Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Religious question du jour...

I know that at least two members of the clergy read this blog occasionally. And others who have Altar Guild experience. So maybe you people can help me out.

What is the proper method of disposal for candles that have been used in Advent wreaths? After all, they've been blessed and prayed over. But they still have a lot of wax left, so to speak (especially this year, when the last candle will burn for one evening's meal), and you are going to get fresh candles next year.

Is it okay to put them in the junk drawer to have on hand in case of power outages? What about making firestarters out of them?

How about using them for candlelight dinners of tapas (garlic prawns, chorizo-stuffed dates, bruschetta with tomato and Serrano ham) and rioja? Does it make any difference if the menu is Cornish game hen with cornbread and red pepper stuffing and honey-glazed carrots, along with a nice gewerztraminer?

Enquiring minds need to know.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Definite proof that this Christmas business has gotten out of hand.

In Palo Alto, California, there is a street where all the houses decorate for Christmas. The street is lined with small pines strung with lights. They even put red coverings over the street lamps (leading me or my husband to always make the very stale joke about it being a red-light district, albeit one with houses worth about $2 mil). During the weeks after Thanksgiving, there are always lines of cars cruising down the streets slowly, parking lights on.

Sunday, as we were cruising, the driver of the beat up mid-seventies sports car in front of us got impatient. Annoyed that the Prius in front of him was going too slowly, he pulled out and passed the guy. It was unreal. I sat there in the driver's seat of my van thinking, "Whoa, someone needs to chill out."

We proceeded down the street. The impatient driver pulled away a bit and then stopped in front of the last house to look at it. The Prius driver sat for a minute, then gently tapped his headlights. Mistake.

The insane driver sped up and drove a short way, stopped, and put his car in reverse, and started coming back, fast. It was the unfolding of a classic road rage incident -- over Christmas lights.

Fortunately, at that point a large and noisy group of pedestrians came to the corner. The first driver stopped, and sped around the corner. The Prius sat still for a moment. I was getting annoyed, until I realized he was probably waiting to make sure the other driver wasn't waiting for him -- either that or he was in shock.

After a minute the Prius turned the corner, with us behind him, and drove off.

As the notable philosopher Linus van Pelt once observed, "Not only is Christmas getting too commercial, it's getting too dangerous."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What I contemplate during Advent.

Christmas is so bittersweet.

There is the Child. The shoot from the stump of the tree of Jesse, called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Prince-of-Peace.

There is his mother, young, trusting, faithful, who would be told by Simeon soon that her child would grow to be the cause of turmoil, and that her own heart would be broken.

There are shepherds and there are the wise men from the East, who sought for the child, asking, where is the child who born the King of the Jews?

There are other children, the children of Bethlehem, slain by Herod. There are the mothers and fathers of the other children, weeping for their sons, asking of a distant God, why?

There is the man the child grew into, who walked the roads of Samaria and Judea, healing and performing miracles, and teaching. The man who will be betrayed to crucifixion and death.

The manger stands in the shadow of the cross. Without that shadow, Christmas has little meaning, simply a story about a young woman of faith and her baby. The light forming that shadow is the glow from the mouth of the open tomb.

So we celebrate the child, keeping in mind all the while where the end lies. Except it's not the end, for there is the resurrection.

The Child is Immanuel, is God-With-Us, and by His life, death, and resurrection brings hope to us all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It is Advent, when we await the arrival of He who said

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

I have not written about politics for several weeks. I have been trying to not get sucked into dissections of the results of the election and what it means for the country, here or elsewhere on the 'net. What will be, will be.

Sometimes, however, what is at stake is not politics but justice. What has happened to Jose Padilla transcends politics.

Jose Padilla was picked up in Chicago following 9/11 as a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. There were originally allegations that he was part of a plot to manufacture a dirty bomb. He was declared an enemy combatant, and shipped to Naval Brig in South Carolina.

Jose Padilla is an American citizen, arrested on American soil.

His lawyers fought his detention all the way to the Supreme Court. Two years ago, the Supreme Court agreed with him on the merits, but ordered him to refile in the proper Circuit. He did so. The Bush Administration fought to keep him in military control, up until earlier this year, when the case was on course to get back to the Supreme Court, when they quickly transferred him to a (civilian) federal penitentiary, charged him with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Charging him with a crime means that he will be brought to trial, rather than languishing in military detention with no hope of a jury hearing his case.

During the time he was in the brig, he was alone in a ten cell wing of the facility, his counsel allege. He saw no one but his interrogators. His windows were blacked out, he had no clock or calendar, and had his Koran taken from him. He slept on a steel platform.

The military argues that none of this was inhumane, and that his basic needs were met, and that he never complained. He never complained? Maybe he was afraid.

In the course of his incarceration, Padilla needed a root canal. What happened next is captured on video. Armed guards -- their faces completely hidden behind visors -- entered the cell. They did not speak. Padilla was manacled -- to be expected -- and then...

He was given noise-blocking earphones, and blacked goggles. He was taken from his cell, without being able to see or hear what is happening around him, by completely anonymous figures. To get a root canal. It makes one wonder -- did they even tell him what was going on?

He lived under these conditions for three and a half years.

His attorneys say he is incompetent to stand trial. He does not seem to understand the charges against him. He is unable to assist in his own defense, primarily because he seems to not believe that his attorneys are working for him -- but that they are part of an interrogation scheme on the government's part. He is afraid to talk about what happened in the brig because he is terrified he will be returned there.

He is a broken man.

Torture does not have to be physical to be torture. Sensory deprivation and isolation strike at the heart of the greatest human needs beyond food, water, and warmth. To be trapped with only your own mind for company for months on ends is terrible to contemplate.

All for a man who has not stood trial for any crime, and who even his jailers admit was not disruptive.

Not that it matters -- since we should not treat any human this way -- but it bears repeating that Padilla is a citizen. Before its passage, we were repeatedly told that the Military Commissions Bill would not be used against American citizens. Do you believe that?

In this season of Advent, I pray for Mr. Padilla. I pray also for his jailers, that one day they realize what exactly what they have done.

UPDATE: Terry Karney's post about the situation is well worth reading.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Proof that my youngest child is, in fact, forty-five:

He likes goat cheese and discussing politics.

He enjoys tea and wants to start collecting handmade teacups.

He loves showtunes, and knows the words to nearly as many of them as I do.

He saw Titanic before I did.*

He has a large and somewhat esoteric vocabulary, at least for his alleged chronological age.**

And the final proof? This morning he said he wanted a shiatsu massage chair for Christmas.

* Titanic came on television, and he came in the room. "I can tell you how it ends," I smirked. "The boat sinks." "The boat sinks," he replied gravely, "and the man she is in love with.....[not revealed here in case someone hasn't seen the movie]. I've seen this already." And he left the room, leaving me speechless. I'm still not sure where he saw the movie.

** He has a passion for monotremes, and it confuses his grade school teachers, several of whom did not know what a monotreme was. (They do now.) He is especially fond of echidnas, and wants to own one when he grows up.

Bad Christmas Music, Revisited.

Remember how I said that the worst secular Christmas songs were "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," "Santa Baby," and Weird Al's "Christmas At Ground Zero"?


I forgot the absolutely worst Christmas song, which I'm not sure I've heard yet this holiday season, but which, nightmare-like, inserted itself into my brain this morning as I woke up and will not go away.

"Last Christmas," by George Michael.

Whatever you think of Michael's music -- and he actually did three songs I like ("Faith," "Freedom '90," and "One Last Try") -- this particular songs is syrupy and whiny. You understand why his lover left him, if he's this annoying.

The narrator of the song "gave his heart" to the object of his affections on Christmas, and "the very next day, you tore it apart." Good heavens, man! It's been a year, pull yourself together! How completely pathetic! So you've found a new lover -- why are so obsessed with the old you have to go back and point out this fact?

I just hope I can scrub it out of aural memory soon, and replace it by something less objectionable, like "It's a Small World." Or "Achy-Breaky Heart." Or dentists' drills. Or something.

Of course, it could be worse: I could have "My Heart Will Go On" stuck in my head.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I have a teapot now. I grew up a bit of a wild child -- a tomboy to the max -- and while I was exposed to "tea" as an event rather than simply a beverage at college (Wellesley has tea every Wednesday in the dorms), I didn't really understand the joys of using a teapot until recently, when the ladies at my church have had several teas.

A dear friend of mine, knowing that a teapot was on my Christmas list, gave me a lovely china teapot on Tuesday. The upshot of this is that on Wednesday, I sat with my youngest son (who had with his own money purchased a handmade Japanese-style teacup and saucer because he thought it was pretty) having tea. Very civilized.

All I have to do now is learn to make scones.


I have started listening to liberal talk radio occasionally on satellite radio, and have come to the conclusion that there are almost as many reality-challenged people on my side as on the other -- or, at least, those are the ones that call in. Guys? Impeaching a president in the last two years of his second term, when you hold a one vote majority in the Senate and it would be impossible to convict, makes no sense and would simply tear the country apart. Fortunately, the hosts seem to be reasonable people, albeit strident.

Because, of course, I am never strident. No siree Bob, not me. And I have this bridge in Brooklyn....


Advent starts on Sunday, and on Saturday I go and make the Advent wreath. We always have an Advent wreath for part of Advent, but because we usually travel at Christmas we never finish using it. We're staying home this year, and one of the highlights (in addition to worshipping at our own church for Christmas) will be lighting all the Advent candles, and saying all the prayers.

I love the Advent wreath. I love making it, I love the lighting and the prayers. I love that it helps reinforce what we are waiting for, rather than simply a day to get presents or eat a lot of chocolate. My kids love it too, there is always a debate over who gets to light the candles.

I am hoping to write about Advent, and about faith in general, during the Advent season.


I have decided on a winner in the "Most obnoxious contemporary Christmas song -- religious theme" category. (The winner in the "Most obnoxious Christmas song -- secular" category is a three way tie between "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," "Santa Baby," and Weird Al's "Christmas At Ground Zero" -- the last having a horrible tendency to warp itself into an endless loop as part of a mashup in my brain with "Jingle Bell Rock.") I generally don't mind religious theme Christmas songs, because, no matter how bad the song is as a song, at least the songwriter is trying to sing about the true meaning of Christmas.

But then I heard "The Christmas Shoes." This is about a little boy who is trying to buy shoes for his dying mother so she'll look nice when she meets Jesus. The narrator gives him money for the shoes, and thanks God for the boy "reminding him what the season is all about."

This song is wrong on so many levels: manipulative, crass (Jesus and consumerism! -- Hey, maybe that *is* what the season is all about!), and psychologically improbable. I have known kids with dying parents -- even kids from devout conservative Protestant families, and they were not out buying shoes, or anything like that: they are too fearful, and sad, and in shock. The entire scenario is intended to pull the heartstrings of gullible adults.

But the coup de grace is at the end of the song: the producers have added a choir. I'm not sure whether it is intended to be boys or the angels coming to take mama away, but it sounds like neither: the chorus is, I swear, sung by aliens.

Maybe mama was abducted by aliens? In which case, the shoes wouldn't help much.


Speaking of Christmas songs, I get really cranky with all the songs that equate Christmas with snow and sleighbells and things like that. I grew up in Florida, where the only white Christmases we had were because of the beach sand.

And you tell me how much snow there is in Palestine. Really.


Next week the males of my family turn into mighty hunters and go to the forest to fell the evergreen that will grace our living room. One of the joys of living in Northern California is that you can go cut your own tree (actually, you only cut the top off the tree -- you leave enough so the actual tree survives); a joy, that is, except for the cold, and the wind, and the rain we often get this time of year. For some reason there has always been a competition in my family to find the perfect tree, and me staying in the car is considered poor sportsmanship.

Once you find the tree, you wield your mighty bow saw (being sure to leave at least three or four limbs at the bottom so the tree can regenerate) and fell your prey. The best tree we ever found, though, was one that someone had already cut and abandoned. I didn't want it -- if we were going to go all the way out there to get a tree, by golly we were going to get the freshest tree possible -- but my kids begged. "Please, mom, it needs us!" Sigh. We took the tree home, and once we decorated it, it looked fantastic. From then on out, we called it the Charlie Brown tree.

There is a fair amount of ritual -- we always have chili for dinner (put on before we go out) and we always have mint hot chocolate after we get back with the tree. We decorate the tree either after dinner or, if we get the tree on Saturday, on Sunday evening. We go in for the "eclectic" decorating style, placing glass ornaments owned by my husbands grandmother next to paper Santas made by my eldest son in kindergarten years ago. It's chaotic and messy, but full of personality.

Rather like all of us.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sunday afternoon at the movies......

[I was going to write this Sunday night, but a family crisis (my son accidentally nearly set the house on fire -- long story) shoved it out of my mind. Everything's better now, if still a bit smoky.]

The family went with friends to see Happy Feet. Herewith, a report:

The trailers:

Charlotte's Web looks like it actually might not suck, which is all you can hope for when a filmmaker takes on a classic. You think LOTR fans are rabid? They're nothing compared to former little girls who adored E.B. White's arachnid and who will be out for blood if this thing is bad. And of course Steve Buscemi has to voice Templeton. Of course. It's like Alan Rickman playing Snape: there are some casting decisions so obvious it would be folly to disregard them.

Speaking of Snape, The Order of the Phoenix trailer looks good, too. Alan Rickman looks like he is playing Snape as actually human, going for a nuanced portrayal. Hurrah! I've always had a soft spot for Snape, probably because I have adored Alan Rickman ever since he first sneered at Bruce Willis in Die Hard. And the Harry Potter movies are uniformly well-cast, with actors well-known (Rickman, the wonderful Emma Thompson -- and by the way, weren't they so great together as a married couple in Love, Actually?) and the less well known, at least to American audiences (Mark Williams, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge -- I can hardly wait to see it, she's such a wonderful actress).

Oh. My. Goodness. The Nativity Story? They cast an olive-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired, teenager as Mary. They cast an Iranian actress as Elizabeth. And to my untutored American eye, Joseph looked like he was born in Palestine (he's actually Guatemalan). Finally, a religious themed picture that did not cast the holy family as freaking Europeans. (Jim Cavaziel in The Passion of the Christ? Give me a break!) It's not my ideal religious movie casting (Naveen Andrews -- Sayid from Lost -- as Jesus) but it's pretty darn good. And the flashes they show of Mary in labor? She looks like a woman in labor -- absolutely panicked and in pain.* Catherine Hardwicke, who directed this, also directed Thirteen, one of the scariest looks inside the mind of adolescent girls ever.

The movie:

Much better than I expected. Was not the rip-off of March of the Penguins I feared, and has a killer soundtrack. The voice work is uniformly good.

It's the music and the dancing -- yes, I know it's animated, but the dancing matters** -- which carry this movie. The "you have to be yourself" message, which could have been disturbingly cloying, was carried of with humor and restraint. There is also a subplot in there about religious fundamentalism, which is sufficiently subtle that two of the three people I talked to about it missed it -- until I pointed it out to them.

And, after seeing this movie, you may become obsessive about cutting the loops open on your plastic soda can holders before you throwm them away, if you're not already. Which is not a bad thing.

All in all, I give it three and a half stars.

*Of course, there is such a thing as taking Method acting too far: Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young actress who played Mary, had to miss the premiere because she's pregnant and can't travel.

** The dancing was done by Savion Glover, the premier American tap and modern dance artist. Glover won a Tony in 1996 at the age of 23 (!) for his choreography of Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, a show he co-wrote and starred in. His dancing on Happy Feet was transferred to the screen using motion-capture, and the result is that Mumbles the penguin has some really sweet moves.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

It's that time of year again.

I jumped the gun again, and started listening to holiday* music, even though it is only the day after Thanksgiving, and not even Advent yet. And that includes a fair amount of actual Christmas music, even though I know I should not be listening to Christmas music until CHRISTMAS (sorry, Maly).

My tastes in Christmas music tend to run to traditional carols and humorous secular songs. My favorite secular Christmas song is Barenaked Ladies "Elf's Lament," mainly because it takes the cult of Santa Claus (to which we do not adhere in our house) down a notch or two.**

Last year a friend sent me "The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams. It's a lovely little song about ecumenical understanding, about gathering together and looking past differences to celebrate family and time together. I really like it.

Except for this one line: "She said 'Christmas is like Solstice.'"

No, it's not.

I don't have anything against Solstice. It's a wonderful idea for a holiday -- to celebrate the turning of the year, the joy of Creation and the passage of the seasons. What better time to mark the gift of time? To recognize the blessing of the fallow time of winter, and to prepare for the rebirth of spring? Maybe it's just that I'm hazy on the pagan theology here, but I don't object to Solstice.***

But that's not what Christmas is about. Yes, there was a Christ child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we are to believe Luke. Christ comes to earth to redeem mankind, and will walk upon the earth not for a year but for over thirty and when he dies he will not be a small babe wrapped in swaddling clothes but a man tortured and broken who goes unflinchingly to his death. A willing sacrifice for all the world. I don't understand it, but I accept it.

Solstice is for a season, a year. Christmas is for a season, but is a symbol of the eternal.

*Holiday, not Christmas, because there are a fair number of generic cold-weather songs such as "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and some Hannukah songs, such as the Velveteens "Get Your Channukah On."

** One notable exception to my liking for humorous secular songs is "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer": I can't stand it.

*** The early church fathers did, but handled it by appropriating much of the symbology of Solstice or Yule celebrations, such as trees, and holly or mistletoe, and the date of Christmas itself. The Bible doesn't indicate what time of year Jesus was born, but it's a fair bet it wasn't on December 25th.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving.

Things I have to be thankful for:

The boys: the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy, the Wrestler, the Red-Headed Menace, and the Rocket Scientist.

That I don't have to worry about having a roof over my head or food to feed my children.

That we live in relative safety, with car accidents being the biggest threat to our well-being.

For my friends, who keep actually talking me, even when I withdraw from the rest of the world.

For health insurance that provides me with the care I need to be able to function.

For yams with marshmallows on top and cornbread stuffing with red peppers.

For Starbucks Venti Nonfat No-Whip Peppermint Mochas.

For the Bill of Rights.

For the Nineteenth Amendment.

For the color blue.

For Presiding Bishop Katherine Jeffords Schori.

For Speaker-Elect Nancy Pelosi.

For flowers.

For the LiveJournal and Blogger the rest of the blogosphere, which allows me to interact with people in many counties on different continents.

For the music of Stephen Sondheim, Eric Clapton, and The Who.

For the Pacific Ocean.

For art.

For love.

For life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, wherever you may be, whether in your country you celebrate on this day or not, may you have joy and many blessings.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Parental evaluation.

Parenting is a bitch. There is no instruction manual, and no exams or performance evaluations to tell you how you're doing, so you can fix your mistakes.

The worst part? You're trying to mold young minds into growing up to be thoughtful, compassionate, faithful human beings with a thirst for social justice, when all they seem to be interested in is playing video games and annoying the crap out of their brothers.

Me: "Did you hear about that political commentator who almost accused that new Representative of being a traitor simply because he's Muslim?"

Rocket Scientist: "Yeah. That was just incredible. I can't believe what some of these people say."

Red-headed Menace (who's ten): "What's a Muslim?"

Me & RS: Explanation of what Muslims were, and how most Muslims were peaceful but that there were some who were violent and that the 9/11 hijackers and the insurgents in Iraq had been Muslims, and that some people viewed all Muslims as being an enemy.

Red-Headed Menace: "You mean he was accusing this guy of being a traitor based on nothing more than his religion? That's terrible! That's like what we did to the Japanese-Americans in World War II!"

Political awareness and critical thinking skills, both at the age of ten. We need to work on nuance -- Glenn Beck did not come out and say Keith Ellison was a traitor, merely implied he might be, and that Ellison needed to prove he was not -- but still, I must be doing something right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More probably uninteresting tidbits about my musical tastes. Mainly because I'm bored.

I have a lot of playlists on my iTunes, which make more or less sense. There's "Broadway," and "No Garth C0untry," and artist-specific ones such as "Great Big Sea." And then there are the rand0m-organizing-principle playlists, such as:

"The Name of the Game" (songs in no particular order):

"My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder " Weird Al Yankovic
"Come On Eileen" Dexy's Midnight Runners
"The Downeaster “Alexa”" Billy Joel
"Tango: Maureen" Rent:Original Broadway Cast
"A Boy Named Sue" Johnny Cash
"Sloop John B" Beach Boys
"Sweet Baby James"* James Taylor
"Guinnevere" Crosby, Stills & Nash
"Amazing Grace" Judy Collins
"Maggie May" Rod Stewart
"Old Polina" Great Big Sea
"Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" Paul Simon
"Gee, Officer Krupke" West Side Story: Orginal Cast Recording
"Lady Madonna" The Beatles
"Layla" Derek and the Dominoes
"Layla" Eric Clapton**
"Boston and St. John's" Great Big Sea
"Bruce's Philosophers Song" Monty Python
"The Moon And St. Christopher" Mary Chapin Carpenter
"Matthew" John Denver
"Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" Bruce Springsteen
"Uncle John's Band" Grateful Dead
"Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" Elton John
"Cleopatra, Queen Of Denial" Pam Tillis

and so on and so forth -- that's about half the list.

I also have playlists called "Professionally Speaking," "H2O" and "By the Numbers," not to mention the more boring "Geography."

Oh, and Mad Priest, if you read this? Unlike your musical tastes, this list is seriously unhip, and I recognize that. I embrace my unhippness... I'm a mini-van driving, stay-at-home mother of three, you don't get much less hip than that. It's only in my other life that I am in fact an international espionage agent and racontuer.

And after all, somebody's got to listen to all those John Denver and Billy Joel albums.

* The rocket scientist insists that I named the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy after this song. He's wrong.
** Which is better? I don't know. The first (which is horribly mixed -- the piano completely drowns out the guitar solo in the second part of the song) is a young man's song, all full of passion and "I'm going to die if I don't get you;" the second is the song of a guy who's been around the block quite a few times and knows full well that if she turns him down he'll live, and even probably hit on the next pretty face at the party. I love listening to them back to back.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God's music?

I was at my church's yearly "Women's Retreat" this year -- a weekend of sisterhood, spiritual growth, and, as always, chocolate. It was a bit more stressful than past retreats: I had roles to play in the drama (used as a springboard for discussion on the spiritual themes), and had written the bible studies for the small groups and was as usual nervous ab0ut how they would be received. Also, the site was a problem: it was hilly, and I have been in an extended fibromyalgia flare for the past several months. I bought a walking stick, but by the time I left I was in considerable pain.

During one of the workshops, a discussion arose about the importance of Christian music. I kept my mouth shut, mainly because I just didn't have the bandwidth to put forth my views, which were mainly that Christian radio was a waste of good frequencies that could be put to better use, such as listening to crickets chirp. After the exchange of information about good local Christian radio stations, another woman in the room, bless her heart, spoke up and gave the opinion that she had grown up in a household that really didn't play much Christian music, and that a lot of secular music had strong spiritual messages -- she referred to U2 as a good example. After the group ended, I went and thanked her for saying what I was thinking.

My feelings on contemporary Christian music range from indifference to disdain to deep dislike. The best -- which includes most, but not all -- of the worship music we use in our contemporary services, is decent. The worst, such as much of what is played on Christian radio stations, is overblown, saccharine crap.

Jesus deserves better.

I have a "Spirituals" playlist on my iTunes. There is not one "Contemporary Christian hit" on it.

Don't get me wrong -- there is religious music. There are traditional hymns sung by contemporary vocalists: "Down to the River to Pray" by Alison Kraus, "Amazing Grace" and "Simple Gifts," by Judy Collins, "Morning has Broken," by Cat Stevens. Don't ask me why, but traditional hymn are so much better written than contemporary Christian music.

But the rest of it is "secular" music. Some of that music mentions Jesus: "Travelin' Thru" by Dolly Parton, for example. (And then there is "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister, which doesn't mention Jesus but which lifts its refrain from the Catholic Mass.) Most of it does not.

But the music is spiritual nonetheless -- for example, what else can you say about a lyric which include the lines "Tonight I feel like all creation/ is asking us to dance"? ("Asking Us to Dance," written by Hugh Sherwood, performed by Kathy Mattea).

There is the music with no words: "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Appalachian Spring," Beethoven's Ninth, "Rhapsody in Blue."* Oh, and "Soul Sacrifice" -- the eleven-minute live Woodstock version. Have you seen the painting "The Dance" by Chagall? "Soul Sacrifice" is what they were dancing to. Had to be. Even though the painting was created fifty years before Woodstock.

The rest of it is mostly just songs you might have heard on the radio at some point -- crossing genres: pop, rock, country, a little blues, a little jazz, and because I'm who I am, show tunes (even aside from Godspell). Some Beatles, a little Clapton, Randy Newman, CSNY. No gospel per se, although I am firmly convinced that Aretha Franklin is, in fact, the voice of God.

And two of those secular songs have appeared in worship services at our church: "The Garden Song" (written by Dave Mallet) and "Stand by Me" (written by Leiber & Stoller). We've also sung "I Can See Clearly Now" (Johnny Nash), and at the retreat itself we sang The Judds' "Love Can Build a Bridge," and Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."

All of that music fills something in me that could be called spiritual: either joyous and thanksgiving ("Good Morning, Starshine," "Happiness"), or full of lamentation ("Louisiana, 1927," "Wish You Were Here.**"). It's about seeing God in nature ("Colors of the Wind," "Morning has Broken"), and God in each other ("Matthew"). There are prayers ("Will I?" from Rent, "Let the Sun Shine In"*** from Hair). And there are a lot of songs that make me strong and fill me with resolve, and a lot of songs that I can't even classify. Sometimes it's the words that move me, just as often -- or more -- it's the music.

My choices would not move everybody, possibly even not most people. But that's okay -- there are a billion songs out there in the world, and some of those will say something to someone.

What songs speak to your spirit? Where do you hear God? Where can you listen to the voice of the divine?

* Without "Bohemian Rhapsody" attached.
** Not quite on topic, but one of the ways I knew I would like our church's new rector is that in his bio he listed Dark Side of the Moon as an important early spiritual influence.
** A few years ago, we sang the second half of "Let the Sun Shine In" at our Easter services. I was really annoyed. First of all, it's only half a song: the first half, called "The Flesh Failures," is about death and despair. The second half, the familiar "let the sun shine" is a prayer for deliverance, not rejoicing at resurrection. My friend Jennifer said it didn't matter, that a) most people wouldn't know and b) using it in the context of Easter changed the meaning of the song. Poppycock. Context is context, and "Let the Sun Shine In" is a Good Friday song.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rock on.

In December '84 March '85, Eric, a college friend of the resident rocket scientist and me, blew into Atlanta on business. We went out for the evening -- Eric wanted to see local talent, so we checked out a show at Emory of several one-act Sam Shepard plays and a local folksinging duet. (Yes, we were cheap -- we were living off a grad student's stipend. Serious entertainment costs money.)

There were seventeen people in the audience. Pity, because the folksingers were really pretty good, I thought. I told Eric this, and he said "Nah, they're too derivative -- they'll never amount to anything." As it turned out, he was wrong.

I caught the same duet in concert tonight. The venue was quite a bit bigger -- the Warfield Auditorium in San Francisco, and the audience much larger -- the place was packed, and the repertoire was more extensive, but they were indeed the very same Indigo Girls.

Over the years one of their songs has become an anthem for the rocket scientist ("Closer to Fine"), and another has become an anthem for me ("Prince of Darkness"). I had not followed their career, though, and thus much of the music they played tonight was delightfully new. I look forward to rediscovering them.

It doesn't seem like it should be over twenty years, but it is. They're my age -- well into their forties -- and rockin' on, making a lovable combination of earnestly romantic and politically progressive music. Strong women -- gotta love 'em.

You go, Emily and Amy. You go, Girls.

ETA: There has been a dispute between the rocket scientist and I about when that concert happened. He said December '84, I thought February or March '85. (Thinking about it later, I decided it was March.) I went with his date when I originally wrote this (because he usually has a better head for dates than I do), but NPR other online sources indicate that they started playing together under the name "Indigo Girls" in 1985. Whichever, it seems clear that we had a rare chance to see something being born.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's insanely beautiful today. The sky here in Northern California is that almost surreal shade of blue -- too bright to be found in nature, almost, and yet too intense to be replicated on canvas. The light is as golden as butter and as sharp as broken glass. The breeze has died down, but before it was making the trees toss their locks like girls primping before the prom. The air is cool and clear and crisp.

Wonderful. Aching, joyful, lovely.

That election thing? Why, that turned out okay, too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Voter Rights

This comes very late, being only the day before the election, but I thought I'd pass it along. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has a handy-dandy page with pdf's of a "Voter Bill of Rights" for 45 states. They've developed these by combing through state election law. In several cases, they have the same information in Spanish as well as English. In addition, I have state sites which contain either a "Voter Bill Of Rights" or a "Voter Rights and Responsibilities" (same thing) listed below. Finally, for the three states that fall outside either list, there is the AFL-CIO page, which has VBRs for several states, including Tennessee, and the Massachusetts VBR [pdf] prepared by the Massachusetts chapter of the League of Women Voters and posted on the website of the Town Clerk of Lexington. Rhode Island? You can look at the Voting FAQs on their general election site, but there is no one single page to print out and take with you to the polls.

The voter rights differ from state to state. Some are universal: if you are disabled, you have the right to have assistance in filling out your ballot, while others are not: you have the right to bring your children into the ballot booth with you. It's also important to know what the I.D. requirements are, although you should be fine if you have a driver's license. (The sociological and political ramifications of requiring a driver's license is a post best left for another day.)

Important reminder: North Dakota has NO registration requirement: you can walk up to the polls with the proper I.D. and vote. In Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming you can register to vote at the polls tomorrow. In Montana, you can register at county election offices. In New Hampshire, you have to register at the town clerk's office. Maine likewise. But in any case, it is still possible to register and vote in those states if you have not already registered. You can find links to registration information in my "Are You Registered?" post.

Arkansas [pdf]



District of Columbia

Florida [from Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website]


Iowa [pdf]




Michigan [pdf]

Minnesota [pdf] [audio version]



Nevada [from the Election office site for Douglas County, but applies statewide]

New Jersey
[by counties]

New Mexico



Last word on this topic?


Sunday, October 29, 2006

View from the stands, part II.

Whoever had the bright idea to create a mash-up of "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" for that field show should be forced to mark time in 95 degree heat until they drop.

The fact that the kids in the band in question (who are innocent bystanders here) performed it beautifully (so much so that they won the Sweepstakes Field Show Award) in no way negates the fact that the piece was Just. So. Wrong.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Time To Kill?

The Mad Priest posted about the execution of Jeffrey Lundgren in Ohio this week. He asks three good questions, the last of which is "what good is killing anyone?"

In my comment to his post, I said I could go on for hours about capital punishment, but I wouldn't. Not there, at any rate. But this here is my soapbox, and this issue has been a major concern of mine for years.*

I oppose capital punishment in all forms on religious grounds. However, I recognize that others may not have such beliefs, and I have met people who I otherwise respect who accept capital punishment "in theory." And I recognize the damage that murder does to a community and the way in which capital punishment is seen as taking steps to repair that damage. (Whether it actually can or does is another matter.)

There are three reasons to support the death penalty: specific deterrence, general deterrence, and retribution. Specific deterrence, meaning that the individual who committed the murder cannot murder others if he or she is executed, is a morally supportable position, in my view. General deterrence, meaning that others will be dissuaded from committing murder if murderers are killed, sounds nice, but, absent other considerations, is not much more than the barbaric proposition that we should be willing to execute individuals to provide an example to others. Furthermore, studies have shown that general deterrence simply does not work.

Which brings us to retribution as a justification for execution. Whether or not you view retribution as a morally justifiable position depends a lot on your religious and world view. Personally, I have a very hard time reconciling retribution with the view that all individuals are made in God's image and therefore are endowed with innate human dignity. I know others that feel, however, that not executing murderers somehow dishonors their victims. I would like to think that this country has moved beyond simple bloodlust, but I recognize I may be wrong.

All of that is in the realm of abstract moral reasoning.

However, the way capital punishment is practiced in America is capricious and obscene. Capricious, because the same murder in Detroit or San Francisco will land you in jail for the rest of your life, but in Dallas will end with you with a needle in your arm. (Accidents of geography occur on a much smaller level as well: a murderer in San Francisco is less likely to get the death penalty than the same murderer in Orange County, even though they are operating under the same set of laws.) Obscene because the risks of people being put to death who do not deserve t0, either by reason of incompetency or by reason of actual innocence, are so high as to create a virtual certainty that it will happen.

It used to be that proponents of capital punishment argued that the safeguards in the system would protect the innnocent. As that facade of surety has become more and more tattered, at least one proponent has recognized the inevitable. In 1997, Representative Bill McCollum of Florida stated "I don’t think there’s any question that someday somebody who is innocent will be executed in this country again.” McCollum went on to say that he believed capital punishment deters crime and helps victims’ families grieve.

So it's okay to execute someone who is innocent as part of the larger war on crime. Aside from the fact that studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter murder, what does it mean when we say we need to execute someone to give the victim's family "closure"?

That's not justice, that's blood vengeance.

It is so fatally easy to point to the monsters. John Wayne Gacy. Henry Lee Lucas. Ted Bundy. Danny Rolling. Surely, these men who brought such terror and grief to so many families should die. Everybody knows about these walking embodiments of evil.

But what of the other side of the coin?

There have been cases of police and prosecutorial misconduct, and cases where exculpatory information was kept from the defense. There have been cases of inept or completely incompetent (or in one case I have read of, drunken) defense counsel. And that's not even touching upon the racial and economic inadequacies. (I think it is very telling that the prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson case did not even pursue a death sentence -- they knew, given the sort of counsel he could afford, that they would not get it. Now contrast that with how they would deal with the average defendant accused of lying in wait to brutally stab two people to death.) Not to mention issues that potentially plague all criminal cases: the problems with eyewitness identification (widely used even though studies have shown it to be often inaccurate), use of jailhouse informants or desperate potential codefendants to obtain convictions, etc.

There is the question of competence. Not of competence to stand trial, which is an entirely different and distressing kettle of fish, but of competence to be killed. It's an odd concept, I suppose. I guess as a nation we have enough decency to admit that maybe we shouldn't put to death people who are too far gone out of their minds or too mentally limited to understand what is happening to them, although there are people who would argue even about that.

There is the case of Oliver Cruz. In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing the mentally retarded constituted "cruel and unusual punishment". They explicitly reversed a decision of only thirteen years prior, when they found that retardation was no bar to execution. This didn't help Cruz, who had confessed to being involved in rape and murder, even though he had an IQ of 64, and the officers who arrested him testified he had no capacity to understand what he was doing when he waived his right to silence. The other evidence against Cruz was the testimony of a co-defendant, who had gotten a plea bargain. The co-defendant was not impaired -- at least not mentally. To add the final sickening touch, the prosecutor argued that Cruz's impairment made him more of a danger to society, therefore he should be executed. The jury agreed, and Cruz was executed in 2000.

A few years ago, the Supreme Court finally decided that executing the insane violated the Eighth Amendment's strictures against cruel and unusual punishment. (Insert irony break here.) So far, so good. However, a few years later, the same court decided that it was permissible to forcibly medicate insane prisoners so they were sane enough to execute. One victim of this unspeakable decision was Charles Singleton, who was executed in January 2004 in Arkansas. Singleton, who had been diagnosed as delusional, psychotic and a paranoid schizophrenic, was given anti-psychotic medication so that he could be sane enough to be killed.

However, the bloody icing on the psychiatriatric-capital punishment cake came in 2004, in the case of Bell v. Thompson. Gregory Thompson had been tried and convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. His appeal was rejected. Thompson was scheduled for execution on August 19, 2004. In June, his attorneys filed a motion claiming he was incompetent to be executed (you can't execute insane people).

The Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the evidence on this second claim. An intern for one of the judges finds a deposition in the original trial from a clinical psychologist that was extremely probative of Thompson's mental state at the time of the crime. The deposition was not included in the materials sent from the District court, so presumably had not been reviewed by the District Court. The intern -- who was a licensed psychiatrist --- took this to his Circuit court judge, who reversed his opinion in the underlying case, thus sending it back to the District Court.

The state argued that the execution should proceed because the Circuit Court took too long to reverse its decision, and was precluded from rehearing it. The ultimate technicality.

The Supreme Court agreed.
Which means a man who was quite probably schizophrenic at the time he committed his crime, who had incompetent counsel, who an appeals court said should have a new trial, will be executed because the Circuit Court's decision that he should be given a new trial came too late and was technically insufficient. He currently sits on Tennessee's Death Row -- a stay of execution was granted earlier this year, and has not yet been lifted.

Then there is the issue of time. In Texas you get ninety days after sentencing in which to discover all possible evidence that might not have been brought forth at trial which could prove you are innocent. In Florida, you get all of six months. (Except for DNA evidence: in Florida you have two years, to submit DNA evidence, provided you did not plead guilty. So, if your attorney talks you into pleading guilty, but the DNA evidence exonerates you, you're totally screwed.)

And it doesn't matter why the deadline was missed, either: your attorney screws up his calendaring? Too bad. Doesn't matter. You're as good as dead. And in Virginia, until recently, there was no requirement that the court preserve evidence after a conviction -- so they can destroy that pair of bloodstained scissors that was presented at the trial, to free up space in the evidence room . At least until the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Robin Lovitt in July, 2005. Virginia governor Mark Warner then stepped in, commuting Lovitt's sentence to life in prison without parole -- one day before his rescheduled execution.**

And it's not just the Big Three (Texas, Florida, and Virginia) that have such restrictions: fifteen states have shorter time limits than Florida. Eighteen more have limits between 1 and 3 years. Only nine have no limits on the introduction of new evidence. All of this matters because at this point the average time between conviction and release for prisoners on death row is seven years.

These things matter to somone like Rudolph Holton. Holton spent 16 years on Florida's Death Row, until DNA evidence exonerated him in 2003. He is certainly not alone. Since 1973, 23 people have been freed off of death row in Florida alone. In 2000, Governor Ryan of Illinois was so troubled that 13 men had been freed from death row in his state that he instituted a moratorium on executions.

There is a grim irony in all of this. Law and order types for years have been screaming about defendants walking free on "technicalities," such as gasp! violations of a defendant's Constitutional rights. They are perfectly willing to resort to technicalities not based on anything but a need for efficiency and "finality of judgment" and "closure" to kill people.

Because, of course, executing people who might be killers is so much more important than sparing people who might be innocent.

"Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" is not morally defensible legal policy.

Ah, but why not simply correct the abuses? Leave the death penalty in place, but change how it is administered?

Because the very existence of the death penalty creates pressure for it to be applied. Supposedly only for the most heinous murders, what qualifies as a capital crime seems to be expanding all of the time. In Montana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina, sexual molesters of children face the death penalty for repeat offenses. (Thus creating an incentive for murder -- if you're going to be executed anyway why not kill the only witness and increas your chance of escape?) Who is to say where the line between "horrible enough to execute" and not is to be drawn? Do we really have the wisdom to say who deserves to die?

None of us is God. It's about time we stopped acting as though we were.

* In 2000, I was so appalled by GW's record on capital punishment while governor of Texas, I registered Republican to vote against him in the primaries. He had been extremely dismissive of any suggestions that there was anything wrong with the Texas death machine system of capital punishment -- to the point where I figured he had to be either too stupid or too amoral and willing to play politics with people's lives, and either case was unfit to be President. I think actually the answer may have been "all of the above."

** Lovitt's case is noteworthy also because his appellate lawyer was Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor. Even a conservative like Starr can understand the need for the death penalty to be carried out with the utmost care.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Odds 'n' ends.

No, I don't want to discuss the NLCS. Go Tigers.

I now have 32 complete soundtracks: in addition to the original Broadway production of Follies, I now have South Pacific in Concert, with Reba McEntire, Alec Baldwin and *swoon* Brian Stokes Mitchell.

For all of its manifest shortcomings (mediocre selection, abysmal organization), the iTunes music store beats hard CDs hands down for one reason: no packaging. My fingernails are so much happier when they don't have to try and scrape those stupid plastic labels off the cases just to open them.

When I was in fourth grade, my mother came home from parent-teacher comferences ready to kill me because I was doing very poorly in reading. This was in spite of the fact that I read at an eighth grade level and had read through the class reader the first week of school. I just never did the book reports or turned in any of my homework. Karma's a bitch: I had a parent-teacher conference very much like that last week -- on the other side.

The middle child has taken up wrestling, which is good. He is threatening to use his wrestling moves on his younger brother, which is not so good. His younger brother taunts him, seemingly believing that he (younger brother) won't get in trouble whatever happens. This is very bad -- also incorrect. I am trying to teach nonviolence, but on the other hand, if little brother got smacked occasionally, he might think twice before trying to instigate trouble.

The new dark peppermint chocolate ice cream at Coldstone Creamery is trés yummy.

At dinner tonight, my husband and I decided that the Germans have the best stews, the Dutch do the best breakfasts, the French the best desserts, but without a doubt the Spanish have the best bar food. We said this while finishing off our second small dish of "datiles diabolados" (deviled dates: dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon and broiled). This followed the scallop fritters, and the garlic sausage toast, and the flamenquin (pork roll with cheese, breaded). (We skipped our usual patatas bravas and gambas alla plancha.) Oh, and the little bitty cheese scones. Now, if we could only find a tapas place that served brie broiled with raspberries, like that one pub off the Plaza Major in Madrid, and a place that did proper churros con chocolat, we'd be all set.

I have decided not to do NaNoWriMo proper, but I am working on other projects and decided that the NaNoWriM0 framework (set impossibly high goals with specific limits) would be useful. I did do NaNoWriMo three years ago, and managed to finish my very bad novel; proving if nothing else that I could type 53,000 words in a month. Besides, all the cool kids do NaNoWriMo, and I like hanging out with them.

Just 16 days until election day, Pat Tillman's birthday.

In California, Kansas and South Dakota, Monday is the last day to register to vote. There are sixteen states which have not yet completely closed registration as of Sunday, October 22. (Some of them have closed mail registration.)

And... just seventeen days until "no more annoying misleading television ads" day.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Honoring the fallen...

I have just stumbled across this tribute to soldiers and veterans buried in Arlington National Cemetery and elsewhere. I find it profoundly moving, and thought I would pass it along.

The view from the stands....

Some observations from tonight's band competition:

I'm sorry, but no matter how well they do it, seeing girls in harem outfits toss rifles just looks weird. "Look, a harem girl! And she's armed!"

Those drum major salutes are getting perilously close to resembling Arnold Rimmer's.

I see the vogue for dressing drum majors up in costume seems to have waned this year: only Indiana Jones showed up at the awards ceremony.

I was on the wrong side of the field, but I couldn't see how the pit* members were being dressed. Last year, at one competition, the pit walked onto the field wearing bi-color work shirts. The woman next to me looked at each other in confusion -- what were they, fast food workers? They looked like they belonged behind the counter at Arby's. Then the rest of the band came on, including the guard with checkered flags, and the announcer cheerfully declared they were doing a NASCAR-themed show, and it hit us: they were the "pit" crew. *groan* And then there was the pit that was dressed up like clowns. These guys don't get no respect, I tell ya.

They need to institute as rule saying that any given guard member can touch no more than four pieces of equipment during the show. It just gets excessive, guys. One band I saw had, I think, four sets of flags alone, not including rifles and sabers and other things.

There was a band which seemed to have a fire theme show followed by a band which had a tsunami theme show. Guess which show did better.

When the grand sweepstakes award trophy is over half as tall as the guard captain of the band that wins it, maybe it's time to reconsider the size of these things.

Ah, well. It was fun. Two weeks until the next one of these things.

*The pit is composed of all the pieces of percussion down front that don't march: chimes, gongs, xylophones, etc. Pit members [don't] march to the beat of their... oh, never mind.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Today, at the elementary school, they had the "fall festival." Part neighborhood meetup and part PTA fundraiser, they had all the sorts of things you find at events like this: ring tosses, raffles, a silent auction (whoever had put together the auction had done a very good job; the items actually seemed worth their estimated value). And soda, and popcorn. No sno-cones, since it is mid-October, and even in California it's too nippy for sno-cones. And cotton candy.

Fresh pink cotton candy.

None of that stuff that you see at some school events, which is sold in prebagged clumps, oh no: a real spinning machine, churning out pink puffiness that looked like it belonged in a Barbie Dollhouse somewhere. That pre-bagged stuff is stale; for although cotton candy never really goes bad -- how could it? it's nothing but sugar -- it does go flat. Bleah. Then it is good for nothing but as part of gingerbread house displays come Christmas.

Pink, by the way, is a flavor. There are three flavors of cotton candy, generally speaking: pink, blue, and purple.* And as those colors don't map to any flavor known to man other than "sweet, with some vague unidentifiable overtone that makes it different from the other colors," it just makes sense to refer the flavor as "pink."

The girl who made my stick was an amateur, meaning the strands were woven so loosely that the clump was incredibly light and airy -- a sugar cloud. (More experienced hands make a slightly denser product, simply so you actually get something for your fifty cents.) That was okay, it was delightful.

Adults eat their cotton candy with their hands, tearing off dainty bits and placing them on their tongues so they don't get large smeary sticky streaks across their face. Instead, you get hands that would do Fred Biletnikoff proud. I decided just to eat mine like a child. It melted away, leaving me with a sticky face and a big smile, just like when I was ten.

Best fifty cents I've spent in a very long time.

*I have seen, on occasion, bizarre flavors such as "pina colada," but they are an abomination.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cataloging the collection

According to my iTunes, I have 825 songs (3.08 GB, 0r 1.8 days worth) in my "Explicit Broadway" playlist.* (My "Clean Broadway" playlist is the same set, minus part of Rent and a lot of Hair and the odd song from other shows. As my kids have gotten older this is less and less an issue, so that I never play it anymore.)

I have ...

30 complete soundtracks. That will be 31 as soon as my CD of the Original Cast Recording of Follies shows up from (It will also be my second version of Follies: I also have Follies in Concert. I wasn't quite happy with the FiC version of my two favorite songs, "Would I Leave You?" and "I'm Still Here," so I ordered the original.)

Songs from 104 other shows. This is mainly thanks to the five disc soundtrack to the documentary miniseries, Broadway: The American Musical. A friend gave it to me last year, and it was the best Christmas present I had gotten since The Big Book of Baseball when I was twelve.

A lot of Sondheim: 6 1/2 complete soundtracks (West Side Story counts a half since he wrote the lyrics); and one or two songs from 7 1/2 other shows (Gypsy counts a half since he wrote the lyrics).

There are no other composers that have anywhere near the same level of representation; the closest would be Kander and Ebb (2 complete soundtracks -- would be three but I have been procrastinating on buying Cabaret) and Lerner and Lowe (2 complete soundtracks). I have two Stephen Schwarz soundtracks, but quite frankly Wicked was a mistake.

Andrew Lloyd Weber? 4 songs. And 3 those came on the compilation album.** In fact, of the Cameron MacIntosh produced megaproductions, the only one that I have a complete soundtrack for is Les Miserables.

Chronologically, the songs run from "When the Moon Shines on Moonshine" from Zeigfield Follies of 1919 (1919) to "Show Off" from The Drowsy Chaperone (2006). Eighty seven years of music, although I mainly listen to the last forty of those.

The interesting thing is, I know how inadequate all of this is. I have next to no Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Rodgers & Hart, and only Anything Goes by Cole Porter. And that in revival. I'm not really keen on Jerry Herman, so I think I'm fine with Mame and a couple of the tracks from La Cage Aux Folles.

I guess the tip-off for me that things were getting a little out of hand came when my youngest son (a.k.a., the red-headed Don Quixote) and I had the following conversation a month or so ago:

Me: "Will you guys pipe down? I'm trying to watch the Emmys! They only come on once a year!"
Boy, bitterly: "Well, the Tonys only come on once a year, and you didn't watch them."
Me: "And you're annoyed about this?"
Boy: "I sure am!"

I've created a monster.

*Okay, so I'm not a purist. I include a few movie soundtracks in here as well, for movies that had stage incarnations: Chicago, Hair (I have the full Broadway and half the movie soundtrack), and yes, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

** The compilation album also had "Memory" from Cats, which I deleted from my computer. Just don't get me started on Cats.

By this vote we honor...

Most states have instituted a "Vote in Honor of a Veteran" program. People decide to vote in memory and to honor the service of specific members of the armed forces who have served overseas. This is a great idea: men and women in uniform deserve our respect and honor for all they have done in service to our country. (Although fully funding veterans services would be a much more meaningful way to honor them, but I digress....) And recognizing individuals who are otherwise anonymous is a good way to take note of the fact that the battles are fought and won by many people, most of whom go unrecognized by anyone.*

But there are a lot of people who were a lot more directly involved in the fight for the right to participate in democracy.


Vote in honor of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

Or in honor of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

In honor of Alice Paul and the women of the Occoquan Workhouse.

In honor of Fannie Lou Hamer.

In honor of Medgar Evers.

In honor of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Shwerner.

In honor of every legislator at the federal and state level who voted for the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth or Twenty-Sixth Amendments, or the Voting Rights Act.

But most of all, in honor of those men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bring forth this bizarre experiment in representative democracy which has managed, somehow, to survive for over two centuries.

*I am totally serious when I say I think our veterans need to be honored more than they are; it's just that I think a far better way to do that is to a) actually pay them decently when they're serving and b) provide decent benefits for after they leave, and for their families if they should be killed or disabled and c) fully funding Veterans' services and d) not sending them off to quagmires with no rhyme or reason. I also have issues with the idea that we subcontract out the protection of freedom to the military, when many of the gravest dangers to freedom have historically lain right within our own borders. But that's a post for another day.

The water and the stone.

Can we be like
drops of water falling on the stone
Splashing, breaking
Disbursing in air
Weaker than the stone by far but be aware
that as time goes by the rock will wear away
"The Rock Will Wear Away," lyric by Holly Near, music by Meg Christian

Over at Adventus, I have been in a discussion about whether or not changes in the Congress this fall will make any difference at all. He proclaims, pessimistically, that nothing will be any different, that we're all kidding ourselves. I think he's wrong, I hope he's wrong, but maybe he isn't.

So why bother? Why bother voting? More importantly from my standpoint, why bother trying to get other people to vote?

I have always been involved in voting efforts in various small ways. I registered voters during two different presidential campaigns. In 2004, on my own dime I flew to Florida to be a poll monitor with Election Protection. In 2004, and again this year, I have posted information in various journals about registration and voting rights.

I want people to vote. It matters. It is the first step to an involved citizenry. The next step -- and I try to work on that one too -- is to talk, and listen, about the important issues that need to be addressed. Other people do that better than I do. Me, I do voting. It's not sexy, but there it is.

But why bother, if it is not going to change things?

The first answer is obvious: it's not just about Congress.

It's about city councils and mayors, and affordable housing initiatives, and school boards and parcel tax referendums, and county commissioners and parks and rec bonds. It's about what sort of prosecutors and judges carry out justice in our community.

In California this year, it's about whether a girl can get an abortion without her parents being being notified beforehand.

All these things affect our lives more on a day to day basis than what happens on Capitol Hill. For example, when faced with the need to close a school, the school board where I lived picked for closure the 85% Hispanic school, which served not only as a school but a community resource and where most of the students walked to school. This was in spite of the fact that the committee which had investigated school closures had picked another school as being the best candidate for closure, a school where the parents were quite vocal and organized. After tremendous community outcry the school board changed their decision, but guess what incumbents I am voting against next month?

So it's about those things.

But it is also about responsibility.

I cannot open the cell doors at Guantanamo. I cannot make torture illegal again. I cannot restore habeas corpus to detainees, or bring troops home from Iraq, or any one of the myriad things our country is doing in the world that make me weep for the blood on my hands.

All I can do is try to influence the people who have the power to do that. I can write letters, send emails, make the occasional phone call (as I did over the Military Commissions Bill). I can try to get others to act, including giving people information that will make it easier for them to vote. I can write. That's my gift.

If I do not, I wash my hands in the face of evil. I become like Pilate.

I do not know how to atone for my country's sins, but I can refrain from adding to my own already large pile of transgressions through inaction here. I have to work towards change, even if that change is slow in coming, even if that water falls onto basalt, not chalk. Even if in the end, the rock does not give way, no matter how much water rushes over it.

The other alternatives are despair beyond hope, or denial, or insularity -- we've got ours, the rest of the world can go hang (and will).

I'd rather be a drop of water.

Persecution complexes

I thought of blogging about the horrific situation of Christians in Iraq, but then Mad Priest already did that.

You hear some American fundamentalists whine about how Christians are "persecuted" in America. Do they even fathom what that word means? Do they have any idea what Christians face in Iraq, or Algeria, or Vietnam? Or in any number of places where professing your religion can get you arrested or killed?

"Persecution" does not mean "People get angry with me when I proclaim the U.S. a Christian nation." Persecution does not mean "I have to refrain from using public funds and public spaces to prostelytize for my own flavor of Christianity." "Persecution" does not mean "It's awful that I am forced to deal with people who say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.'" Heck, it doesn't even mean "People tell me I'm silly for believing in a miracle that happened 2000 years ago" or "People get mad because they think Christianity is responsible for most of the institutionalized evil in the world since Costantine," even though that hurts a lot. (I know, I've faced those myself.)

Persecution means having your priest abducted and killed because the Pope made some less than judicious remarks for which he has since apologized (which were taken out of context, but which were not that smart to begin with). Persecution means having your daughter raped on her way to school because she is a Christian. Persecution means having to hide your Bibles -- or not have them at all -- because they are dangerous contraband. Persecution means being beaten or murdered for holding church services.

Persecution means something as simple as wearing a cross becomes a political statement.

I would never wish real persecution upon American Christians who feel "persecuted." I just wish some of them would look around at the larger world a bit.

Update: Yet another case of real persecution, this time from India, as passed along by the Mad Priest. Gee, nothing like having a bunch of people beat you up for your religious beliefs and then you being charged because of it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Absence makes the heart grow fonder... and the ballot is just as important

Just in case you can't make it to the polls -- or, in many states, don't want to actually go to the polls -- on November 7th, absentee ballots and early voting are just the ticket.

Some states allow any registered voter to vote absentee, some require a reason. Some states also have some form of "early voting," where voters can go to specified locations (usually county election offices) and cast their ballots. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists the states with "no-excuses" absentee voting, and early voting.

There really is NO EXCUSE for not voting.

Absentee voting and early voting has already opened in many states. Listed below are links to where you can find information about absentee voting for each state. Information about early voting can also be obtained from county election offices.

Arizona [contact county election officials, information at link]
Colorado [pdf]
Georgia (Georgia is unique in that it has "no-excuse" absentee voting by mail, but you have to have a reason to vote absentee in person -- the exact reverse of many states)
[by mail]
Michigan Note: If you registered by mail, you will need to vote in person before you are eligible to vote absentee
Mississippi [you have to contact county officials for information on absentee voting]
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina [pdf]
North Dakota, early voting
Oregon Note: elections are conducted completely by mail; if you're registered, you'll be sent a ballot. If you don't receive a ballot at least two weeks before the election (October 24), contact your County Elections Office
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Washington Note: 34 of 39 counties in Washington have elections by mail, you should receive a ballot in the mail. If election day approaches and you have not received one, contact your County Auditor
West Virginia
Wyoming [pdf, Voter's Guide, includes lists of county clerks]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Baseball, hurrah!

The real baseball season is over. Now the playoffs begin.

My beloved Mets* are in there, starting out against the Dodgers. They smoked the regular season, but as the other adult in my house can tell you, regular season performance means squat at this point. *cough*Atlanta*cough*

The hated Yankees are in the playoffs too, again, against the Tigers. Is there anyone in the country outside of NYC not pulling for Detroit? They were next to last in their division last year! And the year before that, and the year before that they came within one loss of breaking the 1962 Mets record for most losses in a single season, setting the American League record for single season losses in the process. They give hope to those of us who root for perennial bottom dwellers -- like my boys in St. Petersburg.**

The As, who I'm pulling for because they're the team local to me that I actually like (Giants -- boo! hiss!), are playing the Twins. The As are good guys, it would be nice to see them advance out of the first round.

And the Cardinals (eh) are playing the Padres (eh). Albert Pujols is fun to watch, though.

And one of the best parts? The Braves are not in the playoffs, for the first time in forever, which means I will not have to deal with the other adult in the house being in a bad mood after they are (inevitably) eliminated.

Play ball!

* In case you're wondering how a Florida girl became a Mets fan when she had never been to New York and had no relatives from New York, they used to train in St. Pete, before moving across state to Port St. Lucie. On the other hand, for a long time I was a fan of the Los Angeles (now St. Louis) Rams football team because I liked their helmet design. So you never can tell.

**They would be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who play in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. I started to write "my boys in Tampa Bay," but that would have made them awfully soggy.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Random Act of Kindness...

Yesterday was Jeffrey's birthday.

Yes, that Jeffrey. Toys' R' Us's giant giraffe mascot. To celebrate Jeffrey's birthday, the TRU near us had several events, handed out noisemakers, and had a special Pokémon giveway.


No, not meow. Mew. It's a Pokémon. And if you have a Game Boy Pokémon game, you cannot get Mew. It's not in the games, unless you download it from elsewhere. Rumor has it that you can download them in Japan. Yesterday, you could bring your Game Boy Advance and your Pokémon game to the store and they would download Mew onto your machine free of charge.

I agreed to take my youngest to get Mew. (His brother wanted Mew, as well, but had lost his Pokémon Emerald Game, so he was out of luck.) I had been fighting a migraine, and had taken some heavy duty meds, so we left as soon as they had worn off enough so that I could drive.

The event ran from noon to three. We arrived at 1:45 and the line was out the door. Not a problem -- even at that the line was not that long, and we didn't have to leave until 4:15.

Except the line did not move. It turned out it took five minutes to download the Mew -- you had to actually play the game and trade something for the Mew -- and there were people who had brought multiple games to put the Mew onto. So we stood and stood and stood. Me and the youngest -- the middle child had gone off to sit in the car -- for two and a half hours. And we were still forty minutes from the head of the line when 4:15 arrived.

We had to leave. The marching band was playing a "Community Thank You" performance ("Gee! Thanks for putting up with us practicing at seven o'clock in the freaking morning!") and I had to be there. I was torn.

My youngest son rarely asks for anything. I usually have to take his brothers hither and yon, and he gets dragged along all the time, usually without much complaint. Just this once, he should have been able to get what he wanted.

The lady behind us in line with her daughter kept trying to help us find a solution. Finally, she said "Give me the Game Boy. We'll get the Mew, and I'll give you my phone number so we can arrange a time for you to pick it up."

My son was ecstatic. I was relieved. We turned over the Game Boy, raced over to the high school, watched the show -- or at least most of it -- and decided to dash back to TRU while the eldest was changing and putting up his equipment. We got back to the store just as our angels had reached the head of the line. Delighted, my Pokémon trainer got his Mew. He traded a level 8 Pichu for it. (You do realize, of course, that I have no idea what that signifies.)

We said thank you -- my son over and over -- and managed to get to within five minutes of the high school before we got the call from the drummer that we needed to pick him up. And all day today, all I've heard is how wonderful Mew is and how grateful my son is to me for having taken him the store and waited for two hours so he could get it. (And how this gives him bragging rights among all his Pokémon playing buddies, but that he's going to be nice about it and let them play with Mew too*, some.)

So, somewhere out there, is a very nice lady with a very cute daughter who should know that they have made one boy very very happy.

*Not Mewto; that's a different Pokemon that you can only get by going to "Pokémon Rocks America." PRA 2005 occured in five (!) cities across the country, and had things you could only get by attending PRA. I met a man there who had driven his kids six hours to get to the one we were attending. I decided not to tell him that the only reason we were there was a) it was 20 minutes from my house and b) it was free. Unfortunately, my son lost the game he had loaded the Mewto on, or he would now have a set of insanely hard to get Pokémon. Unlike TRU, the lines moved a lot faster, and there were a lot of things going on other than just waiting in line to get the Mewto. I will be so glad when they outgrow this or, as was the case with the three teenagers in line in front of us on Saturday, learn to drive.

Friday, September 29, 2006

This morning, in several different places, I have been faced with people who have scorned the grief I and others have felt over yesterday's Military Commissions vote. America has never lived up to "ideals," they say -- usually followed a litany of all the horrors committed over the past 230 years of the nation's history. America is not something special.

Attempts to explain that belief in those ideals doesn't mean ignoring a) that in this country they have often not been observed, and b) other countries often do a much better job of following "American" ideals than we do, fall on deaf ears. Attempts to explain that there is a difference (in my eyes, at least) between disregarding the Constitution and dismantling it by law, are disregarded.

And the fact that someone like Martin Luther King saw enough in the ideals of this country to say

One day the South will know that when these disnherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the besy in the American dream and the most sacred values inour Judeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying the nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

"Letter From Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963, reprinted in Letters of the Century, Lisa Grunewald and Stephen J. Adler, eds.

....probably means nothing.

So maybe an emotional analogy will work.

If you lose something precious to you -- a cat, say -- you mourn. It does not matter how many other pets you have lost. It does not matter even if you recognize that the cat was ill, and quite possibly going to die anyway. You mourn.

An ideal can be something precious.

The anology is not complete -- people have a personal attachment to their pets which most of them do not have to the Constitution -- but you get the idea. It is not complete for another reason: many of us are experiencing anxiety about the future, as well as mourning.

So call me naive. Feel smug and superior, and holier-than-thou. Tell me how I'm just experiencing the shock of losing my privilege in society and welcome to the real world.

It doesn't matter.

I mourn.
My husband left this morning for Spain. First stop, Madrid. I wish I were going with him.

Things are good, for the most part, in my world. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat, clothes to wear.

In all likelihood, I am never going to be directly affected by the detainee bill. It's a pretty safe bet -- I'm a stay at home mom, why would anyone go after me? -- that I'll never be getting a knock on the door. I will probably never be tossed into dark cell with no hope of challenging my imprisonment. Which makes it all the more important to fight it: justice is the responsibility of all of us.

I do have resources, emotional and otherwise. I need to draw on them, and see how I can help others.

I need to see Guernica. Yes, it's a vision of just how evil mankind can be, but I need to see it for another reason. I need to remember that, for all the horrible atrocities humans can inflict upon each other, all is not lost; no regime lasts forever; the fascists, who were responsible for calling in the Nazis to bomb the town, eventually lost power. It is far too easy for me, given my rather melodramatic nature, to get stuck in the present and not step back and look at the big picture.

There is always hope.

Watch this space

Coming soon, hot on the heels of my voter registration post, information on early and absentee voting. I hope to have that up sometime next week.

After that, information on Voter Bills of Rights and identification requirements.

No retreat, baby...

I post other people's words, sometimes, but I don't post song lyrics. Today, though, these words resonate with me:

Well, we bursted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you're tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down

Well, we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Like soldiers in the winter's night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

Well, now young faces grow sad and old
And hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I'm ready to grow young again
And hear your sister's voice calling us home
Across the open yards
Well maybe we'll cut someplace of own
With these drums and these guitars

Cause we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in the stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There's a war outside still raging
You say it ain't ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath
Peaceful skies in my lover's bed
With a wide open country in my eyes
And these romantic dreams in my head

Once we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in a stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

"No Surrender," Bruce Springsteen.

Keep the faith, people. I know fighting is hard, but going down without a fight is worse.