Friday, February 29, 2008

Vote For MRS. Barack Obama!

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars।
---Walt Whitman
I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly,
for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door।

---John Donne
And if the earth no longer knows your name,
Whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing।
To the flashing water say: I am।
---Rainer Maria Rilke

This peculiar title doesn't mean I advocate for Michelle Obama in place of Barack। It just means Mrs। Obama came to our town yesterday afternoon and took the place by storm। It means if we can vote Barack Obama into the Presidency, we get a package that includes a lovely family and this remarkable woman for First Lady। I hadn't studied the matter, knew nothing about her except those couple of media things, and was unprepared totally for one of the greatest addresses of any kind I've ever heard.
I was pretty much resigned to Athens, Ohio, being the place the candidate spouses come to visit। Hillary Clinton was here stumping for her husband back in the day, and now the former president showed up earlier in the week to give an energetic speech for her। I'd wanted to see Barack Obama before our primary next week, but I learned all we would get was a look at his wife. Oh well, my daughter and I went to stand in line.
The Templeton-Blackburn Auditorium---or Mem Aud, as it used to be called---holds a couple thousand people, so I thought if we got there an hour early we might at least get inside out of the cold। No tickets required, a quick frisk, and we soon were in the 12th row। The place has a magnificent sound system and mostly soul tunes from the '60s were banging away. Well you can't beat that stuff, and so pretty soon everybody was groovin'. Smiles began to appear, and as I looked around I realized I hadn't been in an audience of such racial, age, and gender mix maybe ever.
On stage was a bunch of people, but no obvious dignitaries or union T-shirts। My daughter said she heard folks were chosen at random to go up there। The active volunteers were being afforded the front rows as usual. The auditorium filled up completely from what I could see, and I suppose I'll read reports as to whether any were turned away or a sound system set up outside. A barrage of TV cameras, reporters, anchors and photographers was in the usual cluster.
We waited---but the hits kept on coming, so who cares? The spirit of hope and expectation was in the air। People looked happy but serious. We're not gonna get fooled again! The black woman next to me kept checking her watch. I heard her say she had kids that needed to be picked up. As it got to be 5 minutes past the hour, she said out loud, "They oughta have SOMEbody come out." I didn't want my first words to her to be discouraging, having waited hours at things like this, so I asked, "Do you know where she's coming from?" She didn't. But 5 minutes after that, out came the first of 2 introductory speakers...and we were off!

Michelle Obama is a tall, powerful woman, with a surprising confidence and a completely engaging speaking style। Except to remind her of local names she wanted to thank, she spoke without notes...and gave us an hour of compelling personal history and Obama platform. She had us in the palm of her hand the whole time in a speech that was intricate in organization and almost completely positive. Mrs. Obama made it clear the situation her husband seeks to change---and that's the big word---has developed in the United States under both political parties. She did indicate the present administration has played upon fear and encouraged personal isolation...but everybody knows that and hardly could be labeled negative campaigning.

She spoke of growing up on Chicago's difficult South Side, where her father held a modest city blue collar job and her mother stayed home to be there for the 2 kids। Mom did finally go to work when the children finished public school to get them through college. We couldn't help but be moved when she mentioned again and again a barrier that has developed in America in so many areas of discouragement and you-can't-do-that and don't-even-try. But she did try anyway, and that meant Princeton and then Harvard Law.

Barack Obama's story is more commonly known---but apparently not well enough, given the ongoing stuff about his name and religion and national origin---so she told it again briefly। What she emphasized is that with Barack's Harvard Law degree, departmental honors, and as first black editor of the Harvard Law Journal, he could have gone anywhere on Wall Street and corporate America and made millions. But instead he went to Chicago to help neighborhood organizing efforts in a city where steel had shut down. He thought legislating could help and began to run for office. No millions at hand (she mentioned they both just have finished paying off their college loans) he wrote a couple books that have helped finance him.

When we were done, I had a sense of what has brought a million contributors like me to open our wallets and help this campaign keep rolling। When you're on your feet cheering with 2000 other people---mostly students!---you even get a feeling this could be a tidal wave. But the Obamas know better...and so there's plenty of encouragement to volunteer: to go vote early right now, and then get on down to the campaign office and sign up for the phone banks and the door-to-door and Primary Day work. There is no resting on any past success. This change they talk about is all work...and they aren't kidding.

Bush gave a press conference yesterday morning in which he said the economy is fine and there's no recession in sight। (More bad intelligence, George?) Barack Obama had a rebuttal 5 minutes later. John McCain the day before declared he'd never go down the Obama "road of defeat" in Iraq because Al Qaeda is there. Obama was on it immediately with the reminder Al Qaeda wasn't there until Bush and McCain misled the nation into war. This man is fast, brilliant and assertive. He doesn't wait to see what the media will do or if some attack just will go away. He answers them face to face. He's getting headlines arguing with Bush and McCain...while, I must say, Hillary Clinton seems to spend time trying to figure out who she should be next.

Michelle Obama seemed every bit the match for her remarkable husband. I'm trying not to imagine if they ever get in a fight at home. It was one of those things where my daughter and I had to get down to the stage and as close as possible to this potential First Lady. Imagine the statement to the country if these people are nominated. Imagine what America might look like to the world again with this First Family in the White House. As I walked up the aisle and out of the auditorium, I saw a man I know of my own generation lingering in the back watching continued greetings and hugs up on the stage. He was beaming, and when he saw me he smiled. I said, "I haven't felt like this in 40 years!" He said, "Me too."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's With Hillary?

We must learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose.

---Indira Gandhi

If we knew that tonight we were going to go blind, we would take a longing, LAST real look at every blade of grass, every cloud formation, every speck of dust, every rainbow, raindrop---everything.

---Pema Chodron

An adult is one who has lost the grace, the freshness, the innocence of the child, who is no longer capable of feeling pure joy, who makes everything complicated, who spreads suffering everywhere, who is afraid of being happy, and who, because it is easier to bear, has gone back to sleep. The wise man is a happy child.

---Arnaud Desjardins

The photo of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, taken by Melanie Burford for the Dallas Morning News, held my attention this morning from the instant I saw it. I think it's a great American face there, worthy of Mt. Rushmore. I'm not kidding, and I'm not saying it's a stone cold face. I mean that's a presidential face we're looking at. There's no doubt in my mind this candidate could handle the job. Except...except...

What is wrong with that picture? This is a portrait of a person in conflict. Cover the left side of her face as you're looking at her. In the half you see there's even a flicker of a smile, an openness, a quality of friendliness that I know she has. Now cover the other half. Woe, there is a person you wouldn't want to cross. Something unforgiving there in someone who's been banged around a lot.

I attempt this crude and rather adolescent psychology on Hillary Rodham Clinton because a certain unpredictability has permeated her campaign as well. If you watched her in debate with Barack Obama Thursday night, you saw it too. I didn't know what she was going to do next. She seems genuinely to like the man when she's standing right in front of him, looking him in the face. But then she'll go back to the it-should-be-in-your-own-words thing, and draw a shudder of disappointment from Obama, and boos from the crowd. Who is this person?

Maureen Dowd goes after it this morning, and while I do some shuddering myself at the masculine/feminine behavior characteristics in the column, I think she's on to something. She thinks Clinton is calculating her different approaches to impress various voting groups. She wants to be tough and macho for some, and sensitive and understanding for others. I think I have to differ with Ms. Dowd on this, though I'm really glad she noticed the stuff and decided to write about it. I'm not sure Senator Clinton is in control of how she's coming off. I think she's reeling from blows received in the ring.

Bill Clinton will be in Athens tomorrow, and I'm afraid the announcement came too late for me to clear my calendar. I do hope to get to it before it's all over, trusting he'll be an hour late like most of these guys. Former President Clinton is the first, and I hope not the last, of the big names to get to this important corner of the state. As the rest of the Ohio continually reminds us, we're rather different here. Some people even refer to Southeast Ohio as the West Virginia part of the state. There's some truth to that, going all the way back to glacial times. But let's not get into climate change.

Or maybe we should. When ARE these candidates going to mention it? And did you see McCain's record of environment votes? Check out the fascinating final part of that blog entry to see how the new legislators, who replaced NINE of the 12 so-called "dirty dozen" in the last election, are doing.

Here's the link to Maureen Dowd's column this morning. Let me say in another criticism of it (and I'm grateful to my online acquaintance Elle for reminding me of this), while Shirley Chisholm's presidential run in 1972 may not have been taken seriously she definitely was a serious candidate. I supported her too, just as far as she could go.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Is Obama The Answer?

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment।
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

---Izumi Shikibu

Ultimately, let’s hope that the nation turns back to the task it abandoned — that of ending the poverty that still poisons so many American lives.

---Paul Krugman, in his column this morning, entitled Poverty Is Poison

It's so easy to not want the Clintons back in the White House. It's like that temptation to get with your old girl friend again from a few years back. It should have worked out, it could have worked out...but... There was all that nastiness, and stuff going on behind your back. The trust factor. Has she changed? Did she really do anything wrong? Yeah, ultimately everything got ruined. My whole life got ruined! Eight long years of hell while I tried to get over it. I want to risk going back to that?

We're a forgiving people. But worse, we're a forgetting people! We don't seem to learn from history. And we've become even more loud, pushy and obnoxious than we were accused of when we were only tourists. Now we insist of owning and controlling everything---and we dare to call that condition for others democracy and freedom. We only are interested in getting our own little piece of the pie...and then, shotgun in hand, bragging that America means no one can tell me what to do. The Clintons again? Isn't there another woman somewhere to run for this office?

And so we find ourselves turning around to see what Barack Obama is about. People ask and write What are his programs? Is this happening to you too? I've been replying that I'll wait to see if he wins the nomination and then get after the details. But how many presidents actually do what they say in their campaigns anyway? So what difference does it make? Well, we're having this primary in Ohio in a couple weeks. I've got to vote for one of them. Both families are running all over the state at the moment...but nobody's come down here yet. Bill Clinton was in Marietta last night, but we couldn't get up the stomach to go see him. They've got to get to Athens sooner or later.

And so it's with this kind of anticipation and disenchantment that I came upon a new website for me. It's called the Black Agenda Report, and it looks as if I'll be visiting there everyday from now on. The insolent montage illustrating this introduction comes from there. At the moment it's a place to go where people have had some history with Mr. Obama. The managing editor of the site, Bruce Dixon, has other issues to discuss, but right now he wants to share some concerns he has about this candidate. It think we may be hearing a lot about this site in coming days...and about these concerns. Here's Bruce Dixon last Thursday~~~

The presidential campaign of Barack Obama has become a media parade on its way to a coronation. Journalists and leading Democrats have done shockingly little to pin Obama down, to hold him specifically responsible for anything beyond his slogans of "yes we can" and "change we can believe in". Prominent Black Democrats, many ministers and the traditional Black leadership class are doing less than anybody to hold Obama accountable, peddling instead a supposed racial obligation among African Americans to support this second coming of Joshua and his campaign as "the movement" itself. What would holding Barack Obama accountable on war and peace, on social security, health care and other issues look like, and is it possible to hold a political "rock star" accountable at all?

Holding Barack Obama Accountable
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce Dixon

Whether it is truly possible to hold elected officials accountable in a political system where big money, big media, big corporations and the very rich call all the shots is uncertain। But we have tried and will keep trying। So will others. The stakes are too high not to.
How We Held Obama's Feet to the Fire in 2003

Although close friends and confidants had been talking up a run for national office since the early 1990s, Barack Obama in 2003 was still an Illinois state senator running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. This reporter, a longtime and former Chicago community and political organizer, had worked with Obama in 1992's highly successful Project VOTE Illinois registration drive. After moving to Georgia in 2000, I managed to keep in touch with events at home, and was well aware of Obama's run for the US Senate.
While researching a story on the Democratic Leadership Council for the internet magazine Black Commentator in April and May of 2003, I ran across the DLC's “100 to Watch” list for 2003, in which Barack Obama was prominently featured as one of the DLC's favorite “rising stars”. This was ominous news because the DLC was and still is the right wing's Trojan Horse inside the Democratic party.

Read the rest here~~~

Friday, February 08, 2008

Take A Tip From Me

There is neither heaven nor earth,
Only snow,
Falling incessantly.


Life is fleeting.
Gone, gone---
Awake each one!
Don't waste this life!

---The Evening Gatha

On the day you were born, you begin to die. Do not waste a single moment more.

---Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

In the striking photo by Roger Braithwaite of the UNEP, a stream of melt water cascades off the Greenland Ice Sheet.

I'm afraid my pun in the title shows poor taste. There is nothing appropriate to laugh about as the United States finally begins to realize the facts of The Warming. Just last week I still was being mocked by 2 industrial tech teachers at my school, but surely even they are beginning to wake up. Disasters like the tornadoes across the South the other day are the kinds of things it takes in this country to get something done. But even then we'll try to rationalize and put it off. It looked to me as if CNN was broadcasting hours of live coverage of the devastation yesterday, but did any news anchor introduce a segment on violent weather we can expect from Climate Change? We aren't much for preemptive action...unless it's shock and awe somewhere else based on "bad intelligence."

My wife sent out a heads-up on Wednesday that actually provides a bit of optimism, despite the frightening aspects of the report. What cheered me up is that it came from MSNBC, where Americans are not used to seeing this kind of thing I think. It speaks of Nine Tipping Points that we grimly approach with continued carbon emissions at our increasing rate. We learn that "tipping" no longer can be taken lightly. The report begins~~~

Nine 'tipping elements' for warming listed
Arctic sea ice and Greenland are top 'candidates for surprising society'
MSNBC staff and news service reports
updated 10:00 a.m. ET, Wed., Feb. 6, 2008

Concerned that humans might push Earth into major climate shifts, a team of experts has published a study that lists nine "tipping elements," or areas of concern for policymakers.

Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet, both of which have shown significant melt, were regarded as the most sensitive tipping elements with the smallest uncertainty.

"Society may be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change," the scientists at British, German and U.S. institutes wrote in a report saying there were many little-understood thresholds in nature.

"The greatest and clearest threat is to the Arctic with summer sea ice loss likely to occur long before, and potentially contribute to, Greenland Ice Sheet melt," they wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The experts coined the term "tipping element" to describe those components of the climate system that are at risk of passing a "tipping point," which was defined as a critical threshold at which a small change in human activity can have large, long-term consequences for the Earth’s climate system.

"These tipping elements are candidates for surprising society by exhibiting a nearby tipping point," the authors added.

"Many of these tipping points could be closer than we thought," said lead author Timothy Lenton, of the University of East Anglia in England.

"Our findings suggest that a variety of tipping elements could reach their critical point within this century under human-induced climate change," he added. "The greatest threats are tipping of the Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland ice sheet, and at least five other elements could surprise us by exhibiting a nearby tipping point."

If you click that MSNBC link, you see not only an opportunity to view the video, but also slideshows and other interactive features. They've also set up a message board to discuss these issues. This is new in a country preparing to elect a new president, and yet questioning candidates very little about environmental concerns. They tell us the economy is our big issue. Well, the UK Telegraph yesterday related to market questions with the startling headline~~~

Why the price of 'peak oil' is famine
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
International Business Editor
Last Updated: 1:22am GMT 07/02/2008

Vulnerable regions of the world face the risk of famine over the next three years as rising energy costs spill over into a food crunch, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

"We've never been at a point in commodities where we are today," said Jeff Currie, the bank's commodity chief and closely watched oil guru.

Global oil output has been stagnant for four years, failing to keep up with rampant demand from Asia and the Mid-East. China's imports rose 14pc last year. Biofuels from grain, oil seed and sugar are plugging the gap, but drawing away food supplies at a time when the world is adding more than 70m mouths to feed a year.

"Markets are as tight as a drum and now the US has hit the stimulus button," said Mr Currie in his 2008 outlook. "We have never seen this before when commodity prices were already at record highs. Over the next 18 to 36 months we are probably going into crisis mode across the commodity complex.

Are we beginning to get the picture that it's all connected? That time is of the essence? Is recession too mild a word?

Unfortunately some think matters are even worse. In December Prof. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science, declared we're past the tipping point. Hansen delivered warnings to Congress 20 years ago.

Here is a summary of the main points:

Climate tipping points have been passed. These include large ice sheet disintegration, significant sea level rises and species loss. These tipping points were passed when we exceeded 300-350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a point passed decades ago.
The Arctic will soon be ice-free in the summer.
There is already enough carbon in Earth's atmosphere to lose Arctic sea ice cover and for massive ice sheets such as in Greenland to eventually melt away, and ensure that sea levels will rise several feet (meters) in coming decades.
Climate zones such as the tropics and temperate regions will continue to shift, and the oceans will become more acidic, endangering much marine life.
"We have passed that (Greenland) and some other tipping points in the way that I will define them," Hansen said in an email. "We have not passed a point of no return. We can still roll things back in time — but it is going to require a quick turn in direction."
"We either begin to roll back not only the emissions [of carbon dioxide] but also the absolute amount in the atmosphere, or else we're going to get big impacts." "We should set a target of CO2" that's low enough to avoid the point of no return. The CO2 tipping point for many parts of the climate is around 300 to 350 parts per million, Hansen estimated.
"We have to figure out how to live without fossil fuels someday," Hansen said. "Why not sooner?
People must not only cut current carbon emissions but also remove some carbon that has collected in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution

Bill McKibben responded in the Washington Post a few days later. In his article he explains what all this carbon particle talk is about...and why we need to care.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Tough One: Population

"This series of maps shows how much the landscape of the eastern United States changed between 1650 and 1992. The maps depict canopy height, the height of the tallest continuous layer of vegetation. In 1650, before colonization, most of the eastern United States was covered in tall forest, shown in dark blue-green. During the next 200 years, the forest disappeared, particularly in New England, the mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest. By 1920, the tall forest was entirely gone, replaced by cities and farms. During the latter half of the twentieth century, the forest began to regrow, but the overall canopy remained much shorter than it had been before 1650. The images are based on a reconstruction of land cover made from records ranging from 1850 census data to modern satellite measurements."

If one could understand a flower as it has its being in God---this would be a higher thing than the whole world!

---Meister Eckhart

A root is a flower that disdains fame.

---Kahlil Gibran

The sound of water says what I think.


Are there too many of us? If the world's population of humans has doubled within just a portion of my lifetime, is it cause for alarm? Will God provide? Will Nature take its toll? If great masses die---and continue to die...and are predicted to die, do I shrug in hiding or subconsciously with the thought "There are too many anyway"? Do rich men plot war, famine and drought to eliminate dangerous overpopulation? Who dies? Who lives? Who decides? Does money decide?

Surely I'm not alone in finding discussion of every major problem we face in this country and in this world eventually boils to how many of us there are. George Monbiot wondered in The Guardian on Tuesday why we don't talk about this, and a great flurry of comments has followed. "I cannot avoid the subject any longer. Almost every day I receive a clutch of emails about it, asking the same question. A frightening new report has just pushed it up the political agenda: for the first time the World Food Programme is struggling to find the supplies it needs for emergency famine relief. So why, like most environmentalists, won't I mention the p-word? According to its most vociferous proponents (Paul and Anne Ehrlich), population is 'our number one environmental problem'. But most greens will not discuss it.",,2248419,00.html

In my opinion, we're silent because it's a moral question. And there's been silence for 50 years...except for occasional explosions about abortion and birth control. Laws are passed and opposed with vigor, but no resolution in the mind of the world. Take it from me, who works in public schools, a great war has been waged in the US over what to teach kids about sex and how. Without much opposition the people who teach sex in the classrooms, and during Bush with federal threats of funding cuts to enforce the morality, have frightened students with huge slides of sexually transmitted diseases. They've referred to a few fertilized cells in a woman's body as a "baby," and they refer to that woman as Mother. They've shown figures from textbooks on an overhead projector that could grow into anything from a stringbean to a gorilla, and they've said, "I know it doesn't look like a person, but that's a baby just like you and me."

Young American adults in their 20s were taught since grade school that if you're pregnant but not ready to parent for the rest of your life, you have it anyway and put it up for adoption. No mention has been made of terminating the pregnancy...and under Bush, again, with threats about funding. My daughter, who is 16, was taught "sex education," and one year in middle school in 3 different classes in a single semester, and not once was she told about birth control...except wait until you're married. How many movies came out this year, and very good ones, about pregnancy and having the baby anyway? And that's in the United States. What do young people learn in Kenya, in Iran?

I say it's morality...and it's clearest expression is Catholic. It goes like this: God creates all life and that makes creation and life Sacred. No argument there. If a person seeks to prevent that gesture, that gift, it is tantamount to rebelling against the Will of God. That is sin. To put some "protective" tissue, like a condom or a diaphragm, between the Will of God and a female womb is a sin. A pill or some other technique to prevent God's Will from having its way is also a sin. As long as that teaching persists from any Great Religion, population control itself is a sin.

But it gets worse. Once God's will has penetrated an ovary, the argument starts about when Life begins. Now we're proceeding from morality into regulation and law. Does life begin with penetration or with a beating heart? To stop a beating heart by surgery or some other means is aborting birth but is it murder? Does a fetus have rights? Are abortionists murderers? Should they be arrested, tried, executed?

For me all of this thinking is absurd. Many of us males remain quiet however because we've been told only women truly can understand these questions. Having funded an abortion in the autumn of 1962, in Massachusetts where the procedure was illegal, I claim a bit of understanding. My friend, a girl not pregnant by me, needed the money to go to another state and couldn't tell her parents, who were Catholic. Her boyfriend could afford some of the money, but I provided the rest. This was a down-the-narrow-street, up-a-flight-of-stairs, onto-a-table abortion. There was a bed for some brief recovery afterwards. There was anguish. Her relationship with the guy collapsed. This is a situation where some might say she got what she deserved. Knowing that sweet friend and knowing what a wonderful woman she is today...with a great family and, good heavens, some 40 years of marriage, I would never agree with that kind of judgment about her. Instead, I always have rejoiced over the legalization of choice for a woman and a couple who are pregnant before they're ready. And to make that choice with dignity.

But back to the Will of God. People want to argue about when Life begins. Why presume it begins only after penetration? Why doesn't it begin when I see an alluring woman and I desire her? I'm the mighty man and that version of the Will of God seems pretty male to me. Why isn't the Will of God at work in a guy as soon as he desires a woman? Maybe it's God Who's at work in my loins. If that's the case, a woman who rejects my advances is a sinner too. A murderess preventing access to God's seed! It must be God's inspiration that brings me to write this essay. God's fingers are doing the typing. Gadzooks, I'm a prophet!

We need to tackle these ethical questions and be ready to go toe-to-toe with religions and denominations...and assemblies or whatever else the Evangelicals call themselves...and debate these propositions. We need political candidates ready to voice such problems out loud...and prepared to deal successfully with the consequences, which even may border on the violent. We have let this issue drag on, without addressing it, for a dangerously long time. Coincidentally also on Tuesday, Truthout's environmental editor, Kelpie Lewis, wrote a brilliant, well argued, and quite different defense of abortion. I urge you to read it.

I know any number of people who voted for Bush...not because they were voting FOR Bush, but because they were voting against abortion. And that meant voting AGAINST Gore. It was the single issue. They agreed with Gore about the environment 8 years ago, but they had to vote against abortion. And they aren't Catholic. I wonder if any has changed her mind. We're moving towards another election. It COULD happen again!