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The Importance of Redemption

(About a 5 minute read)

I sometimes get the impression that plenty of us tackle the big ideas in life almost the day we escape our cribs for the first time.

“Gurk! Life is mine to seize! I see it clearly now.  I shall be my own hero. Gerp!” Or, “Poppels! But our capacity to love is what most defines us as moral. Twurks!  What’s this?  Why, it must be what what ma-ma calls, ‘poo’.  And look!  It’s endlessly shape-able!”

Continue reading “The Importance of Redemption”

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Never Break the Circle

(About a 1 minute read)

Years ago, there was Mike,
A Native American man who belonged
To the people of a Southwest nation,
And who was trying to teach his son
The people’s traditional values.

Can you imagine how tough that was?
Maybe the values are the same
But the world is not.
No, it’s not the same at all.
But Mike was determined,
Still made the effort.

Each weekend he drove his boy
Eight hundred miles South
To the villages where
He could play with his cousins,
Talk with his grandparents,
Learn from the whole village
How to walk with one foot on the earth,
And with the other foot firmly planted
In the spirit world.

His son made Mike proud.
Once the whole community
Gathered to share candy —
I think Mike called it,
“Halloween, Hopi style.”

Forming a circle of young and old,
The people tossed the candies around
For several minutes, catching and tossing
Back the candies, the people shared
A good thing in life, and stopped
Only when everyone had something sweet.

Everyone.

“Cooperation”, Mike told me,
“It’s how the people live.
Not like what he learns in school.
There it’s fight for yourself,
Live for your close kin alone,
And screw all the rest.”

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Against the Next War

(About a 3 minute read)

The internet has made it now
Bound to happen
Tomorrow or the year after.
Bound to happen.

Maybe.
Up to you.

The politicians and the preachers,
The two dogs of the capitalist class,
Will once again want a war,
Just as they always do.

War to them is a gift, you see,
It’s not personal, it’s not their blood.
But war makes some folks rich
And you will never change that,
You will never change that,
Though the dogs will bark it’s not so.

A war of aggression
Against some people somewhere,

Most likely brown,
Most likely poor,
Most likely weak,
Most likely no real threat.

War for the sake of the banks
And for the merchants of death.
War for the sake of the pulpit,
And for the corridors of power.

But not a war for the sake
Of you and of me. We don’t count.
Our side is the one side
That has never counted.
Never.

That’s how war goes, it’s always been so
And it’s bound to happen again,
Soon happen again.

This is your world,
How it really is —
The world you think,
The world you were taught,
The gods want you to live in and love
Them more than you love each other.

In your world are great nations:
Nations the greatest in history,
Nations with the power of suns,
A thousands suns,
To do good, make truths come true
For even the poor man, the poor woman,
The poor child. Make truths come true.

But these nations,
Nations great and greatest,
Act only like whores,
Filthy whores,
Fucking folks raw,
Spreading their diseases,
Recruiting new girls,
Ever younger girls
To fuck you, to fuck all of you,
To fuck everyone.

This is your world
Your world without end.

But now someday you see

Someday now for once it will happen
For once it will stop
Stop the day they give a war
And you
You rise up, join hands
By the millions, possibly billions,
Linked together by the net
And by love, and by common sense.

At last,
At last you will rise, singing
“At last my spirit shall have water!
At last my cries shall be heard!
At last my thirst shall be slaked!”

Yes, you will rise up and you will say
In a voice thunderous and magnified
By the whole world joining in,

Say, “Those people are our friends,
We chat with them by day and by night.
We know their hopes, we know their dreams,
We know their troubles, we know their fears.
We know them, we know their names.

“Jane and Matthias. Terese and Sindhuja.
Mark, Parikhitdutta, and Min.

We even marry them now and then —
They shall not this time be murdered.

“You will not touch them,
Our brothers, our friends;
This once the bombs won’t fall.
This once the bombs won’t fall.
You politicians and preachers,
You capitalists and bankers all —
This once the bombs won’t fall.”

Yet you know it will ever be a dream
Just a dream, just a mere dream.
It will ever be a dream
If you, if we, keep on dividing,
Never uniting, never joining,
But instead just staying, just keeping,
To my echo chamber or to yours.

So let’s come together
Let’s come together,
Let’s come together.

So let’s come together
Before the nukes fall,
Before the demons fall.
Before we die in the winter,
And we come together
Never once come together at all.

 


Please seriously consider spreading this poem — spreading it to your site, to the social media sites — in an effort to make it go viral. We need it viral well before the next war, we need folks mulling over the idea of rebelling against the violence. Spread this poem and then you too write — write about the ideas presented in the poem. For you, for your brothers and for your sisters, for your children after you — stop the wars of aggression!

Please Note: Matthias has responded by dedicating his poem, Pooling Strength, to this cause.

Bruce has reposted the poem on “The Life and Times of Bruce Genencser“.

Kat has responded by posting this article: I Don’t Know Anything About War.

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The Gifts of AL Remington

(About a 4 minute read)

It was difficult to beat Al. I think I only did it once. Or, maybe, I didn’t. Maybe I just came close. He was strongest in the endgame.

If you let him get that far — and it was hard not to — he had you beat.

Al said he learned chess when he was in the army, stationed in Greenland, with nothing else to do but his job and learn chess. By the time I met him, he was in his 60s, still enthusiastic about the game, and the man to beat at the Coffee Shop. He was a gentle man, reserved, modest, but exuding an air of dignity and confidence, much like a good father or grandfather. In his 60s, he drove a dark blue Cadillac on wet days and rode a Harley when the sun was out.

One day I discovered the Coffee Shop didn’t purchase the chess sets it had on hand. It was Al who did that. He would search garage sales for abandoned sets, buy them, and bring them to the Shop. He had to do that over and over again because people would loose pieces. But he didn’t mind. It was his hobby.

I think it must have been Al who got “everyone” — at least a third of the regular customers — playing chess. There were always two or three games going back then. Half the regular customers were kids and most of the kids were taught the game by Al. That is, someone else would usually teach them the basic moves — then Al would teach them the art.

Not just the art of chess, but other things too. He taught kids how to win graciously, how to loose without animosity, how to be fair (he’d spot the less skilled players a piece or two), and even how to keep a poker face. He never lost his temper, he was always encouraging, and he taught values. For instance: There wasn’t a kid at the Coffee Shop Al disdained to play, nor one he disrespected.

Several of the adults who hung out at the Shop were uncertain characters, but not Al. One man, Tim, was only there to proselytize the kids for Christ and had no other point in befriending them. Another man, Jeff, in his mid-thirties, was obsessed with getting laid by teens. A third man, who called himself Attila, dressed immaculately, neatly trimmed his white beard, and pretended to have wealth and connections. He would come every day to the Shop with his son, who he’d named Khan, and who was 15 and had lost his spirit. Attila would speak about Khan as if Khan wasn’t present and sitting right next to him: I’ve never in my life heard a more verbally abusive father. Unlike those characters, Al cared for the kids.

Al never told you he liked kids, but he did. He’d surely raised enough of them: Four biological children, two or three adopted children, and a number of foster children. I figure teaching them chess was Al’s way of raising up the Coffee Shop kids. He spoke to me several times of his belief that playing chess developed good, solid thinking skills. But he never quite said he considered himself on a mission to help the Coffee Shop kids. Saying something like that wasn’t Al’s style.

Al died at his home a couple years ago at age 72. I read his obituary to discover he was a minister. He hadn’t spoken of that; had never proselytized me; nor — so far as I know — had he proselytized any of the kids. I guess that wasn’t his style, either. Instead, he just served others.

Nowadays, I drop by the Coffee Shop once or twice a month. The kids Al and I knew have grown up and moved on. No one today plays chess. The adults sit with adults and the kids sit with kids. Maybe that’s the way people feel it should be.

I was reminded of Al earlier today by a comment Ordinary Girl left on another post. She mentioned how adults stay away from kids for fear of being thought creepy. That got me to thinking of how Al, born in 1933, belonged to another generation — one that had a stronger sense of community and wasn’t so set against mixing the ages. Yet, I wonder how kids are supposed to grow up with few adults in their lives?

Are they supposed these days to learn what they need to be a functional adult from Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and advertising? It seems to me we too often leave kids these days to be raised by the media.

Somethings we can only learn from another person. Things we cannot learn from a book, a movie, the television, popular music, or a video game. Somethings we must learn through our interactions with others. And some of those things that can only be learned through our interactions with others are very important. I discovered when I hung out with teens that many teens had what struck me then as a thirst to hang out with adults. I suspect they needed encouragement, insight into themselves, support, and affirmation, among other things. Those are not things we easily get from a book or movie.

Yet, it’s not a one-way street. I believe there can be tremendous benefits for an adult to having kids in his or her life. For one thing, watching a new generation grow up, seeing it go through the same things you once went through, can give you an invaluable perspective on life and a profound acceptance of your own aging.

I’ve come to believe any society which separates the generations will sooner or later pay a price for it. It even seems to me unnatural. I doubt any previous society has headed as far in that direction as ours. And, to me, it is all part of the larger break down of genuine community. It seems our societies are becoming increasingly fragmented, and I am unsure where that will eventually leave us. I rather hope Al’s generation is not the last to mix ages.


Note: Al was a grand- or great grandnephew of Frederic Remington, the painter.

Christ, Christianity, Class War, Ethics, Faith, Giving, God, God(s), Judaism, Judeo-Christian Tradition, Late Night Thoughts, Morals, News and Current Events, Obligations to Society, Politics, Poverty, Quality of Life, Religion, Society, Values, Yahweh

Why Was Sodom Destroyed?

Your elder sister is Samaria, who lived with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. You not only followed their ways, and acted according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. As I live, says the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.

Ezekiel 16:46-50

The strongest argument for the existence of Yahweh just might be that He is necessary to explain why America is on the cusp of destruction today.  It was only a dozen years ago, folks were talking about the New American Century — as if it were inevitable.  But it seems that it sorely pisses off Yahweh when a rich, prideful nation refuses to aid the poor and needy.

“Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

Quick! Hide the underclass!  Ah, too late!

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Is it Moral to Take Advantage of an Idiot?

Is it moral to take advantage of the village idiot?

Suppose on Friday, your local village idiot signed over the deed to his house to you, thinking he was going to be raptured yesterday (Saturday, May 21, 2011), would you now be under any moral obligation to return his house to him?

Should banks forgive the credit card debts your local village idiot racked up in anticipation of his not having to pay them off?

In general, to what extent should politicians, preachers, pundits, corporations, neighbors, or society as a whole be allowed to exploit the world’s village idiots?

Should the world’s village idiots now be allowed to sue Harold Camping for damages to them?

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Late Night Thoughts (March 5, 2011)

I understand a rational person to be a person who, for the most part, sustains an intellectually honest effort to base their views and decisions on reason — that is, on the weight of logic and material or empirical evidence.

I don’t think any of us are purely rational, but I think some of us are more rational than others of us. Moreover, I think the more rational someone is, the more likely they are to — in ways both great and small — contribute to the welfare, not just of themselves, but of others too.

So far as I’ve seen, noticeably irrational people — such as drama queens, authoritarians, and the emotionally and mentally ill — are most often high maintenance.

That is, they are dependent to an unusual extent on other people and require inordinate amounts of time, effort, and resources from those other people without giving back nearly as much as they consume. It seems that a measure of rationality is more than merely desirable — it is actually required — if one is not to become an unusual burden on others.

I don’t think people always — or even perhaps very often — chose how rational they are relative to others. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that most authoritarians did not chose to be relatively irrational.

Our species seems to have a very long history of cooperative living — including a very long history of taking care of those who are less fortunate than the rest of us.  There is strong evidence, for instance, that our direct ancestors had already evolved that kind of behavior well over two million years ago.  To take care of the less fortunate is a very human thing to do.

◄►

Three questions for Spinoza:

As I understand it, it used to be the tribe that took care of its own.  When someone fell sick or injured, the tribe looked after them.  When someone had much less than others, too little to live on, the tribe looked after them.

But the tribes were destroyed — wiped out by nation-states.

So, today, it’s the nation-state that has inherited those duties.  Spinoza saw that earlier than most, more clearly than most.

Yet, today, a lot of people in America don’t like that even one bit.  Which makes me sometimes wonder:  Are we becoming a nation of shirkers who won’t even take care of our own any longer, or are we becoming a nation of sociopaths who can’t even see why we should be taking care of our own?  Or, in fairness, is some third or fourth thing happening that I myself don’t see yet?

◄►

The one thing — besides the camaraderie and brotherhood — that I long ago most loved about fire fighting was sometimes being seized by the reality of the fire.

When it happened, that sense of being seized by the reality of the fire was almost mystical in its intensity.  Some rock climbers here in Colorado tell me of experiencing similar feelings while hanging off cliffs hundreds of feet up mountain walls.

Once, thinking about those feelings, it occurred to me I had never yet in my life witnessed a political discussion in which the folks — myself included —  came even half close to the realism demanded of a fire fighter in knocking down a simple blaze.

On the other hand, I thought, I had routinely seen folks get orders of magnitude more “emotionally involved” in discussing politics than a fire fighter gets even when his life balances on a thread pulled taunt between fates.  Discussing politics, we humans are ever a bit like bowlers who frequently make “passionate”, but entirely useless, gestures in an attempt to control the ball — even when it is already thrown.

But I observed we are also far too often political hypocrites who fail to walk our talk, though a fire fighter unwilling to walk their talk is rare.  So, for all of those reasons, there seemed to me more than a mere whiff of bullshit present in even the cleanest political discussions.

Those thoughts then all but left me homesick for a good, honest twelve foot high wall of white flames.

◄►

In matters of love, “surrender” can be a beautiful word, but “submission” is most often an ugly one.

◄►

It seems unnecessary for us to believe a map is infallible in order to make cautious, but good, use of it.  But we seem to require that our preferred wisdom literature be infallible before we can feel entirely comfortable ignoring its advice.

 

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How Good Conservative Morals Come From Good Bible Morals

I was thinking today of becoming one of those profound politicians who has artfully managed to reconcile his or her impressively firm belief in Bible morals with his or her equally impressive belief in privatizing social security and raising its retirement age, cutting medicare, and all but doing away with medicaid — to say nothing of axing the rest of the social safety net in America.  And lo! I found it downright easy to make the reconciliation — especially, after reading Isaiah 58:

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Isaiah 58

So, I think now I can see how good conservative morals come from good bible morals.

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Jiddu Krishnamurti “On Love”

Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote about love with passionate urgency, with love and grace, and with unflinching integrity and insight.

Even merely reading his words, even now when his words are only frozen in books, you might still feel you are being swept into a current much stronger than you.

A current that possesses the power — if only you could allow it — to thrust you up upon some foreign shore, intensely alive with love, a complete stranger to your petty self.

Perhaps someone else has matched Krishnamurti by now, but I do not know who that would be.

Jiddu Krishnamurti “On Love”.

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“Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy

VALENTINE

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
A wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Carol Ann Duffy

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A Late Night Thought on Capitalism

My building is an old house converted into three apartments.   Ordinarily, one neighbor lives across the hall from me, and the other lives upstairs.  But my landlord has recently been struggling to keep the other two apartments occupied.

I think he’s been trying to give people a break by renting to folks who are financially insecure.  Such as the couple and their kid who just moved out yesterday.   The lady had a job, the gentleman didn’t, and the family fell short of making the rent.  My landlord must surely have known only one of the adults in that family had a job, but he leased to them anyway.   That may be kind, compassionate and generous, but it is not a formula for keeping rental units occupied.

I’ve known my landlord now for between 12 and 15 years.   Before I rented from him, I worked for him doing odd jobs — mainly house and apartment painting.   He’s a very honest man, a very hardworking man, and, like everyone, he’s got his eccentricities.  One of his eccentricities is that he likes to treat his tenants to some large extent as if they were family.  He’s more comfortable thinking of you as a distant cousin than he is thinking of you as a profit center.

In terms of properties, he’s not a big landlord, nor a tiny one.  He owns about 30 rental units — most of them houses.   I wonder about his tendency to treat his tenants as family.  For the most part, that tendency shows up in his willingness to take a chance on the folks he rents to.  He doesn’t need a perfect credit score nor a perfect rental history.   My guess is he takes about the same chance with folks off the street as he would with a cousin or even sometimes a nephew.

That’s good for people.  And it’s good for the community.  But it’s not good business practice.   In business terms, my landlord’s tendency to treat people as family and take a chance on them results in reduced occupancy, reduced income, and less profit.  If he were in a highly competitive business environment, he might be out of business by now, weeded out by more profitable competitors.

I don’t have enough information to do a real analysis of my landlord’s business.  I don’t, for instance, know how his occupancy rate compares with the average occupancy rate in this market.  Nor do I know what any of his financial margins are. But I really don’t need to know all that stuff to know that my landlord is bucking the system by treating people the way he treats them.  He’s bucking capitalism.  At least, as we know it.

Capitalism is a beneficial system in several respects, but it comes with a huge flaw. It is obsessed with profit.

Now, there is nothing wrong with profit in and of itself. But there is certainly something wrong with an obsession with profit.

Anytime you maximize one and only one value, you create a system that denies other values. And capitalism, by maximizing profits, creates a system that denies other values — in fact, it denies all values that are in any way at odds with maximizing profit.  So, for instance, capitalism becomes the enemy of sane ecological policies in so far as those policies interfere with maximizing profit.  Or, it becomes the enemy of treating people as more than mere sources of income in so far as treating them as more than mere sources of income interferes with maximizing profit.

That’s one of the reasons — a rather small reason, however — that I think capitalism as we know it is a system destined for transition.  I can think of other, more important reasons, capitalism will change.  But at the moment, its obsession with profit has my attention.

If we could look 100 or 200 years into the future (and perhaps not even that far into the future), my guess is we would find a “capitalism” that is remarkably different from what’s practiced today.  Indeed, we will either do something to radically curb and regulate the obsession capitalism has with profit, or we will most likely live in something akin to fascist/feudal societies that have a relatively low standard of living and quality of life for most of their members.  That’s my hunch.  I could be wrong.  But I’m probably accurate enough to be annoying about this one.

Economic Crisis, Economy, Giving, Ideologies, Obligations to Society, Politics, Society, Values

Are Conservatives a Bit Anti-Social These Days?

I don’t know how some of us continuously pay attention to politics without seeming to ever take a lengthy break from it.  Every now and then, I absolutely need to take a break from reading about or listening to politics; and, until recently, I was on one of those breaks.   But now that I’m back, I’m already a bit dismayed, for it seems to me that in my absence today’s Conservatives have made exceptionally fast progress towards their long term goal of becoming our nation’s premiere economic fools.

For instance, last night a rank-and-file Conservative declared on an internet forum, “The economy in East Texas”, where she lives, “is doing very well”.  She then went on to state her conviction that Obama’s stimulus bill would destroy the good times the region is having — apparently because she believes the bill will raise interest rates a point and thus make it more expensive for her to buy a new house.

So, if I understand that woman right, she’s arguing “The economy in East Texas is doing very well” because she is one of the lucky few to have a bit of money and the recession there is helping her find a new house at fire sale prices.

A different rank-and-file Conservative on the same forum took exception to a Liberal’s remark that, “So many people in this country work their fingers to the bone, but still can’t afford homes or health insurance.”  The Conservative answered,  “That’s simply not true”, but didn’t provide any grounds for why he believed it simply was not true that many people work hard but still cannot afford homes or health insurance.

Over the last couple days, I’ve come across numerous remarks by average joe and jane Conservatives on one site or another that seem at best disconnected from reality and at worse downright callous towards the suffering going on all around them.

After all, we — that is, America and the World — are going through the largest economic downturn since the 1930s and yet so many of these folks not only seem to feel times are good simply because they themselves are getting by, but actually resent any effort to help people worse off than them.

Now, I don’t think my skimpy sample of Conservatives over the past couple days comes anywhere near to accurately representing the opinion of everyone who considers themselves a Conservative these days.  I am quite sure many — maybe even most — Conservatives are not such foolish jerks as the folks I’ve been reading.  Yet, the folks I’ve been reading seem quite in tune with the Conservative leadership in this country.  After all, the Conservative leadership was nearly unanimous in opposing President Obama’s efforts to craft a bi-partisan stimulus package.  Perhaps the leadership opposed the bill more for political reasons than because they actually look down on people who are worse off than them, but their opposition was nevertheless a pretty callous act in a time when more and more people and families are becoming financially desperate.

I know someone whose politics I find disturbing because she’s one of those Liberals who doesn’t love anyone.  Instead, she only loves what she thinks people should be — not what they are.  To me, she’s more in love with causes — such as “improving humanity”  — than she is with real people.  And that disturbs me because, in my experience, “improving humanity” is among the very best ways to mess things up for humanity.  Yet, no matter how disturbing I find her politics, she once said something memorable to me.

She described the difference between Conservatives and Liberals as a difference between those of us who love and care for the folks we have actual contact with (i.e. Conservatives) and those of us who love and care for folks in the abstract  (i.e. Liberals).   I don’t know how much truth there is to her notion, but it struck me as having some truth to it.  For instance, some Conservatives I’ve known have been quite generous towards people they knew but stingy towards people they didn’t know.

There are many ways in which that’s a good thing.  But when you are faced with an economic crisis of huge proportions, affecting billions of people worldwide, you cannot solve that crisis simply by helping out your immediate neighbors.  Moreover, any tendency to knee-jerk oppose large-scale efforts to help out people you don’t know and don’t care about can easily become economic folly.  In other words, if my friend is right, and Conservatives have an instinct to care only for the well-being of the people they come in contact with, then that instinct does not serve Conservatives well in times of great crisis.