Jones of the Nile

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Defeat: Same Story, Different Day

Last night, the House of Representatives authorized DR-CAFTA by a two-vote margin. Slimy Republicans held the debate an extra hour, so that Bush administration officials could wretch the last few votes they needed. Rep. Sherrod Brown, an opponent of DR-CAFTA, mentioned that one of the quotes that came out of Bush's meeting with Republican House members was that, "We will twist arms until arms are in a thousand pieces." There's your government, folks. Twisting arms until arms are in a thousand pieces so we can force our economic wanderlust all over this world.

I apologize for being away for five days, and then posting something as deflating and defeating as this. Worse, I'll be gone for another week, traveling to Las Vegas for a conference. So this will be the last thing I write for about another week.

I'm going to include a poem below that was written by a friend of mine, Jean Stokan. Warning: it's not a pick-me-up. But it summarizes so well how truly bad this economic agreement is, and puts a human face on what our government did last night. In the 1980s, we sent military and weapons to Central America to further our economic agenda. Now, as Jean Stokan writes, 'the bullets are different this time,' but often times twice as deadly.

    The Bullets Look Different
    They smile
    so clean in their State Department neckties
    talking of free trade, profit margins, markets opening.
    The saliva of profit drips from their lips.
    Exports are booming; record wages for CEOs.

    But I know what that language means.
    It means that in El Salvador
    you can buy Iowa corn cheaper than what's produced by the campesinos
    who can no longer even subsist.

    It means that, unlike immigrants,
    money and capital can cross borders
    scouring the world to see which desperate third world people will accept a lower wage.

    It means that outside the sweatshops in Honduras
    are empty sheets from birth control pills
    forced upon women daily so a pregnancy doesn't slow the work.

    I held the hand of a woman, whose maquila boss beat her
    till her baby bled out.

    Globalization, free markets, neoliberal economics--these fancy glorious patriotic words.
    But this is the language of crushing people
    robbing the hope of the young
    robbing the poor of their lives.

    This language means that their hands are 'round the necks of third world babies
    as they squeeze and squeeze
    babes too weak to whimper
    and it's all so clean, hidden

    Their bullets look different this time.

    Who hears the last breath of a malnourished child?
    Who notices the sunken eyes of the millions of
    the expendable ones.

    Desperation is shrieking
    screaming at us

    How will we wake the people up?
    How will we remove the fingers 'round the babies necks.

    We must wake the people up
    We must
    We must.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Amidst the storm...

Need a 10-minute vacation from work, from kids, from your personal life, or from the Bush administration? Try this online meditation from psychologist and Buddhist Tara Brach. Go ahead, shut that office door (or pretend to, if you work in a cubicle).

This is courtesy of, which is (I think) the Web's most popular faith-based site. It sounds scary, looking at its web address, but it's actually quite cool. In addition to Tara's meditation, they have a peace meditation from Thich Naht Hanh; a meditation on the environment; meditations on centering prayer; and a meditation to help you connect with the divine feminine. You can view all their meditations here. You could literally spend your whole day meditating!

Just make sure if you light any candles, you blow them out when you're done...

At any rate, I vouch for Tara Brach's meditation. She's a great woman who I met three years ago protesting the Iraq war across from The White House. At that time she directed the Washington, DC Buddhist Peace Fellowship, but I'm not sure she's still in that capacity. Either way, she's a rock, and an inspiration.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I'm off to Baltimore, so see you on Tuesday.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Genocide is News

If you do nothing else today, watch this 60-second video from the Be A Witness campaign on the Sudan genocide. This sums up in 60 seconds what one of the biggest problems in the world is - that no one is paying attention to Sudan. Instead we're being fed news coverage of such worldly items like the runaway bride, Jude Law's adultery, or most sickening, 'Roseanne' cast reunited at bowling alley. (I am so ashamed of the Associated Press for that story.)

As the campaign states: "Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. And a government-backed genocide is unfolding in the Darfur region of the Sudan. As the horror in Darfur continues, our major television news networks are largely missing in action."

At you can send a letter to executives at all major news networks asking them essentially this: "If genocide is happening right before our eyes, why won't you cover it?"

If nothing else, increased news coverage of this event may help spur into action the steps required to end the unbelievable madness and slaughter happening in Sudan right now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Some light, beach reading from the Council on Foreign Relations

I hear from a lot of my friends and colleagues at NGOs, particularly world health NGOs, that the time has come for politicians to realize that health and health care are vehicles for providing security around the world.

Low and behold, a new report came out today from the Council on Foreign Relations that draws a link between the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and national security.

This is the type of visionary stuff that no one within 20 miles of the current White House has any understanding of. Which is sad, because U.S. foreign policy could use a jolt of vision these days, as opposed to war-mongers with their fingers on red buttons. (No, not that Red Buttons...the proverbial red buttons that fire missiles.)

The report was authored by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Laurie Garrett and finds that nations "with high rates of HIV infection in their productive labor forces and uniformed services have managed to remain intact, from the village level on up, through a plethora of coping mechanisms. But many of these nations are 'coping' with HIV while also experiencing massive poverty, tuberculosis, drug-resistant malaria, regional conflicts and a host of other serious challenges. HIV is exacerbating each of these problems, and they, in turn, are straining mechanisms designed to cope with AIDS to the point of failure."

Even more important, perhaps, is this statement: "In less hard-hit countries, including those in Western Europe and North America, the national security impact of HIV manifests itself in the form of anti-Western resentment over inequitable access to life-sparing drugs; the use of HIV, itself, as a weapon or accusation; disinvestment potential; increased probabilities of local instabilities in strategic areas; and rising demand for direct financial and skills investment in hard-hit areas. While concerns about potential links between the pandemic and terrorism are certainly exaggerated, the Council report finds that the HIV epidemic is contributing to social alienation and could provide areas of operation for outside terrorist forces."

The full report is available as a 72-page PDF here, which will undoubtedly break every computer that tries to access it via dial-up. But it's interesting stuff to gloss over. Here's a link to a press release talking about the report, for those who just can't squeeze in 72 pages of reading today!

Monday, July 18, 2005

I'd like to buy the world a Coke (and steal all of their water, too)

The Coca-Cola controversy continues, as news over the weekend reported that Coke is getting all bent out of shape over a billboard that an Indian activist created explaining how Coke is stealing water from poor people in India. The articles are all over, but here's one from the Toronto Globe and Mail (courtesy of Reuters).

The billboard shows a line of plastic pots under a dry hand pump, a common scene in Indian villages and towns, where water is scarce. In the background, nestled against the Coca-Cola logo, is the tagline "Drink Coca-Cola."

Coca-Cola has threatened a lawsuit, but activists in India are crying foul, saying that Coke is infringing on their right to free speech. The activists see it as another attempt by Coke to quell concerns over their business practices in India - where many accuse them of creating water shortages in poor villages, and causing environmental damage.

Coca-Cola continues to deny any wrong-doing in India, and truth be told, nobody really knows for sure what the extent of Coke's business practices in India really are (and whether they are causing water shortages). But enough people are raising hell about Coke to give me pause. (My favorite is

As a friend of mine in the peace movement once said, "If I'm going to err, I'd rather err on the side of the poor than on the side of big business." That's sort of how I feel here. I don't trust public relations people from Coke that say they aren't doing anything wrong. And while I might not believe all the accusations made by activist groups against Coke, I think enough people have raised red flags to show that something wrong is going on.

Besides, I don't need to drink the stuff anyway. It does a number on my intestines, and leaves my teeth with a sugary film. sucks to grow old! When I was 12 I could drink motor oil and be fine. Now, one can of pop (soda, for most of the country!) has my stomach revolting for hours.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

This has to be a sign of Armageddon

I thought maybe the sky was falling, or hell was freezing over, when I read this story from The Advocate which 'outs' Robert Traynham, Sen. Rick Santorum's Communications Director and a former deputy chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference.
I have no problem with gay Republicans. I disagree with them, but I don't necessarily see them as oxymorons, like some folks do. I do, however, find it hard to digest that an openly gay person could justify working for Sen. Rick Santorum. I mean, it's one thing to agree with Sen. Santorum's positions on trade, or social security, or gun rights. But come on...the Senator thinks GLBT people are on par with those who have sex with animals, serial killers, and pedophiles. How could any sane gay person stomach working for someone with that philosophy?

I don't guess is that Robert Traynham walks around with a whole lot of emotional baggage.

But what the hell do I know? Sen. Santorum released this statement about all the attention being shown to his staffer's sexuality:

    "Robert Traynham has worked for me for eight years; the last four as a member of my leadership staff as deputy chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference. He recently returned to my personal office and is now communications director for me. He is widely respected and admired on Capitol Hill, both among the press corps and among the congressional staff, as a communications professional. Not only is Mr. Traynham an exemplary staffer, but he is also a trusted friend and confidant to me and my family. Mr. Traynham is a valued member of my staff, and I regret that this effort on behalf of people who oppose me has made him a target of bigotry in their eyes."

    The senator added, "It is entirely unacceptable that my staff’s personal lives are considered fair game by partisans looking for arguments to bolster my opponent's campaign. Mr. Traynham continues to have my full support and confidence as well as my prayers as he navigates this rude and mean-spirited invasion of his personal life."

What the fuck?! It's entirely unacceptable for Sen. Santorum's staff to have their personal lives considered fair game, yet Sen. Santorum makes it his political duty to legislate the personal lives of millions of GLBT individuals? Talk about hypocrisy!

But I do sympathize with Robert Traynham on one account...anyone who's the object of Sen. Rick Santorum's personal prayers deserves at least some compassion.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Will it be a vegan wedding?

My vote for the country's most famous vegan, Dennis Kucinich, is getting married! This is sweet news, and I figured we could all use a little love to end the week.

According to Reuters, Kucinich is going to marry a British citizen, Elizabeth Harper, who works for a monetary policy think tank in Chicago. Eek...monetary policy. That sounds dreadful!

But I think it's sweet. During last year's election, while Rep. Kucinich was running for President, a New Hampshire politics Web site held a national contest to set Kucinich up with a woman - sort of like "The Bachelor" for nerdy, political types. He didn't meet this woman from the contest, but even so, good for him!

OK, here's a George W. joke to end this entry. Have a good weekend, all!

    A guy walks in and asks the bartender, "Isn't that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice sitting over there?" The bartender says, "Yep, that's them." So the guy walks over and says, "Wow, this is a real honor. What are you two doing in here?"

    Bush says, "We're planning WWIII." And the guy says, "Really? What's going to happen?"

    Bush says, "Well, we're going to kill 140 million Iraqis this time and one bicycle repairman."

    The guy exclaimed, "A bicycle repairman!!! Why kill a bicycle repairman?"

    Bush turns to Rice, taps her on the shoulder and says, "See, dummy! I told you no one would worry about the 140 million Iraqis!"

Oh, so sad...

Slideshow from Hell

In the midst of non-stop coverage of the Karl Rove leaks, the Supreme Court vacancy, Angelina Jolie's Ethiopian child, the hurricane of the month (or the wildfires of the month...take your pick, depending on which side of the country you live in), it's easy to forget about some of the truly dreadful things happening in our world, like the Sudan genocide for example.

Slate magazine ( has one of the most compelling things I've seen in quite a while on their site today. It's a slideshow of drawings from children that are living in the Chad-Sudan border - in refugee camps for people who have escaped the genocide happening in Darfur right now. Two researchers from Human Rights Watch ( gave children crayons and paper to draw whatever they wanted while their parents were being interviewed.

Turns out the children drew what they knew...violence, and in particular, violence perpetrated by the janjaweed, a violent militant group alleged (though I'd say there's plenty of evidence to actually charge them) with orchestrating the genocide in Sudan. These images are so sad. To think that anyone, let alone children, should be exposed to this type of violence is heart-crushing. To think that half this country still has no idea where Sudan is, or what's taking place there, is downright disgusting.

My heart breaks for these kids and their families, though I am grateful for the perspective. Of course, I'm loving the Karl Rove meltdown that's playing out in the news media on an hourly basis. But at the end of the day, we're left with a world that's much bigger than anything Karl Rove could hope to touch. What these kids have done is 1,000 times more important, too.

For those who want to check out the slideshow of drawings (10 pictures) from the Sudanese kids, click here.

Me? I'm reminded of words from Etty Hillesum, a concentration camp victim whose writings were compiled into a book, An Interrupted Life. She writes, "I really see no other solution than to turn inwards and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war."

I'm convinced these Sudanese kids are going to change lives.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mean and Ignorant Christians - the sequel

So the crazy Christians that organized the first Justice Sunday several months ago in Louisville to bitch and moan about the filibuster are back at it again. Check it out. This time they'll gather in Nashville (are they afraid of the blue states?!) for "Justice Sunday II" on Sunday August 14, and instead of Sen. Bill Frist addressing the crowd, this time they've got crack-a-loon former Sen. Zell Miller, the forehead vein-popping, pseudo-Democrat from Georgia who said John Kerry would arm our troops with spitballs.

Oy veh. And the right rails about Howard Dean having a temper? Zell Miller's head is going to explode one day like a peaking zit, and it isn't going to be pretty.

I loathe things like "Justice Sunday," which boil faith down into a partisan issue. What they'll do is gather eight or nine prominent Christian conservatives into a Nashville church, beam up to a satellite so Christian fundamentalists throughout the U.S. can watch it as a simulcast, and tell everyone that if you're really an authentic person of faith, you'll demand that George W. Bush appoint a 'pro-lifer' to the Supreme court. Anything less and God doesn't love you.

Thankfully some progressive Christians aren't taking this lying down. The Interfaith Alliance put out a pretty good statement on this event today, and it looks like they are trying to organize a counter presence in Nashville. So if you know people in Nashville, tell them to get their asses in the streets, or to at least pay attention for what counter-events might take place.

Ugh...Lee Greenwood is going to perform at this thing, too. It's bad enough his "Proud to Be American" shtick has ruined every single seventh inning stretch I've ever participated he's got to tell me that I'm unfaithful, too?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wal-Mart gives me the Willies

But too bad they don't give me the pot-smoking, marijuana leaf Willies.

Wal-Mart is going to alter the album cover of Willie Nelson's forthcoming album, Countryman, by changing the marijuana leaf that's featured on the cover, to a palm tree. A palm tree! I mean, not only can you not smoke it, but they don't even grow in the country! Granted, this is a reggae album (Willie Nelson and reggae?!), but it still seems hokey.

Here's the article from Yahoo! News that gives more details. This reminds me of the time Wal-Mart banned an album by Sheryl Crow because a lyric in one of the songs made reference to people buying guns at Wal-Mart.

So if I have this straight by Wal-Mart standards: Cheap pickles = good / Marijuana = bad. Selling guns to people = good / writing lyrics mentioning that we sell guns to people = bad.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


This month's exhibit at The Photomedia Center is a mix of creepy and cool, as this picture of a tongue meshed in with plantlife indicates. (At least I think it's plantlife. If it's not, I'm not sure I want to know what it is!) The artist's name is Ursula Sokolowska, which sounds as though it could be a villian's name on "Alias." But the photos are something to see.

The only source of light in these photos comes from projecting an image onto the body of a person. Like if you were to stand up in a dark movie theater in front of the projector.

Creepy, eh?

Friday, July 08, 2005

There's more to Africa than debt

If I ever get to meet Wangari Maathai, I imagine I'll geek out like a 1981 teenager meeting Leif Garrett.

Earlier this week, Maathai spoke to reporters about the mammoth campaign underway by Bob Geldoff, Bono, Madonna, Nelson Mandela, Brad Pitt, the janitor at the local high school, two bakers from Seattle, and pretty much everyone in the entire world to call attention to Africa's debt through either the One Campaign or Live8. She said something profound that has been weighing on my mind these past few days:

"Cancelling the debt is not the panacea. But there are a lot of people who think it would be, because we keep saying 'debt, debt'."

She's right. Cancelling debt isn't going to end poverty in Africa. It may not even make a significant dent. As this article from Reuters points out, Maathai said Africans must also fight for good governance, an end to corruption, and for education that gives citizens more than just basic schooling. She also pointed out some of the horrible hypocrisies that exist in the First World that keep people in the Third World poor. Things like laws in European countries that allow (or ignore) dictators in Africa stealing money from their people and shoving the money into European bank accounts. Or trade policies that allow First World countries to pay next to nothing for Africa's goods.

"A lot of resources that are extracted out of Africa are not paid for at an adequate price, such as timber from the Congo, to European countries," Maathai said.

All of this isn't to say that Live8 and the One Campaign aren't worthy endeavors. They are, for sure...anything that calls attention to the crisis facing Africa is worthwhile, even if it's one person shouting at the top of their lungs from atop a maple tree. But it's so important for our culture, that suffers from acute attention deficit disorder, to not lose sight that debt cancellation is only one small component of helping to empower and aid African people.

Anyway, there's the rant of the day. Hope everyone has a good weekend. I'll try to post more next week.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

It's nice to be New Jersey?

I heard on the news this morning that London has just been given the 2012 Olympic games. Good for them! I mean, it's no Tehran, but I think they'll be a good host. New Yorkers are going to be hot, though...they wanted these games something fierce.

Their neighbor New Jersey, however, has something to cheer about. Did you know that all this week is "National Be Nice to New Jersey Week?" It's's listed as just one of the crazy ass holidays between July 4th and Labor Day in this column by Jeff Edelstein at The Trentonian. God, asking me to be nice to New Jersey is like asking me to give up chocolate for Lent - nice in theory, but completely impractical.

Other whack holidays for this gap between July 4 and Labor Day are listed here, but some of my favorites are: July 6 (today!) is National Fried Chicken Day; July 13 is Embrace Your Geekness Day (isn't that everyday?!); July 14 is National Nude Day (again, isn't that everyday?!); and August 8 is Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day.

Who thinks up these things? Anyway, you can also check out what "holiday" falls on your birthday here. My birthday, November 5, happens to be Gunpowder Day. Damn, and I was hoping it would be Blow up Your Enemies with Bombs and Missiles Day.

Oh that's everyday!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Tag

Mags at You Forgot Poland! has been harping on me for what feels like eternity to do this 'tag' - this questionnaire that has probably traveled around the world more than syphillus. So here are my answers!

1. What were three of the stupidest things you have done in your life?
  • According to Suze Orman, one of the more recent stupidest things I've done was close three credit card accounts. I had paid the balance off, and couldn't stand the thought of empty credit cards burning a hole in my wallet. I'm such a sucker for temptation. And by temptation I mean 'buying crap.' But those balance-free credit cards would have improved my credit score, according to Orman, who would consider me part of the 'Young, Fabulous and Broke' (YFB) crowd. On the upside, I have always wanted to be an acronym.
  • In a moment of heated rage, I once called my mother "Nothing more than a lunch lady." It was the only time I can remember ever making my mother cry. It also made her mad as hell, and to this day, she won't let me forget it. But that's good for her...I was an asshole.
  • I purchased a new car in 2002 in New York state, and when I moved back to Pennsylvania, I "forgot" (a.k.a. was lazy and didn't find the time for this) to transfer the license plate, get the car a PA inspection, or send the title to my financial institution. I just placed the license plate to my old car on my new car, and went driving around for 18 months like it was nothing. It was all working out just fine, till a cold December night when four police cars hunted me down on the streets. Apparently they had scanned my license plate, and when it showed up as a 1992 Oldsmobile instead of a 2002 Saturn, it set off some red flags. I thought four cops was a little excessive, though! As was the $350 fine leveled at me. Argh!

2. At the current moment, who has the most influence in your life?
My dog, Frida! Also my parents, in particular my dad, who has been a full-time caretaker for my mom for more than two years now. I don't know how he does it. Showers, getting pills ready, making dinner, arranging doctor's visits...thinking about it gives me an ulcer, yet he's as positive as ever, and just quit drinking beer (except during NASCAR events, of course!).

3. If you were given a time machine that functioned, and you were allowed to only pick up to five people to dine with, who would you pick?
John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Henson (for personal reasons, and because my hands are the same size as his!), Sen. Paul Wellstone, and Carole King (circa 1972).

4. If you had three wishes that were not supernatural, what would they be?
The first would be a saucy, same-sex love affair scandal rocking the Bush White House, leaving them without any power at all, so that the Republicans lose miserably in the 2006 midterm elections.

The second wish would be for Starbucks to brew nothing but fair trade coffee, so I wouldn't have to feel guilty.

And the third would be that the world stops turning a blind eye to the marginalized in Africa and the global south. I mean, Live 8 is cool and all, but if the music doesn't come with much needed HIV/AIDS medicines, mosquito nets to protect children from malaria, or especially radical economic policy changes in the First World to stop crushing the poor around the globe, it's just going to be more of the same once Bono steps off the stage.

5. Someone is visiting your hometown/place where you live at the moment. Name two things you regret your city not having, and two things people should avoid.
Is culture too broad of a thing to mention? Hehe...I also regret us not having good public transportation.

Two things to avoid would be Hector's Restaurant, which is like the oldest Italian restaurant in the city, but the food tastes like ass; and upper Peach Street, which is the most commercialized section of town. It used to be nothing but trees, but now looks like seven Wal-Marts threw up.

6. Name one event that has changed your life.
My mother having her stroke has changed my life and my attitude the most, I'd say, especially over these past four years. I thank God each day that she's still alive, but she's a different mother than the one who made me Cream of Wheat each morning before school, or the one who helped me with social studies projects, or the one who stayed up late with me on Saturday nights as a kid so that I could watch professional wrestling until 2 in the morning. It's also been a wake-up call that the more you age in life, the more you have to let go of in this world. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose, but it does hurt sometimes.

7. Tag 5 people.
I'll have to break this tag, unfortunately, because I don't have five people I can tag. Very few of my friends have blogs! I'm so lame...I feel like the kid who sits at the cafeteria table all alone, with nothing to accompany him but his red hair and freckles. *sigh* I should be more plugged in...

Voices in the Wilderness

So how many of you think that Sandra Day O'Connor is in some dark room somewhere right now, wearing a velvet robe, smoking the longest Virginia Slims you've ever seen, and laughing her evil ass off about the reign of horror she just unleashed on this country? (I picture her sounding like Marlene Dietrich, too!) Personally, that mental picture of her does way more justice than the pictures that AP, CNN, and Reuters are posting of her. Sheesh! She makes the runaway bride look like Eva Longoria!

And we thought the election was bad! The fight over this Supreme Court nominee is going to make the election look like the Pillsbury bake off. Load your weapons, because everyone from the Center for American Progess (yay!), to Priests for Life (boo!) will be releasing some statement on this.

This world is just too damn crazy. But I was thankful that, while reading more of Marilynne Robinson's novel "Gilead," which I posted about here, I came across a passage that seemed to make some sense of this 'crazy, mixed-up world.' In it, the main character (a minister) is talking about a biblical story he reflected on during his morning meditation. The biblical story is Hagar and Ishmael, and the moral of it is that even if a mother and father can't find a way to provide for their child, provision will be made by God.

    "That is how life goes - we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give them. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord's. I need to bear this in mind."
I like to think of life as a wilderness, and all of us as voices in it, accompanying one another through each chaotic path. There are hardships, there are evils...but there are also joys, also angels. Not in the Michael Landon sense, do I mean. More along the lines of the people we hold dear to us, or the pets we hold dear to us, or even the food we like to devour in times of despair, that make this life - this wilderness - manageable.

Speaking of hardships, I guess I have to do this "tag" thing that my friend Mags sent me via her blog You forgot Poland! This is all Sandra Day O'Connor's fault, I'm sure.

(I think she started polio, too.)

I'll be posting again soon with the answers to my 'tag'.