Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sunday Paper

A sleepy, lazy Sunday. A day of rest, at least this week, and the Sunday New York Times. Perfect. No interruptions as I read the main section of the paper front to back. First, a story about soldiers returning home after a year at war. Their ability, or lack thereof, to adjust to normal life. Clearly not a soldier, I am left to imagine how difficult this might be, but the reporting and the pictures make it possible to an extent.

Then I read about G.O.P. legislators moving to tighten rules/laws on voting. Basically, in about 13 to 15 states there are movements under way to make it necessary for voters to present a valid driver’s license, passport, or other state issued ID when they go to vote. Considering you have to have one of those in order to register to vote, I don’t think you should be required to show up with one in order to vote. Voting, at least to me, seems like one of the last great bastions of democracy, unfettered by bureaucracy and legislation. Great, you are registered to vote. All you have to do is show up to the right polling place, give your name, the volunteer or paid election worker checks it off a list, and you go make your vote. And then, of course, you get a sticker. Everything else related to electing our public officials is so damn complicated. Making the process of voting more complicated will truly discourage some from voting.

Next, a story on the F.B.I. and how vigilant they have been since 2001 in wasting their time and money by monitoring domestic terrorists who don’t have a crime more serious than trespassing on their record. I understand some of these people aren’t outstanding members of society, but 24-hour surveillance, really?

Not surprisingly, there were articles on suicide bombings in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bombers targeted fellow Muslims. And as I read these articles, an overwhelming, and now familiar feeling of hopelessness about our wars in the Middle East swept over me. When the terrorists are so willing and committed to kill their own brothers and sisters then it seems clear that no extended American occupation of a country over there is ever going to end this violence. I just feel it is their problem to address. Ten years in Afghanistan, progress here and there, ups and downs, and still rumors of corruption swirl around President Hamid Karzai’s government. When does it end?

There is one Arab country where Americans are wildly popular right now. Libya. Wildly popular should be put in context though. This means the American flag and effigies of our leaders aren’t regularly burned and stomped on. An American or Westerner out for a jog in eastern Libya might even get an enthusiastic yell or honk. NATO rules the skies between Gaddafi loyalists in the west and the rebels in the east. And this, “Many Libyan parents with newborn girls are reportedly naming them Susan, in honor of Susan E. Rice, the Obama administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, for her vote in the Security Council in favor of establishing the no-fly zone.”

And the French legal system would likely approach the Strauss-Kahn case with timidity. It seems it is common practice that high-ranking officials or celebrities get preferential treatment upon being accused of a crime. Or, their case is hidden from the public eye and no one really finds out about their crime or punishment.

This past week, when President Obama attempted to toast the Queen of England, the band playing “God Save the Queen” cut him off. The Queen, refusing to acknowledge the President during the song, eventually turned to him once the song was over to end the toast. I love England and British culture, but some of the etiquette world leaders and the public are expected to adhere to when they are around royals is so ridiculous. I just have a hard time taking all that pomp and circumstance seriously.

Lastly, amid all the articles I read, was an account of the devastation in Joplin, MO. Here is a passage from that article:

Here, one day, is a distraught man who describes how, while helping to dig in search of the living, he heard the distant cry of a little girl. “Don’t worry, honey, I’m getting there!” he called out, again and again, digging so frantically that his hands began to bleed. Then, suddenly, he was there. He uncovered a talking doll, and he wept.

Then he dug elsewhere, he says. This time he uncovered a dead girl, and he wept.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sort of Old News

Most of you know this already, but I committed to the University of Denver in April. I’ll be attending the Josef Korbel School of International Studies to get my Master’s in Spring 2013. Sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?

Earlier in April I attended an event at the school for admitted students. It was extremely helpful in making my decision. There were opportunities to talk with current students, professors, alumni, and would-be classmates (most of whom had only applied to Intl. Studies programs). I was the recipient of some very weird looks when I explained what programs I had applied to. Really, none of them are related. International Studies, English Literature, and Journalism are the three. English Lit and Journalism aren’t too distant, but I was struggling through justifying the jump to International Studies to my future classmates. I could see their consternation.

The easiest explanation of the wide variety of programs I applied to is this: I didn’t want to move for grad school. Applying to and attending another Intl. Studies program of DU’s caliber would have inevitably meant a move, most likely to the east coast. That’s precisely where I don’t want to be at this point in my life. Perhaps later, who knows? But not now.

Obviously, I am not going off to get my MFA in the fall. Until I get underway at DU, I will continue to struggle with that truth. Attending DU feels like abandoning my dreams of writing or, at the least, putting a long-term hold on that dream. So, it is with excitement that I think about writing graduate level papers. It won’t be the writing I thought I would be doing in grad school, but the topics will still be of great interest and I will be giving my writing mind and my keyboard loads of exercise.

That makes me happy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I Love This Stalemate

I wouldn’t refer to myself as a fan of it. Fan is too strong of a word. I watch it on occasion, but I can’t rattle off names or participants and give you their corresponding stats.

Every year I reach a point when I think America’s obsession with it is, well, pathetic. The amount of time and energy consumed, no, wasted by it is overwhelming. It is sad, to see how much interest and money goes into it.

I don’t care about the outcome. Really, I don’t. I might prefer one group of guys over the other, but if they don’t finish on top, why should I care? I am not invested in them. I can’t relate to their life and they can’t relate to mine.

Obsessions aren’t necessarily unhealthy. I have mine, but even I take a break from them every once in a while and I want to see America take a break from its obsession. I think it would greatly benefit throngs of people across this country.

And sometimes I feel like I am the only one out there who isn’t hoping for a resolution. I want it to go on and on, past the point of no return, and straight on to the cancellation of this year’s NFL season. There, I said it.

Free up your Sundays, Monday nights, and the occasional Thursday night. Invest in something other than your couch, your TV, and your waistline. That fantasy league that requires you to spend hours watching games and researching the team you want. That will all be there in 2012. Give it a rest. Step outside. Talk with people, not your TV.

You know when you are sitting there, watching a game, and thinking that you really want to be doing this or that, but you don’t move because it is easier to watch a silly football game. I hate the feeling, but fear not; with no football this year you could do those things.

To be honest, just in case I hadn’t been, I don’t care about the players or the owners. They are all millionaires. Their struggle and their wants and needs are so ridiculous they too could benefit from a year off, realizing they have it so much better than all of us. I hope they get that reminder. And I sincerely hope Americans can get their Sundays off this fall.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Facebook Poetry

From The New Yorker, May 16, 2011 issue. Sherman Alexie has a sonnet about Facebook called, conveniently, “The Facebook Sonnet”. Here are a few lines:

"Let’s exhume, resume and extend

Childhood. Let’s play the games

That occupy the young. Let fame

And shame intertwine."

It’s a brilliant poem, full of barbs that, I feel, really dig at the farce that is Facebook. Read the rest at The New Yorker.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kids and the Future

A friend recently wrote to me about his feelings on the future. He’s been reading a lot and staying up on current events and watching documentaries and “it just depresses” him “that things are so bad right now.” He went on to say, “I’m ready for something big to happen, but I’m really scared about the future. There’s a lot of talk about things getting a lot worse and I don’t really know what to believe.”

My anxiety about the future grows the more I pay attention to the direction of the world and of humanity. I wrote him back, saying, “I too worry about the state of the world. I sometimes feel like there is a great, great struggle ahead of us, either for our generation or for our kids, which brings me to kids. While we still want them, it is not without reservation that we will choose to bring them into this world. With exploding population centers, the changing environment, and the unsustainable ways of living we have adopted, it is hard to go forward with building a family when you know deep down things are not going to get easier for humanity. I hope the news doesn’t depress you too much and that all those documentaries don’t make you fear the future. I hope you stand up against the tide and do all that you can to improve the world on a large or small scale. That’s all we can do.”

So I have been thinking about this a lot lately. More specifically, what are the realities the next generation will face? One that always comes to mind, and my generation could see this too, is the end of oil. It’s going to run out. Everything about this world is going to come to a screeching halt. Sure, more oil reserves will be discovered while I am alive; perhaps extending our consumption of oil past the end of my generation, but that is delaying the inevitable. How are we going to do as a species when we revert to much older forms of transportation to do anything from go to the grocery store to ship something across the country/world? My confidence in humanity to properly address these issues without panicking and all hell breaking loose is slim to nonexistent. When not getting an iPad 2 means the end of the world for you, how are you going to deal with two-mile long lines at the gas station?

I recently saw a prediction of the world population leveling out, or at least reaching a point of much slower growth than in the past 50 years. That’s somewhat comforting, but it doesn’t mean our consumption is leveling out or decreasing, something that desperately needs to happen in order for future generations to live a good and peaceful life.

Keeping hope alive is crucial, but it is hard to ignore the feeling I have that we are hurtling toward an inevitable and disastrous conflict or conclusion of our time here on Earth. It’s tough to strike a balance between concern for the direction of things and a hope in the future. My mind runs wild: Is there going to be another war, a war to end all wars? There can’t be more than three world wars. If sea levels significantly rise in the next 50-100 years, where are the millions of displaced people going to settle? What strain is that going to put on the world’s food supply? Are the world economies going to collapse?

All I’ve got to say is that you better have some faith left when you decide to bring someone into this world.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

OBL: Conspirators and Complainers

Rarely does a politician pull something off that we can all celebrate regardless of where we are on the political spectrum. I think Bin Laden’s death is worth celebrating. Although it was President Obama who made the call, President Bush deserves congratulations as well. Bush said we would never stop searching and Obama made finding and killing or apprehending Bin Laden the priority of our wars in the Middle East.

I was at work just a couple of days after the Bin Laden news broke when I heard someone talking about it. There was talk among some employees of the Bin Laden conspiracy. Is he really dead? If he is dead, then where are the pictures? This has come to be called deatherism. Also, there seems to be quite a few people out there who don’t know why we buried him at sea. I explained this to someone the other day and their response, “So, all of a sudden we respect Islamic tradition?” My response, “Well, isn’t it better now than never?” Seriously. Could you imagine how many more people would be upset about Bin Laden’s death if we didn’t observe the burial custom?

Most Republicans have congratulated President Obama and President Bush in their statements about the killing of OBL. However, as far as I know, one only congratulated Bush. Her name I will not mention, but if you’ve graduated high school you know about as much as she does about U.S. history, government, geography, and current events. Which is to say, you just graduated a U.S. high school, so you probably don’t know too much, but it’s enough to get your name on the ticket for VP of the U.S.A. Dream big.

Lastly, I hope I never have to celebrate another man’s death to the degree I celebrated OBL's death. I am happy he is dead. The dancing and singing in the streets the night of his death does not seem barbaric to me. Our celebration that night is in no way comparable to barbaric celebrations in the Middle East over Koran burning, successful terrorist attacks, or the maiming/killing of western troops throughout the region, which happen a couple times a week. Like I said earlier, I think we can have one night in the last ten years to dance in the streets. I approve.

Monday, May 02, 2011

From The New Yorker

Steve Coll, author of The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, and staff writer at The New Yorker has an informative post up on the News Desk blog. Worth the read.

The Death of Osama Bin Laden

This is as close as our generation will come to experiencing the sense of joy and excitement millions around the world felt on May 8, 1945, VE Day. Osama Bin Laden, long removed from direct day-to-day operations of al-Qaeda, but still the influential and spiritual leader of al-Qaeda and many splinter groups around the world and the leading force in the 9/11 attacks was killed yesterday.

Bin Laden, more than anyone else, has shaped US Foreign Policy in the last ten years. From our security at home to our approach to the rest of the Middle East to our action on three fronts (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), Bin Laden was the primary target of the war we have been waging for 9 years. This is huge. It took the most powerful nation in the world nearly 10 years to find and kill one man. One man. His ability to camouflage himself will not be forgotten, but his violent end will overshadow everything else for me. I was ready for sleep last night and I turned on the TV. Instantly, I sat up in bed and told Kate to stop talking for a minute. There was a CBS News special report and along the bottom I read that President Obama is going to make an announcement soon. About what I did not know until a few seconds later when a reporter said Osama Bin Laden has been killed. I looked at Kate, whose eyes were huge with the news, and I sat up a little more, turning the volume up and settling in for President Obama’s announcement.

The details of his death are rapidly spreading across the media and blogosphere. According to some sources, it was a double-tap to the side of the head during or at the end of a firefight outside a curiously large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The operation, in the works since August, was completed in 40 minutes. Bin Laden’s body was taken by US Navy Seals, identified, and buried at sea within 24 hours of his death (according to Islamic tradition).

I have spent the morning reading the blogs and news feeds of most of the world’s major papers. The one thing that is not overlooked by the media, who are always speculating about political implications, is how this will affect Obama’s chances in 2012 and if it will be his defining moment as President. I think it’s important to examine the political effects of this news, but more important is to first celebrate what this means for our troops, the families of the thousands killed and injured on 9/11, and the American psyche in regards to the war against terrorism.

It is not natural to celebrate a death. But this morning, I was happy to. I watched archival footage of the 9/11 attacks. I watched cadets at the Naval Academy yelling their hearts out. I watched someone spraying champagne from his perch on a light post onto the crowd gathered below him at Ground Zero. And, truly, I felt pride for what America has done. My pulse elevated and I recalled the morning I was going to class as a freshman at the University of Wyoming with people crying throughout the union, unable to pull themselves from a TV to go to class, where, if they went, they would undoubtedly be watching a TV anyway. I recalled the spring break the USA went to war in Iraq. Sitting on the couch with Aaron, watching the shock and awe campaign, wondering if this was really a necessary strike to avenge 9/11. Nearly two-thirds of the country had given up on finding/killing Bin Laden, but our troops and intelligence gatherers have never rested. Neither has President Obama who clarified again and again as candidate Obama in 2008 that if he received reliable intelligence that Bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would not hesitate to go in there unannounced and take Bin Laden out.

Na├»ve our generation is not. I don’t think one of us believes this means the end of terrorism. The detractors are already pointing this out, assuming that some must believe the end of terrorism has come. We know it hasn’t. There will be more terrorists. There will always be evil in this world, but this was a victory America had to have. The celebrations across the country do not bother me at all. If the extremists can go kill Westerners anytime a Koran is burned or stomped on, then we can have one day in the last ten years to yell in the street, to wave the American flag, to put on display our fanaticism for all the world to see. Yeah, I don’t feel bad about that.

Reading through the blogs has uncovered bits of information about the raid and the coincidence of May 1st in 20th and 21st century war. May 1, 1945: Hitler’s suicide is announced to the world. May 1, 2003: President Bush gives his infamous Mission Accomplished speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. May 1, 2011: President Obama shares the news of Bin Laden’s death in Pakistan.

Most troubling about the news of where Bin Laden was hiding out is the fact that he was in a relatively affluent neighborhood and not in a cave like many presumed for years. He was in a mansion six to eight times bigger than any of the surrounding houses with high walls and barbed wire. How could anyone in the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service) not know about Bin Laden’s location? This makes it clear for those who doubted it; Pakistan is the home of al-Qaeda operations and the source of much of what we are dealing with in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government routinely denied that Bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan. Wisely, the US intelligence did not share much information of the operation with the ISI, worried that word would get to Bin Laden and he would slip through our fingers again.

If the administration were looking for another reason to get out of Afghanistan, this is it. Bin Laden has been the target from day 1: September 11, 2001. He was the reason we went to Afghanistan, almost sealing the deal at Tora Bora in December 2001. His death marks the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one in the war on terror. I think it is important to remain cautious and to not let our guard down, but today, tonight, whenever, remember 9/11, remember the firefighters, remember the policemen, remember the troops, and remember what you felt that morning and raise a glass, spray some champagne, sing the Star Spangled Banner and wave the flag.

Reading the News

It's official. I am going blog crazy this morning. Thank God for the internet on days like this. The accessibility to the facts and the commentary on Bin Laden's death is amazing. I highly recommend stopping by Andrew Sullivan's blog (now on the Daily Beast, but my link in the sidebar still works) or Talking Points Memo (also linked in the sidebar). Both of those blogs are covering all angles of this story, from archival footage of Bush and Obama speaking about Bin Laden to amateur footage of 9/11, which is tough to watch, but a good reminder of how justified the USA was in hunting this man for nearly the last ten years.

I headed out early this morning to pick up a New York Times. I like to collect newspapers the day after huge events. Anyway, the Times was the only paper without a headline on Bin Laden's death. The news broke too late. Tomorrow's paper will have plenty of coverage, including Bin Laden's obituary, which runs seven pages on the Times' website.

What Trump Was Doing While Obama Was Killing Osama

Also from Sullivan's blog. One of his readers too.

A reader writes:

While Obama was addressing the nation last night, Donald Trump was hosting a cat-fight between NeNe and Starr Jones, voting off some chick named Hope, and making an "historic" decision to bring back LaToya Jackson.

Seriously.

Sweetness

Thanks to Sullivan for posting this on his blog. I don't know where it came from, but it's truly awesome.