Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who Says You Can't Return

Well, I took a seven month sabbatical from the blog, mostly due to my teaching load. And I even thought about tanking the blog altogether, but some little voice said, "eh, give it another try."

Since I last wrote, one of the authors I recommended has been redeployed to Iraq. That would be Colby Buzzell, author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq. I had decided to teach this book, along with Imperial Life in the Emerald City, the Washington Post's head editor of the foreign bureau's scathing account of the excesses of the Green Zone. Not the salacious excesses that one used to occasionally read about in the press, but more the fiscal irresponsibility that makes the Grant administration, one of the most corrupt in American history, read like amateur hour. For instance, 1.7 billion dollars in cash, that went missing between the delivery in an army cargo plane and the Green Zone, and the replacement of a seasoned veteran of Wall Street by a 24-year-old whose sole mission in Iraq, and one that was completely unreasonable (and the reason why the veteran was replaced: he wisely objected against the administration's protestations that this was a "great idea"), was to get the Iraq stock market up and running with computers and high tech stuff that amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars without taking into account that the grid that powered Baghdad was basically cobbled together with baling wire, and was only supporting three hours of electricity a day. The Iraqi stock analysts and traders were using grease boards, with success, and continued to use them after the equipment was in place because there was no electricity on a regular basis. That's called a billion dollar answer to a one hundred dollar solution.

Colby's book is from an American soldier's POV, and is compelling and interesting reading. My students love it. I have to remind myself that they (the freshmen) were, on average, twelve years old when the war in Iraq started, and therefore they are inured to it in the way an older student usually is not. So, I wanted to teach them how to write effectively, both in an informal way like Colby Buzzell, and a formal way like Chandrasekaran, the author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, while waking them up to the fact that there is a war taking place. Actually, kids, there are two wars taking place (a lot of my freshmen said they thought the Afghanistan war "was over").

So a shout out to Colby. Hope he resumes his irreverent blog on his second deployment, and stays out of harm's way.

Nice to be back!

Friday, January 25, 2008


You know that the Democrats are overconfident when they pull the plug on a primary in a blue state that turned purple and now is really red, for all practical purposes. Personally, I hate this "red state, "blue state" and the newly-coined "purple state"—not quite republican or democratic—designation, but since I'm metaphorically challenged today, I'll use the lexicon most familiar. Because Michigan moved its primary from March something to January 15th, the National Democratic Party invoked some arcane rule about giving Iowa, New Hampshire precedence, ( and apparently Nevada too.) So it was a square-off between the national party, led by the feisty Howard Dean, and the state party. The state party lost the battle (and the war), and therefore, like refusing to cross a picket line, almost all the democratic candidates opted off of the primary ballot. You could for Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, who had already withdrawn from the race, or be "Undecided": if you dare wrote someone in, your ballot was thrown out. The Republicans, to their credit, didn't pull the same shenanigans, so they had the full list of candidates. So, since the Michigan primary is an open primary, Democrats, such as myself, went to play in the Republican sandbox. Unfortunately, many did so in a nefarious way. Most Democrats I know voted for Mitt Romney in order to split up the primaries between Republican candidates, and thus make it a more arduous task for a Republican candidate to win, and then begin the presidential campaign as the party's nominee. I, instead, voted my conscience.

So why this Democratic hubris? Does the national party think that Michigan doesn't count? That its citizens will overlook the fact that we were basically disenfranchised? Presently, there is a lawsuit being filed against the national party, alleging "taxation without representation," basically that voters who wanted to cast votes for Obama or Edwards were thwarted by the party's Machiavellian antics. Although litigation is not always the best means to pursue political equity, in this case it's merited.

I have one word for Howard Dean: Ohio.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Return of the Prodigal Daughter

I know, I know, it's been forever since I posted. Initially it was due to poor health and teaching load, but then—as many of you know—it became like a room that really needs painting: you want to paint it, you have the paint, you moved out all the furniture, but due to circumstances became sidetracked, and then find it extremely hard to resume. Then you feel guilty for not painting, and find other things to do, like cleaning out closets. It becomes a vicious cycle of guilt and regret that nothing short of sheer will (and maybe psychoanalysis) will break.

So it is a new semester and year, thus a fresh start.

I'm teaching Oedipus Rex by Sophocles this semester, and it never fails to provoke the thought that humankind has not learned much in 3000 years about the narcosis of power, and what it leads to: exile and a willful blindness, in order to not face the truth of what a fine mess the misuse of power and resulting hubris has wrought. Sometimes I feel like the United States is a figurative Oedipus, exiled from much of the world community and becoming so insular, it leads to "a blindness" of sorts, a reluctance to accept criticism or truth. Oedipus threatens to either torture or kill those who come to him bearing truth (fearing that they are trying to destroy him or usurp his crown); our government bullies the UN (which has its own power issues) or NATO or governments that disagree with our policies. Presently, we are in a dust up with NATO, who has repeatedly indicated over the past six years that the U.S. has not dedicated enough troops to fighting the Taliban (most returning U.S. vets from Afghanistan state the same). So, in a classic example of hubris, Defense Secretary Gates launched a salvo at NATO, implying that we are now sending 3000 marines to the country because the NATO forces 'do not know how to fight a guerrilla war.' I'm sure that our stunning success in Iraq before the surge, and perhaps even with the surge, fighting a guerrilla war impresses NATO commanders. And I'm sure that British forces, who have fought guerrilla wars around the globe for over a century, were especially impressed! We risk further "exile" if we anger NATO partners to the point they decide to reduce their respective troop strength.

Because of the impending presidential election, and because of the interminable campaigning and primary season, a lot of the recent government's machinations regarding Afghanistan have gone unnoticed. We, the public, are blinded by power too.

The election, the primaries, and especially what happened in Michigan are for another post.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where's the Northern Alliance When You Need Them?

Hi folks,

Sorry about the, again, delay. It has been an interesting few weeks. Recently, I have become a target of a hate group, who either hacked into university email and a listserv or someone in IT forwarded it to them: a very disturbing thought. The faculty was discussing the hate group and one member in particular—now we are being threatened. Threatened with lawsuits, threatened with appealed grades, threatened with "being exposed," (whatever that means). Who says the Taliban is not alive and well. . .and living in the midwest of America. Except it would be Bizarro World Taliban since this group has shoved anti-Islamic pamphlets under my door, and has posted ominous, and to foreign students from the middle-east, threatening fliers. It is just a matter of time before they find this blog, I'm sure of that since they seem to be monitoring our department's activities.

So, to you little hate-filled, logic-challenged, can't-see-the-forest-through-the-burning cross brownshirts,


I'm not scared of you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Voice From the Wilderness. . .

Sorry about the absence. I've been attempting to sell a house in the worst state economy since the 1970s, and in the state that has the worst economy in the nation, period. People are swarming out of Michigan. It reminds me of the great immigration of 1977. Will write more later.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Who ARE those guys?" Redux

Recently, I had several classes read an article that concerned 9/11 and respond to it in an essay. One of the questions I posed during class was "who are the Taliban?" Wowie zowie! Now I know these kids, on average, were 13 or 14 when the planes hit the towers, and I realize that they don't watch the news, but I was shocked at some of the answers I received. (I mean I was three during the Cuban missile crisis, but as I grew older, 10 or so, I realized it's importance). Here are some actual students answers. (Out of 66 students, approximately 12 correctly identified who the group is)

1. They are fighters in Iraq
2. They are fighters in Iran
3. They were on the planes that hit the towers
4. They are helping the Americans in Iraq
5. They are members of some new religion, like pagans.
6. I have no clue.

Apparently, the Taliban is very mobile, very organized, comprised of seemingly helpful pagans, when Iraq, but alternately commanded the planes that took down the towers and the Pentagon.

Someone help me out here. Is this lack of knowledge of crucial current events pandemic? Or is it solely an American phenomenon? I really, really would appreciate some feedback, especially from international readers. I'm quite discouraged. . .

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Football Faux Pas

We have an Afghan graduate student in our department. He is studying here so he may return and work at university in Afghanistan. I had lunch with him the other day, and he told me a fascinating story. He complained that head officers of NATO and the U.S. never really listened to or employed cultural translators (not just language translators), so there have been an ongoing series of incidents that have really riled the public and have played right into the Taliban's hand. A recent "bright idea" was to air drop hundreds of footballs (or soccer balls in the U.S.) for children to play with. The only problem was that each ball had the flags of several countries on it, and one of those flags was Saudi Arabia, which contains a verse from the Qu'ran. Sort of like putting a crucifix on a football. Many citizens were outraged, and the Taliban released statements that essentially said "See how they disrespect your religion? They hate you."

Good lord, if you can't even get the recreational equipment right, what about the serious negotiations with various groups, your interaction with the citizens of Afghanistan? Not good. Not good at all. Especially considering all the sacrifices of and by the soldiers of NATO and the U.S., and their efforts to rebuild a country that was completely destroyed by the Soviet/Afghan war.