Thursday, August 29, 2019

Trickle Down, Way Back

The recent PBS series on the Gilded Age of America (roughly 1870 to 1900) was illuminating. Unless you're an astute student of history, it's one of those eras that most Americans tend to gloss over. Lots of industrial growth, right? Railroads and steel mills and big banks, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. Lots of ostentatious wealth. Robber barons might be in there somewhere, too, which probably wasn't good. Waves of immigrants - the original wretched refuse and their teeming shores - doing the backbreaking labor to construct the Biltmores and the Breakers. Maybe some strikes and some union busting and some head busting. That was all part of it, too.

What I didn't know, and what was particularly interesting, was that trickle-down economics originated with the plutocrats of the 1880s and 1890s. All that newly generated wealth was supposed to find its way to the hands of the laborers. It didn't happen, of course. While Morgan and Carnegie became the richest men in the world, 20% of Americans were out of work. They lived through the worst economic depression that the country had seen, or would see, until the 1930s. But trickle-down economics was the campaign message of Grover Cleveland and William McKinley, and they convinced enough poor laborers to vote for them that they were elected President of the United States.

It turns out that Ronald Reagan (and many conservative American politicians after him) was preaching an old, old sermon. It was smoke and mirrors then. It's smoke and mirrors now because it discounts the fundamental greed and selfishness of human beings, and the role of government in enforcing a safety net that ensures that citizens - all citizens - will be fed, and housed, and provided with medical care, and supported through indigence and old age.

We haven't learned. Much of the rest of the world has. But we probably never will.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

All the News Not Fit to Print

I periodically check in to State Media (TV and website) to see what's being covered. I do this because I've long maintained that State Media is its own private infotainment universe, pitched unerringly to the Cult, and that there would be no way to maintain the vicelike grip on the Cult if the three-way shuttle between White House staff, State Media reporters, and Dancing With the Stars contestants was ever interrupted by reports of what the rest of the world was talking about.

The news, of course, is very much up for grabs. This is how we've ended up with the parallel but diametrically opposed universes in which we now live and move and have our being. The news consists of not only whatever spin is given to the common stories shared by State Media and the rest of Planet Earth, but also in what is never covered at all; what is never reported and acknowledged as being newsworthy. And this week has been a doozy for what has not been covered by State Media.

Donald Trump tweeting reports by a wackadoodle conspiracy theorist that he is viewed as "The King of Israel" and "The Second Coming of God" and looking to the skies and proclaiming himself as "The Chosen One" a couple hours later? Non-news, according to State Media. Nada, to use a word sometimes spoken by immigrants that Donald Trump probably doesn't like. While the rest of the world was looking worryingly at Trump and conjecturing about Messiah complexes and mental illness (yes, the non-State Media is also sometimes given to hyperbole), State Media gave us sub-National-Inquirer stories entitled "Attorney Accused of Killing Man with Mercedes After Golf Ball Hit Car" and "Why a Woman Was Furious Her Sister-in-Law Gave Birth on Her Wedding Day." You have to cover something, I suppose. The Cult would simply never know that much of Planet Earth views the so-called leader of the free world as dangerous and unhinged. It simply wasn't news.

None of this should come as a great surprise. It's the same trend that has been evident for years. It was just particularly glaringly apparent this week. But if you can stomach it, I do recommend that you spend some time with State Media. It's a good lesson in how propaganda works, and how silence still speaks volumes. The question is, and always should be, "Can what I don't know hurt me?" The answer is still Yes.

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.

Friday, August 09, 2019

50 Years of Peace and Love

I was 13, almost 14 years old when Woodstock happened. I was fresh out of eighth grade and a month away from starting high school, and no more of a peace-lovin’, dope-smokin’ hippie than Richard Nixon was.

But I paid attention. Walter Cronkite and CBS News showed scenes of the blissed-out hippies, abandoning their flower-bedecked VW Beetles ten miles away from the festival site and hiking in because there was no other way to get there. They originally thought about 20,000 people might show up, and instead 400,000 crashed the party.

At the time Walter didn’t quite know what to make of it. Neither did anyone else. Until those three days in mid-August, 1969, Peace and Love and Dope had seemed like the exotic purview of some strange hippies who were more or less contained and quarantined on the San Francisco peninsula. After Woodstock, the virus was unleashed. The counter-culture simply became the culture. If it wasn’t immediately obvious in the Summer of ’69 (Thank you, Bryan Adams), it was readily apparent a year later, after the Woodstock soundtrack and the Woodstock film had come out and the mass marketing of Instant Hippiedom had begun. It was an assault in every sense; a consumer bonanza for marketers in which fashions changed willy-nilly, but also a deeply introspective time in which attitudes changed and prevailing worldviews changed and the very nature of consciousness changed. It was a time in which millions of young, impressionable kids watched the original hippies waving their hands in the air and asked themselves, “I wonder what that’s about?” And they figured it out.

To give you some idea of how such a massive cultural change happened in a very short time, I will note that my undergraduate college years in Athens, Ohio, and beginning only a scant half-decade after Woodstock, were spent amidst a sea of suburban hippies. And what I mean by that is that almost EVERYONE was a suburban hippie. The usual accoutrements and attitudes – long hair, opposition to the Vietnam War, distrust of Nixon, the requisite hippie fashions/uniform, rolling papers, short pipes and bongs, and/or the furtive acid tabs for Friday night – were so ubiquitous that when I became a Christian midway through the four-year party, and figured out that maybe I should try to abstain just a bit from the usual scene, I instantly became a member of the counter-culture in reverse.

But look, like almost everyone else I fell hard and more or less unconsciously. It was just in the air. It was all around, and it would have required a far deeper thinker and more disciplined individual than I was to not fall hard. And it’s taken me, lo, the better part of half a century to sort it all out, to figure out what was wheat and what was chaff. As it turns out, and because it was nothing if not an excessive time, there was quite a bit of both.

The negatives were more or less obvious, at least in my life. I wouldn’t want to insist that my story was shared by everyone. But I spent significant parts of several decades in a benumbed fog; too stoned to be fully present, or often to be present at all, to my wife and kids, to my neighbors, to the larger world around me. My drug of choice was the one featured prominently in the Woodstock film, specifically in the sequence filmed to accompany Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles,” which featured an assortment of hippies toking prodigiously. I can play back that scene in my sleep, although I’d rather not. That’s on me, and I take full responsibility and blame. And if it hadn’t been weed, it would have been – and sometimes has been – something else.

I get it. The problem is me. But I’d be lying if I said that the marketing of the so-called “counter-culture” didn’t have an impact on my life. I liked what I saw. I wanted to try what I saw. And I did. It’s taken a loving and patient spouse, a lot of prayer and repentance and apologies, some therapy, and my own private assortment of 12-Step groups to help unravel the repercussions. But that’s part of the Woodstock Generation as well. I could tell you personally about a few casualties. I am thankful to not be one of them.

From a broader cultural perspective, Peace ‘n Love turned into Reagan Yuppiedom turned into Trump’s Hate World Shitshow. Those are broad-brush statements. They’re certainly not true of all the Baby Boomers I know, and many of them would loudly and rightly protest that I’m engaging in the worst kind of stereotyping. Still, the overall trajectory of the Boomers has not been a positive one. It is often hard to recognize even a dim flicker of the original vision.

But I recently re-watched the film “Woodstock.” I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, now five decades down the line. I skipped over the toking and tripping scenes, simply because I don’t need them, at all. As I said, I can play those scenes in my head whenever I want, anyway. I skipped over a lot of the music, too. That’s the soundtrack of my life. It’s on a permanent loop, somewhere embedded deep within my brain. It doesn’t take much to pull it out again, and I didn’t need the movie to do it.

I just watched the scenes of people; walking, conversing with one another, eating, camping, being one big 400,000-member functional family. They were beautiful. They were all young, of course, which probably helped perceptions, but they also did beautiful things. They hugged one another. They shared their food with strangers. They proclaimed peace and love, and for three days, at least, they more or less lived it. You can say that it was an artificial environment, no doubt chemically enhanced. But they lived it for a bit. They just couldn’t sustain it.

I recognize that I often say the same things about Christianity – following Jesus – which became the primary focus of my life, the overarching vision, not too long after I fully embraced the Woodstock Generation. The theory is great, the practical application has somehow, inexplicably led to the Trump Hate World Shitshow. There is a cavernous abyss between Point A and Point B, and it is often hard to recognize even a dim flicker of the original vision.

For what it’s worth, I still like the original vision. I agree with that vision. Peace ‘n Love. What strange and strangely powerful concepts. We are all weak, double-minded, easily led astray, subject to a thousand derailments, hippies and Christians and hippies/Christians. It has largely turned into a dumpster fire for many of the involved parties. But the vision is not wrong. It’s right and true. It was true in 1969, and it’s true today. Strangely enough, I watched a film about hippies from 1969 and remembered Jesus. It was a little slice of heaven. I’d like it back. I’d like a do-over for all concerned.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Intractable Now

I believe that Americans, as a completely fractured society, are rapidly reaching the intractable point of no return. For example, two Democratic presidential candidates (Beto O’Rorke and Elizabeth Warren, for the curious) have this week labeled the President of the United States as a white supremacist. On Monday, August 5, 2019, the New York Times, either the Most Revered Newspaper in America or America’s Biggest Purveyor of Fake News, depending on your perspective, labeled Trump as “a white nationalist who inspires terrorism.” During Trump’s Big Hospital Tour/Campaign Rally yesterday, the vast majority of the surviving victims of the recent mass slaughters in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio declined to meet with him. They would rather not hang out with the President of the United States than hang out with him. The Trump publicity machine said, “Hey, it’s not every day you get a chance to meet the President!” And they had trouble drumming up any interest. These are big, bold statements and actions, and they allow for little or no nuanced interpretation. Someone who is sorta, kinda a white supremacist makes no more sense than someone who is sorta, kinda a Nazi. The very terms themselves are extreme and repulsive, unless you happen to be a white supremacist and/or a Nazi, in which case, I suppose, you would be a fan.

For the record, and to the surprise of no one, I believe that Trump is a white supremacist and white nationalist who inspires terrorism. I absolutely believe that. There’s not a doubt in my mind. He’s shown the reality behind those concepts again and again, day after day, rally after rally, tweet after tweet. He is remarkably consistent in his hatred, racism, xenophobia, and divisiveness. Well done on the consistency, Don.

But I wonder what happens next.

Wars – civil wars, at that – have been started for less sacrosanct reasons. Opposition to slavery has nothing on opposition to racism and xenophobia. They are, in fact, remarkably similar and interrelated causes. Currently, the nation is not only deeply, perhaps intractably divided, but it is deeply, intractably divided over fundamental core values about the worth of human beings. What is at stake is the kind of country America wants to be. As a tangential or core issue, depending on your point of view, what is also at stake is what Christianity means and how it is lived out among its followers. This is truly the kind of deep division that sets brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. If your neighbor is a white supremacist or a Nazi, it matters little that he once shoveled your driveway one winter when you were sick. Principles top pragmatism, and some people still maintain that some principles are worth dying for. Americans believed this as recently as World War II.

If a second American Civil War happens – and I’m not convinced that it won’t – I won’t be shooting the guns I don’t own and don’t want. I’ll probably be one of the first casualties. I’m not going to fight. Oh well. But I’ll pick a side, and it will be the side that opposes white supremacists and white nationalists. I’ll pick the side that insists that all men, and women, are created equal. I’ll pick the side that insists that God so loved the world, not God’s own U.S. of A., that he sent his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. I’m willing to die for those things, even if it’s Christians who are opposing me. And the way things are going, it probably will be. This remains the greatest disappointment of my life, here in these latter intractable days.

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers is the best and brightest thing about country-ish music these days, in my opinion, at least until the next Jason Isbell album comes along. But he’s the real deal, with an untamed, soulful twang and a journalist’s/poet’s sensibilities. He’s also absolutely correct that you don’t want to be downwind from the paper mill in Chillicothe.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


I am trying to modify the way I eat. My doctor thinks I should do this. My wife thinks I should do this. I myself think I should do this. It’s a good idea.

So I’ve been at it a month, and I’m seeing some tangible results in the weight department. Let me note that three of the days during that month were spent in the hospital, and whatever “food” I was taking in was courtesy of an IV drip. So that probably helped the weight, too. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend it as a dietary strategy.

Here’s what I’m not eating. At all.

·       Flour/Wheat/Gluten – No bread, no pasta, no cereal, no chips.
·       Red meat – No burgers. No filet mignon, medium-rare.
·       Sugar – No cakes. No pies. No doughnuts. No candy. Not even food that is sweetened by its own natural sugars, like beets. No great loss on the latter item.
·       Dairy – No (real) milk. No ice cream. No cheese. No Dairy Queen Reese’s Pieces Blizzards.

Here’s what I’ve been eating/drinking instead:

·       Fish - A lot of fish. Mainly cod and flounder. No tuna, which is full of mercury. Wild-caught (but only wild-caught) salmon.
·       Chicken – Grilled, not fried/breaded or smothered in sauces. Thank God for chicken. Chicken is currently keeping me sane.
·       Almond milk/Coconut milk. – My wife tells me that it’s not all that different from cow’s milk. She lies. This stuff is execrable.
·       Vegetables – Half of every plate. Some salads with minimal vinaigrette dressing. Lots of green beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Vegetables are okay as side dishes. My new life tells me that they’re going to be main dishes. This is hard, I tell you.

More non-food/supplement additions:

·       MCT Oil- I have no idea. It has the viscosity of motor oil. It floats on top of my cups of coffee, my very own private oil slick. Kate tells me it’s good for me.
·       Collagen – It’s a powder that gets stirred into various liquids. It is odorless, tasteless, fine, I suppose. I really have no clue. Again, I’m told it’s good for me.
·       Magnesium Citrate – In pill form. I’m told it will help keep my bowels regular. Yes, I have reached that stage of life.
·       Vitamin C and Vitamin D – No fruit juices. They’re high in sugar. So I get the Vitamin C in pill form. Same for Vitamin D, which is supposed to be like sunshine. I recall other pills I’ve swallowed that were supposed to be like sunshine. I am dubious. I wave my hands around and they look normal.

It’s all challenging, but I’m doing okay. The cheery diet books I’ve read (two) have assured me that this only works if it’s a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s not supposed to be a temporary fix. And I get that. One day at a time. I’ve heard that phrase in other contexts, too, but it works here as well.

I’m thankful to be up and moving and above ground. If I see you, I’ll treat you to a collagen-laced cup of herbal tea.

How Could We Know?

A good summary of the great ideological/theological divide. And yes, it’s a yawning abyss, although no one is yawning, and quite a few folks are howling.

“Another Dallas-area pastor and Trump advisor, Jack Graham, agreed. “I’m not going to blame rhetoric on the evil heart of some terrorist. Who knows what was going on in the mind of this shooter,” he told me. “To me, this is not the time … to go running out there and condemning political leaders, whether it’s the president or anyone else, or blaming rhetoric, or blaming guns.”

I submit that we can know what was going on in the mind of this shooter because he told us precisely what was going on in his mind. He wrote it all down, in excruciating, misspelled, grammatically tortured syntax. His multi-page screed appeared online 19 minutes before the first 911 call alerted authorities to a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

It is amazing to me the lengths to which people, many of them Christians, will go to deny the obvious. Trump calls it “an immigrant invasion.” Our boy El Paso Patrick (EPP) calls it “an immigrant invasion.” EPP uses the same language and talking points that Trump uses at the Nuremberg, er, Tallahassee Rallies.

"Late in his disorderly presentation, as he discussed the work of Border Patrol officers, he raised, and then dismissed, the idea of allowing them to use violence against migrants.

"And don't forget - we don't let them and we can't let them use weapons," he said. "We can't. Other countries do. We can't. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people? You can't. There's -"

It was then that he was interrupted by a woman in the crowd. "Shoot them!" she yelled.

The president found this funny, as did his audience. "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff." He stopped for a moment to take in the crowd's roaring approval. "Only in the Panhandle!" he repeated."

Well, El Paso, too.

I mean, really, how could we possibly know?

Tuesday, August 06, 2019


I've seen various arguments today that essentially come down to this: see, the deranged El Paso dude was a right-wing racist, and the deranged Dayton dude was a left-wing racist, so they basically cancel one another out.


The right-wing dude wrote a multi-page screed in which he quoted the President's "immigrant invasion" language and stated that his intention was to stop the invasion. Half of his language was lifted right out of the Trump Rally playbook.

The Dayton dude shot and killed his sister and her boyfriend. We don't know his motives. He left no multi-page screed. But it seems at least reasonable to conclude that he wanted to kill his sister and her boyfriend, for whatever reasons, and that it's likely that seven other dead people and 26 wounded people just happened to get in the way of the 100 or so bullets that he spattered over a twenty-second interval.

In other words, not every mass-shooting is or has to be politically motivated. But we shouldn't excuse or ignore the ones that are. One of them clearly was.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Sin Problem

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For what it's worth, I am all about thoughts and prayers; prayers, especially. Thoughts are fine, although they're shared among people of goodwill from all kinds of spiritual and non-spiritual traditions. So I really like prayers because they're a uniquely spiritual contribution in which Christians (among others) can and should fully participate. The problem, of course, is that people of goodwill rightly like to see actions in addition to the thoughts and prayers ("faith without works is dead," the New Testament famously proclaims), and the actions have been sadly missing. Again and again and again, times 251 in the U.S. during 2019, times 2,191 in the U.S. since Newtown in December 2012. In comparison, Mexico, the closest "competitor" to the U.S., has seen three mass shootings in 2019.

What else can possibly be said that hasn't already been said, again and again and again, times 2,191 and counting? When people are face-to-face with hard truths that are right in front of their faces but which they would rather not acknowledge, they trot out all kinds of rationalizations. Christians are particularly adept at blaming the crowds of people being mowed down by automatic weapons on "the sin problem." That is, it is the wickedness in the hearts of humans that causes these tragedies. The secular version of this dodge blames some combination of mental illness, video games, and cultural isolation and loneliness, particularly among young white men, who invariably seem to be the ones pulling the triggers. Add in a soupcon of racial animus whipped up by a bigoted administration, and there you have it.

While I wouldn't completely discount any of these factors, I do have some issues with "the sin problem" explanation, since the U.S., a devoutly Christian nation (just listen to our politicians if you don't believe me) seems to sin at a rate roughly 84 times as much as the nearest sinful nation, and I would submit that this is not good PR for the brand. It is even more puzzling when the U.S. mass shooting statistics are compared against those of, say, Denmark and Sweden, notoriously democratic socialist nations that have experienced zero mass shootings in 2019.

I am not callous about any of this. This day, like many before it, has been one where I've felt like weeping and gnashing my teeth, to put it in biblical terms. I've done one of the two; my teeth are still in decent shape. But I am at the end of my endurance; sickened, and expecting precisely nothing to happen. It's a sin problem, after all. What can you do? It's baked in. Oh well. Thoughts and prayers.

Life Coaches

I know several people whose main breadwinning gig or sideline gig involves something called "life coaching." As far as I can tell, this is a relatively recent phenomenon that has emerged over the past 20 years or so. At least I don't recall hearing or reading about life coaches during my youth or young adulthood.

A quick Google search yields the following definition: A life coach is someone that looks to empower others by helping them make, meet and exceed goals in both their personal and professional lives.

And I have, oh, about fifty questions, but I'll try to be succinct.

Because I know a few of these folks, I can safely state that some of them are fairly accomplished individuals, particularly in a given professional realm. They've succeeded in the ways that typically define the American Dream. They've won accolades within their career fields. They've been promoted. They've earned a fair bit of money. And now they want to help others, which, in itself, is a noble goal. I assume that their motives are more or less altruistic, although a nice check following each life coaching session no doubt helps to grease the capitalistic life coaching rails. But I can't help but remember when these folks used to be known as "mentors," and when companies used to routinely assign these successful people to work with new, young, and up-and-coming "talent." And I get it. Corporate America ain't got time for that no more. You're on your own, Junior Bub, unless you hook up with a "life coach" who can help you.

From a narrowly-defined career perspective, this makes sense to me. If you're, say, a network engineer, you might want to look for a life coach who is also a network engineer so you can actually talk shop, but beyond that, have at it.

So it's only in the broader "personal lives" category that I have my qualms, mainly because I start worrying about qualifications. Who, on the basis of their personal life, is qualified to be a life coach? Someone who is fit, trim, and looks like a GQ model? Someone who works 80 hours per week and earns millions of dollars per year so he/she doesn't have to think about the wreckage they left behind at home? Someone who has mastered a couple dozen platitudes loosely organized around the "If you dream it, you can do it" Disney mantra, and can pass those along to gullible, needy people? Someone who is "happy" in a lobotomized way, and has never had to face inexplicable loss and tragedy? So what makes you such a great life coach, coach? And whose life is it, anyway?

I don't know. I'm cynical, I realize, but maybe living for a while has made me that way. I will tell you this, though: if your life coach has never dealt with tragedy and loss, you should sprint (or the closest approximation, given your age and girth) the other way. It will be better for your soul.

For what it's worth, here's what I recommend instead, and let me note that the price is right: friendships. Find some people who know you, quirks and irritations and all, and who still really like you and want to spend time with you. And talk with them.

Your bill: $0.00. You're welcome.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Survey Says ...

The scenario: Christian pastor writes an anguished if well-intentioned Facebook post along the lines of: "Hey, I encounter lots of people, particularly young people, leaving the Christian Church. This grieves me. I wish they'd come to our church, where we're not like those fundamentalist churches, but where we genuinely welcome questions and doubts, and where we represent the best of Evangelicalism, contemplative Christianity, the role of the Holy Spirit, scholarship and critical thinking, and social action."

Once you get past the expected 80% "Aww, you're the best pastor ever/I love our church" responses, the comments get interesting. Here are a few:

"You have a huge blind spot. You claim to be welcoming, but there are major segments of the population that are missing from your church because they know they would not be welcome. They're not showing up at your church. Why would they?"

"Your church model is a problem. It's heavily pastor-centric. You have all the trappings of a denomination, but because you refuse to call yourself a denomination, you have no structure for accountability or widely-recognized central tenets. You have no accountability within individual churches and no consistency from church to church. And you see the racism and xenophobia rampant in our culture and you say nothing about it. Is now really the time to turn a blind eye to justice and mercy?"

"Your use of the words "traditional Christian morality" is a loaded term. It sounds nice and objective and safe. It's not."

"Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, and the church's unholy alliance with and support of him. This is why people are leaving the church. Figure it out."

And on and on it goes.

My take: this is a good church, and the pastor is a good pastor. There are many positive things to recommend about this church. And every one of those comments is accurate.

I've said it before; the next 20 years will determine whether "traditional Christian morality" (and boy, is that ever a loaded term) survives as a viable cultural viewpoint. The old cheerleaders will be dying off. The young people will have never been there.

Friday, August 02, 2019

The Delines

Some feel-good head-bobbin' here.

Okay, maybe not.

But if you're looking for the perfect film-noir accompaniment after the film is long over, and the TV is showing a test pattern at 4:00 a.m., you could hardly do better than "The Imperial" by The Delines. The entire album is incredible, with muted trumpet and lonesome pedal steel as the primary musical accompaniment, but I'm particularly partial to the closing track, heard here, and which pares back the sound to its elemental basics. What makes it work are Willie Vlautin's cinematic lyrics, which start with the hoary "I'm so blue I can't sleep" formula and imbues it with the specificity of an urban dirge; alarm clocks ringing through the thin walls of the apartment next door, the banging of garbage cans as the harbinger of a new day. Vlautin is a novelist in his other night job, and it shows. Amy Boone delivers these devastating words in a resigned, world-weary hush. That's the problem with waiting on the blue. It's still blue.

Thursday, August 01, 2019


I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights in a hospital bed. One of the great ironies of hanging out in such a place is that well-intentioned people routinely tell you to get rested up, and wish you a good night's sleep. I can tell you with some degree of certainty that one thing that you will NOT be doing in such a setting is getting rested up or sleeping. This is because you are wired; not from caffeine or some other stimulant, but because you are literally wired from head to foot. You have wires that are connected to beeping, well-lit machines, and they are dangling from virtually every part of your body, and any movement would entail a near-balletic coordination of medical personnel who would be required to assist in turning you from, say, your left side to your right side.

Resting and sleeping were right out. Not gonna happen. It was just as well because every hour or so someone would cheerfully wander in, ask me how my rest was going, and poke me with a needle or attach another wire or two to my body. So sleeping was not really a part of my agenda. Instead, I watched, thought, listened and prayed. I listened to the loudspeaker, which routinely squawked out things like "Code Blue, Room 417." I listened to a woman down the hall from me crying. I prayed for the people involved. I thought about my stomach, which hurt like hell, even after the pain medications, and I thought about my overall health, which has not been good of late. I thought about my mortality, which is something I've been doing on pretty much an hourly basis since I was about four years old, but which has occupied even more of my thinking recently. Visits from EMTs at work and hanging out in emergency rooms will do that to you. And I prayed about that as well.

I didn't really think I was going to die. I have a morbid streak that can find the gloomy and the depressing in the sunniest, most placid day at the beach, but in this case, I didn't honestly think I was going to die. So although I was worried and uneasy, I mostly prayed for other people. And while that was going on early Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., whatever it was, God showed up. How do I know it was God? I just know. This is a maddening thing to atheists and doubters, I'm sure, but I just know. One way I know is that I experience a profound sense of peace and the sure knowledge that I am deeply loved in the midst of excruciating stomach pain, worry, uncertainty and fear. I don't know why this happens. I can't program it or schedule it or turn it into a formula (I've tried), and I have no idea when it's going to happen, but I've experienced it enough times to know that it's very real. That, more than any doctrine or belief, is why I'm a Christian. I should also note that there have been plenty of times when I've desperately wanted it to happen, when I've essentially communicated to God, "You know, now would be a great time," and it hasn't happened. So I have nothing to tell you other than sometimes it happens, and it's a wondrous life- and faith-sustaining time when it does. I'll also tell you that it's a great mystery. And Tuesday early morning it happened. It filled me with hope.

Later that morning, after the sun had come up but before my surgery, a woman and a man in red vests and wearing Volunteer badges stopped by my hospital room and asked to pray for me. I told them that I'd welcome their prayers. So they prayed, and they were kind of loud and showy and demonstrative, flailing their arms around and petitioning for my health, as if God would hear them better if they did a little song and dance. When they finished, they asked if I felt better after they prayed. I told them that I had felt okay before they prayed and that I felt okay after they prayed. Which was true. I thanked them anyway. I'll take whatever prayers I can get. Then the nurses prepped me for surgery, and off I went.

My Christian faith has changed a lot over the years. A lot of the cultural stuff has dropped away, and I don't miss it. Every week I read about some new book that bemoans the current antagonistic cultural climate, and which makes the Rodney King "Why can't we all just get along?" argument, but in more explicitly Christian terms, as if some superficial show of unity would excuse the blatantly anti-Christian beliefs and behaviors that animate large swaths of the American Christian landscape. On a more personal level, anger and disbelief are being supplanted by a deep sadness. I believe in the Christian Church. I believe in Christians as individuals. But in 2019, in this particular cultural setting, I do not believe in Christians en masse, and I simply can't and won't accept that it has to be this way. If I didn't love the Christian Church, I simply wouldn't care.

For the red-vested theatrical tag team, for the crying woman down the hall from me, for me, for everybody alone in a hospital bed, wired by technology or wired because of fear and panic, I pray that God will show up. Life is hard; tragedy is the real hard currency of the realm. But I live in hope. I hold on to the certainty that Code Blue is not the end, that love wins, and I look forward in anticipation, the fever-dream that is more real than life itself, to the time when nobody's crying.

I still have this secret hope
Sometimes all I do is cope
Somewhere on the steepest slope
There'll be an endless rope
And nobody's crying