Friday, August 31, 2007

Mother Teresa Superstar

It has come to light that Mother Teresa, though a saint, was also human. Of course she was. Don't tell me Joan of Arc didn't have doubts, and in his "Superstar" portrayal, Mr. JC was full of them. Without doubts, how could we EVER be humble? The doubtless are not known for their humility, and in the end, they're pretentious and deluded bores.

In what I think is her finest quotation, here is what Mother Teresa said:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway."

Being the secular guy that I am, I'd change the word "God" to "your principles" or "what you can support with evidence," so that line might read: "You see, in the final analysis, it is between your courage and your principles (or what you can support with evidence)." And as for the last line, well, it is always about all of us, isn't it? Sure, perhaps principles first but then all of humanity and life are right there in the mix. No man (or woman) is an island. And every saint is human.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

OK, Who's My Ticket Today?

OK, who's on my ticket for today and probably for the new fall season, at least?

Well, I'm just not wrapped up in this big stew of candidates like I was in 2004. Then, as regular readers of ABN know, I was a die-hard Dean fan, almost a downright Deaniac. Dean was my scrappy bull dog, my full bore wonky leftish go-getter. He was my "Give 'em Hell" Harry. He was my David against the Goliaths. The Dr. was IN.

But here it is four years later, and who'm I gonna pick? I'm no longer really a Democrat, if ever I really was. Lately, I've been getting off Democratic Party and affiliated mailing lists. I am purging myself of most anyone inside the Beltway mentality. I want a wonky, edgy, snarling, microphone biting Sock It To Them Outsider again, turning red with passion, yet out amongst us, more compassionate than calculating.

It's looking like I'm not going to get that this round. So who?

Well, I'm not a gambling man, and this isn't a prediction. We're not even to the back stretch, which comes around when, January? Clinton and Obama are taking impressive leads in the first turn, and it seems it is still the dragon lady's nomination to win or lose.

Meanwhile, here's my ticket:

Edwards/Richardson '08.

As I have said elsewhere, of all the candidates in some years, Edwards is the person I would most like to have speaking to me from the Oval Office. After eight years of Bush bashing and, conversely, being pricked by that Texas prickly pear, I want to be soothed. I'd like a big heapin' dose of polished and yet personal grace, and I'd be proud to have Mr. Edwards represent the United States in the hallowed halls of foreign leaders and governing bodies as well. He would not be smarmy or controversial, disdainful, insensitive or out of touch. He would rise to the occasion. And he loves his country. But then also, perhaps as Dean was four years ago, Edwards has positioned himself as the insurgency candidate this year, difficult as that is to do with a southern lilt to one's gruff punch-bagging. Edwards is taking swings I'd want to take myself.

Bill Richardson would bring to the ticket and to the administration what Edwards lacks, namely one of the best resumes of the bunch. Richardson would bring some big shoulders to the ticket, a western slant and a good mix of insider/outsider wrangling expertise. He can sit on a horse and not look stupid, which in and of itself would knock even Fred Thompson for a loop, no need mentioning the Yankee Giuli/Romney boys 'round these parts. Richardson can play the Reagan of the New West, the multicultural West, not the Pure Borax White West of yore (so 20th Century...).

Oh, and Elizabeth Edwards would make a GREAT First Lady.

The biggest tactical advantage of this ticket is that we would not lose any Democratic Senators. Clinton and Obama would stay right where we need them. We could bring back the best aspects of the Bill and Al show, making Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore cabinet members or special envoys without losing strength in the Congress. Like a good game show host, in the best sense of that term, Mr. Edwards the populist could bring together (and I think hold together) a fantastic round table of talent, and few would bitch and moan because we'd all believe he really cared about all of us and really, really liked us.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Question: When Are You Most Yourself?

That's a good question for anyone, at any time, and good to ask oneself now and then, to keep it fresh or at least accurate.

When are you most yourself?

Doing what? Where? With whom?

I'd say, for me, I am most myself: taking an epic and rugged day hike in a national park, riding my bicycle (either toodling around town or going out on the open road), reading at home alone, sharing quality time in conversation with a friend, and perhaps most surprisingly, when leading a group tour and we're in the flow, engaged in where we are.

And when I write.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reagan Pegs Bush, Circa 1986

This just in from the newly published Reagan Diaries:

From the entry for May 17, 1986:

"A moment I've been dreading. George [Sr., VP at the time] brought his ne're-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at 'The New Republic' and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work."

Reagan got Dubya right. Too bad it's who you know not what you know, even at the top (or as was Shrub's case, tugging at the coat tails at the very top). I say, and I am not the first to say, that America gets the government it deserves -- and the government which, generally, the movers and the shakers of the Empire WANT.

You won't find dumb presidents in the EU. You just won't.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Europe's Got We Haven't Got

Culturally, Europe's gone the way of secularism and facts, while the United States seems a bit stuck in the proverbial muck of faith and fictions we uphold to boost our feelings of superiority -- thus still revealing underlying feelings of inadequacy.

When it comes to compartmentalizing faith, I do think that the Europeans have a lot to teach our more backward Americans about how to run a civil society, as regards the mixing up of church and state, as regards criminality, incarceration,
violence, aggression and all sorts of other civil and uncivil matters.

The problem is that, since the post-WWII boom, American culture has been driven by the god of GROWTH, by materialism, by rather righteous dreams of wealth and a Juggernaut Named DESIRE.

This country's fuel, for better or worse, is raw, often unilateral competition, whereas the Europeans have gone the route of multilateral cooperation toward the collective good, a more altruistic (and sustainable) approach in my book.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"On the Road" Turns 50

Jack Kerouac's classic Beat road trip book "On the Road" turns 50 this year. The book, though written sporadically over the course of a decade (and most famously, in one long stint on a roll of typewriter paper 120 feet long), was finally published in the summer of 1957, just a few months before I was born.

The New York Times has asked the question, "What do you think are the lessons of ‘On the Road’?"

Here's what I have to say:

The main lesson of "On the Road" is that, for all of Americans' (sometimes frantic) movement and mobility and romance for the open road, few really take to nomadism the way Kerouac did. It still takes a die-hard bohemian to revel in epic, wandering, intense, spontaneous road trips. Kerouac mixed verbosity with virility with the tender heart of a longing romantic. He pined for love (and perhaps even "settling down") the way we pine for his sense of daring and freedom. Romantics all.

But even as he hit the road again, Kerouac got homesick (he was a mama's boy, after all, and tension makes many a writer write). Alas, the most hardcore of road hounds don't ever feel they've had enough. Consider the quest of Don Quixote. Meanwhile, most of us live out our romance with the road vicariously and tellingly through car ads on TV. Note that those ads are never filmed in traffic or on Interstates. In our dreams, we fly free and alone through verdant hills, through a spring-fed and billboardless heaven, along remote ribbons of black asphalt.

I'm an adventure tour guide, and so I see first hand how unadventurous most people are. No matter how much they seem to want to go, most people are fairly far out of their element when away from home. Nomadism is an ancient calling and an ancient curse (having to pack it all up and move on to chase the game or find water or migrate with the seasons). Nowadays, a serious case of wanderlust is so un-career oriented; most of us would rather play it safe and get back to our home-owner (or home-owner wannabe) domesticity. Often, it seems we sample the road merely to remind ourselves how much we like the routines we left behind. And we don't stay gone for long. In investing so much in "home," we have become increasingly materialistic, something Kerouac was not, and so we seem, as a culture, considerably more corporate consumers than cavalier renegades. Most are, to use Ann Tyler's phrase, "accidental tourists," more anxious about comfort and control than really relishing inhibition and edginess and risk and unpredictable diversity.

Along with another bohemian a century his senior (Henry David Thoreau) and a cantankerous and raucously unconventional curmudgeon just five years younger than the bard of the Beats (Edward Abbey), I'd say Kerouac (and "On the Road" in particular but also notably "The Dharma Bums") helped set the hook for wanderlust in me, both literary and literal, down deep in my psyche, a traveling narrative both romantic and existential. We are a destination culture, it seems, and Kerouac was really about the journey and being where you are.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karl Rove: My New Neighbor

Karl Rove's legal residence (and come September 1st, his real home) is in an unlikely cranny of Texas, near the banks of the lovely, cypress-shaded Guadalupe River just west of Ingram, about 70 miles northwest of San Antonio. I live in Kerrville, about seven miles to the east, where the Roves will dine out and buy their groceries and hardware a few blocks from my house. And so Mr. Rove, in the big scheme of things, is coming home to be my neighbor. I hope he'll make an appearance or two about town to chat up the future of American politics and power. I'd be happy to hear anything he has to say.

It's true that the man nicknamed "Bush's Brain" did help move the Bush-brand of Republican politics from the gently aloof, old school New World grandfatherhood of Reagan and Bush Sr. into the realm of a Oedipal cage fight. John McCain a threat? Take him out in the early round. And that was the beginning of the beginning. And by fall of 2000? Well, Gore almost won, but Bush's team wouldn't have it and simply fought faster and harder to edge across the line. And war? If you want history, Granada and Kuwait won't do. Go BIG, and Stay On Message No Matter What.

Rove always knew that rule number one should be: stay on message, and fight. Fair or not, fight. And this is a simple tactical advantage the Democrats have been at great pains to master ever since Lyndon Johnson left the Senate in 1960.

Rove leaves the White House still spinning a rosy view of conservative causes and a Republican retention of the agenda and power, and his optimism (real or "as advertised") may not be unjustified. The Republicans are still more likely, when cornered, to rally and to unify their message. Not messages plural, but Message, Singular. The Democrats, of course, and perhaps rightly so, want to be everything for everybody. The Republicans want to win. Winning is easier, and winning makes more sense to people adrift in the complexities of the modern world. Better to go back to one's ancient roots, to fight for family and the home team, do or die. Rove knows this well.

Karl Rove's talking points memos must be the gold standard in American politics, and every politico, every hack, every lobbyist, every interest group, special or otherwise, could learn a lot from him. The "Boy Genius" is neither old nor obsolete nor out of touch, and his future is bright.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Building Better Bridges Between Us

To the New York Times discussion of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, I've added these comments:

I live in Texas, way down I-35, but I’d driven across that bridge over the Mississippi a dozen times or so in 2006 (going to hear Garrison Keillor speak at the University of Minnesota, among other things).

This bridge was a tragedy beginning with the original design. You can tell from photos of the bridge before its collapse that it was not among the more substantial looking spans of that scale. It was erected at the height of the Interstate building boom, and it doesn't have the impressive understructure of other 500 steel-girder spans. And so mistakes were make 40 years ago that have now come back to haunt us -- and which will continue to haunt the Twin Cities, the nation's highway contractors and public safety departments for several years as many scramble to design and build a much more worthy replacement in that spot and elsewhere. The bad news is: it will take several years. The good news is: the new bridge will be a better bridge, structurally and aesthetically.

For now, no doubt, we’re all sympathetic toward the good people of the Twin Cities!


Our sentiments are part of what drives the media to be so fickle and government officials to take their eyes off the ball. We need to keep in mind all those who suffer less graphic but more likely downfalls and dangers. Risks are a constant. As Helen Keller said, "Security is a myth. It does not exist in nature. Life is a daring adventure..."

Fears (often irrational fears du jour) seem to drive our sentiments and our thinking as much as they drive faddish news coverage and our scrambling leaders, who so often seem to be caught off guard. We have dangers, as we will always have dangers, some known, with which we can take "calculated risks," and some unknown that catch us unawares. But even with 52,000 deaths in car wrecks every year in this country (the biggest danger most of us face), we still live fairly safe and peaceful lives. We are drawn to graphic and photogenic disasters, but the real dangers in our lives are more insipid, such as car wrecks. We are much more likely to be victims of car accidents and cancer and our own carelessness around the home. I send out my sympathies to those whose sufferings and tragedies and deaths are merely mentioned in the news, without all the spectacle and glamor. Most of us pass away in footnotes.

When we value life and safety and caring more consistently and rationally and fervently, without the folly of following fads, we will make some headway toward building a better society, a better nation -- and better bridges between us all.