Friday, July 30, 2010

An Update on Gemeinschaft Home with Ruth Stoltzfus Jost

Martha note: Harrisonburg’s Gemeinschaft Home has been easing men’s transition from prison back into mainstream life for 25 years. Recent massive state budget cuts, however. Have forced the residential treatment program to re-invent itself. Today, in place of WMRA’s traditional Civic Soapbox, Gemeinschaft’s Board Chair Ruth Stoltzfus Jost talks about the transitional program's own transition. And about Harrisonburg’s ongoing support of the program's efforts to help ex-offenders.
The program used to be called Transitional Therapeutic Community, and it meant transitioning people from a therapeutic community program in prison to a transitional therapeutic community outside of prison. . .

When you lose two-thirds of your budget, which is essentially what happened with us, you have to really slice to the bone and so we’ve done that. . . .

What we have now is just called a Community Residential Program. Instead of a 180-day program, it’s a 90-day program. The people who come to this Community Residential Program, these are people who may or may not have had a drug treatment program at all; may or may not have ever been part of a therapeutic community setting. So we are having people who come to us who are sometimes more in need, worse off, but we have them for 90 days instead of 180, and we are not funded to do the intensive program that we were before . . . 

What we decided at Gemeinschaft was to gamble really big, and that is that even though we are getting this lower reimbursement for the shorter program, for people with more problems, we decided to go ahead with hiring a staff person who is a master’s level clinician. Who has the credentials to provide treatment for our residents. Which we aren’t required to do as a Community Residential Program. . . .  

If you talk with our Program Director, he’ll conduct group sessions., and if he think he sees someone who’s kind of floating through and not dealing with the issues he needs to be facing with - -they’re just going to skate through their 90 days, he starts assigning responsibilities to them. He makes sure they get to a point where they confront the things they need to confront—how to deal with substance abuse, how to avoid being in a situation where they’re going to go backwards. . . .

We’re finding the Department of Corrections is really happy to see the work we are doing. They’ve come and sat in on sessions with group sessions and watched the kind of treatment that people here have access to. But again, when you look at the state budget, there’s the danger they’ll just say, we can’t pay for residential programs. And so it’s something that’s valuable, but that doesn’t necessary mean it’s something that will be funded. . . .  

The community has just been fantastic. I don’t know what the opposite is of “not in my backyard,” but this is what we have. We have people who are saying, “yes, in my backyard,” and  “my yard is your yard and I’m glad to have you here.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Politics, reality, and us . . .

Well, folks this morning I hit some kind of blogging wall.

I was doing research on the NRA's campaign against NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign (a campaign featuring a TV ad boosting our own Governor McDonnell), which quickly led me into political rhetoric that I found deeply fatiguing. And depressing.

I then drifted over to taking a look at the "Republican Tea Party Contract on America," released yesterday by DNC Chair (and former Virginia governor) Tim Kaine.

I found the rhetoric surrounding that to be no less enervating. And depressing.

My brother-in-law happens to be visiting. Last night after supper the three of us Woodroofs watched The Green Zone, a Matt Damon movie which makes a fictive argument that politics, rather than information, sent us to war in Iraq. Which Susan Hasler, retired after 21 years of toil at the CIA, argues as well, in her ironically titled novel Intelligence.

Weekend before last Charlie and I drove out to Green Valley Book Fair (a business supporter of WMRA) where I found a treasure trove of novels I'd always meant to read. Among them was V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River, a novel of cultural transition in Africa. While reading it, I underlined this passage in which the narrator assesses differences between his people and the country's European colonizers:
"We didn't lie because we never assessed ourselves and didn't think there was anything for us to lie about; we were people who simply did what we did. But the Europeans could do one thing and say something quite different; and they could act in this way because they had an idea of what they owed to their civilization." 
So what do our politicians think they owe American "civilization?" Not, apparently, the truth. Why let the truth get in the way of effectively scary rhetoric?

And so it seems to me, just this morning, that we Americans are at our own bend in the river; that our politics has divorced itself pretty firmly from reality. Which, I guess, does assume that someone, somewhere knows what reality is . . .

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Viewing the presidency . . .

I know daytime talk TV almost exclusively from the gym; from the row of suspended flat-screen TVs mouthing soundlessly at me while I trundle away atop an elliptical.

I usually ignore all those chatting heads and read a book, but this Thursday, if I'm trundling away at 11 AM, I may just watch. That's when my local ABC affiliate, WHSV, broadcasts The View.

This announcement from The View's website, got a lot of buzz yesterday:
Barbara Walters and Bill Geddie, executive producers of The View, announced today that President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, will be the featured guest on Thursday, July 29th. This marks the first time in history a sitting United States president has visited a daytime talk show. . . .

President Obama joined the ladies on the couch in March 2008 before the history-making election.

Of course, President Obama's "unprecedented appearance" is not really without precedent for him, personally-- Candidate Obama (as well as Candidate McCain) appeared on the show back in 2008. But it is unprecedented for President Obama, or, to repeat what I just posted above, for any President of the United States.

But then, you know, this is the Information Age, we all get our information in different ways, and President Obama may be the first sitting president to really, really come to terms with this. Just think back to his effective use of the internet during the campaign.

Which is beginning to seem like a long, long time ago.

President Obama was embraced warmly at his inauguration, but, despite the passage of landmark health care reform and tough financial regulations, his approval numbers as president continue to decline. Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton professor of history and public affairs, addressed this seeming paradox in a CNN op-ed piece last week. Dr. Zelizer cited several factors as reasons for President Obama's sinking numbers.
The first factor has to do with President Obama's decision to focus on controversial issues that he felt were important to the nation, even if they were not the most beneficial issues for his party. In other words, Obama selected issues such as health care and financial regulation that were sure to stimulate conservative opposition and cause concern among moderates.
At the same time, the president is a pragmatic politician who has been willing to cut deals to survive a notoriously difficult legislative process. In making those compromises, he has often angered many of his supporters on the left. The strategy of going big, yet doing so through big compromises, has resulted in an energized conservative movement, uneasy independent voters and a frustrated liberal base.
Given that Barack Obama ran a primary campaign in which he promised to pursue transformative politics and avoid the kind of compromises embraced by President Clinton, this has caused disappointment. Recent comments by the administration dismissing its liberal critics has only intensified bad feelings.

Dr. Zelizer goes on to talk about the nature of the political process and the fact that no president has been able to figure out how to focus the public's attention on what he'd like it to focus on. And that last factor appears to be the reason for President Obama's upcoming daytime talk appearance.

“Given the difficulty of reaching people in this hyperactive media environment, we look for opportunities to reach people in environments that are not traditional forums for political newsmakers,” Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in an e-mail message quoted yesterday in the New York Times blog ArtsBeat . “That’s why we have been willing to have the president on Leno, Letterman and ESPN.”

And now on The View. Which, like everything else a sitting President does, has drawn criticism.

Fox News pointed out yesterday that, while taping his appearance today, the President will miss a chance to speak before 45,000 boy scouts at their annual Jamboree. This revelation unleashed a flood of comments, either very witty or very snarky, depending on your point of view.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell suggested on MSNBC's Morning Joe, that The View (which he compared to Jerry Springer) may not be an appropriate venue for a sitting President of the United States. "I think the president should be accessible, should answer questions that aren't pre-screened, but I think there should be a little bit of dignity to the presidency," Rendell said.

Howard Portnoy, however wrote on 
So how bad a miscalculation is it for the president to appear with Whoopi and company?
I'm inclined to agree with Laura Ingraham, who as a guest host for Bill O'Reilly last night, opined "not at all." Ingraham's contention is that viewers who tune in to The View are probably not likely to vote in the fall midterms anyway and that if Obama were somehow to present a charming and rousing version of himself (as he is capable of doing), he might actually persuade some of these people to turn out at the polls.
If the medium is the message, perhaps The View is not the most presidential of podiums. However, if the medium gets the President's message out to people it hasn't gotten to before, The View then becomes the bulliest of pulpits.

So, what's your reaction? Do you plan to watch?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

George Bush et al rock on in black robes . . .

Vivienne Flesher
The Bush Administration has ended, but its most lasting influence on America may be its appointment of one Justice, Samuel Alito, and one Chief Justice, John Roberts, to the Supreme Court.

Adam Liptik wrote a piece in the New York Times last weekend arguing that Chief Justice Roberts' Court is the most conservative court this country's had in decades and it is likely to remain so for a long time.

Writes Mr. Liptik,
. . . Chief Justice Roberts, 55, is settling in for what is likely to be a very long tenure at the head of a court that seems to be entering a period of stability.
If the Roberts court continues on the course suggested by its first five years, it is likely to allow a greater role for religion in public life, to permit more participation by unions and corporations in elections and to elaborate further on the scope of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Abortion rights are likely to be curtailed, as are affirmative action and protections for people accused of crimes.
The recent shift to the right is modest. And the court’s decisions have hardly been uniformly conservative. The justices have, for instance, limited the use of the death penalty and rejected broad claims of executive power in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism.
The Court swung right, Liptik argues, with the 2006 appointment of Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. John Roberts had already been appointed Chief Justice in 2005,

Ed Whelen, writing in the National Review Online, begs to differ with Mr. Liptik's assessment.
The Supreme Court, with its eight current members and the prospective addition of Elena Kagan, will be no more “conservative” (in crude political terms) than [swing vote] Justice Kennedy is. . . . As I’ve previously explained, at most the Roberts Court has taken a small step to the right—and towards the center.  I am not contending that the Court is walking in opposite directions.  Rather, after decades of liberal judicial activism on so many issues, the Court’s starting position remains decidedly on the left. . . .
Whether or not you view the Roberts Court as liberal, conservative, or balanced, its ruling in the case known as Citizens United  did strike down a significant part of the 2002 McCain/Feingold campaign-finance reform law, thus allowing corporate and union money a much bigger voice in American elections.

The House has already passed legislation designed to promote full disclosure in campaign advertising. A Senate version of  the Disclose Act (passed in the House with NRA support in exchange for an exemption) probably comes up for a vote today, and its passage is looking iffy.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposes passage, issued a statement saying, in part
. . .The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment. .
President Obama spoke Monday in the Rose Garden urging Senate passage, saying in part: 
 . . .You'd think that making these reforms would be a matter of common sense, particularly since they primarily involve just making sure that folks who are financing these ads are disclosed so that the American people can make up their own minds. . .
With all the hoopla caused by WikiLeaks' latest batch of leaked documents focusing our attention on the war in Afghanistan (for better, for worse, another Bush administration legacy that's been firmly embraced by the Obama administration), it's important for all of us to remain aware that there's arguably more important action underway a lot closer to home.

Our country's government works because governance is divided among three branches. We have changed administrations, but the last administration's Supreme Court (whatever your view of it) remains intact. Our system of government certainly provides high drama at times as these three branches duke it out, and one of those times promises to be the Senate vote on the Disclose Act.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning from last week . . .

This morning as I sat down to post WMRA's first Facebook question/comment of the day, it was with the knowledge that there were potentially 500 million other people out there doing the same thing.

I was not surprised to learn that Facebook had passed this milestone. The site works so well on so many levels -- FB can inform and invite discussion (which is what I hope the WMRA page does), it keeps our mobile population connected, and it can be simply silly and fun.

Anyone else remember the hula hoop craze of 1958 when 20 million Whamo hoops sold in six months? It pales in comparison, doesn't it? And the Beatles had only sold a paltry 100 million albums by February of 1965.

There may be all kinds of concern about FB and privacy, but there's absolutely no argument that FB is a huge part of our internet life in this, the Internet Age.

What I used the WMRA Facebook page for this morning, however, was to post about something that is anything but fun; WikiLeaks' posting of what the New York Times calls "The War Logs:" 6 years (2004-2009) of leaked classified documents that fill us in on what's going on in Afghanistan.

Kevin Frayer/Associated Press
Now, good luck getting onto the WikiLeaks site, itself. I tried and failed all the time I was writing this blog post.  The site, my internet provider told me, was too busy. But despite my American propensity to think I need to know everything right now, I'm willing to wait my turn on this one, because I need time to think and there's a lot of information out there posted by reliable sources who have been able to access the site.

 For example, the Wall Street Journal writes this morning,
There appears to be evidence of war crimes in the leaked documents, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a news conference in London on Monday according to the Associated Press. "It is up to a court to decide really if something in the end is a crime. That said ... there does appear to be...."
And then there's disturbing information about Pakistan as reported in the New York Times:
. . . [Leaked documents] suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.
It strikes me that it's one thing to rant about suspected dark deeds in this ugly war; it's another to have them detailed on our computer screens by, it appears, those who have first-hand knowledge of them. We now have to stop ranting and start thinking, assessing, and, most importantly, reading. It is, in some ways, yet another end of innocence. "National security" in a sense protected us from having to deal with all this difficult information.

There's a lot more on this story out there on the internet this morning, and it's not just about the documents, themselves. There's White House National Security Adviser James Jones' strong statement about "national security," condemning WikiLeaks' release of the documents as "irresponsible." Yet, the "Greenslade Blog" of the British newspaper, The Guardian asks:
Do we believe factual reports by US soldiers about the killing of civilians is worthless? Do we really think that hard information about the increasing strength of the Taliban should be covered up? Is it of no consequence that there is new and more obvious evidence about Pakistani and Iranian aid for the Taliban?
Do we believe? Do we really think? Is it?

Well, please, please, please don't answer that. Yet.

Last week's news kerfuffle was caused by the misuse of a Shirley Sherrod speech by He Who Shall Not Be Named (yes, that conservative blogger, who's been named enough, already) and the administration's subsequent overreaction to it.  It was fueled on the internet, in large part I would suspect by us 500 million FB users reacting too quickly to what we read on the internet.

I hope we learned from this disaster that we need to take time to be informed before we form our opinions. And to shy away from the opinions of those who do not appear to be reliably sourcing their material.

So, may we all have more than our customary patience while we wait in line at WikiLeaks. Might I suggest amusing yourself on Facebook, chatting with friends about how long they've been waiting . . .
Note: I just went back to insert a link to WMRA's Facebook page and realized I had done what I just blogged against doing: I had solicited an immediate response from you to the WikiLeaks story. So, I've dope-slapped myself, and I do promise to try to do better.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Warrior Ideal and Global Warming by Andrew Bard Schmookler

Have you ever wondered why people who are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year to protect the United States against any possible threat from an external enemy, nonetheless say we can’t afford to sacrifice much of anything to combat the threat of climate change that could make our world, and our country, less livable?

Part of the answer involves money. The U.S. has giant corporations that want us to spend a lot on defense, and even mightier corporations that don’t want us to kick our fossil fuel habit. So the big money wins both ways.

But the more interesting and maybe more important answer goes deeper into our culture. It has to do with the traditional concept of manhood.

For thousands of years, human communities have perceived the greatest threat to their survival as coming from enemies outside their borders. So they have made warriors their heroes, and warrior virtues their ideal of manhood.

We have been taught that it’s manly to arm ourselves and to prepare to fight our enemies. There is no shame if we invest too heavily in armor. Nobody thinks it unmanly if a president spends unnecessary billions for defenses against an exaggerated threat.

But with concern about environmental dangers, however clear and present, it’s different. Here the dangers do not come from the power of other men, but rather from the excessive and irresponsible use of our own powers. The remedy does not involve more action, but more restraint. We are challenged not to make ourselves larger, but to limit ourselves to fit into something larger than we are.

“Real men” in America are not supposed to accept limits. “Real men” don’t “take care of things”—that’s what women do. And real men certainly don’t take care of things by reining in their powers to exploit nature and extend their material empires.

With spending for defense against uncertain military threats, it’s damn the uncertainty and full speed ahead. With uncertainty about possible climatic catastrophe, it’s wait and see and “we can’t afford it.”

Our concepts of manhood may have been adaptive during most of history, but the exponential growth of the human impact on the earth has made these old concepts inadequate.

There is a different ancient image of what a man might be. It is the image of the good steward, the man to whom the care of things can be entrusted. Until the good steward seems to us as manly as the vigilant warrior, our national security will be in jeopardy.

Holding too narrowly to that traditional warrior ideal of manhood may prevent our coming to grips with what may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.

 --Andrew Bard Schmookler lives in the Shenandoah Valley and maintains the website

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Comments on the Moro Massacre by Mark Twain

Martha note:   Yesterday's blog post was on the Moro Campaign, the first (and almost forgotten) armed conflict the U.S. engaged in with Muslims driven by religious beliefs. The campaign, which lasted from 1903 to 1920, begs for comparison with our current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The so-called Moro Crater Massacre took place during this campaign. Below is a short description lifted from Wikipedia.
The Moro Crater massacre is a name given to the final phase of the First Battle of Bud Dajo, a military engagement of the Philippine-American War, which took place March 10, 1906, on the isle of Jolo in the southern Philippines. Forces of the U.S. Army under the command of Major General Leonard Wood, a naval detachment comprising 540 soldiers, along with a detachment of native constabulary, armed with artillery and small firearms, attacked a village hidden in the crater of the dormant volcano Bud Dajo. More than 600 mostly unarmed Muslim Moro villagers (including many women and children) were killed by the Americans, of whom fifteen soldiers were killed and thirty-two were wounded. 

Mark Twain, at the time, was vice-president of the Anti-Imperialist League.  He wrote the following response to news of the incident.
(March 12, 1906) This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of our forces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows: A tribe of Moros, dark-skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace. Our commander, Gen. Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance. It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery. Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out. Our troops climbed the heights by devious and difficult trails, and even took some artillery with them. The kind of artillery is not specified, but in one place it was hoisted up a sharp acclivity by tackle a distance of some three hundred feet. Arrived at the rim of the crater, the battle began. Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty. They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay -- their numbers not given -- and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated. But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number -- six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women and children in the bottom of the bowl. Depth of the bowl, 50 feet.
Gen. Wood's order was, "Kill or capture the six hundred."
The battle began-it is officially called by that name-our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats-though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.
The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completeness of the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.
General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been. "Kill or capture those savages." Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there - the taste of Christian butchers.
The official report quite properly extolled and magnified the "heroism" and "gallantry" of our troops; lamented the loss of the fifteen who perished, and elaborated the wounds of thirty-two of our men who suffered injury, and even minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds, in the interest of future historians of the United States. It mentioned that a private had one of his elbows scraped by a missile, and the private's name was mentioned. Another private had the end of his nose scraped by a missile. His name was also mentioned - by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word.
Next day's news confirmed the previous day's report and named our fifteen killed and thirty-two wounded again, and once more described the wounds and gilded them with the right adjectives.
Let us now consider two or three details of our military history. In one of the great battles of the Civil War ten per cent. of the forces engaged on the two sides were killed and wounded. At Waterloo, where four hundred thousand men were present on the two sides, fifty thousand fell, killed and wounded, in five hours, leaving three hundred and fifty thousand sound and all right for further adventures. Eight years ago, when the pathetic comedy called the Cuban War was played, we summoned two hundred and fifty thousand men. We fought a number of showy battles, and when the war was over we had lost two hundred and sixty-eight men out of our two hundred and fifty thousand, in killed and wounded in the field, and just fourteen times as many by the gallantry of the army doctors in the hospitals and camps. We did not exterminate the Spaniards -- far from it. In each engagement we left an average of two per cent. of the enemy killed or crippled on the field.
Contrast these things with the great statistics which have arrived from that Moro crater! There, with six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright, and we had thirty-two wounded-counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered six hundred -- including women and children -- and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.
Now then, how has it been received? The splendid news appeared with splendid display-heads in every newspaper in this city of four million and thirteen thousand inhabitants, on Friday morning. But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers. The news appeared again in all the evening papers of Friday, and again those papers were editorially silent upon our vast achievement. Next day's additional statistics and particulars appeared in all the morning papers, and still without a line of editorial rejoicing or a mention of the matter in any way. These additions appeared in the evening papers of that same day (Saturday) and again without a word of comment. In the columns devoted to correspondence, in the morning and evening papers of Friday and Saturday, nobody said a word about the "battle." Ordinarily those columns are teeming with the passions of the citizen; he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small, without pouring out his praise or blame, his joy or his indignation about the matter in the correspondence column. But, as I have said, during those two days he was as silent as the editors themselves. So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion -- that was the President of the United States. All day Friday he was as studiously silent as the rest. But on Saturday he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty. If I know President Roosevelt -- and I am sure I do -- this utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth. I am far from blaming him. If I had been in his place my official duty would have compelled me to say what he said. It was a convention, an old tradition, and he had to be loyal to it. There was no help for it. This is what he said:
Washington, March 10. Wood, Manila:- I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag. (Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.
His whole utterance is merely a convention. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms - and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines - that is to say, they had dishonored it.
The next day, Sunday, -- which was yesterday -- the cable brought us additional news - still more splendid news -- still more honor for the flag. The first display-head shouts this information at us in the stentorian capitals: "WOMEN SLAIN MORO SLAUGHTER."
"Slaughter" is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion
The next display line says:
"With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, and All Died Together."
They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children -- merely children. And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse. We see a picture. We see the small forms. We see the terrified faces. We see the tears. We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about. We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.
The next heading blazes with American and Christian glory like to the sun in the zenith:
"Death List is Now 900."
I was never so enthusiastically proud of the flag till now!

Martha note #2: FYI, Lexington-based writer James R. Arnold, author of Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, will publish a book on the Moro Campaigns next year.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Studying war . . .

Author James R. Arnold has lived on a farm near Lexington for the last 16 years, doing a little "subsistence farming" and writing books about Napoleon and counter-insurgency warfare. The first subject has been a life-long love; the second a later-blooming interest suggest by his publisher, Bloomsbury Press -- which just happens to send me boxes of its lovely and interesting books.

Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare From the Philippines to Iraq came about three weeks ago. The following is a loose and truncated transcription of a conversation I had with Mr. Arnold about the Moro Campaign, which took place in the Philippines around the turn of the last century. This campaign is the subject of Mr. Arnold's next book, scheduled for 2011. I've intermixed some snippets of manuscript Mr. Arnold sent me with our conversation when I thought it would make for greater clarity.
J.A.   I knew nothing about the Moro Campaign and found that very few other people did, either. It turns out that it was kind of the cradle of leadership for many of the men who led us in World War I.  Men like Pershing, who's just a captain in this war;  a guy named Tasker Bliss, for whom Fort Bliss is named; and Leonard Wood, the surgeon, who became Army Chief of Staff. Most of these people had their combat experience in this little known episode in American history, a ten-year fight against a force you could arguably call Islamic terrorists. But this depends upon your point of view.
M.W.   When was the Moro Campaign?
J.A.   1903 to 1913
M.W.   Let me be clear – this was the first time we fought Muslims driven by their religious beliefs?
J.A.    That is correct. The only other time we fought against Muslims was back in the early 1800s against the Barbary pirates. They were Islamic, but that was largely irrelevant to the combat. This is the first time where we’re fighting Islamic peoples, people who are religiously inspired, and this heavily influences how we view them and how they view us.
M.W.   What would it have been like to fight in this conflict?

J.A.    The terrorists had a practice they called juramentados. These were suicidal assassins called by the Spanish word, juramentado (from the Spanish to swear an oath; in Moro macsabil, "to die for the faith"). Because of their ability to masquerade as a peaceful civilian one moment and turn into a frenzied assassin the next, juramentados imparted a unique fear among American soldiers. An officer who had served in the Indian Wars remarked, "Even the veteran Indian fighters...had to learn that a Moro juramentado was more dangerous than a renegade Apache and twice as hard to kill." Stories abounded about incidents such as the one in which a juramentado fought for five minutes, struggling and slashing the whole time, in spite of his fourteen bullet wounds, including three to the skull. Such incidents led to a re-evaluation of the standard American handgun, the .38 caliber revolver. In kill or be killed moments, the Americans did not have a reliable handgun.
M.W.   How present were these juramentados? 
J.A.   They were constantly present, and they inflicted terror on the American soldiers who were on garrison duty throughout the Philippines. The Moros were racially indistinguishable from Filipinos, who were mainly Catholic. And the two had thought of each other as separate people for hundreds of years before we got there.
M.W.  How did the Moros inflict terror?
J.A.   The Moros thought, just as Islamic terrorists do now, that if you killed an infidel you went to Paradise, so they were partially religiously inspired . But they also were defending themselves against a foreign occupying power.
This whole campaign took place sort of out of sight and out of mind of the American public until the anti-Imperialist, anti-Roosevelt (Teddy Roosevelt) press picked up on the story and actually broadcast a picture of essentially a massacre where Americans indiscriminately killed women and children and men in a pitched battle. And that became a big political issue at the time.
On March 7, 1906, US troops under the command of Major General Leonard Wood massacred as many as 1,000 Filipino Muslims, known as Moros, who were taking refuge at Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines. Above, US soldiers pose for the camera in the aftermath of the massacre. (Photo from The National Archive)
It's remarkably echoed in what goes on today. We’ve been there before, we’ve had these experiences before. It’s interesting to see what the people of that time thought and what they wrote and their attitudes toward the killing.

M.W.  What do you see as the parallels between the Moro Campaign and our current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did we learn anything from this that we are applying in Afghanistan or are we keeping it mostly in glorious historical isolation?

J.A.    The latter, mostly.
M.W.  Oh, why can we not learn from our past mistakes?
J.A.    Oh yes, that’s one of the recurring themes I’ve been writing about for the past 30 years. I’m trying to do my little bit to broadcast the message that we can learn from our experience. Last fall a professor at VMI had me come in and talk to his Keydets who were taking an advanced course in counter-insurgency. And those Keydets were just a very impressive bunch of kids. But I felt very bad because five of them are, upon graduation (which just happened, as you know) are going to Afghanistan. And it’s sobering to meet the next generation of warriors and realize what they’re being sent to.
M.W.  In looking at the Moro campaign of 1903-1913, what could we have learned?

J.A.   I think we could have learned about the value of cultural awareness. At the time of the Moro campaign, we had some skilled people who were sensitive to Moro traditions and did learn their language. And were very good. But the balance of the force had no clue.
This was the Progressive era. Basically we were literally trying to impose our progressive notions on a feudal Islamic society, and they didn’t like it. And that surprised us. Because we said, look,  here's schools, here’s sanitation, here’s hospitals, roads, all the things we do now, that we did in Iraq and we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. I think the parallel is we still have trouble understanding why they don’t welcome us. That said, today’s military has really reformed a lot since the Vietnam War. And it is an institution that can learn.
M.W.   How did official hostilities end in 1913? What was resolved?
J.A.    The Moros got tired of being killed. We were pretty brutal. But then they thought that, having surrendered to the Americans, the Americans would protect them. They knew they would be an outnumbered and exploited minority group dominated by the Christian Philippine government in Manila.
M.W.   And did we protect them?
J.A.    Nope. We abandoned them. There is still tension and occasional conflict today between the Moros and the Philippine Government.
M.W.  Anything to add about our country's history with the Moro people?
J.A.   In 2003, when the Philippine army announced that it would participate in a joint exercise — called "Balikatan" [shoulder to shoulder] — with U.S. forces on Jolo, many people protested and said that the Philippine constitution prohibited it. A banner near the main port read, "We will not let history repeat itself! Yankee back off." Jolo's radio station played traditional ballads, known as kissa, that combined current events with historical reflections. A kissa vocalist sang, "We heard the Americans are coming and we are getting ready. We are sharpening our swords to slaughter them when they come. Our ancestors are calling for revenge." The voice could be heard in the poor neighborhoods, wafting above the port's dense cluster of ramshackle homes built on poles.

Tomorrow, more about the Moro campaign with guest blogger, Mark Twain  . . .

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Getting over it, whatever "it" is . . .

If  "refudiate" wasn't considered a word yesterday, it probably is today. After all, it most likely saw more print and Twitter space over the last couple of days than any word over five letters. As Peter Grief put it yesterday in the Christian Science Monitor, "Never 'misunderestimate' the beauty and adaptability of the English language."

Unless you've been living in total seclusion, you already know that the redoubtable Sarah Palin (love her, hate her, she does give us something to tweet about) stated Sunday that Muslims should "refudiate" the current plan to build a mosque close to the World Trade Center site. (Photograph by: Brian Snyder, Reuters).
And then, when the Tweet-o-sphere (new term possibly?) went wild, she calmly shot back that, "Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Get over it!"

The blogosphere (is this still considered a non-word?) has gone wild over Sarah P. comparing herself to Shakespeare. Ken Rudin, NPR's Political Junkie, weighed in. As did ABC news, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Vancouver Sun, etc, etc, etc.

I ask you, could Sarah P. have come up with a better way to get herself out there, yet again? I, personally, don't think so.

Carolyn Kellogg, writing in the LA Times did some serious (?) research on Ms. Palin's comparison of her writing (tweeting?) with the Bard's:
So is Sarah Palin like Shakespeare?
According to the I Write Like tool, Palin's 2008 speech to the Republication National Convention, in which she said, "I was just your average hockey mom," is like Dan Brown. Her keynote speech at the inaugural Tea Party Convention in February 2010 reads like -- wait for it -- Cory Doctorow.
But those are speeches, which of course read a little differently than what appears on the page. Could Sarah Palin's book "Going Rogue" be written like Shakespeare?
Alas, alack: no. The first several hundred words of Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" read like H.P. Lovecraft. . .
So much copy, all generated by one little word and one reactive comparison. Wow, Sarah P's got the People Magazine crowd beaten by a mile in the race for self-promotion.

As to "refudiate," the non-word generating such scrutiny, I rather like it. It suggests repudiation done with an extra stamp of the foot. I plan on using it in the future (along with most of America?).  I hope I will have the guts not to disrespect (a real word - dating back to early 17th C.) Sarah Palin's attempt to communicate her thoughts by delivering "refudiate" in verbal quotation marks. I must confess that we Woodroofs have a non-word of our own, "repozzled," that is firmly entrenched in Woodroofian speak.  It was generated by a mistake Charlie made in a crossword puzzle, and we use it to describe a state of puzzled wonderment.

Back to Sarah P, though, because that's where my focus belongs, right?

Many of us do tend to take Ms. Palin soooooooo seriously. What I can never tell is whether Sarah P. takes herself seriously. Or if she just winks to herself about how she's somehow gotten herself this really good, fun gig that can make her enough money to keep her and her amorphous brood in guns and hockey sticks and jet skis for a long, long, looooooong time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts on transgender persons spurred by Governor McDonnell's ex-brother-in-law . . .

Anita Kumar (incidentally, a guest today on WMRA's Virginia Insight)  wrote about it Friday in The Washington Post. Governor Bob McDonnell's ex brother-in-law, Bob Deane, now Robyn Deane, has finally spoken out to promote the rights of gay and transgender state workers.
"I am father to three of the present governor's nephews and nieces," she announced to the more than 100 people trying to shield themselves from the rain.
"Whoa," someone muttered.
"I'm also uncle to five of his children, so that puts me kind of close," Deane continued. "He is my former brother-in-law. . . . He witnessed the impact that all of this coming out can have on one's life. He had a front-row-center seat."
Ms. Deane had gone public about her relationship with Governor McDonnell last April, but Friday was her first attempt to advocate a softening of his conservative position on gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to Ms. Kumar,
Deane said she decided to announce her relationship to McDonnell on April 21 because she feels that her situation hardened some of his views on sexual orientation. The governor opposes same-sex marriage and has not backed measures that protect gay state workers from discrimination.
As far as I can tell, Governor McDonnell has made no public comment on Robyn Deane's activism except to say, through a spokesperson, that he wishes Robyn the very best, and that their relationship is a personal matter.

Ms. Deane's situation is hardly an anomaly. According to Paisley Currah, Richard. M. Juang, and Shannon Price Minter, authors of Transgender Rights, 
. . .the American Psychological Association notes that data from European countries with access to total population statistics suggest that roughly 1 per 30,000 adults transition from male-to-female and 1 per 100,000 adults transition from female-to-male. Over time, however, the gap between these two groups appears to be closing as more female-bodied people seek out treatment for sex-reassignment. In addition, these numbers include only people who seek out medical treatment. There are many more people who cannot afford to access medical care, who live as the other gender without any medical treatment, or who are gender non-conforming but do not wish to be the other gender.      
I think it is naive to say that a transgender person is someone to whom we static-gender persons give the same thoughtless acceptance we give a prom queen or a plumber. If we look deep down into our politically correct guts, choosing to change sexes does seem a tad strange. But that feeling really is our problem, don't you think? It's a matter of not having enough guts to truly accept other people the way they really are.

Years ago, a transgender woman who was undergoing surgery at UVa came into the boutique at the Sweet Briar College Bookstore where I happened to be working. She was depressed, she said. The surgery was taking so long. And she needed some new clothes that would give her confidence. She couldn't shop in Charlottesville because people made fun of her.

I will never forget how Kleo, the boutique manager, took that woman in hand, selecting outfit after outfit for her to try on. "No, no," I heard her say, "that's not for you. Try the red one." There were make-up tips, hair tips, more kinds of tips than I, a biological woman, was aware women needed. It was one of the kindest acts I've ever witnessed, in that it was one person giving another person the help and support they needed.

Kindness rocks, don't you think?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Remembering J.D. Salinger by Marc C. Conner

Martha note: Today is Civic Soapbox Friday on the WMRA Blog.

Every year I have a number of college freshmen who list J.D. Salinger as their favorite author, and often The Catcher in the Rye as their favorite novel. Indeed, to this day young students still describe “Catcher” as the novel that changed their lives. For a certain kind of student—bright, creative, a bit frustrated, moderately alienated—Salinger is their voice, their recognizable kinsman in American writing. It’s been over 45 years since Salinger published a word—how can we account for his continued influence on the young American mind?

The fact is, J.D. Salinger’s stories could only have happened in America. Ours is a children’s literature. Huckleberry Finn, Little Pearl, Rip Van Winkle, Jay Gatsby--all our great characters are children, or at least childlike: they charm and enchant because they promise that, like Peter Pan, we might never grow up—that our American innocence can stay with us forever. J.D. Salinger’s imagination was completely in this American vein. Salinger’s children, such as Holden Caulfield and Franny Glass, continue to haunt readers to this day, for, like so many other children in our literature, they are victims, sacrifices to a world that will not accept them.

Salinger’s most famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye, appeared in 1951—meaning most of the parents of the students who adore it today were not yet born! Yet the period in which the novel appeared may have much in common with our own day. The novel defines the mood of the fifties, chronicling the awful fragility of the young and innocent during a time of terror. Its famous protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is in terrified flight from the entire conventional world around him. But he cannot tell you what he flees. All Holden can point to is a general malaise, an overall complaint about American culture that he articulates in his most oft-used word, “phony.” “Phony” is a child’s word; but one of Salinger’s points is that the adults in the 1950's were not attending to the wisdom that comes from the mouths of babes.

This is one of the great ironies of the legacy of Catcher in the Rye: it is not a revolutionary book, it does not call for overturning the world, nor promote an alternative culture; rather, it is a cry for the adults to do what they are supposed to do--to nurture and train their children, to show their children how to live in the world, to provide that most dreaded phrase for youth, “role models.” It is a profoundly conservative book, and it lays the blame for the world squarely at the feet of the adults. For every adult Holden turns to fails him; as he says of his old history teacher, Mr. Spencer, “He wasn’t even listening. He hardly ever listened to you when you said something.” I can’t help but wonder if Holden appeals to the young people today for precisely the same reasons. In an era when the divorce rate has broken 50%, when children receive more attention, but less listening, than at any time in American history, is it any mystery why Salinger’s work holds such purchase on our young people’s minds?

                                 --Marc Conner is a Professor of English at Washington and Lee University 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oh the places we go . . .

Charlie and I just got back from a western wander, 4500 miles mostly off-interstate.We drove with our heads hanging out the windows, looking for this country's back-stories, those historical places that rate a roadside marker, rather than a billboard.

One such place we passed through was Atomic City, Idaho.

At one time the road to America's nuclear-powered future ran through this town. Its economy was steadily fueled by scientists working at the nearby  Idaho National  Lab. Today the roads leading to the INL (or officially, as of 1997, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab) are better and so most of its employees zoom by Atomic City on their way to somewhere else. There remains a small store and a dim bar with, as you can see in Charlie's photograph above, a burned out neon "R," and one motorcycle parked in front. Atomic City also boasts a robust-looking dirt track raceway.

Charlie and I happened to spend the night in nearby Arco, Idaho, on the Thursday before the Saturday celebration of the 55th anniversary of its being the first city in the world to be lit by nuclear power. This led us to take a Friday morning tour of the laboratory which did the lighting (now a National Historic Landmark). There we saw the first Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) to generate electricity from atomic energy. In 1951, ERB-I generated enough power to light four light bulbs, two of which are accounted for, two of which are missing.

Four years later ERB-I powered Arco.

Nuclear science baffles me. The details of what went on back then at the INL baffle me. I was much more interested in getting a sense of the people who worked there at its beginning, and in the lab as the location of their work. Its dials and panels seemed so primitive, like something out of an old sci-fi movie. In the pictures taken in the fifties, there wasn't a hazmat suit (or a woman) in sight. Men worked in shirtsleeves, slinging about materials in a way we would find unconscionably risky now. But those pictures also transmit the excitement and the passion of Walter Zinn,et al., as they worked to unleash nuclear power's peaceful future simply because they believed it had one.

Our guide's favorite anecdote was the alleged derivation of the term "scram," an acronym still used to designate a full-system shutdown in the face of impending nuclear emergency. It stands for Safety Control Rod Ax Man. During early, early Chicago-based tests, the practice became that a man equipped with an ax  was stationed on a balcony within reach of the ropes that suspended the control rods over the nuclear reactor. If something went wrong with the experiment, he was supposed to cut those ropes with his ax, at which point they would fall into the reactor core and shut everything down.

To me, this demonstrates both how primitive nuclear science was at its beginning, and how practical nuclear scientists were. There have been no documented radiation-related health problems in Zinn's crew at the INL.

The 1979 accident at Three Mile Island derailed America's nuclear future. Nuclear power is safe on paper, but once you factor human error and human greed into this field, or any other field (offshore oil drilling for instance), things quickly get risky.

Nuclear power is very much back on the table these days as we try to sort out our country's energy future. We've come a long way in both safety measures and technology since Three Mile Island, not to mention the field's ax-riddled beginnings. But we obviously have not yet learned how to deal with human error and greed--just look at the destruction those character traits have unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico.

I stood out front of Howard Zinn's digs, the lab where nuclear power first produced electricity, and thought about how those scientists did no direct harm to themselves or anyone else with their experiments. But then those people were certainly smart, certainly methodical and careful, and there's no evidence that any of them were looking to get rich.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Despair and the Pursuit of Happiness

Guest blogger Sara Prince weighs in again.

Last week, many of you heard the saddening piece on the BBC news (weekdays 9-10am on WMRA) about new physician-assisted suicide regulations in Switzerland. This came after allegations that the founder of Dignitas, one of the country’s most popular assisted-suicide organizations for foreigners, has become a millionaire since founding the company in 1998. While physician-assisted suicide organizations potentially profiting from the taking of human lives is up for debate, discussion, and potential legislation, there is another factor at play – should such organizations even exist?

Suicide organizations in the United States are unlikely as the practice is illegal in every state except for Oregon, which does allow terminally ill patients to receive professional assistance with ending their life. But concerns for a person’s welfare and state of mind are rampant.

In an article from the Annals of Internal Medicine, The Debate Over Physician-Assisted Suicide: Empirical Data and Convergent Views, one viewpoint suggests that “patients who request that death be hastened” should have their request “viewed as a ‘cry for help,’ the meaning of which should be carefully explored.”

But the state of a person’s mind is difficult to interpret – particularly where clinical depression is concerned. According to the above article, depression can distort a patient’s judgment regarding treatment options and potentially life-ending decisions. However, this viewpoint remains an issue as there are no set standards and limited supporting research.

So the question becomes: What if a person’s request is found to be sincere and longstanding? And what if terminal illness is inconsequent to the debate?

After reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides, I began to think a lot about one of the main characters who was introduced by the following description:

“In the summer of 1922, my grandmother Desdemona Stephanides wasn’t predicting births but deaths, specifically her own. She was in her silkworm cocoonery, high on the slope of Mount Olympus in Asia Minor, when her heart, without warning, missed a beat….Squinting in the dim light, my grandmother looked down to see the front of her tunic visibly fluttering; and in that instant, as she recognized the insurrection inside her, Desdemona became what she’d remain for the rest of her life: a sick person imprisoned in a healthy body.”

The author of this fictional tale goes on to explain the many tragedies suffered by this character, Desdemona – the murder of her parents, the burning of her homeland, life in a new and confusing country, and the death of her son, among many other tragedies.

Her response was a gradual letting go of life.

Eugenides, in his novel, suggests that the pursuit of happiness is an American phenomenon. He writes: “The lesson of Desdemona’s suffering and rejection of life insisted that old age would not continue the manifold pleasures of youth but would instead be a long trial that slowly robbed life of even its smallest, simplest joys. Everyone struggles against despair, but it always wins in the end. It has to. It’s the thing that lets us say goodbye.”

It’s a philosophy that I’d never personally considered. If life has to have an element of despair, is physician-assisted suicide such a terrible thing when that person is unable to experience, as Eugenides writes, “even the smallest, simplest joys?” And, if life was devoid of despair, would death, when it inevitably arrived, be far harder to handle?

What do you think?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Do You Really Know When It’s Going to Rain?

Guest blogger Sara Prince is filling in for a couple of days while Martha Woodroof explores the upper Midwest.

Before our week-long bout of drought in the Valley, I was driving in the car with my sister and she pointed to a tree growing adjacent to the parking lot of Harrisonburg’s south-side Wal-Mart and said, “Look, the tree has upside-down leaves.”

“Huh?” was my well nuanced reply.

She then proceeded to remind me that our parents had once told us that when the wind is blowing in such a way to make the leaves look as if they are growing upside down, it’s going to rain.

To find out if that tradition had any truth behind it for those of us in Virginia, I contacted Steve Keighton at the National Weather Service.

“It may be a sign of an easterly wind,” he said, which indicates a better chance of rain in the region. But Keighton went on to say, “It depends on the kind of tree and how strong the wind is blowing, so I certainly wouldn't trust that one.”

Good point. It never did rain that day, despite the upside-down leaves and the thunderclouds up above – another sign of potential rainfall.

But it got me thinking. Are there any rain prediction beliefs that are actually reliable?

The Wikipedia site, How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast, has a number of different ways to predict rainfall that are based on folklore passed down from generation to generation. One of the traditions is to look for a rainbow in the west. Because storms generally move east to west, and rainbows indicate moisture in the air, it’s fairly likely that a storm is imminent. Keighton agrees with this in general, but says that it indicates the likelihood of a storm that is only minutes away.

Since weather prediction folklore seems to only hold true under some circumstances and not others, are we better off relying on technology for predicting natural phenomena (like weather), as we are for many other aspects of our day to day life?

Keighton admits that meteorology is an inexact science – and it all depends on a variety of circumstances. As he explains it, there are three basic strategies for predicting rain – Doppler radar, satellite imagery, and upstream rain gauges. That gets us our weather for the upcoming hour or two. Beyond that, says Keighton, the NWS uses numerical prediction computer models.

And accuracy? Well, accuracy comes…and accuracy goes. It often takes off for vacation during the summer.

“With summer time thunderstorms, which can be quite scattered or isolated (versus widespread coverage), the models do a good job of predicting that they will form in general areas, but to show that any one location will get hit (say Harrisonburg versus Staunton) is beyond their capability,” said Keighton.

However, in the last ten years the computer models have improved their ability to determine the impact that terrain has on precipitation.

In the science of predicting rain further into the future, the NWS also looks at global patterns, such as El Nino and La Nina. But by this point, accuracy is determined by federal departments. Local NWS forecasts, according to Keighton, are only about 60% accurate up to seven days out, while the Climate Prediction Center is more focused (and presumably, more accurate) on seasonal predictions for rainfall.

So, back to my original question: how do you know when it’s gonna rain? I wish I could give you an answer. But at least I can arm you with a pocketful of folklore (How to Predict the Weather Without a Forecast) and technology (thank you, NWS) that, when doubled-up, will get you the most reliable forecast you (and your garden) can get.

Adventure extended . . .

The above is a picture of the inn in Kadoka, South Dakota, that finally had a room. Who knew southwestern South Dakota was such a tourist mecca? Every motel for the fifty miles before this one was full. Charlie and I are headed back, but having too many adventures and so running late.

The WMRA Blog will resume on Wednesday or Thursday.

All best to all of you,  M