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"Pace is all. Rhythm is master. Consistency is your friend."

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just Wanted to Say ...

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May you all be safe . . . May you all have fun . . . May your children share at least one piece of candy with you (and if they don't, just steal it after they go to bed!)

P.S. I know I'm like a broken record with this thing, and I'm falling well behind in the voting, but it ain't over 'til it's over!! If you get a chance, check out my entry over at the Philosophy Blog War and if you like it - VOTE FOR ME!!! Thanks!

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

MoveOn.Org: Call for Change

Call For Change

I got an email today from one of my favorite organizations, MoveOn.Org. They asked for my help in getting Democrats out to vote. Historically, getting people out to vote has been a Republican strength, but if Americans really do want a change, then voting is the only thing we've got.

From the MoveOn site:
"This year, victory will come down to voter turnout. We've found the Democratic-leaning people who often don't vote in mid-term elections like this one. If we can just get these “unlikely voters” to vote, they'll provide a winning margin in a whole bunch of races.

"Over 30 races are in a dead heat – margins of a few thousand or few hundred votes. We’ve tested these calls, and we know they work – the people we talk to are much more likely to turn out. Your calls could tip the balance – but we're in a daily struggle to make sure we're reaching more voters than the Republicans’ infamous turnout program. Can you help?"

MoveOn is asking people to sign up to call people in their area, either individually or by holding or attending a phone party, and remind them to vote on November 7th. MoveOn will give you a phone list to call people at your leisure or will provide the list for a group to call all in one night. If you're interested, click on the link above for more information.

Now I'm not usually one for cold calling - personally, I don't like receiving them and therefore wouldn't like making them either. So if you're not one for calling strangers either, then I ask you to at least call family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances to remind them to vote one week from Tuesday. These kinds of reminders do make a difference - just ask the Republicans.

Every little bit counts, my fellow citizens looking for a change. Remember this election is a big one. The least you can do is go out and cast your vote on November 7th. If you feel like doing a little more, with the potential of having a big effect, then please remind the other registered voters in your life to cast their ballot, too.

While you're at it, remember to get their addresses too - Christmas is only eight weeks away and those holiday cards will be going out before you know it!!!

P.S. The Philosophy Blog War is still going strong and I am currently sitting in and around fifth place. Check out my entry and if you like it - VOTE FOR ME!!!

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's Thursday!!!

All right, so its Thursday. I've been very busy and scattered with two sick kids, one with a TERRIBLE cold that has lasted almost two weeks now and the other throwing up yesterday quite unexpectedly. But, alas, I have found time to write while my husband cleans the kitchen. (Aren't I a very lucky, girl?)

  • I was driving yesterday and noticed something, not unusual at all, but slightly disturbing. I noticed that the car in front of me, the car behind me and the car making a left hand turn (although he didn't have the right of way) in front of the car in front of me all had drivers in them talking on their cellphones. Hmmmm ... Now, I'm not for legislating the banning of talking on your cellphone while driving. It's not always the best thing to be doing, a definite distraction, but so is having two screaming boys yelling at you from the backseat to get the Matchbox car they dropped on the floor or demanding that you tell the younger one to stop looking at the older one. So my children should be removed from my car, too . . . wait a minute . . . Anyway, what struck me is that cellphones are EVERYWHERE and I'm kind of getting sick of them. I mean, I only have a cellphone these days. I no longer have landline (when did that word even come about?) service because I get great cell service at my home and who needs to pay two bills? But I also have a tendency to turn off my cellphone when I don't wish to be bothered. But sometimes I feel like I'm the only one. And now with text messaging where you don't even have to use your voice and therefore can silently have a conversation with a friend (except for the annoying tone that sounds when you have an incoming message) it's as if these people have cellphones surgically attached to their hands! What did we do before the cellphone? Oh, right. We had answering machines to record the calls we missed while we were out. Was that so bad? Was that such an inconvenience? Is it really all that great now that people can get a hold of you whenever they want to? And how about when you do turn your phone off for that hour or so, that person who was trying to get a hold of you seems almost insulted that you weren't available when they called, "Why would you turn your cellphone off? I was trying to call you!" I just think this whole thing has gotten out of control. I mean, you'd think that we'd all have gotten better with cellphone etiquette as we got over the newness of the technology - I say we've gotten worse. I hear someone's phone ringing (and by ringing I mean some song playing - and I have them too) at least once during every public outing I make - in the doctor's office, at the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the movies - and let's not forget that nine times out of ten, the call is picked up and then I have to listen to the one-sided conversation happening next to me while I try to keep my children from taking all of the M&M's off the rack and putting them on the conveyor belt!! I don't know . . . maybe it's just me :)
  • And here's just a little snapshot from my life yesterday. A conversation between me and my four-year-old (FYO) son:

FYO: Mommy, I think "O" should go to jail.

ME: What?

FYO: I think O should go to jail because people who go to jail go away for 10 years.

ME: Why would you say that? You'd miss your brother if he were gone for 10 years.

FYO: Mommy, I need to tell you the truth about something. O is not really the brother I wanted. I want a new little brother.

ME: Well, you're not getting one. And I don't want to hear you say anything like that again. O is your brother and you're going to be brothers forever. So get used to it.

I then proceeded to leave the room, hide behind the bathroom door and laugh my ass off :)

Have a great day everyone!

Oh, and if you want to check out my entry for the Philosophy Blog War, you can check it out here. And if you like it - Toss me your vote!!! (Polls close on November 7th, so for those of you in the U.S. you can vote for me as a lead up to that other election :)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The "F" Word

I posted this entry over at the Philosophy Blog War, so if you like it please vote for it here. Thanks!

When I was a young, perky college student, one who believed in the potential for good in the world, I believed in a thing called "Feminism." In fact, I was proud to call myself a feminist, even though I was not a die-hard (read bra burning, combat boots wearing woman who was filled with hate for all things male), I did believe that women have systematically gotten a raw deal. When I was in my early twenties, I also believed that I could do something about it by supporting other women who also proudly identified themselves as "feminists."

Now I'm not so sure.

It just seems to me that the current climate involves feminists attacking other women for their personal life choices, ie stay at home mothers vs. Mothers who work outside the home. There seems to be this condescending attitude by feminists aimed at SAHMs because by staying outside of the corporate rat race these women are somehow not living up to their potential. After all, why wouldn't a mother want to "have it all?"

In my experience, staying at home to raise your children is looked upon as a cop out, as not "real" work and I think that much of that stems from a mother's work being unpaid. But just because a SAHM's work isn't figured into the GNP doesn't mean that is isn't work and that she isn't making a contribution to society. Of course, proponents for SAHMs have their own views on the subject - mothers who are at home with their children 24/7 are often elevated to sainthood, while mothers who go outside the home to work are accused of leaving unnecessary emotional scars on their children for selfish, personal reasons.

This is where my problem with feminism comes in . . . Shouldn't feminists be working toward the equality and liberation of ALL women instead of attacking one another for the choices they make?

When I was that young, perky college student I thought feminism was about choice. The idea that as a woman I should have the right to decide what direction my life would go and not be hindered by sexism for any reason. Yet, that's not what I see today. I see two very different viewpoints, in direct opposition with one another, both calling themselves feminist.

While I understand that quite a few sacrifices were made by women that came before us so that we have the opportunities to vote, to work outside the home and receive (almost) equal pay, to change the image of women from a species completely dependent upon male assistance for survival - Weren't those women making all of those sacrifices so that today's women had a choice to make, whether it be paid or unpaid work, and not feel like another lifestyle is being forced on them?

And yet while I write this I realize that I may be adding to the difficulty faced by women in these times. After all, by calling into question the motives and viewpoints of other feminists, aren't I contributing to creating that wedge between the different factions? Aren't I doing the dirty work of those who like to see dissention in the ranks, in so far as it protects their standing in the world?

What's a girl, er woman, to do?

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

More Randomness

Since I have nothing in particular to go on and on about today, I thought I would post a couple of GREAT links for you to check out.

This one is a trailer from a documentary entitled "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers." The film is a commentary on the private contractors and corporations (like Haliburton KBR and Blackwater) who were hired by the U.S. military to "aid" them in their reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The film, according to its website, "uncovers the connections between private corporations making a killing in Iraq and the decision makers who allow them to do so."

This is a topic that needs exploring. While many of us are focused, and rightly so, on ending the occupation in Iraq that has now spurned a civil war and bringing U.S. soldiers back home - this topic demands our attention as well. When the military does come home, when the suicide bombs and roadside attacks have stopped the people of the United States need to start asking questions regarding where their tax money went and why. Haliburton, a company of which V.P. Cheney is a former CEO, has already been under investigation for fraud in the overcharging and double-billing of the U.S. government for its services. And yet, still Haliburton gets the government contracts and still collects checks from our federal government.

Essentially, the U.S. military has "outsourced" much of what it does in times of war, ie assist in the building of roads, reorganizing and providing new routes for electricity and water for the citizens of Iraq, security for convoys moving about the country, so now they are paying a private contractor to do that work and in so doing profit from this war. Not only do I find it repulsive that war is being seen as a moneymaker, but the fact is that many of these private citizens have not been properly trained or given military quality equipment to defend themselves while working on the front lines of this armed conflict is sickening.

Just another example of American politics and government being driven by the almighty dollar instead of the health and welfare of the citizens of this country.
This film isn't backed by any corporate funding or advertising, so the only way people find out about it is through word of mouth. Check out the trailer and let me know what you think:

The other thing I want everyone to check out is over at Wallpaper of My Mind. Misha put together a very comprehensive (and humorous) list of the top 10 reasons why she thinks Bush should be re-elected if he were running again in 2008. Don't be nervous. I have not by any means changed sides - this list speaks volumes for me. It's not to be missed :)

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wal-Mart, Ritalin & Republicans on the Run

OK, so my random thoughts post for Thursday is a little late this week. Usually I like to have it up all day, but last night I went out and took a wreath making class. Not something I would normally do, but thanks to a couple of close friends I had a great time :) And my fall apple wreath didn't come out too bad either.

Anyway, here's this week's hodgepodge of random thoughts:

  • First, some good news: Reading columnist Barbara Ehrenreich in this month's Progressive Magazine I learned that union busting, low wage paying, minimum benefit giving super corporate beast Wal-Mart reported that profits were down 26% for the second quarter of 2006 - and I couldn't be happier! It was apparently the first time Wal-Mart saw a dip in profits in ten years. Oh well!! It's about time people started waking up! Wal-Mart sells you cheap crap by paying its employees low wages, offering benefits that require the employee to carry the bulk of the cost and by threatening employees who try to unionize workers for better pay and better benefits. I for one refuse to participate in such tactics just to save a few bucks and have (happily) not shopped at Wal-Mart for several years now. I encourage anyone reading this to do the same because until we, the consumers, start showing corporations like Wal-Mart that we don't condone the way they do business, they'll keep raking in the profits by the billions while their employees can't even afford to shop where they work.

  • I just read an amazing article in The Ecologist Online regarding the increasing number of children, especially boys, being prescribed drugs like Ritalin to control their "hyper" and "overly active" behavior. The article points out that "In schools today, the boy who can't sit still and careers around the classroom is defined as 'hyperactive' while the reserved one who prefers drawing churches to playing at superheroes is labelled 'possibly autistic'." While 20 years ago the same boys would have been considered boisterous and well, boys being boys. The article also points out that long term studies have not been done on these drugs that are so quickly handed out to "stressed out" parents who report being unable to control their children and have doctors willing to blame a "disease" without even considering that it could be the parents' inability to discipline their own children that's the problem. Nope, give 'em some drugs and all is better. This article also blames the education system itself for putting so much emphasis on results, standardized testing, etc. because there is no time to spend with a student who may require a little extra attention if you want to reach the statewide goals set by bureaucrats in big offices. According to reporter Rachel Ragg, in the UK, "The National Curriculum suppresses anything that doesn't fit. Never mind creativity or invention: homogeneity is what matters." I'd have to say the same is true here in the states as well. So parents beware! Teachers and doctors may not always have your child's best interests in mind, no matter how much we'd like to believe they do.

  • And last, but certainly not least, I heard on the radio yesterday that Republicans are doing something previously unheard of. Campaign contributors are being encouraged to contribute their funds to races that are highly contested, while being discouraged to continue pouring money into candidates that appear to be too far behind in the polls to win. In other words, for the first time in a LONG time Republicans are worried. As they should be!! This election in two and a half weeks is CRUCIAL to the direction this country will take in the next few years and will certainly provide a big push for the Democrats for the 2008 Presidential race if they can take back Congress. THIS ELECTION ON NOVEMBER 7TH IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE!! It doesn't matter if the race in your district is a runaway or whether you believe that one vote can make a difference - we have to show these sly politicians that we care about what's happening in our country right now and voting (aside from enormous campaign contributions which I am not in a position to make)is the only way to make these people listen. And they will listen if they think there's a chance they'll get voted out of office if they don't. Come on, people, change is possible! I know things seem daunting, but nothing will happen if we all just sit back and sulk. Take action! Stand up and be heard! VOTE on November 7th!

That's it for this week's randomness. Have a great Friday everybody!!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today I Became Less Ignorant

I read Cheryl's blog today and was moved by her personal story of the women in her family and their struggle with Lupus. Apparently, October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness month, but Lupus Awareness month, as well. Cheryl has taken it upon herself to make sure that more of us become educated.

So I have taken her words to heart and spent some of my day reading up at the Lupus Foundation of America because I know very little about the condition. It's a dibilitating disease and not only do those who suffer deserve our compassion, but they deserve our support.

So hop on over to Cheryl's post - her heartfelt words will move you to action much better than I ever could.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Crazy Days of Autumn

I've been selfish lately. And I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Lately I've been very focused on my own needs - and tonight was a perfect example. Yet my conflict stems from my not feeling conflicted enough - I mean I'm not mad at myself for being selfish, I'm more upset about not being more upset regarding the lack of time I've been spending with my children . . . Let me try to explain.

Over the last six months or so I have rediscovered the writer inside me that has been dormant for years. I've been writing short stories, blogging (obviously), journaling and now I'm thinking about writing a novel - something I have been thinking about doing since I was a teenager. I've always had this feeling inside that I have something to offer the world of publishing. I just always felt that it was meant to be, but like many things in my life, I've had trouble putting in the work and have struggled with the follow through.

But over the last six to eight weeks my desire to write a novel has grown and with NaNo coming up in a little over two weeks, my drive and focus has intensified. I've got an outline going, I've got characters running around inside my head, random scenes written on notecards (I've even color coded them and for anyone who knows me they know that I've never color coded anything). I've purchased a couple of How-To books and I'm currently reading some non-fiction regarding the topic of my novel.

This is where the selfishness comes in.

I worked at my "day job" today, then came home and hung around with my boys. My youngest was in desperate need of a nap (read whining incessantly) and my oldest son was doing anything he could to increase the volume of his brother's whining. So I laid down on the couch with my little one and he quickly fell asleep on my chest.

After a while, I gently moved my precious sleeper off of me and headed to the computer. I checked my email, I checked my myspace page, my writing group forums . . . Meanwhile, my older son was watching tv. I know, I know - Motherly sin of all sins; letting the television babysit my own child. There's guilty seed number one.

I continued to work on a short story I'm trying to finish before NaNo until my son woke up. I went back to the couch to hang out and then my sister called. I knew what she was calling about, I had left a couple of messages for her, so I figured it would be a quick call. Well, I started talking and couldn't stop. I just started going on and on about her wedding, an aerobics class we want to start taking, family stuff, relationship stuff, my writing stuff . . . an hour, and several attempts by my children to get my attention later, I realized it was getting late. Guilty seed number two.

It was dinner time - past what would usually be referred to as "early bird" dinner and our usual mealtime, so I made some chicken nuggets and the two boys sat down to eat. I wasn't very hungry and so I skipped eating (until I had some cereal, alone, about an hour ago) and started reading a book. When the boys were done I was still reading, so I let them play together for a bit. There was some friction (probably because they were trying to get my attention) and finally I exploded about all the fighting and the yelling and the running in the house . . . Guilty seed number three.

I sent them into the bathroom for baths, got them dressed for bed and did our nightly bedtime ritual of reading books and tucking in - too bad I was putting them to bed 45 minutes late. Perfect for my older son who has to wake up and go to school tomorrow morning. Guilty seed number four.

But while I feel guilty for taking time out to do what I want, when I want, too, I don't feel that guilty and I feel worse about not feeling guilty enough. Does that make any sense?

I know that I am a person and not only a mother and therefore have the right to do my own thing. I'm a strong proponent of that very mantra in fact. But I know that between work and my own timeouts I'm not giving my children the best of what I have to give. In fact, I'm short with them and lax in keeping their routine. Yet, I don't want to give up the time I take throughout the day.

And that's even before I start thinking about the state of my relationship with my husband. We work opposite schedules. We watch a lot of tv and spend plenty of individual time on the computer. We read. Basically the time we have together is spent doing individual activities - kind of like what's referred to as "parallel play" with toddlers. And so when I devote large chunks of time to my writing when the boys are asleep and my husband is home - there's guilty seed number five.

So I think that while we have been taught we can have it all - we can't. There are always sacrifices that must be made and things we will miss out on. The question is how do you balance it so that one person isn't always making the sacrifices, the same person isn't missing your presence in their life and the guilt doesn't eat away at you?

I don't think that I need more hours in the day (I'm exhausted enough as it is), but better management of my time - Something else to think about I guess.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

American Culture as Petulant Teenager

I just read a post over at Imperfect Parent by Cristina from Mommy Off the Record fame. She insightfully wrote about Americans and our perpetual state of impatience and always being on the run. Now I relate to this post on two levels: 1. I have been the annoyed customer behind the man paying by check (who hasn't filled in ANYTHING until he is given the total for his purchase) and 2. I have also been EXTREMELY annoyed by my fellow citizens' inability to just slow down once in a while.

So as I responded to Cristina's post, it happened. The wheels were spinning and I realized that American culture has (d)evolved into exhibiting the same characteristics as an adolescent struggling to find his/her own identity.

Teenagers think they know it all - and you risk your own sanity, voice and hearing if you try and convince them otherwise, or they won't talk to you at all for weeks at a time. The infamous eye roll appears with the first uttered syllables of adult advice or discipline; they are embarrassed by the appearance and actions of their parents; and anything, including siblings, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, pets, even friends, that try to slow them down, that try to interfere with their plans - Beware the (hormonal) rage you will awaken.

I think, as Americans, we often act the same way. The overinflated, American ego is one of the worst - We certainly believe we know it all. We believe that our system of government is the best and we believe that it's so good in fact, we take it upon ourselves to bring our form of democracy around the world - even if we have to do it by force.

Americans certainly don't take kindly to being told what to do either. After all, when Dubyah was caught "bending" and "stretching" the rules of torture as put forth by the Geneva Conventions, all in the name of keeping his fellow citizens safe, what happened? We came up with our own set of rules and guidelines regarding torture, regardless of the worldwide protest against the treatment of prisoners in Guantanomo Bay, Iraq and elsewhere.

Discipline? We are the ones who hand out the discipline! We are above reproach, it seems. Let me refer you back to the prisoner abuse scandals or the illegal domestic spying program setup by the Bush Administration - I haven't seen anyone have to answer for that one yet. What about engaging the country in a preemptive strike against Iraq for reasons later found out to be fabricated lies. Anyone indicted for that one yet?

And so, is it any wonder that when our government acts in such a way, we as citizens act out, too? I mean, the thinking is the same - Don't bother me with your problems. Don't waste my time because I have other, more pressing matter to attend to. Don't get in my way or I'll run you over without hesitation.

So are Americans spiraling downward into selfishness and consumerism with no end in sight or is it that we are one step away from hitting bottom before beginning the struggle to create another identity?

Only time will tell. But if you ask me, I think the entire country should be grounded or given a time out at least. I am ashamed, not only of my neighbors, but of myself. We can all do much better than this.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Solutions to Africa's Food Woes Remain Elusive

The following is the report NPR correspondent Jason Beaubien filed on Tuesday about extreme poverty in Africa. What's amazing to me is how little advancement has been made revolving around farming in Africa. I mean, I'm all for a simpler way of life, but these people are starving because no one has taught them about irrigation and crop rotation - things I was introduced to, briefly, in a social studies class when I was probably 12.

How can this be happening in 2006?

Morning Edition, October 10, 2006 - Sub-Saharan Africa is waiting for a Green revolution. Agricultural movements in Asia and Latin America in the later part of the 20th century dramatically boosted crop yields, allowed countries to feed growing populations and spurred economic growth.

But sub-Saharan Africa still doesn't produce enough food to feed its own people. Millions of Africans are chronically malnourished, and the region has become perennially dependent on international food aid.

The majority of Africans earn their livings through agriculture, most as subsistence farmers. And African soil is some of the least productive in the world.

In Western Tanzania, herders graze small Zebu cattle. The herds of stocky, almost-miniature cows migrate across the plains of the Rift Valley. The animals can survive in what is at times a harsh, semi-arid environment, but they don't produce nearly as much milk or beef as Western breeds.

Sedentary farmers in the area grow mainly sorghum and maize. Corn production, however, is erratic. Some of the small plots have rows of tall, sturdy corn plants. Others are dusty expanses of failed crops.

Amelio Nande says he gets less and less food each year from his five-acre field. He says the land has become less productive mainly because of drought.

Nande grows corn and a little bit of rice. He says he keeps most of his crop to feed his family. He sells a portion of his harvest at the local market. This is his only source of cash. So the drop in productivity of his land directly affects his family's income. But he says there's little he can do about it.

If you put fertilizer here, he says, it will burn the plants. He also doesn't rotate his crops. There's no irrigation. And Nande believes the amount he harvests is entirely dependent on rainfall.

In much of sub-Saharan Africa, most subsistence-farmers operate this way. They use simple techniques that haven't changed for generations.

As nutrients get leeched from the soils and Africa's population grows, the gap between the amount of food produced and the amount needed grows wider.

Mark Rosegrant with the International Food Policy Research Institute says a solution to Africa's overall food problems is still a long way off.

"When we look at long-term projections in Africa, there's still going to be a period where imports are going to be increasing substantially," he says. "So they're going to be relying on increased market imports. But also I think inevitably there's going to be still a considerable need for concessionary- and food aid-type imports of food."

And Rosegrant says unless there are significant policy shifts, the need for food aid and the number of malnourished Africans will increase in the coming decades.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wars Hamper Social Progress Across Africa

Every morning this week, NPR has been running a segment on their Morning Edition program that focuses on the poverty in Africa and its root cuases. Reporter Jason Beaubien has done a remarkable job in painting a truly heart-breaking picture of what daily life is like for Africans living in extreme poverty.

Because his reporting has so moved me, and given me some insight into what's going on in Africa (a continent I know very little about I'm ashamed to say), I thought I would share a couple of his reports with you.

Poverty is a complex issue, but maybe through some of Beaubien's words we can begin to understand why programs like the Stand Up campaign exist and why it is so crucial that these programs succeed.

October 9, 2006 - "China, India and parts of Latin America have made progress recently in fighting poverty, disease and illiteracy, but progress in sub-Saharan Africa has been slow and, at times, nonexistent. Over the last two decades, the number of Africans living in extreme poverty has nearly doubled.

HIV continues to spread. Agricultural production on the continent has stagnated. Millions of African children still lack access to clean water, basic health care and primary education.

The continent risks being left behind even by the rest of the Third World.

War has been one of the biggest factors holding back social progress on the continent.

For the past eight years, one of the world's deadliest conflicts has swept back and forth across the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fighting amongst various armies, rebel groups and militias has killed about 4 million people, mainly as a result of disease and starvation. And sporadic fighting continues.

Isaac Mwinde Mongolari, the lone doctor at a remote hospital near Lake Kivu, says villagers flee into the forest for weeks, sometimes months.

"When they're in the bush, they have no medical care," he says. "There's nothing to eat. They don't tend their fields and malnutrition increases."

Many of Mongolari's patients have been raped by soldiers. Some are dying of treatable conditions such as malaria, dysentery and malnutrition.

The forests in this lawless part of the Congo are home to numerous militias. The Interahamwe, the brutal Hutu rebels who orchestrated the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, have set up camp here.

There's also a group called Cent Six, Congolese troops who defected from Mobutu Sese Seko's 106th Battalion more than a decade ago. Several Mai Mai militias, or local defense forces, operate in the area. And then there are the regular Congolese soldiers who extort money, food and even sex from the villagers.

Mongolari says there's no way to do any sustainable development here until there's peace. And there's been no peace or development in this part of the Congo for years. There are no paved roads. Bridges have washed out. People live in mud-and-thatch huts. Even the most basic infrastructure and governmental structures have collapsed.

While the Congo has been battered by war for years, many other parts of Africa have also suffered the ravages of military conflict. The Ivory Coast, which used to be the economic and social hub of West Africa, has been split in two since a 2002 coup attempt. Millions of people in the Darfur region of Sudan remain in windswept camps as a result of the uprising there.

Somalia disintegrated into bloody chaos more than 15 years ago, and still doesn't have a central government.

One of the longest-running conflicts in Africa is in northern Uganda. For the last two decades, Uganda has been attempting to wipe out the Lord's Resistance Army. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. Thousands of Northern Ugandans have fled to the capital Kampala and now live in slum called the Acholi Quarter.

At a quarry on the edge of the settlement, Ajok Iren, 13, earns money to buy her family food by breaking rocks into gravel.

"My mother was blinded working here in the quarry," she says, "and now my family has no money."

That hostility in conflict zones across Africa drives people into slums. This can be seen in the shantytowns around Libreville in Sierra Leone, in the squalid tenements of Luanda, Angola, and the tattered squatter camps outside Khartoum where Southern Sudanese have lived for more than a generation.

A U.N. report earlier this year found that Africa's slums are growing more than twice as fast as slums anywhere else in the world. The vast majority of city dwellers in Africa -- 72 percent of urban residents -- live in neighborhoods without access to clean water, proper sanitation or durable housing."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stand Up Against Poverty

As I mentioned yesterday, Mothers Acting Up recently brought the Stand Up Campaign to my attention. The goal is to get as many people as possible to "stand up" both physically and figuratively against world poverty on October 15th and 16th. There will be Stand Up events held all over the world and organizers are hoping to set a Guinness World Record for the number of people standing up together in a 24-hour period.

While setting a record would be great, this campaign is really about raising awareness surrounding the Millennium Development Goals which contain eight steps toward cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half by the year 2015. The goals are to:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • Achieve universal primary education

  • Promote gender equality and empower women

  • Reduce child mortality

  • Improve maternal health

  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  • Ensure environmental sustainability

  • Develop a global partnership for development

The MDGs have been adopted by several countries including the United States who has contributed $19 billion already. But in order to stay on track for 2015, the U.S. must pledge another $38 billion this year. Now I realize money is tight with the Bush Administration in control of our finances, but they wouldn't be as tight if we weren't spending millions of dollars everyday in a war that cannot be won. Besides, don't you think fighting world poverty is a more worthwhile cause than the occupation of Iraq?

So consider taking a moment or two out of your day this Sunday and Monday and Stand Up in whatever way you feel is appropriate - Blog about it, Email your lawmakers to keep them on track, Write a poem, Acknowledge that there are millions suffering from hunger and struggle daily just to survive until tomorrow so they can start all over again - BUT DO SOMETHING! If we all do just one thing we can have an impact on these people's lives. Not only economically, but emotionally by letting them know that they are not alone, they are not forgotten and that people care about what happens to them.

I know it helps me get through my toughest days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

100 Posts and Counting . . .

It was a beautiful three-day weekend here in New England. The foliage is amazing with my favorite color being the pumpkin orange that pops among the vibrant yellows and reds. And HOORAY! This is my 100th post here at Just Thinking . . . and I want to thank all of you out there who have been commenting on my random thoughts. I've learned a lot and you've definitely given me some things to think about.

But enough about me, I've got a few things I want to let you know about and to stay with the fall theme, today's post will be a "cornucopia" of randomness:

  • I saw an amazing segment on the CBS Evening News last night. Now, I don't usually watch the CBS Evening News, don't get me started on Katie Couric as a news anchor. While I appreciate a woman holding a historically male-only position - I think she's awful. She opened her broadcast last night with "Hi everyone." Doesn't she realize she's no longer on the Today Show? But I digress (as usual) - I was alerted by one of my favorite magazines The Nation that its publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel was going to appear on CBS for its "Free Speech" segment. Vanden Heuvel spoke about the Iraq War and the importance of bringing U.S. troops home - NOW. It was a biting piece of editorial copy and the images used by CBS were moving. Check out the segment here at CBS News and let me know what you think.

  • Also this weekend I found this wonderful website, Mothers Acting Up. The organization "is dedicated to mobilizing the gigantic political strength of mothers* to ensure the health, education and safety of every child, not just a privileged few. We realize that we live in a world that does not prioritize or protect our children's well-being and that this will not change without each of us finding the courage and commitment to speak out on their behalf." MAU is also sponsoring a Stand Up Against Poverty campaign October 15th and 16th to focus attention on the Millennium Development Goals, a plan consisting of eight goals that will cut in half the number of people suffering in extreme poverty around the world by 2015. So far the U.S. has committed $19 billion of the $57 billion needed to help the plan reach its goal. If we ended our occupation in Iraq, think about how much more money we'd be able to commit to such a worthwhile cause. I'll be posting some other details and stories surrounding this campaign throughout the week, but until then check out the website.

  • October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. My grandmother is currently suffering from the disease and after having several years of being able to manage the cancer, she has been in great pain and experiencing extreme exhaustion over the last few weeks. My grandmother is one of the lucky ones in that she has experienced a very full life in her 80 plus years on this Earth. However, it upsets me to think about her having lived that long only to have her suffer in pain in her last months or years. It just doesn't seem fair. So be sure that you, your loved ones and friends are getting their yearly mammograms and breast exams. Be sure that you know your own body so that if you find something that shouldn't be there, you can have it taken care of early. You might not only save your own life, but through your experience and the information gathered in your case - you could save the lives of others. And if you're in a position to do so, consider making a donation, a one-time donation or even a recurring monthly donation, and help save lives and provide comfort to those already suffering.

  • And last, but certainly not least, the U.S. midterm elections are exactly one month away. Start educating yourself on the candidates in your area because this is a big one, folks. The future direction of this country is at state. When you have a President who is abusing his executive powers and a Congress which refuses to use its checks and balances system to reign him in, we are all in great danger of having our lives changed in fundamental ways. Democrats must pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats to take back control of Congress. Don't be fooled by attack ads and charming smiles, the freedoms we all take for granted are in jeopardy and a change in leadership is the only way to insure that democracy can be restored. So be sure that you are registered to vote in November (today is the deadline in many states) and make sure you stop at your local polling station on November 7th to demand your vote be counted both locally and nationally.

That's all for now. Have a great Tuesday!

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Christopher Columbus: Nobody's Hero

My son brought home a hat, made of construction paper, from school on Friday. He told me that it was his Christopher Columbus hat. He also told me he had learned that Christopher Columbus was an explorer of some lands (kind of like Dora) and he went to an island and met some people he had never seen before.

Not bad for a 4-year-old.

And since he's only four years old, I decided that it was not appropriate to share my views on Christopher Columbus, no matter how much I wanted to because I was cringing every time he said something good about the man - a man I don't feel should be celebrated at all and I really don't agree with presenting him as a hero to our children when he is responsible for the slaughter and enslavement of thousands of native people he found on the lands he "discovered."

I first learned a different story regarding Christopher Columbus when I read Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," in college. To read this book was, and still is, a mind blowing experience. Zinn writes a history revolving around those who were oppressed, murdered and enslaved by the so called victors of history we usually hear about in school. History from this vantage point is in complete contradiction with the U.S. History I was raised on and at many points in the book it's almost too much to wrap my brain around - it's that overwhelmingly eye opening.

OK, so enough of my 1,001st endorsement of A People's History . . .

Zinn opens up his history book with a chapter entitled "Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress" and in it he uses quotes from Columbus' own diaries and the words of Bartolome de las Casas, a priest who accompanied Columbus on his journey who participated in the conquest of Cuba, but and then turned against the Spaniards when he could watch the cruelty perpetrated on the natives no longer.

It is in these first hand accounts that the most surprisingly cruel information is found - the details are horrific and yet Columbus records his actions with great arrogance and expects to be hailed a hero upon his return to Spain. Mainly because he believes he has found a previously unknown land just off the coast of China where he expects to find all kinds of gold and interesting spices. Of course, we all know that Columbus found the Caribbean Islands, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti - islands not known for gold then or now.

Upon his arrival in the Bahamas, Columbus was greeted by the Arawak Indians who offered many gifts to the visitors, while Columbus would later write in his journal, "They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

You see, things haven't changed much since 1492. Columbus was sent across the Atlantic for monetary reasons and it took quite a lot of money to fund the trip; Therefore he was under great obligation to bring back to the King and Queen of Spain a large amount of riches which, when he didn't find very much gold, included people (Arawaks) to be used as slaves. And Columbus wasn't just out to satisfy his rulers back home - as an incentive Columbus was promised 10 percent of the profits from whatever he brought back, a governorship over the new lands and fame from being named "Admiral of the Ocean Sea."

So Columbus tried to force the Arawaks to tell him where the gold was - there wasn't any, so he took hundreds of them prisoner and forced them into slavery (those that made it through the voyage across the sea that is) and he killed countless more trying to scare the location of the gold out of the others. Oh and let's not forget the forced labor in the mines that were established in pursuit of gold where women and children were overworked and died, while families were murdered for not making their quotas from week to week. The result of such savagery, from a man who was supposedly a representative of the "civilized" world was:

"In two years (of Columbus' arrival) , through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. . . . By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left (in Haiti). By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island."

That's just the beginning of the legacy of Christopher Columbus. I can't go on any longer or I'll just get (more) worked up. If you can stomach more information, Google it or check out Zinn's book, whatever you feel you need to do to know the truth.

I'm all for a day off from work; Americans especially work too many hours and too many days a year. But while your enjoying your holiday, take the time out to educate yourself with a little history lesson.

Only through knowledge can we change our own lives and the lives of others.

Friday, October 6, 2006

This WTF Moment Brought to You by Mitt Romney

I was driving home yesterday, listening to NPR on WBRU and I heard that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has instituted a program that would allow for the random searches of commuters using the MBTA transit system (buses, subways, commuter trains and boats) for traces of explosives. The program is slated to begin as early as next week whereby MBTA Transit Police will carry around a portable "explosives detector" that will read pieces of cotton cloths that have been swabbed along the outside of a passenger's baggage, briefcase, handbag, packages, etc. and determine whether or not there are traces of explosives on said articles.

My IMMEDIATE response? You guessed it: "WHAT THE F*CK?!?!?! Are you serious?

My next thought was that I am one of the lucky ones who will get to live in this wonderful state of Massachusetts and have to watch while my governor whores himself around the country trying to become the next King for the Republican party in 2008 instead of taking care of matters here, for the people who have already elected him into office, like massive public education deficits, rising crime rates, his proposed healthcare initiative for the uninsured that he has no way of funding, etc.

The only good news is that as the national election gets closer, and with his politician buddies acting as his pimps, he won't be spending a lot of time in Massachusetts and maybe I won't have to see as much posturing and fakery as I am witnessing right now.

I mean, when asked why he was beginning such a program, ie was there some kind of threat made against the public transportation system in Boston?, he acknowledged that no such threat existed. He was simply trying to protect the citizens of the commonwealth and thought that this was the best way to do that.

In a quote taken from today's Boston Globe, Romney said,
``We are fighting a war against people that have as their objective mass murder and mayhem," the governor said at a morning press conference. ``Given a very different threat, we need different tactics."

I repeat: WHAT THE F*CK?!?!?!?!?!

I mean, did Bush's speech writers come up with that one? Sure sounds like the party line to me: Republicans are tough on matters of national security. I want to be your next President. I'm tough on issues regarding security. Just look at what I've done in Massachusetts.

Well, Mitt, you're also searching the personal belongings of thousands of innocent people everyday who are just trying to get to work on time all in the name of bettering your chances for obtaining the highest political office of the land.

But wait. It gets better. If a Transit Police officer finds "probable cause," after swabbing the bag, he may then ask the passenger to open his/her suspicious belongings and so that they may be searched. Any passenger who refuses to allow the search of his/her personal belongings will not be allowed onto the bus, subway, train or boat they are trying to board and anyone refusing to leave MBTA property after being refused boarding could be arrested.

Apparently the people who live in and around Boston who wish to use public transportation must first consent to living in a police state in order to get from point A to point B!! This is totally ridiculous and completely unacceptable.

And let's just raise one more issue - Who do you think is going to get searched more often? How random do you think these searches will actually be? Can anything be random when there are human beings doing the choosing as to who to search?

I'm in complete disbelief right now. Of course, the ACLU is all over this (YEAH! Maybe I'll make that donation they've been asking me for after all), but short of a court injunction the program will go forward until it is otherwise proven to be unconstitutional. (As if I need a court of law to tell me that!)

A case involving the constitutionality of a similar program in NYC, the only other city in the country that has such a program in place, was recently upheld which is what some speculate caused Romney to suddenly move forward with his own initiative.

Some passengers who were asked "at random" about what they thought about the program complained of it possibly being inconvenient or worried about racial profiling and false positive readings from the machine used to test the cloth sample. Was there no one who was outraged at being searched for no good reason? Are we still under the impression that we have to give up our civil liberties and personal freedoms in order to protect ourselves from terrorists?

Can we just look at this thing logically for one second: You are more likely to die in a car or on a plane or maybe even by a bolt of lightning than you are to die from a terrorist attack in the United States. Could it happen? Absolutely. Is it likely? No.

So we're going to give up our rights as individuals in order to prevent something that is highly unlikely to happen anyway? Well, I'm not going to stand by and let it happen without a fight.

That avalanche is not going to start on my watch.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Totally Random Thought Thursday

Just a few things floating around in my head today. None of them really related - PERFECT for Random Thought Thursday!!

  • The countdown to National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it is lovingly called, has begun! This is something I stumbled upon a few months ago and I'm all over it. Thousands of people from around the globe join together in trying to write 50,000 words in just 30 days. I'll be taking part and trying to get a jump start on the novel I always say I'm going to write. It seems a bit of a daunting task, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think the hardest part will be getting the time, without interruption, to get the 1,600+ words written everyday in order to stay on pace. I'm always complaining about the demands on my time, so it should be interesting. I've already informed my husband that I am attempting NaNoWriMo and he says he's on board. We'll see. I've got all kinds of ideas; I know what I'm going to write about; I have a main character that I'm trying to develop; I figure by November 6th I'll be on here complaining about writer's block :) I probably won't be posting here as much, but no worries, I'll keep you all updated on my progress. Hopefully, I'll be posting a victory entry on December 1st!

  • Thank you to everyone and your kind words regarding my preschool jitters. My son must be reading my blog because he hasn't cried once at school this week and he's been playing with kids at recess AND during free play in the classroom. As many of said, so sweetly I might add, he's young, he hasn't been in school very long and he is working it out himself. On Monday he came home and told me he was VERY brave and didn't cry at recess and he played Legos with one of his buddies. As if the day wasn't great enough, he then told me he still missed me while he was at school though. So my worry has shifted from preschool to high school - with charm like that I'm going to be getting a lot of phone calls from a lot of teenage girls :)

  • The House of Bush continues to suffer structural damage. Apparently high ranking officials in the Bush Administration knew of Bin Laden's desire to attack the U.S., not in August 2001 as was originally alleged and later proven to be true by the infamous August memo, but as much as two months before the 9/11 attacks. Bob Woodward writes in his new book, "State of Denial" that Secretary of State, then National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice was in fact briefed on the Bin Laden threat on July 10, 2001 by CIA director George Tenet. According to Woodward, Tenet remembers the meeting clearly as it was "the starkest warning they had given the White House," on the activities of Bin Laden and his desire to strike. However, when questioned about the meeting the White House could recall no such meeting having occured. But then, upon further deliberations, Rice said through a spokesman that there was in fact a meeting, but that there was nothing discussed there that stood out and therefore she didn't remember that particular meeting when orignally questioned about it. However, the meeting was important enough to be noted in an early report as part of an investigation done by a joint congressional panel pre-dating the infamous 9/11 Commission. The panel concluded that "senior U.S. government officials were advised by the intelligence community on June 28 and July 10, 2001, that the attacks were expected, among other things, to 'have dramatic consequences on governments or cause major casualties' and that 'attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.'" (Wasn't that a warning?) Anyway, the water continues to rise, but Americans continue to be complacent. If this Administration is allowed to continue to rule at will I can't imagine where this country will be in two more years. I'm too scared to think about it.

I think that's it for now. After that last thought, I'm exhausted. I'm sickened really. I mean, what's it going to take? How long are we going to let this bullsh*t go on? I think I'll go read Todd Parr's "The Peace Book" so that I can smile again, so that I can have hope again, so that I can give my children hope that all will not be a total mess when they inherit this great country of ours.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Happy World Smile Day!!

I post this entry for two reasons: 1) Who doesn't need a good smile right now? and 2) It's civic pride. (And according to my husband who is a "Wusstah" guy through and through I don't have enough of it)

This Friday is World Smile Day - a day devoted to "good cheer and good works." Started by Harvey Ball, the inventor of the smiley face seen above, the day is meant to benefit children's charities around the world, while encouraging people to "Do an act of kindness - help one person smile."

Mr. Ball, who was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts (and, I will add for all you Colonels out there, a South High graduate), created the loveable smiley face in 1963. Just think, someone had to "invent" it :)


"The invention of the Smiley came about in 1963. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, MA (now known as Allmerica Financial) purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. The merger resulted in low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this, Harvey Ball was employed in 1963 as a freelance artist to create a smiley face to be used on buttons, desk cards, and posters. In less than ten minutes the smiley face was complete. The use of the smiley face was part of the company's friendship campaign whereby State Mutual handed out 100 smiley pins to employees. The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and doing other tasks . . .

"Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley and earned just $45 for his work. State Mutual, similarly, did not make any money from the design. Ball's son, Charles Ball is reported to have said his father never regretted not registering the copyright."

So do something great this Friday . . . Help your neighbor bring in the groceries, volunteer in your child's classroom, turn off the television and the computer and read your own children an extra bedtime story. Whatever you do make yourself happy by making someone else smile. It's a feeling that can't be replicated and you never know how your good will may be passed onto others.

Maybe a smile can change the world . . .

Sunday, October 1, 2006

The Many Faces of Friendship

I recently read the wonderfully insightful book, "My Friend, My Friend: The Story of Thoreau's Relationship with Emerson," by Harmon Smith. It was a remarkable book not only because it was about the personal lives of two of my favorite authors (I'm a bit obsessed with them at the moment actually), but because it was quite illuminating in its discussion of friendship.

While many of us know about Thoreau and Emerson as authors, transcendentalists, philosophers, proponents of the anti-slavery movement - what was most interesting to me was that this book portrayed the two men as human in that they found a profound connection in one another, yet their relationship was strained.

Emerson, who was 14 years older than Thoreau, was often quite critical of his dear friend because he felt that he was not living up to his potential as a writer. Thoreau, who was not blind to Emerson's feelings, often felt as if Emerson was not so much a friend, but an overbearing, overly critical father figure. And this great tension between them often puzzled the pair because they did indeed feel so deeply connected to one another.

While I read the account of such an honest and real friendship I was constantly reminded of my own friendships and they are a most sacred thing. Friends are people we feel a mutual connection with and when we allow ourselves to open up to such a relationship it makes us vulnerable - more vulnerable than I think even romantic love makes us.

Afterall, romantic love is based on a mutual physical attraction that involves the body and the heart, while our friendships put us in contact with one another's souls and inner most thoughts and feelings; allowing us to confess to one another what we would never tell even our therapists.

And while we ask our partners in love to fulfill the ultimate role of loving our entire being, we can have several friendships that satisfy individual aspects of our whole and because of this our friendships often run deep - ie a friend who shares our love for writing, another who is our connection to the past, still another who we can share our insecurities and questions about parenthood with, and even one who shares our (secret) love of cheesy (especially those involving tap) dance movies.

It is this vulnerability and the depth of feelings in such relationships that sometimes causes great tension. You see, we have great expectations of our friends because they have such an intimate role in our lives and when they betray that role or they change the relationship without permission or they simply don't need us anymore or they become self-destructive and we cannot stand by and watch because it hurts too much - it is some of the greatest pain we ever experience.

But when I think of my own precious circle of friends I realize that without such relationships we cannot experience life, or ourselves, to the fullest because friends provide us with the opportunity to take the greatest risks and receive the greatest rewards through a shared trust of one another.

"A friend is one who takes me as I am." ---Thoreau

"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it's the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friend." ---Emerson

May we all have friends such as these.