Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An Unkempt Daughter of a Mardi Gras Queen

That would be me. What, you understandably ask, happened? Heck if I know. Somehow I neither inherited nor learned my mother's easy grace with clothes and home decorating and style in general. She can poke around in her closets and come up with something elegant and unusual. I poke around in mine and find... black pants, blouses of various colors, and hand-knit cardigans. Period. She came home recently from a day spent antique-ing with an old screen door that she wanted to hang on the wall. I haven't seen this creation, but I'll bet it's interesting and artistic. If I did the same thing, I would just have a screen door on the wall, and it would be stupid.

What I tell people is that if I thought these things were important, I would spend some energy learning about them. What I know deep down, though, is that these things are important, and I'm afraid that I can't figure them out. So I don't try. On the other hand, I'm not a complete basket case. I know that I have other skills and other experiences and training that allow me to contribute to the world in ways different from my mother. I've crafted a life that I like. It lacks artistry, I concede, but there's an exuberance to it... a spirit, if you will, that is mine and no one else's. Raging insecurities aside, I've made something new.

And today, on Mardi Gras, the mardi gras queens of a certain age reign from their floats again. And this year's celebration has a poignancy to it that's hard to overlook. If New Orleans were a person, I'd know exactly how she feels. I'll never be as good as the former effort. I can't do what the former queen did. Why the HELL can't I look like she did?

I'm here to tell you, new New Orleans, that it's going to be okay. You're absolutely right. You won't do what the old queen did. But you'll do your own new thing -a thing that's never existed before. A thing we've been waiting for you to do for the world. Check your insecurities at the Riverwalk; there's good stuff yet to come.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Lest We Forget

I told myself that once a month I'd track down these numbers: the human cost of the war in Iraq.

U.S. military deaths, as of yesterday: 2,291 (thanks to U.S. Fatalities for this information.)

Civilian death toll: somewhere between 28,535 and 32,153 (thanks to Iraq Body Count for this information.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, even if we're only concerned about U.S. citizens (and why would that be true???), the score stands thus:
Osama bin Laden: 2,738 (includes just the U.S. citizens from the 9/11/01 death toll)
George W. Bush: 2,291

That's a fairly inflammatory way to frame the conversation, I admit. But honestly, almost 2300 people are dead because..... WHY are they dead, again? Yes, I'm being a little histrionic, but on some level we have to tell truth to power, and these are the numbers.

There are glimmers of hope here and there, however. Last weekend, the United States Conference for the World Council of Churches formally apologized to the world for the war in Iraq.
Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agenda that are nothing short of idolatrous.

The full text of the prayer/letter can be found here: World Council of Churches.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Unethical Prayer?

I'm not talking about praying for "the grace of a happy -if somewhat premature- death" for, say, elected officials or church hierarchs I don't like. It can be entertaining to tease about doing that, but to really do it, yeah, that would have to be unethical prayer. I have a somewhat more subtle ethical problem.

What, after all, can I do for young Thomas? (See a few posts down the page, if you're just joining us and don't know who Thomas is.)I can knit impossibly tiny hats and booties and blankets. Doing that soothes me more than anything else, but babies need hats, etc... so it's arguably useful to him as well. And I can pray. I've never thought of myself as having a particularly rich prayer life, but I'm realizing how naturally and easily I reach for prayer all the time. And when things are tough, it's more often and more urgent.

And not far behind that realization is the absolute truth that there is no more anti-Catholic person on the planet than my brother, Thomas's father. As he knows, I think his arguments lack, well, just about everything. The truth is he's made up his mind and there's no budging him from what is really an emotional truth for him. Nonetheless, there are good reasons that a person could have for leaving the church, and maybe the rigor of his argument doesn't matter anyway.

Is it unethical to ask my parish to put baby Thomas on the prayers of the faithful list? I say that it's not. My brother will almost certainly disagree with me. Of course he wouldn't have to know that I've done it (I haven't yet) until or unless he reads this post. Yet, I want to do the right thing.

I wouldn't be praying -nor would the parish be praying- that my brother straighten up and come back to church and baptize that baby already. We'd be praying that the best thing happens for Thomas. Which always amounts to the same thing in these cases: live joyfully and fully for as long as you're meant to, and then experience the grace of a happy death.

What would you do?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to shuffle mode and tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones that you think make you look cool. We'll suspect and then tease you mercilessly ;)

By the way, I LOVE reading other people's list -for the exact same reason that I sometimes cringe at my own. One gets a little glimpse into people's private space -which is practically the same thing as their psyche. One learns more about one's friends, in other words. Excellent.

Here's my list this week (cringing in advance):

  • Summertime; Ella Fitzgerald
  • For He is an Englishman from Pinafore; Gilbert and Sullivan
  • Lamentations of Jeremiah; Tallis via The King Singers
  • A Soft Place to Fall; Allison Moorer
  • Virginia Woolf; Indigo Girls
  • In Winter's Keeping; Jackson Hill via Chanticleer
  • Round the Bend; Adrina Thorp
  • Angel Eyes; Emmylou Harris
  • Mongolian Long Song; traditional via Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Journeys
  • We Remember; John Michael Talbot

There you are. Ten glimpses into my psyche. You might want to protect small children and vulnerable souls ;) Actually, I think I lucked out this week -only one cowboy song and not a bad one at that.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The World Keeps Turning

It's kind of a mystery, really. In my head and heart, it's all Thomas all the time. And yet, the world seems not to understand that it needs to stop and pay attention here. People keep on screwing things up willy-nilly, and we fail to pay attention at our peril.

So, focus... focus.... I'm trying to focus.

BuyBlue reports that there's a new list of corporate villains named and shamed for their fabulously abusive practices. These corporations have been abusive to people and abusive to the earth, at just staggering levels. The Walt Disney Company, Chevron (which now owns Texaco), and Citigroup have been "awarded" hall of shame prizes. Check your credit cards, boys and girls. It should be fairly easy to withhold business from both Chevron and Citigroup.

Other losers include Coca-Cola, Novartis, Cyngenta, Ciba Specialty, and Bayer. Check out BuyBlue for documentation and more information. They really have quite the informative site.

Yet, the question is still open. What do we do now that we know this information? I have no business with either Citigroup or Chevron. It's harder to avoid Walt Disney than it should be, but it can be done. I don't drink Coca-Cola products very often at all, and really how much aspirin can a girl use? Bayer would hardly notice if I stopped buying their products.

Before too long now, I'm going to have to confront the question of socially responsible investing. My alarmingly meager retirement funds are invested.... somewhere. That largely happens without my intervention. Sigh. I should pay more attention; I really should. I could well be supporting these companies and not know it.

You might want to check out this site as well: Responsible Shopper. I'm not one for recreational shopping, as my wardrobe would certainly suggest to you. But, even I have to shop sometimes. It's helpful to know more than which stores to avoid, since new socks must, in the end, be purchased somewhere. And there's this information re: buying gasoline, which I have yet to hear contradicted anywhere: Buy-Cott, which suggests that buying gasoline from Citgo is the way to go.

And once you're in the habit of buying gasoline here and clothing there, you don't have to think about the why of it anymore. It's just what you do and no trouble at all. Of course, we still need to challenge ourselves to be sure that the list of ethical choices we make gets longer.

So that's today's task. As always, I'm open to your ideas. They're certain to be better than mine, these days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Vigils Today

I'm getting a little frustrated with the glib response to the President's many and varied travesties against the Constitution -"He's acting like a king." It's a bit glib, for one thing. And besides, what he's really acting like is a criminal. We have laws against this stuff, for crying out loud.

In that spirit, MoveOn is sponsoring Constitution Vigils today to send a message to our elected officials that it's time for Congress to do its job. Defend the Constitution, already! The specific focus for the vigils is the illegal wire-taps, but of course there's more than one possibility here. The "just trust me" argument has been used so frequently lately that it's getting a little dizzying.

Yes, I know. Vigils don't really do anything. Except... maybe they do. If nothing else, they demonstrate that there is, in fact, not consensus on these issues. Congress-people are in the districts this week, so perhaps they will get a more accurate read on people's passions on this subject. Go to MoveOn to see if there's a vigil in your area. If not, read the Bill of Rights yourself. It merits the occasional re-reading, in spite of (or because of) our President's lack of familiarity with it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Life, Death, and Lanyards

Well, we have just been having a week and a half so far this week. Bear in mind that none of this is happening directly to us. We're fine. It's just stuff happening that causes a person to stop and reflect. You all already know about terrific-Thomas, who has us all delighted and terrified in swings of emotion.

And then, I was wandering around the house yesterday, trying vainly to bring some order to the disaster scene we've created. (The dust bunnies defeated me in straight sets, but that's another story.) I look outside and I see one of my parish priests standing in the driveway. I know I didn't invite him over and I am not ready for company. Seriously NOT. But what am I going to do? Let him stand out in the cold and pretend not to be home? It turns out that he had been called to our next door neighbor's house to administer the Sacrament of Anointing to the 91-year-old grandfather of the family; he was just looking for their house. He (the neighbor; I don't know where the priest went) was sent immediately afterwards to the hospital, and Dave and I scooted off to visit with him while he was still quasi-conscious. As far as I know, he lived through the night, but it won't be long now.

And all of this has to be told to our children. You have a new cousin. He's fabulous and perfect, but we don't know much about the future for him. So, you get to fall in love with a little being, and you may well get your heart broken. Sigh... And this old gentleman, who acted in the grandfather role for you for so many years, is dying a fairly undignified death, poor soul. Another sigh.... In the car on the way to N's hockey game, of all places, the three of us got into a strange and important conversation about family love and how it generates no actual obligations. Yet at the same time, we all have a feeling that the love must move us to action of some sort. We just have to make our peace with the other truth that anything we do is paltry compared to the depth of feeling it's responding to.

Which led us to this poem by the U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Buy his books, really. He's helped me to like poetry, and I never thought I would.

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly -
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift -—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

My green and black leather mother's-lanyard is on my keychain. It does make us even. Well, we were always even, but it's a great lanyard.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Meet Thomas

I actually don't have this baby's parents' permission to post his picture. But I'm his daddy's MUCH older sister, and we have rights, we older sisters. And this is one of them. So there. I think he's cute. Clearly, there are medical issues. But this little wisp of humanity is OUR perfect wisp, and we're glad he's here.

Welcome to the World, Baby Boy

In a surprise performance, Thomas Alexander was born yesterday. No one really expected quite so imminent delivery. But then... it became inevitable. He weighs a whopping not-quite-2 pounds and is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery. But, given those circumstances, he's really doing well. The next few days will reveal more, in terms of any permanent consequences from having been so all-fired anxious to get here.

But for now, allow me to be the doting auntie and say that he's our perfect Thomas no matter what the tests reveal. I'll post a picture when I have one.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Friday Random 10

HA! This I can do without having to think much.

You know the game. Take out your beloved iPod. Set it to shuffle mode and tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones that you think will convince us that you are cool. We'll know the truth.

Here are mine for this week: (OK, I edited. I swear my iPod's "shuffle" setting involved giving me the songs in alphabetical order. Weird, but true.)

  • Che gelida manina; Andrea Boccelli
  • Fantasia in the Sixth Tone; Gabrieli
  • Weekend; Scooter
  • Because You are Chosen; John Michael Talbot
  • Breathe; Faith Hill
  • Rock, Pretty Mama; Billy Adams and the Rock and Roll Boys
  • Brand New Dance: Emmylou Harris
  • What Is a Pacifist?; Utah Phillips
  • Become You; Indigo Girls
  • Perfect World; Indigo Girls

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Unscheduled Break

Sorry, dear ones. I have to go away for a few days. It's probably apparent to careful readers that I've been a little distracted over the last few days. Here's the thing -one of the things, anyway. I have a pregnant sister in law. She's about 25 weeks along, and she's in labor. So.... I'm clearing the decks for a visit to Boston. Think good strong thoughts for little Thomas. We all desperately want to welcome him to the world -but not just yet.

I'll be back ;)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Rock Star and the President Pray Together (?)

Kellie sent me this link to Bono's homily at the National Prayer Breakfast. Bless his heart, he seems to get it. Here's the link: Bono. Enjoy.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Republicans Tip Their Hand

I really want to talk about Dead-Eye Dick Cheney shooting his hunting partner. I really do. But I've come to the reluctant conclusion that the story itself it enough. There is no need for sarcasm or wit or reflection here. The Vice-President shot a guy and tried to get away without releasing the story. And if anyone says "Alexander Hamilton" to me as a kind of defense of this behavior, I will truly have to laugh.

No, the meatier story today is Dennis Hastert. He is, I'm sorry to report, my Congressional representative. His political niche has been to be a staunch defender of the President. The President wants a war in Iraq? Denny is there by his side, supporting it. The President wants tax cuts for the wealthy? Count on Denny. The President wants privatized Social Security? Denny's your man, and it's just a damn shame we couldn't pull that one off, Mr. President.

So now no one's surprised that he's defending warrantless wire-tapping. His argument? Abraham Lincoln did it too. I'm not kidding. He appeared at a local Republican Party dinner last Friday and that was his claim -or so I hear. Mysteriously, I wasn't invited ;) Apparently there was no reference to an actual historical event. But we're supposed to believe that these "extraordinary actions" taken by our current president are paralleled in Lincoln's actions during the Civil War.

There's more. Brace yourself. Intellectual snobs laughed at Ronald Reagan too (well, yeah... we did) and just look at all the good he accomplished, argues Mr. Hastert. OK, I'm looking. Because of President Reagan, argues Hastert, the Berlin Wall came down and communism ended. How many people are going to take credit for this? It was one of Pope John Paul II's favorite things to take credit for, too. Don't the Germans get any credit here? But say for the sake of argument that all the credit belongs to Reagan. How does it parallel what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan? The wall came down fairly peacably. We weren't there shooting people, demanding that it come down come hell or high water.

No... we're spying on Americans without warrants. And defending it with the weakest logic imaginable. And still only half the people in the country think this is a bad idea. I wonder if Denny's running for President. I shudder to think.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Life, the Universe, and Croissants

It's Sunday. Like a good little Catholic girl, I went to church. After church, the long-suffering spouse and I went out for coffee, as we usually do. This coffee time frequently goes into the "talk Andrea down from whatever froth she's in today" category. I'm really not kidding when I refer to Dave as the long-suffering spouse; the guy deserves a medal.

Today's froth involves bumper stickers. I was, need it be said, very nearly late for Mass and took the last available spot in the parking lot. (Don't start. Yes, Dave rode his bike. And got there early.) I parked next to a huge conversion van with several car seats inside. The bumper stickers ran the gamut from "Bush-Cheney" to "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve; defend traditional marriage" to "It's not a choice; it's a life (or a baby or... whatever that bumper sticker says. You get the idea.). I instantly -and I'll bet you big money, accurately- made some assumptions about this family's version of Catholicism. It doesn't have much to do with mine.

And as a feminist and a liberal and, for heaven's sake, just a person who occasionally thinks, I resist polarization. I don't have to take the extreme left position just because they've taken the extreme right. But I really, really want to. I want to get a "Catholics for Choice" bumper sticker, even though I'm reluctantly pro-choice and if the Catholic church would just be more reasonable I wouldn't have to go as far as I have in the pro-choice direction. I want to get some snarky bumper sticker about impeaching Bush. I want to get a bumper sticker that says something like "Jesus didn't teach me to hate gay people." Or at the very least, "Tolerance Now".

For this kind of bumper sticker warfare, I might even get to church early enough to choose where I park. As in, next to the people with the Bush-Cheney sticker.

I had braced myself for Dave's argument that there were more liberal bumper stickers in our parish parking lot than there were in the parish parking lots of nearby Catholic churches. True, but hardly comforting. More than zero does not a community make. But he actually claimed that there were more liberal bumper stickers per parking lot than you'd find almost anywhere else in town -with the possible exception of the parking lot where the LA&S faculty park. His claim was that I was selectively seeing the thing I was afraid of seeing -that our parish has become a collection of conservative, clerical Catholics- when instead the opposite is true. Insofar as there IS a liberal community in this little sea-of-Republicans town, they are at the Catholic church.

I see why that could be true. But is it true? I'm going to try to look around with more open eyes next week. And why don't liberals put as many bumper stickers on their cars???? A question for the sages.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the game. Take out your iPod. Set it to shuffle mode and tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones to compensate for your dorkiness.

Here are mine for this week:
  • Dona Nobis Pacem; Marty Haugen (Falling Asleep in Prayer playlist)
  • Walk Like an Egyptian; The Bangles (Walk It Off playlist -for working out)
  • Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season; Jimmy Buffett (Girls Raised in the South playlist)
  • Divertimento, K. 287: Mozart via David Blum and the English Chamber Orchestra (Ancient Music playlist)
  • Where Have All the Cowboys Gone; Paula Cole (I do NOT Understand Men playlist)
  • Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel; George Winston (Elegant Evening playlist)
  • Better Be Good to Me; Tina Turner (Bringing Down the House playlist -housecleaning music)
  • Mhorag's Na Horo Gheallaidh; Clannad (Celtic music playlist)
  • Peace Will Come; Tom Paxton (Building a Peaceful World playlist)
  • Anjali; DJ Cheb I Sabbah (Calm Yourself playlist)
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go; Amanda Shaw (multiple playlists -I want to play fiddle like that girl does, and that's the truth.)

Edited to add: Well, heck... I see that there are 11. I didn't see that yesterday because I had messed up the coding. Oh well. There are 11 songs this week. We'll all just have to cope.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Get to Work!

It shouldn't take an act of Congress to get a federal agency to do its job, should it? Well, apparently it does.

Once again, anti-choice political lobbies and elected officials have been more organized than their pro-choice counterparts. They've been using their political clout to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from approving over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill. The FDA Advisory Committee on Reproductive Health overwhelmingly recommended approval of this change. The vote was 23-4, in case you're interested. Yet there's still no approval because the Bush administration has forced the group to a voting impasse.

It's possible to work myself up into quite a froth about this administration's apparent goal of chipping away at women's rights in general and reproductive choice in particular. So, here's the action plan for the day. There's a proposal in the Senate which would give the FDA 30 days to either approve or deny the morning after pill. You can take some action here, if you like: Petition Site.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hoist On Your Own... Whatever

Here's an interesting news item: Village Voice.

The upshot is this: There's this priest, Bob Hoatson, who's long been an advocate for survivors of clerical sexual abuse. He was recently relieved of his position as chaplain for Catholic Charities in Newark. He feels, not surprisingly, that this suspension of his duties is related to his work with survivors. So he filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Egan and nine other Church officials, claiming a pattern of "retaliation and harassment."

Buried somewhere in the middle of the document outlining the charges, the suit alleges that Egan is "actively homosexual". He also names Albany's bishop, Howard Hubbard, and Newark's bishop, John Myers, as homosexuals. OK, this is getting interesting.

For one thing, what does actively homosexual even mean? For the non-Catholics among us, here's the Cliff's Notes version of this. Bear in mind that it's hard to explain because, well, it doesn't make a lot of sense. The idea is that there is no sin involved in being attracted to a person of the same gender. The attraction can be seen as "disordered", since one of the reasons for sexual activity is the creation of children, which obviously isn't going to happen with same sex couples. But it's not a sin, any more than being a hemophiliac is a sin. Weird enough yet? Hang on to your hats then. We are encouraged to believe that people with homosexual orientations are "called to celibacy." So, being homosexual isn't the problem; acting homosexual is the sin. The rest of us are called to compassion and charity. And men who are homosexual are excluded from the priesthood (yeah, right), in spite of the fact that all priests take vows of celibacy. Let the church say "amen". I can't hear you! Yeah, that's pretty much what always happens. Deafening, stunned silence.

So, does the lawsuit allege that these bishops are homosexuals in action or just in orientation? In other words, are they violating their vows of celibacy? To say nothing of the order refusing entrance to seminaries to men who are homosexual? On the one hand, homosexuality is clearly not illegal in the civil (as opposed to clerical) world. So why even mention it in a legal document? I'm not sure that's sporting behavior.

On the other hand, these bishops have certainly used homosexuality against other people -to keep them out of the priesthood, to make them feel unwelcome in the parishes, and on and on. So to be on the receiving end of that weapon, is that necessarily a bad thing? It is awfully entertaining to find these guys hoist on their own... well, we'll leave that metaphor aside for now ;) And I'm personal witness to the mayhem and devastation that John Myers left in his wake when he was a bishop in Illinois. So, a little turnabout is fair play, and all that. I'm not above loving that, directed at him in particular.

I wonder where this is going to go, if any good can come from it... or if we're becoming the thing we hate. I just don't know.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Express Yourself

Isn't that the name of a Madonna song? And why am I using precious brain cells to store that information, but not the comparatively more important information such as where I put my glasses down? And anyway, the words I wanted to think about today are these:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Random news-bits throughout the week have come together in my head to make me wonder where the limits are? Are there limits? Should there be limits? My fall-back position is that freedom of speech requires that I defend someone's right to say vicious, stupid, and bigoted things. I can hate what he says, but I have to defend his right to say it. And honestly, I think I can even personally discourage a person from speaking, if no good can come from it. But if he chooses to speak, in spite of my clearly greater wisdom (sarcasm there, in case you missed it), then I have to defend his right to do that.

Do I, then, have to defend Fred Phelps's right to picket outside Coretta Scott King's funeral? Of all the despicable, shameful, vulgar, crude, vain (pulling myself together) attempts at getting his point across, this surely takes the cake. And besides, his point is actually fairly despicable, shameful, vulgar, crude, and vain, too. Yet, as long as he doesn't physically accost people, I think I do have to defend his right to be there. Damn.

Okay, what about the cartoon in Denmark, depicting a bomb under Mohammed's turban? Yes, I know that freedom of speech in Denmark isn't protected under our Constitution. Work with me here; it's the idea I'm interested in. We can hardly call these cartoons nuanced cultural commentary. They're ignorant, inflammatory, and just plain rude. But yes, they have a right to exist. Although I am intrigued by the suggestion that I heard this morning on NPR that some Islamic group is going to print cartoons about the Holocaust to see how far we're willing to go to protect free expression. We'll find out if we mean it, I guess.

Here's what scares me about my conclusions, however. Both Fred Phelps and the cartoonist whose name I don't know force me into defending the rights of the craziest and most dangerous among us. That's annoying, particularly in light of the domestic spying which has targeted regular, apparently not dangerous people just living their lives.

And what law did Cindy Sheehan break exactly at the State of the Union? There's a law against wearing political t-shirts to Congress? Really? Show me where it is. And if you can find it, tell me why the Congressperson's wife wearing a pro-war t-shirt wasn't arrested. Okay, good manners would suggest that you dress up for the State of the Union, and Cindy Sheehan is certainly capable of getting attention from the press no matter what she has on. But surely she has a right to wear whatever shirt she chooses, and surely that right is protected by the Constitution. And wouldn't you just think that at the State of the Union, the capitol police would have been charged with celebrating non-threatening freedoms of expression? Because just maybe it's fundamental to who we are as a union? Call me an idealist.

But the cynical piece of my nature is starting to win out here. Somehow it's happened that the dangerous, arguably nutty people have greater protections than the just-folks with vaguely left-leaning political convictions. I'm in the slightly mind-bending position of defending Fred Phelps, who certainly would not return the favor. And simultaneously, the message from the federal government is that they wouldn't extend me the same courtesy either. And wait.... it's not a courtesy; it's a right.

We're in deep trouble, boys and girls.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Domestic Spying, Executive Privilege, and.... Surrealism

Honestly, this ought to be ridiculous -the stuff of conspiracy theorists with aluminum foil helmets. Except, it's not. Everyone knows by now that the President authorized NSA to spy on citizens without getting the required warrants from FISA. The Congressional inquiry started today, with the testimony of Alberto Gonzalez. We knew this, too, of course, but so far he's pretty much laid out the White House's case; this is all a matter of using executive privilege to protect us. Uh huh.

How did it happen that protecting ourselves against the President became how we spend our time? Ought we not be on the same side at least on something as basic as the importance of the rule of law? Surely the White House knows it's in trouble when icons of liberal politics like (sarcasm alert....) Arlen Specter, Chuck Hagel, and Lindsey Graham are questioning the president's authority in this case. Of course, the White House is going to try to spin it like this -and they may well succeed. But I can't see how this is an issue of liberals against conservatives, or even patriots against dangerous people. We are challenging the President because we are patriots, and encouraging him to relocate his patriotism by re-reading -and heeding- the Constitution.

MoveOn is sponsoring yet another petition drive on this issue. They want to deliver signatures calling for the naming of a Special Prosecutor and a thorough investigation into domestic spying this Wednesday. Click here if you're interested in signing on: Petition. It's the Senate's job to act as a check to presidential power. We need them to get to work.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Why Do Little Girls Grow Crooked....

...and little boys grow tall? For those of you who don't share my quirky taste in folk music, that's the name of a song that Harry Chapin sang. You can read the lyrics here: Lyrics. And, thanks to my friend Elisa, I think we have the answer. She found an old book, Having It All by Helen Gurley Brown. She highlights the following quote re: girls and body image:
I think you may have to have a tiny touch of anorexia nervosa to maintain an ideal weight . . . not a heavy case, just a little one! Can you make yourself get almost sick at the sight of anything floating in gravy? Become nauseous sitting next to a person pouring ketchup on his spareribs? Can you viciously clamp your jaws shut and keep teeth clenched if they try to force-feed you even a bite of sauteed soft-shelled crab? Can you admire your utterly outstanding pelvic bones, take endless pleasure in patting your stomach because it (still) isn't there, thank God!, go into deep depression at the gain of even half a pound? Good!

Doesn't your heart just break at the thought of beautiful, healthy young girls believing her? And it's not as though that book were old, exactly; it was written in 1982, when we really ought to have known better.

Add that to the item in the news that Betty Friedan died yesterday. Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown are roughly the same age. At the same time that Brown was writing Having It All, Friedan was writing The Second Stage. Maybe The Second Stage was a back-pedaling from The Feminine Mystique; there's certainly an argument that can be made there. I prefer to think of it as addressing the problem that feminism can address so well -that there is rarely one right answer and one wrong answer and nothing in between. In this culture we tend to polarize very quickly, and Friedan wanted feminists to knock it off, sign on with men of good will, and get to work creating a society where everyone flourishes.

There have been times, especially in her earlier writing, when Freidan's thinking annoyed me a little. It seems a little blind to women of color, a little blind to the needs of poor women, a little clueless that bright and well-educated women might, at least for a time, choose to be stay-at-home moms. But re-read the Helen Gurley Brown quote. It puts it all in a different perspective, for me anyway. THAT'S the world into which Friedan and her fellow second-wave feminist thinkers were trying to introduce a notion of a woman's full person-hood.

They had to name the problem and then move us all past victim status, into a sense of our full power as adult humans. And they had to do that in a world where the prevailing message was that gaining half a pound should cause deep depression.

Godspeed, Betty.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the game. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle mode. Tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones to counterbalance the dorkiness. We'll know the truth!

Here are mine for the week:

  • Largo from Concerto for Guitar in D major; Vivaldi (Classical Bliss playlist)
  • Beloved Comrades; Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert (Gentle Heroes playlist)
  • Shall We Gather at the River; Anonymous 4 (Jesus Is My Boyfriend playlist -it's an inside family joke)
  • Bread and Roses; Judy Collins (Save the World playlist)
  • Fly Me to the Moon; Frank Sinatra (Clair de Lune playlist -songs about the moon. Why? I have no idea.)
  • Fanfare for Forsythia; Claudia Schmidt (Girls Raised in the South playlist)
  • Overture to The Marriage of Figaro; Mozart (Ancient Music playlist)
  • Don't Call Me Baby; Madison Avenue (Uppity Women playlist)
  • Punjabiyan Di Shaan; Bally Sagoo (Bhangra playlist)
  • We Remember; John Michael Talbot (Heart of Worship playlist)

Now if we were going to really make this embarrassing, we'd talk about the songs I've downloaded this week. Save a Horse; Ride a Cowboy, for example. A friend recommended it and I was gullible. And you must admit, the idea has merit.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Meme of Four

Mike and BreadChick both tagged me for this one. So I guess it's time to get to work, huh? Sigh...

Four Jobs I've Had
*babysitter par excellence (HOW many brothers does that girl have????)
*gymnastics teacher
*homeless shelter director
*barrista (in college, when nobody called them that.)

Four Movies You'd See Over and Over
*Casablanca (except the "You do the thinking for both of us" line makes me GAG!)
*Sleepless in Seattle (hopeless pathetic romantic that I am)
*Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth one)
*something silly like Harry Potter or epic-but-also-vaguely-silly like Lord of the Rings

Four Places You've Lived
*Little Rock, Arkansas
*Birmingham, Alabama
*Chicago, Illinois
*Berkeley, California
-and here, in the tourist capital of the Midwest....

Four Television Shows You Like to Watch
bearing in mind that we don't HAVE cable or broadcast television, so I have to get stuff on DVD...
*The West Wing
*Sports Night
*Nothing Sacred (I don't think that one even made it to DVD.)

Four Websites I Visit Daily
*The Yarn Harlot

Four Places I'd Rather Be
...ummmm, anywhere?
*the beach house with my multitudinous siblings and lots of cold beer
*scantily clad on a beach with my similarly clad long-suffering spouse (ahem....pulling myself together...)
*the old New Orleans, eating jambalaya on some relative's summer porch
*sitting in a cafe in Paris, discussing books with the long-suffering spouse

Four People to Tag
*Roger (Wake UP over there!)

Give me your tired, ...

Amnesty International reports that, to our shame, Rev. Joseph Dantica died in the custody of Immigration and Naturalization Services. The 81-year-old minister arrived LEGALLY in the United States after receiving death threats in Haiti. He asked for asylum and was put in detention, even though he has family here -some of whom are citizens. His medicine was confiscated and he became seriously ill. His family was denied access to him by Homeland Security, because of "security concerns". He died alone and handcuffed to a hospital bed, having been detained for 15 months.

The legal basis for holding asylum seekers in detention is either that they might vanish into the country, never to be seen again, or that they represent a danger to the community. Yet, Rev. Dantica was going to places he'd been before, when he'd visited here legally before. And he had no criminal record.

Amnesty International suggests that we write letters calling for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Rev. Dantica's death. You can learn more about the particulars of his case here: Amnesty International. You can take action by clicking here: Action Center.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Oh, whatEVER!

These sentences were in the State of the Union speech last night. None of them is true.

“We found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away…”
It's 6000 miles between New York City and Baghdad. If you started from Hawaii and went the wrong way around the world, I suppose you would get to 7000 miles. Is that what he meant? Or did he just not look at a globe?

“We will also lead a nationwide effort...to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions...”
Great, but when you did this before, you un-linked the testing from counseling. Brilliant.

“...the tax relief you passed has left 880 billion dollars in the hands of American workers…”
I could have sworn it was $350 billion -and very little of it ended up in the hands or pockets of American workers. How much did you see?

“...we have spent nearly 10 billion dollars to develop cleaner, cheaper, more reliable alternative energy sources…”
I'm just confused as hell about this one. The Department of Energy reports a budget of $2.5 billion for energy. The rest of the budget is divied up among the environment, defense, and science. Environment got $8.6 billion, so there's $10 billion, except there's no way the whole 8.6 OR 2.5 went for alternative energy. Not according to their officially published budgets, anyway.

“So far the Federal government has committed 85 billion dollars to the people of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans…”
I can't even get close to this number with the budgets I've found. Admittedly, the funding is scattered here, there, and everywhere in the budget and I haven't looked all that hard. But there's the famous $6.2 billion for rebuilding homes outside the poorest areas. The Defense Department has about $4 billion allocated. There's the cost for trailers and the inevitable costs for rebuilding the levees, which have only been patched so far. I'm STILL not at 85 billion.

Mr. Numbers Guy with whom I live has a bruise on his forehead from banging his head on the desk. Do you suppose we could sue?