CAMP BUSHMASTER, Iraq - In this dry desert world near Najaf, where the Army V Corps combat support system sprawls across miles of scabrous dust, there's an oasis of sorts: a 500-gallon pool of pristine, cool water.
It belongs to Army chaplain Josh Llano of Houston, who sees the water shortage, which has kept thousands of filthy soldiers from bathing for weeks, as an opportunity.
''It's simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized,'' he said.
And agree they do. Every day, soldiers take the plunge for the Lord and come up clean for the first time in weeks.
''They do appear physically and spiritually cleansed,'' Llano said.
First, though, the soldiers have to go to one of Llano's hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent. Then the baptism takes an hour of quoting from the Bible.
''Regardless of their motives,'' Llano said, ``I get the chance to take them closer to the Lord."
I respect your intentions, Rev. Llano, but screw that. The Jewish, Hindu and Muslim soldiers risking their lives in Iraq deserve the Army's water as much as any Baptist. Period.
Now, if the good chaplain doesn't take offense, I'm off to get myself a nice, juicy bagel. With cold water. And I won't even have to convert for the privilege.
WASHINGTON — Buoyed by success on the battlefield, most Americans now express support for an expansive U.S. role in the Middle East, with a clear majority backing the war in Iraq and half endorsing military action against Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.
. . . And substantial portions of the public are willing to consider military action against other potential threats in the area. "I just think that the Middle East itself will never fall into a peaceful solution unless some of the people who are supporting terror are finally rooted out," said Don Seward, who runs a small real estate business in Western Springs, Ill.
Americans are divided almost in half when asked whether the United States should take military action against Syria, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has accused of providing Iraq with military supplies. Syria has denied the accusation. But 42% said the United States should take action if Syria, in fact, provides aid to Iraq, while 46% said no.
More Americans take a hard line on Iran, which recently disclosed an advanced program to develop the enriched uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons.
Exactly half said the United States should take military action against Iran if it continues to move toward nuclear-weapon development; 36% disagreed. Perhaps surprisingly, women are slightly more supportive of such action than men.
I've had a number of long-form posts in mind that address themselves less to the day-to-day trends in the war than to the larger picture of just how the Bush administration has brought us here. What with the speed. Expect to get a first glimpse at them sometime soon.
Sauce for the Gander: Up in the land of 10,000 lakes, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has hit on a novel cost-saving measure for state law enforcement; he wants to force demonstrators who get arrested to cut the state a check "for the time it takes police to place them in custody." That the proposal comes on the heels of the arrest of 90 antiwar demonstrators in the Twin Cities last weekend, of course, is purely coincidence.
But I have a question. I wonder what these people would think about the governor's idea? How about these? What about the fellas this guy writes about?
I know of at least one group that would give the proposal its unstinting approval [emphasis added]:
The sign outside reads: Beijing Supreme People's Court Project 86. But the innocuous name masks its real purpose. Behind the brick-and-barbed-wire walls lies the execution ground for those condemned to die in Beijing.
The prisoners are driven up the sandy path to this isolated compound on a thorn-covered hill overlooking the capital. Under the open sky, the prisoners, arms tied behind their backs, their legs in shackles, kneel on the black earth. At the signal, a paramilitary soldier fires a single rifle shot. It is usually to the back of the head. The prisoner topples into the dirt. Death is almost always immediate. . . .
In some cases, the prisoner's family is even billed for the bullet — the equivalent of about 6 cents. "If you don't pay, they won't give you the ashes," explained one former detainee.
American Republicans, stealing innovations from Chinese Communists. I dare you to parody that.
[Kelly] had become notorious because of two vicious columns he wrote in the Post after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. These both fiercely condemned all pacifists as evil, liars, frauds, hypocrites, unserious people, "objectively pro-terrorist", and above all, evil, because they didn't want to make war and kill. Among other loaded questions he asked was "Do the pacifists wish to live in a United States that has been defeated by Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein?" [Note that his column was already mentioning Saddam on October 3, 2001, long before Bush invaded Iraq despite complete failure to find any links between those two villains.]
. . . . The most famous opponent of killing and war in American history, left unmentioned by Michael Kelly, was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He was assassinated on this day, April 4, in 1968. For the anniversary of his death to be linked with Kelly is the height of irony.
Dr. King had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The presentation included these words: "But it was not because he led a racial minority in their struggle for equality that Martin Luther King achieved fame. Many others have done the same, and their names have been forgotten. Luther King's name will endure for the way in which he has waged his struggle, personifying in his conduct the words that were spoken to mankind: Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also!" (Matthew 5:39)
No one dared to claim that King's refusal to kill made him "objectively pro-segregation". To oppose evil he endured abuse, threats, beatings, jail, and finally death. He was often afraid, but never a coward.
Rock! Enjoyed the best 38 minutes or so of my life — well, perhaps I exaggerate — at Criminal Records last night, where I caught a reading by none other than Neal Pollack, world's greatest writer. 'Twas an experience to savor forever. I don't think I'll ever hear the likes of his clown-band backed rendition of "We Are the World" again.
Pollack pulled into town yesterday with a star-studded entourage that included Ben Brown of the So New Media and Über keiretsu. I have to say that he's way less scary looking in person than on his website. [But then, aren't we all?]
If you missed it, I pity you. You can get a flavor for the event from this preview in this week's Creative Loafing. Read it and glower at me with envy . . . or with rheumy, tear-filled eyes. Whatever floats your boat.
Air Aaron: The Stonefish has been dropping some serious acid, but I like the result: he wants to pay homage to one of the more notorious protests-cum-publicity-stunts of the Vietnam era by bringing the antiwar masses down to Atlanta to levitate — that's right, levitate — CNN Center.
Now that's one protest I can get with. Especially if it gets the AOL Time Warner ninnies who've ruined the Braves out of town.
I wrote the Stonefish back to leaven the idea with one of my own [not hallucinogen induced, thanks]: timing the gathering to coincide with Music Midtown, a festival that draws about 300,000 young and sweaty music fans — can you say “target audience,” boys and girls? — in its own right. As I told him, "I can hear the pitch now: 'come for the levitation, stay for the show.'"
Really, it's a perfect combination. Dylan's on the bill. So are Joe Cocker, CSN, and the B-52s. [Not to mention some of personal favorites: Gomez, Cracker, the Mavericks, Medeski Martin & Wood and . . . ummm, Tony Bennett.] Go to the festival and get your subterranean homesick blues on, then bring David Lowery downtown to tell the CNN Center to get off this.
At Ftrain: "[E]ven though I hate our so-called president with a passion I usually reserve for conceptual artists working in vaseline, LED lights, and dead frogs — if Putin invaded, I would line up for my gun and helmet and head down to Washington on the Fung Wah bus to protect mother America."
Hugo Young: "America's understanding of the world has become so self-centred, and its reputation so corrupted, that its ability to export liberal democracy either by example or by force now looks to be non-existent."
The April Book Smackdown: Let's Get It On! I get to pick the reading selection for my book club this month, and I thought I might take advantage of the weblog by roping you into helping me make a choice. I go into this with a few groundrules:
no politics — really; and
nothing by Jonathan Franzen, who was a real prick to Oprah about that whole book club thing.
Aside from that, anything goes. Make your recommendations in the comments. There are no guarantees that I'll pick one of your suggestions — I have a healthy list of my own I'm mulling over. But surprise me — you never know, I just may go for one from the peanut gallery, if you make it sound interesting enough.
An Aside . . . Okay, I have to ask: was PhotoDude the only one to notice Donald Rumsfeld's fondness for Chaka Khan?
For an Engineer, Liberty Lost: The White House professes its devotion to spreading freedom to Arabs in the Middle East, but some of us might like it to get more diligent about respecting Arabs' freedoms here. The latest sign that Bush and company have yet to get the message: the detention of Maher "Mike" Hawash, an Intel engineer from a suburb of Portland, Oregon. [Follow this link for a book he authored on an old set of Pentium APIs.]
FBI agents took Hawash into custody in an Intel parking lot on March 20, and simultaneously sent a squad of assault-rifle armed officers to his home — where they woke his wife and children and conducted a four-hour search. The government has held Hawash in solitary confinement ever since as a "material witness"; since Sept. 11, the Justice Department has relied on the material witness statute as a pretext for holding uncharged suspects for as long as 15 months.
As a former colleague of his at Intel wrote in a letter to an Oregon senator:
We do not understand how a man with a house, a job, and a family could be considered such a "flight risk" that he needed to be held in a federal maximum security prison and kept from his wife and family. And we do not understand how all of this can be kept secret from his friends and from the press.
Well, so much for secrecy. And that's to the good: if the government has reason to consider Hawash dangerous — or any other citizen, for that matter — it should feel confident enough to state those reasons in public. Otherwise, the government can imprison a citizen on a whim — which, I worry, is just what it's done here.
Bounced Out: It's carnage this week in the Green[e]house tournament pool. If you want a mark of just how bad it is, get this: of all the contenders in this year's challenge, only one of us — my brother — has a team in the Final Four. The rest of us? We're out, lock stock and barrel.
What makes this tough to live down is that my picks came up short of a raging Tarheel's. That's right — I let myself get skunked by the product of an inferior ACC institution. I have my pride in my Jeffersonian education to buck me up, of course, so I'll get over it in good time. Still, the first few minutes after I see her tomorrow afternoon are gonna suck.
Gourmands of intown Atlanta, rejoice: the Whole Foods mothership on Ponce de Leon is now open, complete with a blessing from Alton Brown. Whoo-hoo!
Back in Chicagoland: Meigs Field — the little lakeside airstrip with the great big view — was shut down, possibly for good, when Mayor Daley sent in the bulldozers late Sunday night. I prefer a park there myself, and I understand the security concerns — but jeez louise, why be so autocratic about it?
Behold, Rumsfeld the Brave: The Bush team likes to flatter itself for its Churchillian stoutheartedness. After last Friday, though, I doubt we'll hear much more guff of that sort from our secretary of defense.
Just before forcing Neville Chamberlain to resign in disgrace, the House of Commons had a no-holds-barred debate on the course of what, up to that point, had Britain's failing effort in the Second World War. The Royal Marines were mired in Norway, stuck in a blundered attempt to reverse Hitler's seizure of that country. Appalled by the spectacle, David Lloyd George — a former prime minister — took to the well of the Commons to move a vote of censure on the government.
Churchill, who had returned to the cabinet by then to reprise his World War I role as First Lord of the Admiralty, sat still while Lloyd George spoke in condemnation of the government — but when he began to excuse Churchill for the failure of the mission in Norway, Churchill stood to interrupt. "I take full responsibility," he said, "for everything that ha been done at the Admiralty, and I take my full share of the burden."
Lloyd George's retort has a place in the annals of world's great metaphors:
[Churchill] must not allow himself to be converted into an air-raid shelter to keep the splinters from hitting his colleagues.
You may have noticed some carping of late about the administration's Iraq war plan — you might remember, the one that was to end in a cakewalk. Rumsfeld's stand-up moment came at the Friday press briefing — where a correspondent asked him about off-the-record "claim[s] that the war plan that is in effect is flawed and our number of troops on the ground is too light, supply lines are too long and stretched too thin." Rumsfeld answered [emphasis added]:
Well, we're one week into this, and it seems to me it's a bit early for history to be written, one would think. The war plan is Tom Franks' war plan. It was carefully prepared over many months. It was washed through the tank with the chiefs on at least four or five occasions. . . It has been through the combatant commanders. It has been through the National Security Council process. General Myers and General Pace and others, including this individual, have seen it in a variety of different iterations. When asked by the president or by me, the military officers who've reviewed it have all said they thought it was an excellent plan. Indeed, adjectives that go beyond that have been used, quite complimentary.
A masterful display of bureaucratic skill, that — when in doubt, pass the buck. It's enough to set Sir Winston to doing cartwheels in his grave.
Back in the Saddle: Okay, so I didn't get back here as soon as promised. That'll teach me not to commit to posting in the middle of a frantic week next time — believe you me. =,
Truth be told, I can chalk part of the absence up to work, but some of it owes to a case of the blahs. Call it a "feeling-somewhat-better-but-my-life's-kind-of-a-mess-so-what-do-I-do-now" malaise. I've spent so long just trying to cheer myself up that, now that I can enjoy the luxury of having time to think again, I'm starting to realize that I haven't thought about what direction I want to take my career in for quite a while. With the end of the general assembly bearing down in about a month, I need to start brainstorming. It's a little daunting — and frankly, I'd rather just blog and drink frappuccinos, if it's just the same.
But life calls, so dig I must. I got a start yesterday by going through mounds of paper I'd let pile up on my desk and in my car; I can actually see wood in here now. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like. I spent time getting my car serviced as well — when you drive an '89 Honda, you get pretty diligent about that. It still gets 30 miles to the gallon, though, and runs like a charm, so I'm glad to spend the time.
I'm thinking I need to work some travel into my schedule — you know, just as a reward to myself. I haven't taken a trip just for the hell of it in about two and a half years, I think. Right after the session ends in April, I plan to spend a weekend in Washington pitching in with Rob's campaign for Alexandria city council. After that, though, the slate's clean. I owe a friend in Los Angeles a trip, but he's in Sweden. Seattle could hit the spot, though, and by the time May rolls around, who knows — the weather could actually be half decent. =,