Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The gyres! The gyres! Old Rocky face, look forth!

Sombeody's gonna have to explain it to me, I'm not sure what it means. Fortunately, the NYT is available to do just that:

Though financial markets around the world plunged on Monday after the rejection, the American markets rebounded Tuesday with both the Dow Jones industrial average up 2.5 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index up 3.2 percent. The Dow was up 260 points in early afternoon trading.

Investors seemed to be optimistic that Washington may still approve a financial rescue plan, after the House’s defiance of the president and party leaders left lawmakers groping for a resolution. While the markets were calmer, overnight lending between banks was stalled, analysts said, exacerbating the tight credit market.
That was the version posted earlier in the article. Since then, the market has simply gone up:

Though financial markets around the world plunged on Monday after the rejection, American stocks rebounded Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average was up more than 300 points in early afternoon trading, and the broader S.&P. 500 and New York Stock Exchange indexes posted solid gains on renewed optimism that the bailout would eventually be enacted, though the gains were not enough to retrace Monday’s sharp losses.

Credit markets continued to tighten, however, with investors continuing to shun risk in favor of Treasury securities. Overnight lending between banks remained stalled, analysts said.
So the DJIA is an economic indicator; or it doesn't really mean all that much. And the movement of the market clearly tells us something; if we fit that interpretation into the narrative we've all agreed upon.

You see, the market is "up" because the market expects that Congress, leaderless and divided and harried by the electorate and facing re-election in five weeks and shocking everyone by refusing yesterday to panic as the market dropped, will panic on Thursday and make everything alright. And the market "knows" this because....well, because the priests of the Oracle say so. Or something.

Anyway, the only possible explanation for a rise of 300 points after a fall of 777 points is that the market knows it will be bailed out by Thursday. Right? I mean, it couldn't be anything else. The causal relationship is so clear. After all, if it wasn't news, the Times wouldn't print it, right?

Watch the Donut, not the hole...

This is likely my second and last post on what's going on in D.C. at the moment. I fired off this screed at First Draft this morning:
I listened to FDR's inaugural speech yesterday, from 1933, when he said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And I realized the reluctance of the Dems to do anything is not a bug, it's a feature.

I'm supporting Obama for the same reasons Athenae* is, but I'm not hopeful he'll bring any real difference to the table. When Lloyd Doggett and Dennis Kucinich and John Culberson agree on something, I expect to see pigs flying. Instead, I get the still, calm voice of Obama arguing for the status quo, which is to give Paulson essentially what he asked for so there are no political repercussions that Dems have to deal with or worry about or politic on, so they can win the White House and then....do what? Do what, except continue to promote the status quo because that's what the people want? (Except they don't, which is the House voted against the bill yesterday, albeit barely.) Do what, except continue to be in the pockets of Wall Street (yeah, the Dow dropped almost 800 points yesterday. It's a marketing gimmick, not an economic tool. Hell, even the GOP Representative on NPR this morning understood enough nuance to argue that Dow had no relevance to the issue of legislation, and he wouldn't be scared or buffaloed by it.)

FDR took on the status quo, because he knew it was needed. He had fights in his own Cabinet over what to do, and despite the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, he had a fight in the first 100 days to get his New Deal enacted, a fight that lasted long after the 100 days, and included a battle royal with the Supreme Court. Can you imagine any Democrat, even Obama (especially Obama!) doing that come February?

I can't. Still, McCain would be so much worse....
James K. Galbraith reassures me that Doggett and Kucinich and even John Culberson (blind pig finds acorn! Film at 11!) were right in their votes: we don't need this. There are better ways to react to this problem, and there is time to find those solutions. If that happens, it will be in spite, not because of, the leadership of both parties.

I would only add that the DJIA was up 235 points 15 minutes after opening today. But like the wheel of fortune, where it stops, nobody knows.

So it goes.

*What Athenae said:
That I am supporting Obama, is in the hope that with a White House in their control, they'll be less cowed. That with the example of what someone can do to inspire Americans to move, they might realize we're all here, we're all ready, we're all hungry for it. We're listening. All they have to do is speak. That I am supporting Obama, it's in the belief that the simple "whoa, holy, shit, look at all those people who are fucking pissed off at stuff" will finally sink in.

Let's not kid ourselves, though. This isn't exactly the first big opening they've had to do something. This isn't their first chance to fail. They've had chance after chance, and they've never missed a single one yet.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Run in circles, scream and shout!

Even the local NPR station broke in to tell me this news, which puts it on par with a declaration of war, or another major terrorist attack. Most likely it is not as consequential as either. According to that graph the New York Times had up as I write, the DJIA started dropping before the vote, and has already risen again (though not, admitedly, above where it started). I'm sure the High Priests of the Market can explain the Delphic utterances of the Dow tonight, but for the moment, I can't follow the narrative. (I don't place as much value in an index created as a marketing gimmick, personally. But then again, I'm no economist, either.)

Paul Krugman probably thinks this is bad news; Nouriel Roubini probably thinks it's good news; Warren Buffet is probably selling short, or whatever it is he does at times like this. My 2 cents? This is probably a good thing. Democracy Now! played an excerpt from FDR's inaugural address (his first one), where he famously said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He wasn't addressing Germany and Japan, he was talking about the US economy in 1933. In 2008 we get George Bush, who is all about fear:

Working closely with my administration, congressional leaders from both parties produced the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act -- a bold bill that will help keep the crisis in our financial system from spreading throughout our economy.


The bipartisan economic rescue plan addresses the root cause of the financial crisis -- the assets related to home mortgages that have lost value during the housing decline.

Now that this legislation has been agreed to by leaders of both parties, it must be passed by houses -- both houses of Congress. And I fully understand that this will be a difficult vote. But with the improvements made to this bill, I'm confident that members of both parties will support it. Congress can send a strong signal to markets at home and abroad by passing this bill promptly. Every member of Congress and every American should keep in mind: A vote for this bill is a vote to prevent economic damage to you and your community.

This has been a volatile time for our financial system and our economy. Even with the important steps we're taking to address the current crisis, we will continue to face serious challenges. The impact of the credit crisis and the housing correction will continue to pressure our financial system and impact the growth of our economy for some time. But I'm confident that this rescue plan -- along with other measures taken by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve -- will begin to restore strength and stability to America's financial system and overall economy. And I'm confident that in the long run, America will overcome these challenges and remain the most dynamic and productive economy in the world.

Thank you.
Small wonder the Dow declined, huh? As Adam Cohen said to Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez:

ADAM COHEN: Absolutely true. The parallels between then and now are very strong. The contrast, I’d have to say, between that speech and the speech we heard from President Bush this morning was also quite stark. That speech, the inaugural address, was one of the great speeches in American history, but one of its great themes was “nothing to fear” and an explanation of the problems and a commitment to change the fundamental underlying principles of American government.

From President Bush today, we got a lot of fear—you know, unless you act quickly, everything’s going to fall apart—no explanation about exactly what’s going wrong—and I think the American people still don’t really understand that—and no commitment to change fundamentals. It’s all about, let’s pump more money into the system; don’t ask any questions.
Which is where I draw my comfort, for the moment. This time, finally, democracy worked. Maybe Wall Street does need an RTC to take over the investment banks and make them solvent. Maybe we don't need the brutal corrections of the marketplace. We certainly don't want to willingly put ourselves in the position FDR addressed in 1933.

But maybe the sky isn't falling, and maybe the political restrictions aren't quite as tight as Paul Krugman thinks (he's a fine economist and social critic, but I find he leaves much to be desired as a political analyst). Maybe the Congress doesn't need to do this before it recesses; or maybe it doesn't need to recess until something is done, but in a more orderly manner.

This much is known now: another vote is anticipated, and this may yet pass the House. Then again, it may not. Either way, this is the way the system is supposed to function. And Representatives respond to their constituents, who may not know much about econmics, either: but they know when they're being panicked. And this time, finally, at long last: they don't like it.

UPDATE: This is the kind of thing you just keep updating. Take this, for example:

When the critical vote was tallied, too few members of the House were willing to support the unpopular measure with elections just five weeks away. Ample no votes came from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle.

Bush and a host of leading congressional figures had implored the lawmakers to pass the legislation despite howls of protest from their constituents back home.

The vote had been preceded by unusually aggressive White House lobbying, and spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush had used a "call list" of people he wanted to persuade to vote yes as late as just a short time before the vote.

Lawmakers shouted news of the plummeting Dow Jones average as lawmakers crowded on the House floor during the drawn-out and tense call of the roll, which dragged on for roughly 40 minutes as leaders on both sides scrambled to corral enough of their rank-and-file members to support the deeply unpopular measure.

They found only two.
Like I say: this is how democracy works. Fear is not the tool of a democratic state. According to the NYT, it came down to this:

Early in the House debate, Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said he intended to vote against the package, which he said would put the nation on “the slippery slope to socialism.” He said that he was afraid that it ultimately would not work, leaving the taxpayers responsible for “the mother of all debt.”

Another Texas Republican, John Culberson, spoke scathingly about the unbridled power he said the bill would hand over to the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., whom he called “King Henry.”

A third Texan, Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, said the negotiators had “never seriously considered any alternative” to the administration’s plan, and had only barely modified what they were given. He criticized the plan for handing over sweeping new powers to an administration that he said was to blame for allowing the crisis to develop in the first place.

And it just kept going, bottoming out at 777 points down.

Time to buy shares in Theology of Abundance! Elijah! Elijah!

Letting the Days Go By

This old town should have burned down
In nineteen twenty-nine.
That's when we stood in line,
Waiting for our soup,
While swallowing our pride.

This old town should have burned down
In nineteen thirty-one.
When the rain refused to come.
Air filled up our bellies,
Dust filled up our lungs.
And we thought our time had come.

But this old town was built by hand,
In the dustbowl of the motherland.
There must be rock beneath this sand.
I'll be damned, this town still stands.

This old town should have burned down
In nineteen forty-four,
When the last man went to war.
They came back different,
If they came back at all.

This old town should have burned down
In nineteen fifty-six.
That's when the twister hit.
And all our hopes lay buried
Beneath the boards and bricks.
And we almost called it quits.

But this old town was built by hand,
In the dustbowl of the motherland.
There must be rock beneath this sand.
I'll be damned, this town still stands.

Somewhere in the distance,
The city lights do shine.
Sidewalks gleam with neon dreams,
That call from time to time.
When my children's children ask,
Why I didn't go, I'll say,
"The heart of any town
Is the people that you've known,
And they always call you home."

This old town was built by hand,
In the dustbowl of the motherland.
And there is rock beneath the sand,
I'll be damned, this town still stands.
--Janis Ian and Jon Vezner

This song has been going through my head, and I've been meaning to post it. But after watching the local news last night, I'm not sure I can share this song's sentiment anymore.

I don't watch local news, mostly because I don't watch the broadcast networks anymore. Now that all I can get is the local stations with very poor reception because new TeeVees presume a cable connection and don't come with an antenna (O machine! O machine!), I'm stuck with local news and really, really, I mean excruciatingly bad, broadcast network TeeVee shows. "The Unit" stands out as an example of creeping militarization in our culture: the country is under attack by "bad guys" (probably "terrorists," but I didn't pay enough attention to find out) and only the military can save us. I.e., in order to preserve democracy, we really do have to destroy it.

I needed a bath after 10 minutes of that. It's a sad irony that CBS comes in much better than PBS. I finally put in my DVD of "A Prairie Home Companion," the Altman film, and enjoyed it so much I've sworn off broadcast TeeVee for good. Comcast can call me when my cable is reconnected. In the meantime, I'm counting days to get credit on my next cable bill. If it wasn't for "Mad Men" and "The Daily Show" and TCM....

But local news is even worse. I had that on, too, while I ironed shirts last night. "APHC" was too interesting; I sat down to watch that, so I had to turn it off to get the work done. Before that it was the news, and I was shocked at how chauvinistic local news coverage now is. Not the news coverage per se, but the station's attitude about its news coverage. To hear them tell it in their commercials (and they ran one during every commercial break, which made me wonder about their revenues), they are the glue holding the Houston community together, and without them, we would all being living blighted and benighted lives, and the despair after Hurricane Ike would have driven us all out of town. But thanks to the local station, which always cared about us and was always "with us" and "stood right beside" us, Houston was going to be okay. Check that: I can't stop thinking in terms of "Us" (the citizens) and "Them" (the TeeVee station). But the grammar of the ads was clear: it was "me" they were talking to. The TeeVee station was there for "me." Yeah, and this Bud's for me, too.

Set aside the irony that, at one point, 3 million people in their viewing area were without power (and so not viewing them), the local CBS affiliate insisted they were "standing with" me (me, mind you; not a collective "you," but me individually) throughout the assault of Hurricane Ike and after. They even had audio clips of callers telling them how much the local station meant to those callers (which was even sadder, actually.) I've heard such language used by churches trying to promote themselves (which is yet another sad song to sing), so it struck me that the TeeVee station was thinking of itself as a church now, as the community group that made community possible (yet another reason to doubt the ecclesiology I was taught in seminary; but that's still another topic!). The station insisted they were "standing by me" through this "crisis." And all I could think was: where were you when I was cleaning my yard for three days? Where were you when I was lifting the generator out of the car, with my strained back? Were you the one running an extension cord across the street so I could have a light and an electric fan? The one who loaned me the tree saw? The one who told me what gas stations were open?

But I thought, too: this is the language of the church, and weak language it is, in the modern context. We say God is the one standing by us, not a TeeVee station that couldn't find my home address without MapQuest and an editorial directive. But what is that supposed to mean, that "God is with me" in a crisis? I know what it means in a very well defined context, but remove the idea from that context and it's cold comfort, indeed. Replace the noun with a local TeeVee station, and it' s just flat bizarre.

Once again I questioned the language of the church I am a representative of, but once again I looked at the culture most people live in (and I do, too, though too seldom do I recognize it) , and thought, to paraphrase David Byrne: "My God, what have we done?!"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman, R.I.P.

And while everyone remembers "Cool Hand Luke," this is still one of my favorite Newman films:

We're all French Now

When the sight of trucks lining your street, trucks with cherry pickers on them and labels that indicate they are from power companies, not tree trimmers, when that vision makes you feel like it must have felt to be in Paris for the liberation, you really know you're on the Gulf Coast. You want to run into the street and throw your daughters at them, shower them with champagne, beg them for chocolates, weep openly and unashamedly.

That's when you realize technology has you by the short hairs; but you just don't care. You want lights at night. You want to watch television. You want air conditioning. Most of all, you want refrigerated food again, in your own kitchen, cooked on your own stove. You want to go the store and buy all the ice cream your freezer will hold, and then go buy another freezer, and fill that one, too. And stuff your refrigertor with eggs and milk, and maybe get a second, bigger refrigerator to just stock with beer so you can share it with guys like this. And when they restore the shattered poles and restring the drooping power lines in only one day, a job you were sure would take weeks, you briefly consider marrying your teenage daughter off to them right then and there, so profound is your gratitude. But then they stand by their trucks for an hour or more, and nothing happens; and then they drive away. And you understand that, like a watched pot, nothing will come to a boil, no consummation will be observed or televised, and you must leave and let them return when you aren't watching, when you aren't even capable of watching.

So the next day, while you are gone, while you are at work, they return. You see them early in the morning, collected in a massive huddle of trucks at the end of your neighborhood: one man high in a cherry picker bucket, working with hand tools; the rest standing about their trucks, waiting for orders or something to happen. You leave, and when you come back, they are gone. You scarcely dare believe the miracle has occurred, especially since all the lights are still out in the houses around you. But maybe that's just because it's dusk...maybe that's because it isn't fully dark yet, or people have not yet come home to see, or they haven't thrown all their breakers either.

You step out to the two breaker boxes in the back yard; the old, original one, the newer one that replaced it, but didn't, and curse once again the former owners and their strange remodeling ways. Nothing to do for it but start throwing switches and hope new energy to the crumpled garage doesn't spark a fire in the night. No lights are on, all major appliances have been unplugged, so you have to go inside to see if the genies have returned, if the magical elves of entertainment and the pixies of refrigeration once again dwell beneath your roof. You are almost afraid, almost tentative to reach for a light switch. You feel for a moment like someone in rural America in the '30's who has just had his house wired for electricity thanks to FDR's "New Deal."

And then the lights are on and two weeks of 19th century living fall away as if they'd never been, and you remember how good it is to have light and air conditioning and TeeVee and, most of all, refrigeration. The hum of the freezer is like a chorus of angels; the purr of the refrigerator is the loveliest sound you've heard since your honeymoon, when you just listened to your wife sleep beside you, in awe and wonder at the miracle of it.

By the next day, it's off to the grocery store to restock and replenish, and plan meals. Already you wake up wondering where you put normal, so you can slip back into it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hunker Down

You know you've been through a hurricane when you sink to posting chain e-mails.

You know you're from the Gulf Coast if:

1. You have FEMA's number on your speed dialer.

2. You have more than 300 'C' and 'D' batteries in your kitchen drawer.

3. Your pantry contains more than 20 cans of Spaghetti O's.

4. You are thinking of repainting your house to match the plywood covering your windows.

5. When describing your gutted house to a prospective buyer, you say it has three bedrooms, two baths and an open air feel to it.

6. Your SSN isn't a secret, it's written in Sharpie on your arms.

7. You are on a first-name basis with the cashier at Home Depot.

8. You are delighted to pay $4.00 for a gallon for regular unleaded.

9. The road leading to your house has been declared a No-Wake Zone.

10. You decide that your patio furniture looks better on the bottom of the pool.

11. You own more than three large coolers.

12. You can wish that other people get hit by a hurricane and not feel the least bit guilty about it.

13. You rationalize helping a friend board up by thinking it'll only take a gallon of gas to get there and back.

14. You have 2-liter coke bottles and milk jugs filled with water in your freezer.

15. Three months ago you couldn't hang a shower curtain; today you can assemble a portable generator by candlelight.

16. You catch a 13-pound red fish - in your house.

17. You can recite from memory whole portions of your homeowner's insurance policy.

18. You consider a vacation to stunning Tupelo, Mississippi .

19. At cocktail parties, women are attracted to the guy with the biggest chainsaw.

20. You have had tuna fish more than 5 days in a row.

21. There is a roll of tar roofing paper in your garage.

22. You can rattle off the names of three or more meteorologists who work at the Weather Channel.

23. Someone comes to your door to tell you they found your roof.

24. Ice is a valid topic of conversation.

25. Your drive-thru meal consists of MRE's and bottled water.

26. Relocating to South Dakota does not seem like such a crazy idea.

27. You spend more time on your roof than in your living room.

28. You've been laughed at over the phone by a roofer, fence builder or a tree worker.

29. A battery powered TV is considered a home entertainment center.

30. You don't worry about relatives wanting to visit during the summer.

31. Your child's first words are "hunker down".

32. Having a tree in your living room does not necessarily mean it's Christmas.

33. Toilet Paper is elevated to coin of the realm at the shelters.

34. You know the difference between the Clean side of a storm and the Dirty side.

35. Your kids start school in August and finish in July.

36. You go to work early and stay late just to enjoy the air conditioning.

37. You are prepared to wait in line at Starbucks for 2 hours to get a cup of coffee.

A Method of the Discourse

Good sense is the most evenly distributed thing in the world; for everyone believes himself to be so well provided with it that even those who are the hardest to please in every other way do not usually want more of it than they already have. Nor is it likely that everyone is wrong about this; rather, what this shows is that the power of judging correctly and of distinguishing the true from the false (which is what is properly called good sense or reason) is naturally equal in all men, and that consequently the diversity of our opinions arises not from the fact that some of us are more reasonable than others, but solely that we have different ways of directing our thoughts, and do not take into account the same things. For it is not enough to possess a good mind; the most important thing is to apply it correctly. The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues; those who go forward but very slowly can get further, if they always follow the right road, than those who are in too much of a hurry and stray off it.

For myself, I have never presumed my mind to be any way more accomplished than that of the common man. Indeed, I have often wished that my mind was as fast, my imagination as clear and precise, and my memory as well stocked and sharp as those of other people. And I personally know of no any other mental attributes that go to make up an accomplished mind; for, as regards reason or good sense (insofar as it is the only thing that makes us human and distinguishes us from brute beasts), I am ready to believe that it is altogether complete in every one of us, and I am prepared to follow in this the agreed doctrine of those philosophers who say that differences od degree apply only to accidents, and not to forms or natures of individuals of the same species.
Rene Descartes, A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting One's Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, tr. Ian Maclean.

Sometimes I think I should just post quotes from what I'm reading, and leave it at that. I've always studied Descartes as the "father" of modern philosophy, but I hever fully appreciated that phrase until I finally started reading the Discourse (two weeks without power has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. You can do so much more without distractions!). I'd taken the claim philosophically, and understood it to refer only to Descartes's ideas, especially the cogito that makes it's appearance in the Discourse. But nobody ever mentioned how much of a stylist Descartes was, or what a revelation the Discourse is.

First, it was written to make his ideas popular, so it's not a text just for philosophers. Ironic, since it is widely reported as the seminal philosophical text of Cartesianism. And he sets a tone, one almost lost since Plato's dialogues (which Hume tried, unsuccessfully, to resurrect.): he makes his ideas personal, to you and to him. Sartre wandered back and forth between these realms: the literary and the philosophical, and frankly his better philosophical work is not the technical Being and Nothingness (which is pretty much a response to Heidegger's Being and Time), but his essay on existentialism, a lecture given later in life. He shines in that, and his philosophy takes on the virtue of something worth contemplation. But I don't think of Sartre when I read Descartes: I think of Kierkegaard.

It's almost impossible for me to read the Discourse and not hear the voices of the psuedonymous writings: here is the earnestness and passion of Johannes de Silentio or Anti-Climacus. In fact, I can't read Kierkegaard's pseudonymous works now without thinking he was consciously emulating Descartes (take that, Georg Wilhelm Friederich Hegel!). Certainly the model was available. Certainly S.K. so avoided the scholastic dryness of the Germans that he is still not commonly regarded as either a philosopher or a theologian, but as a "writer." Of course, Descartes wrote few books for a wider public audience, but the Discourse is the one everyone talks about; it is the common touchstone of Cartesianism, of modern philosophy. And that opening, one at once flattering and seemingly sardonic, one that approaches wry sarcasm but just as wryly pulls away with sincerity, sounds almost like the pseudonymous voices of Fear and Trembling or Stages on Life's Way. You can almost hear Kierkegaard reading it and thinking: Yes, yes, this is how you present ideas. Not to mention how much closer to S.K.'s thinking Descartes is than Hegel or Kant. And Descartes, from all accounts, is creating a persona here, a humble and modest philosopher, when the truth is he was (like S.K.) quite convinced of his intellectual gifts, and quite acerbic toward those who didn't understand as he did (even if they were right).

Besides, the guy's just got a nice sense of style.

It Sounds Worse Than It Is

What is a poet? An unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish, but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans and cries which pass over them are transformed into ravishing music. His fate is that of the unfortunate victims whom the tyrant Philaris imprisoned in a brazen bull, and slowly tortured over a steady fire; their cries could not reach the tyrant's ears so as to strike terror into his heart; when they reached his ears they sounded like sweet music. And men crowd about the poet and say to him, "Sing for us soon again"--which is as much to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul, but may your lips be fashioned as before; for the cries would distress us, but the music, the music, is delightful." And the critics come forward and say, "That is perfectly done--just as it should be, according to the rules of aesthetics." Now it is understood that a critic resembles a poet to a hair; he only lacks the anquish in his heart and the music upon his lips. I tell you, I would rather be a swineherd, understood by the swine, than a poet misunderstood by men.

"A" in Either/Or.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the Dead of Night

You wake up too early, using your cell phone as an alarm clock. Nothing jerks you out of bed as fiercely as a few bars of "Werewolves of London" playing as a ringtone. Nothing else quite sets the tone for the day, either. The first thing you remember is the neighborhood scuttlebutt that the damage to the lines is so severe it will be another 7-10 days before power is restored. At that point you stopped thinking about High Priests on Gods of Electricity, and just started mumbling about human folly and the foolishness of a system of so many conveniences which become necessities, and how stupidly fragile they are.

"Weather," you tell yourself. But it isn't what you mean.

You fell asleep wondering what technology would reach deep into fenced off backyards guarded by stands of trees and perimtered by houses and garages, and pluck up and place in new telephone poles, or whatever Tinker-Toy structure is needed for something that always looked as solid as granite, and now seems as flimsy as a house of cards.

And then, after driving to work and standing in the crowded coffee shop because you couldn't face making another pot of coffee all for yourself this morning (you spent the morning wandering in to dark rooms, barely suppressing the reflex to reach for a light switch. Two weeks of this and still old habits recur.), you get out of the car and a lone mockingbird high on a power wire (after all, it's why you are here so early; it's lit, it's air conditioned) is throwing out so many gay songs you realize nothing is really so wrong with your world that birdsong can't cure it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ars Lyrica

I sing the Body Electric

Have you ever seen that Three Stooges film where they are living in a "house" that is entirely outdoors? My memory of it is vague, and perhaps your youth was not as ill-spent (one can only hope), but walking around the backyard littered with the stuff (all of it so essential to suburban existence!) removed from the wreckage of the garage (and none of the stuff wrecked, miracle of miracles!), the pleasures of living outdoors suddenly became clearer. It is life without electricity; and it is good. Not quite the garden of Eden, but close. Maybe the Garden after the expulsion, but with gardening tools and birdsong and no angel with a flaming sword looking menacingly at you. Although that flaming sword will come along soon enough. That's why you're out watering the pot plants that have wilted again in yesterday's heat. Life within walls has its drawbacks, but at least it keeps away the flaming sword.

Hello, walls

Walls are only good for keeping bugs out and the roof up, which keeps the rain off. They also decrease the noise of generators, roaring in the night like so many insane lawn mowers left running. Windows are the enemy. They let only sound in, not air. Air stays outside and cools. Miasma and humidity stay inside. Outside in the morning just after sunrise the air is pleasant, the grass green, the light good: you can actually see without artificial illumination. Later that same light will drive you indoors, but in the morning you think you could just move your "house" outdoors, and it wouldn't be so bad. A tree for the mirror, so you could shave. An air mattress on the ground where you could sleep. And where to put the kitchen sink? No matter, you aren't cooking anything anyway. You still haven't broken the habit of "leftovers," but you can't have those, so you avoid meals altogether. Life outdoors might not be so bad after all; and then you remember the mosquitos.

Love at First Bite

Mosquitos love hurricanes; this much is apparent. They socialize in the eye, copulate in the winds, lay eggs in the raindrops, and each drop explodes into a thousand new mosquitos each fully grown and ready to use the energy of the winds and rain to do the whole thing over again. It is the only explanation. They also have an insatiable thirst for human blood and, though as large as dachsunds and aggressive as ravenous wolves, they shrink themselves to microscopic size and swarm invisibly upon you. Only walls and windows seem to confuse them, but they wait for you just outside, they know where you are in the house, and they are always ready when you come outdoors. Whenever you begin to think again that "outdoors" and "indoors" are artificial distinctions created solely by air conditioning salesmen and the purveyors of electricity, you remember the mosquitos. And you light another citronella candle, hoping the aroma will be pleasing to the Electricity God.

Of Electricity and the Lines I Sing

"Generator" and "generous," you come to realize, sound like almost the same word. You notice this because the neighbor across the street asks if you have enough extension cords to run a line from his generator to your house so you can light a lamp or power a fan or run the television set. This is generosity beyond measure, the supplying of power which the System, upon which you so rely, has so thoroughly failed you. When you finally plug in the TeeVee, you watch the local news and hear beleagured (but not beleagured enough, you feel) leaders of the System explain their failures and their lack of foresight and the collapse of their wisdom in the face of something no more remarkable than weather. When you realize he sounds just like the people on Wall Street and in the Treasury Department and those who run the Federal Reserve, you put down the shoe you were about to hurl. It isn't the TeeVee's fault, after all. No reason (yet) to shoot the messenger.

The Other Other Glass Teat

The TeeVee is the last thing to plug in; that comes days after the line was stretched across the street. Days later, because plugging in the TeeVee is an admission that the High Priests are not going to visit anytime soon. It is a sign of defeat. It is the acceptance that hope is lost, at least for this week. The TeeVee is plugged in on the night you declare, over yet another meal at yet another restaurant (the one meal of Li'l Smokies cooked on the stove top on barbecue sauce and a can of peas for a vegetable is still with you, and not just in memory. Everything had to be eaten as nothing can be saved. The horror! The horror!), you declared that you had been abandoned by the God of Electrical Power, forsaken by the High Priests of the Power Lines, and so you, too, would buy one of the gas burning, exhaust belching, static motorcycles that generate electricity: at least enough to light a lamp, power a fan, run a TeeVee. You have had enough, you tell the family. You are going into the wilderness of the marketplace tomorrow and coming back with the kill. You are going to provide for your family, and damn the cost. You will send the bill to the insurance company anyway, and you sternly insist they will pay it, too!

So that night, in celebration, you plug in the TeeVee. Wiser and younger heads insist the DVD player should be plugged in, too; for it turns out that not only as the God of Electrical Power abandoned you in your time of need, but the Panjandrum of Entertainment has also left the building, left, indeed, every building. The cable is out. All the TeeVee will show is PBS (very fuzzy), CBS (not fuzzy at all; perhaps because old people would just turn their sets off if the picture was any worse), ABC (fuzzy), and, oddly, a Spanish language station on a triple digit channel. You shrug: it could be worse.

You are, you think, reconciled to watching even what network TeeVee has to offer, though you haven't watched network TeeVee in decades. And you try to watch. You devote yourself to it. You are sure that, having been starved for 10 days of anything approaching a televised image, except occassional glimpses of cable news in some restaurants (why do they have cable, and not me? When the thought finally occurs to you, it's too late to do anything about it; in fact, you don't even care), you will watch anything, and enjoy it. You are wrong: profoundly, awfully, mind-numbingly wrong.

Or is that just the programming? Everyone speaks in cliches, and every police team or FBI team devotes untold hours to just one case (as if the world were that simple, and any one individual really was the center of the universe and the sole concern of everyone. This Bud's for you!!!!), every plot point is predictable and telegraphed from ten miles away and every look of concern, every change of scene, every possible image, right down to the "sexy" FBI agent who dresses more like a Hollywood starlet than Dana Scully (or anyone you ever see in any office anywhere), is so bad that even after 10 days in the dark and being cold turkey from Ellison's "glass teat," you can't take it. The battery powered radio tells you the High Priests of the Power Line have announced a promise to have "almost everyone" restored to the graces of the GEP by the end of the coming weekend. You know that might not mean you, but aside from the air conditioning (which no generator will power), you decide you aren't missing that much after all, and you cancel the trip to the generator store.

When would you use it again, anyway? This'll never happen to you again and, if it does, it'll be your own damned fault for staying in a town where hurricanes happen.

He ain't heavy, he's my...well, one of them is!

In the Dark Period, I received good wishes from many, all of whom have gone unacknowledged. I wish to correct that oversight now:

Grandmère Mimi --Thank you.

Bluemeadow--Thank you.

Jubilation T. Cornpone--Thank you.

dej--what are you doing here? I owe you a phone call, too, don't I? And what is this family predilection for initials? Perhaps there is some counseling in our future.... Thank you for keeping people informed that I was still alive and well.

RglrLrkr--Thank you.

ProfWombat--Thank you.

Catalexis--Thank you.

Phila--Thank you.

Irony of ironies that technology makes all this possible, and that it can all be taken away just as easily. (If my power is ever restored, it doesn't mean my internet access is back as automatically. That's up to the Supplicants of Ma Bell.) Still, the failures of technology do not defeat the friendships, do they? The machine may be powerful, but the machine is not all. There is, indeed, great power in powerlessness.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blest Be the Ties that Bind

To spend a week in the fourth largest city in the country after a major hurricane has just walked all over it (it stomped all over Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula; whatever else Ike did, nobody got it worse than those poor folk; and they are mostly poor folk. There is no Riviera or Miami Beach or Carmel on the Texas Gulf.) is like waking up as Gulliver on the beach in Lilliput, only what has you tied down are not a strange new race of beings, but the strange new race you realize you have become. In an instant of weather (as one tree company employee from Wisconsin (God bless Wisconsin!) said knowingly as they came to clear the 80 pine from the power lines: "Weather, huh?") all those lines that tied you to the 20th century have now tied you down to the 19th, and you have a taste of what life was like for people who grew up in this area when it was farmland, some of whom still live here now.

And you realize you aren't really all that old, but even you aren't old enough to remember life without electricity. Your children may not know a world without an internet, but neither of you know a world without electric lights or washing machines or refrigerators..

Work, for the night is coming, wherein no man may work

You are like Gulliver, tied down by a thousand tiny strands, but the irony is not in the image but in the reality. Where those strands once liberated you, once set you above and apart from the rest of human history, once elevated you to places you took for granted as your birthright, as your due, as what made life livable (and mere loss of power can, in the U.S., render an otherwise sound house "unlivable." What, then, do we make of stone and concrete huts, of yurts, of the shanties so much of the world lives in?), now they tie you to comforts you can only wish for. The lines mock your memory, whisper of a promise in the future when life will be "normal" again, when you will turn on lights and fans and televisions without a second thought for how it happens, for what makes it possible.

But not today; today you lie tied down to the beach for another 24 hours; today you wonder where the magic went, and when it will come back. O machine! O machine!

The wires! The wires! Old Rocky Face, look forth!

One thing you forget about night: it is dark! There is a reason people used to work from sunup to sundown: when the sun goes down, there's nothing else to do but sleep. Candles don't dispel the dark, they mock the sunlight. You also forget that houses used to be designed to circulate air; but since the invention of air conditioning, that is actually an undesirable feature of housing design. So much better to let the technology (read: energy from electricity) do that for you! So much better, that is, until it doesn't. And then you step outside every morning only to realize that while the air temperature outside has actually dropped to a comfortable coolness for the Texas Gulf Coast (which would be considered stiflingly hot anywhere further north of the equator), inside your four walls the air is still as muggy and grim as the sub-tropic torpor it was when you went to bed. And the only fan you have (thanks to the generosity of a neighbor with a generator) simply recirculates what's trapped indoors. So night means sleep and another fervent prayer to the High Priests of the God of Electric Power, and day begins with once more cursing them for failing to respond to your petitions.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Never say "never" again....

Carne val

Protestants, by and large, don’t observe Lent; so Texans give up meat for hurricanes, not for liturgical seasons. But they give it up for the same reasons as those who observe a meatless Lent: because they are forced to. So when hurricanes roar in and remove our ability to keep meat fresh and cold, it is Fat Tuesday and all the meat must be eaten at once, and everybody gathers round the charcoal grill, or the propane grill, or the natural gas grill. In any and every case, it is a grill, and it is a party, until the meat is gone, and as long as the power stays gone, it is Lent and no meat is served. Unless you can find a place to go out for burgers, which are hardly meat anymore anyway, so it might as well be a meatless meal there, too.

Easter comes to those whom the high priests of the God of Electrical Power bestow their favors: being among the Elect, those assured of the Resurrection and Heaven's glories, is celebrated with meat. You can tell the Elect because they are in the grocery store replenishing the freezer: the one atop the refrigerator, the one in the garage, the chest freezer recently emptied of venison and game. They celebrate the end of their personal Lent (for everything is personal to Protestants) with happy purchases of meat, while the less favored, the less fortunate, stand in line around them sadly buying only those goods which are dry or canned, which will not spoil or need not be cooked the moment they return home. Having long ago lost the spirit to shop daily, none of us can conceive going home from the few open grocery stores to cook what we have purchased, and eat it that day.

So we shuffle off to restaurants, saving the receipts in hopes the defenders of the insurance companies will pour out their benison on us and take pity and pay us for the “Additional Living Expenses” they promised once to pay, but now pretend to never have heard of, to have meant to pay only when we didn’t need it, never when we did, because it is, after all, “additional insurance” and “not subject to the deductible,” and the guardians of the Insurance tell us the rules have changed since the storm meant such claims might have to be paid, and infer with long, sad faces when we inquire, that surely we were not so naïve and innocent as to misunderstand that something that was “additional insurance” and “not subject to the deductible” was ever meant to be paid to anyone under any circumstances; not when the Insurers can change the rules depending on the circumstances. Surely we understood the System would never survive such claims as we would make for our meals, because the Gods of Electrical Power have forsaken us, and their high priests will not take our calls or hear our pleas. Surely, the guardians of the Insurance say without saying, we understand this is our problem, and not a Peril Insured Against that the Insurer ever meant to protect us from. Not when it would cost money. Paying out money, for the Insurer, is when the iron bites; and surely it would be unfair to make the Insurer pay, since the Insurer was not responsible for the actions of the hurricane.

If Protestants understand anything, it is not “acts of God,” but money. And so we wait for the high priests of the God of Electrical Power to deign to visit us, and return to our homes, and look longingly at our empty freezers, propped open and waiting, and try not to go back to the grocery store to see the Elect pile up even greater stacks of plastic wrapped meat in their baskets, and hurry home to feed it to their happily humming appliances (surely a foretaste of heaven!). We sit in the heat and the humidity and the silence of our disconnected homes, and wait for the dark to tell us to go to sleep, that tomorrow is another day. A day just like today.

Wasn’t that a mighty storm?

Galveston is closed, until further notice. Not the city, the entire island. They tried to let residents back in, earlier, but they had to be out by sundown. The resulting traffic snarl was so bad, they didn't try it again. The island is closed. Bolivar Peninsula, just north of the island, is reportedly in worse condition. There whole neighborhoods are said to be reduced to slabs, mere concrete pads that mock the notion of human habitation. Galveston has no power, little water, less sewage, and much damage. The high priests of the God of Electric Power (GEP, to the initiated) issues statements daily about how many have returned to the graces of the GEP (O machine! O machine!). In the first hours, it was reported that over 3 million had been abandoned by the GEP, that in their suffering and misery and the face of the storm, the GEP had fled them, to return on a sunnier day, in fairer weather, to be their friend then, but not now. Day by day the reports were that more and more had returned to the favor of the high priests, who were reportedly busy visiting everywhere but where you are, because you are not yet worthy. The numbers dropped steadily and dramatically, from 3 million in darkness and powerlessness, to 2 million, to 1.2 million, to now 66% favored by the Lords of Creation; but still it is not for you. And you think about Galveston, and realize they have been dropped from the statistics, because like a war that has been lost, they no longer matter. And then, for awhile, you don’t think about yourself. But by nightfall, you do; again.

O machine! O machine!

Technology, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful,
Thou art not so. For the simplest measure of nature dost so easily and casually thou overthrow.
Thou art slave to war, fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And a single hurricane can make you useless again.

In the visions of the future via recent movies, technology is either god-like in its power, pure and clean and magical, with unlimited resources of energy which can never be interrupted; or there are ceiling fans instead of cool, efficient air-conditioning, stirring what is surely musty air. In the future, at least the ceiling fans work. It is something to look forward to.

Without the benison of the God of Electrical Power, the ceiling fans are as useless as the light fixtures. They mock us with the memories of what could be and what has been, and we curse them for their uselessness and their mockery. But they are as indifferent as the high priests of the GEP. The couldn't care less. And then you realize they never cared; nor did you much care about them, until they didn't work. Or couldn't. Now even light switches seem to add insult to injury; and electrical outlets? Fuggedaboutit.


Ice is so valuable it is not spoken of, because someone else might get it before you do. Gold, platinum, jewels: all worthless in comparison. It is suggested you would trade your first born male child for it, and the thought doesn't even slow you down as you consider the sheer pleasure of simply possessing it. But, like all possessions, it is ephemeral: here today (if at all), gone tomorrow, leaving only a watery residue in your once-again bereft cooler. Why you keep anything in your cooler when your garbage reeks of what you emptied out of your refrigerator (to speak of what was removed from the freezer is a shameful act of blasphemy; one does not admit to commiting such heresies!) and which the city won't pick up because the regulation garbage can is crushed beneath the debris of your garage, is another mystery you do not delve into. Some things, after all, are just not done; and disposing of those things which you now desperately seek to ice down every night in the cooler, is one of them. It is, after all, what separates us from the beasts, and the savages. The real trappings of civilization may be gone, but we must keep up appearances. There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area. We learn to call it "ice."

The Powerlessness of Powerlessness and the Theology of Scarcity

Protestants don't do the story of Elijah and the widow. For them, spirituality is not so much practicality, as practicality is spirituality. God helps those who help themselves is their mantra, and on that faith they built the fourth largest city in the world in a place where no sane human being would choose to reside, what with the heat and the humidity and the mosquitos and the hurricanes, fellow travelers all. But those who help themselves also help themselves to the world's resources and technology's benefits, among which are electricty, air conditioning, and the consumption of fossil fuels. In the future, we know those things will run out, now. But until that future comes, we will face the present with hoarding and greed and panic-buying. So when the Apocalypse looms, we drive around and around seeking the gas stations which are still lit and following the tankers as they tease us with the possibility of delivery, and line up to suck the gas from the storage tanks where we can, because who knows what tomorrow will bring, and our tanks are already a quarter down. We have nowhere to go because no one else has power and there are no storms threatening and everything but our quotidian lives has returned to normal (100 years ago this would have been considered a full recovery; and after a century of progress, we still wait to "recover"), but still we fear scarcity and hardly believe in tomorrow, so quickly was it wiped off the page by a half a day of wind and rain, and so we prowl for the gas station that is removing its hand-printed "Sorry, out of gas" signs from the pumps so we can descend like a plague of metal locusts to make the signs go back up again, thus proving our perspicacity and wisdom and prudence. Protestants are nothing if not prudent.

And Our President visits somewhere or speaks from somewhere else (we only hear him on battery powered radios or on car radios while we are lurking and looking and lining up for more gas) and says the problem is one of "distribution," but even the 24% of us who still think he's doing a "fine job" know that it isn't a matter of distribution of gasoline, but rather of electricity to drive the pumps that supply the gasoline hoarded underground. So powerful, though, is the name of the GEP that none dare speak it, not even Our President, so we ignore him once again and continue driving and lurking, burning up gasoline we are desperate to replace, desperate to burn looking for more to hoard and burn and obtain and hoard and burn.


And every day you curse the Priests of the GEP because they do not come; and every night you tell yourself: "Tomorrow my savior arrives."

The Power of Powerlessness

Cut off from technology and the flow of information and the creature comforts of the machine (well, the ones we consume daily, without noticing; like breath, like blood flow, like digestions, we only notice we are doing them when we can't do them anymore), the discomfort seems more true than anything else in the world. But this, too, is also true:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
and hear their death knells ringing;
When friends rejoice, both far and near,
how can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
how can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Is that all there is?

National news is still talking about the "110 mph winds" of Ike, but local news is noting the highest winds clocked on Galveston Island are only 70 mph. Radar is also showing a large dry area on the east side of the eye, which one local meteorologist speculates could mean the eye is disintegrating (it seems to be growing more diffuse, not more compact, as it comes ashore). You can see in the picture that the eye is starting to look like an apostrophe rather than a period. You can also see it, briefly, on this radar map.

Combined with a low pressure trough out in West Texas, this means the hurricane should move rapidly out of Texas toward Arkansas once it gets ashore (it was expected by this afternoon, now it's expected to make landfall on Galveston Island by midnight, and cross over to the mainland by 3 in the morning).

There's flooding in the communities close to the coast due to storm surge, but that surge has yet to reach the 20 foot level some were predicting. And Olbermann was saying the storm was 600 miles across; it's now down to 350 miles.

So...there may be a large surge behind the eye; the storm may consoldiate rather than dissipate; it's expected to speed up from its leisurely 12 mph progress and zip out of the state; and so far, for most of Houston, it's only brought rain and winds associated with a good thunderstorm (though here on the west side of town, we've yet to see even any rain to speak of).

Or it may fall apart and leave some parts of town as dry as they were before, just like three years ago.

We'll see.....

The waiting is the hardest part

As Bluemeadow said in comments below:

We're sitting here in Sugar Land as well, just not boarded up. Maybe we'll bring out the tape in a bit. This waiting for the inevitable is so trying for the soul.
Yes, it is. Blue skies this morning, muggy, but even the birds and bugs seem to know something is coming. Birds are quiet, squirrels are absent, bugs seem to be all trying to get indoors.

Or maybe I'm just projecting. Never ridden out a hurricane, so I don't know what it's like. Been through a serious thunderstorm on Lake Texoma, in a rickety garage apartment; that's as close as I've come. I'm still more scared of a tornado, which you don't really prepare for, but just hide from (and pray it skips your house). No doubt I'll change my tune, as Grandmere Mimi keeps telling me it's no picnic (yes, I'm working my way through the comments from below).

So my thanks for the best wishes from Tena and Geor3ge and Grandmere Mimi and Bluemeadow (who is probably closer to the coast than I am, but hopefully not on low ground. We're hopeful that nothing less than a tropical storm perched right over our neighborhood will bring the water up high enough to cause flooding here. We'll see. On the other hands, we do have something like 16 trees on this average sized residential lot, so, again...we'll see.)

My thanks for the concerns, spoken and unspoken. Let's not forget those cleaning up from Gustav, and all those in this storm's path. Right now, my worst memory from Rita is losing power for three days. Maybe this won't be any worse than that....

Stay tuned.

Two prayers from Iona:

I awake this morning
in the presence
of the holy angels of God.
May heaven open wide before me
Above me and around me
That I may see
the Christ of my love
And his sunlit company
In all the things of earth this day.

Safeguard your faithful people
in the sanctuary of your love O God.
Shelter them this night
in the shelter of the saints.
God to enfold them
God to surround them
God in their watching
God in their hoping
God in their sleeping
God in their ever-living souls.

Update: Well, this is a bit of comfort:

Winds in the Houston metro area will increase to tropical storm force--39 mph--by about 4 pm CDT today, and remain that strong for about 24 hours. Category 1 hurricane force winds of about 75-85 mph will affect the city for about an 8-hour period from midnight to 8 am on Saturday. People in well-built homes will suffer only minor damage, but mobile homes and homes not build to code will suffer significant damage. The extremely long duration of the hurricane force winds will cause much greater damage than is typical for a hurricane of this strength.
The big concern with this storm seems to be the storm surge, but Chez Rmj is much too far inland for that. Pray for those on the coasts, though, of Texas and Louisiana. This may hit the upper Texas coast, but it has very long arms.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I hear you knocking, but you can't come in

All boarded up and no place to go. I feel like I'm living in a George Romero movie.

I guess zombies don't know how to undo hurricane clips, so maybe we're safe from two threats.

Anyway: Compline.

All you sheltered by the Most High
who live in Almighty God's shadow,
say to the Lord, "My refuge, my fortress,
my God in whom I trust!"

God will free you from hunter's snares,
will save you from dealy plague,
will cover you like a nesting bird.
God's wings will shelter you.

No nighttime terror shall you fear,
no arrows shot by day,
no plague that prowls the dark,
no wasting scourge at noon.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand.
But you shall live unharmed:
God is sturdy armor.

You have only to open your eyes
to see how the wicked are repaid.
You have the Lord as refuge,
have made the Most High your stronghold.

No evil shall ever touch you,
no harm come near your home.
God instructs angels
to guard you wherever you go.

With your hands they support you
so your foot will not strike a stone.
You will tread on lion and viper,
trample tawny lion and dragon.

"I deliver all who cling to me,
raise the ones who know my name,
answer those who call me,
stand with those in trouble.
These I rescue and honor,
satisfy with long life,
and show my power to save."

Psalm 134

Bless the Lord,
all who serve in God's house,
who stand watch
throughout the night.

Lift up your hands
in the holy place
and bless the Lord.

And may God,
the maker of earth and sky,
bless you from Zion.

Canticle of Simeon

Lord, let your servant
now die in peace
for you kept your promise.

With my own eyes
I see the salvation
you prepared for all peoples:
a light of revelation for the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

May the almighty and merciful God, Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen.

Grant us a restful night and a peaceful end.

May the divine assistance be with us always and with our loved ones everywhere.

I Like Ike?

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!

What else can you say at a time such as this?

Alright, we can add this:

1 Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength.

2 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.

4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.

7 The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.

8 The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.

10 The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever.

11 The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.

Which deserves an Ike photo update:

Shades of Carla, huh?

Monday, September 01, 2008

On a slightly related note

Amy Goodman and two Democracy Now! producers have been arrested at the GOP convention. You know, the one where all good Americans are Republicans who put partisanship aside when there's a natural disaster. Apparently what isn't put aside is arrests for "suspicion of rioting."

I must have missed that crime in my Criminal Law class decades ago. "Suspicion of rioting" is a legal charge? A basis for detaining someone against their will? A crime? "Suspicion of rioting" sounds like "a little bit pregnant," to me. You know, sort of: "We don't know what you were doing, but we suspect you were rioting, and that's good enough for us! Come along." I understand the inchoate crime of conspiracy. But the St. Paul police seem to have created an inchoate charge. "We suspect you of rioting, so you're under arrest:" what kind of charge is that? Suspicion is supposed to lead to probable cause, not be probable cause.

And what is it about GOP conventions? This happpened in New York, four years ago; now it's happening in St. Paul. What is it about Republicans coming to town that turns the city into a police state?

Wasn't that a Mighty Storm?

Grandmere Mimi has been in exile from Hurricane Gustav, and my hope is whatever damage the storm does will not trouble her or her family. My prayers are for her and her family, too, but more on that in a moment. It is the sanctimony of the GOP over this natural disaster that may yet come a cropper.

The Slate article I linked to earlier was all about how Gustav was good news for the GOP because McCain turned it so much to his advantage. However, the analysis depended on a ghoulish expectation: a repeat of New Orleans v. Katrina, from 3 years ago. Not many people remember Hurricane Rita, which followed on the heels of Katrina, or if they do, they remember it for the traffic jam that extended from Houston to Dallas (about 250 miles), and not for the damage it wrought on Port Arthur in Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana, or in the rural areas of Louisiana between and around those two cities. No major city was drowned, so the news about Rita was quickly forgotten; even the sight of a major US city in full blown and pointless panic (Houston is not prone to the same kind of flooding which beset New Orleans) soon receded from memory.

This time, of course, instead of sharing a birthday cake with John McCain, Bush is on top of things: in Austin, Texas, nowhere near any projected path of the storm. (Apparently going even to Tyler, Texas, where many Louisiana residents have been relocated, was too close to the storm for the Fearless Leader). McCain got as close as Toledo, Ohio, after issuing these stirring words:

"I wanna thank all of my fellow Republicans as we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and we say, 'America, we're with you. America, we're going to care for these people in their time of need,' and we're gonna display it in every possible way as Americans always have and Americans always will."
The not-so-subtle implication that only Republicans are real Americans is not lost on anybody; nor is his visit to a battleground state, far from the threatened Gulf Coast.

Gimme a break.

But now there will be no stirring pictures from the damaged cities of the Gulf, because New Orleans was spared. This is excellent news, of course, but what of the smaller cities? Even that MSNBC article only names a few of them in the path. Will Anderson Cooper and Brian Williams be reporting for days on end from New Iberia or Lafayette or Cocodrie? Don't hold your breath. Weather predictions have indicated for weeks the storm will pass across Louisiana into East Texas, bringing great potential for damage and flooding. But there are no big cities there, so don't expect cable and network news to descend with worried faces and impertinent questions. Which only means those townspeople will be spared the full treatment as political symbols by GOP compassionate conservatism. Hooray that local and state governments learned their lesson about what government is supposed to do, and did it so well. Boo to the national politicians who still want to exploit any crisis, any situation, for political gain. No wonder so many Americans are so cynical about politics.

What now? Well, prayers for the afflicted are always appropriate, especially for anyone you know, more especially if those prayers spur you to do something besides look for pictures of disaster on your TeeVee. A little thankfulness that at least one convention will spend one less day inflicting politics as usual on the electorate is also in order. But this prediction?

Tuesday is also probably shot. His campaign has chartered a plane to send worried delegates back home. The vast roster of fundraisers in town has been put to work raising money for the relief effort. The party atmosphere has been redirected. The Distilled Spirits Council, aka the booze lobby, has turned its Monday party into a fundraiser for the Red Cross.
And this?

By taking bold public steps, he also burnishes his credentials as a crisis manager and distances himself from Bush.
I think it's clear McCain had as much to do with managing the crisis of Gustav as he did with the release of hostages in Colombia. If Tuesday is "shot" for the GOP Convention, I imagine most of us will mourn it just as we did the news that President Bush and Vice President Cheney wouldn't be speaking after all.

It really is an ill wind that blows nobody some good.

Selling Tickets for a Prayer Wheel

Alright, this is starting to creep me out.

I'm an ordained Christian minister, and I'm all for prayers and the "power" of prayer. But every speaker (it seemed; I don't think Kucinich did it, and I missed Gore's speech) at the Democratic National Convention felt compelled to close their speech with not only the now obligatory (thanks for nothing, Ronald Reagan!) "God bless America", but with every possible variation on "God bless you!"

I started wondering if the applause sounded like sneezing for some reason.

It was such a blatant pander to "believers" and "Christians" that it began to bother me, if only because it seemed less sincere and meaningful than simply a dog whistle, a marker, an identifier like a semi-secret handshake or a club tie. It's my problem with religion in the public sphere altogether: it assumes everyone shares your views and if they don't, well, it still sounds polite.

As if to fall into the hands of the living God was to be invited to the ultimate tea party. Feh.

And then I come across this, regarding McCains' suspension of much of the Republican National Convention (pardon my cynicism, but isn't it convenient that the suspension of activities on Monday knocked out speeches by both Bush and Cheney, neither of whom exactly have high favorability ratings just now. McCain is trying to undo his association with Bush, and make us forget when that picture above was taken.):

If you've read this far and still feel ambivalent about thinking about the politics of an event in which many people are already being displaced and suffering, then allow me to make a practical suggestion for putting politics here to good use here. Both candidates have boasted about their talents for bipartisanship. Both have also paid for ad time all over the country for advertisements (in some cases, attack ads) that are scheduled to air over the next few days.

So here's my idea: McCain and Obama should create a joint ad calling for donations and prayers to those affected by Gustav, and run those in place of the ads already scheduled. After all, attack ads—and attack ads in response to attack ads—make it onto the air in matter of hours. So there's no doubt the McCain and Obama campaigns could do this if they wanted to. If you think they should, call them: Obama's at (866) 675-2008, McCain's at (703) 418-2008. No one is practicing politics right now, so they should be able to respond to your call.
When did we start expecting our public officials to become Ministers-in-Chief? Why should they, rather than any national religious leaders (Rick Warren is too busy in sales, or something? No one in any of the mainline Protestant denominations can get the attention of the MSM?), call us to prayer? Not to mention what kind of prayers should be offered. Should their campaigns hand out prayer wheels? Call for prayers from shamans, priests, rabbis, imams, pastors, preachers? Should the prayers be responsive? Personal? Pastoral? From the Psalms? Should they also call for no prayers at all for the atheists one of them will, one day, represent?

I'm all for religion in the public sphere. The idea that religion is personal and private and so should be kept behind closed doors like the crazy uncle or the alcholic brother-in-law, is abhorrent to me. But this is rolling over into the other extreme, and it's becoming accepted as the new political norm. Can we please stop now, before religious expression (like prayers, central to so many religions around the world) become as debased a coin as all other forms of political speech in this increasingly cynical, increasingly ironic (in the Kierkegaardian sense), increasingly sad, sad country?