Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apple's Complete Control: Some folks still don't get it

Apple likes to market itself as the user-friendly, creativity enabling alternative to Microsoft, and perhaps in some ways it is, but the company's Madison Avenue crafted image has lost a little luster recently. Owners of its latest Savior Machine, the iPhone, have discovered Apple is shortsightedly intent on maintaining strict control of their product rather than allowing users to innovate and customize it the way they want.

A PR flap has erupted over the company's mishandling of a routine software patch that wiped out the third party apps that users had installed to extend the device's functionality (see the New York Times story Altered iPhones Freeze Up). Companies such as Google and FireFox have recognized for quite some time the advantage of giving the geeks of the world the ability to hack the code behind their services and create the mash-ups and add-ons that lead to a more robust product. Apple hasn't quite caught on yet.

I have a friend who has an iPhone and don't get me wrong, it's a very neat little device that can do a lot of cool stuff. One of its main flaws is the AT&T phone network that users have been forced to sign on to when they buy the iPhone. As wonderful a gadget as it is, if you can't reliably make calls on it, the name becomes quite absurd. Adventurous owners have tried to circumvent that problem by tweaking the phone to work on other networks, but Apple's distributed software update has caused these hacked phones to seize up. The company's official position on the deadened phones: "hard cheese."

Infuriating your most tech-savvy customers is never a good idea, especially for a company that tries to appeal to an anti-establishment clientèle. I don't know what kind of pay off they got from AT&T, but restricting iPhoners to a single carrier makes as much sense as hardwiring desktops and laptops to work with only one ISP.

Technology has advanced to the point now that business attempts at complete control will almost always backfire. You don't restrict the uses of a product, but rather make it flexible enough to meet needs you may not have originally imagined. The punk-rock DIY mentality of my youth has become much more common today as the new digital tools have democratized skills once reserved for experts. Businesses with a little vision will learn to encourage and take advantage of this yen to tinker.

Complete Control
by The Clash

They said release 'Remote Control'
But we didn't want it on the label
They said, "Fly to Amsterdam"
The people laughed but the press went mad

Ooh ooh ooh someone's really smart
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, yeah that's a laugh

On the last tour my mates couldn't get in
I'd open up the back door but they'd get run out again
At every hotel we was met by the Law
Come for the party - come to make sure!

Ooh ooh ooh have we done something wrong?
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, even over this song

You're my guitar hero

They said we'd be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant we'll make a lotsa mon-ee
An' worry about it later

Ooh ooh ooh I'll never understand
Ooh ooh ooh complete control - lemme see your other hand!

I don't judge you.
So, why do you judge me?

All over the news spread fast
They're dirty, they're filthy
They ain't gonna last!

This is Joe public speakin'
I'm controlled in the body, controlled in the mind
This is punk rockers,
we're controlled by the price of the hard drugs we must find
Freedom is control
C-o-n control - that means you!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Into amaze (for Nancy & Terry)

My good friends Terry & Nancy asked me to write a poem for their wedding. It was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to come up with something they both like. Today I'll be reading it at the ceremony, so wish me luck.

Into amaze (for Nancy & Terry)
By Francis Scudellari

Into amaze I wandered new,
Wonders seeking
Down dim-lit rows I felt my way,
Fingers outstretched
Sensing another, her, beyond
O'er the next wall
Needing to share these sights, each joy,
Sorrow, my life

Through the long lab'rinth I
Moved to finding
Across twisted paths I stepped e'er
Pointed inward
Knowing another, him, stood just
Within my reach
Wanting to give-take guidance, strength,
Support, my heart

'Til, across a clearing each one
Saw, recognized
Then, now, down brightened paths travel We
Replacing I
Joined mid-journey, in love, grasping
Hands, truths, lives, ends
Together we walk center-ward,
Once two, halves wholed

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bush's resistance to climate change reality is futile

Filled with sound and fury, but signifying nothing new, the George W. Bush administration made a grand show today of caring about climate change (see the New York Times story Bush Outlines Proposal on Climate Change). The thinly veiled, politically orchestrated State Department conference had Bush playing the same false notes, in a lame duck overture to a world at odds with the United States' propensity for solo performances.

Lurking behind the curtain at this Texas two-step on the world stage were the usual corporate interests pulling the levers of the administration's environmental and energy policies. Bush likes to emphasize the need for each nation to find their own way, but that's just his way of ignoring any mandates imposed by global bodies.

Bush also claims that the U.S. is dedicated to investing in eco-friendly technologies, but we only ever spend money on sparkling new ball gowns to cover up the fat hogs of old, polluting industry. Clean coal and nuclear power are not the answer to our problems. Nor is a strategy for "energy independence" that involves searching out new, domestic oil reserves rather than exploring ways to escape fossil fuel dependency entirely.

Most in the audience were rightly skeptical of the performers' role playing, seeing through the Bushies attempt to slow down the building momentum toward a global consensus on the need to drastically reduce carbon emissions. We're all getting pretty tired of these endless meetings where nothing concrete is ever decided, and only vague goals are embraced.

What's holding the U.S. back? Perhaps Bush is hoping for a deus-ex-machina ending to this production, in which some miraculous and divine force comes to the rescue of our endangered planet. Maybe, like the Graham Parker tune below, he's looking for an alien cavalry to ride to our rescue. Thankfully in less than 18 months he'll have plenty of free time to search the night sky for that heavenly posse.

Waiting for the UFOs
by Graham Parker

No-one can hide it anymore
We know it's not imagining
Even the skeptics are unsure
When they stop to think
People are not worth their life now
They are obsolete
We're dying to be invaded
And put the blame on something concrete

Waiting for the UFOs
Waiting for the UFOs
We are waiting for the UFOs
We know that they're there

We're just a joke they sometimes crack,
they'll get away with anything
The government is holding back,
they won't say a word
Now is that a light in sky
or just a spark in my heart?
Can I accept this as evidence
or will that tear the whole act apart?

Waiting for the UFOs
Waiting for the UFOs
We are waiting for the UFOs
We know that they're there

This new obsession is turning us alien too
Much more resounding my heart just stopped pounding for you

Waiting for the UFOs
Waiting for the UFOs
We are waiting for the UFOs
Waiting Waiting

My travels with Perry & Jimmy

One of the fringe benefits of having musicians for friends is you get to meet many very talented folks and experience scores of amazing performances. My percussive pal, jazz drummer Jimmy Bennington, has arranged for clarinet great Perry Robinson to grace this small corner of Chicago we call home. They'll be playing a few gigs together over the course of the next few days, and I'll do my best to tag along on their physical and aural travels.

Perry Robinson is an avant garde performer with a wide range of influences — from folk to swing, bee bop to klezmer, classical to free jazz — and a long list of famed fellow performers. He's also the author of the acclaimed autobiography The Traveler (available on, where he documents his never boring journey through this adventure we call life.

If you're in the Chicago area and want to try to keep up with these two sonic wayfarers, here's the road map:
  • Saturday, August 29, 9pm, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak Rd., Chicago

  • Sunday, August 30, 8pm, Morseland, 1218 W. Morse Ave., Chicago

  • Sunday, August 30, 10pm, The Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stop the Abuse: Guarantee health care for all who need it

Today BlogCatalog is sponsoring the Blogging for a Great Cause Challenge in which members virtually unite to post against abuse in its various forms. I'm always happy to participate in collective action, especially when the rules are ambiguous enough to allow me some creative freedom.

It may seem an odd choice to some, but the type of abuse I'm going to write about is the political refusal of our elected officials to fix our broken health care system. I've been very active in working for health care reform the past few years, and despite repeated and increasingly louder calls for our so-called leaders to address this crisis, the number of uninsured in this country has gone up not down.

The problem also affects many Americans who think their health care is covered by an insurance plan only to discover in the fine print the many exclusions that come with affordable policies. Once again this year I'm volunteering with a group of friends who are trying to raise money for someone we know who can't pay medical expenses, and her story will be familiar to many of you. She had insurance but got sick and lost her job because she she couldn't return to work before her medical leave ran out. Now she is without insurance and a job, and in that already difficult situation must deal with the mounting expenses from the treatment she has to have just to survive.

In every other industrial country around the world, a minimum level of health care (not insurance, but actual care) is guaranteed to all residents. America's for-profit, employer-based system of health care doesn't work, yet we stick with it because the insurance companies have enough lobbying power to throw roadblocks up whenever anyone proposes real change.

When our politicians do offer solutions, they are either partial fixes that cover small segments of the uninsured (and even these meet tremendous resistance, see Dems Seek Strong Vote for Health Program from the Associated Press as one recent example), or they are convoluted proposals that try to preserve the current system while foisting a bigger share of the costs onto taxpayers.

I'm sure the politicians will blame the poverty of their purses, but the fact is we as a country have come up with $600 Billion so far to pay for George W's misadventures in the Middle East, with another $190 Billion requested for next year's budget (see the MSNBC story). If we truly want to see this problem fixed, we can find the funding; we just need to adjust our priorities.

We pride ourselves as a country on our ability to innovate, yet we continue to stick with a deeply flawed and outdated system for delivering health care. If the whole of Western Europe can figure out a way to make sure their people have quality affordable health care, our government's refusal to do so is nothing more than willful abuse of power.

There are a number of organizations working very hard to offer thoughtful solutions. Physicians for a National Health Program is a group for which I have a lot of respect, and they've crafted a very detailed proposal for instituting nationalized health care in the United States, but that's just one idea. There are a few dozen existing systems from around the world that we can use as a model. We can even treat it like an open source software project and pick and choose features from among them to create a unique plan of our own. Let's get past the propaganda and solve this crisis today.

Celtic Fest follow up: A voice from the chorus

The wonders of the Internet never cease to amaze me, but I may have an easily impressed mind (certainly one easily pressed into service). Shortly after my not particularly insightful post about Chicago's Celtic Fest, accompanied by my not very imaginative far-away stage shots, I received an email from one of the performers. It should make us all mindful of the things we write about other folks, as information travels widely and very quickly these days.

David Hindley from the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus in Ontario, Canada, who quite impressively backed Jon Langford's performance that night, caught wind of my blog review and generously asked if he could post my pics on their web site. You can see my few photos there tucked in among some much better ones, and if you'd like to hear a little of what you missed that evening, you can also listen to some audio samples from the Chorus.

Social networking or shameless self promotion?

There's always a delicate balance we in the blogosphere try to maintain as we sign up for new promotional services. Looking deeply into our hearts, we attempt to determine the purity of our motives in joining this feverish quest for the holy grail of increased traffic.

Are we acting out of vanity; jumping up and down like a small child in need of attention, shouting "Look at me! Look at me!" at the top of our virtual voice to the 'Net world? Or are we trying to connect in every way possible, not just to be heard but to listen and converse; combining our experiences with others' to build a new community with many faces but a one-world awareness of the need for understanding and compassion?

Of course it's probably a mix of the two, as we never fully outgrow our child-like yearning for approval. As long as that perpetual insecurity leads however clumsily to the latter desired end, I think it's worth spreading our blog essences into the ether. So it is that I've signed up for the new service BlogRush, which is now conveniently displayed in my side bar so you can view the sage thoughts of some other sites.

Not wasting a chance to reference T.S. Eliot

Today marks the 119th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Stearns Eliot, the great modernist poet and dramatist probably best remembered for his controversial work The Waste Land. Published in 1922 and arising out of the devastation of World War I, many associate the poem with a post-bellum European mood of despair and a sense of societal spiritual decay. Hidden in the complex verse is a seed of hope, however; one that I too try to grasp in our own time of overwhelming cynicism.

There is much about life in 21st century America that makes me imagine a wasted future: Our economy mired in fossil-fueled denial; Our resources consumed by endless war; Our fears stoked in hate filled fantasies; Our rights eroded by violence addicted leaders; Our minds undone by our own indifference; Our souls corrupted by false righteousness.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(Lines 19-30)
Within that seemingly barren context, though, there is a real possibility for change and growth. Our fatalistic attitudes lag behind the pace of positive social developments; feeling alienated, isolated, and alone behind our self-built prison walls we are blind to the new empowering opportunities for connection, belonging and shared experience. For within the dying carcass of old habits grows the germ of a new idea. By casting aside our former modes of seeing, we can envision a new world sprouting through the cracked and arid earth.
In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind's home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the rooftree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain
(Lines 385-394)
Click here to see the full text of the poem

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Security threats: frogs, farms, polluters and immigrants

Today the Federal government decided to file suit against my home state of Illinois because the legislature had the impudence to try to protect our large immigrant community from the department of Homeland Security's political posturing (see the L.A. Times story U.S. sues Illinois over immigration law). In August, llinois enacted a law prohibiting state businesses from using E-Verify, the Fed's system for checking the citizenship of prospective employees, until DHS fixes its flawed data.

Businesses enrolled in E-Verify are required to fire any employees whose citizenship status isn't resolved within 8 business days. Because the system's databases contain significant inaccuracies, technical delays could lead to loss of jobs for US citizens as well as undocumented workers.

Michael Chertoff, who heads DHS, has declared himself the agency's new sheriff with a mission of corralling the black-hatted cynicism that he believes characterizes Americans' attitudes toward immigration policy. The tough talk is just a rhetorical sleight of hand meant to throw us off the path of the real villainy taking place in our country. It's the Bush administration's latest attempt to use the poor and disenfranchised immigrant as a war-on-terror straw man.

Who poses the bigger threat to our safety and well being: a hard working immigrant trying to make his or her way in our country, or the greedy corporations who take advantage of lax environmental law enforcement to pollute our land, air and water? I think most Americans would recognize the latter grouping as the more dangerous scofflaws, but cracking down on them would mean risking the administration's political base.

As I've written about previously, the Feds were more than willing to turn a blind eye to the circumvention of EPA regulations by British Petroleum, which was needed to expand their Indiana refinery (see B(ig) P(olluter) of Lake Michigan: A few jobs, a lot of harm). No administration tough guy stood up to challenge an action that threatened to further contaminate one of our country's largest sources of fresh water.

Nor are they likely to act on the new scientific evidence that the spike in frog deformities is being caused by runoff from industrial farming practices (see the Reuters story Frog deformities blamed on farm and ranch runoff). Asking our politicians to make the connection between pollution, frogs and the implications on human health would require far too much thought on their part. It's much easier to search out targets for the scapegoating of our social ills.

Maybe a mass exodus of frogs toward the U.S. border would get their attention. We'll have to build a wall to keep the slimy little green traitors from getting out. Oh wait, we're already doing that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Shot By Both Sides: Iraqi autonomy tarred by Blackwater

The diplomatic sniping continues between Iraq's prime minister and the Bush administration over Blackwater's alleged shooting of 11 innocent Iraqi civilians (see Maliki insists Blackwater must pay for shootings from Guardian Unlimited). The company and its Bushie backers are insistent that its employees did nothing wrong in the incident, but Nuri al-Maliki isn't buying it and that's bringing the cloak and dagger mercenary operation into the light of public scrutiny.

Through the war's PR machine, we're told that Iraq would descend into chaos without Blackwater's hired guns. For poor suffering Iraqis, however, everyday life is already pretty mayhem-filled under Blackwater's for-profit watch. That's because the beneficiaries of their services are not Iraqi citizens, but those wealthy foreigners trying to open the country up to Western speculative forces.

The security firm operates outside the Iraqi government's control and its presence in the country raises real questions about Iraq's level of autonomy. Maliki can't punish Blackwater in any real way no matter how guilty they are, and they're not leaving until the mission is accomplished, or rather their contract runs out. Private armies operate a little differently than public ones, and these Bush approved non-state combatants serve the true master behind this war — the interests of global capital.

We're constantly told that our troops need to remain overseas until Iraq can take care of itself, but it's beginning to look like it was never the U.S. intention to grant the Iraqis complete independence. Weren't the Iraqi people supposed to benefit from all of that oil revenue after the war too? Hasn't worked out as Bush described it, has it?

Caught between streams of projectiles launched by the opposing external forces occupying the country, Iraqis must be wondering what secret understandings have been reached about their future. Joining in the bullet-themed barrage, I'll fire off this Magazine tune, metaphorically capturing the Iraqis' plight.

Shot By Both Sides
by Magazine

This and that, they must be the same
What is legal is just what's real
What I'm given to understand
Is exactly what I steal

I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I was shocked to find what was allowed
I didn't lose myself in the crowd

Shot by both sides
On the run to the outside of everything
Shot by both sides
They must have come to a secret understanding

New offenses always in my nerves
They're taking my time by force
They have to rewrite all the books again
As a matter of course

I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I was shocked to find what was allowed
I didn't lose myself in the crowd

Shot by both sides
On the run to the outside of everything
Shot by both sides
They must have come to a secret understanding

'Why are you so edgy, Kid?'
Asks the man with the voice
One thing follows another
You live and learn, you have no choice

I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd
I was shocked to find what was allowed
I didn't lose myself in the crowd

Shot by both sides
I don't ask who's doing the shooting
Shot by both sides
We must have come to a secret understanding

Sunday, September 23, 2007

One of My Favorite Things: Happy Birthday John Coltrane

On September 23, 1926 jazz great John Coltrane blew his first note. I'm not conversant enough in the idiom of bop to put into words the beauty of his playing, so I'll let his sax speak for itself in this clip of his classic take on "My Favorite Things" ...

Reason to believe: Springsteen's big day

September 23rd is Bruce Springsteen's 58th birthday (yes, he's really that old). I've been a fan of his since college, and have always held a special fondness for his solo acoustic album Nebraska. It's certainly not a collection of songs that most would list among their favorites, but the raw power of the music and the intimacy and emotion of Springsteen's vocals immediately struck a chord with me.

Among the album's tracks, Reason to Believe with its image of a man poking a dead dog with a stick always fascinated me. The song's refrain is, "at the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe," and I think it's an accurate description of the American psyche. Ultimately, most of us want to believe the best of our situation and hope that things gone wrong will eventually right themselves.

Unquestioning loyalty and blind faith are characteristics often admired in our society, especially among the more fundamentally religious, but they're also habits that generally prove self-defeating. Idly wishing that things are what they were but now obviously aren't, doesn't serve anyone well. The challenge is always to recognize the reality of our situation, and move forward not back. No matter how much we poke that dog, it's going to stay dead. It's wasted energy that could better be used to accomplish those things well within our reach.

With the technological advances blossoming before our eyes everyday, the field of the possible is expanding quickly. There is a reason to believe in a future much brighter than any imagined golden past, but that requires asking questions of those in power and having more faith in ourselves.

Reason to Believe
by Bruce Springsteen

Seen a man standin' over a dead dog lyin' by the highway in a ditch
He's lookin' down kinda puzzled pokin' that dog with a stick
Got his car door flung open he's standin' out on highway 31
Like if he stood there long enough that dog'd get up and run
Struck me kinda funny, seem kinda funny sir to me
Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

Now Mary Lou loved Johnny with a love mean and true
She said baby I'll work for you everyday and bring my money home to you
One day he up and left her and ever since that
She waits down at the end of that dirt road for young johnny to come back
Struck me kinda funny, funny yes indeed
How at the end of every hard earned day you can find some reason to believe

Take a baby to the river Kyle William they called him
Wash the baby in the water take away little Kyle's sin
In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away
Take the body to the graveyard and over him they pray
Lord won't you tell us, tell us what does it mean
Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

Congregation gathers down by the riverside
Preacher stands with his Bible, groom stands waitin' for his bride
Congregation gone and the sun sets behind a weepin' willow tree
Groom stands alone and watches the river rush on so effortlessly
Wonderin where can his baby be
Still at the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Road to Guantanamo: What's done in your name

I had the opportunity to watch director Michael Winterbottom's 2006 docudrama The Road to Guantanamo (see the IMDB listing for full credits), and it was as disturbing a film as I expected. Using a mixture of archival news footage, interviews, and re-enactments it portrays the story of the Tipton Three, young Brits of Pakistani and Bengali descent who were captured in Afghanistan and interred at Camps X-ray and Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The film opens with a short news clip of President Bush expressing his certainty of "bad people" as Tony Blair casts a piercingly silent gaze at the man to whose cause he's forever linked himself. Although Bush, Blair and all those who follow them pretend to live in a fairy tale world easily divided into good and evil, the truth is the people who inhabit reality often find themselves caught up by forces beyond their control. Such was the case of the Tipton Three.

Shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Asif was sent by his mother to meet a potential bride in Pakistan. His friends Ruhel, Shafiq and Monir flew out to join him and spend some time on holiday in Karachi. According to their story, they heard a preacher in a mosque asking Pakistani muslims to help Afghanis caught up in the bombings launched against the Taliban. Perhaps naively in search of adventure and to aid victims, the four young men in their 20s answered this call and got a front row seat to the confusion and chaos that enveloped Afghanistan at that time.

Things didn't go as they planned. Recognizing their mistake, they tried to return to Pakistan, which proved more difficult than they expected. Monir got separated during the evacuation of Kunduz and was never seen again. Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq were captured by the Northern Alliance forces who joined the US fight against the Taliban. They were eventually classified as non-state "enemy combatants" in the service of Al Qaeda and moved to a prison in Kandahar before being shipped to the extra-judicial limbo of Guantanamo.

The scenes recreating their time at Guantanamo are very difficult to watch, especially as an American in whose name these brutal acts are being carried out. Alberto Gonzalez and Donald Rumsfeld may not classify what goes on there as torture, but it would be hard for anyone watching this film to view it as anything but inhumane. Considering that out of the hundreds held there, only 10 men have ever been charged, it makes one wonder if the base is a government orchestrated charade to justify their perpetual war making on the US Constitution.

I don't know what the detainees still at Guantanamo have done, and that's exactly the problem. Most were probably caught up in war frenzy, possessing no strategic importance. They should be treated as prisoners of war, and accorded the rights laid out by the Geneva Convention. If they've committed atrocities, they should be publicly tried for them in a court of law.

How ironic is it for the Bush administration to use the classification of "non-state agents" to justify detaining these men outside the law, while hiring private entities to handle security in Iraq. Their use of Blackwater and others is finally getting some more attention as allegations of abuse surface (see Outsourcing Foreign Policy from the Los Angeles Times).

The Bushies like to hide behind the excuse of national security while carrying out a potentially nefarious agenda. True democracy needs open air and bright sunlight in order to thrive, and we should never allow our representatives to carry out acts of any kind in our name while cloaked in darkness.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A sporting interlude

Needing a break from the rigors of blogging about the sorry state of American politics, your humble narrator ventured out to the cathedral at the corner of Clark and Addison streets in Chicago to engage in a little mid-afternoon meditation.

As you can tell by the flapping flags atop the historic Wrigley Field scoreboard, it was a warm and blustery day at the friendly confines, and that meant lots of home runs and ensuing frivolity for the gathered Cubs fans. The north side national leaguers are in first place with a handful of games left, so the crowd was already verging on giddy.

My good friend Jim made the journey down from Madison, WI to join us in a late season bit of merry making. The double fisted chap is my brother-in-law Chris, as always keeping things festive.

Jim brought a couple other Illinois refugees down with him from Dairyland. Chris, pictured below, hadn't been to a game since she was a kid, and was soaking up the atmosphere at the ballpark. Liz is a south sider by birth and inclination, so she maintained a low profile in order to protect her White Sox street cred.

Also making a renewed acquaintance with the old ball yard was my good friend George who rediscovered his Cub roots after having strayed into Yankee territory. Maybe he and Lou Piniella are bringing some of that Bronx magic to Wrigleyville.

It was such a nice day that even yours truly was caught cracking a smile ... or at least a smirk. Check back with me when they actually win the whole thing.

It was a banner day for all involved as the Cubbies vanquished the Pirates 13 runs to 8. I'll be back to my usual blog antics tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena, LA: Strange fruit

Because the mainstream media was slow to cover the story, the blogosphere has launched a grass roots campaign to spread the word about what happened in Jena, Louisiana. It's another example of the uneven justice that gets executed here in the United States, despite the best propagandistic efforts of TV dramas and government whitewashers to tell us otherwise.

Very briefly, six African American youths were charged with attempted murder for beating a white teenager in retaliation for various racist attacks on blacks in the town. The victim was knocked unconscious, but recovered in a few hours and was released from the emergency room. The extreme charges were in contrast to judicial inaction against white youth who had hung nooses in trees in Jena, as well as carrying out beatings against African Americans.

There was a large convergence of protesters in Louisiana today (see MSNBC's coverage: Louisiana protest rekindles civil rights movement), and the story has now garnered enough attention to spur the Democratic Presidential candidates to posture on the topic (see the Washington Post's blog post: Candidates Voice Outrage on 'Jena 6'). Continuing their large role in the media blasting, concerned bloggers have created a virtual march to coincide with the real one (see the press release at The blog community has also been circulating an online petition calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate possible civil rights violations in the case.

All of this political pressure has forced the charges against the six to be reduced, but most Americans are still blissfully unaware of what happened in Jena. Many will assume that such injustice was a thing of the past in the deep south, but our legal system has never served the poor, disenfranchised and propertyless with the same fervor and inquisitiveness as the rich and powerful. As people of color have historically fallen into the former category in large numbers, they've always experienced the short end of the tipped scales of the American justice system.

Hanging nooses from trees may seem like a joke to the twisted minds of some southern kids, but no one who knows the history of lynching in the US is laughing. Those in Jena who need a history lesson, should read up on Emmett Till to gain a little perspective. They should also watch the video of Billie Holliday's haunting performance of Strange Fruit at YouTube.

Strange Fruit
by Lewis Allen

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Short in acquaintance, Long in thought

He stopped by our booth as the art festival was winding down. He wanted to sample our panini, but he also wanted to show us his wares. They were ceramics that bore the unauthorized likenesses of favorite cartoon characters. They could be used for certain illicit purposes if that was one's bent, but they were cool in their own right and he enjoyed sharing them with us.

He had a ready smile and a deep laugh; a kindred soul in a neighborhood full of the proudly idiosyncratic. We worked a trade of merchandise and banter, and he moved on to try his luck with the other vendors. Later that night we met him again over a beer to unwind from a long weekend's work. He introduced himself as Tommy Long, and pulled a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket.

He'd found a poem he'd written years back, and he wanted to read it to us. Struggling to decipher his own handwriting, scribbled and now faded, he couldn't hide the joy of it. It boasted about this our city, Chicago. It wasn't very good, but it made him happy and that was good enough for all of us. We parted that night and I fully expected to bump into him again soon on one of the many well-trod paths of our neighborhood.

Today, a little more than three weeks later, the news made it back to me through the local grapevine that Tommy Long had died at the too young age of 49. Known by some as the Mayor of Jarvis Beach, he took his usual swim yesterday evening but couldn't make it back to the shore. Rescued but not revived, Tommy Long passed on to the realm of legend at 7:22pm on September 18 at my namesake hospital.

I hope those laying him to rest will read that poem over whatever place serves as home to his remains. It would make a most fitting tribute, and I can imagine him smiling in spirit as they do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Daniel Deronda & HotHouse: Nationalism then and now

In the past few days I've watched two very different DVDs: a BBC TV adaptation of George Eliot's novel Daniel Deronda; and HotHouse an Israeli documentary on Palestinian prisoners. The first is a lovely piece of period fiction telling the story of a 19th Century English gentleman in search of purpose and identity. The latter presents the impassioned and sometimes chilling stories of those detained by the State of Israel; both avowedly guilty fanatical killers, and apparently innocent political organizers.

These two amalgams of moving pictures that are moods, ages and worlds apart have in common one very interesting theme. Mixed in among the many streams of argument are prominent discussions of nationalism and the desire for political determination. In Daniel Deronda, there is a major sub-plot involving the early Zionist dream of creating an Israeli nation state in Palestine. In HotHouse, the words democracy and self-determination are tossed like a challenge at the viewer, as the prisoners try to justify their actions.

Daniel Deronda is a lush Victorian plot boiler in which the title character is raised among the English elite never knowing his birth parents. His journey toward self-discovery is framed by his competing love interest in two women. Gwendolyn Harleth is a fair haired English beauty who he helps to overcome the youthful selfishness that trapped her in an abusive marriage of convenience. Mirah Lapidoth is a dark Jewish singer who he rescues from a suicide attempt, and for whom he takes on the surrogate quest of locating lost family members; bringing him into contact with London's minority Jewish community and making him more aware of the prejudice they faced.

Daniel becomes convinced that the only path to true happiness is through taking on a cause beyond oneself. Following the course of the story's many twists, he realizes his crusade must be the political struggle for the nation of Israel. Eliot has been criticized for this, both in her own time and from those with the advantage of historical perspective.

Contemporary critics wanted to expunge the Jewish parts of the novel and focus solely on Gwendolyn's side of the story, which is a very compelling treatment of the dependency thrust on women in a patriarchal society. This dislike may have been a simple bristling at the portrayal of the critics' own bigotry, or a belief that the life of commoners wasn't a worthy literary topic.

There are modern readers who have viewed the novel as an early attempt at Zionist propaganda. To defend Eliot, she was simply trying to portray the very real oppression Jews faced in England at the time. In the midst of the hate, discrimination and obstacles to success Jews experienced as a minority culture in Europe, it's easy to understand the desire for a country of their own where they could carve out a political identity.

The realization of that dream 70 years later put the Israelis in a much different position, however, forcing them into a role reversal. They are now the majority having to contend with the political demands of a minority culture, and it's that topic that is the subject of HotHouse.

The documentary has generated controversy because it takes an unflinching look at Palestinians who not only admit they've abetted suicide bombings, but show no remorse for their crimes. There is an email circulating around the Internet that is urging people not to see the film. In full disclosure, I work for the company that distributes the title. I don't presume to tell people what they should or shouldn't watch, but I can say that I found it fascinating and in no way a glorification of those heinous acts.

In one haunting sequence, a former TV anchor gleefully recounts how she reported the details of a restaurant bombing she personally organized. The director's goal isn't to make light of the deaths of innocents, but to portray the utter certainty of the perpetrator that what she did was justified. Her fanatical conviction that the murder she made possible was a moral retribution for crimes committed against her people is the hard reality standing in the way of any negotiated peace.

The men and women interviewed all see themselves as part of the political struggle to win a Palestinian state. Some have convinced themselves that sowing death and destruction is the only tactic available to them. Others recognize the necessity for diplomacy and negotiation. Some are rightly confined for multiple life terms and would return to the cycle of hate and violence if they were ever freed. Others inhabit a more ambiguous area, alleging arrests for demanding true democracy and a real political voice in the shaping of their destiny.

To me, the most intriguing segments of the film are those depicting the interactions between the prisoners and the Israeli staff. There is a camaraderie that's developed between the wardens and the elected spokesmen of the prison factions, as they negotiate rules and privileges. A mirror society has sprung up within the cell blocks, with hierarchies and divisions of labor. The Fatah and Hamas organizations are actively grooming prisoners to be political leaders once they return to the outside world; serving time has almost become a prerequisite for getting elected.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been one of the most intractable problems of our time. Having a better understanding of the complexities of the points of views on both sides of the divide is a necessary starting point for any resolution. HotHouse is an admirable effort at accomplishing just that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Avoiding the urge to romanticize William Carlos Williams

On this date 124 years ago, writer William Carlos Williams was born. I'm fond of Williams for a few different reasons. His political and philosophical leanings are akin to my own. He managed to practice pediatric medicine and maintain a prolific career as a poet and essayist. And, most shallowly, I really like the alliterative quality of his name.

Williams embraced a theory of poetry that exalted the commonplace, gave voice to natural cadences and uneven meters, and rejected the flowery romanticism of the 19th Century upon whose heels he followed. He was part of the Imagist movement that included close friend Ezra Pound.

The background information in the article on William Carlos Williams is quite interesting, and touches on an idea that's been rattling around in my head recently. The biographical article on Williams discusses the conflicting influences of Pound and Williams' mother. The former demanded a strict theoretical approach to his art, while the latter inspired more freedom and emotion.

We humans are nothing if not contradictory, and it's important to recognize and embrace that. To believe in one approach to art, politics or life to the exclusion of all others is naive, and the purity of our ideals can sometimes prove self-defeating. As one example, Williams is said to have rejected any comparisons to Walt Whitman who he viewed as overly sentimental, but the two had much in common in their love of the diversity of American experience.

Filled with a sense of playfulness and emotion, Williams' art often transcends his own theory, and that's a beautiful thing. Here is one of my favorite pieces by him:

by William Carlos Williams

THE little sparrows
hop ingenuously
about the pavement
with sharp voices
over those things
that interest them.
But we who are wiser
shut ourselves in
on either hand
and no one knows
whether we think good
or evil.

the old man who goes about
gathering dog-lime
walks in the gutter
without looking up
and his tread
is more majestic than
that of the Episcopal minister
approaching the pulpit
of a Sunday.

These things
astonish me beyond words.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chicago Celtic Fest 2007: Wanting Summer to Linger

Today's autobiographical trivia: Appearances to the contrary, your humble narrator is not of pure-bred Italian descent. One fourth of my lineage actually lies further north in the land of the Celts; my paternal grandmother's surname being Havens.

In order to assuage that green corner of my soul, I occasionally indulge it in bits of Irish culture. So it was that I gladly accepted my friend Patrick's invite to join him today at Chicago's annual Celtic Fest for a stellar musical lineup. The evening air was chilled, as locally Summer has given way to Fall, but the downtown setting of Petrillo Music Shell was spectacular as always:

The Irish group Lúnasa started the night with a wonderful more traditional set of reels and folk music. They were followed by the pride of Wales Jon Langford, who was backed by assorted former band mates and friends, including The Welsh Male Voice Choir. I've always been a big fan of Langford going back to his days with the Mekons, and he played a great set including one of my favorite songs:

Pill sailor
by Jon Langford

A pit bull tattoo
One good eye of blue
That's wandering still
But what can you do
These ropes are all knotted and tangled round me
I'm a sailor who wandered a little too far from the sea

Did they raise up this child just to die
To stare for too long into the sky
Shirley Bassey's from Tiger Bay
But I spend my nights down in Pill
They shut down the docks
Thrown our lives on the rocks
But my good eye's wandering still
Past the pubs where I festered all day
Transporter bridge transport me away
'Cos these rope are all knotted and tangled round me
I'm a sailor who wandered a little to far from the sea

They passed in the channel great ships by the score
To carry out coal and to carry in ore
And at night these old sea legs were anxious to stray
They'd come from all over but never intended to stay
So tell me something I don't know
And find me a skipper with somewhere to go

As if that weren't cool enough, the evening's headliner was Dolores O'Riordan, who formerly fronted the Cranberries. She performed a rousing set of Irish-inflected rock. One of the more popular numbers was the Cranberries hit Linger, which seemed appropriate to the mood of the crowd. Recognizing that this weekend marks the end of Chicago's summer festival season, we all wanted to linger just a bit longer after all the music had been played.

As my mission is always to educate self and others, my parting note will be that I learned there are actually seven original Celtic nations: Ireland; Scotland; Wales; Isle of Man; Cornwall; Galicia, Spain and Brittany, France. Humanity has moved around and mixed itself up quite nicely, so we should all celebrate and take pride in the various cultural heritages that span our globe.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Getting us from A to B: Don't follow these leaders

We in Chicago have survived a threatened public transit doomsday, at least until the bill comes due again in November. By dipping into next year's budget for a short-term funding fix, the politicians in Springfield averted the prospect of a 50% fare hike and service cuts (see Crisis averted: RTA accepts state's aid from the Chicago Sun Times). Now they go back to the bargaining table to try to find more permanent solutions.

You wouldn't think that it would be such a struggle to cobble together backing for public transit at a time of soaring gas prices and increasing scientific evidence of fossil fuel's contribution to climate change. Unfortunately, here in Illinois as elsewhere around the country, politics is more about electability and serving the short-sighted self interest of narrow constituencies.

Why should a downstate rep support a bill that keeps the trains and buses running in the faraway big city of Chicago? Well, if you pulled your eyes away from the latest bit of celebrity gossip looping on your TV, you might see the black clouds of exhaust drifting southward. We may not live close by, but we share the same atmosphere.

It's becoming increasingly patently obvious that we're going to have to make this journey to sustainable living without the help of the misleaders in our state and nation's capitals. They have their own marching orders, and to follow them is to take up the off-the-cliff path of the pied piper's rats. Our best hope is with each other, and any political solutions will have to come from us joining together to demand what we need to build a livable future.

I have to admit my own selfish motives for this political rant, as I needed an excuse to post the lyrics to a new favorite song by the UK's Badly Drawn Boy. There's even a nifty music video for it on YouTube.

Journey from A to B
by Badly Drawn Boy

I measured the distance from heaven to hell
How we will do, only time will tell
Oh, when will you stop worrying!
What anyone says doesn't mean a thing
Just tell me you're feeling it
And you're not disbelieving it

I'll pay you in kind or in silver and gold
I want to ignore all the stories I'm told
Make me an offer I cannot refuse
You know if I win then that means you lose
Just say you're believing it
That you're not not feeling it

Dwelling on the memories
Is such a waste of energy
It's simple when you see it, in front of you
on walls in bedrooms

Hold your head up higher
Don't tell me you're not strong enough
Is your journey over
I hope you feel that I'm the one
Only time will tell
Just say you'll be loving me
for an eternity
Oh, I feel tired of all these games
Everywhere, everything is the same
Tell me you promise you might come with me
The start of a journey from A to B
I'll be happy to carry you
Even though I know
I haven't got the strength to hold you
I need you more than ever before
If our journey's over
I hope that you will find someone
Who will love you more
Now not for the first time
What I want might not be mine
If you say you won't come along
Then I know I can go it alone

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lunar lunacy continued

Following up on my last moon-lit piece, I'm posting a poem from the archives that I found appropriate to the topic.

Dawn Messengers
by Francis Scudellari

Rude-fingered light, bent rays,
don't pull me, prick me, try to wake me.
Paint your pictures on other eyes.
Pale shafts, dawn messengers --
bird songs, child's-play laughs on your back --
drop your notes in other ears.
Time-tossed, sense-tickled, my body
will not emerge from its slumber,
sleep-submerged, dream-steeped, hope-bathed.
Hie thee! Away with thee, Sun!
A curse, a pox on you! For shame.
Leave me lie, I won't look on you.
Reason rouser, clarity coaxer,
Truth triller, deceit dispeller,
ball of flame, gas, constancy, prose.
Trade places with, bring back the tide's queen,
it is she I serve, she I worship,
her faint glow a soft-handed caress.
O green-lit mystery, shape-shifting,
muddled, puddled panderer;
O voodoo-vaunted trickster,
goddess of poetry, of change,
calm conjurer, peaceful puzzler,
cold, curved, cratered rock, come back!
Pry my lashes, Sun, you cannot win.
I will pull you in, to my den,
to my chimera-wrapped haven.
My darkened delirium brightened,
I will open-eyed dream
until the moon smile-shines again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Space is the place: A starry trek through the news

As I read through today's aggregation of Science & Technology headlines at Google News, I was star struck by the number of stories dealing with space travel. It seems folks all over the globe are publicly and privately looking for ways to flee this wayward world of ours. Not that I'm critical of such escapism; I quite often get carried away by a similar desire to seek more friendly climes.

Maybe the state of the climate or our perpetual warring has gotten some folks skittish, but there are 4 separate nations racing to get to the sheltering sky of our orbiting rock. It seems that Japan has taken the early lead:
Japan's lunar "princess" shoots for the moon (Reuters)
Japan launched its first lunar probe on Friday, nicknamed Kaguya after a fairy-tale princess, in the latest move in a new race with China, India and the United States to explore the moon.
Of course that's just the competition in the public sphere; Google in its latest megalomaniacal frenzy has thrown a prized hat in the lunar exploration ring as well. Believing that the private sector can do things bigger, better and cheaper than NASA, the masters of the search universe are putting a $20 million purse where their mouth is:
Google's moon mission (Guardian UK)
Google has launched a $20m competition to send a robotic mission to the moon. To claim the prize, a team of researchers will need to send a rover to the moon, make it roam for a minimum of 500 metres and send video, images and data back to Earth, all before December 31 2012.
NASA may be beleaguered but that doesn't mean they're not busy. Recognizing the allure of life imitating art, the space agency has pointed the cameras of its Cassini probe at the Saturnian moon that figured prominently in a masterpiece of science fiction. The images have revealed some interesting topography, but as of yet no psychedelic freak outs induced by floating black slabs:
Cassini in Safe Mode After Saturn Flight (Associated Press)
The international Cassini spacecraft went into safe mode this week after successfully passing over a Saturn moon that was the mysterious destination of a deep-space faring astronaut in Arthur C. Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey."
The Google boys don't find NASA completely useless, however. It turns out they're paying the bureaucracy of rocket scientists a pretty penny for a different kind of space place — a strip for parking their jet. Maybe they want to beat the agency back to the moon so they can lock up landing rights on some prime lunar real estate:
Google Founders Pay NASA for Jet Access (Associated Press)
Google Inc. co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are reportedly paying $1.3 million a year so their Boeing 767 plane can take off, land and park at a NASA-managed airport located just a few minutes away from the Internet search leader's Silicon Valley headquarters.
As the various players jockey to be the next first on the moon, I'll content myself with my idle moon age daydreams. The ever insightful Casey Kasem used to say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." Good advice, and worthy of pondering during this musical interlude.

Man on the Moon
by Sugar

It's the Man on the Moon
Saying goodnight to you
Oh how it shines
He's a good friend of mine
He's a good friend of yours
Even many miles away
I hope he comes soon
It's the Man on the Moon

In a night of despair
Only one light is there
It's the Man on the Moon
Saying goodnight to you
If you're holding my hand
As the Earth turns to sand

I see your face
I see that look on your face
Don't you know that
Space is the place

If you look to the sky
Look him straight in the eye
And as strange as it seems
If you wish all your dreams
Will come true after all

Steven Biko: 30 years later the legend lives on

Thirty years ago today, on Sept 12, 1977, South African police beat activist Steven Bantu Biko to death while he was in detention for his political opposition to Apartheid. He was a supremely intelligent and fiercely proud man with a commanding physical presence — qualities that struck fear in the hearts of those maintaining a social structure predicated on the manufactured inferiority of blacks.

Biko made it his mission to raise black consciousness in order to promote social equality and speak truth to the racist power ruling his homeland. He refused to give in to the government's repeated attempts to silence his echoing independent voice, stubbornly returning to his writing and organizing activities whenever he could break free.

He titled a collection of his essays I Write What I Like, an apt description of his defiant style, and certainly an attitude we should all try to emulate 30 years later as we carry on a struggle for freedom of a different kind.

Steven Biko's murder was a final attempt to rein in his influence, but as with all of the previous efforts it was an utter failure. His martyrdom only amplified Biko's legend, ensuring that his words and example would live on in the hearts and minds of all those who champion freedom and equality.

Peter Gabriel wrote the following song to memorialize Biko's life and death (you can watch him performing it live on YouTube). Having only admitted their crime behind the shield of amnesty offered by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the police who murdered Steven Biko never spent any time in prison — a travesty as he spent so much time there without ever being charged. I hope this music and the memory of what they did will forever haunt those men.

by Peter Gabriel

September '77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

When I try and sleep at night
I can only dream in red
The outside world is black and white
With only one colour dead
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flame begins to catch
The wind will blow it higher
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Oh Biko, Biko, because, Biko
Yihla Moja, Yihla Moja
The man is dead, the man is dead

And the eyes of the world are watching now
Watching now

Spreading the good news: community health victory

Last year, I worked alongside a small but committed group of neighbors, public officials and non-profit professionals to apply for a grant to build a Federally Qualified Health Center locally. Yesterday the official word went out that our application was approved and we'll see our new clinic opening its doors in February 2008. Check out the press release posted on the Neighbors for a Healthy Rogers Park Web site.

Rogers Park, where I've lived for the past 5 years, is an area on the far north side of Chicago that has an abysmally low level of local health resources. Residents without health insurance, and there are over 20,000 at best guess (one-third of the total population), have to take 3 different buses to reach the county public hospital to receive treatment.

Such a long trek discourages the sick from making anything but emergency visits, and that's when care is the most expensive to administer — a major contributing factor to the Cook county health system's current budget crisis. It's also a terrible situation in which to put folks with chronic conditions such as diabetes, as they require regular visits in order to monitor their health.

Giving the people of our neighborhood a close-by medical home will make it easier for them to seek preventative care, which will not only improve their overall health but save the county and private health systems money by reducing the reliance on emergency room visits. It is a tremendous victory for all of us in Rogers Park, and proof that it is possible to make a positive difference when we come together as a community to address our most vital needs.

We still have much work to do both here in Rogers Park and across the US. The clinic, as important as it is, will only address a fraction of the community's need. With a county health system that is teetering on the brink of collapse, those without a place to receive quality care could escalate sharply. That crisis isn't unique to our city either, as there are 46 million Americans currently without health insurance.

I've been a long-time proponent of single payer health care, and I still believe that's the country's best hope (check out Physicians for a National Health Program to learn more). It's a long term goal, however, as the political will is still not strong enough to overturn the lobbying muscle of the current stakeholders in our dysfunctional health system. While we try to build a movement strong enough to coerce more politicians to jump on the universal health care bandwagon (not to be confused with universal private health insurance), we'll need to win these short term local battles for more health resources.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9.11.2007: Seeing the world through changed eyes

Today we Americans mark the 6th year of the post 9-11 era. It's an occasion where we sadly commemorate that day's epoch-making events with heartfelt speeches and prayerful moments of silence. That silence doesn't come easily, however. The day's memories evoke a roiling mixture of thought and emotion, as we try to come to terms with all of the personal, social and political changes that have transpired in the mind-spinning span of time since.

When three hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in DC, it seemed a victory for those who traffic in fear and hate, but it was also a shining moment of heroism and humanity for those many police, firefighters and various passersby who sacrificed themselves to rescue and aid the victims. As we found ourselves as a nation under attack, collectively we also made ourselves available to help those in need. On the 6th anniversary, we should reflect on which face of that two sided coin has influenced the intervening years more.

I was on the far side of the country, attending a work-related conference in San Diego that morning. I vividly recall waking early and turning on the news to enter midstream the babble of confused reports on the first impact; black smoke still flowing from the gaping wound of one tower. Then, as if I were yet partly dreaming, I watched the shocking and surreal images of the second jet banking into the steel and glass symbol of American finance.

Panic gripped the whole nation, none of us yet fully grasping the source or scale of the attacks, and each nervously wondering who else might be at risk across the country. The reliable information available via the TV coverage wasn't enough to keep pace with our fear-stoked imaginations. Trying to go about the normal course of our lives became impossible, consumed aw we were with concern for the safety of friends and family.

It's become cliché to say that the world forever changed on 9-11. It's closer to the truth to say our perception of the world did so. Fanaticism had been breeding around the globe for some time prior to that fateful day, and it took a tragedy of epic proportions to make long-slumbering Americans aware of it. Jerked awake to the convulsive global changes taking place, our too immediate response to these new realities was impulsive, violent, and self-defeating.

Those in power recognized the political advantage to be taken of the fear that now gripped us. They fed our newly gained terror with a frenzy of hate for all things other and poorly understood. They nurtured our sense of insecurity, seeding the dark cloud of worry that now reigns over our daily routines.

Our mis-leaders used their bellicose rhetoric to convince us security can only be won by compromising our constitutional freedoms of assembly, privacy and speech. They enlisted us in a perpetual war to justify the fortress walls built up around us. They conscripted our trust and now we march to the increasingly illogical beat of the arguments they've drummed into us.

On September 11, 2007, we find ourselves in a world where it's hard to separate sense from nonsense, real from manufactured, innocent from guilty. Our best hope is to step back and re-examine the social contracts we've been asked to sign — are we better served by shutting ourselves up in a prison of our own making, or by breaking down the barriers to positive change?

There are plenty of reasons to be frightened of this brave new world we've entered, but there are also many affirmations of the good that resides in all of us. If we pay attention to the signs, we'll see that the first hand offered isn't always the one that will lead us to safety. This song from favorite band Radiohead sums up the confusion and conflict I feel around me on this somber anniversary (the formatting of the lyrics is as close as I can get to the way they're published on the CD):

2+2=5 (the lukewarm)
by Radiohead

Are you such a dreamer?
To put the world to rights?
I'll stay home forever
Where two & two always
makes up five
I'll lay down the tracks
Sandbag & hide
January has April's showers
And two & two always
makes up five

I try to sing along
I get it all wrong
I swat em like flies but
Like flies the buggers
Keep coming back
Maybe not
"All hail to the thief"
"But I'm not!"
"Don't question my authority
or put me in the dock"
Go & tell the king that
The sky is falling in
When it's not
Maybe not.

(ahh diddums.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Us or Ours: Chasing the enemy

In my daily check of historical anniversaries, I came across the tidbit that on this date in 1813 US commander Oliver Hazard Perry sent a memorable missive to announce the defeat of the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie. His quote is one of the few well-remembered products of the otherwise mostly forgettable War of 1812 (the political history of why the war was waged is actually pretty interesting and worth a read).

Certainly military messages have a need for brevity, and Mr. Perry was quite economical with his words, the pith of the report sticking in the collective memory, if not always in exact form:
We have met the enemy, and they are Ours
The article on the quote points out that Perry's simple sentence became the inspiration for a Pogo comic strip used for an Earth Day poster back in 1971. Interestingly enough, it's cartoonist Walt Kelly's twisted take on Perry's note that I always recall first:
We have met the enemy, and He is Us
Here's the poster:

Maybe Kelly's satire strikes me as more true, or more applicable to the times in which we live. Certainly on both a social and individual level, we often find ourselves as the primary obstacle standing in the way of true progress. Focusing on conquering our own failings, fears, doubts and insecurities may lead us down a path where there's no need to battle outside forces so regularly.

Of course it may also be that I'm just naturally a smart aleck with an overwhelming fondness for irreverence.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Sweet birthday wishes for Patsy Cline

To give you the dear reader an ever expanding view of the intricacies of my very complicated personality, today I'm revealing a side of me some might find unexpected. You may have never guessed my fondness for the singer Patsy Cline, but on this the 75th anniversary of her birth I'll treat you to that morsel as I celebrate her life in song.

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8th, 1932, she tasted both success and failure in her very brief, but hit filled career. She had reached the peak of her fame when her plane fell out of the sky in March of 1963, leaving us a long record of tear-filled melodies.

More than the meaning of the words she intoned, it's the cutting emotion of her songs that captured me on first hearing. The sentimentality of the lyrics to Sweet Dreams may be over the top, but hearing Patsy's interpretation of them can't help but leave an impression. (You can watch a YouTube tribute to Patsy Cline and judge for yourself). It's said that Bill Clinton fell for I Fall To Pieces, which certainly endears me more to the former president.

We may be tempted to pine away our days dreaming of those lost, but life's too short and there's plenty to enjoy here in the present. The music of Patsy Cline is just one example.

Sweet Dreams (Of You)
Written by Don Gibson
(As released by Patsy Cline, April 15, 1963)

Sweet dreams of you
Every night I go through
Why can't I forget you and start my life anew
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

You don't love me, it's plain
I should know I'll never wear your ring
I should hate you the whole night through
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

Sweet dreams of you
Things I know can't come true
Why can't I forget the past, start loving someone new
Instead of having sweet dreams about you

© Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (BMI)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Days and thoughts turning to autumn

As the days of the calendar fall away announcing the approach of autumn, my thoughts turn to the sights, sounds and smells of my favorite season. Since my childhood I've looked forward to the leaves ripening like fruit and releasing their hold on the branches; falling in twisted paths toward the ground that they will feed with decomposition.

I love the season's steady rains: the water glistening on the fiery colored leaves that blanket the ground and brighten the gray skies overhead; the pit-a-pat of the drops drumming the earth; the awakened aroma of damp decay. It is a time marked by sensory reminders of Nature's cycling toward death. There is a sadness in that imminent demise, but it is tempered by the hope of inevitable renewal and rebirth.

I dug out this old poem of mine to salute the coming of the season.

I listen to the Fall
by Francis C. Scudellari

I listen to the Fall;
alone, walking.
Walk through ...

Orange-yellow murmurs,
red and brown sighs,
... settling.

The autumnal voices,
many, muted,
I hear ...

Rhythmic rain chants,
Gray, gusted groans,
Wilting whispers.

The Earth speaks soft response,
... mother-echoes,
... welcomes.

Draws cold children to her
black soil,
nurtured embrace.

I hear her sounds
without language

I sense emotion

Remain outside,
both thought and dream.

Now under-ripe,
too proud, unlearned.

One day, understanding,
the words will come.

Then joy, ...
To join my voice with hers

Calling others
... homeward

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Search & Rescue Redux

Last week I wrote about the costly but ultimately futile search for tech legend Jim Gray who mysteriously disappeared at sea without a trace last January (see Search & Rescue: Solving big problems to honor Jim Gray). In an eerily similar development, adventurer Steve Fossett has now dropped from sight while piloting a single-engine plane over the Nevada mountains (see the Guardian Unlimited's story Rescuers scour desert for signs of Fossett's plane).

Both men began their journeys in ideal weather conditions, but at best guess fell victim to a sudden violent change in their surroundings. As with Jim Gray before him, Fossett's plight has mobilized a combination of public (civil air patrol and national guard search teams) and private (billionaire friend Richard Branson of Virgin has requested Google Earth's assistance) high-tech resources. Fossett is widely admired for his risk-taking exploits in the vain of past American aviator legends Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes, as Gray enjoyed far-reaching mythical status in the 'Net community.

On a very superficial level, it makes one wonder if such attention would be mustered for the loss of you or me. Of course that would require the capacity to embark on such adventures, which is beyond the means of most of us, at least with comparable glamor. I might be able to manage a starless trek across country on my mountain bike, but I doubt my succumbing to mid-continental fatigue, drought or storm would elicit more than a flier posted at the local café (don't make me prove it!).

More seriously, it should challenge us to consider what other impending loss of life ought to compel a wider social focus — be it the man-made tragedy of Darfur, the various worldwide health crises, or the more general threat to our climate. Why does the lack of one man, no matter how influential or interesting, merit so much when millions of others receive so little? Do our limited human minds need a very specific face to place next to our sadness? Do tragedies on a global scale ever register, or do we require the narrowed down demise of the individual to provoke reaction?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stuck in a mood as ugly as it seems

Sometimes our moods are as capricious as Chicago's summer weather; shifting at a moment's notice from black storm clouds to warm sunshine. Other times, there are autumnal fronts that squat over us for many days before they finally dissipate.

Predicting when these changes will arrive and depart is as difficult as dependably forecasting meteorological systems. Probing their causes is equally inscrutable, especially for we amateurs, but that won't stop me from speculating.

Some of us with a supernatural bent may blame these funks on external forces. Perhaps blackguard spirits who have hijacked our soul, like a virus exploiting an opening made when our emotional defenses wear down. Perhaps we're influenced by the movement of the stars, and the music of the spheres has shifted from a lively lilt to a deathlike dirge.

We rationalists, however, are more likely to look to the internal affects of body, mind and heart. Maybe we've turned blue from ill chosen food or drink indulged in a misplaced desire for short term satisfaction. Maybe our thoughts are stretched too thin by worries over family or friends, or grown too ponderous from the weight of shadowy memory or glaring anticipation. It could be our chest has taken a beating from society's many sadnesses; the pulsating images of illness, hunger and poverty.

No matter what the cause or prognosis for eventual cure, none of us are pleasant to be around when the darkness descends. At war with god, others or self, it's best to steer clear of those following a tumultuous course, and seek out the shelter of the nearest inlet until the pacified ocean returns. If it's a mood as ugly as it seems, those boats lifted by it may get overturned.

As Ugly As I Seem
by The White Stripes

I am as ugly as I seem
Worse than all your dreams
Could ever make me out to be
And it makes me want to scream
When it's Halloween
And the kids are laughing
The rogue is a bank he's never broke
But worth as much as a joke that no one is laughing at

Can you believe some things are not
Appealing and there's a spot
On the ceiling of my childhood bedroom
And of these dreams that you can't imagine
But none of them match the vision
That you have decided for me

You want to take away from me
Things that are mine and it's not your right
I'll bet you wouldn't expect a fight, oh
Can it be that I don't want what you want?
And the only thing I could care for
Is a place in a home that is safe and warm
Safe and warm, safe and warm, safe and warm
Safe and warm.

Judge yourself if you feel the need
Just let me alone to be
In search of the truth myself
There is a drop of blood on the ground
And it seems to me that it's not my kind
And I can't be sure if it's yours or mine

I am as ugly as I seem
Worse than all your dreams
Could ever make me
Could ever make me
Could ever make me
Could ever make me