Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our troops: Still slogging through the "Long War" in Iraq....

(Photos are of the press room in the Green Zone, female Marines, scenic downtown Hit, an internet cafe in Anbar and a room at the Al Asad Hotel)

For the past several years I've been receiving between five and ten MNFI (Multi-National Forces Iraq) press releases in my inbox every day, sent from places like Camp Victory and Camp Falcon and the Green Zone in Iraq. I get them every single day, rain or shine, weekends and holidays included. You just gotta admire the tenacity of the MNFI public affairs office press rooms. They are really really trying really really hard to put a face on this war.

Here are some examples from today's list of press releases:

"Iraqi Navy holds 3rd annual Iraqi Navy Planning Day to refine input to Navy Service Plan."

"MND-N Soldiers visit projects in progress in Tamim province."

"Forces target AQI bombing, leadership networks; 18 suspects in custody."

"Six detained during joint operations in Mosul."

"Local citizen, Sons of Iraq help take weapons off the streets."

"New school offers hope to Nablus children."

"Leaders discuss new change for Sons of Iraq in Diyala."

And all these press releases continue to slog into my inbox, day after day -- year after year. I've only printed out the titles to just a few of them here, but reading through all this constant flood of press releases every day really gives me a feeling of the intensity of our military's commitment to doing their job right over in Iraq. I have over 500 of these releases. Every single day I get at least five. Our troops are on the job in Iraq -- bigtime. They are working overtime over there, pouring their hearts out. And they have been moving heaven and earth to perform their jobs well continually for the last five years.

Now isn't it time that we brought them all home?

PS: Here's my favorite MNFI press release of all-time:


WHAT: The Iraqi Tourism Board wishes to invite all local and international media to a press conference to discuss future plans and investment opportunities of Jazirat AI A'ras, also known as Jazirat Janain, a romantic island in the heart of historic Baghdad, on the Tigris River.

WHERE: Combined Press Information Center Conference Room, Ocean Cliffs.

WHEN: September 21, 2008, at 13:00 p.m.

I wish I had been able to go to that press conference. Maybe I coulda gotten some hot new material for my book-in-progress, "Iraq, Iran & North Korea: From Axis of Evil to Hot New Tourist Destinations". The chapters on Iran and North Korea are already written -- and now all I need to do is visit the pilgrim sites of Najaf, see some of Iraq's charming antiquities sites, stay in the Kurdish version of a five-star hotel and tour this new romantic island honeymoon destination on the Tirgris -- and, of course, try to find a publisher....

Friday, November 28, 2008

News flash: Obama's top priority is NOT to ask consumers to go shopping!

(Photos are of my old city-planning classrooms at UC Berkeley's Wurster Hall during a recent alumni event -- note that our desks from the class of 1968 have all been replaced by computer terminals -- and of my daughter Ashley's first Thanksgiving turkey and baby Mena modeling "recycled chic")

I just finished reading an article by economist Mike Whitney -- wherein he made the following remarks regarding the direction that Obama's new Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and his new White House person in charge of economics Larry Summers will be most likely to take: "So how will Geithner and Summers deal with the problems they'll be facing just two months from now? They'll do whatever they need to do to stabilize the financial system and to get consumers spending again."


Wasn't that George W. Bush's solution to all the economic problems he caused before, during and after 9-11? We were all supposed to go out and buy more and more STUFF? And isn't that exactly what got us into this economic mess in the first place -- people buying houses that they couldn't afford, Wall Street traders buying derivatives that they couldn't afford and GWB buying wars that he couldn't afford?

And hasn't all that unabashed spending already caused a huge credit crisis -- not to mention causing extreme planetary resource depletion and freaking global warming? Are these people nuts? We should be saving our money and hunkering down for the Big One, not buying automotive dinosaurs at the auto mall and running up our MasterCard bills at Macys.

Hell, I get all my new clothes out of the local free box. Works for me. "Recycle Chic" is in. And if it is not, then it should be.

And here's another thing that is truly pissing me off. From what I hear lately, GWB is busy as a little beaver right now -- firing progressives (and even some so-called "Center-Right" guys) in civil service positions and replacing them with neo-con moles. And he apparently is also writing presidential Executive Orders as fast as he can -- ones that will disable any attempts at REAL change that Obama may try to make during his first two or three years in office.

According to the blog, Los Angeles Times reporter Rosa Brooks has been noticing "all the little gifts the Bush administration is leaving behind for the incoming Obama administration. The Federal Register is working overtime to keep up with all of the regulatory changes and executive orders which have issued in the past several months."

Brooks goes on to comment, "You really didn't think these guys would exit meekly, did you? These rules can be enacted by the outgoing Bush administration with relative ease and speed, but reversing them will be far more difficult for the Obama administration: extensive study, notice and comment requirements mean that reversals may take several years, during which a lot of damage will have been done."

What to do? Here's a great suggestion! "President-elect Obama, stop fiddling around with getting consumers to do more shopping and IMMEDIATELY consider establishing a blue-ribbon commission to thoroughly investigate the 2004 Ohio election instead. Check out everything -- Secretary of State Blackwell's illegal interventions, Diebold's illicit voting machine programs, massive voter intimidation, an embarrassing lack of both poll workers and ballots in Democratic prescincts only, shameless voter list-culling and more disappeared provisional ballots than you can count -- literally.

"But what if all the voting evidence from 2004 has already been destroyed?" you might ask. Then just hold the freaking election again!

Democracy must be protected. Period. That is our FIRST duty as citizens (it's even more important than going shopping) and if we don't safeguard our sacred right to vote, then America becomes nothing.

And then after the truth has finally been revealed and we actually find out officially that Bush DID lose the 2004 election, then Obama will simply be able to invalidate every single one of Bush's Executive Orders -- and every single one of his "presidential" appointments as well.

And when Obama gets done cleaning out the Agean stable in Ohio, then he can tackle the results of the 2000 election in Florida.

Unfortunately, however, even after Bush has been finally shoved out of our history books forever as America's 43rd president, no one will ever be able to undo the fact that Bush has already destroyed America's economy, killed over a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan and let 9-11 happen on his watch.

But having GWB crossed out of America's history books forever would make ME feel better.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Jello Shots": From healthy Woman Warrior to old lady crip in just one day....

(Photos are of my father and mother on their wedding day and a birds-eye view of my knees when they first started to swell)

Boy, old people are my absolute heroes. Those people are truly BRAVE! I used to think that I was being all fierce and courageous to go off to Iraq and Afghanistan -- but that was a walk in the park compared to facing down the terrors of old age. I found that out last Saturday.

Recently I went off to a knee doctor to ask him if he could do anything to relieve the minor discomfort in my knees, and he replied, "We can inject gel into your cartilage area and that will help you a lot -- it will lubricate your joints and keep you pain-free for approximately one year."

You are going to inject gel into my knees? "Jello Shots!" I cried. "Go for it."

Well, I got a reaction to the SynVisc hylan and suddenly my left knee was all swollen, my right knee was the size of a cantaloupe, I was in incredibly intense pain and couldn't even walk. Was I now going to have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair? It looked that way.

"Jane, that's really a sad story," you might say, "but what's your point?"

My point is this -- do you have ANY idea how hard it is to not be able to walk, to live in constant pain, to have whatever active life you may have had suddenly disappear, to depend on others constantly for help and to get sympathetic looks from strangers at first and then suddenly completely disappear off their radar?

You have no idea how scary this is.

It took me a half an hour to shuffle across the street to the Berkeley Bowl to buy food because there was nothing left to eat in my apartment. One-half hour. They had to hold up traffic for me.

Once at the store, a clerk put me in one of those electric wheelchair cart thingies that the Bowl provides for little old ladies. "This isn't the REAL me!" I wanted to cry as benevolent shoppers got out of my way.

I filed a drug-side-effect report on the FDA's MedWatch website, but would doing that bring back my health? Probably not.

Then I shuffled off to my doctor's office and sat in the waiting room and cried. "Two years ago I was teaching school in a former bantustan in South Africa," I blubbered, "and now look at me!" I looked like all my doctor's other REALLY OLD patients, with walkers and crutches and aides and wheelchairs and canes.

I have just entered the Home of the Brave.

PS: Today would have been my mother's 96th birthday. She died in her sleep from a stroke at age 79. One day she was as healthy as a horse and the next day she was dead. Not so with my father. He died a long, lingering, painful death -- but during all the time that I watched my father suffer so much from prostate cancer and congestive heart failure, shrinking from a robust 6'1" to a tattered and grey 5'7" in less than a year, I never heard even one word of complaint cross his lips.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The special "Ghost Whisperer" issue of my housing co-op's newsletter

(Photos are of the battle of Savo Island, Albany Village housing that looks similar to the old Savo Island temporary Naval housing during WWII, me in a vacant lot in 1979 just before Savo was constructed, a ghost haunting my home next to a drawing of Sid and Nancy and Jennifer Love Hewett -- on the job!)

What if Jennifer Love Hewitt (that television actress who plays a medium who can talk to ghosts) dropped by my housing co-op today? Would she be able to see any ghosts around here? You bet!

Savo Island Cooperative Homes Inc. is built on a marshland area that used to be a hunting ground for the Ilone Indians. "Are there any shellmound burial grounds still left hidden underneath Savo Island?" I asked.


"But maybe there might be a few Native American ghosts
hovering over by the play structure?"


"Now I'm hearing a little boy singing," continued Jennifer. "And he's also wearing purple?" That would be the ghost of Jimi Hendrix. When World War II started, the US Navy built housing for naval families on this site and named it "Savo Island" after a disastrous naval battle in the Pacific wherein the Japanese navy cleaned our clocks, leaving US soldiers who had already landed on the beachhead at Guadalcanal without any naval backup.

"I know all about Jimi Hendrix already," I replied. "Jimi has been haunting the Stuart Street side of Savo for years. He was raised here in the old World War II temporary housing which was torn down back in 1977 and replaced with our current buildings in 1979." And there was also another singer for some famous girl group who used to live here as a child. But I forgot her name."

I sense that there are other ghosts here," said Jennifer, "but they are tragic ghosts and don't want to talk to me." I know what you mean. My housing co-op went through hard times back in the 1980s and this area was riddled with crime. Crack cocaine had just been introduced to the streets of America, no one know how dangerous it was and it hit everyone across the country very hard. Even Savo was effected. Plus there were the usual alcoholics, crazy people and Desperate Housewives living here that you see everywhere else. One resident was even murdered here, right on Adeline Street. We even had our own crack house. And at one point there was even a SWAT team raiding Savo. But that was only a phase. Savo's not like that any more.

We also had an African-American veteran of World War II living in the house next door. He was a triple amputee, apparently as a result of that terrible explosion at the ammunition dumps at Port Chicago during the war. He passed away in 1983. "What about his ghost?"

"He is benevolent," said Jennifer. I'm not surprised. He was a nice man.

"Now let's talk about the ghost of Savo's dead re-hab," said Ms. Hewitt.

"The re-hab is dead?"

"Well, actually, no. But it is in critical condition and will soon be dead as a doornail unless someone around here starts doing major CPR right now!" Jennifer, you are scaring me.

"HUD just told the bank manager in charge of Savo's re-hab loan," Ms Hewitt continued, "that it would not give them a loan guarantee until your board of directors appoints two impartial outside housing or financial experts to the board.

"HUD also demanded that the board pass a motion saying that board members must cooperate with the management company in the future." Was HUD referring to the current management company or just ANY management company? We've already gone through ten or 12.

At the last board meeting, one board member once again accused our current management company's representative of not living up to the promises the company had made to us before it was hired. But how could they live up to the promises? Our true debt-ridden status and run-down condition had been hidden from them until after they had signed on.

"Your re-hab," continued the medium, "has been put off for yet another year because of board-instigated delays, inability to get loan guarantees and failed housing inspections because the board hadn't raised the rents high enough to be able to afford keeping the place fixed up."

"Does that mean that the re-hab has also been laid to rest -- along with poor sweet Jimi Hendrix?"

"Not quite yet," Jennifer whispered.

"And Savo Island itself will survive and not become just another sad, forlorn, forsaken, abandoned and forgotten ghost?"

"No, Savo will survive -- but only if ALL its residents try as hard as they can to start bringing it back to life...."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanksgiving: Non-combat-related deaths in Iraq, MRAPs & turkeys

(Photos are of a typical day in Gaza -- probably NOT Thanksgiving Day)

Right now I'm all scurrying around, trying to find a Thanksgiving dinner to go to so that I won't have to cook one myself. "Do you think that your father is going to cook Thanksgiving dinner this year?" I asked my daughter-in-law.


But then my daughter Ashley and her friends Ricky and Aleena said that they had been counting on ME to cook Thanksgiving dinner because they too had nowhere else to go either. "Can your father fit in three more people?" I asked my daughter-in-law.


But just to make sure, I also ran off to Safeway and bought a frozen turkey too -- on special for $5.99. "Do you have any idea what kind of a turkey you could possibly get for $5.99?" asked my son. "Those turkeys are raised under the most extreme conditions." How extreme? Hey, they're cheap.

But then I read Barbara Kingsolver's description of factory-raised turkeys in her new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

"Of the 400 million turkeys Americans consume each year, more than 99 percent of them are a single breed: The Broad-Breasted White, a quick-fattening monster bred specifically for the industrial-scale setting. These are the big lugs so famously dumb, they can drown by looking up at the rain. (Friends of mine swear they have seen this happen.) If a Broad-Breasted White should escape slaughter, it likely wouldn't live to be a year old: they get so heavy, their legs collapse. In mature form they're incapable of flying, foraging, or mating...."

But I've also got other things to worry about besides dumb turkeys right now. Currently I am worried about dumb MRAPs, the up-armored vehicles that have replaced Humvees in Iraq. Those turkeys appear to be too stupid to fly, forage or mate either.

"Aren't you being a little too hard on MRAPs," you might say. Nah.

Recently I talked with a vet who had just come back from Iraq. "I love MRAPs because of all their body armor," said the vet, "but their cornering abilities suck eggs." Then he went on to tell me about how many servicemen have died from "non-combat-related" injuries when one of those MRAPs turns over -- and a light went on in my head.

"I get press releases all the time about 'non-combat-related' deaths in Iraq," I said, "but I thought they were just referring to knife-fights in bars or something."

"No, those stories are more than likely related to MRAP accidents." Oh. I have at least ten of that type of press release in my inbox right now. So. On Thanksgiving day, part of me will be totally thankful for MRAPs because they protect our troops. But another part of me will be totally pissed off that at least ten soldiers that I know of are apparently dead because of MRAPs -- and that the families of those soldiers have to spend their Thanksgiving holiday in mourning.

But I still wasn't completely convinced that MRAPs were the cause of so many non-combat-related deaths, so I googled "MRAP death accident" and got an article by Wired Magazine. "...a recent report from the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned cautions that the although MRAP is a life saver, it may introduce some new hazards of its own. The report 'indicates concerns about the bulky, top-heavy vehicle rolling over in combat zones,' according to Army Times. 'Of the 38 MRAP accidents between Nov. 7 and June 8, only four did not involve a roll-over. Many of the incidents ended with troops suffering injuries, and an April 23 roll-over led to the drowning death of two soldiers.'"

But let's get back to talking about food. Here's my recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing: Cook up some brown rice, put it in a large bowl, add walnut pieces, cut-up apples, sage and melted butter and then stir. Then stuff the turkey -- smart or dumb -- with this mixture and cook it. And then try to convince your children that, no, it's not some sort of weirdo Mom recipe left over from the 1960s when I was a hippie living at Crooked Prairie, a back-to-the-land commune up near Garberville. Nope, this stuffing recipe is haute cuisine!.


Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Public Affairs Office, Camp VictoryFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: RELEASE No. 20081121-01, Nov. 21, 2008: MND-C Soldier dies of non-combat related cause. CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - A Multi National Division -- Center Soldier died of non-combat related causes Nov. 20. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of the next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Advice to Obama: "The New Adventures of the Old New Deal"

(Photos are of me and my daughter Ashley trying to get a sneak preview of future life on the mean streets -- and my granddaughter Mena living out of her car)

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- this bailout crap is truly a bad idea.

With housing foreclosures up 25%, bank failures a common occurrence, millions of Americans out of work and the nation's unemployment rate hovering around 9%, then it's obvious that our economy is in trouble and that something needs to be done ASAP to get the economy back on track. But why resort to giving billions of dollars to the very same people who have already proved themselves to be either totally shifty or totally inept? Why waste our time throwing good money after bad?

Instead of betting all our savings on a horse that has a track record of coming in last, let's place our bets on a winner this time. Let's place our bets on a cure for Depression that has already PROVEN to be a winner.

I just got an e-mail from my friend Karen that read, "Obama should seriously consider resurrecting Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal from the 1930s. It worked back then. It will work again now."

That sounds good to me. But then what do I know about the New Deal? I hadn't even been born yet back when FDR's horse won its race.

"What's there to know?" replied Karen. "You stimulate industry by giving people jobs. You stop giving money away to fat-cats and give it to the American people instead. It's called TRICKLE UP!" Makes sense to me. And it's our money, not theirs. Plus "Trickle Down" didn't work.

President-elect Obama, here's some free advice from me: What worked for FDR will work for you too. Step up to the plate. Become the next FDR. Get your picture on the freaking dime. Go for it. And if you have any questions, I'd be more than willing to be your Treasury Secretary. I got great qualifications. I know how to make an eagle scream -- a concept that seems to be currently eluding most people in Washington.

PS: My friend Stewart just e-mailed me from a Flying J truck stop in Utah, complaining about how Utah is a Red state and how everyone there is all bitching and moaning about government interference in peoples' lives but that they don't practice what they preach.

"In Utah, all the bars are clubs and you have to join the club in order to have a drink," wrote Stew. "So I said to the bartender, 'This is a conservative state? I thought you clowns wanted government off our backs -- and yet every bar in your state has government all over your backs with this private club bull[dookie].' The bartender just smiled, seeing the hypocrisy. Hell, this country was founded in bars and taverns! The rebels in Lexington were drunk, that's why they were firing at the Red Coats. Hypocricity here is totally out of control. Just look at which states are raking in the most federal money? Nearly all Red! Then look at which states are paying for the pork -- nearly all Blue. Time for these Reds to start practicing what they preach."

Okay. So the Red states don't want government on our backs? Then why did they support George W. Bush, the biggest corporate socialist to steal the White House in history! And why did Utah Mormons just spend 20 million dollars to try to promote government interference with marriage? And why is our government now bailing out Wall Street? That's TOTAL government interference. And now even I am busy clambering my heart out for government interference too -- but only in situations where it actually benefits all Americans across the board, not just the ones who can afford to produce the most scary TV commercials or hire the most exclusive PACs.

President-elect Obama, I want to see more episodes of "The New Adventures of the Old New Deal"!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Google Earth: Gaza has now gone dark too....

If you look at a satellite photo of the earth at night, it shows brilliant necklaces of light all across Europe and North America -- but when you look at sub-Saharan Africa, most of it is in darkness. Rwanda, Zimbabwe, the DRC....

"What a shame," you might say. "They have no electricity." And then you might start to feel sorry for all those trapped and unfortunate Africans who suffer from having governments that prey on their own people -- and are shut out from the light.

And then you look at satellite photos of Israel and Palestine and you see that, as a result of an executive order from the Israeli neo-con junta that controls it, Gaza has just gone dark too.

And then you compare the Gaza photos with satellite photos of other countries whose controllers also appear to be practicing genocide on their own people -- such as Somalia, Darfur, Burma and Tibet -- and they too have gone dark.

PS: According to a friend of mine who has just returned from Gaza, "70% of Gaza's already meager electricity supplies have been stopped by Israel's blockade, which includes fuel and electricity. 50 million liters of raw sewage per day are being dumped into the Mediterranean because there is nothing to power the pumps used to process it. And the same is true with regard to Gaza's drinking water and other essential needs."

PPS: Since writing this essay, I've gotten a bunch of feedback (when you write about Israel, you ALWAYS get feedback -- up to and including computer viruses, phone calls in the night and death threats!) regarding the difference between state terrorism and other kinds of terrorism. Are the Israeli neo-cons committing acts of state terrorism by turning Gaza's lights out or are they only defending Israel from the "homegrown" kind?

Then Steven Moyer sent me a link to the new "Zeitgeist" addendum. Here's the link: To truly understand the difference between the two kinds of terrorism, I recommend that you watch it.

PPPS: Who cares if the lights go out in Africa or Gaza or Burma? "Will the lights be staying on in AMERICA," is the question on everyone's minds these days.

Here's the answer. "Not if we keep spending over one-half of our national treasury on weapons and war and most of the rest of it on things that create carbon emissions." Twenty years from now? Our lights too are gonna be OFF.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

From Woodrow Bartlettami, cartoonist extraordinaire


Dangerous weapons: Why airport security is a joke

(Click on the photos to enlarge them if you want to get a better look at my arsenal.)

In the last eight years, Bush, Cheney and a Republican-dominated Congress appear to have wrecked inestimable havoc on America's basic economics and laws.

From wiretapping US citizens, torturing foreigners, handing over our treasury to Wall Street insiders and grub-staking war profiteers by lying about WMDs to ruining our school systems, ignoring our roads and turning our judicial system into a good-ole-boys' club, these top-of-the-line miscreants appear to have systematically weakened almost everything American about America.

In the past eight years, Bush and his colleagues have master-minded, invented, implemented and perpetrated so many different ways to undercut our nation that it has become a stirring tribute to the solidness of America's basic morality, economy and infrastructure itself that our country has managed to last even as long as it has under this continual rain of blows to its economic, cultural, patriotic and Constitutional solar plexus and heart.

From the "Let it happen" lack of preparedness before 9-11 to the merciless bombing of women and children in foreign lands, the systematic weakening of FEMA prior to Katrina, the theft of millions of American votes, the blatant sell-a-thon of our national parks' resources and the out-and-out looting of our national treasury, these carpetbaggers have committed so many crimes that it's a wonder that most of them aren't already in jail.

"But, Jane," you might say, "with regards to all the neo-cons' crimes, you're just throwing around a load of vague generalizations here -- not backed up by proof. Could you please be more specific?" Sure. But then I'd have to clutter up this entire article with millions of pages of back-up documentation and it's not gonna be any fun having to read all that fine print. So let's just
suffice it to say that Bush and them have committed enough crimes against the American people to get themselves noticed bigtime -- as evidenced by how Americans voted this November.

Americans are tired of being played for suckers, rubes and stooges and, with the possible exception of some out-of-touch diehards in the Red states who don't have internet access and are forced to rely on Fox News, most of us have pretty much wised up to most of Bush's nefarious schemes.

But is yours truly the only one in America today who has spotted the airport security scam?

Hours and hours and hours have been stolen from my life forever while waiting in line at airport security checkpoints. They've taken my bottled water. They've taken my fingernail clippers. They've searched my person. They've irradiated my food. They've x-rayed my shoes. Since 9-11, billions of taxpayers' dollars have been spent on making sure that millions of passengers haven't brought any dangerous weapons onto commercial airplanes.

So. You spend an hour going through airport security, get onto your plane, find your seat and settle in. And then what is the very first thing that the stewardess hands you once you have taken your seat? A sharp metal knife!

I kid you not.

After your plane has been in the air for a while and reached cruising altitude, the freaking stewardess herself proceeds to march up and down the aisles of your plane -- and systematically supply every man, woman and child on your flight with a six-inch-long metal blade!

PS: Is Joe Lieberman still the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security? And if so, WHY?

If the good Senator had been taking commercial airline flights in the last few years instead of traveling around on the Straight Talk Express, he would have spotted this glaring weakness in America's airport security system immediately and rectified it right away, giving airline passengers harmless box-cutters to cut up their rubber chicken with -- instead of the more dangerous blades that the airlines are currently arming passengers with.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

No Proof of Service: No proof of service: Taking the DoD to small claims court, continued....

(Photos are of the Frankfurt airport, one of ten inflight movies I watched on the way back from Kuwait, me dressed up for Halloween as "Baby Spice -- 40 years later,"and a fire truck parked in front of an Oakland movie theater that is showing the movie "Burn After Reading")

As you may or may not remember, last February I flew to Kuwait and spent a harrowing few days living at the Kuwait International Airport Starbucks while I waited for permission from the US military to embed as a journalist in Iraq. That was just one adventure after another that I definitely could have lived without.

Tired, broke, hungry and stranded in Kuwait City, I ended up throwing myself on the mercy of the International Islamic Charitable Organization, the US embassy and a local high school for girls.

"We can put you up in Kuwait until your return flight date comes up," said a mathematics teacher at the girls' school, who then drove me to the IICO where I spent fifteen minutes in the waiting room looking at photos of starving African babies that the organization was trying to help -- and feeling stupid. Why should the IICO spend funds on a stranded American journalist when they could be sponsoring breakfasts in Darfur or somewhere instead?

"Are you an American citizen?" asked an IICO social worker. I nodded yes. "Then as much as we would like to help you out here and find you a place to stay in Kuwait, we are obligated by law to take you to the US embassy first." And they did.

"What is your goal?" asked the embassy person in charge of stranded travelers.

"To embed in Iraq. The Army freaking PROMISED me an embed, and then rescinded their offer after I'd already purchased my airline ticket and now I'm stranded here at the Kuwait airport Starbucks for three weeks, waiting around for my return flight."

"We can't get the Army to embed you," said my ambassadorial person, "but we can get the airline to send you home early." And they did. And when I finally got home, I tried to get the Department of Defense to reimburse me for my plane fare. "Your claim is not cognizable, Ms. Stillwater," they replied.

Then, on November 7, 2008, after having exhausted all other legal channels, I took the Department of Defense to small claims court in order to get my airline ticket money back -- plus pain and suffering and the cost of approximately 15 mocha lattes.

"How did your trial go?" asked my daughter Ashley after I got back home.

"Not so good. When I got to court this morning, the bailiff informed me that I hadn't properly served my "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" on the DoD.

"The trial has been called off," said the bailiff, "because you didn't file a Proof of Service with the court in order to prove that you actually served the defendants."

"But the COURT was supposed to serve the DoD -- not me. Way last June I paid the clerk of the court ten whole dollars to serve the defendants by certified mail."

"Yeah but when you got that green certified mail return receipt postcard back in the mail, you were then supposed to file a Proof of Service form with us."

"But I never got the card back. Honest!" Boy did I feel stupid. Again.

"Then you need to go downstairs, talk to the clerk and set up a continuance," said the bailiff.

Downstairs, the clerk informed me that, actually, it was the court that had been supposed to file the POS. "We are the ones that the defendant sends the return receipt back to," she said, "and we never got it back from the DoD so they have not been properly served and hence there can't be a trial."


Let me get this straight.

The court didn't get the green postcard thingie back from the DoD and they had FIVE FREAKING MONTHS from when they mailed it to let me know that service on the Department of Defense hadn't been completed -- and they are just getting around to letting me know NOW? My heart sank. I've waited five freaking months for my day in court and now it was slipping through my fingers before my very eyes.

"What happens next?" I asked the clerk.

"We continue your trial to January 9, 2009," the clerk replied. Rats. Now I gotta plan out all my evidence, practice my opening statement, get anxious butterflies in my stomach and put on a skirt and high heels AGAIN? Rats and double-rats. But justice needs to be done. I had no other choice.

"Well, okay," I told the court clerk, "except that this time you serve them by mail again -- plus I'll serve them too." This time the Department of Defense isn't going to be able to wiggle out of appearing in court again due to some vague legal technicalities. "Let's double-team the DoD."

"So," asked Ashley, "where are you going to have to go to serve the DoD? Washington DC? Kuwait? Iraq?" No.

"Someone at the Pentagon informed me that the military claims office nearest to me was at the Presidio of Monterrey and that I needed to serve my claim there."

"Wait a minute," said Ashley. "That's down by Carmel, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Big Sur and...."

I looked at her and she looked at me.

"Road trip!"

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You be the judge: I will be taking the DoD to small claims court this Friday....

(Photos are of the Kuwait Starbucks, me and a Seven-Ton in Iraq, an example of the typical American architectual design templates in Iraq, and me the last time I was in an actual suit -- and about to be eaten by lions)

"Jane! Why the freak are you taking the Department of Defense to small claims court?" you might well ask. "After all those times that they've been so nice to you and let you embed in Iraq four-and-a-half times, this is the thanks that they get? WHY are you biting the hand that feeds you?"

I seem to be asking myself the same question.

I just got back from Iran and I'm tired and jet-lagged and, frankly, going to trial, up against the full Shock and Awe of the entire US Department of Defense, all by myself, in my state of mind, is gonna truly be a whole bunch of work. What am I THINKING? I should be home doing the laundry instead.

But the laundry will just have to wait.

When I embedded with the Army in Baghdad this last August, I was totally impressed with all the work our brave soldiers are doing in Iraq as they risk life and limb to bring law and order to West of the Pecos. I wouldn't do anything to hurt our guys in uniform for the world. But even despite all that, the Department of Defense still owes me $1,780 -- and I want it back. I could use it. My daughter Ashley's birthday is coming up and she wants to go off to Disneyland -- or maybe Las Vegas.

"But Jane, do you even have a case?"

"Yeah I do. Hey, I gots Personal Injuries! The Army promised me an embed in Baghdad last February so I bought my plane ticket and then they rescinded the embed and I was forced to live on the couch of the Kuwait International Airport Starbucks for two whole days!"

I might have forgiven the Army for the airport couch episode because Starbucks makes a pretty mean mocha latte, but they (the Army, not Starbucks) kept changing the reason why the embed was canceled and that pissed me off. If you are gonna go ahead and cancel an embed, then freaking STICK TO YOUR STORY!

First the Army didn't give me any reason at all. "Sorry Ma'am I can not support your embed. Changes on the battlefield prevent me from explaining further due to operations security." Changes in battlefield conditions? That's the whole reason I'm GOING to freaking Iraq -- to report on the changes! Who would want to go to Iraq for just a vacation? I could go to Disneyland -- or Las Vegas -- for a vacation. I'm going there for the news!

Next, the Army told me that they were rescinding my embed because I didn't have enough readers. "The decision was made at the CORP level and the main reasoning behind the final decision is the low circulation of your work compared to military expense." Almost a million people read the news services I write for -- not to mention what a big insult this is. Nobody reads me? That's the absolute WORST thing one can say to a reporter.

Then the Army came up with yet another phony excuse. "You're not being embedded, Ma'am, because no military unit has agreed to sponsor you with them." That's not true either! The 3ID said that they would. And so did the Marines.

Will I get justice on Friday? Let's hope so. I don't know anything about the judge who will be presiding on my case but I imagine that he or she will be fair. However. I bet you anything that if Judge Judy was hearing my case, the Department of Defense would be getting a serious ear-full on how to play well with others.

In any case, if anyone out there is interested in attending my trial, it will be held on Friday, November 7, 2008 in Department 202, Alameda County Superior Court, 2120 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley, CA. The docket will be posted at 9:15 am. Please do come -- if for no other reason than this may be your last chance EVER to see me not wearing jeans.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

A road trip through the Caspian & Iran's English countryside: My Report on Iran # 6

I want to try to give you readers back home a sense of what it's like here in Iran. Strangers come up to you on the street all the time, give you a big hug and say, "We love Americans." People in Iran consider driving to be a sport -- the Iranian version of bullfighting. 70% of the population is under 30. More people than you would expect speak English. And everywhere you look, there is something scenic going on.

There is so much to see and do in Iran. This place is a tourist paradise. "Iran never disappoints".

After spending two weeks in the desert oasises of southern Iran, traveling up to the northern part of the country was like going from Arizona to San Francisco. Tabriz was so foggy and temperate that I kept looking around for cable cars, french bread and a big orange bridge. Having lived in Berkeley for most of my life, I felt right at home in Tabriz. You would too.

The one big difference between the Bay Area and northern Iran -- aside from the fact that everyone here speaks Farsi -- is that I couldn't find any reliable internet connections in the north. Everywhere I went in Shiraz, Tehran and Esfahan, there were "Coffee Nets" -- but not here. My kids must all think that I'm dead.

After I left San Francisco, er, Tabriz, everything changed once again and the landscape we drove through suddenly became like a clone of the English countryside -- thatched-roof cottages and all. All those years of British occupation has still left its stamp on Iran.

And the Mongols have left their stamp too.

One place I went to was a troglodyte village up in the mountains that featured a four-star hotel dug into a cave. The village -- not the four-star hotel -- was built into the sides of a mountain as a hideout from the Mongols way back in the day. It was really funny to look up on the rocky cliff walls and see windows.

Next came Iran's version of the Swiss Alps and a border-crossing into Azerbaijan. At one point I actually found myself in the pine forests of the former USSR.

"Iran never disappoints."

During all of my travels throughout Iran, every restaurant I stopped at had chicken kabobs on the menu but after the first couple of times, I wised up. While the pilafs, stews, eggplant dishes, anti-pasta and soups in Iran are positively wonderful, every single chicken kabob that I've tasted here has been stringy, tough and DRY. "Chicken on the menu tonight AGAIN?" I'd complain -- and then order the lamb-pomegranate-walnut stew instead.

But on the main street of the small northern country town of Fuman, I found a tiny family-owned restaurant that finally knew how to Do Chicken Right and I got so excited that I rushed off to the kitchen to demand to meet the chef! Boy was he surprised. But I got to see what his kitchen looked like and it was small. This was no Chez Pannise we're talking about here but who cares. That chicken was good! So. The next time that you are in Fuman, be sure to eat at the Restaurant Pars on the main street, four blocks down from a plaster statue of some mythic queen driving a chariot. And tell them that Jane sent you.

But the highlight of my entire trip -- aside from the food, the ancient mosques and all that Ozymandias stuff -- was the Caspian Sea. Before coming to Iran, the only thing I knew about the Caspian Sea was its proximity to some infamous pipeline and its murky connections with Bush's attacks on Afghanistan.

Sorry, guys, but I didn't see no pipeline.

"The Caspian is 75 feet below sea level and has no outlet," said the clerk at my hotel, "but the water from the Volga keeps pouring into it nonetheless." Imagine a bathtub with a stopper covering its drain and its water tap turned on full-blast. That's pretty much what the Caspian Sea is like. And there's only a ten-foot high breakwater standing between the full force of the Caspian and my hotel room. And it's raining. And the wind is raging off of roiling sea at approximately 60 miles an hour. Awesome.

I walked out onto the breakwater at dusk and it was almost like being on a levee in NOLA during a hurricane. I got that Katrina feeling right away. It was one of the most powerful and surreal moments of my life. Me against the elements!

Iran never disappoints.

But then reality set in and I realized that if I were to get swept away into the pounding surf of the Caspian, no one would ever know what happened to me -- let alone be able to e-mail my family -- and so I went back into the hotel.

Forget about the politics of Bush and Ahmadinejad and everything you've ever heard about Iran on Fox News. This country is amazing. You just GOTTA come here. I gotta join the Iran Chamber of Commerce! I gotta write a book about this place.

PS: The night manager of the Laleh Sar-ein Hotel in Sarein asked me to give his establishment a plug -- so here it is. It really is a nice hotel. Plus it's got internet. "Sarein is famous for its curative hot springs," said the night manager, "plus it is right down the road from Iran's most popular ski resort." Then he gave me a DVD but I couldn't get it to play.