Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Heck of a job" in Iowa?

If George Bush were a corporate CEO, he'd have been fired long ago.

If he were a British prime minister, he’d be long gone.

But here, The Decider is still deciding.

And along comes his next big test. Floods in Iowa.

Are we ready for another “Heck-of-a-job”? Another presidential fly-over? More toxic temporary portable housing?

Iowa, lest we forget, in addition to being submerged, is a presidential election swing state.

Will a Republican administration make it well, or botch the job as it did in New Orleans (and Iraq and Afghanistan)?

A voting public is watching — closely.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Time that "slips off the mind"

Two authors separated by nearly 50 years, conveyed very similar messages to me recently about our place in time, and the danger we pose to it.

The first was Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times earlier this week about how Barack Obama is favorably perceived in the Middle East.

Friedman related how he was talking at a “Nile-side” restaurant with two Egyptian officials about Obama’s securing the Democratic nomination.

“…one of them quoted one of his children as asking: ‘Could something like this ever happen in Egypt?’ And the answer from everyone at the table was, of course, ‘no.’ It couldn’t happen anywhere in this region. Could a Copt become president of Egypt? Not a chance. Could a Shiite become the leader of Saudi Arabia? Not in a hundred years. A Bahai president of Iran? In your dreams. Here, the past always buries the future, not the other way around.”

The phrase that stuck was, “The past always buries the future, not the other way around.”

Edward T. Hall writing in his classic “The Silent Language” in 1959 noted that in the Middle East “…it is pointless to make an appointment too far in advance, because the informal structure of their time system places everything beyond a week in a single category of ‘future,’ in which plans tend to ‘slip off their minds.’”

Hall’s point, when applied to Friedman’s, isn’t that the past buries the future. It’s that for Middle Easterners, there is effectively no future as we understand it. The future, Hall writes, is in the hands of Allah. It is not a human concern. That’s why any discussion of the future is punctuated by the cautionary phrase, “God willing.”

Friedman’s “the other way around” is, of course, the future’s destruction of the past. That is pretty good description of how American’s perceive history. Our fixation on the future, destroys our past.

Then I thought of the extreme opposite as posed by Hall. Just as there is no future in the Middle East, for many Americans there is no past.

It “slips off our minds,” to use Hall’s words.

So it was that 35 years after the debacle in Vietnam, George W. Bush, hardly a student of history (or seemingly much else) invaded Iraq.

So it was that Bush could dismiss 30 years of scientific research pointing to global warming. It "slipped off his mind" all to protect carbon-generating industries’ profits.

When, if ever, will Americans look to the future not simply from the vantage of the persistent and pressing present (at its worst it is instant gratification, immediate rewards, swift vengeance, instant credit, quick returns), but from the vantage of understanding and wisdom rooted in the past?

Unless we assume such a vantage, we will destroy, both the future and the past.

And the present, for humanity, will no longer exist.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hillsdale is ObamaLand

I found myself over in the inner east side today so I dropped by the county elections office to see if they had the detailed results from the May 20 primary. Those are the tallies that have the local political goods: a break-down of the vote precinct by precinct.

They did have the detailed results ready. In fact the clerk hit the wrong button on her computer and printed out more than 100 pages of county precinct voting data for me.

I had asked for the results from only two precincts — those that cover most of Hillsdale.

Oh well.

Before each election, I put out “Hillsdale Votes!” signs to encourage voting.

I like to think the signs make a difference. There’s no way of telling what the signs do, but while voter turnout county wide was 60 percent, 73 percent of registered voters voted in our two Hillsdale precincts. (Kind of makes me wonder what the other 27 percent were doing. Bowling? Alone?)

We are predominantly Democrats in precincts 1205 and 1224. Of the 7443 registered voters here, 60 percent are Democrats, 20 percent Republicans and 20 percent independents.

Hillsdale Democrats resoundingly favored Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.

County-wide, Obama got two-thirds of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary. Here in Hillsdale, he got 71 percent of the 3811 votes cast in the two precincts.

Don’t ask me what this means. I suppose that someone could accuse me of being blind to local sexism, even as I accused southern counties in Kentucky and West Virginia of being racist.

I doubt whether those same Kentucky and West Virginia voters, who voted four-to-one for Clinton, were really intending to vote for Clinton in the fall had she won the nominations. Call them "McCain Democrats." My guess is that they were voting AGAINST Obama, as an African-American, not FOR Clinton.

Here in Hillsdale, the vote was decidedly for Obama, not against Clinton. Oregon's November results will tell whether Obama's backing is sincere. I'm dead certain it is.

Another political note: I am pleased to see that national political pundits no longer are calling Oregon a “battleground state.” Or, preferably, a "toss-up." Ditto Washington state. The Obama campaign would be smart to focus its resources somewhere other than the Pacific Northwest, including — particularly including — Hillsdale.

In that regard, when I participated in a local Move-On phone bank two years ago, the organization had us calling voters in a hotly contested congressional race in ... the wilds of Nevada, of all places.

We Obama-istas shouldn’t become complacent about Oregon but be prepared to make your voices heard in Missouri, Virginia and New Hampshire. It’s kind of fun. You meet a lot a nice people, albeit telephonically.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A friend's thoughts on silence

In response to my musings about Quaker silence, my old friend Richard Wood, who lives in the village of Husthwaite in North Yorkshire, writes about his own explorations of silence.

(His reference to “molehills” is a running joke of ours. The hills in question are rolling and gentle, just south of the Yorkshire Moors. He has jokingly disparaged them ever since witnessing our Cascades.)

I enjoyed
your exploration of the depths of silence, especially your search for what might lie beyond the depths.

My mind went in search of the same point made by one of the 19th century novelists. I had to use the Oxford Book of Quotations to track it down: George Eliot, “Middlemarch”: she refers to "that roar which lies on the other side of silence.”

Most of us (even those who have "retired" and should have time to do it other ways) spend our lives moving on in search of the next thing to do. When there's not much to do right now I find myself going up and down the stairs in search of something I have just put down — a pen, a piece of paper, anything.

This is straightforward running away from the clamour of one's own silence.

I enjoyed my few visits to the Quakers' silent hours, especially those I did with you, but I find my own silence in the countryside. People say it's impossible to escape the sound of fast roads and aeroplanes, but fortunately it's not true. I take to to molehills behind our house and meditate on silence itself. Or I shut out all thoughts other than the sound of the skylark. Then I think "depth" is the right word for where the mind goes — not downward depth, as in the bottom of the sea, but depth as in the place a great picture might take you.

I'm not as brave as you then in thinking that I might be where God is. Maybe that's because I live in a society that has turned its back on God.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Frohnmayer's departure helps Merkley

I wanted to believe my old college friend John Frohnmayer when he said that, running as an independent, he could attract enough votes in a three-way race to take Gordon Smith's senate seat.

I wanted to believe him, but I never really did, nor did a lot of other folks it seems. At least not enough with money to stake his candidacy.

And that's why John announced today that he's dropping out of the U.S Senate race — to the relief of Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley and Democrats in general.

John looked like a spoiler for the Democrats from the git-go. His candidacy was a gift to Smith, though a few thought that John, as a former Republican from down state, would peel away Smith support. But as John staked out positions to the left of Merkley and his primary opponent Steve Novick, the Democrats became more threatened by the Frohnmayer candidacy.

It's hard to say it, but John's campaign had a decidedly Naderesque taint to it.

Frohnmayer, of course, argued otherwise. He had better name recognition than either of his opponents, thanks to his brother Dave, president of the University of Oregon. One poll three months ago, had John running ahead of Smith and either Democratic primary candidate.

John also described Oregonians as independents at heart. Remember maverick Wayne Morse? Frohnmayer contended that Oregonians know two-party politics is a fool's game.

True perhaps, but Oregonians also know that the two parties have the game rigged — hard-wired and greased (read "lobbyist funded") to keep them in power.

That hard reality quickly set in for me, even though I believed, and still believe, that John — bright, articulate, principled — would make a far better senator than either Smith or Merkley.

Fool's game or not, a whole lot of us — Democrats, independents and, yes, Republicans — want Smith out.

Tonight, with John no longer in the race, that prospect seems a lot more likely.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Offers I can refuse

As my age changes, so does my junk mail.

How do Sonus “Hearing Care Professionals” know that I wear hearing aids? Headline on the direct mail piece received today: “Sonus hearing solutions work for you because they’re created just for you.”

Right. Just for me.

Next mailer….

How does Phoenix Redevelopment Inc. conclude our home is “magnificent,” as in “We’ve recently become aware of your magnificent home at (address) and would like to make you a unique proposal.”

I like the place a lot, but “magnificent”?

In my dreams.

Enamored of our house (make that “home”), Phoenix is making us an “all-cash, as-is, no fees offer.” (The phrase is repeated four times.)

Later in the two-pager, signed by Vice-President Jon Laufenberg, Phoenix makes a couple of suggestions. “Maybe” my wife and I want to “simplify” our lives “and downsize into a condo or townhouse.”

Another possibility “Buy a larger home or move to the country.”

If we wanted to move to a larger home or move to the country, we would have.

As for downsizing, that’s what I do on the treadmill.

Still, data-bases being what they are, Jon might know enough to sweeten the deal with a couple of hear aids. Phoenix, meet Sonus.

Then there’s the part where Jon (that's the way he signs his name, "Jon") says that Phoenix and it “redevelopers” are “professional renovators.”

So we own a place that isn’t that “magnificent” after all.

Jon and Phoenix have anticipated my raised eye-brows; they don’t hold focus groups for nothing.

He writes: “Please understand that this does not mean we think your home needs updating. Chances are your home may be perfect just as it is. We’re just looking for homes with incredible potential and we think your home might be a good match for us.”

Incredible POTENTIAL? Come on, Jon. If it’s just fine as is, what’s this with the “:potential” “renovation” bit?

So what’s with Jon’s “realistic” “all-cash. As-Is. No Fees”?

Hey, in my senior years, I have time to play along. I might give Jon a call just for the tugs and jerks on the line.

As for the hearing aids, Sheeeeesh!

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

A silent exploration of silence

I may devote these Sunday posts to “day of rest” reflections in general, and Quaker reflections in particular.

I always come away from our Sunday morning’s hour of silent worship with something I want to share.

This morning, in the silence, I found myself exploring the phrase “the depths of silence.”

For some reason, our culture assigns “depth” to silence.

I’m not sure why. Why not breadth or height?

Indeed, why must silence have any single dimension at all? Why not free silence from three or even four dimensions?

But exploring the depth of silence did lead me to consider “digging deeper” into the silence of my worship.

Is there a silence beneath silence? Another deeper layer of silence?

So often my silence is full of voices. So it really isn't silence at all even though no one in the meeting room is speaking. These are my own inner voices rushing to fill the void.

I need a much deeper silence. Or is it higher silence? Or a broader silence? Or just a greater silence — a silent silence?

The more I got into it — deeper, wider, greater — the more I realized that silence is truly a manifestation of an infinite presence.

Some might choose to call it "God," but the silence was telling me that God has no-name.

All creation started with — still starts with — silence.

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