Archive for May, 2010

last full measure of devotion

May 31, 2010

What the fallen ones have done that we have yet to do:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
JFK  1961

head in the sand?

May 30, 2010

Are your going to keep your head in the sand, or are you going to do something about it?

Oh, excuse me.  I was talking to myself again.

Love is the greatest

May 29, 2010

Our younger daughter had  finished her freshman year at University of North Carolina; this was in 2003.  Sometime during that sophomoric year, I remember having a phone conversation with her about selecting a major. She was considering English and Journalism.

Being, myself, one of those cognitive wanderers infamously known as English majors, I didn’t quite know what advice I could offer. But then it hit me–Journalism, no doubt about it. So that’s what I suggested.
I think I remember saying something like: “With a journalism degree, you’ll come out of there with some definite communication skills; I think that’s more beneficial, probably more marketable, than just spending the rest of your life in revising the literary canon, which is what we English majors tend to do.”

As Garrison Keillor likes to point out, the poetic sublimity most often cited from among the annals of English-majors’ legacy is the question: “Would you like fries with that burger, ma’am?”
By and by, my daughter chose the journalist’s road, and that has made all the difference.  Well, some of the difference anyway. Who knows how these milestone choices really alter our life-paths, anyway?

Anyway, our Katie obtained, like her sister Kim before her, the Journalism baccalaureate  from UNC; it was 2006.
And we all know what happened to the profession of journalism after that. Go figure.

Long story short, now she’s in Haiti working as a video-journalist, documenting the plight of the Haitian people to rebuild their country after the earthquake.
This morning I got an update from the guy who founded the Christian organization with which she is working.

In today’s blog, May 29, 2010, entitled Dreams while Beethoven slept, Seth wrote:

“Construction work is minimal because so many buildings have collapsed into rubble. What if you were to form not a construction business, but a destruction business? Offer to tear down and remove the rubble from buildings in exchange for a 10% share of the title of the underlying property. You could match up an economic need with a ready labor pool…”

As a former carpenter, I really like the way he’s thinking about this. This is the kind of work that needs to be done in the world today–and the kind of pragmatic analysis that precedes the work.  Here’s another profound question posed by Mr. Barnes, in response to what he was seeing in the earthquake aftermath:

“We talked about the chicken and pig raising businesses I’d run in Thailand in 1980. What if we were to loan them enough money to start a small poultry farm?”

As I considered these constructive questions that Seth Barnes is posing to himself and to the world…well, what more can I say? Check it out, among the many labors of love going down in the world today.

Oil-bustin’ mycoplasm laboratorium, someday?

May 24, 2010

The nano-revolution is presently poised to catapult genetics biology into an exponential expansion.
Thanks to Professors Craig Venter, Hamilton Smith, and their colleagues, we now know we can “boot up” software in a living cell.
According to this week’s Economist article about their gene-bustin’ research, we’ve now crossed “a milestone on the road from the craft of biotechnology, which manipulates genes one at a time, to the industry of synthetic biology, which aims to make wholesale changes to living things.”
Pretty big progress, coming from a little mycoplasma.
These persistent researchers have now demonstrated that synthetic chromosomes can be gathered and harnessed, like oxen or a mules bred for specific purposes, to perform genetic tasks in the laboratory.
The scientists started with a computer program, and four chemicals–adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. They whipped up a laboratory concoction, inserted it into a host organism, and came up with a designer life-form.

Intelligent design, don’t you know.
Surely this is a Nobel Prize breakthrough. These guys put together a self-replicating cell whose parent is a computer.

Perhaps one day, they, or those researchers who come after them, will engineer, let’s say, a new algae organism that can produce biofuels on a commercially viable scale.  The naturally-occurring algae are, you see, not inclined to do such a thing. But with a little nudging from us human taskmasters, they could be persuaded to maybe plow up our hydrocarbonal fallow ground for us.
These constructed genes can, as David Baltimore said on the Diane Rehm Show, “drive a cell.”
I think we’ll be, in days to come, like the pioneers of old, who would drive a mule to get the back forty plowed, except that our new customized chromosomal critters will be breaking new ground for medical and environmental progress. Agricultural too, no doubt.

Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane Rehm this (Monday) morning, facilitated an incredibly instructive discussion about this most recent accomplishment. David Rejeski referred to the breakthrough as “gaining control of matter at a nano level.” Steve Roberts mentioned that we are moving forward toward “controlling the building blocks” of the next industrial revolution.

David Baltimore recounted that we have been on a path of microbiological progress that turned a big corner in 1953. That’s when Watson and Crick described the molecular structure of DNA.  Since that time we’ve learned to read that genetic code, and to even recreate it. Now, according to Baltimore, we can “see the trajectory of it (our accumulating knowledge.)”

Scientists work collaboratively toward synthesizing more and more genes. It will be a lot of work, for a long time. In the human genome–the main one we’re trying to sustain and protect– are contained 3 billion base-pairs of nucleotides.

This blob-buster microcoding has been a long time in the making–three and a half billion years, accoding to Craig Ventor, the originator of the mycoplasma laboratoriam project.

What an amazing age we live in.

However, not to oil on our parade or anything, but meanwhile down in the gulf…
Other, less controlled human experiments spew hydrocarbon muck irretrievably  into the murky waters just south of Louisiana.
Maybe one day we’ll concoct a nano chromosome to corral a brand-new organism into eating up oil spills.
It will be a petri-dish organism, a Glass Chimera.

Our Prez catching shrapnel from both sides

May 23, 2010

Our President is catching shrapnel from both sides. May God help him.
Carville and Matthews are trashing him from the left, over supposed failure to act against BP on the oil spill. Mr. Obama is not a god, you know.  His job is to preserve the union of our United States, not clean up the Gulf of Mexico.
The trashing of the Gulf of Oil is BP’s responsibility; everyone in the USA knows that. If BP can shift some of the blame onto Transocean and Halliburton, then that’s an issue for them to settle between the three of them. Their combined assets will not clean up the massive extent of oily mess.
I know our President and his administration, and we the people of the United States, are going to hold BP et al accountable for the destruction they have inflicted.

On the right, of course there’s plenty of criticism of our President. Rand Paul says the President is too critical of BP.  Mr. Paul is wrong about that. Whoever this libertarian Kentuckian is, and whatever he’s up to I don’t know, but I hope the guy is not a closet racist, because he’s assuming a serious leadership role in the emerging conservative backlash
Meanwhile, back in other issues of the heartland, the senator wannabe from Kentucky did make a very timely point when he said we need to “get OSHA out of our small businesses. We need to restrain government to let small businesses create jobs,”

Small business and Big business have become two very different entities in the USA, with totally different issues. The teaparty crowd hasn’t figured that out yet. A little instruction from the left, instead of same-old same-old kneejerk vindictive politics, could be helpful.

It’s time for us to muzzle the big dogs so the little one can eat.

You go, Mr. President!  Keep this embattled ship of state on a steady course.

“Your ears will hear a word behind you, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left”      Isaiah 30:21

American Dynamo

May 22, 2010

The Roman Empire fell, and the sun set on the British Empire.
The American Dynamo ran out of gas; 200 years of laborious productivity has gone up in smoke.
In the 1990s, when the great machine started to sputter,  the money-movers shook with fear, and asked themselves what the hell do we do now. With impressive yankee ingenuity, they improvised  strategies to make the thing go on hot air.  Eschewing any admission of bottom line finality, they milked the great, clattering profit-generator for all it was worth. New instruments were derived to make it run on fumes; the movers and shakers swapped credits with abandon, to perpetuate a dream of growth; they even dug up zombie debits and passed them around.
But in September of 2008, the American Dynamo slowed to a squeaking halt.
Although the debt mechanics managed to crank her up again, in April of 2010 she began hemorraging into the gulf of Mexico.
The life-blood of our planet is gushing out into the ocean, taking our precious life and prosperity with it.
And millions are wandering in unemployment shock, wondering what to do.
What’s next?
We’d better find something else to do. Its time to get off our democratic asses and our republican rumps.
Maybe we’ve built enough machines in this country for awhile; maybe we’ve burned enough gas for one lifetime.
We should go back to growing stuff.
Can you see any good ground from your window?
How about it? Have you planted anything lately? Have you ever planted anything? Maybe a tomato vine.
This is, you know, the spring of 2010. It can be a time of new beginning.
How about…a sunflower?
Or two.

The French want some skin in the game.

May 19, 2010

It’s amazing how many people have been born into this world because a man was attracted to a woman.

That sexual desire that burns within the loins of the male beast has been reined in by a wide assortment of laws, rules, moral codes and societal conventions over the history of civilizations.

In the world today, it seems the two most notorious constrictors of male libido are religious entities: the Catholic church, and Islam.

The Catholics regulate the problem by attempting to keep their men either a.) responsibly married, or b.) celibate.  Both conditions present perpetual difficulty for the men. The married men have trouble keeping their lustful eyes properly directed on their appointed wives.  The celibates, in many cases end up having sex on the sly with each other or with children.

In Islam, women are compelled (whether by their men or by their own devotional choice is a matter of BBC debate) to cover themselves so that the men they happen to encounter on any given day cannot  possibly be aroused by the constantly-occurring haphazard skin sightings that arise in everyday life.

In modern life, across this fresco of repressed desire is hung a banner of sexual liberation, although it is really a bondage of a different sort. The rationalistic forces of modern secular society are bound and determined to free the men and women of both these religious traditions from their obsolete sexual hang-ups.

Let ‘em have sex, screams every magazine cover, media star and internet popup on the planet. Thus are men perpetually tormented by their own errant desires as they amble daily through the marketplaces, because they’re not getting enough, yet they are being stimulated to libidinal insanity everywhere they go.

This is, however, no new dilemma, which is  why the first Christian theologian, Paul, said it is better to marry than to burn.

In the history of western civilization there exist several  nations of people whose involvement in Catholic institutions and morality are legenday. Among those countries is France.

The French people were purveyors of ardent Catholicism for a thousand years or more, until they liberated themselves from all that religious bondage in the Enlightenment of the 18th century.  A large part of their long tradition was maintained by women whose extreme devotion to piety and modesty was manifested in nunnery.

For centuries, nuns were everywhere in France, and properly covered up so the men couldn’t see their skin, except for the faces.

But the French Revolution and ringing in of the glorious liberte changed all that. Gradually, over the last two centuries, the covered-up women were seen less and less around French villages and cities.

And the sexy ones came out of the woodwork.  Frenchman had an exponentially-expanding cornucopia of lust, as most of the western world did also.

Until the Muslim women starting showing up in France in greater numbers.

Now the zesty Frenchman are all cursing under their winey breaths:

Damn! Just when we finally got rid of the nuns, here comes the burqa-covered brigade of Mohammedan prudes to deny us.

Les hommes are mad as hell about it. I guess they are just bound and determined to see a little skin on their women, and les dames are determined to keep them supplied with it.

So French legislators are restricting, by discriminatory law, the religious freedom of Muslim women who want to wear the burqa.

Laissez les femmes a porter leurs burqas! Liberte!

Ora na azu nwa.

May 15, 2010

People were born to live in community.

We were not meant to be lone rangers; in fact we cannot be.  Every person is dependent in some way on some other person or persons.

But if you take the idea of community and expand it into a philosophy that is broader than what a basic community is,  then what do you get?


No, that’s quite what I’m looking for; I don’t like fifty-cent words. If seven or more syllables must be employed to denominate a concept, then it might as well be called antidisestablishmentinterianism.

Maybe the word would sound better if we shortened it to “communism?”

Actually, no, that’s not quite what I had in mind either. The term has already been appropriated, and has gathered, as I’m sure you are aware, more than a few theoretical and historical connotations.

Karl Marx certainly has his place in history, as the originator of the idea that workers can collaborate communally to produce goods and services without the oppressive oversight of capitalist overlords. But I digress.

If we just start by identifying the most fundamental unit of any human development, the family, then perhaps the next level of social organization, logically would be…extended family?

Like brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents.

Sure, but now I’m back in the seven-syllable territory again–extended family, and it sounds too sociological anyway.

I’m searching for a more concise, illustrative descriptor. What level of society builds upon that foundation of extended biological family? What’s the next level of human organization?


Well, ok, to use a quaint term with old-world connotations. I like it.

It takes a village. That’s a profundity enunciated somewhere along the line by our esteemed Secretary of State; she had appropriated the phrase, as is commonly understood, from a Nigerian Igbo proverb, “Ora na azu nwa”.

So let’s think about this idea of  village for a minute.  Maybe it’s a term more evocative than community.

But is the village obsolete? Is it just some feudal entity that has been bulldozed into the dustbin of history by a careless post-industrial society?


I can think of plenty of villages.

There’s the village of Creston, North Carolina, about twenty miles from where I live here in the Blue Ridge. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place that is home to a few handfuls of folk, among them an industrious artisan German immigrant  from whom I bought a rebuilt violin several years ago.

And then there’s Birkdale Village.  It’s a trendy new commercial development, of the kind of retro  village within a larger metro area model, in burgeoning suburban north Charlotte, about hundred miles from my home.

There’s also Blue Ridge Village, which has since been renamed; it’s the first resort condo I worked construction on back in the mid-80s.

And Delmont Village, the old 60s-era strip shopping center about a mile from where I grew up in Baton Rouge back in the day.

Maybe “village” is my present neighborhood—a group of seventeen households on the north side of hill, just a couple miles from our chosen hometown. We all came here from other places. We have annual POA meetings and greet one another fondly while strolling along the lane on sunny Saturday mornings. But we have to go into town to buy groceries and gas.

Maybe “village” is what Pat and I were hoping to escape to when we landed in this university/mountain town in 1980 with forty or so other assimilated Christian families. As  refugees from the wider world of dysfunction and druggery, we purposed to raise our children together according to biblical standards.

Maybe “village”  is  the fading vision of our youthful  community, as it slowly  dispersed  over years   into a widespread scattering of distant families and long-forgotten acquaintances  … whatever happened to …(name)?, but the village survived as a remnant of old treasured friends, precious as gold.

You don’t need to buy gold now; just make good friends.

Or maybe “village” is what our local home-schoolers have, as Christian parents striving  collaboratively to educate their children according to moral standards that are higher and more productive than those of the broader secular world.

Maybe “village” and “community” are eternally elusive ideals that we’ll never realize in this world.

Maybe “village” is what some of my generation were seeking when they gravitated to Haight-Ashbury.

Could be that “village” is what the settlers on the west bank of the Jordan are striving for; “community” might be what their Palestinian neighbors hope to attain.

Maybe some will arrive at communite on the Left Bank of the Seine; others will accrue it when they invest in the Right Bank.

Maybe the elusive “village” is what the Democrats are wishing they could actualize on a nationwide scale: a society where everybody takes care of everybody else and everybody’s pretty much the same, with the rich having been  taxed into humble egalitarian submission so that the other two classes could actualize their potentialities because the impedimentary walls of plenty will have been torn down, enabling the wealth of nations to trickle into  the cracks that the neglected souls would fall into, and thus upgirding the social safety net,  depositing along the way a chicken in every pot and free lunch for all, since every man’s a king and every woman a queen, dont’ya’know.

Perhaps “village” is the nanny state that my conservative friends think Hillary was eluding to back in ‘96 when she evoked the African proverb while promoting her book and supporting her hubby. God bless her.

Maybe “community” is what the teapartiers will have when they successfully extract themselves from the oncoming green tide of “socialism” that they so gainfully and gunfully disdain.

Maybe “villages” are what we’ll divide ourselves into according to politics.

But if anything on earth even comes close to this elusive harmony called “community,” then  some irresponsible oil spill will probably foul it up anyway.

So Community is,  I surmise, what we will discover in that village we call heaven.  It must be out there somewhere; otherwise why would we have thought of it?

And why would the resurrected one have spoken of it?


May 12, 2010

So far, the politicos don’t know what to make of  Elena Kagan. The woman’s  history seems to indicate no political or would-be judicial prejudice.
Partisan politicians on both ends are warily distrustful of her unpredictability.
They can discern no partiality in her impressive professional record; she has no discernible bias; she leaves no paper trail of prejudicial inclinations.
Elena Kagan has never been a judge.

She must be exactly what this torn-up country needs–an objective person who can render judgments impartially on a case by case basis.

To lady gaga and aaron melcher

May 9, 2010

As I was mourning the death of billions of marine and marsh organisms  in the Gulf of Mexico this morning, I was searching aimlessly on the web like many people do these days. I followed a link to an NPR story about videos currently on youtube starring lady gaga and aaron melcher.
If the melcher video represents US military presence in Afghanistan, then I am also mourning, now, the tragic circumstances of those Afghans who must endure the American decadence that we have exported to them, and with which we occupy their land.

Although the following words are not my own (they were written almost 2000 years ago), I post them to illuminate the extremity of our present situation, which is a tragic
confluence of historically destructive events:

“Come here, and I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,
with whom the leaders of the earth committed acts of immorality,
and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.

And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.
The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,
and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery: Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth…

For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality…
And the leaders of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,
standing at a distane because of the fear of her torment saying:

Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more…
for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!  And every shipmaster, and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance,
and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning.
Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been (will be) laid waste.”