Friday, September 30, 2005

Oh, for crying out loud!

George Bush has, by Executive Order, suspended the application of the Davis-Bacon Act. Not outraged yet? I didn't know what it was either. In a nutshell, this law requires federal contractors to pay workers the prevailing regional wage for public construction projects. (But really, follow the link... there's more to it than that.)

In New Orleans that wage is about $9 an hour. Suspension of the act allows contractors to pay minimum wage ($5.15/hour, but I know you knew that.).

He SAID... He actually SAID the following: "As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality." Uh huh. And suspending the Davis-Bacon Act accomplishes that... how? There is an opportunity here to rebuild a New Orleans that offers the possibility of a dignified future for the people who were so painfully left behind in the old New Orleans. It seems to me that we need to uphold laws that give working people a fighting chance in the mainstream economy.

Some members of Congress agree and a bill is taking shape that will repeal the suspension of Davis-Bacon. It's called the Fair Wages for Hurricane Victims Act. The Senate's version is called Fair Wages for Hurricane Katrina Recovery Act.

It's time yet again to e-mail your Congressional Representative and your Senators. If you live where I live, here's how you can do it:

Representative Dennis Hastert
Senator Barack Obama
Senator Dick Durbin

Or, you can go here and Sojourners magazine will do it for you.

Friday Random 10

Here's the game: Put your iPod in shuffle mode and tell us the first ten songs that come up. And no fair adding something that will make you look cool or leaving out a song that will make you look like a dork.

Here are mine for this week:

  • Women of the Well; Light Rain
  • This Woman's Work; Kate Bush
  • Remembered Ways; Trapezoid
  • Walk Your Valley: Indigo Girls
  • We Belong; Pat Benatar
  • The Pleiades and Orion; John Michael Talbot
  • London Calling; The Clash
  • Roses in the Snow; Emmylou Harris
  • May We Not Conform; David Haas
  • Cantata No. 140/Sleepers Awake

hmmm.... a slightly strange list this week -not entirely representative, I suppose. May We Not Conform, while not my favorite song, has one of the best titles in my whole playlist. Just thought I'd share that ;)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The People's Hurricane Relief Fund

Ages ago, I blogged about making donations to local, flexible, "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" organizations for hurricane relief efforts. I think I may have found one. Obviously, use your best judgement before sending your hard-earned money. I spoke to them on the phone and read the website and my preliminary feelings are very good.

Here's the deal: The People's Hurricane Relief Fund has the following goals:
  • to manage a hurricane relief fund and to demand transparency from FEMA and other major relief agencies raising funds and resources in the people's name;
  • to help coordinate and support grassroots relief and organizing efforts and to act as a clearinghouse for information and volunteers:
  • to create and maintain a space for networking and strategizing between organizers and volunteers:
  • to facilitate the return/rebuilding process and to ensure local, grassroots leadership at every phase.

There is a lot more information available at their website; it's well worth reading, even if you can't donate right now. Say, hypothetically, you're a student of social work and are interested in community organizing -you might find this site worthwhile.

Choices I Make Every Day

I have to go to the grocery store. Every once in a while, I need a gizmo for doing some house project. I go to the movies. I buy books -lots of books. In principle, all of these choices can be made ethically. But this is reality. What do I REALLY do in this small town when I need to go to the store? I'm still working out the details.

My brain gets tangled before very long. Say a company donates lots of money to the Republican party (not great, in my world view) but treats its employees well and has progressive environmental policies. How do I weigh the one against the other? I don't know and I'm open to input. Posssibly that never happens. We'll find out.

I will tell you what I DO know -and much of it is gleaned from BuyBlue.

Target vs. Wal-Mart: every time you need school supplies, new socks, or sheets for the guest room bed, you make this choice. Target is a significant contributor to the Republican Party, but there isn't enough information about its other policies to make an assesment. Wal-Mart is an even bigger contributor to the Republican Party and earns a negative rating on every other score. So, a progressive person ought not really shop at either. I knew this. But where DO I get those items in this town? Walgreens wins no prizes either, by the way. If finances compel you to shop at Wal-Mart, here's an interesting post you might like: A Modest Proposal. I certainly don't want to ask families living on the financial edge to further endanger themselves by spending more for food than they must.

Borders vs. Barnes and Noble vs. Amazon: Those are the choices around here. Gotta go with Barnes and Noble on this one. They are a modest contributor to Democratic issues, and their privacy policy is a lot better than Amazon's. Borders doesn't provide any information about its contributions and Amazon is a supporter of Republican issues.

Jewel's vs... what? Albertson's, which owns the Jewel Corporation is a significant supporter of Republican issues and doesn't have terrific worker policies. I doubt very much that the new place on the south side of town has progressive politics, but at least it's locally (sort of) owned. The fact that I don't even know its name tells you how often I've been there, but I will check it out. If it's non-horrible, I'll go with that one. Trader Joe's owns Aldi's, and they don't provide any information about their contributions. I suppose we're back to the idea I've mentioned before. Buy as much as you can (can afford to) at Duck Soup Coop.

For renting movies, we have Blockbuster or you can use Netflix. That's pretty much it, right? Netflix is a tiny contributor to Democratic issue and Blockbuster is a more significant contributor to Republican issues. Which is good, because I'd find Netflix hard to give up.

Interestingly, Starbucks and Caribou are both okay, although Caribou edges out Starbucks. Go to Green LA Girl's blog for more information about Starbucks and Fair Trade coffee. She knows everything there is to know about that. Caribou has a much more progressive policy about sustainability and support of local growers, but the situation might be improving at Starbucks.

What else do I do with my daily dollars? I'm not sure. I have a cell phone. I have a landline at home. I go out to eat. I have an ISP. I buy clothes -not often enough according to my mother. I exercise. Very occasionally, I clean my house. We'll look at those choices another day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Republicans would have us believe...

... that rebuilding the Gulf region would require hungry children, sick people, and Big Bird's demise. They've proposed cutting a TRILLION dollars from the federal budget -mostly from health care for the poor, Amtrak, student loans, and PBS. (What do they have against that big yellow bird???) They're calling it Operation Offset.

I admit that the costs for rebuilding the Southern coast are huge. Really, really huge. Estimates for reconstruction (that's an unfortunate word when applied to the south -again) are about $200 billion, according to Time magazine. Say that they get in there and discover that it's going to cost more than they thought and there are cost overruns -surely not unheard of with federal programs. Maybe it will cost $400 billion.

Ok.... Bush's tax cuts -mostly for the uber-wealthy- amount to $327 billion. Repeal those and we're most of the way there.

But stay with me here.... How does it make sense to allegedly offset a $200 billion expense with a $1 TRILLION cut in the budget? Here's just a snippet of what they propose:
  • $225 billion cut from Medicaid
  • $200 billion from Medicare
  • $25 billion from the Center for Disease Control
  • $6.7 cut from school lunches for poor children
And there's plenty more; it takes a while to get to the grand total of $949 billion. You can read the whole nauseating document here: Operation Offset.

MoveOn has done a fabulous job of collecting the full information and starting a grassroots campaign against this debacle. There's a petition to sign here: Petition.

I can't believe -and am a little disturbed by- how political this blog has become in the past few days. It's not really my primary interest or area of expertise, which I guess is obvious. But didn't Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath teach us/remind us that the wealthy and well-connected can be safe while the poor are left to fend for themselves? Not that that was really news to the social workers of the world, but hopefully we can capitalize on a moment of collective outrage here. The poor were left to die in New Orleans and they're being abandoned and endangered again. How can THAT be our political will?

Maybe tomorrow I'll blog about something I DO know about -like knitting!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Senator Obama and Bread for the World

Originally, Senator Obama declined to co-sponsor S1120, the Hunger-Free Communities Act; this bill seeks to reduce hunger in this country by HALF by 2010. How cool would that be?? Obama's decision seemed a little strange, since the bill was actually introduced by Dick Durbin. However, Obama has changed his mind and agreed to co-sponsor the bill. For which, he deserves our thanks, in my opinion.

I think that he needs to know that causy left-leaning types are watching, but also that we're supportive of his efforts. And if you're a member of Bread for the World, please mention that to the aide who answers the phone. And if you aren't a member.... ahem.... it's something to consider.

To contact Senator Obama:
phone: 202-224-2854
fax: 202-228-4260
e-mail(a cumbersome form is available at this link): E-mail Senator Obama

CROP Walk and the Catholic Church

People all over the world -and now we know in this country, too- frame their lives by the daily task of walking to meet their basic needs. They walk to get water. They walk to work. They walk to get food. They walk to gather for worship. They walk to get health care.

To show solidarity with these people, and to help them, CROP Walks were developed. We walk because they walk. For more than 35 years, Crop Walkers have walked and raised money so that Church World Services can provide food, wells, sustainable agriculture, disaster relief, and leadership training around the world.

Moreover, Church World Services is an exemplary model of how assistance ought to be provided. Money is raised in local communities through locally-run CROP Walks. 25% of the money raised in that community stays in that community. Moreover, sponsors can indicate if they want their money to be channeled through a particular agency. So if I give the neighborhood child $15 to support her walking, I can ask that my money be sent to Catholic Chariries or the American Friends Service Committee... or wherever I like from a long list of participating agencies.

All of this makes sense, right? So far so good. But Catholics aren't supposed to participate in CROP Walks. As Dave Barry says, I am not making this stuff up.

Church World Services spends a tiny portion of the raised money in Africa on condoms to prevent HIV and AIDS. So, to protect our morally fragile souls and intellectually challenged brains, we are discouraged from becoming entangled with "organizations that support activities contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Never mind that this makes no intellectual sense. Even if I agreed -which I don't, but work with me here- that condoms ought not be provided, I could designate my donation to an agency that doesn't do that. Never mind that it makes no theological sense. Is a priest really going to look me in the eye and argue that, say, a married person with AIDS should spread the disease to his wife rather than prevent a pregnancy? Oh, make my day, big boy! Do you really want to argue that spreading a fatal disease is better than preventing pregnancy -especially when the infant conceived would very likely ALSO have a fatal disease. Hello??? Pro-life issues????

Here's the thing. I don't share, but have always admired the Catholic church's pro-life position. It's at least intellectually rigorous and avoids the craziness of much of the anti-abortion movement's pro-fetal-life-only attitudes. But this time they've made the same mistake that the popular culture makes -supporting the idea of a pregnancy (not even a real pregnancy yet) over the lives of living, breathing humans right here in front of us. Even within the Church's own moral framework, the argument doesn't hold up. And, by the way, it's perfectly possible for orthodox Catholics to step outside the moral framework of the Catholic Church and to make their own moral decisions.

Which, of course, is what I've done. If you want to sponsor me on this year's walk, let me know the next time you see me! Now where do you suppose I can get a "Catholics for CROP" t-shirt, so that the Bishop knows what I'm doing? ;)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Want a Pastor

Or... what's a nice smart girl doing in a place like this?

Our parish got rid of a drastically bad pastor recently. Got rid of as in "had moved"; not got rid of in some Mafia-like way. I hadn't been going to church much at all during his tenure and I thought I was mostly okay with that decision. In Catholic lingo, going to church had become an "occasion of sin", and it was annoying to boot. So I avoided it. But I am learning something -or groping towards learning something- about myself in this transition time with new priests in the parish.

The long-suffering spouse actually heard the names of the replacements before I did, and came home feeling optimistic and hopeful. When I heard the names, my heart sank to my knees. I wanted to cry. Dave pointed out the obvious. There ARE no liberal priests in the diocese anymore. This is the best we could have hoped for. What did I want, he asked in some exasperation. I want a PASTOR, I replied -with no small amount of melodrama in my voice. (In the interest of fairness, I should say that the actuality of these guys in the parish has been much better than I had feared. It's just that my fear taught me something, so I'm focusing on that today.)

Then I was kind of dumbstruck for the rest of the evening. What did I mean by that, for heaven's sake? Was I hoping for a father figure, a spiritual leader? Oh please, spare me THAT! Am I relying on someone to be the designated "thinker" in the parish, the person whose job it is to mull over the theological and ecclesiological stuff, synthesize it, and feed it to me in manageable bits? I don't think so. I'm a smart enough and curious enough person, who keeps her ear to the ground on these issues, after all. Besides, I've learned the hard way that it's not a good idea to rely on someone else to do that accurately. For my own sake, I need to know as much as the priest does about what the documents actually say. So let's rule that one out. And I've never had much to say for the role of the pastor as a dispenser of services, the ecclesiastical gas station attendant, as it were. This model would suggest that church is where we go to get our spiritual tanks filled, and the priest has access (sole access?) to the fuel for that renewal. Surely, he's more than that for the community -or ought to be.

But maybe we come together not just for our own good, but for the common good. To create the common good, I mean. To honor what is more worthy in us. To nudge it forward. To name injustice and work towards fixing it. The sanctuary is a place, then, to create authentic hope -both personal and political- more than a place of easy and ultimately false catharsis. The priest, then, is the one who would hold before us the image of the people we SAY we want to be and wouldn't let us off the hook when that got hard or messy.

I don't know yet if we have that kind of priest, or even if that's what other people want from a priest. And I don't know how to make my vision become a little more true for me and the parish as a whole, even if it is what we want. But at least now I know a smidgeon more about what I do want. Should the long-suffering spouse ask me again, I'm ready with an answer ;)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Posse Comitatus and disaster response

In a nutshell, here's the situation.

Posse Comitatus together with the Insurrection Act bars the military from serving in a domestic law-enforcment capacity, unless there is open rebellion. Concern about granting the military too much power actually pre-dates and informs the Constitution; it started with resentment the colonists felt when they were forced to provide room and board to British soldiers. Some of the strongest resistance to amending posse comitatus has historically come from the military itself, which argues that providing law-enforcement services distracts them from their real mission because it requires such fundamentally different skills.

Yet, President Bush wants to enhance the role of the military in large-scale disaster responses. Doing so requires amending posse comitatus. The National Guard obviously already has a role in response, but in this case they serve in a humanitarian capacity rather than law-enforcement. They can't arrest people, in short.

George Bush apparently cares about neither the potential threat to civil liberties nor the military's almost-certain resistance to this idea. Rather, he sees for himself the opportunity to enhance his powers as commander-in-chief. Typically, when he has been seen as a strong commander, his popularity numbers have gone up. Which, from his point of view, they really need to do. At least, that's my theory about his motivation.

Here are my concerns. Definitely, I want the disaster response to go better next time. I want the National Guard to be there in its humanitarian role. More specifically, I want them to be available rather than be off fighting an ill-conceived war with no end in sight. But I don't think that we need to jump to the conclusion that the problem with the response was a lack of force.

Rather, I think the problem was a lack of finesse -a case of organizational bungling across the board, but most spectacularly at the federal level. So, why would we respond by giving the least effective component of a disaster response still more power? How about training, organizational assistance, and possibly even a little bureaucratic trimming so that they can respond more nimbly? Amending posse comitatus is another threat to our Constitutional protections from an overbearing federal government. I side with Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson here; the choice between security and freedom is ultimately false. There is no security without freedom.

And, in the spirit of this blog, what can a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens do? Well, think for one thing. Don't let your justifiable anger over the horrible scenes from New Orleans cloud your judgement. And let the decision-makers know you are thinking. In my never-humble opinion, we ought not let the very institution designed to protect our liberties become a threat to those liberties itself.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Whoops! Missed It!

Yesterday was World Car-Free Day. There are plenty of days when I don't go anywhere in the car. And probably MOST days, the long-suffering spouse doesn't go anywhere by car. But yesterday? When we could have made a statement? Not so much. Sigh.

Next year, I promise. I don't hold out much hope that marking these special days, declared by varying well-meaning people and groups, makes any difference. Except I do think that someone has to hold onto the "out there, but still recognizable as a functioning human being" edge to society. So, at least on some issues, that will be me -assuming I can hang onto the functioning human being part of that equation, that is.

Friday Random 10

Here are the rules: Take out your iPod. Put it in "shuffle" mode and hit play. Record the first 10 songs that show up -and no fair adding in ones you think will make you look cool or leaving out ones that will make you look like a dork. So, here's my list for this week.

  • Illyrian Dawn (from Riverdance) -Bill Whelan
  • Riding My Bike -John McCutcheon
  • Concerto for Two Trumpets -Vivaldi
  • Om Namaha Shiva -Sheila Chandra
  • Windhorse -Bill Douglas
  • Requiem, Opus 48, Agnus Dei -Faure
  • Shall We Gather at the River -Anonymous Four
  • Goodnight Irene -The Weavers
  • Sewing a Name -Claudia Schmidt
  • Meditation from Thais -Massenet

That's pretty much me -a little Celtic music, a little classical, a little folk, a little eastern-meditation stuff... I'm missing the dorky 60-70s music that is also on my iPod, but it shows up often enough for embarassment's sake ;) And there's my new love for bhangra, but I'll spare you that!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Writing a Check's Too Easy

A few days ago I made a statement and I'm not sure what it means in real life. Hardly the first time for this experience, unfortunately.

I said something like money was important for the hurricane response(s), but that it was insufficient. That giving money was too easy. Yet, it's also patently true that not everyone can or should be a front line worker. So, what are people supposed to do, in my little world view?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was in college. (It was the University of Chicago, in actual fact, but it really WAS a long time ago.) And there, they offered a class called Human Being and Citizen, an opportunity to read philosophers' perspectives on the twin high-callings of humanity and citizenship. What does it mean to be the best possible human I can be? Is being a good human being complementary to or substantively different from being a good citizen? Are they even related to each other at all?

I'm quite sure we were glib and naive, masquerading as profound. We were 18 years old. What do you expect? But, I'm still thinking about those discussions and those books, so the questions they raised, if not our answers, must have been a little bit profound. And the hurricane response has reminded me that, try as we might to be good people, we sometimes forget to be good citizens.

I try, for example, to tell the truth, to hold my important relationships gently, to keep my promises..... But I forget to wonder whether or not the food pantry has food. Or why people need the food pantry in the first place. I forget to donate blood or do after-school tutoring or .... any of the thousands of opportunities that exist right here.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is teaching us -or reminding us- of the importance of community service. For one thing, small, flexible, local volunteer groups are uniquely situated to make a difference quickly in times of dire crisis. For another, they make things better for people in small ways every single day. Abstract notions of improvement or idealism don't make our communities better. Doing something makes them better.

True enough. Reading to a kid here won't make things better there. So, send the check, absolutely. But now we have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are all connected. Decisions made in one place have an impact on people somewhere else. Things I do here might make the world a little better, a little healthier, a little more resilient. It's really no more than "think globally, act locally". Make a phone call today. Volunteer SOMEWHERE.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

International Day of Peace

That would be today. In 1981, the United Nations declared that there should be an annual day of peace and the first International Day of Peace was celebrated in 1982. The day is supposed to be marked by a global cease-fire and personal choices that help us to build a world where sustainable peace is more than a dream.

So, here's an interesting question. Ok, it's not a question; it's a thinly-veiled comment. The original resolution to have such a day passed unanimously at the General Assembly level of the United Nations, which means that the United States voted for it. Do you suppose we'll honor it today? Sigh....

In the spirit of "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens", we have such a day in the first place because of the efforts of Jeremy Gilley. It took him years, but he finally convinced the United Nations to consider his proposal for a single day of global cease-fire. He's documented his path in a documentary entitled Peace One Day. Netflix has it and it's worth checking out. It's a teensy bit self-congratulatory, but not too much -and it comes down solidly on the side of "yes, one person can make a difference." What's not to love about that message?

So, here's a question that's really a question. What am I going to do today to enhance the possibility of sustained peace? I don't know yet. Anyone have any ideas?

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Feminist Wakes Up on her 24th Wedding Anniversary

That's 8760 mornings of waking up next to this guy, assuming all kinds of arithmetic and historical nonsense. But the number has to be in there somewhere.

We've raised two fabulous children who will go out and meet the world on their terms. We've buried our fathers. We've planted gardens, buried pet goldfish in decorated boxes, taken out the trash, and gone to the grocery store. The sublime, the tragic, the mundane, and the ridiculous are all here.

Yet, marriage is a political arrangement that merits a political critique. I wish one model of life-long relationship didn't enjoy privileged status -and I think it behooves those of us in that privileged status to point out that there are options. And to defend those options. But it's also an ethical undertaking, a spiritual enterprise. And some days, you just do it because you said you would.

I try to remember -and today I explicitly remember- to have a grateful heart that I am married, and to this guy in particular. Marrying me was no undertaking for a faint-hearted person, I assure you. The long-suffering spouse deserves all kinds of credit for getting through the days and years with me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

What would I do today if I were brave?

Three women I know and love are GRAVELY ill. Please pray. Storm the heavens. Chant. Howl at the moon. Cross your fingers. Do whatever you do.

Now I know this needs to be about them and not me. I do. Really. But there is a weird confluence of events here. I knew about one of the women already. Yesterday I found out about the other two. And also yesterday there was another meme circulating about the things you want to do before you die.

That list has been circulating for bloody ever; long before there were blogs and memes, it would show up in in actual books with pages ;) So, I made a list of about 7 things and then I pulled myself up short. These women -who are roughly my age- might die. Well, everybody dies. I mean they might die prematurely. Which means I could, too.

I don't feel quite as terrified of that possibility as I did when I was younger and my children were younger. But still.... there are things I have left to do.

So, what would I do TODAY, if I were brave? At least for today, I don't think it would be anything big. I would be sad to discover at the end of my life that I hadn't celebrated my embodied self enough. I want to be able to do everything my body could be capable of. So I need to get to work on that. Today that means yoga and weights and a half hour of cardio -nothing amazing.

I'd be sad to discover that I'd lived and died in a messy, cluttered, inhospitable home. Isn't THAT a weird thing to realize? That I need to clean my house. Strange.

I think my important relationships are mostly strong, but I want to hold them gently today. And I hereby vow that when travelocity sends me those fare watcher messages that includes a city where someone I love lives, I'm going. It's not enough to think "wouldn't that be nice?".

And I'm going to send my friends e-mail to let them know I'm thinking of them, and remind them that they are not defined by their illnesses.

It's only a little bit brave, but it's a start.

"The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself."
-Anais Nin

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Green Knitting -Who Speaks for the Trees?

I just saw my little nephew for a few days. He's 15 months old and is a man of few words -kind of like his daddy that way. But he'll bring you a book and crawl in your lap and sit there while you read words he can't possibly understand. For some reason, he kept bring me The Lorax, which is way too long and complex for him to follow just yet. He apparently didn't care. And I certainly didn't mind having a sweet little boy with a book in my lap again.

In The Lorax, a knitting frenzy causes an environmental disaster. Great. Now I'm the villain in a children's morality tale. But before I go buy a triple-axe-hacker and start chopping down truffula trees, there are probably changes I can make. And just possibly they'll move me out of the full-rant mode that is so attractively displayed in my previous few posts. Sorry about that.

I suppose the claim can be made that the biggest environmental damage from knitting comes from the dyes. Generally, they're pretty reactive and dangerous. But there are ways around this problem, one being color-grown yarn. I know of two sources:

Pakucho yarn -color grown, fair trade, organic cotton -what's not to love?
Ecological Wool I made a beautiful (if I do say so) fair isle sweater from Ecological Wool -and then left it on a plane somewhere. Once more into the fray, trying to get a fair isle sweater into my wardrobe! Sigh...

I'm sure there are more, and I'd love to hear about them.

Of course, there are also the fair trade issues that spring up in every consumer item we purchase. How much of what we buy actually goes to the artisans?
Manos del Uruguay is a cooperative of artisans scattered throughout the countryside of Uruguay, formed to bring economic and social opportunities to rural women. And their yarn is beautiful and soft.
Araucunia is another women's cooperative, in Chile. I haven't used this one myself, but I hear good things.

For people who want vegan alternatives:
Soy silk
Banana Yarn
Bamboo yarn -I haven't used this yet, but my knitting friend Terry made herself a beautiful summer cami with it. It's soft and drapes beautifully and has a wonderful rich color.

What do we do about needles? The rosewood ones are so beautiful. I haven't found them in circulars yet, so I don't have any. So if someone tells me they're bad, I guess I'm safe there. I have lots of bamboo and lots of birch, though. Are those okay? I suppose the Swallow cassein ones are probably not harmful to the universe, but have you tasted them? Oh my lands! When someone told me that the needles tasted bad, I thought "Yeah, and Freud wrote about YOU. Why are your knitting needles in your mouth?" and then I used them and discovered that my needles do spend time in my mouth. Gross, but true. So I'm not crazy about the Swallow needles.

And why, after 40 years of knitting, am I still buying needles? Maybe I should go back to that on-line confesssional and confess acquisitiveness ;) But I really don't have a triple-axe-hacker and truffula trees are safe in my care!

Absolution On-Line?? Is this a Joke?

Someone who's telling us nothing about himself (herself? At least THAT would be modestly entertaining, in a geeky-Catholic way.) has started an on-line confessional. You choose your sins from a list, grade their severity according to a class system, and then -allegedly...maybe- your sins are forgiven. There's a disclaimer that there's no guarantee (ya THINK?) and that if you have any doubts or concerns you should consult your priest.

Well, no need for that. As it happens, I have a brain, too.

Why don't I just install a drive-through window at my house, fling holy water at people as they drive by, and claim to be baptizing them? Reconciliation (the actual name of the sacrament which results in absolution) actually means "restoration of right relationship". And "relationship" kind of has a "with someone" clause. How can the sacraments exist outside a community of faith?

I confessed "failure to serve the needs of the poor -Class C", to see what would happen. (Needless to say, my actual list of sins would be somewhat longer.) I received five Hail Marys as a penance -a significant increase over the three Hail Marys that were my last penance. And I only confessed one sin. Inflation really stinks.

Maybe it really is a joke and I'm too thick to get it? If not, the whole thing makes me sad. I'm no longer surprised when non-Catholics don't understand reconciliation. Former Catholics are among the least well-informed, which is annoying and heart-breaking in equal measure. But practicing Catholics who don't get it?? YOU go consult your priest, for crying out loud.

Oh, for heaven's sake. I wasn't going to provide the link, but I know that Mike is going to go check it out. (gotcha!) So, here it is: Confess

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Women in Disasters

We've been operating under the assumption that disasters "just happen". I no longer think so -although I've made the first statement publicly more than a few times. Rather, even in the case of natural disasters, what becomes disastrous about them is at base, the difference between the rich and the poor, the empowered and the powerless. Disastrous social institutions don't just change our disaster response efforts (as though that wouldn't be bad enough) but in fact they help cause the disasters in the first place.

More specifically, gender bias is not typically something we look at in disaster response. Certainly the American Red Cross has an explicit and firmly enforced policy of assisting everyone according to their need. Certainly we acknowledge that women (and other marginalized people, but I can only think about one at a time!) enter the disaster with all the bias and discrimination that occurs in any society. And we know that we are typically blind to our own biases, so we might be inadvertantly perpetrating discrimination. And we know that people in extremis can not be on their socially-regulated best behavior, so some risks to women are enhanced (family violence, for example) during a disaster.

But, would a response sensitive to the needs of women be more effective? Can we even determine what the specific needs of women might be? What would such a response look like? I can (and probably will) turn this into a real paper, complete know... data. But this is a blog; allow me to make some assertions I'll prove later.

Here's a modest proposal for change:

*Integrate women as (primary?) distributors of emergency supplies.
*Incorporate female clients into the decision-making structure of long-term shelters. (Actually I'd be thrilled if the female professionals were routinely seen as equal partners, but that's another story for another time.) And it should be noted that including clients of ANY sort in the decision-making process of a shelter would very likely be a change of policy.
*Enhance local women's associations. Which means that relief organizations need to craft much stronger ties with indigenous support groups everywhere. Now there's a project for a horde of graduate students! Find indigenous support groups, maintain accurate lists of contact people, modestly train them and keep them interested, even though they may never be needed. Egad. But, the people who know how to craft locally-appropriate responses are already in place. It ought to be our job to work for them, rather than the other way 'round.
*Eliminate gender blindness from the research. Put women in the models and see what happens.

I'm not completely starry-eyed. I know these are huge, world-view-altering suggestions and that implementing them would cause some confusion in the ranks and also in the community of need. But they CAN be done. I'll go further. They really must be done for ethical services to be delivered.

Friday, September 16, 2005

George Bush caused the hurricane (?)

So I'm ranting with my long-suffering life partner about the disaster response. The wheels have come off this wagon, for sure. So the people laboring in the field know two conflicting things. One, they're working their butts off to ensure the best care they can for the survivors -and it's not going well at all. And two, they're only going to get reamed for it in the press. This is a joyous way to work -not. But it's not entirely unfamiliar. The same thing happened in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster. Mostly, you just turn off the news and do the best you can.

But as far as I'm concerned, all of it is George Bush's fault. In a disaster response, there is no particular reason for the social workers to be there on day 1. The first people there are the damage assessment people, the communications people, obviously the operations director... and the National Guard. WHY was mental health staff there before the National Guard. WHY?????? Technically, my Air Force brother tells me, the Guard works for the governor. But the governors have released many, many members of the Guard (the number varies by state) to the federal government because of the war in Iraq. If they're there, they can't be here. Even I can figure that out.

The people in New Orleans are not more malicious than anyone else. The kind of looting and violence and general mayhem that we saw could happen anywhere. It doesn't happen when.... oh wait, I know.... the National Guard is there!!!

Secondly, Mr. Brown the former FEMA director, while certainly in the wrong job, can only act once there's a presidential declaration of a disaster. Local law enforcement and the Red Cross are there first. Eventually, the governor of the affected state gets on the phone with the president and there's a declaration, if the situation warrants it. FEMA can't act until there's a declaration. It takes one phone call and a piece of paper. He just plain didn't do it in time. (Landfall in Louisiana on 8/28. The first declaration was the same day, but EXCLUDED the parishes that the governor and the hurricane advisors agreed would be the hardest hit. Amended declaration on the 30th. On the 31st, Bush abandoned his vacation, but didn't go to Louisiana.)

And the money that's gone from the FEMA budget. And the president looking us all right in the eye (on television) and saying that no one expected the levees to break. Hello???? I knew they were going to break, and I have to assume he has access to better information than I have. I almost said better intelligence, but that's probably not true ;) So, this is a long, ranting phone call to the long-suffering spouse. I assume he's actually put the phone in a drawer and picks it up every once in a while to say "there, there, dear."

But then I take a deep breath and opine that I suppose I can't actually lay the fact of the hurricane at Bush's door. But wait... replies my husband. (So, he is listening!) If this is all about global warming and President Bush failed to sign the Kyoto accords, maybe there's something we can do with this. All right. All right. Signing the treaty wouldn't have changed the global warming situation fast enough to really change the outcome. But there's something here, and I'm going to find it!

Right now, I'm tired. I have dirty laundry. I've worked hard for people I don't know, in a situation I didn't cause. People I care about a lot have worked harder and more directly and at greater personal risk. And it looks like it was caused almost intentionally, because the powers that be are willing to write off the safety and the very lives of poor people, who probably didn't vote for them.

Oh yeah, I'm mad.

Friday Random 10

...working back into this blogging habit with an easy post!

Here are the rules. Put your iPod in shuffle mode and report the first 10 songs that show up. And no fair leaving out the dorky ones or adding ones that make you look cool! Here are mine for this week:

    The Random 10:
  • Kashi Vishwanath Gange -Krishna Das
  • Grow Old with Me -Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Viola Concerto in G (51:G9), Allegro -Telemann
  • Mitwa -Udit Narayan
  • Appalachian Spring; Aaron Copeland
  • Menuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin - Ravel
  • Bang the Drum Slowly -Emmylou Harris
  • Ride My Bike -Tom Paxton
  • Send in the Clowns -Judy Collins
  • Riverdance -Bill Whelan

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Honey, I'm Home!

I am so sorry for the gap in posting. Not that anyone cared. But I'm sorry, because this blogging project has been helping me organize my mushy thoughts. No blogging = mushy thoughts abounding!

I'll do my best ASAP to focus and synthesize my experiences and make something constructive of the little I accomplished. In the meantime, there's laundry....

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day, Good Work, and Right Livelihood

I've been having a bit of trouble sleeping lately (me and everyone else, I'm sure). Trying to fall asleep, I read. Last night I came across the following:

An old monk said: I never wanted work which was useful to me but loss to my brothers and sisters. For I have this expectation that what helps my brother is fruitful for me.

-Yushi Nomura, Desert Wisdom

And then there are Matthew Fox's questions: "What joy results from the work we are doing?" and "What suffering is relieved by the work we are doing?" Worthwhile Magazine.

But what do we do about the people who have icky jobs because they have to have some job? Is it just my perception, or would this describe most people? What about the people trying to support a family by working at McDonald's -a doomed enterprise if ever there was one? To them, does a spirituality of work and right livlihood look like just so much navel gazing? Do I get to think about joy arising from my work because I have the luxury of liking my job?

Or am I being patronizing and it's completely possible to have a spirit of giving and joy in any employment, paid or not, skilled or not, respected or not?

You can make yourself crazy with this kind of circular thinking! In the meantime, here's a prayer for meaningful work for all people: Prayer for Meaningful Work

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rebuilding with Justice

It's started to happen already. People are romanticizing New Orleans because they went there once in college, threw a few beads, ate some red beans and rice, and listened to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Excellent. I'm glad they had fun. But that's not why we should rebuild New Orleans -and even if it were, it tells us nothing about how.

I've said it before -mostly to my Yankee children (oh, the shame!)- you don't understand the south (and New Orleans would be an even more extreme example) until or unless you've hung out with Southerners. Leave your stereotypes at the Mason-Dixon Line and pay attention to what's actually before you. New Orleans is a mystical, magical place that is way bigger than the Quarter. It's a place of the most warm-hearted hospitality; someone is ALWAYS trying to feed you in New Orleans.

But now we have competing stereotypes. We have roving street parties and jazz funerals on the one hand... and armed gangs, shooting at rescue helicopters on the other. And both are true, as far as they go. But of course, there's more. And stereotypes say more about the person holding them than they do about the situation they're trying to describe with the stereotype, anyway.

Why don't we just give it a rest and rely on the possibility that the people of New Orleans know what they need and can provide the leadership in whatever rebuilding they decide is appropriate? There are models for this.

I respect the American Red Cross. I really do. I used to respect FEMA and may again someday. I have a little more trouble with The Salvation Army, but I know that in this disaster response they are providing excellent services to devastated people. However, ALL of these organizations will implement large-scale operations, using a very top-down organizing strategy. They will parachute into affected communities and declare what needs to be done -and start doing it to the very best of their abilities and with good intentions. But that reinforces the victim/recipient role for the people in New Orleans.

I think that just as soon as we're sure that people's immediate life needs are met, the whole thing needs to be turned over to the people of New Orleans. The money, the planning, the expertise. Sure, bring in experts and scholars and engineers and ... whatever the people ask for. But those experts need to be "on tap, not on top". They need to be directed by the citizens of New Orleans, rather than the other way around.

So, how can I help that happen? I've made some donations of time, money, and expertise to the American Red Cross and I'll continue with that. But I'm going to also look for something like a Catholic Worker House in New Orleans to give my money to. Something indigenous, small, organizationally flexible -and just a smidge radical. I'll let you know what I find.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Title Change

Ever taken the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter? Well, I'm an extrovert. And the way that extroverts sort out their thoughts is to talk about them. And it's happened again.

No question that the good and the true and the prudent thing to have done would have been to get the mission statement for my blog all squared away in my head before I ever made the first word public. Yeah, that's gonna happen!

But the more I wrote, the more it dawned on me that Margaret Mead's words really are a mission statement for my life. And that all the issues that I wanted to reflect more about are just my paths to changing the world. And that the social nature of the blogosphere opens the possibility of forming that small group of thoughtful committed citizens with people I've never met. So, a title change for my blog became necessary.

Besides, the old title was lame.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Green Choices in DeKalb

It apparently has happened; gas is over $3.00 a gallon. (Why this bothers me is unclear, since I cheerfully pay $3.00 for 12 ounces of coffee. Note to self: have head examined.)

My husband is a bit of an environmental zealot, so ages ago we made choices that mitigate our need for a car. We have one. We have ONE, which is pretty unusual. We both ride our bikes to work a lot of the time. I do wimp out in the winter, though. We live where we can walk to shopping and dining, such as it is in DeKalb. We recycle.

Aren't we just darling? (sarcasm there, in case you missed it.)

Here's what I'm musing about, though. I know people can't just sell their houses and move closer to work -especially not as a short-term solution. I know people are busy and over-committed and a little crazed already. But what can we do, without just boatloads of trouble, that will reduce our individual and collective need for fossil fuels? And maybe we can do a little good for real-live humans while we're at it.

Drink fair trade coffee. It won't be at Starbucks. I like their coffee, but not a drop of it is fair trade, as far as I can tell. The corporate website says that they will make you a cup of fair trade coffee if you ask. I asked. Nothing in the store was fair trade. The barrista was very nice and helpful, but honestly we couldn't find anything in the store that worked. You can find Fair Trade coffee at the little coffee stand on the corner of 2nd and Lincoln Highway. The way I read the website for Intelligentsia Coffee not all their coffee is fair trade but a lot of it is. Ask Matthew (the owner of the coffee stand) for fair trade offerings and I bet he'll comply. And besides.. it's downtown. You might be able to walk there for your morning coffee.

And if the price is getting to you, or you just have to have coffee at home too (ummm... YEAH!), you can buy the coffee in bulk at Duck Soup Coop. I need to shop there more often. There's a commitment I can make this month.

And, speaking of coffee... Ben and Jerry's has switched to fair trade coffee for all their coffee-flavored ice cream. Clearly, now you HAVE to get some; it's almost a moral obligation.

Buy a bike. Go to North Central Cyclery at 6th and Lincoln Highway. I love these guys. They have NEVER laughed at me (where I could hear), even though I wanted the most resolutely uncool bicycle on the planet. They organize bike rallies that are free. They take good care of my maniacal bicycling husband, sometimes even when the store is closed. Ask for Toby or Marcus. I'm sure the others are nice, too. But I know that Toby and Marcus are great.

Now RIDE your bike.It's hard to go to the grocery store on your bike. But with a backpack, you could go to the library, church, work. With a light on your bike, you could add in those blasted evening meetings. Try it once this week. Just once. The next Ride to Work Day is not until July 19, 2006. Maybe you should start training for it now ;) My next commitment in this department is to ride to church. I don't dress up much for church. I usually don't have anything to carry. It's just a matter of leaving in time. Sigh.... I WILL make this change.

Get involved with local cycling interests. The only one I know of is DeKalb Greenways and Trails, which is focusing on linking the various bike trails to each other. The last I heard, they were also interested in getting bike paths to and around the local elementary schools so that children could ride to school. That idea doesn't help me much, but I totally support it. Honestly, I can't tell from the web if they are still meeting. The names I knew of people involved include Mike Stack, Julia Fauci, Ric Calderon.... Maybe if you run into one of these people, ask them how to get involved. And tell me. And let them know that they should beef up their internet presence, assuming they still want volunteers.

I have more ideas, and please feel free to add more in the comments field. I also have a somewhat longer list of things we should have and don't. There's a middlin' long list of things that probably do exist, but I don't know where to find them.

None of this gets hungry and despairing people out of the Superdome. I'm deeply aware of the irony of wanting to get on my bike and ride, when there are so many people suffering. But the fact is, we are all connected. It is not everyone's role to do direct service. And, while I know money is essential to all disaster operations -and this one is going to need a lot more than most- in a way, giving money is too easy. I'm still left with the question of how to change my life in ways that can be helpful to other people.

But this is me.... The changes I make, I want to be able to sustain. The behavioral changes have to be real rather than symbolic gestures, but they also can't be onerous or punitive. Come, let us reason together on this subject!

My Life as Political Satire

I really wanted to scan and load this political cartoon. But in the interest of being ethical and law-abiding, I'll provide a link instead. It's my life. Where Did I Go Wrong?

If you're reading this entry after September 1, be sure to scroll down to 8/29/05.

The Lovely LilaPod

Here's the game.... Put your iPod 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. (Heck, I look like a dork every week when I do this, and I still think it's interesting.)

    My Ten Selections:
  • Ledge Psychology; Bob Newhart -a little dark humor for social workers
  • Study War No More; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • You're No Good; Linda Ronstadt
  • Brandenburg Concerto No. 6; JS Bach
  • Nem as Paredes Confesso; Amalia Rodrigues
  • Changes in Latitude; Changes in Attitude; Jimmy Buffett
  • What Did You Learn in School Today?; Pete Seeger
  • Don't Call Me Baby; Madison Avenue
  • Symphony No. 41 in C (Jupiter); Mozart
  • Concerto for Two Trumpets, Strings, and Continuo; Vivaldi

But wait... there's more. One of my truly geeky addictions is this website, where fellow addicts can share their playlists: Addictive Playlists. I found this list, developed by master playlist author Radish, during a previous hurricane evacuation:

    Songs for Hurricane Season:
  • Ridin' the Storm Out; REO Speedwagon
  • Riders on the Storm; The Doors
  • Bad Moon Rising; CCR
  • Like a Hurricane; Neil Young
  • Hurricane; Bob Dylan
  • Rock You Like a Hurricane; Scorpions
  • Florida Hurricane; St. Louis Jimmy
  • Lightning in the Sky; Santana
  • Hurricane; Joan Osborne
  • Hurricane; Bush
  • The Storm; Big Country
  • Hurricane Season; The Tom Russell Band
  • Oh! What a Storm!; The Dry Branch Fire Squad
  • Dance to the Storm; Hothouse Flowers
  • Shelter from the Storm; Bob Dylan
  • Like a Hurricane; Roxy Music
  • Ahead of the Storm; Blue Highway
  • Storm Warning; Bonnie Raitt
  • Electrical Storm; U2
  • Hurricane; Mindy Smith
  • Blow the Man Down; The Robert Shaw Chorale
  • Dose of Thunder; The Replacements
  • Let the Thunder Roar; Grim Reaper

I know. I know. This isn't entirely appropriate. Believe me, I'm not making light of what the hurricane survivors have had to endure (more on that later). But in the meantime, I'm reminded of the Emma Goldman claim, "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution.". Okay, so we're not about a revolution here. But the people of New Orleans and environs are about creating a new reality for themselves. It's a kind of revolution, and among other things, perhaps we should dance in it.