Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can't you hear Jerusalem moan?

The people of Israel have cultivated a heritage of literacy for thousands of years; it's one reason they are, as an ethnic group, so comfortable and proficient with the communicative arts. Hebrews have been talking, reading, and writing for a long time. Beginning with Moses, Solomon, and other biblical documentarians, their meticulous oral and written histories constructed a potent cultural tradition that has matured like a fine vintage over time. The Jewish religion has also spun off two other major peoples-of-the-book--Christianity and Islam.
Hey, like it or not, Moshe, it's what happened. Read 'em an weep. We're all riders on this bumpy monotheistic bus.

The Torah/Bible documents how that deep heritage manifested as an ancient kingdom. But Israel was, as kingdoms go, relatively short-lived. Right off the bat, after three kings, the country split, and it never regained that golden age magnificence of Solomon's forty-year flash in the pan. Israel and Judah hobbled along for a few centuries until the Greeks humiliated them and the Romans subjugated them.
In 70 AD the army of the Roman empire dispersed Jewish nationalism to the four winds. For nineteen centuries after that forced diaspora, faithuful Jewish passover observers spoke of celebrating their feasts "next year in Jerusalem."

Jewish identity went under-canopy, and into a kind of fervently prolific survival mode. Beneath diverse banners of other empires and nations, Jewish culture managed to proliferate and mature in a richly productive way, even without the benefit of native soil and eretz. In spite of the odds stacked against them, Jewish people even managed to prosper beneath the adverse radar of alien hegemonies. There's a lot to be said, I tell ya, for having a strong tradition of literacy, and a God to inspire it.

Along the way, though, some other peoples got jealous of the inexplicably improbable Jewish well-being. Adolf Hitler and his band of Nazi thugs scapegoated the Jews in a fiercely destructive milatarism; but it backfired on them, and it was the feuhrer's lying face that was found lieing in the ashes of a formerly noble German heartland in 1945.

Then, lo and behold, miracle of miracles, it came to pass that, in its darkest hour, Jewish culture, in its severally metamorphosed forms--from the Hassidic to the Socialistic--resurfaced as a nation-state.
We know they made a lot of people mad in that nascent process, most notably the Palestinians, but that was an old argument. It wasn't any walk in the park, you know, when the Jews and Philistines were going at it for the same real estate way back in times of old. Yeah, yeah, aw go on, tell me about it. Some things never change.

But here's where the contemporary shi'ite hits the fan. That ancient Jewish tradition is based, let's face it, on religion and racial identity. It dropped back into the modern world like a square peg from a round-hole universe. In today's terms, it's politically incorrect. I mean, think about it--is anybody even allowed any more to found a society based on race and religion? Democracy, equality, and multicultural tolerance is the going thing, the world-approved plan, these days.

When extremist Jewish groups insist on forcing their settlements upon a wannabe Palestinian west-bank state, and when an Israeli government slowly but surely corners a whole group of indiginous people into second-class citizenship, the world brands the Israelis as racist, religious bigots. The people of Israel are going to have to decide if they want to remain a cultural entity that has successfully navigated through perilous environs for thousands of years--or are they going to actually take a chance on this nation-state democracy thing?

It's a very risky proposition, because the Palestinians will most likely, over time, outnumber the Jews in Israel and, given half a democratic chance, vote them out of power. And the Israelis know this. So political correctness is ultimately a losing strategy, and democracy will not fly in east and west Jerusalem. You might as well cast the notions of equality and brotherhood out to Gahenna.

I think they should just go back to the God thing. That's what their stubborn cousins, the Muslims, are doing. Mosaic Law and Shari'a will promulgate each other to death, until the grace of God doth move upon their holy blood-stained mountain.
Disclosure: My God is a Jewish carpenter.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Robby's dream

From chapter 25 of Glass Chimera:

" Robby had a dream.

It was the hammer and sickle thing. Freedom verses Slavery: Embryos crying out for personhood, but being herded instead into chimeric concentration camps under glass, their chromatic hammers swinging with molecular blacksmithery, forging the plasmidic implements of a bogus new world.

Eggs of Women crying out for fertility and progeny, but instead being scythed into Auschwitzian abyss.

And he heard their singing:

Hmphh .. . Ah .. .Hmphh .. . Ah .. .

That’s the sound of the men working on the chain


That’s the sound of the men working on the chain


And he knew the grunts of thousands of men a-groanin’; he heard the songs of millions of women a-moanin’, giving birth. He heard the cries of their wounds, the pangs of their wombs. Slaves, they were. He heard them singing. Don’t ya hear Jerusalem moan? Don’t ya hear Jerusalem moan? No, it weren’t all voluntary. No, Virginia, it weren’t all voluntary. Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Pull that barge. Tote that bale. He saw the burlap cotton sacks dragged upon the ground. Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Hmphh .. . Ah .. . He heard Moses demanding of the pharaoh, Let my people go. He heard Moses demanding of the pharaoh, Let my people go. He heard America singing, follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd.

He saw the strong brown arm of Washington Jones pull his great grandfather from the flood that swirled about a faltering riverboat. He felt the loss of footing as the boat careened upon raging waters, felt the lurch as the boat hit the mama oak and came to a sloshing, creaking crashing halt.

He saw, beyond the torrential horizon, the sod ripped from prairies by oxen teams, and he heard their bellowing, the cracking of the whips as Herculean animals strained and primordial prairie grasses became torn, the black earth turning up its wormy, smarmy loam to be kissed by the sun and drenched by the spring rains, the winter snows, the corn’s roots, the wheat’s shoots. He heard America singing, strains of music born of the resolve of freedmen, homesteaders, pioneers, farmers, Scandinavians, Scotch, Irish, African, indentured to the soil, and to their hopes for promised land.

Oklahoma! He heard Oklahoma, thousands of homesteaders spread in expectation across the dawning prairie horizon, buckboard wagons, horses, mules in anticipation of that great sounding signal from Uncle Sam, brought forth beneath the billowing skirts of fertile farming women, freckle-faced children in the shaded wagons, oxen in the sun, horses on the run.

Freedom? Yes, some were free, but ‘t’weren’t all that sweat dripping into from free brows, Virginia. Much of it had come slitherin’ in wet slavery drops of toil and blood and tears.

He heard low, slow, insidious munching of the dreaded boll weevil, chomping into oblivion acres upon millions of acres of lily-white wads of forced servitude.

He heard, like God, innocent blood crying out from the ground.

He heard the clanking of chains, the clashing of cultures and civilizations. Can you hear the Cherokee moan? Can you hear the Chickasaw moan?. He felt the tearing of their platted cords, the stomping of their ancestral hordes. It was a mournful cry heard round the world.

He heard the low, slow voice of Willie’s embryonic call, Freedom!

He heard the high, spry response of Bo’s ironic refrain, Freedom! blasting forth in totipotent nuclear song. The strains were there, ringing in his dream, clear as a splitting bell, bringing forth the clarion knell. He knew he heard the song; then it was gone.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reggie, king of the Seattle saw

Daughter Katie was out in Seattle a few days ago, prowling around with her video camera. I was tagging along. We tapped into the mother lode of our world's most unique people when we met Reggie, king of the Seattle Saw.

Many years ago when the seasoned, dobro-playin' blues man first slid into his niche as a saw-singer, he had not yet attained the level of virtuosity that he has today. But in those early days he was excited about the saw and its unusual musical possibilities, so he got out on the street playing one anyway. He just couldn't wait. I know that feeling. I'm a little like Reggie in that regard--throwing my novels out at the marketplace kinda half-baked. I like his approach, anyway...

Reggie Miles has mastered the musical saw since those first days of inspired learning. You can see and hear for yourself the exquisite tenderness with which he draws the bow across his blade.

Two days ago, November 22, sitting in a quiet spot at Pike's Place Market, Reggie told us a few tales about his musical adventures. Back in those early days of learning the instrument, when he was playing on the street and still making a lot of "mistakes," he found himself lol whenever he'd hit a .wrong note. As it turned out, his good natured, roll-with-the-crosscuts demeanor prompted some listeners to laugh with him. He said they often had a "laughfest."

What a great attitude about life. We need more folks like him in America if we're gon' turn this ole wreck around.
"Saw ya later," said Reggie as we parted ways after a few fascinating hours with this unique artist of the springy steel.

Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I do cut off my ear, sir.

In a wintry afternoon on a busy Seattle street corner, the societal rules of conformity and how we collectively impose them are played out for all to see. You know the scene: Busy, bundled pedestrians scurry back and forth and all around. The steady grind of cars and buses goes and goes. It's late November.

Now here's one lonely man who decides to make his presence known. Casting his sudden voice outward with some obscure announcement, the man talks loudly to himself, but really you know he's addressing the world.

But guess what.
People hurry by and lower their eyes, or stare straight ahead. Don't make eye contact. We''ll have no exuberance here is what their silent stubborn plodding says to him. We'll permit no self-expressive outbursts here. We've got places to go, obviously, and people to see, but not to see, you know...thee. Let's just keep things as they are; we need to move along here.
And we all agree, you know--we, here on this corner: just shut up and let us stick to the plan here.
Still he persists; he erupts, seeks to disrupt.
What the guy is saying is not clear, but it seems to be something like: I am here! Do you hear me? Do you see me?
That is all he's really trying to say, don'tcha know.
The world wags on. Who cares? Not me, not thee, as we can see. It's half-past three.

Three miles from here in a birthing room, one little baby forces his way out of mommy's hips and plops into the world; Right out of the tunnel he's raising the waawaa voice so everyone can hear: I am here! Do you hear me? Do you see me? is all he's really trying to say. Who cares?

Well, I do. Lets give the kid a chance. Maybe he'll do better in this life than the fool on the hill, er...the corner. Maybe he'll learn how to make his own way, how to be responsible, and be pretty much like everyone else.
A big honkin' suv trundles by.
Or maybe he'll be, like, a Vincent van Go or something.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

on Death

Here in Seattle today, I heard the most potent gospel message within my memory.

Eugene Cho spoke of his first real encounter with death. It happened many years ago as he visited a dying person and that person's family in a hospital room. Finding himself suddenly seized with treacherous doubt--a moment in which he thought that this present existence might just be the very end of it all, he chose instead to believe Jesus' message of eternal life.

The power of that decisive moment in Cho's life, and his subsequent work to establish Quest, made a joyous impact on me today, and I thank God that my son Micah took me there to hear about it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Conserving $$

As a citizen of the USA, I try to stay informed on the issues of our day. Its part of the responsibility that we share for maintaining a democratic republic. Thomas Jefferson wrote long ago that an informed citizenry is essential to a functional democracy.

Now that the election dust has settled a bit, the Repubs are wanting to whip our Congress into some fiscal responsibility, and that is a good thing, within reason. The President had earlier set the groundwork for such a project, by appointing Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson to chair a commission to study possible strategies for balancing the budget, or at least getting the cumbersome wheels of congressional machinations turning in that direction.

I have been quite impressed with the Bowles/Simpson plan. I hope that the reps and senators can find a way to use it for our collective improvement. Their recommendations can be a good starting point for moving us toward timely austerity, which is important for the continuing health and functionality of our nation.

Now we hear of another plan that is set forth by Mr. Domenici and Ms. Rivlin, and it seems to have some promise, too. I'll not get into the details; I'll leave them for analysts more qualified than I to parse out the provisions therein.

But I couldn't help noticing right off the bat, this phrase "national sales tax."

Any sales tax is, of course, bad for business; so, on the face of it its the last thing we need in the present economic devolution. The repubs will not like it for that reason; the dems probably will disdain it because it hits the little guy, the everyman right in pocket every day.

On the other hand, that may be the optimum feature of a unversal sales tax: bearing the cost of fiscal responsibility is placed across the board, on everybody, every citizen. Maybe that's the way it should be, and its definitely something to consider. We're all in this democracy experiment together, and our way of governing freely is worth the sacrifice. I think what we have is better than, say, shari'a law or any other governmental alternative.

We can't put the hard medicine off forever, you know. We've got to settle on something, and do it.

Dems will complain that its the "the rich" who are at fault, and question why we should bale them out with our collective pocket change. Repubs will grouse about Barney Frank's culpability and Fannie Mae and all that old stuff.

But the time for pointing fingers is past. We, the citizens of the United States of America, as represented by our congressmen and our senators, need to act.

Whatever it takes to get this mess straightened out, let us-- as President Ford said 35 years ago--"bite the bullet," and get on with it.

I'm ready to do my part to get our financial house in order. Are you?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When I met Mr. Buckley

'T'was many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, that Cat Stevens sang "...I know that it's not easy, taking time...when you know something's going on..."
That's the way I feel right now. There is so much going on out there in the world--the real world, and the world of ideas, I hardly know where to start. I'm playing catch-up ball trying to figure it out.
For instance, I just found about Hayek. That's Friedrich Hayek, the fellow who was, during the 1930's, trying to divert the pump-priming impulses of John Maynard Keynes.
I still haven't read any of Mr. Hayek's work yet, but I have caught wind of it through an old aquaintance of mine, William F. Buckley. Thus have I found that there is an alternative way of viewing macroconomics out there, something that is a far cry from Keynesianism.

What if there were a million small pumps turning instead of one big one? That's the something that is "going on" that's got my valves lifting. But it is hard to do when you're holding down a 40-hour gig.

You see, in this free society we have a tendency to transfer the (as Mr. Buckley called them) heavy responsibilities of freedom to the government, instead of cherishing, and developing, those obligations among ourselves. We assign (as Mr. Hayek had earlier termed them) vague, extralawful mandates to people of political authority.
Mandates like, presumably, making sure everyone is fed and employed. But the state cannot effectively handle such grand philanthropies. Or--put it this way-- if the state (government) does try to handle all these responsibilities that free people should be willing to accept, the state ends up, over the long haul, robbing us of our freedoms in the process. Slowly they fall, one by one, to the wayside.

Think about this: which do you prefer? Freedom, or Security? Guess what. They cancel each other out. Well, maybe not totally; that's a long story and its a can of worms to boot. It does seem, though--and this is what I now discover has been "going on"--that Keynes and this guy Hayek were having this debate back in the '30s when all the detritus from the first great depression (as differentiated from the second great depression which we are now entering) hit the fan.

I was online listening, yesterday (Nov 12, 2010), to Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution interview Gary Becker, who was, I think, a founder along with Milton Friedman, of the "Chicago School" of economics, to which most of the elite media these days pay lip service but effectively disdain in their subliminal biases.
Mr. Robinson mentioned, as he spoke to Mr. Becker, Mr. Buckley's first book, God and Man at Yale. Mr. Robinson said that he had found therein that (something going on here) Buckley identifies the postwar economics faculty at Yale as the source of our indecipherable but constrictive drift toward erecting statist solutions against every societal problem instead of handling them ourselves as responsible citizens.

Well, when Peter Robinson mentioned William F. Buckley, that set me off on a trip down memory lane.
When I was a sophomore at Louisiana State University, I somehow managed to serve as chairperson for our student union National Speakers committee. My student boss, so to speak, was Tom Levitan, a fellow light years ahead of me in familiarity with the issues of our time, which was 1970-71. Tom served as Lyceum area coordinator. He used to toss around names like "Buckminster Fuller" and "Leonard Weinglass" as if they lived just down the hall in the dorm. I learned a lot from Tom that year.

One of the things Tom helped to do was recruit speakers during that school year. We brought in Dr. Spock and Dick Gregory. Even though I was relatively uninformed about everything that was "going on" at the time, I nevertheless introduced those two well-voiced gentlemen to the students and faculty who were present--maybe 1200 or so people in each case.
I remember Dr. Spock telling someone in a post-speech conversation that he had been recently heckled by some "Maoist girls," and laughing about it.
Funny what memories stick with you. And Dick Gregory wanted a bowl of fruit instead of a big meal. And of course, he, being a comedian before he was a serious voice in the cause of justice, made th audience laugh. In fact, he made a joke about me--probably something about how I obviously didn't know what the hell I was talking about when I introduced him. Anyway...

The Young Republicans, God bless 'em, started making noise afterward. They were protesting we had weighted our speaker selections totally toward the left. They were right (haha) or course. So I, being the Speakers chairman, told them that if they could get William F. Buckley on campus for us, we'd put him on. They retorted that they could, and so they did.
But I challenged them further than that. I had too. I had to tell them that we had (wouldn't ya know it) just about blown the budget on the liberal speakers, and if they wanted us to pay Mr. Buckley his usual, quite princely, fee, they'd have to come up with half the money.
They did and we did.
I'll have to say this about those Young Republicans, and their chapter President, Mike Connally. They were firm believers in their cause. Which is admirable, and quite different from the reaction that liberals would likely have shown; methinks they would have demanded more university money on the basis of unfair treatment.

So that's how I met Mr. William F. Buckley. Yet I was clueless at the time about the immense significance of his project to propel and redefine American conservatism. We got him at the airport. I remember talking to him in his hotel room as he tied a skinny tie around his neck. He was smiling, obviously very happy about the work he was doing.

And what he was doing--he was very good at it. Clueless as I was, I neverthless introduced him to the packed house. I remember he made the people laugh a lot, while delivering a very serious message about the power of the individual to make changes in him/her self and thus make changes in society.

One last thing: Now I'm trying to figure out how my intuitive conservatism squares with our emerging awareness of the need to save our fragile earth from destruction by us humans. I really think it has much to do with each person taking responsibility for whatever piece of it (large or small) is given to him/her. It hinges more on that, I believe, than what the EPA or the UN mandates about such things.

One more last thing: I offer a phrase from an old song, not the Cat Stevens one I mentioned in the first line above, but a line from a favorite singer who is, like me, originally a Baton Rouge boy, Stephen Stills, who had sung in 1967..."There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear..."
Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quantitative Slipping to Monetizing Sliding

I just read a very lucid explanation of what's going on with the money.
Chris Martenson, posting on Seeking Alpha.com, explains clearly how the Federal Reserve's QE2 maneuver amounts to printing money to pay off our accumulated financial obligations.It's what economists call "monetizing the debt." He distinguishes between QE1, that was designed to bring the banks back to functionality, and this new QE2, which will be funneled mostly "to the government."

He points out there is a difference between our Fed's strategy for handling this problem and the strategy that the UK has adopted. The Brits have chosen fiscal austerity, while we have opted for monetizing, or printing money, that can then be passed around as if it had value. Maybe it does have value, but for how long?
It seems our English allies across the pond have chosen to begin facing the consequences of their credit binge, while we continue to roll ours over to next month's charge. Furthermore, Mr. Sarcozy, in France, has also figured out that you can't put off public debt obligations forever, and he is willing to pay the political price for his belt-tightening policies. Its too bad if our government, both executive and legislative, doesn't move in a similarly responsible direction. Maybe with these new recommendations from Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson, we will. Ha! We shall keep an eye on them.
Meanwhile, across the globe the response from other G-20 governments, most notably Germany, Brazil and China, is decidedly negative and critical about this second phase of quantitative easing. Understandably so. We're refusing to play by the common rules that mankinds has established.On th other hand, the nation of India, God bless ' em, doesn't seem to mind what we're doing. I guess its helpful to have at least one friend who is willing to look the other way while we further leverage our irresponsible lifestyle into the stratosphere of unprecedented deficiting.

Mr. Chris Martenson, mentioned above, whose explanation of these developments is readily understandable to this regular guy (me), had predicted three years ago that something like this would happen. He says that he has made prior provision for the dire circumstance by investing in gold and silver. And yes, we've heard in these last few months that many others are doing the same, looking for a safe place to park their assets in this peculiarly precarious era of pecuniary peril. Meanwhile, the Krugman crowd wonders what these doomsday hedgers appreciate about gold. They will learn that inconvenient lesson soon enough.

But what about me? What strategy do I, the little guy, the average citizen, employ to protect my minimal nestegg against the ravages of fiscal meltdown that lie ahead?
Jesus loves me, this I know.

You think I'm naive?
I survey our contemporary culture of criticism and surmise that the really smart people of our evolved society wonder why so many of us "working class" folks insist in believing in God when its been proven several times over that he doesn't exist.
Well, for one thing: we have no choice. In the end, God is all we have as our hedge against Social Security insolvency or some such calamity, which could include another economic meltdown, or it could be, simply enough, death itself. The big one will catch up with every one of us sooner or later.
But hey, I'm making a few provisions too. They aint in gold, though, because I cant swing the $1400 per ounce. Well, that's not the only reason; I could probably come up with the one and half grand if I had to.
My measures started thirty years ago when we drove stakes in the ground and settled our family in this small city of Appalachia. Its here, on a north slope, two miles from town, we'll be leaning on the productivity and goodwill of those old friends and and neighbors with whom we now find ourselves ensconced in the golden years of life. So that's our gold. What's yours?

Oh, btw, one parting thrust of (probably) futile protest. For our Treasury Secretary, Mr. Geithner, to accuse the Chinese of currency manipulation while we continue to kite rubber checks around the world is blatant hypocrisy. Furthermore, for our Congress to prove its impotence by failing to at least address the problem is courting disaster. We've devolved from having the best government money can buy to having the worst.
And another thing. (OK, maybe this is two parting shots:) If Congress is unable to act decisively upon the recommendations offered by Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson, then the time has finally come to stuff some of those Federal Reserve notes in the old mattress, like great grampa and granma did back in the former times. Stash those greenbacks for January when we might need a fire or two in the wood stove.

But just for the record, I'm still willing, as a citizen of the United States of America, to ante up a little of whatever it takes to get us out of this predicament. Are you?
Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

Saturday, November 6, 2010

No quick fixes for us

If our crisis is really, as most folks are saying, about jobs, then we are destined, I hates to tell ya Buckwheat, for yet another rude awakening. Over the next two years we'll come face to face with the rude discovery that Repubs are just as clueless about quick-fixes for employment as the Dems have turned out to be.

The tea party crowd is strong on individual liberty and empowering the people to control their government instead of the other way around. That's good. But their policies of dispersed government and free enterprise will take years to produce benefits under the present conditions of catastrophic economic rearrangement. Capitalism, having been usurped by derivative-wielding uber-speculators, has crashed. It will have to be reinvented at the grassroots level by We the People to reflect the enterprising improvisations of a desperate populace who would otherwise find themselves tyrranized by a very strong current toward 21st-century statism.

Democrats are now dazed with deer in the headlights shock over the sudden dissolution of their overzealous progressive mandate; they are being herded, temporarily, into a dunce corner until we collectively discover that the Repubs don't have any effective quick-fixes for putting folks back to work either.

A year or two from now when the Repubs are shown to be equally clueless at blood-from-a-turnip employment schemes, maybe we'll begin to face our real economic problem.

Which is?...

We're not manufacturing much stuff any more, because folks in the developing world can make everything so much cheaper. Like it or not, that's what has happened, and will be happening for the next century or so, if our planet sustains us for that long.

Consequently, we are going to have find something else to do in America to keep ourselves busy, housed and fed.

And what might that busyness be?

We could start by cultivating food again, locally. That's what we started out doing several hundred years ago. And we were pretty dam good at it too. Production of healthy food needs to be our once-and-future emerging industry; at least that way most folks will have something to eat while they renegotiate their mortgages. Those expansive suburban backyards will have to take on a decidedly agricultural character, instead of the keep up with the Joneses lawn-yawn vanity that has castrated their productive use for the last sixty years.

It's hard work, though. Ask the Mexicans who've been doing that gathersome labor for us for the last few decades. Maybe we'll sweat off a few obese pounds, though, as we learn once again about the true meaning of the phrase "back to work."

When we get too pooped with farming in the back .40, we can take a break, head for the garage, and tinker for a while with solar collectors, windmills and battery-powered soapbox derby cruisers. That's the true meaning of power to the people in this era of peak oil perkitude.
You think I'm kiddin'? Well, maybe a little bit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Work together.

Ask not what you can do for your party, but what, together, can we do for the people of these States United.