Disaster Overload

I’m having a hard time wrapping my head and heart around the disasters in Myanmar and China. The ones wrought by nature, killing thousands of people in a few minutes, were awful enough, but they are compounded in Myanmar by the refusal to allow aid workers in to help. No country, no matter how resourceful and prepared, can deal with something that catastrophic without help – and lots of it.

Myanmar is barely allowing single planes of aid supplies to land, and there’s no guarantee that those that do arrive will actually get to the people who are hurting. In fact, there are reports that the military is stealing supplies meant for the destitute. China, on the other hand, is responding to its earthquake disaster in a fast, efficient way. In both countries, though, the death tolls continue to climb.

Of course the brain goes immediately to remembering how badly we bungled the situation in New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina, and how it still hasn’t come back. Much of it will never be the same, nor will the people whose lives were so disrupted. But the numbers there were so much lower than those already known dead in Asia. It’s terribly sad.

Want to contribute something to help? Here’s a NY Times list of agencies planning to provide relief for Myanmar; my guess is that they will also help with aid for China. Please be generous.

Family Politics

My parents (and brother and sister-in-law, for that matter) are right-wing Texas Republicans and I am a liberal New England Democrat. We usually avoid discussing politics because I usually feel outnumbered and attacked, and out-gunned in the argument department. Well, my brother is a lawyer and they can be hard to argue with because they just like to argue.

It’s been interesting over the last year, though, to hear snippets of political opinions sandwiched in with our regular calls. Bush has cratered in their eyes as the war dragged on and the economy slid into recession, squeezing their retirement funds. They simply cannot stand Hillary and don’t trust Obama for all kinds of reasons, including that mud-slinging email making the rounds. While they don’t like McCain, they can’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat.

Tonight, though, I heard something different in their voices — a recognition that the world has changed in ways they don’t like or understand. Frustration that U.S. kids know less, study less, achieve less than students in countries that have been beneath our competition in the past, places like India and China. Sadness that McCain’s sacrifices in Vietnam are being discounted. Determination to sell off Exxon stock before the new administration penalizes the company and drives down the price. Uncertainty about the future and what it will be like for me and for their grandkids.

We will not agree on politics. They will vote for McCain and I will not. I might kill Hillary myself if she doesn’t bow out and let the Democrats start figuring out how to deal with the general election instead of the current madness. I’m already sick of all of it. There are big issues facing this country and the fears and concerns that bother my parents also bother me. Well, maybe not the Exxon stock one. I want to not fight a war or have an election that goes on for 2 years and just get on with addressing those issues. They’re not going away on their own.

Veterans Day

Veterans Day Vigil March

Every year I forget about this – the 24-hour vigil held by the ROTC cadets in front of the chapel to honor those who have and are serving in the armed forces. A red carpet is laid out in a T-shape, out from the chapel steps and across the plaza. Uniformed pairs of cadets and midshipmen march in slow, solemn steps across the plaza, crossing each other in the center. It’s quiet and reflective and in the middle of a busy college campus, reminds us all of the life beyond the ivy walls and of sacrifices made on our behalf.

Today on the way home I was surprised to reach the plaza at the same time as the closing ritual of the ceremony. I missed the speeches but I saw the squads of uniformed ROTC cadets all in formation, flags snapping in the breeze. Just as I reached the plaza, a group of 6 cadets lowered the flag in precise moves as the band played the national anthem.

It was kind of weird being there, almost like watching a play. The sidewalk is part of a big construction project with jersey barriers taking up half of the width. Those who wanted to observe the ceremony ended up blocking part of the path for those trying to walk by – and at the end of a work day on Friday, there were lots. Other than the ROTC folks, the plaza was empty, or at least the people were organized, unlike the usual milling around of a motley assortment of students, faculty and staff.

But it was good to be there, to stop and remember that this was not just another day off (for many people but not me; the library is always open). Particularly with so many soldiers fighting and dying across the world in a war many of us wish we weren’t fighting in the first place. They and those who went before them – including my father – are worth remembering with thanks and honor, on this day and every day.

The nose knows

NoseThe windows are open to the cool evening breeze and I hear the sounds of people walking the paths from the parking lot to the buildings along with crickets chirping and some late golfers heading home from the golf course next door. And then from nowhere my nose picks up the acrid scent of the cigarettes of my upstairs neighbor. He smokes like a chimney, often just outside the door of the building, and I wonder if he has some sort of house rule against smoking inside. It seems unlikely because he’s very Russian and rules the roost. I just wish he didn’t stand outside my window.

The smoke bothers me, even the little bit that wafts inside. My nose can detect the smell anywhere and it makes me cringe. I’ve gotten very spoiled living here in the northeast, where there are many anti-smoking laws and regulations, and most of my friends are non-smokers. So I’m just not around it much in private homes, with friends, in restaurants. Mostly just on the street or where people cluster in packs outside doorways before they go inside.

When I travel to places where the norms are different, I find I want to take a shower, wash my hair, and put on clean clothes – yes, I know it’s picky. It actually is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to travel abroad now, which is pretty silly. It’s more than just the odor, though; although I’m not allergic to smoke, I am sensitive to it and can end up in a coughing fit when I’m in a smoke-filled place. Not a nice way to make a good impression in a new place.

I’d rather smell other things – a crackling fire, the fresh scent of clean sheets, tangy lemons, and yummy scents from the oven.

It’s easy being green

Recycling binsMy mother says that I wash my trash and from her perspective, she’s right.  She lives in a place where all her trash goes out to the curb in big plastic bags inside the giant plastic trash bin, without differentiation of what anything is.  I, on the other hand, have been a practicing recycler for over fifteen years and find it weird to be outside my home base where I don’t know what to do with something I’m about to discard.

Behind a chair in the living room there is a paper bag to collect my paper trash, including cardboard boxes, catalogs and magazines, and junk mail.  I used to collect newspaper, too, but now I just read that online which is both more ecologically friendly and cheaper.  In the kitchen there is a bin gathering glass, plastic and metal containers – and yes, I rinse them out before I put them in there.  Otherwise they start to smell funny and attract bugs which is not a good thing.  The paper and container recycling is collected at our complex in big bins.  I used to drop them off on the way to work but have taken to walking them over and getting a little extra exercise.

Another paper bag collects plastic bottles and cans for recycling at the grocery store and those are also rinsed before they go in so they aren’t all sticky.  I get $.05 back for each of those so I have a financial motive for returning them, but mostly I just want them recycled and have been known to give them to someone else in line if they look as though they could use the deposit refund more than I do.

When clothes are weeded out of the closet and drawers, they are recycled to the Big Brother/Big Sister collection box.  Miscellaneous stuff from the house that has reusable value is taken to the thrift store or given away through Freecycle.  I could probably sell some if it through eBay or Craigslist but it’s not really worth the trouble.  On the other hand, sometimes it’s necessary to weigh the value of just getting rid of things to make space, so not everything is recycled.  A lot is, though.

It feels good to be green. I like knowing that I’m helping to deal with a real problem and not just continuing to add to it. It takes organization, which I’m good at, and a little time to make sure I stay on top of everything without the piles overtaking the available space. But it’s worth it.