Please don’t think this has degenerated into a political blog. PLEASE!

dangers-cure-of-msg-sideeffects-001What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Normalizing’

Each day since my last posting I have spent three or four (or more) hours writing.
___I have been writing more carefully and painstakingly than I usually do, crafting essays that are stylistically clean and conceptually logical. This instead of my usual throwing words and ideas onto the screen hoping they make sense. I know how to write “correctly.” I am something of an academic, after all, with a 367-page PhD dissertation and many other writings under my belt. “Something of.” I try not, as St. Paul admonished in his letter to the Romans, to “think of [my]self more highly than [I] ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”
___I’ve been trying to write without “nominalization” (that is to say, I have been trying not to make words that should be verbs into nouns – e.g. I have been “correcting” my writing as I go rather than “making corrections”). In all kinds of writing I have two rules ― no passive verbs and no grammatical expletives ― so I do not need to watch out for those weakeners of prose. And here I give up those attempts to write effectively.
___I have a streak of Social Darwinism in my thinking. I’ve read a few articles about Social Darwinism, so I can (in the good American fashion) claim to be “something of” an authority on the subject. Well, no. I simply like the idea that we are pulling the best ideas out of our collective hat and putting them to use so mankind is improving generation after generation, if not day after day. I (almost desperately) want that to be true. I know it’s mushy, unfounded, and even dangerous thinking. I know.
___In case you had any doubt that this blog really is about “me” senescent, note that the 3 preceding paragraphs begin with “I.” I trust that is not an indication of thinking more highly of myself than I ought to think; rather, this is about my own personal growing-old reaction to the political situation in the United States at this time.
___When I was a child, I believed that it would be miraculous if I lived into the 21st century because I would then be 55 years old. Now I have bettered that by 17 years. Besides assuming that I would be decrepit and useless at that old age, I don’t remember much of what I thought I would experience if I reached the 21st century.
___As I wrote a few days ago, I began thinking that the “Great Society” would inspire us, and we all would go bumbling on together, making a little progress here and there as we got over racism and injustice and income inequality and all of those other things that prevent a society from moving “from perfection to perfection.”
___In the recesses of my mind from about 50 years ago when I had a momentary flirtation with seminary (what was I thinking?), I can half recall that phrase in the context of John Wesley’s theology (it was a Methodist seminary). I can also recall the great glee with which some of the seminary faculty debunked any theology that assumed mankind, in toto or individually, could possibly reach some sort of spiritual perfection. If I had paid closer attention to those professors, I might have saved myself the disillusionment of discovering on my own that “the world and they that dwell therein” (I have a Bible verse for every occasion) are not getting better and better day by any day.
___So here I am, older by at least 17 years than I thought as a child it was possible to be, and neither the world nor I have moved from perfection to perfection.
___This is not the time or place for me to make confession of the ways in which I have not been perfected in the last 50/60/70 years. Life-long lack of discipline, addictive thinking, ego bordering on narcissism, unkindness – the tip of the iceberg. Those unaltered states of my consciousness are enough in themselves to debunk any thought that I am moving from perfection to perfection.
___For the last 8 years I have beheld with dismay – no, with grief, thorough and almost debilitating grief – the unconscionable unfounded and vicious daily attacks on President Obama, the most libelous and sickening of them being the fabricated and scurrilous “birther” movement perpetuated by one Donald J. Trump.
___I have vehemently disagreed with and still have serious questions about some of President Obama’s policies – What does “too big to fail” mean? Why have U.S. “drone strikes” continued around the world? Why is Israel still the largest recipient in the world of American largess? Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership good for the United States or not?
___While I disagree with (or have questions about) many of President Obama’s policies, I do not hate him because his father was from Africa.
___I have grave fear – debilitating fear – at the moment that my opinion of the Trump administration is based on ideas or perceptions as unfounded as those of people who believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim because his middle name is Hussein (and that, if it were true, would make him the enemy of our state).
___I want to believe that, while neither you nor I nor all of us together have moved from perfection to perfection, at least we have made enough progress that we do not need to hate each other and base our political opinions on alternate truths, or on fake news – wherever it comes from.
___My fear, my greatest fear at this juncture, is that my narcissistic tendencies will allow me to believe that my sources of ideas and facts are “correct,” that they are not “fake news” or “alternative facts,” or even biased opinion.
___I don’t think they are. At the very least, none of the articles listed below is based on a bald-faced lie or a conspiracy theory or pure speculation.  And my use of them in formulating my opinions is not like my use of Google to prove to a friend the deleterious effects of MSG on the brain. I may not be moving from perfection to perfection, but in my old age, I hope I am at least moving away from the assumption that my intuition and prior knowledge are enough to lead me to sound judgment of ideas.

Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German. Now is the time for a much closer inspection of the tactics and strategy that brought off this spectacular distortion of American values.
___What I want to suggest is an actual comparison with Hitler that deserves thought. It’s what you might call the secret technique, a kind of rhetorical control that both Hitler and Trump used on their opponents, especially the media. And they’re not joking. If you’d received the threatening words and pictures I did during the campaign (one Tweet simply read “I gas Jews”), as did so many Jewish reporters and people of color, the sick bloodthirsty lust to terrify is unmistakably sincere. The playbook is Mein Kampf.

“Against Normalization: The Lesson of the ‘Munich Post’.”  Ron Rosenbaum. Los Angeles Review of Books.

“We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less.” Matthias Kolb. Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“The Dangerous Fantasy Behind Trump’s Normalization.”  Zoe Williams. CommonDreams.
“How to Build an Autocracy.” David Frum. The Atlantic.

the-beer-hall-putsch-in-munich-09111923-fd7n8p

The Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, 09.11.1923. Armed SA men during the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

“. . . You’re alone with the whirling cosmos. . .” (Edward Hirsch)

dsc01480-002

Paradise Point, Oregon (Photo: Harold Knight, Oct. 3, 2011)

My father was the son of two New Deal Democrats who never voted for a Republican. My grandmother explained to me that the Republicans were responsible for the Great Depression, calamitous event that came close to destroying her life as it had so many others; she could never vote for a Republican for any office. She died in 1972 having kept her vow (at least until 1969, the last time I talked with her).

In the midst of the Depression, around the time of FDR’s first reelection, my grandmother was determined that her sons would go to college. She discovered the Leopold Schepp Foundation that gave scholarships to students who could not afford college. She applied, and my father and uncle graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, MO, then, as now, a top-tier liberal arts institution. The faculty were for the most part conservative intellectuals, and my father became a Republican who never voted for a Democrat.

By the time I was in college, the son of Dr. H. I. Hester, one of the foremost professors at William Jewell, was a professor in the religion department of the University of Redlands. I took the required introduction to religions course under him, and his liberal (not his father’s conservative) views of religion helped shape my (one might say) liberal views of religion and other disciplines.

I misspoke myself. My father did vote for one Democrat for President, Barack Obama in 2008. Dad was 94 at the time. The last time he voted. Perhaps by the time I’m 94 I will vote for one Republican.

“You’re sitting at a small by window
In an empty café by the sea . . .”

begins Edward Hirsh’s poem, “What the last evening will be like.” My favorite place to be ― I can say with only a hint of hyperbole ― is alone by the sea. On the beach, not in a café. Preferably a cold and not very inviting beach where few people want to be. Alone, at Paradise Point on the Southern Oregon coast, for example.

When I am on the DART train headed somewhere in Dallas, I often have to hum through a tune that is stuck in my mind. Music cannot be in the background, whether in my mind or playing ubiquitously on someone’s device. Yes, I hum sitting on the train. I hum as quietly as possible because I don’t want people to think I’m the daft old man who shouldn’t be on the train alone. I have to hum because I sit on the train and observe, thinking about nothing.

The other day traveling alone I had to put to rest the tune Jam Lucis, a plain chant associated with the monastic Daily Office of Prime, the prayers at sunrise. It’s an 11th century tune best known as an evening hymn, in modern hymnals the tune for the 7th century evening hymn, “To thee before the close of day.” I was riding the train humming an 11th-century tune that goes with words written in the 7th century and translated from Latin to English in the 19th century.

I know that tune imprinted in my mind because when I was in college I sang the Office of Compline with a group of music students as a sort of public “meditation” in the University of Redlands chapel on Sunday evenings. An ageless tune in my head nearly my whole life. In a deeper sense I know it because my grandmother was a New Deal Democrat. Her determination that her sons would have college educations shaped my life. My parents assumed my brother and I would graduate from college. My brother graduated from our father’s alma mater.

From there both the course of my life and the development of my thinking are too obvious to need explanation. I am not a first-generation college graduate.  Learning, reading, trying to think are the center of my life as inherited from my father. And from his parents. My grandfather had only a fourth-grade education, but he was a voracious reader. My grandparents were unmovable in their determination that my father and his brother would have more fulfilling lives than they had had.

The line of my thinking, acting ― my very being ― from my grandparents to my parents to my own small life is a line of memory. I remember my grandmother’s telling me of her unshakable determination that her children and their children would live in a kind of expansiveness she could not.

I need to insert a word here about her daughters and my sister and women cousins. They were not forgotten. My father’s two sisters followed the way to an expansive life in the way readily available to women of their generation, by marrying men whose line of memory could give them satisfaction. One succeeded much better than the other. Most of my grandmother’s granddaughters have college degrees. My sister married a brilliant man with whom she has had an expansive life.

You’ve lived in small houses, tight spaces—
the walls around you kept closing in—
but the sea and the sky were also yours. (Edward Hirsch)

The line of my thinking, acting, being has brought me to a place alone. Surely physically alone, unmarried, in an apartment with two cats, no longer college professor or church music director. That is perhaps by my own choice or perhaps by circumstance or perhaps the result of a personality I might be able to change but have not had the inner strength to do so. This place is common among men of my age, especially gay men.
zdsc01542(This photo was taken by the only other person on Paradise Point beach, who agreed to use my camera to record the moment, Oct. 3, 2011)

However, my aloneness arises at least in part from my perception of the world as perception. I remember, in Joy Harjo’s words, “you are this universe and this universe is you.” I am alone because I am alone. Because I “remember you are all people and all people are you. / Remember you are this universe and this universe is you” (Harjo). From my grandmother’s memory of the people of her universe to my father’s memory of the people of his universe, to my memory of the people of my universe.

I’ve lived in tight spaces, the walls around me closing in so that substance becomes smaller, is only memory. My grandmother and my father are only memories now, as perhaps they only ever were, and I am “alone in the whirling cosmos.”

What the Last Evening Will Be Like, Edward Hirsch, b. 1950

You’re sitting at a small bay window
in an empty café by the sea.
It’s nightfall, and the owner is locking up,
though you’re still hunched over the radiator,
which is slowly losing warmth.

Now you’re walking down to the shore
to watch the last blues fading on the waves.
You’ve lived in small houses, tight spaces—
the walls around you kept closing in—
but the sea and the sky were also yours.

No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.
You’re alone with the whirling cosmos.
Goodbye, love, far away, in a warm place.
Night is endless here, silence infinite.
―From The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems by Edward Hirsch.
Copyright © 2010 by Edward Hirsch.

To thee before the close of day

To thee before the close of day,
Creator of the world, we pray
that, with thy wonted favor, thou
wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our sight,
from fears and terrors of the night;
withhold from us our ghostly foe,
that spot of sin we may not know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
doth live and reign eternally.

Words: Latin, seventh century; trans. John Mason Neale, 1851
Music: Jam lucis, 11th century Benedictine
(Harold Knight playing on Steuart Goodwin Organ, op. 1)

Republican duplicity

dante-hypocrites-blake

William Blake. Dante’s Inferno. The Hypocrites with Caiaphas. Hypocrites filing past the high priest Caiaphas, who is nailed to a cross on the ground. Caiaphas was the priest who said that Christ should die. Each hypocrite steps on Caiaphas as he passes.

When Donald Trump refused to declare on October 19 he would not subvert the basic tenet of American democracy, many Republican leaders feigned outrage – “feigned” because his threat not to accept the results of the election mirrors precisely what the Republicans have done for eight years.

Beginning on the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated, when Republican Congressional leaders apparently met to covenant with one another that they would thwart every suggestion, every constitutionally mandated action the President took, the Congress has essentially proclaimed their belief that the election of the first African American President was not valid, that it was somehow “rigged.”

They have

  • shut down the government to prove him wrong,
  • sued him several times to question the constitutionality of legislation his first Congress passed,
  • mocked him to his face during the State of the Union Address,
  • refused “advice and consent” for his court nominees to ensure that his electoral mandate did not extend to his constitutionally prescribed responsibility,
  • invited the head of a foreign nation to speak in Congress against a treaty the President had negotiated to which the visiting politician was not a party, thus circumventing the President’s constitutional obligation to conduct foreign affairs.
  • and much more.

In short, they have defamed not only the man but the office he holds, and in doing so the Republicans have destabilized the Constitutional underpinnings of our democracy.

Furthermore, they have refused to lend the power and prestige of their offices to efforts to end the insidious “birther” conspiracy, thus contributing to lack of trust in both the President and the office of the Presidency. They have not spoken against the persistent fringe belief that the President is a Muslim, thereby undermining his Presidency among Islamophobic Americans (and, by implication, fostering hatred for American Muslims). They have refused to refute any of the myriad absurd conspiracy theories about the President. Not dignifying them with responses is, of course, laudable, but refusing to make any effort to change the atmosphere in which those theories could flourish – indeed speaking of and treating the man in such a way to encourage those theories – has been despicable.

Donald Trump is the creation of the party he now represents. The Republicans, indeed the entire nation, are reaping what they have sown: hatred, disrespect for persons and for the Constitution, selfishness above concern for the body politic, and – perhaps most unsavory – for some people,  an unshakeable belief that President Obama’s election was never legitimate because it resulted from the cooperation of a coalition of Americans whom they consider to be less than representative of and not worthy to be counted part of the body politic.

Donald Trump is at least honest in his desire to subvert the Constitutional workings of our democracy.

Ursala Le Guin v. (Republican) terrorists

1-Malheur refuge

Mule deer in Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Pay my thinking no nevermind (it’s 4:30 AM, after all), but . . .

Is it not tragic that the  R E P U B L I C A N S  who rail against government overreach MANAGED WITHOUT DOUBT TO POISON thousands of children in Flint, Michigan, and probably to cause a fatal outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease there—did it by legislatively

S U S P E N D I N G  D E M O C R A C Y

and GIVING DICTATORIAL POWER to Republican Governor Rick Snyder?

And isn’t it monstrously hypocritical that  R E P U B L I C A N  t e r r o r i s t s continue to defy the Constitution by CONTRAVENING THE RULE OF LAW and seeking to forcefully

S U S P E N D   D E M O C R A C Y

in Oregon by occupying land and buildings owned by the public and steal it for their own use?

flint-kids-master

Flint children demand clean water in an October protest. (Photo: Danny Miller /The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

A message to all of the “patriots” who accuse President Barack Obama of Constitutional overreach in his executive orders: nothing he has done is for his own benefit, and all of his actions are well within established protocols, designed

. . . to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .

not to further the self absorbed political goals of white power.

Ursala LeGuin says it about as well as it can be said:

The Oregonian’s A1 headline on Sunday, Jan. 17, “Effort to free federal lands,” is inaccurate and irresponsible. The article that follows it is a mere mouthpiece for the scofflaws illegally occupying public buildings and land, repeating their lies and distortions of history and law.

Ammon Bundy and his bullyboys aren’t trying to free federal lands, but to hold them hostage. I can’t go to the Malheur refuge now, though as a citizen of the United States, I own it and have the freedom of it. That’s what public land is: land that belongs to the public — me, you, every law-abiding American. The people it doesn’t belong to and who don’t belong there are those who grabbed it by force of arms, flaunting their contempt for the local citizens.

Those citizens of Harney County have carefully hammered out agreements to manage the refuge in the best interest of landowners, scientists, visitors, tourists, livestock and wildlife. They’re suffering more every day, economically and otherwise, from this invasion by outsiders.

Instead of parroting the meaningless rants of a flock of Right-Winged Loonybirds infesting the refuge, why doesn’t The Oregonian talk to the people who live there?

Ursula K. Le Guin

Northwest Portland

For the REPUBLICANS who apparently weren’t listening when they read this at their swearing-in in Congress: They should read Article III, Section 3, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or . . .”
xxx constitution

Please read about the one place in the world where the United States approves of and “gives aid and comfort to” the total S U S P E N S I O N  OF  D E M O C R A C Y.

“No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog. . .” (Edward Hirsch)

"Now you’re walking down to the shore. . ."

“Now you’re walking down to the shore. . .”

These days there’s a lot of prattle by the talking heads on TV from FOX to MSNBC about President Obama’s “legacy.” Usually the topic is what the President is doing to shape (or reshape or create or change or . . .) his legacy.

The other day Diane Rehm’s guest on her NPR interview show was the British actor David Thomson. I didn’t hear the entire program, but I heard a few moments of his speaking to the idea that all of us are to a certain extent acting—acting out the role in which we want others to see us.

Don’t jump to conclusions. He was not saying we’re all phonies. Far from it. His point was that we all decide (maybe several times in our lives) how we want the world to see us—what our role is in the drama of our lives. I think that’s a powerful idea.

I’ve been thinking lately about that concept. My legacy. That, of course, is a luxury. For anyone who is simply and constantly trying to keep warm or figure where the next meal is coming from, a legacy is the last thing they have to worry about. And that’s—what?—90% of the world’s population. That I have the time, the awareness that anyone might think of me when I am gone—the luxury of knowing who the “leader” of my nation is—places me in the tiniest minority of the people now living or who have ever lived.

I heard only a few minutes of David Thomson’s discussion with Diane Rehm, and I have not read his book. I can hardly claim to understand his ideas. No matter. My legacy. My acting. My acting as if.

We’re all “method actors,” I’d say. We feel the feelings, we immerse ourselves in our experience, in our real and perceived worlds, and then “act” accordingly. Somewhere along the line my experience, both real and perceived, took me down several conflicting paths. I suppose that’s universally true. I don’t need to rehearse mine—it’s pretty much in evidence throughout this blog.

Yesterday I saw my new talk-therapist for the second time, and I began revealing as best I could why I was there. First, I was having a minor version of what I have heard described as a “panic attack.” It’s just the way I live—and my guess is everyone else does, too. I didn’t want to be there. I suddenly was aware of my heart (I don’t know if it was racing or pounding or what—I was simply aware of it). I could not sit still. I seldom can except when I’m at my computer keyboard or working a Sudoku puzzle. I was acutely aware that I did not want to be there.

". . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . ."

“. . .but the sea and the sky were also yours. . .”

So we talked. I talked a little about me. He talked a lot about anxiety. My skin crawled and I had to rub my head, and I wanted to scream. He sat calmly in his chair wearing his tie with his handsome gray beard immaculately trimmed and prattling on, and I slumped in the easy chair in my t-shirt with my hair and beard that have not been groomed for two weeks. At one point he was talking about the experience of the victims of the Holocaust (he’s not Jewish—his father was a famous Methodist theologian) and the numbers tattooed on their arms, “Not like the impressive ones you have.” I wore a long-sleeved shirt the first time we talked, so he hadn’t seen them before. At one point I saw the skinny young intern—did I say skinny?—(my therapist teaches at UTSouthwestern Medical School—I see six doctors there, lucky me) staring at my tattoos, and I knew they were both curious about them. Why does a retired church musician/college professor have all those tattoos? I think—although I may be projecting or hoping—that was the unasked question of the hour.

So then he asked me something—I forget what—that the answer was logically to tell him about tutoring college athletes. Specifically about the one last semester that I bonded with in a way the NCAA says we’re not supposed to, but which—I am pretty sure (because he told me so)—has helped keep him in school in the midst of a situation I would not have been able to handle when I was 19 years old. And then the one this week who told me the story of his (for me, literally, unbelievable) growing up, and his violent high school years, and his landing in college with almost no preparation and no skill for staying there. And the words of the director of the program as I left at the end of the day were, “Have you gotten through to another one of the boys?”

So President Obama and I are worried about our legacies. I wonder what the most important thing is that he’s ever done. Bet it has nothing to do with being President. I’ll bet it has to do with his making a connection somewhere sometime with someone—someONE—who could barely connect with anyone. And it makes the fact that he has not written the great American novel or been a concert organist or published books and books of poetry or any of those other things he MIGHT have done pretty much irrelevant.

And in those days in 2031 when he’s 70 and looking back on his life and alone—of course, he’ll never be alone, but he’ll be lonely—it’s that minute when some kid who’s had a rough, even violent, life said to him, “But I’m going to do this,” and admitted he could use his help along the way, that will make him weep in a way no actor on stage has ever done.

“What the Last Evening Will Be Like,” by Edward Hirsch (b. 1950)
You’re sitting at a small bay window
in an empty café by the sea.
It’s nightfall, and the owner is locking up,
though you’re still hunched over the radiator,
which is slowly losing warmth.

Now you’re walking down to the shore
to watch the last blues fading on the waves.
You’ve lived in small houses, tight spaces—
the walls around you kept closing in—
but the sea and the sky were also yours.

No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.
You’re alone with the whirling cosmos.
Goodbye, love, far away, in a warm place.
Night is endless here, silence infinite.

(About Edward Hirsch.)

"No one else is around to drink with you from the watery fog, shadowy depths."

“No one else is around to drink with you
from the watery fog, shadowy depths.”

sum link for other blog