Tuesday, May 31, 2005

African village in the zoo at Augsburg, Germany

This is not a joke. "Artisans, silversmiths, basket makers and traditional hairdressers are situated in an unique African steppe landscape" says the brochure. Norbert Finzsch, Professor of History and Provost of the University of Cologne wrote:
It is obvious that the conveners do not understand the historical implications of their project. . . . The way Africans and African Americans in Germany are perceived and discussed, the way they are present on billboards and in TV ads prove that the colonialist and racist gaze is still very much alive in Germany.

This is the direct result of forty years of German colonialism and twelve years of National Socialism. People of color are still seen as exotic objects (of desire), as basically dehumanized entities within the realm of animals. This also explains why a zoo has been selected as site for the exhibit. It is necessary to remind the organizers that in the history of "ethnographic shows" African and German African individuals were used as objects for anthropometric tests and ethnological investigations of highly questionable scientific benefit. Many of the artists who performed in these shows in the 1920s and 1930s died from malnutrition and as a consequence of bad living conditions. The Nazis employed a policy of eugenic control, resulting in forced operations to limit the biological reproduction of African Germans or in downright incarceration in concentration camps. Survivors of this policy had to gain a living as performers in exotic shows.

The Augsburg exhibit thus fails to acknowledge the political and social history of persecution in Nazi Germany.

German speakers can read more here.

You can send a letter of protest to Frau Dr. Barbara Jantschke (Director of the Zoo at Augsburg).

But while we're railing at the arrogant racism in displaying human beings in a zoo, we need to be aware of some US history. In 2000 Martha R. Clevenger of the Missouri Historical Society described this show at the St. Louis Worlds Fair in 1904 still making excuses for the display, while cautioning that we contemporaries also carry the prejudices of our own time:
In 1904, a group of Igorot men and women, members of a Filipino tribe, were exhibited on the grounds of the St. Louis World's Fair. . . [they served as] a human exhibit to justify the new American program of overseas Imperialism. . . .

The architects of the Igorot display had good intentions. They were interested in the new science of anthropology, which they understood to be "man's study of man," and hoped that an examination of the people of the Philippines might teach something of value. They were promoting a political and social agenda, which included not only furthering of American Imperial interests, but also disseminating the American values of education, economic prosperity, democracy, and progress. In practice, however, these lofty goals were corrupted by a competing agendas: by the need to attract visitorship to the World's Fair, by the human tendency to gape at that which is different, and by the inequities inherent in ensconcing human beings in a human zoo. . . .

For example, in order to attract press coverage and hence visitors, Fair planners required the Igorots to perform the dog feast on a daily basis. In reality (if understand correctly) the dog feast was a rare and infrequently preformed ceremonial event at home in the Philippines.

At the Fair, the dog feast, and the efforts of Fair planners to procure dogs for the Igorots, became great fodder for the popular press. Today, this is what we remember about the Igorot.

By-putting people on exhibit, Fair planners effectively turned them into objects, to be inspected, to be studied, to be stared at and peered at, and inevitably to be denigrated, pitied and despised. In an age before the Internet, a group of people such as the Igorots, who looked different, who dressed in traditional fashion, and who were required to kill, cook and eat dogs on a daily basis were an exotic curiosity. Under these circumstances, it was very difficult for Fair planners to keep the Philippine Exhibit from effectively degenerating into a sideshow.

The Germans running the Augsburg zoo don't get it; the organizers of the St. Louis Fair didn't get it; and when we distance ourselves from those 1904 anthropological imperialists, we don't get it: other people do not exist for us, for our exploitation or our entertainment. We're all in this human condition together, none stranger, more exotic or less valuable than any other. Get over it.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Meanwhile in Brazil. . .

Perhaps 2 million people marched in a gay pride parade in Sao Paolo on Monday! Folks in the US and even in San Francisco think we are the center of the gay universe. Looks like we can think again.
"There have never been so many people at the Gay Pride Parade," said Pedro Almeida, a spokesman for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group that organized the parade.

"This shows true support for our cause, that of civil unions of people of the same sex," he said, speaking to AFP.

"With this many people showing up, the parade is a major step to strike [against] people's prejudice against gays everywhere," he said.
. . .
Civil unions between same-sex couples are only permitted in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Gay activists are hoping that the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will initiate a bill to legalise gay unions countrywide.

This is what "globalization" of our hopes and visions, instead of our fears, might look like.

Mill Valley Memorial Day parade

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."

This enormous Gandhi was lined up to lead the Marin County town's annual parade this morning. Behind it was a block filled with troops of school children, sea scouts in naval uniforms, kung fu students and local office holders in open cars. Ahead on the curbs of the main street, Mill Valley spectators waited expectantly in lawn chairs. At the main square, peace protestors, obviously well known to all, waved "Out Now!" signs. Clearly the Memorial Day parade is a popular, participatory local festival.

It would be easy to mock Mill Valley's celebration -- how sweet that this privileged enclave can hold a determinedly non-bellicose parade on the day we remember US war dead! While the imperial ambitions of our rulers add to the sad total, how dare they promote peaceful change and community? Do local Tamalpais High Students join the military -- or more likely -- do they go to good colleges and leave fighting to the less privileged? Do the assembled school children have any idea how far outside the mainstream of their country their pleasant celebration falls?

But why should I mock when I can be glad? The Mill Valley folks were enjoying the sun, their families, their town and their hopes. It has to be better to be glad than to assert cyncial superiority.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

My city must be doing something right

red city hall
San Francisco City Hall; we're not just blue, we're RED. Photo by David Klein

From today's New York Times:
U.N. Party Planners Wonder, Will Bush and Friends Attend?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has indicated she will not attend. So has former President George H. W. Bush. The controversial nominee for United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, has not been heard from, nor has President Bush, who was sent an invitation in February.

Getting big-name administration officials to attend events outside Washington is always a long shot because of their busy schedules. But in the case of the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the United Nations, which will take place in San Francisco late next month, some organizers are wondering if something beyond scheduling conflicts is at play.
. . .
"It doesn't mean they aren't coming, and it doesn't mean they are," said Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom. Mr. Ragone added, "We've become accustomed to not expecting the Bush administration to attend official events in San Francisco."

As president, Mr. Bush has visited California numerous times but has avoided the overwhelmingly Democratic San Francisco, where he garnered just 15 percent of the vote last year.

Ms. Rice, who taught for many years at nearby Stanford University, was interrupted by antiwar protesters when she spoke at the Commonwealth Club here on Friday.

They don't want us! We don't want them!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A tale from the US gulag

Today's UK Guardian reports the story of an Iraqi Kurdish Muslim practicing his religion against great odds. Ali Bapir, a militia leader who opposed Saddam Hussein, was arrested in 2003 on the way to ask for compensation for a US missile strike that had killed 43 of his followers. His US captors claimed he had planned attacks on them, conspired with Iran, and was in league with terrorists. The Guardian reports:
. . . He said he was tortured but refused to go into details. "I don't want to explain. That's all. I will only tell you the consequences of the torture. When I went to prison my weight was 75kg (165lbs) but after nine days I had lost 15kg and my heartbeat was very quick. I told everything to the Red Cross."

For twenty-two months the US held him alongside captured Ba'athists including Ali Hassan al-Majid, aka Chemical Ali, the alleged mastermind of gas attacks on the Kurds and of the brutal suppression of the Shia and Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's former deputy prime minister. The former dictator himself was in a nearby building. Bapir protested:
"Why did you put me in here with criminals and mass murderers? I have never been a Ba'athist and I am not a terrorist. I even killed my brother because he spied for the Iraqi intelligence."

But as the weeks progressed, he channeled his rage into pity and became a spiritual guide to the ex-Ba'athist leaders, teaching them the Qur'an and leading them in prayer.

"At first I was hostile to them," he said. "What they did to my people and the Iraqi people in general was not to be forgiven. But they were also in prison and in a weak position. It was my duty under Islam to show mercy, even to these people who had never shown mercy to others."
. . .
His sermons and counseling had an effect. "Some of them did recognize their mistakes. Some of them told me they would go to their cells and open the Qur'an and cry because now they made sense of what they did and how horrifying were the results of their actions."

Finally the US occupiers let him go, without explanation. Amazingly, the experience has confirmed his religious opposition to terrorist war:
Now Sheikh Ali hopes to convince Islamists to renounce violence. He regards the suicide bombers in Iraq as being foreigners who are "ignorant" of Iraq and Islam. "The Qur'an says it is wrong for even one innocent Muslim to be killed among 100 guilty people," he said. "Killing an innocent policeman or other people who are just job seekers is not Islamic."

Do I believe this is a true story of spiritual maturity or is it just a charming fable, concocted out of the converging interests of a minor Kurdish warlord and an antiwar British newspaper? It could be the latter, but I am willing to believe it. Some fraction of us, on some happy occasions, do transform our adversities into the strength to temper justice with compassion. Such transformations, our own and others, are the stuff of hope.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Queer Sells--Selling Queer

I'm visually uncivilized as I've explained before. I often miss visual references in popular culture until hit over the head with them. Yesterday on that anti-visual medium, the car radio, I heard an interesting interview that sent me to a website where I spent an absorbing hour playing with pictures!

Commercial Closet "works to improve public opinion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community through more informed GLBT portrayals in the powerful medium of advertising." They want to be sure we understand: "We work differently than GLAAD, we're not an activist organization, but a friend of business."

Well I'm not much of a friend of big, exploitative business, but I certainly want to notice and think about how advertising shapes perceptions in our culture and society. Like millions of others, I do look forward to critiquing each years' new batch of Super Bowl commercials. And if you have any interest in thinking about how advertising shows LGBT people, Commercial Culture offers a slightly horrifying but surprisingly broadly conceived opportunity to take a look. And it is fun.

Hundreds of ads, mostly but not exclusively from the US, are available for viewing, rating ("Love it," "indifferent," and "Hate it"), and your comments. The ads are grouped on a scale of "portrayals" ranging from positive, to neutral, to stereotypical. But even more interestingly, they are also grouped by "themes" that reflect a huge diversity of possible gayness. Those business folks sure pay attention to their niche marketing: over 50 theme collections include such topics as "Trans. Beauty," "Spanish Language North America," "Biracial Pairings," and "Women in male drag/butch." You can spend a lot of time exploring who has been seen, how we've been seen and how we are used to sell. This stuff does help shape the limits of the possible in our image-drenched culture. The commentaries on each ad are informative too.

There was an ad that come close to making me cry featuring an HIV-positive marathon runner. The notorious United Church of Christ ad promising a welcome to gay people which was rejected by the networks is here. And there's even a special Super Bowl theme for all of us football freaks.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Labor takes it to Arnold's doorstep

On May 25, over 10,000 nurses, teachers, firefighters, other state workers, families and friends rallied at the Capitol in Sacramento to let the Governator know that he can't balance the budget out of their earnings. In the interests of his Wall Street contributors, Arnold wants to "reform" state government in ways that undercut the working people whose work makes the state a good place to live. He threatens to call a $70 million special election this fall to push initiatives that would change legislative districting in mid-decade, weaken teacher tenure and empower the Governor to override the Legislature on budget matters.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that protesters charged "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's policy agenda shortchanges schoolchildren and undermines the fabric of California's poor and middle class. . . At the Capitol on Wednesday, firefighters, teachers, nurses and others -- many wearing the insignias of their professions -- stood under a sweltering late- afternoon sun and, in the most charged and personal rhetoric yet, fired back."

I was privileged to work with the California Nurses Association on building the rally and captured some of the spirit of the event in pictures.


This California Highway Patrol medic seemed to enjoy being with other workers speaking up for his pension rights!

One of Arnold's proposals would give bonus to some teachers, opening the way for favoritism and cronyism.

Last year the Governor "borrowed" $2 billion from mandated education funds and promised to pay it back this year. Now he has broken his promise!








The Capitol Police and their horses enjoyed the day as well.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

How these fundies really think . . .
NC Church sign tells us

This sign posted in front of Danieltown Baptist Church has sparked debate in Rutherford County about religious tolerance. (Josh Humphries/Daily Courier)

The Rev. Creighton Lovelace, pastor of the church, is not apologizing for the display.
"Our creed as a Christian, or a Protestant, or a Baptist church -- of course we don't have a creed but the bible -- but we do have the Baptist faith and message that says that we should cling to the 66 books of the Holy Bible and any other book outside of that claiming to know the way of God or claiming to be God's word is automatically written off and is trying to defeat people from the way of true righteousness inside of our viewpoint in how we view the word of God," Lovelace said.

"Putting such a sign in a public place is an un-American example of intolerance, of aggressive disrespect for other citizens' deeply held views," said Donald Searing, Burton Craige Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This is the sort of attitude and action that seriously endangers the liberty which lies at the heart of our democracy. It is also a good reminder that just because one may have the legal right to say something, doing so may not be morally, socially or politically desirable."

The religious right is eliminationist; if something -- like Muslims, gay people, or uppity women -- isn't part of their world view, they seem to believe they are called to do away with the offending people/reality. When/if they have the power to eliminate as well as freedom to advocate for elimination, we will indeed have lost our liberty.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Whose money makes the world go round?

Time for a change -- something happening here that is potentially good. Francis Calpotura at the Transnational Institute for Global Research and Action (TIGRA) is pursuing an idea that just might give some of the dispersed human flotsam of globalization a little more power over their lives.

As capital moves freely round the World Trade Organization-dominated globe, labor follows, trying to earn enough to stay alive and send something home to those left behind. For many poor countries, remittances from emigrants fuel the domestic economy. In 36 out of 153 "developing countries," remittances are larger than all other capital flows. In Haiti and Jordan they over 22 percent of GDP; in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Jamaica, more than 13 percent; and in the Dominican Republic, Philippines and Honduras more than 8.5 percent. That is, an awful lot of poor people, worldwide, depend on what housecleaners, gardeners and dishwashers earn in the richer countries. International agencies estimate that somewhere between $200 and $300 billion were involved in 2003.

So how does that money flow back home? Perhaps two-thirds of it runs through unregulated networks such as the hawala system by which mostly Muslim financiers trade debts internationally. But at least one-third moves through the global international banking system which extracts its cut through fees ranging from 16 to 28 percent. Vijay Prashad reports that "MoneyGram, Western Union, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and others charge a transaction fee (7-14%), an exchange rate commission (2.5%), an interest float on funds prior to transmission (1.5%) and often an additional fee of 5-10% for those who have no bank account."

TIGRA wants to organize the migrants to take back their hard earned dollars from the big banks. Their demands include:

  • Lower fees, increase transparency and access;

  • Expand the reach of transfer services to rural areas;

  • Clear the debt of countries of origin, specially “odious loans;”

  • and Increase investments in poor communities in the US

But TIGRA knows that this is not just another problem nationalistically spawned by US capitalists. Transnational exploitation of poor workers requires transnational responses. These might include:

  • Research projects with activists from remittance-receiving countries on US-based financial institutions' ties with home country banks and businesses; on the debt burden of countries to these banks, specially “odious loans;” andother investments and financing in the country.

  • Creating country-- or hometown-based -- profiles of remittance practices by migrants, their families and communities.

  • Setting a Day of Action to demand lower fees from financial institutions and publicize their role in foreign debt and forced displacement.

  • Conduct a Working Committee for Strategy Meeting at next World Social Forum.

All these initiatives seem a little skeletal and tentative, given the magnitude of the problem. But the vision is undoubtedly right. In a world in which capital is global, the thinking of those of us who intend not to let it run over us must also be global.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

On boiling frogs and hypnotizing lobsters

sleeping lobsters
I made an upsetting discovery today. Apparently it is a fable that a frog placed in water that is gradually brought to a boil will make no attempt to escape. Snopes.com has done the research. According to University of Oklahoma zoologist Dr. Victor Hutchison:
The 'critical thermal maxima' of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.

Okay, so when the frog starts feeling hot, it jumps around and tries to get out.

What is wrong with us? Our government invades countries, destroys the fabric of peoples' lives, either condones or encourages torture and murder and we just go about our business. Our politicians pander to the big money interests that buy their campaigns and to flat earth pseudo Christians and we just tune them out. When do we start jumping around and maybe kick over the pot?

Maybe if we are not boiling frogs, we are hypnotized lobsters. The Gulf of Maine Aquarium suggests that "to hypnotize a lobster, you stand it on its head with its claws laid out in front of it and its tail curled inward. Rub your hand up and down the carapace making sure to rub between the eyes. Eventually it may stand by itself." Then you plop the critter into the boiling water and a few minutes later, you have dinner.

Feel that rubbing between the eyes? Do you?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

It's about revenge, stupid!

Confucius knew better, teaching "before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

Really, that's what underlies the steady drip, drip, drip of stories about US soldiers and contractors torturing and murdering prisoners and other unfortunates. Sure, it is the imperial wars of our pseudo fascist rulers that provide the opportunity and the backdrop. As a matter of policy, those rulers disdain law and seek to rule through brute force. But the individual torturers, soldiers and interrogators, are only enabled, not made, by the policy; too many of us thrive on irrational, exaggerated feelings of personal injury about the 9/11 attacks; too many feel justified by this injury in taking revenge on hapless conquered people under their power.

As the New York Times recounted in a recent revelatory story from Bagram prison in Afghanistan, for the US torturers, all Afghan, Iraqi, Arab, Muslim, "hajji" captives are guilty and all people, except other guilty subhumans, can be counted on to share that view, even US criminals.
Finally, Specialist Walls grabbed the prisoner and "shook him harshly," the interpreter said, telling him that if he failed to cooperate, he would be shipped to a prison in the United States, where he would be "treated like a woman, by the other men" and face the wrath of criminals who "would be very angry with anyone involved in the 9/11 attacks."

Some of the US torturers in Afghanistan began to notice the human beings across from them. Connection couldn't be allowed to develop:
"We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren't our friends and could not be trusted." Mr. Leahy said.

The novelist, former priest, and essayist James Carroll marked the institution of the elected Iraqi government with an insightful meditation on the need people in this country feel for revenge:
Sept. 11, 2001, left the United States in the grip of an unarticulated need for payback. No one takes a blow like that without wanting to strike out. Stated justifications aside, that need fueled the subsequent American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, which is why it meant so little when those justifications (bin Laden dead-or-alive, WMD, etc.) evaporated. And why it meant so little when the brutalities of American methods were made plain, from torture to hair-trigger checkpoints to ruined cities.

Carroll's whole article is well worth reading.

It seems so obvious. Unless and until we are willing to let go of the injured innocence that we use to justify dehumanizing others, we are killing our own humanity. And while we hang on to our righteous wrath, this country will go on making morally broken torturers of the testosterone poisoned men (and some women) we send to fight our imperial wars.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Help Arnold flame out

Nursing students know what it takes to defend their vocation

Today the San Francisco Chronicle has a great story headlined: "Governor's star power not what it once was; Schwarzenegger seen as a politician with problems."

Next week, you have a chance to join either of two labor-sponsored rallies against the Governator. Nurses, teachers and firefighters will lead the rallies along with patients, consumers, union members and working families.

Wednesday, May 25: Sacramento, the State Capitol, West Steps - 10th St. between L St. & N St. at 4 pm or

Wednesday, May 25: Los Angeles, Pershing Square, 530 South Olive Street / West Fifth St at 4pm

For more information, download flyers at California Nurses Association.

Arnold is slipping. This guy ought to know:
Veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins: "The star has diminished, at least from 3,000 miles away.'' … "The national political players are not sure where he is -- and aren't sure he won't say, 'Great, I tried it, and I'm going back to making movies.'"

Where once Schwarzenegger passed as a new type of state leader, his constant, record breaking fundraising from his business cronies, especially the pharmaceutical industry, shows him as just another corrupt politician. Democratic consultant Gary South reminds Californians: "a governor who decries 'special interests' while picking up mountains of cash is open to effective attack." We saw that with Gray Davis.

In the next few weeks, the governor must fish or cut bait. Will he call a $70 million special election and refuse to work with the Democratic-controlled legislature? The notion of the special November vote, and its huge price tag, is very unpopular. His initiative proposals (out of season redistricting, making it harder for teachers to get tenure, anti-union political rules, etc.) have not caught fire.

The California Teachers Association, one of Arnold's targets, is clear:
"We don't need to waste $70 million on a special election that no one wants with initiatives that no one supports."

I'll be at the Sacramento rally. I'm spending a couple of weeks helping folks get there. Let's show Arnold up for the one-trick pony he is: all shine, no substance. If you can, come out on May 25 to say "California is not for sale!"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Police car burns at White Night riot

Riverbend, the invaluable, secular Iraqi woman blogger, responds to Newsweek magazine's tale of the US military desecrating the Koran, as well as their hedged retraction:

Is it true? Probably… We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads… Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. . . .

It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy. By doing such things, this war is taken to another level -- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists -- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.

Okay, I want to think about what she says and ask myself a question: what desecration, what blasphemous behavior, would cause me to riot? Heck, what trampling of what I hold sacred has driven me to riot? Interestingly, I've "rioted" (or at least been part of large mass public nuisances) two times, responding to what I believed were failures by US courts to reach just verdicts against lawless authority figures: the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King and the slap on the wrist manslaughter verdict against former San Francisco supervisor Dan White for assassinating Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

That is, my idea of trampling the sacred seems to include occasions when justice is denied or perverted. When I think justice is violated, I am outraged enough to run in the streets. In addition to protesting terrible legal verdicts, I've run in the streets, though perhaps a little less militantly, when my country threatened poor countries with its overwhelming military power. That too is injustice.

And as I look around today, I see demagogues claiming the label "Christian" who work to make this country a patriarchal, authoritarian, all-conquering world empire. That too profanes the sacred in my eyes.

Crowd marching to City Hall the night San Francisco rioted against the Dan White manslaughter verdict

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

IDAHO time


No, this is not about potatoes. Today was the International Day against Homophobia, marked by people in thirty countries around the world, including much of Europe, as well as less likely places like Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon.

Or maybe it is just my ignorance that makes me think they are unlikely.

Organizers explain: "according to an opinion widely held, homosexuality is said to be freer today than ever before... For the slightly more attentive observer, the situation is globally very different. This is why we propose an International Day Against Homophobia."

For someone who grew up never imagining that being queer would be accepted anywhere, this is pretty stunning. And of course, being in the USA, I also grew up thinking that if anything good happened, it would be here first. Lots to get over, I guess.

Check this celebration out.

Monday, May 16, 2005

National anthem?

It used to be, say in the 1970s, that sitting during the national anthem at baseball games was tolerated, though you got some stares. Now I try hard to be in line at the concession stand; the beginning of the warbling is the sign to get the popcorn.

Sports columnist Dave Zirin jumps into the fray:

The US is in open diplomatic - and covert military - conflict with the Venezuelan government and its President Hugo Chavez. The Bush Administration has played a role in two attempted coups against Chavez, despite the leader's majority support among Venezuelans. What does [Ozzie] Guillen, [manager of the Chicago White Sox] think about this? I will not make the assumption that Guillen, like many wealthy ex-pat Venezuelans, sees Chavez as somewhere between Idi Amin and Satan, but wouldn't it have been interesting [for Sports Illustrated to ask when writing a profile]? Especially if Guillen, the first Venezuelan manager in baseball history, feels pressure to prove his patriotic bonafides [by demanding his players stand for the US anthem.]. . .

We are watching players from the US, Latin America, and increasingly Asia, hit baseballs made in Costa Rica and field in gloves made in Taiwan. The only purpose served by the national anthem is to remind the many nationalities in the stands and on the field exactly whose foot stands internationally on their collective neck. Sports Illustrated and Ozzie Guillen may think that coercing players to stand is a great step forward for team unity, but if these Sox unravel, we should examine whether the bruised egos are colored red, white and blue.

The custom of playing the anthem to open sporting events is not particularly old. Singing "The Star Spangled Banner" was introduced at the 1918 World Series in a fit of World War I patriotism, but it was only adopted as the national song in 1931. It only became an everyday practice during World War II, when baseball owners wanted to counteract any rumbling that having grown men play a game for their profit might not be the most valuable contribution to the war effort.

Richard C. Crepeau, a baseball historian, remarks ruefully the anthem "has become an occasion for entertainers to display their talents or lack thereof, fans to create new cheers, and the networks to run commercials." Whenever the national anthem is performed at University of Oklahoma sporting events, the last line becomes, "and the home of the 'SOONERS!'" The patriotism establishment, under the patronage of Laura Bush, have currently started a campaign to combat "anthem apathy," by encouraging people to learn the words.

Somehow I don't think the words they have in mind are those of the fourth verse. Frances Scott Key was writing to celebrate his young country holding off an attack by the mighty British empire. He wasn't talking about waging preemptive war on someone else's land when he captured his relief at seeing hope that his country would survive:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Bles't with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

While the atheists among us may rightly object to the theist assumption here, the country would be a lot better off if we could remember that war is desolation and peace precious.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Iraq war lessons

No bullshit here Patrick Coburn reports quite simply about Iraq: "There is no doubt that the US has failed to win the war."

Not to be missed tidbits:

Ironically, the extent of US failure to control Iraq is masked by the fact that it is too dangerous for the foreign media to venture out of central Baghdad. Some have retreated to the supposed safety of the Green Zone. Mr Bush can claim that no news is good news, though in fact the precise opposite is true. . . .

From the start, there was something dysfunctional about the American armed forces. They could not adapt themselves to Iraq. Their massive firepower meant they won any set-piece battle, but it also meant that they accidentally killed so many Iraqi civilians that they were the recruiting sergeants of the resistance. . . .

The US war machine was over-armed. I once saw a unit trying to restore order at a petrol station where there was a fist fight between Iraqi drivers over queue-jumping (given that people sometimes sleep two nights in their cars waiting to fill a tank, tempers were understandably frayed). In one corner was a massive howitzer, its barrel capable of hurling a shell 30km, which the soldiers had brought along for this minor policing exercise. . . .

The US army was designed to fight a high-technology blitzkrieg, but not much else. . . . The army acts as a sort of fire brigade, briefly effective in dousing the flames, but always moving on before they are fully extinguished.

All of us who protested the war before the Bush regime invaded knew it was morally wrong, but I don't think many of us believed the US would actually fail to prevail for two years.

There are a couple of simple lessons in this, lessons so simple it is easy to miss them. For one thing, bad as events may be, they are never over until they are over. And there are often forces, and unexpected constellations of forces, that can change outcomes that appear inevitable. This is a more complex world than we ever completely take in, even when we strive mightily to make ourselves knowledgeable.

Safe space or dead space


In the interests of charity, I won't tell you where I found the sign above. Suffice to say, the church whose presence it announced was 1) Christian and 2) not apparently connected to any particular denomination. Let's see what they might have meant . . .

Contemporary . . . Perhaps this is the "nurturing parent" service in which attendees are sung lullabies and encouraged to touch their bliss? I intuit something very touchy-feely and impossible to pin down as to meaning.

Traditional . . . is simpler to envision; it is the service for those seeking patriarchal authority. God has laid down the rules and don't ask questions!

Neither picture excites me. And both seem to imply something human beings just don't get -- across the board assurance we are safe.

I'm reminded of the terrifed suburbanites I wrote about last week. We are at present a very anxious people.

The demand for "safe space" turns up frequently in US life. Sadly, I believe the quest for "safe space" is often an unintended residue of a legitimate effort by 20th century feminists to make explicit, and then change, the unexpressed rules that control the behavior of groups. Women became all too aware that men often dominated, sometimes by sheer aggressiveness, sometimes by knowing the rules better. We wanted bullying outlawed and the rules made clear -- so we insisted on better "process." Nice people of both genders became very process conscious; by and large that was a development that helped more people take part in community life.

But some people, usually those less experienced in group interactions, therefore often women, wanted "improved process" to include a promise that no one would attack them for expressing themselves. And sometimes "attack" was taken to mean what many would think was "disagreement." So we got process rules, such as "no cross talk" and "listen actively but don't respond" that may protect speakers but stifle conversation.

Process more appropriate to psychotherapy than to honest individual and group interaction has become embedded in many people's expectations.

"Safe soul space" is the reverse of what I expect in a church, or a political group, or even any significant set of friends. If our souls are not challenged, not at risk of change and growth, what's the point? Safe space sounds like dead space to me. Too often we have forgotten that a worthwhile life requires courage.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Kill the messenger:
today she's Molly Bingham

The Union general who burned Atlanta is credited with saying that "war is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueller it is, the sooner it will be over." He also commented ruefully: "if I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast."

Right wingers are currently going bananas over a speech by Molly Bingham, an experienced US photo journalist who has documented the Iraqi insurgency. A mild example of this foolishness from someone who styles himself "Macho Nachos:" "By the way, do you have any duct tape handy? I think my head exploded after reading her article and I need to piece it back together."

Good luck buddy -- your head must be pretty badly shattered if you can't live with this from Bingham; she and her colleagues

"thought it was really journalistically important to understand who it was who was resisting the presence of the foreign troops. If you didn't understand that, how could you report what was clearly becoming an 'ongoing conflict?' And if you were reading the news in America, or Europe, how could you understand the full context of what was unfolding if what motivates the 'other side' of the conflict is not understood, or even discussed?"

The five lessons she drew from her work are worth listing here.

  • Lesson One: Many journalists in Iraq could not, or would not, check their nationality or their own perspective at the door.

  • Lesson Two: Our behavior as journalists has taught us very little. Just as in the lead up to the war in Iraq, questioning our government's decisions and claims and what it seeks to achieve is criticized as unpatriotic.

  • Lesson Three: To seek to understand and represent to an American audience the reasons behind the Iraqi opposition is practically treasonous.

  • Lesson Four: The gatekeepers -- by which I mean the editors, publishers and business sides of the media -- don't want their paper or their outlet to reveal that compelling narrative of why anyone would oppose the presence of American troops on their soil.

  • Lesson Five: What it's like to be afraid of your own country? . . . How many times was the risk that our own government might come in and rifle through our apartment, our homes or take us away for questioning in front of our children a factor in our decision not to do a story? How many times did we as journalists decide not to do a story because we thought it might get us into trouble?

Bingham is unusually protected in her profession. Her family were the long time owners of the Louisville Courier-Journal (now a Gannet property). It shouldn't take such privilege to allow reporting that strays off the beaten path. She seems to have used her opportunities well, creating a respected body of work from places as far flung as Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Gaza, as well as shooting some of the most immediate pictures of the burning Pentagon on September 11.

Robert Fisk, the London Independent's Middle East correspondent, was so impressed by the vituperation that inquisitive reporting sets off in this country that he toured the US in 2003 giving a talk entitled: "September 11 -- Ask Who Did It, But For Heaven's Sake Don't Ask Why." In a later speech at Cambridge University, the actor John Malkovich, a professional portrayer of aloof villains, offered, absurdly, to kill Fisk. How's that for a reasoned response to unpleasant information?

Critics of reporting do seem easily unhinged by efforts to find and report gritty, undomesticated realities. Realists like General Sherman are out of style.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Democrats and Jesus in Sioux Falls

I'm supposed to like this. The billboard is a project of Grassroots Democrats in Sioux Fall, South Dakota. Executive Director Roger Berggren explained, it speaks "to those Christian progressives that have spent the last two years walking though church seeing James Dobson fliers and hearing their Priests and Ministers tell them they cannot be a good Christian and a good Democrat at the same time." I can empathize with the yearning to reclaim their faith from political rivals they believe misuse it as a weapon. Grassroots Democrats is not the state party; it consists of ordinary people who contributed small amounts of money to come up with the $1000 for the sign.

I have to like the citizen energy that got this up. I do believe that "Jesus cares for the poor" (and everybody else, even Republicans, too.) But the billboard just doesn't sit right.

For starters, they needed proof-reading and editing. How about this:

Jesus Cares for the Poor.

So Do We.

Yes, grammar and appearance do matter, as anyone who remembers the early days of "desktop publishing" should have learned. Remember when we suddenly were able to draw ovals?

And then there is the slogan: "Democrats Make America Stronger." Don't imagine Jesus cares about (or for) that at all, though I guess I know what they mean. They want people to know their policies aim to build up their community, not tear it down. Good sentiment, though the way they say it buys into the current US security-through-world-domination fantasy.

Eventually Democrats are going have to win this contest of ideas another way -- mostly by showing, not telling. Democratic office holders have to lead with policies that actually do care for the poor. Democratic candidates have to promise what they can really deliver and explain why they can't deliver everything. They have to treat the electorate as smart and responsible.

Don't know if that is what Jesus wants, but I am confident He wouldn't be against it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Country clergy and the British welfare state

The past week has been embarrassing. George W. Bush ricocheting around Europe insulting most everyone during the commemorations of VE day sixty years ago -- that's painful. If you listened to him with half an ear, you might have formed the impression that the brave Allies, those Brits, Dutch, Germans, and plucky Latvians, led by the good old USA, triumphed over the cowardly Russian Communists who hated freedom. No he didn't actually say that exactly, but that's how his performance came off to this casual observer. He certainly never seemed to acknowledge that the Soviet Union lost 27 million of the 40 million people killed during World War II, that the Red Army provided the vast bulk of the ground troops which accomplished the liberation of the German-occupied continent.

Away from the US President's whirlwind, and the British election, one rather sweet and simple story caught my attention. Writing in the Guardian, Bob Holman recalled how the clergy played new and important roles in keeping life going during World War II.

He credits urban clergy for staying at their posts, burying the dead and comforting the bereaved; one Fr. John Grosier, aware that homeless people had no food, "smashed open a food depot."

But it was in the countryside that Holman says the clergy played the most vital roles, helping villages and towns absorb the mass of evacuated children and mothers from London. They found housing, opened churches as schools and community centers and fed children in makeshift canteens.

The experience taught many English countryside clergy about true urban poverty for the first time. "When William Temple was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1942, he became, on Christian grounds, a leading advocate of the welfare state, addressing huge meetings across the country." Mediated by the clergy, Catholic, Protestant and Anglican, middle class people for the first time began to imagine that a Labor government might not mean the end of the world. And so, after the war, a Labor government laid down the basics of the modern welfare state.

Going by the book

At least 4 Afghans died in Jalalabad and 71 were injured in protests against US forces today. They were denouncing the May 9 disclosure in Newsweek that US investigators have confirmed that Guantanamo interrogators, "in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet."

This charge is going to be hard to shove under the rug. As the Council of American Islamic Relations points out: "Vague assurances of a military investigation are insufficient to keep this incident from being used to further harm relations with the Muslim world."

So Afghanistan, never really pacified after the overthrow of the Taliban, is heating up again. A people who've seen arbitrary arrests and a couple of years' mistreatment of random arrestees at the US prison at Bagram aren't likely to wait quietly for the result of an investigation.

Meanwhile in Yemen, according to the Christian Science Monitor an Islamic cleric has come up with his own way of turning young hotheads away from Al-Qaeda style activities. He reasons with them, using the Koran as his text.

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."
. . .

Hitar explains that his system is simple. He invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians. . . . For example, he quotes: "Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land - it is as if he had slain all mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." He uses the passage to bolster his argument against bombing Western targets in Yemen - attacks he says defy the Koran. And, he says, the Koran says under no circumstances should women and children be killed.
. . .

"It's only logical to tackle these people through their brains and heart," says Faris Sanabani, a former adviser to President Abdullah Saleh and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper. "If you beat these people up they become more stubborn. If you hit them, they will enjoy the pain and find something good in it - it is a part of their ideology. Instead, what we must do is erase what they have been taught and explain to them that terrorism will only harm Yemenis' jobs and prospects. Once they understand this they become fighters for freedom and democracy, and fighters for the true Islam," he says.

What this country needs is a Christian Hamoud al-Hitar to study the Gospels with George W. Bush and recall him to the faith he claims saved his life.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Belated Cultural Improvement
Costa-Gavras' Z

I hate movies. Or rather, I hate several things about the movie experience with the consequence that I seldom enjoy movies and therefore know very little about them. Being dragged along by my bored mother as a child to Hitchcock thrillers convinced me there was always an axe murderer about to pop out on the screen. Additionally, most movies have the same effect on me as unsuccessful literary fiction: I resent the effort to manipulate my emotions with unconvincing human characters and implausible scenarios when reality is both so much more disturbing and more gratifying. Think E.T., for example. Besides all that, most movie showings in theaters are simply too loud; they hurt my ears.

Fortunately for me, our friend and neighbor has recently gotten a big screen TV, a good DVD player, and Netflix; she is trying to educate me about my culture. Last night we joined her to watch Costa-Gavras's Z.

Being a good leftist of the 1960s, I knew the film was an anti-fascist classic and supposed to be very powerful. On its release, reviewer Pauline Kael wrote "Z is almost intolerably exciting - a political thriller that builds up so much tension that you'll probably feel all knotted up by the time it's over." Having seen it, I'm now that much more frightened by contemporary reality, by what is happening here, since I never once felt drawn into the melodrama; we now know that when the good guys go up against the fascists, the good guys are going to get screwed.

It wasn't so in the 1960s. Kael again:

Z is based on the novel by the Greek exile Vassili Vassilikos about the assassination of Gregorios Lambraki, in Salonika, in May, 1963. . . . The investigation of his death uncovered such a scandalous network of corruption and illegality in the police and in the government that the leader of the opposition party, George Papandreou, became Premier. But in April, 1967, the [Greek generals'] military coup d'etat overturned the legal government.

That history remains important, something we should remember, along with the victims. And I'm not saying there weren't good things about Z -- in fact I wish more people would see it in today's political climate.

In particular, I agree strongly with Kael on this: "I don't think Costa-Gavras ever uses violence except to make you hate violence, and such humanitarianism in filmmaking is becoming rare."

The scene that seemed truest for me is the moment, after the politician Z has been murdered, after the inquiring prosecutor has charged the fascist perpetrators with murder, when the puppy-like lawyer who had worked with Z rushes to tell Z's devastated widow this news. He blurts: "it is all so good; it is like he is still alive." The widow, Irene Papas, just looks through him. No, not quite.

When our dreams are smashed, when we've seen the pain humans are willing to inflict on other humans, those dreams can never be put together "good as new." They may, perhaps, give birth to something new, perhaps something even better. But the death is real -- we do not move on into the future without looking at it. I am reminded of a line from the Salvadoran revolutionary poet Roque Dalton: "All together we have more death than they, but all together we have more life than they."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

More than carnations
Mother's Day

Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis and Anna Jarvis

Mother's Day is something of a curiosity to me -- my mother always insisted the holiday was invented by florists and she would have nothing to do with it.

It turns out that she was not at all original in thinking such a thing; Anna Jarvis, the woman who popularized the observance in the United States in the early 20th century agreed so much that she called florists and others making money on Mother's Day "charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers and other termites."

Anna Jarvis is said to have come up with the idea for a Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May after her own mother died in 1905. Touching as the story is that the two had quarreled and the younger woman was acting out her grief, the notion of Mother's Day seems to have had several precursors and to be of a piece with the trajectory of late 19th century middle class white US feminism.

In 17th century England, Mothering Sunday had been observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent by giving apprentices and servants a holiday to visit their mothers. (It has been revived in Britain on that date in the 20th century in response to attempts to import Jarvis' May date from the US.)

Anna's mother, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, was quite the activist in mid-19th century West Virginia.

[In the 1850s,] Jarvis organized a series of Mothers' Day Work Clubs in Webster, Grafton, Fetterman, Pruntytown, and Philippi, to improve health and sanitary conditions. Among other services, the clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work for families in which the mothers suffered from tuberculosis, and inspected bottled milk and food. . . .

Ann Jarvis urged the Mothers' Day Work Clubs to declare their neutrality and provide relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. The clubs treated the wounded and regularly fed and clothed soldiers stationed in the area. Jarvis also managed to preserve an element of peace in a community being torn apart by political differences. . . .

In the summer of 1865, Ann Jarvis organized a Mothers' Friendship Day at the courthouse in Pruntytown to bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs. The event was a great success despite the fear of many that it would erupt in violence. Mothers' Friendship Day was an annual event for several years.

The abolitionist Julia Ward Howe (author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic) proposed in 1872 that a Mothers' Day for Peace be celebrated on June 2. Howe's Mothers' Day was to be a political occasion, promoting women as full actors for peace in society. It died out after being celebrated for about 10 years

Late 19th century middle class women adhered to many social causes and developed a growing ability to press them. More and more managed to get some education; a few entered professions. They agitated against a life legally at the mercy of their husbands, most notably through the temperance movement, which was the domestic violence movement of its day. They cared for the immigrant poor in urban settlement house (and the most radical ended up supporting labor unions as a result.) And they campaigned to win the vote for themselves.

The younger Jervis had many examples of women campaigners to look at when promoting her new holiday and she used their examples energetically. She "gave up her job -- sometimes reported as a teaching job, sometimes as a job clerking in an insurance office -- to work full-time writing letters to politicians, clergy members, business leaders, women's clubs and anyone else she thought might have some influence." By 1909, Mother's Day services were held in 46 states plus Canada and Mexico. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day; two years later, the US Congress passed a joint resolution establishing the holiday, celebrating especially women's role in the family. The holiday's biggest promoters were religious and prohibition activists who promoted a notion of pure women civilizing dangerous men. The concept had the usual anti-immigrant and racists undertones that pollute US history.

As so often in women's history, a success won through women's hard work became the occasion for constraining women in our 'proper' role.

Though no radical or even feminist by today's measures, Anna Jarvis knew something twisted had happened to her holiday, complaining "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She hated Mother's Day cards, "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." Jarvis disrupted a meeting of the American War Mothers in the 1930s, protesting their sale of white carnations for Mother's Day, and was removed by the police.

It got worse, though I found no evidence that Jarvis was even aware of this. German historian Karin Hausen wrote about the role of Mother's Day in a society on the brink of collapsing into fascism in Renate Bridenthal's anthology When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany:

Mother's Day made its appearance shortly after Germany's defeat in World War I. The day that we know as the time to 'give mom a gift,' 'send her flowers,' or 'make her breakfast' was propagated in the Weimar Republic during a period of runaway inflation, political turmoil, and social dislocation. It achieved popularity at a time when government cutbacks hurt mothers and children and the real economic and physical situation for mothers became desperate. In an era of depression and mass unemployment, of leftist ferment and right-wing backlash, Mother's Day was promoted by people who hoped to cover up disorder and reinforce tradition: it was a whitewash decorated with roses.

When the Nazis seized power, they "solved" some social dislocation by firing most of the 100,000 female teachers, 3000 female doctors and 13,000 female musicians who had held jobs in the Weimar Republic. Later they moved Mother's Day to August 12, Hitler's mother's birthday.

I always knew my mother was a wise woman. One of those early 20th century feminists herself, she knew there was something rotten that went with those carnations.

Friday, May 06, 2005


A routine little news item that could easily slide by unnoticed:

[ENS, Source: NOEL] -- At the invitation of the White House, a group of 20 religious leaders, including Bishops James Stanton of Dallas, Keith Ackerman of Quincy, Peter Beckwith of Springfield, and Daniel Herzog of Albany, met with President George W. Bush on May 3 in Washington, D.C.

Other Episcopalians present were: the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council; Sharon Stockdale of the Episcopal Church Missionary Community; and Georgette Forney, president of NOEL, formerly known as the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life. Also present were leaders from the Methodist, United Church of Christ, Baptist and Lutheran denominations.

Bush led a discussion that included abortion, challenges in Iraq and the Middle East, Social Security, and the value of faith-based initiatives for the American people. Stanton commended Bush for his work against AIDS in Africa. NOEL President Forney said, "As a woman who regrets her abortion and works with many others who feel the same, I worry about the emotional and spiritual consequences for those who choose euthanasia for a loved one or support the destruction of embryos. We especially need to help women so they can choose to have their babies and care for them."

As Marine One landed outside to take Bush to Air Force One for a commitment in Mississippi, Ackerman asked Bush if they could pray for him before he left. The President accepted his offer and those on either side of him, Ackerman and Forney, laid their hands on him as all prayed.

Touching scene, literally. What needs to be understood is that these were not just any group of religious White House tourists. This gathering was a Who's Who of Episcopalians who dissent from the generally liberal, posture of the denomination. And they not only dissent. Having lost repeated internal debates about the meaning of the Christian call to live the Gospel in the contemporary USA, they want to split the church.

The ECUSA, which fifty years ago might rightly have been called "the ruling class at prayer," has undergone a wrenching evolution to become something of a bastion of liberal Christianity. It has achieved this posture through endless reflection and conversation, committee meetings, prayer and agonizing. It has ratified the posture at a series of General Conventions at which delegates from the dioceses, somewhat democratically selected, make policy pronouncements for the Church. Episcopalians are genuinely divided over the consecration of an openly gay bishop and consideration of the possibility of the church blessing gay partners. But most in the pews aren't going anywhere, despite the vigorous efforts of conservative activists, grouped in the American Anglican Council (AAC) and the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (the Network.)

Bush's visitors are the leaders of the forces willing to blow the church up rather than accept their minority status. Of course they say God is on their side.

Bishops Stanton, Ackerman, Beckwith and Herzog are among those who have repeatedly asked the worldwide Anglican Communion to throw out the US branch of the Church. Beckwith is AAC vice-chair and president of its "Bishops Network."

Canon Anderson is the organizing brains behind the AAC; he is quoted as saying of church's approval of gay Bishop Robinson: "It's a shattering of the Episcopal Church," Anderson said. "It's the first step to the Episcopal Church -- as we know it -- coming apart."

Georgette Forney, president of NOEL leads an organization whose aim is to teach "about the negative physical, spiritual and emotional impact of abortion on women and let then know help is available."

Okay -- all these people have politically and religiously conservative views -- that is their right. And they apparently are supporters of the President (though I have been told Bishop Herzog is a Democrat) -- again their right. But doesn't this read as if Bush is blessing their alliance against mainstream Episcopalians, while they bless his controversial policies?

More reasons show up every day to struggle for the separation of Church and state. I certainly don't want Bush deciding who is a legitimate leader of my church!

Congestion Charge
. . . not a tax on sniffles

The other day the New York Times published an interesting article, Paying on the Highway to Get Out of First Gear, about the growing popularity of toll roads. From Virginia to Texas to California, people are beginning to be willing to ante up to escape gridlock.

"It's like everything else: you can fly coach, or you can fly first class," said Caleb Dillon, an X-ray technician in Riverside whose commute is an hour each way. "I'm not a rich guy, but I like having the option of saving time when I really need it."

The tolls have also succeeded in doing what no amount of cajoling and public service announcements could do: get people to car-pool.

I grew up with the prototypical US toll road, the New York State Thruway. It's engineering set the standard for the Interstate Highway System begun under Eisenhower as part of the Cold War (along with "duck and cover" drills in the schools.) But the idea of paying tolls just reminds me of the horrors of the Jersey Turnpike, a road I drove frequently in the early 1970s, stopping to throw in more coins what seemed like every ten miles. That wasn't efficient.

Toll roads raise all sorts of questions (Here's an interesting World Bank report on some issues.) I quickly thought of my own: are they just for the rich? Do they penalize the poor? Where will the money come from to build and run them, from private businesses or taxes? In either case, who makes the rules and sets the tolls? If they aren't profitable, who pays? Will making a road a toll road just redirect a lot of traffic onto alternative routes? Lots of problems here.

Looking into this, I ran across what seems a far more ambitious and perhaps better-targeted expedient that some cities have adopted to reduce traffic. Would you pay to bring your car into the center of an attractive big city?

Since February 17, 2003, thousands of people have paid a "Congestion Charge" each day for the privilege of driving in London between 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. From Monday to Friday, the fee has been 5 pounds (nearly $10) set to rise to 8 pounds ($15) in July. Wow!

Naturally there are lots of wrinkles. Residents, emergency vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and buses are exempt or have very low rates. Buses and the tube (subway) may be more crowded at some times. Ingenious efforts to evade the cameras that enforce the Charge have proliferated.

A report six months after the Congestion Charge's inception found that "on average the number of cars entering the central zone was 60,000 fewer than the previous year, representing a drop in non-exempt vehicles of 30 percent. Around 50–60 percent of this reduction was attributed to transfers to public transport, 20–30 percent to journeys avoiding the zone and the remainder to car-sharing, reduced number of journeys, more traveling outside the hours of operation and increased use of motorbikes and cycles. Journey times were found to have been reduced by 15 percent."

Interestingly, the Congestion Charge is not a money maker for London. The reduction in traffic has been so great that revenue is less than expected.

This works well enough, I have to wonder if Manhattan is next? Bloomberg has said no, but who knows who the next mayor will be.

Alfred's gift

A friend died last Sunday. I find I want to remember him here.

He died as we laid hands on him, assuring him that we loved him, and that it was okay to go now.

He let us care for him and that is the gift.

As he became weaker, lost breath to the emphysema, grew a benign brain tumor, became horribly depressed, he didn't push us away angrily. And I don't mean just "us," the church folks. We know there were also Buddhists and poets and people he met in coffee shops; the longer we knew him, even at the end, the more friends and relatives we learned about.

Alfred Robinson, rest now; you are loved.

Are you a Republican?

I am:
"You're a damn Commie!  Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him?"

Are You A Republican?

I should have had enough sense to resist this, but my results were so satisfying that I don't have that much sense.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Keep them scared out of their wits

Because I am on the "no fly list" I have a regular Google news alert on those words. Mostly, at this season, what I read every morning is about fly balls that led to no hits despite the most creative efforts of managers to draw up strong line-up lists.

But today an interesting story floated through. It is an account of a meeting in suburban McLean, Virginia (yes, the home of the CIA) at which a roster of "experts" discussed "how safe America had become" since 9/11.

"This forum was intended to be for information purposes only," said Carole Herrick, president of the Dranesville District Democratic Women’s Club, which sponsored the event.

"We had all sorts of forms of security, like homeland security, home security, gang violence prevention, identity security, everything but Social Security because that’s too contentious of an issue right now," she said.

The club wanted to "present something to the public" that would get those who attended thinking about safety and security in a new way, she said.

New way? Throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the security category seems the opposite of reassuring to me.

US suburbanites are probably, realistically, some of the least threatened persons on the planet. What are we so ready to be frightened of? Terrorism, of course, though the likelihood that any individual in McLean will suffer from it seems pretty remote. But why so many anxieties?

What else? The 10 o'clock news? Unruly teenagers? Perhaps we have some atavistic need to get adrenaline flowing that isn't being fed by horror movies and the daily news?

As a member of the Office of Commonwealth Preparedness, Delegate Brian Moran (D-46) spoke about what Virginia is doing to keep its citizens safe. "We have 76 tasks we’re currently working on, and a lot has to deal with communication coordination," he said.

The group has created a line of succession, should the governor be killed or incapacitated in an attack or other event, Moran said. , , ,Additionally, he spoke about the need for people to become aware and protect themselves against gang violence, drunk drivers and other threats to their personal safety. . . .

Virginia has been in a state of elevated alert since the national warning system was created months after the terrorist attacks, which Moran said makes it even more important that the region have enough police officers and firefighters should another attack occur...."We are only as safe as our people are alert," he said. "We need to be able to respond to our ever-changing world. One year the hot issue may be gang violence, another year it might be drug use. There’s a myriad of issues out there" for citizens to educate themselves about, and forums like this one help to provide needed information, he said.

I don't get it. Note these were Democrats, not Republicans campaigning on Bush's record as commander in chief. Holding forums to ensure people are properly scared doesn't reassure me.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Eat a Lot of Worms!

For Good Luck in the Year of Rooster. . . .

According to Xiao Qiang of the China Digital Times, this is "one of many anti-Japanese animations circulating among young Chinese netizens recently" ("Anti-Japanese Animation in Chinese Cyberspace," 7 Apr. 2005)

The captions says: "Protest!" "Strongly Oppose!" "For Good Luck in the Year of Rooster, Eat a Lot of Worms!"

Like the US today in the Middle East, Japan is feared and hated by the peoples of other Asian countries, especially in China (but as well by many in Korea, Vietnam, Burma and Indonesia), who were brutally subjugated by its mid-20th century imperialism. Japan is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council; neighboring populations (sometimes abetted by their governments) are angry at the prospect.

Of course the real question is not what countries should be on the Security Council, but how the vast majority of the nations in the world can end an institutional arrangement that gives the WWII era victors a permanent veto over the development of global alternatives to armed conflict.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Torture in Northern California

I remember the picture in the paper: a young woman twisted in pain as a sheriff's deputy pulled her eyelid back to swab pepper spray directly on her eyeball with a Q-tip.

We were planning to visit Humboldt County soon after to run a half marathon on the Avenue of the Giants. I seriously thought about not even going, this act of torture so horrified me. I didn't want to spend any money in a place where authorities knew they could do such a thing with impunity. In the end we did go.

Sometimes I can imagine the frustration of Humboldt police, confronted with what looked to them like privileged hippies who wanted to steal their rural communitys' jobs and way of life. Who were these young punks who volunteered to get arrested and seemed to think the cops should still think they were good people? But for this gratuitous violence done by men under no threat, I can make no excuse . . .

Last Thursday, the Pepper Spray 8 won, sort of. In a third trial, following a blistering appellate court reversal of a previous judge's instructions that had resulted in a hung jury, the latest panel ruled that sheriffs had used "excessive force" when they rubbed the burning substance into the eyes of people who refused to unlock themselves as part of demonstrations against old growth logging. The jury awarded $1 to each of the plaintiffs. The Pepper Spray 8 insisted that they had never been seeking money compensation, merely a ruling that such treatment of non-resisting prisoners was legally and morally wrong. That they got!

One of the jurors has since explained how the split decision came about:

[J]uror Athene Aquino, . . . provided additional details about the jury's deliberations. She said the nominal $1 per plaintiff damage award was the result of compromises to reach a unanimous verdict. Some of the jurors wanted to award substantial damages to plaintiffs for the pain, suffering and psychological effects inflicted on them. Others felt the force used was excessive, but thought there was no lasting injury, and didn't want to find for the plaintiffs if it meant paying out substantial taxpayer dollars. Ms. Aquino said many of the jurors felt that the jury instructions given by Judge Illston pushed them toward granting only nominal damages. . . .Ms. Aquino said she was convinced by viewing the police videotapes that excessive force was used, and that she cried when viewing the scenes where burly officers held young women roughly and swabbed their eyes with pepper spray drenched Q-tips.

Thirty eight seconds of the video Aquino describes is available here.

The question of who pays plaintiffs attorney's fees is sure to be subject to further litigation. The lawyers for the Pepper Spray 8 are confident the county will eventually have to cover $1 million of their costs. The local newspaper expects the case will cost the county $150,000, with any balance covered by insurance.

How much of a victory was this verdict?

California police training standards still allow for the use of pepper spray on nonviolent protesters -- only swabbed to the eyes with gauze or cotton balls, not Q-tips.

Struggle is long (and hard) -- that's why they call it struggle. Maybe I should rename this blog that?


Along the Canute Commute

Some days I forget that I live in the most beautiful city in the world. (Of the places I've lived, only Cape Town, South Africa, comes close.) But really, I do.

Many days I leave the city, drive less than 15 miles, and run on magnificent mountain trails in the Marin Headlands to the north or on San Bruno Mountain to the south. But on ordinary recovery days, when I just want to putter along for four or five miles, day dreaming about anything but running, I follow what I call the "Canute Commute."

The Canute Commute was made possible by the San Francisco sewer improvement project of the 1970s. We were dumping our street run off water directly into the ocean -- the EPA said "NO," so we were taxed ourselves for a sewage treatment plant next to the zoo and a network of underground pipes that carry the run off to treatment. The Canute Commute is a flat bicycle path that runs along the top of the monster sewer pipe just inland from Ocean Beach.

It could be boring, deathly so. If you look inland, the street names plod along in alphabetical order: "Judah, Kirkham, Lawton, Moraga, etc." so that if you wanted to know your exact progress you could. I try not to look; my Canute Commute days are restful running.

I'll share my every day run here, from ocean parking lot along the path and return to the ocean.