“You can judge a society by how it treats its prisoners.”

~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

For most of my adult life I have wondered, often aloud and in classrooms full of inquisitive young people, if we’d have cured cancer, hunger, and violence by now, not only as a society but as a species, if only those who came before us: revered Biblical characters, followed by great kings, intrepid explorers, pen-flourishers, founding fathers and the like, had held even a base level of respect for women. Orwell nails it when Old Major intimates in Animal Farm that “man is the only creature who consumes without producing,” though I am as convinced that this is a matter of choice as I am convicted about its accuracy. We don’t have to be like this, selfish, violent, fallen—rather we choose to be. And as crass as it feels to quote J.K. Rowling these days, it is our choices, rather than our abilities, that define us. For the vast majority of human existence, men alone have made the meaningful choices and impactful decisions, effectively holding the child-bearing half of our population hostage to our barbaric, typically misguidead and antiquated ideals in one society after another all around the globe. If this sound a bit like self-loathing, well, just remember that I have a daughter. In this nation, women have had the vote for all of a meager century, though admittedly in others they fare far worse. Not only is Afghanistan one such place but, even despite the horrific occurrences in Iran of late, every indication that manages to reach my news feed would suggest that they may still be the very worst.

The news this week from Afghanistan wasn’t good, of course, though it almost never is which I hope suggests that remarking upon it now means that it’s awful even by the incredibly low bar set by the Taliban over the course of the past year. Women in Afghanistan have now been completely expelled from university. This, of course, comes on the heels of their expulsion from secondary school, and while I hate the Taliban with the burning, murderous passion I normally reserve for rapists and racists, it can’t go unremarked upon that the only reason they’re in power is because the United States—run mostly by greedy, corrupted men in my view—flippantly reneged on our commitments to the nation and enabled an inevitable terrorist takeover of the democracy we had not only installed but were in theory and obligation if not in practice committed to maintaining. My stomach never ceases to summersault each new time I think about it. I’ve copied a short blurb-article below from CNN about this week’s events. Please don’t fail to notice that it’s blurb five out of five, which is the norm when it comes to American news channels reporting on Afghanistan, a phenomenon somewhat akin to the New York Times burying information about the Holocaust in the latter pages of their publications until late in the war.

5
Afghanistan   The Taliban government has suspended university education for all female students in Afghanistan, the latest step in its brutal clampdown on the rights and freedoms of Afghan women. The US condemns “the Taliban’s indefensible decision to ban women from universities,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday. Girls were previously barred from returning to secondary schools in March, following monthslong closures imposed after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. The Taliban have historically treated women as second-class citizens, subjecting them to violence, forced marriages and a near-invisible presence in the country. Women in Afghanistan can no longer work in most sectors, require a male guardian for long-distance travel and have been ordered to cover their faces in public.

I walked two-and-a-half miles on Monday, studying Spanish on Duolingo as I did so. My streak has long surpassed a hundred days, y yo aprendo espanol mas y mas con cada dia nueva. Maybe next I’ll study Pashto. Tuesday I was going to go for a run with my Teammates mentee, with whom (and it bears mention at his suggestion) I’ve signed up to run the Lincoln Marathon in May, but a powdery layer of snow settled atop a layer of ice deterred us and we spent the afternoon drinking cider and hot cocoa and discussing his first semester of college, global climate change, and current affairs by the fireplace in my living room instead. There will be time enough to train in the new year. With only a little more than a week left in the year I’ve decided to shut it down for the rest of the year, and by “it” I mean my legs exerting themselves more than is required to transport the rest of my body to and from a vehicle or my children’s sleds to the top of a hill. In the time since then I’ve managed to shake the aches that plagued my hips, my knees stopped hurting and my toenails have started to grow back, and while I feel a bit lazy and lethargic—a feeling greatly amplified each time I eat another Christmas cookie or pour another glass of wine—my legs are resting up and promise to fully mend.

They’ll need to for the year ahead.  A roundtrip flight to and from Sacramento for $168 was more than enough encouragement to get me to sign up for the Napa Marathon in March; the registration fee was actually significantly more expensive than the flight, but I’ve always wanted to run that one. In April I’ll pace the Olathe Marathon, my first full marathon as a pacer. In May I’ll run LNK with my mentee. In August, inshallah (Lord willing), Sioux Falls will check South Dakota off my list, bringing my number of states up to nine. In October, I plan to run KC and Des Moines with Scott and Tiffany in the I-35 Challenge again. And in late November or early December, I’m planning on the NYC Marathon if I can get in, St. Jude for a second year or perhaps Dallas if I cannot. I’d hoped to sign up for OKC and Fargo as well, but conflicts have pushed them off to some undetermined year in the future. I’ll make up those lost races, however, with a slew of 10K’s, 10-milers, and half marathons that promise to keep me busy and, with a little luck, shed the weight of all these Christmas cookies as I run them.  It’s been a great year for me for running, in large part thanks to you all for following along. Thank you.

As I finish writing this, I look over to my left. My wife is driving us north for Christmas. She was educated at the same university that I was, she’s quite successful in her field and, best of all, I’ve always been in awe of her intellect. I’m a reasonably bright person, and far too educated, and I’ve always been grateful to be married to someone who is at least my equal and probably my superior if I’m being candid. Behind us, our son is napping and our daughter is coloring and sneaking cookies from a plastic tub. She smiles up at me impishly and I smile back at her in the mirror. At two years old she was already one of the strongest people I knew, and now at the age of five I wonder what she’ll do with her impressive combination of creativity, intellect, and willpower. She is forceful and strong-willed; nobody tells my daughter what to do, not even me, and I love her so much for it. Even more, I’m grateful that she’s growing up in a country where she can freely attend school and acquire the education that, combined with her formidable ensemble of powerful character traits, will turn her into a force for good. Inshallah.

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