Jones of the Nile

Thursday, August 31, 2006

You can't fight HIV/AIDS with garlic and lemon potatoes

Much was made this past week of Sen. Barack Obama's trek to Africa, where he not only stopped to visit his father's village in Kenya (his father died in 1982 in an auto accident), but he also took the time to get an HIV/AIDS test (as did his wife), trying to reassure Kenyans that there is no stigma in getting tested for the virus. I hope this has a real effect...already, Kenyan Church Leaders are echoing Sen. Obama's call for mass HIV testing.

But another important, watershed moment happened on Sen. Obama's visit, and it happened in South Africa. HIV/AIDS activists in South Africa mobilized to call for the resignation of South Africa's health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who has consistently played down the role that Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medicines can play in treating HIV/AIDS. Instead, the health minister pushes a recipe of garlic, beetroot, and lemon potatoes as a treatment for the disease.

Now, I hate drug companies just as much as the next sane person, and worry constantly that the developing world is just one big playground for corps like Novartis and Pfizer, ala "The Constant Gardener." (Brilliant movie, if you haven't seen it yet.) But in South Africa, one in nine people is infected with HIV. Throwing potatoes at these numbers is like trying to piss on a forest fire.

I'm glad that Sen. Obama also took the chance during his Africa trip to publicly scold the South African health minister. If one person wakes up tomorrow wanting to take ARVs as opposed to nutritional supplements, then the cycle of change has already begun.

For more good information on this, go to the Treatment Action Campaign's Web site, Here you can also sign the Campaign's "5 Demands" for South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, and the South African health minister.

To put it in perspective, here's a quote from Rob Glaser, the CEO of RealNetworks and the founder of the Glaser Progress Foundation in Seattle (incidentally, I applied for a job with the Glaser Foundation several years ago, and was turned down. Nonetheless, I'll bury the hatchet here!): "Seven million innocent European Jews were killed in the 1940s, and we rightly called it a Holocaust. Eleven million innocent Africans have died of AIDS so far this decade because they were unable to get the drugs that would save their lives. What do we call that?"

Good question, and I think we all know the answer.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sesame Street is brought to you by the letters "p" and "h", and by the corporations Bechtel, McDonald's, Lockheed Martin...

When I was a junior in college, a political science professor first turned me on to the cliche of a "slippery slope." He was a diehard federalist, and was using the phrase to talk about how, even in the smallest instance, if the federal government steps in where a state or local government had previously reigned, it creates a "slippery slope" to big government.

I always thought this prof was based more in 1810 than the 21st century, but he was a wonderful teacher nonetheless. I'm reminded of his "slippery slope" lecture again today, as PBS just announced that it will start using web banner ads on its popular Kids website.

Is this a problem? Truth is, I don't know. I know PBS needs money, especially when every few years GOP operatives threaten to scale back federal funding for public broadcasting and "Kill Big Bird." But I'm also horrified at the thought of children being drawn to a banner advertisement for french fries and happy meals, or some damn dancing monkey asking them to take a survey.

The Boston-based group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has cried foul on PBS (no 'Big Bird' pun intended), issuing an action alert email for concerned parents and activists to send an email to PBS President Paula Kerger.

PBS, on the other hand, is holding fast that they need to find new ways of bringing in revenue.

So another culture battle ensues. I don't have the smarts to say what is right or wrong here. I watched plenty of commercials growing up, and I don't feel like I turned out to be a corporate whore (so says the blogger drinking his Starbucks coffee this morning). But I'm glad that watchdog groups are speaking out about this, only to raise it as an issue. I'm reminded of a comment that former Senator Alan Simpson said years back on the issue of civil liberties:

"There is no 'slippery slope' toward loss of liberties, only a long staircase where each step downward must first be tolerated by the American people and their leaders.”

Can the same be said about the commercialization of children? Does one McDonald's ad today equal cardiovascular failure later? I guess time will tell.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Follow-up: The Rev. has a blog!

So it turns out that the Reverend, Tim LeBouf, who fired this Sunday School teacher because she's a woman, has a blog! He hasn't updated it since August 14, just before he stuck his mammoth man foot in his mouth. Wanna see it? Go here: Thankfully, folks are sharing in their comments exactly what they think about the good Rev.'s decision to fire this 81-year-old woman.

I keep hearing rumors that the teacher was fired for "other reasons" that the church didn't want to instead, they just relied on the age-old tradition of twisting bible verses to slam an entire population of people. Now that's just the kind of ethical, moral behavior one would expect out of a conservative Christian church. Perhaps that's why the number of national chapters for the Christian Coalition keeps dwindling, according to this AP article from earlier this week.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sexist preacher alert

Want to send a point to sexist preachers who fire 81-year old women from teaching Sunday School, because they say the Bible doesn't permit women to teach men? Send an email to Tim LaBouf.

LaBouf (pictured second from the left), the pastor at Watertown (NY) First Baptist Church, just fired Mary Lambert, an 81-year-old woman who taught Sunday School for more than 50 years, not because of anything related to her performance -- he fired her because of 1 Timothy 2:11-14.

According to LaBouf, First Timothy suggests that "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. God does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she must be silent."

This is so ridiculous, I almost don't know where to begin. First, my condolences to Tim LaBouf's wife, if he's married. You must have a great deal of patience, Mrs. LaBouf.

Second, my condolences to the people of Watertown, who have to deal with someone bedrocked in a theology from the 17th century. Not only is LaBouf a pastor in the community, he also sits on the Watertown City Council. (His email is published on this page, so I figure it's fair game to send him a note! Ironically, I don't see any women on the council...)

If LaBouf has children, does this mean that he'll never let them learn from a female teacher? Does he make women enter his Church through a separate entrance? Are they even allowed to show up during certain periods of the month, if they're menstruating?

I know that LaBouf is just over-reacting....and he's doing so because he's already lost this battle. Women are becoming a bigger influence in faith communities (though there are still miles upon miles to cross), and human rights issues pertaining to women have made their way onto the world agenda like never before. We might even have a woman president in 2008, in which case I imagine LaBouf will probably stop saying the "Pledge of Allegiance" before city council meetings.

But just when you think we've crossed a threshold, the head of oppression pops its head up again. It's kind of like "whack-a-mole," as John McCain might say, and it may just take a community of people to cry out and put LaBouf back in his place.

Anyway, send LaBouf a note if you want. Or take his email and sign him up for updates from Future Church, Call to Action, or The Religious Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing (or others sites that you might know!).

Monday, August 21, 2006

I should have linked to this article a month ago

I heart Amy Sullivan, who is a contributor (probably even an editor) at The Washington Monthly. Check out this article that she wrote for Slate, called "In Good Faith," which is the most accurate take I've seen on a speech given by Sen. Barack Obama in early July at a progressive religious conference. The speech caused all sorts of flutter, since he used words like "faith," "jesus," "abortion," "shame," and all those loaded words that makes politics a circus. It's good stuff...check it out, if you haven't seen it already.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

60 may be the new 40, but HIV/AIDS still sucks

Flipping through the Boston Globe this morning, I came across this Reuters article on Bill Clinton turning 60. Turns out, the former President isn't too keen on approaching Social Security age.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who turns 60 on Saturday, hates being so old -- and it's no consolation that 60 is being touted as the new 40 as the first of the baby boomer generation hit the big 6-0 this year.

An archetypal baby boomer who lived through the swinging '60s and disco era, Clinton plays the saxophone and admits he smoked marijuana (although he did not inhale).

But although a recent survey found almost 80 percent of Americans born in 1946 were satisfied with their lot, Clinton said being 60 was no dream.

"I hate it, it's true," Clinton told the XVI International AIDS Conference in Canada this week. "For most of my working life, I was the youngest person doing whatever I was doing, then one day I woke up and I was the oldest person in the room.

Uh, is it just me, or is anyone wondering why Reuters didn't run an article on what Bill Clinton actually had to say at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Canada? Moreover, it's pretty insensitive to be blabbing on about how old you feel at 60, when the average life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa is 47 years old, largely because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Africa is also home to the three countries with the lowest life expectancy: Swaziland (33.2 years); Botswana (33.9 years); and Lesotho (34.5 years). That's almost half of Bill Clinton.

I know 60 is a milestone, but let's be sure to put it in its proper context. In other words, quit your kvetching, Mr. President...people are dying.

For a bit of a recap on the XVI International AIDS Conference, click here. And for some commentary on controversy coming out of this week's conference, including the snub that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed the conference, click here. To put this into context, not even President Ronald Reagan snubbed the International AIDS Conference, and it took Reagan six years to even mention AIDS in public. Nice going, Mr. Harper.

This article also focuses on South Africa, where public officials are practically clueless when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Their minister of health, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, tells patients to eat lemon and garlic potatoes as treatment for the virus, and their President, Thabo Mbeki, doesn't believe that HIV causes AIDS.

No word, however, on how they both feel about Bill Clinton turning 60.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Meet Virginia

“Engrave this upon your heart – there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

Oh, the lessons we could learn from these wise words.

Three men had moments this week where they proved that humanity still has much to learn about how to treat ‘the other.’

The most publicized “man turned boob” this week was Senator George Allen, who referred to an Indian-American man as a ‘macaca,’ as most everyone knows by now. Sen. Allen’s love for the confederate flag not withstanding, this certainly isn’t the type of language one would expect from someone itching to run for President in 2008. His awkward apology made it even worse, and reminded me of something Rabbi Simmons wrote about on self-forgiveness: If we don’t authentically admit our wrong-doing in the first place, how can we expect to be forgiven? (“Did you eat the apple?” “No, the woman made me do it!” “Did you eat the apple?” “No, the snake made me do it!” “Well, somebody ate the fucking apple!” Or for those who think, like I do, that the creation story is something crazy Kansas School Board members use to justify removing evolution from school-wide science curriculums, “Did you blow up Iraqis?” “The terrorists blew us up first.” “Terrorists, did you blow up Americans?” “They’ve been selling weapons to our enemies for years.” “Hello, would you all stop blowing people up!”)

Oddly enough, there was another case of “Politicians Gone Racially Intolerant” this week, this time from the Democratic side of the aisle. Andrew Young, who co-chairs the campaign of Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor in Georgia, recorded his thoughts on why Wal-Mart is justified in taking over small mom-and-pop stores. Young’s own words:

"Well, I think [Wal-Mart] should; they ran the `mom and pop' stores out of my neighborhood," the paper quoted Young as saying. "But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."

Young says his comments were taken out of context, but I’m not sure there’s a context that these comments could be deemed acceptable. You know, outside of the, “If I were a big jerk, I’d say ‘well, I think the Jews, Arabs and Koreans sold us stale bread and bad meat…” Nice try, Mr. Young.

And in Connecticut, rookie Ned Lamont’s campaign manager, Tom Swan, managed to defile an entire town (Waterbury), by saying that the town was a place “Where the forces of slime meet the forces of evil.” For some reason that sounds more like a slogan for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as opposed to campaign fodder. I like the image of Donatello smacking Joe Lieberman with some bamboo sticks. Still, Tom Swan should have used better judgment. As many good people live in Waterbury as they do in whatever rich, gated community Ned Lamont probably lives in (and don’t get me wrong…I’d vote for Lamont vs. Lieberman, 1,000 times over). Besides, should Lamont win in November, I’m sure he’ll realize soon enough that the place where the forces of slime meet the forces of evil isn’t in Connecticut….it’s in the chambers of the U.S. Senate!

So it’s been a week of intolerance, and I’m not even including Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s “tar baby” comments two weeks ago.

What’s the lesson in all of this?

Well, it could just be that politics is a bad business to get into, because it makes one creepy and weird (Tom Tancredo, anyone?). Or it could be that people still harbor a shitload of racist baggage, and given time it will manifest itself in all sorts of different capacities.

But the other lesson is for consumers – those who read the articles, the blogs, the press releases about these incidents, and shake their heads in disapproval. It’s easy to cast judgment, but then again, people who live in glass houses….

We still owe it to ourselves to label all of these incidents as wrong, whether they involve Republicans or Democrats. Racist language is racist language, whether it comes from the dude wearing the white sheet, or the activist protesting the Iraq war. But then there’s the call from Thomas Merton, which seems ever more fitting this week. Thomas, chime in:

“We have to have a deep, patient compassion for the fears of men and irrational mania of those who hate or condemn us.”

Maybe that’s the key…reminding ourselves that the words of these pols are irrational, but that deep, patient compassion converts the broken person. After all, if we really knew these people outside of the few paragraphs that the Associated Press wrote, we’d probably find it really hard not to love them.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


We don’t have cable at our house yet, so on Sunday mornings I’m stuck watching whatever channels come in clearly with some flimsy rabbit ears. I generally enjoy George Stephanopoulos and Bob Schieffer. As luck would have it, the two channels they are on don’t come in on the television. Karma, I guess. I shouldn’t have called Stacy Traylor fat in eighth grade.

(In return, though, she shouldn’t have made up a Christmas carol, to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, with a line about my virginity status in it! On the first day, no less, so that it had to be repeated TWELVE times! Ugh, I hope she’s 350 pounds right now.)

Political shows on Sunday – especially Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday – always raise my blood pressure. They are a celebration in loudmouths, and a reminder of the partisan culture Washington likes to keep us contained in. Today, Chris Wallace practically introduced Ned Lamont as if he was running on the Al-Qaeda ticket. Ken Mehlmann (chair of the Republican National Committee, and the spokesperson for diarrhea of the mouth) practically blamed Democrats for the existence of liquid explosives.


They’ve probably dominated politics since the beginning of politics. One more reason, perhaps, why only 50 percent of the country votes.

Rilke, a well-known German poet, wrote a poem about a God-like person – a woman – that one day will arrive and cast the loudmouths in their place. For anyone looking for an end to partisan, Washington politics, this poem should resonate:

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
Of her life, and weaves them gratefully
Into a single cloth –
It’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
And clears it for a different celebration.

Where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
It’s you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
The unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
And she stretches beyond what limits her,
To hold you.

A former religion professor of mine used this poem as a way to describe what the energy of God looks like. I see it as a call to hope – a reminder that some day, we might mend our personal baggage (our “ill-matched threads”), and weave them into a tapestry that reflects a life beyond black and white understanding. It’s a call to community, and an end to the anxiety and individualism that so dominates this world.

If and when this call happens, it doesn’t matter how depressing television on Sunday morning is; the loudmouths, after all, get driven from our worlds.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Nagasaki Principle

As a follow-up to the post this morning, you won't regret checking out this article from James Carroll in the Boston Globe, The Nagasaki Principle. Here's the first graph:

"Today is the anniversary of what did not happen. Sixty-one years ago Sunday, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The scale of nuclear devastation was apparent at once. The next day, no decision was made to call off the bombing of Nagasaki. Why? Historians debate the justification of the Hiroshima attack, but there is consensus that Nagasaki, coming less than three days later, was tragically unnecessary. President Harry Truman's one order to use the atomic bomb, given on July 25, established a momentum that was not stopped."

This phenomenon of "momentum" is a brilliant theory, especially as it pertains to foreign and military policy. Momentum carries us to places where we don't assume responsibility for our actions, both before and after the fact. I'm reminded of Abu Ghraib, or those soldiers who killed and raped innocent Iraqis. See what the War on Terrorism yields? And without stopping and examining the moral consequences of these policies, we just stoke the disasters to come.

I'll go back to something I raised this morning, about why people forget about Nagasaki. Perhaps the fact that it didn't have to happen leaves us uncomfortable, it's just easier to ignore it, or ignore that a full three days took place between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Today marks the 61st anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Having worked for a peace and justice organization for the past four years, I’ve always been struck with how many people forget about Nagasaki. I don’t know if it’s because Hiroshima happened first, or if Hiroshima Day gets more attention, but I always found it odd that Nagasaki gets overlooked. I sometimes wonder if people realize that it was a full three days after Hiroshima that Nagasaki was bombed.

I wrote an article several years ago, condemning a display at the Smithsonian that essentially celebrated the dropping of nuclear bombs in Japan. It was an exhibit dedicated to the Enola Gay. I think I received more hate mail from that article than from anything else I’ve written. More than 100,000 people died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and yet, so many people still think that dropping those bombs on Japan was an act of justice; a victory for American heroism over ruthless tyrants.

Arundahti Roy, an activist and author of The God of Small Things, offers some appropriate words for this day. She pulls no punches.

“The nuclear bomb is the most antidemocratic, antinational, antihuman, outright evil thing that man has ever made. If you are religious, then remember that this bomb is man’s challenge to God. It’s worded quite simply. We have the power to destroy everything that You have created.”

“If you’re not [religious], then look at it this way. This world of ours is four thousand six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon.”

The world’s nuclear powers are all just one big recipe for Holocaust. Now that’s something to be scared about.

But there’s a challenge in this for us, articulated by spiritual author Henri Nouwen, to remember the death caused on August 6 (Hiroshima) and August 9 (Nagasaki).

“To forget our sins may be an even greater sin than to commit them. Why? Because what is forgotten cannot be healed and that which cannot be healed easily becomes the cause of greater evil. In his many books about the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel does not remind us of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Treblinka to torture our consciences with heightened guilt feelings, but to allow our memories to be healed and so to prevent an even worse disaster. An Auschwitz that is forgotten causes a Hiroshima, and a forgotten Hiroshima can cause the destruction of our world. By cutting off our past we paralyze our future: forgetting the evil behind us we evoke the evil in front of us.”

That last part is so powerful. If nothing else, perhaps the sheer act of remembering August 6 and August 9 will prevent future Hiroshimas and Nagasakis from happening again.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Healing Hate

"In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul." - Mary Renault

I think it's pretty hard in this world not to hate. It's an emotion that's played up in our culture, so much so that you wonder if anyone gets along anymore. Republicans hate democrats, democrats hate republicans...Israelis hate Palestinians, Palestinians hate Israelis...Israelis hate Hezbollah, Hezbollah hates Israelis...I could go on and on.

But this article in Sunday's edition of the Boston Globe, Can Hate Be Healed? gives a new take on hate. We all know what motivates hate, or what factors contribute to it. But what actually causes it?

Here's what the article says:

"Most hate is cultural. Normal people learn to hate from an early age from parents, teachers, friends, co-workers and the media. They might never translate their bigotry into behavior beyond using stereotypic epithets and telling bigoted jokes. But some hate is pathological. It becomes so severe that it takes control of a person's life, causing him to become isolated, fearful, self-destructive, and dangerous to others."

In other words, the more one hates, the more hate is etched into one's soul. But the author's throw out an interesting thought...can hate be healed? Perhaps it can, but only if it is treated as a mental disorder.

I'm sure that raises the hackles of anyone convinced we need more personal responsibility in this world. But perhaps it's a novel idea.

Anyway, check out the article. It may make you think differently about an emotion that seems so common, and so prevalent, in our world.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Reignited, and it feels so good

Neil Simon – not to be confused with Neil Diamond – once said that writing is “like striking a match. Sometimes it lights.” For the past six months, you might have noticed that there hasn’t been much fire on this blog. Perhaps every good writer needs to take a break once in a while to recycle and renew.

Or maybe blogs aren’t meant for the lazy and inconsistent, but instead for the partisan!

But after six months, I’d like to give this another crack. Same bat time, same bat channel, only this time I hope to be driven more by a personal desire to write, as opposed to being driven by a need to fill downtime at work.

Speaking of work, I’m no longer employed by the Catholic peace movement. As most folks know by now, I have taken a job as the communications coordinator for an ivy league school…somewhere in Massachusetts (hint hint).

I look forward to updating this blog more frequently now…if not daily, then every other day. And if not every other day, then at least once a week. And if not once a week…well, then maybe I’ll reassess whether the blogs get left to the pundits!