say hello, wave goodbye

Friday, April 11, 2008

Moving on up... the east side (also known as Wordpress)

My new blog can be found at

See you there!

Friday, April 20, 2007

More Than Sorry

Vietnam is the word for all that went wrong.For all that turned out contrary, simply because from the very outset the thinking was flawed. Vietnam ought to have been an adjective. It ought to mean infinitely sad. It ought to mean sorrow of such enormity as to be irreparable. But even that is impossible, the very word Vietnam is ruined, worn out. It has begun to mean Chuck Norris. Oliver Stove trilogies. It means low-budget movies you fall asleep half way through, old cartoons from Marvel Comics

~ From Vietnam. Thursday. by Johan Harstad

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Words Without Borders

I just started a new book, Words Without Borders. Below is an excerpt from the introduction.

In November 1979, I was living in Austin, Texas, when Iranian students in Tehran overran the American embassy, and the hostage crisis began. In those early moments of what became a 444-day standoff, young white men from Houston and Dallas cruised the streets in their late-model cars, stopping to beat up any man or boy who looked even remotely Iranian. Among the battered were Sudanese, Italians, El Salvadorans, Egyptians, Ethiopians, and quite a few Mexicans. The were called "sand nigger" and "camel jockey" and told to go home. Go Home.

Twenty-two years later, on a clear blue morning in September, we were attacked by a handful of men from a fundamentalist cult of a militant arm of an ancient religion, and we answered those attacks with attacks of our own, one of which was the beating of an elderly Sikh on a bus in Boston. Three men took him for Middle Eastern because he wore a turban, which somehow meant Muslim, which then meant terrorist, and they pummeled him.

We are, of course, a country of immigrants. We come from the very cultures we no longer seem to know. A recent National Geographic study tested 18-to-24-year-old Americans, 83 percent of whom could not find Afghanistan on a map. Seventy percent could not find Israel or Iran. Only 37 percent could locate Iraq. When asked the religion of India's majority populations, nearly half answered Muslim when it is Hindu. A full 80 percent of Americans do not have passports, and there is this alarming statistic from Words Without Borders: "50 percent of all the books in translation now published worldwide are translated from English, but only 6 percent are translated into English." Our own president has publicly referred to Slovakia as "Slovenia," has called Kosovars "Kosovarians," Greeks "Grecians," and East Timorese "East Timorians." When he was running for office in 1999, he was quizzed by a reporter and could not name the president of Chechnya, the general who had taken power in Pakistan, or the prime minister of India.

There are theories as to how we've become so ignorant of other cultures around the world: geography and foreign languages are no longer taught in schools; U.S. media companies have cut back on world new coverage; we are isolated between to oceans and have friendly neighbors to the north and south and can afford the luxury of being provincial. The real reasons for out collective ignorance are probably more complex, but whatever the roots, the consequences are dire: we have never been less isolationist in the variety of goods and services we consumer from around the world, and never have we been more ignorant of the people who produce them. This is, if nothing else, fertile territory for misunderstanding, unresolved conflict, and yes, war.

The translation and publication of this volume, therefore, have never been more timely or necessary. Yet there are rewards here that go beyond politics and even age-old questions of war and peace; to go more deeply into the experience of the other - no matter how "foreign" - is to go more deeply into our own experience as well. Leo Tolstoy wrote: "Art is transferring feeling from one heart to another." In this essential collection of stories from around the world, genuine feeling and more are transferred from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. The emotional landscape of many of these is hardship of some kind: drought, war, poverty, living under totalitarian rule. In each, however, is the affirming cry of human expression.

- Andre Dubus III

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

where are you going?

Societies are not made of sticks and stones, but of men whose individual characters, by turning the scale one way or another, determine the direction of the whole.

- Socrates, in Plato, The Republic, Book Eight

Friday, December 15, 2006

This was in the Washington Post yesterday, and I thought it was interesting. It is certainly a different take on the situation in Darfur. I appreciate that they acknowledge that there is more to this story (and most news stories) than you typically get in talking-head-on-CNN scenario.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

you oughta know

Around the globe, nations purchase weapons – chiefly from the United States – at the cost of about $1 million every minute; collectively, they spent about $800 billion on their militaries in 2002, compared to the $56 billion in development assistance to help the poor nations of the world.

In the United States, 35.9 million people live below the poverty threshold.

In Manhattan, the top fifth of income earners make 52 times more that the lowest fifth: $465,826 compared with $7,047 – the latter an income roughly equivalent to what one would find in Namibia.

The world’s wealthiest five hundred individuals have the same combined income as the world’s poorest 416 million people.

A cow in the European Union receives a daily government subsidy greater than what the world’s poor live on ($2.20 a day) and the American government paid more in farm subsidies to its twenty thousand cotton growers in 2005 ($4,7 billion) than the total amount of U.S. aid to Africa.

In 2000, 11.1 million children under the age of five died from preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhea, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles.

The AIDS epidemic has claimed about as many victims – almost forty million – as the Black Death in Europe in the mid-fourteenth century.

Five million people died of AIDS related illnesses in 2004.

The Caribbean is location of the world’s second-highest HIV infection rate; in 2000, half a million children in this part of the world died from AIDS, while another half-million became newly infected (primarily from mother-to-child transmissions).

Life expectancy in Swaziland is 34.4 years, and experts predict that by 2010 it will be 30 years. In Zimbabwe, the average is only 33.1 years, and in Zambia, 32.4 years.

The United States is the richest nation in the world, but is among the least generous donors to development assistance, giving only 0.16 of its gross domestic product.

The U.S. government donates only about $16 billion each year for development assistance, compared to the $450 billion that it appropriates for the military – or compared to the $11 billion Americans spend on their pets.

~ Just thought you should know.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

gotta have faith?

John Kerry gave a speech at Pepperdine about religion and his personal story of faith. This follows similar speeches by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) and Robert P. Casey Jr., the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

Kerry says that he wishes he had given this speech before the 2004 elections, and I do to. Those of you who have ever heard me talk about the Democratic Party know that I think one of the major breakdowns of the Kerry campaign was the lack of open communication about issues like this. I think that this is something that the Democratic party as a whole struggles with. However, if you aren’t open about what you believe and how that fits in with your history as a politician, people are going to fill in the blanks for you. That solution never works out very well for the Democrats.

Some say that by addressing these issues, the Democratic Party runs the risk of alienating its liberal base. I think that American voters are, for the most part, smarter than people think. You have your groups and either end that won’t be persuaded either way – they will always vote straight ticket because that’s just what you do. You aren’t going to change the minds of voters like that. But the people who actually listen to campaign issues and the such are the people who are most likely to be persuaded. The people who consider themselves “moderate” (politically or religiously) and the voters who vote for people not party. These are the people who can understand that you can be a Christian and not be against abortion or gay marriage. These are the people who understand the fallacy of the pre-election Republican legislative agenda that caters itself to what they think that religious conservatives want. And the people that they are catering to aren’t “religious conservatives” they are conservative Christians.

In response to Kerry’s speech Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, said, “The pickle that some of these liberal policymakers find themselves in is, they know that faith is important to people, but when they get pinned down on their policy positions that are inconsistent with the tenets of their faith, they start hedging and talking about other factors in their decision."

I would like to clarify a something for Mr. Perkins. The beauty of the political science experiment known as the United States of America is that we don’t have an official religion. One of the benefits of this situation is that our legislation is not based on a person’s religious views or beliefs. I think that the alarm should sound and big red flashing light should go off for all of us when we see a politician legislating their personal religious beliefs to the citizens of this country. People like Mr. Perkins find this convenient now, because they believe that Christianity is still the dominant religion and therefore it should be socially acceptable to legislate your “religious” beliefs about gays and abortion to the entire nation. That’s not what politics is about. And that shouldn’t be what Christians are about. Shouldn’t “faithful Christianity” be about helping those less fortunate than ourselves and seeking equality for those who are put upon? I’m pretty sure that Jesus had something to say about that. Not to mention that legislation of beliefs that are essentially religious in nature violates freedom of religion for those in our nation who happen not to be Christian.

Attitudes about being conservative and Christian like the one Mr. Perkins displayed remind me of an article I read on CNN today about Turks trying to get the pope arrested. They said that by insulting Islam and Muhammad, that the pontiff violated their law that ensures freedom of religion and thought. Now, I don’t think the pope should have said what he did about Islam, but it seems to me that a law protecting freedom of religion and thought should, in fact, protect the pope from being arrested. Unless, of course, the law only protects freedom of a specific religion and thought. Which isn’t exactly freedom, now is it? I think that when we start legislating personal religious beliefs to the nation, instead of trying to figure out what is best for ALL of the citizens of America, we are relegating our freedom of religion amendment to only protecting the rights of some.

I am proud of John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Robert P. Casey, Jr. for expressing their beliefs. We need to start somewhere…and maybe this is it.