Monday, October 31, 2005

Felon Re-Enfranchisement

I don't know where these trains of thought come from, but lately I've been on a tear about voting rights. So, this information from Agenda for Justice caught my eye. The European court of human rights declared that denying prisoners the right to vote violates the European Convention on Human Rights. This ruling affects 46 countries, and of course the United States isn't one of them.

Not that we care in the slightest what other countries do, anyway. Nor, of course do we have anything to learn from anyone else (turning sarcasm off now.)

In the United States we have 2 million people in jail. Many states (13, actually) continue to deny voting rights to convicted felons long after their sentences are served -possibly another 2.5 million people. Check out your state here: Right to Vote. These numbers create a staggering reduction in the number of people eligible to vote, and, it seems to me, a corresponding reduction in legitimacy of anyone elected.

It gets even more tangled. A recent study suggests that Latinos are more likely than the general population to lose the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. Moreover, states with high non-white populations are the ones most likely to adopt restrictive re-enfranchisement laws. And we already know about the racial statistics of who's in jail. Does anyone see a pattern here? It's not hard to spot.

So, what do we do? I need to learn more before I do anything, so that's my commitment. But, here are some general ideas. I got a great deal of this information from The Sentencing Project. One can sign up to get advocacy information, which is what I will do. And, if there's a grad student out there looking for a research project, they also offer small research stipends. The link is a pdf file, but here it is: Research Grants

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Still More in the Surreal Department

I feel like I've lost my blogging "voice" a little bit lately. What I want to do is muse about ways to make things better. I want to be part of that small thoughtful group changing the world. What I am doing is spending all my time sputtering in amazement at the craziness around me. We'll see if I can get back on topic in the coming week.

But first, some more in the "top this" department.... I mentioned recently that there was a housing bill before the House restricting access to funds for non-profits that have registered people to vote in the last year. It passed, by the way, which really ought to be crazy enough for anyone. But no.

This amendment to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bill was added at the encouragement of the truly scary Republican Study Committee (follow the link cautiously.... it's not good for your blood pressure), and one of the approving members of this committee is Piyush Jindal, an Indian-American former Hindu (now conservative Christian) who is apparently unphased that the agenda of the RSC would have terrible consequences for non-Christians and people of color.

Hold that thought in your head for just one second... there's more.

Moreover, there have been other attempts lately to restrict access to voting. In 2003, South Dakota required a voter-ID, clearly (intentionally?) minimizing Native Americans' access to the polls. I just heard this morning that the Georgia rule requiring photo ID to vote was struck down, but they gave it a shot. Virginia had some recent issues with denying students the right to register to vote in local elections and went so far as to post armed police officers at some polling places. Here in Illinois the Republicans tried to prevent voter registration at the DMV, and in a way they succeeded. And there's always the interesting question of whether or not convicted felons should permanently lose their right to vote.

So, here are my two questions for the day.

I get it that women don't have to be feminists and black people don't have to be members of the NAACP and people with same-sex sexual orientation don't have to be politically defined by that. But, but, but.... (I'm sputtering again) why don't they/we WANT to be? This is a serious question. Someone make me an intellectually rigorous argument defending this position, because what it feels like is glorification of the argument suggesting that once my rights and privileges are secure it's okay to turn my back on people who look and act like me.

And secondly, what is it that conservatives are trying to conserve, exactly? I've lost track. Maybe I'm naive (okay, take out the "maybe"), but it seems to me that conserving/protecting/defending the right to vote ought to be what conservatives are jumping up and down about. I can easily construct the outline of a media campaign using their jargon that is all about opening up the polls to all citizens. Defending the Constitution.... honoring the patriots who died earning this's not hard to come up with slogans. What are they doing and how are they getting away with it? I really want to know.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Off On a Tangent

Everyone else is going to be blogging about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and possibly still Harriet Miers, and almost everyone is more qualified to do that than I am. So let's leave them to it. I'm a little concerned that a few other things are going to go unnoticed in the fracas.

For one thing, I can't quite let go of this Davis-Bacon Act thing. Perhaps it felt like the White House was adding insult to injury to reduce the wages of the people trying hard to recover from a devastating hurricane and devastatingly inept disaster responses at the federal level. I've recently learned that the decision to end the suspension of Davis-Bacon was more tangled than I had thought. (WHY am I continually surprised by this stuff???)

Last Thursday, Rep. George Miller from California filed a joint resolution under a little-known and never-used provision of the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which allows Congress to rescind a national emergency declaration made by the President. Apparently, President Bush was in such a rush to cut workers' wages that he did it even BEFORE he had officially declared a national emergency.

Remember, he was vacationing on his ranch and dithered about the declaration, waiting a day to declare ANYTHING and then leaving out the counties that had been hardest hit. They weren't declared until the next day. And THEN he abandoned his vacation and went back to Washington. But somewhere in there he did have time to suspend Davis-Bacon. So the President's suspension of this act may have been illegal and may not provide any protection to the contractors who had been acting, they thought, under its authority.

In any case, acting on Rep. Miller's resolution would have required a floor vote of the House by the second week of November. That vote became unnecessary when the President decided to end the suspension himself. One has to wonder why he did that. It seems to me that he felt threatened by *gasp* a united Democratic front (unfortunately not our strong suit), a small group of Republicans, religious groups, and labor. It was take action himself and pretend like he always meant for the suspension to be temporary, or face having it over-turned.

We Democrats need to do this united front thing more often. It actually works.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Random 10

Here's the game: Take out your iPod. Put it in shuffle mode and tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out songs that make you look like a total dork or adding songs that will make you look cool.

Here are mine for this week:
  • A Country Dance/Nonesuch; Trapezoid
  • Why Am I Painting the Living Room?;Lou and Peter Berryman
  • Ready to Run; Dixie Chicks
  • If I were Brave; Jana Stanfield
  • Riverdance; Bill Whelan
  • Cartwheels; Patti Smith
  • The Beatitudes; John Michael Talbot
  • Sonata in E; Scarlatti
  • The Ring Song; Krishna Das
  • In Trutina; Hayley Westenra

Thursday, October 27, 2005

October 27, 1659 -Let this be a lesson...

William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, two Quakers who came to the colonies to escape religious persecution, are executed in colonial Massachusetts. It seems they ran afoul of the law prohibiting Quakers from entering the colony under penalty of death. Because why would the Puritan colonists who came here to experience religious freedom themselves extend it to anyone else?

Do you suppose the problem could have been the Quakers' rejection of centralized authority, their commitment to sexual equality, or their opposition of slavery? Naahhh.... probably not.

Sigh... we've always done a disappointing job of living up to our ideals, I suppose.

Still thinking....

I know... I know.... a good person would blog about Harriet Miers today. I just don't know what I think yet. My only thought so far is that her nomination was reviled, in part, as the bizarre act of a president who values loyalty above, say, qualifications. I'm sure she withdrew at the request of the White House. I don't KNOW that, but it seems probable. And if so, we may still have a president who values loyalty above competence... but he doesn't value loyalty as much as we thought. He surely was willing to throw her under a bus rather than deal with the fallout of a failed Supreme Court nomination.

And now what? A nominee even further to the right? This just keeps getting worse and worse.

I promise to muse some more and come back with reflections with some actual substance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rescinding of Davis-Bacon Act Rescinded

Having trouble following that? I don't blame you. I told you what the Davis-Bacon Act was back here: Oh, For Crying Out Loud. Essentially, this law requires that federal contractors pay workers the prevailing wage for public construction projects. President Bush thought it made sense, post-Hurricane Katrina, to rescind that law. People had lost their homes and their employment and pretty much everything else, too. So, naturally he didn't think that starting over was going to require more than minimum wage employment. (Maybe I should have stopped that sentence after "he didn't think.")

Today, however, the White House issued a press statement indicating that the law would be re-instated on November 8, 60 days after it was rescinded. The White House spokesperson suggested that the suspension was always intended to be temporary. Could be, but in the original announcement it was described as "open-ended" and a letter to the Labor Department last week said it could last as long as a year. So, it surely seems that the definition of "temporary" changed rather abruptly.

Everyone and his brother is accepting the credit for causing this reversal in the President's position. I don't care who gets credit; I'm just glad it's changed. I bet, though, that the meeting today with pro-labor Republicans has the White House the most scared. The announcement came shortly after that meeting. Still more evidence, as though we needed any, that even the President's base is turning away from him.

2000 Casualties Vigil

CNN reported the grim news yesterday; 2000 American soldiers have now died in Iraq. I'm heart-sick. I'm frustrated. I'm horrified. What have they died for, exactly? Does their suffering and the suffering of their families mean anything?

In response to this sad milestone, MoveOn is organizing candlelight vigils for tonight. I can't host one, due to the sad fact that the long-suffering spouse and I are both sick. It feels like our entire house is a Petri dish of flu germs; you do NOT want to be here! However, I don't think we're stumped.

Anyone who reads this blog and is so inclined is invited to join me, in spirit, at 6:30 tonight. Light a candle and reflect on these words:
Litany of Ashes and Stones, in memory of the dead of 9/11/01 and all victims of terrorism and war

For vibrant lives, suddenly and shamelessly sacrificed, we lift up the ashes of our loss, O God;
For the lives that continue, haunted forever by the pain of absence, we lift up the ashes of our remorse, O God;
For the conflagration of flames and the nightmare images forever seared into our memories, we lift up the ashes of our pain, O God;
For the charred visions of peace and the dry taste of fear, we lift up the ashes of our grief, O God;
For all that has been destroyed in the fire of anger, we lift up the ashes of our disillusionment, O God;
For all the deaths that have been justified with the arrogance of patriotism and fanaticism of ideology, we lift up the ashes of our shame, O God;

As we cast these ashes into the troubled water of our times, Transforming One, hear our plea that by your power they will make fertile the soil of our future and by your mercy nourish the seeds of peace.

For the ways that humanity pursues violence rather than understanding, we lift up the stones of our anger, O God;
For the ways we allow national, religious, and ethnic boundaries to circumscribe our compassion, we lift up the stones of our hardness, O God;
For our addiction to weapons and the ways of militarism, we lift up the stones of our fear, O God;
For the ways we cast blame and create enemies, we lift up the stones of our self-righteousness, O God;

As we cast these stones into the ancient river, transforming One, hear our plea.

Just as water wears away the hardest of stones, so too may the power of your compassion soften the hardness of our hearts and draw us into a future of justice and peace.

-Rev. Patricia Pierce, pastor of Tabernacle Church, Philadelphia

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Women of Substance and Power

I just heard that Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement, died this morning. We all know the story. She refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, was arrested and jailed, and intentionally or not provided the spark that ignited the civil rights movement in Alabama and throughout the South.

Her story was that she was just too tired to get up when the white man demanded her seat. You can read her account of it all in her book: Quiet Strength. I wonder, though. I certainly don't think she was dissembling, but I do think she didn't give herself enough credit. If you're that tired, don't you back away from confrontation? I would. Yet she found the strength of character to do the right thing. Her genteel, gentle power revealed itself to all of us that day.

Sadako Sasaki was really just a little girl when she died (50 years ago, today), but she has become an international symbol for the peace movement. She was two when the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. When she was 11, she was diagnosed with leukemia, then called "the atom bomb disease." Her friend told Sadako about the legend that a person who folds 1000 paper cranes would be granted a wish. She folded well over 1000, as it happens, but she didn't realize her wish to run again.

There is a memorial to Sadako in Japan (and one in Seattle, too). The inscription at the Japanese memorial reads:
This is our cry.
This is our prayer.
Peace in the world.

I think Mrs. Parks would agree. Rest in peace, you women of substance and power.

Learn to make paper cranes here: Folding Paper Cranes. Read more about Sadako in this book: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Registering People to Vote Must be Stopped?????

Because why would we want people to do that?

A new affordable housing-fund bill (H.R. 1461) will be considered by the House of Representatives in the next few weeks. Buried within that bill is the provision that non-profits can't take advantage of this pool of money to help their low-income clients if they have engaged in voter registration or any other non-partisan voter participation activities in the last 12 months. They would also be barred from those activities during the grant period, even if non-federal funds were used to pay for those activities.

The key here is non-partisan activities. Most non-profits are already barred from issue-specific lobbying. But registering people to vote? How can that be construed as a bad thing in a representative democracy? Why would we discourage this? (I really do know the answer, but I'm stunned that the administration would be so up-front about this.)

The thing is, housing advocates and their clients really do need the money the bill would provide. So, if you feel moved to send your Representative yet another e-mail, perhaps the message should just be that we would like the voter registration restrictions removed from H.R. 1461. Well, that... and who the heck do you think you are, anyway, restricting voter registration?

Okay, maybe not that last part.


A Year of Living Generously...

...or "another act in the Andrea-gets-a-wild-idea" play. This one could be interesting, though.

Obviously I'm pulling this idea from the book A Year of Living Dangerously by Christopher Koch. (I'd link to the movie, but it's got Mel Gibson in it and he's currently in my "ignore" file. Three guesses why.) But the book is about becoming radicalized and doing the small next-right-thing. (And then reverting back to the big gesture and getting killed. We're going to skip that part.)

But what if, for the next 12 months, we explore ways of living generously? One focus per month. And then we could work on it together. With help and a feeling of community, we might move slightly closer to actually implementing real changes in our lives and for the world. My experience is that changes that feel huge often aren't. And they're easier yet when there are other people along for the ride.

It doesn't make a boatload of sense to start this sort of thing in November, I know. The first of the year is just around the corner, after all. But this is me. By then, I will have had and discarded (or completely forgotten about) dozens of ideas. And besides, there's merit in starting now. Two months from now, two months will have passed and we could have been making progress all that time.

I need to figure out what "generous" means in this context. I need to think up 12 ways to do that. I'm seriously thinking small, but intentional, meaningful... and possibly something I've been putting off doing because it feels too hard. I'm open to any and all ideas. Comment away... I need you!

Moreover, there could be many "years" here. There could be the year of living justly. The year of living courageously. The year of living graciously. The year of living intentionally. A year of living gently with the earth and other people. Heck, this is me. We could have several years of living competently, just to shake things up a bit.

But why am I completely unmoved by the idea of "a year of living efficiently"? Or, "a year of living in an organized way"? I'll think about that some more, but I suppose it's because my project here is to change the world. And who really cares if I live inefficiently or my closets are a jumble? Not me, as it turns out.

In the "giving credit where credit is due" department, the basis for this idea came from my yoga-buddy Loretta. She has had our yoga-circle working on a monthly yoga focus for almost a year now. She publishes inspired monthly guides for our yoga practice, and then we go off and do the best we can. It's made a difference in my practice. To read her work, go here: Yogalila. While you're there, remind her that she needs to compile these monthly guides into a book ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2005


It's a little hard to read. To see it better, go here: Pat Oliphant Comics. It's from October 17.
I almost spewed my coffee the other day when I read that Harriet Miers thinks that President Bush is the most intelligent man she's ever met. If it's true, that is just tragic.

Odds are good that President Bush hasn't read The Federalist Papers, but I'll bet that someone in his office reads The Washington Post. Here's hoping that word gets back to him that the gloves are off out here in the cornfield.

Thanks to the long-suffering spouse for pointing this cartoon out to me.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

Famous Too Late

Everybody's heard of her now. LaShaun Harris didn't take her medicine to control the symptoms of her schizophrenia, heard voices telling her to throw her children in the San Francisco Bay, and she did it. As far as I know, the bodies of two of the boys are still missing, but presumably all three children are dead.

For the record, I could probably go down in history as the biggest lover of children that ever lived. The idea of three dead children makes me want to howl at the moon in grief.

At the same time, though, I'm disturbed by the fact that the wharf is now turning into a little shrine. People are leaving flowers and other mementos in honor of the missing boys. Where were any of us when she was trying to raise those children, homeless, with a severe mental illness, and an abusive partner who admitted to the national news that he was violating the order of protection against him?

This kind of tragedy doesn't happen in a vacuum. There is a web of societal failures that culminated in this horrible day. Why does ANY 16 year old get pregnant? Why do we tolerate and wink at domestic violence? Why do orders of protection only work when they're violated -and then only sometimes? Why do we still not have anything other than the most primitive of drugs to control schizophrenic symptoms?

It's not that I'm a weak-minded bleeding heart liberal who only wants to divert blame from a murderous mother. To tell you the truth, I'm not terribly interested in whether or how much we blame the mother here. I do think feminist jurisprudence has fascinating and powerful points to make, but my interests are different. The only thing we can do now is learn something from this and prevent the next desperately ill and socially bereft mother from killing her children. And the questions raised by her actions are profound.

How do we ethically offer services to someone when the services we have are themselves so debilitating? Can we force a mentally ill mother to take her meds? Can we take her children into protective custody just because she's mentally ill? LaShaun Harris had -I'm pretty sure this is true- never hurt her children before. Child Protection clearly can't comment about that, but no one interviewed suggested that there had ever been child abuse before. Ought we force people to accept shelter?

These questions all have currently-legal answers, which may or may not be satisfactory to you. But the answers suggest to me that, even had LaShaun Harris become famous through some miracle before she drowned her children, we still might not have had anything substantive to offer her. We probably could have postponed this tragedy. We might even have been able to mitigate it a little. But we would just have replaced it with other tragic outcomes.

So, I suggest that we take at least one more step back. Why are the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness women? There's something a little facile about a society that systematically truncates women's experiences and devalues their contributions, then wrings its hands and frets that doing so has such drastic consequences. Although the impulse is good, we need to do a whole lot more than leave flowers at the wharf. First, we need to offer real, meaningful help to people who are mentally ill, before they cause and endure even more pain. Secondly, we have to create a just world where people don't have to face such abject powerlessness. It sounds grandiose and ridiculous, but that IS the project, or more people will become famous too late.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Friday Random 10

Here's the game: take out your iPod and put it in Shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair adding songs that you think will make you look cool or leaving out the songs that make you look like a total dork. Here are mine for the week:

  • Finlandia (live version); Indigo Girls (a total favorite!)
  • Golden Cradle; Emmylou Harris
  • Co-Dependent with you; The Chenille Sisters (ahem... dorkage!)
  • Sangye; Kirby Shelstad
  • Concerto No. 24 for Piano and Orchestra; Mozart
  • Zydeco on the Bayou; Terrance Simien and the Mallett Playboys
  • Ave Maria; Still Pointe (sung by a friend of mine!)
  • Sweet Home Alabama; Lynyrd Skynyrd (for obvious reasons -being a displaced Southerner is a large part of my self-image)
  • We Are the Ones; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Me Myself I; Joan Armatrading


Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Heart-Broken Priest

Check out this open letter from a priest who's tried to fight the good fight: Leave of Absence Letter. Parts of it broke my heart. Part of it infuriated me (extra credit for those who guess that part). But mostly, I'm just worn out.

I have my issues with Voice of the Faithful. I'm close to the most anti-clerical Catholic I've ever known. It's not pretty or laudable, but there it is. And yet, I'm still moved by his letter -at least a little bit. I have more thinking to do on this subject, clearly. And I will, just as soon as I get back from a meeting. Hold me to it, please.

In the meantime, I just wanted to get this letter "out there" a little more. Let me know what you think.

Okay, I'm back. I don't know anything at all about this priest -the author of the letter- except for the clear fact that the hierarchy and its dissembling (to put it charitably, which they have NOT earned) re: the sex-abuse scandals have worn him to the bone. For that, he has earned some charity from me. I don't know how the good priests manage the day-to-day grind of their work environment.

And supporting those good priests is explicitly part of the mission of Voice of the Faithful. One might think that I'd be knocking down their doors. Their motto is "Keep the Faith. Change the Church". They want nothing spectacular -just a church that lives out its mission and where the priests don't prey on small children. Surely that's not threatening. And of course bishops are prohibiting them from meeting on church property. You'd think I'd be a member for that reason alone ;)

But I'm not a member, and I think, in part, it's because they would be satisfied with so little. Here's what I want, and I think I'm in good company.

A gospel that does not unsettle,
A word of God that does not get under anyone's skin,
A word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed.
What gospel is that?

- Archbishop Oscar Romero, April 16, 1978

Moreover, and here's where this gets controversial and I'm a little uncomfortable with my own argument.... I see no reason why even a church reform movement has to be priest-centered. Can't we think outside THAT box for just a tiny minute?

For a little while, I was willing to go into this crisis in the church with banners waving. I was willing to do what they taught me, to name injustice where I saw it and to work to change it. But this is far from the first time that I've tussled with the institutional church, and I've never won. Someone else is going to have to be the standard bearer on this one.

I don't feel defeated exactly -just unsurprised at this scandal and a little disturbed by the fact that other people are surprised. I'm certainly not bored with or indifferent to the suffering of individuals. But I'm a little indifferent towards the political machinations of the bureaucracy and the corresponding actions of the people hopeful of change. They (the hierarchs) have the church they worked for. This is the structure they worked to build and preserve. Until they're working to build and preserve something different, I guess they still want this one.

Even the good priests benefit from all the power and privileges that we allow priests -and which we, in large measure, pay for, by the way. So the good guys are out there, being pastoral and gentle, working for justice in third world countries and building homes with Habitat for Humanity, and occasionally remembering that women are part of God's creation and that feminine pronouns aren't swear words or heretical.... If only such a cleric would show up in my life.

And yet, what is he doing about changing the hierarchical church, which has allowed, condoned, winked at so much evil? When I see a little more of that -and this priest/author is at least giving it a shot- then perhaps I'll be a slightly less anti-clerical Catholic. And my hope in the unsettling Gospel that they preach will increase.

House Un-American Activities Committee

On this day, in 1947, the House of Representatives opened public hearings into alleged Communist influence in the motion picture industry. In response, a group of actors formed the Committee for the First Amendment. To read more about the CFA, go here: CFA. It's not, unfortunately, all that well-written an article, but it is informative. So, plow through it if you can; it's worth it.

Here's why I mention this today. I honestly think/fear that we're at another spot in history where we're in danger of becoming our own worst enemy. We are the greatest threat to democracy -or in danger of becoming that, to avoid over-stating my case.

But one thing that the investigation into the film industry teaches us is that we're all given a unique place to make a difference in the world. We don't choose it; it comes to us. These actors and directors just wanted to make movies, for heaven's sake. Or they wanted to be wealthy stars, or whatever.... They had a different plan for how their lives were going to play out. But they were pushed into activism and some of them accepted it splendidly. Gordon Kahn, the screenwriter for The African Queen, wrote this in a letter to his wife, about the HUAC's demand that he identify colleagues involved with the Communist party:

If now, in full flight from any principle I possess, I went and recanted everything and every decent thing I believe in, it wouldn't be enough. They'd want to know 'Who else? Now that you are purged who else? Give us names, dates and places!' Do you think I could live with myself for a minute after I did a thing like that? Or with you? Or could face my children? If this is a decent world when they grow up, they'd spit on me and be perfectly justified in doing so... No. I've got to hang on to something and if I can't be the most prosperous writer, I want to be able to hold my head up among the people of America and the world.

Leave aside the obvious fact that I wish there were screenwriters of such literacy working today. I'm still impressed. And as much as I'd like to think I'm mostly influenced by... you know.... (insert solemn voice here) THINKERS, there is something to be learned here. Do the next right thing. Do it over and over. It is not given to me to effect huge global change, but I can make my little corner of the world better and more just.

It's just that doing that isn't entirely consistent with the plan I thought I had for my life. Oh well.

Thanks to the Peace Calendar for the substantive information in this post. The homiletics are mine ;)


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Here we go again - more proposed budget cuts

This issue is important and urgent.

Thursday morning, the House of Representatives is considering a proposal to cut up to $50 billion from basic services to the poor: health care, nutrition, and education services. They are spinning this as necessary because of the high cost of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Yet, the same revised budget has $70 billion in tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy.

How can I spin this as anything other than cruel and shameful behavior? I seriously can't think of a single explanation where this comes out as the sensible and ethical decision. Please, please take a minute to drop your Representative a line.

If you want more information before writing, here's some:

New York Times article. You'll need a free subscription.

Washington Post article. Again, you'll need a subscription.

But really, if you're inclined to help, you need to do it today.

My Own Banned Books

A librarian friend sent me the ALA's list of the 100 most frequently banned or challenged books from 1990-2000. Here it is, if you're interested: Banned Books. (I'd only read something like 25 of them.) Some of the books really are reprehensible. Hello? Little Black Sambo??!! So, the issue of banning books has been on mind.

Then I hear that Starbucks plans to have a quote from The Purpose-Driven Life on its cups this spring. They've made other provocative choices in this quotes-on-the-cups campaign, so this time it's just my turn to get my chain pulled, I suppose. But I hate that book. My resolution of these two separate trains of thought is that it's all right for ME to ban books. And since no one has offered me the position of "queen of the universe" with full powers to get others to do my bidding (a clear oversight on the part of the universe, but we'll get to that later), I only get to ban books in my own house. This one heads the still-forming list.

Book clubs everywhere, it seemed, were reading it, so I bought it. I couldn't make myself finish it. Trivial, demeaning, saccharine.... gosh, Andrea, tell us what you really think! Which is a shame, since I want a purpose driven life. In many ways, that's why I have this blog. Moreover, my faith is important to me. So wouldn't you think I'd love that book? Wouldn't you think I was the target audience?

Apparently not. For one thing, the author seemed awfully interested in selling me his other products. I guess if you're going to find your life's purpose in 40 days, you're going to need tools. Sloppy hermeneutics and sloppier psychological trivializations made me want to throw the book across the room. (I sold it on instead.) What's weirder yet is that it's mostly neo-conservatives making these exact arguments.

Perhaps most liberals knew better than to buy the book in the first place. This wouldn't be the first time I'd fallen into the "naively hopeful" camp. Nonetheless, I was hoping for, at the very least, a critique from the intellectually-rigorous, religiously-liberal side of the aisle. I'd do one myself, but I didn't finish the book. Whoops. Even better would be a guide to exactly the same thing from that perspective. It's probably true, as I suspected and feared, that I just have to do that myself, as well.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005


How I got to these thoughts is a long muddled story.

Step one: The long-suffering spouse had a skin cancer removed from his eyelid yesterday. In the course of that, he had to sign the privacy protection document that we've all been signing for a few years now. Signing and not reading, of course. The document spells out, presumably accurately, to whom the provider can release your health information. It included Homeland Security, in the interest of national security, and to law enforcement officials for the protection of the president.

Now how on earth is my health information going to be useful in protecting the president? And how far are they willing to go to protect him? One doesn't have to think very long before coming up with absurd -but alarmingly possible- examples of how this might be used. Should HIV-positive individuals be barred from presidential appearances, lest they bleed on him? How about people with a history of mental illness? How mentally ill is mentally ill enough and who gets to decide that?

Step two: Yet another NPR story has me musing on a related privacy issue. Arlan Specter originally claimed that Harriet Miers believed the Constitution does provide a right to privacy. He has since, however, retracted his statement, apparently at the White House's behest. Now he says he must have misinterpreted her remarks.

The case that she was asked about was Griswold v. Connecticut, from 1965. I'm not a lawyer, and this is very far from my area of expertise. But I am literate, and it sure looks to me like Connecticut had criminalized any use at all of contraception. It doesn't require a very robust definition of privacy to realize that such a law has no possibility of being enforced and needs to be struck down.

Which is what the court did. And Harriet Miers either thinks this case was rightly decided or she doesn't. Arlan Specter isn't sure and therefore we're not sure.

Two questions naturally arise. Why was she being asked to comment on such a minimalist definition of privacy? Surely we can do better than that. And why this case in particular? Please tell me that we aren't headed back to a political climate where contraception is illegal or circumscribed. Are we?

My poorly-though-out position on privacy has always been that my life is an open book. If the FBI wants to get my patron records from the public library (to save you time, I check out books about yoga, cooking, knitting, religiosity, with the occasional summer-time nosedive into chicklit) or Homeland Security wants my health records (terrible allergies, by the way) then at least they're occupied and not doing something more destructive. But hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute here.

The confluence of these two completely unrelated experiences has me worried. When you add in the surreal Indiana proposal to require a permit -and a wedding- before allowing in vitro fertilization, it doesn't take a genius to notice that this could get weird and dangerous fast.

So, assuming I'm not wringing my hands over nothing, where do we go from here? All I can think of harkens back to yesterday's post. Those of us who aren't card-carrying members of the ACLU might need to consider it. There's a Constitution to protect here. Or make me another suggestion. I'm all ears.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Proud -and Worried- Bleeding Heart Liberal

You know how conservatives "accuse" us of being "card-carrying members of the ACLU" as though that were a bad thing? And our confused response is "Of course, I'm a member of the ACLU (although I have no idea where my card is)". The same thing happens with "bleeding heart liberal."

I woke up this morning to an NPR story about how children are the most vulnerable victims of the earthquake in Pakistan. Welcome to the world of social work. Children are almost always the most vulnerable victims of anything bad. That's why they're supposed to have grown-ups to take care of them. Here's the story: Youngest Survivors

The upshot of it is this. There are young children, alive now but who will undoubtedly die of exposure in the next few days. They will die alone, in pain, hungry, and afraid. The intellectual (such as it is) part of me is still awake. And I ponder how on earth to mount an effective disaster response when there's no infrastructure for doing that -or not much, anyway. How do you reunite separated family members when there's very little recorded data as to who lived with whom in the first place?

But mostly my heart just bleeds for those children. That's what hearts are supposed to do.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sound the disaster sirens

This is bad! Well, really it's great, but it's also bad. My brother and his family are in town. We were going to meet for brunch somewhere in between where we are and where they are. In the meantime, there was a phone message that I didn't get, saying that instead he and their one year old son were coming to our house for the morning!!!!

So, forget world peace. Forget pay equity. Forget working for justice. I'm doing battle with dust bunnies, and I'm here to tell you they are NOT an endangered species. And I'm trying to make our house baby-safe and, wild dream here, baby-congenial, when it hasn't needed to be either in a really long time. I'll go back to doing battle with ideas and injustices just as soon as they leave. Well, and as soon as I deal with all the junk I've stuffed madly into closets.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Random 10

Here's the game: Take out your iPod and put it in shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair adding songs that you think will make you look cool or deleting songs that make you look like a complete dork.

Here are mine for this week:
  • Enigma Variations; Elgar
  • Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen; The Blind Boys of Alabama
  • Bright Morning Stars; Emmylou Harris
  • Double Trouble; John Williams
  • Trespasses; Patti Smith
  • Cranes Over Hiroshima; Fred Small
  • Baby's Waking; Eliza Gilksyon
  • Lark Ascending; Vaughn Williams
  • Alabama Bound; Odetta
  • Good People All; Anonymous 4

Wait... I can explain....

The Double Trouble piece is from the most recent Harry Potter movie. (Yes, I saw it.) It obviously had to go in my Halloween playlist. It'll come off soon. I think the Enigma Variations and Nobody Knows need to come off, too. I'm not crazy about either one of them, when push comes to shove. If I can figure out how to get music OFF my iPod. Sheesh. Why do they make that so hard?

Who's buying the Nano? Not me, it's SMALLER than my mini, so clearly would not solve my space problems. But it's very cute.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Too much quiet from Rome

Anyone who's a parent knows this scenario. There are children in the house and there's NO noise... that can't be good. Someone's up to something somewhere. I have the same feeling about this bishops' synod. They aren't making nearly enough noise. They're up to something.

I did read this, though:
Priests obviously play a central role in celebrating the Eucharist and educating the faithful about the sacrament, but an Indonesian bishop told the world Synod of Bishops he thought their discussion was "too priest-centered."

Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura told the synod on the Eucharist Oct. 7 that "to be relevant and meaningful for the secular society, our discourse on the Eucharist has to deal more with building community."

Okay, it's been a long week and I'm a little punch-drunk, but I had to laugh. Let's be clear. I agree with the sentiment and I'm grateful for it. But did he just now notice that the church is a tidge priest-centered, for the love of all that is holy? Honestly, he should have just asked me. I'm quite certain I've mentioned that a time or two.

And there's something beautiful about taking quotes out of context. Here's one for the bathroom wall: "He (Cardinal Szoka) said, 'the core problem' lies with bishops and priests." I believe I've mentioned that as well ;) I don't know which core problem he's referring to, but I'm always up for believing that priests and bishops are the source of it.

Okay... seriously now, I can think of two possible explanations for this strange silence. The first is that the synod is getting away from B16. Maybe he wanted it to be one thing (from all reports, a legalistic discussion of who can go to Communion and who can't) and it's turning into something else. Apparently, relaxing the rules about celibacy was discussed. Rejected, but discussed. That's certainly interesting. Or.... they're up to no good, and they want to surprise us with it. Any other working theories out there? Who's heard more than I have?

OK... Let Me Get This Straight

I'm used to elliptical thinking. I'm used to non sequiturs. I'm used to logic that isn't quite... well... logic at all. All of this comes from hanging around with college-aged people who are learning to be rigorous thinkers. So, it's hard to surprise me in the "unfortunate reasoning" department. But the Bush administration has outdone itself this week -and with nothing like the excuses that young people have for such logical lapses.

Example 1: "...part of Harriet Miers's life is her religion." Well, yeah. But THIS is the culmination of a 10-day spin operation trying to calm religious conservatives, so the implication is that she can be trusted because she is an evangelical Christian. But, when the suggestion was made (from the other side of the aisle) that possibly John Roberts's decisions would be influenced by his Catholicism, that suggestion was vigorously denied. "Personal beliefs have no role whatsoever in decisions that judges make," said White House spokesperson Scot McClellan. So which is it? Or is it that Catholics are expected to put aside their faith when making judicial decisions, but evangelicals are not?

Example 2: Mrs. Bush wants us to consider the possibility that people who are against the appointment of Harriet Miers are motivated by sexism. Ahhh.. No one ELSE is affected by sexism, but Harriet Miers is. Weird. So, undermining the Violence Against Women Act, overriding Title IX equal education provisions, the widening gap in pay betwen men and women, and the continued attacks on reproductive rights.... that's all because Bush is such a feminist? I see.

Example 3: Oh, and PLEASE tell me that he did not claim that Islamic radicalism is led by an elitist, self-appointed vanguard that presumes to speak for the masses. Apparently, says Mr. Bush, Osama bin Laden, raised in privilege and comfort, presumes to tell the masses that his is the path to paradise. And of course he doesn't go along for the dangerous missions. Ummm.... Pot? Kettle? Black? (I suppose technically this isn't a logical lapse -just impolitic in the extreme.)

My brain is starting to hurt. Should we all just find red pens, grade these illogical claims, and send the corrected papers back to the White House?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

UNICEF ad campaign -Bomb Papa Smurf

The long-suffering son put me on to this one. UNICEF had decided, undoubtedly correctly, that we all have compassion fatigue and that we no longer respond appropriately to images of war-decimated villages and people. So, to raise money for a rehabilitation program for ex-child soldiers in Burundi, they designed an ad campaign where a Smurf village is destroyed by warplanes and bombs. Yes, the happy little Smurfs are dancing around. But the bad guy... what's his name? Gilgamesh? Gollum? Gargamel, that's it! He must have gotten bombs, because all of a sudden there are war planes, and missiles, and fire.

I haven't seen the film; it's showing in Belgium and Japan, apparently. The word is, though, that it ends with a Baby Smurf, burned and injured, sobbing while she looks at the dead bodies of all her Smurf family and friends. If you speak Flemish, you can watch the video here: Bombed Smurfs. So, they think that we won't respond to images of children and that we will respond to images of sad, blue Smurfs? How pathetic will it be if it turns out they're right? For the record, I think they've trivialized both war AND us. Surely there were other ways to help people understand that war destroys children's lives. Those poor, ex-child soldiers surely deserved better at UNICEF's hands.

And now that you have the Smurf song running endlessly in your head, you probably want to bomb MY house! Sorry about that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I couldn't resist!

Okay, it's not nice. But at least now we know that someone in the regular media has a sense of humor.
And you know what else I think? I think it's not possible for his shoulders to be that broad and his head to be that small. Someone is mega-padding the shoulders of his suit coats, to make him look more imposing. I suppose that's not a moral failure, but they need to back off a tidge. It's no longer believable.

Bread and Roses

working for justice locally and globally -a social justice calendar

Wouldn't it be nice if there were enough going on that this could become a regular feature? Dreams, dreams, dreams....

Here's what I know:

  • Wednesday, October 12: noon -Bread for the World brown bag lunch -Judson Baptist Fellowship; all are welcome.
  • Wednesday, October 12: noon -Global Issues video series and brown bag lunch at Kishwaukee College Library (L202); This week's offering is Global Poverty.
  • Thursday, October 13, in the afternoon -Blood Drive -Newman Catholic Student Center.
  • Thursday, October 13, 7:00 p.m. -Take Back the Night March -start at Welsh Park.
  • Thursday, October 13, 7:00 p.m.- Native American Film Festival -Shingoethe Cetner; Aurora University. This week's offering is Singing Our Stories
  • Friday: (every Friday), in the afternoon -Peace Vigil -corner of First St. and Lincoln Highway.
  • Sunday, October 16 -CROP Walk 1:00
  • Thursday, October 20, 4:00 p.m. -Jesse Jackson is speaking at NIU on Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act; Altgeld Auditorium.
  • Thursday, October 20 -Sunday, October 23 -Voices of the Oppressed: A Theatrical Collage, part of the NIU Studio Series, Stevens Building Corner Theater; tickets are $5 at the door. 7:30 p.m. performances, except for Sunday, which is at 2:00
  • Thursday, October 20 -Native American Film Festival; Shingoethe Center; Aurora University . This week's offering is Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole
  • Friday, October 21: noon -Global Issues video series Kishwaukee College's video series and brown bag discussion continues; this week's offering is a documentary on Sudan
  • Monday, October 24, 6:30 p.m. -11th Annual Domestic Violence Vigil; DeKalb Area Women's Center

I found this list encouraging -and all I did to compile it was stack up all the little notes, e-mails, and slips of paper that had piled up on my desk. There are probably plenty of other activities that I don't know anything about. Notice how centered these activities are on the local universities -where, by the way, community members can't attend because they don't have the almighty parking pass. Nonetheless, I was entering these activities into MY calendar, and the light bulb went off that other people might be interested in this list as well.

WHY is there no locally coordinated justice activities calendar? Well, I guess now there is. Feel free to send me notices as you think of it. I have no idea what criteria I will use to determine inclusion. I don't even know how often I'll write up this calendar. Every two weeks, maybe. Let's allow this to be an evolving work in progress. But it could become interesting.

Monday, October 10, 2005

World Day Against the Death Penalty -October 10, 2005

This year, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty focuses its efforts towards abolition of the death penalty throughout Africa. Most African countries have already abolished the death penalty, but you can support an end to the death penalty on the whole African continent by signing the appeal addressed to African heads of state where capital punishment is still used.

The appeal calls for:
  • abolition of the death penalty as a matter of national law;
  • ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • support of the African Union and the United Nations.

You don't know what the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is? Oh, honestly! ;) Of course, I didn't know either. Here it is: United Nations

The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty is a coalition of 38 human rights organizations campaigning for universal repeal of the death penalty. The World Coalition organizes the World Day Against the Death Penalty annually to mobilize people to take action against the death penalty. The Coalition also supports "Cities Against the Death Penalty" on November 30, to celebrate the first abolition of the death penalty by the Republic of Toscana in 1786. (God, I love wikipedia!)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

"Small Group" Film Festival for Social Change

I'm starting my fall and winter nesting, apparently. The cute little red bicycle has to be put away soon. The garden isn't fine, but it's not going to get any more attention this season. I have to go inside. One of the things I do to make this palatable is watch movies. I like movies almost as much as I like books. Well.... maybe not that much, but a lot. So what are some movies that changed the world, or changed you and made you want to change the world? Let's watch them together -separated geographically, but watch them by a certain date and talk about them. Films of hope for people and the planet -there have to be some.

Let's make a list. Regular dramas, documentaries, independent film... I don't care. Just something we can rent (from a socially responsible vendor, naturally) or go see in a real theater(!)and discuss. I'll keep the list and we can do this from time to time. Here's what I came up with off the top of my head. I'm not planning on watching ALL of these. I'm just keeping a list for someday. Add yours as you think of them.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You (unless you live in DeKalb. Then you'll have to go somewhere with a little class.)

  • Murderball
  • Good Night, and Good Luck
  • North Country
  • Syriana
  • American Gun
  • The World According to Sesame Street

In the "Bears Re-Watching" category, we have:

  • Dead Man Walking
  • Entertaining Angels
  • Cry Freedom
  • Erin Brokovich
  • Gandhi
  • Inherit the Wind
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Mission (Jeremy Irons as a Jesuit -worth it for that alone!)
  • Romero
  • Rabbit Proof Fence

Well now.... that's a heavy list. Is there NOTHING funny and light-hearted that also challenges us to change the world? I'm not psychologically prepared to watch Hotel Rwanda or its equivalent every single weekend. There must be something...

Here's to a winter filled with good movies and good conversation. Would you like popcorn with that?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Just read this re: gestational certificates

The Indiana bill to regulate assisted pregnancies has been dropped. State Senator Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, issued a one-sentence statement late Wednesday about her decision to drop the proposal. "The issue has become more complex than anticipated and will be withdrawn from consideration by the Health Finance Commission."

Well, sweet pea, the issue didn't suddenly BECOME more complex. It was always complex and you didn't reflect enough before you made the proposal in the first place. But at least it has been dropped, and you should spare yourself my rant in the previous post.

And, I guess we should take some comfort that an outraged electorate -to say nothing of a blogosphere having conniptions- can actually make a difference.

Did I hear this right? Gestational Certificates???

A few days ago, I woke up to NPR telling me that Republicans in Indiana are drafting legislation requiring that a woman hoping to become a mother with fertility assistance apply to the court for a permit. It's apparently called a "petition for parentage", which results in a "gestational certificate". And... you have to be married to get one. Is this the stuff of bad fantasy fiction or what?

And wait, it gets better. If a woman seeks to become pregnant without getting the gestational certificate, then she's guilty of "unauthorized reproduction, a Class B misdemeanour."

And this makes sense to.... whom? The Onion is going to have a field day with this one. It almost feels like there's no need to satirize this or point out the obvious ethical and logical flaws -to say nothing of their tin ear for language. I mean, really. Gestational certificate?

But the thing is, it's real. The question we should be asking isn't "Are babies better off in two-parent (clearly different sex, heterosexual, married parents -doesn't that have to be the subtext here?) families?". We don't know. The research is all over the place, in spite of the sponsoring Senator's claims to the contrary. It seems to me that the question is "Whose power is enhanced and whose is reduced?".

This legislation isn't about protecting babies. If it were, they'd be doing something about the fact that poor women who rely on state-funded health care (and therefore don't have reliable access to reproductive health services) get pregnant when they don't want to be. They'd be addressing access to prenatal and neonatal care, and child-care, and the state of the schools. Where's the legislation about those things?

No, it's much more important to be sure that a woman has a man in her life. It's so important we have to legislate it. And it's really important that parents be married, which is to say, heterosexual, since gay couples can't marry in Indiana. Yeah, we'd better get legislation going about that pretty quick.

Once again, I am MORTIFIED by the allegedly pro-life movement.

You can read the drafted legislation here: Unauthorized Reproduction. It's a pdf file. The Indiana legislature plans to vote on October 20. The consensus in the Indiana press (that I read) seems to be that the bill is unlikely to pass. Cross all your fingers and toes.

Friday, October 07, 2005

In Memoriam -Matthew Shepard

Today, in 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten and left tied to a fence. Five days later, he died. Because he was gay. Matthew died brutally, cruelly, and completely unnecessarily. The only way I can think of to subvert a tiny bit of the evil that resulted in his death is to learn something from it.

For some people (that I live with), his death challenged their belief that the death penalty is wrong. That's not hard to understand. For them, Matthew's father's comments to the court were helpful. There's a lot of anger and a need to see the perpetrators punished in his statement. That's not hard to understand, either. But the Shepard family concluded, apparently, that healing could begin best if they didn't extract all the revenge to which they were legally entitled. And if they, surely beside themselves with grief, could do it, well then, we can give it a shot. Read his statement, here: Dennis Shepard's statement to the court.

For me, the issue was different. I could never quite wrap my brain around how I felt about hate crime legislation. On the one hand, I think it's wildly dangerous to punish people for what they're thinking. On the other hand, I endorse the feminist claim that words are powerful -and it seemed perfectly obvious (to me, at that time)that, if there was ever a justification for penalty enhancements because of hatred, this was the case.

So, now was the time to make some sense out of my scattered thoughts. The best I could do is this. Hate crime legislation is justifiable because it doesn't legislate against hate -exactly. You can hate the people you hate. I can think you're making a mistake and wish you'd shut the hell up. But to protect my right to think what I want to think and say what I want to say, I have to defend your right to do the same thing. What hate crime legislation does do is to legally state our consensus that there are some social hierarcies that are illegitimate. When an action tries to enforce these illegitimate hierarchies against our collective will, that's a hate crime.

For example, we've come slowly and incompletely to the agreement that it's wrong to discriminate against people because of their skin color. You can still be a bigot; that's not a hate crime, even though you are, in fact, hating someone. But the minute you use your bigotry in an act of violence or subordination of someone else, that is a hate crime. So, it's actions rather than thoughts that we're punishing with hate crime legislation.

I'm not entirely sure that this argument hangs together, and I'm open to conversation about it. However, my actual point today is that Matthew Shepard lived well, died too young and too cruelly -but he didn't live or die in vain if we can keep the questions he raised for us front and center.

Rest in peace, Matthew.

Friday Random 10

Here's the game: Take out your iPod and put it in shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair adding songs that you think will make you look cool or deleting songs that make you look like a complete dork.

Here are mine for this week:

  • Concerto in C Major for Two Trumpets; Vivaldi
  • Center Stage; Indigo Girls
  • Down in Flames; Mindy Smith
  • Autumn in New York: Ella Fitzgerald
  • Peace, Salaam, Shalom; Emma's Revolution
  • A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request: Steve Goodman
  • Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major: Bach
  • Beautiful Day; U2
  • Farther Along: Emmylou Harris
  • Serenade for Strings in C Major; Tchaikovsky

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tailpipe Tally

This interactive site, Tailpipe Tally, will tell you the sad truth: how much your car probably costs you in fuel each year and how much pollution it dumps into the atmosphere. And the bad news is that they WAY under-estimated the price of gas. Our results were discouraging -and we don't drive all that much, certainly not every day. And yet, we still dump untold hundreds of pounds of pollutants into the air with our vehicle.

Realistically, until this car dies the thing to do is drive less and bike and walk more. As we head into winter in the frozen tundra, that becomes a less attractive option. But I'll try. Really. This is gross.

In other interesting bicycle and environmental news, GreenThinkers reports that, according to the Chamber of Commerce, more bicycles than cars were sold in the U.S. over the last 12 months. Go here to read the story -and ride your bike.

Something's very wrong here...

I seem to agree with George Will. This is messing with my head. His column the day before yesterday was entitled "Miers is the wrong pick," and his early claim in the article is that the Senate should presume that her nomination is "not a defensible exercise of presidential discretion to which senatorial deference is due." Wow. And Will's argument, at least in this piece, isn't that her nomination should be rejected because she's insufficiently conservative. Other people are certainly arguing that, but at least here, George Will is not.

I'm breathing into a paper bag.

Here's my hope. Actually there are two hopes -resulting in the same thing if they come to fruition. One is that the Senate will notice that liberals and conservatives are allied against this appointment, for different reasons, I grant you, but allied nonetheless. Secondly, can they really spend their political capital confirming another Supreme Court justice about whom almost nothing is known? Sure enough, the White House has been reluctant to release Miers's records to the Judicial Committee. They're supposed to approve her because they trust the president so much. I really think they can't do that a second time.

MoveOn's idea is that the most effective way to make a difference right now is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. The goal is that, through these letters, the media, the community, and soon enough, the Senate, will realize that they should refuse to offer a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court as a matter of faith.

Of course, if my wishes come true and her nomination is not confirmed, we've solved one problem and replaced it with another. Who gets nominated then? Someone more conservative to appease the right? Or someone I would like? My track record is not good in these matters. But today's problem is doing something about this agreeing with George Will thing. I'm not sure I can take much more of this.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Starbucks Challenge

Well now, aren't I the chatty girl today? I just found out about this and it's an issue that's near and dear to my heart: socially responsible caffeine.

Seriously, Green LA Girl and her friend City Hippy are conducting a study to see if Starbucks pays attention to its own internal policy of offering fair trade coffee when a customer asks for it. So, obviously, the challenge is to go to Starbucks and ask for it and see what happens.

Go here for more information. They'll be cataloguing the results at

Try it. See what happens. Report back. You know you'd drink coffee today anyway!

Life in the Faust Lane

The long-suffering spouse is a mathematician. He writes mathematical notes on any piece of paper that will hold still: junk mail, envelopes, actual paper, newspapers... anything. So, when I go on a cleaning binge, my strategy is to make a pile of anything with mathematical scribbling on it and put it on his desk. How do I know if this was scribbling to explain something (comparatively) easy to a student or the next great theorem for the ages?

But we've hit a new low.

I found these mathematical sentences scribbled on a piece of notebook paper. They were expressed symbolically, but I don't know how to represent the symbols. Imagine, if you will, an upside down A and a backwards E, among other things.

For every x, there exists a y such that it's NOT true that x likes y.
But, it's NOT true that there exists an x such that x doesn't like z.

Yes sirree, Bob. We have a mathematical expression of the well-known philosophical truth, "everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sarah Lee." Well now, I'm glad we have that settled. I'd better get off the phone now; I'm sure the Nobel Committee is trying to call. (Yes, I know there's no Nobel Prize in math, but with boundary breaking work like this....)

Pledge Bank

This is a provocative idea. I don't know how I feel about it.

The idea is this: I'll commit to acts of justice of some kind (and people's definitions of both "justice" and "worthwhile" seem to vary quite a bit) if other people will commit, too. Okay... Probably more noble to commit whether or not other people do. On the other hand, I am always the first person in line seeking support from an active community of like-minded people, so this makes a kind of sense to me.

I signed up to do no-brainer things, such as boycotting Burger King for life (I don't eat meat and don't do fast food. I'm thinking there's no problem here.) and to use Mozilla Firefox. I'm not sure why this is an act of justice, but the long-suffering spouse has monster-issues with Microsoft. So, we already use Mozilla.

If, say, my signing up results in a barrage of peculiar and annoying e-mail, I'll vote "no". There are other ways to make a difference; the pledges weren't all that ground-breaking or world-changing. If things seem to go well, I'll report that back, too. Maybe we just need to give these guys some time for the idea to take off.

Here's the link: Pledge Bank. See what you think.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


I love that word ;) It's not as though I get to use it very often, but it has been on my mind a lot lately.

There's Tom DeLay. I don't know enough about the details of his indictments to have an opinion, although I certainly have a first guess as to what my opinion would become. But the man who brought you this pearl of wisdom:"A woman can't take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure."... well, I'm not terribly sorry he's having a bad few weeks. He also apparently believes that there is no such thing as the working poor. "Fortunately such familes do not exist." So, in your world view, Tom, did they suddenly become financially secure or did they just disappear from the universe? No, I'm not sorry he's having a bad time of it just now.

Bill Frist -not my favorite Princeton graduate- helped defeat the patient bill of rights and sold stock in his family company, making a huge profit, by the by. But he had no insider information and the money was in a blind trust, of course (?). How "blind" is it, if you can direct the trustees when to sell it? He's currently being investigated by the SEC, and I'm not sorry he's squirming.

And William Bennett, who brought us "you could abort every black baby in the country and your crime rate would go down". I know. I know. He wasn't advocating doing that; he was making a point about crime. But his point wouldn't have changed if he'd said "you could abort every baby" or "you could abort every white baby". He chose to add black, when he didn't have to. So far he's just being made to squirm in the press, with no small amount of public hilarity that this is the man who offered us a book on virtues. But a boatload of public shame is the least you can expect for making such a morally bizarre statement.

I'm not terribly impressed with myself this morning. I don't want to take delight in the suffering of other people. Just mean people, I guess.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Requiescat in pace

Monica Hellwig (feminist systematic theologian) died yesterday, at only 74 years old. Her shoes will be hard to fill, in part because of her towering intellect, in part because of the questions she chose to consider (not too many people are interested in them) and in part because she was untouchable by the Catholic hierarchy. Not very many people have enough psychological and external security to say some of the things she said.

We are all guests of God's hospitality. I guess it was time for her to go home. But it's hard to imagine that her work here was done. She had just days ago accepted a new job, so presumably she wasn't expecting to die just yet.

She changed my life when she wrote in The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World,"to accept the bread of the Eucharist is to accept to be bread and sustenance for the poor of the world." As the world-wide bishops begin a synod on Eucharist, undoubtedly interested in broadening the list of people to whom they can deny Eucharist, there is some irony here. Perhaps instead of praying that she rest in peace (just yet), we should pray that her spirit haunts a few bishops' hearts over the next few days ;) Don't fail us now, Monica!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

What Are You Reading??

I'm desperate. This is not pretty.

Last night, I was wandering around the house, at my wit's end. I didn't want to watch a movie. I didn't want to work out. I didn't want to knit (!!!). I wanted to read, and I had NOTHING to read. How did that happen? Okay, I had stuff to read. There was nothing I wanted to read.

But I didn't realize that was the problem. Instead, I was walking around snarking at everything that moved, which unfortunately for the long-suffering spouse was only him. After a while, he grabbed the car keys and said "get in the car." Oh what a good idea. Use the imperative voice with me when I'm already grouchy.

After about a block, he commented "you get like this when you need a book." Wow! I had no idea. And I had no idea he was paying that much attention, although given the towering nature of my grouchiness it's probably an instinct for self-preservation that encouraged him to be so observant.

So, late at night, we were at Barnes and Noble. He sat comfortably at the coffee shop and graded papers and I looked at books. I didn't buy anything -still couldn't really settle on anything- but just being in a room with that many books was soothing.

But, I DO need a book. What are you reading? And I don't count stuff for school or work that I know I should read, but I don't want to read. It can be something solid and important, although I'm not opposed to light and frivolous, but it can't be dry. The long-suffering spouse would be eternally grateful if I could come up with a reading list for emergency situations.