Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Misplaced Help in Africa

Misplaced Help in the AIDS Fight (

Holly Burkhalter is director of Physicians for Human Rights. She writes:
When it comes to the HIV-AIDS pandemic, generosity isn't enough. Wealthy nations' contributions to fight the disease are unwittingly and unnecessarily exacerbating another crisis in some poor countries: the staggering shortage of health care personnel. African doctors and nurses are leaving public-sector jobs in droves to take more lucrative positions in foreign-funded HIV-AIDS programs. Public hospitals and clinics are being stripped of staffers; rural and slum outposts are being abandoned. The United States, the world's largest donor in the HIV-AIDS crisis, must also take the lead in supporting primary health care infrastructure and nourishing Africa's overwhelmed, underpaid nurses, doctors and other health workers.

Burkhalter's solution is threefold:

  1. Embed AIDS care into primary care

  2. Appropriate more money

  3. Directly fund African health care workers

I don't have a problem with any of those recommendations. They are worthy of implementation. But I have a few more.

  • Develop sustainable potable water supplies in rural areas.

  • Improve health education in primary and secondary schools.

  • Expand adult HIV prevention outreach with emphasis on empowering women.

  • Find a cure for malaria.

  • Improve childhood nutrition.

  • End the war(s) in the Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, . . .

And then there's the problem that hits a little closer to home: the Texas HIV Medication Program will begin the new fiscal year on September 1, 2004, with a $6 million shortfall. On that date, Texas will start implementing "cost containment" measures. That's government-speak for turning people away at the door.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Texas Heroes

In the wake of September 11, there were many discussions around our house about what made a hero. Were you a hero because you lost your life in the line of duty? Were you a hero because you risked your life as part of your job? Were you a hero because you did your job?

We never resolved the issue. That happens around our house sometimes. We disagree but manage to survive the experience. We find that the issue is more complex than we fully understand. We have something else to discuss and don't get around to solving whatever burning issue held our attention for the while of an interesting discussion.

I'm not sure where we left this one, but it's been something that I was thinking about long before that horrible day. I continue to think about it.

I was uncomfortable with the degree of adulation and hero worship directed toward firemen and police at the time of attack on the World Trade Center. It wasn't because I begrudged recognition for any of those who lost their lives or those who continued to work under dangerous conditions in the aftermath of the attack. I have a high respect for the men and women who serve us in our police and fire departments. Some of them are beloved relatives.

My discomfort came because this had, in fact, been a longstanding issue for me, and I couldn't help but think that there are many among us who are heroes, who serve us, who save us, who do wonderful things--all without recognition by the community. I think doctors and nurses are heroes. I think teachers are heroes. I think (some) lawyers are heroes. And the list could go on.

Let me put this in some personal perspective. My father was a hero by anyone's definition. He served in the Army in World War II. When MacArthur said, "I shall return," Daddy was part of the return to the Phillipines. He won a Bronze Star for his heroism. He turned down two Purple Hearts. Daddy came back from the war, suffering from malaria, severely malnourished. That meant that he was really serious when he said, "If I ever get out of this foxhole alive, I'm going to eat steak every day for the rest of my life." It also meant that for many years, the one thing you did not want to do was try to sneak into a room where Daddy was sleeping to try to get the book you left behind. Until he became too hard of hearing to know that you were there, those combat reflexes stayed sharp. (Those reflexes came in handy when the next door neighbor's daughter needed rescuing from the stalking ex-husband.) And, yet, I think of my father's heroism in other terms. He was generous to a fault. I don't know that he ever gave anyone the shirt off his back, but I do know that he gave money and time and assistance wherever it was needed. He took care of family, friends, and total strangers. He had only one child, but he was a father-figure for many. He was honest and fair. He lived a life of goodness, centered on the needs of others. And he had a wicked sense of humor. Many things made Daddy pretty special in one way or another, but I think his real heroism came because he married Mama.

So now you need to know why I think Mama is a hero (setting aside the fact that she is my mother and does drive me crazy now and then). Mama was the victim of either (a) medical malpractice or (b) the crappy medical standards of the Depression. The end result left her handicapped. It wasn't just a snap of the fingers situation, where one day she's riding horses and the next day her body is twisted so that she walks with a serious limp. There were surgeries. Almost all of them happened during World War II when things like anesthetic were in short supply. There were crutches and wheel chairs and, for a while, that horrible "built-up shoe" that was supposed to help her walk normally but didn't. Later on, there were more surgeries, happily with ample supplies of anesthetics and antibiotics. These surgeries had nothing to do with her handicap directly but were the "collateral damage" of what she had gone through. Years of pain. Years of sickness. And all the while, even during World War II, she was teaching school. She taught for 30 years. She was a Master Teacher. She was responsible for some rather fine education for more than 1000 elementary students in this state. And she did it long before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. That meant that, if she dared to ask for any accommodation--like a classroom on the first floor rather than the second because it freakin' hurt to climb stairs--there was always some busybody around to ask why she got special treatment. Mama did whatever she could never to ask for accommodation of any sort unless she just had to, and she hid her deep insecurities about how twisted her body was--and her fear of rejection and hurt--by dressing better and acting happier than anyone around her. If she hadn't been handicapped and just did her job as well as she did do, I'd still have to think of her as a hero. She genuinely loved her students. They all thought she was tough, but they loved her back. (One of her best friends these days is a student from that first class of fifth graders that she taught during the war.) More than once, there was a trip to the shoe store to help out one student or another. She spent hours preparing extra learning tools for her classes, recording tapes to help slow readers follow along with the text, finding books and games that would make classes interesting and valuable to her students. All at a teacher's pay. In pain. Dragging half her body along the way. With laughter.

What it took for Daddy to help her do this even I did not know until he passed away. I know that she is frailer these days and needs more assistance for everything, but he was literally her other leg for the 52 years they had together. And he was just as involved in helping her make her classroom work for her handicap as the ADA might have been at a later time. I think his heroism has to include the foreknowledge that he was going to give a great deal of his life to making her life better.

Well, I do run on, and that's only two heroes. I have a longer list. These two are my favorites, I guess. (Must be that liberal bias showing, or something.) ;) But I think there are heroes among us who never make it to the nightly TV news. I think there are heroes whose deeds affect just a few people, whose sacrifices and services may seem small at first glance, but who make the world--or at least part of it--a better place. Everyday heroes. Unsung heroes. Folks we miss because we think that heroism has to involve pyrotechnics or a ball of some kind.

I suspect I'll have more to say about this later, but I have to go pack the car to go see one of my heroes and put a flag on the grave of another. Memorial Day is coming.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Kerry's English

Kerryism of the Day - The senator's caveats and curlicues. By William�Saletan

In an effort to be fair and balanced, Slate has taken to citing "Kerryisms," doing so after several years of noting "Bushisms." Any attempt to be fair and balanced in the U.S. today is laudable, especially if it happens to be genuine, although the whole concept of "fair and balanced" has become more of a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" excuse to hare off onto some pretty unfair and unbalanced activities on both ends of the political spectrum these days.

Neither the fairness nor the balance is my concern here. What bugs me is the oversimplification of issues.

Kerry was asked a question:
Question: What is your position on Bush's fight to ban gay marriages?
This was his response:
Kerry: I believe that the president of the United States should not use the Constitution of the United States for election purposes during an election year. It's a document that we haven't touched, certainly with respect to the Bill of Rights, in years, and I don't think it should be used for the purpose of driving a political wedge through America. I think it's wrong. Now, that said, I personally have taken the position I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my position, and I think that's the way you respect both traditional values. But you can allow civil unions, which protects the rights of people in America not to be discriminated against. And I think you can balance that, and I think it's appropriate to. But I do think that it ought to be left to the states.
This is how Saletan thinks he should have answered the question.
Kerry: I believe that the president should not use the Constitution for election purposes. It's a document that we haven't touched in years, and I don't think it should be used for the purpose of driving a political wedge through America. I think it's wrong. (footnote numbers deleted)
The criticism of Kerry's statement is based on the notion that it is not in "plain English." It is, Saletan says "full of caveats and pointless embellishments."

Let's start at the top. There are no words in Kerry's statement that an eighth grader couldn't understand. Eighth grade reading level is the recommended level for most writing for the general public these days, and Kerry pretty much hit that. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what he's saying.

There are no words in Kerry's statement that have been garbled or misused. He didn't toss out any malapropisms; he didn't create any neologisms. These are pretty much well-used words you could find in any dictionary.

So what's the deal with plain English? Could it be that Kerry didn't give a good sound bite? Could it be that Kerry actually answered the question in two parts: (1) this is what I think about the proposed strategy for dealing with the issue and (2) this is how I think the issue should be handled? They don't teach complex sentences in J-School these days? Well, not to worry. Kerry used plenty of simple sentences in his statement. He just wanted to get across a complex answer to a complex problem.

The thing about political speech--or most any other speech--is that we often rely on fixed phrases and formulas to enhance what we are saying. Sometimes those formulas come out as cliches. Sometimes they become bridges to help us move from one element of thought to another--and we are so used to them that we don't even notice that they are there. Nonetheless, they do pad our sentences a bit.

Political speech--and much other speech--also relies on assorted rhetorical flourishes to make it striking and memorable. Kerry made fair use of repetition, not only in repeating phrases but also in repeating the idea in other words. (Good teachers do that, too.) He contrasted complex sentences with simple declarative sentences for emphasis.

I'll grant that this response is not the Gettysburg Address. It was apparently an unscripted response to a question. Give Kerry another plus mark for lack of sentence fragments. (Listen to yourself on a tape someday and count how many times you forget to speak in complete sentences.)

My point here is not to contrast Kerry's patterns of speech to Bush's patterns of speech, although that might be fun--or even like shooting fish in a barrel. It's rather that Saletan and, by extension, journalists as a whole-bleeping-lot (admitting sweeping generalization) seem to want the simplest black-and-white statement in response to the most complex of questions. When they can't get it, they look for the simplest, most black-and-white part of a statement to stand for the whole.

In truth, Saletan's version of Kerry's statement reads well. It just doesn't give the whole response, and that unfairly shortchanges Kerry's ability to communicate his full position on the issue. Whether you agree with Kerry's position or not, you are entitled to know what it is. And yes, while you do have to have something more than the attention span of a gnat to hear it, this ain't football folks. It's an election.

[Edited to correct mortifying spelling error--cp]

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Takin' on the Hammer

The down and dirty politics of redistricting got a bit dirtier in Texas last year. While the rest of the country made jokes about it, many of us were quite proud of the Texas House Democrats who shut down the Legislature by de-camping for Ardmore, OK. We were just as proud when the Texas Senate Democrats headed for Albuquerque, NM, and shut down a special called session. In the end, we still wound up with some seriously gerrymandered districts and the potential loss of some fine members of Congress, thanks in very large part to the heavy interference of Congressman Tom Delay, the U. S. House Majority Whip.

For all the silly arguments that Mr. Delay made regarding the need to redistrict, the whole exercise was just another grab at more power. Texas had already been redistricted, as is required after the national census. After 30 years of living in Travis County and being represented by a Democratic state senator, I was shifted to a new state senate district and had to be represented by a Republican. I did not like this. I was already used to the back and forth on my state house district, since we live in a precinct that regularly gets shifted during redistricting. It was nice to have a Democratic voice speaking for me in the Texas House for the ten years between censuses, but I've had to cope with a Republican Representive before, so it wasn't that much of a shock. I was, however, really unhappy to realize that our precinct had been shifted over to a Republican district for the congressional seat. Lloyd Doggett has been my Congressman for several years. I was comfortable with him. No, really damned proud of him. So I was not pleased to be shifted over to a district represented by a conservative Republican.

Still, I accepted those changes as being part of the sausage-making that goes on with redistricting and comforted myself that, at least, Congressman Doggett would still be fighting the good fight for Texans, that my values would still be represented in Congress.

Then along comes the Hammer to try to silence that voice. Nothing would stop him it seemed. And there were, of course, many Republicans in and around state government who went out of their way to help him do it.

Happily, we still have a man of courage in our local district attorney, Ronnie Earle. He has decided to follow the money, and there was a lot of it. As he begins to make the case that corporate funds were illegally used to influence Texas' general election, there is some possibility that even Mr. Delay may face some legal battles in the coming months.

Here are a couple of recent stories:

Citizens group wants outsider to referee election dispute

GOP lobbyist led 2002 election ad campaign

In more good news, it appears that Mr. Delay may, in fact be vulnerable in the next election. Richard Morrison, a SugarLand attorney, is running a strong campaign to unseat the increasingly unpopular incumbent. You can check out his campaign web site at

There's also a new weblog (that may be related to Morrison's campaign) called
Taking on Tom Delay.

Finally, The Free State Standard has expanded its focus from just one Texas county to cover all 254! Vince Liebowitz seems also to be tracking some the stories on the redistricting and campaign finance issues as they play out in the courts.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Register American voters abroad

AP Wire | 05/17/2004 | Dems, GOP target American voters abroad

Also in the Kansas City Star

With an estimated 3 million voting age expatriate Americans up for grabs, AP writer William J. Kole says:
Mindful of the recount fiasco that put Bush in the White House four years ago, Democrats and Republicans everywhere from Hong Kong to Hungary are aggressively targeting American expatriates, whose absentee ballots could prove decisive in a tight race.

MSNBC carried a story, dated May 12, about Brett Rierson, an American living in Hong Kong, who started his own "grassroots" effort to get American expatriates registered to vote in the presidential election. The impetus came not only from his own dissatisfaction with President Bush's actions and policies, but also from similar dissatisfaction expressed by non-Americans, who cannot vote in this election but who can speak indirectly when they encourage the Americans that are living in their country to register and vote. Rierson and two colleagues set up a website ( to do just that. Visitors to the site can follow the links to find out how to register to vote, if they are U.S. citizens. If they are not, they can find a prepared message to send to their American acquaintances to encourage them to vote.

U.S. residents can use the site to encourage friends and family who are living overseas to register and vote. They can also do as I have done and let overseas friends know about the site so that they can tell the Americans that they know about it.

Other useful sites include: Democrats Abroad.

Registration forms are downloadable at the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Colin Powell as Uncle Tom

That's the phrase being used on another blog today. I'm sure it's not the first time that the label has been applied to the Secretary of State. I'm taking the issue out of context, I know, and I should probably be responding more directly on that blog. But, given some of the posting restrictions on that site which limit my ability to . . . uh . . . explore the issue, I'll just take it up here and then tell 'em about it later.

And the issue is that "Uncle Tom" is a racial epithet. If you follow the thread a bit, there was some gentle admonition to drop the term, and the response came back that Uncle Tom was, in fact, merely a polite substitution for something more incendiary. And a lively discussion ensued.

What bothered me was the fact that I knew instantly what term was being referred to.

I don't listen to the radio very much, but have, happily and finally, figured out how to program the buttons on the car radio. If I remember to turn the darned thing on, I can just press a button and get the local NPR affiliate. On a short errand this morning, I got to hear a brief bit of a program on the life of the late Thurgood Marshall. The program included a clip of Marshall talking about his father and how he had tried to instill racial pride in his son. He would, it appears, often compliment his son by saying, "That was very black of you." Marshall made the point clear that his father was speaking to be in direct contrast to the complimentary phrase then in current use, "That's very white of you."

I didn't hear the end of the program, but what I heard made me think about those phrases and the fact that I was quite familiar with the latter as well as many others. It was, for example, quite the thing some years ago to point out that one was able to do something, preferably outrageous, because "I'm free, white, and 21." It didn't take many more brain synapses to remember a few other race-related phrases held over from that time, locked, unfortunately in my brain. It made me wonder if there would ever come a time when these phrases were lost to common knowledge, when black and white Americans might ever meet socially, whether in harmony or in conflict, and have none of these phrase pop into mind and then be quickly censored.

Self-censorship or self-correction--either way--when will we come to a time when we simply don't think in those terms and have to correct ourselves?

I have seen the changes in my lifetime. My grandparents were fine people. But I remember my grandfather's disgust when I, Spy, one of my favorite programs, came on the TV one night. He was truly outraged that Bill Cosby would be given such a prominent and positive role on his TV set. Or my grandmother, speaking in complimentary terms, that a black man, who had come to her door in rural Louisiana, still "knew his place," and remained standing on the front step while waiting for her to get whatever he had come for.

My parents were fine people. My late father in particular spent a lot of time, when I was young, pointing out that, "There is some good in everybody." But Daddy, as fine a man as he was, was still a product of his culture and the times he lived in. Even though he probably censored himself more as time went on, the occasional phrase would still pop out. Rather late in his life he did something extraordinarily well. It might have been a difficult repair (he was quite handy) or maybe creating something new out of spare parts (he was quite handy). Whatever it was, he was proud of the accomplishment. He looked at me with a grin on his face and said, "Ain't many white people and no ------- at all can do that!" It was a novel phrase to me, and I thought that he was quite clever in saying it.

And now I can't get the phrase out of my mind. Racial epithets generally don't pop into my mind. Generally, I think, that is because race doesn't matter to me. I forget about it most of the time in my dealings with people. But when I have done something extraordinarily clever, I don't think, like Little Jack Horner, "What a good boy am I!" I'm not a boy. But I am white, and Daddy's clever saying will pop into my mind. And every time it does, I am conflicted, because I just did something damned fine, but that is just such a tacky way to pat myself on the back--even mentally.

My grandson does better, I think. We had to have a long discussion a few months back while he was studying for a history test about whether racism even still existed in America. He spent much of his young life living in the Northwest and wasn't exposed to either the language or, to a large extent, the thinking that still crops up in the South. (Don't think that I'm letting the Northwest off so easily as to suggest that there isn't yet a lot of work that needs to be done there. Racism is just less overt there.) The discussion was interesting because my grandson thought of racism in terms of issues that had been been targeted by legislation (integration, job discrimination, hate crimes), but he hadn't yet realized that racism comes in much subtler forms these days.

I suppose, based on my little "survey sample," that there has been a great deal of progress made over time. In fact, I know that's so very true. But racism continues in our society. Perhaps my grandson's grandchildren will neither know the words nor think the thoughts nor see the effects of racism, and we will have a society that looks at people without letting the amount of melanin in the skin affect our thoughts or deeds. I hope it won't take that long, but I sometimes think it will take longer.

That day is not hastened by calling Colin Powell "Uncle Tom." The term refers to him not only as a black man but also as a slave. It is not in any way benign, no matter whether the person using the term is white or black. Neither Colin Powell, no matter what his actions as Secretary of State may be, nor any other person of color deserves such a label. When such a label is used, it reflects the racism of the speaker, however benignly intended. When it is tolerated, it reflects the racism of the listener, however benignly inclined.

Whatever Colin Powell is doing--good, bad, or indifferent--his race is not the measure of how he does it.

This is not political correctness. If I were being politically correct, I would be implying that I make these statements because they are socially appropriate, but that I don't really believe them. Believe me: I believe this.

The Main Election Issue

Yahoo! News - Newsview: Iraq May Be Main Election Issue

Tom Raum writes provides a neat little synopsis of the horse race issues that surround the current presidential contest. His central thesis appears to be that "The turmoil in Iraq is changing the political equation for President Bush and Democratic rival John Kerry." To which one can only say: Y'think?

What concerns me are some of the little nuggets scattered further down:
Some analysts now are suggesting the race could broaden into a national referendum on Bush's Iraq policy. . . .
Also, the Massachusetts senator has had to walk a cautious line as he decides how hard to go after Bush as commander in chief without risking a backlash. . . .
Kerry already has drawn criticism from Republicans who accuse him of politicizing the prisoner-abuse issue. . . .
Bush and Kerry spent last week stressing domestic issues. Bush campaigned on education, Kerry on health care.
It was hard for their message to get out when local and regional news increasingly is influenced by pictures and stories from Iraq.

Iraq simply is the number one news story. As interested as I am in seeing Kerry get his message out on education, for example, when I ran across a news story on the topic last week, my reaction was, "Yeah, right, I'll get to that later." And I will. But what I and I can only assume a large number of Americans are concerned about right now are what is going on in Abu Ghraib? where are we supposed to get $25 extra billion to pay for unspecified expenses in Iraq? as the international anger being directed toward this country spreads, sometimes violently, what can we do to turn this trainwreck around?

This puts Kerry in a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situation. If he goes about the normal business of a presidential campaign at this stage of the race, he'll have a hard time getting his message across. If he responds to the issues that seem most to absorb the public at the moment, he has to balance the strength of his response against the fact that he is dealing directly with national security. He can neither give false impressions to allies or foes about what this nation will do or not do in the next 6 months, nor can he appear to exploit issues simply to be scoring political hits on the President and his administration (regardless of the spin that the Bush campaign wants to put on whether Kerry just blew his nose for some political purpose).

Yet Kerry cannot simply ignore what is so obviously creating havoc both domestically and internationally.

Kerry is doing the things that he should be doing for his campaign. He's raising money. He's criss-crossing the country to make campaign speeches that lay out his position on domestic issues. He's actively interviewing candidates for vice-president. The Democratic Convention is still some weeks away, so, if this were a "normal" election year, he'd not only be right on target, but well ahead of what needed to be done.

The problem is that this year is anything but normal. Kerry has to speak out, partly because he has to give voice to the frustrations and concerns that all decent Americans feel about the events in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. He also has to speak out to make it clear that, while domestic issues matter a great deal in the upcoming election, our foreign relations and how we conduct them have to be scrutinized, evaluated, and (yea, verily) changed to a new and vastly improved model.

What a nuisance!

The zeal for blogging comes smack up against the techie details of how to get the damned thing running. I suppose I shall figure it out. The annoying thing is having to figure out all sorts of niggling little details while the grand vision just flitters away.

Let's just post this and see how it goes.