think the ability to contact each other and have a network firmly in place would be of utmost importance, don't even have satellite telephones--a piece of equipment common among journalists working in Iraq.

And are we surprised to learn that there's a desperate lack of interpreters? Remember when they fired those Arab speakers because they were gay? Sheesh. Talk about not having a clue! When they do have interpreters, the intelligence people often use them as gofers. Sigh.

No wonder the Army has no idea who the guerillas are or when the next attack is coming. With intelligence like this, it's difficult to see our troops becoming any safer than the sitting ducks they are.

75% of Mental-Health Troop Removals are Reservists

According to the Guardian, 478 troops have been removed from Iraq, and of these, 75% are reservists.

It is unknown how many of the 13 suicides in Iraq now under investigation were reservists or National Guard.

The Guardian report also details the stresses that reservists and Guard troops are under, and the anger, depression, and increasing tendency to dehumanize Iraqis that often characterize these soldiers.

Read it and weep.

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