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.