Monthly Archives: March, 2010


Maybe the virtue of Art is that it is transgressive. It jumps over the fence but lands in exactly the right place.

Leonard Cohen’s hit song ‘Hallelulia’ should have been sucked dry of all meaning by now. In fact, the old guy has got a lot of nerve to still be rocking. I played ‘Suzanne’ with three chords and a voice that never would be trained in 1976. We all thought he was blessing our own various religions. Leonard Cohen was no spring chicken even then.

I posted a clip of him singing about a month ago and thought it was the definitive version. Darned if he didn’t have other amazing performances. Here’s the one my minister,Rev. James Ford, placed on Monkey Mind Online.

Hi Neighbor!

Just time for a quick post. I drove to work at 8am this morning and got off Rt. 95 at the Elmwood Avenue exit. The radio was saying the highway was closed in Cranston and Warwick. Everything was copacetic on the streets I was driving on. I thought of the tales about the Indonesian tsunami. If you were one foot from where the wave ended you would be just fine.

My visits were in South Providence, North Providence, and Cranston off Cranston St. No problem anywhere. A few puddles, but I drove around them.

When I left work at 4:15pm, just South of Roger Williams Park, I reconsidered my plan to pick up Rt. 10 to Rt. 95 N. I was under the highway bridge and noticed that the cars were driving backwards–reversing their way to the off-ramp to Elmwood. I continued up Elmwood through downtown. The traffic was light. I had the radio on listening to reports of hellish traffic jams on 95.

Some of our neighbors got inundated. They can’t even go home until the water recedes. Some of our roads and bridges will need major repairs. We really didn’t need this trouble. Not in the middle of a recession with both the private and the public sector hurting.

Hi Neighbor. I hope you’re okay. We had a lot of rain and it’s a real mess. Let’s pull together.

Pick Another Bird

What is it with the Republican Party and birds? I’m not talking about pigeons, parrots, or even vultures. I’m talking about American Eagle. Yes, the majestic national symbol that would be extinct by now, or only seen in zoos if it weren’t for some liberal tree-hugging conservationists.

We just saw the Young Eagles get their wings clipped. (With all the depressing stories coming from the Catholic church the RNC is giving us a much-needed laugh). I wonder if this is causing any discomfort in Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum? Do Young Eagles graduate after age 45 to the Eagle Forum? Are any of the Young Eagles girls? Apparently the excursion was organized by a female RNC staffer named Alison Meyers, who is the only one who got fired over this. Is there something she’s not telling? I’m just asking.

I recall another disturbing story, from the Bush administration. The Attorney General, John Ashcroft, was alleged to have subjected staffers to what arguably could be called abuse

‘Let the Eagle Soar’, written by John Ashcroft, sung by John Ashcroft. You can actually injure yourself if you’re forced to look serious when your boss is singing this…

Let the eagle soar,
Like she’s never soared before.
From rocky coast to golden shore,
Let the mighty eagle soar.

Full lyrics here.

I regret that all this eagle hunting has blown some feathers off America’s finest eagle moment. That was when Neil Armstrong announced that ‘the Eagle has landed’, on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Americans believed we could go to the moon, and we did. How much smaller our horizons have become since then.

Please, Republicans, do not besmirch that memory. Pick another bird.

White Like Me

Via Media Matters, a story is flushing through the internets tubes. Glenn Beck had a guest host on his show, a radio ranter named Doc Thompson. Media Matters has a clip from Thompson’s show where he says that taxing tanning booths is racist discrimination against ‘light-skinned Americans’.

This is so funny that I suspect some of the leftie sites are being roped in by satire. I listened to the clip, and Thompson can definitely claim he was just joking, and probably will.

I don’t know if I want to be called a light-skinned American. I actually like to think of myself as a Celt-American, though I checked off ‘white’ on the census form. Maybe some day none of this will matter. We’ve come a long way.

Anyway, I found an answer to the embarrassment of having skin so light I practically glow in the dark, and it’s not tanning booths.

When I was in my early twenties I used to lie out on a beach towel in the blazing sun with the rest of my friends. You can’t read comfortably, especially if you are a Celt whose ancestors came from gloomy lands where it rains all the time. The sun makes me squint.

I got my share of sunburns too. Used tubs of Noxema. All for beauty.

Then one day, I saw a photo of an Irish politician named Bernadette Devlin. She was called the ‘miniskirted member of Parliament’. I didn’t know much about her radical politics, which I do not endorse, but I was struck by her personal style. She had skin the color of Irish soda bread. She could have been my cousin.

Those of us who check off ‘white’ on the census form can lose touch with our ethnicity. Especially if our family has been American for several generations. Bernadette Devlin was a public image of a woman like me. Puffy, pale and unashamed. There really is an Irish look. I decided not to fight nature, and to just be who I am.

I’m glad I had that epiphany in my early twenties– I’m fairly wrinkle-free today. I like the sun, but I stopped baking in it decades ago.

I don’t know if Doc Thompson is a big user of tanning booths. He might be worried that a tax will strain his budget. If so, I’d urge him to accept his true nature without shame. A nice tan looks good on most people, but some of us weren’t made that way. Why lie on a towel on a lawn when you could be taking a nice walk? Why lock yourself up in a tanning booth when you could be blogging? Life’s too short.

Eagle Flies on Friday, Republicans Pay on Monday

In ancient times the Democrats and Republicans actually worked together on a bill for campaign finance reform. Recent events show that we still have a long way to go. If I were a Republican donor I would not be pleased to know that my money was being spent on some tacky ‘Young Eagles’ party.

If one of the old buzzards wants to take some of the young eagles to a strip club, there’s no one to tell him it’s a bad idea. Your donation to the party of family values at work.

It’s worth noting that the buzzard got reimbursed $2,000 for the excursion but got way more than that in business from the GOP. A relationship worth examining– if they care to turn rocks over.

But the Democrats can’t enjoy this too much. There must be some discomfort as both parties spend huge energy in playing up to donors. This time it was the Repubs. Tomorrow it could be the Dems, although Michael Steele does seem exceptionally tone deaf and addicted to perks.

The voracious appetite for money in American politics will continue to grow unless we are able to get some real campaign finance reform. We all have an interest in reining in this corrupting force.

Senator John McCain, of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, might want to rethink his pledge not to cooperate with the Democrats on anything anymore, because cleaning up our process is putting our ‘Country First’.

UPDATE: The RNC fired a junior staffer, saying she’d been warned before about this kind of thing. So this was not the first time?

What are we fighting for?

As the public debate over health care reform rages on, the private battles with health insurers for essential coverage continue on, as well. While some fight for political advantage, others fight for their lives. The triviality of the former should be obvious to even the most insensate, particularly when contrasted with the high stakes of the latter. Individually, each tale of medical hardship rends the heart and evokes sorrow and sympathy. Collectively, the tales make a compelling case for the desperate necessity of reform. Consider the following two stories:

Family Learns Pre-Existing Conditions Apply at Birth

Houston Tracy, a 12-day-old boy, has already survived a rare birth defect, a feeding tube and open heart surgery. Now his family is waiting to see how the battle with an insurance company will fare.

Last week, Houston’s parents found out that the term “pre-existing condition” can apply the moment someone is born.

“When he came out, he made one little cry and he didn’t really cry much,” said Houston’s father, Doug Tracy, 39, of Crowley, Texas.

Tracy cut the umbilical cord and watched the hospital staff clean his son. But before his wife Kim Tracy, 36, could touch their son doctors got worried. “We could tell there was something wrong by the way they [the doctors] were acting,” Doug Tracy said.

Houston’s skin wasn’t turning a shade of pink like most newborns because, somehow, his blood wasn’t getting enough oxygen. Doctors rushed Houston, with Tracy riding by his side, in an ambulance to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

Within hours the Tracy family would learn their son was born with a heart condition called d-transposition of the great arteries, meaning the aorta and pulmonary artery are transposed where they should meet the heart. Doctors wanted to operate within days to save his life….

Houston was born on Monday, March 15. By Friday that week, doctors operated successfully….But by March 24, the Tracy family formally heard their son was denied health insurance.

“We don’t have health coverage on ourselves because it’s too expensive these days and because of the economy,” Doug Tracy said. The couple are small business owners and would have to buy individual policies, which they have for their other children Cooper, 4, and Jewel, 11.

Doug Tracy said the family had no idea there was something wrong with Houston before he was born.

“Prenatal, every doctor visit was perfect, his heart beat was fine,” he said. But Tracy said he called Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas twice in preparation of Houston’s birth, and he asked if they could get a policy on his son before he was born.

“They said we can’t do that because he wasn’t born yet, but as soon as the baby’s born go online and fill an application out,” he said. Doug Tracy applied for Houston’s insurance March 18, and the first month’s premium of $267 was charged to his credit card, he said.

“Wednesday, the 24, is when I got a letter of decline — they declined it the day after the [health insurance] bill was signed,” Doug Tracy said. [full article]

And about 1,000 miles away in Wisconsin:

Woman’s move triggers loss of coverage for cancer treatment

For nearly a decade, Paula Oertel’s brain tumor was kept at bay by a drug that was not approved to treat her condition.

Then Oertel did something she never imagined would jeopardize her good health. She moved. Less than 30 miles – from one county in Wisconsin to another.

The move triggered a review of her health insurance from Medicare, which eventually led to a loss of coverage, including the drug. And the tumor returned within four months.

What happened to Oertel stunned her doctor, Mark Malkin. Nothing he learned in medical school prepared him for what now is too often a sad and frustrating part of his job as a cancer specialist: fighting Medicare and private insurance companies over life-or-death decisions.

Doctors aren’t supposed to get emotionally involved in the cases of their patients, but tears well up in Malkin’s eyes when he talks about Oertel, the 40-year-old Oshkosh woman he has been treating for several years.

“I wish Paula would have a second chance,” he said, choking up.

Oertel and Malkin are facing an ailment no drug can cure: a complex health insurance system that can overwhelm a seriously ill patient unequipped to deal with its complicated rules.

As America debates health care reform, cases such as Oertel’s illustrate how important decisions made between doctors and patients can be overruled, leaving patients with no options and the likelihood of dying in a matter of months. [full article]

Meanwhile, those who profit from a system that denies or restricts coverage are digging in their heels. The New York Times reports that, “just days after President Obama signed the new health care law, insurance companies are already arguing that, at least for now, they do not have to provide one of the benefits that the president calls a centerpiece of the law: coverage for certain children with pre-existing conditions.” Their stance is clear. They will resist change, to the detriment of us all. It’s sickening.


‘Joe’ the ‘Plumber’ is appearing at Tea Party rallies saying bad things about Senator John McCain.

McCain must wonder what he created. Will ‘Joe’ pursue him on the campaign trail, just for another photo op? Beats working.

Tough Talk in the Times

Maureen Dowd is mightier than a nun with a ruler in her Sunday column. Some singed vestments out there. John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter argues that Pope Benedict has done more than his predecessors to combat child abuse. No doubt this is true, but not convincing. Let me explain using a parable.

Once there was a man who bought a huge old house that had been divided up into apartments. He used his life savings to buy the house and moved into the landlord apartment on the top floor. Soon he discovered a problem.

The plumbing, which was as old as the house, had never been upgraded. The previous three owners had done almost no upkeep. To do the job right would be hugely expensive and disruptive.

Soon some of the tenants from the basement apartments began to complain of stopped drains and bad smells. The landlord hired the same handyman who had done work for the other owners. Duct tape was applied.

It was only a matter of time until sewage backed up into the basement shower. The landlord had his guy remove the shower and cap off the pipes and all was well for a while. But then a bad smell started to rise from the cement floor. The landlord had his guy put down a new coat of cement. The smell was gone but the tenants had started to complain. They wanted a real fix, instead of having to wonder when the old pipes were going to fail again.

“Why me?” the landlord asked them. “It’s not fair to blame me for all this. I’ve done more to fix this problem than any of the previous owners. Besides, no one on the top floors is complaining about bad smells. I think you are just persecuting me.”

That’s my answer to John L. Allen. The Catholic church did not invent child abuse and they are not the only organization plagued by revelations of crime and cover-up. But the Church has to take responsibility for what’s coming up the drainpipes. If Benedict has done more, it’s basically because he has no choice.

Real fundamental reform of the institution would not be cheap or easy, but if they do not fix the mess, then no one will want to live in the house.

ANOTHER VOICE: Sinead O’ Connor was sent to an Irish reform school as a child, she writes about the culture of abuse that should not be allowed to prevail.

Pope Benedict’s Confession

So 2012 is in its last hours, and my prediction that the Pope would get a visitation from the spirit of John the XXIII did not come to pass. But I offer this dream, dedicated to Catholic
Workers and child soldiers the world over.

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.

We Need More Nurses

Huffington Post on the shortage of primary care doctors. At the Town Hall meetings last year I heard more than one opponent of health care reform say that we couldn’t insure all Americans because we don’t have enough doctors.

It’s long overdue to recruit and support med students and doctors, but don’t underestimate what nurses can do to ease the strain and reach patients. In home care, we provide a remedy for the revolving door nature of our present system, and we bring together the fragmented aspects of care when we spend time with the patient. We are part of the solution to the health care crisis.


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