Friday, July 28, 2006

Third Rail Blues

Earlier this week a good friend sent along a link to a New York Times story, "Democratic Opponent of Clinton Criticizes Actions of Israel" (July 26, 2006), which featured this photo right underneath the headline:

The "Democratic Opponent" in question is the guy with the tie: Jonathan Tasini, who's running for the Senate in New York against Hillary Clinton. The story focuses on how Tasini has (gosh) criticized Israel for committing "many acts of brutality and violations of human rights and torture." Well, actually, no—the story focuses on how spokespeople for Clinton and for a Jewish organization have excoriated Tasini for daring to criticize Israeli conduct: Tasini's views, we are told, are "stunning," "outrageous, offensive, and beyond the pale," and "his ignorance is appalling." My friend, however, called my attention to the photo:

Okay, check out the photo with this story, literally framed by a brown-suited man wearing an armband of some type. Tell me if you think I'm crazy for seeing the subtle suggestion that these peace activists might as well be wearing swastikas, because they're criticizing Israel. You know.
Hmm. I must admit that the first thing I noticed about the photo is not the brown sleeve and armband but the fact that in it Tasini—ostensibly the center of attention—seems almost an odd afterthought, standing there all stiff, suity and balding with his arms around the little old lady with the Terminator shades and the scraggly old guy with the hippie hat and hippie beard. Further to one side we have another old guy with a funny hat, and to the other side—hey, dig it, a peace sign! Radical, dude! What I noticed first, that is, is that the photo seems chosen primarily to belittle and marginalize both Tasini and his peacenik friends—who, according to the caption, were participants in a rally of New York City Veterans for Progressive Change. I stress "according to the caption" because that's the only place in the story where you'll find anything about this rally; the story itself is primarily about reactions to comments Tasini made during a conversation with a New York political blog. (WARNING: This page is basically a collection of thirteen audio clips woven together with some snarky commentary; the damn thing crashed my browser twice. Caveat auditor.) The caption says that the photo was taken "in Manhattan on Tuesday"; I believe we can conclude that it must have been taken at this rally:
Rally to Support NY'S Veterans
Tuesday, July 25th 2006 11:30am
New York, NY USA

On July 25th from 11:30 AM to 1 PM, veterans and supporters from around New York City will rally at City Hall to tell the Mayor and City Council that with our country at war, we are tired of hearing them continually proclaim that the city should honor our sacrifices yet they continually put no real resources towards helping veterans and our returning troops.

City Hall New York NY

Sponsored By: United for Peace and Justice-NYC, NYC Veterans for Progressive Change, Veterans for Peace

The New York Daily News story about this rally characterizes it thusly:
At the hour-long rally Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, veterans decried the paltry $180,000 allotted to the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs last month as part of the city's $52.9 billion budget deal.
There's not a mention of Israel to be found. Why, then, run a photo from this rally about veterans' issues to accompany a story about controversial Israel commentary? Could it be that the Times just wanted a photo that would make Tasini look, well, small and marginal? Does the Times have no other photos of Tasini? Photos of him speaking at a podium, for example, as politicians so often do? Hell, does the Times have no other photos from that rally? I mean, how often do you see the Times run a photo taken from such a cramped perspective, looking over another photographer's shoulder? I've seen photojournalists at work; indeed, one of my best friends in college was a photo stringer for both UPI and AFP. I know that photojournalists typically burn lots of film (or, nowadays, electrons) when documenting the average event. Is this the only photo the Times had available?

Then I thought a little more deeply about the "subtle suggestion" my friend mentions—how the photo foregrounds not Tasini (as one might expect) but that brownshirted arm, replete with armband. Unintentional? Unavoidable, because this was the only photo the Times had? (Unbelievable.) Someone's idea of a joke? Or someone's way of adding an extra layer of suggestion: Tasini and his Israel-criticizing friends are not just marginal whackos but modern-day brownshirts? I hate to speculate, but tell me: how often have you seen the Times run photos wherein half of the frame is taken up by another photographer's arm? I'm just asking. I mean, hey, it's not like the Times has a history of burying inconvenient facts about Israel or anything.

For the record, I am neither an anti-Semite nor a New Yorker, and I have nothing at stake in the struggle between Jonathan Tasini and Hillary Clinton. I will say, though, that I find Tasini's comments here far more cohesive with my own values than I do Clinton's Pavlovesque leap to Israel's side in the current conflict. I will also say that I agree with the sentiments expressed in this statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

The bedrock principle of humanitarian law is the obligation to distinguish between civilian and military objectives in the conduct of armed conflict. That principle is being shamelessly violated by all parties to the current conflict, including Israel, Hezbollah, and other groups. However, any objective assessment of the facts on the ground must lead to the conclusion that Israel's conduct cannot be equated in any way with that of its enemies but is vastly superior in its catastrophic consequences.

In waging war against the civilian population of Lebanon and its infrastructure, Israel is violating not only the principle of distinction between military and civilian targets, but also the principle of necessity, which forbids action greater than that required to achieve a military objective, the principle of proportionality, which forbids action disproportionate to the antecedent provocation, as well as the prohibition of collective punishment.

The media report hundreds of civilian casualties, many of whom are women and children. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. Five hundred thousand persons have been made homeless or fled whatever homes may still be standing. These are war crimes, for which those responsible should be held to account.

I am also deeply sickened by the fact that my own government seems more willing to cheer on (and resupply) Israel's out-of-all-proportion assault on Lebanon than it is to use its considerable clout in the service of peace and decency. The current administration has already soiled our national name with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Lucky us: we hit the trifecta.

Please consider joining the CCR in its campaign to stop U.S. complicity in Israel's current amok-running. (I'm happy to help Israel defend itself, but they're a regional superpower now—and their current campaign in Lebanon goes well beyond anything that can legitimately be called a "defensive" war.) As for the New York Times, maybe they'll luck out and catch Tasini sticking his arm out just right at the next rally.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Random Flickr Blogging #4416; or, Like Clockwork

I'm sorry I missed Random Flickr Blogging last week; I was just too damned busy to cogitate much on it. Tom sent this week's number out early, though, so, anticipating another busy week, I decided to pounce on it today. To cut down on time spent wandering amidst Flickr pages looking for pictures that strike sparks, I used a method I've flirted with in previous weeks: I add the digits in the random number Tom supplies and keep adding until I get a single digit (this week, 4416 to 15 to 6); then, after the first page of search results, I go that many pages over to the next set of results, then that many to the next, and so on—for better or worse, I use only images found on those pages. As with "rules" in poetry, music, painting, etc., what one loses in freedom one (sometimes) gains in focus. Sometimes. This method makes Random Flickr Blogging more like traditional internet captioning (if such a thing can be called traditional), in which you have pretty much no control over the images you get to work with moment by moment—cap it or leave it, pretty much—which may be another reason I like it; I don't know. At any rate, here are the results for this week; I hope they're enjoyable. --nash

One day, a big Hollywood producer had (a) an ultralight crash and (b) an idea. "It's high time someone remade A Clockwork Orange," he thought. The exact relationship between the crash and the idea is still a matter of intense speculation.
Screen tests were soon conducted. Some were more believable....
...than others.
Eager to distance his remake from Kubrick's classic, the producer even auditioned a group of female wrestlers he'd met at a wedding. They might've worked out well, too, had "Dim" not caught the bouquet and soured on show business.
After blowing most of his budget on disappointing screen tests, the producer sought help from other investors; unfortunately, Donald Trump was busy making fajitas....
...and Jerry Bruckheimer's Swiss Army knife had just exploded.
The project finally collapsed after the screenwriter lost interest and went back to ghostwriting for that guy from Los Lobos. So it goes.

Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Monday, July 17, 2006


I'm very busy; probably won't get to Random Flickr Blogging until tomorrow, if then. I'd hoped to do some posting over the weekend, but c'est la vie. (Actually, I wound up spending most of a day helping my uncle get rid of some furniture in preparation for a move to a smaller apartment. The result: hundreds of dollars, probably, for the local thrift shop and humane society that got most of the furniture. Somebody better want that big, heavy dresser that damn near wore us out getting it on the U-Haul, is all I'm sayin'.)

I'm ashamed to say that I forgot about the Space Shuttle landing this morning—but boy, did I hear the sonic boom when Discovery came in for its landing up at the Cape. I'm also ashamed to say that I thought it was thunder until I heard a news update a little later. You'd think the fact that there were no thunderstorms around at the time would have tipped me off, but no. What can I say? My head is elsewhere today.

Meanwhile, for a boom of a different sort, check out this story about post-9/11 option grants that Quiddity passes on. It seems that while the rest of us were mourning the dead and dreading the future, some members of the owning class found a nifty way to cash in on 9/11. Who'd a thunk it?

And for a boom of a still different sort, behold William Rivers Pitt bringing one down:

It is all quite terrifying, but most frightening of all are the voices being raised in support of widening this crisis into total war. William Kristol, editor of the far-right periodical The Weekly Standard, has openly stated that the crisis should be used as an opportunity to attack other Middle Eastern nations. "While Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel," wrote Kristol in an article titled "It's Our War," "they are also enemies of the United States. The right response is renewed strength - in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities."

It should be noted that Kristol was one of the most vociferous cheerleaders for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been working out splendidly thus far. One hopes there are some wiser heads somewhere who will remember this, and take Mr. Kristol's advice with a large grain of salt.

Even so, it is disturbing to hear these kinds of things. The last several years have established, beyond doubt, that the Bush administration is at best inept, and at worst deliberately destructive. Watching Bush observe the carnage with a "What me worry?" look on his face has been disgusting, if not terribly surprising. The United States has abandoned its position of leadership on the world stage, and the mayhem erupting in the Middle East, combined with provocative actions from North Korea, is a direct result of that.

If further proof of this is required, look no further than the exchange between Mr. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Bush offered a critique of Russia's so-called democracy, and Putin shot back, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly." Bush tried to laugh it off, but his face purpled with rage. And so the president of the United States is publicly slapped by the leader of Russia, and we are all lessened and shamed by it, because Putin was correct.

But hey, he got his precious pig, so all's well that ends well, right?

Back tomorrow, hopefully.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Random Flickr Blogging #2816; or, Shame

Our subject for today is shame.
Many people suffer from shame deficiency. This is unfortunate, as shame performs many valuable functions.
Shame keeps us from scratching wherever and whenever it itches.
Shame keeps us from dressing up as Jesus for our DeVry graduation.
Shame keeps us from ever yodeling—even when there's no one around to hear us.
Some European countries lack shame, which is why they serve spiritous beverages to young children.
Shame is the foundation of many a successful marriage.
Even though he has been dead for 82 years, Franz Kafka still feels shame.
Shame: ask for it by name.
Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Discovery Takes Flight

In case anyone was wondering, here's what it looks like when a Space Shuttle takes off about twenty miles or so from where you live (apologies for the unimpressive camera work):

I was a Yankee once, but my parents moved down here in the mid-Seventies. The one thing I've always liked about this area is its proximity to the Cape. When I was a kid, it fired my imagination to think that there were places on Earth where you could watch spacebound rockets from your backyard—and then I moved to one. I remember getting let out of high school to watch the first Shuttle launch back in 1981. I remember watching Columbia taking off to the east as I drove up I-95 to return to college in Atlanta after holiday break one cold morning in January in 1986. (I would be in Austin, Texas almost two decades later when Columbia broke up on re-entry, showering ghastly debris over the piney woods to the east.) Two weeks after glimpsing Columbia's triumphant rise out of my passenger-side window, I was checking in at my job as an a/v geek in one of the Emory University libraries when I heard that Challenger had blown up 73 seconds after launch on another cold morning. Hell, I remember walking home from school in the afternoon on days when the Army would be doing unannounced Pershing missile tests at the Cape, looking up and seeing the northern sky suddenly full of rocket trails. (The scenes right before the apocalypse in The Day After have a special resonance for people who grew up here, let me tell you.) I guess what I'm saying is that, even after all these years in which space shots have become commonplace, I still find profoundly moving the experience of standing in the backyard and watching something built by fellow members of my species soaring into space. Today was certainly no different.

But today's launch brought an added thrill. When Discovery vanished from sight over the Atlantic to the east, I stepped back inside to see the remaining TV coverage. To my amazement, this time, there was a video camera beaming back live images—from the upper part of the external fuel tank, looking toward the underside of the Shuttle. Beyond the Shuttle itself, you could see the curve of the Earth and the blackness of space. I and every other Earthling tuning in watched, live, as our home moved from the top to the bottom of the screen as Discovery rolled before jettisoning the tank; we watched, live, as the tank was cut loose and Discovery pitched up and vanished off the top of the screen. I've seen live images from space before, of course—hell, they used to have NASA TV on the air here, and you could turn on the TV at any odd hour, watch the Earth spinning by in real time below, and play Guess That Land Mass—but I can't recall ever watching a space launch live from a fuel tank's point of view before. Oh brave new world!

My congratulations to Discovery, its crew, and all the people whose hard work, skill, and creativity made wonders like today's launch possible—and best wishes for a safe return from space. If you're curious, you can keep up with Discovery here.

Fourth of July Memories

1. Atop Stone Mountain, Georgia, late 1980s

Some friends and I have gone to Stone Mountain Park outside Atlanta for the Fourth of July festivities. Before sunset, we climb the "mountain"—actually a humongous granite dome jutting out from the red clay countryside like a speed bump in the parking lot of the gods. Tired from the good fatigue that comes from pleasant exertion on a fine day in good company, we find a place atop the rock and settle in for the fireworks show. We are only a few hundred feet from the roped-off area where the fireworks crew readies their equipment. Shortly after nightfall, the show begins. The fireworks are shot up above the mountain, for the benefit of the people camped out on the grass alongside the mountain. They have a great view; we, however, have a magnificent view. The fireworks are going off a few hundred feet over our heads. The entire night sky above us is filled with explosions. Chunks of flaming debris rain down around us; occasionally, we have to roll quickly aside in order to dodge them. It is at once terrifying and exhilarating—and, to the best of my knowledge, it is the last time the authorities let anyone get that close to the fireworks crew at Stone Mountain on the Fourth of July.

As we prepare for the hike back down the mountain, we can see Atlanta and its suburbs stretched across the horizon to the west. It is a crisp, clear Southern night, and we can see other fireworks displays twinkling away just above the city lights, from north to south, as far as our eyes can see. It is good to be alive.

2. A Chattanooga lakeside, some other time in the late 1980s

Some friends and I have driven up to Chattanooga, to the house of a rich uncle of a friend's future fiancé, if I remember correctly. It is a big lakeside house owned by a generous rich uncle—generous enough that, on every Fourth of July, he hosts a massive party for family, neighbors, friends, and friends of friends. There are dozens upon dozens of people, from elderly to infant. There are massive amounts of food and drink. The host quietly superintends a set of huge barbecue grills—metal barrels chopped in half lengthwise, fitted with hinges, racks, and vents, and now packed with sizzling flesh of every variety. We eat; we drink; we talk; we laugh; we mingle. The party goes on all afternoon.

As night approaches, there is an air of anticipation among the people who have attended this annual bash before. The real party is yet to come, they imply. I notice that people in boats have gathered, floating in a rough semicircle around the house. I wonder what is going on. Finally, as night falls, our host produces a key, unlocks a side door, and begins handing out bags full of fireworks. Dozens upon dozens of bags of fireworks. There are firecrackers, Roman candles, rockets of every size—and a small arsenal of cigarette lighters to go with them. The guests, especially the younger ones, eagerly grab the bags, take a position along the lake wall, and begin firing. There are parties stretched out along three hundred feet or so of lake wall, shooting stuff up into the sky over the lake. Soon the sky over the lake is full of smoke and fire, and the lake itself sports a growing slick of spent and unexploded munitions, chucked and kicked into the water for safety by people eager to move on to stuff that will explode. I privately wonder whether the Soviets are picking all this fiery activity up on satellites and wondering whether the Americans have embarked upon World War III. The firing goes on for hours.

After the festivities are finally done, we help clean up, offer heartfelt thanks to our host, and drive back to Atlanta. When I wake up for work the next morning, groggy from lack of sleep, I am still combing ashes out of my hair.

3. An MD-80 over the Southeast, early 2000s

I am flying from my summer teaching job to Florida for the Fourth of July break. The second leg of the journey takes me from Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, southeast across Georgia, out over the Atlantic around Jacksonville, down the east coast of Florida, and then inland north of Cape Canaveral for the descent into Melbourne. In a fortuitous bit of timing, the plane takes off around dusk. It is a clear Southern night, and all the way of the hour-long jaunt to Melbourne, I can see fireworks displays. From the cities and towns of south Georgia, from the condo communities lining the Atlantic beaches of Florida, from Orlando and its environs visible in the west as we descend into Melbourne, the ground sprouts shimmering flowers of polychromatic fire. I love to fly, period—I cannot imagine growing tired of seeing clouds from the other side—but this flight is one that I will never forget. It is sheer delight to be up in the American sky on that clear, festive evening. This is my advice: If you must fly, fly at dusk on the Fourth of July.

Happy birthday, America.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Random Flickr Blogging #8883; or, Fragments of Romance

Cautious flirtation.
Shameless flirtation.
The watchful eye of authority.
Pondering the full implications of "'til death do us part."
Pondering the full implications of going to school plays year after year after year.
Existential terror.
Desperate bachelorhood.
Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

In other news, we had lots of thunder and lightning yesterday, so it was no surprise that Discovery's launch was scrubbed again; keep your fingers crossed, though, for the first-ever Fourth of July Space Shuttle launch tomorrow, target time 2:38 p.m. EDT.


Saturday, July 01, 2006

Veteran Affairs

Thanks for the kind thoughts, folks. You'll be glad to know that the funereal events earlier this week went—well, about as well as such things can go. My back is still sore from five or so hours in a limousine traveling to and from Florida National Cemetery—and that after a very Catholic funeral. I had forgotten that, before illness and age caught up with him, my uncle had spent a quarter of a century ushering at the beachside church where the ceremony was held. He had also been active in the Knights of Columbus, and many of those who came to the visitation and the funeral for his wife were fellow Knights, their wives, and others who remembered my uncle from his years at the church and who came out to support him as he mourned his wife of 55 years. You can keep all the jiggery-pokery with the bread and the wine and the waving around of hands and the solemn intonations and hey! presto! Transubstantiation!—I gave up Catholicism many years ago and have no plans to go back anytime soon—but I must say that I am grateful to the parishioners, the Knights, and to everyone else for their kindness and support for my uncle during a very trying time.

I've mentioned the beauty and strangeness of the veterans' cemetery where my aunt and my parents are interred—and where, eventually, my uncle will join them—before. As I said, it presents an odd combination of pastoral loveliness and military efficiency. Interments there are rigorously scheduled: funeral parties arrive (hearses, acccompanied by what are sometimes veritable convoys of limousines and family cars); they are escorted to one of four open-air "committal shelters"; final goodbyes are said; funereal parties depart, leaving the casket behind (the actual interments are not public); the shelters are readied for the next funeral party, which is often already lined up and waiting. On some days, I was told, the cemetery handles more than 60 funerals. It was certainly busy there earlier this week; our hearse and limo were two of two or three dozen vehicles parked along the road by the Visitors' Center at one point, awaiting clearance from death traffic control to proceed to final departure. Stackups in veterans' cemeteries are mute testimony, I guess, that the "Greatest Generation" is, alas, vanishing before our eyes.

Speaking of veterans, you may remember that last month I puzzled for a while over a New York Times op-ed by a reserve Marine major named Owen West who is one of the founders of an organization called Vets for Freedom. The op-ed, titled "The Troops Have Moved On," was mystifying because it was relentlessly vague—nay, grandiosely vague. From what I could gather, West was trying to tell us that "the troops have moved on" from debates about whether the war in Iraq was waged on false pretenses and, indeed, from debates about whether we should fight a "war on terror" in the first place (as opposed to more sanely fighting terrorists and trying to stop terrorism)—and now, so should the rest of us. In other words, Shut Up And Get With George Bush's Program, America.

Although my instincts shouted front group! as soon as I read West's vague op-ed and started poking around the VFF website, at the time, I saw no clear sign that the organization was anything other than what it claimed to be: a group of veterans who have banded together to support "the mission," or the "the Global War on Terror," or whatever vague abstraction they champion. Silly me; I should know by now, after almost six years under the Bush-Cheney regime, that cynicism is usually justified when you're dealing with pro-Bush punditry. At the time, there was also nothing about Vets for Freedom at the invaluable SourceWatch site; over the last month, however, SourceWatch has pulled together a ton of interesting information about VFF, its leaders, and its connections:

That's it: I'm going to become Catholic again, just so I can give up trust for Lent. Here I was, willing to give West's vague pro-war op-ed and his vague "pro-mission" organization the benefit of the doubt, only to discover that my initial suspicions were right: there is a method to their vagueness. VFF looks like just another front group: an independent-seeming mouthpiece for hidden interests. Will they wind up being the Swift Boat Vets of 2006? We'll see.

In other news, here on the "Space Coast" we're awaiting the space shuttle Discovery's hopeful return to space later today. For those interested, a great place to monitor launch developments (for shuttles and most anything else being sent up at the Cape) is The Flame Trench blog run by Florida Today. The latest news: Discovery seems to be having trouble with a "vernier thruster heater." Between the usual last-minute technical glitches and today's iffy weather, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that Discovery will not fly today. I'll be keeping an eye on launch matters, though, and if she goes, I'll be joyfully watching from the backyard and wishing the craft and crew well.

It would be nice to have an uplifting end to this trying week, I must say.

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