30 January 2010

Perhaps I Need Pyschic Sunscreen

I hate my therapists sometimes. Yes, I had more than one. And I do not mean physical therapists or massage therapists. I mean psychologists and such. Overall, they have been helpful, let me admit. But the price was higher than the fees actually paid. This is what I am noticing this morning.

After reading yesterday's paper on this wickedly cold morning (1 degree Fahrenheit for the record) I glanced up at the TV and saw that "Clash of The Titans" was coming on. All I needed was that title to remember, vividly, the little boy who is now my grown son, who loved that movie.

Instantly, his face and voice and demeanor came to mind, a sweetness of youth and naivete and eagerness that children bring to everything. His complete pleasure and thrill in that movie, which is about mythic Greek gods whose adventures appeal to a certain age, is something I cannot and would not forget. And yet, to remember it is to feel something more like heartbreak than happiness.

That simply seeing a title can do this to me, or seeing a picture like those above my keyboard, or smelling the wet dirt after snow melts or catching my father's face in the morning mirror, can reduce me to a puddle is all the fault of my therapists.

They told me, taught me, to be in touch with my emotions, not to bottle things up and stuff like that. Now, I cannot stop them. They are present constantly, inconveniently, embarrassingly, disturbingly, almost daily.

To live so open to feelings is like walking about naked in the sun. You get burned easily, anywhere, and often. The world radiates power and meaning, you see, because almost anything can touch you. Every day has its moments when I can feel the surge of memory, hope, dismay, longing, anger and sorrow. Sometimes, just inhaling brings a rush of aliveness, a jolt of pure being. Sometimes it brings a heavy sadness that fills my lungs like water.

It is like having a sunburn, when even a slight touch can set off waves of sensation too intense to bear. Right now, I am angry at my therapists. I do not wish to undo what they have done. I just wish they had given me some psychic sunscreen in return.

26 January 2010

Speaking of Bread and Circuses...

It seems Avatar is the 'all time' money maker of movies. I hate that phrase 'all time' which supposedly means insurpassable (as in there never ever be anything as insert adjective here as insert noun here.) No one means that, as there will certainly be another. But that's not what this post is about.

It is about how this certifiable circus of a movie, a Barnumesque spectacular, has so enthralled so many people. I hope, indeed fondly do I hope and fervently do I pray, that it is more about the visual effects than the story. Having seen it, in 3D but not IMAX, I can attest to its sensual delights.

But it is as one dimensional a story as it is three dimensional in appearance. Plot was predictable, characters cardboard, dialogue cliched. In short, it needed no brain work at all.

And that's what is bothering me. But all sorts of folks (forgive me if you are one, but honestly I have not kept up with the details) seem to be enthralled by the message or inspired or threatened (the Vatican among others). As a story, it is just not that good.

To me, this was Rodney King's plaintive nostrum brought to three dimensional computer generated comic book inspired life. I am not the first to say this certainly, but my point is not how vapid it was as a story but that people can be so affected by something so listless in its essence. Are we so bewitched by technology and movies that even the most obvious of stories can appear to be meaningful if enough baubles are bangles are brought to bear?

How many people have joined a religion because the church/temple/mosque was so splendid?

Come to think, I guess it is quite possible.

23 January 2010

Demented or Possessed?

Did a lot of ironing this evening. Saturday is my Sunday, you see, and I try to put work aside. But while ironing my brain goes on walkabout, so that while I am pressing the yoke of my blue shirt I am thinking of lots of other things than ironing.

For example, the funeral I attended on Thursday evening for the husband of a colleague and friend. Packed. The little storefront church was full and then some with people like me and family. And it was a spontaneous thing, almost casual and yet overflowing with thoughts and feelings. Her associate Susan did it and boy is she good at it. I am professionally jealous as she is very new compared to me, but so gifted with presence.

Then I thought about the Supreme Court decision, see I told you this was weird, and why the Times analysis article is good but misses the point. You can read it here. Yes, it may not lead to outright corruption but it does tend to ossify the 'golden rule' to wit, whoever has the gold makes the rules.

The power of Wall Street even after its near collapse and outright demolition of the financial system, so severe that the government essentially had to ransom it back, is astonishing. I mean that a year or so later they are still saying they are the 'masters of the universe' and above all legitimate scrutiny. And they get away with it why?

Because they have so much money. Money being the mother's milk of politics since 1860 at least, and in these media saturated days the crack cocaine of politics, those who have the most to give or spend determine not who wins but what we are voting about.

Simple fact that gets overlooked - money = power. Not just fancy political power but the simple power to buy stuff. If voicing your opinion is free speech, but the air is for sale (air supposedly owned buy the people) those with more money can by more air. Their opinions get heard more. They shape if not set the agenda by what they say and what they do not. The whole tea bag movement was created by media and money. Nothing spontaneous about it as it required money and people and media to happen.

That's the problem. It does not corrupt the government. It corrupts the people. I called this decision the sign we are becoming Imperial Rome, not because of military swagger or the tyranny of the executive, but because it all happened because the people were seduced by bread and circuses.

We may not demand actual food anymore, but the circus is what politics is now, and we love it. Give us more, we say, salivating at quick quips and fast retorts, the jabs and uppercuts of words that make us cheer or wince. Blood in the sand is what we love, and we will cheer for whoever gives it to us, lifting them on our shoulders for that moment of vicarious courage.

This is what money does. It buys us cheap thrills on TV that gradually, like Gresham's law crowds out real discussion with real thinking. Until we can no more tell real debate from staged protests, just like we cannot tell real news from fake news. Hey, the fake news is more honest these days.

Ok, I gotta get my head out of the gutter and think holy thoughts for tomorrow. See ya.

21 January 2010

Random Rants

In the wake of Massachusetts...

- Contempt for government is the norm. Has been since 1776.
- We do not trust institutions, only individuals, so...
- The personal really is the political, for conservatives as much as anyone.
- So we vote our gut, whether it's right or not, Which is why...
- Appearance is more powerful in politics than substance.
- When our gut fails us, though, we feel betrayed, which is why...
- Contempt for government is normal . Therefore...
- Trusting government at all is considered naive.
- That's why fear is the currency of politics.
- It is more powerful than hope in the short run, but weaker in the long run.
- But elections are short run, so hope generally loses elections.
- Therefore we are a conservative country, always have been.
- Liberals are needed only when conservatism drives us to, or over, the brink.
- But once we are saved, they are slapped back down, because...
- Contempt for government is normal.

20 January 2010

I Knew Something Once

Long ago in a galaxy far away there were PCs and Macs and each were small and boring. My first machine, a Leading Edge 8088 clone was a big step up from the castoff PDP8 my church got from now defunct DEC in Massachusetts. Anyone out there remember the PDP8?

Anyway, for a while I could keep up, and mastered 1200 baud modems and Procomm and batch files and even some estoric config.sys commands. Then along came the 8028, the 8038 and the Pentium, with their larger hard drives and page files and swap files and I was lost. Never caught up.

Now it's the internet that is outracing me. I got the blogging thing done, obviously. And Facebook too. But somehow my RSS feed is not working, I think, and I have no idea how to fix it because when I press the 'feeds' button on my browser it cannot recognize whatever is there. Cross posting and linking and all that fun stuff takes me way too long. So I write really long posts which are really not the way it is done. Also obvious I know.

I want to talk about Avatar only because it is the most one dimensional movie I ever saw, even in 3d. I want to talk about the MA senate race and outcome. But right now, Internet 2.0 is making me feel like a dolt.

17 January 2010

Pulling the Covers Over My Head

Sometimes it gets so bad you just want to hide. Not from my work or my family, but from the weird world out there. Watch this, if you can bear it. Bill Moyers Journal from January 15.

If ignorance is not lasting bliss, perhaps it is 'folly to be wise' these days. More days than not I understand Linus' insight from the funny pages. He had many. The one that comes to mind is his protest: "I love humanity. It's people I can't stand."

This program is all about that.


16 January 2010


The end times are just around the corner. The signs are unmistakable.

I now wear slippers.

When I was a boy I would pad about the house barefoot all the time. My dad would wear slippers now and then, but it was my grandfather and other certifiably antiquated men who wore slippers.

Of course, back then I lived in Maryland, much farther south than west Michigan. But only thirty years ago - egad is has been thirty years! - in the hills of western Massachusetts, in a clapboard parsonage ancient and drafty, I would nip down the long linoleum covered hall in the morning for my ablutions. It was cold but my feet were bare.

Now, in my toasty warm brick house I need to put on slippers right away, and even a sweater over my PJ's.

I am becoming Mr. Rogers without any of the charm and sweetness of the character or the man. I must wear glasses to shave and tie my shoes.

My mother was right - 'growing old is not for sissies.'

11 January 2010

Two, Two, Two Links In One

First read this analysis of terrorist thinking. Yes, it is long but read it first. Then come back here.

........whistle.........hum.........tap fingers..........repeat

Now, and only now, read this story.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

09 January 2010

Pluto Becomes the Sun

Pluto may no longer be a planet, but its namesake, the Roman god of the underworld and wealth, is about to become the sun. Or at least the most powerful force on our planet.

Our courts are set to unravel the campaign finance laws that have been teetering for the last decade. Read all about it here.

In essence, we are making the unofficial golden rule the official - whoever has the gold makes the rules. Our existence as a democracy is coming to an actual end. People have already abandoned the public forum for the private market, deciding who should win elections based on the loudest voices they hear.

Those with the most money can now truly buy the electorate. By being able to dominate the conversation by purchasing the air by which we speak to one another, they truly will have bought the public square.

Mark these words, we became Imperial Rome in 2010, when the Senatus Populus Que Americus became actual property, bought with bread and circuses. If we thought Muslim terrorists would destroy us, Pogo turns out to be right again. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

07 January 2010

"But Then, I Repeat Myself"

It was Twain I believe who quipped, "Imagine I am an idiot. Now imagine I am am in Congress. But wait, I repeat myself." If he seems prescient these days it may not be because he was such a prophet but because venality and politics have been long term friends, intimates even.

So it is with some reluctance that I write these few words today because I may well have said them before. But I have not the time to scour my archive, and perhaps some things are worth repeating.

The weather folk talk of "bitter cold" today. Big cold front up there in Frostbite Falls, and it's coming our way. That set me to thinking, though, about when is it bitter as opposed to frigid? While we have numbers aplenty, how cold or warm the weather feels needs words. So I hereby propose a uniform descriptor scale, akin to the "pain scale" of smiley faces.

Would you agree that the 60s (16-21 C) are "comfortable?" Neither warm nor cool. If so, then the 70s (21-27) are warm. The 80s (28-32) are hot, and the 90s (33-38) are very hot and anything above 100 (39) is... well I cannot think of the best word. But it conveys excessive and even dangerous heat the way the bottom of the cold scale does too. That's next.

Heading down the thermometer, the 50s (10-15) are cool, the 40s (4-9) are chilly, the 30s (-1 -3 ) are cold, the 20s (-7 - -2) are very cold, the teens (-11 - -3) are frigid, and the single digits (- 19 - -12) are bitter. Below that is just awful damned cold. Somewhere around - 40 both scales match. Anything below that is officially *&$#ing cold.

Now, perhaps Frostbite Falls might find the 50s comfortable, and the local scale could be adjusted. Likewise broadcasters from the Florida Keys might find the 70s comfortable and likewise adjust. But I think weather broadcasters ought generally to use uniform adjectives because they tend to prefer extreme words - they get more attention and seem more urgent - which exaggerate things. I remember before there was windchill, and it never seemed as cold when I did not know. People ought to get a consistent sense of what they will feel outdoors.

Now, if only I could find that uppermost heat word. I had it once, but as a geezer in training, forgetting little things is more common. Help me out!

03 January 2010

On Being Grown Up

Once again that thoughtful fellow David Brooks has grabbed my thoughts and turned them into something worth sharing. He calls himself a conservative, but I suspect he is conservative in the small 'c' sense more than the large 'C' variety that is an ideology. That's a whole other post, and probably a sermon as well, though.

It seems what he is asking is whether we can be a nation of grown ups, people with the experience and wisdom to realize that no government is perfect but also that no government at all is stupid. Given recent history, or should I say 'hystery' implying the hysterical quality of public discourse. Maybe that should be dis'coarse,' come to think of it.

I do have a suggestion, though, that will never fly but it makes so much sense. Since our national leaders have lost so much trust from the American public, and much of that comes from the sense that they are out for themselves more than the people - be it influence, money or power - one way to be more grown up is to come clean.

Publish all Congressional Tax returns. The President releases his every year, and the Vice President, if memory serves. Why not Congress? We always hear rumors of the influence of lobbyists. Many members are wealthy now, far more as a proportion than the general public. As they hold a large public trust that makes it possible to line their pockets, should they not have to come clean and prove they have not?

I know, they will simply hide it all the more. Maybe. But this is a no cost action that over time could reduce the climate the suspicion and contempt that has crept upon the halls of power.

I think the same should be true at the state level. In my simple little mind, 'great power brings great responsibility' as a comic book once said. Those serving the public trust have forgotten that. Revealing their own stake in the legislative process would go a long way I think. What do you think?

01 January 2010

... Happy/Merry/God Bless...

'Tis the season to make greetings like "Happy Holidays," or "Happy New Year." Strangers walking past me on the sidewalk say them. It's nice, really. But after a few times I realized something. It's incomplete.

Happy, or Merry for that matter, are adjectives. What we are saying is "Have a Happy New Year," or "Have a Merry Christmas." But Americans speak in shorthand, like billboards and other advertising where space and time are costly. So we leave off the "Have a..." part. We're so good at this shortened speech that many folks now use Twitter, with its 145 character limit, to do lots of their communicating.

(This blog, of course, has no facility for short speak. Which partly explains its limited appeal. People like reading short things as much as saying them. Only a few strange souls enjoy the scrolling length of these posts in their email box. This also means you are more likely to care about such quirky things in the first place, so let me get back to the point.)

And even the longer "Have a ..." is shortened. The full and complete sentiment, is "May you have a happy/merry..." Simply saying "Have a ..." is in the imperative voice. It is a command. But no one can command us to be happy or merry. What we are trying to do is wish something, exhort or hope, a state of uncertainty or possibility not certainty. Which is what grammarians call the subjunctive voice. In English the subjunctive is signalled by phrases like, "May you," in which "may" is used to create a verb that indicates possibility not ability.

I am not a grammatical expert at all, mind you. But I do know that when we speak poorly, we learn poorly too, to wit the ubiquitous phrase "God Bless America."

This too is a subjunctive that has been shortened over time. Strictly speaking, we mean to ask God's blessing, which would mean saying "May God Bless America." But by leaving off the "May" it now sounds like an imperative, which is preposterous after all. We are hardly in a position to order God to do anything.

And yet, saying it that way it leaves a faint sense of entitlement. "God Bless America!" is said more as a cheer than a prayer (which are by definition subjunctive statements) and even as a rallying cry. This sentiment, a moral triumphalism that is nigh on to jingoism in its fervor, is, to my mind, leading us to the precipice of tragedy.

Last month, at the close of 2009, I received my semi-annual copy of Criterion, from the Univ. of Chicago Divinity School which I attended and which my son now attends. In it was a marvelous, challenging, and properly chastening essay by Professor Franklin Gamwell. At this opening moment of 2010, I urge it upon you. Here is the link.

He, along with Mark Noll of Wheaton College I believe, makes the case that Abraham Lincoln was our most theological president, and his second inaugural the most profound of national sermons. See if you do not agree.

May the year opening before us be one where we step back from the edge toward which we have run so eagerly these past years. The question is how shall we, you and I and the rest of those who share this endeavor of a nation, do this? The streamers have fallen and the confetti is being swept away. It is cold. Now is the time to pause before such questions, and ponder long. May it be so.