Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lest We Forget

Once a month, I track down the numbers documenting the human cost of the war in Iraq.

As of yesterday, U.S. military deaths total 2391, according to U.S. Fatalities. The total number of civilians reported killed by military intervention in Iraq, according to Iraq Body Count: between 34,593 and 38,743.

So, the score stands thus:
Osama bin Laden: responsible for the deaths of 2738 U.S. citizens
George W. Bush: responsible for the deaths of 2391 U.S. citizens

To everyone who has lost a loved one in this pointless exercise in hubris, I extend my heartfelt condolences and offer my ongoing prayers.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Random 10

Oh my lands, what a day. Among other things, we're changing computers and ISPs and goodness only knows what else around here. After the lovely young man in tech support in Bombay suggested that I get my husband to help me, I got steamed and went to work. (...knowing full well that my fallback position was to call my son. I can buy his silence with a few dozen chocolate chip cookies.) Now, finally, I'm reconnected to other people through my computer. How did we get any work done before the internet? It's hard to remember.

Anyway... that explains my tardiness. We're ready for the Friday Random 10. You know the game. Set your iPod to shuffle 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 make you look cool. We'll know and tease you mercilessly! Here's my list for today:

  • Singin' in the Rain; Gene Kelly (Come on... if you have an Oscar Night party, this is obligatory.)
  • Home; Karla Bonoff
  • Voluntary in C Major (Z 717); Purcell
  • Kisses Sweeter Than Wine: Jackson Brown and Bonnie Rait
  • Trip Around the Sun; Jimmy Buffett
  • La Vie en Rose; Louis Armstrong
  • Organum, Alleluia V. Multifaerie Olim; Hildegard von Bingen
  • Double Trouble; John Williams (yes, from Harry Potter -also for the Oscar Night party)
  • Indian Woman; Rubaja And Hernandez
  • Ready to Run; Dixie Chicks

I did delete one yoga practice that showed up on shuffle. What would the non-yogini public have done had I included a "song" entitled "Moving Toward Leg Behind the Head"? Now I'm off to check the 412 e-mail messages that appeared while I had disappeared from cyberspace.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Popcorn and Social Change

It's almost the weekend and I'm tired. Let's see if there's something interesting and worthy of a social justice blog I can find in my netflix queue.

Let's try these documentaries:
Or... if I just want to veg out with a story, for heaven's sake:

And I still cry at Romero, even though it's not as though I don't know how it's going to end.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why Am I Painting the Living Room?

Holes in the ozone the size of Brazil... the women of Darfur.... lacrosse teams and exotic dancers.... There's plenty of important stuff going on in the world. So, why am I painting the living room?

My baby is graduating from college in a few days, that's why. Wasn't it just yesterday that he toddled across the gymnasium to graduate from kindergarten??? And that's a trauma of a certain kind, heaven knows. Where did the time go? How can I be the mother of two children in their 20s? Will they make their way in the world? Did I do enough? More on those questions later, I'm sure. But the immediate trauma staring me in the face is that both grandmothers are on their way to stay with us.

Ozone bedamned (temporarily), we've got ISSUES here. I must be seen to be one of those working moms who has it all together. I have fabulous children. Check. Great husband. Check. A job -a career, even. Good. Now I have to entertain like Martha Stewart and make it all look easy? I'm having a bloody breakdown.

Or, the claim could be made that I'm making up this "requirement" to avoid having to think about the fearsome question of sending my baby out into the world. (Without me -what the hell is THAT about??)

Hush, and pass the drywall goop.

Monday, April 24, 2006

There Were No Needy Among Them

Well, this is typical. The post-title is part of (my memory of) a sentence from Acts of the Apostles. We heard it at church yesterday. You can read it here: Lectionary. It wasn't the most important part of what we heard. I've got to go with "peace be with you" from the gospel for that honor. Nonetheless, it caught my attention and I got stuck there, musing on what it might mean. Leave it to me to get stuck on a phrase that went by in a split second.

The idea is that the community shared goods and needs in common and everyone was cared for. On the one hand, I prima facie don't believe that there were no needy among them. People become needy for all kinds of reasons, and sharing goods in common -as lovely as it can be- won't prevent that. Someone's husband is going to die, and now the widow is emotionally needy -at least temporarily. Financial need the community can address if it just will. Yet, neediness comes in many forms and sharing goods in common isn't going to help with all of them.

Moreover, who gets to decide what level of need merits the group's attention? We social workers struggle with this question all the time. How much should a person fix herself and when should the group step in? Should the person have to ask? Some people will ask too soon, expecting too little of themselves. Other people will never ask at all, expecting too much from themselves. How many barriers do we -and should we- put between people and help? Who do we help? Is membership in the group obvious? Can people move in and out of group membership? How many people get to participate in the decision-making process? Do you really think that the community in Acts didn't have to consider these questions? This is why people get advanced degrees in this stuff, for heaven's sakes!

But, I don't think we get to avoid questions just because they're hard. On some level, I don't care if or how the community answered these question then. What's stuck with me for 24 whole hours now (a minor miracle in my brain) is that the community cared enough about economic justice to factor it into the fabric of their society. Charity wasn't enough. Charity (not in the classical sense of caritas -I mean more the way we use the word now.) means you have a need. I have the thing you need and I share it with you. That can be a very good thing; it might mean that you get food and don't starve to death. But nothing transforming has happened to society in that exchange. I still have all the power and position in society, and you're still the person in need.

The community in Acts did something different. Everybody deposited everything they earned in a communal "pot" and the end result was dished out according to need. It doesn't sound as though the people who deposited more in the communal pot got more -unless they also needed more. That's a transformation of society. And not without its own troubles, I know. But maybe we're supposed to be disturbed by the message. Maybe a transformed world isn't supposed to be easy.

One thing we forget about in modern society (in the U.S. at least) is the giftedness and interdependence of all people. The poor we shall always have with us. True enough -especially when we're busy creating more poor people every day. But poor people and needy people and old people and sick people and vulnerable children all bring gifts to the table. The community is enriched by their presence if we'll take the time to notice. People want to contribute. I'm quite sure I'm right about this. We don't trust people not to want more than they're entitled to -whatever that means. But sadder still, we don't trust them to contribute freely and generously.

But God calls us all to be partners in creation. To create a future free from want or fear -that's our work. And we all need to set about doing it, that all may have abundant life.

And there's a lecture/homily I can never give to a room full of students -unless they're seminarians, I suppose. And yes, I'm aware that I'm unlikely to be invited to give a talk at a seminary! More's the pity ;)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the game. 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 like a dork or adding in ones you think will make you look cool. We'll know and then tease you mercilessly ;)

Here are mine for this week:

  • Sweet Talking Guy; The Chiffons (Oh dear... are we off on another "Andrea wants to join the convent" bender?)
  • The Memory of Trees; Enya
  • The Best: Tina Turner
  • Center Stage; Indigo Girls
  • Chand Majha Purva; Asha Boshle
  • We are the Champions; Queen
  • Red Dirt Girl; Emmylou Harris
  • Loving and Forgiving Are You, O Lord; Still Pointe
  • Concerto Grosso in B Flat Major, OP. 6, No, 11; Corelli
  • Whose Garden Was This; John Denver

And just because....and in honor of Earth Day, here's my Great Outdoors playlist. I use it in the winter when I'm slogging away on the dreadmill.

  • The Eagle and the Hawk;John Denver
  • Sunshine On My Shoulders;John Denver
  • The Memory of Trees; Enya
  • Children of the Universe;John Denver
  • Rocky Mountain High;John Denver
  • I'll Follow the Sun; Chet Atkins
  • Requiem for the Giant Trees;Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen & Priscilla Herdman
  • Paint the Sky with Stars;Enya
  • Nature Song; Sweet Honey In the Rock
  • Song to a Seagull;Joni Mitchell
  • Whose Garden Was This;John Denver
  • They Call the Wind Maria; The Kingston Trio
  • Rhythm of the Rain (LP Version);Cascades
  • Cartwheels;Patti Smith
  • Fields of Gold;Sting
  • When the Stars Begin to Fall; Holly Near/Ronnie Gilbert Erik Darling/Fred Hellerman/Lee Hays/Ronnie Gilbert
  • Message from the Wind;Blue Highway

Other people playing with the Friday Random 10 meme:
Quod She

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thomas Tidbits

I know I must be annoying with my constant updates re: my nephew Thomas. Too bad ;) You could take some comfort in the sad truth that I don't tell YOU every time I compulsively check out his status with my brother or look at his new pictures. He's now 4 pounds 15 ounces, which is practically baby-sized. He's trying to learn to nurse and/or take a bottle. Poor little dear, he's not used to getting hungry and having to work for his food. I guess all babies have to confront that little tragedy, though -and I seem to recall that it irritates them a bit ;) So, he'll get through this.

We're hoping he's home with his parents and his slightly wacky extended family for his grandmother's mega-birthday-party (the party is "mega" -not the birthday) this August.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Immigrant Detention Centers -Again!

I'm behind on my reading, but I got this from Pacific News Service.

A Halliburton subsidiary has a $385 million contract to build large-scale immigrant detention centers. Apparently, Homeland Security is worried about an "emergency influx of immigrants" and thinks that the best thing to do with such an influx would be to detain them until they figure out what to do. The Halliburton website says this: the detention centers "provide for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs". One of these centers opened in Tacoma on April 7; there are others in Boston and south Texas as well. I'm sure there are more.

Uh oh. Opened to do what? What programs are we implementing here, exactly? And how do we know that civil liberties of citizens will be protected? Certainly our long-ish term history of the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II suggests that we forget the "niceties" of citizens' rights occasionally. Certainly, our near-term history suggests that the current administration cares not the slightest about civil liberties. Illegal wire-tapping, anyone?

So, in a nutshell, we have here nepotism, a huge contract awarded to a company documented to have wasted untold amounts of taxpayer money, and a dubious enterprise from the get-go. I'm not really surprised, but I am exhausted. What should a fair-minded, liberally-inclined person do?

First, we have to acknowledge that there have been immigrant detention centers for a very long time. The first thing that happens when a person gets off the plane and asks for asylum is that person is put in a detention center. As I've mentioned before, the care that a person gets there isn't always what one would hope (Give Me Your Tired). So, informing oneself is a good beginning. If you want a fictionalized account of a true story, watch Chasing Freedom. If you want something more straight-forward, you might read Mark Dow's American Gulag.

But read fast, because we really need to move past information-gathering to action. Who's working with activist leadership training in immigrant communities? Those people need to be supported. The Catholic church has actually stepped up to the plate on this issue. How might a person connect with actual social change in that context? Personally, I'm looking for something beyond rallies and marches, but they can be important too. What's up with the immigrant detention facility in Chicago? There must be one. Where is it? Who's monitoring it? These questions have answers, I suppose. I'll see what I can track down.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Abstinence-Only Guidelines

Damn it. Why am I so naive as to assume that reason will prevail in public policy? Don't answer that. Or do... maybe it will help.

There are new guidelines from the Dept of Health and Human Services as to which non-profits can get funding for abstinence-only education programs. Abstinence is, they've decided, "voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage." Oh for crying out loud, we're back to virginity being a commodity that one brings to the marriage bed. And lest we get any big ideas about tolerance because they included the word "voluntarily," marriage is defined as well. It, you'll be happy to know, is "a legal union between one man and one woman as a husband and wife." The guidelines are here: HHS. So, those of us in heterosexual, legally-sanctioned unions can have all the sex we want. Or all the information we want about it, anyway. The rest of you are SOL.

Trying my best not to skew the post with unnecessary hyperbole.... here's what we know. I mean REALLY know, here. Sexually-active teenagers have the highest incidence and prevalence rates for most sexually-transmitted diseases. They have the highest rates of unintended pregnancies. And they account for almost half of the new AIDS cases each year. From hanging out with college students for..ever, I promise you that even the comparatively well-educated are dangerously misinformed. Ask me sometime about the student who thought he couldn't possibly have gotten his girlfriend pregnant because they had only had sex right on day 14 of her cycle. Ummm... right. High school students are even more dangerously clueless. Does no one but me remember the Mountain-Dew-as-spermicide nonsense? But only abstinence will be taught to these people as a strategy for staying sexually healthy.

We also know that a study of abstinence-only education programs found that 2/3 of these programs lie to students. That's not hyperbole, is it? There are things known to be untrue and they say them anyway, claiming them to be fact. That's a lie, right? A synopsis of the study is here: Planned Parenthood. Among other things, government-funded projects were teaching students that a 43-day-old fetus was "a thinking person." I know 43-YEAR-old people for whom the jury is still out on that point. A 43-day old fetus has what to think about, exactly? In fact, all that they can claim is that the cerebral cortex, which will one day allow the person to think and reason, has started to develop at 43 days. One program claimed that 41% of sexually active teen girls and 50% of sexually-active teen boys are HIV-positive. And these numbers came from where? They are shamelessly mixing incidence and prevalence numbers here; they have to know better. Half of new AIDS diagnoses in a year go to teenagers. It does NOT follow that half of teenagers are infected.

We also know that $1 billion will be disbursed to fund abstinence-only education programs, targeting people who are already tragically clueless about sexuality. And this brilliance is courtesy of the Bush administration and the religious right. Thanks, guys.

Monday, April 17, 2006


"Recognize your strength. Recognize your power. Recognize your potential. Take care of yourself."

That's the motto of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project's (PEP) new Recognize! campaign to embrace issues that are important to young women of color and to speak directly to the complex realities that many young women of color face today.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, a partner with PEP, is working with other pro-choice organizations to get the word out about recent findings outlining how women of color view their reproductive health. It's critical that the reproductive health and rights of African-American and Latino young women get the attention they deserve:

* More than one-third of Latinas are uninsured (37%), more than twice the rate of white women (16%). African-American women are also more likely to be uninsured (20%) than white women.

* AIDS is the number one cause of death of African-American women ages 25-34, and the HIV infection rate among Latinas is seven times higher than for white women. (I thought there might be some statistical hyperbole here. Higher than car accidents??? Really? But it seems to be true.)

* African-American women have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy, and the unntended pregnancy rate for Latinas is nearly two times the rate of white women.

PEP's campaign focuses around three main issues:

  • The role of community and the control that a woman has over her own body in relation to the people around her.
  • Highlighting motherhood as a positive and inspiring responsibility that many young women look forward to, and that means maintaining good maternal health.
  • Recognizing that young women see their reproductive health on a spectrum with other concerns such as lack of health care, HIV/AIDS and general well-being.

The action plan for the day:

· Check out PEP's new campaign materials on its website: Recognize!.

· Check out this new report, "She Speaks: African American and Latino Young Women on Reproductive Health and Rights"

· To find out more about PEP's work to represent the views of young women, women of color, and low-income women, click here.

Reframing Gay Marriage

  1. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay. the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets. ...because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all. Women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage is allowed. The sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children. Obviously, straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.
  9. Children can't succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why society expressly forbids single parents from raising children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans. Damn our inflexibility anyway.

If you think too much about these statements, you'll end up in a tangle. How can we poke fun at the absurdities of the other side with absurdities of our own??? (Gay marriage IS natural, for one thing.) Try to stay out of your head a little and just notice the absurdities we create when we're afraid of change.

And I'd like to point out that hanging out with tall people has really worked well for me. I'm all of 4'11" (not quite) tall. But when I started out, I was only 19"....

A hat tip here for this list: Re Collection.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Flame Divided But Undimmed

Many of the metaphors of Easter -heck, of the whole faith- are tucked away in the Exultet. The Exultet is the poem of joy which is sung by the Deacon at the Easter Vigil. It's a cross of mythic proportions for the poor deacon to bear. It's long, it's not-quite-tuneless, it's necessarily a solo.... it's a pain. But the language is wonderful.

Easter Vigil is high theater in the Catholic Church. (Don't be offended. It's many other things, too, but it's also theater.) There's an open flame. There's a new paschal candle. There's water (impregnated by the candle, if you want to talk about strange Easter metaphors). The church is dark and then at the Gloria, the lights go on and the bells come back. It goes on and on. So, my face-saving theory is that I can forgive myself a bit for watching the metaphors of the Exultet whoosh by me.

Here are just a few that catch my attention every year.

"Oh happy fault, oh necessary sin of Adam" -My crotchety self notices that this is one of the very few (possibly the only) times that there's an admission that someone besides Eve ate the apple. But even I can't hold on to crabbiness very long in this context -and that's saying something. I get it that the poetry of the Exultet is saying that God can turn all things to good, even the original sin. But a necessary sin? Wow.

Whoosh... No time to think. Here comes "a flame divided but undimmed." The context is this. There's the big paschal candle which has just been dedicated for the year's use. Everyone in the congregation (except me last night.... I got all befuddled when I was asked to interpret, but that's another story.) has a tiny candle and these are all lit from the Easter candle. The church is still dark, except for the candles. You can watch the little pinpoints of light grow and move around the church; it's a kind of moving portrait of light. I love it every year. So now there are hundreds of candles lit, and the paschal candle burns as brightly as before.

I went on this weird "divided but undimmed" riff last night. It turns out that I had never told one of our children that a dear friend -a priest as it happens- died a little more than a year ago. I can't imagine I really didn't tell her, but she says I didn't, so the effect is the same. Last night, she turns to me before Mass and says "Stephen is here". A man who looked remarkably like Stephen has indeed walked in, and she didn't know it couldn't have been him. Stephen loved the Easter Vigil and it was a liturgical triumph when he was involved. So, I went off on this "the community is divided or separated when anyone dies or leaves, but maybe it's undimmed" tangent. That's a big leap and certainly not always true. Heck, maybe it's never true, but I gave it some thought before....

"let it (the candles) dispel the darkness of this night" - Except candles don't do that. I don't understand the physics of this, and the person who might around here is still asleep. But candles don't make the room bright. Instead, they carve out a little circle of light within the darkness. Darkness and light share the space. How cool is that, metaphorically speaking?

And now we're about 15 minutes into the 3 hour celebration, and we still have "evening came, morning followed, the first day" and the parting of the Red Sea and the baptisms..... Sheesh. What a night!

Happy Easter, dear ones. Christos Anesti!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Random 10

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

  • Seek the Lord; the St. Louis Jesuits
  • Etude in E Major, Opus 10, No. 3, Chopin via Daniel Pollack
  • Requiem, Op. 48, Agnus Dei; Faure
  • I Love This Bar; Toby Keith
  • The Call to Dance Medley; Leahy
  • Toys Not Ties; Nightnoise
  • Concerto in G Major for 2 Violas, Strings, and Basso Continuo (Gai); Telemann
  • Both Hands; Ani DiFranco
  • Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of; U2
  • Red Light; Linda Clifford

And just to stay with the Holy Week theme, here's the playlist that kept me awake and praying during the "watch one hour with me" meditation at church last night. Maybe if the disciples had had iPods the whole story would be different??? Okay, that was crass, but it surely helped me.
  • Holy Ground; Geron Davis
  • Be Not Afraid; St. Louis Jesuits
  • On Eagle's Wings; Michael Joncas
  • Take, Lord, Receive; St. Louis Jesuits
  • How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place; Michael Joncas
  • Shall We Gather at the River; Anonymous 4
  • Holy is His Name; John Michael Talbot
  • You Are My Hiding Place; Selah
  • You Are My All in All; Dennis Jernigan
  • I am the Bread of Life; John Michael Talbot
  • It is Well with My Soul; Newman Choir
  • Praise the Lord My Soul; St. Louis Jesuits
  • Father, I Put my Life in Your Hands; John Michael Talbot
  • Dust and Ashes; David Haas
  • Seek the Lord; St. Louis Jesuits
  • Be Thou My Vision; 4Him

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Washing of the Feet

It's Holy Thursday. I feel some pressure to be inspiring about the feast of the Last Supper, the connections to Passover, the importance of the Triduum.... Maybe there's inspiration and brilliance at the bottom of this coffee cup, but it's not looking good for our heroine.

What I am wondering about is the foot washing ceremony that occurs at tonight's liturgy. Typically, there is a re-enactment of the story where Jesus picks up a towel and washes the feet of his disciples. Some combination of the pastor or priest, the parish staff, parish representatives.... wash the feet of parishioners. I've been both the wash-er and the wash-ee, and I'm here to tell you, it was a lot harder for me to have my feet washed than to do the washing. I'm a mom; I can wash dirty feet all the live-long day. Having someone serve me -now that's a different thing altogether. Humbling. Instructive. Powerful.

But a few years ago, our then-new Bishop disallowed my participation in the ceremony. Not mine in particular, but all people with a chromosomal arrangement similar to mine. Only men can have their feet washed. You think I'm joking, but alas, no. Some churches have had the courage and the good sense to find obedient-but-just-barely ways of working around this peculiar rule. We have a new pastor; this is his first Easter season with us. Let's see which he values more: ministry or obedience.

I don't want to enter the triduum with an arms-akimbo, "make my day" attitude. And I'm really not. But I am going to notice.

And tonight as I keep watch and meditate in front of the blessed sacrament (from 11-midnight... WHAT was I thinking???), I'll meditate on service and humility and not being so darn angry all the time!

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Standing in Silence on Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, Voice of the Faithful sponsored silent prayer vigils across the country -partially a protest against all the man-made (and I use the word "man" advisedly) evils in the church and partially in prayer for those same men, that they feel the pull of the Holy Spirit and the support of the laity and set about creating a just church.

So I went and stood outside Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Part of me wondered if it served any purpose. After all, I could have been at church with the people who might, one fine day, be my spiritual community. And besides, didn't we get in this fix in the first place by standing in silence in the face of evil?

But, in some ways Lent is about the silence that calls us to conversion. Heaven knows, I need it as much as the church. You can't listen if you're talking. So I stood there, listening and praying and witnessing, as far as I am capable, to the possibility of conversion. The long-suffering spouse went to church, for the very same reasons. All I can figure is that there are many ways to accomplish the same thing; we can only walk our own path.

I'll spend much of this week in church with my little proto-community. I suppose that's a witness to the power of possibility, too.

Monday, April 10, 2006

"What Have I Read?" Quiz

I was playing around on the What Should I Read Next? site and found this quiz.

What have I read?
These are the 25 most popular classic books at What Should I Read Next?
I liked it!I didn't like it!I want to read it!
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Emma - Jane Austen
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
Candide - Voltaire, Norman Cameron
Complete Tales and Poems - Edgar Allan Poe
King Lear - William Shakespeare
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
Take the 'What have I read?' test now!
Eight different categories to try!
Buy your books at Amazon US or Amazon UK

In my defense, what I really meant in the "didn't like" category was "I'm glad I read it, but I don't want to read it again."


Friday, April 07, 2006

Read-olutions Report

She loved books too much and it has turned her brain.
-Louisa May Alcott

In January, I told you that I had a list of "read-olutions" for the year. I have -oh, stop the presses- gotten distracted from my list. But I have been reading some good things.

The first is Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. It's a series of essays about books and reading, not surprising for a woman who's the child of Clifton Fadiman and Annalee Jacoby. There was probably a book or two in her house, while she was growing up. I particularly liked the essay about a long-term relationship meaning that the book collections of two people must be melded. It's a difficult process. Whose copy of The Peloponnesian Wars do you keep? In our case, both -not that either of them has been looked at in 20 years. That is SO not the point! Anyway, the book is lovely.

Before that I read Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and their Journey through Schizophrenia by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn Spiro. Just for the record, this book was on my original read-olutions list, so I do occasionally do what I say I'm going to do. It's a fairly grueling tale about exactly what it sounds like it's about, but it's important and interesting and very well written, as well. Pamela Wagner actually has a blog here(WagBlog), recounting her path to not-quite-wellness. It's not unrelated, in my little mind anyway, to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's not for the faint of heart, but really needs to be read anyway.

And I stumbled across Julie/Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 tiny apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. I missed the whole blog/social networking phenomenon that the Julie/Julia project became, but if you're interested you can skim it here: Julie/Julia. Aside from Julia Child herself, Julie is quite possibly the only person on the planet who's made every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And why would a book about that be interesting? But it is. It's funny and poignant and interesting -and she manages to make meaning from her life by grasping desperately onto this self-imposed project. In the end, it gives a girl hope!

Next up: The Hole in the Universe by K.C. Cole and How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle by Frances Willard. What are you reading?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take our 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. We'll know and tease you mercilessly.

Here are mine for this week:

  • Journey On; Newman Choir (small solo by the long-suffering spouse)
  • Shall We Gather at the River; Anonymous Four
  • Little Boxes; Pete Seeger
  • Concerto in G Major for 2 Violas, Strings, and Basso Continuo; Telemann
  • Delta Daughter; The Buck Buckley Band (Buck is my brother-in-law, and he wrote this song for my sister on their 2nd wedding anniversary.)
  • Red Dirt Girl; Emmylou Harris
  • Beautiful Day; U2
  • Bridal Ballad; Hayley Westenra
  • Gracias a la Vida; Mercedes Sosa
  • Slumber My Darling; Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma (Holy #($*, this one makes me SOB. Why did my babies have to grow up, again????)

Good news!

Amnesty International reports that Hu Jia, an AIDS activist, was released last week after spending 41 days in captivity. Hu Jia is the co-founder of the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education and an outspoken advocate for people with HIV/AIDS. He has publicly criticized the authorities over their treatment of people with AIDS and other issues, and has been detained on numerous occasions in the past in connection with his peaceful human rights activities.

You can learn more about mass detentions in China here: Amnesty International -China.

You can take action on other cases here: OutFront.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Is There No Decency?

Maybe I'm an idiot for even asking the question. But here's the thing. There are days in social work that take me straight to the edge. You get good at not appropriating other people's pain. It's not just bad technique; it's a kind of arrogance. So, you learn better. But all of social work -ALL OF IT- is based on the notion that people can come back from pain, from tragedy, from mistakes, from lunacy... and build lives from the broken pieces. And while we're about it, we can make a safe and just world where everyone can thrive. (I know. I don't want much, do I?)

Sometimes I'm confident that this will all work out. We'll get the great world I imagine. Other times I know it's basically futile, but things can get better and society needs people like me (and all social workers) to keep the dream alive and in front of us. It's important to remember that we have the dream, even if we can't fulfill it. On bad days, I think people are just laughing at us as naive fools.

I get home from work, cozy up to the computer with my glass of wine, and learn that Rush Limbaugh called the North Carolina rape victim, allegedly victimized by the members of the Duke University lacrosse team, a "ho." On the air. He is paid to say things like that. He has a loyal following who will not just defend his right to say things like that (although why they're not slanderous is unclear to me), but argue that he was in fact speaking accurately. Limbaugh apologized when a caller insisted, but essentially recanted his own apology.

And then... because that's not enough for one evening... Neal Boortz, an Atlanta radio host said that Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney's new hairstyle makes her look like a "ghetto slut." Excuse me??!! Yes, she's the one who apparently hit the Capitol Police officer. I can't claim that she did the right thing there, but honestly! How beyond frustrating to always be assumed to be the hired help because of her skin color and her gender.

Have we made no progress at ALL? The woman raped at Duke is black. She is an exotic dancer. So, in Rush's world view she must be a whore, apparently. Congresswoman McKinney is another black woman, assumed to be powerless when, in fact, she's a member of Congress. Not only is it true that people are commenting on her hair rather than, say, her position on the issues of the day, but she's also referred to as .... what? a whore. Because of her race and her gender.

I'm going to have another glass of wine, go to bed, get up in the morning, and try to make a better world. But honest to God, I'm losing hope here.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

OK, it's time to remind myself that I know some things about what I'm supposed to know about -which is to say, social work.

There's been a murder in this little burg. There hasn't been a murder here in something like 4 years, so it's quite literally the talk of the town. Add to the general shock of any murder the twin facts that the victim and the alleged perpetrator are both heart-breakingly young. And gang-involved, apparently.

That's pretty much the extent of what I've gleaned from the water-cooler chit-chat. From here on out, I'm generalizing and theorizing from ideas rather than the particular case. It's just that it was this particular case that brought these questions forward in my mind.

There's just one high school in this town. Mind-bending, but true. And I thought, when my kids were still there, that the school district was very quick to give up on some kids. And no big surprise, the kids they were giving up on look a lot like social work clients. I attributed it to the fact that this is a split-personality town. There are the university-types, and the farmer-types, and the none-of-the-above types. Maybe the kids of professors and the kids of farmers get away with more than the other kids. I don't KNOW that. And of course, it wouldn't be true in every case, anyway. But I think it merits examination.

Then, midway through our family's tenure at the high school, a police officer was assigned full-time to the schools. This seems commonplace now, but I'm still not convinced it's a great idea. Right in here somewhere, we also got zero-tolerance policies. Back in my day (be very wary of sentences that start like that....), we had a system of graduated discipline. The punishment intensified as the crime intensified -or based upon the number of times the little "criminal" had perpetrated the crime. Now with zero tolerance, the first miss is as good as a mile -and frequently results in mandatory referral of the student to law enforcement for school code violations.

But once a kid has been referred to law enforcement, how likely is he to re-enter the classroom as a successful student? This is a little town. The teachers totally know which kids have had referrals and which ones haven't. Heck, the people at the grocery store know. A strong kid with good support could start to follow the straight and narrow, but really... the deck is stacked against him. And if people now interact with that person in ways that imply an expectation that he will fail... well, some prophecies are self-fulfilling.

Add to this "tough-love" facsimile, the corresponding fact that the punishment on the law enforcement side of the equation has also toughened. It's much easier to try juveniles as adults than it used to be, and sentencing for juvenile offenses has stiffened as well. So, in some cases, we may never know if a kid could have re-entered the classroom. He's just plain in jail, where education is treated as a privilege rather than a requirement. Even if he gets out of jail in time to return to high school, he'll be behind his peers. Now he's guaranteed to be in "alternative education."

And of course I haven't even added in the racial and other socio-economic disparities of any social system. But what we have is clearly a school system with not only no safety net, but a system that's been so punitive for some of its participants that jail is almost the inevitable outcome.

I'm not arguing that the school system pulled out a gun and killed that child. There were dreadful choices made that night, and no one else is to blame in quite the way that the perpetrator is. My point, though, is that he may not be the only one to blame. The question is whether or not we have the political will to change this. No child left behind, indeed. Sigh.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Activism for Geeks

My computer-professional son would choke on his morning Mountain Dew if he knew that I was, however slightly, starting to think of myself as a technologically-savvy person. Admittedly, it's a very slight bit of my self-definition. And yet, several quasi-techie items of interest to activists have crossed my desk. Imagine.

Thing 1: I've blogged before about the Axis of Justice radio show. It's now available as a podcast. I love this show, and I love, love, love the idea of getting away from appointment listening. My life just doesn't work like that anymore. So, here's the link to the information:Axis of Justice. I hope you like it as much as I do. I can't imagine that you need help subscribing, but if you do... call my son ;)

Thing b (with a nod to the Car Talk guys who always list things this way!):Ideal Bite is a dandy service, providing daily tips on green living, as well as discussion and a collection of eco-ok blogs. Check it out.

In the third half of today's show ;) -If you want something a little more academic, try this. The University of Chicago Human Rights Program Distinguished Lecturer Series and the World Behind the Headlines lecture series are both available as podcasts. Here's the link: UofC Lecture Series.

And for entertainment's sake, there's the google-bombing effort on State Sen. Napoli's behalf. As Smart Bitch says, "fuckwittery should not go unrewarded." Here's the proposed definition:
napoli (not to be confused with the proper noun, which indicates the Italian city)
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): napolied
Pronunciation: nA’poli

1. To brutalize and rape, sodomize as bad as you can possibly make it, a young, religious virgin woman who was saving herself for marriage. 2. To hella rape somebody.

Etymology: From State Senator Bill Napoli’s (R-SD) words on an acceptable description of rape that would merit an exemption from South Dakota’s abortion ban.

What do you have to share? Of course, if I don't quit finding things, I'm going to have to quit my job just to keep up with all this information. I suppose I could use my workout time to catch up on causy podcasts. Maybe I'd work out more.... Or not.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Charity South Dakota Style

I know everyone under the sun has already written about this, and there's not a thing in the world that I have to add. I'll just let State Senator Napoli's words stand by themselves. (Well, we'll have to see if I have the fortitude to actually do that....) Asked under which circumstances he thought abortion might possibly be allowable, he replied:
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

How exactly would this poor raped, pregnant girl establish that she had had every intention of saving herself for her one true lover in marriage? And is he really implying that a non-religious woman who had otherwise the exact same experience wouldn't be damaged by it?

Actually, I think my friend Elisa nailed it when she pointed out that when abortion was illegal before, there wasn't DNA testing. Now we can prove who the father of that baby is, and if the mother carries the baby to term it means 18 years of child support payments for him guaran-damn-teed. Guys are going to start waving "it's a woman's right to choose" banners just as soon as they figure that out.

Ahem... well, I guess I couldn't quite let his words go without comment, could I? Oh well.