Monday, October 16, 2006

Everyday people in Iraq

During the months and years that I lived in the Middle East, I became friends with many of the merchants that I encountered on a daily basis. I would discuss Quran with the owner of the little grocery store near my apartment as I made photocopies letters and lessons. I talked about the Archbishop with the Christian bakers who made pizza. I talked about Sufism with folks at one bookstore; the educational system with the staff of another book store. A dear and true friend was from a merchant family who had a presence in the big souk for centuries. I knew his wife, children and siblings. He knew my husband and had met my parents. From him I met many other merchants and small manufacturers. Another man who over the decade I knew him became like a surrogate father to me is part of an extended family that started with just a single candy shop in a small provincial town, now they are wholesalers; trucking sweets all over the rural provinces to supply small shops. So it is with a sense of great poignacy that I read about the slow destruction of the small shop owners in Iraq.

First to go was the pastry shop next door. That was early last spring. Since then, Alaa al Janabi, 46, has watched as Baghdad's epidemic of violence drained the life from his street, one store at a time.

Not long ago, about a dozen shops lined the one-block stretch of road in southwest Baghdad's Saidia neighborhood. Now only Janabi's computer-game arcade and the barbershop one door down remain, and the barber sneaks in for only a couple of hours each day, at a time whispered like a password to longtime customers.

Along a nearby section of a bit more than a mile, where 140 shops once stood only 23 remain. So many merchants in the area have been killed - or fled in fear that they would be - that the result of staying seems obvious, especially for a Shiite Muslim in a neighborhood that's being methodically cleansed by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the area.

"I am here waiting to die," Janabi said.

Jay Price and Mohammed al Dulaimy
McClatchy Newspapers
Small shopkeepers are a key component of the middle class in Iraq. Insurgents target them because in doing so you target a whole family, a whole network of small supplies, an entire social and economic ecosystem. What will happen? Look at Afghanistan. The war with the Soviets damaged and crippled the country but it was what came after, the endless civil war, the battles between warlords that drove away first the professionals, the doctors, engineers, lawyers, and professors who could find work abroad; then the big merchants, those with access to capital left; then the small merchants; eventually anyone with any type of skill left Afghanistan to escape the civil war, the plumbers, the machinists, the mechanics, the tailors, the barbers, the butchers. Only farmers on their land, the very poor, and the most radical were left. They welcome the Taliban as a force that might restore order and morality to a devestated and abandoned country (Please go read Ahmed Rashid's book The Taliban). But that lies in the future (God willing, Iraq will escape that horrible fate altogether). Today the loss of each shop, each merchant, makes the calculus of daily survival more difficult and inevitably more people -- the very people who are our best hope of rebuilding the country will leave.
In Baghdad, the loss of neighborhood stores is more than an inconvenience. With electricity only a sometime thing, refrigeration is impossible, so many people must buy food daily. Traveling even a few extra blocks can mean running a gantlet of death squads, illegal sectarian checkpoints, common bandits, kidnappers and random bombs. Showing up in a strange neighborhood, even just to buy tomatoes, can draw the wrong kind of attention.

Iraqi and U.S. officials here are painfully aware of the problem. Restoring normalcy to troubled neighborhoods is a goal of their current district-by-district military sweep through Baghdad.

It's unclear yet whether it's working; it hasn't reached Saidia yet.

I don't know what the model is for restoring normalcy, how it can be done without either massive increases in troop levels (along with language and cultural training for the US army on a mass scale) or a complete withdrawal. But I weep for each merchant, for each family that the shop supports, for each neighborhood, and each city in Iraq. Ya Iraq! How has it come to this?

Thanks to Iraqnam for bringing the San Jose Mercury article to my attention. The author of Iraqnam also has a piece up at Daily Kos on "The week that was" detailing the events of the last week, October 8-14, for each year 2001-2006. I'd blog about it but it is almost too painful just reading it. Every year it is the same except that every year it gets a bit worse; how long is this war going to go on?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Murtha & "Defeatocrats"

Juan Cole has brought my attention to Rep. John Murtha's piece in the Washington Post today taking on Karl Rove's latest creation,"the Defeatocrats."

Murtha explains:
The Republicans are running scared. In the White House, on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail, they're worried about losing control of Congress. And so the administration and the GOP have launched a desperate assault on Democrats and our position on the war in Iraq. Defeatists, they call us, and appeasers and -- oh so cleverly -- "Defeatocrats."

Rove & Company can be so clever! (I must admit, however, that my secret dream job would be to come up with such turns of phrase for the Democrats; I love being push-polled by a Republican candidate and turning every crafted phrase back on them). But unfortuately, this is serious business, and deserves not clever phrases but real analysis and hard decisions; two things Republicans can't seem to do. Murtha continues:
When U.S. forces first entered Baghdad, the Iraqi people cheered as the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn from its pedestal. Forty-two months and $400 billion later, we are caught in a civil war in which 61 percent of Iraqis think killing Americans is justified and the Iraqi people butcher one another at an alarming rate. We are considered occupiers. The longer we stay, the harder it becomes for the Iraqis to find their own destiny.

The administration's "stay-the-course" strategy is not a plan for victory. It's not even a plan. All we have is a new military blueprint to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq through 2010.
Murtha's piece deserves to read in full and his ideas taken seriously. Here is a true patriot, a man who served 37 years in the Marine Corps, thirty-seven years! The chicken-hawks don't deserve to hold his coat much less challenge his patriotism.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Replacements

Time taken to find a replacement to teach the courses I just declined?

About 48 hours!! I'm sure that the Dean could have done it even faster if she had tried.

But it was definitely the right thing to do. Grand Aspirations University spends money lavishly on landscaping, new buildings, marketing materials etc but relies on adjuncts to do the lion's share of the teaching. Over time the discrepancies wear you down (particularly as it is a Catholic school that goes and on about its mission and ethics). I always swore that I would get out before I became a bitter adjunct and the time is now.

Do I sound bitter? Then, you have never met a truly bitter adjunct, it can be fearful to behold.

Once again, the Dean held out the possibility of full-time employment some time in the future, but I've heard the same song and dance again and again. Adjuncting for another semester won't help my chances of getting a full-time post with them and it might even hurt. Two years ago I realized that getting a full time position at this school wasn't my dream but possibly my nightmare. A 4-4 teaching load, plus committee, advising, and service responsibilties with brutal and infinitely petty politics (I've already pissed off enough people to make a full-time offer unlikely.)

Just nine more weeks, and then I am out for good! Yee-haw!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Good Girl in the Happy Fog

Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean has talked recently about the Happy Fog, the self-delusional certainty that the regular rules don't apply to you. Dean Dad wants to talk about Happy Fog in relationship to workplace management issues but he notes:

Is there a more textbook case of happy fog than the hordes of eager young grad students rushing into doctoral programs, each convinced that s/he will buck the adjunct trend? If not for their exploitable hopes and dreams, colleges would have to hire more full-time faculty, and would be even more expensive than they already are!

So sad and so true. My independent study student this semester can't wait to go to grad school and pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and religion. I immediately asked him, "do you expect to support yourself with this?" Since I can't dissuade him I can only advise him to marry well. I came out of the Happy Fog surrounding academia two years ago thanks to the bracing posts and comments of Invisible Adjunct.

I've written about the impact of Invisible Adjunct before. Go and read the entire blog and comments (its inactive but remains as an archive, a valuable public service) before entering grad school. Thomas Hart Benton in the famous "So you want to go to grad school article" also identifies the magical thinking that creates the happy fog:
The Modern Language Association's own data -- very conservative and upbeat in my opinion -- indicate that only about one in five newly-admitted graduate students in English will eventually become tenure-track professors.

"Are you the one in five?" Really? Well, that's what the other four think too. Take my advice (I secretly care about you as a person): Don't go.

If you speak this way, four out of five students will think you're a crank and find a more flattering adviser: "Of course, my little genius, you can be anything you want to be."

But even after I had stopped drinking the Kool-aid and could see precisely what my true position was an adjunct in the academy, I couldn't quite give it up. Teaching is seductive; you get to stand before a class and make pronouncements, shape history, see bright young faces nodding at your words. But then Dean Dad once again came to the rescue and helped me clarify my position: I was stuck being the good girl. Dean Dad explains,
It's a kind of modesty, worn as a badge of honor. (The contradiction in proudly displaying one's modesty is rarely addressed.) Leave such vulgar pursuits to lesser folk -- I'm too busy nobly and selflessly pursuing truth (and tenure, and status, and travel money . . .

I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the more interesting and insightful academic bloggers are female. The tension between self-effacement and self-promotion that pervades academic culture is structurally similar to the tension in the definition of the 'good girl' - be sexy but not sexual, get attention without looking like you're trying to get attention, etc. Women academics have seen the contradictions twice, so they seem (generally) better able to articulate them. "I could never do that" is a classic good-girl sentiment. Seek approbation through self-effacement --yeah, that should work . . .

As the classic tenure-track faculty line evaporates into budgetary purgatory, I think many academics would be well-advised to retire their modesty. The existing rules have set up an entire generation to fail. It's time to write some new rules.

Yes, indeed. Adjuncting has worked for me. It allowed me to gain classroom and course development experience, it has allowed me to keep my hand in the field while having children. But the process has turned against me now. It sucks up my time and energy and pays me less than minumun wage when divided by all the unpaid hours of class prep, grading, meeting with students etc. Teaching the same courses over and over wears me out and has started to sap my creative energies. When the request to order next semester's textbooks came in, I was filled with dread. I knew it was time. I finally took the plunge and declined my sections for next semester.

Its time to start the next phase.