Sunday, August 31, 2008

Out and About - August 2008

Without doubt, one of the highlights of July-August was the week long visit of my older brother and his family to St. Paul.

Above: Standing (at right) with my brother Chris and my nephews (from left) Brendan, Mitchell, and Liam. My eldest nephew, Ryan, did not accompany the family to the U.S. (You were greatly missed, Ryan!)

Above left: With my sister-in-law, Cathie.

For more images of my family’s time in the Twin Cities, see:
An Afternoon at the Museum
Pool Party
Climbing Barn Bluff
Good Times, Happy Memories
Out and About – July 2008

Above: The 9th Annual “Welcome Home” Traditional Pow-Wow of the Mendota-Mdewakanton Dakota Community – August 8-10, 2008.

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: From August 14-21 my friends Kathleen and Joey and I took a road trip to St. Louis, Missouri.

For more on this road trip, see:
Part 1: Following the Mississippi
Part 2: Dubuque
Part 3: St. Louis
Part 4: The Arch
Part 5: Carondelet
Part 6: Hannibal

Above: Kathy Kelly (second from left) and Lauren Cannon (right) were among several peace advocates who walked from Chicago to St. Paul as part of Witness Against War: 2008.

On Monday, August 25, I traveled with friends (pictured below) to Red Wing so as to greet and support the walkers. For more images and commentary, click here.

Above and right:Kathy Kelly with a young child – August 30, 2008.

Upon their arrival in St. Paul, the Witness Against War walkers were guests of honor at a reception held at the Carondelet Center.

Also in attendance at this reception was Medea Benjamin (above) of Code Pink and Ann Wright (below) of Veterans for Peace.

Both Medea and Ann were in the Twin Cities for various justice and peace events organized in response to the Republican National Convention (RNC), scheduled to take place September 1 – 4.

Also in town were former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, and Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, both of whom, unfortunately, I did not hear speak.

Michael T. McPhearson (above), executive director of Veterans for Peace, and former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley (below) speak at a media conference August 30 in response to police raids on the homes of activists ahead of the Republican National Convention.

Above: At the August 31 rally and march against torture and the war in Iraq, “Death” bears silent witness to the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq.

For more images and commentary on this event, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Back in the USA
Out and About - April 2007
Out and About - May 2007
Out and About - June 2007
Out and About - July 2007
Out and About - August 2007
Out and About - September 2007
Out and About - October 2007
Out and About - November 2007
Out and About - December 2007
Out and About - January 2008
Out and About - February 2008
Out and About - March 2008
Out and About: April 2008
Out and About - May 2008
Out and About - June 2008
Out and About - July 2008

Saying "No" to Torture and the Republican Agenda

Demonstrations against the policies of the Republican party began today in St. Paul, ahead of tomorrow’s start to the Republican National Convention (RNC), with a rally and march against torture and the ongoing war in Iraq.

The main organizer of today’s demonstration was Veterans for Peace. Other groups involved included Code Pink, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), and the Minnesota War Resisters League.

Many of those participating in the march carried cardboard “tombstones” containing images and names of dead soldiers and/or Iraqi civilian victims of the war. According to the organizers, the purpose of the march was to “unite all who oppose injustice, oppression, and the violence of war in a way that is powerful and practical enough to win over the uninformed, the indifferent and, possibly, even many of those who are currently allied with the perpetrators.”

Above and below: A number of parents of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq participated in the rally and march. I found their presence and witness against the war to be very powerful.

Above: Another powerful presence was of those dressed in the orange jump suits and black hoods of “detainees” at U.S. facilities like Guantánamo Bay – facilities that have been known to use torture.

Above: Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

As I noted in a
previous post, Kathy and a number of other peace advocates arrived for this week’s various RNC protest events after walking from Chicago to St. Paul as part of Witness Against War 2008.

Above: Members of Code Pink.

Above: “Death” holds the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq.

The march began on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol and its route took it as close as was permitted by police to the Excel Energy Center where the RNC is being held. Nine people chose to be arrested by peacefully trespassing into an area forbidden by law enforcement. They were issued citations and released.

Above: My friend Betty McKenzie shortly before her arrest earlier today. (Photo by Jim Gehrz of the Star Tribune.)

Approximately 500 people participated in today’s march and rally. Many more are expected for the main RNC protest event being organized tomorrow by the Coalition to March on the RNC/Stop the War.

For information about tomorrow’s march and rally, click here.

Images 1-9: Michael J. Bayly.
Image 10: Jim Gehrz.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Anatomy of a March: Veterans for Peace Event Ends in Arrests - Jeff Steven Guntzel,, August 31, 2008.
Vietnam Veterans for Peace Demonstrate Against Fellow Vet John McCain - Democracy Now!, September 1, 2008.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Walking for Peace, Witnessing Against War
Walking Against Weapons
Fasting, Praying, and Walking for Immigration Reform
General Strike for Peace
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables.”
A Reign of Ignorance and Fear in the U.S.
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
What the Republican Leadership and the Catholic Hierarchy Have in Common
In Search of a “Global Ethnic”

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is Anyone in the Least Bit Surprised By This?

A new study published in Developmental Psychology says that same-sex couples in legally bound relationships appear to stay in their relationships longer than those who are not legally recognized.

Following are excerpts from The Advocate’s August 27 coverage of this study’s findings:

. . . The study is a five-year project that began in 2002, the year same-sex civil unions were legalized in Vermont.

Robert-Jay Green, executive director of LGBT research organization Rockway Institute, said the study shows that civil union status itself may help preserve relationships. “There are many ways that a legal couple status may support a relationship – more family understanding, acceptance by friends and coworkers, greater commitment that results from a public declaration, and enhanced legal protections in the form of health care benefits and community property,” Green said in a statement on Tuesday.

About 9% of same-sex couples not in civil unions ended their relationship, while only 3.8% of same-sex couples in a civil union ended their relationships. The study was conducted by Kimberly F. Balsam and Theodore P. Beauchaine of the University of Washington, Esther D. Rothblum of San Diego State University, and Sondra E. Solomon of the University of Vermont.

Thanks to Michael in Norfolk for bringing news of this report to my attention. On his blog, Michael has the following to say about this study and its implications:

One of the smears that the anti-gay Christianists* throw at gays is that gay relationships are unstable and/or that gays are unable/unwilling to be faithfully monogamous. Of course meanwhile, they do everything in their power to undermine gay relationships and make sure they have no recognized legal status. If anything, I believe it’s amazing how many stable, long lasting gay relationships manage to endure given all the negatives that are working against them. . . . Personally, I think the Christianists are afraid that broadly available marriage rights for same-sex couples will demonstrate that gays are as stable in relationships as their heterosexual counterparts. Should this occur, the Christianists lose yet another stone to throw at LGBT citizens.

* Michael distinguishes between Christians and right-wing fundamentalists and extremists who claim to be Christian by ascribing the term “Christianist” to the latter.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Same People
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
Good News from the Golden State
Love is Love
The Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Separate is Not Equal
Mainstream Voice of "Dear Abby" Supports Gay Marriage
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
Just Love
This "Militant Secularist" Wants to Marry a Man
Good News from Minnesota

Road Trip to St. Louis

Part 3: St. Louis

Above: The city of St. Louis as seen from atop the largest of the Cahokia Mounds - Tuesday, August 19, 2008.

Above: The Cahokia Mounds, located just eight miles from downtown St. Louis, in the neighboring state of Illinois, are the remnants of an ancient city that was the largest prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico and a thriving religious, political, economic and cultural center.

Above and below: The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the interior of which contains the largest mosaic collection in the world.

Above: With my friends Susan and Kathleen outside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis - Tuesday, August 19, 2008.

Above and below: A Mississippi River cruise aboard the Tom Sawyer paddle boat - Sunday, August 17, 2008.

Above: Kathleen and Joey abroad the Tom Sawyer with St. Louis’ famed Gateway Arch in the background. More on this unique structure in the next installment.

Above and below: The bridges of St. Louis.

Above: A St. Louis street at sunset. Yes, it’s a quiet city.

Above and below: The St. Louis Zoo, which we visited on Monday, August 18, 2008.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been fascinated by African animals. As a child growing up in Australia my favorite TV show was Kimba the White Lion! So as soon as Kathleen, Joey, and I arrived at the zoo I suggested we head straight to the section that housed the African animals.

The first ones we saw were the giraffes, who share space with a couple of ostriches. And if you look carefully at the photo above you’ll see a kudu in the enclosure next door.

Interestingly, I’ve never been that drawn to the carnivores of Africa (or anywhere else, for that matter.) In fact, I didn’t even bother checking out the lions, leopards, and/or cheetahs at the zoo - though Joey did. No, I’ve always been much more interested in giraffes, zebras, and the numerous species of African antelopes. What’s that say about me, I wonder.

Above: A seemingly legless bongo! Fear not, it was just resting.

The bongo is a rare rainforest antelope from the Congo River basin in central Africa. Exciting as it was to actually see such a beautiful and rare creature, the best was yet to come . . .

Above: Yes, friends, the St. Louis Zoo has an okapi exhibit.

Related to the giraffe but with the look of an antelope and the makings of a zebra, the okapi not only combines elements of my three favorite animals but is, in its own right, a very unique (and rare) creature.

Did you know that the okapi was only discovered by Europeans at the turn of the twentieth century? And that according to legend each okapi decorates itself with its stripped markings? No mean feat for an even-toed ungulate!

Above: Up close and personal with an okapi.

Above: With Joey and the giraffes.

Above: One of the many beautiful sculptures at the St. Louis Zoo.

Above: The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team playing the Pittsburgh Pirates - Tuesday, August 19, 2008. The Pirates won.

NEXT: Part 4: The Arch.

See also the previous Road Trip to St. Louis posts:
Part 1: Following the Mississippi
Part 2: Dubuque

Friday, August 29, 2008

Joan Baez

Friday night being “Music Night” at The Wild Reed, I present Joan Baez’s moving 1988 cover of the Dire Straits song “Brothers In Arms.”

I first became aware of Baez’s rendition of this song when the second verse of it was played during an
interview with her on Democracy Now! in December 2002. I remember it moved me to tears. (It still can!)

Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
My brothers in arms

The video below is followed by excerpts from an insightful article about Baez’s life and career published today in

Joan Baez: “I was right 40 years ago
and I am right now!”

Age has not wearied Joan Baez, the queen of protest,
but it’s calmed her down ... a bit.

By Will Hodgkinson
August 29, 2008

Time has been kind to Joan Baez. Over peppermint tea in the restaurant of a South London hotel, the queen of America’s folk scene in the Sixties appears extremely youthful for someone in the fifth decade of her career. “We’ll sit here until we get thrown out,” she says, firmly but quietly, after the manager protests at our not wanting dinner. She appears the model of calm, unwavering serenity, but something about her unblinking stare - and her swift dismissal of a fussy maitre d’ - suggests that you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her.

Perhaps the company she keeps has maintained her youth. Day After Tomorrow, her new album, is produced by the much younger country singer Steve Earle and it features songs by her favourite songwriters, including the British singer Thea Gilmore, who is half her age.

“Steve’s so like me in a lot of ways,” says Baez, who holds herself in a poised way that has a tinge of therapy about it (she underwent a lot of it in the Eighties) and reveals an awareness of her status as a diva, albeit one that would rather see the poor clothed and fed than swathe herself in diamonds. “We share the same beliefs, although he’s so left of me that I call him Mr Pinko, and there’s something about his gruffness and my voice that gels.”

Baez is a good advertisement for not getting caught up in stardom. Born to a liberal Quaker family in 1941, she’d already lived in France, Italy and Iraq by the time her Mexican father, a physicist who worked for Unesco, and Scottish mother settled down in Boston when she was 17. It was only a year later that she was thrust into fame after a triumphant appearance at the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. Her first album was already out by the time a young, hungry and extremely ambitious Bob Dylan hit Greenwich Village in 1961.

For a brief moment in the early Sixties Dylan and Baez were the king and queen of the folk movement, the perfect couple to lead the young of America towards a new consciousness. But while Baez stuck to cover versions and causes, Dylan took off on a poetic journey all his own, hitching on the coat-tails of Baez’s fame and then leaving her behind to become the foremost songwriter of the 20th century.

“I’ve never really been a songwriter,” Baez says of the path she’s taken. “Steve Earle wrote a song for me called “I Am a Wanderer” that expresses a sentiment I relate to far better than anything I could write.”

These days, the warbling falsetto that Baez brought to “We Shall Overcome” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” in the Sixties has been deepened by age, but she’s still using the songs to get across her core messages of pacifism, social responsibility and, for the first time, party allegiance, saying of her endorsement of Barack Obama: “For years I chose not to engage in party politics. At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do.”

Her strident sincerity is something that doesn’t always sit well with audiences as radical politics fall in and out of fashion. “After 9/11 nobody wanted to hear anything bad about America,” says Baez, growing animated as she enters into political territory. “Nobody loves a war better than the President, and a few years ago it got to the point where if I said anything I truly believed about the Iraq war or global warming during a concert, people would get up and leave. That’s fine with me. Actually, it’s a badge of honour.”

Baez is used to hostility. One senses that she thrives on it. At school in California she upset teachers by refusing to leave class during a bomb drill, reasoning that if the school was to be nuked, running outside would hardly do anyone much good. Later, as a teenage folk singer she would stop singing and glower at anyone who dared to talk during one of her performances. She and her first husband, David Harris, served jail sentences for their resistance to the Vietnam War (he refused the draft; she refused to pay a portion of her taxes to the war effort). It’s no surprise that the rebirth of her career coincided with an increasing dissatisfaction with the Bush presidency and its foreign policy.

“Little by little it became clear that Bush was bizarre - and dangerous,” she says. “I would do concerts where I would see people in the audience sitting with their arms crossed, looking angry as I said: ‘I was right 40 years ago and I am right now!’ and throw my fist in the air. Now they’re listening. Bush’s great trick is to suggest that to go against him is to be unpatriotic. Slowly people realised that.”

Baez acknowledges that, to her generation at least, she eternally represents the Sixties protest movement. “I’m a part of history,” she says with calm resignation. “I represent so much before I’ve even opened my mouth. But I was more active when I was young, and it’s only now that I’m spending time with my family.”

“I don’t regret what I did in the Sixties, but you can’t stay on the biting edge of radicalism all your life. My core beliefs of non-violence haven’t changed, but my lifestyle has.” Baez accepts that the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement gave her a purpose, and that when they came to an end she was left floundering.

“It’s natural,” she says with a shrug. “The Vietnamese developed all sorts of neuroses and phobias after the war ended because they were no longer spending every day in the heightened state that comes with not knowing if you’re going to be killed or not. When the war ended a lot of us lost direction. I certainly did.”

It’s also taken Baez a long time to relax and actually enjoy herself. She was, by her own admission, “far too neurotic” to appreciate early fame, and her image as an overly earnest Virgin Mary figure worked against her as the concerned citizenship of the counterculture gave way to hippy experimentation in the late Sixties.

“I had this great fear of going commercial. As a result of becoming well-known at such a young age I was afraid of the wider world. But I did also have deeply held beliefs that I clung on to tenaciously. The big event was meeting Martin Luther King in 1956 at a Quaker seminar. That pretty much shaped the direction my life took.”

After years of being written off as an unsmiling anachronism, Joan Baez is relevant once more. She thrives on political and economic tension - such as now. “At times of great uncertainty music and politics are fused,” she says. “I would never have sung ‘We Shall Overcome’ to an American audience during the Eighties because it would have been a nostalgia trip. Now it’s appropriate again because it’s relevant. I’m happiest when that happens.”

Will Hodgkinson

NOTE: Joan Baez features in Dave Stewart’s recent song and music video, “An American Prayer.” To hear and view, click here.

For more Friday Night Music at The Wild Reed, visit:
Ma Belle Amie
Time and the River
Darren Hayes
The Wild Ones
Saturday Night
Engelbert Humperdinck: Not That Easy to Forget
Yeah, Baby, Yeah!
Rules and Regulations – Rufus Style
The Man I Love
Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” – My Theme Song for 1987
Crackerjack Man
All at Sea
The Beauty and Wisdom of Rosanne Cash
Actually, I Do Feel Like Dancing
“And A Pitcher to Go”
Classic Dusty
Soul Deep