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Archive for October, 2009

churchlady02 copyMy next door neighbor’s son Jason was crestfallen when he got the memo  from school about this year’s pc Halloween celebration: no vampires, no zombies, no monsters, no devils; no swords or stakes or axes or ropes or hockey masks with breathing holes. Forget the fake blood or the green slime or the dripping claws or the sticky cobwebs or the black goo or dressing like his horror film namesake. “Positive images only,” said the school memo, with helpful suggestions like “Winnie the Poo,  Cinderella, Tinkerbell, or Marley” (presumably  before his death scene). To make things worse, no weapons of any kind, even for the heroes. I understand school is supposed to be a safe place, but what’s a nine year old boy to do? vamp

I volunteered to brainstorm with the boy one afternoon, little suspecting that Jason had already assembled a list of potential figures he could impersonate.

I felt a kind of sickening dread as I scanned the list. My heart pounded against my ribcage as my breath caught in my throat. The sound of blood roared in my ears and for a moment I couldn’t see.

“How did you come up with these names?” I managed to whisper.

“Pretty good, right?” Jason asked slyly.

These are the list of possible Halloween costumes each and every one designed to strike fear into the hearts of most sane…adults.

The Financier Bernie Madoff       Madoff

The Balloon Boyballoon-boyjpg-f36e89c1e27f427f_large

an airline pilot with a laptop  pilotlaptop

Mark Sanford or Rod Blagojevich

Blago Sanford

Sarah Palin as an author or Kate Gosselin as a talk show host

Palin Gosselin

At the end of the day, Jason decided to go as a 401K plan.

Pretty scary.

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According to the weekly news index from Pew Research, Afghanistan has become the focus of both old and new media – at least until some cute video of a pet or a baby starts circulating or some reality show contestant starts complaining, at which point new media will take a sharp detour. I’ve been hesitant to blog about international affairs recently. So many people do it so much better (see Steve Clemons’ Washington Note) and what can I add? Or perhaps I should say: where’s the challenge? How hard is it to criticize a policy in flux? Like shooting fish in a barrel – one of my least favorite images, by the way, as it manages to encompass both cruelty and an excessive use of firepower to prove a point.

Still, I’m going to toss in my two cents, though I risk pointing out the obvious, over-simplifying the situation, and boring my readers to tears. We all need to be at least superficially up to speed before we can determine, not only what we want our country to do in Afghanistan, but also why we always seem to end up in these positions.

QUICK AND SIMPLE HISTORY UPDATE

Afghanistan is a country with a complex history. Landlocked, the area has been at the crossroads of competing eastern and western, religious and secular empires for centuries. For the last thirty years, it has been in a continuous state of civil war. In the late seventies, the secular government in Afghanistan was also viewed as pro-Soviet. The U.S. Cold War strategy at the time was to covertly support the “other” side in order to counter Soviet influence in the Persian gulf. In the case of Afghanistan, our 80ssupport went to a loose but ideologically conservative coalition of religious leaders and tribal leaders – the mujahideen. The Soviets then countered with an invasion to shore up their friends in the government, the United States began to arm the anti-communist factions (which also received aid from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) and a horrible civil was broke out in which between half a million and two million Afghan citizens were killed. You can check at any one of dozens of sites on Afghan recent history (even Wikipedia is more or less up to date) or you can watch the infinitely enjoyable CW's war copy“Charlie Wilson’s War” starring Tom Hanks, Philip Hoffman Seymour and Julia Roberts. I leave it to you.

Although the United States may have assumed an ideological victory (as Charlie Wilson never did), it became clear, with the fall of the Soviet Union, that we might have backed the wrong horse. The Taliban wreaked havoc on the citizenry in its zeal to bring everyone in line with the supposed dictates of a particular brand of fundamentalism, resulting in not only a mass exodus of intellectuals but also a repressive regime that removed freedoms, violates human rights and reduced women to second-class citizens.

OUR POST 9/11 WAR

The United States’ activities in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks were called “Operation Enduring Freedom” a military campaign to destroy presumed Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. 301px-US_Army_Afghanistan_2006The U.S. also sought to overthrow the Taliban government because they were presumably harboring Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members, although documents show that Washington was giving the Northern Alliance information and logistics support as part of concerted action with India, Iran, and Russia – that would be our current adversary and our former one. The Taliban was ousted, the secular leader Hamid Karzai was made the 225px-Hamid_Karzai_in_February_2009transitional chairman of the newly installed government, then became president in 2004.

AND NOW…

In a few words: Taliban resurgence, particularly in the countryside, an spike in illegal drug activity, corruption charges against the present government currently enjoying U.S. largesse, voting fraud and human rights violations still occurring and the Afghan people – and our foreign policy – once again caught between a rock and a hard place. The Afghan government is neither reliable nor trusted by the people. The extent of our ability to force change appears limited. Even Joe Biden is dismayed. What we have is money to withhold and manpower to withdraw. We can just say no, or as Tom Friedman suggested in his NY Times op-ed piece, tell the government to shape up or we ship out. And do it.

We might also consider asking (or demanding or forcing) our own strategic thinkers to get to work redefining their own terminology with respect to our policy in Afghanistan and indeed around the world. What does it mean to choose sides? What does a victory look like? How do we propose to battle an ideology? What do we think will make the United States safe, what with poorly protected facilities, ill-defined immigration policies, poor follow-up for visas and other home protection issues that need attention? Can we say we’ve seriously considered a wholesale revamping of our foreign policy and military approaches to make those approaches at once more robust and more practical?

Or shall we continue as always, with an either/or, add more, subtract more, we won/we lost mentality? Shall we continue to send our troops into harm’s way while our leaders dither about what a sustainable foreign policy in the twenty-first century looks like and the rest of us dither about whatever it’s easiest to absorb?

That seems almost too easy – like shooting fish in a barrel.fish

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twitterblackberryUSEA friend of mine alerted me yesterday to the hoopla surrounding a tweet from entrepreneur and career counselor to young women, Penelope Trunk, who posted the following last week: “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” 

The tweet has sparked controversy throughout the blogosphere, particularly on women’s sites, from feminist protesting Trunk’s cavalier approach to abortion to concerns about the appropriateness of the material. Amanda Marcotte, controversial blogger and pot-stirrer par excellence, supported the tweet as “an elegant instance of the power of Twitter.” 

Comments ranged from the predictable “gross!” to the sympathetic “perhaps this is how she expresses her grief” and naturally, the moral implications of abortion have been front and center. 

My first question is: in our brave (or perhaps I should say, narcissistic) world of full and immediate disclosure, is anything off-limits?

I’ve always said that if content disturbs you, you are free to ignore it. In the good old days of print journalism, the “naughty” magazines came in brown wrappers and movies were (and still are, sort of) rated so you knew what you were getting into – or not.

But tweets go to the followers, who send them to others, who dissect and analyze them and then forward them to all sorts of outlets. How could I – or my nine-year-old niece – have avoided this tweet? Do I want her thinking everyone is (or should be) this seemingly easy-going about a miscarriage or an abortion? Will she be fooled into thinking these issues come with no more emotional complications than perhaps irritation or relief?

Trunk argues that miscarriage is a fact of life and life intrudes on work, and you can’t manage the balance if you can’t talk about it. I agree. Lots of things are facts of life: the messiness of grief, the reality of resenting one’s  offspring, the gracelessness of aging, or petty pleasure one occasionally takes from seeing someone else fail. Maybe these things do need to come out in the open. Besides, tweeting about the taboo is a great career-booster.

But to my second question: can you really describe anything important in 140 characters?

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