Thursday, June 30, 2005

What's good for Spain....

The parliament of Spain legalized gay marriage in this staunchly Catholic nation. While adamently opposed by Catholics and conservatives in the country, the bill is just the latest of many progressive initiatives pursuied by the ruling Socialist-majority government of Prime Minister Zapetero.

In my home state of Maine, however, the conservative Xians, led by Michael Heath and other Jesus-lovers, have just turned in the required signatures to put a "people's veto" on the ballot in the fall. This will be the third time this divisive issue has been thrust in the faces of Mainers since 1997. It's bound to get ugly here in the Pine Tree State, as the out-of-state morality policy such as James Dobson's Family Research Council and others are already descending on the state, as well as fattening the coffers of the anti-gay proponents.

Interestingly, our governor John Baldacci had signed into law a bill granting legal protection to gays and lesbians, allowing Maine to join the rest of the New England states that have similar forms of legislation.

While Maine certainly has a progressive element, as well as those who go by the declaration of live-and-let-live, the anti-homosexual crowd will whip up the fears of others and this one could get extremely ugly come the fall. FMI about how you can join those who would like Maine to leave the 16th and join the 21st century, a good place to start is with Maine Won't Descriminate.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Future of Petroleum

It's important to understand what lies behind our failures in Iraq. Regardless of what Washington tells any of us, we aren't leaving Iraq any time soon. "Why?" you ask. Because of oil and the massive quantities of it that our mega-consumption demands.

This article on Saudi oil says alot about the war in Iraq and possible scenarios for our future.

Drive your H2, Expedition and whatever other gas-guzzling behemoth with your "I support W" decal, yellow ribbon or other pro-oil slogan while you can. The day is coming when it will sit idle in your yard.

You can call it schadenfreude; I just say it's the future.

He's a mighty good leader (not)

I watched the president's speech last night; well I made it to the point where he trotted out the first of five shopworn references to September 11th in his justification for his failed war in Iraq. Bush, typically lacking in eloquence and short on ideas, indicated that "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war," (his war on terrah!). He continued. "Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them — to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home."

David Corn has a decent analysis of the BushCo speech at his website. Basically, as Corn summarizes, "Twelve days ago, The Washington Post reported that the Bush White House had concluded that George W. Bush--who was facing sinking polling numbers regarding the war in Iraq--needed to "shift strategies." He would (of course) not be implementing any policy changes, the paper noted; his new approach" would be "mostly rhetorical." Yet in his prime-time speech on Iraq--delivered before a quiet audience of troops at Fort Bragg on Tuesday evening--Bush proved the Post report wrong. There was no shift of strategy--rhetorical or otherwise. Bush delivered a flat recital of his previous justifications of the war, while offering vague assurances that (a) he realizes (really, really) that the war in Iraq is "hard" work and that (b) his administration is indeed winning the war. On that latter point, Bush mentioned no metrics (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call them)--that is, concrete indicators--to demonstrate that he holds a more accurate view of the war than, say, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who days ago exclaimed, "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Bush's plan this night was rather transparent: assert success...and then assert it some more."

His references to our "coalition partners" were absolutely laughable, or in my case, brought about the urge to throw my glass at the television. Only my wife's suggestion that I turn the channel and a five minute diversion to the Wimbledon match between Sharapova and Petrova calmed this destructive urge.

Our fearless leader offered nothing new and continued to call upon Americans to sacrifice. Since none of his children or those of other well-heeled leaders are shedding their blood in Iraq, I say we bring our troops the (blanked out profanity) home now! I'm sick and tired of men like Bush, born with a silver spoon in his crack, talking to me and other working class Americans about sacrifice. President C- doesn't know the first thing about sacrifice--never has and never will. Why hard-working, honest people allow themselves to be deluded by this callous and dangerous divider of the American people continues to baffle me.

Hopefully, as his approval rating tumbles and other bombshells (like the Downing Street Memo) are brought forth, they might topple this imbecilic, syntax-challenged, war monger. Then again, half of the country has drunk the kool-aid and the other half are glued to the television waiting for the next shark attack or watching Nancy Grace.

Not sure how many listen to alternative radio, but if you do, check out the lyrics to System of a Down's song, "BYOB". Interesting in light of Smirky's speech with lyrics like, "Why don't presidents fight the war? Why do they always send the poor?" Why of course, so the twins, Jenna and Barbara, don't have to go!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The world according to Thom Friedman

It always amazes me that certain writers seem to have carte blanche when it comes to publishing. Take for instance New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman has never seen an instance of globalization that he didn't jump up and begin cheerleading for. With his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (which could be called Globalization for Dummies), Friedman postulates inane scenarious about exploitation the world over--basically, any form of offshoring, out-sourcing and labor transfer that robs workers of living wages is good for the burgeoning global economy.

In reviewing Friedman's latest atrocity, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, writer Amitabh Pal points out numerous flaws in the book, including his woeful use of metaphors.

From Pal's review in The Progressive, "His cheesy style gets in the way of his main point: Technological forces—such as the Internet and outsourcing—have altered the nature of the workplace so fundamentally that they have changed the world. This, Friedman argues, has affected everything ranging from the way you order burgers at drive ups (the orders are often taken at some remote location) to the way cartoon movies are made (teams in Bangalore, India, are frequently doing the animation) to the way computers are fixed (UPS runs a repair facility for Toshiba)."

Friedman is an all-too-obvious example of the technocrats and lackeys who carry the water for their corporate bosses. Meanwhile, honest Americans are facing the specter of declining real wages, loss of adequate health coverage and an ever-shrinking piece of the middle class pie. Rather than journalists-in-name-only like Friedman championing their cause, he'd rather keep whistling to the bank while economic nincompoops keep buying his dumbed-down schlock.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The last crusade

"On some positions, cowardice asks the question, 'is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'is it popular?' But conscience asks the question 'is it right?' And then comes a time when a true follower of Jesus Christ must take a stand that's neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take that stand because it is right." - Martin Luther King Jr

Noted evangelical Billy Graham has reached the end of the line as far as his crusades go. Graham, known to some as “America’s pastor” has said he’ll retire after a 60 year career that saw him toe the line and promote the status quo for the likes of pro-war presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Like many American icons that have reached the status of rock star, Graham has been granted a virtual free pass by the media on his farewell tour. I’ve seen reports on both local and national stations that afforded Graham a status that I don’t think he deserved. Newspaper coverage likewise has been superficial; making no mention that Graham was a water carrier for those in power.

For instance, in 1989, it was revealed that Graham had sent a secret memo to Nixon dated April 15, 1969. After meeting with Vietnamese missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand, this supposed "man of God" said that if the peace talks in Paris were to fail, Nixon should step up the war and bomb the dikes. Such an act, Graham wrote excitedly, "could overnight destroy the economy of North Vietnam".

Graham had no qualms about advocating a policy to the U.S. Commander in Chief that on Nixon's own estimate, would have killed a million people.

Apparently doing the Lord's work also pays quite well, as a 2002 990 form shows the evangelist receiving a salary of nearly $200,000 per year and additional allowance of $233,000, while working about 10 percent of the time. Interesting stewardship of money given by many hard-working and honest people, thinking that their donations were for something other than keeping a semi-retired preacher well-stocked in assets.

Unlike Jesus, who he spent a great deal of time talking about, but apparently missed the significance of who the Bible represents him to be, Graham was as comfortable in corporate boardrooms and presidential suites as he was in the pulpit. Traveling with all the latest in comforts and technological trappings, Graham epitomized an American Xianity, sold out and defanged, providing support for military intervention and indiscriminant killing and maiming of innocents the world over.

I find it laughable when large numbers of people affiliated with organized religion deplore the so-called unfavorable treatment that religion and Xianianity supposedly receives in the “liberal” mainstream media. This supposed liberal bias, if it was in fact present, would have ripped Graham and made mention of some of the things I’ve written about. These are well-known and available for anyone who wants to take a stab at journalism.

Instead, these so-called haters of religion have fallen all over themselves trying to out fluff one another. Graham certainly was a popular man and preached a popular version of a cross-less Xianity—one that plays well in a country wedded to military might and selective morality—it’s just that for those of us who see Jesus as more than another excuse to bomb innocent people, Graham comes across as just another preacher given over to mammon and fame.

Apparently Graham’s son, Franklin is poised to take over the mantle of Graham’s substantial empire. The younger Graham, who drew the ire of the Islamic world for comments he made about Muslims after 9-11, proves the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Interestingly, Franklin receives an estimated $600,000 per year from his father's evangelistic organization.

It appears that the gospel (at least an Americanized version) is no longer the offence that it once was, at least during Jesus' day. It's also ironic that one of America's last prophetic voices--that of Martin Luther King, Jr.--found that speaking out against empire brought you a bullet instead of accolades.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Losing what made us great

Whatever your idea of America was/is, there were elements in its past that made the mythology of our exceptionalism and superiority attractive. Not only attractive, but an argument could be made that America's "goodness" was very real and tangible. For close to three decades following WWII, America created a middle class and an economic climate of opportunity that allowed many to begin to have a "better life". Tax policies and other government policies were not weighted to benefit only the wealthiest of our citizens.

Fast forward however to our present day. Arlie Hochschild has an article picked up by AlterNet, as well as other progressive outlets that illustrates the cruelty of the Bush administration and their policies of reverse Robinhood-ism.

Hochschild uses the analogy of a chauffeur to illustrate the current administration's lack of empathy for anyone but their own. And who are their own? Wealthy, multi-millionaires--men (and a few select women, I guess), predominantly white, who care little about distributing their wealth, but hoard it and actually continue to confiscate additional wealth from those below them on the socio-economic ladder. Robbing from the working-classes and the poor, in order to add even more to their overstocked coffers. You can say what you want about the so-called "robber barons" of the previous century--the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Mellons and Morgans--but they at least had some capacity for largesse and endowed many communities with parks, libraries, museums and other amenities that were accessible for all citizens, not just the uber-wealthy. Contrast that with today's wealthiest Americans--driving Hummer's and other behemoths, buying up our open spaces and restricting access to the hoi polloi. This is certainly the case here in my home state of Maine. But I digress; back to the article at hand.

Hochschild begins,

Let's consider our political moment through a story.

Suppose a chauffeur drives a sleek limousine through the streets of New York, a millionaire in the backseat. Through the window, the millionaire spots a homeless woman and her two children huddling in the cold, sharing a loaf of bread. He orders the chauffeur to stop the car. The chauffeur opens the passenger door for the millionaire, who walks over to the mother and snatches the loaf. He slips back into the car and they drive on, leaving behind an even poorer family and a baffled crowd of sidewalk witnesses. For his part, the chauffeur feels real qualms about what his master has done, because unlike his employer, he has recently known hard times himself. But he drives on nonetheless. Let's call this the Chauffeur's Dilemma.

Absurd as it seems, we are actually witnessing this scene right now. At first blush, we might imagine that this story exaggerates our situation, but let us take a moment to count the loaves of bread that have recently changed hands and those that soon will. Then, let's ask why so many people are letting this happen.

Lest you think that this is just another case of knee-jerk liberalism, belly-aching about those hard-working business folk, just reaping the benefits of the free market, here are some stats for you to mull over:

  • On average, the 2003 tax cut has already given $93,500 to every millionaire. It is estimated that 52% of the benefits of George W. Bush's 2001-03 tax cuts have enriched the wealthiest 1% of Americans (those with an average annual income of $1,491,000).
  • On average, the 2003 tax cut gave $217 to every middle-income person. By 2010, it is estimated that just 1% of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the bottom 20% of Americans (those with an average annual income of $12,200).
  • During at least one year since 2000, 82 of the largest American corporations -- including General Motors, El Paso Energy, and, before the scandal broke, Enron -- paid no income tax.

Consider this additional tidbit of information courtesy of Hochschild's excellent article:

For every decade in the 150 years before 1970 -- including the decade of the Great Depression -- real earnings rose. As University of Massachusetts economist Rick Wolff points out, however tough a man's job or long his hours, he could usually look forward to a bigger paycheck.

But after 1970, the real earning power of male wages -- and I focus here on men, for they are the closer fit to the profile of the chauffeur -- stopped rising. Their dream was linked, it turned out, to jobs in an industrial sector that been automated out or outsourced abroad. Their old union-protected, high-wage, blue-collar jobs began to disappear as new non-union, low-wage, service-sector jobs appeared. Indeed, the man with a high-school diploma or a few years of college found few new high-opportunity jobs in the much-touted new economy while the vast majority ended up in low-opportunity jobs near the bottom. As jobs in the middle have become harder to find, his earning power has fallen, his benefits have shrunk, and his job security has been reduced.

So what was the result of this phenomenom that Wolf illustrates? First of all, life at home become tougher. The hallowed example that many on the right cling to of the domestic model--a single breadwinner (Dad) going off to work, while Mom stayed home and provided a home that was nurturing for Junior and Buffy.

But Wolf shows that this isn't the case any longer, as the "squeeze" made it necessary for Mom to take a job.

Citing Wolf, Hochschild writes, "Wives took paid jobs -- and this in a society that had given little thought to paid parental leave or family-friendly policies. For men as well as women, hours of work have increased. From 1973 to 1996, average hours per worker went up 19%. Since the 1970s, increases have occurred in involuntary job loss, in work absences due to illness or disability, and in debt and bankruptcy. The proportion of single mother families rose from 12% in 1970 to 26% in 2003."

I'd urge you to spend some time this weekend, reading the entire article from start to finish. It's illustrative and IMHO, very accurate. It also shatters the myth of President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" and any connection his followers mistakenly attribute to him of being like the Jesus of the Bible.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A new look

Some funky things kept popping up in my last template for Words Matter. Having had the old design long enough to grow tired of it, I decided to change the look just a bit. Unfortunately, in doing so, I've lost all my links, so I'll be adding them back as time permits.

Well, I'm off to my Twilight game tonight to see if my Patriot Mutual squad can make it two in a row.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Energy policy

The U.S. Senate is debating an energy bill. If your morning paper is as uninforming as mine is, you probably found little or nothing about it.

U.S. energy policy is one of the most important issues affecting Americans. Some would argue that it is the single most important issue affecting our bloated, consumptive way of life. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it behooves all of us to learn about some of the issues and pay attention to the debate.

The current bill, at over 1,000 pages, touches almost every corner of life in our country. Unfortunately, much of past policy has resulted in $500 billion in subsidies given to old paradigm energy industries such as coal, fossil fuels and nuclear. Contrast that with only $25 billion subsidizing renewable and alternative energy options.

Unbelievably, this morning, one segment on C-Span’s Morning Journal had a rehashing of the debate of whether nuclear energy is an option. With a spokesperson from the Nuclear Energy Institute obfuscating the issues brought by Navin Nayak of the Public Interest Research Group, I was just shaking my head that arguments refuted 25 years ago about the viability of nuclear energy, are still being debated.

Ultimately, regardless of one’s stand and orientation on energy, our current consumption of energy and reduction of demand must be a prime pillars in the debate if we ever are able to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. If we want to bring our troops home from Iraq, we can’t be driving SUV’s and other gluttonous consumers of petroleum.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A soul checks out

On Sunday, Father's Day, my son put together an awesome mix tape. Rather than go out and purchase some mass-produced detritus, he put his own personal touch into giving me something that I'm enjoying way-too-much.

I'm amazed that he's paid attention to my music and my moods and like me, who has always put too much thought into tapes I've made for others, created a mix that captures a good portion of the past ten years of musical highlights for me.

One of the bands Mark put on the tape was Soul Asylum. I used to be a huge fan, when they were the darlings of the college radio circuit, before they hit it big with their platinum-selling Gravedancers Union record.

I always appreciated the solid songwriting of Dave Pirner and had recently read an interview he did pertaining to his recent solo release, Faces and Names.

Today, I heard on our local alt-rock station, that bassist Karl Mueller had passed away, after a battle with throat cancer.

I saw Soul Asylum play back in 1985, at a club in Chicago called Caberet Metro. It was on upper Clark Street, not far from Wrigley Field. A typical hangout of the college, indie rock crowd of the time, local faves Precious Wax Drippings opened up. Both my musician friend Leo and I had a great evening hearing Soul Asylum rip through a loud and fast set, with Pirner handing over his guitar mid-song to someone in the front row and the fan didn't miss too many notes. This was a fun time, two decades back. A night when the music was good, the hair was less gray and the St. Pauli Girls (weird link) flowed freely.

Monday, June 20, 2005

In the city

I’m not sure where the fascination with capitalism and American’s woeful understanding of economics originates. While it would be (and is) fun to lay the blame at the feet of our educational institutions, I’ll refrain from doing so, at least for now.

Free markets act irrespective of people, environments and sentiment. They are cold and calculated agents that more-and-more, steamroll anything and anybody in their path.

A recent book I picked up at the library, Mike Davis’ Dead Cities, has stirred in me a once more, a fascination with urban environments and their influence in our country, as well as other parts of the world. In the same way Mumford’s The Culture of Cities opened up areas of understanding I had never entertained before, so does the writing of Davis. Using cities past and present as his stage to engage in tales of infinite greed, urban neglect and political scandal, Davis lays waste to the 1950’s Howdy Doody caricature that many Americans are still wedded to.

His takes on the southwest and in particular, the environmental deterioration of that former beautiful and unspoiled region of the United States are eye-opening to say the least. With this mirage city’s water gluttony fueling the extravagances of the casinos and other tourist meccas, it stretches my incredulity regarding others greed and capitalist excess.

In the preface of the book, he begins with, “Lower Manhatten was soon a furnace of crimson flames, from which there was no escape. Cars, railways, ferries, all had ceased, and never a light lit the way of the distracted fugitives in that dusky confusion but the light of burning. Dust and black smoke came pouring into the street, and were presently shot with red flame.”

What? Someone’s eyewitness description of the events of September 11, 2001? No, actually, H.G. Wells, from The War in the Air, written in 1908!

As I said earlier, capitalism and its markets care not at all about people, places and personal predilections. As Naomi Klein’s article in The Nation reaches the conclusion, disaster and human suffering is good for business—misery loves capitalism!

With all the talk about God, morality and the anathema of one’s personal sexual conventions, the basic root of all evil is conveniently left out of the discussions.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Back on the soapbox

I guess my self-imposed sabbatical was short-lived. While I don’t think I’ll be posting as frequently as I have in the past, a part of me finds it difficult not to write down my thoughts, as well as observations.

When I first decided to be a writer and began to pursue it as a vocation and not a hobby, Stephen King’s On Writing motivated me and urged me on with practical advice. One of his pieces of advice offered, was the admonition that to become a good writer, one has to write regularly—he said at least an hour per day. At the time, I was a corporate cubical occupant for a large insurance mega-giant, working a dead-end, nine-to-five job. At King’s prompting however, I began to write each morning at 4 am in order to get my writing in before I went to my soul-draining corporate gig. Blogging is just that habit in continuation.

This morning, awakening to another day of overcast and light rain, I decided it’s high time to resume another ritual that I held to in the past—my three times per week workout with free weights, to maintain some level of muscle tone, so I don’t totally go turn to blubber. During my 20-30 minute session, I usually watch some television, preferably news, and C-Span. Because of the usual early hour, it is mostly rebroadcasts of previous live events; speeches, congressional hearings and other policy-related fare.

This morning, I was regaled by my president, talking about the need for Congress to pass the energy bill, in order to lessen our dependence on foreign oil; sounds good, right? Well his solution was coal! He waxed eloquent about the abundance of coal and as he is want to do, he glossed right over the environmental concerns. He did this in his usual “folksy” way, saying that he campaigned on “clean coal technology” and that is one of his major tenets of his energy policy. Coal, the producer of greenhouse gasses and acid rain, falling on Mainers as I speak; this is President Bush’s central pillar. As if that wasn’t enough, he also spoke about “nucular” power as another option. Once again, his cavalier phrasing and flippant remarks that “there are some problems with ‘nucular’ power, but we can address them with technology”. Ah yes! Technology to the rescue!

If anyone’s interested in extracting their heads from out of their asses, I dug up another prescient piece by Jim Kunstler that he wrote back in March, a basic synopsis of his book, The Long Emergency. I couldn’t help noticing the glaring paradox between Kunstler’s “doom and gloom” predictions and our president’s Pollyanna-ish glib glossing-over of the real issues pertaining to oil as a future reliable source of energy.

Getting back to my sabbatical. I probably won’t right longer pieces like this one as frequently. Having said that, I enjoy this style of writing, as it most resembles the Op-ed, one of my favorite tools of communication that I employ.

Blogging is an opportunity for me to write and work through issues that trouble me, that I’m passionate about, or often, both. I don’t consider myself an expert, but maybe I’m what Buckminster Fuller called a “professional generalist”. That person, who is interested and tracks multiple theories, sources of information, trends, etc. In an age of specialization, generalists often are able to see the forest and not get fixated on the trees in front of them.

I’ve got a lot on my plate at present, but I’ve been encouraged the past few days by people I’ve spoken with, a few well-placed words and ideas, and coming to terms with the motivation of people who would rather I didn’t succeed.

Yesterday, I had to make a phone call as part of a writing assignment that I was doing for a client. I was privileged to speak to this wonderful, visionary man named Gus Jacacci. A member of Maine’s arts community and a true visionary, Jacacci encouraged me and boosted my spirits as only a member of his generation could. He’s led a fascinating life and is still actively engaged in building a better world to leave for the next generation. I’m looking forward to our future conversations about Thomas Jefferson, social architecture and other topics of mutual interest.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Kalifornia dreamin'

Did I tell you that I like Jim Kunstler? Maybe it's the bowtie, or maybe it's the name of his blog? Maybe, oh maybe, it's his irreverent and often prescient take on Amerika the Bee-uu-tee-full!!

If you don't buy the mindset that someone/thing (God, guns, GW , the guvment, technology or the wonderful ingenuity of the 'merican peepo) is 'gonna save us, then you might enjoy C'fuck Nation.

Here's JK's take on California.

[I know, I'm supposed to be in exile/hiding; I'm crawling back under my rock.]

Sunday, June 12, 2005

I must not think bad thoughts

Bush campaigns to extend Patriot Act .

Patriot Act II passed by Senate Intelligence Committee.

More power given to FBI under Patriot Act provisions.

The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear -- fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is safety.--H. L. Mencken

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."--Theodore Roosevelt (1918) [What would Teddy say now?]

Friday, June 10, 2005

Let's talk about God, for a moment

While on self-imposed exile from Words Matter, I'll occasionally rely on some other bloggers and people I respect to at least maintain an occasional presence around here. I hope that I remain a boil on the backside of the naysayers and crowd that would prefer that some of us sit down and shut up! We all know the types--the one's who love to sing their praises to God, guns and the Republican Party, while doing their damnest to shut down our right to express admiration for the things that we value.

From a fellow blogger and a writer I regularly read over at Living on Less, asfo_del.

God? Cannot Find Server

Look, there is no god. It's nothing but a fairy tale. Not that fairy tales don't have their place. Sometimes our illusions are all that stands between feeling like choking to death and getting through another moment of the day. Hell, most of the time. But it's just a story: a story that was invented by humans. Given all the mysteries of the universe which almost certainly are beyond the grasp of us stupid little humans, why should a story that we ourselves made up turn out to be an accurate explanation of all the unknowables that we can't begin to understand?

And if you tell me, well, how can you be sure that there is no god, how could you possibly know one way or the other, then I will say to you: you brought up the story, why don't you have to prove to me that it's true rather than me having to prove to you that it isn't? Your story is irrelevant to me. I could give a fuck-all if it's true or not, and without giving it another thought, I will just say flat out that it's not. If I told you that I sprouted wings today and flew over the Bayonne Bridge, wouldn't you say, well, I really don't believe you, what can you give me in the way of evidence, or even, failing evidence, some plausible explanation that would make your claim seem reasonable? And I would have nothing. I would have to say to you, you have to have faith, man, and you know what, if you don't have faith then shut up, you're an asshole. That's what religious doctrine tells us, essentially.

Some religious people are profoundly kind and compassionate human beings. They chose to accept something implausible, but meaningful to them, on faith. More power to them. But the harm that religious dogma has done over the centuries far outweighs the good, in my opinion, so why insist on looking for shreds of goodness in a shameless and harmful lie?

Staring emptiness in the face is not necessarily healthy for one's mental well being -- what does it leave one with to hang onto? -- but neither is filling one's head with untruths. Especially when those particular untruths are so relentlessly reinforced, everywhere you look, in fact, that they become unshakeable beliefs, stuck inside the skull like a wad of chewing gum. Apologies to those who might be offended.
[On the other hand, I don't think I've ever seen any apology, nor even an acknowledgement that non-believers might take offense, from the pro-god camp for any of their controversial statements.]

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Respite from Words Matter

I’ve decided to take a mini-sabbatical from Words Matter. No, I’m not shutting it down, as I’m sure some would prefer. However, after this AM’s series of troubling emails, impugning my mental health, my motives and my general character, I’d prefer to devote my divided energies to the tasks at hand—my book, my paid writing and my involvement with the Twilight League.

Over the past year, I’ve been able to meet many new folks as a result of my writing and yes, my blogging. While I would concur that blogs are an acquired taste, my choice to reveal parts of myself is my right and prerogative. To some who obviously find what I write disturbing, offensive, or even the musings of a “12-year-old boy”, this is my blog and I write about what I want. Blogging is the technological equivalent of the pamphleteering that took place after Gutenberg’s invention. It lends a voice to those who often are shut out of the “public square” due to class, socio-economic standing, or corporate control of the organs of communication. At the risk of appearing “pre-pubescent” and “consummately immature”, if you don’t like what I write, or the way I treat certain public figures, then turn the channel! I personally am sick and tired of the way some of those I criticize treat the people that I care about! [Note: With email considered admissable as evidence, it would seem to me that mental health professionals should refrain from commenting via this means of communication while engaging in pycho-babble based upon someone's opinions shared in a blog; I would think this might be a violation of some code of ethics. At the least, it certainly shows a lack of professionalism expected of the profession.]

I feel extremely vulnerable and wounded at this time. Despite this, I stand by what I’ve written in the past. I don’t back away from my characterizations of our president, his party, xianity and the corporate agenda that is destroying the middle class way of life that many in America have enjoyed. I’m thankful that the period that I was privileged to grow up in, allowed my mother to stay home, while my father’s income was enough to keep a roof over our heads and our bellies full. That’s not the reality for most any longer.

Let me end on a positive note. Last night I had a very positive meeting with someone who I think will be a key player in the launch of When Towns Had Teams. Our discussion encouraged me in a way I haven’t been encouraged for quite some time. Then this morning, a phone call brought additional optimism, like balm to my battered consitution. Good things are in the works and I refuse to allow others’ impure motives to sidetrack my endeavor, When Towns Had Teams, my paean to the men, their stories, and the teams that will be the bedrock of my book.

You can piss on me, call me what you want, but don’t you dare to tarnish the memories and the character of these great men who have been gracious enough to share their wonderful stories with me.

The Maine represented by When Towns Had Teams was a special place and I’m looking forward to sharing this better time and place with those who appreciate when local baseball “ruled the roost” of rural Maine and other similar places in America.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Body image and suicide

My local paper had an article culled from the AP wire, linking teen's body image, to increases in suicide attempts. According to the article by Lindsey Tanner, "teenagers who perceived themselves at either weight extreme--very fat or really skinny--were more than twice as likely as normal-weight teenagers to attempt or think about suicide." This article was based on a recent study which appears in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, published Monday.

This is interesting as it is the perception teens have of their body shape that drives this increase. My thought was where did the perception come from? Certainly, our media-obsessed, cult-of-personality pecking order determines whether women (and men) have the body shape deemed acceptable. Whether this caricatured image is realistic and attainable doesn't matter. From Britney Spears to the chemically-enhanced athletes and other models splattered across billboards, in magazine adds and commercials, today's teens are fed a steady stream of obviously harmful and erroneous information about who they are.

From the study, the following stats made me sit up and notice, as I read them; About 19 percent said they had considered suicide in the previous year and about 9 percent said they had attempted it. To break it down, one in five teens have considered suicide and one in 10 have attempted to end their lives. This is not encouraging.

I decided to email a friend and librarian who is very knowledgeable on the subject. I was curious how she viewed these stats. I thought they seemed high. She did not. Here are a few of her thoughts on the subject:

"I am surprised that the stats are not higher; if kids were not afraid to be truthful to others and more importantly to themselves (acknowledging they could use some help) I think we would see higher documented statistics. But now it's getting to the point where these kids have noone to go to. Parents are too busy with their own problems or are in denial or just trying to keep a roof over their families heads and the teachers in school that teens would seek out are not there because they are too afraid of getting in trouble, because perhaps they may be "crossing boudaries" which in the majority of cases, is crap."

My friend is a former educator who left that field because the current climate in public schools prevented her from being who she needed to be as a teacher. I trust her judgement on this matter.

It's terribly depressing and a real indictment on our corporate-culture that our best and brightest are made to feel that a few extra pounds, or not having the ideal weight is reason to end their lives.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Going the independent route

The most difficult part for most writers contemplating a book is actually persevering and ending up with a working manuscript. If only that was all and you could move on to your next project. Obviously, for better-known writers and those with a manuscript that is geared for mass consumption, I’m sure finding an agent and a publisher is considerably easier than my own experiences have yielded. Write the book, send it off and someone takes care of the rest. In addition, they send you an advance and it’s off to your next best-seller.

Having sent out proposals and queries to agents for When Towns Had Teams, only to be met with responses that ranged from being ignored, to receiving a personal “thanks, but no thanks” letter, I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns and take on the publishing myself. Call me an independent publisher, as that is what I’m morphing into. If you can’t find a small press in Maine, New England, or elsewhere to give your manuscript the time of day, then you come to a crossroads. It becomes a case of fish, or cut bait, to use a favorite New England colloquialism.

I have a considerable investment of time and energy at this point. With most of the past year taken up with planning, research, interviews and writing, my efforts have yielded a product that I’m proud of. Unfortunately, the nature of publishing being what it is, none of the small presses that I’ve made contacts with are willing to take on my project.

Amazingly, well-meaning people, who know little or nothing about publishing, are happy to give you their two cents worth of advice. Things like, “have you contacted Downeast Books?” to “You should contact Stephen King” to asking me, “Do you have a copy with you?” The answers are as follows; “I did and they rejected it (not marketable enough)”; “You don’t contact Stephen King, he contacts you”; and lastly, “No, I don’t have a copy, but if you give me a minute, I’ll run down to my basement and start my printing press and have a copy for you soon.”

Certainly, I don’t mean to be condescending. Hell, I didn’t know anything about publishing when I started. No writer truly knows the maze of publishing when they set out to write the “great American novel”, or in my case, a simple book about baseball, from a time when it represented the communities where it was played, several decades ago.

So, at this point, in addition to all the busy work I’m now facing of formatting my manuscript before sending it off to a professional editor, I’m now forced to come up with a website, handle all the aspects of getting my book ready for publication, as well as finding a way to piece together enough money to avoid debtors prison, via articles I write and a part-time gig or two. Did I mention I would be handling all the marketing?

I’ve always been a big fan of the DIY ethic that permeated punk rock in its earliest days. Much of that ethic is still alive and well in much of the indie rock scene. Some of the independent labels like Matador have done very well from their first foray into the jungle of corporate music. Granted, Matador is an exception, but labels like Merge and Emperor Jones have done well enough to keep at it for a good stretch. And then there are the smaller operations such as Secretly Canadian and Scat, of which I’d say I’d be akin to in what I’d like to accomplish. By embracing the "head down and plow through" mentality of DIY, I’m confident that I can get it done, as overwhelmed as I often feel. At this point, I don’t have any other choice, if I want my efforts and the wonderful stories of these colorful former players to see the light of day.

Addendum: Merge will be the U.S. label for Teenage Fanclub's new disc, available in stores next week. You can preview this wonderful Scottish band's new record, currently streaming on the Merge website.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Anti-gay, Texas-style

I like Molly Ivins, or should I say, I have a deep, abiding respect for her. Columnists who manage to strike a nerve, but never lose their ability to laugh and also make us laugh (to keep from crying), are worth their weight in gold.

Some of what Ivins writes about, if it wasn't so damn accurate, would seem like a caricature--like the Texas Legislature.

You can say what you want about Ivins, but you can't say she didn't warn us about George 'Dubya Bush. For more details, see her book, Shrub. Since no one heeded her sage advice, she was forced to write Bushwhacked.

From her column last week for Creators.


AUSTIN -- Here in the National Laboratory for Bad Government, it's Duck and Cover time -- the Legislature is in session. The Can't-Shake-Your-Booty bill passed the House, saving us all from the scourge of sexy cheerleaders. But nothing else is getting done. The state is being run by people who do not know how to govern. Keep in mind that based on past form, whatever lunacy is going on in Texas will eventually sweep the country.

Rarely are the words of one state legislator worth national attention, but when Senfronia Thompson, a black representative from Houston, stalks to the back mike with a certain "get-out-of-my-way" look in her eye, it's, Katie, bar the door. Here is Thompson speaking against the Legislature's recent folly of putting a superfluous anti-gay marriage measure into the state constitution:

"I have been a member of this august body for three decades, and today is one of the all-time low points. We are going in the wrong direction, in the direction of hate and fear and discrimination. Members, we all know what this is about; this is the politics of divisiveness at it's worst, a wedge issue that is meant to divide.

"Members, this is a distraction from the real things we need to be working on. At the end of this session, this Legislature, this leadership will not be able to deliver the people of Texas fundamental and fair answers to the pressing issues of our day.

"Let's look at what this amendment does not do: It does not give one Texas citizen meaningful tax relief. It does not reform or fully fund our education system. It does not restore one child to CHIP [Children's Health Insurance Program] who was cut from health insurance last session. It does not put one dime into raising Texas' Third World access to health care. It does not do one thing to care for or protect one elderly person or one child in this state. In fact, it does not even do anything to protect one marriage.

"Members, this bill is about hate and fear and discrimination. . . . When I was a small girl, white folks used to talk about 'protecting the institution of marriage' as well. What they meant was if people of my color tried to marry people of Mr. Chisum's color, you'd often find the people of my color hanging from a tree. . . . Fifty years ago, white folks thought interracial marriages were 'a threat to the institution of marriage.'

"Members, I'm a Christian and a proud Christian. I read the good book and do my best to live by it. I have never read the verse where it says, 'Gay people can't marry.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Thou shalt discriminate against those not like me.' I have never read the verse where it says, 'Let's base our public policy on hate and fear and discrimination.' Christianity to me is love and hope and faith and forgiveness -- not hate and discrimination.

"I have served in this body a lot of years, and I have seen a lot of promises broken. . . . So . . . now that blacks and women have equal rights, you turn your hatred to homosexuals, and you still use your misguided reading of the Bible to justify your hatred. You want to pass this ridiculous amendment so you can go home and brag -- brag about what? Declare that you saved the people of Texas from what?"

"Persons of the same sex cannot get married in this state now. Texas law does not now recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, religious unions, domestic partnerships, contractual arrangements or Christian blessings entered into in this state -- or anywhere else on this planet Earth.

"If you want to make your hateful political statements then that is one thing -- but the Chisum amendment does real harm. It repeals the contracts that many single people have paid thousands of dollars to purchase to obtain medical powers of attorney, powers of attorney, hospital visitation, joint ownership and support agreements. You have lost your way. This is obscene. . . .

"I thought we would be debating economic development, property tax relief, protecting seniors' pensions and stem cell research to save lives of Texans who are waiting for a more abundant life. Instead we are wasting this body's time with this political stunt that is nothing more than constitutionalizing discrimination. The prejudices exhibited by members of this body disgust me.

"Last week, Republicans used a political wedge issue to pull kids -- sweet little vulnerable kids -- out of the homes of loving parents and put them back in a state orphanage just because those parents are gay. That's disgusting.

"I have listened to the arguments. I have listened to all of the crap. . . . I want you to know that this amendment [is] blowing smoke to fuel the hell-fire flames of bigotry."

Then they passed the amendment.