Monday, January 31, 2005

The lib and con cruxes of change

As January comes to a rather wintery end, I am thinking back to the even darker days at the beginning of the month. I feel things are on the upswing, even if a few resolutions have lost some of their resolve.

I've certainly talked about passion here, especially the passion for progressive causes, but it takes more than passion to effect change - whether it's about our own resolutions or a cultural revolution, of sorts.

It takes focus and commitment to effect change, too.

Conservatives are generally against change, and so their values tend to be more stable and identifiable. Conservatives (neo or not) can "stick to their guns" or "depend on the good book" - even when their guns have gone bad and their "good books" have led them astray.

In so many ways, conservative means hanging onto the past. An in so many ways, liberal means freeing ourselves from the mistakes, patterns and problems of the past- liberating us to face the future with better tools to solve the problems we'll never completely erase - or be allowed to escape.

Conservatives want to be held responsible through mysterious forces so they won't have to face their real fears - guilt, most of all.

Liberals want to be held responsible through secular forces - civil checks and balances - street smarts, the market, the arts, law and order.

That is if we want to be held responsible at all.

Friday, January 28, 2005

More on "function"

Thanks to friend Heidi, I am not letting go of the 'function vs. dysfunction' thread. Lots to say there - maybe a few dissertations worth, actually, but here I promise a series of short and lively rides!

What does it mean to be functional, to function well?

I think that functioning well depends on the same qualities whether we are talking about a person or a planet.

How about integrity? Integirty is integral to healthy functioning. But integrity: that's one word for a marvelously complicated idea. To exhibit and act on integrity, we have to have other virtues fairly well lined up first. Integrity is not one of those lower virtues; it's up near the top. So like love (a topic I'll keep coming back to here as well), integrity, because of its complexity and its sacrifice, few really achieve it - or at least are know by it.

What do most of us do instead? We act according to "I," that pronoun we always capitalize, out of some sort of self-centeredness and hubris. But hey, maybe we should do what so many slovenly e-mailers do these days, and just blurr along writing out a sort of self-deprecated lower case "i." Maybe it would help us to consider ourselves the lower case "i" more often.

But what do we do? Act on our desires, often rather selfish or short-sighted desires. Seems like, especially in America, we're kids in the candy store, buying it all now, not sure how we'll ALL be paying for it later - or maybe just hoping that it's not US who have to pay. We tend to behave according to convenience and expedience and simplicity more than the more principled approach implied by the Big I, and you know what that Big I is now: Integrity.

I run at the keyboard here about virtues. Gosh, I love them and wish I had a lot more. What might sound high-handed here is actually a series of humble pleas. So please, bear with me.

To function well, with Integrity, I think we just about have to be highly principled. And those principles have to be based on being altruistic and compassionate, first off. And not only at a distance, not only in the abstract, for victims of attrocities and events far away. That can often seem just a veneer of sentiment, not a really tested principle.

We've gotta be those things up close and personal, when the challenges are staring us in the face, in our own homes, maybe even in the psyches of our supposed "enemies" (who could even be family members, even our own parents). The real challenges of life are not a world away. They are often very close to home.

Functional integrity depends on the same old array of good stuff - honesty and openness, most of all. (Silent honesty rarely does us much good; we have to express our honesty and expose and explain ourselves, alas.)

Integrity requires, I would say, the right balance between pride and humility - so that our pride can never be mistaken for audacity, arrogance or hubris.

We must care about the needs and nuances of people near and far.

When we function well, we use the warning signs of dishonesty and shame EARLY, not late, certainly not "too late," not always and forever after the fact. (That would be letting ourselves off the hook by saying all of life is just trial and error.) We recognize what we know and have a good idea about what we don't know. We not only learn to recognize mistakes, we learn to be wise the next time - to ward off an escalation of mistakes. Thus, we protect ourselves from others' dishonesty and deceipt.

When we are highly functional, we are not particularly guarded with anyone or reserved or overly private. And we have radar for repression, in ourselves and others.

To function well is the true meaning of freedom. As opposed to what you might have heard, freedom has very little to do with war and politics and rights. It has to do with health - our own health and that of our communities and cultures.

To function well is not to be absolutely free - no person is an island unto themselves - BUT it is to feel more brave and more free.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Two Almighties

OK, the two almighties.

So what are they?

Shouldn't they be our Top Two Guiding Principles?

Like the Golden Rule and something else?

But no, the Two Almighties are "Almighty God" and the "Almighty Dollar."

Yep, the "Guy Upstairs" and the Dollar Lama.

So do piety and affluence make for heaven on Earth? Shouldn't "almighty" things do that? It's this life we're surfing for, hoping to get it right - spend it wisely.

It occurs to me that the Two Almighties are related to our abilities to be healthy, wealthy and wise - maybe not as most suspect, believe and even insist.

Healthy? Is going for Pie in the Sky really a mature, modern thing to do? Modernity too much for you? The scientific method just not as catchy as superstition?

And wealthy? All of our attention to the Almighty Dollar seems to have created a lot of wealth (though real wealth is still tied more closely, I'd say, to creativity, not yuppie striving). No not wealthy, really, but in debt - and indebted to the Big Corporations that run Heaven (and our heavenly desires) these days.

Wise? Oh, boy. What's wise got to do with it? We've shucked all the kitchen table/chicken soup wisdom we can to keep going after our TV sucking celebrity mongering and money, money, money - translated into STUUUFFFF.

And all that STUFFF is headed not for the SKY - but headed straight toward the LANDFILL, sooner... or later.

Right along with our pearly corpses as caskets or ashes. All fodder for the LANDFILL. So who knows about that afterlife, really? And remember, like they say: you can't take it with you.

So lighten up, my friends. Lighten the load. And create the one thing that can at least sort of live on after your gods and dollars have vanished into thin air - create a good LEGACY for yourself.

A fine and dandy reputation and legacy will keep you at least healthier, at least sort of happy, wealthy in what REALLY COUNTS.

And WISE? Astonishingly wise.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The myth of dysfunction

Dysfunction. The word. Look at it. It's got that "y" in there, not an "i" like a normal word, like dislike or dissatisfaction - or diss, you know. It looks cutesty or European or foreign or made-up or something, like jargon, like a word we can write off, a word we can DISS because it's been somehow relegated to the fim-flam of "pop psychology" (so that the thing itself - dysfunction - is way popular, but pointing it out, much less labelling it, is NOT). Yes, it seems we may be so far gone we more often than not want to DISS function. Yes, the word "dysfunction" has taken on a life of its own, as a sloppily inclusive label for all sorts of behaviors that just aren't going right - meaning our own petty selves are not getting what we want. LIFE as vaccuous busy bodies, always "in touch" with so little to say while so out of touch and so snide about it, too. LIFE as a pissy sitcom or soap opera, more like it.

Just remember: a "myth" is not a lie but a broad generality based on truth, albeit usually stereotypic truth. So maybe we are seeing the Big Myth, the Big Trend, the Big Truth of Dys, here and now, just not quite up close and not too personal.

How could we, ourselves, as individuals, as partners, as families, as communities, as a nation, BE so "dysfunctional"? Surely all that dysfunction is a myth. We can't be perrrrrfect. We can't ALLLLLLL be so healthy.

Well, it doesn't mean we are UNfunctional. Boy heidi, we've got lots of FUNCTION going on here. I mean, we ARE functioning like mad, if you call churning and absorbing reality TV and shopping and yapping function - that's LOADS O' function.

But I'm giving that "function" with a small "f."

So I ask you, dear readers, is THIS what we want our functioning to look like? Are these the results we want to see, final or not? They're the selves we've GOT, the families we've GOT, the nation we've GOT.

Anybody for some higher learning out there? Anybody for some higher functioning out there?

And what would that look like?

Maybe the fact that a lot of us don't have a clear picture of what THAT would look like shows how DISSfunctional we really are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The late January blues

Both the BBC NEWS and MSNBC report that a British psychologist who has come up with a formula for determining the "most depressing day of the year." (This became a very popular story on local news stations around the country last night.) Cliff Arnalls, of Carniff University in England, has determined that a day in late January is long enough after Christmas and New Year's for the holiday spirit, social strokes and heartiest of New Year's resolutions to have worn off and faded away. Post-holiday debts have by now stuffed the mailbox, and a sense of failure to change has set in. Plus, summer and sunny days are a long way off. January's darkness and dreary weather compound the problem. And so, when it comes to the nadir of good feelings, these factors are plugged into Mr. Arnall's equation, and the answer is: January 24th.

Plus, this year the 24th falls on a Monday, and some consider January to be the Monday of the calendar year, so it's like a quadruple whammy.

Plus, it was the first Monday after Bush's second get-down-to-business-i.e.-the-dirtywork-of-government innaugural - meaning this son-of-Frankenstein prez and his churlish, childish Congress are coming back to life. Yes, the rabid, roughshod Republican Repo Men are on the hunt again, foaming at their collective mouth, to turn our beloved government into a bill of military goods, regressive morality and not much more. Bush and company would like nothing more than to turn the "shining city on a hill" into a camouflaged cash register for their cronies.

AND, by jimbo, it was the fateful day that a group of scientists decided to announce the ominous results of their most recent assessment of the BIG G.W. (YES, Georgie Girl, that would be GLOBAL WARMING), declaring now that in no uncertain terms things are not just Dangerous with a capital D, they are already downright DIRE.

Oh boy.

There are some rather well-known remedies to help alleviate the stress and strain of this darkly fated time: get plenty of exercise and rest; plan a vacation or retreat; watch the telly (something light that deals with friends, coffee and/or home improvement - as opposed to world "improvement"); laugh with your sane and not so sane friends; read up on mood disorders and depression - YES, share the feeling - misery LOVES company! Just know that millions of others out there in the northern hemisphere are sharing your gloom, too!

Some are suggesting that perhaps it would be good to make a Monday in late January a national (or even hemispherical) holiday. Maybe call it "Holiday to Counteract the Most Depressing Day Day"... or something.

And perhaps it might be nice for Mr. Arnalls to come up with a formula to deterimine the happiest or at least least gloomy day of the year.

In the meantime, let's keep in mind that just because we got past yesterday doesn't mean we're out of these dark late January woods just yet. This can be more than a single day. It can be a week, a season, a phase we're going through. Let's just hope it doesn't last fmy... four more years.

Best to shake these late January blues with the Valentine's reds - a better red than the "red state" of mind. Here's to a bigger R than the Repo Rups can muster. Here's to one of our genuine saving graces - Romance. Now at least there's something to look forward to - the warm internal and oh so intimate glow of mid-February.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Got bile?

Are Bush and company b'f'ing the country?

Actually, innocently enough, the question I actually asked my intense friend Jack was, "What are the extents of your philosophies these days?"

And Jack, a bit ragged out BUT FOR GOOD REASON, shot back:

"Dangerous question....

"Having just read an article on about astronomers being 'surprised' that the administration wants to scrap plans to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, I'm pretty fucking fed-up with:

"1) scientists who don't want to get 'involved' with politics and are then 'surprised' when a self-professed born-again ne'er-do-well wants to de-fund science in favor of school vouchers to provide public funding to parochial schools and increased spending on the military.

"2) faggots* who don't get it that people who want to ban same-sex marriage really don't like them.

"And 3) working-class imbeciles who think that the purpose of 'privatizing' Social Security is to help them fund their retirement rather than being a cynical move to line the pockets of security industry executives with public funds that they can transfer to their offshore savings accounts.

"If people are too God damn stupid to realize when they are being butt-fucked, I'm about ready to say, 'to hell with 'em,' and buy stock in k-y jelly.

"But I'm sure the feeling will pass. The 'beasts and the children' are still counting on us to fight the good fight."

And believe you me, on a good day and given a few hours, Jack's got a lot more than three things on his mind.

*In Jack's defense, it should be pointed out that Jack is WAY liberal and certainly pro gay, pro bohemian, even pro radical. He is a strident defender of human rights, which in his book, happen to include women and women who want to remain childless and in charge and even women who like women and men who like me. Friend Jack is cussing to raise the ire of those who give up/are giving up their rights through naivete and acquiescence. Jack obviously thinks that our rights are seriously endangered and that we must revolt FOR REAL to win back a generally hopeful, civil, respectful, highly informed, rational and progressive agenda for this country and this culture. The rightwingers, it seems, have the guts to go all the way for their fringe beliefs and benefits. Meanwhile, who on the left does?

Got bile?

Anything to add, dear readers???!!!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush II: An assault on social services

Hey folks, this newly re-instated President might seem congenial enough. Apparently millions of Americans would be willing (maybe even eager) to have a beer with the guy. But as expected, Mr. Bush's agenda for his second term is a carefully veiled attempt to dismantle and even (let's hope you didn't hear it here first) bankrupt the social services sector of the federal government.

As squeemish as some of you might be about the inefficiencies and eccentricities of the federal government, it really does seem that most federal oversight is for the better. If only the standards and oversight coming (or not forthcoming) out of Washington were even better than they are. The states (take Mississippi, Utah and Texas, please!) have too many loop holes, lapses and inconsistencies. We need tough standards and high standards if we're going to make this big beast a better nation.

So, not only does Mr. Bush want to couch Social Security in terms of an imminent "crisis," he really wants to distract us with foreign affairs and even a "Wag the Dog" war while he underfunds, slashes, immasculates,deauthorizes and exterminates all sorts of social programs. (Exterminate? Did anyone say Tom Delay?

And we don't need a Terminator, either. We need those social services. We live in a complicated world, and the solutions are going to be complicated, too, and government, done right, can handle complications and checks and balances (for the public good) from which selfish corporations cut and run.

Even the Social Security embloglio is meant to distract us from the Bush administration's gutting of protections previously provided by the EPA, and the Departments of Justice, Interior, State, Housing and Urban Development. Generally, the feds have given us, wisely, better standards for clean water, clean air, public lands, forests, wilderness, wildlife and education than the states provide.

If anything, we need more and better experts. But Bush wants to pull the rug out from under almost all the experts not directly profiting from industry.

Democracy in action - and it ain't pretty the day after Bush put his hand on that Bible and read that pretty propaganda about what America OUGHT to be - something very different from what he and his cronies are cutting it down to be.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

All Prayers Considered

The power of prayer?

Or the power of hope?

The power of prayer implies that the power comes from the answers to your prayers. The power of hope implies that it - the power - comes from the hope itself.

More soon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Boxer takes gloves off

Is Senator Barbara Boxer running for something?

The increasingly combative junior Senator from California has taken the gloves off, and we've got to thank her for it. In asking the toughest questions of Secretary of State designate Condolezza Rice, Boxer is leading the fight to expose the lies and loopholes in the administration's justifications for its wars and foreign policies and security issues.

You can visit her "PAC for Change" website and sign a petition to add your support to her going tough.

More soon!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Impossible Will Take a Little While

The phrase "the impossible will take a little while" comes from a Billie Holliday song. Along with George Lakoff's previously mentioned "Don't Think Like an Elephant," the book "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizens' Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear" (Basic Books, $15.95) comes to us just in time to ward off some of the red-faced blues of progressives' winter of discontent.

"The Impossible Will Take a Little While" (which I discovered advertised in this month's Progressive magazine) is a lively assemblage of essays to help progressives rebuild their hopes and accomplish what they can out there in the lumbering elephant-infested jungles of the real (and often seemingly regressive) world. "The Impossible Will Take a Little While" is an anthology of 49 new and classic pieces of activist inspiration, compiled by Paul Loeb, author of "Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time" (which I can also recommend).

Here is what some name-brand reviewers have said about "The Impossible Will Take a Little While:"

“Captures the way the fight for decency can change people and change circumstances, even when victory is still in the distance.”
— Rich Trumka, secretary-treasurer, AFL-CIO

“Refreshingly empowering, healing, and amazingly inspirational. It touches the imagination, retrieves the faith, and is desperately needed by our country to provoke new hope and meaning. It is a glass half full for the cynic and the fearful, a compilation of vision for the complacent, and an antidote for the despondent—truly a must read for everyone.”
— Steelabor, United Steelworkers of America

“Stop worrying, stop feeling sorry for humanity and read The Impossible Will Take a Little While.
— Chicago Tribune

“A wonderful book, with some extraordinary folks contributing. It reminds us that darkness always comes before the dawn.”
— Reg Weaver, president, National Education Association

“A much needed salvo against despair.”
— Psychology Today

“A magnificent anthology celebrates hope, guts, and the power of taking action.... Loeb has done us a great favor. In his new book The Impossible Will Take a Little While, he has compiled for us the words of 49 of the most gifted and heroic men and women of our time, 49 testimonials to stamina and compassion in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, 49 reasons to keep hope alive in this time of frustration and fear, 49 ways to take action...”
— Pam Houston, The Oprah Magazine [Lead Review]

“A stirring collection of essays aimed at people who still want to believe that ordinary people can change the world.”
— Atlanta Journal Constitution

“Hopeful, inspiring, and motivating... May well be required reading for us all.”
— Sierra Club magazine

"Each story sings with hope, sustained by the faith that individual deeds still matter. Paul Loeb has produced an exceptional political anthology, filled with refreshing, heroic voices of those who refused to give up, even in the face of almost impossible odds. I found myself inspired - galvanized, even - by this remarkable chorus of strength."
— Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking

"This book embodies a new spirit of responsibility for the planet and those who inhabit it. We begin to sense what it might mean to treat the world as a sacred gift."
— Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, former national president of Pax Christi

"An indispensable anthology of hope and inspiration. It's impossible to feel pessimistic after basking in the collective wisdom of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, Marian Wright Edelman, Alice Walker, Tony Kushner, and Cornel West. This book is also Exhibit A in how the political and the personal can come together to change the world. Put away your Prozac and pick up The Impossible Will Take a Little While."
— Arianna Huffington, author of Fanatics and Fools

"Reading this hymnbook of hope, one's heart cannot help but sing. I am moved and inspired by this magnificent book's rich stories and insights. They water the fragile, precious seed of hope, from which everything we love grows."
— Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life

"Paul Loeb's new book is just what the doctor ordered for these depressing times: a massive infusion of hope, written in the clearest and most inspiring prose. Do your soul a favor and read this book."
— Kevin Danaher, Cofounder, Global Exchange

"Everyone who believes in our humanity and the ideal of justice for all, but feels despair by the direction the world has taken since 9/11, will find their faith in our ability to serve the common good restored by Paul Loeb's symphony of powerful voices."
— Charles Johnson, National Book Award winner, author of Middle Passage

"After reading the indomitable Mandela and Havel, John Lewis and Sherman Alexie, I was filled with new vigor. This collection is a forceful testimonial to the unique power of hope. Success is literally impossible unless you have hope. And for readers who know their Darwin, it offers a quiet reminder that pessimism has no survival value."
— Denis Hayes, Chairman Earth Day Network

"An intelligent, impressive compendium of ideas and feelings that, if implemented, will lead to a far more civilized society."
— Peter Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard

"For anyone worn down, The Impossible Will Take a Little While is a bracing double cappuccino!"
— Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickled and Dimed in America

"Like the wind that shakes the bough
He moves me with a smile
The difficult I’ll do right now
The impossible will take a little while
I say I’ll care forever
And I mean forever
If I have to hold up the sky..."

If you've read this far, you probably ARE trying to hold up at least a little piece of the sky - and realize this might be a book well worth exploring.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Are you suffering from burnout?

Psychologists and psychiatrists around the country have been reporting a considerable rise in patient visits since the November election. Many have said that one cause of the additional visits, from new and former patients, is directly related to the stress of facing the Democrats' defeat and, above all, four more years of President Bush. Some therapists have half jokingly termed the cause of these sessions, PETS, or Post Election Traumatic Syndrome. So if you're post election blues are heading past charcoal gray and fading to black, you're certainly not alone. You too may be suffering from a slight case of GWBB (Bush Burnout) or a major case of DCB, Dick Cheney Burnout.

The term "burnout" may just sound like street talk or jargon for being blitzed, feed up, fucked up, tired, apathetic, work wary, work weary, even hope averse. But there is such a thing as "burnout depression" - as opposed, for example, to clinical depression and other neurological disorders. And "burnout depression" is not just negative thinking. I propose that it can be the result of very positive thinking - and every virtuous and valorous thinking - along with a heavy dose, of course, of being "at odds with the world" or at odds with how things are going. (As you may know, being at odds with how things are going is not always a bad thing, and it's sometimes a heroic thing.) Burnout depression can be just as real, just as debilitating, just as disabling and disheartening as other sorts of depression, and it may not just be a phase you're going through - it could be the culture you find yourself immersed in - and there's not quick fix for THAT!

Burnout is a real and sometimes obvious form of depression in which one's ability to cope with the world as it is, with one's own life as it is, is overwhelmed. Some cases are episodic, others chronic. Psychotropic meds remain a popular if only partial antidote. It seems a more substantial and long lasting cure (or adjustment) can be made with cognitive therapy - meaning therapy which pays particular attention to the pessimistic and perhaps unrealistic (or overly realistic!) ruts in a person's thoughts

In his classic book, "Man's Search for Meaning," Victor Frankl famously said that the one thing that could not be taken away from a person is that person's attitude. And certainly, one's attitude has a lot to do with one's ability to cope. Perhaps, we could even say that one's ability to cope determines one's attitude.

But there is more to it than that. Coping is about all sorts of practical (and perhaps a few rather impractical) personal attributes and values, not just attitude.

More on this latter today, including a few book recommendations: Frankl's book, a must read in psychology circles, and a very fine self-help book I think many very BLUE Americans (especially in very RED states or RED communities) might find helpful these days - yes a book for the BLUES BESIDES George Lakoff's now omnipresent "Don't Think Like an Elephant" (more on that significant and timely little book later in this blog). No, the book I want to recommend now, apropos hope, is Elaine Aron's "The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You."

I could say, "take heart," but you probably already have a big heart, if not a bleeding heart. And I could say, "good luck," but we're all going to need a lot more than luck to get us through this intact and, for godsakes, improved.

So take up mustering the gumption to go on and to PREVAIL. Share the joy of the best life has to offer with your friends.

And remember: sensitivity can be a strength!

Friday, January 14, 2005

More quotations apropos hope

In keeping with the kinder, gentler theme I've landed upon this week, more quotations apropos HOPE, to add perspective to the fantastic Reinhold Neibhur quotation in the previous post:

Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent.
--Jean Kerr

While there's life, there's hope!
--Ancient Roman Saying

Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
--English Proverb

The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.
--Barbara Kingsolver

Never deprive someone of hope -- it may be all they have.

True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome. True hope responds to the real world, to real life; it is an active effort.
--Walter Anderson

Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness and captivity would, without this comfort, be insupportable.
--Samuel Johnson The Book of Positive Quotations

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
--Anne Lamott

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Book of Positive Quotations by John Cook

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.
--Albert Einstein

Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.
--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.
--Vaclav Havel

Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them.
--William James

We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes.
--John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; and the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.
--John Fitzgerald Kennedy

There is no hope of joy except in human relations.
--Antoine de Saint-Exupery

They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.
--Thomas Edward Bodett

The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveller than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.
--Marion Zimmer Bradley

The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.
--Norman Cousins

Of all ills that one endures, hope is a cheap and universal cure.
--Abraham Cowley

If one truly has lost hope, one would not be on hand to say so.
--Eric Bentley

Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.

Things never go so well that we should have no fear - and never so ill that we should have no hope.
--Turkish Proverb

At first we hope too much; later on, not enough.
--Joseph Roux

The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future.
--Stephen Ambrose

Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.
--Barbara Kingsolver

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
--Emily Dickenson

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.
--Ann Lamott

My friends, someone said "hope is never lost - only found." In such "interesting" and intense (and intimidating - and insane?) times as these, we need to find all we can!

Let me know what works for YOU. And don't give up.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Apropos hope & love

I think my chemical balance is shifting, and I think I know why (but for now, let's leave that a secret). I am still on the forlorn and exquisite road of my last two posts, feeling my way around/gropping for the threads between what we want, what we need, what we can do, hope and love.

In this quest, I've begun to look to outside sources of inspiration, mostly in the form of quotations.

The best and most apropos so far: this from Reinhold Niebuhr...

"Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime.

Therefore, we are saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history.

Therefore, we are saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.

Therefore, we are saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own.

Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is foregiveness."

This reminds me of my closing line in Tuesday's post, which happens to be the title of psychologist Erich Fromm's classic book, "The Art of Loving."

Since this remains one of my Top Twenty books, let me give it my highest recommendation.

All we need is love? No, we need a lot more than love. But nothing costs less and is worth more.

Love, my readers and friends.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What I'm going to do, I think

Years ago, my very good friend Joe in Chicago sent me a copy of a sort of "coming of age" novel titled "What I'm going to do, I think." Maybe not the best novel, but in some ways, maybe it was Holden Caulfield in his twenties, given a more earthy and sexual milieu. But what I always liked was the title itself, with it's ironic juxtaposition of certainty and uncertainty, the unqualified followed by the qualified.

That's how I feel these days, I think. Becoming more effective and more of an activist is what I'm going to do, I hope, but some steps along that path are soft steps, sentimental steps, as per my post yesterday and how I feel this evening. I have all sorts of topics bubbling around, wonky stuff and a slew of book reviews I'd like to get to if only I'd finish reading the books. But what I really feel like doing, even if I have to repeat myself with these overly earnest and soft sermons, is writing more about sentiment and emotion and delicacy and intimacy, another realm of things which get another set of endorphins going - and juices flowing, creative and otherwise.

I want to wallow in compassion and heartfelt diplomacy. I want to trade my soap box for a seduction, of sorts - a place where we CAN achieve peace in our lifetimes, indeed in our own lives, a place where we KNOW we can give of ourselves to a worthy cause, even if it is saving ourselves.

Not that she has ever been the best example, but it was perhaps with this forlorn hopefulness that my mother used to say, when I was growing up, "If there is to be peace in the world, then let it begin here."

It never begins "here" (it began in our ancient dreams of a natural or proverbial "eden"), but it can BE here, here and NOW. No need to wait. No need to strike pre-emptively or settle scores or get rich or get ahead first. No need to settle for LESS than peace, either - at least not in the closest relationships of our lives, in our behavior toward others, in our treatment of strangers, other drivers, others waiting in line with us, other citizens, others of our harried and selfish species - hey, we know how we are - let's better accommmodate ourselves.

This morning, after pondering yesterday's post some more, I wanted to be sure to say: we have to love the world to want to save it, much less work so hard to save it. And we won't "save" it of course, not according to the ideals of our dreams for how things "ought" to be. We will not save the world as a thing primarily sublime, much less divine.

But the role of the idealist is an important role. We need more idealists, not fewer. We need more love for our own high ideals as well as the high ideals of others. We really do need to love more and better. And the place to begin that spiritual quest is with ourselves and those who miraculously and memorably make impressions on our psyches, on our sentiments, on our emotions and thoughts - and ideals. The quest, once in a while, has to come full circle - back to each of us and whatever and whoever we're closest to. Then, from there, we can begin again. Then, from here, we can continue and carry on.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Elusive hope & the L word

I feel like I've gotta stray from wonky politics right here and now - or in a minute - now that we're more than a week past New Year's and are already tending to forget about those resolutions we made. I resolved to learn about hope and to hope more effectively - meaning to turn hope into meaningful action. And that is proving to be much more of a workout than the sort of exercise you get at the gym.

As I said several times soon after starting this blog in mid-November, during the disheartening aftermath of the election, I've got these contradictory and mercurial strains of skepticism and hope - hey, it says so right there in that tag line right under "A Better Nation."

On November 23rd, I wrote that if nothing else, you were hopeful if you were passionate (though maybe there are such things as dysfunctional passions and healthy passions - another post?). Passion in and of itself can be a very valuable and nearly inalienable form of hope, especially if you EXPRESS your passions, especially if your passions are an integral part of your attitude and your AGENDA. But even our most basic and seemingly urgent passions can be vulnerable. They can be dashed. They can be worn thin. They can seem obsolete, naive, futile.

And certainly there are lots of us skeptics (and even dire cynics) who remain hopeful, somehow, for this beleaguered nation and for our own discord and dissatisfaction - meaning we're still passionate. But these days, in the blue-gray winter of our oh-so-sore discontent, there's a $40 million innauguration looming like a churlish coat tails charade, where Bush might again say to the tuxedoed and ball-gowned crowd, "Some call you the elite - I call you my base." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. It seems the Earth's crust and the wild weather lately are telling us something.

In the proverbial gray daze of such a winter, when it seems plenty of us have got more than a slight case of seasonal affective disorder, it's hard to hold onto hope or at least HOPE, ALL CAPS. We feel like curling up with littler and more intimate parts of our lives - like a warm bed or body, maybe the couch, a fireplace and a cup of something - let the world heal itself, swim or sink (the waves can get rough out there). Let the badgering ads and cablemongers, the bureaucrats, the corporate sheep, the manic multi-taskers and beltway politicos be damned - even though we're haunted by the notion that if we curl up in too tight a ball we'll be damned ourselves (or damn ourselves) for not fighting back (or wishfully caring enough) 24/7, 24/7, 24/7.

Well, none of us can fight 24/7, and sometimes it's high time for a rest, or high time to lay low, curl up with a quiet day, attractive words and voices, some graceful pasttime, a funny friend, a gentle love, a brisk walk outdoors, far from bills before Congress and bill collectors and billboards.

Sometimes, we eagle-eyed skeptics want to close our eyes or pull our vision back from the barking heads and headlines, pull back ever so gently into the adoring gaze of a lover.

This sort of movie moment, a private release, some of it in slow motion, in knowing glances and shared confidences, with a breeze blowing the curtains of an open window or looking out in silence to the snow, together or even alone, can be a proper and profound and priceless antidote to our political persuasions, to our anxiousness over the practical, to our regrets and loneliness, to our more wayward social adventures, to the traffic and the passing parade of jibberish.

We can be worldly wise looking to the far horizon, but we can be wonderfully alive when close to ourselves or close to friends or a special someone we care for, close to home or wherever we are. For a while, I'd been fixed on so much strife, overwhelmed by such complicated angst, both globally and internally, I'd let the beauty of this antidote slip my mind. I have been learning lately, sometimes the hard way, grinding down a gravel road toward Despair, that even in the throes of woe, there is always something to be passionate about - and passion to be hopeful for.

We need Desire.

And usually, it has to do with heart-to-hearts, quality time, laughter, glances, touches and whispers - with intimacy, with simple and sensual pleasures, solace, grace - and love - the elusive, rare and ever so precious ART of loving.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Boxer hero, Kerry zero

If you live in Ohio, are you sure your vote for president counted?

If you live in Washington State, are you sure your vote for governor counted?

If you live in a red state, do you feel your vote for a blue candidate counted - and vice versa?

If you live anywhere in the United States or are an expat abroad, are you sure your vote counted? And that others (even those with vacation homes in three states) got to vote once and only once?

In a democracy, even a democratic republic, the true patriots will be those leaders and activists who most vehemently defend and bolster the electoral process. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it seems what we really have on our hands is an electoral mess.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) declined to scoff at, much less protest, the questionable accuracy and certification of the 2004 election in Ohio, still hotly contested insome circles. Senator Kerry said that, in the interest of unity, he would refrain from enjoining the uphill battle to make sure the vote tallies areas accurate as possible because, as he said, it seemed no recount would change the outcome of the election. Thus Mr. Kerry renigged on his word and letdown all those who believed him when he said during his campaign and in his concession speech November 3rd that every vote would count and that everyvote would be counted. Kerry called for "unity" then, too, and he was sorely off the mark both times. Now is not the time for Democrats to kiss and make up, much less back down and kiss up. Kerry has proven once and for all that he has left his heroic days far behind him, perhaps for good. He is now a has been candidate emptied of inspiration and eloquence. (Again, where is Howard Dean when we need him? On his way back from the scream to the dream?)

Of all U.S. Senators, only Barbara Boxer (D-CA) signed on to proudly protest the certification. She chose to take a lonely yet heroic stand for democracy and decency. (Boxer explained her objection to the Ohio certification on Alternet: Why Boxer alone? What's up with the weenies in the Democratic Party? What's right about the righteousness of the Republican Party?

Speaking of which, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Washington State intends to be a very sore loser. Yes, that election and its recounts are a mess,but isn't it hypocritical to call for a revote? Then why not have a revote in Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004? Even if out and out corruption is not running rampant in our electoral system, sloppiness and confusion are.

There has got to be a better way, and there is. Germany and some other European and Asian countries are considered state of the art. Elections in the U.S.are not among the most accurate in the world, but they certainly should be. If Mastercard can account for every penny in millions of accounts from locations around the globe, why can't the government? Why can't we at least make sure the proceedures are identical from one side of Cleveland to the other? Why this scrappy smorgasborg of electoral paraphernalia and potential plunder? Let's get to work on this!

To some, my modest proposal may smack a bit of Big Brother, but fear not. Perhaps it IS time for a national voting card, one per legitimate Social Security number, even a national ID card that serves as a unique voter card at home and a passport cross check abroad, usable anywhere in the world.

This plastic card, like a modern credit card, would have a color photo of thecardholder and a coded unique number so that each person, no matter where they live, could vote once and only once.

And as with a credit card, the accounting would be nearly instantaneous and down to the penny - or down to each and every vote.

This would standardize things and stop most kinds of sloppiness and fraud currently rife in our hodgepodge system.

Of course, the voters need (and need to demand) clearly arranged paper ballots with a receipt - sans chads.

And while we're at it, let's get rid of the Electoral College. If "every vote counts," then let's make sure every vote really does count - and count only once.

In the meantime, remember folks: vote early, vote often!!!

Friday, January 07, 2005

A tsunami of death, on and off the radar

Yesterday, I wrote about the media coverage of the tsunami, suggesting that some American coverage is too sentimental. But to be fair, I should say that such an international outpouring of sentiment and generosity is a good thing.

We need this sort of connection to the often otherwise faceless concerns and conditions of such a distant land, exactly half way around the world from us. From anywhere in North America, just point down at the center of the Earth, and there, on the other side, is the Indian Ocean. It doesn't get farther away than that.

Now look at these pictures:

These aerial photos are amazing before and after shots, 14 befores coupled with 14 afters. Click on the "before" button to go back and forth. Astounding stuff - the most dramatic images I've seen up to now.

And so we should care, and it's good that so many are caring so much. There are, alas, at least two problems, though, with this innundation, this tsunami of coverage, this tsunami of sentiment.

First, there is such a thing as post event burnout. Compassion, generosity, and attention run thin after the story unfolds but long before the problems are solved.

Second, the drama of this story blinds us to many other dire problem spots and kinds of strife and violent death around the world - and close to home.

The U.N. has already foreseen and expressed concern for both of these consequences, because it is the U.N. that will most likely be dealing with the aftermath of such global problems for generations to come.

Many of us are shocked to see the death toll related to the tsunami rise to 50,000, 100,000, 150,000, and it will surely top 200,000 soon.

Over 50,000 people die of car wrecks in the United States every year. 50,000. Think of that number collectively - it's huge. And think of the similarity - families ripped apart, parents watching their children die, children loosing their parents, the unfairness and violence of it all. But because these deaths occur so often and not all at once, the drama and our interest never gain the same momentum. There are many deaths we accept.

In 1998, the BBC News reported:

"Car crashes now claim more than 500,000 deaths a year, and injure another 15 million people. In 100 years there have been more than 20 million car-related deaths worldwide.

"The global death toll is set to rise rapidly as developing countries acquire more cars and lorries, and the population of young adults increases.

"Road accidents are the single largest killer of men aged between 15 and 44.

"In Europe, more than 5,000 people are killed in road accidents each year, and more than 150,000 remain disabled for life."

Millions have died around the world in the last few years without getting on the radar like this story, of natural and manmade causes. They have passed without obsessing us, without our notice or our hearts.

So yes, it is good that our hearts go half way around the world, but we need to be reminded that we are drawn by the drama and the visual spectacle.

Those photos do speak out loud to us. But so should other numbers in the almanac of death and danger and disaster. Imagine the bodies buried in and swept away from these villages a world away, and keep in mind the sadness and the humanity of all the other deaths we never see.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The tsunami of tsunami news

A friend just came back from India. She was there for a full week after the tsunami hit. After a few days back in the States, she had to say how different the British and European coverage was from American coverage. Even the local Indian coverage was distinctly different from the rapid razzmatazz (and repetition) of our media. The most traditional journalists refrain from making their emotional reactions to the stories they are reporting the center of the stories they are reporting. In the last few days, even CNN has gone more toward asking its reporters on the scene to evoke stories of their own shock, awe and tears. The BBC and other news outlets on the scene are not cold or calculating, but their news reports are less sentimental and more matter of fact and detailed.

By comparison, our news is, in general, disaster or no, war or no, breaking news or no, more inflammatory and sentiment-driven. It is also more personality driven, meaning that the personalities and sentiments of the talking heads come into play. The same goes for how politics is covered in this country. One aspect of the commercialization of our news is that the mega-conglomerate corporations in charge don't seem to trust Americans to keep watching unless the sense of drama is heightened and unless the graphics and breaking news splashes come fast and furious.

Is this tsunami of tsunami coverage what we need? Is it what we want?

Michael Moore says that American news is directly responsible for our culture's high levels of stress, fear, anxiety, confusion about the issues involved, problematic political involvement and propensity to violence. And Moore is not alone. Sociological studies support this thesis - that the news we read or hear - and much more likely WATCH - greatly affects our abilities to perform the duties of being informed citizens and performing the duties of good citizens. No wonder the cultural divide is widening. We are taking not factual but emotional sides, fact vs. faith, rural vs. urban, blue vs. red, objective vs. subjective.

We can't let the melodramatic news machines win.

Thanks to Brian Lamb for keeping C-Span going. Too bad more of us are not drawn to its matter-of-fact neutrality - a big part of human nature craves the excitement of a story and fears they can relate to.

But how to raise the quality of our news, especially on television, where most of the money and is and where most people with access to it get nearly 100 percent of their news?

CNN has been loosing viewership to FOX and other cable outlets, partly because, like the Democrats getting suckered in by the Republicans, it has been co-opted by its own fears of losing viewers to be more like FOX, more reactionary, more emotion driven, less analytical, just dumbed down. CNN is a lot closer to FOX in tone than it is to the BBC, still a world standard for professional, detailed and analytical news coverage.

Fortunately, CNN has a new president who seems intent on turning back this tide of reactionary blather. (See my "Crossfire" post below, with its link to an NY Times article about where CNN and Tucker Carlson are going.) Jonathan Klein wants CNN to move toward more substantive, story-oriented journalism. Does that mean more boilerplate? Or more of Aaron Brown's loosely knit musings?

We'll see how it goes.


Crossfire: Politics as Foodfight

CNN will soon cancel it's late afternoon partisan debate show, Crossfire, after 22 years on the air. Tucker Carlson seems to have caused some unrest for the future prospects of the show by wanting a nighttime show of his own, which CNN couldn't accommodate. But the new president of CNN says the show would have been cancelled anyway as CNN moves toward more "roll up your sleeves journalism" - certainly a good thing. Carlson may be moving to MSNBC to resume his "head-butting debates."

Crossfire had it's earnest and good moments, but after Bill Press left, the incindiary flames grew higher and higher. In December, when "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart went on to rake CNN in general and Crossfire in particular over the coals, he said that such partisan bickering and hacking was "hurting America." Stewart's lambasting of "Crossfire" seems to the headstone for the show's demise.

Stewart was right on.

Even with skilled liberal wonkers like Paul Begala and colorful liberal wildcatters like James Carville, the show had become more of a food fight than an ideas fest. It had succumbed to the FOXification of news in this country.

I met Carlson and Begala in January, 2003, as they reported on the Dean campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yes, we were all in the room when Dean gave his famous "scream speech," which Carlson seemed to appreciate at the time but soon maligned on the air. Off camera, Carlson is astonishingly self-confident, bright AND even diplomatically bipartisan. On "Crossfire," he relentlessly turned on the neo-con heat, not quite a dittohead but close. Which just goes to show that the producers of our news programs are not immune to the same sorts of sensationalism that the producers of other TV shows are, including melodramatic reports on Dateline and even 60 Minutes, and of course, "reality" TV. Badgering argument has become the modus operandi of some very popular news coverage.

There may be a place for Carlson at MSNBC. I hope it is a more mature forum where topics receive their due, but Carlson is said to want more of the same.

There is certainly a place for well-waged political debate on television in this country. Too bad "Crossfire" had gotten so far off the mark.

To be informed and considerate, we need a lot fewer foodfights and more wise counsel, even if the ratings are at risk.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The terror of water vs. the terror of war

U.S. spending so far for the Iraq war alone: almost $200 billion.

U.S. spending committed thus far for tsunami relief: less than half of $1 billion.

Some pundits are drawing a crazy parallel between U.S. spending on the "war on terrorism" and what we might call the war on the tsunami. But it seems sinister to lump these expenditures together as humanitarian - as investments in building America's good will around the world. Apparently, some pundits and politicians are still stuck in "greatest generation/World War II" mode, thinking we are gaining good will by occupying exotic lands. It's just not true. It seems our priorities are sadly confused.

Are we seeing this outpouring of tsunami relief merely as an investment in good will to win over the Muslim world? Are we seeing this week's delayed rise in donations as acts of shame, after Japan donated over ten times what the United States had donated?

Lots of politicians, including John Kerry and John McCain, have been calling for an escalation of the war in Iraq, suggesting we send in even more troops, which it seems would certainly speed up spending on the war. They want it both ways. They want an expensive war to be affordable, if not downright cheap. There is nothing, not a single aspect about the Iraqi war and the war on terror that is affordable or cheap.

Military spending is not the same as humanitarian aid, no matter what. It is offensive that anyone, politician or pundit, would equate the two - and say they are like candy to the ravaged recipients.

Humanitarian aid and spending on health, infrastructure and education abroad should be more in line with military spending. As it is, we are spending over a hundred times more for war and control than we are for peace and prosperity.

Over one hundred times more.

For a week, the Bush administraton offered less than $40 million even as Japan offered $500 million. Then the Bushies noticed that people were really paying a lot of attention to the tsunami victims. They didn't seem to have a clue for a week, because their vested interests in the region were vague and not a top priority.

No matter how generous we become now, some of us will recall the reluctance of warring nations to contribute - nations such as the U.S. Israel and many Arab nations more interested in the business of war than the immediate goodheartedness of peace.

Obviously, it would be well worth our while, as a nation, to not only increase our humanitarian aid at this time but to take that money from the war-making machinery.

It is time, for many reasons, to reduce the Pentagon budget by 10-20 % and spend that money on programs that are constructive, not destructive.

That sort of shift would bring us some real and lasting good will - and make us a better nation.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Hello to 2005: Resolutions and Resolve

How to make 2005 BETTER...

Is the glass half full? Is it a third full? A fourth? Less? More?

In these times, with a pretty rough 2004 just gone by and with a new year looming before us, is it naive to be optimistic? Or counter-productive to be pessimistic? Or better to be hopeful or realistic?

How do you see the hard lessons of 2004?

And what do you think we need to do in 2005?

And on a more personal level, what would you most WANT to do?

Find more meaningful work? Fix the world? Fall in love? Fly away, disappear or get right into the THICK of things?

'Tis that time of year to consider our resolutions AND our resolve.

I'll amend this post with my resolutions soon. In the meantime, I welcome you to offer yours - and those you'd hope others might take on as well.

Let's mix it up!!!