Koppel on the Dead List

The Poynter Institute, the world center for journalistic navel-gazing, has an interview with Ted Koppel about his reading of
the dead list tonight. Koppel expresses surprise at the reaction to the
show, and insists there’s nothing political about it: "I don’t want it
to make a political statement. Quite the contrary." Later he goes on to
contradict himself, apparently unconsciously:

"Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and
hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not
coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were
willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national
interest of all of us
?" (Emphasis added.)

OK — so he’s on board that the whole deal is in the national interest.
That’s an improvement on the insistence that there’s nothing political
in this and that the show is just acting as a means of venerating the
dead because, well, they died. Although it would be a lot more fitting
to have an open discussion on the merits of the idea that the operation
really has been in the interest of all of us.

The War Dead

So, Ted Koppel’s going to read the names of all the U.S. combat

fatalities in Iraq on “Nightline” Friday night. My first reaction was

that his show’s ripping off the famous feature Life magazine did (on June 27,  1969) that pictured all, or nearly all, 242 U.S. servicemen killed in action during a single week. (The show’s producer acknowledges that Life was the inspiration.) My second reaction is that it’s a ripoff without the smarts or courage that marked what Life did. Here’s what the “Nightline” producers have to say about their

inspiration in their daily email:

“…We realized that we seemed to just be giving numbers. So many killed in

this incident, so many more in that attack. Whether you agree with the war or

not, these men and women are serving, are putting their lives on the line, in

our names. We think it is important to remember that those who have paid the

ultimate price all have faces, and names, and loved ones. We thought about doing

this on Memorial Day, but that’s a time when most media outlets do stories about

the military, and they are generally lost in the holiday crush of picnics and

all. We didn’t want this broadcast to get lost. Honestly, I don’t know if people

will watch this for thirty seconds, or ten minutes, or at all. That’s not the

point. We think this is important. These men and women have earned nothing


An excerpt from Life’s introduction to “One Week’s Dead” made it clear that the editors were trying to refrain from making an explicit antiwar statement:

“It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead. We cannot

tell with any precision what they thought of the political currents which drew

them across the world. From the letters of some, it is possible to tell they

felt strongly that they should be in Vietnam, that they had great sympathy for

the Vietnamese people and were appalled at their enormous suffering. Some had

voluntarily extended their tours of combat duty; some were desperate to come

home. Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed

their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause. Yet

in a time when the numbers of Americans killed in this war – 36,000 – though far

less than the Vietnamese losses,  have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when

the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic

which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country,

we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must

know who. The faces of one week’s dead, unknown but to families and friends, are

suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes….”

“We must pause to look into the faces.” Four years into the major combat phase of the war — and with a

long way and 22,000 more deaths to go — it was clear everywhere the price was appalling. The editors went on to note the division of opinion, even among the troops, about the war and what it was about. “The mother of one of the dead, whose son was the third of four to serve in the Army, insists with deep pride, ‘We are a patriotic family willing to pay that price.’ An aunt who had raised her nephew said of him, ‘He was really and truly a conscientious objector. He told me it was a terrible thought going into the Army and winding up in Vietnam and shooting people who hadn’t done anything to him…. Such a waste. Such a shame.’ “The overall effect of Life’s issue was to invite a deep consideration of the war and the price; not such a radical notion — this was nearly a year after the Democratic Convention in Chicago and just a few months before the huge Vietnam Moratorium marches; it was an issue everyone had to consider.

But what “Nightline” promises is something quite different. On one level, another solemn paean to our fighting men and women who have — the producers even use the cliche — “paid the ultimate price.” And

whether you’re for the war or agin it, you have to bow your head respectfully for that. But what we don’t get is a real appraisal of the cost or an invitation to consider it or a sober discussion of the future.

The “Nightline” reading sounds like a stunt — it’s funny that the right-wingers are already jumping on the idea because they think it’s an anti-war statement — because it repe ts the same mistake most major media have made since it became evident our semi-elected executive branch was determined to start this war: they’re behaving as if it’s fundamentally disloyal in our post-9/11 world to strenuously scrutinize the rationale for going to war or the motives of the people promoting it.

Where’s Your Flag Amendment Now?

A shocker from flag police at the, ahem, New Hampshire Gazette (hey — they’re looking for a free part-time copy editor; maybe that’s my next gig):

"The CBS Television Network and MTV collaborated on a Super Bowl half-time ‘entertainment’ featuring repeated crotch-grabbings and a gratuitous display of a mammary gland, but for the Flag Police, the true horror was watching this talent-challenged individual [Kid Rock]  use an American flag as an article of clothing."


Record heat
in the Bay Area today; 90 in San Francisco, in the low 90s in the East
Bay; several places in the region set their all-time record for the
month (and most of the records broken were set in 1935 or 1965, long
before the phrase global warmiing was coined). But the real thing the
heat makes you think about is whether the lights will go out. So far —
with Enron and Calpine and the rest of the energy criminals sidelined
— things look OK. Even with temperatures in the hundreds in some
locations today, the state’s energy network operator said demand never approached the available supply.

Don’t Talk About the Weather

earthtemperature.jpgThe New York Times reports that NASA headquarters ordered its scientists to keep their mouths shut about questions arising from the upcoming climate-change blockbuster "The Day After Tomorrow" (with someone named Claude Laforce playing "UN Norwegian diplomat").

"No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard’s top press officer. "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."

The Times also reports that the space agency has called off the dogs and will now let its experts talk about climate stuff. Maybe that has something to do with some research results published last week on NASA’s own site, "Satellite Thermometers Show Earth Has a Fever." Keep it cute like that, so no one will get the idea that increased temperatures have anything to do with well, anything.

View from the Ferry

FerrybuildingCaught the 6:25 ferry back to Oakland after work. Sitting on the top deck, noticed the sun was blocked behind  One Embarcadero Center (that tall building in the middle). Decided to try to shoot it with my camera phone, using my sunglasses as a filter. The building in the center-right with the flag on top is the Ferry Building; that little tiny nub to the far right is Coit Tower, I think. I’m surprised both at the ability to shoot anything with the phone and also at how modest the resolution really is.

In the Mail

My medal for finishing the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris randonee.
My medal for finishing the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris randonee.
So, just about eight months to the day after I finished PBP, look what came in the mail. In reading the lore of the ride over the years, I’d seen reports of the medal, complete with your own individual
time on it. For some reason, I thought it might show up by the end of  last year. But it never came, and lots of other stuff came up, and I never really thought too much about it. I just figured that maybe I was the one rider who didn’t get one; or that my ride had been declared invalid for some unworthiness that the organizers had detected in me; or that I had managed to ride the one year when no medals were awarded. Just my luck.

Then I started to see accounts on some cycling email lists a month or so ago that none of the American riders had gotten their medals yet. But they were coming. By sea mail, maybe.

Yesterday, a big brown envelope with my self-addressed sticker was in the mailbox. Heavy. The medal was inside, along with my brevet card, with the stamps from all the controls along the way, and the English-language program for the event, with the finish times for all the participants, including No. 4417, Dan Brekke: 85H51.

Resettling the Plains

Spotted a feature somewhere in the past couple of weeks about how some
Plains towns are offering homesteads to residents. It’s a twist on the
old homestead idea: Instead of 160 acres and five years to "prove out"
your claim  by farming it, you get something less than an acre in
town and need to build on it in a year or so. After seeing the National
Geographic article, I checked and found the story;
it was in the Washington Post. As an aside: What’s with the fascination
of the eastern papers — The New York Times has been running a series
of in-depth features on the depopulation of the Plains for at least a
couple of years — with the Plains?

Great Plains

Cover story in the May National Geographic: ‘The Great Plains: Change
of Heartland.’ Focuses on the un-settlement of the Plains and the
(supposed) comeback of the buffalo and Native Americans. Yeah, at this
point you have to get the magazine for the full story, which is
beautifully shot. But the online tease for the story contains one stunning picture that’s representative of the powerful pictures in the magazine.

My Current Data Crush

Wikipedia: "…an open-content encyclopedia in many languages. … started in January 2001 … 251,571 articles in the English version." For one of the features on our show, "TechLive," I check its daily almanac of historical events (here’s today’s). Pretty amazing what a bunch of smart volunteers can do.