Wednesday, August 31, 2011

because there is bacon, there are eggs!

I'd been rummaging lately to locate a college novel to read since this is about the time of year I do that. I'd been looking at a couple but yesterday I got the oddest urge to read horror and picked up this novel I'd bought 4 or 5 years ago. surprisingly, this one takes care of both yens. it takes place among victorian-era university graduates, 1 of whom (the narrator) is a professor at oxbridge, and the other teaches maths in the small fictional town of thurchester. it's an interesting read thus far and, unlike elizabeth peters, charles palliser has the patter of late 19th century prose down. I esp appreciated this dialogue:

"'I've heard that the chapter suffers particularly acutely from the usual conflicts between the ritualists and the evangelicals,' I said...

"'that's what lies behind the argument about work on the cathedral,' [austin] said with a nod. 'for some people it is nothing but a beautiful old shell and they want to preserve it unchanged because for them it has no significance beyond its material being.'

"I smiled to hide my irritation. 'is anyone who loves old churches to be regarded as an infidel?'

"'I'm talking of all those in this age who have made a religion out of things peripheral to, or other than, christianity: music, history, art, literature.'

"...'speaking for myself, I would say that I've retained the moral meaning of works of art like the cathedral but separated it from the baggage of superstition.'

"...he slowly repeated my words. 'the baggage of superstition. you and your ilk are the purveyors of baggage. what you have done is to put together a jumble of beliefs, to produce a new form of superstition that is much more dangerous than anything in christianity. and of less use. it won't help you with the great issues: loss, the death of those you love, the imminence of your own death.'

"'is that what religion should be? a comforting fiction? I'd rather choose the truth...however harsh it might be.'

"'there's nothing harsher than christianity.'

"'are you a believer now, austin? you used not to be.'

"'you're talking of twenty years past,' he said irritably. 'don't you think some things might have changed in the world outside the confines of a cambridge college?...as undergraduates we used to talk glibly of christianity as superstition...a superstition which had all but evaporated in the light of rationalism and whose final disappearance we confidently predicted. but now I understand that it is the other way around: that without faith, all you have is superstition. fear of the dark, of ghosts, of the realm of death which continues to frighten us, whatever we believe. we need stories to stop us being frightened...what I'm talking about is faith, belief, acceptance of the absolute reality of salvation and damnation. you--and others of our generation--lost your faith because you decided that science can explain everything. I believed that myself for a while but I came to understand that reason and faith are not in conflict. they are different orders of reality. although I understand that now, when I was younger I shared your error. I know now that because there is darkness, there is light. that because there is death, there is life. because there is evil, there is goodness. because there is damnation, there is redemption.'

"'because there is bacon, there are eggs!' I could not prevent myself from exclaiming. 'what poppycock!'"

--from the unburied by charles palliser

Monday, August 29, 2011

weeding

weeding is a blessing and a curse, and another blessing again. it's a blessing because it's repetitive and in the silence of the garden where all I hear are birds, the lowing of nearby cows, and the hum from the distant interstate, my mind drifts and flows and I'm unaware of the hours passing. it's a curse because it has to be done so often; there is as yet no foolproof way to prevent grass and broadleaves and dandelions from filtering up through the mesh we lay down and mar what we take pains to sculpt. and it's a blessing again because for those hours all my problems and issues and insecurities are reduced to getting these plants out of this plot of land.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

more mullino moore

"in truth, people who have suffered much often find their greatest hope in jesus' suffering. is this because it justifies their suffering? I doubt it. yet, the suffering of jesus does honor and identify with their suffering. it is not strange, therefore, that in parts of the world where poverty and oppression are intense, so is devotion to the crucified christ. it is not strange that people in the early christian church crawled on their knees up the steps in rome that were traditionally thought to be the steps jesus walked to meet pilate. it is not strange that the holy sepulchre in jerusalem, where jesus is thought to have been crucified and buried, is shared by six churches--latin catholic, greek orthodox, armenian, syrian, coptic, and ethiopian. it is not strange that the same church is a pilgrimage site for thousands of people each year. people yearn for god when they suffer. they yearn to know that god is with them and suffers with them."

--from teaching as a sacramental act by mary elizabeth mullino moore [her emphases]

moore's reasoning is solid here except that she glosses over a very important aspect of suffering and xianity: what about when the church itself or xianity itself is the cause of peoples' suffering? I'm not only talking about historical suffering--the murders and massacres of early and later churches, from the rooting out of heretics to crusades to witchhunts--I'm also talking about more recent aspects--the ease with which xianity found itself explaining slavery as god's will; the use to which missionaries put deutoronomy 13 to justify having natives who would not convert put to death by their newly xian neighbors (or, in the case of amerindians, killed by xian settlers); the xian mine and business owners who used the words of romans 13 to justify unionbusting and busting the heads of unionized workers and their families; the alleged cozying up by the catholic church with nazi authorities in rome and berlin and occupied nations; the xian pastors and priests who sat on the fence (at best) or defended the actions of bull connor and such men (at worst) during the civil rights movement; and the xians who find it all too easy today to preach hatred of gays and lesbians, or of immigrants, or of muslims or jews, and the xian prosperity movement that blames the poor for their own situation.

my point is not that mullino moore's point is wrong or offbase but that there are numerous examples in which xianity or xians are the cause of others' suffering. and it is of this suffering mullino moore is silent. while it is wrong to criticize a book for what it is not, this is a topic that she should at least have mentioned in passing. failure to do so is an implicit suggestion this suffering does not exist. this decision spits on the graves of people who suffered this way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

an indistinguishable part of a single pulse

"a hermeneutic of wonder is the art of dwelling on one another (a text, person, sunset, or tree) with full attention to its wholeness, its complexity and simplicity, its intricate patterns of relationship. whether we focus on [walter] brueggemann's abiding astonishment, [abraham] heschel's radical amazement, or [howard] thurman's deepest things, we see the power of this hermeneutic. practiced in dramatic and simple moments, it uncovers 'blessings so intimate, so closely binding, that they do not seem to be blessings at all.' such blessings are important in themselves, but they also build a life of wonder, awakening people to moments that delight, annoy, and teach them about god and god's world.

"whether approaching a biblical text or walking in the woods, one may actively seek wonder (through biblical criticism), practice disciplines of sillness (lectio divina), or contemplate in silence. the result may be a sense of communion with the forest or the text, which transcends the obvious and reveals god in the commonplace. 'one becomes an indistinguishable part of a single rhythm, a single pulse.' these experiences are treasures, and while they do not happen in every moment, they can potentially color the rest of our lives..."

--from teaching as a sacramental act by mary elizabeth mullino moore (her emphases)

I shy away from using words like hermeneutic, praxis, gestalt, and sacramental, partly because I'm never enitirely certain what they mean, and mostly because there are other, better, simpler words I can often use (why say "sacramental" when you can easily use "sacred" in the title of this text?). still, this is a good quote that takes an awful lot of words to say something that e.m. forster said better and more simply: "only connect." connect with your text, connect with your forest, connect with your community. or more exactly, be open to those connections because we are never certain when or if they will come. I walk in the woods daily with my dogs and I'd have to say my moments of connection (and they are often only moments despite or maybe because of my concentration) would barely add up to 5 minutes if strung together consecutively. it's only the memory of those touches of connectivity, reflected on at leisure, that make sense, not the original experiences themselves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

all these places have their moments

I'm fond of abandoned places, houses, factories, barns. I stayed in a lot of them over the years living in my car. I could never call myself a squatter because I never stayed more than a night or 2 and tried to make my presence as lowkey as possible.

I've been itching to do another mashup and a friend's posting yesterday of a number of photos from the abandoned building where we attended middle school gave me the impetus to do so. this is what used to be roeliff jansen school in hillsdale, ny. the school district left it in 1999 and it's currently up for sale and renovation.

video

Monday, August 22, 2011

teach naked

I haven't done this before but this blog entry from mock, paper, scissors is worth posting a link to. it's a pretty accurate and unsentimental reflection of what a lot of us who have been turned out by states where anti-government starve-the-beast policies have gained sway are experiencing. similarly, I'm also feeling the loneliness of the 1st day of school with nowhere to go...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"life was a war"

earlier this year I realized that, aside from a couple chapters in high school french class, I'd never read victor hugo's massive les miserables. so I picked up a well-worn copy off the free book table at one of the local libraries and began picking my way through it bit by bit. I've reached somewhere in the 100s--looking at it on the table right now about 1/25th of the way through. the description of jean valjean from book 1 is too contemporary to pass up. (again, my emphases.)

"he was an untutored man...but that is not to say that he was stupid. there was a spark of natural intelligence in him; and adversity, which sheds its own light, had fostered the light slowing dawning in his mind. under the lash and in chains, on fatigue and in the solitary cell, under the burning mediterranean sun and on the prisoner's plank bed, he withdrew into his own conscience and reflected.

"consituting himself judge and jury, he began by trying his own case.

"he admitted that he was not an innocent man unjustly punished. he had committed an excessive and blameworthy act. the loaf of bread [he had stolen] might not have been refused him if he had asked for it, and in any event it would have been better to wait, either for charity or for work. the argument, 'can a man wait when he is half-starved' was not unanswerable, for the fact is that very few people literally die of hunger...he should have had patience, and this would have been better even for the children [for whom he'd stolen the bread]. to attempt to take society by the throat, vulnerable creature that he was, and to suppose that he could escape from poverty through theft, had been an act of folly. in any case, the road leading to infamy was a bad road of escape. he admitted all this--in short, that he had done wrong.

"but then he asked questions.

"was he the only one at fault in this fateful business? was it not a serious matter that a man willing to work should have been without work and without food? and, admitting the offence, had not the punishment been ferocious and outrageous? was not the law more at fault in the penalty it inflicted than he had been in the crime he committed? had not the scales of justice been over-weighted on the side of expiation? and did not this weighting of the scales, far from effacing the crime, produce a quite different result, namely, a reversal of the situation, substituting for the original crime the crime of oppression, making the criminal a victim and the law his debtor, transferring justice to the side of him who had offended against it? did not the penalty...become in the end a sort of assault by the stronger on the weaker, a crime committed by society against the individual and repeated daily...

"he asked himself whether human society had the right to impose upon its members, on the one hand its mindless improvidence and, on the other hand, its merciless providence; to grind a poor man between the millstones of need and excess--need of work and excess of punishment. was it not monstrous that society should treat in this fashion precisely those least favoured in the distribution of wealth, which is a matter of chance, and therefore those most needing indulgence?

"he asked these questions and, having answered them, passed judgement on society.

"he condemned it to his hatred. he held it responsible for what he was undergoing and resolved that, if the chance occured, he would not hesitate to call it to account. he concluded that there was no true balance between the wrong he had done and the wrong that was inflicted on him, and that although his punishment might not be technically an injustice it was beyond question an iniquity.

"anger may be ill-considered and absurd; we may be mistakenly angered; but only when there is some deep-seated reason are we outraged. jean valjean was outraged.

"moreover society as a whole had done him nothing but injury. he had seen nothing of it but the sour face which it calls justice and shows only to those it castigates. men had touched him only to hurt him; his only contact with them had been through blows. frm the time of his childhood, and except for his mother and sister, he had never encountered a friendly word or a kindly look. during the years of suffering he reached the conclusion that life was a war in which he was one of the defeated. hatred was his only weapon, and he resolved to sharpen it in prison and carry it with him when he left."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

do the best things in the worst times

this morning I served pulpit supply--was the guest preacher--at 2 ucc congregations in colby and athens, wi, where I was welcomed and treated well, but I don't expect I'll be asked by either of them to return. the sermon below is what I wrote for them. I was somewhat at a disadvantage since I only had to write a 5-6 page sermon but I didn't have time to do that so I wrote an 8 page sermon that I hacked and slashed down to 6 and a half. this is the result.

Psalms 133 Sermon


“Do the Best Things in the Worst Times”
A Sermon Delivered to The 1st United Church of Christ,
Colby and Athens, Wisconsin, August 14, 2011,

I looked it up and you folks weren't part of the recall election last Tuesday. You missed a great election. I live in the 10th district where there are particularly harsh feelings about our state senator and what she has and hasn’t done for the people of her district in the last decade. We’re gearing up for yet another in other districts next week. In this last election, as elections are wont to do, some people came away happy and many came away angry. That’s as it’s always been. From the perspective of an American voter in the early 21st century, it certainly looks like the country is as divided as it’s ever been, maybe more so than at any time in American history. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, these positions are miles apart, aren’t they, seemingly irreconcilable. It’s never been this divisive, we’ve never been as separate before, certainly not in our lifetimes.

Only if “our lifetimes” don’t include the protests against the war in Vietnam when it seemed not a week went by without some violent demonstration, counterdemonstration, the bombings at the University in Madison or the police responses at the Chicago Democratic National Convention and Kent State. We have yet to experience many political conflagrations, certainly not like Norway, for instance, has. And for some of us, “our lifetimes” include the Great Depression, during which them what had went to whatever lengths they felt necessary—up to and including hiring private police forces who infamously used clubs and revolvers and set fires at mines like Ludlow, Lattimer and Columbine—to keep them what hadn’t who were beginning to unionize. And while none of us can count it as happening in “our lifetimes,” certainly today’s divisions are as nothing compared with the period of 1840-1865 when slavery and freedom were such contentious issues the country took up arms against itself to settle the matter.

None of us is immune to the wish-fulfillment of blame. Just the other day I told my wife I’d been thinking that afternoon about leaving her and moving out into the middle of the woods with no phone and no car and no internet and spending my days standing at the end of my driveway and shaking my fist at everyone who passes. She reminded me that if I left her I’d need to take three of our animals and their upkeep would surely cut into my fist-shaking time so I might as well stay home.

Some people blame President Obama for the country’s divisiveness and some people blame Republicans as if somehow one side or the other wants to govern a divided, off-kilter nation. Some blame public religion or the lack of public religions as if churches and synagogues and mosques don’t all have their own schisms and issues going on. Something has left us feeling like there’s something between us, as if there’s, not a wall exactly, but a sense of disconnect. We’re missing one another, walking past each other, even though we’re saying “Hi” and shaking hands, as if the other person somehow isn’t quite there.

The Psalm we read this morning seems almost to comment on this disconnect. “How pleasant it is,” the psalmist writes, “when kindred live together in unity!” Had that been written today I’d suspect the author of sarcasm at the least, dismay at the worst.

Because we don’t live in unity, do we? I mean, well, we might here in this church and even here in this town, but as a state? As a nation? No, sir, not a bit of it. We’re constantly yelling at one another over the radio and the television and the internet—you always know someone doesn’t trust his words WHEN HE TYPES OUT HIS MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS—and sometimes at the family barbecue and at work. Some of us are frustrated because we’re working two and three jobs and some of us because we aren’t even working one. Sometimes it seems the single difference between the uprisings going on this year in some Arab nations or Great Britain and the US is that no one here has thought to start heaving bricks at cops. That may change. After all, this is America, where we have more handguns available than bricks.

But the psalmist isn’t being sarcastic. He or she isn’t being ironic. He or she is quite sincere. How can that be, since the psalmist was living in a wonderful age when everyone was closer to god and thought of god all the time, paid attention to god and followed god’s laws to the best of his or her ability, or at least wasn’t actively fighting god and religion the way some people seem to do now? I'm not a believer in a golden age but think on this. A mere 2 years ago we saw an incredible outpouring of relief and hope—I felt it and I’m certain many of you did too—when Barack Obama, whose campaign slogan was the positive "yes, we can," was elected. We've lost that hope somewhere between then and now. We have moved from the radical notion that "yes, we can" to a politics of "no, you can't."

This is not entirely unexpected but what makes it particularly galling is that, amid the national and local talk of economic feasibility, of cost benefit and entitlement and loss and "what it costs the taxpayers," there is no corresponding talk about human beings. Of sharing. Of helping one another. Of community. We have entered a time and political place when a majority of citizens seem to feel the motto of the US ought to be changed from e pluribus unum, "out of many, one," to meeum habeo, "I got mine."

Has it ever been any different? Well, sure, right there, Psalm 133. That’s certainly a golden moment when everyone was looking out for one another. If only we could resurrect that time, go back to everyone looking out for his neighbor and there wasn’t all this infighting and backstabbing and calling one another names.

As Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “It’s pretty to think so.” The truth is there’s never any golden time, never a silver or a bronze age as compared with our contemporary lead one when people had one another’s best interests at heart and truly loved their neighbors and had one another uppermost in their thoughts. Scholars don’t know when individual psalms were created or even written down but the book as it comes down to contemporary readers was probably anthologized during the 4th Century BCE, the period after the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persians whose king, Xerxes—you may remember him as the villain of the movie 300—allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland and helped in the restoration of the Second Temple. Some of them predate the Babylonian Exile and the destruction of the Temple. The transcriber of 133 is writing at a time when the people of Israel have come together out of a century—for the Jews of the northern kingdom, two centuries—of exile and second-class citizenship in a foreign land. To be sure, not everyone was moved out of what was once Israel and Judah, only the nobility and the most important citizens. Thousands of others were left essentially leaderless and without protection, victimized by anyone who might have happened along with a superior weapon and nothing to lose.

When we think about exile today we think of refugee camps, of malaria and stagnant water and death by diseases easily cured in less-crowded places, and it was like that in those times too. The book of Psalms is divided into several types, the most common of which, you might not be surprised to learn, is the individual lament, the crying out to god for help for oneself. There are also communal laments whose tragedies reflect contemporary experiences in the Sudan and Somalia:

"My days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is stricken and withered like grass; I am too wasted to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my skin…All day long my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. For I eat ashes like bread, and mingle tears with my drink, because of your indignation and anger; for you have lifted me up and thrown me aside. My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass."

There are also songs or psalms of trust, of individual and communal thanksgiving. “O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” There are paeans to divinity and creation, songs of celebration and liturgies, psalms of kingship and royalty and celebrating the lineage of David (many of these were written during the times when Israel and Judah, the northern and southern kingdoms, were kingdoms ruled by David’s descendants). There are psalms celebrating Zion and pilgrimage and there are songs about wisdom. There are songs of immense beauty and trust: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” And there are songs of great cruelty and vengeance: “Happy shall be they who pay [Babylon] back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your babies and dash their brains against the rock!” The Psalms are a repository for nearly every emotion, good and bad, a people in exile felt.

But in 133, subtitled a song of ascent, one which people sung as they made pilgrimage up the hills of Jerusalem, the people are coming together again after being apart for so long and they sing about the pleasure of being with one another as a community and as a people. You must understand, in this time and place, if you had no people and you had no land, and no way to make certain other people recognized those two things, then you were the equivalent of an unbranded steer in 1870s Abilene, Texas. Free to be owned and done with by anyone who took the trouble to acquire you and with no more access to redress than that steer had. It was a blessing to be with one another again. To be one people. To be a single, unified group.

Our Muslim friends and neighbors are currently celebrating Ramadan which takes as its initial offer that, like Gandhi said, we should be the change we want to see in the world—Surah 2: 183 and 185 of the Qur’an reads “O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation…Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast…GOD wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify GOD for guiding you, and to express your appreciation”—and adds to it the idea that we should all do it together. This is communal experience at its best, acknowledging the shared hunger for something outside oneself and then coming together to expunge that hunger as a community.

African culture reproaches us to remember, “I am because we are.” Annie Dillard in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek reminds us that we have an obligation “to keep the world from falling apart.” To do this we must come together to, as author Richard Gilbert puts it, “do the best things in the worst times.” We do this to bring about what my denomination, Unitarian Universalism, calls the Beloved Community and what Christians call the Kingdom of God.

What is this hard work we should do, what should this community look like? I don’t exactly know and for each of us it might be a little different. E.B. White, author of children’s classics Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, admitted he woke each morning “torn between the desire to improve the world and the desire to enjoy the world. This,” he notes, “makes it hard to plan the day.”

But this I do know. Take a moment to look to the left of you, and then to the right. Take a moment to smile at the person you see. Take his or her hand. Feel the warmth of their hands, the pulse just fluttering beneath the surface, the strong life that is there. How good it is when we are together. These are the companions you are to do this work with. You will find no better.



Friday, August 12, 2011

the us must claw money back from the top 1%

"My analysis is quite simple and follows the apocryphal statement attributed to Willie Sutton. The wealth that has accrued to those in the top 1 per cent of the US income distribution is so massive that any serious policy program must begin by clawing it back.

"If their 25 per cent, or the great bulk of it, is off-limits, then it’s impossible to see any good resolution of the current US crisis. It’s unsurprising that lots of voters are unwilling to pay higher taxes, even to prevent the complete collapse of public sector services. Median household income has been static or declining for the past decade, household wealth has fallen by something like 50 per cent (at least for ordinary households whose wealth, if they have any, is dominated by home equity) and the easy credit that made the whole process tolerable for decades has disappeared. In these circumstances, welshing on obligations to retired teachers, police officers and firefighters looks only fair.

"In both policy and political terms, nothing can be achieved under these circumstances, except at the expense of the top 1 per cent. This is a contingent, but inescapable fact about massively unequal, and economically stagnant, societies like the US in 2010. By contrast, in a society like that of the 1950s and 1960s, where most people could plausibly regard themselves as middle class and where middle class incomes were steadily rising, the big questions could be put in terms of the mix of public goods and private income that was best for the representative middle class citizen. The question of how much (more) to tax the very rich was secondary – their share of national income was already at an all time low."

--economist john quiggin quoted in "income inequality is bad for rich people too" by yves smith from the august 12 edition of salon magazine (my emphasis)

*the above map is available here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

people are political animals

aristotle said it 1st but it bears repeating. wherever 2 or more are gathered, so there will be a caucus.

here on the rim we went through another seismic shakeup that wasn't, with a result similar in 1 district to another seismic shakeup-that-wasn't just in april. (I've begun to be asked when voting to provide identification which the state republicans, in a solution in search of a problem, insist will counter voter fraud, but seems to have no impact on actual voter fraud.) the democratic party won 2 seats in the recall--and there is reason to see hope in that--but lost the other 4 by margins that the gop will surely consider an electoral mandate. there will continue to be no compromise on the part of the state ruling group.

I'm not a believer in a golden age. but a mere 2 years ago there was an incredible outpouring of relief and hopefulness when barack obama, a candidate whose campaign slogan was the positive "yes, we can," was elected. we've lost that hope somewhere as we have moved from a political culture of "yes, we can" to a politics of "no, you can't."

this is not entirely unexpected but what makes it particularly galling is that, amid the national and local talk of economic feasibility, of cost benefit and entitlement and loss and "what it costs the taxpayers," there is no corresponding talk about human beings. of sharing. of community. of helping 1 another. we have entered a time and political place when a majority of voters--as opposed to a majority of citizens--feel the motto of the us ought to be changed from e pluribus unum, "out of many, one," to meeum habeo, "I got mine."

decades ago, after I'd graduated from college the 1st time but was still hanging around new paltz, word got around that the student senate had voted to cancel spring weekend. this was a special time for people in the area, a weekend when a major bands were brought in to play free concerts in the rear fields of the campus, a place dubbed "the tripping fields" by grace slick when jefferson airplane and the who played there in 69. it was an incredibly unpopular decision but the senate had good, solid reasons for doing so: every year the senate, which footed the bill from student activity fees, lost money because of injuries, arrests, vandelism to the property and cleanup. I'd attended for years and the place on monday morning looked like parts of britain currently look.

a guy I knew from my time as sports editor, marty, was on the senate and he and a small coterie of senators had spread the word that there should have been public discussion of the decision since it had an impact on a huge number of people. the following week a special session of the senate was held and the meeting, which normally took place in one of the smaller rooms of the student center, opened in the auditorium, which had been outfitted with bleachers and stacking chairs. it was packed, and by the time I got there a half hour before the meeting, it was standing room only.

to call the meeting contentious would be an understatement. it was raucous and loud and the senators tried valiently but in vain to keep the crowd from interrupting proceedings. it soon emerged that the senate was overwhelmingly against footing the bill for a drunken orgy every year.

but the noise and the tumult was democracy in action. soon the senate voted to hold its meeting in executive session, which meant only senators present, a vote that was immensely unpopular with the visitors. marty led the effort to rescind that vote, listening to the hundreds of people who'd come to make comment on the decision. there was 1 guy, I never knew his name, but he was among the loudest and most adamant that spring weekend ought to continue as it had and that he was there to make certain that it did. marty seemed to look on him as an ally in the crowd.

1 by 1 the senators recanted their votes on the executive session and the noise when they reappeared in the auditorium was deafening. 1 by 1 people stood up and addressed the senate and the group and it was obvious that springweekend, whatever the cost, was a popular and extraordinarily well-received tradition. 1 by 1 the senate votes changed until, at about midnight, the vote stood at a plurality of senators in favor of continuing the practice, damn the cost.

the place erupted in applause. and almost immediately emptied out. but the meeting wasn't over yet: there were still a number of issues to consider like a possible rise in student fees to cover the costs, new rules for student organizations, additions to the campus code of conduct and others.

I remember marty standing in the center of the room saying vainly, "stay and have a voice about what to do with these issues too." but everyone swarmed out of the room, and I remember marty addressing the guy he'd seen as his ally and the guy saying, "I got what I wanted." soon, there was no one in the room except the senators and about 12 people, including me, and I left soon after because it was getting late and the bars would close soon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

is anyone to blame?

because I have failed to see these quotes from the actual s&p report in most news media--with the exception of thom hartmann, rachel maddow, and susie madrak at crooks & liars--I think it's important to keep a record of them. the report lays out, quite explicitly, why s&p downgraded the nation's credit rating and the parties it feels are responsible. the emphases are mine. the full report is here.

"We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process...

"Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public
debt burden
and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent
with our criteria...Nevertheless, we view the U.S. federal government's other economic, external, and monetary credit attributes, which form the basis for the sovereign rating, as broadly unchanged...

"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently...

"Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt burden in a manner consistent with a 'AAA' rating and with 'AAA' rated sovereign peers...In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government's ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging...A new political consensus might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S. population's demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at hand...

"The [2011 budget control] act [amendment] calls for as much as $2.4 trillion of reductions in expenditure growth over the 10 years through 2021. These cuts will be implemented in two steps: the $917 billion agreed to initially, followed by an additional $1.5 trillion that the newly formed Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is supposed to recommend by November 2011. The act contains no measures to raise taxes or otherwise enhance revenues, though the committee could recommend them...

"We view the act's measures as a step toward fiscal consolidation. However, ...[even]
assuming that at least $2.1 trillion of the spending reductions the act envisages are implemented, we maintain our view that the U.S. net general government debt burden (all levels of government combined, excluding liquid financial assets) will likely continue to grow.
Under our revised base case fiscal scenario--which we consider to be consistent with a 'AA+' long-term rating and a negative outlook--we now project that net general government debt would rise from an estimated 74% of GDP by the end of 2011 to 79% in 2015 and 85% by 2021. Even the projected 2015 ratio of sovereign indebtedness is high in relation to those of peer credits and, as noted, would continue to rise under the act's revised policy settings...

"Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now
assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012,
remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority
of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise
revenues,
a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act..."


Saturday, August 6, 2011

you're not worth my time

likely because we had tickets to the science museum of minnesota's king tut exhibit--which, despite their cost, we did not end up using because my wife developed a debilitating migraine, and I'd rather eat $100 than have her in misery for an afternoon--I grabbed an elizabeth peters mystery on my way out the door to an errand that involved sitting for an hour and a half. it was called the hippopotamus pool and it was execrable.

I should qualify that. the 1st 50 pages were execrable. the rest might be spectacular but I'll never know. I give any book an hour and if it doesn't make me want to keep reading after the 1st 50 pages I give it up. I noted on my facebook page that peters is an exceptionally bad writer but that's not really true. she's a very clever writer who probably can write well, perhaps for her more contemporary mysteries or her supernatural novels under the name barbara michaels, but she tries to make her amelia peabody novels a pastiche of the writing prevalent of the time in which they take place--the turn into the 20th century--and she gets some things right but the spirit wrong. as a person who reads a lot of novels from that period I'm familiar that there's a certain feel to the writing that readers come to expect, a certain verbosity and ornateness and unwillingness to name unpleasant things for what they are. I'm not certain attempting to write in that style by contemporary authors is necessary, although some--nicholas myers, laurie king, alan moore, julian barnes, anne perry, and of course george macdonald fraser, among others--do it very, very well.

it is usually sex that leads to trouble in these things and peters has made an especially unhappy attempt to invoke it, at least here. it's not a bad thing to want to go against the received wisdom that proper victorians were not the sexless prudes we've imagined them--indeed, frank harris made a cottage industry debunking that--but it is bad to suggest it with a fist made of ham and pork, which is the case here.

"I now make certain that the buttons on emerson's shirts are sewn with double thicknesses of thread, since they were always popping off when he disrobed in haste or when he expanded the impressive breadth of his chest. this was an old shirt; the buttons slipped handily out of the holes, and as he extended his arms to their full length, quite a large expanse of his person, smoothly tanned and artistically modeled, became visible.

"'really, emerson, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,' I said. 'if you think you can distract me from my maternal obligations in that crude, unsubtle fashion--'

"'unsubtle? my dear peabody, you don't know what you are saying. now if I had done this...or this...'

"leaving the cat anubis to the sitting room, we retired to our own."

this book is not worth my time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

a world of infinite complexity

"I learned, to my surprise, that most of the radical ideas my friends and I were suggesting had already been thought of, considered, analyzed, and had problems in their implementation that we had never dreamed of. I learned to respect many of the men who worked in huge bureaucracies, who limited their own freedom, and who made it possible occassionally for the radical ideas of others to be implemented. I learned that the difficulty with many radical ideas lay in the fact that so many varied interests played a role in government, and that most of them were legitimate interests. it was a big country, and it contained more kinds of people than were dreamed of on the shores of the hudson. I learned, in quite strictly conservative fashion, to develop a certain respect for what was: in a world of infinite complexity, some things had emerged and survived, and if the country was in many ways better than it might be or had been (just as in many ways it was much worse than it might be or would be), then something was owed to its political institutions and organizational structures."

--from "on being deradicalized; or, the confessions of nat glazer" by nathan glazer in the october 1970 issue of commentary; quoted in intellectual skywriting: literary politics and the new york review of books by philip nobile. (emphasis added)

is it evolution if, in 40 years, conservativism's primary message shifts from a 1sthand appreciation for the efforts of government and government workers (glazer, a 50s radical, came to conservatism after having worked in the kennedy administration; as a founder of the public interest, his neoconservative credentials are pretty solid) to a wish to drown them in the bathtub?

Monday, August 1, 2011

the debt ceiling is an anachronism

I'm not terribly up on financial stuff--that's for my wife, who translates financial legalese into moreorless general conversation for a living after all--and although I did spend a semester studying economics before receiving my 1st adjunctship, it's something I'm happy to leave to her gentle mercies. but this explanation of the debt ceiling from a recent new yorker comes heavily recommended by her and it's understandable even to a money neophyte like myself. the lesson I come away from it with is that, like most gun deaths, the debt ceiling is something wholly within our political power to eradicate or at least to seriously curb and it's only lack of willingness or, as surowiecki puts it about ceiling talk regressivenenss, because "the republicans seem to be more willing than the democrats to let the country default" (read: "more willing to accept collateral civilian deaths") that our summer has been wasted with this irrelevent topic. as surowiecki also points out, "when some tea partiers said they wouldn't vote to raise the ceiling under any circumstances, they became irrelevant to the conversation." to our shame and discomfort we did not let them remain so.