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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Hersh: bullet in your back.

A chilling account of a recent talk by the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, describes a phone call he received from a first lieutenant in Iraq. The lieutenant's platoon had been stationed outside a quite agricultural town for some time, near a granary. The granary owner had hired a bunch of guys to protect the grain; the soldiers and the guards got to know each other.

"They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, 'No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents.'"

"You know what I told him? I said, fella, I said: you've complained to the captain. He knows you think they committed murder. Your troops know their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Just shut up. Get through your tour and just shut up. You're going to get a bullet in the back. You don't need that. And that's where we are with this war."

More details from UC Berkeley, where the talk was delivered.

[Mark Bernstein]

This is why you should not go around conquering foreign countries. Any time the inhabitants have the courage to stand up to the invaders, atrocities like this will happen--as they've happened before, and will continue to happen, until the Feds are driven from Iraq.

I don't agree with the advice that Hersh gave the officer, though. That lieutenant and his men have an obligation to tell their story, both to their superiors and to the media. Yes, it's possible that it might get some of them killed, and it would certainly result in them spending the remainder of their shortened careers in the worst posts imaginable, but that's a risk they are obligated to take. As soldiers they are expected to put themselves at risk for the sake of their country, and if they talk they will finally be doing so, probably for the first time since they put on their uniforms.
9:38:38 PM    comment ()

I wrote this in the spring while I was on the way to Austin for REALworld 2004, but I forgot to post it when I got to the hotel.

As I write this, I'm about one-third of the way through a 36 hour trip to Austin, Texas on an Amtrak train. This is the first trip I've made since the East Berlin-ization of airports shut off air travel as a viable option for me.

I'm travelling in a sleeper car, which means I have my own (very small) compartment. This seems a necessity for a trip of this length, although I've seen many people sleeping in the more numerous coach cars. Even coach class seat is much more comfortable than it would be on an airplane, although I certainly wouldn't want to try sleeping in such a space.

No doubt the relative popularity of coach has to do with cost--something like two-thirds of the cost of my ticket is for the compartment. Without that added expense, traveling this way would be cheaper than an airplane, instead of considerably more expensive.

The ride is rougher than an airplane, but much quieter. Most of the time the cars bounce around in a way comparable to mild-to-moderate turbulence on an airplane. Fortunately that doesn't bother me, and the lack of noise makes it possible to sleep.

I had heard that Amtrak wasn't especially reliable, and thus far it has lived up to its reputation. The train was 75 minutes late leaving Los Angeles, and has apparently fallen further behind since then. Fortunately my travel plans allow a 24 hour margin for error in each direction.

The food wasn't bad at breakfast. It wasn't great, but it was at least edible, unlike airline food. More importantly, Tabasco sauce is available, and that covers quite a bit. Lunch was a bit worse (about at the food court level), but still nothing that couldn't be cured by a generous application of Tabasco.

The train isn't as dirty as some of the horror stories I've read had led me to fear, but it isn't exactly clean either. It's pretty obvious that whoever is responsible for cleaning the cars does only a slapdash job--it's barely up to the level of an MTA train, and certainly nowhere near as clean as an airplane. This isn't surprising, given that Amtrak ís a government agency, not a private company.

The quality of service isn't particularly good, no doubt for the same reason. That's not to say that service is bad, but it's pretty obvious that some of the people working on this train are not exactly choice employees.

Finally, the most important thing (and the reason I'm travelling by train in the first place)--there are no uniformed thugs groping passengers and pawing through their belongings. I was able to board the train with my person and belongings unmolested, thus enabling me to travel in true security for the first time in many years.
2:44:26 PM    comment ()

Today I went out to Monrovia, a fairly long trip by bus and subway, to visit a store that specializes in fountain pens. As far as I can tell it's the only shop of its kind in Southern California.

I used to write with a fountain pen in high school and college, but I stopped after a mishap involving a fountain pen and an airplane. For ten years after that I only wrote with a computer keyboard, until I bought my Newton and began writing by hand again. By that time I'd pretty much forgotten about fountain pens.

I was reminded at the recent Tinderbox Weekend in San Francisco, when one of the attendees showed us his very impressive fountain pen. Someone else pointed out that since I no longer fly, there was no reason I couldn't start using one again myself.

When I got home I did a bit of Internet research, which didn't turn up much useful information. I didn't want to buy from a web site, as there's no way to tell how a pen will fit the hand from a small picture on a computer screen. I found a few stores around Los Angeles that carried fountain pens, and headed out to the only one that was still in business.

The store had quite a large selection (apparently it sells to people who collect old pens), and I tried around ten different models. I eventually settled on the Pelikan M800, a model very similar to the one I'd seen in San Francisco but slightly smaller. The store didn't have any with fine points in stock, so they're getting one and will ship it to me in a few days.

A fountain pen may seem like an odd thing for a Newton user to purchase, but there are times when it will come in handy. Recently I've often needed to write contact information for musicians I've just photographed, for example, and the company I work for has plenty of paperwork to be dealt with. Also, electronics react badly to water, so using my Newton in bad weather is an unnecessary risk.
2:44:21 PM    comment ()

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