“. . . push aside the needy in the gate. . .”

Boy, do I have a Ponzi scheme for you!

Boy, do I have a Ponzi scheme for you!

My dad was 78 years old when Bill Clinton was elected President.

Dad had an interesting take on that election. He was glad the unprincipled socialist Democrats had won. That meant when the Republicans ousted them, the GOP would have a mandate to get the country back on track because people would be tired of the insanity.

He was not surprised Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal and all the side-circuses that went along with it. He was, however, dumbfounded at the invasion of Iraq by the Republicans a short six years later. Barack Obama was the only Democrat he voted for in 19 elections. He cast his last vote for President in 2008.

I’m less than two months from my 70th birthday, as anyone who knows me or reads my stuff knows. I’m quite vocal about it. I’m going to have the party to sum up all parties. January 3, 2015. Mark your calendar. I’ve voted for president 11 times. I’ve never (and, if I continue to vote, can’t imagine that I ever will) voted for a Republican. That means I’ve voted for the winner only 5 times. Yes, but for the loser only 6—a much better ratio than my father.

Just as my father was glad the unprincipled socialist Democrats took over the government in 1992, I’m glad the Republicans won both houses of Congress this week. I hope they keep that majority and win the Presidency in 2016.

That will hasten the day when the poor and the lower middle classes and the hand-wringing ineffectual “liberals” or “progressives” or whatever we call them these days actually band together to throw the Kochs and the Waltons and Karl Rove and such people out of power.

“Let them eat cake.”

When the American people (at least those who know that the whole system has been taken over by the snobs—the Lexus-driving, sushi-eating, materialistic rich and wannabees) come to their senses and realize that the myth of the American Dream applies only to those whose parents already dreamed the American Dream, they will rise up. This is not sour grapes or incitement to riot. The rising up probably won’t take place in my lifetime, but David Koch’s disingenuous (well, no, it’s worse than that—it’s hypocritical lying) insistence that we throw out our social contract and let everyone get rich will eventually be seen for what it is: using his enormous INHERITED wealth to move the political system to protect his enormous INHERITED wealth. If I had INHERITED a billion dollars, I’d want you all to keep your grubby hands off of it, too.

Me, for President

Me, for President

I know a brilliant, handsome, talented member of a college football team who—as you have already guessed because it has become a cliché of American life—is an African American who was recruited by the Division I college football programs when he was in high school. The high school from which he graduated was not the same one he had attended his first years in public secondary school.

It was, as he told me, “A white school.” In fact, it was the crème de la crème of the white schools—a private school that gave him a $50,000 scholarship to attend and play on its undefeated football team. He also had to work a total of 420 hours for the school during his senior year mowing lawns, washing windows, and cleaning up after his classmates in the cafeteria. He was one of a half dozen black students in the same situation.

His purpose in submitting to that humiliation was to insure that he received at least one year of education of high enough quality to enable him to enroll in college. The “black high school” he would have attended would not have provided enough background learning no matter how hard he worked.

Washing windows and cleaning up after his peers, he said, he learned that, without a college football scholarship to get him to college, he’d work that way the rest of his life. His forced labor taught him both humility and anger.

“Let them eat cake,” Alice Walton says.

Give them an hourly wage that doesn’t quite pay their bills, and then let those who are a little better off pay taxes to provide the millions working for her with food stamps to buy their cake. But for God’s sake, don’t give them health insurance. Let the middle class folks pay for their health care in expensive emergency rooms, or just let them die.

All in the name of the capitalist American Dream. It’s working for Alice Walton and David Koch, so why shouldn’t it work for those of us who didn’t inherit a billion dollars?

Our elected leaders have bought into the scam, the Ponzi scheme that is our government. Or, rather, Alice and David have spent so much money convincing so many of the people who are eating cake that they, too, can be rich that they have elected men (almost all straight—presumably—white men) who are willing to sell their public trust in order to cash in on a few of the crumbs Alice and David are willing to throw.

My football-playing acquaintance is working harder than you or I or Alice or David ever have or ever will work to succeed both athletically and academically because he knows if his dream of playing in the NFL doesn’t work out, he will need some other way to survive. And he doesn’t want to clean up after you in restaurants all his life. (He is, by the way, one of the tiny, tiny percentage of young men trapped in his situation who probably has the skill for his dream to come to fruition.)

So in 2016, if I vote, I will probably vote for Ted Cruz for President. Because I think that may be the only way to hasten the day when justice will roll down.

I hate it when someone quotes the Bible to tell me I’m filthy and going to hell because I have sex with men instead of women. So I really do wish there were another way to say this. But since most people in this country believe that the God of Israel inspired the life that Alice and David want us to provide them with, I will remind you that one of the prophets who most closely (apparently) predicted what would happen to the people of ancient Judea said some pretty scary things about the American
Dream. From the fifth chapter of Amos:

Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate. . .
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
In all the squares there shall be wailing;
and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning,
and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;
in all the vineyards there shall be wailing,
for I will pass through the midst of you,

says the Lord.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let them earn a real living. Forget the cake (or the wonderful art museum in Arkansas, or the Cancer research center at MIT).

In the white high school

In the white high school

“Nothing beside remains [r]ound the decay of that colossal wreck . . .”

Roger Ailes. You CAN fool some of the people all the time!

Roger Ailes. You CAN fool some of the people all the time!

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

     (—“Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1817)

If I had the courage of my convictions—who on earth has that?—I’d be writing a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Every person who has any kind of second-class-citizen status in this country (including all women, all LGBT persons, and everyone whose ancestors did not come from Northern Europe) owes King a debt of gratitude for showing it’s possible to change society’s mind.

Lloyd Blankfein. You CAN steal from all the people all the time.

Lloyd Blankfein. You CAN steal from all the people all the time.

Our national tragedy today is that King (or his moral heir) is not here to lead the movement (the uprising?) of the poor (increasingly what we used to call the middle class) against the politicians, Roger Ailes, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs (and Lloyd Blankfein), Alice Walton, and the Koch brothers. Someone to lead people like the deluded Tea Partiers to understand that they are feeding directly into the power of the oligarchy they think is somehow going to save them but which is, by definition, designed to destroy them.

Because I am one of the lucky ones who will be dead before David Koch, Karl Rove, and Alice Walton have completed their strangle-hold on America, I’ll resist the temptation to write about or give the honor due to Martin Luther King, Jr. With my stodgy old opinions, I could hardly honor him, anyway, and what good would it do?

When Shelley wrote his sonnet in 1817, I’m pretty sure he meant Ozymandias to stand for the rich and powerful. Today, we would do better to think of him as a metaphor for the American people who have given away, forfeited in the vain hope of getting richand staying “secure”our power and our freedom. If it were not so trite, one might well ask, “Where is Martin Luther King, Jr., when we need him?”

There’s an old Victorian hymn that, in spite of its quaintness and sentimentality (and its squarely, boringly Anglo-Saxon music), was one of my father’s favorites. I’m not quite sure why because it doesn’t mention Christian theology. My dad simply thought the people were worth saving. I think Martin Luther King, Jr., would have understood. “When Wilt Thou Save the People?” Is anyone asking that question now?

Boy, do I sound like a stuffy, old fashioned, grouchy, holier-than-all-the-rest-of-you old man. Mean-spirited, too. Not at all in the tradition of MLK. I know. Sorry.

Alice Walton. Trying to fool all the people all the time can make you very unhappy.

Alice Walton. Trying to fool all the people all the time can make you very unhappy.

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Rembrandt

Madonna and Child, Da Vinci - one of fourteen

Madonna and Child, Da Vinci – one of fourteen

Last Sunday I attended the exhibit “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece: Masterworks from the British Museum” at the Dallas Museum of Art. It is a comprehensive retrospective of the British Museum’s holdings of ancient Greek sculpture, with commentary about the development of the Greek artistic (and cultural) understanding of the human body. The exhibition is touring museums world-wide. Of course, all of the statues, all of the art, belong in Greece. That the British Museum “owns” these works is some kind of bizarre cultural and national hubris that I (just me, uninformed as I am) find difficult to justify.

A week ago I wandered away from our group which was making a mad dash through as much of The Hermitage, the Palace of Catherine the Great, in St. Petersburg, Russia, as we could manage in one afternoon (not much of it, let me say). I wandered into a large gallery of sculptures of human figures from ancient Greece. Two experiences of seeing somewhat overwhelming collections of statuary from ancient Greece in less than a week, both worlds away from Greece.

More statues than in Greece?

More statues than in Greece?

It may be (although I don’t know for sure) that in a week I saw more sculpture from ancient Greece than I could have had I been in Greece.

I wonder about the cultural integrity that allows that to be true. Surely neither the Russian Tsars nor the British Museum can (could) lay claim to “owning” that art. Why shouldn’t Cambodia come to New York and drag away the Statue of Liberty? Or Greece make off with the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London?

Of course, some benighted and totally discredited “communist” theorist would say these affronts to culture are the result of “imperialistic capitalism” or some such nonsense. I suppose “imperialism” accounts for the British carting off statues. I don’t know Greek history, but I do know that Britain had great influence (if not absolute control) over Greece during the 19th century and up to WWI, and that the German states also wielded power during that time (I don’t have time to do proper research). Catherine the Great of Russia was German, as was King George I of Greece, and they were both somehow related to Victoria of England. Boundaries of weaker European nations were pretty fluid, and there was no reason—is my guess—for the British not to have assumed that “your antiquities are my antiquities.” And Catherine the Great certainly had the money and power to buy up just about anything she wanted. Every country’s treasures were up for grabs by the countries with the strongest armies and monarchs and other venture capitalists with the most money.

I know, I know. I’m not a historian, and that may be all wrong, but it’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. (Not really. If anyone wants to bother to correct my theory, go ahead. I’ll post your correction.)

Should the Prodigal be returned?

Should the Prodigal be returned?

All of that is getting in the way of what I intended to write about.

The Hermitage is Catherine the Great’s private palace. At least the beginning of it was. She didn’t want to live a public life, so she built a small palace where she could hide away as a hermit. Of course it’s a lavish example of the most ornate styles of 18th-century architecture and decoration. And she (and her heirs) collected the greatest art of Europe. While I may be uneasy that these great works of art reside together in one place because it requires great wealth to “own” them, I have no un-ease at having the opportunity to get a tiny glimpse at a tiny percent of the works in The Hermitage.

Two of the fourteen extant paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci. “The Prodigal,” the intense and affective painting by Rembrandt, as well as his “Portrait of an Old Jew.” Two large paintings by Matisse.  To say nothing of the building (much expanded after Catherine’s day) itself. It’s overwhelming. I don’t have the words to explain the magnitude of the experience.

As a side bar, I point out that we have a parallel example of a collection of masterpieces gathered by a captain of capitalism, Alice Walton. Her Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Alice Walton’s collection is smaller than Catherine’s, but the idea, the impetus, I’d guess is the same. Should I never see the art in Arkansas because of my feelings about Walton’s billions? I don’t know. I’ve been to both museums, and I would go back in an instant (to the Hermitage in February when thousands of Japanese, American, and Uzbekistani tourist would not be braving the St. Petersburg winter to see it).

The fact is, I was at The Hermitage as part of a group of people of whom, by the time we were there, I had grown exceedingly fond. Being with them mitigated my discomfort. Perhaps the only way to see—to  feel oneself part of—our shared cultural history is in the company of those with whom one shares a personal history.
group RR

Cultural or personal history?

This ends with a whimper, not a bang

The meaning of life?

The meaning of life?

Today is Palm Sunday. I’ve been to church for 67 Palm Sundays in a row. The last 45 were in churches that had a Procession of Palms of one sort or another. My favorite were the ones at my little now defunct church (St. Paul Lutheran) in Farmers Branch, TX, where we walked around the block singing, with the music accompanied by bagpipe! If there were bagpipers in Jerusalem in 30 CE, I doubt they wore Scottish plaids.

Today I will not attend a Palm Sunday service. At about the time the church I belong to is processing (it’s pretty splendid – I think they may even have a donkey) I will be at home checking on my cats and doing a little busy work around my apartment.

One of my best friends, who belongs to the same church, asked me why I don’t go to church any more. The cheap shot answer to that is, “No one’s paying me to go these days.” For that entire 45-year span, I was paid to be where I was. But I would have been there anyway. The other flip answer might be that I have somewhere else—down on Main Street—I’d rather be. And that’s true, too.

The real answer, however, is that I simply can’t get there. I don’t have any compelling reason to go. I don’t get it any more. And if that were to change, Palm Sunday with all that hoopla and all of those people would not be my first day back.

It seems to me that one of two things happens to people who have been churchy all their lives as they get older. They either become more attached to the services, or they drift away (or make a clean break to the affair as I have).  The more aware you become that today might be your last—and, believe me, anyone who’s 68 and isn’t aware of that isn’t using the mental powers homo sapiens has evolved for itself—the less certain you are that the answers to all those BIG questions you’ve always relied on are true. Or, conversely, the more certain you become.

The meaning of Life 2?

The meaning of Life 2?

I have to break into my own line of thinking here to make the little note that I am told by some people that I think about death too much. It isn’t healthy. Yes, it is. As I said before, if you’re my age and aren’t thinking about it, that means you don’t give a fig about understanding “the meaning of life” (sorry, but we old folks have more in common with teenagers and their angst than we like to think—when was the last time you thought about “the meaning of life”).

Really. I mean it. Why do you think Alice Walton built the Crystal Bridges Museum? She’s worried about the “meaning” of her billions. She’s not going to get out of here alive any more than I am. And she knows it. Except that she makes so many people’s lives miserable, she’s really pathetic. That (and I say this without irony) profound collection of art and its total accessibility to anyone who wants to see it won’t save poor Alice. And once she’s dead, how can it possibly be important to her that she’s done this one beautiful generous thing. (Sorry. I was at Sam’s Club yesterday. Alice has become my little private symbol for the totally bizarre and incomprehensible nature of human life.)

So back to my original subject. Why I’m not going to participate in a parade at church today.

Yesterday the friend who asked me why I don’t go to church was leading a Lenten retreat at our church. He asked me to drop by and play the organ for a few hymns for their closing Eucharist. I did.

And here’s my problem. I don’t “believe” (whatever that means) any of the language of those hymns. Well, maybe I can get my mind around the idea that, if there is a God, there’s a wideness in his mercy. But all I have to do is sit at the organ and play those nice tunes while people sing, and I get all wimpy. Is it because it’s what I’ve done all my life and it’s so familiar it just feels like reality?

The meaning of Life 3?

The meaning of Life 3?

Or are music and church and those things (even Alice’s art), after all, a way to figuring it out. I don’t know.