Jones of the Nile

Monday, February 26, 2007

Holy pizza!

Fresh off her appearance on a piece of toast, the Virgin Mary has showed up in Houston as an image formed on the surface of a pizza pan.

Vincent Santiago, one of the worshipers who has traveled to the pizza pan to view the image, said: "This is a sign that something in the world is going to happen. We don't know, but we have to keep our faith very, very strong on her."

Well, judging from the fact that the piece of toast sold for $2,800, I'd say the sign that Mr. Santiago foretells is that of a pizza pan owner watching his or her bank account increase.

If the Virgin Mary happens to read this blog, perhaps you might consider appearing on something in my house? Cause, you know, I'd love to pay off the Discover bill...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Morning Merton

Just sharing a passage from Thomas Merton on this Sunday. It's about silence. I find it particularly appropriate on a Sunday morning, as blowhards like Condi Rice, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Will, Sam Donaldson, Joe Biden, and many others prepare their talking points for the AM television shows.

Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion." - Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The web of politics: Bill Richardson

(Another in a series of presidential candidate website reviews. See here for the first review,

For some reason, as I bring up New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s Presidential Exploratory Committee website, I have the sudden urge to take on the Detroit Lions this Thanksgiving. Has Jerry Jones endorsed him? If not, he ought to, because this website is Dallas Cowboys motif all the way. I’m surprised there aren’t cheerleaders.

Former presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy once said, “Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important.” Damn, I wish the current crop of candidates would offer quips like this. Instead we’re mired in Geffengate.

Bill Richardson doesn’t seem to mention football anywhere on his site, But there’s no search engine, so I can’t be entirely sure. That’s OK, though…looking at the sites of every Democratic presidential candidate shows that none of them have search engines.

As for the meat and potatoes of Richardson’s site (or should I say the meat and bizcochito, New Mexico’s official state cookie!), here’s what we’ve got:

Familiar flag colors – check.

Email sign-up in the upper right-hand corner – check.

The five fun icons for myspace, facebook, youtube, partybuilder, and flickr - check

The phrase “saber-rattling” prominently displayed on the homepage – check.

Rotating pictures of Bill Richardson – check.

(Though Richardson should lose points here, because one of the photos in heavy rotation is a red-haired man with freckles named Lachlan McIntosh, who is Richardson’s South Carolina Statewide Director. A happy looking man, but people don’t know you Bill Richardson. Show pictures of you. You’re running for President, not Lachlan McIntosh. Which is good, because I haven’t heard a name as peculiar as Lachlan McIntosh since Lauch Faircloth. Must be a Carolinas thing.)

In short, the homepage has most everything you’d need or want. It’s all on there in a sea of blue and red. But to some extent, that’s the problem with this site: it’s a stereotypical sea of blue and red, with not much visual uniqueness to offer. And holy stars! There’s clichés, and then there are stars.

There’s one video currently offered on Richardson’s site, “The New Mexico Comeback,” a biographical short film that touts all of Richardson’s accomplishments in New Mexico. This video is great for seeing beautiful shots of New Mexico’s terrains, including its windmills and rustic mesas. I also think the voiceover does movies, or at least other commercials. Sadly, I don’t remember a lickin’ thing of substance from the video, other than lots of numbers were thrown out that made Richardson sound like a good governor and a FOB (friend of business).

As for the organization of the site, the headers are adequate. Here are the menus: About Bill, On the Issues, Newsroom, Blog, and Support Bill. Some have rollovers, and naturally the rollovers are blue. They work, but they suffer from the same symptom that the rollovers on McCain’s website suffer from: they are too dark to read. Or maybe my eyesight is going.

The bio information is probably OK, but I wanted more. The wife, Barbara, gets her own page, but dammit if her bio doesn’t end with this sentence: “Mrs. Richardson’s interests include gardening, reading and antiques.”

No word yet on whether she’s an avid bowler.

The newsroom and blog sections of this site are too much of a laundry list. The newsroom is just one press release or news clip listed after another, with no real organization thrown behind them. The presentation here is sad, and if the communications staff (who are listed on the side of the page) have any wits about them, they should revamp this area so that it can compete with the sites of other candidates. And why the hell did this news clip get posted?

“Here's a 2008 New Hampshire primary pop quiz question: Which Democratic presidential hopeful has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and is leading the charge to ban cockfighting in his home state? Answer: Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.” -Portsmouth Herald

I would have said Kucinich, since he’s the vegan.

But come on! That makes the newsroom section? Oy veh. One, is it really wise to play up the fact that New Mexico currently allows cockfighting (thus allowing me to legitimately post this picture to the right? Go chickens!)? Two, can anyone say non-sequitur?

“Here’s a 2008 primary pop quiz question: Which Democratic presidential hopeful has received two purple hearts, and ate a ham sandwich last night?”

See what I’m saying?

The blog is not much better. There’s no way to search by month, or to search by post. And who let this blog entry headline slide: “Surprise! Bill Richardson has charisma”?

Folks, if it’s a surprise that your candidate has charisma, you might want to keep that to yourself.

The one affirming thing about this site is that there’s a donate button that appears on every page, so that folks can give money for the Richardson campaign to create a better site for when he officially becomes a candidate.

On a scale of 1 to 5 bizcochitos (again, New Mexico’s state cookie!), I give this site a 2. That may be harsh, as the site has a skeleton with all the right stuff. But other candidates have sites that are just in a different league, and Richardson should follow their lead. Compare this site to or, and they just blow Richardson out of the water.

Richardson generated great buzz after his speech at the DNC meeting a few weeks ago, and he’s consistently doing well in polls on dailykos, and in the early caucus state of Nevada. But you wouldn’t know it from this website.

Stay tuned next week for another crack at the ’08 Republicans running for President, and a look at Kansas Senator Sam Brownback’s site.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"You eat lunch with a liberal and you are ashamed to order dessert."

There are several things that amuse me about this article from Garrison Keillor, posted at One is the picture (at right), which I guess is what Keillor would look like if he were to ever guest star on Dora the Explorer.

But I also find Keillor's love of telling stories to be romantic, and a great escape. As Keillor says, one of the ways to beat the doldrums of February, "...when everyone feels middle-aged even if you are 16," is to go have lunch with friends, and just tell stories.

As a light-hearted jab, he pokes fun at why liberals, poets and Republicans are not good lunch dates.

Anyway, it's a cute read, and should make you laugh. And maybe remind us of how important friends are to get us through the gallows of winter.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Political website review:

Last week I wrote a post comparing the logos of Democrats running for President. A good idea, but it hit me that maybe it would be better if I'd wax on about the websites of potential '08 candidates. Since, you know, I'm an expert.

Just kidding. I'm not. But since I've helped design three websites, and have loaded Dreamweaver onto my computer, I figure I can at least make some observations. Next week, who knows, I might write some drivel on quantum physics!

So for this week's website, I'm going to start with a candidate who has been running for President since he lost the South Carolina primary in 2000: John McCain. Full disclosure first: I'm a liberal. But when it comes to websites, I'm a non-partisan juggernaut. My one word description of John McCain's site: classy.

The site bills itself as "a departure from the traditional campaign website." I guess that really depends on what your definition of the traditional campaign website is; if your version of a traditional political website is what Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) used for his 2006 re-election camapaign (, then by all means, is a revolution of splash. For the record, may be the worst website ever.

But this post is about And immediately when you go to the site, the first thing that strikes you is the contrast in color. Classic black and white along the perimeter, with a full-color video menu dominating the middle of the index page. It's quite elegant, though two immediate thoughts come to mind:

1.) If McCain wants to look like he's not the oldest candidate running for president, the black & white motif might not be the best idea. Nothing says "I reached my prime during the days when the TV show Dobie Gillis originally ran" than a black and white website.

2.) McCain's logo reminds me of the McCain French fries logo. (See right.) Maybe it's the star.

Still, this being said, there's something nice about the uniqueness of the site, given the color-rich, splashiness of most political (and commercial) websites. I also like very much how you can just roll the cursor over a bottom menu of flash clips, to hear McCain wax on about how to get involved in the campaign, how to listen to video clips and read news releases of importance to "common sense conservatism," and how to become a part of McCainSpace, McCain's online networking concept. McCainSpace? Somewhere a punmaster is smirking.

The information architecture of the site is adequate, with menus on the top and bottom of the screen. A good use of rollovers is also incorporated, though I'm not crazy about the look of the rollovers, black text on a gray background.

As for the breakdown of the main pages,'s "For the Media" section is quite nice, and well organized. There are links for high resolution photos of John McCain (McCain seems to have excess skin on his face or his neck...I can't tell which), an "in the news" section (though this hasn't been updated since February 5, which seems like too long of a time delay for me), and a link for journalists to "join the media list."

McCainSpace is also somewhat impressive, allowing users to create their own website.

This page, however, has a photo that makes John McCain look like he has grim reaper hands. Or maybe that guy from "Tales from the Crypt." Bad choice. Nothing says "my body parts are deteriorating" like grim reaper hands.

On the "informing you" section of the site, there are some quite classy videos with titles like "Faith," "Government Reform," "Spending," and "Iraq," no doubt produced by someone who knows what they are doing. They really humanize McCain, and I think his position on increasing troops in Iraq is quite nuts. They also combat his reputation as a temper-driven politician, given how gentle he speaks.

The "Involving You" section and the "Action Center" do a fine job of using cool icons to access downloads, find people in your community interested in McCain, make a donation, etc. The blog section is just's organized nicely, and it has good links to YouTube, tips on how to engage the blogger community and post your own thoughts, and submit questions to the Senator. But for the life of me, I can't find the campaign's own blog, so I'm not sure they even have one. Secondly, they use the same photo of McCain twice on the same page, which creeps me out. Use two different photos, people. It shows initiative, and makes it so that it doesn't look like McCain's identical twin is doing a cameo.

This page has info on McCain's wife Cindy. It's a bit hidden within the site, and doesn't give much information on what (if any) role she'll play in the campaign. It's mostly biographical, and for some reason, there's a picture of a woman (presumably Cindy, but it doesn't really look like her), holding an infant, a floating child's head behind her. Weird.

McCain's bio page is much more detailed, but mostly about his military and Congressional service (no interesting details about who is favorite philosopher is, or perhaps what book he is currently reading, or his favorite musician, wedding song, etc.). There are half a dozen pictures, including this well-used photo (right), that makes McCain look hot. Mmm, sexy eyes. Undo that shirt a little more, Senator.

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 5 McCain French Fries, I give this site a 4. It should be well received by most folks, and it's fairly user-friendly. They make it easy for you to donate, too.

So while I think the man would be bad for this country, I think his campaign's website is good for the Internet.

Stay tuned next week for a look at neighboring New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's site. Bye for now!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Obama, Race, and John Howard...and logos!

Here's a fascinating post from The Nation's John Nichols, Is Obama's Race a Factor in Howard's Attack? The article looks at the skirmish this past weekend between Australian Prime Minister John Howard and U.S. Senator (and now Presidential candidate) Barack Obama. Was their racial undertones behind Howard's assertion that Al-Qaeda would be dancing for joy if Obama became President?

Read Nichols' piece and see what you think.

Speaking of Obama, as someone who does communications and public relations, I have to say that I really dig his new logo. Sure, the"O" is a bit cliche, from Oprah to to Cheerios. But I still like it. Below are my thoughts on the other candidates for the Democrats, and their logos appear at the bottom. (Republicans will come later!) Here's my rundown:

Hillary: as boring as sitting through 10 focus groups, which I have no doubt this logo has already done

Edwards: boring with a green swoosh

Richardson: undertones of the TV show "Dallas"

Vilsack: props for a different color scheme, but a little too "V for Vendetta" for a Presidential Candidate. Perhaps if Vilsack was wearing a white mask and blowing up parliament...

Biden: this logo reminds me of the BUSH/CHENEY logo from 2004 (I think it's the colors more than the font). It's not altogether bad, but Biden's website is creepy. Go there. And tell me if the two pictures of Joe Biden smiling don't freak you out a bit. (and to top it off, there's a frozen shot of Biden's wife, who looks like she's pooping.)

Kucinich: too square for such a fun guy

Gravel: I'm not even sure Gravel has a logo or just a watermark

(Not available: Chris Dodd)

Monday, February 12, 2007

"mike looks like..."

How could one resist not doing this, which comes from my friend JR’s live journal.

Instructions: Do a Google search for the following: "(your name here) looks like" inserting your name where indicated and including the quotes. Post the top five (or just laugh at them).

If I type my full name, Mike Jones, I get what the rapper Mike Jones looks like, and the consensus on him seems to be one of the ninja turtles. So I just left it “mike” and here are my top five:

5.) “Mike looks like a freak with no hair.”

4.) “Mike looks like three shades of turd.”

3.) “Mike looks like a pimp in that get up with the sheep staff.”

2.) “Mike looks like he may be kicking ass again!”

1.) “Mike looks like a normal person, until he takes his shirt off.”

Ah, the things that people will do to kill time...

I love this fact

Lest voters wonder about the "family values" of potential 2008 Presidential contenders, look no further than this post on Hotline blog.

Seems Mitt Romney's wife has said that "The biggest difference between Mitt Romney and the other [Republican] candidates," is that Mitt has "only had one wife."

McCain has had 2. Guliani has had 3 (and number two did not end pretty). Gingrich is now on his third marriage, as well.

Meanwhile, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton (for better or worse) are still married to their original spouses.

Not that there's anything wrong with getting a divorce, mind you, but let's just remember which party always bitches and moans about family values, gay people threatening the sanctity of marriage, the breakdown of the American family, etc., etc.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snickers and Ted Haggard

Ha. Courtesy of Pretty on the Outside. Too bad this wasn't shown during the Super Bowl.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I just came across the term "couch-potatoitis." I'm not sure I know exactly what it means, though I guess it's one of those terms like "pornography" - you know it when you see it.

The term is used by Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest (ex-communicated for his liberal views), in a recent issue of Yes Magazine. In the interview, Fox talks about the difference between eros — the love of life, and sloth or couch-potatoitis. Here's his words:

...the word sloth is a narrow translation of acedia, and what acedia meant in medieval understanding according to Thomas Aquinas was a lack of energy to begin new things. It would include cynicism, despair, depression, couch-
potatoitis, and so forth.

Zeal, he said, is the opposite of that. Zeal comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things. Rediscovering the beauty of existence, and of our planet, and of our own species—I think this is where we get the energy back.

Check out the rest of the interview for more curious insights from this curious man.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Whoa, dolly

So it's Super Bowl Sunday, and I'm watching the Indianapolis Colts lead the Chicago Bears. I hope Chicago pulls this thing out, but I truthfully don't care. I'm more content feeding my dog Doritos.

After watching Prince do a mediocre halftime show, I got curious about who else has done halftime shows. Check these performers out. Most of the early Super Bowls (and really, most Super Bowls up until the late 1980s) had marching bands or Air Force Bands. But how about Super Bowl IV and Super Bowl VI?

Oh yeah. Carol Channing.

What's really funny is that sandwiched in between Carol Channing's outings is homosexual-hating Anita Bryant. Haha.

Other highlights include a 1991 performance with New Kids on the Block (which I sadly don't remember), a 1988 performance by Chubby Checker (who knew he was even still performing in 1988!), four separate performances of Up With People, and many others that you'll relish remembering, from Michael Jackson to Boyz II Men.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Letters from India

Hi folks! I'm back from Mumbai, India, but still adjusting to the 10.5 hours of time difference, and trying to get back into the routine. Below you'll see two letters that I sent from India, that I figured I would post here, since I'm not really articulate enough yet to post about anything else.

In the coming days I'll start back up blogging, so until then!

One more note from India

Hi family & friends,

Thanks so much for reading these updates over the course of the past three weeks - more than anything, these were helpful for me to process so much of what has happened on this trip, though they still are just scratching the surface.

I'll get into the work for this week in a minute, but for those immediately curious, yes our team was able to get inside some prisons. It's dire, to say the least, but I'll write more on that in a minute.

We wrapped up our last day in India. To tell you all the truth, I'm actually writing this from Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, on a behemoth layover for my flight back to Boston. I left India this morning at 1:20am Mumbai time, and will arrive back in Boston 26 hours later. The trip was by many accounts a huge success, both on a personal and a professional level (though to be honest, some students were better than others!).

Incidentally, my last day in India was also a national holiday - Republic Day - which is similar to our 4th of July. I picked up a copy of the local paper, and they had some pull quotes from young professionals (all under 35) about what they dream for the future of India. Some samplings:

"I hope to see India become a First World nation in my lifetime."

"I hope the next decade is a decade marked by a dramatic increase in wealth."

"I hope India continues to grow in the technology and financial markets, and becomes a true competitor in this world."

That's certainly one perspective (anyone reminded of Arundahti Roy right now? She's a well versed author and essayist who my mind correctly...that the war on terrorism is as much about exporting U.S. capitalism and marketplace values as it is about fighting jihadists...if indeed it was ever about fighting jihadists).

Here's another perspective on desires for India. On my cab ride into downtown Mumbai, this sign was placed atop a delapidated building:

"The day everyone of us has access to our own toilet is the day that our country will truly know it has reached the pinacle of success."

Somehow that sentiment was left off the front page of the paper. With 70% of Mumbai's citizens alone living in slums, you can see that the pinacle of success by this standard is still quite a way's down the road.

India is paradox. Another example...last Sunday I met a barrister from England at a country house near the village of Revdanda. The house was in the mountains, surrounded by rice fields, mango trees, vegetable gardens, and brush - a kind of tropical oasis two hours away from the intensity of Mumbai. I was standing on a marble balcony overlooking this all, and said "Wow, this is the first time I think I've felt anything close to solitude in India."

To which the barrister replied: "Oh, you're never alone in India." At which point, three wild cows and a half dozen residents from the neighboring village emerged from the forest.

"You're never alone in India." As foreigners go, I think these five words could probably sum up anyone's first visit (or first 20 visits) to India, at least on the surface. The crowds, car horns (I can't stress enough how relentless the car horns are), beggers, shopkeepers, mosquitos, cows, taxis, slums, Bollywood billboards, children playing cricket, rickshaws, glam restaurants, dive restaurants...there's not a square inch of Mumbai that doesn't seem taken up by all of these. I kid not; on my final day here, I went to the financial district area, where a cow was resting in the middle of the busiest street, with some chickens and goats nearby. Imagine seeing
livestock in the middle of Wall Street, or Constitution Avenue, or Park Street!

"You're never alone in India." I thought about that statement a lot this week. If you define alone as sheer numbers of people, animals, and things, I think the statement holds true. But if loneliness is something deeper, and I think many of us would agree that it is, then it wouldn't matter if India had two billion, or four billion people. There'd always be a certain someone, or group of someones, alone.

Here's where the work comes in. We spent more of this week interviewing former prisoners, in particular more drug addicts, and more sex workers. I focused mostly on the drug addicts. There is nothing in my recent memory that has hit me so raw as the stories of these folks. I could write a book on their words, but for space I won't. Here's one story that sticks with me.

Bailey, so desperate for brown sugar (heroin), is starting to go through withdrawal. All he can think about is his next hit. He gets some, it's early morning, and he's so strung out that he doesn't stop to think about finding a quiet place to inject himself. He shoots up in the open, and is soon tracked down by a police officer. He is beaten. He is arrested. He is taken to prison, where he is put in a barrack with 100 other people (in a space meant for 40), many of whom are drug users. Soon after he arrives, he starts going through withdrawal symptoms. Moaning, diarrhea, throwing up, convulsions. And it's not just him. There are dozens in the barrack facing the same situation. Imagine the sounds and smells of 30+ people going through withdrawal at the same time, in a space as big as a one-car garage. Meanwhile, they are beat by the other prisoners for creating such a maddening scene. Some are raped, others forced to sleep in the toilet, others denied food or water. Bailey himself never even sees the inside of a courtroom. Two months pass, and finally the system says he can go free if he agrees to plead guilty. He does so.

When our team got access into one of the prisons, we saw many of these things. Overcrowding. Poor water. Rats. Cockroaches. A barrack for the mentally ill where they are literally chained up for hours on end. The sounds of inmates going through withdrawal. Scabbies. A sick barrack where HIV+ inmates are kept with TB patients. I could go on.

But what sticks with you more than any of these conditions...more than any of these conditions combined...are the vacant, downright empty eyes that look back at you, as you walk in with your khaki pants and nice shoes, with your pen & notebook in hand. One of our students said she thought it looked like they had all just stopped crying, as the area around their eyes was sunken and dry. Sometimes it's hard to make out their faces, but you can see them by the size of the abscesses on their skin. And there are foreigners, too...not just Indians.

"You're never alone in India." At the end of the week, as I repeated that phrase to myself, all I could think of was "bullshit." (I admit, however, to being angry and worn-thin by week's end.)

There's so much more to say, both about the prisons, but also about our everday experiences. How do I tell you all about the chortel of our driver, which when he laughs makes the entire car laugh, too? How do you talk about playing cricket with kids who live on the footpath, running on used drug needles as they try to catch balls? Or the group home for children and the 10 girls, all of whom have lost their parents (either to death or to prison), trying to teach us Hindi and laughing at our bad pronounciation? Or the "underground" dance club we went to where hundreds of gay & lesbian people (mostly 20-30 year olds) could feel a reasonable amount of safety in
each other's company, while in the "real world" they can be arrested under Indian Penal Code 377 for being themselves?

How too do I tell you all honestly of the things I'm not so proud initial fear of taking a cab by myself, or being unable to hide my disgust as a rat crawled across my shoe at a drop-in center for drug addicts? Or reaching to feel for my wallet every nanosecond when walking through a crowd or in the slums, as if the damn thing really mattered anyway? Or finding myself longing for a hot shower, when so many of the drug users, inmates and sex workers we spoke to haven't showered in weeks or months, let alone with clean or hot water?

In the end, the importance of this work goes well beyond writing a report on prison conditions. At least I hope it does, or I'll lose faith in why Harvard sends students and employees to do this work anyway. On the grander level, how could this work not be about absorbing all of the brokenness that you can, and somehow using their wounds to fix a part of yourself (and vice versa). This work just cannot be about extrapolating information, writing a report, and then washing your hands (or more aptly, putting on the hand sanitizer). Perhaps the challenge is about giving back more than what you take away.

Anyway, I hope the students wrestle with these questions as much as I am. And I thank you all for your patience with my emotional rambling. Looking forward to seeing many of you soon, or at least talking with many of you soon!

Take care for now,
PS- forgive the spelling and grammar in this beast......

Week Two from India

So another week has gone by here in Mumbai, India. This week for us has been quite exhausting. We're working too much. I feel like I have five Marie Dennises on this trip (note: That joke's only for my Pax Christi friends), with the schedule that my fellow team members keep pushing. But all is going well.

Not much down time, though I am shopping and sight-seeing in spurts. The Colaba area of Bombay is like a tourist's haven, and you can't walk four inches w/out running into a place that sells engraved keychains, stolls, scarves, leather jackets, drums, seven-foot tall balloons in the shape of bowling pins, tacky t-shirts, hundreds of flavors of name it, and this area has it. Even kitchen sinks, so the cliche rings true!

The poverty of this place still overwhelms me. They say during monsoon season (summer) that people on the streets get flooded away, thus losing their homes (shacks), or if they don't have homes, losing the piece of the foot path that they sleep on. I can't imagine what that must be like, given that 70% of the city lives on the streets. Add that to the booming mosquito population in monsoon season, and this place would seem to be toxic.

But against the poverty backdrop is also the overwhelming presence of tourists from all over the world, and non-resident Indians who travel back to the motherland around this time b/c the weather is so hospitable. It's a sociologist's dream to watch the "World Traveler" population mesh with the locals. I find it difficult myself. I gave money to a woman w/ child begging the other day, and the next thing I knew I had a dozen women w/ children around me. Overwhelming.

As for the work, like I said it's keeping us busy. On Monday I met w/ the Cancer Patients Aid Association, which is the chief petitioner in an ongoing case against drug giant Novartis. The drug company wants to obtain exclusive marketing rights for a life-saving drug over here, which would mean that no generic reproduction would take place...and Novartis would charge approx. $1,200 USD for a one month supply. There aren't too many people over here who could afford $1,200 USD a month for cancer medication, so the thought of not having a generic for these patients to access is
staggering. The case is historic, in that it also could mean that pharmaceutical giants could prevent generic reproduction of other life-saving drugs, which would literally deny millions of patients of cancer, AIDS, TB, and more the needed medication they have to have to live (since paying full price for medication is not an option for millions in the developnig world). It makes me so angry. For those who have seen "The Constant Gardener," many of the same issues covered in that movie (sans the Hollywood-ness of the film) are in full light over here in India.

This week we also dug further into our investigation of prisons, meeting with a dozen different organizations and individuals. There was the criminal justice professor who led a study on public health in prisons (coming to the conclusion that for every 250 inmates, there is one doctor, who works approximately 10 minutes a week). There was the theater group that puts on plays for inmates. The sex worker organization that works with women who are currently selling sex (many of whom have been arrested
multiple times for soliciting). The education group that goes into prisons teaching literacy. And more.

The work this week brought me back to my social work days, as we talked to several groups that work exclusively within the criminal justice system, and were hesitant (if not unwilling) to criticize any of the conditions faced by prisoners, as it might jeopardize the very good rehab work they are trying to do. In class back in my undergrad days, there would always be discussions about working w/in the system vs. working outside of the system. That debate was alive and well this week, as organizations were willing to overlook horrendous conditions (i.e. no doctors, bad water, drugs, sexual violence, etc.), in lieu of having access to prisons where they could work one-on-one with rehabilitating inmates within India's criminal justice
system. It's inappropriate to question the motivations of organizations and
individuals, but I certainly found it frustrating that an organization running great social programs in prisons (literacy, HIV/AIDS education, ministry, yoga, etc.) could overlook the fact that prisoners have no room to sleep, suffer violence from guards and inmates, drink contaminated water, etc. Such a hard issue to navigate...if they raise a stink about these issues, and they lose their access to prisons, then the prisoners lose out on the literacy training, the HIV/AIDS education, the yoga classes and more that these groups bring...

Anyway, I'm blabbering. That's all just to say that systems are complex, and it's hard for me to figure out for myself when it's necessary to close your eyes to injustice in order to provide much needed services.

Lastly, our team took a two-hour trip to Pune, another city here in India. We met with a lawyer who works for an organization called Human Rights Lawyers and Defenders. A great guy, with an office that feels more like a family than a workplace. He dropped everything to meet with us, and then facilitated a meeting between us and a researcher with the inspector general of prisons. Later that night, he took us to a restaurant to meet with some Bollywood star that was trained as a psychiatrist. The man was boring as hell, but hey, at least I got to have a drink with a Bollywood star!

That's it for now...I'm off to go find the rest of the members of our team. It's 7pm here in mumbai, a good 10.5 hours ahead of Boston. We're just ending our day, and you all are just beginning. Have a great weekend! I will try to send one more update next week, as we may get access to one or two prisons, and I'll be eager to share the details of what we saw.

All the best, and much love!