Posts Tagged ‘war’

Kurt Vonnegut vs. the Bible

July 30, 2011

“Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”
Psalms 137:9

The high school board of education for the city of Republic, Missouri last week voted unanimously (4-0) to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s classic antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five from the school’s library. The board was responding to public complaints by one Wesley Scroggins, who was outraged that the city would use his tax dollars to store books which teach “principles contrary to the Bible” for children to read.

Wesley Scroggins, seen here taking some time off from
goose-stepping to the local book burning for a publicity photo

Scroggins is right about one thing. Slaughterhouse-Five, like pretty much every other work of modern literature, does teach principles contrary to the Bible. The Bible tells us we should be happy to smash babies against rocks during war with our enemies (Psalms 137:9). Vonnegut’s novel teaches the opposite; that such acts of senseless slaughter dehumanize us all, even the ones who are doing the smashing. This moral lesson is stated pretty explicitly in Chapter 8:

“There are no characters in this story and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

Vonnegut, seen here relaxing after a long day
of smashing babies against rocks.

Another problem Scroggins has with Slaughterhouse-Five is that it has lots of cursing in it. In an op-ed for the Springfield News-Leader which has apparently since been taken down from the internets, Scoggins says the book “contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame.” We should remember that we’re talking about a high school library here, not all public school libraries. Nobody’s teaching any of Vonnegut’s racier passages to 8-year-olds. And no competent high school English teacher is going to teach them devoid of any context.

If a student assigned to read Slaughterhouse-Five comes away from the class learning that this limerick from the book encompasses what Vonnegut was saying:

“In my prison cell I sit,/ With my britches full of shit,/ And my balls are bouncing gently on the floor./ And I see the bloody snag/ When she bit me in the bag./ Oh I’ll never fuck a Polack any more.”

… Then the student failed, and the teacher failed the student. If you teach literature that way, then you suck as a teacher and should find another line of work. That’s where the blame lies, not on the book itself.

Figure 1.1: An incompetent teacher

Besides, this guy who is so concerned about “Biblical principles” can’t be seriously offended by this. Here are just a few passages from the Bible just off the top of my head which are also so profane that “it would make a sailor blush with shame,” to borrow a phrase from Scroggins:

“Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.”
Malachi 2:3

Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Ezekiel 23:19-20

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
1 Timothy 2:12

We’ve also got a guy sacrificing his daughter for God in exchange for good luck in (what else?) war, some incestuous date rape, and countless other atrocities celebrated as good for the sole reason that it pleases this God character. I propose that the sum total of profanity contained in the Bible easily exceeds the same in Slaughterhouse-Five.

But unlike Scroggins, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that even a book as morally inept as the Bible should be banned from high school libraries and English teachers’ curriculum. Like Vonnegut’s work, it is an important part of the canon of Western literature. If a student graduates from high school without at least a little understanding of the Bible as literature – vulgar passages and all – then the teachers and administrators of that student’s school failed to do their jobs in giving them an adequate education.

And there’s just one more thing. I saved this for last. Wesley Scroggins does indeed have children, but they don’t even attend the public school he’s attacking. He home-schools his children. Apparently he can give his own kids an education which is consistent with “Biblical principles,” but that’s not quite good enough for him. He would like more power, please, and apparently the cowardly school board is willing to oblige, embarrassing themselves and their city in the process.

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Leave it to a humorless, subhuman Belgian to take this seriously

July 4, 2011

There’s a wonderful children’s book out for all the parents out there who want to teach their children about international politics and the case for a Belgian genocide. Here is a quick outline of the case for killing all the Belgians:

What has [Belgium] contributed to world culture? Fluffy waffles. A few varieties of beer and chocolate. That’s about it. Which raises the question: what have the Belgians been doing with their time instead? Maybe Belgium chokes the world with its sweet, sweet waffles to divert us from its growing imperialist ambitions, as the Belgians build a war machine on a scale undreamt of by Alexander or Genghis Khan.

Terrifying. And if that didn’t convince you, there is also this testimony on the Belgians from John Cleese.And if you’re still not convinced all Belgians must die and their “culture” be wiped out forever, check out this response to this book from a real live Belgian. It starts off by trying to convince us that the Belgians really have made contributions to the world by inventing the saxophone and French fries. Then things get even weirder:

So, now that we’ve put these things straigt, I should give you some advise for the next time you think of writing this kind of  book.  First of all: a bit of research wouldn’t harm, you know?  We don’t eat brains.  We have stopped doing that since mad cow disease started spreading.  We don’t eat puppy’s.  I thought the chinese did that? You can buy a dog in a chinese market and they’d ask you if you want it cut and deboned .

It’s just like a Belgian to blame the Chinese for their own puppy-eating. This appalling racism is par for the course in Belgium, which is why we must immediately level the entire country and erase any mention of them from the pages of history – if there actually are any mentions of them in history.

We must prepare the next generation for another war in Europe. The savage Belgians are so committed to their national identity that they have obliterated their collective sense of humor. And so we must eliminate these barbarians from the face of the Earth before it’s too late.

Ain’t no party like the Korean Worker’s Party cuz the Korean Worker’s Party don’t stop till all the students are shoved into forced labor camps

July 3, 2011

Best Korea had an amazing week. Someone – possibly a student – put up some anti-government graffiti at a wall near a university in Pyongyang. The state’s response was to shut down the city to interrogate passersby so they could find the perpetrator and lock them up in a forced labor camp. Ha, just kidding! The traitor to the Glorious People’s Republic and Our Dear Leader will definitely be executed if caught.

But since whoever wrote the graffiti hasn’t been caught yet, it’s going to be collective punishment for the college students. Anyone who’s going to university and isn’t graduating this year is going to be conscripted for forced labor for the upcomming 100th anniversary of Kim il-Sung’s birth. He’s still officially the head of state in North Korea, despite having died in 1994.

And for the next week or so, North Korea is going to head up the UN conference on disarmament. The conference has a rotating leadership, and now it’s their turn, apparently. Spencer Ackerman pointed out that the conference is already largely an ineffectual joke, so although it’s ridiculous for a country constantly threatening war with its neighbors to the south to be in charge of disarmament, it’s also pretty harmless.

Rachel Maddow on shutting down the state-run press in Libya

April 6, 2011

I’m still trying to get caught up from stuff that happened a week or so ago, so you’ll have to bare with me if you’ve already heard about this.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow usually does a decent job at reporting. She definitely has a perspective, and it’s usually completely in line with the Democratic Party line. Sometimes she criticizes them for giving in too much to Republicans and for being the wimps they are, but more often than not her editorializing crosses over into the same kind of partisan propaganda you get at Fox.

So it’s pretty weird for her to have a guest on where, through her questions, Maddow appears to take a more authoritarian position. But that’s what happened when she had MSNBC military consultant Jack Jacobs on her program. Here’s what she asked him:

One of the things that people have questioned is if the U.S. has this high level of electronic capability, why is Libyan state TV still on the air? Is that not one of the things they would want to shut down?

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting points out that this idea of taking out the state press in a country with which the US is at war is the same kind of thing Fox advocated during the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with several examples. The style in rhetoric is different, but the message is the same: Hey, we’re here to liberate you people, but the first thing we’ve got to do to free you from this dictator is to shut down news organizations we don’t happen to like. Once you only have the press we like, then you’ll really be “free.”

The FAIR report above is in a sense a little unfair to Maddow in comparing her to people advocating bombing journalists. The context of her discussion with Jacobs was the military’s ability to jam communications. The context of the Fox comments was bombing and killing journalists. The former’s called prior restraint; the latter’s a war crime. One means that some people can’t do their jobs, the other means that people end up getting killed. Still, it’s disappointing to see MSNBC cheerlead so enthusiastically for war in the way they have been lately.

Jeremy Scahill on Ed Schultz

April 5, 2011

Hey, let’s all watch this video from 2003 last week where  Fox News MSNBC blowhard Ed Schultz scolds Jeremy Scahill for not blindly trusting President Bush Obama over the war in Iraq Libya.

It’s really pretty amazing to see how blatantly Schultz copies the defense for war used so recently by his political adversaries while Bush was in power. But then he pretends it’s totally different because of how Obama went through the UN to get authorization for the use of force. So apparently the only problem Schultz can really say he had with the Iraq war was that no such authorization was sought, and not that it was a pointless waste of lives and money to try to force democracy on a country externally.

Misleading headline of the day

December 15, 2010

As a lefty commie pinko peacenik, I was encouraged by this headline (“Air Force Is Through With Predator Drones”) of Spencer Ackerman’s post on Wired‘s Danger Room blog. Great! Now maybe we’ll stop doing counterproductive shit like bombing funerals in Pakistan because there might be a terrorist there – which would then set off an infinite regress of “terrorist funeral” drone bombings until everyone in the region is too afraid to ever go to another funeral again.

Then I read the lede.

Wave a tear-stained handkerchief for the drone that changed the face of air war: The Air Force won’t buy any more Predators.

Oh, so they’re just going to stop buying them. Well, that just means that we’ll stop using drones after the ones which have been purchased are worn out or destroyed, right? Here’s the next sentence in Ackerman’s post:

The Reaper drone is about to be in full effect.

Oh I see what you did there. In the same way that people refer to photocopies as Xeroxes® or to tissues as Kleenex®, I had thought of Predator® drone as a generic term for all drones instead of a brand name. So now we’ve got the Reaper®, and next will be something called the Avenger®.

Apparently the Predator, despite its name, wasn’t designed to carry weapons. Those capabilities weren’t added on until afterwards. But the Reaper and presumably the Avenger too, definitely are. And now lots of other countries are all like how I am with this.

Weird standards

December 9, 2010

All three of these stories are about private institutions doing things which are completely within their rights to do. Lots of us think they’re very weird and despicable for doing these things, but there’s nothing illegal about any of it. At the same time though it’s very revealing to examine how selectively certain standards can be applied and ignored.

Since I last wrote about WikiLeaks, a lot of shit has gone down. The site was targeted with denial of service attacks and as a result moved to Amazon’s server. So Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) put pressure on Amazon to boot WikiLeaks, which they did. That’s not too unusual considering the cast of characters. But where it gets weird is that Amazon UK is now selling the same cables WikiLeaks released to the press for the Kindle.

MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal also were pressured by the government to stop allowing donations to organizations affiliated with WikiLeaks via the claim that what WL is doing is illegal (even though it’s not- although what the people leaking to them definitely is) and therefore violates those companies’ terms of service.  Instead of checking with their lawyers, those companies capitulated to the government and stopped allowing donations to WL. But it gets weird again here because MasterCard and Visa seem to have no problem with this.

And the Salvation Army is now refusing to distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys because they’re “incompatible with the charity’s Christian beliefs.” They would not even agree to pass on these toys to other agencies which could then distribute them without sullying the good name of the Starvation Salvation Army. The story broke when a volunteer in Calgary found a bunch of Twilight and Harry Potter toys quarantined in a warehouse. But then it gets weird:

“I was told to withhold a six-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, ‘That’s for the 10-year-olds,'” he said.

It’s not even so much that the Salvation Army would allow one type of toy and not the other. The Bible, taken as a whole, is pretty ambiguous on both warfare and witchcraft. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and makes evil spirits possess pigs and then kills them, but Exodus 22:18 tell us not to suffer a witch to live. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to give people our coats, but then says he’s here to divide and comes not for peace, but with a sword.

What I’m trying to get at is that the SA could just as easily distribute Harry Potter toys and ban the plastic M-16s and be just as compatible with Christianity. So it’s not just Christianity that they’re concerned about, it’s a certain variation of it. For some reason they get the benefit of lumping themselves in with the large number of Christians when many of them would be appalled at their selectiveness.

Republicans are more anti-gay than we’re anti-war

September 23, 2010

Back when opposition to the Iraq war started to gain steam, activists tried to pressure like-minded members of Congress to put an end to the whole thing by cutting off funding by voting against the annual Defense Authorization Act. Here’s how it would normally go:

Activists: Hey! Why are you voting for funding the war if you’re against it?

Politician: Well, even if we were to end the war we’d still need to fund a withdrawal. So it doesn’t make any sense to vote against defense funding if your goal is to stop the war.

Activists: *Grumble*

But now Republicans blocked the same Defense Authorization Act in order to delay the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. So when the politicians which the anti-war activists went after told us that it was political suicide to block defense spending in order to shape military policy, they were telling us a lie.

The Taliban is on the side of the anti-“Ground Zero Mosque” protesters

September 2, 2010

One of my first posts on this blog when I started it about a year ago quoted the Washington Independent on the issue of pre-emptive detention:

“We appreciate that the United States has security concerns about Yemen, but continuing to hold these men without charge is morally wrong, is in violation of court orders, and it’s handing al-Qaeda a recruiting tool,” said Letta Taylor, a researcher for Human Rights Watch…”

Later I wrote about Anwar al-Awlaki and how President Obama authorized his assassination, even if he’s found to be outside of any battlefield in which the US military is engaged. Here’s one of the problems I had with that policy:

And what’s more is that the perceived positive effects of such an assassination are pretty unlikely to actually happen. It’s not going to destabilize al Qaeda. If anything it’d give them a martyr and a recruiting mantra.

And later I wrote about a NY Times piece by Nicholas Krystoff on the cost and allocation of resources in the Afghanistan war:

Some other comparisons of costs really bring home the waste of the military occupation of Afghanistan. The money spent on deploying a single soldier there could be used to build 20 schools. A single cruise missile’s price tag is equivalent to 11 schools. And really, which is more corrosive to fundamentalist Islam: Cruise missiles that kill families and give recruiting slogans to al Qaeda, or education?

So there’s this recurring theme here. The policies which are based on this idea of a culture war between the Muslim world and the West are in the interests of the fringe elements of Islam which want to escalate this global conflict. Radical Muslim terrorist networks actually like it when US foreign policy fits with their demonization of all Americans. It gives their propaganda an element of truth which the average potential suicide bomber on the street can relate to. It bridges the gap between those with legitimate grievances regarding American foreign policy and our support for autocratic regimes in the Middle East and the committed religious fanatics who would hate the evil secular Americans no matter what. And now this same phenomenon of appeasing the terrorists by adopting short-sighted, emotionally-fueled, reactionary policies is applying to our domestic policies, specifically in the case of the Park 51 Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero. From Newsweek:

“By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.”

Zabihullah speculates about an increase in potential future attacks, but you don’t even need to depend on those kinds of predictions to see the effect this “controversy” is having on the Afghan public. Apparently the effect is already apparent:

Zabihullah also claims that the issue is such a propaganda windfall—so tailor-made to show how “anti-Islamic” America is—that it now heads the list of talking points in Taliban meetings with fighters, villagers, and potential recruits. “We talk about how America tortures with waterboarding, about the cruel confinement of Muslims in wire cages in Guantánamo, about the killing of innocent women and children in air attacks—and now America gives us another gift with its street protests to prevent a mosque from being built in New York,” Zabihullah says. “Showing reality always makes the best propaganda.”

Zabihullah’s coldness in how he reacts with joy to such atrocities definitely fits with the popular perception of how radical Muslims don’t care about human life. So it’s difficult to see why this connection is so rarely made, especially amongst US policymakers. Our enemies won’t be deterred by idiotic protesters trying to stop the community center of death. That just encourages them. They care more about the great mosque in the sky than they do about the average NYC Muslims looking for a place to go on Fridays, whom the radical Muslims view as too liberal, assimilated, and Americanized for their tastes anyways.

It’s the “end” of the Iraq war

August 31, 2010

The President is delivering a speech later today to announce the supposed end of the Iraq war. But as far as I’ve gathered, there isn’t even a substantial change in our foreign policy inre: Iraq today. Or even yesterday, or the day before. There was an announcement made by MSNBC a week and a half ago where the last full US combat brigade left Iraq.

So if you break that down, that would mean that brigades which are only partially for combat would not necessarily have left. And then you still have the “non-combat troops” tasked with completing the training of the Iraqi police and military. And for each one of those “non-combat troops,” there are two private contractors and/or mercenaries whom are not really affected by this pseudo-deadline except to the extent that their job is dependent on the presence of “full US combat brigades.” It’s not so much the qualitative change those of us who have been against the war were hoping for as much as it’s a quantitative reduction of an ongoing military occupation.

And seriously, I don’t buy this whole idea of “non-combat troops.” There have been a lot of military officials making a big deal of how the remaining troops won’t be doing any fighting. But I haven’t yet heard a journalist ask any of them what these “non-combat troops” are to do in response to an attack by insurgents. I would think they would, well, combat the people shooting at them. Right? Either they would combat them, in which case they can’t be said to be “non-combat;” or they wouldn’t, which is just absurd.

It could be that by “not fighting,” these military officials mean that troops aren’t actively seeking out insurgents and so the chances of something like this happening are greatly reduced. That would be a fair point, but the whole nature of this war from its beginning has blurred the line between what used to be seen as illegal war actions and legitimate defense. We were told that our military involvement in the Middle East is a “preemptive defense,” a way to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” And so the supporters of the war would object to terms like “invasion” and “occupation” on the grounds that the whole thing was, at its core, a form of defense.

It’s not like any of that matters to Iraqis though. None of the families of casualties from this point on are going to be consoled by the fact that their loved ones were killed by a stray bullet fired by “non-combat troops” post August 2010 when they would have been outraged if they were killed by a specifically-designated combat troop in 2003 through the present. This kind of distinction really matters to the audience of the occupation moreso than those actually involved in it.

The same defense of the war in 2003 can now be applied on a smaller scale to the prolonged quasi-withdrawal of 2010-whenever.And at the same time the Democrats can hope to capitalize in the mid-term elections on their “end” of the war. In the end, this is more about the superficial talking points than any substantial change in the real situation.

WikiLeaks v. Pentagon

August 1, 2010

So it’s been a week since WikiLeaks published the leaked internal US military documents which detail some aspects of the occupation of Afghanistan which the administration would rather not emphasize. Like how Pakistan’s ISI is funneling our ‘aid’ back to the Taliban, which they then use to attack our troops. And civilian casualties are being massively underreported. And there’s a secret task force which captures and executes Taliban leaders. Oh yeah, and the US military is paying Afghani journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

Certain people can be expected to react to this leak in certain ways. Republicans will insist that we firebomb the internet and every last one of its many series of pneumatic tubes. Liz Cheney just now said something like that, as if anyone gives a shit.  Newt Gingrich is calling it treason, etc.

If you’ve paid attention to the Obama administration’s pattern of hostility towards whistleblowers, then it’s not very difficult to predict how they would react. Here’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs being questioned:

Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

OK, got that? This is all VERY SERIOUS and will PUT ALL OF OUR TROOPS IN DANGER, and by the way it’s also a FEDERAL CRIME. If it’s putting our troops in danger to have this information publicly available, it must be the case that this is new information in the public sphere. Because if it were already known, then there would be no danger in releasing it. Right? Well, only a few questions later, Gibbs contradicts that line of reasoning:

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.

So the WikiLeaks data dump is at the same time both YAWN OLD NEWS and VERY SERIOUS TREASONOUS TROOP-KILLING CRIMES. Julian Assange must be both a dangerous anti-American criminal and a harmless kid living in his parent’s basement all at the same time. That’s pretty much how it plays out inside the heads of people like Robert Gibbs and the President.

But all that’s not that surprising, especially given the aforementioned administration’s record on whistleblowers and the internet in general. What’s more surprising is that one of the three publications given access to the documents pre-publication, the NY Times, has basically been toeing the administration’s line on their own leak. And the Washington Post has been producing their copy on the subject pretty much directly from the Republicans’ playbook. The two other newspapers (Der Spiegel and The Guardian) have been a bit more responsible and independent, to their credit.

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, you might remember the ‘Collateral Murder’ video they released a few months ago of the US military shooting at a group of people from a helicopter which turned out to be civilians and a journalist. US Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning was charged with forwarding the video based on an online conversation he had with a hacker named Adrian Lamo who subsequently informed on him. Manning is now in the brig in Virginia, where he faces a sentence of up to 52 years. And now the NY Times is quoting unnamed Pentagon officials who claim that Manning is a “person of interest” in the case of these newly-released documents. Here you can find a support group for Manning.

The Pentagon’s also going after WikiLeaks founder/editor Julian Assange, who’s more or less on the run. He is wanted for questioning, presumably to verify or deny whether or not Manning was the source of the Afghan War Diary. And oh yeah, they’d also like WikiLeaks to be shut down, please. For now, Assange is staying out of the US and responding strongly to comments from the administration. As a side note, he’s also trying to turn Iceland into a journalistic refugee’s paradise.

Now two more things just happened in the past day or two. First, a WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum was detained, searched, and interrogated by US Customs officials at the Newark airport. They asked him to decrypt his laptop, an offer he refused. Then they confiscated it, but his laptop had no storage device and therefore there was nothing for the officials to search. He was later approached by FBI agents at a conference where he gave a talk in place of Julian Assange, who could not attend for reasons which should by now be pretty obvious.

The second recent development was WikiLeaks posting a mysterious encrypted 1.4 GB file called ‘insurance’ on their Afghan War Logs page. There are no instructions or details on what it’s supposed to be, but the general consensus is that a password will be issued in the event that anything fishy happens to WikiLeaks, Assange, or anyone associated with them. This is turning into a very interesting conflict, much better than anti-war protesters v. cops. But don’t bother downloading the file just to see if the password is “password,” that’s already been checked.

Krystof on the cost of the war in Afghanistan

July 31, 2010

Nicholas Krystoff of the NY Times has a great article on the cost of the US’ longest war / military occupation. It plays on an angle that is, if you ask me, kind of missing the point; but it appeals to the more xenophobic of our population, and it turns out that there are a lot more of them than which most of us would be comfortable. To me, the stronger appeal of stopping the war is in that it’s causing more unnecessary harm than good. I could imagine a case being made for it if that were not the case even if the cost were great.

He starts off with a pretty simple fact:

The war in Afghanistan will consume more money this year alone than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War — combined.

Now you’re probably thinking that’s an obvious statement since he’s probably only talking about the cost of those wars in terms of the rate of inflation of those times. But those are all adjusted for inflation before you even combine them, according to this report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service. And that’s just this year – we’ve already had 8 other years leading up to this one.

Some other comparisons of costs really bring home the waste of the military occupation of Afghanistan. The money spent on deploying a single soldier there could be used to build 20 schools. A single cruise missile’s price tag is equivalent to 11 schools. And really, which is more corrosive to fundamentalist Islam: Cruise missiles that kill families and give recruiting slogans to al Qaeda, or education? As long as we’re not talking about the Wahabi madrasahs that get funded by outsiders and the Taliban in the absence of secular education, the latter’s bound to work and the former is bound to fail.

And it has failed, and failed hard. Today’s the last day of July, and this month has set a new record for US casualties in Afghanistan. The old record? Well, that was June, 2010. So much for winning their hearts and minds. Obama can fire all the generals and tweak all the knobs he wants, but this war’s going to remain a complete and utter failure when it’s pursued in this way.

no end in sight

June 3, 2010
  • “The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Pfc. Jake W. Suter, 18, of Los Angeles, Calif., died May 29 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.  He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.”
  • “The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pfc. Alvaro R. Regalado Sessarego, 37, of Virginia Beach, Va., died May 30 at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, of injuries sustained April 18 from a non-combat related incident at Dahuk, Iraq.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.”
  • “The Department of Defense announced yesterday the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. Spc. Jonathan K. Peney, 22, of Marietta, Ga., died June 1 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he was shot by enemy forces.  He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.”

Journalism pet peeves, part 1

June 1, 2010

Anthropomorphizing large institutions

This is something you see all the time. Here is an example I found at random just now from the lede of an article in Business Week (emphasis mine):

U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he’s ready for the “endgame.”

The problem here is that Israel doesn’t really say anything. Israel’s a country. Like any country, it has political leaders. They’re the ones who say things. They have names. They have titles. All of these things can be reported instead of pretending that tens of millions of people within an artificial border are just shouting one thing in unison.

In fact, Business Week seems to have discovered who they were quoting in the next sentence. But what’s the point of burying that information?

You hardly ever see reporters (real reporters, that is) talking about what “America says” and what “America wants.” You only see that sort of thing coming from snake oil-selling  hucksters who want to identify their own political ideology with all 300+ million of us living here in the US. If real reporters framed issues in that way, we’d all be insulted. How dare they pretend that America is some rigid monolith where everyone has the same opinion?

But on the other hand, those same reporters have no problem telling you what Saudi Arabia said or what China said or what South Korea asked China, to which Russia responded (trifecta in that link). It’s insanity. Either you know who actually did the saying and asking – in which case you should report more specific information, or you don’t – in which case you need to do more research before publishing.

So this problem is probably due to pure laziness and a cheap appeal to the audience’s need for a superficial narrative with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ It’s easy to support policies like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when countries are personified instead of represented as they actually are. Who would you rather bomb: 100 million Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, or 100 million people ruled by someone like him who all have their own wildly varying views on politics, religion, science, and culture?

And speaking of Ahmadinejad, he’s appealing to the same kind of over-generalized, blanket view of Americans in that government’s treatment of the hikers who accidentally crossed the Iraq/Iran border and are now being held without charges on suspicion of ‘espionage.’ These are three lefty kids from Berkeley who went to Iraq to study Middle Eastern culture. But Ahmadinejad seems to think they’re tools of the Pentagon because, hey, they’re Americans.

So even if you’re not moved by the need to get rid of this idea of national persons in our media for the sake of accuracy in reporting or for the sake of internationalism, you’d at least have to admit that this same kind of propaganda weapon can just as easily be turned against us here. And when that happens, things can get very ugly.