Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Realization

These past weeks of preparation for Christmas have been a time of spite of myself. Even amid all the rushing around, my good old faithful internal reflection machine still managed to function on auto-pilot ("where did the years go? how did I get like this?"), and while trying to keep up with activities that I've taken on for various "causes," I found myself a bit discouraged and down in the dumps just before Christmas.

It seems that I involve myself now with nothing but problems ... on an international scale (war, peace, torture, Guantánamo prisoners, Amnesty International), professional scale (looking for new and innovative ways to help the students grasp what I'm trying to teach them), faith community scale (our Friends meeting is in a very precarious financial state), or domestic scale (son #2 and his eagerness to go touring with a rock band).

Nothing but problems to work on...somewhere
along the way I had lost the joy that Quaker spirituality had brought me, as well as my ability to enjoy music, food, and the other good things that God has had the goodness to sprinkle along my path.

Then I remembered some things I had read and learned this year, especially these words of wisdom from Deepak Chopra:

We aren't here to make the world evolve. We are here to evolve as individuals and then to spread that influence.
Let us not demand of ourselves that we alone must be the agent of change. In a fire brigade everyone passes along a bucket, but only the last person puts out the fire. None of us know where we stand in line. We may be here simply to pass a bucket; we may be called on to play a major role. In either case, all we can do is think, act, and say. Let us direct our thoughts, words, and actions to peace. That is all we can do. Let the results be what they will be.
Let us realize that engagement and detachment aren't opposite--the more engaged we become, the more detached we will have to be. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves in conflict, obsessiveness, anxiety over the future, and feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Keep in mind that we are pioneers into the unknown, and uncertainty is our ally. When our minds want closure, certainty, and finality, let us remind ourselves that these are fictions. Our joyous moments will come from riding the wave, not asking to get off at the next station.
Read his entire essay, "Where is Peace in a Time of War?."

...and I heard a voice tell thing at a problem at a step at a time...but above all, be at peace and in love with this life.

So that's my New Year's realization...

Happy New Year!


No sooner had I finished writing the above entry, than I went to check my email and read this sad message from our peace group's coordinator:

3,000 U.S. Troops Dead in Iraq Civil War

...a young man from Texas, apparently, has joined his comrades...and 650,000 Iraqi casualties.

May he rest in peace. May his family find consolation. May they all rest in peace.

May God help us to end this insanity called war.
It's up to us to make it a happy & humane 2007!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas 2006

The animals asked no questions
and shepherds believed a tale
whispered by angels upon the night wind

The one who most who needs love
always comes in disguise
and says:
Here I am
Take me in.

Merry Christmas!
Bethlehem graphic from mennolink clipart

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hmm...sounds vaguely familiar

Anyone out there a Marcus Borg fan? I'm reading his newest book, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006).

After calling Jesus a "Spirit person" or mystic, Borg gives this description of a mystic:

Mystics have, to use the broad traditional definition, and "experiential" knowledge of God." Mystics already know something more; namely, they know the immediacy of access to God. Not immediacy in the sense of "ease," as if access to God is easy, but that God is accessible to experience apart from mediators, that is apart from institution and tradition. Mystics stand in an unbrokered relationship with God. They do not intrinsically become anti-institution or antitradition--but they know that no institution or tradition has a monopoly on access to the sacred. For this reason, mystics have often been distrusted and sometimes persecuted by the official representatives of the religious traditions in which they have lived. (pp. 133-134)
Sounds a little like George Fox's brand of spirituality, no??

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Uncle Sam knows best

On Friday the CIA's Publications Review Board forced the New York Times to publish the censored version Flynt Leverett's and Hillary Mann's op-ed piece on US diplomatic relations with Iran. The authors provided quotes from the redacted passages that had already appeared in the press, proving to the CIA that the op-ed contained nothing that was not already in the public record. No dice. Here's a sample of what the Review Board has wrought:

My favorite part is this sentence:
Our experience dealing with xxxx xxxx Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan and in more recent private conversations in Europe and elsewhere convince us that Iran will not go down such a dead-end road again.
Wow, what a great fill-in-the-blank party game! What could that "redacted" (i.e., censored) adjective describing Iranian diplomats have been???? Perhaps "...determined Iranian diplomats?" How about " Iranian diplomats" or dedicated or how about exasperated? What does our government want us to think about the Iranian diplomats that it has to deal with? That they are cagey, two-faced, volatile, thuggish, or just plain EVIL. The only adjective the authors could have used that would have passed muster with the Review Board would probably have been something like #*$?//* ... a qualifier unprintable other than for reasons of State.

I have to agree with news analyst Daniel Shorr who remarked on NPR's Weekend Edition yesterday, "This is a redaction-mad administration.... I think that whenever they can, they will say you can't see this, you can't. Why can't you see it? Just because you can't see it."

Well, you know what Thomas Jefferson said:

Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Finally ready for Christmas day of shop-till-you-drop, a half-dozen packages wrapped and shipped, and three dozen mini-breads later

...Really, I have to get a handle on this Christmas preparation thing. I wear myself out every year, even though I tell myself that things have gotten easier since the kids have grown!

First of all, it just would not feel like Christmas if I didn't make my various
quick breads to give as little gifts. This personal tradition of mine goes back so far that its origin is lost somewhere in holiday lore. Date-nut, cranberry-orange, and almond are the perennial stand-bys, and then there's always a new variety or two. This year I discovered French vanilla flavoring extract in the baking section, so I thought I'd try it. No, I did not say Freedom vanilla! And anyway, who knows what's even French about it. But it makes the breads smell heavenly as they're baking. It's a bit sweeter and has more character (as the wine connoisseurs would say) than the regular vanilla extract. So now I've added a French vanilla-nut bread to my repertoire. By doubling the recipes I can turn out up to 8 mini-loaves of each variety per batch. I made a third batch last night ... bringing the total to almost 3 dozen....of course, the first 20 or so have already been distributed, mostly to colleagues.

Last evening's batch of mini-breads will be distributed this evening at the annual Christmas party that one of the moms continues to host at her house since the days when our kids were babies and we all met once a week for "play group." The first-born of the group have just completed their first semester at college. The menu has always been spaghetti or lasagna and meatballs, salad, and Italian bread. I've been the contributor of the meatballs for the last few years.

Time was when one of the dads would grab his guitar and he and I would accompany the kids on a caroling tour of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the other moms would clean up after dinner, make coffee and cocoa, and set out dessert. One of the moms continues to make Christmas cookies that are true miniature works of art ... still, I have no problem whatsoever eating as many as I can stuff down.

Nowadays the kids go out caroling by themselves. Amazing!
I don't have to shop for toys anymore, but I've managed to fill my free time with other activities. Each year I seem to begin the Christmas preparations --sending cards and doing the (fortunately) small amount of gift purchasing that I have to do-- later and later. Last week our Amnesty International chapter hosted a Global Write-a-thon, and my job was to get model letters enlarged for copying by the guests. We netted over 125 letters on behalf of prisoners! Then this First Day the kids at our Friends Meeting did their annual "Christmas in the Fields" play. No one knows why it's called Christmas in the Fields. Maybe someone out there in Quakerdom knows... Anyway, I offered to accompany the caroling and, as it had been about 15 years since I strummed a chord, I had to spend considerable time practicing. The kids did a cute little skit, featuring Gandhi, MLK, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Tubman, and Isaac Hopper talking about non-violent activism.

The day before the pageant, I had done my first bit of Christmas be completed the day after the pageant....and then several items had to get shipped by mail this year to relatives who will not be stopping by.

One bit of simplification: I did substitute contributions to the AFSC in the name of several relatives and friends instead of buying them something. Determined to do more of that!

Of course, they still got homemade mini-breads!

loaf from
carolers from
tinpan at Fortunecity

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On reading between the lines

"We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war."
The above quotation came from a story that I originally read in my SojoMail (from Sojourners), but that Jim Wallis has since posted as a Beliefnet blog entry, "Will Braun: Christian Soldier Returns to Front Lines Unarmed,"
(published in its original form in Geez Magazine ...check it out!)

It's the story of Logan Laituri, a US soldier who had served on the front lines in Iraq. Logan reached a new understanding of his Christian faith, sought CO status, and requested to be sent back to Iraq unarmed. His commanders dragged their feet on putting his request through and Logan was eventually transferred to a non-combat unit. After his term of service was up, he joined a Christian Peacemaker Team ...and got his wish at last to go back to Iraq unarmed. He has his own blog, Courageous Coward.

Logan got some really way-out comments from Christians when he told them he could no longer in good conscience bear arms:
"One commander, who is also a Baptist preacher, assured Laituri that since he was a Christian, Jesus had died for all his sins, and therefore he was already forgiven for whatever he would do on the battlefield."
Say WHAT????

and this:
"His then-girlfriend's father told Laituri he was part of God's hand in bringing judgement to Muslim extremists."
Onward, Christian jihadists!

The comment about Jesus preaching peace yet not objecting to nations going to war was made by Army Chaplain Maj. Norman W. Jones. I can't think of a more agonizing vocation than that of an Armed Forces chaplain. I understand those who say that if the churches are really serious about preaching Jesus' message of peace and love of enemies, then they should stop supporting nationalistic wars and refuse to send their clergy to serve. On the other hand, as Maj. Jones says, "I'm here to support the soldier." Soldiers do not send themselves to war. How, then, to refuse to minister to them as they come face to face with death?

Nevertheless, the statement, "We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war," almost invites the question: "What nation would Jesus take up arms for?" (Trick question: he'd fight on our side, right?) It just made me stop cold.

How we Christians do manage to wiggle out of a simple gospel....

Logan got it right:
"One superior berated him, saying his actions benefitted the enemies of America– an insult Laituri took as affirmation, given Jesus' invitation to love the enemy."

Friday, December 8, 2006

The Return of the Blob
..............................uh...make that "the blog"

Well, one cascading style sheets course, lots to do at work, problems with my favorite 16 1/2-year-old, one Financial Stewardship Committee meeting (more on that to come), one message digest (more on that too), and a few weeks later, I'm finally getting back to blogging.

Um...but first I have to practice the guitar a bit. I have exactly one week to relearn how to play chords to accompany Christmas carols to help out the kids when they do their little Christmas pageant, which at our meeting is called Christmas in the Fields. So I'll just leave you with this thought for the day:

Sometimes Christians need to read between the lines.

And just what prompts this ingenious thought? This quote:
"We do know [Jesus] preaches peace...but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

No pleasure in "I told you so"

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans....Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost.

So says Nebraska...or rather Republican senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska.

After the loss of how many Iraqi many American lives: military personnel who went to Iraq with the conviction that they were somehow making their loved ones safer here at home; contractors --in some cases out of work-- lured by six-digit salaries....

After how many admonitions, how many analyses...after weapons inspector Scott Ritter's affirmation that Iraq had destroyed over 90% of its weapons of mass destruction...after the point-by-point demonstration by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that invading Iraq did not meet the criteria of a just war, after warnings by Jesse Jackson, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and pleas from writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, James Carroll and others....

While the Rumsfeld's of the country trivialized the violence and disorder infecting Iraq because, after all, "democracy is messy" (but who cares when you don't have to get bloodied by it yourself?) and the Rice's blew smoke in our eyes by conjuring up a Saddam-sent mushroom cloud, and the Coulter's accused Democrats and leftists as a group of treason....

After Abu Ghraib...

After all the lies and more, a Republican senator finally stands up, says that although we invaded Iraq with the best of intentions, it's time for an "honorable" exit...

I can only echo the words of Fr. Andrew Greeley:

God forgive us for the war, especially those who voted for it in 2004, and especially the pundits, the commentators, the editorial writers who supported the war until almost the last moment and are still willing to accept more casualties so this country and its president can escape with some dignity.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Do They Know It’s Thanksgiving? (with apologies to Band Aid)

It’s Thanksgiving
pumpkin pie’s in the oven
we celebrate abundance
while watching the elves dance
as Santa arrives on a float

But say a prayer
pray for the other ones
whose mush
won’t be topped
with cranberry compote

It’s hard, but when you're feasting
there's a parallel world out there
a world of dread and fear

Where the only water flowing
gags them
till they spill the beans
and the only carols ringing
will be rap music zinging
in their ears

then they'll chant a sura
and dream of seeing their ma

And there won’t be candied yams
in Guantanamo this year
where they live in pens
like turkeys
and drink fermented despair

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
whose stern, impassioned stress…
a network of rendition beat
in covert wilderness

Here’s to you and your dear ones
here’s to them, the disappeared ones
Do they know it’s Thanksgiving today?


I love days like today ...but only every know and then...days when I stay in the house the whole day...I especially like not going to a store, not making any purchases, not getting into my car and driving on the road. Of course, a lot of ingredients went into making today such a special, peaceful, abundant day, a day to be thankful.

  • I was born in the world's only superpower with it's superpowerful economy. I was born into privilege. My mother would say that's a lot of sh__. She would say that Italians came to this country and worked hard for whatever they have. But that begs the question. People come from impoverished countries with politically oppressed societies and thrive in the U.S., while others whose ancestors were brought here centuries ago are still struggling to climb the ladder of success. And I won't even go into what became of "native Americans." Other writers have spoken of white privilege more eloquently than I, so I'll let them speak.
  • I'm also thankful for the family and home my husband I have have managed to found. The ambiance is a lot more harmonious and tranquil than in the home I came from.
  • I'm thankful for the education I've had and most especially for the opportunity to study two languages besides English. Reading authors in the original has really opened my mind. Immersing myself in two other linguistic systems has helped me walk in others' shoes, even if I haven't been able to travel much.
  • I'm thankful for the gift of perceptiveness heightened with a pinch of intuitiveness, which makes painfully aware of my country's faults. I love the U.S. and just can't seem to shake the illusion that we can actually live up to the ideals of our Constitution.
  • I'm thankful for the Internet, where I met two of my favorite friends with whom I've been corresponding for almost 10 years. We've talked by phone and on Skype (oh, yeah, I'm thankful for Skype) and, God willing, we'll meet in person some day.
  • I'm thankful for my Catholic background -- if not so much for the upbringing. I wouldn't be able to appreciate music, literature, religious thought, and much of European culture without having first absorbed Catholicism's rich traditions. That said...
  • I'm grateful for having found the Religious Society of Friends...and to think they were in my own backyard all the time! Although Friends can be as tepid and apathetic as members of any other denomination, when at their best they are rigorously independent thinkers (comme les Français justement), passionate spiritual practitioners, and dedicated activists....and while I'm at it, I'm grateful for all my personal and activist friends (with a small "f').
  • Finally, like St. Francis of Assisi who was grudgingly grateful for his mortal body, which he humorously called Brother Ass, I'm thankful for all my past physical and psychological sufferings. I'm grateful to skilled and empathetic therapists who supported me through the harrowing journey to emotional strength and wellness, helping me to find that place of spiritual and emotional tranquility that I inhabit today.
OK, so much for all that Thanksgiving jazz...time to get ready for the rest of the day!

Friday, November 17, 2006

...wherein Liberata is oh so tired of war talk

I'm having a very difficult time comprehending the message that the President was trying to send to the people of Vietnam ...or to the world...or maybe just to the American people when he said, standing under a huge bust of Ho Chi Minh in the former palace of the French governor in Hanoi:

...that the American experience in Vietnam contained lessons for the war in Iraq. Chief among them, he said, was that “we’ll succeed unless we quit.”

“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world,” Mr. Bush said after a lunch with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, “and the task in Iraq is going to take a while.”
As someone pointed out on another blog, it sounds as though the President regrets that the US did not stay in the war longer and kill more Vietnamese. A strange statement to make when you are the guest of the current president of the country...

And in an even curiouser remark, Mr. Bush credited his hosts with saving veteran Sen. John McCain's life by pulling him out of the lake where his plane had crashed nearly 40 years ago ... never mind that they kept him prisoner for five years and tortured him as well.

War sure makes people do and say strange things.


On a more inspiring note: had a great conversation today with one of our Italian professors about Cesare Beccaria and his opposition to torture and to the death penalty.

We should be so advanced!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

If our Speaker-Elect of the House asked me what she should do first...

(Note: This letter was published in a somewhat abridged and edited form in yesterday's Inquirer ... but Ms Pelosi will get the original version.)

Open Letter to the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker-Elect, United States House of Representatives

Dear Madam Speaker:

Allow me to congratulate you most sincerely on your hard-won victory. Looking forward to the day when you will take your place at the rostrum, I beg you to remember that there is a serious wrong to right, a shameful stain on our nation’s honor to cleanse.

To your credit, Madam Speaker, you voted against the heinous Military Commissions Act of 2006. Unfortunately, the bill was passed by fear-mongering representatives and senators who chose to cast aside universally recognized standards of human rights. According to its provisions, our President can now authorize “enhanced” interrogation procedures such as sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and water-boarding. Prisoners will continue to be held indefinitely without the right to challenge their detention in federal court, and information obtained by coercion and the infliction of physical or mental pain can be used against them. Furthermore, by its loose definition of “enemy combatant,” this law jeopardizes the civil rights even of American citizens.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, it will soon be within your power to initiate the process of repeal, thus demonstrating to the world that the United States still upholds the principles of liberty and justice for all.

Madam Speaker, tear down this law.

Monday, November 6, 2006

You know you've been working too hard when...
                you have visions of xhtml code in your dreams

That's right. I tossed and turned last night while visions of deprecated html and the latest industry-standard xhtml tags, as well as CSS (cascading style sheets, for the hypertextually mark-up-challenged) selectors and declarations danced in my head. Correction: whirled around in my nightmares.

It all started when I registered for a 5-week online course in CSS. I thought it was time I caught up with modern Web page authoring methodology. What I thought was a basic course turned out to be advanced. I was lost from day 1. Not that our online instructor wasn't understanding -- he just didn't understand that he was talking way above our heads. After feeling as though I'd never catch up, I spend about an hour in my local Barnes & Noble on Saturday sampling CSS books until I found one that explained the hyper-creatures in language I could grasp ... and better yet, the authors even had a sense of humor! If you're ever in the mood ... or maybe I should say, if the madness ever overtakes you... to learn CSS, get yourself a copy of

Elizabeth Freeman & Eric Freeman. Head First HTML with CSS
. Sebatopol, CA: O'Reilly Media, 2006.

Lots of humorous examples, lots of puns (e.g., Starbuzz Coffee), great explanations. The Freeman team is going to get me through this course!

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Quakers, queries, and torture

Friends have a curious, countercultural practice called the query. In a world where we are quick to blame others for anything that goes awry and even for our own mistakes, queries serve as a vehicle of self-examination and self-criticism. And that's what makes them countercultural.

When meditating on queries, usually presented in the form of groups of questions on a particular theme or topic, we ask ourselves how
we can change, not how we can change others. We seek out those shadowy recesses in our own heart where the Light has yet to penetrate, and we ask ourselves how we can truly be God's instruments for healing and for good in the world.

Stephen Grellet, the 18th century Quaker pastor (or perhaps it was William Penn...the attribution faded off into legend long ago) might have been responding to a query when he said:

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
From the QUIT-L (discussion list for the Quaker Initiative to End Torture) I received a message written by a Friend about queries that some members of her meeting (not sure where it's located) composed concerning war and torture:
1) How does my country’s embrace of the “War on Terror,” the war on Iraq, torture and indefinite imprisonment, and the threat of attack on Iran affect my spiritual and emotional life?

2) What support do I need to help heal these spiritual wounds?

3) (for those who felt ready) Knowing that right action can be a
spiritual practice, what might the action I take on these issues look like?

The Friend went on to describe the process:
We split into groups to consider our queries, and came back to report on what had happened. The groups were relieved to have a forum to discuss their feelings. My group talked a lot about what I think of as the 5 d’s: disbelief, disconnect, disgust, disillusionment, and depression. Many felt that their sense of their country had changed from one that upheld values of morality and freedom to one that advocated fear and dissembling. We talked about the need not to sit in our individual places of despair, but to reach out and talk to others about these issues, to draw strength from one another. Some remembered other struggles and declarations of war that continued for years, and one person acknowledged that some struggles—for example, those of slavery and suffrage—went far longer than the lifespans of those who started them. Some spoke of the inspiration of those people who fought so hard for the freedoms we have now. We talked about how many are silent because we do not think others will listen or agree.

The group wanted more. More discussions, more opportunities to explore what to do next. And I was heartened that I was not alone in my pain. And I want to encourage you not to be silent. I know there is a lot to work on, and we have to marshal our resources, each one of us, to live and do the most important things for us. But if torture, or our war in the Middle East, is making you uneasy, consider speaking out, or taking one more step than you have. If you have a faith community, perhaps engage them in your concern. Talk to your friends, singly or in groups. Let your elected officials know what you do and don’t want done in your name...
I can't add much to the Friend's witness, except to say that whatever "right action" someone might take will proceed not from anger, outrage, or revulsion (all normal, natural feelings, but which need reflection before being acted upon) but out of a prayerful heart.

If you're interested in joining QUIT-L,visit
the contact page.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A moment of anostalgia
Je n'aime pas la nostalgie
C'est une maîtresse inassouvie aux yeux trop bleus
Michel Rivard

You won't find it in the DSM-IV, but I've been aware for some time now that I suffer from a rare emotional disorder known as anostalgia. I was born without a nostalgia gene. You never catch me looking back with longing on an era of history or an episode of my life. Sure, life was simpler, water was purer (government too), bananas were cheaper, and my work schedule wasn't as insane...but I can always find some defect in whatever past era you care to name that makes me glad it's past.

This morning though, I find myself looking back fondly on the first few months of my older son's life. You know, when babies take a morning nap. He used to get me up at 5:30 or 6:00. Then around 8:00, his little belly filled with warm milk and smelling sweet as only a baby wrapped in a fresh diaper can, he'd fall asleep again for a couple of hours.

Leaving his room, I'd hear the schoolbus grind to a squawking stop to pick up the little boy and girl next door. That sound unleashed an irresistible longing to sleep from somewhere deep inside me, and I'd go lie down too.

Life itself melted away for about an hour or so. Nothing existed but peaceful sleep. If there's any time that I would wish to relive, it's that one.

I can be fairly certain that one day I will....

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

Open letter to my senator

Dear Senator ________:

Thank you for your letter in response to my anxious faxes and calls to your office prior to the passage of the Military Commissions Act. I am deeply grieved by your decision to vote in favor of this heinous bill.

I find it most inconsistent and disturbing, Senator, that you would go to the trouble of drafting an amendment to preserve detainees’ right to habeas corpus, only to vote the bill into law anyway once your amendment had been rejected. Your explanation that “the ability of our government to effectively fight the global war on terrorism would be hindered” without this bill can only be understood as a euphemism for falling in line with your political party.

Your mention of past support for Senator McCain’s amendment to the FY 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act prohibiting "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees also rings false. The senator and his colleagues seriously compromised that amendment when they acquiesced to the compromise bill granting the President power to “interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.”

Passage of the Military Commissions Act made it all the easier for Vice-President Cheney to agree with a recent interviewer’s assertion that “a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives.” Mr. Cheney no longer finds it necessary to conceal the fact that the CIA resorts to water-boarding, in spite of Senator McCain’s assurances that this despicable procedure, condemned as torture by democratic nations everywhere, would be prohibited.

Senator, whether or not our country is losing its brains, I am not prepared to say. However, I do agree with Rev. Kathleen McTigue and Rabbi Donna Berman, members of an interfaith group opposed to torture, who wrote in a recent op-ed piece that America is in the process of losing its soul. I must also sadly agree with Rev. John Perry, Jesuit priest and author of Torture: Religious Ethics and National Security (Novalis, 2005), who writes that “a modern liberal democracy that permits or encourages this practice, even as a strategy for survival, betrays its ultimate reality and meaning.”

I can only hope and pray that the judicial branch of our government will right this shameful wrong done by the legislative branch.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Let us then try what love will do
...or, Out of the mouths of clowns

Remember Patch Adams? Here's a picture of Robin Williams, who played the clown-around doctor in the movie, with the real Dr. Adams himself.
And here's an exhortation by Dr. Adams...and I think he's dead serious for once:

On November 7, Be S
mart: Vote for Love

Isn’t it time for a radical change of course? There’s only one thing more powerful than violence, and that’s love. So shouldn’t we be fighting violence with love? I don’t mean relational love. I mean treating people with love. Feeding them. Educating them. Healing them. That kind of love...

Gee, do you think maybe that's what
William Penn meant when he wrote, "Let us then try what love will do: for if men do once see we love them (=Feeding them. Educating them. Healing them.), we should soon find they would not harm us?" (Some Fruits of Solitude, #545). Our country is spending billions of dollars on the military, the military contractors, and the "expert" interrogators, and the only positive return on this poisonous investment is an occasional story about a little grade school being rebuilt in some Iraqi town. One little grade school. We sure know how to get the most for our money.

Meanwhile Baghdad cannot even handle the number of dead bodies pouring into the morgue --many arriving with their limbs still bound and bearing gruesome marks of torture. Those responsible for the humane burial of the dead are now forced to ship the bodies to cities in southern Iraq, so that they can be interred within the period of time prescribed by Islamic custom.

This is what we've purchased for the Iraqi people with our billions of dollars: torture and death.

What’s a love platform? It’s a set of policies that shows compassion for the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, the poor. It’s a platform that treats the environment with the loving respect it deserves.

A love platform would call for kissing, not
killing. You switch two little letters and you get a whole new outlook on life. Kissing, not killing....

We need to create a massive global movement for loving. It would be like the Peace Corps times 10,000. People who have resources would go, en masse, to help those without. People with skills would teach those without. People who are healthy would take care of those who are sick.

We’d save cabinet positions for the Amish people who embraced the family of the man who killed their children.

We’d put in charge of foreign policy the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 but insisted that revenge was not the answer, or the women of CODEPINK who tried desperately to stop the war in Iraq before it even began....

Right on, Patch!

So come November 7, be smart. Vote out stupid and arrogant candidates who think that occupying Iraq by force or bombing Iran will make us safe. And vote for candidates who understand the simple notion that love is not only the best medicine, it’s also smart p

Read all of Dr. Adams' wisdom at Common Dreams.

Hey, get me one of those big, round, red clown noses, 'cause I'm ready to pull the ballot lever!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It takes an election

... the way this sudden change of heart has come about, after months in which [the president] has brushed off all criticism of his policies as either misguided, politically motivated or downright disloyal to America, is maddening.
Amen, amen, New York Times editorial staff.

There is probably no worse time to begin a serious discussion about Iraq policy than two weeks before a close, bitter election. But now that the discussion has begun, it must continue, as honestly and openly as possible. It is time for the American people to confront all the things that the president never had the guts to tell them about for three and a half years.
It doesn't take Abu Ghraib atrocities.
It doesn't take the realization that Saddam liquidated his weapons of mass destruction years ago.
It doesn't take carnage like the one at Falluja.
or the first Johns Hopkins study reporting 100,000 civilian deaths
or the more recent update reporting some 650,000
or the almost 3,000 American military casualties.

To finally rethink the course of this obscene war it takes

an election

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On seeing ourselves as others see us
...and a curious compliment for Quakers

The problem with faith and practice is that Islam and most of the major Christian religions except a few like the Quakers, declare theirs to be the one true faith and mandate that their members proselytize.

So said commentator Rosa Maria Pegueros last Tuesday in her piece entitled "A Priest, A Rabbi And A Minister Walk Into A Bar…" featured on the Common Dreams website. The author, a professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies, makes an incorrect statement with regard to one of the world's major religions. Still, I find her misconceptions very revealing, since misconceptions expressed by someone looking at a religion from the outside often reflect the gap between adherents' faith and practice, between what the religion teaches and what its members actually do.

Pegueros starts her piece with a joke:
Did you hear the one about the man who dies and arrives at the Pearly Gates? St. Peter checks him in and tells him to follow him. As they walk, they pass a room where people in saffron robes chant in unison; the man asks who they are. St. Peter replies, “Oh, those are the Buddhists.” Then they pass a Black congregation singing, swaying and clapping their hands. Baptists? Yup, replies St. Peter. In the next chamber, there are Tibetan throat singers; then Jews dancing a hora; then Muslims prostrate on their prayer rugs and so on until they pass a room with the Pope and Cardinals and bishops and throngs of people. “Catholics?” he asks. St. Peter replies, “Shhhhhhhh; they think they’re the only ones in heaven!”
I can recognize Pegueros' mistaken belief about Catholicism because I'm "a product of Catholic schools," as they used to say and, in my not-so-distant past, a practicing Catholic. The Catholic Church no longer holds (if it ever officially did) that only its own members are saved. I certainly was never taught that by any of my teachers, many of whom were nuns. (Well, OK,
maybe they did impart the idea that we Catholics were just a bit more...closer to the Truth than the others, but hey, as my grandmother used to say, "Everybody praises their own.") In the document Nostra Aetate, issued by Vatican Council II in 1965, we read,
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

... The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.
So the punchline of Pegueros' joke turns on a misunderstanding...unless, of course, by their actions and attitudes in everyday life, Catholics actually do give the impression that they think they're the only ones going heaven. But my purpose here isn't to point an accusing finger at Catholics. Rather, it is to suggest that we who follow a spiritual path --whichever it may be-- treat Pegueros' words like a mirror that lets us see ourselves as others see us (sort of like a Quaker "Query").

And as for misconceptions, I naturally assumed, because of her beautiful Spanish name, that Pegueros was Catholic herself. Surprise! In the "funny you don't look it" category, she reveals that she's actually "a devout Jewish agnostic" (perhaps originally of the Sephardic tradition?).

I wonder if any other Quakers picked up on Pegueros' curious compliment:
The problem with faith and practice is that Islam and most of the major Christian religions except a few like the Quakers, declare theirs to be the one true faith and mandate that their members proselytize.
Since Pegueros teaches at the University of Rhode Island, perhaps the only Quakers she has encountered are members of the FGC. True, we don't do much in the way of "proselytizing," which Pegueros finds praiseworthy...even if some of our fellow members do not. She is obviously unaware, as was I before I began to delve more deeply into Friends' literature, of other branches of the vaster Quaker community, such as the Evangelical Friends International who, as their name implies, spread the Light in a more active way.

But that's OK. I'll take a compliment any way I can get it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Legislators' Disease

I'm really starting to wonder what happens to men and women when they get elected to the legislating body of a country, like our Congress or the French Assemblée nationale.

"Tout pays se grandit en reconnaissant ses drames et ses erreurs," M. Chirac declares, happily in synch with the members of France's legislative branch. A nation only become greater when it recognizes
its wrongdoings and its mistakes.

Vraiment? J'ai comme un doute. Unless I've forgotten how to read French or even English, I think the members of the Assemblée nationale just recognized some other country's wrongdoings and mistakes....

But Legislators' Disease seems to present in a different form when it strikes American legislators. An essential part of the soul atrophies, deadening the nerve endings that would normally send pangs to the conscience. Subsequently --or simultaneously in really acute cases-- the parts of the brain that recognize basic human requirements, such as the right to dignity, also die out. How else to understand the passage of a law allowing torture and suspension of habeas corpus?

At present, the only known cure is a complete legislatorectomy and transplant... removal of the entire individual from his or her lawmaking position and replacement with a new one.

Well, in the US we've got elections coming up soon ... hope some good quality replacement organs are found. un gros merci à Enrico pour l'inspiration!

Monday, October 9, 2006

Of blessed memory

It almost happened. I almost succumbed to the pleasant temperatures and riotous colors of autumn. I almost forgot that our President could now authorize anyone classified as a "alien unlawful enemy combatant" to be subjected to such "alternative" interrogation procedures as prolonged hyperthermia, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding; deprived of the right to challenge his/her detention in a court of law; and have evidence obtained by coercion used against him/her during trial, while at the same time being denied the right to appeal to the Geneva Conventions as a source of just treatment. (Lawful enemy combatants wear uniforms and, presumably, collect official paychecks bearing the name and Great Seal of their nation, just in case your were wondering how to distinguish the two. And anyway, those suspicious, brown-skinned guys with the Arab names deserve what they get.) I almost went about my life, forgetting that in our most Christian of nations we've just approved a most unchristian, indeed a most heinous law.

Funny how easy it is to forget, to go about life with all the important things I have to do: working, preparing dinner, washing clothes, supervising my son's homework, going to kickboxing class. Just what the administration is counting on...the short memory of the citizenry.

  • In Friday's news from Camp Pendleton, California, the Pentagon said "that it will investigate a Marine's sworn statement that guards at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as a common practice."

  • The Association Press reports that the Navy lawyer who successfully defended Salim Ahmed Hamdan has been passed over for promotion and must leave, according to the Navy's up-or-out policy. Someone should really remind the Navy about John Adams' successful defense of the British soldiers who fired on civilians during the Boston Massacre. According to Adams, "It was ... one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country." But then, why should the Navy's memory be any better than that of Americans in general?
I managed to churn out an essay over the weekend that I intend to get published somewhere on the topic of how good Christians seem to approve of torture now. Because I invoke some Quaker principles in it, I'm running it past a few seasoned Friends to make sure my interpretations are acceptable ...

This is one American who is not going to forget.

Monday, October 2, 2006

What price...

...the right to own firearms?

Listen to an excerpt from the Amish hymn, My Ways Are Not Your Ways.
excerpt from

NB: The killer had three guns, a stun gun, two knives and a bag holding 600 rounds of ammunition...against a schoolroom full of children. Read.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Listen to your mom
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked, "And who is my enemy?"

Eat your vegetables
   zip up your jacket
      watch out for yourself

Get eight hours of sleep
   take your vitamins
      report illegal aliens

Watch sugars and trans fats
   don't use your cell phone while driving
      don't worry if it's monitored

Shop at Walmart
   shop on QVC
      your VISA bill will have nothing to hide

The policeman is your friend
   the pastor is your guide
      immigrants are landcapers or janitors

Speak English
   read the comics
      report strange conversations

Watch reality shows
   watch You Tube
      get your news from proper sources

Meet people at church
   meet people at the mall
      don't meet people at peace vigils

Build a new rec room
      build a nest egg
            build a fence along the border

Freedom isn't free
   justice is blind
      they were locked up for a reason

If they're not with us
   they're against us
         you never know
            who may be
               the enemy

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Quote of the day

Hmmm, you know, some of those guys from "old Europe" weren't so dumb after all...

Cesare Beccaria on torture:

No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorise the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? This dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary, if he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for, in the eye of the law, every man is innocent whose crime has not been proved. Besides, it is confounding all relations to expect that a man should be both the accuser and accused; and that pain should be the test of truth, as if truth resided in the muscles and fibres of a wretch in torture. By this method the robust will escape, and the feeble be condemned. These are the inconveniences of this pretended test of truth, worthy only of a cannibal...

Richard Hooker, author of the Washington State University's site on World Civilizations, notes in the section dedicated to the Philosophes:

Beccaria's book completely changed the face of European society: forty years after it was written, most European countries had abolished torture and maiming as well as severely trimmed the number of crimes punishable by death.

Forty years after 1764, that would be around 1800...and we in 2006 are bringing torture back. As one contemporary writer would say (regarding another civilization), What went wrong?

Friday, September 22, 2006

President to speak ex cathedra

Thanks to a deal cut yesterday by the Trinity of McCain, Warner, and Graham, our supreme pontiff President Bush will now be able to speak ex cathedra on matters of interrogation and torture.

According to an editorial ("The Abuse Can Continue") in this morning's Washington Post, President Bush will be vested with the power to proclaim THE correct and true interpretations the Geneva Conventions, especially when consulted for guidance by officials of the Inquis-- uh, I mean the CIA. All faithful Americans will assent to said interpretations on pain of being severed from the Communion of the Patriotic.

We can expect these interpretations to become a righteous
Malleum captivorum ("Hammer against the detainees," for those of you who don't read Latin) against suspects everywhere...especially those being held in secret places:
Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation.
Said Sen. John McCain, the deal "gives the President the tools that he needs."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Administration wants Congress to reinvent the wheel

Just in case you don't receive weekly and sometimes even daily updates from Amnesty International USA, the Friends Committee for National Legislation, or the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I'd like to urge you to call your senators and, in turn, urge them to oppose the White House’s proposed “Military Commissions Act of 2006,” which would "clarify" Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, dangerously redefining the U.S. standard ofconduct toward detainees and establshing an "alternate" procedure for interrogations.

Here is an excerpt from Article 3, which does not seem at all lacking in clarity:

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Here are some of the things that the administration would like the CIA to have in its repertoire of "alternative" methods:

The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal

Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout
the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
See: CIA's Harsh Interrogtion Techniques Described...from November 2005 -- Where's the outrage????

BTW: Rumor has it that each senator who votes for the White House bill will receive 79 iron virgins for his own...uh... discretionary use. (Not sure what's being promised to the lady senators.)

Even the alternative bill, sponsored by Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner, is not much better. It places in jeopardy the rights detainees gained in the Hamdan vs Rumsfeld decision. I was very heartened when I found out that one of my senators has serious reservations about this bill as well.

Ah, you say, can't be! We're One Nation under God...

Well, think again ... but not too long. Hurry to the phone and call your senators or fax them a message tomorrow at the latest. Tell him/her not to vote for any piece of legislation that fails to ensure the humane treatment of detainees and their right to a fair trial!

(Don't know your senators' contact info? Click here.)

NEWS!!! Just found out about the Specter-Levin Amendment on habeas corpus -- This amendment --to be attached to either of the above bills when presented before the Senate-- will preserve the right of detainees to challenge their detention in court, thus upholding the Hamdan vs Rumsfeld decision and everyone's SACRED right to the writ of habeas corpus. More info at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Call your senator and tell him/her to support the amendment!

Way to go Senators Specter and Levin!!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Roll over, Jefferson and Hamilton...and Adams...

I think this is the country you founded, but I'm not really sure anymore...

Well, Tom, I'm afraid that few Americans today understand what you and your fellow constitution framers were trying to do when you placed the military under the command of a civilian president and gave Congress sole power to wage war. As you said more than a couple of centuries ago:

“We have already given in example one effectual check to the Dog of war by transferring the power of letting him loose from the Executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay.”

And Alex, in spite of all those friendly arguments with Tom over the concept of a strong central government, still you did everything you could to keep some blood-thirsty general from instigating a military coup:

Under Article II of the Constitution, Presidents have the title commander in chief. Unlike the interpretations offered by some advocates of executive power, this title never gave the President the authority to take the country to war. Instead, it was limited to two purposes. One was to promote unity of command. The framers wanted the accountability that comes with a single person in charge of military operations. In Federalist No. 74, Hamilton explained that “the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand.” The second purpose was to assure civilian supremacy. In time of war, control was not to be transferred to generals and admirals. Whatever soldier leads U.S. armies to victory against an enemy, “he is subject to the orders of the civil magistrate, and he and his army are always ‘subordinate to the civil power.’”
(From an excellent article by Louis Fisher, "Lost Constitutional Moorings: Recovering the War Power" in the Indiana Law Journal.)
Tom and Alex, I really don't know how to break this to you gently, but things are pretty topsy-turvy these days in the United States of America. It's the generals who are upholding the rule of law, and the President who is trying to pull off a bloody coup. That's right,
the civilian Chief Executive made a special visit to Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby for torture, while the military men keep arguing against it.

So much for your ideal of "civilian supremacy."

I mean
, who would be suprised if an Atilla-the-Hun type was anxious to torture war prisoners? Our generals, however, not to mention a former prisoner of war who was himself tortured at the Hanoi Hilton, are dead set against any attempt to "clarify" Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions:

What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength-that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.
Sen. John McCain, "Torture's Terrible Toll."

Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote:

I continue to read and hear that we are facing a 'different enemy' in the war on terror. No matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. . . . Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.

Even Gen. Colin Powell, apparently just catching up with international opinion, writes that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

And listen, guys, whatever you do, please, please, please don't tell John Adams --whom I'm sure you bump into quite often up there in that great law library in the sky-- that the President of the United States is also demanding the right to execute suspected terrorists "on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions."

John would be positively despondent after his stellar defense of the British captain and his men, accused of killing civilians during what (our) history terms the Boston Massacre in
1770. History tells us that "initial reaction to Adams' role in the case was hostile. His law practice dropped by over half," but he firmy believed that even redcoats deserved a defense -- and he got six of the eight men acquitted!

What was it John said when he recalled in his old age how he had defended the enemy in a court of law ?

It was ... one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.

If it were today, the Limey-fascists would be sent waterboarding and then hung out to dry.

Well, Alex and Tom, I know you're as disappointed as I am about all this....torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and defendants deprived of their right to know the accusations against them. Just doesn't seem like the U.S.A. that you guys established, does it?

But when I stand silently with some of my fellow Americans in front of the court house tomorrow, I know you'll be standing right there with us.