Archive for November, 2006

Civil War? Why does it matter?

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
Tyler Murphy

The American Heritage dictionary defines civil war as a war between factions or regions of the same country. This is confusing because it doesn’t really explain the extent of conflict necessary in order to consider it a true civil war. The current administration says the conflict in Iraq is not a civil war because the conflict is relatively isolated to the capital and a few other troubled cities and in order for it to be a civil war, it must spread to the rest of the country. I can see the logic in that to a point, but under this definition you couldn’t consider the American Civil War a civil war because it didn’t expand to the entire United States.

According to the United Nations, 3,709 civilians died in October and the worst single civilian attack since the war began took place last week, killing more than 200 people and injuring over 250. The U.S. has lost 2,884 soldiers since the war began, meaning the losses in one month for civilians is almost 1,000 more than our total since 2003. 21,485 U.S. service men have been seriously wounded and many estimate the civilian deaths over 100,000. One credible independent group that was once given acclaim for their work by the U.S., estimated it over 600,000 deaths since the war began. On any given day between 50 and 80 bodies are found in Baghdad, most of them showing signs of torture by power tools and other industrial equipment.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, when addressing if Iraq should be considered a civil war, said, “Unless something is done drastically and urgently to arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there. In fact we are almost there,” NBC broadcasting and many other media groups have began calling the violence a civil war despite the fact it has not officially been classified as such by the U.S. or its allies. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said today, Nov. 29, that Iraq’s violence meets the standard of civil war and that if he were heading the State Department now, he might recommend that the administration use that term.

So why does it matter? Many believe that if the U.S. officially classifies the conflict as a civil war it will be admitting a defeat and encourage more violence. It would further demonstrate the already weakened position of the U.S. and the Iraqi government. This would undoubtedly undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize the region and weaken public support for the war even more. The decision may also cripple an already deeply divided Iraqi democracy. Also by claiming it is a civil war, you must give the insurgency more credit. They become a faction or guerilla movement and no longer represent a few discontented individuals but rather could be perceived as a cause. Effectively a terrorist organization has found a way to transform into a revolutionary group. This would indeed be a victory for those seeking to splinter the country and impair U.S. interests. However these predictions appear to be unfolding already.

At some point however the U.S. will be seen as being arrogant and incompetent if a true civil is recognized by credible organizations or countries and not by us. It has already begun. We will appear even weaker if we are so desperate as to stay in a state of denial. The world will make its own judgments to the conflict in Iraq and then they will make judgments on us. What are they to think of our policy makers or our people? I don’t envy the administration’s position but the time of illusion is over for the American people and the world. I only hope it is now the time of truth for our leaders. It is lose, lose either way. It reminds me of a humorous yet truthful remark I once heard, “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.”

Supporting local merchants

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
Jessica Lewis

When Mayor Joseph Maiurano approached me about doing a story to promote shopping downtown during the holiday season, I thought it was a great idea. Unsure of exactly how I wanted to approach the story, Mayor Maiurano and I dedicated a few days to traveling from business to business in the heart of Norwich, asking what the stores had to offer their customers. The results were amazing. Neither of us had anticipated the sheer volume of merchandise available in the downtown Norwich area.

It took many tries before the article was complete. First I tried to mention each of the stores and what type of merchandise they carried. When the story began to look more like a shopping list than an article, I knew that particular option was out. Then I tried breaking the story up into segments, featuring a handful of businesses in each article in a series, but again it sounded like I was just listing stores and items. Finally, I decided to write one article, discussing downtown shopping as a whole. I mentioned a few business owners who mentioned special services they provided for the community, and those that gave the best quotes.

The article was complete, and I was proud of myself for doing something that would promote down town and all of the people who work hard to keep it thriving. That is for a little while.  Only hours after the story ran, I began hearing about complaints from some of the merchants. The problem, basically was that I mentioned some business owners and establishments, and left others out.  Although the story was supposed to promote down town shopping as a whole, that is not the impression that it gave to many local merchants.

Although I will admit, I was initially upset over the business owners’ reactions, I suppose the fault lies in my own judgment.  The merchants cannot be blamed for looking out for the best interests of their own businesses, however, I have learned my lesson. I won’t be writing any more holiday shopping stories, because someone is sure to be left out or forgotten. So instead, I will just say, downtown stores have a wide variety of merchandise, and shopping locally helps the local economy.

The year of the tofu-turkey

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006
Jessica Lewis

It was a dark and blustery Thanksgiving Day, and I was busy helping to prepare the meal for the swarm of crazies that fate made my relatives. Thanksgiving had become somewhat bland for me and the youngest of my five sisters. As the only two vegetarians in a family full of carnivores, we were outnumbered and outvoted on many occasions, but this year we had taken the lead, buying and preparing our own tofu-turkey. We were excited about the change to the usual menu, as we pulled the slightly gelatinous mass from it’s container, and plopped it onto the baking sheet. Two drum stick shaped objects, which appeared to be made out of frozen sawdust, landed on either side of the faux bird.

Lisa and I weren’t worried by the jiggley appearance of the object, because on the other side of the kitchen was a big headless bird, with no feathers, and some rather disgusting organs crammed inside of it. In comparison, ours didn’t look nearly as icky. We busied ourselves preparing the rest of the meal, while the tofu-turkey lie forgotten in the oven.

It wasn’t until we smelled an acrid scent, similar to burning plastic, that we remembered our sad creation. Smoke rolled off of it in waves, as we pulled the congealed blob from the oven. The outside looked slightly crisp, and the sawdust drumsticks were dry and shriveled. We thought perhaps it could be salvaged if we made the accompanying vegetarian gravy, and drizzled it over the top, so we mixed up another foul smelling concoction, and set the table.

This tale would end with the shriveled faux food left untouched on the table, if new love had not intervened. They say that love is blind, but on this occasion it was anosmic. I had just started dating the man who I would later marry. He knew I was the one responsible for the tofu-turkey, and because he didn’t want my feelings to be hurt, he took a heaping portion of the dried up not-bird. He forced a smile, suppressing the urge to gag, and lied “this is good.” He tried to cover the taste, by pouring large amounts of the gloppy gravy over his plate, but the look on his face showed that only made it worse. I tried to tell him that he didn’t have to consume anymore, but he was focused solely on choking down the foul fake fowl. He didn’t even seem to notice that neither Lisa nor I nor anyone else followed suit, at least not immediately.

To this day, in our household we are thankful on Thanksgiving. Thankful that there is an empty spot on the table where the tofu-turkey once sat. Even though Lisa and I still avoid the turkey on Thanksgiving day, we no longer have any desire to change the menu.

Man without a country

Friday, November 17th, 2006
Michael McGuire

Have you ever been stranded?

It’s happened to me a few times.

Once was in rural Tennessee after taking a “short cut.” My friends and I were stuck in traffic for 18 hours with an over-heated RV – surrounded by moonshine, bongo-blasting hippies and a couple thousand prized Holsteins. All three tasted horrific. But in a pinch they complimented each other nicely.

The second time was in Colorado. I had walked nearly five miles down a nasty mountain road (after offending several native Arkansians and being kicked out of their car for telling a foul joke about hogs and breakfast food), only to find an eerie but well lit 7/11 being manned by 6 Senegalese nationals. After haggling with them for 15 minutes over the purchase of a pre-paid phone card, it became clear to me that these gas station attendants – in the middle of the Rocky Mountains – only spoke French. That is until I walked out the door and one of them laughed and yelled, “Hey chunk, you told the ‘DINER? YOU BROUGHT HER!’ joke again, didn’t you?” After they broke into hysterics, I knew that it was a long walk of shame I had made before.

My most recent experience was much more pleasant. I was trapped in Greene during Thursday’s rain storm. Not that being stuck overnight 25 miles from home in flash flooding is fun, but not having to eat anybody, or tell bad jokes in French to good people from Arkansas (?), is like finding $20 in somebody else’s gym bag…or it’s like (last) Christmas…whatever.

I was hold-up at the Greene Firehouse, and everyone there was great. They let us use their phones, eat their food, watch their TV, hang-out in their garage and slide down the greased pole. OK that last part was a lie…Greene’s pole is not greased. But now I do wish that I had been. Hindsight is 20/20.

It was amazing to watch those guys work. The second they got back from a call, they would head right back out to another. And they never appeared to be scared or nervous. They just did what they had to do, no questions asked. And when they weren’t out helping people, they were in the station helping us. I give them a lot of credit.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Hubbard was nice enough to let me ride with him, and we drove around flood damaged Greene for about a half-hour. We looked at cars buried under water over at the Raymond Corporation, and assessed possible flooding at the river. When we got back I listened to the firefighters talk about what they saw, and most of them acknowledged how unexpected, and how quickly the weather had gotten out of control. One gentlemen described a creek that became diverted by debris, and routed itself through someone’s house. Many other similar stories made their way back to the garage.

The rain took a long break from about 7:30 p.m. until about 10:30 p.m., and by that time I was bushed. Things slowed down at the station too. I was welcomed to sleep there, but the white fold-out tables acted a bit sheepish when I administered the “suck-in and slide-on” tactical maneuver. So I decided I’d just sleep in my car parked out on the street.

Not quite ready to suffer some bed-time KIX 94 in the car, I took a walk around Greene. It was pretty, and even though I was alone, cold, and wearing a huge yellow trench coat (because of which I was mistakenly reported over the scanner as a school bus full of children that was caught in a mudslide) I never once felt alone, or like a man without a country (or a phone card). Which is unlike all the other times I’ve been stranded. Thanks Greene Fire Department.

My favorite teacher

Friday, November 17th, 2006
Jessica Lewis

This week is American Education Week, and I cannot let it pass without mentioning my favorite teachers. First of all I should say a few words about the wonderful English teacher at Oxford Academy. Although I didn’t attend school in Oxford, 11th grade teacher Jena O’Conner taught me how to read the summer before I began kindergarten. I was five, and she was ten, and with her help I developed a love for reading that never ended.

Now that I’ve finished praising my sister, I will tell you a little about my favorite school teacher. I remember meeting Miss Blake during my first art class in kindergarten. I don’t remember much, except that at the time I thought her name was Miss Black, ‘cause if you’re an art teacher your name should be a color. She always seemed to be in a good mood, and to this day, she seems to receive more hugs than any other teacher. Since that first meeting, I had many encounters with my favorite teacher. In fifth grade, we started the art club. During recess, we had a choice, we could either go outside and play, or we could spend the afternoon with Miss Blake, discovering oil crayons and water colors. An overwhelming number of students turned down kick ball and picked up the colored pencils.

Miss Blake stuck with us through junior high and high school. She eventually became one of our class advisors. The prom committee met in her room during lunch, making plans and preparations. We worked on the mural that hung on the stage during the dance, and with her guidance, made it beautiful. Miss Blake accompanied us on our senior trip, and before graduation, she gave us each a folder full of art work that we had created over the years.

More than being just a teacher, Miss Blake was a true friend. To this day, I feel I have a close connection to my favorite teacher. She attended my wedding, and I send her pictures of my baby. As a child I was inspired by her warmth and kindness, and as an adult, I strive to make a difference to others, the way she has made a difference to me.

We can never go back to our school.

Monday, November 13th, 2006
Tyler Murphy

About five years ago when I graduated from Oxford Academy High School we fortunately had an open campus. During lunch hours we could meander around town and have a chance at eating something other than cafeteria food, however some of the older students took the time to indulge in a cigarette. The administration even allowed us to go outside at our leisure during honor study hall and quite often the back and side doors were propped open by students and faculty alike during the warmer seasons, even small door stops or rocks where kept neatly inside the exits so you didn’t have to look for them. Although hall passes where suppose to be used I only carried one perhaps a dozen times during my entire four years at Oxford. Many of my peers were equally delinquent with what we considered an absurd control protocol out of date since early middle school and through lack of enforcement we knew many of our teachers sympathized. School fights where nothing more than a few days suspension and threats where still considered emotional adolescent outbursts that the principle made you reluctantly take back and apologize for but we always knew he was right. My principle was Mark Hine at the time and I respected him profoundly for being both a tempered authority and for being an open listener, often speaking with students rather than at them. The greatest education that a teacher can offer can not be found in a text book. To be honest many of the standard security measures taken now would have been regarded as demeaning and subordinate to me and my peers then. However this is a brave new world and as our time passed five years ago we all could notice the death of our kind high school as national events curbed the ideologies of our culture and school administrations. The changes where rudimentary and subtle but by the time I had graduated I knew the next time I returned I would find a a place completely alien to me. Although I can’t say if things have changed for the best or not I am certain that as a student knowing how it used to be, I would hate it now. How can schools be responsible for teaching a liberal education and be so conservative? Schools have become our systems biggest hypocrisies.

Brave new world

Friday, November 10th, 2006
Tyler Murphy

Did you know that there are only 14 World War I veterans still alive in the United States? And the average age for a surviving combatant in World War II is 85? How long before we forget? Veterans’ Day once upon a time was called Armistice Day, do you know why? Because on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the “war to end all wars” as they used to called it, finally came to a close. WWI was truly the first epic demonstration of the mother of invention, necessity, fiercely colliding with the technology of the industrial revolution. The machine gun, gas, planes, even camouflage were revolutionized by WWI. Also transportation, communication and everything else leapt forward creating a potential for abuse and carnage unimaginable. At a time when cowboys still herded cattle in the west and Samurai still worshipped the art of war in the east, the stage of what was only 100 years earlier colonial Europe exploded in death. They called it the war to end all wars because no one imagined anything could ever be as terrible and surely the eventual end and bloody fallout would ensure in people’s minds for generations never to indulge in the idiotic human notion again. They failed to recognize the true culprit of the war, however.

What fools are men to repeat mistakes so eagerly. In many ways World War II was World War I revisited. The Germans suffered the worst of the world depression even much more than the United States. The European victors of 15 years earlier wanted the Axis powers to pay for their losses both economically and symbolically. Germany didn’t start the first world war and it certainly was not more evil in that war than its counterparts Britain and France; and in many ways Russia was far worse toward humanity during the war. Germany was however the competitor since medieval times and hatred unlike most things does not die with time. So acting as they had for the last 700 years in Europe, the Powers That Be reached down with an iron hand like the kings of old and punished Germany too severely. But in time, one good turn deserves another. Truth be told, it was the fault of the world. The spark began in the Balkans, the “powder keg” as one great man once wrote, but the fuel from the fire that engulfed the entire world came from many, Axis and Allied alike.

Desperate people in Germany suffering worse than others feeling ostracized by the world and its European neighbors especially, grew vulnerable and bitter. A man and a party all too familiar came into focus at this suffering time and spoke of better times and offered targets to cast the people’s burdens. The Nazis showed people who to blame and who to follow and promised to return the glory of a very proud people no matter the cost. The Nazi party was new to the spotlight. They were proud, arrogant and strong … something many Germans had longed for since the end of WWI. For a time the regime made things better for many in Germany, relatively speaking of course, and the average depraved and shameful citizen felt a swell of dignity and strength again. Perhaps this is way when a few years down that dark road they knew they could not go back on, they cast a blind eye to the atrocities that shook the world for a 100 years. History cast a cold eye of judgment, but who among us can not sympathize? The average man and woman trying to provide caught in the middle of something they could not truly understand. It is a sad thing. The world is harsh and life means little to the desperate.

World War II brought to terms the brutality of man. We discovered we could no longer could wage war like we had since the birth of our race. The bomb that killed half a million people never touched the ground. The atomic bomb that killed half a million people could fit in your garage. The world gasped at its creation, not the bomb but the most efficient of nearly all human activity and effort, death. The world grew up that day … or did it? Korea, Vietnam, the middle east, the cold war, terrorism. So far and so few are the remnants of those times.

Fundamentalism is fascism reincarnated, ethnic cleansing is genocide politically correct. 400,000 people have been systematically murdered in the Sudan in the last 2 years; how often do you see that on the news? Christian fundamentalism has been reborn in America. They cast gays out as abominations – let’s just remember that just 80 years ago these people also believed women were the same and fought against more than just their right to vote. These people believe faith is the key to life, not reason. Evolution is blasphemy, homosexuality a sin. Woman are less and religion should govern. They follow the will of “god” and thus override the will of the people. Look to the middle east and see the direction that will lead us. Or if you can imagine a step back in history, think of Germany, its people and leaders.

The new diversity in our government I welcome. No one decision by a government should ever be completely agreed upon. Anyone not willing to discuss their beliefs rationally probably never questioned their beliefs. All beliefs should be questioned and if they are not, then they are not yours. Faith is not an argument, it is accepting ignorance. To say I do not need reason to believe in what I believe in because I am able to believe beyond reason is by definition ignorance. If you choose to believe it anyway at least don’t stand up and tell others too unless you’re willing to discuss it. Our enemy in the free world comes from all countries and all walks of life. The obstacles to freedom are narrow thoughts and absolutisms. Encourage education, be compelled to get out of your comfort zone and learn something; if you are really enlightened learn about something you hate. Try to understand not condemn the world or else like Europe, what we put into the world will be revisited upon us and our children one fateful day.

Remember that freedom of choice has always been paid for with blood; don’t give it up lightly. Today is Veterans’ Day but a long time ago they called it something else. Remember why.

The end of campaign season ’06

Friday, November 10th, 2006
Jessica Lewis

The elections are finally over, and I could not be happier. This year, while sitting on the sidelines, watching the drama of the campaign season unfold, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a soap opera. The drama factor was at an all time high, as scandal after scandal rocked both parties. Mark Foley’s inappropriate relationships with under-age congressional pages left the Republican party with a storm cloud hanging over them. It seemed the Democrats had the race in the bag, until John Kerry’s insulting comment about military troops sent people all over the country into an uproar.

The issues were abandoned, focus instead being placed on smear campaigns and mud slinging. In what appeared to me to be the worst year in recent history for negative advertisement, it was easy to grow frustrated with politicians who forgot about why they should be elected, concentrating instead on why their competitor should not. The political scene has deteriorated into something that resembles a school yard fight, with everyone picking sides and yelling at one another.

With the election results in, the Democrats have won control of the House and the Senate. The need for improved bipartisan relations is integral to how we are able to progress.  We need to put an end to the finger-pointing, blame game tactics, and get back to what really matters.

After bearing witness to such a negative campaign season, I look ahead to presidential elections with a sense of fear and dread. The individuals running our government should act like people we can respect, not like insolent children who need to be placed in time out. I hope our politicians will realize that before the next campaign season rolls around.