S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Numbing the effects of mid-east violence - 7 easy lessons

Internet news space routinely covers the unsettling facts of death and destruction in the Middle East. Sometimes it is a routine recitation of the numbers, such as a Financial Times story about 1) the crisis in Pakistan.
Sunday and Monday from my South by Southwest desk - As I scanned a number of stories, I was struck by sentences that felt out of place in the pieces. Buried in the middle of the articles, were jarring short sentences marked by banality and minimization. Note the following italicized segments of article quotes that are marvels of understatement focused on economics, mere politics and confusing statistical information.
How to psychologically numb out in 7 easy lessons. The news over the past few years has been traumatizing. But we have become numb to it as a way of defending against the enormity of actual reality. The following citations are illustrations of why this happens.
Understating the obvious: 2) Anyone traveling to Kirkuk this Monday took their lives in their hands. Unfortunate locals and visitors lost their lives in a coordinated attack, terrible in its effectiveness. Reuters' matter of fact news service story does not begin to adequately convey the carnage. Now an everyday reality in this misbegotten war, it is intensely personal to victims and their families. Buried in the story is the political understatement of the year. To quote,

At least 80 people were killed on Monday in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk in a coordinated attack by a suicide truck bomber in a crowded market and a separate car bomb parked on a busy street, police said.

. . . Iraqi police said 136 people were wounded in the Kirkuk blasts and warned that the death toll could rise further.

. . . Time is pressing. Many Americans want their soldiers to come home soon and senior members of Bush's own Republican Party have broken ranks to call for a change of war strategy.
Violence drives stocks lower: 3) How often have we heard about the connection between war and the economy? Here it seems to also be true in Pakistan, of all places. Yahoo! News carried this recent story from Pakistan about the statistics in the aftermath of Sunday's suicide bombings. To quote,

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani investigators were hunting on Monday for links between a surge of violence in the northwest and an assault on a mosque in the capital as the death toll from two suicide-bomb attacks on Sunday rose to 45.
Nearly 100 people, most of them members of the security forces, have been killed in attacks in the northwest since July 3 when government forces surrounded Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after clashes erupted. There are also fears the collapse of a 10-month pact with militants in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border would lead to more violence.

. . . Pakistan's main stock index closed 1.81 percent lower on worry over the violence, dealers said.
Try to keep this straight in your head: 4) One of the most fascinating stories came from the New York Times. Headlined, "Mistrust as Iraqi Troops Encounter New U.S. Allies," it detailed the dizzingly intricate web of changing alliances amongst the combatants in Iraq. We cannot fathom the connections, nor can the decision makers in Washington. It speaks to the heart of the problem with placing U.S. troops in the middle of a very complicated civil war that takes the lives of innumerable Iraqis and 3000+ members of the American military. To quote,

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam’s men, even using a stolen membership list to single them out for wrongful detention.

. . . The gulf between Abu Azzam’s men and the Iraqi soldiers remains vast, with American troops sometimes having to physically intercede. And it is an unmistakable caution that the full depths of the problems facing Iraq cannot be measured in the statistics about insurgent attacks and sectarian killings that carry so much weight in Washington.
Political progress unsatisfactory. . . No kidding! 5) The Iraqi parliament is taking August off, but, wisely, the U.S. congress has remained in session. Neither body has made much progress in ending the war in Iraq. This weekend brought us more marvelous minimizations from the Bush administration. The Financial Times headlined, "US politicians unite on anger over Maliki" Quote,

Longstanding US frustration with the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, erupted after the White House admitted last week that political progress in the country was unsatisfactory.

. . . In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush pointed to signs that this year’s US troop build-up was beginning to increase security. “Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress,” he said.

But with Iraqi lawmakers on vacation in August, the chances of a political breakthrough before September appear slim. Tony Snow, White House press secretary, defended the parliament’s month-long break, pointing out that August temperatures in Baghdad can reach 54°C . Critics noted that US troops would have no such respite from the savage heat.
Sanctioned by-the-numbers: 6) Michael J.W. Stickings at The Reaction wrote "Petraeus the Scapegoat" yesterday, citing Thomas Ricks' wonderful Washington Post article about General David Petraeus, U.S. Commander in Iraq. Here, I include my own quote. It is an example of numerical phrases guaranteed to numb us out about the gravity of the situation in Iraq. To quote,

Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress.

. . . In his public comments, Bush has not leaned nearly as heavily on the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, Petraeus's political counterpart in Baghdad. At his news conference Thursday, the president mentioned Petraeus 12 times but Crocker only twice, both times in his prepared statement.

. . . Bush's current deference to Petraeus may buy both men a couple of months of relief from intensifying political pressure to set a timeline for withdrawal, but it also propels Petraeus into the political arena. Petraeus, who was confirmed by the Senate with an 81 to 0 vote in February, got a taste of the political battlefield last month when Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Petraeus "isn't in touch with what's going on in Baghdad."
Illegal drugs complicate the war in Afghanistan. 7) The Afghanni economy has come to be known as a "narco-economy." A big chunk of money is spent trying to interdict illegal drugs before they U.S. borders. Drug dealers use violence as a business practice. Harry Trossel, writing for Australia's Online Opinion, describes in lurid detail how much drug traffic is associated with horrible violence and how little attention it gets in comparison to the constant drumbeat of bad news coming out of the Middle East. To quote,

During Brazil’s traditional Carnival time early this year a six-year-old boy was caught in his seatbelt and dragged beside his mother’s car for 7km through Rio de Janeiro’s streets. He finished with head, knees and fingers torn from his body.

. . . We have daily accounts of armed struggle in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine and other war zones, but less about the long-term shooting battles between police forces and drug gangs, and the turf wars between the gangs.
Well, there you go. Seven. Are you numb yet?
My links:
Cross posted at The Reaction.
My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is about the writing process. Title: "Words in a sandwich"
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Renegade Eye said...

I asked a therapist, about why I cried reading a fictional novel. about big brothers taking away a doll from a four yr old girl, and barely noticed the days Iraq casualties?

Because the novel put a name and face to the story.

Carol Gee said...

Thanks for the comment. You were brave to ask the question.
Living in reality at its best is being relatively balanced internally: within ourselves, the dynamic of thoughts and feelings and actions fully informs our best decisions.
To not be numb to honest emotions is the best answer. Numbing stories avoid those names and faces.

Mike Davis said...

And I think the situation is exacerbated by fact we allow the stations to lead with stories on Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole.

We seem to want titilation rather than real information.


(Thanks for noticing my return! Very much appreciated!)

Carol Gee said...

Mike, so good to see you. And now with an interesting new blog.
One of the reasons the mainstream media gets away with leading with the fluff stuff, is that they do not make it easy to give their management any feedback. I think advertisers have the only voice with MSM, unlike the blogosphere, where peoples' hands get called on crap. We are amazingly self-correcting, I think.