Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Operation Iraqi...Freedom?

After seven and a half years and more than 4,400 American casualties and upwards of 70,000 Iraqis dead, "'Operation Iraqi Freedom'" is over. President Obama said so, and thus it must be true.

I'm glad to hear that the war is "over," and that we as a nation are finally withdrawing ourselves from a mission that, at its heart, was always controversial. Even if, on the odd chance that former President George W. Bush had truly altruistic intentions in invading Iraq back in March 2003, and even if, by some bizarre miracle, our soldiers could bypass cultural and linguistic barriers to bestow the magic that is "freedom" upon a country with whom we have never had stellar relations, it would still seem naive to think that we could sprinkle liberty like fairy dust, and that after seven years of intense fighting and messy political reorganization, that would be that. I'm not sure what I find more depressing: the fact that we truly believed we could force our vision of freedom on another country by invading it, or the fact that, after expending so much energy and so many people, we are retreating and leaving the people we've invaded to pick up the leftover pieces.

I have respect for the military and all that our soldiers (and those in other countries) sacrifice in order to maintain a sense of patriotic idealism. I don't doubt that there are people out there, both alive and dead, whose efforts abroad were just that--an expression of real, honest, unselfish work--people who have accomplished things I'd never be capable of doing. I know that many of the soldiers who volunteered in this war began their service with a certain understanding of their mission and what they would later get for it, and for many of them, especially those serving in 2004 and 2005, their commitment to their country and to their job was tested by multiple deployments and several months away from their families and lives. I can't imagine making such an important and ultimately selfless decision. And because I can't imagine this, it makes it doubly hard to think of all those who left in 2003 thinking that they were out to achieve something truly great, and that our actions in Iraq would make the world better.

I have no idea what we accomplished and what we sacrificed, but I am relieved to hear that our remaining troops will be coming home over the next year. In my mind, the true measure of our success abroad won't be something as vague and ambiguous as how "free" people feel, but in how we decide to define freedom ourselves, and in what circumstances we are obligated or even permitted to enforce our ideas elsewhere.

I'll close with this image, taken February 15, 2003, in Rome. I remember the newspapers that week were filled with images of people protesting worldwide. I remember being a freshman in college and going to weekly protests in Santa Barbara for more than six months. We thought we were making a statement. I have to wonder, now, what kind of statement we have made.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bathroom Stall Series, #7

Why are there so many stupid people in COLLEGE?

I find this rather tragic. Is stupid relative? Is college relative? Do stupid people read the writing on the bathroom wall? Or defend it?

Perhaps what's saddest about this one isn't the sheer existence of stupidity on campus, but rather the realization that there are stupid people everywhere. The world's full of them, and at some point we all recognize that there's no one magical place to be, no one magical thing to study, no one magical job to have. And maybe, the day we realize this, we'll be doing our business on a public toilet, as this young lady has here.

And for the record, I'm not really such a fan of the word "stupid." I overheard a comedian on the Sound of Young America say that hearing his work described as "silly" or "dumb" actually was a compliment, because it was the silliest ideas that he enjoyed pursuing. "Stupid" implies not only ignorance, but willed ignorance, something far more dangerous than simple immaturity.

Personally, I like the silly and goofy on my campus, and don't mind the stupid, as long as it's debated on bathroom stall walls.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Sometimes I hate how easily and how fast I cry. On Monday, while driving back to Davis from San Jose, I heard a Morning Edition piece on how crying might be an evolutionary trait. Supposedly humans are the only species to cry for emotional reasons, but the interesting thing about tears is that they are a demonstrative way to show distress, but only to those close enough to see our faces. It makes sense: if we were out hunting for food and were suddenly surprised by a predator, we wouldn't want them to know we were feeling vulnerable, but we would want our allies to know immediately that we need help.

And I really need help when I'm cutting an onion? When I'm tired or my blood sugar dips ever so slightly or I stub my toe or I am suddenly, momentarily pissed off? Perhaps what bothers me the most about when I cry is not the fact that I'm crying, but rather the way that it's interpreted. I tend to cry more often out of sheer (momentary) frustration than I do out of honest-to-god sadness. Real grief inspires stunned silence, and a desire for action or response. But my evolutionary response seems less to do with incoming predators and more to do with incomprehension. Misinformation. Brief and inconsequential bullshit. That's the stuff that raises my hackles and I always wish that my tears wouldn't betray me so quickly.

The irony is that when I cry (at least out of frustration), the last thing I tend to want is for someone else to approach me and try to make it better. Because that's when tears multiply, not because the feeling has grown, but because by simply acknowledging that what I'm doing is out of the ordinary, whatever it is I'm feeling is likewise extraordinary. As if it's silly to be feeling anything in the first place.

I had a long day today, and it was my fault. I agreed to work a total of 12 hours between two different gigs, and was already low on steam. On my way home, I stopped by a house I've agreed to sit to water the plants and air out the upstairs. This house has a great huge fan that is turned on by a single switch. I've been given careful instruction to open the upstairs windows before turning on the fan, which sucks out the air and circulates fresh air all over the house. It emits a loud, resonant whir as it goes. For some reason, when I turned on the fan tonight in that big, personless home, it sucked the tears out of me too. It was as if the entire house was sucking out my excess carbon dioxide, as if it were giving me permission to relax my shoulders and lean back and just let the feeling circulate. It made more noise than I ever could, and that was refreshing. Best of all, when I turned the fan off, it was as if I had turned off a switch in my own brain. Moment noticed, moment experienced, moment done.

I wonder if, every time I make a mistake or misinterpret directions or accidentally take too much insulin or hurt someone's feelings, instead of shedding real tears I could just imagine a giant fan opening up in my brain, filtering the feeling down through my body, until whatever it was had sufficiently circulated before I could turn it off.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Three Things to Love

The following three things represent three different parts of my brain that need to be fed and watered on a regular basis:

1. Stuff You Missed in History Class. This podcast and blog (produced by and narrated by the lovely Katie Lambert and Sarah Dowdey) covers everything from the Medici murders to Lord Byron to Dracula to the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. The two editors who voice the episodes have accomplished a great feat: they make history a series of entertaining stories that you can listen to whenever and however you want.

2. Battlestar Galactica. In the tradition of Julia discovering television hits several years after they end, this SyFy series is one of the only sci-fi adventures I can truly sink my teeth into. My nerd-hormones (yes, I have them, and so does everybody) take over whenever I see Edward James Olmos fight back yet another cylon attack. At its heart, it is a truly well-written show.

3. Salt-N-Pepa. I bought a used copy of "Very Necessary" at a record store today for two dollars and it was well spent. Anyone who can make a hit out of the word "shoop" is a winner. I love their attitude. If I were a diva, this is the kind I'd be:

So real. So fresh. There really isn't any other way to be, is there? I'd say more, but I've got to find out what happens after the former president is executed on BSG before downloading more history for my ears.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Found Poem

Ask me how old this box is next time we speak

In a twist of serendipitous fortune, I found this post-it lying face-up on the street while moving out of San Francisco yesterday. I'd like to say that it came from one of my boxes--some lost note or thought that lay forgotten for three years, until it came time to move again. But I think it is more likely that the handwriting belongs to some other person, living a parallel life on this, the beautiful and hilly street that has been my base while I worked my first real job, started grad school, fell in love, made friends, saw presidents and politics change in America. Someone else who likely has traveled far and expects to travel again. Someone who hopes, just as I do, that they do speak again, and when they do, they'll remember the day they packed the box.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


My big brother, one of my favorite people on this planet, and his fiancee Shelby.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Legend of the Frenchman Street Raccoon

We saw, in the distance, the rare and mysterious Frenchman Street raccoon, who uttered the simple phrase, "j'accuse," before disappearing into the gutter...

This cartoon was inspired by a taxidermied raccoon perched above a stage at Checkpoint Charlie's bar in New Orleans. It even wore a little bowler hat. Ryan and I were admiring it when the bartender walked up and pointed out the little sign propped against the critter's paw. "J'accuse."

Some things are better left unexplained.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Annie's Puzzle

One of my favorite poems, in honor of Village Homes friend and acclaimed water rights lawyer Anne Jeffrey Schneider, who passed away on July 30th:

"There must have been a time when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other and he had changed you. By some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled and grateful. And it was over.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.

And so it goes.

Souls going this way and that.
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.

But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.

And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High

--Lawrence Kushner

Thanks to this website where I found the text. I first heard the story while traveling in Israel as a teenager, and while I had my doubts about holy messengers, I couldn't help feeling that Rabbi Kushner had a valid point.

Anne had her fair share of puzzle pieces, and I was lucky to witness that, growing up with her boys Charlie and Logan in Village Homes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bathroom Stall Series, #6

clogged toilet
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j

Is this irony?

Or did this girl suddenly just have to spend a lot more time at school?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shelly and Ellen

Meet Shelly and Ellen. They have been together more than 30 years. This morning we spotted a photo of them in the middle of Newsweek magazine, taken last week when Judge Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. You'll see that in this KALW story there is yet another photo of Shelly and Ellen.

There's also this famous photo, taken that day nearly two years ago when California passed Proposition 8, the controversial ban on gay marriage. Then there's this one, taken this past January when the proposition itself went on trial in San Francisco. And this photo is perhaps the most poignant: taken back in May 2008 when, for the second brief period in history, gay marriage was a reality in California.

I know Shelly and Ellen. They are longtime residents of my hometown, and have been active in local politics for many years. My parents are good friends with them and share many of their social and political opinions. I've come to realize lately that these women epitomize what should be real celebrity: people who represent an idea, who aren't afraid to react, and who return, time and again, to the values they hold true.

Last week I heard a lively interview featuring the plaintiffs of Prop 8, Kristin Perry and her partner Sandy Stier, as well as Jordan Lorence, senior counsel and senior vice president in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Alliance Defense Fund. I was listening in the car with my boyfriend as we explored the strawberry fields of central California. It struck me then that here we were witnessing a historic precedent.

This is the civil rights issue of our generation. Racism and sexism are still prevalent but homophobia and its social implications have become the Jim Crow laws of the early twenty-first century. Propositions, trials, marriages and government-regulated "annulments" are our looong way of walking around a fairly simple point: marriage is a civil right that should be granted to consenting adults of any gender. And as absurd as this system sometimes all seems, it is at its heart a democratic process: chock full of bureaucracy, but democratic to the end.

I just hope that, by the time this case gets completely resolved, we as a country can recognize that same-sex marriage is tantamount to interracial or interfaith marriage, all unions that are equally sound. And when that day comes, maybe Shelly and Ellen will be on the cover of Time magazine.