Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Thinking of Dinky

This has been a strange month or so, breaking up my mother's house. So many of her treasures are up here in Maine with me now, but so many were left behind.

My mother had a talent, before the onset of Alzheimer's, of picking the most colorful, vibrant materials and creating a warm and quirky environment. She spent her life in busy, energetic pursuit of life.

She was widowed at 53, when my father, her first real love, died at 56, of cancer. She hadn't held a job in twenty seven years. Her first foray into the working world, as a kitchen lady in South Ocean Avenue's Junior High School, ended in misery, because her meticulousness was not considered efficient. She went on to be a reading aide volunteer in the classrooms of that school, and felt rewarded for a time.

My mother was such a saver! She managed, in her lifetime, to keep the house she and my dad had purchased together, to accumulate a good-sized bank account, and to travel to distant places, all without holding a regular job. Amazing mother. Awesomely "frugal"....she was the embodiment of Simple Living.

When my children were younger, Dink decided she would give her daughter and son-in-law a break, and took up babysitting on Friday nights. Oh, what a blessing! We could go out and stay out LATE, and sleep in on Saturdays. She made for some memorable weekends.

Just wanted to remember her on her death day. On this day two years ago, while I was visiting my granddaughter in Brooklyn, Dink left us. My sister Joanne, thank God, was there with her. I'm about to call my sis to remember with her the events of that day.

Dorrie was a good girl. She gave life her all. I miss her.

Paul Vitello, Newsday, on Rudy Giuliani's Money-Making Machine

Sorry George W, you are no Rudy G

Paul Vitello

August 26, 2004

If a political convention can be said to have a living patron saint, next week's Republican National Convention will have one named Rudolph Giuliani.

He speaks on Monday night, but his spirit will permeate the week.

Sept. 11 is the emotional core of the convention. It takes place as close to the third anniversary as presidential politics and common decency would allow.

And Giuliani was the CEO of Sept. 11 from the moment the planes hit. Firefighters, police officers and construction workers may have done the heavy lifting. But it is Giuliani's name most Americans conjure when remembering the great human wave of resourcefulness and decency that splashed back over the devastation that day.

Giuliani may not have invented 9/11 heroism but he gave it a face.

And then he patented it.

In the nearly three years since he left office, he has become a walking for-profit corporation of 9/11-ism.

9/11 is the authority behind his $100,000-a-pop speaking career. It is the ballast that turns his pretty ordinary observations about life into a million-selling book, "Leadership." It is the source of the celebrity that makes Giuliani Associates, his security consulting firm, a cash machine:

He's been hired to clean up crime in Mexico City, hired to draft anti-terror measures for the broken-down, leaky Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant; hired to decontaminate anthrax-polluted office buildings.

Most recently, he was hired by the pharmaceutical industry to examine the possibility of contamination or terrorism reaching out to grab us by the throats in those drugs imported from Canada.

Whether those threats are real - and whether Giuliani can do anything about them anyway - may be beside the point. Giuliani issues blessings of "security" like a priest swinging incense, and his clients seem willing to buy his blessings for the appearance of "security" they represent.

Standing this year with the mayor of Boca Raton, Fla., as a crew started pumping sterilization chemicals into an anthrax-contaminated building, Giuliani said his work would be "a symbol that we can deal with these new risks we live with in our world."

When he comes to the convention, Giuliani joins forces with another enterprise that has harnessed 9/11 to its cart.

This is the national government of George W. Bush, which has done with the resources of a nation what Giuliani can only imitate in miniature.

Bush, too, while possibly unable to do much against the true threat of modern terrorism, has made the most of the danger for his own gain, in his case political rather than financial.

He has shut the doors on public access to government business - curtailing freedom of information, blocking congressional efforts to examine executive decisions, privatizing the military in a way unprecedented in history - all in the name of 9/11.

On the strength of support given him after the terror attacks, he pushed through tax cuts that, if anything, hurt his so-called war on terror.

He launched a war in Iraq in the name of 9/11 without evidence of a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. Thousands of Iraqis and almost 1,000 Americans are dead as a result.

In a parody of protection, his government periodically terrifies the public with warnings of terror threats. To date, these have increased ownership of duct tape and bottled water, and accomplished little else. All in the name of 9/11.

Just by coming to New York - by standing for the photo op at Ground Zero - Bush will be making 9/11 and all its victims his running mates.

Say what you will about Giuliani - and I haven't said anything nice so far - as mercenaries go he is a piker and a saint by comparison with his president.

Copyright (c) 2004, Newsday, Inc.


This article originally appeared at:

Visit Newsday online at http://www.newsday.com

Lost Sons of Scotland

For all the lost sons
The death of her soldier son in Iraq has given Scottish mother the passion to take her anti-war cries public


August 30, 2004, 7:28 PM EDT

GLASGOW, Scotland -- Tony Blair's letter of condolence dropped through the letterbox that morning at 52 Templeland Rd., the run-down, government-owned apartment in one of the poorest corners of Britain that was home to 19-year-old Gordon Gentle.

"It is a heavy responsibility to send young soldiers into war and I assure you I didn't take the decision lightly," Blair had written to Gentle's parents, Rose and George.

Only hours later, Rose found herself in Blair's home at 10 Downing St., sitting on a plush couch next to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was filling in for Blair while the prime minister was on a luxury vacation in Italy.

"You can give that back to Tony Blair; it's no good to me," she told Prescott as she threw Blair's letter at him. Her son was the last coalition soldier killed before the handover of power to the interim Iraqi government on June 28. He was the 60th British soldier to die in Iraq. He was Gentle's only son. And she had come to London that day earlier this month to vent her fury and to beg the prime minister to pull Britain's troops out of Iraq so no more mothers would have to go through her hell.

Moments after throwing the letter at an apparently surprised Prescott, the bereaved mother, who works as a cleaner at a shopping center, stood up and walked out on the acting prime minister of her country. Her daughter Maxine, 14, left behind another letter to await the return of the absent Blair.

"I don't just blame his death on the Iraqis that made the bomb," Maxine wrote to Blair. "I blame you, for agreeing with Bush that we had to go to war when we didn't."

By the time the Gentle family woke up the next morning, Rose and Maxine's words, and photographs of them leaving Blair's office, were all over the national news media. Blair and his Labor Party government have long faced massive public opposition to his decision to join the United States in the war in Iraq, but never before had the issue of British casualties struck such a chord. As the months pass and the casualties climb, the parents of soldiers are beginning to speak up -- often against the war. This time, the passion of one grieving mother appeared to carry more weight than any of the anti-war protests mounted by demonstrators in recent months.

"Rose has become the face of ... the moral authority because she has paid the price and in a very short time she has become a representative for the pain and the anger and the outrage that this war has provoked," said the Rev. John Mann, minister at the Gentles' local church, St. James'. Mann is an American Presbyterian minister who left Minneapolis to come to Glasgow, Britain's poorest city, in January so he could "serve a church where no one had voted for George Bush."

"She's the face of loss," Mann said, sitting in his living room, gray Scottish rain keeping his front garden green in a typically wet August. "She is digging in her heels. She's angry and she's going to do something about it. And she has allies that are coming to her cause."

Gentle followed up her visit to Downing Street by declaring that she wasn't going to fade away, that she was going to put together an anti-war coalition of other parents of British troops killed in Iraq. And Tuesday, she is due to announce the details of a lawsuit she plans to file against the British government claiming that the army did not do all it could have and should have to protect her son from the kind of roadside bomb that killed him in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

"I'll give him a run for his money," Gentle said last week, sitting in her flat in the Pollok housing project in south Glasgow, Scotland's largest city. "I think they'll think, 'Oh, a couple of weeks and they'll give up ... ' I'll just keep petitioning and petitioning, putting it under his face every chance I've got."

Grieving mothers of soldiers killed in unpopular wars often find that their voices carry more weight than anyone else's in debates about the justification for war. Four Israeli mothers whose sons died in the occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s sparked an ultimately successful campaign to bring about the end of that part of the Arab/Israeli conflict. And director Michael Moore devotes much of the latter portion of his film "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the mother of a soldier from Michigan killed in Iraq.

Critics of both Moore's film and Gentle's public fury have argued that soldiers like Gordon Gentle were adults who made knowing, adult decisions to volunteer for the military. In Gentle's case, he joined the British Army in November 2003, long after the start of the war in Iraq. He arrived in Iraq in May and was dead by the end of June.

One commentator in Britain's Sunday Telegraph wrote: "Soldiers are not like ordinary civilians. They forfeit the right to make the vital decisions over their own lives."

But, like Moore, Rose Gentle and her supporters have criticized the recruitment methods of the British military, saying recruiters deliberately go after working-class youths without the economic choices that a fair society should offer them.

"He's just a classical economical conscript," said George McNeilage, a family friend and local community leader.

Gordon Gentle grew up in Pollok, one of four vast housing projects that circle the traditionally working-class city of Glasgow. His father works fixing roads.

Forty thousand people live in Pollok's high-rise buildings and decaying two-story houses. It's tough enough in the Gentles' neighborhood to have persuaded the elders at St. James' to install metal grates and bars over the stained-glass windows.

Heroin addiction is common, violence endemic. A Bristol University study from 1999 found that Pollok had the fourth highest mortality rate in the United Kingdom, the fifth highest unemployment level and the sixth highest number of permanently sick residents. Other studies estimate that more than 80 percent of residents receive some form of government benefit.

Gordon Gentle was at a local unemployment office to pick up his benefit check of $72 per week when he and a friend spotted the recruiting officers for the Royal Highland Fusilliers. They were, McNeilage says, the only employers ever to set up a table at the office.

"It shows you videos," said Rose Gentle, referring to the army. "Travel and see the world. It doesnae say go away and go straight into a war."

Gordon was paid $450 per week, his mother said, a fortune for a boy from Pollok who left school at 16 and had no prospects of a career. What he most wanted from the army, his parents said, was to learn to drive and to become a mechanic. "That was his main thing: his driving license," his mother said. "He kept saying, 'I'll come back and have a big fancy car.'"

Rose did everything she could to dissuade him from joining up.

"I says, 'You're mad. Don't do it.' I'd have even preferred for him to be a street cleaner. I was watching Iraq on the news, even before Gordon signed up. I thought, 'Why? Why should he be allowed to put other people in when it's not their war, when his own family's sitting in the house?' It's different for him: He's got the money to keep his kids going. We're only working-class people. He can keep his kids home." Blair has four children. His oldest, Euan, 20, is a student at Bristol University and Nicky, 18, is starting at Oxford this fall.

Gordon never read newspapers or watched the news on television, his parents said. He knew nothing about politics or world affairs. He just wanted to get out of Pollok and poverty.

One of the hundreds of letters the family has received since Gordon's death echoes that impulse. "My son has just turned 21," wrote another Glasgow mother whose son is serving in Iraq. "In my eyes they're still little boys who joined the army for a better life away from Glasgow."

Rose Gentle concedes, though, that her son -- a middle child between sisters -- enjoyed the camaraderie of the army. He did get to travel -- to Cyprus and then the Middle East -- and in his eulogy, Mann noted that Gordon "took great pride in his military service." In numerous photographs from his basic training and from Iraq, Gordon looks happy and excited.

His life came to an end on the morning of June 28, as the powerful men in Baghdad were arranging a hurried transfer of sovereignty. Gordon's Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb, and his chest took most of the blast.

Rose noticed on the news that morning that a British soldier had been killed. She looked at the body lying on the road and then went to work. She was sitting in a cafe before work started when an army officer called her on her cell phone and asked where she was.

On July 7, the American minister presided over the funeral. When Mann, in his Midwest accent, delivered a eulogy to Gordon that was full of fury and grabbed the headlines in Britain, he was speaking to a receptive audience.

"To those whom I would say are ultimately responsible, President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, I have only three words to say and may they someday be inscribed upon the tablet of your hearts."

The American church man paused before his new Scottish flock before saying those three words: "Shame on you."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.