The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Friday, December 27, 2002
Society ... Technology ...

My stomach was starting to feel better (see recent blog post), until I read the articles today about the human cloning. Just what humankind needs, another moral and ethical dilemma. As if there were a shortage of children created via the good old fashioned mechanism.

The whole thing has a gothic science fictional quality to it, reminiscent of The X-Files and “V”. I.e., the nightmare you can’t wake up from. An alien child was born, and more are on the way. Clonaid spokesperson Brigette Boisselier would seem right at home on one of those shows. Not that I was a huge X’er or V’er. Both shows were a bit too violent and graphic for my cotton-candy soul. But the Raeliens, with their talk of alien masters, and Ms. Boisselier, with her smooth words trying to make it all seem just fine, do have a creepy aura to them. I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to notice that.

All kidding aside, I think that this is a bad moon rising. It’s bad science at its baddest, an experiment that could have terrible physical, emotional and sociological consequences. Sure, there are potential up-sides, but as with Nazi medical experiments, the down-sides and the unknowns are way too steep right now to be messing with individual human lives. I hope this is just a hoax. But I have that weird feeling, like the one a lot of us had about 9 am on Sept. 11, 2001 when the first disjointed media reports came in, that this could be very serious.

P.S., back to the light side for a moment. As an old guy without kids around, I’m not really sure why a lot of adults are talking about Sponge Bob these days. Nevertheless, they are. So, I checked some search engines to see if any attorneys specializing in helping people clean up their criminal records were taking advantage of the potential pun. But my search for an “Expungement Bob” came up blank.

P.P.S. A few days later, I read that Clonaid is pulling back it’s offer of DNA proof. Hopefully, little Eve is going to grow up as a genetically unique person after all, just a footnote to the history of public hoaxes.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:45 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 26, 2002
Religion ... Science ...

In honor of Christmas yesterday, which I spent with a stomach virus (bah humbug!), I’ll present a quote from Christian theological writer Sallie McFague: “The picture of reality coming to us from contemporary science is so attractive to theology that we would be fools not to use it”. I’m not sure exactly what aspects of science Ms. McFague finds so theologically attractive. Evolution? OK, most theists have made their peace with Darwin, but it’s kid of messy, not terribly attractive. Quantum physics, with all its sub-atomic randomness and indeterminacy? Einstein couldn’t believe that God would play dice with physics, but more than a half century of research shows that something dice-like is indeed being played in the heart of every atom and even in the so-called empty voids of space.

Nevertheless, on the cosmological level, the past 50 years have been kind to theists in need of physical evidence, given the general acceptance of the “Big Bang” as the physical origin of the Universe. If everything started in a “singularity”, a grand event where conventional physics don’t apply, it isn’t such a great leap of faith to posit God as the metaphysical cause behind the Big Bang (albeit, this still is a leap of faith). Although the evidence for the Big Bang didn’t become clear until the 1960s (with the accidental discovery of cosmic background radiation by Bell Lab researchers), Jesuit physicist Rev. Georges Lemaitre was pushing his view of the Universe unfolding from a “primeval atom” since the 1930s, with Vatican consent. The Church always liked the Big Bang, so much so that Pope John Paul II warned cosmologists not to go looking for the cause of it.

Hey, JP2, what are you afraid of? I’d guess that he’s afraid that physicists will eventually demystify it. Until about 250 years ago, priests and preachers could captivate their audiences by refering to lightening as a sure sign of God’s anger. Then along came Ben Franklin and other electrical researchers, and the preachers lost a wonderful attention-grabbing device. But then the Big Bang came along, and the churchmen found a replacement for lightening (albeit, a less angry one). Various cosmologists are now working with theories that would put the Big Bang into a grander scheme, making it not so special or unexplainable after all (via superstring theory, loop quantum gravity, quintessence, chaotic inflation, etc.). If experimental evidence turns out to support their paradigms, there may have been plenty of Big Bangs and plenty more to come, all as a part of some huge natural process where there are countless Universes (some like ours, some not).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a God who is bigger still. But church leaders and theologians should know better by now not to embrace or condemn what the scientists are doing based on what lends the most drama to their sermons. Because once the scientists throw out the mythical bathwater behind things like lightening, shooting stars, and Big Bangs, the preachers and theologians will then have a hard time keeping the theological “baby” from going out the window with it.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:51 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 21, 2002
Art & Entertainment ... Technology ...

Sometimes the silliest songs contain profound visions of the future. In 1979, the Cars released their Candy O album, which included a tune that foresaw the Internet e-dating scene, where people meet and fall in love well before they come face to face. Here are the opening lines from “The Dangerous Type”:

Can I touch you, are you out of touch

I guess I never noticed that much

Germanium lover I’m live on your wire

Ooo, come and take me who ever you are

Not bad, considering that in 1979, the Internet was still a clunky semi-military system that hardly anyone knew about.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:35 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, December 19, 2002
Current Affairs ... Society ...

I now work in a district attorney’s office in an urban area (and yes, some days I do scratch my head and wonder what am I doing there). I’m not a trial attorney, so I’m not directly involved in criminal prosecution. However, I do talk with some of the “APs” (assistant prosecutors), and today I heard something quite interesting. Over the past 5 or 6 years, we’ve had a spectacular increase in gang activity in the poor neighborhoods. We now have local chapters of the Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings and some home-brewed groups too, and just like everywhere else in the nation where gangs reign, they play for keeps (with their loyalty oaths, colors, signs, drug running, and murders). My AP friend was telling me that the gangs are using some interesting tactics to defeat our tried and true prosecution strategies. DAs often offer a defendant a lenient sentence so as to obtain testimony needed to nail a partner in crime, usually a “bigger fish”. The gangs are defeating this by telling the “little fish” who get caught to go along with the deal at first, to agree to “sing” against a higher-up in the gang — but then, once the jury is empanelled in the trial of the “bigger fish”, to hush up. The little fish then gets nailed, the DA gets the judge to throw the book at him, maximum sentence. But the big fish swims off, knowing that once a jury is empanelled, the double jeopardy rule prevents the prosecution from going after them again for the crime in question.

This shows that there is some incredible loyalty going on amidst the gang members out in the bad streets. The “little one”, in his “love” (or whatever) for the group, accepts a long term in prison so that the senior members of the gang may continue their work. This is new to most prosecutors, who traditionally depend upon the lack of honor amidst thieves and murderers in order to divide and conquer.

What this says to me is that something really scary is going on in the ghettos — a lot of people are abandoning all hope in the system. They don’t see any way out, given the widening gap that our information-age techno-economy is causing between the haves and the have-nots. So, they are abandoning the ways of liberal society (given that liberal society has in many ways abandoned them) and adapting insect-like rules of living, banding together in colonies and offering up their lives for the good of the hive. Unfortunately, those colonies and hives (i.e., the urban gangs) have little sympathy for the law and the order of the civilized society that they seceded from. The dynamics of urban poverty are pushing its captives into a dangerous new phase — which, if continued, is going to create some big headlines in another 5 or 10 years. What I’m imaging here — actually, “nightmaring”, if that is a word — is going to involve National Guard troops, smoke, and of course, lots of blood.

More food for a scary thought: think about the parallels between our urban gangs and the international terrorists, including Al Qaeda and the Palestinian terror bombers. In other words, this isn’t just a local trend. There has always been poverty, but in today’s internationalized, internet-ized world, where everyone has exposure to the media no matter how illiterate or how remote they are, the poor realize that a lot of people aren’t poor and a lot of places aren’t squalid, but that there is just about no way for them to jump the gap. Hard work and self-belief don’t do it anymore. You need to grow up in educated circumstances with educated parents and computer screens most everywhere you look. If you are an 18 year old living in a village in Nigeria or the West Bank or Karachi, or on the streets of South Chicago, you know it’s way too late for that. So, you might as well join the gang or the cell and take the loyalty pledge, embrace what they drill into your mind, be ready to murder and be ready to be murdered, or at least be put away for life.

Do I really believe it’s too late to head off an impending Armageddon between the poor and the rich? If I did think that, I wouldn’t bother writing about it. But darn, we rich folk had better start thinking and doing something more about this, and soon. Our fences won’t hold; those walls being built right now by the Israelis on the West Bank are just another Maginot Line. We’re going to have to somehow reach out to the poor of the world with the education and acculturation necessary to bring them into our world. Sure, that would mean that we’d be a bit less rich for a while, maybe quite a while. And the poor aren’t going to continually thank us and make us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves while we’re doing it — they’re not easy to work with. But in the long run, it’s the only hope.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:37 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, December 14, 2002
Religion ...

I was reading a review of a pastoral letter about sexuality recently issued by Catholic Archbishop John Myers. It was the same old mumbo jumbo about the horrors of abortion, homosexuality and extramarital sex. OK, there are some grains of truth in it; our society is turning sex into another service industry, just another economic transaction. But as to whether the Roman Catholic approach is any healthier … that is surely a problematic issue, given the unhealthy sexual practices engaged in by many of the bishops’ own men (i.e., priests). Archbishop Myers said at one point in his letter that it might seem like a bad time for another pronouncement upholding standard Catholic teachings on sex. He was right about that.

I was once a devoted Catholic, right in Archbishop Myer’s own diocese (Newark, NJ), and I’m glad that I was. But I’m also glad that I’ve moved on. I wish the Roman Church well, even though I think that it is tied too strongly to pre-Enlightenment social presumptions (although it does have a point that despite science and social progress, everyone has a fundamental dark side that still needs to be dealth with). It’s sad to see what the Big Church has come to. I hope that Archbishop Myers’ letter is just another example of how things are always darkest before the dawn.

PS, it seems that Rome has finally yielded a bit to the voice of the people by accepting the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston. I had once crossed paths with the good bishop. About 25 years ago I attended a diocese convocation in Arlington, VA, where Law, then the bishop of some backwoods diocese out in Missouri, gave a presentation regarding Catholic spirituality. I recall that Bishop Law spoke slowly and very deliberately, but remained quite abstract and academic. I think that he lost the audience; after he finished, he asked for comments and questions, and the most significant question raised was about where his diocese was located in Missouri.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:02 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Personal Reflections ...

Back in the 80s when I was married, I used to go hiking and camping quite a bit. I didn’t do much outdoor stuff when I was growing up or in college, but after I met my ex, I made up for that; she was a big fan of Mother Nature. After she had gone her way, I kept on journeying into the woods looking for solace. And sometimes I found it.

There are lots of wonderful moments waiting for the intrepid soul who gets past the Disneyland zone and out into the true woods (on just about every hiking trail here in the northeast, the first mile from a parking area is littered with cans and other debris — that’s as far as most people get). You can find dramatic scenes like waterfalls and mountain vistas, but once you calm down a bit, you can start to appreciate the little things like birds singing, tiny flowers and sunlight in the trees. That’s when it gets really good, when you get into the contemplative mode.

Unfortunately, the wonder of it all doesn’t last. At some point, physical exertion becomes the main event. Sometimes it starts raining, sometimes the mosquitoes find you, and sometimes your eyes suddenly focus on the movement of a snake (I’ve encountered a few rattlers, and I will say one thing — they weren’t nearly as dastardly as their reputation goes. They usually warn you in plenty of time to avoid them, and then wait to see what you intend to do. If you give them some respect, they seem entirely willing to live and let live). In the summer, you need to watch for deer ticks and think about heat exhaustion. If it’s winter, you have to start heading back to the car at around 2 so as to avoid darkness and hypothermia. And now there are bears to worry about, given the rapid growth of the black bear population and their loss of fear of humans. On one mid-day hike not too long ago, I saw three bears — one at an uncomfortably close range.

So, I don’t get out in the woods all that much these days. Not that I’ll never go back again, but the child-like magic of it all is gone (or maybe never really was). Nature, along with human nature, can be beautiful, but it doesn’t take long to see that it can also be very cruel. I will yet do some communing with Nature, including human nature, but I’ll never again let my spirit trust it wholeheartedly. I guess that my ex taught me in more ways than one just how bittersweet the world can be, how we can never fully trust the seductive beauty that life presents us from time to time. I suppose that we all learn that lesson in one way or another: some of us through illness, some through career failure, crime, war, and other forms of tragedy. The deep woods are a good place to ponder all of that — so long as you have your survival gear with you.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:20 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, December 6, 2002
Outer Space ... Science ...

I’ve been reading up on the current state of cosmology and what’s known about the origins of the universe. The “Standard Model” is based on the “big bang”, i.e. the sudden separation of nothingness within an extremely tiny quanta into huge offsetting gobs of positive energy (light, heat, magnetism, etc.) and negative energy (gravity). It also requires “inflation”, the sudden injection of “bubbles” of height, width, depth and time into that hot little quanta, rapidly inflating it like a balloon and allowing the eventual condensation of matter into stars and galaxies. Over the past 12 to 14 billion years, that little bubble expanded into the known universe, with all of its billions and billions of light-years of empty space and billions and billions of galaxies and stars and dust and planets that froze out of that primordial energy, along with various other forms of leftover energy that still bounce around through the void. The Standard Model still hasn’t reached its verdict on the ultimate fate of the Universe, but given the recent observations about the continuing acceleration of the Universe’s expansion (caused by a heretofore unknown “dark energy” that counters the attraction between galaxies caused by gravity), it isn’t terribly optimistic about a future “big crunch” where everything comes back together and perhaps bounces out into a new “big bang”. Many non-scientists regret this, as a cyclical universe that continually expands and contracts like a beating heart just seems so much more poetic that a “heat death” universe where everything is just going to scatter and fall apart and go cold and dark.

Interestingly enough, there is now a competing theory of the universe, called cyclic / quintessence theory. These people are taking the recently discovered acceleration factor and turning it on its head. They believe that accelleration is caused by an energy field they call “quintessence”. As energy goes, quintessence isn’t so “dark” after all, because in the future it will change so as to reverse the expansion and cause a “big crunch”, thus bringing back the beating heart universe. The world of cosmology seems to be taking this paradigm seriously. Some cosmologists say it’s a lot of bunk, while others think it has potential. I don’t know if Steven Hawking has weighed in on the issue yet, but the ultimate arbiter will be experimental observations from satellites and antennas and observatories. The theory that best explains what is observed out in the heavens, e.g. fluctuations in the cosmic background noise, patterns in red-shifts of stars and galaxies, x-ray signals from black holes, and wavy images caused by gravity effects, will be the winner. Oh, also, the theory has to explain everything else known to physicists about atoms and particles and energy. And that’s where the problems come in. The Standard Model has certain things that it can’t comfortably explain (like the rapid spinning of galaxies relative to the known amount of matter in the universe), or implies certain things that just don’t seem to happen (such as magnets that have only one pole, or significant amounts of anti-matter). The cyclic theory supposedly also has its weak spots. It’s like trying to find the perfect pair of pants; with one pair, maybe the length is OK, but the back is too tight, while another pair is fine on length and seat but the waist pinches. Fortunately, pants aren’t cosmic theories. If we all waited for nearly perfect pairs of pants, most of us would still be in togas. Cosmologists, however, want to get it all right.

I really wish that I had the brainpower to get in on these doings. Cosmology seems to engage just about every aspect of physics known to humanity, from quantum mechanics to the laws of thermodynamics and entropy to fluid mechanics to geometry and topography to relativity to particle physics — all swallowed with extremely abstract and complex doses of mathematics. To be a cosmologist these days, it seems that you have to know just about everything there is to know about physics, and account for it in your ramblings about where the universe came from, what it is doing, and where it’s going. You don’t look at pretty images in the night sky through telescopes very often (or at images coming from NASA satellites); you do heavy math and crunch numbers on computers, then write extremely dense technical papers and defend them at conferences and before cranky academic committees. Decades ago, in engineering school, I studied some of the basic math and physics that undergirds this world, but I’ve long since forgotten most of it.

So, anything that I say here about current cosmological theories is pretty much worthless; I couldn’t even call it “2 cents worth”. But that never stopped me before. So here goes. Right now, I’m still betting on the standard big-bang / inflation view, and not taking quintessence too seriously. I admire the cyclical / quintessence view, as it represents a breath of fresh air, the kind of thinking that comes along every now and then in science causing a great leap forward. But in order to accept the cyclic / quintessence view, you have to start thinking in additional dimensions. This was probably inspired by superstring theory, the current attempt at an elegant “theory of everything” that unifies the view of all known elementary particles and forces (including gravity). Superstring theory has a lot going for it, but it requires the acceptance of multiple hyper-dimensions. Some forms of it require up to 11 dimensions. The cyclic theory people need only one or two extra dimensions, but that’s a whole lot more than what we experience in our daily lives (at least while we’re sober).

The thought of extra dimensions certainly does stir the popular imagination (although the string theory people try to deflate that by saying that the extra dimensions are somehow bound or wrapped up and aren’t really available to be manipulated). Years and years ago I read the book Flatland by Edwin Abbott, which is quite a significant little book. On the social level, it makes you aware of the effect of prejudices and closed mindedness. But on the geometric level, it helps your mind to picture what dimensions are, and what extra dimensions might mean. Flatland describes a 2-dimensional world (which is called Flatland, of all things; actually, it has 2 space dimensions plus time, as things happen in it). When Flatland encounters the 3 dimensional world that we live in, very strange things seem to happen to the living creatures who inhabit Flatland. They start seeing things in their world disappear, then reappear somewhere else. For example, imagine that a circle on the Flatland plain was lifted into our 3-dimensional world, taken up from the infinitely thin world like a plastic circle from a child’s Colorforms sheet, then set back down on it at a different point. And hey, what if you put your finger into Flatland? The Flatlanders would see an oval shape appear, then get bigger as you put your finger further through it, then get smaller and disappear when you pull your finger back. To them, it would be magic — a miracle, beyond the laws of their universe! You would be a god to them.

So, if there are extra dimensions beyond our three (actually, there are four: three space dimensions plus time), can a 3-D object disappear then reappear somewhere else? Or get bigger and smaller as some extra-dimensional being outside of our world toys with our space? And what about time? If there is a trans-time dimension, can something zoom into the past or future? Or can you replace your body of today with your body of ten years ago? And what would all of this do to the basic principle of conservation of energy and mass in physics? What if something could just get pulled out of our universe via a hyper-dimension? Doesn’t that mean that mass and energy in fact are not conserved (although they may still be, in a hyper-dimensional sense)? An uninformed layman like myself might wonder at times whether those weird quantum sub-atomic events where particles act like fuzzy probability distributions use an extra dimension to confound us (maybe they just bounce around through some extra spatial dimension, or split themselves up in time somehow to be in two or three places at once). And hey, the big bang does seem in some ways like the creation of a closed-off “timespace” universe from a hyper-dimensional “mother universe” (just like we can arguably create a 2-dimensional living Flatland from our 3-D space, on a computer screen; in Flatland, the Flatlanders talked of a 1-dimensional land, called “LineLand” I think). The cyclic theory people really do fire up the imagination with their talk of 3-dimensional “membranes” drifting around like nets in a hyper-dimensional sea, occasionally colliding and thus causing a frictional spark of sorts that triggers off the gravity/energy-mass split of the big bang (i.e., the big bang event).

Well, I know that this is mostly pseudo-scientific babble on my part. But it’s fun to do sometimes. Hey, Gene Rodenberry and his successor Star Trek writers did it and still do it! But at bottom, I’m sticking with the standard “bang-inflation” model and four dimensions. Too bad if the Universe we know is heading for an unpoetic physical death. So am I, and so are all of us. The only hope for us is that there is in fact some sort of spiritual reality, which would at the very least need to be extra-dimensional, transcending space, time and entropy. But mixing our thinking on spirituality and science is really not such a good mix, like ammonia and bleach, or drinking and driving. For now, it’s probably best to generally keep them all in their own little corners of space and time (sorry, Ken Wilber). Maybe someday we will be ready for a very much bigger picture. For now, I think that it is best to assume that science, including the science of the cosmos, is just looking at a tiny portion of overall “reality”. Hawking and his successors will NOT know the mind of God when they finally have a cosmic theory with seemingly perfect fit. Unlocking one door will simply lead to another room of mystery. Throughout the history of civilization, the trend has been that every generation finds that that their picture of the known and imagined universe is bigger and more complex than what their predecessors had, sometimes by several orders of magnitude. (Notwithstanding those ancient Hindu sages, with their bizarre descriptions of fantastic numbers and eons of time that allegedly represent but a grain of sand in the ultimate reality — maybe they were on to something). Why, other then ego, should we think that our current concepts are the end of the road?

So, my hunch is that there is some sort of hyperdimensionality that relates to God. But for now, that’s not relevant to science. As to space and time hyperdimensions, my hunch is that our physics is not yet ready for the jump from the Standard Model to hyperdimensionality. As with the gasoline engine in automobiles, I don’t think that height / width / length / time is going to be outmoded anytime soon, even though research on alternatives must continue. We shall see.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:49 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... Politics ...

There’s a quote from former President Bill Clinton in today’s New York Times that pretty much explains every presidential election from 1968 on. Here it is: “When people are feeling insecure, they’d rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right”. The one exception came in 1976 with Jimmy Carter, but of course in 1980 the electorate showed him to be the exception that proves the rule (and showed it with a vengeance). Lots of insecurity out there from way back.

I’ve been reading some of Thomas Friedman’s columns in the Times lately. Not bad. He focuses a lot on the Muslim world, as a lot of people have since Sept. 11, 2001. In one column, he wrote a mock letter from George W. Bush to leaders of the Muslim world, saying that if they don’t start discovering the social benefits of free speech, critical inquiry, women’s rights, representational government and limitation of authority, there is going to be a war between our civilizations. Good liberal that I am, I really don’t want to admit that he’s right. I hate to agree with this, but unfortunately I do. In another column, Friedman sees some hope that there will yet be a “Muslim Reformation” that will unlock Islam from the darkness that seems to have befallen a once great religious and cultural tradition. He focuses on the student protest movements now going on in Iran.

About all we can do is to hope that the vehement efforts to crush these protests will spread their sparks to Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Africa, Pakistan and Indonesia. Paraphrasing Friedman, Al Qaeda is another tumor from the cancer that now wracks the world of Islam. We in the West are forced to fight its symptoms, but its only cure must come from within. Let’s hope that our leaders spend almost as much effort in supporting the cure as in trying to fight the symptoms. A civilizational war won’t do anyone any good.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:33 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, December 2, 2002
Personal Reflections ...

I saw a good bumper sticker the other day. It said “My Child Was Inmate of the Month”. Of course, it was for a bail bond office.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:33 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, December 1, 2002
Society ...

As stated on the bio on my home page, I worked for many years for an urban, non-profit community development corporation. It was, and still is, led by a Roman Catholic priest (a monsignor, in fact). Working there seemed like a way to make something real out of abstract religious and spiritual notions. It really seemed like a way to make the world better.

I use past tense verbs in that last sentence because after a while, it didn’t seem like a way to make the world better. After a decade, I finally realized that the place was an urban political machine, and the monsignor in charge was really a ward boss. Sure, the organization provided low-income housing, social services, job training, business development, pre-K schooling and alternative grammar schools, and other services that helped the disadvantaged in the city. And I’m glad that I helped to get some of that going. But only later on did I see why the big chief really wanted all that stuff. It gave him power and influence in his corner of the city. It let him push the mayor and councilmen around, or try to anyway. He could allow or block a certain politician from appearing on his property to hand out flyers, and offered space in his freebie newspaper to those he liked. He could make sure his tenants and employees make it to the polls on election day, and could make sure they know who he thinks is worthy of their vote, and could even encourage certain employees to volunteer their lunch hours and after-work time to a favored candidate. And if that wasn’t enough, he controlled certain for-profit subsidiary corporations (that never really made a profit) that could and did make campaign contributions.

That’s not how I feel the urban poor should be helped. I know what the good monsignor’s theory is. His theory comes largely from Saul Alinsky, the famous Chicago organizer. His tactics come largely from Mayor Frank “I Am The Law” Hague. (In fact, the good monsignor grew up just a town or two away from Hague, when Hague was still in power). The monsignor feels that the poor are only going to become unpoor when they organize and get political (per Alinsky). And since they seem to have lots of problems doing that on their own, he feels that he has the mandate to do it for them (per Hague, maybe also Lenin). He shakes the political tree, and the money flows down to his machine, where he shares most of it with the poor (although he does skim a bit for a lot of travel expenses including fancy hotels and restaurants). But he keeps the power.

Maybe this made some sense in the 1930s and 40s. But this is the 21st Century. The global free market is the basic working presumption these days. Globalistic capitalism is cruel and leaves too many people in the gutter, but the alternatives seem to leave just about everyone in that gutter. Sure, lots of people still seem to think they can better their lot by trying to shake the system down, to hold it hostage to its liberal traditions and conscience. But it seems to me that such an approach only transfers wealth, without creating any. Sure, there are too many people in America these days with too much wealth, which they didn’t really sweat to create. But I don’t think it makes sense for the poor (or their self-appointed trustees like the good monsignor) to put all of their energies into conniving ways to shake some of that wealth loose for themselves. Instead, they should figure out how to create some new wealth of their own.

That’s why I think that the world of “CDCs” (community development corporations) needs a new paradigm. Right now, the good monsignor and his machine represent the gold standard of community development. Just about every other CDC is trying to do what he has done, and are adapting his methods. The monsignor himself teaches classes at a prestigious university, telling young MPA students interested in community development how to get tough in the political world. I think it’s wrong. I think the CDCs need to take their smarts out of politics and put them instead into economics and human psychology. They’ve got to get back to understanding the dynamics of being poor, and what it takes to change that dynamic given the realities of the American economy. Sure, politics will never go away. But if a CDC could really figure out how to break the cycle of poverty (despite all the fame and glory, the monsignor’s ground could never claimed this and doesn’t), if it could allow formerly poor families to make it in the economy of today, it wouldn’t need to rely on politics. If the powers that be in the CDC’s home city tries to shake it down, it could always find another city that would welcome it. In other words, it could compete. It could survive in a free market.

That’s what I’m trying to get at in the Some Urban Thoughts section of my home page. I dream of a whole new kind of community development corporation. Smarter, more innovative, in tune with economic and social realities of today, ready to move beyond the urban organizing and ward healer tactics of 50 to 100 years ago. I wish I was the kind of person that could put something like that together. But I’m a student at heart, not an entrepreneur. I’ve got a dream, an idea, based upon my studies. But it’s gonna take someone else who knows how to take dreams and ideas and can make them work in the real world before the new kind of CDC sees the light of day.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:26 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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