Saturday, July 31, 2010

Northanger Abbey

I just finished reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I found it lighter in tone than her other novels. It seemed like she really had a lot of fun with the characters and the plot. I enjoyed the parts, early in the story, where Catherine discusses the value of novels and novel-reading with some of the other characters. She is surprised that men can like novels, just like women, as Henry Tilney does.

I really enjoyed how Catherine works herself up to a frightful state by imaging things in the bedroom where she is staying in Northanger Abbey. Out of thin air she builds up a suspicion that General Tilney murdered his wife, even though nothing like that happened. But in the end, Catharine shows her good sense and sense of humor.

It was shameful how the General sent her away when he realized that Catherine wasn't a rich heiress. The story made me really feel the injustice of having to return home in a public carriage.

There's really a lot of satire in the novel. Mrs. Allen is just an empty airhead, concerned only with fashion. John Thorpe, in addition to being a boring, self-absorbed braggart, was also the source of the General's misunderstanding. He richly deserved to never find a wife!

All in all, this is a great story. I would like to read the text this time. Although audio version was full text, I bet it would be better still to read it.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Arizona Immigration Law Decision

I have been watching reports of the preliminary injunction barring many parts of the Arizona anti illegal immigrant law. I think the judge ruled correctly. All parts of immigration enforcement has to be a federal responsibility, although the states can assist if asked.

The controversy reminded me of some of the experiences I had living in Burkina Faso and Senegal in the 1980's Both of their legal systems come from French law, through the prism of African culture. Police have the right to stop and ask you any questions. I remember the road blocks. I was always a little nervous. It's as if you had to prove that you had a right to be where you were. Now, we were never hassled and had just a few uncomfortable experiences, especially after the coups in Burkina.

In the US, on the other hand, we are free to do as we wish. The police can't stop you unless they have a suspicion you are doing something illegal. And even then, they have strict limits as to what they can ask. It would be a shame to lose that freedom, the feeling of liberty. If we all have to prove that we have a right to be here, instead of the police having to prove they have a reason to stop us, then we will have lost a great deal.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On the Radio

I usually just listen to NPR stations at home, at work and in the car. But on an eleven hour car trip (PA to ME both ways) I needed some variety. I found that commercial radio is definitely not what it used to be.

Top 40 radio only plays a limited number of songs. The songs are really juvenile-sounding. The beat, the nursery rhyme lyrics (style not substance) and the overdubbing make it sound like something for very simple, but perverted children.

Sports talk seems totally irrelevant. On a Boston station they were arguing over the details and negotiating strategy of quarterback's contract. Really arcane stuff.

I even listed to some talk radio for a while. Does anyone think Glenn Beck is really serious about his rantings? It's really about him selling his books, plays, speaking events and anything else he can come up with. I avoided Rush at all costs. 

I'm beginning to think I should either get satellite or a huge stack of CD's for my next trip!

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Viewing an Eagle

This young eagle was sitting in a pine tree by Lake Cochnawagon, in Monmouth Maine. He made a tremendous amount of racket. I didn't know that eagles were so vocal. I waited half an hour in the water, but he didn't fly away or move around.

Beans, however, was not interested in eagles!
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Monday, July 05, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops on Fresh Air

I just heard a rebroadcast of the Carolina Chocolate Drops interview on NPR's Fresh Air. I heard the first airing a few months ago, but now that I have listened to Genuine Negro Jig several times I can appreciate the interview even more. I was very impressed by the musicality of the band. They have really studied their material and why they liked it. Terri Gross asked them about how as African-Americans they liked this old time music, which has in part racist-tinged origins. They answered well and showed how they are driven by the music. They are also at home in many genres. At one point Terri Gross asked Rhiannon to show her operatic singing skills and she did a great job. Now I would like to get some of their older albums, too.

Posted via email from Black Gap Road

Saturday, July 03, 2010

General Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war

General Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war

General Petraeus arrived in Kabul today to take over the Afghanistan war effort. Afghans say he faces a limited window to rein in corruption, make the Karzai government more accountable, and create momentum toward peace.

Newly appointed U.S. and NATO forces commander, U.S. General David Petraeus, speaks with Commander of ISAF Joint Command Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez during their arrival in Kabul Friday.
DEU Army Michal Miszta, IJC Public Affairs/Handout/Reuters
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / July 2, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan
With the US-led Afghanistan war in its most precarious position since it began nearly nine years ago, Gen. David Petraeus arrived in Kabul today to implement a strategy similar to the one he successfully pioneered in Iraq.
It includes not only removing the Taliban from the villages they have occupied for years, but also overseeing reconstruction, helping create a more accountable government, and building up the Afghan military and police.
The capital of Kabul is an oasis of relative security. But the situation in the south of the country – the Pashtun heartland that gave birth to the Taliban in the early 1990s – is deteriorating, say average Afghans, aid workers, and some diplomats. June was the deadliest month ever for foreign troops here.
“Compared to eight years back, or even three years back, we are really much, much worse off than at any point,” says Danish Karokhel, who runs Pajhwok Afghan News, which has reporters in every city. “The Taliban are on most of the important roads leading to Kabul. The government just looks so weak to people.”
Poppy farmer Dal Mohammed is not a Taliban supporter – far from it, he says. After all, it was partly the Taliban’s fault that he recently had to flee his village in southern Afghanistan with his two wives and seven children for this refugee camp on Kabul’s outskirts.
But it was the joint US-Afghan military response to a Taliban attack that destroyed his home in Helmand Province and drove him here.
Standing amid the temporary brick-and-mud homes, he says the situation in Helmand is the worst it’s been since the war began. As fellow refugees nod, he says peace should be made quickly with the Taliban.
The Afghan government? “We have no trust in them at all.”

Challenges: Corruption, instability, and government accountability

As Gen. David Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war, the call is coming in loud and clear: Do something different and do it fast. The common refrain centers on several challenges: Rein in corruption, make the Karzai government more accountable, and create enough momentum toward peace that Afghans will put their weight behind the US-led fight.
To do this, Petraeus will need to resolve tensions between the US military and civilian leaders and President Hamid Karzai. While the US has poured more than $280 billion into Afghanistan to rout Islamist militants, Karzai’s government has been reaching out to the Taliban – a move some say is based on the calculation that the US lacks the ability or political will to stay until the insurgency has been vanquished.
“How can we fight the Taliban when Karzai is making overtures of peace and is thinking about asking them to join the government?” asks Rahman Oghli, a member of parliament (MP) who worries that citizens may be led to believe that turning against the Islamist movement is more trouble than it’s worth. “Our Army would be thinking to themselves, ‘Why should I fight when it’s going to end that way?’ ”
Petraeus is revered by many for having created that crucial momentum in Iraq, successfully recruiting Sunni insurgents to help turn the tide against Al Qaeda.

What Afghan lawmakers want Petraeus to do

Politicians from Marjah and Kandahar, both targeted for key US offensives, charge that two pillars of the counterinsurgency strategy – to protect civilians and establish the rule of law – have largely failed.
Walid Jan Sabir, an MP from Marjah district in Helmand, says the area is at best marginally safer since the US-led offensive in February.
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Today's stories of General Petraeus making his first appearance at a July 4th celebration for the American embassy personnel in Kabul Afghanistan reminded me of the years I spent in Africa. As Peace Corps volunteers we went to several celebrations in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Somewhere I have slides of a celebration in Dakar, Senegal where they even had a color guard from the embassy Marine guards.

We always felt our American-ness more strongly in an overseas post. All the things that may divide us at home are not important in another country. There is definitely a special pride being a U.S. citizen, regardless of politics or anything else.

I can only imagine how the Americans in Afghanistan deal with the stress and danger of the security situation. In Burkina Faso and Senegal we only had to deal with petty street crime. We were free to celebrate and share our pride in our country!