December 27, 2009

Of all the irritations that come with making a living as a university professor, and there are quite a few, the inability to do much in the way of "reading for pleasure" during the school year is at the top of my list. I'm talking minor irritants, mind you. Don't get me started on the major league indignities that come with working in academia. In any event, at this time of year I like to kick back and catch up on some reading: fiction, nonfiction, it's all good.

One item I've been meaning to read for some time now is Canadian journalist Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I've read any number of Ms. Klein's essays for The Nation, Mother Jones and other progressive publications. What's more, I've heard her speak on many occasions -- most recently during Democracy Now!'s exceptional coverage of the climate change meeting in Copenhagen earlier this month. However, this is the first time that I've sat down to read one of her books.

December 13, 2009

Hunger, homelessness and pestilence stalk the land. We are not talking here about Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Iraq or Pakistan. The territory in question is distant from the occupied, war-ravaged regions of the world where cruise missiles and ordnance have turned once proud cities into rubble and devastated the economic infrastructure of nations and where the wretched of the earth, the living dead, the maimed or injured survivors of aerial bombardment and ground battles -- orphans, bereaved parents, wives, husbands and other victims of violence -- crowd in their millions or are herded into refugee camps.

This country situated thousands of miles from the theater of war in West, Central and South Asia is none other the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world.

December 13, 2009

In a week marked by a series of contradictions that could make your head spin, Barack Obama accepted the Noble Peace Prize by channeling none other than George W. Bush. Not only did Obama repeat the Bush-era mantra that al-Qaida is evil incarnate, he snubbed the Norwegian royal family with Bush-like insolence.

And in a move that would make Karl Rove blush, the Nobel Peace Prize winner refused to attend a "Save the Children" concert. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor, a cardboard Obama stood in for the president at the charity event. Add another item to this week's WTF list.

When Obama was named this year's Peace Prize recipient, conventional wisdom had it that the Nobel Committee selected Obama for one reason and one reason only: he's not George W. Bush. An important distinction to be sure, but hardly prize worthy. Or is it?

November 15, 2009

This month the U.N. General Assembly is debating the "Goldstone Report," authored by the U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

The report calls for both Hamas and Israel to conduct thorough, independent investigations of possible war crimes committed during Israel’s 22-day siege of Gaza, called “Operation Cast Lead,” or face possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court in six months.

According to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the report is “a crucial mechanism for ensuring that all parties are held accountable for war crimes against civilians.”

October 18, 2009

An Oct. 7 e-mail alert from the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition's Timothy Baer began, "Today marks a full eight years of U.S. war and military occupation in Afghanistan." It ended with a call to action: "Activists and residents of South-central Indiana will gather at the Monroe County Courthouse Square at 5 p.m. on Wednesday to express solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, calling for Peace for Afghanistan! and an end to the U.S. military occupation there."

By 5:10, about 15 people stood with anti-war signs. There was pleasant conversation among the protesters, and each was happy to explain why they came.

"I'm here because the war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail," said Michael Gasser. "I'm here today because it is the eighth anniversary."

October 18, 2009

According to Gen. Barry McCaffrey, "We can't shoot our way out of Afghanistan." Yet last week marked the eighth anniversary of the Afghanistan War. And President Barack Obama and the military establishment are discussing plans for escalation.

Against this backdrop, the "Real War" film series, sponsored by the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition, will present the Bloomington premiere of Rethink Afghanistan. This documentary film was released this month and directed by Robert Greenwald (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Iraq for Sale).

The screening will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium. It's part of the "Real War" film series, which takes place on the third Wednesday of each month. Attendance is free.

September 6, 2009

"The Real War," a documentary film series about the current military occupations, debuts in Bloomington with the screening of Body of War on at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16, in the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium.

Bluntly and intimately, Body of War scrutinizes the day-to-day life of a disabled veteran, Tomas Young, 25 years old, who was shot in Iraq, struggles to survive as a paraplegic and speaks out publicly against the war. The camera follows Young closely over a period of months, when he passes some important milestones in his life.

Directed in 2008 by Ellen Spiro and Phil Donahue, Body of War won the National Board of Review's Best Documentary Award.

August 23, 2009

About 50 Bloomington-area citizens learned about life in Occupied Palestine through a local woman's presentation on her time in a UN-sponsored student delegation to the Gaza Strip in May 2009.

"Every single person in Gaza has a war story," Evann Smith told the audience in a soft and sometimes quavering voice. "There is no single person in Gaza who has not had a direct experience with Operation Cast Lead. ... Everything there was destroyed." Operation Cast Lead was Israeli codename for its war against Gazans launched Dec. 27, 2008, a month before President George W. Bush left office.

Smith, a Bloomington High School South graduate and doctoral student in political science at Harvard University, spoke Aug. 13 at the Monroe County Public Library. Her speech and slide presentation was sponsored by the Bloomington branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

August 15, 2009

It was a hot August day in Detroit. I was standing on a street corner downtown, looking at the front page of The Detroit News in a news rack. I remember a streetcar rattling by on the tracks as I read the headline: A single American bomb had destroyed a Japanese city. My first thought was that I knew exactly what that bomb was. It was the U-235 bomb we had discussed in school and written papers about the previous fall.

I thought: "We got it first. And we used it. On a city."

I had a sense of dread, a feeling that something very ominous for humanity had just happened. A feeling, new to me as an American, at 14, that my country might have made a terrible mistake. I was glad when the war ended nine days later, but it didn't make me think that my first reaction on Aug. 6 was wrong.

Unlike nearly everyone else outside the Manhattan Project, my first awareness of the challenges of the nuclear era had occurred -- and my attitudes toward the advent of nuclear weaponry had formed -- some nine months earlier than those headlines, and in a crucially different context.

It was in a ninth-grade social studies class in the fall of 1944. I was 13, a boarding student on full scholarship at Cranbrook, a private school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Our teacher, Bradley Patterson, was discussing a concept that was familiar then in sociology, William F. Ogburn's notion of "cultural lag."

May 31, 2009

The military is the most sexist institution in the United States.

Helen Benedict's The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq exposes the oppression of women in the armed services.

Women constitute 11 percent of GIs serving in the Middle East today. When The Lonely Soldier went to press, 160,500 women had served in Iraq. Women serve in combat, though not officially. Not since World War II have as many women soldiers died while serving in the armed forces.

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