I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. - Albert Schweitzer

The day will come when you will trust you more than you do now, and you will trust me more than you do now. And we can trust each other. ... I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous – and people are not yet willing to pay it. - James Baldwin

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buyer' Remorse

When the Truth is found
To be lies
And all the Joy within you dies
Don't you want somebody to love
Don't you need somebody to love
You better find somebody to love
I have loved this president as I have loved no other in my lifetime. For a brief moment he helped me believe, as I believe still, that the cause and the power of ordinary citizens still has a place in this world, and for that I will always love him.

The Federal employee pay freeze announced yesterday by the President is sad news indeed. It is not just that it is a meaningless policy gesture, bad politics, and bad economics. Though it is but a minor set piece of petty political theater, there is a symbolism here which is unmistakable. It is the triumph of the big lie over rationality and hope:

Here we have Eric Cantor framing the issue:

“The YouCut [The Federal Employee Pay Freeze] proposal was one of many specific spending reductions offered by House Republicans over the past two years, and we are pleased that President Obama appears ready to join our efforts.
Here is the same Mr. Cantor in an unguarded moment of imbecilic candor several months earlier(emphasis added):

From WSJ FEBRUARY 4, 2010.

GOP Chases Wall Street Donors
Data Show Fund-Raisers Begin Capitalizing on Bankers' Regret Over Backing Obama

Last week, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio made a pitch to Democratic contributor James Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of J.P. Morgan, over dinner at a Capitol Hill restaurant, according to people familiar with the matter.

At the dinner, Mr. Boehner said congressional Republicans had stood up to Mr. Obama's efforts to curb pay and impose new regulations. The Republican leader also said he was disappointed many on Wall Street continue to donate their money to Democrats, according to the people.

A spokeswoman for J.P. Morgan declined to comment.

 "I sense a lot of dissatisfaction and a lot of buyer's remorse on Wall Street," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the second-ranking House Republican and a top Wall Street fund-raiser for his party.
Buyer's remorse indeed. I want to cry.  Actually, no I don't.  I want to start kicking ass and taking names.

While I cannot blame Obama, I cannot pretend that I am not deeply disappointed. I still need someone to love. 150 years ago, as the war effort of the Union drifted sideways, Lincoln was heard to remark, “Give me a general who will fight”. Until we find such a general, we are on our own. When the power of bold speech surrenders on the field of action, the truth itself is left weak and wounded, stripped of its power. Only our faith can restore it.

I am thinking tonight of a different leader from another land and a different time, facing the full fury of the ultimate big lie:

4 June 1940

"I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.

The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Willie Nelson has a remarkable ability to pick a line out of a song, wrap his voice around it, and deliver it into a microphone in such a way that, when it comes out of the speakers at the other end, it separates itself from the surrounding music and separates you from whatever it was you were just thinking about. It hangs there in the air long enough to sink in and register as something worth thinking about. I heard him do that the other night with this line:
“The world's getting smaller, and everyone in it belongs”.
 I've been thinking about it since.

Recently the BBC reported that Angela Merkel has declared that multi-culturalism has failed in Germany.

Here is Angela Merkel: 
“We are a country which at the beginning of the 1960's actually brought guest workers to Germany. Now they live with us and we lied to ourselves for a while saying that they won't stay, and that they would all disappear again one day. That's not the reality.

This multi-cultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and are happy about each other, this approach has failed, utterly failed.”
I know that there was a political dimension to this statement, but even allowing for that, I've got to say, and I don't mean to trivialize this, she doesn't seem like a very nice person. Perhaps that is too narrow and too personal. Let me say rather that she is giving voice to a spirit that is abroad in the world which shames us a species.

In the broad sweep of history, there seem to be ideas that we have of ourselves which gain ascendancy, explore their flaws and limitations on the stage of events, and are replaced in turn by different ideas. In the thirties, a tide of narrowly selfish, nationalist militarism swept a generation of young people into the maelstrom of world war. Advances in the technology of destruction have made a scenario of generalized all-out warfare unthinkable today.

The spirit sweeping the world today is a spirit of smallness and limitation in a time of unbelievable abundance. “Leave me alone” it says. “I'm having porridge now, and I don't want to be bothered with anything larger than my bowl of porridge.” You see it in nativist movements, both here and abroad, and in the tendency to ascribe poverty to the moral failings of the poor. The rich, by contrast, are intrinsically virtuous. This spirit of smallness divides, but does not conquer. It leaves us split into tiny principalities of identity, each with its own fortified castle keep. Each living in fear of encroachment by their neighbors.

Living in a multi-cultural society challenges us on many levels. We are conditioned from birth to ascribe right and wrong to almost all of the choices before us. How to do things, how we recognize personal space, grooming choices, cuisine, etc. These are the fabric of which cultures are constructed. It is natural enough that we should feel challenged when confronted by cultures other than our own.

But the truth is simple: Failure to find a way forward in a multi-cultural world is not one of the available choices.

For me, successfully multiculturalism can be summarized in two words: San Francisco.

I am a distinctly non-urban person. All of my instincts, all of my natural preferences are oriented towards rural living, but I absolutely love San Francisco. Going there is like finding an extra 300 horsepower engine under your psychic hood. It is the only place I know where you can get a taxi ride from a guy from Nairobi who has a Phd in psychology. He gave up a full professorship at Berkeley because he wanted a more direct and personal view of his subject for a book he is writing. He's married to a woman from Taiwan, who works down in San Jose as a semi-conductor engineer. Her gay brother has also come over from Taiwan. He works down on Market street as a stock analyst, but at night he plays pedal steel in a Texas swing roadhouse band.

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but that is how it always feels when I go there. It's got all the same problems as any large urban center, but it has a population that has become accustomed to discovering that in a city full of remarkable people with remarkable histories, it is a mistake to take anyone for granted. It doesn't matter whether they are selling you coffee from a roadside stand or performing brain surgery, everybody has a story, and everybody has a position of value. Concepts of class and role and 'place' break down and personhood reigns. It is a glorious, cacophonous jumble of humanity to be celebrated and enjoyed.  If we are to have any future at all, it is our future.
“The world's getting smaller, and everyone in it belongs”.
And so it is, and so they do.

I'll leave the last word to another old hippie song writer:
“Why on earth are we here, surely not to live in pain and fear?

Why on earth are you there, when you're everywhere?

Come and get your share.”