Monday, March 29, 2010

Faith is a Bird

"Faith is a bird that feels dawn breaking and sings while it is still dark" Rabindranath Tagore.

A thought for those dismayed by the sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic church. It is so shocking and gives rise to such primal feelings of anger at the perpetrators that a sane response is to push it out of mind, but that is the wrong response. We don't like to dwell on the incomprehensible, and evil fits in that category of things that make no sense. In fact that might be one of the defining characteristics of pure evil, but I'm not sure. Certainly the behavior of church authorities through the years, as Maureen Dowd put it in her column, "the sordid culture of men defending men who prey on children," makes it clear that true faith means jettisoning the idea that the hierarchy are in any way infallible. This is a moment in the world when the status quo is crumbling, whether it be the conservative consensus against the role of government in the United States, or the final waning of any moral influence of the Church in western Europe, and in the wake of creative destruction comes the opportunity for progress. Until there is a reckoning with the Church's position on women in the priesthood and in the laity, there can be no healing. Perhaps it will take a tidal wave of a crisis, as this seems to be, to finally push the Catholic church to embrace reforms.

On a similar note, my son was reading Douglas Adams and I was inspired to look into Adam's atheism and ways to counter atheist criticisms of religious faith. My own instincts, and what little reading I've done, tell me that much of atheist reasoning is superficial and simplistic, but I came across this blog post of Edward Feser's that does a good job of spelling out more intellectually rigorous grounds on which to show that writers like Adams and mentors like Richard Dawkins do a shoddy job of deconstructing faith.

Spring is pushing ahead irregardless of cultural wars. We've been digging in the garden for ten years now. Our first year we dug out the sod from the beds and amended with cow manure from the barn across the road that was still standing. That was hard work. Now the soil is like butter and the pile of sheep manure, with frozen clumps still in it, gets wheelbarrowed from the bottom of the garden, a little more convenient than that first year pioneering, or repioneering, if that is a word, because the Connors were first on this land in the mid 1700s.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reseeding the Commons

It's a new day. We are living in a country born again. All of us who voted for Obama in the expectation of sweeping change are finally getting a sip of the long expected cup of victory. The dragon of neo-liberal social and economic ideology had held sway for so long in the decades since Reagan promised that greed would set us free, that many thought it was the stagnant default setting of the American republic. That assumption has been set on its head, and the fierceness of anti-democratic, racist, bullying resistance to the health care reform legislation belies the sea change that has taken place in the space of a few days.

As Obama said, this was about doing what was right, not what was cynically expedient. Yes, the Democrats were up against the wall and strategically it was either sink or swim. But Obama proved he had the correct instincts and fought back and won. For once our leaders are acting the part and making us truly stand taller in the eyes of the world. Does anyone doubt the strategic importance of this week when it comes to battling real enemies convinced we are incapable of ever getting it right? If we can take care of our own here, and continue to stand up for the needy elsewhere, eg. Haiti, Palestine, etc., we will take the momentum back on the world stage that was lost when George Bush strutted the White House grounds.
Many would be critics of the package have pointed to concerns about our mounting deficit, despite projections of cost effectiveness over the long term. The fact is our economy has been tanking for many years, and one of the things that hobbles our businesses in competition with the rest of the world is a health care system that has been left entirely up to the private sector. This Obamacare reform may be the promised first plank in a restructuring of the American economy that will position us for continued leadership in the 21st century.

What is the next heavy lift? Many are pointing to immigration reform, and the fact that the Democrats will want to lock in the Latino vote before the mid-term elections. I think that Obama will take the high road and stick to his election pledges. Tackling climate change, packaged as a drive for energy independence, has the additional holistic advantage of being also about economic positioning and renovation. But there's no doubt the trenches are being dug. According to a U.S. News and World Report story, the Chamber of Commerce has lobbyists fanning out across the country speaking in motels and anywhere they can get an audience, giving the business spin on global warming -- it doesn't exist -- and the outlook for change from the perspective of Exxon Mobil-- cap and trade is a drag on growth. Why isn't there a similar grass roots campaign on behalf of meeting our responsibilities under Obama's Copenhagen pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 17 percent by 2012? When it comes to the likely suspects, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, etc. up against the corporate lobby, it's worse than David vs. Goliath, because at least David was fighting fit and had the advantage of surprise on his side. The national environmental groups are part of the Beltway establishment and have little to no ability to mobilize grass roots support on climate change. We need to take up John Kerry's idea of national community service as a requirement akin to the military draft. Then we'd have an army of Americorps volunteers fanning out across the country to work for volunteer groups, non-profits, schools and municipalities, and the public good might stand a chance against the ideology that says that what's good for business and the bottom line is the only reality that counts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

They Paved Paradise

At our annual town meeting Saturday, the towns people present voted in favor of letting the quarry put in a road to haul rock from their new site over to the old rock crusher through a town-owned lot that will be sold to them in a sweetheart deal. The lot is home to a tributary brook of the Contoocook river, a pristine stretch of water that borders on the Mink Hills protected area. But the family owned company, which also owns the ski resort that is the town's largest employer, packed the hall. They are good people, live here in town, and the new road did have its selling points. What was impressive, however, was the numbers of people they got out to the meeting. The mood was mean, with one large, hulking angry man at one point striding to the microphone demanding to know which of the selectmen were in favor of the warrant article that was seeking to put the lot into a conservation easement, thus preventing the sale and the new road. Apparently he hadn't seen the town warrant which said the article had been placed by petition. But the vote wasn't even close. It was a sweep for the quarry and for people who felt that what is good for this family's business is good for the town. In this economic climate there was no room for the opposing arguments in favor of the recreational and ecological value of keeping the land undeveloped.
A little bit of uplifting perspective is that there is plenty of open land around us. As one guy said at the meeting referring to 40 percent of the town, "You can take your dog anywhere and it can poop wherever it wants," and this is largely true. So I am not feeling totally defeated by this outcome.
The meeting itself lasted for nine hours. I had to present one of the articles as chairman of the town energy committee, asking for a positive vote in order for the town to expend the funds we received as part of a federal grant to do energy audits on the town's municipal buildings. I thought the Tea Party tone of the gathering might mean some hue and outcry at accepting the aid from Uncle Sam, and there was some grumbling as I left the microphone behind, but the article passed, thankfully.
Many of the towns in the southern third of the state have left the old town meetings behind, opting for a new system that allows people to vote for town warrants without having to attend a meeting. It is more convenient, but less conducive to feelings of community. There is something to be said for seeing much of the town's personalities, the good, the bad, and at Saturday's meeting, some of the ugly, all together in one place, at least once a year, conducting the messy process of democracy in all its amateur glory.
(Concord Monitor Photo/Katie Barnes)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Path Not Taken

Where two trails meet in Robert Frost country you want to take the path least taken; only in this case, two Class VI roads in early March, both are fairly untrod, at least by people. We found moose, deer, some very large turkey and coyote tracks, all using the former farm roads as trails. Michael and I went out scouting in the Mink Hills. He wants to try hunting, so I'm thinking of getting a muzzle loader and taking part in next fall's deer hunt. Numbers of hunters are falling in this country. I think they stand at one percent of the population, but if there's ever a crash, the big one, then the knowledge of where to find game could be very useful.
I used to think this was the realm of wing nut survivalists, but increasing numbers of experts are saying that the globalized economy leaves us vulnerable to major system shutdowns in the future. Also, the idea of eating meat becomes increasingly repulsive considering the ethical and ecological dimensions of our factory farming.
On the walk, our senses sharpened, observing the fresh tracks, the sharp cloves digging deep into the melting snow, marking trees for possible stands, stripping bark off the old, scarred beech, it wasn't hard to imagine a different, older consciousness taking its place in our brains and hearts beating faster with an expanded joy.
Photograph by Michael Caplan March 6, 2010

Monday, March 1, 2010

Power Out

The wind came Thursday night and knocked out the power. We were prepared this time. After last year's ice storm we knew what to do when the juice cuts off. It was basically camping indoors, except not by choice. The funny thing is I had just taken the water jugs in the pantry and emptied them to have a place for maple sap. But we have two seven gallon camping containers that I filled at nearby neighbor Jane's house. She has town water and was not affected by the outages. She works for a land surveyor and was telling me that eighty or so years ago, when they first electrified the state, there weren't nearly as many trees. The original settlers cleared the land for sheep. Now, with eighty percent forest coverage, we get trees down on the lines in a wind. It wasn't even that strong, with gusts up to 45 mph, nowhere near storm force. But enough to shake out the weaker trees, already hit hard by last year's ice storm, growing towards the light on the roadways.
The nice thing with the dark and no computer or television for four days, is that it was a forced Lenten sacrifice that did draw us closer to one another. I haven't tickled Michael since he was seven. I was a monster in the night taking on all comers, including Susan at one point. Michael's getting strong enough to pin me up against the door and rattle it. That's kind of fun, to be shaken around a bit by your son and still be able to lean on him and get him belly up laughing at the Lebanese stomach pincer, a move I learned from a mispent infancy watching South American pro wrestling on a black and white television with our maid, a Trinidadian girl named Violet. Yes, I had a strange childhood.
Finally today there were utility trucks rumbling up and down our dirt road. The emergency crews have come from as far as Michigan to clear trees and work on the lines. It's hard and dangerous work without a break in the snow and wind and dark. They really do a great job and it's heartening that the crew's will come at the drop of a hat from all over to help out. We're only going to be getting more of these weather events. Eventually we'll have to bury the lines, a huge undertaking. But think of all the jobs. We heard the refrigerator rumbling at dinner and then a few seconds later the lights came on and the kitchen tap opened up. Everyone shouted.