2010 At Last (December 31, 2009)

2010

We were warned, and braced ourselves for a rough 2009. We knew the economy would remain rickety and jobs would be lost. We knew we’d have a long fight ahead of us, after the initial glow of the Obama inauguration wore off, when it came to reforming health care, making choices when it came to war in Afghanistan, and wrestling with the many other formidable challenges confronting the nation. For these struggles, we hunkered down and prepared to tough it out.

What was less expected this year, and what brought some of us to our knees intermittently (including this blogger) was the daunting glut of personal tragedies that seemed to pop up every eight weeks or so. It was enough to endure my husband’s job loss, the deferring of our dreams of home ownership for another year, and the shaking of our faith in the consistent growth of the American economy. Add to it the death of loved ones (twice), infidelity, a sick niece, the mental collapse of a father, swine flu and well, you get the picture. 2009 was unkind on more than one occasion.

But as of midnight tonight, or so I keep telling myself, all that bad ju ju is behind us and the world gets a fresh start. The best news is that for all the punches 2009 was able to pull, she has a shelf life, just like every other year. Tomorrow morning when we wake up, not only is it a new annum, but a whole new decade. The Winter Olympics will dominate your television screens in a couple weeks, a fresh reminder of that unifying, competitive spirit that can elicit beauty from international cooperation (not just the groans of agony from another fruitless climate summit). 2010 feels positively pregnant with promise.

New Year’s Eve is typically the night for binge drinking and partying, at least for the urban, childless set, but I am going with a quieter welcome this round. Instead, I’ll be eating pizza in the ‘burbs with Max, Jen, KK and Rosebud, cherishing my family and basking in the warm feeling of belonging. No fabulous downtown soiree can compete with cuddling my nieces.

Happy New Year everyone. Be safe, be warm, be loved and join me in welcoming a new beginning.

Isn’t There Still Room for Both? (December 28, 2009)

Us mag cover

 ny times

Admittedly, I am writing this post whilst a little hot under the collar. I was affronted in one of the worst ways, according to me, by my partner Sam this morning. Sammy and I are teammates on the Chicago Office of Tourism Neighborhood Mapping Project, and normally get on famously. One of the hallmarks of our dynamic however, is a little good natured intellectual sparring now and then.

We were having one such debate over the war in Afghanistan. Sammy, just flat-out anti-conflict no matter the situation, feels we ought to pull every U.S. troop out of the region, like yesterday. I am a bit more gray in my approach, believing that leaving Afghanistan without a plan will cause further terrorist chaos locally and internationally in the long run.

At some point, Sammy made what I thought to be a rather judgmental, narrow comment, and by way of dismissal, I turned my eyes to the pages of the most recent Us magazine. This was both my way of announcing a break in the argument, as well as distracting my attention with something a little lighter. However, Sam dove upon me immediately, insinuating that perhaps my naive international opinions were influenced by my substandard literary tastes.

Now we come to the point: I am an avid reader, but I have very few rules as to what is considered “literature” in my lexicon. Who is to tell me that celebrity gossip and other airier fare do not have their own merits? Isn’t one of the goals of reading and literary consumption to be entertained? I have an International Baccalaureate diploma from my high school days, and an MA in English Literature. I have read the “great” books, but am not such an ivory tower snob that I wish to be out of touch with what turns the masses on. After all, I am a member of that mass. And I state proudly here and now that chick lit., Entertainment Weekly and Perez Hilton do it for me every bit as much as Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and Wordsworth.

I hate to be pigeonholed, but when it comes to an activity like reading, which I hold so dear as one of the ultimate coping tools provided for us, I cannot abide labeling. I am neither the stuffy bookworm nor the vapid gossip rag connoisseur. I am both, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is people like me who made a mashup like Pride, Prejudice and Zombiessuch a hit in 2009.

I abhor the overall “dumbing down” of our culture every bit as much as Sammy. We are absolutely on the same page there. I will never accept the Red Eye a real newspaper, the way some of my other contemporaries have. But at the same time, I console myself that at least people are reading the paper in some form. It may not be a day far off when I am mourning the loss of even this abbreviated tabloid. I have picked up theRed Eye once or twice myself, as my thinking is that you cannot condemn that which you do not understand.

The act of reading, in any form other than off a computer monitor, becomes more a lost art with each passing year. Those who cherish the antiquated form of entertainment found in books and periodicals should not be so cynical as to start cannibalizing each other. I realize this argument is far from over, and I may be called upon to defend my love ofThe Devil Wears Prada again. So be it. I will do so gladly.

Why U.S. Non-Interventionism in Middle East is Sound Policy (For Now) (July 15, 2013)

middle-east

In recent weeks, I’ve come across a number of high profile articles mulling over President Obama’s Switzerland-esque approach to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as well as the wait-and-see stance adopted in relation to continued unrest in Egypt. A number of commentators, including Aaron David Miller ofNewsday, believe that direct American intervention in Syria is inevitable. Likewise, writers such as Taimur Khan of The Nationalproffers US keen to keep Egypt aid flowing as the driving force behind the administration’s reluctance to choose sides in the recent military-enforced ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.

There are no doubt sundry and diverse motives for taking a sideline approach to the series of implosions occurring in the larger Middle East. Doubtless some of these are cynically diplomatic or financial in nature. But from the perspective of an ordinary citizen, as much as it pains me to witness the bloodshed and terror experienced by people advocating for freedom and opportunity, values held in esteem by all varieties of free nations, I applaud the extreme caution exercised by President Obama and his team. For it wasn’t so many years ago that we collectively witnessed the pitfalls of presumptive intervention in the affairs of other nations (see: the George W. Bush administration), and we continue to suffer the ill financial and public relations effects of those decisions.

In the case of Syria, Miller points out, “Obama has avoided intervention not because he’s insensitive, incompetent, or even uninterested. He has done so because his options aren’t just bad, they’re terrible.” Although there can be no doubt that the unfolding situation in that country is a moral and humanitarian debacle, it cannot be taken as a given that the U.S. possesses the means and authority to set things right. Certainly not after the bungling swagger that was the American regime change offensive in Iraq, or the continued, resolution-less quagmire that Afghanistan has become. While Al Qaeda has suffered, the Taliban one could certainly argue, remains as tenacious as ever.

Miller continues, “The American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq looms large over the Syrian conflict. The parallel that’s worth paying attention to isn’t boots on the ground – it’s the question of connecting means to ends. In the Syrian case, the central question is: How does militarizing the American role – through providing arms to the rebels, creating a no-fly zone, or even launching military strikes – pave the way for a successful outcome?” And what, it must be asked, would be the collateral damage to our nation’s reputation in the Muslim world, a profile that President Obama has only just begun to repair after eight years of Bush II imperialism?

In Egypt, the situation is somewhat different, although the current American approach is the same. The Obama administration did in fact join protesting Egyptians in calling for the 2011 removal of President Hosni Mubarak, then supported the democratically elected regime of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi. Yet scarcely a year later, Morsi is out amidst worsening social and economic conditions for Egyptian citizens. No less an authority than former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, told Newsmax: “We made a big mistake — I said it at the time — in forcing Mubarak out. He’s no Jeffersonian Democrat, but he was an ally of the United States and he supported the Camp David accord with Israel.”

No one can accuse President Obama of failing to learn from the recent past. In light of the quick and profound collapse of Morsi, America would do well to allow the Egyptians to decide the next steps for themselves, providing advice and assistance as requested.

Certain war hawks and plenty of other well-meaning folks who simply wish for a speedy end to international suffering would do well to remember that this is not World War II. We are not superheroes with unlimited human and financial capital and it is, in addition, the height of arrogance to assume that the Middle East requires saving when so many, many problems require our collective attention at home. Look to the Iraq and Afghanistan examples. By pushing for premature intervention in what may hopefully become nascent democracies, the most positive outcome could only be, at best, an expensive win-lose.