On (Invisible) Emergencies

Most emergencies in the U.S. nightly news are conceptual in nature. Ed Snowden dumped (invisible) data from government servers. Healthcare.gov has (invisible) back-end problems.  Food stamp recipients risk their names being unrecognized or credit frozen within an (invisible) government database, depending on budget outcomes. Obama's administration placed (invisible) bugs on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff's phones. In other regions, such as Latin America or other parts of the Global South, emergencies are often much more visible. Buildings fall. Parts of ceilings collapse.

Cars crash, and one catches fire. Bad rainstorms flood towns up to knee level, and dynamite downs whole shopping centers.

These are not 21st century problems. This is physical infrastructure, collapsing on purpose or by accident.

When I was in the Sao Paulo area a couple days ago, the nighty news ran a story about a neighbor who, in a heated fight with another neighbor, arsoned that person’s house and in the process lit their entire 90-house complex on fire. Let me repeat:an entire block, engulfed in wild orange flames. Watching the story, I found myself (in a sardonic SNL voice), asking, Did that just happen?

It serves as a reminder – beyond our #firstworldproblems like raising the debt ceiling and administering the knowledge economy – human beings live physical existences, and an emergency is an emergency. Whether you can see it or not.

Blessed Are the Brief

This past week, Pope St. Francis conducted a not-so-brief interview with La Civilta Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit journal. Ranging over 11,000 words in length, the Pope divulged his preference in music and film as well as his real thoughts on where to take the Catholic church. He stated, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”  He went on to say, "We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible … We have to talk about them in a context." For progressive young religious people like me, hearing the Pope say that religion should be about compassion, and mercy, and creative connection is falls on welcome ears. But judging from the (very brief) sermon I heard this morning at mass, I'm not sure the rest of the U.S. clergy thinks so. It's as if they gave the "Blessed are the meek" idea a taciturn spin: blessed are the brief.

The sermon was not more than five minutes long, and consisted of the rhetorically stunning offering that - get ready -  the Pope's comments were in line with the Church's long-held positions on sexual politics.

That was the beginning. And the end.

I was stunned. These are some of the most interesting statements, any major religious leader has made in decades, yet many priests kept it inaudible. According to the Boston Globe, the US bishops and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Boston’s archbishop declined to comment about the statements the Pope made in his interview.

If the Catholic church is going to at least try to give the semblance that it is a hierarchical, matrixed, top-down institution, it has to act like one. When a CEO of a major corporation releases a statement, his or her PR people fall in line. That didn't happen today in the Catholic church, and it looked horrible. The sort of silent mutiny said droves in itself, and it was disappointing.

In today's hypervocal world, the brief are blessed on Twitter. Or Tumblr.

Not the pulpit.

Liberate the Libertine

French lush Dominique Strauss-Kahn has abjectly asked the French courts not to “criminalize lust.” Re-branding himself as a "libertine", Strauss-Kahn has gone on the record saying, “I long thought that I could lead my life as I wanted...And that includes free behavior between consenting adults." 

A lot of women think the same way, but they don't get to be called libertines

They're simply called sluts.

The paradigm in which a voracious sexual appetite signals liberation for men and promiscuity for women is framed and named by politics. During this 2012 presidential election cycle, the legislation of the vagina (not if, but how) is one of the key "issues" of both campaigns.

Women don't want the government in their vaginas, but whoever else they have there is their business and theirs alone. Women should be able to say to the US body politik, as DSK did to the French one:

"Nous sommes libertines - liberez-nous!"

Photo art by Favianna Rodriguez: http://www.favianna.com/

Our Good Life

The ten year anniversary of September 11th is tomorrow. Although that means many things (most of which I'm not going to dive into here), let's remember something: Patriot Act or not, it's pretty good to live in America.

It’s not perfect, and it’s not always easy, but it's good.

Somewhere in America, an immigrant is opening up their own business. There is a child being born. A vegetarian has unlimited food options. Women can marry each other. Someone can wear overalls to church, just because they want to.

Here in Washington, DC, many people forget about the good life, but back home in LA - a city of immigrants - there is an unshakeable feeling that life there was a privilege. For people from war-torn or broken countries, simple afternoons filled with the scent of homemade meals, fresh laundry, and laughing children is the good life.

Tranquility might not make the 6 o’clock news, but it’s the tick-tock of the new American heartland.

So, as Kanye says, throw your hands up for the good life.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEKEjpTzB0Q]

The Vargas Story

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas' My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant essay in the New York Times has shocked just about everyone. I was shocked to learn that Vargas, whom I met briefly through Georgetown's Journalism program, built his Pulitzer-winning career entirely without papers. (Wow!) Other, more conservative Americans were shocked to learn that smart, accomplished people like Vargas are among the ranks of the undocumented in this country.

That's a great thing, but here's the not-so-good thing: not every illegal immigrant has the privilege to be able to publicly declare their status. If most undocumented immigrants did what Vargas did, they wouldn’t be cooed over, they’d be deported.

Although the larger, Open Society Institute-funded goal behind Vargas’ Define American project is to increase support for the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) and the DREAM Act, it is, in actuality, a career boost for Vargas and a clear reinforcement of the power line between the haves and the have-nots. What is supposed to be a story about lack of privilege is, inadvertently, a story showcasing privilege.

This high-profile essay will act as a shield for Vargas against the actual legal ramifications of declaring his status, illuminating the sharp class divides that, ironically enough, make immigrants out of people tired of the fact that legal and economic exceptions will never be made for them in their home countries.Vargas will probably get a book deal from this essay, but millions of undocumented workers need something else from its publication. They need the passage of CIR and the DREAM Act. As a testament to all those people that can't wedge the the New York Times between themselves and Immigration Customs Enforcement agents, let's celebrate Vargas' story and lobby to change the laws that shaped it.

Beyonce Bzzz

Who runs the world? According to Beyonce, girls.

In her new video, the Queen Bee of pop runs a post-apocalyptic country in which cabaret-clad women dance Fosse with chained hyenas. While it might be weird, it’s timely for a week in which the former head of the IMF took a break from "investing" in Africa to assault an African hotel maid, and the former governor of California considered it okay to sleep with his wife and his maid at the same time.

These are times in which we need new visions of the future. Okay so this future is dusty and metallic, but it's good food for thought:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U&w=560&h=349]

Obama in South Philly windowsills: Hope and Change on 11.2.2010

Just like some Latino families have faded pictures of the Virgen de Guadalupe or the Holy Family in their windowsills, some black families have pictures of the First Family in their windowsills.

On Election Day 2010, I volunteered to canvass South Philadelphia neighborhoods in order to get folks out to the polls. I saw a lot of crumbling buildings, and brownfields, but also a lot - a LOT - of images of Obama.

In South Philadelphia, Obama seemed to BE the Democratic party. "Obama needs your help - vote today!" some of the literature said. And most said they were going to. The neighborhood was economically depressed, but almost every SINGLE person I talked to - no joke - said they voted, or were on their way to vote, and knew where their polling place was. Contrary to popular belief, neighborhoods other than rich ones vote early and often.

It is, in public sector speak, an "engaged community." Here's the thing, though: being civically engaged and being served are two very different things entirely.

The Stimulus Bill was supposed to fix problems like elderly people being swindled into bad deals or out of their homes. One older man who pointed to a grassy field across the street from him and said that a developer came in there, started to build something, tore it down, and let it lie fallow. This man tried to re-model his home using that same developer, only to find later that the developer had gone bankrupt and the money he poured into improving his home had been lost forever. 

"That man robbed 51 senior citizens," he said. "And I've never seen a dime of my money back."

Residents of South Philly might "made their voices heard" at the polls, but they're just not listened to.

Which leads me to this conclusion: engagement is not enough. 

The public sector needs to check itself; dialogue and participation are no substitutes for respect.

The fairest conversations are ones in which both sides listen to each other; but politics is a blood sport.