Monday, July 24, 2006

E-mails and Iraq

Mondays. Ugh. So first off, "Where's Wally?" I had three e-mails asking. I went to Wally's site because he texted messaged me to say he thought today's was funny or sucked. There's nothing up from today! Wally blogs by e-mail. It's just easier for him to do that and put the links in there then fool with Blogger (which was acting up). So he blogged before noon his time today because he had cousins in town and they had plans to do stuff. But it never hit the site. So I called him and it's up right now, "THIS JUST IN! SCOTTY MCLELLAN HOWLING WITH GLEE!" (And it's funny, to reply to his text message today. So read it.)

Another question in an e-mail was, "What's happened to The Third Estate Sunday Review." Joel goes he knows he can count on Ava and C.I.'s TV review each week and the editorial and usually there's one other thing he likes "but the last three issues" they call them 'editions' "it's all been grabbing me?" I don't know because I always like the editions. But one change that's been happening, and this was Dona's thing and she pushed for it so give her credit, is more shorter pieces. Speaking just for me, I know when I would work on stuff with them, I'd think, "This has got to be longer" and be trying to figure out stuff to add. But Dona's been pushing that so that there are short pieces and long pieces for a few months now and I think, my opinion, everyone's finally get a handle on that.

With Ava and C.I., there's never "too long." Readers love their reviews (I do too) and would read like a 20 page review if Ava and C.I. had time to write something like that. But that's because of their writing and the fact that they've built up that relationship with the readers by being there week after week. They've never not written a commentary -- one week they covered the coverage of a film -- but week after after week, even when they were saying up until it was written, "We don't have anything!", they've done it. I don't know when they started doing the commentaries themselves (I wasn't helping out then and Jim says they didn't get credit for doing it by themselves until several weeks after they'd started -- he estimates it was around the third or fourth review). But in the first ones, they were working with everybody so that's January 16, 2005. By Jim's estimate, it's all them (just them) on January 30, 2005. That's really something if you think about it.

Especially if you think about how they hate their reviews/commentary and always say, when they come back from writing them Saturday night or Sunday morning, "It sucks. It's awful. This is our worst one yet." Then, as soon as we can, we're all reading it (usually aloud) and we're like, "No, this is hilarious."

And that's where I fall in with readers. I'm one of the ones who reads and laughs. Then later, their points will hit me. Wally's the same way. Jim's on the points being made. He'll be saying, "That was a great way to illustrate . . ." and I'll be like, "Huh?" and then I'll get it later. And I think that's why it works and has such a huge following (that's the most popular feature every week and they've got readers e-mailing week after week and it just keeps growning). You can be someone like me who just reads it and gets the jokes at first or you can be someone like Jim reading it on a whole other level. Ma likes Dostoyevsky (hope I spelled that right) so one week, back in April, as a gift to Ma (we were all in NYC and Ma had been talking about what she likes to read) they included Mr. D in their review, a quote from one of his novel's. People loved that. Ty says people loved that they included the Stephen Sondheim song this time. Then there are people who love it because they mention some show that most have never seen or else forgotten. There's all sorts of levels and ways you can enjoy their stuff.

Tony's still laughing over one thing in their Supernatural review: " it's like really bad gay porn where the leads forget to take their clothes off." And he had an idea where, like some movie review collections, you just do a clip job. You pull from like Roger Ebert's reviews and do this book of like one paragraphs reviews. I told Tony that Jim and Jess had already thought that and if Ava and C.I. ever do come up dry, Jim and Jess are planning to do that.

So there's all sorts of way their stuff can be enjoyed. And they bring in the readers, Dona said to stress that, because Ava and C.I.'s commentaries have been "the calling card" (Dona) for the site. Dona says, "It's the must read at our site. Everyone comes for that. That's a lot of pressure on them. But that's the truth. If we didn't have a piece by them each week, there are readers who wouldn't come by. Most people now wander around and find other stuff but there's not a reader who doesn't come knowing the TV commentary will be there. It really is our calling card, it's the thing that's allowed us to build an audience, and it's the thing that's allowed us to stand out."

She, Jess, Ty and Jim said that the other difference is that they've really tried to stretch some weeks with group pieces and that even if it fails, you learn from trying. I told them that Joel thinks it's because they've all been together for the last few weeks. They agree that probably helps some because, even though they're not going through the week saying "We will do this," they do find a lot of ideas from things they've shared that week.

This time, everything was done but the editorial by six o'clock my time and I bailed to take a nap. It was eight o'clock when I woke up and I got back in on the session only to find that, once again, there were problems posting. That really is the biggest problem these days. They're all ready to put stuff up and they can't get it to post for this reason or that. That's a pain in the ass. And like it happened with The Common Ills too where C.I. ended up spending over an hour just trying to get Isaiah's latest to post. They had hoped to change the summary that appears below their site's title but there were too many problems for that.

So it's always something and I'm always surprised that they get an edition up. There are times when everything goes wrong but they stick it out and they get stuff up (and sometimes rewritten). I really love that site and I think working on it has been tons of fun for me and also helped me do better here.

But if you missed the latest edition, here's a list of the new stuff:

A Note to Our Readers
Editorial: Bully Boy's Wars
TV: 24 -- like 60 Minutes with less action
What's on Your Mind? Do the Pollsters really want to know?
What's being read?
Flanders was in the house at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention in Chicago
Protest in Mexico over the election! Over the 2004 election.
NYT triest to catch up with Third Estate Sunday Review?
Insantiy: How Little Centrists Get Ahead and Destroy America

The "What's on Your Mind" feature is one that usually just runs in their print edition and Joel wanted to know how much he's missing. Probably three to four pieces a week minimum. There was a remark in last week's editorial that left some people puzzled -- about minimum wage. We wrote this really strong piece on the Dem's minimum wage proposal and it didn't go online. It was really strong. But C.I. and Jim both pointed out we'd probably given two ways for the Repubes to play down the proposal. Did we want it online? No. Not if it was going to help the Repubes in 2006 and, more importantly, help keep minimum wage from being raised. But we weren't impressed with the proposal for a number of reasons. I really can't say anything more here without getting into the things that we worried about after we wrote the feature and it was decided it would just go into print. Ty's 'special one' is responsible for distributing the print edition when they're all out of town so they try to get the print version do extra quick right now.
That means the editorial online is usually "better" (Jim) because they will polish the online version while they're posting the other stuff. Sometimes Ava and C.I. will do something just for the print edition. So there are differences.

Hope that answers Joel's questions. I've got another e-mail to answer but let's get to the news via C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Chaos and violence continue.
But will you hear about it? (How bad is the coverage -- in terms of quanity? So bad that Mark Silva's Chicago Tribune article is titled "
Remember Iraq?") And, if you do, will you hear of the 'relative calm' or any other dubious phrase?
Following Sunday's bombings that
claimed the lives of at least 66 and left over 200 wounded, today's events may not 'impress' enough to get the coverage they deserve.
It's after 10:00 pm in Baghdad, here are some of the events reported from Iraq.
Reuters reports two roadside bombs in Baghdad (one killing an Iraqi solider and wounding three more ; the other killing a civilian and wounding three police officers); a car bomb in Mosul killed five Iraqi soliders and wounded four; a roadside bomb killed one person in Mosul; and mortar bombs in Baghdad wounded at least eight people. CBS and the AP report a car bomb in Samarra that killed two Iraqi police officers and wounded 17. That would be six bombings with ten killed (plus the driver of the car bomb in Mosul for eleven -- Evening Echo News notes that the "car driver accelarted toward the house before detonating the explosives" -- the police were using the house as a command station). Of the car bomb in Mosul that killed the Iraqi soldiers (not the police officers), RTE News notes: "The Iraqi vehicle was driving behind a US patrol at the time of the explosion, although no US personnel were reported injured in the blast."
Reuters reports "an agricultural engineer" was shot dead near Kerbala; gunfire near Hilla left two dead and 17 wounded; and four died from shootings in Mosul. AFP reports the shooting death of "a bodyguard of a Sunni politician" in Baghdad. That would be eight dead.
FP reports 23 corpses were discovered in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister (in name if not deed) Nouri al-Maliki splits from Iraq and goes to London.
James Hider and Jenny Percival (Times of London) note the departure this way: "As he flew out of his embattled capital yesterday at least 63 people were killed in bomb attacks and a dozen were shot dead in relentless drive-by shootings or kidnapped and murdered." Or, as Paul Schemm (AFP) worded it: "Nevertheless, while Maliki began a trip to Britain and the United States, the violence raged on at home."
BBC reports that on their radio program Today, Nouri al-Maliki has declared that Iraq "his country would not slide into a civil war." Reuters quotes him saying, "Civil war will not happen." CBS and the AP report him declaring, "There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders have succeeded and they are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue. There is continuing efforts in that direction, the civil war will not happen to Iraq." The Puppet meets the Bully Boy in DC on Tuesday while he preps new 'believeable' lines -- possibly that no one takes a cut off the house's take in Vegas?
This as
Patrick Cockburn (London's Independent via Belfast Telegram) reports on a conversation with Hoshyar Zebari (Iraqi Foreign Minister) who spoke of how "in theory the government should be able to solve the crisis because Shia, Kurd and Sunni were elected members of it. But he painted a picture of a deeply divided administration in which senior Sunni members praised anti-government insurgents as 'the heroic resistance'."
Mark Silva (Chicago Tribune) quotes an unidentified White House flack saying: "In terms of the civil war question, I would simply say there has been a rise in sectarian violence.. . That in itself does not constitute a civil war,’’ the official said." In terms of the news value of that quote, I would simply say there is none. That in itself, a flack lips flapping, does not constitute news.
AP reports that Muqtada al-Sadr's followers have released a statement on the impending meet up between Bully and Puppet: "We want him to cut his visit and not to sign any paper leading to occupation forces remaining in Iraq." And Robert H. Reid (AP) quotes one al-Sadr 'follower,' Jalil al-Nouri, stating: "We are the only group that rejects the occupation because we are nationalists. We are the only political group that rejects their presence in the country and we demand that they leave. We are to the point, and we are clear."
But with al-Maliki due in DC tomorrow, don't be surprised to see the days events described as 'calm' or 'relative calm' (on a day with at least 19 reported dead and 23 corpses discovered) and the rah-rah-'liberation' noises to start up all over again. Don't expect to read many pieces like Michael Gregory's "
None left untouched by daily violence in Baghdad" (Reuters) which notes: "President George W. Bush will hear the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, in Washington on Tuesday tell him of plans for stemming bloodshed in Baghdad and repeat assurances he gave on Monday that Iraq is not at war with itself. But talk to people at random in the capital and a picture quickly emerges of a city where virtually everyone has a friend, relative or neighbour who has fallen victim to the sectarian shootings and death threats that Washington accepts are now an even bigger threat than the 3-year-old Sunni insurgency."
In Australia, the inquiry into the April 21st death of Jake Kovco in Iraq continues. Last week, it was decided (or "decided" since the board of inquiry appears to change its mind regularly -- Olive writes that Judy Kovco should call it the "Keystone Court" as she called the police the "Keystone cops" last week) that the former roommates of Kovco, in the room when he died, would testify from Iraq via videolink.
James Madden (Daily Telegraph) reports that has changed and now the board has decided to summon the two roommates to testify in person. Madden also notes that Dectective Sergeant Phillip Elliott testified to the inquiry that "Pte Kovco's body was washed and his two roommates were allowed to shower after the shooting. The bed linen and the soldiers' clothes were washed, and blood spatter was thought to have been removed from the ceiling and furniture." Australia's ABC notes that Kovco's "clothes were destroyed" prior to Elliott's arrival for the investigation. Malcom Brown (Sydney Morning Herald) reports: "In answer to Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Holles, for Private Kovco's parents, Sergeant Elliott said Private Kovco's roommates, Soldiers 17 and 19, differed as to where Soldier 17 was sitting at the time of the shot. Soldier 17 had said he was sitting at the foot of the bed and Soldier 19 said Soldier 17 was sitting at the middle. [. . . .] Sergeant Elliott agreed the two also differed in their accounts of where Private Kovco lay after he fell. Bloodstains on the floor were consistent with him having been turned over after he fell." Austraila's ABC notes, of the decision to have the former roommates testify, "The inquiry has agreed to the application, but it is not yet known when the soldiers will return to Australia."
Meanwhile, the
Herald Sun reports that a witness known only as "Soldier Two" will testify with regards to how Bosnian Juso Sinanovic's body ended up being shipped to Australia instead of the body of Jake Kovoco.
In peace news,
it's day 21 of The Troops Home Fast (21 days since it started, 21 days for those who have been fasting since the Fourth of July -- but you can join the fast at any time). Robert C. Koehler (Tribune Media Services) writes of his decision to fast for one day and join the efforts organized by CODEPINK, Global Exchange and Gold Star Families for Peace: "We have a war machine that's fed by hate and fear - indeed, by the need for enemies without the least humanity, because that absolves us of the need to have any ourselves. It's the age-old formula for war, but we have entered a time when it is globally life-threatening. When the world's only superpower swaggers through the Middle East with that kind of delusional anger and a military budget of half a trillion dollars that requires annual justification, watch out. It is time for new priorities."
Christopher J. Stephens writes, in The National Ledger, of the cases of Ehren Watada and Suzanne Swift noting: "Veterans for Common Sense [VFC] wrote an open letter to President Bush in March 2005 that noted some ominous possible results of the war in Iraq: 1.26 million Iraqi children under the age of five will die, 500,000 will need immediate medical attention, and 2 million will become homeless. Signatories to this letter included two Navy Vice Admirals, a Brigadier General, 14 Colonels, and 4 Captains."

That's a lot going on and I think the thing that stand out so much to me is how little coverage Iraq is getting in most of the media. I've got two more e-mails to answer so let me grab the one dealing with Iraq. C.I. wrote "NYT: Gordo swears he'll talk dirty one day (we believe him), von Zielbauer . . ." on Saturday and included some strong stuff (great stuff) on the paper's continued refusal to cover Ehren Watada because a friend at the paper called (while the thing was written) and asked that C.I. hit on that one more time. I know that because one of the ideas when we were brainstorming was Ehren Watada and C.I. told us the paper should finally cover it Sunday. So Toni wrote wondering about that. I know "some" -- I don't know all. (I don't know the name of the friend but I think I can narrow it down to three people.) I think (THINK) it was either the friend wanting C.I. to note it one last time because there would be another chance after Sunday or the friend was afraid that the paper needed a nudge to run the piece. Whatever reason, John Kifner and Timothy Egan's "Officer Faces Court-Martial for Refusing to Deply to Iraq" was in Sunday's New York Times and I'll give not just the writers credit for writing the article but the paper credit for running it and finally covering the story. Other papers picked up on it and carried that story. (Some just today.) C.I. noted the story Sunday in
"NYT: Finally reports on Ehren Watada" and Toni wondered if I agreed with C.I.'s assessment? I think it's a great article. I think it should have run at least forty days ago (I think C.I. does as well). It made it into the Sunday paper which has a huge circulation (and it has gotten picked up by other papers) so I'm taking the "better late than never" attitude and just being glad they covered it. I went out and bought the Sunday Times for that article. We get The Boston Globe. I paid five bucks for the Sunday Times. For that article alone, I think it was worth five bucks. Besides being a strong article, I think it shows how far the peace movement has come. The Watada story got a serious write up in the paper of record. The paper obviously didn't want to cover it or they would have done it weeks ago. But obviously some at the paper realized it was news and that they couldn't avoid covering it. So that's a big thing. For the peace movement and hopefully for the paper. I'm not a fan of the New York Times (read my "about me") but I will give them credit for that. If I'd read the paper today and they'd distorted everything in the world, if they'd have attacked Catholics in Ireland (again), I would have let a lot of us just roll off my back for that one article.

To me, it's a lot like when Bright Eyes performed "When A President Talks To God" on The Tonight Show. That is still a really strong moment that I remember. I remember the excitement I had watching it, I remember how excited my friends were the next day, I remember watching it online. That was a big shift. (Even if some old fogies couldn't get the point, you know the ones, the ones who, as was noted in a Third Estate Sunday Review, are
"At the intersection of politics and pop culture, you'll find us lost and asking for directions.")
This story was like that. In a class today, a teacher who doesn't talk much about Iraq (compared to others doing politics and history classes that I've had), talked about that article and passed it around. So yeah, I think it was a big deal and I'll give the writers of it, the people who decided to run it and the paper all credit for that. I won't praise them for much, but I will give them praise for that. This is an was a big thing.

It may be an older thing and people our age may not get it so much, but it was a big thing. So I'll say they did a brave thing, they did a strong thing, wish they'd do it more often, but praise them for doing it once. I'll probably give the story another link tomorrow just to note it one more time. For people my generation, a lot of us grab stuff online and that's where we get our information. But like our parents, they've really grown or been conditioned to think 'real news' comes in a paper. I think that's what happened with my professor. It appearing in the Times was a big deal. If I'm remembering (from what C.I. has said), the Sunday paper has the largest circulation of any day for the Times. A lot of people buy it, hopefully a lot of people read the news section and, if they did, they saw that story. For people my age, it's easy to go, "We know about it!" But it does and did reach people odler than us.

Now the third e-mail was about vacations. Connie says "Everybody's on vacation! I'm tired of it!" I'm not on vacation. Elaine's back from vacation. Rebecca's still on vacation and Kat's in Ireland (she gets back this week). Ma's on vacation. If Connie's griping about Ma, my mother works really hard and this is the first vacation she and my father have ever had without any of us kids along for the ride (there are eight of us kids) so cut Ma some slack. She'll post this Saturday. As for Kat, a number of us are filling in for her and Betty's filling in for Rebecca so I really don't think anyone's gone "dark" or that "the number of posts have dropped severely." When I head out to California for a week shortly, I'll still be posting. When Elaine has to take time off in a bit, Sunny will again fill in for her. I miss Rebecca and Kat and I understand wanting them online NOW! Believe me, I understand. I was so depressed (about the people who wouldn't cover Nancy Youssef's story breaking the news that the US military was keeping a body count of Iraqis, about a program I had loved being one of the people refusing to cover it, about the crap coverage that the program was doing instead) that when Rebecca and Elaine both left on vacation, I was pretty sad. Not because of online (though probably that too) but me and Elaine talk once a day on the phone minimum. And Rebecca probably calls me three times a day when she's not on vacation. But people need time for themselves.

I'm wrapping up on that note. Go check out Like Maria Said Paz for Elaine's thoughts.