We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Just Say No to Despair

Fall                                                                            Healing Moon

DyingA guy could be forgiven for feeling despair. Climate change has turned the dial up on danger. In so many ways already and bound to worsen. Fascism is not just for Europe anymore. The Proud Boys, as one article I read the other day pointed out, are brown shirts. Thugs for a narrow and dangerous political perspective.

And, of course. Well, you know who he is. He’s trying to shut down protest around the White House among other despicable things. The backlash against identity politics grows more vicious and more widespread, surfacing especially as a wedge issue for right-wingers. Women, in particular, have had a constant barrage of insults since 2016, misogynists emboldened by the same evil that courses through Congress, down Pennsylvania Avenue and spills into the air over the whole country.

fascism proud boysWe’re fighting so many conflicts in so many places. There’s a trade war underway. Immigration policy and environmental policy and policy for public lands, to mention only a few, are being made by people against immigrants, pro-coal and oil, and advocates for mining and pumping on Federal land.

I’m not feeling despair. I’ve not gone over to the dark ecology side even though I agree with their projections for our future. I’m not jettisoning political life in spite of the steady rhythm of awful policies and values spewing forth from Washington. I know years of progress have been shredded and actively reversed. Yes, I know all of that.

20181004_082605However. Life is not lived in some grim future contaminated by and doomed by the present. No, it is lived now. Today. Here. Loving Kate and the dogs, relating to friends from Minnesota, from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Being with family like Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe, SeoAh. I pay our bills, cook lunch, feed the dogs, visit Kate, teach religious school, write this blog. All now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now.

None of the rays of darkness trying to blot out decency and hope prevent me from living my life now. This life, this one right now, right here on Shadow Mountain is good. You might think that Kate’s medical issues make it otherwise. You would be wrong. The current medical matters and all the others that have kept us occupied over the four years since we moved here are life itself. As is Jon’s divorce and the sequelae from that, still rolling over us. Also life itself is the care and love between Kate and me and the dogs, between us all and our friends, family. Life goes on until it doesn’t. That’s not news; that’s the oldest ancientrail there is.

expectThrownness has deposited us all in these times. Could have been pharaonic Egypt, Song Dynasty China, the Jalisco era in Mexico, but it wasn’t. It’s now. YOLO. Or reincarnate Or shift off to heaven or bardo. No matter. It won’t change that fact.

A guy could be forgiven for feeling despair; yet, I don’t feel it. Instead I feel love, joy, delight. I relish the cold, the snow, the mountains. I live for living for friends and family. Doesn’t matter the context of awful. Doesn’t change that. I’m not putting on blinders, not ignoring the world. I’m saying that no matter what happens it will not sway me from the only life I’ve been given, one with the humans and animals and plants and rocks and streams, the stars and weather and climate with which I interact directly.

 

 

The Heat

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

climate change vollmanThough I haven’t begun to read them yet, William Vollman’s two volume work: No Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative, the Carbon Ideologies paints a bleak picture. So does the IPCC‘s latest report. I also reported here, quite a while back, about a new movement called dark ecology that, like these three works, takes a dim view of our (that is, the world’s) willingness to execute the necessary carbon emissions restrictions.

Much as I hate to admit it, I believe these darker, more hopeless perspectives about the struggle against climate change might be right. If they are, we may be walking down a path that leads to an HG Wellian Time Machine world with the poor morlocks wandering the face of the earth (think the 99%) and the eloi burrowed into her mantle, using their great wealth and power to survive the heat and climatic chaos.

climate change eloi and morlocksIf we cannot slow down the rate of climate change (which is the most we can do, since so much climate change is already baked in), then we move to mitigation and adaptation. Geoengineering will become a buzz word as various strategies are tried. Climate refugees will become more and more disruptive across the world, especially those moving from coastal areas into interiors and onto higher ground. The already underway shifts in plant and animal eco-systems, climate refugees all, will bring them with different disease vectors, disruption to agriculture and sea life.

dark ecologyWe will not be known for Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, ruining health care, electing fascists to high office, but as the generation that allowed an earth compatible with human populations to slip away. Hard as it is to imagine the results of this inaction will be far, far more damaging than all the wars, holocausts and pogroms. How will we explain this to our grandchildren, to Ruth and Gabe in our instance? I understand the political and economic forces that have gotten us here, but explaining them will not alter the misery.

 

 

 

The country I used to know

Fall                                                                           Harvest Moon

1968The country I used to know. It wasn’t perfect. Take MLK and the civil rights movement. Vietnam. Crushing, unnecessary poverty and the dismal, shameful access to health care. Coal and gas poisoning the atmosphere. The lives of women and girls. And, yes, so much else.

It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t sit at the stoplight, look at the car next to you and wonder if this asshole voted for Trump bad. It wasn’t mock the disabled, give aid and comfort to white supremacists bad. It wasn’t lock up democracy in a Republican’s only cabinet, then turn the Republicans into mean spirited and cruel operatives. It wasn’t grow the 1% at the expense of everyone else, grow the 1% at the expense of mother earth, grow the 1% at the expense of our allies. It wasn’t give aid and comfort to our enemies, to dictators and shun our friends.

No, this, this whatever we have now is worse, so much worse. I feel as if I woke up one morning, uncertain when, and found I’d moved to 1930’s Italy or Germany or Japan. As if the cultural fabric in which I lived and moved and had my being for 71 years had torn. In this case it revealed not an inept but kindly wizard, but a disturbing cabal of old white men, each one worse than Gollum, rubbing their own versions of the one ring and saying, my Precious, my Precious, my Precious.

ValuesAs I drive down the hill, then climb back up, I wonder if this is the way it was. Lives going on, wives in hospitals, trying to make sense of the unexpected, sudden calamities that visit us all but finding those calamities embedded in a greater one like Russian nesting dolls. Kate’s struggle a small instance of the larger one, a people beset by unforeseen tragedy. But, where do you take a country in extremis? Where are the emt’s for a sick nation?

This will sound strange, but I find Kate’s troubles, significant and important as they are to our family and friends, pale in comparison to the rot, yes, the evil, the poison in the veins of our body politic. These are not times of political disagreement, of debates over national debt or military preparedness or immigration policy, these are times with the flavor of a cold civil war.

I cannot describe to you how sad all this makes me. How disorienting I find these times. I don’t know what happens next, where we go from here. I hope the November elections shake the foundations of the Republic.

Too much. Kavanagh’s cowardly confirmation now seats two known sex offenders, criminals, on the highest court in our land, both with lifetime appointments. How can we trust our country? What does it mean to be an American now?

Ancientrails Looks Back: 9/11

Lughnasa                                                                        Harvest Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1Yes. I remember. Too well. At home in Andover, catching the news. Watching in disbelief as things that never happen happened. Passenger jets flying too low, not stopping, hitting, exploding. A feeling of personal violation and awful grief.

This was no moon landing, more like the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of JFK, something too terrible to watch, yet too fascinating to stop. Would there be more? What did this mean? Who? Why? God, all those people falling. All those firefighters, police, EMT’s in the dust and smoke, as my Jesuit friends said of a comrade in Hiroshima, “…running toward the bomb.”

A young college sophomore was in his dorm or on campus or working, somewhere. He heard the news. Heard a call. A call to a life devoted to this country, one who had given him, in his mind, so much. Years later he would direct bombers over Libya, make plans to protect South Korea against the North, control fighters and bombers over Afghanistan, Iraq. Attend weapons school. Ten years plus and still a warrior, created by Osama bin Laden.

9.11The world, the blood. The thousands dead then, multiple more thousands of dead now, people still dying. Terrorism, asymmetric warfare, has succeeded. They have tested us, found us willing to do exactly what they need. Punish them, disproportionately. Easy recruiting. Soldiers for the caliphate. Break free of the capitalist West, hamstring the great Satan. And, gain glory from Allah.

It was, I think, the invasion of Iraq that made the terrorist’s argument for them. Afghanistan, no. Bin Laden was there. The Taliban sheltered him. We had a right to go after him, after those that aided him. But, Iraq? An unnecessary war, like Vietnam. In this case a war that convinced thousands of disenfranchised youth in the Middle East that death in jihad was more desirable than death by the thousand cuts of poverty and dysfunctional societies.

9.112Will this end? Yes. Even the Hundred Years war ended. The Thirty Years war, too. If climate change doesn’t take us all down first, at some point exhaustion will set in here and over there in the Middle East. Or, maybe a reformed Islam will take root, push out the extremists who read which texts they choose and ignore the rest.

This war, what some call the Forever War, has defined a generation. Sadly. We have learned no good lessons. No home truths. We have experienced and inflicted pain, gotten no where. Might be that climate change will eventually be the enemy that binds us all together. Wishful thinking? Probably.

Anyhow, I remember. Too well.

 

 

Oh, really? Hmmm?

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

the loft at 5:30 am this morning. waning crescent waning summer moon.

Slept in till nine yesterday. I was at Beth Evergreen from 3:30 to 10 pm. And, I was anxious/excited for most of it. Tuckered out back home, in bed finally around 11 pm. That’s really late for both Kate and me. Got up at 5:30 to feed the dogs since that’s what they expect, then went right back to bed. Unusual, but effective. Got up rested, though still feeling threads of exhaustion.

We had the mussar vaad practice group after religious school. That’s why the evening went so late. My practice for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?

or, the reverse

or, the reverse

I tried this with a member of the mussar class. When I concluded that they were probably acting with little self-awareness from values instilled as a young child, I was still judgmental, wondering how a person could grow old and not gain insight into themselves. Apparently, in this case, quite easily. So that is who they are now. I pushed my circle of curiosity out a bit to ask the question, does our society need people with these attitudes, do we benefit in some way from them?

Important side note here. It’s not the values this person expresses that bother me, though I do disagree with most of them, but the apparent unwillingness to entertain error. No real dialogue can happen then.

When I consider society’s need, I find a different perspective. Since I disagree with most of the values expressed by this person, they make me give pause to my own unexamined ideas. They challenge me to remember the cliched, but valuable: Don’t believe everything you think. What’s the societal advantage here? No democracy can survive capture by one political perspective. That’s the problem with demagogues, autocrats. They represent a calcified political ideology that brooks no challenge, no matter what the ideology. So, the frisson between competing ideas keeps us from accepting the Putin, Xi Jiping, Kim Jong Un style of strongman leadership.

curiosity5Like Charlie H. in the Woollies, this person threatened to leave the group. It struck me that both used their own intransigence and subsequent reaction to it as a means of manipulating the group into reinforcing their willingness to include them. I feel extorted in those situations, like I have to simply roll over and say, oh, please stay. In Charlie’s case I would not have done it, had I been in the Twin Cities and able to face the daily consequences of defying him. In the mussar group instance I only held my hand up half way when asked if we wanted this person to remain in the group. I felt similarly manipulated, but did not feel my cohesion with the group quite strong enough to withstand outright defiance.

In both instances my reaction is not, I’ll say this again, to the values underlying the reactions of these two people, but to the manipulative and my way or I hit the highway ultimatums.

We should question ourselves if another person’s values disturb us enough to want them gone from our presence, or our society. That’s not to say that there aren’t some values so abhorrent as to justify that. Criminal law is filled with examples. But in the political realm, so long as reasoned discourse can occur, then we owe it to ourselves to consider honestly those with whom we disagree. They might just know something we don’t.

 

 

A Weighted Doll

Lughnasa                                                                   Waning Summer Moon

carnival-gamesOK. NYT article from an anonymous Trump administration official. Saying what we know about Trump, increasing logarithmically the force of Bob Woodward’s Fear, also making the news right now.

Wow. Trump reminds me of those weighted dolls in a carnival game. Hit’em hard with a fast pitch, they fall over, but bounce right back up, ready for the next one.

How, I would say, can he recover from these insider accounts of his tiresome pettiness, his annoying stupidity, his consummate cupidity? I would say that; but, it would ignore the other knock’em down pitches that started during his campaign when, for example, he mocked the disabled reporter, “moved on her like a bitch,” grabbed pussies because he felt his celebrity gave him an invisibility cloak.

He might be so venal, so incompetent, so clueless that no revelation will shock, no critique stick. A very, very strange situation for the person putatively in charge of the world’s most powerful military and what used to be a well respected hegemon. Shakes head, rolls eyes, goes on about his day.

Blood and Soil

Lughnasa                                                       Waning Summer Moon

great wheel3Labor Day. The bookend to Memorial Day. In my youth the end of summer because school started the next day. Labor Day falls between Lughnasa, the first fruits harvest festival and Mabon, the second harvest festival. Mabon falls under the harvest moon, about which I learned this fascinating bit of lunar lore only this week.*

The Great Wheel rolls through the year with an emphasis on agriculture, marking the growing season from Beltane to Samain and the fallow season from Samain to Beltane. That was half of the eastern Indiana in which I grew up. Cornfields planted along dusty gravel roads. Fields full of Holsteins and their milking barns. Herefords and Angus for beef. Soybeans. County fairs. 4-H. In fact, agriculture was the origin of the long summer break for school children, with the farms need for the whole family during the intensity of the growing season.

Labor-DayThe other half though was the antithesis of the Great Wheel. It was time marked off by time-clocks, shift work, assembly lines. Circadian rhythms, so important to plants and animals on the farm, got shoved aside as inefficient. Factories belched and whirred 24 hours a day, seven days a week, winter and summer. The 1950’s and the 1960’s were the post war industrial boom when manufacturing turned to domestic goods, especially cars which needed tires, steel, glass.

The long supply lines for then magisterial Detroit extended out to smoky Pittsburgh for steel, central Ohio for Firestone and BF Goodrich tires, and in our case, Anderson, Indiana for headlights, taillights, and alternators for General Motor’s cars at Guide Lamp and Delco Remy. These factories concentrated blue-collar workers, 25,000 between the two at their peak employment which coincided with my elementary and high school days, the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s.

labor uawAt its own peak during this same time period the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was among the most powerful labor organizations in the world. Most of my friends and classmate’s parents, usually fathers, worked at either Guide or Delco. The successful contract negotiations were made possible by a willingness of UAW workers for Ford, GM, and Chrysler to strike. The UAW had a strategy which involved focusing on one of the big three at every contract negotiation cycle, threatening and when necessary, executing a strike against each in turn. If there was a strike, the striking workers for, say GM, in the case of the Guide and Delco workers, would negotiate for the whole industry.

Over time this careful exercise of the power of workers resulted in salary and benefits which allowed folks with less than a high school education to own homes, cars, have good health care, and send their kids to college. Alexandria, my hometown of 5,000, was prosperous. Downtown had a men’s store, Baumgartner’s and a women’s store, Fermen’s, two pharmacies, two movie theaters, the Alex and the Town, the Bakery, Broyle’s furniture store, Guilkey’s shoe repair shop, banks, dime stores, a department store, P.N. Hirsch, Mahony’s shoe store, and two grocery stores. It bustled on Friday nights with shoppers and kids going to the Kid Kanteen located on the second floor of a downtown business.

labor2This is what we celebrate on Labor Day. We lift a cultural glass to the work of Joe Hill, Samuel Gompers, to the unsung organizers who worked in coal mines and gold mines, car factories and farm fields. Labor Day honors the now often forgotten need to balance the power of capital with the power of the worker. No individual worker can stand up to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, or to McDonalds, Burger King or the hospital and clinic, the hotel and motel, the auto manufacturers of our day. But, there is no UAW equivalent for employees of these industries.

As a result, as a direct result, blue-collar work and even much white collar work, does in fact pit individual employees against their employers when it comes to salary and health care, other benefits. Of course there are a few enlightened employers out there, but they are by far the exception. The rest squeeze the worker as a cost center no different from raw materials or supply chain products.

labor fast foodIn a perverted and socially evil transformation, the former engine of social progress that was labor has morphed into workers without representation, workers who feel their world shifting out from underneath them, or already shifted. These workers and those who depend on them are now the fungible underbelly of American politics, their anger and fear driving a populist revolt.

This Labor Day is no holyday, no holiday. No, it’s a hollowed out thank you for the bravery and strength of a movement now stuttering in its attempt to cope with the disaggregation of workers, with the continual narrowing of those who have plenty, with the bloated salaries of CEO’s and top management, with the unimaginable concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

*September’s Full Moon was called the Full Corn Moon or Harvest Moon by the early North American Farmers. The term “Harvest Moon” refers to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox. The Full Moon closest to this Equinox rises about 20 minutes later each night as opposed to the rest of the year when the moon rises around 50 minutes later each night. This was important to early farmers because they had more nights of bright moon light to gather crops.  Moongiant

 

Going to the movies

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

In the spirit of the holiday weekend I’m relaxing before school starts, religious school that is. Getting ready has occupied my mind on some level every day since mid-June. Now that Alan and I have a plan, I’m giving myself these three days as a break. Feels great.

Yesterday Kate and I went to BlacKkKlansman. I’m sure many of you who read this have seen it, so we’re a little late. Several folks from Beth Evergreen have seen it. The story is a bit thin. The KKK in Colorado Springs was not historically significant and though hateful were, even as presented in the film, inept. What Spike Lee has done is take that thin story and use it as the core of a biting criticism of the Trumpstate and the folks he encourages.

He begins with a satirical short film of Alec Baldwin playing a fictitious race “scholar.” He also includes clips from Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation, both of which smuggle in a great deal of cultural commentary on race relations and the historical context that created and sustains white supremacist ideology. He also has several Trump related jibes. For example, after a Klan initiation ceremony, David Duke has a screening of Birth of a Nation. The berobed stand up and shout “America First!” According to a Colorado Springs reporter at the time, Nancy Johnson, this happened. There were also references to making America great again.

The Adam Driver character was not Jewish in reality, so Spike Lee’s casting of him as Jewish was a vehicle for commentary on anti-semitism. Driver’s comments about being raised as a secular Jew who had not thought much about his heritage are a critique of passing, whether by blacks or Jews. The frisson between Stallworth’s blackness, which undergoes a transformation when he goes undercover to a Stokely Carmichael, by this time Kwami Ture, speech and Driver’s gradually emergent Jewish consciousness was a key feature of the film for me.

The film does not end in the Stallworth era Colorado Springs. Instead Lee cuts to actual footage from the “Unity” march for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Included are several different perspectives of James Alex Fields Jr driving his silver Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters and killing Heather Heyer. Following those news clips and cell phone videos are scenes from Trump’s infamous, “There were good people on both sides.” reaction to those events.

A profound scene, which interlaces with the Klan initiation in which Adam Driver participates as Stallworth, has Harry Belafonte sitting in a Huey Newton chair, telling the story of the  lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas in 1916.

The ongoing satirical edge of the film, begun with the Alec Baldwin short, lulls the viewer into the same sort of “oh these buffoons aren’t a serious threat.” mentality that pervades our cultural perception of not only the Klan but other white supremacists, too. Until, that is, we see Fields’ Dodge Charger smash into unprotected protesters. Until we see our President giving aid and comfort not to the victims but to the perpetrators. Then we’re forced to go back and consider Scarlett O’Hara wending her way through wounded Confederate soldiers and the blackfaced actors in the Birth of a Nation footage. We’re forced to consider that the America First shouts with the right arm salutes was not an artifact of an era now past, but with us now and not only with us now, but with us at the highest levels of our government.

The other turn that the movie makes is the implicit correlation between the America Love it or Leave it slogans embraced by the Klan and the same cultural tensions existing now. The era of the 1960’s lives on. Here’s a quote from a woman I know, an email she sent after I commented on a friend’s positive post about this movie:

Unless i have misinterpreted your comment on Ron S.’s FB, I didn’t know you are anti our country, our flag, and no doubt have always been. If so, how come you and the others are not moving to another country? Seems hypocritical that you all are still here. To me, this is not at all free speech ala the 1st Amendment.

 

One Toke Over the Line Sweet Moses

Lughnasa                                                          Waning Summer Moon

The loft is clean. Sandy does such a great job. And, she does it while living with the after effects of two brain surgeries and the yet remaining tumor which necessitated a round of radiation to shrink. A tough way to earn your daily bread.

marijuana2We tried a Colorado cure for Kate’s nausea symptoms. She toked up yesterday morning, lighting one of the pre-rolled Jilly Belly spliffs. She took four hits. Result: nausea subsided, heartburn began. And, she said, I feel spacy. Which she didn’t like. So she went back to bed anyhow. A work in progress. Next time she’ll try two tokes. If it does reduce the nausea, we will get her a bong and use ice in the water to cool down the smoke. I told her she was one toke over the line sweet Jesus; then added, well, maybe better, one toke over the line sweet Moses.

At mussar Ariel, the defense lawyer turned consultant to lawyers on how to navigate court procedures, gave a powerful and well-researched hour and a half on the concept of tzedakah. Tzedakah boxes are an art form in Judaica and usually have a slot for change or bills. The money collected typically goes to charities, in the American diaspora often charities that support the state of Israel, though the money can go to any good cause. In this way tzedakah has come to be associated with charity, but its real translation is justice, equity.

Tzedakah-1080x675In the packet that he offered, Ariel quoted Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a great friend to Martin Luther King: “There is immense silent agony in the world, and the task of man is to be a voice for the plundered poor, to prevent the desecration of the soul and the violation of our dream of honesty.” And, “Morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the sufferings of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty while all are responsible.”

empty-bowlsAfter mussar Kate and I went with many members of the group to a place called Go, Paint in downtown Evergreen. It was the start of an interesting local expression of an international movement called Empty Bowls. (the link is to an Empty Bowls event in Hopkins, Minnesota) Go, Paint has many objects in bisque (the stage for pottery after throwing and before firing when glazes and paints can be applied.). In this case we all had bisque bowls, dull white and maybe 8 inches across. There were various paints and glazes we could apply, even small clay creatures. Kate, for example, put a turtle in the bottom of her bowl.

We paid for the event. The bowls get fired, then distributed to two sites nearby which run Empty Bowl events. One is Mt. Vernon Country Club and the other is a church in Evergreen. At the empty bowl event a meal is served, $65 at Mt. Vernon, $20 at the church. When the meal is over, each participant gets a bowl. The money goes, in this instance, to the Mountain Resource Center. A friend of Kate and mine’s, Marilyn Saltzman, will be the incoming president of the MRC in January. Interesting idea.

A long day for Kate.

Music of the Counter Culture

Lughnasa                                                                Monsoon Moon

long black veilListening to some music on youtube while cleaning/rearranging. One clip leads to another. I’d started out on the Band’s “Long Black Veil” and youtube ratcheted me along to a guy named Blake Shelton. He’s a country guy, well known in areas where he’s well known, I gather. The song was, “Kiss My Country Ass.”

This was a slick video production, an official version. It featured Blake at the Carnegie Hall of Country, The Grand Ole Opry, and shifted often to videos of fans singing along and acting out the words. As I watched it, about the last half, I noticed the glee and fervor of Shelton’s fanboys and fangirls. I thought back to my own fanboy days with Steppenwolf, the Stones, Velvet Underground, the Doors, Creedence, the Band. I sang along (quietly in less I was alone) with equal passion.

kissThen it hit me. Much of country music is protest music. It’s the protest music of the blue collar worker, the southern working class, and the white supremacist (these are not conflatable categories though they may cross over.) You may have noticed this a long time ago, but I hadn’t.

Set apart by reason of counter cultural norms, this protest differs in content, but not in sociological significance. We are not like you, and, guess what? We don’t wanna be. If you don’t like that, well, you can kiss my country ass.

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