Friday, March 31, 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 you think will make you look cool.

Here are mine for this week:

  • Rondeau from Premier Suite De Symphonies; Mouret
  • A Happy Home in Kathmandu; William Ackerman
  • I'm Coming Out; Diana Ross
  • Requiem for the Giant Trees; Anne Hills and Cindy Mangsen
  • Shall We Gather at the River; Anonymous 4
  • Peace Prayer; Jeff Beal & Nawang Khechog
  • Trip Around the Sun; Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride
  • Go Cubs, Go; Steve Goodman
  • Symphony No. 101 in D Major (The Clock); Haydn
  • Drunk by Noon; Sally Timms

Just for fun, here are some other people doing the random 10.
Mike, from whom I got the idea: Musing's Musings
A Philadelphia Story
Cutting to the Chase

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jill Carroll is free

Of course, everyone under the sun is either running the story or linking to it. Try the Christian Science Monitor for updated information on Jill Carroll's release.

I'm left wondering what the point is for all these abductions. For the perpetrators, it's a low-cost, low-risk maneuver, I suppose. But a maneuver to accomplish what? Make money? Sometimes, apparently, To further a political goal? Sometimes. It's low-risk for the perpetrators, perhaps, but it seems like it has a fairly low success rate, too -assuming that the stated goals of the abductions really are the goals. I know this much, though. Until we understand it, we can't stop it. And besides, making meaning from evil subverts the evil; Viktor Frankl taught us that.

Just possibly, the military is starting to figure that out, too. Apparently, they have gathered a circle of military "intellectuals" (What does that mean? People who study the military or people who teach at the military academies?) to help them understand the history of protracted occupations. NPR has the story here: Army Studies. They're just now doing this???

I get tripped up on this point frequently. I forget that many (most?) people see a chasm between their lives and the academy, between themselves and intellectuals. But really now! When you want to know something that you don't know, don't you instinctively go to someone who does know? I don't know how to build a house, so when we wanted to add on to our house we called an architect and a contractor. I don't understand how or why my car works. So when it doesn't, I call a mechanic. They, God love them, know things I don't, and I pay them for their expertise. Why do people see academics differently?

That's a rhetorical question. The short answer is that people probably don't think that intellectuals have answers. The stereotype (and I don't always want to refute it, I concede) is that academics have a lot of talk on both sides of any question, but no real conclusions. The bad press that intellectuals get, though, is not the major problem we have here -although I think I can make a case for it being a serious problem. I think the administration didn't call people who understand insurgencies and occupations because it didn't occur to them that they themselves didn't. They were working from an ideological template and misreading reality long after it was ridiculous, attempting to force events to fit the template.

I don't think I'm exactly revealing national secrets when I suggest that George Bush is no intellectual. It's not a crime to be dumb, although it's a shame not to care. But in this case, an anti-intellectual bias actually threatens all of us. Could we stop working from meaningless scripts, please? Could we move forward in our thinking, for the love of all things decent? As a body-politic, we obviously didn't think before we acted in Iraq. But thinking late is better than not thinking at all.

OK, ok.... Possibly I shouldn't have turned Jill Carroll's homecoming into a rant about anti-intellectual bias in general and the Bush administration in particular. Really, I'm just delighted that she's home. And being me, I will feel safer and happier if I understand the whys and wherefores of her abduction.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lest We Forget

Once a month I track down these numbers: the human cost of the war in Iraq.

As of yesterday, U.S. military deaths total: 2325. (Thanks to U.S. Fatalities for this information.) Civilian deaths stand somewhere between 33773 and 37895. (Thanks to Iraq Body Count for this information.)

So, the score stands thus:
Osama bin Laden: 2738 U.S. citizens
George Bush: 2325 U.S. citizens

To and for the families who've lost a loved one in this fruitless exercise in hubris, I offer the following prayer. Thanks to the World Council of Churches for this bit of prayerful eloquence.
O Lord,
you love justice and you establish peace on earth.
We bring before you the disunity of today'’s world;
the absurd violence, and the many wars,
which are breaking the courage of the peoples of the world;
human greed and injustice,
which breed hatred and strife.
Send your spirit and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate towards the whole human family;
strengthen the will of all those
who fight for justice and for peace,
and give us that peace which the world cannot give.
All: Amen.

Sex Ed. by Professor George W. Bush

You have to follow this link: NARAL Quiz. I knew abstinence-only sex education was pointless; there's not a responsibly-done study that supports its efficacy. (Check out this article from a group that supports abstinence-only education: SIECUS. ) They argue for abstinence education, but strongly against this deceptive and fear-based program that we have now. Somehow I couldn't let myself believe that these programs were out-and-out lying to the kids. Well, get with the program, Andrea. It's pretty amazing.

I followed only a few of the references to see if possibly NARAL was skewing the facts as deliberately as the authors of the abstinence-only program. I'm sad to say that they were not exaggerating. In Choosing the Best Soul-Mate (since when is that the goal of middle school and high school dating???), it really does say that girls should never appear to be too smart if they want to keep their guy. Why KNOW refers to "male and female sperm." What the HECK? It's not hard to know what they meant to say, but that's because... oh, wait...I had sex education classes. The poor children who only learn from these programs won't have a reference point for evaluating the information.

Just to state the obvious... I don't think that middle school and even high school kids should be having sex. They're too young. They can get into too much trouble, and they jump into bed for reasons that aren't psychologically healthy. Or so it seems to me. That's my mother's perspective, not a research perspective. But for heaven's sake, knowledge is power. It's an even more important principle to me that we shouldn't lie to kids. With accurate information and a little guidance, they can learn to make their own healthy decisions.

Here's what I'm going to track down today. What is happening in this community regarding sex education? We certainly have no shortage of local religious evangelists on these pro-life issues. And our school board has a few people who, shall we say, could be replaced by door knobs, for a net gain in brain cells. I'll go from there, once I have the information.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mothers of Invention; Using Our Tools

I am the least likely defender of high-tech gizmos who ever walked. There's been a light bulb burned out in my bathroom for days because the ladder defeats me. Please don't start with the "how many feminists does it take to change a light bulb" jokes. We'll just get distracted, and I'm pretty sure I have a point here.

In spite of my basically Luddite nature, there are technological bits of wizardry that have changed my life. I've gone on and on about my iPod. We're thinking of ditching our land-line and going with cell phones for everyone. With the phones, there's not the utter delight that I have for the iPod. Yet, there's comfort in knowing, for example, that my children have access to help while they're out living their lives. Wireless internet access, nifty phones with full keyboards, social networking, podcasting... these are all great inventions. At least so far, for me.

The big question on my mind, though, is how better to use the tools that so delight me -or even the ones that don't- to change the world. I want to think about ways to eliminate barriers, to widen the conversation and the possibilities for action, so that we have more than a lot of very entertaining navel-gazing going on. The easier version of this question is how to use our nifty cyber-tools to enhance the delivery of social services. Is even this much possible in a time when, quite literally, most of the non-profit agencies I can think of have fairly useless (although sometimes expensive and flashy) websites? Even something as static as a website (which you have to wait for someone to visit) isn't being used as a way to disseminate information to all an agency's constituents. And typically, clients are the ones left out. Could we do better work with podcasts, blogs, RSS feeds, wikis.... and cooler stuff that I don't even know anything about? Emily has some stuff to say about this issue. Her post is fairly old by now, but it's still good.

I can think of some interesting examples for the smaller question, but my guess is that there are more creative ideas out there than these. There was a spontaneous (although badly organized) effort to locate missing people after Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers with computers were doing data entry to websites, with the names and locations of "found" people. It didn't work very well, as it happens, but with energy, coordination, and forethought, I don't see why it couldn't next time. Radio personalities and bloggers (frequently from minority populations, by the way) are largely responsible for the encouraging turnouts at the immigration rallies in Los Angeles. The pro-choice movement has some interesting on-line activity happening as a result of the South Dakota ban.

Extending the question to more global social change makes answering it more difficult, of course. The internet is good at widening the conversation, allowing people who would otherwise never have met to interact. Blogs and podcasts aren't a great tool for that; check out this link for an interesting post re: blogs and conversation: Amy Gahrain. Wikis might be a better choice, though. Nonetheless, I'm hoping for more still. What blogs have done is popularize the dissemination of the news. Somehow I want the internet and all my cyber-toys to change the way we think about information and access to it. To whom does information belong? Is it meant to be free, as my friend Lianne says? How do we not just get it to the people who are historically separate from it, but help them to create it too? This site is really just beginning, but it could be on the right track: Progressive Focus.

If someone like me now can't leave the house without grabbing a Blackberry, an iPod, a laptop, and heaven only knows what else.... then surely converting other people will be a comparatively simple task. Help me figure this out, you guys. These guys have taken a stab at it, but I think we can expand on their thoughts: Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Doing It In Strange Places

I don't know what their definition of "young" is, but I suspect I'm not it. Someone else is going to have to respond. Kellie? Victoria?
Doing it in Strange Places... And Making Change:
Young Women Fighting for Social Justice

A commonly asked question at social justice events is, "What can I do to get more involved?" This question is usually answered in one of three ways: send money, call politicians, and volunteer. Unfortunately, none of these foster a sense of investment in an issue or offer solutions for how to be personally involved in solving the injustices in the world. It also doesn't account for the lack of time, money and resources that these three answers require. What if we could just incorporate our politics into our every day lives, particularly into our seemingly apolitical jobs/careers? In fact, that is just what most activists do.

In this anthology, we want to hear from young women from all walks of life who have found creative ways to use their passion (from writing to banking to computer programming to being a homemaker) as an outlet for social justice activism. We seek to create an anthology that makes activism more accessible and inspire others to use the resources that they have to contribute to social justice. Changing the world won't happen over night, so let's share our daily successes and strategies for making all of our visions of a better world possible. Tell us what worked and what didn't because all experiences are valuable. We want to be sure multiple voices and perspectives are represented in the anthology. Writers of all experience levels are encouraged to submit work. All work must be original and should not be published elsewhere.

Submission Guidelines
* We prefer to have submissions sent via email in a Word or Rich Text Format document to with "Doing it in Strange Places" in the subject line. Otherwise, submissions can be mailed to:
Mandy Van Deven
955 Metropolitan Ave, #4R
Brooklyn, NY 11211
* If you would like your submission returned to you, please include a
* Word count: 2,500 - 5,000
* All submissions require your name, address, phone number, email
address, and a short bio.

I also want credit for not fine-tuning the awkward grammar. It's a reflex and I really had to exercise some control there!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rites and Wrongs

You're all going to get tired of Andrea thrashing around about the Catholic Church. The way I know this is that I'm tired of it. But here we are again. Certainly over the past few weeks there have been some interesting developments. I find myself in the peculiar position of worrying and fretting about the Church I love -actually hating some of the things that are happening- while defending it to people whose sole source of information about it is the Chicago Tribune or NPR. It's enough to make my brain hurt.

Flash back to the last Presidential election. Remember that then-Cardinal Ratzinger tried to deny John Kerry (well, not John Kerry by name, but clearly by intent) Communion. Communion must, he claims, be denied to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion.(Try this link for more information: National Catholic Reporter.) Interestingly, this private memo only went to American bishops. I could have sworn we had a universal church, but maybe that was just me -and it's a story for another time, anyway. The American bishops didn't go as far as Ratzinger wanted them to go. They decided in the end not to explicitly ban pro-choice politicians from Communion and to choose dialogue as the way to change people's hearts and minds on the subject. Of course, that was less controversial and news-worthy, so people don't know that was the outcome. But clearly, we do have Catholic bishops wishing that Catholic politicians would toe the conservative line a little better. (Here's the documentation: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Possibly, that wishing is intensifying. One American Catholic Bishop, Robert Vasa of Oregon, wants to convene a task force to discuss the possibility that pro-choice Catholics are actually in heresy. The word heresy gets tossed around a lot and carelessly. It's actually a technical term; not every theological mistake or willed error is heretical. And the consequences of defining something and someone to be heretical are significant. Vasa wants to discuss the question of whether or not there's a "right to murder" heresy. He is so walking into a theological nightmare. And he deserves it, so I'm not going to feel sorry for him when it happens. If there's a right to murder heresy, then Catholics have to be pacifists -which isn't true. Then Catholics must reject the death penalty, which they're already supposed to do, but don't, in large measure. Are bishops really going to enforce the consequences of heresy on all the Catholics who haven't quite come around on the death penalty question? He's not going to end up with what he wants, which is an ecclesiological law controlling the sexual behavior of women. (The full text of his letter is here: Catholic Sentinel.)

OK, so bishops want the Catholics in public life and just those of in the pews to settle down and behave and be nice, polite, biddable Catholics. But Catholic politicians are also going after Catholic bishops. This is starting to get interesting.

Peter King, a Catholic Representative, has decided that it's "God's work" to make it a felony to knowingly aid an illegal immigrant. (Try this link for more information: NY Times.) Of course, Catholic social service agencies and parishes have important roles in working with refugees and immigrants, legal or not. And Cardinal Mahoney (and others) preached eloquent Ash Wednesday sermons on making room at the table for everyone. (The text of the sermon is here: A Place at the Table.) The Cardinals and Bishops aren't willing to give up the Church's social justice mission just because Peter King has decided that tough immigration proposals sell. King claims that those of us who disagree with him are "politically correct liberals". Is that a bad thing? And besides, the argument that Cardinal Mahoney is a politically correct liberal isn't going to hang together very long.

Here's my preliminary assessment. The Catholic Church's intellectual and theological underpinnings are vast and messy and difficult. Or, if you prefer, they are rich and varied. Even the smart and well-educated among us don't have a complete understanding of the ins and outs of it all. I've done better than some, because it's interesting to me, but there's no way I would ever claim to have mastered it. In fact, I completely ignore huge sections of Catholicism, either because they irritate me or because I'm not interested. Marian theology, hagiography in general, mystics in particular.... it's not hard to come up with a long list of stuff I know nothing much about. So, faced with more information than we can fully understand, we reduce it in order to control it.

The Bishops do that. They want to save babies, control women, and distract us from the pedophilia crisis, so they run around waving the anti-abortion flag. That's a valid part of Catholicism's teaching, but it's simplistic to focus on just the easy (for them) parts. Rep. King does the same thing. He doesn't like the Church's social justice teaching; he wants it just to be about liturgy, perhaps (or whatever it is he likes about the church). I would like to tell you that I don't do it, but I do. I want the church to be about social justice and community building and liberation. Leave me alone, if you please, about personal sin and nit-picky (to my way of thinking) rules about how often I need to go to confession.

Could there EVER be a way to sit down with Catholics who are drawn to the things I don't like about the church and find a way to explain to each other what we love? Could a conservative Catholic hear me about, say, feminist theology or inclusive language? Not to be convinced necessarily, but just to be able to say, "I see"? Could I hear a conservative Catholic about why rules and regulations are valuable and affirm the same "I see now"? I don't know. I really don't. But until we can, I suppose there's little wonder that people outside the church don't understand it.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Unplug Your Chargers

I will freely admit that I don't understand this. There are things in this world I understand. Ask me about community organizing. Ask me about feminist perspectives on mental health diagnoses. Ask me about social change. Ask me about disaster response and refugees. Heck, ask me about knitting. But ask me about physics in general and electricity in particular? I've got nothing.

But this e-mail was in my in-box and it sounds possible. I don't understand it, but it seems possible. The folks at the Year of Living Generously have a simple suggestion. They say to unplug your various chargers when they're not in use and we'll reduce carbon emissions. They even have numbers. They're for the UK and of undetermined origin, but hey, I like numbers. 95% of the energy of phone chargers is wasted when it remains plugged in, but not in use. If the people in the UK unplugged them, they'd avoid 50,000 tons of carbon emissions.

Someone help me out here. If the circuit is not complete... in other words, if the charger is plugged into the wall but not into the phone, isn't there NOTHING happening? How are carbon emissions being produced? Is this a case where the different phone technologies in use in different countries makes a difference? Is this an argument for paying attention in high school chemistry and physics? I don't know, but I unplugged the 4 chargers I could reach just sitting here. I don't understand it, but it might be an easy way to improve the world. That would work for me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the game. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle. Tell us the first 10 songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones you think will make you look cool! We'll suspect and tease you mercilessly. Here are mine for this week:

  • Yoga Dream; Soulfood
  • Trip Around the Sun; Al Anderson
  • The Job of Journeywork; The Chieftains
  • Pax Deorum; Enya
  • Illinois Blues; Alvin Youngblood
  • Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen; The Blind Boys of Alabama
  • I've Endured; Tim O'Brien
  • Flute and Harp Concerto; Mozart
  • My Tears Don't Show; John Hartford
  • Dust and Ashes; David Haas

Thomas Tidbits

OK, allow me to be the doting auntie, just for a second. Here's Thomas. He's up to 2 pounds 3 ounces. They gave him a break (just for a few minutes) from the ventilator and that made him very happy. His eyes are open and he looks quite content. As soon as I get over this #$#* cold, I'm going to go meet him in person.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Debate on the Occupation of Iraq

I apologize to the country and the world for my U.S. Representative, Dennis Hastert. I didn't vote for him, if that's any help. And yes, he's at it again.

A few members of Congress want to hold an open debate on the subject of the occupation of Iraq, but the Republican leadership (i.e. Hastert) refuses to allow it. So, a bipartisan group is pursuing a legislative maneuver called a "discharge petition", which would force Hastert's hand. If more than half of the Representatives sign on, then Hastert would be required to allow 17 hours of debate, allocated equally to each side of the aisle.

After 3 years and 2300 dead soldiers, don't you think it's time we talked about this? The thing is, there's not much I can do. Writing my Representative is pointless. I'll do it, but it's pointless; he's the source of the trouble. However, if your Representative is anyone else, that person's participation is vital. Click here for an easy way to write your Representative: Act for Change.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Think Outside the Bottle

I said I was going to spend some time and effort thinking about water, and then I got sick, and thinking about anything other than naptime and nice cozy vegetable soup was just too hard. But good health is visible in the distance and it's time to get back to work. Bear in mind that I'm writing this post with a bottle of raspberry-splash bottled water sitting on my desk. And not just any water, this water is from the Nestle Corporation. So, in a word, I have no credibility at all. Or, to be more positive, there's lots of room for improvement.

The numbers are pretty straightforward. The World Health Organization tells us that 1.7 billion people lack access to clean water. 2 billion people suffer from water-borne diseases each year. This problem is exacerbated when the water supply is privatized, and water-conglomerates install water meters in poor areas. Naturally, access to water is denied when bills aren't paid. (We're used to paying for water, but in most countries, people are accustomed to walking to a communal well and taking water. So, metered water usage is, shall we say, not in the budget for most people in the world.)

And it's not as though the problem happens only somewhere else, to people we can't see. Bottled water companies are actively trying to convince people that bottled water is safer than tap water, when frequently the exact opposite is true. Coke, Pepsi and Nestle are particular culprits here. The Natural Resources Defense Council highlights the example of a water bottle claiming to contain "spring water" when really the water is from an industrial parking lot next to a hazardous waste site. And here, too, these corporations are draining aquifers and even buying up whole water systems.

But here's my whiney thing. I need to drink more water. I want water to be portable, with me when I work out and drive and work. And flavored water tastes better to me. So here's the plan. I'm going to buy a Brita pitcher and filter my water so it tastes better. I'm going to squeeze some lemon juice into it, and I'm going to buy a Nalgene water bottle. For heaven's sake, how hard can it be to use water that doesn't contribute to global decimation? I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Permanent Bases in Iraq?

A few days ago, I wrote about the proposal before the House of Representatives to prevent the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq. Well, bless their pointy little heads, they did it right. Honestly, I think this is the first clear indication the people of Iraq, the United States, and the international community have gotten regarding the long-term intentions of the U.S. government. We have vaguely demented pronouncements from the White House such as "the goal in Iraq is victory" and "we're making progress because we have a strategy for victory," but certainly nothing substantive. The closest I've heard is the President's remark yesterday that pulling troops completely out of Iraq would be the job of some future president, so he apparently assumes we'll be there through 2008. (Isn't it 2008 YET??)

The bottom line is that Congress -assuming it remembers that it has powers at all- has the power of the purse for this operation. Now the proposal to prevent permanent bases in Iraq goes to the Senate. Encourage your Senators to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What the....???!!!

Why can I still be surprised on this topic? Our President is either unbelievably dim, or he thinks we are. I'm looking around at my life. No stupid people here. Nope, it's got to be him. (I suppose "incompetent" would be a slightly less mean-spirited word. Insert that one if you prefer.)

"The goal in Iraq is victory," he tells us. Well now, that's edifying. Victory over what? Over whom? Why? This is what he has to convince us that his disaster in the middle east is a great and noble war, and that we should all come back to the fold?

I was listening to NPR yesterday morning. All they did was play back clips of the administration's justifications for the war in Iraq, marking the three-year anniversary of its beginning. (You can listen to the story here: Discredited Rationale) The lies, the straight-faced, earnest-toned lies. It's almost too much to believe that someone could be so mendacious, but here we are. And I'm left with ranting in the blogosphere. At least I won't be indicted by my silence.

It's not entirely germane, but I'm reminded of this:
When they came for the communists, I was silent, because I was not a communist;
When they came for the socialists, I was silent, because I was not a socialist;
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest, because I was not a trade unionist;
When they came for the Jews, I did not protest, because I was not a Jew;
When they came for me, there was no one left to protest on my behalf."
Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)

Popcorn and Social Change

I'm sick. I'm pouting. And what I do when I'm sick and pouting is curl up in my rocking chair with a cup of soup, my knitting, and either a book or a stack of movies. This past week or so, it was movies - some of which even had redeeming social value. Check these out, if you get a chance.

Land of the Blind is a satire about terrorism and revolution, set in a military prison. It's hard to avoid parallels with our current political situation -although I suppose we weren't meant to avoid them. This movie is too hard for when you're sick, just for the record, but definitely bears watching. If people actually see it, it's going to unleash a hailstorm of critique. And it has Ralph Fiennes, so... there's that.
Amu features a young Indian-American returning to foreign-to-her India. There she confronts the truth that her privileged life in the US stems from the Hindu-Sikh violence that erupted after Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.
Divorce Iranian Style is tragic and hilarious at the same time. It's a look into divorce court in a culture where women have no voice and the lengths the women go to to make the system almost work for them. Watch it and see if you think it's pulling on the old movie Divorce Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni.
The Girl in the Cafe is the weakest of the four films, I thought, but the easiest to obtain commercially. And really, it's quite good. It explores two things I care about a great deal -the power of a comparatively powerless person to make big changes in the world and the role of international aid agencies in generating substantive change. Bill Nighy is quite charming in this one.

Next up in my mental queue: Dreaming Lhasa, Eat the kimono, and Hidden Faces.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Not-So-Random 10

I have nary an Irish bone in my body, but plenty of Irish music on my Ipod. Any culture that so charmingly mixes rebellion, music, and really lovely beer, well, if they'll have me, I'll join them! In honor of old Padraig, here's some Irish music from my collection.

  • Breton Set; Maggie Sansone
  • Deirdre of the Sorrows; Mychael Danna
  • Miss Clare Remembers; Enya
  • Diamond Dance; Bill Douglas
  • Women of Ireland;Joanie Madden
  • An Cailin Deas Rua; Gaelic Storm
  • The Job of Journeywork; The Chieftains
  • Countess Cathleen/ Woman of the Sidhe; Bill Whelan
  • The Call to Dance medley; Leahy
  • Connemara Lullaby; Padraigin Ni Uallac

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 you think make you look cool. Here are mine for this week:

  • Veni Sancte Spiritus; Taize
  • Hallelujah; Leonard Cohen
  • Bridal Ballad; Hayley Westenra
  • Harriet Tubman; Holly Near
  • Goofing Off Suite; Tony Triscka Band
  • Requiem for the Giant Trees; Voices
  • Bright Morning Stars; Emmylou Harris
  • Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009 -Courante; Bach
  • Horn Concerto No. 4 in E Flat; K 495 -Rondo; Mozart
  • Paint the Sky with Stars; Enya

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Because THIS Makes Sense!

That was sarcasm there in the title, in case you were wondering. Settle in for a bit, because I'm steamed.

The Missouri House of Representatives voted yesterday to ban contraceptive funding for low-income women. But that's not enough. Under this proposed legislation, state-funded programs can't even make referrals for those women to other programs. Yeah. And starting 9 months from now, we're going to start to see the consequences of this short-sighted thinking, and the rhetoric about "those welfare queens just having more and more babies" will begin again.

Sponsoring Representative Susan Phillips says that she has the support of both the Missouri Right to Life group and the Missouri Catholic Conference. Of course the argument that restricting access to contraception only increases abortions doesn't matter, because Missouri is one of 11 states considering joining South Dakota in a ban of all abortions.

Yes, it's only the House so far; I have no guess as to what the Senate will do. And I don't know that the governor will sign the bill, and I don't even know if the courts will uphold it should all those things happen. But still. Where's Planned Parenthood? Where are thinking, caring people who want children to be born into loving families that want them, for the love of all things decent?

And I have a bad feeling that a similar bit of theater is coming soon to a venue near each of us.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

We Can't Abandon Iraq...

... but the troops should leave. Now that we've started this mess, and by many accounts made things worse, we're committed. But a military presence clearly isn't helping.

So, here's a thing. The Bush administration is requesting $65 billion in additional funding this year to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Debate on the fiscal year 2006 (FY06) supplemental appropriations bill, which contains this request, will begin on the House floor today.

I would love it if it didn't pass, but it will. But there's a glimmer of progressive response from Rep Tom Allen (D-ME). He's proposed an amendment to block the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. The amendment states simply: “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended to construct facilities for the permanent basing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq."

Rep. Allen has asked progressive groups for help to generate calls to members of the House asking their support. Please call today. I promise it's a waste of a nickel in my case, but I called anyway.

Other amendments aimed at restricting or conditioning funds for the war in Iraq will also be offered to the Iraq war supplemental funding request. Some members may oppose the measure altogether because of the large amount of additional funding contained in the bill for the war in Iraq. Ask your representative to vote in favor of all measures that would bring a swift end to this costly and explosive conflict.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Another Glass of Whine

I've caught the creeping crud that's going around. It's not fun. I whined to my siblings and one of my sisters expressed sympathy -for DAVE, because I kept him up with my coughing. So, she's obviously fired! ;) I played on the computer most of the day, but somehow I couldn't think of anything to say here. Figuring that discretion might actually be the better part of valor, I'm shutting up until I feel better.

Appalachian Spring

Here's a news flash. President Bush isn't an environmentalist. I'm rolling my eyes at my own self for even saying something so obvious. I might as well make it worse. He'll do pretty much anything to satisfy important donors to the Republican party. You knew that, too? You guys are so smart.

Here's the part I didn't know.

I just finished a book called Crimes Against Nature by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. In it, Kennedy describes the systematic destruction of Appalachia with mountain top removal. You read that phrase, "mountain top removal," and your brain shuts down. Surely it's hyperbole. Nope. It's exactly that. Miners use bombs, essentially, to literally blow the tops off mountains so that they can get at the minerals. But it's even worse. Where does all the debris that was the mountain top go? Yup, they bulldoze it into the valleys and streams down the mountain. A Bush appointee (whose name I will have to look up -and the book is all the way upstairs.....) finagled a deal whereby the former mountain-top is classified as "fill" and therefore isn't subject to the Clean Water Act that had been slowing down the coal mining companies before this administration. Why would they be content with causing only one ecological disaster when there could be multiple? And all of this was illegal, until George W. Bush encouraged the Republicans to change the laws to allow it -which happened after the coal mining industry donated $20 million dollars to the Republican Party.

Listen to Copland's Appalachian Spring. Watch North Country again. Read Crimes Against Nature and another one I haven't read yet, Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness by Erik Reece. And get mad. Get really really mad. I don't have $20 million to give to the Democrats to see if they'll make a difference. But I can point out that the Bush administration hasn't limited its destruction of cultures and lands to the middle east. Think about Kentucky. Now think about it without the mountains of Appalachia. Now help me figure out what to do to help.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

No-Meat Fridays

Everyone knows -or has a vague sense, anyway- that Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. For years, I didn't eat meat at all. We used to joke that we should start eating meat as our Lenten penance. Then last year, about a year ago actually, all hell broke loose in my life. A friend got deathly ill and needed a lot of care. This is what friends suit up for; caring for her was and is an honor. Many, many people just did what they had to do to get Becky well -and I didn't do the most by a long shot. But one of the things that suffered as we tried to squeeze more into a day was our food.

We didn't even notice. When things are chaotic, it doesn't even register that we're eating out more often or that the stuff I cook is, well, lame. We even started to eat meat again. It's fast and easy. My husband and son like it, in any case, and have always eaten it when I wasn't around. (Did you think I didn't know??) So, no one commented.

But over the past few months, I've been reading Ardent Eden's blog and Bread Chick's blog, and have committed to the Year of Living Generously. Inspired by them, I am gently, slowly, lovingly, reclaiming my kitchen and a more healthy and nurturing dietary style. Now, I'm saying this knowing full well that we went out to dinner last night and will probably go again tomorrow night. We clearly have a ways to go here to get back to the culinary style that I want. I want to feed people in ways that make restaurants superfluous.

And that is a kind of Lenten practice. It's not penitential, because I love to do it, but it is sacramental in a way. It's a sign and a symbol of something more, but it's also elemental. It's an artistic practice when done intentionally and with that mindset. So, in our little family, we're moving away from the metaphorical trough and reconnecting with the sacramental table.

So the next step is to get back to a vegetarian diet. If the rest of the family wants meat, they can certainly have it. But I really don't want it. We're going to have three vegetarian days each week. And as soon as I've gotten people on board with that, I'm going to sneak in some more ;) People will either step up and do some cooking themselves, or they'll cope.

And you know what else? I'm not going to beat myself up if this is a slow process. We've let things get pretty far out of hand on this subject. Every little step is an improvement. One fine week sometime soon, I'd like it to be true that we set the table and eat a civilized meal, in the dining room, every single day for a week. We have a long way to go before that's the reality. Small steps, grasshopper. Small steps...

Friday, March 10, 2006

I'm Spider-Man!

It's Friday, my brain is tired, and I saw this quiz on Mike's blog. Have fun.

Your results:
You are Spider-Man

Green Lantern
The Flash
Wonder Woman
Iron Man
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Where do I sign up for this "great power" thing???

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Set your iPod to "shuffle" and tell us the first ten songs that appear. And no fair leaving out the ones that make you look ridiculous or adding in ones that you think will make you look cool. Just tell us what you listen to when no one else is listening!

Here's my list for the week:
  • Patria; Ruben Blades
  • Step by Step; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Silent Night; The Three Tenors
  • Someone to Watch Over Me; Susannah McCorkle
  • The Way You Look Tonight; Tony Bennett
  • I'll Fly Away; Alison Krauss
  • Shout; Ray Charles
  • Goodnight, Irene; The Weavers
  • Better Be Good to Me; Tina Turner
  • Oh Mary, Don't You Weep; Arlo Guthrie, Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Pete Seeger

This list doesn't look very random. There's no classical, no church-y stuff, and in the "don't piss me off/women's music" category, there's only Tina. But the classic- folk music and the unnecessarily sentimental music -those are part of me, too. So, spill! What's on your list?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Might Fortress is His Skull

I've talked about this before, and it will probably come up again. It's faith-based initiatives in social service, and it's really not something that only slightly leftie social workers ought to care about. It turns out that Illinois is second in the nation for receiving money under Bush's "charitable choice" program. (New York is first.) Of course, some states were going to lead the pack, and that just means we have clever people tracking the grant stream. I'm okay with that part, in general. Yet, it does mean that the consequences of this new program are very visible to me, and they aren't pretty.

Federal support of faith-based social services isn't new, and it isn't necessarily bad. What is new is the idea that we should fund faith itself as an instrument of therapy. The old model was that, say, Catholic Charities could get money to run a literacy program or immigrant services or... whatever. But they evangelize on their own nickel. In fact, service agencies were supposed to be monitored at least annually for holes in the wall between service and religious activities. Now the model is that we, the body politic, pay for faith to be a part of the treatment program.

And whose faith would that be? The relationship between charitable choice and Christian fundamentalism is quite clear. Clients have been sentenced to participation in programs that required them to renounce their Catholicism. I can't even imagine what's happening when Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan or agnostic clients present for services. And what about someone actually hostile to faith? If you're sentenced to a faith-based program, you either attend or go to jail.

Moreover, Mr. Bush claimed that religious based social service agencies are both more effective and more efficient at delivering services. Naturally, the evidence does not support that notion; there is no scholarly evidence. None. The stuff that's out there is really a bunch of press releases masquerading as scholarship. The lacunae, shall we say, don't even require careful reading to spot. What can be argued is that small not-for-profits are more efficient and possibly more effective at delivering services. They are more agile in the world where clients' needs change dramatically and quickly. "Small" and "religious" frequently overlap in the social services array, but that are not identical.

And just to make things more exciting, federal guidelines for licensing and credentialing are being relaxed -not for most of us, just for the faith-based groups. I am NO fan of licensure; it just plain doesn't do what most people think it does. To say that, though, does not mean that I'm not a fan of standards of education or practice. And those are being abandoned. So you could be a pastor in some store-front church in the inner city somewhere -never been to school to be either a pastor or a counselor- and naturally you're going to find yourself surrounded by people with terrifying and urgent needs. Let's say you're a good-hearted soul and want to help, so you jump in and start to do something. If you chose to serve soup to hungry people, eventually the health department will find you and make sure you aren't poisoning people because you were unaware of public health guidelines. But we'll let you mess around in people's emotional lives forever. We'll let you offer "accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior" as a treatment plan. We'll even pay you to do it.

I still haven't proven why you should care -except that I think all people should care about these principles. Even if you aren't a social worker or a social work student.... some family member or acquaintance has hit a psychological wall, has run afoul of the criminal justice system, has needed unusual or especially intense educational or medical services. Would you want that person to be subjected to services given by an untrained evangelist? And if you don't want that and advocate that your family member receive better services -and we all do that-, then we're going to end up with an even more stratified service array, where the people who can pay more can have more and poor people are relegated to inferior services.

They Can't Vote for Me...., by golly, we should cut their funding. Insofar as anything runs through George Bush's mind, this must be it. As recently as February, he promised to "work to confront barriers that still confront Americans with disabilities and their families." It was 37 days ago, and the press release is here: White House Press Releases. I concede that I can't remember everything I did on February 1, but everything the President does is written down, photographed, and preserved for posterity. If I can look it up, he can look it up.

Yet somehow it's slipped his mind. Instead of eliminating barriers, he's creating them. The 2007 budget proposal cuts $3.6 billion from Medicaid funding targeted to disabled children. And this budget cut, mind you, is on top of the Medicaid cuts made in January, which caused 39,000 children to lose Medicaid eligibility entirely.

Here's the conundrum. We have compulsory attendance laws in this country. They vary by state, but they exist. The other way to say the same thing is that one of our bedrock (and radical) principles as a body politic is that we guarantee access to education. Moreover, we have laws addressing the reality that children with disabilities need special services -diagnostic, medical, social, and pedagogical- to be able to take advantage of the available education. All of those requirements are still in place.

However, President Bush has proposed cutting the funds for medical equipment on buses, transportation to medical appointments, and the administrative costs for identifying children with special medical and educational needs. These services don't defend us from anybody, I suppose. Actually, he almost came right out and said that. In the State of the Union, he claimed to be cutting programs that are either "performing poorly or not fulfilling essential priorities." Of course, he also talked about human-animal hybrids, so I'm not sure how much stock we should put in anything he said that night.

But I digress. The fact is these kids have to go to school and they have to be offered services, but the money won't be available at the federal level to pay for those services. Costs will have to shift to school districts and states. Of course, they're already struggling, too, and the consequences of this cost shifting will be borne in some measure by everyone in the state and the district. But the largest measure of the burden will be borne by the kids. As with so many of Bush's policies, the long-term consequences of having failed to provide services for a cohort of America's children will be somebody else's problem.

Shame on him -again.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Water, Water Everywhere...

Over a billion people lack clean, safe water. I personally encountered this issue twice. Safe water becomes wildly important in refugee encampments, which is one of my areas of interest. Not to put too fine a point on it, without it people will die of thirst, or disease will spread and people will die of something even less pleasant. In either case, we would have accomplished nothing in a well-meaning effort to rescue people from some other disaster. And when my children were traveling more or less alone in very rural Mexico, kid #1 got sick from the water and had to be taken care of by kid #2; both were fairly unsettled by the experience. When kid #2 became seriously frightened and found a way to call home, we discovered that my passport had expired (THAT will never be allowed to happen again, I assure you) so DH had to go rescue them.

So... water. It's not just about hydration, either. It's about sanitary systems and watering the crops so that people can eat. It's even about local autonomy and self-determination, since access to water has been known to be restricted by hard-hearted powers-that-be. Access to clean water is threatened by pollution, by international conflict, by drought, by disaster, by over-crowding.... Thinking too hard about the situation can become disheartening.

So, a few nights ago I was at a meeting held at Starbuck's. I'd already had about a thousand cups of coffee that day, so I opted for the Ethos water that they sell. A small (but to their credit, non-zero) percentage of the sale price goes to support clean-water projects around the globe. But how much, what for, and how effective? And more generally, how much do these corporate donation programs change any situation? Ethos water costs $1.80 and a nickel of that price is donated to clean water projects. Would my nickel be better off sent directly to an agency that works to create clean water for villages somewhere in the developing world? Or, for heaven's sake, give the clerk the whole $1.80 and drink arguably safer water from the tap.

The first random thought that occurs to me is that I don't see how it could ever be the right idea to use bottled water. For the privileged among us (everyone reading this blog, in other words), tap water is more strictly regulated than bottled water. So it's more likely to be safe. Moreover, something has to happen with all those water bottles. Sure, we recycle them, but wouldn't it be better not to use them in the first place? And it takes resources to produce the bottles -1.5 million barrels of oil each year, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

On the other hand, Ethos has a target goal of raising $10 million over 5 years. That's not chump change, if they've had the sense to partner with programs that use appropriate technology and train local people to maintain and operate the equipment. And it looks like they've done a fairly good job of that so far. And there's something -although I'm not sure how much- to be said for making activism accessible. There is something slightly revolting about feeling self-congratulatory about helping someone when all you've done is drink over-priced designer water. Maybe activism ought to be more challenging than that.

Clearly I'm starting to go round and round here. How many "other hands" can a girl have? I do know that World Water Day is March 22, 2006 and I'd like to do something a little more important than "save water; shower with a friend". I'll be thinking about this issue over the next few days. Come with me, if you like!

After the "read more" goes here.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Thomas Tidbits

He's two weeks old today. Happy birthday, dear one. Here's another picture. He's back up to his birth weight, has graduated to the next diaper size, and is eating like a little champion. There has been some bleeding in the brain, and he's on the ventilator again. So, it's still a two steps forward, one step backwards sort of thing, all day every day. Think good thoughts, please, whenever you get a chance.

Friday, March 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 ones you think make you look dorky or adding in ones you hope will make you look cool.

  • Fooled By a Feeling; Barbara Mandrell (Oh, dear... THIS week's list is off to a great start. There's a reason, really!)
  • How Beautiful; Still Pointe
  • On Eagle's Wings; Michael Joncas (This one's for you, Sophie.)
  • I Come And Stand At Every Door; Anne Hills
  • Traditional: Mido Mountain; Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
  • The Casting of the Circle; Jessica Gill
  • We Are the Ones; Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Haydn Symphony #22, Adagio; Simon Rattle
  • Peace on Earth; U2
  • This Woman's Work; Kate Bush

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Progressive Media

Here's the back story to this post. I was at the doctor's office yesterday. I'm not really sick, but I had some testing done for anemia a while back. A few days ago I received the report about the test results, and there were so many grammar errors in it that it couldn't be read. Seriously. I showed it to a lot of people, and no one could make heads or tails of it. And we all have some experience construing probable meaning from tortured prose. So, I was at the doctor to talk to her about grammar. It didn't go well.

While I waited to see her, there was television playing in the waiting room. It was some wildly conservative talk show. Now I concede that I lead a sheltered life, but OH MY GOD! The misrepresentations, the stereotyping, the misogyny.... You all knew this already, didn't you? I'm just now catching up.

I've often waxed if not poetic then certainly enthusiastic about my iPod, but on this day I LOVED that thing. Among its other virtues (and any mp3 player would work just as well for this), it allows me to listen to podcasts, which in turn make it possible to hear progressive news and commentary. We're so into podcasts around here that we might even cancel our subscription to Sirius satellite radio -a big step for us.

In the spirit of Women's History Month, one of my favorite podcasts is Rubyfruit Radio -where "it's all girls, all the time." The show is about highlighting the works of female indie artists. Check it out.

The Rational Radical gets a little histrionic, but is nonetheless a good source for progressive commentary on the news. Besides, I get a little over-wrought on occasion. Perhaps you've noticed. It's nice to have company.

Sometimes though, you just need news from diverse points of view, rather than propaganda you agree with. When that happens, you might want to try CurrentTV. An interesting component of Current is that viewers can submit segments. Personally I like LinkTV a little better, but it's harder to find. Both stations stream their content on-line, so those of us without television can still have access. Bless their hearts for that.

What are YOUR favorite podcasts -because I need to spend more time plugged into this thing! (not really, but I'm very hooked....)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Omigod, this is hilarious!

I got this from Needlenose.

You all know that Rep. Ron Hood introduced a bill to the Ohio legislature that would prohibit households where there is a homosexual member from becoming adoptive parents or foster care providers. That's not the funny part.

To lampoon that absurdity, State Senator Robert Hagen sent an e-mail around to his colleagues, indicating that he intended to introduce legislation that would "ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents." He wrote in this mock proposal that "credible research indicates that adopted children raised in Republican households are at risk for developing emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, an alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different from themselves, and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities."

Excellent work!

Feminism, Body Modification, and Rude Professors

I went to a different Mass last weekend, so I ran into people I hadn't seen in a really long time. It was great, until this older guy in the parish came up to me to say hello -or so I thought. What he really said was "You're certainly getting older." Well, no kidding, Dick Tracy. This stuff only goes in one direction; I'm unlikely to get younger. But, l'esprit d'escalier and all that. I didn't think to say that until something like four hours later. Instead I just smiled and said "beats the alternative." And then fretted about it for a while.

I told our daughter about this conversation and her only comment was "What's he a professor of?". She just knew that somehow some professors feel exempt from the rules of social exchange. Well, I guess she learned that in a fairly obvious way, now that I think about it.

And here's the thought running parallel to this. It's Women's History Month, so I'm collecting my thoughts about feminism to share in a discussion-panel event and preparing to listen to other people's thoughts on the subject. Where does body modification fit in? Should I go buy different clothes that don't make me look like I'm wearing the latest collection from The Salvation Army? Should I *gasp* color my hair? I know I need to lose weight, but would I be doing it because this guy mentioned my appearance? That would stink, if that were the motivation that pushed me to actually do it. (I still haven't remembered this guy's name, by the way. Mike, you'll have to help me out here. If I'm going to stick pins in his voodoo doll, I should know his name.) Clearly we're not talking about genital mutilation here. I'm talking about getting a manicure, for heaven's sake. But where is the line? Is there a line?

My early feminism suggested to me (and this was my high-school ideology completely made up by me... don't blame feminism writ large) that standards of beauty were to please men and made objects of women, so they should be rejected. Think about high heels, for example. I'm still pretty committed to rejecting those, but for different reasons. They're obnoxious and hurt my feet. What I missed in my youthful excitement was that there's some connection between psychic health and physical beauty.

I just don't know quite what it is yet. This could go two ways -or a blend of them, I suppose. Either my body could reflect an increased inner confidence, so I'd naturally gravitate toward more attractive clothes, fixing my hair in some non-heinous way, wearing jewelry.... whatever. In other words, I'd be seeing my body as something that can be molded and changed and tweaked. Or I could take the opposite approach and say that, yes indeed, I am getting older. And what we bloody well need to do is craft an image of beauty that includes gray hair, and wrinkles, and strong, aging bodies. In that case, I'd be seeing societal images of beauty as the thing that could be molded. I'm stumped as to which way this will go. But I promise I'll be giving this -and the crafting of really elegant voodoo dolls- some serious thought.

My working hypothesis is that I'll decide that I MUST go shopping, get overwhelmed at all of the false choices available at the mall (there's lots of stuff but none of it is designed for my body), and go hang out at the coffee shop instead. We'll see....