Burial Costs for Charlene Holmes

The family of Charlene Holmes, the young girl killed in the drive-by shooting this past Sunday, does not have sufficient funds to pay for the expenses of Charlene's funeral and burial.

A fund has been set up by members of the CRLS community to help the Holmes family. If you would like to help, please send a donation as soon as you can. The CRLS community is hoping to give Charlene's family the donations collected at the end of the day Monday June 11.

Checks should be made out to: CRLS Holmes Family Fund and sent to:

CRLS Holmes Family Fund Cambridge Teachers Federal Credit Union 20 Felton Street Cambridge, MA 02138

Donations in any amount are very welcome. Thank you in advance for your generosity as our community reaches out to the Holmes family in this time of terrible grief.

Consent of the Governed: Speech from the Massachusetts Rally Against the War on Women

Delivered April 28, 2012 on Boston's City Hall Plaza

In the Constitution, the federal government was granted the power to establish post offices and postal roads, the primary purpose being to facilitate interstate communications. Federal oversight would ensure all areas would have access to the system of roads, because all areas were represented in the Federal government. It was recognized then that if a democracy was going to work, it was going to need efficient ways for its disparate people to exchange information, opinions, and ideas, which would then help them to form the connections necessary to keep the states as united as they could be.
We’ve had the same postal carrier for three or four years now. Monday through Saturday, he walks the streets of our neighborhood, going in and out of our local businesses, up and down the residential stoops. He’s not a banterer. He seems to like quietude that can be found in walking the same route every day. But when we see each other, we nod hello.
He knows that my husband works in the restaurant next to our apartment door, so our packages can go there if we’re not home, and that the restaurant’s mail can go to us when it’s closed. And he knows that our friend in the barber shop can be trusted with our packages in a pinch.
He sees our relationships, the bonds that we’ve formed in our community, and he re-enforces them.
In the country, of course, a post office can serve as a community hub. Everyone goes in there at some point, and the routes the carriers drive weave together what can be scattered strands of connection.
And, indeed, it was the post office who first mapped our routes, requiring that they be given public identities. And they fixed our homes and businesses in the landscape, defining their place so others could find us and share with us.
When we need to prove our residence, we present our mail as official evidence. 
In the holiday classic, Miracle on 34th Street, it is the post office that proves the existence of Santa Claus by delivering his mail.
And now the post office is under attack. Why? Because it struggles now to make a profit.
It’s enemies point to UPS and FedEx, and ask why they so easily make a profit when the post office cannot.
Well, of course, these companies couldn’t exist without the vast, and at times tedious, work the post office did and does to give everyone an address. Actually, most companies couldn’t.
And UPS and FedEx aren’t accountable to the people of the United States in the way the post office is, so they don’t have to make sure every area of the country has access to their services. They can focus on what is profitable.
But, in a country where more and more we are told that worth can only be measured by profitability, we scoff at the podunk post office.
Women know a little something about undervalued work, don’t we. Traditionally, we have disproportionally done so much of the work that ties communities together: the PTO bake sales and auctions that raise money for our schools; the pot-luck suppers to draw our communities into conversations; the meal delivery to the sick, dying, and bereaved.
During the height of the AIDS crisis, when the gay community was being brought to its knees, gay men and their allies pulled together in ways that echoed, and often duplicated, these traditional actions. Out of that a powerful movement was born.
The importance of the sometimes ephemeral bonds of community cannot not be overstated. Our forefathers and mothers knew this. As Benjamin Franklin famously said:
“If we do not hang together, then we shall surely hang separately!”
They sought to encode their creation of these bonds in our founding documents. Thus the mention of post offices and postal roads, a particular passion of Franklin’s.
Over time, many of the things women traditionally did to serve communities were formalized as jobs within government departments, so the benefits could be more fairly distributed throughout the population. And women could finally get paid for the things they were already doing: running programs for schools, creating community events, coordinating meals on wheels. And, of course, sitting or standing behind counters, interacting with the community, providing the link between citizens and the government of their day to day lives.
When Mitt Romney says that women have disproportionally lost jobs in this economy, he’s right. What he doesn’t get into is why these jobs were lost. By and large, these were government jobs, lost to budget cuts.
And make no mistake: women will keep doing these things that the government has stopped doing, the care-taking, and the funding, and the form navigating. But we’ll be back to doing it all for free.
I saw the astounding Madeleine Albright speaking at the JFK Library this week. She is a passionate believer in democratic government, having seen tragic effects of the some of the alternatives. When asked about our current political climate, she decried the lack of value now being placed on relationships between our elected officials. It reaffirmed what I wanted to say in this speech.
When we elect people to represent us, it shouldn’t be so they will go fight the representatives everyone else has elected. We’re not sending them off to war. We should want them to work with the other representatives, because that’s how things actually get done.
Government isn’t a reality show.
It may feel really great to watch our representative make an awesomely passionate speech about freedom, and glory, and not backing down. But in the end, how does that actually benefit our state, our district, our town in any tangible or substantial way? What does that get done? Who does it benefit, aside from the representative, who gets to bask in a brief, hot spotlight, and vent their spleen a little?
To get bills passed, and programs started, you need to build relationships, learn to work with the others. It’s not as exiting and cool, but it’s not supposed to be.
Democracy is, really, kind of boring. 
When we talk about the American Revolution, we tend to focus on the battles, and the whites of their eyes. We’re less keen to discuss all the meetings the people building our country had to attend. Tedious meetings that went on for hours and hours over the course of YEARS while people bickered over the wording of every document produced.
The Declaration of Independence was written in the summer, as we well know. And while Thomas Jefferson did write a good chunk of it, there were still hours of editing, and discussion, and arguing with others, who inserted their own bits of wording. In the summer. With no air conditioning.
But out of that came our brilliant founding document.
When it was finished, messengers rode out in all directions, to deliver the news throughout the colonies.
Right over here, around the corner and up a bit, is the Old State House, originally a seat of British power.
When the rally is over, maybe you should stroll on over. Stand on the spot where the victims of the Boston Massacre fell in 1770. Then look up at the tiny balcony. That’s where the messenger stood to read aloud, in his most powerful voice, our Declaration of Independence to the waiting crowds.
For the first time, they heard these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
It’s said that when the messenger finished reading the document, the crowds, wild with excitement, climbed the building and tore from its roof statues of a lion and a unicorn, symbols of royal power.
But, wait: this is a rally for women, and the Declaration would seem to be talking about men.
Well, yes. Those men arguing in hot rooms in Philadelphia had limited scope to their thinking. Abigail Adams would put in her two cents about remembering the ladies, but those guys weren’t, you know, *there* yet.
But some people were. A woman in Sheffield, Massachusetts named Mum Bett, as legend has it, heard the discussion of these documents proclaiming liberty and unalienable rights, and  those she was not only a woman, but black, and enslaved, she knew that these documents were talking about her. In 1781, she and her lawyer, Theodore Sedgewick, sued her owner for her freedom and won. That case eventually led to the abolishing of all slavery in Massachusetts.
It was self-evident to her that she was created equal.
And here’s what Susan B. Anthony had to say on the subject in 1872:
“It was we, the people; not we, the white, male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens, but we, the whole people, who formed the Union...”
Yes, few of our names were noted in the history books, our voices went unheard in  those arguments in Philadelphia, and we’re still not offically in the Contitution.
But we women also built this Union. This great and complicated community known as the United States of America.
Let us take a moment to place value on that. Say it with me:
I am endowed by my Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Our government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Do we consent to how we women are being governed?

In 1920, after years of struggle, marching, tedious meetings, and exhausting work, the 19th amendment was ratified, and women, at last, had a guaranteed right to vote. Don’t let all that work go to waste. 
Vote for the relationship builders! 
Vote for the competent! 
And vote for the knowledgeable! Vote out any man who thinks women can get pap smears at Walgreens!
Be thoughtful. Be smart. Be powerful.
Use the 19th!

The Record-High Price of Gold

So, yes, the price of gold hit $1500 yesterday. As you may have seen in this delightful piece from the Daily Show, Glenn Beck has been a big advocate for buying gold because THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT IS COMING TO AN END. He's not alone in this push, of course, but he is the most scary/entertaining to watch.

Okay, so he was just taken off the air by Fox last month, right. So the Beck-ster folks are likely extra riled up. Like, even more than usual. And they like conspiracy theories, and numbers, and making connections between things that only they can see because they are way smarter than we are, and can see things that we can't.

And guess what the date was yesterday: April 19th! And what's so special about April 19th??? Well, here are a few choice things that happened on April 19th:

1775 - The American Revolution began as fighting broke out at Lexington, MA.

1861 - U.S. President Lincoln ordered a blockade of Confederate ports.

1933 - U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation that removed the U.S. from the gold standard.

1938 - General Francisco Franco declared victory in the Spanish Civil War.

1943 - The Warsaw Ghetto uprising against Nazi rule began. The Jews were able to fight off the Germans for 28 days.

1993 - The Branch-Davidian’s compound in Waco, TX, burned to the ground. It was the end of a 51-day standoff between the cult and U.S. federal agents. 86 people were killed including 17 children. Nine of the Branch Davidians escaped the fire.

1994 - A Los Angeles jury awarded $3.8 million to Rodney King for violation of his civil rights.

1995 - The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, OK, was destroyed by a bomb. It was the worst bombing on U.S. territory. 168 people were killed including 19 children, and 500 were injured. Timothy McVeigh was found guilty of the bombing on June 2, 1997.

Do I need to draw this all out on a blackboard for you, or do you see why followers of Glenn Beck might have been buying gold this week?

Oh, yes, and to add some extra fun: today is Hitler's birthday.

Always here to help,


PS - Forgot the most important April 19th reference: on April 19th, 2011, Skynet became Self-Aware!


[I delivered this as a sermon at several Unitarian Universalist churches around the US in the winter of 2001 and spring of 2002]


“There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It’s dangerous to repress an emotion like that.” –Mark Twain

In the fall of 2001, I attended the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, held by the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Durban, South Africa. I attended on behalf of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. During the course of the conference, the five delegates from the Unitarian Universalist Association stayed in the same B&B. In addition to myself, we were: the Rev. Olivia Holmes, then Director of International Relations at the UUA, the Rev. Mel Hoover, then the Director of Faith in Action at the UUA, Amy Owen, a woman from Wisconsin new to Unitarian Universalism who was getting her Master’s Degree in conflict resolution, and Kathy Shreedar, then head of the Holdeen India Program.

Every morning we would breakfast together on the tiled patio of our stunning B&B, with views of the ocean stretching before us. One morning, the sun was shining. This was unusual. South Africa was just coming out of Winter, so days were often dark and cold and drizzly. At the back of the patio was a tree absolutely filled with the nests of weaver birds, hanging down, clinging to the branches. I decided to sit out for a while and watch the weaver birds.

Now, the weaver birds weave their nests. They pluck long palm fronds and weave them together with their beaks, poking and pulling. It’s a fascinating process to watch, and I spent some time at that. The birds were flying around, lemon yellow feathers gleaming, zipping back and forth between the palms and the nests, frantic. These were the male birds, you see, and spring was springing. Soon, the female birds would be coming by, to check out the nests. If the males wanted to mate, they’d better weave, but fast. So the beaks pulled and poked, pulled and poked.

Clearly, this was how humans had learned to weave baskets, from sitting and watching this.

You see a lot of baskets in South African cities. Not in use, but for sale. Women sit on blankets on the sidewalk, or on the boardwalk by the ocean, and they sell baskets. Baskets made from reeds, and fronds and electrical wire, of different colors and shapes and patterns.

But you wouldn’t see a basket for sale that looked like one of the weaver birds’ nests. While the nests are naturally beautiful, they would be considered sub-par if made by a human. They are slightly misshapen, and the fronds stick out every which way. The female weavers don’t care, they just want a safe place for their eggs. As humans, however, we took the weaving concept and ran with it. Not only did we need to improve the design, creating baskets that were so tight they could hold water, or evenly meshed enough to sort grains, but we needed the baskets to look good. We added patterns, and figures, we recorded stories, right in the weave of the basket.

The human need for order.

And I use the word “need” very intentionally. Without order, the human race would not have survived. We have few natural defenses, and our ability to organize has allowed us the opportunity to create safety and stability for ourselves.

Now, it is a strange coincidence that the first request for my sermon about the World Conference Against Racism should come from Hartford. Before I left for the conference, I was thinking a lot about the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was written in this very town.

At the very beginning of the book, Huck has decided to return to the Widow Douglas’ house, after running away before, because Tom says Huck can’t be in his “band of robbers” unless he goes back. But life with the Widow is hard for Huck:

“She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them – that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”

Huck becomes more comfortable with the widow’s way, but then his father returns and turns it all upside down again. Which happens a lot in Huck’s life. Which is why he’s not like Tom, confident, cocky Tom. Tom’s childhood doesn’t get rocked by these things. He creates the Band of Robbers for a little excitement, but Huck ends up disappointed because all of the robbing and crime is in Tom’s imagination. Except for the occasional turnip.

Then when Huck escapes from his father, after the courts have failed him and he ends up in the custody of this man who is least safe for him to be with, he becomes dependant on stealing, and disguises and trickery. This Civilization is all well and good for the Widow, and for Tom and Judge Thatcher and Miss Watson , but it doesn’t seem to be working for Huck. Nor is it working for Jim, who has been a slave since birth, and has escaped as well, and is heading down the river with Huck. Yet he and Huck have long conversations about the morality of what they are doing. The rules of the civilization they observe from the outside tug at them, even while they see the flaws. They also know it would be safer and easier to be on the inside. Jim, however, has no chance of being on the inside. Only Huck does. Huck can renounce his wildness and be admitted, because he can be White. Huckleberry Finn. He’s Irish. This book was written in 1885, but is taking place around the late 1840’s. A time when the Irish in America were being courted by the slave states as allies. The Irish were considered as low as dogs by the English, but now in America they were going to get to be part of the club. The White club.

One of the parts of our human need for order is our need for social order. One of the things that was made most clear at the Conference is that every society has not only a bottom rung, reserved for a particular group of people, but also a whole middle order, kept mollified about their varying lack of power by the reassurance that they are at least not at the bottom rung.

In this country, some of us get to be White. Which is primarily defined as being “not Black” There are rules you have to follow to be in this…is it too heavy handed to say “band of robbers?” You can’t have rhythm, you can’t dance right, you have to clap on the beat. You have to try to forget where you came from.

When I think about being poor and white in America society, I think of the Jets in West Side Story. We first get introduced to them as the “greatest” “When you’re a Jet you’re the top cat in town, you’re the gold medal kid with the heavyweight crown.” Later, we discover that their “mothers all are junkies, their fathers all are drunks.” Naturally, they’re punks. They are “problems” in a system that bounces them around from attempted solution to attempted solution, until it finally gives up on them. “Krupke we’ve got troubles of our own”

They’re failing at their Whiteness. The clothes aren’t feeling right.

The New York Times, before the Conference even started, dismissed it in its editorial pages as useless because it was going to be “messy.”

Well, I nearly died when I saw that. Messy??? Of course! How could any attempt to address Racism as a global issue not be messy? Racism is messy. The order we have falsely imposed on humanity has created a mess. Not that messy has to be bad. The nests of the weaver birds are messy. But they are strong. They can hold and cushion the eggs.

The basket that we’ve created lets a lot of eggs drop. And the conference, as a basket, had a lot of holes in it. A lot of wonderful connections were made, and work was done. My African-American friends who attended were giddy about what they had experienced. Africans and descendants of Africans came together in joyous and important discussion. The Dalits, also known as the “untouchable” caste in India, were not officially recognized in the documents, but they made their existence known worldwide. Hundreds of groups had a similar experience.

But the Jews. Well. My friend Sybil Kessler, who attended for Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, wrote in her piece about the conference: “I learned in Durban that it is lonely to be the one ruining the party…” Jewish groups were shouted down, literature praising Hitler was distributed outside the gates of the conference. My friend Barry Joseph, of Global Kids, also Jewish, wrote in his piece about the conference about the fear he felt there, which as a lifelong New Yorker, was an unaccustomed fear.

Do we always need to have outsiders? Can we build a basket to hold all the eggs? Let’s not worry right now if the basket is messy, let’s just make it strong. Then we can make it beautiful.

The United Nations has woven a basket. It ain’t pretty, it ain’t all that strong yet. But it’s a beginning. Let’s make the basket hold water. Now, in the midst of this international crisis, let us turn to the UN as we never have before, and integrate it into our lives. This is the moment to seize, to make our country a full part of the world.

Mrs. Blankenship: Dawn of a New Era

Yesterday, Susan Orlean sent out the following two tweets:

"Please strike Mrs. Blankenship with a fatal illness and remove her from the cast of #madmen. She's awful."

"I understand why Don has an old hag as a sec'y & value of comic relief, but Blankenship is almost slapstick; wrong tone for the show."

Here is my response:

Hi Susan!

I hope all your livestock is well.

When Mrs. Blankenship first appeared, I felt like you do, that she was a weird and disconcerting and didn't fit at all. But then, as the episodes progressed, I changed my mind.

Yes, that character would have been completely wrong in the Mad Men we've come to know. But, Mad Men is changing as the years progress. To me, Mrs. Blankenship seems like she was dropped in from some late sixties comedy thing, like Laugh-In or Monty Python. She's one of the discordant things popping up in Don's life, and the show, like the Rolling Stones suddenly thrusting themselves into the soundtrack.

The shots are different in parts of the show now. That whole fake-out scooter bit seemed like it was out of a Richard Lester film, especially Peggy doing donuts in the empty, rented studio. And all the Don journal voice-over stuff looked like the Graduate mixed with Goddard.

The parts of the show that still look like the original seasons are the scenes with Betty and home life with Joan, both of whom are still stuck in the old culture, though Joan is having to confront the new culture at work.

So, that's my two cents.



PS - So, how's the book coming?

To Each According to Her Need...

I have been using the bathroom by myself for over three decades. At the risk of bragging, I'd like to state, for the record, that I believe I have mastered all the skills related to toilet time. My techniques are beyond reproach.

There is a local cafe that I frequent which seems to feel differently. While it is a friendly place, the staff does seem to wonder, on occasion, why they are required to wait on you, when you are obviously not as cool as you could be.

They are correct, of course: I could be cooler. Also, the coffee is pretty good, and they have sushi in the morning, which I enjoy, so they get a pass on their haughty demeanor.

Except for one thing: this note they have in the bathroom.

As I mentioned above, I am fairly secure in my privy acumen. Up to this point, only my mother has ever had any criticisms, and those came early on in my training. So, needless to say, I was taken aback by this bit of instruction posted on the cafe's bathroom wall:
Dear Customers: Please use only as much toilet paper as you need! The plumbing is very sensitive and these toilets get clogged VERY easily.

I am sympathetic to plumbing issues. In the house where I grew up, all visitors had to be instructed to "jiggle the handle" after flushing before they went into the downstairs bathroom. Signs in public restrooms with gentle reminders to not flush tampons, paper towels, small animals don't bother me. This little bit of instruction, however, goes too far.

Do the people of this cafe really believe that the general public is too decadent in its use of toilet paper? Do they imagine that we pull it off the roll like kittens, delighted as it floats on the air currents created by the exhaust fan, then let it settle in a loopy pile on the floor before stuffing it into their poor, beleaguered toilets? Or do they think they have some insight into wiping efficiency that others lack? Are they concerned that we have not fully analyzed our technique out of laziness or ignorance, and now their plumbing is paying the price? Did they initially consider hosting workshops in the proper use of the bathroom, then decided to settle for a simple sign, in the hopes of provoking thought and discussion?

Consider me provoked!