Pictobrowser: A Test

This is a post testing a Flickr app called Pictobrowser. It’s supposed to create a nifty little in-blog gallery. For the occasion, I’ve chosen my most recent Flickr set, which recorded the Code Pink-Marines foofaraw in downtown Berkeley a couple months back. Here goes:

Free Speech Festival

Marines021208D

(Click for larger version. More photos here.)

Walked through Martin Luther King Jr./Civic Center/Provo Park on the way back home from class, hoping to take in the confrontation between the pro-troop, pro-Iraq (and maybe pro-free speech) contingents and our dependable local antiwaristas. From afar, the only sign that democracy was in ferment was a Cessna circling slowly over downtown towing a banner reading “Semper Fidelis.” The confrontation turned out to appear pretty good natured. I saw a trio carrying what they probably hoped would be provocative signs (sample: “Pink is the new color of treason,” referring to the local Code Pink antiwar group). They looked glum and seemed to be leaving. Apart from that, plenty of the “we love the troops” people seemed to be talking earnestly and calmly to the “we love the troops just as much” people. I came away thinking that, except for the fact the gathering was occasioned by a dumb City Council vote, this was a pretty neat display of dialogue.

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Sowing, Reaping

Today, Berkeley lives up to one of its nicknames–The Open Ward.*

The City Council will meet to take back its laughably ill-considered invitation for the U.S. Marines to take their recruiting office and scram. The city’s officially designated antiwar protest group, Code Pink, will be doing a daylong group hand-wring downtown. They’ll be joined by a contingent of angry We Love the Troops protesters [who have already showed up and in fact are screaming that they have been attacked by the Code Pinkers!]. We may even be honored by a visit from the Rev. Fred Phelps antigay hate squad from Topeka, Kansas.

Listening to council members and reading what they have to say, it’s depressing and hilarious to hear their puzzlement about the intensity of the storm they stirred up. Depressing, I guess, because of the collective lack of understanding that there’s a free speech issue involved here; hilarious because of the naivete that blinded them to the likelihood that calling the Marines “unwelcome intruders” would trigger outrage not just from pro-war, pro-military quarters but from First Amendment-loving anti-war liberals as well.

What they say about sowing and reaping–it’s true.

*OK — The Open Ward used to apply specifically to Telegraph Avenue. Today, I think it’s fair to apply the name more widely.

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Semper Berkeley

It’s national news: The Berkeley City Council voted last week to invite the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office to leave our town. The council put the Corps on notice that if it failed to move on, it should know that its status here is one of an “uninvited and unwelcome intruder.” And last, our elected representatives expressed support for “antiwar groups residents and organizations such as Code Pink that may volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the city of Berkeley.”

Of course, things haven’t stopped there. The right-wingers are exercised, and a group of them, a clutch of Southern senators, has taken the probably predictable step of introducing a bill (the Semper Fi Act) to strip Berkeley of $2 million or so of federal earmarks approved in the last session of Congress. In its press release, the group points out that it’s trying to kill $975,000 for a project at the University of California, Berkeley, despite the fact the university had nothing to do with the City Council action besides happening to exist inside the same town limits.

The release also delights in announcing it would withdraw $243,000 set aside for “gourmet organic school lunches.” Oh, that stings, but the senators don’t know the difference between “nutritious” and “gourmet,” or believe that it means the same thng. What they’re actually referring to is a very successful and long-running project that turned an acre of weed-choked asphalt at a local middle school into a thriving organic garden. The kids at the school raise food; they learn how to prepare it, too. My guess is that the money might have been going to a project the school district has had a hard time funding: a new kitchen and cafeteria associated with the garden project. In any case, the Berkeley school district didn’t have a say in the City Council’s action, either.

And now: how about that City Council. The vote they took was intended to make a statement against the Iraq war. Why a statement was needed five years into the war and more than a year after the Marines arrived I don’t yet understand. But there it is.

I haven’t been writing about the war much lately, but I think about it every day, and the wastefulness of it on every level never fails to anger me. Beyond that, I’m more and more distressed to live in a country that has turned the military and the idea of military service into a superpatriotic cult. There’s a reason the nation was created without a large standing army and made do without one, except in the most dire emergencies, for the first 150 years after the Constitution was adopted. Beyond the mere fact of our huge armed establishment, the blind civic celebration of the military above and beyond every other institution in society is a danger to the democracy its supposed to protect.

I probably agree with most members of the City Council on the war. I have no problem with people protesting Iraq, or with people protesting the protesters, either. But I think the Marines are more than an agent of the war; in a very real way, they represent a viewpoint and are part of the debate in our society over both the war and the role of the military in society. They’re also a means by which members of the society might express their opinion of these issues; there are many thoughtful people in the ranks who are talking insightfully about the experience of war and the role of American military power in the world. Because I see the Marines, both the institution and the members, that way–as a participant in the marketplace of ideas–I think it’s misguided to try to shut them down here; to try to shut them down as a matter of public policy is simply wrong.

To do that, to shut up your opponent to score a point in an argument, betrays the ideal of free speech, one that need not and ought not rely on force or censorship. To give in to the temptation to muzzle an opinion invites intolerance from your opponent. And round and round we go.

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More Sacrifice

CBS News leads its 10 a.m. hourly radio news with Bush giving a speech to military wives. He’s got a comforting message for them: The road to “total victory” — his recently declared goal in Iraq — will be paved by “more sacrifice.” Let’s not dwell too long on who will make the sacrifice. The military wives already know.

The sacrifice talk — Bush sounded the same theme in his weekly radio talk last Saturday — is prompted by the U.S. military death toll in Operation Mission Accomplished reaching 2,000 (along with 15,220 wounded).

The other side to Bush’s talk about the need to stay the course, shed as much blood and spend as much money as it takes, is that each passing day shows the war in Iraq to be a more and more fabulous success.

If, like me, you’ve missed that story — OK, yes, Iraq did just have the best election our money could buy, and that’s sure a change from the reign of Saddam Hussein — here are a few examples:

Unseen Enemy Is at Its Fiercest in a Sunni City

New York Times, October 23, 2005

RAMADI, Iraq, Oct. 22 – The Bradley fighting vehicles moved slowly down this city’s main boulevard. Suddenly, a homemade bomb exploded, punching into one vehicle. Then another explosion hit, briefly lifting a second vehicle up onto its side before it dropped back down again.

Two American soldiers climbed out of a hatch, the first with his pant leg on fire, and the other completely in flames. The first rolled over to help the other man, but when they touched, the first man also burst into flames. Insurgent gunfire began to pop.

Several blocks away, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Rosener, 20, from Minneapolis, watched the two men die from a lookout post at a Marine encampment. His heart reached out to them, but he could not. In Ramadi, Iraq’s most violent city, two blocks may as well be 10 miles.

“I couldn’t do anything,” he said of the incident, which he saw on Oct. 10. He spoke quietly, sitting in the post and looking straight ahead. “It’s bad down there. You hear all the rumors. We didn’t know it was going to be like this.” …

US troops fighting losing battle for Sunni triangle

London Telegraph, October 22, 2005

The mob grew more frenzied as the gunmen dragged the two surviving Americans from the cab of their bullet-ridden lorry and forced them to kneel on the street.

Killing one of the men with a rifle round fired into the back of his head, they doused the other with petrol and set him alight. Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man’s body to stoke the flames.

It had taken just one wrong turn for disaster to unfold. Less than a mile from the base it was heading to, the convoy turned left instead of right and lumbered down one of the most anti-American streets in Iraq, a narrow bottleneck in Duluiya town, on a peninsular jutting into the Tigris river named after the Jibouri tribe that lives there. …

… Within minutes, four American contractors, all employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown & Root, were dead. The jubilant crowd dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-US slogans. An investigation has been launched into why the contractors were not better protected.

Perhaps fearful of public reaction in America, where support for the war is falling, US officials suppressed details of the Sept 20 attack, which bore a striking resemblance to the murder of four other contractors in Fallujah last year.

Secret MoD poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops

London Telegraph, October 23, 2005

Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed. …

…The survey was conducted by an Iraqi university research team that, for security reasons, was not told the data it compiled would be used by coalition forces. It reveals:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified – rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

In Iraq

Word, first of all that 14 Marines were killed by a bomb in a place called Haditha. Six more were killed there the day before yesterday. So far, 22 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq in the first three days of August.

Then there’s this: Steven Vincent, a freelance writer and blogger who had an op-ed piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times describing Basra’s police force and its growing allegiance to religious parties rather than the national government (or citizens), has been killed. He and his interpreter were kidnapped and shot, and the thinking is that he was assassinated because of his recent reporting. I haven’t read a lot of his stuff — his blog, occasionally, but not his Iraq book, “In the Red Zone” — but he struck me as a meticulously honest observer who was trying to look at the war in terms of the people we say we’re trying to help. Someone capable of seeing what is at stake for ordinary citizens in this struggle and the big gap between our declared ideals and goals and our execution. For instance, one of his last posts, “The Naive American.”

[Later: The New York Times did a nice short profile on Vincent. Among other things, turns out he was a Bay Area kid who went to Cal.]

1-800 MARINES

What a week for the Marines Corps: Remembering one of its most storied moments, the Iwo Jima flag raising; trying to figure out why its suicide rate is up; and shelling out big bucks to keep the ranks full.

The New York Times, among others, reports on the Marine Corps offering big re-enlistment bonuses as recruiting gets tougher. The drop in recruitment is due partly to lack of enthusiasm for “Crazyworld,” as some soldiers have been known to call Iraq, and partly to the fact some troops who would normally be doing recruiting have been sent to war zones instead.

In a reflection of the difficult market for Marine recruiters, the service offers bonuses of up to $35,000 to retain combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What is unusual about these incentives is that the Marines Corps for the first time is offering re-enlistment bonuses, averaging $20,000, to its most junior infantrymen, rather than relying mainly on inexperienced troops fresh from boot camp to replenish the infantry. About 75 percent of enlisted marines leave the service after their first tour, requiring a steady stream of recruits moving through training centers in San Diego and Parris Island, S.C.

The reports on the bonuses include this priceless quote from Marine Corps commandant General Michael W. Hagee: “We need infantrymen. That’s what we’re using over there on the ground.”

Fallujah After the Battle

A quick roundup on how U.S. military and media sources have described the reconstruction and resettlement of Fallujah since the battle in November.

Fallujah Reconstruction Effort to Begin Soon

American Forces Press Service

November 19, 2004

Fallujah reconstruction to begin

Army News Service

December 6, 2004

Returning Fallujans will face clampdown

Boston Globe

December 5, 2004

Pockets of Resistence Remain in Fallujah, Myers Says

DefenseLINK News

December 14, 2004

Fallujah Residents Return to Ruins

The News and Observer (on Military.com)

December 24, 2004

In Fallujah, Marines Try a New Tactic

Los Angeles Times (on Boston.com)

January 9, 2005

Fallujah Residents Angry over Destruction

The Associated Press (in the MInneapolis Star-Tribune)

January 11, 2005

As Residents Return to Fallujah, Marines Help Them Rebuild

DefenseLINK News

January 12, 2005

Fallujah voters still scattered by war trauma

The Washington Times

January 13, 2005