Thursday, February 23, 2012


I do my best to try to understand folks who don’t agree with the way I see things.  In this age of political contention 24/7, it can be a bit of a challenge.  
A few weeks ago, Bill Moyers spoke with Jonathan Haidt about the differences between progressive/liberal and conservative philosophies.  Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, is due out mid-March. 
My biggest take-away from the program was that liberals have a very high interest in compassion for others.  Libertarians, on the other extreme, score very low in that area, mainly because they hold that individual freedoms make one responsible for self.  Ergo, assistance from government is detrimental to personal freedoms.  I read in this morning’s paper that Ron Paul would abolish personal income tax in order to reduce what the government could provide for its citizens.  
Another interesting point is that liberals don’t venerate the structure of business and government as American sacral like the conservatives do.  We’ve all heard the conservative axiom of shrinking government so small you can drown it in a bathtub.  Such would allow business to control the markets without government interference, from their point of view.  
Surely Americans from both sides of the aisle agree that the deficit needs cutting and something has to be done about revenues.  Conservatives, I think, are fine with cutting taxes and reducing revenues, while progressives are more about requiring those who have more to be taxed more so all benefit from this nation’s economic bounty.  Reducing government revenue would help the conservatives shrink government, while more taxes from the rich would allow the liberals to provide a broader safety net and more opportunity for those lower on the economic scale.  
I’ve given a lot of thought to these differences over time, especially since watching the Moyers & Company episode a couple weeks ago.  I most definitely am a liberal, no doubt.  Many of my family and friends?  Not nearly.  I can remember concluding a few winters ago that my brother is a conservative with the attitude that somebody out there might get something they didn’t earn.  A Fox News devotee, he earned his, by God, and everybody else can work hard to get what they deserve, too.
I understand a good work ethic.  I encourage everybody to work hard and find financial success.  Problem is, from my point of view, some of us have a far easier path to success than others.  And that is the point of this blog today:  Luck
I surely had no choice about being born a white American, but as one, I grew up in a middle class Midwest suburb with decent schools, little neighborhood violence, two grocery stores within walking distance, and a park three blocks away where my parents could send me to play without worrying about my coming home alive.  That just simply isn’t true for a whole lot of Americans born into poverty who don’t have the capability of moving to a safer place.  So many families are stuck in a cycle of little opportunity that is difficult, if not next to impossible to emerge from.  And now in a country where good paying manufacturing jobs -- that don’t need high priced educations -- are fewer and farther between, conditions seem even harsher for the disadvantaged.
So I can’t help but conclude that I was damned lucky to be given the life I was born into.  Dad worked.  Mom stayed home.  Both provided seven kids a comfortable house with three squares a day.  We all went to Catholic schools, which was another big sacrifice for a one-earner family.  Life was safe.  Life was good. 
For many like me, I’ve taken that advantage and passed it along to my kids.  Both Jenni and Kelly got good educations and wonderful opportunities.  If I had been born poor, I could not have provided what their mother and I gave them.  
Did I earn this good life that I have?  Sure, I worked hard in my career, so in that sense, yes.  But on a much broader scale, I was really lucky.  If my father had been born into a family where he had only his mom to rely on, or he couldn’t find good enough work to clothe and feed seven kids, my life would have been very different.  
So I guess that’s my question to conservatives:  Shouldn’t we take the good luck we’ve had in our successful lives and offer that same opportunity we were blessed with to others who weren’t so lucky?  Sure seems like the compassionate, Christian thing to do, you know?    
Lent began yesterday, and for many Christians that means a period of contemplation and prayer about life and death that culminates in the rebirth of Easter.  
I must admit, there have been many lenten seasons when I didn’t do anything special.  I don’t know how it will turn out this year either, since I’m lousy at New Year’s resolutions, but I’d like to try something special.
At my place on the Great Mandela, life is good and I have everything I need.  But do I know the truth about life?  I am going to try to contemplate the question, What do I have to give up to find that someone beneath the cloak?  Like the young man in William Faulkner's short story 'The Bear.'
The Persian poet Jelaluddin Rumi tackles such metaphysical issues in his 20,000 some poems, most of which have not yet been translated into English.  But I have a couple copies of Rumi translations gifted by friends that I am going to ponder through.  Should be a good way to reconsider what’s important in my life.  I’ll be addressing The Spirit of the Universe in my meditation. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  Lent provides us with a reality check, where we can step up and look at who we are.  We are invited to journey inward to encounter and confront all that separates us from God.  It is also a time to journey outward to encounter and confront all that causes pain, damage, and separation from others. 
Shannon Ferguson Kelly
for the daily Episcopal Relief & Development Lenten series
For the Jonathan Haidt interview, see: Moyers & Co.
Image lifted from the internet without permission.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Charley's valentine

A few falls ago in an attempt to celebrate a Friday evening ‘Urban Nights’ event in Dayton, our church, located in the heart of downtown, jumped into the fray and opened our doors to the weekend revelers.  
Restaurants downtown offered dinner and drink specials, bands played on Courthouse Square, while we at Christ Episcopal Church opened for an exhibit from local artists.  In addition, I asked my three poetry writing buddies, affectionately known as Emily’s Boys, to join in the evening’s festivities by offering a poetry reading to interested Urban Nights guests.  
One of the people at church who promoted our engagement in Urban Nights was a retired newspaper guy with the Daily News, Charley Stough.  Charley was a bit of an artist himself, as well as a cartoonist and a writer.  Charley became famous for passing cartoon panels along to kids at church for the sheer joy of it. 
Charley wound up his newspaper career with twenty-eight years of service to the Daily News.  He reported and copy edited in other towns, too, some in the Southwest.  As a young man he worked a stint in Panama with the Peace Corps.  It was there where he met his lovely wife, Alicia. 
In his retirement years, Charley also took on volunteer work at church where he helped local folks with little resources file their income taxes and determine what public assistance was due them.  He was always tickled when he found a bigger refund than somebody thought she’d get, or uncovered some benefit that would make life a bit easier.  A smile were always easy with Charley.  He was one of the few guys who called me Tommy. 
Well, we lost Charley to cancer a few months ago.  He put up a worthy fight for years, but in the end, the disease just proved to be too much.  
I celebrate Charley this Valentine’s Day because of an unexpected pleasure he brought me on that Urban Night’s evening.  Some time while we poets were setting up our stools and figuring out who would read first, Charley stopped by and said he had a poem he’d like to read when we finished our stuff.  As I recall, Charley had a piece of art that went with the poem.  His reading was full of energy and brought a couple of laughs from the poetry lovers.  
I don’t know if this is the poem Charley read that night, but it appears to be the only Stough poem I have in my collection.  And since it speaks so eloquently of love, if a little slant, I offer it to you this Valentine’s Day. 
Thanks, Charley.  We miss you already. 

Today’s Elder Idea:  from Charley Stough
Valentine’s Day  
Love's measurements are usually engineered
In terms of carats.  Or bags from boutique sales.
Someone I know played it by ear
And said, "I love you big as 20 whales."
Sweet as champagne at the finish line, 
Bright as diamonds dipped out by the pail,
A rolling tide of pride runs down your spine
When someone's love comes to you by the whale.
The packaging of passion you too seldom find,
Cetacean squadrons' worth of love, to keep.
Will you take it home? Does the landlord mind?
How many hugs do whales need to make them go to sleep?
When someone says "I love you," don't investigate
How much, how deep, how wide it has to be.
The oceans always bring you honest weight.
All, you get all, everything there is of me.
And when the strength or light or wisdom fails
Just say, "I love you big as 20 whales."
 For more on Charley’s life, see this web page from the American Copy Editors Society:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The internet, rationality, & winter birds

Back in the old days when I was just coming of age and calculating the cost of buying my first house, when I considered cost of utilities, I figured electricity, heat, water & sewer, and phone.  
Surely electricity, heat, and water in-and-out are still with us, though for many, telephone cost has shifted from land land to wireless.  We still have a land line at our house, but daughter Kelly has dumped theirs and replaced it with an efficient wireless plan covering a family of four, with everybody issued a phone and an iPad or two tossed in for good measure.  In addition to all that these days, you’d also have to consider television service, too, as a costly but essential home utility. 
Ten years or so ago we dumped dial-up internet service and went high speed.  Back then it seemed only cable was an option.  In the interim, telephone line-based DSL made its advent and at least gave us an option.  When Cindy Lou and I moved back home after our house fire in 2005, DSL seemed the best internet deal around. 
But times have changed.  Last December I realized that our DSL service provided by AT&T was pretty darned slow at times.  Turning to to provide data, I learned that while promised download speeds of up to 5 to 7 Mbs. (that’s mega [millions of] bits/second), there were days I was plumbing only .2 or .5 Mbs.  That, my friend, is pretty pokey.  Still better than dial-up (I think), but slow.   After talking to an AT&T service agent, I was told the problem had to be on our end, because at the very time I called, our service was hitting its low guaranteed mark. 
So it was back to Time Warner cable for us.  This is what I found:  

Translation:  The blue line is our service.  On the left, you can see our AT&T DSL number was holding pretty steady at 5 Mbs for some time, with regular drops in service noted pretty often since mid-December.  (Note, too, the green line:  It reports the global average for high speed internet @ 10 Mbs.)  The big jump you see on the right of the graph denoted our connection to Roadrunner.  Time Warner promised its product at 10 Mbs, but regularly delivers numbers closer to 20 Mbs.  That’s a whole lot better. 
One other consideration:  We were paying AT&T $40/month for our poor service.  Time Warner is currently getting $30 for the much better numbers.  
My point is, be sure you are getting what you pay for.  Check to see if your provider is giving you good internet service.  Everything runs faster at home these days, especially the iPad.
I stumbled across a really good Bill Moyers program last week.  If you’re like me, feeling a bit despondent over American politics in an election year, you owe it to yourself to watch this one.  Bill’s guest on Moyers & Company (PBS) was Jonathan Haidt, author of new book entitled, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.  As a guy who likes to understand what’s going on in his country, I found the 45 minutes important to understanding folks who vote the ‘other way.’  Good stuff.   Link:  moyers & company

A friend on Facebook mentioned his annual ‘yard list‘ of birds he keeps.  We keep track of all the feathered critters who come our way, mostly to our four winter feeders, but I never recorded an annual list.  
Such is now remedied!  This is who we’ve had so far in 2012 at Wild Grace II:
American goldfinch
white breasted nuthatch
Carolina chickadee
tufted titmouse
Northern cardinal
mourning dove
American robin
house finch 
dark-eyed junco
European starling
red bellied woodpecker
downy woodpecker
white throated sparrow
blue jay
Carolina wren
American crow
cooper’s hawk
house sparrow
yellow bellied sapsucker
hairy woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
No owls yet, but we’re listenin’....
Today’s Elder Idea:  Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. 
Frank Lloyd Wright
American architect