Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten years (or eleven), that's a lot of coffee . . .

I was drinking my coffee this morning listening to the radio. Suddenly I heard the announcer say that it was time for the decade in review. My puzzle loving twisted ADD brain first wondered if NPR realized that this was a review of the first eleven years of the 2000's rather than the first decade. As I wondered I realized I missed the first part, so maybe they didn't cover anything in 2000. Perhaps I started drinking coffee too early.

But that thought only lasted a second.

Then I thought, "that can't be right." It's hard enough to believe that another year has passed, much less another decade, or eleven years, whichever.

But it is right. I checked.

I was reminded that the 2000's have been quite the roller coaster ride. The whole y2k scare which never materialized was about the only thing that deserved to be lessened to lower case letters. So much so that some of you probably had to think a bit to remember what y2k was.

We have suffered and celebrated through rapid fire capital letter events since then.

But 2000 set the tone. The big news events seem long ago. We worried because AOL (to refresh your memory that stands for America On Line, which featured that voice that said "You've Got Mail") was buying out media conglomerate Times Warner. It looked like AOL would forever control the Internet and conventional media and was a great stock to own if you were able to see the bubble before it burst, also in 2000. I don't get too many AOL generated emails anymore.

Foreshadowing horrific events to come, the USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers while refueling in Aden. Al Queda led by Osama Ben Laden, known by some but not yet household names in the United States, was credited for the bombing which killed seventeen military personnel.

Hillary Clinton, the long-suffering wife of the President for most of the nineties, began to show us how formidable she would become when she was elected U. S. Senator from New York. A young Illinois state Senator, Barack Hussein Obama, was defeated in his first bid for Congress, but made a quietly remarkable showing beginning the race at ten percent and ending at thirty one percent against a popular candidate. And he learned a lot about politics as we would find out an amazingly short eight years later.

2000 was a Presidential election year, probably the most infamous. Election night was a bonanza for political junkies as it came down to Florida, just as Tim Russert had been telling us all evening on his little handheld chalkboard. And Florida just wasn't too sure. After thinking he had won and then lost, Democrat and vice president Al Gore conceded, and then withdrew his concession. The folks in Florida gave us an education about chads, hanging and dangling like fruit from a palm tree. The recount was started and then stopped in an unprecedented (literally, they said so in the opinion) decision by a defiantly anti-activist U. S. Supreme Court. Gore ultimately conceded, and George W. Bush, later to better Elvis, Bono, and Charro by being known simply by one letter, "W", was elected President.

The winner of the 2000 award for irony had to be the United Nations, when it declared 2000 to be "The International Year for the Culture of Peace." Perhaps they should have made that "The International Decade . . ." But the foreshadowing of the warring and mayhem of the decade was obvious in 2000 with the U.S. Cole bombing, Iraq's defiance of the UN's insistence that it disarm, and the dramatic increase in Al Queda and other terrorist group activity. At least it seems obvious now.

"Genomes," a preliminary draft of the report of the Human Genome Project was completed in 2000.

The last original Peanuts comic strip was published after the death of Charles Schultz.

Looking at pop culture of years past is like looking at your old high school yearbooks. Just embarrassing. What were we thinking? Most of my personal embarrassment when looking at yearbooks involves fashion, or lack of it, but I can't remember anything distinctive fashion wise for 2000, nor could I find it in my arduous research for this post. Beer advertisements and an odd song written for Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival season by Anslem Douglas and made popular by Baha Men added much to our vocabulary. In fact, in some groups you heard little else.

Whassup????? Whasssup????

Who let the dogs out . . . Who, who, who, who, who.

And reality TV. Not my favorite genre, but some of my respected readers are avid fans. Survivor debuted, as did Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, which many thought to be the absolute low for TV of any kind, reality or unreality. That later proved to be a great overestimation of the creative abilities of the American TV industry.

Pop music featured hits by Faith Hill, Matchbox 20, Savage Garden, Destiny's Child, Toni Braxton, Lonestar,N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Creed, Nelly, and a whole bunch more. It's easier to look for yourself if you would like.

Other newsmakers were Napster (remember when we all wondered if we would be arrested or fined for downloading songs?) and Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was the unfortunate subject of the most publicized child custody case in history (he's 17 now, wonder what he's up to?).

For you Alabama readers, you may remember that Tommy Blanton andBobby Frank Cherry were indicted for the Ku KluxKlan's unthinkable bombing of Birmingham's 16th St. Baptist Church some 37 years earlier.

University of Alabama football fans suffered through one of the most disappointing seasons ever in 2000, ranked number three before they started, but in fact it seemed they never got started, and ended with a losing season, causing the demise of head coach Mike Dubose. Auburn, on the other hand, saw a reversal of fortune and ended the regular season 9-2 and played in the SEC championship game.

And we all remember the ten commandments. Not because we should as good Bible Belt citizens, but because then Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore (not to be confused with Judge Roy Bean, although their view of the law was similar in some ways) refused to take a plaque with the big ten of Mosaic Law off the wall of his courtroom. It was the beginning of a long, entertaining and troubling story, resulting in Judge Moore descending from on high to deposit a large stone inscribed with the commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court foyer. It turned out to be much easier to remove Judge Moore from the building than to remove the huge stone.

A record setting drought and a killer December tornado. Unfortunately that history repeats itself quite often in Alabama.

That's where we were in 2000. Yes I know I left out a lot. You may fill in the blanks by commenting if you so wish.

When I listen to the news each day sometimes I wonder how we got here.

I guess I forgot.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

I spy something . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee. Christmas. Snow.

Snow on Christmas Day in Alabama. You don't see that every day. Well of course you don't because every day is not Christmas, a factor which greatly reduces the odds. I, like everyone I have met this morning, friend or stranger, am a bit giddy over the transmergence of these events. I am so giddy I am making up words . . . good words like transmergence, or verbirth (creation of new words). See what I mean? Giddy.

One of the themes of the original Christmas story is that God, the Creator of everything, decided to enter our world as one of us. A pretty big deal by any one's standards one would think. But when it happened, very few people noticed. Or if they noticed, they didn't really care much about it.

So on Christmas eve, yesterday, I vowed to myself that after my 8:00 a.m. appointment I would forget about work, open my eyes and see what's going on in the world. I headed to Nashville to visit Benjamin and Kate, my son and daughter-in-law. It was a beautiful winter day in north Alabama and central Tennessee. The radio broadcast of the festival of nine lessons and carols from King's College in Cambridge was rocking the Prius on the way northward.

Just south of Nashville there is a huge house just a short distance off of the interstate. A beautiful fence surrounded the beautiful grounds. Inside the beautiful fence that surrounded the beautiful grounds around the beautiful house was a herd of buffalo.

Or bison, I never know which, especially when running at 75 mph. The Prius, not the buffalo, or bison.

I suppose it is no big deal, but there was a herd of prairie animals in a yard in suburban Nashville.

Score one for open eyes. I spotted the buffalo/bison.

I was running a little behind and lunch was waiting on me at Kate and Benjamin's.
So naturally I decided to cut a minute or two by trying a different route after leaving the interstate. I know what you are thinking. The new route did cut about two minutes off the trip, so ha. My lostness is not the point this time. I was not exceeding the speed limit, but was concentrating on the unfamiliar road. A train track ran parallel to the road, and a freight was click-clacking along like they do right before they block the roads in suburbia. There was a break in the trees ahead and a railroad crossing sign. Here it comes. My short-cut might have a drawback, unless you are a crow. And I am not, although I often eat it after doing things like taking strange shortcuts when people are waiting on me. But the train kept going straight, not across my road. (Just to clarify, it was still on a track) As I looked through the break in the trees down the railroad track not taken I heard the shutter click in my brain and suddenly I had a snapshot. A red camping tent was almost hidden in the trees right beside the tracks. Farther back, in the tunnel that goes under the interstate, figures slowly moved, some sitting, some standing. I'm guessing they were homeless.

I suppose its no big deal. But homeless people on a cold Christmas Eve right there in suburbia.

Score another one for open eyes. I spotted the homeless.

Maybe I'll start trying to find car tags from all fifty states.

I don't want to play this game anymore.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fear not . . .what?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee

"Do not be afraid."

That is the angels' Christmas greeting to Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds. And I left poor Joseph out of Wednesday's post. When he was ready to call it quits with the mysteriously pregnant Mary, an angel showed up in a dream and said "do not be afraid . . ."

I've been thinking about these fearful greetings this week.

Before fear can be felt there must be some awareness of danger, actual or perceived.

Since my sudden realization last week that the goose is getting fat (therefore Christmas is a'coming), I have enjoyed some of the traditions of the season: church Christmas programs, parties with great food and drink and fellowship, caroling, decorations, and a tiny bit of shopping.

I found none of that truly scary. (Moments of concern, sure, but no real fear)

I love the Christmas season. People actually seem to be more friendly. That is a miracle in itself. Oh sure, there are exceptions. A couple of impatient drivers came close to taking out a few young carolers last night, and shoppers can get combative when fatigue sets in or money runs low, but for the most part, the world is a bit jollier, a bit more gentle.

Much of what we enjoy at Christmas is memory. It is a wonderful time after all. Like generations of ornaments on the family Christmas tree, traditions accumulate great stories and remembrances of childhood, family, friends, romance, and gifts given and received. As I was looking up the hill behind my house this morning I remembered the hikes up in those woods with my brothers and sisters when we were young searching for a Christmas tree. I am the number four child, the youngest along on those trips, and I loved them, even though it was difficult for short legs to keep up over the rocky limestone briar-filled pathways of the little mountain behind our house. The only trees suitable for Christmas native to our hill were cedar. We would drag the perfect tree home, along with the deserted bird nests from past springs. Cedars were scratchy and made me itch and their delicate branches were not the best for holding up bubble lights or ornaments, but they were somehow more real than the ones trucked in to the fruit stand. Cedar trees are looked down upon these days, not nearly so stylish as the trees shipped in from up north or transplanted to our local tree farms. But when I see one now I remember good and wonderful things, material for later posts.

The days before Christmas are filled with memories.

Nothing wrong with that. Mary and Zechariah proclaimed memories of ancient prophets as they looked toward the birth of Jesus. Priests explained to Herod that the birthplace of the Messiah was to be Bethlehem as prophesied by Micah centuries before.

Looking back for explanation of the present is a reality of the gospel account of the birth of Jesus.

Looking back was affirming for Zechariah and Mary. The prophecies of the past were being fulfilled. Looking back for us is also often affirming. We forget the hardships of the past and remember the wonder and warmth of times gone by.

So why the admonition to fear not?

We should be affirmed by the past. Looking back it is easier to see the activity of God in our lives, in the history of the world.

But what of the future? The unknown?

The birth of Jesus is not the end. It is a new beginning.

Everything changed when God once again came to walk among us. Things would no longer be like they were. Traditions were shattered. Institutions would crumble. Old rules were repealed. The first became last and the least became great.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

And that is scary.

Or it should be. At least the angels thought so.

So when the angels say, "Do not be afraid" and the response is, "why would I be?" maybe we don't completely understand Christmas.

It is not simply about the past, good or bad. Nor is it simply about the present, or the presents.

It is also about the future. A future that is different because God comes. A future that calls us to change, that calls us out, that calls us to put down our nets and go.

That's a little scary, isn't it?

But if we are to be part of the story, that's the way it is. It would be cool to be part of the story. What if in the big cosmic Christmas creche you became one of the figurines? You know, like the wise guys or shepherds or animals or angels. Okay, that's a bit out there, but it is Saturday morning and I am allowed to digress.

So, fear not . . .


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You heard something . . .?

So the shepherds are sitting around the fire staring at the shimmering embers, letting the warmth radiate deeply. Suddenly an indescribable musical sound fills the pasture. Much louder than the normal night sounds, even normal day sounds. Unbelievably loud but not painful. So beautiful it is almost unbearable. It is coming from a light, a light that only a moment ago seemed to be a distant star, but now is just above, a light filled with the outlines of what can only be described as angels. The shepherds freeze. Not too many angels come out this way. An angel says,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

A few months before an angel appeared to a young woman named Mary and said, "Greetings to you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you." This bothered Mary. The angel said,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

About six months before that a priest named Zechariah was in the temple of the Lord, where he had been chosen by lot to go into and burn incense. He was alone. He thought. Then an angel of the Lord appeared at the altar of incense. Zechariah was understandably startled. The angel said,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

Had the angels heard something? Was something coming that the shepherds, Mary and Zechariah might fear? Was it just the angels' response to mortals startled by their heavenly appearance? Or was that part of the message they were assigned to bring?

"Do not be afraid . . ."

For unto you, Zechariah, will come the son you prayed for . . .

For unto you, Mary, will be born the Holy One, the Son of God . . .

For you, shepherds, and for the whole world, a child is born who will change everything so that you may live . . .

"Do not be afraid . . ."

So what is there to fear in the news of the birth of a couple of baby boys?


Monday, December 6, 2010

Keeping watch . . .

It is cold tonight. I took a quick walk out into the yard to find some pine kindling to start a fire in the fireplace. The stars hung like frost crystals against the velvet blue canopy. I would have stayed and stared up into the heavens longer if I had not been in danger of accumulating a few frost crystals on my own canopy.

I like to sit in the quiet of the evening and look into the glowing embers of the fire. The dry split red oak logs burn hot and bright. An hour or so ago I watched the news and got wound up tighter than I was when I got off work. I don't want to talk or think about that now. I just want to get still and quiet and warm.

There are things that change. That is what the news was all about. Changes. That's not a bad thing at all. Hopefully a few of the changes are improvements.

But occasionally I need to sit and be quiet, to find a place where change is not quite so furious, so persistent.

Like a star filled sky on a winter night, or the glowing embers of a fire in the darkness. There is something timeless about the stars and a fire. In the quiet, with just the fire and me, or the stars and me, I am no different than countless generations that came before. All have experienced the unfathomable enormity of the star-filled night sky, or the mesmerizing glow of a hot crackling fire.
For the moment, there is no difference. For the moment, we are connected.

Christmas is less than three weeks away. For some reason I haven't thought much about it this year. There is much to do. Good things. But they will wait for another day.

For tonight I join a group of shepherds tending their flocks in a far land, years ago. I imagine they spent a lot of time out in the fields, spending the cold nights under starry skies. I bet they often stared into the fire, in the quiet, listening.

And waiting.

Because change is coming.


Thursday, November 25, 2010


I live up a hill at the edge of the woods. I have no curtains on my bedroom window that faces the valley to the east. So I wake when the sun begins to lighten the horizon. Streaks of orange and crimson against the deep blue sky and brilliant white clouds.

Many mornings I do not welcome that awakening. But today is Thanksgiving, the beginning of a four day weekend, the day that guarantees a great meal, the eve of the most fun sporting event in the State of Alabama, yes probably the world. (For those readers who are not local, bless your heart. I am speaking of the Iron Bowl, the annual football classic between Alabama and Auburn.
Just to get a bit of flavor here are the links to the Montgomery and Tuscaloosa newspapers' sport page websites. They are a bit more subdued than usual, probably out of some journalistic integrity to not fan the flames of passion any further. It has gotten pretty warm around here the past few weeks. The way it should be.; or )

All great reasons to greet another day, but not really the main reasons I greet this day with thanksgiving.

Before I turned in last night I checked my email. A long-time friend was asking for prayer for a relative who has become terribly sick. So I did that before I went to sleep.

That request for prayer turned into a longer conversation, a conversation that started because I was reminding God what a good person my friend is, and how much she had meant to me all these years. That reminded me of another friend that showed up at the office this week on his annual unexpected visit and how he always makes me laugh. He was probably my first friend. I do not remember meeting him. And I reminded God of what a sweet soul my friend has always had.

Thinking of how my friend made me laugh made me think of my dinner in Nashville last week with Vann and Benjamin, my sons, and Kate, Benjamin's wife, for Vann's birthday. I had a great time with them, as usual. Vann and I lunched a couple of times this week while he has been home on break. We will all eat together again today at the Lowry's. They are three of the best people I know. And they make me laugh. Just because I am biased does not mean it is less true. So I reminded God of what a good job He had done so far with them and asked Him to keep up the good work, which He has begun.

Thinking of my sons and their childhoods reminded me of another friend who had just hours earlier sent me a voice message from a young buddy who, as best I could understand, was hoping that I was having fun. I thanked God for both of them and their families.

And thinking of families reminded me of the rest of mine. I went for a run earlier in the evening. After I finished I went up to Terri and Tommy's to see if they needed help getting ready for today. Our family is eating up there for Thanksgiving. About thirty or so. It's hard to know the exact number. Other than wrapping a few sets of silverware in cloth napkins, which I am not very good at, I didn't help much. I mostly just visited with Cindy, which I am good at. So I asked God to continue to bless that house where so many have taken refuge and received hospitality for so many years, and to especially bless its occupants because they have been such a blessing to others.

So that is how the conversation continued to go, as if God were turning the pages of a photograph album, reminding me of person after person that I am blessed to know. And for each one I gave thanks and asked a blessing. I went to sleep at some point.

And that is how I woke up.

And in the early morning light I began to walk down the driveway, where I met Emily, my sister, and Rusty, her dog. He pooped in front of my carport and we took a walk down the driveway and across the field and to my mother and father's house where we drank coffee.

I guess God isn't finished with the conversation. Doesn't He ever sleep?

Another thing to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

And now the news . . .really?

Pope Benedictus XVI recently tried to clear up some confusion created in a series of interviews he gave in Germany. Apparently his German is not so guten. No wait, he is German.

In an effort to clear things up, the Pope said that condoms might actually be a good idea under certain circumstances. Like if you are a male prostitute. I do not know for sure what His Holiness was trying to clear up, but judging by the media reaction today, he made need to take another shot.

In a related story, Warren Buffet said the very rich in the United States should be paying much higher taxes.

Meanwhile, airports in the United States are being threatened with a Thanksgiving slowdown. Travellers are being urged to refuse the security scan which reportedly allows TSA officials to see an image of each traveller with no clothes on. All who refused the scan would have to go through a pat-down, which takes much more time. Plus, there is an actual human placing his or her hands in and on those private places that the scanners reveal. That's so much better.

The slowdown is a protest to the body scans as an invasion of privacy. The protesters say that the loss of the right of privacy at the hands of the scanner (no, the scanner has no hands, that's the pat-down patrol) is a result of an over-reaction to the terrorist threat. (Apparently some of us now trust terrorists more than we trust our government. Not sure when things went that far.)

I agree with the protesters that Wednesday, if the protesters efforts are effective, the threat from terrorists will be terribly insignificant . . .

when compared to the angry hordes whose flights will be delayed by their lunacy. Being seen naked will be the least of the protesters' worries. Nothing unifes a mob quicker than a delayed or cancelled flight on a holiday travel day. Pity the terrorist or protester who delays that crowd any longer.

I regret that I have but one life to give for my modesty . . .

And finally, Republicans are indicating that they will block ratification of START, the treaty with the Russians regarding nuclear missiles. One that many of their group would favor if they were in the majority because they believe it is critical to national security. The old treaty has expired. There is currently no accountability at all. Senators Kyl from Arizona and Bond from Missouri would like to put the vote off a few months, after all the new Senators have had a chance to study it and maybe have a few hearing. It is important to national security, but not as important as denying President Obama one of his stated goals, to ratify START.

Meanwhile who knows what those crazy Ruskies are up to?

Sarah Palin, where are you?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I computered tonight . . .

I went to Nashville last week to see Vann, Benjamin and Kate. It was Vann's birthday week (he turned 21). Vann chose the restaurant for dinner. We ate at La Paz.

Or you might say we La Pazzed for his birthday.

A portion of the dinner coversation was taken up with the linguistic practice of making nouns into verbs, or nouning verbs, to put it into practice.

We vacationed in the Hamptons. We summered at the lake. We motored across town.

We didn't do any of that, they were just examples. All with a slightly British accent for some reason.

It made for riveting dinner conversation for awhile. At least we thought so. You can make any noun into a verb if you try hard enough. I quesadillaed. I coffeed. We Priused back to Benjamin and Kate's where we Alabama footballed. Kate confirmed that it is a real thing. She found it on the internet. She googled it.

So it was kind of interesting when Barry preached on the same subject this morning. Okay, the actual subjects were far from the same, but Barry spoke of a noun that is really a verb.

Love is a verb. Or should be. We like for it to be a noun. A noun can just sit there till somebody else moves it. But a verb, now that's something different. A verb must get up and do something.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say, "We love."

No, that's not quite right.

It would be nice if we all did it. Love, that is.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday morning cartoons . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I was reading The New Yorker this morning. Okay, I was really flipping through the pages looking at the cartoons. That's what I do first with a new issue. Sometimes that's all I do. I hope that doesn't diminish my intellectual style points. (Actually this morning I did read the movie reviews for "The Next Three Days" and "Morning Glory," but I don't think that counts toward the intellectual tally sheet since I was really just wanting to know which movie to waste ten bucks on.)

There were a couple of gems. One by Roz Chast was entitled "The Last Thanksgiving." Just the idea of a pushback to all the "First Thanksgiving" depictions was enough for me. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a great cartoon is worthy of none, especially Roz Chast cartoons. I don't have permission to print it, but you can see it on the page where you could buy it if you wanted to.

But I will try to explain the second cartoon anyway, because it expressed so simply a great notion worthy of contemplation and I don't have permission to reproduce it. The cartoonist is gifted, but his or her signature leaves a great deal to the imagination. I imagine his or her name is B. S. Miller, but I'm not sure.

A middle-aged couple is standing in a bare, empty room of a house. The woman, purse in hand as if she had just walked in, is standing next to the man, staring at the stripped walls and rooms. No furniture, no pictures, only a bare light bulb hanging down from the ceiling. The only thing in the room is a small, rectangular, shiny brick in the middle of the floor. The man tells the woman:

"I've simplified my life by converting all my possessions into one gold brick."

Some of you may be thinking at this point, "If only I had done that a year ago . . ."

If so, maybe words are necessary for this one. Bless your heart.

Most of us experience gold as jewelry. A few carats. An ounce or two.

In such small amounts we may have missed one of the main characteristics of gold.

It is heavy.

Like an anchor. Security in the swirling currents (or currencies) of our changing world.

But like an anchor it holds us in place. As the river of life flows past, urging us to come along, we are trapped by our own security. We never get to where we were meant to be because we can't turn loose of the gold.

And when the waters rise . . .


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do me wrong, or do me right, right now . . .

I believe I have posted this before, but I'll say it again. I am wrong sometimes. And so are you. That doesn't mean we aren't fine people, we are just mistaken from time to time.

I have never taken a position that I did not believe to be true at the time. Unfortunately, in hindsight, I realize that confidence has occasionally been misplaced. We all are wrong sometimes, even though we were confident we were right. We just don't know it till later, if we are lucky enough to find out at all.

So in this moment, as so many are flinging opinions into the great marketplace of ideas, there is a great chance, probably closer to a certainty, that many of those cherished opinions are wrong.

That doesn't mean we should quit offering our opinions.

It just means that, like maturing parents, at some point we must accept the healthy reality that our offspring are not perfect.

But we don't boot the imperfect children out and banish them to the land of imperfect children. No, we continue to be parents. To nag, punish, encourage, teach and applaud, pick them up, dust them off and send them back into the fray of life to be tested.

Mistakes can be corrected.

But our neighbor's children? If they don't measure up, that's a different story. Haul them off to juvenile, hopefully never to be seen again. They are so screwed up it's hopeless. No need to think about giving them another chance. They'll never amount to anything.

Unless we are wrong about that.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Man Up America

This morning I listened to the talk-radio post mortems and read the papers regarding the election. They featured several interviews with disgruntled voters. A typical response went something like this:

"I just hope they get the message. We just want less government, smaller government, government out of our lives. We want lower taxes. And this deficit they are rolling up, we want something done about that. But most of all, the government needs to do something about jobs."

I got two words for these concerned citizens. Man up.

If you want government out of your life, then take care of yourself and those around you. Quit whining about the economy and jobs. You said it. The government is too big. The government intrudes on your life. You don't need big brother. Who ever said that the government owed you anything?

You did. I just heard it. Over and over and over. The government owes me a good economy and a job.

I think government has a logical role to play in maintenance of the economy, including employment levels. But you don't. So what's up with wanting the government to fix the economy? Either you want the government to help or you don't. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you can have it both ways.

I think Rand Paul is . . . well he would just not be my choice for Senator based on what I had read. He's probably a very nice man.

But to give him credit, that is what he said in a speech today. Rand Paul said it is not the government's job to create jobs. I personally disagree with that policy. But I appreciate his consistency. That is what we've come to. Rand Paul is our role-model.

Again, America, quit sipping your tea with a straight pinky and man up. We got a deficit? You want to get rid of it? Then let's pay it down. No tax cuts. On the contrary, lets pay more taxes until the deficit is gone. Then, and only then, cut the taxes.

And smaller government? Not a bad idea. It'll help reduce the budget deficit. Let's cut the budget across the board by ten percent percent based on last years' budget for as long as it takes to get rid of the deficit.

Sure, that might hurt retired Americans a little. And federal employees. And sick folks. And states like Alabama who depend on federal dollars to pay for frills like police and teachers. And those of you who depend on government defense contracts for employment will probably be out of a job for awhile till this deficit thing is straightened out, but that's a small price to pay for smaller government and to get the country back on sound financial footing, isn't it?

Smaller government and budgets and deficits are perfectly legitimate, even desirable government policies. Sometimes bigger government and budgets and deficits are as well.

But there is a price to pay no matter what policies we choose.

Man up America.

It's time to pay up.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Saturday stuff . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is quiet this morning. It is perfect.

I love autumn, especially now that the weather has caught up with the calendar. The sun is brilliant, there is not a speck of cloud against the cornflower sky, there was a touch of frost this morning, and the leafy mosaic outside my window is awash in the golden shower of early morning sunlight.

It seems as if my eyesight has been tweaked overnight as edges and outlines previously blurred are now distinct. There is a dead tree in the distance that rises above its neighbors. The squirrels are putting on a show in the high leafless branches that would put fear into the Flying Wallendas.

And Alabama basketball starts Tuesday. Life is good . . .

Lately I've seen of lot of folks wearing those bracelets that are supposed to help you maintain your balance. I'm thinking of buying one. It is hard to keep balance these days. I am amazed this morning as I look out at those squirrels doing their high bar acts without a net or mat so high above the earth. The run deftly to the very end of a tiny branch and the leap confidently into the air to catch the very tip end of another branch. No hesitation. No faltering. If they have a thought about what might happen if they miss or slip they never let on.

Those squirrels up there have balance.

I doubt they watch cable news.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It only takes a spark . . .

A neighbor up at the farm decided Saturday was a great day to burn trash. Yes, folks still do that up in the country. His method was not quite as sophisticated as most folk, who incinerate their refuse in a "burn barrel." His was the "burn pile" motif, a bit more primitive. It was in fact a perfect day for burning. The forestry service thought so as well.. They had banned all burning of any kind. It was so hot, dry and windy Saturday they wouldn't let you walk outside with heartburn for fear it might spread.

Anyway, the trash burned well in his backyard, followed amazingly quickly by about a hundred acres of our family farm being scorched. I heard that more than a hundred or so folks from around there tried to contain it, and they did. It could have been much worse if it had spread. I didn't hear about the fire until the next day.

The farm will be okay. The gazebo by the fishpond was consumed, along with the swing and all the broken fishing rods and reels and leaky rafts and odds and ends stored inside. The Lowry's old travel trailer which had been sitting up above the pond for a couple of decades collecting varmints was also in the path of the inferno. All that remains are the metal shells of the appliances. That may have been a blessing. The early sixties model trailer had been sitting there for years with some of the original stuff still in it from the last time it was actually slept in by humans. Sweatshirts, tennis shoes, cans of beans, pots and pans, old pillows, towels, blankets, trivial pursuit, playing cards, old batteries, flashlights, a radio, matches and lighters. Good times. Great times. But it was not pristine, even then. Now non-humans had been its tenants in the past few years and brought along some of their own stuff. Last time I was in it I was trying to find a match that was dry and it was getting dark. I'm not ashamed to say I was scared. If I were a snake, I would have lived in that trailer. Nobody really wanted to clean it up. There's nothing to clean up now.

Daddy's tractor was parked under a water oak tree between the gazebo and the travel trailer. It is a fine old rusting red diesel with a bush-hog and a front-end loader. Daddy spends most of his time keeping air in the tires, re-charging the battery and getting it to run. But it usually starts for him. He knows the combination of starter, throttle, and accelerant and it is quite the sight to see him execute the starting sequence. I never saw a tire melt completely away and disappear off a vehicle. But I have now. So daddy will have some work to do before he worries about trying to start the tractor again. New tires, new hoses, new wiring.

The big old barn had mostly fallen down in the last couple of years. It had some good wood in it that we meant to use for some other project. Turns out that good wood burned good. All that was left of the big, old falling down barn was sheets of tin covering a layer of ashes.

Tommy will have to get a new trailer to haul his tractor.

The outhouse stands unscathed.

As I walked the length of charred field from the gate to the pond, the place seemed so much bigger. All of the hedges and undergrowth were gone. About halfway I saw something moving toward me from the right. I turned my head and saw two deer running through the barren open field. It was a long run in the open. There was something unnatural about watching them run so far without cover. They looked annoyed and winded when they finally made it to the other side of the burnt field. As I got closer to the pond I watched one of those big water birds with the legs that bend funny and that have a wingspan of about 6 or 8 feet rise up and began to fly. He flew to the horizon and out of my sight.

I got all philosophical as I finally turned to walk back to my car, which is a fairly common occurrence for those who have spent much time alone at the farm.

The farm will be okay.

And that makes me feel a little more okay too.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Show me the money . . .

I haven't been able to put a finger on what is bothering me about the current political climate. I don't mean the obvious things like Sarah Palin, John Boehner's dimming orangeness, or wicken candidates (although I am surprised that FOX missed the obvious angle on the Christine O'donnell story. The lead in:
"Witches, from being the hunted to being in the hunt for the U. S. Senate, there's a lot at stake in the heart-warming story of Christine O'Donnell.")

No, I have been plagued by something indiscernible, something more pervasive, an overlay that might explain the inexplicable absurdity of what American politics has become.

I thought about deregulation of the media and the loss of the fairness doctrine. The Tea Party. FOX news and its nutty talking heads. But these are just a few symptoms of something deeper, something profound.

I think it has come to me, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin. No, not any of the wise sayings or writings of the original American philosopher.

Just the realization provided by his picture.

It's all about the Benjamins.

All the craziness is just window dressing, like the puppets on display in the department store windows around Christmas, a way to draw us in, a distraction from what is really going on, so that we feel good about giving up our money for something shiny.

Our elected offices are sold to the highest bidder, and that isn't the candidate.

Polls of potential voters are passe'. Comparison of campaign spending is the new measuring device.

And it has only become worse as corporations and unions have been designated as persons by the non-activist U. S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, and are therefore not subject to previous limitations in campaign contributions.

I don't know how to change it.

So, I've got a proposal.

Money is going to control who wins, right?

Our country is in dire financial straits, right?

Then let's quit pretending and cut to the chaste. Auction off the offices. The highest bidder wins. No restrictions on contributions.

Think about it. All the money goes straight to the federal government and no more ridiculous television advertisements. A win-win.

Well, I feel better.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Where did we put that collective mind?

Shortly after our country became constitutional, Thomas Paine, the author of "Common Sense," the political pamphlet said to be responsible for convincing the common man to rebel against England, exercised his brand new first amendment rights and published another influential pamphlet. It was called "The Age of Reason" and dealt with what he considered to be the problems and excesses of the Christian church. He advocated Deism.

It would be interesting to see what Paine might entitle a pamphlet about today's American political and religious scene. I suspect he would have to change directions to come up with something relevant. Common Sense and Age of Reason have no place.

We have lost our collective minds.

You believe that somebody has taken God out of our public schools? What kind of God do you worship? One of those little statues with fake ruby eyes? A small simulated golden calf? Something that can be conveniently carried from place to place and stored on a shelf when a more prominent place would be uncomfortable?
God with a big G doesn't need defending. He cannot be removed from anyplace that He doesn't want to leave. Wouldn't be much of a God if that were true. He promised that He would always be with anyone who wanted Him around, and when two or more are gathered in His name, you can count Him in. He never asked us to fight for Him. He asked us to love and serve. Everyone. Quit worrying about whether God is at school. I wouldn't blame Him for leaving considering how small we have made Him with our ridiculous, self-serving distractions about Him being expelled as if He had been just another victim of zero tolerance . . . hmmmmm.

You're just concerned that the first amendment right to free exercise of religion is being eroded, right? What about the right of the Muslim, or Jew, or atheist whose child is in the class? Quick, hand me the irony-meter. The reading should be off the charts.

You want government out of your life? Maybe Hollywood could make a movie. . . call it "It's a Not so Wonderful Life." No roads. No clean water. No safe foods. No safe transportation. No child labor laws. No secure monetary or banking system. Quality medical care only if you can afford it. No medicaid. No social security. No military. No protection of your rights by the courts. No prosecution of criminals. No recourse for civil wrongs. No protection of minorities. No protection of exercise of religion and speech. No regulation of utilities. No guarantee of education for children. No organized and funded relief effort for major natural disasters. No regulation of electronic media, communication, or the internet. No restrictions on business.

You don't want government out of your life. You just don't want to have to pay for it.

You believe the deficit will be our downfall, but you insist on cutting taxes? Cut spending you say? Good idea, actually. Medicaid, Social Security, and military. That's where the cuts must come. Cut the pork, you say? Another good idea, except cutting all the pork would not make a dent in the deficit. Besides, you don't mean it. Oh, you mean cut my pork, not yours. But we can't cut enough to handle the deficit. We must reduce it with taxes. Enough to make you tolerate the deficits, is it?

President Obama and the Democrats are to blame for the situation we are in? Finally, you got one right. The economy did not collapse. Financial institutions did not fail. We are not in a depression. The abysmal economic free-fall that began in 2007 was halted and reversed within months. America's standing in the world has recovered. A discernible foreign policy has appeared. Government is acting like government; addressing the economic crisis, making progress on healthcare, financial reform, and justice for minorities.

But that's not what you mean. President Obama and the Democrats are to blame for the bad economy. Really? In the month or two before President Obama took office responsible economists were talking global economic doomsday. Offices with windows on Wall Street were only valuable as a means of potential escape.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post recently quoted economist Ron Shapiro who dug into labor statistics. Starting in early 2007, the U. S. economy began losing jobs at an alarming rate. During the last two years of the Bush administration and the first six months of the Obama administration, before any of his policies could have taken effect, about 7.7 million jobs had been lost. But three months later,the job loss bottomed out in December, 2009, and job increases, however slow, have continued since. The Bush Administration was responsible for more than 7.7 million of the job losses before the turn around. The Obama administration was responsible for less than 250,000.

The sorry mess we had gotten ourselves into was not President Obama's fault. But this is his recovery, for better or for worse. I think he would be satisfied with that.

And one last thing before I turn in for the night. Good, intelligent people have sent me emails and facebook posts saying that President Obama is an illegal alien, a communist, a socialist, an atheist, a Muslim, a boob, an idiot, a Manchurian candidate, and a liar.

Why? You don't know the guy. He has done nothing that would support any of these assertions.

I guess its the Rage of Treason, or perhaps Common Dense.

A real paine.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rash decisions

I've got poison oak.

I went out Sunday and cleared brush and limbs along the driveway and then piled them up to burn. I knew there was poison oak all over the place. I know the plant well, because this has become an annual event, or at least bi-annual. So now I suffer the itching, oozing, and distraction of this ridiculous reaction.

I don't know why this happens to me.

I blame Obama.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Haiti final

Haiti suffers from deep, abiding poverty. The reasons for the poverty are complex and beyond the scope of a daily post. I don't know enough to offer conclusions, but I can tell you that the poverty is not the result of lack of industry and effort on the part of the average citizen of Port au Prince.

Every street is lined with vendors selling everything. Fruit, vegetables, meat, corn. Some feature food cooking over charcoal, charcoal which is made and sold by other Haitian entrepreneurs. One could find almost anything one might want. It would just take a terribly long time to find it. In fact we hired Edward, the metal worker whose work shed was on our road, to make a gate for our chicken fence. Metal workers, wood carvers, furniture makers and other artisans sold their wares along the road.

T.J. told me that everything in Haiti took longer than I was used to. He was right. In fact, looking back on it, a great deal of our time was spent walking, which I learned is very therapeutic for the back. The few times we rode in a car we were on a mission to the newest building supply store in town, and to buy chickens, and a few other errands. Those trips inevitably killed half a day and almost killed us. Riding in the 4-Runner through the cratered streets and the chaotic traffic was far more taxing than the walking. One trip we had eleven people in the vehicle.

I am still processing what I saw during my brief stay in Haiti. Like so many, I feel urgency. But I also learned that care is required when trying to help another country or culture. The earthquake, which was horrific, left thousands injured. It was absolutely necessary for international medical relief to come to their aid. But the free medical clinics remain open even after the immediate disaster is over. So the people take advantage of the free clinics, which is good for them for their everyday problems. But the major hospital in Port au Prince closed a few weeks ago for lack of revenue. The fees for regular medical treatment disappeared as people took advantage of the free clinics. But you can't have surgery at the medical clinics.

One of the most consistent sources of economy in Haiti has been similar to what we in the south call truck farming, growing fruits and vegetables, picking them, and taking them to market. After the earthquake Port au Prince, the principal market for many farmers, was inundated with free food as a part of the earthquake relief, which is still available. The people took advantage of the free food, and the farmers business suffered greatly.

The help came with great intentions. But apparently it is necessary to be good stewards of servant hood. Sometimes helping can hurt if it is done without thought or for the wrong motivations. Sometimes our need to satisfy the urgency we feel, or our need to feel good about ourselves, or maybe even to diminish our feelings of guilt for averting our eyes for so long, can convince us that it is okay to act without thinking things through, without trying to understand as much as we can about the people and place we are trying to help.

The trip to Haiti was so full, but it is time to move on to other topics. I will be bringing Haiti up again from time to time, however, because half a million men, women and children are still living in tents, tents that are wearing out. I am thankful to Dan for inviting me to go, and to John and Curtis for their companionship, and to Corrigan and Shelly Clay for letting us be a part of their chaotic community for a few days.

Bon soir.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Haiti continued . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

A few more things about the Haiti trip.

John, our chicken coop foreperson, also brought amazing water filters. Such small, simple items that make such a huge difference to the people who have been displaced and live in the tent cities. It was a joyful thing to see the happy faces of the thirty five or so families that received the filters and the training. Clean water. It is the answer to much of the world's problems. John did a really good thing.

Emmanuel, a young man who grew up in Haiti, is the local representative for the water filter maker. He lives in City du Soleil, which has been a traditional symbol of poverty in Port au Prince. The tent cities now make it look a bit like suburbia, but it still is key to understanding the real problems of Port au Prince, because it has not been changed so greatly by the earthquake. It is not as threatening when the tin roof and sticks of makeshift dwellings fall. We took the greater part of a day walking the streets of City du Soleil with Emmanuel, hearing stories of where he grew up and now lives. Many people on the streets were busy, and smiling. Others just sat in the shade of their homes or shops and watched as the world walked by. Ironically the streets of City du Soleil were free of potholes. There were far fewer vehicles among this crowd. It was an oppressively hot and humid day, and the sun was brutal. We stopped into a small shop and drank cold cokes out of glass bottles, talking among ourselves. We also met Emmanuel's father. We visited Emmanuel's church, a huge structure with seating for about 1500. There was a medical and dental clinic operating as we sat on the back rows and ate lunch Emmanuel got us from a local woman. It was good, but I'm not sure what it was, other than rice. It had something like turnip greens in it, which was good enough for me.

We were introduced to tap-taps that day. Tap-taps are the primary mass transit system of Port au Prince. A tap-tap is a vehicle, usually a small truck, that is converted to carry passengers in the back, usually on benches built along the sides of the bed. A metal roof covers the passenger area with creative metal cut-out designs in bright colors. A favorite Bible verse or reference to Jesus is written in bright distinctive script across the front of the roof of the tap-tap. I heard that the name tap-tap comes from the way that a passenger lets the driver know when he needs to get off, by tapping the rear window of the driver's compartment with a nail, or a coin, or a pen. There is no limit to how many passengers can ride in one tap-tap, and afternoons, when people get off from work and schools let out, create a crazy atmosphere as people pile in or hang on to catch a ride. John held on to the very end of the tap-tap on one ride. It was a good ride until it started to rain. The top did not cover his spot. Meanwhile, on the inside, I became intimate with several strangers. We rode several different tap-taps that day on the way to City du Soleil and back, each one expressing the beliefs, character, musical tastes, and often the humor of the owner/creator. Riding the tap-tap was a great way to experience the real flavor of local life.

I hear the tap-tap of readers who think this blog is going on a bit long, so I guess it's time to stop. Maybe I can wrap up Haiti tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chickens and such . . .

Poultry seems to be a major theme of the week. Each day begins with the incessant crowings of the rooster men's chorus. And many daylight hours have been spent learning about chicken and eggs. Doesn't matter which came first. All that matters is building a suitable place for that eternal mystery to take place. Voila, the chicken coop, or coup, I'm not sure.

John is an experienced chicken cooper, having built one in his own yard. The setting and resources are slightly different, but his knowledge of the important principles has been the foundation of the project. As a result, today we will put up fencing around our cemented posts, add a bit of screen wire to the doors of the coop, and we will be finished. The backyard of the Clay's residence will have been transformed from a pleasant, cool place for drying laundry, to a loud, somewhat nasty, miniature barnyard.

It hasn't been easy. Building supplies are tough to find in Port au Prince. It takes at least half a day just to go get supplies, and that is when a ride can be found. And even then, it has been necessary to be creative and flexible. A bit unorthodox.

Why do the chickens cross the road? Around here, for no particular reason.

Anyway, it has been a fun and rewarding project.

But yesterday was the best. We found the place that sells chickens. Despite my suggestions that we just welcome chickens in off the street, we decided that it would be better to buy new ones for the Clays. So we did. Thirty young hens to be delivered to their newly opened spa this Saturday. It is sad that we won't get to meet them. But it is eggciting.

It is exciting that the dozens of eggs produced by these new hens will be given and/or fed to expectant mothers to address dietary deficiencies resulting in extremely low birth weight and resulting complications for infants.

Eggs, like most things around here, are hard to come by. And now, for a few families, it will be a little easier.

It's not much. But it is something. And that's the way it must start. Poverty is not waiting for us to make up our minds about what to do. It is moving right ahead with its devastating ways. Intelligent policy is necessary from the top down, governmental, charitable and religious. But good policy will never be enough.

Haiti has been assaulted and lies injured on the side of the journey road.

Will we tend to them, help them get up and walk, or will we walk on by again?

Do we have any neighbors? Have you been to see them lately?

Sorry bout that. Guess I was destined to get a little preachy this week after all.


Church, part 2

To finish the last post, I did not preach. But I did have a great seat for the service. Debs, a young preacher, was scheduled to speak and did so swimmingly . . .she is British. We were fortunate to attend the church on a day when the children's and youth choirs sang. There were three choirs: children, mid-highs, and older teens. Each choir sang one song, accompanied by the guitar player who also played for the congregational singing. Each group began tentatively. After all, they were children and teens singing in front of a tent-full of people, it was early in the morning, and it was sweltering. But as they got into the music and the crowd supported them with smiles and an occasional shouted encouragement or applause, their confidence grew. They sang louder, clearer, and harmonies broke out. They moved with the music. Sort of a parable of church, I remember thinking. There was a lot of time to think. We were there more than three hours.

The guitar player was the best. He played an old guitar of unidentifiable heritage, the finish cracked by the weather, the mismatched and worn strings stretching high above the neck and frets. The worship leader would start the next song without consulting the guitar player, leaving him to locate the key on his own, if such a key really existed, sliding his slender, long and obviously powerful fingers searchingly up and down the neck hoping for something that might match the leader's pitch. But he played on, providing accompaniment and rhythm, in that familiar Caribbean style, sometimes smiling, sometimes struggling, sometimes deeply moved by the music.

That is not to say the worship leader was not also great. He was wearing a dark grey suit, never removing his jacket. We would sing each song for about fifteen minutes, the worship leader exhorting us each time we repeated the verses and chorus. He would call out the words before each line. He began to dance, singing louder and faster as each song moved along. We sang about six songs. It was ninety plus degrees. We were in a tent packed with people. The guy was wearing a suit. He was a superman.

The preacher was not there Sunday, but his wife was. She was teaching Sunday School to the whole group when we first arrived. She was teaching from Mark 9, and periodically would insist that we recite a part of the passage. Over and over. She was serious and intense. I believe we all knew that verse by the time she finished. In Creole. She was a great teacher and it was obvious by the attention she demanded that she was respected by all ages.

Toward the end of the service we had prayer. No one led it. We all prayed out loud, our own prayers, at the same time. It was a beautiful thing, starting out as a complex, quiet rumbling, and ending as if it were a coordinated piece of music directed by an unseen hand. It got quieter without obvious cue, and then it ended.

And then we were done.

Merci Senor Jesus. Merci bon Jesus. Merci Mon Dieu.

Amen. Hallelujah.

Monday, May 31, 2010

We went to church in Clairville, a tent city that is just a minute or two walk, a walk that on a sunny, humid morning like Sunday will soak your clothes with sweat before you've made it out of the front gate of home. It is difficult to maintain a look and feeling of freshness. For those of you familiar with my normal appearance you may be thinking that is not a significant difference in my life. The main problem is the hair. I finally just gave up. The curls are free again. Imagine Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on the most hot, humid day of a decade or maybe a century. That's everyday in Port au Prince.

Yet on the way to church, and in church, worshippers walked and worshipped with us. Women in beautiful dresses, not a single hair out of place, moved gracefully down the stony roads and negotiated with grace the network of tent ropes hidden along the path that leads to the tent city church. Men in suits, most in long sleeve shirts and ties, walked along as well, directing others to open seats in the army tent sanctuary, and when the seats were filled, disappearing for a minute and coming back with another chair from somewhere in the maze of tents and lean-to's. The little girls wore frilly fancy dresses with those poofy skirts and lacy socks and black patent shoes. The little boys looked like their fathers.

And they all looked fresh. And cool. And all of them had just got up on Sunday morning and prepared for church in a camping tent.

The church meets in an army tent about the color and size of the tents in M*A*S*H. The side panels of the tent were rolled up to allow air to flow through. Early arrivers filled the chairs under the tent. As others arrived, chairs were placed on the outside end of the lines of chairs, resulting in worshippers sitting outside the tent, but clearly being part of the congregation. A church without walls can welcome anyone and everyone, even if they don't fit under the roof of the church.

I ended up sitting on the back row with the eight to ten year old boys. Some things are universal. We poked and gouged each other during the service. One of the boys sang the songs in a fake high voice, making fun of the lady singing too loudly at the front. All the boys had new Bibles and proudly found the scripture being read by the preacher, but then quickly began to flip through the rest of the book looking for something more interesting.

A church lady came to me and took me by the hand and demanded I move. It was like being back in Sunday School when the teacher had to separate you from your best friends. Anyway, she led me to the front of the sanctuary and had me sit in a chair where the preachers are supposed to sit. Seemed a bit odd, but I could see the service better, and I could not refuse her gracefully, so I sat down.

Then Reginald, a church leader sitting next to me, leaned over and said, "I will translate your message to the congregation."

More later. got to go work. Time is short.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If it were just three times I could get some sleep . . .

The sun is coming up in Port au Prince. One would think that is the most obvious sign of the beginning of a new day. But for newcomers there is another. The roosters. They crow indiscriminately around the clock, but apparently that is just to keep their voices in good shape so that when the Creator taps on the horizon with his blazing baton they will be able to join the symphony without hesitation.

I haven't noticed any hesitation.

It is irritating when the cock crows.

It is irritating when the cock crows and light is shed on things that I don't want to see, things that I can deny in the dark.

But it happens every morning. Some of the roosters sound as if they have very little voice left. They strain with urgent call as if to say, "surely you will be able to hear us this time, surely you will not keep your eyes closed any longer."

It is getting more difficult to say I didn't know.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

No interpreter needed . . .

For the past few days I have spent all but a few hours in a relatively small area. The guest house where I sleep is a nice concrete block structure where work teams can stay and where artisans work at their crafts on the first floor.

Then about a half-mile up the road is the house where we have been doing some work. Not repair work, generally, but work to assist the ministry of the missionaries that live there. Among other things, we built a chicken coop from start to finish, including fencing in part of the small back yard. It is such a fine chicken coop that we already have several on a waiting list just to get in. No, not really. It was a fowl joke.

Anyway, we have walked that road now a million times, it seems like. So we have quickly come to know some of the folks in the neighborhood. For instance there's Edward. Edward is a small, upper middle age man who salvages scrap metal and makes it into useful things. Like bedsteads and flower pot holders and huge gates. Right there on the gravel and rut road. There are always younger men helping him, running a grinder or a torch. Edward enjoys helping us with our Creole. When we pass him we throw up our hand and yell "Bonjour." If it is close to noon he yells back, "No, bon soir," shoots us an ear to ear grin and laughs. Sure he is laughing at us, but in a good way, the way I would do if I were him. As it turns out, almost any Haitian is glad to help out with learning the language, and they really love hearing an American butcher it up good. Broad smiles and unrestrained laughing. No matter how tired or nasty I've been on my way home down that road, I always feel better after meeting a few folks like Edward on the way.

I wanted to write more but I am suddenly tired. We are going to church tomorrow, probably the one in the big tent that serves the tent city in our neighborhood. It starts at 7:00 a.m., ends about 11:00 a.m.

Better get some rest.


Sweet Home

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

But I am in Port au Prince, Haiti, on this particular Saturday morning. From where I am sitting on the sofa, drinking my coffee, looking out the window at the mountain that stretches up toward the summer hazy blue sky, it feels amazingly similar to a summer Saturday morning in Alabama.

But when I stand up, I see the difference. From the window the piles of concrete rubble that were formerly concrete blocks become visible, outlined by blue tarps and rows of tents, stretching for miles and miles all across the city, all across this part of the country. I don't like to imagine what will happen when the heavy rains of hurricane season come. The tent cities and the makeshift lean-to shelters use every bit of available open space. The paths that criss-cross these densely populated temporary suburbs are barren of vegetation. Just packed dirt that with a heavy rain will become a huge mess. And help does not seem to be on the way any time soon. There are an estimated 650,000 people still displaced. Most of them are back in Port au Prince, with no permanent shelter.

More on all that later.

Many Americans talk about how open, loving and inappropriately happy the Haitian people are, even now, after the earthquake, and how different that is from us. They often express that they wish we Americans could be more like the Haitians.

But for me it's different.

For me it's just another way it's sort of like Saturday morning in Alabama.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thurvey (ratings week version)

Media experts were baffled last week by the lack of excited participation in the long awaited return of the Thurvey. However, the dramatic snowstorms in the northeast are being blamed.

Marketing experts suggested a more titillating topic might help overcome the snowldrums, but it is hard to imagine a more titillating topic than last week's question about the state and federal legislative agenda.

So the titillating Valentine Week question is:

If you could be a matchmaker, what would be the oddest political couple that you could match up and why. While it might be more helpful to consider only living politicians, you may resurrect the dead if it is important to your point. This is an open-minded post, so feel no compulsion to honor traditional gender combos.

To answer the survey, click on "comment" below. When the comment box appears, type your comment, then click on the anonymous button and click on publish. You may have to type in a secret letter combination to prove you are not a computer. Sign your name to the comment if you wish the world to know your thoughts.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

We Shelby free . . .

In reference to the last post, Senator Shelby has released most of his holds on appointment nominees.

In a statement issued this morning the Senator's office said that the holds were issued in an attempt to draw President Obama's attention to important security issues. Those issues were the building of tanker refuelers in Alabama and an FBI forensic lab in Alabama.

Had nothing to do with bringing home the bacon. Shelby just wanted to keep the country safe.

But I still think if we in Alabama are the honest, God-fearing, fiscally responsible, real-Americans that we claim to be, we should do our part to balance the federal budget.

Like it or not, Alabama is a welfare state. All of us. We receive far more dollars from the federal government than we pay in taxes. States like Texas and Massachusetts are paying our way. Hope they don't expect anything more than good company in return, although that might explain why other states are being allowed to dump toxic waste on us.

So, if we are going to complain about the federal deficit, let's do our part. Refuse the federal dollars. The education money. The highway money. The health care subsidies. The federal grants for public projects. The federally funded jobs, be they public or private, as in defense contracts. Let's balance our books with the federal government.

Or if we're not willing to do that, then let's just shut up about big government, about big spending, about high taxes, about deficits.

Don't worry about trying to find the answers.

Maybe we should work on not being the problem.


Monday, February 8, 2010


I love Alabama. I get weary of my sweet home being the whipping boy of national media. From SNL's horrid depiction of then U. S. Senator Howell Heflin years ago to some of our present delegation's comments in front of the national cameras we should not be surprised that Alabama is a punchline that always gets a laugh from the rest of the country.

It is true that we Alabamians are naturally funny. But it is the good kind of funny, the kind that should be laughed with, not laughed at.

I am tired of it. It is something we should remember when the next election rolls around, but that will be awhile. We need to do something now.

And we can. If we will.

Alabama U. S. Senator Richard Shelby is demanding pork. I'm talking pork the size of Clay County's Hogzilla II. ( an Alabama national news story that was actually the right kind of funny a couple of years ago, http://http//,2933,275524,00.html It was later learned that Hogzilla II was a farm raised hog that just ate too much for his owner and was released for the hunt. )

Back to Senator Shelby. The same Senator Shelby who is fiscally conservative, who is afraid the ballooning national debt will destroy our future, is singlehandedly holding hostage more than seventy of President Obama's appointments to the pentagon and other agencies. He is doing this using a power that all Senators hold. Any Senator can put a hold on an appointment. It takes a vote of 60 to over-ride such a hold. Most Senators have used the hold on one or two appointments either out of true concern about the appointment, or for a bit of leverage on legislation.

But no one Senator has ever put a hold on all appointments. And even more disingenuous, Sir Richard is not even pretending to have a reason related to the appointments. Shelby just wants the pork. He will not release the holds until he gets his way.

The pork is for us. The State of Alabama. So, if we are true to the comedic script that the rest of the country expects us to read (actually to hear some of them talk they seem to doubt we can read), we will welcome Senator Shelby as the conquering hero, the successful hunter who has bagged Hogzilla III and brought him back to Huntsville for the slaughter, even as we shout "no new taxes."

But that is not what will happen. Shelby's behavior has almost guaranteed that he will not get his way. I could be wrong. Only time will tell (and I am sure some of you will as well). But it is doubtful that this ridiculously selfish, childish, unstatesmanlike behavior will be rewarded. No one can afford for that to happen. Republicans or Democrats.

So once again the nation is laughing at Alabama and its caricature politicians.

But we the people could stop it.

Alabama voted against runaway spending in the last presidential election. The only pork we have anything good to say about is frying in a pan or baking in the oven. Some southern theologians believe that the pork which the Hebrew testament prohibited was not that kind raised on slop, but rather the kind raised in the pigsties of the halls of Congress in Washington D. C.

We oughta vote 'em out, all those guys that just want to spend more money on their pet pork projects.

But we can't do that. It's not time for the election.

But we can rise up and say no. Say no to the pork that Shelby is trying to force feed us. Hasn't he heard that we in Alabama hate pork barrel politics and wild Washington out of control spending. Shoot, wasn't he the one saying that during his last election?

Let's just say no. Tell Senator Shelby that we mean what we say. No more pork, even if it is addressed to us. Tell Senator Shelby to quit playing games with our country's future. Let's lead the nation instead of following it.

Write your Senator. Write your Congressman. Write your newspaper.

Tell 'em to keep the pork. We'll keep our word.

Tha tha tha that's all folks . . .


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Feelings, nothing more than feelings . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

The content of "the news" is no longer a good-faith account of a recent event of some import to the public. The description of events, and what old-school journalists called "facts," have taken a subordinate role.

These days "the news" is not actual events or facts. "The news" is what people think about actual events or facts. It is Gallup, Quinipeac, Rasmussen, Pew and the rest. No requirement that the people polled know anything about the topic in question. All they need is an opinion to become the news.

This is a handy, and intentional I think, turn of events for the news media. Reading poll results is a whole lot cheaper than funding a legitimate news gathering organization. And there can be no claim of bias news reporting if you don't. Report the news, that is.

A few weeks ago the networks dedicated huge amounts of air time to polling regarding health insurance reform legislation. One of the pundits, after reviewing the polling numbers, made what he apparently thought was a significant point.

President Obama failed to tell the people what was in the legislation. They simply did not understand it. The pundit then introduced polling data to back up his assertion. In the hour that I watched the "news" program, over one-half of the non-commercial time was dedicated to poll results about President Obama, Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and the health insurance reform legislation. We heard how men, women, southerners. northerners, African Americans, whites, Hispanics, over 30, under 30, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, heathen unbelievers, Civitans and Lion's Club, Auburn and Alabama fans feel about that important issue.

What we didn't hear about was that important issue.

Not one second was dedicated to explaining or describing the legislation in question. Apparently that is not the job of the news media. After all, the cable news channels only have 24 hours each day to fill. Surely they can be forgiven for not getting around to every little thing . . . like the legislation that is the crux of the whole discussion.

Like the news.

Despite what most news outlets would have you believe, the important issues before us are understandable. It just takes a little time, and work. A few months ago the news outlets reported over and over, and interviewed legislator after legislator, about the length of a proposed health insurance reform bill. Why, it was over one thousand pages. Far too long to report on, or to read.

But it was triple spaced and contained quite a bit of boiler plate. I would hope that every reporter, news anchor and pundit who reported the length of the proposed bill in such authoritative tones was capable of sitting down and digesting the entire proposal in less than eight hours. I hope they did. But I'm pretty sure most of them didn't.

You know those photo opps that every President takes advantage of from time to time, sitting in front of a bunch of elementary school kids, reading from a big picture book?

I can see it now. President Obama sitting in one of those little chairs with a large book open in his lap, surrounded by the fresh-scrubbed faces of reporters, news anchors and pundits. There are no pictures, but some of the graphs have pretty colors.

"What's this I see, in front of me,
This big thick book, at which I look . . ."

Shhhhh. Aren't they cute.

They've gone to sleep.


Thursday, February 4, 2010


Yes, after a multi-month hiatus, contract disputes among all the parties have been settled, and the Thursday Survey (Thurvey) returns. You are encouraged to comment on the Thurvey question. To do so, simply click on "comment" below. When the window opens enter your comment, click on anonymous, then on publish, and there you go. Sign your comment if you don't want to be anonymous.

If the Alabama Legislature and Governor Riley got you on a conference call, asking you what five things that you would like for them to get done, what would they be?

For those of you outside of Alabama, or for those of you in Alabama but who had rather answer this question, suppose President Obama and Congress got you on a conference call and asked you what five things you would like for them to get done, what would they be?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Laws z mercy

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Rules and laws are necessary; a source of immediate, useful wisdom of generations that have gone before. The body of rules and laws that grow through the decades, centuries, millenia, are not perfect, but rather a work in progress marked by the timeless pattern of two steps forward, one step back, a rhythm that probably had its beginning when our ancestors decided that walking on their hands to the dinner campfire was making the meat too gritty.

Frustration sets in when we feel like the value of our generation's contribution may be questionable. And it is easy to sit in judgment of a particular moment in the past when our ancestors made horrible mistakes, so easy to see in hindsight. But if one steps way back for some perspective, the direction is generally forward, advancing civilization and humanity in positive ways.

But rules and laws have limitations, at least the way we humans choose to use them. We want to know the minimum daily requirement.

Rules and laws become our standards for how little we can do to get by, or how much we can do and still stay on the good side of the law.

That sounds worse than it is. In fact, that is probably a good definition for rules and laws. The Rule of Law, even imperfectly executed, has been and continues to be a foundation for the advancement of human civilization. Or if not the advancement, then at least it has prevented us from killing each other off until we can come up with something better.

Rules and laws are not enough.

There must be something more that drives us to exceed the minimum daily requirement if things are going to get better.

Take the ten commandments, the tablets God prescribed to cure human ills. Ten rules. Simply and clearly stated. (Perhaps because Moses could not have carried more than two tablets, we'll never know.) But those who were called to follow the Decalogue also felt called to define them. After a few hundred years the Commandments became a way to be good enough, but also an excuse for not "getting better." I haven't murdered, coveted, adulterated, swore falsely, stole, forged graven images or false gods or worshipped any other god, haven't worked on the sabbath, haven't mistreated my parents, and haven't used God's name in vain, so I'm okay. Nothing else is required.

Jesus tried to straighten this out. He often said "It was written . . ." or "It has been said . . ." and then He would say "but now I tell you . . ." Murder became a matter of what is in your heart. Adultery came to include what is in your thoughts. Other gods are all the things that we give a higher priority than we give to God. According to Jesus there is no minimum requirement. If one were able to flawlessly follow the law as He described, there would be no room for improvement. There would be perfection.

The original ten commandments were much more manageable. More black and white. Or terra cotta and black. (I am ignorant of the geology of Mt. Sinai)

And we like black and white. If the written law is our only standard, we have some wiggle room.

If our only standard is to satisfy the law, we can still pollute the air and water. Maybe not as much as we would if environmental laws did not exist, but a certain amount is legal, so that makes it right, doesn't it?

We can still take advantage of employees. Maybe not as much as we would if labor laws did not exist. But some things are still legal, so that makes it okay, doesn't it?

We can still rent out substandard housing. Maybe not as much as we could if housing laws did not exist. But we can still get away with a lot. If it were wrong, we couldn't get away with it, could we?

We can still ignore the cry of the needy. After all, we pay taxes for welfare programs. I've got no choice. The government takes my money to give them. If they're still crying, that's not my problem is it? I follow the law, that's enough isn't it?

Rules and laws serve us well. They are necessary.

But they are not enough.

Take the U. S. Congress for instance.

A majority party with sixty votes doesn't have to listen to what anyone else thinks. A minority party with forty one votes can stop anything that the huge opposing majority is trying to do.

Those are the rules. That is the law.

That makes it okay, doesn't it?


Monday, January 25, 2010

Minority Report Card

I am frustrated with politics. A couple of posts back I expressed dismay with the U. S. Supreme Court's opinion in Citizens United vs. FEC which will allow corporations to spend as much money as they want to in any federal election. The decision upset my idealistic notion of how our democratic republic is supposed to work. Big money should not translate into big power in federal government. Naive, I know. But in reflection I've decided it won't be that big a deal.

After Congress's performance the last few months, surely no CEO worth her or his salt would spend more than a few dollars on the whole kit and caboodle. I don't mean that, it's just the frustration talking. I still believe that our Congressmen and women desire to serve the best interest of our nation.

But still, many in Congress are behaving very poorly. It serves no purpose for me to try to address that in my present state. Maybe tomorrow.

I think I have identified a problem.

It is not so much the majority party that lets us down. It is the minority.

I'm not saying that just because the Republicans are the minority party right now.

Let's review.

In 2002 President George W. Bush was determined to act on a long-held desire to attack Iraq. He and his Vice President did so by fraudulently linking Iraq to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001.

Republicans were the majority party in Congress. One would expect them to generally support the Republican president. And let's face it, in recent history Republicans have tended to favor military actions in the middle east, and the "war on terror." So in supporting the Iraq War, they were acting as expected.

But the Democrats were the minority party in 2002. And let's face it, Democrats generally tend to be more reluctant to go to war. And here is where the Democrats were not a good minority party. They betrayed their character, the reasons they were elected. They were not elected to be like Republicans. They were elected to be Democrats and give voice to those ideas and ideals that Democrats hold, even without enough votes to win the day.

But the Democrats failed to be a valuable minority party. A few voted against the Iraq War resolution, but more voted in favor. And very few questioned the Iraq policies with much fervor. They did what they thought was politically wise.

I don't know whether the Democrats could have helped our government make a better decision about the Iraq War had they insisted on more debate, We'll never know, because the Democrats failed to be a good minority party. That failure may have cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

But the Republicans aren't doing any better. They are failing the same way, but differently.

Republicans, at their best, can be trusted to be in favor of fiscal responsibility. They are supposed to be conservative, financially. And so it is a valuable thing to have that voice in Congress, even as the minority, during these times when so much money has been spent because of the financial crisis, and the programs that the Democrats want will require more spending.

But the Republicans failed to be a good minority party. Most Republicans in Congress acknowledge and believe that some health reform is needed. But instead of making an effort to truly assist the process to get the best health reform legislation by keeping pressure on the costs, they simply voted against everything, even things that they themselves had proposed earlier in the process and in years past. They made it clear, this was not about health care. It was about handing President Obama a defeat. Obama's "waterloo" as South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint called it. "It will break him."

The Republicans sold out, just like the Democrats before the Iraq War. Their first priority was their political well-being. The nation's interests came in a distant second. We could have used a dose of fiscal responsibility offered in a spirit of doing what was best for our country. What we got was nothing.

I am not really naive. I know that the minority party is not interested in making a President from the other party look good. I know that members of Congress want to be re-elected.

And I know that sometimes Congressmen are going to truly be so opposed to something upon which they cannot compromise.

The Parties just got it backward.

War should be a matter where compromise comes, if at all, only after much intense deliberation, debate and examination. The Democrats folded up quicker than a cheap lawn chair.

Health care reform is needed. Republicans have said so time after time after time. So this was an issue upon which compromise should have been assumed. Republicans became the Viagra party. Unnaturally stiff. But come to think of it, helpful for what they were trying to do to the President.

Minority parties are important.

To keep some balance.

Congressional Yin Yang if you will.

Another Chinese import. Politically touchy.

Guess we know how that will turn out.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Read Badge of Courage, just not when I was supposed to . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is Saturday morning after all. On Saturday mornings I prefer not to get all het up, but just listening to the news has set my kindling to smolderin'. When the dulcet tones of NPR get me fired up, it is time to hit the lotus position and meditate.

Or maybe just hit something.

By the way, I am heartened that one can google the phrase "all het up" and find definitions. Even origins. The main reference in literature is in "The Red Badge of Courage," Stephen Crane's novel which endeared itself to millions of junior high boys for its subject of war and deception, and its brevity for book report purposes.

I always loved to read. The problem was, I did not enjoy reading on demand. Even when Mrs. Lybrand allowed us to choose among thirty or forty perfectly wonderful books, something in my adolescent psyche rebelled. I put off reading the book until the last minute . . .literally the last minute a time or two.

Don't judge me.

With the minute that I had I reviewed the information I had gleaned. The title of the book. The author, who I probably remembered something about from class or from another of the author's books that I read voluntarily. The artwork (paperbacks gave a significant advantage here). The comments on the back cover and jacket (hardbacks definitely the better choice here). Mental notes of any mentions of the book in class or elsewhere.

With the 45 seconds I had left I would review the first page or two (which I had usually read earlier in a good faith effort to change my ways), the titles and sub-titles of the chapters (writers who just numbered their chapters were inexcusably lazy) and the last couple of pages.

I got by. At least for the oral report in class that day. At the time I thought I fooled my teacher. Now I wonder if she just gave me massive credit for gall and creativity.

I learned something important from those oral book reports.

A lot of folks can tell you about a book, but no one can read it for you.

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