Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stepping Out

According to Google Analytics linked to this site...which I endearingly refer to as my Google Voodoo because it seems like magic every time I log on and find pie charts and graphs telling me more than I can possibly understand about visitors to Thinking in Peaces...about 600 of you honor me with a read of these ramblings every month.  So it seems I should post a preemptive apology.

I will not be writing here in November...although I will be writing.  Like a fiend.

I have accepted the annual challenge from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month) to finish 50,000 coherent words between midnight tonight and midnight on November 30. 



Writers from 90 countries step up to the plate every November, ready to take a swing at the story burning within.  There is no prize for finishing - and only 18% of the 100,000+ folks who commit actually do - it's just a deadline.  And most of us need a deadline.

I've started writing no less than a dozen books in my life.  I figure it's time to get past page 25.  So...off I go, into the great wide open - now 12 hours 'til the kick off, and still unsure exactly which story I'll pull out of the shadows of my imagination.  Will it be the Martini Chronicles?  the Letters from Africa?  the Neighborhood Mosaic?  the Organic Mixed Nuts?  the Bracelet?  Or will something entirely new pop from brain to page over the next 30 days?

I'm excited and afraid.

Strategy #1 for completion, say the experienced NaNos, is to tell all your friends you're writing a novel in November.  So...here it is friends.  Feel free to hold me accountable.

I'll be posting one sentence from the writing every day at my other blog, Just Six Journal.  So reset your bookmarks, and take a peek from time to time.  I'll also let you know how I'm doing on word count each day - to stay on target, I'll need to write 1667 words a day!

Gulp. 

Of course I won't stop thinking about this big ol' goofy world we live in every day - that thinking is likely to emerge somewhere in a character that shows up at my desk in November.  I only hope he/she isn't too boring...

Thanks for the encouragement - which is the time you take to read here.  I'll be back in December.

Peace all. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Meeting Planes

I logged onto my favorite flight tracking site early yesterday morning so I could keep an eye on the plane that was bringing six young musicians I know and love back to Texas after a three week tour of Europe. 

My youngest son is one of those musicians. 

I hit the refresh button no less than two dozen times during the day, and got so much pleasure out of seeing the little plane icon ooonch slowly across the world toward home.


AA2491 40 minutes from Austin

We met the weary travelers at the Austin airport a little before midnight.  It was a happy reunion with hugs, celebrations of luggage/instrument arrival, quick stories about pizza box lids and the Fall colors of Germany...and then home to familiar showers and beds and facebook. 

President Obama met a plane late last night, too.  At Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.  It was carrying 18 passengers - all in flag draped coffins - from Afghanistan. 



President Obama salutes the coffin of Sgt. Dale Griffin of Terre Haute, IN

The dead were this week's "fallen" in Operation Enduring Freedom, which has seen the biggest loss of US life this month since the war began in Afghanistan in 2002.  These troops and DEA agents died in two separate incidents on Monday of this week:  Ten in a helicopter crash, and 8 in a vehicle struck by an "improvised explosive device." 

The families of these sons and daughters were at the air base to meet their loved ones' plane, too.  They had a few minutes with the President, who I imagine heard their stories, offered his condolences, his gratitude...and, perhaps, his promise.

His promise that as long as he is president, no more Americans who seize the opportunity to serve in this country will be sacrificed to an unclear purpose.  A promise that men and women of America who willingly give their talents to the service of our defense will no longer be left to wonder, "Why am I here?" or "What are we doing?"  A promise that he has paid attention to the resignation of US Foreign Service Officer Matthew P. Hoh, who wrote in his resignation letter
(we are)...encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people

I crawled into bed last night just before 2 AM, knowing my son was safely home...looking forward to hearing his stories and seeing his pictures in the days to come. 
President Obama landed on the White House lawn just before 5 AM this morning, knowing - I hope - that real people with real hopes and real dreams and loving families are sloshing through a quagmire that is in his hands to fix. 

Peace. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Equal Opportunity Evil?

I've had reason over the last couple of weeks to ponder the question:  What if women ruled the world?

It all began with the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which tells the inspiring story of the women of Liberia who stood - quite literally - for peace in their country and made it happen. The film ends with the promise that the Liberian Women for Peace are ready to mobilize on a moment's notice if their families and communities are ever again subjected to the terror of war. 

(The woman who began that movement in Liberia...Leymah Gbowee...will receive the Gruber Women's Rights prize this week for her "demonstration of courage and commitment to a fundamental shift in culture in the face of significant obstacles.")

Not a fist was raised, a face slapped, or a bullet fired by these women in Liberia.  Good things happened.

And then there was the story of Jodie Evans, co-founder of CodePink: Women for Peace - who stood face to face with President Obama two weeks ago, wearing a pink t-shirt that announced "End the Afghan Quagmire," and handed him the signatures of thousands of women in Afghanistan who want to be part of making peace in their country.

As Jodie told the president, if good is going to come in Afghanistan, "the women need to be involved."  

And finally, there was the book on my nightstand, loaned to me by  my friend Karen, titled If Women Ruled the World:  How to Create the World We want to Live In.  The book is a product of the White House Project, the non-partisan, non-profit organization that exists to advance women's leadership in this country, "up to the U.S. presidency."  Among the 95 essays included in the book are works titled:  "We'd Put a Compassionate Face on America," and "We Would Walk a Mile in Each Other's Shoes," and "Bullying in All Forms Would Be Unacceptable."

Good things, it seems, would happen if women ruled the world.

Then came the headline this morning:
Bosnian War's "Iron Lady" Freed From Prison

...and I was compelled to investigate what happened when Biljana Plavsic ruled the Serbian world of Bosnia in the mid-late 1990s. 

Good things did not happen.  Horrible, terrible, nightmarish things happened to Bosnian Muslims who Plavsic deemed "genetically deformed."  She considered the torture, murder, rape, and displacement of Muslims a "perfectly natural phenomenon."

When it came time, in 2002, for the Iron Lady to stand trial for her crimes against the people of Serbia, she was, at least, clever enough to bargain with prosecutors.  She pleaded guilty to one count of crimes against humanity in exchange for seven counts of war crimes - including genocide - being dropped.

Then when her day in court came, she blamed Slobadan Milosevic for the whole thing and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.  She served less than seven before her release today.  

And so, Biljana Plavsic has pushed me out of my bubble of belief that if women ran the world, the relational nature that seems so inherent in our genetic make up would make world peace a walk down Easy Street. Take a look at this Plavsic quote from 1994:
I don't have much faith in political negotiations.  One good battle would settle this war.

So much for the kinder, gentler face of leadership.


Biljana Plavsic - Bosnia's Iron Lady

It was a wise man - Lord Acton - who said in 1887:
Power tends to corrupt.  And absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men.
And - sigh - bad women? 

Peace.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Young" Inter-Nut Genius

...that's me.

At the end of most days, I find myself wondering if I forget things because I have crammed so much information into my head in one day, or if I forget things because the electrical depolarization of the membrane around a handful of my presynaptic cells has gone awry.

Wow! It's startling to me how quickly I can sound brilliant on any given subject...like the synaptic processes in the brain. You should be afraid.

And encouraged.

According to a new study discussed last week in Chicago at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, I'm keeping my brain young when I engage in the curious exploration of a topic on the internet. Yep, the "use it or lose it" thinking behind brain functionality has gone high tech. It's not the crossword puzzle keeping old brains firing anymore - it's the internet. Scientists have hooked "old people" (55-78...gulp) up to MRIs and put them in front of computers to prove the theory: Web Surf to Save Your Aging Brain.

Since I spend no small amount of time each day surfing the web for information about everything from: the current time in Asse, Belgium; the current mood of women in Afghanistan; the best recipe for gumbo, I am thrilled to run across this research (online, of course).

Now I can worry about wrinkles instead of dementia...

So surf on, friends. It's good for the brain.

But, make sure you step away from the desk from time to time to blink and breathe and discuss your online discoveries with a real human being. Surely time face-to-face, idea-to-idea, laugh-to-laugh, hand-on-hand with another person is still the delight of being human...and, the real key to aging with grace.


Peace.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rowdy in Pink

In the days before I had time to blog, I worked at a very cool conference center in Austin that threw some flat out amazing events. As manager of the team that pulled every one of those events right out of a magician's hat, I must honestly confess today that there were very few names more feared than this one when it came time to coordinate a meeting plan: Jodie Evans. She's the co-founder of:


Clearly, I had no complaint with the work of Code Pink and I was beyond delighted to be part of bringing the likes of Molly Ivins and Anne Lamott to our beautiful Texas hilltop when the group of peace advocates gathered. But, I'm here to tell you, as an eyewitness - these are not your laid back peace-niks. These women, lined up behind the energy and presence that is Jodie Evans, are demanding and wild and stubborn and just plain rowdy. Making a 3-day conference plan that fit into the little boxes of my banquet event orders and production forms was just not going to happen with this bunch. I spent the duration of both 3-day events we hosted with Code Pink wondering what had hit me and what was coming next.

Guess who got a dose of Jodie Evans last week? President Obama. And I think he had it coming.

Jodie had just returned from 10-days in Afghanistan, where she talked to people - real Afghans - about their visions for peace. In particular, Jodie wanted to hear from women. She came back to the US with thousands of signatures from those women...all of them asking the President of the United States to stop fanning the flames of destruction that are ruining their lives. You know what she did with the signatures? She bought herself a ticket to a pricey fundraiser...$15,000 for dinner in downtown San Francisco and a photo op with the President. Instead of a ball gown, Jodie wore a pink t-shirt with "End the Afghan Quigmire" stenciled on it. And, she had her moment with the President. It went something like this:
Jodie: The women there (Afghanistan) are really upset that they are not at the negotiating table.
President: What do you mean, I have Hillary?
Jodie: No the Afghan women want to be at the negotiating table.
President: Oh.
Jodie: I am here to remind you to keep your promises for peace.
President: You know we are not going to end the problem in Afghanistan any time soon.
Jodie: Actually you’re not going to solve the problem, they are.
Consider yourself introduced to Jodie Evans.

You know what? The peace movement is - perhaps - not necessarily peaceful. It may not be particularly calm and organized, timid or very soft-spoken. It mostly likely should be unruly...outside the lines and boxes and usual thinking and polite talking. Because peace takes courage. To put aside guns and walk into a place known to be hostile with nothing more than a plan to stay the course until the peace is successfully waged...that takes some guts. Ask the women of Liberia how it goes.

Today, you can log onto the Code Pink facebook causes page and pledge $10 to begin a run at sustainable peace in Afghanistan: $10 will pay for one of these critical services: * Food for one woman for 7 days * Medical care for one woman for one month * One dress for one woman * A young girl's school tuition for 15 days.

I am grateful for the gutsy women dressed in pink who are not afraid to speak their minds with congressmen/women, presidents, generals, or people in war weary countries. And I'm looking over my shoulder in hopes of finding Jodie Evans, in a wave of pink, stirring up life all around us.
Jodie Evans
Peace.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Paying Attention

I am looking away from the Balloon Boy stories today. The Heenes are tragic, no doubt. Having your family drama - fabricated or not - beamed from sea to shining sea just can't be fun. I know they're reality TV veterans, but when your lawyer is asking the sheriff to resist the spotlight and let you quietly turn yourself in for creating a nationwide panic...well, reality begins to suck. So, I'm looking away from Richard and Mayumi Heene today. I find the rest of us more interesting to ponder. What is it we find so fascinating about this story? I guess it's that we love a happy ending. The tale of a lost and found 6-year old provided that for us last Thursday. We also seem to love juicy gossip. The continuing saga of this offbeat family has fed that hungry animal in us every day since the happy ending was upended by the balloon boy saying to his dad, "I thought we did it for the show." Kids. They'll make us look like fools every time, won't they? What I can't explain about this story and our collective response is all the outrage I've heard over it. People right here in Texas suddenly know exactly how many dollars it costs to put a Colorado National Guard helicopter in the air for an hour, how many Ft. Collins law enforcement dollars can be wasted in one afternoon, and exactly how much a family makes as part of a reality TV show. Waste like this is, apparently, despicable. But, ask the same people what we spent last Thursday on lingering war in Iraq ($720-million) and you'll be lucky to get a shrug. Why aren't we outraged over muddy answers to strategic questions about ongoing war? Ask them how many children in the world died from hunger last Thursday afternoon (16,000). Why aren't we incensed over the disparity between the never-satisfied American consumer and the barely-surviving third world child? Ask how much money was spent last week ($3 million) trying to tell us what to believe about health care reform legislation. Why can't we get a hackle raised about that? I am weary of the low-consequence Balloon Boy story. Let Ft. Collins sort this one out alone. Leave the family to manage its own fame or shame. In the meantime, can we get an eyebrow raised for a costly war or a hungry child or an expensive media propaganda blitz? Peace.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Believe in Blue Skies

I lived in the Silicon Valley of California for two years in the early 1980s. I was young, and research like Google was not available, so I went to the far-away land of Cupertino, California somewhat uninitiated. For starters - I didn't know the place was an actual valley. Imagine my surprise on the second week there when the haze cleared enough for me to see where I was. Once rich in orchards, flowering trees, and every kind of plant a valley soil near the Pacific Ocean could produce...by the time I arrived in Silicon Valley, the high tech industry had taken 20 years off the life of the place. The tiny piece of paradise I had moved to, nestled between Mount Hamilton on the North and the Saratoga foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains on the South, looked like this: ...on a very good day. Most days we were unaware hills and mountains existed at all. A blue sky was a very rare occurrence. I tried to hold my breath for two years. And I grieved over the color of the sky, wondering if there would be a blue sky left in the United States by the time I had children. Here's the good news. I've been back to California recently. Look at the view of Mount Hamilton from the valley today: So, cheers to the State of California, which has spent the last 20+ years aggressively enacting legislation designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, and carbon dioxide released into the blue-sky air of the Golden State. The air regulatory board in California has also taken on dry cleaning fluids, second hand smoke, and outdoor residential waste burning...to name a few. Up next on the contentious US Senate agenda is Cap and Trade legislation. Another fight of health care proportions is expected. We can expect corporate lobbies to take a vested interest in the outcome. I would imagine we can also expect hours and hours of "less government is better" rhetoric designed to to persuade us we are not ruining the earth with our polluting industries and modes of transportation. Study the issues now. Be ready for the conversation. Setting controls on pollution works. The evidence is in California's blue sky. I believe in blue skies. Do you?
Declare your own support for blue skies. Feel free to copy the logo above (I have the copyright) and announce your plans for saving our skies on your own website/blog.
Peace. And happy Blog Action Day!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Avoiding Stress

There's an article on the front page of my newspaper today about some hard working psychologists at The University of Texas who are studying Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in soldiers. Let me disclose right off the bat that I have nothing but the highest regard for scholarly research in the field of psychology. My oldest son does it at Indiana University. He learned to ask questions like: What were they thinking? and, Why do they do that? growing up in a house where those questions were regularly pondered. Still, today's story on the work of Dr. Michael Telch and his staff with the Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project created no small amount of stress in me. The UT scientists are running Ft. Hood soldiers through a battery of tests before, during, and after battlefield deployment in an attempt to "provide important new insights into the causes of combat PTSD and ways to prevent it." If researchers can pinpoint risk factors for the disorder, says the article, perhaps it is possible to "inoculate" service members before they deploy to a war zone. Really? At Dr. Telch's UT website, he says this:

Fear can be a good thing.

Being afraid makes us heed severe weather warnings and keeps us from running across busy freeways. It is a survival mechanism.
I like the idea of fear when it comes to war. Should human beings really be "inoculated" to manage this fear? Is there a reason scenes like these should NOT terrify us? Perhaps the best answer to PTSD is to subject every politician pondering war to some real-life war scenes, in hopes that a fear response - which is embedded in each of our souls - will take the lead. End war. End combat PTSD. Peace.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eight Years on the Beach

I sat down at my computer at 9 am this morning. By 10, I'd hit 109 different websites in a quest for bits of information about my world. Today that first hour of internet exploring included: the weather in Switzerland, the possible location of a touring post-rock band, the definition of post-rock, the linkedin page for a former colleague who requested a recommendation, the facebook page of a great kid I know celebrating his 19th birthday, the number of Weight Watchers points in a cup of granola... Multiply the list by 20. It's ridiculous, really, how much I stuffed into my brain in one hour. Ridiculous, but awesome. We're moving across the world at speeds I can't even comprehend. It's described in hundreds of thousands of bits per second - and whatever that means, it's fast. I'm accessing information in one hour that I'd have spent a full year trying (and sometimes failing) to find in a library as recently as 20 years ago. And so I forgive my grandparents for not knowing what was happening to the Jews in Hitler's pre-war Germany. Even after they knew of the persecutions, there was rarely access to photos like these:
Lager Nordhausen, concentration camp where 20,000 are believed to have died.
And I understand that my parents had to settle for Chet Huntley's and David Brinkley's and Walter Cronkite's views of what was happening in Vietnam. There was no way for average, busy Americans to find out about things like the March, 1968 massacre of 350 unarmed South Vietnamese people in My Lai. It was a year before this photo became news in 1969:
Son My village in South Vietnam, March 16, 1968
We people of the digital age have a different level of accountability, I think. With our laptops and desktops and PDAs and 3G networks, we don't have to let Brian Williams or Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann deliver the real world. If we want to know what's happening in, say, Afghanistan after 8 years of a US war - we just log on and, boom! Afghanistan, war dead Afghanistan, daily life Afghanistan, women Afghanistan, children Afghanistan, US To quote John Prine - and I often do - "It's a Big Ol' Goofy World." But it's at our fingertips, my fellow internerds...there for our edification. It's time we got our heads out of the sand and flexed our surfer muscles.
The US and allies invaded our country under fine slogans of “democracy”, “women’s rights”, “liberation” and so on, but today they are supporting and helping the dirtiest enemies of such values in Afghanistan.
Knowledge is power. If we have computers with internet access, we have the power. Shall we use it? Peace.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Who's Happy Now?

I find a lot to ponder in the opening line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
I have stretched Tolstoy's assumption a bit today, as I've pored over speculation and specifics about our war in Afghanistan. I'm guessing most Americans would call Afghanistan an unhappy family. It is war ravaged and fear-ruled. Promises of a fair democracy have been broken, women have been setting themselves on fire at frightening rates, children have been starving. Rain doesn't fall. Human services don't arrive. Offers from terrorists continue to look like the best people can hope for. We could talk all day about Afghanistan's long and storied history of misery, I'm sure. But Afghanistan is not the unhappy family that keeps seeping into my analogous thinking today. It is my country...the United States of America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. United we stand. Bedrock of democracy. For starters, we cannot stop fighting about our fighting. Defense Secretary Gates has indirectly rebuked General Stanley McChrystal who has drawn a line in the strategic sand with President Barack Obama who has a Vice President and a Secretary of State singing in two entirely different keys... All while an assortment of "experts" on the subject show up on our television screens with no small amount of hopeless rhetoric to deliver to us in the name of objectivity. And while we're all wringing our hands and saying, "Oh, Vietnam," 65,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines are on the ground in Afghanistan. Yesterday eight of them died there. If the President and his war council (convening tomorrow) decide to stick with the counterinsurgency plan kicked off earlier this year, the number of our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who are fighting the terrorists, the culture, the climate, and the geography of Afghanistan will climb to 108,000 within a year. And it seems only right for our big, superpower USA family to be reminded that Russia fell to Afghan freedom fighters in the 1980s with 120,000 troops on the ground. I think happy families dance in the streets. Afghan people were doing that as the Soviets pulled out of their country in 1987 and 1988. There is no dancing in the streets for our US family these days. We are mired in a war that is not working. My opinion - which will surprise no one - is that war never works. Anywhere. It creates nothing but chaos and fear and mile after mile of human suffering. A family at war is not a happy family. We are unhappy in our own way. As I read heartbreaking stories about families in Afghanistan today, I came across a website for the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. This organization is working courageously, under the most dire of circumstances and conditions, to keep women and children alive in its most unhappy country. Here's what RAWA says of our war:
RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can't be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values.
Let there be peace...and happiness...in the world family. Let it begin with us.

Monday, October 5, 2009

C'mon People Now...

Love is but a song we sing. And fear's the way we die. I know if I can sing the words to this song, I must be an old hippie (you are too) - but surely there is a load of truth to be heard in every generation's ears in those two simple lines, sung by the Youngbloods in the late 1960s. Fear's the way we die. That's the one that really gets me. Because it's true. Our bodies respond to the way we think, feel, and act. It's often called the "mind/body connection" and it's a medical fact of life. High blood pressure, chronic digestive upsets, lowered immunities - these are the lesser evils of the body's response to fear, anxiety, grief, and anger. I only mention it because bumper stickers are affecting my good health. Does it make folks feel better to put rude slogans on their cars? Is it empowering in some way to display an angry opinion and drive on? Is there anything more to be accomplished by this behavior than some version of a passive-aggressive middle finger in the air? Are you daring me to ram my car into yours? Here are a few back-bumper-wisdoms gnawing at me from the road this week: Here's what bothered me most about that one. This was on the other side of the bumper: I know there are some nasty ones from the thinkers who dig in the other field of thought. I see those too, and - yes - they make me bite my nails, too: What is up with us? Who goes first in the effort to make bumper sticker peace...you or me? Can we begin to imagine peace on this Earth if we can't even leave our hatefulness rolled up behind our car windows? How 'bout we all order one sticker and be done with it... C'mon people now, smile on your brother (and sister!) Everybody get together Try to love one another... Right now. If not for peace on Earth, why not for our good health? Peace.