Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What Now?

Trying to give voice to just how bad things are for our (attempt at) democracy was/is the impulse behind a lot of blogs. Many of these blogs are, as often noted, part of a movement to get questions asked that aren't otherwise being asked by the mainstream media.

The clamoring over the lies, and calling them lies, is now, thankfully, nothing new. The irresponsibility of much of the media is also now a given. War for profit, institionalized violence for which individual soldiers are being held responsible, are all a part of daily realities. After numbing out under the crushing weight of the Bush re-election, people are starting to regroup and say, "what now?"

Bill Moyer's Speech at Conference Assails Right Wing shows how angry he is at the strong arming of the media by those in government and the complicity of much of the media by not asking questions that matter. Angry enough he said, perhaps, to get him out of the "rocking chair" and back behind the "anchor chair."

Molly Ivin's article, "They Lied to Us"
once again outlines how the government leadership really did lie. But she talks about asking a question, "Since I believe one of our greatest strengths as Americans is shrewd practicality, I thought it was time we moved past the now unhelpful, 'How did we get into his mess?' to the more utilitarian, 'What the hell do we do now?'" But still she talks about how we got into the mess without addressing the "what now."

I just saw Seymour Hersh speak in early May, here on campus. The last question in the question/answer session, was basically, "What do we do now? We know it's bad, but what do we do? How do we keep on keeping on?" Hersh's response was more or less, just keep moving. At the conference Moyer's addressed on Media Reform, people also left mad and energized, but feeling they were without a plan. It appears people are looking for direction, but for someone else to give it to them.

Howard Zinn, not just lamenting the troubles of today, but encouraging change states in his address "Against Discouragement" at Spelman College:
I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam -- bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers -- it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.

The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Remember Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Illych." A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.

My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.

There is a yearning for change, but no one seems to know exactly what to do next. Are we all waiting for that "charismatic leader" to follow? Who would "we" all agree to follow anyway? Would it matter as long as s/he had that charismatic magic of appearing to have all the answers? And by the way, who are "we"?

If it's democracy we are looking for, how does following "the one" help us really achieve that end? Can we not use our own minds to figure out what we are capable of doing individually and find links there to working cooperatively and then collectively?

The hand wringing is with good reason. There are serious issues ahead to attend.

However, people are doing little things all over, and as Zinn said those little things add up. Given the current crises, it seems something big is the only answer, and that is what we are lacking, Something Big. It seems like everything's been tried, or at least that's how some jaded activists feel and lend as their interpretation of their experiences. But I disagree. There's a lot to do, and people are doing them, as a reminder...

1. Demanding an Exit Strategy from Iraq. Local Demonstrations, anyone? or How about trekking to DC in September? This is big. Don't forget that Military families are organized against this war, actively speaking out as are many soldiers. This is an historical break.

2. Staying on the Media dereliction. After the conferences critical of the media in the past month, I noticed the News Hour with Jim Lehrer had an actual alternative media representative on as a voice for discussing recent Uzbekistan murders. I'd never seen that before. An incremental change, but change nonetheless.

3. Single issues, like gay marriage, healthcare, social security, are getting disparate groups involved in the political process and giving more opportunities to get questions asked in a way that is framed beyond the Republican/Democrat tiny way of thinking. I, for one, plan to get certain people t-shirts for Christmas that say "Jesus was a Socialist"-- I can't wait for following discussion.

There are just a few things going on. I don't think sitting behind our computers writing on blogs will be enough, but it is one of those little things that can add up. The bottom line is people are doing things; but, of course, we should challenge ourselves to get more creative, make more connections, and get collective with our individual practices.

I don't think we need a charismatic leader. I think that may be exactly what we don't need. We need grassroots organizing, everyday people getting involved. This way we'll stop looking to others to tell us what to do and start figuring out the answer to that question for ourselves and with our own networks.

So, what now? Now that you know what I've been thinking, what do you think? Do we dare look to ourselves for answers to problems? If no, why not?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Star Wars or USA 2005?

Caution: This post contains Revenge of the Sith spoilers.
I'm not a big enough fan of Star Wars and George Lucas to have any idea what his political leanings and hawk/dove status are, but there were many things in the new Star Wars movie which may have been hints (or may have just been products of my overactive imagination - what do you think?). Certainly there was much that made ME think of our world today. Quotes aren't exact, I'm sure, but are as close as I can remember.
1) Right before his duel with Obi-Wan, Anakin/Darth Vader says "You are either with us or against us" leaving no room for disagreement or gray area, compromise or creative thought. Sound familiar?
2) Conversation between Obi-Wan and another Jedi (Mace Windu?) about Anakin's apparent conversion to the dark side of the force: "When you see only in absolutes, you have joined the side of the Sith."
3) Senator Padme Amidala to Senator Organa, just after Chancellor Palpatine announces to the Senate that he is elevating himself to emperor and changing the republic to an empire: "So this is how democracy falls: with thunderous applause." The Senators, whose jobs were being eliminated, were among Palpatine's most vocal supporters.
4) One particularly striking line ("I have brought peace and justice") was spoken twice: first by Darth Sidius/Palpatine to Anakin/Darth Vader, and later by Anakin to Padme as he rationalized the murders - including those of children - which he had just committed. Instead of bringing peace and justice, however, what in fact had happened was takeover and mass murder. The war, which had been started by Palpatine himself, was ended because he, Darth Vader, and their clone troups had physically and brutally eliminated all dissent.
5) The showdown between Yoda and the new emperor took place in the deserted (and now presumably unneeded) Senate rotunda.
6) When asked by Padme whether he could really turn against Obi-Wan, Anakin responds that Obi-Wan and the other Jedi betrayed the Chancellor - the head of the republic - and that "My loyalty stays with the Republic". Immediately afterward, Anakin shows that his loyalty is not to the republic at all, because he doesn't bat an eye when his mentor dismantles the republic in order to name himself emperor.
7) Despite his claims that he was joining the Sith in order to save Padme, the second she disagreed with him Anakin began to use his power to choke the life out of her. This part reminded me of this administration's approach to women's rights to their bodies (professing to value life and to wish to protect women even as they take steps which endanger lives).
So - sci-fi fun, or political statement?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Musical Batons

Something to post for fun? Sure, I'll play (after some technical difficulties with Mozilla). Brayden passed on this musical baton, which I accept in the spirit of TGIF.

Total volume of music on my computer: Right now, 15.82GB. Some CD's still aren't in the library, but my most precious albums are of course. Like Tina, I'm kind of surprised I have more than the AZ boys. In all fairness, some of this music is the likes of Tom Waits and The Bottle Rockets. These are not mine, but T and I share iTunes.

Last CD I bought: Aimee Mann, The Forgotten Arm (a couple weeks after T gave me Kathleen Edwards, Back to Me: so awesome it's worth mentioning here).The Forgotten Arm is a story. Classic Aimee.

Song playing right now: "You've Had It With You," Paul Westerberg (iTunes shuffle selection)

Five Songs I Listen to A Lot, Or That Mean A Lot To Me: This is going to be a mix of most listened to music and my therapy.

1. "Rowing Song," Patty Griffin, Impossible Dreamers. We just saw her in St. Louis in April at The Pageant--an amazing venue--at the opening show of her current tour. She's so tiny and has this huge voice. I want to be Patty's friend. We'd have great conversations.sigh.

2. "Good Things," Kathleen Edwards, Back To Me.

3. "We are Nowhere and it's Now," Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake It's Morning. Because we are nowhere and it's now, sometimes.

4. "Bring the Funk," Ben Harper, Diamonds on the Inside. Because Ben Harper is hot, and because sometimes we need to get out from the desk and dance.

5. "If You Knew," Neko Case, The Tigers Have Spoken. Neko is coming to Champaign in June and we're definitely going!

Five People to whom I'm passing the baton:


All from Prairie.

Monday, May 16, 2005

just a little girl

Yesterday I went to the McDonald's playland with my son; I've been remembering a little girl (approximately 4 years old?) ever since. She was running around, jumping and climbing and moving very quickly and very agilely. As she did so, she chanted, "You'll never catch me!" After a few minutes of this another child approached and, apparently thinking that the other child was in fact trying to catch her, the little girl changed her tune to "No, I'm just a little girl! I'm just a little girl!"
I've been trying to imagine the circumstances under which that phrase became engrained in her mind. Was it when a well-meaning parent tried to explain to a bigger child that s/he had to be gentle with littler children? Was it because someone influential in her life truly believes - and says to her - that there are certain things that, as a little girl, she can't or shouldn't do?
I've also been wondering what exactly that phrase means to the little girl (and to millions of other little girls), and how that meaning will change as she grows up. Will it change to "I can't do math - I'm a girl" or to "I can't run or throw right - I'm a girl" or "Take care of me please - I'm just a girl" or even "When my boyfriend/husband/significant other hits me, what can I do? I'm just a girl"? Is she learning not only to doubt her own abilities but also to use femininity as a way to get out of doing things that she actually can do?

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Horror Story Since its Friday 13th

When I sit at my desk I have my legs wrapped around like a pretzel in my chair, usually leaning on one side. This is not good for my back, but I do it unconsciously, and only notice when my leg falls asleep or my back starts hurting. I’m thinking about this a lot since I’ve been at my desk writing and revising and rewriting. I’m trying to break the habit.

But, when I took my area exams, I had one week to answer two questions, each requiring about 15 page answers (of course I went over, just a smidge). I was writing my ass off, in another zone, for the entire week. So by the end of the week when I handed in my exams, I noticed I’d really hurt myself. I mean the pain went from the back of my left thigh up through to my lower left back continuing up through to my right shoulder blade. It was the most painful back problem I’ve ever had.

So I went to get a massage the next day. The horror begins. This was only my second professional massage in my life, so I was excited. I went to a place on campus with an advertisement out in front (get a recommendation first!!). She seemed nice enough. So I went into the room where the massage was to take place, undressed and got under the sheet. Everything normal so far, right? I thought so.

Then she came in and was really chatty. First of all, I was exhausted. Second, I’m not usually that talkative and when I’m getting a massage I’d like to just relax, not have to make conversation. I needed to be healed for godsake; I was in serious pain. So I tell her about the pain and my exams, hoping she'd get the hint I was exhausted. In fact I think I said I was exhausted. She then asked what program I was in, (and this is where it all started I realize looking back) and of course I answer sociology.

I think she mistook me for a psychologist and thought she might get some free therapy while she tried to work out my kinks. A half hour goes by (I was paying for) and she had told me about all three of her unhappy marriages! Trying to be a generally nice person I attempted to console her, also praying she'd stop. I could see she was snowballing.

Then, she proceeded to tell me how horrible of a mother she has been for her daughter and starts CRYING!! I was laying there face up, under a sheet, as she did some funky thing with my leg. She had to stop the massage, go outside the room, leaving the door open, while I laid under the sheet, naked and completely vulnerable! I mean I’m not a prude, but c’mon.

Finally, after a few minutes, she came back with tissues and finishes her story. By then, I no longer felt like being nice. I was pissed. I went to be treated for some serious pain, not give some free therapy. However, I was still naked under the sheet. So, she had me trapped. She finished her story, rather than finish my massage. Left, this time closing the door.

I dressed quickly. Paid for the services not rendered, and left no tip. I hadn't imagined such drama could happen during a massage. I’d also never realized being confused with a psychologist could have such dire consequences.
*I had to update the title to make clear this didn't happen on a Friday the 13th.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Women's Reproductive Healthcare, or "Stay Away from Me Doctor!"

This article,Procedure On Women In Labor Adds Risk, on the often needless procedure of episiotimies, is a little dated; however, it is still important to raise the issue of women and reproductive healthcare. I know THE DOCTOR told a lady I know very well, every time she had a kid (and she had five), she had to have an episiotomy. He told her,"It will be better in the long run," when she specifically asked him not to do an episiotomy (after she was experienced at the whole child birth thing). He did this even though she told him that was the hardest part of recovering from child birth. "It's better than tearing," he said. She's going to be a nurse now, so she'll get her revenge on THE DOCTOR uninformed on women's reproductive healthcare, and hopefully help out some other women.

But another significant and irreversible problem with the reproductive healthcare women receive is, "if there is a problem, solve it with a hysterectomy." Take it all out! It is so overprescribed for women with a very hard recovery since it is major, invasive surgery. And, again, irreversible. There are cheaper, less invasive, ways to deal with many of the problems women have, rather than just taking it all out. I know another very strong woman who was prescribed by her DOCTOR to have a hysterectomy. She said "no," and I'm going to get a second opinion. She was in her middle 30s, and still has her uterus.

*I have had good experiences with the women's health doctors at McKinley.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Frank Rich: Conservatives Heart South Park

Frank Rich had a piece in the NYTimes today that discusses the Terri Schiavo South Park episode I previously commented about. If you want to check it out, here it is. He also talks about censorship. Its a great article, I would write more, but I should be writing a paper...