Given the dismay and even despair I presently feel after hearing that Samuel Alito was confirmed by the Senate and subsequently sworn in as the newest (and perhaps most dangerous) Supreme Court Justice and knowing that the system of checks and balances that the founders of this great nation so carefully created are now in some jeopardy due to the rightward (or, should I say, wrongward) tilt of all three branches of government, it is even more paramount that I shrug off this disconsolate cloak and remind myself that there is still beauty to be found in the world. Today, I thank Wendell Berry for reminding me of such:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
â€” Wendell Berry
The comments that I left on the new PBS blog, Mediashift, led to journalist Mark Glaser contacting the military and asking them about whether the soldier-made videos violate the army code of conduct. In the meantime, I had gone to Youtube.com and watched another video, “The Enemy,” which contained much more gruesome footage of Fallujah.
Military spokesman Maj. Matt McLaughlin responded to Glaser. He stated that they sampled some videos from Youtube.com and, â€œWhat we saw does not appear to violate policy. It does fall in the category of what some would consider bad taste. Bad taste however is a subjective standard.â€?
To me, this response has a veiled message: that the US military doesn’t want to criticize soldiers; these soldiers are spread thin in Iraq and recruiting is down. Although the military’s policy explicitly prohibits soldiers from “photographing or filming detainees or human casualties,” they do not want to get into a fight about this, since fights often call more attention to an issue, and right now they are just trying to lay low and get through the rest of this war without the American public becoming even less supportive and more morally outraged.
This has been a learning process for me, as I went from primarily acting out of my mother-bear-with-cubs mentality, to thinking in terms of what these videos are able to convey to the American public. Here is my response, posted on Mediashift:
Thanks for exploring this question further. In its sample of videos, I wonder if the military looked at one called “The Enemy.” Here is the URL. http://www.youtube.com/?v=4ZIjXp3uT_4 This was reportedly shot in Fallujah. It contains video of a man being shot to death in the street, multiple pictures of men covered in blood, presumably dead, multiple pictures of blindfolded detainees, a close-up of what looks like an older man shot in the head, an aerial video of about 2 dozen people being blown up, pictures of blindfolded detainees with guns raised to their heads, a picture of a body burned to death with the face still recognizable, and two pictures of men with their heads blown off. And there’s more.
I am still worried about how easy it would be for children to access these videos. All I typed in to find this one was “Iraq War.” It was the second listing in my results.
However, I am now starting to appreciate a bigger picture here — the bigger picture of helping the American people understand what is going on in Iraq. Perhaps video footage like this will function as the film “Hearts and Minds” did in the post-Vietnam era — helping to inform people and ultimately change the public’s tolerance for senseless killing.
In presenting its budget for the upcoming year, our Cranston school committee is threatening to close one of our community elementary schools, Horton Elementary. Concerned parents in the district are getting together to voice opposition to this plan and let the school committee know that their plan is potentially harmful to children and families. They have established a blog at http://savehorton.blogspot.com.
They are asking concerned parents to come out for a school committee budget meeting this Wednesday, February 1, 2006. The meeting will be held at Western Hills Middle School at 7 pm. For more information, go to the Save Horton blog.
Though we are not directly affected by this threatened school closing, I believe this plan puts the school committee on a slippery slope toward devaluing the community school model. There are other places where funding could be cut. Consideration should also be given to ways to increase student population at Horton, such as allowing open enrollment there to children attending less-high-performing and more crowded elementary schools in the city.
This was my guess about a week ago, that Chafee would vote “No.” It was based on a post I read in the conservative Rhode Island blog Anchorrising.com in which they quoted Brian Nick of the Republican National Senatorial Committee saying on CNN that Lincoln Chafee did not need the Republican party to get elected in Rhode Island. His constituency, when all is said and done, is a percentage of the minority Republican party in the state, and a large swath of the unaffiliated (which I am) and Democratic voters in the state.
Chafee is the only Republican to announce he is breaking with the Republican party to vote his conscience on Alito.
Thank you, Senator Chafee, for remaining loyal to your constituency.
There is beauty in the world. Though it may seem more than a little self-evident to say so, I feel the need to reaffirm this simple truth. I do so in large part because there is also great ugliness in the world. One need only glance at the dayâ€™s headlines to be reminded, sometimes painfully, of such. As a clinical social worker working with children and families in a community mental health setting, I do not even need to look at the headlines. I bear witness to the suffering and dysfunction of others as a livelihood. Given the work I do and the world, with all its present horrors, in which this work is embedded, I sometimes lose my way and, shrouded by ugliness, lose sight of the beauty around me. Eventually, my sightâ€”and perhaps my faithâ€”is restored when I take refuge in either the natural world or the world of literature. In particular, I am indebted to the poet, Mary Oliver, for time and again reminding me of the beauteous riches which remain ever at my disposal. Here is one example of such, from her 2005 book, New And Selected Poems: Volume Two….
Lingering In Happiness
After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground
where it will disappearâ€”but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the moleâ€™s tunnel;
and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.
The liberal media is really down on Hillary these days, for example: this piece by Molly Ivins, and Hillary being listed in The Beast’s 50 Most Loathsome People of 2005. Nevertheless, I still feel slightly hopeful when I imagine President Hillary Clinton in the White House. Sure, she’s straddling fences now, but if she had a better job, she might show some real leadership.
I made this comic using a tool that used to be called Red Meat Construction, but has apparently undergone a vegetarian conversion and is now a much smaller site called Not Meat.
On January 31, President Bush will stand before the nation and offer his thoughts on the State of the Union. In all likelihood, we, the humble citizens of this once proud country, can expect to be fed more horse manure than all the flies from here to Golgotha. I, for one, will decline this putrid repast. I do not have the stomach for it. Nor the calm or patience. Besides, if I wish to be informed, in an honest and erudite fashion, of the actual state of the union, I will turn my attention to others more suitable than our less-than-esteemed leader to provide such. For example, Gore Vidal has recently written an excellent, albeit lengthy, piece on the current state of affairs in this country, entitled President Jonah. I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt:
While contemplating the ill-starred presidency of G.W. Bush, I looked about for some sort of divine analogy. As usual, when in need of enlightenment, I fell upon the Holy Bible, authorized King James version of 1611; turning by chance to the Book of Jonah, I read that Jonah, who, like Bush, chats with God, had suffered a falling out with the Almighty and thus became a jinx dogged by luck so bad that a cruise liner, thanks to his presence aboard, was about to sink in a storm at sea. Once the crew had determined that Jonah, a passenger, was the jinx, they threw him overboard andâ€”Lo!â€”the storm abated. The three days and nights he subsequently spent in the belly of a nauseous whale must have seemed like a serious jinx to the digestion-challenged whale who extruded him much as the decent opinion of mankind has done to Bush.
Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, â€œcannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,â€? so like the people of Baghdad who cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction by the Cheney-Bush cabal. But the analogy becomes eerily precise when it comes to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when a president is not only incompetent but plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before. Witness the ongoing screw-up of prescription drugs. Who knows what other disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse he is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him. We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he.
The debate has been intensifying because Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. James Hansen, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth’s average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would “imply changes that constitute practically a different planet.”
Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer, who also advises the advocacy group Environmental Defense, said one of the greatest dangers lies in the disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets, which together hold about 20 percent of the fresh water on the planet. If either of the two sheets disintegrates, sea level could rise nearly 20 feet in the course of a couple of centuries, swamping the southern third of Florida and Manhattan up to the middle of Greenwich Village.
While both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets as a whole are gaining some mass in their cold interiors because of increasing snowfall, they are losing ice along their peripheries. That indicates that scientists may have underestimated the rate of disintegration they face in the future, Oppenheimer said. Greenland’s current net ice loss is equivalent to an annual 0.008 inch sea level rise.
The effects of the collapse of either ice sheet would be “huge,” Oppenheimer said. “Once you lost one of these ice sheets, there’s really no putting it back for thousands of years, if ever.”
The story goes on to detail how Hansen has been blocked by the Bush administration from sharing his research with the public.
When Hansen posted data on the Internet last fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest on record, according to a Goddard scientist who did not want to be identified, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not screened it with the administration in advance. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.
“They’re trying to control what’s getting out to the public,” Hansen said, adding that many of his colleagues are afraid to talk about the issue. “They’re not willing to say much because they’ve been pressured and they’re afraid they’ll get into trouble.”
It’s frightening to read the comments on EZ Writer’s diary and hear from people all over the country who are experiencing warmer weather. There seems to be growing concern about this issue as it becomes an undeniable reality.
James Adomian is like Bush to the nth degree, like sweetened-condensed Bush. It is amazing to watch him and see how he has mastered Bush’s mannerisms and persona.
Nancy Green checks the number in The New York Times every week, then prints it on a piece of paper that she puts on the poster, which she carries to South Main Street in Providence on Saturday at noon.
Sometimes, there are only five or six people there, presenting themselves in opposition to the war in Iraq for those passing by to respond to or ignore. Green, a nurse who feels the need to be publicly counted, was moved to act by none other than Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and one of the architects of the wrong-way war in Iraq.
Wolfowitz left a lot of people stunned and amazed when he was asked, in the spring of 2004, how many Americans had died in the war. He came up with a figure that was more than 200 shy of reality.
“It made me really angry,” says Green. “I knew the numbers better than he did.”
She found a peace sign from another time, another national breakdown, and put the numbers of the American dead in Iraq on it and joined the group on South Main Street.
“Investing some time on a Saturday morning, it’s not that big a deal,” she says. “It’s the least I can do.”
Since she has been there, she has noticed a shift in the numbers. The ratio of passing drivers who jab an approving thumb skyward compared with those who flash a middle finger has changed from about 3 to 1 to 4 to 1.
It is an unscientific survey, but Green takes it as a hopeful sign.
She doesn’t always make it to South Main Street, but her sign is always there with the latest numbers. It is a simple and eloquent reminder of how a war that was supposed to be swift and precise and end with flowers being showered on the American invaders has become bogged down in a deadly muddle of roadside bombs and shoddy equipment and too few people to do the job.
“There is just the number, nothing else,” she says. “People know what it is. I hope at some point people are going to say this is too much. They’re going to ask ‘What’s the reason — all these people being sent to Iraq and so many dying?’ “
Not many are asking yet, so the small Saturday ritual in Providence continues, along with small gatherings in other places where people discover that they are simply not able to live with this war day after day in silence and indifference.
“It makes a point,” Green says of the small weekly gathering. “It brings the issue out in front of people.”
When the war is over, Green is planning a small ceremony to burn the sign. She doesn’t know when that will be, of course. And she doesn’t know how the end will be determined or defined.
So she does her hour on South Main Street in Providence. And people stop and sometimes say a few words through the small sound system. The only rule is to keep it clean.
And dozens of people see the number on the sign and there’s a good chance that many of them will think about it, unless they’re on a cell phone or listening to an iPod or haven’t been told there’s a war going on.
During a war that we know so little about, and often find on the inside pages, these small doses of reality, offered by our neighbors in assorted places, become more and more vital.
The total of American combat deaths in Iraq as of yesterday was 2,239.
When Nancy Green first took her sign to South Main Street, the number was 1,234.
The number of Iraqi deaths is something no one seems quite sure of.
Go, Nancy! You are an inspiration to us all.