Thursday, June 29, 2006

The blogmuse has left the building

It seems that periods of blog inspiration come in waves, and I'm currently sitting in a valley.

It's not that there's nothing to talk or write about -- quite the contrary, really -- but getting into any news-related subject matter these days makes me far too angry to be of any use.

On the way in to work today, I noticed a headline in the local paper, which proclaimed that Elizabethtown had enacted a ban on pit bulls and Rottweilers following a dog attack incident.

"Just another example of the media over-hyping a story and ruining it for everybody," my roommate said.

I looked at him.

"That's about the stupidest thing I've ever heard," I said.

The ban, he seemed to feel, could be blamed on the media for their having reported on the dog bite story. The paper hyped it up and caused an outrage, which led to the city council passing the new ordinance.

I'm still working on a piece on this whole "shoot the messenger" phenomenon. It's ridiculous.


Update: Conservatives are so full of humor. I just never quit laughing at their constant comedy gold!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Light blogging apology and photos explaining why

I haven't blogged much, lately. Here's why.

I spent Monday riding around in this:


Why? Well, note the red plaque on the sides. It was with the guy on the right:

williams blackhawk2

That's Maj. Gen. Robert Williams, the Army's chief of armor. While up in the Blackhawk, I took pictures of stuff. Like this unidentified Fort Knox structure, which I shot as per the direction of our new chief of staff (who I got to know while he was the G3):

The Vault

What could that be? I have no idea. I think it's just a large, white, stone building guarded by guys from the Treasury Department.

Anyway, here's a shot of my company headquarters, as well as the godawful track we have to run around for our 2-mile run. The company is the low, white building that comes close to the right side of the frame:

Track at company

Anyway, I've been busy. I've got three major stories in this week's edition, and I need to go finish the last one. Adios, muchachos.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Monkeys in bars

Okay, I don't have anything spectacular at the moment. But watch this video, and then tell me the "jury's still out" on evolution.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Workplace stress

Sometimes, it gets a little tense at work. You just don't know who to trust.


Eight troops charged in death of Iraqi

From today's Early Bird...

Washington Post
June 22, Pg. 1

8 Troops Charged
In Death Of Iraqi

All Are Accused of
Murdering Civilian

By Josh White and Sonya Geis,
Washington Post Staff Writers

Seven Marines and one Navy corpsman have been charged with murder and kidnapping in connection with the April death of an Iraqi man in a small village west of Baghdad, Marine Corps officials announced yesterday.

The corps said that the eight sought out Hashim Ibrahim Awad in his Hamdaniyah home, dragged him into the street, bound his hands and feet, and shot him during a late-night operation, according to Marine criminal-charge sheets released yesterday. The troops are members of a fire team with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. It is unclear what motivated the incident.

The announcement marked the second time this week that the U.S. military has charged troops with murder in Iraq. Army officials announced Monday that three soldiers had been accused of killing three men their unit had captured near Samarra last month, and a fourth soldier was charged yesterday. The cases come as another investigation continues into allegations that a Marine unit gunned down as many as 24 civilians last November in Haditha.

The incidents have drawn widespread international criticism of the way U.S. troops are treating Iraqi civilians as they fight insurgents, and have caused the military to redouble efforts to remind troops of their moral and legal obligations on the battlefield. In announcing the murder charges yesterday, Col. Stewart Navarre said Marines are trained in the law of armed conflict and are expected to fully comply with it.

"The Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating such allegations," Stewart said at an afternoon news conference at Camp Pendleton, a Marine base north of San Diego. "The Marine Corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions."

Lawyers for several of the Marines and family members of the troops said yesterday that the men are innocent.

Gary Solis, a professor of the law of war at Georgetown University, said it is unfortunate that the cases have surfaced at the same time, because they provide an impression of a military run amok in Iraq. He said that fatal mistakes are common in war, and that the key to these investigations will probably be to determine whether the troops planned the alleged attacks.

"Where is the line? The line is premeditation," Solis said of wartime killings. "If you make a mistake, you're not going to be investigated. The only guys that have to be worried are those that have thought about doing it and then do it."

The eight service members charged in the Hamdaniyah incident are confined at Camp Pendleton. Stewart said four other Marines connected to the investigation are under no restrictions but could face charges in the future.

The Marine Corps identified the eight as Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Pfc. John J. Jodka and Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, who was attached to the Marines' unit as its medic. The four other Marines were not identified. The soldier charged yesterday in the killings near Samarra was identified as Spc. Juston R. Graber, 20.

Lawyers for the service members in the Hamdaniyah incident said yesterday that they have not had the opportunity to review much, if any, of the evidence against their clients.

"He's an all-American boy," said retired Marine Brig. Gen. David Brahms, who is representing Pennington, 21, of Washington state. "It's hard to imagine him conspiring with others to commit the dastardly deed."

Joseph Casas, a civilian lawyer representing Jodka, 20, of California, said his client believes he was taking part in a "legitimate, command-sanctioned ambush" in a location where insurgents are known to plant roadside bombs. Jodka, who was on his first tour in Iraq, was months out of boot camp.

"He does not believe that anything that happened that night was inappropriate, illegal or in contravention to Marine Corps rules," Casas said in an interview. "I will adamantly say that what the government believes happened did not happen on that night."

While the Marines have released few details about Awad's death, Iraqis who live in his neighborhood have told Washington Post reporters that the Marines shot him four times in the face before planting an AK-47 rifle and a shovel near his body to make it appear as though he had been trying to bury a roadside bomb.

He was known in the village as Awad the Lame because a metal bar was inserted in his leg several years ago.

An investigative statement obtained by The Post that appears to be signed by Hutchins says that the unit "spotted a man digging on the side of the road from our ambush site." It continues: "I made the call and engaged. He was pronounced dead at the scene with only a shovel and an AK-47."

It was unclear who shot Awad. All eight service members were charged with conspiracy, murder, assault and larceny -- the last count for allegedly stealing the rifle and the shovel before using them as props. Some of the men also were charged with lying to investigators and with obstruction of justice.

Navarre declined to discuss details of the incident and stressed that the accused are presumed innocent. All could face the death penalty if convicted.

Casas, Jodka's attorney, said his client was forced to sign a statement about the events that he knew to be incorrect after Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents kept him in a room at Camp Fallujah last month for more than seven hours without food, water or breaks. He said the agents threatened Jodka with the death penalty and scared him into signing the statement.

Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman in Washington, said that such statements are voluntary and that suspects are "given the opportunity to review the statement and make any changes to it before signing."

Reached by telephone in Massachusetts yesterday, a woman who identified herself as Hutchins's fiancee said she is standing by the sergeant, the highest-ranking member of the unit charged.

"We are heartbroken about the situation and we love him very much," she said. "We believe he is innocent."

Geis reported from Camp Pendleton. Researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Who's to blame here? Clearly, it's Josh White and Sonya Geis, and their anti-U.S., terrorist-hugging employer, the Washington Post. They're the ones to hold responsible for this.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fun with firearms

Photo post today. I shot these out at a reflexive fire exercise the tankers and Cav scouts of Troop A, 1st Squadron, 16th Cavalry Regiment were conducting at Browns Range. If you're familiar with Knox's "Misery, Agony, and Heartache" hills, this range is near there. Enjoy.


A dry-fire run through.






Bang. Notice the brass being ejected, and the position of the slide. He's not out of ammo, I'm just quick. And lucky.


Update: Open posting at The Castle.


I'm working on a post on informed dissent, and how it's becoming increasingly unwelcome in America's internal political debate. I'm trying to keep this one high-brow, so any citations you handful of faithfuls have that could help would be terrific.

Specifically, I'm looking for examples of blogs that attack the very idea of dissent, instead of taking a particular stance and supporting it rationally.




Monday, June 19, 2006

Thoughts while running

I don't understand people who enjoy running. To me, it's an activity you do when required to -- for instance, when you need to escape from something, or catch something... or, when some over-eager NCO tells you that's what you will be doing for an hour on Monday morning.

I'm not much good at it. I chug along while wiry-limbed privates lope by, seemingly immune from the rising burn in the lungs, calves, and hamstrings. I am the tortoise, but I have yet to win any races.

This morning we headed up a usually-desolate stretch of road near the company building. There was a damp mist hanging in the air that made me think of all the earth science books I'd leafed through while I was a kid. It was like running through what I imaagine rainclouds are like at altitude -- dust particles clinging to the air while moisture condenses on them until they're heavy enough to fall.

Despite the cool, damp air, I was hot, sweaty, and aggravated to be once again slogging my way down some pockmarked Kentucky road. If it weren't for the Army, I thought, I wouldn't be doing this. I'd still be in bed, maybe clicking on "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC and cursing the old buzzard for trying to get by on three minutes of air time surrounded by 10-minute commercial segments.

I've been in the Army for just shy of four years, and I realized suddenly that most of the people who'd signed up around the same time were probably getting ready to get out, if they hadn't reenlisted. Four years is the average sentence, it seems. I know now that if I'd held out a little longer, the recruiter up in Syracuse would probably have cut my contract down to four years, and maybe even agreed to pay off my college loans. Alas, at the time I'd had no experience in dealing with used car salesmen, horse traders, or loan sharks, and I took the man at his word. So I have another year to go.

"Sorry, that's the shortest contract we've got available for that job," he told me.

Six months later I was sitting in public affairs classes at Fort Meade, Maryland, next to more wordly-wise soldiers who'd shaved their active-duty time down to four years by haggling with their recruiter. If that had been me, I'd be packing bags right now.

But as it stands, I'll be in for another year. It should be time to get some savings together and line up whatever the next Big Step is for old Brother Gonzo. So hey, maybe one more year isn't all that bad.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Traffic boom

See if you can tell from this Sitemeter graph which day it was that it was announced I was quitting MilBlogs:

quit milblogs

Things have pretty much levelled off since then, as you can see.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

New links, stuff to see

I've made a couple additions to the old Blogroll to make up for the cuts I made last week.

First, check out Spc. Freeman's "Calm Before the Sand." He's got a very interesting take on Army life, and thoughts on Haditha that don't involve jumping on any bandwagons. (Hat tip goes to Dr. Kenneth Noisewater.)

New York Hack is a female cabbie working the beat in the Big Apple. The nature of her job mandates that she runs into more than her fair share of asshats, who she dutifully photographs. However, sometimes they're not asshats at all...

Go over to my brother's place and harass him for not updating in more than a month.

As for me, I'm at work, but still suffering from acute headboogeritis, and when I cough it sounds like the death ward in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I've usually got a strong constitution, so it's weird that a bug like this is sticking around so long.

Frustrated earlier this week with the lack of results from the drugs I got from the hospital, I added a bracing dose of bourbon to the regimen. So far, it has only helped temporarily. Maybe I need to increase the dosage?


Update: A friend of mine, Jan Korda, does not work on the starship Enterprise, despite his moniker. He does, however, write messed-up short fiction when he's not too hung over.

Update: Go read this post over at Talking Salmons, right now.

Update: Because he whined in the comments box, here's another former coworker/NCO of mine, Sgt. Atticus "Longhorns" Finch, with a roundup of international sports action. Show him some love, Korean-style. Because he's in Korea.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dixie Chicks still being punished by fans?

Probably, yes. Joe Scarborough just asked:

"The Dixie Chicks... do slow sales mean the country trio should rethink their anti-Bush stance?"

Hmmm... it's a possibility. The other option would be to make music that doesn't suck.


Update: Oh lord, I'm watching "Scarborough Country" on MSNBC, and I'm almost to the point of tears of laughter. Joe's got two lawyers screaming at each other over the the following issue -- Some pervert in California is making "cheerleader videos" by going to high school football games and videotaping the cheerleaders, with special emphasis placed on their private areas. This guy's then selling the videos on eBay for around $70 a pop.

This one guy with a fake tan is yelling about how this guy should be made to pay -- pay, I tell you! -- for the damages he's inflicting on the girls and their families. He'd want triple damages, he said, if he was to prosecute the case.

Scarborough played a clip of one of the girls' families watching one of the videos. They were, shall we say, uncomfortable. Freeze frames during certain moves had to be blurred out for cable television.

"I'll never feel comfortable wearing my uniform again!" the suddenly-famous cheerleader sobbed.

Guess what, jackass: these videos were taken from the stands, where a couple thousand fans were sitting and watching. If you're upset with anonymous people seeing your underwear, quit doing the splits. If you've been around here for a while, you already know what I think of cheerleading. Quit pretending it's a sport -- it's just a titillation for the crowd, and a symbol for the rewards of athletic prowess for the team on the field. To the victor go the spoils, and that's got one hell of a historical precedent to back it up. Cheerleaders, I think it's safe to say, represent the spoils.

And if you don't like cheerleading being sexualized, quit cheerleading. Short skirts and shiny underpants aren't there to make you better at your job.


Another Update: If videotape of a varsity event can be construed as child pornography or child erotica, maybe it isn't the videotape parents should be worried about... maybe it's the varsity "event."


From Sports Illustrated, via Newsmap:

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger injured in motorcycle accident.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has said he dislikes wearing a motorcycle helmet, was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash and taken to a hospital Monday.

Dr. Larry Jones, chief of trauma at Mercy Hospital, said Roethlisberger was in serious but stable condition in an operating room Monday afternoon. Roethlisberger was undergoing surgery, but Jones would not say for what.

"He was talking to me before he left for the operating room," Jones said. "He's coherent. He's making sense. He knows what happened. He knows where he is. From that standpoint, he's very stable."

What did Pittsburgh do to deserve this?


An acute case of slime-head

I went to the post clinic this morning, because the goo coming out of my head hasn't abated. A major in very large jump boots and a lab coat said it could be allergies (I've never had those before) or a virus. He wrote me a perscription and sent me on my way with a slip that said I was confined to quarters for the next 24 hours.

That sounds bad, but it's just Army-speak for "stay home and get better." So now I'm chilling, blogsurfing, and alternating cigarettes and cough drops.

I've also been watching television. I've been sticking up for the news media lately, but it's always hilarious to watch them get all excited when a hurricane (or tropical depression, in this case) is on the way. "Tropical Storm Alberto" is on its way to Florida, and it seems that the worst it's going to do is make it rain a lot. No matter -- it certainly could turn into a cataclysmic Storm of Impending Bird-Flu Doom at any moment, so I'm sure I'll be treated to updates on its position, strength, and relationship to the Kyoto Accords every 15 minutes or so.

If I think of anything, I'll be sure to let you all know. Chances are slim, though.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Habby Sudnay

My enjoyment of the weekend was severely curtailed by catching some kind of upper-respiratory virus. I'll spare you most of the gory details, but I've spent a large amount of time making Chewbacca noises while trying to convince the crud in my throat to dislodge. However, I managed to have a productive weekend.

Saturday afternoon, I found myself staring at a table set up under an awning on one of Fort Knox's many sports fields. On it were the implements of cricket -- leg pads, chest protectors, gloves, and brutal looking bats. I once saw a special on the ancient Hawaiians, and apparently they used to make war clubs that looked like these things. All you need is a cricket bat and a set of mako shark teeth to set into the edge, and you'd be ready to wreak havoc on invading islanders.

Two different British liaison officers have tried to explain cricket to me, and they've made very little headway. The diagrams -- which show a large circle with a narrow rectangular strip in the middle and several dots scattered at random -- aren't much help, either.

A salty lieutenant I knew from one of the post's infantry battalions came up to me. He had been a senior non-com before going to Officer Candidate School, so he's a lot more grizzled than most looeys I've met.

"What's up, man?" he said from under a white boonie hat and sunglasses.

"Um, not much, sir. Trying to figure this weird-ass game out," I said. "You ever play before?"

"I came to the class they had this morning," he said. "It was... almost fun."

The match was between the English liaison's team and one organized by an Australian exchange student. The teams were both hodge-podges of children and adults, some with cricket experience, and some who just knew it was something like baseball.

The results were predictable, but at least I figured out the basic elements of the game. I snapped about 150 photos and headed out. I needed to pick up a new pair of running shoes, and talk to the mother of a 9-year-old who'd been attacked by a pit bull in one of the post's housing areas.

I'd already filled some of a notebook at Recruiting Command. They had been running a chat session where drill sergeants were talking to "future soldiers" -- guys who'd signed contracts and would soon be shipping out, eventually to wind up in the drills' training company. They were asking the usual questions -- "What can I bring," "Can we have cell phones," "How many push-ups do I have to do." I jotted down their names and made a mental note to call them on Monday.

By that evening, I was tired and starting to feel the effects of phlegm over-production.

I've just been reading and watching television, when I haven't been whacked out on the generic NyQuil knockoff I found in the bathroom.

But I'll leave you all with a worthwhile link. My dad called and recommended this piece by the inimicable James Lileks:

Self-Loathing and the Denial of Terrorism, at Newhouse News Service. Check it out, it's a hoot.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Ann Coulter - Yellow journalist

From Editor & Publisher:

9/11 Widows, New York Papers, Respond to Coulter's 'Slander'

By E&P Staff Published: June 07, 2006 7:55 AM ET updated 10:00 AM ET

NEW YORK Syndicated columnist and author Ann Coulter appeared on the Today show on Tuesday, promoting a new book. Host Matt Lauer asked her to explain certain remarks in the book aimed at activist 9/11 widows, including her charge that they were nothing but "self obsessed" and celebrity-seeking "broads" who are "enjoying" their husbands' deaths "so much."

After she defended these statements, Lauer closed by saying, "always fun to have you here." It's not known if he meant this ironically or not.

Elsewhere in the book, Coulter refers to the widows as "witches" and asks, "how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies"?

In response, a group of five 9/11 widows, who may have been the prime targets of Coulter's remarks, issued a statement denouncing Coulter's views. The New York Daily News on Wednesday featured a smiling Coulter and this headline on its
front page: COULTER THE CRUEL. One story inside was topped with "Massive Chip on Her Coulter " and another called her a "a model of meanness."

The Star-Ledger in Newark, meanwhile, carried a
story today with the headline "For 9/11 widows, book adds insult to injury." It featured interviews with some of the widows. The New York Post headlined a story: "RIGHTY WRITER COULTER HURLS NASTY GIBES AT 9/11 GALS."
Side note: I hate the New York Post's headline writers.

The Post interviewed one of the widows, Mindy Kleinberg of East Brunswick, N.J. -- part of a group Coulter dubbed "The Witches of East Brunswick." Kleinberg said, "We are trying to make sure that nobody else walks in our footsteps. And if she [Coulter] thinks that's wrong, so be it." Newsday (Melville, N.Y.) carried an Associated Press story.

On a separate matter -- charges that she knowingly voted in the wrong precinct in Florida last year -- Coulter said on Fox News Tuesday night that reporters who wrote about the case are "all retarded" and accused Palm Beach officials of having a sexually transmitted disease. "I think the syphilis has gone to their brains," she said. "This is all false, I'm telling you."

Universal syndicates Coulter's column. A spokesman there told E&P it had no response to the latest firestorm.
So it seems like Coulter's plan is working. I'll grant that the 9/11 widows have capitalized on their status as victims, but let's be frank. Coulter is selling books not because she has many compelling arguments, but because she's a mean-spirited hack who can call people names.

"How do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies?" she asks. Hey, great question. As long as we're tossing hypotheticals around, how do we know you're not a member of the Ku Klux Klan, Ann?

Of course, the far-right's favorite blonde hellion has been at this for quite a while. Here's a collection of quotes from the she-beast: The Wisdom of Ann Coulter.

Here's a good one: "I am emboldened by my looks to say things Republican men wouldn't."---TV Guide 8/97.

Well, I am emboldened by my looks (which were specifically designed for newsprint) to invite Ms. Coulter to feel completely free to shove shards of broken beer bottles into her eyes. I hope that someday soon she's a victim of cannibalism.

Yes, that's mean-spirited and uncalled for, and I should really take the high road if I'm going to criticize. But you know what? I'm not selling books filled with libellous drivel and making the rounds on the morning show circuit. So I don't care.


Hail to the Chief

While I reserve this space for angry, drunken tirades about how our country is screwed up, I spend my working hours churning out stuff like this piece on our chief of staff, who's retiring next week. When I get out, my best guess is that I'll have written somewhere around a thousand of these.

Chief of staff 'humbled' by Soldiers

Gold says combat command provided lifetime of memories.

.. Gold has seen the results in action.

Before arriving at Fort Knox to take on his current job, he served as the commander of the 1st Armored Division's "Bulldog" 3rd Brigade, which participated in the initial ground war in the first Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the subsequent occupation of western Baghdad, including the district of Abu Ghraib.

He said the success of those missions is proof that the Army's system for recruiting and training Soldiers is far from broken.

"My time over there left me a lifetime of memories," he said. "I am humbled, and will remain humbled, by what is standing in our formations today... a mixture of generations X and Y.

"I said this in Iraq before I left. History will show that this mixture of generations is equal to, if not better than, any other generation of Americans -- to include Tom Brokaw's World War II generation that my dad was a part of."

Gold said he was amazed to watch today's Soldiers perform under incredibly difficult conditions, including extreme heat, harsh living conditions, and an always hostile environment.

The rest can be found here.

See? I'm not some kind of defeatist loon. I was rather torqued, however, at the fact that my subject in this story got to read it prior to publication, and since he's the chief, the changes he made stuck. It's a matter of backgrounds, of course, but field grade officers usually have a different idea of what makes a story "flow," so there are passages in the final copy that I feel are stilted and repetitive. But hey.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ingredients: Mechanically-separated Abu Musab al Zarqawi

I had an e-mail from CENTCOM waiting in my inbox this morning:

Release Date: 6/8/2006
Release Number: 06-06-08P

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Multi-National Force-Iraq Commanding General, announced the death of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in the following statement during a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad June 8:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Coalition Forces killed al-Qaida terrorist leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and one of his key lieutenants, spiritual advisor Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, yesterday, June 7, at 6:15 p.m. in an air strike against an identified, isolated safe house.

"Tips and intelligence from Iraqi senior leaders from his network led forces to al-Zarqawi and some of his associates who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baqubah when the air strike was launched.

"Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multi-National Division North, arrived shortly thereafter. Coalition Forces were able to identify al-Zarqawi by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars.

Al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida in Iraq have conducted terrorist activities against the Iraqi people for years in attempts to undermine the Iraqi national government and Coalition efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq. He is known to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis. Al-Zarqawi's death is a significant blow to al-Qaida and another step toward defeating terrorism in Iraq.

"Although the designated leader of al-Qaida in Iraq is now dead, the terrorist organization still poses a threat as its members will continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people and destabilize their government as it moves toward stability and prosperity. Iraqi forces, supported by the Coalition, will continue to hunt terrorists that threaten the Iraqi people until terrorism is eradicated in Iraq."


We Army types give the Air Force a lot of crap (I used to bug them at DINFOS by calling them the "Space Force." They hated that, for some reason). But they're damn good when it comes to turning terrorists into finely-processed Alpo.

John at the Castle suggests the "Go Code" might have been "Pickle."


In completely unrelated news, I saw Ann Coulter in several news clips last night. I'll save my comments on her for later, but I couldn't help but think that in her gesticulating and movement she resembled someone I'd seen before...


Yeah, that was who it was. I miss the Muppet Show.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In Defense of The Press, Part I

The press is currently the favorite whipping-boy among conservative blogs. Alleged botched, slanted, left-leaning coverage is now the leading issue on the right side of the blogosphere, having surpassed the Iraqi insurgency as the primary target of hatred. Ironic, perhaps, since one of the main allegations leveled by right-wing blogs toward the media is that the media ignores the reprehensible actions of the insurgents and focuses its energy instead on scandals involving our own troops.

Oddly enough, the men who founded our country thought having a free press was pretty important -- the protection of the press was included in the very first amendment made to the Constitution. Despite how the children over at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler howl for journalists to be hung, there's a very critical role for the press and modern-day media to play in making democracy work. Simply, the press acts as an additional and independent set of checks and balances for the rest of the government -- making sure the populace is fully informed about the actions of those they elect to represent them. Examples of this in action are too numerous and well-known to bother citing.

America's military is made up of individuals who are all paid with tax dollars, meaning that each and every soldier, sailor, marine, and airman is a public servant, from the lowliest private to the most decorated general. The military is accountable to the public for its actions, and the public, having no choice but to fork over a third of its collective income to the government, has a right to know what its investment is up to and how well it is performing its job, which in the military's case is primarily the security of those same citizens. Hence the title, Department of Defense.

Naturally, for many reasons, security and safety primary among them, the public cannot possibly be immediately privvy to everything the military does. However, that does not change the fact that the military (and the rest of the government) operates under a public trust. When that trust is broken, the People (as in, "We the People") have a right to know.

Enter the military's public affairs branch, and the Defense Department's Principles of Information:

"It is Department of Defense policy to make available timely and accurate information so that the public, the Congress, and the news media may assess and understand the facts about national security and defense strategy. Requests for information from organizations and private citizens shall be answered quickly. In carrying out that DoD policy, the following principles of information shall apply:

"Information shall be made fully and readily available, consistent with statutory requirements, unless its release is precluded by national security constraints or valid statutory mandates or exceptions. The Freedom of Information Act will be supported in both letter and spirit.

"A free flow of general and military information shall be made available, without censorship or propaganda, to the men and women of the Armed Forces and their dependents.

"Information will not be classified or otherwise withheld to protect the Government from criticism or embarrassment.

"Information shall be withheld when disclosure would adversely affect national security, threaten the safety or privacy of U.S. Government personnel or their families, violate the privacy of the citizens of the United States, or be contrary to law.

"The Department of Defense's obligation to provide the public with information on DoD major programs may require detailed Public Affairs (PA) planning and coordination in the Department of Defense and with the other Government Agencies. Such activity is to expedite the flow of information to the public; propaganda has no place in DoD public affairs programs."
A lofty set of rules, to be sure. The first set of these I saw were signed by then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Due to my own current involvement in the Army's public affairs program, I'm going to decline further comment at this particular time. However, I've seen enough to know that reporters are right not to trust everything spoken from an official podium.

And why would they? The goals of the public affairs branch and those of the press are inherently different. Given the press' role as a watchdog for the rest of the government, I prefer that they err on the side of cynicism. State-run media, as a general rule, have not been historically very helpful.

In many cases, and the military is one of them, the press is the only means by which a government agency can be expected to be held accountable to its masters -- the citizens whose tax dollars fund it. So go ahead, Rottweiler and whoever else would blame the media for every misstep in Iraq -- string all the journalists up and see what happens to this free country you love to extoll so much. Refuse to acknowledge the fissures and failures that continue to plague the human endeavor called government, and line the press corps up against the wall. Do it, and see what happens to your Free Country.

I think you'd be in for some very frightening surprises.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006


In my last post, I referred to several failures on the part of the Bush administration as if they were stipulations of fact. The one I imagine riled the most military nerves would have been the claim that George W. Bush's administration has failed to show any measurable progress in Iraq. For the folks over at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, that's probably enough to qualify me for inclusion into their oft-recited motto:

Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.

They sell T-shirts, in case you don't click the link above.

But I thought I might offer readers the chance to evaluate my claim. Here are several measures whereby the United States might have shown progress in the past year in Iraq. Rate each on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1 being "no progress," and 10 being "goal accomplished":

1) Ability to reduce the number of troops in the region
2) Efficacy of the Iraqi National Army
3) Efficacy of the Iraqi police force
4) Ability of the newly-formed Iraqi government to make laws
5) Ability of the newly-formed Iraqi government to enforce laws
6) Strength of the anti-American insurgency
7) Level of personal freedom of the average Iraqi
8) Amount of national treasure, per annum, spent on efforts to "stabilize" the region.
9) Number of civilian Iraqi deaths, per month
10) Number of United States military casualties, per month.

That rating system provides for a possible 100 points. Please leave the score you assess in the comments section.

Why? Because... it's Evolution, baby!


Update: Since I mentioned, I thought it might be appropriate to add a corollary scale. Additionally rate each item based on the complicity of the press, with 1 being "no involvement," and 10 being "completely responsible."

The world will be better off, of course, when all journalists have been lynched, since every alleged failure over the course of this war can be traced back to the anti-American free press... which strangely was guaranteed by the hallowed constitution.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Like clockwork

After having screwed the pooch on illegal immigration, after increasing the national deficit ceiling to $9 trillion, after admitting to an extensive domestic spying program, and after failing to show much measurable progress in Iraq, the Bush administration is predictably anticipating the 2006 elections with a bi-annual revisitation of the gay marriage issue.

Poll numbers for George Bush have been in steady decline for a while now, even in GOP stalwart states such as Utah. But that's not yet a cause for concern, because the embattled administration can reliably pull out their silver bullet issue of the Sanctity of Marriage, and thereby mobilize huge swaths of single-issue voters.

I knew this was going to happen. As November nears, expect to see well-publicized debates between our representatives on issues that are increasingly non-war-related. It doesn't take a Nostradamus to predict what these will be -- flag burning, gay marriage, and abortion.

In other knee-jerk reaction news, I'm mulling over the possibility of resigning my membership to the MilBlog ring.

In general, the reaction to the allegations of Marines slaughtering Iraqi civilians in Haditha has been reprehensible, and I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being associated with a group of people who in many cases are busying themselves with shrugging the incident off, making excuses for the Marines involved, or claiming that those killed were probably insurgents who had it coming anyway.

This prominent blogger says taking the Haditha citizen's accounts of what happened is stupid.

This one says he needs incontrivertible evidence before he'll even consider the possibility that "our troops" did anything wrong

CDR Salamander says: Acknowledge, Accept, Analyze, Act -- and suggests a scale of "credibility" with those who have never deployed at the bottom and those who have faced hostile enemy fire at the top.

Greyhawk posted about the difference between "provoked" and "unprovoked," suggesting that since a roadside bomb exploded before the alleged massacre, then it actually was provoked.

Most have made the disclaimer that "the facts aren't all in," and that they're reserving judgment until such time as they are. Funny, the facts didn't all need to be in on things like, oh, weapons of mass destruction or Hussein's ties to al Qaeda before we started sending tanks over there. It's an interesting shift in the requirements for justification.

Personally, I think this "circle the wagons" reaction is disgusting. It's not only a blatant display of a collective refusal to acknowledge what seems to have happened, it's also a perfect opportunity for right-wing blogs to take pot-shots at their favorite straw man, the "Left-Wing, Pinko, Defeatist, Islamo-Fascist-Hugging, Hippie Media."

It's such a common anthem -- a story arises in the press that indicates our service members aren't the glowing paragons of virtue that appear in recruiting commercials, and the automatic reaction is to shoot the messenger.

I'm going to go through the blogroll and do a culling. This site gets about 50 hits per day, so I'm a pretty small fish in this pond, but I'm determined to eliminate any indication of support for bloggers who are not interested in truth, but only in advancing their own grassroots propaganda movement.


Friday, June 02, 2006


Only the dead have seen the end of war.
-- Plato

War is the continuation of politics by other means.
-- Karl Von Clausewitz

November 19, 2005: 24 civilians, including women and young children, in the Iraqi city of Haditha are dead. Implicated in their deaths are Marines from Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. Prior to the deaths of the civilians, a roadside bomb exploded as the Marines' convoy passed by, killing 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. According to various reports, the Marines responded to small-arms fire from multiple directions immediately after the explosion that killed Terrazas.

An official statement was released immediately following the subsequent deaths of civilians.

According to The Washington Post:
The first account of the killings there was a false or erroneous statement issued the next day, Nov. 20, by a U.S. Marine spokesman from a Marine base in Ramadi: "A U.S. Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another.''
However, since that first report, other events of November 19 have come to light. Time magazine reported that it had obtained a videotape from a Haditha journalism student that contradicted the Marines' official statement. Via the Associated Press:
The charges against the Marines were first brought forward by Time magazine, which reported this week [in March] that it obtained a videotape two months ago taken by a Haditha journalism student that shows the dead still in their nightclothes.

According to eye witnesses who spoke to The Washington Post, after the bomb exploded, two squads of Company K Marines allegedly went from house to house, finding unarmed civilians inside and summarily executing them:
In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.

Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.

A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.

Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.
The Post could not independently verify these reports, but the death certificates issued from the Haditha hospital seemed to support the witnesses' claims, and according to CNN, the Pentagon's own investigations into the incident have determined that the civilians were probably killed "without provocation."

The Haditha hospital's death certificates also indicated that some of the bodies had been charred, supporting allegations that the Marines had used grenades during their alleged assault, in addition to point-blank rifle fire.

Company K has since rotated back to the United States, and Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, Capt. Luke McConnell and Capt. James Kimber, both company commanders, have been relieved of command as the Defense Department and Naval Criminal Investigative Service conduct their official probe into the incident.


These, as far as I can tell, are the facts of the case. The appropriate officials are currently conducting their investigations, and once these have been completed, it may be easier to put together a coherent timeline of events.

However, the volume of damning evidence is hard to ignore. A videotape of the bodies, death certificates issued by the hospital, and photographs that contradict the first official statement do not paint a pretty picture of what the Marines did in Haditha on Nov. 19.

Haditha, it seems, was known for its high volume of Improvised Explosive Devices. Some also say that insurgents in the area notoriously used women and children as human shields. But the ferocity that the two squads are reported to have used against the three households is unfathomable -- particularly if reports that there was only a single AK-47 between the three are accurate.

No event happens in a vacuum, particularly not now, in an age where information can be passed around the world over in mere seconds. The world is screaming for justice, and perhaps justice will eventually be done. I doubt, however, that whatever justice the U.S. military eventually decides upon will be sufficient to recoup the credibility, trust, and respect America has lost as a direct result of this carnage.

It isn't as if there's any of that to spare, anyway. And no investigation, no amount of individual punishment, will do anything to patch the widening hole out of which credibility, trust, and respect are currently hemorrhaging. Whether the U.S. has earned the world's distrust or not is immaterial, practically speaking. Despite the fact that it was an incident that involved a relatively small number of people, Haditha, like Abu Ghraib and My Lai before it, will become one of the ugly scars on the memory of America's involvement in Iraq... and it will be one that is a long time in healing.


UPDATE: Some heated discussion over the distinction between "provoked" and "unprovoked" and how it relates to the Marines' alleged actions is going on over at Greyhawk's place, in the Comments section.

UPDATE II: Open Post at Mudville.

Terri Blair story

Okay, it's almost a week after the fact. But I work for a weekly paper, so that's the way it goes. Here, finally, is the story I did on the Terri Blair win over Sumya Anani for the Women's IBA Welterweight title.

PRO BOXING - Blair retains crown with ninth round TKO

By SPC. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret staff writer

The fight was billed "Retaliation," but Sumya Anani didn't get a chance to avenge her March 25 loss to Terri "The Road Warrior" Blair, who defeated Anani by a technical knockout in a remarkable ninth round finish at Louisville Gardens Saturday, retaining her International Boxing Association champion title in the women's welterweight class.

Blair, who improved to eight wins (five by knockout), 10 losses, and two draws, took an early beating from the more-experienced Anani (25-3-1), who connected a powerful hook to Blair's head in the first round. Through the ninth round, Anani led on all three judge's scorecards.

Anani, widely regarded as the most feared fighter in women's boxing, was more aggressive throughout the match, with Blair stepping back or around as Anani pushed forward.

However, Blair--a southpaw from Paintsville, Ky., fighting in her adopted home town--was dishing out enough punishment to wear the visiting Kansas native down.

By the eighth round, Anani was hunched forward, and after lunging forward with a jab, she stumbled and fell to her knees as Blair counterattacked.

On her feet again, Anani quickly went back on the offensive, managing several hits to Blair's head and body. Blair kept her distance, though, and sent the wobbling "Island Girl" to the mat twice in the ninth with stunning blows to Anani's head.

The third and final knockdown came during the final second of the ninth round. Referee Robert Dixon halted the fight, declaring Blair the victor by technical knockout.

The victory occurred in an appropriate setting.

The Gardens is located on Louisville's West Muhammad Ali Boulevard. A native of Louisville, Ali battled George Foreman in the legendary "Rumble in the Jungle" on Oct. 20, 1974, in the Congo. On the line was the world heavyweight title, and Ali was a heavy underdog after three years of suspension from boxing.

However, after apparently dominating five rounds, Foreman was sapped of energy in the humid heat of the outdoor ring. In an interview displayed in Louisville's nearby Ali Center, Foreman said Ali whispered to him, "Is that all you got, George?"

Ali went on to win by knockout with a combination of a left hook and a straight smash to Foreman's face, sending him down for 10 counts.

Blair, who was born in Paintsville a year later, said the win should quiet any discussion of her March win by TKO over Anani for the IBA title as a fluke.

"I beat her legitimately," she said.

There was no ill-will between the two fighters, though. Immediately after she was declared the victor, Blair rushed over to Anani's corner, where the two hugged.

It was Blair's first time fighting in her new hometown. She dedicated the match to her grandmother, Renia Blair, who passed away at the age of 76 Tuesday in Paintsville to a sudden heart attack.

After hearing the news, Blair immediately headed home for the Friday funeral, missing a press conference scheduled that day and just barely making it back to Louisville in time for the official weigh-in.

Despite--or perhaps, because of--her emotional week, it was Blair who hefted the women's IBA welterweight title belt after the final bell sounded.