Jones of the Nile

Monday, May 30, 2005

A new low in politics...until tomorrow, that is

We reach new lows in political discourse almost daily now, so this really shouldn't come as a surprise. Nonetheless, after last week's vote in the House to override President Bush's ban on embryonic stem cell research (a rare, bold vote from this President-whipped Congress), the American Family Association put out an editorial condemning Republican Senator Arlen Specter for supporting embryonic stem cell research. The editorial, Arlen Specter - Poster Child, wouldn't be that significant, save for the fact that it mocks Sen. Specter's cancer.

For those who don't know, Sen. Specter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease earlier this year. He's since undergone chemotherapy, suffering the dibilitating side effects that treatment causes. He supports embryonic stem cell research largely because he knows that research on embryonic stem cells could eventually be used to beat diseases like Hodgkin's disease (not to mention diabetes, alzheimer's and more).

"I look in the mirror every day," says Specter, "barely recognize myself. And not to have the availability of the best of medical care is simply atrocious."

Enter the right-wing propaganda machine. The American Family Association eviscerated Specter, saying his life wasn't as valuable as the two dozen children that frolicked on White House carpet with President Bush this past week, wearing T-shirts that cleverly said "Former Embryo." This amazes me, and reaffirms my thought that there is no length that the right-wing won't go in shoving their agenda down people's throats. Yesterday it was making fun of HIV/AIDS patients, today it's mocking someone's cancer, tomorrow it's saying people bring alzheimer's or Parkinson's on themselves.

I don't know what it will take to show this country that embyronic stem cell research could actually enhance the 'culture of life' so many seek to build, by ending disease and terminal illness. What I do know is that whenever I see an organization with the name "Family" in their title, it's time to get skeptical.

I had an 11th garde U.S. history teacher who once said that, nine times out of ten if you see the word "republic" in a country's name, you can bet that it's not a republic, but Communist or a dictatorship (i.e. North Korea, the former U.S.S.R, China). I'm starting to think the same of the word family - i.e. Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, or the American Family Association. These organizations aren't committed to promoting a better world for families. They're committed to prostyletizing a harsh and oppressive version of Christianity that seeks to destroy rather than foster dialogue. And if they can justify making fun of someone's cancer, I'm sure they'll justify any means to promote their narrow agenda.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


So the town I live in, Erie PA (truly the only part of Pennsylvania that can be considered Midwest!) just got its first place that serves "Bubble Tea." It's this trendy cafe called Moonsense. I've been there three times this week, sucking down bubble tea, and waiting patiently for them to feature as the soup du jour their "Tomato-Pumpkin Bisque." Mmmmmm....

Anyway, while pounding down my bubble tea, I came across a Rumi poem that starts out:

"Out beyond ideas
of rightdoing and wrongdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there."

What a great thing to read on a warm, Springtime Saturday afternoon. A reminder of the bigger picture, so to speak, that there is something more to this world than the wars, genocide, corrupt politicians, or whatever else we'll see or read about in the news this weekend.

I wonder if this field serves bubble tea?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The dragon

I like to think that most aspiring writers are a lot like me. The kind of writer that packs up the laptop, takes it to a coffeehouse, turns it on, and then proceeds to stare at a blank screen for an hour or two before packing up the laptop and heading on with life. Occasionally I'll put one or two sentences down, and then start listening to the conversation next to me, or start feeling guilty that I didn't go to a coffeehouse that brews exclusively fair trade coffee. And then other times I'll just sit there in front of that damn blinking cursor, dreaming of winning the National Book Award and being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

Damn, I'm lame. But last night I came across a passage from some writings of Flannery O'Connor, and thought it was so good, I just had to share. Here's a picture of O'Connor, too, to give this blog some graphic elements (aside from the pulled pork sandwich that appears a couple of entries ago).

Here's the entry:

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: 'the dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.' No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.

For writing something this powerful, I can forgive O'Connor her use of masculine language...

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Seeking refuge from the desire to smack people

My day today was disgruntling at best, and I'm in a bit of a funk, mostly due to frustrations and challenges from a few people. So I'm looking for something calming to help ease my nerves before I head out of the office, and I came across this from the Hindu Upanishads:

As rivers flow into the sea and in so doing lose name and form, even so the wise one freed from name and form attains the Supreme Being, the self-luminous, the Infinite.

I guess that could be taken a couple ways, but for me this afternoon, it's helping ground me in some humility - that there's something larger than the headaches and frustrations of this day.

At any rate, it gave me space to pause, which is all I was asking for. It also helps that a song from the Broadway show "Avenue Q" just came on my Sirius radio, The Internet is Made for Porn. That is one hysterical song...reading the lyrics will make you laugh, but just reading them doesn't do them justice. Totally check out the song if you find it in a music store or online someday.

Injustice of the week

OK, that title might be a little melodramatic, given that people are dying in the world. But check out this piece of crap: Pregnant student defies graduation ban. It's about this pregnant high school girl who was banned from her graduation at a Catholic high school in Alabama, because of the very fact that she was pregnant.

Kudos to the girl and her mother for defying this ban, and to her fellow students for applauding her and encouraging her. Here's the real shit kicker though: the father of her soon-to-be child was also a student at the school, and naturally, he was allowed to walk for graduation.

Is this the 1950s? Come on, people...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

So are all marketers just a bunch of raging liars? Well, if you listen to Seth Godin, author of "All Marketers are Liars," they sure are. He was featured on today's episode of Marketplace from American Public Radio. If you have speakers (a rather ridiculous thing for me to say, but I've gotten used to asking it, since my computer at work is speakerless), you should check it out. I think it's only five minutes, tops.

Godin gives an interesting take on marketing, and really public relations as well. He says that there's not enough time or money to tell the whole truth of a product or an organization, so instead we tell stories. And consumers have been trained to rely on stories, so much so that he argues people now need a story or they won't buy a product (or join an organization, or give to a charity, etc.). Depending on how cynical you are, one could even take this to mean that Americans need to be duped into buying something.

This makes me think of some of the stupidest things I've bought in my life, because I was duped by advertising. Hands down, number one has got to be the "Turbo Grafx 16," this video game system that came out in the early 1990s. I was pleased as pudding when I bought it, and then three years later when my friends were jamming on their Playstations, I was sitting on my ass playing Bonk's Adventure and watching Toys R Us discontinue (painfully, slowly, day-by-day) every single item that had to deal with my machine. As you can imagine, I was one pissed off, acne-plagued 14 year old. "First they cancelled The Golden Girls, and now this," I thought. Thankfully, my video game fix didn't last once I got into high school, but still, the trauma was there.

The second most stupid thing I can think of off the top of my head was just a couple weeks ago. I bought Burger King chicken tenders, because the sign outside said they were shaped like "lightning bolts and stars." I ate three of them, and then it hit me, "Wait a second...chicken isn't shaped like lightning bolts and stars!" Gross. I don't even want to think about what Burger King must do to their chicken tenders to get them to look like celestial beings...

Anyway, I digress...check out the Marketplace spot with Seth Godin. Catch ya' later.

Fundamentally Scary

So it's looking more and more like tomorrow (Tuesday) night, the filibuster showdown will come to a head in the Senate. On some level, I'm OK with this, because I'm sick of hearing about this pissing match. And I also happen to think that if the GOP succeeds in doing away with the filibuster, it will come back to bite them. Of course, I've been waiting five years for something to come back and bite them: No Child Left Behind, the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, the economy, tax cuts for the rich...I could continue on, probably forever.

My real fear in all of this is giving yet more power to the religious right. I mean, when you have former Senator John Danforth, a staunchly conservative Republican from Missouri, saying that the religious right is going too far, we know we're at a critical point. Danforth puts it so well: "The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement.

Religion is such a crazy thing to me. I couldn't give meaning to my life without it, but it's been used as a source of oppression and a justification for violence for thousands of years. I get the feeling like God is up in the sky, shaking his/her head and going, "WTF is wrong with you people?"

I was reading a fantastic book by Sr. Joan Chittister, who writes a regular column called "From Where I Stand." The book is called Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir, and in it she offers a great paragraph on when religion starts to get scary:

The Sufi tell of disciples who, when the death of their master was clearly imminent, became totally bereft. "If you leave us, master," they pleaded, "how will we know what to do?" And the master replied, "I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon."

The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion.

Is that where we're at in this country? Perhaps we'll find out tomorrow night after the filibuster showdown. But if the past few months are any indication - given everything from Terri Schiavo to evolution in schools and beyond - I'd say we're at a point where religion has ceased being about God's love and the well-being of humanity, and has since become a political litmus test to stifle and oppress rather than to liberate and fulfill.

As Chittister writes, "What forms us lives in us forever. The important thing is that it not be allowed to stunt our growth."

Sunday, May 22, 2005


I guess you have to laugh to keep from crying...

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're 30 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude." She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Democrat."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, then you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met but, somehow, now it's my fault."

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Real people, real pork

I love when I come across a great quote, a great story, a great interview, or a really delectable pulled pork sandwich. And this must be my lucky weekend, because I ate pulled pork last night, and came across this quote just a few minutes ago:

Maybe one of the strongest bulwarks we have against the madness of the times is the endless and amazing capacity of so many ordinary people to live meaningful lives among the debris. - William McIlvanney

The larger source of this quote is an article, "The Art of War," from some Scotish magazine. But where I saw it is on the Web site of Megan McKenna, a spiritual writer and author. It's used in a larger article, "The Good People," which argues that it is core to the state of our souls to surround ourselves with 'good, common people.' And she uses writer Leonard Boff's definition for who 'good people' are:

Who are the good people? They are not easy to define; but we find them all the time around us. They are the honest people, upright, hard workers, who take good care of their families, they are always ready to help others, decent in their everyday life. Easy to recognize, they are warm, with a friendly look, as if they had goodness written in the face. They are people we can trust. They can be found not just among the humble but also in the sophisticated strata, among those who have managed to keep their essential humanity immune to the pretenses of a conceited society. This is why to be among the good people is more a state of the soul than a social class.

This kind of stuff just totally renews me. Maybe that's cheesy, but then again, maybe that's what makes us real. So now that my spiritual appetite is full, I'm off to find me some more of this...

Friday, May 20, 2005

Genocide again

“American foreign policy is a case of historical amnesia. Why haven’t we ever stopped torture or genocide? The answer is embarrassingly simple: We haven’t wanted to.” - Samantha Power, author of "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"

Sorry to end the week on something so uplifting as genocide, but David Batstone's article from this week's edition of SojoMail on how the Bushtapo is still spinning its wheels on the Sudanese genocide has me feeling pretty raw. Having just read a haunting book on the Rwanda genocide, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch, I just can't fathom how an entire nation - let alone the entire world - stands by and watches genocide happen. (For those even remotely interested in the story of the Rwandan genocide, or those really just looking for a great read about humanity in all its evil and good, Gourevitch's book will blow you away. Hands down it's the best thing I've read in years. There's a brief intro to his book that I'll put below.)

We always seem to say "never again" after horriffic atrocities: The Holocaust, Rwanda...but as we're seeing in the Sudan, history seems to repeat itself in rather gruesome manners. I wish to think it's like what Wangari Maathai says (see two posts below): one person can't stop a genocide, but we do what we can to try. And if that means talking about it, learning about it, facing up to the suffering, looking at the bodies square in the eye, and holding everyone accountable for letting things like this happen, well then maybe we break open a little more of our humanity in the process, and manage inch by inch to getting closer to saying first as individuals and then as a world community "never again," and actually meaning it.

Here's the intro from Philip Gourevitch's book. Have a great weekend.

Intro from "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families"
Decimation means the killing of every tenth person in a population, and in the Spring and early summer of 1994 a program of massacres decimated the Republic of Rwanda. Although the killing was low-tech - performed largely by machete - it was carried out at dazzling speed: of an original population of about seven and a half million, at least 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. Rwandans often speak of a million deaths, and they may be right. The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust. It was the most efficient mass killing since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Moving beyond that which confines us

Here's a great poem by a Palestinian-born poet, Mahmoud Darwish. To me this speaks wonders in the face of what's happening in our own country regarding the ongoing loss of civil liberties, and how often times it's those who lock-up others, those who exert the punishment over others, or those who have power over others who are often times the least "free" of us all. Darwish was in prison when he wrote this, hence the conversation throughout with a prison guard.

The Prison Cell
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated from Arabic by Ben Bennani

It is possible...
It is possible at least sometimes...
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away.

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

- What did you do with the walls?
- I gave them back to the rocks.
- And what did you do with the ceiling?
- I turned it into a saddle.
- And your chain?
- I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to the dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning; He shouted at me:

- Where did all this water come from?
- I brought it from the Nile.
- And the trees?
- From the orchards of Damascus.
- And the music?
- From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

- Where did this moon come from?
- From the nights of Baghdad.
- And the wine?
- From the vineyards of Algiers.
- And this freedom?
- From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad...
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.

(Used here with permission from "Poetry for Peacemakers," a book that's being published by the organization I work for! You can bet I'll link to it when it's ready to be sold.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Sometimes it's the seemingly simple things

I love anyone who champions simplicity over indulgence. Case in point, Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her (rather simple) work at taking care of the earth in Kenya. And she gets the connections between environmental degradation and peace, not to mention global poverty, international debt, and more. I also love people who can articulate a vision of global security that doesn't call for bombing other countries to shit, but rather connects the dots between security and environmental well-being, security and health care, or security and economic justice.

She's interviewed in the most recent issue of The Progressive magazine. There's a short, simple parable included in this story, too, that hits me right in the gut. In talking about the work of an activist - of why people do what they do to alleviate suffering, or to make this world just a shade brighter - she compares it to a hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire. When mocked by other animals, the hummingbird replies, "I'm doing what I can."

Amen, sister.

Going Way Back

If you're looking for a great way to kill time on the Web (and reading this blog isn't doing it for ya'!), check out The Wayback Machine. It was created by this guy who wanted to try and archive the entire Internet. Gosh, is it just me, or does it seem like this thing was invented yesterday? Yet we're already archiving it...

Have a good night!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Missing Mr. Wellstone

Three years ago this month, I was hired as a field worker for Senator Paul Wellstone's re-election bid in Minnesota. The experience was irreplaceable - for the things it taught me about myself, and because it gave me the opportunity to work for a role model and a personal hero. He was authentic, and so inspiring. My mother had a stroke that summer, and the week after she went into the hospital, he called me on my cell phone to ask how I was doing, and to give me (and my mother) his best wishes. This meant more to me than any vote or speech he ever gave - that he could take the time out during one of the most contested Senate races in the country to give me a call and check in on me caused me to choke up. That he did this from a stop at the Minnesota State Fair really blew me away (the State Fair in Minnesota is almost like a sacred pilgrimage for folks! It must be the butter sculpture that keeps bringing people back...or maybe it's the cheese curds).

At any rate, Sen. Wellstone was everything I could ask for in a politician. Tragically, he died in a plane crash that year, days before the Election. Now politics seems to lack his voice - his unique, maverick, "conscience of a liberal" voice. As this (several month-old...sorry!) article from Anna Quindlen points out, we'd be wise to remember Paul's passion and conviction, and truly remember what it means to be an authentic liberal. As Quindlen writes, selling out is worse than losing. And if that can be the lasting legacy of Wellstone, I think we're all in good shape.

My Pug/Russell Terrier Mix

So how could I not share this great picture of my dog, Frida. She's a Pug/Jack Russell mix, a product of what I can only imagine being a wild, passionate love affair between two dogs that don't usually mix.

I'm a little nervous, though, because we found a lump on her right side, almost where her hips begin. Not a big lump, but not something normal either. It feels like a ball made of oysters. Gross!

As a side note, yes, those are my legs in this picture. And if you think they're white, you oughta see me without a shirt on. Oy!

Monday, May 16, 2005

The devil went down to Georgia (apparently to do some yoga)

Not that I frequent Today's Christian Woman, but this article on how yoga is the work of the devil is something else. It profiles a woman, Laurette Willis, an Oklahoma resident who "addresses groups across the country, speaking from personal experience and her knowledge as a certified personal trainer and aerobics instructor. She's developed a prominent presence on the Internet, largely due to her new exercise program, PraiseMoves, which she calls 'a Christian alternative to yoga.'"

I wish people like this would get a clue. I mean, come on, there's genocide going on in the world. I can see it now; headlines across the country shouting out about how yoga violates the culture of life.

First SpongeBob, now Yoga. Anyone want to take bets on who/what the religious right targets next?

So who wants some nuclear weapons and racism?

So I'm feeling a little giddy this afternoon, because I got an article that my boss wrote published by a great news site, Common Dreams. It's this clearinghouse for progressives, liberals and the occasional anarchist. Anyway, you can check out the article here.

It's a little depressing, but the truth hurts, I guess. Here's a one sentence summary: "An anti-racist critique of the nuclear endeavor can open our eyes to the mass destruction that has plagued communities of color from the beginning of the nuclear era and continues today."

Yesh, I need a drink...

Two Muffins

So there's these two muffins next to one another. And the one muffin turns to the other muffin and goes, "Hey, how ya' doing?"

And the other muffin goes, "Holy crap! A talking muffin!"

OK, there is something ridiculous about that joke that cracks me up each time I see it.

On a much more vulgar level, if you haven't ever checked out comedian Dane Cook, you ought to. In particular, he does this riff on the Kool-Aid man that is absolutely hysterical. Remember the Kool-Aid man? Ahh, I think back fondly, me in the living room, watching "Jem and the Holograms," and that damn man would come on during the commercial breaks. Anyway, if you visit Dane Cook's site, click on "Audio/Video," and select "Shorties Watchin' Shorties." It's great...but watch out for the language if you're at work...

Saturday, May 14, 2005

PJPII's peace and justice legacy

Like most progressive Catholics, I'm a bit dismayed at the direction the Catholic Church in the U.S. is moving, from its giant move to the right during last year's presidential elections, to what Pope Benedict XVI has said on everything from gay rights to women's ordination.

John Paul II wasn't great on many of the issues I hold dear to me, either. But even though he was regarded as a strict theological conservative, the man never stopped championing the work of peace in this world. And though he could have done it more often, JP II was good at calling out U.S. policies as unjust - from our economic policies abroad, to the Bush administration's document of preemptive war, to our government's continued use of the death penalty.

So before the conservative wing of our Church captures the legacy of JP II as theirs, I put together this article on his peace and justice achievements, which was just picked up by a great, progressive Methodist magazine, Zion's Herald. Don't let the name throw you. Even though it sounds like something from the 700 club, this magazine is a great resource for commentary on faith and politics.

The headline is kind of interesting, too. "Taking the measure of Pope John Paul II." Sounds kind of scandalous and dirty!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Always late to the party...

So they said that Duke Ellington nurtured the reputation he made for always being late, because it allowed him the freedom to time his entrance to suit his sense of drama.

Hence, my late entry into the world of the blog.

But if feels like now is the time for me to put up as a writer, or shut up. So let's get the party started.