Archive for March, 2013

Resurrection

March 31, 2013

If the Creator of the universe

were to write some drama verse

and construct a four-act play

the great story to portray

just so the truth we would not miss

surely, would it be this:

He came down to worldly life

to deal with our human strife,

but we rejected his advance,

didn’t give him half a chance.

We crossed him up instead,

but he rose up from the dead.

Now his great story’s told ’round the world

to every person, boy and girl.

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Haight Ashbury

March 30, 2013

At Haight Ashbury yesterday

we walked through

an I be blinkin thinking

was it raunchy like this

from the beginning?

From 1967 love revolution summer

to devolution sleaze street bummer

the magic’s gone

maybe puff the dragon’s on

methadone

or did the neighborhood fall into some

huckster hole?

Go ask Alice; I think she’ll know.

Was descent from hippish sniffin

to hypish hawkin a given?

like destiny, always there to begin with

in the you-cant-put it-off-forever

headache stems and seeds,

Or did somethin fundamental change between then

and now?

I guess Life magazine left town

when the turn-on tuned out and dropped off;

the radicals crashed, their rose-colored dreams

trashed.

After the serious communards got their fill

of castles in the air and starshine dreams,

after they flipped out on fickle fellow-man,

fed-up with hangers-on and turn-offs,

they flew the coop.

No more roll-another-one-my-friend;

you gotta take this rough life by the scruff, and fend.

 

But then we passed into a Park or Golden Gate–

it was some everland beyond the Haight–

where there is music of the ancient human soul;

there breezes blow and children go.

Their parents’ call out gentle admonitions

that seem to banish old perditions.

And I hear trusty horses as they carousel around,

while mamas give loving nudges in the playground.

Cool breeze beneath sequoia boughs then reassured my soul,

after we had passed through Alice’s raunchy rabbit hole.

Glass half-Full

DOMAin

March 29, 2013

When two fit together as one

and love

from beginnin to end,

and  they mend

each other’s hearts

and  do coitus

with intimate their parts

then all the world be better place,

’cause two take care

each other, make less burden

for society,

and good variety

when twenty-three wi twenty-three

make forty-six:

aint no tricks

’cause they get their kicks

wi each other

stead o spreading it around

all over town–

no EsTeeDee no Hiv

you see?

And when them two fit together

in most intimate parts

with beatin hearts

like screw and nut,

gut to gut.

Then later

when bambino slide out

wi joyful shout,

then life goes on.

be it daughter or son.

They make domain:

DOMAin.

Ask me again and

I’ll tell you the same.

Glass Chimera

Fundamental Economic Growth

March 27, 2013

Here’s the working stiff’s explanation of why our economic recovery is in slow mode, and why we’d be better off to get used to it. My theory is that the days of 4 and 5% annual growth in Western nations are gone, for, probably, at least a generation or more, if not forever.

The following rabbit trail of rumination began when I read, yesterday, the article in last week’s The Economist magazine entitled Where did everyone go?

In that article, Mr(s)?. Free Exchange–whoever that person or entity is–starts the column with Milton Friedman’s comparison of the business cycle to a musical string that is stretched and then is plucked to produce a sound:

“How far the string is plucked determines how much it springs back; similarly, the depth of a recession decides the strength of recovery.”

This analogy resonated with me, because I spent years and years of my life exploring the musical possibilities of plucked strings on guitars, fiddles and pianos. But even more productive, economically speaking, than those vibrato years of musical exploration were my twenty-five or so years of what seemed like high-multiplier growth-generating employment: building houses for people (. . .although those first three years of building stuff, back in the early ’80s, were spent constructing an S-shaped bridge around Grandfather Mountain, on the Blue Ridge parkway.)

Anyway, back to The Economist, which is a very thought-provoking analytically opinionated publication that my son introduced me to several years ago, about the same time that I bounced out of construction work and into more age-appropriate pursuits such as maintaining apartments and writing novels.

The aforementioned article, Where did everyone go, said this:

“The plucking (a string) model presumes that, after a recession, the economy returns to an underlying trend of growth. . .”

That presumption may have been sufficient for statistical analyses of past phases of expansive American economy. But not any more. The long tails of  20th-century bell curves  now morph into new bell-jar graphs, representing 21st-century demographics and new value-added activities, if you catch my graphical drift.  And here’s why: the fundamentals are changing.

Back at the plucked-string analogy, a “fundamental” in music is the “underlying” vibration that defines all other modes of string activity. Let us say, for instance, that a stretched string on a piano, of a specific length/diameter will, when plucked, produce a vibration of 440 cycles per second; it is thereby named an “A” note, which is the fundamental sound  heard when the string is plucked.

Economic activity in the developed world is now morphing from an “A” to a “C,” which stands for “Could be trouble ahead.”

As for The Economist‘s analogy based on uncle Miltie’s plucked string. . . the fundamentals, or underlying trend, of economic growth are determined  by:

“the supply of workers, capital, and technology.”

Well, in my presumptive working-stiff naivete, I am going to identify here a fourth component of growth. It is an underlying element–the constancy of which the economists unwittingly assume–  because it has always “been there”: natural resources.

Here is what is changing, big time, during our age: Every conceivable expense for gathering natural resources from the earth is going up, up, up.

I remind us of this simple oversight because of this: our basic level of natural resources extraction, and use of the earth itself, is the most fundamental change of all that is happening during the present age of human development. Retrieval of planetary resources will go down, down, down, as extraction difficulties and costs go up, up, up.

We are at planetary peak oil production. This is, of course, debatable, but I happen to believe that we are at planetary peak oil production. For more about that, go to http://www.peakprosperity.com/discussion/81169/peak-oil-science-and-evidence-please-help.

Here’s another factor that will slow our growth: disappearing topsoil.  We have depleted it, and it will take a long time to nurture our earth back into organic productivity.

Another problem is: minerals. We’re having to go deeper and farther afield for every mineral we pull out of ole mother earth, especially the you-know-what one, the one we put in the car-tank every once a week or so. Tar-sands, rapacious open-pit mining and deepwater drilling– all those intensifying recovery processes required to recover shale-oil or other minerals–they just add more labor and capital expenses. Getting oil out of the ground will never ever again get easier or cheaper.

Another thing is: lumber.

Wood. Here’s the one resource about which I have some sweat-equity credentialed expertise.

During the 20+ years that I spent building houses, here is what I noticed, project after project, day after day, week after week, year after year:

The miners pull minerals out of the ground.

The manufacturers form the minerals into concrete block, insulation, plastic pipes, metal appliances, shingles, etc.

The masons lay up the concrete  blocks into a foundation.

The carpenters nail wood onto the foundation to construct a house.

Where does all the wood and minerals for this process come from? The earth itself.

But the earth itself is depleted by past abusively extractive processes that generate, albeit along with useful products and projects, millions of pounds of industrial and consumer waste and climate-altering emissions. And processes for gathering these natural resources are injuriously invasive at a more-and-more precious cost, both economically and environmentally.  There are multiple issues associated with these extractions that will inflict sore points of contention among political groups for many generations to come. Bottom line: they are another impediment to growth, and will result in slow development of diminishing resources, which translates to slower growth. Witness the XL pipeline controversy. This kind of thing between Greens and Chamber of Commerce types is not going away, but here to stay. Part of the territory.

Finally, the elephant in the room is wage inflation in developed nations, a major factor in the “workers” component of growth determinants listed by the Economist. The long and short of wage inflation is this: American and European workers have priced themselves out of the now-worldwide labor market. Hence. . . slower growth for us, if any growth at all is possible on a yearly basis, while developing nations do most everything cheaper, and using emergent technologies.

So, hey America! Good luck with all that. Better get used to it. Time for slow-growth innovations–work better and smarter. The days of 5 and 6% growth in developed nations are over–gone with the horse and buggy, the icebox, the VCR, cassette tapes, maybe even the desktop computer.

I know I’m all over the map with this essay, but so is the brave new world: all over the map.

And tha’s what I’m talkin about.

Glass Chimera

Rwanda 19 years later

March 24, 2013

Somewhere in the world today, it’s time for gifts to be opened, because the twelve months of Christmas just keep  rolling on and on.  This year,  Samaritan’s Purse presents more than 6 million gift-boxes to children on every continent.  Probably every day of the year, a few of those presents get opened, somewhere.

Last week the celebration of gift-giving was in Kigali, Rwanda. My daughter, Kim, was there; she works for Samaritan’s Purse, the distributor of yuletide surprises that extends generosity everywhere across the world, especially in developing nations.  Kim’s UNC photojournalism training launched her into a career where she could share these moments:

1316RW-D-102

It may not be five golden rings inside the box, or a partridge in a pear tree. But whatever the surprise booty turns out to be, my guess is that the immediate benefit of each shoebox-gift being opened will be a pound or two of joy.

1316RW-B-107

That’s quite a change among the children in Rwanda, compared to the class warfare and genocide that was happening there nineteen years ago.

1316RW-D-153

I would not suggest that Operation Christmas Child is responsible for ending the tribal strife that tore Rwanda apart in 1994; that peacemaking task was surely accomplished by the good people of that country who made some good decisions and then acted resolutely upon them. But now Christian givers throughout the world, whose presents were prepared last fall, are happy to have contributed some fun items there– toys and toothbrushes, jump-ropes, dolls, crayons, cracker jacks and God-knows-what-all, along with the good news of our Creator’s presence among them on this troubled earth.

Glass half-Full

Roosevelt’s dilemma

March 18, 2013

In the novel I am writing, Smoke, the Eschen family–Hezekin, Helene, Hannah, and Lili– have just arrived in eastern France. The year is 1937;  the Gestapo have recently arrested their son, Heinrich, and imprisoned him at Dachau.

Under a pall of Nazi-induced fear, the Eschens have decided to risk losing everything–their business and home–by leaving Munich to flee Germany, even though they do not know what Heinrich’s fate will be.

In chapter 14 of Smoke, the refugee family have been taken in by a French family who live across the Rhine border, in the province of Alsace. Now they are sitting at a well-appointed table to share a meal with some newfound friends. We enter this scene at the supper table of the Ravel family and a few of their companions. Helene is describing the Eschens’ situation with the group:

       Helene wiped the tears from her cheek. “What we seek, Madame Leblanc, is a young man, a good man in the very flower of his youth; but he is locked inside Dachau prison—our son, Heinrich. And now it is so very hard to decide what is to be done. Should we stay or go?”

       “Even if you must go. . .somewhere. . .must it be to America? Why not wait here, here in Alsace. You are close here, close enough to respond quickly, if Heinrich were to be released. If you were all the way to the United States, your help for him would be almost impossible.”

       “Our travel visas here are good only for two weeks. But we have relations in New York—they are our people, Jews like us—who are working on our behalf. They are even willing to deposit thousands of US dollars in the banks for us, and send affidavits to endorse for our immigration, so that we can obtain visas to enter the United States and start a new life there.”

      The host, M. Ravel, at the head of the table, inserted, “Peut-etre . . . your temporary visas here can be extended. We may be able to find some help for you with that. Although there is no consulate in Strasbourg, we do know some people are well-connected. Other refugees, like you, have come from Germany and have been able, with a little time, to make better arrangements, to stay in France. Now that you have gotten out, you should slow down and get your bearings, form a strategy to establish communication with Heinrich, if that is possible; there may be more resources here in Alsace that you realize. You really do need to stay close to Germany, Hezekin.” Cartier looked directly into the man’s face, then at his wife. “You do need to stay nearby until Heinrich is released, or at least until you have heard some definite news, or until this whole damned Nazi thing blows over.”

        Henri Leblanc then spoke excitedly, “The Third Reich is not going to go away! They will inflict their German hatefulness on Jews and some others as long as they can! They will not stop until they are forced to stop. Hitler and Goebbels have railed against the Jews since the beginning, even since ’33. It was their intention all along to rob you of your business and then run you out of Germany. But our leaders, Petain or—we need another Clemenceau, or Poincare, maybe that young man, DeGaulle—somebody needs to rise up and intervene la-bas. Every since Hitler waltzed into the Saar last year, with no resistance whatsoever from us, those Nazi brutes who salute and follow his every command without question have been frothing at the mouth to run the Jews out of Germany. That is what the Gestapo is assigned to do, and the Third Reich will not cease its campaign against the Jews—especially the prosperous ones such as you.”

       “But do not despair!” said Henri’s wife. “You have come to the right place. We can help you. We’ll give you sanctuary as long as we can.”

But the Eschens were not the only ones in such a situation as this. There were many others who were fleeing, and would flee, from the tribulation of being Jewish under Hitler’s Third Reich. As the terrible tide of Nazi oppression filled Germany during the next three years, and through the years of World War II, there would be many, many more who sought to leave, and find a new life in places such as Britain, the United States, South America, Africa, and Israel.

What to do with them all? This was only one of many complicated dilemmas that President Roosevelt, as well as Mr. Churchill in Britain and the leaders of the French Third Republic, faced in those tumultuous years before, and during, World War II.

It was the worst of times, even worse than today. May it never happen again to any people group on our planet.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Punkadelic Pete

March 11, 2013

You’ve heard about Punkadelic Pete, right?

Punkadelic Pete will stick his scientifically-correct head out on March 22.

If he sees his shadow, we’ll have six more millennia of global warming.

If he doesn’t see it, we’ll have six more millennia of global cooling.

Warming shwarming, or Cooling fooling?

Keep your eyes and ears open and let’s just see what Punky Pete does.

 

CR, with Photon Phil, in Glass half-Full

The Mockingbird?

March 9, 2013

Pat and I traveled yesterday afternoon, from our Blue Ridge mountain home in North Carolina, down to Georgia.

We are spending the weekend with our daughter, Katie.

This morning I wake up to the sound of a bird outside the apartment window. The call of the bird is different, not like the sounds of birds where we live. Here in Georgia, the advent of spring is rampant, compared to our snowy home environs which is several thousand feet higher in altitude and a degree or two of longitude more northerly on earth’s sphere.

Shortly after daylight peaked through Katie’s curtains, as I was laying on the floor to stretch my back and legs because I was not used to the soft bed, I heard the mockingbird somewhere outside.

At least I think it was a mockingbird. I can only surmise it was a mockingbird, because this little creature would not stick to one song, but kept changing his/her calls from one signal to another. So I’m laying there thinking, isn’t this what a mockingbird does? Is it not called a mockingbird because it “mocks” or imitates the songs of other birds?

This little aural adventure reminded me of my childhood at grandma Mimi’s house in Baton Rouge, some fifty-odd years ago. My sister and I would be laid into a guest room for an afternoon nap. This was unique because Mimi had, in that guest room, a fancy (she was of French heritage) four-poster bed with a white fabric canopy over its top, like you might see in movies about 18th-century royals or some such setting.

As I would be reclining on that luxurious bed, I could hear birds chirping on the other side of the curtained window. (The window treatment matched the poster-bed.) Mimi and J.C. had an outside courtyard with high brick walls around it and all sorts of Louisiana plants within–crepe myrtles, azaleas, camellias, canna lilies and gardenias and so forth–and a birdbath or two. So outside the window, the bird would maybe be sitting in the birdbath taking a bath and having fun in the water.

Be the bird as it may, in the birdbath or on the brick wall or perched on the leafy hedge or wherever it was casting its little hybrid songs, the feathery crooner was doing its yakkity thing, just being the birdbrained creature that God made him/her to be. I may have heard a mockingbird at that time and maybe that’s why I’m reminded of that childhood memory as I lay here now in Georgia in March 2013. But actually the bird call I remember most vividly from that nap time was not the mockingbird, but a blue jay.

I think it was a blue jay, anyway. The call was just a single shriek, like a “caw.” But it wasn’t a crow’s caw. It was not as loud that, and much kinder and gentler. Maybe that’s the call of the blue jay, or maybe it’s just the way I imagine a blue jay would sound, with his little bishopric peaky cap on his head and that big black beak sticking out like some kind of stuck-up sabre or something.

Anyway, back to the mockingbird, if that’s what it was, in Gainesville this morning. This bird, as I said earlier, did not stick to one call, but just kept whipping out a whole collection of different calls, one sample after another, like a moog gone au natural under the errantly genius touch of a four-year-old. Some were quick staccatos. . . ch ch ch ch, or some sustained legatos. . .wrr wrr wrr wrr wrr, or mixtures. . .ch ch wrr wrr wrr, or little buzzy blends. . .vzz vzz vzz vzz, or indecipherable birdbrain phonemes. . .brd oop brd oop brd ooo, or jazzy little themes. . .whoobidy shooop whoobidy shoop whoobidy shoop shoop shoop, with every now and then a dovish coo followed by a hawkish wra! wra!  I’ve got rhythm, was a part of the message, like Porgy or Gershwin or some other person of ancient Americana. A kind of poetry it was.

A bird with an identity crisis, I guess, is what it must have been, a little like the interpreter who was stretched out on the floor with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than harken to those first auditory signals of spring down hyeah in the deep south, y’heah me now?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

March 6, 2013

Sandra Day O’Connor, former Justice of the US Supreme Court, told Terry Gross that her first job as a lawyer was taken without pay. Furthermore, Mrs. O’Connor had to occupy a desk in the secretary’s office of that law firm, because she was a woman at the time. Still is, and a woman like no other.

Justice O’Connor, with admirable pioneering chutzpah, had blazed a trail, way back in the1960s and ’50s, for women in the legal profession, as well as  for all working women generally. She was the first female US Supreme Court Justice. Three more women have been set on the Court since her unprecedented appointment by President Reagan.

But for the cowgirl lawyer from Arizona, the chauvinist humiliation she had to endure along her career path was just an obstacle to be overcome; it came with that frontier territory. Hearing her accounts, it almost seems to have been no big deal. Her primary objective seems to have been, all along, justice for the people of the United States, and not necessarily blowing some loud feminist horn.

She is a great leader in our nation. Nevertheless, she is a humble woman–a wife and mother who happens to be an attorney. One key element of her personality–I think you will hear it in the interview–is humility. Humility can carry a person a long way in this life. Justice O’Connor, like Rosa Parks, had to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous sexist prejudice. But she remained constantly humble, and determined. She would not be denied her destiny. Humility enables a talented person to endure untold subtle and blatant persecutions, because passionate vision can trump all that difficulty. Sandra Day O’Connor’s life is, in my view, a testimony to that principle.

Listening, via radio, to the testy interaction between Terry’s edgy, progressive politicism and Sandra’s prickly, accumulated wisdom is fascinating; it is an aural telescope into the generation gap of the edges, as well as the no-woman’s-land between push-the-envelope liberalism and bootstraps conservatism.

I have admired both women for a long time, although for very different reasons. This interview was an amicable match between two titans of public disccourse. Check it out:

http://www.npr.org/2013/03/05/172982275/out-of-order-at-the-court-oconnor-on-being-the-first-female-justice

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

O ye Chicken Inspector

March 5, 2013

O ye O ye

chicken inspector!

Ye better do ye job

cuz we be

dependin on u

to catch the contagion

to snatch the salmonella

before it do it bad thing.

Now be de time to

do ye job,

reverse dat ol strike mentality

dat ol labor union barricade whoopfiz biz

wi cryinz in d’street

an all dat anarchy bee-ez.

Jez do ye job

cuz we need u stay on task

no matte what sequesta cracka say.

Knock down dem salmonellas

today

and giardias and germs

ev’ day

das what we say!

Hey! Keep it clean.

We be a clean machine. Les keep it

dat way. Do ye job no matta

what dey say no matta

what FDA say

no matta what OMB or Security or DemRepub say

Do yo job today

cuz we need u yeah!

TSA U 2!

even if dem frequent flyas glare at you.

 

O ye O ye

air traffic controller!

Ye better do ye job

cuz we be

dependin on u

to unsnarl dem can o worms

in our skies

so we don’ dies

trying to fly ’round

get from town to town

get up get down

Don’ pay no ‘tension to dat background noise,

dem consumer device toys,

jez keep ye eye on d’blip

not on d’slipping dip

cuz we be depend on u.

Keep yo eye on de donut

not on de hole.

Dat sacred duty–it be soul,

of our nation, an

das what I’m talkin about:

Don’t pout.

Times is hard y’all!

Heed the call.

Now all ye workin folk out dere

Now be d’time for all mens

an womens too

to come to d’aid of our country today

cuz we be

depend on u.

I aint shittn you.

Les keep dis ting goin

don let it fall

don let it stall.

It don depend on dat Wash’n beltway be-ez biz,

cuz is what it is and dat all dat it is.

It depend on me and you.

Dis be true: on me and you, an don stop prayn.

Das all I sayn.

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress