Growing up, I was told that we were created in God’s image. But no one really explained the concept to me. I assumed that God was static, unchanging, and altogether perfect. To the best of my knowledge, it had always been this way. Was my behavior to resemble this as well? Any number of theological loose ends was never tied up, either from ignorance or theological neglect. Sometimes it is easier to say nothing than to risk the potential offense provided by the truth. Fast asleep is a comfortable place for many, particularly in houses of worship and everyday communities which are deathly afraid of change.
Jun 13 2011
Dec 16 2010
As we move towards becoming a more empathetic society, certain regrettable characteristics must be directly addressed. The eye for an eye sorts would have us believe that we are opting for weakness, regardless of our efforts to establish fairness and equality. The paradoxical ferocity of our impulse for justice would seem to belie these fears, but they still remain in the minds of many. Unless we honestly take stock of how each of us is negatively impacted by a noxious undercurrent of violence, we will only be treating secondary symptoms of a larger disease. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how many degrees separate our complicity.
Oct 02 2010
I like Numbers, Statistics, Facts.
They have a way of cutting through the Rhetoric.
Facts have a way of lifting the “fog of inaction”.
So, it is within that context of “fog clearing”, I present to you …
The Obameter: Tracking Obama’s Campaign Promises
PolitiFact.com — St Petersburg Times
2009 Pulitizer Prize Winner
PolitiFact has compiled more than 500 promises that Barack Obama made during the campaign and is tracking their progress on our Obameter.
The Obameter Scorecard
* Promise Kept 122
* Compromise 39
* Promise Broken 22
* Stalled 82
* In the Works 238
Sep 27 2010
In the quest to maintain a Democrat majority it seems easy to overlook the race for New York State Attorney General. Considering a powerful social and economic justice policy position where the jurisdiction includes Wall Street and the traditional influence this office has had over media and talk shows it’s not about majority but justice vs. injustice.
Now Eric Schneiderman who is committed to “protecting homeowners and consumers from bad actors on Wall Street” faces a Republican who has suggested that he would “de-emphasize the high-profile securities fraud cases that defined the tenures of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer.” In a nation where the banking lobbyist induced false claim that “sound economics means hands off Wall St.” is too often heard, think back the early 1990’s when nobody seemed interested in the big money crimes and Eliot Spitzer did much to change the national focus.
But Senator Schneiderman represents so much more that that. Not just a politician but a public servant with the energy and willpower to fight for the people. Looking at what this man has to offer in this high profile office with the power to steer the national debate, it seems obvious that a NY loss would be a setback for all Americans.
Sep 23 2010
If Republicans got their Way … there would be no more Medicare.
If Republicans got their Way … you couldn’t Retire until 70.
If Republicans got their Way … they’d privatize Social Security.
If Republicans got their Way … there would be no more Corporate income tax.
If Republicans got their Way … they’d eliminate taxes on Capital gains.
If Republicans got their Way … they’d cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent.
If Republicans got their Way … the Bush Tax Cut for the Rich would never end.
Factlets from The Republican’s Roadmap for America’s Future:
The Ryan Budget’s Radical Priorities
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
By Paul N. Van de Water — July 7, 2010
If Republicans got their Way … Christine O’Donnell would be their new Class Treasurer!
Sep 05 2010
The first Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, STOP digging.
Stop Digging? Check!
Heck, even Erin Burnett (of CNBC) admitted the Stimulus is working, today on MTP … that
“Without the stimulus we would be significantly worse off than we are now.”
— any serious economist says so. … She has the charts.
so do we.
Jan 08 2010
With the news that unemployment remains stagnant at 10% and that employers have cut more jobs than expected is a fresh blow to the American psyche. Based on what I have informally observed, the latest stats are a more-or-less accurate portrayal of what I see on the ground. I might even be compelled to believe that today’s grim news is in fact a bit sugarcoated, particularly among those under the age of thirty-five. Friends of mine have undergone the ultimate of indignity and shame of moving back home, temporarily, they always conclude. Returning to the womb does not exactly do wonders for one’s self-esteem, particularly when independence in the form of separate living arrangement are one of the metrics we consider essential to attaining that sometimes elusive construct denoted as “adulthood”.
Jobs, jobs, jobs continues to be the story line that trumps all others, an issue unlikely to subside for a long while. Aside from the political repercussions that have been debated extensively for months and will continue to be debated as we get closer to November, I admit I’m more interested in trends often sparsely covered by the major outlets. We’ve seen the demise of certain industries and businesses that had been hanging on by a thread even in good times. We’ve noted the strain upon government agencies and the many socialized component pieces that variously make up a bulk of our infrastructure–those which depend heavily on tax revenue. What we have not really come to grips with as a people is how we best ought to respond to a period of reduced harvest over a protracted period of time. I have read many pieces that detail that which is wrong, but few which propose a resolute, firm course of action for the future. These may be unprecedented times, but it would be nice to see someone’s grand unifying theory.
Alongside the latest doom-and-gloom headlines, the media tries its best to put a micro human interest aspect in play, but these sorts of character sketches at times resemble caricature sketches more than anything else. While I appreciate a desire to show the personal impact of any massive crisis like the one in which we are still mired, it has always seemed a bit cloying to highlight the The Typical Hispanic Immigrant Family™, The Typical Single Parent African-American Family™, The Typical Asian-American Family™, and The Typical White Working Class Family™. To be sure, the mainstream boys and girls tend to leave in-depth analysis to print magazines and NPR, but in a crisis this pervasive, one can’t help but wish they’d incorporate some degree of truly thoughtful analysis. Instead we get two tiresome talking heads from opposite sides, each granted four minutes airtime each to devote to often-meaningless improvisational variations on a theme.
The noted historian C. Vann Woodward wrote,
In an illuminating book called People of Plenty, David Potter persuasively advances the thesis that the most distinguishing traits of national character have been fundamentally shaped by the abundance of the American living standard. He marshals evidence of the effect that plenty has had upon such decisive phases of life as the nursing and training of babies, opportunities for education and jobs, ages of marriage and childbearing. He shows how abundance has determined characteristic national attitudes between parents and children, husband and wife, superior and subordinate, between one class and another, and how it has molded our mass culture and consumer oriented society. American national character would indeed appear inconceivable without this unique experience of abundance.
A closely related corollary of the unique American experience of abundance is the equally unique American experience of success. During the Second World War, Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger made an interesting attempt to define the national character, which he brought to a close with the conclusion that the American character “is bottomed upon the profound conviction that nothing in the world is beyond its power to accomplish.” In this he gave expression to one of the great American legends, the legend of success and invincibility.
If the history of the United States is lacking in some of the elements of variety and contrast demanded of any good story, it is in part because of the very monotonous repetition of success. Almost every major collective effort, even those thwarted temporarily, succeeded in the end. American history is a success story. They have, until very recently, solved every major problem they have confronted–or had it solved for them by a smiling fortune.
While on the stump, Barack Obama skillfully appealed to this particular strain of American mythology as a means of direct emotional appeal. I do not believe that it was a tactic employed disingenuously, but at any rate it sought to advance the idea that our unique character was so high-minded and noble that, despite the struggle getting there, eventually we embrace social progress. With this assertion came a very American, very unflinching belief in our perceived superiority and our own perceived invincibility. But, following this line of logic, if we as a country can elect an African-American and seriously consider electing a woman as President, it would then stand to reason that the solution to revive a sick economy would be easily within our capabilities. One would believe that with abundance would come a corresponding abundance of proposals, each novel and credible in its own way. However, it should also be noted that casting a ballot and breaking a sweat are two entirely different matters, a notion not lost on Woodward. One would hope that when this country elects a female President that we don’t inundate ourselves with self-congratulatory talk that the glass ceiling has finally been shattered forever. It has proven to be quite resilient to even the largest of cracks.
When the formerly Grand Old Party states its own interpretation of American success, it clothes its own mythology in terms of resolute military triumphs, battles won, enemies vanquished in heroic terms by complete unknowns and by generals who never lost a fight. America is a magical place where everything is possible, but only to those who embrace a struggle between God and Satan, Good and Evil, dark and light, impurity and purity. When the system fails, it writes apology after apology for the failures and corruption of capitalism, pointing to the inevitability of its eventual rebirth. It is as sure of its own infallibility and superiority just as surely as Marx was in thunderously concluding that the bourgeoisie would someday prove to be its own grave-diggers. If either were any help now, I’m sure we might be seriously considering them.
What we need, then, is to truly act as though we really are what our mythology triumphantly proclaims. Setting aside irony and cynicism for a moment, we have the power within our grasp to put into place a new American mythology, one that is comprised of more than just jingoistic platitudes or narcissistic back-patting. But what it will entail is effort and a willful desire to scrape off the rust, even when doing so is uncomfortable and puts us out of our comfort zones. Now more than ever, we ought to be the country the rest of the world thinks we are. Now more than ever we ought to live the notion that we really meant it when it was written that all are created equal, that we were a welcome respite and land of promise to our tired, our poor, our huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and that our exceptionalism is not a club quick to bludgeon or a license for arrogance, but instead the source of healing and solution of a sort that is profoundly lacking today.
Jan 03 2010
Quantity vs Quality — is one metric “Better” than the Other?
Back in the day, during my “formative college years”, I was given an assignment, that definitely changed the way I looked at the world ever since.
The lessons I learned in that Creative Writing class, I still carry with me, to this very day.
The assignment: Read the American Classic:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig
And then, Write an Essay on “What does it means to write a Quality Essay?”
(ie. Why is one Essay, better than another? … How can you tell?)
Is it the count of the words that matters … or their depth, when taken as a whole?
Dec 14 2009
Once upon a time, we saw progress, particularly technological and medical progress, as both miraculous and uniformly desired. The romanticized meta-narrative of the the Twentieth Century was that it was the age of startling innovation and that indeed humanity might find its salvation in the latest invention to improve the human condition. The most common utterance at the time to describe this phenomenon was what will they think of next? The airplane and the automobile revolutionized travel and with it the spread of information and population dispersal. Penicillin was considered a wonder drug upon its introduction and indeed many lives were saved when it began being used on a wholesale fashion to combat infectious disease. The first pesticides were considered miraculous because they greatly increased the yield of crops, with the hopes that their introduction would increase the food supply and in time make widespread hunger a thing of the past. It was believed that our own ingenuity would be our salvation and in time, there was no telling what long-standing problem would have a easy, understandable solution.
Later, however, we began to cast suspicion on any advance lauded in messianic or wildly optimistic terms. To our horror we discovered that the drug which took away morning sickness also created tragic, hideous birth defects in babies born to women who took it. Then we read that the pesticides that, though they meant to increase the food supply, actually created major problems in the ecosystem around them—problems that skewed the natural environmental balance quite unintentionally but quite undeniably. In attempting to eradicate one pest, we often caused a huge increase in population of another organism, creating a brand new problem in the process. The system of pest control as set up by Mother Nature then was seen as more desirable as the one shaped by human hands. And this idea began to take shape in the minds of many to the degree that this belief has many adherents in this age. Take a stroll down the aisles of your local Whole Foods if you need a visual demonstration.
But I will say this. Old ways of doing things are not necessarily better ways of doing things. Though we may have swung the pendulum from one side to another in the course of half a century or so, we shouldn’t lose sight of the true balance of things. Anyone who has walked down a street where automobiles are not available and where all traffic directed down a major thoroughfare is pulled by horses knows the filth and the stench that fills the air and collects on either side of the roadway. It is for that reason, among others, that the horseless carriage was developed in the first place. We must not ever assume that the motives of those who came before us were summarily evil or distasteful simply because they did not have the ability to measure what they did by the power of hindsight. Any of us could look like geniuses if we had that in our favor. We often look for an easy enemy when the true hard work is to work to reach the point where we recognize that there are no easy answers and no easy targets. Demystifying the past does not imply that we ought to summarily scrap its lessons. The mythology of past ages needs to be removed, but those who view past behaviors and past events without rosy gloss can find many helpful examples for contemplation, provided, one doesn’t heave it into the trash can in one go, assuming the whole bunch is rotten all the way through.
The larger point I am making is that it is tempting these days to assume that the advances of the past are purely evil, based on their unforeseen and unintended consequences wrought by best intentions. We have gotten to the point now that we are reluctant at times to modify the world around us even in the slightest, lest we upset the fragile balance of energy, life, and movement that defines existence as any being currently alive. While we are humans, we are also animals, too. Our will dictates the shape and pace of the world around us, of course, but so also does our very existence. Global Warming is the buzzword phrase of the moment and while I do believe that human decision making has modified the climate and weather patterns for the worst, I do also know that the environment has a way of being adaptive that we often do not grant it, nor fully understand. We see things through such selfish, human terms at times, and even our best intentions do not disguise the fact that everything often relates back to us in the end. We were created selfish. Self-preservation is what consumes us above any other preoccupation. Still, this is an impulse we must fight against if we ever wish to live in peace with each other. We have more in common than we admit, but it’s often the very things we don’t like to admit even to ourselves. There is a limit to our understanding, and in fifty years from now, perhaps we’ll set aside Global Warming for the latest theory that defines our guilt and gives us a rallying point that demands we be unselfish not towards each other, but towards all living creatures.
Whether we are kings and queens of the beasts is a matter for debate, but we do have the benefit of higher brain function, and this is what makes us so much more influential than the average mammal. We seem to confuse at times the fact that we are both animals and also beings beholden to reason, somehow simultaneously separate from the fray. We exist in our own orbit and while it is wise to understand that the earth does not strictly belong to us, we do modify it by our very presence. When a butterfly can create a ripple effect just by flapping its wings, imagine what the average person creates by stepping outside on his or her way to work on the morning. I’m not saying that we ought not be aware of our carbon footprint and we ought not recognize that being less wasteful and more protective of nature is worthwhile, but that one can micromanage one’s degree of social consciousness to an extent that ending up miserable is the inevitable byproduct.
In a broader context to that, I notice how we lament the slow progress of reform and regulation. Our split loyalties are often to blame for this as well. If we were able to reach a happy medium between the supreme authority of old ways and the supreme authority of new ways, then we might actually get something done in a timely fashion. So much of Liberalism and Progressivism these days is conducted from a defensive posture, with the belief in the back of the mind that no matter what is set in play, it will inevitably blow up in the end and create more problems. Well, with all due respect, this is merely part of being alive. Any decision made will create future problems that no one could ever predict at the outset, but this shouldn’t paralyze our needed efforts, either.
Again, reform is a constant process of refining, re-honing, and revision. It’s foolish to expect that one bill, one policy statement, or one innovative strategy will come out perfect and never need to be updated to reflect changing times. Rather than seeing this established fact as frustrating or limiting, we need to modify our expectations. As President Obama said last week in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “…[W]e do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place.” We are imperfect. Our ideas, no matter how immaculately crafted at the time, are imperfect, and the passage of time will render them more imperfect.
But there is a difference between expecting individual or communal perfection on a case-by-case basis and not striving to improve the lives of those around us. A century from now, if there is a blogosphere, I’m sure many people will laugh at the nonsensical barbarism of a previous age where every citizen of the Earth did not have health care coverage from cradle to grave. But in this hypothetical example, it would be easy for them to make this judgment if they made it based on a naive, cavalier understanding of our times. If they viewed them purely through the lens of their times without understanding the events, beliefs, and myriad of factors which led us to undertake the great struggle before us, then their own perspectives could not be taken seriously. Again, we might be wise to understand why we always seem to crave an enemy. Voltaire mentioned that if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary for humanity to invent Him. Likewise, if enemies didn’t exist, it would be necessary for us to invent them. That the very same people who speak of unity and can’t understand why we don’t have it are among the first to construct an antagonistic force and project all of their frustrations upon it is the deepest irony of all. Our most powerful enemy is us.
Oct 09 2009
President Obama’s awarding of the Noble Peace Prize may be more about making a strong statement condemning what came before than it is a desire to reward the man who will benefit from the news. At a time when Obama is facing the sharpest criticism of his still-nascent Presidency, the Noble win temporarily distracts from Afghanistan, Health Care Reform, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, banking regulation, Guantanamo Bay, and a variety of other items on the agenda. It will dominate the news cycle at least for today and likely into the weekend, with all the usual suspects chiming in to comment. Obama’s resume towards world reconciliation and peace activism around the globe, up until now, has been on the thin side, though he has certainly taken much care to begin to undo the damage of the Bush presidency. I welcome the announcement, though I wonder if perhaps those with a lower profile might have been more deserving.
One also wonders what impact this award will have on the President’s domestic approval rating or the public support for his substantial agenda. The Nobel Peace Prize has a long history of courting controversy, and one expects to see no small degree of backlash from conservatives along the same lines as when Al Gore won in 2007. My initial thought is that this event, notable though it is, really won’t make much difference either way. It will be a short-term matter that Obama will rightly use to bolster what he wishes to accomplish, particularly in a diplomatic context. The Republicans will scream bloody murder and the Democrats will release complimentary press releases which politely reveal nothing more than safe, unsubstantial praise.
Contemplating why the awards themselves were established explains something of their presumptive function. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of the explosives dynamite and gelignite, set up a series of separate prize designations in his will. Winners of these prizes would also be rewarded with a substantial cash prize paid out of Nobel’s personal fortune. Upon his death, a committee was instructed to award the most deserving person who had to advanced human improvement in a each of a variety of areas. Ever since their establishment, the committee has often broadly interpreted Nobel’s rather vague directives.
The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:
The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
It was a premature obituary published in a French newspaper that led Nobel to establish these prizes that bear his name.
The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” On 27 November 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality.
Nobel himself was the owner of a large factory which designed war munitions and combined with his brilliant discoveries regarding explosive substances, he is a reminder that human progress and innovation can be used to kill millions of people in open combat. Not only that, he is a sobering example that we ourselves might prove to be our own undoing when we selfishly advance our own sordid motives at the expense of our brothers and sisters. Thus, the Nobel Prizes are a lasting testament to one man’s atonement and his desire to seek forgiveness. This is an unselfish gesture I do not believe was made to whitewash over past sins. It would be wise to keep that solemn fact in mind when we contemplate the very intent of the awards themselves. Though we need and must continue to cite instances where the wealthy and powerful destroy human unity on behalf of the pursuit of profit, there are those like Nobel who aim to leave a lasting legacy behind them as more than butchers, or amoral profiteers, or purveyors of anguish. Political footballs aside and back and forth arguments aside, we shouldn’t let petty grievances detract from the power and grave reverence these awards demand.
Aug 22 2009
There are some things, we just shouldn’t “Leave to the Markets” to decide what’s best
Left to their own devices, Private Interests will UNDERCUT the Public Interest, most every time!
That’s what the Profit Motive is all about — it cares more about the interests of ME, instead of the well-being of the WE, from which Societies are built.
Jul 10 2009
Q: “So, what are we supposed to do when our own leadership is somewhat apathetic to what we voted for them for?
Push harder, YELL LOUDER, whatever it takes, Harry Reid. I think many of us in the Democratic party would agree. Now is the time, Harry, now. One or two rogue sell out Senators can not be a monkey wrench in the works, not on health care or EFCA or anything else that this Congress needs to do. That is why we elected you people, for action, not excuses.
PODESTA: And I think that – I suppose I have a little bit of sympathy for Sen. Reid, in the sense that I look around at his caucus and understand how hard his job is. But I don’t think you can settle for a statement like that. I think you have to call out the fact that we’re demanding serious change, and indeed, it is the job of the leadership to round up votes, to push legislation through, to try to get the kind of bold initiatives that the President is talking about passed, and to his desk, and signed. […]
And that, I think, is what we should expect, that’s what we should demand, and that’s what we should put pressure on the members of their caucus to push back on their leadership. You just cannot settle for “What am I supposed to do? I’ve got one outlier who won’t vote for cloture.” We’ve got to both put pressure on the members who are not supporting a progressive agenda, but we’ve also have to put pressure on the leadership to come up with a strategy to find the votes to kind of get these things and move them forward. And we just can’t settle for less than that.
The “statement like that” pointed out by Podesta refers to Reid’s recent statement that Democrats can’t “bulldoze anybody” because we all know that if the GOP had the White House, a filibuster proof Senate and a huge House majority they would never in a million years do that to us, right?