Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poem of the Day

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

--Stevie Smith

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Her Healing Hands

Sometimes, you past life comes back to haunt you.

My middle brother was born with a birth defect. My mother was 22, functionally single (my father was in Iran) and a stranger in this country. Overnight, she went from frustrated young mother, to a ferocious nurse. She learned the language of medicine before she learned English. She fought for my brother's life daily and had little room for tenderness or sentiment left in her.

As a result of his illness my brother was prone to pneumonia. Since prevention was almost impossible, treatment became my mother's area of expertise. After one harrowing episode, she came home with my bundled up brother tucked under one arm and a suction machine under the other. From that day forward, there was a ritual every morning and evening. She would lay my brother on his stomach, cup her hands and pat on his back. Firm, loud pats making sure nothing stayed lodged in his lungs. For half an hour at a time, she would cover the surface of his back with her pat-pat-pats, turn him over and suction out whatever she could. At first, I hated the sound of her hands beating on his bony back and the racket of the suction machine. Gradually, the sound became relaxing--the most enduring ritual of our family. She could cover his back with strong pats in her sleep, and occasionally did. I would doze off to what had become our lullaby, knowing my mother's hands were beating illness away.

Tonight, M's cough got pretty bad. After dinner, I tried everything I could think of to make his coughing stop. Suddenly, I remembered the pat-pat-pat of my mother's healing hands. It worked.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Few Thoughts on Accountability and Democracy

In the US, where the government is elected by the people and accountable to them, we have an outgoing president* basically shrugging his shoulders and saying "Oops" about the war and the economy. We are a civilized people, so we will watch in disbelief as he says things like, "I was unprepared for war" (the same war he started against most of the world's protests and mocked his opponents as weak-kneed and unpatriotic); about the economy, "I'm sorry it's happening, of course" (of course); about the elections, "It was a repudiation of Republicans" and "I'm sure some people voted for Barack Obama because of me." without the slightest hint of remorse or self awareness. It's almost impressive.

Stranger still is comparing our democracy with other so-called democracies.

When we were attacked in 2001, everyone had wondered if there were any warning signs that were missed. Any memos that said things like,
"Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States", that had been missed or ignored. Apparently there had been. Along, with unconnected dots and chatter. We confronted these warnings and failures appropriately. We kicked out people like Richard Clark and rewarded people like George Tenent with medals and honors.

Now in India, an 'emerging' democracy, they have government officials who supposedly got warnings of impending attacks; semi-connected dots if you will. Their incompetence in handling these warnings has outraged the public, still in shock from being attacked as they were. As a result national, state and local officials have resigned in shame--and more resignations are expected**. Apparently they missed the class where rewarding incompetence was being discussed. I mean, they may call it accountability, I call them a bunch of quitters. They could have toughed it out in their jobs, gotten recognition, written a few books about their ordeals dealing with an ungrateful and unpatriotic populace and moved on to lucrative contract jobs. But they don't know these things yet. Their budding democracy seems to foster quitters and shame. Good luck emerging with that attitude!

*There are only about 50 more days until he retires into the sunset and contemplates how great a president he was. (Also, is there an exit interview? Is there some equivalent of an HR guy with a list of questions for Bush and Cheney about their job satisfaction and feedback?)

**Seriously, why didn't we think of outsourcing the Bush administration to India? It totally could have worked.