Jones of the Nile

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Passing on a tale (or should I say tail?)

I never quite know if parables like this have any value to anyone else, but they do to me. I tend to walk a fine line between strength and despair, between encouragement and hopelessness, and find that sometimes a good parable, a good quote, or even a weepy Hallmark card will renew enough of me to keep me out of the bottomless pit of cynicism.

This came my way today, though the source is unknown. And though it reads more like a cheesy email forward than a Pulitzer-Prize winning piece of writing, I felt fulfilled after reading it, so I share it with all of you.

    Once there was a very old man who used to meditate early every morning under a large tree on the bank of the Ganges River in India. One morning, having finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the strong current of the river. As the scorpion was pulled closer to the tree, it got caught in the long tree roots that branched out far into the river. The scorpion struggled frantically to free itself but got more and more entangled in the complex network of the tree roots.

    When the old man saw this, he immediately stretched himself onto the extended roots and reached out to rescue the drowning scorpion. But as soon as he touched it, the animal jerked and stung him wildly. Instinctively, the man withdrew his hand, but then having regained his balance, he once again stretched himself out along the roots to save the agonized scorpion. But every time the old man came within reach, the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that his hands became bloody and his face distorted by the pain.

    At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots with the scorpion and shouted, "Hey, stupid old man, what's wrong with you? Only a fool risks his life for the sake of an ugly, useless creature. Don't you know that you may kill yourself to save that ungrateful animal?"

    Slowly, the old man turned his head and, looking calmly into the stranger's eyes, he said, "Friend, because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting, why should I give up my own nature to save?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

CAFTA-noon delight

I haven't been posting much this week, because I've been so busy! To prove it, here's a link to my engagement announcement with Katie Holmes...

No, really, work has been crazy this past week. I got to speak on my first tele-press conference call, with a bunch of reporters and a Congressman (Bart Stupak from Michigan). The conference call was organized to show why progressive Catholic groups are opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) currently up for debate in Congress. Here's a link to the statement I gave, which ended up being picked up by Catholic News Service (CNS) here. (It's the second news brief item.)

I feel pretty bad-ass right now. Although in a minute I'll be taking my dog out for a walk, and will have to scoop her poop up in a plastic Pier 1 bag, thus taking all my machismo away.

Monday, June 27, 2005

O Little Town of Gilead (Iowa)

Over the weekend I went to the beach and started reading "Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize Award for Fiction. I sat down in the rocky, fish-smelling sands of Lake Erie and read my brain out, until the sun had scorched my belly a shade of strawberry. This caused me a great deal of pain and depression, because it became abundantly clear that I have a bit of a belly. I weigh 140 pounds, but I have a belly. WTF?! It's stomach is pink, with little white creases in it where my fat rolled up, and no sun hit.

Yeah, I'm hot.

On a happier note, this book "Gilead" is blowing me away. It's about a father writing a lengthy letter to his seven-year-old son, which he hopes the son will read someday when he's much older. See, the father is dying, and he's trying to leave his son some lasting lessons about family, religion, how things change (and stay the same) across's really quite beautiful, and there are so many places where I choke up. Which was a sight for sore eyes at the beach and my naked, toasted chest welling up with tears.

But if you've got a parent who is ill, or you've got children that someday will become our heirs to this planet, this book will grab at your heartstrings, and really satisfy you. Here's a line from the main character, John Ames, as he writes in his letter to his son:

    "People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that's true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That's clearer to me every day. Each morning I'm like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes - old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether, and still it is just remarkable."
It really is a great read, even if that line doesn't resonate with you.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Melted from the best stuff on Earth

How come things like this don't happen in my hometown?

Snapple was trying to set a new record for the "World's Biggest Popsicle" this past week, when, much to the dismay of Snapple, the giant, 25' tall, 17.5 ton popsicle melted all over Union Square in downtown Manhattan. The liquid - kiwi-strawberry flavored - sent sugary goo all over the streets of Manhattan, sending pedestrians running and causing a bunch of people to slip and fall.

The only thing I can think of in response to this is: Teehee!

I would have loved to have been there. Not surprisingly, Snapple has said that they have no plans to challenge the record again - set by a company in Holland in the 1990s. Of course, the Holland company had the sense to build their popsicle in the know, when it's actually kind of chilly outside. I have to wonder if the genius who convinced Snapple to build their popsicle on the first day of summer still has a job. I assume this person wasn't "Wendy the Snapple Lady," pictured above, featured in all those commercials during my high school years. Poor Wendy!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Matt Lauer is the Queen of My Ass

I don't know what exactly that means, but it's an old derogatory phrase I used to say when I was a freshman in college. At the time it applied to my roommate, who smoked cigarettes in my bed and made our dorm room reek of butter and cheese; now it applies to Matt Lauer, who's hosting something even stinkier than my old dorm room.

Lauer's hosting the "100 Greatest Americans" special on Discovery Channel. They started with 100 greatest Americans during the first Sunday of June, and every Sunday since, have narrowed down the list. They've just widdled it down to the top five, and much to my shock, not one woman is among the list. Not one. Not one woman has done anything worthwhile enough to compete with the likes of Ronald Reagan (who's in the top five). In fact, of the top 25 spots, only three women took spots: Oprah Winfrey, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

George W. F*cking Bush made the top 25; Lance Armstrong made the top 25; Billy Graham made the top 25; Bob Hope made the top 25...but only three American women matched their contribution to the world. What a crock.

I wouldn't be so mad about this, except I bet 98% of the people watching this are getting their history lessons from it. So instead of hearing about people like Jane Addams, Ida Tarbell, Alice Paul, Toni Morrison, Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Shirley Jackson, Dolores Huerta, Sally Ride, Sacagawea, Billie Holiday...I could probably go on forever...coveted spots on the top 100 went to Donald Trump, Brett Favre, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hefner, Dr. Phil McGraw, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, and FOUR members of the Bush family.

OK, so I know I'm a whiney liberal, but for God's sake, what does it say about the state of our culture when we celebrate the contribution of Hugh Hefner over the contribution of Alice Paul? "I'm sorry, Alice Paul. I know you were one of the biggest reasons women won the right to vote in this country, and I guess that's a good thing. But Hugh Hefner's given us tits! Tits all over the pages of magazines! Tits all throughout the racks of publications at 7-11! Yee-haw!!"

Matt Lauer should be embarrassed, both for hosting this show, and for that haircut he got a couple of years ago.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Goliath vs. Goliath

It's not everyday you get to see two giants battle it out. Sure, there was Oprah vs. the meat industry; the jets vs. the sharks; Joe vs. the volcano. But this time, it's Rupert Murdoch vs. Wal-Mart! Aha!

Wait, what? I bet you were expecting me to say "Rupert Murdoch vs. THE WORLD!" Which may be true. But this post is about Murdoch's tiff with Wal-Mart.

Seems Rupert Murdoch wants to reinvent the movie rental industry, and the way he wants to do that is by beaming movies into peoples' homes from the nine trillion or so satellites the man has in space. The only catch is that he doesn't want to have to wait the 45 days that video stores and retail outlets have been given over home rental/pay-per-view companies. This so-called "video window," according to anonymous movie execs, is the result of a long-standing unwritten agreement among studios to delay the electronic delivery of movies for at least six weeks after video stores have had the opportunity to rent them, and retail stores have had the opportunity to sell them.

So Murdoch wants to get rid of this 45-day rule faster than the Bushies want to get rid of international treaties. But he's up against some pretty serious opposition in Wal-Mart - who stands to lose lotsa money on video and DVD sales if electronic delivery of movies can happen the same day the films are released to retail stores.

Hmm...think they could maul each other to the death?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Hot Caramel

No, hot caramel isn't what I had at Dairy Queen the other night, nor is it something I use for foreplay in the bedroom. (Oh, the stickiness!) Nope, it's a new band starring the 1980s Flashdance...What a Feeling diva, Irene Cara! How exciting! You can meet all her band members, and get up to speed on how Irene Cara is doing by clicking here.

Personally, I have no idea what they sound like, and I don't really care, because the fun part is the pun! Irene Cara, Hot Caramel. Now that's delicious!

It got me thinking - what if other pop superstars from the 1980s reinvented themselves to become delicacies? I can see it now...
  1. Simply Red Cabbage

  2. Donna Summer Squash

  3. Great White Potatoes

  4. Debbie Giblets
And I barely made it out of the produce department!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Onward Christian Batman

With the rest of the nerds in Erie, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, I went and saw "Batman Begins" on opening night. The late show, too, which seemed especially nerd-laden. I'm not entirely sure, but I think there were people in the back row playing Stratego during the previews.

Though it took a half hour to get into, this is the best Batman movie of them all. And though Michael Keaton is still the best Batman, Christian Bale was pretty darn good. He was a good choice to 'revive the franchise,' so to speak, though it's a shame the casting directors didn't take my suggestion: John Goodman. *sigh*

So I give it three out of four stars. Or since I'm in Erie, home of Lake Erie perch, three out of four perch. The last perch I will let go back into the wild, where it can romp in the e coli filled waters of Lake Erie.

Hope you all have a grand weekend, free of any references to Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Anonymous Poetry of Daschunds

This anonymous poem is in JFK's "Profiles in Courage" book (see post directly below this one!). I cracked the biggest smile after reading this. This is such corn! But I love it.

    There was a daschund once, so long
    He hadn't any notion
    How long it took to notify
    His tail of his emotion;
    And so it happened, while his eyes
    Were filled with woe and sadness,
    His little tail went wagging on
    Because of previous gladness.

Profiles in Chutzpah

Two things for today - one from this past week, and another from more than 50 years ago.

So this man at the right is Rep. Bernie Sanders, an Independent representative from Vermont who's running for U.S. Senate. Boring, right? No! Bernie Sanders is actually a Socialist, and not only that, it's very likely that he's going to win the Senate seat in Vermont - at least according to this article from In These Times. I don't agree with everything Sanders stands for, nor do I know if he's related to Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame, but it is hopeful to see someone with political courage try to crack the shell of the U.S. Senate. It is unfortunate, though, that as an aspiring U.S. Senator, his initials have to be "B.S." Hell, he'll fit right in!, really, Bernie Sanders seems like the type of progressive voice our government so sorely needs right now.

Speaking of political courage, I was at a book fair yesterday and came upon a copy of John F. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Profiles in Courage." I also came across ten billion books written by Danielle Steele, so if you're looking for that missing rain forest, I think I found where all the trees went!

Anyway, I've been meaning to read JFK's book for years, and having read the first 30 pages this morning, I'm quite impressed. It profiles former Senators that showed political courage and, quite often, paid the price for it. What's ironic is how JFK's words apply so much to today's political culture - it's as if he wrote them yesterday, not in the 1950s. Check out this, only substitute the phrase "War on Terrorism" when JFK talks about the Cold War:

    "Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before. For our everyday life is becoming so saturated with the tremendous power of mass communications that anything unpopular or unorthodox arouses a storm of protests...Our political life is becoming so expensive, so mechanized and so dominated by professional politicians and public relations men that the idealist who dreams of independent statesmanship is rudely awakened by the necessities of election and accomplishment. And our public life is becoming so increasingly centered upon that seemingly unending war to which we have given the curious epithet 'Cold,' that we tend to encourage rigid ideological unity and orthodox patterns of thought.

    "And thus, in the days ahead, only the very courageous will be able to make the hard and unpopular decisions necessary for our survival in the struggle with a powerful enemy - an enemy with leaders who need give little thought to the popularity of their course, who need pay little tribute to the public opinion they themselves manipulate, and who may force, without fear of retaliation at the polls, their citizens to sacrifice present laughter for future glory. And only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the spirit of individualism and dissent which gave birth to this nation, nourished it as an infant and carried it through its severest tests upon the attainment of its maturity."
So here's to politicians with political courage, and hoping that if Bernie Sanders becomes a U.S. Senator, he continues to flex his courage and conviction.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It Takes a Universe

Despite the fact that the children who live across the street from me keep hitting my car with their football, I still think they're entitled to a decent life. One that provides a good education, a healthy community, health care, and an automatic restraining order against Michael Jackson (and many a Catholic priest, for that matter!). The other day, a coworker of mine passed on an article from Earth Light, an environmental/spiritual publication, that featured an article on "Children and The Earth Charter."

For those who don't know, The Earth Charter is one of those things that neoconservatives barf at, cynics shake their head at, and realists roll their eyes at. Idealists like myself, however, have orgasms over these sorts of things. The Earth Charter, more or less, is a list of principles signed by countless non-governmental organizations around the world, "To establish a sound ethical foundation for the emerging global society and to help build a sustainable world based on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace."

Anyway, the article talked about raising children under the pretense that in a globalized world, it really does take a universe to raise a child. It featured an excerpt from April Ambrose, a recent college graduate and teacher, talking about how education has failed young people, that really spoke to the Whitney Houston, "Greatest Love of All" principles inside me:

    "School did not teach them how to enter into the rat race and yet still maintain a sense of what is right. Most of all, school did not teach them how to make things better. Most of these youth have become disillusioned. They have accepted pain and suffering and lies as what they must be. Some of these people, however, are trying to drop out of the race. Some of these people are working to make their corner of the universe better...But it is hard, for society allows them few resources. By the time most of them gain these resources, they have forgotten their dreams or deemed them impossible. They become realistic like society instead of idealistic...

    Society is only as healthy as its young people. Our society is very unhealthy and our youth are crying for help. They don't want to shoot each other. They don't want to feel pain. They are not ready for war. We need to help them by listening to their cries. We cannot ignore them anymore. They are our future - literally. They will choose what from their lives and our present age to take into the future with them and what they will create."
That last part makes my bowels a twitter, thinking about what children of today are going to take with them into adulthood - shady business practices, anything goes politics, a lack of commitment to the common good, reality television starring Britney Spears...

That's depressing enough for me to want to reach for the bottle of Lambrusco!

But it is something to think back on that innocence of childhood, that endless world of possibilities. I can't help but be reminded of a biblical quote here, "You cannot enter the kin-dom of God unless you become like a little child." I don't know what book that's in - Luke, Clementine, Farrah...I'm not good with biblical details! But I like to think that maybe there is some grain of truth to that...not in the fire and brimstone sense (i.e. s/he who doesn't become like a child must burn in hell forever! Bwahaha...), but in the sense that in order for us to be truly self-actualized, we really do have to revisit the idealism of childhood, and somehow encompass that into our every day lives.

Shit, I talk more than John Kerry. Bye for now, folks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bad Body Shop

I got this note yesterday from Jewish Voice for Peace, a San Francisco-based organization, who according to their Web site are "dedicated to the rights of Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples in the Middle East." I think I'm down with that.

Anyway, they're circulating one of these online letter-writing campaigns to the muckety-mucks who run The Body Shop, because The Body Shop is planning to open a store on confiscated land just north of Jerusalem. You can check out their take action page here, which is where you can send a letter to The Body Shop encouraging them not to build on the confiscated land. This page will also give much better context than I ever could on why it's bad for The Body Shop to build a store on confiscated land. I understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict about as much as I understand thermonuclear physics.

They point out that The Body Shop is a particularly good company, socially-speaking, and has done some very progressive things. Which makes it all the more sad that they're willing to open up this can of worms.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Don't lie for me Argentina

Though you'd think it given the title, this entry has nothing to do with Argentina. I apologize if I misled you. Of course, maybe I don't have to apologize. Because I came across this great article today, Natural Born-Liars, that argues that human beings may just be naturally born to lie and mislead. So isn't just a characteristic of the Bush administration!

No, really, the article is fascinating, and an example of what I love about the magazine Scientific American Mind (which is where the article is from). They handle science in a very approachable way for people, like myself, who got C's and D's in science all throughout high school. Damn that Mr. Hall and his meteorology lectures! And I still don't understand jet streams.

It's a great read, especially given our culture of spin, truth-twisting, and bending facts to fit our agenda. And I'm sure I'm as guilty as anyone else. As Mark Twain said: "Everybody lies...every day, every hour, awake, asleep, in his dreams, in his joy, in his mourning. If he keeps his tongue still, his hands, his feet, his eyes, his attitude will convey deception." Yikes!

This article got me thinking...we really do live in a culture of mass deception, and it starts by fooling ourselves before we can fool others. This article suggests we hide the truth from ourselves often times without realizing it, so that we can lie without knowing that we are lying.

Now I'm not going to get all "Matrix" on you. But I did find it ironic that right after reading this, I picked up a copy of Arundhati Roy's An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire. In it, she talks about the widespread deception of U.S. media and U.S. politicians, especially the current Administration and its "War on Terror." Roy argues that we've been duped by a "propaganda machine" into believing in the righteousness of the War on Terror, and the war and occupation in Iraq. Here's her thoughts:

    "At the end of it all, it remains to be said that dictators like Saddam Hussein, and all the other despots in Central Asian republics, in Africa, and Latin America, many of them installed, supported and financed by the U.S. government, are a menace to their own people. Other than strengthening the hand of civil society (instead of weakening it as has been done in the case of Iraq), there is no easy, pristine way of dealing with them. (It's odd how those who dismiss the peace movement as utopian don't hesitate to proffer the most absurdly dreamy reasons for going to war: To stamp out terrorism, install democracy, eliminate fascism, and most interestingly, to 'rid the world of evil-doers.')

    "Regardless of what the propaganda machine tells us, these tin-pot dictators are not the greatest threat to the world. The real and pressing danger, the greatest threat of all, is the locomotive force that drives the political engine of the U.S. government, currently piloted by George W. Bush. Bush-bashing is fun, because he makes such an easy, sumptuous target. It's true that he is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man himself."
So all of this is swirling in my brain when I pop into my DVD player one of the best documentaries I've seen, The Corporation, which looks at how corporations and big business enforce a culture of lies and misinformation (the 'machine' that Roy talks about in her book). I could write a book on how this documentary moved me and made me think about my own priorities - but this movie is chilling, if not for the way it chronicles the evolution of the corporation from obscure entity during the post-Civil War era, to an economic beast that now has all the rights of an individual person. There's one particular scene involving the chemical company Monsanto, and the rBGH hormone it produced for farmers to give to their cattle. The transcript is available here, but suffice it to say, I'm only drinking organic milk from now on.

Anyway, check out the lying article, check out Arundhati's book, and most of all, check out The Corporation. They all affirm what I think we all know - that lying makes the world go around.

And on that note, I have an eleven inch penis.

No, really, I don't. But if I can just convince myself, maybe no one will know the difference...

Friday, June 10, 2005

You can dance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind

Oh, you know it's going to be a good day when you start off your blog entry with a direct quote from "The Safety Dance." For the life of me, I can't remember if it's Men With Hats or Men Without Hats that sang that. I'm leaning toward 'without.'

Anyway, I've been watching this "Dancing with the Stars" show on ABC, hosted by the guy from Hollywood Squares. I thought this thing was going to be awful. I mean, I'm as judgmental as they come when we're talking about reality television (if it's not "The Amazing Race," then I don't want to watch it!). But this show is like a car accident, or a Clay Aiken TV concert...I can't take my eyes away from it, even though I know I should. But, as Dana Stevens writes today in Slate it seems like this guilty pleasure is actually winning over converts at a brisk pace. Who knew watching B-list celebrities (except for Joey McIntire, but I only hold him up to appease a friend who had a lunch box with his picture on it) cha-cha-cha could be so...well, enjoyable?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Survivor - Texas Style

This came to me via an email list I'm on...I actually think this version of Survivor would be infinitely more interesting than the actual version. I'm so tired of watching sweaty people stab stingrays with sticks. Anyway, no offense to anyone in Texas!

    Due to the popularity of the Survivor shows, Texas is planning to do one entitled, "Survivor - Texas Style." The contestants will all start in Dallas, then drive to Waco, Austin, San Antonio, over to Houston and down to Brownsville. They will then proceed up to Del Rio, El Paso, Midland, Odessa, Lubbock and Amarillo. From there, they will go on to Abilene, Fort Worth, and finally back to Dallas.

    Each will be driving a pink Volvo with bumper stickers that read:

    I'm gay
    I Love the Dixie Chicks
    Boycott Beef
    I Voted for Al Gore
    George Strait Can't Sing
    Kerry in '04
    Hillary in '08
    Support Your Local Mosque
    I'm Here to Confiscate Your Guns

    The first one who makes it back to Dallas alive, wins.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Should we be boycotting Coke?

So I came across this article today that leveled some pretty big allegations at Coca-Cola...and not the urban legend kind, either, like that one tale about how if you marinate pork chops in Coke for three days, the Coke will eat away at the meat until the pork chop disintegrates.

Nope, these allegations come from the Wall Street Journal (of all sources!), and it gives a profile of an Indian activist who now lives in the states, named Amit Srivastava, who started this NGO that talks about the damage that Coca-Cola is doing in India. And some of it's pretty serious massive environmental degradation, siphoning so much water from the ecosystem that neighorbing residents don't have enough for drinking, and so on. Sheesh! Aren't they supposed to be making f***ing soft drinks?! Not destorying the world?

Anyway, I'm certainly no expert on this subject, but figured if the Wall Street Journal ran a piece like this, then there must be at least some kernal of truth to these allegations. It also ties into another campaign I've heard about, Killer Coke, which has for quite some time leveled allegations against Coke that the company has bene complicit in the murder of union organizers in Colombia.

Ugh...thankfully I haven't heard anything bad about Pepsi since Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State! Ignorance is bliss, though.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Ah, that's my favorite pick-up line. I'm also hoping the organizers of the 2008 Olympics decide to start the games with that phrase. I think the North Koreans and the Americans could use a little rumpus to ease the tension.

Being serious, in the latest issue of The Nation, John Nichols has a great article, "Urban Archipelago: Progressive Cities in a Conservative Sea," which opens with this great line from Dennis "Boog" Highberger, the mayor of Lawrence, KS, who's leading the progressive charge in the city. A progressive city in Kansas, you might say? But it's true...Boog (haha) has championed protecting the environment, fighting discrimination, and developing affordable housing, and he led the charge to get Lawrence to condemn the USA Patriot Act.

All this while the rest of the state made learning about evolution a felony crime, and same-sex marriage on par with murder. But hey, it's all about being hopeful, so "viva la Boog!" And let's hope Lawrence becomes a model for other progressive cities in conservative, red states.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Students against....

Drunk-driving? The unethical treatment of animals? More Ben Affleck movies?

Nope, this time around its Students Against Genocide, and they've got the workings of a great grassroots campaign underway. This was organized by a group of Claremont College students (not being from that area, I'm not really sure I understand the Claremont sounds like a coalition of schools in the area, or something. I don't know. I was in Claremont once, and the place was being torched by wild fires).

Anyway, this group of students are raising awareness of the genocide in Sudan by selling T-shirts nationwide. All profits from the T-shirts go to relief groups working to end the violence and conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.

I know, T-shirts won't end genocide. (If they did, we'd be set, because I have like three dozen gym shirts from high school that still fit me, and tons of T-shirts from losing political campaigns that I've participated in.) But it's great to see people, especially college students, organizing and doing whatever they can to stop this madness. Like Wangari Maathai says, when the hummingbird is trying to put out the forest fire, it's only response can be, "I'm doing what I can."

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Obsessed with security

I remember driving down the Pacific Coast Highway a couple of years ago with my boss, and looking up at all of the houses on the hills near Malibu, and thinking how just one of those houses was probably worth more than the entire GDP of most Third World Countries. My boss took an even more cynical approach: "You look at those houses," he said, "and you realize that's why the U.S. has nuclear weapons pointed in every direction."

I was reminded of this conversation today, by all the stories pouring in about the mudslides that destroyed more than a dozen homes in the hills of Laguna Beach. I know, that's kind of random. Mudslides in Laguna Beach shouldn't equate to security and nuclear weapons.

I got to thinking about my boss's words, though, and this morning I'm thinking he may have been on the right track. I'm reading a book right now called, "Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity," by Marie Dennis (a friend of mine, and one of the most genuine souls around) and Margie Swedish, and they get to something that I think explains what's going on in our culture right now. We're conditioned to see security from a very personal lens (i.e. security means protecting my wealth, protecting my house, protecting my car, etc.), rather than looking at security from a lens that sees all of humanity as interconnected. This book attributes this to the hyperconsumerism culture of the U.S., where we're judged by the number of possessions (or the size of the possessions) we have. They also dig a little deeper, and argue that U.S. foreign policy is becoming a force to preserve our consumerism culture, rather than a force for promoting democracy and peace around the world.

At the moment, I buy what they're saying. And I love what they offer as an alternative: a vision of simplicity.

Simplicity...means stripping away the excess, the baggage, all that prevents us from experiencing depth of life, so that one can get to the core of meaning, so that one can make real human contact.

The movement toward a more simple a profound spiritual act, a human act, done not for the sake of self-sacrifice but to experience life more deeply. It reflects a realization that many of our possessions and so-called security are walls that separate us from our true selves, from the immediacy of being alive, from connection with other people, from authentic relationships.

They go on to say that it is no longer possible to work for change in this world without having a constant interchange between people.

This stuff is like a water fountain for my soul. Wow, if that's not the worst simile anyone has ever used, I don't know what is. I swear, I hit 25 years old, and I turned into the biggest cornball.

But I'll leave you (and this rather lengthy blog entry) this morning with one other brief paragraph from the book that had me reaching for my journal, it was so good. They talk about a man from El Salvador, Juan Carlos, who shared his thoughts on the massive damage that was caused by a hurricane in 1998. His response to disaster, they argue, may have been an appropriate response for our entire country in the wake of 9/11, and may have led us down a path of true security, rather than the public relations-led, color-coded mockery we have now. Enjoy!

As he reflected on the disaster left in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Juan remembers feeling 'flooded by the grace of solidarity. That's maybe why I'm not frightened anymore by rising waters.' This is a discourse that would have resonated in the days after the terror attacks in the U.S., when a community of solidarity gathered around the victims' families, the traumatized ranks of fire fighters, the workers at the World Trade Center site during the nine terrible months of recovery and clean-up. It is an alternative discourse to the one that says people must pull inward even more to protect themselves, to save themselves from risk. It is a discourse that invites them to become a part of a human passion, a struggle for life. They will share the pain, they will hold one another, and they will go forward in hope that life will indeed arise out of death."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ghosts of America

For those who enjoy looking at photography - especially powerful documentary photography - you should check out The Photomedia Center's current exhibit, "Yuri Marder: Ellis Island."

I'm not being completely objective here. My partner runs The Photomedia Center. But the site's stuff consistently blows me away. If Ellis Island isn't your thing, then perhaps check out Teresa Franks' "The Language of Flowers," which features photography of flowers like I guarantee you've never seen before. Bryan Oglesbee's Water Series is also something to behold.

Anyway, getting back to the Ellis Island's what the artist, Yuri Marder, had to say about the work:

"From the 1920s through the 1940s, bits and pieces of my family sailed into New York harbor escaping persecution and war in Europe, passing through a bewildering bureaucratic maze called Ellis Island. There were so many torments there, so many injustices and forgotten tragedies. Yet their successful passage through turned Ellis Island into a hopeful metaphor for my family, as it did for many millions of other new Americans...

In response I have imagined a place where the decaying present intertwines with the living past, a place where rooms are haunted with flashes of American history. Ghosts of our collective memory wander through a vast crumbling complex filled with fantasies of lives never realized, empires built, and untold tragedies – they live in the walls, gathering dust on cracked concrete floors."

So check it out! If you know any rich art collectors, tell them, too. Papa needs a new bedroom set...j/k.

I love Sufi tales

I'm going out to lunch today with a professor friend of mine, who told me shortly after last year's election that she had a hard time not "hating the other side." (She's a liberal dem.) I didn't know what to say to her, because truthfully I was feeling a lot of the same emotions. But I came across another Sufi tale this morning that puts everything into perspective.

"Wisdom," the Master said, "is simply the ability to recognize."

"To recognize what?" the disciple asked.

"Spiritual wisdom," the Master said, "is the ability to recognize the butterfly in the caterpillar, the eagle in the egg, the saint in the sinner."

Good advice, in a world where we're taught to judge people by the bad things they may have done. A colleague of mine from England - an anti-death penalty activist who visits prisoners over here in the States every four months or so - gave a presentation a while back, and her tagline throughout was, "People are more than the worse things they've done."

I'm also reminded of a Booker T. Washington quote: "Don't ever let them pull you down so low as to hate them." That seems to get harder each and every day, but I'm convinced these are words to live by if we ourselves are to be happy.