Friday, September 10, 2010

The Zeitouns and the End of the War

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers and intend to read it, there are spoilers in this post.

I began this post last November, just after I finished reading Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. It is a non-fiction account of one New Orleans family's experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. The book is beautifully written, a moving account of misfortune, love for humanity, faith, betrayal, and perseverance. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Muslim Syrian-American, is married to Kathy, who converted to Islam before meeting her husband. Eggers tells the story of the Zeitouns and their children, when Abdulrahman decides to stay behind after the hurricane to take care of their home and help those who need it.

In the story, Mr. Zeitoun and three others are taken into custody by National Guardsmen and New Orleans police. Though he was not informed of any charges, he was transferred from a makeshift facility at a local Greyhound station to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, where he spent 20 days without trial. Before his transfer he met many others who were in a similar situation: incarcerated with no understanding of why and no one telling them what their charges were. Eggers does an excellent job of giving the reader a "there but for the grace of God" feeling, and the lack of clear charges has both Mr. Zeitoun and the reader guessing at why this could be happening.

Throughout the book, which takes place 4 years after September 11, 2001, I couldn't help but wonder what is going on that a citizen of this country would be incarcerated without any sort of arraignment for 20 days, simply for staying in his home city to help people during a natural disaster. The communications he has with his wife are heartbreaking, and we don't know what is going to happen. Will he ever see his wife and children again? As the book goes on this prospect seems bleaker and bleaker.

As I finished the book, I kept thinking about the wars we're fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and feeling very strongly that we must end these wars. I couldn't put my finger on why, though. What did the wars have to do with Hurricane Katrina and the Zeitoun family? They're Muslim, but one is not led to believe that Mr. Zeitoun's treatment is necessarily because of that, although he and one of his friends who is also Muslim are repeatedly served pork and left with very little to eat. And though the response to the hurricane by both local and federal authorities is certainly lackluster and even perhaps incompetent, this doesn't necessarily seem a result of the war. But there is a definite parallel with ideas and images of Guantanamo in the transitional jail at the Greyhound station, and what is happening to Mr. Zeitoun feels much more like a war than a natural disaster.

Finally I realized what seemed to be going on, that this man, only staying behind to help friends and clients and protect his property, would be imprisoned and treated like a criminal, without anyone intervening on his behalf. Our country had been at war four years by then, two of those years in two countries. But it isn't only soldiers or guardsmen who go to war. It is all of us. When we send our people to make war in another country, a little of each of us goes too. Right now, today, we are all at war, and we are all on guard. The whole Terry Jones Koran burning furor is an example of this. We are each frightened of the enemy, wondering when the enemy will strike next. If our country is grieving September 11, we seem to be stuck in the anger stage right now. And we will be until we end these wars. As we fight these wars, our national character deteriorates. We want to move on, we want to let go, but we're stuck fighting with and fearing the enemy, and finding the enemy in one another. Living in fear, living for the next fight, is detrimental to the psyche. We all begin to create a militaristic culture here at home, to see things in light of the war, to look at life in terms of us and them. And that is when the kind of injustice that happened to the Zeitoun family becomes possible.

As the ninth anniversary of September 11th approaches, it seems appropriate that I finish this post and publish it. I intend to grieve this weekend, and to allow this time to remind me that peace begins with me, in my life, with my daily actions and how I treat those around me. May love and peace bless you and yours on this solemn weekend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Open Letter to Dove World Outreach Church

Dear Pastor Jones and Friends:

Please reconsider your plans to burn the Koran this Saturday, September 11th. I realize you are praying about this decision, and open to a sign from God. Of course, I cannot give this to you, but I beg you, consider your own souls in this act. We have all been hurt, in small and large ways, throughout our lives. Each of us is affronted on a daily basis by people or situations we disagree with or dislike. And sometimes, extremists do terrible things, like the terrorists of September 11, 2001.

Thousands died that day, and I know you grieve that loss. But to live a life out of anger and hatred, and put that out into the world as an offering, is detrimental to your own soul. Every time we act in violence or anger instead of love or forgiveness, a little piece of the God that is in us dies. When we go home to our loved ones, we want to offer them the best we have in us, offer them our love and caring. But when you live out of anger, and act out of anger, your capacity for love diminishes.

If you cannot find it in your hearts to spare the lives of our soldiers in harm's way, who will surely be in more danger because of your act, or to spare the feelings of all of us in this country who wish you not to do this, at least think of your selves, and remember that anger and bitterness will never, ever benefit you or your life.

Please find a loving, forgiving way to stand up as Christians, for your own sakes and the sake of the God who created you.

Katie Kadwell

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Bed Without Dinner, To Sleep With a Song

I just finished singing both girls to sleep. One of my fondest dreams has been to have my children fall asleep to the sound of my voice, though Willow never did as a baby. She would like me to sing for a while, but would always start to complain and then nurse to sleep. She was also very particular about which songs I would sing, and would fuss until I sang songs she liked. Of course, a few of my favorites were ones she would not put up with. Grace, on the other hand, loves any kind of song and will instantly shift her mood when sung to, as long as it's a fairly gentle tune and tone of voice.

Grace was fussy this evening, and so Brent ended up making the dinner. Frozen stuffed shells, sauce, cheese, garlic bread, and corn on the cob. Willow watched her video while Brent cooked and I calmed Grace. But then, right before dinner was ready to serve, Brent told me he wasn't feeling well and needed to lie down. I served the dinner for myself and Willow, and sat down. I felt disappointed not to be having our usual family time for dinner, since we only eat about 3 dinners a week together. Willow did some running back and forth but finally sat for a good portion of time and ate about 1/2 of a cob of corn, one of her favorites. Because of a late play date and baby fussing, dinner was late and Willow had apparently filled up on crackers. I ate my dinner with gusto however, being famished from the general duties of mothering and not having eaten since lunch. I kept Brent's portion warm, and Willow dutifully went to check on him a few times, but he stayed in bed. So I did the night time routine with the girls with him in bed asleep (though saying he would get up after the girls went to sleep). At some point I decided I'd better stand up and rock Grace rather than sitting with her in bed, and so I was standing over Willow's bed. Willow asked me about a song I'd sung earlier that day to put Grace down for a nap. The song, Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby, was in O Brother Where Art Thou and is one of my favorite lullabies. Of course I only know the chorus, and I don't even have that quite right, but I sing it over and over. Willow said "why does that song say vintobody baby?" I said "It says "There ain't nobody but the baby". She asked me to sing it to Grace, and I did. Then she asked me to say "Daddy's gone away and mama's gonna stay" instead of "Mama's gone away and Daddy's gonna stay". I did, and sang it over again for about 10 minutes, as I watched both Willow and Grace gradually fall asleep in the darkening room. Willow on her bed, limbs splayed like a game of pick up sticks, and Grace lying across my forearm with her arms wrapped around mine and her little hands clasped together. Both girls love to hold their little hands together, Grace especially. So there I was, my wonderful husband asleep after many days without enough rest, and two beautiful girls finally sleeping peacefully. The light in the room glowed with the setting sun, and I stood in that light feeling blessed and grateful beyond imagination for the love in that room.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Fourth of July

I've never liked the 4th of July festivities much. I love picnics, and hot dogs, and beaches, and I love this country. I don't know, though, whether I love the U.S.A. because I grew up here and it't MY country, or because I really think it's better here. But I'm glad to live here, and feel blessed to live somewhere that is not torn up by war and bombs and horror. Which is why I've never understood fireworks. Not the kind you go and see, the spectacular light shows... I love those. It's the idiotic, noisy crap that people buy at roadside stands. What's the point? All it does is make your nice, peaceful neighborhood sound like a war zone. And it scares our poor dog, who, ironically, has her birthday on the 4th. We've gone to a lot of trouble making this country a peaceful place to live, what with manifest destiny and all the wars we've fought (and still fight) abroad. Why turn our neighborhoods into war zones for the weekend?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Why I Live Here

I was listening to To the Best of Our Knowledge tonight, about a sense of place. As I listened I thought about some of my favorite places over my lifetime. Sometimes I've thought about moving back to the Midwest, especially since having children. The pull toward family is great. But my husband, who is from Iowa, and I both love it here. I really don't want to live anywhere else. As I listened to the show, I realized finally what the deep pull is for me for this part of the world, where the rain is misty, the green is so green, and clouds are such a part of life. Here, because of the landscape, the mystery of life is just sitting there, raw, open, to be explored. Back east, or in the Midwest, there is a sense of having solved the mystery, or at least of having left it behind for more important things. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the mystery of life and existence is palpable, from the coyotes that inhabit the forest four blocks from our home, to the man who lives out of his van in the Shell station parking lot next door. I don't want to solve this mystery, I want to experience it daily and meet people who feel the same. That's why I live here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Friday, June 4, 2010

What We're Up Against

As I watch the horror unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, I've been thinking a lot these days about the movie Koyaanisqatsi. This film with no plot and no dialogue, put to the music of Phillip Glass, is about the relationships between humans, nature, and technology. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi term for "life out of balance", and contains at the end a chorus singing three Hopi prophecies, one of which is "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster." As I watch the images coming out of the Gulf, I feel deeply the truth of this idea.

Yet, here I am, typing on my computer made with minerals mined from the earth, with my cell phone sitting next to it, both of them fabricated from petroleum products. Our society is not merely addicted to oil, but to the unsustainable level of comfort oil supports. Oil may be at the center of things right now, but as we try to find ways of living our lives without irreparably harming the planet, we'll see that nearly every activity we participate in, and every product we purchase, has some negative impact on the earth.

Eleven people died in this tragedy, and eleven people's families are grieving right now as our nation grieves the loss of habitat, livelihoods, and wildlife. Yet we're not ready to let go of our comforts. We can stop using plastic bags made with petroleum, but only if we replace them with bags made from corn plastic. We may stop using coal to heat our homes, but in turning to solar we embrace the mined materials that make up photovoltaic cells.

We need to remember, it hasn't always been this way. In fact, my father remembers the day his mother celebrated being able to put all her trash in one barrel, instead of saving the tin for the tin man, the rags for the rag man, etc. At some point we need to begin shedding some of our excess. What this might look like, I don't know. I do know that the BP disaster definitely will not be the last of its magnitude as we struggle to unravel our tangled web of destruction.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Honor, Duty, and Love

The past couple of weeks have been incredible, with our new (7 week old) baby Grace, and our lovely 3 1/2 year old daughter Willow. I've been on my own most of the time, since relatives finished visiting a couple of weeks ago and Daddy went back to work. We've been on a couple of outings the three of us, and have had our ups and downs with occasional time outs for Willow (and Mommy too), smiles and laughs, and lots of cuddles, songs, and reading books.

Yesterday morning when we woke up Willow did her usual thing of hugging Grace with 3 year old vigor. Grace was awake and smiling, and for the first time looked right at Willow with a huge, big smile. That was one of my fondest dreams coming true, right before my eyes. Two beautiful, wonderful children who love each other and have fun together. I felt full, and honored. The love of a child, after all, is one of the greatest honors life has to offer. And it's my work, every day, to live up to that honor, to not tarnish that honor. As someone said to me while watching Willow in line at a Subway a couple of weeks ago, "Ah, what a great time. Life is just a shiny new penny." My job is to keep that penny feeling shiny and new for as long as I can.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Myth of the Filibuster Proof Majority

Much has been made about this 60 votes, from the 2008 election all the way through the loss of Kennedy's Senate seat to Scott Brown. But if the Democrats' 60 votes really meant that much, health care reform would have passed last summer. A "filibuster proof majority" is only filibuster proof if the majority party agrees to vote as a block. Which the Democrats rarely ever do. But the Dems still have an 18 vote majority in the Senate. More than the Republicans ever had under Bush. So get it together people... bipartisanship doesn't mean capitulating to the minority party's every whim. And inviting a filibuster doesn't mean a partisan war. There are ways of having serious debate, and demanding real leadership from the opposition party, without being a bully or a bad guy. Start leading, and get some of these important initiatives passed... BEFORE the mid-term elections. People love winners, and they don't care as much about how you win as whether you win. So stop the dilly dallying, stop the whimpering, stop the wishy washy hand wringing, and GET SOMETHING DONE!

The Fava Fiasco

I had big plans this winter of planting a fava bean cover crop. I didn't get the seeds in the ground until the second week of November, though, and though I got a lot of germination the seedlings did not survive. I think the soil was too cold and wet by the time I planted. So now I have disappointing empty beds. I also dug down into the paths, to make the beds more raised. It worked well, but because I needed to keep the outer path level with the rest of the ground, I ended up with huge pools of water between the beds. I don't think this helped the favas either.

I did a combination of broadcasting and burying the seed, since I had about twice as much as I needed. I definitely recommend burying the seed. I used a digging fork to make one inch deep little holes, and put a few beans in each hole. I think burying these larger seeds helps them to root better, as I ended up with a lot of seed germinated on top of the soil that just sort of sat there like little orphans, not knowing where to put their roots. This fall, if I have a garden, I'll see what happens if I get the seeds in by early October. Maybe even the last week in September. I should have been more cognizant of the weather, which was unusually cold in October and November this year. Ah, well. Such is the way of gardening.

I'm excited to have the beds ready now for spring, though. I'll be planting some peas in the next week or so. Hopefully these will do better than the favas.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Letter to President Obama: Clean Energy

Dear President Obama:

I was very glad to hear you talk about clean energy in your State of the Union address the other night.

However, I'm concerned about your apparently uncritical support of nuclear power. While I think that nuclear power is going to have to be part of the mix as we move toward carbon-neutral energy sources, I have many concerns. I have always been pretty strongly opposed to nuclear power in general, until I read the book "Physics for Future Presidents", by Richard Muller. He details how nuclear power can be much safer, using pebble bed technology rather than the older reactor & cooling tower technology. Pebble bed reactors are much safer, since the fuel is embedded into pebbles, which are self cooling and will never create an out of control chain reaction. However, current law in the U.S. requires all reactors to have a cooling tower, which would be redundant in the case of a pebble bed reactor. The pebble bed reactors can also re-use their fuel, which saves money in mining and operation costs. If we are going to have a new generation of nuclear power in this country, it ought to be the best, safest technology available.

Though I do think nuclear power must be part of the mix, I would like to also see a strong focus on developing renewable energy sources that create less waste, perhaps 1/3 of all R&D money spent.

The proposed $54 billion of loan guarantees to the nuclear industry in the FY2011 budget is a terrible start to a clean energy future. First, without changing the laws to allow, and perhaps require, pebble bed reactors, we would be installing second rate technology, which will not further our goal of creating cutting edge jobs in cutting edge industries. Second, the Congressional Budget Office has said it believes as much as 50% of the loans could default. This is a terrible gamble that even banks don't want to take. Why should the American taxpayer take it?

I hope you will follow through on your intention to use the best available information to make decisions, and withdraw your support for this boondoggle. We can have a clean energy future, and cutting edge nuclear power, without throwing $54 billion of unconditional loan guarantees at the nuclear power industry.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Katie Kadwell
Seattle, WA

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I saw this bumper sticker today and cracked up. It pretty much sums up what the Republicans have to offer their country these days: absolutely nothing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

War: Suffer The Little Children

I started this post back on July 10, 2009. I have no idea now where I was going with it. I remember it seemed very profound at the time, but I can't even finish the last sentence.

I was eight years old when the first Star Wars movie came out. It was a very big deal for me and my family to go, and I remember everyone, especially my brother, was very excited to see the film. Everyone, that is, except me. I didn't like the word "war" in the title, that indicated to me that it would be two hours of glamorizing violence, which I was then and still am very much against. (Not withstanding my own personal temper tantrums, which I'm happy to say have grown almost non existent over the last several years.)

In any case, I have always hated anything resembling war, and have refused to understand anything about "why" we need to go to war at a particular moment. To me it's always seemed like a bunch of kids fighting in their little sandbox, except they get to grab a bunch of unsuspecting other kids to actually go and do the real fighting and risk their lives. At the end of the day, war is just a plain waste: a waste of lives, a waste of resources, a waste of energy. I realize that all the geopolitical layers are more complex than a playground fight, and that international relationships are more complex than those we have with our family and friends, but I think something can be gained from a bit of comparison.

We all get angry, and most of us have been angry enough to hit someone or throw something. Whether we act on that desire is another question. And, whether we act on that desire determines how

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Letter to Representative McDermott

In an effort to blog more regularly, I'm going to start posting my letters to politicians. I seem to write a lot of them lately, and since I seem to have trouble finding the time to write blog posts, I figure I'll post whatever writing I am doing. Here goes:

Dear Representative McDermott:

I'm writing today to thank you for co-sponsoring H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act. As you know, if passed, it will restore protections recently gutted by the Bush administration and the Supreme Court.

I am deeply saddened by the damage already done in Alaska as a result of the 2009 Supreme Court decision. It is my fervent hope that this act will become law and we will once again protect the cleanliness of one of our most precious resources, our water.

Thank you for your vigilant work to protect the environment.

Katie Kadwell