Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

The many events of the world don't stop for Christmas but the news has been slow. On the other hand, my wife is one of the lucky ones who has to work on Christmas day (she's cooking for 85 people!).

I sometimes have wondered what it's like to shake one of those bells for The Salvation Army and while wandering through a number of blogs, there was Benjamin Dueholm of The Private Intellectual:
I'm in Madison again for the end of Advent, and as I did last year I signed up to ring bells for the Salvation Army. I have plenty of theological disagreements with the Sal Army, but they do critical work that no one else does. I was ringing this morning at a supermarket on the west side and the response was very good. Probably half or more of the patrons dropped at least something into the bucket, even while I was sitting there doing the Isthmus crossword. I'm not one for the hard sell, even when it comes to charity. ...

Dueholm goes on to mention what does work and he's right. I suppose there's been too much hard sell in the last six years. On Saturday, I was buying a printer for $89 and I couldn't believe they tried to sell me an extended warranty. Enough already.

Many of us who write political blogs are passionate about the issues and most of us who consider ourselves part of the reality-based community try to get the facts right (even if our opinions sometimes race ahead of the available facts) but it's not always easy to remember that part of what is useful about blogging is creating dialogue, not just hammering some point home.

For me, blogging is still an experiment. I wish I understood a great deal more than I do. I started writing many years ago and one of the reasons I became a writer was that there were things I wasn't reading and I discovered that sometimes you have write those things yourself, even if it isn't easy, even if you struggle with it and have to learn what it is that you don't know, even if it takes years, even if all you do is scratch the surface. Life is an adventure and we sometimes forget that too easily.

A lot of politics is actually easy to write about once you get your hands on some of the details and use a little common sense. The hard part is staying focused on what's important and finding ways to talk about those things and stopping long enough to hear what other people have to say—creating a dialogue in other words. That's hard in any kind of writing, though Donkey Path has some excellent commenters and I've been lucky to find a range of very good blogs, all of whom I learn from (and we sometimes hear something of the same from other bloggers).

I have a strong respect for passion but I sometimes catch myself writing too much out of anger; now anger is sometimes necessary but it can feel too much at times like a hard sell; sometimes we need to talk simply because it is important to do so. When the stakes are high, finding the human level isn't always easy to do. Sometimes it's important to take a deep breath and just try again. That's all any of us can do. For me, after a year of blogging, it remains a challenge and an adventure.

Let's hope the holidays a year from now see a little more peace in the world. And a little more thoughtfulness.

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Anonymous Terrell said...

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All mankind!

In 1965, as a college freshman I went to NYC, slept in an unheated Salvation Army office, and spent most of my waking hours for two weeks ringing bells for the Sallies. We were paid, however. I suppose the S.A. considered it a mission to provide jobs for college kids while raising money for their other projects. It was a great and humbling experience. It taught me that Yankees are not the heartless, arrogant beasts I'd understood them to be (though they often do not understand the bounderies of personal space that we Southerners expect to be held inviolate.)

On this day, when we are thinking of the Prince of Peace -- who is defined in the New Testament simply as Love -- it is good to read your thoughtful words.

Yes, I have often vented my spleen in a post, then completely rewritten it to take out the venom and try to replace bile with simple reason and polite disagreement and positive alternatives. There is a place for anger, as you say, but we must try to actually reach some consensus on the path ahead.

For that to happen someone has get beyond blame to deal with reality and find ways to help others to overcome defensiveness and deal with would-be enemies.

Our Vice President sent cards this year which use the Christian phrase "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men" to express a universal wish. One does not have to give up their own faith, beliefs, traditions, to be tolerant of those of others. I don't often agree with the Vice President, but this is the proper way to express his Christian faith without denigrating the beliefs of others.

Peace to you and yours, Craig!

9:27 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Midnight prayer on Christmas Eve

Last night I attended midnight mass -- a strange and beautiful enough thing in itself for a Presbyterian minister's grandson -- in a brand new parish church in Turin, Italy, a structure designed by the rightly renowned architect Mario Botta. In contrast to the soaring, expansive space inside the church with its lustrous surfaces in polished wood and stone were the people who came to worship, the people from the neighborhood, neither rich nor poor, humble nor proud, but just the folks.

To close the mass the priest invited us to turn to those around us, shake hands, especially stranger to stranger, and to utter the ancient wish for harmony in that one word: Pace. Peace.

As I did so and felt the firmness and sincere warmth of the man next to me, and from his wife as we shook hands, I thought of something so sinister that it nearly undid me from that moment.

Our president, that is Mr. Bush and his handlers, are not for one second backing away from their program of militarism abroad. No. We have arrived in the era of Perpetual War, no matter what is to be said of our involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To this unstated policy no one is actually raising the least actual, pragmatic objection. The rhetoric we hear contains nothing if not firm tacit support for the direction that Mr. Bush has been frightully successful at launching and accelerating. We may 'disengage' in Iraq, we may reduce or remove our troops, or some of them, yes, but we are not, on Mr. Bush's watch, actually going to give up our hegemony there. We rather are on course to maintain and deepen our hold on this beachhead in the Middle East. If we have made Fortress Baghdad, the Green Zone, defensibly occupiable, so we would also, after Bush, 'secure' a series of other perimeters across the territories of Iraq and Afghanistan. In Perpetual War we have to have these bases. Or so goes the cant, if never the transparent declaration of strategy, from Bush and crowd. Crowd it is, including of course Blair and Berlusconi - Prodi, too, no matter what we and the Italian body politic imagine he said to regain his position from Berlusconi in recent Italian elections - plus powers that be across the whole EU from Bush's fantasy honey Merkel up to and including France. We and they all need this military front in the Middle East.

Or think we do. So the fossil memory will have it, in this vacuum of imagination and historical memory. Call it the new immagine-not line.

I wish we could learn, would learn. Only speaking out and dialogue will move us, can afford us any true beachead of understanding. And that's got to happen INSIDE the market-bazaar tent, instead of huffing and puffing to blow the thing down. Yes, fellow Americans, we need to go inside with our beans -- both the kind in sacks to sell and the kind in our pockets we’ll use to buy. Look how we’ve tamed the Chinese lion by our simple expedient of a trade deficit.

Because you know what happens next: besides coming back out with stuff you needed (or didn't but were pleased as punch to have gotten a bargain on, like that weird-looking hookah pipe, not to mention the stuff to fill it with) there's the concomitant danger of coming home with new ideas, new boy-girl lovers, new religious insights, maybe even a fistful of business cards and email adresses on the PDA, and a couple two three new colleagues -- maybe, gasp, some new friends. Who else you gonna smoke that stuff with?

The new Botta church had been erected on the site of 19th Century Bessemer furnaces that produced steel for Turin’s auto and machine factories. The redevelopment theme, including the church, was recycling, if not the 'beating of swords into plowshares' in this city of Fiat and Olivetti. The elderly priest had originally been a worker in the plant on the church site before turning to the priesthood. The church 'spire' was the last remnant of the factory: a tall factory chimney, preserved and 'appropriated' as the beacon for the faithful.

How romantic, how -- trendy and of the 'now'! All around, where the rolling mill and the brickworks and the gas plant once belched, now stand brand-new apartment palaces (For Sale signs in windows, yes) and shiny mega-malls that glower atop their multi-story parking structures. That is to say, industrial-strength market consolidation (and consolation) on a scale to leave a person feeling significant only in proportion to his VISA card spending limit. If the church, with its 'soaring' space can still serve the spirit in a person at all, then what of the soul-crushing machinery newly under construction just across the street?

The brutal truth appears to be the same in the new shopping center as on the contemporary battlefield: the force in play favors the giants and pushes the little guy to retire or worse. Behold the weekly shuttering of small businesses, restaurants, local bars, service boutiques, all across Turin and Italy, let alone America. Take note of the complete lack of their replacement, in human and in practical terms, in any of the new development. Look at the square miles of new 'housing' anywhere and search, in vain, for the kind of street life, the places where neighbors might meet daily by chance, among them. Little repair shops? Coffee shops? Bars? Specialty boutiques? Bakeries? Barber shops? Gone.

This is the new-age indenturement. Yes, some of us have better health care and a social safety net, at least under some systems outside of America, but at what remove from our humanity, and for what deeper, tacitly supported purposes? Fewer sick days translate into lowered costs, but not for the consumer. For the boss, the investor, the Owner.

The Botta church looks to me like a beachhead, but even though it is made of concrete and brick and finished with rich stone and wood, it is flimsy, brittle. Italy has the lowest fertility rate on the planet and the most rapidly aging population. Why? Who will be left to worship, and with what means?

If we all are to be cogs in the industrial-marketing machine, including the one that feeds the bottom lines of both WalMart and KBR Halliburton, then must there be just this one model, to be consumed, used up, destroyed, and to go about destroying the cultural, psychic, and human assets of all sides, in war? After all there is only one way we can grow together as a world community. One deals successfully and passionately even with one's enemies only at that moment in which one realizes there is something of value to exchange, something that gains value precisely through the act of making that exchange. There is uniquely but one path by which to discover that value, and that is to do the experiment: initiate the exchange.

Put away the explosive devices. Go inside the tent, Insh'allah, Porca miseria, Good grief, Merry Christmas.


Bob Tyson
Turin, Christmas Night 2006

©2006 Bob Tyson

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

Terrell and Bob, thanks for your thoughtful comments which cover so much territory! I learn much from both of you.

We all do things in different ways. Terrell, I see a strong connection between your personal life and your politics and that's a good thing. Just keep that fine blog of yours going!

Bob, I don't know if Bush's 'perpetual war' can be stopped or not but if it's to be stopped, a number of the right steps were taken this year; of course it would have helped if Bush had been stopped in 2004 but this is now and we do what we can, which is not as little as it seems sometimes.

Part of the problem, as you suggest, is that Bush is not the only foolish politician in the world. So things for the next two years, until the 2008 election, may be on a knife's edge or things may tip the wrong way. Without going into a long explanation, an ethical response to what is going on simply cannot afford too much anger and despair even if all of us get a strong dose of that from time to time. We do what what we can.

Peace to all.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

"the Prince of Peace -- who is defined in the New Testament simply as Love."

I came to believe decades ago that "God is love" is probably as good an explanation of the divine we'll ever arrive at. Deceptively simple yet huge in its implications, it's one that can work for all mankind, whatever name different faiths and sects attribute to God.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Bob, I have thought your thought and have been tempted to believe it will be the way of the future. But then on widening my field of view, I see ample evidence of the resilience and individualism of homeowners, business people and entrepreneurs.

A long time ago someone said only half in jest that, come what may, we can count on the survival of two types of creature: tax collectors and cockroaches.

As we explore distant planets, the deepest ocean floor, conquer diseases and enjoy technology allowing everyman to be a publisher, I notice taxes and those who have anything to do with them, as well as cockroaches, are if anything more numerous and prosperous than ever.

Peace — may it become as omnipresnet and prove as hardy.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...for S. W. Anderson, welcome to Italy, where present is the past and the future is now! Dunno about cockroaches but tax collectors - a sub species in plentiful supply around here. Ask any Italian...

7:31 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

When I think about opposing currents in contemporary political and economic life, to say nothing of the parallels in social and artistic spheres, I fully expect, at any point that I express myself, to hear the kind of reply Anderson has kindly posted.

Anderson's sentiments as I read them are dead on, in themselves. What may be left out, in some sort of translative process, is the flavor of life in the profound sense for the many as contrasted with the elite few. In this, the balance would seem not to have moved in the best direction. Not only over the world as a whole, but, I have to observe, also in the arena of urban existence in most cities.

Of course, each of these points in themselves might be points of contention, realms of argument. It isn't that I imagine any one of them is beyond need for clarification, nor of 'approfondimento' -- but, strung together, they were to express as well as I could a larger dilemma.

Do this thought experiment: go back to the early Nineteenth Century, as factories grew and the new energy and machine technologies of the Industrial Revolution took hold. Remember what the 'worker' did, and what his (or her) life was like. Come forward, visualize a photograph by Lewis Hine picturing such a worker in front of 'her' motorized loom, or sitting on 'his' tenement stoop. Were these people, or cogs?

Yes, I know this apes a standard and tiresome ideological rhetoric. I'll accept the hit for that, and still press us all to remember, gently, and to imagine. Despite many elements of greater comfort in our contemporary era, we lead lives of 'quiet desperation' -- that phrase is NOT my own, of course, while the cultural witness to this part of the picture goes far beyond the actual originator of the saying! In truth, we do have ample signs that rather harshly point to a backsliding for the economic level and social status of many in the American middle class, and elsewhere.

It was in part towards that that my screed attempted to point. I stand by it...better yet when it spurs thoughtful response.

Bob Tyson

7:57 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Bob wrote:

"In truth, we do have ample signs that rather harshly point to a backsliding for the economic level and social status of many in the American middle class, and elsewhere."

On this we're in complete agreement.

Bob, I took the part of your original comment beginning, "The brutal truth appears to be," to mean the kind of homogenization symbolized by people living in "ticky-tacky saltboxes, all in a row."

Indeed, we've got an overabundance of Wal-Mart juggernauts and mall-building/managing empires whose names I don't even know. And yet, in my town, I note numerous small specialty retailers, bakeries, restaurants and such that appear to be doing tolerably well. They're proudly and deliberately different from the systematized franchise and chain places.

Furthermore, I know people who make it a point to give individualistic hometown places their business, to the virtaul exclusion of patronizing big chain outfits.

Re: people being cogs. Indeed, assembly line workers and many others of the burgeoning industrial age were reduced to being cogs in a machine. And in the 1950's, men in gray flannel suits toiled in football stadium-sized workplaces crunching numbers and jotting accounts.

And now, in many fields, management has succeeded in eliminating any need for or chance of creativity and iniative among any but a tiny clique of employees. For the rest, work is broken down into very small, very formulated and highly regulated tasks.

These work systems are designed to keep anyone from being a standount, much less indispensable. This makes things so much easier when it's time to downsize, offshore jobs or sell out to some megacorporation.

Sound like cogs in a machine? It sure does to me.

6:47 PM  

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