Thursday, December 22, 2011

Out of Condition

I look for heavy bag with stand and there it is on Craig's List. I call the number and the guy says yeah. He's got it. Somebody talking in the background and he's trying to carry on two conversations at once, but yeah, yeah. I say I'd like to have a look, what kind of shape is it in? You'll love it. Mint, he says. Mint. He's on Somerville Street. Just come down the Goffstown Road and cross onto the Amoskeag.
So I drive down. I've got the day off. Why not?
It's a beautiful day, for the first time I see the falls under the bridge the way it might have looked during the days of the salmon runs when the Abenaki called it the place to be. Then I'm going down past the stadium and the houses are looking deserted, vacant. The people on the street have that hunted look, like vermin, that you get when you're down on your luck and you've been living on concrete for too long. I turn the corner. There's a police cruiser parked, the cop looking into nowhere and the cars parked along the street like they haven't moved in a couple of decades. I park and call the number again. He'll be down in a minute, he's getting his shoes on. I wait, leaning against the car. It's an unusually mild winter day. The street is empty, and then he bangs out the door. He's about thirty, large, with the kind of face that would fit a truck driver or jail guard. But he's nervous, squinting in the sun, as he directs me around the corner and down an alley into the back of the house.
There are other cars parked in the lot. It must be a rental. He comes around and shakes my hand in a strong man's grip. He walks over to the walk out and takes the lock off the door handle. I follow him down the stairs into the cellar. It's dark, I need to duck to avoid the lagging and ductwork. His movements are quick, angry, a man whose got many things to do and little time to do them. I'm thinking he could drop me right here with a quick sucker punch and nobody would ever find me. Then he's pulling pipes and things out of the dust. Here it is. It even has this big chain, he says. I want to take a look in the light, I say. I take one of the poles and he follows me, handing the bag out into the daylight.
The leather has tears along the seams. The chain is all rusted. He's back in the dirt pulling out the speed bag and some other pipe legs. I'll stop you right there, I say. Save your time. What the fuck, he says. What kind of moron are you what do you expect for 100 bucks? He's ranting as he exits the cellar into the daylight. I can see spittle flying out of his mouth. I look him in the eye to see how crazy he really is and he smiles a sick grin. Is he trying to scare me or what?
You said it was mint, I say. Mint. I enunciate.
What do you fucking expect on Craig's List, what kind of a fucking moron are you? You're wasting my fucking time. I'm sorry I made a mistake, I say.
You people make me sick, here it is Christmas and I'm trying to get some money together and... Listen, it was nice talking to you, I say, and begin to walk back to the car.
Fuck yourself you fucking moron. You wasted my time, he's yelling at me as I drive away.
Then the cell phone rings, I pull over thinking maybe it's important. I've got a text message. I get out of the car and breathe deep.
View Now:
Ur a fuckn idiot.thanx 4 waisting my fukn time u fukn moron.if u wanted something brand new u shudv gone 2 a fukn store. thanx again 4 waisting my fukn time.
I look around and put the phone back in my pocket. A cold wind rips along the alley and there's a guy in a doorway looking at me. Then I'm back in the car, and stop to pull out behind a Corolla and a girl with brown eyes and brown hair. No Farms No Food bumper sticker. The Amoskeag bridge and the river are just a few blocks ahead.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Time to Shut Up And Do Things Differently

Tis the season, but it's late for me. It might not happen this year. Maybe it's that there's no snow on the ground. By now usually I'm singing along to Alvin and the Chipmunks doing Jingle Bells and Aretha Franklin singing Silent Night, but not this year. Is it just me? The quiet spot hasn't hit me yet when all the world is chilling and waiting. I'm waiting to find that place within, to make room for the transcendent in the busyness of my life. Like Father Thom said in his sermon, to learn from Mary and her ability to open herself to possibility. I'm still in the mode of finding the right gifts, the ones that will really make a difference, send life reeling in a different direction. Isn't that what we all want, to make an impact on another life, to show that we get it with that knockout punch gift wrapped and all. I so clearly don't. And yet, life goes on around and despite me sometimes and it's just the way it was meant to be. My children surprise me with their intelligence and humanity. Where did they get it? It seems to happen when you're not looking. It's the grace of God, the spirit that is always descending when we most need it, always and forever. The gift that counts is knowing when to just shut up and listen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The House Bustling with Activity, but Gutted

Here's a little taste of Latitudes, the story of Will Kogan's youth and teenage years. I wanted to tell a coming of age tale that ends with the realization that life is largely shaped by one's self-perception. Most teenagers see themselves as in the grip of larger forces than they can understand, at least that's the sense I get from my job as a teacher. Becoming a functioning adult is getting that first inkling that the direction you take your life in is up to you. Mostly the rest depends on getting better at steering.

Will played on the tiled living room floor and ran through the kitchen, terrorizing the maid and the two sisters with a plastic shield and sword, a roundtable knight from the book about Arthur and Guinevere. Another book about Greek mythology had pictures of the Medusa with her snaky hair. But the backyard and the swaying sea of dried elephant grass beyond the fence, the ominous and mysterious tower like the ramparts of some castle, formed some pole star of fatal attraction. He had a plastic yellow car, which you could pedal. He liked to position it at the top of the hill and careen down it, pedals screaming, bouncing off the rocks and rutted earth towards the region of myth.

Mother and a female friend stood at some distance.

"Watch me," he yelled, and flew down the hill, landing at the bottom in one piece, dragging the car back from the edge of the fence.

"Bravo," her friend said and clapped. Mother turned with a vague sort of pride, and they walked back to the house across the paving stones.

Will played by himself, exploring the territory around the house. The street was forbidden and the fence was too high to scale. The ants, however, could get around any of these restrictions with their small size and formidable will. He admired them. You could attract one with a fingertip, have it climb on, carry it a distance away and set it down on a blade of grass and it would resolutely set off down the blade of grass and back in the direction of its original destination. They seemed to be attending to important matters, and the hole they disappeared down sucked him down along with them. Will forgot himself. Hours later, in the rapidly descending tropical twilight, the maid's voice called him home. Without pleasure he complied, returning to his childhood and assuming the role of the son in that strange, lonely house, bustling with activity, but gutted, caving in on itself out of some unknown physical force in its routines and orbits.

(photo by Joe Jusko

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Blogging in the Blood

Sorry, I've been too long away. At first I thought I'd give it a couple of months to finish up a writing project that took me through the summer. But now that's done, and I need to get back to my blog. I've updated the look and am ready to ramble. I've missed out on a busy few months: Wall Street was occupied, the Republican candidates have been competing to see who can be the biggest ignoramus out there, the US soccer team has a new German coach, Obama has taken to the heartland to defend the middle class and the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, and celebrities everywhere continue to make a mockery of themselves.

At home, I turned 51 and finished a second draft of a novel. It's called Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home, and I'll probably excerpt some of it here in the next few months.

The kids are growing up fast. School actually seems to have a salutary affect on them. They complain but then talk about their classes and projects and want to show off what they've learned. It's not perfect,  but their public school education seems to be doing its job. At my school, the kids get nicer every year. As a language teacher i get to channel their social energy and instinct for fun. It's all about communication in the classroom.

A good book I read recently was Moonwalking with Einstein by Jonathan Foer. It's about a lot of things, but mainly memory, the way it functions neurologically, collectively and individually. The part i found most memorable was the description of how books were originally written and read as an aid to oral memorization and only slowly, with the advent of the printing press and the need to read widely and quickly, did books become seen as a repository of our collective knowledge,  an offloading of our memory banks into texts. The process is accelerating today with the proliferation of blogs and digital photography and with the storage capacity of the Internet and rapidly moving advances integrating our nervous systems with computer controls, the day is moving quickly closer when we will theoretically be able to remember everything and have access instantly to the collective information of the entire world. Our notions of what it means to be human will have to change. But something tells me this brave new world will not materialize in quite such a promising way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Do It

Just do it. I love that phrase, a cultural icon taken from the advertising world. It's become short hand for an attitude towards the world, not necessarily new, that used to be summed up as "can do." As any child knows from playing, the key is to trust in yourself and in your powers to make the leap, and come down on the right side of the equation.

In the master's program I am doing, the textbook on educational reform references this with the maxim that "the effectiveness of educational reform is inversely proportional to the length and polish of the reform document." The key is that people are motivated through the heart, not the mind, and effective action leads by example.

In the world of geopolitics, and I'm taking a big leap here, (but what's a blog for?) I think this is what Obama has done in regards to coming down on the side of explicitly stating the lines of a settlement between Palestine and Israel. Although he has ruffled feathers in Israel by seeming to preempt the Israeli negotiating position, what he has done is try to unstick the peace process and move it forward. I think he has done Israel a tremendous favor at this precarious moment, and that's what friends are for.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another Emerson quote: "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by statesmen, philosophers and divines." Here are two chickens, seeming to follow Emerson's admonition not to live inside the fence of preconceived limits, especially set up by someone as foolish as me. The riches of the compost pile are too much of a temptation. On the upside is the eggs they lay: large, deep yellow yolks, tastier and more nutritious than anything you'll find in a supermarket. The free range life suits them well. If only they'd stay out of the recently planted pea beds.

Here's the problem. The cat is in charge, and obviously has left the gate to the chicken yard wide open. We need to tighten up the process here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May Day and Night

At home the season turns with lambs and tulips. Abroad, blood-soaked earth and rotting corpses. John Paul II is beatified on the day Osama Bin Laden is hunted down. The whirlwind seems to be gaining strength, but the beauty of the spring makes me feel that there is a sweetness in the wind also.
But I don't see what there is to celebrate in the death of Bin Laden. The ideas he spawned are still out there, ready for the next hate-filled maniac to pick up and run with. The solace we have, the sense of closure, is just an illusion. Violence is never done, and this act of violence will only add oxygen to the flames of vengeance simmering in the hearts of the millions of his followers and admirers. On the other hand,  I don't get anyone who condemns the way the US Navy Seals took him out either. What other end could there be for a man who lived not by the sword but by a mantra of mass murder and the use of suffering and destruction on an unprecedented scale to further his political goals?
We live in a dark world. The news of Bin Laden's death, and the photographs that inevitably will come, heighten the disconnect between the placid surface of things and the underlying hell that we skirt around. Thank God for the men and women who choose a life of service, ready to carry out mayhem in our name. I think Obama is right not to release the photographs. Let the story die as quickly as the flight of helicopters that carried Team Six into battle.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thought is Devout

It's Good Friday, and Earth Day. A quarter of Americans believe Barack Obama is an alien. The rate of natural disasters due to global warming has increased 400 percent. Obviously we are not doing well, afflicted, you could say.

Here is some sorely needed balm for our afflictions, some home-grown wisdom from the most eminent of American thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's about prayer, about the ties between the seemingly disparate and divided, about redemption, and it is a discouragement to the proud who think they have all the answers. Emerson was a Platonist in that he regarded the ultimate ground of reality to be the world of ideas, and he was way ahead of his time in identifying the ways science is ultimately about faith.

"The problem of restoring to the world original and eternal beauty is solved by the redemption of the soul. The ruin or the blank that we see when we look at nature, is in our own eye. The axis of vision is not coincident with the axis of things, and so they appear not transparent but opaque. The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. Love is as much its demand as perception. Indeed, neither can be perfect without the other. In the uttermost meaning of the words, thought is devout, and devotion is thought. Deep calls unto deep. But in actual life, the marriage is not celebrated. There are innocent men who worship God after the tradition of their fathers, but their sense of duty has not yet extended to the use of all their faculties. And there are patient naturalists, but they freeze their subject under the wintry light of their understanding. Is not prayer also a study of truth - a sally of the soul into the unfound infinite?"

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A World of Hurt

I've got other things I should be doing. There are a couple of lambs who need some bottle help to survive, about an acre of vegetable beds to dig. I'm on my spring vacation. I should be sleeping, by all rights, but Michael is off this morning to D.C. with the school trip and was up at 3:00 am banging around like a little elephant downstairs. Did I say elephant? I'm sorry Michael. No offense.
The people in charge are an insult to elephants, actually. Elephants would never do to their own kind what the current batch of legislators in the NH House want to do to this state. Taking lowball revenue estimates, adding cuts to tobacco taxes, gambling taxes and others, they are now proposing a budget half a billion dollars below the governor's already austere plans. The idea, in essence is to take us back to the 1950s by way of meeting a ginned up so-called fiscal emergency. Gone is the pretense that this is about job creation or economic recovery, or even living within our means, although that is the line they will continue to hammer to the uninformed. This is all about unraveling a social fabric that was largely built, ironically, by Republicans.
Democrats have only been in the majority for four years in New Hampshire in the last 150, and this is the reaction we get. Twenty five percent cut out of the state's Department of Health and Human Services for poor families, children, disabled and mental health services. When asked about what kind of burden this would place on towns, who are the social safety net of last reserve and always have been, this is what Kenneth Wyler, R-Kingston, chair of the House Finance Committee and chief architect of the House budget had to say. "You just stop taking in the door everybody who is a little worried." (NH Business Review, April 8, 2011)
Talk about setting them on an ice floe. It brings to mind the crucial difference between Republicans and Democrats voiced in 1984 by Mario Cuomo, and I believe it is worth repeating, in the interests of finding our long repressed Democratic gonads. Yes, Barack, I'm talking to you. What's the difference between Democrats and Republicans?

"It's an old story. It's as old as our history. The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence. The Republicans -- The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. "The strong" -- "The strong," they tell us, "will inherit the land."

We Democrats believe in something else. We Democrats believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees -- wagon train after wagon train -- to new frontiers of education, housing, peace; the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way; blacks and Hispanics, and people of every ethnic group, and native Americans -- all those struggling to build their families and claim some small share of America. For nearly 50 years we carried them all to new levels of comfort, and security, and dignity, even affluence. And remember this, some of us in this room today are here only because this nation had that kind of confidence. And it would be wrong to forget that."

The foolhardy elements in the Republican budget are many and noteworthy and have sparked wide-spread outrage. even among business leaders, although falling on mostly deaf ears, it seems. But here is one example - cuts to vocational and training centers across the state, which concerns me in my workplace, not that I teach those proud, unruly kids who ride the bus to learn auto tech and cooking and drafting and hair styling. I don't, but I see them in the halls. Those kids in their Carharts and work boots and the faces of a long distant agricultural heritage, they don't take Spanish, they don't take AP History. But I can recognize a people when I see them and that's who they are. They are New Hampshire, and cutting the vocational programs is cannibalism, preying on our own children. Not even elephants.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Here At Last

The spring finally seems to have gotten the best of the snow. It's all melting just in time as we are down to the last of the wood. The first crocuses are coming up, and the first lambs are being born. But not all is well, the lambs are weak, and the first two, to Snow White's daughter, died. Our dominant ewe, Bully, seems to be preventing the others from getting enough grain. The animal kingdom's cruelty is made worse by the stupidity of its subjects. Kind of like the Republicans. The prefrontal cortex is not their strong suit, consequently they don't see complexity and sometimes they make bad mistakes. For instance, when I lock Bully in the barn to let the others feed, they wander over to see what's wrong with their fearless leader instead of eating what's in the grain bins. Easily manipulated by the elites. Oh, well. We may have to balance things out by culling the older ewes including Bully. But not for now; we'll let November be the cruelest month, at least on the farm. Don't get me started on events at the state capital. The cull there will come in 2012, hopefully.

Today I finished manuring the blueberries and apple trees with chicken poop. And I made up a mix of bone meal and wood ash as a soil amendment for the apple trees. I planted out a few trees from the nursery to fill in some gaps, leaving last year's grafts for another year in the bed. I took out some rotten planks from the picnic table to be replaced soon, and oh, yeah, and I put up another trampoline we bought at Dicks for $170.  We are set for warmer weather. And my old muscles are sore. But so much happier. Never mind the bad news for now. Spring is here and the sap is running.

(Photo by Michael Caplan)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Live, Freeze and Die

Media attention, fickle as ever, has moved on from the labor movement's struggles in Wisconsin, but the battle has flared here in New Hampshire. The state's legislature, dominated by newly elected Republicans, has made its impact so far with ideologically driven bills so extreme that cooler heads in the state Republican party have managed to squelch most of them before they even get out of committee. Proposals to do away with oppressive state mandated kindergarten, and to remove New Hampshire from the rolls of the regional green house gas initiative that is driving such socialist boondoggles as weatherization for low income housing, among other energy saving measures, have sounded the opening salvos of this wacky Republican agenda. But the one that got away and may come back to haunt the GOP is the amendment tacked on the budget last week without any public hearing or comment, known as the Kurk amendment for its sponsor, Republican state senator Neal Kurk, who is all set now to join the Glenn Beck Hall of Fame along with Scott Warner of Wisconsin. This bill, if passed, will effectively strip public sector employees of any job security and respect by mandating that in the event of failed negotiations, all teachers, policemen, firefighters and other state workers in New Hampshire would lose any due process rights and become "at will" employees, subject to dismissal without cause, stripping of pension and health benefit packages at the employers discretion, barred from collective bargaining, and basically relegated to serf status. Very few fair minded observers could say with a straight face that such a move would have the effect of leveling the negotiating playing field for municipalities, school boards and the state. As it stands now for teachers, when contract negotiations fail, which they often do, particularly because the final say is given to the towns at public meetings to vote in favor of or against the contract, we continue to operate under the protection of the previous contract. This bill would do away with that common sense solution and return us to 19th century working conditions, which, as we are resembling the Gilded Age more and more in our income disparities and bare-fanged, law of the jungle approach to solving social problems, makes some kind of barbaric sense.
Long gone are the days when the "New Hampshire advantage" meant people pulling together to solve budget shortfalls at the state level. This draconian solution of punishing entire segments of the working population with long term harm has all the earmarks of the nationwide robber baron ideology funded and sponsored by the likes of the Koch brothers and others of their ilk.
(Photo - Women textile workers arrested by policemen for picketing the Jackson mill in Nashua, NH, Sept. 7,  1934)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Pause to Honor the Dead

I hate to fall prey to the ridicule of more enlightened sorts, but I can't help but feel that the Earth is alive and, well, taking action. You can only judge by the lights of your own experience, of course, but how many near misses before we get her hint? An earthquake that shifts the length of day and wobbles us on our axis and a tsunami that kills thousands and nearly causes a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions,  poisoning the Land of the Rising Sun for generations, just might be the cause for some reflection on everyone's part.
This is a moment when concerns for our planetary health have come to the fore. Many would have us believe that nuclear power is integral to our energy future, but there are other choices. Renewable energy: the wind, sun, geothermal and hydro, can provide all of our needs with existing technologies and the necessary upgrades to our grid infrastructure.
Here is a video from the Post Carbon Institute that puts it all into perspective. The take-away is that we will have to live within our means and plan for the future in an intelligent, (ie equitable) manner. As a people, I think we get that, whether Republican or Democrat in basic political disposition.

It will be a struggle, but justice will prevail in the end. It always does. Here is another video I showed Friday in my honors Spanish class. It is based on Neruda's epic poem Nuevo Canto a Stalingrado,  in honor of the Russian heroes of the battle of Stalingrad and the Allied forces and partisans who rose to the rescue of civilization.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On Wisconsin

In the wake of the Ash Wednesday ambush on working families, Wisconsin progressives fight on, with a large rally today bringing in farmers from the western part of the state who see the link between teacher's unions and rural economic health. Energized activists also promise a political pushback against the bill outlawing collective bargaining rights for public employees, starting with an election April 5th, where they vow to replace a self-identified conservative judicial activist in favor of an independent on the state's supreme court. With these initial steps, progresssives are harking back to the salad days of Wisconsin Gov. "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and his nation-wide Progressive Party, with its alliance of labor and farmer movements, as they swing into action to mobilize an energized Democratic base.
Many analysts see the Walker bill as a long term boost for those who prefer not to balance the nation's deficits on the backs of working people. They see polls showing Americans in favor of collective bargaining rights, and in favor of teachers, as a sign that the bill may be an example of over-reaching on behalf of right wing ideology that will ultimately come back to haunt the Republicans in the next electoral cycle.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Like a Lion

March swept in on clouds of winter storms and sub-zro weather. But winter seems to finally be loosening its grip. Here are some pix of late winter on the farm!

On another tack, some notes on the current turmoil re teacher's unions in Wisconsin. I loved Jon Stewart's sketches contrasting the treatment of corporate excess on outlets like Fox and the argument that state spending needs to be balanced by reining in teacher's salaries and benefits. The jester plays such an important role, speaking truth to power and reminding us of the foibles of the proud. Here is Stewart:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Where's the Revolution? Who are the Class Warriors?

Reading the news it's uncanny to see how the winds of change wash back up on these shores. We create a social network, and despots fall. Future historians will have a job trying to untangle the weave of influence that is washing across the Middle East. But let's say for argument's sake that the rise of Facebook, coinciding with the Obama presidency, has given a de facto impetus to democratic impulses across the globe in acknowledgement of the continuing power and sway of the American Revolution. It is ironic and somehow fitting that at the same time things are heating up back home, but in reverse, as lawmakers in Wisconsin of the capital D persuasion seek to forestall a democratically elected legislature from implementing reactionary policies that would curtail basic freedoms, some of the bulwarks of American democracy. I'm talking about the hard won rights to collective bargaining that took working men and women many years of struggle to gain, sometimes in the face of oppressive power that would make Gaddafi grimace in recognition. That's where we are in today's America, looking through a glass darkly as state legislatures try to dig out from the wreckage created by a financial corporate elite, nay oligarchy, by reneging on promises to humble teachers and public sector workers, and attempting to gut the remaining power of organized labor. As a public school teacher, I can tell you that the protection of a union, in ensuring all kinds of workplace equity, not just fair wages, is an essential if not the most crucial factor making this a tenable career.  Anybody who would believe that the people who negotiate with teacher's unions have a vested interest in caving in to union demands because they are elected officials, as David Brooks states in his most recent NY Times opinion piece, is not living in my world. On the contrary, teachers make handy scapegoats for all sorts of ills, and are left holding the bag because the rest of the working class has already been gutted.
Republicans like to point to the work of community organizers and union organizers and wave their finger and accuse them of inciting hatred and class warfare as if there were no such thing as class and therefore no reason for organizing beyond the evil attempts at world domination of Marx and Lenin. But with Scott Walker of Wisconsin, it couldn't be clearer that the power grab has already happened and we're just now waking up.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shout Out For A Little Sunshine

I saw a movie last night which inspired me to write something after a brief hiatus. There was a lot going on in the world, with seismic shifts in the Middle East and super storms and digging out from some of the karmic wreckage which occasionally accumulates in any life, I suppose. But Little Miss Sunshine, a 2006 gem which won an Oscar for best original screenplay that year, lifted me out of the funk I was in. It's about a family, the Hoovers,  on a road trip to California to enter their daughter in a beauty pageant. The family is a take on average dysfunctional America, with a father who has sunk the family's savings into a self-improvement scam he has authored and fervently believes in, a teenage son alienated from humanity, a gay uncle who has just failed at suicide, and a crude, politically incorrect grandfather who snorts heroin. It's a satire on a hyper-competitive society which warps children, adults and families, and it made me laugh in self-recognition. That's the beauty of comedy when it's serious and well-intentioned in that it can treat of close-to-home truths that can be really so painful. It can also strike hammer blows for transcendent truths and this movie does, coming down emphatically on the side of genuine being, as opposed to the artifice of achievement that characterizes our neurotic culture.

A bit of honest disclosure would reveal that just hours before watching the movie, Susan and I had had a long conversation about the appropriate role of youth sports in our family life, with me taking the position that sports teach truths about winning and losing and learning to take a little of both, and Susan coming down on the side of "there's too much competition and not enough time for genuine personal growth in kid's lives." And even though she is undoubtedly right, we are way too competitive and it's way too much about achievements at earlier and earlier ages, I really do believe that in moderation, athletic competition can be a great educational benefit. I guess the key is the word moderation, which when lacking can give horrible results. And in general, moderation is passe. Little Miss Sunshine is about growing and living and coping as a moderate being in an immoderate world. If that describes you and your life, I recommend this movie. Also worth it are great performances by Steve Carrell of The Office as the gay uncle, and Alan Arkin as the crackpot grandfather.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Man Up, Sarah Palin

The shootings in Arizona, a tragic event that has brought the nation momentarily to its senses, has also stoked a new fight over who or what is to blame for the senseless act of a madman. There is no doubt that Loughner is a delusional young man in the grips of schizophrenia. The roots of his particular condition are hidden from casual commentators and beyond the scope of a blog post. Many reporters have pointed to the suburban ennui and decay of his Tucson neighborhood, his reclusive parents, his drift into drug use and conspiracy theories, as contributing factors. But the belligerent political rhetoric of the right, using visual images of gun fetishists in its propaganda, inciteful, accusatory and personally vilifying speech and actual gun toting protesters at political rallies, must have certainly added to Loughner's deranged plans of action. Sarah Palin's controversial crosshairs web page targeting Congresswoman Giffords, taken down in the hours after the shootings, are the smoking gun for irresponsible hate-mongering that led us to this moment.
Rhetoric on the right is now wriggling away from accepting responsibility. It is true that there is no direct link between Loughner and political groups, but it would be nice to hear centrists like David Brooks acknowledge the violent and undemocratic underpinnings of recent Republican and Tea Party imagery and speech that led a kook to act out the hate that has us in its grip.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In With The New

The old year is fading fast from memory, much like the last snow under the onslaught of a thawing Bermuda high. As the second decade of the new century gets underway, there's a chance for us to highlight the positive accomplishments, the steps we've made in the right direction, and underscore the persistent dilemmas that confront us as a nation and as individuals.
Americans are feeling better about themselves, according to polls, more secure about what the future brings this year than last, and for good reason. The economic deep freeze shows signs of thawing at last, and congressional moves to pass some laws moving us forward reflect the self-righting logic that makes this democracy work. But Republicans are about to take over the majority in Congress, vowing to repeal health care reforms, fight the EPA's ability to curb greenhouse gas pollution and in general do everything they can to ensure that Obama does not win re-election in 2012. The more things change, it seems the more they stay the same.
On a personal level, reaching the age of fifty means making peace with some of my own limitations, at the same time appreciating the gifts that I have. As the kids get older, the joys of family life seem to deepen even as the challenges of managing relationships get more complex. Personal goals remain as elusive as ever, but new ideas bring new inspiration and new hope.
Keep on keeping on, and remember the words of 1 John 4:7-8: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."
If that doesn't inspire you, think of the Christmas lesson of Play Doh. It started out as an industrial cleaner used to get soot off of wall paper. When the market went out from under it as people stopped burning coal in the 1950s, the inventors noticed that children liked to make Christmas decorations with it and re-invented the stuff as an educational aid. 
It's never over until the spark of ingenuity and creation goes out. There's more than one way to skin the cat. Just ask the makers of Play Doh, or any kid you know.