Jones of the Nile

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

He better run

I could blab on and on about why Sen. Russ Feingold should run for President in 2008. Here's reason #212, from the Washington Post: Feingold says Attorney General Gonzales Misled Senators in Hearings. Turns out Sen. Feingold had the foresight to ask Gonzales, during his confirmation hearings in 2005, "where the president's authority ends and whether Gonzales believed the president could, for example, act in contravention of existing criminal laws and spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant."

Gonzales' response is classic: "Gonzales said that it was impossible to answer such a hypothetical question but that it was 'not the policy or the agenda of this president' to authorize actions that conflict with existing law." Uh...say what? Then why is Bush parading around the country, trying to justify authorizing actions that conflict with existing law, i.e. his secret surveillance program?

I know some people are pissed at Sen. Feingold for voting to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts. They might be right, they might be wrong. I'm more interested in Feingold's willingness to take seriously the concerns of privacy advocates, and allow them to influence his questioning during hearings. What a coup for him to have uncovered Bush's secret and illegal wire-tapping program, without even knowing he uncovered it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The death penalty, Jersey style

The United States executed its 1,000th inmate in December 2005, yet the momentum against the death penalty keeps growing. Sites like The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Focus, Death Penalty Information Center and Witness to Innocence have seen rapid growth in both membership and influence, as more folks are starting to question both the fairness and implications of the capital punishment system.

At this point, my partner's sister would start flickering the light switch on-and-off, laughing about how another one got fried. Har har.

But leave it to New Jersey, of all places, to offer a glimmer of hope for anti-death penalty activists in 2006. Earlier this month, Jersey enacted a year-long moratorium on the death penalty, during which time a task force will review both its fairness and costs. While there's no shortage of social justice groups who helped make this happen, none seem more important than New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Their grassroots organizing, in places as diverse as union halls and church basements, has paid off. New Jersey is one step closer to abolishing the death penalty.

This is a sweet victory. Only 37 states left to go...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Tale of Two Blue States

There are many people in this world you would think of as being hostile to the idea of gay marriage. Many in the Reagan family, know, since President Reagan let four years of HIV/AIDS deaths go by without even uttering the damn word "AIDS."

But I find something interesting in his daughter Patti's (now Patti Davis) take on gay marriage. I think it's a good example of "conversion," for many who get freaked out by the issue, or who find gay marriage synonymous with beastiality, evil, sin, death, etc. Patti Davis's words: "In the early 1970s, I was living with my boyfriend and our out-of wedlock arrangement was regarded as rather scandalous by both of our families. When I went to a wedding ceremony of a lesbian friend of mine, I was struck by the obvious irony. Here were two women who could not be legally wed, but who were happily celebrating their commitment to each other. They seemed to have a better understanding of the importance of ceremony, ritual, public declaration than people like me who tossed off the institution of marriage as unnecessary."

I'm not sure if marriage is the most desirable fight for the GLBT community (it hasn't worked so well for heterosexuals, with 50% divorce rates and centuries of patriarchy holding it up), but it almost doesn't matter anymore...the fight is here to stay. More importantly, I think you can tell a lot about the 'political winds' from how a state takes on the issue. Case in point - this week's happenings in two blue states, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire announced that she would sign a gay civil rights bill on Tuesday. First introduced in the 1970s, the measure adds "sexual orientation" to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment and insurance, making Washington the 17th state passing a law covering gays and lesbians. It is the seventh to protect transgender people.

In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers have revived the debate over same-sex marriage, by introducing in the state House and Senate two bills that would add to the Pennsylvania Constitution an amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The legislation, which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, would reinforce an existing ban on same-sex marriages and prohibit the government from recognizing the unions of cohabiting heterosexual couples. Many see this as an unnecessary amendment, and more of an election year ploy to scare conservatives into coming out to vote...especially because Pennsylvania has strong Democratic candidates statewide for governor (incumbent Ed Rendell) and U.S. Senate (Bob Casey Jr.). Also, wording in the proposed amendment is unclear and could be used to block civil unions, domestic partnerships, and health benefits.

The message here is twofold, I think. First, conservatives will stop at nothing to try to win elections, even if it means ratcheting up fear for no reason. Secondly, for all those who think Pennsylvania is a true "blue" state because it voted for Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, need to look again. There's still much work to be done.

And maybe a third lesson is here...that something needs to be done to make the dominant paradigm (to use a leftist cliche) reflect the epiphany that Patti Davis had, and less of the reactive nature of the right-wing machine. That's poorly worded, but something is different now in this debate. Maybe it's not so much about casting supporters of 'bans on gay marriage' as anti-gay, as much as it is casting them as out of touch, and just plain mean.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Kanye West of Nazareth

The new issue of Rolling Stone has a cover story on Kanye West, "The Passion of Kanye West."

I like West's music, and I love his "in your eye" to President Bush during the Katrina telethon. But I'm starting to think his ego is wearing away at some of the causes he champions.

"If I was more complacent and I let things slide, my life would be easier, but you all wouldn't be as entertained," West says. "My misery is your pleasure." But getting people to dialogue about social issues isn't supposed to be a misery-inducing experience.

I need to remember that Kanye West is an entertainer first, before he's any sort of activist. Don't get me wrong...I ain't saying he's an attention getter. But he ain't messing with Utne Reader.

According to Rolling Stone, West also admits he's got an addiction to porn. "He remembers first seeing his father's Playboy magazine when he was 5 years old. 'Right then,' West says, laughing, 'it was like, Houston, we have a problem.'"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

They say misery loves company

So make sure you surround yourself with lots of people today, because according to British psychologist Cliff Arnall, January 24 is the worst day of the year. He's even got a scientific theory (or, well, maybe it's not scientific) to proove it.

According to Arnall, January 24 is the average point at which:

  • we collectively express our outrage at our Christmas bills;
  • we're immersed in record high temperatures of 15 degrees;
  • we realize that we're all failures, give up our New Year's resolutions, and start smoking, drinking, eating bad, fornicating, etc., etc. again.

    Arnall has a point. One check of Wikipedia, and you find that January 24 ain't all it's cracked up to be. Ted Bundy was executed on this day. Terrorist suspect John Walker Lindh's hearings began on this day. An Air India jet crashed in 1966 killing 117 people. The prosecution in the O.J. Simpson murder trial began. A Turkish journalist was killed.

    Shit, why did we get out of bed this morning?!

    Wait...I know why. It's because in 1922, Christian K. Nelson patented the Eskimo Pie.

    Ahh, take that Cliff Arnall!

  • It's raining honey cakes - hallelujah!

    Spiritual writer, lecturer, New Mexico resident and wearer of blue earrings, Megan McKenna, shared this buttery warm story about how in life, sometimes the improbable can be easy, and what was thought to be impossible just takes time and conversion. A needed lesson in our very cynical and jaded times, where fundamentalism has seemingly replaced dialogue and conversion. How do you ponder and reflect on what appears to be an impossible situation?

    Talk amongst yourselves...

      In the times following the collapse of the Mogul empire there was chaos, and in fleeing for their lives and being arrested many of the rich buried their treasures and jewels in fields and under houses, hoping to retrieve them in better times. But many never returned and their secrets went with them.

      And it so happened that a very poor husband and wife, planting in their backyard, came upon a jewel. It was obviously worth a great deal, but what could they do? If word got around of their find, then the man and woman who were in charge of their village in these hard times would claim it as their own. They would have to wait until they could go into the city—a trip that only occurred once or twice a year—and then they could ask their relatives and friends to help them, for one was a jeweler.

      But they had a young son, about 4 years old, and he was with them when they dug it up. There was no way they could keep him quiet about their discovery. He had picked up on their elation and surprise and would tell his friends as soon as he could.

      That night the child was kept indoors. The mother told her husband that she had an idea, but they must work quickly. First, she had been saving honey and cinnamon to make special cakes, and took that out and then sent her husband off to a neighbor’s to borrow an oven to make the cakes. She worked through the night and made as many as she could, stretching the honey.

      Just before dawn she went outside and scattered the cakes around, on the roof, in the garden, on the porch and walkway, among the bushes. Then she ran inside and woke her child. “Look,” she said, “I think it rained honey and cinnamon cakes last night! Come quickly and help me gather them before the birds discover them.” Outside in the morning light the two of them collected the cakes in bags and showed their find to the father. They ate some for breakfast and then sent the boy out to play.

      And of course, the first thing he did was share the good news with his friends—he had so much to talk about. Yesterday we found a great big shiny stone in our backyard! He described it, and immediately he was overheard by the village head. She came to the boy and questioned him about it: Where had they found it, where was it now? But he was anxious to tell the rest too. “And that’s not all!” he said. “It rained honey and cinnamon cakes on our house last night. We collected them and ate some for breakfast.”

      He was delighted with himself and the woman laughed—just stories children make up—and she went back to what she was doing. The cakes were impossible; everyone knew that it hadn’t rained anything the night before, and as for the other story, it was merely another tale.

      What was rare or unexpected was now associated with the utterly unbelievable; no one was the wiser on any score, and the family’s situation slowly prospered. And what was thought to be impossible was, of course, reality and very true.

    Monday, January 23, 2006

    Wrestlers in space!

    It's time for my monthly shout out to the Photomedia Center, which this month is featuring photos from Dorthe Alstrup.

    I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "What interests Dorthe?"

    Here's her thoughts: "What interests me are the nuances and subtleties of human relationships, the moments of tension that are created when individuals exist within the same environment."

    Tension and wrestlers in the same photograph? Sounds like a gym class made in heaven!

    Or not...but anyway, the exhibit is interesting, so check it out! You can view Dorthe's photos here:

    Saturday, January 21, 2006

    Like a fable, only Sufi!

    I've been told that this is a Sufi tale, so I'll stick with that description of this great story, which hits the "spoiled child" culture right in the gut. So the moral is possibly "We are our brother's and sister's keeper," or in even more cliche terms, "with great power and ability come great responsibility."

    Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

      A fox who lived in the deep forest of long ago had lost its front legs. No one knew how: perhaps escaping from a trap. A man who lived on the edge of the forest, seeing the fox from time to time, wondered how in the world it managed to get its food. One day, when the fox was not far from him, he had to hide himself quickly because a tiger was approaching. The tiger had fresh game in its claws. Lying down on the ground, the tiger ate its fill, leaving the rest for the fox.

      Again the next day the great Provider of this world sent provisions to the fox by this same tiger. The man began to think: "If this fox is taken care of in this mysterious way, its food sent by some unseen Higher Power, why don't I just rest in a corner and have my daily meal provided for me?"

      Because he had a lot of faith, he let the days pass, waiting for food. Nothing happened. He just went on losing weight and strength until he was nearly a skeleton. Close to losing consciousness, he heard a Voice which said: "O you, who have mistaken the way, see now the Truth! You should have followed the example of that tiger instead of imitating the disabled fox."

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Another brick in the wall

    There's that line from "A Few Good Men" that Jack Nicholson's Col. Jessup pipes out, "Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns."

    But how come every nation that's ever tried to achieve security through the construction of walls has failed? I don't know...for some reason, Huey Newton's quote about walls seems to ring more true, even though some of Newton's tactics for social change are extremely questionable. Newton said: "The walls, the bars, the guns and the guards can never encircle or hold down the idea of the people."

    Yet walls are still at the forefront of national security. Israel has built a wall to separate its West Bank border from Palestine. In December, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to construct a wall between the U.S. and Mexico - the 260-159 voice vote on an amendment to a bill on illegal immigration "mandates the construction of specific security fencing, including lights and cameras, along the Southwest border for the purposes of gaining operational control of the border."

    Lest we forget that we're also less than two decades removed from the Berlin Wall, which divided pro-democracy West Berlin and pro-Communist East Berlin. Not to mention only a few decades removed from the invisible walls of Apartheid and segregation - which many might argue still exist today in various places.

    All this discussion on walls stems from a quote I read this weekend by Indian guru and yogi Paramanhansa Yogananda, who said, "Kindness is the light that dissolves all walls between souls, families and nations."

    Of course, I don't see an Indian guru and yogi having much influence in the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, or in the Israeli parliament.

    So maybe the words of the Dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, Edwin Dorn, might ring louder. In his commencement speech from a few years ago, Dorn said, "Closed societies do not thrive. Countries that seal their borders do not thrive. Universities that lock their laboratories to new research find themselves relegated to intellectual backwaters. Societies that build walls to protect themselves, eventually wind up being crushed beneath them."

    Walls aren't invincible. Look at Berlin. Look at the Great Wall of China. Look at apartheid in South Africa. They've all been dismantled (or, in the Great Wall's case, its purpose has been dismantled, even though it physically still exists).

    History is repeating itself in Israel, and will likely repeat itself at some point along the U.S.-Mexico border. But the tallest walls will only last so long.

    Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "Only your compassion and your loving kindness are invincible, and without limit."

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Enough latte to bathe Cleopatra

    That's my favorite line from this article from Slate, about the secret, elusive cappuccino that Starbucks doesn't want you to know about - even though you can get it at any neighborhood Starbucks (or maybe I should say Starbucks neighborhood).

    In other coffee-related news, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has gone fair trade, which marks at least one economically responsible and social-justice oriented decision from the Catholic Church. I don't know what distracted them from marginalizing gays and lesbians, denying Communion to Democrats, and barring women from full participation in the Church. Maybe the leadership was sleeping while one of the cool bishops pushed this through. Either way, because I don't hold up many things from the institutional Church, here's at least one thing to be happy about.

    Friday, January 06, 2006

    Like Bryan Adams...

    I'm just thinking about forgiveness.

    Oy veh. That's the problem with puns about Bryan Adams songs...nobody gets them, because nobody listens to him anymore! I'm sure that's painful to read if you are a fan. Probably "cuts like a knife."

    OK, enough. What I really wanted to post was this awesome quote about forgiveness that I came across yesterday. It's from two Jewish writers - Dr. Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon - who put together a collection of writings called Yom Kippur Readings. Maybe for those coming off a broken relationship, or a hard chapter in your life, a bad move, a bad job...whatever. I think most of us can find something in our history that relates to this quote - even though I often struggle with forgiveness. But I suspect most people do.

    Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

      Many of us grew up believing that forgiveness was an act to be performed or an attitude to possess, and the reason that we could not forgive was that we were not trying hard enough. But what really keeps us from forgiving the people who hurt us is that we have not yet healed the wounds they inflicted.

      Forgiveness is the gift at the end of the healing process. We find it waiting for us when we reach a point where we stop expecting "them" to pay for what they did, or make it up to us in some way.

      Forgiveness is moving on. It is recognizing that we have better things to do with our life and then doing them.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Me, quoting this guy, quoting that guy

    I'm on this email list, "Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq," and today someone forwarded the Nobel Literature Prize lecture offered by Harold Pinter, "Art, Truth and Politics." A's quite long. But it packs a punch.

    In talking about the war in Iraq, Pinter says the 2,000+ American dead are an embarrassment, and that when we ignore the destruction our violence is causing (both to our own men and women, and to the Iraqis) we are lying to ourselves. Here's Pinter:

      "Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television."
    My boss wrote a column in Spring 2003, We Need to See the Bodies, where he wrote that seeing the bodies is the price the U.S. public should endure for following this illegal, immoral war. "Long lines at airport check-ins or the struggle to find enough duct tape or a fear of briefcases are pitiful excuses for the kind of sacrifice that should be required from any nation aspiring to empire," he wrote. "If the people of the United States are to 'stand by the President,' then the costs should reflect the prize: trillions of dollars in revenues for U.S. oil companies locked out of Iraq for 30 years and control of the very lifeblood and pulse of globalization for the next 50 years. Surely that is worth sacrificing our national psyche and our illusion of righteousness for. Not to mention, no never to mention, our sons and daughters, wives and husbands."

    These both offer pretty inflammatory rhetoric, but they serve their point: any nation making war with another nation ought to at least acknowledge the blood spilled on both sides of the battle. But we don't do that. We hide the horrors of war so that wars can continue.

    Back to Pinter...near the end of his lecture, he excerpts a poem from Spanish writer Pablo Neruda, who viscerally captures 'collateral damage' in his poem, "I'm Explaining a Few Things." Though I can't speak for Neruda, my guess is that when you look through war with his eyes, you realize that everything is worth pursuing to prevent it.

      And one morning all that was burning,
      one morning the bonfires
      leapt out of the earth
      devouring human beings
      and from then on fire,
      gunpowder from then on,
      and from then on blood.
      Bandits with planes and Moors,
      bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
      bandits with black friars spattering blessings
      came through the sky to kill children
      and the blood of children ran through the streets
      without fuss, like children's blood.

      Jackals that the jackals would despise
      stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
      vipers that the vipers would abominate.

      Face to face with you I have seen the blood
      of Spain tower like a tide
      to drown you in one wave
      of pride and knives.

      see my dead house,
      look at broken Spain:
      from every house burning metal flows
      instead of flowers
      from every socket of Spain
      Spain emerges
      and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
      and from every crime bullets are born
      which will one day find
      the bull's eye of your hearts.

      And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
      speak of dreams and leaves
      and the great volcanoes of his native land.

      Come and see the blood in the streets.
      Come and see
      the blood in the streets.
      Come and see the blood
      in the streets!

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Me against the cola

    David fought Goliath. Britney Spears went up against the music. Phil Collins was against all odds. Me?

    Well, I'm obviously for cheesy puns based on crappy pop music. But I'm against Coca-Cola, which is why I was tickled pink to see that yet another college campus has banned the soft drink giant from their campus, because of alleged human rights abuses by the corporation. Check it out - this is from Bloomberg News, and posted on Truthout - the University of Michigan (go Wolverines!) will remove Coca-Cola Co. products from campus, becoming the 10th school to enact a ban over an investigation of working conditions at bottling plants in Colombia.

    To quote: "Student activists are pressuring universities to stop selling Coca-Cola products because they claim the company has not done enough to stop violence against union workers in Colombia and won't agree to the terms of an investigation. The International Labor Rights Fund has said Coca-Cola and two Colombia bottlers are "complicit in" anti-union violence toward employees."

    Viva la Pepsi!

    Well, OK, I'm sure they're just as bad. How 'bout viva la universidad de Michigan!