Friday, February 25, 2005

Objective News from Tim Sweeney

My friend Tim Sweeney has referred me to Fair News, an internet site that provides the news that the major networks and Fox will not. Tim provided a comment to my blog about the Bob Woodward book. Check out! Thanks Tim!

Iraq War Casualties Exceed Revolutionary War

We are at the point where casualties in the Iraq war have exceeded those for the Revolutionary War. So far in Iraq as of today, there have been 1.480 deaths (combat and accidental) and 11,069 injuries, for a total of 12,549 casualties. Given our exceptional ability to provide first aid to our troops, the deaths have been kept down. In the Revolutionary War, there were 4,435 deaths and 6,188 injured, for a total of 10,623 casualties. Our Iraq war total is also more than the casualties for the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War. Of concern is the number of wounded who are severely injured - head wounds especially. Soldiers with head wounds who are in comas (or even brain dead) have presented their families with a terrible decision - their soldier son or daughter is alive, but will never "return." So much for modern medicine. The Soviets were in the Afghanistan War for nine years before they withdrew, and we have been in Iraq now for almost two years. Retired military colonels have been in the news saying that the Iraq War is a stalemate (!) Iraq is a mess, if anything the war has destabilized the region and has turned Iraq into a recruiting tool, a destination point and a haven for terrorists. And Iran may have a nuclear weapon. So much for stability in the middle east.

The matrix look for Secretary of State

The matrix look
Originally uploaded by recyclingfan.
Condi Rice is no Madeleine Albright! Instead of wearing the ponderous, boxy women's business suits and pumps of most powerful women, Condi has decided to show some leg, wear leather high heeled boots and wear a matrix like coat. All she needs is some shades and some slow motion special effects. Send those terrorists back to the fifth dimension Condi! Yeah!

More on HST's suicide

I was watching IMUS in the morning (msnbc) and although they ridiculed HST for his suicide (they ridicule everyone) today was different. Turns out, HST's wife called him and he wanted to know when she would be home to help him with his ESPN column. She says he put the receiver down, she heard a clicking noise and then he didn't respond. His son found him in his favorite chair, with a glass of Chevas Regal next to him, and the phone receiver lying on its side. Imus said he has new respect for HST, and that every married man must have had the impulse at some time while talking to his wife on the phone to shoot himself in the head. Well, the IMUS crew all laughed at that. I watch IMUS because he is so obnoxious, but I was bothered by that. HST was manic depressive, his family knew that, and coping with his mood swings must have been hard. HST was talking about suicide for months, and that caused a great deal of stress on his family (his son, daughter in law, grandson as well as his wife lived with him). Turns out, one of his idols was Hemingway, and he talked about Hemingway's suicide. He also talked about his legacy, including what he wanted done with his body when he died: he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes blasted out of a cannon on his Woody Creek farm. In fact, on the day of the recent Super Bowl, Pitkin County deputies raided his farm to confiscate a large cache of gunpowder. His wife says they will honor his request, and they have plans to load his remains in a cannon and blast him over the farm with black powder! I feel bad for HST's family: sounds like he was surrounded by a lot of people who loved him. The Dever Post has the best coverage of his death.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

manure fire

Originally uploaded by recyclingfan.
A manure pile 100 by 30 by 50 (150,000 cubic feet) that has been burning for a month has finally been put out. The manure pile is on a feed lot 20 miles outside of Lincoln (just another reason not to live in Nebraska). It accepts as many as 12,000 steers at a time to "fatten " them up for processing (just another reason to be a vegetarian). I can't imagine the effect that that much manure has on global warming, and this pile is not unlike the piles at other feedlots. Beef is a very inefficient source of protein, and the byproducts of feedlots is profoundly damaging. At the local grocery I often look at the meat other shoppers are buying (western PA is meat country) and I shudder - I can hear Colonel Kurtz moaning, "Oh, the humanity!" But yeah - burning manure piles at feed lots in Nebraska...that sums up my perception of that whole part of the country (my theory is that civilization ends somewhere just past western PA and doesnt begin again until you hit Seattle).

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson's Death

I don't know the events surrounding the suicide of Hunter S. Thompson. However, the similarity to another suicide is possible. Ernest Hemingway shot himself at age 61 in Ketchum, Idaho, Richard Brautigan shot himself at age 49 in Pine Creek, Montana, and now Thompson at age 67 is dead at his Woody Creek farm outside Aspen, Colorado. My American Government honors class is reading his account of the 1992 Presidential election, "Better than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie," and they seem to enjoy it despite the obvious timeline gap: they are twenty somethings, and the election was 13 years ago, so they really have no direct memories of it. The Duke's best work is Fear and Loathing on the the Campaign Trail 1972, but its so esoteric I haven't used it in class. His best essay was the eulogy for the death of Richard Nixon. I guess we still have Jim Carville to provide us with cutting political analysis, but he is not as funny or outrageous as HST: HST found the humor in politics, as bleak as it might be. I have found myself laughing so hard while reading his books that I have to stop and put the book down to compose myself - that has never happened while listening to Carville on a morning show. I have some posts about HST other locations on this blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bush at War by Bob Woodward

Originally uploaded by recyclingfan.
In this book Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) interviews numerous individuals in the Bush administration about 911 and the decision to invade Afghanistan. My problem with his interviewing approach is that he allows Bush's advisors to tell their story, but he doesn't verify what they are saying. There is no investigation, no verification of facts. In fact, the very way he collects his "stories" prohibits him from verification. For example, he interviews Condelezza Rice and she says that Bush came up with the expression "we got him on the run," meaning Bin Laden. Supposedly, Bush realized that terrorism is war without a nation, a military confrontation without set geography. The idea that terrorists can flee, move from country to country, cave to cave, led him to formulate the "we got em on the run" phrase. I find it hard to believe that Bush took the initiative on that. He has speech makers and their job is to stage reality, create "spin," and he has political consultants who run focus groups to test how the public responds to certain words (like the word "racial quotas" in the 2000 race to be used instead of affirmative action). And Cheney tells Woodward that he telephoned Bush to get permission to fire on the remaining hijacked plane (the one that crashed near here in Pennsylvania - near Somerset). Again, my previous information was that Cheney and Bush only communicated once, and after that Cheney on his own initiative gave the order to down the plane if necessary. So these advisors are free to paint a picture of Bush as visionary leader: he coins the phrase we got em on the run, he orders a civilian plane shot down - not his advisors. I just don't believe what the characters in this book are saying. Is this journalism? I mean, Hunter S. Thompson creates gonzo journalism, a stream of consciousness type of reporting where he makes things up (like Hubert Humphrey is a speed freak, Ed Muskie is taking a sedative named Ibogaine) and Woodward creates a journalism where his interviewees can make things up. I minored in journalism in college: there are rules to journalism! Like verify sources; investigate and have cross references to establish facts; multiple sources - what has happened to journalism? CNN reports on the Iraq war like its a Bush press briefing; Dan Rather goes with some story based on the most suspicious documents (with hypertext! Obviously MS Word document - who is on his staff? What typewriters in the early 1970's had a special key for hypertext? Rather should know that - he used a typewriter in the '70's!). So I'm about 1/3 through Bush at War and I am wondering why I should bother finishing it?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Citizen Kane

citizen kane
Originally uploaded by recyclingfan.
I first saw this movie in a film class in 1970, - my god - 30 years ago! I am watching it now, home for lunch, somehow it is on cable. I have to tear myself away to go back to campus and teach - too bad! Right now Susan Alexander is being coached by her frustrated Italian voice coach -"Ah no no no no!" he tells her, his hair ruffled, his tie askance. Now is the opera scene, painful to watch, and Jedediah Leland is tearing his program into long scraps and playing with it. Each part of the movie is a classic. My favorite is the part where Kane departs on his trip to Europe, after buying the best newspapermen to work for the Chronicle. He brings in a band and chorus girls and they sing his song," Who is this man...what is his name...his name is Charley Kane." Great scene. The lighting is odd: it looks like Welles had lights set up on the floor to illuminate the chorus girls legs. Of course the camera shots were the defining element of the film - the long shots, the lighting - some shots were set up like portrait painting (anchor, balance). And Dorothy Comingore was amazing as Susan Alexander ("What about me? What about me!) She starred in early movies as Linda Winters (? why the name change) and was blacklisted in the 1950's by McCarthyism (that sounds like a movie in itself). We just watched the People vs Larry Flynt in film class, and the ending is very much like the closing scenes in Citizen Kane: the mansion, the emptiness, the isolation, the loneliness. Here is a great link for Citizen Kane.
I once attended a reception, didn't really know anyone there, so I put the name Charles Foster Kane on the nametag. Only one person noticed and asked me about it. I said, "I'm covering this reception for the Chronicle." Even my youngest son has adopted the Citizen Kane humor: when he was young and visiting his mother over Christmas, he was surrounded by family while he was playing with a snow globe: he suddenly gasped, fell back on the couch, dropped the globe gently on the ground and said "Rosebud!" Only a couple people understood it, but he is well on his way to acting out obscure scenes from classic movies, just like his dad (I was proud). "You vant to know about a Rosebud? I tell you about a rosebud..." Of course the scene about the disolution of his marriage is great: the dissolution is shown by a series of breakfast shots. The mystery of Rosebud is hinted at the very beginning, when Mr. Berstein is being interviewed. "Maybe it was something he lost, and could never discover again," he said (I am paraphrasing). And so it was: his childhood. I just asked students in my American Government Honors class who has seen Citizen Kane, only one person said yes, out of 24!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Vietnam Documentary: Hearts and Minds

hearts and minds
Originally uploaded by recyclingfan.
This 1974 documentary has been reissued and is playing downtown pittsburgh at the Harris theater (on historic Liberty ave). It won an academy award (Frank Sinatra presented the award and added that he thought the film was "unpatriotic.") It provides interviews with a former POW, veterans (many of who are disabled), government officials (Senator Fulbright, General Westmoreland, Clark Clifford) and Vietnamese officials. (Here is a great link about the film and who appears in it). Contrast is provided with film from Vietnam: the destruction of villages; interrogation of suspected viet cong; execution of vietcong suspect by chief of police of Saigon, children burned by napalm (the famous picture of the young girl Kim Phuc, burned by napalm, and President Nixon speculated that the picture was staged ) , and depressing visits to whorehouses - the film is exhausting to watch, very emotional. My only problem with the film is that it portrayed Lt. George Coker, a POW for 7 yrs, as kind of mindless: Lt. Coker survived the POW camps, including 3 yrs of solitary confinement, beatings, torture and an escape for 12 hrs - his patriotism kept him going, and one can only wonder how and if someone who has that endurance can develop a different perspective on the war - could he live with himself if he came to the conclusion that the war, his imprisonment, was pointless? Watching it in 2005 brings to mind comparisons with Iraq. The main difference, is that Vietnam was a hot war during the cold war, and pitted US vs USSR backed forces. In Iraq, the insurgents don't have the backing of a world superpower; nonetheless, imposing structure upon a country with military force is futile in the face of opposition from a guerrilla or terrorist insurgency. I think Pres. Bush would have pursued a different policy with Iraq had he not sat out the Vietnam war at an airport in Texas. Perhaps not. Anyway, watching Hearts and Minds was a grim way to spend a sunday afternoon, but I wanted to preview the film for my political film class. I was struck by how divisive American society was during the Vietnam war, and how we have entered that divisiveness again. I really don't think that Cheney-Rumsfeld learned anything from Vietnam.