May 4, 2011: Might/Tortune ≠ Right

First thought after hearing that info re Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts came from “enhanced interrogation”: “Oh, Lord, how long will it take for Chaney to assert on Fox News, ‘See, America? Torture works!’ ” (Answer: hours.)

So was delighted read this by Rachel Kleinfeld in the NYT:

I know, some people are saying . . . that torture helped us get the intelligence that ultimately led to the courier who worked for bin Laden. But the facts simply don’t support the claim. Torture produced a lead, but it took nearly five years between that lead and the end-game, which simply shows that torture produces intelligence leads that can’t be trusted and must be verified through other means.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate Ms. Kleinfeld’s conclusion, shall we? Let’s take a moment.

April 25, 2011: Good News—Maybe

“Where’s the outrage?” Denise Provost, a Somerville state representative to the House wondered aloud recently. Good question.

Brilliant, a progressive, an environmentalist—she was cosponsoring a local showing of “Gasland” when she’d said this—and hip to both Somerville’s and Massachusetts’ political minefields, Denise doesn’t need masses of angry people outside her office demanding she vote for or against some issue. She can figure it out for herself—especially since she’s the kind of pol who actually reads documents! Still, like any elected official, she needs both one-to-one interactions and masses of people letting her know we’re mad as hell about X and aren’t going to take it any more.

Which brings me to an ironic statement I made last week to someone I just met. Nancy. She, too, was wondering about the lack of outrage—specifically about America’s 3 wars.

“Oh,” I told her blithely. “Things are really beginning to heat up.”

“Really?” she asked. I could tell she wanted to believe me.  (I’d been introduced as a Quaker so she might have assumed I had the inside track.)

“Well,” I immediately backpedaled. “I live in this lovely little Somerville-Cambridge bubble. So among the people I know, things are heating up.” (There had been a fascinating online conversation the day before re the Somerville peace movement and the Somerville Climate Action people working more closely; “it’s all interconnected.”)

“Yup,” I continued. I’ve received four e-mails on this just yesterday!” And grinned.

So I guess I want to make 2 observations:

1. Those of us spending lots of time and energy e-mailing about issues among ourselves need to remember to go massively public, too. We need to break our bubbles.

2. Having stood on Boston Common for two hours on Good Friday—with 90 other Quakers—to silently witness for peace, I will report that overwhelmingly, the response around us was warm, receptive, supportive. Only one F-bomb? Pretty good, I’d say.

Good news.

March 23, 2011: “What Keeps You Going?’

Went to a retreat that past weekend in southern Maine with about 30 people from my Meeting where I bayed at the full moon, went to some terrific workshops, and connected more deeply with a couple of wonderful people.

For a couple of reasons, missed one workshop where people explored sources of strength in hard times. So at lunch, someone asked me, “What keeps you going?”

“All of you,” I answered promptly. “And my grandchildren.”

Good news: I will see two of those grandchildren tomorrow. (Here’s a link so you can see both the incomparably adorable Dmitri and Ruby AND daughter Hope’s lovely tribute to my father.)

Here’s something else that keeps me going: Insightful, brilliant, hilarious social commentary.

(Not exactly Good News but these are desperate times.)

March 7, 2011: Let Me Not Add to the Hate

After the Supreme Court decision re the Westboro Baptist Church last week, spent some time a couple of days ago watching  “The Most Hated Family in America” online. And although that documentary didn’t have an Aha moment for me—I didn’t suddenly understand the psychological reasons why the Phelps family believes and behaves the despicable, hateful way that they do (it’s something about cults but I don’t know enough)—in the delicious silence of meeting for worship yesterday, a prayer DID come to me :

Let me not add to the hate of the world. Let me be a channel for peace.

Good news. Good stuff.

January 15, 2011: (Packing) Heat

Even Tombstone had gun laws

By KATHERINE BENTON-COHEN | 1/10/11 10:53 AM EST

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, during a press conference about the Tucson shootings, called Arizona “the Tombstone of the United States.”

Some journalists gave the word a lowercase “t,” but the sheriff was clearly referring to the infamous silver-mining town 70 miles from Tucson — site of the shootout at the OK Corral.

Journalists invoke the hoary image of “frontier violence” and “Arizona’s poisonous political rhetoric,” it is not that surprising it took less than a day to mention Arizona’s most infamous bloodshed—and from a local sheriff no less.

The irony of Dupnik’s remark is that Tombstone lawmakers in the 1880s did more to combat gun violence than the Arizona government does today.

For all the talk of the “Wild West,” the policymakers of 1880 Tombstone—and many other Western towns—were ardent supporters of gun control. When people now compare things to the “shootout at the OK Corral,” they mean vigilante violence by gunfire. But this is exactly what the Tombstone town council had been trying to avoid.

In late 1880, as regional violence ratcheted up, Tombstone strengthened its existing ban on concealed weapons to outlaw the carrying of any deadly weapons within the town limits. The Earps (who were Republicans) and Doc Holliday maintained that they were acting as law officers—not citizen vigilantes—when they shot their opponents. That is to say, they were sworn officers whose jobs included enforcement of Tombstone’s gun laws.

Today, in contrast, Arizonans can legally buy guns without licenses, and are able to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The state bans cities from passing their own, stricter laws. The legislature will consider a bill this session that would force schools to allow guns on campus — like Pima Community College, which the alleged shooter attended.

There are comparisons between the horror that unfolded in Tucson on Saturday morning, and the bloodshed on that cold October day in Tombstone, 130 years ago.

Vitriolic politics served as the backdrop in both cases. Most historians of the Shootout at the OK Corral now agree that partisan divisions between the mostly Republican Earp faction and the Southern Democrat Clantons and McLaurys helped stir the pot. The violence can be viewed as a last battle of the Civil War — the bloodiest political conflict of them all.

Arizonans, myself included, love to tout their vaunted independence and Western values. But when we perpetuate the idea that Arizona is some unchanging Wild West, we fall into the trap of a myth that only serves to embolden those who refuse to support commonsense restrictions on purchasing firearms.

Even the Tombstone town council of 1880 realized that some people with guns have intent to kill—and that reasonable laws could help stop them.

Katherine Benton-Cohen, an Arizona native and history professor at Georgetown University, is the author of “Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands.”


August 25, 2010: Another Breeze?

From the Boston Sunday Globe, August 22, 2010:

[Re boycotts against Israel] “We used to lobby the US government, the Israeli government, and the Palestinians to do something,” said Sydney Levy, of Jewish Voices for Peace, a California-based group that collected 17,00 signatures since June asking investment firm TIAA-CREF to divest from companies involved in the occupation. But now we realize that we can take action on our own. We are only waiting for ourselves.” [Emphasis added.]

April 16, 2010: The Things We Carry

The Somerville Public Library received a grant this year to sponsor “Somerville Reads,” an opportunity for any city resident who can read, can read English, and wanted to, to read the same book: Tim O’Brien’s amazing The Things They Carried. The SPL also arranged a number of  discussion groups, a community read-aloud, and a Vietnam film series. These have been happening all this month. Cool, huh?

Tuesday, I attended a well-attended discussion at Porter Square Books, a wonderful, independent bookstore which, to be technical, is in Cambridge. Sigh. (Like many Somervillians, I’m just a wee bit pissed that next-city-over Cambridge boosts so many bookstores; don’t get me started about its brand-new library.)

Much as I loved every minute of  Tuesday’s discussion, ably moderated by writer Margot Livesey, much as I love, love, love Porter Square Books, I couldn’t help but feel sad that a discussion re a Vietnam novel couldn’t have happened on Somerville “soil.” Somerville lost  so many, many soldiers in Vietnam; a disproportionate number. Soil. Isn’t war about soil?

O’Brien makes war and the men and women who fight it excruciatingly, you-can-smell-it-and-taste-it real. None of these abstractions about “courage” and “glory” and “sacrifice,” please. First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, the odious Azar, the soulful Kiowa; by the end of the book, we KNOW these men.

And here’s something we carry, after finishing O’Brien’s masterpiece. We read an April, 2010 account of American soldiers killing civilians, women and children, on a bus in Afghanistan—a bus!— and we know that men and women like Bowker and Cross and, yes, even Kiowa perpetuated that attack. (Which, apparently, happened in a thick fog. The fog of war?) We know how scared those soldiers are, how exhausted, how so often poorly commanded. We know for a fact that American soldiers  have and can and will kill for revenge. We know that in war, horrendous mistakes happen.

We can’t condone such an attack, no way. But we get it.

December 3, 2009: (kinda) Happy Birthday

Today’s my birthday; I am now 65. And while it’s sobering to realize I only have 20 or so more years left on this precious earth—if I’m lucky—you know what’s really sobering? Call me naive, call me immature (!?), but in my heart, I think I’d always believed that by the time I reached this venerable age, war would be ancient history.

Yup. I really did.

So: Do I take comfort from that wonderful quote from John 14:27? “Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears.” * Is this what a serene, wise old woman should do? Set my troubled heart at rest? (I’ve only been legally old for a few hours, now, so am still finding my way.)

Well, yeah, there is comfort in that “such as the world cannot give” reminder, that what-can- you-expect? /violence-is-fundamental message from You Know Who.

Even so, dear Jesus, in this month of celebration for your birth, I remain sad and angry and deeply disappointed. Pissed, actually.

I do draw some small comfort from gatherings such as I attended last week, sponsored by Somerville Medford United for Justice and Peace (SMUJP.), when twenty or so people watched a devastatingly depressing documentary re Afghanistan.(No, no, not that part.) During the discussion that followed, to hear others express their confusion and disappointment re Obama was somewhat consoling. As was the fact that there were peace activists there even older than me! Still at it. Still waging peace. Yeah!

So, here we go again. Another war.

* This quote, which always makes me cry, is part of the 12th query from  New England Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice. One query is read aloud each month  at Friends Meeting at Cambridge.

January 4, 2009: Letter to the editor

Today in meeting for worship, a message came to me. What was strange about this particular message was that it came “earmarked,” so to speak. “This is a letter to The Boston Globe,” my Inner Voice whispered. So when I came home, here’s what I wrote and sent:

What is happening in Gaza reminds me of a story I was told in Sunday School. Unitarian-Universalists of a certain age may remember it:

The Wind and The Sun each proclaimed to be the most powerful. When a man wearing an overcoat walked by, they decided to put their strength to a test. Which of them could force that man to take off his coat? The Wind blew and blew; the man buttoned up his coat. The Wind doubled his efforts but the man adjusted his collar and kept on walking. No matter how how mightily The Wind blew, that man did not take off his coat. When The Sun shone powerfully on that man, he immediately shed that coat, of course.
I don’t remember if, in the original story, The Sun had any last words to The Wind so will supply my own: “You know what the definition of ‘crazy’ is?” The Sun taunts the breathless, exhausted Wind. “Crazy is doing the same thing over and over and failing every time yet  hoping for a different result the next time.”
Surely, in 2009, for either Israel or Palestine to believe that violence will achieve anything (except more violence, of course) is crazy. As The Sun so ably schooled The Wind, light trumps might.