Thursday, December 23, 2004

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Happy Holidays

Mikaela says:

A pastor in Raleigh, N.C. (Hi, Maggie!) has spearheaded a campaign to target stores who greet customers with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," threatening to take away their business. The church has taken out a full-page ad in the local newspaper urging Christians to boycott these stores.

This from the L.A. Times:

"Our position is, if they want the gold, frankincense and myrrh, they should acknowledge the birth of the child," said Wooden, pastor of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ.

Emboldened by their victories in November's elections, conservative Christians nationwide have converged around the topic of Christmas, contending that secularists and nonbelievers have tried to obliterate the holiday's religious meaning.

Conservative Americans feel ready to push back against what they deem "the secularists or the humanists or the elitists" who dominate popular culture, said the Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, which is based in Raleigh.

"It's a cultural war. We are in the thick of it,"Creech said. "It's not so much an attack on us. It's an attack on Christ."

Wooden and his church - which has a cherry-red "Merry Christmas" banner hanging across its front, looking for all the world like a political slogan - aim to push back against that spirit of caution.

The paper ran a series of passionate letters, many critical of the advertisement. An Episcopal priest wrote to compare the campaign to the Nazi policy requiring Jews to identify themselves with yellow stars.

Wooden, 43, considers the campaign such a success that he has set aside money in the church budget - full-page ads cost about $7,600 - to buy a similar advertisement next year. Fresh off the fierce debate over same-sex marriage, which he opposes, condemnation from the left does not trouble him. On the contrary, he said: "It seems to me the greater the persecution, the stronger the church."

Monday, December 20, 2004

Sound and the Fury

Mikaela says:
This latest news from Democracy Now reframes all of the war protesting as so much tempest in a teapot, signifying nothing. No wonder Bush didn't sweat the small stuff (like evidence or non-lying rhetoric).

Justice Dept. Okd Bush Having Unlimited War Power
Newsweek has obtained a secret Justice Department memo from 2001 that claims there are effectively "no limits" on presidential power to wage war -- with or without Congressional approval. The memo written two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks reads in part "The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the states that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11." Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports the memo seems to lay out a legal groundwork for the president to invade Iraq-without approval of Congress-long before the White House had publicly expressed any intent to do so. In regards to war, the memo claims "the president's decisions are for him alone and are unreviewable."

Fury, anyone?

Bringing down the House

Mikaela says:
I hate to bring the mood down again, but I feel pressed to introduce what should remain an underscore throughout this joyous holiday season.

I went to my liberal religious service yesterday morning where peace was the theme. Peace and goodwill toward men, right? That's supposed to be the moral of Christmas, even for us left-wing religiosos. Even though, I admit, I am especially emotional this week, I was surprised by my own teariness throughout the service. Every time she mentioned peace -- peace for the embattled Fallujians -- peace for entrenched politicians -- peace for angry Americans -- and reminded us that goodness is here, with us and in us, all the time -- that our sole responsibility is to recognize and appreciate the goodness here, in the people next to us in the long line at the malls, here in this Christmas season even when materialism seems to be the rule of the day -- here in this country where half of us support this President and his war and half of us stew in fury and despair -- I found myself struggling to quiet a rising panic at the vision of all the people in Iraq and elsewhere in the world that are drowning in fear of U.S. attack. Every day. Every day.

All I could pray for was one day of respite from fear of us. One day -- too much to hope for a whole holiday week -- where it would never cross their minds to fear for their lives if they leave their homes to buy food. Just one day where the love of their families and neighbors was more real to them, more present, than their fear and hatred of everything the U.S. has come to mean to the threats and dangers of their everyday lives. One day for the children growing up hungry and scared to be able to laugh as loud as they want and not be ashamed at their joy when so many around them are suffering. Just one day without fear for those we seek to "free" and a whole week of remembering for those of us here that our privilege and our distance and our ability to forget their suffering is bought at a much higer price than our global position and personal credit can sustain.

It wasn't until this morning that I learned 70 people lost their lives yesterday in Iraq. Seventy people. The tears that so embarrassed me at church, tears that seemingly came from nowhere, now seem piteously few and negligently inadequate. I am going to take the time today to write our fair Mr. W. Bush and his Pentagon and ask them for one day of peace. To do whatever we have to do not to shoot anyone or bomb anyone or scare anyone for one full day. It doesn't seem too much to ask. It's probably inhuman of me to ask for so little. May I be forgiven and my intentions understood.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

“The Library” and the decline of genuine places

Maggie says:
Last night a group of us went downtown and were confronted by a line of hundreds of people trying to get into the opening night festivities of this new bar “The Library.” Downtown Albuquerque has been straddling a tenuous balance of coolness and Disneyland status for the last couple of years, and unfortunately I think The Library will cement downtown’s status as a fake place built for college kids and young professionals with cash, much to the delight of developers and shady groups like the Downtown Action Team. Never mind that some of the country’s most historic and culturally rich neighborhoods straddle downtown and their residents are still without a local grocery store or bookstore…

I may have to take a picture of this place and post it for non-locals. It’s a huge bar right on Central Ave. with gaudy paintings of books above the entrance with embarrassing titles such as “Tequila Mockingbird” and “Lord of the Onion Rings.” Talk about running a theme into the ground. And I haven’t even mentioned the half-naked "librarian" waitstaff yet. Here’s a brilliant quote from the manager regarding his scantily-clad table-dancing waitresses: “We actually really just want to appeal to women. We don’t want girls to feel put off or intimidated by the all-female staff.”

Give me a break. Places like this are exactly what sucks about so many bars and downtowns today. That this Las Vegas/Disneyland approach works while genuine bars like O’Neil’s in Nob Hill have to close their doors is terrible. I can’t help but feel suckered in places like this, like I’m selling out just by walking in the door and pretending to be a part of a fabricated experience.

Look for me at Pearl’s Dive down the street instead.

People, not mannequins

Maggie says:
In the last two weeks I’ve seen “Closer” and “Sideways,” both movies I was really looking forward to seeing. And both of them I liked. But “Sideways” in particular has a rare quality for movies these days, one that’s even more striking when you see it right after “Closer.” The thing is, the characters in “Sideways” look like regular people, like we look and like people we know. What a refreshing concept.

The coldness of “Closer” (which again, I did like) was exacerbated by the remarkable beauty of everyone in it. The distance that Mike Nichols purposely creates between the audience and the characters’ experiences is even more pronounced because, simply put, the people in that movie don’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen in real life. We’re not supposed to really like the characters – and we don’t. But it seems to me that we especially don’t like them because they look plastic, untouchable, and again… unreal.

Enter “Sideways.” Okay, the women are beautiful. But they have an authentic beauty, not an untouchable one. The men look like guys you see every day. Even the “handsome” one channels that guy everyone liked in high school more than, say, the leading men in vanity projects like “Alexander” and “Troy.”

And I swear that their realness is what makes the movie. We care about the characters, even when they’re screwing up and/or screwing people over. There’s a sympathy there, an understanding, a connection that never happens in “Closer.” And come to think of it, my favorite recent movies besides “Sideways” – “Garden State,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “American Splendor” – all have normal-looking people in them, too.

So what do you think? Is this a new trend? Is it a coincidence that lots of recent acclaimed performances came with a drastic change in a star’s appearance, often through weight gain? Should beautiful movie stars be scared for their jobs? Is Paul Giamatti the new Brad Pitt?

Monday, December 13, 2004

It's Xmas -- aagh!

marjorie says...
Hi folks. We need to lighten up around here. So, in the spirit of Xmas, I thought I would post this Maureen Dowd commentary. Wow, various sisters certainly come to mind, on both sides of this sentiment. Sisters (and bro)...I am so looking forward to seeing y'all in just a few short days.

Jingle Bell Schlock (Dowd hates Christmas)
Maureen Dowd, in the NYT, 12/05/04

If I hear "Frosty the Snowman" one more time, I'll rip his frozen face off.

It's a scientific fact, or should be, that Christmas music can turn you into a fruitcake. It either sends you into a Pavlovian shopping trance, buying stupid things like the Robosapien, or, if you hear repeated Clockwork-Orange choruses of "Ring, Christmas Bells" drilling into your brain with that slasher-movie staccato, makes you feel as possessed with Christmas spirit as Norman Bates.

I've never said this out loud before, but I can't stand Christmas.

Everyone in my family loves it except me, and they can't fathom why I get the mullygrubs, as a Southern friend of mine used to call a low-level depression, from Thanksgiving straight through New Year.

"You're weird," my mom says. This from a woman who once left up our Christmas tree until April 3, and who listens to a radio station that plays carols 24/7 all month.

My equally demonic sister has a whole collection of rodents dressed in holiday clothes that she puts up around her house. There's a mouse Santa Claus and mouse Mrs. Claus and mice elves and a miniature Christmas village with mice, and some rat Cinderella coachmen in pink waistcoats and rats in red velvet vests and more rats, wearing frilly red-and-white nightshirts and nightcaps and holding little candles, leading you up the steps to bed. It's beyond creepy. I keep fretting that it's going to be like "Willard" meets "The Nutcracker," where they come alive and eat her like a Christmas pudding.

My mom and sister both blissfully sat through "It's a Wonderful Life" again on Thanksgiving weekend, while even hearing a mere snatch of that movie makes me want to scarf down a fistful of antidepressants - and join all the other women in America who are on a holiday high - except our family doctor is a Scrooge about designer drugs, leaving me to self-medicate as Clarence gets his wings with extra brandy in the eggnog.

I've given a lot of thought to why others' season of joy is my season of doom - besides the obvious fact that yuppies have drenched the holidays in ever more absurd levels of consumerism.

I think it has to do with how stressed out my mom and sister would get on Christmas Day when I was little. I remember them snapping at me; they seemed tense because of all the aprons to be sashed and potatoes to be mashed. (In our traditional Irish household, women slaved and men were waited on.)

It might be exacerbated by the stress I feel when I think of all the money I've spent on lavishing boyfriends with presents over the years, guys who are now living with other women who are enjoying my lovingly picked out presents which I'm no doubt still paying for in credit card interest charges.

I was embracing my Christmas black dog the other day when I read a Times article so scary it made my hair - and my genes - curl.

It was about how severe stress can make a woman age very rapidly and prematurely, looking years older than her chronological age, because the stress causes the DNA in our cells to shrink, and sort of curl down on itself, until the cells can no longer replicate. "When people are under stress they look haggard, it's like they age before your eyes, and here's something going on at a molecular level" that reflects that impression, said one of the researchers, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco.

So now, on top of all the stress related to having a president and vice president who scared us to death about terrorists to get re-elected, I have to be stressed about the fact that my holiday stress might cause me to turn into an old bat - instantly, just like it happened in Grimm's fairy tales, when a girl would be cursed and suddenly become a crone. Or just like this Christmas doll my sister brought home once that had an apple for a head; her face looked all juicy and white at the start of the week and then by the end of the week, it was all discolored and puckered.

I flipped through the hot new self-help book by Gordon Livingston, a psychiatrist from Columbia, Md., "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now."
One of them is the cardinal rule of anxiety: Avoidance makes it worse; confrontation gradually improves it.

Yep. I definitely need to rip Frosty's face off.

But where will the kids play??

Double click the picture for a clearer image. Posted by Hello

Friday, December 10, 2004

Our Mental Malady

marjorie says...

“The U.S. population has a great mental failing. It is greater than its ignorance, which on many counts is profound. It is greater than its racism, which is often substantial. It is greater than its homophobia and sexism, which are substantial as well. This mental malady is that our population believes that nothing better than the corporate capitalist system is possible; that efforts at reform are largely fruitless—either these efforts are defeated or they are rapidly rolled back.” – Michael Albert, Z Magazine

This is a quote from Michael Albert’s election analysis article, which you can find on Znet’s top page. He suggests that what we often refer to as apathy is in fact this malady. I think he is right. And think about it – look back to the Clinton years, when large numbers of people voted for him in 1992 because they believed him when he said he would ensure that all people were provided with health care. And where were we at the end of his eight years? This malady was bolstered on lots of fronts by the Clinton years.

In order to transform a world that celebrates poverty, disenfranchisement, and environmental degradation, we have to change this belief that this is the only system that works. We have to get to the root. We have to be radical. This doesn’t mean we have to know what the next system is. It simply means that we believe that there are other, better ways of ordering our social, political, and economic lives. That another world is possible. If we don’t believe it, how can we possibly hope to affect just social change?

Albert also talks about elections as being only a small part of political life, and yet so many focus on them as their outlet for political expression. Being that he can be so articulate, I will quote him again: “Elections are not the whole of politics, only a tiny part. The whole is, or should be, the most widespread possible development of consciousness and commitment, the exercising of social pressure, the development of counter institutions, and finally, the winning of fundamental changes in defining structures.”

This is a theme I harp on a lot. The question I often have about the Greens is this: Why should folks vote green when the party itself is not present in day-to-day political and economic life, and is largely run by middleclass white enviro’s? Because on paper there are some nice platform issues? Where is the trust? And how do you build trust? Have any of the historic movements in this country ever been built through political parties alone, or were they under-girded by organizing on the ground for real, substantial change?

Since the election I have certainly been swept up right along with the talk about where we went wrong, the talk about how screwed the American people are, what is wrong with the Democratic party, etc. etc. And, of course, I wanted Kerry to win. Very much so.

But, really, a lot of this has to do with thinking of elections as the epitome of our political work. We have to look beyond the parties. Only with a solid, organized, progressive movement will we be able to really sway the Democratic Party to act in a progressive manner. Otherwise, that party will simply look to its moneybags for direction, which, let’s not forget, are generally the same moneybags as the Republicans. This is a clear lesson from the Clinton years.

Our actions in 2004 were only movement building in so far as all of those engaged people stay engaged during the next four years. It’s only real power if it is harnessed for ongoing battles, and built upon. The only way we can reach more people is to keep in touch with the folks we already know. We need ongoing organization. And we also need to look and think outside the box. We need to get past our labels. Maybe there is some real progressivism right beneath our noses…that exists in the rural areas, that is possibly being distorted and exploited by the Republicans. Food for thought.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Seven ways we can win

Maggie says:
This David Sirota article “The Democrat’s DaVinci Code” is THE BEST analysis I’ve seen of how Democrats can reconnect with voters whose interests are Democratic ones but who voted for Bush. He uses progressive victories in Republican areas as examples of how some winning progressive candidates are connecting with conservative voters beyond the Democratic leadership party line. I cannot recommend this article enough. Here’s a recap of his seven lessons.

1. Fight the Class War. Sirota writes, “If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, crying ‘class warfare’ is the last refuge of wealthy elitists. Yet, inexplicably, this red herring emasculates Democrats in Washington.” He’s right. Democrats need to be connecting with voters in small towns whose economies have been destroyed by free trade policies that wiped out homegrown industries. This hits close to home for me and other North Carolinians, where the state’s textile industry has been decimated in the last few years. In a Senate race debate, Democratic candidate Erskine Bowles was silenced by Republican opponent Richard Burr with this line: “You negotiated the China trade agreement for President Clinton, which is the largest exporter of jobs not just in North Carolina but in this country.” Any surprise that Burr won the Senate race?

2. Champion Small Business Over Big Business. Sirota argues that although it’s assumed Republicans have the small business vote tied up, the tide has been turning as the conservative courting of corporations has become more obvious and more extreme. Lost jobs figure in here, as does Wal-mart and its tax breaks at the expense of local business. Sirota uses the Democratic gubernatorial campaign in Montana to show that this tactic can win.

3. Protect Tom Joad. I’m so happy that Sirota included family farming in his analysis. To me, this is an obvious area where progressives can connect with “values” voters. Modern politics have just obliterated family farming, and some key progressive voices are fighting back by protesting agribusiness mergers and not buying into the party line that bills such as the “Freedom to Farm Act” do anything at all to actually help family farmers. Farmers already know this, they live it every day. Imagine the difference if some candidates started really hearing them, and then actually fought for their interests. Pointing out that Republicans are the architects of agribusiness is a start, fighting against it will win us the farming vote.

4. Turn the Hunters and the Exurbs Green. This is Sirota’s weakest point, that the environment is something everyone cares about. I agree, but am less sure of how much people care in the voting booth. But anyway, food for thought.

5. Become a Teddy Roosevelt Clone. This is a great point, that fighting white-collar crime is something working class people love to see. Enron outraged the American public, and the perception that those folks are tied up with Republicans is there. So go after Enron types, take on Wall Street – middle America will cheer it on.

6. Clean up Government. The line that Democrats are big spenders doesn’t work anymore. Keep talking about how devastating Republican policies have been to our economy. Everyone appreciates good financial sense – make it clear that Republicans don’t have any.

7. Use the Values Prism. Moral values are really about cultural solidarity, about being “one of us.” Our candidates need to be real. This doesn’t mean selling out as Republican Lite – it means having local candidates connect with local values and local concerns, to being true to what they believe in. People can smell phoniness a mile away, and will usually vote against it.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

It's Bush's Economy, Stupid

Mikaela says:
While the article explaining Bush's glee at the decline of the dollar mentioned in my post below gives credit where credit is due -- acknowledging the strategy apparent in the Bush administration's recent policy decisions -- another article on the same website glaringly and naively does not. Check out the article with the already-suspicious title, "Fiscal Responsibility & Budget Discipline."

The author exclaims with some alarm and indignation:

"If you look out beyond the next 10 years or so, there will be virtually no money for anything other than national defense, Social Security, Medicare and interest payments. So, unless you think that national parks are a waste, that we don't need interstate highways, that student loans should be eliminated, that we should shut down the Department of Education, and close NASA, there will indeed be some pain. And this pain will show up in our nation's economic performance as our national human and physical infrastructure goes into decline."


But I read it as a shopping list for the most conservative Republicans, who want to privatize everything and get the government out of everything but the military business (and even they are being privatized -- just look at all the mercenary "soldiers" in Iraq -- not to mention the Iraqi soldiers being trained to take over for American soldiers).

The author goes on to chastise the President's budget approach:
"If the administration ever takes off their rosy glasses, we will likely be told that we need to make 'tough choices' with the budget. However, the choices they offer will certainly not include any revenue increases – and thus not everyone will be asked to sacrifice equally.

To make their choices explicit, it's OK to cut research funding for the National Science Foundation, while just a couple months ago Congress managed to find over $100 billion worth of new tax breaks for corporations. We're being told to sacrifice student loans, and we do not have money for low-income heating assistance, but we can still phase in tax cuts that favor multimillionaires."

Again, the author makes the dangerous mistake of "misunderestimating" the President's policy approaches. It's not that his glasses are rosy; they're like night-vision goggles allowing him to see the future that his policy will conjure.

The rest of the article seems to miss the point entirely:
"And somehow we're expected to buy the line that we now need to sacrifice, that we now need to exert some budget discipline?

The current budget and deficit situation did not occur accidentally. Tax changes that provided cuts for the wealthy and little to nothing for everyone else have caused revenue to decline and the deficit to explode. At just 16.2 percent of gross domestic product, federal revenue is at its lowest level since the 1950s.

If there are sacrifices that need to be made, let us share them together – not increase the tax giveaways for some while asking the rest of us to pick up the slack. Already, those at the very top of the income distribution got the bulk of benefit from recent tax changes – do they really need more? Budget discipline means discipline on all sides, on spending and on taxes – not partisan politics using 'discipline' as an excuse to roll back society's gains."

It's not that those at the top need more tax cuts; the point is that there's nothing to stop them from getting them. They have the power; they have the money; they frame the issues.

Let's wake up. Leave off the incredulousness and call a spade a spade. If federal revenue is at its lowest level, it's because Bush wants it that way. We can trust that it plays into his hands in a dire and malicious way. What progressives laud as society's gains are Bush's first priority for budget cuts.

It's as if this author (and in a larger sense, most of the Left) is expecting Bush to change his policies when we point out the consequences of their enactment. "Mr. Bush, did you realize that your budget practices are leaving less money for the government and will lead to the end of social programs? You might want to do something about that."

How Karl Rove must laugh at us!

Out-strategized Yet Again

Mikaela says:
Little tidbit on NPR Friday morning that the Bush Whitehouse secretly wants the dollar to be de-valued to manipulate the price of imports & exports and counter inflation. That's one reason Bush has blithely rung up trillions in national deficit. Central banks in other countries have already begun to shift their holdings from the dollar to Euros. In the meantime, the plan is to continue to borrow from other countries, despite (and because of) the undermining of their belief in the dollar's value. While many would see this as a dire warning, Bush & Co. believe the resulting weakening of the dollar will help bring trade deficits down by making US exports cheaper and imports more expensive. Maybe Bush thinks this trend is enough to counter the price of outsourcing industry and manufacturing to other countries.

Whatever the details, the point for me is another clear indication that the Bush Whitehouse is nothing if not intentional. What I have taken to be mistakes or oversights in policy over the past four years are emerging as step-by-step strategies toward desired ends. I've heard so much about the hypocrisy of Bush as a conservative Republican wracking up debt; now it seems his advisors knew all along that debt could help them achieve their ends and aid US exporters.

What's the use in helping US exporters if the country's broke? Oh yeah, that's right. The only ones that matter are industrialists. The rest of us are just cannon fodder. And like all good Republicans want, the federal government will eventually only get enough money to support the military, and all social programs will have long since gone the way of the dodo bird.

So my question is, what's to stop them, and what's next?

More detail can be found on problems with the White House's intentional approach to the falling dollar at Center for American Progress.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Screw you, Barry

Maggie says:
So now Barry Bonds is officially implicated in this BALCO mess. And again, most people aren't surprised. But at least Giambi admitted fully to what he was doing, saying that while he and Anderson didn't specifically call the "clear" and "cream" steroids, they both knew what they were. Bonds' lame excuse that he thought they were nutritional supplements and an arthritis cream is a bunch of crap. It's embarrassing just to listen to.

So what to do? An ESPN analyst this morning made the point that at spring training last year lots of players were significantly smaller than the previous year in order to comply with the tougher MLB restrictions and punishments regarding steroids. So I guess some improvement is being made, but clearly not enough. I'd like to see Bud Selig come out strong on this and say it's completely unacceptable. His statements released so far have been more reminicient of a nervous schoolboy than commissioner of baseball.

What should be done about Bonds' records? There's no way any baseball fan can honestly applaud Bonds for breaking several MLB records - and probably breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home run record next season - when he's on steroids. I almost wonder if Bonds will go ahead and retire now. It'd be a shocker, but I'd be surprised if his immense ego could withstand the upcoming scrutiny and criticism. I can see him getting out early in hopes of preserving his legacy while he can. The thing is, I think it's already too late.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Juiced-up Giambi

Maggie says:
In just-released grand jury testimony for the ongoing BALCO case, Yankees player Jason Giambi has admitted to using steroids for three seasons and to injecting himself with human growth hormone. This admission comes despite his repeated denials to skeptics that his magical body transformation was completely natural.

To me, the significance of this admission isn't really the steroid use - I can't imagine anyone being too surprised, because Giambi was a pretty obvious suspect. And I don't think anyone really believes steroid use in baseball isn't a problem. What's signficant to me is that Giambi actually admitted his crime. In an era when middle-aged Barry Bonds can suddenly take on the body of a 20-year old and break countless Major League Baseball records while owners and fans look the other way, Giambi's admission could be a rallying cry for major steroid investigations and major baseball reform.

The noose seems to be tightening around the neck of Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' personal trainer and the man accused of providing steroids to several high-profile players (including Giambi). Not to mention Bonds himself. We'll see how this story plays out, but I think Bonds' records will increasingly be seen as suspect in light of his connections to drug use (not to mention the way his body changed so dramatically late in his baseball career).

Something's gotta change here. I'm sure the players' union would pitch a fit, but I see public shame as one of the only ways to recapture some of baseball's integrity. When players are discovered of using steroids, I think their names should be released to the public. Why should their privacy be protected when they're the ones destroying the game?

And I love the fact that my team is a bunch of short, skinny, overweight, and basically less-than-perfect athletic specimens. Here's to beer guts and lack of muscle tone! Who says you need a six-pack to win the World Series, anyway?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Protesting cigarettes instead of an unjust war

Maggie says:
Naomi Klein has an interesting piece in The Nation this week looking at Americans’ psychological distance from the bloodshed in Iraq. Her symbolic example is James Blake Miller, the Marine now known as “The Marlboro Man” or, if you’re Robert Novak, “The Face of Fallujah.”

This famous photograph shows Miller fresh from battle with a cigarette dangling from his lip. Instead of being celebrated as an iconic image (which it was clearly intended to be), this photograph has instead infuriated much of the American public because he was photographed smoking. According to Klein, a Texas woman asked her local newspaper why the photo couldn’t have been taken of a non-smoking soldier. A man from New York suggested that the correct photo for the Post to carry would be one of “a Marine in a tank, helping another GI, or drinking water” because “it would have a more positive impact on your readers.”

What’s clear here is that much of this country is unable to accept or process anything but a benign cheerleading stance when it comes to our military in Iraq. The fact that Miller’s smoking habits have garnered more attention than that other Marine in Fallujah – you know, the one caught on tape killing a wounded and unarmed Iraqi – is a perfect example of how sometimes Americans would rather not know the truth, would rather not hear the details, and would rather not think too hard about what’s actually happening versus what they’re being told.

Here are my questions to those folks: What, exactly, do you think Bush&Co were sending troops off to Iraq to do? And if you’d rather just rah-rah the effort and not think about the dirty details, what about at least acknowledging that war has a horrific effect on soldiers – seen today in Iraq through record-high suicide rates, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder?

Personally, I think that after asking James Blake Miller to go to Iraq on a lie, getting him stuck in an un-winnable war, and pretty much guaranteeing him depression if not a full-blown moral crisis, a cigarette is the least we can offer him.