Sunday, April 13, 2014

United States of Fear

The United States has denied a visa to Iran's newly-chosen ambassador to the United Nations.  The ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, participated in the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran after the takeover in November 1979 and is, therefore, so persona non grata that the United States will violate its obligation as the host nation for the UN to allow access for nations' ambassadors and other representatives.

How dare those cheeky Iranians taunt Americans by choosing a person who is forever with such a grievous insult to our national pride!  Why the very idea threatens the foundations of the Republic. Or so it would seem from the American brouhaha about the new ambassador

From the Iranian side it looks different.  Ambassador Aboutalebi took part in an important national event; the embassy occupation was part of the Islamic Revolution which looms as large in Iran's history as the American Revolution does in ours.  Whatever other nations' doubts may be about the results of Iran's revolution, the Iranian government has every reason to hold its participants in high regard.  If one of those persons has skills that may serve the nation, why would the government not appoint that person to a responsible position?  If the position happens to require a visa to attend the United Nations, the US should honor its obligation to provide that visa.  I mean, it's not like Ambassador Aboutalebi was a leader of either the embassy takeover or the Islamic Revolution. 

The United States would do well to remember its own history in this matter.  The first American ambassador to Great Britain was John Adams, a man who had without a doubt participated in the American Revolution.  Despite the all-too-recent open warfare between the two nations, Adams was received by the Court of St James.  They did not refuse his commission.

21st century America should be so open.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014)

Despite Peter Matthiessen's prolific output, I have read only two of his books, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse and The Tree Where Man Was Born.  I read Crazy Horse in the late 80's and consider it a necessary counter-narrative to the official story that led to the conviction and imprisonment of Leonard PeltierThe Tree Where Man Was Born was my trail reading between Salisbury, Connecticut  and almost Maine when I hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Reading it was a drawn out affair; only a few pages a night before I expired completely.  Two images from that book have stayed with me ever since.  In describing predators on the Serengetti Matthiessen noted that lions killed and ate prey every few days but the dogs ate every day.  Another scene describes a Scottish researcher standing his ground against a charging  elephant and, amazingly, spooking it enough to turn away.  Both books held my attention and presented information I did not know.

Godspeed, Peter. 

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Local Note in the International News

The BBC paints a decidedly unflattering picture of Aberdeen, Washington on this 20th anniversary of the death the town's most famous son, Kurt Cobain ("Kurt Cobain's hometown no 'nirvana' 20 years after death").  That Cobain left a mixed legacy in his hometown isn't very surprising, given the circumstances of his childhood, the limits of life in a small town, his negative comments about Aberdeen as a celebrity, his drug use and suicide.  Being a dead rock legend doesn't count for a whole lot for many folks in Aberdeen.  If it counts at all, it's for the possibility of tourist dollars.

I can't speak to Cobain's life, his music or death--I was well into folk and folk-influenced rock and paid only passing attention to Cobain, Nirvana and the grunge movement.  On the other hand, I have been to Aberdeen more than once and can't say that the BBC is too far off the mark.

Among the very first references to Aberdeen I heard from a native Washingtonian was "Aberdump" and while others weren't as overtly negative, most people don't have much good to say about the town which is about 50 miles west of Olympia.  My first view of Aberdeen took me through a downtown that was more remnant of a better economy; I'd passed all of the big box stores on the highway east of town.  Lots of empty retail space.  Houses small and worn looking.  Neighboring Hoquiam looked equally forlorn.  Gray skies only heightened the effect.  The BBC rightly notes that Aberdeen has been hit hard by the decline of logging and it shows in the empty buildings.  On a larger scale, Aberdeen just looks like it's been used hard.  The city's waterfront is extensive and built out for an economy that no longer requires it.

Aberdeen does have a few things to recommend it, though.  The city is located at the head of Grays Harbor Bay at the confluence of the Chehalis, Whiskah and Hoquiam Rivers, all of which make for a dramatic coastal setting.  Most of my experience of Aberdeen has been passing through on my way to the grand places of the Olympic Peninsula; however much the area may be diminished by the "march of progress" it retains much of its innate beauty.  The approach from the east along Route 12 follows the north side of the broad flood plain of the Chehalis River with its many sloughs and wetlands.  Aberdeen is home to Grays Harbor Institute where Maggie and I heard Melissa Harris speak.  Aberdeen is home port for the Lady Washington, Washington's semi-official tall ship.  Three drawbridges span the Whiskah, Chehalis and Hoquiam Rivers.  A ray of local economic hope is the construction of the pontoons for the new floating bridge in Seattle.  I even ate good Mexican food at an Aberdeen restaurant.

If you look closely you can see Aberdeen's positives but you can't ignore it's decline.  For as much as Aberdeen disdains Kurt Cobain, the BBC would not be writing about Aberdeen but for Kurt Cobain.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Who Could Have Guessed

...that war has consequences?

Linda Bilimes andJoseph Stiglitz included the lost opportunity for wounded veterans in their 2008 "Three Trillion Dollar War" estimate.  A year earlier, Ilona Meagher cogently described the traumatic effects of war on soldiers in Moving a Nation to Care.  Both works drew on an existing body of knowledge so the answer to my question is "many folks."  

None of this mattered to the neo-con "deciders" who took this country to war in 2003.

 Fuckers all.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

The Long Cost of War

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Senate's only socialist and current chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, speaks the truth about paying the ongoing costs of America's war's.
“If you can’t afford to take care of your veterans, then don’t go to war,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “These people are bearing the brunt of what war is about. We have a moral obligation to support them.”

He agreed it wasn’t cheap but said the cost pales in comparison to the cost of war for veterans and families who have sacrificed so much. He then described the decision as a choice between veterans and the wealthy.

“If you happen to meet a veteran who is trying to get by on $28,000, $30,000, $35,000 a year and you notice that the teeth in his mouth are rotting I want you to go up to that veteran and have the courage, the honesty to tell him that you believe the United States of America does not have the money to take care of his needs,” Sanders said. “But explain to him why you may have voted for more than $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest.”

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Comment About US Policy on Crimea

Dr. Wes Browning:

Particularly funny is the possibility that the United States and the European Union might enforce economic sanctions. Not only Putin, but all of Russia with him, are thinking, “You are joking, right? Sanctions? Who cares?”

Never mind that they lived through Stalin (Well, those that did, did.) Never mind that they got hit by a giant meteor last year, and listened to the radio while they watched it hit, and when it blew out windows said, “Let us that do not have arteries cut by shards go out in the -20 C weather in our shirtsleeves and smoke cigarettes on this occasion, and wonder what that was.” Never mind that a day of economic sanctions is what they call Tuesday.
Russians have a calendar filled with Tuesdays.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Duane King (1936-2014)

Olympia Veterans For Peace lost another long-time member last week.  Duane King, a Korean War veteran who served in Vietnam with the State Department, died March 3.  Duane was fiercely anti-war and was a constant reminder to the rest of us about why we were veterans for peace.  Duane was part of the studio crew for our chapter's cable-access television program, "The Veterans' Hour" but also told his own story in front of the camera as part of our Soldiers' Stories series.

Godspeed, Duane.

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