Monday, December 31, 2012

The "cliff" is moral, not fiscal

At the close of this last business day of 2012 no deal appeared possible before the midnight deadline to avoid what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dubbed a "fiscal cliff." I defer to a young lady who requested a "lecture" on the subject to begin by stating that it's not actually a cliff and its nature is not economic, but moral.

Now that the United States is poised to go over it, very little of any serious consequence will happen at 12:01 am Eastern time, the time zone of Washington, D.C.

Federal automatic sequestrations will only take about 1 cent a month from every dollar spent for discretionary expenses. This will not affect Social Security, Medicaid, federal civilian or military pay and pensions, or veterans' benefits. More than likely something to prevent tax rises for the middle class and the end of unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed will pass within the first weeks of 2013.

Fiscally, that is, in terms of government spending, even the worst is nowhere near a cliff. It's more like a slight tilt. If it replaced a slide on the average playground, no one would use it because it would be nearly flat.

The cliff is moral. The United States will join the rather large club of nations whose governments cannot be relied upon to punctually raise revenue and pay debts.

This is not because revenues will not be raised — the top moneymakers will pay proportionally more. Nor is it because payments of debts will cease —do remember that every U.S. dollar remains legal tender for  "all debts public and private."

But Congress, specifically the Republicans in the House, engaged in what is known in economics as moral hazard: the willingness to take foolhardy risks because someone else will bear the consequences.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Documentary Displays More Anglo "Left" Learned Ignorance

Yesterday, upon the 30th anniversary of the murder of four American women in El Salvador, I was reminded of the way even alleged do-gooders from the navel-gazing Anglo culture steals everything from Hispania: the documentary Roses in December.

In case you missed it, the film is a heart-string-pulling manipulative piece of pseudo-lefty Catholic propaganda about the deaths on Dec. 2, 1982, of three American nuns and one non-vowed "missionary" from Ohio.

What's wrong with that, you ask? After all, the torture, rapes and murders were heinous acts of a dictatorial military regime supported by the United States government.

There's lots wrong: I'll tell you.

First of all, that very same week, as with hundreds of weeks that followed, between 300 to 500 Salvadorans were tortured, murdered and, if female, raped -- without notice or documentaries, anywhere. It had been happening in a crescendo since at least 1980.

Second of all, what was so effing great about four white Americans slumming their way to alleged sainthood? Sure, they we were providing food, shelter and medical care. But have you seen the little palaces with armed guards in which U.S. missionaries live? They have cars (that no one else has), they fly home for rest periods. No Salvadoran lives like they do -- oh, yes, the wealthy and their clergy pets do.

Third, the title of the movie "Roses in December" is a cultural theft of Mexican and Mexican-American popular culture for the purpose of idealizing four Americans in El Salvador. Note to Anglos: Mexico and El Salvador are different countries, have different customs, eat different things ... even if they all look the same to you.

Huh, you say?

"Roses in December" is the key phrase in the story of an Indian named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531, when he said he saw a girl of about 15 or 16 surrounded by light. The young woman in the apparition spoke to him in his native Nahuatl asking that a church be built on that site in her honor. Juan Diego said he recognized her as the long venerated Virgin Mary, or Myriam of Nazareth, mother of Jesus.

When the bishop asked Juan Diego to demand a sign from the Virgin, to prove it was she, the native said the Virgin told her to gather flowers from what was normally a barren hill. He put them in his cloak to protect them and when he unrapped the cloak in front of the bishop and his staff, out came red Castilian roses in full bloom that were not native to Mexico and wouldn't normally blossom in December.

"Roses in December!" was the exclamation of those who saw it. Ever since, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans make a huge deal of this phrase. It was the divine sign the native peoples needed for strength; the Virgin did not appear to the Spanish conquerors, but to a humble Indian and she spoke in his native language.

Whether legend or true, the story is a unique and beloved artifact of Mexican culture. It was not made to be usurped by the next wave of conquerors, the Americans, making themselves into holy people for patching up the unholy mess their own government made in an entirely different country.

As to the four dead women -- especially the allegedly virginal pasty, pudgy business administration student by the name of Jean Donovan -- pity more didn't meet a similar fate.

Maybe if more American "holy" women had been tortured, raped and murdered, the 75,000 ordinary Salvadorans similarly killed until the peace pact of 1992 -- by which time "anti-Communist" military repression had lost the last shred of justification, if it ever had any -- might have continued their obscure, and to American eyes insignificant, little lives.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Faith is service

A younger man I know reminded me of this last weekend, when his son was baptized and he was asked, at the luncheon that followed, to say a few words. He recounted meeting his wife at a service project organized by the Jesuit university he attended.

Service, he said, had become the watchword of their faith, that faith into which their child was baptized. She is a teacher serving her students by showing them the doors to knowledge. He is a lawyer who could be making outrageous amounts of money but is seeking jobs that perform actual service to society as a whole -- especially that part of society that can't afford a lawyer or can't defend itself against crime or malfeasance.


When Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment, he didn't say "I will welcome those who go to Mass every Sunday or those who engage in Bible study." He didn't mention those who protest abortion or gay marriage.

No. Jesus said the final judge would say to the saved:
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me." (Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 25)
Faith is service. Some say faith is love.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life should close like a good novel

Now I see why the wise are usually portrayed as also old.  All of a sudden, the grand sweep of life begins to make sense, what I sensed correctly and what I missed by a mile. I just had to reach the dénouement of various strands in my story.

Today is the 32nd anniversary of my father's death and, unlike my father who just missed his 60th birthday as he did meeting his first grandchild, I passed both markers toward the fullness of life.

In past weeks, out of nowhere I have been happening upon realizations, some trite, some obvious, but all humbling and reorienting. I am reminded of the process Carl Gustav Jung thought occurred at this stage of life: he called it "integration."

I see integration as a phenomenon in which the parts of us that compartmentalized themselves for often practical reasons (the parent, the employee, the friend, the lover, etc.) now come together to deepen our philosophical understanding and weave a whole Weltaanschauung (I love using this word! Look it up!).

How foolish and arrogant I was! How much effort wasted on foolhardy enterprises! How humbling it is to realize that I am no better, and probably no worse, than any other human being, especially those I have criticized without mercy!

The beginning of wisdom, I suppose, is to realize how little one really knows. Thank you, Socrates.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

After Romney, what is worth conserving?

If this election proved anything it is, first, that conservatism has lost its way, and, secondly, that ideas count for more than money. If there is reason to feel sorry for Ann Coulter (see this), imagine how Linda McMahon feels after outspending her winning opponent 8 to 1, millions out of her own pocket.

This is why it is particularly worth taking a look at conservative ideas. This is not a new exercise for me.

Back when every fellow student in my university political theory courses was writing papers about Mao, I was researching Franco and, more specifically, his political movement, the most successful continental conservatism. Reagan and Thatcher were standard bearers of the Anglo-American variant, which this election has shown has lost its way.

The problem for Romney, in my opinion, is that he was never convincing that he believed in anything other than what he thought his listeners wanted to hear. That's not conservatism.

In principle,  going back to Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet and the divine right of kings, conservatism is about ordering society along authoritative ideas received from the best human tradition. This may be gilding the lily a little, but not by far if we take the self-understanding of the most cogent conservatives.

The Anglo-American variety is more closely associated to an event contemporary to Bossuet. In the British Glorious Revolution of 1688, in which Whig ideology, based on a strong parliamentary role and the preeminence of Protestantism, broke away from the Tory monarchists, deposed King James II and put in place William of Orange and his wife Mary, James' daughter.

To the English, and later American, Whigs authority was not absolutely placed in hands of a king by God, but in the hearts of men (and they did mean only men and the passing, yet odd, educated woman). The difference between Continental conservatism and Anglo conservatism is epistemological: where the truth is found.

The Continental, and the original Tory, said it is found in God and the dogmas of God's Church. The British Whig said it is found in the heart God gave you with which to discern Holy Scripture; to an extent, the Whigs were more democratic.

Tory political economy is essentially feudal, with wealth and social standing a matter of inheritance. Whigs favor capitalism and the classical economic liberalism of Adam Smith, in a society in which wealth and status is based on merit and investment.

Today, almost to a man, American conservatives are essentially Whigs. The origin of the term is instructive, because it parallels the early and foundational political development of the United States.

Whig comes from  "whiggamor." The term came from a combination of two terms. "Whiggam," was a term used to urge on livestock, including especially horses, to move. The "mor" ending is thought to derive from "mare." Whiggamors were Scottish cattle drivers; and the term was used derisively for Kirk Party Scotsmen who fought for Presbyterianism over the king's episcopal church.

Stop and think about all this.

The early European settlers of the original 13 states were predominantly what we call Scots Irish (mostly Ulster people who traced back to the Scottish supporters of Oliver Cromwell who won the Battle of the Boyne). They were not high born, or at most they were disinherited younger sons. They were Protestant and not in an Anglican Via Media way; they wanted no "popery" and relied on their Bibles.

Now look at those videos of the last Republican Convention. There they are! (OK, so there are a few Germanic Cheeseheads and there's that hook-nose Wisconsin Irish Catholic speaking from the podium.)

This describes who they are, however, not their ideas as they might apply to the 21st century. Those remain the quintessential mystery: what, precisely, does (or should, for the sake of coherence) a U.S. conservative wish to conserve?

Stay tuned. More to come on this topic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The real foreign policy issue is that Americans don't care

Pretending for a moment that the nation witnessed candidates discuss foreign policy, let's examine the real missing piece: caring about the rest of the world. That Americans never have is illustrated by the career of the late Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark).

Fulbright, he of the international exchange scholarships, held what today would be regarded as wildly liberal views -- for a senator. He came to be a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and a voice of reason in favor of foreign aid. He opposed the Bay of Pigs intervention against Cuba, and was just as critical of President Johnson's offhand dispatch of troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965.

Less well known, Fulbright also voted (alone) against funding the investigative committee from which Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis) carried out the witch hunts that still bear his name, McCarthyism.

Yet guess what?

Fulbright also joined the Southern filibuster against two Civil Rights Acts (1957 and 1964) and voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. he wrote an impassioned "manifesto" against the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court in 1954.

Why was Fulbright a schizophrenic, a racial segregationist domestically and internationally a liberal? Because the folks back home in Arkansas never cared about foreign policy, so long as they could keep their white bathrooms separate from the facilities for the "colored."

That same apathy and uncaring for the world is how two candidates managed to speak about United States foreign policy without mentioning the European economic crisis or Africa's continuing civil wars and failed states, with the inhumanity they cause, including recently a "rape epidemic" (since when does such a thing even exist?).

How come the only thing said about Latin America, by Romney, is that we can sell more American goods there (never mind the pauperization and corruption brought on by the insatiable U.S. consumption of illegal drugs grown there)? Oh, Romney is great at putting the squeeze abroad and humiliating even Britain. Great diplomacy, Mittens!

But he's not alone.

How come Obama couldn't come out and flatly contradict Romney regarding "dictating terms," precisely the reason millions hate our government and, by proxy, us? How come he couldn't say the Islamic world would never receive a visitor who came from or was in route to the hated cousins in Israel no matter how much sensitivity he expressed? How come he didn't tell Romney that his view of China's currency manipulation is badly out of date and that China has been experiencing an economic slowdown?

The answer is that Americans, the only people who get to vote for the effective President of the World, don't give a damn about anything happening in the next county, let alone Canada, Mexico or the other several hundred nations out there.

And them furriners are clever critters. They watch our TV and see our movies. They know most Americans think people in Buenos Aires speak Portuguese.

If we don't respect or even know anything about them, what makes us think we should lead them?

American leadership is really the result of a set of huge historical accidents, not the mythological know how, not kindness, not superiority of any kind. Perhaps it's time a leader showed us that.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12 marks the birth of a cosmic race

New York Italians in Monday's Fifth Avenue parade celebrated the deed of their compatriot Christopher Columbus on this date half a millenium ago. Indeed, October 12, 1492, was the beginning of a cosmic race.

That date was the start of the mestizaje* (or blending of human colors and ethnicities), today most evident in the lands the Spanish once ruled, into the universal human descent from which all Americans, both U.S. Americans as well as those from the other nations of the American continent.

You can see the new cosmic race in the Afro-Czech children of Chicago, their peer Indo-Hispanics of Bogotá and Luso-Japanese of Sao Paulo.

The year 1492 marked the unexpected, sudden and painful clash of very different social cultures, the European and American Indian; to them, by force, the Africans were added. Today we know that they were three branches of a forgotten common family.

Europeans and Native Americans had in common the Asian steppes. From there, some had migrated toward the sunset into Europe and then across the Atlantic. Others set off to the sunrise to Mongolia, then across the Bering Strait. Both had come from India, from the Asian Mesopotamia and, even earlier, from the universal human cradle in Africa, home also to the Americans whose forebears were tragically kidnapped and enslaved.

Add to them the Chinese who built the railroads of North America and Panama Canal, the Japanese who brought fisheries to Peru and from ancient India the governors of Louisiana and North Carolina.

Some might dispute details of my history and prehistory; others might argue that there are three Americas (North, Central and South), not merely one. Still, the essential idea that I have sketched with a broad-leaded pencil persists.

We are all fraternal kin, of one common humanity, who rediscovered each other in the one "New World" continent that runs from the Strait of Magellan in southern Argentina and Chile to the Arctic Ocean north of Canada and Alaska.

Sure, there is much to correct and remedy. Notably, those of European origin, among whom I count myself, have been cruel to our human kin. Nevertheless, the great epic migration to the continent of America cradled and gave the first footing to the restoration and expansion of a new human fraternity.

In 1904, for example, Haiti gave the world the first republic led by Africans and in 1969 an American man took the first human steps beyond our planet, on the moon.

Today marks the universal kinship that is the future of the great American cosmic race.

* In reflecting on mestizaje and the "cosmic race" I acknowledge my intellectual debt to theologians Virgilio Elizondo of San Antonio, Texas, and Gustavo Gutierrez of Lima, Peru.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

September 11 lesson? Don't squander goodwill

I was working a block from the White House that clear Tuesday morning, with weather almost identical to today's (at least in the Boston-Washington corridor). What most amazed me was the unexpected sympathy from every corner of the globe.

Not since John F. Kennedy's assassination had the world been with us. For a moment we Americans stopped being to other peoples brash and uncouth, exploitative and money-grubbing, violent and warmongering or, to borrow a Maoism, "running dogs of capitalism."

They saw us as just human beings in the United States.

Canadians, particularly English Canadians who can't shuck off the fact that they're really just like us as much as they hate that, and Mexicans, of whom Carlos Fuentes said are too far from God and too close to the United States, had nice things to say about us.

People from every corner expressed sympathy for the tragedy, for the people  undeserving of such deaths.

We had a president I had not voted for who could have transformed this moment into a giant turnaround in the world. Instead, he called for a "crusade" (Dubya, you do know that the medieval crusaders lost, right?), and the rest is history.

History as usual. Dreary, jingoistic bluster. Bush went all-out to prove the American-haters overseas right.

Just when almost all the world was with us. Let's never do that again.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Democrats and Republicans even look different

One of the most striking differences between the convention speeches by Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, was not the oratory, at which the latter is obviously more adept, but the audience. The Democrats listening to the First Lady looked like America.

In the Republican Tampa audience, it took scouring the crowd to find someone younger than 40, female, not to mention of a coloring other than deathly pale. Ann Romney herself reflected the weird white people motif of the GOP, with her obvious wrinkle tucks and her pill popper demeanor.

When the Republicans tried to go Hispanic, suddenly the in-thing for political duopoly, they chose a Cubano, the most un-representative of all U.S. Hispanics.

Think about it: the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans are here because they or their parents were admitted to the United States under an open-ended "parole" program. All they had to do was say they were Cuban and didn't like the bearded guy over there.

The Republicans wore cheese-head hats, held up ridiculous signs and brought in a famed aged actor to make a fool of himself. Where did they get these people? Of course Romney looked passable in that crowd! A monkey would have.

At the Charlotte, N.C., gathering last night and the next few days, I'm seeing the much broader variety of human beings that make up the U.S. of A. The Hispanic speaker came from among the Mexicans, who account for two thirds of all Hispanics.

Although her came from recent immigrant stock, do note that many Chicanos' ancestors had been in what today is the United States for decades when the Jamestown settlement was established, let alone when the Puritan Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

As for the Republican slogan "we built it," African-American slaves built the house that Obama lives in, not white businessmen. Irish and Chinese immigrants, treated worse than slaves for a generation or two, built the railroads. And the list goes on ...

You could see the heirs of these and other immigrants at Charlotte, as much as you could not their absence at Tampa. Oh, yeah, Paul Ryan is Irish Catholic, but he's the kind of Irish Catholic who has turned his back on the unions and the solidarity that allowed the Irish to survive ethnic and religious prejudice in this country.

Michelle Obama said it: we can't slam the door behind us when we rise (as Ryan has). We have to reach back and help others. That's the real the United States of America. It's at the Democratic Party's convention.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Let's rebel against living on automatic!

Have you noticed how cops, nurses and sales people have all been trained to use the passive-aggressive crowd-control phrase "you need to" when what they really mean is "I command you to" (or "do as I effing say!"). Next time, consider responding with a thoughtful examination of the statement, with reference to, say, Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It's the rebellion waiting to happen. 

In our globalized, corporation-run world, all workers who feed you, or clothe you, or deal with your aches and pains, or protect you, or provide you the necessary paperwork to go on going on, have been trained (under penalty of death?) to keep you -- the customer/citizen/patient -- anesthetized, pliable and, most important, willing to pay the price for the goods and services that some middle management technocrat just knows you need.

It's irritating, to say the least.

Borrowing from medicine, let's call it "The Protocol Society," an entire society run mindlessly by providers of services or goods who follow a detailed plan, or protocol. In medicine it serves to ensure a standard, and correct, treatment regime for every particular diagnosis by personnel without advanced medical degrees.

Nurses have an exact list of insanely repetitive questions to ask new patients and teachers in some school districts have their activities prescribed down to 15-minute increments. Everybody has a script and endless checklists ... and don't get me started on customer "service" representatives and salespeople!

The basic idea is that rather than educate people on taking time to think through what matters in their work, it is easier to outline a set of prescribed steps that can be performed by rote. This way it doesn't matter if the teacher failed math or the nurse is squeamish or a cop is a bully. Follow the protocol and everything will be all right.

Take the HMO worker on the phone who asks you, toward the end of a litany of inane questions, "Are you considering doing harm to yourself or others?" Here you were, trying to get a medical appointment and you were being put through the wringer simply because instead of Stage 3 Cancer, you had a loose (but let's say rather painful) hangnail.

"Frankly," you reply, "I'm considering using my special powers to send my arm through the telephone cable to strangle you if you ask me one more silly question."

Have to give him credit, though. Without a change in inflection he responds by asking if you know his location.

It reminds me of my favorite Somerset Maugham quote, which made me howl with laughter the first time I read it in Cakes and Ale years ago:
The Americans, who are the most efficient people on the earth, have carried phrase-making to such a height of perfection and have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on an amusing and animated conversation without giving a moment’s reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.
Apply that to work activity instead of talking.

Monday, September 03, 2012

We don't need or want a CEO for president

Think about it: have you ever elected your boss or voted on the price tag for the goods or services you produce? Of course, not. Business functions pretty much as a dictatorship, not a democracy. Bosses command, employees obey.

That's not the way democracy is supposed to function. Democracy is about people governing themselves. We have elections, discussions, votes. The more the merrier.

Montesquieu was fond of saying that democracy was like a raft going down rapids, always on the verge of overturning; even if it does, the raft will float on. Monarchy, he added, was like a stately ship capable of sailing the seven seas; but fire one cannonball at a precise spot and it would sink like a rock (this was especially true of the galleons of his day).

Today, democracy's antagonist is not monarchy but plutocracy, which is government by the wealthy (and their corporations).

The style of plutocracy is that of corporations -- slick, shimmering, always promising the rainbow's end with each new product. The yardstick is money. You're smart if you have it; dumb and lazy if you don't. In plutocracy, everything should make a profit, even your family, your friendships and your leisure.

Everything should be efficient: if some way could be found, all the rich people would have one servant, a single person pushing the buttons of immense machinery to make them happy. The rest of us ... well ... we're dumb and lazy and didn't beat the button-pusher to the job, we should all be unemployed and poor, but grateful for any bone they throw us.

In plutocracy, money has disparate and unrepresentative weight in policy decisions. Elections are won by whomever spends the most.

Democracy is the very opposite. It's always trying to improve on itself and its ability to serve people well, which is the yardstick by which it is measured. Every person counts, no matter what. Because people are self-contradictory and riddled with flaws, democracy is usually very messy, slow, unglamorous and full of disagreements.

The best person to run a plutocracy is a chief executive officer.

The best person to run a democracy, however, is a a president, someone who merely steers the messy, inefficient and unprofitable collection of human beings we call society according to the will of its people.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What Akin should have said is ...

... "All abortion is wrong." The Republicans who want to oust Missouri GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Todd Akin also want to avoid discussing that they don't really want to ban abortion, they just want to keep demagoguing abortion for decades.

All the Tea Party folk and all the Born-Again Christians out there who vote based on the pro-life banner won't be able to put the GOP together again, if people open their eyes and realize the game Republicans have been playing.

Look at the record.

What has the allegedly pro-life Republican party done to reverse Roe v. Wade in the three decades since Ronald Reagan became president? After all, since 1981, there have been several years of Republican majorities in both houses of Congress along with a sitting Republican president.

What kept them from passing a constitutional amendment declaring that human life begins at conception? If they did that they wouldn't be able to keep ranting against abortion and picking the ripe, juicy votes of folks who don't realize that without a constitutional change, there is nothing any president can do to ban abortion.

Or, what kept them from simply ratifying, without reservation, the American Convention on Human Rights, which contains such a clause ("Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception.")? If they did that, they couldn't sell weapons to Latin American regimes that torture in a most anti-Communist fashion.

Akin knew very well that the GOP's stand on this principle is riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese. That's why he fell into the fiction that "legitimate" rape is a method to prevent conception.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nature helps us "Grow Down"

The beauty of growing down is how Nature prepares to take us back into her bosom. The world becomes muffled and quieter, voices more garbled, television's volume is never high enough. Faces lose wrinkles along with their sharp edges and I am always zooming in on text in my browser.

Slowly, the angry horns of fellow drivers fade away as do the ridiculous, and at heart trivial, questions and demands of petty bureaucrats, such as police officers, nurses and the whole army of factotums who work off scripts and protocols devised by and for morons. Never mind.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune stop at the cozy barrier of progressively weaker connections. Mental acuity and memory recedes to when we loved playgrounds and each day was a whole new lifetime. Tell me again what was it that called attention to what's between my legs?

Soon we are only breathing, uninterested in food or the newspaper. Until we no longer care to breathe.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sunday I found myself in New York City ...

Sunday I found myself in New York City, my home town. As I do from time to time, I went to the old neighborhood where I know no one any more. I even ambled over to the church where I was baptized. I walked in for a moment, to see the tiny church I once perceived as large as Canterbury.

The priest was finishing his sermon; they'd read Mark 4:26-34 and he was wrapping up. His New York accent assaulted me. I don't live there any more. So I have gone to search for the reading ( and see if I can formulate my own sermon.

The meaning of the opening simile parable that hits me in the face first off is the message that the reign of God is not in my hands.

So often I read the papers, which I can do at work as part of work (great job if you can get it), and become despondent. As a journalist I know that the one bias all reporters have is for the negative: someone died, so-and-so is corrupt, the world is falling apart. Yet I get caught up in it as I scour for the disasters to make sure I can find the news-of-the-day angle to my stories.

These days I am mindful of Yeats: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." I could recite all the headlines to you, but you don't need me to do that. You can go get depressed on your own.

So here comes Jesus saying that the reign of God, the state of being he is announcing to the world, is "as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how."

He does not know how.

There is nothing I need bother my little head about it, because even if I were the seed scatterer, I would still not know how it sprouts and grows. Yet it does by some process I don't know. The conclusion reminds me of Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

The reign of God is at hand, despite all the darkening clouds. Perhaps the clouds just bring rain. Then the seed will become a tree and birds will nest in its branches, as the remainder of the passage says.

I don't know for certain that this is "the message." I was spared living in first century Palestine as a poor devout Jew who followed a Galilean woodworker-preacher, so I was not told what Mark intimates is the secret of the gospel. At least, I was not told as the disciples were told.

But here's my guess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Republican worship of job "creators" is idolatry

Lost in the truly stupid flap over a misunderstood remark by President Obama, which in its proper context (the labor market) was correct, is an even graver error: the Republican worship of job "creators."

As Sister Catherine Agnes taught me in second grade, to create is to make from nothing, as Christians believe God created everything ... from nothing.

Let's consider nothingness. A street vendor in Rome charges $20 for what an angry tourist sees through a peephole is a dark and empty box. The vendor responds offended: "That's the original nothingness from before God created the world!"

I have generated jobs in launching new publications.

These jobs didn't come from nothing. There was a need for the information we were gathering and there was a need for someone to gather, edit, lay out and distribute it: jobs, jobs, jobs.

But hey, I didn't invent the topic, the information niche. I didn't educate the reporters or the graphic designers. I didn't build our offices or invent electricity for our computers. Nor did I train the printers, truck drivers, nor mail carriers, all later replaced by Internet technicians. I certainly did not invent the Internet.

Sure, I put existing resources together that combined into new jobs. In physics we learn that the sum of vectors isn't exactly arithmetic, you get a new vector. A man and a woman can make a 3-person family, which is expressed as 1+1=3.

There's no creation there.

Elizabeth Warren, who I hope wins the Massachusetts race for the U.S. Senate, puts it better than I could:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
Anybody who says otherwise is making gods, or false idols, of entrepreneurs.

Friday, June 01, 2012

"The butler did it" and other Vatican follies

Anyone wondering why the pope's butler secretly leaked evidence of entirely unsurprising Renaissance-style corruption in the modern Vatican need only weigh the history of authoritarian power styles such as that of Joseph Ratzinger.

Think about it: the pope is the last absolute divine-right monarch. What caused the fall of so many of his royal peers, their dynasties gone? One lost his head quite literally, another was gunned down in a basement with his family. Lots more where that came from.

Just as surely as Freud was right that suppression of desires breeds sublimation and rebellion, a tyrannical demand of absolute loyalty from one's subordinates breeds intrigue, double dealing and ultimately the collapse of any respect for authority.

This isn't new.

Dictatorship was always short-lived. The original Roman dictators were given extraordinary powers to cope with emergencies, then unceremoniously dismissed by the Senate once danger was gone.

The authoritarian boss, mafioso, president, king or pope forces his (they're usually men) subjects to obey without question no matter what, setting off tensions between individual needs or desires and social duty.

Most people end up cheating a little or a lot, depending on their power and means. Eventually everyone is part of a wide circle of dishonesty and disobedience that wrecks the social fabric.

The elected parliamentary systems of governance by laws of Britain and North America have the longest continuous history since very ancient times precisely because they strive for compromise, a safety valve for dissenting minorities,  pluralities and the individual.

This is also why, like sex-starved teenagers, most people lie outrageously to themselves and others when their urges or needs are fiercely and unreasonably suppressed, persecuted or disregarded.

Yet this is exactly what Ratzinger set up the Vatican to do.

Thoroughly indoctrinated in top-down order as a Hitler Youth, he rose under the tutelage of the most authoritarian German bishops. When he finally went to Rome he was quickly dubbed "the Panzerkardinal" as he  steamrolled over anyone with whom he disagreed.

His entire papacy is a venture dedicated to reducing the  Catholic Church to the tight-knit, goose-stepping 10 percent of Catholics who obey every rule (or fake it well and self-righteously).

Even nuns aren't allowed to care about the poor, whom a Galilean woodworker of long ago called "blessed." They must fight abortion and s-e-x first!

It can't be done? Pretend. Oh, and make all the financial shenanigans behind the operation go away.

This authoritarian illogic is how, as even Cuba's Prensa Latina reported, Castro's comrades practiced "sociolismo" (partnership in misappropriation of state property or funds) rather than socialism.

This is also how conservative Newton Leroy Gingrich attempted to overthrow President Clinton for sexual escapades while Gingrich himself was cheating on his dying wife with a woman from a church choir.

What made the man I none-too-affectionately call Papa Nazinger think that his own wrongheaded fanatical agenda wouldn't become the refuge of scoundrels?

Maybe it was his butler's benign smile of submission.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Let's be for something, Americans!

The Sunday papers and various trailing debates suggest to me that the principal difference between Republicans and Democrats is that the GOP is against nearly everything, while the party of Jefferson is in favor of a broad range of ideas to solve problems.

For at least a century the Democrats have been the doers and the Republicans the undoers.

Truman set in motion economic expansion, Eisenhower sat on it. Kennedy and Johnson expanded civil liberties, Nixon curtailed them. Carter was the voice of human rights throughout the world, Reagan squelched them wherever he could find the cronies to do so. Clinton ushered in the largest economic expansion ever, Bush gave us this century's first depression.

Now Obama is trying to get us out of the ditch and to prepare us for challenges ahead. The Republicans have done nothing but obstruct and hatemonger.

I understand, Republicans, that you need a party for lazy-minded people who don't believe that anything should be done for the first time. But that's the party leading the USA to become Argentina.

I, who have been to Argentina and ran away as fast as I could, would like to belong to a party that thinks through solutions and is daring enough to write the next volume of America's history. That's the Democratic Party, the party in favor of believing, thinking and doing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We (still) have good reason to hate the Brits!

Exactly 30 years ago today I wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post titled "We Have Good Reason to Hate the Brits"  in a vain attempt to provide a counterweight to American Anglophilia about the Malvinas Islands.

But nothing is as easy as you think. I went through a meeting with intelligence agents, deaf and hostile debates in the media and even threats sotto voce. The best response was that of a cousin. "The nationalist in you came out," she wrote me.

And that's what I believe happened to many Argentines on April 2nd this year. Suddenly they spoke of the "heroes" of 1982. Few remembered that the Argentine armed forces had only been trained to suppress unarmed civilians.

The defeat by one of the NATO powers was only a matter of time. The soldiers sent to the "war" by the Argentine generals who had no experience of war, were cannon fodder, not heroes. Thirty years after the events there has to be a way to lower the emotional volume that the Buenos Aires government is stoking for plainly demagogic reasons.

The Argentine claim to the islands is no more legitimate than the Zionist claim to Palestine. Possession is nine-tenths of the law and the Argentines have not held the islands for nearly 180 years, just as Palestine was not a Jewish State since before Alexander the Great.

And frankly, what can Argentina give the Falkland kelpers?

Yes, as I wrote in 1982, the British took from Argentina (and Ireland, India, Anglophone Africa, etc.) much more than the Falklands. This is why they have earned the instinctive antipathy of most Argentines. But in Argentina and between Argentines there are fundamental problems of higher priority.

Ultimately, the war 30 years ago yielded the only beneficial result Argentina could expect: to get rid of the cowards in uniform who were strangling their country.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Let's bury the Reagan myth once and for all

"Obama is now trying to imitate President Reagan," said the cabbie. "That was a great president!" I asked why. "Well, he balanced the budget, for one." This is an exact misremembrance about Reagan, the president who added more to the national debt than all his predecessors combined and never balanced a budget.

"Actually, no," I told the cabbie.

"But what about his foreign policy?"

"OK, what about it?"

"Well, he defeated the Soviet Union."

"Actually, no, again. The Soviet Union collapsed from the weight of its own internal corruption, which started long before Reagan was ever president," I said.

I was recalling what had been whispered to me in the 1970s about Russian "partner-socialism" between workers trading what they skimmed off their workplaces. The last two decades of Soviet government had been rife with dishonesty and theft from the public till, from top to bottom.

"Oh," the cabbie insisted. "But Reagan gave me a green card."

He was referring to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which Reagan dragged his heels on for four long years. Reagan was no friend of the immigrant.

But wasn't the economy better?

Not if you recall the 1982 recession, which led to mass layoffs in manufacturing and the beginning of the off-shoring of millions of jobs. Nor if you recall the 1986 stock market crash. Nor if you recall the hundreds of billions of deficit spending proposed and pushed through each of eight years by Reagan.

Wasn't he the Great Communicator?

Reagan was a good reader of scripts. He was an actor, after all.

But his material included lots of lies. The "welfare queen" he cited as proof that public aid induced fraud never existed. The "freedom fighters" he encouraged in Nicaragua were accomplices of drug dealers. The "heroes" in his administration, whom he praised as such, lied to Congress and thereby to the people.

Reagan was easily one of the worst presidents in living memory. He pushed millions into poverty, took food from infants to pay for sweet deals with military contractors.

He was an evil and immoral man in every dimension of these words. Yet the propagandists and their media have developed a fantasy story that many good people of good faith are being convinced to believe was history.

All in order to enthrone and semi-deify the actor whose best role was that of president.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

This is the first day of the rest of my life

No, really, it is.

In the 1999 film "American Beauty," Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey) says: "Remember those posters that said, 'Today is the first day of the rest of your life'? Well, that's true of every day but one: the day you die."

This is the day I did not die.

This is the first day that the ghost of the past no longer hovers over me. Oh, I have a past, don't get me wrong. It's just that some really awful things in it no longer have a hold on me.

I feel like shouting in the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Free at last!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Quick! Before I croak! I've survived!

Superstition is a weird and crazy thing but ever since my father died I have been saying I would die at the same age, even though our lifestyles were quite different. This morning, at 6 am, I reached the age my father was when he died. Yet I'm alive with no signs (knock on wood) of imminent departure.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Might we worship a God of the sex to which we are attracted?

Several women have given me hell for using "her"* for God, arguing that they cannot conceive of a female deity. These women are more traditionalist, of course, than the ones who have cheered me on, taking credit for my usage.

But this set me thinking ... is there a God-like sense of authority or influence or appeal in the opposite (or in the case of gays and lesbians, the same) sex? Could religious devotion be a form of sexual energy?

That latter idea fits with my experience of mature, celibate men in religious life whom I knew to speak of the "BVM" (the blessed Virgin Mary) with a fervor and attention that one lavishes on a beloved, particularly in the first blush of a romance. This is a classic example of what Freud meant by sublimation: the sex drive transmogrified into another form of intimate involvement.

Nuns who take final vows have long been held out to become figurative "brides of Christ." Look at the left hand of any woman in a Catholic religious order and you'll see the wedding band. It's not there to shoo away men who might otherwise hit on them, as most nuns do not frequent bars.

Coming back to the great unwashed majority who are not living under vows of chastity or celibacy, I wonder if somehow to a woman brought up to respect men as the head of the household and so forth, a male God makes eminent sense. Deity as "other." Similarly I wonder whether loving God would make more sense if there were something akin to sexual attraction involved.

Thus a she God for men and a he God for women.

* I do not contend that God has a sex. However, to offset the use of capitalized masculine pronouns for God for the past 20,000 years or so, I have begun to use uncapitalized feminine pronouns, a practice I plan to review in about 20,000 years.