Friday, December 30, 2005


I did it. The lovely pink iPod is being retired. My son actually wants a new iPod, but I'm not sure that pink is his color. I'll see if he wants it, but I'm thinking our daughter is likely to score a slightly-stuffed 6 GB mini out of this deal. But the poor dear mini-pod just got too full to be useful to me. There was no room for my many yoga practices; some audiobooks that I want are just out of the question.... blah, blah, blah.... Best Buy had the 60 GB on sale and I went out and bought it. Just now. I'm fanning myself, like the good Southern belle I am, trying to avoid a fainting spell from having spent that much money on myself. What will people think? -the eternal question of Southern belles of a certain age ;) But it's done. I swear, I love this thing.

I'll save the world tomorrow. Today I'm downloading music.


Friday Random 10

Here we are again -the post after which I end up buying yet another $20 worth of songs, after I read everyone else's random 10 lists. You know the game. Take out you iPod; put it in shuffle mode. Tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones you think make you look cool.

Her are mine for the week:

  • Veni Sancte Spiritus; Taize
  • Do You Hear What I Hear; trad., Sally Rogers
  • Rambles of Spring; Tommy Makem
  • O Rey Chhori; Udit Narayan
  • No Easy Walk to Freedom; Peter, Paul, & Mary
  • O Virga Ac Diadema Purpurae Regis; Hildegard von Bingen
  • What It Feels Like for a Girl; Madonna
  • Peace Like a River; Paul Simon
  • The White Spirit; Uman
  • Needy Men; Amy Rigby

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Progressives: Take a Bow

I know we're not finished. I know there are hugely important things that the left has yet to accomplish. Getting a clear vision, for starters. Figuring out who's going to run for president, PDQ. Getting some people on the bench, for crying out loud. Tending to local politics. I know. Moreover, the Republican/religious right is doing things while we're sitting here -and I'm worried about those things, too.

But, just for today, let's look at what's happened. I was just at the coffee shop for lunch, allegedly taking time to write in my journal. But, I couldn't get started, so I looked at the entry for a year ago, today. The future looked really dim for us. However, since then, we've had at least the following things happen:

  • We might actually get an exit strategy for this war in Iraq. Even the Republicans want one now. I think that Cindy Sheehan gets a lot of the credit here.
  • Tom Delay hasn't resigned (yet), but the House Ethics Committee didn't get to ride roughshod over... you know... ethics and keep him in a leadership position.
  • Kenneth Tomlinson resigned as the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in spite of a heads-on effort from Republicans to decimate public radio and television.
  • Social Security is apparently not going to be privatized.
  • Nobody is going to drill (just yet, anyway) in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • The Patriot Act is finally getting the critical attention it should have had from the beginning.
  • The Violence Against Women Act was actually enhanced -didn't see that coming!
  • The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court didn't go so well.
  • The president is in deep trouble -even from his own party- for unauthorized domestic wire-tapping.

This could get to be fun!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Benign Spying?

I'm not convinced that this is a justice issue but it's been on my mind lately. Probably put there by the president and his "for our own good" spying program. Yeah, right, for our own good.

But in my wallet, you will find a grocery store loyalty card. And one for the coffee shop. And one for the sporting goods store. And probably others, as well; I'm too lazy to get up and go look. My car has an IPass glued to the windshield. I use all of them. But every time I do, I wonder why I do. I'm trading privacy for lower prices, and is that worth it?

I don't want to become a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. It must be said, however, that frequently when I dismiss some potentially invasive use of a technology as too outrageous to ever actually be used, sure enough it IS being used. Witness the government and radiation monitoring outside mosques. I don't really want to equate the grocery store with radiation monitoring; it's just that the intrusive use of technology is on my mind. I get it that the grocery store wants to monitor inventory and purchasing habits, but why do they need to be able to link that information back to me, personally? And really do I care if I get coupons for tofu printed on the back of my receipt? I lose the receipt, one way or the other.

And here's a hypothetical situation. At least I think it's hypothetical. The IPass (automatic toll-paying) technology could, perhaps, be used to intercept a child-abductor by tracking his or her car through the toll booths. (Although, knowing that, you'd be a fairly stupid criminal to actually use the tollways.) And wouldn't that be great? But it could also be used to figure out where I am and when -and hypothetical conclusions could be drawn as to why. And the fact that no one would bother to do that about me, because what difference do I make and I have nothing to hide in any case, isn't a good enough argument. If "they" are doing it to anybody, then everybody's rights are truncated.

Do you guys use these cards? Why or why not? Discuss. ;)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Restaurants and Recycling

In an effort to get me to stay awake and return to the schedule of a normal adult human, the long-suffering spouse and I just went out looking for coffee. I'll probably still fall asleep in a few minutes, but we did have an interesting conversation. We went to Starbucks, where there was no fair trade coffee in stock -again. So, we had juice. The juice was in bottles. We instinctively took the labels off and looked for a recycling receptacle. Nope.

I would have just rolled my eyes and thrown the bottle away, but Dave is more assertive. He asked the manager if there was recycling and sure enough, it's there for the staff. Which makes a certain amount of sense. But how hard would it be for them to put out recycling containers for the rest of us? I do know that it would generate more work, but it would also generate good will and a positive environmental impact.

We actually considered the possibility that there is some rule prohibiting recycling in restaurants, since we so rarely see it. But then I remembered that the bar we go to when we are in that kind of mood does recycle beer bottles. In enormous quantity. You should SEE their recycle bin! In fact, in some municipalities bars and restaurants are required to recycle glass.

What's missing (or my brain is still too fuzzy to do an effective google search) is a list of restaurants that have a particularly good reputation for recycling. This is the make-or-break justice issue for the long-suffering spouse. I'm not sure that it's mine, but it is important. Is there such a list? Or does someone here just know of a restaurant that is good about it? How might we advocate for improvement on this issue -after I take another nap?

And Darkness Covered the Earth....

All right.... All right.... I'm being a teensy bit melodramatic. I've just gotten sick with some bug that demands that I sleep 20 hours out of every 24. So that's why there's been light blogging activity. I think possibly I'm on the mend; I only slept 19 hours yesterday.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

I Got Tagged

Mike tagged me for a meme that's going around. Here are my answers. It was harder to do than I thought it would be!

Seven Things To Do Before I Die
  • live in Paris for a while
  • dance in pubs all over Ireland
  • use the same Ireland trip to really focus on fiber arts -and ignore other stuff (except the beer and the dancing)
  • learn to play the hammer dulcimer
  • another triathlon
  • go dancing in this ridiculous red sequin dress I have
  • write something of consequence

Seven Things I Can't Do
  • organize anything
  • salsa (the dancing kind)
  • any sport that involves a ball
  • run
  • behave like a good Southern girl for very long at a time
  • decorate my house
  • anything that says "some assembly required"

Seven Things that Attract me to Blogging
  • when I write, my thinking becomes clearer
  • finding a community of like-minded people
  • finding even more fun and fascinating internet resources
  • learning more computer skills
  • okay.... I like pontificating
  • it motivates me to do things I've meant to do for a while
  • reconnecting with old friends

Seven Things I Say Most Often
  • Oh, for the love of Mike.
  • fercryingoutloud
  • Where did I put my glasses?
  • Am I the stupidest person EVER???
  • What do you want to do about dinner?
  • Please God, tell me that's not the alarm clock I'm hearing.
  • Please come reach this thing for me.

Seven Books That I Love
  • The Odyssey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Enchanted April
  • Home Economics by Wendell Berry
  • Light on Yoga
  • Jane Eyre
  • On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

Seven Movies I Watch Again and Again
  • Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth!)
  • Emma (the BBC one)
  • An Affair to Remember
  • Casablanca
  • It's a Wonderful Life
  • Sliding Doors
  • Home for the Holidays

Seven People I Want to Join In, Too

Friday, December 23, 2005

Friday Random 10

I'm going down for the Christmas-count. Not nearly enough is pulled together for the big day. Not NEARLY enough. So thank heavens for a fun and easy post today!

Get out your iPod; put it in shuffle mode and tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding ones that make you look cool.

Here's my list:
  • Earth, Water, Wind, and Fire; The Belfast Harp Orchestra
  • Omnes Gentes Plaudite; The Mediaeval Babes
  • Air on a G String -a title that pleases my husband (insert eyeroll here); Bach
  • Requiem for the Giant Trees; Anne Hills and Priscilla Herdmann
  • Dona Nobis Pacem; Marty Haugen
  • Love is Blindness; U2
  • Welcoming; Michael Manring
  • Bengali Song; Nitin Sawhney
  • Nobody Knows Me; Madonna
  • Born on the Bayou; CCR

And I've been tagged by
for a meme; I'll get to that soon. I promise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Longest Night

Remember homeless people tonight. Every year since 1990, the longest night has been a time to remember homeless people who have died in the past year. I don't personally know any homeless people who died this year, but my life has been changed by homeless people who are now dead.

Ray Matthews lived to be almost 101; we met him when he was 96. As a younger man, he had been a piano teacher and he still occasionally played when we first met him. He never married, because as a young adult he was his father's care-taker. Somehow, he said, the time just got away from him. Our children were, perhaps, 1 and 3, when we met him, and I was maybe a ripe old 28. I realized at one point that from his vantage point, the kids and I were the same. I felt so grown-up and mature -but what must 28 look like from the perspective of 96 or 100? I was just a baby, and I think I needed to be reminded of that.

I was also a scattered and frenzied young mother, trying to do too many things and not doing very many of them well. Ray was a life-saver, especially with our young son. Nicholas would want to roll a ball back and forth with you forEVER. Once you started, it could be a long time before you could do anything else. Sometimes I loved that, and other times I needed to be doing about a million other things. But Ray knew that there was no more important place to be, and he would patiently and quietly roll the ball back to Nicholas for as long as Nicholas wanted. Life's too short to do anything else. That's what I learned from Ray.

Gary Olivero-Johnson was homeless voluntarily, in solidarity with the people who had no choice. He and his friend Barbara ran the Catholic Worker House in our neighborhood. Gary was about my age, maybe a little older. But when my thoughts were all about what my career would be and where would I go from here and what did the future hold, Gary's were about living a simple life almost completely off the grid. He wasn't paid for his work. He had to raise the money to keep the house open for all the homeless people it served. He had to beg, borrow, and dumpster-dive for food. He wore donated clothing just like everyone else. In fact, he was killed in a car accident on the way to pick up donated food from a restaurant on the north side of Chicago. He taught me that sometimes you have to stop fretting about things and wringing your hands and just do SOMETHING. It can be easy once you just get started.

I hope both of them are resting in peace. More than that, I hope they are celebrating together in joy.

If you want to help homeless people, consider the following ideas:
  • acknowledge their existence -meet their eyes -say hello
  • volunteer at the shelter
  • consult the shelter's wish list to see what they could truly use
  • offer services, e.g. tutoring, as well as "stuff"

If you want to help end homelessness, consider the following ideas:

Life's too short to do anything else!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Illinois Marriage Initiative

The six Illinois Catholic Bishops are urging Illinois Catholics to sign a petition legally defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman. (Yes, this was one of the things that sent me into a tailspin on Sunday.) They officially authorize us, apparently, to mobilize an effort to change the Illinois Constitution with the following amendment:

"marriage between a man and a woman [is] the only legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

Well now... nothing like challenging my intention to love the church again right off the bat. This has to go in that love the actor/hate the action category. I love you. You're acting like idiots.

First of all, you, my Lord Bishops, do not have the right to authorize me to act in the political arena. My power to do that comes from elsewhere -the Constitution and my citizenship. The corollary to your bizarre "authorization" would be that I shouldn't act politically unless you authorize it. Settle down. You're over-reaching.

Secondly, why do you want us to steamroll -and bankroll- this for you? Yes, I've read the catechism and the relevant passages on homosexuality. Even if I agreed with you -which I don't- that's still not enough to explain needing to act in the political arena. What about a homosexual partnership wanting the legal and social protection of civil marriage threatens anything about heterosexual marriages? For that matter, how does ANYTHING about the civil institution of marriage either help or harm the sacramental experience of marriage? They seem to me to have nothing to do with each other.

Yes there are threats to marriage. Some of them are societal -which isn't the same as saying they have political remedies. But trust me when I tell you that the important threats to a marriage are internal to the marriage. I've been at this enterprise a long time. When things are good, society doesn't get the credit and when things are hard society is very little help. And two women or two men would have a similar experience, I'm quite sure. A constitutional amendment would not -could not- help the people in your parishes struggling to live sacramental marriages as their vocation, their witness to the world. Really, we need help from you and this is not it.

The very most you can legitimately claim is a defense of denying homosexuals sacramental marriage. I wish you'd let that go too, and I think I can make a rigorous theological argument for that position. The fact, though, is you get to make that call. However, you're way out of line in wanting to make this a consideration for the body politic. And that's the charitable spin.

The less charitable, but equally explanatory of the data, spin is that you are willing to capitalize on some people's irrational fears about homosexuality to advance your own power. Why else would you use language claiming political authority which you must surely know isn't yours to take? What you ought to be doing is following your own teachings and challenging those irrational fears.

So, no. I won't be signing your petition. And I'll be working actively against it. And I'll be going to communion and struggling to live the life of a faithful Catholic. And, as has been true for most of my life, I'll be doing that without any help from the hierarchy. Shame on you.

VAWA Re-Authorized

In the "another small triumph" department, on Saturday Congress re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act. There were actually several small improvements in the bill, which surprised me. My prediction was that they would continue the old funding strategy, just to be able to fund something and begin the winter recess.

New features of VAWA include:

  • rape survivor services. Previously only rape prevention had been funded by the act.
  • housing provisions are greatly improved, including the possibility that a tenant can break a lease to flee an abuser.
  • allowing for the possibility of using a PO Box instead of a street address on legal identification. Some survivors of family violence really do need to obscure their address and now they can do that.
  • health care services, and
  • employment protection.

I'm still scratching my head over the men's-rights advocates' insistence on language "clarifying" that family violence services are gender-neutral. They've always been available to men, which I'm sure these advocates know. So, nothing changed, and they're claiming it as a big victory. Carry on, fellas. The rest of us have actual work to do.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Be The Miracle

Yes, there's a lot wrong with the world -and yes it's all inter-connected and very resistant to change. So sometimes the small things that we do seem futile and too little, too late. And oh yes, that gets to me sometimes. It's been getting to me a lot lately.

But let's examine the evidence. Things have changed. In the past year, I've started this blog, which fulfills a minor wish I had to do this kind of writing. And through this blog, I've re-located old friends, strengthened relationships with other friends, and made new ones. And if I know one thing from social work, it's that connections among people make the difference every time.

I've reduced my shopping at Wal-Mart, and thank heavens for that. (For the record, the bet with the boy-child that we would be at Wal-Mart fifteen times before Christmas -he is SO losing.) I'm buying much more locally and at cooperative-type places. I've signed on to be part of Community Supported Agriculture. I've switched to fair trade coffee -and thank Green LA Girl for that. I've reconnected with the political process, writing and calling my representatives somewhat more often than I had been. (And apparently so have other people been, or the Patriot Act and the Anti-Torture amendment would have met with different fates.)

No question, there's still a lot to do. But love resides in the will. (Who said that? Kant, I think.) It's a decision we make. And once the decision is made, actions follow. Yesterday I made the decision to reclaim my faith. Getting the actions and the emotions to fall nicely in line will be the project of a lifetime. Yet the decision was to love, knowing ahead of time that I'll be hurt occasionally, because NOT loving hurts more. Not loving sends me down a path I don't want to walk.

So, the parallel in social justice activism is to be the miracle. Be the change you wish to see. (HA! I know that one. It's Gandhi.) Just for today, let's not fret. Let's celebrate the times we've been the miracle and re-charge our batteries and enthusiasms so that we can get back to work.

After Christmas. I still have 4612 things to knit before Christmas ;)

What have you done differently this year?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

As we wait in joyful hope...

... for the coming of our savior.

We pray this prayer every time we go to Mass. And it's Advent, so we're waiting in a particular (only quasi-metaphorical) way for the savior. And it's Sunday, and what's a Sunday without me banging my head against the wall that is Catholicism?

Today's Gospel reading was Mary's Magnificat, which occurs in the context of the angel announcing to Mary that she will conceive a child whose name will be Jesus. And don't you just know THAT caused a few interesting conversations around the kitchen table? "Honest, Dad, there was an angel..." I don't mean that at all disrespectfully. Mary had HUGE obstacles to overcome, starting about 2 minutes after the annunciation when she, presumably, had to tell her parents that she was still a virgin and also pregnant. There's nobody divine at this point in the story, except for the baby -and he's not helping much just yet. So they probably ALL responded as people will to news that doesn't make much sense. Disbelief. Shock. Imperfection, in short. My guess is that this story got off to a rocky start.

Yet Mary is reported to have said "let it be done to me according to your word". Well, now. There are words to warm a feminist's heart. Or not. If I could take one sentence out of Scripture, this might well be it. (Although... there would be a lot of contenders for that excision, I have to say.) In my Catholic girls' secretly- feminist high school, the Magnificat was cast as a prayer of great power on Mary's part. That works for me, maybe, but it certainly hasn't been spun that way by most people over the centuries. Humble servant. Lowly vessel. Hardly descriptors of great power and strength. How far is it from "let it be done to me according to your will" to "whatever you say, dear" -or in the immortal words of Ingrid Bergman "you do the thinking for both of us"? In all seriousness, those aren't words I ever want to hear coming, say, out of my daughter's mouth. They aren't words likely to fall out of my mouth, even if it IS an angel standing in front of me. (Little wonder I wasn't the one chosen, I suppose.)

Here's how I make my peace with the Magnificat -and it's not quite peace. The angel offered Mary, a particular woman, a choice. She wasn't impregnated by a Zeus-like character marauding around the countryside, having his way with whomever was available. This turns out to matter to me. Moreover, the angel waits for Mary's consent. She had a choice. She accepted. I wish she'd used other words, but according to the story she acted from a place of personal power and made a decision. And that acceptance took her down paths that she didn't choose, couldn't have fully understood beforehand, and had repercussions forever. She chose to wait in joyful hope for the coming of the savior, in spite of knowing a little bit about how hard it was going to be. There's strength and courage in that.

Moreover, the Magnificat isn't just Mary's song. It's also, according to the catechism, the song of the church. Another story with a rocky beginning (middle and end, too). There's nobody divine in this part of the story, either. I mean -no person who is divine, literally sitting in the pews with me. It's just us. We mess things up all the time.

And it must be said, the church messes things up for women with some regularity. I know that and I keep going back. Is this madness? Why am I banging my head against this wall again and again and again...? I could be making another choice, after all. The particulars don't matter much, but believe me when I say it was a hard, hard morning at the old parish.

But here's what I'm going to try to do with the scant bit of Advent that's left. I'm going to try to wait in joyful hope for the church that lives its mission. I'm going to try to craft a church that lives its mission. I'm going to reframe this whole mess in my mind not as fruitless and bruise-inducing wall banging, but as the beginning of an "amen" -so be it. I AM Catholic.

Heaven help us all.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Random 10

You know the game. Put your iPod in shuffle mode and tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones you think will make you look cool.

Bonus round today: Tell us your most played Christmas song. Here are mine for this week:

  • Concerto No. 1 in E Major; Scarlatti
  • Symphony No. 6 in F Major (The Pastoral); Beethoven
  • Whose Garden Was This?; John Denver
  • Healer of My Soul; John Michael Talbot
  • On Namah Shivaya kirtan; Krishna Das and Shiva Rea
  • Peace Tonight; Indigo Girls
  • Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice; Gluck
  • Music in my Mother's House; Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert
  • Come Monday; Jimmy Buffett
  • How Can I Keep from Singing; John McCutcheon

And the most played Christmas carol is: Mary's Boy Child. Whew... I got away with a fairly non-humiliating list this week ;)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Well now, what do you know?

Sometimes, bless their pointy little heads, they get it right. This is the statement from the US Bishops regarding the proposed Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. Note well that they are stating what THEY think, not what we should think (lest anyone think this statement is a violation of IRS guidelines). Thanks to my buddies at the Vatican 2 mailing list for the heads-up about this.

Statement of Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
Bishop of San Bernardino, California
Chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration
in opposition to
The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005
December 14, 2005

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stands in strong opposition to H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to take up this week.

While the USCCB has great respect for the authors of H.R. 4437 and knows they are well intentioned, we believe that enactment of H.R. 4437 would bring about serious and severe consequences for immigrants and the nation. It is an extremely punitive bill which is far broader than illegal immigration and, if enacted, would unduly harm immigrants and their families, even those who are currently lawful residents. Moreover, the bishops are deeply disappointed by the bill's enforcement-only focus and absence of reforms in the U.S. legal immigration system that would address our current immigration problems more comprehensively.

Of particular concern to USCCB are provisions in the legislation that would:

*expand expedited removal;
*mandate the detention of aliens who are attempting to enter the United States illegally and are apprehended at a U.S. port-of-entry or along the international or maritime borders;
*expand the reach of offenses related to assisting persons who are unlawfully present in the United States and would subject these persons and entities, including humanitarian and church groups, to severe criminal and civil penalties;
*make it more difficult for long term residents to obtain citizenship and even restrict their ability to seek review of DHS actions or non-actions in District Court relative to their applications for citizenship;
*cause "unlawful presence" in the United States to be a crime, rather than a civil violation, as it is under current law; and
*bar refugees and asylum seekers from legal permanent residence and citizenship if they commit relatively minor offenses.

More specifically, the application of criminal penalties to individuals, including U.S. citizens, who assist aliens without legal status could jeopardize church programs which provide basic needs and life-saving assistance to these individuals. Current federal law does not require humanitarian groups to ascertain legal status of an individual prior to providing assistance. However, in our view, the provisions in Section 202 of the legislation would place parish, diocesan, and social service program staff at risk of criminal prosecution simply for performing their job. It also could apply to health care personnel or U.S. citizens who provide urgent or life-saving assistance to an undocumented individual.

H.R. 4437 has been presented as an antidote to our nation's immigration crisis. It is just the opposite. In reality, this legislation will only exacerbate the problem by driving immigrants further underground and compelling migrants in search of work to rely on ever-expanded smuggling networks to cross the border. A comprehensive solution to our immigration crisis, which includes legal status for migrants and legal avenues for migration, is needed to fix a broken immigration system that exists in our country today.

Ultimately, H.R. 4437 would not only harm communities and businesses, but it also would undermine our country's proud heritage as a nation of immigrants. USCCB asks that members of the House of Representatives oppose this measure when it comes to you on the floor. We also ask President Bush to publicly oppose the legislation and to request that Congress begin work on a comprehensive immigration bill which all Americans can support.

There's more information here: US Council of Catholic Bishops

White House Agrees to Anti-Torture Amendment!

Okay, I know there are still several problems, but I'm just tickled that the White House has agreed to most of the language in Sen. McCain's Anti-Torture Amendment. This is the White House, you'll recall, that had Dick Cheney campaigning non-stop there for a while to exempt CIA operatives from its application. And then Condoleezza Rice wore herself out saying, first, that rules against torture wouldn't apply to US nationals working abroad and then that we wouldn't ever torture and that everyone should just trust us. Uh huh... when pigs fly.

For the record, some of the challenges that still await us include:
  • the Graham-Levin amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill which chips away at habeus corpus, restricting the possibility that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay can have an independent review of the facts pertinent to their detention;
  • the administration has proposed changes even more alarming than Graham-Levin, barring the detainees at Guantanamo from seeking any practical relief from torture and permitting the government to use evidence gleaned as a result of torture.

If these latter changes are passed, there will have been no discernible point to the McCain amendment.

So... vigilance.... but also celebration. On some level, the White House has responded to bipartisan public pressure. The people have spoken. Good for us.

These guys know more about this issue than I ever will: Center for American Progress.

Same-Sex Orientation

Today's the anniversary of the day, in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association reversed its long-standing position and declared that homosexuality is not a mental illness.

The American Psychological Association (NB: different association) says the following:
Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgement, stability, reliability, or general social and vocational capabilities. Further, the American Psychological Association urges all mental health professionals to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.

You can read the rest of the position statement here: American Psychological Association.

On a structural level, there's good news and bad news. Ford Motor Company's decision to continue advertising in publications geared to gay people in spite of the American Family Association's threatened boycott is cause for some applause, I think. There's the positive spin that they stood on principle and did the right thing. And there's the slightly snarky spin that it's fun to watch the AFA get gonged for the second time. In any case, there's an on-line way to thank Ford for taking this stand, if you're so inclined. Go here: E-mail Ford.

In the bad news department, there's the Catholic Church. Last summer, the Pope described same-sex unions as "pseudo-matrimony" and an "expression of anarchic freedom". And of course, more recently, the bishops renewed the ban on the ordination of gay men to the priesthood. In its defense, the church has a clear position, too, that there is a deep respect for people who are homosexual and there are no circumstances under which discrimination and hatred would be appropriate. But of course, we're left scratching our heads for so many reasons. For one thing, it doesn't seem that calling a relationship "pseudo-matrimony" is entirely respectful or that banning gays from ordination is anything other than discrimination. Moreover, there's the fact that homosexuality is referred to as a tendency rather than an orientation. I have a tendency to put my elbows on the table, too. That doesn't define me and could be overcome. I have an orientation toward finding men sexually attractive; that's just the way I am. Are they subtly claiming that homosexuals could re-orient themselves? Bah! And the very-un-subtle and completely groundless attempt to link homosexuality and pedophilia should have been beneath them.

But that's systems. What do we do on a personal level? I honestly don't know, but two experiences come to mind.

I once interpreted at a conference for GLBT Christians. It was fascinating and exhausting. It also drew protestors from around the country, to stand out in the cold and make insulting comments about the people inside the building who were doing their very best to have a prayerful and supportive experience. On the way to my car, I was accosted by one of these protestors, who was totally abusive about my lesbianism. He KNEW that I was lesbian because I was wearing Birkenstocks. News flash: you can't tell a lesbian by her feet. There's less than no point in engaging with a person like that. There's no common ground to even support a conversation -no ability to hear each other. Bottom line, there's no mutual respect, which is a necessary precursor to conflict resolution. I walked to my car and ignored them. But what SHOULD I have done?

And secondly, there's a disturbing tendency among young people (maybe all people, but I hear it from young people) to say "That's so gay". I don't know what they mean by this, but I doubt that they mean strong, powerful, or interesting. In some contexts I can get away with asking for/requiring a different word choice. In other contexts, it's just being bitchy to do that. I do it anyway, because I'm pretty much okay with being known as bitchy, but what would a person more inclined to being nice do? What is the right thing here? And I do think we have to acknowledge that calling people on their word choices becomes exhausting pretty quickly.

Thought? Comments? I'm always open to your wisdom.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Music and Social Change

Bearing in mind that I don't know anything about this in a technical sense, it does seem obvious that music and social change can be linked. I was a little kid in the 60s, but I certainly know the music -and greatly prefer it to the music of my young adulthood. (What's to like about disco, when you get right down to it?) But it's more than folk music; there's Shostakovich and Prokofiev on the one hand, and Indigo Girls and Rage Against the Machine on the other. And Negro spirituals from the Civil War era... Bob Marley.... Pete Seeger...the list can go on and on.

Here's why this is on my mind. Amnesty International is sponsoring a new fund-raising campaign: Make Some Noise for Human Rights. It's music to download, and the money raised goes to support their human rights advocacy around the world. So far I'm not crazy about their choices, but that's neither here nor there. Well, on second thought, maybe it IS here or there. It seems somehow "off" to use music from the 60s and 70s to facilitate change now. Maybe we should be doing a better job of crafting our own music -but that's a project that you emphatically do not want me working on.

Secondly, I finally saw the film from Peter Miller, The International -which of course is a movie about a song. (You didn't need more evidence that I'm a geek, did you?) L'Internationale is/was the anthem for socialism, and the movie explores people's relationship to the song and how the song gave words to people's vague aches. It's a good movie. Really good.

And it won't surprise you to know that I'm writing this post while glued to my iPod. After I ran through my Christmas music, I switched over to one of my many "change the world" playlists. A quick browse through my music library reveals that I have playlists called: Building a Peaceful World, Feminist Anthems, Gentle Heroes (about heroes of social change, such as Rosa Parks), I've Had It! (anti-war stuff), Idealistic Girl, Rebel With a Clue, Save the World Music, and Uppity Women. And that's just the playlists; heaven knows how many songs are included. (Wow, I'm totally outing myself as a geek today.)

So, here's just one of them -Rebel With a Clue, because it's the shortest ;)

  • Harriet Tubman; John McCutcheon
  • study War No More; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • We Shall Overcome; Mahalia Jackson
  • No Easy Walk to Freedom; Peter, Paul, & Mary
  • Caught in the Crossfire; John McCutcheon
  • No Mas!; John McCutcheon
  • Oh Mary, Don't You Weep;Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Holly Near
  • Power and Glory; Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert
  • Lord Help the Poor and Needy; Kate Campbell

I'm not under any delusion that other people are quite this deranged, but you must have SOME music about social change. Spill! I'm always up for adding to my playlists.

By the way, it's Oh Mary, Don't You Weep that has one of the best lines in anti-war folk music:
It was Moses first proved the notion
that the world is safer with the army in the ocean.

It cracks me up every time I hear it.


The long-suffering spouse left me this note in my in-box. I'm afraid there's no attribution, but ya'll know that I could never be this witty ;) I'll try to hunt up the name of the person who is.


A tragic flood this morning destroyed the personal library of President George W. Bush. The flood began in the presidential bathroom where the books were kept. Both books have been lost. A presidential spokesman said the president was devastated, as he had almost finished coloring the second one. The White House tried to call FEMA but there was no answer.

Okay, I'll write about a real issue later, but I couldn't resist this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Well, it happened.

I told you it would. I went to Wal-Mart. The boy-child had a late hockey game last night and was certain that imminent starvation awaited him at his apartment if we didn't stop somewhere and get him food. I have to tell you though, I saw it with different eyes this time.

Because it was late, the staff was busy re-stocking the shelves. I saw a woman my mother's age (somewhere in the 65-70 range) pushing a heavy cart of stock while simultaneously pulling a grocery cart. She was all bent over from the strain, and the image in my head was of a woman in some developing country struggling to carry water for her family. She looked THAT strained. And guys older than I am stocking shelves. I was tired. I'm being a little melodramatic, perhaps, but it did not seem like a happy or healthy place.

$150 later the boy-child had food (So what does Wal-Mart care what I think, if I keep giving them $150 every so often?? Sigh.) and I'm sharing my concerns with the long-suffering spouse and the way-too-conservative boy-child. Nicholas (the boy-child) believes that we'll be at Wal-Mart 15 times in the next 2 weeks. No possible way, I reply. Dave (the spouse) says he thinks it's entirely possible. They both concur that last night counts for 3 person-trips to the store of doom.

So, they've thrown down the gauntlet. I certainly shopped today, but I made sure it wasn't at Wal-Mart -if for no other reason than I can't let them win. Hey, it's not pretty, but it's motivation!

Monday, December 12, 2005

All I Want for Christmas....

It's the race to recess for Congress. They have a lot yet to do and want to go home on the 16th. (Welcome to my world, but that's another post for another time.) And before they leave, they really ought to pass a budget.

We've talked about this before. The House version of the budget, in particular, has provisions that would devastate low-income families. The Senate's version wins no prizes for high moral fiber, but at least it's less bad than the House version. You know about the proposed cuts to food stamps, health care, and student loans, but there's more.

  • proposed cuts to foster care amount to $1.3 billion over 10 years and primarily apply to low-income families, particularly extended family members who have taken in abused, neglected, or abandoned children from their own families.
  • TANF work requirements have doubled for single-parents with children under 6 -from 20 hours per week to 40. Naturally, this increased work requirement comes without a corresponding increase in subsidized child-care. There's an "on the books" increase in funding for child-care, but given the enhanced work requirements, the end result will be 330,000 fewer children receiving subsidized child care.
  • And because that wasn't insulting enough, I suppose, the House has also proposed cutting child support enforcement, to the tune of $16 billion over the next ten years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this decision would result in $24 billion of uncollected child support payments.

Not to put too fine a point on it, here's what we have. A single mother with a child under 6 must work 40 hours a week. (By the way, I don't work 40 hours a week. Well, that's not true. I do. But full-time is actually defined to be 37.5, which is the same for my husband. In fact, I'll bet that's pretty common.) So, the single mom probably has to have 2 jobs to make the 40 hour requirement.

There's no more money for subsidized child-care, so maybe her mother takes in the child. (Because if somebody doesn't, we're going to put the kid in foster care as a neglected child.) But there's no money to support the grandmother for providing this service, either.

And, we aren't going to have the money to go after the absentee parent (and by definition there is one, or the person wouldn't be eligible for TANF in the first place), because child support enforcement has been cut.

So, she'll keep TANF, work two jobs, have her child in a precarious situation, and the father of the child will get off without paying a cent. Or, she'll get cut from TANF, still have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, have her child in a precarious situation, and have no access to child support enforcement.

I'm certainly glad the federal government is on the case.

Seriously... do we need more information to teach us that budgets are moral documents? People in this kind of no-win situation don't have the time or the energy to advocate politically. Please write to your Representative to suggest that for Christmas you would like a moral budget -one that doesn't place the most vulnerable citizens in no-win situations and then demonize them for not winning. Surely, we can do better than that.

By the way, the numbers came from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Trouble in "Paradise" -Faith-Based initiatives and Civil Liberties

I've written about this before (GW and Faith-Based Initiatives), but apparently we have to talk about it again

In 2001, Joseph Hanas, a 23-year-old Michigan resident, pled guilty to a charge of marijuana possession. He was sentenced to "drug court", which usually means counseling, a deferred sentence, and possible dismissal of charges if the counseling is successfully completed. This sentencing strategy is supposed to be a great resource for non-violent offenders.

But here's the thing. Mr. Hanas was assigned to the Inner City Christian Outreach Residential Program. Part of the treatment plan was, it seems, to cure him of his Catholicism, which was referred to as witchcraft (among other things). He had to surrender his rosary and his missal, and in order to succesfully complete the program he had to proclaim his salvation at the altar. The alternative was prison. Moreover, his family was told that he had "given up his right to freedom of religion" when he entered the program.

Mr. Hanas asked to be transferred to a secular program. The judge denied the request, although he conceded that Mr. Hanas was not being allowed to practice his faith and even opined that the Outreach Center was a church rather than a treatment facility since there are no alcohol or substance abuse counselors on staff. Nonetheless, it was determined that Mr. Hanas did not successfully complete the program. He spent 3 months in jail, then went to a boot camp program. After THAT, he received legitimate drug counseling.

And all this in the name of improved social services by using faith-based groups to provide some services. It has long been true that high-integrity social services can be delivered by religious groups. There are Catholic hospitals and Lutheran social service agencies. The Salvation Army provides food banks and disaster services. The list goes on and on. Many of these organizations have been getting federal grant money to do their work for a long time, too. So in a way, faith-based initiatives are nothing new.

But requiring people to abandon one faith for another or go to prison, THAT'S new. Calling something social services when there are, in fact, no trained staff members, now THAT'S a problem. This new faith-based initiatives effort is different in that money is flowing much more freely towards conservative evangelical Christian groups. These groups are of course free to believe whatever they like, and people are free to choose that form of religious expression. But, when people are sentenced to participation, that ought to raise a few red flags.

And I know that it will go the other way, too. Just as people can be coerced to religious expression, they can be denied services based on their faith choices. These agencies could refuse services to Catholics or Jews or Muslims. They could refuse to hire gay people or non-Christians or women, for that matter. And they could get tax-payer money for those efforts. THAT should give us pause.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Violence Against Women Act

Still sitting here with my coffee and my bagel, I get the idea for today. Here's something we can all do to affirm human rights in our communities (assuming we live in the United States, anyway).

Fifteen years ago, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act, which pays for training for first responders and prosecutors, funds shelters and other services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Funding for these programs is now at risk.

VAWA expired on September 30 and has yet to be reauthorized. Congress adjourns on the 16th. You see the problem. A version of VAWA has actually passed both houses, but until or unless they reconcile the differences between the two bills, nothing happens. So, one more time, drop your Senators and Representative an e-mail. If you want more information first, try this article: VAWA.

If you just want to get riled up, check out this quote from Phyllis Schlafly, who apparently thinks protecting people from family violence is the purview of radical feminists:
If Republicans are looking for a way to return to their principles of limited government and reduced federal spending, a good place to start would be rejection of the coming reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. It's a mystery why Republicans continue to put a billion dollars a year of taxpayers' money into the hands of radical feminists who use it to preach their anti-marriage and anti-male ideology, promote divorce, corrupt the family court system, and engage in liberal political advocacy.

She's writing her Congressional representatives. I'm thinking we should get to work.

And while you're at it and in the cause-y mood, watch the movie North Country. Really.

Let Us Be Clear: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10, 1947, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the full text of which can be read here: United Nations. With an impressive nod to the passive voice, they also called upon all Member countries "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read, and expounded".

We seem to be having a little trouble with Article 4 lately, I notice.

Human Rights campaigns launched this year include:
  • a new campaign to free cyber-dissidents in the People's Republic of China, the Maldives, and Vietnam: Writers in Prison
  • a seminar in New York on academic freedom in Iraq: American Academy for the Advancement of Science
  • Secretary-General Kofi Annan has a great paper re: torture in the modern world: Combating Torture
  • and in Geneva, there was a gathering re: protecting the human rights of people with mental disabilities

These events are a little heavy on the academic end of things. As fascinating and important as that can be, we arguably need to do more than sit around a table and define the terms of the discourse. How might we proclaim, defend, even celebrate human rights in our daily lives?

And why does so much of the political right think we shouldn't defend or even acknowledge this document, in particular, or universal human rights more generally? I really do know their argument, but honestly... how do they look themselves in the mirror when they're brushing their teeth?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Which Jane Austen Character are You?

Well, I'm delighted to be Eliza Bennett. A pair of "fine eyes", indeed! ;)

I found this quiz on Breadchick's blog, and it seems especially germane given the conversation that started in the comments on my "despair" post. Thank you all for your help, by the way!

Elizabeth Bennet
You are Eliza Bennett from Pride and
! Yay, you! Perhaps the
brightest and best character in all of English
literature, you are intelligent, lively,
lovely-- in short, you are the best of company.
Your only foibles are that you stick with your
first impressions... and your family is quite

Which Jane Austen Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

My family's not intolerable, by the way. A little overwhelming perhaps, but quite tolerable.

Friday Random 10

Excellent! I get to return to blogging with a fun post! Here's the game. Take out your iPod; put it in shuffle mode. Tell us the first 10 songs that appear -and no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones that make you look cool.

This week there's no Emmylou or Indigo Girls, for a nice little change of pace ;) And there's lots of stuff borrowed from other people's Random 10 lists. Ahhh.... further evidence of mimetic behavior!

Here it is:

  • La Vie en Rose; Edith Piaf (borrowed from Breadchick's list last week, I believe)
  • Baby's Waking; Eliza Gilkyson
  • Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel; George Winston
  • Be Thou My Vision; 4Him (this one is borrowed from Kellie's list)
  • The Women Gather; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Sacco's Letter to his Son; Pete Seeger
  • Talk Like That; Kelly Willis
  • No Stranger; The Buck Buckley Band (which is my sister and her husband and their friends)
  • Mothers, Daughters, Wives; Priscilla Herdman
  • The Bike Song: Kate and Anne McGarrigle (also borrowed from someone's Friday list -Sophie's list, I think)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No Post Today

Today involved a many-hour dental drama -root canal and crown. I swear by all that is holy if one more person said "Oh, WOW! Would you look at that! What a mess." I was going to consider dangerous action. But now I'm home and intend to get up close and personal with my share of a bottle of wine, and then go to bed. I'll be fine, if somewhat more odd-looking than usual, in the morning.

We'll get back to saving the world then. See if you guys can't hold down the fort until I get back!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What Prevents Despair?

I'm not going to jump off a bridge or anything, but this morning's news is enough to send a sane person 'round the bend. How do you avoid the temptation to just throw your hands up and say "Well, they seem to like this handbasket and the path to hell, so who am I to try to stop them?"

Except the "them" in this mess is "us" -meaning the body-politic- and "us" includes me, and I'm not so okay with hell and handbaskets. So I guess we soldier on. But really.... here's what awaited me in this morning's news aggregator.

NPR reports that Condoleezza Rice is busy telling people that the United States' treaty obligations ban us from using cruel practices. Last week, of course, the Bush administration was saying this ruling did not apply to US nationals working abroad. So, at one point or another, they were obviously lying, but we knew that. (And, by the way, I really wish NPR would provide text copies of their articles in addition to the audio. But I'm clearly grouchy this morning.)

The New York Times has two stories this morning of innocent (the innocence admitted even by the administration) people being detained by US Immigration officials, spirited away to foreign jails, and tortured. But our treaty obligations prevent us from doing that. I'm SURE that's what I was told this morning.

An AP/Ipsos poll indicates that a majority of Americans support torture in rare cases. Excellent progress in the war on terror, Mr. President. We're becoming the thing we hate.

And the Kansas City Kansan reports that a student was suspended from school for 2 days for speaking Spanish at recess, which, by the way, doesn't violate any rules. "We're not in Mexico" was the principal's explanation. Oh, that's edifying. Spanish is actually taught at the school in question. Would students be suspended for practicing their verbs at lunch-time? Somehow I doubt it.

The Christmas fa-la-la factor is a little low here in the cornfields this morning. In all seriousness, how does one -how might I- forestall exhaustion and frustration?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Montreal Massacre

On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine killed 14 female students at L'Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Thirteen other students were wounded. He then killed himself. The whole thing took 45 minutes. He had applied for admission to L'Ecole Polytechnique but had not been admitted, a decision he blamed on affirmative action policies. The suicide note he left pinned on his body gives us a hint of the rage he directed toward women and feminists.

Please note that if I am committing suicide today ... it is not for economic reasons ... but for political reasons. For I have decided to send Ad Patres the feminists who have ruined my life. ... The feminists always have a talent for enraging me. They want to retain the advantages of being women ... while trying to grab those of men. ... They are so opportunistic that they neglect to profit from the knowledge accumulated by men throughout the ages. They always try to misrepresent them every time they can.

suicide note quoted from: Gendercide

He murdered female students who, for him, symbolized a threatening new development. Yes, he was a survivor of child abuse. Yes, he was a troubled person. Yes, many men are good and would never consider violence as an alternative.

But here's the thing. Violence against women is hardly rare. Women murdered by men -men they know and may even love- aren't even rare. These murders in Montreal were yet another expression of the terrible misogyny that women deal with every day. When half the population is vulnerable, can the other half really be entirely innocent?

What would the world look like if good women and men were truly partners? How would the world and individuals have responded to the Montreal Massacre if women and feminists weren't only victims, but also political allies? In the short term, I'll settle for less. What if the women who cry "feminism" when it's time to interpret events such as these weren't labeled as shrill or bitchy, but were respected as intellectual allies?

I'm not male-bashing here. I'm the daughter of a man, the wife of a man, the mother of a man, sister to more brothers than any human needs, and friends with still other men. I'm trying to figure this out.

All I have so far is that we should remember not merely as an act of moral vigilance, but with a firm political conviction that things should be different. Otherwise, those 14 women died for nothing, and they deserve better than that.

Let Them Eat Cake???

Apparently, that's what the House of Representatives thinks should happen.

The House passed a budget reconciliation bill that would push more than 220,000 low-income, working families with children off of food stamps. The Senate, however, passed its version of the budget reconciliation bill with no cuts to food stamps. Now the bill goes to a conference committee, and it becomes important that members of Congress hear from us that the final reconciliation bill should include no cuts to food stamps.

Hunger and food insecurity are increasing, to our public shame. USDA recently released information that the number of people in the United States living in households struggling to put food on the table increased by nearly 2 million people (from 36.3 million individuals in 2003 to 38.2 million in 2004) last year. This is the fifth straight year showing an increase in food insecurity, and this year's increase is sharper than in previous years.

Moreover, since the most recent data is from 2004, these numbers do not reflect the increases we expect to see as a result of this year's hurricanes. Congress must address the hunger problem in our country - not take food away from hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who struggle daily to feed their families.

While the House leadership continues to urge Members of Congress to accept the deep cuts to food stamps and other safety net programs, they are simultaneously pushing for $70 billion in tax cuts which primarily benefit the wealthy and further add to the deficit.

Yet, the Senate has demonstrated that it is possible to make budget cuts without pushing people off of food stamps. Therefore, your timely call in the next few days is urgently needed and can make a real difference for hungry and poor people in the United States.

Please call Representative Dennis Hastert by 5pm Thursday, December 8. The capitol switchboard can be reached at 1-800-826-3688; just ask to leave a message for Rep. Hastert. Urge him to oppose any budget that cuts food stamps. Our nation's budget should help, not harm, hardworking people struggling to feed their families.

Monday, December 05, 2005

An Alternative to Wal-Mart

I've fretted before that our local choices are not great -and I have no particular affinity for spending more money on toiletries etc... for no particular reason. There is an alternative, though -sort of. There is a Costco in Naperville -and according to Buy Blue via 20/20, Costco has a much more progressive business plan.

  • the lowest employee turnover rate in retail
  • higher than average wages, $17/hour
  • real (as opposed to Wal-Mart's largely fictional) health care benefits to 90% of its employees.

The model for shopping there is like Sam's Club; there's a $45 membership fee. So it would take a while to realize any savings. And we would definitely have to drive, so ethically we'd have to factor in the gasoline and environmental costs of driving. Here's my wild scheme of the day (what would a day be without Andrea coming up with something to make life more complicated???).

We have in this town two shelters (for humans... this idea could get even bigger!): one for people who are homeless and one for survivors of family violence. Buying supplies for these shelters is a huge undertaking. (I wonder how much toothpaste gets used in a year at the homeless shelter.) They could be encouraged to move their shopping away from Wal-Mart and towards Costco. Moreover, we could extend the obvious carpooling idea to include families who have recently moved from these shelters into their own homes. While my family car wins no "sexy car" prizes, it IS reliable -which frequently can't be said for the families at some economic risk.

And here's another thing... When families in emergency come to my church and ask for assistance, they typically receive Wal-mart gift cards. I don't even like the idea of giving assistance that ties people to one way of constructing a solution to their troubles. But, that said, I really really don't like having the church's money tied up in Wal-Mart. And I have yet to construct an idea that would both fly with the hierarchy and be the ethical and helpful choice for the clients. Still working on that.....

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Expanding Universe

This link is to a visual representation of the sphere of influence of the religious right: Expanding Universe. It will make your hair curl. If you're a visual thinker, this is a nice representation of what's-connected-to-what in their very inter-connected world. You might particularly look at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (I'm emphatically NOT providing a link; look for it on the lower right of the universe chart.) which denounces feminism in Christianity, and points particularly (in one article, anyway) to.... the Catholic Church. The mind reels.

Here's a question. I've always thought that the political and religious left was un-organize-able. We value diversity, plurality, possibility rather than premature closure when it comes to ideas and theories, and we don't want to lose that. So we can't rival the right in marshalling the "troops" on behalf of our ideas.

But.... it's the political left that thought up labor unions. It's the religious left that brought us base communities. We can organize when we need to, or want to, or choose to. Why can we do it sometimes and not others? Might there be a way to organize us for massive political change, after all? Can we reclaim the discourse, with genuine thought regarding, for example, religion and democracy in a way that does more than mask hatred with pretty words?

Thanks to Activism Blog for posting this graphic before I did.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Let Us Remember

25 years ago yesterday, two Maryknoll missionaries, one Ursuline nun, and one lay missionary (Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan) were raped and murdered in El Salvador. Much later, 5 U.S. trained and funded Salvadoran National Guardsmen were convicted of the murder, with credible evidence that the murder was not random, but planned and coordinated from high in the government.

I've said it before, I know. But really.... the women and men who work for justice are doing work that challenges established "truths". They can be perceived as threats to the "truth tellers" of the day -the people in power, I mean. Sometimes the end is tragic, even if it was also predicatable. These justice workers should be remembered as heroes, every bit as much as the soldiers who die for their country in the armed services.

What they have to say to all of us is too precious to be silenced. They would say, I imagine, that the world remembers their names because they were North American. Their fate was no different from the fates of thousands of others -except those deaths remain anonymous to us. To be a witness to something true and beautiful -whether or not it's strictly speaking "religious", as their work certainly was- you have to get up and do something. Do anything. As Dorothy Kazel said, "Be an alleluia from head to toe."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Random 10

It's Friday -time for our public confession of the guilty pleasures we hide on our iPods. Put your mp3 player in shuffle mode and tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding the ones you think will make you look cool.

Here are mine for the week:

  • Why Do Little Girls...?; Harry Chapin
  • Christmas in the Trenches; John McCutcheon
  • Mitwa; Udit Narayan
  • Dimming of the Day; Emmylou Harris
  • You're No Good; Linda Ronstadt
  • Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major; Beethoven
  • Requiem; Gabriel Faure
  • Radha Kaise Na Jale; Asha Bhonsle
  • Rain Chant; Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • Patria; Ruben Blades

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Stop AIDS - Keep the Promise!

Today is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to remember those we've lost to this disease and also to assess our global progress towards controlling this pandemic. Amnesty International is sponsoring two things you can do today to help hold governments accountable for their role in controlling the spread of the disease.

First: there is an on-line discussion at noon, eastern time, to consider the relationship between violence against women and HIV/AIDS. They will also discuss the international health policy of the United States. Follow this link to ask a question or to monitor the discussion: AIDS discussion.

Secondly, take action to nudge the United States and Uganda to generate a more proactive and responsible AIDS policy. There is a serious condom shortage in Uganda, and it appears that that may be a deliberate policy decision on the part of the Ugandan government. Moreover, global health policy of the United States is undermining AIDS prevention efforts there and in other countries that depend on U.S. foreign aid. Learn more about this issue and take action, if you choose to, here:
AIDS prevention.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Responding to the President's Speech

While the President seems determined to stay the course (however poorly that course is defined) in Iraq, it also seems clear that most Americans want troops home in 2006. And members of Congress are re-examining their earlier support of the war, as well.

For the next two weeks, MoveOn is sponsoring a petition drive to express -yet again- our concern that there needs to be an exit strategy for this war. They're planning a nationwide round of deliveries while the Members are in their home districts. The thinking is that each Congressperson is trying to assess whether or not the national numbers supporting the war (as in 2/3 of us DON'T)are reflected in his or her district.

Here's a link to the petition: MoveOn Petition.

Here's an interesting article re: our strategy in Iraq. I learned much more from it than I did from the President's speech -and no one could "accuse" this guy of being a bleeding heart liberal!: What's Wrong?.

The President's Speech

I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. I didn't even want to listen to it - so much so that I took a shower that I knew would be cold, in order to drown out his voice droning on at his oh-so-choreographed public relations jaunt at the Naval Academy.

But, I found myself later at the White House website, reading the transcript and later, thinking about it. Blast! Not that I'm going to have the definitive response; I'm not sure I have a cogent response at all. But we -the body politic- must talk about it.

On some level, he told us to.
So, today we're releasing a document called the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. This is an unclassified version of the strategy we've been pursuing in Iraq.... I urge all Americans to read it.

So, I did. I had a dentist appointment and I knew they'd keep me waiting. I'm on the third part of the grand total of four. I've learned who, apparently, our enemy is. This dreaded enemy has multiple dimensions or faces, but it's not who we were told at the outset, interestingly enough. I've learned all kinds of things in this glorified press release, except.... when do the troops come home. The President will accept nothing short of complete victory in this war, so the troops can't come home until then.

So, what's victory, you ask? Well, there you have the problem. Victory is defined for the purposes of his document; it has multiple parts as well. It's just that victory is defined with only the vaguest reference to the stated enemy. Am I missing something? It seems to me that victory in the context of war means vanquishing some kind of enemy. But here we have an enemy, it seems, a war, and a definition of victory that have very little to do one with another.

As a student paper, I'd give it a C-. You actually have to read it carefully to realize that there's no underlying logic. Someone went to a lot of trouble to make it seem that this plan hangs together logically. So, I wouldn't fail the paper, just based on the effort. But, this isn't cute or funny. It isn't even mostly a logical undertaking, as much as I value those. People are dying, we have a military presence in a country where we've already been asked to leave, and we were never "welcomed as liberators" as we were promised. So, the fact that his definitions and outcomes don't match isn't the primary issue.

On the other hand, the fact that it's so blatantly logically flawed tells us that the enterprise is doomed. Which we already suspected, heaven knows. So, the question on my mind is, does he really not know this? Without sashaying into treason or libel -or just malicious behavior- do we really have a President who believes his own rhetoric? The thought beginning to creep in at the edges of my consciousness is that there might really be mental health/social work issues here -and that doesn't help me to sleep well at night.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Good News!

Thanks to Mike and Kellie for this news.

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia has granted clemency to Robin Lovitt, who was scheduled to be executed tomorrow. His sentence has been commuted to life in prison.

1000th Execution -Enough, Already!

As I write this post, the 999th execution is probably taking place. John Hicks was scheduled to die at 10:00 eastern time, this morning, in Ohio. Tomorrow night, Robin Lovitt is scheduled to be executed at 9 p.m. (eastern) in Virginia. It's an eerie and disturbing thought that someone is being executed, in my name, right this minute.

For Robin Lovitt, the case against him is acknowledged to be weak and the evidence circumstantial. The DNA evidence that might -or might not, I suppose- have exonerated him was accidentally destroyed by a court clerk. Two eye witnesses to the crime couldn't identify him. There are no fingerprints linking him to the crime scene. The primary person linking Lovitt to the crime was a fellow inmate.

John Hicks presents a more ambiguous case. A cocaine and alcohol addict, he admits to murdering his step-daughter and his mother-in-law as part of a convoluted plan to get money for more drugs. The murder of his step-daughter was particularly brutal. Yet, the jury was not informed that intoxication may be considered as a mitigating factor for premeditation -and premeditation is important if a death sentence is to be imposed. There's also a mental health diagnosis which might preclude the possibility of premeditation. Moreover, the jury was told that the decision of whether or not to impose the death penalty resides with the judge, which strictly speaking, isn't true. So, guilty? Apparently,yes. Fairly tried and deserving the death penalty? Obviously, this is a moral decision on my part, and people are free to disagree with me. But I vote no.

I don't want to minimize the pain that these people (may have) caused. My mind reels at the thought of having to deal with the murder of a loved one. I've watched friends have to deal with that -and deal with it gracefully and beautifully, I might add. But I'm not at all sure how they pulled it off. For that matter, I'm not at all sure how they manage to get up in the morning.

But I am sure that, were I to be the one killed, I wouldn't want the killer to be killed as well. I can say with certainty that adding to the death toll would not be what I want. It's a step toward truly disarming my heart, I suppose.

In the meantime, if you're so inclined, here's a link to Sr. Helen Prejean's prayer for the night of executions: Prayer for Peace.

If you want to take more politically-oriented action, try this link: 1000 Executions.

If what you're really interested in is prison reform, try this: Prison Reform.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Did You See This?

The local consensus (well, consensus-minus-one, since I disagree) is that I'm only stunned by this because we don't have television. Therefore, when I DO see TV, I'm more susceptible to its messages. Tell me what you think -but please be on my side ;)

It's one of the Wal-Mart Christmas commercials. A little boy is opening Christmas presents in a sort of happy frenzy, only to discover that he got underwear and fruit and school supplies. Then we flash to his bedroom, and he wakes up and realizes that it's all a nightmare. He really got all kinds of toys -obviously from Wal-Mart- and the gifts of things he needed were just part of a bad dream.

I don't even know where to begin to unpack this. First, there are plenty of children who will be getting things they need and they'll be delighted. Secondly, are parents who can only afford needs rather than wants supposed to believe they are providing a nightmarish Christmas? Thirdly, a hundred years ago, kids got an orange in their stocking and were thrilled. What happened?

And finally, I reject the notion that children are naturally crass consumers, driving the spending of the family disposable income. We've all seen the exact opposite a hundred times. You buy a baby or a small child something, and she plays happily with... the box it came in. In fact, the long-suffering spouse reports that three new toys have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame: Candyland, the jack-in-the-box, and the large appliance-size cardboard box. That simple brown box is still, apparently, play-yard gold. Children can be happy with very little. They have to be taught to be consumers and allowed to become rapacious at it.

And maybe the reason that we parents let children learn this kind of behavior is because places like Wal-Mart encourage us to believe that we're less than optimal parents if we don't indulge their every whim. Of course, on most levels, we know better. But parenting is a project that creates its own vulnerabilities. We compensate where we shouldn't, sometimes.

So, what next??? Turn off the TV. Don't go to Wal-Mart. Put an orange in your kids' stockings. Let go of shopping as a recreational activity. Surely there's more than that we can do, without becoming Jerry-Falwell-esque "they're trying to steal our religious holiday" grinches.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Aung San Suu Kyi

I heard the news on NPR this morning; Aung San Suu Kyi will serve at least another year under house arrest in Myanmar. The most recent news I read indicates that the government has not confirmed this extension of her house arrest, but police cars were seen entering her neighborhood this morning -the day last year's house arrest order would otherwise have expired. You can read more of her story on line. Try wikipedia to get the background, Amnesty International to update yourself on what's being done to free her, and NPR for more updated news as to her status.

I have more personal reflections about what I've learned from her. I've never met her; she's been confined in her home for 10 of the last 16 years, after all. But she did work briefly as a social worker in New York. That little piece of her I do know.

Everyone knows that some people have it hard and some people have it easy. Social workers are the ones who say, "No- I'm not okay with that." (I know we're not the only ones who do this.) In that small way, I submit that we're subversives. We want to subvert the system that doesn't work for so many people.

If we're doing the work well, we're looking at some hard questions. Why are there so many poor and abandoned people? What is due to workers and to people who are unemployed? What is the relationship between political, economic, and social justice, and between these ideas and the common good? These questions might sound boring and pedantic, but really they're fascinating. They are, however, threatening, because when answered they're going to mean that we can't go on living the way we'd been living before.

Social workers try to make a world where there's some congruence between what we as a nation say and what we do. We do this work in different ways, of course. Only sometimes does social work frankly subvert by trying to change the economic or political structures that oppress. Clearly, that's the path that Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen.

But if we want to subvert one dangerous thing, we have to be sure to create something of merit to take its place. A world that makes sense for all its inhabitants, perhaps? That may sound like a spiritual project, and for some of us it is; Aung San Suu Kyi has written eloquently herself about the "essential spiritual aims" of the struggle for justice in Myanmar.

So, what it comes down to is this: the work that social justice advocates do is dangerous. It may or may not be politically dangerous. We may or may not have to face the consequences of our actions as starkly and bravely as Aung San Suu Kyi has. But the fact is, we're trying to change the world.

So, when you meet burnout in your life -and you will- try to remember her witness to something more important. She no longer has the option of just quitting. She faces the consequences of working for justice every single minute. The very least we can do is get out of bed in the morning and try to make things better for somebody.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

The 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence runs from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, through December 10, International Human Rights Day, thus linking the idea of eliminating gender violence to human rights. Moreover, this time of gender activism crosses World AIDS Day (December 1) and the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. (December 6).

Imagine a world where we didn't have to explain any of this. Just imagine. So, what can you do to move us closer to that day? What can I do?

Most of the ideas for official participation in the 16 Days campaign are for national governments or at least large entities. However, I'm more interested in what I can do, and what I can encourage other individuals to join me in doing. Here are some completely random ideas to get us started. I'm hoping for more from all of you.

I can "call the question" when people make jokes or comments that are abusive of women. Sigh... yet another opportunity to be a bitch.

I can avoid patronizing vendors whose advertising demeans women.

I can start sharing some of this information with my church, to see if they'll take any appropriate action. I've got to figure out how to do that in a way that's not antagonizing. That may be beyond my powers. I can always get someone else to do it ;)