Monday, February 26, 2007

How Many Deaths Will It Take Till He Knows....

...that too many people have died?

According to U.S. Military Deaths, 3157 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq since the March, 2003 invasion. Mission accomplished, indeed. If you want to add in Iraqi deaths, then the body count is, according to Iraq Body Count, at least 57,000. Well, aren't we just a force for good in the world????

So, we have the same question we always have. How do we build peace in a time of perpetual war? All the old suggestions still work; try here and here. But surely there's more.

I've been traveling a lot lately, and the airports are busy with men and women coming from or going to Iraq. On my most recent trip, there were massive delays everywhere, and people were stuck for hours on end. I was sitting on the floor next to a strikingly handsome young man on his way home from Baghdad. He's about my son's age, so probably the inverse is true too; I'm about his mother's age. He'd been traveling for 39 hours when the next-to-last flight was canceled. He knew his mother was waiting for him at the airport, and he couldn't bear to be disappointing her. He started to cry.

He'd just reached the end of his psychological resources, that's all. It was a hard day at the airport, and people were melting down everywhere you looked. And I'm a mom. Of course I had a tissue and a phone, so he could call his mom, and the USO rep came to scoop him up pretty soon, anyway. So all is well there. But... seriously... these soldiers are YOUNG, and they've seen and done horrible things. This man now describes himself as a former patriot. How sad is that??? It would be interesting if veterans could be invited to speak at local churches or service organizations. We have a lot to learn from them.

And what about a study circle? I'm showing my biases -again- but I really do believe that education and knowledge are power. And I need to learn more about Iran, especially. I wish I didn't, but apparently I do.

And I can offer you the morning prayer that my favorite group of cause-y, proudly liberal nuns prays every morning:
O Lord,
you love justice and you establish peace on earth.
We bring before you the disunity of today’s world -
the absurd violence; the many wars
breaking the courage of the peoples of the world;
human greed and injustice,
which breed hatred and strife.
Send your spirit and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate towards the whole human family;
strengthen the will of all those
who fight for justice and for peace,
and give us that peace which the world cannot give.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle. Tell us the first ten songs that appear -and no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork.

Here are mine for the week:
  • Take Five (original version); Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • Powerful Women; Elena
  • Ave Maria; Gounod
  • Still On Your Side; BBMak
  • Naughty Girl; Beyonce (Oh, God. Well, this is proof that I don't edit these lists.)
  • One Week; Barenaked Ladies
  • A Simple Prayer: Phil Coulter and Roma Downey
  • Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D Minor; Bach via Heinz Holliger
  • Imagine That; Patsy Cline
  • Lord I Hope this Day is Good; Don Williams


Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Thomas!

A year ago, I posted this picture:

Here's our little medical miracle-nephew, Thomas the magnificent, on his first birthday:

Sweetie Thomas

Is he just the cutest, sweetest thing EVER???? (Well, with the possible exception of Victoria and Nicholas. But you know... these days, I am NOT going to kiss their sweet little toes, so Thomas is better in that regard!) Happy, happy day, dear one!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Random 10

It's been forever since I've done this. You know the drill. Take out your iPod, set it to shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork.

Here are mine for the week:
  • I Don't Like Mondays; Tori Amos
  • Where there is Faith; 4Him
  • Cursum Perficio; Enya
  • Entrance of the Queen of Sheba; Handel -geez, why is that here?
  • WalMart Parking Lot; Chris Cagle -embarrassing, but really it's not a bad song
  • Tranquility; Phil Coulter
  • Summer in the City; Three Dog Night (oh my!)
  • Hurricane Party; Cowboy Mouth
  • Doublin'; Si Kahn with the Fright Hoppers
  • The Girl with the Flaxen Hair; Debussy

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Run Mad as often as You Choose...

...but do not faint!

OK, maybe that's not the exact quote. I'm not near my copy of Mansfield Park, but I love, love, love that thought. What's an all-alone feminist supposed to do on Valentine's Day, besides curl up with a good book and a glass of wine? I could whine, but even I'm tired of that. Instead, I keep coming back to Austen/Fanny Price's thought. Isn't this what we want for the people we love -to have them be strong, joyful, and fully alive? I could wrap my brain around a day that celebrates THAT!

So, yeah, I like flowers and chocolates and dinners out and long gazes over glasses of wine. I like those things a LOT. But what I like even more than that is the idea that loving someone -not just eros-love, but agape-love and all the other kinds, too- means knowing someone, really seeing them, and celebrating who they are. Let people flower in relationships.

So, dear ones.... run mad and do not faint. And here are some flowers:

Monday, February 12, 2007

We're Thinking Too Small

Which is not usually my problem, I must confess. Usually I'm the one coming up with grandiose, nonsensical schemes that couldn't possibly be implemented. Like, save the world. And then we'll go out for coffee, because we should be done by noon. But this time, I'm guilty of thinking too small.

I meet kids who need help, real live individuals with stories and hopes and pain, and I want to help THIS PARTICULAR PERSON. That's not a bad thing, and there's a place for that. But this is not that time and place.

There are laws against child labor almost everywhere. The laws, of course, don't guarantee that it doesn't happen, but they do express something about the will of the body politic. So, if there's a law against slavery and it's happening anyway, maybe the government needs to be held accountable. A nationwide education campaign, eliminate the umpteen exemptions that allow children to be employed in all kinds of businesses. Comply with the standards for industry inspection. Keep track of the people who've been fined for non-compliance with child labor laws, so they don't just start up business again somewhere else. Why aren't those things happening?

And bigger still.... the World Bank could get into the act and start scrutinizing its grant and loan recipients for compliance with child labor laws. They could provide funding for NGOs that offer alternatives to families and children.

Consumers (you, me, us) should look at the goods they buy with a more critical eye. Silk... carpets...silver...leather... be careful.

It's one thing to stage raids on charlatan employers and rescue children; in the short term it must be done. But I really have to look past the pain of individuals and work with the people advocating more systemic change. Suck it up, put on my big-girl pants, and go talk with people who can improve things for children I didn't meet.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More International Social Work

I'm sorry to be posting so sporadically. I'm a slug, that's all there is to it.

Here's where we are now along the questioning/figuring it out continuum. A heckuva lot closer to the questioning end of things, that's where. As I've mentioned here before, you have kids being sold into what amounts to a (very short) life of slavery. Let's just stipulate that their parents want something very different for them. And the parents want it badly enough that they will flee rural Indian life and form these bizarre squatter cities, which work, for all practical purposes. People become un-find-able and yet manage to live interesting, full, connected lives. On some level, I should do so well.

And yet.... the vulnerabilities are terrifying. And not just to me, who can be terrified by standing water in the basement. Should there be a disaster, there will be no access to services. And not because disaster responders refuse to serve the unacknowledged. We won't know they're there. And kids grow up with the catch-as-catch can education that the elders in the neighborhood can provide. They aren't paying taxes for anything else, after all. These same elders know that this is not good enough.

So, we started with education. It's measurable. The need is immediate, as opposed to some might-never-happen scenario. And education creates hope for the next generation. As much as I love disaster services, all we do is get things back to their previous state. Which might have been reprehensible. Yet, that's the very definition of disaster services -to return things to their pre-disaster state.

But here's the thing. Somehow the income that the child generated has to be replaced -or the need for it eliminated. And the school has to be accessible. And affordable. So, the idea becomes (and not a new one with us, of course) mobile schools. Bring the schools to the kids. They can still work; school comes to them.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that we'll figure out the details. (Further assume that you have a wild and hopeful imagination.) These mobile schools have to be on the order of tablets and books on a bicycle cart. (I think so, anyway.) What role does technology play in this kind of service delivery?

I'm stunned at how much is required. And none of it (or astoundingly little) will be available to-or needed by- the consumers of the service. What are we educating people for? Jobs? More education? (my personal favorite!) A way out of grinding poverty? The answer to that question determines what the curriculum should be. And who decides that? Who monitors that? Why monitor that at all? It can hardly be worse than what they currently have.

Once you have those answers, you get right away to the "how" bit. What technologies are reasonably available? Should the planning, in fact, work the other way? We have thus-and-such technology available. Let's let that constrain the pedagogical choices.

This is the stuff that keeps me awake at nights. Weird, but true. But it's not hard to see that if teachers (on their bicycles, with their tablets) had access to each other (social networking? cell phones?) they could coordinate, plan, mentor, collaborate. If researchers had access to the teachers, we could find out what works and what doesn't. In the unspeakable luxury of our offices, we could spare the time, in a way the providers just plain can't, to think about what's working and what's not. Technology could speed the results of that process, to the point where it might actually be useful. What a thought.

And of course, education isn't the only thing these children and families need. These biker-teachers are going to notice that. How do we get food to the kids? Do we/should we help people thrive in their rural villages so they don't have to move to these urban squatter communities? Should we muck around with these new urban communities so that they're safer, or will we just end up making things worse?

As with all good questions, one answer generates about a thousand more questions. Too bad there are actual desperate children waiting for us to figure it out. The poor dears.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Few Small Repairs

The blue changes nothing; I just like it better than the green. And in the meantime I've lost some links and some scripts. They're here somewhere....

What I really want is a three-column layout and blogspot doesn't seem to have that. So, we make do. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mental Illness and Metaphor

Here's the back story, to get you caught up. Hanging out with a group of Indian women, I met their children. One little boy is clearly autistic, in the classic "no social affect" way. This interests me not so much for professional reasons -since I know very little about it and can't help, anyway- but for personal reasons. I know some autistic little boys fairly well, so the situation catches my attention.

You also have to know that my Hindi skills are beyond woeful (much closer to nonexistent than merely woeful, truth be told), so when I ask about this I stumble on the word for "autism". As courteous people will, the mother supplied the word -"deaf." He's clearly not deaf. He doesn't respond to people, so much, but he hears and acknowledges every car, every airplane, every truck. His speech does sound like a deaf person's speech, a little, but his ears clearly work. He's not deaf.

So, I assume I've made a language mistake and try again. The interchange repeats itself. The poor mother is probably wondering if she has a mentally impaired social worker on her hands. Slowly, slowly, the light dawns. They frame their understanding of this thing I call autism differently.

Everybody knows Susan Sontag's work with illness as metaphor. She looked at cancer, AIDS, and tuberculosis. Her basic argument is "Oh for heaven's sake, it's just a disease." There's no willed victim-hood; the disease is not about repressed emotions. Nor are these diseases mere social constructs to explain dysfunctional behavior.

But, mental illness can't (yet?) be entirely explained by anything so convenient as a virus or a neoplasm. So I tend to put autism in the mental illness category. "Mental" and "illness" then each inform any treatment or intervention strategies I come up with. The mom thinks of deafness as a physical issue and, like many deaf people in the United States, not really as an impairment at all. Some people are deaf, in the sense that their ears don't work. Other people are deaf, in the sense that they are tone deaf to social nuance and social exchanges. Since no one really knows in a definitive way what this array of symptoms (conditions? experiences?) is, all we have is metaphor.

OK, this is possibly intellectually interesting. Or not. But why should other people care? Other than for the obvious reason that thinking about it keeps Andrea off the streets, I mean. A diagnosis of mental illness necessarily implies that someone (else) has a role in enforcing normal behavior. And the second that two people are involved in one person's behavior and decisions, we have politics. What happens if we look again at the metaphors we use for mental illness? I'm wondering now whether -or how much- the metaphors have changed over, say, the last 8-20 years with the growing conservatism in the U.S. Are we thinking of, perhaps, domestic violence, schizophrenia, even poverty, differently, and thus justifying more punitive interventions for the people involved? Are we calling more and more things mental illness? Should we, perhaps, look at extending Sontag's thinking to mental illness and work at reframing public language about it? I guess it's pretty obvious that I have a hypothesis, but no real evidence just yet.

I'll get back to you.