best volunteer gig ever: reviewing entries for the 2008 saroyan prize. not sure how i got on the coordinator's mailing list, but i was asked a few months ago if i'd be interested in reading some of the books they were considering: they would send me the titles i selected, and i'd fill out a short questionnaire for each. free books and work that doesn't require going anywhere or talking to anyone? brilliant. also, i can read entries while i donate platelets (my final donation for my 101 in 1001 list is next wednesday): hot simultaneous do-gooding! if i could learn to write with my toes and dash off letters for amnesty international at the same time, manhattan would explode in a giant fiery ball of philanthropy, maybe.

iraq, part i: while i'm not typically a fan of 'issue' nonfiction (i leave the collecting of political and sensational books to the missus, who makes noise about reading them and then adds to the stash on top of the bookcase), i've been having a fling with gina wilkinson's between the devil and the deep blue sky. wilkinson, a young australian journalist, moved to iraq in 2002 when her husband took a job with unicef; as a "dependent spouse," she spent her time before the war as many resettled twentysomethings do (trying to find decent housing, joining the local community of transplants, falling in love with her new city). she's in baghdad, though, so her memoir is half expat journal, half stringer's dispatch; the narrative is a bit jerky at times, but it's fascinating (and reminds me of jen's tales of being the only tall red-haired girl in a village in rural japan back in the day); i'm happy to pass it along, if anyone's interested.

iraq, part ii: my friend tom forwarded a link to "scions of the surge," newsweek's march 24 cover story, on...his cousin tim. i mean, it's about a lot of people, but it details new tactics in iraq through tim, who's a captain in the army (and, like gina wilkinson, young and relatable):
Wright is a good student, a literate, humane man who proudly points out that West Point is a great liberal-arts school as well as a military academy. He has not been debased or degraded by war; he does not live only to survive for the moment. But the lessons of war and conquest change, and Wright, like the good student he is, has learned to change with them.
also a fascinating piece, and god, it's nice to read something encouraging about the situation out there for once.


tom said...

I wouldn't necessarily call it "encouraging." The takeaway from this, I think, is that there are good, decent people (for the most part) who are fighting over there. (Seriously, Lynndie England: fuck the fuck off.) War compels decent people to do things that ranges from the distasteful to the inexplicable. Without having been there, or having been anything close to a warrior, I suspect that all wars are like that.

They all have families and backgrounds that show that they could have done something else, and probably pretty well. Hell: the West Point grads all could have landed at a kick-ass non-military school, as Tim could have. (This discounts, of course, those in poorer segments who see the Army as a way out. The service is no less important on account of this, however.)

But we have been there for five years, and the monthly death count (for us and for Iraqis) is way too high. The Iraq Body Count people (probably the most conservative counters out there) have the death toll among civilans for the last seven days (3/13-19) as follows: 39, 15, 19, 26, 92, 28, and 45. This may be lies, damn lies and statistics -- apples and oranges territory, but: that's basically Virginia Tech every single damn day. And America (writ large with a broad brush) ground to a halt after that, for at least a day, in grief.

Point: the sooner Tim is home, the better.

valya said...

hard to follow tom's comment, but i'll do it anyway.

it's nice to read something encouraging about the situation out there for once.

i agree. thanks for sharing it, lauren (and tom). for all the media coverage you see about "supporting our troops and bringing them home", there isn't a whole lot that covers what they are actually accomplishing in iraq -- which, to me, makes the "support" part little more than lip service.

whether we think they ought to be there or not, the fact is the troops are there. and they are doing some tangible good, like setting up new schools, building hospitals, and training doctors. sadly, this positive impact doesn't get mainstream news coverage. probably because it would conflict with the dominant message about the whole thing being a bad idea.

i should note that my source for this information isn't the media. it's a family member serving in baghdad.