"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 2 March 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Gas Mask


[this weekend-
vintage port and fudge/
sundays sunset/
biancas smut shack bday party's kissing booth (& the free kisses)]

As any matriculant to a serious

football-oriented school

understands full well, the

cheerleading squad doesn't get

to sit down on the job just

because the outcome of the game

is a given; even when the guys

are headed onto the field to

whip some ass on a pathetically

mismatched team that really

quite frankly belongs in just a

whole different division, the

cheerleaders still, by god,

shake their pompoms till the

whistle sounds.


We couldn't help but catch a

whiff of the ol' pigskin over

the last few weeks, as many of

the nation's newspaper editors

seemed to shift responsibility

for covering foreign affairs to

the boys on the sports desk.

Particularly gridironesque were

the profiles of Our Troops in

the Gulf - who were, in the

pages of the hometown newspaper,

ready to go out there and give

110 percent against that bastard

Saddam. One heartland newspaper,

for example, chose to focus on

local sailors serving aboard the

USS Nimitz, a mammoth aircraft

carrier floating around the

Arabian Gulf waiting for the

mother of all coin tosses; the

young sailors were, the

newspaper allowed, "ready and

unafraid if they have to launch

strikes against Baghdad."


The Nimitz, accompanied by a

flotilla of modern destroyers

and hugely powerful guided

missile warships, is a

nuclear-powered floating

airfield nearly 1,100 feet long.

Staffed with more than 5,000

highly trained professional

warriors, the ship carts 80

warplanes around in its belly,

and defends itself with weapons

like the Sea Sparrow Missile

System and several six-barrel,

radar-guided, 20-millimeter

Gatling guns capable of firing

3,000 rounds per minute. Iraq is

a country that - one devastating

war and seven devastating years

of economic embargo and weapons

inspections in the past -

couldn't accurately target

entire nations with its

remarkably shitty Scuds.


Just to round this comparison

out with some amusing little

thanatopic anecdotes, these two



1. Michael Kelly, a

bespectacled, 5'6" US newspaper

reporter who borrowed a car to

chase around Kuwait while

covering the beginning of the

ground war that concluded Desert

Storm, had to stop reporting for

a while when an Iraqi army unit

insisted that he take them

prisoner. He refused, at first,

but eventually broke down and

gave them a ride to the nearest

Saudi soldiers. Kelly was, being

a journalist, armed with some

pens and a notebook.


todd picking me up early in a tux w/me in sweats, a towel turban & wet hair.  leaving six  
minutes later all ready./
replacing my lost hat/
veggie dog at Top Dog w/russian mustard, relish, and saurkraut

2. Earlier, Kelly had been in

Baghdad to witness the start of

the air war, and please do note

that modern warfare requires

that you gain serious tactical

advantage in the air before you

grind out the final yardage with

the ground game. Seeking to

observe bombing damage, he

strolled to a sidewalk near

Iraqi military headquarters and

settled in to watch as first

one, then two, then a final

third cruise missile whistled in

for a series of perfect direct

hits that left the building

looking like, for example, the

Clinton Administration's foreign

policy - a smoldering pile of



So it probably makes a certain

amount of sense, floating around

on the Finger of God and

preparing to target a sad-sack

dictator's trashed and battered

goon squad, not to be really

terrified about the whole thing.

One suspects that the sailors,

being highly disciplined

professionals and accustomed to

getting their work done in an

atmosphere of real and

persistent danger, understood

this. The reporters, on the

other hand, may have believed

what they wrote, judging by the

tone of the writing.


Remarkably, however, quite a few

reporters have paid close

attention to the man behind the

curtain, a heartening

development - even if the

curtain was made of wet tissue.

Even more remarkably, much of

the reporting in the last couple

of weeks has done something we

wouldn't have thought possible:

It made us really grateful for

the Internet, which turns out to

be useful for something other

than collecting dirty spam.

Assembling a modest

understanding of world events

turns out to be a bit like

making an omelette by taking

half an egg from every neighbor

on the block; if the local

broadsheet reads like a White

House press release, there are

still little pieces of real -

and contradictory - information

to be picked up via a 14" VGA

monitor and a 28.8 modem.


finding that the !Carlos! 7'' was put together in the room next door ('John, you can tell 
me these things!')/
getting asked out three times in one night/
pam's love life/

The ability to prowl for

information beyond the

boundaries of geography and the

abilities of your hometown

editors come in especially

handy when the really big

bombshells seem, for whatever

reason, to land in the mud. The

Los Angeles Times reported on

collaboration between the Iraqi

and US governments during the

Iran-Iraq War, for example, in a

story that whimpered by largely

unnoticed. From the Times



"We knew [the Iraqis] used

chemicals in any major

campaign," said a former US

intelligence official familiar

with the American role.

"Although we publicly opposed

the use of chemical weapons

anywhere in the world, we knew

the intelligence we gave the

Iraqis would be used to develop

their own operational plans for

chemical weapons."


Oh, and one other little thing,

beautifully detailed by a writer

named Dennis Bernstein in the 25

February issue of the

usually-kind-of-silly San

Francisco Bay Guardian: US

corporations provided many of

the materials and much of the

equipment that the Embodiment of

Evil used in the attacks that

the US government helped to

coordinate. Do follow that last

link, and enjoy.


We've waited, seeing those

stories in the Times and the

Guardian, for the ripples to

spread. We're still waiting, and

we're not (nerve gas pun coming)

holding our breath. Pop quiz: If

he's worse than Hitler, and we

helped to arm him - then helped

him to use the weapons - that

makes us ________ (fill in the

ideological blank).


While they were busy overlooking

the inconvenient fact of US

complicity, quite a few

newspapers and television shows

did give Secretary of Defense

William Cohen a platform to

agonize over a photograph of a

Kurdish mother and child killed

in a gas attack by Iraqi

soldiers. It was, in fact, an

agonizing photograph and a fair

representation of something very

real. But a US military official

is just about the last person on

earth - next to an old friend of

the US military named Saddam

Hussein - who might have the

authority to shed public tears

about it. We gave the man a box

of bullets, whispered in his ear

about where he could find the

people he wanted to shoot, and

watched him pull the trigger

again and again. And then, with

the killing done, we parked

ourselves in the middle of the

street to shout, through a

bullhorn, that we weren't about

to tolerate any killing. We must

be an awfully amusing little

culture to a

worse-than-Hitler-style despot.


my new berry hair color/
the new handwritten elliot smith divider at Rasputans, Berkeley/
keihls ultra moisturizer with spf 13/
recognizing the bass line to jawbreaker's -i love you so much its killing us both


Toward what passes as the "end"

of the most recent iteration of

our "Iraqi Crisis," a very great

many columnists picked up on the

uselessness and danger of trying

to send a message about peace

and cooperation by tossing a few

high explosives in the general

direction of the intended

recipient. And some stories

zeroed in on the ways that a US

effort to purportedly secure

stability in the Middle East was

actually pushing some already

dangerous relationships toward

being truly incendiary. But only

a few reports picked up on the

realities of that moral thread

running through the


for-Righteousness fist shaking.


As much as it would be pleasant

to have a government that

doesn't compel us to feel shame

and disgust - beyond our own

share of entirely personal shame

and disgust, of course (and

please do leave our teen years

out of this) - we'd be willing

to settle for a news media that

keeps the light focused on at

least a few of the darker policy

choices. Here's hoping for more

reporters who are ready and

unafraid to go after the gas

attacks coming from the mouths

of the people who govern the


courtesy of Ambrose Beers