27 January 2011

Deadly Sin Alert

Dear Reader,

We are in our 19th day with cloudy skies, though there was a brief sun beam spotted last Sunday (apt!) that lit up our stained glass windows at the beginning of services. Snow today and tomorrow night I think. But the bone cracking cold is gone for a while. Remarkable how warm the 20s feel now!

I am wrestling with one of the fabled deadly sins this morning. Wrestling is too strong. Feeling the tug. And it's the perhaps worst one, Envy. Cruising my Facebook page today I see my local mayor (whom I know personally) has been to DC and met the president. Cool. I shook the hand that shook the hand.

Then I remember how many people I know have met a president. Lots. But not me. For a while when I lived in NYC it seemed everyone had encountered a Clinton or a Bush sometime. "What, you've never met the president?" seemed to be the look in their eyes. Feeling left out and overlooked I felt the familiar moping that is Envy's greeting card.

Of the fabled sins, Greed and Gluttony and Lust have at least momentary pleasure, venal as it may be. Sloth and Pride and Wrath are harder on the sinner than those around him or her.

But Envy is just pathetic. Who confesses to envy, even to a priest? Envy has lurked about my hems most of my life. That you never noticed it means I have been fairly successful at dealing with it does not mean I am cured. Like an alcoholic, it requires constant vigilance.

But like those in recovery, it helps to say it out loud. "Hello, my name is Fred, and I envy. " Are you in the same group with me, or do you belong with another sin?

You can tell me. What happens in group stays in the group, right?

24 January 2011

Just A Thought

Dear Reader,

Back to the snow and clouds today. Yesterday was very sunny and cold. Below zero before dawn, and only in the teens during the day. That's our choice here in winter: 20s and snow or teens and sun. The biggest problem with really low temps is very dry air and my fingers are cracking. Unless I dangle them in moisturizer while I sleep they seem doomed to opening those fun little sores along the cuticle so that when I type or play the piano I make more mistakes and say ouch a lot. Bummer.

Got a full schedule today, but just had a thought worth sharing. You might think so too.

Senators in Congress have said they will demonstrate their commitment to comradeship by sitting 'ebony and ivory' as it were, Democrat alongside Republican. I know it's a small gesture and of little real value. But even so, I think it does not go far enough.

Sit as states. Have all the reps and senators from a state sit together, and then have each of them sit in alphabetical order. That would really make all those choreographed ovations and silences hard to pull off.

Our Tea Party leaders have said that we should reduce the emphasis on the national government and turn more to the states. The constitution was adopted by the states not the people. If presidential elections do not give a majority to a candidate it is thrown into the House, which votes as states not as individual members. And we all know that the effects of national legislation fall very unevenly and unfairly on the states.

The State of the Union is called that because we are a union of states. Seems to me obvious, even 'self-evident.'

I'm going to wrote me senators and rep today. You could too.

22 January 2011


Dear Reader,

After a few days with clouds, the sky is about to show itself. But at a cost. The temps dropped to about 6F this morning. Until a minute ago it was snowing. For the first time this winter the spider web of frost edged up one my storm windows. The sun is shining, though. Blue is above me.

I did not go to synagogue this morning, when the temps were low and the snow was blowing. Have not gone since New Year's, which is a sin. Do I get half credit for watching a rerun of Fiddler on the Roof this morning?

In fact, I sinner abundantly by going into my basement to do some cleaning up (work being the worst sin you see). Yesterday a steam pipe sprang a leak and showered a half dozen storage boxes with water and creating a substantial puddle on the floor. We called the repairmen, moved lots of boxes, and i got out the shop vac.

Yes, it was bad luck. We've had a fair amount of it, as I reflected back. Tree demolished my back porch my first year. Car got totaled last year. Had a burglary this year. So much for the boring Midwest.

Anyway, all those events were not nearly as bad as they could have been. The tree fell so slowly that it did far less damage than it could. The car was only totaled because it was so old. And we have done just fine with only one car since. The police caught the burglar and recovered most of the stuff.

Yesterday, had I not gone into the basement for another reason we would not have seen the leak. It had only started that morning. Most Fridays I am doing a live radio show, but this week we were taking a week off so I was home.

To say I am grateful is inaccurate. Relief is the word. Now, let's see what Sunday has in store.

20 January 2011

Something Completely Different

Dear Reader,

We are finally in the true heart of winter here, even if it took us a full month to get here. By 'the true heart' I mean cold and cloudy and snowy. Boy am I glad to have one of those 'happy lights,' which seems to help, actually. Of course, it could also mean I will go postal slower or when I do go critical it will be with a smile in my heart.

But even with the ice and snow and cold and clouds it was a good day today. This proto-geezer (someone circling the 60 drain) will be 58 in two weeks, but visited his youth for a few moments today, 'and it was good.'

I benched 225, two sets of two reps. And that last one was all adrenaline because if I didn't press it, it would press me.

If you have not felt an adrenaline push it is awesome. I do not say 'awesome' ever, so take note. People sometimes talk about digging down under duress. Well, I had to or else, and muscled the bar up only after feeling a moment of near terror. The terror part was not awesome.

I've been lifting weights pretty steady for half my life. Back in the early 1990s I was not yet 40 and lived in Austin TX, I reached my peak. About a mile from church was the Hyde Park Gym. It's almost genteel now, but back then it was all about the iron - full of bulging men and women. And almost puritanical. No music, no food, no water bottles. Put the plates back where they belong or Iron Mike would pitch you out.

I was also about twenty five pounds heavier, and not in a good way. But you need to know that because back then I managed to work up to a bench of 275 and a squat of 375. Not big in serious gym circles but not bad in the church biz.

Not since 1993 have I been able to hit 225 again. Two hundred twenty five pounds is the dividing line between lame lifting and real lifting, see. You know a lifter is good when they can slap on two 45 pound plates on each side of the bar and squeeze out a serious set of six or more.

I only got four, and those with rest. I am also twenty pounds lighter and almost twenty years older. That means I am unlikely to get above 225. But I made it, and for this geezerly vegetarian guy it was great. Boo yah!

13 January 2011

Dear Reader

We really should acknowledge that these posts are like letters, of a sort. I know that in these days even this much writing, these past few words, are excessive. So called 'tweets' are limited to something less than 250 characters.

But I am a man of letters, who thinks the written word, sent to a friend, is a powerful and precious thing. Actual paper is better than email, and handwriting better than typing, but I shall resign to the advantages of the Internet which saves both time and postage. What I will not resign is the prose itself, the old form which is a conversation held at a distance, aimed toward a particular person.

Now, I know there are many who read these electronic missives, and that most 'bloggers' think of themselves as journalists with an audience. In fact, though, dear reader, there is only you and me here. There may be others out there, but at this moment it is just you and me.

And that suits me fine. I prefer thinking of each of you separately, as sitting there reading this, imagining a voice and a face next to you, and hearing your own voice responding. Please do respond, by the way. If the best way to have a friend is to be one (as Emerson said) then the best way to get a letter is to send one.

We can no longer actually talk to each other, despite all the powers of the Internet. Most of what we read on blogs or tweets or webpages is to pronounce, proclaim, protest, promote. No one actually talks to someone else.

I suppose this lament comes to me now as I watch the parade of punditry after the horror of Tucson. (I will not call it a tragedy because it is not. No one who has experienced Othello or Oedipus would equate Tucson with them. It was a dastardly disgusting and demented crime, more suited to The National Inquirer or the Police Gazette than to an adjective applied to great drama. if you infer some judgment on our national media, feel free.) After it happened it was as though everyone with an attitude felt obliged to share it - proclaiming, protesting, promoting - not actually talking or listening.

The situation reminded me of a time long ago, just after I was born, when Senator Joseph McCarthy riveted the nation with his hearings investigating communist infiltration he asserted was widespread in the government. With words bordering on demagoguery, he cowed many people into cooperation even when there was little or no evidence of the accusation. It all fell apart, though, when someone finally had the nerve to call him on it. "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

I miss decency - the deliberation, the speaking to actual people not to galleries or viewers or market shares. People should respond to the present pontifications and rumors and character assassination as Mr. Welch did so long ago. Newspapers and other media should say "have you no decency," or even "you should be ashamed" when half truth and spin and punditry are bandied about as fact and principle. Sadly, I do not hear it.

I come from a time when leadership was practiced by example. We followed those whom we wanted to be like, and abandoned them when they ceased to be admirable. Their power was not defined by their celebrity, wealth or position but by their nobility. When they abused that power they lost our respect and we said so, "Have you no decency," we said, or "you should be ashamed."

So it seems to me this morning. I do wish there were some famous folks out there like a Joe Welch, who had the nerve to say "have you no decency." But I fear the need for market share and viewers will keep them quiet. Until they find their voice it will be up to you and me and the rest of the real world to say it.

Shame on us if we don't.

10 January 2011

Sad Days

Of course I am speaking of the Tucson assassination, but also of the private sadness of eulogizing a friend this weekend. And of the loss of a church member, and the third sadness of a member who lost her romantic partner.

We're not good at sadness in America. This is the land of opportunity, optimism, freedom and other happy things. We have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, as it says in the Declaration of Independence. But when sadness does come, and it must as night follows the day, we Americans have no vessel for holding it, no confidence in its meaning. That's why when there is a Tucson and a Twin Towers and an Oklahoma City, and a Waco, we look for the quick fix that will end our confusion and sadness.

For example. We are hearing that wing rhetoric caused it. Sorry. It did not. The assassin (I hate the word 'shooter,' something plucked from police dramas) was clearly unstable. Ted Kascinski and David Koresh were also unstable, and their crimes did not flow from the sewer of hate radio. Does that mean right wing rhetoric is innocent? No. It may not be the cause or the inspiration of particular crimes, but it clearly intends to influence people or it would not be on the air and in the papers.

The sin of right wing rhetoric (and I limit myself to the right because left wing rhetoric is a vastly smaller voice in the national media and thus far less audible) is demonizing. It is a worldview that is itself unstable, or rather, seeks to address the sense of instability it sees in the world by sorting goats and sheep, labelling people and parties and religions as wholly good or wholly evil.

By labelling political ideas it does not share as evil, and those who hold them as evil, it legitimates a Manichean world in which my ideas are right and good. I am right and good. Those who differ are wrong and bad.

Why this stark dualism is prospering has many reasons, including the sense of a world far more turbulent and unfamiliar than one remembers, but another one that no one mentions is that it pays.

The media industry reaps money by attracting listeners and viewers and readers. Manichean rhetoric works, which is why the pundit industry reacted to Tucson just as it did. Its dean, Rush Limbaugh, has declared "seeking to connect the shooting with radio talk shows — which are dominated by conservatives — was part of a Democratic strategy. 'It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,' Mr. Limbaugh said. (Everything fits in the Manichean worldview, and even when something challenges that world it is taken as proof that there it isdemonic and conspiratorial.) That Mr. Limbaugh and others like him are lavishly paid is never considered as a motive for their opinions.

He and his Manichean friends are political prostitutes. They say what they do because it pays them (in money or influence or both).

Jesus never earned a shekel for his work. Nor Moses. Muhammed had a day job. So did St. Paul. As I remember, Mr. Limbaugh promised to leave the country if health care legislation passed. It did. He didn't. So much for principle when it has a cost.

02 January 2011

Faulkner Was Right

Here we are at the beginning of 2011, which is the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Already South Carolina has celebrated its secession, newly refurbished by the current Tea Party movement which tells us was then and is now all about freedom in the form state's rights and opposing federal oppression. Slavery was just a footnote.

Proving to me that the eloquent southern writer William Faulker was right when he supposedly wrote, "The past is never dead, it's not even past." After 150 years we are where we were in 1860, divided over race and rights.

I used to wonder how people in Northern Ireland can fight over battles fought four hundred years ago, but now I see that we too, here in the land of second chances, can be as captive to our past as anyone else.

Thank goodness for Paul Robeson , though. Ran into him this morning in a showing of "Show Boat," the Kern and Hammerstein show that gave us a song that reminds us of our human foibles and folly. Wisdom at least consoles us that our follies are as reliable as the mighty Mississippi.