Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Lesson of Egypt

I've been fascinated by the events in Egypt in the last year; they've been one of the participants in "The Arab Spring."

My interest in Egypt is, in fact, nothing new. When I transferred to Eastern Illinois University in 1981, I had plans to go there for a year and transfer to the University of Illinois to study Biology. This changed when I took one of my prereq courses, a Political Science course taught by, believe it or not, a professor named Faust.

Looking back, I know now that it was that class that led me to get a bachelor's and then a master's degree in Political Science. I hadn't been so fascinated in anything in years.

One October morning, as Dr. Faust was dismissing class, a guy ran into class and blurted out that Anwar Sadat had been assassinated. Everybody who was left in the class stopped and talked about it. I was hooked.

Three and a half years later, I wrote one of my Master's papers on Gamel Nassar, the first President of Egypt. It originally started with Samuel Huntington's idea, one of the ideas put forth in Samuel Huntington's classic "Political Order in Changing Societies," that sometimes military rule-- temporary military rule-- can be one of the means by which a society can establish the order by which development-- political, social, economic development-- can begin. Nassar started out as an idealist young military officer overthrowing the corrupt king of Egypt.

My faculty advisor encouraged me to base my Nassar paper on how much he followed the imperatives outlined in Huntington's book for the leaders of developing countries to stay in power. The idea was that they in order to enact change they must stay in power. But we all know that this is not necessarily always the case; Egypt's Mubarek stayed in power for three decades and little changed. Reading the accounts of the power struggles after the fall of Mubarek, it's like reading my Master's paper again; the military, the Islamic Brotherhood-- all the same players.

Nassar took the tack, which Huntington described, of creating an outside enemy. In his case, it was Israel. This was, of course, disasterous. Israel soundly thumped Egypt-- and several other countries allied with Egypt against it-- in 1967. And again, after Nassar was dead, in 1973.

In my Master's paper, I tried to compare Nassar to then-current leaders. Presciently, as it turned out, I compared Libya's Ghaddafi to Nassar (Ghaddafi was open about his admiration for Nassar). It turned out that the comparison was pretty apt. Ghaddafi, in his reign, more than four decades, was able to maintain power, but did not develop the government and social institutions that would allow Libya to thrive. Libya is suddenly a nation of armed gangs. Not a promising prospect.

The other person I compared Nassar to was Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. On May 15, 1979, Rawlings attempted to overthrow the extremely corrupt government of Ghana. His attempt initially failed-- Rawlings was court-martialed and sentenced to death-- but a group of military officers succeeded in overthrowing the government and rescued Rawlings.

Rawlings, who was then only 31 years old, led a military council, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in cleaning up the government. Rawlings then stepped aside for an elected government.

However, in December of 1981, Rawlings, unsatisified with the progress being made, overthrew the government again. Like Nassar, he ran for president (Rawlings would finally retire from the military in 1992). He won, with 58% of the vote. He would serve as President until 2001. He was prevented by the Ghanian Constitution from running again.

Was Rawlings successful? The fact that the Constitution actually prevented Rawlings from running again might be a measure of that success. Ghana is still poor. It is staggering, like many developing countries, under a lot of debt.

A book I picked up at a used book store years ago, one I've been reading on and off over the years, is about the resumption of civilian rule after the military coup that overthrew the government of Nkrumah, the Ghana's first post-colonial ruler. It's the kind of book that, probably, only someone like me, who has a Master's degree in Political Science would find fascinating. The upshot of the book is that the military voluntarily relinquished power in Ghana because as an institution, it did not have the attributes needed to process the conflicts and needs of a society. It's actually an amazing story. It plays into the ideas that Huntington brought up-- ideas that we're still trying to deal with today. What happens first-- political and social order followed by economic progress or vice versa?

Looking at Somalia now, or the horrific violence the engulfed Yugoslavia after its dissolution in the early nineties, one wonders if a bad government is better than no government. The military government of Egypt is finding the hard lesson that so many militaries have discovered in the 20th and 21st centuries-- indeed, what the United States discovered after easily defeating Iraq and Afghanistan-- that it's easier to overthrow than to govern. In the end, while a leader may stay in power, using the imperatives of Huntington, Machiavelli, Sun-Tzu or anybody else, in the end, if a society that does not have a form of government in which the needs and dreams of its citizens cannot find a way, or in which its citizens cannot even express those things, it is probably doomed. In the end, it may be Winston Churchill who said it best:

"Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."*

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Delayed Friday Random Ten

I'm on call tonight-- so far haven't been called in yet. I worked over 40 hours this week, so it's a win/win-- either I get called in and make time and a half, or I don't and have a night off.

There's been a lot going on at work-- I've alluded to it previously. They've picked a bad time to be giving us a hard time; with the economy improving, the hiring has ratcheted up. Classmates who'd been struggling to get jobs, are being hired now. For my part, I'm keeping my head down and using this time to increase my skill set in order to be ready for my next job.

1. Good Old Rock and Roll- Quicksilver Messenger Service
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water- Simon and Garfunkel
3. Little Queenie- Chuck Berry
4. I'm Five Years Ahead of My Time- The Third Bardo
5. New Lace Sleeves- Elvis Costello
6. A Hard Day's Night- The Beatles
7. Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)- Steely Dan
8. One of these Days- Ten Years After
9. Get Off My Cloud- The Rolling Stones
10. Wishing the Days Away- Billy Bragg

1. QMS came out of the rich sixties San Francisico scene.
2. Still remember a great bit in the early days of Saturday Night Live where Charles Grodin wore an "Art Garfunkel" wig and imitated Art, while harmonizing with Paul Simon. Art Garfunkel came out and took over-- after confiscating the wig.
3. Bob Seger did a great cover of this one on his "Live Bullet" album.
4. From the great "Nuggets" garage rock collection.
5. Elvis Costello doing his best Burt Bacharach impression. Not that that's a bad thing...
6. Gotta watch this movie again soon.
7. From Steely Dan's debut album, which is, believe it or not, 40 years old.
8. Used to hear this one late at night on the local prog-rock station when I was in high school in the late seventies.
9. One of the Stones' funnest and funniest songs.
10. From "Talking To The Taxman About Poetry," one of my favorite albums of the eighties.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Flexible Friday Random Ten

My day today required flexibility. I was scheduled to do dialysis on two people. I couldn't get the access (an arterio venous graft) to work on one patient, and left word with the doctor. I packed up and went to my next patient. At the end of treatment, I discovered that they are mother and son. At 72, the mother has lost both legs to uncontrolled diabetes. The second one must have been recent-- the staples from the amputation are still in. The son, who is 45, has lost one. Both are obese; he weighed over 500 pounds. It was really, really sad.

Since I did not do one of the treatments, I was sent to another hospital to do another patient I'd tried to treat on Wednesday. A doctor was supposed to put a new venous catheter in at 4 pm. I got to the hospital about 4:30 and it was not done. In fact, the doctor was not even at the hospital. I ate my lunch-- which was now really a dinner-- and discovered that the doctor was still not there. I was sent home at 5:30 with my boss' blessings.

My immediate boss, the one who is a nurse and not an accountant, was there, having met with the big chiefs of the hospital chain that is our main account. The other nurse who was waiting for the same doctor to put a new catheter in another patient and we got to chew the fat with our boss for about 45 minutes and get the skinny on what's going on. It put me at ease-- for now.

If there's anything I've discovered is that to be an acute care dialysis nurse, I have to be flexible. And that I am.

Tomorrow I'm working-- the first Saturday I've worked in a while. Tonight I'm meeting some classmates for a drink. I've got to take it easy since I'll be working 12 or 13 hours tomorrow. But tonight, it'll be good to catch up with my classmates, who have all got jobs now. I'm looking forward to hearing about their experiences, good and bad. And I suspect they've learned that they need to be flexible in their jobs as well.

1. Too Much Too Young- The Specials
2. Make Me Smile- Chicago
3. LIttle Bit O' Soul- The Music Explosion
4. Fallout- The Police
5. Tighten Up- The Black Keys
6. Only Women Bleed- Alice Cooper
7. I Say A Little Prayer- Aretha Franklin
8. Psycho Killer- The Talking Heads
9. Living For the City- Stevie Wonder
10. Autumn Leaves- Tony Bennett

1. Love, love, love that first Specials record.
2. The great thing about being middle-aged is not having to make excuses for loving big old dumb pop songs.
3. Great mid-sixties one-hit wonder
4. A Police B-side
5. Love the video for this one
6. Alice Cooper's grown on me over the years. Didn't hurt that he had a great time lampooning himself in "Wayne's World."
7. Grew up listening to my dad's copy of "Aretha's Gold."
8. My kids love this song since doing it in "Rock Band."
9. This song is still powerful today.
10. Tony's still on my "Bucket List." Gotta fix that this year.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Groundhog's Day

I think I've mentioned this before-- the movie Groundhog's Day has a local connection-- it's only a few blocks from where I live. Most of it was filmed in the town of Woodstock, Illinois, a town that is about 50 miles north of Chicago. However, the scene in which he saves the life of the town's mayor, who is choking in a restaurant, was filmed at a German restaurant that is gone now, Hessberger's, at Lincoln and Cullom Avenues in Chicago. This is how it looked then.

I happened to pass by it today while running errands. It's now a popular restaurant/bar called The Bad Apple that has a great beer selection, and from what people have told me, good food. I've only been there a couple of times for drinks. When I was still in nursing school, and we were still in our old place, I used to walk or bicycle past it on the way to and from work 4 or 5 times a week.

It was recently the 20th anniversary of the release of the movie Groundhog Day. Though I like Harold Ramis, the director, and the actor Bill Murray, it's not one of my favorite movies, though I like the message-- that sometimes we have to keep doing it over and over again before we get it right. It has a personal ring for me lately-- although I'm not too happy with my current job, I do love my profession, nursing.

Tonight, I was texting with my buddy Brent and discovered that he had an interview offer in a telemetry unit. He was going to pass on the interview and I talked him into going to it-- and taking the job if it's offered. It's a step up-- it'll increase his skill set and get him ready to do anything-- being a regular floor nurse, ER, ICU, etc. It also reinforced my decision to start looking for another job.