Friday, December 31, 2004

We Painted the Sky

Bloggers have an interesting tradition: Friday is ‘cat day’. Thousands of sites worldwide contain stories, pictures, poetry, rants, essays about cats.

We have a black cat in our household. But I’m not going to join this tradition.

Instead, I will continue a habit I started in November, the first month of my entry into Blogger Nation: I will publish a poem on the last day of the month. I write most of my poetry for Pam, my wife, love, and friend. This is one I wrote for her two years ago, during our 25th year together.

We Painted the Sky

You picked bright blues,
twirled with wispy whites.
Just hanging in a porous canopy,
letting rays skip sprightly
and dancing to the hill’s gleaming fall breeze.

I brushed a pale pastel sky,
merging to the sun’s white glare at the horizon.
Purple clouds climb over the dark mountain
fringed in pink
which rolled with the wind.

We painted the sky
with the same palette we use on our lives –
ever smiling, ever dark,
always moving west to east,
smiling as it comes, waning as we leave
over a horizon we cannot know.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

We bring a bucket to the conflaguration

The neighbor’s house burns down.

Do you wait three days before wandering over to check on the family? See how they are doing? Offer any help? Call friends and community organizations to organize assistance?

Of course not. And the President of the United States shouldn’t wait that long either.

We just witnessed the greatest natural disaster of this generation. Uncounted thousands killed. Unfathomable physical damage. Whole islands devastated. Populations totally uprooted. Massive disruption of social and civil institutions. Broken health and safety structures.

And the leader of the strongest, richest country in the world speaks publicly 72 hours after the disaster. And promises something more than the paltry $35 million we have pledged so far. As Senator Pat Leahy noted, we spend more than that in Iraq before breakfast. The European Union has collected more than that from street collections….

As a society, we must rise above such meager leadership. We are better than this.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Gift for Christmas

A friend sent me a gift this morning: an excerpt from the book Jacob the Baker by Noah BenShea. I had not heard of this book, nor of its author; the above title links to his web page.

The story, "In the Ashes", concerns Jacob and his friend Mr. Gold, who is dying. They discuss their views on life and its value; at one point Mr. Gold exclaims "Our days amount to nothing!" But Jacob differs, and he responds as one 'with the attitude of a man not filled with knowing but caring':

"Mr. Gold, all passes, nothing stops. Our days do amount to nothing, but that is because we are not a collection. We are a process.

"The truth about the seasons is that the seasons change. While everything appears to live and die, it is only the appearance of things which lives and dies. The dead are buried. Their memory is not."

"...Life is often heavy only because we attempt to carry it," said Jacob. "But, I do find strength in the ashes."

"In the ashes?" asked Mr. Gold.

"Yes," said Jacob, with a confirmation that seemed to have traveled a great distance.

"You see, Mr. Gold, each of us is alone. Each of us is in the great darkness of our ignorance. And, each of us is on a journey. In the process of our journey, we must bend to build a fire for light, and warmth and food.

"But when our fingers tear at the ground, hoping to find the coals of another's fire, what we often find are the ashes. And, in these ashes, which will not give us light or warmth, there may be sadness, but there is also testimony.

"Because these ashes tell us that somebody else has been in the night, somebody else has bent to build a fire, and somebody else carried on.

"And that can be enough, sometimes."

Human life is the show that never ends. We are the product of our past, our heritage; the ashes provide a foundation for the present, whether we are aware of it or not. Those ashes can represent our greatest hopes.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birth of one who brings meaning to our lives. Tonight, my wife and I will visit a couple who face incredible physical barriers. The woman suffers from a sickness that requires dialysis twice a week; her husband, who has been caring for her for years, is now going blind. Yet, they are the most optimistic and hopeful people we know. They do not dwell on their own problems, but are much more interested in caring for others -- and are thankful for every blessing that comes their way.

The light from this couple shines from a deep foundation of ashes. It represents the strongest hope for all of us.

Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Framing the Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The sky turns steel grey. The river runs from black to corrugated white as the ice forms, creating small windows of rippled flowing water. The roads are white from that first layer of salt, laid down by midnight trucks that rumbled ahead of scattered snowflakes. Brown fields are scattered with white wisps of snow, rustling across dry harsh leaves. The sun visits for a few hours, then hides away to satisfy those that have gone south.

This can be a harsh tableau. But it carries its own beauty, sharp and clear at every angle. The air is not distorted by heat, or thunder, or slashing rain. Just a shiny collection of cold edges, reflecting an angled sun, trying to catch whatever warmth can be shared.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Where does reason stop?

Another 50 people are killed in a series of car bombings in Najaf, Iraq. Just another blip in a video full of violent acts on our television, all coming from the other side of the world. Does the distance inure us to the violence of these acts? The 8-11PM block on the same TV screen contains a sterile fictional view of violence. Does that carry over to our internal digestion of the news from a real warfront?

Killing, under any guise or in front of any camera, is an irrational act brought on when the rational mind turns actions over to anger, evil, power, or just total blankness. Darkness personified.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

From Ideology to dogma

From an essay on Jimmy Carter, written by one of his speechwriters, Hendrik Hertzberg:

“A political ideology is a very handy thing to have. It’s a real time-saver, because it tells you what you think about things you know nothing about. Reagan never had to agonize over the merits of this tax versus that tax—if it was a tax, he was against it. He never lost sleep over the proper design of some environmental regulation—if it was an environmental regulation, he was against it. He never worried about whether to build up the Navy at the expense of the Army, or the Army at the expense of the Navy. His view was, if it was military, build it all—and damn the expense.
Another way to put this same point is that Ronald Reagan did all of his thinking and made most of his decisions long before he became President. He had a complete ideological framework that answered virtually every policy question in advance. So, as President, he was able to devote all his time and energy to selling and implementing the ideas he had adopted during his years as spokesman of the conservative wing of his party.
This observation applies as much to ideologues of the left as to ideologues of the right….A fully developed, fully worked out political ideology provides a model of how the whole organism works. It may not provide you with the details, but it does provide you with a clear general direction.”

This is what we have in our executive branch today. George Bush has an ideological compass that he lives by, and it provides a foundation for all his decision-making. Iraq is a good example. Iraq and Saddam were part of an evil axis, a threat to peaceful stability in the Middle East, an extension of the terrorist protectorate. The lack of WMD need not stand in the way. When that fact becomes irrelevant, substitute another high moral purpose: Saddam is evil, must be eliminated; liberty is on the march; or we will make Iraq a beacon of democracy and stability in Middle East.

These are basic foreign policy tenets from the middle of the last century. Might makes right. We can spread our model of liberty, democracy, and capitalism, because we have demonstrated the rightness of our cause by our own freedom and economic growth.

I respect someone with a strong center. Successful people have a belief set that gives them both a foundation for action, and the self-confidence to carry it out. The danger is when such a foundation is so unassailable that it becomes dogma, and no other point of view is accepted. Then the ideological core becomes dangerous fundamentalism.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Barry's turn on the stand

So the other shoe drops, just as the San Francisco Chronicle planned. Makes one wonder: the grand jury testimony was in December 2003. The Chronicle publishes the material one year later -- after the baseball season is over, after all the 2004 baseball awards are announced. San Francisco is high-octane Giants territory; did the Chronicle protect the team, the season, and Barry's season, by orchestrating the release of this story?

I do not support Barry here. He is probably lying, just as Giambi has been lying. I am a Giants fan (yup, even here in upstate New York, we still prowl the National League West), and I am saddened by all this. Barry's friends, particularly Victor Conte in his interview tonight, come across as self-righteous and arrogant.

Every party, even the Chronicle, has been scripting this story to their advantage. Such actions taint everyone; the song remains the same, a noisy dance macabre.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Integrity takes a fall

Jason Giambi, a nine-year major league baseball player and one time Most Valuable Player, admits to a grand jury that he used steroids in order to enhance his athletic performance. He also states that he injected human growth hormone (HGH) into his body for a period of time. Giambi has publicly denied this for the past four years.

Add a few other facts. First, steroids and HGH are not illegal. The distribution and use of steroids or HGH without a prescription is illegal. Second, baseball’s steroid policy does not include HGH. Third, major league baseball’s anti-steroid and testing policy only went into effect in 2003 – after the time period that Giambi admits using the drugs.

Those are the facts of the case. The more interesting part is the attitudes of the various partners in this dance. The music is macabre.

The players view steroids as an insignificant issue. Many athletes have developed a lifestyle and training regime that involves diet supplements, creams, pain modifiers, mental enhancers – anything that pushes the edges of their abilities. The ball goes another 10 feet further, the time from home to first is 2 one-hundredths of a second faster. The difference between winning and losing, the difference between higher personal stats or sitting on the bench, might be that new diet, the weight-lifting regimen, or one pill. Even if that is not true, the athlete may perceive it to be true.

The fans have not rebelled with their feet or their wallets. Baseball attendance has been up over the last decade as the offensive numbers – hits, home runs, and runs – have increased. A stronger, faster athlete in smaller ballparks means more exciting offensive games.

The owners see the ticket receipts. They see no reason to tamper with success.

The people who dispense the performance-enhancing drugs get to be part of the athletic circle, even if it isn't realizing their dreams of being on the field themselves. They get sucked into the bright lights of the entertainment industry.

Someone is even leaking sealed grand jury records to the San Francisco newspapers, obviously hearing the same song as everyone else.

Everybody wins, and there’s plenty of money to go around.

Integrity takes a fall. No, not the integrity of the sport -- that's a faulty, misguided premise. This song is about personal integrity and honesty. A man lied. Many others, standing behind him, are all part of the same lie.