Sunday, September 30, 2007

What's so great about blogging

In the last couple of days, I've had some fun with blogging. All the different voices out there that I'd never have the priviledge of hearing in real life are all right here on the screen for me if I take just a little bit of time to find them. I do find that I have to limit it to short trips or I get overwhelmed and don't have time to process. But here's an example of a couple of trips I've made lately.

As I said in the diary below, I did some thinking about the Jena 6 situation yesterday. All of this started with a diary posted by Nezua over at The Unapologetic Mexican. He has a great blogroll for issues like this, so I started out by going over to see what Blackamazon was saying about it. There I found a post where she bared her emotional soul about how exhausted she gets in trying to carry her message forward. And I also found a link to elle's post about the burden we place on African Americans in order to join in the causes that are important to them. And from there, I followed a link to African American Political Pundit where he talks about the liberal blogoshpere and media being MIA on the Jena 6 issue.

Then, this morning, I find that mitzvahmom paid a visit here in the diary about books my group chose to read this year. She's obviously very interested in Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of "Infidel" and is doing lots of research trying to understand her. At her blog, I found a link to diosabaytuti at political and cross-cultural musings. I can't find a lot of direct information about this writer, but she does indicate that she teaches ESL, is a "minority" and has a fascination with understanding Saudi Arabian culture, especially as it relates to the treatment of women. And finally, her post took me to the blog of Madhab al-Irfy, who I believe is Pakistani and grew up in Australia. He (among other things)is a freelance writer with lots of interesting things to say about Islam in that part of the world.

Where else can you go to meet such interesting people in a couple of hours...all without leaving your couch!!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We ALL Live in Jena

I have spent some time this afternoon trying to understand why I haven't engaged more with the Jena 6 issue. While I have been aware of the situation for several months now, I haven't really spent a lot of energy on it or gotten involved at all. Part of me thinks that's wrong and I'm sorry.

But I just saw something on Fox News (yeah, can you believe that one!!!) that helped me understand why. In a roundtable discussion about several issues related to race that have happened this week, one of the commentators talked about a case where a white boy had been beaten up by a group of black boys, but had gotten no media attention. This is the problem with advocacy by anectdote. If we are going to rely on one case to make our point - the other side is more than capable of coming up with a case in counterpoint. But we all know what a lie that turns out to be, don't we?

I really feel for these particular 6 young men who are being handed a complete dose of injustice based on our deep seeded racism in this country. And I do think we need to organize to fight for justice for them. But lets all remember that for every one of these boys, there are thousands of others who are being treated just as unfairly in our so-called justice system.

As an example, I just saw figures this week for the county I live in. African Americans make up 14% of the population of children in this county. And yet, they make up 45% of those in the juvenile justice system. Numbers like that make my blood boil. There is no simplistic answer to this - the causes are complex threads of historical racism coupled with our own brand of it in the present. As a result of our inattention to this, we are loosing hundreds if not thousands of lives daily to a system that eats them up and destroys their souls.

So I can only hope that the Jena 6 case starts to open up that whole can of worms and goes beyond just a fight for these boys to encompass ALL of our children who are suffering because of this illness in our culture. That's why I liked Nezua's graphic that I posted here and the title of his diary (which I am stealing shamelessly)...We All Live In Jena.

One Good Word

Supersoling and I are having a bit of a conversation in a diary down below and I wanted to bring this portion of it up to the top. Here's a poem by David Whyte that captures some of what we've been talking about:

Loaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information.

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio
and the blurred screen.

This is the time
of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

I love a poem like this because I think it speaks to something VERY BIG and then we can all project what our own limited vision finds in the words. What it speaks to for me is a feeling lately that I need to ramp down the amount of "data" that is going into my head right now about the state of our insanity in the world. I'm feeling overwhelmed and I think that pulls me down into the "muck."

I'm starving for "one good word." I don't mean the kind of superficial words that cover over the current state of things. But a good word that goes into the belly and builds up something that can withstand the onslaught.

UPDATE: I want to add something here that supersoling said in a comment below (and I hope you don't mind super):

Maybe Loaves and Fishes signifies a need to return to seeing to the basic needs of those without and a turn away from higher pursuits and goals. It's in the streets with the homeless, or around the kitchen table with our loved ones where the best we have to offer will make a difference. The larger tasks seem unattainable and out of reach now. So no matter what happens to our country, our planet, if we maintain those small, loving things we do for each other we'll retain enough of our humanity to begin something new, and hopefully better :o)

I know that I will always want to see the "big picture" of what's going on in the world and do what I can to have an impact. But if we get lost in that pursuit to the point that we don't attend to what we can do on a person-to-person level, I do think our humanity suffers. I believe that in our natural state, we are hard-wired for compassion. And if that need to reach out and have an impact in a very real way is dismissed, we begin to starve what is best in us.


Crossposted at Docudharma

Some time ago I found a speech given by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon titled Coalitions Politics: Turning the Century at the West Coast Women's Music Festival in 1981. It is some of the most profound thinking I have ever read about our struggles to work together as progressives. I can't tell you how many times the content of this speech has crept into my thinking in all kinds of discussions. I'd love it if everyone would just go read the whole thing. But knowing that's not likely, I'll excerpt some quotes and try to summarize.

Reagon begins by talking about why it is so important to work at coalitions:

We've pretty much come to the end of a time when you can have a space that is"yours only"-just for the people you want to be there...To a large extent it's because we have just finished with that kind of isolating. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Its over. Give it up.

The main message of the speech is that we need to distinguish between places that are "home" and those that are "coalition." So first Reagon talks about "home," places that are very important to develop, especially for those who have been marginalized:

Now every once in awhile there is a need for people to try to clean out corners and bar the doors and check everybody who comes in the door, and check what they carry in and say, "Humph, inside this place the only thing we are going to deal with is X or Y or Z." And so only the X's or Y's or Z's get to come in. That place can then become a nurturing place or a very destructive place. Most of the time when people do that, they do it because of the heat of trying to live in this society where being an X or Y or Z is very difficult, to say the least...And that's when you find a place, and you try to bar the door and check all the people who come in. You come together to see what you can do about shouldering up all of your energies so that you and your kind can survive...

But that space while it lasts should be a nurturing space where you sift out what people are saying about you and decide who you really are. And you take the time to try to construct within yourself and within your community who you would be if you were running society. In fact, in that little barred room where you check everybody at the door, you act out community.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I would have survived the last 6 years, nor would I have been able to deal with some of my painful history if it were not for the various "homes" I have created to nurture and sustain myself.

But there are risks when you don't keep some perspective on the idea of "home":

Of course the problem with the experiment is that there ain't nobody in there but folk like you... Now that's nationalism. I mean it's nurturing, but it is also nationalism. At a certain stage nationalism is crucial to a people if you are going to ever impact as a group in your own interest. Nationalism at another point becomes reactionary because it is totally inadequate for surviving in the world with many peoples.

Eventually, if we are going to survive, we need to go out into the world and work in coalition. Here's how Reagon lays down the stakes for that kind of work:

Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn't look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there.They're not looking for a coalition; they're looking for a home! They're looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition.You don't get a lot of food in a coalition. You don't get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and its different from your home. You can't stay there all the time.

After talking about all of the various "movements" that started in the 60's she comes to the part that I just LOVE:

There is an offensive movement that started in this country in the 60's that is continuing. The reason we are stumbling is that we are at the point where in order to take the next step we've got to do it with some folk we don't care too much about. And we got to vomit over that for a little while. We must just keep going.

So, I wonder if we have the stomach these days for coalition politics. I know I get discouraged at how most progressives seem to seek perfection in anyone they deal with and are so quick to gather in smaller and smaller groups of like-minded folks. I have no problems with creating "homes" where we can sort it all out and find a place to belong. Perhaps the problem is not being clear about when we are at home and when we need to get out in the streets and work in coalition.

Friday, September 28, 2007

First the books, then the music

I thought I'd post the list of books my group selected to read in the upcoming year. I might be writing about some of them as we go through the list, so here it is:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness by Alice Walker

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Couldn't Keep it to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters by Wally Lamb, Diane Bartholomew, Nancy Birkla, Robin Cullen, Brenda Medina

Reader's choice: a book of short stories by Alice Munro

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson

Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for Women Who Are Changing the World by Holly Morris

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp, Camille Kingsolver

One member of the group couldn't participate because of a family emergency so we saved a month for her to choose something.

And now, a little bit of smooooth from the past.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Say goodbye and move on

This sums up the crazy cycle our political system has become. I don't know about you, but I've become pretty disgusted with the whole thing. Over the last couple of days we've seen the Senate give Bushco the cover to start another war with Iran, the House take a stand AGAINST free speech, and the leading Democratic Presidential contenders refuse to promise to get our troops out of Iraq by 2013. And we're just talking about what the Democrats have done.

What the hell is happening here?!! I just might be able to stomach all this if there was some progressive agenda that was even being talked about. But this pretty much sums up the total of what our so-called representatives have been up to. Why, with only 25-30% of the public supporting the insane policies of this administration and the neo-cons, do the Democrats seem to still be so completely afraid of speaking any truth or providing any vision of how to make things better?

The answer to these questions for me right now is that the "will of the people" is no longer what is being considered by our elected officials. There are stronger forces at work and our democracy is gone. The sooner we come to grips with this, the sooner we'll be able to re-group and think about what our options are. Time to say good-bye and move on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A few words on entitlement and fear

I just finished reading The Love of Impermanent Things: A Threshold Ecology by Mary Rose O'Reilley. Its one of those books that you appreciate more after you've finished reading it and can contemplate the whole. It reads as a kind of "stream of consciousness" with moments where you can get lost and moments of profound wisdom. Here is one of my favorite passages:

This country has puzzled me since 1960, when I belatedly began to think. Where did we get the idea that we are entitled to be pain free and worry free, that accidents must always be someone's fault, that all cancers should be gotten in time, that babies should be born flawless, and that death could be relegated to the back burner? What is the implicit idea about being human here?...Under the rock of every fear is the refusal to accept the contractual conditions of being human. I don't know why I came into the world or where I will go when I boil over on the back burner, but I know that I was born into a condition of radical instability: at any moment the car may drop its muffler, my heart valve may clog, or someone who thinks too much may discover a novel way to surprise me with a dirty bomb. The only way to overcome fear is to accept without equivocation the worst it can propose, belay your ropes, and step accross the next crevasse. We have no choice, anyway, about stepping.

emphasis mine

Monday, September 24, 2007

Good Friends Share Poetry

Yesterday I got a letter (remember those?) from a good friend that I haven't heard from in years. Included was a copy of one of his favorite poems. What a wonderful gift!!

by Constantine P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that one on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Music Mood

I invite you to take a look at the video to the right of here and just under my intro. Its by Anthony Hamilton and the pictures are from the HBO series "The Wire." Anyone who knows me is aware that I am addicted to that show.

When folks complain about the lack of meaningful music in our world today, I think they are not listening to the likes of Anthony Hamilton. I'd say he's our Marvin Gaye for today. Great soulful voice and speaking to our times.

In the same vein, I also love this one by Black Eyed Peas:


This weekend my monthly book group goes away for our annual retreat up north in the woods. Its something I look forward to every year. If its anything like previous years, we'll laugh and cry and learn from each other. Its the essence of what I think life is really all about.

But while we're up there, we have a task to do. At some point over the weekend we'll go through our complicated ritual of picking the 12 books we'll read in the coming year. Its an important time because I don't ususally read more than one book a month and so this list will make up most of the reading I'll do over the coming year.

As I mentioned, we have a rather elaborate process for picking our books. I won't go into all the details, but it involves all of us recommending from one to ??? who knows how many and selecting from there. Last year I recommended 6 and got a little grief for bringing so many. But in the end, they chose 3 of them. So I'm trying to pare down my recommendations this year. But there is always WAY more I want to read than I have the time for. To give you a flavor, here's a few of my favorites we read last year:

The View from Delphi by Jonathan Odell
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
where we stand: class matters by bell hooks
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

That list is a little heavy in fiction for what is "normal" for us. But what I loved about it was the diversity. Here's what I'm thinking of recommending this year:

In The Time Of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Adventure Divas by Holly Morris
We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For by Alice Walker
In Search of Fatima by Ghada Karmi

Hopefully this pared down list will not bring me any grief.

And if anyone visits between Thursday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, I'll be off without computer access. So say "hi" and I'll get back to you when I get home.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Written in the Stone

I found that love provides the key
Unlocks the heart and souls of you and me
Love will learn to sing your song
Love is written in the stone

Every man I meet is walking time
Free to wander past his conscious mind
Love will come and take you home
Love is written in the stone
Do you believe my friend in what you claim
People of the world all doubt the same
Bringing questions of their own
Truth is written in the stone

In the stone you'll find the meaning
You're not standing tall
In the stone the light is shining
Forever touching all

Life experience a passing day
Time will witness what the ole folks say
Getting stronger every day
Strenghth is written in the stone
Deep inside your heart for you to keep
Lies a spark of light that never sleeps
The greatest love you've ever known
Yea is written in the stone

In the stone you'll find the meaning
You're not standing tall
In the stone the light is shining
Forever touching all
Never, never my darling
Never you'll be alone
Ever, forever my darling
True love is written in the stone.

Can we fix it? Part II

Last night I wrote about a nagging thought that hangs out in the back of my head these days. Today, I think I'll bring another one out from the dank recesses and let it see the light of day. I was actually spurred to do so by this bit from a diary at Who Is IOZ:

In any event, the notion that Bush isn't a moron is a form of national self-flattery. At its root is the belief that he can't be a moron because if he were, that would mean that the American people, our government and institutions, allowed ourselves to be conquered by a moron. It would mean that the whole edifice of Western Democracy, centuries in the making, is cheaper than a backlot set. It would mean that the fruits of the political Enlightenment were finally plucked and chucked onto the compost heap with no more effort than it takes to nickname some reporters, shamble around, talk with an aw-shucks accent, and produce some decent war pornography. It would mean that the founders were right to fear democracy and their descendents wrong to give it to us.

emphasis mine

The thought that roams around in the back of my head is to wonder whether or not a democratic republic can actually work. To my view, we have already proven that it is not working in this particular time and place. The question for me is if it can ever work - or at least whether or not it can work on the scale of a country the size of the US.

Sometimes I go round and round with blame for why its not working. Is it the public who doesn't care, is it the media that feeds us dribble, is it the military/industrial complex that just has all the power and we might as well just lay down and accept it? Or maybe its all those things? Or maybe we just have a system whose time has come and gone. And we need to start from scratch and create something new.

I don't have answers to these questions. But it does make me think of a few lines from the book The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen where he is having a conversation with a friend about the similarities between corporations and hate groups:

He said, "They're cousins."
I just listened.
"Nobody talks about this," he said, "but they're branches from the same tree, different forms of the same cultural imperative..."
"Which is?"
"To rob the world of its subjectivity."
"Wait - " I said.
"Or to put this another way," he continued, " to turn everyone and everything into objects."

As long as our government is so removed from us, we will remain objects. We might think we know those who are representing us - the same way we think we know Brittany or Paris - but its all just an illusion created for us by the media.

I think that in order for any form of government "of the people" to work, we need to re-create the subjectivity that is represented by REAL connections with REAL people. In this case, our "bigger is better" mentality would have to bite the dust.

One thing that I've learned professionally over the last 15 years as the director of a small non-profit is that any success we've had in meeting our mission has been the result of us staying small enough so that we, as a group, are all connected to one another. I witness those large non-profits where the people and mission become objectified and know that I could never be a part of that. Perhaps that's just my style, but I have a hunch that its more than that.

Right now this sense of subjectivity seems mysterious and spiritual to me. Perhaps what we have never studied scientifically always seems mysterious and spiritual. But there is clearly a power that comes in KNOWING one another that is lost once we are objectified.

Right now in my line of work we talk alot about children who have "attachment disorder." This is usually the result of serious neglect and trauma children experience early in their lives that breaks the bonds of trust with caregivers and leads to mental health issues for them as they grow up. As I meld that with our current cultural and political landscape, I often wonder if we aren't all a bit "attachment disordered" as a result of embracing this kind of objectification. And it is only our real connections with each other and the natural world that will save us.

I'm not sure where that leaves me in wondering about effective political structures. But I do think it might point the way to some basics we need to work on in order to begin the healing that would lead to the answers.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Can we fix it?

Lately I've been having a nagging awareness hanging in the back of my head as I try to absorb so much of what's going wrong in our world today. The title of this post is a short summary of that, but the longer version is the awareness that our actions and inactions have long term consequences that we just might not be able to fix. The poet David Whyte talks often of the "fiercness" of life. I think this is part of what he means by that.

I guess that for most of my life I've been priviledged with the white upper middle class kind of thinking that says all problems have a solution. And in these days of instant everything - that solution better be quick in materializing.

But as I look at the incredibly complex mess we've made of things in Iraq and the Middle East in general, and as I contemplate the insideous effects of racism and poverty, and as I see the impending doom that is global warming, I realize that even if we had all the answers right now, solutions might be generations in the making. And its a total laugh to think we are only an election away from nirvana!!!

So, our task is twofold. Not only do we need to craft solutions to these problems. But we need to develop the patience it would take to give them time to take hold. Its at this point that I keep coming back to the words of Ruben Alvez on hope:

Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret discipline. It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved away in immediate sense experience, and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaires and saints the courage to die for the future they envisaged. They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.

I want to add that I in no way see Alvez saying we should have patience the way our leaders told the civil rights movement to have patience, or the way women were told the same thing in fighting for the vote. Its the kind of patience that says, "I'll lay down my life, knowing that my grandchildren will reap the rewards of my hopes." Now that's a fierce kind of living!!

The Power of Words

Mr. Daniel Beaty with an introduction by the wonderful Ms. Ruby Dee.

Bearing Witness

At times, I feel like the only thing left to do is bear witness to the suffering and claim my own outrage. From The Independent:

An al-Jazeera journalist captured in Afghanistan six years ago and sent to Guantanamo Bay is close to becoming the fifth detainee at the US naval base to take his own life, according to a medical report written by a team of British and American psychiatrists

Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese national, is 250 days into a hunger strike which he began in protest over his detention without charge or trial in January 2002. But British and American doctors, who have been given exclusive access to his interview notes, say there is very strong evidence that he has given up his fight for life, experiencing what doctors recognise as "passive suicide", a condition suffered by female victims of Darfur.

Dr Dan Creson, a US psychiatrist who has worked with the United Nations in Darfur, said Mr Haj was suffering from severe depression and may be deteriorating to the point of imminent death.


Mr Haj, 38, was sent on assignment by al-Jazeera television station to cover the war in Afghanistan in October 2001. The following month, after the fall of Kabul, Mr Haj left Afghanistan for Pakistan with the rest of his crew.

In early December, the crew were given visas to return to Afghanistan. But when Mr Haj tried to re-enter Afghanistan with his colleagues, he was arrested by the Pakistani authorities – apparently at the request of the US military.

He was imprisoned, handed over to the US authorities in January 2002, taken to the US military compound in Bagram, Afghanisatan, then Kandahar, and finally to Guantanamo in June 2002.

His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, of the human rights charity Reprieve, said his client had endured months of brutal force-feeding and lost nearly a fifth of his body weight during the hunger strike.


Dr Mamoun Mobayed, a British psychiatrist based in Northern Ireland, and a third member of the team who has also been given access to written notes of recent interviews with the prisoner, said there was also concern about the mental health of Mr Haj's wife and seven-year-old son, who was just one when his father went on assignment to Afghanistan.

I can only express my deep shame and sorrow to Mr. Haj, his wife and his son.

My personal journey to understand systemic racism

One of the things I'd like to write about here is to chronicle my personal journey to undertand systemic racism. Its clearly a process, so this might end up being a series as I have the opportunity to document new awarenesses.

But I'd like to start with an example from over 20 years ago. I was in graduate school in Pasadena and had never thought much about racial profiling. Like many white people, since it hadn't happened to me, I might have even gone so far as to be dismissive of its reality.

One of my good friends at the time was a Hawaiian student who physically looked Hispanic. He told a story one night at a gathering of friends at his house about walking across the courtyard of his apartment complex on his way home and being stopped by security. They questioned why he was there and escorted him home. As he told this story he made us laugh. He was like that - a great sense of humor. While we were laughing his wife remained serious. Then she said, "It was funny the first time - I don't laugh anymore."

So all of the sudden, I knew about racial profiling and was outraged at its reality. Since my eyes were opened, I hear more stories and learn more. Like a few months ago when one of the young black men I work with talked about being stopped by police 3 times in one week...never arrested.

Lately I've been learning about how young black men begin being "profiled" in the community at a very early age and headed for the criminal justice system. In our schools, in our libraries and in our community centers (at least in the urban area where I live) most adults in these systems are white. And they have learned to make a shift in how they see black boys around the time that they turn 10-12 years of age. Prior to that age, I think these white people see black children as worthy of empathy and compassion. Once they cross the threshold of about 12, they see them as threats...they begin to be afraid of them. And this fear is palpable.

Meanwhile, many of these young black men are learning their lessons well about how to survive in "da hood." Fasion in the urban areas (and other parts of the country) has adopted the gang style and any young person with awareness will know that this is how you need to dress to be accepted. They learn that in order to protect themselves, they must adopt an attitude, get tough, and join a group of other young men who will protect them. And whala!!! In the eyes of the white community, we have a gang - with all the criminality that term holds for us.

The result is that how these kids dress, who they hang out with and how they behave have all become "criminalized." Some of the middle schools in this city developed a policy a while ago that if you document three incidents where a student displays signs of gang involvement (through clothes, hand signs, etc), they can be EXPELLED. Two particular travesties of this policy are that they didn't need to document any behavior that was criminal or threatening. And secondly, they didn't require anyone to actually talk to the student or attempt any intervention.

This is all part of the system that leads to 1 in 3 black men being involved in some way with the criminal justice system. And it will only stop when we begin to see ALL children as worthy of our empathy and compassion. And get rid of the fear!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My American Dream Started to Die with Howard Dean

Back in the summer of 2002 I was paying attention to the candidates for US President. I was interested in Howard Dean because he was the ONLY one speaking out against the impending war in Iraq. I didn't much like what I heard about his other positions, but a friend and I decided to go to a "meet-up" for Dean and check things out. Over the course of the next few months I converted into becoming a tried and true "Deaniac."

In the end, it wasn't just his stance on the war - or really any other issues that converted me. I got involved in running a meet-up, watched his blog and followed the whole campaign closely. There was something totally different about how he was running for office. Something I'd never seen before in politics, not even when I worked on the Wellstone campaigns. When Dean said "You have the power!" - he meant it. As an example, in facilitating a meet-up, I got materials monthly from the campaign. But they always made sure we knew that these were just suggestions. They wanted US to run the campaign the way we thought was best. If someone at a meet-up came up with one of those, "The campaign should...." We turned it right around and said, "What role do you want to take in getting it done?" We wrote our own letters, planned our own events, developed our own strategies, and the campaign headquarters listened, learned and supported. I had never seen anything like it before.

And then the Clintons, Carvilles, Shrums and Begallas of the world got to work. They did everything they could to discredit the Dean campaign and used a compliant media and the Republicans to take him down, all while convincing folks that Kerry was "electable."

During the winter of 03, I went through a depression. I felt the Democratic Party had betrayed me. And as bad as Bush was, I just couldn't muster my energies to work on behalf of Kerry. Then came the election. And the depression went deeper. HOW COULD THE WORLD STAND ANOTHER 4 YEARS OF BUSHCO??? I spent hours on the Sorry Everybody website, reading and crying (especially when those from around the world came in to console and forgive us).

Then came Katrina, and what can I say? Does depression about the country you once thought you loved know no bounds? I was actually on vacation in Sedona, AZ when it happened. We just sat in our room watching the horror unfold in front of our eyes on tv and tried to still spend time exploring the area. But the trip was ruined and its hard for me to hold any fond memories of Sedona because of that.

Ah well, so many horrors, so little time. One thing after another, and here I am, I can't let go of my desire to try to do something to change things. But there is not a political party out there to latch onto. I don't see any kind of effective movement that inspires me. I feel like we just keep getting fed more and more bs and keep sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss. Or maybe its just that I'm paying more attention than I did before, and we were already there.

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty angry and frusterated today (can you tell?). But that's ok. How many times have I reminded myself of the saying "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." I think we just have to learn to live with anger. But boy, would it ever feel good to belong to something that I thought was really going to make a difference. Like I did back in the days of the Dean campaign.

Damn it all!!!

Brandon Friedman is reporting over at dkos that two of the soldiers in Iraq who wrote the NYT editorial 3 1/2 weeks ago criticizing the US occupation have been killed in Iraq.

Rest in peace Yance T. Gray and Omar Mora. I am humbled by your courage.

Short and Sweet

Here's another one I posted a while ago at Everybody Comes From Somewhere. But it still represents my thinking on the issue.

1. We have to stop the occupation of Iraq.
2. If US troops leave Iraq, there is likely to be an increase in sectarian violence. We need to not only get out - we need to do it in the best manner possible and start the process of repairing the damage we have done.
3. The only possibility of saving lives from that sectarian violence and beginning to repair the damage is through diplomacy - involving Syria and Iran.
4. Bush and Cheney are not capable of diplomacy.
5. Therefore, the only way to put a reasonable end to the occupation of Iraq is to impeach Bush and Cheney and replace them with people who are capable of diplomacy.(as an aside, please notice that NONE of the Democrats agruing against impeachment are doing so based on a lack of evidence. Their reluctance is all based on whether it is expedient or not - shows how far we've lowered the bar)
6. Endless battles in Congress over when/how to REDUCE the # of troops in Iraq are meaningless.
7. Get on with impeachment already.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Just in case...

this whole democracy/freedom thing doesn't work out.

Chalmers Johnson explains what it means for the US to have at least 737 military bases in other countries.

h/t to Adrienne Carey Hurley.

A Broken Heart

As we hear all the surreal talk coming out of DC about Iraq these last two days, I've been thinking about the millions of refugees that "withdrew" a long time ago. This is one of them. Her name is Ahlam al Goubori, a 42-year-old mother of three.

At one point, she believed the US was really trying to help her country and went to work helping settle claims for Iraqis injured or killed by the US military, served on her city council and arranged medical care for the poor. But she was seen as a traitor by sectarian groups in her country.

In 2005 she was kidnapped, held for 8 days, tortured and questioned. Her brothers paid a ransom for her release, but had to promise that she would leave Iraq. With commendations and letters of support from members of the Iraq occupation, her application for resettlement in the US is on hold.

Now in Damascus, she has opened her small apartment as a school for children four times a week. She doens't plan to go back, even if the fighting stops.

Here is what she says about her experience (from NPR):

"Something broken inside me," Goubori said. "After all that I did, and I get kidnapped and threatened and forced to leave Iraq. This broke my heart."

My heart breaks for you Ahlam, and the millions of others too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Mission

I've never been a fan of summing up one's life in a few words. But a guy by the name of Brian Andreas, who has a business called Storypeople, made a good run at it for me.

Since its probably too small to read, here's what it says:

I hope it will be said we taught them to stand tall & proud, even in the face of history & the future was made whole for us all, one child at a time.

Anyone who takes on this kind of work in life must first be honest with oneself about why it has become such a passion. For many of us its because we want to give children what we have learned (often the hard way) is essential in life. One of my lessons has been that when there is no one there to take care of you - you have to do it yourself.

What Now?

From Who Is IOZ?

To the extent that we continue to bear political responsibility, I'll argue that it has mostly to do with calling things by their true names and seeing them truly. That is what I try to do, but not for the sake of posterity (I hardly expect, in a few hundred years, to be IOZ, the great dissident writer of the early American empire), nor do I make the effort out of anything resembling revolutionary sentiment. People speak of today's concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, but what's far more significant, though not unrelated, is the concentration of force. I have no desire to get myself killed, or to get anyone else killed, or to get anyone I know spirited off to a secret prison, simply to spite the drab, vicious autocracy that I despise. If there is a reason to keep talking about these things, it is to remain sane, and if we keep talking to each other, it's to maintain what modest bonds of friendship, community, and gallows humor remain to us. Some people console themselves with the idea that humor and friendship are themselves revolutionary acts. These people are called toweringly masturbatory egotists. I maintain only that the Soviet Union, for one, showed the tenuousness of the modern imperial project, and I plan to keep smirking so that if the whole rotten tree bows and cracks in a stiff wind sometime in the next half-century or so, I'll be well-prepared to break into a smile.

I found this in an article by Madman in the Marketplace over at Liberal Street Fighter. I'd recommend the whole article.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Alicia Keys on Unlearning to Not Speak.


From a conversation I had this week with a co-worker:

Our work to develop an identity for ourselves is not so much a matter of construction as it is one of discovery.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tragically Hip on Ice

I've always loved figure-skating. I think its the combination of athleticism, dance and then, of course, there's the music. And my favorite figure-skater of all time is Kurt Browning.

Here's Kurt skating to music created for him by his friends, The Tragically Hip.

Pretty cool, huh?

But I think my favorite routine Kurt ever performed was actually a bit more lighthearted.

I remember watching Kurt perform this one time and afterwards the commentator said, "Some skaters put on a costume and skate to clown music. Kurt became the clown."

Friday, September 7, 2007


Fifteen years ago I bought my first house, a little one in the middle of a great old neighborhood. There was only one thing that stood out about it...the 100 year old tree in the tiny back yard. I never took a picture of it in full greenery - but here's what the old girl looked like in the fall:

Since my house is a bit over 60 years old, this tree had been providing shade to the cows on the farms around here for 40 years before the neighborhood was even developed. Her branches provided shade on the north side of my house and both my neighbors on either side. I can't tell you how many times I stood under her and just looked up at her vastness, feeling the awe of my small place in the scheme of life.

Then last year, whole branches of leaves started going brown in the middle of the summer. By the time I figured out she had dutch elm disease, she was gone. I took a whole bunch of photos of her at that point, trying to capture her beauty - even in death.

Then I made arrangements to have her taken down. It cost me a boatload of money and took a crew, loads of trucks, a 90 ft. crane, and 6 1/2 hours to do it.

And now she's gone.

I still miss her. Many folks have asked me if I was going to get another tree. I felt I needed to give her loss some time - and let myself adjust to her being gone before I was ready for something new.

Last week my brother and sister-in-law told me that they wanted their Christmas gift to me this year to be a new tree. It brought tears to my eyes. I can't think of a thing in the world I want more right now than a new tree. So we talked a bit about what kind of tree I wanted. I said that ever since I was little I've loved weeping willows. I guess it goes with my attraction to sad love songs - like this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Some things elections can't change

I originally started blogging due to my interests in politics. That will definitely be a theme here. So, before I start writing new stuff on that topic, I thought I'd re-post this diary I wrote a few months ago at Everybody Comes From Somewhere. Its probably the best summary of my feelings these days on the topic.

I know that many progressives have come to the conclusion that electing Democrats won't solve many of the problems we face in this country. And I agree. Although, I do think a case for incrementalism can be made...less people will die due to lack of health care, response to national disasters, etc, with a new Democratic administration. This is not something I am willing to dismiss easily. But I don't see a Democratic administration being able to make the changes necessary to stop the continuing disaster of our foreign policy and how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

There are a lot of things that need to change in order for me to have much hope in this country. But I'm most interested these days in what is wrong with our collective psyche that keeps us from even seeing these issues clearly, much less working together to demand the changes. I suppose its kind of like the difference between a "top-down" solution that would come from electing the right leader and the "bottom-up" solution of changing what people are looking for in leaders. I think the latter deserves much more attention than we have been giving to it.

There are many ways to look at this issue, but today I'm really interested in an article from Salon written by Gary Kamiya and titled Why Bush Hasn't Been Impeached. I'd recommend that everyone read the article, but I'll just pull a quote to give you an idea of what he is saying:

Bush's warmongering spoke to something deep in our national psyche. The emotional force behind America's support for the Iraq war, the molten core of an angry, resentful patriotism, is still too hot for Congress, the media and even many Americans who oppose the war, to confront directly. It's a national myth. It's John Wayne. To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness -- come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we're not ready to do that.

This "violent self-righteousness" goes beyond just our policies about war, torture, rendition, and other crimes that our government has committed. Just take a look at other examples: We are coming dangerously close - and maybe even over the line at times - with wanting to punish people we (in all our wisdom, cough, cough) have decided MIGHT be capable of crimes (the one percent doctrine applied to the criminal justice system). And certainly rounding up and/or condemning brown people because we think they might be here illegally comes from the same place. Even our dialogue with those with whom we disagree is too often charactarized by (verbally) violent self-righteousness.

I agree with Kamiya that there is something seriously wrong with our collective psyche and until we can find a way out of the morass of violent self-righteousness, no election is ever going to change much. I wonder what would happen if we turned all the energy and money we currently spend on trying to find leaders who we think can get us out of this mess, and started using it to enact that age-old saying..."Physician, heal thyself," might we finally begin to find what we're looking for??

A Couple of Great Books for the Little Ones

As you can see in the "about me" section, the inspiration for the name of this blog came from my mother. But frankly, I had forgotten about her use of that term of endearment(?) until years ago when I saw the book Princess Smartypants. Its a wonderful book for the little ones with a different kind of "happily ever after" than is usually fed to them from a very small age. I highly recommend it.

Another book that I just love for the little ones is The Paperbag Princess. This one does a bit of role reversal in who saves whom from the dragon.

And here's a little music to go with that reading:

Give Me One Reason

A woman with attitude...some might even call her a smartypants.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Semistarvation Neurosis

Starved people cannot be taught democracy. To talk about the will of the people when you aren't feeding them is perfect hogwash. Ancel Benjamin Keys, PhD.

Yesterday I had my world rocked quite a bit when I heard about the above Dr. Keys' research in the 1940's right here in my own backyard at the University of Minnesota. The research has been called The Minneosta Starvation Project and seems to be pretty widely known in most scientific circles. But what Dr. Keys learned is definitely NOT something that the public at large has been exposed to.

Dr. Keys is probably more well known as the creator of K-rations. But in the 194o's, as war was raging in Europe, he set out to study starvation, knowing that this was going to be a major issue in the world.

To set the stage, he recruited about 40 young men who were conscientious objectors to take part in the reasearch. Here's how Sandy Szwarc, food editor, writer and RN, describes it:

Young male volunteers, all carefully selected for being especially psychologically and socially well-adjusted, good-humored, motivated, active and healthy, were put on diets meant to mimic what starving Europeans were enduring, of about 1,600 calorie/day -- but which included lots of fresh vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean meats. The calories were more than many weight loss diets prescribe and precisely what's considered "conservative" treatment for obesity today. What they were actually studying, of course, was dieting -- our bodies can't tell the difference if they're being starved voluntarily or involuntarily! Dr. Keys and colleagues then painstakingly chronicled how the men did during the 6 months of dieting and for up to a year afterwards, scientifically defining "the starvation syndrome."

What Keys and his colleagues learned is absolutely astounding! And the fact that it has never been discussed in our "billion dollar diet industry supporting media" is infuriating, to say the least. Here is Szwarc summarizing again:

As the men lost weight, their physical endurance dropped by half, their strength about 10%, and their reflexes became sluggish -- with the men initially the most fit showing the greatest deterioration, according to Keys. The men's resting metabolic rates declined by 40%, their heart volume shrank about 20%, their pulses slowed and their body temperatures dropped. They complained of feeling cold, tired and hungry; having trouble concentrating; of impaired judgment and comprehension; dizzy spells; visual disturbances; ringing in their ears; tingling and numbing of their extremities; stomach aches, body aches and headaches; trouble sleeping; hair thinning; and their skin growing dry and thin. Their sexual function and testes size were reduced and they lost all interest in sex. They had every physical indication of accelerated aging.

But the psychological changes that were brought on by dieting, even among these robust men with only moderate calorie restrictions, were profound. So much so that Keys called it "semistarvation neurosis." The men became nervous, anxious, apathetic, withdrawn, impatient, self-critical with distorted body images and even feeling overweight, moody, emotional and depressed. A few even mutilated themselves, one chopping off three fingers in stress. ­They lost their ambition and feelings of adequacy, and their cultural and academic interests narrowed. They neglected their appearance, became loners and their social and family relationships suffered. They lost their senses of humor, love and compassion. Instead, they became obsessed with food, thinking, talking and reading about it constantly; developed weird eating rituals; began hoarding things; consumed vast amounts of coffee and tea; and chewed gum incessantly (as many as 40 packages a day). Binge eating episodes also became a problem as some of the men were unable to continue to restrict their eating.

So over 60 years ago, science was telling us that "voluntary starvation" of 1,600 calories per day for otherwise healthy men produced significant physiological and psychological problems. But it doesn't end there. Read what Keys learned about these men after they were allowed to eat normally:

When the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again, they had insatiable appetites and ate voraciously, some eating 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day, yet never felt full. Three months after the dieting, though, none of the men had regained his former physical capacity, noted Keys. On average, the men regained to their original weights plus 10%. But the weight regain was largely as fat and their lean body mass recovered much more slowly.

This was particularly difficult for me to read because I experienced "semistarvation neurosis" for over 20 years. During that time I lost over 200 pounds (at least 5 "diets" where I lost between 30 and 60 pounds each) and wound up weighing 80 pounds more than when I started. But that's not the end of it. All through those years (and still today) I heard messages that the fat AND the physcial and psychological effects of dieting were a result of some moral failing in me...not enough discipline or will power.

I don't know what else to say about all of this. I'm still trying to recover from the sadness and anger I feel. Maybe I'll write more later when my head has caught up with my broken heart.

Lets get it started

Just a little something to get the juices flowing...

Unlearning to not speak

by Marge Piercy

Blizzards of paper
in slow motion
sift through her.
In nightmares she suddenly recalls
a class she signed up for
but forgot to attend.
Now its too late.
Now it is time for finals:
losers will be shot.
Phrases of men who lectured her
drift and rustle in piles:
Why don't you speak up?
Why are you shouting?
You have the wrong answer,
wrong line, wrong face.
They tell her she is womb-man
babymachine, mirror image, toy,
earth mother and penis-poor,
a dish of synthetic strawberry icecream
rapidly melting.
She grunts to a halt.
She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as the infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.

On Learning to Fly

Here's an interesting take on the history of black/white relations in the US from Ampersand at Alas! A Blog.

I think this cartoon makes a powerful statement about how the game is played these days. But its all about climbing over each other to get to some destination where the table has already been set by the guys in charge. I was reminded of all this by a comment keres made in a diary at Booman Tribune.Here's what she said:

And I would argue that to dismantle partriarchy you would need to dismantle society in it's totality, and start over. It's no good just letting women in as "pseudo men" to societal structures so long formed by and to men's wants and desires.

Our societies are not "OK", except for the sexism, racism, heterosexism, ablism, etc. Our societies are intrinsically those things - they cannot be removed without a complete revisioning of the social compact. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in an apartriachal society would look, sound, or feel even remotely the same as to what we have now.

Thinking about all of this today took me back to a book I've had on my shelf for years. Its one of those things that I read a long time ago, and as I read it again this morning, the meaning went to a whole other level because of the things I've learned lately. The book is hope for the flowers by Trina Paulus. It is formatted like a children's picture book, but the message is aimed at all of us who are beginning to realize that there must be another way. Here's the publishers synopsis:

"Hope for the Flowers" is an inspiring allegory about the realization of one's true destiny as told through the lives of caterpillars Stripe and Yellow, who struggle to "climb to the top" before understanding that they are meant to fly.

In the story, Stripe and Yellow see all the other caterpillars climbing to get up to the top of the caterpillar pillar. So, reluctantly, they join in. First they learn that its hard to step on and over others if you've actually looked them in the eye or (heaven forbid) talked to them. Then they learn that at the top, there's actually nothing "there." As you can imagine, they finally realize that their destiny is to leave the climb, make themselves a cocoon, and become butterflies.

So as we continue to hear solutions to the "isms" of our day, let's evaluate whether they are simply tools for teaching "others" how to climb, or if what they are really talking about is learning how to fly. Here's Paulus' tag line on her book:

a tale - about life partly about revolution and lots about hope.

"With fear for our democracy, I dissent."

My title is how Justice Sonia Sotomayor concluded her dissenting opinion to the Supreme Court case granting presidents criminal immunity for...