Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Ukraine Needs Obvious American Support

A couple of days ago, my brother Nate sent me a link to Scott Beauchamp’s Baffler article about the “hawkish cabal of elites that run our foreign policy establishment” and their desire, as yet unmet, of sending weapons to Ukraine, which policy he ardently opposes, contending “no vital American interests are at stake”.

Beauchamp’s assessment of John McCain’s position as “he’s never met an international crisis that he didn’t think he could solve with bullets” is a fair summation of the Senator’s policy tendencies, and his default to a call to arms clearly isn’t a help to legitimize the Ukrainian cause (can anyone cite an international situation where McCain’s not reacted thus? I am curious.). That Pat Buchanan opposes intervention is, however, hardly a strong argument against it, particularly as Mr. Buchanan cites the often-used phrase “an area Russia has controlled since the days of Catherine the Great.”
The historical argument for present occupation is one that is thorny, to say the least—for what purpose was the land controlled, and how?—and it ultimately comes down in fact, if not in law, to the question of who can effectively occupy.  The Empress Catherine II reigned from 1762-1796.  The British, French and Spanish had controlled all settled portions of what comprises portions of the present-day United States at the beginning of her days, and much of it at the end of them, as they had for several hundred years previous. Do let us exercise our moral duty (which many groups, from retroactive monarchists to First Peoples rights organizations, can argue is considerable—after all, native Americans occupied the territory for millennia before the Europeans barged in) and return to the status quo ante. But we’ve had an operational self-governing state here for more than 200 years now, so when does the statute of limitations run out?  Ukraine’s been a free and independent state for more than 20 years, with a population that is making considerable efforts to expand the democratic qualities of its governance, from adamantly opposing corruption to allowing the voices of many disparate groups, religious and social, to be heard--an enormous contrast to the growing authoritarianism in the Russian Federation.  But yet the RF has the greater claim on the Ukrainian land?

Also, Mr. Beauchamp ignores the fact that Russia is actively sending arms and materiel to the “rebels” in Ukraine, using a hypothetical scenario where Mexican anti-American rebels were suddenly supplied by another nation-state, and the "offense" it would be to us.  But his illustration is painfully incomplete. Why, if the United States had already invaded and incorporated the Yucatan Peninsula (offering automatic American citizenship as an incentive to shift a “free plebiscite in favor of joining the US” in its favor), and was now actively sending weapons and supplies into the northern Mexican states to “arm insurgents” who wanted to see that country become part of the Yankee government, should it be at all “offended” if another country wanted to help Mexico to maintain its hard-won sovereignty?  It’s not as if the Americans or Europeans would be funneling supplies into a zone otherwise untroubled.  Russia is the aggressor here. Crimea has fallen, and Putin is actively seeking to acquire more Ukrainian territory.  Ironically, too, referencing the Mexican scenario, one could in fact argue that Ukraine is even now a more stable democratic state than Mexico is, since domestic gangs are not kidnapping ordinary people throughout provinces in Ukraine and mass graves aren’t found by grieving poor relatives several times a month in the provinces around Kiev.  Cumulatively, the Mexican gangs have brutally beheaded more people than ISIS (not that the latter, through sheer determination, won’t soon surpass them), but since they’ve no splashy internet video campaign, this has been largely ignored by their northern neighbors.
Mr. Beauchamp makes a connection between arming Ukraine and that 1980s clandestine operation recorded in Charlie Wilson’s War.  I think this comparison is both unfair and fair. It’s unfair because it’s not like the discussion of whether to send billions of dollars in arms to a ragtag crew of bearded tribalists who hated everyone, (just the invading Soviets in particular at that time), who would (gladly, as we have amply seen) turn the leftovers back on the “infidels” who supplied them, was ever played out effectively on the public stage during its pivotal years.  Too, the Afghans did not even pretend to a democratic Western system prior to the Soviet invasion.  Yes, when you supply arms to an insurgent group, you can never be sure what or who will control them long-term, but Ukraine is a country trying to defend itself based on its democratic sovereignty, the principle of self-determination; the Ukrainians are not possessed of an ideology that makes them fundamentally incompatible with American mores.  And, truth be told, Russia is not good at maintaining control of its weapons stockpile either (Beauchamp says the missile that shot down the Malaysian airliner was stolen from a Ukrainian arms depot). For years after the collapse of the Soviet state, the United States actually paid for the securing of RUSSIAN arms depots, lest they end up in even less savory hands.

I see more similarities between Ukraine now and Britain during the early air battles of the Second World War and South Korea during the fateful summer of 1950 than commonalities with Afghanistan (at any time). Mr. Beauchamp says that “no vital American interests are at stake” in Ukraine. In this, he is absolutely wrong. The most fundamental American interest is at stake, but it is not the economic interest that has been amply criticized for inspiring our last several Middle Eastern wars.  This interest is the defense of extant democracy and the honor of the American state’s promise to assure the territorial integrity of a state that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons (to the very country which is now at war with it).  If we do not honor that commitment when it is tried, on what basis will any other state have reason to trust us as we discourage nuclear proliferation?  By not “offending” another great nuclear power, we will have made nuclear arms an even more attractive object for smaller nations.

Ukraine needs a Lend-Lease Act.  The Americans were not directly militarily involved in withstanding the Nazis for two years after the invasion of Poland; the British alone were able to hold out against the Axis, displaying incredible bravery and endurance.  The American provision of physical aid to the UK under Lend-Lease was a vital contribution to their success—not only did the aid itself keep the island strong, the encouragement of knowing they were not entirely alone in the world when the days seemed darkest was a buttress for morale.  I am pleased to hear that the British are actually sending troops to Ukraine, if the Kiev Post article is accurate. I hope that even if the United States limits itself militarily, making the excuse that Russia hasn’t physically threatened our homeland, that it will provide the material support to this beacon of light on the edge of Europe, so that they will know our democracy stands with theirs.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

If You Build It (Well, In FL)

Oh, how lovely it was to be in Florida this past weekend!  My mother and I went with my brother-in-law, niece and nephew to LEGOLAND (for some reason, Blogger keeps capitalizing the entirety of the name and I can't get it to undo), which was thoroughly enjoyable, not least because they've wisely preserved the heart of the old Cypress Gardens as part of the park, and I got to see a banyan tree and a sausage tree among other beautifully-landscaped foliage. That was also Rita's favorite section (she was very sad about the loss of the greenhouse near the entrance), though she admitted the whole experience was a good one. Brad could have spent the whole day staring at the pirate ship model section, which was certainly pretty cool.  In a huge contrast to Disneyworld (ptoo, I spit upon its grave), although the park was full, the stress level was low, and we and pretty much everyone else seemed to be having a good time. We never waited more than 20 minutes for a ride (I hope and pray I didn't damage my neck going on two rollercoasters with small relatives--one does things one normally wouldn't for beloved children!), and there were plenty of things to appeal to both small fry and adults, from live shows (good use of water--little kids love getting splashed) to real-world and fantasy Lego models. And the employees were all nice, and most seemed to be actually enjoying themselves (Brad was thrilled when one young man spotted him in his newly-purchased knightly getup--Rita went for a photo souvenir, while her brother wanted something more tangible--and bowed, saying "My liege!").

I escaped DC right before snow and sub-freezing temperatures descended, but there was not the remarkable warming as I drove south that I had anticipated. When I had gone north, every stop for gas or breaks was noticeably cooler, requiring more layers; when I got back to Augusta late last Thursday, it seemed to be almost the same temperature as the Bethesda I'd left that morning.  It wasn't until Mums and I reached Orlando on Sunday that I was able to take off my coat and keep comfortable (there were people in shorts and t-shirts at LEGOLAND, but I was happy in long sleeves and jeans). Reading the weather forecasts for this week sent shivers down to my toes, and I felt sorry for my Massachusetts and Rhode Island family members--dealing with negative thermometer readings, before the wind chill is factored, is no joke. The photos from snow-buried New England are astounding, with accumulations preventing people from exiting through first-floor doors, and mountains of frozen water looming over increasingly-narrow roads. The tourism department's website for a town in upstate New York is redirecting its visitors to that of Key West (CNN noted there was no financial or other exchange made to prompt this--it's just so miserable in the northeast that everyone is dreaming of the beach).  It's cold here in Georgia, but sunny and snowless, and I am grateful. 

Last month was my best yet at the consignment store, but as of last Friday morning, my antique mall booth had yet to sell a single item. I'm disgusted. I hope things pick up--I've got a ton of lamps there, plus larger pieces and artwork, and I've no room or inclination to bring them back home again. I may go back up to DC this coming week to work more estate sales; so long as gas prices remain relatively low, I can make money doing this super-long-distance commute.  A friend of mine who lives in Prague has suggested my coming there for several months to take a CELTA course--with the in-class component and the Cambridge connection, it carries more weight than my online experience. I am seriously considering it. Thus far, employment-wise, Augusta is a dead end, nor have I heard back from the software company which initially offered me a job (!) in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. That would have been cool--Pirogov's body is on display there, and I'd have a moral obligation to write what would have been my dissertation in my off-hours. 

As of last night, my brother Bob is staying with me for five weeks, while he does an internship with a local primary-care physician in South Carolina. He said that much of the work seems to consist of trying in vain to refer patients to specialists, none of whom will take their insurance, and then sending them, as a last resort, to the ER. If anything, the American healthcare system seems more screwed up than it was a few years ago.  He remarked that one of the nurses had gotten so fed up with the situation this morning that she asked the recalcitrant party on the other end of the phone if she should wait until after the patient had died to discuss the case. It was hilarious listening to him summarize his first day for my sister, who is having to commute an hour one-way along the icy RI roads. He said it's shocking how casual the mostly-diabetic clientele are about amputations--for many, getting another toe removed, or even having their leg taken off below the knee, is as matter of course as getting a rotten tooth pulled.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

DC Working Trip

I think the major thing (besides income) I have missed about being employed is the absence of story-fodder. Doing estate sales in the national capital region always provides plenty of raw material, which I miss staying in what to these Beltway dwellers is a provincial backwater (albeit one which many of them have visited at least once to attend a certain PGA golf tournament).

I drove up on Wednesday to assist with a sale at a 12,000-square foot (not counting the guest house and garage) former ambassador's residence. My boss had saved me the library to price. I organized it Wednesday night (I went directly to the house on coming to town and started working), and I managed to price it all in 5.5 hours Thursday--thank God for multi-volume series!  We were slammed, with ongoing lines, all three days--I knew I couldn't get to church and thence to work on time Sunday, so I didn't try. Tanya, the girl who took over jewelry responsibilities from me after I moved away, did a phenomenal job--she's hyper-organized, and both costume and fine pieces sold like the proverbial warm pastries.

The sale was a dramatic illustration of how vastly moneyed and connected people are hereabouts, and how relatively poor and uninfluential folks are in my hometown. Not just the size of the house (not a McMansion, but an old palatial dwelling from Vanderbilt days), but the exceptional quality of the contents was immediately apparent: handmadr rugs throughout, eighteenth and nineteenth-century museum-worthy oil paintings. A 12-foot diameter dining room table, chairs upholstered in Scalamandre fabric, hand-carved details on the sideboards and cabinets, leatherbound gold-embossed books, White House knicknacks gifted by former POTUSes, and a kitchen larger than many entire apartments filled with Villeroy & Boch and Mackenzie-Childs.  And there were entitlement attitudes among some of the customers which rivaled the dimension of the kitchen.  Thankfully, most people were pleasant and civil, but there were a few stinkers--all rich white people who apparently were used to having their way in all things and not at all used to having to wait in line with the plebians.  So what if you know that famous person or are the Congressman's cousin or had dinner with the Vice President last week, or have a whole school at one of the local universities named after you?! I hate the entitlement attitude, and yet I know I've got at least shreds of it left. But gosh, I now understand why there were revolutions against the aristocracy. That sort of "I exist, have money and power and beauty and thus you should lick my boots" behavior is totally galling. I don't care whether you are spending $10,000 or $10, you ought to respect others, not march right by like the rules don't apply to you. I was verbally abused by one of these young lords, whom I made return outdoors after he swept grandly past several women who'd been patiently waiting their turn. What an ass. He castigated me for my rudeness as if I were a scullery maid. I shook for half an hour after the encounter until God gave me peace.

Speaking of peace, the former coworker with whom I'd had my own prideful conflict with (recorded in the post "Bossy Non Boss") and I are entirely reconciled. It felt really good to know that all is well! I hate having lingering ill-will with colleagues!

Dex took me out to a fabulous Russian-Uzbek restaraunt  in Ballston Friday night. It was home-cooked yumminess from appetizer to dessert. We shared six dishes and two slices of cake.  My tummy was full and happy.

I have to return to GA on Thursday because Mums and I are to go down to Grandmommy's on Friday and thence to Florida (to see my niece and nephew, who are on vacation there) on Saturday, but I am trying to work as much as possible beforehand. Monday, I joined a team preparing the sale of the house contents of a former Vice President's mistress, who was a friend of Emily Post and other notables. There's a signed Andy Warhol print snd more than 40 lbs of sterling silver, including two mint julep cups personally inscribed to the lady and her husband on their wedding day from President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.  Cool stuff, but I will be glad to be back in the normal world soon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chin Plucking

Thanks the acquisition of a number of ointments, unguents and perfumed soaps at the local Bath & BodyWorks during their half-year sale, at bedtime I now smell like that staple of church lady brunches, the overripe miscellaneous fruit salad.  At least the odor neither gives me a headache (musks tend to, or clog my sinuses) nor inspires a case of the munchies--it's cruel of lotion developers to make apple pie and chocolate smells, because visions of dessert start dancing in my head, and instead of dozing off I find myself toddling toward the kitchen in search of sweets.  Even my hair smells fruity right now, because I'm out of shampoo and used body wash on it. I keep forgetting to buy shampoo. I buy toothbrushes and paste and toilet paper in bulk, so I don't have to worry about shopping more than once every six months, but since B&BW didn't have shampoo (the only kind they had was for men, which I would have gotten for myself, but none of that was on sale--there's something immoral about paying $12 for a small bottle of shampoo), I haven't stocked up.

I like being thoroughly clean, but I hate the niceties of shaving extremities and getting manicures and such (my sister used to harass me about not having a skincare regimen--when I get up, I just wash my face with whatever's handy, an absence of strategic planning she declared anathema).  Some women go so far as to chemically scald the hair from their arms; I'm happy my arm hair is blond so that I can remain comfortably fuzzy.  One of the reasons I wear long pants winter and summer is to avoid daily leg shaving (hey, singleness has its perks!) and yet recently I've noticed the proliferation of spikey little whiskers on my chin. OH NO! OH CRAP! Surely, I have lived a pure life in vain. As much as I pretend to stroke an imaginary goatee when thinking, I really don't want to grow a real one. So, short of wearing a veil, I either have to painfully pluck these with tweezers, or resort to shaving. No, I'm not going to use depilatory creams--I'd manage to burn myself bald, blind, or both. .Shaving it is, then. So if one day you drop by and happen upon a hairy-legged woman smelling of fruity women's bodywash and cheap men's shampoo, irritably wielding a razor on her lathered chin, it's not a transgender interloper, but yours truly.

I've got silicone sealant in the ridges of my class ring, but my stepdad hasn't said anything negative about the ugly job I did on his shower, bless him.

I applied for four jobs today, wired a lamp, and assembled a bunch of magnets. If none of the former yield anything, maybe the latter will.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Upside Of Unemployment

A major benefit of unemployment is when I develop a migraine, like I did at lunchtime Sunday, I don't have to worry about taking a sick day.  The first indication things were amiss was nausea, which I initially ascribed to hunger, since I'd been invited over to fellow choir members' for the midday meal and we weren't eating until two. But I stuffed myself and still felt queasy. And then the light sensitivity began, and I knew I'd better dose up on pain killer, and retreat to a dark corner for the duration. More than twelve hours on, I'm again feeling barfy. Migraines are really no fun!

So many people at church have told me that they are praying for me to find a job! I so appreciate the encouragement and the prayer support.  I pray that whatever happens, I would learn what I'm supposed to from this experience. I'm pretty disgusted with myself, that I seen to have made little progress in my closeness to the Almighty, and continue to display a remarkable lack of self discipline in several areas of personal responsibility. I don't know whether to ascribe some of this to profound depression, to sheer laziness, or to a combination. Growl.

One happy thing that did happen last week was that playing chicken with the cable company seems to have paid off. I was so disgusted with the local monopoly provider, which sent me a bill superseding my first year "introductory" rate of $50 with a "regular" rate of $79, that I cancelled my subscription entirely--I tried to reason with the "customer service" (in name only) people, telling them that as I'd been unemployed for 13 months, I really needed a better rate, but they were immovable and somewhat rude--I figured driving to the local gym or McDonald's was easier and more cost effective than paying half again as much for the service. Two days after I cancelled, another department of the digital Gargantua called me to ask why I'd left, and to offer me, should I decide to resubscribe, a year-long new rate of $45 a month, no reactivation fee needed. All I can say is, they are idiots (why screw over your existing customers, when you can clearly afford to sell them services for less?) and God is good.

I've finished painting the signs for my new booth at the North Augusta antique mall. It will be such a relief to have them and all the things that have been cluttering my living room and garage installed across the river! I think I'll actually be able to assemble more currently "in progress" lamps when the ones that are already together are out of the way.  The bookcases that once held my china have been replaced with a real china cabinet and are waiting to be sold, I have a stack of paintings to hang on the pegboard booth walls, there's lusterware in a box, I've got bagfuls of costume jewelry for people to paw through, and eight lamps, freshly wired, to plug in.  There are two coffee tables in the garage, and an end table that I need to finish repainting and screw back together. It's a start.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Protagonist Dies In The End

...or wishes to be dead.  Why is school-assigned young adult literature so terminally depressing?  I've brought a load of books into 2nd and Charles in hopes of eking out a few pennies, and have paused next to the "school reading" display halfway down the aisle. There are a lot of well-written, worthy books on the table, but taken together they'd make me want to hurl myself off a bridge--it's all the misery of the world, from unjust internment to slavery to rape, holocaust, pollution, and discrimination.

A sample:
The Devil's Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
The Stranger, by Albert Camus
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
Farewell To Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James Houston
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Oh, sure, there were some where not *everybody* is terminally depressed: Chaim Potok's The Chosen and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, but only two to which I could point with any surety knowing they were thoroughly cheerful: the Gilbreth sibling's Cheaper by the Dozen and Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest".  Yet, in the company of Wiesel's Night, Orwell's Animal Farm, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, this was weak relief.

I think all these books are needful reading, but I wonder whether youths are permanently inured to reading as they are assaulted by one grim tome after another as assigned classroom texts. The deer dies, the dog dies, the people die--aren't there good books that acknowledge the depravity of the world without permitting it to dominate the narrative? Novels and memoirs that refuse to permit dystopias to persist?  Whatever happened to the ironic humor of the statement by Wilde's thwarted writer in "The Importance of Being Earnest", summing her lost three-volume novel: "The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what 'fiction' means!"?

Would that other, encouraging true stories like Hillenbrand's Seabuscuit and Unbroken were included with the above!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Colorful Churches

Jesus lambasted the Pharisees--the "good folks" of his day--for being white-washed tombs: sparkling clean on the outside but inside full of putrification. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech shortly before his death at 39, noted that 11 AM on Sunday mornings was one of the most segregated times in American society, and more than half a century later, this continues to be the case. Our pastor is determined that our church should be a preview of heaven, where St. John described people from every language and ethnicity gathered around God's throne, united in worship.  So, for the second year in a row, our church has hosted the area MLK memorial service.

Special music began at 11 AM, though the service itself didn't start until 12; I arrived at 11:10, and the sanctuary was already packed--I ended up with more than 150 others in overflow seating in a building across the road, watching a live video feed on a large screen. We have some African-American regular members, but how comparatively few overall was illuminated by the number of darker-skinned people in our usually predominately pale pews as the camera panned from the podium to the audience and back. I was reminded of my visiting a black church in south Georgia several decades ago, where I was one of maybe two white people in the service, and how everyone looked at me covertly with "what on earth is SHE doung here?" expressions. When you are a member of a majority, it's eye-opening to be put into circumstances where you are a minority--suddenly, you realize how much you stick out, and how odd you feel, even if folks are superficially welcoming and friendly.

Jesus's life, death and resurrection tore down the dividing walls between humans and their Maker, and between humans and other humans. Our false perceptions of ourselves as somehow superior (often this assumed superiority is due to characteristics over which we had no control, such as lineage or skin color) are only destroyed by the understanding of how much Jesua had to sacrifice to achieve our forgiveness, and those who comprehend the weight of this forgiveness cannot help but forgive others.  So, just as people who were once enemies of God are now declared his friends, those who were once enemies of each other are now siblings in the church. But this has been given only lip service for a long time, and the messy business of talking about ongoing racial tensions and general injustice has been largely glossed over by the Christian community.

So it was that I found myself clasping hands with strangers and singing "We Shall Overcome" after a powerful sermon by a local Black Baptist bishop yesterday afternoon. Establishing a broad redeemed community is a huge long-trm challenge: may I live to see the dream of having solid, fully multi-racial churches embracing the thorny issues incumbant in ethnic identity and overcoming these to build a glorious whole mosaic fulfilled in my hometown!