Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strangers In The Land


Stranger in the Village #13, 1998
Enamel, oil and acrylic paint, gesso, and coal dust on canvas by Glenn Ligon (1960- )
The nearly illegible text is from James Baldwin's 1953 essay of the same title, passages from which follow~~~

…I say that the culture of these people controls me — but they can scarcely be held responsible for European culture. America comes out of Europe, but these people have never seen America, nor have most of them seen more of Europe than the hamlet at the foot of their mountain. Yet they move with an authority which I shall never have; and they regard me, quite rightly , not only as a stranger in their village but as a suspect latecomer, bearing no credentials, to everything they have — however unconsciously — inherited.

For this village, even were it incomparably more remote and incredibly more primitive, is the West, the West onto which I have been so strangely grafted. These people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modern world, in effect, even if they do not know it.…

The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable; this rage, so generally discounted, so little understood even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history. Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. This is a fact which ordinary representatives of the Herrenvolk, having never felt this rage and being unable to imagine, quite fail to understand.

---James Baldwin
"Stranger in the Village" is the concluding essay of his Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955.

A few Sundays ago, our Episcopal rector gave us a sermon I promised to post when I had the chance. As usual he was glad to hear that, but said it might be a while because he already had offered it online and wanted to be sure that site got credited. Father Bill Carroll's piece now is available and I urge you to take a moment to reflect on it~~~

On immigration: Are we heeding Moses and the prophets?
Not long ago, we asked people how they preached on the difficult gospel passage below. The Rev. Bill Carroll responded.

By Bill Carroll

Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
(Luke 16:19-31)

I wrote this sermon for one of the women who cleaned my parents' house when I was growing up. Her name is Gilda, and she took over the job from her mother Lupe, whom my mother hired not long after we moved to San Diego when I was ten. Gilda spoke very little English. She was a Mexican citizen with documentation to work in this country. Twice a week she worked at our house, and I assume she had other jobs during the week. She came by public transit from Tijuana, Mexico, some twenty-five miles away.

I remember my mother's efforts to be fair. She paid Gilda more than the going rate. She made or bought lunch for her every day, and she tried to give her a ride to and from the bus stop, which was about a mile from our house. At the same time, however, even as a child, I was aware that Gilda was living on the edge. She must have been bone tired, emotionally and physically weary. Nearly every day, she was harassed and shaken down for bribes by officials on both sides of the border. Despite the fact that she needed the job and seemed to appreciate kindnesses that her other employers did not extend, nothing can really change the brute, social facts surrounding our relationship.

I was thinking about Gilda when the House of Bishops met in Arizona recently. There was some controversy about whether they should meet there at all, in light of recent events in that state. One of the positive things to come out of that decision was a delegation of thirty bishops, who spent two days on both sides of the border, meeting with everyone from immigrants to ranchers to border patrol agents to clergy ministering along the border. The bishops also adopted a pastoral letter, drafted by a committee chaired by our own bishop (Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio), on comprehensive immigration reform.

The letter is available here. http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/Pastoral_Letter_9-21-10.pdf It is addressed to "the People of God." As is true of any letter written by committee for a diverse audience, the letter strives for balance. The legitimate concerns of ranchers, law enforcement, and border security advocates are acknowledged. Nevertheless, our bishops do manage to say something clear and substantive. More importantly, they put front and center the needs of poor people crossing the border for work, whether documented or not. Here is the meat of what the bishops had to say:

(1) Ours is a migratory world in which many people move across borders to escape poverty, hunger, injustice and violence. We categorically reject efforts to criminalize undocumented migrants and immigrants, and deplore the separation of families and the unnecessary incarceration of undocumented workers. Since, as we are convinced, it is natural to seek gainful employment to sustain oneself and one’s family, we cannot agree that the efforts of undocumented workers to feed and shelter their households through honest labor are criminal.

(2) We profess that inhumane policies directed against undocumented persons (raids, separation of families, denial of health services) are intolerable on religious and humanitarian grounds, as is attested by the consensus of a wide range of religious bodies on this matter.

(3) We call on the government of the United States and all governments to create fair and
humane immigration policies...

In taking this stand, which will not be popular in every corner of the Church, our bishops have done what they promised at their ordination. Among the vows that bishops take is a particular promise to "be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper."

But the bishops, seeking to encourage us all, appeal not primarily to this promise of theirs but instead to the baptismal covenant they share with all of us, wherein we promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

In their role as teachers of the Word of God, the bishops also cite the Scriptures. In particular, they mention the law given to Moses on Sinai, as recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Numbers: There shall be for you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. And they refer to a glorious passage from Ephesians, chapter two, which speaks of how in Christ, we are no longer "strangers and aliens" but "citizens with the saints and...members of the household of God."

The bishops might just have well referred to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, appointed for Sunday right after their letter came out. This Gospel is one of several passages in the New Testament, the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew also comes to mind, where it is made clear to us that our decisions about how to respond to brothers and sisters in need, particularly when they are poor and vulnerable, are decisions for or against God and God's Kingdom.

In this life, the rich man ignored the cries of poor Lazarus, who lay wounded and hungry at his gate. Perhaps he could scarcely see him for who he was. Even if he did see him, he averted his gaze, ignored him, and tried to pretend he wasn't there. He certainly didn't respond to his needs, get to know him, or find out what gifts he had to offer.

I believe that for Christians living in the United States, which despite our recent difficulties is still the richest country on earth, this parable provides a challenge and a warning. Do we see the poor of the world? Do we see the poor who are already among us, both immigrant and "native-born"? Do we see the growing underclass among us, as poverty and extreme poverty rates continue to climb?

How do we respond when we notice these children of God lying at our gates? Do we cover our eyes? Do we call the cops? Or do we invite them in, offer them a seat at the table, and find ways for them to contribute and belong? We dare not turn a blind eye to the fundamental realities already on the ground. Immigrants are already contributing mightily to the economy, to the communities they live in, and to the society as a whole. There are law enforcement challenges to be sure and no one has all the answers, but the existing laws are out of touch with reality. And the climate of fear and scapegoating is dangerous. It runs contrary to both our best instincts as a nation and the Gospel mandate to tear down every wall that divides human beings.

This commandment from God is rooted in Israel's history as a nation of migrant workers, who came to Egypt to avoid famine and were mistreated by Pharaoh, until GOD came and set them free. This is why, again and again, the prophets remind us of our obligation to create justice for the poor and vulnerable among us: remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

In the story from Luke 16, when the rich man asks father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, Abraham tells him that they already have Moses and the prophets and should listen to them. Truly, brothers and sisters, if WE will not heed Moses and the prophets, and respond to our brothers and sisters in need, there is perhaps no hope for us. No, not even if someone rises from the dead.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. http://gsathens.blogspot.com/ He also blogs at Living the Gospel. http://evangeliumobservare.blogspot.com/ He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.
Posted by Jim Naughton on October 19, 2010 4:17 AM

You may access the original and reply directly to Father Carroll at this site http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/immigration/by_bill_carroll_jesus_said.php where there already are a few fine comments.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Sincere Heart



Cindy Yeager pictures herself.

What are we waiting for? A woman? Two trees? Three flags? Nothing. What are we waiting for?

---Andre Breton

Whenever I catch a frog's eye I am aware of this, but I do not find it depressing. I stand quite still and try hard not to move or lift a hand since it would only frighten him. And standing thus it finally comes to me that this is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is, far more than any spatial adventure, the supreme epitome of the reaching out.

---Loren Eiseley

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself. From within, I couldn't decide what to do. Unable to see, I heard my name being called. Then I walked outside.

---Jalal-ad-Din Rumi

Once in a rare while, someone you've never seen before walks into a room and rivets your attention. It may be the flair, it may be the grace, it may be the bravado...and sometimes it is angelic humility. It is with the last quality that Cindy Yeager entered my consciousness. She came in the room almost as if she wanted to be invisible. It wasn't because she felt ashamed of how she looked. She was beautiful...in a most natural, windy wheatfield kind of way. It was because she didn't like how she felt, but knew this was the place to be.

It was a room where people talk about very basic feelings...or attempt to...and practice doing. For many of us talking about our feelings is not easy...at least to do it with complete honesty. She knew she would have to do that here...and so she sort of curled up in a chair, ran her graceful hand through shocks of hair every shade of blonde imaginable, and took for granted the hair would stay the way her hand had passed through. And it did for a while. Then she continued with lowered head and eyes to sit contemplatively until it was her turn to try to put it into words.

Cindy was in the midst of a painful divorce. Her relationship with her husband had been deteriorating for some time, as apparently was his mental health. A diagnosis finally revealed the cause, and Cindy wondered what to do. Should she now shift to caring for this man, who perhaps could no longer care for her, plus continue to mother their 2 teen-aged sons as well? Would she not also have to provide for this family with some kind of job? It was overwhelming and she had wept every day about it. And as she told us, she began to weep right then. Her tears, her honest emotion, her humility was such that everybody in the place started weeping. It was a catharsis.

But Cindy didn't even notice that. This wasn't for audience reaction. This wasn't for pity. She was working. She was working hard. To work it out. It was tragic for her to divorce because she loved him...and, for a Catholic, it also was wrong. But a friend had told her convincingly, "Cindy, you have suffered so much. Now you deserve to be happy." She believed her friend. She knew the suffering was eating her alive...and she felt the pain she now endured through the divorce was more worthwhile than fighting perhaps a hopeless battle of her husband's condition.

And for the next several months Cindy would come into these rooms and suffer, and try to put it into words, and get it out. And she would cry...and we would cry. And we all went through it together. And as we did everyone developed a love for Cindy...and for each other too. Because a group can't go through something like this and not end up in love. And Cindy loves us. And so everybody hugs everybody else when Cindy is around. That in itself is a successful life.

Now I'm telling you all this because it certainly is worth telling. But there's more. Cindy writes and even teaches poetry. Unlike most of us, she even has found a way to make sort of a living at it. That's not all she does to support herself and the boys, but it is what we're looking at today. Last week Cindy walked into a room again, and over to me, and handed me three poems. With customary humility, she asked, "Would you take a look at these when you have a chance?"

A group of us were having a huge breakfast, and I didn't want to spill syrup on poems...but carefully I couldn't wait to read the first one, which is called "To My Odysseus." I got halfway through and realized I was reading an intensely personal love poem. I shifted gears...and then I began to utter little noises as I read on. The three poems that are posted here are Cindy's effort to put the ache into poetry. I don't know when I've read such personal expression as these works. Rest assured, the gentleman under discussion, her ex-, knows this is happening. They're going online and he's OK with it.

I think you'll find these are magnificent poems, whether you know Cindy personally or not. And of course after you've read them, you will know Cindy personally. That is what poetry is for.

To My Odysseus

Our sons have told me that Sasquatch
has been found, in a northern Canadian cabin,
DNA evidence on a nail
protruding from a floorboard.
It may happen. Mythical creatures,
whose very existence we thought a
fabrication of human longing, manifest.
Isn't that was longing does?

Yesterday I returned
overdue magazines to the library. They
get caught up in the landscape of belongings,
take residence in the bathroom or
at the foot of the bed,
the Rolling Stone in the former, the
Natural Home, the latter, a testament
to my ridiculous aspiration to
neatness, every cover
a perfect, orderly dream.

The circulation manager told me
I had a credit on my account. "That's
impossible," I said, but we agreed,
miracles should not be ignored.
And so, just now,

I thought of you telling me
how you dream you hear me breathing
next to you in the night
though I haven't been there
on the left side, my side, of the bed
for months. You tell me this,
your breath warm on my naked shoulder,
my arms around your back like
a sea creature, a siren,
this moment
both mythical, and real.

These nights when I gaze the sky alone
I easily find Orion
who's marked the passing decades
like blood reinvents us,
every seven years, the person I am now
completely different from the one
that you married
all those years ago.

From the corner of my eye, Orion
in the eastern sky, me, here
in the front yard, far from the sea, you,
sleeping in the bed inside, not a ship,
though you toss and turn
like its waves that move you.

Outside, I am singing,
like a woman who cannot stop herself,
singing, singing,
the sound, hope
to the sailor
long absent from his home,
from the sound of someone breathing,
his wife's familiar taste, the salty
tendril of her hair,
gone so long
her very existence
now the thing of stories.

~~~

The Gift

This morning I am giving you my body
for the last time. These breasts
which fed your sons so well, now
older, soft, a safe and restful place,
hide the beating heart beneath
a steady drum, the measure
of my one true self. These hips

which held those babies up
above the fray of absence
and resentment, the ones
you pulled to your own
each morning before light;
they are taking up their journey
now; these hips are leaving.

The legs you first noticed
and desired, long as yours and strong
as steel, these legs are longing
for another place to fold themselves
underneath themselves.

The skin we all agree
has aged with grace.
Your face upon my shoulder,
your fingertips along
my arm, remember these
because they will
not brush this skin again.

This body has been my only answer
to your questions of despair.
I gave it willfully; you took it
every time. It bought a home,
allowed a dog, made a fence--
the fence I wanted--raised a family
but it's leaving now. The mind,
the heart have called it back
to be with me in stillness
which is not death, but life, again,
though you doubt it so.

~~~

Pill Bug

The poem begins with a sock curled in
upon itself, the way they do when boys
pull them off and leave them where they fall.
The ball of white so different from the nearly
feathered bird, still upon the concrete
where I found him dead tonight, skin,
translucent, gentle neck, eyes blue
pearls of sleep. The fragile shift we all
could make when no one holds us back.

And then the image of that not quite formed
baby boy, the one at fifteen weeks
the nurse held in her palm, the one
my body pushed away, a bloody mess
of hemorrhage, and you across the room
sickened, now, I understand, afraid
you'd lose me in the bleeding though I knew
I'd stay if I survived. You were my family now.
You and I and sons who'd later come
to fill the gap of emptiness, began that day
in March, the first hard tug of gut
as painful as the last. I said DON'T LOOK
our thumb-sized son already named,
but we looked, you and I, at what we had
become, two lonely souls, two tired angels,
briefly clinging to a bedrail,
the knowledge of aloneness
like a new book's broken spine, permission granted
to read on, the story had to write itself.

And then,
the pill bug that I find
curled in fright beneath the last
of ash and oak, a nesting place
for such small things, and now
I curl upon myself, the memory
of your sweet tongue
drawing me to come to you,
in a ball, protected
by the outer shell of nothing,
the illusion that I can
live like this and so
I just let go, accept the pulse,
the blood, the heart, the wound
of sex that brought us back
to our beginning, the loneliness,
the gripping hands, the death
of someone you're expecting
but who never will arrive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Freedom At Facebook



In this very breath that we take now lies the secret that all great teachers try to tell us.

---Peter Matthiessen

Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.

---Shunryu Suzuki

When sitting, just sit. Above all, don't wobble.

---Yun-men

I have an online friend whom I met about 10 years ago. We've never met in person. She has a position at a major university. Yesterday morning on Facebook she posted a comment about a funeral home in her town, and the way obituaries customarily are handled. She was critical and a few people posted in agreement. In the afternoon she was summoned into the office of her supervisor for a little talk.

It seems the owner had caught wind of the comment and thread, who my friend is, and phoned the university. I suppose the exact content of that conversation is confidential, but the upshot was my friend had to take down the post and publish an apology. What she apologized for was not the content of her opinion exactly, but rather that she had made the content "in such a public forum."

I have a lot of empathy for what my friend just went through, and I mentioned it this morning to my wife. She asked, "How are you supposed to complain about something if not in a public forum?" I said, "In Free Market America, you're supposed to take your hat in hand and privately write the enterprise a polite letter stating your views. They will reply either that they are taking your comment into consideration or else shove it in your hat."

Apparently public forums are for criticizing elected representatives only. Banks, insurance companies, big box stores, local attorneys? You better watch out. It's never been easier to replace you at your job. And if you have seniority, they save money too. My friend's experience is one more example of the kind of fear that grips America today. Why didn't anybody blow the whistle on BP and Wall Street? I rest my case.

As for Facebook, I must say it's refreshing when somebody states a serious thought in there. It is to me anyway. A survey about whether a friend should open a window or turn on the air conditioner doesn't really entertain me all that much...to say nothing of fulfilling my life. Well, actually I guess turning on the air conditioner is pretty serious business in this---er---Climate. Which reminds me, it's starting to get too warm outside to get hot under the collar.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"Find A Bee And Foller Him Home"


Ivan Kramskoy. Bee-Keeper. 1872

Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end.

---Krishnamurti

There is no coming to consciousness without pain.

---Carl Gustav Jung

Pain in the legs is the taste of Zen.

---Yamada Roshi

About 65 years Walt Disney put to live action and animation a film depicting Uncle Remus and the Joel Chandler Harris Brer Rabbit stories. It was called Song of the South and was withdrawn by Disney because of protests in the 1960s over the Remus character and the way the script had him talking. I understand the problem, but regret terribly the loss of easy access to the film and the wondrous animation in it. A friend of mine smuggled a VCR copy of it in from Canada a little while ago, and so I got to see it again.

The quotation in my title is advice Uncle Remus gave to a little boy who was trying to find some honey. Well, the advice worked...but you can imagine the difficulty of doing such a thing. This past full moon is called the Mead Moon in Europe because I guess beekeepers use the light of the moon to collect spring honey easily while the bees are asleep---or whatever state they're in at night. Then the people make mead to celebrate the quiet, lazy summer afternoons. Maybe something involved in all that is why our bees came back.

It's hard to believe 6 years ago this month I wrote an essay describing the sad destruction of a honeybee colony in the wall of our house. Attacked by creatures known as wax moths, our bees slowly were decimated as we watched helplessly. http://www.newciv.org/nl/newslog.php/_v63/__show_article/_a000063-000251.htm When the bees had arrived---in a swarm that produced one of the most unforgettable natural events in the lives of my family---we had been warned by friends that we needed to smoke 'em or tear the wall out to get rid of them. They gave us visions of a whole wall soaked in leaking honey. But a bee guy told us such a catastrophe was highly unlikely because they're too smart to make that much more than what they need. And indeed after the colony was killed, the remaining honey dripped from a single spot in a windowsill which I captured easily in a dish.

So we had lived with them for a few years, our daughter being raised to the constant, faint buzzing hum of a queen and her colony in the wall next to Ilona's bed. Beware, gentleman callers! Who knows what that did to her...but she seems to enjoy success in her studies. We all grieved the loss of the hive.

So imagine how dumbfounded I was a couple days ago, the morning after the moon had become full, to walk into her room and hear that hum again. We had observed no swarm this time...and it must just have stopped raining heavily. Maybe a beekeeper nearby had taken honey, and some of the hive had decided Enough is enough! I don't know and am not going to advertise, other than this posting...but they're here and must know there was a hive here before. The remains of the battle must still be in the wall. But this is where they want to be, so it must be a very special, select site and here we go again.

You notice I'm using words like "smart," "decide," and "thinking" to describe what many people talk about as just bugs. Over the last couple years, science has investigated more thoroughly the process by which bees select a new site for a colony and I find it all fascinating. Last week Psychology Today produced a column comparing the process to how we humans make decisions. Of course it's all simplified here but it might get you interested. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-wisdom-bees/201006/why-bees-dont-make-stupid-decisions-and-we-do I guess they know what they're doing. Anyway, welcome back...and we have a whole garden awaiting pollination!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here's Laughing At You



As a man is, so he sees.

---William Blake

To be a proper abode for God and fit for God to act in, a man should be free from all things and actions, both inwardly and outwardly.

---Meister Eckhart

Enlightenment is for sissies. Living ethically and morally is what really matters.

---Brad Warner

As America moved into the decade of the 1960s, a writer, lecturer, and eventual TV personality named William Buckley declared conservatives see reality in an entirely different way. He declared a Culture War upon the so-called "liberal" arts. Fifty years later we read Internet complaints from liberals that Texas textbook publishers are distorting American history beyond recognition. Maybe liberals didn't "realize" conservatives weren't kidding about that war.

The war has become so serious that legislation proposed by the Executive just sits in the Congress, blocked by opposing parties. "Obstructionist gridlock!" shouts one side. "Do-nothing president!" shouts the other. The "mainstream media" presents a version and FoxNews presents another. If people in a civilization become so alienated from each other as to resemble different species, what can the future look like?

I've been wondering about these things for some time, particularly in a work situation. One wants to be sensitive to the views of co-workers, particularly in the realms of politics, religion, sexual preference, but it seems to me as the decades have passed simple conversation has become more and more tricky. Must only the most mundane topics be the rule of the day? Even talk about the weather can lead to a fight...if global warming ever is mentioned. Sports and the latest sale at the mall may be all you can talk about that won't get you in trouble. Can we still be called an educated public?

Now I read a statistic that truly is worrisome. Researchers estimate that 11% of the US population cannot tell whether a remark made is a joke or an attack! The American sense of humor has been a major characteristic of our culture since the Quakers left Puritantown. But now, is the threat of nastiness so great that only boring moderation is safe in a group? Who can one trust in the workplace? If I kid that guy over there, might he come in tomorrow with a gun? Please glance over this incredible report in Science News, and see what you think~~~

When Humor Humiliates
For gelotophobes, even good-natured laughter can sound a lot like ridicule
By Susan Gaidos
August 1st, 2009; Vol.176 #3 (p. 18)

It started as a quiet dinner conversation, punctuated with laughter. Soon, the rapid-fire “ha-ha-has” took on the tone of gunfire. Convinced it was directed at him, the young man got up to confront the noisy diners.

Naturally, the guests at the next table had no idea what the problem was. They were simply enjoying themselves and … laughing. Embarrassed by his outburst, the young man left the restaurant and never returned.

By most accounts, laughter is good medicine, the best even. But for some, such as the embarrassed diner, a good-natured chuckle isn’t funny at all. Morbidly averse to being the butt of a joke, these folks will go out of their way to avoid certain people or situations for fear of being ridiculed. For them, merely being around others who are talking and laughing can cause tension and apprehension.

Until recently, such people might have been written off as spoilsports. But in the mid-1990s, an astute German psychologist recognized the problem for what it is: a debilitating fear of being laughed at. Over the past decade, psychologists, sociologists, linguists and humor experts have examined this trait, technically known as gelotophobia. Though it sounds like an ailment involving Italian ice cream, scientists worldwide now recognize it as a distinct social phobia. Studies of causes and consequences of gelotophobia were among the topics presented in June in Long Beach, Calif., at a meeting of the International Society for Humor Studies.

Most people fear being laughed at to some degree and do their best to avoid embarrassment. One thing that sets gelotophobes apart is their inability to distinguish ridicule from playful teasing. For them, all laughter is aggressive, and a harmless joke may come across as a mean-spirited assault.

“They seem to have problems interpreting humor correctly,” says psychologist Willibald Ruch of the University of Zurich. “They probably do not understand the positive side of humor, and cannot experience it in a warm way but rather as a means to put others down.”

Ruch and colleagues have developed assessment tools to help clinicians demarcate the merely flustered from the truly fearful. In recent years, his team has surveyed more than 23,000 people in 73 countries and found gelotophobia present to some degree in every nation, affecting from 2 to 30 percent of the population. In the United States, the incidence is about 11 percent, researchers said at the meeting in California.

When asked about recent occasions where they were laughed at, gelotophobes don’t list more occurrences than others do. They do, however, experience such events as more painful.

“The gelotophobes reported a much higher intensity of being laughed at, and for a longer duration,” says Ruch. “Also, it takes them much longer to calm down.”

Studies using cartoons to illustrate people laughing in various situations show that those with a fear of being laughed at are more likely to assume that the laughter is directed at them. Other studies using laugh tracks show that gelotophobes have problems distinguishing a happy har-de-har from a scornful snicker.

Scientists studying the negative effects of being the target of others’ laughter say such studies may help psychologists and psychiatrists treat patients with various types of social anxieties. The findings may also be used to better assess incidents of bullying at school and work, where nonphysical belittling and intimidation are commonplace.

“It’s not yet studied how many impulsive violent acts were carried out in response to ridicule,” Ruch says. Similarly, acts of revenge are often based on sensitivity to mocking and ridicule, he adds, pointing to a number of tragic school shootings where the gunmen left notes indicating that their classmates had laughed at them.

“Obviously, those experiences were so salient for them that they put it into their last letter,” he says.

It’s a shame

The funny thing about laughter is, it’s seldom about what’s funny. When Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County took to the streets and coffee shops to record instances of laughter, he found that most laughter has little to do with humor. People laugh when they’re nervous, hesitant or just making polite conversation. Most smiles and laughs occur when other people are around. In his 2000 book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine says laughter serves as a way to form alliances and make connections with others. For most, laughter serves as a signal for mutual liking and well-being.

But, like the young man whose dinner was ruined, not everyone feels the joy of laughter. Psychologist Tracey Platt, who ran across that man’s case in her studies at the University of Zurich, says gelotophobes tend to have a fear and shame response to laughter, even in the best circumstances.

“While most people feel joy and surprise during playful teasing, gelotophobes feel the same anger, shame and fear that they would feel during ridicule,” she says. “In fact, shame is at the forefront of their emotions.”

The fact that shame is a predominant emotion in gelotophobia explains, in part, why the affliction received little scrutiny from scientists for so long. Burning shame can create more feelings of shame and is rarely acknowledged to others. In the late 1990s, a patient of German psychologist Michael Titze revealed how a series of childhood humiliations led to a morbid fear of being laughed at and a life of inhibition. In her report, the patient acknowledged that she had waited more than a year to tell the therapist about it.

Upon reading an account of this patient, Ruch set out to see if gelotophobia exists in the real world, where day-to-day mishaps, blunders and bloopers provide innumerable opportunities for mockery, both real and imagined. He developed a 46-item questionnaire and later a modified 15-item version called the GELOPH, which could be used to score people’s fear of laughter on a scale from slightly fearful to extremely fearful. The questionnaires were also designed to identify those with shame-based fear.

Ruch’s team also created a pictorial assessment tool similar to the GELOPH, with cartoons showing people laughing in various circumstances. One picture, for example, shows someone observing two other people laughing. Participants were then asked what the observer might be saying or thinking. While those with no fear might say something like, “Look at those youngsters, they know how to have fun,” a typical response from a gelotophobe would be, “Why are they laughing at me?”

GELOPH testing in dozens of countries shows that the fear of being laughed at is everywhere, says University of Zurich psychologist René Proyer, who directed a multinational study on the subject. Though scientists are still sifting through the data, preliminary findings show that the incidence of gelotophobia is especially high in Asia, where the concept of “saving face” is important. The results were published in the February issue of the journal Humor.

Based on the findings of the multinational study, the scientists now view gelotophobia as a personality trait, not as an illness.

“Everyone has a fear of being laughed at to a certain degree,” Proyer says, ranging from nearly no fear to an exceedingly high, or pathological, fear.

Realizing that there’s often a gap between what people say in a self-report and what they actually do in real life, the scientists also collected questionnaires from friends and family members. In addition, the team designed studies to look for behavioral evidence of people’s symptoms.

In one study, Proyer and his colleagues hired an actor to record 20 different laughs — from playful peals and embarrassed giggles to belly laughs and jeers. The researchers then played the sound tracks for 40 people who had scored extremely high or low on the GELOPH and asked them to rate the laughter as pleasant or unpleasant, domineering or less domineering.

To scientists’ surprise, those that scored high for fear of being laughed at didn’t react more strongly to the sounds of negative laughter than did those with no fear. The gelotophobes did, however, perceive positive laughter, such as hearty or cheerful laughter, as unpleasant or spiteful.

The scientists also measured participants’ moods before and after the experiment. Those with no fear of laughter reported feeling more cheerful after hearing the sound tracks, while gelotophobes reported no change in mood, the researchers reported in the February Humor.

Ruch says those findings agree with Titze’s theory that those with a high fear probably have a history of being laughed at. “If someone has always experienced laughter as a weapon, not as something you share, then all laughter will sound like negatively motivated laughter,” Ruch says.

But findings from recent studies show that additional factors may be at play. When W. Larry Ventis, professor of psychology at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., reviewed information collected from the GELOPH studies, he found that repeated traumatic experiences during childhood and youth may exert some influence but don’t tell the whole story.

“Those types of experiences don’t clearly account for differentiating people who would be identified as gelotophobic from those who are not,” Ventis says. “This suggests that there are other significant variables which we need to flesh out.”

At the International Society for Humor Studies conference, Ventis discussed several other possible influences. People with a more reactive autonomic nervous system, for example, may respond with fear more readily than do others. And those who have witnessed instances where laughter was used to put people down may more readily believe that laughter translates into insult.

Taking a cue from laughter

Platt’s studies of gelotophobes’ emotions show that they may also have problems picking up on the social cues related to smiling and laughter. Fake laughs, belly laughs, malicious laughs and chuckles all come with their own set of cues — such as vocal tones and facial expressions — that signal whether you’re being laughed at or laughed with.

Not picking up on these cues may lead some people with gelotophobia to misinterpret playful laughter as something much more menacing, Platt says.

“If all the cues are all there, the over-exaggeration and the facial mannerisms, to say ‘I’m only playing with you and this is fun,’ then it may be fine,” Platt says. “But there’s a danger that those cues might be misunderstood by someone who fears being ridiculed, and they will say that they’re being bullied when they’re just being teased.”

In a recent study, Platt created different scenarios to simulate teasing and bullying situations where laughter frequently occurs. The results, published in the June Psychology Science Quarterly, found that gelotophobes had problems discriminating between the two.

“Teasing is ambiguous at best,” she says. “It’s play, and it’s quite sophisticated, and some people aren’t going to get that.”

While teasing is about group cohesion and being included, ridicule and bullying are about social exclusion, Platt says.

“Teasing would be dying your hair a lighter color and having your friends call you a dumb blonde,” she explains. “They know that you’re not dumb. They have a trust element in the relationship. The people in the group are saying, ‘We’re so close we can have fun with some element.’”

If someone misinterprets playful banter at work or school and then overreacts, it could make everything worse, she adds. “Then they would be reacting inappropriately, and that could make them the target of ridicule if they weren’t before.”

Platt is now developing a program based on the “mental toughness” coaching techniques that sports psychologists use to help athletes succeed and take control of situations. Once in place, the program may be used to help gelotophobes better deal with laughter.

“Avoiding laughter situations is only going to make them feel worse, so we want to set up challenges to help them recognize the appropriate cues and take control of their fear,” she says.

To provide a more complete picture of how people deal with laughter, Ruch and his colleagues have recently expanded their studies to describe two other humor-related concepts: The joy of being laughed at — or gelotophilia — and the joy of laughing at others, or katagelasticism.

“Humor and mockery are part of a complex interaction —namely, someone does something wrong and gets laughed at,” Ruch says. “But there’s also someone who laughs, and likely a bystander who maybe doesn’t do the ridiculing but approves of it. If we want to understand the phenomenon of gelotophobia in a broader sense, we need to study these different roles.”

While recent studies provide a basis for understanding gelotophobia, scientists say the research is still in its infancy.

Some scientists are now investigating how gelotophobia relates to other types of social anxiety and phobias. Others are initiating work to peer inside the brains of gelotophobes using functional MRI to see if those who fear being laughed at show neural activity more typical for “fear” rather than laughter or enjoyment.

Still others are studying the relationships of gelotophobes to see how their fears play out with friends and families or change with age.

Platt says preliminary data with young adults suggest that people might be more susceptible to being laughed at during puberty. To better understand how, and when, such fears take hold in children, she is working to complete a version of the GELOPH that can be administered to children as young as 3 to 5 years old. The studies may help teachers and administrators sort out accusations of bullying and teasing. Other researchers are studying whether gelotophobia runs in families by checking to see if gelotophobic parents have gelotophobic children.

Ruch says that recognizing that humor is not necessarily contagious is especially important for teachers and others who work with groups of people. “We need to know why is it that something so human, which brings enjoyment to most everyone, is actually experienced so negatively by a few.”

Susan Gaidos is a freelance science writer in Maine.
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/45581/title/When_Humor_Humiliates

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Bad Guys Get Away



I am an artist...It's self-evident that what that word implies is looking for something all the time without ever finding it in full. It is the opposite of saying, "I know all about it. I've already found it." As far as I'm concerned, the word means, "I am looking. I am hunting for it. I am deeply involved."

---Vincent Van Gogh

I scarcely remember counting upon any Happiness---I look not for it if it be not in the present hour---nothing startles me beyond the Moment. The setting sun will always set me to rights---or if a Sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel.

---John Keats

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun? Loved the woodrose, and left it on its stalk?

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

I guess our political system is based on Britain's history, with both of us taking our model from Rome's experiment in Greek democracy. But toward the end, before the so-called barbarians just walked into town and took over, Rome's system had fallen apart. The senate bickered and accomplished nothing. The executive could speak but had to get into the emperor's pocket for funding. The military was intervening everywhere. The courts sentenced questioners to crucifixion. And the emperors were mad with greed and lust.

My teaching career was spent largely celebrating our republic's ways of doing things politically. And just yesterday, I urged a friend to write her federal congressperson for help with a local post office. I guess I'm still a believer. But those primary results and all the conversation I hear---if anybody even bothers to talk about it---demonstrate America has lost faith dramatically in Washington, DC.

Two articles this morning explain to me how and why this has happened. The first is by Glenn Greenwald, previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy. In one dynamic paragraph he sums up our disillusion~~~

"It makes perfect sense that the country loathes the political establishment. Just look at its rancid fruits over the past decade: a devastating war justified by weapons that did not exist; a financial crisis that our Nation's Genuises failed to detect and which its elites caused with lawless and piggish greed; elections that seem increasingly irrelevant in terms of how the Government functions; grotesquely lavish rewards for the worst culprits juxtaposed with miserable unemployment and serious risks of having basic entitlements (Social Security) cut for ordinary Americans; and a Congress that continues to be owned, right out in the open, by the very interests that have caused so much damage. The political establishment is rotten to its core, and the only thing that's surprising is that the citizenry's contempt isn't even more intense than it is. But precisely because that dynamic so clearly transcends Left/Right or Democratic/GOP dichotomies, little effort is expended to understand or explain it."

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/05/19/establishment/index.html

I recommend the article as well because he points out the United States free press repeats and repeats "anti-incumbency," but doesn't explain WHY. Is this the time the truth came out? Is that what we want?

On Tuesday reporter Amy Goodman published an article at TruthDig that describes step by step how the "leak" in the Gulf happened. If you didn't happen to see "60 Minutes" last week, have you heard of anyone else covering this?

"The gulf oil eruption (for that is what it is, not a 'spill' and not merely a 'leak,' but the unleashing of a hugely powerful jet of oil and gas under enormous pressure, a mile beneath the ocean surface) is likely to become the worst environmental disaster in United States history.

"Mike Williams, the chief electronics technician of the Transocean oil rig, detailed on '60 Minutes' the negligence of both Transocean and BP in the lead-up to the blowout. Williams said a mistake was made during a pressure test, which damaged a critical safety gasket, or annular. Later, a crew member reported finding chunks of the rubber gasket in the effluent that surfaces during the drilling process. This annular is part of the blowout preventer, which is the device on the ocean floor, atop the well, that is supposed to serve as the fail-safe, to prevent exactly the type of catastrophe that is unfolding now. There also was a known electrical failure on the blowout preventer.

"Williams also detailed an argument aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig between the Transocean manager and the BP manager. Transocean had been hired to drill the hole and to plug it until BP returned to begin oil extraction. The argument involved how best to plug the hole.

"Transocean, Williams recounted, wanted to leave a heavy mudlike substance in the well shaft, to help the concrete plugs (installed by Halliburton) stay in place. BP wanted the substance removed, ostensibly to expedite the later extraction. 'BP won,' Robert Bea, a University of California-Berkeley engineering professor, told '60 Minutes,' and the concrete plugs failed. The damaged blowout preventer failed as well, and the disaster soon followed."

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/law_order_corporate_crime_unit_20100518/

Can anything be done? Will anything be done? Or, as one guy remarked, does BP actually stand for Beyond Prosecution? Is it too late?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wild Day On Wall Street


Journalist Matt Taibbi on Colbert Nation

If you were to put aside what you know because of what other people told you, how much of what you know do you truly know for yourself? If you look for the origin of your thoughts, of your life, of your universe, can you find it? Can you find where this moment comes from or where it goes home to?

---John Tarrant

Learn the changes and then forget them.

---Charlie Parker

I have learned to have very modest goals for society and myself, things like clean air, green grass, children with bright eyes, not being pushed around, useful work that suits one's abilities, plain tasty food...

---Paul Goodman

The rest of the headline, that I'm using for a title, went like this in yesterday's Washington Post: Wild day on Wall Street leaves electronic exchanges under scrutiny
By David Cho and Jia Lynn Yang. Then the report starts out, "Stock markets went haywire on Thursday. Shares were already falling over fears of fiscal problems in Europe when something, perhaps a structural flaw in U.S. markets, dragged prices into a historic and breathtaking plunge. In the span of minutes, the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted nearly 1,000 points from its previous close -- a record -- and whipsawed back up, creating one of the wildest trading days ever." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/06/AR2010050601464.html The lead story in the New York Times this morning says nobody can figure out yet what happened.

Attempts were made a couple of times to teach me about economics during my schooling. Once was in high school I think, maybe for social studies. We had to choose a stock or 2 and follow them in the newspaper for a week or something. I guess we hoped it went up, but if that's supposed to be exciting it didn't get to me. Then in college there was a required Introduction to Economics, by which was meant US capitalism. I don't remember a single word of the course, but I don't think "hedge fund" or "derivative" was covered.

Nobody ever taught me about socialism, except maybe my great uncle by example. He was mayor of Jamestown, New York, my hometown, for about a zillion years, and was declared Mayor Emeritus because back in the 1930s he thought it was a good idea to have municipal light plants and things like that. He believed citizens should have direct input into how much utilities cost and how things are run. I suppose he was a socialist of some kind. You know how we Swedes are.

I get along with business majors and the like. They seem to have a good sense of humor. But I can't stand any of them once they become executives. They seem to get mean and ugly somewhere along the way. And I don't understand the stock market or much about how capitalism works...and it doesn't interest me. When Reagan was elected I thought probably it was the time to make a lot of money. My wife and I talked it over and we decided we didn't want to get on board...and we didn't. It was sort of a vow, not of poverty exactly, but of middle class contentment.

Well, it turns out contentment being middle class is more and more like being poor. How did that happen? And now we hear about necessary "financial reform." I find nowdays I can't leave my doctor or my insurance company or my union or political representatives to take care of things for me. I have to do the legwork and let them know I'm watching what they do. Life in America didn't used to be like that. My parents trusted those people and it worked out pretty well...until they voted for Reagan anyway.

So, if like most Americans, I don't know anything about financial reform, what am I supposed to do? What happened anyway? What place does Goldman Sachs have in my middle class life? I saw a bumper sticker or something the other days that said, "If America is going down the drain, Goldman Sachs has figured out a way to be that drain." The other day those pirates from Somalia said they're a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. I suppose that's a joke, but there's a cutting edge to it. How does a guy who doesn't know the language find out what needs to be reformed and why?

Matt Taibbi's been writing about this stuff in Rolling Stone for over a year now. In some ways he's writing the same story over and over again in hope that eventually we're going to understand what he's talking about. Matt was a wonderful political correspondent during the presidential election. He was on the campaign trails of both candidates and wrote candidly about the problems and the hopes. But does he know economics?

A year ago April he wrote a long and involved piece called The Big Takeover. The article was about the bailout...but Taibbi's view of it is that "Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution." And he isn't kidding. What was wrong with Wall Street before the bailout got even wronger afterwards and now. I'm having trouble this morning finding the original article at Rolling Stone, but Common Dreams has maintained it (alas, without Victor Juhasz' brilliant illustrations) and I'll give you a few excerpts to convince you to read the whole thing~~~

"The latest bailout came as AIG admitted to having just posted the largest quarterly loss in American corporate history - some $61.7 billion. In the final three months of last year (2008), the company lost more than $27 million every hour. That's $465,000 a minute, a yearly income for a median American household every six seconds, roughly $7,750 a second. And all this happened at the end of eight straight years that America devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat to no avail, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society and was unable to spot holes in the national economy the size of Libya (whose entire GDP last year was smaller than AIG's 2008 losses)...

"The problem was, none of this was based on reality. 'The banks knew they were selling crap,' says a London-based trader from one of the bailed-out companies. To get AAA ratings, the CDOs (Collateralized-Debt Obligation) relied not on their actual underlying assets but on crazy mathematical formulas that the banks cooked up to make the investments look safer than they really were. 'They had some back room somewhere where a bunch of Indian guys who'd been doing nothing but math for God knows how many years would come up with some kind of model saying that this or that combination of debtors would only default once every 10,000 years,' says one young trader who sold CDOs for a major investment bank. 'It was nuts...'

"In its simplest form, a CDS (Credit-Default Swap) is just a bet on an outcome. Say Bank A writes a million-dollar mortgage to the Pope for a town house in the West Village. Bank A wants to hedge its mortgage risk in case the Pope can't make his monthly payments, so it buys CDS protection from Bank B, wherein it agrees to pay Bank B a premium of $1,000 a month for five years. In return, Bank B agrees to pay Bank A the full million-dollar value of the Pope's mortgage if he defaults. In theory, Bank A is covered if the Pope goes on a meth binge and loses his job...

"(Robert) Cassano (the head of a tiny, 400-person unit within the company called AIG Financial Products, or AIGFP) was selling so-called 'naked' CDS deals. In a 'naked' CDS, neither party actually holds the underlying loan. In other words, Bank B not only sells CDS protection to Bank A for its mortgage on the Pope - it turns around and sells protection to Bank C for the very same mortgage. This could go on ad nauseam: You could have Banks D through Z also betting on Bank A's mortgage. Unlike traditional insurance, Cassano was offering investors an opportunity to bet that someone else's house would burn down, or take out a term life policy on the guy with AIDS down the street. It was no different from gambling, the Wall Street version of a bunch of frat brothers betting on Jay Feely to make a field goal. Cassano was taking book for every bank that bet short on the housing market, but he didn't have the cash to pay off if the kick went wide.

"In a span of only seven years, Cassano sold some $500 billion worth of CDS protection, with at least $64 billion of that tied to the subprime mortgage market. AIG didn't have even a fraction of that amount of cash on hand to cover its bets, but neither did it expect it would ever need any reserves. So long as defaults on the underlying securities remained a highly unlikely proposition, AIG was essentially collecting huge and steadily climbing premiums by selling insurance for the disaster it thought would never come...

"Cassano's outrageous gamble wouldn't have been possible had he not had the good fortune to take over AIGFP just as Sen. Phil Gramm - a grinning, laissez-faire ideologue from Texas - had finished engineering the most dramatic deregulation of the financial industry since Emperor Hien Tsung invented paper money in 806 A.D. For years, Washington had kept a watchful eye on the nation's banks. Ever since the Great Depression, commercial banks - those that kept money on deposit for individuals and businesses - had not been allowed to double as investment banks, which raise money by issuing and selling securities. The Glass-Steagall Act, passed during the Depression, also prevented banks of any kind from getting into the insurance business.

"But in the late Nineties, a few years before Cassano took over AIGFP, all that changed. The Democrats, tired of getting slaughtered in the fundraising arena by Republicans, decided to throw off their old reliance on unions and interest groups and become more 'business-friendly.' Wall Street responded by flooding Washington with money, buying allies in both parties. In the 10-year period beginning in 1998, financial companies spent $1.7 billion on federal campaign contributions and another $3.4 billion on lobbyists. They quickly got what they paid for. In 1999, Gramm co-sponsored a bill that repealed key aspects of the Glass-Steagall Act, smoothing the way for the creation of financial megafirms like Citigroup. The move did away with the built-in protections afforded by smaller banks. In the old days, a local banker knew the people whose loans were on his balance sheet: He wasn't going to give a million-dollar mortgage to a homeless meth addict, since he would have to keep that loan on his books. But a giant merged bank might write that loan and then sell it off to some fool in China, and who cared?..

"The situation worsened in 2004, in an extraordinary move toward deregulation that never even got to a vote. At the time, the European Union was threatening to more strictly regulate the foreign operations of America's big investment banks if the U.S. didn't strengthen its own oversight. So the top five investment banks got together on April 28th of that year and - with the helpful assistance of then-Goldman Sachs chief and future Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson - made a pitch to George Bush's SEC chief at the time, William Donaldson, himself a former investment banker. The banks generously volunteered to submit to new rules restricting them from engaging in excessively risky activity. In exchange, they asked to be released from any lending restrictions. The discussion about the new rules lasted just 55 minutes, and there was not a single representative of a major media outlet there to record the fateful decision.

"Donaldson OK'd the proposal, and the new rules were enough to get the EU to drop its threat to regulate the five firms. The only catch was, neither Donaldson nor his successor, Christopher Cox, actually did any regulating of the banks. They named a commission of seven people to oversee the five companies, whose combined assets came to total more than $4 trillion. But in the last year and a half of Cox's tenure, the group had no director and did not complete a single inspection. Great deal for the banks, which originally complained about being regulated by both Europe and the SEC, and ended up being regulated by no one...

"There are plenty of people who have noticed, in recent years, that when they lost their homes to foreclosure or were forced into bankruptcy because of crippling credit-card debt, no one in the government was there to rescue them. But when Goldman Sachs - a company whose average employee still made more than $350,000 last year, even in the midst of a depression - was suddenly faced with the possibility of losing money on the unregulated insurance deals it bought for its insane housing bets, the government was there in an instant to patch the hole. That's the essence of the bailout: rich bankers bailing out rich bankers, using the taxpayers' credit card.

"The people who have spent their lives cloistered in this Wall Street community aren't much for sharing information with the great unwashed. Because all of this shit is complicated, because most of us mortals don't know what the hell LIBOR is or how a REIT works or how to use the word 'zero coupon bond' in a sentence without sounding stupid - well, then, the people who do speak this idiotic language cannot under any circumstances be bothered to explain it to us and instead spend a lot of time rolling their eyes and asking us to trust them...

"The real question from here is whether the Obama administration is going to move to bring the financial system back to a place where sanity is restored and the general public can have a say in things or whether the new financial bureaucracy will remain obscure, secretive and hopelessly complex. It might not bode well that Geithner, Obama's Treasury secretary, is one of the architects of the Paulson bailouts; as chief of the New York Fed, he helped orchestrate the Goldman-friendly AIG bailout and the secretive Maiden Lane facilities used to funnel funds to the dying company. Neither did it look good when Geithner - himself a protégé of notorious Goldman alum John Thain, the Merrill Lynch chief who paid out billions in bonuses after the state spent billions bailing out his firm - picked a former Goldman lobbyist named Mark Patterson to be his top aide.

"In fact, most of Geithner's early moves reek strongly of Paulsonism. He has continually talked about partnering with private investors to create a so-called 'bad bank' that would systemically relieve private lenders of bad assets - the kind of massive, opaque, quasi-private bureaucratic nightmare that Paulson specialized in. Geithner even refloated a Paulson proposal to use TALF, one of the Fed's new facilities, to essentially lend cheap money to hedge funds to invest in troubled banks while practically guaranteeing them enormous profits."

Even with Matt Taibbi's regular-guy style of writing, this is hard stuff to understand. But it's a start...and it's necessary. You don't want to be fooled again, do you?

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/22-6

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Besieged


When you finally collapse somewhere, this robot will read your vitals and call 911.
http://www.geekologie.com/2008/04/ubot_5_robot_designed_to_help.php

Life is too short to be in a hurry.

---Henry David Thoreau

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.

---Jack Kerouac

The artist must summon all his energy, his sincerity, and the greatest modesty in order to shatter the old cliches that come to easily to hand while working, which can suffocate the little flower that doesn not come, ever, the way one expects.

---Henri Matisse

I understand Google's got a war on. Hacked and attacked from all sides, and probably especially from China whose American-made spy devices keep an eye on everyone wherever. Well, maybe Times Square was saved because of all those cameras watching everything, but still what if I want to hide away somewhere? Get lost. Find some solitude. A Google Earth satellite can find me, hone in on my whereabouts, and cybercast me taking a bath. Hello YouTube. Sign in with your Google account.

I know a Libertarian at work, who's always telling me the government wants to put a computer chip in our brains. I have a friend, currently being checked out, who believes the government already did that to him. Well get this: people are sick and tired of trying to use their cellphones in places where there's no antenna close enough to give them service. Now a computer chip has been invented that is a portable antenna, and you can have it installed your head so your cellphone will work anywhere. There's a market for it. The government won't have to force it on us at all.

Here's the deal, however you feel. I finally put in that stupid word verification thing for comments. I hate doing it. I am so for freedom to come, speak your mind, and go. Dutifully I've log in to jazzoLOG everyday to remove the robot spam and porn comments. I'm content to do that work because Blogger is free and I figure it's the price I pay. I also blog at a paysite and if it happens there, I complain and the webmaster takes care of it. I'd pay for that service here too.

But a few weeks ago, something got into my Gmail, accessed my contact list, and sent out a ridiculous message to everyone...from me. People replied and said they couldn't believe I really wanted them to do these things. One person actually did them. I complained, and got a robot message urging me to change my password. I did so. A week later another message went out. Then my whole account went down.

When that happens, you've really got trouble. You try to log in at any Google-run feature or site and a screen comes up telling you you're Temporarily Disabled. Links lead you from screen to screen, and finally a Contact Us option. YES! Perhaps a human is at the other end. No such luck. A robot form shows up, and last week there were questions like What was the date you registered for your blog? Oh yeah, it was such a treasured moment I wrote it right down in my diary. What are the email addresses of the people you most send messages to? I tried answering all these, and messages came each time to the alternative Yahoo addy I provided that my answers weren't good enough. The robot couldn't verify my existence.

I wondered why the questionnaire didn't ask me something like the titles of various articles at this blog...a blog readers couldn't access, so only I would remember such stuff. But no, it asked questions nobody would know the answer to. I gave up on it, and started searching Help Forum sites. I found tons of people complaining from the same boat. Blogs were detected by robots and suspected of spamming. Down they went, disappeared they were. Was I under such suspicion? No charges had been leveled at me. I couldn't figure it out.

Finally I found a Google page that offered human review of my situation. I jumped at the chance. Alas, I read, all I can do now is wait. There's a massive backlog. I'm imagining one guy in Pakistan having the job of looking us over. A week goes by. Meanwhile everyday the robot pornographer in Japan continues to comment at my blog that isn't there. How is this possible? I fill out more robot forms telling the robots about this. No reply. I continue trying to log in.

Finally just before midnight, the veil was lifted. I got the screen to change my password again, and when I did here I am. I don't know how stable this is. I don't know how long this will last. Maybe I'll change my password everyday. For the moment I'm out of my Google cellblock and walking free. It feels good. Fragrance of locust in bloom. It's spring. It's rained. Frogs and turtles in bliss. I'll appreciate the moment...in case the darkness descends again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Following Is A Public Service Announcement



Searching for the Truth through words and speech is like sticking your head in a bowl of glue.

---Yuan-wu

Just watch children playing.
Eat vegetable soup instead of duck stew.

---Basho's advice to poets

After evening rainfall at Pa-shang,
the flying "V" of wild geese,
the leaves hanging limp and dripping,
A single lantern's pale gleam,
and empty garden wet with dew,
the crumbling walls of the monastery
...enough, I think, long enough:
what am I waiting for?

---Ma Tai

We used to have to say that on the radio in the 1950s. There was a piece of copy taped near the microphone with a statement to be read before any public service announcement. Partly it was to identify what you would hear as being something in "the public interest." The remainder of the reason was to give the station credit for the amount of public service we provided. The media was required to contribute to the common good back then. The new TV stations had to put up a screen momentarily identifying public service too. If you merely were a crass commercial entity, you could lose your broadcasting license.

The original idea about broadcasting involved the airwaves. They belonged to the People. It's a bit like you can own a house and the land it's on. But how far down and how far up does your ownership extend? To China? To the moon? No, there's something called the Social Contract that describes and limits your omnipotence, according to the advantages you receive by banding together like this. At the moment, we still sorta think of the moon as nobody's property...but probably eventually an attorney will figure out how to carve it up. By Reagan's era it had been decided that if you could get control of enough stations and networks, you could do whatever you want with them. If his first act in office was to bust a union, his second must have been to get rid of the Fairness Doctrine. That piece of policy required radio and television to be fair and balanced in presentation of conflicting ideas...and to be willing and eager to prove it. A warning from the Federal Communications Commission on this was serious stuff.

Around the time Fairness disappeared, mining and drilling interests figured out how to own the land under your house. They could dig around so close to the top that your floor might cave in. That's OK. Now those guys were doing stuff for the common good. Reagan had the solar array ripped off the White House roof. After all, an oil man (among other things) was his vice president.

So here we are today, with the Tea Parties. Rupert Murdoch owns a lot of media. Last Tuesday evening I guess he appeared before the National Press Club. He pretty much owns that too. He allowed some questions. One of them came from an executive at Media Matters. Ari Rabin-Hvat wanted to know Murdoch's views on the promotion of Tea Party membership and events by Fox News Channel/Fox Nation, its staff and commentators. Murdoch said the commentators are identified clearly and can say whatever they want, but the news reporting is objective journalism. Rabin-Hvat replied the news anchors promote Tea Parties all the time, and the network itself appears to sponsor the events. Murdoch said that couldn't be true, and that he personally would investigate the situation "before condemning anyone."

On Thursday, to assist Mr. Murdoch's courageous investigative journalism, Media Matters posted some examples. We await Rupert's further findings.

From Media Matters' Open Letter To Rupert Murdoch~~~

"Join Your Local Tea Party": Fox News' history of promoting the tea party movement

Anchor: "It's now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!" During the April 13, 2009, edition of Your World, Fox Business anchor and "business journalist" Stuart Varney plugged Fox News' presence at the April 15, 2009, tea parties, saying: "It's now my great duty to promote the tea parties. Here we go!"

Fox News aired more than 100 commercial promotions for tea party protests in less than two weeks. From April 6 to April 15, Fox News aired at least 107 commercial promotions for their coverage of the April 15, 2009, tea party protests.

Beck encouraged viewers to "please go" to "FNC (Fox News Channel-Fox Nation) Tax Day Tea Parties." Fox News aired graphics on repeated occasions in which they dubbed the April 15, 2009, Tax Day Tea Parties, "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." Host Glenn Beck told viewers they could "[c]elebrate with Fox News" at any of four Fox News-described "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties," saying: "If you can't make the one in San Antonio" -- which Beck himself attended -- "please go to the one with Neil or with Sean in Atlanta, that's supposed to be great, Greta is in Washington, D.C. Just get out and let your face be seen."

"Can't get to a tea party? Fox Nation hosts a virtual tea party." On the April 11, 2009, edition of Fox News Watch, Fox News host Bill Hemmer said:

HEMMER: While the mainstream media's ignored the tea party movement, here at the Fox News Channel, we're gearing up to bring you special coverage of the events all across the country. Sean Hannity is in Atlanta; Glenn Beck's at the Alamo -- where else would he be? -- San Antonio; Neil Cavuto is live in Sacramento; and Greta is in Washington, D.C.

Can't get to a tea party? Fox Nation hosts a virtual tea party. You can check it out on the site for the location of a tea party in your area. Again, that is Wednesday, the 15th of April.

On April 15, 2009, news anchor Megyn Kelly said, "you can join the tea party action from your home if you go to the FoxNation.com ... a virtual tax day tea party." On April 16, 2009, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson told viewers that they "can still have a virtual tea party" at Fox Nation

Fox News host: "[H]opefully millions of people" will participate. While reporting live at a protest on April 15, 2009, former Big Story host John Gibson, a Fox News Radio host, remarked that "hopefully millions of people" will participate in the protests.

Anchor to viewers: You "need to go" to tea party merchandise site. On April 15, 2009, Fox Business anchor David Asman told viewers they "need to go" to a tea party merchandise site "no matter what side of the issue you're on."

News anchor on list of nationwide tea party events: "Check it out online right now." On March 24, 2009, Hemmer noted protests in Florida and Ohio and directed viewers to the program's website to learn more about the protests:

HEMMER: It's called the tea party. And check out the scene in Orlando, Florida. More than 4,000 turned out over the weekend protesting government spending and a big thumbs-down to the policies currently in Washington. Radio host Bud Hedinger hosted that event. Protesters, well, they waved flags and signs and with slogans like "Repeal the Pork" and "Our Bacon is Cooked." I say, our bacon is cooked.

They're popping up literally all across the country now. They had about 5,000 in Cincinnati last weekend. If you go to our website, you will find a growing list of these events, hundreds of photos, and a new tea-party anthem that you will hear from the man who wrote it and recorded it next hour. And there's a list of the nationwide Tax Day tea party events coming up on the 15th of April, which will be a huge deal for those organizations. So check it out online right now.

News anchor: To find "one happening near you, head to our website." On April 6, 2009, Hemmer again directed viewers to Fox News' website to find a tea party "happening near you"

HEMMER: If you want to know more about the tea-party movement, if there is one happening near you, head to our website FoxNews.com/americasnewsroom. We have an entire section devoted to the growing tea-party movement. That's our America's Newsroom website online. All the information you need to know. Check it out right now.

Hannity: "We hope you'll join us." On April 3, 2009, Fox News host Sean Hannity said: "And also log on to our Web site to get all the details about our special 'Tax Day Tea Party.' We're going to be live in Atlanta, April 15th. Governor [and Fox News host Mike] Huckabee, by the way, will be on that show." Hannity also said during the program: "And then it's April 15, it's our tea party tax day show. And I'll be hosting the show from Atlanta, where one of dozens of tea party protests are going to be going on that evening. So we hope you'll join us."

Reporter: "We want to let folks know" tea party schedule so "they can be a part" of events. The August 23, 2009, edition of Fox News' America's News HQ hosted Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams to promote the tour. During the segment, anchor and reporter Shannon Bream said of the tour's schedule:

BREAM: You do have a bit of a cohesive, at least organized schedule. We want to let folks know you're going to be making --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

BREAM: -- 34, 35 stops, I believe it is, all across the country, so if they want to come out and take part, they certainly can be a part of what you're doing. And, you know, this has definitely struck a chord with people.

Reporter: "[H]opefully Washington will listen to their concerns." During the August 28, 2009, edition of Fox & Friends, William La Jeunesse reported live from Sacramento on the kickoff of the Tea Party Express. At the conclusion of his report, La Jeunesse said of the tour's concerns: "[T]hey believe, collectively, that they at least have a voice, and hopefully Washington will listen to their concerns."

Host: "How you can join, next." On its August 19, 2009, broadcast, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade told viewers "how you can join" the Tea Party Express:

KILMEADE: Straight ahead, citizens take their concerns about health care on the road to -- on the road. The organizer of a cross-country tea party tour, and how you can join, next.

[...]

KILMEADE: The Tea Party Express will make 35 stops across the country, giving Americans a constructive outlet in which to share their concerns on health care, and I imagine more.

During the segment, Fox News helped viewers find out "how you can join" the Tea Party Express by displaying the dates and locations of 22 stops.

"To sign up for Tea Party 2.0 Go to ..." On May 13, 2009, On the Record host Greta Van Susteren did a segment on the "Tea Party 2.0," saying: "If you wanted to go to a tea party on April 15 but could not make it or there was none in your hometown, tomorrow's your big chance." She later asked Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), "What do they do, do they log on a particular place? And will they be able to interact with you? I mean, how's this gonna work?" and later, "[W]hen is this tea party? When does it begin? Is there a Web address or a phone number?"

Cavuto on protestors: "God bless these folks." On March 27, while showing footage of tea party protestors gathering for a tea party rally "four and a half hours from now," Fox Business senior vice president Neil Cavuto commented, "I don't do that [gather to protest] for anything. ... God bless these folks."

Reporter endorsed tea partier's call to "get these liberal communists out of our government." While covering a tea party protest for FoxNews.com on September 4, 2009, reporter Griff Jenkins interviewed a tea partier who said he wanted to "get these liberal communists out of our government." Jenkins replied: "How about that. I couldn't have said anything better than that." On the September 12, 2009, edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Dave Briggs said of Tea Party Express-embedded Jenkins: "You might call him a tea party groupie."

Fox News employee: Some members of Fox "cheerlead for rallies and tea parties." Fox News contributor Bernard Goldberg stated on September 29, 2009: "There are some programs on Fox that are not only not 'Fair and Balanced' -- they're commentary shows, they don't have to be -- but they brag about how 'Fair and Balanced' they are. They don't cover rallies and tea parties; they cheerlead for rallies and tea parties. And as a journalist, I am totally against that."

http://mediamatters.org/press/releases/483110

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Practice Your Hallelujah



An angel sitting by the tomb is reported to have asked Mary of Magdala: "Why search for the living among the dead?" In her puzzlement she tells someone who she thought to be the gardener: "If you have taken him away, tell me and I will take him away myself." It was when the 'gardener' pronounced her name "Mary" that she recognized Him and exclaimed in uncontrollable joy, "Master."
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100404/Plus/plus_25.html

"What no one seemed to notice was the ever widening gap between the government and the people. And it became always wider.....the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting, it provided an excuse not to think....for people who did not want to think anyway gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about.....and kept us so busy with continuous changes and 'crises' and so fascinated.....by the machinations of the 'national enemies,' without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.....

"Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'.....must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing.....Each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next.

"You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow. You don't want to act, or even talk, alone.....you don't want to 'go out of your way to make trouble.' But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes.

"That's the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

"You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father.....could never have imagined."

---Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free, The Germans, 1938-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

We're members of the Episcopal Church whose Presiding Bishop is The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Bishop Schori's Easter Message this morning encourages us to continue "practicing that joyful shout" of Alleluia. She wisely reminds us that even grasping Resurrection is a lifelong challenge, to say nothing of seeing its realization in the world. She understands if, upon looking around, we may not feel that confident and happy. That's helpful to me today.

There have been a number of news items recently reporting that Easter ain't what it used to be in the minds of Americans. Maybe a lot of doubt and gloom has affected this mood. Some articles are going to the heart of the matter by challenging the whole notion of Jesus rising from the dead. It's impossible, they say! I'm kind of glad for this opinion to get right out there in the light of day, because it's made me do a lot of thinking. I've tried to get beyond any old notion that Christ's Resurrection is a symbol for the continuation of his teachings in the birth of the church. I've thought maybe Jesus was a realized yogi, who wasn't nailed to the cross or pierced with a spear. After all, the usual practice was to drape the convicts up there with ropes and leave them to die slowly of exposure. Maybe he went into a trance and survived that. Then there's the electric impression on the Shroud of Turin.

Whatever the result of all this cogitation, minus any revelation of the Miracle, I feel closer personally to Jesus...and that's a good thing. I need it, when I also confront this morning reminders of this nation's last 50 years of history. The first thing I ran into was a Libertarian's post of the excerpt from Milton Mayer's book which I've printed above. He describes the slow, seemingly inevitable descent of an average German citizen while Nazis solidified power. If you'd prefer to watch it acted out on film, nothing depicts it so well as Bertolucci's 1900...and especially Donald Sutherland's chilling bully-become-gestapo. It can't happen here.

Next, Bill Moyers reminded me that Martin Luther King was murdered on this day 42 years ago by at least one of our homegrown terrorists. I'm sure had Fox News and its many personalities been around, they would have assured us the assassin acted alone and was only a bad apple in the barrel. But of course in this Dream Deferred opinion piece, Moyers and Winship are just getting warmed up~~~

The nonpartisan group United for a Fair Economy has issued a report that features Martin Luther King Jr. on the cover with the title, "State of the Dream 2010: Drained." Dr. King's dream is in jeopardy, the report's authors write, "The Great Recession has pulled the plug on communities of color, draining jobs and homes at alarming rates while exacerbating persistent inequalities of wealth and income."

Nor will a recovery ameliorate the crisis. "A rising tide does not lift all boats," United for a Fair Economy's report goes on to say, "because the public policies, economic structures and unwritten rules of racism form mountains and ridgelines, and hills and valleys that shape our economic landscape. As a result, a rising economic tide fills the rivers and reservoirs of some, while leaving others dry and parched."

This is a perilous moment. The individualist, greed-driven free-market ideology that both our major parties have pursued is at odds with what most Americans really care about. Popular support for either party has struck bottom, as more and more agree that growing inequality is bad for the country, that corporations have too much power, that money in politics has corrupted our system, and that working families and poor communities need and deserve help because the free market has failed to generate shared prosperity - its famous unseen hand has become a closed fist.

It is hard to overstate the consequences of choosing more of the same - the very policies that have sundered our social contract. But hear the judgment of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, echoing Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and martyrdom. "The vast inequalities of income weaken a society's sense of mutual concern," Arrow said. "... The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization."
http://www.truthout.org/dr-kings-economic-dream-deferred58258

Next, TruthOut deemed it essential I meet Davidson Loehr, another social justice minister whose writing is new to me. This is a strong piece about the continuing American policy of torture~~~

Naomi Klein's 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine" took 466 pages to flesh out the worldview that can even be proud of torture, as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove have confessed to be....

Human history confirms Klein's research: the combined forces of greed and violence usually win. History also offers the testimony of General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), who wrote "War Is a Racket". One of only two Americans to win the Medal of Honor on two separate occasions, his words were as courageous as his actions, especially when he spoke about the real purpose of war:

"The flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.... I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.... I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested."

In the United States of 2010, the greediest corporations have won, and are consolidating their strength for a long reign. We need to understand how they can employ a degree of violence, torture and murder that simply paralyzes most of us.
http://www.truthout.org/why-torture-necessary58259

The upside of meeting Mr. Loehr this morning has been to Google him and find he's on Facebook. A graduate of a military academy for his high school years, he went to the University of Michigan in that very dangerous course of study, music theory. Naturally he caved in entirely after that, and ended up at the notorious University of Chicago with his Phd in theology and the philosophy of science. What was left for the poor man but to become a Unitarian Universalist? And that's where you can find him today, down in Austin with a congregation of "very liberal 700+," he says at Facebook.

So maybe it turns out that despite the horrors of the front page and the editorial columns, I may be able to mutter a Hallelujah today after all. With champions like Moyers and Loehr leading my way, the sun will rise on Glory after all! Thank you Bishop, I'll keep practicing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Personal Danger



How many Problems of American Democracy can you identify in this cartoon?
http://i243.photobucket.com/albums/ff182/darleenclick/blog%20images/liberty_sml.jpg

If I can get out of the way, if I can be pure enough, if I can be selfless enough, and if I can be generous and loving and caring enough to abandon what I have and my own preconceived, silly notions of what I think I am---and become truly who in fact I am, which is really just another child of God---then the music can really use me. And therein lies my fulfillment. That's when the music starts to happen.

---John McLaughlin

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

---Soren Kierkegaard

Never let your sense of morals keep you from doing what's right.

---Isaac Asimov

I was walking past a church in my town last evening, getting ready to go inside for a meeting. A time in our history suddenly crossed my mind in which church meetings were firebombed. I was not going to a political or social change meeting, so why would I think of such a thing? Nor have I heard of meetings being attacked like that in America now---yet. I haven't been personally confronted by a Teabagger, but I'm starting to hear stories from friends and relatives. It's getting close.

On Saturday, a friend of mine told a story about his daughter, who like my Ilona also is in her first year of college. She had traveled to Washington, DC, with other students earlier in the month to attend her first demonstration, which was in favor of healthcare legislation. There were people there in opposition. The DC police had separated the 2 groups, and were standing between. The people opposed were shouting at the students, calling them names. The young women were called whores. She telephoned her dad to tell him what was happening. She said a cop had come over to her to ask how she was doing. She replied she hadn't expected it would be so hard to stand up for what you believe. The policeman said people need a lot of courage now to do what's right.

On Friday my wife was listening to the Stephanie Miller talk radio program. A woman had called in to say she had been concerned about a local Republican representative whose office had had a brick thrown through a window or been shot at or something. Although a Democrat herself, she phoned the office to ask if there were anything she could do to help. The person suggested she call John Boehner's office, the House Minority Leader, for any directions there might be about party policy. She did that, but when asked decided to identify herself as a Republican in case that made a difference. She told the receptionist she was disturbed by the lack of civil discourse in politics now, and requested advice. The receptionist said, "You're disturbed by the lack of civil discourse? Then the Republican Party has no need for your participation," and hung up. (See blog comment #137 http://www.stephaniemiller.com/2010/03/23/liveblog-for-the-week-of-march-22-26-2010/#comments )

My son posted a reminder on Saturday about Earth Hour at his Facebook page. A longtime Internet friend did so too. I guess people were supposed to turn off their lights and electric sometime that evening. I hadn't heard about it and we weren't home anyway, but we had participated in such an event a year or so ago. It was supposed to be an observance in appreciation both of the convenience of such power and the importance of conservation. Yesterday I saw on Google News that a group had been formed in opposition to Earth Hour. Maybe the brainstorm of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, their observance was called the Human Achievement Hour---or HAH! They urged people to turn ON all their lights and electric to honor American ingenuity. They said there's darkness every night in Communist North Korea, so why don't the Earth Hour people go over there and sit around in the dark with the other Communists? Another response took it a step further, remarking Earth Hour was connected with the Spring Equinox and represented the Demonic Power of Darkness worshipped by the Pagans. Should my son be more careful at Facebook?

The Christian Science Monitor this morning has a story titled "Sarah Palin's gun-imagery takes aim at political targets," and shows her receiving a custom Henry rifle on behalf of the Republican Party of Arkansas. The article talks about an image at Palin's Facebook page of 20 Democrat opponents she encourages her followers to defeat in November: "In the battle, set your sights on next season’s targets! From the shot across the bow – the first second’s tip-off – your leaders will be in the enemy’s crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won’t win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win." Each Democrat is pictured on the map with the district in a rifle's crosshairs. There's a hyperlink at the Monitor story. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2010/0327/Sarah-Palin-s-gun-imagery-takes-aim-at-political-targets

Yesterday it was no holds barred at Frank Rich's New York Times column. He expressed some heat I'm not used to feeling so intensely from him. It was upsetting...and maybe partially responsible for my thought of a firebombing later in the day. I'm not sure what is happening to my country, but I'm positive I am not alone in alarm. I'll post his whole article here for posterity~~~

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The New York Times
March 28, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
The Rage Is Not About Health Care
By FRANK RICH

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with will.i.am’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

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