Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

Sunday evening, Alex Gibney won an Academy Award for his documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. Amy Goodman, at Common Dreams, writes:
The film traces the final days of a young Afghan man, Dilawar (many Afghans use just one name), who was arrested in 2001 by the U.S. military and brought to the hellish prison at Bagram Air Base. Five days later, Dilawar was dead, beaten and tortured to death by the United States military. Gibney obtained remarkable eyewitness accounts of Dilawar’s demise from the very low-level soldiers who beat him to death. We see the simple village that was his lifelong home and hear from people there how Dilawar had volunteered to drive the taxi, which was an important source of income for the village.

Dilawar had never spent the night away from home. His first sleepover was spent with arms shackled overhead, subjected to sleep and water deprivation, receiving regular beatings, including harsh knee kicks to the legs that would render his legs “pulpified.” He had been fingered as a participant in a rocket attack on the Americans, by some Afghans who were later proved to be the attackers themselves. Gibney uses the tragic story of Dilawar to open up a searing and compelling indictment of U.S. torture policy from Bush and Cheney, through Donald Rumsfeld and the author of the infamous “torture memo,” now-University of California Berkeley law professor John Yoo.

The Oscar ceremony was bereft of serious mention of the war, until Gibney rose to accept his award. He said: “Thank you very much, Academy. Here’s to all doc filmmakers. And, truth is, I think my dear wife Anne was kind of hoping I’d make a romantic comedy, but honestly, after Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, extraordinary rendition, that simply wasn’t possible. This is dedicated to two people who are no longer with us: Dilawar, the young Afghan taxi driver, and my father, a Navy interrogator who urged me to make this film because of his fury about what was being done to the rule of law. Let’s hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and back to the light. Thank you very much.”

“Taxi to the Dark Side” can be seen in movie theaters, and the Oscar will surely help open it up to more audiences.
Will we get a chance to see it in these parts? Hopefully. HBO has purchased the movie and plans to show it in September. If it hadn't been for the Oscar, we probably wouldn't have had the opportunity, so let's hear it for lefty Hollywood:

“Taxi to the Dark Side” and Phil Donahue’s excellent Iraq war documentary, “Body of War,” have to fight for distribution. Let’s hope that Gibney’s Oscar will help open the theaters and the TV airwaves to these truly consciousness-raising films to turn this country away from the dark side and back to the light.



Wednesday, February 27, 2008

William F. Buckley 1925-2008

William F. Buckley on the cover of TIME magazine, November 1967.

For a period of time in the late 1980s, I became obsessed with William F Buckley. I had never met such a person in real life, and I was convinced that this was part of my problem: I had no proximity to privilege and didn't understand the privileged mind. His aloof, haughty manner of speaking was utterly strange to me; his bored facial expression was also very odd. Why have a TV show or write books if you are so bored with everything? The upper classes are foreign to me, and he was as close as I was ever going to get. So, I studied him carefully, like an exotic butterfly under a microscope.

Reading his books, I finally learned what it was to be a wealthy, educated and erudite white man with plenty of family connections. I learned that to such a person, the New Deal, the Civil Rights movement, the Great Society, feminism, liberalism, equality (the very concept of which he openly jeered at) were quite simply RUDE. Who were these ruffians, encroaching on decency? I watched his TV show Firing Line religiously, as he argued with everyone in the world, using words I had never heard anyone actually use in conversation. I can still remember a conversation he had with Lynne Cheney, when she was chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. At one point, she said democracy demanded all people in the republic be educated, and I can still remember Buckley's answering snort of derision. She paused, flummoxed: "I don't know how else we can function in a democracy," she said. He rolled his eyes, in one of his trademark expressions of disgust. The idea of educating everyone? Obviously, you could see that he thought it was a charming notion, like pixies or elves, but it simply wasn't, you know, something that really happened, or should happen.

Despite his ongoing proud, arrogant snootiness, Buckley managed through his influential magazine The National Review, to unite the Old Right (then consisting mostly of croquet-playing, yacht-club types like himself) with the new Goldwater/Reagan, wild-west Republicans, and together, they would kick the nation's ass come 1980 (although it took them 16 years after the crushing defeat of Goldwater in 1964). Tenacious, well-oiled, well-connected and plenty loaded, they stood ready to grab the reigns when Jimmy Carter stumbled, and grab the reigns they did. Buckley saw his right wing become the big tent, bringing together in a coalition the southern evangelicals and paleocons, Jewish neocons, and loudmouthed talk radio riff-raff like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. If he privately had contempt for any of these people (who were remarkably like the 60s ruffians he used to sneer at on TV), he never said so. His only public disassociations were from the ultra-right, looney-tune John Birch Society, and columnists Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan, whom he accused of anti-semitism. Racism, sexism, homophobia, imperialism, war-mongering, all the rest were broadly winked at. He even called Gore Vidal a queer on network TV, during a celebrated feud, one of the few times he publicly lost his temper:

Buckley appeared in a series of televised debates with Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic Party convention. In their penultimate debate on August 22 of that year, the two disagreed over the actions of the Chicago police and the protesters at the ongoing Democratic Convention in Chicago. At one point Vidal called Buckley a “proto- or crypto-Nazi”, to which Buckley replied, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I will sock you in your goddamn face, and you will stay plastered.”

This feud continued the following year in the pages of Esquire Magazine, which commissioned an essay from both Buckley and Vidal on the television incident. Buckley's essay "On Experiencing Gore Vidal," was published in the August 1969 issue, and led Vidal to sue for libel. Vidal's September essay in reply, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley," was similarly litigated by Buckley. The presiding judge in Buckley's subsequent libel suit against Vidal initially concluded that "[t]he court must conclude that Vidal's comments in these paragraphs meet the minimal standard of fair comment. The inferences made by Vidal from Buckley's [earlier editorial] statements cannot be said to be completely unreasonable." However, Vidal also strongly implied that, in 1944, Buckley and unnamed siblings had vandalized a Protestant church in their Sharon, Connecticut, hometown after the pastor's wife had sold a house to a Jewish family. Buckley sued Vidal and Esquire for libel; Vidal counter-claimed for libel against Buckley, citing Buckley's characterization of Vidal's novel Myra Breckenridge as pornography. Both cases were dropped, but Buckley's legal expenses were reimbursed by Vidal, and Vidal's were not. Buckley also received an editorial apology in the pages of Esquire.
And plenty more, of course. His was a life filled with controversy and attention-seeking. He wrote spy-novels and ran for Mayor of New York City. He was a fixture of the times.

And now he is gone. Michelle Malkin (the type of uppity-gal-of-color he would have sneered at in those Days of Yore) is gloriously praising his holy name, as is Rush and the whole Hee Haw Gang.

We'll be hearing a great deal, no doubt, about what a "gentleman" he was, as of course, rich white privileged men can usually afford to be.


From Buckley's book ON THE FIRING LINE, published in 1989, he reproduces a 1965 column in which he continues an unpleasant row with James Baldwin, after their debate in Cambridge. The two appeared on David Susskind's TV show Open End, and fought some more. Finally, Buckley had enough, and writes a column about Baldwin:
The objective of those who seek equality for the Negro is equality within the American system. If Mr Baldwin and his coterie of America-haters continue to give the impression that such as Roy Wilkins go along with their indictments, then they may very well wind up satisifying the American people that identification with the civil rights movement is an alternative to maintaining the American system. How long, one wonders, before the Baldwins will be ghettoized in the corners of fanaticism where they belong? The moment is overdue for someone who speaks authentically for the Negroes to tell Mr. Baldwin that his morose nihilism is a greater threat by far to prospects for the Negroes in America than anything that George Wallace ever said or did.
And he really believed it, too.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

Earworms and Midnight Cowboy

Working long hours, listening to the oldies station, and now have several old songs lodged in my head. For days. How does that happen? If you didn't know the official term, they are called earworms:

Earworm, a loan translation of the German Ohrwurm, is a term for a portion of a song or other musical material that becomes "stuck" in a person's "head" or repeats against one's will within one's mind. Use of the English translation was popularized by James Kellaris and Daniel Levitin. Kellaris' studies demonstrated that different people have varying susceptibilities to earworms, but that almost everybody has been afflicted with one at some time or another.

Earworms may be songs or tunes that become stuck in the phonological loop, the part of the brain that rehearses verbal information in Baddeley's model of working memory. This usually happens when a person sings the song or hums the tune once and then repeats it in his or her mind.
I am especially prone to this phenomenon, as is Delusional Precious, my daughter. This makes me think it's actually physiological. For some of us, there is always an earworm, at any given time.

This is the overwhelming earworm, right now. The theme to Midnight Cowboy, titled "Everybody's Talking," originally recorded by Harry Nilsson. If you remember a medley of movie-songs several years ago at the Oscars, you may recall Garth Brooks singing one verse, just like an angel. I wish he had recorded the song in its entirety.

I also love the movie Midnight Cowboy, and so I've chosen the opening credits (the song is played throughout the film), because I totally swoon over the antiquated signs, the old cars, the general appearance of the 60s; my childhood. Aside: Notice how much Angelina Jolie looks exactly like her father, Jon Voight... since he has aged, it is much less apparent. But in this clip, he is closer to the age she is now and the resemblance is striking.

The novel Midnight Cowboy was a work of art, written by James Leo Herlihy, who committed suicide in 1993. It has never surprised me that someone with such a sad, wistful sensibility would take his own life. I am grateful he left us his art, and such a powerful story of love between poor men.

The song fits the story perfectly.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

South Carolina Book Festival

As I mentioned yesterday, we attended the 12th annual South Carolina Book Festival at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center this weekend. Jolly fun for bookworms of all ages!

Harlan Coben and Josephine Humphreys were the writers most people seemed to be interested in hearing read in person, but I very much preferred the Masters of Science Fiction panel, and hanging around the exhibition hall, talking to authors and publishers.

Some of my favorite folks to talk to:

Darden North is your ordinary, next-door OB-GYN who writes medical thrillers, while delivering babies in Jackson, Mississippi.

Sistah on a Budget features novels by Tracye Faulkner Stormer and illustrator Kristen Munroe. The one that sounded most promising was Hooked Up; the excerpt I read reminded me of Rona Jaffe's women's novels, which I went through at an alarming rate in my 20s and 30s.

Left: Eboniramm and John Holland, of the Columbia Writers Alliance. (Not pictured: Stephanie Suell.)

I also enjoyed talking with Carrie McCullough of the South Carolina Writers Workshop.

South Carolina Center for the Book holds competitions for young writers, check out

My favorite author at the festival was Jason Deierlein, author of Return from a Comatose Mind: "Swimming star and popular teenager Jason Deierlein was coming home with friends from a trip to the lake when their van got into an accident. Struck by a tractor trailer going 70 miles per hour, their van flipped over several times. One person died, but Deierlein was in a coma... In lean, evocative prose, Deierlein describes what it feels like not to be able to see or speak or move. His dreams while in the coma were rich and strange, sometimes of swimming, sometimes of bright lights...." A fascinating account of injury, recovery, and the necessity of moving on. (And besides that, Jason is a real sweetheart!)

Left: Emory S. Campbell, author of Gullah Cultural Legacies. For those unaware, Gullah is the African-American culture of the barrier islands of South Carolina, particularly Hilton Head, Beaufort, and nearby areas. Their language is a distinctive mix of Elizabethan English and the dialects of Sierra Leone.

Silk Pagoda is an imprint of Disruptive Publishing, offering Asian classics in the public domain, such as Journey to the West. They also offer a few pulp novels, to keep things interesting.


Left to right: fantasy writer James O'Neill, James O. Born, Jeff VanderMeer and Jay Lake. Ann VanderMeer, not pictured, was also a panel participant, as editor of the new edition of Weird Tales.

As stated previously, I enjoyed the Masters of Science Fiction panel, particularly the inspired commentary of always-amusing Jay Lake , whose work is definitely on my list. About one plot-line, he remarked that you had to "do something with it, or it'll just lie there and stink," which reminds me of some blog posts I've done. He describes himself as a raging secularist and raging lefty, so I figure he'll fit right in with most of my readers. CHECK OUT JAY, he rocks.

More photos below, including the C-Span bus (which is approximately the size of the Starship Enterprise), the friendly young woman at Charlotte's Main Street Rag press, who was kind enough to allow me to interrupt her lunch to take her photo (and I didn't even get her name--duh!), and assorted other festival attendees, checking out the miles and miles of books.

The folks at the Crazyhorse literary journal gave me a complimentary 2003 issue, where I found the following poem by Robin Behn:

Aspirations of the Yellow House

Sometimes the yellow house wanted
a public assignment

curved brow of school bus
crossing guard sash swatch

cheery cloth to sop
spittle from the oldest lips

library velo-card
pet shop's pet

iguana's awesome

but seeing as how the yellow
jobs were already taken

uselessness became its motto
privacy its anthem

yellow tooth in a row of
better teeth it stood

through winter the snow going
yellow at its feet and sinking

into the muddy muck and mouth
of every living thing

then all around it troops of daffodils
blew their fancy horns and took a bow--

no one in the yellow house
knew its thwarted dreams

although the stairs did creak sometimes
as if a thing had turned around

to climb back to the stars
and the windows, in the evening, had an aspect,

a dark, expectant, broken, floating, useless
telescope aspect,

but that went away
when they were lit from within.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mother of stillborn baby charged with homicide in Columbia

We have just returned from the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, where this story is on the front page of the Columbia State:

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008

Mother of stillborn girl charged with homicide by child abuse


A baby girl is dead — stillborn at 27 weeks, her body ravaged by cocaine — and her mother is in jail, charged with homicide by child abuse.

The mother walked out of the Family Dollar on Farrow Road one day in October, lay down on the sidewalk and gave birth to the stillborn baby girl, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Friday.

Charlene Green, 37, of Congaree Road in Eastover, was arrested Friday after toxicology tests showed her cocaine use during pregnancy killed her daughter, Lott said.

“Every time she used drugs, she was killing that child — a little more each time,” Lott said.

It was the second time one of Green’s children had tested positive for cocaine at birth, Lott said. The first time, seven years ago, the child lived and Green was not charged, he said.

“That child was fortunate and survived,” Lott said. “This child was not.

The 7-year-old is no longer in Green’s custody, he said.

The baby girl weighed just more than a pound and a half when she was born at 27 weeks.

The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled a fetus able to survive outside the womb is a person under state child-abuse and neglect laws. Twenty-four weeks is typically the threshold of viability for a fetus outside the womb.

Autopsy results showed the baby died of cardiac arrest due to maternal cocaine use, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. The baby had cocaine at some level in her liver, brain and kidney tissue, he said.

“This is a horrible situation,” Watts said. “The poor kid didn’t ever have a chance.”

Cocaine use during pregnancy can cause the placenta to separate from the uterus prematurely, cutting off the baby’s lifeline to the mother, leading to premature delivery, said Dr. Clay Nichols, the medical examiner for Richland County who autopsied Green’s baby.

“What I recall is this poor woman had a long history of drug abuse,” Nichols said.

The baby was pronounced dead at 1:19 p.m. Oct. 22 at Palmetto Health Baptist, where she had been taken by ambulance after her mother gave birth to her outside the Family Dollar, Watts said.

That birth aroused suspicion at the time, Lott said. Green admitted to investigators at the time that she had used cocaine throughout her pregnancy, he said.

She was arrested Friday in the 1800 block of Wiley Street, which is an area that has a history of illegal drug activity, Lott said.

State Law Enforcement Division records show Green has been convicted over the past 17 years of possession of cocaine, burglary, simple assault, shoplifting and larceny.

Green is the second Midlands woman to be charged with homicide by child abuse within the past five months after giving birth to a baby who tested positive for cocaine.

Lorraine Patrick, 28, of Columbia, was charged in October after doctors said her baby died of complications from exposure to cocaine in her mother’s womb. The child died four days after it was born.

Through the end of 2005, at least 90 women have been prosecuted in the state, accused of using drugs while pregnant, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit, which favors treatment over prosecution for drug-addicted pregnant women.

In 1997, Talitha Garrick became the first woman in the state convicted of killing her unborn child by smoking crack cocaine. She pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received probation.

Four years later, in 2001, Regina McKnight of Horry County was convicted of homicide by child abuse for using cocaine during her pregnancy and was sentenced to 12 years.

The S.C. Supreme Court upheld her conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her case.
She left the Family Dollar and had the stillborn baby on the sidewalk? Isn't that enough punishment, or am I just a liberal softy?

Will prosecutors ask for the death penalty?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Odds and Sods - Free Britney edition

March 19th will be the Blogswarm Against the War. Sign up and do your part, sister and brother bloggers! If you aren't sure what to write about, there are suggestions at the March 19-Blogswarm webpage. If there are anti-war activities in your town taking place on or around the 5th (!!!!) anniversary of the Iraq war, covering these events is a good place to start.



Lisa at Questioning Transphobia titles her post about Sanesha Stewart, simply, Another Murder--which just breaks my heart. Unfortunately, violent deaths of transgendered persons are commonplace enough to warrant such a headline.

The tragedy of Sanesha's murder was compounded by the insensitivity of the New York press, writing salaciously of the fact that she (gasp!) dressed like a woman, used a woman's name (her legal name, in fact), and was apparently a prostitute. Drakyn has a round-up of various accounts throughout the blogosphere, and asks for a moment of silence in remembering Sanesha.


Left: from Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone's cover story about Britney Spears is aptly titled The Tragedy of Britney Spears. It opens with a trip to the mall, where Britney has one of her regular meltdowns when an American Express card doesn't immediately go through:

"Fuck these bitches," screams Britney, each word ringing out between sobs. "These idiots can't do anything right!"

Ghalib dashes over to console her, but she's already spitting, growling, throwing a big bottle of soda on the floor so that it begins to spill underneath the curtain, and then she's got a box of tissues and is throwing them on top of the wet floor along with piles of discarded merchandise. A new card finally goes through, but by then Britney is out the door, leaving her shirt on the ground and replacing it with the red top. "Fuck you, fuck people, fuck, fuck, fuck," she keeps screaming, her face splotchy and red as she crosses the interminable mall floor, the crowd behind her growing larger and larger. "Leave us alone!" yells Ghalib.

The siblings run after Britney to get a video to put up on YouTube, and some of the shopgirls run after her to hand off the merchandise she left behind, and there's an entire bridal party wearing yellow T-shirts who have pulled out camera phones too. A crush of managers in black shirts and gold name tags try to keep the peace, but the crowd running after Britney gets larger, and now the shopgirls have ­started to catch up to her, one of them slipping spectacularly in her platform shoes, grazing her elbow. She pulls herself up, mustering the strength to tap Britney's shoulder. "Um, I'm from the South too," she mumbles, "and I was wondering if I could get a picture with you for my little sister."

Britney turns to Ghalib and grabs his arm. "I don't want her talking to me!" she screams. She whirls around and stares the girl deep in the eyes, her lips almost vibrating with anger. "I don't know who you think I am, bitch," she snarls, "but I'm not that person."
Wow. Obviously not.

Renegade Evolution and other sex workers have often pointed out that there are LOT of entertainers far more oppressed than sex workers, and I think we have a pretty good example right in front of us, don't we? Britney has been chewed up and spit out like a cheap piece of candy.

Amazing story, going back to cute Britney the Mouseketeer. Check it out.


In other music news, Tom Scholz of the band BOSTON has just informed the Huckabee campaign to STOP using their song, More Than A Feeling:
CONCORD, N.H. - The chief songwriter and founder of the band Boston has more than a feeling that he’s being ripped off by Mike Huckabee.

In a letter to the Republican presidential hopeful, Tom Scholz complains that Huckabee is using his 1970s smash hit song “More Than a Feeling” without his permission. A former member of the band, Barry Goudreau, has appeared with Huckabee at campaign events, and they have played the song with Huckabee’s band, Capitol Offense.

Scholz, who said Goudreau left the band more than 25 years ago after a three-year stint, objects to the implication that the band and one of its members has endorsed Huckabee’s candidacy.

“Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for,” wrote Scholz, adding that he is supporting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. “By using my song, and my band’s name Boston, you have taken something of mine and used it to promote ideas to which I am opposed. In other words, I think I’ve been ripped off, dude!”

Fred Bramante, who was chairman of Huckabee’s New Hampshire campaign, called the allegations ridiculous. He said he attended dozens of Huckabee rallies in New Hampshire and other states and never heard Huckabee play “More Than a Feeling,” other than when Goudreau campaigned with him in Iowa in October.

“Governor Huckabee plays ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ Does that mean Lynyrd Skynyrd is endorsing him? He plays ‘Louie Louie.’ Does that mean The Kingsmen are endorsing him? To me, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “Never once has he said, ‘The band Boston endorses me.’

Scholz, in a telephone interview Friday, said he understands “More Than a Feeling” has been a centerpiece at some rallies, and said Goudreau is identified with the band in an endorsement video.

“Whenever a campaign publicly exploits a well-known song, there is some inference of support” by the band or artist, he added.

He recommends that Huckabee “stick to music recorded by far-right Republicans.”

Tensions between Scholz and some of the early band members date from the early 1980s, when CBS Inc. sued the band over delays in recording new albums. The company’s Epic Records label recorded the band’s first two releases: “Boston,” in 1976, and “Don’t Look Back,” in 1978.

Scholz — who wrote, engineered, and laid down nearly all the instrumental tracks on the first album — countersued for the rights to the band’s name and music. Three members of the original band, including Goudreau, testified for the record company, which lost.

In his letter, Scholz referred to Huckabee as the “straight talk candidate,” but that label more often is applied to Sen. John McCain, who has had his own troubles when it comes to his musical playlist. Last week, McCain’s campaign agreed to stop playing John Mellencamp’s songs “Our Country” and “Pink Houses” at his rallies after the liberal rocker complained.

Mellencamp had supported Democrat John Edwards, who recently dropped out of the race.

Other candidates have had better luck selecting songs. Celine Dion said she was “thrilled” that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton used her song, “You and I” as her official campaign anthem. Obama frequently blares U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” at his events.

I have written here about the questionable circumstances surrounding the death of Richard Javis 'Jabo' Johnson while in police custody in Fountain Inn, SC--as well as the local demonstration that I attended after his death was ruled a suicide, back in September. I did two follow-ups, one concerning the Greenville Journal story, and another when no charges were filed, following the Department of Justice investigation.

Well, the DoJ was back in Greenville County this week, facilitating a meeting between the Fountain Inn police force and members of the community:

Feds bring Fountain Inn citizens, police force together

Some attending closed meeting say they 'feel good' about outcome

Monday, February 18, 2008
By Eric Connor
STAFF WRITER, Greenville News
A U.S. Department of Justice representative who specializes in mediating racial conflicts met behind closed doors tonight with Fountain Inn officials and members of the community to address complaints of discord between the community and the city’s police force.

Fountain Inn Mayor Gary Long said "a lot" of members of the community, as well as he and the city’s police chief, attended the mediation session, which came after the death of an inmate in the city’s jail last summer.

Long said he couldn’t comment on what occurred during the meeting, which was held at an undisclosed location. A majority of City Council members weren’t present, he said.

The Rev. Curtis Johnson, a spokesman for the community, said that he couldn’t talk about what was discussed during the meeting. "We feel good that the process is going forward," Johnson said. "We have no reason to believe we won’t reach a positive conclusion."

The Justice Department offers mediation through its Community Relations Service, which acts as a third-party peacemaker when communities encounter racial and ethnic conflict. The department’s regional mediator, Walter Atkinson, presided over the meeting.

Long had said earlier that the meeting wouldn’t focus on the July death of Richard Javis Johnson, who was found hanged to death with a T-shirt in his jail cell after an arrest on a drug charge -- but rather on general complaints by the community regarding relations with law enforcement.

Allegations of police mistreatment came to the fore after Johnson’s death. The 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office has ruled the 25-year-old’s death a suicide.

A month after the death, the Rev. Jesse Jackson took a tour of the Fountain Inn jail with a group of protesters and accused the Police Department of "a dereliction of duty" and said that Johnson had been "beaten to death."

The city’s police chief, Keith Morton, has said his department is innocent of any wrongdoing.

City Councilwoman Wanza Bates told The Greenville News in November that she has fielded widespread complaints of police abuse, including allegations of harassment, use of excessive force and illegal searches, concerns that she said citizens have been afraid to raise publicly.

Johnson’s death, Bates said, compelled more in the community to come forward with their concerns.

"I’m hearing it from black and white, young and old," Bates told The News in November. "People don’t even want to drive down Main Street."

In November, Long told The News, "We don’t think that there’s anything that they’ve done improperly, but if we have, we’ll deal with it. Since there was so much anxiety and so much accusations and the perception that we were doing something wrong, we took it out of our hands and will let someone else judge us."

I'm not sure if the current John McCain scandal has any news-cycle longevity or not, but we shall see. In the meantime, here is a link about the New York Times story (which I could access in full last night, but not this morning! growf!) about Vicki Iseman, the lobbyist he was ultra-cozy with. Fascinating!

I hope she's as proud of her country as Cindy McCain is! ;)

Listening to: Bob Marley & the Wailers - Satisfy My Soul
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michelle Obama attacked by ex-Vicodin addict!

Left: John and Cindy McCain.

If you are following the foofaraw over Michelle Obama's harmless remarks, you'll notice that it's mostly a bunch of (surprise!) privileged white guys doing the finger-pointing. USA TODAY reports:
Michelle Obama is getting some attention across the spectrum today for a remark she made yesterday at a rally in Milwaukee. "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change," she said.
As pointed out numerous times, she said "really" proud, not that she wasn't AT ALL proud or that she disliked or was dissatisfied with her country.

The Boston Globe's Political Intelligence blog, headlined their post Pride in the name of Self-love (excuse me? When did she say she loved herself, in that quote?) with Sasha Issenberg commenting:
So what did Michelle Obama think of the United States before her husband decided he wanted to run the place?
Couldn't be any worse than what a lot of us have been thinking for decades. And at Slate (which is supposedly liberal, but I keep waiting for evidence) Mickey Kaus titled his post Is that an S-Chip on Your Shoulder or Are You Just Glad to See Me?:
If Michelle Obama's default position is set to "Aggrieved," it also suggests something personal, no? Maybe, like many strong wives, she wonders why her husband is the one on the top of the family ticket--which might also explain her strange occasional habit of belittling him in public ("snore-y and stinky" ). Beats me. For whatever reason, she sure seems to have a non-trivial chip on her shoulder and it's not a winning quality.
Chip on her shoulder? (BUZZER SOUNDS!!)

Someone hasn't read Nezua's definition of Wite-Magik Attaks, particularly in this case, The Drowning Maestro:
A Wite-Magik Attak that pretends to be utterly concerned with the brown person's tone. It matters not that the brown person might be speaking passionately of hurts they have suffered their entire life, hurts they suffer as they speak, starving children, raped women or murdered millions. The person hurling the Wite-Magik Attak fixates upon the TONE of the complaint or insight. Because what really bothers them is that a brown person has the nerve to speak with such self-confidence and passion. This, in fact, scares them. If it weren't such a demeaning move when you have something you feel is important to say, this Attak would be downright comical. Just picture a conductor waving his wand as he plummets to the bottom of a darkening sea.

• ARROGANT mexican
• SHRILL woman
• UPPITY negro

NOTE: This Attak often comes with a carrot. In other words, what is really desired is for the brown person to admit the desired hierarchy, to get "back in place." To achieve this, the power-holding person will often criticize the tone of the desired subjugate while making it clear that a withheld reward might come their way if they submit to the invisible pecking order being violated.

• "We'd admit about your point if you presented it nicer."
• "I have this work I was going to throw your way, is there a problem?"
• "People would listen to your complaint if you weren't so loud."
• "If you want people to care about this, you should learn to be smoother."

Yup, I'd say Mickey Kaus' comment certainly qualifies.

Predictably, conservatives at National Review, as well as Pat Buchanan at MSNBC last evening, ripped Michelle a new one. Nepotism-beneficiary John Podhoretz* dutifully and obediently lines up and mindlessly parrots the neocon views he learned from daddy and mummy, writing in daddy's periodical COMMENTARY:
[The] pseudo-messianic nature of the Obama candidacy is very much a part of the way the Obamas themselves are feeling about it these days.
And how does asswipe Podhoretz know how they are feeling???? (Or is it just that neocons know EVERYTHING???)

The most celebrated response, of course, came not from a finger-pointing white man, but from the ex-Vicodin addict wife of the probable Republican nominee for president, Cindy McCain, who made news trashing Michelle by stating she is proud of her country.

Apparently, not back in the early 90s, when she was stealing drugs from her "relief" organization (yes, we all need relief sometimes, don't we Cindy?) the American Voluntary Medical Team. You call that PRIDE, girlfriend? I call it GETTING HIGH. Did she stop to wonder what the pain-ridden folks in deprived countries might think about the fact that drugs originally intended for THEM were instead filched by a rich Senator's wife? That is hardly an American-pride moment, ma'am.

As the Arizona Republic reported, during McCain's previous presidential run:
Cindy blamed two back surgeries and the Keating Five scandal - a blend of physical and emotional pain - for hooking her on drugs.

Things started to unravel when a Drug Enforcement Administration audit found irregularities in the charity's records, prompting an investigation, Cindy told the reporters.

In 1992, as the Keating affair surfaced again during McCain's run for a second Senate term, Cindy's parents confronted her about her drug use.

What had been clear to Cindy's parents was lost on McCain, who said he had not noticed his wife's addiction.
Was she proud of her country, while all of this was going on? Did she even know what country she was IN?

Before anyone says I am "mean" for picking on Cindy, rest assured, I know from drug addiction, and that's exactly why I write this. Cindy, sit down and shut the fuck up. Barack Obama is too nice to say anything about your thieving addict ways, but Michele just might. People in glass houses... etc etc etc.

Then again, if the women go at it, it might be fun. Is that why the media is harping on this stuff? The guys want the girls to fight? Figures.

*HUMOROUS ASIDE: The late paleoconservative writer Samuel Francis referred to William Kristol and John Podhoretz as "the neocons' unemployable offspring"--which I thought was funny, as well as accurate. Do these fortunate sons have minds of their own, or only spout what their All-Powerful Daddies tell them to? In any event, it's usually best to ignore them, except when you MUST mention their constant yammering, as in a story like this.

Listening to: Jimi Hendrix Experience - Third Stone from the Sun
via FoxyTunes

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chinue Tao Hashim 1977-1998

Left: Chinue Hashim, 1996

In so many ways, and despite all the international enterprises moving into the area, Greenville is still a small town. I know three generations of women connected to Chinue, although I did not know him personally. I know his mother, girlfriend and daughter, Mia Hashim (whom he never lived to see).

I was working in customer service when it happened. It is so vivid to me because I was working with Chinue's mother, Cynthia. We were on the same team, taking hundreds of calls a day at a major call center for a mega-corporation. She had a New York accent, and a very direct New York way of speaking. She wouldn't take a lot of shit from customers. She would interrupt them, pointedly asking, sir, do you want me to help you or not? If they didn't stop yowling, she would "introduce them to Michael Bolton"--i.e. put them on hold. I loved her.

I was one of only a handful of white people working on the floor when it happened. And afterwards, I could feel the tension. Of course, there was tension. I remember thinking that I had always heard that key phrase "police shoot unarmed black suspect"--but this time, I was working among the people who understood these events intimately. It wasn't a political rally or TV show. It was Cynthia's son.

It was in the newspaper.

The police raid was described to me in detail by Chinue's fiancee, Erica Mardis, who was then pregnant with Mia. She was sitting outside in the car waiting for Chinue to return, when law enforcement forcibly yanked her from the vehicle, slammed her to the ground and put a gun to her head. She heard a blast, and then "dozens of cops" invaded the house that Chinue had entered only minutes before.

And so, on February 19, 1998, twenty-year-old Chinue Tao Hashim, the beautiful, gentle, talented, unarmed son of my co-worker Cynthia, was dead. The same dreadlocked young man whose photo I had seen so many times, smiling peacefully at us as his mother talked to customers.

On the day after, Cynthia was not at work. African-American co-workers were whispering angrily in the restrooms and breakrooms, the white cops just shot him dead. At first, I didn't realize that the newspaper-story was about Cynthia's son, since their last names are different.

Within hours, I learned the truth. I was heartsick, and I wept.

The police raid and murder of Chinue was controversial enough to warrant a lawsuit, the details of which I don't know and aren't public. The raid itself was written up by no less than the Cato Institute in their groundbreaking report titled OVERKILL: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America:
A deputy in Greenville County, South Carolina shoots and kills unarmed drug suspect Chinue Tao Hashim during a SWAT raid.

While negotiating a drug deal with Hashim, one undercover officer says over the radio, "a gun is on the table," meaning that a gun was part of the alleged drug bargain. When the SWAT team raids, Master Deputy John Eldridge interprets the radio remark to mean Hashim is armed. As the raid commences, Eldridge thinks he sees Hashim reaching for a gun, and opens fire.

A subsequent investigation revealed that what Eldridge thought was a gun was actually the glint from a wristwatch. Prosecutors declined to press charges against Eldridge.
Erica says there was no "gun on the table" either, and that's all bullshit. He did not enter the house with a gun, period.

But there is another detail missing: Chinue couldn't have been reaching for a gun, because he was holding a boxer puppy in his hands.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sinner's Prayer

(by Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott)

I'm not living like I should
I want to be a better man
A sinner's prayer upon my lips
A broken promise in my hand
I know that there will come a day
A heavy price I'll have to pay
I keep pretending to be good
But I'm not living like I should

I'm not living like I should
I've let the mystery slip away
The night goes by in dreamless sleep
I'm chasing foolish things all day
I walk this town just like a ghost
I don't know what I miss the most
I'd believe in something if I could
I'm not living like I should

When people see me on the street
They think they see an honest man
They don't know what lies beneath
But some of them would understand
They know the soul and what it hides
You sometimes see it in their eyes
A guilty man where a child once stood
I'm not living like I should

I'm not living like I should
The wolves howl, the robin sings
The world keeps spinning round and round
I wait for mercy's angel wings
Another day another year
Death keeps whispering in my ear
I say a prayer, I knock on wood
I'm not living like I should

I'm not living like I should
I want to be a better man
A sinner's prayer upon my lips
A broken promise in my hands
A squandered gift, a wasted day
Time chases life away
I just wanted to be good
But I'm not living like I should


Slaid Cleaves - Sinner's Prayer (Live)

[via FoxyTunes / Slaid Cleaves]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

But I could be wrong

A reader named Twila sent me the Redneck Blogging Award, which some of you may have noticed at the bottom of the screen. This was for my courage under fire at the nipple rubbing herbalist debacle, over on the Blog That Will Not Be Named. Apparently, you are not a REAL redneck blogger, until repeatedly baited as an inbred southerner who makes babies with your brother. I've ARRIVED!!!!

Who came up with this award? Twila doesn't know, but it was passed on to her under similar circumstances. (She no longer blogs... gee, I wonder why?) Shouldn't we find out if it's an official thing? Twila snorted at me, asking what kind of a redneck AM I, ANYWAY--with my pansy-ass pleas to officialdom. "If it's a redneck blogging award, then the proper thing to do is to just steal it, and then claim possession is nine-tenths of the law!"

She's right, of course. What was I thinking?

To celebrate, I offer Tim Wilson's BUT I COULD BE WRONG, which I warn everyone, is deliberately REDNECK AS HELL and NOT SAFE FOR WORK! If you don't like redneck humor, please DO NOT CLICK ON IT! You may be offended, and as they say on Project Runway, you may have significant questions about my taste-level. Thanks.

However, if you do, you'll be on the floor.

Best line: And I've just about had my fill/of Dr Fucking Phil. Truer words were never spoken.

But I Could Be Wrong - Tim Wilson


I've also been nominated for Best International Feminist Blog at the Canadian F-word Blog Awards, at A Creative Revolution. Click here to vote for me!

Of course, if you would prefer to vote for Stacey, Sylvia, Kay or Little Light, I totally understand, and I won't take offense!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Greenville County offering single-gender public education

Left: Jackson Pollock, Male and Female (1942)

I'm not sure what to think about this:

J.L. Mann to offer single-gender education program

Incoming freshman can sign up for the program for next fall

Friday, February 15, 2008
J.L. Mann High School is starting a single-gender classroom program for incoming freshmen this fall, according to a news release from the Greenville County School District.

Single-gender classes will be offered to freshmen as an option for their four core academic classes: math, science, English and social studies.

Teachers already have been training on gender specific teaching techniques.

"It is so much more than just separating the young men and women," Principal Susan Hughes said. "We want to teach to the strengths of each group and the single gender classroom allows teachers to tailor their lesson plans to their audience."

Teachers have volunteered to participate in this new option, according to the release.

"I have seen how traditional classroom management can hinder a student and I am excited for the opportunity to help my students explore their academic prowess in an environment that can maximize and encourage their unique strengths," said Anthony Mooney, a freshmen social studies teacher.

Changes in the Title IX laws in 2006 allowed for public schools to offer single gender classes as long as a co-ed class was also available.

The program will be officially announced Wednesday at 6:45 p.m. during Registration Information Night in the school’s auditorium. Rising ninth graders and their parents who may be interested in this program are invited to attend.

The teachers will demonstrate how the same lesson plan would be taught in different ways to a boy’s class and a girl’s class. Parents can ask questions and meet the single gender teaching team.
I don't subscribe to the okey-doke that single-sex education is better. Where did this bromide come from?

The link to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education is provided in the Greenville News story. Does anyone know if this group has a political agenda? On the NASSPE website, the Mars/Venus stuff about how girls and boys learn differently seems hyped to a dogmatic level.

What's the best for the children? We must think of the children! ((wrings hands))
Listening to: The Count Five - Psychotic Reaction
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

No video, just audio. But you don't need video.

Must be played very, very loud, for maximum benefit. Yes, all 7 1/2 minutes! (It's orgasmic, it SUPPOSED TO BE long, okay?)

And speaking of which... enjoy your evening, everyone! :)


I Want You (She's So Heavy) - The Beatles

[via FoxyTunes / The Beatles]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Nooooo, not those kind!!! What did you all think I meant, anyway?!?!? ;)

I refer to lovely LM, at left, local Deadhead Brownie. Brownie as in a tiny Girl Scout. LM gives us the 3-fingered Girl Scout salute, and holds up coveted GIRL SCOUT COOKIES!!!! In particular, my favorites: CARAMEL DELITES! Tiny little cookies that are a bang-up nutritional bargain at 75 calories each, 9.5 carbs and 3.5 grams of fat (yes, saturated). Experience has shown me that you can never have enough Caramel Delites. Every Deadhead household needs multiple boxes!

And I always do my part.

Please matronize your local Girl Scouts, and buy lots of cookies!

Listening to: Grateful Dead - China Cat Sunflower
via FoxyTunes

Odds and Sods - Obamomentum edition

He's hot! He's on FIRE! He won the Potomac primaries!

Some good reading over on

Obama’s wins were his sixth, seventh, and eighth in a row, and even as Clinton looks forward to March 4, his campaign is looking with relish on Wisconsin and his home state of Hawaii, which vote a week from today.

His widening coalition is becoming part of his message: He won a majority of Latino votes – which had been Clinton’s bulwark elsewhere – in Virginia and Maryland.

He won a majority of white men in both states, and won the support of groups across the economic spectrum, while drawing stunning majorities of support from African-American voters – as high as 90% of their support in Virginia, according to exit polls.

The wide margins – he won with 64% of the vote in Virginia, and appeared headed for victory on a similar scale in Maryland– seemed to answer the Clinton campaign’s arguments that he has not won primaries in large states.

Hillary is pinning virtually all of her hopes on Texas and Ohio. Is that smart? At this point, she really has no other choice:
Clinton argues that she is the stronger candidate because she can win big-state primaries such as in California or New York, states that are critical to the party in November.

By insinuation she seems to suggest Obama might lose those heavily Democratic states in a general election, a point her own party leaders and strategists would likely dispute.

She is encouraging voters in Texas and Ohio to dismiss Obama’s victories as irrelevant.

But those wins actually could add substance to his claim that he has the best chance to expand the electoral map and break out of the red-state, blue-state formula that has bedeviled his party for two presidential cycles.

The goal of Clinton’s new rhetorical assault is to freeze Obama’s momentum before March 4.

I reported here about the death of 18-year-old Benjamin Sprague at Clemson's Sigma Nu frat house, back in December. This has turned into something of a local scandal/bad joke after it was discovered that Sprague died with a beefsteak underneath him. Seriously, it isn't simply a bizarre rumor--see follow-up news story in the link.

The official cause of death was alcohol poisoning. Misdemeanor charges have been filed against Sigma Nu members Matthew Rinkel, 20, Addison Kerr, 21, and Jetin Anil Patel, 19, charged with transfer of alcohol to a person under 21.

Related video here, including a portion of the 911 call.


My new favorite blogs to read include Persephone's Box, A Different Light, The Curvature, and the always-brilliant Problem Chylde.

Random questions: Why aren't I as smart as these women? Is this some genetic thing, or was it all those hallucinogens?


Left: Woody and Scarlett, from New York Magazine.

In movie-making news, Woody Allen is preparing to direct Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz in a lesbian sex scene in his new film, titled Vicky Cristina Barcelona. There will also be a threesome with the two women and co-star Javier Bardem. And gollee gee, for some reason, Mr Daisy hasn't been so interested in a Woody Allen movie since Match Point, also featuring the winsome Johansson.

Speaking personally, I miss Woody's old movies. Particularly the early, funny ones. (Bonus points to the movie geek/Woody fan who can name that movie line without clicking the link!)

Listening to: Echo & the Bunnymen - The Cutter
via FoxyTunes

Monday, February 11, 2008

On Religious Bigotry

Left: Mr Natural by R. Crumb

It's difficult to talk about religious bigotry without discussing religion itself. What exactly is religious bigotry? I've been mulling over this question during these last weeks of presidential primaries. I was discussing the Bob Jones endorsement of Mitt Romney with a moderate Republican of my acquaintance. We both chuckled about how strange and unexpected it was. And then, she brought me up short, announcing: "I could never vote for anyone who wears ritual underwear!" and rolled her eyes in derision. I was taken aback. I dislike Mitt Romney, but not for that.

I knew this was The Real McCoy, the authentic article, religious bigotry, directed at Romney for being a Mormon. But what do we call derision directed at religious folk by those who loudly claim all religion is a dangerous delusion? Atheists are often just as nasty toward believers, but we don't usually call that religious bigotry. Is it only religious bigotry if the perpetrator is from another religion? Can religious bigotry occur between two people of the same faith? (Is the ferreting out of heretics, itself, a form of bigotry towards those who act on religious impulses in an unpopular or minority fashion?)

What about 'justified anger' at particularly oppressive or fundamentalist religions? Can that be separated from anger at individuals perceived as representatives of those religions?

Charles Krauthammer once wrote an interesting piece for TIME magazine about being asked his "religious preference" on hospital paperwork:

Of course, the only reason hospital folk bother to ask about religion at all is prudence, not theological curiosity. In case they accidentally kill you or you otherwise expire on their watch, they want to be sure they send up the right clergy to usher you to the next level, as it were. We're not talking belief here. We're talking liability protection.

According to Chesterton, tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything. Chesterton meant that as a critique of tolerance. But it captures nicely the upside of unbelief: where religion is trivialized, one is unlikely to find persecution. When it is believed that on your religion hangs the fate of your immortal soul, the Inquisition follows easily; when it is believed that religion is a breezy consumer preference, religious tolerance flourishes easily. After all, we don't persecute people for their taste in cars. Why for their taste in gods?

Oddly, though, in our thoroughly secularized culture, there is one form of religious intolerance that does survive. And that is the disdain bordering on contempt of the culture makers for the deeply religious, i.e., those for whom religion is not a preference but a conviction.
Is that really true? I'd like to say it isn't, but it often feels that way. And I believe this phenomenon has everything to do with Mike Huckabee's recent political ascent, and Mitt Romney's failure to shore up the conservative base of the Republican party. The irony is that fundamentalists who feel persecuted as deeply religious, have just harshly penalized another candidate on account of his religion.

What is your personal definition of religious bigotry?

Welcome to the Working Week

I had planned to blog about my wonderful Sunday dinner, which consisted of scrumptious saag paneer, aloo gobi, dal saag, and aloo matar, all topped off with fabulous potato samosas. But of course, after all of that, I was too stuffed to do anything but stare at the tube.

60 Minutes featured two interesting but softball interviews with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Katie Couric, of all people, interviewed Hillary. I just shook my head. If you want to be taken seriously, I'd suggest someone other than sweet Katie as an interviewer. Ugh.

Afterwards, Mr Daisy forced me to watch Social Distortion: Live in Orange County, which rocked pretty good. I love Mike Ness' version of Johnny Cash's RING OF FIRE!

And it's Monday already! Welcome to the working week; I know it don't thrill you, hope it don't kill you.

Elvis Costello - Welcome To The Working Week (Live)

[via FoxyTunes / Elvis Costello]

Friday, February 8, 2008

War is hell

At left: Jane Fonda's mug shot during her infamous "Hanoi Jane" period.

I don't usually get a multitude of comments on my blog, but I am hoping this time yall will jump in and add your two cents. A rather heated exchange on another blog has resulted in this post. I'm not really prepared to write it, and it keeps coming out all wrong, or at the very least, it sounds limited. Thus, I need some of you folks to help: clarify, add, subtract, criticize, correct me, whatever it takes. I welcome it. No offense at all will be taken. I would like to have a serious discussion. Canadians and other non-USA-citizens are particularly welcome: Please don't be shy.

Here are the questions for discussion:

Can one "support the troops" without supporting the war? How?

Can one criticize the atrocities of the war without actually describing in some detail WHAT "the troops" have done?

I don't think so, unless one is deliberately, determinedly vague. Yes, it's nasty over there. How nasty?

And then, the discussion grinds to a halt.


Some time during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the mantra "Support the troops!" developed into a full-fledged battle cry; a compulsory litmus test of any criticism of American military adventures abroad, which are constant and never-ending. The United States has had it's fingers in the business of so many countries, I couldn't begin to name them all. As people here at home die from no transplanted kidneys and no health insurance, we have propped up corrupt dictators with millions of dollars. We have funded covert operations in every nook and cranny of the world. We have kept countries from having elections (as we nullified the election of Ho Chi Minh), and forced others into having elections they weren't ready to have, or perhaps, didn't even want. We have invaded countries, supposedly on the behalf of other countries. The list is interminable. I am ashamed of it. This was never my decision; I wasn't consulted, although they HAVE used my money to do it. Just as I belong to the biggest bully of Christendom, the Catholic Church, I belong to the biggest bully of the nations, the USA. It is my task (my destiny?) to reform both, to do whatever I can to humanize these institutions. I seek to increase and magnify the good in them (and there IS so much good) and minimize or eliminate the bad. Needless to say, I have my work cut out for me.

Since Vietnam and the abolition of the draft (and certainly, even before), the army has been drawn from the poor and working classes of the USA. This has been deliberate. Ashley Wilkes went dashing off to fight the yankees, but that is probably how long it has been since large numbers of upper-class men enlisted, William F. Buckley and a few other adventurous rich men notwithstanding. As the Bruce Springsteen song reminded us, prisons have habitually been emptied in times of war, with poor kid-car thieves and dope dealers used as cannon fodder. During the Reagan Admin, an increase in the "college funds" incentive was added to the formidable list of military benefits in the existing G.I. Bill. Obviously, kids who already have college paid for, wouldn't find this any kind of incentive to enlist. The class element is very clearcut and unapologetic.

Eliminating the draft army and using only volunteers meant there had to be SOME incentive to enlist; three-hots-and-a-cot wasn't enough. (As my brother once said, you can get that much in JAIL, forgodsake, and jail is safer than the battlefield.) Health care for life (however slipshod, it's better than none), preference in Civil Service jobs, life insurance packages, social networking for future employment leading to a solid place in the middle class--these are valuable incentives. But above all, the free-college bribe, the G.I. Bill? That was the big enchilada, and poor kids from the ghettos, the barrios, the farms, the projects, all saw a way out.

And so, the US military had a ready supply of cannon fodder, as needed.

I will never forget the documentary film Soldier Girls, in which the girls from the Bronx tell each other they have to hang in there--they MUST endure the abusive basic training drill instructors--because then they will go back to the neighborhood in uniform, looking fine. "Everyone will see that we made it!" one girl says to the other, embracing her as she cries that she can't go on.

Thus, there is also significant pride in military service, a sense of some lofty accomplishment that is preserved as long as the mystique of the military is preserved. To question that mystique is to puncture the egos of anyone who subscribes to it, including people who have spent their lives being proud of the uniform.

The Reaganites knew all of this. Reading The American Spectator and other right-wing publications throughout the 80s, one could read their open discussions regarding how to capitalize on these emotions, the need to build "a poor man's ego" and the accompanying need to feel accomplished, important and useful. The working class/poor have so little to be proud of--we can give them this... and fight our colonialist wars in the bargain. We can make them The Few, The Proud. Be All You Can Be, was the 80s army recruitment slogan.

And now, in America, it is virtually verboten to discuss WHAT soldiering is. As a consequence, many soldiers are stunned when they find out. "Peacekeeping forces"--after all, doesn't sound so bad, as Orwell's WAR IS PEACE doesn't either. Hey, it HAS TO BE DONE. Somebody has to keep the peace, right? The PR of "peacekeeping" served two functions, one for politicians to ask for more warbucks from the voters, and one to keep the soldiers in the dark. Many soldiers have no idea whatsoever of the politics of the countries they are deployed to. They don't know the languages, religion or cultures. The army likes to keep it that way. No classes in any of that are included in Basic Training, beyond what is necessary to find one's way around. (History? We don't need no stinking history!)


In the discussion I refer to, someone actually used the phrase "they were only following orders"--apparently with no irony and no memory of the Nuremberg Trials, where that line was first popularized.

Let's backtrack a minute.

My first introduction into world politics was the Indochina Peace Campaign, a road-tour by Tom Hayden, Holly Near and Jane Fonda. I loved them all, so I went to hear them. I was 14 years old. I still have the flyer in an old scrapbook, advertising their visit to the Ohio State University campus. They had just come from their highly controversial (putting it mildly!) FTA Tour, which was made into a movie that few people have ever seen. The concept was to go to the troops directly, based on some of the ideas presented above: the soldiers are often poor and working class, and need to be educated that Vietnam is a quagmire, a no-win situation, that benefits a certain class of American profiteers. A review of the movie fills us in:
During 1971 and 1972, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland led a quasi-USO tour that played in towns outside of U.S. military bases along the West Coast and throughout the Pacific. Fonda referred to the tour as "political vaudeville" and the show itself was called "FTA" (the acronym standing for "Free the Army" and "Fuck the Army"). The audiences were primarily the men and women of the U.S. armed services, and during the tour Fonda and her company interviewed the various soldiers, sailors and marines regarding their thoughts on the Indochina slaughterhouse.

Viewing "FTA" today is like opening a long-forgotten time capsule. The film's true power comes in the frank, often rude comments from the servicemen and women who openly question the purpose and planning of the American involvement in Vietnam. Most memorable here are the members of the U.S.S. Coral Sea, who presented a petition to their superiors demanding a halt to the bombing in Vietnam; African-American soldiers and marines who angrily decried racist attitudes among the white commanding officers at the U.S. military installations, usually with an upraised fist of the Black Power movement; women serving in the U.S. Air Force who talk unhappily about sexual harassment from their male counterparts; and soldiers who pointedly refer to the dictatorial government in South Vietnam which was being presented as the democracy which they were supposedly defending. The extraordinary air of dissent that rises out of "FTA" provides a rare glimpse into a unhappy and demoralized fighting force stuck in a war which they did not believe in.
Here we clearly see that the soldiers themselves often didn't agree with what they were doing.

If there are any who do not NOW agree, we certainly aren't hearing about them.

Perhaps the "Support the Troops!" mantra only refers troops that have accepted their fates? Can we support dissident troops? (Are there any?)


In 1970, one of the bloodiest years of the Vietnam engagement, Hollywood gave us some blatant, pro-war propaganda in the movie PATTON. General Patton, of course, was a commander during World War II, not Vietnam, but in this manner, Americans could look back to a time in which we had been on the morally-correct side of a military action. It was a cozy, well-acted valentine to Richard Nixon and General Westmoreland. George C. Scott earned himself an Academy Award, which he famously refused.

Despite the fact that Hollywood is supposedly so liberal, then as now, precious few openly anti-war movies have EVER been made. (One fascinating fact is that one of the co-authors of this screenplay, Francis Ford Coppola, DID go on to make one of the greatest anti-war movies ever made, Apocalypse Now.)


Speaking personally, I will do anything to end this war. Playing games about what war is, avoiding the truth, is not the way to do it.

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out."

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman
Letter to Mayor Calhoun of Atlanta,
September 12, 1864