Sunday, September 30, 2007

Island 'Offshoots'

As the week ends, we don't want to overlook a depressingly candid remark caught a few days ago by the cameras of local TV station WEAR-TV. In a short segment about two new high-rise hotels planned for Pensacola Beach, hotel designer Jeff Townsend was quoted as saying --
"As the market increases, as our group business builds, we'll just continue to build out our core, and that has to be developed before you look at off-shoots at other parts of the island."
There is a saying in poker that goes something like this: If you don't know who the sucker at the table is, then it's you. On Pensacola Beach, if you don't know whose property is an "offshoot" then it's yours. Or the one next door.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

'Shellshocked' in Gulf Breeze

Abby Goodnough bats clean-up on the Roy Atchison story in Saturday's edition of the New York Times, with an assist from Terry Aguayo of Miami and "Mari Krueger from Gulf Breeze, Fla."

The headline for the story is "Town Is Shaken After Prosecutor’s Arrest in a Child-Sex Sting." Oddly, it carries a three day old dateline.

Here's the lede and a snippet of what follows:
To neighbors here, J. D. Roy Atchison was a deft federal prosecutor, an involved father and a devoted volunteer, coaching girls’ softball and basketball teams year in and year out.

His wife is a popular science teacher; his youngest daughter, an honors student who was on her high school homecoming court last year. Their house, with rocking chairs on the porch, oaks in the yard and a wrought-iron fence, is among the prettiest in town.

Butin an instant last week, the community pillar became an object of community loathing. Mr. Atchison, 53, was arrested getting off a plane in Detroit on Sept. 16 and charged with the unthinkable. The authorities there said he was carrying a doll and petroleum jelly, and that he had arranged with an undercover agent to have sex with a 5-year-old girl.

Now Mr. Atchison is awaiting trial in a federal prison in Michigan, and the people of Gulf Breeze, an affluent bayside suburb in the Florida Panhandle, are outraged, baffled and repulsed.

The rest is also pretty much what we've come to expect. Two local lawyers attest to Atchison's professional reputation, which comes down to "a little eccentric, but nothing perverted or weird." Buzz Eddy once again 'scours his memory' for any clues that Atchison was not what he seemed and, again, he comes up empty. The Gulf Breeze police once more report that "no one" locally "has come forward with accusations of abuse" by Atchison in the past.

And two or three previously obscure locals get their allotted 15 words of fame, one of whom uses it to say, "They ought to torch this guy.” Not specified was whether the 'torching' should come before or after the trial.

In other words, Goodnough doesn't uncover anything that wasn't known already and reported elsewhere, except that the Times' chief Florida bureau reporter, who also is the author of "Ms. Moffett's First Year: Becoming a Teacher in America", does add a little about Atchison's teacher-wife:

Around town, praise flowed for Mr. Atchison’s wife, Barbara, who teaches anatomy at Gulf Breeze High School but took a leave of absence after his arrest. She won the town’s teacher-of-the-year award in 2004. Several people said she was as stunned as anyone by the news.

"She’s shellshocked," said Deputy Chief Randle, who went with F.B.I. agents to execute a search warrant on the Atchison home, where they seized at least one computer. "She’s just floored."

Rick Outzen of the weekly Independent News tried just as hard, using similar sources and even his own son (a freshman at Gulf Breeze High) but he came up just as stumped as everyone else.

Either Roy Atchison was a monster nobody ever really knew or something catastrophic recently happened inside his brain. There doesn't seem to be any third explanation.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Myanmar Signs of "Male Military Vanity"

In a refreshingly unrestrained backgrounder piece on the rising unrest in Burma (aka Myanmar), a NY Times reporter describes the ruling military junta as "made up mostly of unsophisticated former field commanders." Then, he adds this:
“They are extremely hunkered down, delusional, paranoid and probably afraid at the moment about what could possibly happen,” said David Mathieson, a Human Rights Watch expert on Myanmar, formerly Burma.
* * *
“It is a fantasyland of male military vanity, the embodiment of their own delusions of grandeur,” Mr. Mathieson said. The place is a spick-and-span wasteland of broad, empty avenues, monumental buildings, military installations and at least one golf course.

Wait, wait! "...and at least one golf course?" That's a sign of "male military vanity?"

Well, maybe in Myanmar. For sure, it's unlikely Aung San Suu Kyi has had much opportunity to practice her drives while under house arrest for a dozen years.

For those who would like to know more about Burma's bunkers and traps, don't bother going to the web site for Myanmar Golf. All the news entries are about Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and the U.S.

"We will be following major golfing events in Myanmar," the web site promises. So far, however, the links to the "Local Golf Scene" in Myanmar are dead.

Maybe those macho military males of Myanmar are just too busy beating up and shooting defenseless monks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Al Gore's Fall

This Fall promises to be a busy time for Al Gore. Among a long string of other prestigious awards, he's an official nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The winner will be officially announced on October 12.

Even dyspeptic Christopher Hitchens thinks Gore is a shoo-in:
So, and if I am right, the former vice president will then complete a year in which An Inconvenient Truth has been awarded an Oscar and he has authored a best seller. Roll it round your tongue again: an Oscar, a best seller, and a Nobel Prize in the space of 12 months or so. Not bad.
Hitchens also might have mentioned, had he been sober enough to notice, that earlier this year Gore was awarded Spain's "Prince of Asturias Award" for "international cooperation" -- that nation's equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. And, just this month the Sierra Club gave Gore its John Muir Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed by that venerable organization. And we haven't even mentioned the Emmy Award Gore collected for his Current TV venture.

All of this has inspired a number of commentators, Hitchens among them, to speculate that if Gore does win the Nobel he'll announce whether he will be a candidate for U.S. president within a few days after that. Writes Hitchens:
Several people, some of them well-informed, have been saying to me that Gore will wait until the Nobel committee's announcement before he makes up his mind. Should he make up his mind to run, he could alter the entire equation
Note: Hitchens' sources haven't said he'll run if he wins the Nobel; just that he'll make an announcement one way or another. Brent Budowsky, writing for the Huffington Post, says either way "it will be a powerful transforming event in American politics that will bring a surge of patriotism and pride to a nation that has been torn by war, divided by partisanship, trapped in a quagmire and alienated from what Jefferson called the decent opinion of mankind."
Let's set aside for now the question of whether Al Gore runs for President, which is unlikely though world events can change our politics in a heartbeat.

The more important matter is what happens to our national dialogue and our democracy if indeed the Nobel Prize is awarded to Gore.

From the moment his award is announced through his speech in December accepting the prize, Al Gore will be the most influential living American in defining the terms of our national debate.

Maybe so, but that isn't enough for the millions of Gore supporters. They want more than "influence" for Al Gore; they want him to have the power of the presidency.

With that fervent hope in mind, almost entirely unnoticed by the mainstream media, the effort to "draft" Al Gore suddenly has picked up the pace. As Daily Green reported earlier this week --
Several groups have coalesced around the idea of drafting Al Gore to run for president of the United States. The new group, America for Gore, now includes some smaller groups that had made waves in political circles — including,, Netroots for Gore,, and
The evidence is now visible on the front page of the new America For Gore web site. It can also be seen in the effort now underway in Michigan, as the Detroit News reported Monday, "to deliver 12,396 valid signatures to the Michigan secretary of State by Oct. 23" along with a sworn affidavit from the candidate himself.

Kos diary writer "fink" has the details of Al Gore's appointment schedule. What it shows is that a normally whirlwind calendar filled with international appearances, speeches, interviews, and other commitments goes suddenly near-dark the last two weeks in October.
Has Al Gore stopped booking new events? Are his booking agents on hold? Will he simply be working on his new book? We can not say of course.

But either way you look at it, he is underbooked after the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. And that is when most people agree has to shit or get off the pot. Looking at his calendar, Al Gore HAS THE OPTION of announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination and running for President. He would have a couple international events to cancel but he would ample time to give notice.

Not to force fuel onto this fire, but we noticed the other day that for the last eleven months no less a luminary than Howard Metzenbaum -- former U.S. senator from Ohio, current D.C. lobbyist, and father of Al Gore's partner in the Current TV channel venture -- has had reserved the internet domain name of "". The registration expires on October 15, 2007 (though it can be renewed). You can see it right here after entering the random security code.

Or, take a look at this screen-shot:

Not that we are predicting Al Gore will announce his candidacy by then. We're not at all sure he would have much chance of winning the next presidential election, assuming Cheney lets us have one. He may know it, too.

The more international awards and intellectual prizes Al Gore wins, the slimmer grow his chances of winning an election. By now, American voters have been thoroughly conditioned by cable news and political beauty contest reporters to judge their candidates by which one they'd rather have a beer with, rather than which one is smarter, works harder, or has better ideas.

The last guy they want to rub elbows with at a bar is some smarty-pants who not only reads books but actually writes them, too. And when they find out he's won an Oscar, an Emmy, and the Nobel Peace Prize, they'll just want to take him into an alley and punch him out.

Shear Relief

There's a lot of late season tropical action in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and southwestern Gulf of Mexico today. Almost all of it, though, is expected to encounter wind shear. That's good news, especially for the eastern and central Gulf Coast.
  • Tropical Storm Karen likely will be steered northwest toward the Bahamas or the U.S.East Coast, if it survives at all.
  • T.D. 13 is threatening only the Mexican coast, and at that it isn't really much of a threat.
  • All but one computer model shows Invest 97L weakening under shear conditions and at most bringing rain to south Florida.
  • Even if 98L reaches tropical storm status it's likely to be a weak one and never make it into the Gulf.
Maybe the place Pensacola Beach people want to watch is what's coming off the suddenly active African coast. Wunderblog's Jeff Masters reports:
"This tropical wave is under about 10 knots of wind shear, and has some potential for development over the next few days. Most of the computer models forecast that a tropical depression will form off the coast of Africa in the next 2-5 days."
If you thrill to imagining tropical bogeymen, take a look at this satellite image of the eastern Atlantic from early today:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Post of the Week

It's only Tuesday, but this week's winner of Post of the Week is Jon Swift for "Let's Show Amadinejad What America Stands For." Here's a short snippet:

"Maybe they just let anyone speak at universities in Iran but that's not the American way. * * * People in the Middle East respect strength not weakness. By insulting Ahmadinejad and rebuffing his attempts at dialogue, we gain his respect. If we want to have peace in the Middle East, humiliating their leaders and refusing to talk to them is a good first step."

There is more, including a salute to Rudi Giuliani:
"If anyone should know how sacred Ground Zero is to Americans, it would be Giuliani, who was there just as much as, if not more than, the rescue workers were, taking such dignitaries and celebrities as Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, Donald Rumsfeld and many others on guided tours of this consecrated burial ground. Of course, it is unconscionable for a politician to use Ground Zero for a photo op... ."

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Man Nobody Knew

Sunday's Miami Herald has one of the better written pieces we've seen about Assistant U.S. Attorney Roy Atchison's arrest on federal charges related to crossing state lines in an attempt to have sex with a 5 year old. Reporter Mary Ellen Klas was in the area several days late last week, trying to find the story that lies behind the story.

She knows what that story is: Who was this guy, really?

Aptly, her article begins with an almost lyrical passage describing the "picture perfect" exterior of the Atchisons' Gulf Breeze home. It could stand as a metaphor of the man's seemingly picture perfect life -- until last week.
The courtly colonial house with its wraparound porch and fishing boat in the back is perfectly situated in this close-knit beach town.

Twenty years ago, John D. Roy Atchison, a young prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office, picked this idyllic spot a block from the beach to build a home and raise a family. He fished in Pensacola Bay, coached girls basketball and softball, and dedicated himself to the community sports association just blocks from their home, while his wife, Barbara, taught honors science classes at Gulf Breeze High.

In contrast, the criminal charges Atchison now faces, as Klas writes, "paint a portrait of a man nobody in this small town even recognizes." Just as the house itself is now tightly shuttered against prying eyes.

In the end, Ms. Klas seems to have wound up as mystified as friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other locals are. Nothing she uncovered in Atchison's prior life even remotely hints at someone capable of committing the acts for which he has been indicted. As it appears -- for now, at least -- no one else can find any past signs or forewarnings of what was to come, either.

Writes Klas:
It's not unusual for there to be more issues other than the chat room,'' said Macomb County Sheriff Mark A. Hackel in Detroit. Among them, he said, is the possibility there may be child victims and involvement with child pornography.

That possibility has racked the Gulf Breeze town of 5,800 with worry and doubt.

''I've gone back mentally and reviewed everything we've done,'' said Buz Eddy, Gulf Breeze's city manager whose office is lined with team photos of his daughter's sports, including teams Atchison coached.

'If he would have called and said, `I'm taking a bunch of girls fishing in Destin for the weekend, can your daughter go?' I wouldn't have had any hesitation,'' said Eddy. "We've never seen anything like this from Roy, particularly from his demeanor and his profession. Shock isn't a strong enough word.''

Police have assured the community that no one has come forward to allege abuse by Atchison. The Gulf Breeze Sports Association, of which Atchison served as president until Monday, offered similar assurances.

The reporter did find some small evidence of newly expressed community hostility toward the once-respected Assistant U.S. Attorney who is now sitting in a Michigan jail under suicide watch.

Since news of the arrest, Atchison's well-kept house on Shoreline Drive has been egged by high-schoolers. His wife, a popular teacher who recently won teacher-of-the-year honors, has taken a leave of absence. His youngest daughter, a senior at Gulf Breeze High, has not returned to school all week.

And, of course, net-thugs can be found on countless message boards volunteering to personally dismember the defendant even before he is tried and convicted.

Everyone here is acutely aware, as city manager Buzz Eddy told the Northwest Florida Daily News, that with investigations continuing "someone" could "come forward with an accusation tomorrow." Or not. There simply is no way to know.

But local support for the family of the Assistant U.S. Attorney remains strong. Last week, Gulf Breeze High seniors hung a large sympathy banner, or perhaps more accurately it could be described as a solidarity banner, inside the school. And almost everyone else in Gulf Breeze, sensibly, is reserving judgment until all of the facts are known.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Katherine Harris' Malaprop

Florida's Blast Off! has a good catch from Katherine Harris' latest Christian Revival party:
Speaking about the war in Iraq, she said that some mistakes were made, but that "hindsight is 50/50."*
* Kitty, the phrase you're looking for is "Hindsight is 20/20." You know, like eyesight?
Remember, this is the person who decided the 2000 presidential election.

Shorter Storm Report

Calling All W.W. II Vets

To share your WWII story with WSRE, please call (850) 484-1236, 1-800-239-9773 or e-mail
PBS stations around the nation, including Pensacola's WSRE-TV, this Sunday evening will begin airing Ken Burns' latest documentary "The War." It's about the American experience in W.W. II.

Unlike other Burns documentaries, this 7-part series doesn't attempt a comprehensive history of the war itself in all its diplomatic, military, and social dimensions. Instead, it concentrates on the two theaters of war in which America was most engaged, Europe and the Pacific, and the "extraordinary tales" of "ordinary people," as a promo for the series describes.

Burns lately has been on tour, explaining that he embarked on making the film with some sense of urgency because the men and women who lived through the "good war" are elderly, now, and dying at an alarming rate. He wants to preserve as many of their stories for later generations as possible. This has inspired local PBS affiliate WSRE-TV to do the same.

It well may be there are more retired W.W. II veterans, per capita, here in the Florida panhandle than anywhere else in the world. So, the local educational TV station has put out a general call for "World War II veterans, their families and citizens who lived through the conflict." They want to preserve your personal memories of that truly momentous time in our nation's history:
Here's what we have planned in conjunction with The War: Producing a local documentary about the impact of World War II on the Gulf Coast Area. On-air vignettes featuring local World War II veterans, their families and citizens who lived through the conflict. These vignettes will begin airing in July and run through November.

A special television program created from the vignettes called "Gulf Coast War Memories" will air later this year.
The station also is partnering "with the Library of Congress to facilitate a training workshop for teachers, students, families and individuals to instruct them on gathering oral histories from veterans."

Before her death just last week, Lil Kamphus, thankfully, was interviewed by WSRE-TV. Her fascinating W.W. II memories will be included in one of the local supplements to be aired immediately following the Burns documentary. Although she is sorely missed by all who knew her, it's a comfort to know that some part of Lil's life will always be with us.

Just knocking around the beach and in town we've met and become friends with several other W.W. II veterans. We know there are many thousands more who live elsewhere, now, but passed through the Pensacola area at some point during the war.

"Ordinary people?" Perhaps, but almost all of them really did have extraordinary experiences. For the benefit of future generations, it's imperative their memories be preserved.

Regardless of where you may live, if you are a vet, or know someone who is, please contact WSRE-TV at the phone or email numbers above. We ask for just this one last act in service to your country: tell us how it really was.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Hurricane Claims

In a ruling that reverses last year's court of appeals decision in Florida Farm Bureau Casualty Co. v. Cox, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously rejected a Santa Rosa County homeowners' claim for policy limits under a flood insurance policy when the home was destroyed by a combination of wind and water. The full opinion is here [pdf format].

The court also expressly "disapproved" of the so-called Mierzwa doctrine, upon which thousands of home owners in Northwest Florida, alone, have been counting in hopes of being able to rebuild their homes after Hurricane Ivan devastated the region in 2004. The Mierzwa doctrine got its name after a case decided by a South Florida district appeals court, which as St. John explains, "had ruled that under Florida's valued policy law, insurers must pay policy limits when a covered property is destroyed, even if the damage was partly caused by an uncovered peril."

"Score one for the insurance industry," writes Paige St. John in the Ft. Myers News-Press. And it's a huge one. Industry lobbyists already are crowing that the ruling makes them "very, very happy."

In addition to the Cox's, who live near Milton, an estimated 400 homeowners on Pensacola Beach are likely to be adversely affected by yesterday's court decision. Another 15,000 policyholders elsewhere in the Panhandle and mid-Florida are potentially affected, at least as of 18 months ago according to one attorney who was handling a class action based on the same Mierzwa doctrine.

As reporter St. John explains --
As a result of the law change, homeowners today must collect separate loss payments from wind and flood insurers, who do not always agree on their share of the damage.

Lawyers who handle those cases say it is often difficult to prove, when there is nothing left but a foundation, how much damage the wind did.

The state supreme court's opinion fails to acknowledge what every Floridian who has been through the hurricane claims process knows all too well: Adjusters for wind insurers typically say, as local attorney Robert M. Heath wrote some time ago, 'Sorry, ma'am, your damage was caused by flood and we don't cover flood.' Adjusters for the flood insurer will say, contrariwise, 'Sorry, ma'am, your damage was caused by wind and we don't cover wind.'

Almost certainly the court's ruling will further empower casualty insurance companies who've grown fat in the past two years on gargantuan premium increases which were approved, in part, in response to their argument that larger reserves would be needed to cover future Mierzwa claims. Yet, if a casualty insurance company has ever made a settlement offer to resolve a claim, it's a sure bet they'll offer even less, now, than before.

No doubt, the Florida Supreme Court assumes that insurance companies will be reasonable when it comes to demanding proof of what was destroyed by wind and what was destroyed by water. But as Dickens' Mr. Bumble says in Oliver Twist, "If the law supposes that, then the law is a ass."

We've heard something else from a number of coastal residents that's very worrisome. Quite a few of those who have been, shall we say, skeptical about the eventual outcome of any Florida court decision that pits the insurance industry against individual homeowners, have said they simply will not evacuate when the next killer hurricane approaches. Only then, so they hope, will they have a fightin' chance to satisfy the courts' demand for precise proof about what, when, and how specific damage was done by the twin hurricane forces of wind and water.

They will be their own eye witnesses. That is, if they manage to live through the storm.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Atchison's Health: What We Don't Know

Today's news only deepens the tragedy that has befallen the Roy Atchison family. The Pensacola lawyer, arrested Sunday in Detroit as part of an F.B.I. sex predator sting operation, tried to hang himself in his cell early this morning, according to the Detroit Free News.
The 4 a.m. suicide attempt came only one day after Atchison asked a federal judge to take him off a suicide watch and assured her he would not try to harm himself.

Atchison tied a sheet around his neck, but the suicide attempt was discovered by sheriff's deputies before he had a chance to harm himself, Sheriff Virgil Strickler said today.

The tragedy that has befallen Assistant U.S. Attorney Roy Atchison and his Gulf Breeze family doubtless has many dimensions. The general public knows almost none of these, in truth. All that is known, when one looks at it critically, is very sketchy:

  • Atchison is a widely admired husband with a long history of working with a children's sports association.
  • Unlike most sexual deviants, there was no known manifestation, until now, that Atchison harbored any pedophiliac thoughts or urges. Yet, he has been arrested on horrific-sounding charges of crossing state lines with intent to have sex with a five year old girl.
  • Allegations that for nearly a month he engaged in on-line messaging back and forth certainly reflect a paraphiliac condition.
  • Many long-time friends and fellow parents in Gulf Breeze who have personally known Atchison for decades are shocked, or worse, at the news about a man they liked and trusted. They never had a clue, apparently, and even thinking back can't see one.
  • So far, as it seems, no one locally claims to have had so much as an inkling Atchison ever harbored untoward or sexual feelings toward children.
  • No one is able to explain how attorney Atchison could have become so suddenly, as it seems, ensnared in such a horrific situation after nearly 53 full years of blameless life.

We must remind ourselves, too, that at this writing there is not so much as a shred of a fact or even a rumor that Atchison has ever injured anyone of any age. The five year old girl in Detroit was a myth; the supposed mother of that child was merely an "online undercover persona" created by an FBI agent for the sting operation. Although Atchison in on-line chats allegedly "suggested" he had "previously had sex with minors" at this writing no fact has been revealed to show that such a "suggestion" was true.

Putting aside the question of guilt -- because, after all, under our legal system Atchison must be considered innocent until proven guilty -- there are reasons to suspect from all of this that something even more tragic may lie behind Atchison's actions in stepping off the plane in Detroit "with a Dora the Explorer doll, hoop earrings and petroleum jelly," as USA Today reports.

What if Atchison's on-line 'boasting' of previous experience was a lie grounded in a fantasy? What if he was acting out another fantasy with the Dora doll? Isn't it possible -- perhaps more than possible -- that Atchison was an upstanding citizen for all of his 53 years until something highly unusual happened in just the last few weeks or months?

We don't have a medical or psychiatric license, but from what we can unearth on short notice via the internet, it looks to us like the psychiatric world doesn't know much about paraphilia, either. As one recent researcher admits, the professionals don't even know the frequency and incidence of "hypersexual" desire:

Although hypersexual desire, a quantitative measure of enacted sexual behaviours, may be a meaningful construct for clinically derived samples, the incidence and prevalence of hypersexual desire in community samples of males with paraphilias and paraphilia-related disorders is unknown.

Nor can they agree, even among themselves, whether it should be included in the DSM as a mental illness diagnosis. Much less do they agree on the underlying cause(s).

The world of shrinks just doesn't know enough about this kind of behavior. But at least some research in the past few years suggests that in a minority of older men a sudden change in sexual appetite and interest can be traceable to dramatically "increased (or decreased) dopamine neurotransmission" and "central serotonin activity." In turn, changes in dopamine neurotransmission can be caused by organic changes in the brain brought on by lesions, disease, genetic disorders, or a comparatively rare type of dementia such as Pick's Disease. In these unfortunates, the organic changes lead directly to dramatic changes in the chemistry of the brain.

We know no more facts about the Atchison matter than you can find for yourself in the library or on the internet. And we're not making excuses for anyone. Nor are we in any way minimizing the horrific nature of the behavior Atchison is alleged to have exhibited.

But we would like to see a stop to all those cranks commentators out there who are so very quick to pollute the world wide web with their own sick fantasies about how Atchison should be tortured and executed without a trial. (No links provided -- there are plenty of comments of that character to be seen on-line; find them yourself, if you must).

And, we'd also like to see Atchison's Michigan lawyer get him an expert medical work-up, fast. Just as does the law, we presume Atchison is innocent of a crime. But we'll make no presumption he is free of disease.

Weather Watchers Waiting

On one hand, there's the National Hurricane Center and Accuweather:

A weak low pressure system moving across Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico could become a tropical cyclone later today.
* * * echoes the NHC's assessment and goes on to say that the system could become a tropical storm by Friday. Accuweather predicts that the resulting storm will affect, "...the central Gulf Coast, possibly somewhere between Apalachiocola and New Orleans, late Friday or early Saturday."

On the other hand, Wunder Blog says:
Since landfall is expected Saturday between the Florida Panhandle and Southeast Louisiana, 93L probably does not have time to become fully tropical. If 93L makes landfall Saturday, it should not have winds stronger than about 55 mph. The GFDL, HWRF, and SHIPS intensity models all keep 93L's winds below 55 mph.

If the storm spends an extra day over water and makes it to Texas, as the ECMWF model predicts, 93L could become fully tropical and make landfall as a strong tropical storm with 60-70 mph winds. However, there is plenty of dry air in the environment, and I don't think the storm will be able to intensify to a strong tropical storm.

The primary threat from 93L will be heavy rain, and the northern Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Texas border can expect a soaking from this system.
We're betting on wet, but not wild.

Atchison in the Gulf Breeze News

It's looking as if the story of the Assistant U.S. Attorney who's also a Gulf Breeze resident isn't going to go away in these parts for some time to come. Today, the weekly Gulf Breeze News weighs in on the coverage with not much new other than the reactions of friends and neighbors.

All of them apparently insisted on anonymity:
Those who know Roy Atchison say the reports out of Michigan must be describing a different person than the community leader and family man they know.

"He's squeaky clean," said one local official, on condition of anonymity. Another says there was no indication of any untoward behavior on his part as a coach and president of the Gulf Breeze Sports Association (GBSA).

Some associates remain hopeful that Atchison will be exonerated from a tragic mistake.

"He's a friend," one man said. "I would have trusted him with my grandchildren."

Others say they refused to believe the rumors until they had the chance to confirm that Roy Atchison was the same one accused of such a heinous plan.

Another said there had never been any reason to suspect that Atchison, a high ranking government official and community volunteer, was a pedophile.

The Gulf Breeze News also notes that "Atchison tried several high profile local cases. He would have known the risk of his alleged actions, one official said."

More than likely, the reference to "high profile cases" includes the Sandshaker Bar cocaine ring busts on Pensacola Beach a few years back. The St. Pete Times has archived a three-year old article describing the case. In it, a Pensacola Assistant U.S. Attorney by the name of "Acheson" is quoted -- almost certainly the same Roy Atchison now sitting in a Michigan jail cell.

Atchison is known to have worked primarily on civil and criminal forfeiture cases, which dominated the Sandshaker matter. In that case, the government seized ownership of the bar, a condo unit, a house, various cars, and other properties alleged to be fruits or instruments of the crimes. All of it was later auctioned off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Federal Attorney, Court Clerk Jailed in Fracus

The Bonita Daily News has more details about your daily Assistant U.S. Attorney scandal in Florida.
A shove in the canal and a punch in the eye have landed both Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Stoddard, 52, and his wife, Leslie, a U.S. District clerk, in Lee County jail on battery and domestic violence charges. Both work at the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Myers.
According to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, a deputy was called to the Stoddards’ Fort Myers home at around 3 a.m. Wednesday...
* * *
Leslie Stoddard said that her husband had thrown both her cell phone and work phone into the canal in their back yard, and that she was going to throw his passport into the water in retaliation, but Russell Stoddard followed her to the dock and pushed her into the canal, according to authorities.

There's more, including some blood and gore "on the bed and both pillows" for those whose reading tastes run in that direction.

As for us, we think Scott Horton's "Bait and Switch in the Attorney General's Office" makes for better reading about a much more important scandal concerning Justice Department personnel: George Bush's decision, on Monday, to throw Acting Attorney General Paul Clement overboard after only 24 hours in the job and appoint Peter Keisler in his place.

Horton has superb sources in and out of the Justice Department, and the explanation he gives for this extraordinary (and woefully under-covered) switcheroo is compelling. The machinations the Bush White House is going through may seem a bit complex, if you haven't been following the story closely. But deep into the article Horton summarizes it neatly:
Keisler means “straight line continuity with Alberto Gonzales, his policies and approaches.” Does that mean continued politicization of the Justice Department? Yes.
Horton is too polite to say so, but what it also means is this: Bush's newest man at the top -- the Acting Attorney General, Peter Keisler -- has marching orders to cover-up White House crimes.

So, to us the biggest U.S. Attorney scandal of all is how the White House continues to rape the Justice Department while America looks on and does nothing to stop it.

Another Florida Federal Attorney Arrested

Omigawd. A second Assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida has been busted -- this time, along with his wife. The Ft. Myers News-Press is reporting this afternoon --
Russell C. Stoddard, a local attorney for the U.S. Justice Dept., and his wife were arrested this morning by Lee County sheriff's deputies for domestiic [sic] violence and battery charges, a sheriff's booking report said.

Both are now in the Lee County Jail.

An arrest affidavit said Stoddard,52, pushed his wife, Leslie off a dock early this morning.

She also accused her husband of hitting her a few days prior, according to the report filed by Deputy Terrance Guetler.

Leslie Stoddard is a U.S. District court clerk.
Is it the water? The sand? The mold? The despicable depths to which Republicans have sunk in general?

One supposes we should be grateful the arrested couple didn't have a small child or a large animal with them at the time.

Commissioners Tank Touart

"Escambia County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to deny former Administrator George Touart's request that he be allowed to retire and collect a pension," the PNJ lede reads this morning.

Past news coverage of county administrator George Touart's demand for a handout after resigning under pressure never quite made sense to us, except maybe as reparations for some historical wrong. After all, you don't quit in a tearful tantrum and then ask your boss for more money, do you?

Today, Michael Stewart of the Pensacola News Journal finally explains what has been happening. The boldface emphasis, below, lies at the core of things:
Touart announced his departure from his $155,252-a-year job on Sept. 6 after the News Journal ran a series of articles detailing his failure to disclose financial and personal ties to local businessmen and developers doing business with the county. Following the revelations, Touart was placed on administrative leave.
* * *
Almost immediately after Touart announced he would leave the post he has held for 5½ years, a controversy ensued about whether he would "resign" or "retire."

His desire was to retire, effective next April 2, the earliest date for him to be vested in the state pension system and to collect up to a $1,275-a-month pension. But that would have required an amendment to his contract.

The only option possible under his contract was to resign, entitling him to 90 days paid administrative leave and any unused sick and vacation leave. The cost to honor the contract will be $145,037.
In other words, Touart quit -- and then tried to beg or bully commissioners to amend the employment contract retroactively to gift him with more money.

As for the question -- "
You don't quit and then ask your boss for more money, do you?" -- the answer is: Only in Escambia County.

But thanks to the unexpected appearance of rational thinking among a bare majority of county commissioners, it doesn't work even here. As Independent News publisher Rick Outzen says on his blog, it's enough to give you "new respect
for Escambia County Commissioners Marie Young and Kevin White."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Assistant U..S. Attorney's 'My Space' Page

News reports aren't getting any better for Pensacola's Assistant U.S. Attorney John David Roy Atchison.

A Michigan grand jury indicted him this afternoon on a new charge basically arising out of the same set of operative facts. He now faces, potentially, as much as life in prison, if convicted:
A U.S. prosecutor and youth sports leader from Florida who authorities say flew to Michigan for an expected sexual encounter with a 5-year-old girl was indicted on an additional charge Tuesday and ordered held without bond.
* * *
He originally faced charges of use of the Internet to seek illicit sex, which carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years; and interstate travel to engage in illicit sexual contact, which carries up to 30 years.

On Tuesday, a federal grand jury added a charge of crossing state lines with intent to have sex with someone under 12, which carries a minimum 30-year prison sentence and a maximum of life.

The Detroit Free Press also is reporting that Atchison had a cyber-home in the notorious internet sewer known as The information supposedly comes from law enforcement sources. How they can be sure it really belonged to Atchison, we do not know.
Under the user name fldaddy04, name John and caption "Experienced, understanding Daddy," Atchison allegedly described himself in his profile as: "Handsome, educated, professional, experienced Daddy. I love younger girls. Like everything about you... how you think, talk, act. I'm very understanding and supportive... never ever judgmental."
There's more, if you have the stomach for it, including a link to fldaddy04's page. Look for it yourself, if you must.

We know a professional in the juvenile crime-prevention business who routinely advises parents to order their children to show them all of their "" web pages -- or suffer having their computers locked away in the trunk of the car. (Warning: the results can be shocking, indeed.)

A lot of teens seem to assume parents can't comprehend computer photos or read digitalized text, so they merrily share with their "cyber friends" rank shots of themselves drinking, using drugs, and having sex, along with semi-literate narratives describing past escapades.

Apparently, teens aren't the only ones soiling the darker alleyways of

Finding the American Way in Gulf Breeze

After 'disappearing' Roy Atchison like some Soviet 'unperson', or so it seemed this morning, this afternoon the Gulf Breeze Sports Association issued this formal statement:
Roy Atchison has been a valued member of the Gulf Breeze community and the Gulf Breeze Sports Association for the past decade. He will be on a leave of absence as President of the Gulf Breeze Sports Association until the outcome of the case. The board will continue to administer and oversee sports for the Gulf Breeze community.
Good for the GBSA! A solid, factual, and open statement, acknowledging but taking no position about Atchison's arrest and his legal troubles. The GBSA reserves judgment, but at the same time gives the public their honest evaluation that "Atchison has been a valued member of the Gulf Breeze community" and the sports association.

Someone understands the American way -- and lives by it. No need to cover up or re-write history. The more hateful the alleged crime, the more important becomes the presumption of innocence.

Pensacola U.S. Attorney Becomes An "Unperson"

It's always a challenge to an organization when its leader suddenly is accused of a heinous criminal act. Despite what we are pleased to call "the American way" of presuming the accused innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, it doesn't take long for most inchoate business entities -- corporations, foundations, non-profits, partnerships, and the like -- to distance themselves from the defendant.

Sometimes it happens almost overnight. So, it seems, with the Gulf Breeze Sports Association.

As of late last night, the chairman of the GBSA's board of directors was "Roy Atchison," as the first screen shot, below, shows (click the image for a closeup):

That's the same Roy Atchison, also known as "John David R. Atchison, 53, of Gulf Breeze, Fla." who was arrested in Detroit yesterday on a federal criminal complaint of using interstate commerce while "attempting... to persuade, induce, or entice" a 5 y.o. girl "to engage in criminal sexual activity... ."

Today, he and all of his fellow board members seem to have been disappeared from the GBSA's web site. Take a look at the same web site page from this morning (screen shot # 2 below, click the image for a closeup):

Roy Atchison? Don't know him. Never heard of him.

12:30 pm

Reliable sources tell us three F.B.I. agents were seen this morning exiting the Atchison home in Gulf Breeze. Among those things impounded: at least one vehicle and, we are told, all the home computer equipment.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Local U.S. Prosecutor Nabbed on Child Sex Charges

We absolutely hate to sound like a tabloid. Still, maybe this will bring home to people just what is at stake when the Attorney General of the United States hires on the basis of party loyalty -- and nothing else:
A federal prosecutor from Florida was ordered held in custody Monday after he appeared in U.S. District Court in Detroit on a charge that he flew to Detroit intending to have sex with a 5-year-old girl.

John David R. Atchison, 53, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., an assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida's northern district, is expected to appear again in court for a detention hearing on Tuesday.

He was caught in an Internet child sex sting run by the Macomb County Sheriff's Department and the FBI and arrested Sunday when he flew into Detroit Metropolitan Airport from Pensacola, Fla., according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Detroit.

A sheriff's deputy posed as a mother who was interested in finding someone to have sex with her children, in a sting that has already netted a California paramedic and numerous other alleged pedophiles from around the country.

According to the complaint, Atchison reassured the sheriff's deputy who was posing as the child's mother that he would not hurt the 5-year-old because he goes "slow and easy," and "I've done it plenty."

Of course, hard as it would be to say this to a victim's parents, there are larger principles at stake than even this when the president appointments and then protects a hack for Attorney General -- such as the liberties we all enjoy.

9-17 pm

WEAR-TV has the jump on tomorrow morning's Pensacola News Journal. With a photo (below) and the Second Amended Criminal Complaint (pdf version).

Photo said to be of arrested suspect Atchison

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ivan: Three Year Anniversary

It's been a long three years.
September 16, 2004

Hurricane Ivan, at one point one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, roared into the Gulf Coast near Mobile, Alabama around 2 a.m. CT today. Its peak winds exceeded 125 miles an hour (200 kilometers an hour) and drove a 16-foot (4.9-meter) storm surge.

The Gulf Breeze News remembers in this week's issue. The story is titled, appropriately, "Hurricane Ivan Retrospective: Three years after Hurricane Ivan, Gulf Breeze still works toward recovery."

Oddly, today's Pensacola News Journal seems to have forgotten. Not one word that we could find.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Man from Mars Report

(HT to Digby) A real journalist, James Fallows, reports on the reactions of a Man from Mars to watching our pols on TV:
John Edwards: Of the three Democratic responses to the president in this hour on CNN... Edwards was by a mile the most impressive. To apply the Man from Mars perspective: if you'd heard of none of these politicians before, based on this sequence you'd immediately assume that Edwards was the dominant one from either party (including the actual president).

John McCain: He looks like an old man, and a man who has lost and knows it.

Rudy Giuliani: He looks like a man who is crazy.... with his tic of stressing a point by opening his eyes so wide you can see the whites all the way around. He does that a lot, and at first glance it's odd. But beyond that is the eerie sense of how strongly he resembles the earlier, cockier G.W. Bush of two or three years ago. That Bush - the one who ... combined certainty of bearing with sketchiness of factual information. That's just how Giuliani comes across... . Great certainty about "staying on the offense" against terrorism; zero displayed knowledge of what that means or indeed what he was talking about at all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Handout for History's Sake

Rick Outzen, publisher of the estimable Pensacola Independent News, writes with some sympathy this week of witnessing the "tear filled downfall" of Escambia County administrator George Touart; a downfall, it should be added, the Independent News helped precipitate when it joined forces with the Pensacola News Journal to expose Touart's web of previously-undisclosed business interests with county vendors, developers, and fellow pols.

That's all behind us, now, except for the inexplicable eagerness of county commissioners to wrap George in a gilt parachute as he heads out the door. Many may wonder what it is about this county that it fires the good ones with not much more than a kick in the pants as they tumble out the door, but when the political temperature grows too hot almost invariably it will usher the bad ones out with a healthy stipend and the sound of trumpets and high praise.

Though it isn't intended to answer that question, along the path of promoting a severance package for George, there is this short passage in Outzen's eveningtide memoir:
George Touart was the hometown boy who came back to run Escambia County. His family is old, old Pensacola. When the first city jail was built in 1836, Fransisco Touart (George's great, great grandfather) was the jailer and lived on the second floor with his family. Since then, there have been a long line of Touarts in local law enforcement in the surrounding areas.
That historical allusion rings a bell with us. Given the vagaries of spelling customs when Pensacola was a territorial frontier town, it seems quite possible -- we'd like to say almost probable -- that Outzen's "Fransisco" Touart is the very same Pensacola jailer, "Francis Toward", who was on the job in 1844 when Jonathan Walker was captured at sea and jailed for "slave stealing."

Now, there's a reason to offer George some compensation, if the county commissioners are feeling generous!

Back in the mid-1840's Walker, an avowed abolitionist, picked up a small ship in Mobile after it had been in dry dock for repairs. He then put in at Pensacola to gather provisions for the long haul around the "cape of Florida" on his way back north. Seven local slaves begged him repeatedly to hide them aboard so they might reach freedom.

Unfortunately, the alarm went up almost the moment the ship was out of sight. Walker, his ship, and the runaway slave crew were spotted a few days later and taken into custody in south Florida.

The arrest and lengthy pre-trial detention of Jonathan Walker on various charges related to "slave stealing" became notorious in the antebellum North. Eventually, Walker was convicted in a hurried show trial, placed in a pillory, pelted with rotten eggs, permanently branded with the infamous "S.S." ("slave stealer") on one hand and fined a sum of money so high as to be patently ridiculous. Then he was released and quickly headed for home.

The whole saga inflamed abolitionist passions and shamed the South. So notorious became the story of Jonathan Walker and his branded hand, repeated from every abolitionist pulpit in the north, that it has been said only the later publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and the (tardy release) of the Dred Scott decision by the execrable Roger Taney managed to eclipse it in the minds of anti-slavery forces, everywhere.

John Greenleaf Whittier even wrote a much-loved poem about the celebrated abolitionist ("The Branded Hand") that turned Walker's grisly punishment into a badge of honor:
Then lift that manly right-hand, bold ploughman of the wave!
Its branded palm shall prophesy, "Salvation to the Slave!"
Hold up its fire-wrought language, that whoso reads may feel
His heart swell strong within him, his sinews change to steel.

Hold it up before our sunshine, up against our Northern air;
Ho! men of Massachusetts, for the love of God, look there!
Take it henceforth for your standard, like the Bruce's heart of yore,

In the dark strife closing round ye, let that hand be seen before!

And the masters of the slave-land shall tremble at that sign,
When it points its finger Southward along the Puritan line
Can the craft of State avail them? Can a Christless church withstand,
In the van of Freedom's onset, the coming of that band?

For many months before the trial Walker had been kept in chains in a small, filthy, cramped cell across the courtyard from the main jail building in Pensacola. On the top, second floor of that building lived constable "Francis Toward" and his family for the first six months of Jonathan Walker's pre-trial detention. For at least half a year the abolitionist prisoner's view of life on this earth was mainly confined to what he could see through the small window opening of his cell.

As it turns out, what he saw was mostly a first-hand view of the daily activities of the town constable, his wife, their slave cook, and their various children. Nearly a third of the book Walker wrote later, "The Trial and Imprisonment of Jonathan Walker at Pensacola, Florida, for Aiding Slaves to Escape from Bondage" consists of Walker's daily diary entries and observations of the numerous beatings constable Toward administered to his wife and various slave prisoners in the open-air courtyard; beatings the wife gave to the slave cook; beatings the constable and his wife gave to their own children; and beatings the slave cook gave to her own child, or to the Toward children when ordered by the constable or his wife.

Insofar as Walker could observe, everyone with even a tiny bit of power was beating up on someone with less.
It may be thought that those whippings were of no great severity, and merely administered as a parent would correct a child; but to test the quality let a person be covered only with a thin cotton frock, and let a woman, excited to uncontrolled passion, apply a raw-hide switch to the back of the other with her greatest strength from twenty to fifty blows, and they would not need a repetition of it to ascertain its mildness. (chap. 10).
As Walker concludes elsewhere, "If any parents, guardians, or masters wish their child, minor, or servant, to hate them with perfect hatred, let them flog them!"

At first blush, this may not seem to have much to do with our own George Touart. At most, if Rick Outzen has it right, he is only the "great-great-grandson" of the brutal constable and shrewish wife described in Jonathan Walker's diary and book. The sins of the great- great- grandfather surely are not visited on our own George Touart. He has plenty enough of his own, as it happens, anyway.

But if we think of George as a kind of proxy, a stand-in for those poor wretches, white and black, whom his distant relatives (as we suppose) 'whipped' so unmercifully in full view of Jonathan Walker, giving our soon- to- be- departed county executive a little charity might be in order. Not for anything George did. More as penance for what the county allowed his distant relatives to do.

Let's just not make a habit of it. And don't add any interest, please.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

T.D. 8

Worth watching? We shall see.

4 pm CDT

From the NHC:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lillian Kamphuis (1915-2007)

Long-time Pensacola Beach resident and community activist Lillian Kamphuis has died. She was 92.

The PNJ obituary, reprinted below, offers a superb summary of her eventful life. Still, mere words cannot convey what a wonderfully intelligent, kind, thoughtful, humorous, and courageous woman Lillian was. She was kind to everyone she met, whether friend, or neighbor, or bowling competitor, or complete stranger. Even when she found herself on the opposite side of others over some political or environmental issue, for example, Lillian was always respectful, gently padding her sharp wit inside a velvet verbal glove.

Of many women with a penetrating intelligence who were born "too early" in the 20th century it is sometimes said that if only they had been born later, after women were liberated from society's stereotyped expectations, they might have become anything they wanted to be. That should never be said of Lillian Kamphuis. She was determined to be everything she wanted to be and she accomplished far more than most ever dream about.

Lillian Kamphuis lived life to the absolute fullest and enriched the lives of everyone who knew her. She will be greatly missed by all.
She was born August 27, 1915 at the Spring Hill College farm in Mobile, Alabama. She was the fourth of six children born to Jacob and Margaret Kamphuis, both deceased. Her parents married in their home in Holland and migrated within the week to Mobile with one dream: to own land and a milking herd. After years of frugal living the family acquired acreage in Semmes, Alabama and established the "Orchard Dairy". All the children worked in the Dairy, however, schooling was a top priority with their parents. Lil was the quiet student in the family. Always an avid reader, she graduated from Murphy High School at age 15 and Huntington College in Montgomery at age 19, where she majored in Chemistry and worked two jobs to supplement her scholarship.

After graduation Lil taught at the high school in Ozark, Alabama. Two things persuaded her never to teach again: many of the students were older and larger than she and the State's depressed situation resulted in faculty being paid with an I.O.U. She worked for the Aluminum Ore Company in Mobile until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. When the WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps) was organized, she joined. She had several assignments in the United States after Boot and Officers training, then overseas to High Wycombe, England, 8th Air Force Headquarters detached to the Central Interpretation Unit in Medmenham. Lil analyzed photos taken by planes of the 325th Phot Wing, pinpointing enemy targets. After the Normandy invasion she was assigned to Air Force Headquarters in France and took part in the Victory March down the Champs Eleysees. After her honorable discharge from the service and triumphant return on the Queen Mary in 1945, she worked in Miami at the Mount Sinai Hospital. She went overseas again for two years as a civilian with the Air Force to Tokyo, Japan. She returned home to Mobile and worked for several years at Remington Rand, She then returned to France with the Civil Service working with the Army, Navy and Air Force Joint Construction Agency building NATO Bases. It was during this period that Lil's father, Jacob visited her and they traveled together to the Netherlands to reunite with the Kamphuis family in the town of Epe. After France, Lil continued with the Civil Service in the States: first working at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile until it closed in 1969, then Warner-Robins Air Material Area in Georgia until her retirement.

Lil moved to Gulf Breeze in 1974 and to Pensacola Beach permanently in 1976. She considered the Sans Souci her first and only home. Lil started bowling in 1938. A founding member of the first women's bowling league in Mobile and helped start ladies leagues wherever she lived and was an active member of the Gulf Breeze Ladies League into her 90th year. She was a life member of the International Toastmistress Club, a devoted member of the Pensacola Beach Women's Club, a member of the Women's Army Corp Veteran's Association and the American Legion. She supported, with great enthusiasm, the Krew of Wrecks and was their queen of Mardi Gras in 1994. Lil volunteered with the Gulf Breeze Hospital, the Pensacola Beach Leaseholders and was a charter member of the Pensacola Beach Optimist Club. Lil and her family helped found St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Mobile. She has been a member and active participant of St. Francis of Assisi in Gulf Breeze for 33 years.

Lil was preceded in death by her parents, Jacob and Margaret Kamphuis; her sisters, Wilhelmina Champlin, Margaret Coleman, and Harriet Ennis; her brother, John W. Kamphuis; and her great-nephew, Joseph Van Kamphuis. She is survived by her brother, Jacob V. Kamphuis (Betty), Semmes, AL; her sister-in-law, Neva W. Kamphuis, Shreveport, LA; and her devoted niece, Carol Kamphuis Robison, Gulf Breeze, FL. Her extended surviving family includes: nieces, Greta V. Champlin, Montgomery, AL, Virginia (Shelton) Keel, Merryville, LA; nephews, Edward E. (Cheryl) Champlin, Edgewood, NM, John W. Jr. (DeAnna), Shreveport, LA, Carl B. (Cassandra) Kamphuis, Daphne, AL, Jacob J. (Dee) Kamphuis, Mobile, AL. She has 13 great-nieces and nephews and numerous great-great nieces and nephews.

The family wishes to thank her doctors, caretakers from Home Instead, Covenant Hospice, the Rev. Al Pruitt, all her many friends, and especially her devoted companion, Trish Briska, and her family.

A memorial service will be held 11:00 a.m. Thursday, September 13, 2007 at St. Francis of Assisi in Gulf Breeze with a reception following in the parish hall.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to St. Francis of Assisi Scholarship Fund, 1 St. Francis Dr., Gulf Breeze, FL 32561, in memory of Lillian Kamphuis.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Not-Patraeus Report

The number of Iraqi children who are born underweight or suffer from malnutrition has increased sharply since the US-led invasion, according to a report by Oxfam and a network of about 80 aid agencies.

The report describes a nationwide catastrophe, with around 8 million Iraqis - almost a third of the population - in need of emergency aid. Many families have dropped out of the food rationing system because they have been displaced by fighting and sectarian conflict. Others suffer from the collapse in basic services caused by the exodus of doctors and hospital staff.

Prof. Juan Cole:
The consistently best and most clear-eyed wire service on Iraq, whose Pentagon correspondents are pointedly not invited to fly with the Secretary of Defense, is McClatchy (formerly Knight-Ridder). It has a long article on Sunday on how the security situation is not in fact better in Iraq now than last January.
* * *
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, 984 people were killed across Iraq in February, and 1,011 died in violence in August. No July numbers were released because the ministry said the numbers weren't clear.

But an official in the ministry who spoke anonymously because he wasn't authorized to release numbers said those numbers were heavily manipulated.

The official said 1,980 Iraqis had been killed in July and that violent deaths soared in August, to 2,890. . ."

Iraqi Poll:
About 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military "surge" of the past six months, an opinion poll suggests.

This rises to 93% among Sunni Muslims compared to 50% for Shia.

The findings come as the top US commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, prepares to address Congress.

Full Report - Iraqi's Own Surge Assessment: Few See Security Gains:
The big picture remains bleak. Six in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are
going badly, and even more, 78 percent, say things are going badly for the country
overall – up 13 points from last winter. Expectations have crumbled; just 23 percent see
improvement for Iraq in the year ahead, down from 40 percent last winter and 69 percent
in November 2005.
Women's Freedom in Iraq:
According to the non-governmental organisation Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), 15 per cent of Iraqi women widowed by the war have been desperately searching for temporary marriages or prostitution, either for financial support or protection in the midst of sectarian war.
Save the Children Report: One in 8 Iraqis Die Before Age 5.
In 2005, 122,000 Iraqi children died before age 5, or 125 per 1,000. In contrast, 36 per 1,000 died before age 5 in Iran; 15 per 1,000 in Syria; and 7 per 1,000 in the United States.

-- 46 percent of children younger than 5 suffering from diarrhea are not given oral rehydration treatment.

-- 24 percent of children younger than 5 with suspected pneumonia are not seen by a health care provider.

-- 12 percent of children younger than 5 are moderately or severely underweight.

-- 21 percent of Iraqi children suffer from severely or moderately stunted growth.

-- Only 35 percent of children are fully immunized.

-- 28 percent of births are not attended by a skilled health professional.

-- Iraq's infant mortality rate has increased by some 37 percent in the past four years.

(Full report here)
Water, Power Supplies Near Collapse in Iraq
Iraq's national power grid is on the brink of collapse, the country's electricity ministry has warned.

Water supplies to Baghdad have also been cut off for days at a time, with summertime pressures on key systems said to be more intense than ever.

The ministry blamed poor maintenance, fuel shortages, sabotage by insurgents and rising demand for the problems, and said some provinces hold onto supplies.

The US Army told the BBC that Iraq must now take charge of fixing the problems.

The general in charge of helping Iraq rebuild its infrastructure, Michael Walsh, said that although Iraqi authorities only have one-quarter of the money needed for reconstruction, solving the problem was now up to them

World Health Organization:
Extreme vulnerability characterizes the health situation of the Iraqi people. Several wars and 13 years of economic sanctions left a heavy toll on the nutrition of the population, on the social structure, on the economy and on the health infrastructure and services. This is well depicted in the morbidity and mortality rates of the population of Iraq, particularly of infants, children and mothers.
* * *
The military conflict of March/April 2003 with the following looting and civil unrest led to a further disruption of water treatment and supply plants, of sanitation facilities and power production plants and to the destruction of the remaining medical equipment in health facilities. Continuing widespread insecurity and lawlessness constrain the access to health facilities with the exacerbation of fighting in different areas of the country causing a large number of casualties.
Iraq Parliament: Closed Due to Lack of Quroum
Parliament canceled its session Sunday for lack of a quorum because many legislators could not make it due to the closed roads, said Wissam al-Zubaidi, an adviser to deputy parliament speaker Khaled al-Attiyah.
Basra: The British Have Left, By Land and By Sea
To the south, downtown Basra was calm Tuesday after British soldiers abandoned their last outpost there the day before, leaving the country's second largest city largely in the hands of Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Evacuating Iraq

Riverbend, author of the books and the blog titled Baghdad Burning, has finally made it out of Iraq. (HT to Why Now? for the alert)

In that, she joins over two million other Iraqis, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, who have fled the country; and another 2.2 million "internally displaced" Iraqis, according to Prof. Juan Cole. That's about 16-18 percent of the entire population of Iraq as of 2003.

Four and a half months ago, Riverbend wrote about how her family had decided to evacuate Baghdad. This week, she broke a long silence to describe the difficult decisions to be made about what to pack in the single suitcase she was allowed and what to leave behind; the interminable waiting for the right day to leave ; the on-again, off-again departure attempts; the bribes it takes to leave Iraq; and the relief at finally arriving safely in Syria, where normal street life strikes her as completely unreal.

No excerpts here for our American readers. Instead, you should read the whole thing for yourself. After all, in a democracy like ours, you bear some responsibility for this, too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

There Will Be No Ponies

Yglesias has it exactly right about the failure of the current crop of presidential candidates in both parties:
In both political and policy terms, I think all of the candidates should consider that in the real world they need not Iraq policies that will make sense in the fall of 2007, but Iraq policies that will make sense in January 2009 after over a year of additional political stalemate in Iraq, continued bloodshed and refugee flows, and continued deterioration of the readiness of the American military.
Atrios' take on that same point is more simply stated: There will be no ponies. Only "lots more dead, maimed, and displaced Iraqis."

Horton Hatches An Intervention

Scott Horton, the learned lawyer who blogs for Harper's Magazine, wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, yesterday.

In the letter he extols the superb reporting of Wapo's Karen DeYoung and makes well-deserved glowing references to the superb reporting work of other WaPo prize-winning reporters, like Walter Pincus and Dana Priest, over the last five years.

About what to do about the Iraq disaster, he writes:
[I]f there is one question at the core, it goes to the accepted key metric: civilian casualties. Now you assigned this story to Karen DeYoung, one of your best, and yesterday she delivered a discussion and analysis that is nothing short of brilliant—easily the best piece that has appeared on the story so far. I read it once, and then went back to the beginning and read it again, compared it with several other pieces and pretty quickly concluded that this was definitive. The reporting is steady, comprehensive, and the analysis goes like a laserbeam through a stick of butter. This Karen DeYoung is one hell of a reporter, already holds one Pulitzer and is certainly on the road to more.
Unfortunately, that letter won't be appearing in the Post. All that superb reporting is consigned to page A-16, the traditional dust-bin for work the Post editors view as too scary to be shown to readers who merely scan headlines.

Horton's letter is an undisguised intervention. He advances the suspicion that Post editor Fred Hiatt has been sipping, again, from the same bottle that brought you the Iraq War in the first place.

Sure, Hiatt has apologized for the error of his ways. Sure, he acknowledged he's been wrong about just about everything about the Iraq War. Sure, he has given us absolutely no reason to suppose that a person of his shallow mind and defective intelligence is worthy of running a monthly church newsletter, much less a national newspaper.

But inside the D.C. beltway filled with Serious Persons, Fred is considered a Very Serious Person, as Atrios would mockingly point out. In other words, Fred Hiatt is beyond intervention. They all are.