Monday, July 31, 2006

Worst Presidency Ever

Well, you knew I thought that. That's not news. But it turns out that there are actual measures for this. Who knew? 415 historians were unscientifically polled back in 2004 and asked to rate the success of the Bush presidency. You guessed it -the worst presidency ever. And you have to admit that the competition for that title is pretty stiff. Think Nixon, Harding, McKinley, Coolidge, Andrew Johnson... You can read about the poll here: Rolling Stone.

Overwhelmingly, the historians rated this presidency as a political success, by which they meant that Mr. Bush has been remarkably able (or had been up to that point) to get initiatives passed through Congress, and he still had the support of about half the population. But that's not necessarily inconsistent with the presidency itself being a disaster. One can be successful at pursuit of something wrong, or evil, or misguided, or just plain stupid.

Ok, the left-ward leaning tendencies of the professoriate (statistically speaking) are well-known -or much-believed, anyway. But that turns out not to matter. Liberals weren't thrilled with George the Elder, either, and we certainly weren't crazy about Ronald Reagan, and yet the historians rated those presidencies as less disastrous than this one.

So why does an unscientific poll of such a small group matter? It's not hugely important, I have to concede. Yet, these are the people trained in evaluating long-term consequences of political leadership. Personally, they probably care as much about high gas prices and for the safety of a particular serviceman or woman as you and I do, but professionally they're trained to take the long view of leadership. And in the end, voters (rather than a subset of academically trained voters) decide the merits of any administration, and the voters could well disagree with these guys.

One unnamed (and thus I can't give credit, but I promise I didn't write this) historian said:
Indeed, Bush puts Nixon into a more favorable light. He has trashed the image and reputation of the United States throughout the world; he has offended many of our previously close allies; he has burdened future generations with incredible debt; he has created an unnecessary war to further his domestic political objectives; he has suborned the civil rights of our citizens; he has destroyed previous environmental efforts by government in favor of his coterie of exploiters; he has surrounded himself with a cabal of ideological adventurers . . . .”
That's why we should care.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that appear -and no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork. Here are mine for the week:
  • Dulaman; Altan
  • How Can I Keep from Singing?; SheDaisy (a lovely a cappella version with women's voices
  • It's My Life; Bon Jovi
  • There Goes the Neighborhood; Shania Twain (oh dear. Let's hope this song is this week's dorkage event)
  • You Don't Own Me; Lesley Gore (I guess the Shania wasn't enough. Sigh. This song is a family in-joke and had to be on my iPod.)
  • Left Me a Fool; Indigo Girls
  • Begin the Beguine; Jimmy Dorsey
  • Running on Empty; Jackson Browne
  • One Good Year; Slaid Cleaves
  • London Calling; The Clash

OK... NOT a typical list for me. Can I convince you that I'm a many-faceted person and therefore fascinating? As opposed to just weird, I mean....?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Execution Alerts

Eleven people are scheduled to be killed by the state in August (four in Texas, for whatever that's worth). It's the standard situation. People who lived horrible, horrible lives and had terrible things done to them turned around and perpetrated dreadful crimes. The condemned prisoners include the mentally ill and at least one mentally retarded person. You can read about each of the condemned prisoners here: NCADP. Only recently have we stopped executing juvenile offenders. Go here to read about the Supreme Court decision that changed our public policy. Among other things it admits that we had been in violation of several international treaties while it was our practice. We have executed people so mentally ill they couldn't understand that they were about to die. We have executed people whose attorneys slept through their trials.

So, it's not exactly a big intellectual leap to claim that we do this punishment thing badly. It's a certainty that we've had the wrong people on death row. It's almost certain that we've actually executed the wrong person; do a google search for Ruben Cantu if you want to know more. But if- through some miracle- we could execute perfectly, never getting it wrong, having it be more cost effective than life imprisonment, eliminating the racial bias, and only executing the competent.... would it then be all right?

It's hard to wrap my brain around that. Surely, the answer isn't killing better. The answer is being better. Being bigger. Having more integrity than the criminals who wreak such havoc in people's lives.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Going WAY out on a limb here

We default to a pro-Israel position in this country and I guess I'm okay with that. But it seems to me that Israel is in danger of using up its political capital in this aggression with Lebanon. I can already hear other leftie-types yelling at me, but I think it's something worth exploring. Perhaps this time, we ought not support what Israel is doing.

It's hard to claim that hundreds of Lebanese deaths -most of them civilians- are a proportional response to the capture of the two Israeli soldiers. And the number of refugees being created by this war (that must have a reason other than the captured soldiers) is overwhelming international aid agencies, which already had plenty to do.

There's some evidence (from the United Nations and other aid groups) that Israel is using illegal weapons that kill indiscriminately. Which sort of seems obvious when you think about it. Otherwise, the much-vaunted Israeli army is full of dreadfully poor tacticians. They can't claim that they are targeting combatants and just making tragic errors while simultaneously claiming to be some sort of super-army. It's much more likely that they are a super-army and are accomplishing exactly what they set out to do.

And WHAT is the unwillingness to negotiate about, pray tell.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea what any of us might do about this situation, any more than I know what to do about George Bush floating the test balloon of "Iran is the unseen manipulator behind all this". Yeah, George.... your unseen causes of other wars have worked out really well for us. Surely though, all the parties could be held accountable to the rule of international law. And I'm completely willing to believe that there are more than two parties. I'm just not convinced that the third one is so conveniently Iran. I think the third party might be the United States. After all, Israel is fighting with weapons they got from us and certainly encouragement for Israel to keep bombing is coming from the White House.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What ought to be on trial....

Were I queen, it wouldn't be Andrea Yates on trial for the deaths of those poor children. I've stated my case on this subject before -and better than I'm feeling capable of this morning: Is This God's Will for Women?. At the very least, the social commentary (since I have no legal qualifications of any sort) ought to be about the consequences -for all of us- of these extremely conservative surrendered-wife kind of relationships.

Since I wrote that first piece, I've done a smidge of reading about this issue. It does seem clear that there are religious variations in the prevalence of domestic violence; men who hold much more conservative religious beliefs than their female partners are more likely to be violent (Ellison, Bartkowski, and Anderson, in case you care). Abused women who are members of conservative evangelical churches are more likely to define themselves as "bad" than as abused (Stotland) and it's well-documented that abusers can find allies in conservative churches. Let's assume in some twisted way they mean well or are operating from ignorance rather than malice, but pastors are notorious for blaming the victim, for encouraging ineffective forms of counseling, for assigning great stigma to the dissolution of an abusive relationship, and for interrupting the victim's relationships with health-care providers.

And historically, the evidence seems to suggest that we wouldn't care if the victims were "only" women. But do we really need more evidence that children are also injured by this kind of relationship? I'm a little dissatisfied with my own hysteria on this subject. I do think that Rusty Yates is also guilty in this tragedy. I certainly think that his views are a misuse of religion. But I can't believe that we can juridically do away with that kind of religious expression. Nor can we (social workers and other health care providers) prohibit someone from having children when, in our hearts, we know it's not a good idea. That way lies madness, for sure. But might there not be some kind of legal recourse when religion is so clearly complicit in a tragedy like this?

Or is the only solution for those of us who are also religious to model relationships that are healthy, joyous, and strong? And why does that not feel like enough to me? And here's another thing. Why can't I find a study that looks at depression in fundamentalist households? Religiosity is largely a buffer for depression, but I'm curious to know if there's a difference in the incidence and prevalence of depression among conservative, mainstream, and progressive forms of religious expression. Can't find it. That seems weird.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Car-Free Life? Can We do it?

Brace yourself for more existential angst. I took the car in for an oil change. AN OIL CHANGE. Oh, and while you have it, I need to drive it a lot in the coming weeks, so please make sure I'm not going to die somewhere between here and Nowheresville, Alabama. $2500 later, we have ... something that I don't know what it is. Something to do with the wheel and something to do with emissions.

Naturally, this started us down the path of questioning whether or not we could be a car-free family again. The long-suffering spouse could do it tomorrow and not feel any pain or regret at all. In fact, he'd be thrilled. I would be less thrilled. This is a town with tragically limited public transportation within the city and essentially no public transportation to surrounding towns. Right now, I'm very willing to ride my bike, but this town is also bloody cold and snowy and windy in the winter. Bike-riding is a LOT less attractive then.

And things do arise. See the previous post. Yes, I CAN ride my bike to Beloit and back in one day. But it greatly increases the time and energy that trips like that one take. And, for many and varied professional reasons, the long-suffering spouse and I will be living in separate towns, states, and possibly continents next year. So maybe this isn't the best year to ditch the car.

But I did go this far. In an effort to live simply with the earth and to reduce our dependence on fossil-fuels and our complicity with the car-culture, I'm willing to start off with one car-free day a week. It will just mean that errands requiring the car get consolidated into one or two days, but that's more efficient in any case. Maybe the goal is that eventually we could be car-free. Maybe. As the math-guy worked out, we could rent a car almost as frequently as once a week for the errands and crises that arise and still save money over owning our own car.

But I'm not going there yet. I am committed to one car-free day a week. That's going to be hard enough!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

My Ass is Dragging

Well, if you know me, you know that that's almost literally true, but what I MEAN is, it's been a hard weekend. Which is all by way of explaining the light and variable blogging activity.

A friend had abdominal surgery for what was almost certain to be ovarian cancer. Turns out it isn't, thank heavens. But she still had surgery. So we went up to Beloit this weekend to take care of her, and for Dave to ride bikes with her husband so that he could have a fun break too. It was just the kind of "babysitting" that friends occasionally do for friends, and they've certainly done for us over the years.

Then, we arrive back home, and it turns out that the neighbor has had a heart attack in our driveway, pretty literally five minutes before. The ambulance has taken him to a hospital in another town for an angiogram, but they've confirmed the EMTs' theory that it really was a heart attack. This man is possibly 40, maybe not quite, and athletic and trim. He also has a father with Alzheimer's and two autistic sons. So, there's a little bit of stress in his life. Think good thoughts for that family, and calm nurturing thoughts as the neighbors and family take turns caring for these dear, challenged little boys during a difficult time.

Where's the peppermint schnapps? I think it would be medicinal right about now.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that play -and no fair leaving out the ones that make you look like a dork. Dorkiness is my typical state of affairs, so... here's my list.

  • Disobey; Kate Havevnik (from my Uppity Women playlist)
  • I Wanna Feel That Way Again; Tracy Bird (Oh dear. This is from my Heart-Broken Cowboys; Fun-Loving Cowgirls playlist. I won't subject you to the rest of it.)
  • Sweet Dreams; Emmylou Harris (Lullabies playlist)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Larghetto; Chopin via Emanual Ax (in a generic piano music playlist)
  • Suite in D Major, "Air on a G String"; Bach (Sappy Classical Music playlist)
  • Girl on a Bicycle; Ralph McTell (I Want to Ride My Bicycle playlist)
  • King of the Road; Elvis Presley (essential in my Running Errands playlist)
  • I Could Have Danced All Night; Rosemary Clooney (Chick Flicks playlist)
  • Closer to Fine; Indigo Girls (Rebel with a Clue playlist)
  • May This Be Love; Emmylou Harris (Down from the Mountain playlist)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What Are You Reading?

It's happened again. I have no book. I go to the bookstore and nothing jumps off the shelf and comes home with me. So, I need help.

Books I've read recently (almost always at the behest of others -HOW do you people keep up with this stuff???) and enjoyed include:
  • The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Dynasty by Patricia Ebrey. It sounds more erudite than it was; it wasn't a dry read at all.
  • The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd -definitely worth a read
  • A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman by Joan Anderson. Her husband goes away on sabbatical for a year and she can't/won't go with him. Sound familiar?
  • The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier- It's part thriller and part testament to the importance of memory. It's really good, if by that we mean that you keep thinking about it long after you've put it down.

So, what ideas do you have for me? I'm a desperate woman. Has anyone read Jimmy Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values? Check out this list for a wildly ethnocentric life-time reading plan. I'm afraid that, having been to one of those Great Books (must be capitalized and said in sonorous tones) colleges, this will not serve as an emergency reading plan. I'm only missing two or three books, and I know -I mean I really KNOW- that I can't make it through Pilgrim's Progress. It can't be done.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What Do You Think?

It's been almost a year using the other format, and I was in the mood for a change. Having done this blogging thing for a while now, I know a little more about what I need/want for my own blog. A three-column format springs to mind, for example. Delayed/automatic posting is another feature I'd like. Probably I'm going to switch to typepad in the near future, but I'm waiting for my friend Mike to get home from vacation. He uses typepad and I want to pick his brain. This color change will tide me over, in the meantime.

I have lost the old comments, and I'm very sorry about that. They were/are important to me, so keep them coming, please! Now off to get my links and sidebar into shape. I didn't need to work out this evening ;)

Sentence Carried Out

William Downs was executed in South Carolina on July 14.

There is no way to argue that he was innocent. There's no way to claim that he did anything other than inflict horrible pain on a child and the child's family. I can barely find place in my heart to pity him.

But he still shouldn't have been killed. Killing him diminishes all of us. We become not just killers ourselves, but killers of the mentally ill.

You can find an indifferently written blog entry from one of the media witnesses to the execution here: WLTX. It's worth reading, just to learn more about how and why executions are covered by the press. There is no mention of Down's "guilty but mentally ill" conviction. There's no mention of the reactions of the observers. There's no mention of whether or not the family of his victim found any peace in the process. There is a brief mention of the fact that Down's sister is the one who turned him into the police. She was there to watch the execution. Now, there's a story -not that I'd be willing to tell it, in her shoes. But can you imagine the emotional turmoil? I can hardly stand to think about it.

Truth, justice, and the American way.... is there anything meritorious about the American way, anymore? I don't feel anything other than small and cheapened.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Women in Hate Groups

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around an experience from this weekend. A little town nearby (within biking distance, which is how I know about it) was "treated" to an anti-immigrant rally led by an all-female white supremacist group. There were only 4 of them -people, not groups- so it doesn't seem as though, at least locally, this phenomenon of women in hate groups is catching on. But why did the very fact of it surprise me?

The whole thing was confusing, actually. To begin with, it was an anti-immigrant rally rather than an anti-immigration rally. Surely I'm not the only one who sees the difference. The first one is anti-specific people; the second one is against a specific policy. I'm not crazy about either version, but the first certainly seems to have an undertone of violence.

Then there were the approximately 100 counter-protesters. What a great opportunity, in the face of a hate group, to be different -to model integrity while standing up for what is right. Or not. Tempers were clearly frayed, even though the groups were well apart from each other. Ad hominem attacks... threats.... and this from the people protesting hate groups. It made me very sad, and also a little worried for the peace movement. (Is there actually a peace movement, anymore?) Those of us of a certain age actually went to trainings about how to protest peacefully. We need to resurrect the training, apparently, or people need to avail themselves of it.

And then there were the four women, representatives of Aryan Anarchist Skins. What would inspire anyone to join a hate group, is certainly a relevant question. But I'm always particularly perplexed when a member of a persecuted group wants to join. And it gets more complicated. An unusual feature of this particular group is that it's gay-friendly. Apparently, white supremacist groups are almost uniformly anti-gay. So now we have two layers of oppression to wade through. Well, maybe we do. The members are certainly women and possibly one or more of them is lesbian. I don't know that just from their stated policy of being gay-friendly, obviously. But it's certainly true that other hate groups are not supporting this particular hate group because they're not quite hateful enough towards gay people. So, these four women are apparently willing to be the only four people on the planet standing for their beliefs. They're willing to be hated by the peace-groups. They're willing to be hated by the hate groups. And all in the service of hating some more. Is anyone else's brain melting?

Certainly they have a Constitutional right to hate all they want and to tell us all about it. But the rest of us have a parallel right, of course. In case anyone locally is worried about someone's potential involvement in a hate group, there are ample materials that help to prevent recruitment of young people into racist groups. The Anti-Defamation League recommends a brochure for young people called, Close the Book on Hate: 101 Ways to Combat Prejudice. It is available through the Anti-Defamation League website and at Barnes and Noble. also offers practical steps on how to respond to bigoted comments through its 10 Ways to Fight Hate.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pon de Replay

A while ago, I wrote about Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and his embarrassing lack of intellect and the absence of reason in his decisions. You can find it here: Pro-Life, at What Cost?. Who knew that this guy was going to turn into a fixture of American life and dark comedy?

Apparently, he's designed an electrified fence that could be strung along the U.S.-Mexico border. In case we didn't get the idea, he actually built a prototype on the floor of the House, explaining as he did:
I also say we need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there. We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time."

He sees no irony here... no problem in thinking that we would treat people as we treat livestock. I guess this shouldn't surprise me from a man who thinks McCarthy was a great American hero and that illegal immigrants are responsible for the deaths of 25 Americans every day. I was expecting, perhaps, intellectual agility?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle mode. 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 that make you look cool. Since there's essentially no chance of the latter....

  • Oh Had I a Golden Thread; Judy Collins
  • Sheep May Safely Graze; J.S. Bach
  • Runaway; The Corrs
  • I Wish; Kathy Phillips
  • Make Someone Happy; Jimmy Durante
  • Highland Cathedral; Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
  • Witchcraft; Frank Sinatra
  • When Nothing Satisfies; Jennifer Knapp
  • Relating to a Psychopath; Macy Gray
  • Trip Around the Sun; Al Anderson

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Woman's Place

In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that I was educated at girls' schools all of my pre-college life, and I have a real soft spot for them. I see the ideological concerns, but for me girls' schools were (and are) the source of my feminism and my sense of power as a person on the planet. So, there's that.

And a little background information re: girls' schools in developing countries. For every year of education after the 4th grade that a girl earns, her later income rises 20% over the previous year. (Would that it were true in this country and that the benefit continued as far as graduate school. I'd be SO rich!!) Moreover, infant mortality decreases markedly for each year of education that a girl gets and family health indicators improve. If you want healthier families, educate women. It's really that simple. (There are citations for this. I'll track them down. If I can just get people to stop calling me.)

But no..... In Afghanistan, burnings of girls' schools and the killing of teachers are increasing at an alarming rate as the Taliban resurgence continues to gain strength. Under the Taliban regime, education for Afghan women and girls was banned. Attacks on girls' schools began immediately following the re-opening of the schools by the new Afghan government in 2002, but the current situation has reached crisis proportions, undermining the rights that Afghan women and girls were just beginning to enjoy.

Many children, especially girls, are kept home out of their parents' fear for their safety. In Lessons in Terror: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan, a report just released by Human Rights Watch, it becomes clear that in some areas of Afghanistan the majority of primary-school-age girls do not attend school at all and only 5% of girls (compared to an uninspiring 20 percent for boys) attend secondary schools. Human Rights Watch has called for the international community and the Afghan government to develop a concrete strategy for addressing the security problems of children trying to attend school.

The United Nations has also repeatedly condemned the attacks on schools. The World Food Program recently issued a report raising concerns about these increases in threats and attacks on girls' schools. Munoz Villalobos, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education said in his recent statement "I am deeply concerned that schools, especially girls' schools, seem to be systematically targeted by terrorist groups with the apparent objective of forcing parents to refrain from sending their children to school and thus forcing the authorities to close the schools."

The Feminist Majority has waged a campaign urging the U.S. to increase security in Afghanistan, to protect the rights of women and girls, and to increase funding for organizations working to advance women's rights in Afghanistan and Afghan women-led non-profits. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation/Feminist Majority said, "As the bombings and burning of girls' schools continue unabated and the situation for women and girls continues to deteriorate, the Bush Administration remains silent."

Well, who's surprised by that? But there is a glimmer of hope. The Afghan Women's Empowerment Act of 2006 would authorize $30 million a year for three years for non-profits to provide education for children as well as adult literacy and vocational training. Follow the link for more information and don't forget to urge your Senators and Representative to support the bill, if you are so inclined. After the "read more" goes here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

For Everyone's Good... Spy On Your Neighbors????

We were supposed to do it after September 11, remember? Just in case the little old lady next door was a closet terrorist in between bouts of cookie making. She did chase my children with a broom one day, so maybe I should report her. Of course, the kids were picking her flowers, so it's a tough call. Maybe it's my kids who were the terrorists. You never know.

We already have at least one publicly-accessible list of the criminal behavior of our neighbors. You can go to the website for your state government and find out where convicted sex offenders live. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about this. I want to protect children. I know that true sexual predators don't get better. But I haven't looked to see if there are any such people in my neighborhood. I find the fact that I could know vaguely unsettling.

Now the state of Tennessee has launched a website where you can track your neighbors convicted of methamphetamine offenses. Yes, meth is a drug that truncates people's lives. Yes, it's dangerous. Must we track the people who've done their time forever, in order to feel safe? And really, the tempest about meth labs has always struck me as a diversionary tactic from policy makers who don't know what to do about health care or education or any of a host of thorny problems.

And then, continuing the enforcement-first strategy popularized by our President, there are vigilante groups with websites tracking people they think might be illegal immigrants. I can give you a link, but I really don't want to inflate their statistics. Try a google search on "NoInvaders"; you'll find it.

And all of this begs the question. How normal must our neighbors be? How un-scary? How like us must they be, before we start to worry and make lists and plot public humiliation and vigilante strategies? Can we not find any space for tolerance anymore?

Actually there's a bigger question. What have we become?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

Look in your pocket. Is that a Verizon phone you're carrying around? 42 million people would answer yes. The problem is that Verizon isn't winning any ethical prizes lately, especially when it comes to employment practices.

Here's the story, according to a Federal Administrative Law Judge:
  • The company has prohibited workers from talking about the union on their own time;
  • A company rule requires employees to report all union activity at their worksite, as part of the company's national "Emergency Procedures;"
  • And, in an action reminiscent of Wal-Mart's closure of a Quebec store when its employees formed a union, Verizon Wireless shut down a call center after its employees moved closer to getting a union.

And besides, they gave phone records to the NSA. Maybe we should just hang up on them.

According to the New York Times, Cingular, Verizon's top competitor, does honor its employees wishes to unionize. Working Assets seems like it would be a good choice, but they too have been accused of anti-consumer practices. Here's a link to an evaluation of various wireless service providers: BuyBlue. Unfortunately, it's kind of discouraging. What would you do?

Whether or not you're a Verizon customer... whether or not you intend to change your service provider, you can encourage Verizon Wireless to acknowledge that fiar employment practices are good business. Their employees deserve a say in their working conditions and some job security. You could drop a line to them here: The Petition Site.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Executions in Our Name

On July 14, William Downs is scheduled to be executed in South Carolina. He pled guilty to the rape and murder of a 6-year-old boy, in 2002. The idea of a 6-year-old suffering like that just makes me want to spit nails.

But here's the thing. William Downs tried to commit suicide while in pre-trial custody. He waived his right to a jury trial (in a capital case!) and refused to allow his lawyer to present mitigating evidence. He was found to be "guilty but mentally ill", which in South Carolina does not preclude the possibility of execution.

Can we really execute the mentally ill? Really???? And still be recognizably sane ourselves? Possibly charity toward a person who would commit such a crime is beyond me. I really don't know. But for me -for us- for the principle of the thing, damn it- we can't execute people who can not control their behavior.

If you agree, you might try writing to Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, There's a sample letter here: Amnesty International.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

No Other Love? Really???

I woke up this morning to NPR telling me that the Pope blasted gay marriage while he was in Spain. Sigh. It wouldn't surprise me if he did. Nor would it surprise me, however, if NPR got it wrong.

What the Pope really said, in part, was
I ask your prayer for all families, that they will live in accordance with their God-given vocation and benefit from just governmental policies that safeguard their fundamental role in society
So far, so good, actually. Certainly, this doesn't rule out the possibility of covenantal marriages between partners of the same sex.

But this is Joseph Ratzinger, so we'd better not jump to conclusions. He also said,
marital union [is] between a man and a woman according to the plans of the creator
If we are to encourage the family, help it fulfill its commitments, we must work for social cohesion and, above all, respect its rights which cannot be dissolved by other kinds of unions that seek to replace it.

Oh, just knock it off. The Pope may be reactionary and a pain in the nether regions, but he's not stupid. He sees that that's not an argument that makes any sense. I've read nothing about gay marriage that says that the goal is to replace marriage between two people of different genders. All anyone wants is a broader definition of covenant. Moreover, look at that last sentence. Is he really claiming that my rights as a married person would be somehow diminished or even eliminated (he says "dissolved") by sharing the marital definition with people who do it differently?

So this covenant that no one's arguing that my partner and I have -this covenant that involves God, if one believes the church's understanding of covenant- is so fragile that broadening the definition of who's included would destroy it? That's a very weak God. Or a very uninvolved one, I suppose.

The internally consistent argument that they could -and do- make is that neither the couple nor society is the author of marriage. God is. And we fully understand and comply with what God said about it. I'm with them right up to the last bit. That's not how revelation works. We understand God's revealed intentions for us as we are capable. We gain more understanding with maturity and through grace. Seriously, what precludes the possibility that we didn't get it right when we said that marriage was exclusively between a man and a woman? It seemed reasonable at the time, perhaps, but now we know more. Let's celebrate that and move on.

What am I missing here?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Friday Random 10

You know the drill. Take out your iPod and set it to shuffle mode. Tell us the first ten songs that play -and no fair leaving out ones that make you look like a dork or adding in ones you think will make you look cool.

Here are mine this week:
  • Lord of the Cradle -our church choir, rehearsing
  • Who'll Stop the Rain; Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • I Will Never Let You Go; Jackie Greene (from the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack. Get this CD. Really!)
  • Jerusalem, My Destiny; Still Pointe
  • I Give You the Morning; Tom Paxton (possibly the most romantic folk song ever)
  • Blue Bayou; Roy Orbison
  • Fantasia for Lute; Weiss via Andre Segovia
  • One Good Year; Slaid Cleaves
  • Rain and Snow; The Be Good Tanyas
  • Morning Dew/ Women of Ireland; The Chieftains

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The 100-Mile Diet

Okay, I couldn't do this on a regular basis, I don't think, but you know that I try to live sustainably and gently with the earth. Some days are better than others. I read about the 100-mile diet on David Suzuki's website; the challege of course is to eat food that grew within 100 miles of your house. Doing so supports local farmers, reduces toxic emissions, and can (but doesn't necessarily) reduce the amount of pesticides going into your body. Besides, you get to meet and chat with the people who grew the food. They feel about food the way I feel about yarn. They love their work and they love to talk about it. This is the time of year to give this way of eating a shot, and Thursdays are Farmer's Market days here in corn-town. So off I went on the little red bicycle, with my basket and a grocery list.

I came home with NOTHING on the list. Wonderful things, but nothing on the list. I have new potatoes, and flowers, and salsa, and asparagus, and blueberries, and scallions. I have home-made soap and home-made wine. Now... I challenge anyone to come up with a dinner from that. We had twice-baked potatoes with salsa on top, asparagus on the side, and blueberry cobbler for dessert. So I guess I did come up with a dinner, but it was a little catch-as-catch-can.

Anyway.... I have no point, really. It's just that I'm still looking for ways to live gently and simply, and sometimes those ways are right under my nose.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Okay, I hear this sometimes...

and I heard it three times this past weekend. It was a four-day weekend of lazing about for us -except we're not good at lazing, exactly. But we gave it a shot.

I spent my time more or less as follows: I took apart and put back together a bridesmaid dress for Victoria so she could wear it in a wedding on Sunday and have it remain on her body. So for a few days, there were miles of turquoise satin spread out all over the dining room. Alarming, but there was method to my madness. The problem, though, is that if you pop over for a visit, there's no avoiding the dining room. And fabric pieces draped over chairs, lamps, and people who hold still long enough will probably get your attention. Which generated several versions of "You SEW? How traditional. How...charming." Okay, whatever....

The dress gets put back together. Victoria walks down the aisle (GACK) and totally steals the show from the bride. But that's another story -and possibly I'm biased, anyway. The next day I spent knitting in public. I had taken my beloved iPod to Starbucks to knit and catch up on work-related podcasts. Were people impressed with my ability to simultaneously listen, think, drink coffee, and knit? Apparently not. But they think knitting is...quaint. If only they had the time....

Then yesterday, the long-suffering spouse and I went tramping around at Starved Rock State Park. We wanted to be there most of the day, so I packed food. Which I cooked. Big deal. If you like to eat, eventually you learn to cook, don't you? OK, by accident, I swear, we were also sitting on a picnic tablecloth that I made and my knitting was with us. The comment this time was "Your husband is a lucky man." Well, yes ;) But not because I COOK, for heaven's sake. Which I thought, but didn't say.

OK, so what is going on here? I don't do any of these traditional crafts (arts?) because I have to. My family will be clothed and fed whether or not I sew, knit, garden, or cook. Moreover, I have the free time and disposable income to do them. If I were a single mother, making minimum wage, and working 60 hours a week, I wouldn't be knitting. If I had a spare moment, I'd be sleeping, thank you very much. So, far from being a necessity, these acts are expensive luxuries. But I don't want to be stuck with the argument that these activities I love are just another version of conspicuous consumption and classism. So let's move along.

I'd much rather make an argument that I do these things because of my feminism rather than in spite of it. Here's how it feels when I'm in the middle of one of these crafty-activities. I spend a lot of time immersed in the ugliness that people inflict on each other. I don't mind. Actually, I like helping people move past the ugliness and make something beautiful. There it is. This is my version of making something beautiful. Everyone needs and deserves to move past the mundane. Certainly, I don't need everyone to knit or bake, but I would hope that creating beauty -touching it, making it, BEING it- would be a part of everyone's life.

That's my argument and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Death Penalty Makes Us All Murderers

Today is the 30th anniversary of the re-instatement of the death penalty in this country. You know, or have access to, all the data points that you need. How many people are on death row, the racial bias, the inept trials, the number of people exonerated, the number of people killed and then posthumously exonerated....We can not get this right. I don't mean that we haven't yet. I mean that a right and fair way for the state to execute people in my name can not, by definition, be found.

We can -and must- remember the victims, but it ought not be with more killing. Moreover, we need to remember the victims' families. By and large, these people are invisible to us, and yet they suffer the consequences of the murder forever. If you're looking for ways to get involved, you might look at Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. If you want to learn more about the issue, you could watch The Innocent, a documentary about innocent survivors of death row. I saw it in Chicago a few days ago, and it's really worth watching. It's not easy, heaven knows, but it is worthwhile. Or you read Sr. Helen Prejean's new book The Death of Innocents. I haven't read it yet, myself, so I'm counting on someone to report back.

And we all need to watch what happens in Wisconsin this fall. They're considering a referendum to reinstate the death penalty after 153 years of not having it. Because it works so well everywhere else??? And we need to keep talking about this issue. It ought not be that this rite of revenge happens quietly, out of public view, and unchallenged.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Crimes Against Humanity

Everybody knows that George Bush and White House policies re: Guantanamo received a significant smackdown last week. Time and past time for that! It seems to me, though, that a little piece of this decision is being under-reported. (Or I'm misunderstanding its significance.)

The Supreme Court held that the Geneva Conventions do apply to the "war on terror", specifically mentioning Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. For the attention-reduced, here's the short form.
Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Now, doesn't that mean that absent compliance with the Conventions, President Bush and his cronies could be tried for war crimes? Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is famous for referring to the Geneva Conventions as "quaint". Clearly, the White House still believes that, because they immediately started to look for Congressional work-arounds to avoid the consequences of the Court's decision.

The Justices also said that this decision says nothing about the future of Guantanamo itself. OK, I see that. But (and I'm no lawyer) the decision ruled that the Bush administration's decision to try the detainees at Guantanamo in military war trials is illegal. Presumably then, they must be tried either in federal court, in military courts martial, or the detainees would have to be repatriated and tried in their home countries. I'm actually wondering if this decision doesn't give the White House a graceful out re: closing the prison that has become a political liability. They could take the self-serving position that they tried to protect the people from the evil represented by these (untried and uncharged) people held in detention, but the Supreme Court tied their hands. They save face and the prison is closed.

And then some enterprising lawyers could set about the business of trying the entire administration for crimes against humanity.