Thursday, August 11, 2005

Elmo: Wise Old Sage of Mississippi

I was contacted recently by Elmo, perhaps the wisest man in Mississippi, who pointed out the following regarding my recent farewell post:

(a) your pulse was probably 25 in Florida, too
(b) any post office door could have attacked you
(c) that haircut could have happened anywhere (i'm just jealous)
(d) the computer did not notice the state line in deciding to crash,
probably
(e) the house you elect to rent was not, shall we say, in a particularly
hy-tone neighborhood
(f) the state of Mississippi loves you dearly, i have on good authority

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Bomb-sniffing dogs and dog-bombs...


Cartoon from Al Mada
Originally uploaded by kfoz.
From the Los Angeles Times:

Servants -- and Weapons -- of War

U.S. forces rely on dogs to detect bombs in Iraq. Insurgents rig them with explosives.

By Borzou Daragahi, Times Staff Writer


BAGHDAD — These are the dogs of war.

At a checkpoint leading to the U.S.-protected Green Zone, Gordy stands sentry. The affable Belgian Malinois has a nose finely tuned to detect the nitrates, plastic explosives, gunpowder and detonation cords that suicide bombers use to blow up people.

On a barren stretch of road in northern Iraq, a dog rigged with explosives approaches a group of Iraqi police officers. Detonated by remote control, the bomb tears the dog apart but doesn't harm the cops.

In a war where the line between civilian and soldier is blurred, even man's best friend has been caught up in the combat. U.S. forces hail their trained dogs as heroes, but to insurgents, canines provide the means for a more sinister goal.

Iraqi police cite the recent use of dogs rigged with explosive devices in Latifiya, just south of Baghdad, in Baqubah in central Iraq and in and around the northern city of Kirkuk.

Some Iraqis are horrified by the ethics of dragging the animal world into a human conflict.

"How can they use these lovely pets for criminal and murderous acts?" asked Rasha Khairir, 25, an employee of a Baghdad stock brokerage. "A poor dog can't refuse what they are doing with him because he can't think and decide."

Despite a common prejudice in the Muslim world against dogs, which are considered unclean, even the most virulent clerical opponents of the U.S. presence in Iraq have decried the use of canines as proxies in the war.

Abdel Salam Kubaisi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Assn., a hard-line Sunni Arab clerical organization sympathetic to insurgents, called the practice un-Islamic. "Our religion does not permit us to hurt animals," he said, "neither by using them as explosive devices nor in any other manner."

U.S. troops extol the virtues of their canine allies in the war against the insurgents.

"Dogs are vital in Iraqi counterinsurgency efforts," said Staff Sgt. Ann Pitt, 35, of Buffalo, N.Y., a U.S. Army dog handler based near the southern city of Nasiriya.

"We have many items to help us do our mission, but I don't think we have a better detection tool than a dog," said Pitt, who cares for Buddy, another Belgian Malinois, a dog similar to a German shepherd. "These dogs are amazing. They are more dependable and effective than almost anything we have available to us."

The Army has deployed dogs since World War I to locate trip wires, track enemies, stand guard at base perimeters and search tunnels for explosives or booby traps.

Even these dogs weren't always treated kindly. Of 4,300 dogs sent to Vietnam, 2,000 were handed over to the South Vietnamese army and 2,000 were put to sleep. Only 200 managed to make it home, said Ron Aiello, Vietnam War-era dog handler who runs U.S. War Dog, a 1,100-member Burlington, N.J., organization.

His group set up a website, http://www.uswardogs.org , to raise funds for a memorial to honor the dogs and their handlers.

In Iraq, dogs like Gordy and Buddy are posted at checkpoints and at entrances to government buildings.

They sniff for explosives among reporters' equipment at news conferences and passengers' bags at Baghdad's international airport.

"What we do is prevent people from getting killed," said Artwell Chibero, Gordy's 29-year-old Zimbabwean handler, an employee of a private security firm hired by the Defense Department.

Dogs have 25 times more smell receptors than humans, Pitt said.

"We smell spaghetti sauce and we think, 'Oh, the spaghetti sauce smells good,' " Pitt said. "To a dog, they would smell the tomatoes, the onions, the basil, oregano. They smell all the odors individually."

Insurgents have long stuffed roadside bombs into the carcasses of animals. But Iraqi security officials say they increasingly worry about the use of live animals.

"Dogs have been used in many areas by insurgents throughout Iraq" to carry explosive devices, said Noori Noori, inspector-general at the Interior Ministry. "They used mentally retarded people for operations during the elections, so why wouldn't they use animals?"

Last year in Ramadi, in the vast desert west of the capital, insurgents dispatched a booby-trapped donkey toward a U.S.-run checkpoint around sunset. "As one of the soldiers tried to stop it, the donkey exploded," said resident Mohammed Yas, 45. The only casualty was the donkey.

"Before, they used to use car bombs. Now they are using people and animals," said Col. Adnan Jaboori, a spokesman for the interior minister. "They are finding new ways to use remote-control technology."

The daily newspaper Al Mada recently published an editorial cartoon showing an insurgent who strongly resembled Saddam Hussein trying to persuade a dog to strap on a belt bomb to advance the cause of the Baath Party, which once ruled Iraq.

"It is such a simple task," the insurgent tells the terrified dog. "All you have to do is to put on this explosives belt, repeat the party's slogans, and may Allah have mercy on your father's soul!"

Times staff writers Zainab Hussein and Suhail Ahmad contributed to this report.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Six Feet Under: Nate's Burial

I have sort of gotten over the shock and glee at Nate's long overdue death, but I thought, after two weeks of posting after each episode, perhaps I should keep it up.

Last night Nate was buried, and I loved the hideousness of the green funeral, the awkward clumsy attempts to carry a corpse without a casket, the painfully long silences. On the other hand, some of the more dramatic scenes felt rushed, as if to save time for that drawn out uncomfortable graveside sequence. Did we really need another scene of Brenda's mom (usually so hideous that I love her) claiming her problems are greater than the rest of the world around her? Would Brenda really dump Maya at the doorstep of Mrs. Fisher without so much as a conversation? I kept thinking that the true scene would be Brenda having the urge to leave the child with her, but choosing to come in and stay with the Fishers instead.

Yet, in spite of these errors in the script, I sobbed my head off. Even the dogs were concerned for me.

By the skin of my teeth...

This morning I woke up at 4:30 to finish--finally finish--the manuscript for The Dogs Who Found Me. I'd been holding on to it these past few weeks making tiny changes and adjustments, adding to a resource section at the back, adding some tiny details and ideas along the way. At 6:30 I was done, and took the three dogs for their walks. At 7:30, I started doing a spellcheck. At 8:00 the computer tried to do an autosave while in the midst of a spell check command, and the program froze. At 8:15 I did a force quit on Microsoft Word, then tried to open the file again. It wouldn't open. I restarted the whole computer, opened the recovered document and it was jibberish. I went back to the previous version saved on the desktop--which was mostly up to date thank god, save for the spelling errors--and before anything more happened, sent it off to my editor.

It is done!

For now, anyway.

But what a battle. This is the third computer that has tried to destroy it!