Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban

The Punishment of Virtue by Sarah Chayes
Rate this book
Clear rating

Sarah Chayes offers an incisive, on-the-ground look at the reality of the conflict in Afghanistan. She informs her observations with historical research, ongoing contact with many significant political players in the country and the experience of living in the country for many years, and comes up with a better understanding of the forces at play than I have seen anywhere else. Her story begins while she is working as a foreign correspondent for NPR, and living with an Afghani family in Kandahar. Most telling, perhaps, is her recollection of the reaction to her stories by NPR management. It comes as no surprise to those of us who have mourned the right-wing tilt of much of NPR since the Republicans took control of Washington in 2000. (See http://nprcheck.blogspot.com/ for daily updates) So many mornings in my home have been interrupted by screams of outrage. I cannot imagine how unspeakable it must have been for a reporter of Chayes’ depth to have to confront such daily ignorance back home. Sorry, we don’t want to confuse the American public with nuance or any story that does not toe the extant political line. Thankfully, Chayes was offered an opportunity, outside of NPR, to do some good in a country she had come to love.

Taking a position as a representative for a non-governmental-organization, or NGO, Chayes sought to make a difference in this broken country. Chayes offers us further insight in to the workings of non-profits in Afghanistan, but most of all tells us about how the Afghans relate to each other and to the USA and where those relationships fall in a historical perspective. You will learn a lot and find answers to questions you never thought to pose.

Structurally, Chayes offers contrasting pictures of two main characters. Muhammad Akrem Khakrezwal was a police chief and ultimately a friend to Chayes, a bright, basically good guy who tried to do the right thing in the wrong place. Chayes attends his funeral in the opening chapter and pledges to find out who killed him. She offers us a history of his career, pointing out the influences that impacted his ability to function in this or that place and job. Gul Agha Shirzai is his shadow image, a warlord with considerable political savvy and very little by way of scruples. Following the trail of these two individuals offers considerable opportunity for explaining how things work in Afghanistan.

It is a grim portrait Chayes paints. There was a time when Americans were indeed welcomed, and the Taliban reviled. But now, having seen how the USA drove out one band of psychopaths only to install another, patience with America has run out. Chayes goes into serious detail about how this works in the real world, why it is that the US selects this group or person to support while that or another group or person is ignored.

One of the wonderful things about Chayes' book is that she offers several chapters on the history of Afghanistan. These help explain why some ethnic groups view each other with such suspicion and hostility, tradition.

It was interesting to learn that the word “chain” refers not only to a set of overlapping metallic links, but also to having to pay off a chain of brigands in order to travel on major roads in the country. It was this chain that the Taliban was able to remove, but that the USA has inadvertently restored.

She shows how the Taliban is pretty much a creation of Pakistan, designed to keep Afghanistan from becoming a functional nation. There is much reportage on specifics supporting the fact that without Pakistani support, the Taliban would never have become a major power in Afghanistan, and would not, now be resurgent there.

Most alarming was the disappointment she felt with Karzai, the prime minister who seemed to have the charisma, intelligence and courage to lead the nation in a new direction. As it happens, not so much. And so, our hopes for the nation’s future are not reinforced. We get to see that there are many good people in Afghanistan. But the odds are against them.

Chayes' story is one told from the living rooms of the powerful (she worked for one of Karzai’s relatives and had met with most of the important people in the nation) to the neighborhoods in which she lives, among the locals. Hers is a hands-on view, visceral, grounded, incisive, informative and compelling. The Punishment of Virtue is a clear must-read for anyone with an interest in goings on in that part of the world.

P 74
[following the ouster of the Taliban from Kandahar in 2001:] it is no wonder many Kandaharis viewed the coming change with trepidation.

“Now will be the era of robbers,” a young auto mechanic told me in late November 2001, after tribesmen had looted a warehouse for refugees just inside Afghanistan, in the last days of the U.S. bombing. I asked if he didn’t trust the tribal elders to maintain order after the Taliban departed.

“No, I don’t.” He was emphatic. “They held power before, and they plundered the people and did bad things to them.”

Other shopkeepers and small businessmen told of reverting to the defensive measures they had learned during the mujahideen nights: sleeping in different places each night, bringing all their wares home at the end of the day, and shuttering their empty stalls.

P 101
As Michael Barry analyzes it, leadership among Pashtuns is acquired by a pretender’s ability to extract wealth from a lowland power in one of those three familiar forms—plunder or tribute or subsidy—and distribute it among his men. Ahmed Shah’ ability in this regard was undeniable.

P 101
[Afghanistan:] is a state founded not on a set of thoughts held in common and articulated through texts and institutions, but rather a state founded on the strategic nature of its territory—the crux between empires. It is a state founded on a fluid and tenuous interaction between collective structures, structures of nation, of tribe, of family, and a highly developed sense of freedom, a violent aversion to submission.

P 107
[In Kandahar:] there was no hostility to the American presence. On the contrary, Kandaharis were looking to the Americans for help. They expected the Americans to help them gain their country back, help them rein in their own leaders’ well-remembered corruption, help them come up with a new version of qanum, of law and order, which would be a little less repressive than the Taliban’s rendition. Help them start making something of themselves.

I told this to the young marine. I told him U.S. soldiers were in zero danger. They were seen as Kandahar’s ticket out of backwardness.

“That’s really interesting,” the marine replied. “I had a feeling that’s how things were. See, they keep giving us these briefings about the situation here, and I’ve been wondering if they’re bullshitting us. They keep saying this is a combat mission. ‘Combat?’ I’m saying. ‘What combat?’ There’s nothing happening out here. I’m feeling pretty dumb in this hole in the ground. And I’m getting a little ticked off too. I think they’re taking advantage of us. I feel like we’re just a symbol—like a great big American flag stuck in the dirt out here. What’s the use of that? I’d like to do something real. I’d like to get out there and start building that road.

I wanted to throw my arms around the kid. “And you know what?” I said. “If you built the road, it would do more for your security than another thousand guys out here in foxholes. The Afghans would protect you. If they saw you helping them, they would take care of you.

I had this entire conversation down on tape. It was going in my story. Because, like the tale young Fayda had told me on the way to Kandahar a couple of weeks before, it seemed to hold the crux of what was already going wrong.

But my editor nixed it. She said there was nothing new or interesting in this conversation. Soldiers are always disgruntled. This marine was just the same as every other grunt.
18 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Punishment of Virtue.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 1, 2009 – Finished Reading
June 14, 2009 – Shelved
June 14, 2009 – Shelved as: biography
June 14, 2009 – Shelved as: military-and-intelligence-non-fic
June 14, 2009 – Shelved as: nonfiction
June 14, 2009 – Shelved as: religion-and-sprituality
June 14, 2009 – Shelved as: terrorism
June 30, 2009 – Shelved as: the-bush-administration
November 2, 2012 – Shelved as: brain-candy
January 9, 2013 – Shelved as: afghanistan
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: religion
May 30, 2019 – Shelved as: memoir

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S Wow, Will, that does sound really outstanding. A much better read than 'Beauty School in Kabul,' my main other reading so far on Afghanistan besides Khaled Hosseini's two.. Did you find that the info was consistent or atleast not contradictory with Rashid's book? They have their own perspectives of course, but I would imagine the those perspectives would strengthen each other?
I don't know if you see many Indian films, but in one of them by my favorite Aamir Khan, Ghulam (slave), about the power of the criminal element in many neighborhoods, he and Rani do a song about going to visit Kandahar, it's always had a certain motif for me because of that. It's all so terrible, what's happened.
It seems Afghanistan has as much reason for animosity with Pakistan as with the US, between the support of the Taliban to their choice not to create border-clarity between the two countries, Pakistan's intentions with regard to Afghanistan seem extremely destructive, despite the similarity of population.
I would sure love to see a more intact reality emerge for the people of that country, somehow.
I will definitely move in the direction of reading this book, thanks!

(one type: 2nd paragraph of the p. 74 content, 3rd line, after the comma: in the la_s_t days of the U.S. bombing.)

message 2: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S Oops! Different place name.. the song is about Khandala, in India, not Kandahar. I'd sort of been wondering if my memory was correct all this time about that, but had never checked it out.. So one mis-perception cleared out! Zillions to go.. sigh..

Will Byrnes Re consistency, yes, Chayes reinforces Rashid, delving deeper into specifics on the ground.

Sorry, my exposure to Indian cinema is sorely lacking. But the wife and I occasionally catch a bit of what I take to be the Indian equivalent of Vh1 on the weekend.
It is all I can do to keep up with the wealth of DVD's on Netflix and opportunities for catching up on Hulu. Actually I can no more catch up on films/TV than I can with the flood of books I will never be able to get to. But as with the search for truth, justice and the American way, an inability to see the destination will never preclude enjoying the trip.

typo repaired - thanks

Your drop of mis-perception is welcome to join my perpetual river of missing information in it's journey to the ocean of forgetting.

message 4: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S Excellent (on consistency), I really prefer that things go that way.
Well, that's fine.. what's on that channel? When I get cable/satellite again, I definitely want those channels. Is it both films and tv shows? That would be so much fun.
Hulu hoop? Oh, I see, a Tivo-y thing. Gotcha.
True, and truth, justice and the American way all got much closer now, with Franken as Minnesota's Senator!! Woo-hoo! Wild man in DC, should be fun to watch. He's so intelligent and passionate.
Your last line- makes me laugh. Such a wonderful site this is, providing outlets and audiences to us all!

Will Byrnes The Indian station is Namaste America. All I am aware of is the Bollywood videos bit, but you might find more at http://www.namastetv.com. A significant interest in India seems unusual outside some of the neighborhoods here in Brooklyn and, I imagine, in LA. How did it come to be, one wonders.

Hulu.com is a web site that offers a wide variety of current and older material. One must endure advertising, but it is all very legit, and free. They have even gotten big enough to be advertising on regular TV. The ads are hysterical.

Congrats on Franken. I am quite surprised that Coleman is not going to try for a Supreme Court trump. The Court is so politicized that I believe he would have had a shot at overturning the result there. It would not be the first time. Having listened to Al on Air America I harbor no illusions about him leading a leftward charge. I believe he is very invested in being a DC insider, and while he may make some waves, I doubt that he will want to rock the boats too much. Hopefully I am wrong about that and he can bring his rapier wit to bear in attempting to embarrass our tepid Prez into doing more than saying. Just look at Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I hope Al really can be a wild man, but I am fearful that he will tone it all down.

message 6: by Claire (last edited Jul 01, 2009 06:44AM) (new) - added it

Claire S wow, I didn't realize you were so down on Obama and team so far.. it's early yet!! I would have been amazed if he'd done more on Gay issues already (and I was nearly a Women's Studies major, marched in 2 parades here over the years, attended many more, my daughter and her friends went to this year's events). I understand the concerns, but to extrapolate these first 6 months on to the whole rest of his (hopefully two) terms is unsupportable, I really believe.
I belong to Southern Law Poverty Center, and they have explicit data about the amount and degree of skyrocketing hate crimes in this country since Obama was elected. Many are still in shock. Despite that, Obama passed the stimulus bill and the recent ACES bill (while very watered down and flawed) passing the House is still a major achievement. He's taking on our health care system, against all the major powers that be. Our troops are leaving Iraq even as we speak. He's grappling with Gitmo and all the issues that surround that. He's done zillions of things behind the scenes such as family planning funding of global organizations.
Plus he's made a choice of a Supreme Court Justice!
He campaigned as someone who was relatively centrist (but progressive still) on Gay Rights, and I don't think his actions contradict that so far. I believe he himself will engage and make progress in his first term, and I wouldn't be surprised if his administration is working behind the scenes to support progress that isn't even directly attributed to him.
But, Geesh. We're in the midst of a sea change. I work at a nonprofit that was very tied in to the ACES bill, and was saying to someone - first one for me. And she said, first time for the entire progressive community really, in such an environment as we're in.
I am feeling quietly, patiently, optimistic yet. Wildly optimistic. Going too fast/too not-carefully could harm future possibilities. Mid-term elections.. if we stay with current levels, that would be a historical breakthrough and would set the stage for long-term potential change. Etc..
Sorry to ramble so!

Will Byrnes I hope you are right. I do not dismiss all that he has done, but I believe his inclination is towards consensus and I believe he is naive about the potential for convincing those on the right to join in anything worth having, the result being that he waters down proposals before even presenting them. A better negotiating position would be to demand everything and then negotiate down. It looks too much to me like pre-emptive surrender. Re health care, it should not even be a question that there should be a public option, but making sure that happens requires staking out a position to the left of that, so he can eventually alight there. Single payer is, I believe, the correct beginning point. (Ending point too, for my money) I am sick and tired of big pharma, the AMA and big insurance companies dictating policy. And money still talks. I want someone with the stones to kick ass and take names and so far, I do not see that. Nor do I believe that a more diplomatic approach will yield the desired result.

Re Wall Street, I am very concerned about the crew who is running that. So far, from where I sit, the Wall Streeters are making him look like a sucker. Have you read about how they are boosting salaries in order to get around restrictions on bonuses? And if increased liquidity is the desired goal, why is it that they are not using their newfound largesse to make loans? If a company is too large to fail, it should be too large to exist. And why do rank-and-file workers for the auto companies have to sacrifice to the bone while no such restriction is placed on Wall Street? One rule for white collar, another for blue? Same ole, same ole.

Obama has been presented with an opportunity to make drastic change. Accomplishing anything less will be a wasted opportunity. Whatever he succeeds in doing, I expect will happen in his first term, in his first two years almost certainly, and possibly in his first year. The time for boldness is now, while he has a sort-of majority. I say sort-of, because it is clear to me that blue-dog democrats are really republicans in blue clothing.

I am very hopeful on foreign policy, seeing that he has struck the proper poses on a host of tricky issues. But overall, I was hoping for more. The right will assault him whatever he does, so he should put that out of his mind and move ahead. One simple thing he could to improve our national defense is to tell the DoD to suspend enforcement of Don't Ask Don't Tell. So what if the screaming heads scream? They will do that regardless. In the meantime, good soldiers are being thrown away. He will never be stronger than he is now. He will never be better able to absorb the right's verbal attacks. Opportunity deferred is opportunity lost.

I was well aware during the campaign that Obama was a centrist Democrat, despite the lies of the screaming heads that he was everything from a fascist to a communist. So, I should not have expected a whole lot, but I thought that he showed signs of a much-needed leftward turn once elected. Perhaps it was there and Rahm (Wrong)Emmanual turned him back towards the DLC. I mean, Sotomayor? Really? We need a hardcore progressive on the court to counter the neocons and worse that the right has installed there over the last generation. He can get in anyone he wants. Now is the time to put in someone to take on those battles. Instead he picks a middle-of-the-roader. How can you be satisfied with that?

I hope your patient optimism turns out to be more justified than my impatient concern. There are some hopeful signs, but too many danger signs for my liking. We won the election for god's sake. We should be able to set policy and not kiss the right's cheeks hoping they will play nice. They are sociopaths. That way lies madness.

Re midterm elections, going too slowly is, in my view, at least as dangerous as going too fast. People voted for change. In the presence of insufficient change, will they vote Democratic again? How many people will react negatively to the absence of major accomplishment in critical areas like Health Insurance and really reigning in Wall Street? How about the sunlight reversals re revealing torture documents? How about actually holding responsible those who willfully flouted the law and made torture ok? Bush should be behind bars, Cheney should be in chains, Rummy should be drawn and quartered, but BO lacks the guts to actually enforce our anti-torture laws. If those at the top are immune to legal constraints, the law becomes the joke it now is. There is only one law in this country (and probably most others). Power rules and everything else is unimportant. And power rests in money. As long as money rules in DC, it will be very difficult for real change to occur.

You may see a Sea Change, and I hope you are right, but in order to join that perception I will wait until there is more change I can actually see.

message 8: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S In general, I believe it is relatively brilliant for Obama to start out with a consensus-based approach. That is the high road, the thing everyone says they want, the way things are supposed to work.
And to do it at all, it has to be done consistently and 'earnestly', basically. And he is there with that.
"IF"/ when that doesn't work, he has all the options available for working differently. I'd worry more, except for Rahm Emmanuel. You know.
My Mom is in nursing. I worked at her company for 10 years. I loathe pharma et al.
Wall Street - in my acct degree, I had to take macro- and micro- econ. My impression? Especially with macro, 'they' have essentially no idea what is going on, and no way really to determine, as you can run academic experiments on national economies. You can't hold all variables constant, and try this or that technique. There is no laboratory to experiment with. All there is is interpretation of real life, and to date that hasn't been done objectively enough.
Obama's first priority had to be to not really really f things up, globally. To (hate to say it) keep those who know what is necessary to keep things running, in place (really, hate to say that). To avoid US originated global panic. Etc.. Are we through step one? I don't know. After we're through the biggest danger zone, then step two. Have you read his book? I trust his sensability on personal incomes etc.. , his class awareness. I don't need equity now, I need it for my daughter's adulthood. I believe it can't yet be ruled out that he's acting towards that.
If wall street bigwigs are acting selfishly and irresponsibly NOW, today, with where we're at, I believe that will become known and irrefutable, and there will be consequences.
I don't believe Obama is at his pinnacle of strength right now.. More later..

message 9: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S Have to answer back on the rest later on, our office Open House prep is starting!

message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes looking forward

message 11: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S As I was saying, I feel like Obama is just in the early stages of his presidency yet. I get the vibe that he is extremely intentional, extremely strategic, and that he is conscious of timing and contextual considerations and so on.
You know, nursing also involved a lot of prioritization, as does management, and school funds allocations (especially right now). And lots of times the recipients of those decisions don't have the big-picture perspective that the ones making the decisions do. We tend to want our particular outcome, and the respective weight and urgency of our concerns may tend to be overstated in our measurement accordingly. Obama has to make himself resistent to that, in order to act as effectively as possible.
I know that many times presidents have told constituents to wait for a better time, simply to shut them down. For instance, as in 'Iron-Jawed Angels', concerning women's right to vote. I really don't believe it's that way today.

Regarding power, it's true as you say, power determines right way too often. And people gain power only in certain ways. Obama gained power in a (hopefully) different way, that involved the actual people, and a lot of the effects are still just accumulating. The mechanisms are still grinding on it all.

I want to see the things you want to see, just as much as you do. I'm partly hopeful because I don't know that my lack of hope has any payoff, personally or collectively.

I am getting ready to start being a more active citizen, encouraging and exhorting my elected officials to do things that matter to me. That's probably one main thing that all of us can do next, playing our roles as fully as we can in this tapestry of (who knows how much yet) change.

message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes I understand the notion that Obama is attempting to gain consensus knowing full well that it is doomed to failure and that once that happens (as if it hasn't already) he will be in a better position to push through what he really wants. I think there is a fair chance that this is his plan. But I am not 100% certain of that. I still fear that his attraction to consensus is misplaced idealism, and that he is willing to cede far too much territory for slight gain. I really do hope that your faith in this being mostly a tactic is correct.

Re Wall Street (full disclosure: I worked for Merrill Lynch for 13 years, but only as a back-office systems drone) some of this is not rocket science. Wall Street has managed to create a wide collection of financial products that are not subject to regulation. They should be regulated. Not so tough. Also, protections that existed once, were removed by anti-regulatory republicans and campaign-contribution-recipient democrats (see repeal of Glass-Steagal in 1999) should get a second look. Capital reserve requirements should not be considered suggestions.

Much of the commerce that used to be limited to Wall street entities has morphed during globalization into a poorly differentiated financial blob. There needs to be national regulation on all these financial entities. Anything that does fiscal business across state lines should be subject to some sort of legal restrictions. If the government will not protect the public from unscrupulous money people, who will?

Back to the Prez, while he may have big picture concerns that elude me, I am no slouch, and can appreciate a long-term plan (first career was as an urban planner, with several years in health planning). I understand prioritization. And I do get that health care reform will take time. I am not happy, though, at what I see as a tactical error, that being not being willing to stake out a strong initial negotiating position.

Also, I disagree that the timing for addressing sexual orientation bigotry will be better at some later date. There are things that can be done with the stroke of a pen, like telling the DoD to stop enforcing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Getting rid of the DoMA (should be called the Defense of Bigotry Act) will take legislative action and some time. I get that.

I have not abandoned all hope re Obama and regret casting too dark a light on my view of him. I think he is a good guy with positive intentions in a wide swath of policy areas. If nothing else, at least some of the national moral bleeding has been reduced. But I am VERY unhappy at his clear disinterest in prosecuting our home-grown war criminals, for that is what Bush-Cheney-Rummy are. I am VERY unhappy that he has shown reluctance to reveal all possible torture related documents. I believe that is because he believes that releasing them will feed demands that he hold those in charge responsible, and he does not want to do that. I fear that Rahm will steer him in a far-too-conservative direction at every possible opportunity.

So, I do have hope for the future, and believe that Obama can have a positive effect. But I am afraid that he will buy in to some of the myths that a right-captured media keep flogging (Social Security is in trouble, for one). I am afraid that he will stop at half measures or less when full measures are called for. He is, basically, a moderate Democrat, more in the mold of Clinton than of FDR. I can only hope that he gets fed up eventually with all the resistance and has a Howard Beal moment, without the corresponding insanity, of course. He has the oratorical licks to move mountains. He has the popular support to back up bold actions. I hope he can effect big change and not just incremental modifications.

message 13: by Claire (last edited Jul 03, 2009 12:59PM) (new) - added it

Claire S I agree with many of your views as well. And I apologize if I seemed to suggest that you were being dim about the complexity of it all. I was more sharing my self talk which I use to maintain curbs on my own disappointment.

Another item though that it seems is a different among us is that you seem fairly certain that he has the support required, and you conclude therefore that he should do it. (in whichever particular instance). Where I'm at as a result of various battles over the years, mainly at a personal level, is much more cynical/depressed/pessimistic etc.. about the overall gestalt of this country and it's people.

Particularly I would say my positions regarding Porn vs. Erotica (power with vs. power over/ good vs. bad; 99% don't get that distinction) and various about the Middle East; as well as women-as-human; gender expectations; ongoing robust white-skin privilege and denial of same; etc.. etc.. etc.. have earned me excessive ongoing discomfort and a permanent expectation of retaliation/clawback/etc.. of any positive movement in any positive direction.

Also the gut feeling that going slow can be both more effective as well as safer for vulnerable populations in lots of cases. (Was once in a car on a freeway hit by a rock after leaving a gay-lesbian bar in the mid-80's, participated in take-back-the-night marches and a few gay pride ones, protested various, in all those cases, have seen those with antagonism up close) for instance).

Obama does have a lot of support. He also has millions? Billions? who are dying to see him fail and are actively looking to sabotage him and/or the country at any opportunity. I don't see you taking that in to account.
I expected, at 10, that women's rights had come to fruition and my work/personal life would be happy and bright as a result; because there were positive changes in the 70's which had the support of many, including my immediate family/family friends/insular community etc.. Life has been very, very different.
Do you have Republican friends? Do you listen to the other side's views (the most sane ones you can find, even?). Do you have an actual measure of where they're all at about all this? And/or if not, how do you feel secure in your confidence level that further change is better right this minute without such awarenesses? Not in an antagonistic sense, but a if-you've-got-solutions-please-share sense..

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Just checking in now. will respond to your many intriguing points over the weekend.

message 15: by Claire (new) - added it

Claire S Ok, have an excellent fourth! (Bye bye, Palin!)

message 16: by Will (last edited Jul 06, 2009 09:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Re "Where I'm at as a result of various battles over the years, mainly at a personal level, is much more cynical/depressed/pessimistic etc.. about the overall gestalt of this country and it's people."

The American people (substantial portions of the population, anyway) take second place to none when it comes to a capacity for mindlessness, intellectual laziness, hypocrisy and bigotry. I did not mean to imply that we had fallen down on upholding our glorious history in such endeavors. But what I have seen in opinion polls shows a movement toward tolerance. With several states now granting rights to same-sex-couples the trend seems inescapable. A Newsweek poll from December 2008 showed that 55% favored state sanctioned legal unions, with 39% favoring same-sex marriage, up from 40% and 33% respectively only fours years prior. I believe that the country will accept a recognition of homosexual equality if it is presented as a fait accompli, as happened when Truman integrated the military. Integrating the military by eliminating Don't Ask, Don't Tell will be accepted once the president decides that it is time for the deed to be done. And that acceptance will, I am certain, filter back into the general (and even colonel) population.

This is not to say that the yahoos will not continue wearing their op-ed white sheets or burning their verbal crosses. The bible may say that we will always have our poor, but it neglects to mention that we will always have, as well, our stupid, willfully ignorant, mean-spirited and fascistic.

I have only minimal personal experience to compare with your rock-throwing unpleasantness. Once, while hitchhiking in Vermont with a friend, in the early 70's, we were accosted by local yahoo-types who equated our long hair with gayness. My right arm was in a cast, but I guess that offers incitement to thugs. No physical harm was done, thankfully, but it was rather frightening. The only physical harm I have experienced around things political was from one of New York City's Finest who thought it fine sport to ask demonstrators (at ITT, re the US role in Chile) to move back by swinging his billy club in a wide arc. I took a pretty good hit on the hip, but managed not to be trampled by the police horses that were being put to the same purpose.

On an ongoing personal level, I occasionally try, for months on end, to get through to my oldest sister, a dedicated Republican, but it always ends in frustration for me. There is a sanity-brain barrier that is impenetrable for most members of that organization.

I do not have a thought-out position re porn-erotica, so will not clot the page with uninformed musings. I am open to education though.

I share your concern re clawback and retaliation. However, the last eight years have demonstrated quite clearly to anyone with a functioning brain that the ideological bent of the Greedy Old Partisans is no way to run a country. Even if there is little love for Democrats, it is plain that the Dems are at least not as horrendous as the Republicans. And while we are not short on people with non-functioning brains, they remain a minority, and appear to be shrinking daily as the outrages of their leadership come to light.

Re your gut feeling on going slow, you may be right about it being more effective. I do not claim divine revelation about the best way forward, but my gut feeling is that the time to strike is now. Let's hope that whichever method is used, it will be effective.

Re: "He also has millions? Billions? who are dying to see him fail and are actively looking to sabotage him and/or the country at any opportunity. I don't see you taking that in to account."
The multitude who are dedicated to a failed Obama will retain their dedication regardless of whether he adopts a go slow policy or dashes about like the energizer bunny pounding away at big-time change. Bigots are bigots are bigots and they will behave like bigots regardless of what Obama does. If we have to be quiet in order to maintain a hope for change some day the battle has already been lost.

I cannot say that I have Republican friends, but then I am not exactly overburdened with real friends of any sort. My only personal intel on the Republican view is via my GOP sister, and her arguments are pretty much a reflection of whatever lines FOX, Glenn Beck, Rush and creatures of that ilk are flogging at a particular moment, untainted by reason. While I believe that it is possible to be intelligent and a Republican, at least it was once, I do not see how one can be intellectually honest and go along with positions that are based almost solely on preventing Democrats from accomplishing anything, on furthering the erosion of personal liberties, and of increasing the resource disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us.

My confidence in the willingness of the public to embrace change lies in the outcomes of the last few elections and evidence of contemporary polling, which, pretty much across the board, shows (and has for many years) the population being significantly to the left of even Democratic positions. The lean is increasing.

RE "confidence level that further change is better right this minute without such awareness..." The Republicans have made us all painfully aware of where they stand on most issues. There is no shortage of awareness of their views on things. They have been cramming those views down our throats since Reagan. Looking for partnership with Republicans is a fool's mission. We have a sort-of Democratic majority in both houses. I say “Use 'em or lose 'em” and to hell with the Republican obstructionism. The opportunity may not last long enough to take a longer term view.

I caught a Bill Moyers Sunday, with a panel that included Cornell West. He said something that resonated. Obama is listening, but the voices he seems to be hearing so far are those of the very people who are a part of our national decline. Embracing the old ways is no way to break free of them. He needs to hear the voices of those who support him but who are coming at him from the left. You can only steer a straight course if there is pressure from both the left and right. So far, he has been heeding mostly the pressure from the right. Those of us who basically like the Prez need to add our voices to the clamor he is hearing, for balance if nothing else.

For instance, remaining silent about Don’t Ask, Don't Tell, saying ok to delay, means that the only counsel Obama will hear is that of delay and caution. The volume on the more urgent view needs to be part of the clamor as well, as it should be re health care reform. If he only tacks to a right-wing breeze, we will find ourselves sailing in a circle and wind up going nowhere.

message 17: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo @ Will: When I had finished reading this review, I was going to write "Wow!", but then I saw that Claire had already commented "Wow!". So I had to check my Thesaurus for an alternative but didn't find one. "Great review!" is a bit too tepid in this case, so what do I say? How about "Magnificent!"?

Anyway, you made me add another book to my TBR-list. "Alle Folgen auf dein Haupt!" (All consequences on your head!)

message 18: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira I loved Sarah Chayes on NPR, and I have been so impressed with her and her work in Afghanistan afterwards.

message 19: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo What on earth is NPR? Somebody help!

message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes National Public Radio

message 21: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo Thank you, Will.

message 22: by Ivonne (last edited Nov 30, 2014 04:21AM) (new)

Ivonne Rovira Lilo wrote: "What on earth is NPR? Somebody help!"

NPR is America's answer to the BBC or Deutsche Welle: articulate radio on real issues rather than on celebrities, faux outrages, and rampant consumerism. It's always located in the 80s or low 90s on the FM dial. You really, really want to check it out. When I discovered NPR in the 1980s, it literally changed my life, making me much smarter about the rest of the world.

message 23: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes NPR is definitely a level above commercial radio. However, much of the news coverage has taken a decided turn to the right. While not all shows are affected, Morning Edition in particular has drifted uncomfortably. I still listen, but spend far too much time screaming at the radio. It was not always thus. According to a 2012 article in the Atlantic, for example:
The editor of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol, once confessed to former NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin that he really didn’t believe NPR was liberal; he just said so “to keep you guys on the defensive.” And that still seems true.
And even though Steve Inskeep has toned his act down a couple of notches, those who have listened to him long enough know where his loyalties lie. Even though there are some reasonable people working on Marketplace, you would have to look long and hard to find much input from the labor side of the economic equation. NPR is better than commercial news coverage, for sure, but is hardly bias free. The problem Chayes experienced in dealing with her controllers at NPR is an indicator of this shift. An in-house piece identified a two-to-one relationship in favor of conservative think-tank sources over more center or liberal ones. Listener beware.

message 24: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Will wrote: "NPR is definitely a level above commercial radio. However, much of the news coverage has taken a decided turn to the right. While not all shows are affected, Morning Edition in particular has drift..."

Granted, NPR isn't Dr. Paul Krugman, The Nation, Extra!, The Washington Monthly, or Charlie Pierce in Esquire. But, at least, they bring up issues that you will never see on commercial radio: Wall Street chicanery, income inequality, the hopeless state of the working poor.

message 25: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Certainly more than the commercial media

message 26: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo Ivonne wrote: "Lilo wrote: "What on earth is NPR? Somebody help!"

NPR is America's answer to the BBC or Deutsche Welle: articulate radio on real issues rather than on celebrities, faux outrages, and rampant cons..."

Thank you, Yvonne. I must admit, I have never listened to any radio ever since we have television (that is, for decades). I'll ask my husband to dig up a radio (or a stereo including a radio).

Wouldn't PBS be comparable?

message 27: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo @ Will: I am getting fed up with national CNN reporting the same topics over and over. (And we don't get International CNN on DirectTV.) I, therefore, just recently switched to watching news on PBS. What do you think of PBS?

back to top