Anne Rice– Apostate

According to the Huffington Post, vampire novelist and Christian convert Anne Rice has left the flock.

She still believes in Christ– it’s the Christians that get on her nerves. Maybe she was afraid that she would spend eternity in the heavenly choir with Pat Robertson on her left hand and Beverly La Haye on her right, instead of in the row with C.S.Lewis and Hildegard of Bingen. Even a hardened horror writer might tremble at that prospect.

Of course, if she changes her mind, she can always repent.

And while God inexplicably refrains from smiting all the fools who claim to be His mouthpiece, there are actually a spectrum of Christian churches and groups that take a more humble and humanistic approach to the religion.

Unitarianism has strong roots in Transylvania–I’m not kidding. The courage of the freethinking reformers there would make a great novel series. Anne, you’re welcome at coffee hour any time.

Loved and Missed

A candlelight service was held last night at the State House for Dave St. Germain. It was the right place, Dave was such a presence there. It was a warm night with a gentle breeze, unlike the many bitter winter days we gathered for the causes that Dave devoted his life to.  His brother-in-law spoke and his family received condolences from his many friends. Dave’s life was a long and complicated story. We say the system failed him, and as his friend I regret not staying closer. I knew that he lived with pain, but not that he felt despair.

A system is made up of individuals, each one human and fallible. People usually want to do the right thing. In a more merciful world we would do it more often. Dave worked for that world, and that is what he leaves us.

Dave St. Germain

I can’t believe he’s gone. He was only 43, he seemed so on top of things.

Dave was a friend, he helped configure my computer. He talked a group of us at First Unitarian into cooking a hot meal for the homeless men living at Harrington Hall. He had a room at Crossroads for himself, but his life was never secure. He struggled to pay his monthly rent, a percentage of his disability check.

He was an activist, a leader, confident and well-spoken. He kept his pain to himself but walked with a limp and didn’t sleep well.

I wish with all my heart that he had found someone to take over his life when he was driven to such despair. I’m angry with him for eluding his dear friend’s best efforts to protect him. Today I met with people who were close to him, who really tried to get him help. I wish he had called someone, but he knew the system well and did not choose to go that way. Now we are missing a gifted and loved advocate for justice.

Dave was someone who helped solve other people’s problems. He had many friends. We will miss him. I wonder, and will always wonder, why he had to end his life that way.


That’s what I say every time I read a ProJo op-ed by Felicia Nimue Ackerman. It’s not only jealousy because I have had one letter published in the New York Times, and she’s had about 30,000. It’s that she spends so much time beating up straw men…

Eighteen years ago, I tripped, stumbled, stuck out an arm to break my fall, and broke my elbow instead. Barely able to use my arm or even my fingers, I desperately wished to get back to normal. After an operation and six months of physical therapy, my wish came true.

Would you believe that this tale is politically incorrect in certain circles?

Well, actually, no, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that Prof. Ackerman was confronted by radicals who told her how sorry they were for her recovery. There may be circles of rabidly politically-correct disabled people out there frothing to persecute innocent philosophy professors for ‘just askin’ a few harmless questions–Prof. Ackerman should invite them to debate her so they can be enlightened. She should show them how sorry they should be about their condition.

Prof. Ackerman bravely takes on the critics who say that it’s a good thing to be blind, or deaf, or unable to walk. She doesn’t name those critics, so I have no idea who they are, or how they became so powerful that she had to do battle with them.

Even before I went into health care, I had co-workers who had disabilities, and I wouldn’t grudge them their pride in finding ways to get the job done even when they had to work twice as hard to do it. Prof. Ackerman argues against that kind of pride in overcoming obstacles physical or social, ignoring the history behind it…

Moreover, what is so terrible about the idea that, if you are black (or any other color), you might want to change the color of your skin? Such a desire does not necessarily merit the popular accusation of self-hatred. Maybe you want to escape discrimination.

Incredibly, this has already been tried. It’s called, ‘passing’. (There was a band in the 80’s called Tragic Mulatto — don’t know what made me think of that.) I wonder if Winona Horowitz would have been as popular as Winona Ryder? I wonder if it would make more sense to fight discrimination than to accept the prejudice that tempts people to hide their full identity. The history of these minority ‘pride’ movements is one of individuals who battled in isolation until they discovered that it wasn’t their own personal failings that created ‘whites only’ entrances to the court house, or a flight of stairs that only the able-bodied could manage. Maybe Prof. Ackerman remembers when female students were tolerated as ‘co-eds’ and hung out at Pembroke, in the good old days before feminism had some political power.

Anyway, like Flannery O’ Connor said, everything that rises must converge. I’m not going to rag on some alleged ‘politically correct’ disability activists, especially on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but I do have issues with some of the feel-good, sentimental portrayal of disability.

We can send a young man or woman to war, and treat their injuries, and cheer them on at wheelchair basketball, but this is not all happy and heartwarming. Max Cleland is a great American, who served his country in Vietnam, and then in Congress. He has been a tireless advocate for injured veterans, and he continues to advance their cause. Still his injuries are grievous– he lost three limbs in a grenade explosion and he deals with that every day of his life. We have to be able to recognize that sometimes it doesn’t all come out okay, especially as we send our ‘volunteer troops’ to more foreign wars.

When we sentimentalize disability, or make it an abstraction, we can buy into arguments against ‘political correctness’ or the ‘nanny state’ or ‘government interference’, because without some pressure of law and public opinion, it’s just easier to leave some people out. If they’re not shamed into silence we can accuse them of demanding special privileges. Or we can listen to them.

Dr.Deborah Peters Goessling, a professor at Providence College, speaks from direct experience…

In the U.S. there are more than 1 million wheelchair users. Although today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility is still a big issue. And often it comes down to just one inch.

In the past few years, one inch has prevented me from using a friend’s bathroom and from socializing on a beachfront deck because the entrance was too narrow for my wheelchair. At the post office counter, one inch lower means I can pay for my stamps. When we cannot get my beach wheelchair deep enough into the water, there is no relief from the heat. While my family is swimming and splashing, I must remain on the sidelines. With just one inch too much to the left or right, I’m unable to place my wheelchair into my van’s “lock-in” system to be able to use hand controls to drive. For me, one inch can make the difference between attending a friend’s 50th birthday party or staying home and mailing a gift. It limits my ability to attend family gatherings, work celebrations and bridal showers and makes me feel excluded from friends and family.

I hope the Journal will give some editorial space to people who live with disabilities, because you can’t know what it’s like unless you experience it. We can keep on with the work of making public places accessible. We can afford to give an inch. It’s not cheap or convenient, but we’ll all get older if we don’t die young, and the world we live in then will be the one we’re making today.

Downtown Diary–Pawtucket

Pawtucket Armory


The Pawtucket Armory is now a center for the arts, following the migration of artists from Providence to the more affordable Pawtucket.

I saw a huge hawk wheeling above the Stop and Shop on Cottage Street.

Lorraine Mills is a remnent of the New England textile industry, and fabric heaven for people who know how to sew. You can get into an altered state looking at the colors and patterns. There’s silk and satin and Chinese brocade with dragons and dragonflies.

On the left of the parking lot is the old mill stream, a reminder that all these mills used natural hydropower.

Vacant lots along Mineral Spring Avenue are full of Queen Ann’s Lace, which is carrots gone wild. A small yard contains a couple of elderly apple trees, perhaps the survivors of an orchard. Yacht Club Soda gets its water from a real mineral spring. Nature in the city, if you look for it.

Downtown Diary

Monday, July 26–seeing home care clients and the nurse’s aides who do the hands-on work.

First visit is off Plainfield Street, I’m coming in from across town. From Rt. 10 I can see the new building made from salvaged shipping containers. It’s all painted now, and I’d love to see it from the street side, or even from the inside if I can get on a tour. A quick turn off the bottom of the ramp reveals a neighborhood where the houses weren’t razed by the highway or urban renewal– it’s kind of a street that time forgot, near the corner of Pilsudski and Magnolia.

The route back to N. Providence takes me behind Olneyville, a stretch of road in a pure industrial landscape. There’s something so clean about it, maybe just that there’s more brick and stone than plastic. I’m not the only one, Lord knows, who sees beauty in the old mills. The Plant, on Valley Street, has a steel vine sculpture wrapped around the smokestack and is a rehabbed, green tech center. The Cuban Revolution serves soup on the ground floor.

My GPS guides me through Wanskuck, with its regal mill dominating Branch Avenue and a little cluster of mill worker’s houses off Veazie Street. They’re all built on the same plan, some brick, some shingle, some vinyl sided. They still retain an air of humility and industry.

The humidity has eased up, my tempermental car radio is working and I’m listening to the BBC analyze today‘s crises.

So much beauty all around, a half hour for solitude and things to think about. I don’t get paid for mileage, but the job has its compensations.

They Should’ve Talked to Sheldon Whitehouse

Bob Herbert in today’s NYT on USDA official Shirley Sherrod– an op-ed called, ‘Thrown to the Wolves’.

Ms. Sherrod was not even called into an office to be fired face to face. She got the shocking news in her car. “They called me twice,” she told The Associated Press. “The last time, they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and submit my resignation on my BlackBerry, and that’s what I did.”

This is brutal, and reflects badly on the Obama administration.

Someone should have talked to our Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. When he met with constituents at the Butcher Block Deli several months ago he was asked about defunding ACORN. This was at the height of the hysteria. He said that his time as an attorney general had given him a great regard for the principle of innocent until proved guilty. ACORN had its problems, but was hanged on trumped up evidence, it turned out.

You can’t keep your principles when you react to every news cycle. The more that comes out about Shirley Sherrod the more disgraceful this episode becomes.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a news story that some right-wing journalist was looking for examples of rich white people who died in that disaster. There were no such cases. At the time I was going to the ‘No Time to be Silent’ vigil on North Main Street in Providence, and took the microphone to sing a song I had been inspired to write–
‘Looking for Corpses in All the Wrong Places’.

Some people are desperately trolling for examples of black racism oppressing white people.

My minister gave me a good take on that. He said that the real harm comes from prejudice plus power. When prejudice can shut doors and systematically exclude millions of Americans from equal opportunity we need systemic reform.

Shirley Sherrod was probably collateral damage in a political game aimed at discrediting the NAACP and black people generally. Sadly, the point she was making when her words were taken out of context is that we need to look beyond our differences and recognize our common need for justice.

It will be our loss if she leaves public life. And Sheldon Whitehouse had it right, that everyone deserves a hearing.