Tuesday, May 30, 2006
- On Saturday, played softball in Central Park. Weather was beautiful. Saturday night had a great dinner at Stanton Social on the Lower East Side. Great place for a group--great food and not nearly as expensive as I was fearing. Also, one of our group was the heiress to a large design fortune, which was interesting.
- On Sunday, went to the Astoria Beer Garden. It was the weekend of the Czech/Slovac Festival. Heard some good music and saw a lot of fun traditional dances. And the beer garden, in general, is awesome.
- On Monday, went to Orchard Beach in the Bronx and then had dinner on City Island. A friend who used to work for the Parks Dept. recommended Orchard Beach, and it was pretty great. Crowded, but not overly so. Great weather, nice sand, good times. City Island is an anachronism of sorts--a New England-style fishing village within New York City--on the easternmost part of the Bronx. Had great lobster and crab legs there.
Well, that's about it, but an eventful weekend in which we were able to enjoy the weather without feeling like we were trapped in the city. Beats renting a house in Fire Island, I say.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
CHILI: Martin Weir. He played the mob guy that turned snitch in The Cyclone.This reminded me of that scene.
HARRY: One of his best parts.
CHILI: No, his best part was the cripple gay guy that climbed Mt. Whitney.
HARRY: Ride the Clouds. Good picture.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Thursday, May 18, 2006
*I'm not talking here about strategic actions that may or may not constitute war crimes such as the firebombing of Dresden or Japan or the nuclear strikes, but in-battle atrocities not part of the strategic plan.
The solution [to the problem of poor intelligence in Iraq], endorsed by Rumsfeld and carried out by Stephen Cambone, was to get tough with those Iraqis in the Army prison system who were suspected of being insurgents. A key player was Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of the detention and interrogation center at Guantanamo, who had been summoned to Baghdad in late August to review prison interrogation procedures. The internal Army report on the abuse charges, written by Major General Antonio Taguba in February, revealed that Miller urged that the commanders in Baghdad change policy and place military intelligence in charge of the prison. The report quoted Miller as recommending that "detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation."So, when MPs who don't know how to interrogate people are told "no rules apply," then, well, no rules fucking apply, right?
Miller's concept, as it emerged in recent Senate hearings, was to "Gitmoize" the prison system in Iraq-to make it more focussed on interrogation. He also briefed military commanders in Iraq on the interrogation methods used in Cuba-methods that could, with special approval, include sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in "stress positions" for agonizing lengths of time. (The Bush Administration had unilaterally declared Al Qaeda and other captured members of international terrorist networks to be illegal combatants, and not eligible for the protection of the Geneva Conventions.)
Rumsfeld and Cambone went a step further, however: they expanded the scope of the sap, bringing its unconventional methods to Abu Ghraib. The commandos were to operate in Iraq as they had in Afghanistan. The male prisoners could be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation.
Cambone then made another crucial decision, the former intelligence official told me: not only would he bring the sap's rules into the prisons; he would bring some of the Army military-intelligence officers working inside the Iraqi prisons under the sap's* auspices. "So here are fundamentally good soldiers-military-intelligence guys-being told that no rules apply," the former official, who has extensive knowledge of the special-access programs, added. "And, as far as they're concerned, this is a covert operation, and it's to be kept within Defense Department channels."
The military-police prison guards, the former official said, included "recycled hillbillies from Cumberland, Maryland." He was referring to members of the 372nd Military Police Company. Seven members of the company are now facing charges for their role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. "How are these guys from Cumberland going to know anything? The Army Reserve doesn't know what it's doing."
Anyway, this is in stark contract to the officers and men we see in Baghdad ER, who have the proper training, who know why they're doing what they are doing and who know how to do it. In fact, this dichotomy struck me so that I mentioned it after the film to my girlfriend. I basically made the above-mentioned point and then said that, well, even with good leadership at the LtC, Col. and General officer levels, if the officer on the ground is Lt. Calley, then you're still screwed. Well, it seems something like this may have happened recently in Iraq:
A Pentagon probe into the death of Iraqi civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha will show that U.S. Marines "killed innocent civilians in cold blood," a U.S. lawmaker said Wednesday.Digby says:
From the beginning, Iraqis in the town of Haditha said U.S. Marines deliberately killed 15 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including seven women and three children.
Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.
One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.
“This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.
Three Marine officers — commanders in Haditha — have been relieved of duty, and at least 12 Marines in all are under investigation for what would be the worst single incident involving the deliberate killing of civilians by U.S. military in Iraq.
This war was waged for inexplicable reasons and in the course of waging it, the administration has presented a split version of reality that troops have to try to sort out. Liberating the "Iraqi people" and fighting "the terrorists" all of whom look alike to these marines. I don't excuse them for one minute for emptying guns into three year olds out of anger at their mate being killed. There is no excuse. But when you have the civilian leadership of the military publicly pondering the relative humanity of various enemies, you can see where the troops might just get a little bit addled.We clearly don't know enough to say that the bolded language is correct in terms of cause-and-effect, but I stand behind Digby's last paragraph above 100%.
What a mess. What a horrible, horrible mess. This stuff is sickening and wrong when it happens in a war of self-defense. When it happens in a war for Karl Rove's majority or a war for Halliburton or a war for whatever the hell they started this one for, then it is a moral failure of epic proportions.
UPDATE: Billmon has more:
I don't know if it's better or worse that this atrocity seems to have been committed by a military unit completely out of control, instead of one that was following orders, as was clearly the case at Abu Ghraib. One one hand, you can argue that it's simply a reminder that Americans are as capable of being beasts as anyone else: Germans, Japanese, Russians, Serbs, Arabs, Afghans, Israelis, Somalians, Afrikaaners, Salvadorans -- the list goes on and on. There's nothing exceptional about us, even in our war crimes.
On the other hand, the fact that U.S. Marines -- the few, the proud, etc. -- were capable of such bestiality says something ominous about the psychological state of the American military after three years of being stretched to the limit. These weren't draftees or Guardsmen or pathetic losers like Calley. These were professionals, supposedly the best of the best, and yet they threw away their training, their code and their honor, and drenched themselves and their flag in the blood of innocents. They simply snapped, in other words, and it makes me wonder how many more like them are out there -- one IED or ambush away from going beserk.
*sap: special-access program. A "black-op" outside the normal chain of command and classification structure that reported directly to Rumsfield.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Army surgeon general is warning that the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER" is so graphic that military personnel watching it could experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.This is probably true. And it's good that the Army recognizes this--and it's also good that they do not want the DC premiere to be a "social occasion." After the screening in NYC, people were mingling, but let me tell you it was not the right time for typical cocktail-party smalltalk. As for that final line, this movie may not be "anti-war", but it is, in fact, a strong statement against the Iraq war and occupation. You see what is happening, and can't help ask yourself "Why?" And there's no good answer to that question. None.
In a memo dated May 9 and obtained by CNN, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley said the film "shows the ravages and anguish of war."
"Those who view this documentary may experience many emotions," he said in the memo. "If they have been stationed in Iraq, they may re-experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as flashbacks or nightmares." (Watch what made a bloodied soldier in Baghdad plead for his life --3:33)
Kiley, who has watched the film with senior Army officials, said it is "an extremely graphic and moving look at how we care for severely wounded service members."
"This film will have a strong impact on viewers and may cause anxiety for some soldiers and family members."
He noted that "some may have strong reactions to the medical procedures such as the amputation of a limb."
Kiley said military medical treatment facilities should be ready to help troops and family members affected by the film. He suggested that mental health facilities should extend their treatment hours and reach out to the troops proactively.
Army officials said they fully support the film and note the Army gave the filmmakers access to the hospital. But privately they said it is so graphic that senior leaders do not want to turn Monday's premiere in Washington into a social occasion so many will not be attending, preferring to let the limelight fall on the military personnel.
After screening the film, officials said they are aware that some may use it to make an anti-war message.
Friday, May 12, 2006
We're at a point in this war where we don't seem to be getting much news about the day-to-day situation on the ground, other than there seems to be some nebulous understanding that things are bad and getting worse. Rasmussen, for example, has a recent poll stating that 51% of Americans think that, in the long run, the U.S. mission in Iraq will be a failure, while only 34% think it will be a success. My personal belief is that these negative feelings are the result of a combination of (1) the drip-drip-drip quality of bad news out of Iraq itself (as in, each day it seems another bomb goes off killing dozens of civilians) and (2) the general feeling that, politically, the Bush administration, which hung its hat on Iraq, is a failure. A new poll has Bush at only 29% approval.
It is with this backdrop, and with my own feelings that this war has been a disaster on every level from the get-go, that I went to an advanced screening of Baghdad ER, the new HBO documentary I mentioned last week. Now, full disclosure, my girlfriend is one of the directors long-time close friends, and I am also friends with him. Nevertheless, I can say that in no way colors my opinion that this is an incredible, heartbreaking and horrific film. Matt O'Neill and Jon Alpert, the directors, were given seemingly full access to the Army's medical corps in Baghdad, including the medevac teams that go out in the field to bring the wounded soldiers and marines to the hospital in the Green Zone. The film, to say the least, is graphic in what it shows us. But, what is going on in Iraq is graphic and horrible, and to show it as otherwise would be little more than a lie.
Before I talk about the film specifically, I want to point out that, while I know the filmmakers will argue vociferously that this film is not a political film, I disagree. While the film is no way polemical, it is indeed political. We see soldiers and marines maimed, disfigured, traumatized and killed. We see this right before our eyes. The film goes out of its way not to comment or editorialize on any of this. However, in every scene, in every shot, there is a question that hangs in the air, a question that can't help but hang in the air. Of course, that question is simply "Why?" At brief instances, we hear doctors and other soldiers briefly mention "the mission", but in general that question is not addressed directly. However, we do see the chaplain, in many heartbreaking moments trying to deal with the pain and death around him, call the war and the violence "senseless." We see other doctors and soldiers lament their having to deal, day in and day out, with some of the most horrific situations one can imagine. But, in its essence, the film just shows what our men and women in the armed forces are doing to try to save the wounded. It shows heroism and bravery without comment, but again, the morality (or lack thereof) and the politics of the entire war hangs like a fog over the entire film.
In many ways, Baghdad ER is two films: One film about the soldiers and marines who are wounded or killed in action; another film about the medics and doctors and nurses who are trying to save the wounded. Both films are of equal import and equal emotional impact. The soldiers and marines, dealing with their own wounds, the wounds and deaths of their comrades, are fully humanized in the film; each individual deals with the trauma differently, and each individual commands our respect. The medical teams are incredibly professional, working under the most stressful of conditions, doing everything possible to help both U.S. servicemen and women and Iraqi civilians. The doctors and nurses and chaplains are also surprisingly engaging individuals who really act as the films narrators, as there is no voiceover (a wonderful act of restraint by the filmmakers).
One last point I want to make is about the command structure of our military. Sy Hersh has reported ad nauseum over the last few years how the prisoner mistreatment at torture that has occurred in places like Abu Ghraib has followed directly from the top--Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld to Gen. Geoffrey Miller to the soldiers on the ground. This is what happened, and indeed, the only way these abuses abuses can happen (well, lack of discipline from the chain-of-command can do it, too). But, you can see the soldiers and marines in this film and wonder how the same organization can produce the brave, professional, heroic men and women seen in this film and also the sadistic and criminal guards who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. In any event, it was just something I noticed, because everyone in the film is what we want and expect every serviceman woman to be.
Well, I'm not a film critic, and a film like this doesn't necessarily lend itself to descriptions on paper (or screen). It is a visceral, difficult experience, and I highly encourage all Americans to watch it when it premiers on May 21 at 8pm EDT.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
I hope to have more Cobra II blogging by the end of the week.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Well, my luck ran out today, when neither I nor my friend could get fuck-all to Radiohead's two NYC shows in June through ticketmaster. So, I went to ebay, where, of course, people were already selling tickets for astronomical sums. And, despite my "no large, unexpected purchases in May" pledge to myself, I bid and won on some. So, at least I'm going--I'm sure it will be incredible. I think these tickets will be pretty good, too (probably not awesome, though). I'll do a concert review after I go.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
NAME: GOLDBERGAll in all, not nearly as stressful an experience as in Chicago, but not something I recommend.
Date of Birth: 08/78
The State Board of Law Examiners congratulates you on passing the New York State bar examination held on February 21-22, 2006. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of this lookup screen, each applicant must rely on the official notification (via U.S. Mail) as to whether he or she has passed the examination.
Update: Not that this is a story I care about too much, or even a "story" in the strictest sense, it's interesting in some ways. Lance Mannion has good stuff, and he quotes the Kung Fu Monkey:
As for Colbert crossing the line -- how? Did he make remarks about the President's wife? About his children? His sex life? His draft dodging, his drinking and drug use before he found the Lord? No. Every joke used a well-known fact of public-record. Does anyone deny the poll numbers cited? Does anyone deny that the government response to previous crisises have been deficient? Does anyone deny that Administration officials outed Valerie Plame (hell, even the Administration officials now have to rely on he idea it was accidental)? Does anyone deny that the Administration has actively opposed global warming discussions? Listen -- if the President could do a long routine about not finding WMD's and laughing about it, while US soldiers died in the resultant war ... then to be frank I think he set the bar. Oddly, I think that if Colbert had done the routine the President did a couple years ago, THAT would have been crossing the line for me.
If his sin was incivility, then what the audience/bookers were looking for wasn't comedy. Comedy is by its nature uncivil. Comedy is, in both linguistic structure and overall psychological impact, hostile. Sometimes overtly, often not. But there is no such thing as a joke structured like: "You know what makes me happy? Yeah, that same thing that makes everybody else happy. (sigh)" There is no laugh there.
Byrd got all the offense he needed and then some.Hmm.
He even received a call from Atlanta ace John Smoltz last week in which Smoltz admitted he envied all the run support Byrd was getting -- though both players are religious and being envious of anyone is not an accepted practice in their faith.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Now, I kind of believe watching The Wire will open your eyes to some serious issues in America today. But, that's not what all I meant by "relevant." It's simply the most compelling show on television, and it's "relevance" is one of those reasons. But, I think Sunday's episode of the Sopranos gives me the opportunity to elaborate. Specifically, I'm thinking of Tony's dilemma concerning the possiblity of (yet another) extramarital affair with Juliana Margulies and his dilemma from the previous episode about whether to kill Frankie Valli. Now, the median viewer, I would suspect, probably viewed these dilemmas equally, or, maybe even more likely, saw having the affair as the more serious moral dilemma. The direction of the show in fact pushed the viewer to think this--David Chase may have had us analyze, with Tony, the business reasons for taking out Frankie Valli, but we don't care one way or the other about the morality--it's the mob, after all. But, with the possible affair, we get Tony talking about it to Melfi, Tony and Carmela having sex and acting generally like a "happy couple," etc. And, really, this makes sense for David Chase to do because, after all, to the median viewer, dealing with something like adultery is a much more "relevant" topic than say, dealing with whether to hire some zips from Italy to kill a guy your New York rival wants taken out.
Roy Edroso at Alicublog has a post that touches some of these same issues. He writes:
From the beginning "The Sopranos" has had two major streams. On the one hand, there is the grotesque crudity – the source of many cheap laughs, which is what I think bothers Wolcott about the Kingsley/Bacall storyline [Roy is talking about a James Wolcott post about how he's off the Sopranos], and which also gains most of the water-cooler talking points and tabloid ooh-aahs. Hacked-off heads, surprise deaths, etc.I pretty much agree with this, and while the cruder parts are entertaining, they are often not particulary compelling, and again, this gets back to relevance. Contrast this with The Wire, in which all the main themes are both incredibly entertaining from both a a cat-and-mouse standpoint (which can be loosely analogized to Roy's "cruder" parts of The Sopranos) and a character standpoint (the "operatic conflicts, behaviors, emotions")--there is no dictotomy between these two sections in The Wire. Add that to the fact that, indeed, if you watch The Wire you may actually think of different ways to address our nation's urban problems, and, viola, you have a superior television show.
In opposition to this baseness, there is something larger and more dramatic -- operatic conflicts, behaviors, and emotions. The crude stuff is also outsized, in a grand guignol sort of way, but the latter is the meat of the dramatic interest, because even in this debased age we are still more interested in characters than in splatters, if only slightly so.
Also, The Wire has Omar and Bubbles, and if you can find me two better pairings of actor and character (in supporting roles), I'll give you a dollar.
UPDATE: I should have noted that, several months ago, my girlfriend and I were discussing the general awesomeness of The Wire, and she is the one who came up with the idea that one of the reasons we like it so much is because it is, in fact, relevant. "Credit where credit is due" is the Goldberg and Guthrie motto after all!*
*Well, after the real motto, which is: "Guthrie doesn't post here anymore."
Rumsfeld showed up toward the end of the session and made a broader point. Yes, it was important to topple the Taliban as quickly as the U.S. could, but that would not be enough. The United States needed to do more to demostrate that there were serious consequences for mounting an attack on the U.S. and to show it would not suffer unsavory governments that were affiliated with terrorists. There was no flowery talk of inculcating democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Rumsfeld was advocating a demostration of American power. It was a reprise of the brainstorming sessions the defense secretary had carried out with Feith and his aides soon after the 9/11 attacks. Rumsfeld had not proclaimed Iraq to be the next target, but he had made it clear that he felt there needed to be a Phase 2. [Emphasis added]So, it was because we needed to show strength. That, in all seriousness, is stupid enough to not really warrant further comment. But, even more warped is that the bolded passage above assumes we correctly answered the question of "Consequences for whom?" Obviously, much was said before and after the start of the war that it was stupid to attack Saddam to avenge something done by Bin Laden. So, as with a lot of the press over Cobra II, this is really not new news, but just newly confirmed news. Now we have real documentation that Rumsfeld decided Iraq was attacked not for weapons, not for democracy, but for retribution for something they didn't do. You may draw your own conclusions concerning the role of race.
In any event, why does this matter w/r/t Iran? Here I link to Matt Yglesias:
It's hardly a secret at this point, but one of the things reading Cobra II drives home is the extent to which the fix was already in during the final months of hand-wringing and diplomacy over Iraq. The administration had decided to invade, and the purpose of the diplomacy was to try and create a political environment -- both domestic and international -- that was maximally favorable to the invasion plan. Even Saint Colin Powell regarded the possibility that Saddam would back down and cooperate with inspectors as a threat to be avoided because was was the desired outcome. You can't think straight about the Iran situation unless you appreciate this reality and it's significance.Matt's point is that, prospectively, we shouldn't get into an argument about how to best to pressure Tehran to avoid war and whatnot, because the pro-war factions will just use those arguments to bring about the very war we're trying to avoid (and that the administration claims they are trying to avoid). Therefore, in such a fucked-up environment such as this, the key is simply to be against a war with Iran. (Read the rest of the Yglesias piece to get a clearer picture of this dynamic.)
It's worth saying at the get-go that this doesn't merely reflect some kind of cynicism on the part of Karl Rove or an eccentricity of George W. Bush. It's part of a considered, and wrongheaded, view of America's foreign policy which holds that reaching diplomatic agreements with "evil" regimes is always a bad thing. The preferred method is the use of force and intimidation. The problem is that neither the American people nor the international community is prepared to endorse fighting wars for no reason at all. Thus, when the Iranians approach us with peace feelers, the offers must be rejected out of hand. Iranian intransigence at the IAEA isn't a problem, but an opportunity for war. I don't say that everyone in the administration thinks this way, but many of them do, and they're joined by many conservatives outside the administration. It's no secret, for example, that lots of folks have been pushing for action against Iran since long before the current iteration of the nuclear crisis broke out.
This makes sense, as, in retrospect, Bush got his UN resolution (well, the first one), got his inspectors on the ground, the inspectors, after some initial "hide the ball" by Saddam, were getting nearly unfettered access to the suspected WMD sites, and what did Bush do? He pulled the inspectors and started the war. Why did he pull them? Well, obviously because he wanted to go to war, but specifically because the more they had full access in Iraq, and the more they didn't find anything, the weaker the case for war. And the inspectors weren't there to enforce a weapons ban, but, in Bush's mind, they were there to set conditions favorable to war. I'll conclude with more from that Matt Y. post:
I'm by no means opposed to the idea of more aggressive diplomatic and economic pressure and what have you. But I most certainly am opposed to starting a war. And insofar as twists and turns in policy are likely to be just smoke and mirrors -- as we saw before Iraq -- designed to smooth the path to war, I don't think people should waste their time talking about this stuff. The President has it within his power to alter this dynamic any time he wants. All he needs to do is say that, no, he's not going to start a war with Iran, but he does want to deal with the nuclear issue. With war taken "off the table," then we can have a conversation about diplomacy, the UN, sanctions, isolation, etc., etc., etc. But as long as war is on the table, then war -- not diplomacy -- is the issue, and the "military option" is a terrible one.Hopefully I'll be doing much more on these issues as I make my way through this important book.
Monday, May 01, 2006
In the first few moments of the documentary film "Baghdad ER," we see a man dressed in hospital scrubs carrying a bloodied arm that has been amputated above the elbow. He deposits it in a large red plastic bag.Now, I think they didn't just film in the Green Zone hospital, but also filmed Medivac crews, military hospitals in Germany and also at Walter Reed in Maryland (I'm not 100% sure of that, but I think that's right). In any event, I'll be going to an advance screening next week and blog about it after I see it.* Based on my discussions with the director, I'm convinced the film will treat the subject matter with both frankness and feeling.
This HBO production is reality television with a vengeance — warfare as it really is. And while it is frightening, harrowing and deeply painful to watch, it should be required viewing for all but the youngest Americans. It will premiere May 21.
For two months in 2005, the directors Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill were given unprecedented access by the Army to the 86th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Working 12-hour shifts, they watched — and taped — the heroic struggle of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to salvage as many lives as possible from what amounted to a nonstop conveyor belt of bloodied, broken and burned G.I.'s.
At one point in the film, a specialist who survived a roadside bomb attack murmurs from a stretcher, "It was the worst thing I ever saw in my life, sir."
"What was that?" he is asked.
Recalling his last view of a buddy who was killed in the attack, he says, "My friend didn't have a face.
*I'll have to see if they give us guidelines or prohibitions in terms of writing about the film, as it's not a press screening or anything like that.
Below is info on how to get discount tickets and some blurbs from reviews during its off-Broadway run:
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Here are a sampling of just SOME of the reviews:
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Ben Brantley, The New York Times
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David Cote, Time Out New York
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Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal
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