NOTES FROM THE DISTRICT
Christmas, Shooting, Birthday
February 6, 2007
Here are a few pics from Halloween, Christmas and
shooting in Oklahoma, and my Birthday.
Things are still going well in DC. I'm looking for a
new job (because I'm so done with the whole "Defense"
thing -- it was interesting, and I learned a lot, but
it's not my scene) and a new house (roommate issues).
A general change of scenery will be refreshing, I
think. I'm still studying Arabic and enjoying the
people around me. Definitely looking forward to
I'm planning a two-week trip to Palestine and Jordan
hopefully in April with a couple of American friends. [Note: the trip was postponed until June, and one American friend will come along.]
I can't wait to tour them around so many incredible
places, see all my friends in the West Bank (and
hopefully a couple of buds in Israel), and camp out in
the Jordanian desert again.
Halloween was nice this year. I dressed up like some
kind of gypsy belly dancer for Ben's Halloween Party (where something like half of DC showed up, to the point that random people for weeks would talk about "Ben's Halloween Party" in Ben's presence, having no idea he was Ben) where I met a
Palestinian girl who has since tried to get me a job
with her group at the World Bank. Wish me luck on
that. I think I would enjoy working with a bunch of
young internationals (as opposed to the bunch of old
white guys at my current job -- not that I have anything against old
white guys as such, but a change of scene would be nice). The ones I've met so
far are quite cool and seem properly thoughtful.
Later, still in costume, I went out to a bar with my
friend Isis, and we got hit on by a cowboy with a
foreign accent. I asked him, "Are you Iranian?"
He said, astonished, "How did you know?"
I tried and utterly failed to explain why meeting a
Persian cowboy was so hilarious for an Oklahoman. I
guess you just have to be one. (I had to bite my
tongue to keep from asking if he knew how to do a
Christmas was fun this year, too. The whole fam-damly
got together at our home in Stigler, everyone but
cousin Luke, and some got together to play the guitar
and fiddle and we all played Frisbee and football in
the front yard. Good times. Christmas morning, my
nephew Dylan got an electronic drum set, and hilarity
Holly and Emily and Holly's husband Daniel came to
visit and hot tub on Christmas night, and the next day
Emily, Mom, Bill, Val, Bobby Dale, Josh and I went out
shooting on some of my step-dad's spoil banks
(un-reclaimed coal strip mines that leave behind
scraggly land where not much grows).
We set up a cardboard box with paper targets and used
that for practice until we found a salt lick, which we
annihilated in short order. Our arsenal included two
.22s (one of which had a telescopic sight that only
confused us traditionalist types), one 3030, a .357
Magnum, a .38 Special, a shotgun, and a Derringer.
It inspired me to write the following:
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my dealer gave to me:
12 moving targets,
10 AK rifles
9 .38 specials
6 thousand rounds...
And some spoil banks in Haskell Countyyyyyyyyy!
For New Year's, I visited Gerald Ford's coffin at the
Capitol Rotunda and then had several very stiff drinks
at a neighborhood bar called Wonderland and danced in
* * *
During the first week of January, at the exact same time that Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert was at a peace summit in Egypt
with President Mubarak, a veritable parade of armored
Jeeps and tanks pushed into the center of Ramallah,
overturning and flattening civilian cars and
obliterating the entire central vegetable market on
their way to arrest a wanted man.
They didn't get their man, but they did arrest four
people (whom they released almost immediately because
they weren't wanted for anything) and kill four other
people, one of whom was a man who sold coffee from a
cart on the central traffic circle, another a man who
saw that cars were being crushed and rushed out to
move his car out of the way of the tanks. A local
journalist was among the seriously injured.
Olmert of course said, "Things developed in a way that
could not have been predicted in advance. If innocent
people were hurt, this was not our intention."
Obviously not. When you crash into a peaceful
civilian scene in broad daylight destroying private
property and shooting live bullets into crowds, there
can't possibly be any intention to hurt innocent
people. It was obviously a complete accident.
Totally understandable. I'm sure the IDF investigated
and found itself not guilty
The next day I opened my morning paper to see a
picture of a friend of mine wearing his Palestine Red
Crescent Society uniform and helping to rush a
bleeding man somewhere, presumably to an ambulance or
hospital. It was nice to see a picture of him, though
of course I wish it could have been under different
* * *
My friend Nafis and I both have birthdays in January,
so we decided to have a joint party. Of course this
meant we both waited around for the other one to plan
things, and at the 11th hour we just went with the
same deal we did last year: Dancing and drinking at
Ozio lounge. For parties of fewer than 20, there's no
reservation fee, and it's a pretty swanky place. It
worked out well, and even if we did end up with more
than 20, I don't think anyone was counting.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a talk by the Afghani
Ambassador, a man who grew up in Afghanistan but came
to America and became a lawyer and has been here ever
since. I was all set to view him as a bit of an
out-of-touch quisling, but in fact he was quite
forthright in his criticism of the Bush
Administration's policies and seemed uniquely
competent to champion Afghanistan's needs as a
professional with many contacts and an impeccable
command of English.
One thing he said struck all of us, and that was that
even when the American government would earmark money
for the right purpose, say $10 million for a new
school building in some outlying province, the money
would go directly to a Washington, DC, consulting
firm, which would take perhaps 20% off the top in
exchange for sub-contracting the job to a Turkish
company. The Turkish company would in turn
sub-contract it to an Indian company and take another
By the time the money actually got to the Afghani
province that needed the school, there would be maybe
$90,000 left. The builders would build a shoddy
structure maybe even in a valley prone to flash
floods. And then next spring it would be cracked,
collapsed, and/or gone.
This is what the Afghanis see, and it's no wonder
they're turning to warlords or even the Taliban when
the occupier is providing so poorly for them. The
Ambassador's hope is that aid to the Afghani
government will increase significantly and that
contracts will be given to more appropriate companies.
The Afghani government can never stand on its own
while the occupier's actions are so thoroughly
undermining its legitimacy. Not that anyone "standing on their own"
was ever the Bush Administration's intention. There was actually, theoretically hope for
a positive outcome for the Afghanis, and indeed it
could have been a tremendous success story already if
the American government done it right. By "right," I don't mean
if they had been smarter occupiers. I mean if they had done something
that was simply not in their natures and put the Afghanis and their
wishes and interests first -- which, ironically, in my estimation, would
have been in the true American public interest. But again, this is never
what the Bush administration cared about.
Instead they are pouring all of our resources
and attention into the apocalypse of Iraq. The
Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and it may be too
late for anyone to do much about it.
At least marriage is safe. Thank God for that.
I also attended the massive anti-war rally in DC on
January 27. It was a treat to be around an enormous
crowd of people who wore their humanism on their
As opposed to being around people who think
flesh-shredding weapons are cool, entire countries can
be neatly classified as "evil," and human rights are
I believe that in the current mainstream world
climate, such people can safely be classified as
"extremists." It's a great shame that they have so
much power and authority in Washington. The Romes of
history truly never learn, do they? America could
have been a wise and respected leader for hundreds of
years, but the current regime is burning us out (often
building on actions of previous regimes). And for
Most of the protesters were ordinary folks, and one
was even from Oklahoma. She had gathered three other
women and driven 24 hours to be there. I was quite
impressed. It was a beautiful, warm, clear day, too.
Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, and Jane Fonda (the usual suspects) gave
nice speeches, as did several extremely fed-up
Our generation's "Pentagon Papers" are already staring
us in the face, and it will be a lingering shame that
we effectively stood by and let it all happen. Just
the other day, former chief of the CIA's Europe
division, Tyler Drumheller, gave an incredibly
shocking interview with the German publication Spiegel
International. The crux of the interview was:
"The policy was set. The war in Iraq was coming
and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the
But the details are even more jaw-dropping
Meanwhile, my think tank is trying to figure out how
to retain the forces we have, build up for a surge,
AND increase the overall size of the military under
fierce political and budgetary constraints during an
unpopular, deadly, immoral war with no end in sight in
which pretty much everyone and everything has already
been stretched to near if not beyond the breaking
point. (Yeah, the view from the inside is even worse
than the one from the outside. It's bad.) Sounds
like a pretty Sisyphean task to me, but my colleagues
are taking it on cheerfully.
At one meeting, a guy said, "Hell, during Vietnam we
once got 500 kids off the streets, got their hair cut,
got 'em trained up, and shipped 'em over within six
months. We can do that again if we need to."
I thought, "Er... Do you remember how Vietnam turned
out? And do you have any idea what happened to those
500 kids that you sent into a hopeless meat grinder --
those kids who were somebody's son, somebody's
brother? Do you even care?" I felt nauseous and sad.
Yeah. Not my scene.
At another meeting, I thought I overheard one
particularly straight-laced manpower guy say to
someone else that the faltering economy would be good
for recruitment. I asked him if that was indeed what
he had said.
He said, "Sure, when unemployment goes up, people have
to find some other way to make a living. It's a
classic demand problem, really. Because, I mean, how
can you make more people?"
"Abstinence education," I said brightly.
The words seemed to have slipped directly out of my
mouth without venturing anywhere near my brain.
"Eh, pardon?" he said, thrown off by my apparent
"Oh, well, you know," I mumbled, "I've heard there's a
positive correlation between abstinence education and
"Uh huh," he smiled and nodded blankly.
I get that a lot.
A few days later, while riding an escalator up from
the Metro, I saw the following headline on a newspaper
someone next to me was reading:
2006 Worst Year Ever for Ford
I thought, "Well, obviously. It's the year he died,
And then... yeah. Not ex-President Gerald. The Motor
Anyway. The Fable of Megastan
is up and running for
anyone who has interest. Please note that it is not a
fiction about America's future, but rather an
unorthodox (and fairly brief) re-telling of Iraq's
past 30 years of history.
I've also done some analysis on the Iraq problem
And the following article -- "The Way out of War," Harpers Magazine
, October 2006 -- outlines the plan for Iraq,
drafted by George McGovern and William R. Polk, that I
believe is by far our best hope at this point. I was
at the House chamber when they presented their plan to
the Progressive Caucus. Scandalously, I can find
almost no mention of it in any major news publication.
Instead, Bush is allowed to go around saying, "If you
don't like my plan, show me an alternative." As if
there is no alternative. Meanwhile, Democrats are
busy arguing about which mealy-mouthed non-binding
resolution to pass.
Anyway, here's the article that summarizes the plan
Not a lot else going on. Parties and people and talks
and walks. Hopefully I'll have a new job and a new
house soon, and hopefully I'll be in Palestine on
schedule. I'm contemplating applying for some kind of
PhD next fall, maybe in economics or sustainable
development. Getting a Master's of some kind in
England is also tempting, mostly because England
sounds like a lot of fun. Expensive, though. There's
the rub. At least sciency people can usually get a
PhD paid for.
P.S. I found a copy of this song in an old email, and
I found it touching. It's written by something
precious and rare: an anti-war country singer.
He said in a press release for his album Childish
Things, "I've always been a little put off by
activists. So you know it's a dire situation when I
have to become an activist myself."
We Can't Make it Here Anymore
Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war
We can't make it here anymore
That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore
See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
They're just gonna set there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore
The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are workin' two jobs and livin' in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof,
won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof
just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far $5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore
High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore
Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore
Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away.
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore
Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore
And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why
In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore
Next: New house, new job, new bike!