Archive for October, 2010

God’s two-party system

October 17, 2010

Most folks who found their faith in the Good Book don’t realize that David, the second king of ancient Israel, lived and fought with the Philistines for a year and four months.

Saul, the first king, had started his reign pretty well, but had become quite obstinate and paranoid as time passed. Samuel the prophet,who had anointed him as Israelite leader, ultimately regretted that he had ever done so. Saul had failed to understand what was his true role as king.

Furthermore, the defeat of superbad dude Goliath by the young buck David ensured, in the people’s eyes, the shepherd’s destiny as future king. David’s bold public beheading of the giant and subsequent enabling of Israelite victory had been accomplished through God’s appointment. Samuel had already anointed him. Of course, David’s own skill with a sling–that he had perfected while herding sheep and minding his own business–had something to do with that victorious event too.

So that’s a chicken-or-egg conundrum that no one can fathom, although you can try to if you want to read about it in the book of 1Samuel. Israel had two anointed kings at the same time. Go figure that one out. We believers in the Bible know that “God knows what he’s doing.” And so he does. Could this situation have been a foreshadowing of the two-party system?, the advantages from which we now benefit?. Not like the current Chinese model with only one party calling all the shots.

Our lesson from biblical history is that God does not approve absolute authority among men. Saul’s problems began, appropriately, when he had failed to acknowledge the limits of his own power; he had usurped the priestly (Samuel’s) function when he should have stuck to politics and military affairs. So God raised up another leader–one who was more responsive to the people’s needs. For years, Saul and David were contending with each other, even as they spoke in politically correct platitudes toward one another.  Ultimately, David’s unselfish humility won out.

Even after the whole Saul/David/Soloman era had passed, the Israelites ending up with feuding factions led by Jeroboam and Rehoboam.

Many folks of our religious persuasion these days support the Israeli regime unquestionably–“Israel, right or wrong.” It’s not unlike supporting the US in all its worldly ventures with claims of “my country, right or wrong.” They should read their Bible a little more closely. If Saul’s obstinate jealousy had driven David out of the Israelite camp, forcing him to side with the Philistines (Palestinians), then what does it mean that Israel’s greatest king had to spend almost a year and a half in hiding? And hanging out with the other side, for God’s sake!

In today’s scenario, could those pacifist elements of Israeli society be forming, during their season as minority party, a future effective reconciliation with Palestinians while the old Likud warhorses grind their axes of apartheid, checkpoint-monitored, wall-building westbank/Gaza oppression?

We shall see. There’s a lot to be said for this minority party/majority party setup that we adopted a couple centuries ago. We’ve been doing it here in the USA for about 230 years now, and it works. Or, it has until now anyway. I hope our system of built-in political cleansing is not degenerating into partisan bickery that ultimately lands us in a pile of fiscal shit.

And I hope the Israelis can work out their differences with the Palestinians whose ancestors had provided their real estate.

Shalom, y’all.

The Four Seasons

October 10, 2010
How different life is now in these ole Appalachians mountains than it was many a year ago. In days gone by, a spring trickling water from the earth itself would have provided the most basic life support for the family.  Apples on the gnarly old tree would have been tumbling down from their rotchety branches.  The surreal orange maples, first firebrands of fall,  well…words cannot capture…
We don’t struggle against the elements on this mountain slope these days; it ain’t like the old days when the settlers forged out their homesteads from hostile nature with samwill lumber right off the land where they was a-livin’. No, we’re locked into the system now, not like them Scots-Irish forebears who came through here just a few years after Dan’l Boone, building barns and fences and cabins that now are old shacks that we pass by in our cars and sometimes take pictures of.
‘Specially this time of year.  There’s somethin’ special about them ole barns this time of year. A hundred and fifty year ago or more, the hard-scrabble struggle would have required a family to be domiciled down on the bottom, by a creek where we’d have a perpetual run of fresh water and a flat, fertile  land with dark loam to grow the crops on, or maybe if it weren’t a bottom it was a homestead by a spring  up on the slope a ways, where clear water is trickling out of God’s green earth, making a cool springhouse and  human household possible. Nowadays we’re up high-tech on the mountain, near the ridge. There ain’t no spring on this 1.5 acres, but there shure ’nuff is an unseen well-shaft ‘xtendin’ six hundred feet underground and a pump runnin’ on 220 that drives our water up here to where we are in the sunlight, and makes our domicile possible..
And by a miracle, on this golden, October Saturday evening,  of electrons racing through copper and silicon and God knows what other elements, I listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a recording I brought from worlds away, purchased when we were in Venice a few years back.
There’s a whole ‘nother world out there, with thousands of years of European pain and toil and tears and musical dynamicism vibrating through those trained violin, viola, violinocello strings and hands–a world of Venetian musicians, thrubbing now through a cd and a speaker and my mind as I sit here on the back porch in the 21st century beneath the poplars and the blue late-afternoon sky, three hundred and sum’n years after Antonio made the music happen. Hi-tech, y’know. What an amazing world we have wrought upon the raw materials of God. And I just finished setting flat stone in mortar and grout,  a setting-place for a propane fireplace stove that we bought.  It’s not like the old days any more,when the home folks would just keep the wood stove stokin’ through the winter.
We can do that wood-burnin’ thing if we have to, but it’s a lot of trouble for an old guy like me who’s still managing to  hold down a 40-hour. Thank God.
No, that pressurized, bottle-up hydrocarbon  gas will be trucked in from some distant place, maybe some rig out in the Gulf that BP’s a-runnin’, God forgive ’em. Maybe even from the Persian Gulf, I don’t know.
And God forgive me, too, but we gotta be warm in January. Makes me wonder how long this  highly leveraged, technified, transportified thing can go on…At some point that four-season cycle  ended for Vivaldi, and at some point in time it will end for me, but I’m loving the October late afternoon…
Thank God for another day on this golden earth.

Breyer: Our rule of law is “a treasure.”

October 8, 2010

“It’s too bad there wasn’t violence,” said the commenter to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
The man had been upset about the outcome of the Bush v. Gore case that  decided the presidential election in 2000. You may remember that many Americans were enraged about that decision; some are still mad about it.

“You really think that?” queried Breyer to the discontent soul. “Turn on the television set. Go look and see what happens where there is violence…”
Justice Breyer considers it a treasure that we Americans have decided “to resolve (our) differences under law, and not through violence in the streets.
I heard him saying this as he spoke with Diane Rehm on her radio show yesterday, October 7.

Words of wisdom from a 16-year veteran of our nation’s highest court.

I’m hoping that in the volatile days ahead, we can maintain our trust in that rule of Law, as it is manifested in our Constitution, be it a “living” document or  one of “original intent.

If you’d like to know more of what Stephen  Justice has to say about our rich heritage as a nation with the benefit of a great Constitution, read his new book, Making of a Democracy: a Judge’s View.

Liu Xiaobo, a great man

October 3, 2010

I’m hoping and praying that the Nobel committee will award this year’s peace prize to Liu Xiaobo.

Born in 1955 in China, he is a man whose childhood fell within those tumultuous years now referred to, simplistically, as the Cultural Revolution.
In this very informative interview, he describes how Mao’s intensely ideological manipulation of Chinese society had resulted, by the mid-70s, in a nation of hard-working people who were exhausted, and battle-weary of the decades-long, cadre-imposed struggle for equality. Not only that, but far too many folks were, by the time of that crossroads in CCP experimentation, pretty damn hungry.

Mao Zedong, with his cadres of revolutionary peasant devotees, had imposed a huge, bloody, traumatic Marxist rearrangement of the Middle Kingdom of Asia. His zealous communists had violently wrested the empire from a chaotic, prolonged civil war that had followed the downfall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. After the 1949 Revolution’s first eighteen years of changes had been wrought, Mao the peasant-genius architect of the whole damn thing passed from this world.

In 1976, a master politician/statesman named Deng Xiaoping managed to get hold of the reins of power that the deceased revolutionary dictator had previously held. Deng was able to redirect the energy and resourcefulness of the Chinese people away from the logistical dead-ends upon which fanatical communist ideology had dropped them. He initiated reforms that have since lead to China’s becoming the economic powerhouse that we see on the world stage today. China’s painful nationwide imposition of communism had been revolutionary and violent. But from the time of Deng’s reforms in the l970s, “gradualism,” (a term used by Mr. Liu) has been the order of the day. The people of China needed a break from perpetual revolution. Deng lead them along a kinder, gentler path of prosperity-seeking.

Several years ago, we had a young Chinese student dining at our kitchen table. He told me “Deng Xiaoping was a great man.” At the time I did not understand what he meant. How could any communist be great? But the impact of any man’s life on his people and the wide world must be evaluated in the context of the society in which he was born and to which he devoted his life. My conclusion since that conversation has been that, yes, Deng Xiaoping was a great man. If it were not for him, China would not be in the position of strength, and greater freedom, that she enjoys today.

Now we see another great man of China on the world stage, Liu Xiaobo. He is also a reformer; he has taken on, along with many comrades, the next agenda item for Chinese improvement. It is a weighty burden–the injustices of one-party oligarchy and disregard for human rights. In that capacity, he is a co-author and signer of the Charter 08 manifesto, for which he was arrested, and is still imprisoned.

May the Nobel Committee have the courage to reward his life’s work.
Invest some time in the cause of liberty by reading this transcript, provided by New River Media in 2005, of a Columbia University interviewer’s discussion with Liu Xiaobo. You will gain, as I did, some fuller comprehension of those momentous, though quite tragic, events in the China of our lifetime.

Finally, I’m posing our Mystery Question of the Day: What was the “family contract plan, or family responsibility plan,” which brought greater productivity to the Chinese enforced agricultural collectives of the late l950s-early ’60s?

the China Syndrome, 2010 version

October 2, 2010

I encountered Today’s Mystery Question in a comment by Ken E. Zen, following the Economist’s analysis and discussion of Paul Krugman’s call for trade protectionism.

The Mystery Question is:

“How much of our Sovereign debt is being bought by China or simply reprocessed through the Federal Reserve?”

I must mention, though, that the runner up for Mystery profundity was signalled by an earlier commenter, rewt66, when he brought up the ages-old tragi-comic conundrum of human activity: Unintended Consequences?.