Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma and the Monks

Click on the picture for a current blog on the Burmese uprising of 2007.

This picture pretty much sums up what I love about Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism (The Burmese practice Theravada Buddhism but while some things are different, the basics are the same.) These monks are using peaceful prayer and ritual as their protest in the face of their enemies. Several monks (and a Japanese journalist) lost their lives today because of it. In Buddhism, enemies may have guns pointed at you, but a Buddhist sees no enemy, only a being who needs compassion. Buddha has given these monks the strength to become bodhisattavas, humans made divine by suffering for the benefit of all.

It's hard to live up to and takes great patience and an open heart through all obstacles that comes one's way. I certainly hope that these kind monks help free their people and restore the democracy the people of Myanmar voted on but was denied. Good luck, Burma.

All who comprise the great assemblage of Bodhisattvas are equally powerful and equally beneficial to countless beings, so that all things seem to be at their command. Sometimes beautiful lotuses and lotus trees are caused by them to grow from the middle of the ocean, or a teardrop is transformed into an ocean. Everything in nature is at the Bodhisattva's call. Fire can appear as water; water can appear as fire. It is all because of the strength of the Bodhisattva's attitude, the aspiration and action. For us this says that the practice of compassion must be given full consideration, and it must at all times be in our awareness and at all times performed."

~ 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, teaching on Compassion. (Extract of article in I K H newsletter at Ngawang Geleg's site.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Paikea Renee Esme
She looks all sweet and such... but don't let her fool you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

Today I got an email saying that the Senate was going to vote on a resolution condemning for wordplaying on Petraeus' last name and replacing it with Betray-Us. I couldn't believe what I was reading, particularly the day AFTER the Senate couldn't pass a bill to mandate equal time on and off the battlefield for soldiers and couldn't muster up the courage to restore habeaus corpus, too.

By a vote of 72-25, with 3 not voting (including Obama and Biden), the Senate condemned an advertisement or, more specifically, they voted to... the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.
It's ok, however, for Republicans to do and say and advertise all sort of things. Here's a nice little list from Paul Begala, of all people:
* In the 2000 South Carolina primary, George W. Bush stood next to a man described as a "fringe" figure - a man who had attacked Bush's own father - at a Bush rally. With Bush applauding him, the man said John McCain "abandoned" veterans. McCain, who was tortured in a North Vietnamese POW camp, was incensed. Five U.S. Senators who fought in Vietnam, including Democrats John Kerry, Max Cleland and Bob Kerrey, condemned the attack and called on Bush to repudiate it. When pressed on it at a debate hosted by CNN's Larry King, Bush meekly muttered that he shouldn't be held responsible for what others say. Even when he's standing next to them at a Bush rally.

* In the 2002 campaign, draft dodger Saxby Chambliss ran an ad with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, then said Sen. Max Cleland lacked courage. Max Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam as an Army captain. Mr. Bush's political aide, Karl Rove, later refused to disavow the ad, saying, "President Bush and the White House don't write the ads for Senate candidates."

* Also in the 2002 campaign, the PAC for the Family Research Council, a close Bush ally, ran an ad in South Dakota that pictured Sen. Tom Daschle and Saddam Hussein. "What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common?" the ad asked. Apparently, they both opposed drilling in the Arctic wilderness. First, I had no idea that supporting drilling in the wilderness is a family values issue. Second, I have seen no reporting on the late Iraqi dictator's position on Alaska drilling. But I do know Tom Daschle is an Air Force veteran. Mr. Bush never disavowed the smear.

* But perhaps the worst was what was done to John Kerry. Kerry earned five major medals in combat: the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. And yet supporters of Bush and Cheney decided to smear his war record. The despicable, dishonest Swift Boat attacks alleged that Kerry fabricated reports that earned him the Bronze Star. The Swifties also suggested that Kerry's wounds were insignificant - and that one was even self-inflicted. Kerry's wounds were certainly more serious than Mr. Bush's, who suffered a cut on his finger from popping a beer can while avoiding his duty in the Alabama National Guard. At the 2000 GOP convention, rich, white Republicans were photographed gleefully putting Band-Aids with purple hearts on their chubby cheeks. Mr. Bush refused to condemn the attack - blandly noting he didn't like 527 groups generally - and later nominated one of the men who financed the smear to be Ambassador to Belgium.
This entire episode is unbelievable. It's ok for organizations such as "Gathering of Eagles" to spew all sorts of hateful speech against "moonbats" and "libruls" and the fathers of dead soldiers who say that they were beaten by members of that organization, but say the term "Betray-Us" and the right goes so far as to pass a resolution in the Senate of all places. Give me a freaking break.

God help us all. It's gotten just one more step scarier out here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The End of Times Select

If you haven't heard yet, the New York Times will lay to rest their failed experiment of containing some content, including their Op-ed writers, behind the Times Select subscription firewall. I stole this photograph from Crooks and Liars, but really, it's my sentiments exactlY:

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hagel on Petraeus Report

Maher: Isn’t a dirty trick on the American people when you send a military man out there to basically do a political sell-job?”

Hagel: It’s not only a dirty trick, but it’s dishonest, it’s hypocritical, it’s dangerous and irresponsible. The fact is this is not Petraeus’ policy, it’s the Bush’s policy. The military is — certainly very clear in the Constitution — is subservient to the elected public officials of this country.. but to put our military in a position that this administration has put them in is just wrong, and it’s dangerous.”

Kinda puts the Move On ad into a whole new light. The light that Move On wanted to shed before outrage set in over a hard-hitting headline.

Over-the-Top Alert #7,322

I had to chuckle earlier this week when Republicans and Democrats alike went ballistic over MoveOn making a play on General Petreaus' last name in the catching pun, "General Betray Us"

Since Bush came into office there has been a steady stream of invective thrown at "libruls." It's been a verbal slugfest between both parties, actually, and the language is only going to ratchet up as time and Bush's term... uh... moves on. The Move On added fuel to the fire because it's directed at a soldier. Since Vietnam, which had legends and real problems of citizens maligning soldiers, we tend to steer away from harsh verbal criticism of our military.

Whether one agrees with the Move On ad or not, they did present facts to back up their claim. They created a headline (which Randi Rhodes of Air America has claimed began with her) and they ran with it. However, the ad's headline has overshadowed the actual information that they wanted to bring out, and that is quite unfortunate.

Republicans went completely ballistic over Move On's ad, and every Democrat that has been paraded on the teevee lately has had to answer for the ad, usually in the form of adamant disavowals. As I'm writing this, Blitzer is asking Sen. Evan Bayh if Democrats should accept money from Move On now, as Sen. Cornyn says it's abominable for Move On to be accusing Petreaus of treason. Where did treason come from??? As the soldiers in the NYT op-ed said, the political debate in this country is "surreal."

I don't know where all this language is going, but really, I don't think it's going to be a happy, fun, and fluffy place.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The War As We Saw It (The War As It Is)

This New York Times Op-Ed was published on August 19, 2007 and written by seven current duty soldiers serving in Iraq. I'm not sure if many people saw this Op-Ed, but I did. At the time it was being written, one of the soldiers, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head but recovered. Today, it was reported that two of the sergeants, Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance T. Gray, were killed as the truck they were riding in fell off of an elevated highway in Western Baghdad into a 30-foot ravine.

I will offer no "thanks for your service." These men did not ask me for that. What they asked of me as an American is to think logically about this war and to change our current course. It saddens me to great end that two of these brave men have lost their lives. First, they were brave for serving, and they were brave for speaking out. My condolences to their families.

Here, whether the NYT cares or not, I post their op-ed because you need to read it.

Op-Ed Contributors
The War as We Saw It


VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A 43-Year Old Boom: the Daisy Commercial

If you're over 40 or even the least bit interested in the side show that is American politics, you have either seen or heard of the following political commercial that only ran once:

I was reading the Society of American Archivists listserv today and one of the subscribers posted the CONELRAD ("All Things Atomic: The Golden Age of Homeland Security!") website that has methodically chronicled the history of the political commercial known as "Daisy" but officially named "Peace, Little Girl."

September 7th was the 43rd Anniversary of the airing of the "Daisy" commercial, and it is quite possibly the reason why Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. CONELRAD chronicles the making of the political ad with documents, biographies of the admen and others, quotes from those involved, and as an added bonus, there's an interview with "Daisy" herself.

CONELRAD is the acronym (CONtrol of Electronic RADiation) given to the first radio Emergency Broadcast System, which could, at one time, be found between your 640 and 1240 AM frequencies.

By the way, this commercial aired at about the time I first came home from the orphanage. I wonder if my mother watched it with her new baby in her arms? If so, it must have been frightening.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Boogeyman Cometh...

So, I get home tonight and turn on CNN's "Situation Room" and Wolf Blitzer is hyperventilating about a new videotape. Apparently, it's going to be a tape of the boogeyman himself, Osama bin Laden, who hasn't been seen since October 29, 2004.


OBL plays us like a teeny, teeny, tiny violin. Maybe it's not going to be bin Laden at all, but some guy in a wig claiming he's from Canada.

Yep, folks, the sixth anniversary of 9/11 is just around the corner, and it's time to wind up the populace with fear and videos again. Are you scared? Are you shaking in your boots? Are you anticipating a loud and deadly boom somewhere?

I hope not. Fear is not a good thing. Let OBL blabber on because goodness knows I've heard a lot of blathering in the last three years of him not appearing in front of the cameras. It can't be any worse than that.

By the way, I wouldn't particularly recommend stunts like the one the Chaser Non-Stop News Network from Australia attempted to pull off during the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), but I will say, in the spirit of merry pranksters and cognizant dissonance everywhere... Good on ya, mate!

If you don't know the Chaser Non-Stop News Network (CNNNN) or The Chaser as they are now known, then feast your eyes on this video from a few years ago:

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

As I noted earlier, I usually treat the summertime as a three-month vacation. Yeah, sure, I go to work and do my work, but mostly, my frame of summer reference has been molded by years of schooling. The summer (except for my three H.S. summers where I went to summer school because there was nothing else better to do), has mostly been for traveling and finding fun things to do in the sun. 2007 was no exception. Except that I didn't do much traveling, but I did have fun!

I didn't do anything spectacular this summer. I would define "spectacular" as some great trip abroad, like my friend Julia's three-week trek to Africa. I did not go to Africa this year. Maybe next year. Who knows?

I usually go to beaches in the summer or friends' summer houses, but after falling out with one friend with a summer house, another friend getting divorced and there no longer being a summer house to go to, and other friends going to their own summer houses with their families, I only went to the beach twice this year. It happened to be a friend's family's year-round "summer" house. It's in Rockaway Beach and is where he grew up. So that makes their summer house a year-round beach paradise! I spent July 4th there and a nice August day as well. I usually stay over July 4th, but this year I had to go back to the Bronx homestead in order to get up the next day and do the one thing I did the most this summer... New York river kayaking!

Now, it might be great to head off to Martha's Vineyard (a real treat) or spend three weeks on safari (a great treat!), but to be able to spend May - October (if the weather holds) on the East River, the Hudson River, Hudson Bay and what not, wow, now there's a summer to remember!

Elderta in a Kayak on the East River in Front of Domino Sugar
Summer 2007
Photo by Elderta

I started kayaking in NYC in late 2006, and Summer 2007 has been my first full season of participating in group kayaking. I haven't gone solo yet, and truth to tell, I'm a little afraid of heading out on my own at this point. There is so much to learn and several times over the summer I did things that only an amateur would do (like getting stuck in an eddy and not turning into it to get out of it). Only time and learning from more experienced kayakers can bring safety and confidence to go out on your own. One of these days, I will!

I did get to travel a little as well. A family reunion on my dad's side of the family took me to Charlotte and Shelby, North Carolina. I had a great time with my aunts, uncles and cousins. It was sad that Dad wasn't there, but my Uncle Charles and I had a great conversation, and we all went to visit their mother and sister's gravesite in Boiling Springs, NC.

Hopper Family Gravesite, Boiling Springs, NC
Photo by Elderta

The gravesite is a little sad. The church that it is attached to seems not to have enough money to maintain the site. There are about 50 graves of various families buried there, and it's dry and parched and pretty desolate. My grandmother Vertie died in 1937 and Aunt Jaunita died in the early 40s at the age of five. A few other relatives are also buried there, too. My aunts and uncles hadn't been to the site in like forever, so they didn't know how bad off it was and vowed to help its upkeep. My mother mentioned to me that Dad wanted to visit his mother before he died, but really, it's probably best he didn't see the graveyard in that condition.

On a happier note, my cousins are I are like the Four Amigos, and we had a heck of time together. I hadn't been to North Carolina in ages, and I'm really happy I went.

My other trip this summer took place over Labor Day weekend. I would love to say that it was a great time, and in many ways, it was... in actuality, everything that could go wrong, went wrong! I was amazed at how things went from bad to worse in a short five days. On the other hand, I had a great time with my mother and friends. I had been thinking about moving to this city, but so many things went wrong that I don't think the great city of Chicago is in my future.

Where's the O? by Elderta

Here's a list of what went wrong in Chicago:
  • I had to go to Chicago for the Society of American Archivists conference and planned on going to either Milwaukee or Detroit to visit my mother for a week after the conference;
  • That didn't happen;
  • The conference hotel where I stayed (the lovely Fairmont Hotel on N. Columbus) had to charge my debit card twice... I didn't have enough money upon arrival to have one debit, so the next day they did a second debit without taking off the first debit;
  • My mother had to leave Milwaukee for Detroit on Friday and took the train to Chicago; she had a four-hour layover at Union Station, so I picked her up and brought to the hotel, thereby missing the ONE conference session I needed to go to;
  • I took her back to Union Station and thought I would die from being crushed by Chicagoans rushing to their trains home (and I thought NYC was bad!);
  • Meanwhile, the hotel took over a $1000 of my cash to hold, leaving me almost broke and not being able to rent the car I had planned to rent for the remainder of my trip;
  • I was so distraught that the hotel offered to fly me to Detroit; I was so distraught that I told them just to fly me back to New York and home;
  • The day I was suppose to leave, I went to a Chase ATM, put my Chase debit card into the ATM... and the ATM promptly ate the card on the Sunday before Labor Day;
  • The flight home was great on JetBlue; JetBlue lost my luggage and I didn't get it back until the day after I arrived in New York;
  • My kitty kitty got sick and I might have to take her to the vet tomorrow.., if the hotel actually puts my money back into my account, that is....

The World is Round by Elderta
Chicago Millennium Park

Other than that... Chicago was great! I visited Navy Pier and rode the Ferris Wheel, got drunk at a bar and threw up in a garbage can from the heat, went to see Second City ETC with some Internet friends (one of whom is the musical director for the show), saw a high school friend, and got to see my mom for a few hours. So, all in all, despite everything that went wrong, it was a great trip nonetheless. Chicago is a fantastic town and though I don't think karmically I could live there, it's always a great place to visit.

I would even daresay that Chicago is more beautiful than New York.... but don't tell anyone I said that.

And that's what I did on my summer vacation which lasted the entire summer. Please note that I haven't mentioned politics in this entire post. While I didn't ignore the wider world burning around me, I did put it on the back burner for a few months. Now, it's time to settle back into reality... and another "school year."

School's In... Goodbye, Summer

Lost Swing by Elderta
Chicago Navy Pier, 2007

After spending roughly 21 years of my life in either kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate (twice) schools, I realize that not only have I spent a little under 1/2 my life in school, but that I'm still on a nine-month schedule of life. That's right, I can only get down to 'real' business on a September - May schedule. What does that mean? It means that I mostly took the summer off from blogging, as you can probably see by the dearth of recent posts.

New York City public schools started today, and not only are those little tykes back to school, but this big tyke is back to the blog. Hopefully I'll post about four times per week... if you (or I) are lucky.

Right now, though, I'm going to go and grab something to eat.