Thursday, September 28, 2006

This is really a fascinating site. Who knew?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

School has started up for the fall, and I am very excited about my new classes. Mostly dummy classes, but I'm taking a class in HTML just for fun. I know nothing about it; my exposure to HTML before this point has consisted of laughing at people who talk in fake tags, e.g. /drama , /rant. Perhaps I will even learn enough to make this page a bit spiffier.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I would love to read an extensively researched paper on possible connections between Islam and violence. That would really be fascinating.

A Conversation with Bob

There's this old man who lives in the RV park where I work, his name is Bob and he's ancient. He was in the Navy in WWII as a corpsman, and when you get him talking he tells stories about treating burns at Pearl Harbor or searching houses in Okinawa. I asked him about the war in Iraq, and he said it reminded him of Vietnam- not in the actual fighting of it or whether it was right or wrong, but in the willingness of politicians to withdraw troops without taking into consideration the fate of the last guy out. He doesn't really care if we stay or go, he says, he just doesn't want to leave the troops there hanging- because if it's bad now, how much worse would it be, when half our soldiers are gone and despair is in every breath and you're the soldier who has to stay behind and clean up on our way out.

I said, I don't think much of why we're in Iraq, and I don't think much of how the war's been fought, but I don't think we should leave, cause we rolled in and destroyed every good thing that country had going for it, which was little enough, and if we leave now they're doomed. All political arguments aside, we owe them, the little people, the mothers and kids and grandparents, to be the best that we can for them now. And Bob says, well, true, but it's not like we're going to be able to do anything they don't want us to do with their country; and they're so set on hating each other, nothing we do matters. There will be no solution until they choose to cooperate instead of hate each other.

The whole conversation started when Bob came in to let me know that he'd be gone over the first, so we should just charge his rent to his card- which we do anyway, every month, but he's an old man. So I asked him where he was going, and he says, well, my youngest son is being deployed again and we're going to see him off. He's going to be in the Gulf somewhere, and for the first time he's going to be stationed on a cruiser instead of a carrier, which is a smaller ship and a little more mobile. I made some stupid comment about how at least he's in the Navy, so he's in less danger than if he were on the ground. And Bob says, less danger, yes, but there's nothing quite like sailing along and then out of nowhere these dinghys come at you from both sides, like so- and he makes a meeting motion with his hands- and you don't know if they're going to try to sell you things, or if, you know, they're full of explosives and crazy people who don't care if they die. It's no different from Vietnam, really, you never know if the people who smile at you are friendly or if the next time you see them it'll be behind a rifle, shooting at you.

And I said, before we invaded Iraq, I was in college up in Washington, and I was taking a social sciences class on war, and I learned all these things Vietnam taught the military. All these lessons about guerilla warfare and overwhelming force and how to subdue populations without making them hate you and never sending in soldiers without the proper support. We invaded Iraq on the basis of these techniques, like we did in the first Gulf War, and even the TV news stations caught on and started calling it Shock and Awe, because the force we had was so overwhelming even we were impressed. But it turns out, we didn't learn anything from Vietnam. Not one single thing. After the TV hype was over, after our president declared victory, we did the same damn thing. We knew better, but we still went in undergeared, with the minimum number of people instead of the maximum number, we still killed civilians indiscriminately in our pursuit of our real opponents, our troops weren't trained in guerilla tactics.

And Bob says, people never learn.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

One of the most frustrating things about living with fibromyalgia is the brain fog. I remember the onset of my brain fog fairly clearly- I graduated from the DLI Korean course with honors (somehow), and I began to believe that stuffing my head full of Korean had somehow overfilled my mind, so that I was no longer able to remember things. I thought I had memorized as much as I ever could, and that this sensation of being brain dead was just something I would have to live with until my brain processed all the Korean I had crammed into it- or at least, I hoped that I would eventually process everything and go back to normal, that was the hope I clung to.

I actually began to experience the symptoms of brain fog even before I graduated, but I chalked it up to learning Korean. I could look straight at someone who was speaking English calmly and simply, and not understand a word they were saying. Good for me, according to my instructors that meant that I was learning to think in Korean- and I was, to a certain extent. But I no longer think in Korean, I haven't spoken the language aloud in a year and a half, and I still have problems comprehending spoken English at times. I attribute it to being tired, and get away with it, but although I don't admit it to the people I mishear, I know better. There is something wrong with my mind.

I have always considered myself to be a linguistic sort of person, a characteristic I most likely get from my mother, who is a speech therapist by education and a Renaissance educator by nature. Before I could even speak, I loved being read to; although I don't remember doing so, my mother says I taught myself to read before I was five. Before I entered first grade, I was reading chapter books along the lines of Little House on the Prarie, and by sixth grade I had graduated to the Classics and Science Fiction sections of our local library. I think I read every single science fiction paperback that library had to offer by the time I left town at 16- a feat I managed by putting myself through high school at top speed. A key part of that plan was 3 English credits in one year, which I managed by not only reading 50 different works of literature and writing a paper about the themes I found in them, but also by writing several short stories and a collection of poems as well as a 20 page research paper on Woodstock '68. I have often dreamed of making a living as a writer, although I've never honestly believed that my writing is good enough to con people into paying for it.

All of this makes it even more devastating when I stop short in the middle of a sentence, forgetting not only what I was saying, but the words that could be used to say it. I stutter, not because I have a stutter per se, but because as I am speaking, I lose the words I intended to use. They drop out of the middle of my sentences, leaving me abruptly lost. It's embarrassing. But not only does it make me blush, it frightens me. To be unable to rely on my own mind is a terrifyingly lonely feeling.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Things like this make me so incredibly angry. I am beyond words.

Poor Thailand

These events remind me of just how lucky I am to live in the United States. For all the flaws in our system, for all the corruption and pork and shortsightedness, we still have one of the most stable and reliable government systems in the world. As Americans, we tend to equate democracy with peace, simply because that's what we've seen in our country. But it doesn't always work that way.

Part of the 'neo-con' philosophy is that any democracy at all is a good thing. Democracy should be spread by any means available because once every nation is democratic, world peace will be possible, the economy of every country will flourish as never before, etc. Any government formed by the votes of the citizenry is bound to be fair and just and accountable for its actions. Unfortunately, the experiences of many countries have shown this to be false. Voters do not always elect the people best suited to running a country. Elected officials are often corrupt and incompetent, and even when they are not, even when they mean well, they often fail to implement the policies that would make their country safe and prosperous. Look at Indonesia, at Thailand, at Iraq for God's sake.

While I'm not knocking democracy as a form of government- it's certainly as good as or better than anything else we've come up with- it's not the cure-all we sometimes pretend it is.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I really hate it when people talk and act and think like generalized labels have a real meaning. Labels are not useless, but they are much less significant than most people would like. Yes, it's simpler to refer to large and diverse groups of people with one word. But 90% of the time, it's not meaningful.

For example, Peggy Noonan, in her 15 September article about the midterm elections, says, "I like Democrats. ... But I feel the Democrats this year are making a mistake. They think it will be a cakewalk." Ms. Noonan is a woman I have a deal of respect for, a political pundit but a thoughtful and generally wise one. But even she does not see the fallacy in assigning a single point on view or train of thought to a label that encompasses about half of the population of America. No doubt there are people who self-identify as Democrats who really do think that the Democratic Party will have an easy victory in November. From what I have seen and read in the news lately, there are also many who think the Democratic Party has a good chance at winning but who know that even with many factors in their favor, they will have to work as hard as they can- and even then nothing is certain.

I'm sure Ms. Noonan, who is no fool, is aware of this fact as well. It's simply easier, and better rhetoric, to pretend that 'Democrat' is a term that refers to a homogenous group. Unfortunately, talking this way says nothing meaningful about the issue.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I am not well suited to the current fashions in public discourse. I really shouldn't have a blog, I will have such high hopes for all the things I could say and then those hopes will fall flat because I am, quite frankly, not fast enough in my thinking to be quick and on the ball. Bloggers are supposed to be first responders to events, amateur feedback must be immediate if it is to be noticed. But I take much longer to form my opinions, days or weeks even. Even after I've thought a topic through, I often change my mind several times as new information comes to light- or even just as I think about it more.

I don't think this is a bad thing, as far as what it says about the state of my mind. But it does make me ill suited to blogging.

For example, I have a piece started about war crimes, the rape/murder in Mahmudiya that was in the news a while ago, comparing it to war crimes in Vietnam, specifically the accounts published by the LA Times- again, several weeks if not months ago. My first reaction was that
our willingness to admit that a crime was committed meant that we had advanced in human rights as a nation and as a military since Vietnam. Now, I'm not so sure that it isn't just a symptom of the information technology that has revolutionized the way we see public events; would the military command have covered up the Mahmudiya murders if they thought they could get away with it? Even if I finish this essay I've started, it will take me so long to decide the stance I want to take, the events will be long gone.

This is a problem I frequently encounter when reading Slate magazine. There is a reader forum for commentary on the articles published, and I am often inclined to post there, but by the time I have something coherent and thought out to post, the topics are buried pages back. Two articles like that popped up today, this one and this one. I would love to write an essay on the lessons we obviously didn't learn from Vietnam (in regards to overwhelming force etc), and I would love to put in my two cents about disabled veterans and the toll of serving a cause you don't believe in, but by the time I get my thoughts together, the forums will have moved on to other topics. And what's the point of having angry opinions if no one hears you?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Moving On

I’m not the sort of person that you look at and think, “I bet she’s seen a lot of interesting things.” I am 21 years old, but I look about 16; I am sweet, quiet, and not at all intimidating. I was in the grocery store the other day and I overheard a father telling his young son to watch out and not hit me with the cart. “Watch out, don’t hit that cute little girl,” he said. I take classes at the community college near my house, and get hit on by foolish freshman.

All this makes it hard to explain to people that I am a veteran, that I was once a soldier and that some days I miss it. When you look like you ought to be trying out for the cheerleading squad, it’s difficult to explain that you’re disabled, that you can’t help them move because you have a pain syndrome, a mysterious one that you can‘t explain, that although you stand up straight and smile you really honestly hurt with every movement.

Growing up I thought of veterans as old and silent men like my grandfather at best, or like the old drunk amputee who sits on the street corner downtown with Vietnam buttons on his ratty old jacket. I wanted to be a soldier for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t think about what that would mean in terms of the rest of my life. I thought I would be a soldier for as long as I wanted to be, and I never thought past that. If anything, I figured I would die in combat and be done with it. Turns out, I was a soldier for two years; I’ll be a vet for the rest of my life.

I enlisted in December of 2002, before the war in Iraq was certain. I had been taking ROTC classes at the University of Washington, but didn’t have an ROTC scholarship or any money to continue school. My plan was to enlist as a Reservist, take the training for my specialty- linguistics/interrogation- and then go through the Reserves ROTC scholarship program to get my commission. Unfortunately, my plan was sidetracked when I was injured while in training. I spent two years at the Defense Language Institute being passed from one doctor to another, some more competent than others, before being chaptered out on medical grounds. My current diagnosis is fibromyalgia, most likely triggered by a pulled muscle or tendon in my hip that was neglected for more than a year.

It has taken some getting used to. I always considered myself an athletic person; the last physical fitness test I took before my medical problems set in, I got a perfect score. I love to run, but I don’t expect to ever run again. Stress on my joints leaves me aching to the point that I am unable to function; my exercise tolerance tops out at carrying a gallon of milk up one flight of stairs. I have limited my life in all the ways I can in order to find a balance between pain on the one hand and giving up everything I enjoy about life on the other. I no longer go running, or shop for fun, or clean more than one room of my apartment at a time.

Adjusting to a life of pain has in some ways distracted me from a more profound adjustment, though. I am unsure what to do with a self that is defined not as a fighter, but as a relic, a memory, or a past glory. In my more melodramatic and desperate moments, I compare myself to my favorite childhood heroes, those bright-beyond-belief children who accomplished their great life's work before adulthood: Ender, Alanna et al. I took my chance, failed miserably at it, and now I'm left with a life that couldn't possibly be anything but a let down, from now on.

Rationally, I know there's more to life than the things I first wanted. I know if I looked hard enough I could see them, I tell myself this all the time. But to be quite honest, I no longer know what to aspire to. In quiet moments, I catch myself daydreaming of being a soldier again. I hated Basic Training, it was boring; but yesterday I dreamt about it, and woke up crying.
I've decided to move here with my writing as a means to separate it from my storytelling, which took over my other journal. Also because every so often I need to exorcise my thinking by destroying everything that came before. Yes, I most likely will regret it at some point in the future; somehow I am still compelled to do this. The stories will stay safely hidden from the world, though, until I no longer feel like they're more embarrassing than interesting.

I'm hoping that this forum will encourage me to write more. I have always thought of myself as a writer, even during the dry times when I write very little. Perhaps this will get things moving again. Perhaps not. We'll see.