Thursday, December 18, 2008

If the shoe fits...

Did you see the President duck? Man, even if you can't stand the guy, you've got to admit - the man's got some moves.

I myself look at the presidency of George W. Bush as overall, a failure. A failure to be a true conservative - to do what Reagan did, cut government spending and let the market be mostly free. This recent subversion of the will of the people, after the Senate categorically rejected the Big 3 bailout, to throw 17+ billion at these corporations that are "too big to fail" is pretty reprehensible.

It illustrates far better than all the war on terror related examples pointed to by the anti-military left, how this administration has truly been ruled by men, rather than the rule of law.

If you want to talk about ignoring the Constitution, and the principles it was founded on - the idea of limited government and freedom for the individual to achieve AND fail - look no further than the class of 2000. The big government Republican, the "compassionate" conservative, is an abject failure when it comes to business and prosperity.

But as for the war on terror - sorry, W. and his ilk got it right. I will concede that Iraq probably wasn't the best place to fight it. But If you want the most incredibly compelling example that it was ultimately a good thing, look no further than the shoe throwing chump below. I wonder if he would have been so emboldened to try the same stunt with the previous leader of Iraq?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Happy Hanniquanzmas!

The holidays are upon us, and this is a true story.

After a fantastic visit up north with my mom and her husband on Thanksgiving, the following Monday morning the wife and I were back home - fast asleep when the clock radio went off. It literally clicked on and immediately blared out in song "It's the most, wonderful time, of the year!"

I had to chuckle, but it also struck me - why is the holiday season always fraught with a hefty thread of anxiety for most of us?

One big reason these days, in the information age, is that it's no longer just Christmas. It's all the other holidays as well. And people for some reason seem to be really bent about this.

Christians and Christmas fans are severely irritated that they can't say "Merry Christmas" to every single person they run into.

Everyone else, let's face it, still feels excluded from the holidays. Hanukkah and the other celebrations of the season are even in this day and age, a distant second to the bad ass known as Jesus, and his wing-man Santa Claus. It can be pretty off-putting. I actually had someone at my poker game last night say "Yeah, the holidays are great, if you're Christian! Not so much for the rest of us!"

I say, both "sides" need to just relax.

Christmas boosters especially should chill. Though it may seem at times that the whole world has gone secular, Christmas - and the religion that goes with it, are still number one. By a LOT. Especially in America - Christmas is the Elvis, the Beatles, the Madonna (so to speak) of holidays. It's not going anywhere.

Really, Christianity is by far the biggest faith in our country. The majority of folks, even those who don't go to church (yes, that would be me) have thrown in their lot with the holly and the mistletoe.

In light of what Jesus actually preached - the whole "do unto others", "turn the other cheek" , "love thy enemy" shpeal - I'd say, we need to remember what Christmas is actually about. Hope and brotherhood - not exclusion and fear.

If I don't know someone's faith - I say "Happy Holidays". If I do know, I say Merry Christmas or whatever is appropriate. It's really not that hard, and frankly not that big of a deal. I could care less which category someone fits into - the true spirit of Christmas applies across the board.

As for those who are not down with the jolly fat man, it's best to recognize that Christmas isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And if someone does get all up in your grill with a big and loud "Merry Christmas!", it's not worth getting twisted over. It's better to take the spirit behind the message - which is really universal.

Merry Christmas also means God Bless You which also means Happy Hanukkah which also means Peace and Joy which also means Happy Festivus.

It really is, all the same. The method of delivery is merely semantics, and not worth fretting about.

Really, Tiny Tim said it best - "God bless us, every one."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Obama, Pelosi & Reid - Oh my.

Read on if you like, but be forewarned - Darth Vader is in the house at this moment.

The election is finally upon us - and I plan to vote for McCain.

I'm just about the only one I know in my circle of friends and family who is casting his vote for evil. The rest of the lot want sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. Well, they're welcome to it.

I really am trying to be optimistic, but it really seems like a lose-lose for us gun-loving, bible-clinging folks.

If McCain loses, then we really do face the unholy trilogy of Obama, Pelosi & Reid. An unfettered socialist juggernaut that will potentially dwarf even big government republican spender George W. Bush in the amount of well intentioned but ineffective social programs; not the least of which is the nightmarish scenario of government run health care.

And then there's the whole "spread the wealth around" mentality - which are the literal words of the democratic candidate. No really, he actually said this. And he's still favored to win the election. This alone demonstrates the level of hatred and disgust with our current president.

A few weeks ago Obama promised he would lower taxes for everyone making less than 250K a year. Just recently that number has dropped to 125K. Guess who makes about that a year? I can't wait for the number to drop again after he wins. That way, I can give some of my hard earned cash to those who really deserve it - the ones who dropped out of high school and are struggling to make ends meet with multiple kids and various habits involving narcotics.

I'm just a selfish bastard for wanting to hold on to the fruits of my labor I guess. And Biden thinks I'm unpatriotic.


If McCain wins, then I have to put up with four more years of the blame game of how the election was stolen and how our country is a racist pile of dung. Plus McCain may just revert to his old "Maverick" (read - liberal) self, and give W. a real run for his money in spending and opening the flood gates for illegal aliens.

Whatever. It will all be over soon.

I guess this may be what it takes to wake people up. When the massive victory party, complete with Roman columns no doubt, finally dies down - and the emperor has to deal with actually being president, then we'll really find out where we stand. Under the leadership of an inexperienced ideologue, who cut his teeth as a fundraiser for social programs driven by the ideals of wealth redistribution and social "justice". Obama will have to face the music on November 5th, and his on the job training will begin.

I just pray that he has enough good people around him to lift him out of the fog of false compassion that blinds his base.

Close to two years ago, I bet money with a couple of my friends that Obama would be our next president. I took advantage of their fear based Berkeley mindset (our country would NEVER elect a black man as president) and managed to bet a good amount on what I knew was almost a sure thing, even before Obama was the democratic nominee. I had seen his speeches, I knew I was looking at the next president. Man I hate being right sometimes. Still, I look forward to collecting my winnings so I can donate them to the RNC.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reflections on Kenya

Over a month ago I traveled for work to Kenya. My job was to shoot compelling HD footage for a television special to air around Christmas time on MyNetwork TV - called, "Eyes on Africa."

The premise sounds a bit thin - six "D-list" celebrities embark on a voyage of discovery, journeying deep into the heart of the slums of Nairobi as well as the wilds of the Masai Mara wildlife reserve. In the process, they help some kids and learn a lot about themselves.

Not exactly something I would go out of my way to watch, but I have to say - the footage we shot has a lot of potential. In much the way "Dancing With the Stars" became an unlikely hit by following people who barely have careers - I think this show, if cut correctly, can be entertaining, and just as compelling in it's own way. I'll post a link to the website when it goes up, which should be soon.

I also think because of who we are working with, that there is a good chance the program will be not only watchable, but worthwhile.

Our partner on this project is Feed The Children, a tremendous organization that is one of the largest food relief agencies in the world and one of the most transparent in terms of where the money is put to use.

The people that founded the organization, Larry and Francis Jones, along with their daughter Larry-Sue, are the real deal. They fly coach, they live in a home not much bigger than mine - they walk the walk. I consider it an honor to be associated with them.

We spent 7 out of the 11 days we were in Kenya in the slums of Nairobi.

I've seen extreme poverty of this nature before, in Calcutta and Mumbai (Bombay). It was just as overwhelming there. But in Nairobi, I wasn't just driving through it. I was getting out of the mini-van, meeting people, shooting them (with video) and really absorbing the situation.

Quite frankly, I decided before I even left, that when I came face to face with this poverty, I was going to shut myself down emotionally - so that I could do my job. It wasn't easy, but for the most part, I did it.

The first day we traveled with Lou Gossett Jr. to meet a woman and her children. They lived in a region called Dandora. The second largest slum in Nairobi, but still one of the largest in the world. Their home was a rusty tin shed, maybe six by ten feet at the most. The floor was dirt. No electricity, no water, but they did have open sewage at their doorstep.

The woman had six children, five of them were HIV positive. She had no job or husband, yet had to pay a warlord a monthly rent for her hovel. She was six months behind and faced imminent eviction. Thankfully, Lou and FTC were there to help her immediate needs.

We were informed ahead of time, not to give money directly to those in need. The woman's life would likely be in danger if I had given her what was in my pocket at the time - for her a life changing sum of about $200. We were allowed, and encouraged to give through FTC - and they would see that those we designated would get what we gave.

Lou and his handler each gave generously to the woman, and I have no doubt that her problems - at least for awhile, have been reduced dramatically.

Much of what we saw and did was of this nature - directly helping people and their immediate needs. Whether it was for a young lady who wanted to go to beautician school, or small children who literally had nothing to eat. It was such an overwhelming difference in the scale and scope of the problems we have in the US. And yet, somehow giving "hand-outs" in such an extreme environment, seemed like the very best thing to do, simply because the need was so urgent.

Another day we went to Kibera. The largest slum in Nairobi, and many say the largest slum in the world.

Kibera is basically, a massive garbage dump - that happens to have over 600,000 people living atop it. This was definitely Calcutta caliber poverty. The stench was overwhelming, and the despair was palpable.

I should mention, that in Nairobi, wherever we went, we had armed guards with us. When we went to Kibera and Dandora, we stopped at police stations to pick up extra security - intimidating officers with AK-47's.

Kibera was where we went to one of FTC's many schools -and literally fed the children. The celebs scooped out a rice and bean mixture from a giant tub to about a hundred kids, each with their own small plastic bowl. It was heart wrenching to see these beautiful little faces, who were basically coming to the school only because if they didn't, they wouldn't eat at all.

I noticed that many of the kids had lids to go with their bowls. These kids would sit and eat maybe a quarter of their bowl, and then put their lid on it. Larry informed us that's because they would take the food back to share with their families. It was pretty overwhelming to see kids who knew REAL hunger, still have the self discipline and pride to stop themselves and share. I know plenty of westerners, myself included, who were they in the same situation, would probably just wolf the food down.

These were tough days, but I was holding up pretty well - and very happy with the footage and stories that we were getting.

Logistically, I think it was a nightmare for the producers and planners. But I had a fantastic trip, in good and bad/sad ways - from beginning to end.

On our last day in Nairobi, we toured FTC's amazing Abandoned Baby Center. A first class facility, that goes a long way to ease the horrific phenomenon of baby abandonment in Nairobi. It was very moving to see how well the kids were taken care of, and to see that indeed, money donated was going directly to help combat a dire situation.

That afternoon, we went with Shannon Elizabeth and the Massey brothers (the former a fairly well known actress and the latter tv kids show stars) to a decrepit hospital in the heart of the city. We were there to literally rescue three abandoned babies from their situation. When we think of a hospital in the states, even the crummiest of county hospitals - we think of a sterile, relatively efficient place of healing run by clean and competent people. This place, this "hospital", was none of these things.

Dirty, grimy, understaffed, and over run with infected people - not to mention GSW (gunshot wound) victims. My fellow camera op informed me that on a previous trip he had seen dried bloody footprints upon entering the ER.

The babies, there were six in the sweltering hot room, are quite simply - neglected. They lie in canvas hammocks all day and all night. They are never picked up except to change and feed - they are only changed once in the morning and once at night. They lie in their own waste most of the time. Many are severely underdeveloped mentally. A six month old we saw was unable to sit up on her own.

It is, an outrage. And yet, there it is. A combination of lack of resources, and a lack of caring - combine to create this abominable situation.

And then there is Francis Jones and her Abandoned Baby Center. As often as she can, she relieves "hospitals" of the burden of "caring" for these castoffs - these innocent angels who have been left on trash heaps, deposited at police stations, or even been born at the "hospital" only to be discarded. Francis gives these babies a second chance - the ABC center is often able to repair the damage that has been done, giving the castoffs a real shot at a happy life.

I was there, and I saw this miracle. Shannon Elizabeth, who until this point had disengaged herself somewhat from the daily horrors (as had many of us, myself included), finally let down her wall. As she cradled an impossibly beautiful baby in her arms, and Francis described what the babies are subjected to, tears flowed down Shannon's face like a river. I confess, this is the moment that got to me as well. I kept composed and focused, but my face was a soaking mess.

The baby that Shannon held had immediately bonded with her - smiling, happy, wide and bright eyed; clearly this baby hadn't been neglected long. This child had a bright future, and it lit up that dingy room in a way that went beyond the physical realm. God was with her, and the rest of us, searing and unbelievably strong.

All three celebrities, each with a baby in their arms, took the "parade of joy" (as Larry called it) down the hall and got the hell out of that Godforsaken place. It was incredibly painful for Shannon to hand the baby over to the ABC staff, but she was finally able to - knowing that her angel was in good hands.

Shannon I know, wants to adopt the baby very much. But the government of Kenya, in it's infinite wisdom and compassion, requires a minimum residency of 6 months (which usually lasts 2 years or more) for prospective parents - and even then there are no guarantees. Impossible, is the situation.

Even Larry and Francis, who have adopted a baby boy named Daniel (who had half of his face chewed off by wild dogs as an infant) have had to clear incredible and potentially heartbreaking bureaucratic obstacles to finally get Daniel stateside.

Finally, we left Nairobi behind, and flew to the Masai Mara wildlife game reserve. It has long been a dream of mine to see the migration - and on this trip, I got to live it.

I spent the first few days shooting around the lodge, Roger Moore doing his host stand-ups, and finally the big celebrity interviews where they talked about the whole trip. All the other operators got to go on game drives every day. Ironic, seeing as how I have over five years experience at filming wildlife. But I knew the last day would be my chance. I arranged an early morning departure by jeep. Our destination - the Tanzania border, and the Serengeti. Unlike the other operators who had been tied to celebrities, and their penchant for short drives, short attention spans and long naps during the day - I got to travel with my best buddy Cali and my old boss JR, who was also a wildlife freak like me.

Awesome doesn't begin to describe the day. We first found two massive male lions - the first of the trip for anyone. Then we came across a baboon that had just killed a baby antelope. Awesome. Then we saw four giraffe, up to their necks crossing the Mara river. A first time for me, and for our guide who had been taking this trip for over 20 years. Finally, the Wildebeest.

With my own eyes, I saw the migration. Perhaps over half a million animals in front of me. To say I was awestruck, would be the understatement of the year.

The same could be said for the whole trip really - it changed me, as has Botswana, as has India and Indonesia, and Russia, and Egypt - and half a dozen other places. I have been uniquely blessed with more travel opportunities than anyone else I've ever met.

When I look back on my career choice, to work for a smaller production company that may at times seem a little less than the "big leagues" - I can confidently say I'M IN THE RIGHT PLACE.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

God and Country

Recently my group of e-mail buddies (they the America hating liberals - me the Evil Facist) have been, shall we say, very active, and, um...passionate.

It goes without saying in such an exciting election season that our hearts would sometimes speak louder than our heads.

Still, things haven't gotten nasty, yet.

So in the spirit of cooling things down, I'll vent a bit here on the latest topic to fire my jets, lest I once again carelessly stomp on 30 year old friendships in the name of me always being right.

The current topic: Should we take "God" out of the pledge of allegiance and off of our money.

My belief,

Their view. A hearty yes.

I mentioned that we are a nation founded on the belief that all men are created equal, not by other men, but by a divine power.

Then I got this e-mail.

That may be true, however I find it telling that The Founders didn't
make a point of it when they wrote the most critical documents of this
nation's birth. The creation of this country is first and for most
about freedom from tyranny, equality, liberty, and property rights.

Interesting that the word God is used only once in the Declaration of
Independence. The words "in God we trust" or "one nation under God" do
not appear anywhere.

In the entirety of the eighty-five Federalist Papers the word God
appears twice... once in a reference to a Greek god and once as used
in the Declaration of Independence (nature's God).

Both the Constitution and Bill of Rights do not contain the word God.
There are two references to religion, both of those relate to
preventing the influence of religion in our daily lives.

I still haven't gotten across to them the difference between a belief in God (faith) and an adherence to Religion (an institution created by men).

Still, I was game to try.

My response:

You made my point perfectly.

You said:

The creation of this country is first and for most about freedom from tyranny, equality, liberty, and property rights.

And I would say, yes, because ALL men are entitled to it! Not because the government says so!

If we take God/creator/maker/head dude or lady off of our money, or out of our pledge, and obliterate every single oblique mention of Providence from our buildings, monuments, courtrooms, etc. - where does that leave us as far as all those amazing things you mention?

Freedom. Freedom from tyranny. Equality. Liberty. Property Rights. Happiness.

Who is going to deem that we have the right to these? Barak Obama? John McCain? Thomas Jefferson?

All of them can kiss my ass. I was BORN with these rights. A piece of paper didn't give it to me, no human being bestowed them.

Our founders were the first government EVER to recognize this.

Case in point; the reason we swear on the Bible, is NOT because we are worshipping Jesus, or Muhammad, or any other religion.

We do this because the very core of our country, and all branches of government including our justice system puts TRUST in a higher power - a FAITH in something greater than ourselves.

I believe our nation exists, because of this faith - no matter if it's called God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And I believe that this faith is why we are the greatest nation on earth, and the last best hope for peace in our time.

Just my opinion of course, but our nation's foundation in Faith, not religion, is right at the top of the list of why I love my country so much.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vets For Freedom

A non-profit non-partisan political action committee founded and operated by combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back from Kenya!

Just got back and am a bit jet lagged. I've got a lot to say about the trip, but it will have to wait until I recover. Until then, here's a nice piece on CNN that was shot while we were making our documentary. Don't blink, I'm in two of the shots.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Dark Knight Descends

Snuck out with the wife recently for a movie night (once every six months or so, whether we need it or not) and settled on what seems to be the critical darling of the moment "The Dark Knight".

Well I have to say I was a bit floored by the film. I'm a fan of the Burton movies, Batman and Batman Returns; less so of the Schumacher sequels, especially the fourth film - what a pile of guano that one is. But this Batman movie is a whole other ball game - this time, it's for keeps.

When I was a kid (meaning 13 or so) I was pretty well hooked on comics - Daredevil by Frank Miller was my rag of choice. It was dark, it was gritty, and at times truly terrifying. And I loved it. Daredevil was a vigilante with a code of honor, that he routinely had to stretch to the limit. Even looking back on the comic today (yes, I have a glossy book of the old issues) it is hyper violent, sadistic at times, and truly, truly dark. The stakes were high, the fight looked un-winnable; but Daredevil always picked himself up and did what needed to be done. He was a true hero because he lost so much, and yet never lost his faith.

Today, having skimmed other glossy books (okay, okay, "Graphic Novel") of the old Batman comics, I can see that even in the 70's and early 80's, the comic book Batman was akin to Daredevil. His story was equally ruthless and harsh. Batman is a bad ass you do not want to tangle with. And yet he fights a hopeless battle, in the process losing those he loves most, even sacrificing his own humanity.

The movie "The Dark Knight" is faithful to this ethos. It's the very best popcorn flick (yes, even including my beloved Lord of the Rings) to illustrate to what the comic books have been telling us for years - there are things we must fight for, even at great cost. And what makes the film so powerful, as with comic books, is that the story is set in a world that feels absolutely real.

This is a post 9-11 movie in the very best sense, it is dark and disturbing - and brutal; but like Batman himself, the film carries a code of righteousness and faith that cannot be shaken. Even in the face of the psychotic Joker, who is not hammy (Cesar Romero) or exciting (Jack Nicholson) but truly both banal and terrifying in the way a real life serial killer is - the movie never misses it's focus or moral center.

In case you haven't caught on yet, this is not a movie for kids. But let me add, it is absolutely a movie for mature 13 year olds and up. Like "Saving Private Ryan", this is almost required viewing. The violence is not glamorized in any way shape or form - but the violence Batman inflicts is revealed as required in the face of true evil. This is a very mature, "growing-up" Batman flick. It's moments of chaos, despair and sadism (the Joker is not remotely glamorous) are beautifully off-set by Batman's necessary crusade.

Yes, the stunts are grand, the special effects are amazing, and the fight scenes pretty cool. But what lifts the film above it's peers is the raising of stakes and emotional impact to a higher level. Battlestar Galactica has already found this, nice to see that the movies have finally caught up.

Many have read into this film beyond what the filmmakers intended, and I am no exception. Some see it as a cynical and sadistic corporate creation - devoid of humor and heart. Others just think it's cool because shit blows up in it real good. The critics have also thrown in with their various views which mirror the many shades of the political spectrum.

Here's my personal take on the movie.

I really believe the message of "The Dark Night" mirrors what we have experienced with 9-11 and it's fall out. Batman is America, who starts out trying to do what is right. He puts criminals in jail, he makes the streets safer. Then, just as things start to look like they're getting better, the Joker (Jihadist) arrives and unleashes mayhem, for no other reason than just wanting to watch the world burn.

It is an untenable situation. How to you fight an enemy with no morals, no qualms about slaughtering the innocent? How do you put a stop to him without becoming him? Batman finds a way. But it isn't easy. And by standing up to evil, when no one else will, Batman makes things worse. MUCH worse. But he knows he has to. He knows the road is long, and maybe even unending. But a price must be paid, evil MUST be confronted.

Batman must sacrifice everything. He loses the woman he loves. His once cooperative relationship with the police evaporates. And even the once unquenchable love from the citizens of Gotham vanishes. Whatever tiny shreds of humanity he has at the start of the film, are long gone by the end. Just before the credits roll, Batman is universally hated by everyone. And to him, because he can see the big picture, it doesn't matter. He may have to endure hatred (and the lowest approval ratings in the history of super heroes) but at night the children of Gotham will sleep safer - they and their parents will remain oblivious to the protection the Dark Knight provides. He does what he has to, because no one else will.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Still here!

This has been the longest I've ever neglected this blog; but I plan to keep going despite my cooling passion for it. I have an idea germinating for a series of posts based around a favorite tv show of mine; but don't worry, it's not what you think it might be.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Michael Yon is an independent (and independently funded) journalist who has undoubtedly spent more time in Iraq than any other reporter. He is no cheerleader, he has been most critical of the military brass and the politicians at home over the fiasco that was the Iraq war from 2004 to 2006.

But now things have decisively turned around. Here is a great op-ed piece by Michael, published in the Wall Street Journal. The message needs to get out about the miracle in Iraq, and we need to make sure that whoever takes over in January 2009 doesn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Yes, victory is not only possible, but highly probable. The distorted world view of the left leaning Vietnam generation just doesn't hold up in the light of truth of what is ACTUALLY happening in Iraq today.

Read and digest:

Let's 'Surge' Some More
April 11, 2008; Page A17
It is said that generals always fight the last war. But when David Petraeus came to town it was senators – on both sides of the aisle – who battled over the Iraq war of 2004-2006. That war has little in common with the war we are fighting today.

I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.

The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about ""

As the outrages of Abu Ghraib faded in memory – and paled in comparison to al Qaeda's brutalities – and our soldiers under the Petraeus strategy got off their big bases and out of their tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, American values began to win the war.

Iraqis came to respect American soldiers as warriors who would protect them from terror gangs. But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic, school or a neighborhood. They learned that the American soldier is not only the most dangerous enemy in the world, but one of the best friends a neighborhood can have.

Some people charge that we have merely "rented" the Sunni tribesmen, the former insurgents who now fight by our side. This implies that because we pay these people, their loyalty must be for sale to the highest bidder. But as Gen. Petraeus demonstrated in Nineveh province in 2003 to 2004, many of the Iraqis who filled the ranks of the Sunni insurgency from 2003 into 2007 could have been working with us all along, had we treated them intelligently and respectfully. In Nineveh in 2003, under then Maj. Gen. Petraeus's leadership, these men – many of them veterans of the Iraqi army – played a crucial role in restoring civil order. Yet due to excessive de-Baathification and the administration's attempt to marginalize powerful tribal sheiks in Anbar and other provinces – including men even Saddam dared not ignore – we transformed potential partners into dreaded enemies in less than a year.

Then al Qaeda in Iraq, which helped fund and tried to control the Sunni insurgency for its own ends, raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, and brought drugs into too many neighborhoods. By outraging the tribes, it gave birth to the Sunni "awakening." We – and Iraq – got a second chance. Powerful tribes in Anbar province cooperate with us now because they came to see al Qaeda for what it is – and to see Americans for what we truly are.

Soldiers everywhere are paid, and good generals know it is dangerous to mess with a soldier's money. The shoeless heroes who froze at Valley Forge were paid, and when their pay did not come they threatened to leave – and some did. Soldiers have families and will not fight for a nation that allows their families to starve. But to say that the tribes who fight with us are "rented" is perhaps as vile a slander as to say that George Washington's men would have left him if the British offered a better deal.

Equally misguided were some senators' attempts to use Gen. Petraeus's statement, that there could be no purely military solution in Iraq, to dismiss our soldiers' achievements as "merely" military. In a successful counterinsurgency it is impossible to separate military and political success. The Sunni "awakening" was not primarily a military event any more than it was "bribery." It was a political event with enormous military benefits.

The huge drop in roadside bombings is also a political success – because the bombings were political events. It is not possible to bury a tank-busting 1,500-pound bomb in a neighborhood street without the neighbors noticing. Since the military cannot watch every road during every hour of the day (that would be a purely military solution), whether the bomb kills soldiers depends on whether the neighbors warn the soldiers or cover for the terrorists. Once they mostly stood silent; today they tend to pick up their cell phones and call the Americans. Even in big "kinetic" military operations like the taking of Baqubah in June 2007, politics was crucial. Casualties were a fraction of what we expected because, block-by-block, the citizens told our guys where to find the bad guys. I was there; I saw it.

The Iraqi central government is unsatisfactory at best. But the grass-roots political progress of the past year has been extraordinary – and is directly measurable in the drop in casualties.

This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting. To give one example, I just returned this week from Nineveh province, where I have spent probably eight months between 2005 to 2008, and it is clear that we remain stretched very thin from the Syrian border and through Mosul. Vast swaths of Nineveh are patrolled mostly by occasional overflights.

We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can't do it from inside a jet or a tank.

Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.

Mr. Yon is author of the just-published "Moment of Truth in Iraq" (Richard Vigilante Books). He has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I went for 18 days, shooting lots of pretty video for the small production company I work for. We have a fun little travel show that you can find here. Plenty of nice high def images to look at and not too much substance to get in the way. The show also puts a bit too much emphasis on high end shopping for my tastes. Who wants to go to all the way to China only to shop at Louis Vitton? But for a low budget production company, the quality is very high - and at 22 minutes the show screams along and stands up against just about anything you can find on the Travel Channel.

As for the trip; I had a blast. I also had the best job, I was the third camera crew (me and a local assistant) whose only job it was to drive around and shoot the sights. I was surprised that we didn't work directly with the government, but rather with the local tourist bureaus; which created some frustrating situations with being shut down by local police. But overall things went pretty smooth.

Hong Kong was my least favorite, simply because it was the most westernized and basically a giant city. The food was pretty good, and the locals were friendly enough. Still, it was congested and noisy. I really longed to see some rural scenery, but the best I got was half a day at a beach called Repulse Bay that had a beautiful Chinese Temple style lookout. The rest of the four days in Hong Kong were of the urban sites, big shiny buildings and such. The night shooting was fun, with all the neon and party people (reminded me of UC Berkeley's cafe's at night) plus I also got to go on a dinner cruise around the harbor which was pretty spectacular.

The vibe in Hong Kong was definitely upbeat, even on the occasion when I would walk around by myself or with my fellow crew members; but I expected as much in a city that is basically capitalist and enjoys many of the freedoms we do here at home. I braced myself for the mainland, expecting a much more somber outlook from the locals.

I was surprised that the people of Shang-Hai were just as upbeat, maybe even more-so, than their Hong Kong counterparts. Again, it was basically a big urban sprawl, and my duties were to shoot big ugly buildings and shopping centers - but I still got a lot out of occasionally stepping off the beaten track to fascinating little alleys and markets. I was pleasantly overwhelmed by people's friendliness at meeting an American, everyone seemed to put on their best face for this goofy faced visitor.

In Hong Kong I had been following the developments in Tibet on CNN. When I got to Shang-Hai I tuned in faithfully that night, only to have my screen go completely blank when a Tibet story started to come on. I checked the BBC, it was the same result. Somewhere someone was watching what I was watching, and pushing a big red button when anything they didn't approve came on. Chilling. I also noticed in the hotel and elsewhere, there were no western newspapers. No NY Times, or even USA Today. Yes people were upbeat, the city was big and modern - but it also had shanty towns, a multitude of poor people, and COMPLETELY controlled media.

After the skyscrapers of Shang-Hai, the town of Xian was a huge relief. Only a small city (merely 8 million) in the center of the mainland, the outskirts of Xian had lots of the rural imagery that I had been waiting for. The people were also even friendlier still. Plus I got to meet about 8000 soldiers from two thousand years ago. The Terra Cotta Warriors were breathtaking. And we got to get down at eye level with them. A day of a lifetime which I'll never forget.

It is hard to describe, but my mother's mom, who has been gone for a few years now, was with me very strongly in spirit the moment I stepped inside the massive pavilion. As I caught my breath at the sight of the soldiers, the image of my grandmother filled my head. I was surprised by her presence and the emotions that hit me at the thought of her, she who had mentioned to me only once or twice how excited she was to have made the trip. As cynical as I can be, I couldn't escape that somehow I was connecting with her. Real or imagined, who knows, but I am ever grateful that it felt real to me that she was there.

We were only in Xian for one full day, so I'm sure I missed the many other places it has to offer. The rest of the crew got to see the ancient city wall, which they said was awesome. I was stuck seeing a sight of ancient hot springs, which was cool seeing as it was well over two thousand years old as well.

Next was my favorite; Beijing. Like London, Washington DC, Paris, and Moscow, the city is so overwhelmed with history, that it couldn't help but affect me greatly. I would have like to spend a few weeks taking it all in - but in our limited time we got a good dose of highlights.

We encountered our first real dose of bureaucratic stupidity, repeatedly getting denied to shoot big sights that had been arranged ahead of time. This kind of doublespeak was very familiar to me from my adventures in India, but it drove my boss crazy. Still, we managed to get permission eventually to shoot everything we came for.

First was the great wall. The pictures don't do it justice, and neither does the gorgeous video I shot of it. The cherry and peach blossoms were in full bloom, and though the day was overcast, there was enough filtered sun to get some tremendous shots.

The Forbidden City was, well, forbidden. We were allowed only one camera, so I got to basically take the afternoon off and play tourist. Fine by me. I got to take my time and really see it on my own terms. Massive is the one word that best describes it. Of course the big main building that you see in the Last Emperor was covered in scaffolding and the good people of Beijing failed to mention it to us (hey, we didn't ask) but I know our lead operator still got great stuff.

A bunch of other highlights included, the Summer Palace (big ass man made lake, huge pagodas) the Temple of Heaven (the best and biggest dose of real local culture that I found on the whole trip. A long outdoor corridor filled with local street performers and citizens playing cards and mahjong.) Snack Street, a local night market that served all kinds of tasty treats, including scorpions, snakes and cockroaches.

But perhaps the biggest highlight (or most memorable, would be the right word) of the whole trip for me, was on our last day. With tiny camera in hand (we weren't allowed to shoot with the big one) I journeyed by myself to Tianneman square. For those of you even vaguely familiar with the history of this place, you would be overwhelmed - as I was, at the sheer emotional weight the place carries. From the giant Mao picture at his mausoleum to the big ugly open space that was the sight of so much turmoil and bloodshed; it was another day that I'll never forget.

We left a day early, having exhausted our resources at convincing the government to let us promote their country. I was pretty nonplussed by the idiocy - but I know it made a lasting bad impression on my employer.

Overall my own impressions were decidedly mixed. I was amazed and overwhelmed at the history and culture, and hungry to see more. Even this trip which was decidedly focused on urban China, held so much to fascinate and enthrall - I've really only just touched on it here. China has A LOT going on.

I was also a bit saddened at the censorship, and at the solemnness that eventually did come out of my local guides when we talked for any length on the subject of Chinese history or politics. Yes, they have come a long way - and with the advent of cellphones and the internet the genie is truly out of the bottle; but I think the road they face is still very long and rocky yet.

In my occasional internet forays I was unable to access basically any of the political blogs I enjoy stateside; and the news suddenly turning off was just as disconcerting to me on the last day as the first.

I look back on China fondly, and I pray that it's people will eventually kick the old guard out. In a country where the "official" tally of people executed last year was over 8000 (as opposed to the US tally of around 60) it stands to reason that they have some serious work to do.

I hope the Olympics go well, though I know deep down we probably shouldn't be there. And I hope we can all find a way towards peace as the inevitability China's world dominance comes to pass.

China - beautiful, impressive, kind of scary, well worth going.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I Take It All Back

Everything negative I've ever said about John Stewart and his Daily Show. Simply brilliant.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscars! (Anger rising...)

So angry...still shaking....about threw my tv through the wall.

So Tom Hanks comes out and decides he's going to "let" the troops participate in the most magic of nights for Hollywood. We go to Baghdad and through the wonders of satellite technology we get five chipper soldiers, one from each branch of service, cheerfully THANK THE ACADEMY and then announce the nominees and winner for documentary short subject.


And Tom Hanks, whom I've admired for his staunch support of veterans, couldn't be bothered to thank them.


Of course the winner was one of a number of anti-America hatchet jobs taking square aim at, you guessed it - our troops! Having DVR'd the show, I rewound to look at the winners face when his name was announced as a nominee. You could see him wince at the fact that an American soldier was saying his name. Then he gets up on stage and takes several shots at our military of course, again, like Hanks, neglecting to thank them or even remotely acknowledge the fact that the entire evening wouldn't even be possible if not for our brave men and women in uniform. Anger, rising....

Also, delightfully awful - high heeled peacocks and their sugar daddies wearing orange ribbons. Protesting the treatment of prisoners in Gitmo. Perhaps they'd like to be treated the way al qaeda treats their prisoners (cut off hands and feet anyone?) or the religious police in Saudi Arabia who recently yanked a westerner out of a Starbucks and beat her for three days for sitting with a man.

And John Stewart needs to hang it up. How much more of his pedantic, smug and smarmy "jokes" do we have to put up with? Not funny dude; it works better when you're by yourself on a colorful set with a fancy graphic behind your head - but here, you need to step it up a bit. We get it - your a self-absorbed lib of the worst kind; a fear mongering spiteful narcissist who hates the military and is going to vote for a socialist just so you can get rid of your white guilt. Whatever.

Overall, a lousier night than usual. At least George Clooney didn't win.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day!

Now burn in hell infidel!

On a lighter note, the folks in my home town of Berkeley have found a lovely way to express their appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy.

This of course was taken at one of the currently ongoing protests in front of the Marine recruiting station on Shattuck Avenue. In a nutshell, the Berkeley city council took a vote last week and decided that our armed forces are evil and they should get the hell out of dodge.

The irony of course was lost on groups like "Code Pink" who have been bombarding the recruiting station every week (and the surrounding merchants) with ear bleeding bullhorn diatribes about the evil and immoral war in Iraq.

That "Code Pink" is allowed exist in the first place BECAUSE of our military, for some reason seems to go unrecognized.

But really, I couldn't say it better than this blog - (where I got the picture from as well,

"Flag burning is, of course, constitutionally protected speech. And it doesn’t anger me so much as it makes me sad: That flag stands for all of us. For you and me.

There are 13 stripes that stand for the 13 original colonies, and the bold citizens thereof who swore their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to throw off the yoke of tyranny in a noble experiment in personal freedom and self-government. The red in those stripes stands for hardiness and valor, while the white testifies to purity and innocence - always a goal, even if not always a destination. The blue canton symbolizes vigilance, perserverence and justice. It carries 50 white stars, themselves symbols of celestial perfection and which in combination with the canton speak to the great union of many several; states, colors, creeds and philosophies.

It stands for mothers who crossed the country to show up in Berkeley to support their soldiers living and dead. It stands for Code Pink and even ANSWER, who have the right to express their opinions. It stands for the truly radical notion of a government of, for and by the people. It stands for the waves of young men and women who have fought and died in wars against slavery, oppression, militarism and fascism, without whose sacrifice the world would be a far poorer and uglier place.

It stands for labor unions that fought against a different form of oppression to ensure that their the working class got a fair shake. It stands for immigrants who saw that in that flag the chance to build better lives for themselves and their families. That flag stands for freedom and democracy. In some strange way, it even stands for the constitutionally protected right of porridge-brained high school students who have never known a moment’s hardship, nor an instant’s introspection, to burn it.

There was never anything made by the hand of man so perfect that the evil among us could not turn it to their own uses. Villains have wrapped themselves in that flag to support their base ambitions and petty cruelties. Politicians and soldiers have committed crimes under the color of that flag’s authority. But those that did so usurped the flag without fundamentally changing the fact that the it represents the noblest of human ideals.

And so I’d like to ask that student something: If you burn the flag of the land that gave you birth, little girl, the flag of the community that shelters you, your neighbors’ flag, the flag of those sworn to defend your rights at the cost of their own lives, the flag that generations of your predecessors lived under in individual freedom and common hope against all of mankind’s wretched historical precedents - what then will you raise in its place?

I’ll give you some time."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wicked Fun

So the wife really, really, really wanted to go see the musical "Wicked" at the Pantages theater here in L.A. Tickets ranged anywhere from $90 to $300, which I guess is standard these days for a Broadway caliber show. Prices are awfully steep these days, but I guess it's better that the artists and people responsible for the show get the money, rather than scalpers.

Still, we are not made of that kind of money. So the wife tells me that they have a lottery 2 1/2 hours prior to every show. This is apparently a long broadway tradition, where you put your name in a bin and get a chance to win two of 26 available front row seats for $25 each.

I've been going to this lottery on my own, an average of once or twice a week, since the Christmas holidays. It's been fun watching people win great seats, but alas, always ending for me with disappointment and a cold walk back to the car.

Well this last Tuesday night as I drove home from work I didn't even have the lottery on my mind as I glanced down Hollywood Blvd. from Vine St. It was almost lottery time, and there was hardly anyone there! I nearly got killed cutting across two lanes of traffic, but I parked and headed over.

The line nearly doubled by the time I dropped my name in the bin, but there were still far less people than usual. I figured my odds were about 1 in 5. Once again, the lady on the mike did her shpeal and started calling out winners. She always implored people to clap for each other. "It's good karma!" was her mantra.

This lady of course has no idea what the real meaning of "karma" is. I've been to India and had it explained to me several times by various people. The American version of "karma" is - do something good and good things happen to you, and vice versa.

The original Hindi conceit, is that everything in the universe has it's place - and a disruption of that order is bad karma. In other words, if you are born a window washer, good karma is to remain a window washer and maybe even be good at it. But if you are a bad window washer, that's still A LOT better than trying to be something else - like a successful businessman. Rewards don't come in this life, they come in the next one. Don't try to better yourself outside of your station, that is bad karma.

Every time I had been through the lottery, I had clapped dutifully for the winners. Tonight I was cold, and wasn't clapping. Inwardly I was still happy for most of the people who got tickets; I say most because I thought the lady who showed up with one minute to spare and had to park in the loading zone really DID NOT deserve to be the fourth name called.

But outwardly I remained stoic and hoped it would at least be over quickly. The last names were called, and I sullenly started to turn away. A voice cried out "Are you serious?" It was a man, ALREADY IN LINE with his wife who had been picked earlier, and he said he didn't need more tickets. There was another chance!

The lottery lady dipped into the drum once more. She butchered my last name, but it was still unmistakable.

I won!

The phone call to my wife was one of the happiest I can remember making in a long while.

And the show was absolutely phenomenal.

I did feel pangs of guilt at my lack of clapping for previous winners that night, but it sparked a discussion in my brain about "karma" and such.

My first impulse is to subscribe to the American version of universal order. I want control. I want to help so that I can be helped. But more and more I realize that doing something good, or keeping positive in the face of negativity - should be done for it's own sake. Not because I will be rewarded for it.

The full western version of "karma" is pretty downright selfish.

I can go along with the first part, and the first part alone - do something good.

Then I think I'll take a good chunk of the eastern definition. (I am such a cafeteria spiritualist! Picking and choosing what I like!) I find a lot more inner peace if I recognize that I simply don't have control over all of what happens in my life.

When other people were picked, I was for the most part genuinely happy for them. But I was also selfish at the same time, wishing that I had one. This is okay, and really, very human. As Forrest Gump says "It's a little of both" it's fate, and it's what you make of it.

Incidentally, the show kind of related to all this too. It was an amazing grown up story of the Wizard of Oz, told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
It examined, in a very powerful and emotional way, what being "wicked" really is. And how the very best and worst of us is shaped from our life experiences and our own perspectives.

That who we are is defined BOTH by what we experience, and what we DO with that experience.

I laughed, I cried, I only kissed $50 goodbye.

A phenomenal cast, incredible sets and costumes. Top notch singing and dancing. This hetero male musical lover was in absolute heaven. Oh yeah, and the wife loved it too. I look forward to taking my daughter when she's about 12 or 13. I have no doubt this show WILL be around then; it's that good. One of the best musicals I've ever seen.

There's nothing in it that is inappropriate for younger kids, a tiny bit of raunch and no violence to speak of; but I really think pre-adolescents and up will get the full thrust of the story and the powerful emotion behind it. If you fit into this demographic currently, it's an absolute must see!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

No Country for Old Legends

Managed to squeeze in two of my wish list movies (see post below, two down) before the end of the year so here is my new official top ten.

Hot Fuzz
Pirates of the Caribbean 3
Harry Potter 5
I Am Legend
The Simpson's Movie

So Bourne Ultimatum gets bumped down to the honorable mention or 11th spot.

Loved "I Am Legend", as it harkened back to one of my all time favorite movies - Cast Away (the one with Tom Hanks alone on an island.) It's a classic story, losing everything and finding redemption somehow. Plus it had zombies!

Zombies, you say? Why they've been overdone to death. True, but this movie is loosely based on the original 1954 novel "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson. A book that was most influential in spawning the "zombie" genre in movies. While this flick deviates substantially from Matheson's story, it is compelling, and ultimately bittersweet stuff. Especially effective are the "Lost" style flashbacks to life before armageddon, showing Smith's doomed family and his efforts to save them. Will Smith again proves why he is a movie star, in the grand tradition of " the every man" such as Gable and Ford. Excellent movie.

The other movie I caught, ultimately stays off this list because it is more of a "film". "No Country for Old Men" is one of the best motion pictures I have seen in years. Like the best of the Cohen brothers work, it transcends and blurs the film/movie line, and also delivers the very best of both genres.

For the first 3/4 of the story, it's a movie. A heart racing suspense and gore filled thriller. But a quiet subtext, delicately introduced in the movie's intro, and threaded throughout, grows and grows until it consumes the last half hour of the film. Climactically, after showing us lots of graphic violence and shocking encounters - the directors masterfully use the art of NOT showing what should be the action centerpiece of the movie, to deliver a powerful emotional punch and pathos, and yes a message.

Like the movie "Unforgiven" (the western with Clint Eastwood that won a ton of academy awards) this movie is ultimately a film in the REAL world of violence. We recoil in our seats at one unshakable (though not violent) image in the last five minutes, and we realize, we have been entertained by something that is both gruesome and banal. Real evil. Not pretty, not sexy, and sometimes inevitable.

Great movie, great film. Disturbing AND enthralling.

A powerful film that will stay with me for a long time. And confirms in my mind that the Cohen brothers, as pretentious as they can be sometimes, are probably the greatest film makers of this generation.

By the way, also caught Superbad and Hairspray on DVD. Loved them both. Hairspray is a GREAT musical, and I love musicals. Pretty much suitable for everyone. Superbad is HIGHLY offensive, and at the same time a wonderful and very moral film. Judd Apatow, the producer on this one - director on other similar raunch-fests, has a real knack for shocking and disgusting us (while of course making us sickos laugh our butts off too) and then sucker-punching us with sweetness and ultimately uplifting and very real feeling bittersweet romance. That's right, he's the master of the gross out chick flick.