Thursday, January 29, 2009


I've seen lots of advertising for the film Doubt recently.

It's a good film and has won many awards. Merle Streep is a critic's choice - says the TV ad. I hope Philip Seymour Hoffman also gets an award or two for his work in the film. Kris and I saw it over the Christmas holiday, and we thought highly of the film.

But I fear that many viewers of the movie will become obsessed with the issue of whether or not Father Flynn was a pedophile. I think that that issue is a minor one compared to the universal issue of doubt and certainty. That, it seems to me, is what the film is about. After all, Shanley called the stage version of this play "A parable."

In this case I don't think Shanley means "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning." Rather, I think he means parable as an extended metaphor.

I think this film brings viewers to realize the burden of certitude and the grief of doubt. It's a feeling one gets, not an idea that you immediately derive from either the action, or the dialog of the drama.

Doubt and certitude. The country is full of folks certain about their religious conviction and unable to entertain doubt - at least not intellectually. These folks have done great harm to our political and scientific discourse in the past two decades. I've several colleagues who are absolutely certain of the correctness of their opinions. They do damage to their personal relationships with this certitude.

Me, I'm not sure about much of nothing.

Blago Goodbye

I've not had much sympathy for Rod Blagojevich and I'm not sorry to see him go.

But I wonder about people like the former governor, like the current Republican obstructionists, like the past President. I wonder about people who create their own worlds and dwell in them.

Just about every commentator has noted Blago's corruption. My sister, the commentator I most respect once said to me, "That jackass! He could have made the governance of Illinois Democratic for a generation, but he screwed things up so badly that people won't vote for Democrats for statewide office."

Things Blago claimed as his legacy, the prescription drug packages, for example, haven't gone the way Rod claims they've gone. They have been, mostly, a bust.

His claims on Wrigley Field seem bogus. His movie references are strange and strained. His press conferences are just weird. But he seems to genuinely believe what he asserts.

Likewise, the Bush White House seemed to believe what it asserted. That Iraq was a good idea, that the "war on Terror" is winnable, that the economy is strong and growing. I truly believe that Bush believed those things. Unfortunately, it isn't true.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Now for something completely different

No photos and no comedy and no politics.

Eunice Liljegren passed away two weeks ago. I heard the announcement of her death on a Sunday morning. I'd known her and Leon only slightly, but I really felt a connection to the both of them.

When I heard the announcement I immediately thought of the Christmas when we went and caroled at their house and Leon sang along with the carolers. I recalled the day when I dropped by to pick up a cake for "Cakes, etc." I was moved by the announcement of Eunice's passing.

I was moved to write a poem. I'm not a poet, but the moment captured me, and I tried to capture it.

When Oscar took his final ride

Stepping through the church doors,
down the five concrete grey steps to
the big black waiting hearse.
The sunlight blinds us, Jon and me,
and all the pallbearers who

shovel the plain
wooden box into the gaping
jaws. We watch, Jon and I.
Then the funeral director clasps
the door, taps
on the roof and the hearse wheels away

the crematorium its
final destination. We walk, Jon and I,
north on Rockwell, across Brown
Line tracks, sniffing the sewer gasses
at Argyle street.

Consumed by crematory fires
he is gone forever.
The sun still shines and
I do not want to give up
the neighborhood, the church,
the sights, the sounds, the smells,
of my childhood.

Hope and Fear

From Inauguration

Many of the folks at the college spent the morning watching the inauguration. It was inspiring to be among the crowd, even though I had to spend much of my time taking photos for the newspaper and the yearbook.

From Inauguration

Several times during the President's inaugural I felt myself chocking up. I heard myself mumble inside my head "I need to be inspired, I need to be inspired."

I was inspired by what I saw and what I heard. I was particularly moved by the line: "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." I was looking for a third "On this day," to complete the series - that's the speech teacher in me. Overall I felt it was a great speech, entirely appropriate for this moment in our history.

Rick Warren, on the other hand was highly inappropriate. He was to give an invocation, not preach a sermon. He was to give an invocation for the whole country, not just the Christian part of it. What was with using the Lord's Prayer? Pastor Warren has to be reminded that this was a national event, not a church event. He prayed the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Jains, the Ba'hais out of the union.

Later that day I was listening to the critics on NPR. "Good, but not great," was one of the critic's comments. What was the memorable line? It was pedestrian. Blah, blah, blah.

What speech did he hear?

I think it was a great day for the country and the beginning of an important period in our country's history. I'm glad I was alive to see it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Beginning

dems 013
Originally uploaded by Ike60
Lindsborg's Villa Ro community room was the site of the new meeting of the McPherson County Democrats.

The presence of a core of young adults who may become the foundation of a Young Democrats Club was part of the energy of the evening. The crowd in this room was a part of the energy of the evening.

The major change came in the willingness of the new leadership to talk about the potential to put more Democrats in local offices. There are a number of Republicans who are vulnerable, if you ask me (nobody did, but I'll give my opinion anyway).

I think Clark Schultz is vulnerable. I think that we could capture a seat or two on the McPherson County Commission. I think that there are non-partisan seats where Democrats could be elected - though elected not as Democrats but simply as citizens.

The key, it seems to me is excitement, enthusiasm, and better ideas.

I heard Newt Gingrich on NPR this AM. "Republicans have to become the party of better ideas." I'm sorry, but I haven't heard a better idea from Republicans in my lifetime.

But Democrats could be, ought to be, the party of better ideas. It all could begin in McPherson county.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Failure of Capitalism

A common expression on the political and economic right is "discredited marxism."

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall the right - and many in the center left declared that leftism, Marxism, socialism, social justice liberal Christianity - and even liberalism - were all "discredited." I can understand the urge to declare a set of ideas and ideals "discredited" when an actual expression - an always tainted actual expression - of those ideas and ideals fails to work. It is a hasty generalization, but an understandable generalization.

Back in my undergraduate years I recall my American Christianity instructor quoting A. N. Whitehead's view of history. History, actual lived history, always had a combination of high ideals and disgusting alliances. Human beings, my religious training tells me are always driven by our concupiscence, our tendency toward sinfulness. Why should communism, socialism, any type of utopianism be any different.

It is understandable that, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the failure of Soviet Socialism, right wing idealists should declare that the ideology they opposed was "discredited." It did, after all, fail.

What, I wonder, will right wing ideologs now say about capitalism? Hasn't it proven itself as big a failure as Communism? And will business schools revamp their curricula in order to teach people what actually works? It doesn't seem that what's being taught in our MBA programs - from which the captains of our finance and industry have graduated - works.

Will that happen? I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I just watched both Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow's programs. Both programs featured a report that a Bush Administration official announced that we cannot prosecute the so called "20th hijacker" because we tortured him.

The left is sure that we ought to investigate and prosecute Bush Cheney Rumsfeld for War Crimes. If we don't, one argument goes, the world court will.

I'm not happy with the ways the current resident has shredded the constitution, and I believe that there are potential war crimes to be investigated. But I don't know that it would be good for the country for this administration to investigate and prosecute the past administration. Where would this end?

I just don't know what I would do if I were the incoming Attorney General. Fortunately, I don't have to make that decision.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tjungondag Knut

It's close to over, but glad slut till jul. Har ni dansat julgrannen ut? Inte oss heller.

Det är ett gammal tallesätt enligt Nordiska Mussets websäjt att sjunga "På tjugondag knut dansas grannen ut." Vi åt middag med de gammla,men dannsade inte.

Snart kommer fastan och Handels Messias.

New Democratic Party Leadership

While the country is gearing up for the inauguration of Barack Obama next Tuesday, the McPherson Country Democrats also have reason to celebrate. Click the title of this post to go to their we site.

New leadership of the party, with Ryon Carey as chair, Susan Buffington as Vice Chair, Ellen Neufeld as Secretary and Jayne Norlin as Treasurer. I believe that Neufeld is the only returning leader of the party. They've even started a blog.

Frankly, I'm glad to see this change in leadership. I do not mean to speak ill of those who led the party for the last - what - twenty years. I know they were sincere and devoted to the good of the country and the good of the party, but they needed to retire several years ago.

I went to the pre-election rally at the McPherson Senior Citizens' center in September. The focus was entirely on local races, most of which Democrats hadn't a ghost of a chance at capturing. We had Lee Jones, the candidate who would ultimately lose the primary to Mr. Gas Hose (who thought that semi-pornographic ad was a good idea?), who would lose the race to Pat Roberts. We had Cynthia Nelson from Lincoln County.

We missed state party leadership. We didn't have any leaders who could excite the folks who came to the meeting.

What truly bothered me at this meeting was I never heard the top of the ticket mentioned. These may have been Hilary Democrats, but by the time we had this meeting Obama had not only won the nomination, but we were into the fall campaign. I went home from that meeting deeply discouraged about the party in this state.

Seeing the new leadership I once again optimistic about the Democratic Party in McPherson County. Maybe we can bring progressive leadership to local and state government. I sure hope so.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Catherine the Movie Producer

Catherine the Movie Producer
Originally uploaded by Ike60
It's been a great year at Rotary so far. The programs have all been above average - like this one with Catherine, the producer for Au Pair Kansas.

We had to wait for Catherine, but she was well worth waiting for.

Other highlights of the fall - the AT&T manager who brought phones back to Greensburg. The helper dogs. The books of War.

January began with the bones of Forensic Science, and this week it continues with the Child Care Center. We'll hopefully find a way that Lindsborg Rotary can help out at the Child Care Center - one of the meanings of our theme "Make Dreams Real" is involvement in the lives of children.

Then we'll hear from Darrell Purdy, Bethany's director of housing and leader in a program that makes dreams real for people with handicaps. That's January 21st.

Finally, we'll hear about the latest business to open in Lindsborg - the Coffee Roastery in the old Blacksmith Shop - and we'll have our coffee fresh roasted in the Levin Room.

So, would you like to hear any of these folks? Lindsborg Rotary will always welcome you.

Why I Love Group Work

Each time I teach Small Group Communication I manage to have a day that stands out in my memory as "the day."

The first year at Bethany it was the day we played the communication games the class members created. Here's a photo of Tyler Boyd playing one of the games. I don't know which or what or why.

From Small group 06

This year the great day may have just happened. Today was "Laises faire" group day, a day in which the appointed leader (the instructor) refuses to lead, but rather allows (or forces) the group to take responsibility for its own life.

The anxiety of being faced with this does a number of things for and to a group. This year's group turned to small talk and humor. The humor made the morning, but the group's willingness to look squarely at its own behavior made the class worthwhile.

Here's the group in other action: a Picasa photoalbum:
Small Group 09

Here's video of the group in action:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Poetry Reading

Returned from a reading of the Poet Laureate of Kansas,Denise Lowe. The poetry was wonderful.

Lowe's style in reading her poetry was a common one for poetry readings. Her style was somewhere between a flat chant and well, I'll soon post a video of one of the poems. Or part of it.

I've heard this style before. The first time I heard it was the first time I heard a recording of, I think, T.S. Eliot. Hey, give the memory a break, it was nearly forty years ago.

To the point, this is a common style for poets reading their own poetry. To my mind - and this is admittedly a biased mind, since I've been known to teach Oral Interpretation, and count as one of my most important graduate school courses The Oral Interpretation of Poetry - there is a better way to interpret one's own poetry.

I heard this style. Elizabeth Bishop, in a simple and un-histrionic style, interpreted her own poetry. This was also almost forty years ago, so the memory needs the same break I pleaded for above.

Bishop came onstage in a spangled gown and read her poetry, with an emphasis upon her South American poetry. Her reading of Manuelzina changed my views about poetry. I cannot, to this day, read that poem without tears.

So why do poets read their poems in this style - a style that seems to me to be just bad Oral Interp? Perhaps they want to allow the poem to stand on its own, without the benefit of theatricality.

Ya have to wonder, if the rhapsodes had done the same, would theatre ever have arisen in ancient Greece?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How can we speak hope?

Just home from worship. Loren's sermon was a good one, but left me with the desire for dialog and perhaps examples.

He spoke of the hope that belongs to the Christian as a child, born, not of the flesh but of the will of God. Then he said we should speak hope to our children, to our neighbors throughout the new year.

But he never said how, and I wish he would have at least given a few examples.

How shall we speak hope when Israel invades Gaza? How shall we speak hope to the 600,000 Iraqi Christians displaced from their homeland. How shall we speak hope when our government continues to rattle the same swords and voices in our country speak loudly for continuing hostilities with Cuba, with Iran, with Venezuela. What are we who have hope to say to this world?

I don't know. I wish Pastor had offered some thoughts about how speaking hope comes home.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Home Again

Been a good break. We're homeward bound tomorrow, Friday. We may make it all the way, we may not. It all depends. How's life been in Lindsborg this past week?

Final news from Minnesota: the senate election still isn't finished.

Final final news from Minnesota: there's still lots of snow on the ground and it looks like it may stay here until May.

So, leaving the land of ice and snow and back to the world of wind and rain.

Painful To Watch

Didn't do much to celebrate the New Year's arrival. Bought some cheap bubbly, watched Charlie Chan at the Circus, then tuned in the televised New Year's Eve celebrations.

Carson Daley was sad. Here's a guy that once had a huge following on MTV, and now his show is canceled and he's out in the cold bidding to become the next Dick Clark.

Sadder still was Dick himself. See below (you first hear Dick at 42 seconds):

I know that he's had a stroke and that he is making a courageous recovery. For that I salute him. However, he sounds as if he's trying to hold onto former glory, or reclaim new glory. He sounds like a sad recording of himself. His stroke has caused him to try to form words in new ways, thus we see prominent canines that are usually hidden. It looks like he has fangs in the back of his throat. The only thing that looks good is his haircut.

But then there's that strange party on the platform with Ryan Seacrest. Ryan talks to Lionel Ritchie, possibly because he's the only other adult on the platform. Both of these guys now want to suck up to the Jonas Brothers, and it is as if Taylor Swift isn't even there.

Then, when the ball drops we watch the excited platform party and not the ball dropping. What's that about?

Overall, sad, even pathetic, painful to watch.

I'm going to watch another Charlie Chan. It may be dated, but the pains are due to the era in which it was made. Oh, maybe the same can be said of Dick Clark, but which parts of him am I thinking of?

Sorry, that wasn't nice.