Thursday, August 22, 2019


The cray-cray is strong with this one. 25th Amendment time, anyone? Or, maybe not. Maybe Caligula-level self-references to divinity – specifically, to the King of Israel, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Chosen One - are meant to be cynical plays to the Evangelical base, which grows more and more base by the day, and more and more removed from historic Christianity. Up until 2015 or so all of this would have been readily recognized as utterly blasphemous, idolotrous shit. But it’s hard to tell quite what’s up in Trump/Evangel World these days. In Trump/Evangel World, they probably just call it Wednesday.

There are those of us – Christians, or so we would like to think – who will not bow the knee. You may recall what happened to the original bunch who responded this way. Don’t expect it to be much different this time. It was bread and circuses then; it’s bread and circuses now. We have the consolation of believing – naively, sweetly, no doubt – that we are faithful to Christ.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Everyday Antifascists

“If you oppose racism, white supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and the xenophobic, ultranationalist ideologies of the far right (and our current administration), you are an EVERYDAY ANTIFASCIST," according to the flyer distributed last week in Portland — ahead of the marches and counter-marches — by a group called the Popular Mobilization. It added: “If you are not a fascist — then you are Antifa."

I am an everyday antifascist. I would like to think that this is one of those "duh" kinds of responses that comes with being a caring human being who is aware of my relationship with other people on the planet, although I also recognize that my "duh" response is far from automatic and frequently not shared by others, which explains the existence of racists, white supremacists, homophobes, transphobes, misogynists, Islamaphobes, anti-Semites, xenophobes, and ultranationalists.

I am not, and have no desire to be, associated with a non-organization called Antifa. And this is where it gets tricky. I am happy to march with them. I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again. We share similar goals. But I don't want to beat up neo-Nazis, although I like them no better than do "official" Antifa non-members. I think hating one's enemies tends to lend strength and credence to one's enemies, and thus pounding the heads of neo-Nazis is ideologically contradictory and ultimately self-defeating. On the other hand, I don't think being nice to them stops them either. Basically, I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right, although I wish he was wrong. I do feel comfortable if anybody wants to call me an everyday antifascist as I attempt to sort it all out. That will always be true. Every day of my everyday antifascist life.

Monday, August 19, 2019


I am ambivalent about Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist, the non-organized, non-led, loosely affiliated bunch of people who oppose fascism. I don't like the violent actions that sometimes accompany their anti-fascism. I wish, fervently, that they had not beaten up a conservative reporter in California. I wish that they had not thrown milkshakes on the poor skinheads and neo-Nazis in Portland.

On the other hand, I am clearly and unambiguously against fascists, and thus I sympathize with Antifa. They've got it right, and they've got it right in their name. And I am with them. Antifa, which dates back to the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, had their hearts in the right places eighty or ninety years ago, and they have their hearts in the right places in 2019. I don't like everything I see, but, in general, count me in. I am anti-fascist. We fought a World War over this shit. Back in the day we called Antifa G.I.s. They stormed the beaches of Normandy.

As a point of comparison, Antifa is responsible for zero deaths in America in the past 20 years. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white nationalists and neo-Nazis were responsible for 18 of the 34 extremist-related murders in the U.S last year. Two weeks ago, a white nationalist killed 22 people and injured 26 more in his efforts to "stop a Mexican invasion" (his words, not mine).

In response, the President of the United States has vowed to label and prosecute Antifa as "a terrorist organization." Good luck with that. First, they are not an organization. They have no head, no acknowledged leaders. You can't go to and get the lowdown. Second, it boggles my mind that Trump continues to coddle and ignore extreme right-wing groups that literally kill people while focusing his ire on groups that oppose them. Hmm, I wonder why that is.

By the way, I'd encourage you, too, to be anti-fascist. It's the human and humane thing to do. Even Jesus - the brown one from the Middle East - would approve. Go for it.

Mud Wrestling

Where we are. An intractable divison, mutual incomprehension. The great conundrum is how to respond. Facts, schmacts. No one cares. This is about mud wrestling, not policies. And to point this out plays right into the hands of the "Fake News" multitudes.

I don't even know what to say at this point, but I do wonder about the value or purpose of the fact checkers and the lie counters (now over 12,000 during slightly more than 900 days in office, according to the latest breathless reports).  The lies are now a kind of badge of honor, another way for the fans of mud wrestling to gleefully extend a middle finger to the educated "elites" with their furrowed brows. "He tells it like it is!," the mud-caked masses exclaim, which at least raises the question of just what "is" is, to quote another serial abuser of women and former president. But never mind. None of it matters except the hatred of the other side, who used to be Americans.

They still are, of course. But the incomprehension - yes, the mutual incomprehension - is real, and that's the hardest thing for me to figure out. The gap only widens. The support for this president is unfathomable, incomprehensible. I wish I understood.

"Throughout Trump’s speech, spectators came down to taunt the libs. It got tense enough that a row of helmeted cops showed up, stringing patrol bicycles end to end in the middle of the street to create an ad-hoc barricade.
“He’s a fucking con man,” the would-be Ortega on the other side is chanting now. “Don the con . . . All power to the working class!”
“We are the working class, buddy!” an older man shouts. More laughs.
“No more hate!” the protesters chant.
“Four more years, bitch!” comes the reply.
The road is only four lanes wide, but it might as well be a continent. Two groups of people, calling each other assholes across a barricade. Welcome to America in the Donald Trump era."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Retirement Update #58

The plan:

·       - Retire at the end of 2020 (might push it into the first couple weeks of 2021).
·      - Put our house on the market at the beginning of 2021.
·       - Move to Oro Valley, Arizona (just north of Tucson, at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains) as soon as our house sells.
      Rent an apartment or house in Oro Valley.
      -  Live life.

And to fend off the inevitable questions/objections that seem to come up whenever this topic arises in real life:

Q: Why rent?
A: Greater flexibility. Instant infusion of cash from the sale of our home that doesn’t have to be plowed back into another home. Desire to avoid home maintenance and let somebody else deal with it. Kids who have no interest in inheriting a home, any home.

Q: Do you know how hot it gets in southern Arizona in the summer?
A: Yes.

Q: Do you mean to tell me that you prefer 110 degrees to 10 degrees?
A: Yes.

Q: Have you ever really experienced 110 degrees before?
A: Yes. Its’s hot.

Q: Do you know anyone in southern Arizona?
A: Not really. A couple acquaintances.

Q: Why would you leave decades of relationships behind you to start all over again?
A: That will be difficult. But that should also tell you something about how much I dislike 10 degrees. And sleet. And perpetual gray skies for five consecutive months. And ice. And falling down and concussing my head. All of it.

Q: You can’t just move someplace else during the winter?
A: It costs as much to rent a place during the winter months in Arizona (or Florida; replace with the warm-weather location of your choice) as it does to live there year-round. And we can’t afford two homes.

Q: You really hate winter that much?
A: Yes. It’s gotten more difficult every year. I dread it. I get seriously depressed. I don’t trust my balance on ice. I fear for my concussed head. I have enough trouble walking on shag carpeting.

Q: Why Tucson instead of Phoenix? Phoenix is bigger, has more to do, better opportunities, etc.
A: If we were moving for jobs, we would move to Phoenix. There are clearly more opportunities for career advancement in Phoenix than there are in Tucson. But we are not moving for jobs. We are retiring and moving to Arizona. Why Tucson? Less urban sprawl. Five, count ‘em, five mountain ranges surrounding the city. A national park on the east side of the city and on the west side of the city. Cooler than Phoenix in the summer (because of the higher elevation). Lower cost of living. Ability to walk out into your back yard, see stars forever at night, and see a 10,000-foot mountain during the day. A large university, which tends to lend itself to a general “Blue State” culture versus the typical “Red State” culture of the state as a whole. Yes, that’s important to me.

Q: Are you moving for the golf?
A: I have no interest in golf.

Q: Is there anything you actually look forward to in Arizona?
A: All kinds of things. Completing the Great American Novel and working on the Second Great American Novel, which will be my fulltime job in retirement. Hanging out with my wife. Seeing more of my kids. New friendships. Heat. Comfort in the winter. Spectacular scenery right outside my door. Amazing Mexican food. Incredible sunsets. Saguaro cacti. Relatively easy access to dozens of national and state parks. Four hours to the beach (Puerto Penasco in Sonora, Mexico, for the curious). Speaking Spanish. The ability to slip past the border and head into Mexico in about an hour if the fascism continues and/or degenerates even further (think of it as reverse immigration, except where you’re actually welcomed into another country). All kinds of adventures, God and health willing.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Poetry Assignment

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"; Words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty

Poetry is challenging for many people, and interpreting poetry is an endeavor fraught with peril. So many possible meanings! But hang in there, Amerikkkans. It can be done. 

When asked about the Trump administration's immigration policies and how they might compare and contrast with, say, the mythic vision of America communicated by the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, responded, "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

Okay, poetry students, here's your assignment: 

1) Do you think Emma Lazarus, author of "The New Colossus," intended her words to apply only to the tired and poor who could stand on their own two feet? What words in the poem support your view, and why?
2) Do you think Ken Cuccinelli understands the poem? Do you think he should resign as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and do something, anything that wouldn't directly impact people's lives, such as pizza box folder for Dominos?
3) Consider these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Write your own poem.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Hidden Life

I read a fantastic book over the weekend by Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister called “The Time is Now.” The theme of the book – the role of the prophet in contemporary society – is one that conjures up visions of heroic, deeply principled men and women such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And while heroism and steadfast pursuit of societal change is indeed part of the package, Chittister rightly points out the price these people have paid in living out their callings. King and Gandhi, of course, were assassinated. Mother Teresa was frequently lonely; misunderstood and reviled even by those in her own religious order, those who were theoretically “on her side.”
I think it’s worth noting that much of the contemporary Christian Church in America is currently focused on shushing the loudmouths. It’s up for debate, of course, whether the loudmouths should be considered prophets. Probably they would like to be considered so. It is, after all, part of a longstanding Jewish and Christian religious tradition, and it’s better to be a prophet than a mere loudmouth. What is not up for debate is that some significant portion of American Christians are offended by the loudmouths/prophets, and invoke a whole arsenal of tried-and-true tactics – calls for unity (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is somehow disunifying), calls to love (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is unloving), calls for forbearance (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is impatient or inappropriate) - in the fervent hope that the loudmouths/prophets will shut up.
One of the things that Chittister points out is that loudmouths/prophets are most frequently opposed by people who are theoretically part of the same team/cause. They have to learn to be proficient in taking friendly fire and persevering anyway.
In any event, the loudmouths/prophets need to reconcile themselves to the notion that their actions – perhaps their very lives themselves – are worthwhile in the face of opposition and rejection. These lives frequently look like failures, and the opponents of the loudmouths/prophets are all too happy to brand them as such. But they are not failures. Perhaps they look like the life of Franz Jägerstätter; virtually unknown, certainly unheralded, the victim of a “senseless” death that accomplished nothing except a remarkable consistency to the principles and values to which he had sworn faithfulness.
I can’t wait to see this film.
“Instead of battlefield valor or underground daring, the latest film from Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Badlands, Days of Heaven) is a tale of something much more difficult to emulate: goodness and courage, without recognition. It’s about doing what’s right, even if it seems the results hurt more than they bring good to the world. It’s set during World War II, but our Austrian protagonist Franz Jägerstätter, based on a real-life conscientious objector, does not save Jews from Nazis or give rousing speeches. In the end, what he’s done counts for what seems like very little.
A Hidden Life is Malick’s most overtly political film and one of his most religious, urgent and sometimes even uncomfortable because of what it says — to everyone, but specifically to Christians in places where they’re the majority — about the warp and weft of courage. It’s a film that seems particularly designed to lodge barbs in a comfortable audience during an era of rising white nationalism. Jägerstätter could have lived a peaceful life if he’d simply ignored what was happening in his homeland and been willing to bow the knee to the fatherland and its fascist leader, whose aim is to establish the supremacy of Franz’s own people. But though it will bring hardship to his family and the harshest of punishments to himself, he simply cannot join the cause. The question A Hidden Life then forces us to contemplate is an uncomfortable one: Does his life, and his death, even matter? …
I was startled to see just how biting A Hidden Life is, particularly toward any Christians, or others, who might prefer their entertainment to be sentimental and comfortable. In one scene I can’t get out of my mind, an artist painting images in the nearby church tells Franz, ‘I paint their comfortable Christ, with a halo on his head … Someday I’ll paint the true Christ.’ The implication is painfully clear — that religious art prefers a Jesus who doesn’t accost one’s sensibilities, the figures who make us feel good about ourselves. We want, as the painter puts it, to look up at the pictures on the church’s ceiling and ‘imagine that if they lived in Christ’s time, they wouldn’t have done what the others did’ — in other words, if we had been around when Jesus was, we’d have known better than to execute him. When, of course, most of us most likely would have just gone along with the crowd …
A Hidden Life is everything Malick’s devotees could want from a movie: beautiful, poetic, hewing closely (particularly at the end) to films like Days of Heaven and Tree of Life. His camera observes his characters from all angles, sometimes straight on, sometimes from below, sometimes distorted in a wide-angle lens shot close to the face, creating the intimate feeling that we’re experiencing their interior lives rather than just watching passively. Its end, in which Franziska anticipates meeting Franz again — in narration that closely recalls the end of Tree of Life in particular — is a note of hope. Malick concludes, by way of a thesis, with lines from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
'The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.'
Jägerstätter’s refusal to bow the knee looked pointless in his time, but in its own way, it was a kind of heroic act, though not the kind that ordinarily merits the Hollywood treatment. The things that are not so ill with us are because people we’ll never hear about did what they had to do for people they’d never know, and who’d never know them. A hidden life is worth living, and giving up, so that others may live.”
- Alissa Wilkinson at Vox

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pop Star, Round 2

Cat Stevens wrote some hit songs as a precocious teenager, almost died of tuberculosis, spent a year in a sanatorium, and emerged as the most reluctant of pop stars. "Don't want to be a pop star," he sang on his comeback album "Mona Bone Jakon." It was okay. It was a morose albeit nearly flawless meditation on mortality and hardly anybody bought it anyway. The next time out, though, he found the perfect formula again; meticulously crafted folk songs that were eminently singable and hummable, and that were perfectly pitched to a generation of weary hippies who were tired of Vietnam and Nixon and more of the same old shit, and who were turning inward. Here he writes and sings an ideal three-minute encapsulation of the age-old inter-generational conundrum. He was a pop star all over again, whether he wanted to be or not. It's what sometimes happens when you write a perfect album, which happened to be called "Tea for the Tillerman."

He stuck around for another seven years, then dropped out for almost four decades to raise a family away from the bright lights. He wasn't kidding. But he was a pop star. He couldn't help himself.