Failure

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest


Had breakfast with Alan yesterday at the Lakeshore Cafe. Told him about the interesting failure of the bank we tried to create for the poorest of the poor. This was after a 1989 trip to Bogota where we spent a week with staff of the Fundacion Grupo Social.

This group, now a huge corporation, began with Jesuit inspired credit circles for citizens of barrio Jerusalem. In order to give small loans when these folks had no assets the Jesuits conceived of co-signing. If I wanted money to start a small business or build a home (a shack, really), you could co-sign as my guarantor. The default rate on these loans was minimal. Social cohesion is as good as a down payment. This was the start of the micro-credit idea.

We worked hard for a year to put together a Minnesota version, but a recession forced the bank that was working with us to withdraw their generous offer of two million dollars for capitalization.

Alan asked last week over breakfast what I’d done. When I told him a few things: West Bank Community Development Corporation work, Jobs Now, MICAH (Metropolitan Interfaith Affordable Housing Coalition), Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, I surprised myself by being eager to talk about it. Realized that with the exception of Kate and Jon a little bit, no one here in Colorado knew my Minnesota story, my second phase of family and work.

Life is so different here. No contacts. No friends of decades. Only a few places with memories, most tied to the grandkids.

The West has always been a place to start over for Americans from the humid east, guess I’m no exception. No expectations based on prior achievements or prior failures. A new person rising where the sun sets.



Going Nuclear

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Debra came by yesterday with chicken, couscous, cucumber, and a swiss chard topping. We ate the meal with her. I’ve not seen Debra in some time, wanted to catch up. The mitzvah committee at CBE has gotten traction with the meals. Gratitude.

In other news. Trump still occupies the Whitehouse. I think occupies is a good word here, since it feels like an unfriendly invasion. With Boris Johnson becoming Britain’s Prime Minister, Trump will have competition for xenophobic, racist, generally clueless utterances. Must be that special relationship?

On the downward slope with the radiation. Twenty-four fractions given, eleven more to go. Since the bed bug incident moved my finish date to August seventh, I will now complete my treatment between the anniversaries of the atomic bombs: Hiroshima on August sixth and Nagasaki on August 9th.

Left-Hiroshima, Right-Nagasaki, photo credit

Consider atomic bombs, nuclear tipped missiles, the “club” of nations with nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants generating electricity, axumin and other radio isotope scans, radiation treatments for cancer. Nuclear engineering has had a big impact on the world though its negatives often (usually?) overshadow its positives.

Malignant uses multiplied after WWII. Most nations tacitly agreed nuclear weapons should never be used again after the horrors of Japan, yet nuclear weapons themselves became the apex of military power. There are uneasy, even dangerous situations right now that involve nuclear weapons: North Korea, Iran, India/Pakistan. Those old enough to remember the Cold War know, too, that whenever relations with Russia sour, the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals have humanity ending power.

The first light bulbs ever lit by electricity generated by nuclear power at EBR-1 at Argonne National Laboratory-West, December 20, 1951. wiki

The peaceful uses of nuclear power seemed to hold a lot of promise. Nuclear power plants generate electricity without the burden of adding carbon emissions to the sky. Yet Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima proved that potential problems with nuclear power can become awful reality.

In my own opinion nuclear power should still be a part of the transition to renewable sources of energy. Nuclear power plants built with adequate safeguards can help move us beyond fossil fuels. Yes, there’s the question of nuclear waste, but it’s a solvable problem, at least in the short term. Nuclear power and renewables can be a bridge to a world where nuclear fusion is our dominant energy source.

The medical and industrial uses of nuclear engineering have proven themselves over the decades since WWII. I’m glowing proof of that.

A Birthday Wish

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Another Yankee Doodle birthday. SeoAh turned 41. The U.S.A. 243. SeoAh’s birth culture is thousands of years old, as is Joe’s.

A Chinese
classical novel

We’re such a baby from a historical perspective. Our relative youth is on display in every interaction we have with China, an ancient civilization like Korea and India that has lasted into the time of nation-states. One commentator I read a while back refers to China as a civilization state, rather than a nation state for that reason.

China engages the world as a regional hegemon, a role its held for most of its long history. It abuts so many different cultures, unlike the U.S. Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Himalayan kingdoms, the Stans, Russia, North Korea, even Japan if you see the South China Sea from China’s perspective. It does not share the great geopolitical advantage of the U.S., world ocean moats on both eastern and western borders.

The dynastic period of China, begun during the mostly lost in the mists Xia dynasty, only ended in the 20th century with the Qing ending in 1912. Thus, there are patterns and assumptions built into even the Chinese Communist party that reach far, far back in the Middle Kingdom’s political experience.

Among them is strategic patience, a trait sorely missing from U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. The Chinese waited until its 99 year lease on Hong Kong was up, then reabsorbed this city-state. Not without difficulty, yes, but even the one country-two systems policy has Hong Kong, like Tibet, as an administrative district of the larger nation. They are also waiting to absorb Taiwan, sometimes patiently, sometimes not.

The world is big enough for China and the U.S. as regional hegemons, not big enough for either of us to dominate. China knows that. I’m not sure we do.

If I could have a birthday wish for the U.S.A., it would be a leavening of our foreign policy with the wisdom of history. Hard to pull off when our supreme leader doesn’t read, I know. We, as a citizenry, may have to exercise strategic patience with him and his followers. Trump and his base are not the vanguard of a revolution, rather they are equivalent of the village peasant in traditional societies.

By James 4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61859662

They are defensive in posture, that’s what America First means. You only wish for America First if you believe we’re already somehow less than others. I don’t.

DJT and his cult hold onto economic givens long out of date. Manufacturing and its supply chain, though still crucial to our economy, we’re #2 in the world after, guess who, China, has been in steady decline as an employer since the 1990’s, continuing a long slide begun in the 1940’s. see this Wikipedia article. Tariff man reflects a belief that the U.S. is somehow getting screwed on a regular basis.

They hold onto social givens like fear of the other, affecting immigration, race, and gender identity. The unearned privilege of the white American male is still regarded among them, and their leader, as a privilege given by hard work and innovation, rather than a teetering social contract based on patriarchy and ruthless oppression of minorities.

This is a passing phase, often at its strongest when its proponents sense their weakness, perhaps for the first time. Strategic patience involves doing everything possible to align their national political influence with their actual minority status. It means working against the Proud Boy in the White House and for politicians existing in today’s world, not yesterday’s. It also means not succumbing to despair or nihilism.

That’s tough, I know, especially with the climate crisis literally breathing hot air on our necks. But one way to not succumb is to do what is possible politically while focusing on those local and state level initiatives that will position us later for strong climate action.

Standing with you all in this, our 243rd year of a grand national experiment: Can a nation be built on political values rather than culture?

Hey, Gram

Beltane                                                                               Cancer Moon

mitochondrial-eve

Your great to some power Gram

Exhausted this weekend. Those six days of thinking, feeling, writing, probing, going down the holy well of the self. All good. But, tiring.

It’s Mother’s Day. Another Hallmark moment, I know. Yet. Mom’s. You don’t get here without one. Except maybe that kid in China. Unless you’re a wonder of high, high tech biology, you came out of a womb. Indian Hills, just down the road from us, has these funny signs. You may have seen them on Facebook. The one today reads, “Mom, thank you for the womb and board.”

mitchondrialI come from a long line of mothers. So do you. This thought always strikes me as strange. Think of how many things had to go right for you to exist. Sure, there’s that whole randomness of the sperm that crosses the finish line, but think historically, think evolutionarily, think all the way back to that first organism that took the lightning bolt or the warmth of the undersea vent. Whenever and however life first appeared. Your existence, and mine, means we exist in an UNBROKEN chain of reproduction from that first wiggler, that first animate entity. One after another after another after another, for billions of years. Maybe 4.1 billion years according to this article. From that beginning until now something protoplasmic has cheated death by producing one of your ancestors. Could be billions of ancestors, maybe even trillions.

To shorten the time frame a bit consider mitochondrial Eve. Who? From wiki: “…the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers, and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman.” Between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago. How many mothers in her line running up to you? Not sure, but a lot. And each one had to survive all the rigors of the out-of-Africa migration, a turn either toward what is now Europe or what is now Asia, and whatever history your ancestors had once civilization began to direct the movement of human populations.

So, when you say happy Mother’s Day, you might consider saying happy Mothers’ Day. After all, no womb and board, no you.

 

A hypothesis. The long, very long history of clergy sexual abuse.

Spring                                                                    Rushing Waters Moon

I wrote to the author of this Washington Post column, Pope Benedict shows how the Catholic church went so horribly off-courseHoly_Orders_Picture-cropped2.

Hello, Mr. Drehle,

I’m a retired Presbyterian clergy. I appreciated your comments about Benedict stepping out of the shadows. Problematic to say the least. And, what he said. About all this being the fault of liberals and the sexual revolutions. I mean, come on. Doesn’t pass the most cursory examination.

But. Here’s a matter that has bothered me since the beginning of this latest chapter. It’s my hypothesis that this kind of sexual abuse has existed since the beginning of the R.C. Probably apexed in the Middle Ages.

Sexual abuseWhy? What we know now about sexual abuse is that it often (usually) involves an authority figure and a subordinate. Sexual desire hasn’t waned in the last two thousand years, I’m sure of that. And the Catholic churches presumption of holy authority and that mediated through its bishops and their clergy trumps even the boss/employee relationship, the coach/athlete relationship, and the doctor/patient relationship.

I don’t have evidence for this, just the knowledge that the power dynamics were even worse for congregants from the time of the R.C.’s formation through at least the age of enlightenment.

I’m writing you to see if you know anyone else who’s come to a similar conclusion. And, if not, shouldn’t somebody be on this? If true, and I’m pretty sure it is, it would put the lie to any defense like Benedict’s.

Salmon Heads and Organic Miso

Winter                                                                                   Waxing Moon

20190125_101104Yesterday. A do this, then do that, then do that day. 1st up. Feed dogs, then write blog. 2nd. Make breakfast. 3rd. Blow snow. 4th. Workout. 5th. Drive to H-Mart in Westminster. 6th. Back home through rush hour traffic. (bad planning on my part) 7th. Phone call from Kate just as I turned on to Shadow Mountain Drive. Kep attacked Gertie. 8th. Get home, unload, check Gertie. One puncture, a couple of scrapes. 9th. Cook supper. Bulgogi. Clean up while Kate cleaned Gertie’s wounds. 9th. Watch the last of Unforgotten, a Masterpiece presentation. 10th. Finish Terminal list. 11th. Go to bed. Got a lot done. Good use of a day.

Busy days like this go by quickly. I prefer the quiet days. Time to reflect, read, paint. But things have to get done, too. Once in a while I like these days filled with purpose. Used to have them all the time during the growing season in Andover. Planting, weeding, amending soil, tending the bees, working in the orchard. I like the physical stuff blowing snow, carrying groceries, cooking, cleaning, working out.

This morning I’m back for my monthly run to the Happy Camper. THC. Indica for sleep, Sativa for Kate’s appetite. I might head down to the Rustic Station for breakfast. It was closed when Ode and Tom were here, apparently they only serve breakfast on weekends. After that, a quieter day.

20190125_144837H-Mart is a trip. As an experience and as a trip. You definitely enter Asia when you walk through the door. In the aisle entering the building were the giant and tasty Korean pears, bundles of 24 ramen packs. Then on into the produce section. Persimmons, Korean melons, huge papayas, durian, jack fruit, bitter melon, lots of mushrooms, bok choy, noodles. Next up was beef and other meats. A whole 20 foot display held beef hearts, tripe, liver. Sea food. Dead, frozen, live. Packages with whole salmon heads, for example. Sushi fish, some sashimi, beds of ice with prawns, shrimp, large dressed rainbow trout, golden pompano, China grown tilapia.

20190125_150107I was not the only round eye in there, but I was the only round eye male shopping alone. In this H-Mart, located in a relatively upscale suburb, Westminster, the clientele was mostly Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. In the much larger H-Mart located in more downscale Aurora, the mix is much more diverse with East Indians, Filipinos, more round eyes, Malay, Latino.

SeoAh’s cooking impressed both of us and I was after pantry items for making soups, stir fry, noodle dishes. The bulgogi, which both SeoAh and her husband recommended I buy premade, was supper last night. I threw in some Vietnamese rice noodles. Quick. Tasty. Today I plan to try one of her soups.

Here are a few more photographs of foods on offer.

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20190125_145115

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And, finally, a plea from the owners found in the men’s bathroom.

20190125_150017

 

The Blade Runner Year

Winter                                                                Stent Moon

Kate’s face is smoother. She’s smiling. Her weight is stable, though not yet trending up so much as back and forth around 82. She walks no longer with the pained, slightly stooped habitus of a sick person, but, the steady, if slow, gate of a healthy one. 2019. The year things begin to improve. I hope. (and, believe)

Blade-Runner2019. The Blade Runner year. Dystopian time? Match. Authoritarian regime? Match. Police killing those marginalized to society? Match. The cinematography of our era may look different-though Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai-but the underlying premise of a dark future catching up with all of us was prescient, if not exactly surprising.

No flying cars. At least not in mass production. No replicants, though there a clone or two running around, at least one we know of for sure. Video screens wide spread? Match. Too much of a damned match. In fact, I consider one of my achievements for the year turning off TV’s in medical reception areas when nobody’s watching. When Kate went in for her imaging at Porter Adventist, we were the first ones in the waiting room in the bleary part of the morning. I turned off the TV and it was still turned off when we left about three hours later. Score!

Dystopian-WorldDystopian futures, even ours from the perspective of 1982, have this seeming anomaly: Life goes on. Most folks make some accommodation, some compromise, and go on with their daily routines. Short of mass suicide, what other option is there? It is those very accommodations and compromises that are fertile soil for the demagogue and the populist. See Trump, Erdogan, Germany’s alt-right, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Michel Temer. Movies have to convey dystopian troubles cinematically, so we think if the visuals don’t correlate with ours that the movie doesn’t apply. Wrong. It’s the core cultural themes that are important.

So I would say this is the Blade Runner year, with visuals a bit less thrilling.

 

 

Assimilating. In reverse.

Winter                                                                           Stent Moon

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Sol Invictus has risen, not daunted by the long night. Unconquerable, life giving, a true light for our world. Black Mountain and its lodgepole pine, its groves of aspen, its slashes of ski runs is visible against a bright white clouded sky. A great wakin’ up morning if you’re a devotee of the two who give us life, Sol and Gaia. Blessed be.

Wanted to make a quick note of something I realized the other day. Assimilation. Assimilation assumes, correctly I think, that each culture is a semi-permeable membrane. Varying levels of porosity create more endogenous, more exogenous groups. Our immigration debate, for example, is an attempt to adjust the degree of porosity of American culture. One side wants less permeability and that only under strict expectations of full assimilation. The other side wants more permeability and a recognition of the vitality that blending and mixing of cultures engenders.

Inside subgroups of a dominant culture, say Latinos in the U.S., Jews in the U.S., for example there’s always a tension between maintaining group norms, those things that keep the subgroup distinctive and recognizable, and the necessity of living and working and loving in a culture different from their own. This is neither bad nor good, it just is. As I understand the American experiment, we’ve intended a greater level of porosity than most other nations, defining ourselves by the American Dream:  “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”  wikipedia

An ancestor who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived

An ancestor, Demick Ellis, who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived (1888)

I love China towns, Korea towns, Japan towns, Latino neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, Italian and Greek and Russian neighborhoods. African restaurants, Cuban restaurants, Japanese restaurants. You get the point. Jewish delis.

Since my folks arrived on these shores in 1707, Ellises, and during the American Revolution, Spitlers, assimilation has never been an issue for me. I represent and live in the dominant culture, the one which assimilates, in the dominant world power of our time (until, maybe, right now), again the one which assimilates other nations. So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I realized I had begun, under the radar of my consciousness, probably for the reason of white, long standing US family history and privilege, the process of assimilation. You might call it reverse assimilation, but I don’t. It’s just assimilation.

ChesedI’ve begun to assimilate into Jewish culture. Different from becoming  a Jew, just like Jewish assimilation into American culture is different from no longer being a Jew, my identity is largely intact, but I find myself much more aware of living life through a Jewish lens. Their holidays are now mine. Their community, mine. Their marginal reality, also mine, though this last requires a full choice on my part, not just acquiescence. That is, I choose to stand with my new culture against all elements domestic and foreign and not to retire into privilege when things get hairy.

I’m at a point in my journey where I feel no need for formal conversion. I’m a person of my own religious persuasion and Beth Evergreen allows me to give it full expression even while immersed in Jewish life. Like I said long ago here I’m a fellow traveler, but now a fellow traveler who’s close to becoming a quasi cultural native. Strange, huh?

Just One Tree.

Samain                                                                             Stent Moon

AfforestationBeen thinking about actions to fight climate change. The inversion of the Great Work championed by his Satanic Majesty, the orange tumor on our democracy, threatens human genocide. Intentional mass murder of potentially billions. Hitler and his crowd? Pikers.

Realizing that at least for now the country at the Federal level is going to be not only an obstacle, but an active proponent of carbon emissions, what might an ordinary person do? It has to be something that’s got some heft, but doesn’t require political sophistication, or political activism. What simple thing might fit the bill?

Oddly, I think I know one. When I first started getting to know Jews, now long ago, something that kept coming up in conversation involved trees. Plant a tree in Israel. “With over 240 million planted trees, Israel is one of only two countries that entered the 21st century with a net gain in the number of trees. Due to massive afforestation efforts, this fact echoed in diverse campaigns. Israeli forests are the product of a major afforestation campaign by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).”

Johnny Appleseed

       Johnny Appleseed

That word alone, afforestation. Deforestation and desertification, no. Afforestation. “Afforestation is the process of planting trees, or sowing seeds, in a barren land devoid of any trees to create a forest. The term should not be confused with reforestation, which is the process of specifically planting native trees into a forest that has decreasing numbers of trees.” matteroftrust.org I like replacing the prefix de.

If you click through the link on the Jewish National Fund, you’ll find a page that enables, with a click and a credit card, the opportunity to plant a tree in Israel in memoriam. $18. What if we created a Gaia Global Fund where, with a click and a credit card, you could plant a tree in memoriam or just because. What if each continent identified large areas available for afforestation and, of course, for reforestation, too? Then, continent specific organizers could locate seedlings, planters, and develop a plan for using Gaia Global Fund dollars to get started.

Why might it work? Read this Scientific American article: The Best Technology for Fighting Climate Change Isn’t a Technology.

Not sure about next steps for this. I suppose seeing if anybody else is actively pursuing something similar, but this feels like an idea that could inspire children and grandchildren around the world to participate in saving their own future. By nagging the adults in their lives to plant a tree for them. Just one tree. Imagine.

 

The Lord of Misrule and our Feast of Fools*

Fall                                                                                 Healing Moon

misrule3I remember MLK: “You can’t legislate feelings, but you can legislate behavior.” It was an admission that changing people’s hearts is work outside the realm of government, but within the public sphere, government’s appropriate responsibility, we can decide what behaviors we will tolerate and which we will not.

In place of humane restraint on our baser impulses we are now witnesses to American democracy as a long lasting Feast of Fools. Instead of a real president we elected a Lord of Misrule, an orange topped peasant (no, scratch that as unfair to peasants), let’s say an orange topped lout who now presides over an American public space dominated by greed, fear, anger, chauvinism, racism, homophobia and misogyny.

misrule2In its original manifestation the Feast of Fools served to highlight the norms governing public life by mocking them within a predetermined period of time. Leadership of the chaos went to one obviously unsuited, his actions expected to be unpredictable, coarse, even blasphemous. When the party ended, all went back to normal. The king was in charge, louts were not. And, the difference between the two had been made visible. Rule by louts harms everyone.

My one positive spin on the Orange Oval Lout is that his behavior, like the Lord of Misrule, or, should I say, as a Lord of Misrule, will serve as a similar norm revealing feast of fools. We are not a nation that shoots up synagogues, solves our problems with pipe bombs, deploys Proud Boys to beat up people of color, those with gender and sexual preferences different from our own.

When I say we are not a nation that does these things, I do not mean they will never happen. Hardly. I mean we recognize them for what they are, behavior not tolerated. We need to push these people back into their Klan Klosets, push them back into places from which they can grumble, but not rumble.

I don’t know whether this is fascism or authoritarianism or oligarchic over reach and I don’t care. I see it for what it truly is, unacceptable. Inhuman. Evil. It’s time to stop this Feast of Fools, to put that lout masquerading as a legitimate leader back in the penthouse and out of the White House. I don’t really care what happens to him. Impeach him. Defeat him. Just get him the hell away from our government. And have him take his feast of fools cronies with him.

 

 

*In England, the Lord of Misrule – known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – was an officer appointed by lot during Christmastide to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying.  wiki