Thursday, October 30, 2008

Think About This!

Nicholas Kristof published this the other day in the NY Times. I have been avoiding the symbolic aspect of an Obama victory partly because I don't like the idea of voting for a candidate because of the symbolism or historical importance of his (or her) "difference." I want to vote for a candidate because he (or she) merits my vote.

Having concluded that Senator Obama merited my vote and cast my (early) ballot for him, now I can look at the other part of this election: the symbolism and the historical import of what We The People of the United States of America may be doing in this election.

Part of my reluctance to think about that aspect of this particular election is that it still stings that America is willing to elect a black man before a woman. [Call me a racist or a female chauvinist and you'd probably be right on both couts, but that's how I feel. And I didn't even much care for Senator Clinton.] Now that I'm over that little hissy fit, I have to admit that it was cool to cast my vote for Obama partly for the reason that this IS a historic vote. My assistant has been making that point for months, but I was not ready to have that discussion. My assistant is a minority. I am white. That makes a difference. She was willing to call it what it was long before I could bring myself to do so.

So, America may (please God!) elect a black man as its next president.... perhaps better, we may be about to elect a person of mixed race, mixed nationality, mixed religious backgrounds. He is virtually a mongrel, to be honest. Barack Obama is exactly the kind of person you would expect a "Melting Pot" country to produce. I have been denying for years that America really is a Melting Pot. I think I may have been wrong. How cool is that?!

What is more, he is the living embodiment of the American Dream (the one that a lot of people don't even believe is possible any more): from humble roots, he was educated at America's finest institutions, he was a grass roots activist who got elected to the United States Senate. The symbolic import of his election is mind-blowing: Barack Hussein Obama, president of the United States of America.

How many American parents have told their kids, "You can be anything and do anything you set your mind to do and work hard for"? How many black (or poor or brown) kids looked around at their world and replied, "Yeah, right!" If Obama wins, the parents of America can point to the man in the White House and say, "See!" The hopelessness that seems to pervade our inner cities might be alleviated if children could look up at the picture of the president in their class rooms and see someone who is not a rich white guy with family connections, but someone who got ahead by being smart and working really hard.

How many times has American thumbed its nose at the rest of the world in recent years (er, decades ... er, centuries)? The post-modern world is a world where all nations have to cooperate. George Bush pissed away the good-will the rest of the world was prepared to grant us following 9/11. Clinton and his predecessors didn't do a lot to make the world love us, but Bush seems to have been hell-bent on making everybody in the world hate our guts. Bush has been Al-Quaeda's best suicide bomber recruiting tool. If Mr. Kristof is right, President Obama, sitting in the White House doing absolutely positively NOTHING will go a long way toward regaining a lot of the world's good will. That is worth considering.

The symbolic and historical import of this election is huge. We can't say that too loud because, um, ... why is that??

Oh, I know: because a lot of Americans don't give a damn about symbolism or history, or the rest of the world for that matter. I hope those folks stay home, complacently believing that McCain will win by a landslide.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Early Voting Story

This article from a reporter who voted early in Palm Beach County scares the bejesus out of me.

What is it about South Florida? And why don't we all use the same kind of ballot? Ours in Volusia County were the "fill-in-the-bubble" ballot that reminded me of the SAT test. It was simple and easy.

I do understand about that ballot box thing. I had to try three times to get my ballot to pass through the scanner and into the ballot box, but that only took a second. I didn't have any problem with taking it out of the sleeve before I tried to put it in the scanner.

The lady in front of me tried to put her ballot in without removing it from the sleeve. That didn't work.

I didn't think much of it because, quite honestly, I don't really care that much if people know about who I voted for. People who want to keep their ballots secret may have a problem.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why This Is Important (or, What America Means To Me)

I never intended to post any of my fiction here, but while I'm in the patriotic mood, I decided to share the following excerpt from a novel I wrote in 2004. The reason I wrote this story was to reassure myself that America was not going to hell in a hand basket, or -- if it was -- that it would not happen without a fight from the True Believers from Middle America. After the results of the 2004 election, I have never been totally convinced that my vision of America is not utter fantasy, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it!

By way of background, the working title of the novel is "Always Faithful." (That's an intentional reference to "Semper Fidelis" because all of the key male characters are current or former U. S. Marines.) The characters in this excerpt are Connie Rydell, an attorney from Indianapolis, and her daughter, Jessica, also an attorney. Jessica is contemplating marriage to a very damaged Marine who is recently returned from Iraq. She has not yet broken that news to her parents. She is also dissatisfied with her job as a lawyer in a big Chicago firm. She has not told her mother about that, either.

Early in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, Jessica asks her mother why she became a lawyer and how she feels about her profession. At the end of the conversation, the subject broadens from Connie's opinion about the legal profession, specifically, to her thoughts on America in general.

“Mom, before we stop this awfully-deep-shit-for-so-early-in-the-morning, I have one more question?”

What is that?”

How did you handle it when you figured out that so much of what your teachers and your parents told you was untrue?”

Connie looked at her daughter for a long time. She wanted desperately to ask a few probing questions of her own about why Jess wanted this information, but decided to just answer the question that was asked, “I was very angry for a long time until I came to understand and accept that they told me what they believed. I believe that neither my parents nor my teachers intentionally lied to me. They were simply mistaken. They told me what they had been taught. That helped assuage the anger a bit. It didn't help with the sadness and disillusionment that came with learning that the world was not as nice as they told me it was and as I still think it should be. I guess I have still not completely gotten over that. I suppose I am sort of a Pollyanna. I have decided that I don't think that is a bad thing, by the way.”

How did you feel when you learned the government was lying?”

Which time?”

Any time.”

Every time, I feel personally betrayed. I hate our so-called leaders for using the government system that I love and respect in ways that are contrary to the good of all the people. I hate them. This is our country. It doesn't belong to the people whom we entrust to run it. It belongs to us. When our leaders lie to us and violate the trust we have placed in them, it makes me angry.

And since you opened that door, I will add this before I go drag your father's ass out of bed in time for lunch: My parents were part of a generation in which the overwhelming event was a popular war. Our country sent its young men overseas to fight a very real enemy who had actually threatened us. They came back and were treated like heroes.

A generation later our government sent another generation to fight in another war, one that proved unpopular. They lied to us to get us into it; they lied to us about what was happening and what it meant the whole time. We should not have been involved in the war in Viet Nam. Unfortunately, too many people in our country blamed the soldiers who fought in that war both for being involved in the first place (which wasn't their decision) and also for losing the war (which wasn't their fault). The fact is our government officials went into that war without understanding what they were up against and they had absolutely no plans to win the war. Consequently, the entire effort was doomed to failure. The soldiers on the ground in Viet Nam didn't lose the war, but they took the blame. Too many of them internalized that guilt. Many of them have never totally gotten over that.

Those are two radically different experiences. Maybe it is because I love Rick so much and I have known many other good and wonderful Viet Nam Vets who have been as wounded as he is, but I feel that our country failed the Viet Nam veterans in ways that can never be redeemed. On their behalf, I hate and resent that.

Our system provides for dissent. Dissent is important. Hell, I wish there were some dissent going on now! It is important to protest government policies by calling the government officials accountable, not by blaming the soldiers who are just doing their jobs!

I bring this up now because I look at what is happening in our country with the war in Iraq, and I am once again feeling betrayed, angry and terrified. Our leaders have lied us into another war. I see them trying to cloak themselves in the flag and convince America that we must support the war in Iraq in order to support the troops. Nixon used that tactic in the 1970's and it was bullshit then. It is still such unadulterated bullshit, I can't believe anybody buys it! They are sending hundreds of thousands of men, and now women, into combat with no clear enemy and no clear purpose. When the body count builds and the country turns on the war, these same leaders will very likely stand aside and attempt to let the soldiers take the blame once again.

What galls me most is that some of the people who have supported this war are Viet Nam veterans who, by God, ought to know better!

They are flouting the laws, they are lying to us and -- call me paranoid -- but I fear they are setting the soldiers up once again.

As a lawyer I am appalled at the way our leaders are treating the Constitution. As a citizen, I haven't felt this raped since the 1970's when I watched the implosion in South Viet Nam, after all those years and thousands of American and Vietnamese lives lost or, at least, scarred for life. As a mother, I thank God, you're a lawyer and not a soldier. I sent Rick to Viet Nam and saw him come back permanently damaged physically and emotionally. I don't think I could send a child into harm's way, at least not to a war I believe is wrong.”

She started to cry. “That may be off topic, but I'll end up on the same corny note on which you started: the whole reason I became interested in the law in the first place was because I was raised to love and honor my country. I became a lawyer in order to somehow do 'what I can do for my country.' I love the law and I am proud of the job I have done and what I believe to be my contribution to my community and, thereby, my country. However, I feel that the leaders of our country have let us all down. That makes me angry sometimes. It makes me afraid sometimes. But, mostly it just makes me sad.”

She brushed the tears from her face and tried to laugh. “I used to get so mad at my mom when she would go all patriotic on me and cry about how America was going down the tubes in the 1960's. Dad was the decorated Marine in the family, but Mom was the Über-patriot. She was the one who bled red, white and blue. I used to think she was just silly. You may feel the same about me right now.

Maybe you just have to have a real stake in the country to feel that deeply about it. Maybe you have to have sent the man you love off to war to feel that passionately. In addition to that, I have a home and a business and a child, I guess I've built up enough of a stake that the welfare of this country matters to me. It matters very deeply. Very personally.”

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's Getting Nasty Out There, Part 2

Fred Clark posted an interesting article here on the brouhaha over ACORN's voter registration. First of all, to those of us who are old enough to remember it, this sounds a lot like the backlash to widespread voter registration drives in the 1960's. The white folks were just apoplectic about all those black folks registering to vote.

It also reminds me of Nixon's attempts to have the FBI use its muscle against the people on his "Enemies List".

God, I hate politics.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political articles of note

Surfing the web this morning....

Republican Infighting
- How Fun!

This is an interesting article which is a collection and summary of coverage by a number of writers regarding the infighting within the Republican campaign.

Yes, you read that right. The Republican monolith appears to be cracking, and occasional peeks of internal squabbling are evidently visible. Obviously, this would seem to be good for the Dems who, almost miraculously, seem to have refrained from shooting themselves in the foot as is their typical practice. Perhaps I should be quiet. There is still a week left. In the meantime it could be fun to watch the Republican campaign implode.

Very interesting endorsement of Obama

This is a long article on Obama from a long-time colleague at the University of Chicago. Here's a bio of the author (the guy's got cred, for sure). Interesting. I particularly like the idea that Obama likes to explore various sides of any argument before making up his mind. There are always multiple facets. In America we too often look at things as "either-or" when they are more often "could-be-this, or that, or that, or even that."

Al Qaeda for McCain - This is alarming in several respects

I did not believe this when I read the first article the other day, but it appears to be true. Evidently Al Qaeda is supporting McCain because having a hawk in the White House is better for recruiting than having someone in the White House whose name is, oh, I don't know, maybe something like "Barack Hussein Obama." [Aside: It seems to me that for all the Republican Right Wing-Nuts' efforts to make an issue of Obama's middle name as a negative within America, it seems that it might play very differently in the rest of the world.]

It is pretty scary to think that there could be an attack between now and election day. The theory is that an attack by Al Qaeda would swing voters in McCain's favor because Americans believe the tough guy would be better protection. It is sort of the kind of reverse psychology one uses on children, because they think Americans are stupid. [I am terrified they could be right.]

I also wonder if the people in the present administration would make any real effort to stop an attack they knew would benefit the Republicans. I have to say that I am totally aghast that the thought even occurred to me. What is worse, after thinking about it, I realized that I believe the present administration is so utterly morally bankrupt, they might be capable of exactly that kind of Machiavellian behavior. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Joe The Plumber (NOT)

My Dear Husband is a wonderful guy. Most of the time.

I love him a lot. Most of the time.

He's a good husband. Most of the time.

Yesterday morning wasn't one of those times.

DH is the odd kind of guy who will actually ask for directions when he is lost. I have always loved that about him. He has one sort of Man-Trait that makes me totally crazy: He refuses to hire anyone to do work around the house. He thinks that if he could possibly fix something (albeit with great difficulty, enormous investments of time, multiple trips to Lowe's and a hell of a lot of swearing, slamming of doors, throwing of tools and general mayhem), he'd rather do that than to hire a professional who would do it more easily, in a fraction of the time, with all the right tools and (one would hope) with less drama. When he threatens to undertake a project I think might be difficult, I always suggest he hire a professional. He takes that as a criticism of his mojo or something and insists that he can do it himself. I get mad. He gets madder. Unpleasantness ensues, sometimes for days.

Since we know how they ultimately end up, the lead-up to repair jobs in our house takes a predictable course. As with many traumatic experiences, first comes denial. We all pretend that there is nothing wrong that would require a repair project.

As per our usual procedures, a while back, when the faucet in the kitchen sink gradually lost water pressure until it was hardly more than a dribble, we pretended we didn't notice. When eventually no water came out of the faucet at all, we sucked it up and used the sprayer, although I did venture a few vague comments about what a mess the sprayer makes and it would be nice to be able to use the faucet. DH pretended not to hear me. I shut up because
Plumbing Repair Projects are the worst, and I knew we were headed for a Big One. I wanted to put it off as long as possible, so I kept my mouth shut. Denial is a wonderful thing.

We limped along using the sprayer for a couple of weeks. I gritted my teeth a lot, but I told myself it was preferable to a dreaded Plumbing Repair Project.

Well, on Tuesday of this week DH broke the sprayer. (Thank you, dear Lord, that it wasn't me or Daughter Dear who broke it!!) The result was that we had no water in the kitchen at all from Tuesday until yesterday.

My dysfunctional way of dealing with the situation was to refuse to even try to cook. We ate sandwiches on Wednesday. DH went out with the guys on Thursday and I ordered Chinese take-out.

Yesterday it rained. That meant DH was home from work. I had previously put in for a vacation day in order to putz around the house and do some "fall cleaning." When it was clear he was not going anywhere, I considered going to work anyway because I knew what was about to happen. It was sort of like watching an auto accident: you know what is going to happen, but there is no way to prevent it. Of course, he decided that it was the perfect day to replace the faucet. I hid in the bedroom most of the morning.

I will not go into the horrific details, but I am pleased to report that, after approximately four hours of swearing, grunting, slamming doors, and three trips to Lowe's he finally got the new faucet installed and working. We now have excellent water pressure. The new faucet didn't come with a sprayer, so we now also have a hole in the sink where the sprayer used to be. I don't care. I hated that damned thing anyway.

"A President 'Just Like Me'" EGADS!

I am little behind in my blog-reading. This morning I read this article by RogueColumnist that makes me want to stand up on a chair and shout "Hallelujah" and "AMEN, Brother!" (except that I don't do that kind of thing). Instead I want to pass it along. Stop and read it now. Please. Never mind my commentary.

I don't want a president "just like me" either -- not that Sarah Palin is just like me. I read the newspapers and occasionally have moments when there is cosmic convergence of some sort and I have an inkling of a CLUE!

Consider the Great Presidents mentioned in the article. We should seek out and search for the BEST in America to lead us. The forward-thinking. The visionaries. Perhaps someone with less political experience is just the ticket. Someone with not-so-much experience but a lot of education and a lot of heart.

I used to respect John McCain. I intended to vote for him in 2004 if George Bush hadn't stabbed him in the back in South Carolina. Something happened to McCain on the way to the 2008 Election. I don't know if he's gotten old and senile and more pliable for his handlers to manipulate or what. Or if he sold out. (I really hope it was the former. I really do like the guy.) His choice of Palin was utterly irresponsible.

I was not initially thrilled with Obama, but he's grown on me. I may quibble with his policies, but he speaks in full, grammatical sentences that turn into paragraphs that make sense, and are sometimes inspiring. His demeanor is calm and comforting [which is really important to me these days as freaked out as I am by the "mysterious" disappearance of a large chunk of my 401(k)]. He has behaved like a president. He's smart. More importantly, he's well educated. He was a community activist; they tend to care about people.

I don't want a president "just like me." I want someone smarter, stronger, steadier and with more courage than I have. I don't know for sure that the Obama/Biden ticket will fill that bill entirely, but I'm absolutely positive McCain/Palin doesn't. (And don't go off on me about McCain's courage. Yes! He exhibited gobs of it in Viet Nam. I respect and honor him for that. He must have used it all up in the service and in his wonderful early years in the Senate when he did work across party lines and take risky stands on issues, because he didn't seem to be able to stand up to the right wing-nuts who pushed Palin on him.)

Bottom line: I voted for Obama.

Because I want a president who's better than me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Duty Done

It has been thirty-six years since I cast my first ballot in an American presidential election. I remember going to the polls by myself after school. I was nervous and a little afraid I would mess up. After I voted, I remember feeling proud and, somehow, powerful. Despite a whole lot of ballots in between then and now, I had nearly the same experience today.

Today is not Election Day, but we have early voting in Florida. Certain polling places are open for two weeks before the election. I had the day off from work, so my Daughter Dear and her Wonderful Boyfriend and I went to the polls together. It was rainy today, which made me think there might not be many people voting. The rain stopped about a half an hour before we arrived. I was surprised to see a long line of people waiting, many with ponchos and umbrellas.

It took about a half an hour for the line to snake its way along the sidewalk to the front door of the library. We moved slowly, but at a very steady (almost somber) pace. Once inside, there were more than thirty people ahead of me. Voters sat in rows of plastic chairs waiting for our turn to go to the front of the room and receive our ballots. The poll-workers were professional, courteous and amazingly efficient.

All in all it took more than an hour for us to vote. And it is still more than a week before Election Day! I am thrilled at the prospect of a big turnout. I think everyone should vote. I know I skipped voting for a few years, and at the time I felt as though I had a good reason. I am older and wiser, and I have more stake in America. It is a privilege to vote. It is also a duty. I was delighted to see so many people doing their duty today.

Even after 36 years of voting, the whole process is exciting to me, and I was still nervous that I would mess up my ballot and have to go ask for another one. I love the ritual of voting. The whole process is almost liturgical, at least the way they conduct the early voting here. I waited fifteen or twenty minutes for my turn to receive my ballot. While I waited (patiently, for once) I watched other people go up to the front of the room, get their ballots and then go to the voting booths.

I spent my waiting time watching my fellow Americans. There were old people, which is to be expected. Older people have always been the most regular and reliable voters. This is Florida: old people rule. Some of them looked very prosperous; many, however, were clearly not so well off. Some moved with alacrity. Most moved more slowly. Many used canes.

While we waited, several people voted who required various kinds of assistance. The poll-workers appeared to be helpful and patient. (I have seen situations in the past when that was not the case.) In the short time we were there, a blind person was assisted by a poll-worker, a woman who looked as though she were undergoing chemotherapy (and who required support in walking and standing) was also helped by a poll-worker and a person who was either deaf or did not speak English was assisted by her companion.

There were a lot of foreign-looking people in the crowd as well: Indians and other "brown" people in particular, but not as many Spanish people as I would have expected.

The crowd voting today was at least half black and an unbelievable percentage was young people, both white and black. DD and WBF saw a bunch of students from their college and several teachers from the college as well as a couple of teachers from their high school.

A lot of husbands and wives voted together. One very young couple had a tiny baby in a pumpkin seat. (That brought back memories of me trying to get DD's stroller inside the voting booth.) There were several openly gay couples.

Few people talked, and those that did spoke in hushed voices. What we were doing was no joking matter. We The People were doing Something Very Important, and We The People were taking it Very Seriously. There was power flowing through that room that was almost palpable.

Regardless of which candidates are elected (from the president of the U.S. down to the representatives for the local water conservation district -- the latter of which may have more of a direct impact on my life), I wish the candidates well and I appreciate their willingness to serve our country.

Our country may be a mess. Our federal system may resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption more than any kind of sensible government. There is a lot of work to be done, but,
I am pleased and proud to have the opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

I was proud beyond words to be there as DD and WBF cast their first votes. I'm proud of both of them for taking their civic responsibility seriously.

In my family, we've done our part. Now, all we can do is hope and pray that the rest of America will do the same.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

So Much Going On!!!

I barely know where to start today. I seem to have a lot going on.

Item One: After a bit of a break from fiction writing, I decided to sign up as a participant in the National Novel Writing Month project. Have I mentioned lately that I am totally insane?

I made the decision to do this two days ago. That means I have less than two weeks to plan a novel that I will write in one month. Yikes! I know that I normally write really fast, so I am almost positive I can do 50,000 words in a month. What I am less sure about is whether or not I can write 50,000 words on the same novel in a month. I typically work on several projects at a time. Ordinarily, I have one in the drafting stage, one in the editing stage, and one or more "late stage" drafts that I tend to tinker with when the notion strikes. Focusing on only one project for a whole month will be a challenge for me.

I'm ready. I'm working on an outline and back stories for my characters. I'm pretty sure the ultimate result will be pretty different from what I envision now, but at least I've got a plan in the event the Muse bails on me half way through. Not that the bitch would do that, of course.

Item two: I have been pondering the direction of this Blog. I have read that the "best" blogs have a theme and stick to it. Mine has kind of wandered all over the place. Should I pick one theme to which I must be faithful? Do I want to focus on a theme, and hope to build a base of readers who care about that? Do I want to continue with my free-form, whatever-pops-into-my-mind format?

I haven't decided, but I find it somewhat synchronous that I happened upon the Margaret-and-Helen blog and that Rita Arens posted this item over at Surrender Dorothy on the same day.

On the one hand, I like writing about whatever the hell seems to be important to me on any given day. That is what I love about Helen's shoot-from-the-hip, smoke-'em-if-you've-got-em attitude. On the other hand, writing about stuff that is really personal, especially when other adult and/or teen-aged persons are involved, is both scary and seems to me slightly unfair to the family members who are often being discussed. I am not 82 yet. That makes a difference.

I am leaning toward continuing with the "whatever the hell I damned well feel like writing about" format, with all its pitfalls.

We shall see. The fact is, I am pretty sure that I won't be blogging much at all during November, which will give me time to think about how much structure I want to impose here -- or not.


Item three: I plan to cast my vote tomorrow, taking advantage of Florida's early voting option. [Even as I say that, I can think of a dozen satirical directions to go with a piece on Florida elections, but it seems like such a cheap shot, even I can't bring myself to go that low.]

I have voted early before. Once a person casts his/her ballot, either by absentee ballot or the early voting option, for that voter the election is over. I have learned in previous elections that the downside to the early voting option is that, even after you vote, the campaign ads and rhetoric continue. In fact, during the last week or so of the campaign the ads reach a crescendo that crashes to a halt only on election day.

What I need to do is avoid all media between tomorrow and election day.

Perhaps that's just as well: I have a novel to plan and to write.

I'll be too busy to pay attention to the last-minute screed on the TV. Geez.... maybe I'm not all that insane after all. I've just found a way to stay out of the last-minute fray.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

OMG! (pun totally intended)

Occasionally I stop to check on Father T for old times sake and to see what's up in the "good" corners of the Episcopal Church. I almost always come away with some thought provoking tidbit. Today it was more like a feast for the brain.

Fr. T linked to this article by Harvey Cox, "The Market as God," originally printed in The Atlantic in 1999. In today's world, that makes it a positively ancient piece of writing. It is nevertheless still as fresh and thought provoking as it must have been in in 1999! I think it is positively prophetic... or at least it has kept the synapses between my brain and my soul crackling and popping all day.

It is significant that I read it almost immediately after reading the following two articles: this one, from Time by Joseph Stiglitz, "How to Get Out of the Financial Crisis" and this one that appeared in the New York Times by Warren Buffett, "Buy American. I am." I admire Mr. Buffett perhaps more than almost any other public person in America today, and I applaud his efforts to prevent panic and make people realize that the "end" is not necessarily at hand. Both of these men are making valiant (and important) efforts to calm the fearful and to encourage people to take a reasoned approach to responding to the crisis. To use a liturgical phrase which strikes me as appropriate under the circumstances: "it is very meet and right so to do."

Cox's article, however, casts the entire credit and banking crisis in a different, and fascinating light. It may not change the nature of the things we need to do in order to move forward, but Cox succinctly describes the invisible and, largely unconscious, quasi-religion that allowed this situation to get so out of hand. In effect, Cox pulls back the curtain and reveals the great and powerful Market-God for the myth it is. Looking at them directly doesn't make our deeply cherished myths any less significant or important. It does, however, allow us to name them and to understand their power over us. It also gives us the possibility of distancing ourselves just enough to put a wedge between us and the power that our mythology holds over us, if we are so inclined.

Cox says that some of the traditional religions have become absorbed by the Market-God religion, much like the Old Gods were demoted and lived on as the saints of the Christian pantheon (which was the only choice they had, other than total annihilation). Anyone who is inclined to disagree with that statement might want to check out the marketing material being pumped out by some of the mega-churches. Their message is this: if you will accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior and (perhaps just as importantly) follow our simple __(fill in the blank with a number)__-Step program, you, too, can wear Gucci shoes, a Rolex watch and live in a McMansion in a gated community. That's what Jesus will do for you, folks! Jesus wants you to be happy, and, of course, we know that in America that happiness is measured by material possessions. Our God is an awesome font of many blessings: material ones.

I can't help but wonder how many of the people who took out those risky loans to buy big houses they couldn't afford were relying on Jesus to help them come up with the money to pay off the loans. How many of them had bought into the theology of prosperity they heard at church on Sundays? Their preachers told them if they believed in Jesus and worked hard, they would be rewarded with material prosperity -- and they deserve nothing less. In support of their statements, the preachers quote Jesus's "own" words about abundant life.

The Jesus I encounter in Scripture exhibits a sort of prickly attitude toward money and rich people who like to flash their money around or use it to buy undue influence (the Jesus I encounter in the Bible is a little prickly on a lot of subjects, but I digress...). The way I heard the story, Christians were to look to the Christ as the source of the humility and love his followers would need in order to live lives of self-sacrifice and service to God's People.

I have never been able to understand by what spiritual contortions the Christ of God who taught about sacrificial love (all the way to Calvary) has been transmogrified into the Great Sugar Daddy bestowing fancy cars and big houses on the faithful. It makes sense, however, if you think of it as the Market-God Religion co-opting the symbols and stories of the pre-existing religion to make its (new) points. That is exactly the same thing Christianity did when it used pre-Christian myths, symbols and rituals to support the (then new) Gospel!

Even the Churches themselves exhibit more faith in the Market-God than the biblical God, who often takes hard positions against accumulation of money or material extravagance. Within a short drive of my house there are two construction projects begun by churches that began to build large new churches without having raised the capital to finish them. They broke ground, "stepping out in faith" that the money would be there when it would be needed to accomplish God's work. Their willingness to do that was supposed to be evidence of their faith in the abundance of Creation and God's promises to take care of God's People. Unfortunately Jesus failed to come through with the cash. The half-finished buildings have become eyesores, rusting and deteriorating hulks, monuments to the hubris of the congregations who attempted to get too big, too fast and with too little money.

Cox tells us that our faith in the Market is essentially a religious act arising out of a theology of which most of us are unaware. It might be safe to say that, at least in some parts of the American Christian Church, Jesus has a new Father-God.

What is more, there are a lot of Americans who would vigorously deny being "religious" in any way but who passionately believe in and practice the religion of the Market without even being aware of it.
I think it is important to be aware of the deeply cherished Myths that guide our behavior.

During this economic crisis and in this election year, we need to look carefully at the people we are considering calling to be the high priests of our civil religion. Who would we rather have as our High Priests: the greedy bastards who brought us to this crisis, or reasonable people who believe in moderate growth and doing what is best for the Common Good.

It might also not hurt to consider, while we are at it, whether the Market-God is worthy of the exalted position to which we have elevated it. I'm guessing there are more worthy gods to whom we could devote ourselves.

The God of Jesus might not be a bad place to start.

Here endeth the ranting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's Getting Nasty Out There

I have received several more emails from certain long-ago acquaintances regarding Senator Obama. They strike me as hysterical screed which I would laugh about, but for the fact that somebody sat down and wrote this stuff as a serious critique of Obama's candidacy, by attacking him personally. They attack his honesty, his ethics, his patriotism, and his religious faith. I sort of understand all that. If he were a lying, cheating, traitor who worships Satan, I might have a problem with voting for him -- unless, of course, he had a great idea for extricating us from the war in Iraq and turning around the economic crisis. I can be very open minded when the situation calls for it.

The one critique that left me scratching my head was the allegation that Obama is not half-black. The writer said Obama is half white, and the other half is "90% Arab and 10% black." The writer concludes that means he's a Muslim. Huh? I think somebody needs to look up the words "Arab" and "Muslim" in a dictionary or on Google. Obama's father was from Kenya; I'm guessing the man was probably racially a black man, regardless of his religion. Racially, Senator Obama is half white and half black. Neither of which has any bearing whatsoever on his religion -- which is, for the record, Christian. [Senator Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ, which is the Congregational Church.... the heirs to the churches of the Pilgrims. I am sure some of those dudes are spinning in their graves over what their church has become.]

I think it is interesting that the evengelical right-wing seem to think it is somehow worse to be a Muslim than to be black. I guess a black Christian (especially a narrow-minded evangelical one, not a "radical" black Christian like Rev. Jeremiah Wright) is preferable in their view to a Muslim, no matter how intelligent, rational or forward-thinking he (or she) might be.

Presumably that has to do with the evangelical requirement for accepting-Jesus-Christ-as-your-Lord-and-Savior. I suppose that blacks in America, who are, as far as I know, overwhelmingly Christian, should take some consolation in that -- but probably not very much.

I am no huge fan of Islam for a whole lot of reasons, but even I acknowledge that simply being a Muslim does not necessarily make a person a wacko. There are a lot of Muslims who are intelligent and broadminded. We should not consider all of them to be terrorists because of a few extremists. [I note we could say the same thing about the Christian far-right wing. They are utter nut-jobs. That does not mean that all Christians are kooks.]

I knew this was going to happen. In all honesty, I thought it might be worse than it has been. I'm predicting the attacks will continue to escalate until the eve of the election (and beyond, if Obama is elected). What scares me is that I know the kind of awesome communication network the Christian wackos have. They can electronically rev up the faithful to a fever-pitch, not unlike the most diabolical Wahhabi ayatollah. I would not want to be Barack Obama for the next two weeks ... or four years.

Obama's ahead in the polls now. If the far right decides to swallow hard, hold their noses and vote for McCain (especially since his running mate is a darling of the Christianists), and if the liberals hold true to form and stay away from the polls in protest or because it's raining or cold or inconvenient, McCain could eke out a victory.

Think: Election 2000.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Election 2008 - On "Class" Distinctions

My mother has always been adamant that in America we absolutely, positively do not have a class system. She says that because that is what she learned in school. It is important to note that my mother went to an all-white school in the Jim Crow South. They had some very good reasons for teaching that garbage. In any case, Mom learned the lesson well, believed it and it became one of the articles of her faith in America. [I have never had the heart to break it to her that she was wrong. She doesn't use computers so my secret is safe. Shhh!]

She taught me that we live in a classless society, and I believed it, for a long time. I could get away with believing it when I lived at home because I grew up in a small town where almost everybody was white and at least nominally Christian, and nobody was either very rich or very poor. Even in that protected environment, class was a big factor in our lives, but I couldn't see it until after I left. It became very clear from a distance.

Most Americans, at least those in the vast middle, tend to deny we have a class system. I suspect the people at very top of the pyramid are all too aware of the class structure in America, but are far too polite and well-bred to mention it. The people on the very bottom are keenly aware of what they might even think of as a veritable "caste" system in America where they are all but unseen if not totally "untouchable," but they are poor and uneducated and nobody pays any attention to them, anyway. Our class hierarchy is sort of a dirty [big]little secret we all know about but nobody wants to admit.

If pressed, most people I know will say that they are "middle class."
I know people who are highly educated and (from my perspective) well-heeled professionals who think they are "middle class." I know some people whom I consider "poor" and "low class" who think they are "middle class." Shucks, my mother insists to this day our family is "middle class." She is dead wrong. My immediate family was solidly Blue Collar in every respect (except for my father's choice in reading material), which in my mind is one run below "middle class." I have a college education and work in a white collar job, but I have exceedingly "low class" tastes in most areas that "count." I think I inhabit the borderland between Blue Collar and White Collar America. I know which fork to use at a fancy dinner and I actually enjoy classical music, but I really hate all things "fancy." In most ways that matter, am anything but "middle class."

I guess on the one hand, I don't think the term "middle class" means much of anything in America.

How do you categorize "class" in a country like America. I don't like the "blue collar" v. "white collar" descriptors, because it seems to describe a manufacturing culture, which we are not any more. Personally, I rather like the word Bourgeoisie. In many ways America is the gold standard of a bourgeois nation. We prefer the term "middle class" because it sounds better, and because we can spell it. We don't know what bourgeois means, but it's French and it sounds kind of like an insult, so we're pretty sure it must not apply to us.

I think bourgeois describes Americans very well. We came out of the European aristocratic system; it should not surprise anyone that we have sort of ended up with our own version of it, albeit with all kinds of uniquely American aberrations. For the sake of clarity, however, I will stick to the more common "Upper," "White Collar" and "Blue Collar" designations even though I don't like them.

In the past few days, I've read several articles on "class" in America. On the one hand, I found far fewer articles on the subject than I expected. That is probably because this is not a subject Americans like to discuss. On the other, I was not surprised to find that people who ventured to write about it agree there most definitely is a class system. They differ greatly how to categorize the classes, or what they mean exactly. One thing they (and I) agree on is that one thing that sets America's class system apart from the Old World aristocratic system is that our levels of class are at least somewhat fluid. You can go up...

...And you can go down. The going down part is the aspect of our society that creates so much anxiety and fear -- especially in times like these. At least according to Wikipedia, it is one aspect of bourgeois culture that accounts for the emphasis on keeping up appearances. It occurs to me, also, that it may be a significant reason why Americans deny we have a class structure to begin with. If there is no class structure, we don't have to worry about "downward mobility."

I think that in America class is largely a function of how much money a person has, how they got the money, how long they have had it and what they do with it. Other factors include education level (particularly where the education is achieved), location of residence, choice of fashion and entertainment.

In European aristocratic society, class was considered rigid and very difficult (if not impossible) to overcome. In America, the class boundaries are fuzzy, fluid and hazy. But, they are there. Oh, dear Lord, are they ever there!

I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately in considering the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and America's reactions to them.
I want to look at this election from the standpoint of socio-economic class. Warning: broad, sweeping generalizations to follow.

Obama I haven't read his books, but I know he is a mixed-race person, raised by a single mother and ultimately educated at Yale. He worked as an activist and then went into politics. He is now a Senator, which -- just as in ancient Rome -- puts him pretty much at the pinnacle of the class ladder. He's married to a Yale-educated lawyer who makes enough money to support the family in a very upper-crust life-style. Despite his common roots, Obama's going to be viewed by most people in America as a sort of "newly arrived" Upper Class person.

The true Patricians who've inhabited that class for generations see him as nouveau-riche and perhaps not to be taken seriously. Many people with dreams of social advancement see him as a role model. No small number of lower class racists consider him an uppity black who doesn't "know his place." In order to vote for him a lot of people will have to stretch a bit out of their comfort zone, crossing boundaries of class, education and race.

McCain McCain grew up as the son of an Admiral, Episcopalian, Annapolis educated. He was a Naval officer, a fighter pilot. He married very well, the second time anyway. He borders on Blue Blood, but McCain's own self-created "maverick" image and crotchety temperament may keep him out of the top rungs of the Upper Class.
Mrs. McCain's incredible commitment to charity plus her millions along with the his long tenure in the Senate keep him pretty high on the food chain. [I will note that Mrs. McCain strikes me as a very impressive woman. I find it interesting that irascible old dudes like Bob Dole and John McCain are married to incredible women like Elizabeth Dole and Cindy McCain... something to ponder another time.]

I think McCain is seen by almost everybody as a sort of "American everyman." I am not sure that was ever really true. Admiral's sons educated at Annapolis, serving decades in the Senate and married to heiresses, don't exactly live in my world. Still, he's got the "All American Boy" cred. It's impossible not to respect and admire the guy. It may be a little harder to like him due to his cantankerousness nature... but even that has a sort of Bad Boy charm. I think McCain's appeal crosses all class lines. People from any group could vote for him without too much of a stretch.

Biden may be the most quintessentially "self-made American" of all of the candidates. He is truly a product of "middle" America, with the added twist of having been a single father. Women ought to be lining up to vote for this this guy, what with his "Mr. Mom" experience. He knows from first-hand experience what working women are up against. He comes from the working class, but 30+ years in the Senate has bumped him up in the hierarchy. Sadly, his common roots show occasionally in what the press refers to as "verbal gaffs"... most of which strike me as "calling a spade a spade." Biden is seen by a lot of people as a "liberal, government insider." I think he's really a very deeply patriotic and passionately committed American, who just isn't very eloquent ... and who has a really, really, really pathetic barber.

By all rights, Biden should appeal to the middle and lower classes, which is where he came from, but unfortunately, he's hob-nobbed with the Washington insiders too long and he's just not all that inspiring. That may be why Obama chose him: he doesn't help a whole lot, but he doesn't hurt much either.

Palin is unquestionably, and flamboyantly, working class, bordering on Trailer Trash.

The Patricians must be cringing at the very thought of a woman like that being "a heartbeat from the presidency." I have a hard time understanding how some of the truly upper crust Republicans could tolerate her on the ticket. I know it sounds cynical, but I can't help but wonder whether, if McCain were to die in office, all of a sudden there would be a terrible scandal that would eliminate Palin and allow the next-in-line to assume the presidency. [Quite honestly, I hope to God that particular fix is in just in case the Republicans win.]

On the other hand, the evangelicals among the working class are all lathered up in support of her because "she's one of us."

That is where I get off the blue collar bus. I grew up in a blue collar environment. I was the first in my family to go to college. I grew up among the "salt-of-the-earth" good, upstanding, patriotic, Mom-and-apple pie Americans. We stood up when the flag went by, recited the pledge of allegiance every day in school, and bought Buddy Poppies on street corners from the VFW. [Hell, I've stood on a few street corners selling VFW Buddy Poppies!!] I love working class Americans. They are good and decent. They work hard. They love their kids. In Garrison Keillor's words, "They do what needs to be done." I never met one of them who was qualified to be President. That includes Sarah Palin.

Doing the math through this lens, the election looks like a toss up, perhaps leaning toward McCain. May the Lord protect and defend him......


Class In America - Time
People Like Us: Social Class in America - PBS

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Giggle

According to this article my husband is a Muslim. I would never have guessed!

Good thing he's not running for office. I'd hate to have to "out" him.

Election 2008 - The "Race" Factor

Here is a recent NY Times Article by Charles Kristof on the role of racism in the presidential election. The comments on the article are here. I haven't read all the way through the comments, but the first one starts with "Duh." On the one hand, that's correct. The article states the plainly obvious: hidden, unconscious racism will play a huge role in this election. On the other hand, I think Mr. Kristof did a service by reminding us of something that is so obvious, we often don't notice it. Our buried racism is something we should keep in mind every time we have to make choices between people. I think it is particularly important for those of us who make hiring decisions to keep this in mind. It is, of course, critical when we make voting decisions.

I know people who will not vote for Senator Obama primarily because of his race and/or religion. Some candidly admit, without apology, that they won't vote for him because he is black. Some won't vote for him because they think he is secretly a Muslim; it is is unacceptable to their evangelical world view for America to be led by a non-Christian. I think a lot of the people who complain about Obama's "lack of experience" or his alleged association with terrorists or his affiliation with the radical pastor are all essentially saying "he's black" or "he's Muslim." On the other hand, there are no doubt blacks who will vote for him solely because he is one of them. Perhaps some Muslims will vote for him for the same reason. (If I were Muslim in America, I'd vote for Obama if only because I know he has Muslims in his family and probably does not refer to Muslims as "towel heads" or "terrorists" all the time, like a lot of white Americans.)

We all do it a hundred times a day. We classify people based on their similarities and differences to us. We like to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. Life is easier that way.

We also like people to stay in their "place." That has a lot to do with racism, also. In fact the idea that people should stay in their "place" probably arose out of the Jim Crow laws in the South, which essentially created an apartheid state. There were places blacks could go, and places they could not. The latter were essentially all places where white people went. Blacks who tested the boundaries were considered "uppity" because they didn't "know their place."

The notion of keeping your place expanded. Women's "place" was traditionally in the home, so the women who pushed for women's suffrage, birth control rights or other feminist issues have been considered "uppity" as well as "bitches." Now that most households need two incomes, women's "place" has expanded to the workplace, but they still are not supposed to be too strong, too powerful or too ambitious. Strong, powerful and ambitious men are seen as "successful" and "sexy". Strong, powerful and ambitious women are, just, well, bitches. That one bites Hilliary Clinton in the ass every time she opens her mouth and is, I believe, the number one reason she is not on the Democratic ticket.

It is interesting that Gov. Palin has managed to escape the "bitch" label despite the "Sarah Barracuda" reputation. How? I think it is because she plays down the ambition and power part. She talks about her family, she plays up the fact that she's a mother and wife, first and foremost. She talks tough, but she winks to let you know she's only going to be tough on the "bad" guys. Her "aw shucks" demeanor belies her ambition and agenda. She gets away with it because Americans tend to accept sound-bites as reality and they do not look beneath the surface. Personally I'd rather deal with a bitch who talks straight and tells me what she really is up to rather than a "lady" who will say one thing and do something else. But that's just me. Americans like their women (even their working women) to behave more like Palin than like Clinton.

The fact is, race and gender will play enormous roles in this election. Religion will play every bit as big a role. The right wing folks would vote for McCain regardless of who the Democratic candidate is.

All the rest of us have to manage to get past our buried, unconscious, hidden, unknown prejudices that would prevent us from voting for Obama. Then -- harder still -- lots of people who ordinarily would not bother to vote because they don't think their votes matter, need to get up off their asses and go to the polls.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life Spiraling Out Of Control ... or a Learning Experience (?)

A funny thing happened while I was spiraling down into my sort of once-a-decade-or-so episode of depression (which, for me, is a time when I have to deal with existential angst that I prefer to ignore most of the time). Typically those "depressive" episodes involve making the psycho-spiritual-emotional adjustments necessary to conform my inner Self with the reality of my life. That is, acknowledging life transitions, such as aging and mortality. I've gotten used to experiencing such spells periodically in my life. Typically, I have found that the worst way to handle these episodes is to fight them. I have learned that the fastest route through the Darkness is straight ahead. Plunge in. Do the necessary mourning. Deal with it. Feel the pain. Make the necessary adjustments. Grow. Change. Get on with it.

After a while, a couple of things happen, sort of simultaneously. I more or less finish the process of adjustment, mourning and growth that is required. And, perhaps just as importantly, I get sick and tired of being miserable. Very soon after that, I revert back to "normal." Typically the new "normal me" is often very different from what it was before. These episodes have always been transforming experiences. That doesn't mean I don't hate them, dread them and fear them. It just means that I usually go into them with at least the faith that I'm going to come out the other side, more or less intact, even if altered.

That faith has always been based on a couple of absolute "givens." The most important "given" is the certainty that the Universe is a good, loving and hospitable place. There are good people in it (without denying that there are bad people). There is an abundance of everything (even if the distribution system is so damaged that there are many who do not benefit from the abundance of Life).

Another "given" is my conviction that I live in a country which makes at least some effort to protect the rights and privileges of its citizens. It provides for our relative safety from external aggressors and provides a (more or less) equitable rule of law at home. It affords us the freedom to work in our chosen profession and to benefit from our labors. Perhaps most of all I emotionally rely on the legal protections that are supposed to ensure that I will be treated fairly by my government and that my person and my property are protected by the rule of law.

I do not expect a lot of "services" from my government. I have always operated on the theory that we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, and should not ask for, much less rely, on "assistance" except in times of temporary crisis.

I do not expect a lot of "security" from my religion. The "God's in control and all's well with the world" theology that abounds in our country is not only NOT comforting to me, it is downright repugnant. All I need from religion is a glimpse now and then of the Glorious Mystery at the foundation of Everything. That is more than sufficient for me.

I do not expect people to always treat me fairly or tell me the truth. When they do, I am delighted (and often surprised). I do not seek "security" in people.

I do not seek security in accumulating a lot of things. On the contrary, I have spent my entire adult life trying to pare down my desires to match my needs. That is indescribably difficult in our consumer culture, where it is so easy to be seduced and caught up in the race for "more, better, best." My goal has always been to minimize my needs and try to live as simply as possible.

I say again: my primary security lay in believing that I am privileged to live in a country where I am safe and (relatively) free. I have always trusted that, if I work hard, I would be able to support myself and my family, even if simply. One of the linchpins of my faith is the rule of law in America that prevents people or my government from taking away what I have worked for. I always believed that, within that setting, I could adjust to most anything else Life might dish out. [I have to add this disclaimer: I am fully aware that most people on Earth are far from being so privileged. I am utterly and unspeakably grateful for the blessing of living in the place and time I do.]

Over the last couple of years, I have been struggling with the transition into Midlife: menopause; dealing with the idea of the mortality of my parents, and my own; coping with a teen-ager about to leave the nest; coping with a spouse who is also facing similar transitions in his life. It has been a bad time for me, but I have put my head down and forged ahead, hoping that I would get through the Darkness like I always have before.

Now, however, the the "givens" in my world do not look as solid as they have in the past. I still believe in the Fundamental Goodness of Creation. I still believe that my country's core values are worthy, but I am disheartened to see how our so-called leaders have ignored, perverted and trampled on them. Worst of all, I am afraid that their policies -- and the rampant greed among the citizenry that those policies allowed to go unchecked -- will rob me of my sense of personal and financial security (as illusory as my faith in them may have been).

If the stock market keeps performing like it did this week, our life savings will soon be all but gone. I know we are in a better position to cope with a loss like that than many, because we have relatively little debt. Nevertheless, I am at a time in my life when I expected to be able to relax a little and look forward to enjoying retirement, living off the fruits of my previous labors. Instead, I find myself working harder than ever, with less expectations of doing any better than keeping my head above water (getting ahead seems out of the question). My hopes for a future in which I can reap any benefit from my previous labors are dimming. What happens when I can't work at that pace any more? What would happen if I spiral down into hopelessness and can't force myself to even try anymore?

It was bad enough being depressed and unsettled at a difficult time in my life. Instead of feeling as though I am working my way through the Darkness toward a new phase of my life, I feel as though my world is crumbling around me and the very things I relied on for my sense of security are anything but certain. I am no longer merely depressed. I am teetering back and forth between anger and fear.

My my head tells me it would be better to be angry and come out swinging. At what? At who? To what end?

My heart wants me to curl up in a fetal position and hide under the bed until this is over. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of days recently when, on an emotional level, I do precisely that even while going through the motions of my regular routine.

My soul tells me it's time to contemplate the Buddhist notion of giving up my reliance on the fruits of my labors.

Geez, I hate that.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In Between Storms: A Double Rainbow

Awe and Trembling

I started to make this a "my beautiful world" entry, but "beautiful" isn't exactly the word for it. Mother Nature sort of threw a hissy fit in these parts today.

A line of storms blew through here today that thrilled me and scared the hell out of me, sort of simultaneously. It has been a long time since I have seen the sky do some of the stuff I saw today. I didn't see the first line of storm clouds blow in. I sit with my back to the windows at work, so it sneaked up on me. When someone called it to my attention I started watching. It was totally awesome. First there was an almost straight line of purplish black gobbling up the still bluish sky. Then, suddenly, it was like nighttime. It was dark and threatening but, eerily, the air was perfectly still and it stopped raining. It was that still-point when Nature itself seems to be holding its breath waiting for all hell to break loose.

I could see in the distance that there was a LOT of rain and wind headed right for us. The clouds looked like they were boiling and I could see about three suspiciously tornado-like tendrils hanging down from some of the clouds. It was utterly beautiful, but I would have enjoyed it more if I were "safe" at home with my family rather than at work.

Some of the people were rushing to leave in order to try to get home before the storm broke. I was working on a project so I decided to stay put and wait for the storm to blow past. My theory was that violent storm cells like that rarely last long. A little while later the skies in the direction of my house brightened. The worst of the storm seemed to be heading the other way. I decided to make a run for it.

At first I thought I would be okay. The skies to in front of me were blue. The skies to the east were blue. To the north and west, well, it sorta looked like the skies at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz -- in black and white, because there was no color in that part of my world.

I prayed like mad for green lights. Unfortunately, I hit nearly every light red. Things
(like garbage cans, tree branches, and a saw horse) started blowing into the streets and kept creating obstructions to traffic which would have been hard enough to dodge in heavy traffic for drivers who could see where they were going. I was driving almost completely blind, so those flying objects really freaked me out, although I did find myself chuckling at the thought that perhaps I should watch out for flying houses... or at least old ladies on bicycles.

I eventually made it home just in time for a torrential downpour as I ran from my car. As awful as the drive home was, I'm glad I didn't stay at work and try to wait it out. It is after 8:00 PM and it's still storming off and on.

I know storms are dangerous, and I truly was afraid at times on my drive home, but I can't help it: I love storm clouds. (It's the damned lightning and wind that freak me out.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Beautiful World - Day 12

On the way home from work today I had one of those breath-holding, almost-wrecking-the-car moments. As I drove down U. S. 1 toward home, wondering whether or not I would be able to fit in a walk before the rain or the darkness intervened, I glanced off to my left and almost ran off the road.

The intra-coastal waterway glistened blue and pristine-looking, with white condos rising on the peninsula beyond. The sky beyond the condos over the ocean contained both wispy, white almost-but-not-quite clouds and large clumps of heavy, purplish all-hell's-about-to-break-loose clouds. An amazing late-afternoon, early-fall turquoise sky peeked out from gaps between the two kinds of clouds.

It made me catch my breath! I wished, in vain, for a red light that would allow me to enjoy the incredible light-and-shade before moving on to avoid being run over by traffic.

I saw it for only a second, and I wanted to grasp at it and cherish it for a while, but it was not to be.

Still, I saw it for that incredible and magical moment. Oh my God it was beautiful!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fact Checking the Debates

These are some interesting articles checking out some of the statements made in the debates.

The VP candidates' debate

The Presidential candidates' debate

The thing that jumps out at me regarding the presidential debate was that Senator Obama missed a lot of key votes in 2007. I have a HUGE problem with that. What was he doing? I am betting he was out campaigning instead of being on the Senate floor. People who collect paychecks for doing a job should show up and do their job. Look for a new job on your own time.

I still intend to vote for him due to no other alternative, but this is a very disturbing statement, if it is true.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Bailout: Bitching and Moaning

I don't know jack about the banking industry, finance or economics. I am, however, a voter. I am also tax payer and a homeowner. Having skin in the game gives me the right to an opinion on the subject, whether or not I understand all the technicalities.

The first time I was involved in the purchase of a home, banks had certain criteria for lending money to buy a house. A bank would not loan a potential buyer more money than the borrower could afford (on paper) to pay. It is my understanding that the general formula was that the mortgage payment should equal no more than one week's pay. That seemed reasonable. There were other factors as well having to do with the buyer's employment history, credit rating, etc. In all honesty, other factors such as race, the location of the property and the social class of the borrower played an inappropriate role as well. But, the bottom line was the borrower's ability to repay the loan. Under that system, the banks would often refuse to loan money to some people for inappropriately discriminatory reasons; it was right and appropriate for regulatory agencies to crack down on that. Regardless of all other factors, banks would not loan a buyer more money than he/she could afford to repay.

When my husband and I bought our first home, the bank hesitated to loan us the money because he had not been with his employer more than two years. At the time, we had more than the value of the house in a savings account on deposit with the lending institution where we were seeking the mortgage. I suggested we simply take our money out of the bank and pay cash for the house. The loan officer did some fast calculating and announced that he could give us a loan after all. I came away with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole process, but we had a nice house.

After moving to Florida we rented for a year or so until we made the decision to stay here. At that point we started looking for a house. Neither of us had been on the job for more than a year and we made very little money. We wanted to get away from paying rent, but we seriously doubted we could get a loan. We were somewhat fearful that we might have to use a lot of our savings in order to buy a house. We found a tiny house and negotiated a great deal (we bought our house just before property values in Florida went crazy). I personally thought we might not be able to get any kind of a loan because our income was so low. I was surprised when the bank agreed to loan us the money. I assumed the fact that we had our nest egg in the bank was a factor; now I wonder.

My husband elected a 15 year mortgage instead of the standard 30 year loan. The size of the house payments scared me, but he promised if we had a problem making the payments we could refinance. He wanted to focus on paying down the principal. Having been a realtor, I thought he knew what he was doing, so I went along with it -- with a lot of trepidation. There were months when it was very uncertain whether or not we would be able to meet the mortgage. Somehow we managed to make the payments regularly. Even more miraculously, once we got settled in decent jobs, we managed to make extra payments that allowed us to pay off the mortgage early.

Ours is a cracker box ranch house with no frills whatsoever, but -- so long as we are able to pay the taxes -- it belongs to us, free and clear. Achieving that point was a struggle, but we did it by making payments to the bank that often caused us some personal sacrifice. We did it because we believe in personal financial responsibility.

I have ZERO (nada, zilch, negative) sympathy for people who bought bigger houses than they could afford, simply because the banks were willing to loan them the money. I have less sympathy for the banks who lent money willy-nilly to borrowers who, according to well-established criteria, were not good credit risks.

There is a lot of talk about how the lending institutions "took advantage" of the ignorance of consumers, more or less inducing people to borrow more than they could afford. I'm sure that's true to an extent. One of the first things people should do when they want to buy a house is to go to their bank and have a loan officer work up their credit rating to see how much money they can afford to borrow. That way they know to look for houses within that range. In recent years the amount of money the banks told people they could borrow was vastly inflated. That was the fault of the banks.

BUT, come on people! If a family earns $50,000, it can't afford a $400,000 house -- even if the banker is stupid enough or greedy enough to be willing to loan the money. You don't have to know anything about economics to know that. Do the math!

The combination of borrowers seeking loans they could not afford to repay and banks loaning too much money to risky buyers has resulted in a crisis that supposedly threatens our entire economy. The government believes the solution is a bailout, paid for by the taxpayers. That may even be correct. I am not convinced there was not another way to handle the situation, but the government has made its decision, so I will have to live with it.

As a person who has worked hard my entire adult life to pay my bills on time, pay off my house, and try to put aside some money for my kid's education and for retirement, please excuse me if this whole situation pisses me off to the Nth degree. I bought a small house I could afford and made every last fucking mortgage payment I owed the bank, at some degree of personal sacrifice. We decided to focus on pumping the extra disposable income after we paid off the loan into funding a college education and saving some for retirement. Thanks to a lot of factors, now exacerbated by the current banking crisis, the stock market has plummeted, so both our retirement savings account (which is in a mutual fund indexed to the S&P) and my 401K at work are in the toilet. We hoped to retire in our mid 60's. At this point, it's looking like we may have to work at least until we are in our 70's.

Maybe a bailout is the "right" thing to do. Maybe it's the economically sensible thing to do. But, once again, the middle class is getting screwed. The rich bankers and financiers will perhaps not get huge golden parachutes (supposedly), but they're not going to have to hock their Rolexes or start driving KIA's instead of Mercedes. A lot of the people who bought houses they could not afford will benefit from relief of various types.

Those of us in the middle are seeing our savings dwindle while still being expected to meet mortgage and other financial obligations on time, with no forgiveness or assistance. At the same time, we will be paying taxes to support the bailout.
Notwithstanding all the political jawing on the subject of not raising taxes on the middle class, I fully expect to pay higher taxes in the near future to pay for the government's vast expenditures on the bailout when it was already strapped for money.

The political candidates are out there yammering on and on about how they are going to help the middle class. What I want to know is: When?

Words from the Truly Wise

Today, in an article on, the following quote was attributed to Warren Buffett:

"I operate on the theory that every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."

Geez, the guy is not only the greatest stockpicker in history, the paragon of the greatness of capitalism and one of the greatest living Americans.... now he's making profound theological statements as well.

I love this guy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Cherished Moment From Long Ago

Heather Armstrong posted a link to this article today. (Warning: do not read this at work.)

While I was drying my eyes after reading the article, I remembered a long-forgotten experience from my youth. I share it now, as a tribute to old women everywhere who manage to lay aside their past with dignity.

I'm having trouble with some of that these days. Maybe I am reminded of this experience for a reason.

Here's my story:

I grew up in a town in Ohio that was so small it is still classified as a "village" even today. I was known as a great babysitter, even though I was never really super with kids. I think my reputation was based primarily on the fact I didn't date so I was generally available. I babysat for one family or another nearly every night of the week.

At one point when I was a junior in high school a lady who lived a few blocks from my family asked if I would be interested in a different kind of "sitting" job.

She and her husband were caregivers for her elderly mother. They wanted to attend a Bible study group together once a week but they could not leave Mother alone. She asked if I would be willing to stay with Mother one night a week. I jumped at the chance. I babysat for money but I didn't really like little kids. I have always loved old people. I would have stayed with Mother occasionally for free, but I was saving up for college, so I agreed to accept money.

For several months, once a week, I spent about two hours with Mother. She had a reputation as something of a "pill" among people in her church and in the neighborhood, but I found her to be an utter delight. She was a lovely gray-haired woman who always sat erect and lady-like in her wheel-chair. When I knew her, she was in her late 80's. She had lived in our town her entire life, and knew all its history and its people. Occasionally she asked me questions about my life and my school experiences, but mostly she regaled me with stories about her past, which included a lot of information about my heritage as a native of the village. I soon came to love the hours I spent with her.

At one point in the late spring, I was asked to help with a special assignment. Mother had finally accepted the fact that she would never be able to live alone in her home again, so the family had put it up for sale. It was an incredible prize, sitting atop a hill with a fabulous view of the Ohio River and the Kentucky farmland beyond. It had sold quickly.
They asked me to sit with Mother on a Saturday while they moved her furniture out of the family home.

Mother's daughter and her husband lived in a small cracker box, ranch-style home, built literally in the shadow of Mother's house, with a shared driveway. We all knew it would be a difficult day for Mother. I am glad I was too young to anticipate just how gut-wrenching the day would be for all of us.

The daughter, her husband and their sons spent most of the day hauling treasures out of the home Mother had lived in for more than fifty years. It was the home she moved into when she married her husband. She had shared it with him for decades until he died. She lived there alone for several more decades after his death until she became unable to live alone.

All day long, she sat in her wheel-chair in the front window of her daughter's house, watching her children and grandchildren remove her furniture and possessions from the home she had lived in and cherished for most of her life. As they carried each item out the front door, she gave me a running narrative of what it was, where it came from, how it had been used, which member of the family had used it and loved it the most. She never cried, although her voice did become a bit hoarse when she described certain items that had been given to her by her mother or her husband.

By midafternoon, Mother's home stood empty. The family members went inside to do a final cleaning.

Mother suggested it would be a good time for me to help her to the potty-chair before they all came home for dinner. She was a dignified and proper lady. I respected and admired her. She and I both hated the potty-chair routine. Nevertheless, I knew she thought would be better to get it out of the way before her four or five grandsons came in from their labors. She did her business. I emptied the bucket. I helped her back into her wheel-chair and we waited, together, for her daughter and grandsons.

Soon, the family came inside for dinner. Someone asked if I wanted a ride home. It was still daylight. I lived nearby. I desperately needed to be alone for a while, so I declined the offer. I kissed Mother on the cheek and left. I had managed, somehow, not to shed a tear all afternoon, but I sobbed all the way home.

Mother went into a nursing home soon after that, and died within a year. I never saw her again.

I still cherish the memory of the time we spent together, however.