Monday, December 31, 2007

Some thoughts on the darkness

New Years is a great time for reflecting back and looking forward. As I do a bit of that today, its clear that the last year has been one of darkness. But, as the poet David Whyte says, there is a place for darkness - even a sweetness.



Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.


I know that in this dark hour, I have found new depth and meaning in many of the day-to-day tasks to which I have devoted myself. And I think I see the world more clearly now than I ever did when I thought there was light.

Sometimes I wonder if we are preparing to change things for the better or to survive as things get worse. Lately I have found wonderful solace in the words below. They have been attributed to Hopi Elders, but that is in dispute. No matter their source, I think they hold great wisdom.

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

Here are the things that must be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know our garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of
the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,
least of all ourselves!
For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lonely wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.




I know that the idea of letting go of the shore and banishing the word "struggle" feel like an impossibility right now with so many in pain. But don't most of our sacred teachings say the same thing? How are we going to bring the light if we spend all our time focusing on the darkness? There is some ancient mystery in the idea of surrender that seems to open up possibilities that otherwise would not appear.

I think this "shore" that we need to let go of is the one that keeps insisting that gaining power in the traditional ways it's been held will somehow enable us to make things better. Maybe the flow of the river can teach us more about how to be responsive to and responsible for each other - in a way we haven't seen before.

Our Native brothers and sisters have alot to teach us in how to weather the storm. In their generosity, they continue to share their wisdom ... if we'll listen.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Peeling the onion

Lately I've been reflecting a bit about my own journey to understand and undo racism in my life. I was steeped in it - growing up mostly in east Texas where the lines dividing "us and them" were drawn clearly and never crossed. I remember a few years ago I pulled out my old high school year book. I grew up in a small town (about 20,000 at the time) and we had two high schools - one white and one black. As I looked at my yearbook I was stunned to see that there were black students who went to my "white" school. It shames me to no end that I NEVER SAW them.

But don't worry, my plan is not to take you step by step through this long journey I continue to be on, but simply to talk a bit about the fact that it is a journey. I think the classic metaphor of peeling an onion one layer at a time is very apt in this instance.









Perhaps there are people who have some kind of enlightened moment when they wake up all of the sudden to discard their own racism. But I'd be skeptical of anyone who claimed that kind of experience.

I began to wonder if there is some kind of generalized path that this journey tends to take. And was particularly intrigued a few months ago to learn about a theory developed by Dr. Milton Bennett called The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.

He posits 6 stages of development, the first three being "ethnocentric" and the last three being "ethnorelative". The following description of these stages is taken from pdf files located at The Intercultural Communication Institute.


Ethnocentric

1. Denial of cultural difference is the state in which one’s own culture is experienced as the only real one. Other cultures are avoided by maintaining psychological and/or physical isolation from differences.


The fact that I didn't even see the African American students in my high school would indicate I was at this stage.

2. Defense against cultural difference is the state in which one’s own culture (or an adopted culture) is experienced as the only good one. The world is organized into “us and them,” where “we” are superior and “they” are inferior.


This is where people with the most blatant type of racism would fit - those who openly criticize other races/cultures.

But there are also those in this stage who have rejected their own culture and see it as only negative - valueing another culture(s) as superior to their own.

3. Minimization of cultural difference is the state in which elements of one’s own cultural world view are experienced as universal.


At this stage people talk about the idea that we can be a "colorblind" society and tend to minimize the different experience of people of color.

Ethnorelative

4. Acceptance of cultural difference is the state in which one’s own culture is experienced as just one of a number of equally complex worldviews. Acceptance does not mean agreement—cultural difference may be judged negatively—but the judgment is not ethnocentric.


At acceptance, a person has seen that there are very real differences in culture and in the experiences of persons of color in this culture.

5. Adaptation to cultural difference is the state in which the experience of another culture yields perception and behavior appropriate to that culture. One’s worldview is expanded to include constructs from other worldviews.


A person in adaptation might say: "To solve this dispute, I'm going to have to change my approach."

6. Integration of cultural difference is the state in which one’s experience of self is expanded to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews. People at Integration often are dealing with issues related to their own “cultural marginality.” It is common among non-dominant minority groups, long-term expatriates, and “global nomads.”


As I look at these stages, I think most conflicts in the progressive blogosphere about racism have to do with the difference between stages 3 and 4 - from minimization to acceptance. That's just my take on it - others may disagree. And I think the move from minimization to acceptance has to at least incorporate the acknowledgement of the limits of one's own cultural experiences and an attempt to see the differences with others. For me this has often meant hearing the experience of people of color as being different from my own - and not generalizing my experience to them. This song by Tracy Chapman is perhaps as good of an illustration of that as you'll find.

There is fiction in the space between
you and me.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

All the news about Pakistan today in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto made me think about a book I read a while ago titled Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Photobucket

Greg Mortenson was a nurse by profession and a mountain-climber by passion. He attempted to climb K2, but was unsuccessful. After several mishaps, he found himself alone on his descent and almost died. He was taken in by the people of Korphe, a small village in the Pakistani mountains, and nursed to health. Greg promised to repay the people of Korphe by coming back to build them a school. When he returned to the US, he sold all of his possessions and dedicated himself to raising the small amount of money he needed to build the school. Within a couple of years it was done.



The process eventually led Greg to start the Central Asia Institute, which has gone on to build over 55 schools and several women's vocational centers and water projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His passion now is all about spreading education, especially for girls, as a way to build up the people of the region and combat terrorism. In the course of this work, he has been kidnapped by mullahs, held and questioned by the CIA, and had fatwas issued against him. But the goodwill of the people he has worked with has always been there to protect him.

One of the things Mortenson laments is that less that 1/3 of the money the US promised to Afghanistan for re-building has been spent there. I just can't imagine the mind that fails to grasp why our efforts in that country have been such a complete failure.

Here's a little excerpt from an article about Mortenson and his work from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

The title of the book, "Three Cups of Tea," refers to the way business is done in the tribal areas where the Taliban has sought refuge. The first cup of tea is to get acquainted, the second to make friends, and the third is to do business -- over months or years.

It's a contrast to the fast-paced American style of business through teleconferencing, e-mails and instant messaging.

As America struggles against terrorism, he said, it fails to understand the "Three Cups of Tea" style of negotiating, and the power of tribalism.

He scoffs at efforts to generate democracy overnight.

"We're trying to plug in democracy," Mortenson said. "You can't do that. You can't just tell people to vote. You have to put in education, and land ownership."

"It takes two generations," Mortenson said -- and a whole lot of tea.
I don't know about you, but I'm ready to propose a "Department of Tea Drinking" that will be devoted to talking, listening, building up and problem-solving. I know the reaction this would get from the DC crowd. But I continue to hope for the day we'll be ready to try something that promotes life rather than death.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Pax, Libby and Me

I have posted pictures of my little sweetie Pax here before. But just in case you haven't seen them, here she is.



Pax is a one year old teacup shih tzu and weighs in at just about 4 pounds. I brought her home just about a year ago, which was six months after I'd had to say goodbye to my buddy Henry the beagle.



I got Henry at the humane society where he'd shown up as a runaway (typical beagle). He was a bit fiesty and had that obnoxious beagle "bark/howl" so people were mostly a bit stand offish with him. I got no end of crap from my neighbors if he was ever outside long enough to unleash that howl.

But Henry was my cuddle buddy. You know, that kind of dog that needs to sleep with you with his body stretched out with contact from his nose to his tail. No matter where I settled, on the couch, on the floor, or in bed, Henry had to be there all snuggled up beside me.

Its been a year and a half since I had to say goodbye to Henry. His heart finally gave out at about 15. And I still miss him.

But there is another member of my household. Her name is Libby and she's been with me the longest.



Libby was my first dog. I found her at the human society just after I bought my first house. The minute I saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful dog I'd ever seen. She'd been left there by a family with 3 kids when they'd had to move from a house to an apartment. I didn't do my research before looking for a dog and had quite a surprise with Libby. Seems she'd been depressed after being left at the human society. When I got her home and settled, I learned all about the springer spaniel energy! Given that I'm pretty much a couch potato, I worried that we weren't a good fit. But by then I was so in love with her - we had to find a way to make it work. And we did. One of the things I did was toss a tennis ball down the stairs to the basement. She'd run down and back up the stairs with it over and over and over.

But Libby is 17 going on 18 now and doesn't run anymore. She can't even get down the 3 stairs to the landing at my back door to go outside without assistance from me. She's still eating, but doesn't do much else and I'm afraid she's on her last leg.

This holiday season, my whole family is gathered in Texas. I let them know that as long as Libby hangs on, I need to be here with her and keep her as comfortable as possible. So this year, its just Pax, Libby and me for the holidays. But what good company they are!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The words of Jesus on his birthday

Since tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the things he stood for during his life. I no longer consider myself a christian, but it's not for lack of trying. I went to church at least 3 times a week growing up, attended a christian high school and college, and finally got my master's degree at a seminary. So sometimes I feel like I've heard just about everything there is to say about Jesus.

But a theology professor of mine at the seminary used to talk regularly about how christians today focus on Jesus' birth and death - but don't talk much about his life in between the two. That's why Christmas is probably the biggest holiday of the year and its also why they LOVED the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

The life of Jesus is where he presented challenges to all of us in showing us how we can live in a way that truly does transform the world. In our power-driven consumer society - those messages go right to the heart of what's wrong with our culture and ask us to live another way.

I also had a professor in college who took his bible and cut out all the verses (old and new testament) that were instructions for us to care for the poor, the widowed and the children. He would hold up that bible in class and show us that there was not much left after all that was taken out in order to make the point that today, we tend to miss the central message.

Most of us have heard the beatitudes. They are perhaps the most powerful summary of what Jesus was trying to teach us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And most of us have heard the story of the good samaritan:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live." But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
I often think of the following passage at christmas and wonder what gift we could give to Jesus on his birthday.

Then the king will say to those good people on his right, 'Come. My Father has given you great blessings. Come and get the kingdom God promised you. That kingdom has been prepared for you since the world was made. You can have this kingdom, because I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your home. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.' "Then the good people will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you alone and away from home and invite you into our home? When did we see you without clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and care for you?' "Then the king will answer, 'I tell you the truth. Anything you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you also did for me.'
All of these passages call for something deep in our relationships with each other - and that's what makes them so difficult to live out. The christians I grew up around are much more content with rules and dogma that are imposed from the outside as a way to live than they are with these deep truths about humanity.

There's one last story about Jesus that I'd like to share because it addresses this reliance on dogma and Jesus takes a direct hit at that kind of thinking. I have to say that in all the years that I heard thousands of sermons I NEVER heard one on this passage:

And it came to pass that he went through the grain fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of grain.

And the Pharisees said unto him, "Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?"

And he said unto them, "Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him; how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar, the high priest, and did eat the showbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them who were with him?"

And he said unto them, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath."
What I hear in this story is Jesus saying that the "rules" are negotiable. What's not negotiable is the dignity of every human being, and that, ultimately, trumps all the rules.

At this time of year, I usually go back and read an amazing diary written by the wonderful soul Kid Oakland about three years ago titled a christmas message. Here's a taste:

Let me tell you something about the Jesus that I know.

He was a real man. Born in a poor region to working poor parents. He loved learning, he loved his mother and his father.

But he left them and spent his life with the poor, the outcast, the rejected, the defiled, the sick, the sinners, the bedraggled, the bereft, the self-hating, the lonely, the banished, the foul, the miserable, the desperate and finally, those sick with their own power.

He did this, not because of his ideology or his creed. He did this not because of his doctrine. He did this, quite simply, because he loved them. He preferred them.

Their company, their stories, their lives, their environs, their plight and their faith.

And they loved him. Because he touched them. He looked them in the eye and believed in them. Because, at the end of the day, when they looked to him they saw that his commitment to them was a commitment unsullied by qualifier or clause. It was a commitment to love them, even upon pain of death. And they saw in him, a love that promised to love them as they were, who they were...fully, without judgement or flinching glance, or hypocritical accomodation.
As I said before, I don't consider myself a christian, and don't share these passages in an attempt to convert anyone... just to share these stories from a great teacher on his birthday.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Open Door

As many around the world are thinking about a little town called Bethlehem and the family that needed refuge there a couple of thousand years ago, I'm thinking about a little town in Southern France called Le Chambon that heard the call of those in need during more recent times.



The story of Le Chambon is written in a book titled Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip Hallie. It is the story of the people there who were responsible for saving the lives of over 5,000 Jewish refugees - mostly children - during World War II.

I read this book a couple of years ago and have since then found myself thinking about it quite often. It is a powerful story of ordinary people who had a huge impact in the world by living out their values of peace and human dignity in the face of totalinarianism and violence. Many have wondered over the years why a small town like this would take a stand when so many others were choosing to look the other way. Philip Hallie tries to answer that question in his book.

In the mid 1930's Andre and Magda Trocme moved to Le Chambon, as Andre was to become the town's minister. It was the "lived-out" convictions of these two people who influenced the town to open their hearts and doors to those in need.

Andre Trocme was committed to non-violence and is described as holding an agressive celebration of life, which he brought to Le Chambon:

But he did not give it (this celebration of life) to Le Chambon in the way that one gives money to the poor or gifts to friends. Trocme gave his aggressive ethic to them by giving them himself. Aside from the distinction between good and evil, between helping and hurting, the fundamental distinction of that ethic is between giving things and giving oneself. When you give somebody a thing without giving yourself, you degrade both parties by making the receiver utterly passive and by making yourself a benefactor standing there to receive thanks - and even sometimes obedience - as repayment. But when you give yourself, nobody is degraded - in fact, both parties are elevated by a shared joy. When you give yourself, the things you are giving become, to use Trocme's word, feconde (fertile, fruitful). What you give creates new, vigorous life, instead of arrogance on the one hand and passivity on the other.


Prior to the time any refugees were sheltered in Le Chambon, the Trocmes lived out this ethic of the celebration of life and the giving of oneself. Andre led resistance efforts against the Vichy government and preached sermons about it.

As his sermons showed, he believed that if you choose to resist evil, and you choose this firmly, then ways of carrying out that resistance will open up around you.


But Andre was not naive about the evil he was resisting. At one point, he was arrested and questioned by a police captain who "was convinced that anybody who had been arrested was not only guilty of a crime but beneath contempt." Here's how Hallie describes Andre's reaction:

This was a moment Trocme would never forget. In fact, his overnight stay in the police station in Limoges changed his view of mankind. He discovered people like the captain - patriotic, sincere, but above all, severely limited. These people were capable of repeating hate-ridden cliches without any concern for evidence or for the pain of others. Before he entered that police station, he thought the world was a scene where two forces were struggling for power: God and the Devil. From then on, he knew that there was a thrid force seeking hegemony over this world: stupidity... Now and for the rest of his life, he knew that there were some people - indeed, many people - who did not realize what suspicion and hatred were doing to their own minds and to their victims.


Eventually Andre's prediction about a way for carrying out resistance did actually open up. One winter's day Magda heard a knock on her door and answered to find a snowcovered Jewish woman refugee there. And of course, at the potential cost of her life, Magda took her in.

For the rest of the Occupation, Magda Trocme and all the other people of Le Chambon would know that turning somebody away from one's door is not simply a refusal to help; from the point of view of that refugee, your closed door is an instrument of harmdoing, and your closing it does harm... Magda's word to her first refugee, "Naturally, come in, and come in," were part of an ethical action. Ethics, especially the ethics of crisis, or life and death, deals with the lives and deaths of particular human beings.


The image that has stayed with me these last couple of years since reading this book is of that door - the door that Andre said will apprear when you make the firm choice to resist evil. I only hope that, like Magda, I will open that door... when life depends on it.

Blog Voices go MTV - 12/22/07

Will the young people of this country engage in political change? They will if Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican and Kyle at Citizen Orange have anything to say about it.



These two powerhouse voices of the diversosphere have been chosen by MTV to be part of the Street Team '08 that inlcudes 51 young vloggers that will cover the presidential election through next November.

The presidential candidates can run, but it will be hard for them to hide from the horde of citizen journalists tapped by MTV's Choose or Lose '08 to cover the race for the White House. A group of 51 youth reporters — one from each state and Washington, D.C. — will follow the 2008 elections and deliver weekly multimedia reports tailored for mobile devices.

Using short-form videos, blogs, animation, photos and podcasts, the reports will be distributed through MTV Mobile, Think.MTV.com, more than 1,800 sites in The Associated Press' Online Video Network and a soon-to-launch Wireless Application Protocol site. The Street Team '08 reporters were carefully selected after an extensive nationwide search, and they represent every aspect of today's youth audience — from seasoned student-newspaper journalists to documentary filmmakers, the children of once-illegal immigrants and community organizers.

They are conservative and liberal, from big cities and small towns, but all are tied together through a passion for politics and a yearning to make the youth voice heard during this pivotal election. The correspondents will begin reporting early next month after an intensive MTV News orientation in New York, during which they'll be armed with laptops, video cameras and cell phones and challenged to uncover the untold political stories that matter most to young people in their respective states.


As Kyle points out in his post, this story has already been picked up by The Guardian, The Associated Press, and Fox.

Here are the videos from these guys that got them this gig. First of all, Nezua's introduction - I just LOVE this one!!!



The more serious part of Nezua comes through in this issue video he submitted as a finalist:



Here's Kyle's submission - he who is "Mr. Punk Jingle With a Message."



As exciting as all this is, these two are being their own transparent and honest selves in putting their concerns about this out there for all of us to see. Nezua worries that Viacom, owner of MTV, may try to influence his content.

At this point, it is only fair to add that while it is very thrilling that I am getting paid to do my art/filmmaking/documenting/reporting, I am getting paid to do this by Viacom. So let that stand for the record, and tho I will not recuse myself from blogging/vlogging on any issue whatsoever, it must be remembered that on certain issues there is bound to be some conflict as I would rather not lose my platform and weekly check. But again, you can count on me to have the same bias toward telling the truth that I do my best to engage, and have, since this blog's conception. We'll talk more after the onslaught of legal orientation that (I am guessing) awaits me in Manhattan. If anyone tries to curtail too much what I feel is important to talk about, it may be a shorter gig than expected. Watch this page.


And Kyle is worried about being a "scab" because MTV freelance reporters are striking due to reductions in benefits.

But I think Kyle sums up the importance of this task beautifully with this:

More importantly, though, this is about putting power in the hands of youth and giving them a voice. I know of so many inspiring young people that are wasting away their lives by putting off change until tomorrow. A common perception that I often butted heads against at Harvard was the idea that you had to build power before you could make significant change. In other words, a lot of young people postpone using the best years of their lives for change to become prominent academics, lawyers, doctors, politicians, or business leaders. Before long, the reality of a family, bills to pay, and favors owed stifles any chance that they have at real change. Some of them will bankroll the revolution, but the world is short on revolutionaries.

This tone might be too extreme for some, but the type of revolution I'm talking about certainly isn't extreme. I'm talking about the revolution that each new generation brings. A generational revolution is not about dogmatic choices like the choices between being radical or reactionary, Republican or Democrat, a meat-eater or a vegetarian. A generational revolution is simply about each young person striving to be themselves. If every young person is able to follow their hearts and develop to their fullest potential, I can't imagine that utopia is too far off.


Go out there and start the revolution guys!!



But I guess if this old lady is going to comment about young people starting a revolution, I'd better catch up with the times. So, maybe I'll ammend that to say, "JAM SUCKA JAM!!!"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Intergallactic Throwdown



From NASA:

A powerful jet from a super massive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy, according to new findings from NASA observatories. This never-before witnessed galactic violence may have a profound effect on planets in the jet's path and trigger a burst of star formation in its destructive wake.

Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each other. Data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show both galaxies contain super massive black holes at their centers, but the larger galaxy has a jet emanating from the vicinity of its black hole. The smaller galaxy apparently has swung into the path of this jet.

The effect of the jet on the companion galaxy is likely to be substantial, because the galaxies in 3C321 are extremely close at a distance of only about 20,000 light years apart. They lie approximately the same distance as Earth is from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Another unique aspect of the discovery in 3C321 is how relatively short-lived this event is on a cosmic time scale. Features seen in the Very Large Array and Chandra images indicate that the jet began impacting the galaxy about one million years ago, a small fraction of the system's lifetime. This means such an alignment is quite rare in the nearby universe, making 3C321 an important opportunity to study such a phenomenon.


KEWL!!!

Here's some music to go with the experience:

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rest in Peace Dan

I got home from a busy day at work to learn that Dan Fogelberg died today. I'm so sorry to hear of this loss. Dan's been one of my favorite singers for a long time.

I remember back in the early 80's I was in grad school in southern California. After final exams a bunch of us went to a see Fogelberg. Turns out it was an acoustic concert. I'll never forget leaving all the stress of fullt-time studies and two part-time jobs behind, slinking down in my chair, and letting Dan take me to another peaceful world.

I have the "Innocent Age" cd and listen to it regularly. Its great music, but there's one song on there that I listen to over and over again. It's titled "The Reach" and isn't to be found at any online free music source. But if you want to hear some great music, I'd suggest buying it. Here are the lyrics:

It's Maine...
And it's Autumn
The birches have just begun turning
It's life and it's dying
The lobstermen's boats come returning
With the catch of they day in their holds
and the young boys cold and complaining
The fog meets the beaches and out on
the Reach it is raining --

It's father and son
It's the way it's been done since the old days
It's hauling by hand ten miles out
from the land where their chow waits
All the days get so lonely and long
and seas grow so stormy and strong but
The Reach will sing welcome as homeward
they hurry along.

And the morning will blow away
As the waves crash and fall
And the Reach like a siren sings
as she beckons and calls
As the coastline recedes from view
And the seas swell and roll
I will take from the Reach
all that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul --

The wind brings a chill
There's a frost on the sill in the morning
It creeps through the door
At the edge of the shore
ice is forming
Soon the northers will bluster and blow
And the woods will be whitened
with snowfall
And the Reach will lie frozen
for the lost and unchosen to row --

And the morning will blow away
As the waves crash and fall
And the Reach like a siren sings
as she beckons and calls
As the coastline recedes from view
And the seas swell and roll
I will take from the Reach
all that she has to teach
To the depths of my soul --

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Simon: On the End of the American Empire


I am wholly pessimistic about American society. I believe The Wire is a show about the end of the American Empire. We are going to live that event. How we end up and survive, and on what terms, is going to be the open question.

David Simon, creator of "The Wire"


This week I spent every evening watching the dvd's of the fourth season of HBO's "The Wire." I know that Armando plans to write about the fifth season that starts January 6th, so I thought I'd give some background about how the creator has envisioned the show and its purpose since it seems to echo so many of the themes that we talk about here.

The quote at the top is from a speech David Simon made over a year ago at Loyola University. If you've got half an hour, I'd highly recommend watching the three segments of this on youtube here, here, and here. I'll summarize some of his main points. But of course, I can't do the whole thing justice in a few words.

Simon explains the reasons for the end of the American Empire this way:

We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts...

As for the characters on the program, their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve are indifferent to their existence.


I don't know about you, but I can relate to this statement. Other than mirroring the reality I see in this urban area on a daily basis, it also captures the way I feel about affecting our current political situation. As I watch Bush/Cheney or Congress respond to us about issues like the war, it seems clear that we are expendable and they are totally indifferent to our existence.

Here are Simon's thoughts about a political solution:

And, it is even out of our control in a democratic sense. If you are going to go out and vote at the next election, your vote doesn’t matter. If you thought you were living in a democracy, if you bought into that, you gotta go to the dictionary and look up the word oligarchy, and you have to really think about what it means.


Simon goes on to say...

I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice - its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework - to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed. Everywhere we have created an alternate america of haves and have-nots. At some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.


Simon ends his speech with this:

The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.
emphasis mine

I think Simon is both prescient and prophetic in his analysis of our situation. He leaves us with a dilema that is at least as much personal, social and even spiritual as it is political. He does not claim to have the answers to this dilema, nor do I. But, as "The Wire" demonstrates, we are creating a jungle mentality in service of this god of capitalism. There is certainly impending doom if we can't find a way to begin to place human dignity FOR ALL above profit, capital, and greed.

One of the things that season four of "The Wire" dealt with in several situations was the way this dilema manifested personally for various people in law enforcement and politics. Moments came when people had choices to make about whether to maintain their integrity or "go along to get along" so as not to ruin their careers. They could always rationalize playing the game as a way to maintain their position - and therefore their power to have some positive influence. But ultimately, it was their capitulation that allowed the corrupt systems to be maintained. This gave me a sense of what I need to think about and where courage may actually comes into play. Am I willing to risk my ego, my career, my security in order to challenge a corrupt system? Perhaps, when that choice presents itself, I'll be more prepared to take a risk and make my statement on behalf of human dignity. I hope so.

(ps, I'll get back to Blog Voices This Week sometime. I just didn't have much time this week for surfing.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Seven Factoids

I've been tagged by my friend James. Its a good thing there's not a time clock on these things, because he did it a few days ago and I'm just getting around to responding.

These are the rules:

1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
This is kinda fun, so here goes:

1. I've lived in one foreign country (Peru) and six states: Texas, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado and California. I figure I need to check out the Northeast at some point so that I hit every region of the country.

2. I have some confusion about where I fit in the Myers Briggs. My results tend to be I/E,N,F/T,P. I seem to be both an introvert and an extrovert and I rely on both thinking and feeling.

3. I've always loved watching professional tennis. Lately there aren't any players that really grab my attention - but I spent hours cheering for John McEnroe to beat Bjorn Borg and my all-time favorite Martina Navratilova over the "ice princess" Chris Evert. I've always had an attraction to the "bad boys/girls."

4. I hate housework, home repairs, yard work and gardening. Nuff said.

5. I have two dogs: a 17 year old Springer Spaniel named Libby and a 1 year old shih tzu named Pax. I don't write much about Libby because she's in her last days and I have bouts of sadness hit me as I come to grips with that. She's been an amazing companion all these years. A month ago I asked a friend of mine who's a "dog whisperer" to come have a chat with her because its hard to know if she's in pain and/or if she's ready to go. Looks like I might have a few more months to be graced with her presence. I'll take every minute I can get!

6. I have a nack for intensity - not so much humor. I really need people in my life who help me lighten up and laugh.

7. I have boxes of Girl Scout cookies in my kitchen cabinets that are over a year old. On the other hand, a bag of Lays potato chips rarely lasts more than a day.

My next task is to tag 7 more bloggers. Since several of my blog friends have been rather silent lately, I think I'll use this as an opportunity to give them a shout out: Supersoling, Shirlstars, dove, Arcturus, spiderleaf, canberra boy, and Nanette. Hope you all are livin large!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leaving our most vulnerable children behind

How to write when the rage is boiling? I don't know, but I'll try. There is some news out this week that will drastically affect child welfare all over this country in the next few months because of decisions our Congress made almost two years ago. But I can't find a word about it in the Washington Post, the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. Granted, to understand how this happened and how children will be affected takes some time to explain. But still...

If you'll bear with me for a moment, I'll tell you what happened.

Back in January 2005, Congress passed and Bush signed a budget reconciliation bill. I don't know if any of you remember that bill, but it included cuts in funding to programs like student loans, child support and other safety net services. These cuts were needed in order to continue to grant the wealthy in this country additional tax cuts.

A somewhat obscure cut was made in Medicaid to a program called Targeted Case Management. This funding, which must be matched by local jurisdictions, has been used all over the country to pay for services to our most vulnerable populations: victims of child abuse, the mentally ill and retarded adults.

So, you might ask why I'm writing now about cuts made back in 2005. Good question. Because it has taken this long for the feds to issue a ruling on how this cut will be administered. Just last week the ruling was issued to take effect March 4th. Each state uses this funding differently, so you might need to check in locally to determine what will be the effect in your area. According to an article in the Star Tribune,

The rule apparently will cut about $50 million in federal Medicaid money for an innovative service that helps 70,000 troubled, abused or foster children and their families in Minnesota.
Here is how the article describes the "innovative service" that will be eliminated with these cuts:

The service is called targeted case management, which has been used by counties to revamp a cumbersome social service system in which people with multiple problems often had to deal individually with myriad complex public and private agencies.

In targeted case management, social workers may assess needs for the whole family, develop a comprehensive plan and then coordinate medical and psychological help, housing, jobs, education, parenting help and other services.
All that might sound like shop-talk to some, so let me tell you a story about a young man, we'll call him Drew, whose family has been served through the use of Targeted Case Management Funds:

Drew lives with his maternal grandmother, mother, and three sisters. He and his three sisters have three different fathers - none of whom is involved. His mother is extremely ill, having only one kidney and that one is in failure. She has dialysis three times a week.

Drew came to the attention of authorities when he was 8 years old and his mother took the children to an emergency room because it was mid-November and they had been homeless for 3 months. Prior to that time, they had moved at least 10 times in Drew’s 8 years - many times across state lines. This started a process of the children being placed in and out of temporary shelter programs over the next few years as mom continued to go in and out of various forms of housing.

There are also many reports in the system of domestic violence by various men with whom the family was housed. Sometimes this was men mom was involved with and other times, friends they were staying with. But, even more serious, over the years, all four children were sexually abused, and its still unclear who the various perpetrators were. What we know is that Drew, by the time he was 10, was regularly acting out sexually.

But we got involved with Drew because, by the time he was 10, he had already been written up by the police 4 times for assualt. One was against a teacher, two against staff in the shelter where he lived, and one against another boy. Anyone want to wonder where Drew was headed with all of this??

We have been involved in Drew’s life now for over 6 years. During that time, our staff have worked to help the family find stable housing, facilitate therapy for mom and all the kids about the sexual abuse, get Drew a psychiatric assessment and medication management, connect Drew with an adult mentor, facilitate conferences and planning with his school to make sure his needs are met and on and on the story goes.

This week, Drew stopped by our office on his lunch break from his internship with the City Attorney's Office to visit with his caseworker. There he was, 16 years old and absolutely beautiful!!! All dressed up for work with his shirt and tie. Big smile for everyone and proud of himself. He’s talking about wanting to be a lawyer as a result of his work in the City Attorney’s Office.
My rage today comes from thinking about all the other Drews in my community who will be left to fend for themselves through these kinds of devastating cirumstances - just so Bush and friends could get their tax cuts. But there might be something you can do to at least stall this kind of thing from happening. First of all, search your local newspapers to see if they're reporting on this rule and see if you can find out how it will affect children in your community. And then make some calls. Here's what the Star Tribune article says at the end:

In an attempt to blunt the effect of the new rule, a bill sponsored by Minnesota's U.S. senators would delay implementation for six months. So far, it hasn't gained traction.
I imagine the thinking is that if we can delay implementation for six months, some new legislation could be crafted with the potential for bi-partisan support (the MN Senators referred to are Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar) to undo these draconian cuts to services for our most vulnerable children. I'm thinking that a call to your Senator to ask them to join with Coleman and Klobuchar to delay this rule would be helpful to children in your state too. So I'm asking you to make that call. Thanks.

Update
Our local St. Paul Pioneer Press has more information on the work to stall this rule in this article MN lawmakers fight rule that would cut millions for at risk kids.

Minnesota lawmakers say they will push legislation to head off a new federal Medicaid rule that would cut into a program aimed at helping abused and neglected kids and others, which could cost the state tens of millions of dollars in aid.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison have authored bills that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow for 180 days of public comment before coming up with a final rule.

According to Coleman's office, the rule could lead to cuts of $45 million a year for Minnesota programs that help protect children in foster care, and as much as $38 million a year for programs for elderly and the mentally ill.

Although the department has already issued the rule, it won't be effective for another 90 days, and the lawmakers are hoping to get their bills passed before then. In a statement Tuesday, Coleman said he was working with members of the Senate Finance Committee to get movement on the bill.

"However, if we are unable to get this legislation passed before the rule is finalized in March, I will continue to seek a legislative fix to modify this rule and mitigate the effects it will have on vulnerable Medicaid beneficiaries," he said.

Ellison's legislative director, Minh Ta, had a similar strategy, saying if the bill doesn't get through, "We'll deal with this issue one way or another." He did say it was unlikely that the House would take up the bill before the end of the year.

You gotta believe that if Norm Coleman and Keith Ellison can come together to work on something like this - it just might be possible.

Here are the members of the Senate Finance Committee that Coleman referred to:

Max Baucus, Chairman Montana
Jay Rockefeller West Virginia
Kent Conrad North Dakota
Jeff Bingaman New Mexico
John Kerry Massachusetts
Blanche Lincoln Arkansas
Ron Wyden Oregon
Charles Schumer New York
Debbie Stabenow Michigan
Maria Cantwell Washington
Ken Salazar Colorado
Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member Iowa
Orrin Hatch Utah
Trent Lott Mississippi
Olympia Snowe Maine
Jon Kyl Arizona
Gordon Smith Oregon
Jim Bunning Kentucky
Mike Crapo Idaho
Pat Roberts Kansas
John Ensign Nevada

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Musings on peacemakers

Today I'd like to write about peacemakers - who are they and what do they do? And no, not the kind that try to avoid conflict - but the kind that take on the war machine and attempts by the powerful to marginalize whole groups of people. The more I look into this, the more I see that there are peacemakers of all kinds who find their own various paths to peacemaking.

A few months ago I found a wonderful site that many of you might know of already, peaceCENTER. They have a list of peace heroes with short bios about their contributions to the world. I know you could never do an exhaustive list of peacemakers, but this one inspired me in all its wonderful history and diversity. Of course it includes the names of those we cherish in this work, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Bishop Oscar Romero, Henry David Thoreau, Bishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama. But how about some of these names?

Mildred Norman - otherwise known as "Peace Pilgrim." Starting during the Korean War in 1953, she walked across the US for 28 years spreading the message of peace.

Dorothy Day - founder of the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930's.

Aung San Suu Kyi - winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work to bring democracy to Burma.

Sister Helen Prejean - advocate for those on death row in this country, author of "Dead Man Walking."

Samantha Smith - 10 year old from Maine who wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov asking for peace that was published in Pravda. She travelled to Russia and became a media sensation before her untimely death at the age of 13.

Tom Slick - born in 1916, he was a San Antonio oil millionaire who used his fortune to further scientific research and peace throughout the world.

Chief Sealth - environmentalist circa 1851 who said "Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war and mothers who have sons to lose, know better."

Jeanette Rankin - the first woman ever elected to Congress in 1917 three years before women had the right to vote. She voted against President Wilson's war resolution and lost her re-election bid. She was again elected to Congress in 1940 on a peace platform and was the only member to vote "no" to the US entering WWII.

Gordon Hirabayashi - refused Japanese internment during WWII, turned himself in to the FBI and lost his legal case at the Supreme Court.

Emma Tenayuca - labor organizer in San Antonio in the 1930's who lead 6,000-8,000 pecan shellers (mostly women) in a strike that lasted for several months.

To their list, I'd like to add three modern-day women who all have the distinction of having won the Nobel Peace Prize:

Shirin Ebadi - an Iranian lawyer who won the prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women's and children's rights. She is the first Iranian and the first Mulsim woman to receive the prize.

Wangari Maathai - founder of the Greenbelt Movement that has planted over 1 billion trees in Kenya and other countries in Africa. In 2004 she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."

Rigoberta Menchu - Winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, she has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country.

Labor organizers, social workers, nuns, millionaires, 10 year old girls, tree-planters, lawyers, chiefs and even politicians (although not the kind who can expect to get re-elected). This just reinforced my belief that you can be a peacemaker no matter where you find yourself in life, and no matter what cause of justice becomes your passion.

I don't know what motivated, inspired and sustained all these people. But I have a hunch they all lived with hope, even in the face of despair. These words by Ruben Alves (author and theologian) seem to me to be a bedrock for any peacemaker.

What is hope?... It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress us is not the last word. It is the suspicion that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe - that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual...

So let us plant dates - even though we who plant them will never eat them.

We must live by the love of what we will never see. That is the secret discipline.

It is the refusal to let our creative act be dissolved by our need for immediate sense experience and it is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints, the courage to die for the future they envisage. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hopes.


I'll leave you with the words of another peacemaker, Maya Angelou, as she tells us "A Brave And Startling Truth."

Friday, December 7, 2007

A poem and a playlist

First, a poem by Marge Piercy:

For strong women

A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears
in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why aren't
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why
aren't you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.


Last year for the holidays, I made a cd of songs for members of my bookgroup that was inspired by this poem. Here's what I included:

Strength, Courage and Wisdom by India.Arie
Blackbird by Sarah McLachlan
I Choose by India.Arie
Not Ready to Make Nice by The Dixie Chicks
I Will Not Be Broken by Bonnie Raitt
I Take My Chances by Mary Chapin Carpenter
Be and Be Not Afraid by Tracy Chapman
Conversations With My Thirteen-Year-Old Self by Pink
At Seventeen by Janis Ian
Girls Like Me by Mary Chapin Carpenter
Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall
Either or Both by Phoebe Snow
All That We Let In by The Indigo Girls
The Power of Two by The Indigo Girls
Home is the Heart by Janis Ian
Peace by Norah Jones
Joy by Janis Ian

Monday, December 3, 2007

You cannot stop the coming of spring



Malalai Joya has been called "the bravest woman in Afghanistan" by many in the media. When you hear her story and read her words, you'll know why.

Born in Afghanistan in 1978, Joya's family flew to the refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan in 1982 during the Soviet invasion. When she was 20 years old, her family returned to Afghanistan, where she became a vocal opponent of the Taliban and worked to establish an orphanage and health clinic.

In 2003, Joya was elected delegate to the Loya Jirga convened to ratify the Afghan Constitution, where she spoke out publicly against the involvement of warlords and was summarily dismissed.

Here's how World Pulse Magazine reported the incident:

When her time came to make her 3-minute statement, she tugged her black headscarf over her hair, stepped up to the microphone, and with emotional electricity made the speech that would alter her life.

After she spoke, there was a moment of stunned silence. Then there was an uproar. Male mujahideen, some who literally had guns at their feet, rushed towards her, shouting. She was brought under the protection of UN security forces.

In a nation where few dare to say the word "warlord" aloud, Joya had spoken fiercely against a proposal to appoint high clergy members and fundamentalist leaders to guide planning groups. She objected that several of those religious leaders were war criminals who should be tried for their actions—not national heroes to influence the new government.

Despite the commands of Assembly Chairman, Joya refused to apologize.



Since then, she has survived four assassination attempts, and travels in Afghanistan under a burqa and with armed guards.

But all that didn't stop Ms. Joya. In September 2005, she was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, as a representative of Farah Province, winning the second highest number of votes in the province.

On May 7, 2006, Malalai Joya was physically and verbally attacked by fellow members of parliament after accusing several colleagues of being "warlords" and unfit for service in the new Afghan government. After shouting death threats, fellow lawmakers suspended her for three years.

Joya explains her views of the Afghan government and the role of the US in its corruption in an email interview with the PBS show NOW:

It seems that the U.S. government and its allies want to rely on them (the warlords) and install them to the most important posts in the executive, legislation and judicial bodies. Today the whole country is in their hands and they can do anything using their power, money and guns. They grab billions of dollars from foreign aid, drugs and precious stones smuggling.

The U.S. wants a group or band in Afghanistan to obey its directions accurately and act according to the U.S. policies, and these fundamentalists’ bands of the Northern Alliance have proved throughout their life that they are ready to sacrifice Afghanistan’s national interests for their lust for power and money. The U.S. has no interest in the prosperity of our people as long as its regional and strategic interests are met.

Parliament is just a showpiece for the West to say that there is democracy in Afghanistan, but our people don’t need this donated B52 democracy. I am very fed up with the parliament and have no hope for it to do anything for our people. It is a parliament of killers, murderer, drug-lords and traitors to the motherland.


In 2006, Danish filmaker Eva Mulvad made a documentary film titled Enemies of Happiness that chronicled Joya's campaign in the country’s first democratic parliamentary elections in 35 years. Here's a short clip from the movie. Remember that at the time of the first scene, Joya is 25 years old.



Listen to the voice of this beautiful brave young woman and take heart from her courage:

Never again will I whisper in the shadows of intimidation. I am but a symbol of my people's struggle and a servant to their cause. And if I were to be killed for what I believe in, then let my blood be the beacon for emancipation and my words a revolutionary paradigm for generations to come.

They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Blog Voices This Week 12/1/07

When I started writing this weekly essay, the idea was to travel around the "diversosphere" and catch interesting items so that we could bring those voices here. I've focused mainly on blogs written by people of color and hoped that we could highlight some of the excellent stuff that's going on, whether it was a news story about people of color that the msm had missed, or a challenge to the dynamics of racism in our culture.

But we've had an interesting week on that issue right here in our little corner of the world. I know there's been a lot of heat related to the topic and the personalities involved. But in the midst of it all, there was some amazing wisdom shared and ... change happened.

So, this week, I'd like to congratulate everyone for hanging in there. To do so, I thought I'd stay right here this week and bring you a few of the kernels of wisdom that were shared by some of our own dharmaniacs.

Lets start with da boss who, despite being sleep-deprived and weary from playing referee, was able to contribute more than a few nuggets of his own.

buhdydharma

White people...IN GENERAL....are the undoubted oppressors and beneficiaries when it comes to issues of race. We never can experience racism (in this country) because we are 'the majority' and have lived in a racially blind culture all of our lives.

Due to that cultural fact.....We simply cannot judge ourselves objectively enough to determine whether we have engaged in racist behavior or not. We can try our absolute best, but imo, we must ALWAYS take that sort of observation of our behavior VERY seriously and never assume that we are in the right.

The culture conditions us to racism, and it is our individual responsibility to make sure we haven't and don't fall into the cultural traps. No matter how good our intentions and no matter how much we have done in the past to combat it within ourselves.

And besides...why is sitting down and taking a good hard look at yourself vis a vis racism such an odious task that it should be avoided?


Now, I'll travel around to a few of the pertinent essays and give you some more gems.

pico

It's not that I'm cynical about racism, it's that racism may be a natural consequence of living in a society with a large "default" culture. When the power, money, and influence rest predominantly with one group of people, mainstream culture begins to reflect that to the exclusion of other people. You don't even have to be conscious of it to recognize it happening, because if you belong to the dominant subset it isn't striking to you that the majority of movies are about your people or the majority of tv shows have your face, etc. It's actually really easy for white people in this country to be colorblind: it's impossible for anyone non-white.

By way of illustration, I can only use my own experience as a gay man. Anywhere from 2 to 20% of the population is gay (and a heckuva lot more are bisexual or sexually fluid). But think about the stories we read our children: we expect, without thinking about it, that the prince will try to rescue a princess. It's not that we're heterosexually fixated, it's that our history and the dominance of a particular worldview are so deeply embedded that we don't even realize it when it's happening around us.

It's not just our feelings of shame and disgust about alternative sexualities: it's a default expectation about the way things 'should' be. As anyone, even a gay man or lesbian, to improvise a fairy tale and odds are good it will involve a prince and a princess, but not a same-sex loving pair of either.

It takes a lot of hard work simply to become conscious of the process - but I'd argue it's far to Quixotic to suggest that we can free ourselves from it entirely. If you asked me, "why can't we just drop our assumptions about sexuality?", I'd say, "Because it's on my mind everywhere, in ways that straight people don't even recognize. Anytime I'm walking down the street and see a straight couple holding hands, it's an immediate reminder that I don't enjoy that kind of social freedom." Little things that straight people don't consider sexualized are persistently, necessarily sexualized for me.

I can't speak for people of color, but I'd assume that the dynamics are somewhat the same there: colorblindness isn't really an option.


davidseth

Colorblindness used to mean one thing, and now I'm afraid the rightwing has successfully re-framed it into an offensive notion, into an excuse for continued racism.

It used to mean that when somebody wanted to use a public accommodation, like a railroad or a public park, race wouldn't be used to exclude that person. The service in a restaurant would be colorblind. That was a good and righteous goal. When affirmative action began, the reactionary claims about "special rights" and "special treatment" abounded, and all of a sudden the rightwing was claiming that everything (college admissions, hiring, etc) had to be colorblind, because that way the status quo could likely be extended and disenfranchisement of African Americans could continue a pace. So now, imo it's just more code. It's code for the status quo of power relations and the disenfranchisement and marginalization of blacks, latinos, etc. So I don't think the goal is colorblindness. I think we should discard the concept.

I would prefer it tremendously if we could acknowledge and accept the differences we all have, recognize that there is not a particular combination of characteristics that is more desirable than any other, and get on with the difficult business of treating each other like fellow human beings.

I hope that's not unbearably idealistic.


Light Emitting Pickle

Many people are not even aware that they have subconscious opinions which give rise to making associations/assumptions. As an example: my parents, when seeing interviews of black politicians, movie starts or athletes would always comment on whether or not the person was articulate.

The first assumption was that it was "bad" if the person "sounded black" and "good" if the person "sounded white." The second assumption was that they needed to comment - as if it were a surprise that a black person could be, in their estimate, articulate. A third assumption was that they thought their comments were compliments.

And you know what? I'm sure there are even more assumptions that I'm missing. Which is, of course, my point.

It's not just racism - this embodies all forms of discrimination, which in turn makes discrimination so hard to eradicate. Because even people who try to not discriminate and work to increase their awareness are probably still, at some level, discriminating.

My guiding principle in life is to always be learning and to always increase my awareness of other people and the world around me. I think this is what separates progressives from others. We tend to see multiple sides to every story and can try to extract from experiences that which will help us learn and increase our awareness. Many people, I think, are afraid to do that, because it can mean admitting that you were wrong.


jessical

I think basically everything you said in this essay is true. But I also think it misses something important, in that being marginalized fucks you up. Makes you crazy. Breaks your heart. So when someone says "could you please pick up that pencil" the response is "fuck you". I agree with the observations about history and implicit priviledge, but in the end it's always a real person right there.

And when someone who has been driven over the freakin' edge of "proper" behavior by their lives steps outside the bounds, there is no one specific response (re NL's other diary on this topic, which I just read) which will suffice. Because everyone, everyone, has to learn to manage the chip on their own shoulder. And if one is a decent human being, one will help them do that -- right then, as a person. By being present. By being clear about where one is acting as a representative of an organization or a set of rules, and where one is acting as a human being.

Maybe this is just an angry tranny thing -- I see people destroyed by their anger, their just, earned, suffered for anger. So that's the issue that shouts to me, reading this, as much as the specifics of racism (though I agree with Armando, here). As things go further to hell, we are _all_ going to be increasingly on the outside, looking in. Misery and rage will catch in all our throats. And then what do we do with it? How do we treat each other? Ourselves?


Nightprowlkitty

Again, the more we discuss this the more I am asking the question of why we respond the way we do when we are called racists. What it is that enables some folks to see past the hurt of it and others to not be able to get past it.

I think if we understood that better, we'd also be able to deal better with fighting racism both in ourselves and others.

I wrote last Friday's essay about this, how being the victim of racism entails far more concrete damage than being accused of racism. I'll have to think more about this.


Metta

If I had thought that I might be shunned ostracized and ridiculed for admitting that I have had inherent racist thoughts, feelings, and perhaps have made racist comments, I doubt I would have said anything. The context that I felt comfortable discussing my feelings was not the highly charged diary where there was name calling and yelling. It was a conversation that started out civil. That's not to say it didn't delve into more difficult feelings and emotions but the approach was a tone in which one could feel comfortable exploring this topic. Maybe true learning (Change?) is a bit like the grieving process; steps and stages.

I think it's most difficult for those of us who consider ourselves liberal, progressive, democrats to accept our cultural biases, certain pre-judgments, or ethnocentric views as potentially problematic. It seemed to me that I wanted to jump ahead of the curve and forego the painful growth process that self examination can be and just be a "WE'RE ALL ONE" believer. It takes courage, support and maturity to get there, not just slogans, demonstrations, and boycotts. I wish I knew in my young adulthood what I am coming to know now.


Thanks to all you great dharmaniacs!! Now lets all get funkalicious with a man who's been fighting these good fights for many years and continues to find the higher ground.