We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Say It Ain’t So, Bob

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon

20151022_101834Probably won’t be going back to Chainsaw Bob’s. Went yesterday to get my chain sharpened. They have a new deal, smart, where you leave your old chain and they put an already sharpened one on your saw. Supposed to save time. And it would if the guy putting the chain back on wasn’t trying to sell another guy a saw.

Gave me plenty of opportunity to peruse the new signs hung over the desk between the shop and the front. A picture of Hillary Clinton had these remarks. Hillary Chicken. 2 fat legs, 2 small breasts and lots of left wings. Next to it was a sign that read. Startling news! 25% of women in the U.S. are being treated for mental illness. You know what means? 75% are untreated! Under these signs a woman whom I assumed was Chainsaw Bob’s wife met customers, organized service and took money.

first-they-came-for-the-mexicans-and-i-did-not-10234171Sexism is still raw and unvarnished in many places, like racism on public display in Charlottesville, Virginia. Murica.

We live in our bubbles. The Big Sort, published in 2009, had the subtitle, Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Yesterday the Denver Post reported that the population of downtown Denver had increased by 3 times since 2000 to twenty-six thousand with 81% single, white and with an average age of 34. This is just a single instance of folks choosing to live among those similar to themselves in race, wealth and educational level.

This from Richard Florida and his excellent website, Citylab:  “Americans have not only grown more ideologically polarized over the past couple of decades, Republicans and Democrats are drawn to very different kind of places. Back in 2004, Bill Bishop dubbed the self-segregation of Americans into like-minded communities, “The Big Sort.”” Oct. 25, 2016

When I grew up in Alexandria, Indiana, during the 1950’s it was segregated by race, one black family in the town of 5,000, yet there were college educated folks living next door to factory workers who had, at best, graduated from high school. As a result, I have a blue collar sensibility that sets as deep in my character as the college-educated one I gained at home. Even this modest class diversity is rarer and rarer as suburbs and city neighborhoods, cities and rural areas grow more and more homogeneous.

electoral map

With a pussy-grabber in chief who sees good folks on both sides in Charlottesville, this sorted and ideological reinforcing America is ripe for a wave of extremism even more shocking than we’ve already seen. Trump’s approval rating is growing, still dismal, but moving up. The 30% or so of the U.S. who are his base may not seem like much, 70% are not his base, but Mao noted that only 3% of a country needed to be active revolutionaries for a rebellion to succeed. And he proved it.

What does this augur for our future as a nation? At a minimum it means a large percentage of the population will be unhappy with the government. At its maximum it could mean a white male populist revolt favoring Chainsaw Bob’s tilt to American politics. That’s close to where we are right now.

The Past is Present

Beltane                                                                        Mountain Moon

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood yesterday. When Colorado throws out low humidity days, bright blue skies and warmth, not heat, the desire to play hooky from whatever it is your doing, even if it’s retirement, is strong. On these days Black Mountain is a tall, lodgepole covered green mass outlined against the blue, a few wispy cirrus clouds far above even it’s 10,000 feet peak.

TexasI’ve been reading a book by Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas. Wright is a writer for the New Yorker, a Pulitzer prize winner for his book, The Looming Tower, and a resident of Austin since 1980. His reporting, at least about Texas, has a wry sense of humor, expressing his obvious affection for the state without losing sight of its many quirks. I especially appreciated two points he made, the first about Texas culture and the second about Lyndon Johnson.

In talking about the distinctive Tex-mex culture that underlies current Texas life, country-western music, big belt buckles, Mexican influenced food, German architecture and antebellum south architectural influences, and the six-flags over Texas history of the Lone Star state, he posits 3 levels of culture. Tex-mex is level 1, the ur-Texas. Level 2 was the invasion of corporate capitalism, homogenized skyscrapers, symphonies, art museums, theaters, shopping malls. Level 2 was an attempt to become more mature, more European, more east coast driven by immigrants chasing oil money. Level 3, happening now, is a return to level 1 while retaining the positive aspects of level 2.

ricoeurIt reminded me, the reason I liked it, of Paul Ricoeur’s notion of second naiveté in which a scholar of religion first distances him or her self from his faith as a result of academic work, then returns to the texts after that distancing with a second naiveté, an embrace of the former belief now informed by reasoned analysis. The result, in both cases, is something new, neither level 1 nor level 2, but an amalgam.

The second point was one about Lyndon Johnson. Wright, who was born in August of 1947, and I share some history as opponents of the Vietnam War and excoriator’s of LBJ. In fact, I remembered while reading this part of God Save Texas that the Hey, hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today chant has its roots in one we used against LBJ Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you today? Wright says he wishes we’d been gentler on LBJ. Me, too.

LBJ2Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and LBJ would be my top five Presidents, no particular order. Yes, Teddy Roosevelt and maybe Eisenhower are in a close second tier. I disagree with historians who rank Truman and Reagan above LBJ. And JFK is overblown. LBJ gave a damn about those in the U.S. who had less. In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan on May 22nd, 1964, he “… called on the nation to move not only toward “the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” which he defined as one that would “end poverty and racial injustice.” Miller Center, UVA

He made real progress toward those goals.* In his legislative accomplishments LBJ recognized that we are not a nation of individuals only, but a community, one in which the privileged, whether by birth, race or wealth, share with those lives were not privileged: people of color, seniors, the disabled among them. Since Reagan the attacks on this vision of the U.S. have come hard and fast, until now that sense of common ground has all but eroded into a grim, mean, racist society. We are poorer, literally and spiritually, for it.

 

*“There were environmental protection laws, landmark land conservation measures, the profoundly influential Immigration Act, bills establishing a National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a Highway Safety Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, and a bill to provide consumers with some protection against shoddy goods and dangerous products.

To address issues of inequality in education, vast amounts of money were poured into colleges to fund certain students and projects and into federal aid for elementary and secondary education, especially to provide remedial services for poorer districts, a program that no President had been able to pass because of the disputes over aid to parochial schools.” Miller Center, op cit

Burned Love

Imbolc                                                                              Imbolc Moon

ash wednesdayThe first day of Lent falls, this year, today. That means, as Allan Metcalf, the author of the article quoted below says, that we’re dealing with hearts and ashes. Makes sense to me that my 71st would fall on such a day. Since hitting three score and ten a year ago, I’ve passed into birthdays that commonly show up in the obituary pages. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we deconstruct, returning our enlivened elements. #Recycle Me as the green burial folks said.

This reminder,  a mark made from the ash of palm leaves used a year ago, would be good for all of us. It doesn’t have to come with the whole freight train of Catholic dogma. We could use soot from the chimney or ash from a burned log in the fire place.

yamantaka3

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

It invites comparison to Yamantaka. “Yamantaka is a violent aspect of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, who assumes this form to vanquish Yama, the god of death. By defeating Yama, the cycle of rebirths (samsara) that prevents enlightenment is broken.” Met Museum

The holiday of Easter, which comes at the end of Lent, celebrates a god who conquers death. We do not defeat physical death though Christianity posits that great wakin’ up mornin’ sometime in a future dimly understood. Mebbe so. Mebbe so.

As for me, I’m with Yamantaka whose wonderful mandala hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It encourages a focused meditation on your own death so that the Bodhisattva can help you clear your mind of fear. That is the victory over death that Yamantaka offers, release from the fear of physical death. An ash mark on the forehead once a year is a start, but the Catholic one comes with strings created by texts. So let’s create our own and use it to recall our work with Yamantaka.

Splitters and lumpers

Imbolc                                                                           Imbolc Moon

splitters2Last night at Beth Evergreen three presenters, a University of Colorado Regent, a newly hired diversity specialist for Jeffco schools and an Evergreen woman, formerly a philanthropist and LGBT activist, now working in corporate social responsibility spoke about labeling and identity. It was, in some ways, disappointing.

Though the focus was on labeling, someone or something else (like census forms, school boards, the dominant culture) describes you, and identity, you describe yourself, the topic veered rapidly into a mode of doublespeak. It’s difficult to describe, but identity politics has become a minefield of careful positioning, trying not to cause offense, and further and further journeys into talking but not changing. Each person in the room last night, presenters and audience included, brought authentic concern and a willingness to be part of a solution. But, to what?

I kept thinking of the hoary argument in plant classification between lumpers and splitters. The same analytical dynamic plays out in many fields. Lumpers look for commonalities, seek to reduce the number of categories in any particular area of study while splitters look for differences, for nuanced distinctions that allow uniqueness to flourish. Neither approach is right or wrong, it’s almost a psychological tendency, I think, rather than a reasoned stance.

splitters3In identity description the nod now goes to splitters. As one presenter last night said, “I see gender like the stars in the sky, some may be brighter, more prominent, but there are many stars in the sky.” That’s breathtakingly broad.

A key word that emerged last night was fluidity. It basically means that the ground shifts frequently in this conversation, not least because people claiming their own identity often make different distinctions as they learn more about themselves and their community. There are, too, regional differences and age cohort differences. It’s a splitters’ paradise.

Here’s why it was disappointing to me. It felt like conversations from the mid to late sixties, though those were blunter in their focus. They were, at least at first, focused on civil rights for African-Americans, or Blacks, or Black-Americans. The power moves involved in labeling versus identifying were in bold relief. We’re not niggers or coloreds or darkies. We’re Americans with a particular historical background.

Remember Black is beautiful? Afros. Kente cloth. Angela Davis. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Last night was the contemporary version: male, female, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, intersexual, asexual. Gay. Lesbian. It all felt depressingly familiar, as if we’d moved in time away from the sixties, but not in content.

beltane2017gorbachevThat’s not to say that “racial” distinctions were absent from the conversation. Not at all. Unfortunately. The strange, weird thing about this is that race is a nonsense category, not supported by genetics at all. So creating a splitters nomenclature for various “races” reinforces a non-existent and damaging conceptual paradigm. Of course, the culture, in diverse ways, uses race as a placeholder for attaching secondary characteristics to others. Of course it does. But how do we move away from that convenient slotting, or lumping of people based on skin color? Does it happen by emphasizing color? It cannot. Does it happen by ignoring the racist who does? No.

And that was the problem I had with evening. There seems to have no movement forward in the land of identity politics, only movement crabwise.

I did not ask my question, because it occurred to me on the way home, naturally. “Has identity politics by the left contributed to, even caused, the rise of populism now roiling our nation?” That is, have we, in slicing and dicing the particulars of personal difference blinded ourselves to the plight of working class Americans? It seems so to me.

A movement against oligarchy, plutocracy and autarchy must be first made of lumpers. These lumpers must find, express and celebrate the commonalities among those who suffer as a result of concentrated wealth, purchased power, dynastic ambition. Right now we have given away our power with a navel-gazing splitter mentality. Of course, we must be able to define and describe ourselves. Yes. But we must not only reach for the unique and particular, but for the broader and more universal. No political change can come without joining hands, so the more difficult, the more necessary task in the Trump era belongs not to the splitters but to the lumpers.

 

 

 

Oops.

Imbolc                                                                       Imbolc Moon

stocksStocks have begun to sink. Good. I hope they go down a full 10% at least, a decent correction and a return to market volatility. This puffed up market, glowing and expanding as if by orange-haired demagogic magic, was never his. It was the tail end of the Obama economy; the one, lest we forget, that he rescued from the worst economic crisis of recent times.

Irrational exuberance. Greenspan may have presided over the last inflation, pumped up by his own Randian version of combover ideology, but he nailed the bubble feeling. How else to explain the glee which has followed the rise and rise and rise of the various indices? And, now, its opposite, irrational anxiety.

Stock-Market-BubbleIrrational because the underlying fundamentals are still sound. We’re adding jobs, inflation and interest rates remain low, and international economies began growing together, for the first time in a while. Fluctuations in stock prices are, and I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Mike Pence here, normal. They represent the ebb and tide of sentiment not necessarily anchored, at least in the moment, to any real world economics.

Trump is a blowhard, a hardcore racist, a not disguised at all white supremacist, a misogynist, a cruel man. And somehow, damn it, our President. His approval ratings, already abysmal, may plummet further along with the Dow Jones. May it be so.

Very. Stable. Genius. Yeah.

Winter                                                                   Moon of the Long Nights

bone brothBone broth still gently boiling on the stove. Its been there since yesterday afternoon at 5 pm. First time I’ve made this. At 8 or so this morning I’m going to start a beef stew in the slow cooker.  Beer is one ingredient so Kate bought a six pack of Dos Equis. Sacrificing for the cause.

Our very stable genius has just cavalierly unmoored the lives of 200,000 Salvadorans. That’s a small city of immigrants. Lack of empathy is a hallmark of this administration, necessary for gutting the future with one trillion dollars plus in tax cuts, pretending that climate change is a liberal conspiracy, trying to dump transgender military personnel over supposed medical costs, and elevating pedophiles and other sexual predators.

trump3In the debate over his mental illness I’m agnostic, agreeing with those who say he’s obviously dysfunctional, yet unwilling to ascribe his character flaws to a particular diagnosis. It does a disservice to all people with mental illness when such a man, a man whose moral compass has been rendered useless by the powerful magnets of fame and money, is seen to act as he does because of possible narcissism or whatever else others find in his public persona. They may play a role, yes, but there are still underlying values toward which this particular man gravitates, values inculcated by a racist father and a distant mother, values embraced by a hollow man needing to fill a vast internal vacuum.

Nixon and Trump, cancers of the U.S. political system.

Sad about Rigel. A sort of dark blanket over our lives right now. There’s a bit of hope that we’ll find something other than cancer, but it seems slim. We want to know her prognosis, how best to care for her right now. She’s a sweet, sweet dog.

 

What’s Your Diet Like?

Samain                                                                   Bare Aspen Moon

An interesting graphic. What’s in your media diet today?

media diet choices

 

“You’re not supposed to do that.”

Samain                                                                       Bare Aspen Moon

Assistants_and_George_Frederic_Watts_-_Hope_ 1886

Assistants and George Frederic Watts                         Hope  1886

 

Yesterday the bagel table, an informal shabbat service with, yes, bagels, focused on three stories in the Torah that dealt with difficult situations involving sexuality: the stories of Dinah, Tamar and Potiphar’s wife.

The conversation included several #metoo acknowledgments, including my own. I was ten or eleven and on the train to Dallas for a couple of weeks with my Uncle Charles. I regularly took the Greyhound to visit relatives in Oklahoma, but this was my first time on the train. There was a layover in St. Louis and I decided to get out and see the downtown.

It was a Sunday so the streets had almost no people on them. I had my brownie camera with me and went looking for someplace to take pictures. I did that, finished a roll and needed to change film. The air was pulsing with heat, so I went into the alcove of a closed store to be in the shade. I had the camera open when a man approached me.

Squatting down beside me, I was also in a squat, he reached between my legs and touched my testicles. I said, “You’re not supposed to do that.” got up and left. He did not resist my leaving and my memory is that he was gentle. Though it did ruin the moment, I recall feeling relieved that he didn’t use force. He did accept my no as a no.

It’s a little hard from the distance of 60 some years to recall how I felt, but I know that for me it was scary, but not scarring. I remember it, so it obviously had an impact, but I don’t remember it as different from any other sort of scary moment in my childhood. It was the only time I had that sort of experience and that may have weighed against any larger impact. If I’d had a string of them, as some girls and women do, I sense my reaction may have been stronger.

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Republican Virtues

Samain                                                                        Joe and SeoAh Moon

Citizen Rights & ResponsibilitiesRepublican virtues. Gary Hart referented the founding fathers often in his speech last Sunday night. In particular he used them to emphasize the difference between a democracy and a republic. We inhabit both. In a democracy we focus on our rights. In a republic we focus on duties, responsibilities. Unfortunately, I can’t recall all the republican virtues that Hart enumerated, there were four, but I do remember the thrust of his argument.

The major point was that we tend to focus on the democratic virtue of attending to our rights as citizens, especially those enumerated in the Constitution and, of course, those in the Bill of Rights. This is claiming our privileges as citizens of the United States, but that claim is itself passive. It wants what it is promised and should be given. Of course, there are the struggles over civil rights that has taken very active work by African-Americans, Indians, LGBT folk, women and the parody of struggle over so-called “gun rights” and “property rights”. Though important these are all within the frame of special interest pleading.

Founding-Fathers-320x192Two of the republican virtues about which Gary Hart talked that I do remember:  seeking the common good, not the good of special interests, but the interests of all citizens; fighting corruption, that is corruption as more broadly defined by the founders, that is, government twisted toward the service of special interests.

In the latter case, fighting corruption, Hart cited an astonishing statistic. There were, according to him, 146 to 150 registered lobbyists when he came into the Senate in 1974. (I couldn’t corroborate this number.) and 13,000 today. This last number I did confirm. Corruption, according to the founders, was governing for special interests rather than the common good. A lobbyist, is, by definition, pleading for a special interest, whether the spotted owl, for or against gun control, particular provisions for particular commercial interests, or any of the myriad thousands of other causes.

Not only is this corruption in the broader sense of the founders, but it is corruption in the more narrow sense of using money to influence policy. Why? Because of the millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars lobbyists pour into congressional campaigns.

Scale-1So, if we’re to take our politics toward an interest in the common good, fighting lobbyists and their outsized role in the determination of legislation (and, an often opaque one, too) is necessary.

Republican virtues require active participation in the politics, large and small, of our nation. This means attendance at school board meetings or county commissioner meetings as well state legislatures and congress. This means paying attention to policy debates and weighing in from time to time. Hart mentioned a class he took in high school called Civics. Studying civics is the inculcation of republican virtues. Is this part of a student’s curriculum these days?

Small r republican virtues are those which require more of us than a passive insistence on rights granted. They involve citizen participation in governing. They involve educating ourselves, in depth, about issues that matter to the nation as a whole.  They involve an active role rather than a passive one.  Other nations, those where we promote democracy, ask, “How can you push this on us when often less than half of potential voters actually vote?” Good question. Voting is a republican virtue.

Populism.image_-425x425_mediumBoth democratic assertion of rights and the republican virtues of citizen engagement are necessary for the health of our nation. Populism, for which Hart offered a shorthand definition, angry citizens, wracked our country in the late nineteenth century and brought Trump to power in this one. But, we managed to contain its spread the last time. How? Richard Hofstadter’s 1956 book, The Age of Reform, recounts the story. Hart recommended reading it. I plan to.

Based on our reaction to the first instance of populist rebellion Hart said he was confident we could weather this current manifestation of it, too. This was the pivotal point of his talk for me, a part where the dismal present got placed into a larger context, one with a historical precedent, and one which we can eventually resolve. Slowly, probably, painfully surely, but still a sort of rebellion from which we can learn, grow and change. I’m ready. Are you?

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