My heart goes out to everyone in Japan and in Ecuador affected by the recent series of terrible earthquakes. I was once where you are. My story isn’t meant to trivialize or generalize anyone else’s; it’s just mine.
It is the sound I remember as much as the shaking — a train roaring under the ground, a zipper larger than a river untangling itself, a tremendous noise made by the living rock underneath us shifting. The earth/the apartment building/the room/the bed began moving up and down, all adding to the sound. My wife, seven months pregnant with our second child, began screaming. I began screaming. I was thrown from my bed. At 5:46 in the morning on January 17, 1995, in Nishinomiya, Japan, outside Kobe, my world changed, what came to be known as the Great Hanshin earthquake.
I crawled to my four year old’s bedside, the floor still moving to make the trip of two or three yards uphill. I had not heard her scream. She was motionless on her futon, a heavy lamp knocked from the dresser on to the floor and I had that moment no parent should ever have that single flash of white and heat that lasted that ten hours the one second move to her side took me forever.
She was alright, I was alright, but it took me years, and much help, to fully know that. She’s in her 20’s now and I still look at her in a different way sometimes.
Stop now, wherever you are, and listen to everything around you made by the 21st century. Refrigerator hum, traffic noise, computer fan, water running, everything around you and try to subtract each away until you find yourself in the kind of silence that must have dominated life before technology. Everything was suddenly silent. The earthquake had taken the current century away in an instant, no water, no electricity, nothing able to move outside.
My apartment was about three quarters of a mile from the collapsed highway that became something of a symbol of the quake:
Outside the silence was bigger than inside, and I saw smoke columns in the distance and a home down the street collapsed. Traditional Japanese homes are built with heavy tile roofs on top of relatively spindly wooden frames. I don’t know why. I learned later that a lack of pressure-treated wood building products in older homes meant that termites were common, and so the structure holding up that heavy roof literally crumbled to dust with the shaking. The roof sat, more or less intact, on top of a pile of rubble; in a more comical mood, you could see it as that scene from the Wizard of Oz that claims the first wicked witch. Underneath the roof was everything that had been inside. We knew them as the Tanaka family. Mr. Tanaka and I had adjacent plots in the community garden, though we never really exchanged more than a few words of greeting and weather prediction. Guy could never get his damn tomatoes right, never more than hard, red stones really.
While many things about such natural violence are universal, some are likely very much something a part of Japan.
Moving off to the shopping street in search of bottled water and batteries an hour after the quake, I saw many stores were destroyed. Some were flattened, others just had windows and doors blown out. But there was no looting, just growing lines of Japanese shuffling through the dust, many in bedclothing, to join a line forming at the convenience store. The damn 7-11 had not only survived the quake, it was open. The lone minimum wage employee stood at the cash register, everything in the store thrown on to the floor around him. He was wearing his uniform, a little trickle of blood down the side of his head.
The line had formed spontaneously, naturally, and the boy was shouting for everyone please to only buy a small amount so that there would be some for everyone. That’s what happened. When my turn came, I put two liters of water and a handful of batteries on the counter, and handed over the only cash I had on me. The clerk apologized that he could not make change, took my money, and wrote out a little note with my name and his, saying the store owed me and would pay up once things got back to order.
Neighborhood people gathered in little knots because it seemed like what we should do. We exchanged information and luckily most were OK. We waited for someone — the police, the fire department, the army — to arrive and tell us what to do. When no one showed up, people left in ones and twos to clean up apartments and homes. Knowing we had a young child, a neighbor brought over some bottled juice she claimed she did not need.
By day three or four the roads had been cleared enough and a few trains started back into service such that my wife and daughter could self-evacuate to a relative’s home far enough away. A doctor there pronounced both healthy. I stayed behind to work, the commute stretching to hours, and leading me to move into my office and sleep on the floor for a few weeks. Around me, centered in the city of Kobe, 6,434 people had died.
It took a very long time for things to get back to what even then we dubbed the new normal. No one understood how long it would take, and a sense of frustration set in, a sense of wanting it all to be over.
The water came back on, the emergency services engaged, things reopened and kids returned to school. My second child was born, and life went on. That spring I went to turn over the soil and get started back in the community garden.
There was that good feeling of renewal, the moist smell of the earth ready. There was the empty plot where Mr. Tanaka was never really able to get his tomatoes to grow right.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
One of the things that defines great art is not only that it hangs around for a long time, that people still want to see a play hundreds of years after it was first performed or read a book that was written thousands of years ago, but that that art morphs and develops alongside our own lives changing, not only staying relevant, but becoming more relevant as we ourselves change.
And so to Bruce Springsteen and, in this case, Thunder Road. The amazing supercut you see above spans 41 years of Bruce performing the same song, seamlessly arranged in chronological order. There’s Bruce in the 1970s all young and brash, there’s the buffed up Bruce of the 80s, the introspective Bruce of the 90s forward. Along the way E Street Band members come and go, most notably Clarence Clemons (RIP) and newcomers like Nils Lofgren and Springsteen’s wife. The presence of the latter in the band speaks much to the changes of time.
But there is also that song.
I’m gonna play the old guy card here and say I was in high school when I first heard Thunder Road. Living outside Cleveland, Ohio, we found Born to Run on our radio a bit earlier than most folks outside of the Jersey Shore itself. At a time in my life when music was dominated by pop garbage and metal (both have their place), here was a song that put into words what I wasn’t able to do myself: the need to get out of a town full of losers, the promise of talking a pretty girl into climbing into your car and taking off to, well, anywhere, that sense of something out there you needed to see.
Some 40 years later, I still listen to Thunder Road, having left that town, seen some of what there was to see, but at the same time knowing maybe I’m not that young anymore, and that there are some roads I am probably just not going to get down. In an era of cynical politics, the line about waiting on a savior to rise from the streets rings strong, yet also sad.
I think I can hear it in Bruce’s lyrics, I’m certain I can see it on his face and hear it in his voice, and I’m glad he stays (virtually) on the ride with me, desperate and hopeful at the same time.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Declaring a literal “War on Christmas,” the Holy Trump Fighters Righteous Hand of God Brigade of the Islamic State issued a chilling threat for this Christmas: they plan to ruin the season for holiday moviegoers everywhere by posting detailed lists of spoilers online for the new Star Wars movie.
In a rambling statement delivered in front of a cheesy animated flying stars background made from an old Windows 95 screensaver, holding a numbered replica of the bloody, severed head of Jar Jar Binks complete with a certificate of authenticity from LucasFilm, a Brigade spokesjihadi issued the following:
“We will bring down the infidel’s entertainment, the puerile space drama many of you pigs will seek to watch on your so-called holy day.”
“Even as I speak, our most holy hackers are breaking through the firewalls of the infidel websites of CNN, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and HillaryClinton.com. Come Christmas morning, the western whore Cindy Lou and others will awake to read each and every spoiler in 36 point type, set amongst animated GIFs. You will feel as if Allah is melting away the flesh of a virgin Leia and allowing it to drip upon you.”
“Oh, you say, I have a fancy plug-in that will not allow me to see anything spoiler-esque about the Star Wars! Hah hah hah, Allah has blessed us, because that plug-in was created by us! It will push our spoilers into the very heart of your Internet experience, as well as any new PS4’s you unwarp. XBox, that’s still cool, we love Halo out here to relax after a beheading, or when the goats grow weary.”
“So suck on this infidels and blasphemers — this year, the Force is with us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Also, Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Persons claiming to be associated with the “hacking” group Anonymous say they hacked into an ISIS-supporting website, replacing its content with a message to calm down alongside an advertisement for an online pharmacy that sells Viagra and Prozac for bitcoins.
ISIS sites have supposedly been moving onto the “dark web” in an attempt to avoid discovery. But a hacking group called Ghost Sec, which says it is related to Anonymous, took the site down and replaced it with a message telling readers that there was “Too Much ISIS.”
“Enhance your calm,” the full message read. “Too many people are into this ISIS-stuff. Please gaze upon this lovely ad so we can upgrade our infrastructure to give you ISIS content you all so desperately crave.”
And now, some questions.
Despite this story being widely-published by global media, none of the articles seems to include a link to the “hacked” site. This raises the bullsh*t potential.
Lots of people, including naughty teens and basement-dwelling jihadis, throw up sites that are “ISIS.” It is very, very unclear how many of these are actually connected in anyway to the actual ISIS core membership. Whatever was hacked, which may or may not actually have happened, may or may not have had much to do with ISIS.
Lots of people, including naughty teens and basement-dwelling cyber jihadis, claim to be associated with Anonymous, so that their juvenile pranks, which may or may not actually have happened, get more attention.
Exactly what is the propaganda value of a site on the dark web, that is by definition hard to locate and often inaccessible without knowledge and software not casually available? It seems like useful propaganda needs wide dissemination to do its job. For example, stories about “Anonymous” taking down an “ISIS” website.
Lastly, so what? Even if (a big if) most of this is true, so what? Wow, says ISIS, I guess our plans for a worldwide caliphate are all off now, because we got pranked on one of our dark web sites. Well, we had a good run in Iraq and Syria, anyway.
I call bullsh*t on this whole thing. Same as all those stories about ISIS running a 24/7 Help Desk to assist jihadis with encryption turned out to be false.
These things are sensationalist media fluffing at best, and more likely western-planted propaganda.
The difference contend undermines the Japanese government’s position that more cases have been discovered in the area only because of stringent monitoring.
Fukushima Children Suffer Thyroid Cancer 20-50x Normal Rate
“This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.” Children are particularly susceptible because their thyroids are growing rapidly.
Residents of Fukushima prefecture in northeast Japan should be monitored in the same way as survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say the researchers, who offer one of the most pessimistic assessments so far of the health implications of the world’s second worst nuclear disaster.
The new information is far from unexpected.
A screening program in 2012 found 36 percent of children in Fukushima Prefecture had abnormal (though not necessarily cancerous) cysts or nodules in their thyroid glands. As of August 2013, 40 children were found to have actual thyroid and other cancers in Fukushima prefecture.
The new study was released online this week and is being published in the November issue of Epidemiology, produced by the Herndon, Virginia-based International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. The data comes from tests overseen by Fukushima Medical University. It is significant that the published version of this comes from a journal outside of Japan; the story seems to have received little play in Japanese mainstream media. Flagship NHK News, a quasi-government organization, does not appear to be covering it in any detail. The largest media outlet offering noteable coverage appears to be left-of-center Asahi news.
But Critics Say Little Reason for Concern
Critics contend that no causal link has been established between the release of radiation and the cancers, leaving open the possibility of a statistical anomaly or an as yet unknown precipitator. A somewhat disingenuous report by Japan’s Institute of Radiological Sciences found some children living close to the plant were exposed to “lifetime” doses of radiation to their thyroid glands unrelated to the nuclear meltdown. Looking harder with routine check-ups, some say, leads to discovery of more tumors, inflating the tallies in a so-called “screening effect.”
David J. Brenner, professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, took a different view. While he agreed individual estimates on radiation doses are needed, he said the higher thyroid cancer rate in Fukushima is “not due to screening. It’s real.”
Background on the Disaster
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The earthquake caused electrical and equipment failures at the plant, cutting off cooling to the nuclear reactors. Emergency backup diesel generators came online, and operated until the tsunami destroyed the generators, due to their location in unhardened low-lying areas. This triggered the release of radioactive materials. Though classified as the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, almost from the beginning Japanese and American authorities sought to downplay its danger.
For example, immediately after the 2011 disaster, the lead Japanese doctor brought in to Fukushima repeatedly ruled out the possibility of radiation-induced illnesses. A full five days after the meltdown, the American Embassy in Tokyo stated only that “we are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical.” The Japanese government continued to hold to its earlier recommendation to evacuate only within 12 miles of the plant.
The Embassy characterized American citizens’ reaction in Japan simply as “people are calling with concerns, but I would call it just a concern at this point.” The embassy did however quietly authorize the departure of its own dependents six days after the accident.
Getting to any major airport not built in the last few years is a disaster. Utter lack of efficient public transportation is the norm. In most cases the best you get is an old, slow city bus with no room for luggage in place to ferry low-wage workers to their Cinnabon for the morning shift. Outside the big cities, you are lucky if you have even that. Either get there by private car, pay for a ride out the nose, or walk. Inside the airport, hah! Filthy toilets, lack of amenities, too hot/too cold/too crowded and usually smells like King Kong’s first dump of the day.
OK, 9/11. So now 14 years later every airport is protected by petty thugs who make up rules that make little sense. We parade around dirty floors in bare feet, pour shampoo into little bottles, don’t bring water aboard but can buy it later for $5 a bottle, remove our laptops and belts, get x-rayed and scanned and whatever new was recently introduced. Or not. You can be randomly selected to just bypass a bunch of that, or if you can pay for some program so you can bypass all of that (nobody ever heard of sleeper agents?) or sometimes nobody checks and you bypass all that by “forgetting” to take your laptop out. Whatever. To avoid accusations of racial profiling while racial profiling, the occasional little old lady in a wheelchair is given the third degree.
Our Apartheid of Money
The airline will treat you less awful if you have money. Have it in the form of more frequent flier miles, the right credit card or the purchase of first class, and you have a shorter TSA line, get seated first, avoid the scrum when everyone else boards, don’t fight for overhead space and have your own elite potty. If all you have done is pay hundreds of dollars for a seat as a customer, to hell with you, get in the back and shut up.
To avoid the checked baggage fee, I am bringing aboard my entire drum kit, two giant stuffed pandas, a live goat and a couple of taped together cardboard boxes with grease stains. If my zone is called before yours, no overhead space for you, so Suck. It. The cabin attendants have no interest in refereeing fights, so back off or swing hard, your call.
Selfishness, Part II
If I want to eat fried snake bladder and garlic aboard, that’s my privilege. If I want to recline my seat into your face, I will. If I haven’t showered in a month and mouth-breathe, too bad. If I am so obese that I literally drip over the armrest, deal with it. If my kids want to kick you, vomit, scream or demand treats unavailable at 40,000 feet, throughout an entire 12 hour flight, I have no obligation to deal with that. And oh yes, waiting until you are on an airplane is exactly when you should clip your nails.
People Don’t Care About Their Job
Here’s a can of soda. Never ask me for anything ever again during this flight or I’ll claim you are disruptive and have security haul you away. Sort out your own carry-on and intra-passenger issues. Just stare straight ahead if your screen does not work. Once we land, fight your way to the front of the plane to get off eight seconds before someone else, I don’t really care what you do. I’ll be in the back complaining to the other cabin attendants about my job and eating Chipotle I brought aboard and which I alone am allowed to microwave.
Texas stormtroopers saved everyone by arresting a ninth grade brown science nerd for building a clock that they wanted sooooo badly to be a bomb, followed by Obama inviting the kid to the White House to promote science (the Pentagon needs many bomb makers ahead of future wars with Muslims), followed by Donald Trump remaining silent in the face of one of his supporters announcing that Obama is a foreigner and a Muslim and that secret jihadi training camps no one can see are scattered all over America.
(That was all sadly true; here’s the satire part.)
CNN and other entertainment outlets all headlined a story earlier today showing Trump has personally flown to Texas and re-arrested the science nerd bomb making Muslim kid, charging him with not being fabulous, and with conspiring to make others think for no reason that he was thinking of considering creating a weapon of mass destruction that never would exist. Such a crime exists in the imagination of Trump, who stated “That was good enough for Ronald Reagan, and good enough for the Greatest Generation, so it is good enough for someone else.”
“The key reason I knew I had to act,” said Trump from his hot tub attended to by scores of virgins, “was that visit to the White House. In these kinds of Islamic terror plots, you look to connect the dots. So look what we have — a Muslim builds the first half of a bomb, minus only massive amounts of explosives and a trigger. He escapes from law enforcement because of the liberal mass media. And then he just happens to show up the next day at the home of a prominent Muslim, and that home just happens to be right inside Washington DC, inside the White House itself!”
“It was all red flags, red alarms and red scares as far as the eye could see,” frothed Trump. “So I acted. Any other paranoid raving lunatic would have done the same.”
“And lastly, answer me this. Where was Hillary? Hmmm?”
When reached for comment in Paradise, the ghost of Osama bin Laden chuckled to himself, and mumbled “The Americans, they are eating themselves now, my work here is done.”
We forget too quickly, and flirt from issue to issue. If you think that as it applies to the lion also has parallels to the Syrian refugee boy, yep, that’s what I’m doing here.
Remember back, oh, all of about six weeks ago? We as a nation recoiled in horror at the image of Cecil the Lion, killed by an American dentist, washing ashore next to that Syrian refugee boy on the beach, sparking a global outrage.
There would be an extradition, so the dentist (what the hell was his name? Cecil?) would face justice. People blew up Yelp! with really clever comments about taking their dental business elsewhere and bankrupting the dentist in a kind of people’s revenge. People blew up Twitter with really clever comments like “Feed the dentist to the lions!” and the U.S. government was going to investigate so many bad things. We were gonna put a stop to the global trade in trophy animals, dammit.
Anyway, we got distracted by some other thing, forgot what, and now the dentists said he’d just be back at work within days, appointments already scheduled.
Walter Palmer (oh, right that was his name, get him confused with the Breaking Bad guy, man, that was a great show, I’m binge watching it this weekend, oh wait, the blog post, sorry), who has spent more than a month out of sight after becoming the target of protests and threats, intends to return to his suburban Minneapolis dental practice Tuesday. In an evening interview that advisers said would be the only one granted, Palmer said again that he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe’s treasured animals.
Palmer shut off several lines of inquiry about the hunt, including how much he paid for it or others he has undertaken. No videotaping or photographing of the interview was allowed. During the 25-minute interview, Palmer gazed intensely at his questioners, often fiddling with his hands and turning occasionally to an adviser, Joe Friedberg, to field questions about the fallout and his legal situation.
Some high-level Zimbabwean officials had called for Palmer’s extradition, but no formal steps toward getting the dentist to return to Zimbabwe have been taken. Friedberg, a Minneapolis attorney who said he is acting as an unpaid consultant to Palmer, said he has heard nothing from authorities about domestic or international investigations.
Friedberg said he offered to have Palmer take questions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities on the condition the session be recorded. He said he never heard back.
In addition to the Cecil furor, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside of the authorized hunting zone. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000 as part of a plea agreement.
Je Suis Vanessa Collier
Hundreds of Vanessa Collier’s friends and family gathered Saturday at New Hope Ministries, sitting before an open casket that held the woman they loved, when suddenly the minister overseeing her funeral stopped the service.
An hour-long viewing of Collier’s body had just finished and the memorial service was 15 minutes underway when Chavez stopped it.
The memorial could not continue, Pastor Ray Chavez said, as long as pictures of Collier with the love of her life, the spouse she shared two children with, were to be displayed. Chavez said there could be no images of Collier with her wife, Christina. There could be no indication that Collier was gay. Because, Christianity.
Chavez, who apparently read one line out of the Bible’s Old Testament and completely missed the entire point of love, caring, tolerance and peace in the entire freaking New Testament, committed a hate crime. He harmed every grieving friend and relative of the deceased, and harmed her children. “It was humiliating,” said Victoria Quintana, Collier’s longtime friend. “It was devastating.”
Those who loved Collier picked up programs, flowers and eventually the dead woman’s casket itself, hand-carrying them to a mortuary across the street.
A representative for New Hope Ministries declined to comment before hanging up on a Denver Post reporter on Tuesday. A biography on the church website says Chavez founded the ministry in 1981 with his wife, Lola. It says the church “is a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an ‘Ounce of Hope.'”
About four dozen supporters of Ms. Collier and her family gathered outside of the church in protest, chanting “Give us an apology!” and “Shame on Pastor Ray!” Security guards were stationed in front of the building to ensure none of the marchers made their way onto the property.
Collier’s friends say they still haven’t been reimbursed by New Hope Ministry for the cost of the funeral.
Unclear from news reports is how the church was unaware that the deceased was a gay woman, and why that only became apparent to the hateful pastor well into the memorial service.
And hey, if you have thoughts you’d like to share with the pastor, he and his church can be contacted online.
Here is Pastor Chavez and what I assume is his hetero spouse:
Please stop making me hate you. We once had it all. It was fun, no, transcendent.
You did not blast video ads at me everytime I went to one of your sites. You did not force me to watch a video ad first to see you. You did not make me chase a moving box around the screen to click the damn X so I could see you. Same for surveys and feedback. Maybe it’s different, but annoying me seems a poor sales strategy.
You didn’t used to treat me as stupid. You didn’t try and trick me into clicking on a link, which only revealed another link, so that you could engage in some sort of weird contest to have “more [pointless] clicks.” You know what? I almost never now read an article that has a number in it, such as “Top Ten Things…” because I know I’ll have to keep banging away to slog through each sliding panel, interspersed with ads. If I forget or am tricked into not opting out of your sneaky attempts to send me email for the rest of my life with no way to unsubscribe, all that just goes to my spam folder as fast as I can assign it. We’re just wasting each other’s time.
You didn’t used to be creepy. I look at a site connected with some research I have to do, but not something I am so personally otherwise interested in, and I can’t seem to get rid of the related ads that you serve me everywhere. You stalk me, but you are not even very good at that. You seem good at knowing when I am looking into buying something, but not at realizing I bought it and have moved on. That Chromebook? I love it but stop blasting me with ads for Chromebooks weeks later. Also, I am not traveling to Seattle. That was a mistaken detour click. Stop it. No more Seattle ads.
Also, have you heard that many people look at you on mobile devices with smaller screens? It’s pretty easy to automate a version of your site for mobile use. Many of your pop-ups and all don’t work well on small screens and so I look elsewhere.
You used to have content and now “long reads” are only a couple of paragraphs. Links used to be the heart of the web, in fact the reason the web came into being, and now many of your sites don’t use them, or only use self-referential internal links, to “keep me on the page.” I often just leave.
You used to have lots of websites that were created by just people. Now you have nearly only corporate-type websites. Many of those are “aggregators” created by machines that do little more than scoop up other stuff online and repackage it. It is like one or two new things appear for real online each day and the rest is just those two things repurposed on many other sites.
Does anyone really subscribe to your email newsletters? Does anyone want notifications of “new” articles (see above) blasted across their inboxes? Really, does anyone buy your stuff off of pop-ups and pop-unders and all that kind of thing? Why do you force me to navigate through all that to see you?
I’m not opposed to paying for some content, but it has to be worth paying for. You can’t just throw up the same garbage and then expect to make any money from me. Also, if I am paying, could you please dial all the pop-ups and such back a notch? Lastly, you know that most of your paywalls are easily bypassed by entering from site from a search engine, right? So basically I’m paying just to skip that step. I am often not so happy paying for just that. Makes me feel like a chump.
One more thing. I like Twitter as much as the next person. But c’mon, why all the jabber about following some toothpaste company or another pointless commercial, content-free feed? Really, not everything is made for social media, and not all social media should devolve into just more advertising. I promise to buy stuff if you promise to stop shoving into my mouth.
Anyway Internet, we’re stuck with each other. We need each other. I need you for Internet things and you need me for your money. It can be a fair trade. But please stop trying to make me your customer by annoying me. Thank you.
Award-winning PBS documentary filmmaker and American icon Ken Burns, whose previous work on the Civil War, Jazz and Baseball has furthered the art of historical storytelling, admits now he just throws together whatever old black and white clips he turns up and calls it a day.
“Yeah, so what?” demanded the angry director. “What the hell have you ever accomplished on PBS? ‘Donating’ $800 for a logoed tote bag? I just got bored.”
Burns went on to describe his current creative process. “I have this way-too-serious film student intern, you know, all nose ring and gauges want to save some tribe or whatever. I send her off with a bus ticket to the Library of Congress and tell her to bring back about an hour of whatever black and white footage she can find laying around. It no longer matters to me if it’s rare stereoscopes of Rutherford Hayes, an Abe Lincoln sex tape or some stock footage of old-timey trains. Just fill the bag and get back to the studio pronto.”
“Did I tell you? The other day someone thought I was Dave Barry. I had to slap him down– ‘I’m Ken Freakin’ Burns’ dammit.'”
“Anyway, once I roll out of bed, I just splice all that crap together in whatever order it comes off the floor. If the whole thing doesn’t fill the hour, I just have PBS run it twice. I got this CD of Peruvian pan flute music I bought off the street as background music– no copyright fees to pay on that ’cause the musicians are illegals– so I make a few extra bucks. I call up my old pal Morgan Freeman, we do some blow, and then I have him just read random things off the web into a microphone and we call it narration. That guy is something else. He can make reading the list of ingredients off a box of Captain Crunch sound important. Sometimes I get the intern to give it all a title, sometimes I just label the shipping container ‘Blah Blah Blah: A History by Ken Burns’ and that’s that.”
“I used to do all this research, but now that’s about as appealing to me as eating aluminum foil. Plus PBS killed me with the pace. ‘Yeah Ken, keep it classy and really dig into the subject, explore, but hey man, we also need a new doc from you every other week. And no more cheating us on time. 57 minutes isn’t an hour.'”
“The sickest part is that those people soak it up. Everytime PBS runs one of my films, pledges go up like 187% compared to when they play one of those ‘Golden Oldies, Music of Yesteryear’ things. Those losers ought to try porn and see what that does to their donations.”
Burns ended the interview: “I hate myself.”
Local slacker and sophomore guy from down the hall in your dorm is now a member of al Qaeda, all because he did not read through the software license on some stuff he downloaded and just clicked “Accept.”
“So my bud told me about this sick game and after being distracted for like seventeen hours surfing through porn sites I decided to download it and check it out. Like always as I did the install, that stupid licensing agreement box came up, you know, the one with all that annoying tiny print. That always cranks me off, because like what, they expect you to plow through a hundred pages of legal junk just to check out a new game? Yeah right. If I wanted to read things I’d study for my history test on Thursday, LOL.”
“So I just clicked ‘Accept.’ Now I guess I’m in al Qaeda.”
Speaking on behalf of the global terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents, spokesperson Mohammed “Tommy” bin Mohammed explaining what happened.
“Like any organization, we have to adapt to the times. Our usual recruitment methods of offering the chance to live in the dirt, or that 72 virgins thingie, just were not as effective as we’d like in America. Numbers were down and we were under heavy pressure from the home office. So, we bought into a few software companies and simply inserted our jihadi contract right into their standard licensing agreements.”
The slacker went on: “So when I clicked accept that meant I signed up. I kinda thought it was a joke or something, but my roommate’s dad is a lawyer or an accountant or one of those jobs that you have to wear a tie for, and my roommate says this is all legal. I’m kinda screwed. But I guess a deal is a deal.”
“We used to require a blood oath,” continued the al Qaeda spokesperson. “Would-be recruits had to travel to Pakistan, go overland to this one backup cave we had, then cut their hand and mingle their blood with a true soldier of Islam’s blood. It was expensive, messy, and of course not very healthy. This new thing is great.”
“Anyway, looks like I’m gonna miss some classes while I do jihad,” said the slacker, “but I hardly went anyway and my bros’ are gonna take notes if they attend. I’m even thinking of buying the textbook and taking that with me so I can catch up when I get back.”
“This slacker will of course never come back,” said the al Qaeda spokesperson. “Seriously, what else can we do with him but straight into the suicide bomber squad? The guy is a bonehead. Three years of college at a fine university, all paid for by his infidel parents, and he ends up passed out drunk in a wading pool on a frat house lawn every weekend.”
“So yeah, there’s some downside,” mumbled the slacker as he packed for the one-way trip to Hell. “These dudes don’t drink, I’ll spend Spring Break in Afghanistan, and I’ll have to blow myself up most likely. But on the plus side it means no finals, and no hassling with my folks over my grades like usual. I also hear they have some sweet, sweet hashish out that way.”
“Plus there’s this deal with the 72 virgins I’m hearing about. That is wicked. Man, I haven’t gotten any in a while.”
If ignorance was bliss, you’d think more people would be happy. In the media, ignorance just seems to make people angrier, and thanks to the Internet, we all get to listen to them.
A number of conservative outlets have featured a story like this one, “Obama Spending $2.7 Mil to Broadcast Communist Propaganda to Vietnam.” The article quotes from somewhere (no attribution or link):
The Department of Health and Human Services is spending $2,797,979 on a study that brings television to more than a dozen remote villages in Vietnam to study its impact on their culture and reproductive behavior.
Can we have a study in which we take away money from government bureaucrats in the United States while using government bureaucrats in Vietnam as a control group to see which country goes bankrupt faster? Instead we’re funding the broadcast of Communist propaganda to rural Vietnamese villages like the anniversary celebration of the Communist Party.
Because I’m trying to dilute ignorance here rather than fan its flames, a disclaimer is needed. I am neither a conservative, nor a liberal, a libertarian, a Presbyterian, a Rastafarian or believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I support public leaders who might serve the public interest, and oppose those who don’t. So, denizens of the Internet, remain in your basements and do not accuse me of loving Obama or hating Obama. Only four more hours to your meds anyway, be strong for me buddy.
A Golden Fleece Award was presented each month by Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, from 1975 to 1987, to identify what he viewed as wasteful government spending.
One Award was given in honor of a $57,800 study of the physical measurements of airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the “length of the buttocks” and how their knees were arranged when they were seated. Another Award made fun of the money spent on insect sex.
Basic research is often very important, and very easy to mock. The buttocks measuring was one part of data-gathering that led to safety equipment standards for aircraft. Fly sex research led to sterile screw-worms that were released into the wild and eliminated a major cattle parasite from the U.S., saving the cattle industry $20 billion.
Back to Vietnam
The media claiming the U.S. is funding Red propaganda, and/or just throwing away money, are, not surprisingly, wrong.
Reading the actual grant from the U.S. National Institute of Health (for only $705k; not sure where the $2.7 million number came from), we learn that the purpose has little to do with Commies:
Billions of dollars are spent worldwide on television campaigns to promote population health even though we lack clear evidence of a causal link between television and family formation and reproductive health. Although a substantial research literature documents television’s effects, existing research is primarily associational; making it impossible to establish a causal direction or to eliminate the possibility that a third variable is responsible for the observed associations. In defending these existing research problems, many note that because television is so widely available, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to randomly assign members of a target audience to comparison and intervention groups.
The idea of researching the impact of something at the cost of maybe millions to better spend billions seems to make sense. The idea of finding a place without any TV that is also safe to work in and somewhat accessible means that isolated hill villages in Vietnam are exactly the kind of location you need.
We’re All Right
Weird conservative media, you are wrong about the Vietnam study. People who think they should write in and criticize me for liking or hating Obama, you are too shallow to get this is all not about “liking” a leader anyway, plus of course the fact that Obama himself had nothing to do with an individual NIH grant. In the spirit of a happy ending, I for one feel much better knowing the government is spending at least some of my tax money on basic research, and thus maybe a tiny, tiny, tiny amount less on drones and the NSA.
A fella can dream, can’t he?
With great glee, I am now running Linux Ubuntu on all my computers as my operating system, forever replacing Windows. This very blog post is infused with Linux goodness. Smell it. Smell it. Yes, put your nose to the screen and sniff– smells like victory.
With this move here at Chaos Manor, there are no Microsoft products in my home. None. OK, OK, anyone who enjoys tech stuff is already tired of Linux fanboys, a species just as creepy (but not as well dressed) as Apple jihadis. Computers are a tool to get stuff done people, not an stage on which you become a tool. Deal with that. Sleeping on a sidewalk to buy something makes you a sad, lonely person. Most people who sleep on sidewalks don’t have a home, think about that. So, I do not want to be seen as some weird dude in a basement somewhere obsessing about something as pointless in the Big Scheme as a freaking computer operating system. It takes the lotion and initializes its USB ports…
While I am sure the NSA has found a way into our Linux, they at least had to do the heavy lifting. Nobody bent over and went all Deliverance to help them defile our lives. But Microsoft appear to have:
• Microsoft collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
After I wrote another piece about Microsoft-NSA collaboration on Firedoglake, I got an email from a “strategic communications” firm claiming to represent Microsoft. The email reminded me that “Microsoft offers an adamant and robust denial, writing that ‘There are significant inaccuracies in the interpretations of leaked government documents reported in the media last week,’ and referencing this Microsoft blog post. The communications person “Wondered if you’d consider adding Microsoft’s comments to your blog, rather than just giving one side of the story.” And so I just did.
That said, why are you still handing your money to Microsoft? Give Ubuntu a try. It is free, as is all the software you’ll need. Ubuntu has grown to the point where for most people and most hardware most times it just works. You can try it without messing up your Windows install any more than it already is. You can also buy prebuilt systems with Linux installed so you can just plug them in and compute.
Big Brother thanks you for your support. Viva la Linux!
BONUS: But you have to believe the NSA has also hacked Linux, so what’s the point? It is indeed prudent to assume the NSA hacked Linux. However, since Linux is open source, meaning lots of people around the world way smarter than me can read the actual computer code behind it, there is some hope that at least some of the NSA hacks can be found and amended. And even if that is not possible, at least you are not paying Microsoft or Apple or whomever for the privilege of being spied upon.
Provocative one-sentence paragraph that asks a question like “Did you know?” or “You’ll be shocked to learn!”
Paragraphs that do not offer much information about the subject but end with tease that if you click NEXT they will.
Dramatic quote from someone on one side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Dramatic quote from someone on the other side of the issue. Facts used to support side left unchallenged even when stupidly inaccurate.
Summary paragraph that says no one is right or wrong.
Italicized section saying the writer has a new book or whatever out now. Follow him on Twitter!
Journalism done for today.
(Off topic here, but I wanted to say a few words after dropping my child off at college. Regular readers who hope to see evil and corruption exposed, tune in again. There’s still plenty of it out there, also in a way the topic of this essay. This originally appeared on Huffington Post)
Mrs. We Meant Well and I sent off the last of the heirs to the We Meant Well fortune to college. She’s a good kid, smarter than me hopefully, and she should do well at school. Though she is more embarrassed than anything about half the stuff on this blog, her heart’s in the right place. It would be very odd if as a teenager she would be any different. Hell, if she was as cynical as me at her age, we’d need to have her see a doctor.
I kept my mouth shut at the college– there are rituals to these things and dad-confessions are not among them– but I wanted to say sorry to her more than simply goodbye. My kids all grew up overseas while I served with the State Department (though they of course did not accompany me to Iraq). Despite the occasional job hassles, it was not a bad life. For most of the time the world was mostly at peace. We started the adventure around the same time that Desert Storm happened. After a week of silly paranoid concern that the Iraqi Army might somehow attack us in Taiwan, life went back to normal and continued that way until September 11, 2001. We were assigned in Japan at that time, and like all of you, watched the terrible events unfold on TV, albeit late at night because of the time zone thing. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I got up to make some sandwiches to bring in to work, knowing the phone would ring soon and I’d be called in to the Embassy. I remember as clear as glacier water my wife saying “Why would they call you in? That’s in New York and we’re in Tokyo!” Then the phone did ring and that was that. Forever after I would feel like a shadow looking for the sanctuary of a light.
The world my kids grew up in no longer exists. We destroyed it. In reaction to the terror attack, we set the Middle East on fire (still burning), nearly bankrupted our own economy, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with our democracy in return for a security state that exists only to keep us perched on the edge of fear. Nothing pressed us into these actions; we did them all on our own, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, the NSA amok, all that.
That night twelve years ago in Tokyo, when I was called in to the Embassy after midnight? As I approached the gate, I could see a large crowd gathered, not usual for after midnight and certainly not usual in calm-as-dust Tokyo. About a hundred Japanese had spontaneously gathered there, some with flowers bought who-knows-where at that time of night. They clapped for us as we walked in to work. They wanted to touch us as we walked by. It did not last long. Fast forward to March 2003 and a larger crowd gathered to protest the invasion of Iraq, and protest calls blew out the switchboard. Our security people let us out a back gate, saying it wasn’t safe to exit through the front door. In Tokyo. One bomb threat and false positive al Qaeda warning after another followed, hitting a low point when, after weeks of denying it, the State Department admitted that they had shipped diplomatic pouches into our Embassy that might have been infected by the anthrax that was in the U.S. mail system at the time. My office was near the pouch mail room and I had to take Cipro as a precaution and wonder if anything got into my home and my kids’ room off my clothes. Threats and terror alerts became a daily part of our new normal, there and in the U.S.
So I wanted to say I was sorry to my child. Sorry we messed up the world for you. Sorry for, what, how many dead? Sorry countries where Americans used to be at least tolerated with our awkward shorts and sandals ‘n socks are now too dangerous to even visit. Sorry you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon in Iraq, or the Pyramids, unless you join the Army. Sorry you will never know what privacy is. Sorry that you, and your children, will live in an America that exists in a constant state of low-fever war. Sorry you will never know peace. Sorry that we not only did not defeat the terrorists but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and seemingly endless new recruits. Sorry you will never enjoy an airplane trip, sorry you will never trust your government, sorry you will always have that tiny glint of reservation when you hear the anthem, read the Constitution or wonder what happened. And while I am sorry that you’ll blame us, you are right to do so. We did it. Some of us actively participated, some passively let it happen. Some that tried to make changes failed to make them significant enough to hold back even some of the water coming over the levies. Sorry, but if anyone is going to fix this, it is going to have to be you. Do a better job than we did if you want to really find a way to say thanks for the piano lessons and ballet lessons, the puppy, for using the car, for me not being too mad when you violated curfew to spend more time with that boy, for the college tuition.
Funny, but I also just sent my last draft for the new book off to the editor. He’ll make it much better and I know that, but I have given up something that used to be all mine at the same time. It’ll come back different.
We sent my daughter off to college this weekend and while my wife cried about 99% of the time, I held back some tears until the very end. While some kid my daughter had never met before said “C’mon, we’re going out with the guys from the next quad!” I stood there hugging her not in that room but in a million places where she had fallen down or asked for ice cream or needed a diaper changed or the causes of World War I explained. I didn’t hug an 18 year old woman but a six year old, a 13 year old, an infant in diapers, a two year old angry about being wet in the snow.
And despite my need to hold on to her for just that much more she felt closer in that moment to the anonymous roommate demanding she go out the door with her than to me and I knew simultaneously how I hurt and how right she was to need to leave. The space between us was a fraction of an inch but it was a distance I would never cross.
Back home it was quiet. Just my wife and the stupid, now old dog. I walked outside and saw the trees were still an unbelievable green, but just a hint of yellow, almost too little to really see, more of a feeling. There were nine empty beer cans in the recycling bin and I could hear cicadas. I swacked a mosquito. I’m gonna really miss summer.
My mom always forwards me the worst email crap, multi-megabyte Powerpoints of cats, or babies doing something odd, or homilies to life last century and the like. I usually thus delete most FWD’ed messages, but this one caught my eye. It’s making its way around the world so you might have already deleted it. If not, enjoy a cheap laugh. And be nice to your mother this Sunday, Mothers Day.
How to Be an Afghanistan Expert
1. Cite your most recent trip to the region where you saw – with your own eyes, absent the media’s blinders – irrefutable progress. Add points if you spoke with some cigar store Afghan who confirmed this for you. Add double points if you attended an actual jirga. (Subtract points if you were actually at a shura and mistook it for a jirga).
2. Imply that if only the clearance-less masses were privileged enough to see the same “high side” intelligence that you do, they would know the truth. Add points if you have an actual clearance and didn’t just look it up on Wikileaks.
3. Visit a bazaar. Chat with friendly merchants. Lots of salaams, lots of right-hand-over-your-heart greetings. Buy a (warm) orange Fanta. Note – often and loudly – that this bazaar was closed until ISAF forces arrived. Add points if you can drive to this bazaar, versus flying. Add double points if you can wear armor and helmet without looking like some parody of an obese war tourist.
4. Play down the fact that you are paid roughly $1,000 a day to “advise” the military and deny that there is any subsequent conflict-of-interest when you come home and write flattering things about progress in Afghanistan.
5. Whatever you do, avoid spending too much time in Afghanistan. In addition to acquiring language skills and some measure of cultural understanding, you risk becoming cynical and perhaps even despairing of our odds of success.
6. Adopt a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” approach to the region. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and amid the protests of others who have spent years on the ground, imply that through sheer force of will and maybe a Jedi mind trick or two, we shall overcome. Add points if you can beat the other experts in latching onto some insignificant scrap of “evidence” supporting “progress.” Add double points if you are the first to tweet about it.
7. If pressed on the deteriorating security situation, offer some babble about “the night being darkest before the dawn” and tie it into a tortured thesis about how escalating violence is actually a sign of counterinsurgency success. Add points of you can maintain a straight face making this point while citing vastly improved “kill ratios.” Subtract points if your “analysis” is eventually compared to an ISAF version of the 5 O’Clock Follies.
8. Write numerous “analytical reports” with phrases such as “The Way Forward” or “How to Win” in the title. No one, not even your colleagues in the think tank world, will actually read these, but they will be cited widely as a substitute for reading something substantive, that might offer actual insight into Afghanistan. Add points if you can deride previous scholarship on Afghanistan as “Orientalist.”
9. ‘The Grand Slam’ – authorship of a COIN pamphlet that gainsays the holy trinity: Petraeus, Nagl and Kilcullen. If pressed on the apparent failure of COIN in Afghanistan, cite some obscure insurgency – The Malayan Emergency is a good choice – and note how long success took to occur.
10. In case you ever write a book and need a jacket photo, make sure to get a photo of yourself rocking a full beard, a pakool, and a dastmaal. Subtract points if you insist on maintaining this appearance once you return to DC.
In his State of the Union Address, the president said that the federal minimum wage should be raised to nine dollars an hour. He said also that a person holding down a full-time job should not have to live in poverty in a country like America. I could not agree more; for the last few months I’ve lived like the people the president referred to and it is not a pretty picture.
As research for my new book, I have been working in the minimum wage economy and trying to live on the money I make. The situation is much, much worse than the president described in his Address, a tragedy for our society. Here’s what it looks like.
Once Upon A Time
The last time I worked for minimum wage was in a small store in my Ohio hometown, almost a right of passage in high school, pulling in about four bucks an hour stocking shelves alongside my friends. Our girlfriends ran the registers, our moms and dads shopped in the store and a good story about a date could get you a night off from the sympathetic manager. When someone graduated, the manager would hire one of the workers’ friends and the cycle continued.
The New World
At age 53 I expected to be quizzed about why I was looking for minimum wage work in a big box retail store. No one cared; instead, the application process included a background and credit check, along with a drug test. Any of those anonymous agencies could have vetoed my employment and I’d never even know about it. Most places that don’t pay much seem really concerned that their workers are drug-free. I’m not sure why this is, because you can be a banker or lawyer and get through the day higher than angels on a cloud. Regardless, I did what I had to in front of another person, handing him the cup. He gave me one of those universal signs of the underemployed I now recognize, a “we’re all in it, what’re ya gonna do” look, just a little upward flick of his eyes.
After hiring I watched a video on theft. The interesting thing was that in addition to warning us about stealing candy for breaks, we were not to steal time. The store paid us for our time and so even if we snuck out for a breath of air or flipped through a magazine, we were stealing time. Would we have liked someone from the store to come to our home (or, I guess, day-rate motel room, car back seat, shelter bunk or cardboard box under a bridge) and have them do whatever the heck the store would want from us there?
New break policy: zero to five and a half hour shift, no break. New schedule policy: all shifts reduced to five and a half hours or less. Somebody said it was illegal not to give us breaks, but what can you do, call the cops like it was a real crime? It turns out in fact that in my state employers are not required to grant breaks to anyone over age 16; in some places minimum wage workers do eight and nine hours shifts without a meal or a chance to get off their feet for a few minutes. No one gets sick leave, holidays or accrues vacation time. No health benefits.
Eight hours on your feet is tough, but what about sixteen? At age 53 I was the third oldest minimum wage worker at the store. With one or two exceptions, everyone on the schedule worked multiple jobs, often in adjacent stores in the same strip mall. They have to: even if the store gave us 40 hours a week for a year (a big, big if, as most places cap workers at 39 hours to avoid them becoming “full time” and possibly qualifying for benefits. In my case, as work expands and contracts, I’ve been scheduled for as few as seven hours a week at one store, without notice that my hours were going to be cut), your annual income would be only about $15k, before taxes of course. The stores adapted, actually trying pretty hard to create schedules that allowed everyone to hold down their two or three jobs. It was the norm, a fact of life, something for business to adjust to.
Who We Are
Who are the workers? They are adults, many single moms (64% of minimum wage employees are women), a veteran from Iraq (“the Army taught me to drive a Humvee which turns out not to be a marketable skill”), another retired guy, a couple of students who alternate semesters at work with semesters at the local community college and a small handful of recent immigrants. One guy said that because the big boxer drove his small store out of business he had to take a minimum wage job, which only pays him enough so that he sort of has to buy at the big box store. They made him a greeter at the front door and told him to be enthusiastic. He was. That guy was like Patient Zero in our New Economy.
There is no ladder up, no promotion path. Most of us were just trying to make a little money. But some people had been yelled at too many times, or were too afraid of losing their jobs. They were broke. People—and dogs—don’t get like that quickly; it has to build up on them, or tear down on them, like erosion, one thing after another nudging them deeper into it. Then one day, if the supervisor told them by mistake to hang a sign upside down, they’d do it, more afraid of contradicting the boss than making an obvious mistake. You’d see them rushing in early to stand next to the timeclock so they would not be late. One broke down in tears when she accidentally dropped something, afraid she’d get fired on the spot for it. They walk around like the floor was all stray cat tails. It is a lousy way to live as an adult, your only incentive for doing good work being they’d let you keep a job that made you hate yourself for another day.
You had to pay attention, but not too much. It was an acquired skill. Enough time in this retail minimum economy and it was trained into you for life, but for newcomers like me it was a slow process of getting pushed back into the ground every time we had a accidental growth spurt. None of us was trying to be great, just satisfied. This was just grey bread as you felt yourself getting more and more tired each day.
About 30 million Americans work this way, live this way, at McJobs. We pop up like Brigadoon during election cycles, often as caricatures like Joe the Plumber, or as props for an important speech. In between such appearances, about half of all single-parent families live in poverty. These situations are not unique. Wal-Mart has more than two million employees; if Wal-Mart was an army, it would be the largest military on the planet behind China. Wal-Mart is the largest overall employer in the U.S., and the biggest employer in twenty-five states.
More than Minimum
I did work in retail for minimum wage, both at age 16 and again at age 53. While I lived a life from teenager stocking shelves to older adult stocking shelves, the minimum wage only rose by a few bucks. The minimum wage today is $7.25—is a big latte really what an hour of my labor is worth? While the money has not changed, what has changed is who is now working these minimum wage jobs. Once upon a time they were filled with high school kids earning pocket money. In 2013, the jobs are encumbered by adults struggling to get by. Something is wrong.
So to the president I say, yes, please, do raise the minimum wage. But how far is the proposed nine bucks an hour going to go? Are we going to do eight hours of labor for the cell phone bill? Another twelve for the groceries each week? Another twenty or thirty for a car payment? How many hours are we going to work? How many can we work? Nobody can make a real living doing these jobs. You can’t raise a family on minimum wage. And you can’t build a nation on the working poor. Maybe what we need is to spend more on education and less on war, even out the tax laws and rules just a bit, require a standard living wage instead of a minimum one. That’s not all the answer, but it is a start. The president is right that it is time for a change, but what is needed is much more than a nudge up on the minimum wage.
Working for minimum wage, I came to know that these were real problems, with real people behind them, lives. We have to decide if all this is just about money or if it is about more, about society, about how we live, about people, about America.
During those eight years we lost ourselves. Following a singular day– one day– of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. But we wanted to believe and so it was easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 200 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights– silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation tortured men, created an archipelago of secret prisons, a regime of indefinite confinement and renditions to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. How much would be enough for revenge? When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we would kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later.
Then in 2008 hope we were sold and we slobbered over it like the pigs we had become. He was a king, awarded a Noble Peace Prize simply for not being George W. Bush. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously.
Today, this day, four years later we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We re-elected him mainly just because he wasn’t the other guy, everybody’s reluctant guilty choice. We now today go though the motions of a celebratory inauguration like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a second generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
People who saw the movie Lincoln were struck by the personal anguish the president then brought upon himself ordering men to their deaths in support of a moral cause, ridding this nation of the horrors of slavery, human bondage, once and for all. That president enduring many necessary evils in pursuit of a goal he knew to be noble, the unfinished work of creating a truly democratic and just nation. On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham to remind that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs.
So you Barack, who so shallowly call forth Lincoln’s legacy, for what cause do you condone our modern necessary evils? For what noble crusade do you allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because you can do so? Why do you prolong the war, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan? On what crusade do you keep your enemies in Guantanamo?
Lots of talk today, inauguration day, Martin Luther King Day. But those are the questions Mr. Lincoln and Dr. King would demand answers for from their graves, Mr. Obama.
I normally in this space have a lot to say. Sometimes it is a lot to say about important things, sometimes it is a lot about nothing.
I am at a loss at the deaths of children and their caretakers in Connecticut. Another crazed gunman. Another mentally ill man whose solution was murdering innocents, using the weapons of war we sell on the Internet to literally anybody in America. How many this year? The Aurora Batman guy, the Oregon guy, who can keep track?
Obama is, pardon, dead wrong. Today is the day to talk about gun control, though yesterday would have been better. Gun control won’t solve all problems, no law can. But when faced with horror like this you start, you do something goddammit, you don’t shed a tear and cluck your tongue and change the channel. For God’s sake– for our children’s’ sake– we have thrown out most of the Bill of Rights in the name of a phony war on terror, why can’t we interpret the Second Amendment in light of our present day?
You can love your children, or you can love your guns more. We as a nation have gone, quite simply, insane. May God help us, because we obviously have no interest or desire to help ourselves.
Leaving aside how lowly first-time authors are treated in the contract world (I signed away rights to all the Beatles’ early songs), let’s instead drop in on former State Department employee Zalmay Khalilzad. Zal, as he is known to many, was former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations during the glory years of the Bush Decade o’ Horrors. That’s Zal in the photo, on the right.
Given that, you’d expect Zal might be at a mountain top Zen (or Zal) monastery, seeking forgiveness. Instead, he runs Gryphon Partners, a consulting firm that, among other things, goes after US Government contracts in Afghanistan. He sits on the boards of the American University of Iraq in Suleymania, and the American University of Afghanistan. None of this could possibly be a conflict of interest, nor anything close to profiting from his government service.
(An aside. My old boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must be proud of her daughter Chelsea. Chelsea, age 31 and a grad student, has been working on the board of Barry Diller’s media company, a gig that pays $50k a year with a $250,000 stock signing bonus. None of this had anything at all to do with Mom and Dad’s government service. I’m having my daughter send off a resume today).
Back to Zal. Zal has the stones to write a “think piece” on Foreign Policy bitching about losing a contract to the Chinese in Afghanistan, whining that “flaws in the Pentagon-backed process mean that state-owned Chinese companies are at an advantage over private companies.”
Private companies such as his own firm.
Balls, the man has balls. Maybe I should hire his consulting firm to represent me on my next book deal, for the win!
Too soon? No?
OK then, it looks like our current climate change policy (ignore it and maybe it’ll go away) is not working. The backup plan, find some way to attack it with drones, has not proven robust. Blaming it on “terrorists” has also achieved limited success. It looks like periodic massive disasters are just going to be a “thing” now until the complete destruction of civilization, so we better get some rules into place.
To assist, here is the playbook:
— Giant freakish things will just happen. Stop referring to them now as “storm of a lifetime” or a “once a century” event. Stop saying stupid stuff like “no one could have anticipated _____.” Anticipate it. No biblical references. No one may hereto try to graft “apocalypse” or “armageddon” onto any climate terms, such as “snow-mageddon.”
— Just freaking buy on a regular basis milk, water, batteries, candles and bread. You look stupid rushing into the convenience store in your pajamas panic buying everytime it rains.
— Nature is still working the evolution-thing even if you chose not to “believe” it. If you live in a flood zone and refuse to buy insurance, or if you’re told to evacuate and “choose” not to do so until the water is up to your lips, well, that’s nature’s way of trimming back the gene pool. Accept your role in the miracle of life.
— Make up your mind ahead of time about “big government” so you don’t sound stupid in a disaster. If you think government is the problem, and that people should be self-sufficient and not accept handouts and all that, tie a ribbon to your front door so that the first responders can skip your house.
— For the media, let’s save some time. Start the drive to complete panic a good 48 hours out, being sure to intersperse actual important information with complete nonsense crazy talk. Make sure, no matter what the actual disaster is, that all of your reporters are standing in the rain when reporting, preferably in some sort of media-logo emblazoned coordinated gear. The reporters should insert themselves into the most stupid and dangerous places possible. Do at least one quirky story a day, such as someone who figured out a way to use Twitter to stay warm. Go to a “neighborhood” and run a feature about the bodega/bar/family restaurant “giving back” to the community; make it as “ethnic” as possible if east coast disaster, as uneducated-country-philosopher if midwest. Have a person of one race say it is “not about race anymore, today we are all _______ ” as appropriate (Black in urban barber shop, White in redneck tavern).
— Victims, when interviewed, please stick to the script: you lost a lot, not sure how you’ll rebuild, but somehow you will. Cry but in a spunky way. Be ready with a pet rescue story; don’t make the reporters have to ask twice please, they’ll be busy. Try and retrieve a burned/soggy sentimental item from your rubble ahead of time to show the camera crew (if you are unable to find anything, most crews do carry a supply of generic baby dolls and black and white photos for this purpose.)
— Telethons, concerts, fund raisers are another inevitable part of all this. Bruce Springsteen has set up a special email account simply for such bookings– be sure to specify if you are seeking the mournful Bruce (Atlantic City, My City of Ruins) or the we’re gonna get through this together Bruce (The Rising, Wrecking Ball). Bruce has graciously offered to forward your emails to Willie Nelson for disasters west of the Mississippi, and to Bon Jovi for those east of the Mississippi. John Mellencamp needs the money and would also appreciate a call if that’s cool.
— Politicians, get out there early to have your photo taken hugging a victim. Try for someone of a race or socioeconomic level you do not normally hug. Get some professional assistance choosing the right level of casual clothing; don’t overdress but don’t look too sloppy. First Ladies, head for the soup kitchens and go easy on the makeup and jewelry. Remember to wash your hands and use Purell outside of camera range. Accuse your rival/arch enemy/nemesis of politicizing the tragedy during your photo-op. Thank profusely the first responders pulled away from actually responding to provide security for your visit. Before climbing back into your helicopter or limo, remind everyone we’re all in this together. Try and avoid the question of why old bags filled with sand are our only technological defense against this kind of stuff.
— Celebrities, follow the hints for politicians, above. Have your personal assistant purchase some “real people clothing” for you, they’ll know what to get (Gaga excepted). Be sure to say “I’m just here to do whatever I can to help” to call attention to your celebrity-ness while downplaying it, a kind of zen thing. Don’t get caught by questioners who ask if you’ll donate any of your zillions of dollars as part of doing whatever you can. Many common people expect you to know how to serve food or ladle out soup when doing whatever you can at a shelter, so study up on how those things are done. Easy for you Method actors but pop stars take note. Do not be caught on camera asking for sushi or saying things like “Do people really eat this stuff?” Also, note that most day spas will be closed in the aftermath of a disaster, so plan on exiting the area quickly once the media moves on.
— Everyone: stress your personal connection to the suffering, however slight. If you grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, you’re “from the Shore.” If you have ever changed planes in O’Hara, you’re a Midwesterner at heart. If you can imagine a great- great- relative who had a garden, you’re really just a farm boy made good. Find someone, such as a former roommate’s neighbor, actually affected by the disaster to refer to so you can act all self-righteous when people try to make jokes about what has happened.
— Victims, following 24-48 hours of intense attention to your plight, please shut up. Don’t expect any real, long-term assistance. Do not expect any significant changes to your rusty infrastructure. Grab what you can in those first couple of days because that is pretty much what you’re going to get. If you’re lucky enough to score a celebrity visit to your shelter, demand cash or good drugs up front or, if it is Angelina Jolie, take one of her kids hostage for the money.
— Columnists, bloggers, pundits, you might as well predraft your pieces. Have one of each ready please: end of the world I-told-you-so, the disaster is an excuse for the military to take over, it is crazy that crazy people blame the disaster on Obama/the gays/the Chinese/Koch brothers/Shrek, government is good/bad, this is proof of climate change/proof that climate change is fake.
That should get things organized for now. We’ll update the new rules as the situation develops.
Actually, if you already know about Cryptome, sorry, this blog post isn’t for you. Move along, pal, nothing new.
But if you’re interested in national security issues, and particularly if you prefer to study primary source documentation and make up your own mind about things, take a look at Cryptome. The site is w-a-y old school, just a page of links in good old HTML 101. They’ve been online since 1996 and serve as a repository of documents and information, some leaked, some obtained via FOIA. Cryptome was Wikileaks decades before Wikileaks.
For example, Cryptome currently offers aerial views of the CIA’s basic training facility (swanky), Camp Peary in Virginia, with its shooting ranges, driving track and own airstrip.
Following the incident in Benghazi? Cryptome has overhead images of the compound and surrounding neighborhood.
Readers are intended to be critical consumers, as Cryptome offers no commentary or validation. A list of allegded CIA agents and front companies, for example, seems overly broad, but you be the judge.
The web site also focuses on the NSA, cryptography and publishes interesting albeit open source U.S. government documents aplenty. For anyone with such documents to share, Cryptome is happy to receive them, and includes irs PGP key on the site.
I sat with John Brown, one of three State Department Foreign Service officers who resigned rather than support the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for an interview.
We covered a lot of subjects, including a fair amount of inside-baseball State Department stuff about why I went to Iraq, and why I did not resign after Iraq.
This may have been why what I saw in Iraq so shocked me. I was very unused to the, well, disingenuous chatter that seems to me now in retrospect to characterize much of what the non-Consular parts of State do on a daily basis. I had this, perhaps naive, very practical conception of our work. Consular at its best is about real problem solving: mentally ill American Citizen in the lobby, what are you gonna do? Faced with someone shouting incoherently and undressing in your waiting area, there is no room for a carefully conceived statement of concern, cleared by 18 offices over a three week period. You actually have to do something. In this sense, I was really, really the wrong guy to send into Iraq.
Since all that happened with the book, people ask why I did not resign. My answer is that I had no reason to do so. I wrote a book documenting what I saw in Iraq. I am certain that had you followed me around for a year you would have seen and heard what I wrote down. I see what I did as documentary, not necessarily dissent per se. In that what I saw and wrote deviates from what State’s vision of Iraq is is I guess the issue. I note that no one, not a single person in the USG nor any reviewer, has contested anything in the book. No one has said, hey, that story about the chicken plant is wrong, or incomplete or made up. No one, nothing. All of the attacks, the criticism, has been ad hominem attacks against me as a person. State people say I should not air dirty laundry, or I should use the dissent channel, or I should have been more respectful in my language, less sarcastic in tone like a “diplomat” should be, I should have done this or that. But no one has challenged the content, and that is because they really can’t. It is all true.
So why should I have quit? Why should I have resigned? I just wrote a book. It is more like I failed some ideological test.
John and I also talked about broader foreign policy issues.
The U.S. will face a continued stagnation on the world stage. When we, perhaps semi-consciously, made a decision to accept an Empire role after World War II, we never build the tools of Empire. No colonial service, no securing of critical resources, no carrot and sticks. We sort of settled on a military-only model of soft occupation. We made few friends or allies, accepting reluctant partners. As changes take place in the developing world, the most likely American people there encounter now wears a uniform and carries a weapon. By ideologicizing every challenge from Communism to the entire religion of Islam, we have assured ourselves of never really winning any struggle.
Read the full interview online.
While there are a lot of books about the most recent Iraq war, there are very few books that try and show the civilian side of the conflict. We all know the rough outline of the narrative—US invades, society breaks down, sectarian violence spins off into civil war, followed by a low hum of more targeted violence and unstableness that now characterizes life in “free” Iraq. Broad strokes; but what was history like for the average Iraq? Until now, few have told us their stories.
Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 is an imperfect book, much as could be expected from a first oral history of the civilian side of the war. Author Mark Kukis interviewed those he could reach, restrained by the continuing violence in Iraq that threatened both him and his subjects. Consequently, more than a few of the subjects are Iraqis who worked for Western media outlets or who otherwise interacted with the Americans.
However, Kukis, through friends of friends, did gain access to a number of more ordinary people, and it is in these interviews that the book shines. Tale after tale accumulates around you, like snow piling up: a son killed, a child murdered, a father kidnapped, a bombing, an assassination, a life ruined by torture. Before you realize it, you are drawn deeply into the horrific world the US created in Iraq post-2003, forced to acknowledge America’s complicity by the simple tone of the stories, the tellers too tired to embellish and too plain in their suffering to politicize what happened to them.
If journalism is the first draft of history, this is version 1.5. Readers interested in a 360 degree view of events in Iraq 2003-2009 should listen to these Voices.
Hillary Clinton says Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi must be killed or captured (October 2011)
Clinton: “We hope he can be captured or killed soon.”
Hilary Clinton Arrives Unannounced in Libya to Offer New Aid Package (October 2011)
U.S. officials said the fresh aid Clinton is bringing totals about $11 million and will boost Washington’s contribution to Libya since the uprising against Muammar Qaddafi began in February to roughly $135 million.
Remarks With Tunisian Foreign Minister (March 2011)
Clinton: “The Tunisian people have made history once again. You have shown the world that peaceful change is possible.”
Clinton calls for change in Yemen (May 2011)
Clinton: “The government of Yemen must address the legitimate will of the people.”
Clinton, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Embraces a Revolt She Once Discouraged (March 2011)
Clinton: “To see where this revolution happened, and all that it has meant to the world, is extraordinary for me.”
BONUS: Nothing can beat this one of course: Cheney: Invading Baghdad Would Create Quagmire (April 1994)
If any of you happen to be in the Louisville, Kentucky area and/or are professional stalkers, I will be speaking at this year’s Louisville Idea Festival and would enjoy meeting. The Festival runs September 19-22.
The Festival is quite ambitious:
IdeaFestival is a celebration for creative thinkers and the intellectually curious. It’s an eclectic network of global thinkers and innovators bound together by an intense curiosity about what is impacting and shaping the future of the arts, business, technology, design, science, philosophy, health, education, etc.
The festival is also about solutions … about how ideas, imagination and discovery can be recombined in new and novel ways to solve problems both large and small.
It also sounds like fun. Have a look at the other speakers here. My presentation is on Friday around noon, and I’ll be signing books right after speaking. If you’re a blog reader, please introduce yourself!
(If the video clip isn’t embedded above, see it here)
(This article also appeared on the Huffington Post, May 17, 2012)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a letter to the Department of State, said today that the Department’s actions against my book and this blog are unconstitutional, that State’s actions “constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.”
Straight up, no qualifiers.
The ACLU reminds the State Department that the Courts have said that “Speech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression, it is the essence of self-government” and citing the numerous legal challenges the State Department has willfully ignored that grant government employees the same First Amendment rights all Americans enjoy.
Which is what we’ve been saying all along, here, in the New York Times, on NPR, CNN and elsewhere.
After reviewing the State Department’s policies and regulations, the ACLU states that “The State Department’s pre-publication review process, as it applies to blogs and articles raises serious Constitutional questions,” then goes on to detail those questions. The ACLU notes that State’s actions toward me are but one example of its unconstitutional actions and apply to other employees as well. They conclude that “it is highly unlikely that the State Department could sustain its burden of demonstrating that its policy is constitutional… There is no justification for such expansive prior restraint on State Department employees’ speech.”
Now them’s fightin’ words, folks.
Read the entire letter on the ACLU’s website. It is powerful stuff.
What It Means
The ACLU’s announcement that the Department of State has violated the Constitutional rights, the First Amendment rights, of one of its own employees comes to the day, 225 years later, that the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia and the founders began writing an extraordinary document. The First Amendment was added later, but the spirit of free speech underlies every clause and sentence of the original document. It is embedded in the very parchment.
The Founders would retch to see what has become of the spirit of the Enlightment that drove them, simply because America got frightened after 9/11. Those beautiful words of the First Amendment, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Madison and Jefferson were strong enough to give away the power of a government they would run, and place it in the hands of the people that government would serve. There’s courage most of us can never fully understand.
Now, very sadly, our first Cabinet agency, the Department of State, the part of the US government that speaks most directly to people abroad about freedom and democracy, is run by much smaller men and women. They are afraid of their own employees and afraid of what you– The People– will know the way they go about their wretched business. Hillary Clinton, herself a candidate to take over the seat once held by giants like Jefferson, Adams and Madison, has turned her internal security against a blog, and ordered her frightened followers to get rid of one employee because of a book. Her acts now have a label that will follow her and her Department long past my departure: Unconstitutional.
Every fluffy speech she makes to Syrian bloggers, or Chinese dissenters, will carry an asterisk– but Madame Secretary, as you criticize oppressive regimes for shutting down free speech, didn’t you order your own followers to silence a critic? Didn’t your Department act unconstitutionally? Are your actions somehow different than Bejing’s?
Did not you violate, willfully, clearly and repeatedly Madame Secretary the First Amendment rights of an American Citizen? How will you answer them Madame Secretary? Will you lie? Will you defame the ACLU? Will you apply your own legal skills to the analysis of your wrongs? Mumble about a disgruntled employee? Or will you remain silent?
Of course the State Department has not responded to all this. They have not answered me, they have not answered your letters and emails, they have not answered Members of Congress and they have not answered the ACLU. Why not? There is the ACLU letter, five dense pages of legal justification that leads to the core statement:
State’s actions constitute a violation of Van Buren’s constitutional rights.. That is the issue. Now, finally, Madame Secretary, how will you answer?