Got that Obama!

Who among us is surprised by this?

Sheriff’s deputies and investigators have broken a heroin distribution ring that dished out narcotics across more than half of Sullivan County.

<…>

The alleged dealers were pushing a variety of heroin that they called “Obama.” Chaboty said dealers are known to stamp the glassine wax paper that carries the heroin with brand names — like “Black Death” or “Blue Sunshine” — so that users can identify their preferred brands. This drug ring’s stamp happened to carry the new president’s surname.

“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Chaboty said.

Real Life Imitates The Wire, Again: Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon Indicted

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, frequently critical of The Wire for its “overly negative” portrayal of crime and corruption, was indicted today after a three-year investigation.

Dixon was charged with four counts of perjury and two counts of theft over $500, as well as theft under $500, fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and misconduct in office. The charges stem in part from gifts she received from former boyfriend and developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, who was also charged earlier this week.

A grand jury indicted Dixon on 12 counts, including four counts of perjury and two counts of theft over $500. She was also charged with theft under $500, fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and misconduct in office.

Dixon, a Democrat, has been the target of a nearly three-year probe by State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh into corruption at City Hall, an investigation that has centered on allegations that Dixon has used her office to award lucrative contracts to various people including her sister, her then-boyfriend and her former campaign chairman.

Oh man, this doesn’t look good:

Some of the charges center on gift cards that Dixon received from two real estate developers. According to the indictment, Dixon told one of the developers that the gift cards were going to be distributed to needy families in Baltimore. Prosecutors say that in December 2005, when Dixon was City Council president, she used 19 of 20 Best Buy gift cards for herself, purchasing personal items, including a digital camcorder, a PlayStation 2 and other electronics.

Prosecutors say that in December 2006, she used Old Navy, Best Buy and other gift cards intended for needy families for an Xbox 360, a PlayStation Portable, clothes and other items for her own use.

More, from The Sun

Below, Mayor Dixon in happier times:

Life imitates The Wire? Maybe not…

The complete five season box set release has spawned some new Wire reviews and recs.

Ran across this article at CNN.com.   The reviewer offers high praise for the series but grew up in West Baltimore and says he feels The Wire is bleaker than the world he grew up in.

Why did Cutty give Dukie such a hopeless answer? Maybe it’s because some people who never lived in a neighborhood like “The Wire” confuse hopelessness for authenticity. Yeah, I could shock you with stories of violence, but it’s so easy to slip from revelation to titillation. I start off telling you a story about how tough my school was, and soon I’m shooting it out with five drug dealers who want to steal my homework.

But I never remember West Baltimore being so hopeless. A man like Cutty wouldn’t tell a young man that he had no way out — adults rallied around kids with potential.

I even checked with some childhood friends — one who is now an undercover police officer who literally works a “wire” for the Baltimore Police Department — and we all agreed that “The Wire’s” bleakness was exaggerated.

“They made it seem like we grew up in Bosnia,” my friend, another “Wire” fan, told me.

The writer points out another scene that did ring true for him, though.  Read the full article.

Life imitates The Wire, episode 11,876

Rachel Maddow had Princeton’s Melissa Harris-Lacewell on last night to discuss the drama surrounding seats in the US Senate opened by Obama’s appointments. Naturally, the discussion focused primarily on the Blagojevich scandal.  Watch the entire segment to hear Dr. Harris-Lacewell’s parting admonition:

View “Rachel Maddow video: Senate scramble

Bigger than the war

Defeated, gobsmacked and heartbroken.

Copy that.

Nate Fick at DNC 08-“It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage.”

Nate Fick was one of the early speakers in the line up for the Democratic National Convention’s final night at Invesco Stadium. He was one of the “American Voices,” a group of Americans selected to tell their stories during last night’s historic event.

Below, the text of Fick’s remarks.

Good afternoon. I’m Nathaniel Fick. My Marine platoon landed in Afghanistan on a moonlit night in 2001. A little more than a year later, we rolled into Iraq. I’ll never forget one dawn after a vicious gun battle. We’d just medevaced one of our wounded Marines, and I turned to see a small American flag hanging from a humvee’s antenna. For a second, it reminded me of the line we all know so well: “And our flag was still there.”

I registered as a Republican at 18 and voted for John McCain in 2000. It took seven years of hard experience to get me on this stage. But we cannot afford more of the same. That’s why we need Barack Obama and Joe Biden to lead us beyond the tired divisions of the past. They have the judgment to make the right decisions, leading our military, and uphold our highest ideals.

Everyone who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan has left something: a friend, a limb, a piece of their youth. In those palm groves and on those ridge lines, this is personal for us. I don’t want to retreat; I want to win.

The past seven years have been hard, often heartbreaking. Our flag, however, is still there. Let’s move forward in our quest to live up to the idea of America.

I can’t find a video of it on the DNC site yet, but I did see Fick speak. It was very moving. The part about everyone who was there “left something” reminded me of something that completely tore me up when I saw it during one of the video segments aired earlier during the convention: a young Marine spoke about how seeing the boots and helmets of  fallen comrades, arranged in lines for a memorial service, was so powerful for soldiers because they had each spent so much time living and fighting in those exact same uniforms, wearing those exact same boots.

Episode 6: Like fucking for virginity

Sorry so late. Satellite went out this week, I had to scramble.

Patrolling with NVGs on, Kocher and his team snatch up a lone armed Iraqi. Aside from interrupting the guy taking a dump, which I don’t think the Geneva Conventions covers anyway, it’s by the book.  Then Captain America comes flying over the the side of the berm like he was shot of cannon and fucks everything up, because yeah, that unarmed guy Kocher’s now got cuffed and is pushing in front of him?  Yeah, that guy was trying to kill Eric, man!

Just in case anyone had a doubt, Captain America has lost his fucking mind. Officially. The guys in his platoon aren’t even bothering to talk behind his back about him anymore. Though, the guy who tells him his hamster’s jumped the wheel does call him “Sir.”

Thus opens the next-to-the-last episode, Stay Frosty.  Frosty, because, see?  Captain America, hell, everyone, not so frosty. Get it?  I’ll just say here at the beginning, that therein is my problem with the episode.  Too much telling, not enough showing.  No stray unconnected dots, pretty much every punch is telegraphed. A few examples:

Manimal being a dog to the Iraqi woman on the roadside/Manimal being a bigger dog to the female Marine later.

Exposition about the Iraqis using helmets to escape detection by thermals/Gabe finds an Iraqi helmet/his team gets shot at by the reservists.

Unnamed character out of nowhere shoehorned into scene so that we completely understand about the reservists about to show up.

Just like every other time I have a negative criticism of anything Simon/Burns & Co have done, I feel like a schmuck for saying so, because they are who they are and have done all the awesome they’ve done, and I’m sitting on my couch, barely able to crank out a post per show.   Nonetheless, this episode felt off-target, not of a piece with the others. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it.

Of course, it’s still pretty great…

The scene of Colbert dancing or flying or whatever he was doing was the highlight. Wonderful, though it would have been perfection without the exposition between Ray and Evan. Still, there was enough wtf? left in, and jesus did we ever need a palate cleanser right there after the dee-secration of the filtration dee-vice scene. Now we know why Sixta exists.  Because when you routinely condition people to act like violent animals, well, they aren’t going to stay inside the lines and someone has to be there to kick them in the head and make them stop. Remember Ray’s reference to pit bulls?  I once saw a pit bull attack another dog. There were dozens of people around, some of whom tried their best to separate the dogs but the pit bull was like a machine without an off switch.  Then two guys ran up with their cooler and threw the ice, freezing water, cans of beer, all of it, on the dogs and that did the trick.  That’s what Sixta is for.

Is it just me, or did anyone else have the same sick feeling at that first long shot of the refugees on the road, like any second we were going to see them blown up by an artillery attack?  That rubber band just keeps twisting and twisting and twisting all through that scene, aaaaaand sure enough, there goes an old man’s head.   You have to feel for these soldiers, I guess, because any man, woman, child, or small animal in their vicinity seems to die violently no matter what they do.  I mean they are supposed to be expert killers, not killing people by accident. Which, of course, is one of the things this episode hit us over the head with.  We’ve seen it every week, so we didn’t need Poke and Ice Man to spell it all out for us.

That’s what Stay Frosty was about though, more than anything. Drive around the head, run over the body.  You can’t win. Simultaneously blowing the shit out of a country and saving it at the same time is pretty close to impossible, especially when the whole premise is a lie to begin with, especially when you don’t do it with enough personnel and resources, and especially when even the good guys have to throw away the rule book because it’s irrelevant because…see beginning of sentence, and repeat.   Eight thousand Sixtas couldn’t unfuck things at this point, and remember: this is only a month in.

Ep. 5, A Burning Dog: Dig a hole. Eat. Kill.

First thoughts on A Burning Dog.

Well, first off, it’s safe to say we’ve moved into politics. Encino Man (“Whoo! Whoo!”)  doesn’t quite get it but everyone else does. Fick:

“It’s all on that guy’s passport. Two weeks ago he was still a student in Syria. He wasn’t a jihadi until we came to Iraq.”

Last week’s metaphor, masturbation, was about waste and futility and missed opportunities.  Compared to tonight’s episode, Combat Jack seems like a walk in the park in retrospect.  Person’s Stevie Wonder joke was ironic, given that more than in any ep so far, the blinders have come off.  If there was any doubt of their mission, it’s gone. They are there to drive into ambushes and draw fire.  If there was any doubt about the ineptitude of Encino Man and Captain America, it’s gone.  One’s as dumb as a rock, the other is a hysterical menace. If there was ever any doubt that innocents were going to get blown to bits on a daily basis, it’s gone.  See, when I saw them surveilling frolicking children and old ladies baking bread this time, I thought it was a narrative device to simply heighten the tension.  Which, I guess, it was after all.  Another day, another hamlet obliterated.  Time to dig a hole.

Even Ice Man and Fick are at odds, though they are both coming from more or less the same place, which is that this war is not one of the good ones, is not played by the rules, is not the war they trained for, is not going to be winnable, is not ever going to leave them alone, its dead children haunting their dreams forever. If the assembled clowns running the show don’t get them killed, that is. To Afghanistan, gentlemen!

That thing about being the last man to die for a mistake?  Imagine dying because there aren’t enough batteries? Even though I knew the outcome, that nighttime sequence leading up to the bridge ambush was terrifyingly effective.  Imagine rocking through pitch blackness toward a certain ambush, the dark out your window illuminated only by artillery fire, knowing that the guy driving your humvee can’t see what what he’s doing? No wonder Scribe can’t stop the shakes.

I know I’m flogging this parts of a body idea a little hard but let’s go there again. These guys are all parts of the same body. You see now the importance of calling in the shots, the constant back and forth communication about even taking shits, it’s the nerve impulses that let the body operate effectively. The supplies, and the lack of them, that’s the blood flow. Guys like Colbert, Kocher, Pappy, they’re just the arms, the legs. The officers are the brains.  So these guys have Encino Man at the top, so already their brain is mostly gone. I don’t know the name of the Lt. in Alpha company, the one that called in the massive artillery strike on a bare patch of desert?  At that same level, in Bravo,  there’s Captain America.  No matter how good and steady and reliable his counterpart Fick is, there’s Captain America skittering around, like a bad case of epilepsy, with a little bipolar thrown in for good measure.

Oh man, they are all so fucked.

I’m going to revise that arms and legs thing, just for Colbert. He’s the eyes.  In the book, Wright notes that Colbert, especially, was obsessed with figuring out small visual details in the distance, and the film’s borne that out over and over again.  Colbert watches, looks, sees.  Last night’s ep was about seeing, and not seeing.  How awful and appropriate then, that last shot.  Colbert looking into the face of this war, a dead civilian looking back at him forever, through one eye, the other shot out by one of the Marines on his team.

Drawing conclusions

To say I hold strongly negative opinions of the forces behind the Iraq invasion is an understatement.  Immersing into the world of Generation Kill, it’s been a struggle trying to shoehorn that analysis into this story.

Maass:

…those types of shortcomings, as well as the ineptitude of some members of the unit—a vital supply truck is hastily abandoned in battle, commanders are obsessed with facial hair, a captain orders his men to go the wrong way on a road—are rooted in systemic faults that predate the election of George Bush in 2000. The Bush team was incompetent and naive—the critics are right about that—but the military had more than enough built-in deficiencies to undermine even a well-planned conquest of Iraq. Snafu, which is a military acronym that stands for “Situation Normal: All Fucked Up,” did not come out of Iraq; its origins are generally traced to World War II.

Of course, it is their fault that First Recon was in Iraq to begin with.  Watching Episode 3 unfold, watching that hamlet burn, I was overwhelmed with the thought that one narrative about one battalion and the damage and death they dealt represented a fraction of the total devastation.

More Maass:

Yet the highest achievement of the miniseries is the way it unveils the disordered workings of the American military and the inevitable destruction of all objects in its path, including civilians whose only offense is to tend their sheep or drive down a road. With its $550 billion budget and 1.5 million troops, the military might seem a mechanized colossus of precision-guided violence, give or take a few bad apples and errant artillery shells. But if you have served in the military or written about it from the inside, you know that on the unit level it is filled with men and women of vastly different motivations and skills. The Marines in Generation Kill are intelligent and dimwitted, panicked, sensitive, racist, comic, homicidal, brave. It is a wonder when things go according to plan. “You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps?” says one of the characters. “You get your brains back.”

Generation Kill is the opposite of a lecture—the paragraph you just read contains more politics than you’ll get in the entire series. Generation Kill doesn’t insist that the military—George Bush’s, Bill Clinton’s, Barack Obama’s, or John McCain’s—can only get things half-right on its good days. Instead, it presents the untouched messiness and ambiguity of killing in modern warfare. You can draw your own conclusions.

Be sure and read the rest.

Preliminary thoughts/open thread on “Screwby”

I’ll put up a longer post later, but instead of waiting so long this week, I thought I’d just do some thinking aloud about Episode Three, hoping others will jump in with their own thoughts. Lurkers, don’t be quiet.

This was episode was tough going. That feeling after the RCT troops, aided and abetted by Encino Man, obliterate that little hamlet, after that huge wave of flame engulfs the whole blown-up mess?  That’s how this whole episode left me feeling afterward, though I also found parts of it exhilarating. Each episode keeps taking us farther in, and there’s no going back.

Exhilarating?  Oh Jesus yeah, watching those humvees roaring three or four abreast as they race to the airfield — as full of folly and recklessness as that whole mission was, it was thrilling, after watching this outfit plod and rock along through the dust, to see them, pretty much literally, “hellbent for glory.”

Is it just me, or is anyone else confused by how much Cpt. Patterson (the “good guy” captain of Alpha Co.) and Encino Man/Cpt. Schwetje (imbecilic captain of Bravo Co.) look alike?  I am also distracted every time I see Major Eckloff, aka hotheaded Officer Colicchio from The Wire.  “It’s that guy again, what was his name?  Bad haircut dude…”

How much do I love Lt. “I am assured of this.” Fick?  A lot. It’s a tough role because on one hand he’s so young and idealistic but on the other, he’s pure steel. In the book, Fick says something really thought-provoking at the beginning to Wright, about ROTC units on college campuses being essential.  Not because they militarize the university but because the university has a liberalizing effect on the military, which Fick thought could only be a good thing. It’s probably naive of me to think so, but too bad there aren’t more like him in the Marines.

Speaking of things said in the book, at the very end, Wright quotes Colbert as stating a basic truth, about war, and I guess, about humans in general, which is that people who cannot kill will always be at the mercy of those who can and do. The thing about the book and this television series that I find so powerful is that it dismantles a statement like that, the same way it dismantles the stereotypical soldier. As bad as the worst we’ve seen is, it’s difficult to simply condemn these guys as swaggering barbarians wreaking carnage.  They do swagger, they are barbaric, and they do wreak carnage but they are tasked with killing other humans.  Perhaps this is overstating the obvious, but that’s a profound and grave mission. I think the show and the book do a very good job of laying that truth bare, as well as showing that it’s almost impossible to do it the “right” way, at least in Iraq.

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