Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday Musings: Memories of Grandmother

The other night my grandmother climbed up a ladder to retrieve some canned berries.  Then she suggested to my wife that they should use candied ginger and canned mushrooms to make breakfast.  My wife shrugged, accepted the offer of a More menthol cigarette, and got to work.   I haven’t dreamed about my grandmother in quite a while.  I think of her less often while awake too.  The truth is that I have to think pretty hard to even conjure up her voice in my head.  But she is still there, lurking in the recesses of my mind and waiting to pop out on random Saturday mornings as I get that much anticipated extra hour of sleep because of the kindness of my wife who neither cans berries nor smokes More menthol cigarettes but does get up early with the kids every Saturday.  My grandmother has been dead for more than fourteen years, but she and those canned mushrooms she used to give me are still there.  My kids know about both already.  But they will never meet her.  Neither will my wife.  Despite dreams of the old woman sliding down a ladder like a fireman, my Grandmother is gone.  Some little scraps of memory, augmented by various artifacts, will persevere.  But she is gone.  That is what happens to all of us.  We leave varying amounts of artifacts behind, but over time we mostly fade away.  Even a Presidential museum does not preserve a person … just their things, their accomplishments, and images, both still and moving.  They, the Presidents,  are not still moving … which is what I think about whenever folks talk about American individualism and decry most attempts to put value on the collective rather than its individual parts.   All that glorious individuality mostly disappears … and what doesn’t lives on because of the collective and its memory.  What is still moving are the people who look at the pictures, watch the videos, and visit the museums … the rest of us.  Us.  Not me or you.  Us.  It’s wisdom my grandmother reminded me of early Saturday morning … wisdom that we might all do well to keep in mind.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Free Friday: The Limits of Freedom

It is worth remembering that none of us is truly free.  We are all constrained, in one way or another .. or quite a few others.  For many of us money is a constraint.  Most of us have at least a few moral constraints ... for example I don't feel free to go around killing folks.  Most people are constrained by their relationships with other people.  I have two children, and as much as I love them I have to say that they can be constraining.  I also don't make very many important decisions without consulting my wife.  I don't really have co-workers, but many folks have to work with other folks ... and often feel at least a bit constrained by them.  I am constrained by my citizenship.  I have agreed to follow the laws of the land and to go along with the decisions of the majority of my fellow citizens on a number of issues including who should be our elected representatives.   I also have agreed to respect the rights of my fellow citizens.  My freedom can't infringe on their freedom.  My freedom, like their freedom, is partial.  Now, even though it is partial freedom, even though it is limited by all these constraints, it is still meaningful.  It is meaningful, and it is balanced with other considerations like safety, quality of life, equality, and fairness.  It is real.  It can be protected and used.  The bottom line is, when you see your freedom for what it is you can take full advantage of it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Theology Thursday: This World is Heavenly

A lot of folks need a new religion.  One that doesn’t see all humans as sinners trapped in an imperfect shadow of a world and eagerly seeking passes to the next one … the perfect one.  If you give it a chance I think you will find this world to be harder to understand than you thought, more confusing than you ever dreamed, and pretty darn remarkable.  Keep your eyes open.  Keep your ears open.  Keep your hands out … keep reaching out.  And if the next world comes, you should be just fine there too … because you let yourself be just fine in this one

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Sandy Hook as God's Response

If you’re God, what do you do when people take you out of schools?  What do you do when people start calling Christmas Trees “holiday trees?”  What do you do when people turn your son’s birthday into a consumer spectacle?  What do you do when men start marrying men just because they love them?  What do you do when more folks actually start thinking that trying to do right by each other is what really matters?  I think it goes without saying that you would set it up so some six and seven year old kids can get gunned down in their classrooms.  You’d also probably lob a killer storm at the East Coast.   That makes perfect sense.  I can see why people are linking these events to taking prayer out of schools and removing nativity scenes from city parks.  Who really believes in a loving God.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: Good Gardener/Bad Soil

John Darnielle captures my state of mind in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings when he sings:  

"This song is for the soil
That's toxic clear down to the bedrock
Where no thing of consequence can grow
Drop your seeds there
Let them go"
(Mountain Goats - Cotton)

I know this is an overreaction on my part, and a cliche one at that, but as a parent I can't help thinking that the 'soil' in which my 'seeds' are somehow managing to grow isn't the best.  I can't help wondering if my skill as a 'farmer' is entirely beside the point.  I can't help wishing I could apologize to my children and have that mean something, even though I would be apologizing for something "I can't and won't feel sorry for."  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Musings: A Gun For Teacher

I just can’t believe that anyone is really making the argument that it would be a safer country if more people were packing heat.  And I can’t understand what sort of person watched the coverage of Friday’s massacre of six and seven year olds and reached the conclusion that what we need is for elementary school teachers to have guns in their classroom.  I can think of nothing better than a loaded gun in close proximity to little kids.  I can think of nothing better than every idiot out there who now just snarls and gestures at me when I don’t drive fast enough having a gun to make their point more clearly.  What planet do you people live on?  I really want you to stop making these silly suggestions unless you have some small bit of evidence to back them up.  And data from Australia in 1998 doesn’t count.  Even if you find evidence, I still want you to stand in front of me, look me in the eye, and tell me that everyone out there that you want to arm with a gun is going to correctly perceive danger and use that gun to act in a level headed and measured way to address the danger.  The idea that the solution to controlling violent crime in the country with more guns than any other is to increase the number of guns is utter and complete nonsense.  Arming everybody is not the answer.  You don’t need guns to protect you from the government.  Obama isn’t coming to get you.  The time has come for us all to get serious.  We aren’t getting rid of guns.   We also don’t need assault rifles.  We do need common sense regulations on who can purchase a gun and how they can purchase it.  The time for channeling John Wayne and Tombstone is over.  It's time to step out of the fantasy and into reality, and to deal with that reality rationally, logically, and together.

Monday Musings: "Without Representation"

“Without representation.”  These are two very important words that folks seem to forget.  The American Revolution was not a fight against taxation, it was a fight against taxation “without representation.”  The idea is not that it is wrong to contribute to roads, bridges,  schools, and the like … but that it is wrong to contribute to those things and have no say in their planning or construction.  We now have representation, so taxation should be OK.  Since taxation is OK, we can stop it with the no tax pledges and the opposition to any tax and allow our elected representatives to get down to the business of working together to solve our financial problems with every tool at their disposal.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Free Friday: The Freedom To Not Get Shot

Freedom is a funny thing.  It’s one and it’s many.  It’s simple and it’s incredibly complex.  It’s huge and it’s microscopic.  It’s wonderful and it’s horrific.  If you are stuck in traffic and are going to miss the traditional family caroling adventure, then it feels as if it was right there in your hands and has been snatched away.  If you are in a field of flowers on a sunny day and can see all the way to the horizon and seemingly beyond, there are no limits to it.  If you are in a political science class or, god forbid, a Constitutional Law class, it is under the microscope and divided up and dissected in innumerable ways.  When you see your letter to the editor in the local paper or can go to the local polling place and vote for the first African American President, it is truly beautiful.  When you learn that five year old children have been shot to death in their classroom, it is so ugly it is hard to accept.
Freedom is an amazing and wonderful thing, but like most amazing and wonderful things it is incomplete, imperfect, and capable of disappointing and hurting us.  No one is truly free.  It just isn’t possible.  Fundamentally, if I am perfectly free than you are not.  My freedom is not independent of yours.  My freedom isn’t even fully compatible with yours.  The freedom that exists in a world of independent individuals is illusory, so we have all agreed to give it up.  We have decided that there are particular freedoms that are important, so we surrender other freedoms to come together to protect those that are most important … most fundamental.  Even within a society, however, the freedoms we seek to protect can clash.   So, we are forced to negotiate about how our freedoms will intersect and interact.  That is why no freedom is absolute.  That is why our government can impinge on any freedom, even the most fundamental, if there is a good enough reason.  My freedom to say whatever I want can be limited if it puts you in harm’s way.   My freedom of movement is restricted by your right to have property and privacy. 

So, this begs the question, on a day when we mourn the lives of children gunned down in their classroom by a man using guns that his mother legally owned and might have purchased at Walmart, why do we act as if your right to own a gun trumps everything else, including my right to live and breathe?  It really is pretty simple.  The imposition on my freedoms and rights of your being able to own an assault rifle or purchase a gun at Walmart without going through an extensive background check, mental health evaluation, and training regimen is just way too great.  It is not justified by a cultural connection to hunting, by a Constitutional Amendment aimed at maintaining an active militia, by a crime ridden neighborhood, or by a powerful lobby.   

Freedom can be a hard thing to grasp … a hard thing to deal with.  Dead children are hard things to deal with too.  Putting limits on people’s freedom to own and operate guns, however, should not be hard at all.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thistle Thursday

Eeyore has always been my favorite denizen of the Hundred Acre Woods.  He isn't entirely powerless, too young, too empty headed or likely to end up with diabetes, too bouncy, too long winded, too motherly, or too anal with vegetables.  He is gloomy, slightly depressed, and entirely pessimistic.  He has even been followed by a dark cloud.  He is not, however, a dark cloud himself.  He is a good friend to Pooh.  He is open to diversity, becoming good friends with his polar opposite (Tigger).  He is even a doer (albeit at a slow pace) ... being a whiz at Pooh sticks and sometimes even able to find his own tail.   Most of all, he is a cold realist ... a fan of reason, even when it is more than a bit depressing to be one.  Throw in the voice, and you have George Carlin meets Henry Kissinger meets James Earl Jones.  It's what we need the most right now, a cute and likeable guy who tells it like it is in a voice you want to listen to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Four Way Stops

I'll make this simple.  If someone gets to a four way stop before you they get to go first.  Period.  All the time.  It doesn't matter if they got to the intersection after you, you who were behind another car that was actually at the stop sign.  If they get to the stop sign first, then you have to wait.  You don't get to follow the car in front of you through the intersection.  You aren't teammates.  And it doesn't matter if you have somewhere to go, or are late, or are driving a want to be monster truck with testicles hanging off of the trailer hitch.  You still have to wait for the stay at home dad in the miniature mini van.  Sorry.  Often life is complicated, but this isn't one of those times.  Not getting this is kind of like not understanding that evolution is real, not understanding that the Constitution increased the power of the Federal Government, not understanding that Obama was born in Hawaii, not knowing that Paul Revere was warning the British, not allowing people to marry whomever they want , not ... oh, I get it now.  I guess that's why we have horns in our cars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: Republicans are Human Too

Republicans are worried about backing off on their no tax pledge and settling for something less than closing down the Federal Government in order to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.  They seem ready to be reasonable, to enter into a compromise and even to admit it.  They just seem unsure as to what they should tell their more Libertarian and Tea Partying followers.  Well, I want to help out and I know just what they should do.  They just need to look to the Human League for guidance … and here is what they should say:
Hey, person who thinks government is evil and the earth was created in six days complete with dinosaur fossils, dry your eyes.  Wipe those tears away.  We don’t want to see you cry.  We wouldn’t try to hurt you, we just needed to talk sense for a while in order to avoid economic oblivion.  We’ve made some mistakes, after all we are only flawed humans born to sin.  We really do long to be back in your arms.  Heck, maybe the tears you all are crying aren’t tears of pain.  Maybe they are only to hide your guilt and shame.  Maybe you’ll forgive us and ask us to forgive you, because maybe while we were off solving problems you were human too.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Musings: All or Nothing

Statements that start with “all” or “always” are usually wrong.   

All killing is wrong.  It sounds great.  “Thou shall not kill.”  Problem is, sometimes it is necessary.  And the thing is, no one really disagrees … but still lots of folks say that abortion is wrong simply because it involves killing.  It might be wrong, but if so it is because it is not an instance when we can justify killing and not because it involves killing.

All taxes are bad.  This sounds great too, until you realize that without taxes there is no collective and no society.  If we don’t contribute to the collective, why should we have a collective?  And, for the record … the Boston Tea Party was about taxation WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.  Just so you know, we have representation now.

Anything now done by the government could be more effectively done by private enterprise.  The free market is always the answer.  This is all silliness.  It is hard to see how anybody could believe any of this.  It is clear that the key to economic success is a partnership between government and business, and instead of wasting our time in the realm of absolute silliness, we should be talking about what the ideal nature of this collaboration should be.  As far as the free market goes, that was debunked long ago as the ideal solution to every problem.  Need I say “child labor’ or Upton Sinclair?

All Muslims are terrorists in waiting.  The truth is, if you are going to go with this than there are some equally unflattering things we ought to say about Christians.  And we better not get started on all White Folks.

I think you get the idea.  The world has a bit of nuance to it.  It can be frustrating, but it is the truth.  Dealing with the truth, leads us to cooperation, collaboration, compromise, and solutions.  Living in a black and white fantasy world leads to self righteous satisfaction and one impasse after the other.  I’ll take the truth, at least most of the time.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Free Friday: Renouncing the Pledge

Dear Elected Representatives,

If who have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, We the People relieve you of that obligation.  If you need to raise taxes to solve the problems facing this country, you are now free to do so.  We would like you to use your knowledge, experience, and skills (the reasons why a bunch of us voted for you) to do whatever you feel you need to do in order to carry out your responsibilities.  If we disagree with what you do or we feel that you have duped us and become a different sort of representative then you led us to believe before we voted for you, we’ll let you know and fewer of us may vote for you.  That’s what elections are for.  The only pledge we require of you is that you promise to do your job to the best of your abilities.  So … have at it!


We the People

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thoreau Thursday: The Individual is Voting In Lockstep

If you see America as the culmination of the success of a lot of individuals doing what is best for themselves, how do you justify voting in lock step on every issue with everyone else in your party?  We know every Republican doesn’t agree on every issue and that every Republican doesn’t believe that government and taxes are always bad.   So why do they suppress their individual beliefs for the good of the collective?  Why is it OK for the Republican Party to use the threat of supporting a rival in the next primary to keep folks from supporting health care reform, but not OK for the government can’t use fines to encourage environmentally responsible behavior?  Compromise to save the environment or provide medical care is horrible, but compromise to save the Republican Party is OK?  I suppose whatever It is that allows a person to criticize a fellow Republican for “impure thoughts” for considering raising revenue to reduce a deficit, also allows them to fight hard to protect embryos and stem cells but dismiss the murder of women and children by remote control planes as collateral damage.  So, while it may be hypocrisy, it’s also really useful.  An individual certainly should be able to do whatever is best for themselves … even if it isn’t always what’s best for themselves.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

W-etiquette Wednesday: Those Damn Liberals

Life would be better if people would stop lacing their political arguments with one or more of the following: liberal, leftist, radical, conservative, wacko, Jesus freak, socialist, pinky, left leaning, etc. etc.  You add nothing to your argument by saying “how can you leftists think that Obama‘s plan will do anything but add to our deficit?”  Besides, it isn’t nice.  Why don’t you just say that Obama’s plan will add to the deficit?  Why do you have to call me names?  Is your argument not good enough on the merits?  I know that manners and cooperation are antiquated relics of a time gone by, but I like them.  I also like logic and reason, and I think none of them go well with half hidden insults.  If you have a point to make … make it.  If you want a name to call me, I’d prefer the name my mother gave me.  If you don’t know that, go with “fellow American,” or even “hey you.”   I can’t stop you from being juvenile, but you can … so would you mind?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuneful Tuesday: It is Raining in Baltimore and Everywhere Else Too

It might be "raining in Baltimore fifty miles east."  But it is right in the nation's capital that "The circus is falling down on its knees" and the "the big top is crumbling down."  I listened to "Raining in Baltimore" by the Counting Crows as I was ignoring the crumbling children in the back seat midway through a twelve hour road trip, and it made me think of the political mess.  There are "no answers" and there is "no change" and "everything else is the same."  Adam even gives us the solution, although I might start with a little love before went right to the "big love."  I, however, feel and am as powerless as Adam to do anything but wait for "a phone call" or "a rain coat."  "Maybe I should buy a new car.  I can always hear a freight train, [i]f I listen real hard.  And I wish it was a small world, [b]ecause I'm lonely for the big towns.
I'd like to hear a little guitar.  I think it's time to put the top down."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Musings: Obama and Gift Giving

Obama did win because he handed out gifts.  Romney was right.  Of course, so was Obama.  Elected officials should give their constituents things which improve their lives, things like citizenship, medical care, and renewable energy.  The goal should be to benefit the majority of your constituents, and not just a few.  It would seem to be hard to get elected if you don’t do that … but of course that isn’t the case.  You don’t have to give people the things that make their lives better if you convince them that there is something or someone they should be afraid of … or something that they should be angry about.  Then, all you have to do is take money from the few people whose interests you do take into account to fund this deception, vow to take care of the invented threat, and chuckle as people forget their own interests.  This, of course, is why there is a Tea Party, a Birther Movement, “love it or leave it” bumper stickers, and so much talk of “socialists” and “radical liberals.”   The only way the Republicans can sell many of the extreme positions that they have recently adopted, is to use fear and anger.  They seem to have given up on even pretending to give people what they need, forcing them to take a different approach … and criticize the people who are trying to provide folks what they need as gift givers.  I think that the holiday season is a good time to start appreciating, and even demand, gift giving … even from the people we have elected to look out for our interests.  Maybe Republicans will start agreeing with Romney about how you win an election, and then start acting on that conclusion.