Category Archives: Uncategorized

Marine Corps to spouse clubs: Allow same-sex members or you don’t operate on base

In America

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) — It apparently takes more than a few good men, according to the U.S. Marine Corps. It takes all kinds of people to support military families, including same-sex spouses of service members.

CNN published a story this week about a woman married to a female lieutenant colonel at Fort Bragg who believes she was rejected from an officers’ spouse club because she’s gay. Late Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary advised Marine Corps legal staff such clubs conducting business on its bases must admit same-same spouses. If they do not, the clubs will be barred from meeting on any Marine Corps installation.

Ary wrote that clubs cannot discriminate against any member because of “race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin. We would interpret a spouse’s club’s decision to exclude a same-sex spouse as sexual discrimination because the exclusion was based upon the spouse’s…

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Elizabeth Willse: Surrounded by Books

This is just a note to myself, to remind me that sketchpads, about the 9 x 12 size, are essential to the process of writing a paper.

Also, a pack of markers/highlighters in as many colors as possible.

And butcher paper… which makes me deeply glad that Pratt is an art and design school as well as a library school. I can usually get a couple of big sheets of giant paper, without having to figure out where to buy a roll of my own, how to get it home, and where to put it in my wee apartment.

I definitely do not think of myself as An Art Person. I don’t draw. I barely even doodle. I resist playing Pictionary. Nor do I think of myself as A Visual Person. I have trouble with sizes, juxtapositions, assembling furniture, and visualizing anything in detail.

But, for a paper- give me…

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My open letter to Rielle Hunter

Dear Rielle,

I’m glad you went on “Oprah” this week. Ever since you burst onto the national consciousness in 2008, I’ve been wondering about you — the former Lisa Druck, now a Southern Californian named Rielle, and since last year the mother of a lovely toddler who looks just like former senator and presidential contender John Edwards.

Back then, I had a pretty good idea of who you were, and, paradoxically, none at all. Here on the WVFC website, I wrote about what your story brought to mind: “We Could All Be Elizabeth Edwards.” Like many women, I first heard the unfolding tale with that brilliant attorney and cancer survivor in mind, and felt sick. “We all could be Elizabeth: we all could see something we’ve fought for splintered in a second, because of others’ stupidity or our own. As midlife women, we curse what our bodies can no longer do or be or look like…” Or the fear that crosses the heart that someone newer and shinier can walk into your relationship and upend it.

It’s been nearly two years. For a while you were easier to ignore, what with the tawdry details spilling out of all the political press or the memoir of former Edwards aide Andrew Young, who once claimed to be your child’s father. As soon as Elizabeth finally filed for divorce, protecting her children, it was easy to decide you were none of my business.

So why turn to that hour with Oprah and your Hollywood-lovely face? Maybe because as much as I think I could have been Elizabeth, I also know I could have turned out more like you.

After all, you and I moved to California for love in 1991, though I went to San Francisco and you took up life in Beverly Hills with a new husband and a new name. I’ve also had the very experience you described to Oprah, about the day in 2006 when you met Edwards: for me it was an evening on a dance floor when “love at first sight” didn’t feel like a cliche and it seemed fine to ignore common sense. (Thank heavens, in my case the dude involved melted away after a few weeks.) “Our hearts were louder than the minds,” you said. Right. Anyway there’s a chemical name for that “wave of energy” you felt: oxytocin, the hormone that helps babies nurse and makes people newly in love forget to wash their hair.

Not that there was anything wrong with your hair today. You looked like a starlet, with the same flat smile. But the way you talked reminds me of some people I knew out West, who regarded appointments as fiction, jobs as encumbrances, and promises as suggestions. Like the guy who enticed a dear friend of mine to sell everything and move to San Jose so they could start a business together — then announced that he had a bad breakup and a twisted ankle and “wasn’t in a space to work right now.” Your jargon reminds me of the self-help pseudo-spiritual cults everywhere out there, whose members kept inviting me into “informational sessions” so I could learn about things like “the reality-tone scale.”

Some of these people were friends of mine, dance partners, lovers. Like you, they saw “seeking the truth” not as a task but a treat: “I was supporting him in his process, and his intentions never wavered. I knew that he wanted — he just had a really unique way of getting there — to live a life of truth,” you said of Edwards, with that blissed-out smile.

And this is the point where I realize: Nah, I don’t have to worry about turning into you. I’ve broken up with you. Several times.

So has Jenny Sanford, former first lady of South Carolina, who was on “The View” the day you appeared on “Oprah.” Her comment about your declaration that “I’m not a home wrecker,” was a sad laugh with a flash of anger: Commenting on you and her ex-husband’s Argentinian mistress, she said, “They weren’t 18 years old. They knew exactly what they were doing.” The other women at “The View” agreed, uniting for once before the incomprehensible.

But I don’t think what any of us say is going to make a difference. You believe that your profound spiritual connection to John Edwards is something no one else can understand. This can’t really be a letter to you, not even one of those open letters we write to politicians. Because you’ve evolved to a place where your ears cannot hear what we’re saying.

You and John Edwards — who I’m embarrassed to admit I once voted for — have been reminding me of that line from The Great Gatsby: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” In your case, those ‘other people’ include Elizabeth; your baby daughter, Frances Quinn; and Cate, Jack and Emma Claire Edwards, now set to grow up a bike-ride away from you and the baby.

For a while, the clean-up crew included the rest of America. Knowing that, you went on “Oprah” to overcome the “false picture” that all those years of press reports had brought. But I think you did the opposite. “It was compelling TV, but in the end, Hunter didn’t seem any more understandable than when The National Enquirer first discovered her,” said TIME Magazine. Salon writer Rebecca Traister wrote: “While I understand love and desire to be viciously complicated things, and certainly do not believe all mistresses to be craven, self-absorbed or ill-intentioned, I believe Rielle Hunter to be all of those things.” And you know you’re in trouble when the New York Times‘ TV reporter compares your unblinking certainty to that of Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Your destructive capacity is narrower now than in 2006, but it’s still hard to watch.

Thank you, Rielle Jaya James Druck, for reminding us of who’s behind those wide eyes.

Now, I think, America can finally quit you.

Rielle Hunter, who told Oprah Winfrey in a program broadcast on Thursday that John Edwards had a secret affair with her because “he wanted to live a life of truth

operation pink slip, first draft

Another blast from the past: from an invasion whose memory is mostly now buried under those now bleeding our soldiers.

Thinking about it now, I’m struck how how Bush I’s 1989 “Operation Just Cause” set the template for his son’s Iraq actions —  a former CIA “asset” run past his pull date turned Public Enemy #1, just like Osama bin Laden. Rachel called it “Operation Pink Slip.”

We need to watch for that now, with Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan.

Unstuck in time again, in a good way

It’s been forever, I know. I should have at least updated my other shop’s cheers as Sotomayor became a Justice, especially the soulful essay about how she, a wise Latina herself, felt during that confirmation ceremony. But given the demands of that other shop (go look! Make comments!) and that I’ve been writing the last two chapters of my book simultaneously, I’d made a conscious decision not to blog until I was done. Well, not completely conscious, or else I’d have put up one of those “Gone Fishin”signs.

But last week I finally went to this convention, which I’ve described to friends as “like going to a party where fully half your characters are there to answer the questions you never asked.” Veterans for Peace, founded in the wake of the collapse of the Nuclear Freeze movement, and containing many of the folks I’ve now been writing about for years.It began with a rousing statement from Rep. Donna Edwards (above), who like me isn’t a veteran, but who may as well be: her father was career military, and she remembers when her father was stationed in the Philippines and “if we wanted ice cream, we had to go all the way to  Quezon City” because in military facilities, including the huge Clark Air Force Base,  “all the hangars and freezers were filled” — she choked up — “with the caskets of young men and women who had died in Vietnam.” That told her, she said, “When we ask our young people to sacrifice, it’s our responsibility to get it right.”

I remember when Edwards was “just” the director of the National Network Against Domestic Violence, and we were working together on military issues: that one, like many of the issues jostling in  my brain and this book, was challenge and enriched by the information streaming everywhere last week.

coxMuch was  super-informal, with benefits: e.g. I warned Paul Cox (right), who I’ve known nearly 15 years now, that he was a star of my Vietnam chapter, and as a bonus he let me see and upload some 1969 photos he’d just got hold of.  (They proved what I’d always guessed: he was even more of a babe at age 19 than now.)

ellen_barfieldWRLAfter dropping by the Women’s Caucus — where I also got to check in at the long-pervasive issue of military sexual abuse and homophobia— I got to interview Ellen Barfield (U.S. Army 1977-1981, now on the board of War Resisters League.) Barfield told me about being stationed in 1980 at Camp Humphreys, in South Korea, when her unit and many others were suddenly put on lockdown during the Kwangju Massacre.

barfieldportraitWe were put on high alert; the combat troops were given orders, and up in our unit we started getting riot training.” she told me.  Asked by fellow officers if women should participate, she and other women said hell yeah, we’re soldiers too — but matters never got that far. “That’s as close as I ever came to combat,” Barfield reflects now. “But – it wouldnt have been combat, it would have been killing civilians!” Already a Nation reader who’d been struck by the grinding poverty she saw in Korea, she set about upon leaving the Army to learn more about U.S. involvement in backing up Sung’s repressive government. “People are kept for so long from knowig their history,” she told me.  She learned a lot from members of the then-newborn VFP such as former CIA Asia specialist aideChalmers Johnson and Brian Willson, who’d lost his legs protesting U.S. aid to repressive governments.

plow8bBarfield was soon drawn in by the nuclear-freeze movement, just as Philip Berrigan and the rest of the Plowshares movement were getting arrested  at nuclear plants all over the country: Barfield was soon doing the same at the PANTEX plant near her hometown of Amarillo, Texas, and has been a “soldier for peace” ever since. I learned some of the latter story from a panel on nuclear-weapons issues, where a hikabusha (survivor of Hiroshima) asked through a translator what the  U.S. was doing to teach its children about nuclear weapons.

At panels on The GI Rights Hotline and on active-duty resistance, I learned more about the still-ongoing cases of current resisters such as Agustin Aguayo (above), and of those in exile fighting for asylum, like Andre Shepherd (below), whose German support network includes a woman who’s been doing this work on and off since the Vietnam years.I didn’t think then — but do now as I write this – that if I had stayed at CCCO a mere year longer, I might never have felt able to leave.

Despite the friendliness of the members of Iraq Veterans Against War, though, I was perhaps too shy about the IVAW workshops, fearing they were tired of me already — something I regret and don’t, now.

johnjudgeBecause on my way out of town, I touched base with John Judge — who  has been doing this work literally since I was two years old, including with the G.I. Project of  VFP’s vibrant predecessor. John described for me what he witnessed when  Vietnam Veterans Against the War was  neutralized  by the Red Squad in 1974,  “destroy[ing] the single most visionary and effective peace group in history.”   (I’d already written about these events here, drawn from documentary evidence).

wintersoldier_bannerWhen the RU moved into VVAW’s Chicago headquarters (note the North Vietnamese star at the center of the logo), so did posters and newspapers with appropriately “militant” headlines, such as: VVAW BATTLES V.A. THUGS. A civilian volunteer named John Judge, who watched the transition, was astounded. “Were they really advocating physical violence against medical personnel?”

The transition did, Judge added, have its comic elements: “They came in with these handlebar mustaches and sideburns, like Stalin, and these flannel workshirts.” Romo and his RU peers also told Judge to stop reading a pop history book in his bag, because We only read Marx and Engels here. “I told them, Those books are 150 years old now.” But the new regime also purged any members they deemed not “correct,” which included many who had been working triple time to help the new veterans get what they needed.

The January 1975 issue of THE VETERAN, whose “Vets Fight V.A” article was just before the “Victory to the Indochinese,” was also its last until 1996. The closer RU got to its goals, the more complete the damage to an organization once powerful enough to scare Nixon.

road_from_ar_ramadi_coverThat conversation with John stayed mostly comic/elegiac.  We did touch on the question I’ve since been trying, separately, to sort out: if the same has already begun to happen to IVAW, perhaps under the influence of it outgoing board president Camilo Mejia, the brilliant young scion of Nicaragua’s revolution? I mention the latter fact in full respect; Mejia (with whom I share a literary agent!)  grew up in the fullness of a poet’s revolution, and his father, Carlos, wrote the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s national anthem. His speech last Thursday was compelling, as when he noted that the U.S.’  unfortunate Asian land war had left room for all the democracy movements south of the border.

But my concern was rooted in more than Camilo’s charisma: rumor has it that while I was worrying about ANSWER (Workers’ World Party) and World Can’t Wait (RCP) leeching off the younger group, I was too distracted by their sideshow to see the steady recruitment tactics of this group, only a few years younger than RCP and hipper/younger/jazzier in its presentation.

It’s not a meaningless question: dissenting soldiers are already being marginalized every minute. I hope those rumors are incorrect, but I’m not that optimistic.But my job now is to find out what actually happened, and to tell that story as honestly as I can.

(p.s. Thanks so much to Gerry Condon, whose comment below helped me correct some errors born of hurry and 50 percent humidity. That’s part of what this blog is for.)

six years on, we are all conscientious objectors

A month or so since I posted and I’m still speechless. More soon, I promise.
Meanwhile, there are all sorts of important things to say on the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, but for now I think I’ll just let a poet say it, again. In 2003 I quoted Yeats, but now let’s let Edna say it. (Above is one of the guys whose story is still trapping mine. Like LBJ, I seem to be unable to get out of that war.)

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Edna St. Vincent Millayedna_st_vincent_millay

my only valentine’s day poem

cummingsI loved this poem long before the author became one of my book’s guys (“i sing of olaf,” The Enormous Room et al.). I once asked my students, as their midterm, to explain to me how someone can write a love poem without ever using the word. Can you tell me?

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands