Today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of The Iraq War. The prolonged debacle was premised on the idea that Saddam Hussein was stashing apocalyptic weapons in some dark corner of his kingdom, but for eight years, eight months and three weeks, it turned out that our war itself was the only Weapon of Mass Destruction in Iraq.
A decade later, I am not in much of a position to adequately sum up one of the longest wars in American history (shorter only than Vietnam, and the one still ongoing in Afghanistan). I was 14 when American forces invaded Iraq in 2003. I remember watching Shock and Awe — the cable-news-ready name of the initial assault — on CNN with my dad, and believing we must be going to get the bad guys. Like nearly all of us, I have never served in the military. The closest I ever felt to the bloody conflict was watching it begin between commercial breaks. I doubt mine is a unique experience.
The occasion was marked today in Iraq by a wave of bombings that killed 65 people and left more than 240 wounded. A devastatingly fitting event on the 10th anniversary of the start of a war that claimed the lives of 4,488 Americans, and, according to conservative estimates, over 150,000 Iraqis.
Among the fallen were 97 Tennesseans. Airman First Class Christoffer P. Johnson, 20, from Clarksville. First Lieutenant Andrew K. Stern, 24, of Germantown. Army Staff Sgt. Morgan D. Kennon of Memphis.
The list goes on and on.
It was the fall of 1982, and I was a journalism school student in New York City. One morning every week I would show up to a Reporting 101 class, where the professor would be ripping long sheets of paper off the Associated Press ticker. (Or whatever it was called.) Among the things it spit out was the AP Day Book, which listed all the newsworthy events taking place in New York that day. If you were a lazy reporter, the Day Book was a lifesaver.
"All right, who wants to cover Ed Koch giving a campaign speech at Hamburger Heaven?" the professor asked, going down the Day Book. I raised my hand. Koch was running for his second term. "OK, now what you need to do, Dobie," the professor said, "is ask him after his speech if you can ride in his car with him back to City Hall and get some inside color."
Ride around. Color. OK.
I went to the Hamburger Heaven in Midtown. Koch gave his speech. I hung out. Pretty soon, it was just me, Koch, and his flack.
"Listen," I said to Koch, "I was wondering if I could ride back with you to City Hall in your car. Ask you a few questions. Get some color."
The Koch who had been so animated and wild and electric only a few minutes earlier now looked as flat as a pancake.
"You're a student somewhere, right?" the flack asked.
"Yes," I responded.
"Why don't you write about the burgers."
I wrote about the burgers.
Climate change increases the risk of many types of record-breaking extreme weather events that threaten communities across the country. In 2012, there were 3,527 monthly weather records broken for heat, rain, and snow in the US, according to information from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).1 That's even more than the 3,251 records smashed in 2011—and some of the newly-broken records had stood for 30 years or more.
"Highlights" of Tennessee's results for the year: "Record-breaking heat in 37 counties and a total of 96 broken heat records"; "Record-breaking precipitation in 15 counties and a total of 16 broken precipitation records"; "Total of 25 large wildfires." Go the map, click on Tennessee and then click on "View state data" for a county-by-county breakdown.
All this in the warmest year on record in the Lower 48. But hey, it's cold today, so there's no such thing as climate change, right?
Monday was quite a day on Rocky Top.
At 4:30 yesterday afternoon, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that campus chancellors had told faculty in a letter that the school could not support health benefits for unmarried and gay partners. The brief letter from University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington came in response to a resolution passed by the Faculty Senate in April that supported benefits mirroring those offered to married couples. In short, the chancellors said the proposed benefits — education credits, leave to care for partners and their children, and family health coverage like that offered to married couples, according to the News-Sentinel are — "inconsistent with the public policy of our state expressed in constitutional and statutory provisions."
This morning, the News-Sentinel reports that members of the Faculty Senate found the brief, dismissive letter "appalling" because it did not address many of the issues raised by the faculty or explain the laws and interpretations the chancellors cited.
So if you're a faculty member with a same-sex partner, you can't get married in this state because that would de-sanctify traditional, sacred marriages like, say, the one Bill Frist used to have. Surely you understand. Oh, but you say you're simply asking for equality when it comes to the peripheral rights and benefits associated with such a partnership? You can live, for now, with the state thinking you're yucky, you just want to be able to include the other half of your committed relationship in your health coverage? Well, you see, you can't do that because you're not married.
But wait, there's more!
I wrote about the SUAVe, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that's being developed as a collaboration between Vanderbilt archaeologist Steven Wernke and engineering professor Julie Adams. You can read more about it here, but in short, it's a small unmanned aircraft that they're testing in the Andes to create detailed digital maps of archaeological ruins.
When I asked if we'd be able to see it in flight, Adams told me, "Right now, no one can fly this little vehicle legally." That is, unless one is on a military base or one of six approved unmanned aerial testing sites in the country. As you may be aware, MTSU is working to become an approved site.
"People are already upset with the Google vans taking photos," Adams told me. "UAVs can fly above your house, and that does start to get into issues of privacy."
We'd be remiss if we didn't highlight The New York Times' damning expose of unnecessary and dangerous medical practices coming out of Nashville-based Hospital Corporation of America's Florida facilities.
Yesterday, the newspaper published its review of thousands of internal HCA documents that chronicle a disturbing pattern of superfluous heart surgeries that put patients' lives at risk without providing any evidence that the company later reimbursed those patients' insurance providers for those unnecessary operations as required by law. The Times reports that the company didn't notify patients, either, even while it was pocketing the money from the procedures. As a result, the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami is looking into the practices of 10 HCA facilities, most of them located in the Sunshine State.
From the Times:
Questions about the necessity of medical procedures — especially in the realm of cardiology — are not uncommon. None of the internal documents reviewed calculate just how many such procedures there were or how many patients might have died or been injured as a result. But the documents suggest that the problems at HCA went beyond a rogue doctor or two.
Unless God, Allah, Yahweh and/or Xenu hate fireworks (and, by extension, America), what are we to make of Metro Nashville Police's zero-tolerance policy regarding illegal (read: personal) fireworks?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 29, 2012
Due to the extreme heat and dry weather conditions, the Nashville Police and Fire Departments are enacting a zero tolerance policy regarding the use of illegal fireworks in Davidson County.
There is an especially high risk that fireworks could ignite grass and brush fires that could quickly engulf residential areas and endanger lives.
The Metro Nashville Police Department is reminding Nashvillians that it is illegal to sell at retail or use fireworks in Davidson County, with the exception of properly permitted public displays. Fireworks violations observed by police officers will result in the issuance of misdemeanor citations and/or the confiscation of fireworks.
Is this typical big governmentism, telling you, a citizen, when you can and cannot be irresponsible with consumer explosives? Could it be false alarmism, symbolic of the effete culture wrought upon us by death panels and political correctness? Or could it be ... science? (Assuming you still believe in it.)
If you didn't spend last Friday in a humidity-induced coma, chances are you can recall that the temperature of 109°F (roughly 113°F if you include humidity) was recorded as the hottest day in Nashville's history — or, more specifically, since 1871, the first year some egghead decided to write the numbers down with a fountain pen.
In a way, the drier-than-normal conditions created in Middle Tennessee by record temperatures — and the resultant multi-city ban on fireworks across the state — is less an act of divine origin and more of a logical, regional analogue to the havoc wrought by the wildfires raging through the nation's Western states. Whether you want to hear it or not, whether you believe it or not, whether you love America or not, the missing link between the Colorado fires, Tennessee's prohibition on combustible fun, and other seemingly unnatural phenomena, is climate change.
"So many were saying, 'All you have to do is get one percent of the national market and you'll do just fine.' ... Three hundred cities bought the same logic."
— Christopher Leinberger, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, as quoted in a post at The Atlantic Cities blog, perhaps rhetorically titled "Is It Time to Stop Building Convention Centers?"
Today, Wikileaks has released its latest document dump, "The Global Intelligence Files," which includes millions of emails between Texas-based private security firm Stratfor and its international clientele, essentially the John Galts of the congressional-military-industrial complex. The emails detail "the inner workings of a company that fronts as an intelligence publisher, but provides confidential intelligence services to large corporations, such as Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Co., Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and government agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Marines and the US Defense Intelligence Agency."
The feared Internet document-purveyor has worked in conjunction with dozens of traditional news outlets, including Rolling Stone and McClatchy, to plumb the depths of some 5 million emails from July 2004 and December 2011, details of which will be forthcoming over the next several weeks (unless the outlets are charged with sedition and treason for collaborating with a known enemy of freedom).
The emails primarily shed light on the revolving door between government and private corporations and how that symbiosis feeds off of general public welfare — an ecosystem among the world's upper echelon that forgoes mythological notions of "free markets" in favor of an economic system that more closely resembles the life-cycle of the blood-thirsty, chest-bursting creatures in the Alien films:
Over at The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan posted this map of housing solitude in the U.S., showing that urban areas (at least according to 2010 census data) lead the way in single-person households. Nashville checked in at 35 percent, the same as Chicago (which I expected to be higher) and well behind my old hometown of Seattle's 42 percent.
While urban living and widespread solitude do seem to correlate, I'm curious what more drilldown of the statistics might yield. For instance, how does age figure in? Do cities attract more young people, who tend to be less established (and therefore more likely to live alone)? And do these single households tend to contain a higher percentage of entrepreneurs and mover-shaker types? Does living alone allow more social and economic agility, and therefore help drive creativity and innovation? And by that token, does the aloneness quotient line up at all with any of the "creative class" or other such theories of urban progress and transformation?
Living alone tends to be more expensive than collective life. At least it was in Seattle, where I could barely afford the apartment in which I first watched Altman's Nashville (alone, on two VHS tapes). So it should also correlate with, if not affluence, then at least a can-do attitude, right?
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