Last week I had a brief moment of clarity, when everything become plain, simple and clear. I was down with the flu, and forced to work straight through it, trying to make sense of some very difficult gas turbine specifications. It's funny sometimes for people who know me to imagine me that way, cajoling words about turbines and robotics and aeronautics, when these same people likely know me as a creative, artistic, dreamy eyed sort. I do not know where I found my talent for science. It fell on my head one day and led the way to a different part of my brain, where things make sense and are clear and concise, where there are no blurred edges or abstract ideas. It is a beautiful sort of respite for me. I've built my business and livelihood on that clarity.
My moment of clarity last week came as I turned away from my work and turned on the television. I was flipping through the channels to find my favorite series, and all I could see and hear were reports of Charlie Sheen. I don't know who Charlie Sheen is, except for his role in Platoon when I was in college, because he looked so much like my boyfriend at the time. I have no idea what his sitcom is about, and I must admit that I have no idea what any sitcoms are about. All I know is, his face and drama are plastered all over the news, all over Facebook, all over newspapers and magazines. And as I continued on to find my most geeky favorite TV series, I realized that this is really what people are talking about. This is the hot topic, the butt of jokes, the front page splash. This is the common thread. And I felt sick.
The United Sates has been waging a futile war in Afghanistan for 10 years. 2010 was the deadliest year for US soldiers, and 2011 is trending to be even worse. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has recently stated that he believes the US Forces should remain in Afghanistan even beyond 2014, the tentatively scheduled date for pulling out troops. This after apologizing for the "accidental" deaths of nine children collecting firewood last week. Is any death in war ever truly an accident? If you are there to wage war? When many of the US military and political upper echelon are asked what "victory" would look like in Afghanistan, and what exactly we are fighting for at this point, their answers are a combination of self deprecating mumbles and lofty ideals, and their eyes shift to floor and back up again, like a child trying to answer a teacher's question after forgetting to read the homework chapter the night before.
The war in Afghanistan has up to the moment I wrote this cost the US $384,141,258,991. If you would like a taste of the numbers, click here and let your mouth fall open. The numbers are beyond your wildest imagination, and are so much more mind blowing to me than when the national deficit numbers are thrown around in the news. The United States is cutting funding to public education (wealthier families can just send their children to public schools) and Pell Grants (once again, if you've got the money, what's the big deal?) and we are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide access to health care to all of its citizens (but everyone else must be wrong... we have the best health system in the world, so the story goes...). Our children are inept in math and science, our people are dying from lack of health care and the recent recession magnified the gap between the richest and poorest to the widest margin since the census began counting. Last year, the top fifth of Americans, who earn more than $100,000 a year, received nearly 50 percent of all income in the U.S., while the bottom 20 percent received just 3 percent. The U.S. has the greatest disparity between rich and poor among Western industrialized nations. And yet we are fighting a war, sending our own men and women to kill and be killed, with no clear plan for any semblance of victory or any real benefit to the safety and security of this country.
Perhaps this is the real pull to the Charlie Sheen story. From what I hear, he is insane. Insanity begets insanity, and this country surely is insane.
My brief moment of clarity.