Wednesday, December 30, 2009

All For Naught

In this Getty image, U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay Monday on a failed bid to blow up a US-bound transatlantic airliner on Christmas Day.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing
or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle
they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are different
they are nothing.

---Walt Whitman

From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the form of things. By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but all that I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, birds, fishes, and insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made more progress, at ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things, at a hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive.


Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

---The Red Queen

It's the time of summing up, and everybody wants to call it The 0 Decade. Zero. But as frustrating and maddening as these first 9 years of the millenium have been, mathematicians and meteorologists agree it takes 10 years to make a decade. So what's a group of 9 called? A nonet. None. Nine. Bah.

Alexander Cockburn's chilly summary at Truthout goes all the way back to 1970, and considers most jarringly what America would NOT be had Hinckley succeeded in killing Reagan. Other reviewers are content to tally up the social nothingness of the Bush 8 out of 9. But Obama is a major target of scrutiny...and that transparency must be getting the full X-ray treatment.

A week ago Sunday, Frank Rich declared Time Magazine's selection of Ben Bernanke as Man (in the sense of huMAN) of the Year was completely off the beam. His choice was Tiger Woods. Why? Because Tiger emerged absolutely as the best conman...and 2009 definitely was the Year of the Con. From Bernie Madoff to John Edwards, everybody was out to pick your pocket. And Obama? You betcha! "Though the American left and right don’t agree on much, they are both now coalescing around the suspicion that Obama’s brilliant presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger’s public image — a marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American radicalism (as the right sees it) or spineless timidity (as the left sees it)."

This morning Maureen Dowd may as well be working for Fox News as she refers to Barack Obama as an emotionless, "disembodied" Mister Spock. The current administration seems to share with the previous that it has the intelligence but doesn't have the intelligence. "If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?"

I've had similar concerns about President Obama's performance this year...and I've posted them online. Yesterday morning on the radio, those of us with such doubts got a substantial scolding. It happened on the Stephanie Miller program, a radical piece of broadcasting even by morning show standards. We hear an hour of it every weekday morning, from 10 to 11, on the unlikely WAIS, 770 AM, in the Athens area. I feel an affinity for Stephanie because she also is from the Buffalo area, and has a quality of outrageous zaniness one acquires looking for excitement in Western New York on a Saturday night. I also remember her father fondly, US Representative William E. Miller, a moderate-to-liberal Republican, which was a rarity in Upstate politics. Mr. Miller ran for the vice presidency on Barry Goldwater's ticket in 1964, and Stephanie jokingly ran for president in 2008, with Goldwater's granddaughter as her running mate.

But Stephanie Miller and her whole crew are on holiday this week, so it was a guy subbing for her who took us Obama doubters to task yesterday. His name is Hal Sparks and he seems to show up a lot on her show. He has a rather odd resume so far but I thought his comments were right on. He challenged us grass rooters, who worked so hard last year and then went home after the election and put our feet up. Now we're moaning that after 11 months we haven't gotten what we want yet from Obama, and vowing to vote for Nader next time. Sparks reminds us it's a lot harder to build up after something has been torn down, and the President still needs grass roots support. That doesn't just mean arguing with the rednecks at work. It means encouraging congresspeople who still are in there pitching for the program. It means active engagement with those who aren't. He said the Democratic Party and Barack Obama need even more help from us now than before.

Well, I hadn't thought about it enough that way I guess. So my summary is more along the lines of checking out what campaign promises Obama really made in the summer and fall of 2008. Has he kept to those promises or not? Does he deserve my continued support? To find out I picked up issue 1064 of Rolling Stone which contained an excellent interview with the candidate on the very eve of the election. Interviewing was Eric Bates, one of the many editors of the magazine. I have to confess surprise that Barack Obama has been consistent in setting about to do exactly what he said he would. There isn't sharp focus in the banking area I must say, but clearly the administration now realizes any bailout money has got to go to smaller hometown banks to lend to small business. Americans have got to have jobs and the opening for creation is in the area of renewable energy. Gore has been saying this for a long time, but now we're hearing it from the White House...and such talk has got to be encouraged.

There are things we can do around our towns. Everywhere people are learning about energy audits and how to save money on changing lifestyles and retrofitting buildings and homes. Local schools and churches need community involvement in learning how to do this. People are wondering about sustainability and if you look around, you'll find meetings being held. Attend them. Get involved. That spirit of enthusiasm and optimism we had during the campaign is going on there. Young people are at work and they're spreading the word among peers who still are learning the basics.

The Naughts are gone, and Twenty-Ten is the start of the Teens. It's a time of vigorous growth and development. It's a time of risk. It's the time for dedication to lasting values. It's time to fall in love. It's a wonderful time to be alive. Let's get busy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas '09

Red morning sky---
are you glad of it?


I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

---Joseph Campbell

The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing---to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.

---John Keats

Of course, Keats died young. Good grief, by the time he was my age he had been dead about 45 years! Does that idea of letting thoughts rush through one's mind sound like a young man? I think I can remember being like that. Joseph Campbell lived into old age and he sounds it. I suppose we elders treasure moments when we feel especially alive.

I don't wish to belittle those ideas by bringing up age, but I was thinking of the relativity of one's eagerness for new things as I tried to come up with something to say about the passing year. It feels like only yesterday Dana looked over at me and said she was ready to have grandchildren now. Actually it was a couple years ago, and I remember sort of blinking at her and wondering where that came from. Ilona was still in high school and Jeroch showed no signs of settling down. I guess being settled isn't a requirement for getting married and having children, but I tend to associate permanence with those conditions. Why was Dana rushing us into grandparenthood?

She just was ready, that's all. Maybe women know about these things. Nesting instincts or something. It all remains very mysterious to me and other men I know---which may be why we invented the garage and hunting and activities like that. Dana has been a wonderful grandmother I think...and I hope our daughter-in-law Karen agrees. Because shortly after Dana was thinking about becoming a grandmother, Jeroch up and married this perfectly perfect person for him, and out have come two beautiful and fascinating daughters, Nina and Sophia. Jeroch hasn't settled down, and in fact has established a philosophy that young people shouldn't try to settle down in these tumultuous times. We need to prepare for a return to the life of nomadic tribes.

This year they've continued testing their hypothesis by house-sitting for numerous sabbaticalizing professors around here. Low rent, and you don't get bogged down accumulating a lot of stuff. Jeroch has been working at Fur Peace Ranch, the music camp and concert area rock and blues musician Jorma Kaukonen set up in the area. Jeroch has a number of skills in baking, cooking, gardening he puts to use, not only for Jorma but in freelance work too. Karen has trained for years in some intense yogas, and is adapting these forms into midwifery. Now as Nina celebrates her 2nd birthday, it is clear she loves her little sister very much---in English and Spanish. (They are a bilingual family.)

Ilona's scholarship made her a candidate for just about any university experience she wanted. We traveled around to a few normal schools, but all the time she kept talking about this place in the Smoky Mountains called Warren Wilson. I kept pointing her to New England, betraying my chauvanism about where you get an education in this country. Nope, finally she got me to go down to Asheville, North Carolina, and those people romanced me right into signing on the dotted line.

The college is very oriented toward environmental approaches to things, and that's what Ilona wanted. The school has the first Leeds accredited dorm in the nation, and the other residences are competing with each other to catch up. The college grows its own food and raises livestock. Each student has a job at the school, for which payment reduces tuition. Ilona has had training in energy auditing, and that's what she does there. Besides academic studies, students are expected to perform community service as well in areas of Appalachia where the need is great. Here she is, home for winter break and when I hinted that OU really is making progress in environmental concerns, she saw I was opening up an alternative just in case and affirmed she's in the school where she wants to be.

As for Dana and me, we had a little empty nest time...but then I guess we were reminded that it's been a long while since we were just getting to know each other. It might be refreshing to pick up where we left off with that. We don't have to argue about who's making what mistakes with the kids anymore, and we just can go out on dates and watch old movies if we want to. That's not a bad deal...I mean, when we're not babysitting.