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April 30, 2008

We Toad You So

Poor Dahlia Lithwick.

Back in January, the perpetually entertaining Ms. Lithwick was just certain that horridly conservative band of judicial activists on the Reich were perfervidly plotting to steal our collective cornflakes... and our right to vote, too!

A familiar maxim warns that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on. The half vast editorial staff were left ruefully pondering the truth of that dictum early this morning when the perpetually entertaining Ms. Dahlia Lithwick of SlateMag managed to muck up both the facts and the law before we could grab a cup of coffee and clear the cobwebs from our pea-sized brain.

The golden thread that runs through all of Ms. Lithwick's essays on jurisprudence is the distressing propensity of the Evil, Partisan Roberts Court to brutally oppress hapless orroyo toads, fluffy Angora kittens, people of cholor, and transgendered wolves longing to pick out a china pattern and settle down in The Hamptons. But today she warns of a particularly heinous danger lurking in our midst. Shockingly, the Roberts Court is determined to steal something you may not even have known you possessed: your Constitutional Right to vote. Ms. Lithwick reserves this stunner for the last paragraph of her magnum opus:

I fear I am counting five justices who believe that a nonexistent problem can be constitutionally cured by burdening the fundamental right to vote.

There is just one problem with Ms. Lithwick's alarum. The justices are reviewing the constitutionality of an Indiana law, and contrary to her perfervid perorations, the right to vote is not among the rights explicitly guaranteed by the federal Constitution:

The Constitution contains many phrases, clauses, and amendments detailing ways people cannot be denied the right to vote. You cannot deny the right to vote because of race or gender. Citizens of Washington DC can vote for President; 18-year-olds can vote; you can vote even if you fail to pay a poll tax. The Constitution also requires that anyone who can vote for the "most numerous branch" of their state legislature can vote for House members and Senate members.

Note that in all of this, though, the Constitution never explicitly ensures the right to vote, as it does the right to speech, for example. It does require that Representatives be chosen and Senators be elected by "the People," and who comprises "the People" has been expanded by the aforementioned amendments several times. Aside from these requirements, though, the qualifications for voters are left to the states. And as long as the qualifications do not conflict with anything in the Constitution, that right can be withheld. For example, in Texas, persons declared mentally incompetent and felons currently in prison or on probation are denied the right to vote.

This week, we fear we are counting nine (count 'em -- nine!) justices who issued a unanimous smackdown on the subject of voter fraud.

'It doth well appear that this is not such a partisan issue as it might at first appear. Moreover, it would seem that even liberal justices see a legitimate state interest in preventing that most elusive of conservative boogeymen: voter fraud:

But this case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, also revealed a fundamental philosophical conflict between two perspectives rooted in the machine politics of Chicago. Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the decision, grew up in Hyde Park, the city neighborhood where Sen. Barack Obama – the most vociferous Congressional critic of such laws – lives now. Both men have seen how the Daley machine has governed the city for so many years, with a mix of patronage, contract favoritism and, where necessary, voter fraud.

That fraud became nationally famous in 1960, when the late Mayor Richard J. Daley's extraordinary efforts swung Illinois into John F. Kennedy's column. In 1982, inspectors estimated as many as one in 10 ballots cast in Chicago during that year's race for governor to be fraudulent for various reasons, including votes by the dead.

Mr. Stevens witnessed all of this as a lawyer, special counsel to a commission rooting out corruption in state government, and as a judge. On the Supreme Court, this experience has made him very mindful of these abuses. In 1987, the high court vacated the conviction of a Chicago judge who'd used the mails to extort money. He wrote a stinging dissent, taking the rare step of reading it from the bench. The majority opinion, he noted, could rule out prosecutions of elected officials and their workers for using the mails to commit voter fraud.

Three years later, Justice Stevens ordered Cook County officials to stop printing ballots that excluded a slate of black candidates who were challenging the Daley machine. The full court later ordered the black candidates back on the ballot.

Barack Obama has approached Chicago politics differently. He came to the city as a community organizer in the 1980s and quickly developed a name for himself as a litigator in voting cases.

In 1995, then GOP Gov. Jim Edgar refused to implement the federal "Motor Voter" law. Allowing voters to register using only a postcard and blocking the state from culling voter rolls, he argued, could invite fraud. Mr. Obama sued on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and won. Acorn later invited Mr. Obama to help train its staff; Mr. Obama would also sit on the board of the Woods Fund for Chicago, which frequently gave this group grants.

Acorn's efforts to register voters have been scandal-prone. St. Louis, Mo., officials found that in 2006 over 1,000 addresses listed on its registrations didn't exist. "We met twice with Acorn before their drive, but our requests completely fell by the wayside," said Democrat Matt Potter, the city's deputy elections director. Later, federal authorities indicted eight of the group's local workers. One of the eight pleaded guilty last month.

In Seattle, local officials invalidated 1,762 Acorn registrations. Felony charges were filed against seven of its workers, some of whom have criminal records. Prosecutors say Acorn's oversight of its workers was virtually nonexistent. To avoid prosecution, Acorn agreed to pay $25,000 in restitution.

Despite this record – and polls that show clear majorities of blacks and Hispanics back voter ID laws – Mr. Obama continues to back Acorn. They both joined briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn Indiana's law.

Last year, he put on hold the nomination of Hans von Spakovsky for a seat on the Federal Election Commission. Mr. von Spakovsky, as a Justice Department official, had supported a Georgia photo ID law.

In a letter to the Senate Rules Committee, Mr. Obama wrote that "Mr. von Spakovsky's role in supporting the Department of Justice's quixotic efforts to attack voter fraud raises significant questions about his ability to interpret and apply the law in a fair manner." Of course, now an even stricter law than the one in Georgia has been upheld by the Supreme Court, removing Mr. Obama's chief objection.

The hold on the von Spakovsky nomination has left the Federal Election Commission with less than a quorum. As a result, the FEC can't open new cases, hold public meetings, issue advisory opinions or approve John McCain's receipt of public funding for the general election. Now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims that, even without the von Spakovsky hold, filling the FEC's vacancies will take "several months."

All of this may be smart politics, but it is far removed from Mr. Obama's call for transcending the partisan divide. Then again, Mr. Obama's relationship to reform has always been tenuous. Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, notes that, while Mr. Obama supported ethics reforms as a state senator, he has "been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption here in his home state, including at this point, mostly Democratic."

So we have the irony of two liberal icons in sharp disagreement over yesterday's Supreme Court decision. Justice Stevens, the real reformer, believes voter ID laws are justified to prevent fraud. Barack Obama, the faux reformer, hauls out discredited rhetoric that they disenfranchise voters.

Acorn's national political arm has endorsed Mr. Obama. And its "nonpartisan" voter registration affiliate has announced plans to register hundreds of thousands of voters before the November election. An election in which Mr. Obama may be the Democratic candidate.

To which we can only respond with an age-old question:

Cui bono?

Who benefits from preserving the status quo? Who benefits from feeding racial divisions or from fostering the perception that asking for a freely available ID that imposes no race specific burden will disproportionately disenfranchise blacks?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:44 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

April 29, 2008

And She Had a Dachshund, Too

I told The Donovan he would have liked the post I was going to do originally better. That's for two reasons. One you'll never know.

The other is here (mildly NSFW). And she had a dachshund, too.


Posted by Cassandra at 04:14 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 28, 2008

And To Keep Our Honor Clean

I haven't felt much like writing lately. There hasn't been much to say about the news that doesn't seem intuitively obvious, even to those who can only afford half the proverbial clue.

Jeremiah Wright is still an egotistical, bigoted blowhard. Andrew Sullivan is still firmly in the running for Most Delusional Person on the Face of the Earth. Britney Spears seems grimly determined to plumb the depths of serial emotional train-wreckery as performance art. If you give kids an inch, (duh) they'll still take a mile (though at this point, some intrepid soul will pop up like Whack a Mole and argue the sheer impossibility of imposing any limits on human behavior without careening down the Otter Slide to Hell and an eventual police state).

Somewhere along the line, common sense seems to have gotten lost.

The latest Brouhaha-du-Jour is a real gem: a non-story that doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting past both Houses, but nonetheless managed to fire up Outrage-o-Meters everywhere. Who knew there were nosy, incompetent morons in Congress?

Over at National Review, there has been a brief kerfuffle over Representative Broun's (R-Ga) bill to ban the sale of Playboy, etc, in military exchanges. He does not approve of federal funds being expended to provide this service. When he was told the Exchanges were self-funded, he and his staff didn't blink an eye. They said "soldiers are paid with federal funds, therefore..."

No, really. I've been contemplating a response. While I've been dithering, Patrick Lasswell of Moderate Risk put up something I can live with as a response. I would note that troops buy tobacco and alcohol and fatty foods, fast cars, and motorcycles with those *federal* dollars. As do I, as a retiree. Perhaps the Congressman wishes me to account for all my purchases, and find another source of funds for those things he might find offensive.... -the Armorer

I haven't had much to say about it for a number of reasons.

First of all, this bill isn't going anywhere. During wartime, a bill with 16 sponsors to ban Playboy from post exchanges isn't going to garner anywhere near the public support needed to pass muster in both houses, especially with stories like this in the news:

The U.S. military is promising action to address conditions in a barracks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, after a soldier's father posted images on YouTube showing a building that he said "should be condemned."

Frawley's 10-minute video shows still photos from throughout the building, which appears to be falling apart and filled with mold and rust.

Paint -- which Frawley said is lead-based -- is chipping. Ceiling tiles are missing. A broken drain pipe allows sewer gas into the building, while another one has tissues stuffed into it in an apparent effort to stop the gas from coming in.

Photos from the communal bathroom show some of the most disgusting images. In one, a soldier stands in a sink to avoid what Frawley describes as 3 inches of sewage water that filled the floor when toilets overflowed.

Paging Rep. Broun: your constituents would like a word with you. And it's not Playboy they're exercised about.

But the biggest reason I didn't care to weigh in on this issue is that I didn't care to be identified with several of the people I happened to agree with on the topic. If you find it at least mildly entertaining when I get wound up, prepare to be amused.

First of all, let's stipulate a few things. And because of the emotional (that's right, I said emotional) nature of the arguments I saw presented for opposing this bill, I'm going to bold them so there is no mistaking my position:

1. I think Rep. Broun's bill is not only misguided but counterproductive. In plain English, that means I think it's a Very Dumb Idea.

But I disagree - strongly - with many ,if not most, of the arguments made against the bill along with the behavior of many of the opponents of those who support it. You do your position no favors by arguing in emotional terms, or attacking your opponents personally. If you have the right of an issue, you ought to be able to express yourself dispassionately and articulately without resorting to ad hominems. If you cannot do so, perhaps you ought to take a long, hard (heh... she said 'long and hard') look into the old bathroom mirror and ask whether there isn't, perhaps, a tiny grain of truth to what your opponents have to say?

Because more often than not in life, there is.

There are ALWAYS two sides to an argument, and it is almost never the case that only one side possesses a monopoly on virtue. It may be that your values cause you to come down on one side or the other. But that doesn't mean that there is no merit to the other person's position, and if you are so philosophically and intellectually rigid (heh... she said... oh, never mind) that you can't see that then I don't see much light between you and the so-called Looney Left "we" are always taking to task for their "intolerance".

Yeah, I'm really angry. And yeah, I'm talking to both sides here.

I see a logical argument to be made against this bill. It is, simply, that these magazines, like alcohol, tobacco and the like, are morale and recreational items greatly desired by adult service members. They are, in a word, enjoyable. That is all they are. They are not "necessary". The world would not come to a precipitous end if they were more difficult to obtain. They are just enjoyable.

Consumed in moderation (which is the responsibility of all rational adults) they cause no undue harm. They are not illegal for civilian citizens of the United States. And it is not illegal for service members to possess them.

Now here comes a BIG caveat. Under the 1997 law, our very own Congress DID make it illegal for both Playboy and Penthouse to be sold in base exchanges. No rational reading of that law could possibly find that these magazines are mere cheesecake (Have you read a Penthouse lately? Penthouse features actual sexual penetration, which last time I checked goes way beyond mere naked female breasts). No rational reading of that law could find that Playboy or Penthouse were meant to be exempted from that law. Which brings me to my Stipulations #2 and #3:

2. I think the 1997 law is stupid, misguided, and probably counterproductive as well. I think DoD exempted Playboy and Penthouse to make the best of a bad situation, but I don't think we want DoD deciding which federal laws they will obey. They went about this in the wrong way. The law should have been fixed to make it more reasonable instead of doing an end run around the law.

Bottom line: currently, DoD is quite arguably in violation of a federal law. Which in my book gives Rep. Broun a rational, if unpalatable, leg to stand on. People may not like it, but there it is. Furthermore, I'm not sure that defending the "right" of DoD to defy federal legislation is a hill conservatives want to defend.

Interesting position, guys. You'll pardon me if I observe that your outrage is beginning to sound an awful lot more like end-justifies-the-means expediency rather than principle. And over girlie magazines, no less. Fix the law so it is just and correct, gentlemen. But don't rationalize the so-called "right" of DoD to defy Congress.

3. Sorry, but the "Boys will be boys" argument is not a compelling basis for making or refraining from federal legislation.

Argue your constitutional rights, and I'll defend you to the death.
But do not waste my time with emotion-based arguments like this one:

Oooohhhh!!!! Don't take away their porn or Our Boys won't be able to fight!!!

Oh. Come. On. Can we be any more condescending? Sure, men like porn. But it's a want, not a need. They can also fight without cigarettes. Or alcohol (General Order #1 anyone?) though I have no desire to force them to do either. Men are better than this. I know. I'm married to one and I raised two more.

Armies have fought before without porn and they will fight again without it. Oddly enough, there are even men who don't like porn and don't use it and yet have gone on to actually do manly things. Go figure. And there are others who do use porn and manage not to be perverts or immoral degenerates. It takes all kinds in life. I am sick to death of judgmental posts/comments to the effect that that anyone who doesn't share the writer's sexual tastes (whether they choose to indulge in erotica or not) must have some kind of sexual dysfunction.

How about a little humility? Be honest. You don't know a Goddamned thing about the intimate life of the person you're talking to. Again, if you're not able to formulate a cogent argument for your position without calling your opponent either a joyless scold or a pervert, perhaps it is you who has issues and not them?

Then there's the Ne Plus Ultra of all argument enders:

The Appeal To History.

Guess what? While I don't have any aesthetic issues with pinups either (anyone take a look at the top of my site lately?), that ship sailed long ago.

Whether you like it or not, the military workplace has changed since Vietnam and WWII. As a matter of fact, so has the civilian workplace. Grow up.

Nowhere that I am aware of would anyone be allowed to post pinups or centerfolds. Do the words "hostile workplace environment" or "sexual harassment" mean anything to anyone? It doesn't really matter whether anyone likes this: it is reality. The military is a federal employer and they are subject to federal laws. Posting photos of airplanes with nude women painted on the side, though no doubt arousing and amusing, just isn't "on" anymore and that isn't Rep. Broun's fault.

Somewhere, when you weren't looking, the world changed and you're going to have to change with it.

Open sexuality has no place in a mixed gender office, and for better or worse, even the battlefield is now mixed gender. When people are forced to live and work in close quarters, they have to accept certain limits on their behavior. That is precisely why I have harshly criticized oxygen thieves like Taylor Marsh who want to dress provocatively in the office and yet criticize men for staring at their breasts. If you display your wares, men are going to look. This (aside from nursing) is what breasts are for.

And if you react like a scalded cat, you earn the enmity of not just men but other women who aren't taken seriously as professionals thanks to your destructive game playing.

Likewise, if your conception of being "manly" includes the "right" to display full nudity in the workplace and call anyone who has an issue with that a joyless scold with sexual issues, well, I'm going to call BS on that because I happen to think that's unprofessional as hell. When I show up in an office, I don't expect to see either the Playmate of the Month or Casey Donovan's wanker. It's an unnecessary distraction, just as seeing your children scurrying around the office is an unnecessary distraction. Leave the personal at home.

4. Women who feel validated by putting other women down need to knock it off.

Again, to head off the by-now-mandatory flood of "Ooooh! you frigid, joyless scold" remarks, let me refer you to Stipulation #1:





Happy now? But what I like even less is seeing women who for some unknown reason feel obligated to unleash the tactical nukes on other women who disagree with them. It's bad enough watching the men go to town on these women.

But quite frankly, I'm not any more impressed with the "I mail my husband/SO" porn argument than I would be with the "I mail my husband/SO" any other contraband in violation of General Order #1.

Good for you. So what, precisely, is your plan if he gets in trouble because of something you unwisely sent him? Because, you know, that thought occurred to me too. Several times. At my age, there is very little that doesn't occur to me.

If I had a dime for every officer from whom I've seen comments about his wife mailing him some form of contraband on this topic, I'd be a rich woman. And hey, whatever floats your boat. None of my business, really. But does it ever occur to you people what kind of example that sets?

We all know there are rules out there, which we may not as private citizens care for.

We all also know that people can and do go around them.

I think we all also realize that in general it sucks to be an officer because you really are supposed to be trying to enforce those rules, whether or not you personally endorse them or the morality/ends they seek to uphold. The thing is, I don't understand people who feel it necessary to undermine the command.

I really don't understand officers who feel this need. Part of what you are getting paid for is to support the command, even when you disagree with it. This was what I liked so much about Sec. Gates' speech the other day: sure, voice your dissent all the way up to the point where the decision goes against you. But then, it is your duty as officer to faithfully implement policy.


And it seems to me that it really doesn't help to have officers (and milbloggers) openly making it quite plain that they go out of their way to personally flout the rules whenever possible.

Or didn't that occur to you?

Yeah. I guess not. We don't have to talk about everything we do in life, and yeah, I guess I'm a joyless scold for reminding some people of things that are (or ought to be) uncomfortable. Get the fuck over it.

Maybe that's just one more thing "we women" do in life. I'm not anyone's mother, nor do I aspire to be. No one has to listen to me, or be persuaded by anything I say. But one thing I will never do is back down from what I genuinely believe to be the right thing in life. Even if I know beforehand it is going to cause some people to think I am sanctimonious or preachy.

To me, that is the definition of honor: to defend the principles you think are right. In this case, that has very little to do with porn and everything to do with staying true to what we purport to believe in.

I guess I've said my piece.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:56 AM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

April 25, 2008

Photo of the Day


Oh... the guilt...

Posted by Cassandra at 07:28 AM | Comments (36) | TrackBack

Comfortably Dumb

Not long ago on a breezy morning I drove hell for leather through the sun dappled woods, scattering squirrels before me like autumn leaves on the ribbon of road before my squealing tires. As so often happens when I'm driving, I had one of those flashes of insight that seem so amazing at the moment they impact a quietly racing mind.

Later, of course, one wonders if they will survive thoughtful analysis? Were they really all that interesting, or did the early morning sunshine imbue yet another random cranial meandering with false luminescence?

I was driving my son's car, enjoying the feel of the tires hugging the road and the sensation of shifting gears once again after far too long behind the wheel of our mid-size automatic SUV. Strange how it made me feel so young again, the familiar feel of a smaller, manual transmission vehicle. It felt right. I felt connected to the road; not how I so often feel when driving our new car. Insulated, as though I'm floating a few inches above the highway, not really driving the car myself.

Sure, it's less of a hassle during rush hour. No more constant shifting of gears. No ache in the left knee sometimes when I am stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But the joy is gone. That is what hard work and the affluence that came with it purchase. Automatic transmissions. Fences. Larger yards. Gated communities. Insulation from the day to day inconveniences of life.

But also, the loss of joy and connectedness. Somewhere in the search for security, for freedom from inconvenience, from want, from ugliness, from the ups, downs, bumps, jostles, and random unpredictability of a life lived on the edge, we purchase a buffer zone for ourselves and our loved ones.

We became comfortably numb. Because you can't eliminate the lows without losing the highs too.

I hate numb. I want to feel alive, even with all the risks and inconveniences that entails. I have nothing against prosperity, but I don't wish to lose that sense of connectedness in my life. This is what I have seen so many people do: they become well to do and forget where they came from. They lose the relationship between work and rewards. Or more accurately their children do. It is easy to do. All of a sudden, they don't want to roll their sleeves up, get their hands dirty when the unglamorous jobs in life need doing. You see, they're special:

Buckethead John has the tale of a reserve Navy lieutenant who refused orders to go on an individual augment, including the reaction of another junior officer already forward on his own IA.

LT Weiner of WA has taken it upon herself to disgrace every other junior officer that has ever served in the Navy by violating some time-tested rules for JOs. She was ordered to go to Iraq as an IA, but has refused. This is not a conscientious objector issue, but rather appears that her motives are much more self-centered.

Clicking through to the original article, I am dumbfounded at the depth of this young woman's self-absorption:

Speaking publicly for the first time about it, Weiner says she was not against the war but the so-called "individual augmentee" program. In the past several years, that program has sent nearly 60,000 sailors from ships and bases to augment Army and Marine ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It is not an against-the-war argument but a people-accountability argument," Weiner says. "I was proud to say I was a Navy officer. My problem is the way they are using us as IAs. It minimizes the job and training we do for the Navy."

It cannibalizes the Navy -- and Air Force -- to cover up a shortage of Army and Marine troops to fight the wars, she argues.

Her last good report was November 2007, this time newly assigned to a joint service unit of the Selective Service System in New Orleans.

"She is most strongly recommended for promotion and greater responsibility in the Naval Reserve," her commander wrote.

It all unraveled on Jan. 9 when she received orders to be called up.

She agonized over the policy and her own convictions, readiness and obligations as an officer. The job seemed to her a random call for a warm body.

"I was not afraid of dying; I was afraid of acting out of weakness," she said. "It would have been easier to just go along with it." Weiner was to report Jan. 28. She was depressed, and she tried to call local Navy lawyers for advice. "I was told they could do nothing because I'm a reservist" with her headquarters in New Orleans, she said.

She turned to GI Rights hot line, a nonprofit organization at www.objector.orgthat offers legal help to servicemen and women, especially to those refusing to go to war.

Weiner found a lawyer and filed a request for personal hardship. In a conference call, her commanding offer was angry at her, she said. "I never got to tell them why I was refusing to deploy," she said. He ordered her report to New Orleans.

Weiner said she refused to report while her request for exemption was in the pipeline. Counselors and lawyers seemed unfamiliar with how to handle officers refusing to report, having handled mostly Army enlisted personnel.

A Navy official tried to reach her at her parents' home. Weiner was told to report voluntarily or risk arrest and being transported in shackles.

"My dad said, 'We support you. They are trying to send you to an Army position in Iraq. I understand.' "

It's interesting. I received a phone call at the beginning of this week from the Marine Corps Family Team Building Center. It was a nice phone call, if a bit puzzling. They were checking up on my after my husband's recent deployment. One of the questions they asked was whether anyone had ever contacted me during his year long absence to offer any support.

I said, "No." Because no one did. It wasn't a big deal. He was in an Individual Augment billet. I decided not to post a rather heated comment here at VC just a few days ago. It was probably better not voiced, but what prompted it was a remark about people being "sent" off to war.

It pissed me off, because my husband wasn't "sent" to Iraq. He asked to go. More accurately, he had to go out of his way (essentially find himself a job) to get over there. I've seen many Marines and Army and civilian contractors do that, just because they thought they ought to be doing their part. It certainly wasn't going to do him any good career-wise. He is what they call 'terminal': i.e., close to retirement. He couldn't care less what anyone thinks of him, or what goes onto his fitrep at this point. He just did what he thought was the right thing, and the job he went over there to do was not a job that used his full talents, or one that was glamorous, or even one he was 'trained for'.

If you ask me (not that anyone did) I think he was bored out of his mind for most of the 12 months he was over there. But the job needed to be done, and grown ups eat their vegetables. Someone has to do the unglamorous jobs in life. Unless, of course, you are Lieutenant Sabrina M. Weiner, United States Navy.

What in the hell was she thinking? Serving the Constitution? People are already saying that the Army and Marine Corps are at war and the Air Force and Navy are not. This blog has tried - and tried hard, because we know there are good people like BillT over there right now, not to be one of the snarkers in that chorus. People like Lt. Weiner don't help the Navy's reputation, and I say that as someone whose father and father in law were career officers. 60,000 other Navy men and women have done their duty, but she is a special case. Except that, in talking to my husband, there are apparently others who have a problem serving outside their service and outside their occupational specialty in time of war. Lex (despite being doomed to spend his days as a Nasal Radiator rather than as one of the Few and the Loud) gets it exactly right:

There’s a world of difference between volunteering for hard service or a bad deal and doing what you’re told to do, just like there’s a reason they’re called “orders” and not “do you wannas”. The oath of office says that we’ll support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, but it doesn’t guarantee we’ll get to do that from the deck of a warship. That’s life in the fleet - sometimes things suck. Best to shut up, ruck up and get it over with. Orders are orders - misery is optional.

When did Americans become so rigid, so precious, so unadaptable? What happened to the can-do spirit the world once admired?

Over at the Castle, John Donovan highlights a remarkable speech by SecDef Robert Gates. He begins with a history lesson:

The relatively unknown Major General Fox Connor was a mentor to both General's Eisenhower and Marshall, and was highly thought of by General of the Armies "Blackjack" Pershing.

One of his enduring legacies (and one enshrined in the Powell Doctrine) was his three principles of war for a democracy:

· Never fight unless you have to;
· Never fight alone;
· And never fight for long.

This topic was the subject of a lecture that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, on Monday, 21 April. In this lecture, he discussed the current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan using those principle as the lens of his discussion.

He does not offer answers, as much as he offers insight, and he says to the audience of cadets and faculty:

In discussing Fox Conner's three axioms, I've raised questions and provided few, if any, answers, and that's the point. It is important that you think about all this, not just at the Academy but throughout your military careers, and come to your own conclusions.

Emphasis mine.

Ah yes. The Powell Doctrine. Or more accurately if one can discount the media cant, the Weinburger Doctrine. More simply put, democracies have no business waging wars.

As my husband likes to say, it's a concept. If only we lived in a world where such luxuries were possible. Gates' speech is really a miracle of subtlety. I commend it to you, as John does, it its entirety. It is almost certain to be misreported, because (like the war itself) it doesn't have a pat message that can be easily encapsulated in a neat little catchphrase. It urges you to think:

Consider the conflicts today. Afghanistan is widely viewed as a war of necessity – striking back at the staging ground of the perpetrators of the September 11th attack. The Iraq campaign, while justified in my view, is seen differently by many people. Two weeks ago I testified, in front of the Congress on the Iraq War. I observed that we were attacked, at home in 2001, from Afghanistan. And we are at war in Afghanistan today, in no small measure, because we mistakenly turned out backs on Afghanistan after the Soviet troops left in the late 1980s.

We made a strategic mistake in the endgame of that war. If we get the endgame wrong in Iraq, I told the Congress, the consequences will be far worse.

Truth to tell, it's a hard sell to say we must sustain the fight in Iraq right now and continue to absorb the high financial and human cost of the struggle, in order to avoid an even uglier fight or even greater danger to our country in the future. But we have Afghanistan to remind us that these are not just hypothetical risks.

Conner's axiom – never fight unless you have to – looms over policy discussions today over rogue nations like Iran that support terrorism; that is a destabilizing force throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia and, in my judgment, is hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. And in fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels. But the military option must be kept on the table, given the destabilizing policies of the regime and the risks inherent in a future Iranian nuclear threat – either directly or through nuclear proliferation.

And then there's the threat posed by violent jihadist networks. The doctrine of preemption has been criticized in many quarters, but it is an answer to legitimate questions. With the possibility of proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical materials, and the willingness of terrorists to use them without warning, can we wait to respond until after a catastrophic attack is either imminent or has already occurred? Given the importance of public opinion and public support, how does one justify military action to prevent something that might happen tomorrow or several years down the road? While "never fight unless you have to" does not preclude preemption, after our experience with flawed information regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, how high must the threshold of confidence in our intelligence have to be to justify at home and abroad a preemptive or preventive war?

No simple answers here. And no comfortable ones. And Gates goes on to address the important issue of integrity; of standing up for what one believes in, but more importantly, of how one goes about doing that within a military framework with honor:

More broadly, if as an officer – listen to me very carefully – if as an officer you don't tell blunt truths or create an environment where candor is encouraged, then you've done yourself and the institution a disservice. This admonition goes back beyond the roots of our own republic. Sir Francis Bacon was a 17th century jurist and philosopher as well as a confidante of the senior minister of England's King James. He gave this advice to a protégé looking to follow in his steps at court: “Remember well the great trust you have undertaken; you are as a continual sentinel, always to stand upon your watch to give [the king] true intelligence. If you flatter him, you betray him.” Remember that. If you flatter him, you betray him.

In Marshall's case, he was able to forge a bond of trust with Roosevelt not only because his civilian boss could count on his candor, because once a decision was made, FDR could also count on Marshall to do his utmost to carry out a policy – even if he disagreed with it – and make it work. This is important because the two men clashed time and again in the years that followed, ranging from yet more matters of war production to whether the allies should defer an invasion on the mainland of Europe.

Consider the situation in mid-1940. The Germans had just overrun France and the battle of Britain was about to begin. FDR believed that rushing arms and equipment to Britain, including half of America's bomber production, should be the top priority in order to save our ally. Marshall believed that rearming America should come first. Roosevelt overruled Marshall and others, and came down on what most historians believe is the correct decision – to do what was necessary to keep England alive.

The significant thing is what did not happen next. There was a powerful domestic constituency for Marshall's position among a whole host of newspapers and congressmen and lobbies, and yet Marshall did not exploit and use them. There were no overtures to friendly congressional committee chairmen, no leaks to sympathetic reporters, no ghostwritten editorials in newspapers, no coalition-building with advocacy groups. Marshall and his colleagues made the policy work and kept England alive.

In the ensuing decades, a large permanent military establishment emerged as a result of the Cold War – an establishment that forged deep ties to the Congress and to industry. And over the years, senior officers have from time to time been tempted to use these ties to do end runs around the civilian leadership, particularly during disputes over purchase of large major weapons systems. This temptation should and must be resisted.

Marshall has been recognized as a textbook model for the way military officers should handle disagreements with superiors and in particular with the civilians vested with control of the armed forces under our Constitution. So your duties as an officer are:

· To provide blunt and candid advice always;
· To keep disagreements private;
· And to implement faithfully decisions that go against you.

As with Fox Conner's lessons of war, these principles are a solid starting point for dealing with issues of candor, dissent and duty. But like Conner's axioms, applying these principles to the situations military leaders face today and in the future is a good deal more complicated.

Gates closes with words that echo an argument I made long ago during the brouhaha over another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. It was argued at that time that Secretary Rumsfeld had ruthlessly crushed dissent within the Pentagon; that full Generals were "afraid" to cross him.

I remember that controversy, because I argued vigorously that any General who was so attached to his stars that he forgot who he was there to protect was unworthy of that rank. Officers are, first and foremost, leaders of men and women. I am an officer's daughter. Officers have the privileges of rank, not because they are in any way special, but because they are entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the welfare and safety of the ranks beneath them. It is, at times, a crushing responsibility. If they fail in this responsibility, they are relieved and even court martialed, often for things they themselves did not do wrong, but merely failed to know about, prevent or detect. They bear responsibility not just for their own actions, but for the actions of those under their command.

Probably the single most difficult attribute to develop in a leader is sound judgment, but when I have seen this quality in an officer it is almost always grounded in a firm set of personal values:

Here at West Point, as at every university and company in America, there's a focus on teamwork, consensus-building and collaboration. Yet make no mistake, the time will come when you must stand alone in making a difficult, unpopular decision, or when you must challenge the opinion of superiors or tell them that you can't get the job done with the time and the resources available – a difficult charge in an organization built on a “can-do” ethos; or a time when you will know that what superiors are telling the press or the Congress or the American people is inaccurate. There will be moments when your entire career is at risk. What will you do? What will you do?

These are difficult questions that you should be thinking about, both here at West Point and over the course of your career. There are no easy answers.

But if you follow the dictates of your conscience and the courage of your convictions while being respectfully candid with your superiors while encouraging candor in others, you will be in good stead for the challenges you will face as officers and leaders in the years ahead.

Defend your integrity as you would your life. If you do this, I am confident when you face these tough dilemmas, you will, in fact, know the right thing to do.

More and more these days, I see America drifting down the easy path where we expect all privileges but no responsibilities. The idea that, as Philip Carter argues in the linked piece, one might have to do one's duty in a job one disagrees with, seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

The Powell Doctrine is, in my unvarnished opinion (though Gates didn't spell it out and it may not be his opinion, I will) the easy path. The perfect conditions for war are unlikely ever to exist in this imperfect world:

- broad international support
- clear (and sustainable) domestic support
- fully foreseeable consequences and exit strategy
- all risks/costs fully/frankly analyzed

And even if they did at the beginning of any military action, things change. As the old axiom states, no plan long survives contact with the enemy. Or these days, being hacked to death by our own press corps.

And yet our enemies do not fight under the same constraints. We exist in the affluent world, wrapped (as it were) in cotton wool, insulated from the accidental bumps and jarring discords of life by our standard of living. And so exigencies like forcing a young Navy Lieutenant to serve outside of her chosen occupational specialty during time of war seem intolerable to us, while half a world away our enemies are willing to strap explosives to women and children, if that is what it takes to win.

We have become comfortably dumb. Some of us, perhaps wilfully so.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:06 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Ass of Life Poetry Slam Results

Try not to faint. The princess has actually deigned to judge one of her contests... and in timely fashion, too. Don't get used to it.

First place honors go to Sly for this clever little verse, which the Princess found even funnier after looking at some photos of herself in a very clingy long dress (Carrie will know which ones, and no it wasn't 10 pounds!). But oh yeah... baby's got back:

Exclamatory shrieks herald
A loss of profound note.
Incredulous me
Says this cannot be
But you swear the scales so quote.
Lost! You retort,
The ten pound tire you acquired
On that Parisian junket.
Nay, I *sort*,
Look behind you...
You'll find it.

Cricket scored the second place booty with this fulsome verse:

The ass of life is like a mooned maid
Whose dusky cheek doth blush
At reference to her fulsome tush
In its appearance, lush.

Odes and sonnets are written of it.
Men weep when it jiggles past.
"Oh that I could but touch it once..
but it sashays off too fast."

bthun played on the Blog Princess' well-known love for the Bard with this riff on Romeo and Juliet for the third place prize:

SCENE II. PhiaGayBarville

But, soft! what light through yonder form-fit slacks breaks?
It is the southern hemisphere, and Ass of Life is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious Hill moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my tookus, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her cheeks discourses; I will answer them.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me they speak:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat their supple softness,
To twinkle in their spheres till they return
What if those dimples were there, they in their hip-huggers?
The brightness of her cheeks would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her cheeks in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheeks upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch those cheeks!

Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

Instead I shout, I grabbed her ass.

Posted by: Willy Reduxspear

Lots of great entries - it was great fun reading them this morning, and hard to choose only three winners. Thanks to everyone who played!

Posted by Cassandra at 05:43 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

April 24, 2008

Men of America - Beware!!!!

Who knows what Evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Apparently, bthun does. Disturbing story of the day:

Police in Congo have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.

[snip!] (yes, we know, that was tacky)

Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in an effort to avoid the sort of bloodshed seen in Ghana a decade ago, when 12 suspected penis snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs. The 27 men have since been released.

"I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke," Oleko said.

"But when you try to tell the victims that their penises are still there, they tell you that it's become tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it'," he said.

Some Kinshasa residents accuse a separatist sect from nearby Bas-Congo province of being behind the witchcraft in revenge for a recent government crackdown on its [Editorial note: we swear to God we did not make this up...] members.

"It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny," said 29-year-old Alain Kalala, who sells phone credits near a Kinshasa police station.

We are speechless.

Just speechless.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:20 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Interesting Question

An interesting question arose in the comments section, and I got curious about it (mostly because my memory isn't all that good when extending that far back).

When did you first purchase a cell phone?

The blog princess doesn't mind admitting she was a late adopter. She had one for work somewhere around 2002 but almost never used it. She can't even remember when she and the Unit first got cell phones. All she knows is that she didn't give the number out to anyone and she only bought them to use in case of emergency (a roadside breakdown, or some other urgent situation).

It wasn't until last year that she actually began using her cell phone as a phone, and even now she doesn't talk much on it. Only a few people have the number and there aren't many people in her address book.

But she just purchased her first smart phone and she's terribly excited about it. Welcome to the dark side.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:21 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack


The hell with the blogmeet! After listening to this gentleman for a few minutes, I'd vote for him for President. (moderate language)

OK, I'm being facetious. He's a bit young.

But I'd pay real money to see him take on Helen Thomas.

Via Fausta, Hip Hop Republican (very good and new-to-me site - do take the time to check it out).

Thanks so much to Glenn for the tip. Made my morning :)

Update: Erica's comment reminded us of one of our fave expostulations!

(below the fold)

Helen Thomas on a treadmill!

OK, that was unforgivable...

Posted by Cassandra at 06:38 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

April 23, 2008

Great Moments In Journalistic Navel-Gazing

What is best in life? To watch the lamestream media engage in bouts of unintentionally ironic hanky twisting "introspection":

This bring us to a touchy subject – why do we in the media pay attention to speeches such as this?

Hawking is undoubtedly an inspiring man and a brilliant scientist. But what does he really know about space exploration? More than me almost certainly. But more than many of those those working at Nasa and ESA? I doubt it.

This is another example of misplaced attention. When Hawking has something to say about cosmology I’m all ears, but I’d rather have experts stick to their topics of knowledge.

Exactly. After all, listening to a world famous theoretical physicist who specialized in the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity talk about the need for space exploration isn't nearly as ridiculous as, say, listening to a former Senator from Tennessee wag his finger at us about Global Warming.

Or taking advice from a Hollywood actress on foreign policy issues.

Or even (heaven forfend!) like taking the uncorroborated word of an unseen, unnamed Anonymous Source who speaks off the record and only on the condition that he not be identified because the terms of his employment forbid him from speaking to the media about his job, but who should (inexplicably) be considered "trustworthy"** nonetheless.


Especially when this Anonymous Source just "happens" to have a nifty draft copy of a classified document he'll gladly grant the reporter access to! Of course, "technically" it *is* against the law to leak classified information to the media.

This might be disturbing, if we didn't know that "good" and "evil" are outdated constructs of a reflexively authoritarian religious reich right which have no place in an educated society. Free actors understand that true morality can only exist in the absence of artificial and unduly confining notions of "right" and "wrong", "legal", and "illegal". It is the job of a free press to provide much-needed context, such as the fact that there are "good" leaks and "bad" leaks ("good" and "bad" in this sense having entirely new meanings that have been "reclaimed" by the media and purged of their dark, religion-tinged past. Thank Gaia!)

And what's even better, because their moral authority remains uncorrupted by either the electoral process or the onerous burden of so-called "checks and balances", the press are uniquely annointed qualified to distinguish between "good" and "bad" leaks.

This, my friends, is why we so desperately need a federal shield law. It is all so incredibly simple when it is explained properly, n'est pas?

Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (87) | TrackBack

April 22, 2008

What Is This Country Coming To?

This is how freedom dies:

Details were scarce Friday, but the Wings have been told by the NHL that head octopus wrangler Al Sobotka no longer may swing the mollusks over his head while removing them from the ice at Joe Louis Arena. If he (or anyone else) does, the team will be fined $10,000.

That's $1,250 per tentacle.

In an e-mail to the Free Press, NHL spokesman Frank Brown gave this explanation: "Because matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice when he does it." The Wings wouldn't comment.

Ducks general manager Brian Burke complained about Sobotka's swinging last year. Before Friday's game, an octopus landed on the ice, as usual, and Nashville defenseman Greg Zanon whacked it aside with his stick.

First the Ass of Life crack.
And now this.

We're going to bed...

Posted by Cassandra at 12:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

'Ass of Life' Poetry Slam

The Editorial Staff is thinking that it is too long since we have had a poetry slam around this place.

The subject, today's news:

So round, so perfect
To attain the Ass of Life
This is the change that I seek....

Posted by Cassandra at 10:06 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Campaign Quote of the Day

"I think Chelsea looks better in person and she's got the body and ass of life,"

The Editorial Staff does not care who you are or what your political orientation: this is just plain funny.

But more importantly, we are outraged.

Why, oh why have we never been told we have "the ass of life"? It's almost enough to make us change parties, if only so we can sport really groovy campaign swag like this:


Interesting use of pop culture as persuasive authority. Not sure what the target demographic is. Ron Paul voters, perhaps?


This, on the otter heiny, is just plain disturbing.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

April 21, 2008

The Editorial Staff Protests

Sacre Bleu!

We are outraged! In fact, after an entire weekend, during which the Editorial Staff spent studiously avoiding having our attention raped by oxygen thieves, the terminally clue-impaired, and sociopaths in training we have come to the conclusion that it is time to declare a news blackout.

We do this in solemn solidarity with our suffering brethren at the New York Times. After many moons, laboring in the Stygian fields of print journalism, they have uncovered a plot so foul, so noisome, 'twill harrow your bones to the very marrow, dear friends:

Hold the front page! Heck, on second thought, hold three full inside pages as well. Notify the Pulitzer jurors. The New York Times has a blockbuster scoop. Its ace reporter, David Barstow, has uncovered shocking evidence that . . . the Pentagon tries to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media. Are you surprised? Outraged? Furious? Apparently the Times is: it’s found a new wrinkle in what it views as an insidious military propaganda campaign. You see, the Defense Department isn’t content to try to present its views simply to full-time reporters who are paid employees of organizations like the New York Times. It actually has the temerity to brief retired military officers directly, who then opine on TV and in print about matters such as the Iraq War.

Yes -- you may well gasp in horror at the very thought. As we all know, such delicate matters should be left to "professional" journalists like Thom Ricks and their unnamed, "Anonymous Sources", who illegally leak classified documents like that juicy report that (Thank God! for small favors!) told America just in the nick of time that Anbar province was "irretrievably lost" a few summers ago.

And then there was the New York Times and their ground breaking work with the SWIFT terrorist tracking program. It's a good thing they stopped that illegal program dead in its tracks by bypassing the designated Congressional oversight committees and leaking sensitive information directly on the front pages of the New York Times! Because after all, when the American people are threatened by elected leaders who may be unilaterally declassifying national secrets, bypassing Congress, and violating the law in the interest of keeping the nation safe, nothing reassures them faster than unelected newspaper editors who unilaterally declassify national secrets, bypass Congress, and break the law in the interests of keeping the nation safe!

They don't call it Accountability Journalism for nothing!

Feel free to let us know which breaking news stories you could gladly do without an update on in the comments section.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:28 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

April 17, 2008

How We Have Changed




Posted by Cassandra at 08:49 AM | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Steven Vincent, RIP


I am sipping coffee in my office. My keyboard stares snarkily back at me as I sleepily try to decide what to stun my dwindling readership senseless with today. Behind me, something unfamiliar beckons... a brand spanking new crib for The Burrito, just recently fetched and hastily assembled from the local Babies SureRExpensive. It is distracting the blog princess from her important ruminations on the global war on terriers.

It needs something. Perhaps crib bumpers? Green ones... with Winnie the Poo and Tigger, too:

The most wunnerful thing about Tigger
Is that Tigger's a wunnerful thing
His tail is made out of rubber
His butt is made out of springs

But I digress...

Is that Carrie snickering in the background? "Concentrate, womyn. Dammit!" I thought we were friends.

The New York Times is up to its usual shenanigans, winning those important hearts and minds... (for the other side):

If we told you that the New York Times had a front-page, above-the-fold story about a battle in Iraq, with a headline running two-thirds of the way across the page, you would naturally assume it was about a victory for our side, right?

Only if you've been asleep for the past 60 years.

The headline actually reads, "Iraqi Unit Flees Post, Despite America's Plea." It turns out barely four dozen Iraqi soldiers are involved:

A company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions on Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying American soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shiite militias.

The retreat left a crucial stretch of road on the front lines undefended for hours and led to a tense series of exchanges between American soldiers and about 50 Iraqi troops who were fleeing. . . .

This episode was a blow to the American effort to push the Iraqis into the lead in the struggle to wrest control of parts of Sadr City from the Mahdi Army militia and what Americans and Iraqis say are Iranian-backed groups.

How severe a blow it was is never made clear. In fact, the story seems to be incomplete.

But then so much seems to be ... shall we say... incomplete about the reporting from Basra these days. For weeks on end, our own media have been trumpeting to the skies how Basra has been a resounding setback for both the Maliki government and the US. One must go to the foreign press to get a different view:

Three weeks after Iraqi troops swarmed into the southern city of Basra to take on armed militiamen who had overrun the streets, many residents say they feel safer and that their lives have improved.

The fierce fighting which marked the first week of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) has given way to slower, more focused house-by-house searches by Iraqi troops, which led on Monday to the freeing of an abducted British journalist.

Residents say the streets have been cleared of gunmen, markets have reopened, basic services have been resumed and a measure of normality has returned to the oil-rich city.

The port of Umm Qasr is in the hands of the Iraqi forces who wrested control of the facility from Shiite militiamen, and according to the British military it is operational once again.

But then, as Kat reminds us, Basra was a swamp that needed draining and in doing so, brings back a ghost who has long haunted me:

Two and a half years ago, Steven Vincent, author of "In the Red Zone" was killed in Basra for reporting the truth that is still relevant today: Basra is the Sopranos on Steroids.

In his last report in the New York Times, July 31, 2005, Vincent wrote:

As has been widely reported of late, Basran politics (and everyday life) is increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups, from the relatively mainstream Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Recruited from the same population of undereducated, underemployed men who swell these organizations' ranks, many of Basra's rank-and-file police officers maintain dual loyalties to mosque and state.

In May, the city's police chief told a British newspaper that half of his 7,000-man force was affiliated with religious parties. This may have been an optimistic estimate: one young Iraqi officer told me that "75 percent of the policemen I know are with Moktada al-Sadr - he is a great man." And unfortunately, the British seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

How many people remember that Steven was the first American journalist to be attacked and killed during the war? Before his death, several journalists (most notably Michael Kelly of the Washington Post) had died in vehicle accidents or from illnesses.

Vincent was the first to suffer a violent death at the hands of the enemy. This was, perhaps, fitting for a man whose outlook on life would not have been unfamiliar to anyone in the armed forces:

Steven C. Vincent, a New York City journalist who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq on Tuesday, was described by friends and colleagues yesterday as an intrepid newsman roused by the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and committed to shoe-leather reporting, whatever the consequences.

Mr. Vincent resolved to go to Iraq, where he lived a hardscrabble life in a $15-a-day hotel and wrote articles about what he regarded as Islamic fascism. He compared his two trips to Iraq to the tours taken by journalists covering the rise of fascism in Europe during the Spanish Civil War.

Mr. Vincent wrote an account of his experience in Iraq after the American invasion titled "In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq" (Spence Publishing, 2004) and was at work on a contemporary history of the southern port city of Basra. He had planned to leave Iraq soon.

Mr. Vincent and his Iraqi interpreter were kidnapped on Tuesday evening in Basra, Iraqi and American authorities said yesterday. His body was found north of the city center hours later, and a hospital official said he had been shot three times in the chest. The interpreter, who was also shot, was hospitalized in serious condition.

On Sunday, Mr. Vincent wrote in an Op-Ed column for The New York Times that British military forces in the Basra region had turned a blind eye to large numbers of insurgents infiltrating the Basra police force. That force, he asserted, was becoming a roaming death squad.

Bruce Wolmer, editor in chief of Art + Auction magazine, was Mr. Vincent's longtime editor and described himself as a close friend. "Where there was a very difficult story where no one wanted to talk," Mr. Wolmer said, "where it involved a lot of investigative digging, someone who wasn't afraid to burn bridges, Steven was our guy."

But Mr. Vincent's interest in the art world abated after Sept. 11. In a 2004 interview with FrontPage magazine, a journal of conservative commentary, he said, "I figured our enemy was Islamic terrorism - and I wanted to do my part in the conflict. I'm too old to enlist in the armed services, so I decided to put my writing talents to use."

Steven Mumford, an artist friend with whom Mr. Vincent worked in Baghdad, said they stayed together in 2003 at the Orient Hotel, where rooms went for $15 a day.

Working on a shoestring budget, Mr. Mumford said, Mr. Vincent did not have the money for a bulletproof vest or a Kevlar helmet, let alone the bodyguards large news organizations routinely provide for their reporters. Mr. Vincent and his interpreters took taxis wherever they went, instead of armored vehicles.

In 2004, Mr. Mumford said in a telephone interview from his Manhattan apartment, Mr. Vincent came close to being attacked by a crowd in the troubled city of Najaf after a series of car bombings, apparently because he was a Westerner.

"His first instinct was to get the story and worry about his safety later," Mr. Mumford said.

I will never forget the day I learned of his death, nor the words that floated into my head. I think of them still, whenever I think of his work:

If you look far enough into his eyes
They'll rock you just like thunder

We never hear much about Steven Vincent from the mainstream media when they speak of how incredibly dangerous it is over there, yet he rode around in taxis without guards, body armor, or a big stipend from the home office. Why is that?

I think he put them to shame. I also think it was because he was a conservative.

I believe it was Marshall McLuhan who once said the medium is the message. The sad truth with news reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan is that morale - your morale - has become the message. Somehow, they have managed to set us, those who are for and those who are against this war, at each other's throats; and that is bad for America.

Another truth is that that the war is far more complex than their day to day reporting can possibly encompass. As I mentioned yesterday, honest people can disagree as to whether what we are doing half a world away is worth the candle. That is, ultimately, a question of valuation; not one of fact. The sad thing is that those who ought to be giving us a rounded picture of the scene are not doing so. We are getting a profoundly skewed picture not only of the war, but of our own basic nature as Americans.

There is so much good in the world: so much decency right here in America that we are exporting to lands far distant in space and time:

People cannot always do great things, but sometimes they can do small things with great kindness -- even in a war zone.

A little Iraqi Bedouin girl with a badly burned arm gave Capt. Jon Brillhart and members of his Virginia Army National Guard unit the chance to be kind.

The story began, physician assistant Brillhart said, late one morning in early October with a radio call from a combat medic on a route-security mission "somewhere" in Iraq.

The message relayed to his desk said a 4-year-old girl had fallen into her family's campfire, severely burning her right arm from hand to elbow.

Brillhart is the medical officer for the state Guard's 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry, operating in southern Iraq and northern Kuwait.

He was interviewed by telephone and e-mail from the unit's base at Camp Beuhring in Kuwait, a little way from the Iraqi border.

Without immediate treatment, the child's arm would become infected quickly and would have to be amputated. "This girl needed definitive advanced care quickly," he said.

This wasn't the first time local Iraqis needed medical care from Brillhart's soldiers, but because of the dangers from ambush, unexploded munitions and roadside bomb attacks, U.S. commanders don't send their troops "outside the wire" lightly.

Lt. Col. Walter Mercer, a Hanover County school teacher, commands the squadron's 500 soldiers.

After weighing the possible threats against Brillhart's recommendation, the cavalry squadron launched an emergency medical team into the night: 12 soldiers, four heavily armed and armored Humvees, and Brillhart.

At the nomadic Bedouins' camp, he said, the Guardsmen formed the gun trucks into a defensive perimeter -- "weapons charged" -- in the desert.

"I can remember the peaceful stillness in the air as we walked towards the family's three-sided tent," said Brillhart, who works in an orthopedic surgery center in Portsmouth. "There were thousands of stars out and hundreds of sheep roaming freely at our feet."

Still, the 44-year-old medical officer from Portsmouth acknowledged being nervous: "We were not only making ourselves a target but also my patient as well."

Then "an elderly female dressed in all black emerged from the darkness holding a small girl . . . with [her] right arm outstretched," he said.

Brillhart's examination revealed that the girl, whose name was Fatma, had suffered extensive second-degree burns -- from the tips of her fingers to her right elbow, he said.

Bits of wood and sand stuck to the burned and blackened tissue.

He removed the dead skin, a tedious and extremely painful process -- "I did see tears often" -- and dressed the wound.

"Fatma never flinched," Brillhart said. "She is an extremely brave little girl."

"I remember the drive back from the camp, wondering if the girl would be OK throughout the night," he said. "Truthfully, I never imagined I would be doing this in the desert of Iraq, with limited supplies, and a not-so-ideal sterile setting."

The next day, he and Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Peacock, a medic from Suffolk, returned to examine the burns. "Fatma's care continued almost daily for several weeks as we meticulously debrided and cleaned her wounds," Brillhart said.

By the Americans' third visit, she would greet Brillhart by name.

"She continued to remain strong throughout the encounters," he said, "and we began to develop a special bond."

The cavalrymen took Fatma's family under their wing, with the Virginians' relatives back home donating boxes of clothing for the Bedouins.

Though communication, even with an Arabic translator, was difficult, Brillhart said, "the family was extremely grateful."

Then the nomadic sheep herders -- in the midst of Fatma's care -- folded their tents and vanished into the vast desolate desert.

"We were devastated," Brillhart said, "and I personally feared that we had not done enough to save the arm and hand from certain infection."

Early last month, a patrol from the 183rd happened upon Fatma and her grandmother, walking along the road the soldiers were covering.

The girl had full use of her arm and hand. The badly injured limb had healed completely.

The squadron's citizen-soldiers are due to return to Virginia next month.

Some day, in an arid land beneath a still slumbering desert sun, a radiant dark eyed bride may one day rise to meet her bridegroom.

And perhaps as she makes her preparations, she will remember to call Captain Brillhart of Virginia blessed in the name of Allah. For every horror story that is bruited about by the NY Times, there are hundreds of Steven Vincents and Captain Brillharts in tiny papers we never learn of because the megaphone is too small. But they still exist, and they have their effect all the same.

We just need to learn not to let the Times get us down, or they win.

CWCID: spd rdr for the 183rd Cav. story.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:04 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

April 16, 2008

A Suspension of Contempt

"Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less."
-Robert E. Lee

I woke this morning knowing I could no longer put this off. For well over a year a feeling has been building inside of me, but until now I could see no useful purpose in naming the thing I see everywhere I look these days.

There is an ancient superstition which whispers that to name a thing gives it power. I think part of the rationalization for this idea lies in the notion that so long as certain things remain partially hidden, never quite seen in their entirety, decent people are still ashamed to acknowledge them in the harsh light of day.

My father was a Navy man. So, too, was my father in law. Both served full careers and retired as Captains. Destroyer men, they were. Both served in Vietnam. My Uncle Mel was a Marine in WWII, my Grandfather served in the Army. I have ancestors who served all the way back to the Civil (both sides) and Revolutionary wars. So although marrying a military man formed no part of my plans as a young girl, when my husband informed me he had signed up for Marine Officer ROTC, what could I do? I had already said, "I do". I loved my husband, and I love my country. Both deserve my support, and not just when that support is easy and convenient.

A promise is a promise. I was in for the duration, either way.

The ironic thing was that during my formative years I'd watched my mother (with much love and admiration) struggle with yearly moves, sea duty, and the loneliness and worry that come with being a Navy wife. Consequently, I swore I would never marry a Navy man. No worries. It seemed Fate had a far crueler destiny in mind for me. I would go through life handcuffed to a chicken on a beach ball.

My mind drifts back to this often now when I read the media's heart rending accounts of young Army officers "forced" to leave the service so their brides can attend college [sniff!]. This is -alas! - the only way they and their families can have a "normal" life. I wonder, as I read, what is normal like? Was my life ever normal? Would I trade one precious second of the profoundly un-normal last three decades for that more tranquil existence, for more money, for the dreamy McMansions we keep looking at, the ones with brick all the way around the house instead of just on the front facade? The ones with all the trimmings I can think up - and I can think up a lot, trust me on that one.

I can imagine a lot of tranquility, too. But are these things: college, jobs, material possessions, what make up the good life? Or is it the friends - the connections - we gather along the way that truly matter, even if they tend to make our lives a bit hectic and messy?

Recently I had the chance to be involved with a small-talk, side conversation with some senior spouses (O & E) and something started percolating around in my head (not too unlike the old Maxwell House coffee commercial showing the fresh perked coffee splashing inside that tiny little glass handle). A smidge of the conversation involved how busy everyone was and all of the things that went into making everyone's day soooo busy. Kids--to and from school plus after-school activities; family things--shopping, washing clothes, dry cleaners, trying to make nutritious meals without making daily trips to the commissary; church groups and the various clubs and committees there-in; and, support to their DH, not necessarily of DH in his job, simply the support of their DH, because he was dad, father, husband, bread-winner.

I asked what I consider of importance and have commented on in this venue a few times. It basically went like this, "Since everyone is so busy, how do you reach out to the younger spouses, not just new in your unit, but new to our world, and see to their needs?" The spontaneous answer was quite interesting ...

"They don't." And when I followed-up with, "Just how do the younger spouses know what to do and the protocols and the expectations, so that their pockets will have the tools they'll need to use to grow up to become, ... you?" And the answer by committee was, "Somebody else will have to figure that one out because we don't have enough time." I was floored, because I knew that wasn't the way they were brought up in our Service. Fortunately for the most part, the gals I was talking to and the community of spouses they represent is only a segment of our spouse population. But it's there.

If I had the chance to call for an Extreme Makeover of my life, this time in NY Times Civilian Mode, would I ask for the Designer Life, complete with earlier college education (and advanced degree) and the big fancy house we could so easily have afforded with my husband's very competitive college record and board scores and my own aptitudes? Would I have opted for putting my children in day care instead of sullying my hands by raising them myself? Certainly, I wouldn't have had my own stories like this to tell:

LCPL Dark Prince has only been gone for about two weeks and both his father and I are keeping busy and staying strong. The upside to the communication fiasco is that I do not have to talk to all my relatives and friends about how they remember Dark Prince as a little boy:

1. The time he peed in the little tykes kitchen coffeepot.
2. The time he turned a toy pickup truck into a dump truck. (Just use your imagination)
3. The time he gave Ross a swirlie in middle school.
4. The time he filled Susan M.'s purse with parmesan cheese at a dinner party.

Boys. I laughed so hard when I read that, and for a moment I saw my own firstborn, strawberry blonde hair and freckled skin glowing from exertion (that child was born running) off in the distance, the family beagle and younger brother trailing along in hot pursuit of something I Profoundly Did Not Want To Know More About. What doesn't kill us as parents makes us stronger.

No, on balance, I don't think I would trade a moment of my life. Not for the world. And that is what saddens and disheartens me so about the thing I mentioned at the beginning of this post; the thing I see everywhere I look these days. There is a name for it. It used to be partially hidden, this thing. It is not hidden anymore.

That thing is contempt:

What disappoints me about this piece though, is despite all of Cavett’s smart-ass banter about language, the piece is nothing more than an unbridled display of contempt. “I guess a guy bearing up under such a chestload of hardware - and pretty ribbons in a variety of decorator colors - can’t be expected to speak like ordinary mortals, for example you and me.” I suppose not, Dick. Perhaps because Petraeus is not just some ordinary guy, or someone who makes his living talking on TV about cocktail parties. His “pretty ribbons” aren’t some trendy lapel adornment, and when he must give orders something more vital happens than a servant appearing with another round of Campari and soda.

You can disagree with the Bush administration and their representatives about the waging of the Iraq war, it’s well within your rights to do so, and many join in your concerns. But comparing the ”tinpot Ghen Khan of Crawford” to General Custer? That, Dick, is just plain lame.

And it's not just Dick Cavett. It didn't just begin with him, and as I noted the other day, this contempt for military service and everything it stands for has been coming out of the woodwork for some time now. I Googled the phrase "Veterans memorials vandalized" the other day and got quite a few entries. I stopped after just the first few. It was discouraging.

Shortly after the beginning of my husband's year-long tour in Baghdad, I told him to be careful. I wasn't worried much about the insurgency. What worried me, really, was the rising anti-military feeling I sensed back here at home. I told him over the phone that a tide had turned in American public opinion and it was an ugly feeling. A great many people, no matter what they may say publicly, did not support the troops. If you doubt that, you need look no farther than progressive sites like Crooks and Liars or ThinkProgress. The anti-military hate spewed there is enough to turn the stomach. They have criminalized mere political disagreement. Now it is no longer acceptable to live in a pluralistic society where honest disagreement on major policy questions is possible between men and women of good will. To disagree with them is to be a liar, a cheat, a murderer.

I read Dick Cavett's deplorable opinion piece and saw not General Petraeus, but my husband being pilloried. He is but one rank below the good General. My mind drifted back to a brilliantly sunny September morning in 2001 when I sat numbly at my desk in McLean, Virginia wondering whether I would ever see the love of my life again as black smoke rose from the roof of the building of his office, miles away.

I remembered a day, weeks later, at sunset. He was still at work. He was always at work. As 'essential personnel' at the Pentagon, he was going in at all hours, day and night. His clothes and hair were permeated with the smell of bitter, acrid smoke. I sat alone at his mother's house waiting for the moment when the sun would set and the neighbors would emerge from their houses, each with a single candle in their hand.

In remembrance. In silent solidarity. In grief for our lost loved ones, for the death of our innocence: for the belief that we could ever again feel that golden sense of invulnerability that used to be America.

I remember the moment when that little 'plink' announced that another email had dropped into my Inbox at work. This time from my husband. I still remember the words:

"Babe. I know we were planning on retiring. But I cannot, in good conscience with everything that is going on in the world, get out now. I think important things are going to happen and the Marine Corps will need all the leaders it can get. I still think I have something to contribute, and believe it is important to stay in and do my part. I trust you will understand."

And I did. And I do. And I always will.

Just as people like Dick Cavett will never understand. I think he imagines people in the military gleefully rushing off to fight the Hun. No one - least of all the military - likes war. Mr. Cavett has never led men into battle. He has never had to watch a friend's face crumple when she learns her husband is dead. He has never taken a bullet in the chest, or had his pelvis shattered and kept reporting for duty as soon as he possibly could, because that is what you do when your job is important.

Men like Cavett like to pretend doing ones' duty is optional. Who knows? Perhaps in their world, it is? Their somewhat bizarre world view allows them to mock what they will never comprehend. But the complex reality they refuse to acknowledge or respect is that, if everyone thought as they do, America would be defenseless against fanatacists who have sworn never to stop until we are wiped off the face of the earth. Men like Cavett can contend until the end of time that extremists are not a threat. The truth of the matter is, the only thing standing between him and violent extremists are the kind of men he likes to belittle. If he doesn't show up for work, a column doesn't get written. If they don't show up for work, someone may die. Thousands may die. Nations, sometimes.

They are police, like my 25 year old son, the little redhead I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. You know: the ones who perpetrate "copspeak" (except my son doesn't talk like that, nor do any of his friends). They are the ones Dick Cavett loves to mock in the New York Times, though I doubt Cavett really knows any cops. They don't quite fit into his social milieu. That's one of the first things cops give up when they choose a life of public service. Cachet isn't one of the perks that come with low status occupations like police or military work.

During Petraeus' September testimony, Hillary Clinton loftily informed him it would require a "willing suspension of disbelief" before Congress would credit his testimony on Iraq. To these ears, the Senator from NY had called the good General a presumptive liar. Well, this Marine wife is an ordinary American; college educated, hard working, with an above average IQ. She pays her bills and her taxes on time.

When politicians and public figures like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Dick Cavett sneer at and treat military officers with contempt, she sees her husband in their place. And she remembers. She remembers everything she has given up for nearly thirty years to support his military career, and as she watches her husband's service being spit on by the very people he has served so loyally and so well, she can't help but wonder what any of these men could possibly have done to invite such treatment, or when doing ones' duty became grounds for contempt and derision?

Instead of a suspension of disbelief, how about a suspension of contempt for a change from the snooty elitists in Washington and the leftist punditocracy? You don't have to take anyone's word for anything. Challenge the good General on his testimony. Challenge him on the facts if you wish. But check the ad hominems at the door. Just because he wears the uniform of the day doesn't give you carte blanche to take cheap potshots at medals that commemorate battles where better men than you will ever be have fought and died for ideals they believed were worth fighting for, even if you do not.

How about a little respect? I don't see the good General treating his questioners with contempt. From where I sit, Mr. Cavett, you are beating up on the military precisely because you know they cannot - by law - fight back. How about a little decency, which used to be called ordinary politeness in the civilian world. That would be truly refreshing. But I won't hold my breath waiting for it.

Update: The Torch burns brightly in Canada: we are not alone in this fight.

And that's something we here in the States need to remember more often.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:26 AM | Comments (152) | TrackBack

April 15, 2008

Rant of the Day

Via Kathleen Parker:

Priceless. Just priceless.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:01 AM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

Guess The Party?

This is just plain creepy:

Those who peer at children in public could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Maine soon.

A bill that passed the House last month aims to strengthen the crime of visual sexual aggression against children, according to state Rep. Dawn Hill, D-York.

Her involvement started when Ogunquit Police Lt. David Alexander was called to a local beach to deal with a man who appeared to be observing children entering the community bathrooms. Because the state statute prevents arrests for visual sexual aggression of a child in a public place, Alexander said he and his fellow officer could only ask the man to move along.

"There was no violation of law that we could enforce. There was nothing we could charge him with," Alexander said.

He attended a talk with Hill a week later and brought the case to her attention. Hill pledged to do what she could, Alexander said, and the result was a change through the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in the House, which made the law applicable in both private and public places....

Under the bill, if someone is arrested for viewing children in a public place, it would be a Class D felony if the child is between 12 to 14 years old and a Class C felony if the child is under 12, according to Alexander.

Hill said she believes the move was necessary to correct what she called a "loophole" in the state's criminal law statutes.


It is, apparently, not bad enough that our schools are teaching children to be paranoid about strangers. Now they are going to be terrified of eyeballs.

Wunderbar. When the possession and use of Eyeballs (or more specifically, Evil Men's Eyeballs) near children has been made a felony offense, only The Bad People will have them and violent crime will magically vanish from the face of the earth.

I don't know about you, but I feel so much safer now.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:35 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

April 14, 2008

Politicizing The Medal of Honor?

Interesting charge:

I have to agree, this was not the Bush administration's finest hour. Say it after me: Thou shalt not exploit the granting of a Medal of Honor for political advantage.

That said, our lame-duck President is not out for partisan advantage so much as political capital to defend a policy that he genuinely believes to be in the national interest. But still.

Michael Monsoor was, above all, a warrior. Yet it seems we are to condemn his Commander in Chief for furthering the cause for which he unhesitatingly gave his life. It seems to have become fashionable among the smart set to criticize that which they little understand. To hear these critics, the White House can never do enough to counter the 24/7 antiwar barrage from the media; yet if they do take proactive steps to counter it (or even to recognize the heroic acts of our military) they are immediately accused, on no evidence that I am able to discern, of exploiting the sacrifices of our armed forces. Quite a conundrum; one suspects there is nothing that would satisfy their critics except offer our abject and unconditional surrender.

Even if he did do what Tigerhawk accuses him of, it is hardly bad counterterrorism strategy to recognize stories of extreme heroism, especially at critical junctures in our political history:

Sun Tzu ... observed that of the five fundamental factors affecting war, the first is moral influence: “that which causes the people to be in harmony with their leaders so that they will accompany them in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.” Elsewhere he observes, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” In effect, Sun Tzu is advocating psychological undermining of the enemy, a prescription still valid today.

What, precisely, is so wrong about highlighting an inspiring story like Monsoor's? Are military families supposed to be offended that it might shame our Congressional overlords into doing the right thing for once?

Speaking of suspicious political timing, has anyone Googled "veterans memorial vandalized" lately? Talk about the politicization of our military's sacrifices. And yet I don't see a single shred of outrage from Phillip Carter or anyone else in the mainstream media.

Why is that, do you think?

Is it, perhaps, for the very same reason that Dana Priest showed absolutely NO interest in the decades-old deplorable state of military medicine... until it gave her a handy weapon with which to beat the Bush administration about the head and shoulders? Convenient, the way that worked out.

Is it, perhaps, for the very same reason that the New York Times devoted God knows how many staff hours to chasing down conveniently self-confirming news reports of vets involved in violent crimes (how many time do they mention the former professions of other arrestees?) when they show absolutely no curiosity about the sudden rise in attacks on war memorials?

If the "stress and strain of combat" causes military vets to become violent and unpredictable, what, pray tell, is causing the sudden spike in ugly, violent attacks by ostensibly peaceful civilians mobilizing against the war?

Two teens have been charged with vandalism for allegedly opening fire -- with a paintball gun -- on the helicopter in Veterans Memorial Park last summer.
The cleanup cost for January's war memorial vandalism at Veteran's Memorial Park: a whopping $4,000, city officials say.

In a letter to the Kent County Circuit Court probation department, city attorneys said park staff managed to clean five granite markers featuring the names of fallen soldiers, but the graffiti paint still left a shadow.

Local Veteran Fed Up With Memorial Vandalism

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) ― Vandals have hit the Veterans War Memorial at Sacramento's Capitol Park. Veterans say it is a recurring problem and now they're fighting back.

He spent 3 years serving in Vietnam, and now Ken Nelson spends his days taking care of those who didn't make it back.

"This is the second best memorial in the country," Nelson says.

Nearly every day, Nelson protects the more than 5,200 names at the Vietnam War Memorial. But often, while polishing the bronze statues, he finds himself picking up what vandals left behind.

"People sleeping, use it for a toilet, total disrespect, it kind of hurt me," he says.

Nelson says it's been going on for some time. People litter, deface the statues, climb the flag pole, and just yesterday, sprayed graffiti.

"They don't have appreciation for the sacrifice people made, you know these people died," says Stephen Holm, a visitor to the memorial.

Surveillance cameras look over the memorial, but Nelson says it's not enough. He's asked investigators to step in and keep a closer eye on visitors. The California Highway Patrol says it's listening.

Hoosiers react to monument vandalism

Wednesday seemed like a normal spring day at the Canal Walk. But for visitors to the Medal of Honor memorial, a dirty secret marred an otherwise beautiful place, where vandals did a lot of damage. Glass panels on the monument were smashed early Tuesday morning. Obscene words about President Bush and Gov. Daniels, along with peace symbols were spray-painted on canal walls.

"I don't get it. I don't get it at all," said Tammy Hickman, a visitor. "It's really an indication of how morally bankrupt people are who were involved in this," said State Police Officer Dave Bursten.
As early as 3.a.m. Wednesday, Indiana State Police patrolled the glass-walled memorial to war veterans, looking for signs of vandals other than the ones they so boldly left behind.

canal.jpgInvestigators hope surveillance video taken from nearby buildings can provide some information. "I would imagine it's kids playing around with nothing to do since it's spring break," said visitor Tim Gueisser. For Navy veteran Neil Blackwell, this crime is personal.
"I respect the flag and the United States," said Blackwell. "It's heartbreaking to see somebody doing something like this. It really is."
"We spend a lot of time here in the summer. It's a beautiful area. To have it marred by something like that," said Hickman.
Whether it was a way to get attention or a motive more politically motivated, the marks will soon be scrubbed away. But for visitors and veterans, the damage here is done.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial defaced

Many veterans in town were disappointed to learn last week that someone had vandalized the town's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, requiring the 15-month-old memorial to be sandblasted Wednesday.

"We know that in no way does this reflect how the community feels about our veterans," said Michael Burke, director of veteran services.

The lyrics of a 1970s protest song and a reference to Iraq were scrawled on the monument in the Park. "War, what is it good for, absolutely nothin'," was written in red marker along with a peace sign. The lyrics are from "War," a song that Motown soul singer Edwin Starr popularized in 1970.

Near the base of the memorial where the phrase "our cause is just" is etched, a vandal wrote "just like in Iraq."

The markings were made with some kind of felt marker, which soaked into the stone, Burke said yesterday. Methuen Monument is helping the town repair the memorial, which was dedicated May 29, 2006.

Question for the perpetually outraged: which do you think Michael Monsoor's shade (or his family) would have cause to find more "offensive"?

President Bush's supposedly 'suspicious' timing of his Medal of Honor ceremony, which at worst (quelle horreur!) might have the horrible effect of helping us win the war?

Martha Raddatz' touting the "surprising endorsements" of deployed US service members in uniform, despite the standing regulations forbidding such endorsements?

Or "peace" activists who "support the troops" by defacing memorials to American war dead? I find the reasoning unfathomable, to say the least.

But then I have found so many things in the last five years to be beyond my comprehension that this ought to come as no surprise. Politicizing his death?

I think not. I think it was recognized at the proper time. After all, on April 8th, these words were written:

Iraqi Journalist ‘Abd Al-Jabbar Al-’Atabi: Despite It All, April 9 is a National Holiday

In an April 9, 2008 article in Elaph, Iraqi journalist ‘Abd Al-Jabbar Al-’Atabi wrote: “Here is Baghdad, still smelling the odor of smoke, hearing the sounds of fright, seeing the tongues of flame, and tasting the bitterness of violence. And nonetheless, with our fingers we feel the face of hope - with the voices of the birds who have not left the city and still chirp and grow in number; with the winds that carry the pollen of the palm trees to the orchards to produce fresh dates; with the glimmer of the predawn, whose appearance gladdens the city’s residents and moves their spirit to rebuild and renew what has been destroyed…

“Yesterday - one day before the anniversary of April 9 [2003] - I spent the early morning hours devoting all my attention to what has been and what will be. I jumped up, eager to visit the places, to walk in the streets and on the sidewalks, allowing my gaze to take in what it may. Oddly enough, as I was doing so I found myself reciting a poem by Nazar Qabbani from 1962:

“Baghdad, oh rhythm of anklets and adornments,
“Oh store of lights and fragrances,
“Do not do me wrong, as you see the rebab in my hand.
“The desire is greater than my hand and my rebab.
“Before the sweet meeting you were my beloved,
“And my beloved you will remain after I leave.”

“I walked in the public street and observed the faces of the people I passed by - those sprawled on the sidewalks, selling goods, those who make their livelihood in the souks and the parking lots, and the beggars. I imagined them five years ago. I might not see a great change in their appearance, but there was something written in their facial features that showed that these people have their freedom to deal with things. As one of them said to me, no one comes and scatters their wares, or chases them away, or demands bribes. They come when they will and leave when they will.

“At the start of my journey I stopped by the newspaper seller to ask how he was after five years of change. He said: I will sum up what you ask in a few words. Despite everything that happened and is happening, I feel pride in the fact that the years of dictatorship are gone. There were no worse years than those, when we were afraid of our own shadows and our own children. I won’t claim that the situation now is ideal, but compared to the past, it is much better, without any comparison… Despite the sorrows I find in our present situation, I feel relieved. In the days [of the dictatorship] I didn’t feel optimistic. Now, I am optimistic about what is to come. What is happening now is passing; while it has gone on long, it will end - it could end in the twinkle of an eye.

“The residents of Baghdad, who recall the days from before April 9, 2003 and up to today - 1,727 days and nights, one after the other, together with all that has befallen and befalls their city - profess nothing but fidelity to it, even though it is engulfed in dangers. They reject those who say ‘Baghdad fell,’ and will answer you sternly if you say this, saying ‘it was the regime that fell’…

“I called a friend who lives in Sadr City and asked him how things were under the traffic ban in force now for a week. He said: I feel love, and then laughed, and continued: There are some things I fear, but I do not fear the coming days. People [here] are in a lamentable state and are afraid of evils that may befall them, but they are not despondent. They are awaiting a change for the better.

“Five years of Baghdad’s new life have passed… and there has been much talk of Baghdad. This is because it is not a city like other cities; it is exceptional, as is everything in it…

“You see that people, despite their proud grief, are talking about hope, and optimism, and the happiness to come. Despite the confusion, the anarchy, and the unconceivable occurrences, you hear the words: the breakthrough is at hand. They speak of the democracy that they had misunderstood, and they emphasize that these five years have taught them a lot and enriched their experience. They have come to know the true from the false and to distinguish between the good and the evil. You hear people saying: April 9 is a national holiday, despite the imported terrorism, or that concocted by the former regime, that came in its wake.”

Is it all worth it? You tell me.

From where I sit, Michael Monsoor could have no finer epitaph.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:57 AM | Comments (62) | TrackBack

On Loyalty

A story that makes me think more of John McCain:

One wall of Udall's hospital room was cluttered with photos of his family back in Arizona; another bore a single photograph of Udall during his season with the Denver Nuggets, dribbling a basketball. Aside from a congressional seal glued to a door jamb, there was no indication what the man in the bed had done for his living. Beneath a torn gray blanket on a narrow hospital cot, Udall lay twisted and disfigured. No matter how many times McCain tapped him on the shoulder and called his name, his eyes remained shut.

A nurse entered and seemed surprised to find anyone there, and it wasn't long before I found out why: Almost no one visits anymore. In his time, which was not very long ago, Mo Udall was one of the most-sought-after men in the Democratic Party. Yet as he dies in a veterans hospital a few miles from the Capitol, he is visited regularly only by a single old political friend, John McCain. "He's not going to wake up this time," McCain said.

On the way out of the parking lot, McCain recalled what it was like to be a nobody called upon by a somebody. As he did, his voice acquired the same warmth that colored Russell Feingold's speech when he described the first call from John McCain. "When you called Feingold … " I started to ask him. But before I could, he interrupted. "Yeah," he says, "I thought of Mo." And then, for maybe the third time that morning, McCain spoke of how it affected him when Udall took him in hand. It was a simple act of affection and admiration, and for that reason it meant all the more to McCain. It was one man saying to another, We disagree in politics but not in life. It was one man saying to another, party political differences cut only so deep. Having made that step, they found much to agree upon and many useful ways to work together. This is the reason McCain keeps coming to see Udall even after Udall has lost his last shred of political influence. The politics were never all that important.

Of all the qualities humans possess, I have always prized a loyal heart the most highly.

I think that may be because, being in the military all my life, I have had to learn to let go of so many places and people I cared deeply about. In all these years, I have never learned how to guard my heart. It just seems so important to me that somewhere, somehow, there ought to be some permanent affections in which we can place our trust, some bonds which withstand the nagging voices of cynicism and expediency.

No one is perfect, but it makes me think a bit better of McCain that he still takes the time to visit a colleague who can no longer do anything for him.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:22 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday Morning Foolishness

Your Eyes Should Be Brown
Your eyes reflect: Depth and wisdom

What's hidden behind your eyes: A tender heart
What Color Should Your Eyes Be?

You Are a Pistachio
You are funky, freaky, and a total character.
You're very different than anyone you know.
There's no way you're changing the way you are...
Which is good, because no one wants you to change.
What Nut Are You?


Well, my eyes are definitely brown. These things always kill me.

CWCID: The Anchoress.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:59 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

April 12, 2008

Foregainst the Troops

I find it absolutely fascinating that these are the same people who reacted like scalded cats to the slightest questioning of John Kerry's record:

Gen. David H. Petraeus may be as impressive a military professional as the United States has developed in recent years, but he could use some strategic advice on how to manage his sartorial PR. Witness his congressional testimony on the state of the war in Iraq. There he sits in elaborate Army regalia, four stars glistening on each shoulder, nine rows of colorful ribbons on his left breast, and various other medallions, brooches and patches scattered across the rest of the available real estate on his uniform. He even wears his name tag, a lone and incongruous hunk of cheap plastic in a region of pristine gilt, just in case the politicians aren't sure who he is.

That's a lot of martial bling, especially for an officer who hadn't seen combat until five years ago. Unfortunately, brazen preening and "ribbon creep" among the Army's modern-day upper crust have trumped the time-honored military virtues of humility, duty and personal reserve.

But then Kerry's actions were more to their taste: rather than wearing them, he threw his medals away (or more accurately, in what may well be the ultimate gesture of highly nuanced fence straddling by a future presidential candidate, he threw his own ribbons, but someone else's medals. This is the earliest known example of a tactic that would serve Kerry well in years to come, vividly reminding America that he was vehemently Foregainst the military and all it stood for.

But then so many on the Left love our military so much that it has nearly driven them mad with angst. Poor Dick Cavett, so distraught over childhood memories of a war-addled uncle he loved to "tease" by setting off firecrackers and watching the poor man shake like a leaf, is now so horribly upset over the devastation wrought by the war that he berates General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for not cracking enough jokes during their recent testimony before Congress. Truly, war is a grim business:

Once again it is time to bid aloha to that sober team of mirthless entertainers, Petraeus & Crocker.

It’s hard to imagine where you could find another pair of such sleep-inducing performers.

I can’t look at Petraeus — his uniform ornamented like a Christmas tree with honors, medals and ribbons — without thinking of the great Mort Sahl at the peak of his brilliance. He talked about meeting General Westmoreland in the Vietnam days. Mort, in a virtuoso display of his uncanny detailed knowledge — and memory — of such things, recited the lengthy list (”Distinguished Service Medal, Croix de Guerre with Chevron, Bronze Star, Pacific Campaign” and on and on), naming each of the half-acre of decorations, medals, ornaments, campaign ribbons and other fripperies festooning the general’s sternum in gaudy display. Finishing the detailed list, Mort observed, “Very impressive!” Adding, “If you’re twelve.”

Again with the medals. What is it with these folks? Are they truly unaware that the uniform of the day is not optional? Is it possible in this day and age for people to be both so ignorant and malicious?

It would appear so. If I remain momentarily speechless in their defense, thankfully others are not.

Posted by Cassandra at 11:47 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

April 11, 2008

Oppressed By The Matriarchy!

Last night as she slept between Green Tea-dyed, cruelty-free organically grown free range bamboo sheets, the Blog Princess tossed and turned feverishly. Just before the loathsome little alarm clock on her nightstand could commence to hopping back and forth faster than Teddy Kennedy with a bladder full of brewskis, her hand shot out from beneath the all natural down coverlet and squashed it like a bug.

"GET YOUR *%^$#@! LAWS OFF MY BODY!!!!", she yelled, startling The Unit so much that he fell right out of bed and curled up into the fetal position on the floor. Served him right for allowing himself to be duped into supporting the Chimperor's illegal and immoral war for oil. "Honestly", she thought to herself tolerantly, "I don't know why I married him. Rethugs are so stupid." Why, anyone who wasn't a lying, partisan hack knew that the troops who actually think for themselves plan to vote for Obama. If it weren't for a few brave truth tellers in the media, no one in this country would ever get the straight scoop.

As she swept the covers aside her foot shot out to give The Unit a swift kick to the groin just to remind him who was in charge. Really, men were so violent. If women ruled the world, Gaia would be a far better planet to live on: a peaceful agrarian paradise where first worlders engaged in fair trade practices and people of color and alternate gender identities were guaranteed safe spaces; where everyone felt validated. Unlike men, women invariably practiced caring and sharing; they didn't need to engage in power plays and mean spirited attempts to dominate each other through primitive displays of aggression. Swinging her feet over the side of the bed, a gleam of gold caught her eye.

She felt a pang of unease. The delicate shimmering on her left ankle represented the golden shackles of involuntary servitude to the patriarchy. Men were such pigs. Always lording their unearned gender privileges over the little womyn. For a moment she was tempted to rip it off and throw it in the lake behind their house... It would serve him right, the bastard. Thankfully, her superior feminine logic skills kicked in just in time. Forcing her to throw a valuable piece of jewelry into the lake would be just like a man. They were always trying to control women, to make them do things they didn't really want to do. She wasn't about to fall into that trap! Nossir!... err... ma'am.

bubblebutt.jpgNo, she would reclaim her own identity by defiantly keeping and wearing the tokens of the Patriarchy! Ha! And double Ha! *That* would show him he couldn't push a strong, independent fully equal New Age Womyn around!

The warm, inclusive purity of my inner womynspace was something he could never violate with his narrow, hate-filled biases against anyone different from himself! Yes, the princess was off to Michigan to reclaim her inner god-Des: the dignified Ur-womyn within!

And he couldn't stop hyr! Now where did that moron put his wallet, damn it?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:49 AM | Comments (41) | TrackBack

April 10, 2008

Thursday Afternoon Dedication

"The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is not guns but peace. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now."
U.S. Rep. (now Sen.) Chris Dodd of Connecticut, March 12, 1975.
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastially molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding With whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.

We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on'the Vietcong.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw Ammerica lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals.

- (Then Lt. USNR, now Senator) John Forbes Kerry

Mr. Kerry could (perhaps) be excused for not foreseeing the bloodshed in 1971. He was a young man then, and angry. He cannot be excused for lying about it after the fact. More than 1 million people were put in those re-education camps Mr. Kerry speaks of so lightly.

2 million are estimated to have died in the genocide in Cambodia.

Take this silver lining
Keep it in your own sweet head
And shine it when the night is burning red

Shine it in the twilight
Shine it on the cold, cold ground
Shine it till these walls come
Tumbling down.

We were born with our eyes wide open
So alive with wild hope
Can you tell me why
Time after time,
They drag you down
Down in the darkness deep
Fools in their madness all around
Know that the light don't sleep

Step into the silence
Take it in your own two hands
And scatter it like diamonds
All across these lands
Blaze it in the morning
Wear it like an iron skin
The only things worth living for
Are innocence and magic

We were born with our eyes wide open
So alive with wild hope
Now can you tell me why
Time after time
They drag you down
Down with talk so cheap

Fools in their madness all around
Know that the light don't sleep

Find peace.

I can't even be angry anymore.

Actually, that's a lie. I think I will always be angry.

They made a desert, and called it peace.
- Tacitus

Posted by Cassandra at 05:11 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

I don't have much to say today, but Kat has written something nice.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 09, 2008

Want Higher Test Scores? Put Down the Sign and Pick Up a Book

In an era of falling test scores and persistently uneven educational outcomes, we naturally reach for simple answers and one size fits all solutions. It is unsatisfying to be told such a large scale problem requires a bottoms up solution when institutions can neither exert control over, nor impose accountability upon, individual families and students unless we are willing to stand aside and watch some children fail.

Intuitively we know failure is normal, but this knowledge doesn't prevent us from cringing at the sight of it. The Bell curve represents a broad spectrum of ability ranging from the nearly nonexistent (which, in these politically correct times, we call exceptional) to the richly abundant, which we are glad to call gifted. Humans are no different from any other population; whether one looks at intelligence, talent, drive, or simply the ability to memorize and retain facts for short time periods. Yet when children fail to learn, we struggle to accept the intuitively obvious. Not all children begin with equal ability and not all devote equal effort to their studies. The problem is only compounded when the educational system refuses to face unacceptable educational outcomes squarely:

College seniors know astoundingly little about America’s history, political thought, market economy and international relations.

The overall average score for the approximately 7,000 seniors who took the American civic literacy exam was 54.2%, an “F.” That is consistent with the overall average of 53.2% posted by seniors last year. Not one college surveyed can boast that its seniors scored, on average, even a “C” in American civic knowledge.

Oddly, when children fail to learn most parents immediately blame the school. But one fairly simple solution seems to elude the legions of education experts deployed to help our children learn how to learn: the novel idea that students can't learn effectively unless they devote sufficient time to their studies. To today's educators (and all too many of their cheated charges) true effort is anathema and a sullen sense of entitlement has replaced the notion that rewards are not a gift, but the product of perseverance and hard work.

It is harmful enough when mere academic standards are allowed to lapse. But when standards of civil discourse and behavior are not upheld, relatively small groups of students are encouraged to bully both the faculty and their fellow students, making petty and capricious demands and harassing all who fail to show the proper degree of revolutionary ardor. The result is the very hostile and oppressive educational climate these students are ostensibly protesting, flipped on its belly:

Hampshire College, Bastion of Oppression

Students at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Mass., walked out of class this morning to protest what they saw as administrators’ insufficient commitment to fighting racism, the Associated Press reported.

As part of a series of events called Action Awareness Week — featuring a teach-in, a speak-out, and a writing workshop on oppression — a group of students had presented a list of 17 diversity-related demands (also posted on Facebook) to Hampshire’s president, Ralph J. Hexter.

Among other things, the students were calling for additional faculty and staff positions in multicultural affairs, mandatory “anti-oppression training” for all employees, and residence halls exclusively for students of color and for “queer-identified” students. A few hundred students staged the walkout, an organizer told the AP, when the college’s president did not immediately agree to their demands.

As this student's comment demonstrates, the very students who demanded safe spaces where they wouldn't feel 'targeted' showed no compunction about targeting their fellow students and making them feel profoundly unsafe. Her comment was lengthy so only part of it is excerpted here. It is well worth reading in its entirety, however (comment #69):

When Ralph Hexter, our openly gay College President who is the only openly gay AND legally married college president in the country held a campus event in celebration of his union with his partner, a number of the students in the queer student group that is closely affiliated with the organizers of the walkout last week defaced the area that he chose to held his reception in, touting his white, male, upper-class status as making his status as an openly gay, married man (and college president) invalid. They targeted his ‘white privilege’ and effectively said that his minority status in his profession and his life as an openly gay man was invalid.

-We have permanent identity based housing on campus. We also continually have issues filling this housing. Our “queer/queer friendly” hall is routinely under-filled, despite preferential housing being given to self-identified queer students who request it. In addition (and this is an entirely different issue) in our relatively small entering classes, we rarely have enough students of color to fill a hall, let alone enough students of color who request this living space. The only way we can fill a “students of color” hall every year is to house EVERY incoming student of color in this hall. This becomes segregation, not a safe space.

At Hampshire we do not have the luxury of a 900 million dollar endowment, and we cannot afford empty beds. Our racial policies are perhaps underdeveloped, but much discrimination on campus is imagined. In a faculty meeting on Tuesday, a group of the organizers of the demands walked in and requested a guarantee of safety – both personal and academic – from the faculty and administration because they felt targeted. As was later revealed, this feeling of targeting was based on two things: the first being that these students were not completing their academics and felt as if they were in danger of not completing their classes this semester – at Hampshire, this puts your future enrollment in potential jeopardy. The second source of the feeling of targeting was that our public safety department responded to a noise complaint, at 2 am, in a public space and told the students to disperse. The organizers felt as if public safety responded faster than normal and that this was because they were under surveillance.

... Most students, staff, faculty, and administrators support and understand the underlying message – that students of color want to feel safe, valued, and integral to our community. However, the majority of students, at least, feel as if the demands are too personal, ridiculous, or unrelated to racial policy/racism on campus.

Some examples of ridiculous demands:

-Financial aid for students of color is guaranteed to not decrease during their time here, provided there is no significant change in financial status.

-That students of color with financial holds on their accounts (ie outstanding balances in excess of 1000$) be allowed to register for courses and for the next semester without first consulting with financial services.

-That 4 new faculty in Color/Queer studies be hired (it should be noted that Social Science is very highly staffed, where as other aspects of the school such as theater, science, computer science, writing, photography, and video are all chronically understaffed)

-That we specifically hire a woman of color for our health services department (this is illegal).

-Financial Divestment from Israel (sounds like racism/nationalism to me!).

There are a number of other unrealistic demands or demands that promote racism or give students of color preferential treatment to the rest of – indeed the majority of – the student body.

...The outcome of the Action Awareness Week Demands have been as follows:

...[Students not involved in Action Awareness Week protests] ... have been harassed, harangued, and generally heckled as we walk across campus to attend the classes we AREN’T skipping and to use campus resources in pursuit of our education.

...I’ve heard a lot of talk about the fact that reverse racism does not exist, however the blatant hostility and anger towards anyone who is white and not visibly involved in the anti-racist movement on campus is clear and palatable from many individuals on campus. We are being labeled as racist simply for focusing on our studies and refusing to walk out of classes that cost us, per meeting, approximately $200. I for one do not have an extra $1600 dollars with which to replace a weeks worth of my skipped classes and lost education.

If that rage and labeling is not racism, or at the least racial profiling of white students, I don’t know what else to call it.

In the name of sensitivity, inclusivity, and tolerance the administration of Hampshire College have allowed a small number of students of cholor to disrupt the campus, inconvenience and harass their fellow students, and divert a disproportionate share of time, attention, and funding to their largely nonsensical and redundant demands.

It is not surprising when college students act childishly. This is, after all, their first time away from home and the restraining influence of parents, grandparents, and older siblings. But colleges, to some extent, act in loco parentis to young men and women who have yet to reach the age of majority. College administrators take steps to prevent underaged students from drinking. They assign dormitory residents to watch over such students and have counselors and other programs aimed at easing the often rocky transition from childhood to adult life. And these students, though they dislike admitting it, expect the adults in their lives to uphold the prevailing standards of the community they will one day join as adults.

When adults treat their own standards - whether academic or moral - with contempt, should we be surprised when children fail to live up to them?

Every year, hundreds of would-be classroom teachers fail the MTEL, the Massachusetts Test for Education Licensure. According to Charles Glenn at the Boston University School of Education, independent evaluations of teacher tests like the MTEL put the skills required at the eighth- to 10th-grade level.

Unfortunately, this is still too high for about 40 percent of the test takers each year. So last week, the Democrats of the Massachusetts Senate voted unanimously for a waiver program covering wannabe teachers who fail the test at least three times. Many of them would be allowed to teach ninth-grade English, for example, even after demonstrating that they couldn’t actually pass it.

By the way, if you’re going to just give them waivers, why make the teachers take the test at all? Why humiliate these “education professionals” by forcing them to take - and fail - the test three times?

Is this what liberal legislators consider “getting tough?” What message are Democrats trying to send would-be educators?

“Hey, we’ve still got standards, you know! Massachusetts isn’t going to make you a teacher by just failing the test just once. Who do ya think we are - Rhode Island?”

This isn’t the first time Massachusetts pols have rushed to the rescue of, ahem, “academically-challenged” educators. Everyone knows the Lawrence Superintendent of Schools Wilfredo T. Laboy who, after putting two dozen teachers on unpaid leave for failing a basic English test, had to ‘fess up to flunking it three times himself. He blamed it on his “lack of preparation and concentration.”

At least, that’s what I think he said. It was hard to tell.

And in 1998, the state Department of Education solved the problem of a 60 percent MTEL failure rate by simply lowering the passing score to a “D.” Voila!

After two weeks of national media mockery, the standards were raised from “non-existent” and back to “mediocre.” In a classic Massachusetts moment, the then-commissioner of education resigned, not over the standards being lowered, but because they were raised again.

Who says bureaucrats don’t have principles?

Of course in world where rules have ceased to mean anything, standing on principle can be hazardous to your career:

UNM's director of creative writing said she will resign because her colleague has not been punished for posing in sexually explicit photos with students.

Sharon Warner submitted a letter of resignation March 23 to University administrators. She will step down April 15.

Warner, director of the program for the past 10 years, said she is frustrated UNM's administration has yet to punish Lisa Chavez, who appeared in sexually explicit photos with three graduate students on a sadomasochism Web site.

... Warner's resignation comes two weeks after Deputy Provost Richard Holder decided not to turn over the issue to the Faculty Senate Ethics Committee.

In his findings, Holder stated that Chavez "used poor judgment in participating in the Web site activities with one of her students," and "in (his) mind, this participation did not rise to the level of calling into question her 'unfitness for duty.'"

Holder also said the graduate students involved "reported their activities were consensual, and all disclaimed any recruitment, solicitation or coercion."

Warner said she suggested the issue be turned over to the ethics committee, but she was "harassed, ridiculed and even threatened" for her involvement.

"Mainly, what it amounts to is the chair, the dean and UNM legal counsel have all told me on multiple occasions that I was - and to quote them - 'perilously close to being sued by Chavez's attorney,' and that I would have to pay for my own counsel," she said in a phone interview. "I was told that they would take my house, and that I may be sued down to my grandchildren."

High school and college are a bridge between the cocoon of home and family and the outside world. Little by little, young adults begin to detach from their parents and move into society, testing the values they were taught (or not taught) during their formative years. If there is no societal safety net to reinforce good child rearing, much less make up for those children who had a poor example (or none at all) we can hardly expect moral, disciplined adults to spring full-formed from their own backpacks like Venus from a clamshell. In this, Hillary Clinton was dead on: society - and schools - must reinforce the standards they wish young men and women to rise to meet.

If children's test scores are failing, if many aren't bothering to learn, why then, are we so surprised? With our every act, with our own failure to hold both ourselves and them accountable, we are telling them the game is no longer worth the candle. Real learning and academic achievement are not cost free. They require a significant investment of time, effort, and hard work. Many students will not put in the time and effort needed to excel if they see students who are barely trying being rewarded with inflated grades. Such well intentioned but ultimately misguided intervention blurs the relationship between cause and effect and embitters those who do place a high value on achievement.

If we don't care enough to uphold our own standards, why should they?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:11 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Finally, Some Respect...

It's about time:

Blondes are said to have more fun but it seems brunettes steal the hearts of billionaires.

Brunettes such as Microsoft boss Bill Gates' wife, Melinda French are more likely to marry a successful man than their blonde sisters, a study today said.

Experts checked the hair colour of the wives and girlfriends of the world's top 100 billionaires. Most – 62 per cent – were brunettes.

Fair-haired women came in a poor second with 22 per cent of the world's top billionaires marrying blondes.

Raven-haired women enticed just 16 per cent of the world's wealthiest men, while not one of top billionaires is married to a redhead.

We were going to make some daft quip about the breakfast of champions, but we thought better of it.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:40 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters, It's Boxing Time! Edition

Yesterday whilst the Editorial Staff watched Babs Boxer braying away at the Petraeus hearings, a stray thought kept richoteting around the insides of our pea-sized brain like a newly-released balloon stuffed full-to-bursting with the majestical payload of hot air from the lungs of Senator Joe Biden.

Listening to her whine over.. and over... and OVER AGAIN THE SAME, TIRED PHRASE:

"After all we have done!"

...we found ourselves thinking, inexplicably, of horses:

A ton of finely tuned muscle, hide glistening, the crest of his mane risen in full sexual display, and his neck curved in an exaggerated arch that reminded Greg of a horse he'd seen in an old tapestry in some castle in Europe Jane had dragged him to. The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly. ... The stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves. ... Greg clutched the rails with white knuckles, wondering, as these two fierce animals were coerced into the majestic coupling by at least six people, how foals ever got born in the wild.

But the best moment had to be when the perpetually peeved Ms. Boxer erupted in a fit of pique over the reception given Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was bad enough when Babs pitched a fit about the way the Iranian Prez held hands with Iraqi officials while 'our President' (Such affection! We're downright touched!) had to sneak in the back door.

That little chestnut earned her a gentle reminder that the President of Iran had less to fear from Iranian-backed extremists than the leader of the Great Shaitan. But this little exchange sent the chamber into fits of giggles:

“I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing, but actually kissed him on the cheek. He got a red carpet treatment and we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free. It is irritating is my point.”

Crocker quickly noted that Vice President Dick Cheney, who visited Iraq later in March, “also had a very warm reception.”

“Did he get kissed?” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden interjected.

I believe he did get kissed,” Crocker answered.

It's good to see a woman who brings such passion to her work, neh?

Or should it be... neigh???

Posted by Cassandra at 07:48 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

April 08, 2008

Watching the Petraeus Hearings

I am watching parts of the Petraeus testimony while I work...

First of all, let me take this opportunity to say that on any continuum of egregiously unrepentant asshollery that runs from 1 to 10, Joe Biden still unequivocally scores a triumphant 11. He's trying to pin Petraeus down on a "1 to 10 rating" of how bad/how good things are. Of course the poor guy has no choice but to answer.

Got oversimplification, Senator? It's the American Bandstand approach to war: "Well Senator: people are dying... but on the other hand there's a really groovy backbeat, so I give it a 6 or a 7."


Biden may well win today's sweepstakes for dumbest question. But Chris Dodd is currently giving him a run for his money: "Gen. Petraeus: does combat stress turn all our soldiers into psychotic killers with no ability to tell right from wrong, or is it reading the NY Times that drives them freaking batsh*t?"

Oh. Dear. God. Barbara Boxer is annoying. Someone call the Guilt Police:

"Fragile and perishable. Important words."


"After all we have done..."

And then there's the kiss:

"I give up. It is what it is: They kissed him on the cheek. They gave him the red carpet treatment" -- while Americans die...

Babs. I understand the frustration. Trust me. Unlike you, I just spend an entire year apart from my husband. He was (think about this for a moment) in a war zone.

But unlike you, I can back off from my emotions and look at this objectively. It's a different culture. They are not Americans. Everything is not what it seems over there. Get. A. Freaking. Grip.

Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss. Do us all a favor and rent the Godfather, will you?

How many times can she say this? I'm up to about 12 now. Even my mother never made me feel this guilty, and I actually deserved it.

Chuck Hagel: "I hate to agree with Senator Feingold". Priceless. The two of you have been on the same ideological sheet of music for months and suddenly you're worried?

"We haven't sacrificed one darn bit [in this war]"

Well why not, Senator? What were you waiting for, an engraved invitation? You're supposed to be a leader.


This is making me cranky.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:00 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!!

"Let's be honest about this: the Iraqi political leadership has achieved a lot more political reconcilation and progress in September than the American political leadership has. So we've got to give some credit for that."

CWCID: MaryAnn

Posted by Cassandra at 02:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Placing the Violence In Perspective

At a time when we're being joyously informed that "Mayhem and misery are back in Baghdad", "The streets of Sadr City in eastern Baghdad have become a bloody battleground", and (most incredibly - or should it be incredulously):

"... Everything got burned up. Everything was destroyed.’"

... it may help to keep a few things in mind.

1. Historically, upswings in violence have been closely tied to events here at home:

Data from the Defense Intelligence Agency indicates that enemy-initiated attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians peaked in October 2006, the month leading up to the U.S. midterm elections.

The DIA data shows that between November 2006 and May 2007, attacks remained at the highest levels of the five-year conflict. Since last summer, however, when the surge in U.S. forces in Iraq reached full strength, attacks have precipitously declined, dropping almost 70 percent between June 2007 and January 2008.

Click for larger

2. Several studies have shown a close correlation between intensive and negative media coverage of the violence and insurgent attacks:

Are insurgents affected by information on US casualty sensitivity? Using data on attacks and variation in access to international news across Iraqi provinces, we identify an "emboldenment" effect by comparing the rate of insurgent attacks in areas with higher and lower access to information about U.S news after public statements critical of the war. We find in periods after a spike in war-critical statements, insurgent attacks increases by 5-10 percent. The results suggest that insurgent groups respond rationally to expected probability of US withdrawal.

3. Despite their frequent statements that dissent is patriotic, many critics of the war are damned by their own words. They are not only aware quite of the damage they are doing but wish they could be doing more to help the other side:

Pardon the Editorial Staff for finding it a bit... well... rich for Frank to liken Basra to the Tet Offensive: a Viet Cong psy ops attack the American media were duped into aiding and abetting.

It's not so much the comparison itself that amuses. It's Mr. Rich's attitude. Some folks might think that, having been fooled once, the media would not wish to be made fools of again. Those people would be wrong.

Frank Rich, you see, having himself told us he thinks Basra is (like Tet) an enemy propaganda attack aimed at undermining support for the war, is positively peeved the media haven't covered it more.

As CBS's Lara Logan notes with oblivious irony, the attacks in Basra come at an inconvenient time for the administration:

"This latest spike in violence coming at a very awkward time for the U.S. government. As America's top officials, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due to testify before Congress tomorrow".

Gee. What were the odds?

Update: We'd say this news comes at an extremely awkward time for CBS:

"On the political front, Sadr now finds himself completely isolated."

UPDATE: Mahdi Army offers to lay down its arms. Plus, Top-level Iraqi Body Calls for Immediate Disarming of Militias.

Damn. That had to hurt.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:09 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

News You Can Use

Ladies, next time you get a parking ticket, consider the utility of this all purpose excuse:

"I had to keep my snakes warm."

Never let it be said that this site is not helpful. Educational, too.

Update: Jackbooted theocracy alert:

Toddlers Can No Longer Marry in Ark

Some lawmakers called for a special session last year, saying the error would make it easy for pedophiles to take advantage of the law. Gov. Mike Beebe said he didn't see any imminent crisis and said the chances of children marrying under the law were slim.

Legislators, however, had the chance for a do-over this week when Beebe convened a special session to consider a hike in the state's severance tax on natural gas. They repealed the botched law, and reinstated 17 as the minimum age to marry for boys and 16 for girls.

Rep. Will Bond, the sponsor of the botched 2007 law and its correction, apologized for the error and asked his colleagues to "throw me a rope and bail me out here."

"I always thought if you put your name on a bill, you should be ready to take the blame if you're willing to accept the credit," Bond said Wednesday.

Bond, a Democrat, said there hadn't been any reports of young children attempting to marry under the 2007 law.

Well there you have it: clearly an attempt to impose oppressive kyriarchical values on what was meant to be a secular state:

...in feminist the*logy and studies in religion, nationalism as the systemic kyriarchal structure that determines all of our discourses remains mostly unmentioned and unexplored. Like maleness, whiteness, or Christianness, nationalism remains invisible and unconscious for those who inhabit the privileged kyriarchal position.

...Gender symbols, control of wo/men, the well-being of the heterosexual patriarchal family, appeals to religious scriptures and laws, specific cultural codes of dress and behavior—all these become central to the maintenance of traditional values and the construction of national identity. Such national/religious identity is rhetorically constructed and often articulated in the interest of hegemony and the control of wo/men. To quote Yuval-Davis again,

Women are often constructed as the cultural symbols of the collectivity, of its boundaries, as the carriers of the collectivity's "honor" and as [End Page 112] its intergenerational reproducers of culture. Specific codes and regulations are usually developed defining who/what is a "proper man" and a "proper woman", which are central to identities of collectivity members. Feelings of disempowerment which result from processes of colonization and subjugation have often been interpreted by the colonized men as processes of emasculinization and/or feminization. The (re)construction of men's—and often even more importantly of women's—roles . . . has been central in most such struggles.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but "Hellooooo". Where the hell is Dahlia Lithwick on this one?

We are disappointed. Very disappointed.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:50 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thwan Thong Trilogy

The Editorial Staff returned from a brief (pun fully intended) sabbatical to find her Inbox infested with the following salvo from the perpetually perky Homefront Six:

Diamond thong shown to throng:

Danielle Luminita, a brunette model from Romania, was carried down the runway on the shoulders of two male models wearing only the diamond thong.

"It is very comfortable, it's not heavy or scratchy or anything," Luminita told Reuters backstage.

To which we can only reply, "Holy misplaced modifier, Batman!" In our ongoing high-minded attempt to raise the conversational tone of the Blogosphere, we made a brief (albeit doomed) attempt to ignore the lobbing of snark in our general direction. However, our efforts were not greeted with reciprocal restraint:

And, no, Cassie, I didn’t ask if she was wearing a thong.

Hmmpf. “All we can say is that we're hoping Bill will run out of ammunition soon...” How droll…

Fortunately, those who have the audacity to hope will never be without a thong in their hearts. According to lingerie divas in the know, Le Worm Fashionique may have turned for the humble thong. What's next? Diamond Bloomers?

In 2003, about a third of all women’s knickers sold were G-strings, reaching a staggering £100m.

By last year, sales fell to only 12% of the knicker market, which still accounted for some £44m of turn-over.

....Showing how fashion lurches between extremes, large knickers are now poised to take over the world and cover even larger swathes of female flesh.

Bridget Jones’s big pants or boy shorts are seen to be kinder in emphasising the figure. So big pant sales are pulling up, while thongs are coming down (which they’ve probably being doing for years at WAG parties).

It’s one of those paradoxes of life that thongs and big pants are equally effective in eradicating VLP.

This is the visible panty line lurking beneath clothing that some women regard with a horror akin to catching the bubonic plague.

This is a winning reason, says fashion writer Lowri Turner, in spite of the discomfort felt when first worn.

“They are also sexy and – this is a very big AND – they can also make your bottom look smaller. The rule for sexy knickers really is less is more.”

Yet, unlike the thong, big pants hug and hold the posterior in a way which the minimalist clothing could never do.

And as we get older, we need all the extra support we can get. Emotional, spiritual and physical; but above all, physical.

Well, there you have it ladies. VC: your one-stop shopping destination for thong-related news; not to mention those all important bra safety alerts.

Just be careful out there.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:35 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 07, 2008

NY TimesWatch: Self Inflicted Wounds Edition

You have to love the NY Times. In the hands of these proud Information Warriors, history becomes infinitely malleable and facts (like the current news cycle) exist mainly to reinforce the narrative.

But sometimes all that spinning can make a person downright dizzy. Witness the eminently snort worthy headline of this Frank Rich column:

Tet Happened ... And No One Cared. If Viet Nam-era history is not your forte, a short review may be appropriate:

The Tet Offensive was a battle, often described as the “turning point” in the Vietnam War, which had deep implications on the future of both Vietnam and America. A little history helps to show the significance of the Tet Offensive as a psychological power play. Tet is a celebration, or holiday, observed by the Vietnamese during the turn of the lunar year. Out of respect for this observance, the custom, somewhat of an unwritten agreement, was to cease hostilities during the celebration period.

North Vietnamese troops along with guerrilla fighters launched the Tet Offensive, a “shock and awe” style attack that forever changed the way the American people would look at the war. Not only were U.S. and South Vietnamese forces stunned by the attack being instigated during the Tet celebration, but the press and folks at home in America were also shocked and disheartened. Over two dozen cities that were supposed to be safe havens by this point were attacked, including Saigon.

This news was especially chilling because the popular American sentiment at the time was that the North Vietnamese were all but beaten. In addition, raw film footage from the Tet Offensive was coming in from Tokyo and hitting the airwaves unedited. The nightly news in America was filled with horrific images and reporters didn’t have the experience to explain it. It looked nightmarish to the average person, especially without benefit of analysis, and quickly turned many in America against the war.

Many critics consider the press to have run with this new-found power. In fairness, many of those in the media probably believed they were doing a good thing by shaming the public into condemning the war. Unfortunately, not being experienced military analysts, many had no idea what a sudden retreat or withdrawal would entail. Still, the graphic images and sounds of the Tet Offensive were played nightly, and reporters and anchors even began adding their own opinions. Being an anti-war member of the press came into style in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive.

The Tet Offensive was not the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong victory it appeared to be, at least not militarily. In fact, most experts agree that they never intended to hold the cities that were taken, but to create a shocking display made up of small disasters that would appear to be a major defeat. It worked, especially with the aid of the American press in painting it just as the North Vietnamese may have hoped it would appear.

While the North lost tens of thousands of troops compared to less than 3,000 American troops during the Tet Offensive, it was a propaganda victory for the Communists. Militarily, many considered them to have been beaten, but the psychological power play worked in their favor, with the help of America’s own news media.

Pardon the Editorial Staff for finding it a bit... well... rich for Frank to liken Basra to the Tet Offensive: a Viet Cong psy ops attack the American media were duped into aiding and abetting.

It's not so much the comparison itself that amuses. It's Mr. Rich's attitude. Some folks might think that, having been fooled once, the media would not wish to be made fools of again. Those people would be wrong.

Frank Rich, you see, having himself told us he thinks Basra is an enemy propaganda attack aimed at undermining support for the war, is positively peeved the media haven't covered it more!

For the majority of Americans who haven’t met any of the brave troops who’ve been cavalierly tossed into the quagmire, the war is out of sight and mind in a way Vietnam never was. Only 28 percent of Americans knew American casualties in Iraq were nearing 4,000 last month, according to the Pew Research Center. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that by March 2008 the percentage of prominent news stories that were about Iraq had fallen to about one-fifth of what it was in January 2007. It’s a poignant commentary on the whole war that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the nonpartisan advocacy group, was reduced to protesting the lack of coverage.

That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat.

Never mind that the media were hyping the war for all it was worth until the Surge tamped down the violence in Iraq. Then, suddenly, the good news the media previously "couldn't find" wasn't worth covering:

...reporters trying to cover the good news in Iraq face a formidable obstacle … in the continual and overwhelming bad news. Journalists are kept busy covering explosions, mass killings, reprisals, and kidnappings, which a recent State Department report called "a daily occurrence throughout all regions and sectors of society." They also have to worry constantly about getting shot, blown up, or taken hostage themselves whenever they leave their compounds. The perpetually worsening violence makes administration officials feel they have to push the good news to counterbalance it. But it also makes it nearly impossible for the press to get out and see what else is happening.

Funny. When they finally *could* get out and cover the good news, they didn't. Why is that? What happened to that objectivity we hoped would come out of hiding when the shooting died down?

I guess that was too much to ask. But the more interesting point is this: if Basra truly is Tet all over again, doesn't that mean it was a defeat for Moqtada al Sadr? And doesn't that mean the press have been wrongly hyping it (out of ignorance) as a crushing setback for our side?

If Mr. Rich's comparison holds true, wouldn't that mean the media were doing exactly what our enemies hoped they would do: blindly swallowing enemy propaganda and harming the war effort irreparably? Because that's what happened during the Tet Offensive. Truth to tell, the situation conjures up many historical analogies.

Sooner or later, one of them may even be accurate. As one of the "28 percent of Americans [who] knew American casualties in Iraq were nearing 4,000 last month" and one of the far smaller percentage of Americans who has personally experienced the death of at least one person they knew well in this war, I won't hold my breath waiting for Frank Rich and the media to get this right. I can't afford to.

The fact is that although no one can yet predict the outcome in Iraq with any confidence - events are still unfolding - certain things with regard to Moqtada al Sadr are fairly clear despite Rich's dishonest characterizations:

Mr. McCain is also fond of portraying Mr. Maliki’s “democracy” in Iraq as an essential bulwark against Iran; his surrogate Lindsey Graham habitually refers to Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army as “Iranian-backed militias.” But the political coalition and militia propping up Mr. Maliki are even closer to Iran than the Sadrists. McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that the Maliki-Sadr cease-fire was not only brokered in Iran but by a general whose name is on the Treasury Department’s terrorist list: the commander of the Quds force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

The danger of trying to call the game before it's finished is that one risks having one's pronouncements overcome by events:

Senior Sadr aide Hassan Zargani said Sadr would seek rulings from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, and senior Shi'ite clergy based in Iran, on whether to dissolve the Mehdi Army, and would obey their orders.

"If they order the Mehdi Army to disband, Moqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr movement will obey the orders of the religious leaders," Zargani told Reuters from neighboring Iran, where U.S. officials say Sadr has spent most of the past year.

It's easy to dismiss al Sadr's announcement as empty rhetoric but to do so would be to fail to ask an important question. If al Sadr has the power and the support of the people, why the sudden conciliatory gesture?

The truth is that for well over a year, al Sadr has made one such gesture after another. Cumulatively, the trend of his actions forms a slow, steady move away from violent lawlessness and toward peaceful engagement with the legitimate government of Iraq. What Rich doesn't want to acknowledge is that one doesn't recognize or negotiate with the powerless. There is no need.

Recently, al Sadr sent an emissary to Cairo. The occasion was an ongoing series of meetings between Iraqi religious leaders designed to encourage political cooperation and discourage sectarian strife. This is what the delegate from Moqtada al Sadr had to say to his countrymen:

- Sheikh Salah al Obeidi (Sadrist): "For the occupation to end we must stop sectarian violence. When the central government encourages sectarianism, it makes it more difficult to overcome. Further, for religious leaders to justify their position on the basis of having the exclusive support of God makes it harder still. Instead we must focus our attention on creating a basis for confidence among brothers of all sects.

"In order to rebuild the country, we must start with security -- an end to violence. We must also have a trained national army and police force. And this can only happen after we -- Sunnis and Shiites -- enter a genuine rapprochement."

Clearly he, too, is not a fan of the conventional wisdom. But then perhaps they don't get Frank Rich's column in Baghdad.

Or in Iran. What a pity. Back when the Democrats were hyping the Iraq Study Group as the last best chance for success in Iraq (before George Bush harshed their mellow by incorporating most of their recommendations and winning the endorsement of James Baker) Congressional Democrats used to want Iraq's neighbors to use diplomatic pressure to keep the peace. Now that the Iraqis have taken the initiative and chosen diplomacy over violence, of course, they've earned nothing but disapproval from those who formerly urged this course of action.

It's hard to know what the critics expect of the Iraqis in either the political or the military arena. Democracy - true democracy - is messy. Political factions will continue to disagree, undermine each other and jockey for position; one need look no farther than our own Congress, now more than two hundred years old, for the proof of that proposition.

Military battles aren't terribly precise either. More often than not, even the world's greatest superpower has been known to stumble a bit along the way. As the old maxim goes, no plan survives contact with the enemy (or even with conditions on the ground). And yet we adapt and overcome. In the end, what decides battles both political and military is the will to prevail.

And that will is what the Tet Offensive in 1968 was designed to strike at, and - by Frank Rich's chosen analogy - the target of the most recent attacks in Basra, carefully timed to coincide with events back here in the States. And now Mr. Rich has announced who he's rooting for.

But don't you dare question his patriotism, his objectivity, or whether he knows what he's doing. Because that would be downright un-American.

I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Posted by Cassandra at 05:03 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Ant on a Monster Truck Tire Syndrome

Ah...The Ever Shifting Narrative. Let's see if we can keep track of the party line as it bobs and weaves.

1. Moqtada al-Sadr won in Basra:

... the very fact of the cease-fire flies in the face of Maliki's proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.

Sadr, in fact, finds himself in a perfect position: both in politics and out of it, part of the establishment and yet anti-establishment.

2. PM Maliki's ill advised assault only laid bare the limits of US, Iraqi military power:

The offensive, which triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad that left about 600 people dead, unveiled the weaknesses of Maliki's U.S.-backed government and his brash style of leadership. On many levels, the offensive strengthened the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

3. But this should not have come as a surprise to anyone. This is a civil war Iraq can't win. What's more, the Iraq problem is only compounded by the disastrous bumbling of the Bush administration:

4. Bush, listening to Generals: historically unprecedented.

5. Obama, listening to Generals: the change we seek.

6. And Moqtada al Sadr? Clearly the winner, all around:

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.

The surprise announcement came on the day Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a television interview, ordered the Mehdi Army to disband or Sadr's followers would be excluded from Iraqi political life.

It was the first time Sadr has offered to disband the Mehdi Army, whose black-masked fighters are principle actors in Iraq's five-year-old war and the main foes of U.S. and Iraqi forces in a recent upsurge in fighting.

Now why on earth would he do a thing like that? Is he trying to defy the conventional wisdom?

Frankly, we're shocked.

Here's a thought. Why does there have to be a conventional wisdom?

Iraq is a complex country whose sectarian loyalties and politics we don't begin to understand. Events are moving rapidly, and they are shaped by human beings.

Real, live, human beings who don't always behave the way we expect them to behave. Human behavior, no matter how experienced we become at watching the political scene, will never entirely lose its power to surprise us:

PATROL BASE YUSIFIYAH, Iraq - Students and teachers had looks of joy - and bewilderment - as Soldiers handed out school supplies and toys at the Mullah Fayad school in Yusifiyah, Iraq, March 27.

Children grinned ear-to-ear as they looked over the treasure. When teachers asked who had sent the truckload of goods, they were surprised by the answer. Everything had been donated in the name of Sgt. Michael Stokely, who was killed Aug. 16, 2005, in Mullah Fayad.

Stokely, from Sharpsburg, Ga., served with the 48th Georgia National Guard. After his death, his father began the Mike Stokely Foundation.

The organization put together a shipment of school supplies for citizens of the communities where Stokely lived and died. It took an Army five-ton truck to deliver the supplies to the school.

..."They donated a lot of stuff," said Hughes, Ark., native Staff Sgt.
James Robinson, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, Co. C, 3-187th Inf.
Regt. "It's like the packages just wouldn't stop ... I know a lot of kids in the neighborhood appreciated that."

Teachers received materials as well. Unlike the children, who were happy to get the gifts without asking who they come from, the teachers wanted to know who to thank. They could barely believe their ears when Starz told them.

And here is the killer quote: the one you won't hear from the media when they blather on about how we need to win hearts and minds:

"They said it's almost too much to imagine," Starz said. "All the teachers wanted a copy of Sgt. Stokely's picture and the foundation's name so they could frame it and put it up in their school. They say it's something the Quran teaches - the forgiveness of your enemies. But it's so hard to do ... that it's never actually seen."

The media manage to miss scores of stories like this every week. You didn't hear much about the Villages of Hope story, did you, in the NY Times?

Of course you didn't, though that program has been in place since 2004. So much bad news, so little time. As Daniel Henninger notes, some people seem terribly invested in the bad news business:

Is it uncharitable to suggest that when the fighting erupted in Basra last week between Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the U.S.-trained Iraqi army, some opponents of the war hoped it would become George Bush's Tet Offensive? That is, a battle whose military details are largely irrelevant, but whose sudden violence "proves" to voters that a U.S. military commitment is unwinnable and should be abandoned?

It was hard not to miss the antiwar spin coming off reports of the fighting, after a year of unmistakable gains from the Petraeus surge strategy.

An Obama foreign policy adviser, Denis McDonough, said it "does raise a handful of concerns as it relates to the surge and, more importantly, about the prospect of political reconciliation." The New York Times noted that Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Pennsylvania, said the Bush commitment to keeping up troop levels in Iraq is a "clear admission that the surge has failed to accomplish its goals."

The Democrats appear so invested in a failure that a half-week of violence erases a year of progress. What is the source of such instincts?

Ah, the audacity of hope. It's Spring, and like the sap rising in the trees so rise the hopes of those who would like nothing more than to see America humbled; even if that means that over 4000 men and women have died for nothing and countless Iraqis and Afghans will never see the gains our armed forces have bled and sacrificed to bring to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Freedom. It's something we take for granted, like the air we breathe in and out every day. We never stop to think what life would be like if suddenly, it weren't there for us, or for our children.

The Iraqis don't have to think terribly hard to imagine that fate. Neither do the Afghans. It astounds me that Robert Stokely was able to look beyond his personal loss and try and bring about a part of what his son gave his life for. Meanwhile, people like Nancy Pelosi seem unable to see beyond the ends of their own noses.

Some days, I'm not so sure about the wisdom of conventional wisdom. How will Moqtada al Sadr's public announcement that he takes orders from Iran (that is, essentially, what he just admitted) play in a nation held hostage by foreign terrorists? If I had to place a bet on history, I'd bet on the Michael and Robert Stokelys of this world rather than the Nancy Pelosis and the Moqtada al Sadrs. But then that's just me.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

- Proverbs 29:18

Posted by Cassandra at 12:01 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Power, Sex, and Housework

The Editorial Staff (wisely) were not going to comment upon this conversational minefield until we saw an opportunity to lob largely pointless snark:

If marriage relieves a man of one hour of chores per week and adds seven hours to the woman's burden, what conclusion does Occam's Razor demand? Obviously, men are seven times more productive at household chores than women.

Those of you who see flaws in my reasoning should discuss in the comments.

Flaws in the reasoning? Aside from the one big enough to drive a truck through?

A few observations:

1. This isn't about housework. It is never about housework.

2. It isn't about money either, though the Editorial Staff once read that money is the #1 subject couples fight about. We find that odd, because in 29 years of marriage, we can't really recall fighting with the spousal unit over money. We've had many a rousing marital 'discussion' over the years, mind you.

But about money? Give us a break.

Sex is worth fighting over. Children are worth fighting over. Certainly your marriage is important enough to fight about (or for) on occasion.

Money, on the other hand, is just about the least important issue you will ever deal with. Nearly always, fights about money are a proxy for something else: power, communication, commitment to the relationship, respect, the setting of boundaries. If you get along, differences of opinion regarding your finances are not difficult to resolve.

Hard to see how housework is much different.

Sure, most women do the lion's share of the housework. Most women are more interested in maintaining an attractive and pleasant home (which is not at all the same as enjoying housework). On the other hand, most women are not particularly interested in seeing that the car is tuned up regularly, or that the weed whacker gets fixed, or that the couple's investment portfolio isn't tanking.

These are gross generalizations which don't hold true across the board even at Villa Cassandranita, but they remain (nonetheless) broadly true.

The Editorial Staff would wager that what really matters to most women is not how many hours of housework a man does, but that (all other things being equal) her husband demonstrates in concrete ways that he is committed to making the relationship work. Being a manly man (and not - contrary to the fevered dreams of Madison Avenue execs) a frustrated mezzo soprano, the manner of making the marital contribution is likely to be in some realm other than housework. However, that is a matter best left up to the parties involved.

"Twould seem that if women truly wish to be thought of as competent and fully equal partners in the boardroom, they might best accomplish this goal by demonstrating the ability to negotiate mutually satisfactory outcomes in the bedroom (where arguably, they hold the whip hand) rather than constantly coming out with moronic studies that contradict the very premises they labor so diligently to promulgate.

But then we always were notoriously insensitive.

Update: We saw this last week - also courtesy of the Murderously Funny One - (Men... can't live with 'em, and if you kill them someone always finds the bodies... go figure) and meant to get back to it. We found it amusing for several reasons:

1. We very nearly (despite the posting date) bought into it hook, line, and sinker.

2. After realizing it was a joke, we found ourselves reflecting that after 29 years of successful marriage - yes, to the same man - we rather thought a few of Dr. Melissa's snarky suggestions, taken in moderation, of course, have quite a bit to recommend them. We thought the following deserved a bit of comment:

2. Call rarely--It's so annoying to have your work interrupted by mindless blather about nothing. One of the biggest myths is that your significant other actually cares what you're thinking about when you're chomping your food on your lunch hour. Newsflash! No one cares.

Oddly enough, we rarely call the spousal unit at work. It's not that we don't love him, or like to hear his voice during the day.

It's that he's working. And so are we.

Also, a tiny little voice in the back of our curly little head keeps whispering that a little absence doth indeed make the heart grow fonder. And we don't really need to interrupt his hectic work day to ask him inane questions about plumbing or car tires or whatnot that we - as a mature adult - are perfectly capable of dealing with on our own. If we need to ask a question, we usually employ email, which allows him to deal with such mundane queries at a time of his choosing.

Life is stressful enough as it is. Why not make our rare times during the weekday pleasant, and why not allow him to deal in his preferred mode (i.e., work things at work, home things at home)? Just a thought.

3. Retreat from conflict--People often deal with conflict by trying to resolve it and talk it out. This can be a big mistake. Most likely, the things you fight about today are the things you're going to fight about forever. Don't resolve it. Accept it. Stay away for as long as possible. The other person will eventually get tired of being angry.

This is something the Editorial Staff has been working on.

While we by no means mean to suggest that serious matters should be ignored, not all ongoing conflicts are serious, and not all in a marriage are solvable either. So why talk them all to death?

Sometimes it may be preferable to employ a Gallic shrug of the shoulders and agree to disagree. In other words if it's just a minor annoyance, maybe you don't really need to talk about it. Shrug it off and let it go. Sometimes a hug and a corny joke - even when you don't much feel like it - works wonders.

5. Spend time cultivating interests that don't include your spouse--One of the biggest problems in marriages is that people think they should do stuff together. Why? If you like golf, and your wife hates it, well, she'll just have to get over it and understand that golf makes you happy. If she likes shopping, she needs to do it when it's convenient for her. Her man will understand. Togetherness is overrated.

Again, of course a couple have to have some interests in common (personally we vote for sex) but there is really nothing wrong with maintaining a few separate interests and/or friends either - it's a great way to keep your relationship from growing stale and I'll guarantee your spouse is a lot less likely to lose interest in you or take you for granted if you have your own friends and your own life and encourage them to do the same.

You were a person in your own right before you got married.

The problem here, I think, is twofold.

Men sometimes push the boundaries by continuing to act, when they are newly married, as though they were still single. This isn't right because in order to make a marriage work it is necessary to do two things: put the marriage first, and submerge (at times) some parts of yourself. This doesn't mean the woman is demanding or needy. It just means that marriage is supposed to be a relationship between two adults, not between a man and his mother.

We all have to suppress parts of our personality to get along with others at times. We do it in the workplace, we do it in line at the store when we don't pull out an Ouzi and waste the lady with the screaming, obnoxious brats who won't stay in the grocery cart. But that is not the same as giving up your identity in the expectation that the other person will "make" you happy. Your spouse cannot possibly satisfy all of your emotional needs. No one person can do that, and it's unfair to expect that they would. In the long run, your relationship will be a lot healthier if you preserve some outside interests and friendships to fill the gaps between your needs and those things your spouse is willing and/or able to provide for you in the relationship.

We hit on men earlier. Women often engage in unconscious 'trading'. We want the man to behave in a more positive manner so we 'trade' favors, unconsciously hoping he will reciprocate with the desired behavior.

There's just one problem with this. Actually, there are several problems:

1. Most guys aren't paying attention, and they're perfectly happy to let you trade your little heart out until steam is coming from both ears. If you're waiting for him to notice and you are holding your breath, you aren't much smarter than this gal.

2. He didn't ask you to do those things for him and may (in fact) be completely uninterested in engaging in the kind of trade you envision, especially with someone who - from all appearances - has not only inexplicably lost the power of human speech but expects him to read her mind. On the other hand, if you just make it plain to him that not only are certain things Extremely Important To You, but that a successful marriage requires the same amount of hard work and dedication as any other commitment he thinks is important to his future (i.e., his career), he will understand. It's just that when two people with different priorities form a partnership, the only way for them both to get what they want is for both of them to learn to communicate and bargain without getting nasty about it.

Marriage isn't a zero sum game. That's probably the greatest single thing about it.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:39 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Back Now....

My apologies for the light blogging the past few days. What can I say? In the end, it's the housework that gets you...

Having a husband creates an extra seven hours of housework each week for women, according to a new study. For men, tying the knot saves an hour of weekly chores.

That, and the constant pressure of this rock star lifestyle:

Two weeks ago in North Lauderdale, Fla., funeral services were held for Russell Shaw, a prolific blogger on technology subjects who died at 60 of a heart attack. In December, another tech blogger, Marc Orchant, died at 50 of a massive coronary. A third, Om Malik, 41, survived a heart attack in December.

Other bloggers complain of weight loss or gain, sleep disorders, exhaustion and other maladies born of the nonstop strain of producing for a news and information cycle that is as always-on as the Internet.

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths...

But why let a few pesky facts interfere with a really riveting narrative? This, you see, is the beauty of professional journalism (with its rigorous layers of editorial fact-checking and control), as opposed to more interactive media like blogging.

Once you get the formula right, you can pretty much phone it in.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 04, 2008

Make a Wish


Story here.

In just a few weeks it will have been two years since we lost our nephew to leukemia. It seems like it was just yesterday.

Shortly after my nephew passed away, a friend at work found out that his eldest daughter had the same disease. Fortunately, there are many kinds of leukemia. Hers is less virulent, and her prognosis is good.

One thing that struck me while watching him fight this awful disease is the incredible stoicism and courage children with cancer almost invariably display. We tend to treat children as though they were fragile beings, and so they are in some respects. But beneath the easy tears of childhood lies a hidden steel that bears silent witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.

When a child gets cancer, especially one close to you, it's hard not to question everything. How could this happen? How could God let a child suffer so much? As with so much that happens in life, there are no easy answers. We never see things clearly when we're in the midst of events. Mostly all we can do is put our heads down and muddle through.

All I know is that there are some very special soldiers at Fort Sam Houston. They have given a very brave little boy a day he will never forget. If you are so inclined, you can help make such days possible for other children. During his last few weeks, my nephew took great pleasure in recounting stories of the Make a Wish trip he took with his family.

I assure you, it will be money well spent.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:27 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 03, 2008

Thank God for "Realism"

Intrepid trivet-ducker BillT, doing the work NY Times and WaPo reporters won't do:

Hussan (not his real name, for a very good reason) had just finished a couple of bumpy trips around the traffic pattern (okay, they call it a “circuit” -- ‘nother Brit legacy) and I was quizzing him about what the winds were doing at 2,000 feet. After about five minutes, the topic shifted to flying in general, then to combat flying in particular. Then it took a turn I hadn’t expected.

“There is a mosque in [town name redacted], the mosque is Wahabi. One day, there is a sniper in the minaret with a Dragunov -- you know this rifle?”

“Yeah -- Russian sniper rifle. The VC had Sov advisors and they used it on us in Vietnam.”

“Yes, the Russian rifle. The sniper in the minaret, he is a good shot, a very good shot with the Dragunov. He begins shooting at people in the street, not hitting, just shooting. A police car drives up in front of the mosque and the two policemen get out. The sniper shoots the driver *bip* in the head, and the driver falls down. The other policeman goes to his friend to pull him behind the car and the sniper shoots him *bip* in the head also. So two policemen are dead in the street.


“Suddenly, there are some American soldiers running around the corner toward the mosque. They run to the door with a shotgun, they shoot the hinges and kick the door in, then they run inside, then some of the policemen stop shooting and run inside with them. The other policemen stop shooting at where the sniper hides in the minaret, but they keep aiming up there. Then one gets a call on his cell phone, and he tells the others to stop aiming, and some go over to the dead policemen and some go into the mosque.

“I saw this, it was in my town. My little brother -- not *smaller-than-I-am* little, *younger-than-I-am* little -- he was with me and saw this, too. I am already in the Army, on leave from Army cadet school. My little brother now joins the police.

“When the soldiers and the police go into the mosque, there is a fight. When it is over, they search the mosque and find IEDs, mortars, RPGs. The Wahabis are two Afghans, one Syrian, three Saudis. No Iraqis.

“So, why do the CNN reporters say this is *Iraqi* insurgency?”

Indeed. Accurate intelligence is essential during wartime. Without it, might fall prey to disinformation campaigns from those who don't have America's best interests at heart:

A lengthy email from a Colonel in Baghdad provides some more background:

...The unclassified, open-source, bottom line is this: The insurgent attacks did not happen "in spite of" the surge. Insurgents attacked in Basrah where foreign military influence is fanning the flames of discontent over the lack of essential services. People in Basrah are upset because they don't have access to clean water, sewage, trash removal, or fuel for cooking and transportation. They know who to blame, but they don't know who to turn to to fix the problems. They lashed out, Maliki's government moved to squelch it, and the Coalition stayed largely on the sidelines. OK, we provided targets. And maybe we helped a little, if you count helicopter gunships and Predator UAVs. But essentially, this was an internal Iraqi affair.

I wish you could have heard General Petraeus' steady response as the situation unfolded: very deliberate, yet calming. It was quite dramatic here, and a lesser leader might have over-reacted. I anticipate that some members of our own society will use this spate of violence to claim the surge failed and call for our immediate withdrawal. That would be a terrible decision based on a tragic misreading of what just happened.

But for God's sake, the last thing we want at this pivotal point in Iraq's history is calm. The last thing we want is common sense.

The last thing we want to point out is what I would think would be obvious to anyone who has ever raised a teenager and watched him take his first halting steps towards adulthood: that we all walk before we can run; that few of us got where we are now without making our share of mistakes along the way; that no parent suddenly lets go of a child completely and says, in effect, "You're on your own", expecting he will magically transition from a protected childhood to adult self-sufficiency in an instant.

Usually, it's one step forward and one step back, with most of the lessons learned only by being allowed to make mistakes and correct them:

What is happening in Basra is what all of us, from the anti-war side to the side of the war supporters, have said we want to see happen - Iraq standing up and taking charge of it's own security and defense. So, I'm a bit amused a the sniping and the foretelling of doom and gloom I see going on among many on both sides of the issue.

Let's consider the ground reality there, ok? The shia militias in Basra are indigenous to the area and are on defense. The ISF is conducting offensive operations. Any idea which is harder to coordinate and execute?

We have the ISF conducting it's first attempt at a large scale offensive operations. Of course there are going to be problems ... many problems, screw-ups and snafus.

You need to understand that when you see comments like this ...

Because this is the end result of the U.S. advisory effort to date — which has focused on creating well-trained and equipped units at the tactical level, but has basically failed at the national, strategic level. The leaders of the Iraqi security forces at the ministry level are as bad as they ever were. And the national government is about as bad. Training and advising Iraqi units at the brigade level and below is well and good. But if you fail to properly shape the national command structure, you're handing those units over to leaders who will misuse them.

...and take them with a grain of salt. You don't conduct good joint, corps, or even division ops if you've never functioned in combat at those levels. That's not to say that there may not be some truth to the comment, but it is just as valid to say that the lessons learned from this operation will go much further toward properly shaping the future national command structure than all the plans, CPXs and Battle Staff training anyone could devise. There is no better trainer than actual experience - if you survive it.

It took us years - literally - to figure out the correct application of force in Iraq, and we have the best military on earth, bar none.

What on earth makes us expect immediate perfection from the Iraqis?

Oh. The media and their constant demands for some "realism" in Iraq.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:39 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Great Soliloquies in Film

A few weeks ago Grim had an interesting post about great speeches in Henry V. This has always been one of my favorite passages from that play:

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all.

O hard condition,
Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath
Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel
But his own wringing!
What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!
And what have kings, that privates have not too,
Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?
What kind of god art thou, that suffer'st more
Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
What are thy rents? what are thy comings in?
O ceremony, show me but thy worth!
What is thy soul of adoration?
Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,
Creating awe and fear in other men?
Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd
Than they in fearing.
What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison'd flattery?

O, be sick, great greatness,
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!
Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee,
Command the health of it?

No, thou proud dream,
That play'st so subtly with a king's repose;
I am a king that find thee, and I know
'Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill'd and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave:

And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country's peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.

One of the things I love most about watching favorite films over and over again is waiting for a favorite passage to come up. I've had the same experience with a truly great book: as I grow older, I discover new things in the same speech or bit of dialogue every time I read or watch it.

To me, that is what defines a great work. Like a great marriage, it never gets old, but seemingly grows along with you. Or is it that just that there's so much there that you can't possibly take it all in in one pass?

Or, possibly, there is some funky New Age archetypal universality thing going on that allows you to keep finding things in it (a mirror of Erised?) no matter where you are in life? Who knows?

Maybe half the fun lies in finding out.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

What We Owe

Every now and then as we go about our busy lives, it's good to take a moment to stop and consider what we owe to the amazing men and women of our armed forces. It is easy to get caught up in our petty problems, to begin to think the myriad small hassles we face on a daily basis are, in some way, important. That is, until you see a story like this and you are reminded of what really matters, and how we could lose it all in an instant:

Via the lovely and talented MaryAnn (about whom you can learn more here).

Also, you may wish to ponder the importance of family ties:

The Hill brothers grew up in Springfield, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. They were raised by their mother, Linda, until one after the other graduated from West Springfield High School every two years starting in 2001.

“Our mom was okay with all of us deployed,” said Josh. “I respect her strength, because it’s not easy sending one kid to war, let alone three kids.”

Robert added, “All three of us being over here is very difficult on her. Everything she has lived for in the past twenty-four years is over here.”

Growing up, each brother was two years older than the other to the month. Josh was always the mentor to his younger brothers.

“Josh was an influence, but he did it by picking on us,” said Bryan.

“It wasn’t picking on; it was conditioning them to be better men,” said Josh in response to the comment.

Josh joined the Army after graduating from East Carolina University in 2005. Robert, 22, joined the Marine Corps Reserve after starting on work and family. Bryan, the youngest at 20, joined the Marine Corps after graduating high school.

According to Robert and Bryan, Josh was a huge influence in their decision to serve their country.

“Josh influenced me in a way to push me into wanting to join the military,” said Robert. “He paved the way for me and my brother.”

Although the two younger brothers didn’t join the same service, Josh said he has a sense of pride when thinking of his brothers.

“It made sense why they joined the Marines; it’s because they wanted to do their own thing instead of do exactly what I did,” said Josh.

“It was nice just seeing them grow up and see them accomplish things so major,” Josh added.

You think you have worries? Say a few prayers for Linda tonight.

And perhaps a few prayers of gratitude. We are luckier than we have any right to be.

Via Carrie

Posted by Cassandra at 07:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 02, 2008


Well, we must say that in a campaign that has seen far too much overwrought rhetoric, this is a breath of fresh air:

I have a spare few minutes, so let me make my moral stand clear for all of 23/6's readers:

Murdering Hillary Clinton is not the best way to resolve the Democratic presidential primary.

I understand how tempting it is to resolve the slow-motion train wreck that is the Democratic primary process through an act of pre-meditated murder. Believe me, the thought has crossed my mind, and more than once. There is, for one thing, the fact that Hillary Clinton is so supremely annoying. The way she unleashes that insincere cackle when she can't answer a question. The insidious, calculated subtexts of her public statements and political ads. The sheer audacity of her attempt to manipulate a victory even though she's lost the delegate count fair and square. All of this just drives me up the f***in' wall.

On a deeper level, there is the fact that whenever men express their annoyance with Hillary, as I have just done, it tends to infuriate large numbers of women, confirming for them the base sexism that festers beneath the surface in our culture, causing a great amount of hurt, and perpetuating feelings of anger and resentment among the majority of the population.

Really, has any one woman ever caused so many problems for our country? Jesus God. Believe me, I sometimes think that if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi wanted to make a few calls--hey, I'm just saying; I could be persuaded to look the other way.

But then I step back and take a look at the bigger picture. When we are honest, I think we can agree that we owe the Democratic process more than ending the closest primary contest in popular memory with the murder of one of the contestants. Although it might seem like a satisfying solution, the long-term consequences would be bad for the Democratic party.

Think about the message it would send to future Democratic presidential contenders. We already have a process that selects for candidates who believe they are above the risks of humiliation and personal destruction inherent in running for high political office. Now we want to winnow that field down to people who think they are immortal? No thanks.

Murdering Clinton would also be bad for the process as a whole. It would be difficult, I think, if we ended the Democratic primary by murdering one of the candidates, to unify the party for the general election. There would be the inevitable accusations and countercharges--whose idea it was, who paid who, how much and when, and whether it was beneath the dignity of the political process--that it would be hard to focus on beating John McCain in the fall.

Of course, as a political columnist, who flies his humble flag in the shifting winds of public opinion, I don't want to rule anything out. So let me close by saying that if, as Samantha Power has suggested, Hillary Clinton is some sort of monster--that is, if she is some kind of brain-dead zombie who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, eats the brains of the dead for sustenance, and is impervious to flesh wounds and blood loss, I'm willing to reconsider.

But, for now, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, hear me loud and clear: I know I speak for millions of Democratic voters when I say that if you can please find a way to end the Democratic primary and unify the party behind Barack Obama without murdering anyone, that would be our first preference.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:09 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Wholly Scripture

The Holy Bible, as interpreted by children answering questions on a test of the Old and New Testament at a Roman Catholic Elementary school. Pay close attention to the spelling. In many cases it's priceless:


























Posted by Cassandra at 07:13 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

L'Anomie! Le Cynicisme!

In the wee dawn hours of the morning the Editorial Staff sprang from betwixt the marital sheets to the detestable chirping of the alarum on her bedside table. The assemblage of the spousal sandwich complete, we grabbed a cup of liquid courage and shuffled sleepily down the hall to see what horrors awaited us in the daily fishwrap.

queue_21938t.jpgImagine our shock when, expecting grim remonstrances from the intrepid souls who risk life and limb to remind us America is sadly bereft of the comforting approval of such moral avatars as France, Germany, and Syria or clear-eyed assessments of our steady decline into levels of economic misery not seen since the 1920's, instead we suddenly spied something strange, something utterly alien upon the digital pages before our astonished eyeballs... Something... dare we say it?

Unprecedented. A ray of hope! How the helk did that get there?

Popular culture would have us believe that anyone under 30 is a cynical brat or a self-absorbed sluggard, intent on hedonistic impulses alone.

But that's a myth, at least according to J. Walter Thompson, the nation's largest advertising agency.

Thompson has plumbed the consciousness of the so-called "millennials" — those between 21 and 29 — to reveal a generation brimming with adultlike respect for American institutions, family values and work ethics, despite a few quirks.

Among the findings: 94 percent said they respect monogamy and parenthood, while 84 percent revere marriage. Eighty-eight percent respect the U.S. Constitution, 84 percent respect the military and more than three-fourths believed in the proverbial "American dream." Fewer than one in four, however, said they have any admiration for Hollywood.

"We were completely surprised. There has been a faulty portrayal of millennials by the media — television, films, news, blogs, everything. These people are not the self-entitled, coddled slackers they're made out to be. Misnomers and myths about them are all over the place," said Ann Mack, who directed the survey and is the official "director of trend-spotting" at the agency.

"Their opinions of monogamy and marriage are products of the era they grew up in, a reaction against a reality-TV world or their unstable childhoods. They are more traditional in their views because they want something better for their own families," Ms. Mack said.

The research revealed few millennials are "boomerang kids" who sponge off parents after leaving college.

"Just 15 percent lived with their parents, 25 percent lived with their spouse and child(ren), 19 percent with a partner, 18 percent with their spouse, 15 percent alone and 8 percent with a roommate," the study said.

The group is not sitting home watching soap operas, either. The survey found that more than three-quarters were employed full time, with an additional 19 percent employed part time. Two-thirds agreed that a "formal appearance" at work is important, with an equal number agreeing that employees owe their company loyalty.

The Editorial Staff is so confused. Is the world going to hell in a handbasket, or not?

Is the so-called "American Dream" as hard to find as coherence in a Paul Krugman column? Or is it still within reach (as our children seem to think)? Why, oh why are they not properly dejected and dispirited? DON'T THEY READ THE NEW YORK TIMES?

Clearly, our education system has failed them.

If only someone - perhaps a real, bona fide war hero - could lead us out of these murky waters, lend some moral clarity to the debate on values in this country.


CWCID: Hooverville article, Ed Driscoll

Posted by Cassandra at 06:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 01, 2008

Charlotte Allen, You Have Your Answer....

Just when the Editorial Staff concluded it couldn't possibly be any more embarrassing to be female in America, Jane Harmon beclowns herself (quite an achievement, given the venue) in the LA Times:

The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer. Afraid for her standing in her unit, she feels she has nowhere to turn.

These are true stories, and, sadly, not isolated incidents. Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken.

Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported -- 73% more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released this month, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.

We know just how Ms. Harmon thinks feels. When the Editorial Staff read these bone chilling statistics we had to run from the room to avoid blacking out or throwing up.

Rape is a serious crime. But modern military women would seem to be caught in a Catch-22, wouldn't they?

Here they are, volunteers in a line of work full of testosterone charged warriors whose entire raison d'etre is fighting. Advocates for women in the armed services charge that spiteful, authoritarian males are hell bent on preventing intelligent, fully equal females from moving into the combat arms where (presumably) they can compete with men on equal terms with no detriment to unit performance.

Comes now Rep. Jane Harmon to plead their case eloquently with the searing logic unique to our gender:

These strong, tough, intelligent, fully equal combat flowers need the immediate protection of the federal government because 41% of them have been the victims of sexual assault and 29% of them have been raped by their fellow servicemen. The Editorial Staff does not know about you, but we are not hearing a compelling argument for fuller integration of women into the armed forces.

While we're on the subject, Ms. Harmon might want to entertain the shocking notion that reported rapes are not the same thing as actual rapes:

Unsubstantiated or exaggerated allegations have been known to destroy careers. 9 A five-year survey of sexual assault in the U.S. Army found that reports of sexual abuse that proved to be “unfounded” after investigation tripled from 48 to 157 between 1999 and 2003. No explanation for the increase was given.

In fact, many documented studies have shown that false rape reports are extremely common:

"Forty-one percent of all reports are false."

This claim comes from a study conducted by Eugene J. Kanin of Purdue University. Kanin examined 109 rape complaints registered in a Midwestern city from 1978 to 1987.

Of these, 45 were ultimately classified by the police as "false." Also based on police records, Kanin determined that 50 percent of the rapes reported at two major universities were "false."

A larger Air Force study which Ms. Harmon also found unworthy of your consideration found rates that were even higher:

In 1985, a study of 556 rape allegations found that 27% accusers recanted when faced with a polygraph (which can be ordered in the military), and independent evaluation showed a false accusation rate of 60%. (McDowell, Charles P., Ph.D. “False Allegations.” Forensic Science Digest, (publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations), Vol. 11, No. 4 (December 1985), p. 64.)

An expert in these cases comments:

While most of my practice has involved people who are clearly victims, in my image processing consultation practice I have seen multiple cases of false accusation of assault and rape. In one case, a man and a woman, both in the Navy but assigned to different ships, met and had sex while on liberty in Bahrain. The next day, the man approached the ship to which the woman was assigned and asked to see the woman to see if she wanted to go on another date. He was immediately arrested and charged with rape. Upon examination, the physical examination of the woman did not support the kind of assault she said happened, and image processing analysis of the skin injuries showed patterns inconsistent with her story. When asked for samples of the clothing and jewelry she was wearing at the time, she claimed that she had destroyed or burned them. Eventually the woman recanted and admitted the sex was consensual. It turned out that the woman was also sleeping with a noncommissioned officer also serving on the ship she was serving on, who was the person the alleged assailant asked permission of to board on the night he was arrested. When faced with her one night stand asking her lover for permission to board the ship to ask her for another date, she decided to claim rape rather than admit being unfaithful.

Unfortunately for the alleged “rapist,” this did not unfold quickly. The young man was under suspicion (and assigned to a penal detail) for 18 months before the recantation. By that time, his military career had been ruined.

Charlotte and I will be in the bar having a pomegranate martini. I hope we can somehow avoid the tragic fate of millions of other American women while we're there. But let's face it: the odds are against us.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:57 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack