Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sand Mandalas and Motherhood

My mind's wandering on the frustrations of invisible yet incessant (albeit also joyful) child-rearing, and how disappointed I am that I haven't written a book on religion, politics, history and philosophy, to join those popping out of publishing houses every week, led me to think about sand mandalas.

Sand mandalas are beautiful artworks created by Tibetan monks out of billions of grains of colored sand, which are swept away after the mandala is finished, to remind us all of the impermanence of life. I would like to cultivate in myself that same ineffable attitude toward living, praying, working.

"Catastrophic Conservatism"

Perhaps the giant, sleepy, age-stiffened limbs of the fire-breathing, populist, visionary Democratic dragon are grinding...clanking...groaning...squeaking back into action.


You have to scroll down a little on the page, but it's a story about how the GOP arranged to swear in the Republican House candidate in California's 50th district (vacated by Duke Cunningham) before the vote count was certified, even though the Democratic candidate was in the process of challenging the election on fraud grounds. Because the Republican was sworn in, California courts lost jurisdiction over the challenge: jurisdiction passed to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Dig Deeper

Just after 9/11, I was reminded of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, which covers a lot of information about provocations, lies and engineered attacks to "justify" war-making by American presidential administrations. I've written on this before. Someday, conspiracy theorist will just be another word for an alert, curious, thoughtful citizen...

Book Description: Probing disturbing questions that beg for a response from the Christian community, distinguished scholar of religion and popular writer David Ray Griffin provides a hard-hitting analysis of the official accounts of the events of September 11, 2001. A tireless investigator, Griffin has sorted through enormous amounts of government and independent data and brought to the surface some very unsettling inconsistencies about what really happened. In this, his latest book, he analyzes the evidence about 9/11 and then explores a distinctively Christian perspective on these issues, taking seriously what we know about Jesus’ life, death, and teachings. Drawing a parallel between the Roman Empire of antiquity and the American Empire of today, he applies Jesus’ teachings to the current political administration, and he explores how Christian churches, as a community intending to be an incarnation of the divine, can and should respond.

About the Author: David Ray Griffin is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology at Claremont School of Theology, Professor of Religion Emeritus at Claremont Graduate University, and Codirector of the Center for Process Studies. He is the author of numerous books, including the popular best-sellers The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 and The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.

Look! What's that over there! Oooh....shiny!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Motherhood Manifesto on Childcare

"Childcare. With nearly three-quarters of mothers in the labor force, childcare is essential for many families. Quality, affordable childcare should be available to all who need it. Yet childcare costs between $4,000 and $10,000 per child, per year - an all too steep price for a substantial number of working families. And childcare providers are some of the lowest paid workers in our country. Clearly, this isn't a simple issue. Parents, children, and childcare workers are struggling.

While MomsRising explores ways to give parents more time with their families through policies like flexible work options and paid family leave, there will always be a need for quality childcare so parents can work and support their families.

A MODEL THAT WORKS: There is a successful large scale model childcare system operating right here in our country, and it might not be where you expect: The military. With over 200,000 children in their care, the Department of Defense childcare system addresses common childcare problems with real solutions.

Military childcare is available on a sliding scale to parents to make it affordable. Parents also have easy access to a high quality military childcare system and don't end up lost on long waiting lists. The military offers fair compensation and training for providers, and holds its centers to national uniform standards. Of the key childcare needs--affordability, quality, and accessibility -the military hits all three..."

Thomas Frank in the New York Times

I'm very distressed by my lack of time today. From 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., all I do is cook oatmeal and feed it to the baby, monitor the 7-year-old's screen time, tote them to playgrounds or libraries, prepare and serve their lunches, put the baby for a nap, try to keep steering the 7-year-old from reading to drawing to building Legos, and away from literally climbing up the walls or running into them at full speed - in between it all answering his myriad questions and fending off his myriad ideas for complicated, resource-intense, messy things to do. Then I make dinner, do some dishes, and put them to bed.

Sometimes I get a shower, and if I'm really organized, I manage to brush my hair before twisting it back up out of my face; last week I went almost three days before I managed a hair-brushing. The Paxil makes it much easier to do these things without going completely crazy; it's like that part of my brain really has been checked into a mental hospital, so the rest of me can continue the mind-numbing and unpaid and utterly invisible labor of things-that-must-be-done.

Meanwhile, I ponder my leadership potential, the wisdom I have to offer for policy-setting in these wild times, and wonder if it's all being wasted on poopy diapers and random second grader curiosities, or if all those human acts of dailiness, combined with the snatches of reading and writing, could possibly be enough of a contribution to the work of healing this ravaged planet and her despairing inhabitants...

I read Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas" last year; one of my sisters used to live in the wealthy Kansas City suburb that grew up around Sprint, where her husband worked at the time. Maybe sometime I'll be able to put together a coherent thought about Frank's ideas...not tonight.

Defunders of Liberty


Before he became K Street's most enterprising racketeer, Jack Abramoff was best known as a sort of young Robespierre of the Reagan Revolution. In 1983, as chairman of the College Republicans, he declared that he and his minions did not "seek peaceful coexistence with the left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently."

By all accounts, Abramoff carried out this mission with a Ramboesque single-mindedness. A ferocious latter-day red-baiter, he seems to have encountered Communists everywhere he went in early-80's America, fighting them (literally, with his fists) on campus, detecting their influence in the nuclear freeze movement, scheming to checkmate students worried about El Salvador by calling attention to the crimes of "their beloved Soviet Union." As a reward he got his handsome mug on the cover of the John Birch Society's Review of the News.

Abramoff's remark about liquidating the left was not just the intemperate raving of a hot-blooded youth. It also expressed the essence of the emerging conservative project: You don't just argue with liberals, you damage them. You use the power of the state to afflict their social movements, to wreck their proudest government agencies, and to divert their funding streams. "Defund the left" was a rallying cry all across the New Right in those heady days; Richard Viguerie even devoted a special issue of Conservative Digest to the subject in 1983.

Abramoff and his clean-cut campus radicals pushed their own "defund the left" campaign with characteristic elan, declaring war on Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRG, environmental and consumer activist outfits that were funded by student activity fees on some campuses. The young conservatives were always careful to cast the issue as a matter of "student rights" versus political coercion, but Abramoff clearly saw it as an avenue to ideological victory. "When we win this one," he boasted in 1983, "we'll have done more to neutralize Ralph Nader than anyone else, ever."

What the young conservatives of those days understood was that slogans are cheap, but institutions are not. Once broken or bankrupted, they do not snap back to fight another day. Cut off PIRG's supply lines and the groups must dedicate their resources to justifying their existence, making it that much harder for them to agitate against nuclear power. It's the political equivalent of strategic bombing, in which you systematically blast the rail junctions and ball-bearing factories of the other side.

Examples of such B-52 politics are all around us today. There are "paycheck protection" and school voucher campaigns, which are sold as rights issues but which are actually megaton devices to vaporize the flow of funds from labor unions to Democratic candidates. Social Security privatization, promoted as a way to make our retirements cushier, will also divert billions of dollars away from the welfare state and into the coffers of the G.O.P.'s allies on Wall Street.

Then there is the K Street Project. Almost as soon as they took control of Congress in 1995, Republican leaders began leveraging their newfound power to transform the corporate lobbying industry into a patronage fiefdom of the G.O.P. Lobbying firms were urged to hire true-believing Republicans or lose their "access"; once the personnel were Republican, the money followed. The result for the other side was also predictable: less money flowing to Democrats and a severe devaluation of a career in progressive politics. If Democrats have no place in Washington's private sector, then the attractiveness of being a liberal is diminished by just that much more.

What is most ingenious about all this is not so much its destructiveness but the way it appeals to mainstream notions of fairness. Consider another of Jack Abramoff's remarks from back in the days when he raged against PIRG. The groups, he said, should "compete in the free marketplace of ideas" just like the College Republicans did, where attracting private funding was what proved an idea to be "truly good and truly worthwhile."

In Washington today, where each bad idea to rattle through the nation's billionaire class seems to have a dedicated think tank to push it along, we are living out Abramoff's dictum: that an idea is not worth hearing unless a large amount of somebody's money is behind it.

Mary Pipher - Writing to Change the World

By Mary Pipher

In my thirty years of being a therapist, I have never seen Americans more stressed. If the news were a weather report, every day it would be the same: Black clouds overhead. Tornado warning!

We live together in an era of what Anthony Lewis, a columnist for the New York Times, has called “existential blindness.” Tech Tonic, a publication of the Alliance for Childhood, reports that the average American can recognize over a thousand brand names but is unable to identify ten indigenous plants or animals. We understand many facts about the world, but we cannot discern their meaning or their implications for action. Our world needs leaders, and yet people everywhere feel helpless and lack direction.

While we call our time the Age of Information, wisdom is in short supply. Language, which maps the way we think, is often just another marketing tool. Style trumps substance. War is called peace, while destruction is called development. Environmental devastation is footnoted or ignored. Hype and spin trivialize and obscure the truth. My favorite example of fuzzy language is George Tenet’s line during congressional hearings in spring 2004. When questioned on inaccurate government information regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, “The data do not uniquely comport with policy decisions.” Parse that.

Sometimes language itself is a weapon. In urging a crackdown on asylum seekers, people who have fled their countries without valid documents, James Sensenbrenner, a congressman from Wisconsin, said that he wanted to “Stop terrorists from gaming the asylum system.” He failed to mention that no asylum seekers have been identified as having links to terrorists. And, clearly, he does not know the asylum seekers I know—Tibetan monks fleeing Chinese soldiers, human rights advocates escaping repressive governments, some of America’s greatest friends who are leaving countries where rulers fear democracy.

Language is weaponized when it is used to objectify, depersonalize, dehumanize, to create an “other.” Once a person is labeled as “not like us,” the rules for civilized behavior no longer apply. The phrase “illegal alien” is an obvious example. Both the word “illegal” and the word “alien” separate us from the person being described. Indeed, America treats illegal aliens quite badly. The truth is that no person is illegal and no person is an alien.

Progressives as well as conservatives have their way of dehumanizing. They hurl stones when they use terms such as “fundamentalist,” “rednecks,” or “right-wing conservatives” in derisive ways that allow no room for nuances, individual differences, or empathy with their adversaries’ points of view.

I am not interested in weapons, whether words or guns. I want to be part of the rescue team for our tired, overcrowded planet. The rescuers will be those people who help other people to think clearly, and to be honest and open-minded. They will be an antidote to those people who disconnect us. They will de-objectify, rehumanize, and make others more understandable and sympathetic. They will help create what philosopher Martin Buber called I-thou relationships for the human race.

Buber distinguished between “I-it” and “I-thou” relationships. In I-it relationships, we deal with living creatures in one-dimensional ways. An “it” exists merely to serve our own purposes. A bank teller is essentially a nonperson who gives us our money; an old growth forest is lumber waiting to be harvested. In an I-thou relationship, the bank teller is a person like us, with desires, dreams, and loved ones. And an old-growth forest has a purpose far greater than our wish for lumber. When we deal with the teller or the forest in I-thou ways, we show respect. We are entering into a relationship.

Once the concept of otherness takes root, the unimaginable becomes possible. We don’t want to look at the faces of the homeless as we walk past them; when we do, they become people, and it becomes harder to keep walking. During the Vietnam War, our GIs called the Vietcong “gooks”; in Iraq, our soldiers call the insurgents “rats” and their trails “ratlines.” Psychologically, humans can kill rats much more easily then they can kill hungry, tired, frightened young people much like themselves.

With connection comes responsibility. Without it, decent Americans can vote for government policies or support businesses that leave villages in India or Africa without drinking water. We do this by erasing from our consciousness any awareness that our actions have hurtful consequences for people whose names we do not know. Labels help. It’s easy to erase “civilians,” “peasants,” “insurgents,” “enemy combatants,” even “protesters.” Once we have a label that doesn’t fit us, we can ignore the humanity of the labeled.

A writer’s job is to tell stories that connect readers to all the people of the earth, to show these people as the complicated human beings they really are, with histories, families, emotions, and legitimate needs. We can replace one-dimensional stereotypes with multidimensional individuals with whom our readers can identify, creating a world of I–thou relationships.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

This blog collects information about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, including an interview on CBS and the text of the letter he sent to President Bush a few months ago.


Impeachment Momentum

David Swanson is the co-founder of the afterdowningstreet.org coalition. He's written an interesting analysis of John Conyers' HR 635 and the new, updated report on Conyers' investigation into the impeachable crimes of George W. Bush.

Looks like it will be up to the cities and states to get the impeachment done, because Congress apparently isn't having much luck finding its misplaced self-respect, or its sense of obligation to the Constitution and the public.

For more essays by David Swanson, check out his blog. He's another philosopher-politico-blogger!

Foreign Policy Adrift

"Yet for all the criticism, neither the Democratic Party nor the foreign policy elite has devised an alternative for the post-Sept. 11 world, leaving U.S. foreign policy adrift."

Still, neither the Democratic Party nor the foreign policy elite have a monopoly on ideas.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Modest Proposal

Do unto others...

Saturday, August 26, 2006


'Fixing' Iran Intelligence

"All this should be read as fresh politicization of intelligence, the very “Boltonization” that crippled efforts to prevent war in Iraq. The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee U.S. intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution."

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Many thanks to my brother, for linking me to this information.

From Scott Altran's research on "Understanding Suicide Terrorism:"

"Contemporary suicide terrorists from the Middle East are publicly deemed crazed cowards bent on senseless destruction who thrive in poverty and ignorance. Recent research indicates they have no appreciable psychopathology and are as educated and economically well-off as surrounding populations. A first line of defense is to get the communities from which suicide attackers stem to stop the attacks by learning how to minimize the receptivity of mostly ordinary people to recruiting organizations...

...Social psychologists have investigated the “fundamental attribution error,” a tendency for people to explain behavior in terms of individual personality traits, even when significant situational factors in the larger society are at work. U.S. government and media characterizations of Middle East suicide bombers as craven homicidal lunatics may suffer from a fundamental attribution error: No instances of religious or political suicide terrorism stem from lone actions of cowering or unstable bombers. Psychologist Stanley Milgram found that ordinary Americans also readily obey destructive orders under the right circumstances."

I think Altran's research lends support to the idea that many problems of violence throughout the world could be transformed if only persuasive leaders offered people hungry for meaning a non-violent and yet courageous identity and vital larger-than-self work to do.

I recently saw this phenomenon in action on a very small scale, when a large group of poor, African-American kids who live around my urban church got involved in preparations for a spaghetti dinner we were hosting for the community.

The Parish Hall was bustling with the activity of about a dozen kids ranging in age from six to 17 or 18, boys and girls: cooking spaghetti and corn, washing lettuce for salads, laying out cookies, setting up tables and chairs, laying out plates, knives and forks, decorating the tables with candles, arranging the buffet and then lining up eagerly to eat. Afterward, many of them stayed to tidy up and do dishes, and then they went out to the parking lot in the dusk and started horsing around with each other.

My epiphany was the thought that much so-called delinquency is just boredom exacerbated by being generally regarded as unimportant and unnecessary.

I want to find an ongoing way to engage the kids in the huge amounts of work that really do need to be done: renovating and building affordable housing; providing low cost, nutritious meals and health care; teaching and minding the children of working parents; maintaining neighborhood parks - the list goes on and on...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Architects of Iraq War: Where Are They Now?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Interbeing and the Clash of Civilizations

I've started reading Samuel Huntington's 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. It grew out of an essay he wrote in Foreign Affairs in the summer of 1993.

Eventually, I'd like to read the key books by many of the bigwigs. The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama; Out of Control by Zbignew Brzezinski and Pandaemonium by Daniel Patrick Moynihan are currently on the (growing) list.

Their views of what does - and does not - belong in discussions of political reality, like those of Hobbes, need to be analyzed and challenged. Plus, I need to refine my thinking from the broad-brush Jesus-inspired radical love concept, to a detailed picking apart of why the arguments of the respected statesmen and scholars are incomplete. What are they missing in their assumptions and deductions?

I can't remember exactly when I first became aware of Huntington's views. It must have been sometime after reading Paul Berman's 2003 essay in Salon about the Muslim thinker Sayyid Qutb. Huntington wasn't mentioned in that essay, but he occupies the same sphere of intellectual influence and addresses the same sorts of issues as Berman.

Until I began reading Huntington's book, I had only a vague sense of his argument as holding that contemporary global politics are, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, defined by the cultural differences between the West, including historically Christian nations in North America and Western Europe, and the non-West, including everybody else. Since 9/11, world attention has been more or less riveted on the Islamic non-West, in the form of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists.

But Huntington, it turns out, postulates a "multipolar, multicivilizational world," including nine civilizations - Western, Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Buddhist and Japanese. His belief is that since the end of the Cold War, citizens of nation-states have been engaged in a process of self-identification, and frequently, they identify more with those who share their "philosophical assumptions, underlying values, social relations, customs and overall outlooks on life," than with people with whom they happen to share a geographic location.

For example, Muslim people in Sarajevo, by waving Turkish and Saudi Arabian flags during a protest in April 1994, were demonstrating how their cultural affinity with fellow Muslims in the Middle East superceded their national identity as Bosnians. Closer to home, Mexican immigrants have protested their shabby treatment in America by marching with Mexican flags, or upside-down American ones.

Huntington's other main point in the first chapter is to present four different possible paradigms for world politics since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Fukuyama is cited as the prime articulator for the "euphoria and harmony" view: that since the bipolar Cold War is now over, hegemonic democratic capitalism has no serious contenders for power, and all nations will more or less fall into line behind the American banner.

The second view is the "Us and Them" view, that all people can be divided into two groups, the good guys and the bad guys. This view is common throughout history, and under this framework, with the USSR no longer filling the enemy role, it remains to be seen not if there will be a new enemy, but who will fill that empty slot.

The third view is the "184 States, More or Less," premised on the notion that "states are the primary, indeed the only important actors in world affairs," and therefore states will continue to react to one another by forming advantageous alliances against perceived threats from other states.

I don't believe Huntington was in a position to take into account Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky's views on global public opinion as the "other superpower." My wish, back before Shock and Awe, was that a sea of photographers and social workers armed with cameras and compassionate ears would march into Iraq, document the torture and repression, mobilize public opinion to stop the torture and repression, and begin to help the victims.

The fourth view is the "sheer chaos" paradigm: that without the stabilization of the Cold War, governments and economies would collapse, leaving behind only inter-tribal bloodshed.

Three things leapt out at me in my first read of the first chapter.

Huntington wrote:

"People use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity. We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against."

I disagree; I think Jesus had it right with that business about letting the one who is without sin cast the first stone. I think we know who we are best when we know who it is who makes us uneasy, and when we begin the work of acknowledging, healing and transforming those aspects of ourselves. I really don't like my inner Bush, but I'm trying to work with him, because I think that's the best way to heal and transform the outer Bush too.

Huntington wrote, about the four paradigms:

"These four paradigms are also incompatible with each other. The world cannot be both one and fundamentally divided between East and West or North and South. Nor can the nation state be the base rock of international affairs if it is fragmenting and torn by proliferating civil strife..."

I disagree. Paradox is precisely that: two things that seem incompatible but together form a necessary whole. The Uni-verse is the one and the many, turning about each other, locked in a puzzling dance. That's why Heraclitus is my favorite philosopher: "This universe, which is the same for all, has not been made by any god or man, but it always has been, is, and will be an ever-living fire, kindling itself by regular measures and going out by regular measures."

This gets me confused sometimes, though. Must there be huge amounts of war to counterbalance the huge power of humanity's growing appetite for peace?

Huntington wrote:

"States respond primarily to perceived threats...Values, culture, and institutions pervasively influence how states define their interests."

I agree. It's the perception of threats - even more than actual threats - which underlies the fear which underlies the aggression. Which means it is possible to change the values, culture and institutions of America to pervasively influence this nation to perceive differently, and to define our interests as identical to the interests of those who are currently victims of our bombing campaigns, ground assaults and economic sanctions. Thich Nhat Hanh calls the concept interbeing.

Suppers Made Simple

I should have a little more time for writing over the next month. I went to a meal preparation place today, called Suppers Made Simple. It was excellent. In two hours, I put together 12 dinners with about 8 servings each (since my husband and I don't eat big portions).

Deb, the owner, did all the meal planning, shopping, chopping, dicing, shredding, and a lot of the measuring, and went around cleaning up all the dishes I made. Then I brought them all home to freeze until I want to cook them. We had the turkey meatloaf tonight, and it was very tasty.

Deb said people come in groups, bringing wine for Girls Night Out cooking parties, or to entertain business clients. She even does birthday parties for kids, icing cookies and making pizza. Very cool.

I figure it'll save me at least 12 hours of work per week, maybe as many as 20. Some of that will go to a job search, but the rest will be more available for reading! and thinking! and writing!


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Compendium of the Relatively Wise

Apparently Chris Matthews is saying key neocons are now convinced that a military attack on Iran is necessary.

Thinkprogress has compiled a list of prominent naysayers.

Birth and Violence

Excerpt sent to me by a fellow pacifist. I remember thinking about both my children long before they were, and hearing them call me to be their mother...

There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy (I would call it bonding) is fostered even before birth.

In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception, as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother's mind.

Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them.

After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song.

After the birth, all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. The song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.

from Birth and Violence, by Thomas R. Verny.

Carrot, Stick, Whatever

Iran and North Korea have now both had the honor of being invited to negotiate with the United States only if they first agree to give up their main bargaining chip - their real, imagined, or imminent nuclear weapon production capabilities.

That's not negotiation.

We won't see progress on the disarmament front until John Bolton acknowledges at the U.N. that after the invasion examples in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, any nation can be forgiven for thinking that having the Bomb is safer than not.

Just another bit of evidence favoring pre-emptive disarmament and genuine support for real human-rights based democratic reformers, rather than violent assault campaigns, economic sanctions and fomented military coups, all of which inevitably strengthen the political hands of fear-crazed militant fundamentalists.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Questions from My Local Newspaper

Do you feel safer now than after 9/11?

I do not feel safer now than after 9/11. I feel less safe, because all of the decisions to answer terrorist violence with American violence have, understandably, provided new and better recruitment messages for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

How, if at all, has your life changed in response to terror’s threat?

My life has changed a lot in response to terror's threats. I have become much more intensely aware of the history of American meddling in other nations' affairs, and how frequently that meddling means destroying nascent democracies when those young governments begin to make decisions in the best interests of their own people, rather than in the best interests of America's ruling class. I have become much more politically active.

Is the US winning the war on terror?

The U.S. is not winning the war on terror. That would require acknowledging how our fear of others makes our government, through our military, abuse those others, and then it would require us to move beyond fear to love, mercy, charity and faith as the foundations of our foreign and domestic policy.

Is the war in Iraq justified?

The war in Iraq is not justified, and never was. First they knowingly lied by saying the reason for the illegal pre-emptive invasion was WMDs. No WMDs? Then they said it was to topple the evil dictator Saddam Hussein. Hussein jailed, hunger striking and threatening to implicate his American backers in his trial for crimes against humanity? Then they said it was to establish a democracy in the Middle East.

When the puppet government appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, which also gutted Iraq's economic laws to permit privatization of oil and other resources, was not accepted by the majority Shiite population, who demonstrated in protest, the U.S. finally permitted elections. Now the elected government appears unable to control the civil war on the ground, so the White House is quietly putting out word that maybe something other than democracy will soon follow.

Iraqis are now dying at the rate of 40,000 per year, three times the average Hussein-era rate and we are about to come full circle, from deposing an "evil" dictator because he opposed American oil interests in the region, to installing a U.S.-friendly dictator so long as he will let the oil companies call the shots.

How would you grade the government’s handling of the war on terror?

I give the Bush Administration an F for its handling of the war on terror, I call for impeachment and for a bold, articulate, hopeful vision of the future from any Democrats up to the challenge. Democracy without accountability is meaningless. American soldiers killing people can't give us the freedom to learn, think and speak up, and NSA wiretapping can't take it away.

We're born with it.

Arundhati Roy

"Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe."

Arundhati Roy is one of my favorite writers, for her novel The God of Small Things, and for her many political essays and speeches.

I've been thinking lately about her remarks, from a lecture a year or so ago, reprinted in Ms. Magazine:

"The theme of much of what I write, fiction as well as nonfiction, is the relationship between power and powerlessness and the endless, circular conflict they’re engaged in. The term “anti-American” is usually used by the American establishment to discredit its critics (myself included). Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that the person’s argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

But what does the term “anti-American” mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you’re opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don’t admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America’s culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government’s foreign policy is an effective strategy. It’s like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire. But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government’s policies.

It is dangerous to cede to the Indian government or the American government the right to define what “India” or “America” are or ought to be. To be “anti-American” (or for that matter, anti-Indian or anti-Timbuktuan) is not just racist, it’s a failure of the imagination. An inability to see the world in terms other than those the establishment has set out for you. If you’re not a Bushie, you’re a Taliban. If you’re not Good, you’re Evil. If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists.

Now that the initial aim of the war in Afghanistan - capturing Osama bin Laden (dead or alive) - seems to have run into bad weather, the goalposts have been moved. It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, that the U.S. Marines are actually on a feminist mission.

Think of it this way: In India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices against “untouchables,” against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should Delhi, Islamabad and Dhaka be destroyed? Is it possible to bomb bigotry out of India? Can we bomb our way to a feminist paradise?

In everybody’s mind of course, particularly here in America, is the horror of what has come to be known as 9/11. The tears have not dried. And a strange, deadly war is raging around the world. Yet, each person who has lost a loved one surely knows secretly, deeply, that no war, no act of revenge, no daisy-cutters dropped on someone else’s loved ones or someone else’s children, will blunt the edges of their pain. To fuel yet another war - this time against Iraq - by manipulating people’s grief is to pillage even the most private human feelings for political purpose. It is a terrible, violent thing for a State to do to its people.

Real globalization would be the idea that human beings across the world do share love, and terror, and gentleness, and these things which literature links up. That’s why I keep saying that literature is the opposite of a nuclear bomb."

Traffic Calming

My introduction to the concept of traffic calming came from an article in the April 2004 issue of the Utne Reader, now posted at the Project for Public Spaces.

Traffic calming strategies are meant to improve pedestrian safety and neighborhood life through slowing the progress of cars, using speed bumps and other structures. One article on the subject, which I can't currently find, described people in a city in Italy who were very upset about a traffic accident involving a child. So they began carrying old couches, sawhorses and other barricades into the street, not completely blocking the way for cars, but making it twist and turn so that cars would have to slow down. Eventually, city planners installed permanent green spaces and benches and curbs and speed bumps to accomplish the same things.

At the site for Trafficcalming.org, you can find information about the history of the movement:

"European traffic calming began as a grassroots movement in the late 1960s. Angry residents of the Dutch City of Delft fought cut-through traffic by turning their streets into woonerven, or "living yards." This was followed by the development of European slow streets (designed for 30 kph or 20 mph) in the late 1970s; the application of traffic calming principles to intercity highways through small Danish and German towns in the 1980s; and the treatment of urban arterials in areawide schemes, principally in Germany and France, also in the 1980s..."

Wikipedia has a fairly extensive entry on the subject here, reporting that:

"The Livable Streets study by Donald Appleyard (circa 1977) found that residents of streets with light traffic had, on average, three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as the people on streets with heavy traffic which were otherwise similar in dimensions, income, etc..."

Francis Moore Lappe: Living Democracy

fusion voting...grassroots-led campaign-finance reforms...socially responsible investments...the fair trade movement...a growing global cooperative movement...democratic schools...in law enforcement, a restorative justice emphasis...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hobbes, Rawls, Gilligan and Housing Discrimination

I left the doctoral program in philosophy at Boston College back in December 1997. There were a lot of reasons, but one was my constant sense of irritation at key philosophers' notions of the "state of nature."

I remember getting into an argument with a professor while discussing Thomas Hobbes' theory that man in his natural state is in a state of "war of all against all," and that life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." More info here.

Being a woman with childbearing potentialities, even at the age of 22, when I did not yet have children, this struck me as ridiculous. No one enters life alone, and no one survives without a great deal of physical nurturance from people tethered by social bonds. The prospect of pushing that perspective against several millenia of hypermasculine thought, through four more years of grad school and whatever the academic job market brought afterward helped me decide to leave.

John Rawls developed a different theory of justice, using a fascinating concept called the maximin rule. Basically, the idea is that when developing a social contract - rules for how a given human society will function - actors operating behind a "veil of ignorance" in the "original position" - not knowing whether they will occupy a high or low position in society - will set up the system so that even the citizens with the lowest status will still have a decent basic standard of living, and reasonable basic access to opportunity and political power.

Some say Rawls Theory of Justice is a thought experiment, as though such things have no relevance to the world of flesh and blood-letting. I continue to believe that the free exercise of imagination is one of the keys to shaping reality in more merciful ways.

I was thinking about Rawls recently on a trip to Hartford, Connecticut, seeing the historic homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and right nearby, beautiful brick apartment buildings.

Some of the buildings were in great shape, and others looked run down, and as always, the color of the inhabitants was closely correlated: the darker the color, the poorer the residents, the fewer the resources and energy available to maintain the homes.

It made me think that I would very much like to live in a world in which there are no run-down, "bad" neighborhoods, where every person would be just as happy to live in one place as anywhere else, because they'd all be clean and comfortable, and they'd all have their own unique character - the combined, ever-changing collage of their peoples' personalities.

Carol Gilligan took Rawls' work the next step, when she developed an "ethics of care," founded on women's orientation toward caregiving. Gilligan argued that women's moral approach to life is equal to the justice-based male approach, even though caregiving, like imagination, is traditionally trivialized.

I've also recently found myself wondering if any psychologist has ever studied the functioning of women's brains during conversations, to see if the listening/emotional-engagement part of our brains is more directly tied to the identity part of our brains. It crossed my mind after I got a break from my husband and kids and the other people in my closest social circle, and found myself alone in the psychic space of the car for the first time in weeks.

I think human society is evolving toward an emphasis on Gilligan's approach - the ethics of care and reciprocity - as it becomes clear that justice, in the end, demands cycles of payback that will eventually destroy us all.

Mercy is the other paradigm, and the only way to extricate ourselves from our current global suicide pact.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Global Town Hall

Thursday, August 17, 2006


There's a lot of excellent material in Seymour Hersh's latest in the New Yorker.

“The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits,” a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. “Why oppose it? We’ll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.”

A Pentagon consultant said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preëmptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.”

Except that Hezbollah has not been diminished; it has been shored up not only in Lebanon but throughout the Arab world, because it took a stronger than expected stand against a much more powerful enemy, and because it is now prepared, with financial backing from Iran, to rebuild the Lebanese infrastructure destroyed in the war, which America and Israel are unwilling to do.

According to Richard Armitage, who served as Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term—and who, in 2002, said that Hezbollah “may be the A team of terrorists”—Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which has faced unexpected difficulties and widespread criticism, may, in the end, serve as a warning to the White House about Iran.

“If the most dominant military force in the region—the Israel Defense Forces—can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million,” Armitage said. “The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis.”

But here's the kicker, the crux, the fulcrum on which the whole thing rests:

"For almost a year before its victory in the Palestinian elections in January, Hamas had curtailed its terrorist activities. In the late May intercepted conversation, the consultant told me, the Hamas leadership said that “they got no benefit from it, and were losing standing among the Palestinian population.” The conclusion, he said, was “ ‘Let’s go back into the terror business and then try and wrestle concessions from the Israeli government.’"

I'll repeat:

"...they got no benefit from it, and were losing standing among the Palestinian population..."

Sometimes the naive accusations really cut deep for me. I wrote a few days ago about credibility, the fact that pacifists are assumed to have none, while military brass are assumed to have buckets of it. Then I was thinking about it more, and thought maybe the military brass keep going back for more because they genuinely believe they just haven't killed wholesale enough, that it really would be possible to kill every single angry man and woman who opposes U.S. world dominance with violence, that there could be a last terrorist checked off the list, and time would stand still, and babies born into squalor would no longer grow up with the spirit to object to their abjectitude.

But then I read about the thinking of the Palestinian terrorists, and it all came back into focus. They want the "benefit" that everyone wants: decent lives for themselves and their families. Maybe they even want the "benefit" that ambitious, political types want: respect, authority, the chance to chart a course for an entire people, not just a self or a family.

But their non-violent attempt to gain those things was not rewarded, was not even acknowledged by the powers in the best position to respond with encouragement and negotiations and humanitarian relief and all the other benefits of being a full-fledged, equally-important member of the human species.

Hamas and Hezbollah are not symbols of evil. They're real people, and so long as America stomps on their fledgeling attempts to achieve their aspirations without violence, they will return to violence, again, and again, and again.

Peak Oil Planning

My education on peak oil began with Richard Heinberg’s book: “The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies.” Peak oil theory posits that every oil field has a bell-shaped production curve. The peak is when the field is producing the most oil it will ever produce, after which the same amount of oil already pumped remains to be pumped, but at much higher cost because it’s more difficult to extract. Geologists can’t pinpoint the peak until some time afterward, when production timelines show the decline has already begun. But there are formulas to predict more or less when peak will occur, based on past production, the number of new oil fields found and other factors.

The aggregate of oil fields in each nation also has a peak, as does the combined total of the world’s oil fields. Following the projections of geophysicist Marion King Hubbert, who accurately predicted America’s domestic oil production peak in the early 1970s, Heinberg reports that global peak oil will happen some time between now and 2010. The US Geological Survey pegs it more around 2020, and some people, anticipating discovery of huge new oilfields as yet undetected by very sophisticated radar techniques, put it as far off as 2050. (Even without peak oil, global warming and our human response to it could be a sign that the Earth organism is using her internal feedback loops to return to homeostasis.)

It’s not that the world oil supply will dry up overnight. But supply will steadily decline, and become harder to extract, as industrialization continues to push up demand. Few doubt that the singular historical event of peak oil will happen. They dispute when, and, more importantly, how human civilization will cope. Some say market forces will solve the problem: as oil prices rise, incentives for alternative technology will keep pace.

Others (self included) believe market forces react too slowly; without huge financial and political commitments, it will take decades for new energy technologies to become widely available and affordable. Without careful preparation – from local urban planning to national and international resource sharing arrangements – the global economy will collapse, with devastating consequences for people everywhere.

Heinberg speaks of “strategic optimism,” the attitude that even though the outlook is difficult, our best chance for survival is having faith that organized, informed people can and will devise collective solutions. He calls them “energy descent” plans, and many towns are already beginning to transform their economic structures to become minimally dependent on fossil fuels. The Kinsale, Ireland town council was the first municipal government in the world to pass an energy descent plan. Since then, Burnaby, British Colombia; Sebastopol, CA; Tompkins County, NY; the San Francisco Bay Area; Boulder, Colorado; Plymouth, New Hampshire; Bloomington, Indiana; Eugene, Oregon, and other communities have begun their own preparations.

Lakis Polycarpou, in an article here, describes three possible scenarios. In the best case, “successful localities execute a long-term plan to stop sprawl and develop downtowns and main streets where they exist (or build them where they do not), and gradually shift toward a more sustainable (and sane) living arrangement, centered around relatively dense, walkable towns and neighborhoods connected by public transit with goods supplied by electric rail. Policies to encourage local agriculture and the rebuilding of regional economies reverse globalization, saving energy…”

For more information, you can put “peak oil” into Google or start with:
1) the Wikipedia entry
2) the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas here


President Bush, pursuing the Project for a New American Century, often speaks implicity about creating a global hegemony, with America playing the role of enforcer.

He talks about "democracy," but it's fairly clear that it has more to do with economic control of vital resources and cheap labor pools, since he so regularly condemns foreign people for electing leaders he finds distasteful through nonetheless free and fair elections that put our own electoral system to shame. See Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example.

What's interesting to me is that I endorse the goals of the global justice movement, which more or less seeks to establish the same kind of world-over paradigm. But we want to substitute just systems of regional self-sufficiency where possible, international cooperation where necessary, and an overall transition to sustainable, renewable non-carbon, non-polluting sources of energy to run human societies in the interests of promoting a dignified existence for all, for the exploitation of poor by rich that Bush & Co seek to expand.

My point is, God's ways being mysterious and all, perhaps Bush, and his concommittent mess-making around the world, are steering us toward that united future, and perhaps when we get there, the surprise will be on him, because the shape of society will not be militarized, fear-polarized, greed-driven and full of death, but rather we will see an unprecedentedly concerted effort, on the part of all people, to really, consciously choose a more life-sustaining, life-giving alternative plan.

NSA Program Unconstitutional

Judge Rules Bush's Surveillance Program Unconstitutional

Associated Press

Detroit - A federal judge ruled Thursday [8/17/06] that the government's
warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate
halt to it.

U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge
to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says
violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of
powers enshrined in the Constitution.

"Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this
matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her
43-page opinion.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of
journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult
for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are
likely targets of the program, which involves secretly listening to
conversations between people in the U.S. and people in other countries.

The government argued that the program is well within the president's
authority, but said proving that would require revealing state secrets.

The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush
administration had already publicly revealed enough information about the
program for Taylor to rule on the case.

"By holding that even the president is not above the law, the court has
done its duty," said Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director and the
lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

The NSA had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the ACLU over data-mining of phone
records by the NSA. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about
that program to support the claim and further litigation could jeopardize
state secrets.

Ruth Conniff on The Anti-Anti-War Campaign

"...how can Democrats hold Republicans accountable if they are led by politicians who agree with Bush's worst policies, and publicly attack dissenters as unpatriotic?...The anti-war left is not some crazy fringe group. It is the American mainstream. And it is not Lamont or MoveOn and DailyKos that are out of touch. It is the politicians and pundits in Washington who continue to kowtow to this incredibly destructive Administration."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Victory Gardens Rise Again

Timely history from the Victory Garden Seeds website:

"The world was at war. Resources of all kinds were being diverted to support national war efforts. Countries asked their citizens to help in every way that they could.

People dutifully funded the war by purchasing bonds, they conserved raw materials, they recycled, they rallied behind the troops, they helped their neighbors, they gave their lives, and they planted "Gardens for Victory".

Victory Gardens came in every shape and size. Governments and corporations promoted this call for self-reliance. People in all areas, rural and urban alike, worked the soil to raise food for their families, friends, and neighbors. Victory gardening enabled more supplies to be shipped to our troops around the world.

These concepts are very foreign to us in our post-war, global economy. For years we have been bombarded by marketing messages of consumerism, reliance on others, and have experienced nearly constant economic growth. A whole generation of young people know it no other way. As our population ages, we are losing the experiences and knowledge of the Great Depression and WW II from our society's psyche.

History is cyclical, the strong economy of the 1980s and 1990s has begun to weaken, and there are lessons to be learned from the past. It is always a good time to plant your own "Victory Garden".

It was a different time. The world had experienced many years of economic hardships and now people were being asked to give up more. The propaganda machine was geared up to make sure that everyone on the homefront did their part to aide in the effort. The messages were simple, symbolic, and very patriotic.

Although canned foods were rationed items, there were relatively few food shortages in W.W. II-era America. The call to plant a Victory Garden was answered by nearly 20 million Americans. These gardens produced up to 40% of all that was consumed."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Nicholas Lehman in the New Yorker

Encouraging me to start an on-line newspaper, my Dad recently sent me a New Yorker magazine article from the August 7 &14 issue, called Amateur Hour, written by Nicholas Lehman. It’s about the claim, by many bloggers, that we are part of a movement to more or less overthrow the traditional media, and, by extension, the existing order of society.

I suspect that posts about blogging are recursive to the point of boredom for readers. On the other hand, most blogs are about the musings of their writers, and lately I’ve been musing most on two things:

1) What direction should this blog go, if I think of it as one current in the large stream of the cultural phenomenon that is the blogosphere?

2) How much potential does the medium really have to effect the kind of social justice change I would like to see?

Overall, I thought the New Yorker article was meant to minimize the potential of blogs to create social change. Lehman used a lot of words like “responsible,” “objective,” and “independent,” to differentiate traditional journalists and traditional journalism from bloggers, but didn't really define the criteria he used to decide which writers deserve such high praise. Few, in my opinion, including Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer, who are luckily thriving at The New Yorker, and Robert Scheer, Greg Palast and countless others who have been pushed out of American newsrooms during the ongoing purge, to seek publication through their own Internet syndication, occasional essays in political journals, or through foreign presses.

More importantly, Lehman neglected to point out the glitch in the system: the editorial decisions that take the work of smart, persistent, well-funded, well-trained, experienced investigative reporters, and consign it to the back pages or hold it out of the print media altogether.

For example, he wrote about the reporting that uncovered the massive civil liberties violations of the Bush Administration, but forgot to mention that the paper where that story was written, The New York Times, held onto the story for more than a year, between when it was written by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau – before the November 2004 Presidential election – and when it was finally published in December 2005. See the most recent story here.

Bloggers who hold out hope for this medium as a democracy-builder don’t dispute that trained, experienced, paid reporters could provide the proper check and balance to our government-run-amok. We simply point out, over and over, that editorial decisions designed to protect the current turf of both political and corporate overlords interfere immeasurably with that process.

At the same time, I think most thoughtful bloggers are acutely aware of the limitations of the medium. Every minute that enraged progressives and libertarians, and every shade between, are sitting in our pajamas, pounding on our keyboards in apoplectic rage, or tickling them in weary resignation, we are not out in the streets banging pots and pans, demanding that the bastards - from the locals on up to the feds - get the hell out and make room for some fresh ideas and new people to turn those ideas into real policies and real change in the world.

I agree with Lehman that the ease of access to blogs means that even people who don’t have a broad historical or cultural perspective, don’t bother too much with facts, don’t write very well and don’t combine their blogging with bricks-and-mortar community-building can post their two cents worth just as much as the knowledgeable, eloquent and street-active.

I’m uneasy with the undertone of Lehman’s essay; he seems to be trying to defang blogging and citizen journalism by encouraging New Yorker readers to tuck it all in the “Banal” file and pay it no attention.

But I’m equally uneasy with the gung-ho triumphalism of some of the most prominent bloggers. Blogging alone will not bring about real change.

What it can do is connect likeminded people until they meet face to face, and bring support and encouragement to those who feel, accurately or not, that their hopes and dreams for the future are being represented in neither the halls of power nor in the pages of their daily newspapers.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Peoples Organization for Progress in New Orleans

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Why is it that pacifists, many of whom figured out that killing doesn't stop killing without having to try it out firsthand, are generally assumed to have less credibility on war and peace issues than military men, many of whom, after years on the battlefield, come to the same fairly obvious conclusion, and many more of whom, despite years of failed efforts to achieve peace through violence, maintain a steadfast conviction that next time it will work?

See You At Armageddon

Tom Hayden:

"And to the bloggers, I say stick to standards of evidence that will convince the mainstream voters. Sometimes we stray from what we know, and what can be proven to the public, into the world of, well, conjecture. We cannot fight against a faith-based crusade with one that sometimes appears to be fantasy-based. We cannot fight the conservative model with a conspiracy model [even though there are conspiracies out there]. The facts are staggering enough to cause deep public questioning and, in time, a radical public awakening. We should see ourselves as the questioning conscience of the nation, the prod to deeper digging by the media, the force that pushes politicians to address all the "inconvenient truths," every last one of them."

I agree about standards of evidence, but that also means paring down the potential audience to people who also make up their minds at least partially based on facts and reason. Those people, I think, have largely come over to the anti-Iraq war side, if not yet to the pacifist position. Another step will require offering faith-based folk something more hopeful than Armageddon to have faith in, some better vision of the future and the moral role of humans in that future.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Taking a Break

I will be taking a break from the blog until Sunday, August 13. Later. -KW

Excerpts from My Journal

This is an imaginary journal, entirely written on August 7, 2006. I hope that some of the things will come to pass, when the dates have been and gone. We'll just have to see. - KW, 8/26/06

August 8, 2006 – Read at the peace fair in Cranford this past weekend. Lots of fun. I also tabled for FUSP – gave out a bunch of brochures for the Think Globally, Act Locally Potluck & Lecture Series. I hope people come to the lectures.

September 16, 2006 – Holy cow. There were like 200 people at the first lecture. They brought all kinds of food: lasagna and Indian food and a couple pots of different kinds of lentil soup. Rashid Burney had great things to say. Turns out Plainfield has received a $6 million grant, solely for the purpose of creating a functional network of bicycle, walking, skateboarding and roller-blading paths in downtown Plainfield. The grant application said we’d have technical support from the Mayor of Bogota in Colombia, and that guy, Enrique Penalosa, is already scheduled to come for the groundbreaking ceremony next week!

September 25, 2006 – Been quite a few weeks. There was some citizen consternation after the first lecture. People wanted to know how folks in wheelchairs and with walkers were supposed to get from place to place, if cars are going to be banned from the four central square miles around the intersection of Park Ave. & Front St. They wanted to know about getting to work.

But it was interesting. Instead of just yelling at each other, people started having organized discussions. One group decided that there are going to be electric-powered golf carts available for those with limited mobility – all they have to do is call and it’ll be someone’s paid job to come pick them up and take them where they want to go.

Another group started making a list – more like a computer database, of all the residents in central Plainfield, their education and work experience, their top three job skills, and the top three projects they would LOVE to work on, if they could do anything in the world with those skills.

A third group started making another database. More like a wish list, I guess. Everybody could put in the projects they’d like to see done, and the will be able to go to City Hall and put in their ideas anytime in the future too.

Like one person said: “Solar panels on every single building in downtown Plainfield.” Another woman wanted weekly knitting circles. A couple of kids put down a skate park. A really old man wearing a weird, pointy purple hat with stars and moons all over it said he wanted to see the Strand Theater refurbished for community productions and open mike nights. Somebody else said she wanted to start a community newspaper, printed completely on 100% recycled paper, with 100% soy ink.

And a whole group of nurses got together and put down something about setting up assisted living and nursing homes in some of the old, abandoned houses, with up to 10 patients in each house, plus a live-in, full-time, salaried cook, a live-in, full-time, salaried cleaning person and three nurses.

The list is fantastic.

Turns out, there’s this great computer program that takes the information from the skills database and matches it up with the projects wish-list, so after a few days of this brainstorming stuff, we printed out a giant three-year plan on a HUGE piece of paper. And everyone’s project got on it, and everyone got good jobs to do – all the things they love to work on, all within a mile of the intersection of Front Street and Park Avenue!

October 10, 2006 – We broke ground today on the first of about 400 community gardens. Part of that big project was to do a walking tour of downtown and find every available plot of sunny land at least five feet by 10 feet large. They even looked at parking lots and did some digging, and sometimes found that it wouldn’t be too hard to rip up the concrete to get to the good topsoil sitting underneath it.
The walking tour team marked off all the garden plots with Popsicle sticks and this hot pink yarn some grandma had too much of. Almost every yard and overgrown abandoned field and parking lot has a crazy hodgepodge of little pink fences, at all angles and tucked into every sunny spot imaginable. No trees will be cut down, and there’s only about twelve plots in parks, so there’s no problem with kids finding places to play.

Then it turned out there’s this old retired farmer who took a master class on sustainable organic urban agriculture living in the Park Hotel, and he’s willing to supervise the WHOLE thing. Over the winter, he’s going to train everybody who wants to learn all about buying seeds, planting seedlings, turning over the plots, setting up compost piles, weeding, non-chemical pest control, organic fertilizing, harvesting and seed saving. Then he’ll help out with the planting next spring.

He kicks butt.

He even wears these beat up denim overalls and a John Deere baseball hat sitting too high up on his forehead.

As for me, I got a great part-time job at the new community newspaper, writing and editing articles, helping with layout, the works. I’m at the office from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

October 21, 2006 – Holy cow again. There were like 300 people at the second lecture. It was Frank Ingargiola, the Principal of Plainfield High School. Most of the crowd was parents, plus some teachers, and a sprinkling of business and civic leader types.
Ingargiola has great ideas. The school district is already working on a plan to create five sort-of pods within two high school buildings, allowing kids to track themselves into Arts, International Affairs, Business & Technology, Health Care & Science and Vocational programs.

But he said the state suddenly found a huge stash of money, hidden away by Christie Todd Whitman in an account everyone forgot was there. All the Abbott school construction projects are going to be finished within two years, using recycled materials to cut construction costs, and specially setting aside 25% of the jobs for young apprentice construction workers who want to learn the trade.

Then he talked more about the different pods, and said each one is being designed around sustainable, ecological principles. All the cafeterias are going to serve organic vegetarian meals. All the non-play areas around each school are going to have a few of the community gardens with compost piles, planned and tended by the kids.

The Health Care and Science Program is going to link up with Muhlenberg Hospital and some of the new, 10-bed nursing homes, to train student nurses, do internships for kids interested in being doctors, and offer free walk-in clinics that will do vaccinations, sick child check-ups, blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings and other basic primary care services.

The International Affairs program is going to link up with the Carter Center, to train kids in world history, world current events and non-violent conflict resolution techniques, including exchange programs where kids will spend three to six months in a foreign country doing diplomatic work, while the kids from those countries come here.

The Vocational School is going to move its emphasis away from auto mechanics, now that there’s so much public transportation and so many bike and walking paths, to a new program called Re-Use Engineering, where the kids will learn about and invent new ways to repair or transform old throw-away stuff into attractive, safe furniture, building materials, and other home and office things.

The Business & Technology program is mainly an ethics curriculum, teaching kids about ethical and sustainable non-profit business practices, and about how to evaluate and manage the ethical implications of new computer and other technologies. The business kids work with the Three-Year Plan, adding to it, analyzing the way people’s skills are matched with other people’s needs, and doing their own small pieces of that project. The technology kids go out and repair and install computers in the elementary and middle schools, and in the new branch libraries popping up in empty houses every few blocks.

The Arts Program is the one that really got me excited. It’s more like a crafting guild, where the kids are learning to make pottery, wooden utensils. They do weaving, knitting and sewing, soap-making and candle-making, and, my favorite, mural-painting. Each class, each year, will be assigned an empty wall of some industrial building around town, to design and paint with huge, colorful murals. One of the first classes to do it made an Amazonian rain forest scene, with the canopy of the trees right up at the top of a four- story cinder block wall, and the trunks stretching right down to giant roots at the sidewalk level. It’s beautiful.

October 28, 2006 – We took the kids out for a walk today. It’s Saturday. We went to the opening of the new farmer’s market in the giant office building along Park Avenue, where there used to be a Dunkin Donuts. In the morning, the farmers from about an hour’s radius around drove their biodiesel trucks into the parking deck and started hauling the vegetables and fruits, and meats and cheeses, and breads and pies, and flowers, into the first floor of the building.

It’s a big, open space, with stalls along the outer walls and kids running around in the middle. The windows open really wide, so there was a fantastic gentle cross breeze, just starting to be a little cool for the fall. Mostly today they had apples, and pumpkins, and potatoes of all shapes and colors. And next year, all the produce from the local gardens will be brought here for selling or bartering with the new Plainfield Dollars – a barter currency meant to keep the wealth of the community circulating here, rather than jumping out into the bank accounts of the financial wizards on Wall Street.

On our way to the farmers’ market, we saw three different beat cops, and I recognized all of them! The police department started that about a month ago, getting the police out of their cruisers and walking around the neighborhoods on foot.

It reminded me of when I was little, when I really did think police were good guys, and I had forgotten that since I learned about police brutality and racial profiling and all the rest of that garbage. Turns out, most police are really decent guys, who haven’t had time, for a long time, to actually get to know the people they want to “serve and protect.”

Now they do.

We also stopped at one of the new coffeehouses on Somerset Street in North Plainfield. The owners, Lucia and Pablo (she’s from Italy, he’s from Colombia), have lined both side walls with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with donated books and toys from anyone who had a box in their attic full of stuff they didn’t want anymore. You can take what you like, leave what you’ve read or played with already, and there are four old squishy couches – in blue, green, a lighter green plaid, and a deep, dark plum – to sit in and drink coffee and read. There are also two or three scuffed old coffee tables, with chess boards and Parchesi boards tucked underneath, and a fantastic sound system piping in all kinds of eclectic music.
God, I love that place.

The kids each ate a biscotti and my husband and I had plain coffee.

November 8, 2006 – Thanks be to God, Allah, Yahweh and whoever! The Democrats re-took the House and the Senate yesterday! Linda Stender beat Mike Ferguson 61%-39%!
Democratic House: 384 Democrats*, 25 Republicans, and, miracle of miracles, 26 Greens! Democratic Senate: 61 Democrats, 37 Republicans, 2 Independents. Senator Bernie Sanders! Karl Rove had a heart attack. He’s in the hospital recovering, but plans to retire and take up golf when he goes home.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid made a joint statement that their first order of business, upon taking office in January, will be to commence an impeachment investigation of the actions undertaken by President Bush and Vice-President Cheney in prosecuting the so-called “war on terror.”

November 18, 2006 – Last night was Robert Edward’s lecture, about learning how to motivate political leaders to help people take care of each other in their communities.

Everybody is getting really excited about this stuff. For one thing, they can see things going on. The new high school construction is well underway, with good jobs building it. The whole top is going to be covered with solar panels, and there will be three windmills on it, so it won’t use any electricity from the grid for heating, cooling or lighting. There’s a great theater going up at the school, plus they’re renovating the Strand Theater, and production companies are forming to rehearse and put on plays, puppet shows and concerts by local writers, artists and musicians.

Last week, renovations were finished on the building that will house the last remaining homeless family in Plainfield, a family of immigrants from El Salvador – mother, father, mother’s sister, father’s mother, and three children. The dad helped build the house, when he wasn’t cleaning at his client’s businesses, and the mom’s sister did almost all the interior painting, when she wasn’t teaching bilingual pre-school. They were living in the basement of their church until the house was done, and 20 or so local families each pitched in a few old household supplies – kitchen gadgets, crockery and whatnot - to get them started.

November 23, 2006 – So, Robert Edwards mostly talked about where debate happens and decisions get made in cities and towns like Plainfield, and how regular people can get plugged in to get their issues heard and, more importantly, solved. Since his speech, there’s been one City Council meeting, and there were four groups of 15 to 25 people at it.

One group was parents and teachers of elementary school students, who said they were sick and tired of the standardized testing and rigid curricula and large classes. They had already gotten a giant grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates & Warren Buffett Foundation, including funding for more teachers, supplies and renovations of abandoned buildings to create new, smaller neighborhood schools using creativity-driven curricula designed around fostering each individual child’s development, not fitting all the kids into one mold. The parent-teacher group had already written a municipal ordinance exempting the Plainfield School District from No Child Left Behind. They spoke a little bit about the timeline for the transition, gave copies to the council members and sat down. The council said they’d read it and vote on it within 14 days.

The second group was family members of victims of gang and domestic violence. They spoke about the grief when the victim was killed, and the terrible problems coping with new medical costs for victims injured and paralyzed by shootings and beatings. They told the council they’d already had a meeting with six gang leaders, leaders of People’s Organization for Progress, and the head of the new police foot patrol program.

Two of the gang leaders had come to the meeting with the group. They said about a third of their members were working on the new high school building, and in their time off, they were working to fix up the houses they’d been given, mortgage and rent-free, for them and their families to live in.
The rest of the gang members were sort of confused about what to do. Some of them spent a lot of time hanging out with the high school kids, painting the murals. A bunch of them were pitching in to dig the community gardens. And the rest were basically sitting on their stoops all day, talking to each other and listening to music.

The group as a whole wanted a commitment from the city council to explore ways of connecting victims of violent crimes, and their families, back to the community, and ways to help them get the medical care and psychological counseling they need.

The third group was a bunch of mothers with children. They said they were fed up with cooking meals for each individual family every night in every kitchen, and that they had found a vacant restaurant on 4th Street, owned by the city because of some kind of lien or eminent domain situation. They had already raised money from other neighborhood women to repair the stove, sinks, and refrigerator, pay for electricity to get the kitchen functioning again, and paint and fix up the chairs and tables.
They had already worked out a tentative schedule for group cooking fiestas.
They asked the council to sell them the building and land for a dollar.

The council had already heard about this project through the grapevine, and after a quick huddle, they voted unanimously to sell the building, for one dollar, to the Plainfield Mothers’ Cooking Cooperative.

The last group to speak up was made up of elderly men. The just wanted to announce that they had been involved in some of the most important events of the 20th Century – the Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement and a few other things, and that, at the request of their grandchildren, they would be offering weekly classes and discussions to talk about what those experiences meant to them, what they’d learned, and so forth, in the community room at the YMCA across from City Hall.

It was a very interesting meeting.

December 6, 2006 – It snowed about four inches last night, and it looks magical outside. All the snow is still white and fresh, because there are no cars and plows scraping up the streets. Some people actually cross-country skied along the road to work, but most people shoveled their walks and then walked to get where they were going.

December 17, 2006 – A couple of nights ago, the lecture speaker was Stephen St. Hilaire, from the U.N. Association of New Jersey. Another good speech. He talked about the intersection of poverty and law, in terms of how state, federal and international laws protect workers from exploitation and attempt to provide all people with the means to meet their basic needs. There’s a new pro bono legal aid office opening in Plainfield to help people bring these types of suits – I’m going to volunteer my paralegal skills there once a week to help out the lawyers who have been linked up with that work through the big database.

But the thing that got my attention most was the bit about the economic contribution of women who raise children. I am one of those! Mr. St. Hilaire said that many cross-cultural studies have assigned a dollar value to the work of raising children in a home, commensurate with the cost of placing children in child care centers.
He said a main focus of the United Nations for 2007 is to draft and begin getting nations to adopt a Convention for the Financial Compensation of Parental Caregivers, and that the United States Congress, now that it’s in Democratic hands, is poised to adopt the convention. If passed, it would require the U.S. government to pay people who care for children, whether it’s their own kids in their own home, or other people’s children in a home or school setting, a Caring Stipend of $30,000 per year for the first child, or one half the median income for any given nation, plus $7,000 per year for each additional child.

St. Hilaire also referred to the studies about the connection between poverty and motherhood, basically saying that the Caring Stipend program, in combination with full funding of microlending programs, could lift up to 70% of the people living poverty worldwide, out of poverty.

It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Another interesting world event: the Iranian Oil Bourse opened last week, including producers from Iraq (which is peaceful, finally, after working out a three-part federation government with proportional sharing of oil revenues), Venezuela, Russia, Nigeria and a few other countries.

It’s being very well-managed - traded in petroeuros rather than petrodollars - to drive world oil prices up just fast enough to stimulate production of solar panels, wind farms, biodiesel, sustainable local and regional economic development (especially in the agricultural sector) and public transportation, and just slow enough to stave off global recession.

January 1, 2007 – Happy New Year! Work at the community newspaper’s been going well. We put out one issue per week, of 20 to 26 pages. There are no advertisements; the whole thing is funded by subscriptions because the information is so useful, and because we run good fiction and poetry pieces every week too. There is a huge community events section, though, which is kind of like ads, except nobody has to pay for them and all the events are being run by locally owned non-profits.

January 19, 2007 – First community pizza party tonight at the church. Should be a good time. I’m bringing all our board games, just in case people want to stick around and play afterward.

February 2, 2007 – Bitter, bitter cold. I went to visit some of the garden plots while they winter over. It should be neat, uncovering them in the spring and loosening the soil and sifting in the compost. I have to think about things like that to get through the icy cold winters.

February 17, 2007 – Last night’s lecture was Robert Spiegel from the Edison Wetlands Association talking about Environmental Justice. He picked out three industrial sites – giant buildings along the railroad tracks with yards full of junk and soil full of toxic sludge –and talked about the EPA funding to clean them up, and how we’re going to do that.

Part of his speech was a slide show of another site that’s already under construction. First, there was a picture of the building – a full city block of a four-story brick structure, with the windows all smashed out and violent graffiti all over the place. (I like some graffiti: the artistic, colorful, political kind. But this was just mean messages in almost illegible writing.) The second slide showed the yard, with mounds of rusted metal parts, and there was a major oil spill next to the parking lot.

The third slide was of the EPA trucks coming in to dig out the contaminated soil and replace it with clean soil – not topsoil, just fill dirt.

The next slide was the architect’s schematics of what was coming next: a co-housing development, using, of all things, reclaimed bricks and glass from the original structure to rebuild three sets of six row houses each, plus a community building on the fourth side of a grassy courtyard, with a play structure made out of recycled plastic in the middle. Around the outside of the housing structures were, predictably, a couple dozen small garden plots, surrounded by young to middle-aged oak trees lining the sidewalks on all four sides of the block.

Then there were a bunch of slides of the demolition – done by hand over about three weeks, by about fifty volunteers who had already signed on to live in the new houses. All the bricks were carefully stacked up in a staging area. All the good wood was stacked up nearby, and anything else that was useable from the factory furnishings.

Then there were a few slides of the foundation being dug, and the delivery of the solar panels and solar hot water heaters and biodiesel furnaces and composting toilets and water reclamation barrels and all the rest of the stuff. That’s where it stands right now; they’re starting to frame up the houses and will plant some of the trees in the spring.

Mr. Spiegel said one of the other sites going to be made into a park. Another one, with really large windows and brickwork in good condition, is going to become a block of studio apartments with an indoor public swimming pool in part of the building. The third site is either going to be a nursery for growing trees, or an outdoor amphitheater.

March 2, 2006 - There was another terrorist attack, on U.S. soil. Early this morning, suicide bombers took out all the car and rail bridges between Newark and New York City. No nuclear bombs, no chemical weapons, no biological attacks, and the only people killed, amazingly, were the bombers themselves, because they timed the bombs to go off at about 2:30 a.m., and they had accomplices dressed as road crews set up road blocks on both sides of each bridge to stop traffic before they blew up the bridges.

Osama bin Laden took responsibility very, very quickly, through a video released not only to Al Jazeera, but also to NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, CNN and C-SPAN. All six networks have fired their coiffed talking heads and “military experts” in the last few months, and replaced them with actual foreign policy scholars and grassroots democracy activists from America and around the world.

Bin Laden said the attacks were designed to cripple the American “economic juggernaut” without causing loss of human life. He said American actions in other countries have regularly crippled their local and regional economies, and that he hoped, by Al Qaeda’s non-lethal actions, to help American citizens understand the consequences of their government’s actions and take responsibility for changing the course of U.S. foreign policy.

March 15, 2006 – I can’t make it to the lecture tomorrow; I’ve got the flu and feel wretched. But Leigh Davis sent me a copy of her speech. It looks pretty good. She’s talking about international organizations, like Non-Violent Peaceforce, that go into war-torn countries to work alongside human rights activists, and the Carter Center, that trains mediators to do high-level conflict resolution.

But mostly, she’s talking about local groups, like Union County Peace Council, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War and New Jersey Peace Action, and how their membership and budgets and visibility have grown so much these past few years. It’s commonplace to see local vigils in support of the Israeli Peace Force and their Palestinian and Lebanese counterparts, who are occupying white tents in the demilitarized zones along the borders, fed by the women of all three states, and protected by only their lack of any weapons and their commitment to working together to share the water and other resources of the region, and emphasize the commonalities in their religious beliefs.

It’s even more common to find members of these groups on the boards of municipal civic organizations, and on town councils, zoning and planning boards and boards of education. They are bringing their considerable understanding of global politics, history and human behavior to bear on local decisions, with very good results, for the most part. Other towns are, like Plainfield, transforming themselves into more livable places, and weaning themselves from fossil fuels.

And the public response to the most recent attack, where they blew up the bridges, shows what a HUGE change has happened since 9/11. This time, public officials stated clearly that there were reasons for why our bridges were attacked – historical reasons that personally motivated the suicide bombers. People are trying to understand; they are taking their time and thinking things over; they not immediately reaching for revenge. Many are openly questioning U.S. military bases in the Middle East, Asia and South America, and several legislators are preparing bills to cut funding for these bases and bring the troops home.

It’s different in other ways too. People are starting to cope with the loss of the bridges by telecommuting, and changing jobs to work closer to home. The giant financial center of Wall Street is getting less and less important as the days pass and international business becomes more about trading goods and services we have, for the ones that we don’t, and less about generating fortunes for a handful of families.

March 20, 2007 – Feeling much better. People have told me Leigh’s speech was great, and that there were about 250 people there. Most of them stayed afterward to ask her questions and find out more about getting involved.

The seeds are being planted in little trays, filled with soil from wherever they are going to be planted in six weeks. They’re sitting in warm, sunny windows of apartments and houses all over the city, getting ready to sprout.

In Washington D.C., the Democratic Congress has impeached President Bush and Vice-President Cheney; both are going into exile. Nancy Pelosi will be sworn in tomorrow as the new President until the election in 2008.

Besides the impeachment, the House of Representatives has also all but finished a workable national health care plan, to take the burden off of workers and business owners, finally, and put it where it belongs, as the responsibility of the whole society. It will be funded by a new 85% tax on corporate profits, aided by a new, simpler documentation and oversight system that will make it possible for the IRS accountants to keep the money from going offshore.

The Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are totally on board: they don’t have to worry about rising health care costs screwing with their financial projections anymore, and they’re getting a healthier, happier workforce in exchange.
Plus, Congress has made a good start to a guaranteed pension package, expanding Social Security to keep everyone over 65 getting between 100 and 110% of the living wage level, but no higher than that. So the companies aren’t worried about bankrupting themselves to pay for pensions, and the shareholders aren’t worried about making huge profits to fund their retirements. No one cares about profits anymore, except as a source of tax revenue to get churned back into social program budgets every year. Who knows? Workers may be more motivate and more productive than ever, with those kinds of incentives.

April 4, 2007 – Went to an outdoor public movie screening last night. They put a film projector so it would beam Honeydripper, the new John Sayles film, onto the side of a building off of Madison Avenue. Good film.

April 21, 2007 – Steve Hatcher and Jeff Hitchcock from People’s Organization for Progress spoke last night. There wasn’t much to say about police brutality and gang violence. The brutality and racial profiling stopped within a few months of the beat cop program, and the gangs pretty much disbanded when the men in them found they could earn decent livings and tremendous community respect through something other than fear.

They built the new high school and renovated the old one; both projects were finished in late January. Then a bunch of them went back to school themselves, so they could teach in the schools and get ready for other leadership positions. They can support themselves and their families; they don’t need the gangs, or the pain-relieving drugs, or the drug-dealing income anymore.

So mostly Steve and Jeff talked about their work improving the local affordable housing stock, which is well under way, and the national movement to end the death penalty. The New Jersey State Legislature banned capital punishment on April 17, after years of hard work by New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and many other groups. There’s a case in the Supreme Court, slated for oral arguments next week, to declare the federal death penalty “cruel and unusual punishment” outlawed by the Constitution.

May 18, 207 – And the last lecture is tonight: Deborah Jacobs of the ACLU.

She’ll be talking about how communities have responded to the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, torture of detainees in U.S.-run prisons, the suspension of habeus corpus for prisoners designated “enemy combatants” and other civil liberties violations and expansions of executive power enacted by former President Bush.
At the beginning, town councils didn’t have much help. They had to pass municipal ordinances forcing their local police forces to comply with extra protections for civil liberties when asked to participate in federal terrorism investigations.
But when she took office back in March, President Pelosi immediately rescinded the most abusive orders. She and Congress banned torture, again, but with no contradictory signing statements, and she ordered the Justice Department to begin prosecuting those who ordered and carried out torture during the previous Administration.

She placed NSA surveillance and all other search warrants back under the supervision of Congress and the courts, and disbanded the Total Information Awareness program, permitting data collection only on individuals who the government had hard evidence to support allegations of criminal activity.

President Pelosi also ordered that all prisoners in U.S.-run prisons, including those in the no-longer-black sites in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, be immediately released, or properly charged and brought to the U.S. Penitentiary in Hazleton, West Virginia, with free access given to their attorneys, family members, the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Commission on Human Rights. So probably that’s some of what Ms. Jacobs will be talking about during her speech.

June 22, 2007 – We had the second pizza party last week. It was raining, but everybody went outside to run around in the rain after they ate their pizza, and splashed in the puddles, and looked at the gardens. The peas and beans and tomato plants are already getting big, the squash leaves are huge, and the plots are totally weeded all the time, because anyone who goes by and sees a weed stops to pull it out.

August 5, 2007 – Today is the Fourth Annual World Peace and Friendship Fair in Cranford. One year ago today, I finished writing this journal entry. I’ll be reading again soon, and sitting at the table under the tent, passing out information for the Plainfield Justice Center, opening next month in the building next door to the church, and the new lecture series, and lots of other things. Lots to do. More later.

*Originally, I wrote 410 Democrats - thanks to an alert reader for the correction. - KW