Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Iraq = Blacksburg x2 every day!

Juan Cole says it best. All I can do today is try to amplify his comments. (Please note, everything below is a quote from Juan Cole, Blogger and my computer do not mesh and I have lost the ability to shape posts! No block quotes, italics or bolding, sigh. Another reason that this blog is due for an overhaul.)

Juan Cole: Informed Comment, 4/17/07)

"I keep hearing from US politicians and the US mass media that the "situation is improving" in Iraq. The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. Virginia Tech will be gone from the headlines and the air waves by next week this time in the US, though the families of the victims will grieve for a lifetime. But next Tuesday I will come out here and report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?"

"I wrote on February 26,

' A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives. '

That isn't "slow progress" or just "progress," the way the weasels in Washington keep proclaiming. It is the most massive manmade human tragedy of the young century."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Funny, that Riverbend should put up a new post. I spoke at a seminar for older adults in a kind of elderhostel program yesterday and I was surprised when a older gentleman came up after my talk (on Sunni, Shia, and Sufi strands of Islam) and told me that he reads the Iraqi blogger Riverbend. We both noted that she hadn't posted since December 31. I recommended Treasure of Baghdad to him.

Today I went to check Helena Cobban's Just World News and heard that Riverbend had posted again. Her topic? An Iraqi woman had come forward to claim that she had been gang-raped by US-trained security forces on al-Jazeera. On Al-Jazeera!! That is a dramatic and powerful act. Nearly unthinkable. I can only imagine the conversations going on in living rooms and kitchens across the Arabic speaking world today. Rape is not a crime that is easily discussed or prosecuted in the Middle East. In a subsequent post Riverbend notes:
No Iraqi woman under the circumstances- under any circumstances- would publicly, falsely claim she was raped. There are just too many risks. There is the risk of being shunned socially. There is the risk of beginning an endless chain of retaliations and revenge killings between tribes. There is the shame of coming out publicly and talking about a subject so taboo, she and her husband are not only risking their reputations by telling this story, they are risking their lives.

Nuri al-Maliki's response was not just to denouce this woman but to reward the men accused of the crime. Ugh! You can read Maliki's statement on her blog as well.

Both blog entries are essential reading. More, perhaps on this later. Sick children and an important lunch meeting mean that there is little time for blogging today.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Arab Media & popular culture

I encountered two music clips today from the Middle East. The first is Baladna (Our Country) by the Iraqi singer Haithem Yosef. It is beautiful and sad and reflects the grief of those who have had to flee, it speaks to the nostalgic and romantic unity of Iraq that will always exist in the heart of exiles whether or not it remains a reality on the ground in Iraq. Sad, sweet, and bitter. Thank you Treasure of Baghdad for bringing it to my attention.

The second comes from Cairo via the Kuwaiti singer, Shams. I think that it is instructive that it takes that kind of distance to produce a ruthless satire. The Iraqis are caught in chaos and grief that is unimaginable. The rest of the Arab world has enough safety to be bitter and very, very funny. Both Juan Cole and Helena Cobban take note of this video. Two very heavy hitters. Professor Cole notes,
She says, "Hi! How are you?" as a cardboard Bush smiles and raises his shoulders idiotically. "No one is like you," she adds, "and there certainly aren't two of you." She shakes her head in front of a White House stage prop.

She sings in front of a sign that says "Democracy." She chases away confused US troops. She mugs for the camera and does a little belly dance. She appears as the statue of liberty lady. She lies down on the word "Guantanamo," referring to the allegations of the use of torture there, a counterpoint to the block letters "Democracy" earlier.

It is the oddest thing, but certainly a "resistance" video of a sort.

What is most striking of all is the tone of familiarity and intimacy along with the contempt. Bush has become an Arab leader, like Mubarak or Asad, and is subject to all the same parodying and jokes that they are in the Arab street.

Helena also explains the video this way:

She sings a well-known Egyptian popular song of romantic repudiation. "Hi! How are you... You think you're so great? I never want to see you again!" while hamming it up with a dizzying array of props representing aspects of Bush's policy in the Middle East. And yes, that includes Washington's "information" policies, too, with repeated visual references to newspaper stories and to round-table type TV talk-shows...

The ending is key, Shams sits on a graph (that most seem to think reflects rising oil prices) in a black cowbay hat, in a mock duel with President Bush, he falls off and lands on his back, hard in the sand, as she pushes what soon becomes the letter E in liberty onto him, the word liberty pummels the President into dust and behind prison bars while a fortune teller reveals the future, Shams walks off into the sunset wearing a wedding dress and holding the hand of the groom Handala (the iconic Palestinian child and symbol of resistance, read more here). Wow! Powerful ending. Are all Arabs now dispossesed like the Palestinians? Alienated, yet joyful in their resistance?

My favorite part is the talking heads in the situation room, I'd like to cut some of those strings too! Watch it!

Baladna, however, is the sad song that will linger when the laughter from Shams is gone.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The kind in grade school this time not the ones in Washington DC!

For nearly a decade I have been part of a forum for mothers who all had children in the same month. Collectively, those women are the "smartest woman I know" because among us all we have an amazing span of experience. Yesterday, I was called upon to repost my list of links to resources on bullying. Little 'Skandar had a few run-ins with bigger boys back when he was in pre-K. My eternal graduate student self took over (nothing I love more than researching a new topic) and in one morning I had complied a set of on-line resources to deal with this painful topic. Many of the women on the forum have used it repeatedly over the years. I have now updated it and thought I'd add it to the blog as well.

Large site devoted to the issue of bullies http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/life/health_happiness/problems/bullying.shtml
A british organization devoted to ending bullying
A British guide to dealing with bullies in school
Bullying, how to stop it
An entire site for dealing with bullies, refers to out-of-print articles, lots of great stuff here!http://www.scre.ac.uk/bully/index.html
A more academic article:
A new site with lots of info:
Lots of good links here and recent information:

One new approach that is taught to my children in school is the idea of "the courageous bystander." This notion recognizes that it is typically difficult if not impossible for the victim to disrupt the bullying dynamic but often all it take is a "courageous bystander" who intervenes with a "knock it off" or a joke or any remark that lets the bully know that his actions are seen by the broader community and that they are not acceptable.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bumper Sticker

Bumper sticker seen on the back of a Honda this morning in my neighborhood:

FRODO FAILED: Bush has the Ring!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

white looters = amusing, black looters = criminals

Last night we had ABC World News on while getting dinner ready. The last story of the night was about "scavengers on the beach picking up a windfall from a sinking cargo ship." I immediately turned to my husband and said, "you mean stealing?" The piece was plugged before the commercial break as an amusing final story, Charlie Gibson's tone was one of lighthearted amusement and that was exactly how the piece played. Two hundred people on a beach carting off loot that had washed ashore, big stuff like BMW motorcycles, and useless stuff like a man carrying a steering wheel (not to mention bottles and cases of wine). We were told that things from the wreck were beginning to show up on ebay, we were shown helpless police encouraging people to register the items with the police but there were no arrests. The story went on to say that scavenging from shipwreaks in this area was a tradition that went back four generations! Locals used to lure ships to run aground on the rocks offshore by setting up deceptive lights to shine out to sea.

Again, its hard to put into the words the tone of the piece (and the video isn't available from ABC on their website) but it was one of goodnatured amusement at human nature; people just can't resist free stuff that appears like magic on the beach. Certainly there was no hint that these people were engaged in a criminal act (technically, you can take and store salvage from the sea while the original owners make recovery plans but it all remains the property of the original owners and you certainly can't legally sell it), or presented a threat to basic law and order, or a sign of a local culure run amok.

Did I mention that these folks were all white? British in fact.

White folk speaking English carting off goods (and liquor) for profit and amusement in southern England is not stealing or looting; it is comedic. While black folk facing floods, abandonment, complete lack of services, and all elements of life turned upside down during Katrina who broke into convenience stores to take water, diapers, food, (and liquor) were described as looters!! Horrible, criminal looters demonstrating not the government's failure to provide safety and basic welfare both before and after the storm but somehow spun to illustrate the degenerate nature of black people in New Orleans (and quietly implying that their fate was their own fault).

Four generations of luring ships to run aground to profit from the washed up cargo!! Yet no mention of culture of criminality or depravity or laziness or inability to think of other ways to make a living.

Imagine that story wasn't about England but about somewhere in Africa where a container ship has floundered and the cargo is washing up on shore, imagine an African place where the tradition is to encourage ships to crash to enrich the local population with the ship's cargo. Imagine pictures of black folk rolling motorcycles and car parts and crates of wine off the beach, imagine the crowded beach scenes and helpless police. Now, would that story be the final amusing human interest story? Would the anchor have good-natured amusement in his voice? Would the story be spun as an example of all-too-human foibles or would it be an entirely different story altogether?

Here is the wire story dated yesterday January 23 from ABC. Note, this is not the story that was broadcast (I'll have to hunt for a transcript for that) but it is the basis for the broadcast report. It lacks the tonal nuances and the bit about four generations of this practice but again, if this was set in Somolia say, or even South Africa, would it have such a neutral tone?

You can see another take on the story with pictures from al-Jazeera and Reuters. Note the difference in tone in the al-Jazeera story.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Sewer lines

As if any of us needed more confirmation that you can learn about ANYTHING on the internet, check out the following: sewerhistory.org. Yes, thanks to a recent discussion on my neighborhood list serv about replacing sewerlines and orangebury pipe, I was led to sewerhistory.org! Absolutely amazing amount of information.

And speaking of keeping up with infrastructure. I have begun the process of transferring the blog to the new blogger and making some format changes. To my horror, I discovered that I had enabled comment moderation without realizing it! So, comments, blessed little currency of the blogging world, were going unposted, unread, and unrealized!! Ack!

Comments should be enabled now. Thank you all, especially Eric, for sticking with me and continuing to post comments even when they disappeared into the ether!

Friday, January 19, 2007

War is Hell

War is hell. For what it does to "them" and for what it does to "us."

Marine Corporal Pleads Guilty in Killing of Unarmed Iraqi

Camp Pendeleton, Calif., Jan. 18 (AP) -- A Marine corporal pleaded guilty Thursday to kidnapping and murdering an unarmed Iraqi civilian last year, saying he and other servicemen went after him because they were “sick and tired of getting bombed.”

The marine, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, 25, is the first of seven marines and a Navy medic accused in the case to plead guilty to murder. Four others have pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for their testimony.

Prosecutors said the eight-man squad had kidnapped 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad in Hamdania, a Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad, taken him to a roadside hole and shot him to death, placing an AK-47 and shovel by his body to make it look as if he were an insurgent caught planting a bomb.

Corporal Thomas, a native of the St. Louis area on his second tour in Iraq when the man was killed on April 26, testified about the slaying as part of his plea deal. The group planned to go after a known insurgent, he said, but that plan was thwarted and they went to a neighboring house instead. The judge, Lt. Col. Tracy A. Daly, asked why the group had proceeded with the plan.

“We would get someone else to make a statement that marines, we were sick and tired of getting bombed,” Corporal Thomas said.

Corporal Thomas said he and another marine seized Mr. Awad from a house by entering through an unlocked door. He said they used a combination of hand signals and Arabic commands to lure Mr. Awad away. Mr. Awad spoke little English, Corporal Thomas said, but he pleaded with the group of four marines.

“He started asking, ‘Why, mister, why?’ ” Corporal Thomas said. “We didn’t say anything.”

The four took Mr. Awad to the roadside hole, where they rejoined the rest of the squad, Corporal Thomas said. Mr. Awad was struggling to break free, Corporal Thomas said, so he and others bound his hands and feet. Corporal Thomas said Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington tried to force Mr. Awad to lose consciousness by choking him.

The squad leader, Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, then reported over the radio that the group had spotted a man digging a hole, Corporal Thomas said. Someone fired a shot, he said, then he and others in the squad opened fire. Petty Officer Third Class Melson J. Bacos, he said, shot the AK-47 away from the group to make it appear as though a gunfight had occurred.

After the firing stopped, Corporal Thomas said, Sergeant Hutchins made sure Mr. Awad was dead by shooting a three-round burst of gunfire into his head.

Sergeant Hutchins, of Plymouth, Mass., is awaiting trial on murder charges and others. Corporal Pennington, of Mukilteo, Wash., is also awaiting trial and claims his rights were violated when investigators interviewed him.

Petty Officer Bacos, of Franklin, Wis., pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to one year in prison. Another marine, Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda, 23, of Manteca, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to murder charges and others.

Corporal Thomas faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, though he is likely to receive a more lenient sentence under his plea agreement.

via the New York Times

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Today: laugh instead of cry!

I found this via Treasure of Baghdad. I sometimes avoid Treasure of Baghdad because it can be so intense (TB is a young Iraqi who worked as a journalist in Baghdad during much of the war but who is now a student in Philadelphia). But this made me laugh. You Tube titles this "George Bush & America role-play."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Read and Weep

Not long after 9/11 I had a momentary shock as I was mindlessly driving on the freeway. I suddenly saw that this was how America ended, how our nation declined and lost our way: expense wars in far-off places, billions spent while our country was hollowed out at home. It wasn't the fact of fighting that spooked me but the incompetence of our administration. I live in Texas, I had already experienced the "leadership" of Bush and company.

It was a visceral moment. I nearly crashed the car. I hoped and prayed that I was wrong.

I thought of that moment almost six years ago today when I read this essay by Bernard Chazelle of Princeton. Read it and weep.

Thanks to Helena Cobban's Just World News for bringing it to my attention.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Voices in the Wilderness

Yes, I should be blogging about Iraq and the President's speech. . . but my instant analysis is that Bush is offering just more of the same. Half a million troops in May 2003 or fall 2004 might have made a difference but once the mosque in Samarra was bombed(February 22, 2006) the game was up. See the always wise Juan Cole if you want more.

And it is the fifth anniversary of the detentions at Guantamo Bay, Cuba. Helena Cobban brings us more on that. It is worth noting the legal basis for the treatment of the detainees was set by the first President Bush when he used the base to detain Haitian refugees, who, at the time were universally suspected of being HIV positive. See chapter two of Paul Farmer's Pathologies of Power, entitled Pestilence and Restraint: Guantanamo, AIDS, and the Logic of Quarentine,"page 57:
Since Guantanamo is not technically on U.S. soil, the Bush administration lawyers developed a torturous rationale: (now quoting from Ingrid Arneson of the Nation) "While conceding that the Haitians are treated differently from other national groups who seek asylum in the US, the Government claimed that the US Constitution and other sources of US and international law do not apply to Guantanamo -- this despite the fact that the US military base at Guantanamo is under the exclusive jurisdiction and control of the US Government." Guantanamo thus became a place where non-US nationals could be stowed away in a sort of lawless limbo, out of reach of US or international law. Officials charged with upholding US law could intercept refugees, take them to a US military base, and openly declare any actions taken there above the law. Neither the hypocrisy nor the irony was lost on the Haitians.
Although the Pathologies of Power book came out in 2003, Farmer originally wrote the piece on Guantanamo in 1994! Few would or could stand up for poor Haitians possibly ill with AIDs (clearly the "least of these" in the 1990s) and thus was laid the legal basis for detention that now threatens the rights of us all. From Farmer's account it appears that the Haitian refugees faced physical and social conditions quite similar to the current detainees.

Treating the military base at Guantanamo like it exists outside of the bounds of the US Constitution yet firmly inside our control is nonsensical. It led to cruel and unusual punishment for Haitians fleeing vicious repression and it continues to blot our moral standing in the world today. As Helena Cobban says:
The detainees against whom there is solid evidence should be tried, and if found guilty , incarcerated. Let's see and fully examine all the evidence. The rest should be released and given help for their rehabilitation after their years of dehumanizing detention.

After five years the world's sole superpower can't determine who are the bad guys they've detained and who are unluckly Afghan farmers?! Come on! Read Helena's piece in the Christian Science Monitor.

We can do better.

You won't find quoting Christian scripture very often but remember Matthew 25:31-46. In language that reminds me so much of the Quran, it evokes Judgement Day with Jesus separating the sheep from the goats and the righteous are told "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethen, ye have done it unto me."

Google led me this sermon from the Reverend Barbara Green based on the words in Matthew and grappling with the very issues of torture, detention, and Guantanamo. She concludes her sermon from October 26, 2006 in Houston, Texas with these words:
As I was preparing this sermon, I admitted to my college-student daughter that I had some
trepidation about bringing this issue into worship. She said, “Cut it out, Mom! This isn’t some partisan debate on some obscure budget amendment. This is torture!” That directness is what I would bring to you this morning. Torture is a military issue, and a hard-nosed political issue. But it is also a profoundly moral and spiritual issue. It is wrong. When it is perpetrated in our name “unto one of the least of these, my brethren,” it is the responsibility of all of us.