July 13th, 2008

blue jellyfish


I am in love.  I met Zach last night.  He is two and a half and quite the charmer.  He has such presence and knowing and watching his mind work is the most amazing thing.  He is also adorable, and I mean adorable, so I am thrilled to be allowed such close entry into his life.

Watching him play so securely and serenely, I wonder about all the children who do not receive this kind of attention.  If only all the children who were born were wanted and had parents with enough financial security and time to feed, clothe,  play with, appreciate, and learn from them.  Children are our greatest gift.  We need to give them the best world we can.

Book Cover

Get outside and take a walk -

This is a fascinating article on our pets and how they are showing our behaviors and exhibiting our anxieties, and, in that, are now being fed pills as readily as we. They need to be outside to romp, and move, and play, as do we, and then, we create our own creative flow, our own joy. It is a complex issue as this article shows, and it demonstrates that animals have feelings and needs like we humans, and we all need to be outside and open to stimulation and response.


alan - joshua tree bloom

Greg Mortenson

I stumbled on the book Three Cups of Tea a few years ago and loved and appreciated the book and what Greg Mortenson has done and is doing. 

Now, his book and his work are getting the publicity and recognition they deserve.

Op-Ed Columnist

It Takes a School, Not Missiles

Published: July 13, 2008

Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush’s and Greg Mortenson’s.

Mr. Bush has focused on military force and provided more than $10 billion — an extraordinary sum in the foreign-aid world — to the highly unpopular government of President Pervez Musharraf. This approach has failed: the backlash has radicalized Pakistan’s tribal areas so that they now nurture terrorists in ways that they never did before 9/11.

Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana, takes a diametrically opposite approach, and he has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.

The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools.

Mr. Mortenson has become a legend in the region, his picture sometimes dangling like a talisman from rearview mirrors, and his work has struck a chord in America as well. His superb book about his schools, “Three Cups of Tea,” came out in 2006 and initially wasn’t reviewed by most major newspapers. Yet propelled by word of mouth, the book became a publishing sensation: it has spent the last 74 weeks on the paperback best-seller list, regularly in the No. 1 spot.

Now Mr. Mortenson is fending off several dozen film offers. “My concern is that a movie might endanger the well-being of our students,” he explains.

Mr. Mortenson found his calling in 1993 after he failed in an attempt to climb K2, a Himalayan peak, and stumbled weakly into a poor Muslim village. The peasants nursed him back to health, and he promised to repay them by building the village a school.

Scrounging the money was a nightmare — his 580 fund-raising letters to prominent people generated one check, from Tom Brokaw — and Mr. Mortenson ended up selling his beloved climbing equipment and car. But when the school was built, he kept going. Now his aid group, the Central Asia Institute, has 74 schools in operation. His focus is educating girls.

To get a school, villagers must provide the land and the labor to assure a local “buy-in,” and so far the Taliban have not bothered his schools. One anti-American mob rampaged through Baharak, Afghanistan, attacking aid groups — but stopped at the school that local people had just built with Mr. Mortenson. “This is our school,” the mob leaders decided, and they left it intact.

Mr. Mortenson has had setbacks, including being kidnapped for eight days in Pakistan’s wild Waziristan region. It would be naïve to think that a few dozen schools will turn the tide in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Still, he notes that the Taliban recruits the poor and illiterate, and he also argues that when women are educated they are more likely to restrain their sons. Five of his teachers are former Taliban, and he says it was their mothers who persuaded them to leave the Taliban; that is one reason he is passionate about educating girls.

So I have this fantasy: Suppose that the United States focused less on blowing things up in Pakistan’s tribal areas and more on working through local aid groups to build schools, simultaneously cutting tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan manufactured exports. There would be no immediate payback, but a better-educated and more economically vibrant Pakistan would probably be more resistant to extremism.

“Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country,” says Mr. Mortenson, who is an Army veteran.

Each Tomahawk missile that the United States fires in Afghanistan costs at least $500,000. That’s enough for local aid groups to build more than 20 schools, and in the long run those schools probably do more to destroy the Taliban.

The Pentagon, which has a much better appreciation for the limits of military power than the Bush administration as a whole, placed large orders for “Three Cups of Tea” and invited Mr. Mortenson to speak.

“I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general, and Afghanistan specifically, is education,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, who works on the Afghan front lines, said in an e-mail in which he raved about Mr. Mortenson’s work. “The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books. ... The thirst for education here is palpable.”

Military force is essential in Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. But over time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, the best tonic against militant fundamentalism will be education and economic opportunity.

So a lone Montanan staying at the cheapest guest houses has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.


Why would this be a surprise?

alan - purple flowers

fragility -

Two and a half year old Zach's mother, Katie, is in the midst of a bone marrow transplant.  That is why I am being introduced as a new friend to help cover the bases in his care and offer relief. 

It is odd on many levels.  Zach's father, Ian, met my son Jeff in second grade.  They spent many hours here playing, especially with Legos.  They loved Legos, and they were both computer whizzes, with all that that entailed.

I am now bringing out toys that Ian and Jeff played with, and I stored for my grandchildren, only now they are for Zach.  I have a set of giant Tinker Toys.  They are really something.  They cost $25.00 when we got them, probably thirty years ago.  Grama Abbey sent a Christmas check each year, with $25.00 for each grandchild, and $50.00 for us.  That was a great deal of money in those days.  When she died, she left an inheritance, that financed all the college expenses for Jeff and Chris.  

I remember how much it mattered to me that I be alive to raise my sons.  I felt I was the only one who could do it "right."  My sense is that there is some of that in every mother.  I found myself with tears in my eyes last night as I realized how much Katie wants that, and yet, she has to share Zach with us all.  It is a gift for us, and a sacrifice for her.

I give thanks today for the many sacrifices that are made in a myriad of ways.

I have a chance to play with a most beautiful creation, a child of love, as we all are, and for me, right now, that face is represented in Zack, a dear little man who loves Thomas the Train.

alexander calder

The moon -

The moon is amazing this evening. Bella and I sit and watch it.

We watched Bicentennial Man tonight. I had never seen it, though it is from the writings of Isaac Asimov, which I enjoy. It reminded me of Wings of Desire. Each movie has a creature with immortality, an android and an angel, and each chooses to live and die and feel.

We have so much and seem to forget somehow the massage of air, the connection we humans share.

My heart is full with the blessings of life made more tender by the night.