Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Every once in a while a movie shows up that sticks with you even when in a sense, you already know the outcome: the demise of bigtime tobacco. (I find it pretty hard to put the bad mouth on tobacco since I was raised on a tobacco farm). The flip side of the coin is that I've never smoked. So...this movie is not so much about tobacco as it is about a crisis of conscience which envelops one man: Jeffrey Wigand.

I remember following all of it on Sixty Minutes. Like so many things in life, few of us who care knew all the machinations going on inside Sixty Minutes concerning a program of how tobacco executives lied and how Wigard had evidence of the lying, especially his company, Brown and Williamson.

What we discovered is that big tobacco also had big money. And, money rules especially where truth is involved.

This movie, The Insider, was totally ignored at the box office but this is not so unusual. What makes this really different is that the movie making people loved it: seven nominations for Oscars. I don't particularly like Russell Crow, my problem: his private life often overshadows his acting ability. Not his fault but mine. Anyway, the movie highlights the producer of Sixty Minutes, Lowell Bergman, who is a hero: in fact, Al Pacino, plays a great part. Often he sounds just like Lieutenant Frank Slade in Scent of a woman. The real life Wigard has to be a hero too: lost his family, profession. Christopher Plummer who played Mike Wallace had his moments. Good movie and in light of so many anti heroes in today's world, kind of nice to see one stand up. 2 parachutes

Monday, July 30, 2007


I like Frank Rich, one of my favorite writers and I agree with most everything he says. But, Frank, on your usual theme of bashing the President for his stupidness over Iraq, taking on General Petraeus is a fast train to nowhere. The President doesn't read your column. Don't feel bad, he simply doesn't listen to anyone who differs from his views, regardless. For the time being, his attention is focused on General Petrateus. I don't know the general but I do know many who know him. They say he's a good and capable leader. I don't doubt it but he's a general and he's answering to the commander in chief who only wants to hear what he wants to hear.

Because we have so few Americans who have any military experience, most don't understand how a general is made, who they are, a thousand and one things. A general, is a politician, plain and simple or, he probably wouldn't be a general. I am always amused when I see the military generals with all those chest full of medals and glistening stars come before congressional hearings. Their politician inquisitors are questioning other politicians who just happen to be in the military.

The generals have a mentality. It is a "can do" approach to the mission. And, they don't sit around cogitating their navels on the what ifs: it is get the job done. It is a mentality. And, let's face it, what would we expect the good general to say come September about Iraq. "We are in a mess, the "surge" has failed. Saddam has joined other would be martyrs, the Iraqis have a constitution, we are out of here. God bless them." Give me a break!


How does one get to be a general? It is not because of his good looks or winning personality although these might help. He plays the games, especially as he gets close to the prize, a star. Somewhere along the way he acquires a sponsor, someone of a higher rank who has been this route before and is now a sponsor for a potential general officer. And, it is not out of the realm of possibility for an officer (Colonel) to be selected because of politics. Many have been "presidential aids" or similar sorts of things, i. e., served at embassies.

The "would be" general gets all his "tickets" punched. He goes to the right schools, i. e., Command and General Staff College (for potential commanders) and the War College or some similar school (to think over the heavier issues). Probably, along the way, the military sends him to a civilian school for a Masters degree and on occasion, a PhD--all at tax payer expense, mind you. And, he has the right military jobs, i. e. command posts, serving on a "joint" staff with all the Services. In most cases, he is a "ring knocker",(Academy graduate-West Point, Annapolis, AF Academy). When they are eligible, based on length of service, all of the above, they come before a promotion board. It is as secretive as getting into a Masonic order. It is playing politics as much as any Congressman/woman and we would do well to understand as these men have our kids lives in their hands in a place like Iraq.

Most generals would not be where they are if they weren't terribly ambitious. My experience is that the best officers in the military never get to the top for lots of reasons. Mostly, they tire of the games and sacrifices and opt for the civilian world. Our celebrity worshiping culture bears some fault in how we see our generals. Our media makes them into celebrities; for some, they get more face time than Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. Much of what they say publicly is scripted and they have no more control over what happens in Iraq than those of us sitting out here in the hinterlands listening to them.

And, sadly,the generals have not helped us in Iraq; perpetrating a rosy picture that only makes it worse and delays the hard decisions. We have screwed up bigtime in Iraq and any truly honest general would say the same. Some have--a few have resigned but under this president, it really makes no difference.

My prediction is that General Petraeus will say that we have made progress, we are turning the corner. He'll use Anbar Province as an example and will not share that he and the Iraqi premier have almost come to blows over it. Petraeus has armed the Sunni Sheik's who have switched sides. Now, Maliki threatens to do the same with the Shiite militants. He has even threatened to have Petraeus relieved as if he could. Still, hardly a way to run a war.

And, the truth is that he believes it. And, he might be right if we stay there for years. We can't and won't is my hope.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ain't It So

"It is a mind-boggling thing to me that we never learn. After every war, we scream, 'Never Again!' Only until we do it again. I don't understand it."
Movie Director Milos Forman

Milos, I agree with you. But, trust me on this, we are two voices crying in the wilderness. I don't know whether or not it is a reality that as we get older, we seem to cogitate our navels more when we think about repeating Vietnam all over in Iraq. Most Vietnam vets that I know say to me, how stupid that we are in Iraq after the debacle of Vietnam?. What thinking! In fact, one said to me recently after seeing, Rescue Dawn, a movie about the very first escape by a POW as Vietnam heated up. The Vietvet said, "I found myself being ashamed that here we were these big bad Americans whipping up on these emaciated peasants--" a little dramatic and I don't believe that's what he really means rather that somehow he didn't feel good about what we had done in Vietnam." And, the add on is that we cannot feel good about what is going on in Iraq.

Not long ago, I met an older gentleman, a world traveler, who had been in Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe, for 20 years who said to me the often repeated comment, "We have not had a terrorist attack in America because we are pursuing them in Iraq." Republican Presidential candidate, Rudoplh Giuliani, has made "no attack at home" his theme song. What they are really saying is that it is OK for people to die in other places as long as it is not in the good old U. S. of A. Now, that's an attitude.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Recently, I've seen two movies that caused me lots of reflection. One is Sicko, the Michael Moore indictment of the country, and rightly so, of our despicable health care system. And, I don't care how you feel about Michael Moore, the facts, like Iraq, jump up and kick you in the posterior; 50 million Americans don't have health insurance. And, we are prisoners of the Health Care industry mainly because of gutless politicians and money. I came out of that movie saying WE CAN DO BETTER. Well, Rescue Dawn, shows us why we can do better. It is the epitome of the American Spirit.

Rescue Dawn is set in 1966: this is before the Vietnam war had jumped up and kicked us in the posterior. Here was young and cocky Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale, who was fabulous), German borne but American through and through. Rescue Dawn is really a character study or studies. A buddy of mine actually knew Dengler who died in 2001 in Mill Valley, California. He says that Dengler credits his very tough upbringing during WW ll to his capacity to survive.

Rescue Dawn is one of those uplifting movies that is destined to stick with you. It is harsh in terms of conditions and there are a few holes in the story but don't take away from the movie, i. e., what happened to the rest of the POWs who escaped with Dengler.

One gets the impression that these POWs held in Laos were not treated nearly as harsh as the Hanoi Hilton heroes like John McCain. It was tough though. Dengler had a terrific supporting cast. One, emaciated, already gone over the top and another who was precariously perched on the edge. For Dengler, as opposed to the rest, not escaping never even entered his mind.

What was fascinating to an audience, surely me, was the physical changes that we watched as Dengler and his cohorts moved through their meager and pitiful conditions: the sunken in cheeks, the emaciated looks, the obvious craziness that starving brings. It was only in reading about the making of the movie did I discover how it was done. It was filmed in reverse, meaning that they got the looks they wanted at the end and I guess inserted them in the movie at the right time. Genius, in film making, I think.

The director, Werner Herzog, has to be one of the best, merely for his versitility if for no other reason. Until I read that he had also done Grizzly Man, which is about the idiot who lived among the bears and they ate him--I had not realized that Herzog had made that documentary also.

I'm going to order the documentary made too by Herzog about Dengler, (Little Dieter Needs to Fly). I'd like to know more about Dengler, a true hero. In fact, when Dengler was being initially interrogated by an English speaking type, probably educated in the States, he is asked why he is bombing and doing these terrible things to these people. Dengler says something like, "I don't want to hurt anybody, I just wanted to fly."

There are some fascinating scenes in the movie, Dengler eating worms and maggots and making the experience like he's at a 4 Star restaurant. Whew! And, the best line of the movie spoken by another prisoner who simply could not grasp the idea of escape as they had already been there a year or so was, "The Jungle is the prison." I can tell you this is true from Vietnam. As a vet, I can remember being in an open space and then traveling a few miles (clicks) and you could easily be in triple thick jungle canopy where you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. In fact, I can remember spending hours helping carve out a landing zone in the jungle for helicopters: it was excruciatingly difficult, back breaking. So, escaping through it had to be a Herculean effort by Dengler.

A last thing. When the movie ended, it was unbelievably quiet. A mostly full theater and there was no talking, no usual comments, I put it as a reverent feeling. Not an easy movie to watch but a movie experience that sticks with you, very existential. Three parachutes, maybe 4.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I wanted to say "living in paralleled universes" but I've already said that so many times. When I hear the President speak or any Republican, I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. Although I am a registered Democrat, I am really an Independent. Consequently, if I heard anything realistic coming out of the mouth of the President or anybody in the Administration, I would like to think I would give it credence. Honestly, however, I simply am flummoxed. It is as though the real happenings in Iraq are in a parallel universe of which they are not aware.

Recently on the Newshour, Jim Learer had a Senator from Pennsylvania and then Kay Baily Hutchinson from Texas. They were talking about Iraq: she is saying things like stay the course, cut and run, defeat is sending a message to the troops. I am thinking she has been hypnotized or something. Based on all we know and see and read, how can this be. I will have to say that the Senator from Pennsylvania did not respond to her comments (who would have expected him too or even the question from the moderator--the mantra is, "never answer the question you have been asked but answer the question that you wished you'd been asked.)I don't know if he used this tactic but it was almost like he didn't hear her but listed the numbers of American deaths in Iraq, the wounded, the maimed. It was pretty powerful, not an argument, simply the facts.

I am perplexed really how to put any sort of good comment or spin on Iraq. Just today, I was emailing my best friend who has a son in Iraq. As I was about to begin to rail like I am now, I suddenly stopped. Noway, he doesn't deserve any more pain than he already has. I don't know what these loved ones of soldiers think or how they cope with this impossible situation. To me, this makes Vietnam look like a much better war if there is such a thing. In Vietnam, we mostly were fighting in the country but for the combat soldier in Iraq, there is nothing worse than being in an urban guerrilla war. It is awful and I can only imagine--the total lack of knowing who the enemy is, all of the cloudy issues, i. e., religious fanaticism, tribalism, you name it.

There is simply no positive, other than the way the troops have performed. Just today, there's an article in the local paper about how much the insurgents have infiltrated the Police and Army. I know this is San Francisco and the way newspapers even do their headlines often points to the way they tilt the news. However, we can't deny that the situation is about as bereft of good news as anyone could imagine. Sometimes when I hear the President, I think, "I'd love to know who his speech writers are, how they can take a report like the Iraqi government's benchmarks and say this is positive--we have fulfilled 50% of them. Well, I guess fifty percent is better than nothing.

I think that soldiers, career soldiers in particular, are doing the best they can under the cloud that their life and death struggle is unpopular with Americans who care and think. Thinking Americans will be dealing with Iraq for a long time once it is over and it will be at sometime. Please God.

Just when you think you've heard it all about Iraq, something else pops up: a bank robbery in Iraq, guess what was stolen? Millions of American dollars and no suspects. Nobody, especially the Americans, seem to know how or why the bank had all this American money anyway. If it wasn't so sad, it would be laughable.

Here's a good one. Supposedly, 250,000 Iraqis have been trained for the Army and Police. They are on the streets NOW or suppose to be. Here are the statistics: in Oct 2005, the military recorded 545 insurgent attacks, now it is 1,060 with the Iraqi Army and Police on the street. Well, they are suppose to be on the street but they really aren't. Out of a 1000 man unit, only about 330 show up for duty every day. Whether or not they show up, they still get paid. As for the police, it is estimated that thousands of positions are thought to be phantom officers, invented by supervisors who pocket the salary.

I could go on but I am really tired. let me end with a direct comment from one of our fine young battalion commanders who is out there with his soldiers every day, "The 'month of fire' has begun and the weather is living up to its reputation. Temperatures rise to well over 110 degrees with great regularity and we have conducted operations in 125 degree heat on multiple occasions. When it’s this hot, simple patrolling tasks take on new levels of difficulty. The sweat soaks through our uniforms in minutes, drips into our eyes, and our concentration takes more than the usual effort. Despite the suffocating heat, we are adapting to the harsh climate and continue with our mission in a way that would make you proud." For our fine young soldiers, we are indeed proud. jda

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I'm leaning more and more toward Barach. Why? New ideas. I've been a Hillary person, thinking that a woman would be better for the country. But, let's face it, the Clintons are politicians through and through. I remember reading some article once where Hillary and Bill sat down with their daughter and basially said, "Be prepared, everything in life as relates to our family has to do with politics". This is not exactly it but close, meaning that everything is considered in that vein.

With Barach, I don't think this is the case. At least at this point, he doesn't appear to be handled by handlers but an honest expression of who he is. He's not afraid to hit back at those who want to "Swift Boat" him. But, mostly what I like is that Obama is not going to be a Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton. Jessie Jackson will show up where there's a camera and play to the crowd. This is understandable. Many a politician when they are talking to a friendly audience gets egged on by them and often "opens mouth and inserts foot." Think the President who goes before military audiences or a ship and declares victory. Barack doesn't seem to be in that nature. And, he's not tilting his words in such a way that they end just at the point when the crowd can go crazy with applause. None of those metaphor laden speeches of the "Jessie" man. Here's a guy who talks about issues and has avoided the minefields of being stereotyped while not denying who he is.

I think "white" America will vote for him and will be excited about what we get. We want somebody of substance--at least those of us who think do--not the same old stuff. We had a black Prez on the TV show, 24 and I could hardly believe they killed him off even if he wanted to go on making those commercials for All State Insurance. AllState was smart because the former Prez on 24 made you feel that you were in "good hands." Thats the way I think we're going to feel with Barach, we're in good hands.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Every person in America who cares ought to be forced to watch this DVD. What I thought I was renting from Netflix and what I got weren't the same. I've never even thought much about McGovern. What I remember about the Presidential election in 1972 was that McGovern lost in a landslide. I was on the other side and only watch and bow my head NOW in retrospect. One Bright Shining Moment really shows all those awful times of the Vietnam era. It is 1972, I was in the Army. Seeing what was going on in Vietnam during this time and comparing it to Iraq today with all the denial of what we're doing in that mismanaged war is unbelievably excruciatingly sad.

I've never been much of a conspiratorial type and the idea that Nixon was such a scoundrel is hard to realize. He surely was. Now in hindsight, to me, it was about the war. For Americans who literally operate in a state of denial, the same thing that happened then is with us today. Gross denial.

Where in this world would we be today had McGovern won the Presidency? A man, even if sanitized in the DVD, still came across as dull as a butter knife but truthful and with one goal: get us out of Vietnam. One statement he made sounds so much like one heard over and over today: he said about Vietnam, "if we continue to bomb for another five years, it is not going to make a difference." In Iraq, if we stay there a hundred years, it is not going to make a difference.

Watching One Bright Shining Moment, I think as a country, we probably deserve what we get. The DVD again shows how media driven we are. What we see on TV, how it is spun, this is what most Americans go for. I guess many of us still are naive about life and politics in America and what is right as opposed to wrong is going to eventually out. It's pretty sad if you asked me. One place where our hope lies is that the Internet spawning blogs and websites make the process of 72 at least more difficult. Today it is much more transparent and that is some of our hope that the McGoverns of the future get a true chance at serving the country.

In 68, Nixon promised that we'd get out of Vietnam, if elected. He lied and 20,000 more young Americans died. McGovern's Speech Come Home America is one of the best I've ever heard.

Ron Kovac, author of Born on the 4th of July in the documentary says something like, we will never let something life Vietnam happen again. Guess what, Ron? We have. This DVD is like looking through a mirror. On one side is Vietnam and on the other is Iraq. They are the same. Even today, I often am simply overwhelmed with the idea that after Vietnam, we have another Vietnam in Iraq.