Diary of a Mad County

May 30 - June 6

Wednesday, May 30
Today marks exactly one year since a landslide in Laguna Beach's Bluebird Canyon destroyed or damaged 20 homes, causing emotional devastation for many residents whose lives were forever altered, in some cases shaking their faith in the very ground beneath their feet. Happy anniversary!

Thursday, June 1
Cases of syphilis in LA County are up 40 percent. Makes you think. Makes you think: Whatever happened to that dude who sang for Limp Bizkit?

Friday, June 2
A military jury sentences Army Sergeant Santos A. Cardona of Fullerton to 90 days of hard labor after he is found guilty of allowing his Belgian shepherd to bark within inches of a detainee's face at Abu Ghraib prison. Cardona, who was also demoted and had his pay cut, was acquitted on charges of having his dog bite a prisoner and conspiring with another guard to frighten prisoners—and don't you just hate it when someone conspires to spoil your good time in a maximum-security dungeon? The only way Abu Ghraib could get more frightening is if it had an adjustable mortgage. Still, it's a measure of how bad things have gotten in Iraq that Cardona's actions seem mild, almost quaint, you know, given the—oh, how should we put it?—massacres and such. The massacres have moved military leaders in Iraq to announce that all American troops will undergo "ethics" training. Talk about torture: Now, not only will they have to be on guard for explosive devices and snipers in the searing heat, but they'll also have to sit through hours of role-playing about sexual harassment and discussions on the efficacy of office romances, as well as being sensitive to others' sensitivity regarding coarse language and massacring unarmed civilians. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki isn't too pleased about the way his citizens are getting killed and said that some U.S. troops had "no respect for citizens . . . killing on suspicion or a hunch." Wait: that was his answer to a question about the LAPD. Anyway, ethics are a funny thing—funny in that they are determined by the victors, and the Pentagon has determined that the ethics spelled out in the Geneva Convention regarding bans on "humiliating and degrading treatment" will be omitted from U.S. military manuals on detainee policies. Under the new guidelines, a Sergeant Santos A. Cardona of Fullerton would be promoted and given a pay raise, as well as one of the Army's new, highly anticipated "groin-centric" dogs.

Saturday: Hell on Earth. Photo by Keith May
Saturday: Hell on Earth. Photo by Keith May

Saturday, June 3
Speaking of human misery, if you've been itching to see it up close, may I suggest a trip to Wal-Mart? For reasons that will remain my own, I found myself at a Wal-Mart this morning, and I'm wondering if there's a sadder place not currently being patrolled by Belgian shepherds. Those new Wal-Mart TV ads make it look kinda hip and happening—see also: Target—so I thought this might be a pleasant experience. That feeling lasted about as long as it took me to get into the store and into the aisles, where I was hit with the feeling that things were constantly going to fall on me since items at Wal-Mart aren't so much merchandised as strewn. As for the Wal-Mart shopper, this is not the deliriously happy lady on the commercials who views buying salty snacks and belt sanders at Wal-Mart as transformative events in her family's life. The real shopper seems a good deal more angry, especially if Dakota doesn't shut his mouth right now. RIGHT NOW! Frankly, I don't know how to properly describe the whole scene but, needless to say, I was a little disappointed, especially when, just the day before, Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott told stockholders about all the wonderful changes that had been made at Wal-Mart. He also highlighted all the good works the company is doing to bring relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and I suddenly know what the store reminds me of. The only thing missing was people sitting on roofs beckoning helicopters, though there was a person asleep in the middle of an aisle. I'm not kidding.

Sunday, June 4
Found out today that a story I wrote—about Oceanside and how its residents and the next-door Camp Pendleton Marines who come there to unwind are coping with the war—was being pulled from the paper. Editor Will SwaimJ'accuse!—showed his unwillingness to take on the big boys and big issues when he decided not to run the story because it lacked a "point," seemed rather "boring," and was generally "dull and awful." His Highness has every right to pull the story—he also said he found the numerous references to him as "Your Highness" and myself as a "willing servant wench" scrawled in the margins "creepy." That aside, I would suggest every one of you go down to Oceanside and spend a few hours in that lovely little town. Go down by the beach, where you'll find pleasant little eateries and movie theaters and terrific military-supply stores. Who needs night-vision goggles? Most of all, you'll get a chance to look at all of the crew-cut-sporting, shaved young men walking about in jeans and T-shirts, the ones who are fighting and dying in Iraq. They are babies. Children. I went up to one of them to talk about his experiences, and it turned out the kid wasn't a Marine but some high school skater. I couldn't tell the difference between him and the real deal. Brad Smith of Boise, Idaho, is the real deal, having done a tour in which he was stationed in a little bit of heaven called Fallujah. Brad has found himself in a few firefights and walked away from a vehicle blown-up by an IED. I got to ask the question I've been wanting to ask a soldier: Is it true (as we've been told) that the very sight of Americans protesting the war shakes the faith and morale of our fighting men and women? "When you're over there," he said, "it's nothing you think about. You've got to keep your head in the game. You can't be concerned about it. It doesn't make a difference. When you're there, you're there. Nothing's going to change that."

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