Monday, February 28, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
President Obama was at my daughter's workplace yesterday. She took these pictures herself, the one below just after he reached out to shake her hand. The President is out acting as Cheerleader-in-Chief attempting to rally our country out of the doldrums.
Lord knows, we do need a rally.
There is a place for hoping that our high-tech sector can help put more people here back to work. That would be a mega hope.
Mini hope needs exist all around us. Here are three examples from real life of the past three days:
A woman I know named L. was going to Salem this past Monday to testify at the Legislature about the need to maintain services and housing for mentally ill folks. Knowing how L. gets trapped inside of sentences that she enters but can’t seem to exit, I can only wonder what message she could have brought them, though none more powerful than her own honest presence. Intelligence and chaos rule her life.
What were Tom and L. like when they were school age? What got them to where they are now? How much money are we saving by keeping Tom homeless, and how much would we “save” if we made L. that way?
An insurance company has told a mother of two students at my wife’s school that they will no longer pay for the meds these little kids need in order to be something other than nearly asleep with depression or else unable to sit still and be quiet for more than 5 seconds. An insurance company wants to “save” money by helping to manufacture replacements for Tom and L. when they are no longer with us.
Letter after letter to the paper complains that Portland is a homeless magnet because we are too kind and the police not aggressive enough even as incidents of suicide by cop and murder by arrest are up. Stories from my writer friend Karen Zacharias http://www.patheos.com/community/karenspearszacharias/ affirm what we must know if we open our eyes: that people living tough lives are all around us and within us. They are still in NYC even if people who visit Disneyfied Times Square no longer see them there. They are in rural Nebraska, small towns in the South and in Eastern Oregon, in this small city we call home.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
I have to hand it to the graffiti artist. He's learned how to quickly pull the spray can away from his "canvas" in order to make the paint fan out and thin while making stunningly beautiful calligraphic curves.
It's a sign of the times when such anonymous decorators are able to think more imaginitively than the highly educated, trained, experienced and so-called leaders of the world.
Sometimes, the signs of the times tell us that what we took to be the shape of things has become overgrown, obscured by having hung around long enough to deceive us into the notion of permanence.
As if the way things are is the way they always were. Or will be...
I remember when the communist regime of the former Soviet Union was falling apart under Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Gorbachev probably had a truer vision of real transition and change than anyone surrounding him at the time. But it wasn't speedy enough for folks. So they ran over him, and his ability to lead and influence collapsed all around him.
As things were rapidly coming apart, one of Gorbachev's one-time underlings and allies, Boris Yeltsin, had his foot on the accelerator of change without having much understanding of how to steer the democracy bus. Yeltsin was pushing things that Gorbachev thought unwise. Gorbachev pleaded with Yeltsin in the most personal way one does in Slavic tradition: by using a person's first and middle names.
"Boris Nikolayevich! Boris Nikolayevich! Boris Nikolayevich!"
Gorbachev called out again and again but to no avail. My older sister used to scold me at times when I was a youngster. "Roger Dennis," she would call. But if Gorbachev began by scolding, he ended by pleading, begging.
But he could not stop the momentum. The people were clearly with Yeltsin who would go on to become the head of a new non-communist government. Unfortunately, he hadn't a clue.
Unfortunately, most of the people were equally clueless. Given their history, how could it have been different? Many perhaps thought that simply by ending communism there would suddenly be store shelves full of STUFF like in the West. That they would have pockets full of money to buy all this stuff. That, slam-dunk!, all their problems would be solved.
It's no wonder that Russia today suffers from sham democracy, very high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction and HIV. Democracy is too weak to overcome systemic corruption in a time of shortage. There really is never the breathing room for this kind of turnaround. Corruption in Russia today has its hands on way more money than it did under communism. Way more. Most Russians today probably care not a whit for democracy. They want stability, order, a chance to grab some STUFF. Stuff motivates us, it seems. Ideals, perhaps not so much.
Egyptians are understandably euphoric. I understand. It will ebb. Reality will reappear. The economy, in all likelihood, will get worse, not better, over the next several years. Tempers may flare, patience may evaporate. And the technology for making car bombs, human bombs and IED's is now as widely known as how to rip music from CD's. It won't be smooth sailing. I pray for patience in the storms and swells ahead for Egypt and for the region.
Meanwhile, here in the USA, we'd be wise turkeys to pursue tasks we should have undertaken years ago, not only as a matter of national and economic security, but as a matter of doing the right thing for creation:
ENERGY CONSERVATION. ENERGY INDEPENDENCE. LAND CONSERVATION. FOOD SECURITY. RESTORING DOMESTIC PRODUCTION OF BASIC ESSENTIALS LIKE FOOD AND CLOTHING AND TOOLS. AS IN, EVERYTHING ELECTRICAL AND ELECTRONIC. SHOES. HIGH SPEED TRANSPORT THAT DOESN'T INVOLVE MUCH COMBUSTION OF FOSSIL FUELS.
We can't get there by either of the following:
1) spending our way into oblivion
2) cutting our way back to the Stone Age.
We worship what our dollars say we do. We can't afford war. Literally. Figuratively. Morally. Fiscally. Honestly. Any more.
And we can't afford to not help Egypt go the right way as much as possible.
These are the signs of the times. Interesting days ahead.
I call 'em as I see 'em.
Friday, February 4, 2011
The people of Egypt have come to that fork in the road. If only it were as simple as the the choice between these two very similar ones.
So much hangs in the balance. Nearly 40% of the people of Egypt cannot read and write. A vast number, however, are aware that life is different in some places in the world. They want things to be different where they live.
Moneyed interests will react to change with fear. Fear of losing what they have now. Fear of reduced wealth and power in the future.
Unless tamed by a humble and generous heart, such interests will be a powerful obstacle to overcome.
Corrupt elements such as the police and government bureaucrats will see change as a direct threat, not only to their income but perhaps to their very lives. They probably won't be out there saying "Yea and amen!" to the anti-government demonstrators unless it becomes the only way to save their own skins.
The now vast number of people without such power and wealth are out of patience. Food prices are outrunning them. The chance to keep up and better their lives is eluding them. They want education. They want elections. They want a job.
They want freedom. So they say. It's something we have but often can't be bothered to exercise or give thanks for.
Some know what they want. Others are just plain naive. Things are never all just one way. But changes are coming. The balance of power in the entire Middle East is in flux.
Israel is affected. Everybody is affected. There could be war, civil war, or stalemate. There are many forks in the road.
Here in the USA, we may find this new development in Egypt oddly remote from daily life and concern for our economy. But wait...! We're smack in the middle of it.
Our country had given vast amounts of military and economic aid to the government of Hosni Mubarak in order to help maintain this Arab nation that has a peace treaty with neighbor Israel. That stabilizing influence leaves our fingerprints all over a government that did not do much to trickle things down to the ordinary people. Human rights, freedom of speech and the press, freedom from torture--these things did not go forward under the three decades of President Mubarak's rule.
That's a problem for us.
I can still hear the voice of Judy Collins on a track of one of the vinyl LP records of her songs that I have from about 1969. It's the chorus of the theme song from the musical Marat/Sade. The full title of the story is something like "The Incarceration and Execution of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Prison at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade." It's a story of the struggle of peasants and a few noble folk for basic human rights during the French Revolution, one such movement led by Jean Paul Marat who was executed:
We've got nothing, always had nothing.
Nothing but holes and millions of them.
Living in holes, dying in holes,
Holes in our bellies and holes in our souls...
Marat, we're poor, and the poor stay poor.
Marat, don't make us wait anymore.
We want our rights, and we don't care how.
We want a revolution......now!
Pray for the people of Egypt. Pray for the people of Israel. Pray for the people of Palestine.
Pray for peace, freedom, justice. Pray for hope. Pray for grace.