Seeking: Inspiration.

via Buzzfeed

In Norway, music drowns out hate – Fridays with Billy.

Our man Billy knows a thing or two about the power of song.

Last week, 40, 000 Norwegians came together to sing a particular song in the square outside the courthouse where Anders Behring Breivik is on trial for killing 77 people in a paroxysm of anti-immigrant rage. It’s a song that Breivik hates: “Children of the Rainbow,” which he has singled out in his various screeds for particular contempt:

A sky full of stars.
Blue sea as far as you can see.
A land where flowers grow.
Could you want more?
Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.

…Say it to all the children!
And tell every father and mother.
We still have a chance
to share our hope for this world.

Now, to be sure, our Billy doesn’t usually sing such soothing stuff — his calls for unity tend to be on the more battered side, often speaking for those who haven’t had a chance yet to hope, much less to share that hope.

But as I say, the man knows a thing or two about the power of song. Here’s what he had to say about that moment in Oslo on the pages of today’s Guardian:

It’s not much of a protest song, to be truthful. The lyrics of Children of the Rainbow sound ideal material for a Sunday school choir. Yet, when sung by 40,000 Norwegians in response to a week of testimony by the rightwing terrorist Anders Breivik, the meaning of those words has been transformed.

The lyrics were written by Lillebjørn Nilsen, a much-loved Norwegian singer-songwriter from the 1970s, who Breivik singled out in his testimony as a “Marxist” who “writes music that is used to brainwash children”. Far from being a call for revolution, the lyrics paint a picture of a society where “Together we will live/Each sister and brother/Small children of the rainbow”.

…Seeking to express their solidarity with the victims of this act of terror as they assembled to give their evidence this week, the people of Oslo chose a song that extols the kind of multicultural society that Breivik despises. By the simple act of singing it together, they have drowned out the voice of hatred emanating from the Oslo courthouse.

Coming together, in the rain and holding roses, all those lovely Norwegians also brought to mind their Prime Minister, speaking in the wake of the attacks last year: “We must – and will – meet terror with more democracy,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, “not less.”

Some time ago, Billy had opportunity to write a new English version of a song that actually does call for revolution, “The Internationale” (he was asked to do so by Pete Seeger, and as Mr. Bragg says below – you don’t say no to Pete Seeger) — I suspect Breivik hates that song, too. So in honor of Breivik’s victims, and of those gathered in an Oslo city square, here’s Billy version of “The Internationale.”

If we don’t want the Breiviks of the world to win, it’s on us.

Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone 

complete lyricsWhat is Fridays with Billy?

Big, big h/t to my girl AsiangrrlMN

Speaker Boehner is: a) crazy b) lying c) cruel d) high e) all of the above

The following words emerged from the mouth of Speaker of the House John Boehner earlier today:

People want to politicize this because it’s an election year, but my God do we have to fight about everything? And now we’re going to have a fight over women’s health. Give me a break.

This is the latest plank in the so-called “War on Women,” entirely created by my colleagues across the aisle for political gain.

To what was the Speaker referring? I’ll tell you: Boehner was referring to the Republican bill to prevent the doubling of student loan rates this summer, which passed today despite Democratic opposition.

Why were Democrats opposed? I’m glad you asked:

The GOP’s bill on student loans took money from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for preventative health care services like mammograms and immunizations, and applied those savings to cover the $6 billion cost of the interest rate extension.

So to re-cap:

The Speaker of the House, a US Representative from the Party of No, the party that has done nothing since January 2009 but oppose everything that our current President and the Democratic party have done, is yelling at the Democrats for, and I quote, “fighting about everything,” and “creating” the War on Women — even as he leads his party in defunding a women’s health provision, even as his fellow Republicans strip away women’s rights in matters reproductive and economic in a froth and fury, as if the very hounds of hell were nipping at their heels.

I cannot. I cannot.

There are times when I feel like conservatives and progressives live in different countries, times when I feel like we look out our window and see different realities — and then there are the times when I feel like even language has failed us.

Dear Speaker Boehner: You keep using those words. They do not mean what you think they mean.

Or, more accurately: You keep using those words, and you know they don’t mean you’re trying to say they mean.

You’re just hoping the rest of us are too stupid to notice.

President Obama in my kitchen.


Was a time, I decorated walls with the faces of people I didn’t know: Donny Osmond, James Taylor, probably U2 at some point, although I was an adult by then, even if a young one, and adults don’t generally mount posters of Famous People around their homes.

Which is likely why I hesitated to put up that poster of President Obama.

It arrived in the mail one day, unbidden, no doubt because I’ve tossed the campaign a few shekels now and then. It’s about 11 x 17 inches or so; across the top it reads CHANGE IS, then there’s an artsy head shot of the President, and then a list:


I opened it up, unfolded it, looked at it for awhile. Walked around the house with it. Then I pulled out the tape and hung it in my kitchen.

Now, whenever I walk past the President’s face, I imagine I feel a bit like a Catholic in the 1960s, those folks who hung a picture of President Kennedy next to the Pope. Because this President? He’s one of my own. I like having him in the heart of my family’s home.

And that’s the thing, really. For the first time in my life — a life lived across two continents and two political systems — the person leading my country and representing it to the world is one of my own.

I’m not black, or bi-racial. I’m not from Hawaii. I’ve never been to Indonesia. My grandparents don’t hail from Kansas or Kenya. I did attend the University of Chicago (while Mr. Obama was teaching there, no less), but not Harvard. I’m not a lawyer. And possibly more to the point — I do disagree with this President now and then. I’ve even yelled at the radio a time or two.

And yet, he’s one of my own. His respect for intelligent inquiry, for individuals and peoples, for gentle humor and not backing down; the willingness he’s shown to take bold action and also to admit error; and his constant, consistent refusal to get involved in the mind games that literally millions of people are trying to play with him — these all reflect a manner that I not only want to see in my President, but am hoping to teach my children. Barack Obama represents what I want my country to be.

We don’t always have to agree to be on the same page; I don’t have to be in someone’s thrall to be glad he’s in my life. In my home. On my kitchen wall.

It makes me proud to see the President there. It makes me think that all these things that I’ve believed in my whole life — things like equal pay for equal work, and protecting our environment, and granting human dignity across the board — have a real chance out there in the world. Like maybe Americans really can perfect the union.

I imagine that I’ll continue to disagree with President Obama from time to time, and maybe yell at the radio another time or two. I figure he can take it — he is in politics, after all.

But I also imagine that come November, after I’ve volunteered for another Obama campaign and he’s been re-elected (please God and Get Out The Vote!), I will once again turn all weepy. Because human fallibility aside, I am prouder than I can say to have him in the Oval Office.

I never thought one of my own would make it.

Open thread until… possible, if not inevitable, betrayal.

Same, same as that other time, man: Ta-Nehisi Coates is busy! We’re left guessing! We can handle it, though, I’m sure. In the meantime, it’s yours….

Standard FYI clause: My rule of thumb is that I wait for 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would usually open a thread (roughly noon, EST), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.


The breathtaking cruelty of Florida Gov Rick Scott.

I’ve been thinking a lot and writing a little about the idea that bigotry is, in essence, cruelty and lies, and that the current conservative movement is marked by all three.

Well, if you were still looking for one, here’s your sign:

With a flick of his pen, Florida’s tea party Republican governor, Rick Scott, used a line-item veto to cut funding to the state’s rape crisis centers last week—in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

…The state legislature had approved $1.5 million to help close the gap so the centers could keep serving the approximately 700,000 women in Florida who’ve been victims of rape. But in reviewing the state’s $70 billion budget, Scott decided last Tuesday that the .002 percent slated for the crisis centers was just too much. He used his line-item power to veto the funds, alongside $141 million in other cuts targeting a wide range of projects, including an indigent psychiatric medicine program, Girls Incorporated of Sarasota County, the Alzheimer’s Family Care Center of Broward County, and a state settlement for child welfare case managers who were owed overtime. The entire list of vetoed programs is available here (PDF).

To recap:

The governor of Florida has just taken money from: Rape victims; the poor; the mentally ill; children; and adults who protect children. And the dying.

Is he culling the weak? Is he launching a Florida Office for Social Engineering? Is the next step to throw these agencies into a fancy arena and make them slaughter each other for grants?

But don’t worry, Floridians! The law Gov Scott introduced forcing welfare applicants to undergo drug testing is still in place, even though the vast majority of tests (96%) come back squeaky clean, and the testing procedure costs Florida more than it saves.

Cruelty, and lies.

via Mother Jones

Yes, Ann Romney – parenting is hard. For everyone.

Being a mom is hard.

Being any kind of parent is hard — or, at least, it’s hard if you’re engaged with the process. No matter your status in the child’s life (biological parent, adoptive, mom, dad, something-else-that-doesn’t-have-a-name-but-still-counts) or your socio-economic position (rich, poor, somewhere in between), if you’re parenting a child: It’s hard.

It’s hard because it matters — it really, really matters — and it’s just so complicated. Children get sick, they get frightened, they fight you on the craziest things, they have needs that you cannot begin to understand — indeed, they are nothing but Need. It starts the instant they wake up and it only abates when their eyes close, and I say “abates” rather than “stops” because you can never, ever know that the Need won’t rear its head in the middle of the night. In all the bedrooms. At once. You just cannot know.

The toll it takes on your heart is hard, too. You ache for your kids in ways you never knew existed before they were in your life. You want to hold them in your arms and engulf them in bubble wrap, and you can do neither. They will piss you off; they will push you away; they will get hurt. If you’re lucky, they will also give you joy, and pull you back, and heal. But your heart is there for every bump and bounce.

It’s even hard on your body, even if you’re not the one who produced the children. Years of sleep-deprivation, years of carrying small people and large belongings, years of not having enough time to care for yourself in the way you might need to, and — for far too many — years of not having the money to do so, either.

It’s just: Hard.

The grand lie is that if you have help, it’s easy. It’s certainly easier — but easy? Nope. Not unless you’re genuinely checked out. Years ago, I was a nanny for twins, a round-faced boy and round-faced girl, the healthy children of wealthy parents in a spacious and well-tended home. I’m sure other nannies saw other kinds of parents, but I’ll tell you what: I was an assistant. I did not take the body-blows. That mom and dad did the hard work, and I went home at night.

As a society — across the board, in all corners and on all levels — we need to develop a greater respect for the work that is parenting. We need to value children more, we need to carve out time and opportunity for parents to be available to their children, and we need to understand, in our bones, that raising children is a job for all of society, not just those with kids in the house, and certainly not just for women.

So when Ann Romney says that staying at home with her boys was hard work (that she was glad to do), and that she understand’s women’s struggles, I’m inclined to believe her. Parents who choose to be stay-at-home are making a choice to do what they believe is best for their families, and as a feminist, how can I not support that?

Moreover, I’m no more inclined to bash women simply for being rich than I am to bash them simply for being poor. I believe you, Ann Romney: It was hard work, you were glad to do it, and you understand women’s struggles — or, at the very least, the struggles inherent to being a mother.

But here’s the thing.

Just as I am not inclined to bash you for staying home with your kids, neither am I inclined to bash poor moms (or dads) who choose to do the same.

Either we value motherhood (parenting), or we don’t. Either we support parents who choose to be at home with their kids, or we don’t. Either we value families, or we don’t.

You can’t ask me to respect your right to be home with your kids, but expect me to not notice that your candidate husband doesn’t respect the same right for poor women. Your kids had no more right to an at-home parent simply because you’re wealthy; kids on welfare have no less right to an at-home parent simply because they’re poor.

I won’t bash Ann Romney. She made a choice that was right for her and her family, and as a parent, I guarantee you: Her choice involved hard work.

But I will bash policies and positions, and the party that pushes them, that afford Ann Romney more respect and greater human dignity for her choices, simply because she’s a millionaire.

And I will do everything I can to keep those people — most especially Ann Romney’s husband — out of office.

Open thread until the inevitable betrayal.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, man. Dude’s leaving us guessing these days! Well, that’s his constitutional right. In the meantime, it’s yours….

Standard FYI clause: My rule of thumb is that I wait for 2 hours after Ta-Nehisi would usually open a thread (roughly noon, EST), and if none is forthcoming, I put one up here.


On Game of Thrones and what the hell is wrong with me.

Yes, I know he's dead, but I like Sean Bean. Sue me.

I do not watch Game of Thrones. I have not read, nor do I intend to read, the books.

“Huh?”, I hear you say, and not unreasonably. Given my specs (Minor Fantasy Geek, Reader Of Big Books, and Married To Same), one could very well ask what the hell is wrong with me.

I’ll tell you what the hell: Everything I’ve heard/read/seen about both the books and the series based upon them (and I did watch a few episodes in the first season, and have seen a few scenes since) has impressed very firmly upon me that this is entertainment predicated on sadism, depravity, and hopelessness, and that’s all I need to know.

Both book and TV show may very well be laden with other things, too — the husband can’t stop talking about George RR Martin’s writing, and I’ve seen enough of the HBO series to know that there’s a little something called acting going on, not to mention the fact that I am surely a reasonable audience for representations of rich fantasy worlds — but I honestly don’t care. I’m just curious enough to follow online discussions and sort out the answers to questions that puzzle me about the plot, but for real: There is enough sadism, depravity, and hopelessness in the real world. I honestly cannot understand why I would seek it out in my entertainment.

Which brings me back to why I never liked Seinfeld.

Sadism? What would you call humor based in the foreknowledge that every.single.thing will go wrong for these people? Depravity – well, just consider the spectacular dysfunction of the relationships. And of course hopelessness – see: Point A. Moreover, there was not a single character in all of Seinfeld with whom I would have wanted to spend 20 actual minutes of my actual life. Why on earth give all of them 20 minutes on a regular basis?

I can handle death, pain, dismemberment, disappointment. I am, after all, the daughter of a dead man and an Israeli, to boot — you cannot frighten me with your human frailty and whatnot!

But I suppose I need just a whiff of hope. A bit of wiggle room for the human spirit and flights of grace — even in fantasy, even in comedy. Game of Thrones, no — but  Firefly and The Hunger Games, yes. Seinfeld, no — but WKRP and Sportsnight, yes. Is that too much to ask of my TV box?

Though looking at the above, it could be argued that I am, perhaps, due for a new sitcom in my life.

Hey, The Husband? I think I need to DVR Community and Parks and Rec.

Unless they make me sad, in which case I’ll stop.

‘Cause I have my day-job for that.

Formula One and Bahrain – A force for what, now?

Even with the best intentions there’s a limit to what one can do in any given day, which is why I’ve been following the uprising in Bahrain (a family-run Sunni dictatorship with a majority Shiite population), but haven’t yet written about it. The day, 24 hours, etc, and so on.

But that country’s crown prince said something today that just about made my skull fold in on itself, and so I’ve been driven to the keyboard.

Discussing the fact that the Formula One Grand Prix race will be held in his country on Sunday despite a year-long uprising in which protesters have been killed, gassed, imprisoned, and tortured, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa told the BBC that “cancelling the race just empowers extremists,” whereas holding the race can serve as “a force for good.”

A force for good.

A force for good?

You know what’s a force for good? Democracy. Human rights. Liberty and justice. That sort of thing.

You know what’s not a force for good? This:

“We have been receiving worrying reports of the disproportionate use of force by Bahraini security forces, including the excessive use of tear gas, the use of bird shot pellets and rubber bullets,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

“The use of tear gas in particular has reportedly resulted in a number of deaths of protestors and bystanders — and that number has reportedly risen in recent months,” he said. “Reliable sources indicate that the civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds.”

Oh and hey –  look! Here’s a fact that surprised me exactly not at all!

Bahrain’s royal family owns a stake in Formula One racing, including part of the McLaren Group racing team.

Of course there are complications. The Crown Prince is considered a moderate, and the International Crisis Group pointed out to NPR that the Crown Prince “has built up the Formula One race in Bahrain as part of an economic power base designed to counter his hard-line rivals.”

And protesters have responded to violence with violence, breaking out gasoline bombs in response to the crackdown.

Not to mention the fact that Bahrain is spitting distance from Saudi Arabia and Iran, and serves as home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

But at a certain point, I just don’t care. “Moderate” is far too slippery a term when you’re talking about a family business that’s invested in torture and extrajudicial killings; Bahrain’s protesters responded with violence after they were greeted with brutality; and I kinda thought that the US Navy was a representative of a nation predicated on democracy?

If the Crown Prince really wanted to see a “force for good” take hold, he would do everything in his power to see to it that the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (also known as the Bassiouni Report) are implemented in full, rather than piece-meal and as suits the ruling family’s interests. His country wouldn’t be hosting flashy races while a detainee approaches death on hunger strike, and riot police bring out stun grenades, birdshot and tear gas to hold protesters at bay.

What does the rebellion look like? It looks like the death of 14 year old schoolboy, killed for seeking freedom – even as the government tries to blame his parents for not controlling him. It looks like a family harassed for the temerity of having their child killed:

Indeed, it looks like a Formula One executive fired, because he made the mistake of liking a protest photo on Facebook.

But sure. The Formula One race can be a force for good. Why the hell not.

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