The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Religion ... Society ...

The great Christian celebration of Easter was last week. (As necessitated by the cycles of the moon; per medieval tradition, Easter is scheduled for the first weekend in Spring when there is a full moon. The moon symbolically reflects the light of the sun, just as Jesus “the son” reflects the greatness of God “the father”.) This got me to thinking again about “the man from Galilee”. Between 1997 and 2004 I put some time into studying the life and times of Jesus from a historical perspective. You can read the result of my intellectual journey here. In a nutshell, I was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and I still have a lot of regard for it. However, my studies convinced me that Jesus was not “The Christ”, a God-man sent from above to save humankind from its sins. I could no longer participate in services at a Catholic church (or any other Christian church) offering supplications to Christ as Lord and Savior. Ritual and community are good and necessary things to me, but words and ideas also are important – actually, they are sacred, more sacred than ancient mythology.

However, as I have said before, I have not given up on the idea of God. And since Jesus, even as an historical figure, was very interested in God, I thus remain interested in Jesus. So I got out the New Testament again and took another look. Yes, I know that the fab four (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) do not offer objective historical accounts of what Jesus said and did. I realize that these books were originally written with religious interests in mind, and were later modified by those with further religious interests (i.e., during the formative stages of the non-Jewish Christian Church). But I remain convinced that something of “the real Jesus” can be gleaned through a cautious reading of the Gospels. So over the past few days I’ve been skimming through Biblical chapter and verse (not very cautiously, admittedly), refreshing my memory and looking for new insights.

Well, I can’t say that I’ve had any stupendous new insights; no big light bulbs went on inside my head. But in trying to draw a unified mental picture of Jesus, it struck me just how difficult this really is (and not just because I’m picking from four different writings, five if you count the “Q source” within Matthew and Luke, each of which have multiple authors and redactors). Jesus sometimes sounds like a modern humanist, with his healings and his outreach to the downtrodden and powerless. Even though his methods (e.g., exorcising evil spirits) are based on ancient superstitions, his intentions certainly seemed good. And his overriding mission, i.e. to bring on the apocalyptic revolution, to trigger the coming of God’s kingdom to the dusty soils of Palestine, can be viewed in much the same light. Jesus most certainly was on a mission, a mission to bring forth a world of love and justice, a world where the suffering of the poor and the powerless would be ended.

But then again, there remains the judgmental side of Jesus. That’s the side that many modern people have a hard time with. Jesus clearly did believe that people were ultimately good or evil; a person could make it into the new paradise-like “Kingdom of God”, or be banished to punishment followed by oblivion. He did have some toleration for good people doing bad things, so long as they were willing to be “washed” of their sins in baptism. But his world view assumed that some folk were just plain beyond repair.

This is a question that remains unresolved today. Most of us know ourselves to be mixtures of good and bad, strongly influenced by conditions around us. But can we say that some humans are inherently evil, with no chance of redemption? Yes, history certainly does present many candidates. But the ‘inherently evil’ paradigm seems to deny that every human was created by God and remains God’s child. The old-tyme religion folk would say that God gives everyone free will, and if you use that free will to side with the Devil or the anti-Christ, then God no longer wants anything to do with you. (E.g., in more than one parable, Jesus talks about “not knowing” those who fail to do God’s will but then cry to God when a time of crisis comes). But then what happens to God’s infinite qualities? What happens to infinite love, wisdom and patience? Most human parents, by contrast, manage to hold out hope for a child who has gone far astray; even a homicidal sociopath sometimes has a mother who is still praying for his redemption ….

Here’s where I think that the Buddhists have the better paradigm (even though they ironically don’t have a God, or certainly not one in the Christian sense). In their inscrutable eastern wisdom, they seem to recognize that life is short, tough, and confusing. Not everyone has enough time to get in tune with the eternal truths. So they envision a metaphysics allowing souls to recycle through multiple earthly lives, until the great truths are finally assimilated. (Interestingly, however, this may be an historical Buddhist accretion; the Buddha himself did not emphasize the reincarnation of inner spirits). Only then can they reach the final state of unity with the celestial buddhas in Nirvana (again, this isn’t necessarily the Buddha’s teaching); or delay that final state so as to do some positive work advocating for those still locked in the cycles of earthly suffering (as “Bodhivistas”).

I myself am not a Buddhist; there are too many things about their system that I find unedifying (like the annihilation of self-awareness through awareness meditation). But if God really so loved the world, I think that He or She would be willing to consider some arrangements other than the heaven-or-hell paradigm of old fashioned Christianity (which really originated in Persian Zoroastrianism). I would think that God is big enough to use a good idea where ever it comes from, even if from a bunch of meditating, no-self atheists!

AFTERWORD: When you talk about Jesus, you might as well talk about Elvis. Elvis Costello, that is. The other day I got to thinking about his tunes from the late 70s and early 80s, so I went on Amazon and bought five or six Costello MP3 files. (I’m not getting paid to shill for Amazon, but I think it’s great how they now sell plain old, no-hassle MP3 files, and not those stupid WMA’s that everyone else sells that are set to blow if you rename them or whatever). ‘Twas good to hear that old Elvis cynicism again. It still sounds fresh, thirty years later. Just about as good as any other music coming out these days.

Thirty years, that’s hard to believe. When I was a kid and I first started getting interested in radio and pop-rock music (on WABC-AM), if you wanted to listen to thirty year old music, that would put you in the Great Depression! The music would be totally different; big band, swing, jazz, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, that kind of stuff.

Today, it seems as though thirty years old music isn’t necessarily antiquated; on the rock stations that I listen to (WDHA-FM, WXRK “K-Rock”, WAXQ “Q104”, and the new WRXP-FM), you still hear really old stuff from Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, the Stones, etc. mixed in with Linkin Park and the Foo Fighters and Saliva. You might even hear Elvis’s “Radio” every once in a blue moon. Too bad that they forgot about his other great stuff, like “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes” or “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding”. I recommend the following YouTube clip of Costello performing “Waiting for the End of the World”. That clip is from 1978, thirty years ago. And think about it – the song title also applies in the other direction, to the early Christian Church two thousand years ago! And let’s not forget about “Miracle Man”. Damn that Elvis, he’s good!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:23 am       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Politics ...

I never really liked David Brooks, conservative columnist for the NY Times. He’s written books disparaging “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians), yet he seems like a bobo himself. (I believe that he has admitted this; takes one to know one). The whole bobo concept seems like a lame version of “yuppie” from the 1980s (especially lame since the yuppies, i.e Young Urban Professionals, aren’t young anymore). Brooks himself seems like a lame version of the late, almost great William F. Buckley. “Brooksie” doesn’t seem to have much going for him; in my book, he’s only good for selective tributes to virtue, anti-collectivism, restraint from interference with personal choice, and for other selective conservative bosh.

But lately, Brooks has written a lot about Barack Obama and has actually said a lot of insightful, almost admiring things about Obama. Despite their great disagreement about the role of government in society, Brooks seems to relate to Obama’s call for national unity transcending political interests. Strange bedfellows, for sure. (But here’s another conservative who admires Obama — again, quite strange).

Anyway, Brooks just wrote a column about Hilary Clinton’s declining chances to take the Democratic nomination, and the great damage that her refusal to surrender will cause if she goes all the way to the convention in late August. I have to admit, bobo-Brooksie convinced me that it really is time for Hilary to do the noble thing and give up. The longer she fights, the greater the chances are that McCain will be the next president (which Brooks would still prefer). Given the self-inflicted wounds caused by Obama’s response to the Wright videos, and all the other non-patriotic stuff that Obama and his wife have put out there for the Republican attack machine, every week that Hilary continues to struggle brings Obama closer to the point of no return.

Could Hilary make a stronger run against McCain? Very likely. Can she thus convince the superdelegates to overturn the wave of popular support that Obama has gained within the Democratic Party? Very unlikely. The only real options now for Hilary are to scorch the earth and watch Obama lose in November (the so-called “Tonya Harding option”; perhaps she hopes to run in 2012, when she will be 65 and McCain will be 77), or to do the right thing and get out of the way (not exactly what the Clintons are famous for, but never too late to start!). She can choose “told you so”, or she can direct her attack-dog instincts against McCain, so as to give Obama enough cover to seize the economic issue. That’s the high-ground that the Dems need to reclaim if they are to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of seemingly inevitable victory this fall.

Barack Obama’s chances of becoming President are entirely in the hands of Hilary Clinton right now. It would be quite touching if she were to somehow decide to swallow her raging Clintonian ambition and allow Obama have his day. David Brooks himself would no doubt be impressed (even though he will still vote McCain). Stay tuned!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:13 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Photo ...

I brought my camera to work the other day and took some shots of the premises . . . . just to make the point that the place is ugly. Definitely negative feng shui. Perhaps architects and decorators are correct in saying that ugly places make for ugly people. There are some half-way decent people there, but there aren’t any saints. I’ve been there six years now and unfortunately it’s rubbing off on me. My shot at sainthood is toast by now. And I blame it on the environment, bureaucrat that I (now) am!

But seriously, all of the views below were taken from public areas, places that me and a lot of other paper pushers pass through on our daily rounds. I didn’t go looking for a dungeon that even the maintenance guys stay away from. Yes, there are some areas that aren’t as bad. But there’s nothing that you would call light, airy and pleasing (except maybe the big boss’ office). It’s just middle government at its most depressing, the kind of place that fits well into Dostoyevsky.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:33 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Politics ...

By now, just about everyone in the nation has said something about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright videos and about Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on Tuesday. The country now seems tired and ready to move on from it; that’s just when I’m ready to jump in. Too bad for me that just about everything that could be said on this already has been. Nonetheless, with my usual sense of exquisite timing, here are my thoughts on the subject.

First off, the Obama campaign was expressly NOT supposed to be about race. Senator Obama basically told us that the fact that he has African blood in him should not matter. But now, thanks to his closeness to Rev. Wright, it does. After the Wright videos surfaced last week, Obama was in effect asked to choose between being a black man and being a generic, trans-racial member of the human race, as previously advertised. He chose to be black. And I take my hat off to him for doing so. He is a member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church, a church community that expressly defines itself as “unashamedly black”. When called upon to break his ties to that community, the Senator refused. So, Barack Obama is now the unashamedly black candidate.

Again, I admire his courage in choosing his community bonds over political expediency. Senator Obama is an extremely bright man who knows darn well that his shot at the White House, if not the Democratic nomination, has been endangered by his choice not to condemn the Rev. Wright. I don’t have to tell you that the GOP 527 committees are going to have a field day with those videos in the fall (along with Obama’s express refusal to wear an American flag pin, the video of him not placing his hand over his heart during the National Anthem, and his wife’s words about being proud of America for the first time in her adult life).

Now, as to the speech. Obama is a bright man who knows that his candidacy has been endangered, and the speech represented a necessary damage control effort. That’s not to detract from its brilliance and bravery. Obama decided to “grasp the nettle” of underlying racial tension that America has not yet resolved (but at least has the good sense to keep from boiling over in public). He told us that he knows what many blacks say and think about whites in private, and likewise knows what a lot of whites say and think about blacks in private. He promised to keep working toward greater understanding between such blacks and whites.

He told us that he didn’t share Rev. Wright’s more fiery views; in fact he condemned them, at least from his perspective as a national celebrity. However, he asked us to accept that he hasn’t previously challenged or personally censured such expressions while in the company of his black community, and he won’t now. He’s asking the nation to acknowledge that this sort of thing is all right within the African American community. He didn’t opine whether the nation as a whole should extend similar toleration to comparable situations within the Euro-white community, the Hispanic community, the Arab/Islamic-American community, etc.

(Indeed, imagine an Egyptian-American imam lecturing at an American mosque in front of many children, “Allah, Curse America!”, “America got what it deserved on 9/11” . . . . do we hope that the participants would tell the imam that they don’t want such values conveyed to their children and that they will withdraw their financial and personal support if such messages continue?)

OK, to me that’s the BIG ONE; that’s the question of the day. Is Obama correct in asking the nation to accept the black community’s toleration, if not complete embracement, of factually wrong and patriotically negative expressions by some of its prominent members? (Black church ministers are about as prominent as you can get in many African American communities.) And that its children should be exposed to such expressions? (Admittedly, there is a countervailing message from adults that no one intends to follow up on those messages by reviving the armed ‘black nationalist’ movements of the late 1960s, e.g. the Black Panthers.)

Senator Obama didn’t have the time on Tuesday to lay out the complicated and often unspoken historical and sociological parameters that underlie the state of racial relations in America today. And neither do I — not to mention that I really don’t know them very well. But I will admit that there are valid reasons for America to extend some understanding to people like the Rev. Wright (and to their relationships to those like Senator Obama).

Jeremiah Wright is not Osama Bin Laden. He has done much to serve the needy, to provide education, and to lift up and support those within his community. He has maintained the flow of daily life within his neighborhood. As with most black ministers, he has unceasingly urged and challenged his Chicago flock to strive and achieve, to educate and improve themselves, to be good faithful husbands and wives and parents, to believe in morality, to shun negative influences such as substance abuse, gambling, prostitution, etc.

And from the broader perspective, whites today cannot expect that the legacy of 300 years of slavery and apartheid on American soil could just vanish within a half century, despite the administration of correctives such as federal civil rights laws, poverty assistance programs, extended educational opportunities, and affirmative action within higher education and the workplace. Most white families today are able to say that their ancestors were not in America when slavery and the reconstruction were taking place. But their ancestors (including my own) did choose come to this country to share in its prosperity, and a significant portion of that prosperity was gained because of the forced labor and other injustices imposed upon west Africans brought to this land in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Slavery did give America a significant economic kick-start, although science and the industrial revolution later took over. So there is an argument that America still owes something to its children of Africa, especially those who have not yet shared in the dream.

But on the other side of the coin, I think that whites, if allowed to speak frankly, would have some legitimate points to raise. One of those questions would be this: how long? Do African-Americans expect to be treated specially forever? Do they really want that? Doesn’t challenge often bring out the best in people, and can’t too much entitlement bring out the worst? The conservatives have some valid points about human nature such as it is.

I myself don’t believe that gangs, drugs, crime and other maladies of the black poor stem from the Great Society programs of the 1960s and 1970s; what did stem from them is the now-expanding black middle class. But at some point, white guilt can be and has been unfairly exploited. Does black culture in America really want to bill itself and be viewed as a damaged group that needs to always be given a head start in every event (other than basketball and hip-hop)? I know a fair number of successful black people who probably don’t think so. And although there certainly are valid arguments regarding redress for the sins of the past, at some point nearly every human being alive today has ties with some social or ethnic group that at some point in history was persecuted or plundered. Can the world heal all of the generational effects from every wound from the past?

Somewhere between these two polar viewpoints lies the truth, along a road of reason. Barack Obama (with help from Rev. Wright) brought American race relations back into the spotlight, but basically left the issues hanging and unresolved. He has to get on with his campaign; political realities won’t let him dwell on the subject. If anything, they encourage him to get away from the topic. Politically, he needs to go back to being “Barack Obama, man of all creeds and colors”, and get away from being “Barack Obama, American black man”, as he was and is when at Trinity United.

For better and for worse, though, I’m not sure that the voters this fall will let him do that.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:15 pm       Read Comments (5) / Leave a Comment
Monday, March 17, 2008
Economics/Business ... Society ...

Are you finding it hard to understand what’s going on with our economy right now? I am. Some things are certain — a lot of people who bought houses won’t be able to keep them; the stock market is down; gasoline and food prices are shooting up; a big financial firm just went out of business; the US dollar doesn’t buy much overseas right now; and a lot of people will get some free pocket change from the government shortly. That much we know.

But what’s coming over the horizon? Many economists and business people are worried. They hope it won’t be much worse than a year of slow business and a few hundred thousand extra people temporarily out of work. They hope nothing fundamental is changing and no real damage was done to the system. They hope that by next year the stock market will be up, the dollar will be up, employment will be up, gas prices will be down, and we’ll all be happy with our new President.

But what if there is real damage to the underlying structures on which the economy depends? One essential element in the mechanics of a successful economy is trust. Without trust, people stop trading and transacting, everyone gets defensive, and in the end a lot of people become poorer for it (usually those who already weren’t doing so great). For better or for worse, borrowed money is the grease that makes an economy run. Borrowed money stays “greasy” (in the economic sense) so long as everyone trusts that a loan will be repaid more or less on schedule. When that trust starts to fade, the grease starts to dry up and the economic machinery starts to grind and slow down.

For instance, student loans depend upon a complex financial system which is being thrown out of kilter by the crisis. It’s possible that fewer loans will be made to perspective students over the coming year, meaning that fewer kids will get to college, which immediately starts impacting the colleges and the textbook publishers. And those kids who were forced to delay or avoid college will earn less over their working lives, meaning that the government will get less tax revenue, Wal Mart will sell fewer home entertainment systems, etc. This is all just for one type of loan. Think about the effect of car loans, construction loans, credit card debt, working capital loans, etc. So, the lack of available loans has significant and long-term impact on economic activity.

You’d think that the people who invest and borrow millions of dollars each day would be careful (i.e, “trustworthy”) about what they’re doing. Obviously they weren’t. One of the bottom lines (or near-bottom lines) is that too much debt has been issued in the last couple of years, and that not all of it is going to be paid back. So just who is going to get stuck with the bill? And just how much is the economy going to suffer because of it?

The economy obviously has to slow down — all that delusional lending sped it up too much. However, economic things always tend to go too far one way and then too far the other. What will be the side effects? Someone is going to have to become poorer. But who? In a better world, we could all just agree to share the bill according to our ability, learn a lesson and get on with revitalizing things. But this is America, and thus there’s going to be a lot of political wrangling about it. The rich don’t want to become less rich, and they have the resources to fight the hardest. And it all just makes things worse.

I have a dog in this fight. I’m trying to save and invest so as to retire by age 66. My retirement plan isn’t luxurious; hopefully I’ll have the equivalent of $30K a year to spend after taxes (but before health costs). I could get by comfortably in a small-town apartment for 15 years or so, as long as I don’t plan on taking annual cruises and trips to Europe. But if the economy goes haywire for a decade, then my plan is toast. And so are a lot of other peoples’. But ain’t that America, as John Mellencamp says . . . . the America in which we’ve put our trust. My grandparents and parents put their trust in our country, and they did fairly well by it. But since then, someone turned our nation into a casino and a mud wrestling pit!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:32 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Economics/Business ...

When you see articles saying that we’re not really going into a recession, it’s a sure sign that we’re already in a recession. Economic denial runs deep amongst the economists and the investing class, as does the desire to get one’s words into print by being a fashionable “contrarian”. I’ve lived through a number of recessions, and you always see such articles just as the recession is getting under way. Here are three recent examples from some wanna-be contrarians:

Recession? Not Yet

Shrinking Payrolls Mean Sluggish Growth, Not Recession

UCLA Experts Don’t Buy Recession

So, welcome to the Recession of 2008.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:44 pm       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Monday, March 10, 2008
Current Affairs ... Economics/Business ...

I got a little shock the other morning when I went into the bagel store for a half-dozen cinnamon-raisins. Until about 6 months ago, the price was 50 cents per bagel. It had been fifty cents for about two or three years. But then it went up to sixty cents; well, no big deal. And then, last month, it was seventy cents. So I figured six bagels times seventy, $4.20. But no, the lady at the counter told me $5.40. In other words, ninety cents a bagel. GEEZ, what the hell is going on? Is the world coming to an end?

There was an article in the NY Times today that explains what happened. The price of wheat has skyrocketed lately, just like oil. Flour prices have gone way up. So the bagel shop owner had to raise his or her prices to stay in business. I can understand that. I only eat two bagels per week, so it’s only another two dollars a month out of my pocket. But what just happened with bagels is happening for a lot of other important things today, like gasoline and food. I haven’t seen economic stuff like this since the 1970s, i.e. prices going up every time you blink. Our economy is definitely entering troubled waters once again.

The Times article makes an important point, however. We here in the USA are hurting in the wallet and pocketbook because of all the recent price inflation. Our standards of living are going down somewhat. BUT, the effects of all this on the developing world, especially Africa, are of an entirely different magnitude. The average American may have to defer his or her next purchase of a high-def TV or a new cell phone; the average Nigerian or Congolian may have to cut back on his or her daily caloric intake. People who are now productive may not remain so after a few months of low-level starvation. As such, poverty in Africa might only get worse.

One of the big problems is that a lot of people in the world want to live like Americans, and are now imitating us by eating a lot more meat. Perhaps not in western Africa, but in other nations that have done somewhat better, e.g. Mexico and Indonesia, meat consumption is on the rise. And growing cattle and pigs and chickens uses a lot of grain; it’s a much less efficient way of getting calories to human beings, as compared to just consuming the grain (even if you first have to boil or bake or mill it). So, the demand for grain has climbed greatly, and since farmers can only increase production gradually, prices have skyrocketed. Although grain production can go up, there is only so much arable land; some economists think that food costs are going up on a permanent basis.

Of course, this could all change if the demand for meat starts to fall. Since the price of meat is very sensitive to the cost of the grain required to fatten up all those cows and pigs and birds for slaughter, consumers will soon be in for some sticker shock at the meat counter. At some point, meat eaters may re-think their diets. However, it will probably take a while; gasoline prices have been going up for three years now, but only now is the American public starting to think twice about those big guzzler SUVs that were so popular.

There are some people, however, who have already taken the plunge for food / energy efficiency and thus for a better-fed world. They are called vegetarians. And I’m glad to be one of them. If you have thought about becoming one, there couldn’t be a better time. And if you are already one, there couldn’t be a better reason for resisting the social pressures that all veggies face to “be like everyone else” and chomp down a burger. Sticking with our salads and tofu is just a drop in the bucket; it won’t allow any particular Somalian to properly feed his children (nor allow me to buy cinnamon-raisin bagels at a reasonable price again). But someone has to take on the role of the prophet; someone has to light the path when it’s still unpopular. So keep the lentils and rice coming, all you veg heads, and be proud of what you’re eating!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:12 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Friday, March 7, 2008
Politics ...

Being an aging “Baby Boomer”, I’ve found it rather hard to understand the appeal of Barack Obama. But David Brooks of the NY Times did a nice job today in explaining it to those of us on the wrong side of the half-century mark.

OK, thanks Brooksie. Now I understand better. Barack is an idealist at heart, not a politician.

Obama has been trying to sell a dream to our country. As dreams go, it’s relatively modest and seemingly doable (“yes we can” being the campaign motto). It envisions an America no longer split off into waring interest groups, an America where everyone starts thinking more about the good of the whole and less about grabbing their chunk of the pie regardless of what happens to everyone else. Barack Obama is trying to sell the vision of “a different kind of politics”, a politics built around respectful negotiation of honest differences, a politics of seeking “win-win” solutions, a politics of communication, long-term thinking, and fairness. He envisions a political process where using the lowest, vilest tactics to get what you want, no matter what the consequences are for the future, is no longer the norm.

Barack obviously agrees with what I have previously written in this blog, i.e. that America is getting more and more like the Roman Empire during its last hundred years of existence, in terms of domestic infighting. Opposing Roman factions would settle their differences by raising legions and sacking the major cities; we do it less violently, but just as viciously with lobbyists and spin consultants and advertising blitzs and campaign contributions to politicians. The results are the same: the spoils go to the victor, but the nation goes down the tubes as the barbarians prepare to crash the gates.

I’ve also talked here about our culture’s regrettable over-emphasis of competition and its wanton disregard of cooperation. Barack Obama has been preaching to the nation about a change of heart, about embracing cooperation in our political, economic and social lives. And that struck a chord in a lot of people, especially young people. For various reasons (including the fact that I’m not a young person anymore), I couldn’t pick up on this. I just kept seeing him as a politician; no politician could really mean what Senator Obama was saying. It was just a ploy to win, just another competitive tactic all the more pernicious for exploiting the concept of cooperation and fairness and increased collective-thinking (i.e., “for the good of the nation more than for the good of any one of us”.) But Brooksie thinks that Barack Obama was sincere, and I’m starting to agree.

Brooksie also points out that Obama is on the edge of being co-opted and corrupted by the politics that he sought to stay above. Senator Clinton, playing by the old rules, has renewed her threat to stop the Obama movement. To win, Obama is going to have to betray his ideals. The dream is over or will soon be over, although the ghost of it will march on for a while. No wonder Obama’s people think of Hilary Clinton as a “monster”; Samantha Power was just the one who got caught saying it.

I feel kind-of bad now that I understand Senator Obama a little bit better. Not that I’m going to go out and work for him or donate to his campaign. I feel that Obama was extremely naive to think that he could beat Hilary Clinton with idealism, and even more naive to think that it could also get him past the Grand Olde Party, those masters of the darker political arts. But I now think that there actually was something positive in what he and his many followers have been doing. He struck a chord by accessing the inherent goodness within all of us. Hopefully this world will someday present more and better opportunities for those virtues to bubble up and cohere within the collective sphere of international commerce, economics, politics and culture. For now, however, virtue and foresight will remain mainly a private thing. War, economic exploitation and short-sighted ways of living (i.e., America’s energy-hogging, global warming, have-versus-have not economy and the military mega-machine necessary to support it) will go on.

The whole Barack Obama thing brings back memories of another Senator who ran for President: George McGovern. I was a very enthusiastic McGovern supporter in 1972. I totally believed in him; he represented change and betterment to me. He would stop the war and bring peace and harmony and justice. Looking back on myself, I can only laugh. Had McGovern somehow been elected, his pacifist / populist / socialist approach would have been ground down over time; at best he wouldn’t have been much different from Lyndon B. Johnson (other than LBJ’s nasty mistake in getting us deep into Vietnam). But given McGovern’s relative lack of political and leadership skills, he might have been worse than Jimmy Carter in terms of getting things done. We might have avoided Watergate but come to national stalemate, to the benefit of the Soviet Union, OPEC, Japan, China, and everyone else playing hardball with the USA.

The best thing that Obama could do for the country right now would be to stick to his preachy style and his high moral standards. That would be political suicide; if Clinton didn’t get him before August, McCain surely would do so thereafter. However, his persistence and prophecy would make a lot of people think, late at night: does it really have to be this way?

I hope that Obama remains pure, but like Brooksie I strongly suspect that he won’t.

And as to George McGovern, who did in fact go down to crushing defeat in an idealistic fashion, I was a bit saddened to read an article that he wrote in today’s Wall Street Journal. He talks about how government regulations intended to protect disadvantaged people from economic exploitation often backfire and make things worse for them; his case-in-point regards various state regulations against high-interest “payday lending” by sleazy loan companies. “I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.”

(And don’t forget that McGovern endorsed Hilary Clinton early on! You’d think he would at least have started with John Edwards . . . )

What the former Senator says make much sense; but it’s just not the message that I wanted to hear from him. Instead of a pragmatic McGovern, I’d rather see him out there with Senator Obama, preaching a new day for Washington and for our world. Although they were both destined for political tragedy one way or another, their noble persistence might inspire future generations to take up the torch and seek something more than security, warmth, reproduction and ego-gratification during our all-too-short lives. C’mon, George, say it, for old time sake: YES WE CAN.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:12 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

We’ve had a relatively easy winter here in New Jersey. There were a couple of snowy days and a couple of cold snaps, when it went down to 7 or 8 degrees. But we’ve had nothing like the Siberian conditions experienced out in the Midwest, with weeks of snow and sub zero temps.

But even a mild winter gets me down. There are still too many short gray days and long dark nights. I think that Seasonal Affective Disorder has been getting to me. But sometime during this past weekend, it struck me that it’s March. Then the sun came out and the air had changed: the smell of plant life growing had returned, if only faintly. There could still be an Arctic front and we could still get snow. But you know that the “S.A.D.-ness” will soon be coming to an end.

Back in December I posted a crude translation of a little poem about the start of winter, from some Russian lady’s blog site. She marveled about how winter could be “cozy” and “bright”. But the truth is that winter is more dimness and grunge, even when it’s relatively tame. Here’s a pick that I took a few weeks ago which captures the feel of winter. It also helps to explain why it feels so good when the gray finally starts going away.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:29 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
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