Archive for December, 2013

War, Peace, and Christmas

Merry Christmas, everybody! I hope you’re enjoying some downtime with loved ones. As a zen pantheist Altinist all-of-the-abovism devotee, I hold Christmas to be just as holy as every other day. Still, I got exactly what I wanted this holiday season – time. I’ve finally got some time to relax, play video games, and write. (Pounded out a new story yesterday, in which I took a crack at the horror genre.)

CARE and Terror

Alas, the news this morning is not all joyous. In fact, I’m focused right now on two really horrible stories, one from a while back and one happening as we speak.

Recently Diane and I watched The Narrow Path, a documentary about the peace activist and Jesuit priest John Dear. (It’s good, but the director goes nuts with the sepia filter.) At one point he mentions Margaret Hassan, who was a medical relief worker for many years in Iraq with CARE International, before she was abducted and murdered there. This sort of thing is especially horrifying to me, the idea that someone could devote themselves to doing good work in a place, only to be repaid with such horrible violence. (Like those women in Zanzibar.)

Desperate to know more, I went to Hassan’s Wikipedia page and read about her ordeal. It turns out no one knows, to this day, who exactly killed her. Some group of fanatical scumbags. What I found truly remarkable, however, is that some members of the Iraqi insurgency — and even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — called for her release.

As horrifying as the whole ordeal is, this last bit gives me hope, in a weird way. I am comforted by the fact that an atrocious person like al-Zarqawi, who was responsible for so much suffering and violence, was willing to stand up for an aid worker. It helps me feel like religious extremists aren’t a totally alien species, beyond all human connection. It’s a small thing, I know, but it really hit me.

War in Southern Sudan

For weeks we’ve been hearing about fighting in South Sudan, and this morning brings headlines about mass graves and ethnic bloodshed. This makes me very sad, and I’m trying hard to resist the standard American mindset of “War in Africa? What else is new?” I’m trying to stay connected with the pain and horror we all felt on 9/11, and keep myself linked to the reality that thousands of people are experiencing that right now in South Sudan — women, men, boys and girls. (I’m always amused and saddened when people only mention women and children, as if men can’t (or don’t) experience pain, loss, and suffering in these situations. Granted, 99% of the time it’s men who initiate and perpetuate them, but other men are of course caught in the crossfire.)

Meanwhile, reports of other atrocities are coming out of Central African Republic. Alas, there’s nothing we regular folks can do at the moment. The UN is sending in 6,000 more peacekeepers (around 12k total) to try to quell the fighting.

What struck me about this story is how blasé we can be about civil war, while simultaneously filling our lungs with indignant outrage when we hear about mass killing. What is war but mass killing carried out by two sides? It’s all so very sad. (This article about corruption in East Timor hasn’t been helping my spirits either.)

So what do we do? First of all, we pay attention. Indifference is the greatest sin, and while of course we shouldn’t fixate on the horrors of reality, neither should we hide from them. Secondly, we allow ourselves to feel the empathy so natural for humans (and so rare in our modern society, alas). Third, if and when some sort of action is possible (via Amnesty International for example), we take it.

No apathy! No sleepwalking!

A Word About the Photo

The news is filled today with images of South Sudan soldiers, emaciated refugees, and terrified children. But it seems like those are the only images we ever see from Africa. (cf. How to Write About Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina.) So I chose an image from the 2011 South Sudan independence celebrations. Let’s not forget there are many awesome people in that country working hard to bring peace back.

Time and Words

I’m actually going to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2014: I’m going to write here every day.

One reason is because I’m reading Alison Bechdel’s second memoir Are You My Mother?, which features a bit about her mom’s relentless diary-keeping. It got me thinking about the various purposes of journals, and I thought about what this site could be — and what it definitely is not these days.

Lately I only post the podcast with links. These are important (to me, if no one else), since I often find myself referring to the stories in online discussions. Usually if something is on my mind, I save it for the podcast. But there are things text can do, and I want to do more of them here. Besides, prince not dead!

The other reason I want to write here more is because I think it’s important to write every day (I give my students a hard time all the time about it), but I go for many days without writing. Hypocrite much?

The reason I often don’t write much here is because I’m usually exhausted by the end of the school day. As a result, I often feel like I have to use my few precious hours for fun/relaxing things like meditation and video games. If I write, I feel like it ought to be on my next “real” project, a book or story.

I want to write more here also because I’m fascinated by journals and diaries. What people write down each day can be a fascinating window into their minds and lives. What they leave out, which tidbits they explore — it’s like watching a film get edited in real time.

However, my keyboard is old and the responses are poor. So I need a new one. But right now it’s insanely cold in Madison (5 below) and who knows if Office Depot is even open. I suppose I could call. (Part of me says to hell with it, and I can get a keyboard next time I’m out. But another part says that if I’m going to work on my book this week — and I am — I should get the new keyboard now, so I won’t have to wrestle with this gummy hunk of crap for one more day. And another part of me just likes getting new stuff. But another part of me prefers to stay inside where it’s warm and I can drink tea and play Far Cry 3 all day. But then another part of me says I’m being a lazy bum for not working on the book. But then another part of me says I deserve time off now, since I have to start grading papers next week. And on and on and on.)

Today I’m listening to: Lion’s Mouth!

Big long show this time. Lots of stuff about education! Enjoy.

DS#90: A Leaning Tower of PISA Stories

Top Links

Current Events



Killer Robots, Etc