Sunday, August 24, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where is the Country?

Above, retired army colonel and conservative historian Andrew Bacevich, whose son was killed in Iraq. See the whole interview or read the transcripts here. Highly recommended.
There are many people who say they support the troops, and they really mean it. But when it comes, really, down to understanding what does it mean to support the troops? It needs to mean more than putting a sticker on the back of your car.

I don't think we actually support the troops. We the people. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population. About a million and a half people that are on active duty.

And then we really turn away. We don't want to look when they go back for two or three or four or five combat tours. That's not supporting the troops. That's an abdication of civic responsibility. And I do think it - there's something fundamentally immoral about that.

Again, as I tried to say, I think the global war on terror, as a framework of thinking about policy, is deeply defective. But if one believes in the global war on terror, then why isn't the country actually supporting it? In a meaningful substantive sense?

Where is the country?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Georgia the Finland of Our Day?

It is hard to make sense of the Russian invasion of Georgia. All I know is that America has forfeited its moral standing in the world. Some argue that this is about oil, and Georgians can expect more violence, with little the U.S. can do to help. Some seem to warn of even darker outcomes. Here is an excerpt of an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security advisor.

Fundamentally at stake is what kind of role Russia will play in the new international system. Unfortunately, Putin is putting Russia on a course that is ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the late 1930s. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has correctly drawn an analogy between Putin's "justification" for dismembering Georgia -- because of the Russians in South Ossetia -- to Hitler's tactics vis-a-vis Czechoslovakia to "free" the Sudeten Deutsch.

Even more ominous is the analogy of what Putin is doing vis-a-vis Georgia to what Stalin did vis-a-vis Finland: subverting by use of force the sovereignty of a small democratic neighbor. In effect, morally and strategically, Georgia is the Finland of our day.

You can read more of the interview here. (For information about the Russo-Finnish War, go here.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Love in a Jar

This summer I am teaching our kids how to make jam the old-fashioned way, with no added pectin, just fruit and sugar and a whole lot of stirring. We use observation (does it gel on a cold saucer?) instead of a thermometer to judge its doneness.

We skim the foam, ladle the bubbling jam into hot jars, cap them tightly and invert them, then after a few minutes, turn them right side up and listen for the ping, pong, ping of the successful seals.

Our son uses his best penmanship, if not spelling, on the labels ("apricot vannila" is one Finnish-like result). He and his sister carefully align the jars on the windowsill to admire.

Their delight in the process is surpassed only by their delight in the product, spread on buttered toast, glopped onto ice cream, or eaten straight off the spoon. They've invented an "Italian soda" using sparkling water and jam foam (too sweet for grown-ups).

How fortunate we are. Within an hour, we have wiped up the counters and turned to other activities.

While typing up a beloved aunt's memoirs recently, I realized that I come from a long line of women who worked from sun up to sun down, and often beyond, growing, harvesting, and preparing food for their families, in addition to all of the other chores of tending to family and farm. Preserving food for the winter was a necessity, a stay against hunger. It was certainly not recreational.

If they didn't plan ahead and ran out of sugar or jars (as I'm wont to do), the fruit could go bad before the next trip to town. If they felt like blogging instead of making dinner, ordering pizza was not an option. Planning was essential. How little time they had just to themselves!

This summer as I practice that ancient kitchen alchemy, I thank my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and all the women before them in a long chain of caring and lore. They bequeathed many skills to me that are no longer necessary for survival (or even for canning, e.g. paraffin). But their legacy of love is preserved. Generation after generation. Spoonful after spoonful.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sports, a Good Thing

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We are back from vacation and a lovely one it was, with equal parts solitude and company, activity and leisure, familiarity and newness. The San Juans can't be beat for beachcombing, camping and hanging out with former Laestadians. Our last day culminated in 17 lbs of u-pick blueberries, a sizable quantity of which is staring at me as I write this, as if eager to be made into jam.

(Did you know Laestadius drafted his sermons with a quill and blueberry juice? Me neither.)

Before I get to work, I want to say something about sports. Obviously there is good and bad to be found in anything as broad and varied (and ancient, predating written history) as "sports." Unexposed in my impressionable years, I have little interest in professional sports, although I've been thrilled by a few Mariners games (not this season, alas), and I love watching the Olympic Games. My hubby feels pretty much the same. When we began our family, we wondered what role sports should play in our lives. His swimming, my yoga? Hiking, bicycling? Certainly we wanted our children to be active and healthy. With no family history to draw on, no relatives to consult, no prohibitions or expectations, we looked around to evaluate the case for kids' sports.


In the families we knew, both Laestadian and non, there were a few unfortunate kids whom we thought would have benefited from sports or some other time-consuming passion (science, chess, music, art) that would have kept them preoccupied and self-assured during those crazy middle school years. Sadly, drugs filled the void. Drugs offered both a pastime and an escape from their feelings of inferiority and separateness. Some are still whirling in that vortex. Among their parents, there is not one that doesn't regret not making sure their kids were kept busy after school.

Sports do keep you busy.

Among the children we knew who played sports, the sole downside was that one boy had been injured, several times, on a college football field.

So (in our admittedly small but nonetheless relevant sample) we saw, on the one hand, drugs and alienation, and on the other, a broken collar bone, a twisted ankle. None of the athletic children went on to play sports professionally. None seemed to suffer an excess of pride or aggression.

It was not hard to pick. Yes on sports in our family, but hold the football.

At their young ages our children have tried t-ball, baseball, soccer, tennis, martial arts, Irish dancing, ballet, swimming, basketball and gymnastics. They have played on leagues, in camps, and on the playground. Their coaches have been incredibly decent, teaching their own and our children important life skills along with the game.

Our kids are learning to win and lose gracefully, to listen to their bodies, to respect individual differences, to stretch their limits and compete against themselves. They are learning humility, the kind that knows the true measure of a person is character, not ability. They know that individuals are not equally gifted, but every person can progress with practice.

Given our experiences so far, I feel confident that there are many more advantages than disadvantages.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Studies indicate that children's involvement in sports helps them with schoolwork, improves health, and protects against smoking, drug use, and teen pregnancy.

RWB refers to a "beer league" or a "church league" but I have never encountered either. Maybe that's a Clark County thing. There are many leagues in these parts, but they are defined by the sport, location, and age or ability or gender of the participants. Adults have a zillion opportunities to get active, too. Why let the kids (and the spoiled overpaid multizillionaire pros) have all the fun?

I'm thinking about joining an amateur softball league, as I've learned the amazing satisfaction of a solid base hit. If the games include a celebratory beer afterward, so much the better. It feels so good to be free.