Monday, January 31, 2005

Freedom Isn't Free

I've been following the news on the Iraqi elections with a lot of interest and anxiety. Actually, I've been following the news from Iraq closely since before the war ever started. I'm not exactly sure why I've been so focused on it-- I don't know anyone from Iraq, and I don't know anyone who has been sent over there to fight. (I do have an uncle and a cousin who have been sent to Afghanistan, but I haven't followed the news there nearly as much.)

Of course, like most Americans, I really did believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. I also think that most other countries believed it as well-- all of the national intelligence agencies were saying the same thing. (Unfortunately, the kick-backs from the Oil-for-Food program seemed to speak louder than the intelligence agencies. "OK, that seems reasonable, Saddam, a few quick 'inspections' and then we'll lift sanctions and let you go back to doing anything you want." That would have been brilliant.) At the very least, Saddam wanted everyone else to think that he had WMD, so I'm not going to waste a whole lot of time feeling bad that we took him and his sons and cronies out of power. They were all truly horrible people. Obviously, I'm not advocating that we overthrow foreign governments just because we don't like their leaders. (Who has that kind of time?) But I am saying that Saddam was essentially begging for it. If you walk up to the biggest guy on the block, start calling him names, and then threaten to beat him up, don't be all surprised if he knocks you out cold. That's just common sense. I'm just sorry that the Iraqi people have had to pay an additional price for his arrogance and insanity.

OK, so all of that aside, I will admit that it would have been nice to have had better intelligence information, and that there were probably better ways to accomplish our goals, which may or may not have involved being polite to France. And if we had to go to war, certainly it would have been great if we had been able to remove Saddam from power, maintain security, allow the Iraqis to establish their own government, and then come back home inside of a year. If frogs had wings...

So given the fact that the situation in Iraq has become such a mess, I've been increasingly troubled by the news reports and the predictions for the future. But as I've been reading some of the news stories today, I'm starting to think that maybe there are a few reasons to hope that these elections will mark a turning point. (By the way, there is a Newsweek article called The Cities Were Not Bathed in Blood by Ron Nordland that is really excellent.) So here are my thoughts on the good news from the elections:

1. There is a saying that we Americans tend toss around carelessly at Memorial Day and Veterans Day and other similar occasions. We say that "Freedom isn't Free" when we stop to think about the people who have fought for the United States. But I think that the concept applies here as well. If everything went smoothly, and there were no threats or bombs, would there have been as much celebration in Iraq yesterday? I kind of doubt it. Up until now, their government has been based on our efforts, and even assuming that we mean well, we can't just provide it to them as a gift and expect it to have value. If there was no insurgency, we could have just set up booths and said, "Come vote here. It's quick and easy." I don't think it would have been a cause for celebration. Some things just have to be purchased with something more than money.

2. The election winners aren't decided yet, but I'm glad to hear at least some cautious optimism about the likely winners. For the most part, it seems like Sistani is a pretty canny guy. He may not be a guy that we would elect for office in the United States, but he's definitely not a raving lunatic in the style of Ayatollah Khomeini. He recognizes that it's in Iraq's best interest to have a stable government that doesn't trample on the rights of the minority groups, even if they were the ones who were previously trampling on everyone else. And personally, I think it's cool that he issued a religious decree telling women to vote no matter what their husbands tell them. On top of that, it also seems like Allawi has been a good leader for Iraq, so hopefully he will be able to stick around for awhile as well.

3. There a lot of news stories that quote people as saying, "The US is here because they want to control our oil, etc, etc, etc." Now I'm sure that there is a large percentage of the Iraqi population who suspect our motives and definitely want us to leave ASAP, but I think that the elections show that despite all of the grumbling and suspicion, there is a silver lining here. If they really believed that we were planning to set up a sham government that operated under our direct supervision, would they bother risking their lives to go vote?

Finally, I would like to say (just in case anyone out there can hear me) to the people of Iraq: Today we are all cheering with you, and we are thrilled to welcome you into the family of democracy. We truly wish you all the best...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Fear Evaporates

"We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it's our life or our possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."
--from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Now I'm not going to pretend to be a connoisseur of Coelho's writing. I've read two of his books so far-- The Alchemist and The Fifth Mountain-- and I'm sure that I could benefit from re-reading them with a little more focus. But I did find two sections of the The Alchemist particularly intriguing, and the quote above is one of them.

For some reason, this quote projects a deep sense of peace and calm to me. It's a little like staring into photos of galaxies and nebula. I think it's facinating that just a few, simple words can have so much power.

Utah Trip

I guess a good place to start with this blog is with a summary of our recent ski trip to Utah. We went with my mom, my sister, my brother, and several of our friends. It was a good trip-- The weather wasn't very cooperative, but it was great group of people, so that made up for it.

The six of us from Cincinnati travelled out there on Friday night (1/7) after work. We all met up at the Outback in Concourse B for a quick bite to eat before the flight to Salt Lake City. We arrived in SLC, fought with the rental car agencies, drove to Park City, found the condo, figured out the sleeping arrangements, and crashed for the night.

For our first day of skiing, we decided to head to Canyons. On our other trips there, we've always spent all day exploring the ski area, and we've never managed to cover it all. As it turns out, we wound up exploring significantly LESS of it this time. Due to high winds, they had to close almost all of the lifts by lunchtime, so we wound up skiing just two areas.

On Sunday, we went to Deer Valley. Once again, my husband's luck held, and we did not get to experience the perfectly groomed trails that Deer Valley has built its reputation upon. Lots and lots of fresh, wet snow, and it continued to snow in little ice pellets all day long. In the morning, we tried to head over to Stein's Run, but it was closed, and were diverted down Perserverance instead. Our poor little group of midwestern/eastern skiers never stood a chance against the deep heavy stuff that we found there, so there was a LOT of perserverance going on-- We struggled, we fell, we got back up, we struggled some more, we fell many more times, but eventually we all made it to the bottom. And we even managed to commemorate the event with a photo op somewhere in the middle...

On Monday, we headed to Brighton, a perennial favorite. It was still snowing in little prickly pellets, and the snow on the ground was pretty heavy. (Actually, it never stopped snowing until Wednesday morning, when were preparing to leave. That's when the sun finally came out.) Due to the snow and the poor visibility, the professional photographers that are usually working at the top of the hill weren't there, so we took our own group photo.

Unfortunately, this was the day that my mom hurt her knee. She's tough, though-- She fell near the top of a run, but she got up and skied to the bottom, and made ANOTHER run before deciding that her knee was really hurt. We all thought that she had torn her LCL, but when she went to the doctor for x-rays and an MRI the next day, they found that she had fractured her tibial plateau. (Which just goes to show that you should always go to a professional and get a second opinion instead of relying on biomechanical engineers, physical therapists, and physicians to make a diagnosis without any imaging equipment.) So the bad news is that she broke her leg, but the good news is that she won't have to have surgery to repair a ligament.

On Tuesday, our last day, half our group (including Mom, obviously) decided not to ski, and the remainder of us headed to Snowbasin. After our first run, we went up John Paul Express to check out the top of the Olympic downhill run, and then, in the fog, we blundered onto Grizzly and wound up taking a REALLY, REALLY long time to get down. The snow was deep, and extremely wet, so we wound up traversing back and forth forever. We finally made it to lunch around 2pm, and while we were eating in the lodge at the top of the mountain, it started to rain. Blech!

Aside from the skiing, we did have a lot of fun together. The condo had a nice hot tub inside a gazebo, and we experienced the thrills of rolling in the snow after sitting in the hot tub. We played some euchre, shared some nice meals in Park City, and in general, just enjoyed everyone's company thoroughly. We're all looking forward to doing it again next year!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

First Blog

I hadn't really planned on starting a blog, but in order to comment on my friend Mark's rants and rages about his laptop, I had to create my own account.

(For the record, my comment was essentially: "You should have bought a Mac." If you'd like to see Mark's rants, you'll have to check out his blog at Spitting into the wind. Keep in mind that he works for a major computer company, so the irony of the situation comes from the fact that he bought his laptop from that same company.)

So here I am. Now what?