Friday, November 28, 2008

Horse Photos for Lori

Galen took these photos for you on the way to Thanksgiving dinner:

Belated Thanksgiving Wishes!

I'm a day late wishing everyone a Blessed Thanksgiving. I was down at my parents, and returned too late. My, but my family can TALK! :-)

What am I thankful for? Family and friends, of course; strength and good health (sort of); joy and passion; food and a warm home; hope for a better day in America; endless opportunties for education and expansion of consciousness; endless opportunities for creative expression, and political expression; variable weather; plants and animals, sky and soil, grass and sea; the first blue of dawn and the depth of twilight; and you.

What do I worry about? War, hate, lies that impact the world, crime, pain, loss of hope, voiceless victims, and unpunished victors. From the dawn of time, we have possessed an endless capacity to love, to laugh and bring joy. We have also possessed an equal capacity to hate, fear, and exercise our selfishness. We have stolen from each other, and pushed each other away. We have fought each other on every continent, and keep finding more reasons to do so.

I pray that next Thanksgiving the light will have pushed back the darkness, not just in the words of any victor who happens to be telling the tale, but in the hearts of all.

Blessings to you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rage Lives Here

“Earth is an insane asylum, to which the other planets deport their lunatics."
– Voltaire

Photo by: Stuti Sakhalkar

And, by "here", I mean the entirety of our Planet Earth.

How else to explain the burning emotions that unaccountably overflow each time we ease off the guard, and turn our heads toward a light we hope will illuminate the next day, or week, or – dare we say it – year? How else to explain how the world hopes with us, yet seems unwilling to wait for a new dawn that could be thwarted like the old dawns that came before? How else to explain the bombers who sacrifice their flesh on the streets of Baghdad and Afghanistan? How else to explain the rebels who rape and slaughter in Somalia, and the military that support them? How else to explain the persecutions in Tibet and Bangladesh? How else to explain the men with guns who prowled hotels, restaurants and markets in Mumbai today, seeking US and British hostages? Rage lives here.

Just when we gather together, line up and vote for Hope we are reminded. Just when we believe that we need only exercise patience to realize the time when we can lift our heads and return to our lives, we are reminded. Just when we believe the economy will stabilize, and that we can return to our shopping centers and well-designed recreation complexes, our fully-funded libraries, and our jobs with full benefits and 6% raises, we are reminded that rage lives here.

It is the imbalance that enrages us. Too much plenty while others starve. Too much greed when others struggle. Too much theft of land and culture and resources and spirit, when others are decimated, pushed under, and left to scrabble for crumbs in the sand, left by those who hold the power – in this present.

And we can tut-tut the tactics. We can bring our own answering rage to bear against those cast as "the enemy". We can build armies and fleets, and more sophisticated weapons. We can loose our diplomats, as a matter of form. We can stack the councils, out-maneuver unwieldy international organizations, and bribe influence the leaders of uncooperative countries.

Meanwhile, discomfort rises to dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction congeals into disenfranchisement. The disenfranchised organize and, sooner or later, stop protesting and start learning to wield automatic weapons. Because, rage lives here. And, if we do not recognize it, acknowledge it, and address it, we can only fortify our homesteads, and dread the day when we are the ones who consume – and are consumed by – our own rage.

We are connected, all of us. And, we must choose well, lest our connection reveal a painful truth: the rage we fight lives within.

But, we knew that all along.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Caged America

Photo: Jenn Vargas

There is this air of superiority we emit when considering our prison population.

“Do the crime? Do the time.”

"Animals belong in cages.”

And my personal favorite:
“They MUST have done something, or they wouldn’t be in such trouble.”

As the prison population climbs, we feel safer. The beasts are locked away, and the world is a better place. We don’t stop to wonder: Why are the numbers rising? What are the real crimes? Why are they increasing? Who are the criminally branded? We don’t take into account the politics associated with determining who goes to prison, and who is given a pass. Financial resources, race, geographic location, social forces all factor into who is incarcerated and who remains free. We care nothing about the source of these prisoners; we simply support the building of more prisons, and switch the channel on our flat-screen TVs.

Hey, it’s just the times, right?

If you run afoul of the law, and have the money to hire a competent lawyer (read that: not a public defender buried in too many cases, and not an assignee lacking motivation), then you’re as golden as OJ: The Murder Trial Years. If not, you’re in Plea-Bargain Hell, wondering why judge, jury, bailiff and spectators surround you in a circle of glare, faces illuminated with that menacing Twilight Zone spotlight. And, if you are brown or black, be prepared for a dose of extra judgment based, in part, on the near-hysteria of the local evening news.

“Gosh! We’re surrounded by criminals!”

Commit a crime in the South or Southwest? Decision point: Does your Daddy have pull? No? Get in that cell, son.

Yes, I know. I know. The violent and recalcitrant exist. The greedy and immoral plague us. The psychotic and incorrigible walk with impunity. We need protection and punishment, and that slippery dream of rehabilitation. But, when some are given a pass based on class or an arbitrary ruling on the significance of their crime (ghetto crack vs. middle-class cocaine, white collar vs. blue collar, high profile vs. low profile when the profile is determined by the media), while others receive a wink based solely upon who they are, we can safely call the system corrupt.

And, the times? The times, they are intolerant. This is not the time to be a prisoner in these United States, but it is certainly a good time to own a prison. Yes, I said: “Own a Prison.” Because, we all know that the private sector is highly competent in making enterprises work, while the government is a collection of boobs who could not find their asses in their underwear. It’s all about efficiency, right?

So, Hey! Let’s privatize prisons! It’ll be like mortuaries! There’s never a shortage of the dead or the wicked! And, let’s sell stock. It’ll RAIN MONEY! And, then we can incarcerate more prisoners, and keep those already incarcerated behind bars longer, and – Did I mention that it will positively RAIN MONEY??

You see, those people gave up their rights when they picked up a gun, or copped a rock, or stole a chicken, or car-jacked, or smacked their wife, or robbed our neighbor or …

Hell, who ARE these people, anyway?

Geez! Who cares?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

California Burning

No more water,
No more water,
No more water, but fire next time.

– Darius Brooks

War. Fear. Flood.
Bombs. Scorn. Wind.
Greed. Hate. Fire.
There are those who believe that the “end times” approach. There are others who claim (with a disconcerting mixture of determination and delight) that we are being punished for our transgressions. Still others quietly wait within the shadows for all to fall, leaving a clean slate for the building of a better America.

Then, there are those who fight. Fight! Fight! Fight!

When the floods came to New Orleans, and Indiana, and Mississippi, they brought potable water, drove ambulances, and filled sandbags until their hands became numb. When the winds rose in the Caribbean, Texas and the Carolinas, they boarded over windows, trucked out their neighbors, and set up safe shelters and reliable communication networks. They heard the call, and came, and stayed until the troubles passed.

Now, in California, the Santa Ana winds have inflated wildfires into giants, and blown them into the realm of man. And, the firemen have come to fight. They labor to exhaustion, knowing that the fires have no preference or conscience, and cannot be reasoned with. They know fire has no score to settle, no divine message to deliver. Fire cares not whether it consumes back-country scrub, or trailer, or mansion. It is a force of nature, and can neither be bidden nor ignored. Still, the firemen fight, knowing that battle is the only thing that will tamp down the giants.

Photo: Beth Adelson

Meanwhile, in California and across the country, another inferno gains strength. We, in the land of the free, have (once again) notified our brothers and sisters that our freedom is not designed to be their freedom; that God has pre-ordained that their state of man is a lesser form than ours. A majority of Americans in California, Arizona and Florida voted to forbid the institution of marriage to gay men and women – and felt right about it.

But, here too, champions have stepped forward, have raised their voices in support of human rights. They know that bigotry and hatred cannot be reasoned with; that those who hate may have a score to settle, but no divine message to deliver; that those who oppose them would consume them, and move on, with a song on their lips. But, those who fight are fast becoming a force of nature in their own right. They will neither be bidden to stand down, nor ignored. They know that the battle is the only thing that will tamp down the giants of intolerance.

And, I applaud the heroes and heroines who fought today. All those who battled to preserve their rights and property, all those who defended the homes and civil liberties of their neighbors, and all those who fought on behalf of those they did not know personally, but recognized in spirit. Without their reinforcement, we would have fallen long ago.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Politics of Love

“Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage that blessed arrangement. That dream within a dream.”
- The Impressive Clergyman from “The Princess Bride”

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
- Bible: KJ Version, Leviticus 18:22

(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Honest to God.

Of all the prohibitions in the Bible, THIS is the one that gives us nightmares? Of all the sins we commit each day, THIS generates the greatest angst? THIS we rise up against? The fact that a man loves a man, or a woman cleaves to a woman is the best line in the sand we can draw when the world is crumbing around out ears?

Last week, Californians, Arizonans and Floridians – upstanding citizens all, I gather – passed ballot measures designed to curb same-sex marriage.

I have to ask: What were you all thinking? Exactly what do you think you are fighting (for)?

Interestingly, California Proposition 8 passed with significant support from African-Americans. Given the historical prohibitions on interracial marriage (not to mention the problems with slave marriage) y’all should know better. The result is that Californians voted to take away the rights of their neighbors. Think about that for a moment. Voted to take away a right. Relationships that are, frankly, none of our business, caused them to rise up and say:

“Screw you! Your love is anathema. Back in the closet for you, Chester!”

So, Why?

Do you fear that civilization will disintegrate under the weight of too much “different” love? Does the joy of those who don’t match your online dating profile bring you pain? Or, is this puzzle more twisted? Perhaps you hope a law will save you from something hidden within YOUR heart. I have to tell you: No law will do that, because love, like everything else always finds a way.

Frankly, As long as two people are in a position to consent, I don’t give a #@&% who they #@&%. Do you? Do you really?

We are - each one of us - unique. Differentiated by sex and skin and faith and sensibility, we stand as one. We are - each of us - exactly as created, and if God wanted it differently, she would make it so.

And, still we come together.

So, get over yourselves.

And, get use to it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Philly Drive-Bys

Drive-By Photos from the Schuykill Expressway (November):

South Street Overpass with Stickmen

The Philly Zoo Balloon

The Skyline from the road

Boathouse Row from a distance

Drive-Bys at Night (August)

In the shadow of the Art Museum

Boathouse Row

Cira Centre (my favorite) from a fountain in Eakins Oval

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Haitian (Fill in the Blank)

(Photo from Reuters)

Quick word association exercise: I name a national identity, and you tell me the first word that comes to mind. Ready?

Ingenuity? Capitalism? Freedom? Baseball? Apple Pie? Hot dogs? Water boarding?

Delight? Armenian? Coffee?

Dreams? Exotica? Gauguin?

Resolve? Empire? Tea? Chips?

Cuisine? Culture? Toast? Freedom Fries?

Cigars? Socialism? Music?

Wine? Cars? Passion?

Poverty? Disease? Hurricanes?

Yeah. Haiti. Out poor cousin (did they ask into this Western Hemisphere clan?).

And, now the La Promesse School has collapsed piling outrage upon despair. The death toll has risen to 93 as I write this, with 150 injured, and an unknown number missing – hardly a blip on an international conscience that can hardly raise its weary head for less than a thousand casualties. Hurricane, tsunamis, earthquakes, war, suicide bombings, famine – all have battered our sensibilities until we react to these “smaller” incidents with a numb stare.

Honey, let’s flip to “The Amazing Race”. The kids are in the room.

But, this tragedy must be measured by the impact to an already assaulted people, not by the body count. The Republic of Haiti has been visited by Mistress Iniquity since its birth-by-slave-rebellion, and foreign occupation, international interference, dictatorship, environmental destruction, and economic instability are just members of her posse.

This year alone, the country has been devastated by multiple hurricanes, tropical storms, and erosion-related floods. The people have weathered food riots, wrestling with an economy that lags behind the rest of the hemisphere, and most of the world. They have neither the resources nor the political will to enforce the building codes we take for granted.

Haitian parents labor all year to earn the necessary tuition to educate their children out of poverty. Now they stand vigil by the wreckage of the very institution upon which they built their hopes for the future, and they pray for a miracle. Local and International rescue teams (UN, Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, US, French Martinique, and Canada) have responded, and yesterday, four children were pulled from the rubble - alive.

No one has been rescued since.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hell, Yeah!

Photos from Huffington Post

A little while ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of thought ideas and circumstances converging to bring a lesson home. You might be thinking of something, and, suddenly your thoughts are played out in the action of others on the street. The contents of some random dream you have appear in an editorial column. A conversation you overhear plays out in a sit-com that evening. Life is always like that, no?

So tonight, I am in my class, Revolutionary and Federalist America, watching a film (yes, the professor took pity on us) about the creation of the Constitution. All those forefathers long ago turned to dust. I wondered what they would think about the America of today. Would they think we had realized their ambitious and messy dream? Would they marvel at how far we had progressed (or strayed, depending on your point of view)? Would they see this Presidential Election as the natural outcome of their grand experiment? Or would they shake their heads at the circus (truth to be told, not the first circus in this world)?

I could not WAIT to get to my car, and hear the early returns.

Just as I turned on the radio, NPR called Pennsylvania for Barack Obama. I nearly burst into years. See, just two days ago, I received video of a crowd of people who live just a few miles away from me. After a;; these years, they were still willing to call him an A-rab, a terrorist, a socialist, a ... There was one kid (he could not have been thirty!) who said he could never accept a black man as President. These were people who told this to a stranger with a video camera. What must they say in the privacy of their basements? I was ashamed of these fellow Pennsylvanians. Can we really have made so little progress after all?

But: "Pennsylvania has been called for Obama."

Followed by a whole bunch of other states.

George? James? Ben? Patrick? Alexander?

Can I get a, "Hell, yeah!"?

Just now: "NBC has just projected Barack Obama as the next President of the United States".

Hell, yeah.

Today's the Day

By now, you have heard all the arguments. You may have been in few of them yourself. It is much too late for me to be campaigning in your face about the candidates, issues, or political parties.

You've heard everything you have chosen to hear, and you have either listened or turned off.

You have chosen.
Or you haven't, and will when you finally step into the voting booth.
Or you won't.

You will do what you have always done. Or, maybe on this turn of the wheel, you will feel the need to respond differently, somehow.

Maybe in a hundred years it won't matter what happened here and now. The thing is, you are here and now.

Do you have something to say?

Monday, November 3, 2008


Maryanne sent me this website (Thanks Maryanne).
It's an app that creates "word clouds" from your text.

If you like to play with words, click on the graphic below of one I just created ...

It says:

A dream is a trick of the mind
That counsels us to reach
To stretch,
To dream again
And in dreaming, stretch
And in stretching, reach
And in reaching step into our dream
Or fall to earth
To dream …

Hey, I need to stop staying up so late ...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Christmas? Naw - Not Yet!

I was driving into town yesterday, skipping through the radio stations, and stopped in SHOCK (surfing the radio, not the Expressway). A station was playing CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Christmas music? It's 73 degrees outside.

Now, this station will play holiday music all season long. Happy, jolly, Burl Ives; poignant, mellow, Nat King Cole (and his ersatz daughter); rockin', boppin', country, jazzy, secular, hymnal season fare for every taste all the way through November and December. I like Christmas Music, but when somebody decides that 'Tis the Season starts after Hallowe'en I can't handle it.

So, I flipped them off.