This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Save the Whales

This just came in from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. It's a great cause.

International Fund for Animal Welfare May 30, 2007

Keep these 50 humpbacks singing

Dear Joe,
Did you know that humpback whales have a song range covering eight octaves? From a bass so low humans can’t hear it to a magnificent soprano, the highly structured songs of the humpbacks include multiple themes that even rhyme.
Humpback songs can last up to 30 minutes, with the whales embellishing like jazz musicians as the males produce organized songs with distinct melodies.
How can Japan justify the suffering of such a magnificent creature at the hands of an explosive harpoon by calling it research? The simple answer is: they can’t.
Please help keep these humpbacks singing. Give what you can today to stop whaling.
Commercial whaling of humpbacks officially stopped in 1966, but it is estimated that as much as 95 percent of the population was eliminated before this time due to whaling. Tragically, the Government of Japan will begin cruelly hunting 50 humpbacks once again in the 2007/08 whaling season.
New research has shown that humpbacks contain specialized brain cells thought to process emotions, memories and insight — until now only seen in the brains of humans and other primates. Many experts believe that these cells signify the capacity for intelligence and also suffering.
Killing humpbacks under the guise of conducting scientific research, when the actual purpose of killing the whales is to sell their meat in the pursuit of profit, is deceitful and unlawful under international law.
Yes! I want to save these humpbacks!
The same coastal habits that make humpbacks an easy target for whalers also make them prone to entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships and noise pollution.
Your financial gift helps us to fight commercial whaling, continue the safe research of whales, protect endangered whale species and critical whale habitats around the world, and promote responsible whale watching as a sustainable alternative to whaling. Of every dollar spent around the world during the past three years, more than 83 cents went directly to animal welfare programs and institutional costs.
Additionally, the non-lethal research methods developed by scientists on board Song of the Whale, IFAW’s state-of-the-art research and education vessel, are used around the world to prove that you don’t need to kill whales to study them.
Dr. James Darling once said that no living animals have captured our imaginations and stabbed at our emotions like the great whales. Is this how we repay them?
Thanks for your generosity,Fred O’ ReganPresident and CEO
P.S. You can help us save even more humpbacks by becoming a Champion for Animals with a regular monthly gift.

IFAW © 2007 This message was sent to:
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Haircuts and Gossip-- real Issues Unreported

This is from today's AlterNet and is spot on.
Pageantlike Presidential Election Coverage; Where's the Real News?
By Allan Uthman, Buffalo Beast
Posted May 31, 2007
There's a semantic problem with the word "politics." It has two major meanings, which are connected but distinct. Politics is the art of governing nations, but it can also mean the tactics employed to attain or retain governmental control. This creates an obstacle for the person who reads the "politics" section of his favorite newspaper or website, or who watches shows that purport to cover politics, with the intent of learning about what his government is doing. Often, there's really nothing at all about running the government; it's all about running for government. Check out the last four stories that plopped out of the Associated Press' "Politics" feed:
Sharpton denies disputing Romney's faith
Obama overstates Kansas tornado deaths
Edwards discusses time at hedge fund
Spitzer, O'Malley to endorse Clinton
There's nothing there about what's happening in the outside world, nor any coverage of actual governmental activities. It's just gossip about celebrities. The fact that those celebrities happen to be members of our government is incidental. These stories aren't about policy, or politics, really. They're about the candidates' chances to be the last one standing.
This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but it does seem to get a worse every time, and in vast increments. Election coverage is not only deplorably shallow; its nonstop, news-cycle-dominating prominence is obscuring larger reality. It's stealth entertainment news, wearing the guise of legitimate national affairs journalism. There's nothing significantly different in the tone of coverage of the Obama-Clinton rivalry from that of Paris and Nicole. Romney's Mormonism is handled no differently than Tom Cruise's Scientology.
That would be bad enough in itself, but the worse problem is, while we're torturing ourselves with a harrowing, incessant, two-year pageant of inauthenticity, real shit is still happening all over the world. And we're hearing even less than usual about it, because it's just so much easier for commentators to talk about what has essentially become the Olympics of fund-raising than to address the actual government or what it actually does. By comparing stats and rumors about presidential hopefuls, columnists and talking heads are able to give the impression of covering the government without actually doing anything of the sort. Watch Joe Scarborough segue easily from a segment about the latest presidential gaffe to a schadenfreude session over Paris Hilton's jail sentence, and you'll see. He doesn't even have to switch gears; it's the same damn thing. This type of presidential infotainment is not even taking up half of the space allotted for political coverage; it's taking up nearly all of it, the remainder of which is mainly filled by "White House says this, critics say that." And we're a year and a half from what will surely be too brief a reprieve. For all this time, the presidential one-note symphony will drown out what little serious news our already atrophic press might otherwise present.
Let's take a serious, and seriously neglected, news item for example: The Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law.
The Hydrocarbon Law is universally detested by Iraqis and hasn't passed yet, but "tremendous" pressure is being exerted on the parliament by the United States and the International Monetary Fund, the mother of all loan sharks. The IMF has a habit of lending huge amounts of money to struggling nations and making the privatization of their natural resources a condition of said loans. The same has been done doubly in Iraq. The administration and the IMF describe the law as a benevolent revenue-sharing program that gives oil money to the Iraqis, but the law makes 81 percent of Iraq's known oil deposits available to multinational firms -- Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron and the like. While the proposed law has met ironically unified resistance in Iraq and may not pass even in a compromised form, its initial draft -- reviewed by nine oil companies and the U.S. and U.K. governments long before Iraqi MPs ever got a peek--should have been a major story itself, because it was the other shoe, the inevitable punch line to the WMD joke. What the Hydrocarbon Law in its pure form said was yes, after all, this thing was always about the oil.
It provides double the usual share of profits to go to private oil companies. During the first phase, in which the private firms pay for the building and repair of necessary infrastructure, two-thirds of profits go to the corporation, supposedly until it recoups its initial outlay, after which it keeps 20 percent (assuming that phase is ever officially reached). Similar agreements in other countries provide 40 percent for the recovery phase and 10 percent thereafter. But beyond the plainly unfair and exploitative terms, the truth is that such private investment is not at all necessary for Iraq to develop its resources --the oil itself is more than enough collateral for Iraq to finance its own development. I'm pretty sure, however, that is a detail you will never hear from Katie Couric.
But there's another important detail here: The law allows for 30-year contracts, another eye-popping departure from similar agreements. What that means is that, for at least 30 years, somebody's going to have to protect that infrastructure from the inevitable rebel attacks. Who do you think that's going to be? Add the three-decade contracts to the fact that the United States is building numerous large permanent bases in locations that, predictably, correspond with the richest known oil deposits throughout Eastern Iraq, not to mention a new embassy larger than Vatican City, and the scope of our occupational plans for the region comes into horrifying focus.
The implications are clear: This is an oil war, and we're not leaving. You'd think, with a Congress full of benchmark setters promising to end the war in a matter of months, and a White House still pretending to give a damn about democracy and prosperity for Iraqis, these details would not just be interesting to news agencies, but vital to any realistic assessment of the Iraqi situation. Unfortunately, they're too busy asking John Edwards how much he pays for a haircut.
If the hydrocarbon law is too international for your tastes, then consider the fact that, on Monday, May 7, the Senate yet again voted to prohibit the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Japan -- all nations with considerably more regulatory credibility than the United States. It's no secret why these seemingly idiotic votes get cast. According to the Center for Public Integrity, pharmaceutical lobbyists spent $182 million bribing Congress in a year and a half preceding the midterm elections. While shameless prostitutes like Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi invented nonexistent safety issues to justify the vote, the truth is these are the same pills made by the same firms; they only charge these other countries less because their governments aren't willing to engage in price-fixing. It would be ironic that the Republicans in Congress abandon their free-market principles only when it comes to trade protectionism for one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, except that they don't really have any principles. There is only one reason to deny cheaper pills to Americans; even the Associated Press had to acknowledge it was "a triumph for the pharmaceutical industry."
This vote was one of the clearest, most indisputable recent examples of the single biggest problem America faces today: Our government is one massive integrity auction. All 49 senators who voted against importing these cheaper drugs, a notion that, by the way, enjoys widespread public support, should be called out by name and aggressively pursued on the issue. But no. Al Sharpton says Obama's not black enough, so the big story -- a story about what government really does, when it isn't trying to sell itself to you -- just falls away. And you probably don't even notice, because you're busy watching, reading, thinking and arguing about plainly scripted trivia regarding bullshit artists of various skill who want your vote -- in a year and a goddamned half.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at:

Happy Things

How about some happy news for a change? Yesterday my friend Ed visited and we took a two hour hike in Happy Land-- it was an amazingly beautiful day, and while it was hot out in 'civilization,' it was perfect in Happy Land and remarkably and noticeably cooler-- which makes me think that another reason the earth has warmed is because concrete and asphalt has replaced so much of the naturally cooling grass and trees. Duh, right? But somehow one never hears about that-- only about fossil fuels-- a huge culprit, of course, but not as much of a culprit (believe it or not) as methane from cows-- the best thing each one of us can do to arrest global warming is to stop eating red meat. We'll feel better too. (Gosh, another lecture, when this was supposed to be about good news!!)
Anyway the GOOD NEWS is that we saw shitloads (as my brother Mike would say) of Pink Lady Slippers, our most beautiful native orchid. Once we started noticing them they seemed to be everywhere. Here's some info on them. By the way, it is illegal to pick or transplant these beauties in Massachusetts, so keep'a you hands off. (We did see a few stems that looked like they had been picked.)
Pink Lady's Slipper is a very attractive and popular plant because of the strange and beautiful pink flower. It is also rare and needs to be left alone in the few places it is surviving. The plant is actually an orchid with the alternate name of moccasin flower. The plant has two wide basal leaves that stay horizontal and a single stalk growing to about a foot high bearing the pink flower. Transplanting from the wild is strongly discouraged because of the rarity of the plant and the almost nil chances of success. New plants are difficult to start because of the need for symbiotic fungi in supping nutrients to the seed. It takes years for the new plant to develop leaves for supplying its own energy. The plant requires low pH, nutrient poor soil and other special conditions for successful establishment. The various Lady's Slipper species are grown commercially in quantity and plants can be obtained by that means. One of the growers is Vermont Ladyslipper Company, 56 Leduc Road, New Haven, Vermont 05472-1000 (Web site http://www.vtlady The Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) is another species that is occasionally seen in our area.
More Pink Lady Slipper Images
And in more good news, it looks like the whales have found their way home-- yea!!!

SAN FRANCISCO — More than two weeks after they were first spotted far up the Sacramento River, two lost humpback whales appeared to have finally found their way home Wednesday.
Officials said they assumed the pair returned to the open sea, undoing a wrong turn that drew thousands of admirers and a flurry of rescue efforts.
The unpredictable duo, believed to be a mother and calf, were last seen at sunset Tuesday less than 10 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, after they traveled 25 miles southwest from another busy bridge. The convoy of boats that accompanied them across the bay to keep traffic at a distance abandoned their escort service when it got dark.
Officials believe the whales slipped out of San Francisco Bay to the open sea late Tuesday or early Wednesday, when no one was watching.

"With no confirmed sighting in the bay, we feel confident that it is highly likely that the animals are outside the Golden Gate," said Scott Hill, a division manager for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
To make sure the whales did not take another wrong turn, two government boats were launched Wednesday morning to look for them in the Pacific Ocean. Rescuers planned to rely on reports from commercial vessels and Coast Guard patrols to determine whether the humpbacks still were in the bay.
As the afternoon wore on, producing only a false sighting of two gray whales, officials grew increasingly confident that the humpbacks, which were injured by a boat during their two-week sojourn inland, were on the move and made plans to stop searching for them.
Marine scientists said Wednesday that although they will never know why the pair swam 90 miles inland, the intensive operation to rescue the humpbacks yielded valuable information about the endangered species. It was the first time the same humpbacks were studied in the wild for so long, according to Bernadette Fees, deputy director of the California Department of Fish and Game.
The information scientists gathered includes sound recordings, logs of their behavior and tissue samples from both the mother and calf, which will be analyzed to determine whether they come from a pod of whales that travel between Mexico and California.
"All those things are very hard to get. So what we are doing is filling up the knowledge bank on humpback whales in the wild," said Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the nonprofit Marine Mammal Center, a private scientific and rescue organization. The experience also could prove helpful in approaching other stranded whales, he said.
After the whales were spotted near Sacramento on May 13, officials spent days trying to goad them back to the ocean, playing recordings of other whales, surrounding them with boats, blasting the water near them with fire hoses and banging on metal pipes dangling beneath the water.
Those involved in the rescue effort said they did not know whether the various methods had hastened the whales' exit or hindered it. But they speculated Wednesday that antibiotics given to the whales on Saturday to try to slow the damage from their wounds may have marked a turning point, since the pair began their hasty retreat from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta after that.
"What we ultimately came away with is that many of the techniques had some effect, but none of them could make a whale go in a direction it did not want to go," said John Calambokidis, a scientist with the nonprofit Cascadia Research Collective.
Biologists said the saltier water where the mother humpback whale and her calf had been swimming since leaving the delta helped reverse some of the health problems caused by long exposure to fresh water.
Officials were unsure how much was spent on the rescue efforts, but they insisted the expenditures of time and money were justified, if not required under wildlife protection laws.
"We certainly have a moral obligation as the agency assigned to protect them to do everything practical to get them safely into their natural habitat," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Biologists originally had planned to attach a satellite tracking tag to the mother humpback, but gusty winds and malfunctioning equipment stymied them. Distinct markings on both whales' tails were photographed so they could be identified in the future, Fees said.
They might even make another inland trip someday. Humphrey, a humpback that famously strayed into San Francisco Bay in 1985, reappeared there five years later.
"If we learned anything about these two, it is that they will do what they do when they want to do it," Fees said.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bushies Now Supressing Images of Wounded

THIS IS FROM TODAY'S NEW YORK TIMES and shows the length to which censorship is progressing under the Bush Administration. What finally ended the Vietnam War-- another war in which our leaders lied to us, repeating over and over that we were 'turning the corner,' while more and more died, was the fact that it spilled into our livingrooms night after night. With the publication of the photo of the little Vietnamese girl getting napalmed, the American people finally said, Enough. Those with an understanding of history realize that virtually every war is about economic control between groups of elites. While the rational for this war has changed yearly-- from WMD to bringing down Saddam to establishing democracy to 'fighting them there so we won't have to fight them here,' the real reason this war was promulgated was economic gain for various corporations near and dear to the Bush Administration. Now that the approval ratings for this war have dropped below the radar, it's time to restrict what the folks back home are seeing. Who is challenging this new policy? Anyone? Anyone?

May 28, 2007
The Media Equation
Not to See the Fallen Is No Favor
On this Memorial Day, thousands of United States men and women are engaged in untold acts of bravery and drudgery on behalf of what our leaders have defined as vital American interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But even as the flags wave to honor soldiers past, much of the current campaigns go on without notice, because while troop numbers are surging, the media that cover them are leaking away, worn out by the danger and expense of covering a war that refuses to end.
Many of the journalists who are in Iraq have been backed into fortified corners, rarely venturing out to see what soldiers confront. And the remaining journalists who are embedded with the troops in Iraq — the number dropped to 92 in May from 126 in April — are risking more and more for less and less.
Since last year, the military’s embedding rules require that journalists obtain a signed consent from a wounded soldier before the image can be published. Images that put a face on the dead, that make them identifiable, are simply prohibited.
If Joseph Heller were still around, he might appreciate the bureaucratic elegance of paragraph 11(a) of IAW Change 3, DoD Directive 5122.5:
“Names, video, identifiable written/oral descriptions or identifiable photographs of wounded service members will not be released without the service member’s prior written consent.”
Photographs and other images of casualties have always been a delicate matter and most media outlets have shown restraint, particularly with pictures of the dead. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the ground commander in Iraq whose own son was seriously wounded in action, is said by reporters to be particularly alert to the depictions of casualties.
Working reporters say the soldiers in the field are not overly concerned with media coverage — they have more serious matters in their gunsights. The journalists also suggest that the current regulations have allowed the military to take concerns for the privacy of soldiers and their families and leverage them into broader constraints on information.
Ashley Gilbertson, a veteran freelance photographer who has been to Iraq seven times and has worked for The New York Times, (along with Time and Newsweek among others), said the policy, as enforced, is coercive and unworkable.
“They are basically asking me to stand in front of a unit before I go out with them and say that in the event that they are wounded, I would like their consent,” he said. “We are already viewed by some as bloodsucking vultures, and making that kind of announcement would make you an immediate bad luck charm.”
“They are not letting us cover the reality of war,” he added. “I think this has got little to do with the families or the soldiers and everything to do with politics.”
Lt. Col. Josslyn L. Aberle, chief of media operations for the Multi-National Corps in Iraq, said that the regulations are a matter of common sense and decency, not message management.
“The last thing that we want to do is to contribute to the grief and anguish of the family members,” she said by phone from Iraq. “We don’t want the last image that the family has of their soldier to be a photo of him dying on a battlefield. You have to ask how much value is added.”
There are some people stateside who would agree. In February, a story and accompanying video by The New York Times reporter Damien Cave — and a photo taken by Robert Nickelsberg — that depicted the grievous wounding and eventual death of a soldier on Haifa Street, drew both praise and condemnation on Web logs and in the military about what constitutes appropriate imagery for the breakfast table. What some readers see as a gratuitous display of carnage, others view as important homage to the boots on the ground.
Until last year, no permission was required to publish photographs of the wounded, but families had to be notified of the soldier’s injury first. Now, not only is permission required, but any image of casualties that shows a recognizable name or unit is off-limits. And memorials for the fallen in Iraq can no longer be shown, even when the unit in question invites coverage.
Kimberly Dozier, a CBS correspondent who was seriously wounded by an I.E.D. — CBS will run a special about her experiences tomorrow night — has been on both sides of the camera. When she was transferred from Iraq to a hospital in Germany, images of her crumpled body were broadcast all over the world.
“I think some regulations are a good idea,” she said. “Does a soldier lose his rights to privacy because he is in a combat zone and wounded? I don’t think so.”
But then Ms. Dozier, whose amazing recovery means she will be back in the saddle soon, had a second thought. “The tough pictures, some pictures, need to get out,” she added. “But choosing which ones is a very touchy matter.”
Journalists are frustrated with the new regulations in part because, as this current surge has progressed, there have been further pinches on information. On May 13, the Iraq Interior Ministry said bombing sites would be off limits for an hour after an event; just days later, Iraqi police forces fired shots over the heads of working press to enforce the decree.
In a war where the enemy could be around every corner and support on the home front is weakening, officials are starting to see menace everywhere. In April, military officials placed new restrictions on soldiers’ blogging that define attempts to solicit “critical or sensitive information” as acts of espionage. In an operational security slide presentation (which was partially published in the Danger Room blog on Wired) for military supervisors, media is defined as a “nontraditional” threat in the same category as drug cartels.
There is already so much that American readers and viewers cannot see simply because Iraq has become too dangerous for reporters to do the routine footwork of combat journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists puts the number of slain media workers at 143; many others have been severely wounded.
Colonel Aberle said that the realities of the battleground, and not government control, are to blame for any lack of coverage.
“The enemy has done a good job of taking the journalist out of the fight,” she said. “They are now relying on Iraqi stringers who have a cellphone and a camera, but not much in the way of training. It is challenging and frustrating for the reporters I know who are still covering the story.”
But James Glanz, a Baghdad correspondent who will become bureau chief for The New York Times next month, said that although he and others had many great experiences working with the rank-and-file soldiers, some military leaders seem determined to protect something besides the privacy of their troops.
“As the number of reporters there dwindles further and further because of the difficult conditions we work under, the kind of work they are able to publish becomes very important,” Mr. Glanz said. “This tiny remaining corps of reporters becomes a greater and greater problem for the military brass because we are the only people preventing them from telling the story the way they want it told.”
Capturing the brutal realities of war is a tradition in this country dating back at least to Matthew Brady, and it is undoubtedly part of why Americans, regardless of their politics, have come to know and revere the sacrifices that generations of soldiers have made on their behalf.
When this war began, the government attempted to manage images by banning photographs of coffins returning to United States soil. If the government chooses to overmanage the wages of war in Iraq, there is a real danger that when this new generation of veterans, whose ranks grow every day, could come home to a place where their fellow Americans have little idea what they have gone through.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, 2007

THIS MEMORIAL DAY will have a special horror and poignancy for those who have recently lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and nephews an nieces in Iraq. For the families of the 600,000 plus Iraqi civilians killed thus far in this despicable gambit, it will be just another day of mourning and grief. The people spoke last November, but they are being ignored. The beat goes on.

One of those mourning the recent loss of a son today will be Andrew Bacevich. Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University. A graduate of West Point and a Vietnam veteran, he has a doctorate in history from Princeton and was a Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of several books, including the just published The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War. Although a self-style conservative, he has been a harsh critic of the Iraqi War. His son was killed in Iraq on May 13. There are two pieces that follow: the first is from the Washington Post, written by Professor Bacevich; the second is an excerpt from the book cited above. I have an additional comment at the end.

I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose.

We Were Both Doing Our Duty.

By Andrew J. Bacevich
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.
Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.
This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops -- today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.
What exactly is a father's duty when his son is sent into harm's way?
Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.
As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some -- the members of the "the-surge-is-already-working" school of thought -- even profess to see victory just over the horizon.
I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in this section of The Washington Post in August 2005. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do."
Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others -- teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks -- to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.
This, I can now see, was an illusion.
The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."
To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.
To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove -- namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.
Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.
Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.
Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.
This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.
In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier -- brave and steadfast and irrepressible.
I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

Here is the excerpt from the professor's recent book:

The Normalization of WarBy Andrew J. Bacevich
At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.
The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature.
For example, when Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, ran for the presidency in 2004, he framed his differences with George W. Bush's national security policies in terms of tactics rather than first principles. Kerry did not question the wisdom of styling the U.S. response to the events of 9/11 as a generations-long "global war on terror." It was not the prospect of open-ended war that drew Kerry's ire. It was rather the fact that the war had been "extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted." Kerry faulted Bush because, in his view, U.S. troops in Iraq lacked "the preparation and hardware they needed to fight as effectively as they could." Bush was expecting too few soldiers to do too much with too little. Declaring that "keeping our military strong and keeping our troops as safe as they can be should be our highest priority," Kerry promised if elected to fix these deficiencies. Americans could count on a President Kerry to expand the armed forces and to improve their ability to fight.
Yet on this score Kerry's circumspection was entirely predictable. It was the candidate's way of signaling that he was sound on defense and had no intention of departing from the prevailing national security consensus.
Under the terms of that consensus, mainstream politicians today take as a given that American military supremacy is an unqualified good, evidence of a larger American superiority. They see this armed might as the key to creating an international order that accommodates American values. One result of that consensus over the past quarter century has been to militarize U.S. policy and to encourage tendencies suggesting that American society itself is increasingly enamored with its self-image as the military power nonpareil
How Much Is Enough?
This new American militarism manifests itself in several different ways. It does so, first of all, in the scope, cost, and configuration of America's present-day military establishment.
Through the first two centuries of U.S. history, political leaders in Washington gauged the size and capabilities of America's armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand. A grave and proximate threat to the nation's well-being might require a large and powerful military establishment. In the absence of such a threat, policymakers scaled down that establishment accordingly. With the passing of crisis, the army raised up for the crisis went immediately out of existence. This had been the case in 1865, in 1918, and in 1945.
Since the end of the Cold War, having come to value military power for its own sake, the United States has abandoned this principle and is committed as a matter of policy to maintaining military capabilities far in excess of those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries. This commitment finds both a qualitative and quantitative expression, with the U.S. military establishment dwarfing that of even America's closest ally. Thus, whereas the U.S. Navy maintains and operates a total of twelve large attack aircraft carriers, the once-vaunted [British] Royal Navy has none -- indeed, in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable to a Nimitz-class carrier, weighing in at some ninety-seven thousand tons fully loaded, longer than three football fields, cruising at a speed above thirty knots, and powered by nuclear reactors that give it an essentially infinite radius of action. Today, the U.S. Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire Royal Air Force -- and the United States has two other even larger "air forces," one an integral part of the Navy and the other officially designated as the U.S. Air Force. Indeed, in terms of numbers of men and women in uniform, the U.S. Marine Corps is half again as large as the entire British Army--and the Pentagon has a second, even larger "army" actually called the U.S. Army -- which in turn also operates its own "air force" of some five thousand aircraft.
All of these massive and redundant capabilities cost money. Notably, the present-day Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the average defense budget of the Cold War era. In 2002, American defense spending exceeded by a factor of twenty-five the combined defense budgets of the seven "rogue states" then comprising the roster of U.S. enemies.16 Indeed, by some calculations, the United States spends more on defense than all other nations in the world together. This is a circumstance without historical precedent.
Furthermore, in all likelihood, the gap in military spending between the United States and all other nations will expand further still in the years to come. Projected increases in the defense budget will boost Pentagon spending in real terms to a level higher than it was during the Reagan era. According to the Pentagon's announced long-range plans, by 2009 its budget will exceed the Cold War average by 23 percent -- despite the absence of anything remotely resembling a so-called peer competitor. However astonishing this fact might seem, it elicits little comment, either from political leaders or the press. It is simply taken for granted. The truth is that there no longer exists any meaningful context within which Americans might consider the question "How much is enough?"
On a day-to-day basis, what do these expensive forces exist to do? Simply put, for the Department of Defense and all of its constituent parts, defense per se figures as little more than an afterthought. The primary mission of America's far-flung military establishment is global power projection, a reality tacitly understood in all quarters of American society. To suggest that the U.S. military has become the world's police force may slightly overstate the case, but only slightly.
That well over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union the United States continues to maintain bases and military forces in several dozens of countries -- by some counts well over a hundred in all -- rouses minimal controversy, despite the fact that many of these countries are perfectly capable of providing for their own security needs. That even apart from fighting wars and pursuing terrorists, U.S. forces are constantly prowling around the globe -- training, exercising, planning, and posturing -- elicits no more notice (and in some cases less) from the average American than the presence of a cop on a city street corner. Even before the Pentagon officially assigned itself the mission of "shaping" the international environment, members of the political elite, liberals and conservatives alike, had reached a common understanding that scattering U.S. troops around the globe to restrain, inspire, influence, persuade, or cajole paid dividends. Whether any correlation exists between this vast panoply of forward-deployed forces on the one hand and antipathy to the United States abroad on the other has remained for the most part a taboo subject.
The Quest for Military Dominion
The indisputable fact of global U.S. military preeminence also affects the collective mindset of the officer corps. For the armed services, dominance constitutes a baseline or a point of departure from which to scale the heights of ever greater military capabilities. Indeed, the services have come to view outright supremacy as merely adequate and any hesitation in efforts to increase the margin of supremacy as evidence of falling behind.
Thus, according to one typical study of the U.S. Navy's future, "sea supremacy beginning at our shore lines and extending outward to distant theaters is a necessary condition for the defense of the U.S." Of course, the U.S. Navy already possesses unquestioned global preeminence; the real point of the study is to argue for the urgency of radical enhancements to that preeminence. The officer-authors of this study express confidence that given sufficient money the Navy can achieve ever greater supremacy, enabling the Navy of the future to enjoy "overwhelming precision firepower," "pervasive surveillance," and "dominant control of a maneuvering area, whether sea, undersea, land, air, space or cyberspace." In this study and in virtually all others, political and strategic questions implicit in the proposition that supremacy in distant theaters forms a prerequisite of "defense" are left begging -- indeed, are probably unrecognized. At times, this quest for military dominion takes on galactic proportions. Acknowledging that the United States enjoys "superiority in many aspects of space capability," a senior defense official nonetheless complains that "we don't have space dominance and we don't have space supremacy." Since outer space is "the ultimate high ground," which the United States must control, he urges immediate action to correct this deficiency. When it comes to military power, mere superiority will not suffice.
The new American militarism also manifests itself through an increased propensity to use force, leading, in effect, to the normalization of war. There was a time in recent memory, most notably while the so-called Vietnam Syndrome infected the American body politic, when Republican and Democratic administrations alike viewed with real trepidation the prospect of sending U.S. troops into action abroad. Since the advent of the new Wilsonianism, however, self-restraint regarding the use of force has all but disappeared. During the entire Cold War era, from 1945 through 1988, large-scale U.S. military actions abroad totaled a scant six. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, they have become almost annual events. The brief period extending from 1989's Operation Just Cause (the overthrow of Manuel Noriega) to 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom (the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) featured nine major military interventions. And that count does not include innumerable lesser actions such as Bill Clinton's signature cruise missile attacks against obscure targets in obscure places, the almost daily bombing of Iraq throughout the late 1990s, or the quasi-combat missions that have seen GIs dispatched to Rwanda, Colombia, East Timor, and the Philippines. Altogether, the tempo of U.S. military interventionism has become nothing short of frenetic.
As this roster of incidents lengthened, Americans grew accustomed to -- perhaps even comfortable with -- reading in their morning newspapers the latest reports of U.S. soldiers responding to some crisis somewhere on the other side of the globe. As crisis became a seemingly permanent condition so too did war. The Bush administration has tacitly acknowledged as much in describing the global campaign against terror as a conflict likely to last decades and in promulgating -- and in Iraq implementing -- a doctrine of preventive war.
In former times American policymakers treated (or at least pretended to treat) the use of force as evidence that diplomacy had failed. In our own time they have concluded (in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney) that force "makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems." Policymakers have increasingly come to see coercion as a sort of all-purpose tool. Among American war planners, the assumption has now taken root that whenever and wherever U.S. forces next engage in hostilities, it will be the result of the United States consciously choosing to launch a war. As President Bush has remarked, the big lesson of 9/11 was that "this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense." The American public's ready acceptance of the prospect of war without foreseeable end and of a policy that abandons even the pretense of the United States fighting defensively or viewing war as a last resort shows clearly how far the process of militarization has advanced.
The New Aesthetic of War
Reinforcing this heightened predilection for arms has been the appearance in recent years of a new aesthetic of war. This is the third indication of advancing militarism.
The old twentieth-century aesthetic of armed conflict as barbarism, brutality, ugliness, and sheer waste grew out of World War I, as depicted by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, and Robert Graves. World War II, Korea, and Vietnam reaffirmed that aesthetic, in the latter case with films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket.
The intersection of art and war gave birth to two large truths. The first was that the modern battlefield was a slaughterhouse, and modern war an orgy of destruction that devoured guilty and innocent alike. The second, stemming from the first, was that military service was an inherently degrading experience and military institutions by their very nature repressive and inhumane. After 1914, only fascists dared to challenge these truths. Only fascists celebrated war and depicted armies as forward-looking -- expressions of national unity and collective purpose that paved the way for utopia. To be a genuine progressive, liberal in instinct, enlightened in sensibility, was to reject such notions as preposterous.
But by the turn of the twenty-first century, a new image of war had emerged, if not fully displacing the old one at least serving as a counterweight. To many observers, events of the 1990s suggested that war's very nature was undergoing a profound change. The era of mass armies, going back to the time of Napoleon, and of mechanized warfare, an offshoot of industrialization, was coming to an end. A new era of high-tech warfare, waged by highly skilled professionals equipped with "smart" weapons, had commenced. Describing the result inspired the creation of a new lexicon of military terms: war was becoming surgical, frictionless, postmodern, even abstract or virtual. It was "coercive diplomacy" -- the object of the exercise no longer to kill but to persuade. By the end of the twentieth century, Michael Ignatieff of Harvard University concluded, war had become "a spectacle." It had transformed itself into a kind of "spectator sport," one offering "the added thrill that it is real for someone, but not, happily, for the spectator." Even for the participants, fighting no longer implied the prospect of dying for some abstract cause, since the very notion of "sacrifice in battle had become implausible or ironic."
Combat in the information age promised to overturn all of "the hoary dictums about the fog and friction" that had traditionally made warfare such a chancy proposition. American commanders, affirmed General Tommy Franks, could expect to enjoy "the kind of Olympian perspective that Homer had given his gods."
In short, by the dawn of the twenty-first century the reigning postulates of technology-as-panacea had knocked away much of the accumulated blood-rust sullying war's reputation. Thus reimagined -- and amidst widespread assurances that the United States could be expected to retain a monopoly on this new way of war -- armed conflict regained an aesthetic respectability, even palatability, that the literary and artistic interpreters of twentieth-century military cataclysms were thought to have demolished once and for all. In the right circumstances, for the right cause, it now turned out, war could actually offer an attractive option--cost-effective, humane, even thrilling. Indeed, as the Anglo-American race to Baghdad conclusively demonstrated in the spring of 2003, in the eyes of many, war has once again become a grand pageant, performance art, or a perhaps temporary diversion from the ennui and boring routine of everyday life. As one observer noted with approval, "public enthusiasm for the whiz-bang technology of the U.S. military" had become "almost boyish." Reinforcing this enthusiasm was the expectation that the great majority of Americans could count on being able to enjoy this new type of war from a safe distance.
The Moral Superiority of the Soldier
This new aesthetic has contributed, in turn, to an appreciable boost in the status of military institutions and soldiers themselves, a fourth manifestation of the new American militarism.
Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Americans fearful that the rest of society may be teetering on the brink of moral collapse console themselves with the thought that the armed services remain a repository of traditional values and old fashioned virtue.
Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan." A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that "the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined"; it was instead "the sort of America he always pictured when he explained… his best hopes for the country."
According to the old post-Vietnam-era political correctness, the armed services had been a refuge for louts and mediocrities who probably couldn't make it in the real world. By the turn of the twenty-first century a different view had taken hold. Now the United States military was "a place where everyone tried their hardest. A place where everybody… looked out for each other. A place where people -- intelligent, talented people -- said honestly that money wasn't what drove them. A place where people spoke openly about their feelings." Soldiers, it turned out, were not only more virtuous than the rest of us, but also more sensitive and even happier. Contemplating the GIs advancing on Baghdad in March 2003, the classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson saw something more than soldiers in battle. He ascertained "transcendence at work." According to Hanson, the armed services had "somehow distilled from the rest of us an elite cohort" in which virtues cherished by earlier generations of Americans continued to flourish.
Soldiers have tended to concur with this evaluation of their own moral superiority. In a 2003 survey of military personnel, "two-thirds [of those polled] said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve… Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality." Such attitudes leave even some senior officers more than a little uncomfortable. Noting with regret that "the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve," retired admiral Stanley Arthur has expressed concern that "more and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve." Such tendencies, concluded Arthur, are "not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy."
In public life today, paying homage to those in uniform has become obligatory and the one unforgivable sin is to be found guilty of failing to "support the troops." In the realm of partisan politics, the political Right has shown considerable skill in exploiting this dynamic, shamelessly pandering to the military itself and by extension to those members of the public laboring under the misconception, a residue from Vietnam, that the armed services are under siege from a rabidly anti-military Left.
In fact, the Democratic mainstream -- if only to save itself from extinction -- has long since purged itself of any dovish inclinations. "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about," Madeleine Albright demanded of General Colin Powell, "if we can't use it?" As Albright's Question famously attests, when it comes to advocating the use of force, Democrats can be positively gung ho. Moreover, in comparison to their Republican counterparts, they are at least as deferential to military leaders and probably more reluctant to question claims of military expertise.
Even among Left-liberal activists, the reflexive anti-militarism of the 1960s has given way to a more nuanced view. Although hard-pressed to match self-aggrandizing conservative claims of being one with the troops, progressives have come to appreciate the potential for using the armed services to advance their own agenda. Do-gooders want to harness military power to their efforts to do good. Thus, the most persistent calls for U.S. intervention abroad to relieve the plight of the abused and persecuted come from the militant Left. In the present moment, writes Michael Ignatieff, "empire has become a precondition for democracy." Ignatieff, a prominent human rights advocate, summons the United States to "use imperial power to strengthen respect for self-determination [and] to give states back to abused, oppressed people who deserve to rule them for themselves."
The President as Warlord
Occasionally, albeit infrequently, the prospect of an upcoming military adventure still elicits opposition, even from a public grown accustomed to war. For example, during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, large-scale demonstrations against President Bush's planned intervention filled the streets of many American cities. The prospect of the United States launching a preventive war without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council produced the largest outpouring of public protest that the country had seen since the Vietnam War. Yet the response of the political classes to this phenomenon was essentially to ignore it. No politician of national stature offered himself or herself as the movement's champion. No would-be statesman nursing even the slightest prospects of winning high national office was willing to risk being tagged with not supporting those whom President Bush was ordering into harm's way. When the Congress took up the matter, Democrats who denounced George W. Bush's policies in every other respect dutifully authorized him to invade Iraq. For up-and-coming politicians, opposition to war had become something of a third rail: only the very brave or the very foolhardy dared to venture anywhere near it.
More recently still, this has culminated in George W. Bush styling himself as the nation's first full-fledged warrior-president. The staging of Bush's victory lap shortly after the conquest of Baghdad in the spring of 2003 -- the dramatic landing on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the president decked out in the full regalia of a naval aviator emerging from the cockpit to bask in the adulation of the crew -- was lifted directly from the triumphant final scenes of the movie Top Gun, with the boyish George Bush standing in for the boyish Tom Cruise. For this nationally televised moment, Bush was not simply mingling with the troops; he had merged his identity with their own and made himself one of them -- the president as warlord. In short order, the marketplace ratified this effort; a toy manufacturer offered for $39.99 a Bush look-alike military action figure advertised as "Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush -- U.S. President and Naval Aviator."
Thus has the condition that worried C. Wright Mills in 1956 come to pass in our own day. "For the first time in the nation's history," Mills wrote, "men in authority are talking about an ‘emergency' without a foreseeable end." While in earlier times Americans had viewed history as "a peaceful continuum interrupted by war," today planning, preparing, and waging war has become "the normal state and seemingly permanent condition of the United States." And "the only accepted ‘plan' for peace is the loaded pistol."


I can attest to this myself, though in a less cerebral and academic way. There are two incidents I will relate. The first was when the war started. I was at the gym and every TV was tuned to witness the results of Shock and Awe, as if we were watching some football game. I was appalled at the jingoism of the television anchors, correspondents, and guests. Each show had an old white man from the military with tons of fruit salad on his shoulders, explaining 'just what we were seeing' in the video footage. What we were seeing, of course, were people dying, but that seemed to get lost in translation.

Some of the people at the gym hooted and clapped when the news showed a direct hit. Later I overheard two members discussing their plans for the evening. One said he was going to 'stay in and watch the war' on TV. Somehow I found this almost as depressing and discouraging as the war itself. Where are the activists of yesteryear, I wondered, or the mature, diplomatic men of reason who would only send people into the horrorific nightmare of war as a very last resort?

The second incident occurred during the first summer of the war. I was down the little store at the corner getting something. A chubby guy in his early forties stumbled out of a van filled with a chubby wife and two chubby children, and came in to get snacks. He was wearing a hat that said SWAT TEAM, with two rifles crossed beneath those words. It was a novelty hat-- nothing official you understand. Clearly this guy wasn't, never had been, and never would be a member of a SWAT TEAM. I thought, how sad-- thirty-five years ago, this sloppy, monkey-see Everyman would have stumbled out of a family station wagon wearing a hat with a peace sign-- simply because that had become the de rigeur fashionable icon of the day. In the same way, our fashionable icons-- our once proud flag among them-- now seem militaristic and bellicose.

There was not a night in my late father's post-war life when he didn't wake up screaming for his mother, because of what he had experienced in war. Now we would call in Post Traumatiuc Stress Disorder-- then it was called 'Nerves.' Even when he was in his seventies, my father continued to do this. It is insane that we have billions and trillions for military hardware, and yet our roads and bridges are crumbling, our libraries are closing (see previous post), more and more of our citizens are without medical benefits, and our schools are becoming unaccredited. Most of us know this is insane. Yet we turn on the TV or radio and find nothing but 'entertainment' news there, for the most part. The American people spoke last November, and theys aid in overwhelming numbers that they no longer liked the Elephant in the Living Room. It's time all of us reminded congress-- and everyone we meet-- of that fact. Otherwise the sleeping hours of American homes will increasingly be punctuated by the screams of our troops, recalling horrific details of a war that, in this case, never should have happened.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

An Appalling Development

THIS IS FROM TODAY'S BOSTON GLOBE, and it sure is troubling and outrageous. People will hurl themselves into enormous credit card debt to acquire the massive plasma TV and the latest behemoth-on-wheels, but ask them to pay more taxes so that the local library can still function, or the schools can remain accreditted, and the resounding howls are deafening. We have lost our sense of a 'common weal,' of coming together to do good things for We the People as a community. Greed is Good and I'm Gonna Get Mine seems to be the order of the day as we continue to polarize as a society, encouraged (directly or indirectly) by this out-of-control consumerist society in which we find ourselves, and the electing of demagogues, ex-Hollywood 'stars,' and the utterly incompetent. There are just so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to begin. How is it we have half a trillion dollars to go kill people halfway around the world for the sake of corporate profit, and we can't keep open our own local libraries? We need more librarians in this country and fewer soldiers, tanks, and warplanes. Next time we try to 'democratize' a country (what a joke, that!) maybe we should bomb them with books instead of cluster bumbs. Certainly the results wouldn't be any worse than they are now.

Here's the article below. In other news, Fionn and I took a wonderful six mile hike last night, and saw the first dazzling fire fly dance. (We also had a friendly encounter with a skunk, watched the bats cavorting, and heard the first crickets.) Later in bed, as I was falling asleep, I kept seeing these odd flashes of light in my room. At first I thought it was car headlights streaming across my ceiling-- until I realized a firefly was in my room, giving me my own personal light show. I can't tell you how magical that was.

Cuts put towns' libraries at risk

Boston Globe
NORTHBRIDGE -- The Northbridge public library was built to last with marble floors, cast-iron book shelves, and thick, gray granite walls. And just in case anyone ever forgot, the founders made their intentions clear in 1914 on a bronze plaque outside. The library, they said, was to be "maintained forever."

Keith O'Brien
May 27, 2007
Cuts put towns' libraries at risk
With less revenue, many scaling back
By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff May 27, 2007
NORTHBRIDGE -- The Northbridge public library was built to last with marble floors, cast-iron book shelves, and thick, gray granite walls. And just in case anyone ever forgot, the founders made their intentions clear in 1914 on a bronze plaque outside. The library, they said, was to be "maintained forever."
But even forever has a bottom line. And yesterday, budget cuts and voter indifference in Northbridge finally caught up with the institution officially known as the Whitinsville Social Library. Its doors closed at 2 p.m. And though they will reopen again this week, people in Northbridge, population 13,100, will notice a difference.
The town cannot afford the $200,000 needed to keep the library fully running for another year. Once open 40 hours a week, it will be open just 12 hours starting this week. Six of the library's nine employees, including both full time librarians, are out of work starting today. The Whitinsville Social Library will not be a library so much as it will be an isolated house of books, cut off from the state public library system and funded solely by private money left to the library over the years.
There will be no children's story time. No summer reading program. No Internet access. And no way to borrow books from other public libraries. The library, founded in 1844, has become what it once was: an outpost.
The readers in Northbridge, though, are not suffering alone. Strapped for cash, towns in Massachusetts, including Saugus, Medway, and Gloucester, are doing what many consider unthinkable.
They are targeting the library, outraging readers in a state that boasts of its intellectual capital, and leaving a few not-so-silent librarians fighting for the right to borrow books in their towns.
"A library in a town is really the center of literacy," said John Rauth , chairman of the board of trustees of the Whitinsville Social Library. "And it's really a blow to the culture of a town to lose that access."
The problem Northbridge faces is not unique. From Randolph to Newbury, Ashland to Wrentham, library directors have been struggling in recent years, facing cutback after cutback.
The reason is simple economics. With health care costs, fixed costs, and utility rates rising, and revenue flat or shrinking, many towns are forced to make difficult choices or ask voters to approve property tax overrides.
The voters, many of whom are getting their information from the Internet, are not always sympathetic. In Northbridge two weeks ago, 59 percent of voters opposed a $3.7 million property tax override, effectively deciding they would rather see deep cuts at the library and schools than pay, on average, $728 in increased taxes this year.
Voters in Saugus made a similar decision this year -- and with similar results. The Saugus Public Library, though still funded through the end of this fiscal year, will close its doors Tuesday, needing time to prepare the building to be shuttered by the end of June. And Medway's library, though still open, is cut off from the state library system, just like Northbridge, after an override failed last spring and the library budget was gutted.
In the library world, this is called "decertification" and, for locals in places like Medway and Northbridge, it's no small penance. A decertified library is not part of the public library system. It may remain open, but the people who live in that town are unable to borrow or request books from other libraries.
Randolph's public library, the Turner Free Library, suffered that fate last year. With a larger budget behind it in the new fiscal year, Randolph now expects to regain certified status. But there are plenty of other ways a library can struggle. Gloucester lost its bookmobile three years ago. And when an override failed there in April, the library director quit in disgust. The acting library director, Carol Gray , says the next thing to be cut in Gloucester, if needed, would be evening hours at the children's library.
Meanwhile, hours of operation have been shrinking at libraries in Ashland, Wrentham, Melrose, and Holliston, just to name a few. Leslie McDonnell , the library director in Holliston, said she had no choice but to trim hours. Utility costs there have more than doubled since 2002.
"It's astronomical, the energy costs," she said. "So, as a result of these kinds of things, there's no padding anymore."
David Gray, spokesman for the Massachusetts Board of Library Directors, said there is really no simple, statewide solution. Since libraries are primarily funded by the town or city that they are in, it is incumbent upon the town to step up and find a way to keep the library running and fully staffed.
"We sort of have a saying in our office that every community gets the library that it deserves. And that sort of means, if there's support, the library is often well maintained. And if there isn't support, the library often doesn't get the staff, hours, and materials it needs," Gray said.
Towns are often forced to choose between providing free access to books or hiring a couple more firefighters or police officers. Saugus town manager Andrew Bisignani said public safety has to come first. In the cold, mathematical world of budgets, public libraries have a label they cannot shake. They are a "non essential service."
"People are looking at the cost, the price, because with diminished budgets, every dollar counts," said Mary Rose Quinn , the library director in Saugus. "But what's forgotten is that the value that we offer far exceeds anything that anybody pays."
For librarians like Quinn, this is personal. As they see it, this is Massachusetts, home of the first lending library, opened in Franklin, in 1790 , with books donated by Benjamin Franklin. This is a state that prides itself on higher education and boasts a higher percentage of college-educated adults than any other state in the United States. Here, among all places, libraries are being targeted?
"It's not supposed to happen," said Wendy Rowe , chairwoman of the board of library trustees in Medway. The beauty of the public library, she said, is that it is always there and it is for everyone.
"That's the thing that really gets to me," said Rowe. "Libraries are the soul of the community. They're community centers -- not just books. And anybody can go to it. Not just school-aged kids or seniors. Everybody is welcome to come. . . . And [in Medway] it was open more than most things in town. At least it was."
That changed last year. After budget cuts, Medway slashed library hours from 40 to 20 hours a week. The staff, once 11 people, became three. The library there now is without a library director and a janitor. Rowe does both jobs.
"I can clean," she said. But so far she has been unable to convince voters or town officials about the importance of the library. Meanwhile, in Saugus, Quinn is preparing for an even more troubling end. As it stands right now, the Saugus library has no funding for the 2007-08 fiscal year.
"We're hoping for some reprieve," Quinn said. "Some miracle."
For Saugus, that could be a trash fee. If approved by the town selectmen next month, residents would be charged $104 annually for trash collection, raising about $1 million for the town, and the Saugus library could remain at least partly open. But the hour of miracles has passed for the library in Northbridge.
Yesterday, in the waning hours of operation there, people came in to return books and say good bye to the librarians who are leaving.
There was Jim Furrey , who claims to check out more books than anyone else in town, and Paul Ostrosky , who comes to use the Internet.
There was Dot Lane , 82, who said she has been crying over her library, and Fred Erickson, 91, and his wife, Dot, 87, who have been coming to the library for 60 years.
"This is sad," said Dot Erickson. "This is sad to have this happen to this beautiful library. What are you going to do about it? Not a darn thing."
The Ericksons know times are tough in Northbridge. The schools, the senior center, the police and fire departments -- they are all facing cuts. But the Ericksons will especially miss the library.
"Goodbye, everybody," Dot Erickson said as she and her husband edged toward the door. She said she has just one wish for the library.
"I hope it's open again before we die."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Failing Our Veterans

This is from Paul Rieckhoff, Founder of IAVA (Iraq abd Afghanistan Veterans) and is taken from today's Huffington Post:

Jeffrey Lucey (1981-2004)

Joshua Omvig (1983-2005)

Jonathan Schulze (1981-2007)

Like countless others, each of these young men served honorably in Iraq, but came home unable to cope with their memories of combat. Each one sought help from the military or from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But in each case, the hospital was overbooked, the counselors didn't listen, or the bureaucracy moved too slowly.
Only months after their return from war, each of these young heroes committed suicide.
How did this happen? Simply because the veterans' support system is overwhelmed. Over 50,000 Iraq veterans have already been diagnosed with PTSD. Tens of thousands are waiting for VA appointments. One-third of Vet Centers (walk-in counseling clinics for combat veterans and their families) lack adequate counseling staff. Even a VA official has admitted that waiting lists render mental health and substance abuse care "virtually inaccessible."
I'd like to share the story of a friend of mine that experienced the failings of the current system first-hand. Drew Brown served as a Sergeant First Class training Iraq's soldiers in Fallujah, Taji, Baghdad and Baquba. Like Joshua Omvig, Jeffrey Lucy, and Jonathan Schulze, Drew struggled to readjust when he came home and he sought help.
Now, Drew has bravely offered to share his story in the hopes of helping other Iraq veterans hold on long enough to get the care they need -- and of spurring action in Washington to make sure no more Iraq veterans fall through the cracks:
"One night, while my wife slept only feet from me, I came to the conclusion that she would not be able to stop me if I chose to end my life. With the speed and accuracy of my years handling weapons, I could easily load a magazine, chamber a round, remove the safety and squeeze the trigger before she even got out of bed. I could taste the Hoppe's #9, feel the front sight post as it pressed against the roof of my mouth.
For months I tried to schedule an appointment with the VA. I was told I would need to schedule an appointment three weeks out, at a hospital that is an hours' drive away. The appointment would only be scheduled between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Even assuming I would walk right in and be seen, it would take me an hour to get there, an hour there, then an hour back to work. Who can blow half a day on an hour-long appointment? I can't.
One issue I was particularly perturbed about was the Post Deployment Health Readiness Assessment (PDHRA). This was the Army's paper trail, so the top brass could say, "Look! We're accomplishing something!" Actually, they were only tracking, not treating. I filled out the form five times from October 2005 to December 2006. In all five instances, I asked for help from a mental health professional. In all five instances, I received no help and no follow-up calls.
In late February 2007, I was so incensed that the PDHRA was being bandied about by Generals as proof that they were tracking troops' mental health problems, that I called the civilian company that is supposed to handle the forms. Eventually, a program manager told me my case was closed.
My case was closed? I was incredulous. I made him read the part on the copies of the forms where I asked for contact from a mental health professional, which he did. Then I asked him to show me the record of said professional contacting me, which he could not do. He asked me to again fill out the form and said he would reopen my case. I did what was asked dutifully, and waited.
Two weeks later, the PDHRA folks finally called me back. It only took 16 months.
I held nothing back from them and told them what was weighing on my mind. I had nothing to lose. In a span of minutes, I was on the phone with a counselor, then social worker from the local VA hospital. They took no chances and scheduled appointments as quickly as possible, and at an outpatient clinic that was minutes from my house.
That's the good news. The bad news is my first appointment was 2 weeks later. There are those that might not have lasted that long..."
Thankfully, help came in time for Drew. But it took a full sixteen months for the military and veterans affairs' systems to respond to his repeated requests for counseling. During that time, Drew was suffering from depression, anger, and flashbacks.
You can take action to help veterans like Drew get the help they need. Last week, IAVA officially endorsed legislation introduced by Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, calling for the creation of a national veteran's suicide prevention hotline. The bill is making its way through the House, and we will be pushing to get it passed. And you can help. Contact your elected officials and urge them to support this bill. This is just one step of many that will be necessary to ensure that all veterans get the care and treatment they deserve -- whether their wounds are hidden or not.
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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Turtle Crossing Ahead

ALTHOUGH I HAVEN'T FOUND ANY YET, this is the time of year I usually find turtles trying to cross the Fellsway or Main Street to do their mating/egg-laying thing, and have to rescue them to safer shores. Last year I rescued about half a dozen, including a big whopper of a Momma who must have weighed about 55 pounds. So, when you're out and about on the roads this time of year, watch out for turtles, especially near wetland areas. If you find one (alive) near the road, take a minute and shepherd them across. (Pick them up from the back) This is from today's Boston Globe:

Turtle researcher Mark Grgurovic removed a snapping turtle from a trap he had set in a Merrimack Valley area swamp. (Globe Staff Photo / Mark Wilson)
Turtle lovers tackle road kill problem
Boston Globe
Here's the thing about turtles: They're slow. Also, they're not afraid of cars. And so, when your two-ton sport utility vehicle , or even your eco-friendly hybrid, comes bearing down on a turtle, it's clear which side will prevail.
Keith O'Brien
May 20, 2007
Turtle lovers tackle road kill problem
By Keith O'Brien, Globe Staff May 20, 2007
HAMILTON -- Here's the thing about turtles: They're slow. Also, they're not afraid of cars. And so, when your two-ton sport utility vehicle , or even your eco-friendly hybrid, comes bearing down on a turtle, it's clear which side will prevail.
Hint: It's not the reptile.
"They're just squashed," said Mark Grgurovic , a wildlife biologist studying turtles for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. "Most of them don't make it, they're just so banged-up."
Turtles are in particular danger this time of year. It's mating season. Love -- or at least the instinct to reproduce -- is in the air. And that means the shelled creatures are crossing rural and suburban roads, like Bridge Street in Hamilton on the North Shore, to find mates and, soon, build nests.
Inevitably, some won't make it and specialists are now working to make future mating seasons safer for the turtles. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is building "wildlife crossings" for spotted turtles along the 18-mile Greenbush Line, under construction between Braintree and Scituate. At Framingham State College, students are using road kill data from the last 25 years to map the places where turtles are most likely to get run over . And at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst , assistant professor Paul Sievert is building passageways of different sizes and styles. His goal: create a tunnel that turtles will like and use when they need to cross the road.
"They do a lot of things both as herbivores and carnivores," said Sievert. "They're eating fish in ponds, salamanders, salamander eggs, frogs, frog eggs. Snapping turtles can eat ducklings. They're playing an important role in the food chain. And if you remove that link, it's hard to predict whether things will go awry or not."
Turtles have been around for millions of years and until recently had been doing fine. Once full-grown, they've historically been pretty much indestructible. When threatened, they disappear into their shells. And, as such, they survive. Turtles have been known to live up to 100 years.
But as rural areas have become more suburban, turtles are increasingly becoming targets, said Lori Erb , a turtle conservation biologist for MassWildlife. With more development comes more roads, she said. And with more roads, more turtle casualties.
Since 2001, Erb said, 875 turtles have been found -- dead or alive -- on Massachusetts roads and countless more have died without being documented. It's especially a problem in eastern Massachusetts, Erb said, where a growing population increases the chances that a turtle will be squashed while trying to get to a neighboring pond or wetland.
"Most mating is opportunistic," Erb said. "So they have, perhaps, a typical area that they'll aggregate in. But it's more or less whoever they happen to bump into."
Once a turtle has mated, the female then wanders off in search of warm soil or an open space, creating yet another opportunity to stare down a Ford Explorer. And here's where evolution fails them.
"They have to go across land, over the road," said Virginia Cookson , a member of the Hamilton Conservation Commission. "And they get smushed."
This month, Cookson said, she has found the remnants of three turtles on Bridge Street, near the Miles River , in Hamilton. The handmade "Turtle X-ing" sign that someone recently placed on a telephone pole there apparently isn't helping.
But signs have helped elsewhere. In Norfolk, where there are four official turtle crossing signs, Ellen Friedman , a local turtle lover, said she gets far fewer calls to collect injured turtles than she once did. In the last three summers, she said, she's received one call, compared to the five or six she once received every season.
"We get a lot of laughs when people come through town," Friedman said. "But, truly, people are more aware of it."
The turtles will probably need all the help they can get. It has been estimated that they travel about 33 feet per minute. That means that a turtle would need roughly a minute to cross a two-lane road, Sievert said .
The problem, Sievert conceded, is that it would certainly take longer, what with cars passing and turtles pausing or retreating into their shells. Those who find a turtle in the road should ferry it, when possible, in the direction it was going.
They may not fear traffic, but turtles know where they're headed, and they'll do what it takes to get there. "If that means crossing a double-lane highway , they'll cross it," Grgurovic said.
The squished don't typically live and learn. But there are a few lucky ones.
"Hi, sweetie," Maureen Murray whispered to an injured painted turtle this week as she held him inside the wildlife clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton.
The painted turtle is one of several that people have brought to the clinic this spring.
"They're really amazing creatures, one of the oldest creatures on the planet," Murray said. "It's really quite heartbreaking that they've been around for so long and the thing that's killing them -- or at least one of the things -- is cars."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Computer Withdrawl

MY COMPUTER HAS BEEN ON THE FRITZ since last Wednesday when I came home to find it on permanent standby, as it were-- not so good, as my grandmother would say. So I have been checking email and such like at the library (where I am back in the good graces after having returned two books on tape (a nine-cassette Corelli's Mandolin, and a two cassette 'In Your Garden' with Gertrude Jekyll, who lays down the law in typical Mrs. Peacock, British fashion on, among other things, pruning: "Step back after you have finished. If you are shocked by what you have done, you've done it correctly.") Alas, these items were due in October of 2005-- at which time (or a month before, to be accurate) I took out five items and thought I had returned them all. But no! As a recent cleaning out of my attic revealed. What does one say when one is almost two years late in returning things? What did I say? Well, we'd best leave that to the imagination, the power of Irish Blarney, and the kindness of that wonderful Jungian archtype, the somewhat clumsy, bad-postured, wall-eyed, amazingly kind and helpful female librarian of a certain age. I got away with only having to pay $3.10 (down from $28.something, which, we both agreed, was too much). This is at the Robbins Library, by the way, in Arlington, Massachusetts, my favorite (or one of my favorite) libraries in the world. (Not that I've been to Bibliotecke Russe or anything.) The library here in Stoneham (though there is, of course, no such thing as a bad library) is fairly pedestrian and fluorescently depressing-- but then they keep cutting the budget, and the cheap, unenlightened people in this town never approve the tax overrides, and libraries and education suffer as a result. There is no better investment a community, or an individual, can make, than education. But now Stoneham High School is on the verge of losing its accredidation-- the kids get soulless McJobs, don't go to college, hang out, do drugs, etc. Well, maybe the gays will decide to move in and straighten this town out. So to speak.
Today is my birthday and I am celebrating by not writing (although I love to write) and doing errands and soon I will return home to take a nap before Vonn picks me up for the gym. A few of my friends are taking me out for dinner tonight, and I'm looking forward to that. This morning Fionn and I took a hike over by Spot Pond, and we saw some wonderful things (despite the fact that it's only 48 for a high today, gray and sullen) to wit: tons of warblers newly arrived from the tropics; a great blue heron; a few baltimore orioles; lots of Canadian geese, some with young fuzzy-headed goslings in tow; and a coyote, stalking a goose in the woods. He was beautiful-- light colored, fast as lightning, and bristling with wariness. We took him unawares. On the way back to the car we got too close, apparently, to two geese with four young'uns, and the male (I think) took a hissing lunge at me and Fionn, wings outspread and making the most ghastly noises. Fionn did the provident thing and promptly put it in reverse, and hid behind Daddy. I don't think he knew what to make of the thing. Everything is in full bloom now, and I picked a mess of wild honeysuckle (or honeysuckle gone wild, probably) and purple lilacs. My computer withdrawl is assuaged by such things. I was a hold-out for this whole computer business, and when I finally got one, Vonn (who helped me buy it and set it up) said, "You won't be able to imagine how you ever lived without one." Damn it he was right-- but there is something very nice about not having it, too. It's less distracting and one doesn't waste so much time emailing (not that emailing is always a waste of time) or reading news or playing Text Twist.
Well, my time is almost up here at the library's computer, so I best away. Thanks to all who wished me a happy birthday, and I'll get back to posting regularly on the blog once I get my computer straightened out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Northern Red Belly Cooters

I was hiking in Happy Land the other day up around Spot Pond (where I found three vast fields of American Bloodroot (see pic) that hadn't been noted before by the resident botanist of the Fells, Bryan Hamlin) and while I was up there I spotted a whole bunch of turtles, sunning themselves on fallen logs on Quarter Mile Pond. I tried to approach them unawares, but as Fionn was my companion, the element of surprise was lost when he got loose. As you might imagine, the next noise we heard was Plop Plop Plop (as opposed to Liz Taylor's flop flop flop) so I went back two days later without Fionn, and got a really good look at them and some pix. I had assumed they were Painted Turtles-- but no! They were Northern Red Bell Cooters, a magnificent creature and our second largest pond-dwelling turtle here in new England. Yea!

Last night my friend Robbie came by for a while and we were hanging out back watching the stars, and Venus, blazing over the woods, when a whole bunch of bats came out. One zoomed right at us, and I was sure he was going to hit me in the face, when at the last minute his sonar must have kicked in and he took the necessary evasive action. I am so pleased the woods out back are that wild, that they support bats. They are amazing to watch. Not too much else to report, except that the narrator of my current novel has changed (after 200 pages-- oi) so we have to rewrite the whole thing. But I think it will be a better book as a result. This revelation came to me in a dream, recalling Jung's words (and Petey's) that God/Skovo speaks to us chiefly in dreams.