Friday, August 30, 2013

August 28 -- a date to celebrate and to mourn


Wednesday was a big day, here in D.C. Famous and many not so famous gathered in remembrance and celebration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Moving speeches were made, music sung and banners waved. It was a truly feel-good event.

Wednesday was also the anniversary of a dreadful page in our history. It was on that same date in 1955 that a 14-year old, African-American boy from Chicago was tortured and lynched in Mississippi. His name was Emmet Till.

Young Emmet had made is first trip to the south to visit cousins in Mississippi. Coming from the north, he wasn’t aware of Jim Crow laws. Of course he was familiar with discrimination, but of a more subtle sort.

Pubescence may have clouded his judgment about how to act around females. As a relatively carefree, brand-new teen, away from home, having fun was foremost in his mind. Worrying about other peoples’ opinions of him may have never crossed his mind. Little did he know that the color of his skin could get him killed.

When Emmet spotted a pretty woman, he did what most any red-blooded American boy would do. He complimented her with a wolf-whistle. His Black cousins may have turned fifty shades of white at that point, knowing that what he had done - simple as it was - was considered an insult and crime.

It didn’t take long before grown men, including the woman’s husband, dragged Emmet into a barn, beat the living daylights out of him, then lynched him. All of this done in the name of a lady’s honor. [I hope that said “lady” was forever haunted by what was committed in her name.]

We still cannot claim that all Americans are treated equally. Until those of a certain age are gone and take their segregationist and racist attitudes with them, the struggle will go on.

Younger generations are the hope for our future. However, we must protect them from the twisted thinking of neo-this-and-that groups that foment anarchy and chaos. We CAN overcome!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oxymoron of the Day

Buddhist gangs attacked a Muslim neighborhood and torched Muslim homes during a rampage in northwestern Burma. They did this after hearing rumors that a young Buddhist woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man.

Was I wrong in believing that Buddhists were some of the most peace-loving people on Earth? Granted, their country, aka Myanmar, has been wracked by violence since the military took over some years back. It’s just too sad that people who once lived in what seemed like harmony are at each others’ throats.

Sexual assault is horrendous. The rule of law, however, should be allowed to do it’s job of determining guilt or innocence. Rule of mob is never a good alternative.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Celebrating Young Women


Having been born in the middle of the last century, I feel kinda old sometimes. My body is no longer kind to me, but my mind is, most times, still enjoying life as a 34-year-old.

When I saw pictures of a read about the McLean all-stars from about a dozen northern Virginia middle schools playing in the Little League Softball World Series I was thrust back in time. So much has happened to elevate young women from tittering, pretty little girls into strong, capable young women!

Athleticism and participation in sports were not top goals for the majority of the girls I knew in middle school. Yes, I played badminton and volleyball and failed miserably at golf and tennis. Still, I was never encouraged to get rough and tough in order to win because I was a girl. Good sportsmanship was far more important.

It makes me so proud to see members of my gender succeeding in so many more ways than were available to me when I was their age. They don’t worry about getting dirty and sweaty or sacrificing “prettiness” to win a game. Perfect make-up and hair simply cannot be considerations when one participates in sports.

Though the McLean all-stars may have lost in the World Series, they remain champions and role models for their younger sisters coming up behind them. These young women are proof that the “fairer sex” is not weak and that they are capable of great things.

I would like to hug each member of this team and reassure her that she will always be a winner when she gives her all, whether or not she wins the game.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What qualifies as news?


Well into the A section of yesterday’s Washington Post, right above an item about a Russian surgeon being arrested for keeping packets of heroin he was ordered to remove from a human “mule’s” stomach, was a short paragraph of jaw dropping news.

Granted, not everyone is interested in women’s rights in our own country, much less in other countries. Still . . . .

The newly elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran appointed a WOMAN vice president for legal affairs. Just the fact that President Rouhani campaigned with the promise to involve more women in government was ground-breaking. Let’s hope his word is good.

In too many countries, women remain at the bottom of the political and economic ladder. A few pages later . . .

. . . . in the same issue, was an open letter to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Signed by members of the U.S. Congress, it urged him to stop his planned changes to an extraordinary organization: the Grameen Bank.

The gentleman who started this Nobel Prize-winning institution did it to enable impoverished Bangladeshis, most of them women, to take out micro-loans in order to start small businesses. For example: the purchase of a sewing machine could enable a person to earn financial independence for herself and her family. [search Grameen Bank and see how this brilliant, small-scale idea has spread around the world]

Grameen Bank’s clients and investors run the bank, avoiding the national political mire. If Sheik Hasina gets his way, his cronies would replace borrowers who currently sit on the bank’s governing board. In essence, Grameen Bank would become a government institution -- ruinous to it’s mission. In other words -- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Grameen Bank works because it is humane, fair and practical. This is not the time to disenfranchise those who so desperately need, appreciate and benefit from Grameen Bank loans. Honor, not handouts make people strong. Repayment rates prove this.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

After almost half a century, we still don’t get it.

When I went off to college in 1967, I fully intended to become an elementary school teacher. It was a most appropriate vocation for young ladies in those days -- that or secretarial work, nursing or marrying and raising a family. Our futures were pretty limited.

First semester went well enough, taking core classes that all freshmen had to take. Luckily for me, I aced Spanish because my college class used the same book we had in high school. Other than that, I was a mediocre student more interested in sororities and social life.

Second semester exposed me to a rough gang: political science majors. Not only did they know how to party, but they were liberals! Coming from a long line of conservatives, this was quite an eye-opener. My liberal gene really kicked-into gear following the assassinations of M.L.King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

That was also an election year and we held mock political conventions on campus. The civil rights movement was very hot and growing stronger and more militant by the day. Dr. King’s message of peaceful revolution was pretty much abandoned after he was gunned down. All hell broke loose.

At the same time the Vietnam War was causing many of us to agonize over drafted friends who went off to fight a war they detested and either died far too young or came home terribly damaged.

I considered myself a Peacenik but felt helpless because I had no power -- not even old enough to vote. Protesting was pretty pointless in my college’s tiny, rural town in the middle of the corn belt. However, passions were just as strong as they were on larger campuses across the country.

The summer of 1968 is memorable because of massive and often destructive demonstrations of frustration over the national status quo. Our military seemed to be doing more harm than good in Southeast Asia with huge sacrifices of human lives and tax dollars. It was a no-win situation that kept writhing along. Television and print media provided a constant stream of graphic details.

That summer also brought my political-science-major boyfriend to my family home 30 miles outside Chicago. He was determined to join the protests at the Democratic National Convention. I was reluctant but gullible enough to take the train into the city with him. We visited Eugene McCarthy’s headquarters and bought campaign stuff. Then wandered around.

As we headed toward the convention center, BF was trying to find out where the action was. He was ready to jump in with both feet while I knew my dad would string me up if I got arrested. It took some heavy persuasion to get him on the train back north to my safe, quiet home town. We all know what happened later that day and night and BF was so disappointed that he missed the ruckus.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Today, in 2013, I came across a paper I wrote for my political history class in 1969. That is what triggered all of the above. It also struck me so true for our current status as a world power.

The paper was a comparison and critique of J. William Fulbright’s The Arrogance of Power and William Appleman Williams’ The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. I certainly won’t bore you with the whole thing, but a few paragraphs struck me as so relevant for now, in 2013. Remember I wrote this in 1969.

According to J. William Fulbright, America has reached a point in its history as have other nations, where it is in “danger of losing its perspective on what exactly is within its realm of power and what is beyond it.” He adds that American “power tends to confuse itself with virtue” and as a great nation it is almost a duty to remake less great nations “. . . in its own shining image.” Williams has basically the same attitude towards this philosophy. “This insistence that other people ought to copy America contradicts the humanitarian urge to help them. . .”

Both men agree that the American form of democracy and everything that it encompasses cannot work and cannot be justified in most other nations. The necessity for self-determination by other governments and people is often over looked by our basically well-meaning makers of foreign policy.

As far as foreign aid is concerned, Fulbright and Williams agree that the United States has overextended itself to the point that it is almost ignoring the domestic and economic problems within its own population by trying to be a ‘rich uncle’ to every poor, underdeveloped country it can find.

Will we ever learn?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Katherine"


I never thought that such a simply titled book would excite and move me in the ways it did. If you enjoy reading Medieval history, I highly recommend this book to you. It could be called a romance novel, but that is a small part of the story. The characters and events are real and the author, Anya Seton, did a remarkable job of fleshing them out.

Katherine Swynford was forced, at the age of 15, to marry an older, somewhat brutish man. He was smitten with her, but had no idea how to express his feelings or how to be a gentle, loving husband. Having no choice, she submitted to him and bore his children.

John of Gaunt, aka the Duke of Lancaster, and son of King Edward III of England was an older, man who, after his beloved first wife, Blanche died, was forced to marry a member of Castile’s royal family for political gain. It was in no way a love match, but they both did their duty.

During the 14th century, the Black Plague wiped out much of Europe’s population. By some lucky fate, Katherine Swynford survived the disease when she was a child and became immune. Subsequently, she was brought to the royal court to tend to the Duke’s wife who was afflicted with the dreaded disease. She became governess to the Lancaster daughters and in short order, she and the Duke of Lancaster started to fall in love. Being devout Catholics, they both tried to avoid the entanglement, but failed.

Geoffrey Chaucer was Katherine’s brother-in-law and adds an interesting element to the story. During this period, the Reformation was also starting to gain strength and was a significant factor in the lovers’ story.

Royal intrigue, bastardy, political machinations, incredible wealth and poverty, lust, mental illness, overwhelming religious fervor and guilt -- it’s all there and makes the book and hard to put down.

The only gripe I have is that the Kindle version I downloaded is full of typos, something all too common in e-books. Still, this story is well worth a read.