Sunday, April 27, 2014

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

I was hoping to use this book as a follow-up to the effective discussion series we did on "Lean In" with U.S. Embassies in Africa.  However, as I read more of this well-researched and thought-provoking book, I realized that what it's focused on - getting rid of over-committed,  energy-sapping schedules that leave everyone running - might not be the most relevant of themes for the ladies that we hope to continue working with, who are still simply figuring out how to fit working life into the traditions of their African cultures.

Despite this, I did get a lot out of the book.  For one, it validates my personal decision to always make time for myself and for my partner, despite the needs of children and work.  Schulte's book states unequivocally that women need to make time for rest, for enjoyment, and for me-time, or else we can't do the rest of what we need to do well.

Photo Credit:  Elinor Carucci/Institute (in Elle online)

In addition, she tackles the idea of the perfect worker and the perfect parent that have stood for so long.  Basically, my take away is that there is not really such a thing.  We could always do more and better.  But constantly striving for that level of perfection takes us away from the now, and can have a negative affect on the quality of what we're trying to do in the first place.

I definitely recommend the book, particularly for working mothers who need to see that they are not alone, and that there are people on their side.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

"'A Problem from Hell': America and the Age of Genocide"

It has taken me a long time to make it through the entire book, "'A Problem from Hell':  America and the Age of Genocide," by Samantha Power.  Ambassador Power is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, but back when she wrote this book, she was the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a former Balkan war correspondent.

The book is impressive; in scope, in size, and in passion.  The insights fall in the category of "hindsight's 50/50."  I admire what Power is trying to accomplish, and I support her attempt to bring attention to this crime, which is so poorly understood and has been so poorly addressed since the Holocaust, despite our liturgy of "Never Again's."

I did not realize that the word genocide was created in the 20th century in response to Hitler's persecution of the Jews.  That was a fascinating lesson in how one man can have a huge impact with the right amount of focus and opportunity.  Power traces the evolution of our understanding of the crime, as well as U.S. action and (more often) inaction in response to 20th century genocide.  

The book was published in 2002, so it feels like there are a lot of new chapters waiting to be written.  U.S. intervention in Libya - response to genocide in a positive way as envisioned by her book, or something else?  Crisis in Syria?  Are we paying enough attention to signs of Bashir's abuses?  Should we be doing anything else?

I wonder what Power would advise.  In fact, I wonder what she is advising and how she is negotiating now that she herself is in one of the highest seats of power vis-a-vis U.S. influence in international fora.  Her conclusion lays out some actions that should be taken when we conclude that genocide might be going on:  "...respond with a sense of urgency, publicly identifying and threatening the perpetrators with prosecution, demanding the expulsion of representatives of genocidal regimes from international institutions such as the United Nations, closing the perpetrators' embassies in the United States, and calling upon countries aligned with the perpetrators to ask them to use their influence."  Seems to me that this is very close to what we've tried to do in Syria.

"When the dynamics on the ground warrant it, the United States should establish economic sanctions, freeze foreign assets, and use U.S. technical resources to deprive the killers of their means of propagating hate."  Again, seems relevant to world events today.

"With its allies, it should set up safe areas to house refugees and civilians, and protect them with well-armed and robustly mandated peacekeepers, airpower, or both."

Finally, "Given the affront genocide represents to America's most cherished values and to its interests, the United States must also be prepared to risk the lives of its soldiers in the service of stopping this monstrous crime."

I'm very glad to have read the book, though I am looking forward to some shorter and perhaps lighter books in the coming weeks.  I also now have even more incentive to read "The Great Game" and Dallaire's book about the Rwandan genocide, though I think I need to wait a bit before I tackle those.

516 pages leaves a lot more to be said.  Let me know if you have any questions!

After writing this, I came across an interesting Foreign Policy article that asks many of the same questions I'm asking.  It's short, I recommend you check it out if you're intrigued by what I've written.