Friday, May 02, 2008

Grace and Disgrace

I’ve been pondering my writing last week about “disgrace” as it applies to the Bush Administration.

It all seemed so easy. Too easy.

To understand the import of disgrace, not just the Bush Administration’s, I’ve considered the meaning of its seeming opposite, “grace,” and asked others to do the same.

Near the end of the silence of our small Quaker meeting, attended by only four last Sunday, I decided to see what the others thought of “grace” — and “disgrace.”

We let the silence work on us before we spoke.

Two strands emerged.

Grace is a form of love or mercy that comes from outside. One of our group shared that he had had an addiction that seemed to have been swept aside in an act of grace. “I had nothing to do with it,” he said. “It was a gift.”

John Newton’s moving hymn “Amazing Grace” captures the spirit of grace as an outside force. The idea of being “lost, but now … found.”

Disgrace, we suggested, is something we bring upon ourselves. We are quite responsible for it. I thought of Bush and Cheney again, but also of the potential we all have to disgrace ourselves.

The other strand is that grace heals. Disgrace destroys.

Many live with a lack of grace but are not disgraced. They are born into, or cast into dire situations of powerlessness or poverty that shape what we might judge to be disgraceful actions. When we ask what we might have done in the same situation (hunger, extreme poverty, war), we are often led to the notion of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Saying “grace” at meals reminds us of that idea. We are graced with this food; pray for (and assist) those who are not. Again, “There but for the grace of God….”

The other aspect of grace has to do with a wholeness and integrity. To handle something with grace— gracefully. Only those who have been graced can manifest it. We talk of “natural grace” for instance. A grace that comes from nature. There is no such thing as “manufactured grace.”

Those who seek material excess or a lust for power or act out of a sense of self-righteousness have segregated themselves from nature (and God, if you will). They lack grace; they have disgraced themselves.

And yet we must ask: How did they fall into disgrace? Was it through their own doing? You quickly come to the debate over free will and destiny. Are Bush and Cheney and their disastrous policies the inevitable results of their circumstances, or did they have the freedom not to act as they did? And what of the Osama bin Ladins or Robert Mugabes of the world? What of those who were born into prejudice or anger or fear?

Might we ourselves, placed in their shoes, be vulnerable to the same forces? Are we so free of prejudice ourselves? Are we free of complicity? Of playing along with disgrace? Have we been graced yet? Is someone looking at us and saying, “There but for the grace of God….”?

We are faced with a choice ourselves. I’ve concluded that before we can receive grace, we must be open to it. Can we forgive? Can we forgive ourselves? Can we reach out to those harmed and suffering?

Can we be the willing recipients of grace so that we can become its agents?

On-line definitions for “grace” and “disgrace.”

grace (grs) n.

1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.
2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement.
3. A sense of fitness or propriety.
a. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill.
b. Mercy; clemency.
5. A favor rendered by one who need not do so; indulgence.
6. A temporary immunity or exemption; a reprieve.
7. Graces Greek & Roman Mythology Three sister goddesses, known in Greek mythology as Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia, who dispense charm and beauty.
a. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people.
b. The state of being protected or sanctified by the favor of God.
c. An excellence or power granted by God.
9. A short prayer of blessing or thanksgiving said before or after a meal.

dis·grace (ds-grs) n.

1. Loss of honor, respect, or reputation; shame.
2. The condition of being strongly and generally disapproved.
3. One that brings disfavor or discredit: Your handwriting is a disgrace.
tr.v. dis·graced, dis·grac·ing, dis·grac·es
1. To bring shame or dishonor on: disgraced the entire community.
2. To deprive of favor or good repute; treat with disfavor: The family was disgraced by the scandal.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Harvard has heft on Oregon ballot

This morning I went through the voters’ pamphlet and tallied who won.

How’s that? The votes aren’t counted until May 20.

The count I did was of colleges and universities. Which of the four-year undergraduate and graduate programs produced the most candidates?

If my count is correct (than this can be an eye-glazing exercise), the winner is (drum-roll….)

Portland State with 20 followed closely by the University of Oregon with 19.

No real surprise there.

But what happened to Oregon State with a measly 2? (OSU graduates may know something the rest of us don’t — like politics is a waste of time?)

Even Purdue in Indiana produced three candidates, including Will Hobbs, my Democratic choice (and The Oregonian’s and Willamette Week’s) to replace lack-luster incumbent U.S. Rep. David Wu (Stanford, BA; Yale, JD).

I got into this college-counting exercise because as I read the candidates’ statements, Harvard kept popping up with surprising frequency. Fourteen times to be exact, (one being for Barack Obama). In fact, Harvard ranked third, after PSU and UO, as an alma mater in the Portland-area edition of the pamphlet.

Rival Yale wasn’t even close with three (among them Hillary Rodham Clinton).

Stanford came in with a mere four.

Oxford University, of all places, had three (one more than OSU). Oxford’s graduates in the pamphlet are Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, and two state reps. Steve Griffith (R) and Ben Cannon (D). Liberty got a law degree from Harvard, and Griffith earned a bachelor’s from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.

Oxford’s rival, Cambridge, produced Amanda Fritz, a Portland City Council candidate, a fellow SW Portlander and an avid blogger.

Not to make too much of this, but a couple of observations come to mind.

Many of the University of Oregon and Harvard candidates went to law school on the campuses. If you want your graduates to become politically influential, be sure to have a law school.

The other point is that political candidates are, by definition, aspiring, if not always inspiring. If Harvard and PSU have one thing in common, it’s that they attract aspirants — but in different ways. Harvard gets youth who are obviously aiming high from the start. PSU often attracts those who kick into high gear later in life.

By the way, I didn’t tally community college graduates, but I probably should have. From my PCC teaching experience, I know community colleges attract scrappy older students. My recollection is that community college grads are well represented in the pamphlet.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Politics dictates quick solar action here

In the current issue of The Hillsdale News, I reported that Portland school district officials and local leaders don't feel a rush to install a large photo-voltaic array of solar panels in order to supply electricity to Rieke Elementary School.

The site that the school district officials and solar consultants have in mind is on the highly visible slope just above Bertha Court (see above rendering). But some folks wonder whether that’s the best site for the industrial-looking 200 foot-by-50 foot array.

They are saying, let’s slow down and consider other sites and possibly more attractive panels.

Earlier I had reported that the installation had to be completed before the end of the year because lucrative federal tax incentives expire then. But those conferring around the table at the school district office last Wednesday were certain the feds and Congress would extend the tax incentive program for wind and solar power. There would be time for careful siting deliberation.

The incentives have started a boom in alternative energy projects, which have zero carbon emissions in a world of warming hurt.

What politician in his or her right mind wouldn’t continue the tax incentive program?

Quite a few, starting with Congress and Bush administration energy officials, according to Thomas Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times. The government is stuck in the same short-term, quick-fix mind set demonstrated by presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton, writes Friedman.

Both candidates are advocating a federal gas tax vacation this summer, which will only contribute to the carbon spewing.

Enough with the Band-Aids already. As Friedman reminds us, we have a global problem on our hands.

In Hillsdale, intransigence in Washington, D.C. means forging ahead here. Like it or not, we need to move on the solar project under tight, politically dictated time constraints.

The result may not be pretty aesthetically, but by promising to provide 60 percent of Rieke’s energy without polluting the environment, this project has other, more important, attractions.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Plant a Robo-Tree for Hillsdale undergrounding

The "City That Works" is circulating a survey about where the public wants cell towers placed.

On neighborhood streets? On main thoroughfares? On schools? Churches?

Under rocks (just kidding)?

Or none of the above.

I’d encourage you to take the survey even though some of it poses non-sequitur questions. For instance, if you don’t want cell towers anywhere (which is a choice), why would you offer an opinion about what shape or color the poles should be?

Never mind. Skip to the important comment section at the end.

That’s where I suggested that I wouldn’t mind a humongous cell tower in Hillsdale if the franchise fees paid on it went to pay for undergrounding utilities in the Hillsdale Town Center (see photo below to the left).

Call it "blight mitigation."

Besides, the cell tower designers have come up with some clever (or weird) ways to disguise their handiwork. See photo above. A bizarre note: there is also a palm tree model. Attention Salvador Molly's!

Look at the photo closely. This could be the very tree used as the model for the Oregon license plates. Can you find the antenna in the "branches" of this faux Doug fir?

Doug fir. Palm. Dogwood. Baobab. Whatever. I’d accept any model robo-tree/cell tower to get rid of our poles, wires and transformers in Hillsdale.

How about you?

Take the survey.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Take nothing for granted"

I saw the headline at the top of the April 20 issue of The New York Times but couldn’t bring myself to read the story until a week later. I was steeling myself.

The story headlined “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” is proof that in Eisenhower's farewell address, the president and former military commander got it only partly right when he warned of the military-industrial complex.

As several letter writers have noted, what we have is a military-industrial-media complex.

The story by David Barstow lays bare an entire cadre of retired military brass serving as media shills for the administration and the Iraq War. Since 2002, most of the "analysts" have mouthed the Bush administration's flawed and deceitful positions. It turns out they were in the employ of military contractors who reap billions from the war. In short, many of the allegedly objective analysts were trapped and compromised: speak out against the administration and the war (as in, tell the truth) and you and your clients or employer will suffer the consequences.

Eisenhower's warning and then some is all in the story:

Military — check.

Industrial — check.

Media — check.

The one thing it isn’t, is complex.

The other truism illustrated by the story is from the late, great Neil Postman: “The more you watch (TV); the less you know.” Actually, it’s worst than that. The more you watch, the more deceived you become.

I do not believe for a minute that the Bush Administration is the first to use PR smoke-and-mirrors techniques to deceive the public, to pay off military contractors and to send American soldiers to their deaths for unworthy causes.

But this story by David Barstow catalogs deceit heaped on deceit — in detail, thanks to the Times obtaining original documents through he Freedom of Information Act. Barstow reports that the ethically challenged TV networks allowed it all to happen, duping the public repeatedly. (Surprise, “fair and balanced” FOX was the worst of the lot.}

If there’s good news here it’s this: something must have gone wrong along the way, because the public, despite the lies and distortions, has seen through the scam. Seven in 10 want to get out of Iraq.

So much for bought-and-paid-for military authority figures.

The other thing that is happening is that TV network news operations are losing their viewers. Thanks to the lies and distortions of the “key influentials” and “message multipliers,” as the military analysts were called by their Bush administration handlers, the networks can expect to lose a whole lot more.

Three post-scripts.

• As the story appeared in the Times, much of the story was obliterated by some ham-handed page layout person and asleep-at-the-switch proofreaders. Someone forgot to use “text runaround” so that a graphic obscured blocks of text. Read this story on line.

• We’ve seen numerous military analysts on the PBS’s Lehrer NewsHour, but for some reason, the story fails to mention them and whether they too are tainted by ties to the arms industry and the administration. In a NewsHour broadcast segment about the Times story, correspondent Judy Woodruff said, “For the record, the NewsHour briefly put five military analysts on a retainer in 2003, but none of them attended Pentagon briefings while on retainer to the NewsHour.”

Significantly, what she did NOT say is whether the NewsHour analysts work for or consult the arms industry — a clear conflict of interest.

• Here are Eisenhower’s words as he left office:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Question: How can the public be “alert and knowledgeable” when the news media are duped by and compliant to the Military-Industrial Complex? Some networks, such as NBC, are even owned by huge defense contractors.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Joy for Many Springs

My Hillsdale neighbor Frances Cook planted cherry and pear trees in 1952. Fifty-six years later, she says they still bring joy. Her friend T. F. Jaxen took these photos.

Labels: , ,