Category Archives: Religion

Mold a new reality, closer to the heart.

In this edition: Rush in retrospect, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s on public assistance, the turning points in the journey to oligarch rule, Hobby Lobby says “corporations are people, my friend,” and have religious freedom.

Closer to the Heart

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the Heart

Written by Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Elwood Peart, Peter Talbot
Recorded by Rush, 1977

Read more lyrics: Rush – Closer To The Heart Lyrics | MetroLyrics

In “Closer to the Heart,” Rush offers just four stanzas to make their point. The “men who hold high places,” the “blacksmith and the artist,” and the “philosophers and ploughmen” must each work to create this new reality. Then the artist can captain the metaphoric ship to the chart that the everyman creates as the society moves closer to the heart, and by inference, away from the selfish and material in life.

Rush was never a favorite band of mine (sorry guys) because at this point in time I was getting into the British New Wave and the dramatic renderings of the prog-rock groups clashed with the back-to-basics sound of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, and a little later Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, Blondie and the Talking Heads. I’m not alone in this, check this article on why Rush is the most hated rock band (including their lack of appeal to female fans, characterized as a “low clitoris count” at concerts). However, in retrospect the band gains appeal for me. The power trio lineup, the intelligent lyrics, and the theme of the plight of the individual against the pressures of conformity have all fermented well in the barrels of time. Now that I’m not hearing “Tom Sawyer” every 15 minutes I can settle back to enjoy them once in a while. Add in Neil Peart’s lyrics involving humanism, the journey of understanding the nature of life, and the metaphysical elements and I’m right there!

The themes Rush developed more than 30 years ago were in response to a world just revealing itself. They could not have envisioned that 6 members of a certain family would have an amount of wealth equal to 40% of the rest of the American population and that the corporation that provides such wealth–the largest employer in the U.S.–would offer its employees tips on subsidized healthcare and housing paid for by taxpayers. (Wal-Mart in case you didn’t pick up on it.) Check out this video of another large (700,000 U.S. employees) low-wage employer’s internal site advising employees to stretch food budgets by breaking food into smaller pieces and selling gifts on eBay for extra cash.

In the last post I wrote on the topic of lost American ideals. Americans seem less inclined to care about the environment, the growing problems wrought by income inequality, and the loss of privacy we face. It is as if we are a defeated people willing to accept numerous indignities as long as we can keep our lives rolling along with moderate success. I think it’s clear how we got here and I think it’s clear how we regain our strength.

These are the “turning points” in my take on things:

1981 – Ronald Reagan convinces everyone “government is the problem.” Before that people operated under the assumption that it was just bloated and corrupt. Reagan Democrats and old farts of all stripes believed his earnest demeanor was authentic and turned against government. The wealthy would-be kings and corporate America seized on the opportunity to start fighting unions, privatizing whatever they could get their hands on, gambling with workers savings and livelihoods, reviving the greed that 65 years earlier had filled factories with child workers and 120 years earlier filled fields with slaves, cutting away at the safety net for the poor, and taking a lot of momentum out of upward mobility.

1994 — Following mid-term elections, Newt Gingrich became the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years. Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote, and heavily publicized, a “Contract with America” offering many proposals that became law under Democratic President Bill Clinton and a template for today’s GOP Representatives. Gingrich, as Speaker, piloted the House to two government shutdowns (5 full days and 21 full days) and was successful in impeaching Clinton in the House, although it was overturned in the Senate. Under the leadership of Gingrich and the principles of the Contract with America, Capital Gains taxes were reduced, welfare was reduced and even eliminated for mothers 18 years old and younger, prisons were funded as sentences became harsher, payments for UN peacekeeping operations were cut, tort reform benefiting corporations in product liability suits was instituted, and citizen’s protections against illegal search and seizure were weakened. Conflict between the parties on Budget talks was nothing new, animosity toward a president of the opposing party was not new, but Gingrich’s disdain for compromise and disregard for the essential role of Congress, purely on ideological grounds, was new, ugly, and precedent-setting (and is currently being repeated).

1996 — FoxNews channel launches. Funded by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes, a Republican political strategist, the channel promotes extreme conservative thought to the point of skewering mainstream Republicans like Gov. Chris Christie and promoting the wildest extremes of the GOP (e.g. Ann Coulter). Using tools such as repetition and framing, combined with titillating graphics and bootylicious contributors, the channel successfully functions as the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Of course, this was all it was intended to be: an outlet of extreme conservative viewpoints that went well beyond what an already corporatist press was willing to promote. Entire media organizations developed just to identify and document their misrepresentations of Democratic policy and politicians. How did the channel get to the point of being available to 85% of cable and satellite customers? Rupert’s wealth allowed the station to pay cable systems on a per subscriber basis (rather than the opposite) to give the station an audience it would otherwise not have developed so quickly.

2001 – The September 11th attacks leave Americans shaken. Acts of terror, particularly against the World Trade Center, provoked urges for retribution, misdirected hostilities to immigrants in the U.S. and Muslim people everywhere, created strong feelings of jingoism (the feelings and beliefs of people who think that their country is always right and who are in favor of aggressive acts against other countries). We’ve now endured years of war at a great human cost (for all parties) and a great financial cost. We’ve built massive government entities in Homeland Security and the NSA. We have less privacy and less liberty than we did just 12 years ago and it wasn’t taken from us, it was given away. For many, the world was turned upside down and confidence in our safety and security was threatened. Then (in 2003) the Bush administration capitalized on this insecurity–even fearfulness–with the political decision to waste blood and treasure in Iraq in order to secure access to Saddam’s oil fields. Lawmakers understood this to be some sort of retaliation and most went along with the program. Every death in Iraq and Afghanistan produced dozens of enemies of the U.S. And gas prices still went up.

2007 – The Great Recession begins the nation’s descent into the deepest and longest Recession since the Great Depression. Unaddressed real estate bubbles and unregulated risky banking investment combined to bring the economy to the verge of collapse with millions losing their jobs. GW Bush had hoped that he could get out of town before the poop hit the spinning blades but he was splattered enough to initiate a bank bailout of epic proportions and hand his successor an economy hemorrhaging jobs at previously unseen rates (2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008 and by 2010 the total reached 8.8 million jobs lost from the pre-recession peak). If you didn’t lose your job you still felt the insecurity of the economy keenly. After 30 years of stagnant wage growth for most Americans, and an employer’s market for jobs, we quickly learned the advantage of putting up and shutting up.

2010 – FoxNews and conservative talk radio misrepresent the Affordable Care Act and other policies of centrist, corporation-friendly president Barack Obama to the point that a subset of Americans become activated to oppose his policies under the umbrella of the Tea Party. Billions are spent by Rupert Murdoch and David and Charles Koch to organize and promote Tea Party activism and Tea Party candidates. Dick Armey was pegged to run FreedomWorks, launched with $12 million from the Koch’s, to organize Tea Party branches and create the rallies that the press so adored prior to the 2010 midterms. FreedomWorks paid a million to Glenn Beck for his ongoing endorsements, and an undisclosed amount to Rush Limbaugh for the same. Many middle class people were easily led by these professional talkers to direct their anger against government, Obama, or liberals instead of to the group most responsible for their problems: the powerful multinational CEOs and the super-rich who were busy moving the workers share of income into the pockets of CEOs and dividend checks of investors.

Wolves at the door.

Step by step, those who are too greedy and selfish to understand the concept of acting for the greater good, (the enlightened self-interest that de Touqueville found in America in the 1830s), have shaped the country to our detriment (and their benefit). We are rudderless in many ways because we have surrendered national values.

Can we ask the questions that matter? What happens to the unskilled or lower skilled workers when the factories close? Should we retrain them, can we retrain them? What happens to the children of poor parents who have no early childhood support (educational, ethical, nutritional, emotional)? Can we expect them to find the way out of poverty? Is it good for the economy to see dividends going up while real wages are going down? Should the gap between CEO wages and average workers salaries be widening or closing? What happens when the seas rise, the desert overtakes productive land, and we find ourselves rebuilding again and again after violent storms? What happens when the temperature’s slow rise changes regional ecology, or deadens the oceans, or makes the air unbreathable? Should we sit and watch nature die because we didn’t want to put a price on carbon emissions?

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I think I could have added Citizens United to the list above, but I had the sense that it was only extending the problem of “bought” politicians, not the primary cause of it. Last week the Supreme Court agreed to take up Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and many see this as part 2 of Citizens United. In that case, the Supreme Court said that corporations were people and money was speech, and therefore corporations could not be limited in political donations under free speech principles. The Hobby Lobby case, rather innocuous when viewed as the fight of a corporation against mandates to provide coverage of contraceptives, extends Citizens United to say that corporations have religious freedom as well. The owners of Hobby Lobby use the protections afforded by incorporating, but then balk at the responsibility to follow federal law with the premise that the corporation should be afforded freedom of religion protection under the Constitution. Not only that, but the exception is not based on religious beliefs generally, but their own zealot belief that Plan B One-Step prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb and is tantamount to an abortion. In the fashion of zealots, they misunderstand the functions of this pill as it does nothing to stop a fertilized egg from implanting. If Hobby Lobby was pacifist and wanted to avoid paying the share of taxes that finance the war in Afghanistan, how would that go over?

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Well, I just remembered the promise (to myself) to end on a relatively positive note. So here I go. The good news, on a topic where good news has been hard to find, is on Obamacare. According to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, the growth in health care spending (since Obamacare was passed in 2010) has slowed to the lowest rate on record for any three-year period since 1965. “If half the recent slowdown in spending can be sustained,” the report says, “health care spending a decade from now will be about $1,400 per person lower than if growth returned to its 2000-2007 trend.” Additionally, health care price inflation is at its lowest rate in 50 years.

The ACA also had many measures to curb spending on Medicare (which is 16% of the federal budget). Benefits were not reduced (they improved in fact) but spending was reduced through various measures to tighten up payments and experiment with alternatives to the pay-for-procedure model that creates incentives for healthcare organizations to perform more procedures and tests to make more money.

Projections suggest we will save $147 billion on Medicare and Medicaid over the next 6 years. These changes will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion from 2013 to 2022.

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We looked backward and said goodbye

In this edition: Long time since I posted. Blue O (with an umlaut) yster Cult. Losing a friend. The mystery that lies beyond.  The conservatives I get and the ones who run (ruin) our government.

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are.

Come on baby… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby take my hand… Don’t fear the Reaper
We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby I’m your man…

Valentine is done
Here but now they’re gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity…
Romeo and Juliet

40,000 men and women everyday… Like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday… Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday…We can be like they are

Come on baby… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby take my hand… Don’t fear the Reaper
We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby I’m your man…

Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear we couldn’t go on
The door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew and then disappeared
The curtains flew and then he appeared
Saying don’t be afraid

Come on baby… And we had no fear
And she ran to him… Then they started to fly
We looked backward and said goodbye
We had become like they are
She had taken his hand
We had become like they are

Come on baby…don’t fear the reaper

–Written by Buck Dharma, Recorded by Blue Öyster Cult (1976)

Perhaps strangely, I have a playlist called Death Songs. “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” is one of them. My favorite is Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” I love its simplicity, the wordplay, and writer/singer Ben Gibbard’s phrasing. The chorus is:

If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the No’s on their vacancy signs
If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

However, as the Death Cab for Cutie song is from 2006 it doesn’t fit my self-imposed restriction of songs that boomers knew ages ago (when we were all so sad about the recent deaths of the dinosaurs). Both songs come from the same impulse. A 29-year old imagines loss from death and explores the feelings in song lyrics. Buck Dharma (stage name of Donald Roeser) was musing on the possible impact of his death and played off the theme of eternal love. Gibbard’s message is exactly in parallel to that.

Many have thought “(Don’t fear) the Reaper” song was pro-suicide but the writer has denied that vehemently. It’s more about accepting the inevitability of death, not romanticizing it. Dharma explained, “I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It’s basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.”

Blue Öyster Cult was kind of a Long Island response to Black Sabbath. (Buck Dharma being Tony Iommi with fingers intact.) The name is from a poem written by their manager, Sandy Pearlman, with umlaut added to invoke a Wagnerian vibe. This was picked up by later metal groups. They were an early adopter of a band logo, in BOC’s case a hook and cross symbol. Their sound was catchy riffs, slicing metal solos, but gentle-sounding lyrics. In case you are wondering, “40,000 men and women everyday” is the number of people who die that Dharma pulled out of the air. The real number is closer to 150,000.

The song also features a cowbell. In the song, it’s a discreet addition to the beat. The cowbell was immortalized in a skit featuring Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. You can watch it here. And you should know, Bruce Dickenson did not produce the song.

Searching around, I also found the following item of interest. Blond twins, with harps, and some kind of green screen background thing happening.

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Soul-searching on the topic of dying is not uncommon. Many have beliefs. My own father, with cancer overtaking his body, and who never stepped foot in a church except for weddings and funerals, spoke of meeting up with my mother on the other side. Others are equally convinced of the nothingness that follows. I take a middle ground approach. The principle concept is Mystery. We do not know, cannot know, what happens next. It can be nothing, it can be heaven- or hell-like, or it can be a return to the source with or without our individual personality intact.

I heard the American spiritual leader Ram Dass speaks of his friend, a channeled entity named Emmanuel. Ram Dass : “I once said to him, ‘Emmanuel, I often deal with the fear of death in this culture. What should I tell people about dying?’ And Emmanuel said, ‘Tell them it’s absolutely SAFE!’ He said, ‘It’s like taking off a tight shoe.'” These are comforting thoughts. Too comforting for me to put too much belief in. And besides, CHANNELED FRIEND???

So this I know. It’s a mystery. At worst, my death means I will not have a care in the world. At best, I will be bathed in peace and love and free from the worries of the material world. It is not me who will suffer from death, it will be those who knew me, loved me, or just tolerated me affectionately. And my death is certain to cause them to consider their own mortality.

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mistramv_20130910

One reason I’m thinking about death and death songs is that I lost a friend in September. Mark Mistrata died of a heart attack at the age of 55. He was a man’s man, competent in most things. He kept his politics mostly to himself, but Mark was an “O’Reilly conservative”. For example, he might have been against the Medicaid expansion in the ACA not because he didn’t want people to get healthcare, but because his common sense told him that if you give people something for free then they don’t try to change their lives to get it themselves. Foodstamps might be a similar proposition. If you make life too easy then there is no incentive to do the hard work that it takes to turn a nothing life into a productive one.

I won’t argue the opposing side here. (It wouldn’t feel right.) But I wish that the conservatives in the House of Representatives would take a similar tack. Instead of lying about the Affordable Care Act and the terrible disaster they claim it is, they should deal honestly with the issues at hand. Insurers were overpaying their CEOs from the profits gained by cherry-picking and lemon-dropping (using pre-existing conditions and outrageous pricing to avoid insuring actual sick people) while consolidating into single vendor territories where there’d be little competition to keep pricing down.  Instead of talking about death panels for Medicare enrollees, they should talk about how 10,000 people each day are turning 65 and will be doing so through 2030 at which point 18% of Americans will be on Medicare. And today people live longer spending extraordinary amounts of money in their final days. What is the answer to that? I can think of a number of answers including some that are not even part of today’s model. Killing the people off is not one of those options. (After all, I will someday be one of them.)

Instead of talking about Obama as the “foodstamp president” they should address what would enhance the economy in the U.S. and what moves people into economic circumstances where food assistance is needed. But they really can’t do that because they believe ideologically that what’s good for business is good for the U.S. If business has outsourced jobs it’s the inevitability of globalism. But the truth is that government is there for the people first. Government of the corporations, for the corporations is another form, not Democracy. Yes, talkin’ about f-a-s-c-i-s-m: strong leaders, suppression of dissent,  protection of business and elites, and preservation of class systems. Fascism in Europe arose out of fear of the rising power of the working class and it seems like many are ready to follow these themes today without understanding the history of this failed system. Pretend patriots and pretend moralists, they pick and choose which parts of the Constitution and the Bible they will champion. The real patriotism we need in America is economic patriotism.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seems apropos in the sense of being a memorial and a call to live to humanistic ideals.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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I’m not the man they think I am at home.

In this edition: Elton John’s Rocket Man gives me a lot to think about. Ray Bradbury was a great writer. Period. Rain rockets on Syria or reboot the rhetoric? Must ideology reign supreme?

Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)

She packed my bags last night, pre-flight.
Zero hour, nine a.m.
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then.

I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife.
It’s lonely out in space.
On such a timeless flight.

Chorus:
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time,
’til touch down brings me round again to find,
I’m not the man they think I am at home,
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

[Repeat chorus]

Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids,
In fact it’s cold as hell,
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did.

And all this science, I don’t understand,
It’s just my job five days a week,
A rocket man, a rocket man.

[Chorus repeats twice]

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
’til touch down brings me round again to find,
I’m not the man they think I am at home,
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.
Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

— Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John (1972)

A little joke in my last post about a lyric “hold me closer, Tony Danza” had me thinking about Elton John and then I heard this song on the classic rock station. It’s from 1972’s Honky Chateau album. This album is generally considered to be part of Taupin and John’s early period that culminated with Yellow Brick Road and the completion of Elton John’s transition from singer-songwriter in the mold of James Taylor to the flamboyant, fame-conscious, glam-saturated (and sexually ambiguous) !Elton John!

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight in 1947, Elton John began playing piano in clubs at the age of 15 and was apparently a prodigy, picking out songs by ear on the piano at the age of 3. Like many in England, he worked in R&B style music originally. He played with Long John Baldry and was recorded on Baldry’s “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie” a song that’s overdue for a resurgence into the culture! If you have six and half minutes the YouTube below is great fun.

Bernie Taupin was John’s songwriting partner and lyricist. The first stanza came to him while on a long drive and he reportedly repeated it for 2 hours in his head until he got someplace to write it down. The inspiration is attributed to Ray Bradbury’s “Rocket Man” short story. This story appeared in the collection “The Illustrated Man.” The prologue and stories in that work are concise and beautiful pieces, often with surprising emotional depth. I’m not sure about the copyright issues but the entire work is housed in PDF here: http://greenhumanities.edublogs.org/files/2012/09/Bradbury-Illustrated-Man-1wytglb.pdf. Here are the first two paragraphs of the prologue:

It was a warm afternoon in early September when I first met the Illustrated Man. Walking along an asphalt road, I was on the final leg of a two weeks’ walking tour of Wisconsin. Late in the afternoon I stopped, ate some pork, beans, and a doughnut, and was preparing to stretch out and read when the Illustrated Man walked over the hill and stood for a moment against the sky.

I didn’t know he was Illustrated then. I only knew that he was tall, once well muscled, but now, for some reason, going to fat. I recall that his arms were long, and the hands thick, but that his face was like a child’s, set upon a massive body.

In six sentences Bradbury is able to introduce the characters and set the scene while piquing our curiosity as well. Pretty awesome. In the Rocket Man story a husband is gone three months at a time doing the dangerous work of piloting rockets between planets. His wife fears for him, and wants him to stay at home while his son wants to follow in his footsteps. The father promises that it is one last run, but doesn’t make it home.

The resonance of the song for Taupin and John was probably to the rocketing trajectory of fame and wealth and for John, the challenges of international touring. The song and album was recorded at the Château d’Hérouville, a 1740 French château located near Paris that housed a recording studio. John’s road band played on the album, featuring Davey Johnstone on acoustic guitar, slide guitar, and ethereal effects, Nigel Olsson on drums, and Dee Murray on bass. Both Olsson and Murray had played with that incubator of British talent, The Spencer Davis Group. Interestingly, the record label hadn’t allowed the touring band to play on albums prior to this one. Olsson, Murray, and Johnstone do the backing vocals on the track with a lot of polish.

Here’s a quiet version of the song recorded in concert in 1972.

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Before the next week is up it’s likely that Barack Obama will be the rocket man raining Cruise Missiles down on Damascus. God oh God we hope that this lesson about painting yourself into a corner with off-handed statements takes deep root. In August 2012 Obama remarked that the use of a “whole bunch” of chemical weapons would cross a “red line,” triggering “enormous consequences.” (Picture air quotes) This statement went much further than aides had planned according to statements to the New York Times. We now know that chemical weapons have been used, that it’s certain that it’s no false flag operation but a deliberate and provocative escalation by the Assad regime, and the president is stuck between the choices of killing Syrians to punish the killing of Syrians and opening the door to the unfettered use of chemical weapons in warfare.

Many question whether it even makes sense to feel the need for retribution when the action only killed the equivalent of a week’s worth of the typical Syrian civil war’s casualties. Or we wonder if death and maiming by chemical weapons is so different from the outcomes of shelling and the tragic losses of life and limb occurring in the ongoing warfare. The answer is not clear, to me at least.

President Obama spoke from the Rose Garden Saturday afternoon (August 31, 2013), pressing his case for military action against the Syrian regime and calling the chemical attack that claimed more than 1,400 lives in Syria 10 days ago “a menace that must be confronted.” Last week he’d stated, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?” But the president also made it clear he does not want to proceed alone and will seek authorization and support for a limited strike from Congress. This is certainly a prudent approach that only challenges the “wisdom” of hawks like presidential loser and old fogie Senator John McCain who characterized the move as something that would make Assad “euphoric” on Sunday’s Face the Nation program. We know by now that the a-holes will find the way to criticize Obama regardless of the decision but it’s politically clever for Obama to transfer the debate to Congress and share the consequences with them. It’s undoubtedly good for the American people as we would want to move away from the policies of presidents to act militarily without Congressional approval except in exceptional circumstances.

In the end, I’m certain we will retaliate in some way. And once again, our actions will simultaneously punish the enemy (and possibly innocents) and strengthen the anti-U.S. sentiments of some Syrians and others in the region.

The Syrian opposition is not a united front. It’s made up of several large armies with many smaller factions and no centralized structure. That’s one reason why the U.S. has not thrown more support to these factions. In addition to that, there are 2.5 million Christians in Syria. Under Assad, who aligns himself with Iran, they were not persecuted and tended to be among the better educated, white-collar class of Syrians. While one of the largest opposition groups portrays themselves as non-sectarian, others are anti-Christian Islamic factions including some loyal to Al Qaeda in Iraq, putting the Syrian Christians in potential danger.

Adding to political confusion, the U.S. supported Sunni anti-Assad groups as early as 2007 and retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark has said that a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” This was part of the neo-conservative plan to protect the West’s access to oil and gas from the region. While America is less aware of the clandestine operations of the CIA and State Department worldwide, the countries targeted are not.

LB_RuleOnce again Lee Hamilton blows me away. Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University Bloomington and was a conservative Democrat member of the House for 34 years. In a piece recently published he described the differences between today’s Congress and the Congresses he had witnessed. In my view, problems arose first when the move to apply “sunlight” to pork projects ended nearly all of the practice. In the past, these were the ingredients of compromise and could be tolerated if not outrageous. The second is that extreme views are sufficiently funded to make or break candidates, limiting the spectrum of thought with cult-like adherence to the ideology of the campaign financiers.

In his words, conservatives are characterized by:

  • A heavy emphasis on liberty, individual freedom, and self-reliance.
  • Lack of confidence in government’s ability to play a role in improving society or the economy.
  • A view of government as destructive, and a force that undermines our basic freedoms.
  • Fear of centralized power.
  • Opposition to redistribution of any kind.
  • Rejection of any new government programs, support for existing government programs they’d rather see cut, raising taxes, or imposing new regulations on the private sector.

On the other hand, liberals:

  • Want to use government to narrow economic disparities and help those at the bottom of the income scale.
  • See government as a way to provide equality of opportunity for all.
  • Support government’s role in promoting the individuals’ responsibility to the community around them.
  • Have more confidence in government as a constructive force.
  • Have no trouble with the notion of expanding government’s scope to improve Americans’ lives.
  • Think government can expand freedom when it’s properly applied, by reining in the power of monied interests.
  • Have less confidence in the market to solve all problems, understanding that the private sector has a predatory side that can have huge impact on the society and environment.

We as Americans, in general, don’t hold one position or the other absolutely but instead find ourselves somewhere on the scale between the two extremes issue by issue. Our leaders don’t recognize this and are guided by the hands that hold out the money. We need to expect more–pragmatism above all else. Ideological loyalty is not and probably never will serve us well as at most, it can only meet the needs of a fraction of the total population.

Congressman Hamilton’s full essay is here: http://congress.indiana.edu/washington-ideology-need-not-reign-supreme.

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Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

In this edition: Hi, she’s dazed and I’m confused. TMI on my marriage. E-Z solutions to the marriage/civil union exchanges that frankly, I’m getting a little tired of.

Dazed and Confused

Been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true
Wanted a woman never bargained for you
Lots of people talk and few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below.

You hurt and abused tellin’ all of your lies
Run around sweet baby, Lord how they hypnotize
Sweet little baby I don’t know where you’ve been
Gonna love you baby, here I come again.

Every day I work so hard
Bringin’ home my hard-earned pay
Try to love you baby, but you push me away

Don’t know where you’re goin’
Only know just where you’ve been
Sweet little baby, I want you again

Been dazed and confused for so long, it’s not true
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you
Take it easy baby, let them say what they will
Will your tongue wag so much when I send you the bill?

— Jimmy Page, 1969. Recorded by Led Zeppelin

Were you aware that there were copyright issues related to this song? As the story goes, the song was originally written by a musician named Jake Holmes, an American singer-songwriter from San Francisco. Holmes released the song 2 years before the Zeppelin release. Jimmy Page had toured with The Yardbirds–which disbanded in 1968–prior to joining Led Zeppelin.  Holmes’ band had opened for The Yardbirds at a NYC show and Page liked the song so much he decided to “borrow” it. The Yardbirds performed Dazed and Confused in concert but never recorded it as an album track. He brought the song to Led Zeppelin’s first rehearsal and changed the lyrics and melody enough that he thought they’d escape lawsuit. The lawsuit didn’t come until 2010 (!) and was settled by the band out of court, to Holmes’ apparent favor.

Page had begun using a violin bow on the guitar strings with The Yardbirds and the song features his bowed work in the instrumental passages. In the early Seventies the song was a jam staple at concerts, played for as long as 45 minutes.

Holmes was also a jingle writer (owing to a career slowdown). He is credited with the “Be all that you can be” U.S. Army recruitment song from the late seventies and eighties as well as the “Be a Pepper” jingle co-wrote with Randy Newman in 1977. In the 1960s, he was in a folk-music parody duo with his wife and trio with Joan Rivers in the group Jim, Jake and Joan. The clip below is from a movie “Once Upon a Coffee House” from 1964. Holmes on guitar. Clean cut folk kids living at the edge of beatnik sensibility.


***** Fond memory alert ******

Driving with my buddy in my 1961 Pontiac LeMans convertible (probably worth a pretty penny today) listening to Led Zeppelin I on the 4-track tape deck. The car looked a lot like this:

1962_Pontiac_Tempest_LeMans_Convertible-aug3aBut

[shudder] And I return from my nostalgic fog…

The song portrays a “somewhat troubled” relationship where women are likened to demonic creatures but sought after anyway. I try to be a 70s guy all cool with women and stuff, but still, as I age, I fight the tendency to become more misogynistic.  One of my major influences in life is Joseph Campbell. He helps explain this:

“Marriage is not a love affair, it’s an ordeal. “

An ordeal in the sense of a difficult or painful experience that severely tests character or endurance. More like walking on coals than a walk in the park. Also from Campbell:

” Committing yourself to anyone, turning your destiny over to a dual destiny, is a life commitment,” and “In marriage you are not sacrificing yourself to the other person. You are sacrificing yourself to the relationship…”

And sacrifice I have (and I’m not so oblivious not to know that my wife would mirror this sentiment). So far I pass the test of character and endurance but I certainly wish it was all easier. Do we not deserve to have our relationships experienced as two pulling together toward the same end? Growing similarly, prioritizing similarly, valuing similarly, and enjoying our unfolding lives together? No, because that’s a bullshit self-delusion that defies any sense of realistic expectation.

Alain de Botton tells us the truth in Religion for Atheists.

“This is a particular priority for secular Americans, perhaps the most anxious and disappointed people on earth, for their nation infuses them with the most extreme hopes about what they may be able to achieve in their working lives and relationships.”

The author’s point in this section of the book is that devout Christian and Jewish marriages are entered into with the idea that there will be limited expectations due to the religious purpose of marriage, to assume an adult position in society and to nurture and educate the next generation. But secular marriage has the expectation of passionate adoration and unending interest and cooperation. Real marriages have friction and boredom and frequently include an underlying current of certainty that a different choice would have yielded better outcomes.

Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote these lyrics for Georgia on my Mind: “Other arms reach out to me. Other eyes smile tenderly. For that peaceful dreams I see, the road leads back to you.” Now that’s romantic hogwash!

 

I see an enormous irony that same-sex couples become so focused on the idea of marriage when I, for one, cannot dredge sufficient enthusiasm to recommend it to even strangers let alone friends.  I definitely have had a level of fulfillment as a father, and in many ways I’m well taken care of, but it seems like this could have been accomplished without the attendant sacrifice of my own best interests in the interests of the marriage. How much easier it would all be if I were incontestably driving instead of having the steering wheel of life slapped away from my reach.

At the same time, the opposition to same-sex marriage is all dependent on that one word, MARRIAGE. The word is shared by marriages performed in courtrooms and cathedrals. Ironically, Catholicism doesn’t have a Sacrament of Marriage, they have a Sacrament of Matrimony. And marriages performed by judges in courtrooms and by Justices of the Peace in Elvis chapels are rightly civil unions as they are established by civil law.

So how do we break through an impasse where the majority agrees to the idea of civil unions while at the same time many oppose same-sex marriage? Where civil union is considered to be second class to marriage, and where marriage is, unfairly I would say, co-opted by religion to represent church-based weddings?

Here’s 3 possibilities:

1. Call any civil law-based union a Civil Union and give it the same legal status as Marriage. (Instead of being married would a couple be considered unionized??)

2. Peel the word marriage away from its religious claims and consider church unions to be Matrimonies or make up a new word like “God-Cleaved.”

3. Stop worrying about that religious claim to the term “marriage,” U.S. laws are not established in a way that favors one religion over another or over no religion, and allow civil unions to be called marriages.

Of the 3, the last has the easiest implementation. I say we go with that.

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