Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking a Longer View
part 1

These are the days of lasers in the jungle,
Lasers in the jungle somewhere,
Staccato signals of constant information,
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby,
These are the days of miracle and wonder,
This is the long distance call,
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all

"Boy in the Bubble" - Paul Simon

During his historic Victory speech on November 4th President-elect Obama made reference to a notable woman whom he had met on the campaign:

"This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations," Obama told the tens of thousands of supporters who had gathered in Chicago on Tuesday night. "But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing -- Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
"She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

"And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can."
This resonated strongly, because my family has discussed just this perspective since my first-American born aunt passed away two years ago at the age of 102. These women spanned the Twentieth Century in all of its wonder and horror. The century changed America and changed the World, in ways casual and common, in others subtle but profound.

I have used as an example of the more casual changes the contrast of vacation opportunities for my aunt in her mid-employment and mine today. In the 1930's there was little, if any, paid vacation for the common worker. If you had a nice boss, you might be able to take a week off -- but probably not every year! You had to pinch your pennies to afford that week. My aunt lived in Northern New Jersey; a trip to the Jersey Shore was nearly an all-day affair by bus and two-lane roads. You might share a family bungalow, and you brought much of your food in cans, boxes, and sacks, and fishing off of the piers would supplement your menu. You went less to be entertained than to simply relax.

I fall somewhere within the turbulent middle-class and have maintained my employment with one business for 22-years. It would be a simple matter to, Monday morning, clear my next week's schedule and present my supervisor with a request for one of my weeks of accrued paid-vacation time. That afternoon I could go to my travel agent and purchase a week in Hawaii. I would proffer my credit card and be given a handful of computer-generated forms. Five days later I could drive less than an hour to a regional airport, and twelve hours later, use the same credit card to purchase a loud shirt and a meal on Oahu's shore, and later attend a Hawaiian extravaganza to delight the senses.

One hundred years!

There has been a price, of course, one that we typically only recognize during crisis. There has been a profound challenge to hundreds of thousand's of years of human nature. That challenge is the very world we have created and which the fortunate so enjoy. Albert Einstein made it clear:
"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
How did our world become so collectively, dangerously, complicated over one long lifetime? How is it that we are engaged in "cultural warfare?"

I have my thoughts, of course, and they will be presented in part 2.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Cold Passages,
and Warm

The two items I read first in the local paper every morning are the police beat, and the obituaries. I have for the most part lived in the same area for forty-seven years (minus perhaps six, in various configurations), and it is not unusual to recognize names on either list. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, clients. It is generally better to show up on the legal list than on the mortal. However, this morning, it was the latter.

She did in fact work at the same agency as do I; I instantly recognized her name. I have been employed there for 22 years, she, not quite that long, but long enough. Her age was listed, only three years older than me.

I knew her name, but I realized, with some shock, that I had no face for her.

are an agency employing just shy of one thousand people spread across a county with a population of 182,742, but our two main offices are just a few blocks from each other in one modest city. Plus, C.D., rest her soul, worked in our accounting office, one of the most central functions of any sizable business. Not only did I have no face for the woman, but I didn't even know that she had left her position, as I found out, over a year ago!

This is a sad commentary on, at least, our business culture, if not our culture at large. We marginally know our neighbors, or our co-workers. Even our families and friends are spread over geographical distances, and more and more often, it seems that the primary events that bring us together are funerals. Even twenty years ago, at another agency, for which I worked in the same field, people from different departments and allied service providers would at least get together at specific taverns for happy hour on payday, or invite each other to our agency's Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. But now, there's no time, or no interest, or even a kind of tribal separation: 'you stay in your department, I'll stay in mine.' Productive cooperation has suffered accordingly.

Hopefully, my agency is more unique as regards this decline in civil congress, but I suspect that our society continues to atomize in this brave new world. I consider it a loss, despite the freedoms of anonymity.
A person has left this mortal coil, a name, published in newstype, is erased, and I am left not with sadness, but bemusement. Stronger emotions depend on relationships.

Nevertheless, rest in peace, C.D.

In the same theme, I took my lunch
yesterday at a little storefront Chinese restaurant on a cool, damp, and gray day , enjoying a plate of Hunan Walnut Chicken with pork-fried rice and hot tea. A woman with a cane and a headscarf limped by the large window, then returned, and entering the dining nook, greeted me. My mental processes paused before I recognized her. She is the partner of one of the fellows with whom I monthly get together to hoist a pint, and she has joined us for New Years and various seasonal gatherings for at least six years.

She has been battling cancer for two years, including nasty surgeries and chemicals.

We spent about five minutes talking; she was engaged in some chores on behalf of her elderly mother, and was clearly weary. We made chit-chat, and then she revealed that her most recent medical tests 'don't look too good.' Translation: 'I am closer to dying.' Her attitude seemed good, and she was appeciative of the prayers and best-wishes that have been forwarded her way. I acknowledged her... challenge... and said that I hoped that she and her beau would be able to join the gang this upcoming New Year's Eve. Matter of factly, she replied, "Well, we'll see."

Forty-six days from now, she may no longer be among the living. While not a close friend, it did make me glum, and made me reflect on how I face the prospect of my own mortal terminus. I do not believe in personal immortality, so how then do I proceed?

For me, an aphorism I have seen credited to the Shakers provides my roadmap:
"Live each day as if it were your last, but work each day as if you will live forever."
May we all, eventually, rest in peace.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Real Work
Starts Now

Thank you, President Bush: it turned out to be true, you are a "Uniter," and President-elect Barack Hussein Obama, the Democratic Party, and Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life have all come together in a common cause : to un-do the damage you have inflicted upon our Nation through hubris and greed. From despair, we offer the standard of Hope. We will struggle to negotiate real, productive compromises that are respectful of our differences and beliefs. We will strive to overcome the polarization, poison, and mockery that has torn our political and social processes for the last several decades in order to achieve our common purposes and raise our society to a higher level of dignified maturity.

Well... maybe just one last dig... ;)


Finally, the Day arrives... and although many are emotionally exhausted (if not disgusted) by the long campaign, and consider it absurd (if not obscene) that the Presidential candidates have spent in the neighborhood of one billion dollars in their campaigns... there should be a real satisfaction that more Americans than ever are actually engaged in this grand, continuing, experiment in self-government.

188 million citizens (out of a 304 million population, approx. 73% of whom are potentially eligible) are registered to vote in 2008! And, from the Democratic Party's perspective, Chairman Howard Dean's "50-State Strategy" to contest offices in every state, not just strategically elector-rich states, has borne enormous fruit. Barack Obama has taken that initiative and created a tremendous political infrastructure across these United States, one we will need to pull our nation back from the black hole into which the Bush Administration has thrown it.

I pray that our hopes are not crushed this evening by some unexpected turn; I cannot even allow myself to contemplate how we will endure another four years of belligerent, greed-based, theocratic-leaning politics. I cannot imagine how painful it might be if our hopes must give way to despair.

But even when (when!) our nation is lead by President Obama, our individual responsibilities will be far from done. Although the Republicans have been painting Barack Obama as some sort of fiery radical, that speaks more to how far Right the Neo-Cons have taken our government. Obama is clearly a Centrist; you can expect that he will compromise many of the fond dreams of those of us who consider ourselve Progressives, but I'm not sure that that is bad at this juncture in our history. He must try to bring us all together if we are to repair the damage caused by this not-yet finished, venal Administration. That is why, after perhaps a brief holiday, we must get back to work, to expand responsible, personal rights, to re-define national priorities so as to obtain economic and social justice, to make a massive, technological shift in our energy generation and manufacturing methods. All of this hampered by a quagmire of war and staggering economy.

Isn't it time to rest on our laurels? Isn't this why we are electing our Fearless Leader, to do these things for us?? Haven't we suffered enough???

No, that is the lazy way out, and, difficult as it has become in the remains of the Middle Class, on the whole we do not really know what suffering is: there are many in our own nation who are much more at risk, and vulnerable, and beyond our shores... continents of suffering. It is hubris writ large to imagine that we are just struggling to remain alive just for one more day. I remember the early 1970's: the Vietnam War was ended, African-Americans had secured the vote, women's rights were on the march, and saving the environment was all the rage. We'd done our job; put that puppy on autopilot, and enjoy the fruits of our labour!

Ronald Reagan, the "Moral Majority," the Gingrichian "Contract On America," and George Dumbya Bush rose in influence and power how? Because of complacency, because of taking our eyes off of the ball, by being so distracted by the very real issues of living day-to-day and not fostering the liberties and initiatives that had been established by our standard-bearers in the various "Rights" movements. We cannot afford to make the same mistake, cannot become complacent, must be willing to Question Authority and speak Truth to Power each and every day. Even when we don't want to. When it would be easier to go along, or when we're tired and cranky.

Thomas Jefferson told us that "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," and he was not kidding around. We no longer have the luxury of denial, or to expect that 'Daddy will take care of us.' Let us also remember the words of Robert F. Kennedy from 1961, even more applicable today:

"On this generation of Americans falls the burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and are equal before the law. All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."

Our challenges just begin with voting today; let us take at least one more step toward a more perfect union.