Archive for February, 2010

People Who Live in Glass Bunkers Shouldn’t Throw Stones

February 16, 2010

You can't handle the truth.

Over the past few days, news that a Taliban-affiliated military leader recorded videos depicting the rapes of young girls in Afghanistan has been generating excitement in the conservative blogosphere. While I fully support the exposure (and hopefully punishment) of such heinous scumbags, the holier-than-thou tone that characterized much of the right-wingers’ reaction to this news was not only creepy, but incredibly ironic.

Many of the “patriots” who weighed in on this story reacted with the following two arguments:

-Muslim men treat women like shit (Example comment: “These people are pigs. I read somewhere that when Muslims invade a village or are in a war, they carry ‘marriage certificates’ with them, then it’s all legal, because the wife must submit to her husband.”

-The “liberal” media that spent so much time trying to embarrass the Bush Administration by covering the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib will ignore this story (Example: “I seriously doubt you will see anything about this on any station except FOX!!! The MSM sucks!!!”)

I have no interest in defending the media or the way that women are treated in many Muslim countries, so I’ll just jump right into why these points are ironic coming from people who are generally so emphatic and unquestioning in their support for the US military: one-third of women serving in the US military are raped.

According to a Los Angles Times op-ed by Rep. Jane Harman, “Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.”

These statistics are sickening, but its Harman’s description of the details that really makes you want to puke: “The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality: A female military recruit is pinned down at knifepoint and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hid their faces but she identified them by their uniforms; they were her fellow soldiers. During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician. Yet another young soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer.”

To be fair, the Department of Defense has created a Sexual Assault and Response Office, but the problem of sexual assault in the military remains a horrifying epidemic that has barely generated much media attention (or reform within the military) outside of a few particularly salacious scandals. So, while I share revulsion with the right-wingers who are understandably appalled at rapes happening in tribal regions of Afghanistan thousands of miles away, I think that the motivation to demand accountability for rape would be more effective if focused on the thousands of sexual predators currently serving in the US military.

But when it comes to the sex and the US military, conservatives’ attention spans seem to have been monopolized by another policy: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

In order to avoid accusations of homophobic intolerance, most mainstream conservative pundits claim that the military needs to keep out LGBT folks to protect “the morale” of straight soldiers. Mackubin Thomas Owens of the Foreign Policy Research Institute summed up this argument in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military organizations must overcome the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier… This they do by means of an ethos that stresses discipline, morale, good order and unit cohesion… The reason for excluding open homosexuals from the military has nothing to do with equal rights or freedom of expression. The primary consideration must be military effectiveness.”

If the military seriously wanted to prioritize effectiveness, would it make sense to discharge homosexuals who are fluent in Arabic despite a serious shortage of translators? If unit cohesion was really that important, would they have lowered the bar to allow people with white supremacist tattoos to enlist in order to achieve recruitment quotas? And, if commanding officers were so concerned with overcoming “the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier,” you would think that more of them would be doing something about the kind of fear described by Helen Benedict in the new book “The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.

Describing her experience, Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry told Benedict, “Everybody’s supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers – that’s so you don’t get raped by one of the men on your own side. But because I was the only female there, I didn’t have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.”

Somehow, I’m sure there’s a self-proclaimed patriot out there who would still find a way to blame gays or Muslims.

Women serving in the US military are more likely to get raped by a fellow soldier than get killed by enemy fire in Iraq... and this is what people are freaking out about.


Translation: Teach White History, Not Black History

February 11, 2010

These haters are definitely not down with OPP.

Texas, of course.

Ahmadinejad Finally Saw Avatar

February 10, 2010

He thought the special effects were cool, but he liked Titanic better.

Ok, this picture was actually taken while he touring a laser-technology exhibit in Tehran the other day. But I bet he really has seen Avatar. Even the Pope saw it.

The Future Only Looks Bright Because Everything is on Fire and Radioactive

February 7, 2010

Hello God, are you there? It’s me, Public Frenemy. (Photo: Katherine Westerhout)

While the hype over iPads, bullet trains and robot teachers continues to push visions of a magical, sparkling future upon the masses, signs that progress is actually sputtering to a halt are everywhere.

Sure, billionaires like Richard Branson are zooming into tomorrow at the helm of underwater jets designed to whisk the elite off to private islands… but the rest of us should expect the path forward to be much rockier. Literally.

According to USA Today, “High costs and tight budgets have prompted communities in Maine, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Vermont to convert or consider converting their cracked asphalt roads back to gravel.”

That’s right. Unlike the optimistic vision of flying cars presented in Back to Future, the USA is instead turning back the clock and replacing safer, cleaner and faster asphalt roads with their dusty, tire-grinding precursor. Now, I’m certainly not advocating a “pave it all” mentality – I would much prefer to see transportation policies promote more sustainable practices like denser urban corridors connected via mass transit – but these decisions to downgrade the quality of our roads aren’t being driven by environmental intentions (or any other consideration of the public’s benefit).

Our political leaders are allowing roads to go to shit because we’re broke.

The decision to grind up roads and replace them with the crumbled-up remnants is an apt metaphor for the decline of US public education, health care, social services and the other institutions that used to stand for our nation’s prosperity and leadership. Even Disney, the corporation that perhaps more than any other symbolized the cheerful optimism of the American imagination during the post-War era, has degenerated to the point where its child stars are now shilling creepy pseudo-lingerie for kids who want to look like pre-pubescent Tila Tequilas.

The post-Jersey Shore generation: 9-year-olds gone wild

When asked by USA Today about what she thought of the plan to gravel-ize the road in front of her house, Gaile Colby said: “Have you ever lived on a gravel road? In the summer, it’s like clouds of dirt coming through your house.”

As the income gap widens and our government increasingly serves only those with connected lobbyists, rural folks who live in poor counties aren’t the only ones being left in the dust. Reporting on a new national study, the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday lead with the news that “De facto segregation is alive and well in virtually ever state” and added that “the trend is particularly severe for African American students.” The UCLA study found that increasing racial isolation in charter schools is contributing significantly to the growing number of “apartheid schools.” I don’t think the charter school concept deserves all the blame for this problem, but the fact that California recently eliminated the state cap on charter schools and the Obama administration is promoting charter schools as a feature of education reform without confronting this troubling trend epitomize the short-sighted mentality of  most “reform” efforts in this country, education and otherwise.

I mean, its great that we have a black president and all, but the fact that more and more kids are spending their childhoods in what are accurately called “apartheid schools” should raise some serious red flags. Wasn’t this a problem that we were supposed to be fixing half a century ago? (Gil Scott-Heron’s famous line about “whitey on the moon” comes to mind)

What’s next  – A tuberculosis outbreak? The return of the dust bowl? Collapsing bridges?

Oh, I almost forgot: All of those things are already happening.

Am I over-hyping the doom and gloom? Are these examples taken out of context to paint an unnecessarily bleak picture of the near future? Well, in the middle of writing this post, I took a break and rode my bike over to Electric Works gallery a few blocks from my apartment to check out a new exhibit called “Rust Belt” by Katherine Westerhout. The show features photos of once-prosperous cities like Detroit and Buffalo in various states of epic decay. The images capture formerly grand hospitals, factories and churches slowly rotting away beneath grimy layers of asbestos dust and mold – the dying American city as a post-industrial Pompeii.

Many of the residents of these rust belt cities have already evacuated. Now that everything else is starting to crumble, where do the rest of us go next?

“The World” is melting: New aerial images of the man-made island complex off the coast of Dubai reveal that the development intended as a luxury archipelago for the super-rich is disintegrating back into the Persian Gulf... so at least we got that going for us.