Thursday, March 31, 2005

It's finally over

Teri Schiavo is officially dead. Ms. Schiavo was pronounced dead in Pinellas Park, Florida at 9:05 am, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed per court order.

While Terri is hopefully gone to a better place, the rest of us will be subjected to the protracted battles that will ensue after her death, for just as in her last years of a diminished life, Schiavo will be used as a symbol to further political agendas.

Music is evocative for me and I happened to have Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend playing when I read this article, which by the way is very well-written by Jim Loney. The last track on the disc is "Nothing Lasts". If not familiar with Sweet's song, the lyrics will mean nothing, but for me, it's a fitting song to put Ms. Schiavo to rest with.

Nothing Lasts

If one could
Stop time, or make it up
If two could realize the best of luck
If I could locate a god above
And you only wanted to be loved
Then I'd try to hang on to the past
But you know that nothing, oh no nothing lasts
Nothing lasts .....
It's time toMove on, let the past go
I waited for you here, but you never showed
Although I asked you to let me know
I only felt a cold wind blow
While I tried to hang on to the past
But you know that nothing, oh no nothing lasts
Nothing's in your way
Now you can stand right up and run
Wouldn't even change things
If you took back what you've done
I have tried to hang on to the past
But I couldn't keep my grasp, cause nothing lasts
Nothing lasts
Nothing lasts

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

When singers pick up the pen

I have a handful of blogs that I go to semi-regularly that are maintained by musicians. One of my regular stops is the site of Jose Ayerve, the multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, record label magnate and producer, as well as blogger.

While Jose’s many projects with his band Spouse, side project Nuclear Waste Management Project, and running his own record label, Pigeon Records obviously consumes most of his waking hours, he still manages to pen (old-school term) some articulate words about music, politics and life.

From regular visits to Jose’s website and blog, I’ve found another musician who also has a blog worth checking out. Mark Schwaber, from the band Lo Fine, who by-the-way also plays in NWMP with Jose, is a Easthampton, Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter who has some interesting takes on a variety of topic. Recently, he posted something about the humane treatment of animals, namely dogs, that struck a chord (oh I’m so cute with my wordplay, aren’t I?) with me and I’m sure will with anyone who loves animals. While Schwaber has some harsh words for those who would mistreat an innocent dog, I’m sure all of us have felt similar emotions when we’ve seen or received word of the mistreatment of a defenseless dog, or any animal for that matter.

Getting back to Ayerve, he’s readying for an upcoming six week tour with Spouse, which will have this must-see band beginning here in the east and working their way westward to Chicago, Des Moines, St. Louis, and down south to Memphis, before heading back up the eastern seaboard. Check out their tour dates and if they play near you (their worth a drive folks!), then turn off the TV and get out ‘da house and shake ‘yer booty to the soothing sounds of Spouse. If my endorsement isn’t enough to entice you to get up off the couch, then maybe Carter Little will help you shake off that winter lethargy. Select dates on the tour finds this Nashville-based singer-songwriter opening Spouse shows with his own unique brand of roots-inflected Americana.

If you can’t make it to a show, then take a moment, check out Ayerve’s site, pick up a t-shirt, scarf and one of Spouse’s (or other Pigeon) releases. Your life will be forever changed and your wardrobe will be dramatically improved.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Reality check on writing

“If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.” You’ve probably heard others say that in relation to a variety of subjects. I’m thinking of the phrase at this moment in relation to the reality of writing and more importantly, publishing my book, When Towns Had Teams.

Believe it or not, the latter is probably going to be the more difficult part. The writing of late has been progressing fairly smoothly and I’m currently done with five of my 11 proposed chapters, with the sixth one nearly completed.

I met with a publisher this afternoon. While the meeting went well, I came home discouraged and filled with doubts about the sanity of my original intention of writing this book on town team baseball.

Like I said, the meeting went well; the editor wanted to know more about my book that I had sent a proposal to him about. The publisher was non-committal about anything other than learning more about my project and ideas for the book. While this is basically what I knew was going to happen, I think I secretly harbored some illusion that somehow, the publisher might be so impressed with my knowledge about the arcane details of my subject, the wonderful vintage photos I've obtained and my enthusiasm for the project, that he was going to circumvent the process.

Basically, when I left his office mid-afternoon, I realized that once my manuscript is finished (probably the end of May), I will send it to him to read. At that point, I may not hear back for six to eight weeks. At that point, if the book is one he feels worthy of publication by his small press (they publish 5 or 6 titles per year), then we might begin talking contract. There may be some suggestions and a need to rewrite or make some changes. If I agree with the terms of the contract and am ok with letting someone else change something I’ve lived with for almost a year at that point, then I will be placed in a queue for publication and once the changes are made, maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a book ready for release in the spring of 2006. Yes, you heard me right; 2006! Granted, since this is a small press, the date could be pushed back to summer or even later.

Needless to say, I’m feeling a bit crushed tonight. Crushed, but not beaten. At this point, I can’t think much further out than the prospect of completing my manuscript. At that point, I’m going to have to make a decision if I’m going to continue down the traditional route of publication, or am I going to think seriously about self-publishing? For any musicians out there, self-publishing is sort of like releasing your recording on your own label. There are pros and cons to both. Having a contract with a major label (traditional publisher for a book) means they own the product and while they are marketing it, you lose creative control. Granted, they are doing the marketing, which technically frees you up to record a new product, tour (begin writing a new book/articles), there’s no guarantee they’ll get behind it like you would, schlepping it out of the trunk of your car or selling it at a table during and after gigs.

Yes indeed, if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it, wouldn’t they?

When prayer fails

Dr. James Benjamin over at The Left End of the Dial has given us a great "snapshot" of what life's been like in Pinellas Park, Florida of late. No one who lives there, goes to school there, has a business in the area, or has family members in the hospice, has been spared from the disruption caused by the crusaders calling themselves Xians.

With the rabid rabble of the radical right bringing their right-to-life jihad to the doorstep of Ms. Schiavo's hospice, a quiet neighborhood has been turned into a warzone. This debacle has turned a serene environment where many come for their last days on this earth and where loved one's spend quiet moments with their terminally ill family, into a place where people are taunted, sworn at and generally forced to endure added stress at an already difficult juncture in their lives.

People can say all they want about God and how religion has transformed their lives, but the past few weeks in Florida has convinced me that most of what passes for religion is just whitewashed ugliness.

My heart goes out to Michael Schiavo, Terri's parents, the Schindlers and any other families that are going through a similar ordeal. I hope that if I'm ever faced with something similar, I won't have to endure the farce that these poor folks had visited on them by a bunch of zealots and crazies.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter morning musings, from the post-Xian side

Happy Easter:

Easter greetings from one who is celebrating the high holy day with very little fanfare, other than a nod to the Christian calendar’s high ranking of the day.

As one who considers himself post-Christian (or Xian), I view the day with mixed emotions. Part of me dismisses all Xian celebrations with disdain and a measure of irony. Part of me (the part who at one time considered himself a believer) has a remembrance of what the day meant at one time and even has some fondness for the narrative of the resurrection story.

As someone who studies the culture and has closely followed the latest follies of self-professed Xians of the radical right (my designation) regarding Terri Schiavo, I had a few thoughts on Easter Sunday.

Last evening, my wife and I were making our three hour drive home, after watching two baseball games in Norton, Massachusetts, involving our son's college team. We were listening to Boston’s WBZ (AM-1030) and a Saturday evening program hosted by Pat Desmarais.

Desmarais, who self-identifies as a Republican, proved that thoughtful dialogue on the radio and his particular party affiliation are not mutually exclusive. It is rare in this age of hyperbolic demagoguery to find someone of his political stripe, who is able to look at an issue and not revert to knee-jerk soundbites and party talking points.

His observations about the Schiavo case were as thoughtful and nuanced as I’ve heard on the matter. I wish I could say the same about some of the moronic callers he so patiently entertained during his two-hour program. Many of them were frightening examples of the lack of critical thinking skills rampant in America. Several recited points that they obviously had imbibed from dubious sources named Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Hannity, such as Michael Schiavo’s living arrangements with another woman, his alleged abuse of Ms. Schiavo and other impertinent points making the rounds on the lunatic fringes of the right.

Parting shots:

-Overheard from Daniel Schorr in a commentary he gave on NPR

"The case is full of great ironies. A large part of Terri's hospice costs are paid by Medicaid, a program that the administration and conservatives in Congress would sharply reduce. Some of her other expenses have been covered by the million-dollar proceeds of a malpractice suit - the kind of suit that President Bush has fought to scale back."

-Thank God for Boondocks

From Sojourners Magazine and writer Danny Duncan Collum, about Aaron McGruder’s daily cartoon.

Collum wrote:

"In a world gone mad, we need artists to remind us that we’re not the ones who are crazy. So I’m beginning an irregular series of Cultural Survival Tips for the Age of Bush. Here’s tip #1: The Boondocks, the daily comic strip by the young African-American writer/artist Aaron McGruder."

He goes on to write:

"Boondocks views the world through the eyes of a group of black kids in a predominantly white suburb (the "boondocks" of the title). The two main characters, Huey and his brother Riley, were moved from the South Side of Chicago out to the boonies to live with their grandfather.

The strip is going on its sixth year now, and the kids haven’t aged. They are like the Peanuts kids. Except that the Peanuts kids lived (then and now) in a timeless bubble of childhood, mostly safe from the outside world.

Boondocks reflects the fact that, in the 21st century, the bubble has evaporated. These kids are exposed to the big, chaotic, and confusing world of the mass media, and left mostly on their own to make sense of it. This gives McGruder a perfect voice for his profound and perpetual outrage at the media lies and pop-cultural idiocy that fill the air of our daily lives, and the machinations of corporate greed that the media circus conceals."

If you’ve never seen it, check it out.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Witnessing some real journalism

It's no secret that I'm no fan of much of what passes as mainstream journalism. I’m on record numerous times as being critical of the mainstream media. Much of my criticism stems from the reluctance of many journalists and reporters to get at the core of issues and ask tough questions, particularly of politicians. Too often, a journalist, for whatever reason, refuses to force the interviewee to actually answer the questions being posed about a particular issue.

This morning, Carol Costello, CNN’s Daybreak early morning anchor, really put the heat on Patrick Mahoney, the Director of the Christian Defense Coalition regarding the Terri Schiavo case. While I’m no fan of CNN, I often watch the morning show with Costello several times per week, as she is certainly more pleasant to look at and less grating than the morning hacks at our local affiliates. She's also on in the early AM when I get up for my first cup of coffee and there isn't much else on other than infomercials and other blather.

I don’t consider Costello a hard-hitting investigative journalist—she’s there to provide a pleasant face in the morning, a bit of humor and to basically read the stories to her audience, although, she did get her start as an investigative reporter, prior to her CNN gig. I don’t say this to denigrate Costello, just to indicate that I know the score concerning corporate media. From time to time, I’ve seen Costello revert to her journalistic roots and actually conduct a legitimate interview with a guest. At those times, I think she's at her best and would like to see her bosses give her more opportunities to practice real journalism. This morning, Costello ratcheted it up several notches in my estimation, with one of the best segments on the Schiavo case I’ve seen and her willingness to stand her ground and ask some tough questions of one of the instigators of the circus taking place outside of Schiavo’s hospice room in Pinellas Park, Florida.

Several times during this morning’s interview segment, Costello’s voice displayed her disgust with some of Mahoney’s right-wing rhetoric. During the interview, Costello is heard several times saying, “Come on….”, as she challenged some point, refusing to allow Mahoney to blow his sanctimonious smoke up her viewer’s asses. She even said on one occasion, “I have a great deal of respect for my audience, so I’m not going to let you insult their intelligence.”

This is the type of scrutiny that the media needs to focus on the radical right in this situation and the other ones that are sure to come up. This group has been emboldened with the election of President Bush and his cavalcade of conservatives. They are displaying an arrogance that comes from their newfound political power and influence. It’s time that progressives and others stop them in their tracks before they insert themselves in all areas of our lives that have heretofore been considered private matters.

I commend Ms. Costello and the folks at CNN for cutting through some of the fog and focusing a laser light on exactly what the issue is surrounding the Schiavo debacle in Florida. We could certainly use some more of this type of reporting, as our country slowly moves towards theocracy with little mainstream coverage of that fact.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Microbicide funding protects women

Yesterday evening, while preparing dinner, I heard an interesting segment on NPR. The segment on microbicides, caught my attention and made me give closer scrutiny to the subject of the piece, which I knew very little about.

Microbicides are products, such as a gels or a creams, that could be applied topically to genital mucosal surfaces to prevent or significantly reduce the transmission of HIV and other disease-causing organisms during sexual intercourse. The safe and effective use of microbicides will help women substantially reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection during sexual intercourse.

Why did this interest me? I am aware of the pandemic of AIDS on the continent of sub-Saharan Africa, where 60 percent of those infected are women. The use of microbicides would empower women in these regions, as well as other areas of the world, in protecting themselves during sexual activity, which can make them particularly vulnerable when they rely upon the use of condoms and other so-called protectants.

What was brought out during the segment on public radio, was the failure of the free market (failure? How could this be? The market is infallible!) to bring about development of these products by drug companies, as there is no profit motive to do so. As a result, the vulnerability of women continues to cause them to run greater risks of infection, even if they are monogamous in their sexual practices.

Currently, there is a bill in the pipeline (co-sponsored by Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe) to increase funding for microbicides, which make up a mere two percent of all spending for AIDS across all the institutes of health in the U.S. This is the third go-round for this type of legislation, so hopefully this will lead to increased spending and a push towards some type of legislation which will mandate drug companies doing something that isn’t driven entirely by the free market profit mechanism.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The media's glaring spotlight and objective truth

Like many cases that finally end up under the glare of the media spotlight, the issues surrounding the Terry Schiavo case are quite clear and the average layperson can sort through them without a terrible amount of difficulty.

What muddies the waters and makes the case the convoluted mess it’s become, is the media’s usual ignorance of the facts, and the need to turn this into an emotional case, fraught with drama and intrigue.

As many people are now realizing, it is a wise person who has taken the time to put their wishes down on paper in the form of a living will. Unfortunately, Ms. Schiavo and her husband, Michael, didn’t have this. As a result, despite better judgment and the opinions of trained medical personnel, the case has been turned into a circus.

It is my opinion that Ms. Schiavo’s condition no longer meets the criteria that one would qualify as a life of quality. To be kept alive by fluids and other nutrients pumped in through a hole in my stomach is not the way I’d want to live. Yet, her parents continue to insist that she’s communicative, even though she has no measurable brain function. My heart goes out to them, as I can only imagine how as a parent, it must feel to have a child in that state.

While I can empathize with the parents, I have little use for the members of Congress and other religious operatives who are seizing this opportunity, to further a right-wing agenda, couching it in the language of preservation of life. There are not many pleasant words I would entertain directing their way, so I’ll refrain.

Here is an excellent site that deals with many of the legal issues of the case. There are a number of good links on the site to articles in local papers, as well as other pertinent legal information regarding the case. For anyone interested in making preparations for a living will, this site offers simple instructions on how to do it.

My hope is that this case, if it does nothing more, will focus attention once again on the need to address end-of-life issues, particularly the issue of being able to die with some sense of dignity. The death-with-dignity movement has lost some momentum and the Schiavo case might give them an opportunity to refocus the debate and make others aware of these issues, before the emotions and complications that can occur when a loved one is terminally ill and legal issues come into play.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Profit-driven hucksters

Ashley Smith made headlines, by cooking pancakes and reading to Brian Nichols, who had taken her hostage. Nichols, a fugitive, abducted Smith outside of her apartment in Atlanta. Of interest to me was Smith's text for her read-out-loud session, which has garnered her and the book's author, Rick Warren, a boatload of publicity--not that Warren needs any.

The Xian pastor and author, is another in a long line of hucksters for Jesus, who reduce Xianity down to a system of dos-and-don'ts, or a formula for living. Warren, part of the whole megachurch phenomenom, worships at the alter of mammon quite comfortably, which seems to be common for many who practice his profit-driven brand of spirituality.

Warren's The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth am I Here For?, has shot up Amazon's list of bestsellers. The book, successful from a numbers perspective, has received an even bigger bump from Smith's use of the book to quiet Nichols and soothe him during the time he held her hostage.

What I find most interesting about the entire event, is how conservatives have once again seized the incident and are now using it, as well as Smith, to strengthen their family values crusade.

While I think Smith showed tremendous bravery and exhibited calm during a potentially deadly situation, to assign divine intent and significance cheapens the entire incident.

It seems to me that too many Xians want to see God's hand in every incident, yet in reality, one could also ask "where was God?" in many other situations of death and carnage; Florida has the case of the abduction and murder of a nine-year-old girl who had been missing for two weeks. Her picture is seen on handbills all over the area and the local news stations have had her picture and stories about her disappearance on every broadcast. A longtime sex offender with numerous convictions just came forward and confessed to her murder. Obviously, God provided no happy ending in this case.

Florida (and much of the south) seems to live in a dreamworld that attributes divine purpose to many events. It's a land of Bibles and Baptist Churches, a place of pro-life sentiments and Republican family values. It's also a place of strip malls, overdevelopment and a dwindling population of many native species, from the Manatee to the Florida Panther. It's easy enough to see that the driving force behind most of the culture of development and real estate speculation is greed and the quest for the almighty dollar, rather than living a life in the "center of God's purpose." Walking the sands of Clearwater Beach, I could observe how the large hotels and now, the condominiums, are driving the Mom and Pop operations off the beach. Despite the glitz and glamour of some of the ritzy beachfront properties, homeless men and women still sleep on the beaches and panhandle for change.

While the sunshine and warmer temperatures are attractive, there is an ugliness about Florida that's hard for me to put my finger on. The hypocrisy that I have written about on many occasions over the past year, seems to be present in abundance here; a place where the practice of one's faith begins on Sunday morning and ends when most walk out of church an hour later, set to go back to the pursuit of profit with an even greater gusto.

If God is present in Florida, I haven't seen much of his hand, unless of course, God favors condo development and environmental despoilment, of which the Tampa Bay area has an abundance of.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

When life is nothing more than a political football

I don't know what it's like elsewhere, but in here in the Tampa
Bay region of Florida, you can't turn on the radio or television, without hearing about the Terri Schiavo case.

The decision on Friday by a Florida judge, allowing the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, set off a firestorm in the quiet Sunshine State community of Pinellas Park. The fallout from this case has sent tremors bounding outward, as politicians, particularly of the conservative, pro-life stripe, have seized this as an opportunity to grandstand and play to the religious-right peanut gallery, eagerly watching from the sidelines. Terri Schiavo has become this group's patron saint and poster child, of all things most holy as it relates to their position.

Interestingly, Pinellas Park is only a few miles away from where I am staying and I have seen firsthand some of the truly warped and religiously-rabid types this case is attracting. Yesterday, while driving eastward on SR-60, a flatbed truck decorated with flags and pro-life slogans passed me, headed towards Clearwater, with a caravan of honking and shouting pro-lifers trailing behind.

Each evening, the nightly news broadcast is filled with the pictures of protestors praying, crying, shouting and generally carrying on in a fashion that I can only characterise as loony. I'm at a loss to know why this poor woman, who's been in a vegetative state for the past 15 years, has become a lighting-rod for the right's moonbat brigade. Their refusal to allow her to die with a shred of human dignity has been snatched from her, all in the name of their perverted interpretation of religion.

What's most frightening to me, in addition to the revelation of how warped and twisted a segment of the U.S. population apparently is, seeing the U.S. Congress issue subpoenas to Schiavo's husband and her caregivers. As this morning's St. Petersburg Times editorial stated, "What should be a somber private moment has again turned into a national circus, and congressional Republicans are largely responsible. They know nothing about Schiavo's severe brain damage, her wishes to avoid feeding tubes or years of reviews by medical experts and the courts. Yet House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told the world Schiavo does not want to die. These are dangerous men who will say anything to sway the public and pander to conservative groups who have made this a crusade."

Dangerous men indeed! I fear for our nation when men (and women) like these, wedded only to their narrow ideology, are in charge of our affairs and crafting legislation that affects all of us.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Southern culture and technological shortcomings

My initial thought in going to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area was that technology (or the ability to easily access it) in the form of wi-fi availability would not be an issue.

Prior to leaving Maine for my week in the sun to watch my son and his Wheaton College mates play nine games on their annual Florida pre-season trip, I checked a couple of websites that catalogue wi-fi availability around the country. It appeared that Florida would have more than it actually does.

A casual walk around Portland, Maine (my home state's largest city) would reveal an abundance of opportunities for whipping out one’s laptop and having immediate capabilities of updating your blog, accessing email, or surfing the web. Not so in the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area. How is this possible? Maine as a state has slightly more people than the Tampa Bay region has, yet at least in Portland (and most towns with a library), opportunities exist that allow you to quickly be up and running with a laptop.

One of Maine’s forward-thinking nods to technology was updating all of the state’s libraries in order to provide wireless internet access to anyone with a laptop. This is not available in Florida, even though the numerous libraries appear to be decent and have computers with internet access. Maine’s governor, John Baldacci, and several other state officials deserve credit for recognizing the importance of technology, as well as making it available to all Maine’s residents, not just those who can afford it.

While one could make a case for going on vacation and leaving the cares of blogging behind, I felt the need to put up a few posts while away. Not only did I feel a need to, I wanted to put some pictures up and comment a bit about my trip.

Despite some of the technological shortcomings, there appears to be a pocket of progressive activism, as well as the presence of a cutting-edge artistic community in this area, deep within the heart of the southern, red belt region of the U.S. While country music and right-wing talk radio certainly exists in no small supply here in the land of sunshine, Jesus, and Clear Channel, one can tune in independent, community radio stations like WMNF-88.5 in Tampa, and catch programming like I did tonight (Wednesday). The locally-produced program featured the music of the likes of Henry Kaiser and other avant-garde artists such as Captain Beefheart, as well as Chris Cutler to name a few.

This same station also carries assorted NPR programming such as Terri Gross and Fresh Air, as well as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. While in town, I listened as much as I could to the opinionated progressive radio emanating from the far-left end of my radio dial.

It’s encouraging to know that despite the right-wing grandstanding about Terri Schiavo (one of the big news stories down here, as well as nationally, I’m sure) and the case involving prolonging the life of someone clearly incapable of maintaining the most basic of human functions, the case has elicited some spirited op eds and clearly, not everyone in Florida shares the views of the right-to-life, bible brigade.

I’ve found the St. Petersburg Times to be an excellent newspaper, informative, editorially strong and well-staffed with a stable of writers covering both local and nationally news with an eye towards journalistic integrity. The Tampa Tribune on the other hand, appears to have a right-wing slant that one might expect in a media market controlled by corporate news, acting out their roles of Republican lackeys. It’s obvious in listening to radio for any length of time down here that corporate ideology rules the airwaves, in one of the major media markets in the country.

Now if the state could at least upgrade their libraries and have them wired to allow wi-fi access at their local library branches, then this major sunbelt metropolis might be worth considering as a future alternative to the cold and snow of the northeast, for the short-term, or even longer.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Escaping the cold

For most of this week, I'll be in Florida, away from the falling snow and the arctic temps that have been gripping the northeast for most of February and now, March.

I'm in the Tampa/St. Pete area, watching my son play some baseball (he's a junior DH/1B for Wheaton College) and will return to regular posting next week. Hopefully, I'll have some gleanings and musings about the Sunshine State and its culture.

I do have a post up at my website, JBIWFY about the trip thus far, with a few pix.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Crushing the consumer (with debt)

I have been following the dialogue pertaining to the bankruptcy bill with interest. One is apt to track legislation that will either currently, or in the future, affect one's person.

There is no denying that Americans are carrying dangerous levels of debt, particularly unsecured debt incurred from those little rectangular cards deemed "credit" cards. For many self-employed and small business people, as well as families trying to keep themselves afloat amidst job losses, spiraling medical costs, and the systematic eradication of the middle class, credit cards allow many to rob Peter, to prolongue paying Paul.

As Arianna Huffington penned in her weekly syndicated column, this new bankruptcy legislation is "so hostile to ordinary American families that it could only have come about in a place as corrupt, cynical and unmoored from reality as Washington, D.C."

She goes on to write, "Instead of cracking down on predatory lending practices, closing loopholes that favor the wealthy, and strengthening the safety net for working people, single mothers and elderly Americans struggling to recover from a financial setback, the Senate put together a nasty little bill that reads like a credit industry wish list.....So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of value in homes and asset protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize, while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses that frequently turn manageable debt into unmanageable crises. Even in failure, ordinary Americans do not get a level playing field."

For many Americans, the downward spiral of credit card debt comes from the availability of easy credit, which is offered daily through mailings, phone solicitations and other promotions, which is the equivalent to offering a life-preserver to a drowning person, or heroin to a junkie. These modern day money-changers charge interest rates that most kindly could be termed "usury". [For the hell of it, the next time your credit card company jacks up your APR, call them like I did and accuse them of usury and see the indignant response you get from some lower-level flunky, feigning moral indignation at your charge!] Offering credit cards at interst rates as low as six or seven percent and luring you into a level of debt of thousands and then jacking up your APR to rates between 20 and 30 percent!! This is criminal, but instead of the Congress going after the credit card companies, they've turned the tables on you and I.

The audacity of this legislation defines rational commentary, because it so blatently attacks the very people who are being so egregiously "fucked" by the system. Then, after this system takes their job, dumps medical costs on them no longer covered by health care benefits, not to mention those in the northeast who may have been forced to open new lines of credit to put oil in their tanks so their children wouldn't freeze, turns around and practically tosses them into debtors prison.

Read Huffington's piece, because I can't add much to what she highlights as being so grossly unfair about this legislation.

When Huffington posted her commentary, the bill was pending; since then, it has passed, by a wide margin, 74-25, with not one Republican voting against it!

If you are a member of the working-class, the one means of giving yourself some space has been taken away. With this new law, credit card companies and financial institutions can now use the long arm of the law to place the noose over your neck and tighten it until you can't breath. All in the name of the Bush administration's business-friendly agenda. [Most of your credit card companies who lobbied aggressively for this legislation, including MBNA, were large contributors to President Bush's re-election]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Right-wing hate monger threatens boycott of Maine businesses

Every state has at least one; the self-appointed moral arbiter that jumps at every opportunity to get his/her name in print, expressing moral outrage over some issue, usually of a private nature, most notably, homosexuality.

Our state's right-wing nitwit is Michael Heath, of the Christian Civic League of Maine, which is neither xian or interested in the civic good. I wrote an op ed-style post on my other blog about Heath back in February. At that time, his persecution complex was on display, complaining about perceived attacks upon him and his organization.

The most recent publicity stunt involving Heath has him tilting at the business community, for their sponsorship of a weekend banquet being held by Equality Maine. In an article that appeared in the Portland Press Herald, Heath is warning businesses such as Verizon, Hannaford Supermarkets, as well at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram newspapers, that their sponsorship may bring about financial retribution--sounds like Heath is intimating a boycott.

I'm sure that the businesses involved are quaking in their boots at the thought of the CCL/Maine's membership of what, a couple hundred(?) visiting financial ruin on businesses willing to show their support for diversity and equality.

To top it all off, Heath claims that someone "hacked" into the CCL website and renamed their forum, "atheists only", apparently misspelling "atheist", as "athiest". I am only engaging in conjecture, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Heath is using this as a publicity stunt and set up this whole "hack" on his own. I'm not a "techie", so I don't know how easily this could occur--I'm sure someone with more knowledge can let me know if what Heath claims actually could have occurred. I've met him, and something about him just doesn't sit right with me.

It continues to amaze me that this hatemonger and his 16th century theology continues to receive widespread coverage in Maine's media outlets.

I applaud the businesses willing to show their support for inclusion, diversity and the respect for the choices of individuals. This is an important issue and its refreshing to see that Heath and his ideology of hate didn't win out in this situation.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

When the levee breaks

Writing a book is work. At times, the words dry up, or slow to a trickle. At these times, completing certain chapters consist of literally putting one word after another. These are the times of cold sweats, sleep interrupted at 3am, awakening with a knot in your stomach, realizing that finally, the charade is over and everyone will find out you’re an imposter—a literary wannabe—someone who talks the talk, but can’t put up the capital to claim the merchandise.

The first few chapters came easily, as I was writing mostly about things that I knew about—my hometown and men and teams I had memories of, even somewhat yellowed by 30 years of scrapbook relegation.

I knew I was in trouble when I was nearing the halfway mark and had to pen the chapter about the Twilight League. This is the summer league that I played in, now coach in, and should be familiar with enough to quickly rip off a chapter and get to the work of editing my prose. Instead, a two day writing assignment turned into two weeks, with most of the final work taking place over two days at the end of the second week.

Knowing I had so much trouble with this increased my dread and despair of writing about the northern and downeast sections of the state that I had little firsthand knowledge of. I would be forced to rely on the stories of others, compiled over a hastily-arranged three day road trip in October. I hadn’t listened to the tapes since I conducted these interviews in Lamoine, Cutler, and Mattawamkeag.

Sometimes, one needs to just get out of the way and allow the intuitive nature of the muse take over. Overanalyzing and trying to force history into my own preconceptions might be what’s been a proverbial wet blanket, smothering my creativity and killing the flow of the book’s own story.

This morning, a chapter developed that wasn’t there and couldn’t be found in the outline. What was supposed to be one chapter, in a beautiful act of grace, transformed itself perfectly into two. The beauty is that these now have a flow around geographic location that wasn’t there before.

For the past few weeks, I’ve dreaded writing first thing in the morning, found any excuse not to write in the afternoon, and excused evening sessions at the keyboard with the lame, “I’m too tired”. Today, the dam broke and the block is gone. By 9 in the morning, I had 2,000 words from a player who I thought would be a footnote and a couple of paragraphs at best. By noon, halfway through my interview tape of a former player downeast, I was over 4,000 words. Desperately needing to mail off a couple of queries for magazine articles and get invoices out, plus make a needed trip to the bank got pushed back, because I was still at work on my newfound chapter. The book had become fresh again, not some dreaded houseguest overstaying their welcome.

Coming home in the late afternoon, I had another 1,000 words to get down before I felt able to put this away for today. I’m psyched as this chapter is over 5,000 words and will be close to 8,000 when done.

I learned a valuable lesson today about writing. A book will write itself, if the writer prepares his subject, does his research and learns to trust the process. I didn’t know this—how could I, since I had never written a book before?

This is going to get done and I’m going to have a book that I’m proud of. I'm confident that others will be amazed at the prominent place that town team baseball once occupied in Maine, a time that’s long gone and not ever coming back.

Maybe that’s part of the problem; too much of my focus of late has been nostalgia, thinking somehow I could recreate this time. No one can, certainly not me. Local baseball of the town team variety is gone, just like Mom and Pop stores in rural communities, replaced by the Wal-Mart mindset that excuses our loss of innocence and ability to do for ourselves. Trading independence for some perceived security, that’s neither secure or worthy of the Faustian bargain we’ve struck.

I can’t change the course of time, nor can I change the events of the past. I’m just going to let this thing flow to completion. This is a kind of epiphany for me and I hope this is the push I need to get this done and to a publisher by the end of May. If I can do that, I think I can get it out this summer.

Man, is this beer going down easy and the tunes on the CD player are as sweet as they’ve sounded in some time! I’m not even bummed about the swirling snow and howling winds outside my window.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Writing about sports

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of the season’s full docket of high school tournament action to see some exciting, spirited basketball, and last night, hockey. While so much of the professional world of sports leaves me frustrated and increasingly cynical, the purity, passion and perspective that amateur sports provides can be a welcome respite from the daily parade of corruption and obfuscation rolling downhill from the highest places.

On Friday, the sports editor at one of the biggest weekly newspapers in my area contacted me, asking about my interest in covering two high school hockey playoff games on Saturday night. As a freelancer, one of my rules of survival is, never turn down a paying gig, particularly an event or activity that you enjoy attending. Having written for this editor once before, I appreciated his professionalism and welcomed another opportunity to cover sports.

While there are some in the journalistic profession who look down their noses at sportswriters, I personally think some of the finest writing taking place, is coming from those who cover various athletic events. The rollercoaster ride that sports affords participants, the nightly opportunity for redemption; all of these provide a writer with ample opportunities to display their abilities at painting pictures with words.

One of the participating teams was the high school where my son played four years of varsity hockey at. This was the day’s second contest and some of the current seniors had been freshman during my son’s senior year.

For me, covering the team, seeing his former coach, a man who I have the utmost respect for, remembering my son pouring his heart out night after night during his four years of lacing up the skates—well, it was an emotional evening for me. And the game? For the forth year in the past five, the two rivals played a contest that was decided in the last seconds of regulation, with my son’s alma mater winning this night, in overtime!

To witness the young man who scored the winning goal come off the ice and immediately interviewing this 17 year old, who was so excited, he forgot to take his mouthpiece out and was having trouble processing it all—this was a priceless moment. Seeing the fans chanting the name of this principled coach, in his 11th year at this school, putting the game and sportsmanship first at all times, was rewarding in and of itself. It also proves that coaches can emphasize what’s important and still be successful when the gauge is wins and losses. Not to mention that interviewing my son’s former coach was probably the most literate interview I’ll ever conduct with a coach at any level. This intelligent, intellectual, English teacher, who also loves hockey (as well as soccer and cricket, I might add), is not your everyday run-of-the-mill coach of a sports team. While many coaches resort to clich├ęs and canned responses, there isn’t much that the two of us couldn’t have talked about. It was a test of my concentration to focus just on the immediate events at hand. Even his responses to these queries rang with a sense of the bigger picture that many in his profession miss.

The last few weeks have made me realize that while I enjoy writing about politics and culture, there are ample opportunities for me to use my writing abilities in the athletic realm, also. Good writing can take place in any form and subject area. Sometimes I forget this to my own detriment.

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Racist Right

[The genesis for this post comes courtesy of belatedly reading Kurt Nimmo's post from yesterday, over at Another Day in the Empire. Thanks, Kurt!]

Here is what's coming from the right-wing, some of it old, and some of it fashionably current. We've just seen the right-wing fog machine go into apoplexy about a quote made by Ward Churchill nearly three years ago. Just last week, some Limbaugh-wannabe, filling in for that uber-patriot, El Rushbo, supposedly in Afghanistan to give his listeners a report on the U.S. work in that country (I bet he was being kept in the most secure bunker the U.S. establishment owns in this devastated country), spent a couple of days rehashing the Churchill debacle and calling for a purge of all professors not able to pass the conservative litmus test.

Daniel Pipes, whose been extremely vocal as the head of Middle East Forum and their project Campus Watch, is doing all within his power to smear Ward Churchill and other scholars who don't subscribe to their zionist phobia of Islam and ideology of hate.

Pipes has been quoted as saying, concerning the immigration of Muslims to western European countries, "Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene ... All immigrants bring exotic customs attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most."

Then there's U.S. Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who wants the the military to launch a nuclear strike against Syria. Can you just imagine? A member of Congress advocating nuclear war! It defies analysis. I can only imagine the fallout if Senator Kennedy, or some other prominent Democrat had issued a similar pronouncement. So far, no condemnation coming from the President, his press secretary, or any other member of the administration. No calls from Johnson's Republican colleagues for his resignation, either. Such a surprise?

There's Ann Coulter, who gives new meaning to "ideology of hate", with her now infamous quote, concerning Muslim countries, "We should invade their (Muslim) countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Yes, Ann; so biblical--very Old Testament-ish. Not finished yet, Coulter than pilloried Helen Thomas, one of the most senior reporters of the White House press corps, when she said, "Press passes can’t be hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president.”

I mean, I could go on for the rest of the afternoon here, but I'll end with Rich Lowry, that non-ideological, non-partisan senior editor at the National Review. Lowry talked about the benefits of nuking Mecca, the Muslim holy city.

The right-wing choir of hate has got some 'splainin' to do about the bad, ugly and hateful things they say about Arab and Muslim peoples. I hate to throw the "racist" label into the ring, but on just these few (I never bothered to get to Stephen Plaut and his moonbat theories, Michelle Malkin and her historical revisionism concerning Japanese internment during WWII, or Jonah Goldberg [he also of the National Review!], I think I could make a pretty strong case.

There seems to be an awful lot of scapegoating being practiced by the right concerning Arabs and Muslims. I know this racist view of the world works well for those holding to an imperialistic view concerning America and her foreign policy decisions, but for those of us who don't, it's just fucking ugly!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Herbs versus pharmaceuticals

Every year, like clockwork, right around the same time (Feb/March), I'm afflicted by a case of bronchitis, or as I like to call it, "the walkin' pneumonia and the boogie-woogie blues". I'm not sure why this happen; possibly, it's the dryness, or some other quality of the late winter air, but I'd be more inclined to say it has to do with my immune system being weakened, as it seems more viral than anything.

What used to happen, when this malady would arrive, was a trip to the doctor and being loaded up with various pharmaceuticals and other prescriptions, including a cough syrup with codiene, to prevent me from hacking up a lung.

Several years ago, I became interested in herbal medicine and naturopathy and came across a book that opened my eyes up to alternatives to my aforementioned belief that corporate medicine and pharmaceuticals held the key to curing every illness and disease.

James Duke's, The Green Pharmacy, brought me into a new world of herbal remedies for many common illnesses and diseases. Duke, a botanist, is an authority on the properties and interactions of herbs on the body and in treating various conditions.

What I've learned firsthand from following the directions in the book, regarding the use of herbs in treating my bronchitis, is that herbal remedies, consisting of teas containing various herbs, as well as plenty of garlic (nice side-effect is that I'm now vampire-safe) are as effective as a 10-day regimen of antibiotics and cough syrup.

I'm no different than anyone else in that I want a magic cure to end my hacking cough and the general malaise that accompanies the walking variety of this malady. However, as Duke mentions in his book, pharmaceuticals, despite the claims of the various companies that manufacture them, are not necessarily superiour to herbs and other remedies occuring naturally.

There is no doubt that pharmaceuticals are stronger--often too strong, with nasty side effects. Sadly, many Americans assume that the drug companies know better, merely because they spend billions on advertising, making their dubious claims of superiority.

I'll follow my herbal prescriptions for teas of ginger, eucalyptus, and other herbs (including my wife's thyme tincture) for the next week, and I'll increase my garlic intake (you may want to give me a wider birth than usual) and before I know it, I'll be back on the beam of good health.

I'd be curious to know about others and their experiences with herbs, versus following the corporately-controlled pharmaceutical route. Maybe you have found something that's worked for you regarding bronchitis, or quieting a cough. I'm open to any suggestions, as I hate the first few days and the lousy way I'm feeling right now.

Losing your identity

This was forwarded to me and originally appeared on a fellow Mainer's blog, Magazine Husband. I put up a linked story about Choicepoint and their loss of personal information and the possibility of identity theft. Well, there's more to the story:

Has Your Identity Been Stolen?
What to do if it happens to you.
By Daniel Engber
(from Slate Magazine)
Posted Friday, Feb. 18, 2005, at 3:10 PM PT

Choice Point, a clearinghouse for consumer information, has admitted it was tricked by a ring of identity thieves into revealing the profiles of as many as 145,000 people last fall. What do you do if you find out your identity might have been stolen?

Paperwork—lots of paperwork. ChoicePoint plans to send notification letters to everyone whose information was leaked. If you get a letter, you should call in to one of the three major credit bureaus that keep track of your credit rating—Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Any of the three will allow you to place a fraud alert on all of your credit reports.

The fraud alert, which lasts for 90 days, instructs (but doesn't compel) creditors to contact you at a specified phone number before processing any credit request. Setting up a fraud alert can be done through an automated phone system, so an identity thief who already has your name, address, and Social Security number could put a fraud alert on your credit report before you do—and give his or her own phone number for confirmation. This would likely draw unwanted scrutiny to the thief, though.

Once your alert is in place, each of the three bureaus will send you a letter offering a free copy of your credit report (in accordance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003). If someone is using your identity to obtain credit, you would see it on these reports, either in the form of credit cards that don't belong to you, or credit inquiries from businesses you don't recognize.

If you are indeed a victim, you'll need to go to a local police station with your evidence and obtain a police report. (Depending on local rules, you may need to go to a police station located near the scene of the crime, which could be anywhere.) Then you can send a copy of this police report to each of the three major credit bureaus, along with a written request to extend your fraud alert for 7 years. In some states you can freeze your credit information, so no one can look at it or extend credit in your name. For a fee, you can temporarily lift the freeze, and legitimate requests will go through.

Then, you'll still have to erase the thief's footprints from your record. This involves sending multiple letters to each of the credit bureaus, as well as to each of the creditors involved. You won't be liable for anything the thief buys in your name, but your credit rating will reflect unpaid bills for cards that don't belong to you.

Maybe you're not yet a victim: There's no reason for an identity thief to use your information immediately, or even within the 90-day span of a fraud alert. You can renew the 90-day period indefinitely, or you can opt to obtain free copies of your credit report from each bureau every year. (For now, these free reports are only available in certain states, but by next year everyone will be eligible.) Identity theft experts suggest staggering your requests to the three bureaus so that you receive a free credit report every 4 months. If you need to pay for a report, it should cost at most $9.50.

Once your personal information has been stolen, there's no good way to get it back. You just hope the thief will move on to easier targets who haven't done the same paperwork you have. Changing your Social Security number is possible, but very difficult and probably not too helpful. The Social Security Administration "cannot guarantee that a new number will solve your problem." Indeed, you might lose access to your own records, or run into problems for having no credit history at all.

Note: It seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to, particularly since ChoicePoint lost your information. My question is, what type of shit are they going to be forced to go through, because of their incompetence? Answer--probably not a bit--all part of the "business-friendly" agenda brought to you by your friends in the Bush administration.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

American dreamin'

Conservatives have an unflagging faith and belief in the free market. Believing in the survival of the fittest among us, they have little room for anyone but themselves and their social darwinistic fantasies. The market is their god, despite their protestations to the contrary and their recitation of family values mantras.

Despite the reality of crushing poverty, dwindling levels of healthcare and tens of thousands of children going to bed every night without adequate food in their stomachs, its all about those bootstraps baby, as in, just pull yourself up by them. Oh, and be careful they don’t snap back at ‘ya!

Repeating the mantra of privatization brought to them by those wealthy plutocrats who never met a silver spoon they didn’t snort cocaine from, red state regiments of the religious right want to keep things lily white and free from the marauders.

I’m in the process of reading the latest investigative work by Eric Schlosser, the irrepressible investigative reporter from Atlantic Monthly, who changed the way we all viewed our drive-thru experiences under the golden arches, with his best-selling Fast Food Nation.

Schlosser is back, this time, pulling back the corner on the box labeled “underground economy”. In his latest work, Reefer Madness, Schlosser states that the underground economy comprises as much as 10 percent of America’s overall economy. Some estimate it’s even larger than that. Regardless of the size, Schlosser looks at the mainstays of the “shadow economy”—pot, porn and migrant labor and U.S. immigration policy.

Like any good investigative journalist, Schlosser connects the dots and paints the picture showing the intertwining of ingenuity, greed, idealism and the overriding hypocrisy that is the American experience.

With my brain on nostalgia-overload coming from of six to eight months of research from a Maine that existed 35-40 years ago, but is no more, juxtaposed against the small amount of news and current events I’m letting trickle into my self-imposed seclusion (in order to get some of this damn book written) with a healthy dosage of Schlosser before bedtime and you can understand the strangely surreal turn life has taken the past week or so. Topping it all off is my annual winter bout with walkin' pneumonia (and the boogie-woogie blues) and you can understand the strange vortex that I’m swimming in this week.

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog, but I’ve been struck by the irony of life, as filtered through my own rose-colored prism of seeing the world.

One particularly interesting section of Schlosser’s book, the tail end of the section on the illegals who come across the border from Mexico, to pick the strawberries in Orange County, California, the prototypical red meat, red state Republican subdivision of Bush’s America:

Driving back to my hotel that night, I thought about the people of Orange County, one of the richest counties in the nation—big on family values, yet bankrupt from financial speculation, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for their own children’s education, unwilling to pay off their debts, whining about the injustice of it, and blaming all their problems on illegal immigrants……

We have been told for years to bow down before “the market.” We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. The market will drive wages down like water, until they reach the lowest possible level. Today, that level is not being set in Washington or New York or Sacramento but in the fields of Baja California and the mountain villages of Oaxaca (Mexico). That level is about five dollars a day. No deity that men have ever worshipped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked. All those who now consider themselves devotees of the market should take a good look at what’s happening in California. Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap—a work force that is anything but free.

--from Reefer Madness, by Eric Schlosser (Houghton MifflinCompany, 2003)