Sunday, December 25, 2005

Meg's Christmas Pick

Happy Holidays. I'm a white girl from the south so that pretty much means Christmas for me. I'm extremely fortunate to be spending this day with my entire family and we are safe, not too mention nourished in belly, bed, hearts and more. My mother is in pain and this is hard but she will heal, I have faith in this.

I hope eveyone who happens upon this page find themselves in equally blessed circumstances. I also hope each of you will stop and think about how differently this day is experienced by so many others around the world. Oh God- listen to me!- I'm starting to sound like frickin' Sally Struthers.

You know what I'm saying. I'm still hung up on the Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Info follows. Link is thru Human Rights Watch (they rock.) I hope you will help them out just a little bit ( or a lot if you want.) Britt, no, we really don't NEED a military industrial complex and this devastating fallout. I love ya', man but the real answer lies way out there beyond even the construct of the question itself but in the mean time we do all we can to keep the damage to a minimum.

Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

In dozens of countries around the world, children have become direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, some 300,000 children are serving as soldiers in current armed conflicts. These young combatants participate in all aspects of contemporary warfare. They wield AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of combat, serve as human mine detectors, participate in suicide missions, carry supplies, and act as spies, messengers or lookouts.

Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are abducted or recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.

Child soldiers are being used in more than thirty countries around the world. Human Rights Watch has interviewed child soldiers from countries including Angola, Colombia, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda. In Sierra Leone, thousands of children abducted by rebel forces witnessed and participated in horrible atrocities against civilians, including beheadings, amputations, rape, and burning people alive. Children forced to take part in atrocities were often given drugs to overcome their fear or reluctance to fight.

In Colombia, tens of thousands of children have been used as soldiers by all sides to the country’s ongoing bloody conflict. Government-backed paramilitaries recruit children as young as eight, while guerrilla forces use children to collect intelligence, make and deploy mines, and serve as advance troops in ambush attacks.

In southern Lebanon, boys as young as twelve years of age have been subject to forced conscription by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli auxiliary militia. When men and boys refuse to serve, flee the region to avoid conscription, or desert the SLA forces, their entire families may be expelled from the occupied zone.

Girls are also used as soldiers in many parts of the world. In addition to combat duties, girls are subject to sexual abuse and may be taken as “wives” by rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda. In Northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch interviewed girls who had been impregnated by rebel commanders, and then forced to strap their babies on their backs and take up arms against Ugandan security forces.

Because of their immaturity and lack of experience, child soldiers suffer higher casualties than their adult counterparts. Even after the conflict is over, they may be left physically disabled or psychologically traumatized. Frequently denied an education or the opportunity to learn civilian job skills, many find it difficult to re-join peaceful society. Schooled only in war, former child soldier are often drawn into crime or become easy prey for future recruitment.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

8 Cheers

Hey, Everybody! It's Laura's birthday. 8 cheers for strong-willed, spirited women who happen to have the kind of "generosity of spirit", Gaitskill's husband, Peter, spoke of.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gov. Terminator & Homicide

What in the hell were some of us thinking? Daring to be naive, I suppose (thanks, b. fuller - you have to or you'd go bonkers.) There's no way Gov. Terminator would have pardoned Stanley "Tokie" Williams. No money in it for him. Bottom line, no money.

I can't remember. Is California one of the states that is honest enough that it actually writes "homicide" as the cause of death on the death certificate?

At least, I don't have to keep that bargain I made with God - never to bad mouth Arnold again if he commuted Williams' sentence. Hard to never ever speak ill of the man responsible for the popularity of the friggin' HumVee.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"in this context....."

from today's edition of Common Dreams

Art, Truth and Politics
by Harold Pinter

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued - or beaten to death - the same thing - and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case "innocent people" were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally - a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.
And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets! *

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity - the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons - is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force - yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection - unless you lie - in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?
Who was the dead body?
Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?
Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?
Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?
What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?
Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror - for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.

* Extract from "I'm Explaining a Few Things" translated by Nathaniel Tarn, from Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems, published by Jonathan Cape, London 1970. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Overheard in Iowa City

in the Angie's car coming home from dinner Friday night:

" he's born again and I'm an atheist. I mean it's okay to be born again, I guess, but he believes in intelligent design and no one else least no one important. Well, there's the president but, well, you see my point."

- Anon

Thursday, December 01, 2005

December Manners

As always pick up the hard copy version of The Iowa Source, located all over Eastern, well, Iowa. Love our alternative selves. No issue in January but lots of good stuff in the works for February and March.

Dear Meg,

I could use some help with a Christmas gift. My daughter is difficult to shop for because she's done quite well for herself financially and if she wants something she just goes out and buys it. I've tried to ask her for a suggestion but she is always busy and on the go-go.


Dear Zane,

I have just the thing for you. Your timing is ideal as I only just heard about this. It sounds like what your daughter needs is more time for herself, the people she cares about and, subsequently, a bit of balance. Fortunately it's true you really can purchase anything over the Internet.

The poverty is so overwhelming in much of Russia and Eastern Europe that some industrious young "persons of diminutive stature" were inspired by the mail order bride concept to start a service called Deliver-De-Dwarf. These plucky entrepreneurs specialize in marketing themselves as a way of escaping abject poverty and coming to America for a better life. For a modest investment, these "volunteers" are guaranteed to clean beneath armoirs and butcher blocks, give those never read books on your bookshelves a more perused look, do floors and windows, keep your pets well-groomed and gait-ed and, here's the real kicker, pull together an elegant and tasteful dinner party for 8 with only a half hour's notice. Calgon take me away!

Did I mention the dwarfs say please, thank you, never talk on the phone and come with a certificate to always make you the primary topic of conversation? Otherwise, you may ship them back in the jiffy little postage paid bubble padded tube mailer from whence they came.

Zane, it sounds like you raised a woman who knows what she wants. You can certainly be proud of this fact. Happy holidays and here's the third world slave labor info if you're game -



Dear Meg,

You once said something about manners being sensitivity to the feelings of others. I don't think that anyone is sensitive to my feelings and I go around being sensitive to their feelings all the time. My friends tell me I'm way too easily offended and I should learn to lighten up. I think they're being mean and rude. What do you think?


Dear Fred,

Tough one. It's difficult to be a sensitive being in a world that doesn't always value or nurture that quality. I speak from experience. I'm one of those poor souls who can be walking around in the dead of winter and see a stranded glove buried beneath the ice on the sidewalk and fight back tears because there might be a person on the street somewhere in danger of frostbitten fingers.

It sounds as if your friends may be well meaning but perhaps a bit heavy-handed in their means of delivering the message. Any possibility you can shrug it off or, perhaps, see it as a chance to make some changes in either yourself or your community?

In my case, I have a whole cache of "Silly Meg" stories that grows larger by the year. I'll share a favorite. I've never had a facility for non-English languages unless you count Pig Latin in grade school. Once while visiting a boyfriend in Mexico City, we had determined to meet at a specific time. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was 76 degrees. I wasn't wearing a watch and feared I was running late after spending too much time at the Frieda Kahlo museum. In my not unusual Meg as Lucy Ricardo routine, I began asking people "Que tiempo hace?" which translates as "What's the weather like today?" After 6 or 7 people shook their heads at me, the stupid gringo (guilty), a gentleman pointed to his wrist and said "Que hora es, senorita, que hora es?" and allowed me to look at his watch. I might have been embarrassed but the whole episode was so ridiculous all I could was laugh and run to the shop where my boyfriend was to tell him so he could laugh about it too.

Fred, sometimes we all need to learn to go with the flow, worry a little bit less and as hard as it may be to do, maybe choose to be around people who don't hurt our feelings all the time. Have you tried writing any poems or making some art? Good therapy and nice holiday gifts to boot.



Sunday, November 27, 2005

Emma's List

Okay - time to brag about my oldest niece, Emma. The surgery my mother just endured was having a metal rod put in her ankle in hopes she will one day be able to walk again. She has a long history of complications from diabetes and other illnesses that have left her dependent on wheelchairs and walkers for years. Essentially this surgery IS a positive thing albeit very physically painful for my mother.

Emma drew up a list for Mom to keep next to her bed in Rehab to serve as a reminder and inspiration for sticking to her post-op program. Just so you know, my mother has numerous dietary restrictions in addition to the ones mandated by the diabetes.

1. Keep all weight off your ankle for 8 weeks and the more shopping bags you can carry.

2. Keep all weight off your ankle and you get to go for long walks on the beach.

3. Don't eat any potassium and you get to keep your kidneys.

I guess this might not sound so wonderful to anyone else. I thought it was found poetry. From shopping to nature to keeping one's kidneys in 3 lines, genuis. I mean, if I could only keep my records clean I'd feel like one of those. Miss you, Warren Z - Don't smoke any more cigarettes and you get to keep your life? Sometimes, yes!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The You are Beautiful Statement

Okay, this one is as much for me as anyone out there. At the beginning of the summer I briefly dated a man who was 15 years older than me and at one point he actually told me that if he thought that if he could still attract a woman even younger than me, he'd be going for it. That's not especially helpful in the self-esteem department. One of the things I always liked about Gaitskill's husband is that he was never infatuated with younger women. Just like the men in my family. Decent. Reasonable. Hardly perfect but exceptionally loveable. Like the women and my long-time friends.

I seem to be turning into an introvert. If I'm around too many people for too long, I just get exhausted and, you know what, I am turning into a prig. Someone recently told me they were at a restaraunt and stole a burrito off some guys tray . She said she thought it was really funny but they didn't. I said I'll bet they didn't. Maybe she had no money for food. I dunno.


You Are Beautiful (check out the link) is a simple, powerful statement which is incorporated into the over absorption of mass media and lifestyles that are wrapped in consumer culture.

This statement and the context in which someone finds it gives meaning to its message and purpose to this project.

The intention behind this project is to reach beyond ourselves as individuals to make a difference by creating moments of positive self realization in those who happen across the statement: You Are Beautiful.

Intention is the most important aspect of the You Are Beautiful project in its idea of purity. Graffiti and street art are an act not a style, but stylistically large corporations have been copying and using the 'urban decay' look to sell products.

It all comes down to intention. Nothing is sacred. Everything that has a perceived value becomes commodified. Companies hire out teenagers to slap up stickers and posters, and pay their fines when they are caught by the police. This is not street art, but a marketing campaign.

The reasons why street artists are doing what they are doing, in the way that they are doing, is not simply to question their surroundings; but to provide alternative perspectives, meanings, or values to those of consumerism.

Advertising elicits a response to buy, where this project elicits a response to do something. The attempt with You Are Beautiful is to create activism instead of consumerism.

You Are Beautiful uses the medium of advertising and commercialization to spread a positive message.
Projects like these make a difference in the world by catching us in the midst of daily life and creating moments of positive self realization.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Couldn't Help But Notice Maslin's Observation

Wow. I just found out that Mary Gaitskill's new novel, Veronica, is finally out and is a finalist for the National Book Award - right on! I've been a fan (yeah, I know that's an out of style word these days, we are supposed to be "great admirers", right?) of Ms. Gaitskill's since her first novel and through the short fiction collections, is that the right order?

I love the reviews I have read about the novel so far. A not so pretty view of the modeling industry? Yes. Anyone remember the Leonard Cohen song, "First We Take Manhattan"? Jeez, did Kate Moss do any reading in rehab? Goodness, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. One of things I have always appreciated about this woman's work is how unsparingly unsentimental it is.

This said, couldn't help but notice Janet Maslin's observation of something resembling a hopeful or happy ending. Nice. I've never met MG but her husband, Peter, once described her to me as having a generosity of spirit unlike anyone he'd ever met. Actually, in many ways I'd describe him in this manner.

Art often imitates life and vice versa and, God help me, as cynical and unsparingly critical as I can be in my assessment of the world around me, I do love it when good things happen to those who friggin' deserve it. I strongly suspect these two do

Okay, now I'm on the lookout for what I expect to be a rather brilliant book on the nature of suffering, The Book of Calamaties, by said husband.

Oh yes, and my old pal, Lisa Phillips, has a book about NPR coming out in the spring.

coda - given what wunderwriter Lauren Slater had to say about the veracity of reviews while in town last weekend, I am being cautiously optimistic in my enthusiasm re: this entire post. Of course, it's all subjective. Yo Go - Heisenberg.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Love These Boys!

from Science & Spirit 2002

Words to Live By

by Dean Nelson

Writers are celebrated for the ways, both obvious and subtle, in which they reach and inspire their readers. Yet rarely do we consider the sources from which authors themselves draw inspiration. Earlier this year, Bill Moyers, Jim Wallis, Peter Matthiessen, and Doug TenNapel—four writers who have long energized diverse audiences with their words—came together for a writers symposium at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, where they spoke about the ways in which spirituality informs their work. Despite their different backgrounds, experiences, and chosen mediums, these four authors share similar concerns at the heart of their creations— whether an essay on politics, a television series on life’s origins, a narrative reflection on our place in nature, or a comic book on dinosaurs.

Bill Moyers, perhaps best known for his Public Broadcasting Service series “NOW with Bill Moyers,” is no stranger to religious themes. He has successfully addressed plenty of them through popular television series like “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” and “Genesis: A Living Conversation,” both of which later became books. His most recent book, Moyers on America: A Journalist and His Times, brings together some of his earlier reflections on religious matters, such as the many interpretations of the Bible and how Americans, despite their many different faiths, can come to a place of mutual understanding.

Moyers, now seventy-one, has long championed the less powerful members of society—an approach to the world he developed first at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and later while serving as an associate Baptist minister and in the Peace Corps. Through his PBS programs, he exposed corruption in government and in the chemical and sports industries, and warned Americans to watch out for ideologues in big government and encroachments on constitutional rights by big business.

Moyers draws a connection between the tax cuts introduced by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress earlier this year—cuts that benefit mostly the wealthiest Americans—and the scriptural account of Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple. “The money-changers were taking advantage of the poor,” Moyers says, while more recently, “the religious and political leaders were working together to make sure they were taking care of themselves at the expense of the poor. That should make us angry today, too.”

Though he believes Scripture is relevant to public discourse, he decries the ways in which some have twisted religion to justify their actions. He notes as an example the “rapture index”—a composite score based on activity in forty-five categories, including the economy, famine, and floods—which is believed to indicate the nearness of the end of time. This idea, made popular by the best-selling Left Behind series, has been used as a rationale for, among other things, abdicating responsibility for environmental destruction, since it is said that this destruction will precipitate the second coming of Christ and the ascension of true believers into the kingdom of heaven.

Moyers believes corruption of religion has reached the highest corridors of power, and has not been afraid to criticize this. “The delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington,” he said upon accepting a Global Environment Citizen Award from Harvard Medical School last year. “Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad, but they are always blind.”

Earlier this year, Jim Wallis, founder of the ecumenical social action group Sojourners and editor of Sojourners magazine, earned acclaim for his critique of the religious right. In his best-selling book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, he criticized the religious right for focusing on issues like abortion and gay marriage to the exclusion of anti-poverty and social welfare initiatives. Wallis’ call to broaden the “moral values” discussion to include the implications of environmental degradation, the war in Iraq, the response to terrorism, and poverty has earned him something close to pop icon status. U2 frontman Bono gave God’s Politics a glowing review, and since the 2004 presidential election campaign, Wallis has appeared at concert halls throughout the country with the likes of the Christian music group Jars of Clay and country singer Emmylou Harris.

For the fifty-seven-year-old Wallis, the inclination to link the religious to the political dates back to his days as a teenager in the Detroit area, where he asked local church leaders why there were no blacks in their congregations. He was told that people who ask such questions only get in trouble. “I guess that was a prophetic statement!” exclaims Wallis, who has been jailed more than twenty times for protesting social injustices. Still, his role model remains Martin Luther King Jr., who, by holding the U.S. Constitution in one hand and a Bible in the other, convinced Wallis that successful social movements must have their roots in spirituality: “King said, ‘The church should never be the master of the state, it should never be the servant of the state, it should be the conscience of the state.’”

Wallis believes that politics should transcend traditional notions of “right” and “left,” rooting itself instead in universal compassion and commitment to others. In his 1995 book, The Soul of Politics: Beyond “Religious Right” and “Secular Left,” and his following book, Who Speaks for God? Wallis notes the Bible’s many references to taking care of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the imprisoned, and says we are called upon to look out for one another. In his newly released Call to Conversion: Why Faith Is Always Personal but Never Private, Wallis repeats his call for governmental policies based on the values Jesus preached.

Wallis has been criticized by some members of the religious right for the relative liberalism of his moral values and for not speaking out loudly enough against abortion. But he insists that by narrowing the discussion to merely one or two issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, little room is left for bigger ones, such as our responsibility to all of creation. “By not including the environment, capital punishment, war, and economic justice in the discussion about abortion,” Wallis says, “the conservatives are saying, ‘We care about you until you are born. After that, you’re on your own.’”

Peter Matthiessen, a longtime Zen Buddhist, conveys a similar concern for the environment and marginalized people. Most of his books address the tenuous balance between human existence and the survival of wildlife and habitats. With ever-expanding development and growing hunger for natural resources, the delicate relationship is in danger, he says.

Whether writing about a little-known species of bird, a mountain peak, or a forgotten human civilization, Matthiessen, now seventy-eight, continuously communicates his respect and admiration for each of his subjects and for the interconnectedness of the natural world.

While working at a summer camp in Connecticut as a teenager, Matthiessen becam e interes ted in wr iting about species at the mercy of more powerful forces. Hav ing come from a background of privilege, Matth iessen recal ls watching wi th aston ishment as a group of youngst ers from the inner city ate th eir dinner “as if they had never seen food before. The entire time they wolfed down their food, t hey looked behi nd them, over each shoulder,” he remembers. “I fou nd out later that they were used to hav ing to protect their food from someone else at the table taking it away from them. That started my interest in groups that had to struggle to survive.”

His time as a Buddhist has deepened his understanding of the connection between human beings and all other species, he says, and has contributed to his sense of obligation to be mindful and responsible to all of creation. It also has lent him a painstaking attention to detail that has sharpened his skill as a writer. Describing the sandpiper bird in The Shorebirds of North America, he writes: “One only has to consider the life force packed tight into that puff of feathers to lay the mind wide open to the mysteries — the order of things, the why and the beginning. As we contemplate that sanderling, there by the shining sea, one question leads inevitably to another, and all questions come full circle to the questioner, paused momentarily in his own journey under the sun and sky.”

Although Matthiessen will speak only sparingly about his spiritual practice, his philosophy can be gleaned from parts of The Snow Leopard, the telling of an odyssey through the Himalayas during a period of grief and spiritual searching that earned him the National Book Award for general nonfiction in 1980. “Today, science is telling us what the Vedas have taught mankind for 3,000 years, that we do not see the universe as it is,” he writes. “According to Buddhists … this world perceived by the senses, this relative but not absolute reality, this dream, also exists, also has meaning; but it is only one aspect of the truth, like the cosmic vision of this goat by the crooked door, gazing through sheets of rain into the mud.”

Serious and spiritual messages come embedded in all shapes and sizes, including the comic books and video games of American artist and animator Doug TenNapel. His first successful graphic novel, Creature Tech, which is now being adapted for the big screen, combines themes of alienation, love, and social acceptance in the setting of a small community. His latest work, Earthboy Jacobus, is about a lonely man who crashes his car into a flying whale and finds a boy from a parallel universe. It also deals with love and social acceptance and the possibility that life is not always as it seems.

Most of TenNapel’s writing is influenced by years of reading the Bible. “We writers write what we know,” he says. “Part of the Christian symbolism or philosophy that comes out in my work is that I’m incredibly familiar with Bible stories—the nature, the cadence, the message. It would make sense that as I tell stories, I would naturally steal elements of this moral system and incorporate it into my work. It’s part of my culture, my identity, my vocabulary, as I think about why characters do things or how events happen.”

The thirty-eight-year-old TenNapel feels that most great narratives have their roots in the dominant story of the New Testament. “Specifically, the story of Christ is the hero’s journey,” he says. “God wrote this tale in the DNA of planet Earth. The most popular stories of all time have a hero of humble beginnings, who blossoms before a community of adoring but oppressed peers, only to be sacrificed to save the community that is destined to die without his spilled blood. Often, the hero resurrects in a new, pure adult form.”

He points to Gandalf of the Lord of the Rings trilogy; Bruce Willis’ character in the Die Hard movies; and Neo of The Matrix as examples of the universality of this kind of hero. “Hollywood loves it when a hero or his sidekick dies at the end of the second act so that some group can live,” he says. “No matter if the reason is godless evolution or the gospel truth, we all agree that this form of Christ story has wide appeal in our most successful civilizations.”

TenNapel experiences some tension in the entertainment world when he tells people he is a conservative born-again Christian. Although his books have been well-received, he believes he has lost work because his religious and political beliefs are well-known. Even though he produced the highly successful video game “Earthworm Jim” and, later, “The Neverhood” for Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks, he says that potential collaborators in Hollywood tend to cast a skeptical eye. In the end, though, he is less concerned with how he is perceived than with holding on to the sense of purpose that guides him.

“My work ethic is a huge factor in what separates me from my peers who might use fear, greed, and vanity as an ultimate motivation,” he says. “To be sure, I am full of fear, greed, and vanity, but I have a higher calling that ultimately sustains and inspires my workday.”

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shop Girl!

Loved it. And.....I picked the winner. Thanks, Andy for taking me to the flick.

Me mum has had another surgery but her wit remains intact (as always.) I told her I've been telling friends lately that my tiredness is beause I have the birdflu and without missing a beat she said, "Oh you mean, your ex-friends?" We both roared.

Off to the saltmines.

Prayers for Dianne in Charlotte if you would.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mongolia, Moss & Cool Guys

Okay, that thing I said about the use of the word "florid" yesterday was not very kind. I was having a bad day. What was I thinking about being so happy about Fall. Now winter is here and it's gray and cold and my apartment if about 58 degrees and, well, yuck!

Now that that's over with, here's a leedle quiz --- let's say you are a very, very unpopular world leader and nobody on the planet much cares for you, esp. your own people, where would you go to attempt to receive a moderately enthusiastic welcome?

Hint. It starts with an "M" and ends with an "A" and no leader of this particular unpopular leader's own country has ever visited M thru A before.

I guess you already heard about this, didn't you? Poor Dubya went to Mongolia. Oh well. Once I did have this psychic-astrologer tell me I HAD a terrific meridian that ran through the center of Monogolia and might consider moving there. I told a friend this and she said she thought it was a great idea. She could see me as that woman Karen Allen played in the first "Indiana Jones" flick - drinking all the boys under the table, bluffing them at cards, being a real bad ass.

When that comment was made to me I was a few years younger than Kate Moss is now. I glanced at the new issue of Vanity Fair last night. Jeez, it was freaky. There is one photo of her wearing this really short one piece cotton dress w/ a big, brass hip belt and a pair of leather strap-ankle sandals that are identical to the ones I used to wear in this identical get up. Pardon my hubris for comparing myself to such a gorgeous woman, BTW, although I will say I did have my day.

Anyway, I was so thin and so bold. I was a party girl and having a friend compare me to Karen Allen's role in IJ was a pretty fair assessment. Jeez, I hope Kate got something out of rehab and I really hope she gets over her penchant for bad boys. Hey, Kate, you know what? Winona Ryder had a great line in "Heathers" at the very end there when she told Christian Slater off right before he blew up the school, she said, "I want cool guys like you out of my life."

Being cool is a fine thing, of course, depending upon the context and what you mean by word.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Bad hair day but in this weather it would be unreasonable to have any higher expectations. Really terrific interview with Springsteen on Fresh Air this morning. For anyone in the WSUI listening area it should be rebroadcast at 7pm unless there is a P Lights reading. Difficult to believe it's been 30 years since "Born to Run" was released and rock critic Dave Marsh declared (was it Dave?) he had seen the future of rock-n-roll and it's name was Bruce Sprinsteen! Hell, I was down. My mother turned me on to that record and I became a groupie of sorts. Yeah, I got a story or two.

The wonderful thing about today's interview which actually took place a week ago is hearing the mature, wise Bruce. (BTW, is everybody throwing around the word "florid" these days? - I thought that was over in 2002? Oh well, I'm biased it's adorable when HE does it.) The family man who obliquely refers to a time in his past of running head on into his "instincts" and what a train wreck that way of life was. The guy who can laugh at himself, can look back at his old work and admit that it's good just different from what he's doing now. Hey it was was gratifying to hear an old hero talk about being a misfit and finding yourself through art, music, writing, etc.

I was disappointed in a couple of respects in the interview. The primary one, being this - in the discussion of Springsteen's writing of romantic songs, there was no mention of the fact that he wrote just about the most romantic song of the 20th century which is on the Tunnel of Love record - "Tougher Than the Rest". Okay, okay they were discussing earlier work but, man, that song is it. It's the send me no more cowards, anthem. The true definition of what strength and power are in another person.

Friday, November 11, 2005

All A Bunch of Crazy Kooks

So in the "never believe anything you hear of anything you read" category (the later being admittedly ironic given this format), I was meeting an old friend at the T Bowl yesterday and saw a woman who I had heard had gotten a job working for Ira Glass on "This American Life". I never questioned the story when it was told to me, so I told a few people after I heard it.

When I saw her, I was excited and said, "Wow, I heard...blah, blah, blah." She calmly responded that no she had not gotten such a groovo job but hypothesized that this rumor might explain why Jim Harris at Prairie Lights had come up to her and told her he had heard she had moved to Chicago to work for the show.

What divine comedy. Yesterday I finished writing up some holiday gift book picks and one of them is by my old friend, Pagan. In it she includes a chart summarizing and comparing her worldview to fiction contemporaries Bret Easton Ellis and Douglas Coupland. Her take as opposed to these cynical bad boys, "We're all bunch a of crazy kooks!"

That's my take on this little rumor gone nuts. Crazy kooks, indeed.

Three years ago, I was really bored and I was sitting around w/ the same gang over and over listenng to lots of rascist and homophobic nonesense so I started a rumor that I was really a man. I reckon that one is still going around somewhere. Maybe that's why this one guy not so long ago kept telling me over and over that he was reading Middlesex? He wanted to let me know, he was "down" with my kind.

Good grief. Oh well and my wasn't it sweet of J Depp to come ex-girlfriend, Kate Moss's defense? Nice.

Monday, November 07, 2005

An Important Part of the Process

One of the reasons the system of "confession" seems to be working in Rwanda is, in fact, the forgivenss and encouragement of the women there. Well, that and the fact that the reward for confession is the release from prison situations so inhumane and horrifying (I've read 1st person witness accounts, for what its worth) I strongly suspect it is impossible for me or anyone reading this to even remotely really empathize with it. For Rwandan culture this is especially important. Traditionally there is a strong obediance to authority and, subsequenty, a fear of it which I would imagine might make owning up to such things as hacking to death, raping and torturing 100's of your neighbors over a period of a only a few months pretty darn difficult. Reconciliation. That's what it's called and for some it comes quickly and for some more slowly. The miracle is that it happens at all.

I imagine an important part of the process would be learnng to not be suspicious of one another.

Now that I've typed all this up, it occurs to me I haven't read much about the gaccaca process in a while. Goodness, I hope it's still working to some extent.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

You Never Know

So I had the dinner the other night w/ one of those guys who blabbed a bunch of private stuff about me to other guys. I generally play dumb in those circumstances in hopes that being calm and forgiving will eventually lead to a "confession". It's a system that seems to be working in Rwanda but, of course, Rwanda is an entirely different culture. Maybe he'll own up to it someday. You never know.

Guys are dumb, albeit useful and not at all unloveable in their own ridiculous way. I was chatting with one of my favorite local business owners earlier, Sheila, who has Revival on South Linn Street. I was asking her about the house she and her boyfriend purchased this past Spring. We got into a conversation about how difficult gardening is and what an art it really is. She said they finally roto-tilled and whacked all the weeds and then she let her bf get into doing the "lawn thing". I said "yeah, a lot of boys like to do that sort of thing, may as well just let 'em at it." We laughed and nodded our heads.

Just picked up Carl Honore's "In Praise of Slowness". I think this one was written just for me!!!!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Sweet People

Wow, yesterday this really sweet kid (okay young man) came into work to ask about buying flowers for his roommate because her boss's mother had died and he was worried she (the roommate) was upset. So dear it almost broke my heart.

Gotta go. Check out Franklin's site. Bless him, he figured out my latest techno-batty problem this weekend so my computer at home is functional again. He helps many, many people.

Friday, October 28, 2005

November Manners

Don't you dare forget to pick up the Iowa Source, available all over Eastern Iowa for FREE. Also avaliable online at Alternative views for alternative lifestyles.

Dear Meg,

I'm traveling to New Hampshire to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, her husband and his entire family. I'm happy to be invited and usually have a pretty good time but every year my sister seats me next to her mother-in-law and the woman wears so much perfume I can hardly breathe much less eat my dinner. I know it would be impolite to say anything, her mother-in-law is, like, 94 so I'm sure she has no clue about odorous she is. Can I ask my sister to make someone else sit next to her?


Dear Burford,

In a word - no. Nice try but since you've admitted that sitting next to your sister's mother-in-law causes you both respiratory and dining difficulties, you can't really attempt to pass the unpleasantness buck onto someone else. What you can do, however, is ask your sister to speak to her husband's mother. As the host it is her responsibility to make her guests comfortable. She might consider telling her mother-in-law how much she likes her perfume but sometimes she feels almost "outdone" in her own home. Ten to one the old bird will catch on immediately, show up for dinner perfume-free and you will be in for the best Thanksgiving you've had in years - conversation-wise. Let me know how it goes.



Dear Meg,

One of my best girl friends just got out of a relationship with a man who lied to her repeatedly. I think the guy is a borderline sociopath and that she should try to get back at him but she insists on being all forgiving and everything. She says if she doesn't just detach and focus on herself she will go nuts so it's mostly self preservation on her part. What do you think about this?


Dear Conchita,

I think you are better off letting your friend worry about her own relationships while you focus on you. Personally, I can't stand it when someone I care about gets hurt or is treated unfairly but unless they ask me to do something on their behalf I have to remind myself that the burden is, in fact, not mine but theirs. The best thing you can do is offer to comfort your friend and advise her to steer clear of the man in question. Let me also say that retaliation is just plain wrong, pretty rude and will ultimately make any decent person feel more than a little rotten about themselves.

A woman I care deeply about once had a man tell her he had had a vasectomy but "he didn't know if it had taken." The poor dear had no idea this was one of the oldest lines in the book for guys who just don't want to practice safe sex. Like you, I was incredulous on her behalf but I had to remind her that trust was a relative concept, people can and do let you down and she had better learn to protect herself in the future. Meanwhile, I secretly hoped the Buddhists were correct in their idea of hell being a rather long journey in the afterlife. I was thinking something along the lines the representation in "Jacob's Ladder", Adrian Lyne's film adaptation of Bruce Joel Rubin's screenplay interpretation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

It's a good thing ones manners are not judged based on what we occasionally think, no? It's wonderful you care so much for your friend. The most caring thing you can do is respect her wishes on this. It sounds as if she's got a good handle of what she needs. I suggest you follow her lead.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa, Rosa...

Rosa, Rosa..... wishing you a sweet passage into the greatest of mysteries (leaving shoes and cares behind.)

Thank you for saying "No, I've had enough." You left this ol' world so much better than you found it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Corporate Test Dummy?

Jeez, has it really been almost 20 days since I posted here? Times flies I suppose when you are having something that might resemble fun to a person who has been locked in a closet for a year or five. Okay, guilty! I'm exagerrating although I have been in a bit of a funk. As much as I love Fall, the thought of another grim, dark Iowa winter has me feeling rather down. I always forget that as it begins to get cold and grey, I just want to sleep and eat and have almost no interest in leaving my apartment. It's just too cold and I'm just not that tough. I'll make it through, I always do.

So what gives? Did I really hear some screwball story on NPR today about a plan to corporately finance the national park systems? That there is a possibility of naming trails in for instance, the Grand Canyon, after corporate sponsors? Laudy, laudy! "Ride your rented mule down Dow Chemical Trail to see the lovely river we once set on fire. Sign up right here." My God the world is getting more and more absurd. Okay, I think it may have been the Snake River and I'm not certain it was Dow Chemical but you get my point.

Modern technology continues to baffle me. I was at the grocery store last night and they had a new water refill machine which for the life of me I could not figure out how to use. I finally had to go to the deli and beg for help. This is a life long problem. When I was a child and Coke came out with a new dispensing machine, the first time I encountered one I couldn't figure out why the Coke machine didn't offer Coke anymore but did offer 5 other types of soft drinks. What they had done was make the button for Coke about 20 times larger than the one for the other drinks so I thought that button was actually just a part of the advertising for coca-a-cola products. It never occured to me that they'd make a button so big. I guess I wasn't the only confused soda swiller on the block since that model of machine didn't stick around for very long. Be interesting to see how long the new water refill contraptions last.

Hhhhmm ..... new career possibility for me? Corporate test dummy? Would I get a trail named after me in Joshua Tree?

The Didion book is heart-breaking. Almost finished. I can't read this one too quickly because it's just too hard. I hate to say it but I almost feel as if she wrote it too soon. I hope she revisits her grieving process in another book or article in a few years - so much changes and we learn so much. Ultimately, this doesn't matter one bit. If the process of writing and publishing the book helped her recover from the deaths of her husband and daughter within 2 months of each other, I'm glad she did it and despite it's subject matter, at times the book is almost a joyful read.

c megdoeswords

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Letter Y and The Veil

I am almost finished with The Black Veil and damnit I'm starting the like the thing, or more to the point, I'm starting to like Rick Moody more and more. In that one of the measure's of whether or not a book is decently written is if you care about it's characters enough to judge them one way or the other, I'll have to revoke my original assessment of the book as being poorly written.

The passage in the book when he decides to start wearing a veil himself and the subsequent first journey to Walmart (where he considers asking a sales clerk in which aisle one might browse if they were in the market for a soul) is heart-breakingly funny. I keep thinking about my plan 2 years ago to change my last name to the letter "Y". How I had convinced so many of my writer/artist friends of what a "cool" idea it was. I had a little group show at a public art space in town and put up a piece under the name of "meg y". Man, no wonder I didn't get much feedback on the thing. People probably didn't even know I had done it. I had also tried to subscribe to a couple of magazines as Meg Y but they all came back saying they could not process my order without my complete "information." At least Moody, had the sense not to wear his veil out to dinner. Well, not that he admitted in print anyway - wry smile.

Oh dear.

c - megdoeswords

Monday, October 03, 2005

Yep, It Was Eugenides

I'm sure I'm just as obvious to other people sometimes but I swear I was just saying to my friend, Ann, the other day that I was pretty certain that Rick Moody had to have been refering to Jeffrey Eugenides in his memoir in his passage about his post-college road trip to San Francisco because twice he called him Jeff, the budding novelist . I couldn't help but check to see if I was right. Sure enough Eugenides is from Detroit (where the road trip begins) and graduated from Brown in 1983 (as did Moody.) Hey, most of us have done this sort of thing and a good number of us will probably do it again.

Laura, stop laughing!!

BTW, The Black Veil is getting worse. The way he's talking about his fellow patients in the psych ward and treatment is just awful. I mean no empathy at all. I keep praying he's going to surprise me. I'll keep you posted.

Clearly, I need to spend more time working on my own work.

Can't wait to read Joan Didion's new book, The Year of Magical Thinking. It hits bookstores manana (I'm third in line on the hold list at the library - god bless 'em.)

Meg's October Manners

Don't forget to pick up your FREE copy of the October issue of The Source. Check your local bookseller, coffee shop, grocer, museum, etc. or go online to

Dear Meg,

Every year my husband and I go to his company's annual Halloween party. Every year he insists we wear the same 'ol lame costumes as the previous year. He goes as a forest ranger and I dress up as tree on fire. He brings along this old garden hose and makes me run around threatening to set others on fire while he plays the big hero saving all the other guests from me. Nobody thinks its funny. It's almost heart-breaking. I'm embarrassed for him and me. Even the owner of the company and her husband do edgier stuff. Last year they dressed up as Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki. Another couple came as Ruth Carter Stapleton and Larry Flynt. It was hilarious. Should I speak up and risk hurting his feelings.


Dear Helen,

Well, yes, speak up, of course. I'm not clear on why you think this would hurt his feelings. If stating such a simple request would prove problematic, may I suggest you dress up as Pet Rock # 1 and Pet Rock # 2, if you get my drift? There is nothing inherently "lame" about dressing up as a forest ranger, BTW. That's a pretty cool occupation. It's not only cool, it's honorable, as is any occupation that protects the environment. It does sound as if your poor husband has gotten himself into a bit of a rut and I understand why you wouldn't want to spend an entire evening running around pretending to be someone everyone else is supposed to be afraid of. If that's what you want, I suggest you try my SLA Patty Hearst w/ faux machine gun routine. I thought it was a riot but people on the street, in the nightclubs and at Denny's were definitely afraid of me. Oh well, it was 1978 and it was the south. I shouldn't have expected much else.

The most important thing, as always, is that you keep your husband's feelings in mind when you bring the subject up but, in this case, please don't be afraid to state your case. Point out to him how much you've admired his co-worker's get-up's and how impressed you were with their creativity.Let him know how much you love and admire him. I would tell him how it makes you feel posing as a threat to others year after year and suggest to him you feel as if you are in a rut. Never hurts to take the hit in order to attempt to get someone else to take a hint.

If none of this works, maybe you could suggest a role reversal? At the very least it would probably be a tad bit better to be the one playing the great protector for a change - chasing the burning tree around with that old garden hose. I'll bet his co-workers would find that pretty funny.

Best of luck,


Dear Meg,

I just had my first book published. My agent told me I'm not really up to snuff for any kind of visual publicity campaign, so we're sticking to radio. I'm doing all these AM radio talk shows from the convenience of my living room. I consider myself a fairly well-mannered woman but some of the stuff these radio people are saying to me are really over the top. I'm on sabbatical right now but I've got 3 more weeks of this starting in mid-October. Any advice?


Dear Nina,

I have a friend was once in exactly the same situation. She adopted a coping mechanism she picked up in junior high school which was that she essentially agreed with everything being said to her. For instance, if someone tells you might get more guys or sell more books if you spent more time on your appearance, just agree. Tell them you think spending three hours applying make-up, spraying and back-combing your hair and agonizing over outfits every morning would be a wonderful use of your time. You could toss in a quote like this one from shop owner, Truvy Jones (aka Dolly Parton) in Robert Harling's sentimental chickfest Steel Magnolias - "There's no such thing as natural beauty." Hopefully, a full read of this month's issue will do much to counter that silly notion.

Just toy with them, Nina, and keep your cool. You're the one who is selling a book and the better you come off the more books you are likely to sell. I know it's hard but, keep in mind, that taking the high road (darn it!) does usually pay off. I'm looking forward to reading your book. Keep your chin up.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

You Owe It To Yourselves......

In all seriousness, if you have not checked out the link on my blog to "Defenseless Ephemera", you really must. Don't miss the weekly updates.

Excerpt from Conversation Yesterday at Work

Meg: Hey XXXX did you hear about Tom DeLay?

XXXX: Tom DeLay was framed.

No comment.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Not Just "America, America, America.....

"He said it was an honor to receive it without having to work hard and study". (do people get how funny this man is?)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The Dalai Lama told 36,000 people at Rutgers Stadium that the concept of war was outdated and young people have a responsibility to make this century one of peace.

"This whole planet is just us," the 70-year-old exiled monk said Sunday. "Therefore, destruction of another area essentially is destruction of yourself."

Tibet's spiritual leader also urged the audience to develop a wider world perspective, not just focus on "America, America, America."

"His quiet mind is the kind of serenity New Jersey, home of strip malls, could use," Arielle Gomberg said.

The speech was the largest nonathletic event in Rutgers history, topping visits by former President Clinton and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

A row of monks, wearing traditional gold and maroon, sat near the stage on blankets, pillows or mats spread across the 10- and 20-yard lines on the football field.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel peace prize, accepted an honorary degree from Rutgers President Richard McCormick. He said it was an honor to receive it without having to work hard and study.

In his lecture, "Peace, War and Reconciliation," the Dalai Lama said society's dream should be a world free of nuclear and biological weapons.

He noted their danger — and their expense, saying some African states have an abundance of weapons, but not enough food.

Also Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the Dalai Lama the key to the city, calling him "a moral beacon to millions around the world, with a clear and constant voice for human rights."

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 following an aborted uprising against Chinese rule in the territory and now keeps an office in exile in the Himalayan town of Dharmsala, India.

Excerpt from Saturday Night Phone Conversation

Laura: Oh yeah, I sent your post about your conversation with your neighbor about the the gameshow gig to Mitchell. (followed by longish conversation about reason for this forward.)

Meg: Oh man, Wade has really been on a roll - just full of real gems. The other night I found him on the front porch as I was on my way to the Handimart to pick up some ice cream and he went into a tirade about organic produce. He said he didn't want his vegetables all brown and full of holes and spiderwebs and that he LOVED PESTICIDES, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

(Laura and Meg laugh hysterically.)

Earlier in conversation Laura tells me about a conference for librarians that she has been helping to organize for next year which is scheduled to be held in New Orleans. She says they've actually been receiving all these queries from people who were registered wondering if they could get their money back. No comment.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Excerpt from Wednesday Porch Conversation

Ahh, the things one learns when infirmed and hanging out with neighbors. I also missed a whole trauma-drama about a "perv" who was peeping into windows and finally got busted. Even out old neighbor knew about that one. She went to his arraignment (sp)!

Wade: Oh My God!!! You know my friend Michael.

Meg: Yes, of course, I know Michael. How is he?

Wade: He got on "You Want to be a Millionaire"!! (note: I may have this title wrong since I tend to get such things wrong and don't even get PBS in my apartment, it's some network game show though.)

Meg: Wow. We should have a party to watch him.

Wade: We should have a party to send him off!

Meg: Oh right, of course. How'd he get on?

Wade: Oh he completely had the right profile. You know the sensitive gay prison guard from Iowa thing.

Laughed so hard I actually felt better.

No Comment

From: Tsunoni
Subject: The latest wave in Weight Loss
Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2005 13:04:00 EST

Picture that was attached: bone thin, bikini-clad woman on a very stormy beach.

No comment.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Let Me Clarify on the Tomato Thing

Moody said nothing about tomatoes on NPR, just to clarify. I was only half listening to the content of his piece because I so surprised by the frenetic tenor of his voice. I shouldn't have been but I was. Anyway, my friend was using the tomato thing as an analogy it went right over my literal-minded head. I'm the girl who has decried the forces of deconstructionist theory in art, literature and culture and I seem to be losing my ability to grasp anything out of context. Oh my Goddess, I sound like.....well, you know.

Once T Breaks Through

Okay, I have signed up for Michael Manning's fan club. See previous post comment and follow the link. A primary reason is the delightfully honest counter example it provides to the faux-humility master manipulator who has captured America's attention. You got it, John "shucks who ME" Roberts.

It's been hysterical to watch all the culture vulture, media slicksters I know in Iowa City line up and follow suit. All of the sudden they're so practiced in the art of humility (isn't that a Joni Mitchell line?)it's like they've had personality transplants. Well, I hear Mr. T is making a comeback. Once Roberts is no longer making headlines and T breaks through these folks will be back to their former, it's all about me selves. Personalities don't really change all that much, only actions and only after a lot of work and, for most people, a lot of time.

On a "lighter" note, I was in the Handimart near my apartment the other night and I heard a guy talking to a friend on his cellphone while he was waiting to purchase a microwavable pizza (who'd have ever thought such a thing would be possible - wouldn't it be really soggy?). I guess he was talking to a friend about going home to visit his family for the weekend. He said, "Oh it won't be so bad, I don't have a girlfriend going with me or anything, so there's no chance I'll be totally humiliated if my father pulls a knife on somebody at the dinner table."

Oh yeah, I highly recommend Chris Merrill's Things of the Hidden Gods. It's beautiful and also much funnier than I'd anticipated.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Seems Fitting

well. sunday night. i finally banged out my column. it was a day late due which i'm chosing to forgive myself for. i also forgot andy's birthday which is another thing i'm forgiving myself for. i've had a lot on my mind.

i did a really embarassing thing. i'm having some health problems and one evening i was at the library and i started to panic about dying alone. i know a bunch of people who do this internet dating service. i actually filled out a profile and posted it. i checked it a couple of times but never responded to anyone who responded to my ad (note: it's amazing how many nibbles you get w/out so much as a snapshot.) i deleted the thing tonight. i'm praying no one i know saw it but if they did, i plead coltrane "So What". anyway, the whole affair (bad pun) has given me a rather interesting idea for an article. it's probably more complicated than it needs to be. what else is new?

anyway, i had to admit this cyber-dating thing to cyberspace. seems fitting.

well, i'm laughing at myself now. i'm off to get some ice cream.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Halliburton Profits from Katrina Victims/Damage

Halliburton gets contract to repair damage from Hurricane Katrina ( 02 Sep 2005

The US Navy asked Halliburton to repair naval facilities damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the Houston Chronicle reported today. The work was assigned to Halliburton's KBR subsidiary under the Navy's $500 million CONCAP contract awarded to KBR in 2001 and renewed in 2004. The repairs will take place in Louisiana and Mississippi. In March, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is tasked with responding to hurricane disasters, became a lobbyist for KBR.

Address to receive newsletter:

Monday, August 29, 2005

Did Moody Really Say He Hates Tomatoes?

Rick Moody cracked me up with his "This I Believe" essay on Morning Edition today. As one friend noted, his intonations were so seemingly random it was a bit kooky. Leave it to an RA to get all fired up about hating tomatoes which, BTW, are one of the only real reasons to survive the hottest dregs of summer - tomato sandwiches to be more specific. Did he really say he hated tomatoes? I don't recall him saying this.

I did find it humourous that he mentioned that Umberto Eco book which talks about the "thwarted reader" I once got thrown out of a workshop for laughing so hard at (remember, I wrote about that?). What a ridiculous term. And, HEAR! HEAR! - there is, in fact, no one right way to read a book. Although that's a rather obvious "insight", isn't it?

I'm not picking on Moody, really. I liked his essay.

Say Ms. Laura this weekend. Lots of good catching up and witty banter. It's so wonderful to see dear, old friends. Hey, Brun, she got a big kick out of that baby-sitting line too and sends prayers for your health, as well. You know you always have mine.

Well, the libray is closing down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Such a Ducky Job???

Okay, I received a really mean email today and rather than strike back, I sent the following which I'm posting because I've sent snarky emails and been the recipient, as well. There's a lesson in here. I'm posting this so I'll can try not to repeat that mistake and, also, so I'll keep trying to listen in our hurry-scurry world. Oh yeah, clearly I'm show-boating too. Didn't I do such a ducky job of taking the high road. Didn't I just admit that so now it's okay? Ain't that Meg's picture back in the big brain machine on her blog? Is she live? Is she memorex? Is this self-parady or has she really snapped her cap this time?

Nah....still got that red wheel barrow holding me firmly in the now.

context: I was told it was "stupid" to care or dwell on anyone from my past.

We learn not to repeat the same mistakes over and over, I believe, not by pretending they did not happen but staring them straight in the eye w/ as much courage as we can muster and acknowleging our own culpability. Of course, sometimes we just get screwed and need a friend to vent to. It's the later where one generally finds a truly compassionate heart - 'cause that's the hardest thing of all to do - just listen w/ out judgment.

Be well,


Monday, August 22, 2005

Great Timing Too

So last week was weird and today had a fairly rocky start but then I got the library and received a lovely quotation from my Source editor, Claudia - how many writers are that fortunate? - and an equally kind acceptance of a repayment schedule on a debt of nearly 10 years. Oh yes, my friend Andy also sent along some beautiful translations of a few Bengalai (sp?) poems he's been working on.

Saturday night I had dinner with a women who has recently moved to town from DC. We had a few things in common and a nice conversation. Both of us have worked as lobbyists in DC and grew weary of the bullshit and, frankly, how many people in Congress are just not so bright. In my case, I felt as if I become too phony, as well. Fortunately, she got out before that happened to her.

She's a big fan of Henry Waxman. I'll have to keep an eye on him. It was great timing too. I had recently had a coffee table returned to me for which I had no storage space or us and she needed a coffee table! My land lady wanted it off of the porch. Man, it's great when that happens. It was a three person swap.

Gotta go see my doc.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Does Hugh Have Any Brothers

It's been a weird week. Truly, that's about all I can say about it. One step up and three steps back. I can't wait to read the Frannie's little book on Progress. Has it been 2 months yet - smile?

Speaking of reading, I finally got my hands on a copy of Sedaris' last book and I love it. I heard a number of people complain about it when it came out because it was less humorous than his prior work and too earnest. Hey, I like good satire as much as the next girl but you can't live on the stuff. The essays in "Denim and Corduroy" are just so, well, grown up. Man, it happens to the best of us. As a Raleigh native mee-own-self, I say way to go dearest David. BTW, does Hugh have any straight brothers?

Monday, August 15, 2005


i guess the chiquita banana folks did not appreciate the fact that i was trying to give them free advertising. sorry. i've always loved that chick.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Do the Swap

There was an article in yesterday's V Voice about folks getting together and swapping clothes and other stuff. Apparently Oprah did a show about hoarding as some sort of form of OCD, so getting rid of stuff is all the rage. Not certain if swapping actually qualifies as geting rid of things - think about that for a minute -but it's a far better option than going out shopping for even more crap.

They used to call this community, I think. Anyway, defy the lords of commercialism - get together and SWAP.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Definite Suffering Other

I just added a link to The Soma Review. Lots of smart, critically minded writing on religon, faith and spirituality. My favorite piece is the one on "agape" by Mary Beth Crain. If you want to check it out, click on the link. At the home page, go to bottom right and hit the "more features" link. The Crain essay I'm refering to is from June 2. Love her insight and honesty. While Mary Beth may not be the bodhisatva her friend the nun is, she is someone who can see, admire and rejoice in another who has transcended the illusion of the concept of the other. Plus, she takes the time tell us about it and does it so damn well. Sweet. Another positive role model for me - a definite suffering other.

Smartest of the Bunch

Okay, The NY Restaurant Association proposal reported below is a little nuts, in my opinion. I'm a big proponent of eating well. I drink clean water, eat lots of veggies, use butter rather than margarine (when I can afford to) and try to go about being a good citizen of the earth. Still, this sort of legislation brings to mind the mandate which so many of us who have fought the "get out of our bedroom nazis" for years - KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF OUR BODIES.

Restaurants are perfectly capable of informing customers of what goes into their offerings and advertising accordingly. We consumers are perfectly free to choose where we want to dine and what we put in our bodies. You got a lot of experts in the piece below but the smartest of the bunch is Brooklyn waitress Karen Quam.

I read this report and this awful image kept running through my head. I was hungry and tired w/ my hand on my forehead, wrist bent and palm out. I had no idea what to eat. There was a cartoon caption over my head and it read, "Oh, Big Brother, tell me what to do, feed me, please?"

N.Y. Wants Trans Fats Off Restaurant Menus

NEW YORK - New York City wants restaurants to narrow their list of ingredients — and maybe some waistlines — by cutting out trans fats. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the voluntary change could also help fight the city's biggest killer, heart disease.

To comply, chefs would have to dump many margarines and frying oils, and possibly reworking long-held recipes for baked goods.

The New York State Restaurant Association supports the effort, Executive Vice President E. Charles Hunt said in a health department release Wednesday.

The fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, raise diners' chance of developing heart disease in much the same way that saturated meat and dairy fats do, raising overall and bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol, American Heart Association President Robert Eckel said in the release.

The Food and Drug Administration has already targeted trans fats. Nationwide, all foods containing the chemically modified oils must be labeled beginning next January.

Some workers and diners were skeptical of the city plan.

"Labeling is as far as you want to go. You don't want to be telling people what to eat," Brooklyn waitress Karen Quam told The New York Times.

The city's request came two years after it outlawed smoking in bars, restaurants and offices, citing concerns about the ill effects of secondhand smoke.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Figured It Out

I've finally "figured out" how to do links. Did you notice? Mostly, I've put up sites of friends, old and new, or places I frequent or believe in - stay tuned.

God bless him - he's a class act in so many ways. Check out Exquiste Corpse (Andrei's Thing) and read "from the chair". Working hard, dealing with loss, caring for our friends and keeping a sense of humor. All good things.

Stay cool. It's hot as hell - laughing.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

New Manners Column

Be sure to pick up The Iowa Source at your favorite Coffee shop, book seller, gallery or grocer; or go online to where you can archive my column and check out a couple of my food articles! In its 21st year at the beginning of the 21st century, TIC has one of the kindest editor's I've ever written for.

Dear Meg,

My friend, Tom, has a new girlfriend who's a hardcore vegan. Tom used to come over for dinner often, but now I'm afraid to invite him with his girlie because I'm not a big vegan chef or anything. Do I have to cook a special vegan meal for her, in order to invite him/them over? I miss seeing Tom and would like to get to know his new flame. Help?


Dear Laurel,

Help? Sure thing, just as long as I don't get stuck doing the dishes - smile. This is not an uncommon predicament these days with so many people on special diets. Having a few friends over for dinner and coming up with a menu that will satisfy everyone can feel so overwhelming, a lot of folks decide to skip the whole shebang and just go out to a nice restaurant. Not a bad option as options go, but the cost of this can add up pretty quickly especially if you subscribe to the old manners dictum that when you do the inviting it's your responsibility to offer to pick up the check. I think this rule is lovely in theory but is dependent upon the circumstances.

My advice is to go ahead and prepare whatever meal you might normally whip up for an evening with Tom making sure you have some kind of whole grain and some nice steamed or sauteed veggies to serve. Most vegans are more than happy to be accommodated in this fashion. Heck, they're often thrilled not to be desperately searching through someone's cupboards for saltines, canned corn or an old jar of pimentos. If you choose the grain & veggie route, you are being considerate without going overboard and taxing yourself needlessly.

Hmmm, am I nuts or would a saltine topped with corn and a dollop of pimento not make a fairly rockin' ad hoc appetizer? Maybe a little garlic and fresh thyme? I'm thinking late 50's suburban hip with a splash of nuevo-cuisine and the enviro-friendly consciousness of vegan-ism would make one heck of a great 21st century dinner party.

Hey, Laurel, one last thing on your question. Last Thanksgiving, Dave Burt, one of the owners of Iowa City's only all organic vegetarian restaurant, the Red Avocado, made a point in an interview that I quite liked. He noted that some vegetarians and vegans are well-mannered enough that when dining at another’s home they eat a little of everything - meat, dairy or whatever - because not to do so would be an insult to their host or hostess. Nice point on the dangers of being overly rigid about anything and acknowledging that courtesy is a two-way street between hosts and those being hosted.

I can't wait to hear how the dinner goes and what you think about Tom's new "girlie". Thanks for writing.



Dear Meg,

I've been married for 7 years and my wife just joined one of those hyper-strict evangelical fundamentalist churches. All of a sudden she has gotten really preachy on me, expects me to go with her to church and stop hanging out with my buddies from work. I think her church is just weird. They play with snakes, speak in tongues and do all kinds of stuff that kind of freaks me out. To top it off, I'm desperately afraid of snakes. Plus, I'm a Jew. I love my wife but I'm stumped. What should I do?


Dear Abe,

Hey, it takes a mighty big man to admit a fear of snakes. I'm impressed. Your wife's new church sounds fascinating to me but I've never found snakes all that terrifying. Now millipedes, on the other hand, those little buggers will send me running to the bathroom and crying like a baby for my mother everytime. I hate to kill anything but I've been known to smack a rolled up copy of Bust on one of those hagazoids with little remorse.

Any chance you could attend church with your beloved and view the journey as a kind of sociological experiment or an experience of what philosopher William James referred to as the "educational variety"? You never know what you might find there and it would be good manners to humor your wife a bit.

It's difficult when someone we care about gets all caught up in something we find kooky but it is wrong of her to expect you to stop hanging out with your old friends and adjust to her new beliefs and standards. That's the problem with evangelicalism in any arena. It's fundamentally (!) rude to attempt to force anyone to change their behavior unwillingly. I'll be cc-ing this reply to the White House, BTW.

There are many happy couples in the world who practice different faiths or one is a believer and one is not. The bottom line is respect and acceptance, Abe. Hopefully, if you don't end up being "down" with your wife's new church, she will stop trying to convert you. If not, it sounds as if she is in some sort of cult and I'm not qualified to counsel you on this. Love and tolerance ought to be the code of any decent faith-based organization. Feel free to quote me on that. In the meantime, watch out for those snakes. Both Jung and Freud had some interesting theories on that fear.

Best of luck,