Monday, August 22, 2011

The Struggle Continues: Theology and Theater

August 21, 2011
Palo Alto, CA

It is the last summer weekend before school starts.  Here in Palo Alto, CA, a comfortable, primarily white suburb with good schools, well-funded facilities, and well heeled and well-educated families,  it is hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be Elizabeth Eckford in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Elizabeth was one of 9 Negro (that was what they were called) teenagers who sought to enroll in Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas soon after the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, led to the forced desegragation of schools across the United States.  The play Little Rock sought to help make that journey back in time possible using music, documentary footage, and the talents of some fine actors.

We are a good 50 years on from the school integration crisis that saw General Eisenhower sending in the first Airborne division to escort 9 scared black teenagers to school.  We live in a United States where a Black man is President.  It is a future those young people scarcely dreamed possible, but one that exists thanks to their efforts to make their own dreams a reality.  

And, yet, the play's last words were the ones echoing in my mind as we walked out of the theater: "the struggle continues".  While only 12 percent of all Americans are black, working-age black Americans comprise nearly 21 percent of the nation’s unemployed. The growing contrast between prospects for white and black job-seekers challenges a cherished American notion: the availability of opportunity and upward mobility for all. “Over the course of the recession, the unemployment disparity between college educated blacks and whites actually widened,” says economist Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.  Other statistics about African Americans or Black Americans are no more encouraging: 
  •  “72 percent of black mothers are unwed which eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans.”  
  • “Nearly half of the nation’s African American students attend high schools in low-income areas with dropout rates that hover in the 40-50% range.”
  • “The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 60.21% (African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, 13.44% White American (non-Hispanic) , and 6.06% Other 
  • “Black women and men have much higher coronary heart disease (CHD) death rates in the 45–74 age group than women and men of other races. 

While this is grim news, there is little evidence to suggest that Americans are using rationality or science to respond.  Instead, a growing number are turning to faith, more often than not, towards Evangelical forms of Christianity.  Recent studies suggest that 1/3rd of all Americans believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.  Of all the major racial and ethnic groups in the United States, black Americans are the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation and the vast majority of Black Americans identify with the Baptist churchTo me, there is a strange inconsistency of those who have been oppressed in the name of a religion going on to become the most devout adherents of that religion.  Yet, it is exactly how European colonialists used Christianity to dominate countries across the globe.  It reminds me of how women, who suffer most as result of harmful religious practices and unequal status within most religious traditions, are also the most likely to practice their faith. In fact, according to the Pew Forum on religious life, "Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13% of women."

So, how do we make sense of any of this? How did 9 young people who experienced virulent racial slurs, physical violence, humiliation and intimidation use their faith to withstand and survive their ordeal even as they emerged as leaders of a movement for civil rights? How did their faith sustain them?  Did they know they were making history while they were making it? How could they not - with their pictures all over the television, with the first Airborne soldiers taking them to school everyday, with Martin Luther King coming to attend the graduation of the oldest of their cohort, Ernest?  How do they make sense of their lives now? How do they treat the people who spat in their faces and called them Nigger in high school? How do they countenance that they are all now senior citizens living in the same country, if not in the same county or town as their one time tormentors?  There has been no truth and reconciliation commission in the United States, no way of acknowledging the pain, the mutual suspicion, the violence that was inherent in a system where black people were officially "less than".  

For while we live in a United States where Barack Obama is President, we also live in a country where two of the leading candidates for Republican President, Michele Bachman and Rick Perry follow the teachings of J. Steven Wilkins. Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North.  In his chapter on race relations in the antebellum South, Wilkins writes: "Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith."

What kind of a common faith extolls the inherent inferiority of one group of people over another?  This is the question that the play, Little Rock, has forced me to grapple with for the past 24 hours. I have no answers, but my friend Srinija said so eloquently today, "it is the task of the arts to make us uncomfortable, that is how we grow." The struggle continues.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reports on Tar Sands Action

Dear readers:

I wanted to make sure folks heard the latest on the upcoming Tar Sands Action in DC -

Here is an update from the group:

. We've organized an amazingly diverse number of people to join us in a sustained civil disobedience campaign at the White House - with an expected 50-100 people participating it a sit-in at the White House every day from August 20th - Sept 3rd. The people participating are largely not "typical" activists - it is  parents, doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, farmers, indigenous elders, scientists, Gulf Coast residents, celebrities and many more - and we've had more than 2,000 people sign up to participate on our website!

We are calling on President Obama to agree that the Keystone Xl Pipeline and continued development of the Canadian Tar Sands is not in the "national interest". The decision to deny the Pipeline permit is one that lies with his administration - not with Congress, and believe this is the perfect opportunity for him to put policy behind his rhetoric of moving us away from fossil fuel dependence, and on stopping climate change. This action is shaping up to be a historical moment in the movement against Tar Sands, fossil fuels, and climate change - and we are working to build a coalition across a range of related issues - including people fighting fracking and natural gas development,  the BP oil spill, mountain top removal coal mining, and more.

This isn't organized by any particular organization - it's a great example of coalition work and mixing grassroots and NGO-based models of organizing. This type of project-based effort is avoiding many of the limitations that NGO's often struggle with, and with greater resources than typical grassroots movements have access to. A lot of organizations that normally don't get involved with civil disobedience have been supporting this action - and it's an exciting moment to see so many groups recognizing how various tactics can truly complement each other.

A few interesting things in the works:

   * We just broke 2,000 RSVP's a few days ago - and the number is growing daily.
   * Rainforest Action Network is organizing a tour of residents along the pipeline route leaving Texas August 19th, and joining us in DC.
   * Video from actor Mark Ruffalo on why he is joining the action in DC
   * Letter from prominent scientists on stopping KeystoneXL:
   * Video from Rep. Bernie Sanders on stopping KeystoneXL:
   * The No Tar Sands Caravan - leaving from Sacramento, CA to DC - August 21st - 26th.

And below is a recent piece from the New York Times about the issues, and the action.

The New York Times

July 25, 2011
Debate Intensifies Over Climate Change Aspects of Canada's Oil Sands Pipeline By CHRISTA MARSHALL of ClimateWire

As the State Department weighs approving an oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas, experts are divided on whether the Keystone XL project would worsen global warming.

The split opinion is coming to a head, as the House considers a bill speeding up the approval process for the $7 billion pipeline and the State Department readies release of a final environmental assessment in August. In the middle are protesters, analysts, researchers and industry officials floating wildly different numbers about the greenhouse gas impact of the the TransCanada proposal.

Take NASA scientist James Hansen, who wrote (pdf) a public letter in June suggesting that the fate of the planet rests with the 1,700-mile Keystone XL project.

The climatologist said the proposal is a steppingstone to exploiting the entire oil sands region in Canada, where a vast amount of carbon dioxide sits underground in sand formations. Hansen asserted that its extraction would mean "game over" for the Earth when combined with emissions from coal. Canada holds the second-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia.

"The scientific community needs to get involved in this fray now," wrote Hansen about Keystone XL. "If this project gains approval, it will become exceedingly difficult to control the tar sands monster."

But some independent analysts and supporters of the pipeline say there are flaws in those arguments.

They note that Keystone XL would ferry about 700,000 new barrels of oil a day from Canada, a fraction of the amount needed to spew into the air 400 gigatons of carbon, the catastrophic figure cited by Hansen as waiting to emerge from the oil sands. University of Alberta business professor Andrew Leach, who blogged about Hansen's assessment and does not have a stance on the pipeline, said it could take until the year 3316 to extract the amount of oil cited by the scientist.

Secondly, proponents of Keystone XL say that oil production in the Canadian region will continue no matter what, and that developers will find a way to transport the oil overseas if the United States declines to approve the pipeline.

In that sense, some say, Keystone XL actually could reduce emissions in comparison to other options. The carbon emissions associated with transporting oil to the Gulf Coast via pipeline are significantly lower than putting it on a diesel-powered tanker headed to China, said Richard Moskowitz of the American Trucking Associations.

"Whether Keystone XL is built or not, the oil will find a way to market," added Alex Pourbaix, a president at TransCanada.

Protesters coming to Washington

With the State Department announcing Friday that it will hold additional public hearings on the project this fall and will conduct a "thorough review" before the release of its August environmental impact statement, the debate is getting louder. As early as this week, the House could vote on a bill requiring State to issue a final permit by Nov. 1. Then, on Aug. 20, Keystone XL protesters will converge in front of the White House for a two-week stretch.

"The climate piece more than anything will be a focus," said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the activist group, who joined Hansen and celebrities in spearheading the protests. "That nationalizes the issue." He said more than 1,200 individuals had signed up to attend the August event.

But are the protesters fighting a losing battle? Does Keystone XL really matter in terms of climate change?

The answer depends on the viability of alternative pipelines proposed to carry oil-sands oil to Canada's western coast and to the United States, with some saying the backup options to Keystone XL have little chance, while others say their development is just a matter of time.

Because the oil in Alberta is more carbon-intensive to produce than traditional oil, the ultimate emissions of the region hinge on whether the oil stays in the ground. Once the oil gets into vehicles, the emissions are roughly the same regardless of the fuel source.

The answer also partially depends on which competing analyses from three U.S. government agencies are believed.

Whose crude oil would be used without it?

In an initial assessment, U.S. EPA estimated that Keystone XL would result in annual emissions 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greater than those of U.S. average crude. That is equal to the emissions of seven additional U.S. coal-fired power plants per year.

But in a supplemental environmental impact statement this year, the State Department reported a range that was lower by as much as half, 12 million to 23 million metric tons of increased C02-equivalent emissions.

The discrepancy derives partially from different assumptions about which fuel would replace Canadian oil without Keystone XL. Middle Eastern crude produces less greenhouse gases in the production process than that from U.S. oil suppliers like Venezuela. There is no way entirely to predict which countries would feed U.S. supply without the Canadian pipeline in the future because of uncertainty about world events, analysts say.

"Without a broad greenhouse gas policy in place, there is no reason to expect that oil sands products would not be replaced with even higher-emission sources of oil," said Leach of the University of Alberta.

U.S. refineries already have invested in upgrades for heavy oil, which could favor supply from countries like Venezuela without Canada in the equation, said Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The International Energy Agency predicts that unconventional oil will meet a growing part of global demand, jumping from 3 percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2035.

The oil industry is also quick to point out that Canada produces 2 percent of global emissions, with a fraction of that coming from the oil sands.

But perhaps more importantly, State concluded that the pipeline's related emissions essentially are irrelevant, because of the alternatives to Keystone XL.

Alternative pipelines under study

"Under most scenarios the proposed project would not substantially influence the rate or magnitude of oil extraction activities in Canada," State wrote in its supplemental draft environmental impact statement. "Thus from a global perspective, the project is not likely to result in incremental greenhouse gas emissions."

The department relied on a report from EnSys Energy, prepared for the Energy Department, that found that market demand exists to spur pipeline capacity similar to that of Keystone XL in the case of a State Department denial of a cross-border permit.

There are three proposed pipelines that could extend existing capacity from Cushing, Okla. -- the current destination of much of the oil sands crude -- to the Gulf Coast, Martin Tallett, president of EnSys Energy told ClimateWire. In his view, they would essentially do the same thing as Keystone XL, since one of the biggest goals of the project is to move oil stuck in oversupplied Midwestern markets to the Gulf Coast, where it can fetch a higher price.

One of the alternatives, announced in April, is from Enterprise Products Partners and Energy Transfer Partners to build a 400,000-barrel-a-day pipeline from Cushing to Houston. The Enbridge Monarch Pipeline proposed last year would ferry 370,000 daily barrels out of Cushing, as well. The third project, called Magellan, also could add capacity.

"If two of these three are built, they would make up for Keystone," said Tallett.

Then there are plans to extend or build pipelines carrying oil sands crude to Canada's West Coast, where oil could be shipped to thirsty Chinese markets. Like the Cushing-Texas options, they would get around the need for approval from the U.S. State Department, since they would not cross U.S. borders.

An alternative route to China

For example, Enbridge Northern Gateway, if built, initially could carry 525,000 barrels a day of oil from Alberta to an envisioned port in Kitimat, British Columbia. Announcements about shipping agreements will be forthcoming in a year, after Canadian national hearings on the project start in January, said Paul Stanway, a spokesman for Northern Gateway.

Rail traffic into the United States could make up some of the slack, as well, perhaps as much as 10 percent of the envisioned capacity of the pipeline, said Glen Perry, CEO of Altex Energy.

One reason these projects are not further along in the regulatory process is that many developers have been waiting on the sidelines while the Keystone debate rages on, and will come forward once everything is settled, he said.

"Nobody is going to build a pipeline until XL lives or dies," he said.

Yet there are serious problems with the "production will happen anyway" arguments, said Danielle Droitsch, director of U.S. policy at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank. The State Department is extremely "disingenuous" in making that point, she said.

First of all, many Canadian politicians and business leaders are signaling that the industry's fate depends on Keystone XL, she said.

"If we don't get moving on these projects, our greatest risk in Alberta is that by 2020 we will be landlocked in bitumen," said Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert at an industry-sponsored conference in Edmonton in June. Bitumen is the form of petroleum stuck in deep sand formations in Alberta.

The comments indicate how deeply leaders are aware of the opposition to the Keystone alternatives, environmentalists say. Pipelines proposed to Canada's West Coast have run into challenges from First Nations leaders, in particular. More than 70 First Nations with aboriginal rights have spoken out against the project with concerns about oil spills and disruption of wildlife, with some pledging civil disobedience.

Compared to Native Americans in the United States, First Nations in Canada can have significant influence over land-use decisions and blocking projects, Droitsch said.

Despite predictions about forthcoming shipping agreements, the lack of commercial support for Enbridge Gateway is "unprecedented" for a project heading into regulatory hearings and indicates a serious lack of support, according to Droitsch. There also has been push-back against environmentalists worried about large oil tankers near a British Columbia port.

Oil transported to Canada's West Coast -- such as that with Enbridge Gateway -- is really the only backup option for the oil sands, said Ralph Glass, an economist at AJM Petroleum Consultants. Rail into the United States is not a viable option, he said, partially because the risk of spills would be higher with trains. The cost per mile is much higher with rail, as well.

Raising a 'moral question' in the U.S.

With those options in jeopardy, there really is a question whether the oil lost without Keystone XL would ever make it out of the ground, he said.

The argument that Venezuela would ramp up production to make up for Keystone XL is flawed, Droitsch said, since it's impossible to predict the behavior of global oil markets.

As for the concept of simply extending pipelines out of Cushing, Okla., there is no guarantee that those projects would carry oil-sands oil, Droitsch said. Since the lines would not run directly from Canada like Keystone XL, they could pick up some of the excess capacity of Middle Eastern crude, which is less carbon-intensive to produce, Droitsch said.

For McKibben, it is a "moral" question.

The United States is at a crossroads, where Americans must choose between burning more fossil fuels in their cars or moving to alternatives, he said. Construction of Keystone XL only will play into more demand for oil, rather than spurring investment in cleaner power. The vehicles burning oil from Keystone XL could produce the same amount of C02 as all the trucks and cars in Canada, according to Leach's analysis.

It's not that this project alone would lead to catastrophic emissions, but it would start a process that could lead to more pipelines down the road and even more extraction, according to McKibben.

Timing is also a key part of why the project is so important in terms of climate change, he said. Keystone XL could be operational by 2013, while other proposals could take five to 10 years to move through regulation, according to some estimates. Those future dates could come at at a time when public opinion about climate change is different, he said.

"There is a limited period of time to make this a fait accompli. Sooner or later, the world's going to come to its senses about carbon, at which point no one is going to invest hundreds of billions to get the stuff out of the tar sands," McKibben said.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Freedom at Midnight and Lessons for Would-be Empires...

August 14/15

I began this blog on July 4th, the day that the United States of America commemorates its independence.  It felt like a good way to celebrate the start of a new effort: Ripples to Waves: An In-Residence program for activists/social entrepreneurs at Stanford University.  Tonight it is the 14th of August here in the USA, Pakistani Independence Day and it is already tomorrow, 15th August, in India.

The Beatles' song, "When I'm Sixty Four" springs to mind....and a somewhat silly thought that Pakistan might sing it to India and India might sing back ....."We could build a cottage in Kashmiri hills (instead of on the Isle of Wight) if its not too dear, you'll be older too....grandchildren on your knees....Zohra, Mira, and Nirvan".  But, such wistful thinking and the 28 years I've spent with my life partner, a Pakistani, cannot change the sober reality that, as our nations turn 64, those dreams remain distant... as they were at the time of that devastating and bloody birth.  We, who were, in Salman Rushdie's words, "the Children of Midnight," continue to watch with dismay the increasingly high toll our nations' choices have taken on the people of what was once undivided India.

How else to make sense of these depressing words in the Independent, in an article ironically entitled, Peace-loving India..: "As the country works to expand its regional strategic influence and to counter what it considers existential threats from Pakistan and China, India now accounts for nine per cent of all global arms purchases. Its current defence budget of $36bn – an increase of around 11 per cent on the previous year – is more than double what it spends on education and health combined."  Pakistan's figures are no less depressing - fueled in part by its desire to keep up with India, its nuclear armed neighbor and rival, in 2010, Pakistan spent over 22 per cent of the national budget on the military.  This expenditure has been justified by many in the senior leadership echelons of the Pakistani administration as actually contributing to the economic well-being of the country, despite the fact that it spends less than 2 per cent on health and less than 8 per cent on education.

I know the figures all too well.  Yet, as someone with a strong personal interest in seeing relations between both countries improve and as a professional in the field of development and human rights, I believe the future holds the potential for change.  Surely, India, the land of Gandhi and peaceful protests can actively rethink how to use its growing power and clout at the international level and leverage its new "emerging super power" status to build on its once proud history of "non-alignment"?  Maybe other emerging powers - Brazil, China, South Africa could be similarly inspired...?

I hoped I might hear about examples of such potential change at the sessions of the Draper-Hlls Fellows.  This signature Stanford program brings together insightful activists from around the globe (this year's group included participants from Nepal, Cameroon, Russia, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Eygpt, Lebanon, Armenia, Ukraine, Zambia, ZImbabwe, and Nigeria) on campus during the summer.  The fellows spend 3 weeks taking classes on topics related to Democracy, Rule of Law, and Development and listen to a range of impressive Stanford faculty like Larry Diamond, Francis Fukuyama, Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, and former Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice.  Condi was to speak on the universality of democracy and I hoped that she might have interesting insights on "empire".

I had not heard Professor Rice speak at Stanford prior to this past week.  She was poised, confident and totally unapologetic about the Bush administration's record.  Indeed, despite pointed questions from Egyptian activists on the long history of US support for Mubarak, Condi argued with conviction that it was the Bush administration's increasing pressure on Mubarak in 2008 that sowed the seeds for his overthrow in 2011. She countered a question about whether force was justified in advancing democracy, by claiming that the Bush administration had not used force to bring democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan, but had rid the world of a dangerous dictator who might have had weapons of mass destruction and flushed out a network of terrorists who had attacked the US from their base in Afghanistan.  She refused to accept that the US had condoned torture, dismissing the Abu Gharaib incidents as the terrible acts of a few people, and writing off rendition as something all nations participated in.  She expounded from a "realist" perspective that it was the role of superpowers to advance their own values and principles.  In response to questions about how she would feel if India or China were to be the new super-powers of the current century and use their power to advance their values, she argued that the Soviet Union and the USA had engaged in precisely such a contest and the USA had ultimately triumphed because its ideas and its system were superior.  Pressed by a South African who reminded us that those who have power have used the multiple forces, including religions like Christianity, to advance systems of profound inequality and injustice like slavery, colonialism, and apartheid, she deftly paid tribute to the Truth and Reconciliation processes of South Africa, while avoiding a direct answer.  In the informal session that followed, she joked with an Indian participant, that India would need to work closely with the US to ensure that China never got to be in a position where it could push its values and principles.

I hope India will not make that choice, although right now, cozying up to the US looks like the path she is choosing to follow. I hope, instead, that India will choose actively to unlearn the logic of superpower-hood before she becomes one.  That she chooses instead to heed Gandhi's words of wisdom when he said, "I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any."  Saal Girah Mubarak, India and Pakistan.  Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Taking Stock: Why We Are Where We are Now

August 10, 2011

The calm green well manicured lawns of Palo Alto belie the anxiety I can feel around me.  The headlines of the San Jose Mercury News and the New York Times blared  the news - "when will the free fall stop?"  At lunch today, I saw men (and yes, it was mostly men) walking around brows furrowed, noses in their blackberries or iphones, shirts and ties appearing crumpled by sheer unease.  

Given the severity of what has been going on in the world over these past few weeks, no, days, really, you might think that people are reacting to the horrors of the most wide ranging drought and famine to hit Africa in recent memory.  Or perhaps, to the looting and burning of shops across London by angry white youth that has brought Prime Minister Cameron rushing home from his holiday in Italy.  Or the Taliban's downing of a US Chinook helicopter carrying in it 22 Naval Seals from the same regiment/division that was responsible for finding and executing Osama bin LadenOr the murderous crackdown that has led to the deaths of over 300 people in Syria as President Assad refuses to bow to anti-government protests.

You would be wrong.  Right now, the men staring into their blackberries on the streets of Palo Alto are only focused on the steeply declining global stock market.  It is apparently the worst day for the "Market" (all caps!) since the 2008 financial crisis. And, I don't mean to make light of it - like others in the United States, my meager retirement savings are in the stock market - the term sunk costs is beginning to take on a faintly ominous tone....

Yet, something in this equation seems grossly, ridiculously, absurdly wrong.  We have human lives - tens of thousands of them - on the brink of extinction because they don't have access to the most basic calories needed to stay alive in Somalia.  And, here we are, living in a country where the first lady, Michele Obama, has made childhood obesity the focus of much of her concern.  People are being killed and tortured for their belief in democracy in Syria and we are reading headlines on the stock market with words like "plunged, reeling, sharp decline, crucial, bracing, falling sharply".  And, irony of ironies, Wall Street is looking to the Federal Reserve to come to the economy's aid.  Hold on, didn't we just bail out the billionaire bankers a few years ago and didn't they just all haul in the biggest profits we'd seen this past year?

John Feffer in World Beat on Foreign Policy in Focus tells it like it is in his post today where he compares the US economy to a sleazy sales guy selling investors a pyramid scheme.  As he puts it, "For a decade, America has been essentially eating a free lunch: lavishing money on the military, fighting several wars concurrently, and cutting taxes on the wealthy. We assured our investors that we knew what we were doing. We showed them lots of pretty documents. We made plenty of impressive promises. Now the investors are getting antsy. They're worried that the second dip will be much deeper than the first. The Chinese will take a hit, but they'll also probably take over the restaurant. And I can confidently assure you that it won't be Larry Summers or Timothy Geithner who'll be in the kitchen washing dishes to work off all those "free" lunches."

Gandhi's Statue in San Francisco
I'm sorry, but I guess I find it difficult to feel that our concerns ought to be for the plummeting stock market.  I think we need to figure out what really matters in our world.  I think we cannot be mourning the loss of an economic system that was based on the premise of addictive consumerism to take the edge of everything, including empathy and valuing life - all life, not just that of unborn US babies.  I don't think that mass prayer meetings held by Texas governors are going to help us find this empathy for one another.  Not when you hear the perspectives put forth by one of their key thought leaders, Nancy Pearcey, who has written, "There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right. Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false—for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.” 

If we cannot even listen to one another before determining that a "non-Christian" view of the world is neccessarily "false", then we have a long way to go.  If the Republican party finds it more important to keep their pledge never to raise taxes and protect the wealthiest 1% in the US that owns over 40% of the country's assets, while allowing inequality in the United States to rise to its highest levels since the early 60s, we have a long way to go.  I think it is time to take stock of what really matters.  Hint: I don't think it is to be found on the Nasdaq, FTSE, or Dow Jones indices.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

When Worlds Collide - Bollywood Dances!

August 5, 2011

What occurs when worlds collide?  The world of 13 girls from the Magic Bus soccer team who have grown up in extreme poverty in Dharavi or the Mumbai Port Trust slums and who are on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News.  The world of a 17 year old born to Indian and Pakistani parents in Chicago and raised in Palo Alto.  The world of a 15 year old Parisian from the eleventh Arrondisement near the Pere LaChaise cemetery.  The world of a lax bro who is going to be a freshman at Oberlin College this year.  The world of a 15 year old who rides horses and has just returned from a high end safari in Tanzania.  

What occurs? You get a wild warm brilliant evening with an i-pad being used with complete ease and comfort by a young woman who has never seen one till this evening, to blast out Marathi and Bollywood hit songs.  You get "Sheela ki Javani and Munni Badnam Hui. You get a French exchange student, a burly lacrosse player, and your daughter in splits of laughter as the 13 girls from Mumbai's Magic Bus soccer team force them to sing a song - we sing "buttercup, fill me up!"  You get an explosion of energy as bodies tumble on the dance floor - created by pushing aside the table and throwing the rugs outside.  You get everyone crowded into a picture with Mira's "baby sister" Emma - who is 5ft 9" and as light skinned as Mira is dark -  and yet, when Mira introduces her as her sister, the Magic Bus girls ask solemnly and without any irony, "blood sister?"

You get joy.  

You get a feeling that global understanding and tolerance is not such a distant goal despite the depressing headlines of the past week, the debt crisis, and crash in today's stock market.

You get deep satisfaction from having made two rice cookers full of rice and watching the girls polish it all off and eat it piping hot with their fingers along with the fresh green chilies you put out.

You understand at the end of the evening that when they invited you to their homes they meant every word and that when you are next home in Mumbai you will do just that.

You look with awe at your own daughter, who spent the summer with these amazing young women; who insisted that we cook rice and dal for them; who made sure that her boyfriend met them all because they were such an important part of her life; who is entering her senior year in high school with this gift of connection and love to young people her age living across the globe in far more challenging and trying circumstances than hers; you realize she gets it.

You get grace.