Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Power Of The Vote Is An Anachronism

I just heard a character saying that on a rerun of an episode from the old "Homicide: Life on the Street" episode.


The Terror

I have subscribed to many magazines over the years and eventually dropped them all, but we still get the New Yorker. As irritating as I find its politics, I still get a thrill out of it when I find articles like this one.

Adam Gopnik reviews two new books on the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution, including one I've read, David Andress' “The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France.”

I almost didn't read it; I got through the introduction and almost threw it aside. It wasn't the revisionism of the work that repulsed me, but the historian's unfortunate choice to try to relate his topic to modern times. On the one hand, Andress drifted into a tone-deaf and pompous warning to modern America that it is in danger of going the way of Revolutionary France and -- what? He doesn't say, exactly. Are there guillotines in our future?

Really, though, he's not addressing America at all; Andress is a lecturer in history at Portsmouth University, and as far as I can determine he hasn't spent much time over here. His "America" is the America of the pages of the Guardian and the Independent and other left-wing British newspapers, a violent, fascist theocracy.

At the same time, Andress has fallen into a trap that tempts every historian of a controversial topic. In working to understand the minds of people who do horrible things -- which is a necessary aspect of the historian's craft -- he's come to understand these people in a degree that makes him truly sympathetic to them, and he's forgotten that the rest of us haven't made that mental effort and don't share his sympathies.

So his introduction had a headache-inducing quality, and what he wrote seemed to boil down to: "Beware, America! Of falling into the ways of the Reign of Terror -- which really was an understandable and justified reaction to political realities." Aspirin, please.

But the book as a whole is full of good history and good stories. Just, if you're going to read it, skip the intro and the conclusion (often, with history books, the opposite approach will give you all you need).

Andress' book was worth writing, if for no other reason than to inspire Gopnik's essay. Which considers the Terror and the context it gets as a historical event now safely buried in time. And he reminds me that part of the purpose of a historian is to push past the statistics and dig up the corpses and show us the blood again:

Even if we accept that the revolutionaries were not the only bloody-minded madmen in Europe, do we end our reading with a new sense of proportion? Whatever academic scholarship may insist, surely a sense of proportion is the last thing we want from history—perspective, certainly, but not proportion. Anything, after all, can be seen in proportion, shown to be no worse a crime than some other thing. Time and distance can’t help but give us a sense of proportion: it was long ago and far away and so what? What the great historians give us, instead, is a renewed sense of sorrow and anger and pity for history’s victims—for some luckless middle-aged Frenchman standing in the cold gray, shivering as he watches the members of his family being tied up and having their heads cut off. Read Gibbon on the destruction of the Alexandria library by the Christians, or E. P. Thompson on the Luddites—not to mention Robert Conquest on the Gulag—and suddenly old murders matter again; the glory of the work of these historians is that the right of the dead to have their pain and suffering taken seriously is being honored. It is not for history to supply us with a sense of history. Life always supplies us with a sense of history. It is for history to supply us with a sense of life.

As for lessons for the present generation, here's one that Andress should have written in place of the conclusion he published:

The bloodlust of the time makes the attempt to trace the Terror to any single intellectual source, or peculiar circumstance—to Enlightenment rationalism gone mad, or to the paranoia of the encircled Republicans—feel inadequate to the Terror’s essential nature, which was that it didn’t matter what the ideology was. The argument that a taste for the ideal and the tabula rasa leads to terror, after all, would be more convincing if its opposite—a desire for an organic, authentic, traditional society—didn’t lead to terror, too. The Red Terror led to a White Terror; Robespierre’s head had hardly fallen before the Gilded Youth were attacking the now helpless Jacobins. It sometimes seems as if history had deliberately placed Hitler and Stalin side by side at the climax of the horror of modern history simply to demonstrate that the road to Hell is paved with any intention you like; a planned, pseudo-rationalist utopianism and an organic, racial, backward-looking Romanticism ended up with the same camps and the same carnage. The historical lesson of the first Terror is not that reason devours its own but that reason cannot stop us from devouring each other.

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World Cup on a Tilted Field

Soccer/football is the world's sport? Rubbish. It's dominated by an elite club of Europe, Brazil, and a handful of other lands that invest heavily in the game. If you're an African nation, forget about it. Individual players there may rise to the top echelons of the game, but it's practically a colonial situation. And national teams from Africa don't stand a chance. They never have.

In many ways it is naive to expect that it should. Who has the motive to invest in the facilities that can ensure the long-lasting success of African football? African governments tend to have more important things to worry about. When they have some spare cash, they are not usually thanked by their impoverished peoples for sinking it into fancy new stadiums. The European teams that cream off the best African talent are not in the business of developing the infrastructure of the game either: what most of them care about is their sell-on fee, which is why so many young African players are picked up by lower-league teams who then dangle them in front of the big clubs in the hope of striking it rich.

Then there are the players themselves. Many African stars have seen it as their obligation to give something back to the countries of their birth. But why should they give it back to football? Some, such as the great Liberian player of the 1990s George Weah, have gone into politics; others have put their money into hospitals, schools or private businesses where it might do some immediate good. We don't expect pampered British players on £100,000 a week to invest in the roots of the game in this country. Why should we expect it of players from places whose banking systems are often in chaos and whose football associations are invariably corrupt?

Personally, politics and economics aside, I think it's kind of stupid to have the official game of the human race be one that essentially denies us the use of the one physical quality -- the miracles we can work with our hands -- that most distinguishes us from every other species.


I was driving down a road I know, and somehow got into a turn lane when I meant to go straight. But I knew that this crossroad also would end up close to where I wanted to go, so when the light changed I took the turn without much concern.

All of this was a rough overlay of a district I used to know pretty well, as I lived near there when I was in my 20s. For a long time I've noticed my dreams tend to take place in landscapes that are recognizable as real places I've lived; if I could remember the dreams better I am sure I could map it.

It is based on real geography, but only some parts of it are true to the real places. Others have quirks -- in some places it's always morning on a summer's day, or there's always an ominous feeling. My high school had no elevators, but in the dreams of it there's always an elevator, in the same place.

Other sections of the dream-map bear no resemblance to the real places, but are always there and are consistent from dream to dream. In the dream, if I go west down the road that ran through my college, I know I will end up in a neighborhood of very tall townhouses on very narrow streets and a port quay with sailing ships -- none of which exists in reality in my college town, which is landlocked. But always in the dream, the flying pterodactyls and the field perpetually under flood always are right where I left them.

Do other people dream like this?

Maybe I only remember remembering them in the dream. But no, I've written these things down occasionally, when I woke and had time and a pen handy. So I know this is how it works.

Yet every once in a while I encounter a dream that is new and stunningly detailed.

I drove for a while down that side road, seeing what I expected, but then I found myself in a parking lot at an old brick warehouse-type building that had once been converted to a nightclub. And I suddenly realized, I used to go there and dance and drink and have adventures. And it all came back to me, all the people I had known there, the clothes I wore then, the scene, the DJ, the music. And I looked up at the peeling letters of the club name on the wall, half covered in ivy, and I looked in the window and I knew every inch of that club as it used to be, but now it was something else -- a fancy restaurant, and the people inside were dressed in Victorian garb for some occasion.

And none of it was real; there never was such a place, or such people. Yet my head conjured it all up, right down to the style of the lettering and the shape of the ivy leaves and the memories of what I could not see in the dream.

What an amazing creative force; and all our minds do that constantly, every night, imagining whole novels and films in full detail.

I sometimes dream I find an old photograph, and it suddenly opens a floodgate to some episode I had totally forgotten -- a place I once lived, a set of people I hung out with. All the social relationships among us, the jokes, the houses, the stories. Fully realized in dream, yet nowhere in reality.

When I'm awake, I feel it so vividly in my head it seems more real that the actual sealed rooms and dead ends of my life: the girl I dated for half a summer in '84; her apartment, her friend, the places we'd go. That was real, but what came back to me in the dream seems more complete than my memory. And the longing for those people is more acute. And it never was.

Do other people dream like this?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Unity 08

Like Linus in the pumpkin patch, we stare into the darkness, awaiting the apparition: The Centrist Party, the Third Stream, the Moderate Mahdi, the Political Great Pumpkin.

Could this be it?

We’re a movement to take our country back from polarizing politics. In 2008, we’ll select and elect a Unity Ticket to the White House— one Democrat, one Republican, in whatever order, or independents committed to a Unity team. We want you to join us - and you don't have to leave your party to do it.

Amba has more context and further ruminations.

J Schooled

The author of After the Future wants to blame the media because he (she? I honestly don't know) cast one of those dreaded, much-rued liberal votes for Nader in 2000:

I wasn't paying as much attention six years ago as I am now, and I'm not promoting Gore as flawless, but I have to admit I was taken in then by the way the MSM made fun of him, and I couldn't bring myself to vote for him and voted Green instead.

I almost fell into that trap, too, and I feel for the people who did. They want that bote back so bad they can taste it. It's like watching someone groping down a storm drain for those car keys that slipped out of his hand. Forget it, man, it's gone.

The AtF site is down the Chomsky arm of the galaxy, with talk of "the GOP and its media," a phrase evidently meant to include the New York Times. And like Chomsky, it gets about half of what it sees correct, but then fits it into the wrong Big Picture.

What After the Future sees is how the media "play the normal/weird card." To AtF, however, this is a function of the "corporate media" and its "agenda" to "make sure that issues they don't want discussed are either ignored or ridiculed."

What's right in that is the groupthink mentality. A newsroom is not that much different from a second grade classroom. Things are either "cool" or "dumb;" people are either the ones you want to sit with at lunch, or the ones you laugh at and run away from.

The essential agreement on these things is reinforced by office chatter. And you check yourself against the other newsrooms by reading their products. But that's not an important source of correction, because journalism by now is a cultural ghetto of people from similar backgrounds, similar educational levels -- naturally they see (and don't see) the same things. It's not necessary to presume a corporate-level conspiracy to understand why the front-pages of a hundred newspapers and the top five items of nightly newscasts of a half dozen networks are essentially identical on a given day.

Since the 1970s, "journalism" has become not just a trade practiced by random people who couldn't hold down real jobs, but a profession, one for which you train since high school. Such schooling has the tendency to streamline herds into phalanxes. It weeds out misfits. It ensures the editors and reporters who do make it through have a common background that focuses the range of their world-views.

[This tends toward the Chomskyite corporate conspiracy theory, but it in fact is as different from it as Darwinian evolution is from Intelligent Design.]

A morning newspaper or an evening newscast consists of decisions made by dozens of men and women. Yet it strives to appear to be a seamless presentation of the world. And in fact newspapers and newscasts do appear to be the work of one mind. This can only work if the people making the decisions have, essentially, the same range of views about things.

The people who hire reporters and editors tend to embrace people who think like they do. Managing editors (the ones who do the hiring) are products of the newsroom culture. They moved up through the ranks (in part by not making trouble for the herd mentality) till they got to the point where they can replenish the gene pool. And they'll choose people who resemble themselves.

The mass media is part of the public definition of the wall between "mainstream" and "fringe." In the minds of the people who accept it and consume it, the mainstream mass media both defines and inhabits "the center," the core, the range of acceptable views of the world we live in.

In many, perhaps most, newsrooms there's not a deliberate political decision about who's lagitimate and who's kooky. Just like the second grade doesn't really think about that new kid; they just latch onto some oddity in the way he speaks or dresses. The reporters and headline writers don't subtlely dis Al Gore or Hillary because they are playing a coldly calculated game to favor some other candidate to the right (or left) of him or her. It's just social reflex. You're not one of us.

Some other thoughts about it here and here.

Just To Be Contrary ...

How is this not an argument for a higher "official" retirement age--sooner rather than later--and a good, hard look at certain "entitlements," at least as currently structured?

I broached this before.

First link fixed.

Bordering On Reckless

A top Canadian spy testifies that his country is in as much danger from homegrown terrorists as from those abroad.

While Canadian troops are battling insurgents in Afghanistan, Canada faces a growing threat on the home front -- the young Canadian who quietly plans an attack using tactics learned on the Internet, the country's spy agency is warning.

A top spy yesterday revealed Ottawa's increasing fears of an attack unleashed by homegrown terrorists on the same scale as last July's suicide bombings in Britain that killed 56.

Jack Hooper, deputy director of operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was testifying before the Senate's national security and defence committee.

"All the circumstances that led to the London transit bombing ... are resident here and now in Canada," Hooper said.

So, are Canadian authorities on the case? Can they be? Have they been given the funding and resources needed in proportion to the importance of the task?

But he also made the frank admission that the resource-stretched spy agency is having a hard time identifying all the potential threats.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to detect these elements," Hooper said.

"We do a very good job of containing the threats we know about. We stay up at night worrying about the threats that we don't know about," he said.

In a blunt assessment, Hooper described how easily homegrown terrorists blend in and learn their deadly craft without ever leaving the house.

He said there have been a growing number of young people, either born in Canada or who moved here at an early age and become "radicalized."

"They are virtually indistinguishable from other youth. They blend in very well to our society. They speak our language," Hooper said.

"These are people ... in most instances who are Canadian citizens," said the CSIS deputy. "You can't remove them anywhere.

According to this article and another in the Jerusalem Post,
Hooper gave several examples of Canadian residents participating in terrorist attacks, including a man from Vancouver who trained the terrorists involved in the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar e-Salaam, Tanzania. He said that there are a number of "experienced combatants" from conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya living in Canada, as well as veterans of overseas terrorist training camps. But he also said that the internet is functioning as a virtual terrorist recruiting tool as well as a training camp.

Feeling all safe, warm and fuzzy yet?

Consider this.

About 90 per cent of immigration applicants from Pakistan and Afghanistan hotbeds for Islamic fundamentalism and central in the fight against terrorism haven't been adequately screened for security concerns over the past five years, Canada's spy agency said Monday.

The No. 2 man at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said his organization simply doesn't have the resources necessary to do all the security checks it would like.

Jack Hooper, deputy director of operations for the service, told a Senate national security committee about 20,000 immigrants have come from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region to Canada since 2001.

''We're in a position to vet one-tenth of those,'' he said. ''That may be inadequate.''

Asked if that meant CSIS wasn't completely satisfied about 90 per cent of the immigrants coming into the country from that region, Hooper responded ''that's correct.''

Committee chairman and Liberal Senator Colin Kenny suggested in an interview 10 per cent coverage was unacceptable.

'We have resourcing problems that have to be addressed'' at Canada's spy and police services, Kenny said. ''I hope they will be.'' He pointed out RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli told the same committee just two weeks ago his force only has the resources to pursue about one-third of known organized crime in Canada.

''And that's of what we know,'' Zaccardelli said at the time. Currently, CSIS only vets a handful of cases referred to it by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.


Let's see, these are the figures just since 2001. 2001. Is it too unfair to speculate that perhaps our neighbors to the north don't really take the potential threat from Islamic extremists/terrorists all that seriously? They sure don't appear to be ordering their priorities or allocating resources in a way that would indicate so.

And about the porosity of our Northern border ... .

Wherein My Dear Husband Is Impugned

Here. And it's supposedly MY fault for being the "*someone* [who] tossed me a softball".

OK, that last quote was from an offline e-mail. But anyone who extolls freakin' liver--OK, tart it up by using the word foie gras, if you insist--milkshakes deserves what he gets.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Selective Boycotts And Undiscriminating Discrimination From Academia

Cathy Young notes the double standard exhibited by those who vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions based on "apartheid policies."

Are these boycotts anti-Semitic? Maybe not, but, as I noted the other day, they are hypocritical, sanctimonious, and deeply wrong. No one is demanding a boycott of Russian academics over Russia's occupation of Chechnya and the atrocities committed there (which dwarf, to put it mildly, Israel's human rights abuses in the occupied territories). Or, as Ari Paul points out in an article at, a boycott of Chinese academics because of the occupation of Tibet and other assorted abuses by the Chinese regime. Or ... sadly, the list could go on and on.

In what could this double standard possibly be rooted? Read the whole thing.

And what action could/should the American Association of University Professors take?

In Memoriam

In an odd Memorial Day coincidence, while internet surfing I happened to discover today that this relative was "adopted" a few years back by a Rolling Thunder member, who travels cross-country each Memorial Day weekend to lay a Rolling Thunder Dog Tag below his name at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, as well as the names of two others.

Wow. Words fail.

If Ye Break Faith

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow (1)
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--John McCrae, 1915


Originally uploaded by deb5376.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Conservative, For Pete's Sake

Townshend responds to The Who's "Won't Be Fooled Again" topping a list of conservative songs.

Under the Grass

Memorial Day began not in one place but in many. Hilltop cemeteries across the North, behind old stone churches and meetings, with long views across the farms. On the grass where fathers and mothers -- the ones who could find the corpse among the slain -- laid their boys.

After the war, everyone wanted to forget. Was there ever a war everyone didn't want to forget after it ended? But in the springtime the veterans, still boys themselves in '66 or '67, walked up the hill to the graves of their buddies and remembered. As a later generation of veterans walked to a long black wall in a gash in the earth in Washington, D.C., and remembered.

My first book was a Civil War book, and I went to the cemeteries to finish building a statistical picture of the community I was studying. I had built a skeleton from census records, fleshed it with draft enrollment books and regimental files in the National Archives. The last stop was the cold grass on the windy hills, with cicadas singing down in the creekbeds and no other sound. There where all stories end, on marble tombs, spalling from decades of acid rain and barely legible (I learned to go in the evening when the slanting sunlight revealed the eroded letters).

Under them lay boys full of honest virtues and dreams of glory, and criminals with nothing better to do but go get shot at. Every volunteer army is the same; the best of a generation, and some of the worst, and most somewhere between.

The granite shaft in the small city where I live now honors those who fell "in defense of the union in the War of the Rebellion." As palpable a lie as ever lured men to war; like killing your estranged wife and saying you did it in defense of marriage. All that political hot air, and they bought it.

Did they die for nothing, then? Of course not! Look around you. Look at the faces of people at work or play. They never knew it, those soldiers, but they allowed all this to happen. What they did re-set this nation on its foundation and set men, women, and children free.

And there I'd better stop, lest I break one of my own rules. This time last year I wrote about two of my ancestral relations who died in that war. That's one of them on the tombstone at the top of the post.

When that post reached the point where a blogger typically ties the past to the present and attempts to turn the reality of that generation into a moral lesson to this one, I stopped. And I'll stop here now, saying what I said then:

What can you say about that? You could remind your anti-war friends That he was a not entirely willing participant in a not entirely legal war, in which a lot of basic American rights were overturned by a president elected by a minority of the voters. No, that's wrong. That's turning a dead man into a rhetorical trope. It takes him out of his context and his time, uses him to advance a present-day argument that has nothing to do with him. That's not what Memorial Day means. That's not what honor looks like.

This holiday began as a private affair, among the veterans themselves. In my part of the world, at first, they marched out to the cemeteries together, black and white, a truly remarkable thing in the old segregated North. Then the civilians and the politicians got hold of it and it became about speeches and contemporary matters and the blacks and whites stopped mingling.

Every attempt to use Memorial Day for any purpose but honoring the dead is unseemly. The day belongs to the individual man or boy who went to do a duty, with whatever mix of willingness and fear, and died doing it, as he knew he might. Any thought that goes much beyond that risks desecration.


"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"

Why May is the one month of the year, every year since forever, that I read sports sections predictably and reliably.

I still can't forgive the hubris that caused the infamous "split" a decade ago and, more, continues to tarnish the Indy 500's proud tradition. (Registration required, but free: Just do it.) Pffahh!

Still, even that hasn't broken my own unbreakable tradition, oh no no no no no!

I'm 1000% percent sure that I first heard and listened to that glorious whine, then via radio, as a just-shy-of-3-months-old babe, back in 1961.

It still thrills.

Update: The title references, of course, "Jabberwocky" from Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There."

Update, post-race: Wow! One of the most exciting in a long, long time! And that last lap ... .

Good for Sam Hornish! But I must say it would have been nice to see Michael Andretti finally emerge the champion. And Marco: Amazing. It's going to be great fun to follow the career of another Andretti.

(Fiendishly hot day for the Indy. First time I ever winced when the victory milk went splashing everywhere, just because, well, you know.)

Little Cronkites

I was posting this, about how the situation in Afghanistan is turning ugly as the Islamists regroup and start to strike back. Here's Michael Yon's assessment:

Our people in Tarin Kot (along with the Dutch and Aussies) are outnumbered. Several of the bases I saw seemed vulnerable to catastrophic attack as the enemy continues to strengthen. This didn’t say much for the unguarded places at which I was staying at night. Kabul might be relatively safe, but Southern Afghanistan is dead man country.

… Despite these reports, the obvious dangers our troops face isn’t making a big footprint in the news back in the US. When I say “our troops”, I mean that Canadian, Australian, British, French, Italian and Dutch and other blood of our allies is our blood. Their blood is as important as ours. And where are our friends the Indians?

Despite that there are firefights – big ones – occurring frequently, the soldiers are calling Afghanistan the Forgotten War. I am calling it The About to Bite us War because like a shark this beast has many rows of teeth.

The money from the massive opium harvest in 2006 will buy weapons and influence that will be used against us in the spring of 2007.

And while I was writing that something was nagging me: The bit about how it hasn't been in the headlines. It's not like this is unknown. I've been reading insider journalist chatter for several months now about how Afghanistan is in danger of getting out of hand.

True, the body count there has just begun to climb, and the immediate level of bloodshed doesn't quite require screaming wood headlines. And also true that most of the gatekeeper media pulled their people out of that country shortly after Iraq began. If there's anyone assigned to Kabul for the NYT besides Carlota Gall, it's probably some Brooklyn stringer who slept with the boss's daughter and got caught.

But just because it hasn't happened yet is not enough excuse. Journalism famously is the art of telling you "here it comes" as well as "here it is" (and "there it goes"). I remember, for instance, when Kosovo was just coming on to the radar screen, but the consensus was that the U.S. or NATO was going to intervene this time, the stories got a lot of ink and ran big even before the war on the ground exploded.

Which leads me to suspect that a central reason Afghanistan is being underplayed right now is that it just doesn't fit into the small frame of current media perceptions. By which I mean the way the average reporter and editor, with his or her collective assumptions, sees the world.

Which includes:

  • Bush's incompetence is the cause of all problems

  • U.S. wars of intervention are opposed by most good people at home and fought without our old allies, who now despise us

  • Overthrowing another country's government is unjust and illegal

  • The expectation that people in such a country actually are ready to work with their occupiers is so stupid now that only a stoned neo-con could believe it

All of which, rightly or wrongly, is built on the American experience in Iraq. And the whole narrative flows along nicely, getting more and more Vietnam-ish every day, unless you realize that there really are two unaccomplished missions still underway, not one.

And the overthrow of the Taliban was and remains widely popular in the U.S., is regarded as justified and legal even by the U.N. (though in many ways it was as dubious as Iraq), involves equal participation by our old allies, and enjoys the active cooperation of a majority of Afghanistan citizens.

So, you have to rewrite the template if we force journalists to start writing about wars not war. The current sent of adjectives has to be thrown out. I think the media sees Afghanistan, and some of it is beginning to register, but they just haven't begun the mental process of lifting themselves out of this very comfy groove they're in and facing up to it.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Sex Ed Needed For Seniors?

And it should it be of the "abstinence only," rather than more comprehensive, type? Because we wouldn't want to encourage Those Oldsters Of Today to become promiscuous or anything.

STDs infest a Florida retirement community.

A gynecologist at The Villages community near Orlando, Fla., said she treats more cases of herpes and the human papilloma virus in the retirement community than she did in the city of Miami.

"Yeah, they are very shocked (to hear the diagnosis)," gynecologist Dr. Colleen McQuade said. "I had a patient in her 80s."
"I have had a better dating life since I have been here than I have ever had," Franklin said. "I know there are things going around."

I don't want to take away from the serious health issues that STDs can cause, but I just have to say that this article contains one of the worst seduction lines I have ever heard:

"Should I bring the little blue pills over tonight?"

My Lord, maybe romance really is dead.

"[A]nimatronic breasts that heave"

Sexy or creepy idea?

(Yeah, yeah. I know. But it's the Saturday of a holiday weekend. How deep do you expect me to be, for crying out loud?)

Swan In Love

Berlin Memories

[Because I promised recently to flesh out those cryptic references to having inhabited a vanished city]

The Berlin I lived in in 1978 and '79 is gone now, I am sure. It's been almost 30 years since I was last there, but the place I rode out of is sure to be as deep-buried in history as ante-bellum Atlanta.

West Berlin was an artificial child of the Cold War. You take a big, sprawling capital, smash it flat in a war, then split it in two, and isolate one of the halves -- cut it off from its outer suburbs and garden farms. Then you build a huge concrete wall around that half.

But it wasn't a circular wall; it zig-zagged along ward lines and alleys, and you would run into it where you didn't expect it to be. Some places it looked like what you'd expect: a 30-foot-tall concrete thing, with barbed wire and a killing zone of tank traps. But in others, especially up in the French Sector, it ran through what had been blue-collar apartment blocks, and in some cases they simply bricked up the backs of those buildings, and that was the wall, too.

The old center of Berlin, with the main street of Unter den Linden, was in the East zone, and so West Berlin evolved its own glittering center, along the Kurfurstendam (universally known as the Ku-dam). It had all the shopping meccas that were built to showcase Western prosperity -- Ka-de-We, Europa Center -- and the Gedachtneskirche, about which more later.

Yet the shadow of a whole city remained over the fragments; in the transportation system, for instance. The entire U-bahn (Untergrundbahn = subway) system, east and west, was run by the West; and the S-bahn (stadtsbahn = elevated railway) for the whole city was run by the East. The S-bahn was a line of clattering old orange flying coffins of pre-war vintage. The U-bahn was gleaming, yellow, ultramodern.

My main U-bahn stop was Wittenbergplatz; on the north end of the downtown Ku-dam district. To get there from where I lived, the U-bahn traveled a long curve route that took it back and forth under the wall. There was only one subway stop where you could disembark in the East from any of the lines that originated in the West. That was Friedrichstrasse, and it was a rat-maze of customs and currency exchanges and all of that.

There were other stations along the lines that passed under the wall, and they were empty, abandoned, underground ghosts. The trains slowed, but never stopped, at Potsdamer Platz. Before the war it was one of the busiest intersections in Europe, but when I was there it was dead brownfields above ground and a hollow shell beneath. And it crept through Anhalter Hauptbahnhof, where in the last days of the war Hitler's troops, desperate to stop the Red Army, blew up the locks on the Landwehrkanal and in the process drowned the civilians and wounded soldiers who were sheltering in the bowels of the station.

I lived with friends in Zehlendorf, an old suburb in the southwest, near Potsdam, that had been spared the war's destruction. It was a glimpse of how the leafier parts of the city might once have looked, with high-ceilinged old rowhouses on streets named for Prussian generals. Other friends I had there lived in Kreuzburg, in big warrens of old apartments, and, I now realize, they were all squatters. The civic code of West Berlin at that time made it beneficial for people who owned old property to let it deteriorate, then tear it down and build something new and high-rent. But because the city had a chronic housing shortage, the average folk fought back by taking over the big empty buildings and living in them.

It was a volatile place; all old people and teen-agers. The elderly were too poor to pick up and go west, and they had seen everything (Soviet war memorial in East Berlin known to the older women of the city as "Tomb of the Unknown Rapist"); and many of the young had come in from the West, hippie dropouts disaffected with consumer culture and drawn to West Berlin as a sort of enclave, with an easy university and a haven from the draft.

The Allies had done a lot for the city, overall, and they were not as aggressive or intrusive a presence as they were in other German cities near U.S. bases. But they were widely despised anyhow.

It seemed to be a German habit to establish one's distance from the Nazis, and it's not hard to understand why. The idea that Nazi=German is a silly one, of course, but few places in Germany were less Nazi-friendly than Berlin. William Shirer (I had the honor to interview him before he died) chronicled the contempt with which the city and the party regarded one another. One Nazi publication summed up Berlin "A melting pot of everything that is evil -- prostitutes, drinking-houses, cinema, Marxism, Jews, Strippers, negroes dancing, and all the vile offshoots of so-called 'modern art.' "

There was very little of pre-war Berlin to see when I was there: The Weimar Republic Berlin of cabarets and coffee-houses and Bauhaus. I did have one utterly unforgettable "old Berlin" experience, though, in a kino somewhere near Steglitz that showed "Rocky Horror" at midnight. The place was packed with Germans, all reciting the lines and throwing toilet paper. The campy homosexuality of the film was somehow just right for Berlin. Berliners also have a sense of humor about themselves ["If the Alps were in Berlin, they'd be bigger"] that is not really evident in most other parts of Germany.

Out in one of the big parks in the district of Schöneberg is a high hill, almost the only eminence in flat, sandy Berlin. High enough to ski down, high enough to put a star observatory at the top. It's the Trümmerberg -- "rubble mountain." That's the old Berlin under there; swept off the streets by gangs of women (there were no men) and piled up in an out-of-the-way spot. It took 12 years. And there are two others in the city.

In the East, more than 30 years after the war's end, there were still many buildings in ruins, especially a big cathedral I'd see from the railway as it ran along the wall. The Reichstag was still in ruins, too, and in the "no-man's land" near the wall.

One of the features of the landscape along the west side of the Wall was the white wooden crosses, lettered in black with the names of people who had died there trying to make it across, or under, or through the wall. Many were simply inscribed unbekant -- "unknown." There were a lot of them around the Reichstag, because the River Spree was the boundary between East and West there, and the wall was on the east side of the river, but the actual boundary was the high tide mark on the west side. So people would get over the wall, swim the river, then get shot on the other side.

The Gedachtneskirche was one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen anywhere. A big fortress of a church from the 1890s (Berliners sarcastically say it's the only building in history to be improved by being bombed), the broken, blackened fang of its spire was the only thing standing more than a few meters above ground in central Berlin in 1945. So they left it standing, and built West Berlin around it, as a permanent reminder of the awful price of making war.

Technically West Berlin was a front-line in the superpower war. But it felt like a forgotten city. After the airlift (1948) and the Wall crisis and the Kennedy visit (1961) the world pretty much forgot about Berlin. Most of the World War III scenarios had the Soviets bypassing it, as not worth the trouble to conquer. In fact, it was only useful to the West insofar as it could present a bright showroom window of commercial success in the heart of the drab east. Considering how the Cold War turned out, however, that was the essential thing.

So the prevailing feel of the city was benign neglect, slow decay, and a laid-back pace of life amid the stumps and scars left in the infernal last days of a horrible war. Who knew, all along, we were winning the battle right there? Especially after the Helsinki Accords in 1976, which made it easier for Berliners to cross over to the other side for a day and showed the Easterners the full measure of what they were missing.

I have heard stories from the post-1989 city, including some from the guy who recently redesigned our newspaper. He talked of a city full of construction cranes, as thick as oil rig derricks in Texas. They'd working all day, and at sunset, by some odd ritual, all turned their dinosaur necks to face the east.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Art Theft

Michael Yon has a Memorial Day post up. It deals with the photo he took that will be his blessing and burden for the rest of his days. It's an iconic image of war and tragedy that can mean many things to many people.

And if you willfully refuse to know anything about the moments before he snapped the shutter, it can become an anti-war picture. Which is how it's being used by the latest gang of rip-off artists.

You can see their work here.

That site encourages people outraged by this misuse to flood the magazine with calls. I don't. People who make these kind of bad publishing decisions are capable of shielding themselves from a phone onslaught, which means the poor $7-an-hour receptionist is the one whose day you ruin. And you never know who you're going to be unleashing along with your loyal and sane readers.

Leave it to the lawyers. They know best how to bring the pain to those who deserve to feel it.

How does this play into the discussion we had recently about copyrights?

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week have been posted.

First place went to Let Us Make Them All Welcome by Gates of Vienna, which touches on a subject dear to us here, the plight of Europeans who stand up to Muslim extremists and often find themselves backstabbed by their own countries:

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the beginnings of what could be another sea change for Europe. Remember the 1930’s when so many of Europe’s intelligentsia came to America to escape Fascism? Albert Einstein was one; Karen Horney was another. Our intellectual ranks and our universities were enriched as Europe’s totalitarian rumblings caused the educated ranks to flee to safer shores.

It seems to be happening again. In addition to Hirsi Ali’s imminent departure from the Netherlands, there is a growing feeling that Europe is not safe for those who dissent even a little from the received wisdom of the bureaucratic state, or dare to confront the Muslim taqiyya so prevalent there

Also getting votes were Assessing the Threat At Our Southern Border, an excellent and thoughtful (as always) analysis of that by The Glittering Eye, The Narcissistic Synthesis -- Sometimes, You Get What You Need by Dr. Sanity, which includes a fascinating chart at the end, Citizens of the World by ShrinkWrapped, and Saudi Textbooks (After the Intolerance Was Removed!) by Joshuapundit.

Outside the Council, it was an absolute landslide (in Council terms) for The Essential President Bush by The Anchoress. I know it got my vote. Even though I don't entirely agree with it, and in some matters have taken the opposite tack. But it was a stirring bit of rally-writing, and well worth sustained applause.

Also getting votes were SC&A Vent by Sigmund, Carl & Alfred, which spins off the theme of immigration into some dark and daring territory, Is Left-Leaning Google Censoring Right-Leaning Websites? by The American Thinker, and Lesson in Civic Responsibility? (Well, Yes!) by Classical Values.

It wasn't a winner, but one of the entries submitted was this salute to The Liberty Fund, which publishes essential historical texts that have been neglected and allowed to fall out of print. The publisher has a distinct libertarian leaning, but the books are ones anyone needs a familiarity with to claim an education.

It is the economics branch of the wider Library of Liberty, whece comes my cherished volume of the works of St. George Tucker, who foresaw America's future in so many ways.

With Child In Lap Tonight ...

... and while we listened to the song, I told my son, almost 6, the story of how I sat on my mother's lap, when I was roughly 6, while she told me the story of sitting on her mother's lap, when she was 6, while the two of them listened to this song together, about six years after the movie.

Sappy? Well, the running of sap signals spring, and life, and renewal, and depending on the tree, sweet stuff, at least eventually.

Sap. I could use more of that.

What about you, at least once in while?

Bloggers Get Some Shield, So Far

Apple loses its bid before the Sixth District Court of Appeals to force bloggers to reveal sources.

A California appeals court has smacked down Apple's legal assault on bloggers and their sources, finding that the company's efforts to subpoena e-mail received by the publishers of Apple Insider and runs contrary to federal law, California's reporter's shield law, and the state Constitution.

The Sixth District Court of Appeals on Friday roundly rejected (.pdf) Apple's argument that the bloggers weren't acting as journalists when they posted internal document about future Apple products. "We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes 'legitimate journalis(m).' The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here," the court wrote.

"Beyond casting aspersions on the legitimacy of petitioners’ enterprise, Apple offers no cogent reason to conclude that they fall outside the shield law’s protection."

There's lots more, and if you're a blogger, you really should read the whole thing.

But don't rest easy. Be careful out there. Guard against extrapolation.

That's just legally speaking. There are whole other areas of potential imperatives to consider as well.


Added: When I say "legally speaking," I mean that as a layperson, having to think about legalities both potential and actual. Y'all are real clear that I'm not a lawyer, correct? But lawyer-readers are certainly invited to weigh in.

Useful You-Know-Whats

Cindy Sheehan has a book out. The anti-antiwar faction's favorite chew-toy is still obsessed with Georgie.

And yet the most idiotic statement in Sheehan’s new book, Dear President Bush, comes not from Sheehan herself but from Howard Zinn, who writes in the introduction: “A box-cutter can bring down a tower. A poem can build up a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution.”

A box-cutter can bring down a tower. By now, I suppose, we should be used to the hard Left’s extending underdog status to the worst of mass murderers; still, the sheer gall of beginning a series of David-and-Goliath metaphors with that one is breathtaking.

So a spunky little box-cutter took on those big old capitalistic towers, the same way that a brave little pamphlet like Dear President Bush takes on Bush and his evil policies. (The publisher is City Lights’s Open Media Series; City Lights is the San Francisco bookstore famously dedicated to free speech, although it won’t carry anything by Oriana Fallaci because she’s “fascist.”)

Mother Sheehan and Professor Zinn in one package. Throw in, say Gorgeous George and Comrade Chavez, and you'll bat for the cycle. Why, that's just what Dr. Sanity has done.

It is a real love fest among these guys. Cindy adoringly hugging Hugo; Geoge looking deeply into the eyes of Fidel...

Neither Cindy nor George have any problem admiring -- or even embracing -- dictators and thugs enthusiastically. Welcome to the new, improved Useful Idiot Brigade of the 21st century! Joining the Brigade is easy. Simply set your moral thermostat to zero; your psychological state to denial; and your intellectual state to bankrupt.

Oops, but I guess that's just me being "moralistic" again.

Labels: ,

If You Don't Mind

Haditha Incident

Too soon for a judgment on the Marines in Haditha story, but it looks like criminal charges are coming.

Even though it's too soon to say much, it won't be too soon for the anti blogs to curse the "silence" of the pro-Iraq invasion blogs. So let's break the silence.

In every war, however justified, however necessary, certain things are going to happen: Men who deserve to live are going to go to war and die and be maimed and go mad. Men who don't deserve anything are going to stay home and get rich and get the girls. Bombs will miss their targets. Civilians are going to die horribly, even though no one intended that. Women and children will suffer most. Some of our soldiers will die by friendly fire.

If you don't accept this, be a pacifist. If you only want to fight perfect wars, first you have to invent perfect warfare.

And in any war that lasts long enough -- which is probably "longer than two weeks" -- the warrior code is going to fall apart in some men and they will cross the line between soldiers and killers. The measure of a society and a nation is whether it punishes that to the full extent, or whether it accepts it. We are enduring such a trial now.

I've said all this before. It doesn't mean I like it or that it doesn't gall me. This is from February 5, 2004, in reaction to an earlier allegation of civilian abuse, in Samarra:

In Greek histories, Spartan mothers sent their sons to war with the commandment, "Come back with your shield, or on it."

Spartan mothers loved their babies, too -- they did not want to see dead bodies of their son brought back, as was the custom, sprawled on their shields. But if a warrior returned alive and unarmed it meant he had broken ranks and run. It meant he had thrown away the shield that protected -- not his own life, but, in the old method of fighting in phalanxes, the life of the man next to him. He had broken faith with his comrades; he had forgotten his warrior's code.

They wanted their sons back alive, but whole in spirit as well as body. They wanted them with honor intact. Everyone today who loves a soldier, sailor or Marine understand this. We want them alive, we want them victorious -- and we want them to have lives worth living when their battles are over.

Which is why we have to watch carefully, on many levels, the daily unfolding in Iraq. Roadside bombings and terrorist massacres make headlines, but incidents that miss the headlines can cut deeper.

... Modern armies sweep into their ranks hundreds of thousands of people. Not all are fit to be soldiers. Those who are not, when discovered, should be weeded out and sent home, and if they have committed crimes in the meanwhile they should be punished for them.

But this is not a matter of good soldiers and bad apples. Certain kinds of combat, or duty, wear down the military codes of honor. The warrior's code frays, then the seams fall apart. Then horrible things begin to happen.

Warrior codes, whether in Sparta or in West Point, distinguish soldiers from murderers. Warriors have rules that govern when and how they kill. Learning them is part of the purpose of military training. We give soldiers the power to take lives, but only certain lives, in certain ways, at certain times, and for certain reasons.

The purpose of a code "is to restrain warriors, for their own good as much as for the good of others," writes Shannon E. French, an assistant professor of philosophy and author of "The Code of the Warrior: Exploring Warrior Values Past and Present." "The essential element of a warrior's code is that it must set definite limits on what warriors can and cannot do if they want to continue to be regarded as warriors, not murderers or cowards. For the warrior who has such a code, certain actions remain unthinkable, even in the most dire or extreme circumstances."

Yet the danger of crossing that thin, sharp line that separates warriors from murderers is greatest in exactly the kind of conflict Americans face in Iraq: war not among great powers, evenly matched, but of well-equipped armies pitted against weak but merciless foes who hit and run and hide among civilians. Samarra is smack in the Sunni Triangle. It's the kind of place where graffiti reads "We will kill the Americans wherever they go!" It is the kind of place people blow up public buildings to make a political point. There is no warrior code in that; a terrorist is a terrorist, however he justifies himself.

But this is where the risk lies for the Americans. "Vietnam" has become an overworked cliche from the Left. Like "fascist," it's an important word from history, full of lessons, that has been drained of meaning by over-use. Back in the spring, every time the Coalition armies paused on the road to Baghdad and Basra to regroup, the vultures from the Left began to cackle about "another Vietnam." The rapid collapse of Saddam's military shut them up for a while. But now that the U.S. forces face an insurgent movement, they're at it again.

Ignore them; they're just parroting their cliches. But pay attention to Vietnam. It was the last time the U.S. got into a situation like this, and in parts of the military, the warrior code broke down, the door between soldiers and killers came unhinged, and a few good boys from America gunned down helpless peasant villagers.

If there was an act of brutality in Samarra, it should be punished without pity. It should be done publicly, for all to see. The troops need to see that the criminals in our ranks will be found and purged. So do the Iraqis. Otherwise, the hard work of winning hearts and minds in Iraq will be lost. Otherwise, the warrior code will weaken by that much more in the minds of American soldiers and Marines still trying to do an honest job.

It is not the justness, or lack of it, in a war that makes this happen. Japanese soldiers, brutalized by experience in China, did it to American soldiers in the Pacific and Americans did it in turn to the Japanese when they found out about it. Tennessee soldiers who fought with honor and discipline at Shiloh in 1862 turned into murderous bushwhackers by 1864. Many soldiers in Hitler's army behaved to the end with utmost military discipline. Some of the Soviet troops who defeated the Nazis raped and pillaged their path halfway across Europe.

When warriors and murderers clash, the murderers risk nothing but death. The warriors risk more. "Their only protection is their code of honor," French writes. "The professional military ethics that restrain warriors -- that keep them from targeting those who cannot fight back, from taking pleasure in killing, from striking harder than is necessary, and that encourage them to offer mercy to their defeated enemies and even to help rebuild their countries and communities -- are also their own protection against becoming what they abhor."

UPDATE: Others who are not silent include Politburo, Allahpundit, Confederate Yankee, John Cole, Captain Ed, Blue Crab Boulevard.

Addict, Schmaddict

The horrors of drug addiction. Dependence, criminality, withdrawal. Or is it all a lot of hooey?

I have witnessed thousands of addicts withdraw; and, notwithstanding the histrionic displays of suffering, provoked by the presence of someone in a position to prescribe substitute opiates, and which cease when that person is no longer present, I have never had any reason to fear for their safety from the effects of withdrawal. It is well known that addicts present themselves differently according to whether they are speaking to doctors or fellow addicts. In front of doctors, they will emphasize their suffering; but among themselves, they will talk about where to get the best and cheapest heroin.

When, unbeknown to them, I have observed addicts before they entered my office, they were cheerful; in my office, they doubled up in pain and claimed never to have experienced suffering like it, threatening suicide unless I gave them what they wanted. When refused, they often turned abusive, but a few laughed and confessed that it had been worth a try. Somehow, doctors—most of whom have had similar experiences— never draw the appropriate conclusion from all of this. Insofar as there is a causative relation between criminality and opiate addiction, it is more likely that a criminal tendency causes addiction than that addiction causes criminality.

Furthermore, I discovered in the prison in which I worked that 67% of heroin addicts had been imprisoned before they ever took heroin. Since only one in 20 crimes in Britain leads to a conviction, and since most first-time prisoners have been convicted 10 times before they are ever imprisoned, it is safe to assume that most heroin addicts were confirmed and habitual criminals before they ever took heroin. In other words, whatever caused them to commit crimes in all probability caused them also to take heroin: perhaps an adversarial stance to the world caused by the emotional, spiritual, cultural and intellectual vacuity of their lives.

If that's true, why do we persist in accepting it? Blame those self-dramatizing literary types -- De Quincey, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Burroughs. I don't know if this is right or not, but if you want to make something untrue true, just work it into literature. Shakespeare's Richard III we know, the real one we only can guess at.

An Honest Man

Revealing simple truths about simplistic falsehoods is not just a minor philosophical task, like doing the washing up at Descartes' Diner while the real geniuses cook up the main courses.

For when it comes to the relevance of philosophy to real life, all the commitments we make on the big issues are determined by considerations which are ultimately quite straightforward.

A rich philosophical worldview is in this sense like a pointillist picture - one of those pieces of art in which a big image is made up of thousands of tiny dots. Its building blocks are no more than simple dots, but the overall picture which builds up from this is much more complicated.

And the subject of all this is?

Kevorkian's Second Thoughts

"Dr. Death" says he'd do things differently.

He's seeking a medical commutation due to his ill health.

This brings up an obvious question, which the ABC piece doesn't address: If he gets out, is it because he wants to end his own life? Is he seeking commutation of not just his prison sentence, but also the "death" sentence posed by his own condition, which death would necessarily occur as a "natural" unfolding of events, at a time and place not of his own choosing?

The law in Michigan does permit medical commutation, either by the parole board or the governor. Is granting that request appropriate in this case?

Should Kevorkian's specific history be relevant?

Bottom Of The Barrel For Peak Seekers

No matter how high you climb to reach a lofty goal, if you leave a man to die alone, you're the lowest of the low.

Sure, the man who died put himself in that situation, and in a "solo" climb. But is that the point?

New Zealander Mark Inglis, who became the first double amputee to reach the mountain's summit on prosthetic legs, told Television New Zealand that his party stopped during its May 15 summit push and found Sharp close to death.

A member of the party tried to give Sharp oxygen and sent out a radio distress call before continuing to the summit, he said.
His own party was able to render only limited assistance and had to put the safety of its own members first, Inglis said Wednesday.

"I walked past David but only because there were far more experienced and effective people than myself to help him," Inglis said. "It was a phenomenally extreme environment; it was an incredibly cold day."
[Emphasis added.]

"Put the safety of its own members first"? What does this mean, exactly? I suppose if they had given the man more oxygen, it would be depleting their own stock, which they needed to continue to the top and return. But what if they had chosen to abort their quest, then and there, and try to get the man to safety or at least keep him alive while a rescue could be arranged and at least attempted? Would there have been enough to spare then?

In any case, Inglis may very well be right that there was "virtually no chance" that Sharp could be carried to safety. That's not the point. He was part of the decision to let a man die. Alone. And then he passes the buck afterward. Whatever Inglis thinks he just achieved, it's tarnished beyond redemption, as it is for every other climber involved.

It's fair to ask who I am to judge: I'm as far as possible from being an expert on climbing, and of course I don't understand what it's like to work for years to achieve such a goal as climbing Mt. Everest.

But Sir Edmund Hilary knows a thing or two, and he does understand what it's like, wouldn't you say?

Hillary told New Zealand Press Association he would have abandoned his own pioneering climb to save another's life.

UPDATE: Interesting discussion on this topic over at Althouse. I appreciate her citing the lyrics of this song in her comments section.

Yeah, sometimes I'm a Kool-aid drinker (though it's never been one of my favorite beverages). Sometimes I'm even OK with that.

Shots Fired On Capitol Hill

Breaking now on all three major cable news stations ... .

Update: The location appears to have been the underground level (a garage level) of the Rayburn Office Building. Capitol police sealed off the building and told people in the building to "shelter in place." The Senate is in session today, but not the House, though House committees were meeting.

Breaking news is always interesting. This article contains speculation about balloons popping or a car backfiring. This one talks about the smell of smoke in the lobby.

FROM CABLE TV 10:11 Central: A reporter is saying that the AP is reporting that four ambulances have arrived at the House office building. However, there have been no reports of injuries.

The FBI Terrorism Task Force is also on the scene, but you'd expect that. Also, business elsewhere is described as proceeding "as usual," with just the office building still sealed.

Rhythm Interruptus?

At a cursory read, at least, it really does seem as if this argument against the rhythm method of birth control could be used in support of artificial contraception.

Hat tip to Majikthise, who has some interesting things to say about the article, as does her commenters, for the most part.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Abbas To Hamas: Pact Or Referendum

Here's an interesting move:

RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 25 — The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said Thursday that he would call a referendum on a proposal for a Palestinian state that would recognize Israel, if the governing Hamas party failed to accept the plan within 10 days.n laying down his challenge, Mr. Abbas seems to be gambling that he can force his Fatah party, Hamas and some smaller factions to agree on a broad framework for dealing with Israel, which Hamas now refuses to recognize. But he runs the risk of provoking a political showdown at a moment when the Palestinians are already plagued by infighting and a worsening financial crisis.

"We differ, it is true," Mr. Abbas said in Ramallah at a conference intended to put an end to internal Palestinian quarreling. "We see things differently, but we need to find middle-of-the-road solutions."

Several Hamas figures said Thursday that they did not object to a referendum, at least in principle.

Clever or crazy?

The proposal, based on a plan drafted earlier this month by prominent Palestinian prisoners from Hamas and Fatah, calls for a Palestinian state and a negotiated peace settlement with Israel, if it withdraws to the borders that existed before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The Palestinian state would include all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Marwan Barghouti, a leading Fatah figure serving five life terms in Israel's Hadarim Prison, is credited as the driving force behind the prisoners' document, though imprisoned members of Hamas also endorsed it.

"We must rise to the level of responsibility," said Mr. Abbas, whose Fatah movement has supported plans along those lines for years. "If within 10 days you don't reach results through dialogue, I will take the prisoners' document to a popular referendum" within 40 days.

The NYT article notes that Israel also seemed surprised at Abbas move, and that it, like Hamas, has previously rejected a couple of key components of the plan.

Abbas is turning out to be one of the more interesting, certainly complex figures in the Middle East.

Do you think his gamble will pay off?

Justified Revenge According To George

No, not that one, the Galloway one.

The Respect MP George Galloway has said it would be morally justified for a suicide bomber to murder Tony Blair.

In an interview with GQ magazine, the reporter asked him: "Would the assassination of, say, Tony Blair by a suicide bomber - if there were no other casualties - be justified as revenge for the war on Iraq?"

Mr Galloway replied: "Yes, it would be morally justified. I am not calling for it - but if it happened it would be of a wholly different moral order to the events of 7/7. It would be entirely logical and explicable. And morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq - as Blair did."

Well, as long it's logical and explicable, why not?

Just hours after four bomb attacks killed 52 people on London's transport system last July, Mr Galloway said the city had "paid the price" for Mr Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Ten thousand Osama bin Ladens have been created at least by the events of the last two years," he told MPs in the Commons that day.

Interesting to read that quote again, tonight, within a few minutes of reading Cal's "Why's Man" post, just below this one. It's relatively easy to understand why Galloway wants to read a particular meaning into the London bombings, don't you think?

The Independent article ends with the following two paragraphs, which I personally don't think belong there, given that I believe this is supposed to be a news story, rather than an op-ed piece. (I could be wrong there; I'm not as familiar with The Independent as other British newspapers. If it is just commentary, that's a different story.) However reprehensible I might find Galloway's statements (or even actions--I'm getting there), I don't like this particular type of heavy-handed stealth-connecting of "dots" in news stories.

Still, I'm going to quote them, simply because they instantly brought to my mind Cal's "Kicking and Screaming" post of a week ago, which talked about how some on the Left embrace certain autocrats, while rapping leaders in the West. (Surely Galloway's statement regarding Blair's assassination by a suicide bomber constitutes "rapping," at the very least?) Plus, I couldn't see writing a whole separate post referencing these paragraphs separately.

Mr Galloway yesterday made a surprise appearance on Cuban television with the Caribbean island's Communist dictator, Fidel Castro - whom he defended as a "lion" in a political world populated by "monkeys".

Mr Galloway shocked panellists on a live television discussion show in Havana by emerging on set mid-transmission to offer passionate support for Castro. Looking approvingly into each others' eyes, the pair embraced.

Why's Man

Brendan O’Neill looks at the picture that has emerged after 10 months of analysis of the London 7/7/ bombers and finds ... nothing, nothing, nothing at all.

[Y]ou might think they did it as part of some Islamist conspiracy, or to register their opposition to the war in Iraq, or because they were evil and wished to topple British, even Western civilisation. In fact, as the UK government’s narrative on 7/7 now reveals, there is little hard evidence that they did it for any of those reasons. The truth appears to be that 7/7 was meaningless; it was a nihilistic attack carried out by four fairly ordinary blokes for no easily discernible aim or agenda. And tragically, those who died in it may as well have been killed by an earthquake or in a train crash. It is time to stop trying to read meaning into 7/7, and get over it.

Before the shock of that last statement revolts you, give him a chance. And, no, we will never stop trying to understand. That would be to cease to be human. Only in places like Auschwitz do people stop making sense of what happens to them. Primo Levi wrote that, as he stood parched for water on a bitter cold day, he reached out a window to grab an icicle that hung from the roof, and a guard slapped his hand away. "Why?" he asked. "Hier gibt es kein warum," the guard barked back. "There is no why here."

But elsewhere, there is. And humans cannot rest from asking why. O’Neill knows this. He quotes the bitterness of the mother of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered by a radical Islamist: "What is so regrettable … is that Theo has been murdered by such a loser, such an incoherent person. Murder or manslaughter is always a terrible thing but to be killed by such a figure makes it especially hard."

And even as O'Neill paints a picture of killers without a cause, the very lines he traces around them give clues. They are not like millions of other young men who, whatever their rage, whatever their dark fantasies, do not carve a path of carnage to the grave.

[A]l-Qaeda is ‘not a bunch of foreigners brought up on the dusty backstreets of Cairo or Ramallah and hell-bent on launching war against a faraway West; they tend to be young, respectable, often middle-class and sometimes naive men, many of whom were born or educated - and even radicalised - in the West. For all the talk of a “clash of civilisations”, al-Qaeda is a largely Western phenomenon.

Well, not quite. It is by and large a phenomenon of young Muslim men in the West. It is of men caught between two worlds, in the free-fall between irreconcilable cultures. In a mobile and integrated world there are many such men. In college I knew a Korean-American guy whose upper-middle class parents spoke little English. Their son did not speak either tongue fluently enough to express his fine, quick mind. His narratives often dissolved into comic book sound-effects. It was sad.

He had a nihilistic and destructive quality to him. He was vulnerable to cults, which in that day and age meant things like Amway. But his culture did not have a fall-back position of "jihadi martyr." But, as O'Neill notices, the 7/7 bombers mostly "seem to have been motivated by a burning desire to become martyrs, which is effectively the radical Islamist equivalent of becoming an overnight celebrity."

It is not the only path. The Columbine killers, Timothy McVeigh, even Levi's anonymous concentration camp guard, all found different paths to the same bad end. But it is one path. And it is one that concerns us.

O'Neill dismisses the anti-war commentators who blame the 7/7 attacks on Western foreign policies.

Even Khan’s video statement saying why he bombed London, shown on al-Jazeera a few months after 7/7, does not directly mention Iraq. Media reports said the video proves Khan was driven by ‘Iraq and Palestine’, but in fact he spoke in vague terms about how ‘your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world’.

And the Columbine killers were picked-on. And they resented that. And McVeigh's vision of a federal government overreaching its proper powers is not all fiction. But that isn't an explanation for why they, and not others, went on a rampage.

This has become a common feature of al-Qaeda-style attacks in recent years: some small group of people crashes a jet or plants a bomb for no immediately discernible reason, and then various commentators rush to explain why they did it. The bombers do the dirty work, and commentators do the intellectual work. What in fact appear as random and indiscriminate acts of violence against innocent civilians are dressed up as anti-imperialist gestures against an uncaring or out-of-touch West. It seems that al-Qaeda-style groups don’t need a political agenda, or to claim responsibility for their attacks; both of these things are graciously provided by commentators in the West in the aftermath of every bombing.

True. But that doesn't mean there's no "why" there.


Bush Admits Mistakes

You know we made mistakes in the war on terror. They know we made mistakes. Everybody knows we made mistakes.

The President knows it. Hell, he knows about mistakes we don't even know about yet. He just doesn't talk about it.

And so the mem grew and grew: "President Bush never admits mistakes."

It was another symptom of the Madness of King Chimpy. As though being aware of mistakes and adjusting to them was inseparable from constantly and publicly flagellating yourself for them.

Which, gods know, Bush could do all day long if he chose to. My beef with him is the same as a lot of neo-cons'. But what good would come of yapping about it? Bush would be stating the obvious, and he'd only encourage his (and in some cases our) enemies and discourage his (and in some cases our) friends.

Admitting mistakes, in the current political and global environment, would win you no friends you don't already have and only would whet the appetite of those who long to see you fall. Good or bad, Bush's fault or not, that's just the way it is.

It would be politically stupid and strategically unhelpful. The "he never admits mistakes" mantra was ginned up on the domestic left. You don't see many moderate Muslims saying, "I'd like to stand up for freedom in my homeland, but gosh, that Bush never admits mistakes! So fuck it."

So, now, Bush admits mistakes.

"Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing," Bush said Thursday evening in a White House news conference with Blair. "Not everything has turned out the way we hoped."

And elsewhere:

In unusually introspective comments, Bush said he regrets his cowboy rhetoric the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks such as his "wanted dead or alive" description of Osama bin Laden and his taunting "bring 'em on" challenge to Iraqi insurgents.

"In certain parts of the world, it was misinterpreted."

He also cited the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. "We've been paying for that for a long time," Bush said.

And what's the reward for that blunt honesty? Within minutes, the Associated Press was breathlessly announcing on its newswire an alert to editors to save some space, because:

Upcoming in about an hour:

WASHINGTON — President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair looked less like cheerleaders for the latest milestone of democratic political progress in Iraq and more like world leaders who had met their match. An AP News Analysis by AP Diplomatic Writer Anne Gearan.

Emphasis added. Gee, who could have seen that coming?


DWM Flashback

This time last year; still true:

Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote an odd, ranting Memorial Day column; or rather, an odd rant disguised as a Memorial Day column but in fact having nothing to do with Memorial Day after the first sentence: "This Memorial Day is not a good one for the country that was once the world's most brilliant beacon of freedom and justice."

State Department officials know better than anyone that the image of the United States has deteriorated around the world. The United States is now widely viewed as a brutal, bullying nation that countenances torture and ...

and so on, through all the grand catalogue of mishandled holy books and wounded enemies finished off before they got up and shot back, and treating foreign irregular POWs the way foreign irregular POWs are allowed to be treated by Geneva, and the fact that Amnesty International has a bee in its bonnet about us. This seems to be the point of the column; some writers will expound America's crimes at the drop of a hat, even if it's a VFW cap on Memorial Day.

He writes that the "Bush crowd" (It's not an "administration" any more on the NYT editorial pages) is attempting to solve the problem of "America's image."

This is much more than an image problem. The very idea of what it means to be American is at stake.

What's odd is that this whole column is based on the premise that America enjoyed a lost golden age of purity at home and respect and adoration in the world community, until the "Bush crowd" seized power in 2001. If the U.S. does what Herbert demands, "The U.S. would regain some of its own lost dignity." He mentions the outpouring of sympathy after 9/11 as though this was the typical situation from, say 1776 to Sept. 12, 2001.

In much of the world, the image of the U.S. under Bush has morphed from an idealized champion of liberty to a heavily armed thug in camouflage fatigues. America is increasingly being seen as a dangerously arrogant military power that is due for a comeuppance.

Odd, because Herbet himself is right at the center of one of the two institutions -- the New York Times, lynchpin of the big media -- that has been relentlessly reminding us since about 1965 or so that America is a terrible, corrupt place, founded on genocide and racism and a nation that long ago sold its soul to religious stupidity and militarism. [The other institution is the academic world.]

"World opinion" about the United States has been in the toilet since Vietnam; it was even worse in the 1970s than in the 1960s in most places. America managed to get blamed -- and to blame itself, in many cases -- for everything from the failed economic polices of the so-called "Third World" to the greed of Arab oil sheiks.

And why shouldn't the rest of the world feel affirmed in this contempt, when it appears daily in the domestic press? It's been a long and complicated evolution for American media, but after the Tonkin incident, they turned sharply against the Johnson administration and essentially broke it. That power seems to have got into the blood of the press, so that every administration since 1968 has had to deal with an actively hostile media doing its best to break the president, as though that were its job. A weak pre-1968 administration like Jack Kennedy's survived and is lionized, while a much stronger one, like Clinton's, barely got out in one piece.

So let's see what Bob Herbert had to say about this once-brilliant "beacon of freedom and justice." Let's see what he did to project that essential "image" into the world, the loss of which he so loudly now laments.

Here's a "New York Times" abstract of some of his columns from early 2000 and late 1999 -- before the evil "Bush crowd" rose to power and sullied our beacon. It's a typical sampling; to give the whole list from any given month would be repetitive, because he comes back to these same topics over and over:

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column criticizes National Rifle Association for opposing gun control; assails NRA exec vice pres Wayne LaPierre for asserting that Pres Clinton is willing to accept certain amount of violence and killing to further interests of gun control

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on problems with criminal justice system nationwide; says 'gruesome' problems that have been overlooked for many years are starting to burst into public view, and system is beginning to break down in some parts of country

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column examines'ancient attitudes' that govern why Americans are so unwilling to elect women to high public office

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column scores Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for inflicting 'further torment' on city's homeless by ordering police raids on New York City's homeless shelters during recent cold wave to arrest those with outstanding warrants

  • Bob Herbert column on Southern Poverity Law Center report on inroads hate groups are making among white youths whose families have missed out on nation's economic boom

  • Op-ed column by Bob Herbert on Legal Aid Society's class action suit against New York State's mental health system, charging that children known to be severely mentally ill are being denied treatment because state refuses to provide mental health facilities they require, leaving many of them to languish in hospitals, foster care or jail; describes plight of several such tormented children; notes that suit asks court to compel state to place children in residential treatment facilities within 30 days of determination that they are eligible for such services

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column on poll for Council for Excellence in Government that found large majority of Americans feel disconnected from government; expresses concern at finding that gulf between citizens and government grows larger with each successive generation

  • Bob Herbert Op-Ed column describes visit with Andrew Cuomo, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to poverty-racked town of Guadalupe, Ariz, where people live in rickety shacks, plumbing is outdoors, and residents, mostly Yaqui Indians and Mexican-Americans, go to bed hungry; says there are many such pockets of extreme poverty across country, even as Dow reaches 10,000 and millionaires are being created every day; says Cuomo is trying to spread word that country as whole has obligation to do what it can to assist those in danger of being left behind economically

Ah, what a wonderful world it used to be, eh, Bob Herbert?

The belief in the media, which I can testify to first-hand, that the sole purpose of a printing press or a television camera is to shine a light on every fault and failure of American authority, has its uses. It may at times be what saves democracy. But too steady application of it can be a water torture that can drive a nation to suicidal madness.

And many Americans feel, with Rabindranath Tagore, that "He alone may chastise who loves."

And Bob Herbert fails that test.

Say It Ain't Sault

In a blind taste-test, California wines beat their French counterparts

A handful of venerable Californian wines have once again beaten their French counterparts - in a re-run of the Paris Tasting of 1976.

Against all expectations the Cabernets – Ridge Monte Bello 1971, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 1973, Mayacamas 71, Heitz 70 and Clos du Val 72 – were voted superior to their rivals in Bordeaux.

In yesterday's extraordinary series of coordinated tastings in London and California, hosted by Steven Spurrier, some of the world's most eminent tasters found the Californian wines to have retained more of their verve over the years than the Bordeaux.

Out in Cali, they're crowing.

Who says California wines don't age?

The French do. Repeatedly.

Yet Gaul is biting its tongue today after California smoked France Wednesday in a cross-continental tasting of wines that have matured in cellars for three decades. The California Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines placed first through fifth, followed by four wines from France's hallowed Bordeaux region and then another California Cab.

The earlier "Judgment of Paris" was a sniff heard round the world

At the tasting of 10 red and 10 white wines, evenly split between French and American in both classes, the panel awarded the top place in both categories to Californian wine. A Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 topped the white wines, beating famous French names such as Puligny-Montrachet.

In the red category, a Stag's Leap Cabernet-Sauvignon 1973, now unobtainable, beat names such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1973 (now roughly £100 a bottle).

There was only one journalist there. The French media stayed away, assuming the result would be a bore.

Eh, good for California. I'm not a wine-guy, personally. If I need to drink a red, I'll usually reach for a bottle of Hungarian "Bull's Blood," usually under $10. Is there a beer version of this? I think some of the new world brews, such as Maudite from Quebec and Ommegang from New York state and even some of the higher-end offerings from Stoudt, which is just up the road from me here, might hold their own against the best Belgians and Germans.

And if anyone's seeking volunteers for that taste test ... Me!! Me!! Oooooh!! Over here!!

Memorial Day

It's been 20 years since I did the research that turned into my first book, a Civil War history of one county in southeastern Pennsylvania. The book was distilled from hundreds of letters and diaries, enlistment records, muster rolls, doctor's reports and box after box of official government documents.

Always as this time of year rolls around, I remember them; the ones who left the paper trail I followed between the present and the past. These people were real to me; I would recognize their handwriting at once. Their quirks of spelling, the references to the novels they had read.

With time, their experiences have melded in my head into one big thing called "the war." But there are lines from them that still spike out, and I seem to carry them mentally not as old brown ink on thin blue paper, but as spoken voices of young men who died at war.

In other cases, it is the officialese of the government paperwork that stays with me. The departmental language of death. In still others it is the delicate words of parents or wives, agreeing with their menfolk's desire to attain glory, but at the same time urging them to be brave -- but not too brave.

The more the time passes, the more the words, the spoken words, shape themselves into poetic cantos.


Hi is still whearing the old boots he took with him from home. They can not get a pair large enough for him.

I was over there this forenoon to see Phares Brown. He says he likes it first rate and he may as well like it as not like it for they don't ask a fellow down here whether they like it or not.

The boys will march all day and play foot ball at dark

It was a point of argument at one time which would be the most likely to seize the baggage, the mosquitos or the secessionists ...

It wod do you good to see the boys hear. Some is a-plan cards, and some a-swaren, and some a-tuslen, and some a-riteing to thear gals.

Thee must not worry about us for we are doeing finely, also there is no danger of us getting in an engagement this winter and the war will all be over before spring.

I did not mind cooking out of doors untill yesterday morning when I found every thing snowed up which I did not expect to see down here. ... I don't see much advantage in being south, for we could not have any more ... freasing whether in Penna.

... more bugles than men with ability to blow them. The result was far from pleasing ...

[A woman's voice]: As memory dwells upon the scene I wonder that we realized so little of what war meant.


An involuntary sentence burst from my heart, and all I could say was, "My God, this is awful."

[Shells] make an awful noise flying through the air. You can plainly see them. ... They all seem to be coming right at you.

A person in battle has no feeling at all. He does not think of danger nor fear death. When you are just marching in is the worst. It loocks hard, though, to see them carrying the men off wounded on streachers.

The bank was thickly strewn with dead and wounded. These latter were begging some for water, some for a doctor, and some holding up their hands and begging for God's sake that we should not kill them.

A dying cavalryman (one of ours) lay where he had been blown some distance from his horse which was dead, both having apparently been killed by the same shell. He asked me something in an unintelligable tone I could not understand.

We had to lay on the ground without eny blankets or tents. For my par[t] I got to rails and laid on them but my close was dripen wet. I did sleep a little but not much.

I should have passed him as a stranger, he's changed so much. Looking up, he did not know me till I spoke.

... a mean hole for a Maryland town ...

"Bucktails to the front"

I soon concluded to retire to a woodpile, which I did under a heavy fire & on reaching it tumbled over a dead man, but deeming it too dangerous an experiment to move again, I laid down, resolved to await daylight.

Broken guns, scattered clothing & accoutrements, trampled corn & grass, the marks of shot, dead horses, half-buried men .... The smell was truly awful.

... we would have to fight if we got into it, as we were too tired to run away.

The most affecting case was that of a New York soldier, who had his name and regiment pinned to his vest. Falling from his pocket was an ambrotype case which, on opening, disclosed the features of a woman and child, the latter not more than six or eight months old.

... very glad that Morgan Davis succeeded in getting the body of John home.


... much of the business part of [Vicksburg] had been burned, and the rest went the same road before we left ...

If there ever was a city sufferd from the effects of war, Nashville has had a goodly portion. Please me to see it in ashes, for it is a real rebbel hole, nothing but traitors and spys in it. Yes, and street women, any ammount of them.

Our regt. is not in as good sanitary condition as I've known it to be, ther being some over ninty (90) odd cases of Clapp at present and we only number 188 men all told.

... mere masses of blood and rags ...

If I should fall it could not be in a better cause, and this reflection would do much toward calming the feelings in such a trial. I hope thee will look upon it so.

As the Johnnies got too thick for us we busted for the rear ...

It was nothing more than a perfect slaughter but I think the Rebs lost as many as we did.

I reckon you have bully times at home now. I would not mind being with you for a while running about at nights instead of standing still along the Rappahannock River, watching the movement of the Rebs.

I thought the war was going on at home and that the rebels were throwing shell at us and a piece of shell struck Laura on the head. Oh I was in an awfull way when I awoke. I was all in a perspiration.

They detailed squads of us to go load wood fore the new troops that lazed around there, the 9-month bounty men, poor helpless souls.

Thee has wrote a good letter for one so young and it was dated at chool, which I was glad to see. Thee has improved so much in thy writing that I hardly new it, and on looking over it I did not see a misspelled word, for which I give thee credit. Only continue to improve and thee will make a good schollar.

... much need exhists among the families of volunteers, owing to the irregularity of payments in the army.

1 pocket book
1 Five (5) dollar current bill
1 package of note paper
1 do. envelopes
1 likeness of a lady
Sent by express to his mother, Mrs. Eliza Henderson of Coatesville, Chester County, Penna., together with clothing ... with the exception of clothing buried in.

The death of that number of such Irish savages as made up the bulk of that mob would have been small loss to the world, anyhow; and the lesson would have had a salutory effect, not only on this generation, but one or two succeeding ones. I think most of our soldier boys here feel the same way.

I anticipated the news. I awoke on the morning of the 4th with a terrible weight in my heart -- a weight which I carried with me and could not shake off. When I saw the outside of the letter yesterday, I knew what it contained.

... one leg and one forearm had been amputated before admission, and one leg was amputated in the ward.

What do you think of the war now?


I would liked to of got home once more to of seen you and the folks, but they would not allow me. Take good cair of yourself.

It was a hard struggle, for a number of us were out of ammunition by the time we got into the forts; and we had to fight with the bayonets and the butts of our guns, and we fought in this way about twenty minutes until the Second Brigade came up .... All the boys from around home are safe.

We prepared to skedaddle. A captain shouted "Who has a rat-tail file or nail to spike these pieces?" One of the boys grumbled, "This is a hell of a place to ask for a file." I had hold of one of the wheels, and, although scared like thunder, ... looked up into the captain's face and laughed.

Where we once counted thousands we can now count but hundreds and another ten days will finish us up all together. ... The seven days before Richmond are nothing to this. Gettysburg was as severe, but did not last so long.

... I almost doubt that I am alive myself.

"Petersburg Express" firing at intervals of 15 minutes all night. Sharp shooters very busy. ... The regiment still in the front pits. Some 8 or 10 killed and wounded.

I wish I was some rich man's dog laying beside his stove.

I almost forgot to tell you that I have lost a nother brother in this cruel war. He was wounded at Cold Harbor twice on the 2nd of June last and died from the affects on the 2nd of July at Georgetown Hospital. You have heard me speak of him, his name was Daniel.

Amputated leg looks as though some dog had chewed it off.

Rock & McCarter stood by me well. They carried me off amid a perfect hail of Rebel bulets. I can never forget them.

Although I feel very sorry you have moved, still I can't help but admire your spunk. But my advice to you my dear son is not to rush into any unnecessary danger. A soldier can be brave, but likewise it is well enough for him to be prudent. May God in his infinite mercy protect you from all danger both seen and unseen, which shall be my daily prayer. ... I am working on the government shoes. I can make 9 or ten pair a week and think after a while I can make more as I get used to the work.

I cannot tell you any thing about how our army is making out, for we know nothing about it.

Head Quarters, Pennsylvania State Agency, Washington, D.C., July 24, 1864

Dear Sir: Your letter of the 25th inst. making inquiries about the remains of your two sons is duly received. In reply I have to say it is almost impossible at this time to recover from the front those who have been killed in the recent battles. ...

Fr. Jordan, col. and Military Agent of Penn.

P.S. The foregoing circular letter answers most of your questions. You can not therefore disinter before fall. Untill lately the government did not charge anything for going down to the army, but now they charge $7.00 for each person from here to City Point, & as much to return, by water.


The only thing to do, is to kill every son of a bitch.

[An army nurse's voice]: I've talked with very many [soldiers] since I'm here & never have I heard one say they would enlist again, did they know what they do now. I do not blame them either. It's all very well to talk & be patriotic. I've done it myself, but I tell you such a place as this is where the beauty is taken off -- you can see the dread reality of the case.

... crowded into a few years the emotions of a lifetime.