Friday, December 31, 2004

Bizarro World


Did you see the warning issued last week by three Iraqi insurgent groups, including the the Ansar al-Sunnah "Army"—the sweethearts who like to show pornographic beheading videos on the Internet?

They are threatening anyone who takes part in Iraqi elections, because democracy is un-Islamic. It could lead to passing such abominations as homosexual marriage, the statement said.

Does this strike you as vaguely familiar? Here is our our president trying to, if you'll excuse me, shove democracy down the throats of people who agree with him on one of his major issues. They probably would see eye to eye on gun control, too. And taxes? Well, I can just imagine how these guys feel about big government! If only we'd known how much we had in common before things got nasty.

Perhaps you remember the DC Comics concoction, Bizarro World. An attempt to fashion a Man of Steel from lifeless matter resulted in a parallel universe populated by Bizarros — an "imperfect, unliving duplicate of Superman who does things in a crazily mixed-up manner" [Superman #174].

The grotesque creation of Lex Luthor was often comically inept, but Bizzaro had his dark side as well: "Me unhappy! Me don't belong in world of living people!  Me don't know difference between right and wrong — good and evil!"

As young Clark Kent's step-father told him: "This great strength of yours — you've got to hide it from people or they'll be scared of you!"

And mother Kent chimed in: "But when the proper time comes, you must use it to assist humanity."

Proper time or not, it's too late now. Bizarro has been loosed and we're not in Smallville any more.


What, us Worry?

"If one is able to divorce his interest from the future, there is nothing to worry about."

—Hydrologist Dr. Charles P. Berkey, quoted in Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner.

Berkey was writing in 1946 about the inevitable suffocating effect of accumulating silt in the reservoirs being built to develop civilization in desert lands of the American west. He granted that other empires had risen, declined and ended, but "none of them carried, along with the agents that built them up, such relentless elements of destruction as in the present reclamation of arid lands."

Until, as the bombastic advertisements are fond of saying, now.

Why am I Not Bummed?

We have a president, foreign and domestic policies, and an ascendent political party that I do not support. In fact, if I had four legs, all my knees would be jerking at the previous sentence. So why am I not bummed out?

Further disclosure: I have a Bush voodoo shrine in my office, consisting of all the solicitations I received from his re-election campaign. (It didn't work.) I responded several times to the telemarketing calls from Tom DeLay's fundraising machine, requesting that he return to his true calling in the extermination business. (Perhaps he thought I meant he should exterminate the Democratic party.) One evening a week, I turned over our office to a Kerry campaign phone bank, and made calls myself—one of my least favorite activities, even when it's for my own personal benefit.

You get the idea. I was not a fan and am not at risk of becoming one.

But neither was I despondent the morning after, and two months later, I have not once considered exporting myself to Canada. In the spirit of my new mission, I thought I would share some of the reasons why, and in future posts, may expand on some of them.

1. Most of life is not national politics. It's not politics, period. It's love, work, friends, getting enough playtime and enough sleep. It's also about dedication to a higher purpose, but as so roundly demonstrated, that's not the same as getting your candidate elected.

2. Things don't always turn out as badly as we fear. The human race got this far despite plentiful mistakes, repeated royal screw-ups, and a few disasters. Darwin's phrase, after all, is survival of the fit. I'm all for the best and brightest, but suboptimal gets to fight another day, too. Sure, some stakes are higher than ever, but throughout human history, there's been no shortage of smackdowns with dire circumstances. This may not be totally reassuring if you measure happiness by your net worth or the state of the polar ice caps, but it may help you focus.

3. The middle is still bigger than the extremes, But who wants to magnify the mundane? The news, popular culture, advertising, the legal system and great art all thrive upon Sturm und Drang and playing off contrasts and conflict. Most of us prefer to watch craziness, not reside there full-time. No true national majority is defined by fringe issues, any more than most relationships are defined by what happens for a few minutes in bed.

4. Bush is not as dumb as he looks. He's wrong about many issues—or right for only a small group of people—but he is not clueless and he is not invariably wrong. Reading Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack helped me get beyond the cartoon Bush. I'm more able to fear his ideas without being afraid for his competence.

5. We've gotten through these things before. When I was 20 during the Vietnam era, I had come to the conclusion that jail was my only honorable, ultimate option. I would not fight, not flee, not claim to be a conscientious objector, not work the system by going to divinity school or the National Guard or acting crazy. I was doing pushups and practicing my stone cold stare. Then I drew draft number 275. Since Nixon left office in disgrace, we've weathered Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2—each flawed, each human.

Finally, in 2004 I met so many people who care about their families, their communities, their country and their planet, I have difficulty believing we will all fall apart now. And with the sap meter thusly rising, it's time to adjourn.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Put Out That Cigarette!

One year in high school, I played on a JV football team that sucked. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, I was converted from being a decent running back to an undersized quarterback, playing behind an even more undersized line and specializing in running for my life. We'd go up into the mountains to play tough, small town varsity teams composed of ranchers' and miners' sons, and come back to town beaten, mad and looking for fight.

Later, we'd go up to kids outside the dance hall and tell them to put out their cigarettes. They would. We'd try various versions of "are you calling my buddy a liar?" and people would back down. We'd drive up and down North Avenue, glaring at every car we passed until all that was left were the cop cars. No takers. Everyone recognized there's only one thing more dangerous than a victor, and that's somebody just coming off another frustating loss.

Unless, maybe, they're a liberal.

Threatening to punch out someone after the game didn't erase our losses to Nucla, Meeker and Hotchkiss. More letters to the editor about WMD in Iraq and endless Ohio recount challenges seem to be in the same league. Progressives need to kick some butt on the field in the games ahead.

The end to my little tale... The next year, after a rocky 0-4 start, we knocked off the number 2 team in the state and finished 5-5 in the big school division. The moral? Oh, jeez, I've already hauled out a corny high school football metaphor. I'm not going to compound it.

When I started this blog, I swore I was going to conduct myself with more decorum than a testosterone-crazed 17-year-old. Or Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore, for that matter. But my wife says maybe I'm being too temperate, and when your wife says something like that, a wise man takes stock.

We've got work ahead of us to rethink our message and approach to the electorate, but that doesn't mean we have to breathe neo-con smoke in the meantime.

Biking Through the Ghetto

Several times a week, I bike through a part of north Minneapolis that most prosperous local citizens wouldn't traverse in a Hummer with full body armor. During the winter months, I travel after dark at about 10 miles an hour—with a flashing red light on my back, no less.

But the route happens to be the most direct between my home and office, and it keeps me off streets where I'm at greater risk—from inattentive drivers with cell phones. Plus, it's been 20 degrees or colder lately, which tends to temper anyone's desire to steal a bicycle.

On a recent weekend ride further north, I came upon a convenience store freshly yellow-taped after a shooting that killed one store worker and paralyzed another.

Have I ever felt personally endandered on these trips? No. Not here, or riding and running city streets for decades. I think of myself as experienced and observant enough to weigh the risks and avoid trouble.

I believe most of the people I see here each day want peace and quiet. They want to work and raise their families. They don't want to be hassled on the street and aren't about to hassle me. I found the same thing when we actually lived in similar, marginal neighborhoods. It wasn't all sweetness, but neither was it as bad as it looked to an outsider.

Yesterday as I made another uneventful trek to the office, I thought about the unseen struggles going on in this neighborhood. Among gangs. Between drug dealers and business owners. Between residents who want a peaceful place to live and criminals who have no regard for them.

Thoughts of the invisible gangs led to wondering about their gang colors, which led to imagining Red and Blue as national gang colors. Just as there are a few extreme punks working for control of this neighborhood, political extremists seem intent on knocking each other off—or at least claiming exclusive control of their turf. Meanwhile, the majority of citizens stay indoors and hope a metaphorical bullet doesn't crash through the dining room window.

In gang wars, the actual numbers involved are a relatively small proportion of the neighborhood, and most of the direct casualties are those involved in the conflict. But inevitably, the entire community goes downhill. Investment stops. People avoid constructive conflict for fear it might escalate. People from the outside are reluctant to come in, and insiders who still have the resources to flee will get out.

What happens to our larger communities if the state and national political processes break down to the Red gang versus the Blue gang? Will it matter if today they are fighting battles over issues that seem only peripheral to our lives?

Ironically, we see the threat clearly in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. We see the ugly futility of tribalism and sectarian conflict, where people choose sides because it seems safer than remaining neutral. One of the important aspects of US policy is to create Iraqi institutions committed to religious and ethnic coexistence. Let's hope we can do it here at home, too.

Yes, I can ride through the ghetto and emerge unscathed, but I wouldn't choose to live there.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Faith and Taxes

This time each year, my wife and I complete the only spreadsheet that ever gets used in this household—the annual accounting of our charitable giving. Line by line, year after year, we track the contributions made in categories such as Education, Women & Children, Environment, Poverty & Public Welfare, Medical Research, and Broadcasting, Reading & the Arts. Call it tithing for secular humanists. Bookkeeping for non-believers.

Nominally, it's kept for tax reasons, but we don't do the same with our investments. Measuring what we've given is a much more satisfying way to look at the riches we've received.

Now, imagine if every citizen saw an annual spreadsheet accounting for every dollar of personal giving, along with the federal, state and local taxes they paid. And imagine what would happen if everyone truly did have total control over all their "hard-earned money." Would investment in our communities go up or down? Would the dollars be spent more effectively? Would America be a better place for all?

The anti-tax crowd claims that personal giving and private charities could do a better job than government in a number of areas. And others fear the President's Faith-Based Initiative is just a Trojan horse designed to reduce the size of government while winning votes in the evangelical heartland—without improving the lot of society's less fortunate.

Faith, charity and taxes define another zone of the Great Divide. Squaring off from absolute positions fails to solve much. With people on both sides standing so rigidly on principle, we forget to ask: What if it works? What if government truly does a better job at some things? What if churches are better at others? How might we be willing to think differently about our positions?

In today's StarTribune, Vic Rosenthal and Suzanne Bring write in an op/ed piece:

While individual acts of charity build a stronger sense of community, and may meet the immediate needs of the poor and homeless, they do not get to the underlying causes of oppression. Homelessness and lack of insurance can only be dealt with through budgets, state and federal, that provide sufficient funding to meet the needs of everyone in our community. That requires a budget which meets the needs of our community, that reflects the moral values of giving...

If we are willing to tithe or pay dues even when it benefits those we don't know, or provide charity for others we don't know, why must we treat taxes as something so abhorrent? Without taxes, we cannot implement policies to meet the needs of the poor in our community, regardless of their faith, race or neighborhood.

It is time to understand the state budget as a moral document and taxes as the moral equivalent of giving to the community.

Check the link below for more about Rosenthal, executive director of Jewish Community Action, who won a Ford Foundation 2004 Leadership for a Changing World Award. He distinguishes between charity and public collective work. Charity or direct-service volunteerism makes the donor feel good, but the effects do not address root causes of poverty or racism.

There's also a good discussion of Faith-Based Initiatives from Frontline that raises interesting issues, such as, if so many Americans are religious, why wouldn't they benefit from programs that share the most important aspects of their religious perspective? Weigh that against the fact that the federal government wants civil rights to be part of public morality, so where the money goes, civil rights guarantees go.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Philosophers or Activists?

An acquaintance at the holiday party was quoting a talk by David Brooks who said that not one liberal he had questioned could ever cite a philosopher as the basis for his thinking. When pressed, the best they could come up with was "an activist, like Martin Luther King."

Why is that? she wanted to know. On the spur of the moment and the cusp of my third merlot, I didn't come up with a great answer. Nor did I come up with any philosophers of my own.

But since I happen to like Brooks, I came back to the question. (If the question had come from faux-erudite George Will, who employs research minions to dredge up the references he sprinkles through his columns, I'd have laughed it off.) Brooks is the only conservative commentator who's consistently rewarding to read. His Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There is a very funny and insightful book about how '60s bohemian rebellion and '80s bourgeois materialism has fused with conservatism in my boomer generation.

Embedded in the question is an assumption that basing your political philosphy on Edmund Burke, Aristotle and John Locke is somehow superior to being inspired by King, Gandhi, Saul Alinsky, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony and Paul Wellstone. Was Jesus a philosopher or an activist? What about Jefferson?

Another assumption: Activists (like activist judges) are ruled by primal personal passions, not timeless, reasoned truths. They (gasp!) can't cite sources from the 18th Century. Well, the real world doesn't give extra credit for footnotes. We can learn through action as well as reflection.

Perhaps Brooks was getting at the difference between belief in fixed principles and the belief learning continues to evolve. This is one of the fundamental ridgelines along the Great Divide.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Mother of All Referendums

The death penalty for same-sex marriages, conceal and carry of public education funding, and defining public transportation as the union between one man and one car.

Tom DeLay's Christmas Stocking

What would you give Tom DeLay for Christmas? No, not the ebola virus. I mean seriously, in the spirit of the season.

I pick DeLay only because he represents for me the most reprehensible and irredeemable U.S. political figure on this side of a guilty plea. If I can find something to put in his Christmas stocking that he would appreciate—and that wouldn't make me want to puke—then I figure there's still hope for the world. Or at least hope we can understand our opponents more fully as human beings.

Some of you may already have adopted the holiday tradition shared in my extended family. Instead of swapping Harry & David baskets, we trade charitable donations. For families widely dispersed geographically and politically, this is a great solution for what to buy.

You don't. You give—to a charity of their choosing.

The benefits go beyond solving the shopping problem with a tax deduction. You'll obtain a glimpse into what's important to the other person, and because your name is now on the donor list, you'll likely receive mailings about that organization's mission and good works throughout the year.

Now, if Tom DeLay selects the Society for Herding Democrats out of Texas, you might have to grit your teeth, but read and you'll learn something you wouldn't have otherwise. And if he chooses Heifer International, an organization dedicated to ending hunger and caring for the earth, you'll learn a lot more—about the individual as well as the cause.

Why limit the application of this principle to holiday giving? By seeking out those places in our lives where we can agree, however momentarily, with our opposites, we each take one step closer across the great divide.

Friday, December 24, 2004

No Rave Zone

I'm declaring "Across the Great Divide" a No Rave Zone—like the no wake zones where boats have to slow down so they don't create destructive reciprocating waves. This may fail to change how people converse about how we should live together. I may fail at remaining less outspoken, or to be interesting, or to stay interested myself. But, hey, it's an experiment.

I like to rave. I don't mean staying up all night on Ecstacy dancing to techno music in a warehouse. I mean raving as in ranting. A rave can be positive or negative, while a rant implies loud and even threatening speech. The distinction is often lost on the recipient. (Do people still say "he was ranting and raving"? Or is "bipolar" more politically correct?)

Blogs were made for people like me, for whom barbs are barbituates. But who wants to sit at their computer and watch someone else get high?

Didn't you get enough raving during 2004? I did. I realized this as I tried to come to terms with the Presidential election outcome.

During the campaign year, I had circulated family letters detailing at length the faults of George W. and his administration. I traded shots with my conservative golf partners. ("What did John Kerry do during 20 years in the Senate?" "What did George Bush do as Governor of Texas, besides kiss oil company butts and execute retarded people?") I fired off letters to the editor that were probably too intemperate to be published. I created a poster, titled "Restoring Respect for the Presidency," that listed all the contradictions (lies? flip flops?) during Bush's first four years. Etc.

And I didn't change one person's mind. Not one. It didn't do any good.

You don't persuade people by pissing them off, and persuasion is how we're supposed to do it in a democracy. We need more dialogue and less debate. We can't sit in a rocking boat forever.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Who's laughing now?

Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf was the subject of much ridicule when he issued his counter-intuitive bulletins during the early stages of the Iraqi war.

I went back to see what he said about the planned defense of Iraq, collected on what was supposed to be a funny Web site.

Many of his statements were outrageous lies, but others now take on a terrible truth.

"Who are in control, they are not in control of anything — they don't even control themselves!"

"The Americans, they always depend on a method what I call ... stupid, silly. All I ask is check yourself. Do not in fact repeat their lies."

"I can assure you that those villains will recognize, will discover in appropriate time in the future how stupid they are and how they are pretending things which have never taken place."

"Now even the American command is under siege. We are hitting it from the north, east, south and west. We chase them here and they chase us there. But at the end we are the people who are laying siege to them. And it is not them who are besieging us."

"because we will behead you all."

"Let the American infidels bask in their illusion."

"We have placed them in a quagmire from which they can never emerge except dead."

"Washington has thrown their soldiers on the fire."

"These cowards have no morals.They have no shame about lying."

"As a matter of fact, they do not respect the world, they want to tell taxpayers and the domestic public to keep them deceived. We will embroil them, confuse them and keep them in the quagmire. They have begun to tell more lies so that they might continue with the perpetration of their crimes. May they be accursed."

"They do not even have control over themselves! Do not believe them!"

"They (the U.S.) are deceiving their soldiers and their officers that aggressing against Iraq and invading Iraq will be like a picnic. This is a very stupid lie they are telling their soldiers, what they are facing is a definite death."

"They are achieving nothing; they are suffering from casualties. Those casualties are increasing, not decreasing."

Any apparent American gains, he said, were a cunning ploy by the Iraqis to lure the enemy into a trap. "Our armed forces, according to their tactics, are leaving the way open."

"Just look carefully, I only want you to look carefully. Do not repeat the lies of liars. Do not become like them."

"Bush is a very stupid man. The American people are not stupid, they are very clever. I can't understand how such clever people came to elect such a stupid president."

Blog = Exercycle?

The URL for this blog is "" because "greatdivide" was already taken. Ditto "newwords," which I wanted for a related experiment called The New Words Project. Sorry for the inconvenience.

"The Great Divide" appears to be a short story, but it could also be the record of a one-way relationship ended by a Dear John post back in 2002. Judge for yourself, starting at the bottom.

New Words consists of six posts over four months in 2003. There have got to be many thousands more of these.

Is blogging just a mental exercycle? You resolve to do it, get the heart racing for awhile, become a better person. A year later, it's gathering dust, out of sight in the basement, and no one wants to buy it.

As for this fitness program, stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Casualties 2

I was hoping to locate an op/ed piece I'd read a month ago on the topic of relative casualties, so I wouldn't have to do the math all over again. It was syndicated in the local StarTribune, but my late night search skills haven't surfaced the source.

Nevertheless, thanks to our open society, you can sample most of the relevant, up-to-date data yourself via the link to the DoD's Web site.

Today's ratio of killed in action versus wounded and unable to return to duty is about 1:5. That is, for every 1,000 combat deaths in Iraq, 5,000 are injured badly enough to be sent home for good. As of mid-November, another 4,000+ wounded were able to return to duty within 72 hours. (See my previous post.)

But there's one missing element in our calculation. What is the casualty rate (not the lethality rate) for the total number of exposed troops?

My now-missing op/ed piece noted that when you compare the total dead and wounded relative to the number of troops in the war zone, you get a more realistic estimate of how bad the situation really is. 6,000 dead or severely injured may be considered acceptable—at least in military terms—if the total force is half a million. That's a 1.2 percent rate. But let's assume Rumsfeld's lean military doctrine has thus far exposed more like 300,000 fighting forces in Iraq. (It's one number I don't have at my fingertips.) That's 2 percent casualties, compared to 2.29 for the entire course of Vietnam.

It just may be the wounded who will stir increased opposition to our current policy. Each dead soldier ceases to be an individual all too quickly, except for family and friends. The ranks of the wounded grow day after day, and each will be with us in body as well as spirit. What's the plan for getting them all home whole?

Casualties of War

To my friend the cardiologist, the words had far more graphic meaning than they can have here. We see "hip disarticulation." He sees a young man whose leg is removed right up to the hip joint. We read "exsanguinate." He sees a field surgeon desperately racing to save a soldier who is bleeding to death through many seemingly insignificant wounds. We stumble over "coagulopathic." The cardiologist knows all about circulation gone haywire—where a clot saves the victim one day and kills him the next.

The War's death toll is bad enough. But what about the wounded?

We read news reports about Operation Iraqi Freedom and regret the 1000+ American combat deaths that have resulted so far (plus another 150 deaths from the entire Coalition of the Willing). My friend reads the article in the New England Journal of Medicine—"Casualties of War: Military Care for the Wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan"—and can visualize the many more who have been terribly wounded, yet saved from death by advancing military medical practice.

You can read for yourself at the link below. There's also a photo essay in the same issue. (Just click on the PDF under "This Article" at the right of the page.) But beware: it's very graphic.

In dry, cautious terms, the article points out that the death toll is not an accurate gauge of the war's impact on our soldiers. We've gotten much better at preserving lives on the battlefield. But the human body and mind still suffer from the loss of a kidney, limbs shredded, a face half torn away. Wounds once lethal are now survivable, thanks to modern military medicine.

The article points out how the lethality of war wounds has dropped dramatically since even the Gulf War. In World War II, 3 out of 10 wounded in action died. In Vietnam, with a more focused front and improved medical evacuation, 24% of the wounded died. Since 2000, the lethality rate has dropped to 10%.

If we look only at death figures, it's possible to imagine today's battlefield is safer place for our troops. That we're protecting them better or keeping them out of harm's way, with smart weapons and Predator drones to do the dirty work. The truth is, this is not a kinder, gentler war. We may simply be returning more crippled, disfigured and traumatized young men and women to our country.

Whether we're in favor of or opposition to what's gotten us there, let's not overlook their continuing sacrifice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Oh, THAT Democracy

Democracy is hard work, as we don't need our President to remind us. We see horrific, broad-daylight executions of Iraqi election workers. The dioxin-scarred Ukrainian opposition candidate lives to fight another day, and protesters courageously stand up against the rigged election and secret police. (Although how risky was opposition, really? The secret police apparently didn't know dioxin wasn't an absolutely fatal poison, and the scenes of resisters making out in the square looked like a foreign remake of "When Grigoriy Met Svetlana.") In Spain, voters either caved to the terrorists or spanked the incumbents for supporting the US War in Iraq, depending on your point of view. We see blacks in Ohio still standing in line at the polling....

These people are courageous, and they truly deserve America's support.

But nothing made the Administration wax rhapsodic like the elections in Afghanistan. There, too, was violence against election workers. Women voters were subjected to intimidation. Election officials estimated between 9.5 and 9.8 million eligible voters in the nation. And despite registration levels of less than 10 percent in some provinces where security was poor, it looked like the turnout might be of Chicago-like proportions:

“The Afghan people are showing extraordinary courage under difficult conditions… They’ve adopted a constitution that protects the rights of all, while honoring their nation’s most cherished traditions. More than 10 million Afghan citizens - over 4 million of them women - are now registered to vote … To any who still would question whether Muslim societies can be democratic societies, the Afghan people are giving their answer.”
- President Bush, September 21, 2004

He also lectured us about how how many young girls in Afghanistan were finally able to return to school, as if that's why we'd sent troops there in the first place. Even when he has a good point, why does he turn around and make it so self-righteous?

We should be hailing free elections and renewed educational opportunity in Afghanistan (see Link below), but it's still tempting to ridicule the President's commitment to democracy and women's rights—because of those other free elections.

No, not the ones in Kosovo and Serbia. I'm talking about the new nationwide elections being staged by our friends and allies, Saudi Arabia.

Voter registration for the Feb. 10 local elections—the first in the country's history—is underwhelming. In the first month since registration opened in the Riyadh area, about 1/6th of eligible voters had bothered to register. And Saudi women will not be the poster children of this election. They're barred from voting. To anyone who would question whether Muslim societies can be democratic societies, the Saudis are giving their answer, too.

Yes, democracy is hard work. Thank god there are lots of former enemies out there willing to give it a try.

Keeping Priorities Straight

Yesterday in Minnesota, we got our first great icing of the roads, just in time for the Christmas season. Our state highway department tried preventive measures the night before, spraying traffic arteries with a deicing chemical — around the Mall of America. Yes, about 13,000 people work at the Mall, with more in the vicinity. And there were doubtless going to be some early morning shoppers. But nothing like the 150,000 or so heading into downtown Minneapolis on Monday morning.

"Our culture provides entertainment as a compensation for and an inducement to work. It reconciles work and leisure, and reconciles production and consumption. It eliminates contradictions that would otherwise be intolerable."
—Curtis White, "The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves"

Only three shopping days left 'til Christmas!

Of Sandstone, Flesh, and the Age of Pre-Reason

AKA Aryan Infant

Last month I learned that the church where I was whipped into shape for decade, at least, had been declared historic. The old sandstone St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is being refurbished for use by Catholic Charities. Oh, yeah, construction on the church began in 1941.

Construction on me started in 1948, so I've got only a few more years before tourists start taking pictures. Or the homeless come to take up residence.

For my entire career as an altar boy, Father Kessler, who came to the parish in the 1930's and oversaw building the church, was raising money to build a school. See, our parochial education came via nuns based in Denver who could only leave their regular gigs for the summer months to teach in our "Sister School." The Protestant kids got to spend a week in church camp where they learned all about sex. We spent the whole summer memorizing the Baltimore Catechism, gambling for holy cards and scapulas, and waiting for the Methodists to get back in town.

The school never was built, though Fr. Kessler did purchase land for it before he died in the mid-1960s. The new church stands there today. (The church history says they had to fumigate the rectory after he passed on, due to all his pet monkeys. I recall a parrot, but no monkeys, and no smell but the sweet slipstream of the Chesterfields he would light up on the way out to the cemetery in his Lincoln, the first car I'd seen with power windows.)

We were told we'd be ready for instruction once we'd reached the "age of reason"—the point around age seven when we were supposed to begin being morally responsible. It sounded about right to me at the time, perhaps a slight stretch, but I planned to catch up by asking Santa for Bible. (I thought exhibiting early piety couldn't hurt in the rest of the gift department, either.)

Much later, I heard reason wasn't enough. We must reenter the state of pre-reason and become "born again." And since the White House is looking more and more like at least the anteroom to the Kingdom of Heaven, maybe we should listen up.

Post-election, Democratic strategist James Carville said, "The underlying problem here is, there is no call to arms that the Democratic Party is making to the country. We've got to reassess ourselves. We've got to be born again."

I'm all for that. But no monkeys.


The Myth of Red & Blue

Link to an NPR clip featuring "Culture War?" co-author Samuel Abrams, plus links to related stories, including one featuring George Lakoff on "The Thinking Behind Red & Blue States." Lakoff is a professor at UC Berkeley, a fellow of the Rockridge Institute and author of "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think."

Bled, Rue or Purple?

I confess, I enjoyed the Jesusland and Slave States maps. Chortled (not smirked!) like any commiepinkoelitistliberal at the IQ by State rankings. And dug into the data on the Generosity Index™ that lumped the Blue states on the bottom. (Liberals stingy? What's the catch? More on this another time.) They were all good visual one-liners, but humor works because it's unfair—both true and false. Labels can work that way, too.

Of course, states are really mixtures of Reds and Blues. Just drill down and apply a more refined level of abstraction: The diverse urban areas and inner ring suburbs are Blue; the fast-growing exurbs and rural areas are Red. Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman says the 2004 Presidential election was "actually a series of local landslides," and he quotes both academics and partisans who agree.

Nathanial Persily, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says his studies of redistricting show a trend toward communities growing more polarized, to the point where they become "echo chambers" of like-minded people talking mainly to each other and becoming more extreme in their views.

Sounds about right. But let's drill down another level. To the individual. Aren't we all a mix of Red and Blue, with a lot of in-between? How much of our personal lives and beliefs and aspirations were really represented in the last election campaign—or in any election, for that matter? And when the candidates' ideas were rolled up into HardWorkValuesWarFreedom or, how satisfied were we with the choice? "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America," by Morris Fiorina, Jeremy Pope and Samuel J. Abrams, takes this direction.

A voting both is a pretty blunt instrument for expressing individual thought, but that is what the pollsters are using to create their labels. Let's resist.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Across the Great Divide

Over the last few days, I've been listening to Air America, the "Al Franken" radio network. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that liberal talk radio is hardly an improvement over the conservative version. The ads are different. More socially conscious PSAs. But content and calls pitched only to one set of ears.

I thought I'd enjoy hearing rants similar to ones I tend to launch myself—especially after taking infuriating tastes of RushSeanSavage&Co. and wanting to hurl back replies to their lies and contradictions. But thus far, it's not working for me. People I should agree with sound just as intolerant and blinded to the real complexity of life.

Example: Flogging Rumsfeld for not signing the letters of condolence to the families of US military casualties. So far, so good. But then they go off on how Rumsfeld doesn't know anything about anything military. Reality is more complex and much scarier—how someone who actually knows so much could still hold Rumsfeld's values and act with such obtuseness.

My mission with this blog is to find a way across the great divide in this country... Or rather, the many divides that have emerged. It will be a personal path, starting from my history and my place in the world, but I want to leave some markers for others. Who knows? It might turn into a road worth following.

Across the Divide

Blogspot doesn't offer a subject archive feature, but you can browse by category here. Just hit the back arrow to return to this list after reading a post. Except for the first two posts, which set up the premise of this blog, these posts are in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

Across the Great Divide
No Rave Zone

Finding More Middle Ground
A Nation With No Middle Ground
War, Weeds and Words
Political Wedgies and Voluntary Grimaces
Don't Discount the Opposing Team
Marking the Divides
Why Can't We Be Friends?
Finding Faith in the Basement
Tyranny of the Right
The Highest Common Denominator
Put Out That Cigarette!
Biking Through the Ghetto

One Place to Start

How do we find those places where the rivers run in two directions? One clue is on, where readers of divergent political persuasions find books in common, then branch off. See John Udell's Weblog at the Link below.

Turns out there are certain titles widely read by liberals and conservatives, such as Bush At War. But after that, "Customers who viewed this book also viewed" head off in opposite directions.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Rich & Poor

Blogspot doesn't offer a subject archive feature, but you can browse by category here. Just hit the back arrow to return to this list after reading a post. Listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

An Inch is a good as 0.284 of a Mile
It's not the Money, It's the Principle of the Thing!
Tax Hate Speech
Let's Put More Faces on the Estate Tax
Torts of a Different Color
Letters to Wendy's
Leaving Red Lake
Slouching Toward Rio
Roll Models
A Twenty's Travels
Out, Out, Damned 20-Spot!
Found Money
The Half-Mast Nation

Friday, December 10, 2004

Truth & Justice

Prejudice & Tolerance

Money & Politics

Blogspot doesn't offer a subject archive feature, but you can browse by category here. Just hit the back arrow to return to this list after reading a post. Posts are presented in reverse order (most recent first).

Who's Gonna Pay for the Pensions?
Do We Hafta CAFTA?
What Part of Checks and Balances Don't You Understand?
Books as Props
Pharmas Have it Easy
Only Tyrants Bat 1.000
The Beating of the Toms
The Awful Roving Toward God
Work, Wonks and Worship 2
Work, Wonks and Worship
Go Pick on a Crisis Your Own Size
At Least There Was No Sardinian Toga Party
The Taxman's Burden
Money Talks 2
Why I Don't Do Political Speeches
Governing by Bumpersticker
Out, Out, Damned 20-Spot!
He's No Jackson
Taking My Hard-Earned Money
Outsourcing Compassion
Is Money Speech?
Bizarro World
Why Am I Not Bummed?
Tom DeLay's Christmas Stocking

Thursday, December 09, 2004

War & Peace

Blogspot doesn't offer a subject archive feature, but you can browse by category here. Just hit the back arrow to return to this list after reading a post. Listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

War as Porn
War as a Piece of Cake
War Comics are No Joke
Collect Now, Pay Later
Ghosts of Easters Past
Not Too Late
A Language They Will Understand
Intentional Interventions
Remembering What We Were Trying to Do
Acting on the Truth
Who's Laughing Now?
Casualties 2
Casualties of War
Oh, THAT Democracy

Faith & Reason

Left & Right

Music & Musing

Blogspot doesn't offer a subject archive feature, but you can browse by category here. Just hit the back arrow to return to this list after reading a post. Posts are in reverse chronological order (most recent first).

This section includes writings about music(#), audiofiles of my songs (*) and musings that typically start with a bike ride, a fire or a book.

Local Boys*
A Little Light*
More is Less#
More is Less*
Trail or Twain?
Bicycle Notes
Karate Elvis and other Suburban Delights
The Machinist
Bush's Bicycle
Count Your Blessings
The Trouble With Being a Rock Star
I'm Not the Only One, Heh Heh
You Don't Have to Play All the Notes