Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Post for J349T on the Iraq grassroots perspective, etc. through blogs

The sanctity of life as seen through the eyes of Iraqi and military wives

I decided to focus on the women whose lives are closely bound up with Iraq, both on the Iraqi side and through the U.S. Army. Some are wives of soldiers; others are soldiers themselves. It's almost a cheat, how easily I found these women connected through the Internet and a common denominator - their blog sidebars and mutual experiences linked them together. They offered some very interesting perspectives - most were very politically neutral, merely detailing the struggles of daily life without a complete family. I found them, on the whole, more open-minded than the general American public I have encountered thus far. Why? Maybe because to them, the people living and dying are human beings, not just obstacles to overcome, as Hitchens suggests Kissinger viewed those in Chile and Cambodia.

Blogger "Strawberry Fields" has a tagline: "Thoughts about life, death, war, peace and everything in between - from an army wife whose husband is on his second deployment in Iraq."

Her last blogpost is dated May 2005 and talks about how her time in Iraq has come to a close, and she is returning to the U.S. to await her husband's return. The lack of subsequent postings makes me wonder what made her stop blogging. Did he come home, closing a lonely chapter in her life and eliminating the need for writing out her thoughts? Did something terrible happen? Does life go on? It freezes a moment from two years ago that in our busy lives, we have not revisited in a while.

"I'm sad to go as I have made great friends here and forged wonderful memories," she writes. "Amidst the misery, there is joy."

"Still, I leave feeling angry, disgusted, upset and totally disheartened by what has been happening. ...A co-worker said, 'We like Americans but we don’t like the American soldiers because of the incidents that have happened. Instead of being friends, we are now enemies. I feel sorry for them when I see them patrolling and I think they look sad, maybe because they are missing their homes. And maybe they feel like they are unwanted here because they are foreign occupiers.'"

She writes about how to her, what are just numbers and statistics to the general American population are to her friends, associates, co-workers' family members - soldiers and Iraqi civilian casualties alike. This is a common theme throughout the blogs, I found - those who have actual interaction with the battlefield see faces and names. Those who are serving a specific agenda often see only bodies and numbers.

Umhakima is "an American Muslim SAHM whose dh [dear husband] is working in Iraq." Her tagline reads, "My thoughts, worries, etc. about my life while my dh is thousands of miles away in Iraq."

Her first post is likewise dated almost 3 years back - voter registration day, 2004. Titled "Election Day," it plaintively begins with a disclaimer: "Don't worry. I won't endorse any candidate or party on this blog. All I ask is that all people here in the U.S. go out and vote, whoever it is that you vote for." She goes on to remind her readers that many crucial decisions depend on this election. The unspoken ending lingers after that sentence - and many families' happiness depend on the election as well.

A few posts down, Umhakima describes a conversation with her husband. She relates somewhat humorously how he slyly tries to hint how he is enjoying his job in Iraq because he is able to help people and is living out a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She says, "And then the unthinkable happened. I heard myself saying, 'Well if you really, really feel this strongly and you really want to stay longer, I guess I could be OK with that."

Again, she deprecatingly appeals to her readers to listen to her reasoning before judging her off the bat. While this observation may distract from the point of her blog post, I thought it worth mentioning. Twice in a week's worth of blogging she asked for understanding and at least a fair chance to explain herself before her audience jumped to a conclusion. How often do we see that attitude on any front today, regardless of political parties, national boundaries, territorial fronts?

Umhakima's attitude of quiet selflessness may seem heroic when pulled up for scrutiny, but her action is repeated a thousand times over every day in many men and women serving their country. Blogger "An Army Wife Life" talks about how her husband was awarded a medal of valor but refused to tell her any specifics. She says, "Said he was 'just doing his job.' So humble he is." Her commentary echoes in my mind regarding Umhakima's support of her husband. Despite the obvious struggles she was facing, raising three children alone in Muslim-hostile America, she urged him to do what he felt he had to do.

Blogger "Neurotic Iraqi wife" had the cleverest/most humorous self-description out of all the blogs I saw. Still practically a newlywed, she writes, "This blog is about me being an Iraqi wife whose husband chose to rebuild his country over building his new life with his new wife, ME!!!"

While she can find the humor in her current situation, what she finds in the news apparently does not offer much by way of laughter. Her latest post, dated Sunday, talks about how insulting she found some responses to a Times Online UK article. The piece applauds "Iraqi interpreters and other key support staff who have risked their lives to work for Britain," congratulating them on being allowed to settle in the UK. "Neurotic" writes, although the article made her really happy for them, going back to the article to skim the readers' comments the next day was "a very very bad decision."

Amongst other comments, one writer said, "This is shocking. I was in Iraq. Don't kid yourself that the interpreters are some kind of brave hero risking their lives for democracy and a better Iraq, etc. They wanted money and they got it. Many of them were handsomely paid for little work and more than a few were 'playing for the other side.' We have just opened the gates for more people to sponge from our welfare system."

"Neurotic" wrote an angry response, but kept it to her blog. Here is something I found significant within the post: "Why is it that Iraqis are viewed worthless??? Why is YOUR BLOOD more important THAN THEIRS??? WHY ARE YOUR LIVES MORE PRECIOUS THAN THEIRS???WHY???" She asks good questions which brings us back to Manufacturing Consent, and the dichotomy of filtering "worthy" and "unworthy" victims.

I can imagine that if a similar situation happened in the U.S., we could expect like comments.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I think you bring up a very interesting point about “racism in our food choices.” It is true that most Americans feel a certain aversion to the idea of eating horses, dogs and cats, probably because we’ve always been taught that these are farm animals or pets, whereas chickens, pigs and cows have traditionally been considered food and food-related animals. (At least for me) Why don’t we eat these animals, indeed?

Perhaps the biggest issue I would think of off the top of my head would be the fact that the consumer assumes that he or she is getting 100 percent beef or pork in the sausage purchased. However, inferior meat has been substituted. Moreover, this meat is not one that has regulations regarding its cleanliness, etc. The main problem here is less a matter of “why can’t we eat horses?” and more a problem of “How can we trust Texas standards if the quality control can let non-approved meat get through?”
Probably the main reason we don’t eat horses, dogs and cats is, as mentioned, the fact that they are typically viewed as pets. However, go beyond that and we come to another issue – are they actually good to eat?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Who goes, who stays?

OK, so my friend isn't actually applying for college but I thought this was a pretty decent photo illustration, haha.

The year before I began college I started a lively correspondence with a new online pal who ended up being my freshman year roommate and my college best friend. When I asked why she, an Austinite, would be attending UTSA, she replied, "Oh, apparently UT let too many students into the 2002 class because they underestimated the Top 10 percent that year, so they rectified it this year by not letting most of us get in. Instead, we're getting bumped to the CAP program."

That was my first experience with the dreaded Top 10. As a homeschooled-through-high-school expat living in Taiwan, I had no idea Texas high schoolers had these percentages to worry about. (Although I heard about a similar, perhaps even more intense set of worries from my friends in Taiwan) Since then, I have encountered the Magic Number a few times - as a journalism student pursuing my first local school district story, as a high school counselor on weekends, and most recently in my Texas government textbook.

My friend's situation was not unique for the high school class of 2003. Most of my friends from that year "enjoyed" the CAP experience, which is a program designed to send students interested in attending UT a year away at one of the sister campuses with priority transfer status the following year (if, of course, they maintain a good GPA). "I was a good student, but there were just better ones in my year. Gradewise, I was fine, but I was in the top 11 percent," my friend said. "Normally that wouldn't be a big deal - I'd still be able to get into UT - but that year, 10 percent was the cutoff."

The original concept of the Hopwood v. Texas law is pretty smart. If high schoolers find it easy to get into Texas universities, they will be that much more likely to stay in the state and give back to the community, as it were.

The suit was created as a protest to affirmative action. As an Asian-American studies major, I have heard rumors of high schools in California where the most discriminated-against groups are Asian girls, because they tend to be some of the smartest in the area. "If you're an Asian girl in certain suburbs of San Francisco," a friend's mom warned, "Good luck getting in to ------ High School." The good thing about the Top 10 law is that merit, not race, is what earns you rewards. But are we giving out too many rewards? Are they fairly offered? How many steps up is Top 10 an improvement from affirmative action?

Today's problem is that there are too many high schools and high schoolers - the sheer numbers of top-tens fill up university admissions slots too soon, leaving everyone behind the cut-off line at a loss. The issue only seems to escalate every year.

The real question is this. Every concept has its pros and cons. While Top Ten [hopefully] eliminates affirmative action, does it build up the social disparity gap? In the text we noted that Demetrio Rodriguez's fight for school equality argued that his daughter's school district was far poorer than that of her neighboring one, and the financial gap was mirrored in the quality of their educational standards. Arguably, a top-20 student from a very poor-quality high school would be far less academically prepared for college than would a top-20 student from one of Austin's finest schools.

Westwood High School in the RRISD is nationally ranked - in 2005, I think, they placed fifth in Texas high schools according to Newsweek. Suppose the average top-10 Westwood junior's SAT score is 2100. Now suppose another high school's similar average is a 1500. Would it be fair to a top-25 Westwood high schooler with an 1800 SAT score to be turned down over a High School B top-ten student just because there were no more slots?

A bill was passed this May, amending the original law to cap top-10 admission at any university to 60 percent of that college's admission number for that year. In reality, the only school this really affects is UT, because Texas is the biggest and most prestigious of the state's public university systems. The current top-10 admissions ratio teeters at around 70 percent of UT's incoming freshmen each year, making it increasingly difficult for non-top 10 students to get in.

Let's see how this affects the 2008 incoming class.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thoughts on the HPV vaccine

I somewhat posted my comments/criticism/critique of the HPV vaccine on the Blackboard post I CCed below, but I plan to come back and throw in some links to things I found while researching the topic a while back.

The Austin Chronicle often has rather offbeat, refreshing takes on politics - I liked what they had to say about the subject. I think this, as well as all the other topics for our discussion this session, are really interesting and relevant to us all as Texas citizens, whether by upbringing or just for these college years.

Here are some random non-vaccine thoughts about the whole thing:

I do believe that Perry's actions were timed to coincide with public awareness regarding the upcoming primaries. Since when has Texas been a progressive state? While I will offer him a generous benefit-of-the-doubt regarding his motives, I do question why there wasn't any public input time allowed. For something this important, that would be a huge deal. It seems stupid to go off half-cocked. All these fancy quotes - "I choose to err on the side of protecting life" - could mean nothing if a girl dies because the vaccine isn't tested safe enough yet or something like that. As the UT student says, "It's a very smart move." Bottom line: Perry should not gamble with the health of millions of young girls for the sake of his career. He cannot pretend that this vaccine is just like polio simply because he wants to hope it will be a success.

As I said in my post below, costs add up. This one rep/mother is obviously concerned about the safety for her four daughters, but if she had to shoulder the cost of these immunizations as well - I know few people who can swallow a $1500 overnight cost without at least adjusting SOMETHING in their budget.

Vaccine post on BB

It may prevent cervical cancer
"It can't hurt" in most cases to be on the safe side

The vaccine may not yet be water-tight; there might still be some risk in using the inoculation
Some believe it invades parental/familial privacy rights

Arguments that hold no water:
Girls who get the vaccine are going to be more promiscuous. Just because cervical cancer can have correlation to sexual activity does not automatically imply that this will occur.
I don't think it violates personal privacy rights. You have the right to refuse the vaccination - always have, always will.

Valid arguments:
Cervical cancer is one of the few that is actually linked to active human behavior. It has been proven that women who have few or only one sexual partner have lower rates of STDs, which can lead to cervical cancer, I believe. (I know I've researched the topic before but at the moment I don't have statistics; I can come back to that) I think that while it does not necessarily follow that girls who get the vaccine WILL become more promiscuous, it is a valid concern from the perspective of conservative/religious parents who don't want their children to have "one more reason to think that casual sex is okay" because they think they have one more medical barrier protecting them. While I don't necessarily agree with that, I respect it.

There are also people who apart from religious/conservative beliefs, are very against vaccinations from a health standpoint. These people already fight inoculations for newborns and the injections for their kids before the new school year, every year. While I don't necessarily agree 100%, I do agree that many times a lot of vaccines are unnecessary given today's medical standards (in Texas, at least). But I feel they have a right to believe what they do.

So should we sign it into effect or not? I guess I'm still rather torn on this issue. I believe that as some have said in this forum, to make this a government-mandated vaccine would make it easier for lower-income families to have access to something that could benefit their children.

I think I liked how the proposal was structured in the February bill - that families could opt OUT of the vaccine - and think it was a fair compromise the Legislature should have kept. Sure, it causes a bit extra trouble for those families who believe they are against it, but it benefits those who would not otherwise care enough about their children to go out and sign for their various vaccinations. People who are against vaccination will already have to sign papers for their children anyway. And those who are against it for religious reasons should not mind making a stand for their beliefs. Those who need it should find it readily available. There's nothing inherently sexually promiscuous about the vaccine itself, I believe. It's not even as "bad" as handing out condoms in a high school sex ed class. It does not suggest sexual relations at all. It aims to protect, not to enable.

Personally, I'm for the healthy living route - I believe that if a person maintains good health habits, eats good food and regular disciplines, MANY forms of diseases can be avoided and minimized. While I don't know how accurately this applies to cervical cancer in particular, I do know that this plan works for many who are looking to beat other forms of cancer. I think that as Americans, we have justified so many forms of bad living - sex, drugs, gluttony, even just bad Internet addictions - that many of our "solutions" these days are just cop-outs for us to continue our lifestyles without being held back too much. I don't mean to preach, but it's a side thought from the issue. Maybe next we should debate burger sizes? :D

I do somewhat question Perry's motives in doing so, because obviously this is a smart political move - it breaks away from the more conservative image he has projected thus far, and gives him the same sort of position a conservative Democrat or a more liberal Republican would have. Some have suggested that he's looking to advance in the political fields to a national level. (I read this in some op-eds in the spring semester, I believe) This reminds me of how Giuliani, now that he's actually serious about running for presidential candidate, has loosened his stance on abortion/pro-choice rights.

However, motives in politics "don't matter" as much as the results do at times. Perry's ulterior gain doesn't bother me as long as the decision is well thought-out.

What's the current stance on funding, should it become a government-issue vaccine? Will health insurances automatically absorb the total cost? How will it work out for families who don't have insurance? I think these are my biggest financial questions. I can understand poorer families saying, "We've raised our kids to practice safe sex" or "We don't have the money for this vaccine, so we're just gonna skip it." I think the question deserves to be a moral/ethical one, and not one that would have to be dictated by finances.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Unemployment in Texas holds steady at low rate

According to this article, the Texas unemployment rate holds steady at 4.1 percent, the lowest rate since 1976. The real question is... are these jobs sufficient to keep Texas residents above the poverty line? House the Homeless founder and advocate Richard Troxell advocates a Universal Living Wage, a minimum-wage salary that will be calculated per city, based on the cost of living within that city.