Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Vacant Month, and Celebrating a Life

A friend sent me a note asking, “What, no thoughts in December?” She had checked my blog sight, which has no entries for this month. Not for a dearth of thoughts. Our world – both my immediate environment and the one brought through the windows of newspapers and television – are reeling with activity. All of it cries out for comment, analysis, action. I have failed to conjure up the emotional energy to pursue. Focus.

Pam and I did attend a life celebration today. A friend's wife passed away on Christmas Day after a long tussle with Alzheimer's. The family and a large community of friends gathered in First Church Albany for a memorial service this morning. Very moving, very uplifting, full of song, story, verse and life. So I will end the year with my last-day-of-the-month poem about today. In memory and celebration of Janice Luben.

So We Sing

We sang to celebrate a life today,
the voices of family and friends raising
praise for a girl, a woman, a wife, a person, a soul
whose footprints will travel in our own shadow
while we walk our own journey,
striving for faith and grace.

She was among us in the simplest of form:
a plain jar sitting in a small woven basket,
blanketed and nestled with pine boughs;
earthly things we can touch,
carrying the message that,
while the beauties of life are absorbed in our own senses,
the height of grace is brought by faith outside our flesh.

So we sing,
voices, trumpets, piano, organ,
in verse, story, prayer, poem, toccata --
And the music reached the rafters.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

That Last-Day Poem Habit....

Abandoned Wardrobe

Half a generation ago, in another household,
I wore hand-me-ups from my youngest brother,
taller with much more stature than I.
Today our son is living the first year of college
the entire length of a highway
and two hours away.
And now I wear the clothes he left behind
in his closet, unwanted,
another set of hand-me-ups.

No wonder I get their names mixed up,
and slip into calling my son,
my brother.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Pat Robertson Spans the Generations

An earthquake shook the Boston area 250 years ago. Many preachers of the time claimed that this was God’s wrath because so many New Englanders had erected lightning rods on their homes and barns – to stave off the previous way that God shook his fist. Benjamin Franklin, who had made his name and reputation with those lightening rods, scoffed at the idea. Why was it acceptable to build a roof to keep out the rain but blasphemy to place a rod upon the roof to keep out the lightning?

Preachers of the time probably took some delight in the fact that the earthquake knocked over a distaller’s cistern and destroyed the building in which it was housed.

Last week, Pat Robertson smote the residents of Dover, Pennsylvania for voting out the school board members who supported intelligent design. He suggested that they next time they needed help after a disaster, God might not be there because they voted him out of town.

Amazing that such ignorance can still be preached 250 years later, in the same country.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Thread of Events

An excerpt from "Jabberwocky", an essay in Barbara Kinsolver's book, High Tide in Tucson:

…We seem to be living in the age of anesthesia, and it’s no wonder. Confronted with knowledge of dozens of apparently random disasters each day, what can a human heart do but slam its doors? No mortal can grieve that much. We didn’t evolve to cope with tragedy on a global scale. Our defense is to pretend there’s no thread of event that connects us, and that those lives are somehow not precious and real like our own. It’s a practical strategy, to some ends, but the loss of empathy is also the loss of humanity, and that’s no small tradeoff.

Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another.

Place this in context. The enormity of the World Trade Center crime is mind-numbing. Over 2000 people died. We all watched on television. But unless we find that ‘thread of event’, can we truly have empathy? I know someone who died in one of those buildings that day. She had been a friend for only about a year, but had an affect on me in that short time. So the sense of loss is heightened by the connection.

This year has witnessed a number of earthly disasters. A tsunami cut a swath across the Indian Ocean shorelines, killing thousands. Two hurricanes smash into the American side of the Gulf of Mexico, destroying entire cities and displacing a couple million people. And a major earthquake slices Pakistan; the death toll is now set at over 86,000.

The scope of these events is unfathomable. Each day’s news was more frightening than the day before: more pictures of devastation, higher numbers of dead, injured, orphaned, and the ever-shifting mass of refugees.

We can only relate by identifying with one loss, one death, one lost soul. We grieve for the gap that such a loss leaves in someone’s life, and act in some way to fill that gap. Only then can we understand that, multiplied by millions, our entire human family has suffered.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Two Seats, Four Announcements

President Bush has made four attempts at filling two Supreme Court vacancies. He nominated John Roberts twice, the second time as Chief Justice. He tried to put his personal lawyer in the O’Conner seat. Today he nominated New Jersey Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. after the Miers nomination fizzled.

He has this thing about making 8AM speeches; three of his judicial introductions were held at that hour. Maybe he thinks reporters will be more lethargic at that hour. The speeches begin to sound alike: lots of references to character, experience, distinction, respect, accomplishment. Some more than others, of course; Bush was attacked for the Miers selection because she has no judicial experience. He viewed that as an attribute with her; in distinct contrast, he highlighted Alito’s long judicial experience.

We have also witnessed Bush’s strange speaking style in the past few days. On Friday, we had the spectacle of an American president extolling the virtues of someone named Scooter – who either picked up that moniker as a boy, or, more likely, earned it while carrying wood and water as a political lackey. Bush insisted on using that nickname while talking about Libby; he could have accorded the man more dignity by simply referring to him as Mr. Libby. It didn’t help that most pictures that day were of Libby on crutches, trying to scoot away from reporters.

Today Bush decided to mention a similarity between himself and Judge Alito. While introducing Judge Alito this morning, Bush quipped, “Sam and I both know you can't go wrong marrying a librarian.” Nationwide, librarians shuddered, wondering how they had become so lucky, as they burn their copy of the Patriot Act.

Sacandaga Road on a Fall Night

Telephone poles lean universally
in one direction at night,
slightly askew but in a perfect line,
showing my way down the street.
The lights from an oncoming car
reflect off the wires hung in fours,
a musical line without meter or key,
shining in the dark cold rain,
just waiting for the blowing leaves
to attach themselves as notes, humming
a song in green, red and yellow.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Storm priorities

Florida is hit with another hurricane, cutting a swath across the peninsula. Power is off in millions of homes. The power companies determine that power will be restored in two primary locations: grocery stores and gas stations. Food and cars. The same two elements that predominate in television ads

Monday, October 24, 2005

October baseball

I am a baseball bigot. Other sports barely exist.

The irony is that I rarely watch a whole game on television. It can drag. Too much time between pitches. Too many commercials. I lose focus.

But the playoffs and World Series are different. Every event is magnified. Pitchers are stellar, and the one-one-one confrontation between a great pitcher and a power hitter can be dramatic.

So I have watched much more baseball in the past two weeks. We have witnessed classic sequences: Roger Clemens as the last pitcher off the Houston bench, sentenced to the mound for interminable extra innings against the Braves, and he wins; Albert Pujols carrying his bat like a thin tree limb, slowly walking to first base as his laser beam of a home run bangs off the back wall in Houston to win Game 4; and the last three innings of last night's World Series Game 2, with each team fighting back to tie or go ahead against the other's best late-inning reliever.

I am not rooting for one team in this series. I root for seven games -- even though one team will be disappointed.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

NPR, liberal arts, and baby boomers

A recent article on Bob Edwards describes National Public Radio as a listening post for boomer liberal arts majors.

I didn't realize we were such an identifiable category. Do boomer liberal arts majors have certain personal attributes? Do we have distinct character traits? Do we carry similar values or ethics? Have a clear voting pattern?

How many of my 300 classmates in the Lycoming College Class of 1976 -- each of whom graduated with a B.A. or B.S. in a particular liberal arts subject -- listen regularly to an NPR station? How about Colgate University Class of '68? Lafayette Class of '79?

Feels like an empty generalization, with rather negative overtones about liberal arts. Or a slam at boomers.

I suppose it's an analogy: NPR is to media, as liberal arts is to education.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Women in Leadership

This week’s Newsweek has a cover article on “How Women Lead.” According to their numbers, 23 percent of all state legislatures are women; 15 percent of Congress are women. Women currently comprise 46 percent of the US labor force, but only 14 percent of all boards in Fortune 500 companies. In contrast to these low numbers, women made up 50 percent of the entering class in law and med schools in 2004.

Women have had the vote for less than a century in this country. Europe was not significantly ahead in granting the vote to women, but many European countries have a much larger proportion of women serving in government.

The Center for Women in Government & Civil Society published a report on women and leadership positions in December 2004. Some of their data, women as a percentage of:

*Statewide elected officials: 25.2
*State legislators: 22.5
*Highest court justices: 28.8
*Department heads: 29.7

Clearly, gender should not be the sole reason for selecting a person in a leadership position. But the imbalance in America is striking, particularly for a society that considers itself egalitarian.

Harriet Miers doesn’t really help that balance.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Poetry's smoldering source

From a poem by Kate Barnes, “To a Skylark”:

needing someone on hand to defend them
from the words they mutter when they have no idea
what they're saying, when they're overcome
by the fumes that rise from the smoldering tinder
of their anxious natures.

A good explanation of what happens when writing a poem. I never know how it will turn out as I write it. I try to retain the point or theme, but sometimes the phrases take a turn and a different story is told, a different point made. They are almost always personal, and others who read them may not understand them – because they are ‘fumes that rise from the smoldering tinder’, and no one knows where the flames came from, or where they went.

Hell, half the time, neither do I.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cigars, cigarettes, tiparillos -- and Chinese taxes

An interesting fact, taken from Harpers Magazine: The state monopoly on cigarettes in China provides 10 percent of government revenue; annual sales amount to 1.8 trillion cigarettes, or approximately one third of the total sold worldwide.

China is a society that still retains a preference for male children, so it maintains a male-dominated culture. And the state actually markets cigarettes extensively, touting the supposed benefits of smoking.

Those are two social elements -- equality of the sexes, and the health risks of smoking -- where American government has made significant changes in the past generation. Federal, state and local legislation has created a foundation for gender equity (even if income inequality is still part of the economic structure). Largescale health studies have demonstrated the health costs of smoking, which has led to more stringent restrictions on distribution and sale of cigarettes and warnings on the products themselves (even if government still is addicted to the taxes generated by these products).

Women, cigarettes, and taxes. We are a far way from the cigarette lady on 1930s movie screens who pranced among men at their barstools, hawking cigars, cigarettes, tiparillos. At least, we seem to be in this country.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Oligarch's Board of Directors

Theodore Roosevelt warned a century ago of the subversive influence of money in politics. He said the central fact in his time was that big business had become so dominant it would chew up democracy and spit it out. The power of corporations, he said, had to be balanced with the interest of the general public. That warning was echoed by his cousin Franklin, who said a "government by organized money is as much to be feared as a government by organized mob." Both Roosevelt's rose to that challenge in their day. But a hundred years later mighty corporations are once again the undisputed overlords of government. Follow the money and you are inside the inner sanctum of the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute. Here is the super board of directors for Bush, Incorporated.
Bill Moyers, in a speech before the Society of Environmental Journalists, 10-1-05.

Moyers has a name for the core members of the Bush Oligarchy, the ‘super board of directors’. These are the folk who, together with George Sr and his advisors, selected the son, propped him up, and ran him for the highest office in the land, the leader of the most powerful economic and military force in the world.

We have three more years to live with this. Hopefully, the damage can be undone after the election of 2008.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Oligarchs have ideas for the Judicial Branch

David Frum, Bush’s “axis of evil” ex-speechwriter, didn’t bother to hide his scorn. “In the White House that hero worshipped the President, Miers was distinguished by the intensity of her zeal,” he wrote. “She once told me that the President was the most brilliant man she had ever met." Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, issue of 10-17-05

The Oligarchs selected GeorgeW as their boy for President. They got him elected once, with a great deal of help from the Supreme Court (who know the proper interests to protect when they see them). He delivered their tax cuts. He found the external bogeyman to blame for terrorism, and declared war (on the flimsiest of pretenses). He found plenty of work for them without bids. He protected their energy incomes by subsidizing their oil and gas works. And they delivered a second election for him by polarizing the nation with patriotic fervor.

Like a good oligarch, he has appointed a good buddy as a Supreme Court Justice. Keep it in the Texas family – but more importantly, keep it within his circle. Trust only those you know. The oligarchic way.

Harriet Miers appears to be a competent attorney. She has experience running a government agency, having pulled the Texas Lottery Commission out of the sewer. She is loyal. She managed the White House's daily briefing process. She is a workaholic. And she thinks GeorgeW is the smartest man she ever met.

But if her resume were in a stack of 1000 attorneys, would it even be in the top 750 for appointment to the highest jurist body in the country?

Monday, October 10, 2005


I am nearly 30 years removed from college. But Lycoming College has never been removed from me.

I was recruited for the Alumni Association Executive Board seven years ago. At first, I was driven by nostalgia and sentiment. But that soft sense of the past was quickly replaced by a much stronger belief in the present: today, Lycoming College is an even stronger educational institution. The school has weathered the doubts that have been raised about liberal arts education, and has overcome the retrenchment that most smaller schools went through during tight fiscal times in the past 20 years. Lycoming has raised the bar and is a different place: high education values, strong experienced faculty, sound fiscal practices. In the past ten years, the school has added a recreation facility, rebuilt a neighboring building into an Honors Hall, and tripled its endowment -- all while reducing the debt load of the school. Thanks to national exposure (partially because of a winning football team, partially because of the use of the internet by students searching for schools), nearly 40 percent of this year's freshman class is from out-of-state -- a turnaround from the 1980s, when it became primarily a Pennsylvania school.

I sound like a marketing brochure.

I spent the past weekend at Homecoming, and presided over the my last AAEB meeting as president. But what struck me the most this weekend were conversations with faculty. The educators I spoke with all speak the same message: Lycoming is a strong environment for learning, and the faculty is a supportive and caring community. One long-term professor spoke of the number of faculty who turned out to help him move into a new house, on short notice. When I asked another long-tenured prof if he was considering retirement, he replied, not for another few years -- they treat him well at the school, and he still enjoys it. A new professor described how he was attracted to the place by the sense of community, and it bore out in his first few weeks there: when he returned from presenting his doctoral dissertation at another school, people who he had only know for a short time were inquiring how it went and expressing support. A recently-retired professor said that the school's leadership seemed to be making the right decisions.

Yup, still reads like an admissions glossy, huh?

But if someone Googles 'Lycoming College' and lands here, my words are not driven by sentiment: I do believe in Lycoming. Strong leadership, experienced and skilled faculty, good programs. The school can compete with any other college.

Friday, September 30, 2005

September's transition....

Autumn’s Wardrobe

Every September
a moment arrives when the sky changes her clothes.
A storm blows through,
and the deep warm blue turns pale
with a tinge of green;
it leaves behind thick white clouds
rimmed with black;
the hem of nature’s skirt flutters
as the wind turns the leaves inside out,
teasing us with the pale legs of the trees
before the dress explodes into the colors of fall.

I need a coat,
you cover your summer tan,
and we draw our lives closer to ward off the chill.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Death of a Friend

The web posting includes the letters RIP after Michael’s name.

This is how I learned that he has passed away. I have pursued no confirmation, not even sure how to go about it – his parents, his sister maybe.

We were never college roommates. But we were close friends: muse for each other, shared our creative writings, a love of history, international relations, and Yes. We even took the federal Foreign Service test. We were part of a group, as is the wont of college friends that age…Randy, Duffy, Kris, Jill, Sam, Michael, me. The type of friendships that you know could last forever – and still do, in certain shades of gray brought about by distance and time.

He was gay. We did not know that at Lycoming. In fact, he may not have realized it until his senior year. It was harder to share that sort of knowledge then, I suppose. He had had a girlfriend in Rockville, but they had drifted apart. It had seemed more platonic and intellectual than physical anyway.

We stayed connected for some time after college. He was in our wedding. We did Homecoming a couple of times, although he had soured on the College some time before. He moved with his jobs and his relationships: Washington, Norfolk, San Diego, Seattle, San Jose.

And he became sick. The web posting explains his physical ailments and pains. He became part of the lawsuit over California’s medical marijuana policy that finally made it to the Supreme Court. His deposition is here, along with a bio and picture. Again, those initials.

He became a Buddhist and a grief counselor, both of which fit his strong empathetic nature.

We last saw each other on election day about ten years ago, when he visited Boston and I drove out to see him. We hadn’t seen each other in some time, and there had been gaps in our correspondence. It showed. We had each gone through our own transitions, and the silences were long. I left too early that day, but had probably left long before that. My fault.

He left behind a great creative, and caring, spirit.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Yankee Group says your PDA is Irrelevant

Cell phones have far outpaced personal digital assistants as the electronic device favored by consumers - 187.7 million people, or 65.4 percent of the U.S. population, own cell phones, according to the Yankee Group, which has stopped tracking sales of handheld computers that lack cellular connectivity, calling them irrelevant.

From an AP story posted today

Palm Pilots have become irrelevant. Blackberries must include the cell component, awkward interface and all. Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP need to call home either to download the newest games or to connect with someone else to play with. Steve Jobs had better turn that nifty little iPod Nano into a cell phone. If your handheld device does not connect to something, then it no longer has the necessary power.

Is this because the consumer wants these bells and whistles? Or because, as the phone companies have discovered, the consumer will pay for the additional features – whether they truly need them or not? How much are our lives truly enhanced because we have multiple ringtones?

Novell had it right in their advertising campaign over ten years ago: The Network is the Computer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Judge with Two First Names -- and ?

The next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will have two first names. He will be white. He appears to be a nice person. He carries himself in a professional manner, shakes hands in a stalwart official way while directing his attention squarely on the other person. He is well-spoken, seems to have a sense of his legal obligations as an attorney, an arbiter, and a judge.

But thus far in John Robert's public persona – at least, that persona we see in short television or radio vignettes – I get no sense of the person. If he has a moral, social, intellectual, political, or emotional center, it is buried. He appears plain vanilla. That perception alone makes me nervous.

After all, this is a lifetime appointment.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Death of an American City

An American city is dead.

Over half a million people have left New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. Millions of houses were under water for days. The levees broke and the lake poured its water into the bowl, finding its proper level. The city became an underwater Atlantis.

Streets were covered. Power was out. No drinkable water. The sewer system became the lake, and the lake became the sewer system. Bodies floated between the debris. Cars intermingled with floating stuff churned up by the storm, or dislodged from buildings, or lifted up from lawns and sidewalks.

High-rise buildings rose from the dirty pools that lapped at their bottom floors. Seen from the air, most of the city looked like a collect of floating peaked roofs.

We have not experienced the total destruction of such a large city on this continent in this generation. Some have called it a diaspora, which may be giving the city’s population a cultural and ethnic face that it does not quite meet. But at worst, it is a geographic and human dispersion that we have never seen in this country.

New Orleans will remain dead, even when the water recedes. The power companies will restore the electricity, clean water will run through the pipes, the streets will reappear, houses will rise from the depths again. Physically, it will look like a city again.

But until people return, New Orleans will not return to life. Only people can make a city breathe. And we must expect that some percentage of the people will not come back.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day

Labor Day. The best way to spend a sunny warm day would be to sit on the back deck and read “Calvin and Hobbes” all morning.

George Bush makes a bold stroke this morning. He announced the appointment of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Logistically, he will withdraw the Roberts appointment to fill O’Connor’s seat, and resubmit his name to fill Rehnquist’s spot.

This would appear to be a master political step. Roberts seems clean, his record free of any pronouncements or decisions that color his judgements in any particular hue. The Senate appeared ready to confirm him with little opposition. Bush probably saw this as an opportune time to elevate Roberts quickly. He’s young, he is certainly conservative, he is free from controversy, and he would lead the Court for years.

The swift announcement also deflects, at least temporarily, the attacks that the administration has faced about lack of urgency in relief efforts on the Gulf coast. It took four days for the administration to send in troops to evacuate thousands of refugees from central New Orleans, and bring food and water. Meanwhile, television and the internet were full of pictures: squalor, chaos, hunger, unsanitary and life-threatening conditions among thousands of people, nearly all of them black. We had isolated the poor and minorities in the city, and now they were isolated and dying in the middle of a flood.

We’ll see if the Roberts nomination bumps the refugee stories from the front page of the paper tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


The last day of the month. Just to review: at the onset of bloggerdom, someone determined that the designated subject on the last day of every month shall be cats. Cute. It has led to a plethora of cat stories, bios, and pictures. I own a cat, love 'em.

But my interest is poetry. So I have another tradition: on the last day of every month, I post a poem. It is about the only consistent thing I have done with this online journal. I encourage others to do the same. Once I get better at setting up links, I'll add anyone's poetry to my opening page.


Pam met me at the door,
speechless and wrought, unable to watch
any more news from the Gulf,
where thousands mill about the land
lost from all connection to reality,
where Home is no longer a structure, no longer a city,
no longer safety and food and water,
Nothing to grasp and say, I’m fine.

She wants to fix it.

The stories are multiplied by the living,
marked by the dead,
and carried in the hearts of those who strive to comfort;
if we could pick one, send bread and drink and blanket,
we could be the neighbor that says
Your city is gone, my door is open.
But the size overwhelms our senses;
the breadth of the sea, the strength of the wind,
the lash of the rain, the power of the moving sky,
the layers of grey clouds that just will not go away.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Blogging Doonesbury

I like “Doonesbury”. Reading it is part of my morning routine: 20 years ago, I read it in the morning paper, today it is a link on my portal page. Garry Trudeau is of our generation, a boomer who grew up during the cold-war ‘50s, college in the ‘60s, the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon. He has parodied and pilloried scores of politicians, hippies, cult figures and entertainment icons. The social critic and commentator, in four boxes every day and eight every Sunday.

I usually agree with his sentiments. But recently, he has begun ridiculing bloggers. He does it with more than just a quiet smile or laugh; the tone is outright sarcastic. Certainly, of the millions of electronic journals being thrown into the ether, many are rife with empty vitriole, rants, and silly tripe. But many people are simply writing as a way to communicate, or to connect with friends and family, or simply because they know they have a small readership. We are not all journalists, and very few are striving to meet such standards.

Let a million flowers bloom; some of it actually might be good writing.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Exporting "The 700 Club"

Another example of the impact American culture has on other countries -- and how poorly it can translate at times.

For reasons known only to its owner, a Finnish Christian television network broadcasts “The 700 Club.” Apparently, this network only carries certain portions of it in an attempt to be somewhat judicious in filtering out controversial political segments. But it backfired last week when Pat Robertson said that the U.S. should “take out” Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

The Finnish network pulled Robertson’s show off the air.

The Finns are a Lutheran nation. But they are also very wary of mixing religion and politics. The owner of the Christian station states that he will ‘monitor’ Robertson’s broadcasts for a while before deciding whether to put it back on the air.

I wonder how “take out” translates into Finnish?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A basketball sideshow in Helsinki

Dennis Rodman will play for a Finnish basketball team.

Actually, he has signed a contract to play a minimum of 10 minutes for Torpan Pojat, a Helsinki-based team in the Finnish professional league. The owner figures that he can increase his normal 2-3,000 attendance to about 8,000 with Rodman in the lineup, particularly since the game is scheduled on a night with no hockey game in town.

A marginal sideshow like Rodman finds a marginal professional team to pay him.

But please, let’s not call Finland a marginal country.

Unless, of course, it is a cold dark winter night with no hockey.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The missing element behind Cindy

Cindy Sheehan represents something that George and Oligarchs do not want to confront: the opposition. The President’s Texas compound provides a protective environment for his vacation, and Cindy and her fellow campers live outside that recreational haven, unheard and unnecessary. Problem is, the campground keeps getting more tenants, and they won’t go away.

The issue is simple. Her son was killed in Iraq last year. She believes her son’s death was unnecessary: the United States invaded Iraq for spurious reasons, and her family sacrifice was too high a price to pay for such poor leadership decision-making. She wants the leader of our country to hear this, and to explain his decision.

But George only surrounds himself with supporters. Other voices and opinions are superfluous. An oligarchy survives on disciplined adherence to the leader’s direction.

George has already expressed his sympathy to those who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq and Afghanistan. To his mind, he cannot respond to every parent who asks for an audience, especially if they have publically expressed their opposition to George’s Iraq decisions.

Cindy actually represents something much larger: the generational difference between today and the Vietnam war. Public opposition to the Iraq war now equals the disapproval numbers for US action in Southeast Asia. George’s low approval ratings rival those of both Johnson and Nixon during the height of the Vietnam war.

But we do not have marches in the street, college campuses in an uproar, smoke bombs and firehoses aimed at surging masses of protest. All we have are Cindy and a collection of distraught parents, camping out quietly in George’s neighbor’s lawn.

The difference is the lack of a draft. We don’t have a population of nervous 18-25 year olds wondering whether their number is up and they will be sent off to an undefined and controversial war. This population comes with an equivalent number of parents worried about losing their progeny to a war that seems as vacuous as the one they grew up with 30 years ago.

So we have a generation with the appropriate dose of skepticism, but missing the personal reason to complain in the streets.

So Cindy becomes pretty lonely martyr. And the Oligarchs can smirk behind the fence.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

And that poetry habit at the end of the month.....

Paul Simon’s Words

And all my words come back to me
in shades of mediocrity
(Paul Simon
“Homeward Bound”)

My words passed under the bridge,
headed for the short horizon.
I dropped them from one side –
not really meaning to say it –
and ran for the other railing,
but they were already gone:
stones drowning from their portentious weight,
or sticks so light and buoyant
they were flung around the corner,
colliding with each other in the current,
unheeded and probably without meaning
for the lives at the distant end of the river.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Tolerant Christian Church

This month’s Church Herald, the monthly magazine of the Reformed Church in America, contains much material from the national Synod meeting. Naturally, the lead article is about the Church’s condemnation of a professor and Minister of the Word for presiding over the marriage of his gay daughter ( My own feelings on this are expressed elsewhere…

The most interesting statement in this month's magazine comes from a letter concerning church discipline, written by Victor Nuovo of Middlebury, Vermont. His thoughts concern the much broader issue of how a religious institution purports to ‘discipline’ individuals for supposed actions that do not conform to the institution. His sentiments speak to any religious institution’s methods of speaking to individual members:

“To be open and affirming and non-judgmental would seem to be a better course for the RCA to follow. Indeed, I would prefer that the RCA become less Reformed and more Christian, less evangelical and more tolerant, that it behave more like a church than a sect. Discipline, no matter how well intentioned, narrows the spirit and makes it, among those who apply it and those who receive it, resentful.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Politics leading to War

The politics leading to war.

Stage 1: we start with conversation. George and his Oligarchs bring this conversation to the American public. “We eliminated the Taliban in Afghanistan. This rooted out the government that harbored terrorism. Step 1. But there are still three countries that are the axis of evil, protecting and fostering terrorism within their borders: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The world is not safe.”

The stage is set. The enemy is identified, three countries are a threat to our security. The political dance has quickened.

Stage 2: George and the Oligarchs take the conversation to the next level: international collaboration. The United States brings the discussion to the world body at the United Nations. We have participated in the UN’s search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for some time, sometimes with great reluctance, and always with skepticism about Hussein’s motives. We accuse Iraq of hiding evidence out of reach of the UN teams, of moving materials around the countryside or in Saddam’s own mansion. We support UN resolutions and sanctions against Iraq. George even speaks to the General Assembly, primarily to refute those who say our participation is desultory and facile.

Stage 3: the dramatic stage, in front of the international body. George and the O’s send their most respected spokesman, the Secretary of State, with a well-scripted set of documents that prove Saddam has lied, has made a fool of the international community. The CIA provides the razzle-dazzle satellite photos, the Secretary brings plenty of data. J’accuse, Saddam. The big boy in the room has spoken: the US is waving the big stick, and you all must follow.

Stage 4: rally friends behind us. The politics has gone beyond conversation, beyond written resolutions, beyond collaborative discussion. George and the Oligarchs (who really do not care what the rest of the neighborhood thinks – after all, that’s the nature of oligarchical government: the selected few already know better than everybody else) round up as many friends who want to wave their sticks, and get ready for war.

Stage 5: Conversation and collaboration are over. No patience, no economic blackmail or isolation. George is a man of action, and the lack of WMAs no longer matters. He redefines the rationale for action, and sends our nation to war.

Two years later, we occupy the country at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. We have de-stabilized a country, and threatened to do so for the region. There were no WMAs and the land has become an even more fertile ground for terrorists.

War is politics by other means. George and the Oligarchs failed at both.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

War is Politics by other means

War is politics by other means.

Violence should be the last resort, and used only when all other means are exhausted. That statement alone is worth a few years of study.

‘War’ implies organized violence: men and arms implemented in certain order, using certain strategies in a coordinated manner. Our generation knew them as squads, platoons, regiments, divisions, army. There have been historical rules of engagement – not necessarily formal, but certainly recognized and taught in military schools.

All of this is blurred today. We still use people and arms, but the organization is different. We certainly are not as formal.

The politics prior to war – the conversations, the forums, the government actions, the collaboration mechanisms between nations – are also comprised of irrational dances involving myriad nation-states and cultures. That's nothing new, it can just happen faster today.

Compare the lead-in to Vietnam 40 years ago, to Afghanistan four years ago, and to Iraq two years ago. Different music, different collaborations, different dances, and different ‘war.’

We’ll spend some time evaluating. Send me your own recollections of the music before each of these engagements.

[And to my history professor at Lycoming, Dr. Larson: you can weigh in if you're listening! The title of this post was the very first test I took in college: a one-hour essay on that statement. Only, on that day, he wrote it backwards on the blackboard: Politics is war by other means.]

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Refuting Steinbeck

Ick, what a wasteland I created this month! Only 5 postings, some creativity!!?? But I shall not miss the tradition: a poem on the last day of the month.

Refuting Steinbeck’s Admonition

Most lives extend in a curve. There is a rise of ambition, a rounded peak of maturity, a gentle downward slope of disillusion and last a flattened grade of waiting for death.
John Steinbeck, The Pastures of Heaven

So this is it?
I dream, I wake, I doubt, I mope, and I die?
Wherein the faith
that my words and actions
mean hope to someone who walks behind?
Why do blue sky and green carpet warm my day,
why the cardinal chirp or the cat purr,
of what use are the smiles those bring to me?
All cannot rush grimly downhill after I wish for more.

Prufrock’s coachman can be a happy reaper,
not just the grim locksmith on a dark four score room --
I can leave more for him to read from my ledger.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Misappropriating the Word

"We face a clear choice. We can decide that fighting over issues related to homosexuality is our most important task, and proceed down that road. Or we can keep the main thing the main thing, while agreeing to an honest and discerning dialogue over differing perspectives."

"This alternative can best keep our energy and resources focused on our call to God's mission. And it also can make all the room necessary for the ongoing dialogue and debate over the presence and participation of gay and lesbian people in our congregations.

"The Reformed Church in America has the opportunity to model a different way for a denomination to address the controversies in the church over gay and lesbian people. It would be a gift to ourselves and others in the body of Christ to do so."
RCA General Secretary Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Synod, June 17, 2005, Schenectady, NY

Yesterday, two American soldiers were killed in Iraq, bring the total American lives lost in that war to 1,718.

Meanwhile, the Reformed Church in America has stripped a pastor of his right to minister because he officiated at the wedding of his daughter to another woman in Massachussets.

The governing body of a Christian church spent nearly a full day trying Dr. Norman Kansfield, the former President of New Brunswick Seminary. His accusers alleged that his actions were ‘contrary to RCA beliefs, contradicted his ordination vows, and violated his promises made when installed into the office of professor of theology.’

Meanwhile, America invaded a Muslim country, on phony premises, and thousands of people have lost their lives. How many people were harmed by the relationship between the two women who Dr. Kansfield married last summer?

The Synod should spend more hours praying and debating the Christian reaction to a questionable war, and the deeper issues of cultural and religious overtones inherent in this war.

What is it we fear? Why the hatred of individuals based upon their sexual orientation? Why the mistrust of individuals of Islamic faith? These are the more germaine questions for debate and discourse.

The RCA has now chastised and isolated one man, and tainted two women (both of whom attended the same Seminary), over a fear of homosexuality. They have raised sexual orientation above the importance of Christian faith, and condemned them for the former over the power and grace of the latter. A total misappropriation of God’s love, if there ever was one.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

In touch, out of touch

Communication means we are always connected electronically.

Erin is hours away in Atlanta, and yet we speak (Pam or I) almost daily.

Drew does not talk to his friends on the phone. He communicates with them on AIM, even while doing homework.

Nelson Corby finishes his work each night at 5PM in Niskayuna. When he returns at 8:30 the next morning, someone in Italy or India or China will have worked on the same project, and left the work for him to continue.

The world is flat. But in our own immediate neighborhood, people rarely get together. We barely know our neighbor’s names.

Electronic connections, physical distance. In many ways.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

More graduation comments, and the 9/11 shadow

On the graduation theme, an except from Anna Quindlen’s Newsweek column of 5/30/2005:

So the young men and women who began their college years in the shadow of September 11 graduate in its shadow as well. The intolerant, the monomaniacal, the zealots driven by religious certainty engineered the worst attack on American soil, and the result has been intolerance, monomania and zealotry driven by religious certainty. [Columbia University] President Bollinger cited the contempt of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the legendary Supreme Court justice, for the man who “knows that he knows.” If Holmes lived today, of course, he would be either lionized or demonized. And he would find, much to his sorrow, that America had been hijacked by those who cannot tell the difference between opponents and enemies, between disagreement and heresy, between discussion and destruction.

An entire generation will know exactly what the numerics 9/11 mean -- but we may each have a different perspective, a different context for that meaning. Another irony: the reverse numeric, 11/9, is the date that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

And on the last day of the month, comes the poem

Our son just turned 18. Probably the reason this poem showed up when I sat down to write something for the last day of the month.

Exporting Democracy

After the bullet, comes the fall,
the scuffle of dry sand as a body drops,
the legs gone limp and the heart angrily racing;
the tan is stained with red --
life fades, another conscript dies,
all noise and shouting turns to silence,
all meaning and direction gone to black.

This is no battle won, no message sent,
no ideals and honor brought to a new people.
This is a only a shout of anger and power,
sung by lost leaders
and heard as an empty dirge over foreign skies.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Private Citizen

The term 'private citizen' is an oxymoron.

This was part of our pastor's theme yesterday, probably the most political of his career with us. There is no such thing as a private citizen. To be a citizen is to be an active member of the social structure, to be someone who works to help others and participates fully in civil and social discourse. There is nothing private about it. Further, to be a Christian citizen means acting for the common good. He quoted Isaiah’s admonition to his readers: don’t just go to worship on Sunday. It means nothing. Go out into the world, feed the hungry, help the sick and dying, raise up the downtrodden – then you may come to worship and tell me about it.

To take Isaiah even further: don’t be putting the ten commandments on the courthouse wall and believing this makes you a Christian citizen.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Birthdays and Holidays

From CBS Early Morning this morning: Las Vegas is the ‘most requested’ travel destination for the Memorial Day weekend.

So the most popular location to spend a few days is a booming town in the middle of the desert that features gambling as its largest industry.

I hope many of those travelers are selecting this destination because it is a central hub to visit national parks, and that flights and hotel rooms are cheap. Wishful thinking?

Today is Andrew’s 18th birthday. On the same day, our daughter Erin is moving to Atlanta – for four months, or for 7 months, depending upon myriad variables – where she and her fiancé, Frank, will set up home. And this morning, Pam is in robe and square hat as part of the Community College faculty for graduation. A day charged with emotional transitions.

We all come together at 6PM for Andrew’s birthday picnic with friends and neighbors. After dinner, we will visit the Saratoga Racino. After all, you can gamble once you turn 18 in this country….Our travel destination for Memorial Day weekend.

So? We’ll have fun with the irony of it all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Graduation Lines

Graduation season. Plenty of speeches before audiences with robes and square hats. I attended my alma mater's graduation because I get to play a role; our speaker was an archeologist (should I say, dig it? Nah) who started out by telling the students that they were entering a dangerous world. Not a sentiment that would fill me with confidence as I got my hard-earned degree.

Here's something more energizing, from Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund, who spoke at Colgate University:
  • Don’t feel entitled to anything you haven’t sweated or struggled for.
  • Set thoughtful goals.
  • Don’t wait around for someone to direct what you do. Take the initiative yourself.
  • Don’t work just for money.
  • Don’t be afraid of risk or criticism.
  • Take parenting and family life seriously.
  • Listen for the genuine in yourself.
  • Never think life isn’t worth living.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Gender Gap

The World Economic Forum has issued its latest report on gender equity in various world countries, “Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap.” The report ranks countries according to how women have achieved full equality with men in five categories:

*economic participation
*economic opportunity
*political empowerment
*educational attainment
*health and well-being

As you might expect, other countries far outstrip the United States in many of these categories. Overall, we rank 17th out of the 58 countries studied. Our strength is in educational attainment, where we rank 8th; we lag in economic opportunity (46) and health and well-being (42). Economic opportunity in America is hindered by a lower level of upward mobility for women, and because of the paucity of paid leave programs for parents in the U.S. Apparently, there are many variables that affect health and well-being; but it is still surprising that our infant mortality rate is higher than many western European countries.

My interest is in the political empowerment category. I have written elsewhere on the issue of women in government, and my belief that we would be better served by a more balanced gender ratio in government. The United States ranks 19th in this category. According to one report, only 15.6% of the combined parliamentary bodies in the world are women. As the report states:

The absence of women from structures of governance
inevitably means that national, regional and local
priorities—i.e. how resources are allocated—are
typically defined without meaningful input from women,
whose life experience gives them a different awareness
of the community’s needs, concerns and interests from
that of men.

I couldn’t have put it better. For more, you can review the report here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Economic Politics in the Park

During any campaign season, political signs sprout on a small local park in the village. The signs can be seen from three converging village streets and a major two-lane road with a traffic light. Our school budget vote is on Tuesday, and there are two contested seats on the Board of Education. So naturally, the park has the usual array of campaign signs.

Buried among these signs is a small white sign, about two feet high, with one simple utterance in clear block letters: “Employers are Greedy Misers.”

Not sure how that person wants us all to vote on Tuesday.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Graduation Day, Lycoming College

Warm blue sky. Green walkway to the dais. Blue seats. Pale blue diploma covers. Green lawn. Pale green buds on some trees, fully green leaves on others. A cherry tree in white blossoms. An occasional bluster of wind.

Young 20s in black robes; yellow, blue and black wide stripes on their graduation hoods. Smattering of yellow, red, blue ropes on some necks, along with yellow pins and mixed medals. Black morterboards and tassles.

Red brick buildings surround the quad. Plenty of color in the audience dress. Silence, cheering, clapping. The band plays for procession through the gates, onto the quad green. Throngs stand, cameras click and blink. Quiet greetings from those in the fringe rows.

Silent prayer. A spiritual from the choir. The Star Spangled Banner (!). Greetings, retirement announcements, doctoral awards, a speech from an archeologist and educator. A graduating senior from Elmira, who read a poem she wrote four years ago for high school graduation.

I spent time away, while sitting in my folding chair: staring at the blue sky, framed by swaying green branches. The chapel bell chimed at the hour and half-hour, sending warm tones into the sun-soaked sky – enhancing, rather than interrupting, the words at the dais.

I am one of three people who stand on the dais and shake each grad's hand: the Presidents of the College, Trustees, and Alumni Board. Even while shaking 320 hands, I was still rapt by the colors, the warmth, the aura of spring in full dress. We were three men with white hair, shaking the hands of 20-year-olds. Quite the sight, I’m sure.

Four parents got to hand diplomas to their graduating children. One father walked off with the diploma, after he and his daughter got mixed up trying to rescue her morterboard in the wind.

Marco did the benediction, and we were lining up to recess back through the crowd and their folding chairs. We all disperse from there, scattered among the tents with their lemonade, iced tea and cookies. I chatted with professors Larson, Roskin, Williamson, Piper…Still nice to be part of the institution.

Better, still a wonderful place to spend a spring afternoon, gazing at the sunswept blue sky.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

And on the last day of the month....

Plug in, Disconnect
[With Commentary]

She hits the shuffle,
rests the sound above the earlobes
and walks the sidewalk.
She absorbs the people with one sense
through her eyes, but does not hear.

[I enjoy the creative process,
dumping words upon the page in a
mad rush to make imagery.
But I rarely like the result, am
embarrassed to have others read it
and make no connection with the thought
I was madly pushing into language, but
actually fail to achieve.
Mix in the fact that I am writing while
doing the routine of life – like cleaning the bathrooms –
and the message is garbled with the day.]

He drops his teenage body into the lounger
and hits buttons on the remote,
the four foot screen glows with
a shock of moving colors and sounds, owning the room.
He floats into the picture, the room disappears,
and neither parental entreaties nor the phone
can break the disconnect.

[The morning caffeine is wearing off,
the keys do not jump like they did an hour ago,
and my daily calendar calls me for its next deadline.
The metaphors and images wane,
drifting out of my reach, and I fear
the failure of the story. How do I jump
the picture from my mind to yours?]

She logs into her account, somewhere in the ether,
and exchanges electric greetings with friends,
who could have spoken with her at school
just this afternoon;
she re-attaches to the game, just where she left off
last night, and spends the next three hours
living in a flat, colorful, violent world.

[Two bathrooms cleaned, one to go,
probably should turn down the music
that I stored on my portable player, and
piped through my son’s larger stereo system
so I could hear it all over the house –
the one with four bedrooms, three televisions, two computers
and plenty of sustenance in the kitchen.
I might miss my wife opening the door as she returns,
or the phone ringing with the terror of lost children,
or the muffled cries of poverty in the hearts of millions
who I do not see.]

Thursday, April 21, 2005

George's Oligarchs and FDR

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." Franklin Roosevelt, 1944.

GeorgeW would never hold to such principles. His friends, the Oligarchs, have other purposes for the federal government. They have friends to support, and they will steer the government apparatus – the White House, Congress, and the federal agencies – to meet those needs.

The country needs a new energy policy? Have the oil companies write it.

The country needs bankruptcy ‘reform’? Have the banks and credit card companies write it.

Social Security taking too much of the government’s GNP? Have investment firms build a new method of risking our retirement funds, even tho it does not fix the long-term prospects for the benefits system.

Gross receipts tax hurting your million-dollar investment portfolio? Have the major corporations rewrite the tax code.

George and the Oligarchs have friends to help. They have a motto to support their efforts: Them that gots, gets.

As for those that have too little…too bad, they must fend for themselves. Or get their own friends in high places.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

George and the Oligarchs

Government by the few. Oligarchy.

George Bush is President from 1988 through 1992. Losing, his friends spend a few years identifying someone else to run (after Bob Dole takes his noble run and falls on an electoral sword for the oligarch's cause). The cadre checks the credits of George's progeny, and somehow pick GeorgeW over Jeb. Not sure why, considering that Jeb was already in government as gov of a rather populous state. Being prez of the Texas Rangers rates higher? Whatever.

So the oligarchy surrounds GeorgeW with the right political tacticians, rally the necessary money, and start the conservative juices flowing across the center of the country. The courts lend a fortuitous hand in December 2000 -- and they win. Their boy wins.

I can picture George smiling on that fateful December night when Scalia and the Supremes end the ballot counting and his outflanked opponant concedes. GeorgeW wouldn't even have the presence of mind, or the intellectual capacity, to repeat Robert Redford's character at the end of The Candidate, when he had won his fictional election for governor: 'Now what do we do?'.

All GeorgeW had to do was ask his buddies. The Oligarchs. They know what to do. They would set things up for all their friends over the next 8 years.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Connecting the Random Web

The web has its own sense of randomness. It’s like walking into a library, emptying out the old card catalog, and throwing the thousands of little cards into the air. No more index; everything becomes random. You can only browse.

In the upper right-hand corner of this page is a button entitled “Next blog”. By clicking it, you are sent to a totally random blog page; it could be someone from Sweden, it could be an insurance company in Savanah, Georgia. If you waited another five minutes, returned to my page, and pressed the “Next blog” button, you would get another random page.

Such randomness can lead to some interesting connections. I clicked on the button and landed on the ramblings of a 20-something who described his weekend trip to visit friends at a large university. He described his drinking and smoking binge, and even mentioned getting behind the wheel and buying some beer for a few underage friends. I got bored with his repetitive party descriptions, so I hit the “Next Blog” button….And was greeted with a page from an Alcohol and Substance Abuse Support Center.

Now, if I could only connect the second author with the first…..

Thursday, March 31, 2005

On Language

I re-read yesterday's post, and marveled at my lousy use of language. So, in keeping with that theme, here is this month's poem.

The Poem Can Fail

I worry the words:
have I put them in the write order,
matched the noun and dangled a worthless article,
made the phrase active or passive,
a complete thought or incomplete concept;
have I taken that nebulous grey idea in my head
and used two dimensions of letters and paper
to transform the same thought in your head?

I worry the words to death,
I obliterate and rearrange them
until the whole frame disappears.
I’m sorry, I failed to tell you the story;
lost in translation,
vanished from my own moving paint,
edited away by an overly sharp pen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sleep Awareness Week

My daily commute includes an electronic sign hung above the Thruway. The content varies; usually it contains a warning about a traffic accident ahead, or slowed traffic at the next exit. But this week, the flashing message seems rather bizarre:



Translate that? This is ‘Sleep Awareness Week’ (just think, some legislator probably sponsored this honor). Are we supposed to be aware of our sleep? Pay more attention to our rest patterns? And why should we stay alert? Is there a crisis due to the lack of sleep in our modern lives? We aren’t aware enough of our sleep? We should stay alert to this fact?

More likely, the designation refers to falling asleep behind the wheel, and we should keep ourselves awake and alert on the highway. Or should we be alert to the driver next to us, and make him aware of our (their?) sleep? or lack thereof? Hey, sir, you’re looking a little wane and pale this morning; get to be before 9 tonight, will ya?

I don’t know which is more vacuous and pointless here: the fact that someone designated a week to ‘sleep awareness’, the silliness of the phrases used as part of the campaign, or using a large highway billboard to advertise it.

Or, that I’m even writing about it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Years ago, I avoided Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages. I understood that she identified transitions in life and relationships, and categorized them into various phases. I wouldn’t read it because such categorization felt too deterministic. I wasn’t going to be told how my life was turning out, I didn’t want to know the social or psychological patterns that the years would create for me.

How simplistic – and naïve. Life happens, and we have choices that drive that life. Each life is a journey, we travel the path with many different people, we develop relationships that help us along that path.

As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

So here’s the news that led me to think of Sheehy: our daughter is engaged. A transition in her life, and ours. Frank and Erin are happy, and that happiness does spread to those around them – including us. Marriage is a life marker, and so Erin’s will be a marker for their life and for ours. We won’t just go along for the ride; we’re part of the trip. Hang on, all!

I altered the heading to this journal. It now contains a passage from a desk calendar that a friend bought for me at Christmas; it consists primarily of eastern philisophical wisdom, with an occasional literary reference. I'll post these occasionally. Meanwhile, just so we don't lose it, here is the Jefferson passage that was up there for the first few months:

"...we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake." Thomas Jefferson, 1798

George W may believe that getting a democratic state in Iraq justifies his means. But his principles are still awry and should not blind us to the dangers of his actions.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wielding our Moral Power

“How should democracy be exported? The First Amendment and food. We know how to grow it, and how to deliver it. The First Amendment is a pretty good starting point.” Senator A, quoted in “The New Yorker”, 3-21-2005

“Let me put it to you this way. The Lord Almighty, or Allah, whoever, if he came to every kitchen table in America and said, ‘Look, I have a Faustian bargain for you, you choose. I will guarantee to you that I will end all terror threats against the United States within the year, but in return for that there will be no help for education, no help for Social Security, no help for health care.’ What do you do? My answer is that seventy-five per cent of the American people would buy that bargain.” Senator B, in the same article.

Compare and contrast those two views. The first is hopeful. It takes time and patience to implement. It provides sustenance and life for human beings, and does so peacefully.

The second is driven by fear. It uses power, might, arms, aggression as a way of fighting the same.

I will take the first strategy.

Just for political kicks, who are the two U.S. Senators? Senator A is Ted Kennedy, Senator B is Joe Biden -- both Democrats. Biden may not agree with the sentiments he mentions; but telling the story indicates the political reality in which he is grounded. This is sad. Two disparate views on the implementation of foreign policy from the same party.

Leadership requires that an individual have a core set of beliefs and acts upon those beliefs. Given his history, Kennedy is no paragon of morality. But his stated belief on this subject is much more appropriate than the aggresive methods used by our current administration.

We can have many arguments over the ends justifying the means, particularly if democracy does spread in the middle east. But it doesn't change my view on how we should act as a people.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Back to Baseball

Two weeks. Ick. Some discipline.

They are playing baseball in Florida and Arizona. The New York sky is bluer, the sun is warmer and stays up longer. Life is good.

I am a baseball bigot. I pay little attention to other sports; the Super Bowl is the only football game I watch in its entirety, and college basketball is no longer the emotional rollercoaster that I used to ride when I followed Syracuse every winter. The final four competes with baseball’s opening day, and by then I’m analyzing my rotisserie draft strategy for the fifth time.

I am a San Francisco Giants fan. It’s genetic: my Father followed the New York Giants, and didn’t let go when they moved to SanFran. Willie Mays was still his guy, just as Mel Ott had led him on during the 1930s as a kid. I – and both my brothers – latched on to Mays, McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda during those perpetual 2d-place 60’s; then the sad 1970’s, when Bobby Bonds couldn’t meet the unattainable expectations.

So now it’s an addiction. I do not trace the Giants exclusively; any game can capture my attention, especially in person. I can sit happily on a side hill in our local town park and watch a summer league game with 18 and 19-year olds.

Barry Bonds is one of the best players to play the game. No, I do not cotton to him as a human being, but I really don’t know him. My impressions are garnered through other’s words and pictures. But no player has ever combined eye-hand coordination with the power stroke as he has. He rarely misses, and when he does hit the ball, the largest portion of the bathead hits the middle of the ball.

I do believe he took steroids knowlingly. He has admitted that he took them, but claims he believed them to be diet and organic supplements. No one is that naïve, particularly in professional sports. He saw a way to add to his edge and become an even more powerful player, and he took advantage. At some point, he may pay a legal price for his actions. He will surely pay a physical price later in life.

I will still follow the Giants. They will wipe the tarnish clean in time, even after it becomes really ugly with the volatile Bonds. They will need to clean house at the management level, as part of the cleansing. I do not like Brian Sabean’s methods as a general manager, but it is certainly hard to argue with his success. He may not be able to start a team over after the tornado blows through.

Meanwhile, there’s always the new Nationals.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The View from Helsinki

President Bush attended a European summit last week in Brussels. He met with EU leaders, and each member was given time for a short speech. Finland’s president, Tarja Halonan (yup, a woman) was given one minute. She has not released a transcript of her remarks, but the Finnish press has speculated about what she said.

Even better, tho, was a collection published in the primary Helsinki paper, Helsingin Sanomat. The paper invited 10 people to write a one minute speech that they would have given in Bush’s presence. These ten columns represent a great cross-section of how others view our leader, and to some extent, our country. A few interesting examples:

“Monsieur Bush, we have underestimated the depth of the trauma caused in Americans by September 11th. After the terror attacks, the answer to the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ has changed. …Everyone has the right to live in peace as a member in good standing of our human family. Hope brings mankind into bloom - lack of hope is our greatest threat.” Ari Vatanen, Member of the European Parliament.

"Values are not the property of nations or of political systems. They are common and universal. Values like home, faith, and motherland are sacred in Finland just as they are in the United States. I believe that they are familiar and revered principles in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. All over the world we see empowered other, negative principles, ones that do not stem from such values - inequality and intolerance come to mind as examples. These can be eradicated only by showing that the other values and principles are better. This demands patience and it demands time." Georgij Alafuzoff, Commodore, Finnish Navy, Finland’s liason officer at the Anti-Terrorism CentCom, Tampa, FL.

“The United States was the first multicultural and multi-faith democracy. Your country has, in admirable fashion, shown itself able to combine freedom, pluralism, and strength. In addition to the right attitudes, this has required great wealth. For the impoverished in the midst of his struggle through life, it is often hard to be pluralistic and tolerant. To prosperity and tolerance belongs the virtue of open-mindedness. A man of open mind knows how to put a damper on his own zeal and make room for others. He understands that offering gifts is often imposing on others, and can offend those less well-endowed. The man of open mind knows how to give considerately, without sermonising. We peoples of the North have often had to keep a cool head in problem situations. Patience is a virtue, and unnecessary gung-ho behaviour and rushing about brings harm to oneself and to others. Please, Americans, please learn moderation and open-mindedness. It will be worth the effort." Risto Saarinen, Professor of Ecumenics, Faculty of Theology, Helsinki

And so we are viewed.....

Monday, February 28, 2005

Poetry on the last day

Morning Dress

I select my socks in the dark,
pick a pair by touch and hope the picture in my mind
matches the result when I walk into the sunlight.
All too often, the result is today’s picture of sartorial inelegance –
navy blue pants, cordovan leather, connected by black socks
with a random indistinguishable pattern
that looks like miniature yellow and red bandaids
glowing in the dark,
a light I missed earlier in the day.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Predicting the Weather

The weathermen are hedging their bets today. They claim that a large storm front could hit this area sometime tomorrow, and dump considerable snow over the following 24 hours. But they conditionalize their statements with ‘maybe’ and ‘depending’ and ‘prevailing winds’ and ‘gee, we don’t wanna seem dumb this time…’ One local weatherman predicted 12-18 inches two weeks ago, and we shoveled about 4. So we do not yet have weather maps in three different colors, each signifying snowfall totals for three states above the New York City line.

Maybe we have seen the end of an era: the use of the weather segment as a way to hype the news ratings. Then again, maybe it’s because tomorrow is the last day of sweeps month, and the storm is hitting on the first day of the next month….Silly theory. This is winter, it snows in winter in upstate New York, and it’s cold. That’s all we need to know. The plows will take care of the rest.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Government Will Soon Be a Tie Ballgame

Here’s an interesting statistic: the country’s 50 state legislatures contain 3,657 Republicans and 3,656 Democrats. Out of over 7300 elected legislators, the Republican Party currently holds one more seat than the Democrats.

Is this polarization? Or an inability to define what we stand for?

In the mid-1970s, columnist David Broder (The Party’s Over) wrote that the political parties were no longer important political, governmental or social institutions. They no longer stood for anything. They were loose clubs that people selected out of habit, because their parents belonged, or their surrounding community was affiliated with one or the other party. They were so large that gravity – the need to get elected across a broad geographic and political landscape – sucked everybody into the political center. A party platform was so generic that one could be passed under the pen of either party affiliate, and no one would have any trouble signing it.

So, do we believe in anything? Can we define a Democrat? A Republican? Even the media has homogenized each party: their graphics have colored Republican states ‘red’, and Democrat states are labeled ‘blue.’ The 2004 vote for President in that state may have been separated by 1 percentage point, but it still only gets one color...

Do individuals have core beliefs? How do we express them? And how do we express them as social – and thus, governmental – actions?

Lots of ink can be spilled on this issue.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter Thompson, Gonzo

"If I followed my better instincts right now, I would put this typewriter in the Volvo and drive to the home of the nearest politician -- any politician -- and hurl the goddamn machine through his front window...flush the bugger out with an act of lunatic violence then soak him down with mace and run him naked down Main Street in Aspen...."
Hunter S. Thompson, August 1974

Hunter Thompson ended his life with his own shotgun yesterday, at age 67.

Hunter Thompson had no boundaries. He had no filters. He took his gut instincts, his intelligence, his emotions, and turned them into incredible stream-of-consciousness writing that was succinct, observant, rambling and vitriolic all at the same time.

He apparently lived like that, too. At least his writings reflected that sort of life; it would be hard to believe that this was all fiction, and he actually lived in a raised ranch in some boring suburb of Denver. He made no apologies for his drug and alcohol-driven binges, which became legendary in his Rolling Stone articles during the 1970's.

His writing could be violent. The paragraph above was written after Thompson watched Gerald Ford -- "that sold-out knucklehead refugee from a 1969 Mister Clean TV commercial" -- pardon Richard Nixon. In the "Author's Note" to his 1979 collection, "The Great Shark Hunt", Thompson wrote:

" is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on the The Plaza Fountain....and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below...
Nobody could follow that act."

News articles today call Thompson a counterculture author, a pioneer of new journalism, a fictional journalist, and the original 'gonzo journalist.' I don't know what all these terms mean. He was a prolific writer who wrote from the gut, who responded viscerally and emotionally to everything he absorbed. I don't know if he kept an online journal; blogging would seem a perfect format for his reactive writing. He wrote this way every day of his life; 30 years ago, he had to wait for the next issue of Rolling Stone to publish.

I wonder what Garry Trudeau does with Uncle Duke now?

Thompson on Jimmy Carter: "He could pass for a Fuller Brush man on any street in America..."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Pink is the new Red

Pink is the new Red.
Red has been the traditional color on Valentines Day. It represents the heart, the traditional symbol for the day of love.
Red is an aggressive color. It is bright, powerful; it outshines and overwhelms any other adjacent color. Red is typically paired sartorially with white or black. There is a clear reason for this: white and black represent either the absence or presence of all color, and no other shade or tint can compete with the glare of red.
The heart itself is a pulsing organ, providing the power that propels lifeforce to the entire human body. It pushes adrenaline, ramps up desire – creates passion.
Love should not carry that same powerful, aggressive, overwhelming connotation. Love is not the emotion of power, force, and attack. Love is an unselfish emotion of giving, with no expectation from the object of its intent.
Love is light and passion modified, softened. Love is pink.
Red is power and passion.
Pink is sharing and accepting, sensual touch and caring.
Pink is a better representative for Valentines Day.
Somebody call Hallmark.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Phony Wars

Do the ends justify the means? We created a war in Iraq to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, to clean terrorism from its face, to topple Saddam. Only one of those objectives was reached, and our leaders have pronounced that the real reason we sent in troops was to install democracy. The election has been declared a success, and it may very well be the beginnings of a new era in that country. American resources will be committed for at least a generation to protect it.

In other words, a phony war became a real war with different objectives. At a cost.

The President has now declared his primary domestic objective. As his first major foray into the 'ownership society', he wants a government-backed retirement system that permits individuals to create private investment accounts. To do this, each individual must use a portion of the Social Security account to create investment -- at a cost to future benefits. The government will need to borrow trillions of dollars to get this started.

This may be another phony war, with hidden agendas. Such a system will benefit those with the resources to invest -- not just the money, but the moxie and knowledge on how to win at that game. The investments also benefit money managers, major investment firms, and corporations, since the whole purpose is to increase contributions to the private sector.

The experience in Britain and Sweden has been different. Investors have generally lost ground, and their pensions have been hurt by the private investment system.

This phony war could still end up as a success. The President's focus on Social Security will result in some sort of legislation to shore up its long-term stability. Bush will then declare victory, even if he doesn't get the private investment accounts.

Politics is such a messy business. Sometimes it works in spite of itself.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Let's just play the game....

The Super Bowl is over, and pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than two weeks. I just finished Roger Angell's book "Game Time", a collection of essays over the past two decades. Angell is the fiction editor of "The New Yorker" magazine, and has made his mark with insiteful and cogent essays on baseball since the early '60s. He loves the sport, but he also has much to say beyond just what happens within the white lines. This is from a 1992 column, in which he talks about his father:

[My father] had only limited financial success as a Wall Street lawyer, but that work allowed him to put in great amounts of time with the American Civil Liberties Union, which he served as a long-term chairman of its national board. Most of his life, I heard him talk about the latest issues or cases involving censorship, Jim Crow laws, voting rights, freedom of speech, racial and sexual discrimination, and threats to the Constitution; these struggles continue to this day, God knows, but the difference back then was that men and women like my father always sounded as if such battles would be won in the end. The news was always harsh, and fresh threats to freedom immediate, but every problem was capable of solution somewhere down the line. We don’t hold such ideas anymore – about our freedom or about anything else. My father looked on baseball the same way; he would never be a big-league player, or even a college player, but whenever he found a game he jumped at the chance to play and to win.
If this sounds like a romantic or foolish impulse to us today, it is because most of American life, including baseball, no longer feels feasible. We know everything about the game now, thanks to instant replay and computerized stats, and what we seem to have concluded is that almost none of us are good enough to play it. Thanks to television and sports journalism, we also know everything about the skills and financial worth and private lives of the enormous young men we have hired to play baseball for us, but we don’t seem to know how to keep their salaries or their personalities within human proportions. We don’t like them as much as we once did, and we don’t like ourselves as much, either. Baseball becomes feasible from time to time, not much more, and we fans must make prodigious efforts to rearrange our profoundly ironic contemporary psyches in order to allow its old pleasure to reach us. My father wasn’t naïve; he was lucky.

Are we actually hindered by too much knowledge sometimes? Do we become so overwhelmed by the cacaphony of voices, facts, opinions, and news that they become a hurdle to building our own paths? The incoming barrage becomes so daunting, that we no longer want to play?
Can't be.
We just want to play a game. The fact that others play it on a larger stage, and do it so much better than us, shouldn't keep us from having our own fun.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Locking up little old ladies

"Administration lawyers told her, in response to a hypothetical question, that they believed the president would even have the right to lock up "a little old lady from Switzerland" for the duration of the war on terror if she had written checks to a charity that she believed helped orphans, but that actually was a front for Al Qaeda. "

This, in federal court; the 'her' is the judge. Quoted from Bob Herbert's op-ed piece in the Times today.

Stay calm. We must remember that this is a democracy: we have elected over 400 people to those halls in Washington, and they can still outnumber that one person in the White House. Thankfully.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Loneliness of SOV's

“…I thought the only lonely place was on the moon.”
Paul McCartney, “Jet”

Most of my daily commute covers 25 miles of the New York State Thruway. The traffic is heavy during both morning and evening commuting hours, particularly between Exits 25 and 23.

One thing is very striking about each vehicle: the driver is nearly always the only person in the car.

Thousands of single-occupancy-vehicles each day. A mass of steel and rubber jockeying for road room at 70 miles an hour, all with one individual over each set of four tires. How lonely can we seem? How lost in ourselves are each and every one?

Naturally, we are all pretty busy while we cruise toward our place of employ or schooling. We listen to our radios and CD players. Some people shout at other drivers or give them the digit of universal disdain. We drink our coffee, eat our breakfast, do our makeup. Some even read the paper.

Those who crave human conversation will take out their cell phones, and flaunt the law. The safer ones have a wire crossing their shoulder, with that little knob about a foot below the earlobe, looking for all the world like an on-off switch rather than a receiver.

But in the end, don’t we look like hundreds of very lonely people? We represent one of the ironies of the metropolis age: mankind is crowding together in larger and larger metro/suburban/exurban communities, with more and more people on less and less space -- but we isolate ourselves from our neighbors. Big lawns and fences separate our homes. We drive into our driveways, shut the garage door behind us, and never even see our neighbor, much less wave to her. We walk up the front steps of the city brownhouse, or apartment building, and unlock the front door – the one with the bars, multiple latches, and camera above the alcove.

Our electronics keep us focused elsewhere – not really inward, just somewhere else. Digital music players and radios that come with small earpieces, so we can shut out anything within one foot. Huge 50-inch televisions, where we bury ourselves in vivid pictures and sounds. Video games that lock the mind into never-ending vignettes and chapters, hooked together in a seamless story that takes hours and cannot be broken.

I can’t fully condemn us commuters. For many, this may be the only solo time they get. Generally, we probably could be riding with a neighbor, working around the logistical problems and timetables, having a little human conversation and contact.

Meanwhile, we travel in a pack of SOVs. Yup, that’s me in the salt-covered black Focus. Driving by myself. Probably listening to Yes. Ask me if I’m lonely…

Monday, January 31, 2005

Winter Art

The last day of the month. As usual, we'll end the month with a poem.
Winter Art

White is the presence of all colors,
so the sky dropped an entire palette last night:
a foot of crystalline paint flecks
that create bright reflections
in the morning sunshine,
preserved by cold air,
a wide expansive gallery
bringing vivid art to our minds eye.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

From Infomercials to Payola

Another journalist (a misnomer, perhaps?) admits being paid to write material for a government agency. Maggie Gallagher apologizes for accepting $21,000 to write materials promoting marriage. She also wrote a published article on the subject for an assistant secretary of Health and Human Services.

Actually, the government can hire whomever it wants to work for them, even on a contractual basis. The agency must comply with federal procurement regulations when hiring contractors, which I assume it did in this case (although this payout was so small that it probably falls under the radar).

So, what’s the issue? Well the problem is different for Gallagher than it was for the previous transgressor, commentator Armstrong Williams. Williams was paid to sell the President’s education policy on his talk show, which he did by having the subject on the show’s agenda rather frequently and interviewing Education Secretary Rod Paige. Williams was essentially being paid to be a shill for the administration.

Gallagher, on the other hand, was just a paid copy writer. The agency hired her for her writing skills (and the fact that she spoke their red state language…oh, darn, I’ve fallen into that overhyped stereotype). She didn’t use her column to push the administration’s specific agenda on the subject for which she was paid. This issue taints her more than it taints the administration, because now she is painted with the same brush as Williams: the supposed journalistic integrity that comes with being a columnist is now blurred because she became a paid agent of the government.

In my earlier post, I called it the government’s new infomercial. It might better be called the government’s new payola.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Another $80 billion for Tribute

$80 billion more for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Liberty has a high price. A fiscal price out of our economy. A human cost from our population. A loss of respect from the rest of the world for our policy methods.

All from national arrogance expressed by our leadership.

This money is only a short term payment. As Seymour Hersh has written in The New Yorker, the administration has even wider plans that will cost us even more in the currency of dollars, lives, and respect. Ugh.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Iraq as Foreign Policy

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one….

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way. …

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies….

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you…

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.

These are incredibly powerful words. They could be plucked directly from writings of American patriots of the 1770s. They are noble words, concepts that can be defended by nearly anyone who believes in the tenets of liberty and democracy.

These are the words of George Bush in his 2005 inaugural speech. In that context, they are potentially dangerous.

U.S. foreign policy has historically been a bifurcated model, driven by two goals: the spread of our democratic ideals to other nations, and the protection of American interests. Sometimes those elements conflict. We have supported totalitarian governments in order to protect our needs; the Shah of Iran was certainly no scion of democratic principles in the 1970s, but he sat on a huge pool of oil that we needed. We have also professed one goal in order to defend another: our entry into Vietnam was to ‘contain the spread of communism’ and protect the democratic rights of the Vietnamese people, when actually we were worried about Soviet expansion into a friendly economic sphere in the Indian Ocean. We used to thump our chest about keeping all foreign intruders out of our hemisphere (that old chestnut, the ‘Monroe Doctrine’), claiming that we wanted to spread our umbrella of democracy to all our neighbors. But it was certainly in our interests to keep more powerful European countries out of our trade routes.

Bush has declared that our highest priority is the spread of liberty and democracy. He used the prime directive of government as his reason: protection and security of the American people. Terrorism is a threat to our security. Democratic countries would not let terrorism thrive within their borders. Therefore, we must convert the world to democracy.

The President has now extended his rationale for the invasion of Iraq to his entire foreign policy portfolio. The Iraq rationale was misapplied, used as an excuse after all other reasons were proven wrong – the existence of WMD, the elimination of Iraq as a breeding ground for terrorism. We have paid a price for that misguided decision: 1300 Americans killed, thousands wounded, and billions of dollars spent. We are now committed to rebuilding Iraq, which will take a generation.

A President’s vision, and our national foreign policy, has been created out of the same poor strategic thinking.