A True Patriot
September 19, 2003
By Joseph Arrieta

Auntie Pinko would have been so proud of me. I had just left a gaggle of patriots near the gazebo in the park, gravely chatting in the scorching evening heat as they set up their peace vigil on September 11th. I had an order to carry out, remembered from my heroes at Media Whores Online: take back the flag. I'd brought one with me, but it was still in the car.

The inevitable beer dudes, idly guzzling brew and chucking redeemable glass empties into a trash can the previous sixty minutes, noticed me. I elicited stares with my shirt from The Smirking Chimp: BUSH KNEW.

A beefy blond bare-chested suburban-surfer type looked me dead in the eye. "Must be a hippie!" he yelled.

Flabbergasted, without thinking I broke into a workout jog and went across the park to the car. People actually stared, but it was all I could do to keep from hysterically laughing, which would have been very bad. Nobody likes being laughed at. Auntie Pinko trained me what to do, I didn't turn that park punk into a punching bag, ma'am.

At least out of sight from the stares for a minute I carefully unfurled the flag, suddenly aware that I had never carried the colors before. I'd paid taxes, registered voters, enlisted, got educated, voted and become an obedient corporate cog for the feds all these years, but I'd never held or waved Old Glory for anything, ever. Now I had a colors debut as a hippie.

Since workout jogging didn't seem provocative and there was a calming effect to the cadence, I locked the colors by jamming them into a pocket and chugged across the park.

Loud hosannas and whistles immediately rang out from all over, but what I really remember was the startling snapping of the flag next to my ear as I ran. Some girls gave me big wolf whistles, but as I reached the gazebo things suddenly got very quiet, the girl's loud laughter dying away. By the time I walked up to the vigil none of the patriots even knew of the little commotion behind them.

Here on the little down slope before the gazebo Pat Kneisler has ceaselessly kept her Iraq war peace vigil, often all by herself and her collection of laserjet signs: coalition soldiers dead in Iraq last seven days: 5 US TROOPS.

Pat would know. Never an activist before the war, she had moved to California many years before following a civil engineering career. Eventually she set up her own one-person business, meticulously building a niche market devoted to industrial engineering. Woe to the sorry-assed contractor or civil servant who ever lied to Pat Kneisler or brushed off her unwavering devotion to duty and detail.

That's precisely what George Bush did sometime in March, 2003. He lied to Pat one too many times and she simply decided she was going to find out for herself exactly how many American boys were dying for his lies.

It began with the signs. Every week on a Thursday night she would stand on the sidewalk near a downtown park with two signs, one listing total coalition troop deaths to date, one listing Iraqi civilian deaths. The civilian deaths came from the website IraqBodyCount.net. But where to find the coalition numbers?

For a couple of weeks she used numbers posted by CNN, until she began to wonder, "Just where do they get their numbers?"

Eventually, she discovered that CENTCOM and the DOD both release US troop death notices on their websites, while British deaths were posted at the British Ministry of Defense site.

The problem: only infrequently (say, every month or so) were these death notices tabulated in print into a total. Much to her chagrin, she discovered that anyone, including the media, who wanted a daily running total had to pull the individual death notices and add them up themselves.

Never one to shy from a challenge, Pat began to hunt down those notices and her own list quickly grew. Things began to get really interesting when she compared her list to the ones kept by CNN, the Army Times and other websites.

The CNN list was attractive, but it was kept alphabetically, so that recent entries to the list were very difficult to pick out. They did give a total, but that total included both British and US troops. No breakdowns were provided for US troops only. They were missing two British troops who appeared on the Ministry of Defense Website. Furthermore, one could frequently count the entries on their list, and get a number that was less than what they listed as their total!

The Army Times list was also well done and it was kept chronologically so that recent entries were easy to find. But it was short four soldiers, only counted US troops, and didn't provide a total.

So much for existing lists. Pat determined that hers would simply have to provide the kind of info that the other lists couldn't.

Late in May, Pat decided her numbers needed to be published. She contacted Markos Zúniga, blogger of the Daily Kos, and asked him if he would be interested in publishing her data. Within an hour Marcos had the numbers up on his blog.

Reader/blogger Michael White saw Pat's numbers and decided they needed a permanent home with browser database functionality. Out of the blue, he made her an offer she couldn't refuse. "Would you like me to provide you with a website just for your data at my Lunaville blog?" Michael (the inimitable "elvis56") can do it all—build the database, install the OS, server and database, secure everything, script the columns into html, script database update through the browser, filters for the database columns. In a twinkling Lunaville's crown jewel was born in early June, the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

No one knows how Editors and Publishers, prestigious journalism trade sheet, ever found Lunaville, but they did in mid-July. They announced the site to the world of their readers: "A website called the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count is tracking the deaths, by whatever cause, of US military personnel in Iraq, based on official Pentagon and CENTCOM press releases."

Word was out among the professionals and Lunaville's server immediately groaned under an onslaught on hits: by the end of June, the hit count at Lunaville stood at 500-1500 a day. By the end of July it was 6,000. Right now Lunaville cruises at about 13,000 hits a day. Humans crave the truth.

Lunaville burns through about 18 gigs of outbound a month, which costs $522. RonK, pinch hitter at the Daily Kos, found out and posted about it. Michael now has enough money to make it through Christmas.

The Guardian referred to the site in an article. The BBC called. Newsweek sent e-mails. The Utne Reader added to the positive chorus. Radio interviews were requested. Vernon Loeb of The Washington Post pointed Pat to the CENTCOM press line for news of the wounded. Mother Jones chimed in with praise. Two reporters and a photographer hovered around her on September 11th.

Pat Kneisler isn't famous because she can pay attention and count. It's because the US journalism corps can't or won't. Too many publications were reporting "combat deaths," not all deaths. One could dodge an RPG, crash the hummer and be listed as a traffic fatality and not counted in the press reports.

Pat dignified all of our slain GI's in the theatre by counting them, for whatever reason. All of a sudden word spread like a prairie fire that to know the real number one had to go to Lunaville.

To flog a dead horse - to mercilessly whip with glass barbs upon that stinking, odious carcass of a profession - it simply must be said that the US journalism corps is an utter disgrace, a disgusting pack of craven rating hyenas who care nothing for the truth, not even self-conscious in treating Pat Kneisler as the story, when in fact at least half of the story is their complete inability to get the correct casualty numbers themselves.

Halfway through the vigil a minivan slowed in the busy street facing the patriots. "Pat, Pat!" a woman called out, waving an arm. "Come by, we never see you anymore!" All the patriots laughed while Pat blushed. Any patriot knows the gaps in life when duty calls, but Pat Kneisler would never, ever get paid a patriot's compliment for attention.

"Hey, fuck you!" a young large man yelled from a pickup. Pat gravely held her sign of truth and then looked up with an easy peace. A peace that comes from knowing that here she was yet again on a Thursday, honoring all the men who have died, counting them all so the world could know the truth.

No matter the many foul insults hurled at her those two hours, no matter how tired she was, no matter what other sacrifices had to made, she would be there and Lunaville would display the truth. George Bush is still lying.

Joseph Arrieta is a writer, web producer and amateur media critic living in San Jose, California.