Ruby Ramblings


Big Boys and Evil Literature
March 29, 2009, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, War | Tags: , , , ,

Big Boy Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru

I’ve been listening to the audio version in my car. Usually I avoid books that look like this because they are glorified versions of weapons technology, hero worship, and killing “the other.” This cover was slightly deceiving, and luckily, I had heard a book review on NPR before I saw the cover.

Fainaru has spent a lot of time in Iraq as a embedded journalist were he became interested in the “parallel army” that arose around the US military. When there weren’t enough US soldiers to cover missions, private contract armies arose including the now famous Blackwater, and Fainaru follows two lesser known companies (that contract to Halliburton); Crescent and Triple Canopy.

These contract armies have no rules, no official equipment, very little training, and make enormous paychecks. As opposed to many of the soldiers who make a small enough paycheck on combat pay that they are eligible for welfare benefits, the contract “soldiers” are pulling in $7,000 a month. Fainaru decides, under great controversy, to call these contract workers mercenaries. Hired guns. The problem is that ultimately, since they are contract workers, the US government is paying these bills. Enlisted soldiers stand by insulted while the “mercs” rake it in.

These mercs are the same young men who make up the US army. But they aren’t protected in the same ways. The contract mercenary that Fainaru follows throughout the beginning of the book swore that he would never get captured, and even had a death pact with his fellow mercenaries. John Cote, pronounced Co-Tay, was captured, skinned alive, and beheaded not too long after these series of interviews. He had done two tours of duty in the real US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and decided he couldn’t go back to “civilian life”. He traded his twenties, and eventually his life, for the money and adventure of working in a contract security company.

Because of the lack of rules and military control over the contract mercenaries, there is a lot of confusion over who governs them. When this question was posed to George Bush, Bush laughed and said, “That’s a great question, I’m going to have to ask Rumsfeld about that.” To which Rumsfeld replied that he didn’t know, and thought the President was responsible for that. Which means there was no one there to bring accountability when a merc went crazy and shot up a cab filled with civilians. There is no screening process, several of the mercenaries are self-proclaimed alcoholics and people who “just want to kill.” The residents of Alice’s Restaurant are welcome here.

Likewise, there is no one there when a convoy of mercenaries is driving around with no armor and no back-up support.

At the same time I’ve been reading Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations released by Words Without Borders.

This is a collection of stories from states considered enemies of the US government. It starts with the official Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Countries that have little to nothing to do with each other, but which had been lumped into the same category by the Bush administration. The editors of this book note that they are in objection to the use of terms like Axis of Evil, and declare that they are also against the US notion of being against free trade of literature and culture with countries it doesn’t agree with. Many of the authors in this book are living in exile, being the subject of that kind of discrimination in their own countries.

The opening story, The Vice Principal in my opinion, is the best. It is an Iranian story of a boy who takes liberties with a writing assignment, and feels the wrath of a teacher who doesn’t agree with his opinion.

In the section of stories by North Korean authors, it is very apparent that there are tight restrictions on what people are allowed to write about, and I would even say that in the first story presented, A Tale of Music it appears that some of the original work was taken out and propaganda about “our dear leader” put in it’s place.

Other countries included are Syria, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Cuba stands out, in that it is a culture that is much more open about sexuality than most of the others included. With it being the last group of stories included, the open sex and discussion of a character’s girlfriend’s period almost comes as a shock.

These two books were very interesting to read together. The mixing of US force policy and the point of view of the countries our policy is forced upon.



Passing of Orphan Mother Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra

One of the best books I read all of last year was:
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children

Heregewoin Teferra was a woman living in Ethiopia, like most people, living her own life and not too concerned with what was going on outside of her immediate friends and family. That is until her husband had a sudden heart attack, and her oldest daughter died of seemingly no cause (although years of emotional abuse from her husband probably had a lot to do with it.)

When she became a recluse and had withdrawn from her social life, a local priest came to her needing help taking care of a couple of teenage orphans. This first attempt at taking in orphans was not her most successful, but after several years, her house turned from a stopover for an orphan or two, to a major house complex, including its own medical facility and school, for dozens of abandoned children, many of them HIV positive.

Fellow blogger Real Mama recently informed me that Mrs. Teferra has passed away, leaving 59 orphans with no care.

WorldWide Orphans Foundation is taking donations and trying to find these children, again most of them HIV positive, new homes. If you choose to donate, make you sure you check the box indicating the money is for the Heregewoin orphanage.

Pictures from Melissa Greene’s wesite:
Bossy one
Teferra



Geography of Happiness
March 18, 2009, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Books, Peace, Travel | Tags: , ,

12

Twelve Publishing is a Canadian publishing company that has dedicated itself to publishing one book a month. The twelve best books it receives every year.

I’m currently reading one of their choices, which has turned out to be superb.
Geo of bliss The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.

The NPR correspondent goes around the world, travelling to the places considered the happiest to discover their collective secrets. We often relate our happiness to our geography, and he seeks to find out if this has any truth to it. “With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought, ‘I could be happy here’ knows what I mean.”

He travels to the Netherlands where happiness is being researched scientifically, to Switzerland where shear boredom and cleanliness seems to be the answer to the world’s purported happiest people, to Bhutan where happiness is a government goal and mandate. In Qatar he finds folks who think money can buy anything, including happiness, to Iceland – the happiness of failure, and in Thailand where happiness is just plain not thinking about it. In Moldova he finds the concept that happiness is always somewhere else, and in the US where it is in the place you consider home.

I laughed outloud three times while reading just the opening page. Weiner’s descriptions are so good, I was brought back to the places I’ve been, and felt a huge sense of desire for the places I haven’t seen yet. Except for Moldova. Moldova is the one place he visited that isn’t happy. They are described as the unhappiest people in the world. Their reasoning is that they don’t have enough money. But as Weiner viewed in Bhutan, money isn’t as important as a strong sense of culture and belonging. 90% of Bhutanese that have a chance to study in the US or Britain return to their home country, even though there is virtually no economy there. (To which an American tourist commented, “well, why would they do that.”) The real reason Weiner encounters for unhappiness is a lack of trust and true friendships, two qualities that are belittled as weakness in Moldova.

Overall, I just found this to be an intensely enjoyable book.

NPR Review of Geography of Bliss

NPR story on the Happiness Index



Rethinking How we Make “Things”
March 12, 2009, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Books, Peace | Tags: ,

William McDonough describes a brilliant world in which a positive outlook on the environment and devolopment is a reality.

CradleCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things



(Un)American (Un) Insurance
March 11, 2009, 11:44 pm
Filed under: economics, Peace | Tags: , , ,

When the US government holds a summit on an idea, you would think that the country that holds itself as the gatekeeper of free speech would allow all ideas to be on the menu. Not so with Obama’s summit on national health care, where single payer health care was declared a no-no before the invitations were even sent out. Dr. Quentin Young, MLK’s former personal physician, a public friend of Obama’s, and a proponent of single payer health was overtly un-invited.

The problems with the current state of health care in America are not really worth hashing here. Everyone has a story, most people I know are uninsured, and just as many have stories of being denied coverage for something they needed done.

The real problem with private health insurance is that the health insurance companies are not doing their jobs. We pay them, they are supposed to pay our health bills, they come up with ridiculous excuses for why they can’t pay, line their pockets, and then raise rates again. Forcing people to buy private health insurance, which is considered the “compromise” to progressive health care, will do nothing but give more money to an already greedy industry. It won’t lower rates by much, and more importantly, it won’t increase the quality of service the private companies are providing.

The arguments against single payer are weak and heavily funded. Our current existing single payer plan, medicare, only took a year to implement after it was made law. If people want private insurance, that will be their choice, but the rest of the country needs a choice too.

Really, if we removed health insurance from being the responsibility of the employer, everyone could have coverage regardless of being self-employed, un-employed, or like myself, employed by companies who are small enough to refuse to pay health insurance. Employers would have more money to keep jobs in the US. One of the main complaints major employers have about keeping factories and offices in the US is that the health insurance makes an employee much more expensive than one in another country.

It’s time for our ELECTED officials, who work for US to stop pandering to the insurance companies. Their fear of the insurance companies is a disgusting show of weakness and lack of innovation in a time when positive, drastic action is needed. If we can spend billions a year to kill people in other countries, I’m sure we could find some money for American health care.


Single Payer Action
– an action website for people interested in single payer health care. They have links to the few news reports being done on single payer since the issue has been completely blacklisted from major media.

If you feel strongly about this issue you can find your Congress people and write to them here. It has been proven that if single payer was brought to congress, the citizen support would be overwhelming – currently hovering around 60%, but congress refuses to bring it to the table – harass them :
House of Reps
Senate



Aung San Suu Kyi video
February 18, 2009, 4:25 am
Filed under: Peace, War | Tags:


The Voice of Hope
February 17, 2009, 1:43 am
Filed under: Books, Buddhism, Peace, War | Tags: , , ,

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi is a peace activist who has been under house arrest for almost two decades in Burma. Her outspoken opinions on how the Burmese government have oppressed the Burmese people have made her a threat to the totalitarian state, and luckily, rather than turning her into a martyr, the have just tried to keep her quiet by making it hard for her to communicate with the world.

One of the ideas that she presents that I find really interesting is “the questing” mind. “A questing mind is a great help towards withstanding violence or oppression, or any trend that is contrary to what you believe is right and just.” She makes a difference between a questioning mind – one that wonders – and the questing mind that actually seeks out the answers.

She argues that positive action is the first step to healing, so even though she has spent a large part of her life in seclusion and unable to see her family, she does not feel negatively about this because she has added so much positive action to the Burmese cause.

I think one of the reasons that the conservative right has such a hard time with intellectualism is that it may discover that it is wrong. Vaclav Havel stated, “The intellectual should constantly disturb, should bear witness to the misery of the world, should be provocative by being independent, should rebel against all hidden and open pressures and manipulations, should be the chief doubter of systems…he stands out as an irritant wherever he is.”

If you are being vigilant in these things, then taking the humanitarian point of view is necessary. Taking responsibility is a necessity.

These thoughts come from a book of conversations between Aung Sa Suu Kyi and an American Buddhist monk ordained in Burma Alan Clements.

voice of hopeThe Voice of Hope