The Daily 750

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Lewis and Clark

Saturday, November 12, 2005

This is a view from my kitchen. I'll be surprised if it lasts through the weekend.

Here's a closeup of the tree, an Acer palmatum dissectum 'Seriyu'. Makes my heart go pitty-pat every time I walk into the room but it's been raining Lewis and Clark all day, and supposed to rain Lewis and Clark through Tuesday, so I'll be fixing my eye on something else by this time next week. That damn huge blue house behind us, no doubt, which I didn't even see until a week after we moved into the house. Love is blind. The house was on the market recently at a surprisingly low price ($249,000), and we thought of buying it. But then what? If I can't tear it down -- and I can't, because it's in a historical district -- then I don't want it. Some neighbors on the other side bought it. "I'd like to take off the top story," the neighbor said. Instead she'll have it painted next year, when the Lewis and Clark rains end. Last year she had her own Craftsman bungalow painted in muted tropical colors that melt like butter in my visual cortex: soft apricot and papaya, with dollops of mango. I won't hope for "anything but that Norwegian blue" -- because some really nasty color combos have gone up around town lately. (Yes, I coulda and shoulda planted evergreens up on the Gaza Strip, but I dinna.)

Yesterday was the grand public kickoff of the bicentennial celebration of the arrival of the explorers Lewis and Clark. Jefferson sent them out to explore the Missouri River and see if it led to the Pacific, and here's where they found it. They stopped for four miserable months in 1805, when it rained every day but 12. They camped in a forest surrounded by swamps and it's a wonder Sacagawea didn't scalp them all. All the ladies who come here from warm climes would, if it weren't for their pills and patches. They fear winding up like these two ladies at the ceremony yesterday:

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Trying Times

Friday, November 11, 2005

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
-- Thomas Paine, Valley Forge, December, 1776
Michael McCusker is a journalist and radio broadcaster. He publishes and edits the political, bimonthly North Coast Times Eagle newspaper. He has run for mayor of Astoria and almost unseated the reigning monarchy. In 1966 and 1967 he was an infantry reporter/photographer for the 1st Marine division, in Vietnam. He became the director of the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Against the War and participated in the Winter Soldier Investigation, in January and February, 1971. A portion of his testimony can be heard here.

Yesterday Michael ended his weekly radio show on the local community radio station with this signoff: “Tomorrow, on Veterans Day, think of all the people in all the wars, and think of how damn unnecessary it all is.”

Michael doesn’t have a phone, else I’d call and ask: Do you mean that there is nothing worth fighting for? Or that the evils at the roots of the wars, the madness of men in their righteous convictions and their pursuits of totalitarian power over others, is unnecessary?

Today I think of all who have served and are serving, in uniform and out. I think of Michael himself. Of my uncle Frank, the youngest of my grandfather's brothers, who burned or drowned or was eaten by sharks after his ship, the USS Indiannapolis, was torpedoed by the Japanese on its return from delivering the first atomic bomb. And of the first local man to have been killed in Iraq.

I didn’t know David Anthony Mitts. I don’t know whether his wife Tara called him Dave or his buddies called him Mitty. I don't know the name of his twin brother, or whether the twin is identical or fraternal. They both graduated from a local high school in 1999, and then David enlisted in the Army, re-enlisting three years later, after being granted permission to join the Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, First Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, based at nearby Fort Lewis, Washington, so that he could be closer to Tara and his family.

The 1st is a Stryker brigade combat team. They operate out of Stryker armored vehicles, named after two unrelated men with the last name of Stryker, one killed in the Vietnam war and one killed during World War II. Strykers, according to publicity, “are lighter and more mobile, yet offer firepower no enemy can hope to match.” Also that:
They have a maximum speed of 60 miles per hour and a range of 300 miles on a tank of fuel. The vehicles are swift, easily maintainable and include features designed for the safety of soldiers. The tires can be inflated or deflated from inside the vehicle to adapt to surfaces ranging from deep mud to hardtop, and it has run-flat tires, a built-in fire-suppression system and self-recovery winch. The vehicles run quieter than the current armored personnel carriers, increasing their "stealth." They will also give the new brigades a reduced logistics footprint, and . . . should be about 25 percent cheaper to operate than today's heavy brigades.
When Mitts and his Stryker brigade were deployed to Iraq, in early October 2004, 1,062 American servicepeople had been confirmed dead. April had been particularly bloody from Operation Vigilant Resolve, the first, and unsuccessful, attempt by US forces to take Fallujah. The interim Iraqi government had taken over from Paul Bremer’s administration in late June and the Iraqis had a new flag, same as the old flag: horizontal red, white and black bars, with green Arabic text reading “God is Great” in the white bar. What made the flag “new” was the font of the text -- something one supposes could be reproduced on an Arabic computer, not the old handwritten script style, said to be Saddam’s.

Old Flag Bad

New Flag Good

David Mitts and the 1st went to Mosul, a city of two million people 200 miles north of Baghdad, and engaged in heavy fighting.

On Friday, Dec 3rd, they waged a three-hour battle against insurgents whom, the commander reported, "appeared to be from other countries or other parts of Iraq and better trained than the local fighters" the brigade usually fought. Still, Stryker troops killed 22. The brigade went out again on Saturday, and was ambushed. One report said that David "stuck his head out of the top of the Stryker to reconnoiter," and somebody outside started shooting. Mitts was killed along with another Stryker trooper, Staff Sgt. Salamo J. Tuialuuluu, 23, of Pago Pago, American Samoa. David's father said, "Apparently somebody was waiting for him."


When David was killed in December, his wife, Tara, was five months' pregnant with their first child, whom she named Landon David when he was born in February. On Friday, March 18th, when Landon was barely a month old and seemingly healthy, he died in his sleep.

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New Math

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A friend whose son is serving in Iraq has made a 22-month comparison of the firearm death rate of troops in Iraq (60/100,000) with that of Washington, DC (80.6/100,000) and, given that you are 25 percent more likely to be shot and killed in America's capital, concludes that "We should immediately pull out of Washington."

Could similar calculations be the answer to questionable recent events in Myanmar? Or is it really astrology? Just a couple years ago Myanmarians -- Burmese was so much easier to write -- were fleeing to Bangladhesh for comfort. Bangladesh!

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Black May Be Beautiful But Who Cares

PKFitz commented, on the Malawi prison picture: "Where are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton when you really need them? And why doesn't the Innocence Project make themselves truly useful?"

Black Africans?

And the plight of black people in America is a niche market, given lip service by many with actual service mostly limited to the efforts of prosecutors and a few nonprofits.

A couple days ago Josh got a call from a TV producer asking if he knew of any good revenge killings. Sure, Josh said, a couple great ones in Baltimore. "Uhh. . . ," the producer hesitated. "Oh," Josh said. "You mean revenge killings between pretty white people."

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After catching up with the local news and gossip, the first place I turn to on the web is wikipedia. Anybody ever go here?

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Send More Round Tuits, Please

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Yes, I watched 73 hours of television in the 48 hours between last Friday afternoon and last Sunday afternoon, and I slept 8 hours each night and went for walks and made breakfast, lunch and dinner, and undertook various housekeeping tasks both in the house and on the computer, fed the cats and practiced WMD on their potential fleas, and I went out one night but I’ve forgotten for what. How did I do it? The magic of DVR.

But it’s not quite magic enough.

The last couple weeks I’ve been emailing (finally getting a round tuit) one of my dearest friends, who has worked in the Foreign Service of the State Department for the last decade or so. Her latest posting was at the American Embassy in Greece, which Josh and I thought we might be able to scrape up enough money to visit this year. After a few e-mails with the subject line “Yew-whoooo!”, hooray! a reply this morning:

Not sure if you got my last message, but my visa finally came through for Libya and so Q [the whining cat, rescued from Q Street, in DC, in 1987!] and I are blowing this dump at o dark am on thursday. Needless to say, after about 7 weeks’ wait, my desk is once again a candidate for superfund money, and I need to finagle a new health certificate for the cat, delete about 6000 emails, pack and clean the apt.

Yeee haw! Should truly be an excellent adventure, and I hear they make Qaddafi wristwatches, so now all I need is Lukashenko and Kim il-whatsiface and I'll be eligible for a free little dictator meal :)

What the hell kind of horrible correspondent am I? I missed the entire TWO-YEAR deployment to Athens, and now she’s off to Tripoli? No more TV for a month!

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The Horror

Muala Prison, Malawi
Will I ever forget this photograph?

taken by Joao Silva for The New York Times, for the report "The Forgotten of Africa, Wasting Away in Jails Without Trial," by Michael Wines, November 6, 2005

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Project Valour IT

Monday, November 07, 2005

Five days left to celebrate Veterans' Day with a donation to Project Valour IT. Every cent goes to provide a wounded serviceperson with a voice-activated laptop computer. The first 25 go to Bethesda Naval Hospital. Thanks oodles to Matt at Blackfive for reminding the blogosphere of this beautiful way to support the troops, regardless of how we feel about the administration or the war.

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If I Was the Queen of the Pentagon

For years and years I ran a three-mile trail that looped around a public golf course, a sod farm and a part of the LA River that even today hasn’t been concreted. It kept me sane, that daily ritual. Wake up, wash face, apply SPF, double-knot the Nike Air Pegasuses, drink a glass of water, drive a mile to the course, stretch, apply headphones, push PLAY on the Sony Walkman, go. Whatever else I did or didn't accomplish, I had at least run the course.

I did my best thinking then, when the conjoint rhythms of breath and stride and U-2 granted 27 or 28 minutes of weightlessness in otherwise heavy days, unemployed from the fall of the Soviet Union and looking for words, work, the love and respect of a good man.

Every once in a while, about two miles in, I’d wake from my running dreamstate to find my Pegasuses firmly planted in the dust. First thought: Hey, I’m not running any more. Second thought: Why? Third thought: Oh, that. It was either words, work or the love and respect of a good man. Or all three. I'd kick the dust, remember the lesson, correct my course, and continue on, all the way to the end of the path, and then to home.

This weekend I was running along -- so to speak, of course, since I don’t do that any more -- and found my feet planted. Let me be honest: I was lying in bed late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, somewhere in the third of five hours of watching the Discover-Times documentary “Off to War,” and whatever residual beliefs I held about staying in Iraq, a war which I had originally supported with a gung-ho neocon “Go get ‘em!” -- all those beliefs came to a 2,045-person dead stop.

“Off to War” is a gentle series shot with a steady hand (read: no MTV-style editing) and more compelling in its straightforward manner than any bloody polemic conceived by Oliver Stone or Michael Moore. The filmmakers, two brothers from Arkansas, follow a small group of National Guardsmen from Clarksville, Arkansas -- and their families -- from activation to the men’s return home, in April 2005, after a year’s service in Iraq.

They don’t all share one opinion, but in general the men don’t want to be there. It’s their duty, though, and they will serve it well. They don’t understand why they’re in Iraq because everybody, including the complicit Iraqi Police, wants to kill them. The men trust no one. For the most part, the men can’t do what they were sent to do -- they’re a construction brigade and had looked forward to building parks and infrastructure to be of help and service to the Iraqis -- because of the dangers from snipers. During daylight maneuvers they make California road rages seem like Sunday school outings -- shouting at the Iraqi drivers, honking their horns, waving their guns around, weaving through the traffic, forcing Iraqi drivers to the side of the road so the Guardsmen's own vehicles can ride down the middle, where IEDs are less likely to be buried. Night missions are designed to make insurgents shoot at them so they can find insurgents. It's nothing like destroying the village to save the village. It's Richard Daley's: "Gentlemen, get the thing straight, once and for all: the policeman isn't there to 'create' disorder; the policeman is there to 'preserve' disorder."

If I was the Queen of the Pentagon, I would keep US forces in Iraq -- in at night, and in the daytime too, behind barricades and sandbags and and machine guns and air support to help protect the police stations, the electrical transmission plants, the houses of government, the libraries -- all the basic infrastructure of a nation. I would have them build new infrastructure and train the Iraqis behind those barricades so that the Iraqis can hunt down insurgents in the dark, if that's what Iraqi forces want to do. I would give Iraq six more months of my fine American soldiers' skill, expertise and time, and then I would bring them home. If peace were prevailing, I would leave a small force there for additional training and building.

I would never ever think, imply or in any way say or sanction the saying that any soldier's life had been wasted, regardless of the outcome. Hey, Saddam is in a cage. The Ba'ath Party is over. But this is the worst of it all: that our President, that his administration, that Congressional leaders of ALL stripes, have made these Guardsmen believe that if they do not continue along their course, if their government should ever stop and reassess, they themselves, the soldiers, will have failed. Not only will they have failed, they will have made the sacrifices of all those who have gone before them meaningless and worthless.

That is shameful. And that language, if nothing else, can and must stop now.

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5 minutes to the live debate

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Where've I've been? Catching up on being and nothingness in the rain and the wind. Reading: New Yorker magazine parts. Nancy Rommelmann essays. She plumbs depths few writers have the words for, and is pushing herself to stay down longer.

Watching: Dersu Uzala. Cidade de Deus. And the uniquely American Off to War. Make 10 hours of room on your DVR or TIVO to record the entire series next Saturday, on the Discovery Times channel.