Sunday, March 25, 2007

Party on the Roof

Had a little dinner party for Dan tonight and we ended up dancing to AC/DC, Erasure, and Bronski Beat on the roof. the moon was a dark gold crescent and the air was light but a bit chilly. We danced and sang and waltzed to show tunes and I though about how much I'll miss DC. Will anyone in Amsterdam understand my taste in music and dance style when I get there?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

12 Step Detox Program of a Workaholic

Step One: Panic when you realize you've quit your job. Start trying to make everything perfect before you leave. Give yourself an ulcer as you attempt to plan and design a mission to end gender-based violence in Darfur; write a paper longer than a PH.D. thesis using contacts that you have to call all around the world.

Step Two: Intervention from friends - you can't do it all!

Step Three: Realize you can't do it all. Start to panic and plan how you can.

Step Four: Start to give up. Have a "come to Jesus" talk with friend visiting from West Africa who tells you you are acting like a dumbass freak.

Step Five: make a list!

Step Six: write a memo to boss and tell them what you are doing and what you can't do. Propose next steps for completion of projects.

Step Seven: Realize boss will never read memo.

Step Eight: Get Drunk at happy hour with friends. Get maudlin when you realize you won't travel with Andrea again.

Step Nine: fall into a coma - entire body hurts - feel like run over by a truck as anxiety and tension and stress starts to ooze out of body.

Step Ten: Sleep for ten hours. Drink ten cups of coffee to see friends. Nap even after drinking ten cups of coffee.

Step Eleven: First day without work - panic! Feel rootless energy bouncing around apartment with no place to go. Struggle not to check work email. Try to remember what life was like before you were a workaholic. practice breathing. pay attention to cat. catch up on personal email. Call Alec and complain.

Step Twelve: Cave and buy some wine. Watch Dancing with the Stars. Remember that relaxation is a good time. Detox Detox Detox...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

More things I will miss about DC

1. That brass band that occasionally plays in Dupont Circle on Spring and Summer nights
2. Eastern Market
3. Brunch - at Polly's; at Rosemary Thyme Bistro; at Saint Ex; at Bistro Au Coin; - basically Eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys
4. Big fat American Robins and cherry blossoms
5. My purple living room and NPR in the morning
6. All the comics in the Washington Post Sunday edition
7. My morning coffee with Andrea in the basement kitchen

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rape in Iraq

I am so angry. I don't know when I've been this angry - maybe when I first learned about sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. I suspected there was a problem in Iraq that was not being addressed. In the past two days, I've read two extremely disturbing reports.

The first article, a new report by Madre, a group like RI for women's issues: entitled "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq" - talks about the extreme problem of rape of Iraqi women (by Iraqi men). To me, it smacks of Darfur - get back at your enemy and humiliate them by raping their women. It's shocking and horrifying and I hope it gets the attention it deserves. According to my friend Sayre, who attended the briefing about it, "Even a quick look at it shows how much information we’re missing in US media about the war in Iraq. Gender-based violence is a top priority of Iraq’s Islamists. The U.S. plan to support the Iraqi death squads is called the “Salvador Option,” from 1980s US policy in Central America, to train militias. The military isn’t even ashamed to use that term?!? I also didn’t know about the most popular TV show in Iraq, “Terrorists in the Hands of Justice.” (See Part VI: Gender-Based Violence Against Men.) This report argues that this show is like Radio Mille Collines.” (The notorious radio station that encouraged the genocidaires to kill the Tutsis during the Genocide in Rwanda). I for one, will be forwarding it to all the people on the hill that I have met through my work at Refugees International.

The second article, an article on Salon.com, entitled "The Private War of Women Soldiers " that chronicles the stories of US women soldiers who have been raped and sexually assaulted by their comrades-in-arms. It's outrageous. To read it, click on the link. My login is dmartin, my password is alysonhowell (I don't mind sharing because although Salon.com used to be my favorite online magazine, they have recently become quite lazy. It appears they have fired all their editors and they consistently try to sex up article by giving them salacious illustrations or using the word sex in the title. Just check out the 'debate' they are allowing in the letters section. You would think you were on an IMDB.com chat room with a bunch of imbeciles rather than on a prominent liberal journal like The Nation or Mother Jones.).

Anyway, I'm certainly not suprised to hear that this is happening. As I wrote in my report on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the UN Peacekeeping system - this happens in all militaries. I don't know what it is but something about the military correlates with higher rates of rape. Is it that learning how to kill someone when ordered that completely violates the internal human moral code so that it degrades the soldiers to the point where they stop seeing women as human beings? I don't think its a natural state of being. Men are not naturally rapists. Or if they are, all the men I know are doing a good job of hiding it from me.

My father is a retired air force sergeant who served from the 50's through the 70's and he would be horrified to hear about this. He and I have talked about violence against women in the 'good ole days'. he told me stories of seeing men he served with hauling off and punching their wives when they got a few too many drinks under their belts. He was horrified, noting it almost always seemed to be big tough guys with small petite wives. But - he noted - it was seen as a family problem, a personal problem - something you didn't get involved with.
Rapists don't belong in the military. they belong in prisons. The fact is that nothing will happen to fix this until women scream out and threaten to vote out all the politicians who don't demand that the military deal with this.

A colleague of mine that I respect immensely once said "Do you think it was the US government that decided one day to make it illegal to beat your wife until she died? No, it was the feminist women's movement screaming out until the US government took notice." And we still aren't there.

Today, in honor of tomorrow's International Women's Day, I spoke at the DC Bar Association about Justice for Rape Survivors in Darfur. Afterwards, the debate (amongst all women, of course) was lively. I spoke with two women who were in their fifties who told me about the 'bad old days'. We need another s trong women's movement. We need to support the women in the US military who are there because feminists in the 70s fought to get us equality. They are choosing to risk their lives in Iraq (for a war I DO NOT agree with - but still, I support their rights to fight there if they choose). We must now keep up with the work that got them there and fight to make sure that they have full protection of the law and the military code of justice to keep them from being harmed by their fellow soldiers.

So - if you are as outraged as I am - pick up the phone and call your congressional representatives and ask them to call a hearing on this. Or, if you live in DC, call your parents and ask them to do it!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Humanitarians with Guns?

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the NYTimes that I admire, just wrote an article on "Humanitarian Workers with Guns" (It's on Times Select so you have to pay to get it but I'll illegally post it at the bottom here)

This article really bothers me because it totally blurs the role of the military with the role of humanitarian workers. Humanitarian workers must rely on maintaining neutrality in order not to be seen as supporting one side or the other. When this is confused, humanitarian workers become, in the minds of combatants, legitimate targets who 'support the other side'.

In Afghanistan, there was a huge outcry when the US army created PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) and MSF withdrew from the country after five of its workers were killed. The use of mixed military and civilian workers under the command of the military lead to accusations that humanitarian agencies were complicit with the military. MSF, which had operated in Afghanistan without incident since 1985, providing needed medical services announced "It is with outrage and bitterness that we take the decision to abandon them. But we simply cannot sacrifice the security of our volunteers while warring parties seek to target and kill humanitarian workers. Ultimately it is the sick and destitute that suffer."

There has been a rise in attacks on humanitarian workers in the last few years. In January in Darfur, there was an attack on Accion contre le faim - a well respected french aid group. One of the international women was raped. This was shocking to the humanitarian community because in general - internationals are spared. It's the local hires who take the brunt of the violence. (For more info - see this article on the killing of Sri Lankan assistance workers).

There is a legitimate role for the military in a post-conflict countries. They should take on the work that humanitarian agencies cannot - such as disarming and demobilizing armed forces and training national police and armies. The US has not done a lot of work in these areas in the countries that I'm most familiar with - DR Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Why don't they focus on the areas they are needed?

Article: Aid Workers With Guns By NICHOLAS
D. KRISTOF

Published: March 4, 2007
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti

The U.S. has built a little-known military
base here that represents one of our best strategies to fight terrorism in the
coming years: The aim is to build things rather than blow them up.

This base in Africa, established in 2003, sits at the entrance to the Red Sea in the small Muslim country of Djibouti, next to Somalia. Security is as tight as the sun is
hot, with lots of bomb shelters, but the most apparent threats are distinctly,
well, African.

“We’ve got two hyenas out there,” said Cmdr. Darryl Centanni of the Navy,
executive officer of Camp Lemonier, pointing to a jogging trail on which troops
were running through the semidesert. “So the running gets pretty
interesting.”

He added that a pack of wild dogs also speeds up joggers but that the dogs
mostly get food by catching fish in the sea. (I’m not sure I trust military
intelligence on that one.)

After 9/11, the focus of America’s response to terrorism has been mostly on
using military force to destroy possible threats in places like Iraq and
intimidate just about everyone. The ethos was borrowed from the ancient Romans:
“Oderint, dum metuant” — “Let them hate, so long as they fear.”

Yet all in all, that strategy has backfired catastrophically, particularly
in Iraq, and turned us into Al Qaeda’s best recruiter.

So that’s why the softer touch in Centcom’s strategy here is so welcome. It
aims to help bring stability to northeastern Africa and to address humanitarian
needs — knowing that humanitarian involvement will make us safer as
well.

“The U.S. started to realize that there’s more to counterterrorism than
capture-kill kinetics,” said Capt. Patrick Myers of the Navy, director of plans
and policy here. “Our mission is 95 percent at least civil affairs. ... It’s
trying to get at the root causes of why people want to take on the
U.S.”

One humanitarian mission for which the U.S. military is superbly prepared
is responding to natural disasters. While the U.S. has spent vast sums
broadcasting propaganda to the Muslim world, the two most successful efforts at
winning good will both involved the military. One was the dispatch of soldiers
to help Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami, and the other was the use of U.S.
forces to help Pakistan after the Kashmir earthquake.

The 1,800 troops here do serve a traditional military purpose, for the base
was used to support operations against terrorists in Somalia recently and is
available to reach Sudan, Yemen or other hot spots. But the forces here spend
much of their time drilling wells or building hospitals; they rushed to respond
when a building collapsed in Kenya and when a passenger ferry capsized in
Djibouti.

Rear Adm. James Hart, commander of the task force at Camp Lemonier,
suggested that if people in nearby countries feel they have opportunities to
improve their lives, then “the chance of extremism being welcomed greatly, if
not completely, diminishes.”

The U.S. announced last month that it would form a new Africa Command,
aimed partly at blocking the rise of ungoverned spaces that nurture terrorism.
The new command offers tremendous humanitarian potential as well, for in some
poor countries the most useful “aid workers” are the ones in camouflage carrying
guns.

In the Central African Republic in September I visited a town with a lovely
new hospital built as a foreign aid project. But the hospital was an empty
shell, gutted by militias rampaging through the area. In places like that,
there’s no point in building schools or clinics unless you also help with
security.

Some of the most successful aid projects in Africa have been the dispatch
of armed peacekeepers to Mozambique and British troops to Sierra Leone. In both
places, troops brought what the besieged population most desperately needed —
order — and laid the groundwork for recovery. We should be far more aggressive
about dispatching small numbers of troops to impose a no-fly zone over Darfur or
to destroy Sudanese militias that invade Chad and the Central African
Republic.

We can also do far more to train armies in Africa. The deal we offer
African presidents should be along these lines: You run a country cleanly and
tolerate dissent, and we’ll help ensure that no brutal rebel force comes out of
the jungle to create chaos and overthrow you.

Helping fragile countries with security is just as important as helping them with education and medical care. So let’s hope that this new base in Africa is the start of a broad new policy that doesn’t aim to make us hated or feared, but respected.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I hate airports

I really hate airports. I don't know why the US makes their airports so damn boring and inconvenient, and only staffs them with people who know nothing about the words "Customer Service". I'm sick of the stupid TAA with their nonsensical rules about removing shoes and keeping the Ziplock quart bag industry in business. I'm sick of overpriced Dasani water being sold to us because the airlines are too damn cheap to do two beverage services on a five hour cross country flight. I'm sick of unhealthy crappy food sold at exorbitant rates. Everything about flying sucks nowadays. Somedays I'd give it all up just to fly business class transatlantically. It particularly bugs me that the World Bank flies first class all around the world. I hope Paul Wolfowitz reins that shit in.

Anyway, in order to conserve my money - I'm waiting for the DAMN BLUE VAN to take me from Dulles to my house. The two characters working at the counter are about as useless as I've ever seen. The woman couldn't even rouse herself to take my money.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hazy Shade of Winter

Spent the day in California checking out Venice Beach and Santa Monica today...

While yesterday was overcast and rainy, it was sunny and windy this morning. Since I'm still on east coast time, I was up and out by 9am. I landed in Venice Beach (like the heroine of Speed, I took the bus) and I walked along the beach up to the Santa Monica pier as the homeless people, the freaks, and the shopkeepers started to wake up. The Pacific is so beautiful but it looks cold - much more blue than the Atlantic. I watched the surfers in their wetsuits for a while and then put on my iPod and walked up the boardwalk.

How did hippies all over the world decide that Che Guevera, Jim Morrisson, the Grateful Dead, bongs, rough knitted hooded sweaters, leather bracelets, pukka beads, 'indigenous' art, and indian clothing symbolize 'alternative lifestyle'? The other thing that kind of makes me laugh is that the sunny California lifestyle that the US imagines and that is reflected on our tv shows completely leaves out all the goths and metalheads that also populate California. In addition to a man in a tiedyed tee shirt selling pictures of Bob Marley and some incense, I saw a woman in a long leather duster, fishnet hose, 6 inch black patent leather heels, and a bustier walking along the boardwalk. And I thought I looked funny in jeans and cowboy boots.

After trying to figure out what the correct 'California' soundtrack should be (Eagles? Grateful Dead? Jane's Addiction? Motley Crue? Beach Boys? Elvis? Green Day?), I just turned off the headphones and listened to the seagulls and the waves and the wind. I felt all the stress from work just evaporating away. I went into Santa Monica and they were having a BEAUTIFUL farmer's market going on. I've never seen so many different varieties of citrus! At one point, I was in the middle of the flower section and the sun was out and shining and the tuberoses were heavenly. I certainly could understand why California is America's fantasy land.

Then the weather got colder. The Santa Monica 'mall' consists of almost all chain shops. I couldn't find a bookstore. I finally found Border's but it was like "Border's Lite" - with only chicklit on display. My feet were starting to hurt. I caught the bus back to Venice Beach and went to a very hip little neighborhood with very trendy boutiques, cool furniture stores, and expensive restaurants. I found another bookstore. It was beautiful - black and white photos of criminals in Times Square in 1965. Cool old garage turned into a sort of open air bookshop. I think it was called Equator Books. Featured in Wallpaper magazine (for the stylish who obviously don't read books). All the books were about pornography, prostitution, surfing, architercture, true crime or were written by hard-boiled 30s - 60s male writers like Cheever, Roth, or Hemingway. They were all the originals from the era and re-bound in shiny new plastic. Most were about $50. So are these the books that you buy to read? I don't think so - I think you buy them to display on your chic Danish modernist living room table that you lean your Surfboard next to.

Browsing around that neighborhood for a while showed me just how lovely, odd, and stylish Los Angeles can be - its such an odd feel - very 40s, film noir, bungalow in the sun filled with old Jewish men who make a lot of money, super skinny women in $400 a pair shoe stores informing the staff loudly what they did on Oscar night, and Latino immigrants riding the bus with me. I walked back to the boardwalk. It was open and more lively now. A man in a leopard print string bikini, a leopard tooth necklace, a fanny pack, and black hghtop sneakers lifted weights in the freezing cold. Several panhandlers asked me for a $1 to buy marijuana. A woman did squat thrusts in the middle of the bike path. I saw another bookstore sign - the Small World Bookshop. I wandered into nirvana.

Wonderful selection of books- funky, smart, new, old, US, and internationalist. Cute smart boys behind the counter and a sleeping cat. Chatted with the bookseller about DC and the LA and the cold. He was genuine and funny and nice. Bought a book called "Eat the Document" about 60s radicals. He said "I hope you like it." I said, "well it said it was recommended by the staff." He said, "Well I don't want you to think we are all dopes." I walked a couple of blocks up to a cheap and cheerful looking Mexican restaurant and ordered the special - taquitos and rice and beans. Then spent the next thirty minutes talking to a young black artist from Iowa who told me that the women of California aren't spirtual enough for him and he needs to focus on his art (which to me, looked the scribblings of a three year old).

Caught the bus back to good ole Culver City where I lie in my hotel - once owned by John Wayne and home of the Munchkins during the filming of Wizard of Oz. A brief nap and then back out to explore the Los Angelese nightlife (or perhaps just to go to the wine bar across the street and read my new book). California Dreamin' on such a winters day.