Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In The Spirit of Humanity

Just a few hours ago, a ship carrying food, medicine, and toys was sailing for Gaza to deliver humanitarian relief to the people languishing under blockade. It was a Greek vessel, the Arion, which for this trip was dubbed The Spirit of Humanity. Its crew (including a former member of our Congress) were peace activists with no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except to feed starving people, to deliver supplies for first aid, and toys for children who are hungry and cannot move freely about their world.

While in international waters today, the ship was surrounded by the Israeli navy, boarded, and forced to an Israeli port. That does not even sound legal to me.

In just a few minutes, I was able to call the offices of both my United States Senators and Congressman Harry Teague, asking to speak with the Legislative Aide for international affairs, and making a specific request: that the Senators and Congressman call the Israeli embassy and/or our State Department, and ask that the ship, crew, and cargo all be released. A further request: let the Spirit of Humanity dock in Gaza long enough to unload its cargo, and then leave. The distribution would likely have to be left to the Gazans; one can pray they have a network set up to receive and distribute.

The humanitarian concern transcends the political dispute. The blockade on Gaza is an ongoing humanitarian crisis. It was bad even before the appalling military attack in January that amounted to shooting people trapped in a box; with the blockade still in force, funds for reconstruction cannot get into Gaza. What is the state of their infrastructure? How sound are the buildings and homes? How much clean-up of rubble and ammunition is left to do? No good is coming of this.

The blockade is sheer anger. It is an act of rage, and it will breed successive generations of rage and violence. I could not read this news and simply cluck in dismay. I went for the phone immediately.

Would you like to do the same?

Look up your senators' phone numbers here.

Look up your Congressional rep's phone number here.

If you don't know who they are, it is time you found out.

If you do make these phone calls, or even just one of them, we here at the Burning House praise and thank you.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Poor Isaiah

I've always enjoyed the tradition that throughout Isaiah's long period as a prophet, his own wife did not believe in him. If anyone were to make a situation comedy set in the ancient world, Isaiah and his wife would be excellent characters.

"Look! Sennacherib has cleared out of Palestine and Egypt! I'm telling you, it is the Holy One!"
"Yes, dear. We need water."
"You still don't believe me! It is God's judgment, isn't it clear?"
"It's clear that Senna got his butt kicked and couldn't feed his army anymore. Have you fetched the water yet?"
"You-- you're IMPOSSIBLE!"
"And thirsty. The pails are by the door."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It Is All About My Toe Now

It is all about my toe. My toe hurts.

I smashed my toe while moving a couch. The couch weighs about as much as an iron bull being ridden by Mike Tyson. Give or take a few pounds. I'm not sure whether it was the couch, the bull, or Mike Tyson -- it was a disorderly scene -- but something very heavy and hereby damned to hell fell on my toe, damaging the toe nail and cutting my toe UNDER the nail. Blood, pain, hellfire, embarrassment in front of the wife, instantly transformed from burly man of strength to a wretched thing hopping awkwardly making little drowning coughing sounds.

Blood in the bathtub, hot, dizzy in the head. No. It cannot end like this.

On my back, near the air conditioner, foot in the air. My wife saw me and gasped. My boy meanwhile laughed at the sight of Papa on the floor. "Do we need to take you to the emergency room?" she asked.

"It is too late," I told her. "It is the end. I am summing up my thoughts."

The universe now in orbit around my suffering little piggie, I thought on how to dispense my few belongings and what my final words might be. Perhaps the bellydancing academy would consider naming itself after me, since I fell in the duty of clearing our living room for a bellydancing class. My wife thought I was sexy before I hopped and squealed. A glorious high, followed by the inevitable fall. "Once..." I wrote in my eternity journal, a moleskin thing secured with an elastic band, "Once I was a burly man of strength, able to change my environment at will with my arms and my back. To build myself a kingdom was simply a matter of action. And yet, for want of a toenail..."

I could not bear to complete the thought. I hurled the moleskin journal and gazed at the ceiling, pain throbbing, my wife had removed the child so he would not see the horrific sight of his father, fallen. Then her voice, from another room:

"What do you want to do for dinner?"

Sweet angel, maintaining routine for the child's sake. She was strong. She would go on, while I rode my toe off into the vanishing point beyond this mortal coil. All would be well.

"Do you want to split this beer with me?"


And off I went. To live. Yes, to live. The indomitable survival instinct. A miracle: to walk, to sip, to live again!

My toe hurts.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Duopoly 101

The folks at Poli-Tea Party have a good post up this evening about political indoctrination in the "two-party system."

I am happy to discover a dedicated blog on the subject of this false and anti-democratic duopoly. Check 'em out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

June Is For Democratic Uprisings

With the networks fiercely devoted to eulogizing Michael Jackson and covering, somewhat, developments in Iran, there are other things going on.

On this blog, we wrote about the uprising and violence in Peru over free trade. Today, there are some strange things going on in Honduras, too.

My irreverent synopsis is as follows: The leftist President of Honduras has apparently decided his country needs him badly enough that the Constitution must be amended to permit him another term. He called a referendum on this question, but the Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal on technical grounds and ordered the election not take place.

Phooey to that, sayeth President Manuel Zelaya, and orders the military to help with logistics. The general says no can do, the Supreme Court has ruled the election illegal. Check that out: the general takes it to heart that his duty is to protect the state, not to back up a strongman. General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez was then summarily fired by the President, but the Supreme Court ordered him reinstated.

This is quite a day, isn't it?

Zelaya riles up supporters, claiming that the Congress and the Judiciary are trying to stage a coup. Pot, kettle, black. He then leads a march of people on an airport that has been secured by the military, where all the election boxes for the illegal referendum are being kept. Wow!

Members of Zelaya's own party are now conducting hearings on the President's state of mind, Zelaya is screaming about coup attempts while he is in fact trying to circumvent the Constitution and hold on to power.

These people know tyranny from shinola, and they are having none of it:

Quite a day, indeed.

Are You A Genius?

How come nobody thought of this before?

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has this suggestion for the U.S. Census, offered during an interview with Fox entertainer Glenn Beck:

"You know the one question that's not on this survey, Glenn? 'Are you a U.S. citizen?' This would be your perfect opportunity to find out how many illegal aliens are in the United States. Guess what? That's the one question they don't ask on this."


That would work.

The Deed Unshaped Him Quite

In a state like ours, a democratic republic, the press has an important job. We need them to investigate and report on the activities of our elected officials as well as all the non-elected people who do our business and make decisions that affect our lives.

When the Governor of a state goes missing, that's fair game. When that Governor is also considered a likely candidate for President, it adds to the story's interest. For a couple of days in this past week, the apparent disappearance of the Governor of South Carolina was a strange, interesting political story. Was he okay? Where was he? Who was running the state government?

The story, of course, got stranger. He wasn't where his staff said he was, he had been seen at an airport getting in a plane, his vehicle was found, and so on. It became an intriguing story about a public official who was behaving oddly.

Reporters investigated and they found out what was up more quickly than the Governor's own security detail. As they found out what they found out, and as I read in news reports, the story evolved very publically into something that was very much not my business. But by then it was too late.

This won't be the routine commentary on the downfall of yet another moralizing politician. We know that bit and by now that song has been sung, again, on every news show and internet news site.

The emails, oy. Did I really need to read them? Did they need to be published? Do I need to know the identity of the Governor's mistress in Buenos Aires? Not really.

For some reason, I went back and watched his press conference. The morning he came back, he had been met at the airport by a reporter, and by lunch time he knew that his affair was going to become public, so he made a press conference and announced it himself. I did not watch it that day because it was none of my business.

Yet for some reason, I don't know why, I watched his press conference later. I heard it was different, and so it was: messy, unscripted, genuinely emotional. He rambled. Besides the usual political disclosure of extra-marital hijinks and the terse apologies, he went into detail about the relationship. He needed to talk and, oh God, he was doing it publically instead of with a counsellor.

It was remarkably adolescent, the feelings he described and the language he used to describe them. ("That sparking thing" is one phrase he used.) This is not the story of a politician who got caught with a hooker or an intern. This was, in fact, a romance. He had been in the grip of feelings so powerful that he was put into a conflict with his professed beliefs, and had questioned the commitments he had made. He actually ran away from the Governor's office and fled the country, secretly, to confront his own passion. This is not your run-of-the-mill political sex scandal.

Is this any of my business? Have I not gone crazy for a moment, had a meltdown, and upset the people closest to me? We who watch this happen to someone else, while on the dais of public service, can spare some human compassion for the person. He is in a lot of trouble, and deserves it; but he is not Tartuffe. He is not at all the kind of hypocrite we see in the Larry Craigs and Newt Gingriches of our politics. Governor Mark Sanford is more of an Angelo, a man who preached rigid morality and insisted that people should be uncomplicated. Now life has given him a taste of how complicated we really are, and like Angelo, he has been quite unshaped.

It is painful to watch and wonder how he was spared this messy but important teaching for so long. But is it any of my business? As a member of the public, not even a citizen of his state? The only part of this that is any of my business is human compassion, for him and his family.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Citizen Practice: A Letter on Peru

[I'm not very good at being concise. This is a bit squashed to get it on a single page, but the point more or less comes across. A similar version goes to the Secretary of State. I figure, SOMEBODY will read it...]

Senator Jeff Bingaman

148 Loretto Town Centre, 505 South Main

Las Cruces, NM 88001

RE: Peru and Global Trade

Dear Senator,

In Bagua Grande, a veil has dropped and, one more time, the dark side of globalization has shown itself.

The Peruvian government’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Peru ought to shock our conscience. While I understand there is also major news in the middle east this month, the events in Peru deserve to be witnessed and remarked upon by our government.

Citing Peru’s free-trade pact with the United States, President Garcia of Peru rammed a series of decrees through the legislature that would summarily open up the Amazon to international companies. Regardless of the human communities who live there, the jungle would be logged, the gold and oil excavated, the water polluted or drained, and human beings displaced. There was no democratic participation in the decision, nor even a debate among lawmakers.

It was an executive order, made with no regard for the human or the ecological impact.

300,000 human beings who live in, near, and care about for the land and the human communities connected to it, staged peaceful but effective protests. They blocked roads and staged mass sit-ins. The Garcia government responded with violence, which ignited into an uprising that killed several police officers as well as protesters. A number of demonstrators have also disappeared with no accounting.

To be fair, some sources I have read said that Garcia’s decrees reached far beyond what was required in the free-trade pact, and in no way am I suggested the United States has any direct culpability in this act by the Peruvian government. There are, however, some questions our nation should consider and remark upon.

In our economic paradigm, “competitiveness” is the paramount value. More and more of the world is pressured to accept the idea that economic progress means maximizing environmental impact. In other words, to stay “competitive,” we see a pattern of overlogging, clear-cutting, draining wetlands, overgrazing, over-fertlizing and subsequent destruction of soils, and industrial pollution. President Garcia, in numerous comments, has demonstrated that he views the Amazon as a box full of treasures rather than a living organism, and a community of human beings for whom he is responsible.

This paradigm also requires us to deflect or ignore the human consequences of our economic activity. Garcia referred to these human beings as “dogs,” certainly not as citizens. President Obama has just declared the right to peacefully assemble and address ones government as a “universal“ human right. Have we nothing to say about what has happened here in the Americas?

We must re-think our assumptions about human progress. The harvesting of the Amazon has already caused the loss of human life and the destruction of communities. Although two of Garcia’s decrees have now been repealed, the issue remains. In your view, should profits prevail over human life? Does our economic activity serve the many, or the few?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Memo to BPF: Check Your Website

Dear readers: If you are looking for a good non-profit organization for which to donate your services as a website administrator, I would like to refer you to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

A good organization, sincere in its dedication to its work, an organization that keeps its staff small so more of its funds can go to programs instead of administration. I have been a member on and off again for years, depending on my own budget. Recently, I became a member again.

It had been quite some time since I visited its website, so I spent some time looking at the website, checking out the current staff and board, the programs they are running, and so on, checking the features of the web site.

Then I went to the BPF discussion forum. Note: if you're going to have a discussion forum on your website, you'd better have a moderator and comb through it on a regular basis. If you don't check on it, this is what happens.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. What could I do but send an email to BPF suggesting they, um, drop by the BPF discussion forum and see what's being posted there?


Bearing Witness: Bagua Grande

Spontaneously, people organize mass demonstrations against the action of their government. The government cracks down on them, killing an unknown number of them. People on the scene risk their freedom or even their lives taking pictures and video of the fight, circulating the images on the internet for the sake of international witness. There were solidarity protests in other countries. Sly conspiracy theories were soon floated that the protesters are "terrorists" and are being manipulated by other countries.

No, not Iran. We've all been watching that. No, I'm talking about Peru.

This is a story showing the dark side of global neoliberalism, of unrestrained capitalist economics, the paradigm that views a jungle as a box full of resources rather than as a community and a living organism.

The President of Peru, eager to comply with a free-trade pact with the United States, used executive orders to grab the Amazon. Some sources I have read say that he was actually exceeding what was required in the trade pact, but in any case, he issued a series of decrees declaring the Amazon open for mining, oil excavation, and logging. There was no public comment, no vote, no democratic participation in the policy, nor even a legislative debate. The indigenous people living on this land had no representation in the decision.

They were a little bit angry. These policies meant mass numbers of human beings being displaced, along with the destruction of all that land. 300,000 human beings staged sit-ins and blocked roads in protest.

The police moved in and started cracking heads. Protesters were murdered, others vanished. Some fought back and a few policemen were killed as well. Ji Jang Bosal, Ji Jang Bosal, Ji Jang Bosal.

Peruvians have expressed revulsion for these events, and the government has now repealed two of President Garcia's decrees, while the United Nations calls for an investigation into the battle at Bagua Grande.

It's a great story, isn't it? I wonder why the American press pays such scarce attention to it. Human beings in central and south America are marching against the negative aspects of free trade, and in some places -- as here, and in Guatemala -- they are being answered with violence.

It is a story that most corporate-owned media and the Obama Administration would just as soon avoid, because in a story like this dead people are not silenced, but speak more loudly than ever. The need to stop and reconsider our views of human progress for the next century is impossible to ignore in a story like this.

The Obama Administration, at the State level if not at the top, must comment on the impact of free trade agreements on small places and the human communities that live there. They must comment on the incidents where official violence is used to pave a road for extraction of resources by international capitalists, at the expense of human life and the world that sustains us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My Wife's Car Is Vandalized

Good morning to you, too!

My wife's car, along with several others around here, got smacked with a baseball bat or something similar during the night. Police report, calls to insurance, and lots of vacuuming. Lots of and lots of vacuuming. Everything out of the car, including Gabriel's car seat, to be vacuumed individually and then more vacuuming inside the car. A nice family project, with Gabriel sitting on a blanket on the porch, clucking away and banging his xylophone.

When Sarah came into the house shaking and crying, unable to say anything except "Come here," to show me this, my body went on the highest alert level. Was I going to have to dispose of a dead animal? Was there a violent fight going on? A burning cross on the front lawn? A mushroom cloud? What the hell?

When I saw this, I remembered. On the surface, sure, it's just some broken glass; and it sucks to have to spend money you hadn't planned on spending just because some Deming kid was bored on a Sunday night. Yet below the surface, it is a very creepy feeling to have something like this happen to your car.

I remembered my car's battery being stolen in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. Someone broke a window, sat in the driver's seat where I always sit, and popped the trunk to get at the battery. One's space is invaded. It doesn't feel like a random act of vandalism; it feels personal. Why me?

So Sarah was pretty upset; not herself, this entire day. The car isn't important, but the presence of such unthinking violence, only a few feet from our child's window, while we were sleeping soundly. It is unsettling, isn't it?

Yet what do we do? Broom. Extension cord. Vacuum. Kwan seum bosal.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Honk Chronicles, Conclusion

Day 10: Rehearsal in the morning, and the first of two shows at night.

There really aren't any funny stories about the last day, but since we've been weighing you down with daily reports, we may as well finish it up.

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening show, I print out 23 of the pictures I've snapped during the two weeks of rehearsal and arrange them in a display of rehearsal pics from day one to this morning.

It is interesting what happens to a show the moment an audience arrives. Certain children whom we could not get to speak up, were now speaking in bold stage voices. Certain children remembered their cues at last. The show comes together in whatever state of preparation it's in.

There is another show tonight, but the long rehearsals and the race against the clock are over. Whatever the show looks like, the kids are happy with their work and going away with good memories.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Honk Chronicles: Ukulele Blues

Yesterday was a long and strange day. I did not even tell you about the talk I had with an eight-year old boy, having to explain to him that peeing on a tree in the playground was not preferable to coming indoors and using the bathroom.

All I can say is, the boy needs some fatherin'.

Later, I worked with young R. on his blues bit. He seems to have an easier time with this than singing the show tunes. It goes well.

My ukulele is a concert uke, so many people don't know it's a ukulele at first. Folks keep asking about this strange 4-string guitar.

I'm not that good on the ukulele. I know a few chords and fool around with them. I don't practice finger-picking enough to be much of a soloist. The first blues he does is a very simple C-chord blues progression, with that lick you know from "I'm a man" and every spoof blues song you've heard. You know, buh-BAAAH-buh-BAH. That thing. Later in the scene, when he resumes, it's a walking blues line in A, and I just follow him.

He's a funny kid -- I'm handing him a way to steal the show.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ukulele To The Rescue

Honk Chronicles, Day 9

S. is usually twenty minutes late, but after 9:00 AM we are worried.

It was an annoying morning anyway. Our show opens tomorrow and it seems awfully chatty around here as I try to get the morning's rehearsal underway. We are behind schedule, there remains much to do. The lights have not yet been moved into the space. Some of the children are still not wearing the attire I have asked them to wear as a base costume for the show (jeans, dance shoes, t-shirts). No one seems interested in getting anything ready for rehearsal. Some are late.

After 9:00 AM, we start rehearsing without S. Eventually, when phone calls are fruitless, it occurs to some of the others that there could be something wrong. A kid tells me she went to the pool, which is right next door, so I go over there. Yes, I am told, she had been there and left at 8:30. Oh, and she left her script there.

We rehearse without her, the final scene and the finale of our play, with our sound board operator in place. No S. A man arrives to take photographs of the kids for display on the wall tomorrow night. Finally, S. arrives, having been contacted by her grandmother and ordered to report in. By this time, I had already made contingency plans for re-casting her part.

She presents herself to me as if nothing were amiss. She tells me she "wasn't feeling well."

"You were feeling well enough to go swimming this morning," I observe.

"It was after the pool. I didn't feel well."

"You couldn't stop in here to tell us? Or call? We open tomorrow. You missed an entire day of rehearsal."


"We were very worried about you. I am glad you're okay, but very surprised that you would miss a rehearsal without calling. Anyway, let me tell you what you missed. Please get your script."

"Ummm. I know my lines already."

"Yeah, but there are some changes. Can you get out your script for me?"

"Mmmm. It's at home."

"Are you sure?" I produce the script. "You left it at the pool."


"I very nearly gave your role to someone else," I tell her. "You may keep your role, but you have to understand that because of your action, we lost time today. We all waited for you, and then I spent time looking for you instead of working on the show. Before you get on this stage again, you owe each and every member of this company an apology, every single one. I suggest you get moving, because people are leaving for the day."

Off she went.

With everyone gone, we move in two light trees with a total of eight "par cans." Par cans are lights that don't focus very well, but provide more of a wash of light across a space. I spend the afternoon trying to light the room, and ultimately use some of the regular overhead lights in combination with the par cans, using colored gels over the lights to soften the flourescent glare and give the performing area some shape. The overheads are needed, however, to prevent "cold spots" and stygian shadows.

What we've got at this point is what we are going to use. If we are very lucky, we'll get through two run-throughs of the whole show. The kids still haven't tried dancing with their masks, or changing costumes.

Que sara sara. With a total of, what, 45 hours of rehearsal and a cast of children as young as six, it's looking all right.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Honk Chronicles, Day 7

Two of our boys do not have good situations at home -- do not, in fact, live at their home for the time being for terribly sad reasons. For them, rehearsing the show has been a respite in more ways than one.

One of the boys is not getting much sleep at night. Today, he crawled into a cabinet and went to sleep. When he missed his cue and no one knew where he was, we were frantic. Who was it that thought to look for him in the cabinet? A wise church secretary.

Another fella in particular is one of our favorites, to whom we gave a principal role despite being musically challenged. God love him, but if you painted him with glue and tried sticking sheet music to him, it would fall off.

Ukulele to the rescue.

For his solo song of lament, we are turning him into a blues singing genius. He speaks, chants, sings phrases, whatever he can do. With a hat over my face, I follow as an anonymous farmer, playing a blues riff on the uke and following his lead.

We can't make him a singer, but we can make him a comedy sensation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Honk Chronicles, Day 6

Today we staged the blizzard. The climactic transformation of the ugly duckling into a swan, as the momentous chorus sings Harry Potter-ish phrases of mystery and magic and many other memorable things starting with M.

Volunteers put up the backdrop and paint a simple farm scene on it, in the style of a first-grader's painting as I requested, and they go even further and assemble a tree. The black scrims are hung to fashion exits and backstage areas.

And the hay has arrived! After we send the kids home, Joe and I jump in his truck and drive to a ranch that is allowing us to borrow as many bales of hay as we can carry. (Seven, it turns out.)

We've made quite a mess of the fellowship hall in the process of turning into a theatre, but I'm starting to think this might not be a complete disaster.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

On Apologies

From a report in the New York Daily News:

A prominent South Carolina Republican killed his Facebook page Sunday after
being caught likening the First Lady to an escaped gorilla.

Commenting on a report posted to Facebook about a gorilla escape at a zoo in Columbia, S.C., Friday, longtime GOP activist Rusty DePass wrote, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -- probably harmless."

Busted by South Carolina political blogger Will Folks, DePass told WIS-TV in Columbia, "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest."

Then he added, "The comment was hers, not mine," claiming Michelle Obama made a recent remark about humans descending from apes. The Daily News could find no such comment.

It's amazing how many politicians fail to understand that "I'm sorry if you were offended" is not really an apology. Not only is it a fake apology -- "see, it was actually your fault for being so thin-skinned" -- it is a transparently fake apology. Your apology is a lie and the other person is thinking, "What kind of a boob does he take me for?" Congratulations! You are now adding insult upon insult.

Rusty, I've been there, and I've got a suggestion. See, I once laid a joke in mixed company that cut a little close to the bone for someone present. He said something, just a gentle remark, enough to grab my attention and let me know I had gone a little far. Instantly, my reaction was that hot, face-flushed embarrassment. Countering that within a nanosecond was a defensive impulse.

All I said was, "I am sorry." That was it. No qualifiers, no explanations, no bullshit. Just the apology and nothing else. He heard it (and my genuine embarrassment). He forgave me. It was short and dignified. Compassionate, that's the word. In 90 seconds, the whole thing was over and everyone moved on.

Just a suggestion, white boy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

High Definition Life

Maureen Dowd had a funny piece today about the advent of high-definition television. In particular, at the end of the piece, she quotes newscasters and actresses on the cosmetic issues, as the super-pixellated pictures reveal more than we ever wanted to see in the skin and on the clothes of those who deliver our corporate-filtered news, the glorification of dullards and assholes (aka "reality television"), and feather-brained drama with prominent commercial product placement throughout.

In other words, the picture is clearer but the programming is still basura.

The transfer was this weekend, the farewell to analog broadcast in favor of digital.

Here at Casa D'Ammassa, the same old television sits in the living room waiting to play DVDs. We celebrated the "HD Switchover" by, of all things, going to see a live play.

Timothy McAndrews, a Demingite actor and playwright, directed a production of Moss and Hart's classic play You Can't Take It With You at the theatre space in the train depot. The actors could have picked up their cues a bit more briskly, but it was really not bad. And this wasn't analog or digital -- it was the most ancient of broadcast media, something called "LIVE."

Open Letter to the Army of God

Rev. Donald Spitz
Pro-Life Virginia
P.O. Box 2876
Chesapeke, VA 23327

Dear Reverend,

As an American citizen who feels a need to do something, I am writing what may be a fruitless letter regarding your “Army of God” website.

Although I am not a member of any organized anti-abortion group, I appreciate the need for an earnest moral debate on the issue of abortion and human life. There must be a truly “pro-life” perspective in the debate, and even though I write you as a Buddhist rather than as a Christian, the letter is inspired by a similar compassion for human life.

The reason I write you today is that a worthy cause is being undermined.
As a fellow citizen of these United States, I am watching developments in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder with increasing concern. Numerous law enforcement agencies confirm an increase of threatening activities at sites where abortion is protested. These range from violations of buffer zones to truly menacing activity. One clinic had a security camera broken. At another, a protester entered the clinic and threatened a patient (who may have been there for a routine pre-natal examination, for all we know). At still another, a clinic employee was asked how she preferred to die, by knife or bullet. Some doctors and clinic directors are even warned by local police to law low, to stay home and locked down as much as possible. These are still law-abiding citizens.

Judging from your website, you would applaud all of this. It would seem that the laws of our nation are superceded by Biblical scripture, as you interpret it. Regardless of our nation’s laws, anyone practicing medicine at a clinic where abortions are performed are fair game for terrorism and violence. You go so far as to celebrate the murderers of physicians on your website. Moreover, you decry the “persecution” of “anti-abortionists,” and in every example you cite you admit that those “persecuted” were arrested for crimes of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.

It is tempting to assume you are beyond reason, having concluded that the murder of people with whom you disagree is righteous and blessed by God. The point must be made anyway: you are making a terrible mistake.

Have you considered the possibility that by assaulting or terrifying patients in these clinics, a “pro-life” terrorist could actually cause a miscarriage? A nail bomb does not discriminate. It can easily end the life of a pregnant mother who was at the clinic for a routine examination, planning to have her baby. Such is the tragic idiocy of violence.

When a clinic is forced to close because of violence or intimidation, you may celebrate the reduction of abortion in a community, yet you have also reduced access to medical care for women who are planning to have their babies. It is women who live in poverty that get hit the hardest by this. The terrorism you promote not only denies women access to medical care that could save their lives if their fetus is stillborn in the last trimester; you actually impede a mother’s access to pre-natal care. Such is the idiocy of terrorism.

As for publishing so many pictures of dead fetuses, I have to remark that you take a peculiar glee in posting them. Indeed, your “Army of God” website displays an erotic pleasure in hellfire, gore, and murder. It has nothing to do with promoting a “culture of life.”

In the name of human decency, please consider a revision of your website. By all means, be active in getting the laws changed so that abortion has the legal status you feel it deserves. Work to change minds and hearts with respect to abortion. Do not promote terrorism and celebrate those who give themselves permission to murder people and intimidate them.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Honk Chronicles, Day 5

Two boys get a "come to Jesus" from their director (me) in the Scary Papa Voice. And it wasn't about theology.

After this, boys rehearse with attitudes and attention much improved.

We rehearse in spite of an enchilada luncheon, a birthday party setup, another camp using our hall as a receiving area for their trip, and several people gone missing. It is surprising how much we get done, but it isn't enough.

During cleanup, I absent-mindedly start singing the "Ladybugs' Picnic" song, and one of the young'uns knows it and starts singing along. A good way to end the week.

Open Letter to the Pro-Life Movement

[As a citizen, I have to do something. This version of the letter is addressed to the President of Operation Rescue, with similar version addressed to other abortion-protest groups, including the minister listed as a contact for the horrendous "Army of God" website.]

Troy Newman, President
Operation Rescue
P.O. Box 782888
Wichita, KS 67278

Dear Mr. Newman,

Although I am not a member of Operation Rescue, I appreciate the need for an earnest moral debate on the issue of abortion and human life. More specifically, I appreciate the presence of a truly “pro-life” perspective in the debate, and although I write you as a Buddhist rather than as a Christian, the letter is inspired by a similar compassion for human life.

The reason I write you today is that your cause is being undermined.

As a fellow citizen of these United States, I am watching developments in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder with increasing concern. Numerous law enforcement agencies confirm an increase of threatening activities at sites where abortion is protested. These range from violations of buffer zones to truly menacing activity. One clinic had a security camera broken. At another, a protester entered the clinic and threatened a patient (who may have been there for a routine examination, for all we know). At still another, a clinic employee was asked how she preferred to die, by knife or bullet. Some doctors and clinic directors are even warned by local police to law low, to stay home and locked down as much as possible. These are still law-abiding citizens. This is not right.

If the moral purpose is to uphold life, then the organizations promoting a “culture of life” must step up and respond to this. I, too, must respond in some way, which is why I am writing this letter to you and to some of your colleagues. I cannot stand to see this prevail in my own country. Terrorism is creeping into your movement and it will only negate your moral message if you do not confront it. It’s not good for the movement politically, nor is it good for people. Defacing a clinic, tampering with its locks and security equipment, is in violation of federal law. This is not the way to pursue the pro-life cause.

A strong message accompanied by some action is called for. Certainly a moratorium on publishing home addresses is appropriate, since there are clearly people going beyond peaceful protest. You could also resolve to cooperate with law enforcement if you know people who are violating the law and threatening people. Please, at least reject violence and terrorism. It has to be clear that people who stoop to that are not serving your cause. That is true, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Honk Chronicles, Day Four

We have an amazing volunteer working on props and scenery. One of those theatre angels that pops up from time to time and you know in your heart the show would be half- or even quarter-assed if it were not for this individual.

She's a gem. A day after going over a long list of things we need, from the catalogue of knick-knacks needed in the show to costume accessories and scenic projects like backdrops and hanging black fabric to mask our exits, Marge is on the job.

She comes in today with a pile of stuff, informed me that yes, we could have bales of hay -- lots of them -- at no cost to the production. She spends the entire day working. There is no doubt that if we needed the church lifted and moved slightly to one side, she would figure out how to get it done.

Today I learn that two of the teenagers who left are spreading the rumor they were kicked out of the play. Blink blink.

A happier rumor reaches me, to the effect that the kids are having a wonderful time putting this show together.

Exit Song

Sarah raised an interesting question: does Gabriel think his parents sing too much?

It is true that we sing an awful lot. We have no cable or satellite TV. We sing and play instruments.

Moreover, the songs come from everywhere. Abba. The Beatles. Zeppelin. Puccini. Show tunes, including the show we're working on right now of course. The BeeGees. And Sesame Street.

This classic has been in my head all day. Sarah caught me singing it with Gabriel in my arms, almost at the top of my voice.

What can I say? It's genius.

Huge bow, by the way, for Chris Cerf -- the songwriter and voice of "Little Chrissy."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Honk Chronicles: Day Three

Another long day of song and dance.

We compile a very long list of stuff we need for props and scenery. Joe promptly leaves town for several days.

I smile and wave hello to the board members who do not know that I know they were the ones who objected to me directing this show because of my religion. (Little do they know my real religion is theatre.)

We are putting the church secretary in the show in a small role. She rehearses with one of those wireless telephone clips on her ear.

One of the boys takes off on his bike after rehearsal. He forgets about a drinking cup he left out on one of the tables. His father, spotting the cup, calls the boy on his cell phone and tells him to ride back to church and take care of his cup.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Honk Chronicles, Days One and Two

This shall be a chronicle of the historic production of Honk!, a musical take on the fable of the ugly duckling, which my wife and I are directing with a cast of children at the First United Methodist Church.

DAY ONE (Monday)

Five teenagers walked out after the first read-through of the play, yesterday. They were mortified at the prospect of appearing on stage with children younger than them. The first to announce she is quitting says, "I can't stand little kids."

She showed up at a theatre camp for children and was expecting to meet -- the Rockettes? Tyra Banks and the gals from The View? The original Broadway cast of Rent? No doubt, a case of misleading advertising.

We already understand that a great many teenagers suffer from an overdeveloped omigodala (which later develops into the amygdala) and so, omigooooood!!, they left. Five teens who had been cast in principal roles. In their joint interview on CNN, they cited artistic differences but wished the show every success.

The church's music director, and producer of the camp, proceeded to eat his own flesh.

By nightfall, after considering many options, the decision was made to go on with the show, and replace the departed brain trust with adults. Sarah and I are now IN the show. This means I will not get to see my own plays performed in Albuquerque on June 20, but this is the price we sometimes pay for greatness.

DAY TWO (today)

Music and dance rehearsals a little bit behind our ambitious schedule. There are members of the cast who think a box step is something you use to get packages off the top shelf.

Even so, these "little kids" are troupers, enduring long rehearsals without union breaks. Where some Equity actors would fold up into temperamental balls of dudgeon, the kids stay on the job with surprisingly little misbehavior.

A child no higher than my instep enquires about the rationale behind my casting choices.

Joe, the producer guy, nearly gets his hand severed when we move the stage platforms into the fellowship hall. He is having a tough week.

Our props mistress will be away for half our rehearsals and a dread feeling forms in my stomach that I'll be building props and painting scenery myself. I don't even have a scrap of muslin to my name.

Another eerie prophecy: lots of pizza dinners the next two weeks.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Another Name On The Altar

Names of those who are suffering or, worse, have recently quit this mortal coil are remembered on the altar in our "zen garage."

Since April, I've been finding ways to work special chanting into the daily routine. If Sarah and Gabriel go off somewhere, I'll slip into the "hut" and do some chanting, usually to Ji Jang Bosal, the bodhisattva whose name we chant in remembrance of the dead.

Sadly, another name went up today. Someone I met long ago, when I still lived in New York City. A friend of my cousin. A man who became famous, twenty years ago, for something unpleasant. He came forward, that is, with a terrible but necessary revelation, and then set about the long, long task of healing and reclaiming his life. His story encouraged others to come forward with similar stories. A famous man fell from grace. It was a shitstorm. Kevin, a real person, right in the middle of it. A man I knew not for startling headlines and the backlash against him in the press, but as a generous and very funny man who enjoyed good food and loved his friends, including my cousin. We weren't in touch after I left New York (that was in 1993) but I remember him fondly.

So that post about Al Pacino playing Shylock will wait a bit. Time to chant.

DVD Commentaries

Before we get to Michael Radford's 2004 film of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and why it is worth owning a copy and watching more than once, a word about DVD commentaries.

It is almost a standard feature on DVD releases. By enabling the commentary that is among the menu options, you can watch the movie with "live" commentary by the director, the producer, an actor from the movie, whoever was available that day. They watch it as you watch it, and their voices keep up a steady patter on top of the movie as they wax anecdotal over the making of the movie, perhaps elucidating the secret of their creativity as the confide in you of their creative process.

Despite my soul-marriage to the live theatre, I also like movies and find them interesting. To my wife's eternal annoyance, I constantly click the menu and watch the movie through again with the commentary. As a result, I have heard quite a few of them and there is something I wonder about.

For such a handy feature, making such worthwhile use of the DVD medium, a lot of these commentaries sound rather slapdash and chatty. As with bad radio chat hosts, there seems to be a taboo about silence or "dead air" and subsequent pressure to keep on blabbing even when the blather does not contribute to our appreciation of the film. Granted, there is some value to the loose and spontaneous feel, but it's not as if we are going to be fooled into believing we are kicking back with Sidney Lumet or Lawrence Kasdan or the gal who played the villain's lover, like they might ask you to pass the chips any moment now.

All I'm sayin' here is, they could edit these things. Snip out the hemming and hawing, prune the off-the-cuff bibble-babble, go for quality over quantity. We really don't need to hear an executive producer and a director struggling to remember somebody's name or otherwise chatting. Hush.

They should all get their hands on the original Godfather DVD and sit through Francis Ford Coppola's commentary, using it as their model. The Coppola commentary on The Godfather (1972) is almost 100% worthwhile, entertaining, and illuminating. He is fearlessly candid about the dunderheads at Paramount who almost ruined the movie countless times. He also educates, explaining the how-to of making an historical movie on a tight budget, the problems that arose and how he solved them. This is what the DVD commentary is supposed to be about: enhancing your appreciation of the medium itself.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Near Cooke's Peak

That's my friend Chris, meeting the Chihuahuan desert for the first time, gazing all the way into Mexico on a beautiful day not long ago... Note the rainbow.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Pollster

It's summer, I'm less grouchy lately, so instead of hanging up on the guy I gave it a chance.

He was calling to conduct an opinion poll. You never heard of the company and I don't remember it. They ask you questions, which you answer for free, and they sell your answers to a newspaper or TV station without giving you anything in return.

Sometimes the questions are slyly phrased or slanted. ("In your opinion, is Barack Obama a socialist, a communist, or liberal extremist? You must choose one.")

Or sometimes they are just stupid. The questions are formulated simply to get a sound bite that can be quoted on the news ("29% of people responding to this poll say Obama is a liberal extremist"), which then gets drilled into people's heads and leaves no room for a more complex understanding of current events. This is why thousands of people still believe Saddam Hussein was in on the 9/11 attacks after all these years.

In other words, just to make a buck, these companies perpetuate sloppy thinking and misinformation, and help keep Americans dumb.

But for some reason I put all that aside and gave this guy's opinion poll a try.

First question, after we got the particulars aside: born in 1971, registered independent, don't work for a TV station or newspaper, not a candidate for any office. Okay, let's go.

Question #1: Is New Mexico (a) on the wrong track, or (b) on the right track?

"I don't know what that means."

He tried to clarify the question: "Just generally."

"Generally on the right track or the wrong track?"

"Right. Just in general."

I wanted a specific question, and he was making it less specific. Moreover, he was impatient. He had a quota and I was slowing things down.

"Well, we have problems..."

He cut in, "So, we're on the wrong track then?"

Underpaid telemarketers collecting opinions as quickly as possible -- this is supposed to give us a reliable sample of public opinion. I only made it for one more question:

Question #2: In the next election for governor, would I be more likely to vote for the Democrat or the Republican?

"This isn't gonna work."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't believe in our two-party arrangement."

"So it depends on the person?"

"If it's about the party, I'm most likely to vote for the Green."

"That's not one of the options."

"In reality, it is an option. But your poll is not about reality. And my dinner is ready."

So it goes.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Our Solar Clothes Dryer

A while back the brilliant scam artist, Steve Comisar, cleverly exploited the efficiency of line drying laundry by advertising a "Solar Powered Clothes Dryer" for only $49.95. When the suckers, er, customers, opened the eagerly awaited packages, they discovered that the "scientifically proven, space age clothes dryer" was a piece of clothesline.

--From Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Social Response to Terrorism

Even in a land that respects freedom of speech, we are required to exercise judgment and edit ourselves. To exercise the old example, we are not permitted to go into a movie theatre and yell, "Fire!!" without owning the consequences.

All the same, it is legal to say, "All abortion providers deserve to die." We don't want that to change. If those who fuel the nutcases and "lone wolves" like Scott Roeder will not apply some wisdom and discipline to themselves, there must be a response from society but it must not be a legal one. We don't want government rushing in and legislating speech.

The response must be social. There is a network of activists who advocate the use of terrorism as an answer to legal abortions in our country, and it operates openly with internet sites and other publications referring to the likes of John Salvi, Paul Hill, and Eric Rudolph as heroes and even as martyrs, publishing apologetics for the killing of physicians, bombing medical clinics, and intimidating women seeking legal medical advice and services, even denying those women their legal right to save their own lives in the event their pregnancies go horribly wrong.

Their campaign of terrorism has been successful. Despite legislation to protect medical clinics, we have permitted terrorists to discourage doctors from performing medical procedures that are not illegal. There are very few doctors who will perform a late-term abortion if your fetus is stillborn. Terrorism is often successful to a degree, and it has been successful here even as we claim to be winning a "war on terrorism" in lands far away.

There are things the government can and should do, like make a visible demonstration of its resolve to protect clinics and the people who work there. Our eloquent President could make a speech calling this domestic terrorism exactly what it is. Yet we cannot leave it all for others, and certainly not for government.

What are some social responses to terror? It begins with an attitude of zero tolerance for apologetics. In the wake of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, there have been some rather bold apologetics on the mainstream media. They rationalize that Tiller ("Tiller the Baby Killer," as Bill O'Reilly branded him on a regular basis on his popular television and radio shows, ) extinguished human life, therefore deserved to be killed by citizens taking matters into their own hands.

And if I could get my hands on Tiller -- well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech.

Bill O'Reilly on his radio show, 6 November 2006. He said this knowing Tiller had been the target of death threats for many years, had been shot in both arms outside his medical clinic, knowing that this was not some rhetorical monster but a man with a family who was violating no law, but practicing medicine.

Just a figure of speech? No.

Zero tolerance for apologetics. No, a television personality is not responsible for Tiller's murder. That responsibility rests on Scott Roeder alone. The apologetics for Tiller's death, however, are no better than hate speech. Apologetics providing a rationale for citizens to put themselves above the law and murder people with whom they disagree are protected by our Constitution, the same our First Amendment protects the speech of a nazi or a racist. We err on the side of liberty, but we may still react socially by refusing to sit quietly and allow the apologetics for terrorism to continue. The law can only intervene when the speech is clearly inciting an imminent act of violence. There is a point, all the same, where the speech is dangerous yet legally in the clear.

The Fox News network is one example. Here is a network with high ratings, watched by millions of people, presenting one commentator after another who has stoked the hatred that encourages zealots to make a violent fantasy into reality. Michelle Malkin. Ann Coulter. Bill O'Reilly. Laura Ingraham. Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue (who said of Tiller, "he reaped what he sowed"). Their apologetics for violent resistance to Roe vs. Wade have gone on for years, assisting the crazy in making their twisted rationale for murdering adult human beings and thus sealing their own fates. These apologetics linger in their reactions to Tiller's assassination, even while they make the obligatory statements of rebuke.

ZERO social tolerance for apologetics. I will not be in a grocery store, dry cleaners, bar, or household that is playing Fox News. I don't want my child hearing these things, either -- not even at his early age. It is poison. Apologetics for violence are a heinous misuse of broadcast privileges -- giving moral validation to the insanity of, for example, the Army of God.

(Sidebar: The Army of God likes to put pictures of aborted fetuses on their website, so be careful clicking that link. I wonder how they would respond to photographs of dead adults, grieving widows and widowers of people killed in abortion clinic violence?)

(Sidebar #2: Check out the Army of God website anyway, and compare their website to those of radical Islamist terror groups.)

"Turn that crap off," you can say. Or be more polite. It is the worst possible use of television. And if you must vacate a dwelling that broadcasts apologetics for murder and gives comfort to terrorists, be sure to explain why.

This is happening to our entire country, not just a few abortion clinics. This is being done to all of us, regardless of our stance on abortion. Those who oppose the legality of abortion would serve their cause well by explicitly rejecting terrorism: affirm life, and reject violence.

Be unafraid. Be proud. Speak softly and intelligently, yet be firm. We are supposed to be in a war against terrorism.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Tiller's Murder: It Is Time To Push Back

This is what it leads to. All the hateful rhetoric, the unintelligent spinning of complex issues into simple sound bites to manipulate people for their money, their vote, or their time on a picket line.

This is what it leads to. A man is murdered for no good reason. A man is murdered having commited no crime. A man is murdered by a fellow American in the lobby of his church. He is gunned down for providing medical services.

George Tiller. Yes, I am writing about Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas. Called out on the Fox News network as a baby killer comparable to nazi physicians. Haunted by terrorists, yes, terrorists, for two decades. Showing up for his work despite having been shot in both arms previously.

He was gunned down in the lobby of his church on Sunday, shot dead for performing abortions. Dr. George Tiller did not provide abortions for women who did not want their babies. He provided harrowing late-term abortions for women whose pregnancies had gone wrong, whose fetuses had died, who had conjoined twins that would not survive or live short lives filled with pain and suffering. He provided care to women whose lives were in danger, whose dream of motherhood was lost, who had had to make a choice so painful that the very decision rent their hearts.

He was one of very few doctors in the United States performing these procedures. He did not perform abortions as a form of birth control. He performed life-saving procedures to adults who were attempting to have children. He was, in other words, performing a necessary medical service for sound moral reasons.

Nazi. Baby-killer. Murderer. And those who hypocritically proclaim themselves the guardians of human life in God's name finally murdered the man in front of his fellow worshippers at the Reformation Luthern Church in Wichita, yesterday morning.

And in the wake of his death, Randall Terry, leading activist against any and all abortion procedures, declared he was more concerned about President Obama's statement of outrage over the murder, than the murder itself. The life of Dr. George Tiller meant nothing to Randall Terry.

He was murdered by a man named Scott Roeder, 51 years old, who is now under arrest and charged with murder. He is a terrorist, and those who have inspired him to do this with overblown and violent rhetoric have culpability.

Gloria Feldt wrote that she is tired of attending candelight vigils for people like Dr. George Tiller. She is quite right. There is terrorism right here in the United States and it is time to take it very seriously, and reject its rhetoric.

One may oppose elective abortions and still reject terrorism and violence as a tactic. Indeed, one must. Abortion opponents must reject Randall Terry's comments and make their own statement, collectively and in a strong, moral voice, that their position is about honoring and protecting human life, not terrorism and murder. They must do this without delay. They must reject commentators on television and radio who entertain their audiences by inciting them to hatred and violence. The rules of the game have got to change.

Dr. George Tiller saved lives. If the terrorists are successful, his murder will discourage other doctors from intervening in a pregnancy to save the life of a mother who wanted her babies but has already lost them. They had already succeeded in that aim to a point, and this will serve their cause as well. They murdered a man but it is also an act of violence against womankind, a move to deny women a right to protect their own life if their fetus dies.

It cannot be tolerated. There are a few things government can do, but this calls for a response by all the people. It must be dealt with socially as well as legally. The rhetoric, the use of words and imagery, the manipulation of history and theology, has got to change. It has to be a demand voiced loudly and repeatedly. Randall Terry must go, and I hope his organization finds a leader with a stronger moral center who can participate in a sensible and life-affirming dialogue with those who disagree.

Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Randall Terry, and others of your ilk: you must understand that, for whatever reason, people buy into your hyperbole and sometimes act on it. You must come to this understanding and consider the effects of your actions. You own some of Tiller's murder, you have gleefully made money by setting the stage for acts of terrorism, misleading and scaring people, rousing them to the very worst of deeds.

I'm sick of candelight vigils, too. It is time to push back.