Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another Dispatch from an Alternate Universe

In my last dispatch, I told you about the (still continuing) huge Citizens' Action in Washington, DC. In this addtion, I thought I would give you some of the reasons I think the current protests are having such an effect.

Your universe, where the war continues and congress has surrendered and activists hearts feel such despair, is incredibly close to our universe, where the end of the war is in sight, and people are exercising their power. The differences are minor, but we have come to realize that those small differences are the key.

The first difference, and (I cannot state this adequately) most important difference is...HOPE.


We have come to see that Hope, in its purest form, is not an emotion, not a sentiment, not an attitude, even.

It is an action. An ACTION!

It is a choice to perceive the world as being ALREADY better than it appears. If you despair, you make a choice to forget this. This is unworthy of a free people, it is unworthy of America, it is unworthy of our history, it is especially unworthy of Progressives.

There is no immutable law of physics that says the war must continue. There is no ultimate principle of reality that says that 40,000,000 Americans must go without health insurance. There is no hopeless law of economics that dictates that almost all the sweat of our labor goes to about 1000 individuals.

Why do you despair?

There is a woman living in East Oakland, California, who lost both her grandchildren to murder. Sitting with her can be a harrowing experience, feeling the tears pour out of her eyes in a silent, bewildered waterfall, until you hear the Hope. In spite of a grief that all but crushes her heart, that makes even getting out of bed to feed herself a task akin to climbing Everest, she works tirelessly in intervention programs in her neighborhood, because she chooses to believe that Love is why we are here. There are many kids in her neighborhood who rely on her kindness to see them through the day, to give them some small shelter from the violence. She is a treasure, priceless in the lives of so, so many kids, in large part because she hopes. I owe her every help, every word of encouragement I can give her. I need your help, because in some sense, she relies on you, too; to NOT despair, to do what you can to make her priceless work less of a burden. She NEEDS you, more than I can express.

There used to be a saying: "'American' ends in 'I CAN'"

What can you and I do to end the war? What can you and I do to help everyone people get health insurance? What can you and I do to end the Scandal of grinding poverty? What can do to show kids in East Oakland, in South Central, in the South Bronx, that there is hope for them? They need you more than I can say. Please, do not despair: do not retreat into a comforting, cheap "cynicism" that is just despair masquerading as sophistication. Because what hope has taught me is that despair is unworthy of us, it is selling ourselves ludicrously cheaply, and most importantly, it is abandoning those who desperately need our help. Do we want to end the war, or do the other things, because of some abstract, intellectualized moral principle, or because we want to end the indescribable suffering and desolation that seeps from every pore of warfare, destroying not just bodies, but souls? Do we want to get health insurance for everyone because it is "right" in some obscure, platonian way, or because the inherent dignity of our brothers and sisters DEMANDS it? Do we want to restore justice to our system of economic rewards because it is politically advantageous, or because living in a society where a few revel in lucred ease while many feel the pains and indignities and appalling prejudice that go with poverty, fills us with unspeakable shame?

We must hope. The times demand it. Hope. HOPE.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Dispatch from an Alternate Universe

Hello, residents of Universe 15g-55891. We have just invented technology to peer into your universe, which, like all the other universes, closely parallels our own. Like us, you too will soon discover this capability - after all, our universes are parallel.

Yes, you will soon have this capability yourselves - even now, there is a graduate student working diligently at the University of California, Berkeley, and I can tell you that, as I write, he is about 6 months behind the corresponding researcher in our universe.

We have also discovered something intriguing: we and you were in the same universe up until mid-November of last year, but then our Universe split from yours.

I thought I would begin this first dispatch by bringing you up to date on recent events here.

Obviously, since the May 10th Demonstrations - ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our Democratic Party is as timid as yours, and we too lost patience with our leadership and appeasers in the congress.

On May 10th, in an event that was reported with something approaching stunned,, rapturous awe by the European press, the National Mall in Washington DC was flooded with a million and a half protesters (some estimates ranged to 2 million), and the protesters were determined citizens from all walks of life - veterans, mothers with babies in strollers, Wal-Mart greeters, florists, call-center employees, old black ladies in their Sunday Best - who came to our capital and demanded an end to the war in Iraq. This protest was paralleled by protests outside of every congress member’s local office, and the downtown of every major city was the scene of large protests. The crowd count in Cincinnati was officially 120,000; the local consensus is that this is ludicrously undercounted. Atlanta had 80,000 (give or take), and even Omaha Nebraska could muster 12,000 people.

The Progressive blogosphere had a major presence in most of the gatherings, especially the colossal one in DC. Booths -- live blogging, many diaries on Daily Kos, interviews with some of the speakers, etc.

That protest proved to be the beginning of an intoxicating hope that has informed our actions since. After the conclusion of the formal rally, several hundred thousand people decided to stay in DC. They are now in an enormous encampment on the Mall, and a huge effort is currently supporting them there: People come in from the surrounding suburbs every day and bring a steady stream of food to the "Peace Army" as they have come to be known. There are still long lines at the port-potties, but more are coming, thanks in no small part to the bloggers, who took up a collection to finance their installation. The National Park Police had been ordered to prevent their installation; when word of this got to the protesters, a party of 50,000 marched to the headquarters of the national Park Service, surrounded it, linked arms and sat down. After 2 days, and realizing their position was untenable (there are not 50,000 jail cells within 100 miles of DC), the Park Service relented and allowed the porta-potties to be placed along the edge of the Mall.

There is an air of deep, deep crisis at every level of government here in DC. Many members of Congress are sleeping in their offices along with their staffs. White House staffers, and even the President, are looking a bit haggard.

In the streets of America, there is a sense of watchful hope. I will tell you about some of the May 10th speeches I heard in the next dispatch.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


This is not going to be very eloquent, because it is raw.

Last Friday evening, I left therapy, having talked about my childhood friend Ray, who I heard a couple years ago had been murdered, and on impulse I went back to my old neighborhood in Richmond. I had driven through a bunch of times, but had never stopped.

Driving in, I felt the old Fear stirring up, and that fear is something that defies description. It is a fear that surrounds your mind with darkness. When you feel this fear, your mind is in a state of expecting annihilation, a feeling that you can at any moment be killed, and that your killer will feel no pity at all, no empathy.

PTSD is, to be blunt, a B*tch and a half.

I was going there because I had never heard the whole story of the circumstances of Ray's death, and I needed to know. I felt I owed it to him somehow.

Driving through the old 'hood, I saw people walking in a daze, shellshocked, numb with grief and rage. I saw a man standing in his yard, his face so haunted by grief and loss that he could no longer process the pain.

I pulled up in front of Ray's old house, not sure of what I was going to do - Do I ask around and see if anyone knows about Ray? I thought - and there in his driveway, sitting in a car talking with a friend who had given her a ride home, was his mother.

I had not seen her in 30 years, but I knew it was her.

I walked up, and told her who I was, and after a moment of suspicion by her, she recognized me. I had come to ask about Ray, but suddenly it seemed crude to do so directly, so I told her about my family ("Dad passed back in '96...oh, and remember how John always wanted to work for the phone company? Yeah, he's working for them now..."). I was creating a space where she could tell me about her own family.

She said, "Ray is working at Sears now..." and the next few sentences were lost to my hearing. Then she said, "Yeah, his brother's passing has been hard on him..." and I knew that the person who had told me about the murder had gotten a critical detail wrong: which brother had been murdered.

I have been thinking of Ray lately, remembering his smile, all the trouble we caused our parents, how he was probably the best friend I had back in the day; how, of all the people I knew in the old 'hood, he deserved to be murdered even less than everyone else.

And now I have him back. I have some sense of how the disciples felt at the resurrection. Thanks be to God.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Random Thought...

I remember watching the coverage on 9/11, and there was an interview with a woman pedestrian where the reporter asked her if she wanted "revenge" for what had happened that morning. She replied, quoting scripture, "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. I will repay."

Why is it that so many people imagine themselves as God's helper in this particular matter - is it lack of true Faith and Trust that God, in His love and wisdom, will work things out for our best interest?

Friday, May 18, 2007

For My Catholic Readers...

There is a new blog I have high hopes for, called Vox Nova. A lot of the reason I am progressive is due to my Catholicism: Vox Nova is a gathering place for Catholics of every political stripe to talk things out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell is Dead

The AP has just confirmed that the Rev. Jerry Falwell has passed away. I think we should pray for his family, and that God be merciful to a man who seemed (to me) to be stubborn in his near-idolatrous nationalism.

I was not (obviously) a fan of the man; I do wish for the salvation of all, including those who have inflicted wounds upon my brothers and sisters.

[UPDATE: From the AP...]

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the television evangelist who founded the Moral Majority and used it to mold the religious right into a political force, died Tuesday shortly after being found unconscious in his office at Liberty University, a school executive said. He was 73.

Ron Godwin, the university's executive vice president, said Falwell, 73, was found unresponsive around 10:45 a.m. and taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. "CPR efforts were unsuccessful," he said.

Godwin said he was not sure what caused the collapse, but he said Falwell "has a history of heart challenges."

Monday, May 14, 2007

Right to the Heart of It

Joe over at Liberal Catholic News gets, as usual, right to the heart of the matter:

I honestly believe with all my heart that if America spent $717 billion on effective global poverty reduction, and a mere $10.8 Billion on military defense, we would be at peace and terrorism would be permanentaly irradicated. It is my prayer that we will move in this direction.

The whole thing is worth a read.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

For Jeremy, and for Ruth

About 15 years ago, I lived on the northern border of Oakland, in the Rockridge district. There was a place there called the Buttercup Cafe, which had food that was both pretty good and reasonably priced. I had very little money then, so I usually stopped in for a cup of soup (all I could usually afford) after work.

I was something of a regular there, and got to know the waitresses pretty well. There was one waitress named Ruth, and on rainy winter evenings when it was slow we'd talk for hours about where we'd grown up and what we thought of the world.

She'd grown up hard and close to the bone, in a hard-scrabble little iron range town somewhere in Minnesota. Her dad was a Jim Beam aficionado, and I got the sense that there was some darkness there. She never talked about it, and I respected her too much to pry, but it was there in her eyes sometimes when she talked about back home.

She was talking one night about Northern California, and some of the differences from back home that she'd noticed since she moved.

"One thing," she said, "is how parents treat their kids out here - they just let them run wild! No discipline at all. Back home, if you did wrong you got a beating - none of this 'time out' stuff. You've gotta keep kids in line." I got the feeling she'd read a lot of James Dobson's books, where he talks about, among other things, parents' obligation to beat the (literal) hell out of their children.

I stared out the window for a moment at the rain dripping off the awning, and then turned back to her and told her about this kid I remembered from my last year going to the Day Camp I went to for disadvantaged kids, named Jeremy.

Jeremy was about 7 years old, and he would always ride at the very back of the bus on the way to camp, and sit in the middle of the long bench seat so he could see everything going on in the bus during the daily ride up to Wildcat Canyon - like he was afraid of missing something. He had striking eyes - light brown, and filled with wonder. The world appeared to be endlessly fascinating to him, and he radiated a simple joy that was touching to see. I would look back at this kid whenever I got on the bus - I felt a little protective of him.

One day toward the end of the summer, I looked back and was immediately struck by a change in him. He looked weary, and the light in his eyes had gone out - like something important inside had broken.

I gave one of the counselors, a pretty blond teenager, a look and motioned with my head toward the back of the bus. We walked back together and sat accross the aisle from each other, one row in front of Jeremy.

"What's wrong, Jer'?"

He paused a moment, and then pulled up the hem of the right leg of his short pants. On the front of his thigh was an angry, purple bruise.

"What happened, Jeremy? Who did that to you?"

He looked up at us, his eyes filled with bewilderment and hurt, and said, "My daddy."
I looked at Ruth when I finished the story, and saw an ocean of sadness behind her eyes, a sadness with which I have some personal experience.

"That's...really sad," she finally said.

"Yeah, it is."

I moved to another town a short while later, but I hope Ruth is married to a nice, sober guy, and giving her kids time-outs when they mis-behave.

Haloscan seems to be up and running

I have re-posted some comments from prior threads - I will recover them where I can...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Comments change...

I have just installed Haloscan comments - unfortunately, any previous comments have been deleted in the process. If anyone knows how to retrieve them, I'd be much obliged...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Here's the thing

Here's the thing.

I live in Berkeley, California. Every single day, as I walk to the Bus stop (corner of University and Shattuck) I pass a guy that is usually deeply engrossed in conversation with a companion or companions he is hallucinating are there with him. His hair is long, ragged, and sort of in a dirt-imposed dreadlock style. He appears not to have bathed in quite awhile. He is dressed in rags, his eyes alternate between vacant and haunted. He eats McDonald's leftovers out of the Garbage Can, and rolls cigarettes from butts he collects.

I wouldn't say he is an immediate threat to himself or others: he does feed himself, as I said, and he does not do things (at least that I've seen) that represent a threat of serious, acute (as opposed to chronic, cumulative) harm to himself or others.

I was driving by one day, and was suddenly sick at heart at the thought, "Tonight, he will sleep out in the rain. Huddled in some doorway, miserable and shivering."

What could I do? It was 8 days til payday, and the balance in my bank account was 50 bucks and I was low on food, so I couldn't get him a room, even if I'd stopped and convinced him somehow to accept it, and convinced a motel manager to let him stay.

Civil rights aside, his condition and circumstances demand attention. Lots of it.

He suffers terribly, every single day, because no one does anything for him, or at least no one does enough.

In my imagination, I can summon a very different world.

I can imagine a world where everyone in the neighborhood knows his name. I can imagine a world where lots of people greet him by name throughout the day. I can imagine a world where a steady stream of people say to him, gently and kindly, "Hey, Pete, how ya doin'? Man, you need to take your meds. What's your doctor's name again?"

I can imagine a world where his doctor gets a steady stream of calls, the gist of which is, "Doc, a bunch of us are concerned about Pete. He hasn't been taking care of himself. What can we do to help?"

I can imagine a world that contains a place for him to live, that demands that he be provided a place to live, a place where kindly people will get after him about his meds, bathe him, give him loving kindness.

But that world has yet to be built. The carpenters that need to build it, you and I, are not busy enough.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Over at TPM Cafe, Jared Berstein has a great post basically putting the lie to the notion that productivity growth leads, by definition, to rising standards of living.

Growing productivity is only half the requirement: the other half is a workforce empowered to wring higher pay from management. No empowered workers leads to a situation where all, or most of, the benefit going to the top of the income scale.

Worth a read