Don't shoot the messenger. "Now there's an alternative on the horizon that promises to be safer and cheaper by zapping [malaria, dengue feaver and West Nile] germs while sparing the mosquitoes," reports Scientific American. "The technology is hidden in an artificial flower designed to attract mosquitoes and treat them with pathogen-killing drugs that allow the insects to live and continue to perform important functions such as pollinating flowers and serving as food for animals and other insects." (Adult western malaria mosquito, Anopheles freeborni, Jack Kelly Clark photo)
"All you have to do is not screw up, and, even if you do, you just blame it on the Americans," Sgt. First Class Jacob Stockdill tells students at the Army's new Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy, reports the Wall Street Journal (subscription only). What works for the Democrats -- Bush's Fault™ -- works for other enemies of victory in the war on terror:
Six years into the Afghan war, the Army has decided its troops on the ground still don't understand well enough how to battle the Taliban insurgency. So since the spring, groups of 60 people have been attending intensive, five-day sessions in plywood classrooms in the corner of a U.S. base here, where they learn to think like a Taliban and counterpunch like a politician.
The academy's principal message: The war that began to oust a regime has evolved into a popularity contest where insurgents and counterinsurgents vie for public support and the right to rule. The implicit critique: Many U.S. and allied soldiers still arrive in the country well-trained to kill, but not to persuade.
In April, the Army gave a 26-year-old Rhodes scholar, Capt. Dan Helmer, six weeks to get the school up and running. Capt. Helmer tells his students, who rank as high as colonel, that the important battles here are 80% political and just 20% military. He exhorts them to go to great lengths to understand local politics, culture and history, to make sure actions they take on the battlefield help convince Afghans that the Kabul government will serve and protect them . . .
Capt. Helmer, a West Point graduate from Mantua, N.J., originally deployed to Afghanistan as a mentor for the Afghan National Police. At Oxford, he was author of a study on Israel's fight against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, where an army with overwhelming conventional superiority found itself mired against insurgents who had the vital support of the locals. Fast-talking, with deep-set eyes, a sunburned neck and a moustache that he grew out of respect for Afghanistan's hairiness-is-next-to-manliness culture, he says he thought from the start that Army training didn't prepare troops well for the intricacies of fighting the Afghan insurgency.
Hearts and minds are where it's at.
In Iraq, the U.S. has set up separate counterinsurgency academies for Iraqi and coalition students. In Afghanistan, Capt. Helmer insisted on putting troops from the 37-nation coalition into the classroom with their counterparts from the Afghan army, police and spy service. One of the school's central tenets is that foreign forces cannot win the war. Afghan security forces and government officials must take the lead in any activity, whether it's an attack on Taliban redoubts or reconstruction of a mosque, in order to increase popular support for President Hamid Karzai's government.
But nobody said it was going to be easy:
Academy instructors teach that counterinsurgents must "clear, hold and build" to insulate the public from insurgent tactics while
demonstrating that the government has something better to offer . . . But as the academy students discovered, putting the theory into practice can feel like building a sand castle as the tide is coming in
. . . Smaller missteps can undo months of counterinsurgency efforts . . .
Adorable heart-shaped cranberry sauce morsels took shape during Thanksgiving preparations in one of the ice-cube trays we used to use for playful shapes to bump things up a notch in our killer Christmas Party Champagne Punch in days of yore. There were star shapes too.
We heart homemade cranberry sauce. Easier than pie and a delight for eye and ear when the fruity skins start popping as the cauldron boils. No toil nor trouble nor doggy odor. Following the instructions on the Ocean Spray package, we boiled the fresh berries in sugared water, then set aside about half for whole-berry sauce and strained the rest for clear, smooth, tender hearts. After chilling 'em, a quick twist of a butter knife around the edges released them smartly from their molds.
Creamed Turkey takes us back to childhood days of Creamed Dried Beef, our number one fave way back when. Mummy whipped it up and served over a bed of toast. Can you say comfort food?
Thanksgiving is the meal that keeps on giving. Sandwiches to die for, of course, but this year an all-turkey-all-the-time Creamed Turkey -- above on a bed of rice with leftover Sweet Potato Puree, Susie's peas and candied carrots -- took the cake. Calories? Who's counting. Here's how we did it:
Make a roux of equal amounts of leftover turkey lard and flour -- 3 tbsp each in our case -- and whisk in about 2 1/2 cups leftover jellied turkey broth and a little white vermouth to make a velvety sauce. Again, in our case, we used what we had to hand, including about 1/2 a cup of leftover Velvety Gravy. Halve a few leftover creamed onions and add to the sauce. Make a batch of rice, set out on a plate, pile with leftover turkey and then smother with creamed sauce. Turn it around, and there's Son of Thanksgiving.
If you're lucky, you have Perfect Apple Pie and Susie's Mincemeat Tarts waiting in the wings.
The few brave boats still hangin' in there at York Harbor Marina bask in the magic of moonlight while a feisty street light, right, takes credit -- in the manner of "Why the Chimes Rang " -- for all things bright and beautiful. Who's to say?
Can you say "totally awesome" too often. We say it early and often. So much natural beauty out there, so little time. How can you not say totally awesome when the Full Beaver Moon -- AKA the Full Frosty Moon -- sets early morning in the western sky over the heavenly haven of York Harbor, Maine?
"When the moon comes over the mountain," sang Kate Smith famously. With her bosomy, middle-aged physique, she was a figure of fun for us kids in the Fifties. Now being there ourselves agewise and unwanted bulgewise, we are in total awe of her accomplishments.
Perhaps it puts Christopher Hitchens's puerile atheistic rantings in perspective. We happened to catch the old boy early morning in one of his endless all-about-me interviews, this time on C-Span Book TV. Sure. We're atheistic, too, until proven otherwise, but to deny that our species is wired for belief is the height -- depth? -- of silliness. Hitchens's own passionate atheism is all the proof you need regarding wired for belief. It is therefore, in our view, the qualities of the belief system that count. That is why atheism per se has no inherent value, while Christianity and Judaism, the fonts of our City Upon a Hill, are an endless source of inspiration and intellectual inquiry. We've never cared for the misogynous elements of any religion ever was, of course, but that's human nature, and nobody's perfect. As for Islam, we've never once heard so much as a word that tempted us to pursue Sharia. Any takers?
As with just about every deep thinker who has a "big idea," Christopher Hitchens's musings on religion will go places he never dreamed of. Unforeseen consequences rule. It's the little one that passed unnoticed that will be writ large. From his C-Span interview:
I think the essential thing to being a good writer is being a good reader.
That's exactly what our totally awesome -- those words again -- high school English teacher, Miss Wood always said. Not to mention E.B. White & Company.
Are there any better readers of our intentions than our puddies? Baby (above) always knows what we are thinking.
The dark side of the moon. Not really. The dark side of the sun when Old Sol heads south for the season. The grand old summer cottages across the river from Goomp's are first to pick up the morning rays on this cold and blustery day after Thanksgiving. In that way they are the Boston skyscrapers of York, Maine.
About yesterday. Goomp and others said it was the best turkey et al they'd ever et. He especially loves our Corny Cornbread minimuffins (below center right). "Mummy would have been so happy to see the Pilgrims and Indians -- Native Americans? -- breaking bread together," said someone. Or did we dream it? You know. Women and men. Younger generation and older and wicked older. Mumsy Wumsy taught us all the homely arts -- not to mention just having fun, big time -- and lingers ever at our shoulder, reminding us to be all that we can be.
Babe performs the usual Thanksgiving table inspection down Goomp's and pronounces all up to snuff.
"Procreation isn't the only reason for having two sexes, as was demonstrated today," imails our sis, referring to the natural segretation of gals like us in the kitchen and our men in the keeping room this afternoon as we put the final touches on our Thanksgiving groaning-board tour de force while the boys discussed ship-model building and such.
Goomp's boy kitty, Purrky -- Mr. Perkins -- taste tests the turkey prior to the big roast.
"Women 'chat' about recipes, while men 'discuss' tools and model building."
After three hours at 350 degrees, Purrky pronounces the turkey acceptable for feline consumption.
"I can't help it. I love them, and vive le difference."
The table decor and groaning board win hearts and minds all around.
"It was interesting that there was NO FOOTBALL watching! The electronic hearth, and Googling, have raised their level of discussion." Indeed. Football watching -- like anything else -- is just an energizer. When you have ship-model building at hand, who needs football?
All the usual suspects showed up, from Tom Turkey and sausage-and-apple stuffing to gravy for the gods and creamed onions (above floating in a bath of cold water after boiling for 10 minutes to facilitate removal of the roots and parchment with a twist of the thumb). A new trick we think we internalized from watching all those Food Network shows: You boil your onions in batches. Then -- instead of lifting the steaming pot and pouring out the water to drain 'em -- you lift the onions from the pot with a strainer and drop them directly into the pan of cold water. That leaves the boiling pot to immediately receive the next batch of onions.
Supper was Thanksgiving Beta, with tiny daubs of all of Thursday's featured hits undergoing a test run: Turkey, dressing, gravy, Corny Cornbread minimuffins, homemade cranberry sauce, pureed sweet potato. We always make an extra turkey ahead of time -- or, when we fall victim to a new-bride moment, later in the day -- for sandwiches and take homes. Baby and Tuck gave paws and thumbs up.
"Whipple. You look like a little girl. I don't care what you say," says Tuck regarding our new figure, the result of the big chill -- AKA the Cold Turkey Cookbook. We were doing big shoppies down Stop & Shop in Orient Heights, East Boston -- just north of Suffolk Downs -- this afternoon when the husband, walking behind us with shopping cart #2 containing the two turkeys, noticed that our trousers looked too large for our diminishing returns. Call in the clowns?
Two HUGE things we stumbled upon today that are wicked interesting:
While she promotes a blend of private and public initiatives to expand
health-care coverage, she says a private system is necessary to inject
the innovation and competition needed to improve the system.
Another WSJ Woman to Watch that caught our eye was Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi:
I am surprised because I think we are just beginning to tap the potential improvements we can make in this arena, and we consider ourselves as just learning how to do it well. Other hospitals, like those in the Ascension Health system and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, have been at it for a longer time and with greater results. Nonetheless, it is very nice to have a chance to explain our programs to others around the world and to meet really interesting and thoughtful people. Inevitably, I bring back more ideas than I impart.
Okay, Hillary! Let's have a debate amongst you, Angela Braly and Paul Levy about wither national health care. If we had our druthers, Roger L. Simon and Bob Owens would do the interview, with Andrew Marcus producing.
"Our war dead are called a waste by those who would lead us," writes Jules Crittenden at Pajamas Media in a deep, dark and delicious dissection of CBS's "great gotcha" series alleging a "suicide epidemic among veterans." When we first heard of the suicide "report" during a TV "news alert" the other day, our gut told us something wasn't quite right about it: Now that the surge was showing positive results in Iraq, anti-Bush types were casting their nets for false-but-accurate "facts" on other fronts -- in this case the home front -- to discredit the President and the war effort. What joy, then, to find a jewel like Jules, a former embed who's been there and done that and has the sources and resources to ferret out the facts, ma'am, just the facts. Unlike his CBS counterparts who have all the answers, he ends up with more questions than answers. We'll quote a few tasty tidbits and then urge you to treat yourself to the whole thing. His assessment is -- pardon our French -- nuanced and deserves a full hearing:
Our returning soldiers are viewed as damaged goods, their accomplishments ignored. The holidays we dedicate to them have long been excuses for trips to the beach and the mall, ignored by the vast majority of our population. The dire threats to world peace our soldiers have combated, from communists to Muslim terrorists and would-be nuclear despots, are fabricated excuses to seize oil supplies, drive up corporate profits and undermine constitutional freedoms. War, even when it might be justified, produces unacceptable tragedy and debases us. Patriotic display is disconcerting. Our children are not encouraged to develop the strength and courage of warriors, are discouraged from playing at war, and efforts are made to keep recruiters away from them . . .
CBS, for whom Edward R. Murrow once broadcast from the rooftops of London, inspiring Americans who would soon find themselves called to war, posits a GI suicide epidemic. This is not CBS reporting on a scholarly study. It is CBS conducting its own study. Not surprisingly, while it makes a great gotcha, it is somewhat limited in its scope, and questionable in its findings . . .
The predominant storyline of war in our time has not been one of volunteers struggling and triumphing over adversity. It has been about victimhood, quagmires and failure. Whether the facts fit the description or not.
The controversy arose as payments for PTSD disability-benefit claims increased from $1.7 billion in 1999 to $4.3 billion last year , disbursed to 215,871 veterans. The rise is due less to current warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq than to Vietnam-era veterans. The VA wants to know whether there are really more cases of PTSD developing now, 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War, or if some veterans are exaggerating symptoms to claim up to $2,300 a month in disability payments.
The current increase in disability claims may be due to chronic PTSD that has existed since the war or to delayed presentation after earlier symptoms, she said, but PTSD may also serve as a "comforting cultural narrative" for life failure, induced by a "victim culture," or a crutch for "folks who need a retirement plan."
A far cry from the days when, in Crittenden's words, "To be a battle-tested warrior [was] considered a necessary right of
passage for men":
To accomplish something in battle, to exert leadership
and demonstrate courage, was to stand as an example. Songs would be
sung about such a man. There are still some vestiges of that. But the inspirational tales
of great warriors are replaced by cautionary tales of victimhood.