Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

WASHINGTON — Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush's “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Queda. That's from the New York Times last week - the lead sentence in a story published the morning after President Obama signed an order that commits 17,000 additional American military personnel to Afghanistan by early summer. Apparently we will hear from the President tomorrow on specifics of his plan to exit Iraq...in 19 months. Maybe there will be more said of Afghanistan. I am concerned. I am not an expert on Al Queda, the Taliban, or the tribal culture of Afghanistan. I am not a diplomat, an envoy, or a scholar on the subject of foreign affairs. I'm not sure I could accurately label a map of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq...although I've spent plenty of time looking at those maps for 6 years. I trust the President is consulting with qualified thinkers on creative strategies for our already declared war on terrorism. Clearly, I would not be one of those thinkers. I do hope he is also hearing the voices of the people who live in the "host" countries for our wars. Many of them believe the U.S. war on terror would be more appropriately called the U.S. reign of terror. I hope he's also listening to some mothers. Because we mothers don't believe our sons and daughters should be picking up weapons and aiming them at other mother's sons and daughters. We don't believe that violence for violence ever leads to anything good. And while we might be eager to yank a knot in the tail of a bully who pushes our kid around...we're more likely to call the child's mother and have a peace summit over coffee. I think a little time with Mr. Rogers would do everyone some good. If I had a chance, I'd sit all the king's horses and all the king's men down in front of a television, and play two minutes of Mr. Rogers' song: What do you do with the mad that you feel? Fast forward this YouTube treasure to 3:20 and soak up the Mr. Rogers Peace Vibe. Did you hear the kindergarten-easy wisdom? It's great to be able to stop when you've planned a thing that's wrong and do something else instead Stop. Is there something too simple about a plan to stop what's wrong? Just stop. Stop. Stop. And then we have resources to creatively make it a beautiful day in all of our neighborhoods. Ahhhh...peace.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Cost of War

"For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price." So the president spoke to Congress last night. In the quote above he was referring, of course, to Afghanistan and Iraq - where we've been invading, occupying, and otherwise wreaking havoc for the cause of freedom since 2001 (Afghanistan) and 2003 (Iraq). What President Obama meant by the comment was that the Bush administration's practice of funding wars via post-budget spending requests would not be his administration's practice. You read that right. War has not been included in the US budget for the seven years we've been involved in one or more wars. Our new boss seems to think we should count those costs up front. Just like you and I would count the cost of a new car if we were going to drive one. Here's what the Fight-Now-Pay-Later plan has looked like so far. The yellow blocks represent the money no one in Washington thought we needed to budget for. It's measured in billions, don't forget. I thought it was interesting this morning that the only major news sources I could find headlining this particular item from the president's speech were Al Aribiya, The Hindustan Times, and CBC news out of Canada. The comments posted on those sites are particularly interesting. Please read a few. Perhaps people feel the war is the one thing we're involved in right now that isn't on fire, boiling over, crumbling, or otherwise screaming madly for attention. The war in Iraq just plods on along - $341 million dollars a day worth of plodding. While we're biding our time at war, take a look at the National Priorities Project. It provides information about trade offs your community has made for the sake of war. Here, for instance, is a partial list of what Austin, TX isn't getting because we got wars instead:
412,552 People with Health Care for One Year OR
41,844 Public Safety Officers for One year OR
31,716 Music and Arts Teachers for One Year OR
21,538 Affordable Housing Units OR
775,937 Children with Health Care for One Year OR
33,879 Elementary School Teachers for One Year OR
Of course none of this means a thing to 4,251 US families. I doubt a single one of them care about the teachers or police officers or subsidized homes we've lost because of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These families know the real price of war. Here is what the Smith family of Grand Rapids, MI lost because of war - This is what the Cliff family of Mt. Pleasant, SC sacrificed- And here's what the Dryden family of Canton, OH gave up for war in Iraq - There are 4,248 others just like these. Along with 31,054 wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. War - No longer will we hide its price. May it be so. Peace.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Green Eggs and Church Ladies

I'm a church lady. Full on. I have a long and devoted history of being churchy. Just ask my kids, who spent their lives hurrying to the car so we wouldn't be late to whatever activity their mom was coordinating/cooking for/participating in at church. I'm wondering what "church lady" conjures up for you. Tidy hairdo, top button buttoned, pursed lips and a flowery padded-cover Bible with a handle for easy carrying? Condemning looks across the worship center, front row in the choir, well-tuned and critical ear on every word that passes the pastor's lips? In my defense, I'd like to say - it's not that kind of church. Or, to quote one of my favorite philosophers:
"I am who I am, Sam I Am...(and I do not like green eggs and ham)."
Thank you Dr. Seuss. But it is so easy to embrace a genre, group, type, label and decide: that's who we are. I'm absolutely embarrassed by how quickly I grab the metaphorical boxes and labels and packing tape to build a package that defines the parameters of you - and me. Church ladies, motorcycle riders, male ballerinas, musicians, street people - be honest, you have your mind made up. Last Saturday afternoon, the community in which I've lived and worked and grown a family for 20 years said goodbye to one of its most beloved members. Her name was Jinx. She was a 69-year old high school counselor. Jinx had been in the same office in the same high school for 17 years. Many students called her by her first name, which was fine with her, as long as they were where they were supposed to be, doing what she expected them to be doing. "Crazy, weird lady, loud, boisterous, and her own amusement park," were some of the ways people described her Saturday. "Kind, always easy to talk to, never too busy to listen," were some others. I knew Jinx best through the experiences of my sons, who worked in mediation and mentoring programs under her watch in high school. They knew what foods Jinx liked to eat, how many children and grandchildren she had, and had a best guess at how many times she'd been married. They also knew they were always welcome in her office and that nothing shocked her. Little else mattered. Imagine our surprise Saturday when we found out Jinx grew up in Austin's First Baptist church, the daughter of a chaplain. She heard the sermons of a young Carlyle Marney when she was a teenager. Until her accidental death two weeks ago, she sang in her church choir, studied her Bible, and wrote somewhat ravenously in her journal. She even had a book of poetry published years ago titled, God's Signature. Who knew? Jinx was a church lady. She threw on a coat of kindness everyday, but clearly left the self-righteous drapings of Church behind. She carried bouquets of hugs and kisses to scatter as needed, but kept God talk and the easy answers locked up in her bottom drawer. This wild, loud, funny, friendly woman who called students dumplins and everyone else in the world dahlin'....this woman who embraced people and life with a fervor that could be overwhelming to the uninitiated...this high school counselor who never let an awkward kid leave her presence without feeling like the world's most magnificent human... She was a church lady. Why were we surprised? Jinx was a walking, talking, hugging, laughing, red-lipsticked version of the Teacher who meant for us to always, always treat other people...even hormone-challenged, drama-wrapped teenagers...the way we want to be treated ourselves. With kindness and respect and full attention. That's who she was. Jinx Lacey. Crazy high school crisis counselor. Church lady. May she dance with the angels and eat green eggs if she wants 'em. And may we all be such church people. Peace.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Picture This...

Real slums. Real poverty. Real people living on less than $2 a day. It's the truth of Mumbai, India's Dharavi slum...which is the setting for the story of Slumdog Millionaire's 18-year old orphan, Jamal Malik. Surely you've seen the film by now. If not, try to see it before it runs away with the top Oscars Sunday night. Who couldn't love this story? Dire hopelessness + stubborn determination + sacrificial love + feats of daring, and some very cute children, and some great music... One reviewer said, "If Slumdog Millionaire were a person instead of a film, she would have been hugged to death by now." People love this movie. Myself included. My favorite scene from the film is in the police station. Jamal has been brutalized by authorities who believe he's cheating to win on the popular TV show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. To make their point, the police review a recorded segment of the show on which Jamal couldn't answer a very simple question about India's equivalent to the Pledge of Allegiance. "Even a 5-year old knows the answer to that question." says the police officer. "Do you know who stole a bicycle last night on the streets of Dharavi?" Jamal asks the officer. "No, I do not." he answers. "Even a 5-year old knows this in my neighborhood." Jamal tells him. The story unfolds from there...showing us the ways in which Jamal has been educated growing up on the streets of Mumbai. I liked the reminder that much of what we need to know about life does not come from books. I delighted in the suggestion that we all bring our own brand of wisdom to the world. I applauded Jamal's confidence in his street smarts. I was in love with and cheering for Jamal every step of the way. Outside the theater, however, I felt a cloud of reality hovering. 35,000 real children live on the streets of Mumbai. I have no doubt that these actual children are wise in ways far beyond my Western/well-read/well-fed education. I also know they are orphaned and hungry and sick and exploited by human vultures. In real life. Do yourself a favor before Sunday's Academy Awards show. Read a real life (without the millions) Jamal story. Her name is Rukshana. She is a 15-year old child of the streets in Mumbai. And if you are one for champagne and celebration on Oscar night, why not mark the occasion of Slumdog Millionaire's fame and fortune with a thought and a donation for the real street children of Mumbai? Building a better world for children...picture that! Peace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your Message - In Six Words

I know, I know. The six-word phenom has come and gone. Books have been published, t-shirts have been made. Everyone who listens to NPR or shops at Barnes & Noble has heard it, read it, done it. So, it's been done...but I still love the practice of thinking efficiently about what I want to say. I like the idea of encapsulating the essence of a day or a longing or a passion in headline form. Ernest Hemingway supposedly did it. They say he wrote of his life: For sale, baby shoes. Never worn. Stephen Colbert has done it: Well, I thought it was funny. Dave Eggers has participated: Fifteen years since last professional haircut. I've done it: Living each day like it matters. Yesterday I ran across a variation on the theme at the NY Times blog, Freakonomics. You can go there to vote on your favorite of six top entries in the search for a six-word motto describing the United States. Here are the finalists:
Consumption's the Cure That Ails Us We Will Get It Right, Eventually We Are Too Big To Fail The Streets Are Paved with CASH4GOLD.COM Learn to Live Within Your Means Wow, Can You Believe This Place?
Can it be that in our "hurry-entertain-me-or-lose-me" world...the world in which the term "sound bite" has oozed out of the newsroom and into everyday vernacular, the world that allows us to express impatience if our web browser doesn't produce documents from Siberia, translated into English, in under 12 seconds...in this big ol' fast and goofy world, does it makes sense sometimes to boil our thoughts down into haiku-ish form? I had this six-word business in my head last night when I clicked on congress.org to drop a line to President Obama on the subject of troop escalation in Afghanistan. The form the website produces on which you are required to submit your message gives this advice:
Research has shown that shorter messages are more effective. Use this meter to keep your message to a good length!
I limited mine to six: Longing for world peace. Please help. So, I'm wondering today...what would you say, in six words, to your elected representatives?
Out of work. Must feed family? I'm so confused. Too many zeroes? What were you thinking-voting no? You don't represent me. Please listen? Give peace a chance. Send diplomats? War is raging. I can't sleep?
Our worries deserve more than six words, of course. But the exercise does produce the priorities of our hearts. Try it. Peace.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We Get What We Pay For

Hypothetically thinking.... If I had a family to feed, a house to maintain, and doctors' bills to pay - yet I spent 58-cents of every dollar I made on, say, make-up and hair care products and acrylic fingernails - what might you think of me? Would you think vanity had gotten the best of my brain? What if I traveled the world with more than half my money? Would you think I was an adventurer? What if I gave that much of my money to worthy charities? Would you think I was benevolent and self-sacrificing? Suppose I spent more than half my money on guns. What would you think of me then? That I was crazy? Afraid? Paranoid? Dangerous? In Fiscal Year 2008, military spending represented 58-cents of every dollar spent by the US government on discretionary programs...programs like health, education, housing assistance, international affairs, the environment, justice, veteran's benefits, science and space, transportation, training/employment, social services, economic development - and war. This means military spending in the U.S. was larger in 2008 than military spending by all other nations in the world combined. It means US dollars spent in Iraq alone last year was a sum larger than the military budgets of China and Russia combined. It means US military spending in FY2008 was ten times the military budget of the 2nd largest military funding country in the world - China. What do you think that says about us? That we care deeply about the planet and its inhabitants? The FY2008 military spending was 120 times higher than the amount the government spent to combat global warming. It was 30 times higher than all spending on State Department operations and non-military foreign aid combined. If our money is where our mouths are, what are we hungry for? President Obama signed an order yesterday that promises 17,000 additional combat troops to Afghanistan this year. We have 37,000 troops on the ground there already...$2 billion a month being spent to support the effort. Meanwhile, we still have 140,000 soldiers in Iraq...which costs us roughly $10 billion a month. One of the president's chief strategists on the Middle East, Bruce Riedel, says this:
The terrorist network is hoping the United States keeps troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for the long haul. The 'bleeding wars' offer the best opportunity to defeat the United States.
You can see how he might be right. 58-cents of every dollar available to the US government is being put into fighting a battle experts say we can't win. Military think tanks like the Rand Corporation say terrorists cannot be defeated on the battlefield. The best answer instead, say the world thinkers, is political, local law enforcement, peacekeeping kind of work. Diplomatic escalation rather than military escalation. 18,000 Afghans have been killed since the US invasion of their country in 2001, and tens of thousands have been injured. Two-thirds of the people in Afghanistan oppose increasing combat troops and prolonging a crippling battle. Instead of war they want health care, clean water, and education. Imagine that. Hypothetically thinking... What if we spent $2 billion a month to give the Afghan people what they want? What if we spent money on peace? Because it seems when we spend money on war, we get war. And the world must think we like it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Dance of Compassion

My husband and I took a private dance lesson Saturday. We've been married since I Love Lucy was in reruns, and we've never danced. It seemed like something we should try. The instructor was kind and patient and didn't laugh at us once. One, two, quick-step...One, two, quick-step. "Hand a little higher on her back." "Hold his shoulder there." "Feet a little more toward middle." "Elbow up." "Smaller steps." "Quicker steps." "Ready to try a turn?" And then there was the matter of making it all move with the music.... When we got in the car, we were tired but a little bit impressed with ourselves. We'd actually managed some jagged, almost in time with the music, dancing. We resolved to practice. "It will take a while for the muscle memory to kick in," my husband said. Ya think? I laughed. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing. It helps us drive a car, shoot a basketball with accuracy, play a guitar...even speak. Here's how it works: As we reinforce certain movements through repetition, our neural system learns what we're doing to the point that we no longer need to think about doing it. We move to a dance floor, face our partner, and dance without counting or looking at our feet. I can't wait. Isn't it amazing what we can learn when we want to? I'm wondering today if it's possible to develop a muscle memory for our compassion response. Could I drive up to an intersection and roll down my window to kindly/generously greet the homeless man without thinking about it? Could I pull over to check on the woman with the flat tire, run to open the door for the man in the wheelchair, write a check to ONE.org without weighing other options? Is there a way to affix compassion to my auto-pilot dashboard? Every religion compels compassion. Here's a beginner's sampler:
Christianity - Whatever you would have people do for you, do the same for them; for this covers the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12) Brahmanism - This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517) Buddhism - Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Udana Varga 5:18) Confucianism - Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. (Analects 15:23) Islam - No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Sunnah) Taoism - Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. (Tai Shang Kan Ying P'ien) Zoroastrianism - That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. (Dadistan-I-dinik 94:5) Judaism - What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Still, I fear we've spent more time developing our "I'm right" muscle than our "I'm compassionate" muscle. Isn't that the value we stop to consider before we respond in compassion: What's the right thing to do? And doesn't the pondering of that question often mean we miss the moment at hand, the one in which compassion is needed? Like getting out of step with the music...we become suddenly awkward with Life. I'm going to believe we just need more practice: One, two, love your neighbor...one, two, as you love yourself. Peace.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Help - I'm Sinking!

I zoned out last night on the cleaning products aisle at the grocery store. A gentleman passed me, turned around and, laughing, said, "Shopping for some weekend fun?" In truth, I was just looking for a sponge. A plain old workhorse-of the-kitchen, sponge. Not the "nail friendly" version, or the "scratch safe" variety, or the "stove top specialist"...just a sponge. Honestly, I spent an entire five minutes crouched before the sponges, mostly suppressing my urge to stand up and scream "Why do we have so many choices?!!??" Have you looked at the toothpaste aisle lately? I counted one day, and there were 116 choices for toothpaste at my neighborhood supermarket. I am not making that up. Do you want something for a whiter smile, healthier gums, fresher breath...would you like it in gel, paste, pump or powder? Small, medium, large, extra large or travel sized? Aaaaaack. And the bar soaps - oh my! I bought one a couple of weeks ago with a "scent caps system" which apparently releases a clean smell on the body throughout the day. I bought it just to prove to my husband that shopping for household necessities these days is harder than he thinks it is. I mean, who knew I needed my soap to explode in waves of freshness throughout the day? I'm thinking of taking a tip from writer Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Freedom Manifesto...he says he tries not to buy anything beyond beer, bacon, and books. He also says the billions in bank bailout money would have been better spent giving everyone in the world an acre of land:
With an acre of land, a family of five or six can provide a huge amount of their food needs. You can keep animals and grow fruit and vegetables. This was the thinking behind Distributism, a political idea of the 1920s put about by Catholic intellectuals such as G. K. Chesterton. They saw a return to a medieval-style system where families combined smallholding with another source of income. Smallholding is enjoyable, useful, reconnects you with nature, is therapeutic, keeps you fit and healthy and is enormously satisfying.
Hodgkinson also believes we should all stop being such consumers, and start thinking about becoming producers. Make your own jam, he says...and bread and clothes. And grow stuff - even if you don't get an acre of land in the bailout. I know this is counter productive thinking in an economy that needs more spending to stay afloat. But, really - 116 choices for toothpaste? When there are people among us who can't afford to see a dentist? Soap with "scent caps" when much of the world doesn't even have clean water? Two dozen varieties of sponges - all of which ultimately end up becoming part of the 5 pounds/day of trash each American creates? Make life simpler. Do it one choice at a time - even if that choice is just to roll on past the sponges and go back to a washable cloth for sink scrubbing. It's my own personal bailout. Conscious consumerism. How 'bout it? Peace. PS - Thanks to GOOD for making the toothpaste selecting a more conscious experience! Check it out.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Perspective Askew?

What happened to these guys? When did they forget their hometowns? When did $178,000 for a car or $26-million for an apartment or $27-million in bonus money begin to sound reasonable? What would their mothers say? Take Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. He was raised in government subsidized housing in Brooklyn, the son of a postal clerk. Or Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America. Son of a nurse and Army sergeant in Georgia. Or John Mack, head of Morgan Stanley. Raised in Mooresville, North Carolina by Lebanese immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in 1908. His father ran a small grocery store in Mooresville. When did these men lose sight of real people and real life? I watched them yesterday as they bristled under the collective glare of the House Financial Services Committee, the members of which seemed more than put out with the CEOs. Since receiving taxpayer dollars in September of last year - money handed over to help put their banks back on track - these Masters of the Financial Universe have been the overseers of pricey corporate retreats, hefty executive bonuses, increased interest rates on consumer credit cards, and reduced availability of loans for us - Mom and Pop America/Payers of Taxes/Benefactors to Big Banks. Something's just not right here. These men in nice suits barely managed graciousness yesterday. Forget humility, or contrition, or empathy. I wondered if they'd ever borrowed money from their parents before they were gazillionaires - if they'd ever had to say: "Dad, I can't pay my rent this month. Can I have a $50 advance?" I tried to imagine the son of a hard working postal clerk going back to his father a few days later to say: "Oh, I spent that $50 on beer. Can I have another $50 for rent?" I hoped, at some point, they were conjuring up the faces of their mothers and fathers in some scene from their past... a scene in which they learned lessons of responsibility and gratitude. But I'm not sure those images still roam in the minds of those men. Money is funny stuff. It imparts a power and an entitlement and a blindness that invades people like cancer invades cells. We lose our ability to discern our wants from our needs when we have plenty. We lose sight of the lavishness of a lifestyle that includes expensive cars, paid household staff, Caribbean vacations, and $1,500 shoes. We forget where we came from. And we become intolerant of those who did not come along. And, yes, I'm afraid I have to use "we" in that paragraph instead of "they." Because most of us - those who have computers and are reading blog postings, anyway - most of us are just a few degrees of separation away from these men. Aren't we? When I turned off MSNBC last night, which I'd watched on my 40" HDTV, while sitting on my comfy sofa, in my 1-of-3 options for living rooms, with my $5 jar of chocolate sauce and $3 box of graham crackers in my lap, and my $2 bottle of water on the table...I thought, "What clueless, arrogant, sons of bitches. No wonder the world hates us all." And then I turned on clean hot water in my master bath, closed the windows in my bedroom with the brand new memory foam mattress on the bed, put on clean PJ's, and read a $4 magazine by the light of an energy efficient $5 light bulb. If 80% of the world is watching, I look no different from Lloyd Blankfein or Ken Lewis or John Mack. When did I lose sight of real people and real life? What in my oblivious lifestyle have I put on the backs of those who can't imagine a life like mine? How have I squandered generosity with no thought of gratitude? Do I wear big, ugly arrogance on the sleeve of my $50 GAP sweater? If nothing else good comes from this economic fiasco that most of us struggle to understand, perhaps we have this - a reminder that to whom much is given much is required. And...I'm sorry to be the one to tell you...that whom includes us. Peace.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Times...

they are a-changin'. Forty-five years ago this week Bob Dylan released an album by this title, which included the song of the same name: The Times They Are A-Changin'. His words captured much of what was brewing in the hearts and minds of a nation. It was 1964. Martin Luther King, Jr. was still alive and won the Nobel Peace prize that year. President Johnson announced the War on Poverty and signed the Civil Rights Act into law. The Beatles released their debut album, Meet the Beatles. Nelson Mandela made his "I Am Prepared to Die" speech. Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying "schmuck" on stage...and comedian Eddie Murphy was born. The times...they were a-changin'. In 1964, I was 11 years old and lived in Nashville, Tennessee. We had a maid - that's the term we used - a young black woman named Jean. She came to the house once a week to iron, mostly, and to give my mother a break. She couldn't read or write, but she sang all day long. She drank hot, black coffee...and told us we should never pick up the coffee drinking habit, because it would turn our skin black like hers. We loved Jean. One night in 1964, my mother was late getting home, and Jean missed her bus. Mom decided we should take her out to dinner somewhere between our house and hers. But I could tell as they talked about the plan that there was a problem. My mother pulled me aside and asked me to call the restaurant to find out if "they serve colored people." I still shudder as I recall the response I received from a loud, angry man: "Yeah, we serve 'em. We have to. It's the law." We didn't stop at a restaurant that night. By 1965, we had combat troops in Vietnam and our war was no longer focused on poverty. Selma, Alabama and the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles had become locations synonymous with the words riot and racism and fear. Malcolm X was murdered. Rodney King was born. The times...they were a changin'. The one step forward, two steps backward way. Are we there yet? Oh, if only a song could make real change happen. If only a law could make change happen. If only a great speaker and political will could make it happen. If only there were an easier route to change besides the one that changes the very hearts of human beings. One single human heart at a time. I am impatient by nature. This organic way of heart changing is too slow for me. I want Bob Dylan on the stereo, liberty and justice for all, and peace on earth...right now. In the meantime - Let's turn up the volume on Dylan today. And, make a donation of thought or money to a cause for peace and justice. And, take a friend - a friend of any race, religion, or sexual orientation - to dinner. Let's see the change and be the change.
Come gather 'round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown
The wheel's still in spin... Peace.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bellicose?!!

Wow...it's been a while since we had to grab a dictionary during a president's news conference. Quite a while. He said bellicose tonight. I had an email from my grad-student son almost immediately:
I'm watching Prez Obama's live press conference and he just used the word 'bellicose' in a sentence describing Middle East Country A's language toward Middle East Country B. (Expletive deleted here, but honored nonetheless) it's good to have a smart guy in the White House. I'm trying to imagine the word Bush would have used there... Fighty? Hostilistic?
Which makes me smile... And reminds me that some potentially fighty, hostilistic folks are going to the polls tomorrow. Pray for the Israelis. May they be overcome with a fresh longing for peace, and resist the well defined path of racism and never-ending war. Let it be.

To Know You Is To Love You

Why does it matter to Ken Starr that 18,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in California before voters there were talked out of allowing same sex marriages? I just can't figure it out. Starr is scheduled to take the case to have those 18,000 unions undone to the California Supreme Court on March 5. He wants the court to nullify every same sex marriage license issued in the state between May and November of last year. Why? Is it possible that Ken Starr...once a Young Democrat, a graduate of George Washington University and Brown University and Duke University, a former federal judge and US Solicitor General and high profile independent counsel during the Clinton years...is it possible Ken Starr has never known a happy, productive, committed gay couple in his life? Because if he has, I just don't get it. Usually knowing some of "those people" ... whoever they are in your life ... puts your narrow mindedness on indefinite leave of absence. I know some brilliantly happy gay couples. And guess what? They pay mortgages, mow lawns, go to basketball games, throw birthday parties, struggle with their weight, cry when they lose a parent, and read their Bibles - just like I do. I couldn't stick them in a "not worthy" column of life even if I wanted to. If they belong there...then so must I. "They" are people - just like "Us." And you know what else? This formula applies to all of the Uses and Thems of the world: the conservatives, the liberals, the Arabs, the Jews, the black people, the poor immigrant people, the soup kitchen people, the people with tattoos and piercings, the people with disabilities, and...yes, even the people with sinking stock portfolios and private jets. Knowing someone - some one - a real breathing, talking, thinking, working someone...well, it takes all the fun out of not liking the person. It takes the pleasure out of making yourself superior to him or her. It takes the satisfaction out of whatever oppression or segregation or war you may have previously thought was justified. It makes us all human. Which is exactly what we are. Flawed, struggling, fussy, self-centered, needy...humans. So, what's up with Ken Starr? I'd like to tie him to a chair and run this video - And then introduce him to some of my friends. Peace.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Still Missing Molly

I wonder how many times I've thought about Molly Ivins since Barack Obama was elected president on November 4, 2008... How many times have I rewound my life's tape to the summer afternoon in 2006 when I sat in the Gatehouse kitchen at The Crossings and ate Bluebell Cookies 'n Cream ice cream with Molly...the very nectar of the gods that she told me had kept her strong during grueling treatments for cancer? We talked about George Bush ("post turtle") and Rick Perry ("Governor Goodhair"). I wonder how many times have I wished we'd talked about Barack Obama? At least a hundred. I thought of Molly yesterday, when I read John Cole on the subject of our bipartisan Congress. Very few people would have the moxy to call republicans insane in a column posted for all the world to see. John did. Molly would have. I wish I had. I'd love Molly's take on our economic crisis and the proposed solution and the resulting tug-o-war politics. I'd love to hear her talk about John Cornyn's cabinet hearing handraising and Kay Bailey Hutchison's why-I-vote-no-on-spending argument. I'd love to hear what she'd be saying about civilian George Bush in his pricey Dallas neighborhood. I am happy to have a reflection this week from Molly's close friend and assistant for 6 years, Betsy Moon. It doesn't close every gap and longing for political commentary: Ivins-Style...but it does reach around me and scratch an itch. Read. Smile. Peace.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bipartisan or Big Babies?

Okay. The Democrats who've been around the Senate the longest are saying tonight that they've twisted enough GOP arms to get a stimulus bill passed (although there's still been no vote to prove it). The bill has been modified from the $900-billion plan for spending and tax cuts that the president proposed to an $800-billion plan - and now everyone's happy. Or, at least 60 Senators are happy enough with the political deals they've made this week to vote yes. What kind of leadership is this? We're in the biggest financial mess of our lifetimes - perhaps in all of history - and 100 taxpayer- supported men and women who work for us can't put down their political pettiness long enough to come together to get this pony out of the ditch. I'm sorely disappointed. We'd expect better of our children. Dang - we'd expect better of our pets. It's an EMERGENCY, senators. Save your political monkey tricks for later. We need a united front now. Divided we fall, you know. My friend Carol reads the blog Balloon Juice - a site with posts by one of the most clever political writers you'll ever hope to read. Here's his observation today on the progress of our bipartisan Congress so far: I really don't understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years. I'm not holding out much hope for this group to be the world's leaders on matters of peace. Sigh. Peace...it apparently will be ours to pursue.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stimulus Dreams

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 - Calls for the enactment of legislation to create jobs, restore economic growth, and strengthen America's middle class through measures that: (1) modernize the nation's infrastructure; (2) enhance America's energy independence; (3) expand educational opportunities; (4) preserve and improve affordable health care; (5) provide tax relief; and (6) protect those in greatest need. You have just read the summary of what was the Stimulus Bill in the Senate. It's what originally went to the US Senate on January 6, as S 1. January 6. I'm not making up that date. Go look at the bill. It's now morphed into S 336 and S 350, if you've kept up - although I can't for the life of me figure out why our beloved senators wouldn't grab something like what's described above, shout yes, and start taking bows before their too-many-zeros-in-a-billion befuddled constituents. Instead, these fine people who have our best interests in mind (of course), have waited a full month to rev their political rhetoric engines here on our road to economic recovery. Oh c'mon, Senators. We know you don't want to be the ones holding the empty bag if this deal doesn't work. We know you saw what happened to the party that put us in this shiny sports car to disaster in the first place. We know some of you want no part of making the new president look like a smart man. And we know many of you are wondering, "How much is a billion?"... just like we are. But it's time to do the right thing. Which today is SOMEthing. It's time to turn away from the hyperactive K Street chest-pounding and turn toward that old American dream that is seriously suffering back home in the trenches. It's time to shut up and be the deciders. Take another look at old S 1. I like it. Especially item #6 in the summary: Protect those in greatest need. That's the America I'm still dreaming of. Peace.

Waking Up

I'm spending a little time this morning sipping coffee with the memory of my friend Pam Roberts. She did, after all, teach me the art of drinking a strong brew with a fierce companion...a ritual I've treasured with each friendship that has grown under the spell of a dark roasted bean. Her eyes were as clear and blue as mine are dark and muddy. Her growing up was as small town and church focused as mine was metropolitan and agnostic. Her career choice was motherhood. Mine was television. Her politics were conservative. Mine were not. She married a small town boy and settled into a suburban groove in West Texas a few years before I could even fathom the experience of "settled" in any area of my life. She let me borrow laundry soap when I was out and it was still two days 'til payday. She fed me scrambled eggs for dinner, tossing them with potatoes and grated cheese before any of us had ever heard of a breakfast taco or a miga. She served cake at my wedding, taught me how to hang men's shirts on hangers, gave me sound parenting advice when my toddlers were outsmarting me, and listened to the very beating of my heart in every story I told. She had great laugh, an open door policy, a well-worn recipe file, sweet smelling flowers at her front door...and a demon that dragged her around by the hair. Pam struggled her entire adult life with clinical depression. I am sorry to say I never quite got it. I never really understood the darkness of her ditch or the strength of the psychosis that wrestled her to the ground over and over again. I missed so many opportunities to hear her stories - the ones that were difficult to tell - because I was so very busy telling mine in an effort to keep the conversation bright and happy. Eventually...because she moved a couple of times and because I withdrew from her tragedy one or two degrees...Pam and I disconnected. But, we were always sure we would have time for coffee and long visits once the kids were grown and the houses were quiet. Pam died one year ago today. She was too young - 55. She contracted a viral infection that made her feel weird, so she went to bed early on a Sunday. On Monday, her husband couldn't wake her and she was rushed to the hospital. On Tuesday, February 5, 2008 - she died. And I ache for the promised long talk over coffee. The one during which I would tell her: I hear you. I love you. Your struggle makes you beautiful and strong. You can always come to me with these difficult stories. Her obituary last February included this line: Pam loved working in her flower garden and spending time with family and friends. Today, the coffee is on. I am planning a spring garden. And I am learning from Pam again. Life is short. Drink up!
Pam Roberts, 1952 - 2008

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Keeping Focus

You know what it's like in December every year. It's summary report and budget review time at work; make everyone happy season at home; hostess-with-the-mostest month in the community. It's the time we claim each year to simultaneously set kids' dreams in motion, keep personal spending under control, deck every corner and hallway with shiny stuff, make a significant difference in the world, seize the joy of each day, and keep our focus on what's really important. This exhausting scenario comes to mind today as I think about President Obama. He has apparently had some push back - in the middle of everything else- from his people in Iraq. It seems they didn't think he meant it when he said, "out of Iraq in 16 months." And now, sources say, these generals and secretaries are plotting a political assault on our new president. Read this piece by political historian and journalist Gareth Porter: We know it's showtime, Mr. President. We know there are campaign promises to keep, an economy to rescue, Bush policies to upend, cities to rebuild, people to put back to work, political favors to return, partisan bridges to build, and wars to end. We know you're up before dawn, in the office well into the night - living on green tea, trail mix, and no smokes. And we know you must be wondering - now two weeks into this thing - how will I ever get this all done by Christmas (aka 2012)? So I'd like to thank you for holding your ground on Iraq. I'd like to say bravo to your unwavering belief that continuing a war that never made sense makes no sense. I'd like to say hooray for your "I'm the boss now" stance with General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Ray Odiemo. And, I'd like to suggest that insubordination to the Commander-in-Chief might not be a good path for decorated career military men to take. I'd also like to invite you to help Americans understand the intricacies of the political implications at stake for you as you continue to pursue 100% troop withdrawal from Iraq within the next 16 months. I'd like to hear you call, by name, the generals and journalists and congressfolk who are in line to put failure in Iraq on your back. Let us know who and what stands in the way of the promise you made to America to bring our troops home. Treat it like the Christmas tree, Mr. President. Yes...there's so much that needs to be done, and it's a hassle to get it up every year...but, it's a non-negotiable. We know the tree's going up before Christmas, come hell or high water. The cookies may not get made, the handwritten cards may not get mailed, the Christmas goose may be out of our price range...but the tree goes up. And the troops come home. In 16 months. Peace.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Something's Missing!

I love my newspaper in the morning. Beyond the satisfaction it serves up to the news junkie in me, there's the engagement of all senses in the ritual that is coffee, newsprint, reading glasses and my warmest sweater. Suffice it to say, I've never quite understood the pleasure in reading news online. Today, however, I am almost compelled to cancel my subscription to the Austin American Statesman, (which costs me about $20 a month), because no where in my newspaper today - not on page 1, page 21, section A, B, or E - was this headline:
‘US wasted billions in Iraq, Afghanistan’: Congressional report
For most of you, in fact - unless you live in Bangor, Maine - this story is not obvious in your newspaper today. A quick scan of front pages across the nation via Newseum turned up no notice of this story on the front pages of: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, the Bloomington Times Herald, or The Louisville Courier-Journal. So let me tell you the big news today: We've wasted $51-billion dollars in Iraq. An auditor, called the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, delivered a 250,000 page audit to Congress yesterday titled, "Hard Lessons." His name is Stuart Bowen, and he absolutely had some bad news for lawmakers:
  • $50+ billion dollars has been funneled to private contractors in Iraq with little government oversight, and that has led to massive fraud and very little progress
  • The US has spent 25 times more than pre-war planners envisioned for reconstruction in Iraq, and Bowen calls the effort a "massive failure"
One shining example is a maximum security prison we're building in the Iraqi province of Diyala. The Iraqis call it "the whale." The Whale has cost us $40-million dollars to date, and will cost at least $33-million more to complete. Bowen says it will probably never house an inmate. I think it's important for us to have this information. Perhaps we don't need to continue to fan the flame of "WTF?" with regard to George W. Bush and his host of unbelievable failures, but we do need to keep a fire burning in our bellies over decisions being made on our behalf, with our tax dollars, by our elected representatives in Washington, DC. Don't get me started on what $50-billion might have bought us elsewhere in the world...in the name of peace. So, if your newspaper failed you today, write a letter to the editor. And, consider this a heads up. General Bowen told the bipartisan commission looking into wartime contracting problems that we're about to make the same mistakes in Afghanistan. Peace.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What $206 Million Buys

Sixty-five commercials during Super Bowl XLIII. That means, on average, each ad you saw last night on NBC cost $3.1 million. Man...we Americans are an expensive date! While our Congress debates a $900-billion stimulus package to jump start the economy, we eat chips and dips and sausages-in-blankets through $206 million. I've tried to do the math to determine what portion of 900-billion we munched through last night - but that's waaaay too many zeroes for my calculator. I think $206-million is about 1/4,368th of the $900-billion stimulus proposal, though. A drop in the bucket. It's mind boggling. The stimulus bill AND the bill for airtime on the Super Bowl. Both are almost beyond my ability to think, understand, or do long division. But, here's what I'm thinking... What if just one of those advertisers - say Budweiser, which had four or five different commercials during the football game yesterday - what if Budweiser had taken money that it cost to air just ONE of those ads, and diverted it elsewhere. With $3.1 million, Budweiser might have purchased:
  • 1/65th of a hockey team in Tampa Bay, FL (The Lightening sale price, $206 million)
  • 1/2 year of a traffic improvement plan in Oxnard, CA ($200 million for 27 year bonds)
  • 1/3 of a new elementary school in San Antonio, TX ($48-million in bonds for three new schools)
  • 1/3 of a US Senator (on average, it costs $10-million to be elected to the US Senate)
OR, Budweiser could have bought:
  • 1,000 water wells to ensure 20 years of clean water for villages in Africa
  • 21.7 million meals for hungry Americans ($1 buys 10 pounds of food, or 7 meals)
  • 54,545 pairs of shoes for children in Argentina or Ethiopia who have never had shoes (oh, and a pair for 54,545 of their Budweiser friends, too! Check out TOMS shoes.)
$206-million for airtime so we might be persuaded to buy beer, cars, tires, investment accounts, energy drinks, sodas, etc? It looks so ridiculous when I type it. I like football. I understand the need for advertising dollars to bring me all the action in HD. I'm just not sure I understand our insulation from the reality that is this: a $206-million, three-hour sporting event (and we're just talking TV ad time with that number) is an obscenity in a world with hungry children. The tree is known by its fruit...so says the Bible. People are known by their priorities...so says my mother. Our priorities are determined, most clearly, by what we spend our time and our money on. What does that Super Bowl broadcast say about us? Peace.

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