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Friday, May 28, 2004

Frickin' Florida.

I hail from Florida originally, as my readership knows -- not because I've ever mentioned it on the blog, but because I strongly suspect that I have personally met each and every one of my readers.

I know Florida. I knew Florida was completely nuts before the 2000 election, when everybody started to talk about how Florida was insane. Hell -- that was old news. I have seen the insanity first hand, such as when "separate but equal" was turned, through a massive bout of Doublethink, into "One Florida." Alligator Alley runs through my soul. I have seen Homestead, Florida, and my retinas still burn.

I am an apostate now, far away from the desolate spit of weirdness, but I lean fully on my Florida credentials when I say this:

Y'all ain't sh*t.

And here's what's got me so riled up: Clyde Timothy Bunkley is going to die in prison.

Here's the story, step by step, so that you can follow along at home.

1. Bunkley burgled a Western Sizzlin' (tm) late one night, while the restaurant was closed and unoccupied. In his pocket, unused, was a fairly large Buck knife -- not quite 3 inches long. Bunkley was arrested and found guilty of the crime of burglary. And just to be clear -- I'm okay with the story thus far. Bunkley needs to go to jail for burglarizing the Western Sizzlin' (tm). In life, there ain't no such thing as a free trip to the potato bar.

2. Bunkley was found guilty of armed burglary. Armed? Yes -- he had a pocketknife in his pocket while he robbed the unoccupied Western Sizzlin' (tm).

Q: Is that illegal? A: Yes. Under the statute, it does not matter whether you ever use the weapon, or intend to use the weapon. It just has to be a weapon in your possession. No ifs, ands, or buts. Legislators routinely get into fights on the floor of the Florida Legislature over which one of them is tougher on crime. I suspect that's why the Florida capitol complex looks like a big penis with two testicles beside it.

Q: Is a pocketknife a weapon? A: Well, that's the rub.

3. The statutory definition of "armed" ultimately excludes a "common pocketknife," a term which is not itself defined. The Attorney General had said in the 50s that it would include all folding knives shorter than four inches, but the judge-made law at the time was that the jury had to decide whether the weapon was a "common pocketknife." A cop testified that it was "uncommon" that the knife was a "good size" and that it had a locking mechanism. Of course, all Buck knives have a locking mechanism, but that was enough to sway the jury. Bunkley's run-of-the-mill, buy-it-at-Wal-Mart Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife," it was a "dangerous weapon."

4. Bunkley was sentenced to life in prison. If he was not "armed," he would do no more than five years. His appeals are dismissed.

5. Eight years go by.

6. The Florida Supreme Court decides L.B. v. State, 700 So.2d 370 (Fla. 1997). The court of appeals has held that the exception for "common pocketknives" is unconstitutionally vague. The Florida Supreme Court reverses, because everyone knows that a "common pocketknife" does not include a 3 3/4 inch Buck knife. In fact, the Court is so certain of this, it holds that a Buck knife is a "common pocketknife" as a matter of law -- for non-lawyers, that means that no reasonable person could possibly disagree. Thus, the statute is not unconstitutionally vague.

7. You see where this is heading. Bunkley files a habeas corpus petition saying, "Hey! I have served eight years in prison for being 'armed' with a Buck knife." Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, a conviction violates the Due Process clause if the highest court of the state later "clarifies" the statute under which the prisoner was convicted in a way that shows the prisoner did not violate the law.

8. The state courts decide whether their decisions are "clarifications" or "changes" -- it's not a matter of federal constitutional law.

9. The statute had not changed between 1989 and 1997.

10. The Florida Supreme Court held that Bunkley has to die in prison.

11. The Court said that it did not "clarify" the law in 1997, even though the statute had not changed. It had "changed" it, because the prior law was "established." That is, it was "established" that the jury decided whether a given pocketknife was a "common pocketknife." When the Supreme Court held that no reasonable person could think that a 3 3/4 inch Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife," it therefore "changed" the law.

Q: Is this retarded? A: Yes. See below.

12. Bunkley appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and sent the case back down to the Florida Supreme Court. It's opinion can be summarized thus: "Watchoo talkin' bout, Willis?"

No, actually, they asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify that it really meant to say that its first opinion interpreting the statute was a "change" in the law and not a "clarification." A dissent by the Rehnquist Three said that Florida had been perfectly clear in its insanity the first time, and needed no second chance to screw things up. You will recall that the Rehnquist Three are not big fans of sending things back to the Florida Supreme Court for clarification; "hell," they reasoned, "those idiots would have recounted the ballots in 2000 and thus 'cast[] a cloud upon what [the Preznit] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.'"

Q: When the Supreme Court sends something back like that, is it a strong signal to fix the problem? A: Yes. The emphasis of the remand could not have been more clear if it were written in flaming devil blood.

13. Today, 4-2, the Florida Supreme Court again held that Bunkley must die in prison.

14. See, here's the reasoning, which takes over eighty pages of concurrences and dissents and the like. If they said that they "clarified" the law, then it would be disrespectful to the courts of appeals. And they never said that the law was not unconstitutionally vague, they just mentioned that it was not unconstitutionally vague while holding that no reasonable person could think that a Buck knife was not a "common pocketknife." And if they let Bunkley out of prison, think of all the other people they would have to let out of prison!

Q: I don't really have a question. I'm just letting that sink in. A: Go right ahead.

Q: So why is Bunkley in prison? A: Because the Florida Supreme Court held that his jury acted completely unreasonably, but did not unequivocally make a federal constitutional decision in doing so. Because the Supreme Court interpreted a statute for the first time, but it did not "clarify" that statute in such a way that it absolutely has to go back and correct things. And because there are a lot of folks in prison that would get out if we started applying the law evenhandedly.

So that's the story. A man is going to spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime that the Supreme Court later said was nonsense.

All I can say to you Floridians is this: y'all ain't sh*t. But you have a chance to be something. Bell, Lewis, Wells and Cantero are all elected officials. Redeem yourselves. Make the bastards pay.

 12:12 PM

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Days go by, and no blog. Should I complain about how Dubya's big Iraq speech was long on mispronunciations and short on new ideas? Should I mention that Dubya promised to bulldoze Abu Ghraib even as new reports show that the problem extends far beyond that one building, to every corner of the shadowy Bush gulag system, and far up the chain of command? Should I cackle with glee at news stories that even Tom Clancy has jumped off the good ship Bush?

No.

Why? Because I have once again lost my taste for it.

Or, as Shannon put it so succinctly, "don't you have anything happy to write about?" (She also expressed some concern that the Secret Service would be after me for calling Bush a "f*cker," -- see earlier comments re: slander of John McCain -- but I think she was just projecting. At least, I hope she was.)

After all my rage at the Bush administration, I find that it all sounds hollow. Nothing new. Nothing you couldn't have read on Atrios or Kos or Alterman; just digested and regurgitated in one continuous flow. Bush is not quaking in his boots at my meager stylings, and the world continues to rotate. Surely there's more to offer. Surely politics is just a way of hiding from myself. Surely if I was serious about my blog, I would make some effort to get people to read it.

But I do have fans -- in fact, I got a message today from one of my "fans" urging me to post. (Hi, Mom!) So I'm going to write a letter. I've received two e-mails from my law school friends filling me in on their lives, and asking me how my own life is going. I wrote both of them back and told them that I was alive, but would fill them in later.

So, now it's later. And, for some damn reason, I feel like writing an honest letter instead of what I should actually write.

Dear ( ):

It did me a world of good to receive your e-mail, because I feel pretty isolated these days. One of the recurring stories of my life is how I have let friends slip away, and I feel your absence keenly. It's pretty sad that I have to be spurred to write you a letter. I think of my friends often, yet they slowly slip away, and a blog is no way to keep in touch. Can they read my mind? Do they know that I care about them?

Earlier today, I was reading my friends' blogs and a tangible sadness came over me. These people are my friends, yet it has been months since I have seen their faces. They only know me these days through my political tirades, not through the day-to-day living that is often the true mortar of friendship. I have keen memories of nights spent talking to these people, and I still feel a powerful loyalty to them, but I have no idea what is going on with them. God knows I would drop everything and run to them in an emergency, yet I don't know whether they are happy or sad, troubled or optimistic. I don't even know if they've seen any good movies lately.

The upshot of all this is that I am realizing that I am more isolated in Houston than I have ever been in my life, with the possible exception of my post-grad-school sojourn in Florida. Shannon and I both had a difficult time when we moved to Houston, but she has finally developed a strong group of friends -- other mothers with small children with whom she can share her concerns and joys. I'm glad. She needs a network of friends like a fish needs water. But those are her friends, not mine.

Together, Shannon and I have made some very good friends at our church, and they are truly wonderful. I would love to know them better, but they are still "couple" friends, social friends, people that I interact with in pairs, not singly. This past weekend, I had a long conversation about music with one of those friends, and did me a world of good. It was a thread of friendship that I can call my own. But even then, I fear that I run on too much, that I dominate the conversation too much, that I am taking on the hated role of a "pundit" even in my personal life. Or maybe that I am so desperate to talk to someone about something other than the law that I run on at the mouth.

I had a couple of friends at work, but they have left to take other jobs that are less stressful. I feel antinomy -- I cannot reconcile my happiness for them with my unhappiness at being left behind. And it's hard for me to make new friends here because I feel somehow different than those that have remained. I'm still there, but that doesn't make me one of Those Who Stay. I want to leave, I am planning to leave, I am just doing it infuriatingly slowly. So, because I see the job as a mere job (not an identity), I feel like a goat in a cattle herd. Maybe even a double agent of sorts -- a young big-firm lawyer must subscribe to the identity in order to swallow the indignity, and I don't have that relief. And I have at least another year of this kind of double life. It's no "Alias." There's no clean break, just a vague feeling that I am constantly lying to the people that I spend the vast majority of my life with.

And that's about it for friends. I had a therapist for a while, but then the insurance ran out and I had to end our sessions last week. So even my "rent-a-friend" is gone. He seemed upset that I was ending our relationship, which seemed hilarious to me given that the therapist-patient relationship is, at bottom, very similar to the attorney-client relationship. There's a necessary distance, and a rather firm payment requirement. Even so, ending the sessions upset me terribly.

I am not alone. I am rich because I have Shannon, my best friend and confidante, and I absolutely love the time I get to spend with her. But though she's the most important person in my life, she's still just one person, and shouldn't be asked to shoulder the full burden of my life.

So, I say all that to say this: I am glad to hear from you.

You asked how life was treating me. I am happy, but beleaguered. My family gives me great joy. Jonah is a joy, but he can be a real handful when he needs a nap. (So can I.) Our worldly needs are satisfied, and more, though money is a constant concern that agitates me to work harder. I used to say that I feel like a pinball, but the better description is that I am "back on my heels" -- that is, reeling, never quite stabilized, never centered.

The major theme in my life these days is time management, or the lack of it. I just have too many damn things to do in a day, and I ferociously resent that I have to eliminate any of them. Work takes a godawful chunk of my time, and I particularly resent that chunk now that I want to move towards a different career path. It makes me feel the long hours even more keenly. But it's a Catch-22, because to leave the long hours I have to spend even more long hours writing a paper, and I don't know where the time is going to come from. (Not to mention the anxiety that comes over me every time I work on it, which is paralyzing until I read other people's writings and realize that "published" is a much lower standard than "interesting.")

Mostly, I want to spend time with my family -- in fact, given the long, long hours I spend at work, I want to spend all of the rest of my time with Shannon and Jonah. But there's so little time to give. I have started to resent watching movies or television shows that aren't great, because the time commitment is so harsh.

You know, having written the long discussion above, it makes sense that the biggest area of personal contention is that I want time for myself. What about the projects and interests that spin around in my mind? What about my desire to read four or five newspapers every morning, and to blog my own damn views of the world? What about time spent talking with friends? What about my mysterious "project" that I hope to finish before the end of the year? It gives me immense pleasure, but it takes many hours and advances my life goals not one bit. And I refuse -- refuse -- to believe that I have to accept limits on my life. Narrowing the scope of my ambitions and desires feels like failure. I can do everything and have everything if I just work hard enough.

What about exercise? We spent a lot of time exercising in law school, and I remember it fondly. [Yes, both of the people this letter is directed to were exercise partners.]

Sheesh. What about exercise? There's no time for it, even though it is the surest way of dealing with the stress that I feel every day. Each day, as I drive to work, I literally feel the stomach acid churning in my stomach and throat. It doesn't end until about an hour after I get home. And yet, with so little time, exercise has fallen off the radar. It's too time-intensive. I don't have the time to drive to the gym and back, much less the time to do anything once I get there.

So I eat instead. Takes no time. Settles the stomach. In fact, because I don't generally work while I eat, I associate eating with "taking a break," which is a real recipe for victory if I do say so myself.

Needless to say, I have gained back all that weight that I lost back when I didn't have a stressful job. I used to run five miles at a time, and God, I loved it. Now I couldn't run a mile if someone was chasing me. Running is something that I occasionally attempt, but with a stroller and a dog in tow, around a neighborhood, watching for cars. Not much exercise, but a whole lot of work. But I need to do something. My body is beginning to rebel: weak muscles, outraged digestion. I face the hilarious condition of being nauseous and hungry at the same time. Let's hear Dr. Phil deal with that one.

And you will be pleased to hear that I have been selected to teach Sunday School in September, even now as I feel particularly testy toward God. You know, I want people to get to the point these days, but He has a way of taking His time. I find it very inconvenient. At this point, I'm not sure what I will tell the class. Maybe I'll just blow their Presbyterian minds by reading passages from the Koran.

It's strange. I have such optimism about my future; about the life I will lead when I finally get the job I strive for. A time when I won't be on the road to an early heart attack; a time when I will be able to spend time noodling around ideas in my head, or even just have lunch with friends. It's just that it's hard to see the road to that place sometimes.

In my worst moments, I say all of the things that I say above. But in my best moments, I say this: I have some real joy in my life. Jonah is glorious. Shannon is glorious. God is glorious, if I will let Him be. All in all, a worthy audience. It's enough.


 4:37 PM

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Whoops! It was all a big misunderstanding!

The Army now says that it never intended to call up the inactive reserves, and has no idea how people would have got that impression. See, they were only reviewing inactive reservists to see which ones had certain essential skill sets. Set aside the fact that the game plan has been documented (see my earlier posts) -- the only reason why they would perform that so-called review is to determine which ones to call up.

Jeebus.

And the Army is, unsurprisingly, being tight-lipped about whether it will enforce the agreements signed by the inactive reservists that rushed to enlist to avoid being called up for duty. Step One was always to get "volunteers," and they got what they wanted.

Squirrelly bastards.

 1:25 PM

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I recommend a very good paper published by the U.S. Army War College, in which two scholars (Record and Terrill) compare and contrast Iraq with the Vietnam War. Allow me to summarize it, as interpreted through my biases.

The first portion (regarding military aspects) belabors a point that seems self-evident: the military dimensions of the two conflicts are dissimilar. Vietnam was a much larger, and costlier, war than Iraq; the Iraqi militants are far more dissipated, and do not have the benefit of surreptitious support from a "sponsor" nation. It makes for a very interesting read, though, as a piece of military history. The authors do a very good job of illustrating the failures of the Vietnam war, and aren't afraid to blame U.S. military decisions in doing so. Nevertheless, the length of this section and the emphasis upon it seems designed to mollify those that wish to emphasize the differences in the two conflicts. The reason for comparing the two has never been the military aspect; it has been in the political dimension.

Thus, the second portion regarding politics seems more prescient, and more chilling. In Iraq, we have even less to work with than we did in South Vietnam. We have to invent a government from scratch, give it legitimacy without favoring any one group, and then create (from scratch) an army that will ensure security without posing a threat. Record and Terrill do a good job of illustrating the problems with the present Iraqi government, and the wide-open question of how the various interim governments and constitutions will gain that necessary legitimacy. Their most favorable assessments are almost back-handed: we have to start from scratch, but at least we will not have to support the rampant corruption and incompetence of the Diem and Thieu administrations.

The most incisive part comes last: American political opinion. They come to the same conclusion that I had reached: the most grave error of Vietnam was in lying to the American people about the progress of the war. The Tet Offensive was an utter disaster for the VC, and it left America in a perfect position to wage a conventional war against the NVA -- the war we had been wanting to fight all along. Simply put, if Johnson had given Westmoreland his additional 208,000 troops, the war would have been over by the end of 1969. But it was too late. America had discovered that the administration had thoroughly lied to the public about the war, claiming that the Communists were in full retreat. Tet caused spasms of doubt and dissent, and prevented the full-out offensive that would have allowed us to take advantage of the opportunity. And rightly so. Many blamed the messenger of the press, but the Right had no moral high ground to work from.

Record and Terrill are quite frank: it is not that Americans have no tolerance for deaths, it is that they have no tolerance for a mere "war of choice." They show that public opinion regarding Iraq is plummeting, largely because of the proven inaccuracy of the reasons for invading and the proven incompetence of the plans for building a new Iraqi nation. As Iraq becomes a "war of choice," it becomes less defensible and each error is less forgivable. This is the largest connection between Vietnam and Iraq, and American public opinion has the largest effect on our future plans for the region.

I said it in my last post, but I want to say it again. The neoconservatives did not learn from the political dimensions of Vietnam. But those that oppose the war must rise above this, and learn from the errors of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement.

Three Lessons From The Anti-War Movement

1. Like it or not, we bought it. Having "broken it," and thus "bought it," (to use Powell's analogy) America cannot put "it" down on the shelf and walk out, whistling innocently. When Nixon declared "peace with honor" to satisfy the protestors, he unilaterally withdrew American troops leaving 200,000 NVA troops in South Vietnam. "Peace with Honor" equated to certain death for South Vietnam. We cannot allow another Republican administration to make such an error.

Having invaded Iraq, we cannot leave until we can leave a nation capable of running itself peaceably. It sucks that we have to do this. It sucks hard. It will be horrifically expensive in money and lives. But the alternative is even worse: immoral, and un-American.

2. We must be clear what we oppose, and whom. Opposition to the Iraq quagmire must be (1) patriotic and (2) in full support of our troops. We must hold that line even when others claim that opposition is unpatriotic. Indeed, we must support our troops even when those very troops react with bitterness toward us. They've earned the right to be bitter. Pundits are different; pundits that equate dissent with a lack of patriotism can bite my ass.

Thus, we oppose the idiots running the war, not the men fighting it. We believe in America so much that we refuse to let the Bush administration besmirch our honor any more.

3. Mere reaction is worthless. The Bush administration's lies are not an answer in themselves. That is, it is not enough to oppose Bush because he lies. We must propose alternatives based on the facts, despite Bush's unwillingness to admit them. Moreover, we must go past "us vs. them" analysis, because it creates the dangerous impression that positive developments for our troops are not welcomed by the Left. We celebrate the victories, we can agree on many things. It's just that we're the ones that want to fix the problems that led to this quagmire.


 1:42 PM

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The bile is rising, like a tide

The military is eating itself.

First came the news that the Army is moving 3,600 infantrymen from South Korea to Iraq. You will recall that: (1) North Korea is a member of the Axis of Evil, (2) with real weapons of mass destruction, (3) which it has threatened to use. Therefore, the only sensible move is to take troops from the Korean border and send them into the Iraqi meatgrinder. It's a bad sign; a sign of cannibalism. And now it is rumored that the 11th Armored Cavalry will be taken from the National Training Center and sent to Iraq as well; no need to train troops, you see, because they're all already in Iraq. Nine of ten Army divisions are already in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And now comes the news that the military is quietly moving inactive reservists back into active service. When you sign up for the reserves, you agree to a certain period of active service, followed by a period of "inactive" service where you have nothing to do with the military except that they can call you back if circumstances require it.

The first reports were sketchy: recruiters were calling up inactive reservists and telling them that they should reenlist ASAP so that they could get into non-Iraq postings while they were still available. Then the proof emerged: 28,400 inactive reservists are soon going to be called back and placed into postings that will be next to rotate into Iraq. The Department of Defense even proposed a plan to use IRS records to track down "missing" inactive reservists.

The military is eating itself at an alarming rate, and soon it will require fresh meat. And we all know what that means.

Bush's war is intolerable now, but it is being fought by a volunteer army, so I am able to swallow my bile. But if that McCain-slandering, no-newspaper-reading, draft-dodging, business-destroying, election-stealing, slack-jawed, smirking monkey-fetus calls for a draft, I will be able to swallow no more. I will vomit bile and fire. More helpfully, I will spend my evenings and weekends working pro bono for any young man who will have me. We cannot even persuade our own allies to send their volunteer armies to fight in Iraq -- how can we seize the lives of our young men by eminent domain?

And remember, as I've posted here before, that the Selective Service Administration has recommended that the draft include all men and women from age 18 to 35.

(Here's step one, for those of you who are reading along at home. Work NOW to establish a verifiable paper trail that you are a peace protestor, and thus entitled to "conscientious objector" status. According to Gulf War-era statements, attempts to join a peace movement AFTER the draft has begun will be rejected by the Selective Service Administration. They're essentially trying to narrow down "conscientious objector" status to the Amish.)

And in case you were wondering, this is why the November election will be critical.


 1:17 PM

Sunday, May 16, 2004

After a week

So, after a week of working my ever-lovin' ass off at my real job, I have some time to come up for fresh air and see what's going on over at Abu Ghraib.

Here's the update. Really, here's the update.

This wasn't the work of a few random nutjobs. This was part of a plan, developed by Rumsfeld with his complete knowledge, for the interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects held at Gitmo. The Bush administration takes the position that such "enemy combatants" are not covered by the Geneva Convention, even when they're just Taliban fighters grabbed on the battlefield. In fact, as Newsweek has just reported, White House counsel Al Gonzalez argued that the Geneva Convention is generally "quaint" and outdated after 9/11. So we had no problem with torturing the people imprisoned at Gitmo.

The Abu Ghraib problem erupted when the administration imported the Gitmo tactics to Iraq. Of course, the people in Iraq are not al-Qaeda; 70-90% of them are innocent, if you believe the Red Cross. Nor are they "enemy combatants," even under the Bush Administration's aggressive interpretation of that phrase. They're just whomever the Americans decided to arrest. And they are being tortured under a system that was developed by people who knew that their methods violated international law.

The cherry on top of all this is the Pentagon's denial of this new revelation. Listen to weasel language like this:

"The abuse evidenced in the videos and photos, and any similar abuse that may come to light in any of the ongoing half dozen investigations into this matter, has no basis in any sanctioned program, training manual, instruction, or order in the Department of Defense.

Or, in English, "the DoD never put it in writing."

Oy.

I'm just tired.

During my spare time this weekend, I watched a remarkable triptych of Vietnam documentaries. Vietnam has become an interest of mine, for several reasons, some of which are related to Iraq and some of which are related to a project I'm working on.

I was continuously shocked at how relevant they are today.

The first was "Return with Honor," the 1998 PBS documentary about the American POWs in North Vietnam. It's not especially well-made, but the stories are absolutely magnetic and it leaves a lasting impression. For instance, I was filled with an absolutely seething hatred of George W. Bush. Why? Because he was the bastard who, in South Carolina in 2000, spread the rumor that John McCain had gone crazy in the Hanoi Hilton and thus was unfit for the Presidency. That filthy f*cker must go. A genuine war hero was slandered by a fake hero, a man who did everything he could to avoid combat, but who now calls himself the "War Presnit." John McCain kept his honor, Dubya never had any.

Last line of "Return with Honor": "Number One, I'm not as tough as I thought I was, Number Two, I'm a lot more resilient than I thought I was, and um, Number Three is, there's no such thing as a bad day when you have a doorknob on the inside of the door."

The second documentary was "Hearts and Minds," the incendiary 1974 film that won Best Documentary. Why was it so offensive? Because it depicts Americans as brutal, racist idiots who couldn't win for stepping on their own d*cks. Because of scenes like the one where General Westmoreland talks about how the Oriental has no regard for human life, how they simply don't care about the dead as much as "we" do -- all while the screen is showing the wailing and grieving of familiies as dead South Vietnamese soldiers are being buried. Because it shows American soldiers in whorehouses, American soldiers making fun of the Vietnamese, Americans on the "home front" who don't want to hear the truth about the war from the people that fought it. The end of the film shows a "Home With Honor" parade in Anytown USA in 1973, which deteriorated into a riot when the paraders attacked the Vietnam veterans who were protesting for better treatment. It was this kind of "you are here now" reporting that made this film a hit.

Just kidding. It was, then and now, a pariah. It focuses on the harm caused by America, not on the harm caused by the NVA or VC, because the thesis of the film (stated by Daniel Ellsberg) is that the US had no business being there in the first place. Interestingly, the essay by the director in the DVD booklet admits that in 1974 neither he nor the Left really believed that Communism was opposed to individual liberty, and that the events of 1975 and 1976 were shocking and repulsive. Remember, this film was made before the fall of Saigon, before the reeducation camps. But he stands by the film as a depiction of everything that was not being shown on American television at the time.

Lt. George Coker is in both "Hearts and Minds" and "Return With Honor," and it makes an interesting contrast. He's one of the key people in "Hearts and Minds," a freshly-released POW who goes on tour talking about his experiences. Take this Q&A at a school [paraphrased]:

Q (8 year old girl): What was Vietnam like?

A (POW): It would be very pretty if it wasn't for the people. They're very ignorant and backward.

Q: (8 year old boy): What do you think about people who burned their draft cards?

A: (POW) I think they had the right to do that. If they want to say "I hate you" and leave and go to Canada, they have the right to do that. But they can't ever come back.

You don't see any of that in "Return with Honor," where Coker is a subject of stories and films, but he is not interviewed. But you do see North Vietnamese propaganda films made of the POWs at the time, such as the one where John McCain is lying on a cot telling his wife he loves her because he is about to die at any moment, oh and by the way did I tell you that George W Bush is a filthy f*cker who must go? NOW? I thought maybe I mentioned that.

The third film is the best of the three: last year's Best Documentary winner, "The Fog of War." It's the life of Robert McNamara, told by Robert McNamara -- but filmed by Errol Morris, who isn't about to let McNamara whitewash his own life. What happens when you send Ford Motor Co.'s efficiency expert to run a war? You get Vietnam, a war that worked beautifully on paper. And McNamara knows that he screwed it up royally. He wanted to get out, but didn't say so publicly. Johnson wanted to blow hell out of Vietnam, but was held back by McNamara. The halting policy that resulted was worse than either one alone, made intolerable by McNamara's repeated advice to Johnson to lie to the American people.

Best moment: when McNamara describes how Kennedy created a way for Kruschev to back down in the Cuban Missile Crisis, such that he could claim that America was going to invade Cuba and the Soviets stopped it. "It was nonsense," McNamara says, "but it was a way for him to back down."

Morris: "But Kennedy did invade Cuba."

McNamara: [long, long pause, staring straight into the camera] "Well, yes, the Bay of Pigs and so on, but... [pause] You have a good point. But the real thing was..." And he's off again, talking about the Robert McNamara view of the world.

If we could get a reporter to ask questions half this good, it would be a different country.

Finally, and most bluntly, McNamara's "eleven lessons" from his life (Vietnam and otherwise) are a bitter rebuke to the idiots that got us into Iraq. We should tie down the idiots in the White House and make them watch this film, "Clockwork Orange"-style, until they finally get it.

There are a lot of differences between Vietnam and Iraq.

One has sand. The other has jungles.

The military-industrial complex did not learn from history. Let those of us who oppose it do a better job.




 6:21 PM

Friday, May 07, 2004

So, perhaps you're looking for a good way to lose weight. I've got just the thing for you! This article in the Guardian is sure to make you vomit.

Problem #1
Our troops are more interested in yanking people off the street to create the impression of success than actual success--

"A unit goes out on a raid and they have a target and the target is not available; they just grab anybody because that was their job," Mr Nelson said, referring to counter-insurgency operations in Iraq. "The troops are under a lot of stress and they don't know one guy from the next. They're not cultural experts. All they want is to count down the days and hopefully go home.

"I've read reports from capturing units where the capturing unit wrote, 'the target was not at home. The neighbour came out to see what was going on and we grabbed him'," he said.


Recall, if you will, the SNAFU caused by the emphasis on "body count" in Vietnam.

Problem #2
The interrogators are completely untrained cooks and truck drivers, who refuse to believe that innocent people could end up in a modern-day Bedlam like Abu Ghraib.

According to Mr Nelson's account, the victims' very innocence made them more likely to be abused, because the interrogators refused to believe they could have been picked up on such arbitrary grounds. Interrogators "weren't interested in going through the less glamorous work of sifting through the chaff to get to the kernels of truth from the willing detainees; they were interested in 'breaking' tough targets", he said.

(Curious -- the online Guardian article seems to have changed since it was posted.)

Recall, if you will, that the position of the Solicitor General's office is that the Bush administration's practice of abducting people and holding them incommunicado without charge or trial is completely constitutional. And why? Because the "detainee" (or "prisoner" on planet Earth) can explain his innocence to his interrogators.

Problem #3
Joe the untrained truck driver, who came to Iraq because the ad said "minimal supervision" and top pay, is faced with a completely innocent man who was abducted off the street. His protestations of innocence look like bullsh*t to the interrogator.

Problem #4
Joe is a perv, so he puts the innocent man on a box, clips electrodes to his hands and genitals, puts a hood on his head, and starts taking pictures. Then he shoves a chemical light up the prisoner's ass and has a buddy take pictures for souvenirs.

Bush says this is not the "America he knows."

But this is the America he created.


 9:05 AM

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Oh, I see. He didn't get to see the pictures.

More on Abu Ghraib.

Today, we find out that Bush had a little sh*t-fit with Rummy over Abu Ghraib. What was the subject of that tantrum?

1. His outrage that such inhumanity was being committed by Americans.
2. His concern that Amnesty International reports were ignored for months.
3. His irritation that Rumsfeld didn't tell him back in January that there were pictures.

If you chose number (3), then you understand this president -- or you have dealt with small children, either one.

Bush let Rummy have it with both barrels because Rumsfeld never told him that there were pictures of the abuse. If you are charitable to Bush, you might say that this is because the pictures brought the problems home in a way that dry words on the page never would.

For instance, these words paraphrased from February's Taguba Report are dull and would never catch the attention of a reader:

"sadistic"
"poured chemicals on their naked skin"
"forced naked men to wear women's underwear on their heads and mime homosexual acts with each other"
"anal rape with blunt objects"

Or, if one was less charitable, one would say that Bush was upset that the photos caused the scandal to become public. That is, Bush was mad that he got caught.

And if one was less charitable still, one would suspect that Bush only reads picture books.

If you're not disgusted yet, there's a whole new world opening up:

1. More photos from Abu Ghraib, which were harvested from a collection of souvenir photos brought home by MPs. "And here I am in front of a Presidential palace... and this is me and Jerry, man, Jerry was so drunk... and this is me laughing at naked, handcuffed prisoners piled into a human pyramid."

2. Guards placed a harness on an Iraqi woman in her 70s, made her crawl on all fours, and rode her like a donkey.

3. Prisoners were forced to strip naked in front of female guards, masturbate while staring at the female guards, mime homosexual sex with each other.

4. And Sy Hersh now says there are videotapes of all of this.

And as Hersh pointedly explained to Bill O'Reilly, these prisoners are not Al Qaeda. These are just the people that get arrested for whatever reason -- flipping the bird to a soldier, robbing the corner store, whatever. These tactics came straight from Gitmo, where I can at least understand the argument for using them. (Torture is always wrong, and especially so when the torturers claim that they are not under the control of any supervising authority anywhere in the world.) But the prisoners at Abu Ghraib are being dragged into Hell for no goddamned reason.

Perhaps -- just perhaps -- the rest of the world is not as comfortable with the American notion that part of the punishment of prison is rampant, brutal, homosexual rape.

 9:09 AM

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Let's get this straight.

Let's make sure that we understand the timeline here. Abu Ghraib is not a breaking story.

July 2003 -- Amnesty International reports that human rights abuses are going on in Abu Ghraib prison. Their entreaties are ignored by the Bush Administration.

January 2004 -- The Bush Administration is alerted to sadistic torture and human rights abuses in Abu Ghraib prison by internal reports. Bush and Rumsfeld admit to being aware of these reports in January, though Rumsfeld cryptically says that he "went through" the report without reading it. That makes sense, because there's nothing in these allegations that would cause one to slow down and read the details. A quick skim should suffice.

Early March 2004 -- The Bush Administration receives a formal, lengthy report calling the conditions in Abu Ghraib prison "sadistic," and detailing events such as pouring caustic chemicals on prisoners, prisoner-on-prisoner rape, guard-on-prisoner rape with a chemical lightstick and/or a broomstick, guards murdering inmates, and female guards forcing naked inmates to mime homosexual sex with each other with mocking English words written on their flesh.

Later in March 2004 -- The Bush Administration asks 60 Minutes II to delay its report on Abu Ghraib, citing the security of US troops. 60 Minutes II agrees to delay until Sy Hersh's New Yorker article comes out. Ed Murrow begins spinning in his grave.

April 2004 -- CBS and The New Yorker break the story that the American prison is no better than when Saddam was running it -- the "torture rooms," the "rape rooms" and so on. The Bush administration, which has known about these abuses for four months, feigns shock and denounces these actions as "un-American."

May 2004 -- Bush announces that he will be going on Arab television to explain that things like that don't happen in a democracy, and that the Arab world should trust him to ensure that justice will be done. But as the Washington Post has so accurately explained, pictures speak louder than words, and the Arab world is staring at these photos until their eyes pop out of their heads. What will Bush tell the Arab world? "I knew about these brutal events for four months but did not lift a finger until the American press forced me to say something?" How do you translate that into Arabic? I mean, the man's last address to the Arab world was "Bring it on."


 8:14 AM

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

You know, I get swamped at work and when I get back out from under it, it seems like there's too much to catch up on. But I can try, in a sort of stream of consciousness wave of irritation.

Okay, okay, so the whole world knows that we humiliated Iraqi prisoners by having female guards strip them and force them to mime homosexual acts with each other. Okay, so it seems that the Administration That Must Not Be Questioned will punish the reservists and ignore the military intelligence officers directing them, and the guns-for-hire doing the actual interrogations. But here's a fresh outrage: the people in Abu Ghraib prison doing these "interrogations" were recently trained by the interrogators at Guantanamo, who had come over to show the Iraq guys some new "techniques." So, let's be sure to punish the reservists and pretend that everything is going to go back to normal. Ignore the military intelligence guys behind the curtain, filming a new "Girls Gone Wild" video using prisoners of war. And ignore the very real possibility that these are the sorts of things being done at Guantanamo, away from the prying eyes of cameras and witnesses.

If I was a trooper on the ground in Iraq, I would be mad as hell that my fellow soldiers had painted a big red target on my chest like that.

Then, Bush -- you remember Bush, right? "Bring it on" Bush? "Mission Accomplished" Bush? -- Bush goes on a bus tour of Ohio and Michigan (except that he is flying and the bus is for show), where he tells the carefully-screened crowds (you could only get a ticket through the campaign) that the world is a better place because "the torture chambers have been closed" -- I mean, this guy really doesn't read the papers, does he? -- and then takes some hard-hitting questions like "How can I help you increase your support in the Latino community?" Perhaps, I would answer, by lifting a finger to help the goddamned Latino community instead of offering them fool's-gold immigration programs and condescension.

Meanwhile, a television show reads the names of the 730+ war dead and is criticized for being "political." As The Daily Show said last night, "it appears the facts now have an anti-Bush bias."

And then we can't figure out how to invade Fallujah. The Marines have fallen back and allowed the city to stay in insurgent hands; their solution is to find an Iraqi strongman to retake the city so that it won't seem like the Americans are at war, which we're not, because we're only at war if people can acknowledge the names of the dead in public. So, in another example of the stunning idiocy of outsourcing and the now-par-for-the-course sub-moronic conduct of the Bush Administration, they immediately recruit a Baathist general from the Republican Guard. Sure, we want the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, so we keep the torture chambers running and let the Republican Guard do our dirty work for us. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Then, when the utter absurdity of that choice comes to light, they kick him out and choose another Iraqi general, one who spent years in jail for defying Saddam but who has no connection to Fallujah whatsoever. And even now, as America tries to find someone in Iraq to save its collective ass, America wonders why the world press is portraying Fallujah as a major defeat for the Americans. Of course, as Fox News would say, those news agencies are not putting the facts into "context," the "context" being "America cannot be wrong." After all, that "context" certainly cannot include "spurred into action by the incompetent Americans shutting down a newspaper."

And you'll remember that we have our asses out in the Middle Eastern wind over our alliance with Israel, an alliance that has exposed us to the spite and enmity of the entire Arab world, but the Likud party resoundingly told Sharon to shove the modest "peace plan" that Bush went out on a limb to support. If we could get our allies to act sensibly, if we could act sensibly, dayenu. But no. No, we have to support Israel at all costs, no matter how stupidly they act, no matter how suicidal they may seem.

Iraq is a major source of graft, corruption and outright theft, as the "Marketplace" reports made clear. But the Bush administration would have to police those contracts, which -- as you will remember -- were awarded without bidding to Bush administration cronies.

And the Supreme Court must consider the very difficult question of whether an American citizen can be arrested on U.S. soil and taken--without charge or trial or access to a lawyer or even access to the outside world--to a brig on a ship outside American territorial jurisdiction simply because the President says he is an "enemy combatant." There is no concern for freedom, the administration asks us to believe, because the requirements of due process are met. The prisoner has a chance to explain himself in the interrogation room.

That's not a joke, folks, that's the legal position of the office of the Solicitor General in the Padilla case.

And finally, in his stump speech, Bush firmly denounces those that would say that "brown-skinned people" are incapable of self-governance. As soon as I find someone that has ever made that allegation, I'll let you know.

Oh, yes. One more thing. The Selective Service Administration has quietly proposed a new plan for the draft, in which (1) both men and women, (2) aged 18 to 34 years, (3) must keep the SSA apprised of (i) their whereabouts, and (ii) of any "niche" skills they may have which would be useful to the government.

I know that I should be funny, I should keep my sense of humor. But it's hard for me to do that these days -- and it's not just because my real life seems like a quagmire of its own.

Someone tell me why I should calm down.

 10:10 AM

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