Good morning, photo fans. I was going to start out the week with a sunrise of splendid delight, but when my friend Carol asked me on Saturday, “did you get any pictures of those thunderheads on Friday?” there was an immediate change of plans. I felt digital excitement as Friday’s sky filled with an impressive display of storm clouds that were viewable from all directions including north, south, east and Jerry West.
We start out our cloud caravan down at Steamer Lane, then on to a couple of shots at Cowell’s Beach, then up to the end of my street on the highly desirable upper west side (real estate jargon) before heading back down to West Cliff and Mitchell’s Cove before ending our tour of beauty at Natural Bridges. As I gazed at these puffs of perfection I was determined not to let their shape and texture cloud my judgement. I thought of the words of Mick Jagger, “Hey, you, get off of my cloud.” Now I understand why he couldn’t get any satisfaction.
Moving along the Himalayan trail, I’ve been thinking about Afghanistan recently. Well, that and the unbelievable action we’ve had on and off the court in the NBA the past few weeks. It’s become the forgotten war for many people. We’ve been in this region for six years and expect to be there for another twenty. Suicide bomb attacks, a non-factor before last year, skyrocketed in a record year of violence to more than 140 in 2007. 2006 was a gala year for the opium poppy crop which was over 100% larger than any previous harvest. Here’s even better news for heroin fans. This year’s harvest will even be bigger than last year. Much of the money goes to financing those liberal minded, fun-loving Taliban fighters which leads me into today’s story.
According to Afghanistan’s education minister, the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks has tripled in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia. A Taliban spokesman denied that these free thinkers were inspired by Alice Cooper’s song “School’s Out For Summer” which includes the lyrics “school’s out forever.”
While the overall state of Afghan education shows improvement, including students being provided with pencils, erasers and bullet proof lunch boxes, the Education Ministry numbers point to a sharp decline in security for students, teachers and schools in the south, which is home to the world’s largest opium poppy growing region and where the Taliban thrive. A side note, some years back the U.S. paid the Taliban millions not to grow opium poppy for one year. But they had so much heroin in their stash houses it didn’t make a difference and it drove up the prices for themselves and the farmers who grew it. Anyway, the number of students out of classes because of security concerns hit 300,000 since last March, compared to 200,000 in the previous 12 months, while the number of schools closing has risen from 350 to 590. Back in Garden State where I blossomed into manhood they only closed the school on snow days, rarely because of “attacks by the enemies of New Jersey.”
The Taliban strategy is deliberate: “to close these schools down so that the children and primarily the teenagers that are going to the schools-the boys-have no other option but to join the Taliban,” says Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar. The Taliban know that educated Afghans won’t join the militants, so a closed school leaves the students with two options-to join the Taliban or “to cross the border and go into those hate madrassas,” Atmar says, referring to Islamic seminaries in Pakistan where “they will be professionally trained as terrorists.” With the Peace Corps not hiring in these parts the only other realistic option for these boys is to become bloggers. And this just in. The kids are blogging in Cuba these days, but they are forced to do it in secret.
In response to these remarks, Wakil Ahmad Khan, (no relation to Chaka Khan) a top official at Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, says Pakistani madrassas “are doing a wonderful job by providing education to millions of students and if the Afghan officials have any such information, they should share it with Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.” Yes, they are doing a fine job in Pakistan. Nothing wrong with teaching hate because that’s what makes the world go around. And as long as Bin Laden is safe and well-protected in his three bedroom cave in those Pakistani mountains, then I’m happy.
Atmar predicted attacks on students and teachers would continue to increase unless the international community and the Afghan government delivered protection. Who knew birth control was even an issue? Still, overall there is good news in Afghanistan’s educational comeback since the days of Taliban rule, when girls couldn’t attend school and fewer than 1 million boys did. Some 5.8 million now attend class, up from 5.4 million a year ago, and 35% of them are female.
Here’s the bottom line on these fanatics. The Taliban are a ruthless bunch of women-hating misogynists who outlawed movies, television, satellite dishes, VCR’s, kite flying, the hanging of pictures and clapping during sporting events. Seriously. Women were forced to wear burqas which covered their entire body except for an opening by the mouth. That’s got to be tough when you want to work on your tan. We’ve got 28,000 troops there now and 3,200 more Marines are coming in April. I don’t envy their mission in Afghanistan and I’m very concerned for their safety and for all our troops fighting around the world.
Well, that’s a light, breezy way to start the week. I don’t normally like the pontificate on subjects that are so heavy duty but I didn’t want to let this one go by. Children have the right to feel safe, particularly when they’re at school. The world is a wild and crazy place so when you get in bed at night and lay your head down on the pillow and everyone in your family is warm and safe then count your blessings.
A Pacific storm blew in over the weekend bringing with it a giant swell with white capped waves battering the coast like Yankee hitters during the regular season. On Saturday morning before the storm hit there was a brief but dramatic sunrise that I had the privilege of experiencing. I think we’ll save that spectacle of color for
the first blog of March. So enjoy the clouds, enjoy the day and I won’t even mention my concern about the deterioration of our public school system here in the U.S. To quote one of my favorite bumper sticker-It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Enough said-there’s some sand action coming your way on Wednesday. See ya.