Archive for January, 2011

Leon Uris’ “The Haj”

January 29, 2011

Leon Uris published an historical novel in 1984 which he entitled The Haj.

The protagonist is a boy, Ishmael, who is growing up in a Bedouin Arab village, Tabah, in Palestine, now Israel.
Ishmael was a son of Ibrahim, the Muktar of Tabah; he had been born during the Palestinian riots of 1936, which were a violent resistance against British occupation of their land, and especially against the British policies which were allowing immigration of many Jews from Nazi Germany into Palestine.
The character Ishmael recalls political developments soon after World War II, in the mid-1940s, when he was about eleven years old. Here is an excerpt from page 157:

One night, just after the war ended, Radio Damascus broadcast news that death camps had been discovered in Germany and Poland. Many millions of Jews had been gassed to death by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. In the following days all the newspapers were filled with the revelation and every night on the radio it seemed another new dath camp was discovered. Radio Cairo said that Churchill, Roosevelt, and the holy Pope in Rome had already known about the death camps during the war but kept quiet about it and let the Nazis kill the Jews without protest….
I was still going to school at the time and in Ramle there were street celebrations over the death camps led by members of the Moslem Brotherhood. Mr. Salmi read surah after surah from the Koran to prove to us that the death camps were the fulfillment of Mahammed’s prophecy of the Day of the Burning of the Jews. It was all in the Koran, Mr. Salmi reasoned, so Mohammed obviously had a magical vision from Allah, and it proved the major point of Islam; what would happen to nonbelievers.

— from Leon Uris’ novel, The Haj,  published in 1984 by Doubleday and Sons

Glass half-Full

Church was bombed, Birmingham 1963

January 24, 2011

We do not fathom the power of innocent blood crying out from the ground until years later.  The grievous force of such injustice  reverberates in the lives of those whose grief runs deeper than the evil that inflicted it.
Terrorism is counterproductive. A terrorist who inflicts, by the planting of bombs, violence and death on innocent victims might as well shoot himself, and his cause, in the foot. The extreme iniquity of such irresponsible acts serves ultimately to harden the resolve of  surviving victims whose lives were affected by the atrocity.
I realized this today in a new way while listening to Amy Goodman interview Danny Glover on the radio, on Democracy Now.

They mentioned Angela Davis, and the fact that she had been raised in that volatile atmosphere of Birmingham in 1963, when local racists had set a bomb beneath the 16th Street Baptist Church. The bomb had killed four innocent children–little girls attending church.

Little did those reprobate terrorists know, but their irrational atrocity cut a deep slice of potently productive  grief into the 9–year-old soul of  nearby resident Condoleeza Rice, whose friend Denise McNair was killed in the bombing.
Our former Secretary of State of the US later had this to say about the  tragic incident:
“I remember the bombing of that Sunday School at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. I did not see it happen, but I heard it happen, and I felt it happen, just a few blocks away at my father’s church. It is a sound that I will never forget, that will forever reverberate in my ears. That bomb took the lives of four young girls, including my friend and playmate, Denise McNair. The crime was calculated to suck the hope out of young lives, bury their aspirations. But those fears were not propelled forward, those terrorists failed.”
– Condoleezza Rice, Commencement 2004, Vanderbilt University, May 13, 2004

I lifted that quote from Wikipedia.

Ms. Rice’s richly productive life attests to the truth that the destructive efforts of KKK terrorists had not deterred a tender-hearted 9-year-old girl from rising to great achievements. In spite of the heavy deck of hate and discrimination stacked against her, Condi went on to overcome the evil that had killed her childhood playmate. Later, as a scholar, concert pianist,  and Secretary of State of the United States of America, she disproved, convincingly, the errant prejudicial irrationale of her community’s attackers.

Terrorism is counterproductive to the cause of the terrorist.

And unpredictable. Even as a bomb’s deathly remains and its victims cannot be predicted before the explosion, neither can the effects of such bloody deep wounds on the heart of a community and its diverse members.
While young Condi was later motivated to excel mightily in scholarship and diplomacy, another former resident, Angela Davis, of that Birmingham neighborhood charted a very different course
to overcome the injustice of Jim Crow. Angela was ten years older than Condoleeza; she was studying in Paris when she recognized the names of young Birmingham victims in a newspaper. Her stringent understanding of that putrid white supremecist tide was propelling her  toward radicalism, advocacy of violent resistance, and ultimately a life of eloquent speaking and teaching, the aim of which was to educate others about the evils of racism.

Angela and Condi were two very different women, with powerfully contrasting paths in this life. But as disparate as their two testimonies are, both lives are  persuasive evidence that death-spewing terrorism is counterproductive to the cause of the terrorist.

But the cry of innocent blood is powerfuly dynamic in the lives of the survivors,  and just as unpredictable as the bomb itself.

Glass half-Full

Corporatist yin with Statist yang

January 23, 2011

The great American experiment with lliberty and free enterprise has outgrown this world’s capacity to sustain it.
Its glorious inception had been nurtured in a virgin-land seedbed of 18-century humanist enlightenment. Yoked, ever so curiously,  with a steadfast puritan work ethic,  this has become our quasi-mythical heritage  of creative capitalism.
Industrious yankee microcapitalism coupled with burgeoning agricultural productivity produced a bold, energetic continent-wide economic expansion. The magnitude and speed of its development was unprecedented in the history of the world.

But that diligent capitalist impulse has since devolved into a bloated postcapital opulence. Now, our overfed mega-corporate superstructure, based on safety in numbers and risk-dispersal through immensity, is divesting itself of its historically free-enterprising creative base.
It has become what I call the Corporatist economic system. And yes, it is degenerating into a sort of decline these days, though not irraparably so. All human institutions in the history of the world must endure this devolution and must eventually devise strategies for renewal. This includes the institution with which I most strongly identify, the church. The church’s long-term strategy for renewal is ultimately Resurrection, but that is another matter entirely.
Back on the worldly horizon of 21st-century development,  we see Corporatism as yin to the yang of Statism.
For the sake of clarity, I’ll offer two oversimplified definitions of these two.

Statism is an attempt by an educated elite to govern from the bottom up, with rhetorical emphasis on equal opportunity and income redistribution. In its benevolent expressions, statism is socialism and democratic politics. In its malevolent form it degenerates to Stalinism.
Corporatism is management of society from the top down by a wealthy elite, in which their corporations control what the people buy and sell. Its benevolent manifestation was turn-of-the-20th-century expansionist capitalism and republican politics. Its malevolent degeneration would reduce it militaristic fascism.

Statism operates, in theory anyway, on trickle-up economics. Corporatism is, of course, a trickle-down thing. In their long-term effects, the two are shown historically to be not much different, with the net result being in both cases society-wide procurement of security at the expense of liberty.

In the Statist model, zealous idealism coupled with politics is generally the source of heirarchical advancement;  in the Corporatist scheme, money fortified with politics is the source of wealth.
In 20th-century terms these polarized operating principles have played out as Soviet-Chinese communism and European-American capitalism.

The communist model originally envisaged by Marx, Lenin, Mao and others degenerated into Stalinist gulags and Maoist perpetually-revolutionary humiliation. The capitalist model is presently devolving into what we see today– counterproductive overdependence on a usurious financial sector, and the disappearance of unregulated business. The system enslaves what was historically an innovative spirit to market-neutralized mediocrity, rendering enterprise impotent to do what really needs to be done. This is one reason why Evergreen, the solar panel company from Massechusetts, has been constrained to move its manufacturing to China.
Speaking of China, their  Statist model now evolves on the detritus of that old heavy-handed communism. It idealizes, in an exploitative way, the common man’s laborious role in the Great State. Party policies and funds are doled out through government/party agencies, from the bottom up,  sometimes now (since Deng’s reforms) through state-owned enterprises.

In the USA, this statist strategy takes shape through democratic politics in make-work projects for infrastructure, welfare, and entitlements. Bureacrurats rule, or they think they do anyway.

The American-European Corporatist structure, of which the statist impulse is just a part,  has metastasized upon on a residue of the old robber-baron capitalism. It mythologizes the entrepreneur and executive functions of the Great Company. Money is ostensibly distributed by banks through boards of directors. Employees make the wheels of finance and industry turn, even if those machinations are increasingly cumbersome, inefficient, overpaid, and predictably redundant.
During this pos-industrial environmnet in which we live,  the Chinese model is in exuberant ascendancy. A State Party subsidizes and controls pseudo-enterprises. Although touting  an official rhetoric of equality for all people, the channels of power are strung along a technocratic elite whose basis of power is politics and rule-keeping. The system is a potent communist-capitalist hybrid, a la the Hegelian dialectic synthesis. Its  mega-capacity to accumulate resources propels the People’s Republic toward dominance in the world economy.
The American wealth machine, rusty from age and greedy entropy, is a government hamstrung by Corporatists. The corporations control congressional pursestrings,  funding and regulating a hyped-up stock market for self-absorbed investors. The lackey government generates pseudo-corporate structures, like Fannie and Freddie, so that smart, over-educated nitpicking technocrats have something to administrate. The system is a hybrid that is different the Chinese one, insofar as the myth of wealth creation through raw free enterprise is the rhetorical basis for advancement. It  enables a financially-adept elite to perpetuate control by wealthy folks. That’s a  myth different from the eglitarian myth that facilitates Statist creeping.

Between the constrictive powers of these two economic superstructures–the Chinese Statist one and American Corpartist one, all possibilities for classic, creative free enterprise are diminishing.
If independent business is to survive on planet earth, we must get back to small-scale, local market-based, risk-taking businesses that originate from the grassroots up. This is where the developing nations have an advantage, because their microcapitalism is raw, undiluted by statist rules and capitalist hype. Real people solving real problems in their own communities is where its at.
Land, food, minerals, and value-adding labor are ultimately the only sources for true wealth. Beyond that its all systematic hype convoluted by human vanity and exploitive power-grubbing.

Glass Chimera

Mahalia Jackson helped change the course of history.

January 17, 2011

On today’s Fresh Air, Clarence Jones describes to Dave Davies the moment in which Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. departed from his text while addressing the marchers at the Lincoln Memorial. That inspired decision by Dr. King turned out to be an improvisation that would implant a dream in the hearts of an entire nation.


Dr. King’s Legacy

January 17, 2011

As a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d like to share this song, which I recorded in 1978. The message is based upon an experience about which Dr. King spoke.  Another great historical leader, Moses, also testified about a     Mountaintop revelation from God.

The Great American Divide

January 15, 2011

Although I have lived in the cool Blue Ridge mountans for thirty-five years now, I was raised in a place that is hot, humid and flat–Louisiana. Perhaps I ended up living here on the eastern continental divide because of an intensely wonderful travel experience I had at the tender age of nine years. In 1960, my parents had taken me and my sister on a cross-country road trip from our Miss’sipi-River delta home all the way across the Rockies to  Washington state. What a string of vivid memories that westward trip has proven to be.

At the time of that journey, my father was bound for an international convention of foresters in Seattle. We took four days to drive a light blue Ford station wagon across Texas, the prairies, the Rocky Mountains, California, and up the west coast, then four days back again. This impressionable boy from Baton Rouge emerged from the long road trip with a vivid memory file that included seeing the morning  snow-capped pinkness of Mt. Rainier, and an elk-horn hut in Wyoming, as well as a ride with a cowboy on his horse through a herd of cows that had blocked our mountain road.

Funny how the mind wanders sometimes. Somewhere in Colorado or Wyoming near that cowboy memory stands a wide wooden road sign that reads: Continental Divide.
And this is what I thought about yesterday while reading  Paul Krugman’s “A Tale of Two Moralities,” in the New York Times.

It prompted me to share some personal experience with you. Everybody has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell you part of mine, as a roundabout way to get to a point about our Great American Divide.

In the first half of the last century, my dad’s folks had come out of the Mississippi woods, but had settled down in Baton Rouge in the thick of  the petrochemical industry. Many of my young years were spent growing up in the shadow of a gargantuan Esso (now Exxon) refinery, which was said by locals to be the third largest oil refinery in the world at the time; it was three blocks from our house. I’ll never forget that acrid smell in the air, although some said it was from the Kaiser aluminum plant further up the River. Probably both.

Maybe five or so miles away, near downtown Baton Rouge stood the state Capitol, tallest bayou-state building not located in New Orleans.  Huey Long had built the 34-story monolith back in the 30s. If you ever go up to the top of it, you’ll see, dominating the northward view, the huge, smoke-belching Exxon refinery, kingpin of Louisana industry.

My grandfather on mama’s side had occupied an office in the Capitol; he was a math-brain, and served as assistant Secretary of State under four Louisana governors, including the infamous Huey Long. The other  grandfather demonstrated a more visceral, mechanical expertise. Hard-working Scots-Irish Miss’sippi man that he was– he had become a foreman down at the Esso refinery. My dad used to tell me that grampa had worked himself into a job where “wasn’t a valve or wheel in the whole damn plant that didn’t turn without Louis Rowland’s order.”

As far as I had been told, the unions had nothing to do with my grampa Rowland’s rise to productive authority in that super-size oil refinery. And that pertains somewhat to this Great Divide thing that I’m a gettin’ to. But hold your horses. Go watch a video somewhere if’n you don’t have time to do  some personal-type historical reading.

My daddy, you see, had tried to start a forestry-supplies business back in the 60s. But it didn’t work out, and so he wound up his working life as a civil servant, in industrial development and recruitment for the State of Louisiana. (Hint about the Great Divide:  Entrpreneur of State employee?) His office was in the complex of state guv’ment buildings that mushroomed ‘neath  the shadow of Huey’s  skyscraping Capitol.

At the time of my father’s job there, Huey was, of course, long-since dead, having been shot at the Capitol building one September night in 1935. But Huey had been a horse of different color. Some folks down there say that if he hadn’t been assasinated, he would have challenged Mr. Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination in ’36. Of course, we’ll never know.  Huey’s politics was raw and agrarian, and near as I can tell, even more “liberal” than President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which would have placed him on the leftward fringe of Democratic politics then or now. One of Huey’s slogans had been, “every man a king,” which might seem to have landed him in the self-reliant camp about which we hear so much today from the so-called  libertarian wing of the Republicans. But since Huey’s other major plank was “sharing the wealth,” that would throw our categorization of his politics into the income-redistribution, quasi-socialist wing of the Democrats. Like I said, he was a horse of different color; there are a few of them buckin’ around in every generation.

He was, after all, you know, a Democrat. And that brings me closer to this oncoming perspective on the Great American Divide.
I was raised in a (at that time) Democratic state, in that state’s politics-obsessed capital city. That heritage had  cast the prevailing political machinery largely into the mold of Huey Long, the  firebrand orator who had come out of the piney woods of north Louisiana. Part of Huey’s  share-the-wealth, every-man-a-king legacy is, these days, a state guarantee that students who prove to be diligent enough can get free tuition in state colleges and universities.

It was after I graduated from the state’s flagship University, in 1973, that I left Louisiana never to return, except for visits. It’s a great, proud state, but too hot and flat for me, so I ended up, after a brief Florida period, in the mountains of North Carolina. Back to the earth and all that. Ha!

Thirty-five years ago my quest for cool mountain livin’– a la that trip to the Rockies when I was nine–found its resting point here in the Appalachians. And now, after all this time, my view from the eastern Continental Divide–only a few geographical miles from our house–reveals that I landed, unbeknownst to me at the time, in the middle of  a stubborn, self-sufficiency-touting, fundamentalist mountaineer culture, decidedly libertarian and mostly Republican (except for the thriving academic, typically humanistic community at nearby Appalachian State University.) So it seems that my life’s journey has taken me from one side of the Divide to the Other.

I’m just now figuring out what happened. I started out fifty-nine years ago on the left side of the Great Divide, and am now winding down  on the right side.
From this perspective, I can see, as Mr. Krugman has so adroitly identified, that the two poles (polls?) of American philosophy gravitate down to this definitive question:

Am I acontributing part of a great Nation-State that is taking care of every citizen, with every citizen taking care of it?

Am a self-reliant individualist who prefers to swat the government nuisance out of my way?

Which way do you lean on the Great Divide?

Glass Chimera


January 13, 2011

David said to Solomon:
“My son, I had intended to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before me. Behold, a son will be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days.'”

This indicates, I believe, that God’s plan for his people is to move us beyond shedding each other’s blood, and toward non-violence as the way to honor our Creator. Those of us who can appropriate such truth will extend the work of God’s prince of peace beyond the brutal nature of our human history.

In the wake of yet another tragedy of national scope, my prayer in Jesus’ name is that we will, some day, overcome by his grace our vengeful wickedness.

Glass half-Full

We do have choices to make.

January 9, 2011

As inhabitants of earth, we have learned over time that there is a polarity that governs our home planet. The north pole is at one end and the south pole at the other, with every earthly thing revolving between them. Turn, turn, turn. We are not typically aware of the planet’s polarity and its spinning, but we do notice certain effects: the pointing of a compass, the weather, the seasons.  We discern, and learn about, the somewhat predictable turning of earthly events. Days turn into nights, nights into days. Clouds turn into sunshine, sunshine into rain. Summer turns into winter, winter into summer. Turn, turn, turn. Light and dark, hot and cold, dry and wet. Turn, turn, turn.

Just as we notice with regularity the visible world’s polarity and its resultant events, we discern also a polarity within the unseen world of our thoughts, our minds, our souls. Good and bad, right and wrong, well-intentioned or ill-advised–but this polarity is not as easily identified as the physical one. And we humans have much more trouble in agreeing upon how to evaluate such as that.

Every now and then, however, something happens that attests to the undeniable presence of evil in our good world. Take, for instance a look at the shooting that happened yesterday in Tuscon. No doubt about it: what the guy did was wrong.

He made a bad choice, and the consequences of it are bad. Several innocent people are dead. What do you call that? I call it evil. The shooter was not listening to his better angels. No, he was following the counsel of his badder angels.

You don’t think there are angels? Think again. There is an unseen world out there, within us and without us, because we cannot, you know, even in our great wisdom, see everything. When the invisible universe intersects with the physical world, stuff happens. Shit happens. But it doesn’t just happen, people make it happen.

So there is this big right and wrong thing going on in the universe, and on our planet. And its true that we see every shade of combination between those two in this world–shades of gray and all that ambiguity problem. But even though the choices that we make are not simple because of the ambivalence, we are all of us moving in one direction or the other. Each of us is moving steadily, whether we understand it or not, toward the good pole or the bad pole.

And when it dawns on each of us that we are in an unseen moral weather pattern that blows us one way or the other–toward the good or toward the evil, we can begin to make daily choices that will change our direction.

If that young fella in Arizona had made better choices along his life-path, he would not have done the destructive deed that he did yesterday.

What about you? Which way are you headed?

This polarity in our world is a defining characteristic of our universe: positive and negative, 0 and 1, etc…that makes everything happen. The One who coded it into existence made a choice to create a physical universe that utilizes polarity as it working principle.

But here’s the deal. Included within that divine choice is a certain amount of choice that is delegated–yes, given– to the objects of that godly attention (us)… Or, we could say, the objects of God’s affection (you and me.)

Because God loves us, God has given us the power of choice. We are not computers, but children of God, if we want to be.  So we can choose to move toward the Creator, or away.  Which way are you headed?

Here’s a warning though: one result of the bad choices that so many make is that some who choose the good get mistreated and abused, maybe even crucified.  One  in particular did get crucified, but he raised from being dead just to prove the point that here is a way of light through this present darkness.

Glass half-Full

Salt of the earth and hoi polloi gas

January 8, 2011

In the world of basic Earth elements, 8 is a kind of ideal number. Atoms (we could generally say) strive to achieve 8 electrons in their outer (reactive) shells, and when they do attain that status, they become relatively stable.

Those elements that manifest this condition of stability, aka inertness,  are a certain class of gases that have been named the “noble” gases, because they exist in their self-sufficiency; they disdain associations with the readily-reactive “salt of the earth” types.
Similarly, in the world of societies, as in the world of elements, we see that the nobility and  the salt of the earth tend to seek their own, instead of mingling with each other. In both systems  the natural world exhibits a diverse range of interactive predispositions, between these two polar ends.

Any particular atom of any element has a degree of reactivity which is determined by the number of electrons in its outer (valence) shell. Scientists have arranged a data table which indicates any particular element’s affinity for reacting with other atoms. On that data table, which is called the Periodic Table, earth’s elements are arranged from left to right according to the number of electrons in their outer shells , 1 through 8.
Having only one electron in its outer shell,  sodium (represented as Na on the Periodic Table of Elements) takes its assigned place  on the left side of the Table. Accordingly,  a sodium atom is found to be unstable, and therefore prone to react with some other element in order  to establish the ideal 8-electron  stability.

Well, along comes a Chlorine (Cl) atom, which, being from the other end of the lineup, has seven electrons in its outer shell–not the sought-after 8 status, mind you, but closer to it. They’re both a little wobbly so they share resources, which in this case is outer electrons; groping for stability, they get hitched together. Lo and behold, they become in the process something totally different from what they were as separate entities–salt, chemically named NaCl. In  sacrificing individual identities (a la Confucius or Plato) the two elements become a new compound,  and thus yield a common mineral which is a universally useful resource: the salt of the earth.

Salt, which helps your food taste better.
Men and women have used the stuff since the dawn of civilization to flavor food, and also for another valuable use–preserving food so you can store it for a longer time before eating it.

Meanwhile, back on the other end of nature’s arrangement of elements, floats the “noble” (gas) class–the hoi poloi whom some enviously call the richest 1% or whatever; they exist independently in a rarified condition of invested self-assurance and ease, while the salt of the earth legions mingle amicably among themselves and s0 dutifully among the other strata along the highways and byways.

We see that the elemental world is somewhat like the social world.
The world of Adam reflects somewhat the world of atoms. But take heart, we are on the Eve of some wonderfully interactive phenomena.

Glass Chimera

Professuh Alan dun struck out de niggers

January 6, 2011

Alan Gribben he dun wrote a nutter version uh ole Huck Finn where he struck the niggers and put slaves whar dey used to be. Fer ‘zample, dis meet’n tween Huck and Jim when dey meet by accident on a island in de Rivuh cuz dey bofs be hightailin’ it. Jim be tellin’ Huck ’bout how he got away:

” ‘Well, you see, it ‘uz dis way. Ole Missus–dat’s Miss Watson–she pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough, but she awluz said she wouldn’ sell me down to Orleans. But I noticed day wuz a nigger (heah’s whea Massuh Alan dun stuck in de slave ‘stead uv de nigger, and he dun it, dey tells me, two hund’d times in Massuh Twain’s book) trader roun’ de place considable, lately, en I begin to git oneasy. Well, one night I creeps to de do’ pooty late, en de do ‘warn’t quite shet, en I hear ole missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn’ want to, but she could git eight hund’d dollars for me, en it ‘uz sich a big stack o’ money she couldn’resis’. De widder she try to git her to say she wouldn’ do it, but I never waited to hear de res’. I lit out mighty quick, I tell you…’ “

So you may wan’ git a copy o’ dis new version,  sanitized like, and p’liticly correct an’ awl, an’ reads it fo yo’self.

Den, you might could pick up from Amazon a nutter new novel ’bout life up and down de Missip– little bit updated but not too much. Like, where Robby, microbiologist grad student, he be drivin’, in chapter 2, ‘long de Rivuh road, near de place in Luzianna where Huck and Jim ended up. Fer ‘zample:

This bend on the river road always kindled Robby’s imagination. The lonely antebellum columns, man-formed as they were and so stakly incongruent in the overgrowing wildness, remained as silent, stubborn monoliths, superfluous sentries guarding the lost opulence of a plantation culture that had turned to ashes generations ago. Honeysuckle, ivy and scrubby saplings now ruled the spot from whence Colonel Theseus had commanded his legion of slaves and later sharecroppers.  Surrounding the old mansion’s skeletal array were hundreds of acres: dark, delta loam fermenting microbial memory of black feet whose calloused heels and toes traversed row upon thousandth row of King Cotton’s scurrilous servitude.

We sho’nuff be glad dem dark days is over!

Glass Chimera