Sunday, January 27, 2008

Advice from George

Words of advice from George Washington on the occasion of his farewell address in 1796:

"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

"It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another."

Oh, that we would have listened to George...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It Just Blows My Mind

Here I sit, eating my breakfast and surfing through my favorite blogs. I really should run upstairs and get my shower, given that I need to be at work in an hour, but I've just read a blog post that I must respond to right now or it will torment me all day.

I'm proud to say that Janet Lee is an RN in the Nursery of the hospital where I work. She's a very articulate writer whose blog I enjoy so much. Her cat photos provide a lighter side to her more serious posts, many of which poke at politicians and our crazy society. Don't think I've read one that I've disagreed with. This morning's was no different.

In "Counting Coupe" (and BTW, Janet, that's "coup"!), Janet expresses her concern about her one and only child, a son who is on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf, in a post about our fearless leader's preference for military measures over diplomacy. I love her phrase, "if Bush hadn't squandered all our good will in the world" - it's so accurate.

So what's upsetting me is the reply of her first commenter, a blogger with whom I'm not familiar. Having no children herself, Marcheline has written on her own blog a post to Janet about how her husband, a former Army Ranger, is a wonderful and fun-loving man as a result of his military experience: "I don't know another man on earth who is as tender and compassionate as he is, and yet I pity the person who would raise a hand to harm me or anyone he cares about."

Again - I know next to nothing about Marcheline so I hope she won't mind my picking on her. Since she's a blogger, she must be wonderful :) and a thinker, and yet I'm wondering how she's missed the fact that many of our Vietnam vets and many of the kids coming home nowadays from Iraq are absolutely haunted by PTSD.

I had several Ranger and Special Forces friends when I was in the military and yes, they were a wild and fun bunch of kids. The emotional damage they suffer now, though, breaks my heart. Remember John? He's a loving, compassionate family man and a brilliant writer - a friend whom I would also trust with my life. Some evenings now, though, he "patrols the perimeter" of his home, continually on the lookout for invading VC.

How can we continue to send our kids into these senseless wars, knowing how scarred they can be when they return? And why do we women still allow it? (I'm obviously including myself here.)

It just blows my mind.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making Schools, Not War

Kathie and her family visited us here in Charleston over Christmas. As always, we had such a good time! It was so nice to finally meet Isabella, a proud and strong little woman of 5.

Isabella and her mom stayed at Jessie's house and Kathie stayed with Kelly and me. Of course, Kathie cooked for us - some yummy shrimp scampi that she just "threw" together one evening and a wonderful moussaka for Christmas Day. (We like to have international menus for Christmas.)

While she was here, Kathie and I went to see the movie "Charlie Wilson's War", starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This is how Fandango describes the movie, which is based on a true story: "Charlie Wilson, an alcoholic womanizer and Texas congressman, persuaded the CIA to train and arm resistance fighters in Afghanistan to fend off the Soviet Union. With the help of rogue CIA agent, Gust Avrakotos, the two men supplied money, training and a team of military experts that turned the ill-equipped Afghan freedom-fighters into a force that brought the Red Army to a stalemate. However, the result also empowered the Taliban and terrorists including Osama bin Laden."

The part this description leaves out is the ending (and if you haven't seen the movie but plan to, skip the rest of this paragraph). With the help of American dollars appropriated by our Congress at the request of Charlie Wilson, the Afghanis have driven the Soviets from their country. Charlie is shown meeting with a US congressional committee to request more money, only this time the money is for educating the Afghanis. His request is turned down.


Kathie gave me two terrific gifts for Christmas - a Crate and Barrel gift card (ooh, they have cool stuff!) and a Netflix subscription. The first movie I selected for my queue was "Syriana". Yes, the movie's a few years old but I had never seen it, even though George Clooney and Matt Damon star in it (two of my "boyfriends", as Kathie calls her favorite hunky-boy actors, singers, whatever).

FYI - "Syriana" is loosely based on Robert Baer's memoir See No Evil, an account of his time in the CIA.

When the DVD showed up in my mailbox a couple of days later, I ripped it open and watched it. Chaos and confusion! There are at least four story lines going on in Syriana, a bit like "Crash". I finished watching the movie, thought about it overnight, then decided to look it up on Wikipedia. Armed with a better understanding of the individual plots, I watched the movie again. My confusion was much reduced this time - but not completely!

The subplot that I did understand from the very beginning was the one about the two young Pakistani men who are laid off from their jobs in an oil field (Iranian?) that has just been bought by a Chinese company. This is how Wikipedia describes it: "Since the company has provided food and lodging, the workers face the threat of poverty and deportation due to their unemployed status. Wasim desperately searches for work. Wasim and his friend join an Islamic school to learn Arabic in an effort to improve their employment prospects. While playing soccer, they meet a charismatic blue-eyed Muslim fundamentalist cleric, who eventually leads them to execute a suicide attack on a Connex-Killen LNG tanker using a shaped-charge explosive from the missing Tehran missile." OK, so that last bit about the missile is from one of the other plots. Keep up.

So, all the young Pakistani guys really wanted was a job.


When I talked with Kathie the weekend after Christmas, she mentioned a book that all of San Diego is reading this year, entitled Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time. I just finished reading it last night. If you read only one book this year, make sure this is the one. And be sure to buy it from Amazon through this link. Essentially, this New York Times bestseller is about a mountain climber/RN who has dedicated his life to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Well into the book, he talks about how some kids in these countries have been drawn in to extremist Islamic schools - simply because there are no other schools available.

Double hmmmm.

Back in September of 2001, I talked with a nun friend about the horrific World Trade Center catastrophe. I expressed to her my concern that, in our pain and shock, we would skip a collective soul search for underlying causes and pass right on to a kneejerk military reaction. After all, "What would Jesus do?" I asked her.

Sister Renee, who lives in Philadelphia and works with people who lost relatives and friends in the Trade Centers, responded that the Catholic Church recognizes "justifiable war". As much as I respected her, and maybe because of my respect, I was sorely disappointed by her answer.

I guess I'll read another of Kathie's recommendations next: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.