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Posts tagged Politics

Art and Politics

Samain                              Moon of the Winter Solstice


In to the city to meet with Justin, Sierra Club’s lobbyist and policy wonk.  We’re putting together a campaign strategy for this upcoming session.  I love the ins and outs of politics, the practical, no nonsense nature of the analysis, the calculations.  The realities of power, not its dreamy possibilities.

It is though, at this stage of my life, not as exciting as taking in a new painting, wandering through a new exhibition, revisiting a print I’ve seen many times.  Even so,  politics are deeper in my life, started earlier, continued throughout my life while the arts have been only a once in a while thing until the last ten years.

The man I am now, the man I am becoming, loves the museum gallery more than the legislative chamber, the exhibit hall more than the voting booth, research for a tour more than campaign planning.  Part of me is not sure what to make of this change, but that it has happened there is no doubt.

Perhaps these later years have bent the knee toward beauty rather than the lady justice.

No, of course it’s not either art or politics, of course not.  There is, though, a real matter of how much time I want to devote to life outside our home, how much energy I want to give to projects for others and how much I need to spend on my own work.

These are not easy matters for me, questions I’ve juggled my whole life, but I’ve always tried to remain true to what my inner life tells me.  Just now, it says open that new book with all the paintings in the Louvre.

With Thoughts of Green, Growing Things Dancing in My Head

Winter                                Waxing Moon of Long Nights

We’ve warmed up to 0.  Midmorning’s brittle sunshine diffuses in the hazy, partly cloudy sky.  The whippets go outside, pee, turn around and come right back inside.  Rigel, unphased, continues to hunt around the machine shed, staying on the hunt for hours at a time.  Sometimes she comes in after midnight, too.  Vega prefers the comforts of home, a couch, a bone, heated air.

A subtle change has occurred in my inner world.  I have begun to wonder where the seed catalogs are.  I have one in hand but I didn’t like their seeds so I’m waiting for others.  This year’s garden will benefit from last year’s mistakes.  In particular I’m going to make a real effort with leeks, have a better onion crop (sets), plant fewer greens and harvest more regularly (in general), beets, beans, one squash, not many tomatoes since we stocked up this year.  I’ll plant potatoes again, too, but this time I will store them in the basement rather than outside in the garage stairwell.

It is  time, too, to get back to work on legislative matters for the Sierra Club.  I got a call last night from Josh Davis about a meeting of the Club’s political committee next week.  No tours for the time being, just fine with me.  After Sin and Salvation followed by the Louvre, I can use a rest.

In the middle of January I head out to Denver for a week to take in the Stock Show with Jon and Jen and  Ruth and Gabe.  This is a premier event of the western US.  I’m going just to see what it’s like.

This Is The Question I Face Now. One I Have Not Answered.

Spring            Waning Seed Moon

Agency.  There’s been a lot written in psychology and history about agency.  We have agency when we can affect the flow of events in our own lives or in the world around us. (No, I’m not going to get into the subtle no-free-will arguments floating around.)  A lot of the historical work has concerned how those without agency–say women, slaves, workers–get it or why they don’t have it.  In the case of the individual agency refers to our capacity to direct our own life.

A sense of agency underwrites our sense of self, or our sense of group identity.  Note that our agency or our group’s agency can be positive or negative.  A more negative sense of agency, that is, sensing that others or factors outside your control influence your life or your group, leads to a feeling of diminished capacity or is a feeling of diminished capacity.  A positive sense of agency promotes a feeling of active and successful engagement with the world, the ability to act in ways congruent with your self-interest or your group’s self-interest.

Here’s where I’m going with this.  In my regression back into the ministry after 8 or so years out I made the move because my writing career had not produced the hoped for results.  I had lost a sense of agency in the work area of my life and moved backwards on my psychological journey to retrieve it.  Going backwards to pick up something left behind is a key element of regression.  Its flaw lies in a return to a previous reality no longer relevant.  The ministy was what I had done, a minister what I had been.  The experience of return to the ministry produced missteps and a low level of energy for the actual work.

Now, about ten  years later,  once again I have reached back into my past, this time even further, to retrieve a sense of agency, the ur-agency, for me, the political.  This is the work with the Sierra Club. (hmmm.  just realized I did the same thing two years back when I studied Paul Tillich.  That was a return to life as a student, a potent form of agency for me.)

What the work with the Sierra Club, the study of Tillich and the ministry have in common is an attempt to regain a positive sense of self through a form of agency already well-established and presumably easily recaptured.  None of these activities in themselves is a bad thing, but that is the lure, the  seductive call of regression.

Back there, if only I could go back in time, and become the captain of the football team again.  Prom queen.  College radio jockey.  The actor I became after college.  My successful years as a bond trader or nurse or carpenter.  Back there I was strong, able.  I had a way with the world, a position of respect and self-confidence. READ MORE »

A Politics of Success

40  bar rises 30.15  0mph ENE  dew-point 39  sunrise 7:27  set 6:40

Full Blood Moon  5:43 PM  set  6:05 AM (10/14)

We had an hour long conference call this evening for the Sierra Club Political Committee.  We made two decisions, both with a political calculus that would have offended my younger, less pragmatic self.  Now the bigger picture makes sense to me and decisions are no longer black and white.  This is a politics bent on actual success, not ideological purity.  Just what politics is.

Yesterday and Sunday box elder bugs and lady bugs swarmed the doors, wanting to follow the heat inside.  Right now, up in the top southeastern corner of this room there is a swarm of lady bugs, a smaller clutch in the southwestern.  In our imaginations our homes have no trace of unruly nature, but in fact, like our bodies, our houses house more than people and pets.  Mice.  Moths.  All manner of bacteria.

Our vision tends to ignore organisms too small to be seen by the naked eye, but this does not mean they go away, or that their presence does not have consequences.  This is an anthropocentric bias, man as the measure of all things as the Sophist, Protagoras, said.  Though the notion may be charming to those of us in human habitus it is not true, has never been true, never will be true.

Joseph’s training program as Air Battle Manager has moved up to December from March.  He’s excited.  This is the next step in his Air Force career, basically class room work.  After this comes flight training, then deployment.

Crabby but Eco-Friendly

72  bar falls  20.76 0mph  ESE dew-point 64  sunrise 6:29  sunset 7:58  Lughnasa

Waning Crescent of the Corn Moon

A Sierra club blogger caught these comments after her light hearted, energetic account of her second day at the Democratic convention:

What I would like to know is the substance of what is being said and promised to America. The rest is nonsense and not worth our time.

I would also like more substance. This is time consuming, I don’t appreciate my time being wasted on insignicant information.

I agree with Bruce. Less fluff, more substance.

I posted the following:

Geez. Lighten up. Color is part of the information. This kind of crabby feedback is part of the problem we have in general. Who wants to listen to folks who sound like tight-lipped great-grand parents?

The environmental movement has a large dose of self-righteousness that often brooks no dissent.  It is not unlike the New Left of the sixties.  The tone and flavor of “I’m right and you’re not” creates a sense of condescension that impeded the capacity to get our message to the people who need to hear it.  Are we wrong about some things?  History assures us we are?  Which things?  Well, it is not history yet.  This reality should make us more humble.

I watched a good film the other night called U-571.  The plot is irrelevant here, but the Captain said to his Ex O, “To be a captain you have to make decisions with imperfect information and no time for consideration.”  This is the human condition on all the great issues of the day.  We get further with each other if we admit our information is imperfect.  What we look for is the trend, the decision that if not made will hurt us more than inaction.  Climate change sure seems to be one of those decisions.  Could we have some of the science wrong?  Absolutely. Is the trend clear enough to make decisions now imperative?  Seems so to me.

But there may be some who read the data differently.  They might disagree about urgency, agency.   They might disagree, as noted physicist Freeman Dyson does, with the assumptions that go into the climate models.  Those of us, though, who see the need for action must make our case in a way others can at least agree with us that acting is more important than the possibility of being wrong in some of the details.  That’s our task.

What Is Your Dream for This Stage of Your Life?

78  bar steady 29.75  1mph N  dew-point 51  Summer, cloudy and pleasant

Waxing Gibbous Thunder Moon

Another topic of conversation at the Strickland’s last night was the next time.  Lonnie, anticipating their kids flying from the nest, proposes to purchase an empty commercial van, “a hybrid one, they have them now that get 44 mpg.  I want to put Bob’s Plumbing on the outside and trick out the inside.  No windows, just a perfect place to be.  Then hit the road.”  Sarah and Paul have work to do on their second home in Maine.  Mark and Elizabeth Odegard gave up their house and have the global road, the ancientrail of the nomad, picking up their tent every few months, packing it on the mechanical camel and traveling to a new location.  Mary Broderick plans to retire at the end of this year.  Kate wants to retire at 66, just two years away.

It all made me sit my head on my hands this morning, after finishing the Sunday paper and wonder.

Mark’s topic for our meeting July 21st is “What is your dream for this life stage?”  He says in a followup e-mail:

“My thoughts concerning this topic are centered around articulating my own journey, how I am creating a dream to live into, now that I am in my 60’s and retiring. A few important books are speaking to me about the dream I want. My musical tastes are changing, I am slowing down and savoring longer. Stage of life? Do you have a stated dream? Are you letting it unravel towards you, or are you weaving it?”

So, I wondered, looking out the window at the waving grass in our meadow, what is my (our) dream for this life stage?

I have asked this question at every life stage.  Sometimes I’ve had clear answers, at other times not.

During college, for instance, my dream was revolution, a clearing away of the system and a great wakin’ up mornin’ when all would be well-fed, well-educated, well-housed and engaged in governing themselves through worker owned businesses and co-operative enterprises.  This dream followed me into seminary where I clothed it for awhile in the Kingdom of God, but it guided my work and my off work activities.

This all began to change, in a subtle way at first, when I had my next dream, being a father.  Around 30, 31 I woke up to a pinging in my personal sonar and noticed a faint object closing fast.  It was the window for having children and it moved right on top of everything else and hovered until I paid attention to it, then acted on it.  Joseph appeared from the heavens at midnight on December 15th, arrival day.

The change that began with the realization of the Joseph dream reached its climax in the late ’80’s when Raeone and I divorced and the ministry began falling away as a work.  Kate came into my life a few years thereafter.

That was the next dream.  The writing dream.  A life lived on the creative edge, where my imagination would carry me.  Now, sixteen years later, I’m still living out the implications of that dream.  I have written 5 novels and have a sixth well on the way with a seventh not too far behind.  I’ve written a lot and I’ve written little, but always, in those sixteen years the creative life has been at the fore.

As I wrote this, I realized that dreams do not come, then fade away.  I still want a revolution.  I’m still a father.  I still write.  These are Russian nesting dolls, now buried one within the other.

The question is, is there a dream for this next stage of life?  In particular, the stage when Kate had finished full-time work?  So, Mark’s right on the money.

I’m not sure.  Nothing nags away at me, as it has in the past, as if something unfulfilled, unrealized needs to fight its way to the surface, to my lived experience.  Still, I wonder.

Windows Down and Moon Roof Open

66  bar steady 29.87  0mph NW dew-point 52   Summer night

First Quarter of the Thunder Moon

First meeting of the Sierra Club political committee is under my belt.  I am delighted to say that there were several things we did that I cannot talk about yet.  It was fun, sitting around the table again, considering political strategy, making decisions.  There was a volunteer opportunity, but, unlike many times in the past, I did not step up.  The Sierra Club has a well conceived and well run political operation; it will require some time to understand.

Margaret Levin is an excellent staffer.  Her presence reminded me of my work with the Presbytery, helping things happen, supporting when necessary, providing guidance, prodding at times.  Josh Davis, the chair, is very knowledgeable about state level politics.  He came tonight with a map of the state house districts color coded by safe seats, 5% margin and 2% margin races.  In addition there were districts Sierra Club allies have targeted in blue.

There were two past chairs of the political committee on the committee which is great.  Continuity and experience.  This will be an educational process and I look forward to it.

Drove home with the windows down and the moon roof open, listening to a lecture on Thomas Hardy.

Like a Lunker Muskie

68  bar rises 29.92 0mph WNW dew-point 57   Summer, pleasant start

First Quarter of the Thunder Moon

No thunder yet.  Some rain on Monday but no storms.

First Sierra Club political committee meeting tonight.  I’m a little nervous.  Why?  Well, for one, I’ve been away from serious political work for several years.  I know the amount of time and dedication it takes and I hope I’m not setting myself up for frustration.

It is also a different time now than when I was most active politically.   I got the gist of it in a NYT article on the retirement of the baby boom generation of professors.  A retiring sociology prof at U. Madison, who had been on the frontlines at Columbia, then later at Harvard during the strike, “These new professors didn’t have those kind of experiences when they were young.  Anti-authoritanism doesn’t come naturally to them.”  Oooff.

Joseph is in the military, at least in part, because he trusts authority.  He trusts me, so he can trust a command structure.  At the Woollies Monday night I suggested that there is a whole generation of kids of who now trust authority because their anti-authoritarian parents were very careful to create loving, trusting relationships, something either denied or refused by them.

The kind of balls against the wall politics that drove the movement politics of my youth are no longer appropriate.  Then can, in fact, be counter productive.  At the State Fair last year or the year before I volunteered for Amy Klobuchar at the State DFL booth.  A conservative guy came up and started baiting us.  Like a lunker muskie, I came up fighting.  A twenty something kid beside me took over, calmly explained a solid liberal position, listened respectfully.  The guy said he appreciate the kid.

The kid was right.  In retail and even most wholesale political actions these days the politics of resistance and revolution are out of fashion.  They will return, but not soon I think, for now they do not carry the day.  This means that my political instincts must be tempered and suited to an organization (the Sierra Club) and the zeitgeist.  I know this, but doing it, or whether I can do it, is an open question.

Bozo the Clown and Jesse Helms Die

77  bar falls 30.01 1mph SW  dew-point 50  Summer, pleasant

Waxing Crescent of the Thunder Moon

Sometimes coincidence says things that would have not occurred to me:

Larry Harmon, longtime Bozo the Clown, dead at 83.

Former Sen. Jesse Helms dies at age 86.

Mulch goes down today.  Old leaves and grass clippings from last year stored in plastic bags.  Straw baled on a farm.  Organic matter that will blend into the soil, enrich it and give it better composition.  Before it does that, it will suppress weeds and keep the soil beneath it cooler, helping plants fight the extremes of summer heat.  An all purpose good deal, mulch.

A columnist referred to the 4th as the happiest of holidays.  It has sparklers, band music, cookouts, fireworks and family gatherings.  As for me, a solid northern European intellectually, I find it a sober holiday.  Our government, at its least competent level in decades, has not made tiny, forgivable, do over mistakes; no, they have blundered on the world stage as well as the domestic.  They have tanked the economy, made citizens suspicious of Washington, politicized the judiciary and made WC Fields and Mark Twain look like optimistic boosters.  On the foreign affairs we have reversed and three upped Teddy Roosevelt.  Now we speak loudly and shoulder nuclear RPG’s.

In light of this July 4th is, for me, a time to redouble my own efforts to bring down these clowns (apologies to Larry Harmon, mentioned earlier) and to change policy at the national, state and local levels.  My own focus now is the natural world, the world that can go along on its own without human interference, if it does not have human interference, that is.  In times past issues of war and peace, civil rights and economic justice were stage front in my political world.  They remain critically important, but I choose to pass that torch to another generation of activists.

On a lighter note I look forward to charcoaled hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob and cold watermelon when Kate comes home.  We also have a cache of sparklers to set out in the yard and light.  Star spangledness will live on in our Andover backyard.

Trust in the Land

76  bar falls 29.85  1mph ESE dew-point 60  Summer, sunny headed toward hot

Waning Crescent of the Flower Moon

“Over 200 LEED-certified new homes are being built by the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation under the auspices of…Dudley Neighbors Inc., Boston’s two-decade-old community land trust — a burgeoning affordable housing strategy where residents buy the homes but not the land underneath, thus reducing the price.”   This from the Land Institute website yesterday.

Another memory jogger.   25 years ago I worked in a small University of Minnesota and hospital dominated neighborhood of Minneapolis called Cedar-Riverside.  A grand plan for very dense housing proposed by Keith Heller, a UofM economics professor and Gloria Segal, a Minnesota DFL heavyweight would have buried the community with housing for more than 25,000 people.  That would have meant fitting a city the size of Andover on a plot of land that is a small neighborhood by Minneapolis standards, a plot of land those 25,000 + would have shared with Augsburg College, St. Mary’s Hospital, Fairview Hospital, and the University’s West Bank campus which included the Wilson Library, two towers of classroom space and a performing arts center.

Citizens of the neighborhood fought back, filed an environmental impact lawsuit, a notion then in its infancy, and won.  The settlement of that lawsuit provided the neighborhood with several million dollars to use in developing the community at a level consistent with the residents wishes.  We pursued several innovative community development strategies in those days.

Among them was a land-trust.  This was well in advance of the land-trust referred to in the Land Institute quote.  It worked like this.

We developed different housing options, mostly townhomes, all as co-operatives, that is, resident managed and jointly owned.   These were limited-equity co-ops, meaning you paid a small fee up front to join the co-operative, usually around a $1,000 and when you moved you sold your unit back to the co-op and received your fee back in return.  This idea had two positives from a community development perspective.  First, it allowed low-income people entree to a self-governing living situation (no landlord or they became the landlord).  Second, it discouraged speculation in the individual units which would make the units affordable over time.

The land-trust was a guard against a problem that had occurred in the 70’s in some cities. Community based developers would build low-income housing units as co-ops, then turn the whole project over to the co-operative.  As time went by and the property values increased, the co-op and its land would become more and more valuable.  Eventually, a for-profit developer would make the co-op and offer they couldn’t refuse and the co-ops would sell out.   This removed the housing from the ranks of affordable housing, defeating the original purpose in its construction.

The landtrust prevented that in two ways.  First, the land was  held in trust by a third party, usually a land trust corporation controlled by a community development corporation or the community development corporation itself.  This made every transaction for the whole a three party negotiation with the land-trust holding veto rights.  Second, a clause in the contract stipulated that if the land ever was sold, it triggered a penalty which equaled the interest on all the years since the projects completion.

A secondary aspect of the land-trust was its ability to lower the overall cost of the housing by taking land out of the total development equation.

No good deed goes unpunished, however, and I imagine the good folks in Boston will find similar problems to those that have developed in Cedar-Riverside.  Turns out everyone wants a piece of the increase in home value pie.  Tenants became incensed when all they got back was their original fee instead of an inflation or value multiplied amount.  Co-ops also vary a good deal in the people who come to share responsibility for them.  Sometimes general management was an issue, too.  Still, in my mind, the land-trust remains a sound tool for developing and maintaing housing affordable to all.

June 2017
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