Saturday, August 21, 2010

Where Does Your Opinion Count?

I like opinions. I have my own. I enjoy reading others' opinions. I enjoy exchanging opinions with those who are open enough to actually change their opinions - or with those open enough to change my opinion. I like opinions.

But I've come to recognize that there are places where uninformed opinions don't matter.

This thought came to me Saturday morning as I was watching a program on the History Channel on the origin and end of the universe. It was a mind boggling departure for the channel that used to be All Hitler, All the Time and is now "Monster Quest Plus." These seemed to be genuine explorations of actual science. The program featured actual astro-physicists who actually did calculations and study and knew stuff about how the current theories of the universe were formed and tested. It was an impressive popularization of science.

I realized that one of the discussions I've been in recently - a discussion about the inclusion of creationism in high school science curriculum - is a discussion in which a great deal of misinformation and opinion based on non-expert ignorance has been thrown about. There have even been a few young earth opinions.

Here were scientists who spoke knowledgeably about events billions of years ago, events we've just dimly come to understand. They actually knew something. But even if they didn't, the Universe is indifferent to their opinions. The age of the universe is not fixed by ancient texts reinterpreted in the 18th century. The universe is what it is, as old as it is, regardless of our opinion. This is a place where our opinion doesn't matter, and our uninformed, non-scientific opinion matters even less.

I also thought about the recent stories about the President's religion. One poll, apparently, says that a significant number of Americans believe that we should, somehow, exclude Muslims from qualifying for the Presidency. That opinion doesn't matter.

The reason it doesn't matter is because the Constitution excludes the criteria that is being set out in the minds of many poll takers. Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids a "religious test" for any office. To exclude anyone because of their chosen religion, or to chose only those of one or two faiths, is a clear violation of this article.

So, the opinion of 24% of the country who apparently think that that Jeremiah Wright flap was a clever ruse perpetrated by Obama - and who now think that Obama is a "secret Muslim" can and should join the rest of the nutbags in the Republican Party. Remember that 24% of the Republican party also thought/thinks that Obama is the Anti-Christ.

They're nuts. Their opinion, in fact, doesn't matter. The news reporters should stop reporting on this issue, unless it is to point out that the matter is irrelevant. The constitution rules it out of bounds! So, let's be strict constitutionalists and rule it out of bounds and get to talking about things that actually matter - like jobs and the jobs that have been outsource that Americans could now use!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Let's Be Careful Out There

Watching an NBC program just now. It was one of those spin offs of 48 Hours. "Someone like a Doctor, the state inferred," said the announcer.


The State, in the person of the prosecutor, IMPLIED.

The message encoder Implies. The message decoder Infers. That's the meaning of the two words. I imply. You infer. That's the way it works and not otherwise.

And while we're on it - "Begging the question" does not mean "really wants us to raise the question." Begging the question means to argue in a circular fashion.

I really wish newscasters, some of whom must be intelligent, would get these two simple and unexceptional bits of English grammar correct.

And don't get me started on "sort of unique."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reflections from Iceland (part 3)

You'll want to go to part one - they're out of order - sorry. I'm too lazy to fix the problem!

And the waterfall wasn’t far away. On the way from Reykholt to our next stop we, of course, stopped at a waterfall. This day it was Barnafoss, the Children’s falls. These falls are so named because of the legend of the death of two children in the glacial water of the falls.
This pattern was repeated all over Iceland: Educational institution; (we visited the following universities – either singly or as a group: Reykjavik, Keilir, Akurerie, Bifrost, Hvanneri, Iceland) high tech display or high tech manufacturing (DeCode, SET, Marel); thermal pools and power plants (Blue Lagoon, Heilsheidi, Orkuveita Reykjavik); visited lots of historical sites (Thingvellir, Viking Days, Culture house, Egil’s Saga); churches (Hallgrimmskirkja, Skalholt, Frikirkja). Of course, we also visited nearly a waterfall a day. The queen of the falls was Gullfoss, a part of the so called “golden circle” of tourist attractions.
Since we were not there as tourists you might assume we missed the tourist attractions of the “golden circle,” (Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss) as well as other touristy sites. You’d be wrong. We went whale watching, saw the beauty, bathed in the Blue Lagoon, one of us even flew over Eyafjalljokull and has pictures to prove it. We didn’t avoid the tourist spots; we simply added them to the educational and professional contacts.
That was Iceland: history, museums, hot pots and high tech. Oh yeah, and waterfalls.
None of this mentions the other reason to go to Iceland – the food and the people. Food, wonderful! Great fish dishes, stupendous lamb. The people – truly gracious Rotarians everywhere we went. But those things are just givens. Rotarians are always gracious hosts, and always serve their guests the very best food.

Reflections from Iceland (part 2)

From the old church we moved on to the graveyard beside the church. Among those interred in the graveyard was Snorri Sturluson, buried there in 1241. Beside the graveyard were the remains of Snorri’s 13th century house. Snorri was one of the greatest of Iceland’s storytellers, relating the stories of the old gods, the Kings of Norway, and the rules of writing poetry. He was also a successful lawyer, elected the lawspeaker of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, in 1215. He was something of an engineer, building the first “hot pot” outside his home in Reykholt. The “hot pot” was a thermal bath using geothermal water to make was is essentially a stone hot tub. The “tub” is still in existence, and still hot.
Snorri chose wrong, however, in the 1220’s. He allied with the King of Norway, Håkon IV, and advocated a union with Norway. Civil war followed. In the civil war Snorri found himself allied against Håkon, and in favor of jarl Skuli. Skuli lost the war. Snorri petitioned to return to Iceland and was refused. He went regardless of the King’s demand that he remain in Norway, an act Håkon found bordering on treason. Unable to trust Snorri, the King engaged in a plot against the great skald, and in 1241 one of Snorri’s opponents led a raid on his home in Reykholt, resulting in Snorri’s assassination.
After touring the remains of the home, the cellar where he was assassinated, the secret passage from the home to the hot pot, and the hot pot, Pastor Waage took us into the beautiful, modern church and museum display. Here the Pastor demonstrated the unusual singing style that was, and remains, common in Icelandic Lutheranism, inviting us to join him in the 100 verses (in Icelandic) in praise of Mary the Mother of God.
How is this typical of our month in Iceland, you ask?
As I said at the start it has all the elements of our four weeks in country, except waterfalls. Everywhere we toured we were surrounded by this amazing sense of the history of the country – both the thousand year history and the immediate history of life following the financial meltdown of 2008. This was the second most historic spot in our month in country (the most historic was Thingvellir, the site of the Allthingi).
It had a thermal pool. The pools of Iceland were a major focus. Several of the group made it part of their mission in Iceland to visit a pool in every town.  As far as I know they were successful. But even beyond the municipal pool, every home had its “hot pot.”
It had a “thermal” pool. This one was constructed in the early 13th century, it was one of the first uses of geothermal energy in the country. That was a major theme of this trip. We visited thermal power plants in and around Reykjavik. We saw the pipes for hot water running across the hillsides outside Akurerie, we wandered into the steam outside Borganes. We even visited a hothouse heated by thermal hot springs, growing cucumbers in just six weeks.
It was connected to an educational institution, had a closed school on the grounds, and was an educational morning overall. Education was one of the major themes of the trip. Since four of the five of us are educators, we were introduced to schooling in Iceland everywhere we went. We visited a primary school in Hafnadfjördur. We visited a secondary school in Selfoss. We visited tertiary education all over the country. Education was a major part of our month in Iceland.
Finally, it was, despite being historical, supported by a high tech museum. In the new church, in the basement of the library, was a high, high tech display about Snorri and Reykholt. Truth be told, by the time we heard about the conversion of the Icelanders, the problems of the Reformation, and Snorri’s death, we did not have time to visit the museum display. But there it was.

(still more in the third post)

Final Thoughts from Iceland

I can tell you about just one site in Iceland and if I do it right all I’ll have to add is waterfalls.
Reykholt, a tiny village, not even a village anymore, near Borganes has almost everything we came to Iceland to experience. It has “hot pots,” or a thermal hot tub; a deep sense of history; both old and new educational opportunities and scenic beauty.
Our visit to Reykholt came during our fourth stop. First stop Keflavik, then Selfoss, then Hafnadfjordur, and then Borganes. Borganes is a thousand year old town, just slightly larger than my home of Lindsborg. The town was built on the site of Egil Skallgrimsson’s settlement. Like all of Iceland, it is a town steeped in history and more than willing to tell the story their part in the settlement of this ancient land.
On Tuesday, June 8, we travelled just a few kilometers out of Borganes to Hvanneyri  and the agricultural university there. It is an extremely small university, one of seven or eight “universities” in Iceland. There are only 300 students at the Agricultural University of Iceland, making it smaller than the smallest of our ACCK colleges.
From Hvanneyri we travelled inland along the fjord to the tiny village of Reykholt. There are probably 100 residents of the village, and on a high hill above the church is a beautiful school building, the former home economics school. In front of the school is a statue of Iceland’s greatest medieval writer and chieftain, Snorri Sturluson. This little village was the home Sturluson’s home – the home and the grave are beside the old church.
We were met at Reykholt by Pastor Geir Waage. Pastor Waage is an old school Catho-Lutheran clergyman. He began our visit with a lecture in the old church. The pews in this old church were older than old school. This part of the visit began with a long story about the coming of Christianity to Iceland in the year 1000. From there Pastor Waage gave us a second lecture on the coming of the Reformation to Iceland. Unlike the coming of Christianity in 1000, this change in religion resulted in death and violence – something we didn’t find out until we visited the church at Skalholt two weeks later. (After the arrival of Lutheranism in the 16th century, the last Roman Bishop was executed at Skalholt.)

(more in the next post)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Who's the Bigger Demagogue?

Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt are battling for the far right wing of the ring wing party.

Moran's memes include "Illegal immigrants are costing us money" and "Secure the borders" and "Todd Tiahrt is for reduced tuition for illegal immigrants." The one that is really dangerous is "No constitutional rights for terrorists, none, zero."

That one is frightening because so many people are thoughtlessly embracing this idea. Or at least they seem to be. The Republican outrage over reading the Nigerian underpants bomber his rights - Mirandizing him - was wrong and counter productive.

Of course, all the evidence is that treating this would be terrorist humanely has resulted in good information and has not kept the government from prosecuting the case. And the problem with "no constitutional rights for terrorists" is "who gets to decide who is a terrorist and when do they get to decide that?"

I'm sure a smart lawyer like Moran has thought through that issue. I wonder what his response to that is? I guess I'll send him an e-mail and ask. I don't expect to get an answer.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Not for the Rotary Site

OK, so I'm blogging pretty straightfoward about Iceland over at the Rotary Club's Iceland site. I look on youtube and I find this video. It probably shouldn't be on the Rotary Club's site. It's kind of profane and a little foul and definitely funny:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where I'm blogging at the moment

It's a month and a little more since I last blogged at this spot.

A great deal since, and some things about the college probably worth discussing.

Is it a good thing for the college to reduce music from 5 faculty to 4? To reduce the History Poly Sci from three to two? (Effectively 2/3 of one this fall, with Kahler finishing the HLC report and Pigge off to England.) What about reducing Math to one?

Those are all worthy of comment, and I do have opinions (no, no, yes). I also have reasons for opinions. However, at the moment I'm not focused on Lindsborg news. I'm focused on Iceland news.

I'm in Iceland with four friends. We're here as part of Rotary International's GSE team, and we'll spend four weeks in Iceland. It's a great time to be here. Iceland just made it into the Euro-song final, and Saturday there are elections. The daily paper is full of election news, of which I can puzzle out the headlines.

If you want to follow our Icelandic exploits, visit the blog at the Lindsborg Rotary Club. All the news that fits is there!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Iceland Away!

Had our first, and possibly only, face to face meeting before we're off flying to Iceland. Almost two hours in length, but extremely productive. I think we're going to be a good team. As soon as I get a copy of the photo from Jan van Asselt I'll put it on the blog.

What's got me excited is not only the prospect of being in this wonderfully rugged and foreign land for a month, but being there with a group that could become close friends.

What's got me sad is that I have to leave my wife behind for a month. I love traveling with her. She has a way of making every trip an adventure.

What's got me nervous isn't the eruption of Eyafjallajokull: it's all I have to finish before going to Iceland on May 24 - much of it has to be done quickly. Someone, some power, some authority - PLEASE give me a 26 hour day or two to get caught up!

Friday, April 2, 2010

St. Matthew Passion

At the Passion performance, at the intermission.

This may be the best I've heard from this chorus and orchestra. The orchestra, in particular, seems exceptional tonight.

Very impressed by both the Evangelist and Jesus. Marvelously sung.

Photos are up on the Picasa site. Congratulations are in order to the Music Department for another wonderful event.

I hope the Theatre will live up to the quality of this Passion performance.

Tomorrow 2 & 7:30. I'm playing the character I wrote. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sorry Cisco

There are a series of commercials for Cisco - I'm not sure what part of Cisco this is supposed to represent - the point to point communication that is demonstrated? the routers that make it possible? the software that undergirds the network? It isn't clear.

In one commercial the young woman visits her elementary school classroom. The students in the classroom announce that they're going to China. Then, surprise, we see a Chinese classroom in beautiful 1080p resolution.

Of course, there's a problem for Cisco. It's called the internet. A quick search for a World Clock reveals that part of China is thirteen hours ahead of central time - so twelve hours ahead of east coast time (which is where Ellen seems to live). That means when it is 9 am in, say, Weymouth MA it's what - 10 pm in Beijing. Hmmm.

One set of those school children are either on tape - or up way past their bed times.

Copenhagen, BTW is 6 hours ahead of Midwest - five hours ahead of the east coast?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Somebody Say Something

Each week I get Jerry Moran's newsletter. Each week I find reason to be outraged.

One week it was his insistence that ACORN was undermining the American democracy. Nonsense. Plus, the bill that the House passed was unconstitutional. (Read yesterday that ACORN is folding its tents and going away. Now who will the demagogic right flog?) Then there was "Cap and Tax," a right wing talking point.

It was on and on. I responded to Moran on several occasions. I pointed out that the anti-ACORN bill was a bill of attainder (which the court also found - no surprise) and therefore unconstitutional, and I never got a response from the congressman. I pointed out that "Cap and Tax" was a right wing talking point. I never got a response.

I keep getting "call your Congressman" notices from various liberal and progressive organizations and I ignore them. What's the point.

But this week's letter from Moran beats all.

Instead of working to improve our current system and reduce costs, this plan will substantially grow the Federal government, impose job-killing tax hikes on our fragile economy, increase our growing deficit, and cut Medicare by more than half a trillion dollars.

That quote, from his newsletter, is not justified by any facts. In fact, the CBO says just the opposite - that this will be good for small business and individuals because it will reduce the deficit. It will not cut Medicare in ways that effect the recipient. That's also been authoritatively demonstrated. But our Congressman doesn't care about facts. He apparently doesn't think we care about facts either.
Later in the newsletter he writes:

Like many Kansas families, my wife Robba, and I recently sat down at our kitchen table and finalized our tax return.

Now, this may in fact be entirely true, but it is entirely misleading.

It sounds as if he and his wife sat at their kitchen table and worked through, by hand, with paper and pencil and calculator and tax tables, their 1040. Sure they did. You know that Jerry Moran has his taxes done by some high powered firm, either in Washington or in Kansas City - the likelihood that he has his taxes done by H.R. Block or does them using one of the online softwares is slim to none. Moran is a fairly well to do lawyer who has spent much of his life in Congress - he is an insider. He and his wife may have sat at the kitchen table and signed the documents, but that's about it. C'mon. Be honest.

I'm pretty much tired of this kind of lying on the part of our Republican officials, and I call bullshit on it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bed, Bed, I couldn't go to bed

It's almost Friday of Spring Break. I've gotten a heap done, but I still have a heap more I want to do. I can't go to bed. There are too many fun things yet to do.

I've uploaded a bunch of photos to Panoramio, another Google photo site - one that is closely connected to Google earth. It's pretty cool. I was able to map a panoramic shot of a school front in Stockholm to the precise location, and the Gorilla to the gorilla enclosure at the Como Zoo. Lots of fun browsing other photos near yours. I'm just getting to know that site, but I want to stay up and explore more.

I've also spent some time this week working on the Lindsborg Rotary site, and getting ready for our trip to Iceland. Started studying Icelandic online. It is indeed related to Swede - modern Swedish is an outgrowth of the old Norse that is the basis for contemporary Icelandic.

So many things to get done. But now it is Friday and now I should give it up and go to bed. Tomorrow, grade papers and start to head back to being a teacher. In the meantime, more fun.

I'm really sad that I'm not 30 and have another 50 years of learning how to get the most out of life. I know how to do it now - when I was 30 I was not at all ready for what I'm doing now. But if I could go back with all that I know now - what fun I could have!

Tomorrow I take my second lesson on working with Photoshop Elements.

I wonder why students don't get as excited about learning how to do new things as I do. Maybe I should ask them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Day of Spring

It was sixty today. Sixty.

More important, the sun was shining. Do you hear! The Sun was Shining!

I didn't get the porch painted today. I bought a bio degradable paint stripper, but it takes four to twenty four hours between application and paint being ready to strip. I'm going to try after dinner.

But I had to prove I was out in the beautiful sunshine, that I didn't spend my whole day sitting on the couch working on my online life. I really didn't.

I did, however, take a few pictures to play with. This is the result of starting an online course in using Photoshop elements 6.0. I've only taken one lesson and I've only learned one technique - selecting part of the photo for alteration. Tomorrow, Friday, I take lesson two! Who knows what I'll learn by the time this course is over.

It's part of the ed2go system. Cengage, a division of the same company that publishes Wadsworth books. I'm taking it through Fort Hayes State University, but they're not involved in the process, other than collecting the fees. The instructor has set up the class fairly well, but it's a bit like working through a text book.

Still, I'm learning something new, it's the only day of spring we're going to get before spring. So, what's there to complain about.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What Am I Worried About?

Saturday, testing a device to send a signal from the family room to the dining room, I played a video from Smithsonian. title: "How the earth was made."

It's actually an amazing video, not only showing a complete time line of the 4.5 billion years the earth has been here, but also, briefly, how we know that it was 4.5 billion years. Mind you, I spent most of the time of the video fiddling with antennas and settings, so I didn't get the details down. However, what I saw was clear and compelling and a fantastic scientific presentation of what we know of our earth and how it came to be. The video ends with "where we're going."

The future, according to the scientific vision, is bleak. The current arrangement of the continents is temporary. The great Pangea of early life will reform. However, it will be the last reformation of the continents and the end of life on this planet. The planet will, essentially, run out of gas and be unable to sustain life.

Mind you, that's 250 million years from now. But it got me worried.

I've always been worried over the future of the planet and my little future in the context of the future of the planet. I remember as a little guy, maybe eight or nine years old, being shown some film about the planet and its future. It was at my church and probably at the instigation of my Pastor, so it was probably a fundie film from the Moody Bible Institute.

The thought that there was or would be an apocalypse sometime scared me. Still does. Can't do anything about it, but it scares me. The visions of doom that History Channel regularly projects in their "Life After Humans" series don't fascinate me, they frighten me.

I know this says more about me than about the world.

Why does contemplation of ends frighten me? I've tried over the years to do those things that will make it less frightening. I've spent quality time with the Revelation to St. John. I know that that is not, in fact, a book about the end of earth, but rather a book meant to comfort those under persecution - "You see how bad you've got it, just wait and see what's going to happen to your enemies - and look, you're being cared for even after being killed." I get that. I don't find it particularly comforting, but I don't find it frightening either.

I've tried to look the end in the face and stand firm. But I flinch. I am a coward. I'd like to not think about my demise, not consider the demise of this earth, but I seem to be powerless.

What I need is someone whose vision is clearer than mine who will help me see that there is a reason to rejoice, even if the whole globe goes dark in 250 million. Somebody, convince me!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why The Assumption of Bad Faith?

Even before the Health Care Summit last week the commentariat assumed that the whole was mere political theatre, with both the President and the Republicans using the event as a way to score political points.

What evidence did the various news outlets give - and these were reports on NPR, on MSNBC, on CNN - that the President was acting in bad faith and was uninterested in actually getting the best bill possible? Yes, we had lots of indicators that the Republicans were acting in bad faith.

Their insistence upon Pay-Go, until the President of the opposite party supported it was just one of the indicators. Their insistence that a health care bill include their ideas - until it did and they still wouldn't support it.

But where was the evidence that the President was also acting in bad faith? The White House laid out the 100 places where there was compromise and/or adoption of Republican ideas. Of course the White House isn't about to scrap the whole and begin again. That's not a reasonable demand on the part of the minority party.

Yes, a majority of Americans now oppose what's being called Obama care, but the majority of Americans also don't know what's actually in the bills - and the commentariat hasn't helped there.

What happened to reporting? Why are we stuck with nothing but commentary, usually disguised as reporting? Why do organizations that decry the constant use of "horse race" as the only way to describe the national scene continue to use horse race as the only way they describe the national political scene.

I'm pretty tired of both the mainstream and the alternative news.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goffman and Tiger Woods

I've been reading an old text with my Performance and Dramatic Theory class, Erving Goffman's Presentation of the Self in Everyday life.

One of Goffman's concepts is the arrangement of the space, or regions of performance. The audience for our performance sits in the house, we perform on the stage, and we retire to the backstage area to do those things we need to do in order to sustain our performance. We also do those things that would break the definition that we and the audience have developed to make sense of our performance. In other words, we go backstage to change costumes: we go backstage to take care of private business: we go backstage to let off steam - to curse the audience or laugh at the audience or cry about the audience. This isn't hypocrisy, it is simply what any of us must do to survive in society, for we are always otherwise "on stage."

At least that used to be the case. But reality tv, feeding the desire to be one of the cognoscenti, one of those with intimate knowledge of what goes on "backstage" has demanded admission to the most private parts of our lives. Cribs, for example, shows the viewers the closets, the bedrooms and the toilets of the stars. B, C, and D list celebrities invite us into their homes to watch them fight with spouses, recover from drunken bouts and weep over their infidelities. Ah Tool Academy what wonders you've done for the American psyche.

We are not privy to the backstages of life. But we know that people need a backstage, need someplace to retreat to in order to keep up the front that must be maintained if public life is to have meaning.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

When Tiger made his public statement last week I was astounded at the response. Sportscasters and newscasters alike dismissed the fourteen minutes of shame and humiliation. There was something missing from the statement and the news conference - usually the apologies didn't sound sincere enough or Elin was not present or he didn't apologize to the sponsors (look, he has a contract with the sponsors to present their products, not a moral obligation).

I suspect that, no matter what Tiger had said he would still have been faulted. No matter how much revelation we have, no matter how far back stage we're allowed, we always seem to suspect that there is something else, some other backstage area to which we are forbidden access.

Maybe we ought to bring back the idea of performing only on the public stage, and keeping the backstage away from the public. Both celebrities and the public might just be better off.

Come to the Show

A heartfelt invitation to you. Beware, my show has lots of adult language. I hope it will make you think. It certainly continues to make me think - like - What in the world was I thinking when I wrote this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


In my copious free time I'm working on a poem - maybe a poem of epic length though not of epic importance - built out of all the annoying advertising slogans of our life. My top is "five, five, five dollar footlong, any any."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hooray, I Been Sick

I don't look sick in this photo, I look scared.

Of course this photo was taken the day we signed the loan papers for our house. The Bank of America owns us!

Anyway. I've been sick. I'm on the mend, but I've been sick. It all started with a visit to the urologist, a nasty but needed procedure, healing and then some stupid behavior on my part that sent me into a spin.

By 10 am on Wednesday morning I was home on the couch, shivering and groaning, wrapped in a quilt and alternating a wish to die and a wish to pee. Thursday, almost no improvement, and I had classes to teach and trips to make. Friday, some improvement, but a need to cancel the trips.

I'd scheduled a trip to Lincoln for Friday's John Brown re-enactor. I also had a trip to Omaha for the annual Scandinavian two day dance party. I cancelled our travel and participation.

By Saturday morning I knew I could have made it through the dance weekend, though I wouldn't have danced every dance the way I usually do. I was glad to be home for Margaret Webster's funeral. After the funeral I skipped the lunch (Kris went), came home and got in my pajamas and laid back down.

Saturday night - miserable - slept in one hour shifts. Sunday I woke feeling OK, but a little bladder shy, so stayed home until the 7:30 rehearsal. I worked on class preparations. I watched parts of The Godfather (and found inspiration for discussion of "front" in GfII). A good rehearsal, not great, but good - I knew what I had to do to get what I thought I wanted.

Monday AM, I woke feeling almost pain free. It was the best I'd felt in weeks. I felt refreshed and ready - well of course I did. I had four days "off."

No political news (I couldn't read for two of the four days). No deep dramas (except Vanya on 42nd St on Saturday, and the weeping felt good). No worries over deadlines I couldn't possibly meet - in fact I totally forgot things I had to get done for Monday.

It was the closest I've had to a vacation in years. It truly did refresh. I was sick. I got better. Hooray!

Before I got sick I finished a piece of Kyle Johnson's concert.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Earth Worry

I've not been well for the past five days, so I've spent a lot of time indoors. I haven't done much for Valentine's Day - or for President's Day. I was going to do a bunch, but I just haven't been able to. By Wednesday everything should be righted.

One of the consequences of the strange things going on in my body at the moment and the extra time to prepare for next week is that I'm watching a lot of television. I wish I had been well enough to read, but that wasn't happening, so I've watched a lot of TV. One of the things I watched was Louis Malle's film Vanya on 42nd Street, a film adaptation of Chekov's Uncle Vanya, using David Mamet's adaption of the text.

In act one Doctor Astrov says to Yelena,
When I walk past the forests belonging to the villages, the forests I saved from being cut down, or when I hear the sound of young forest I planted with my own hands, then I realize that the climate is partly in my power too. And if in the course of a thousand years humankind finds happiness, I realize that I too will be partly responsible for it. When I plant a young birch and then see its leaves turn green and the way it sways in the wind, my soul is feeled with pride . . .

What astounds me is that Astrov's sentiments - not the meaning of the play by any means - were not uncommon in 1895 when Chekov wrote the play. How long do we have to talk about taking care of the earth before we stop "destroying what we haven't created," to paraphrase Astrov.

At the end of the play Sonya issues her melancholy apologia for working hard with little reward.

And when our hour has come, we shall die without complaining; and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered, we have wept, our life has been hard and bitter, and God will take pity on us. And you and I, my dear Uncle Vanya, we shall see a life which is bright, beautiful and fine. We shall rejoice and look back on your present misfortunes with a feeling of tenderness, with a smile - and we shall rest. I believe, Uncle, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

I love this play. I worked on a production of it at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, in the late 1980's, and that production is one of my most treasured theatre memories.

But will God take pity on us when he looks at what we have, together, done to his creation? I want it to be so, but I don't know that I believe it, I believe in it fervently, passionately.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

This is What I mean

In my STFU Already post I lamented the lack of support for the President, or actually, the continual bashing of everything the President is trying to lead the country to do.

What I didn't say was that I think part of the problem is that we have an overly sophisticated chattering class that is asking the question that appeals to them - but isn't the question that is most important to the electorate.

As prime example, let me present an article from the most recent issue of Time Magazine: Can Bank-bashing Help Obama. It's certainly an interesting question for political junkies, but it isn't the question that the electorate needs answered.

The question we need answered is "Is this a good thing for the country," not "will this advance or hinder political fortunes." The later is the question that Chris Matthews is most interested in, and one of the reasons I won't watch Chris Matthews. The later question leads to cynicism and distrust of government generally and contributes to the Republican meme of "government can't work for the people."

The question raised by our sophisticates leads to the belief that anything any government official does is done to keep power - and therefore anything you have to do to keep power is a legitimate exercise in power. I find that worse than discouraging. I find it a dis-service on the part of very powerful media figures.

I don't care if any policy is going to be popular. I care whether or not it is going to help. Am I alone in this?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

STFU Already

We're coming off the week in which the President tried to reset the agenda button for his administration. By many objective standards he's done OK, particularly given the big steaming pile he was handed by the Republicans.

To no one's surprise, the Republicans have been out to sink this Presidency - just as they were out to sink the Clinton Presidency from day one. Fortunately, these two Democratic office holders are not given to panic, and not given to losing the battles they face. Clinton overcame the "vast right-wing conspiracy" (remember how the press mocked Hilary for saying that - turns out it was true). I'm sure Obama is going to do the same.

What I'm less sanguine about are the chances for the Democratic party as a whole. One of the reasons I'm less sanguine about that is because of the tendency of the press to make the controversy the whole story. A second reason is that the left leaning pundits continue to insist that it's there way or the highway.

Arianna Huffington, for example, has long insisted that the Obama economic stimulus plan is all wrong, is a big give away to big business and the big banks and oh, we're going to have a terrible time if we don't adopt her plan.

Robert Reich, likewise, has been sounding increasingly shrill. George Lakoff, who I find eminently sensible, began his latest column at Huff Po sensibly. Look, I think he said, we're not going to get anywhere by all trying to tell the President what he should have said. But then he went on to make the argument he'd made in "Try Not to Think of an Elephant" and that Thomas Franks had made in What's the Matter with Kansas. We're voting against our own interests, attacking our own President, because we progressives have lost the framing war. We've "talked down" to conservatives, particularly rural and southern conservatives (85% of Texans are against Health Care Reform, only 66% of Texans have Health Care Insurance).

I think Lakoff and Franks have points, but they miss some crucial evidence - the Right Wing and Popular Preachers are constantly telling their acolytes what they ought to do. They talk down to the flock and do so rather cynically. Watch Sunday morning TV.

I suspect that a young woman I heard Extemporize yesterday got closer to the truth.

This young woman was given the topic, "What must the Democrats do to hold on to their majorities?" Her answer, win back the people's trust. That's pretty obvious. It starts with not fighting among ourselves. It continues with some holding of the tongue on the part of the chattering classes.

One thing this young woman said that was particularly telling, "Democrats (her family voted Democratic in the last election) should stop picking on Republicans." Really, that's happening much?

It isn't, but the pundits and the news are making it seem like it is happening, and Republicans are quick to cry "Oh, uncle, you're hurting me." Then, when the Democrats back off, the Republicans, in true bully spirit get up from the ground, throw sand and run report us to the principal.

With press assistance are now living in a politically toxic slough of despond.

Charlie Brooker, a British journalism critic, describes how this works in his report on Radical Islamic Critic Anjem Choudary (Can't embed, sorry)

Brooker's point is to demonstrate how the news value of conflict, when followed by reports on the reporting about the conflict create the publicity that both sides denied was the goal of the newsmaker. In other words, people get a view of the world that isn't true because the news demand for greater and greater controversy.

Russell Peters observed the same thing, but in a comedic fashion:
Russell Peters - Stereotypes
Joke of the DayStand-Up ComedyFree Online Games

So, what's the answer.

Bob Cesca writes:

Yelling at the president won't change the fact that a considerably large chunk of the American electorate is moderate and independent. The Democrats need the middle in order to win because the left simply isn't large enough. But if we systematically and deliberately change minds -- if we're disciplined about taking the longview approach and convincing voters that progressivism is the best way to govern, then we will eventually force politicians to move leftward as the electorate does.

Until then, we need to accept (albeit begrudgingly) the political reality that the president will occasionally have to do things that appeal to the middle in order to get other things done.

It's a good idea. It's not unlike my idea - that we should STFU at least for a little while. Let's end the toxicity by stopping being toxic ourselves.

For three months, two months, maybe even just two weeks, let's see if we can't support the President and keep some of our critical speculation to ourselves. Let's even see if we can't make my young forensicator's complaint (Stop picking on the Republicans) a reasonable request.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tie Your Shoes

I recently turned 50-10. This week I discovered that I don't know how to tie my shoes. How sick is that. It isn't hard to tie them properly - but I didn't know how to do it until this week.

Here's the video that shows how

Thanks, Runner's World.

Thanks Republicans

Ahlseen was gloating, Kris was reporting bad news and I lost sleep over the combination, wondering who to thank for the extra hours of thinking I got in this night.

Why, I guess I ought to thank a Republican for giving me more time to ponder my future as an aging baby boomer.

At Rotary last night Mark Ahlseen deposited his happy dollar (which is a rare thing for him) with a gloat over Brown’s win in Massachusetts. He was happy over the end of health care reform. I’m sure he was, because he’s not just a Republican, he’s a Ron Paul Republican who sees no need for government – not even in education of our children.

Kris came home and discussed a meeting she’d had with her supervisor. She works in education, working with young parents. It’s part of the public education system, and it is a vital part, giving a leg up to the parents and, in some cases, preventing troubles for the living babies. It’s called Parents as Teachers, and it has been a strong advocate for early childhood education. Because of its advocacy money for Early Childhood Education has been restored to the state budget.

But districts are hard pressed and PAT crosses a number of school districts. So the superintendents may not want to keep their portion of the program in their budget. In other words, Kris may well find herself out of a job. That has to be because the state’s economy can’t afford a rise in sales taxes. It’s good for the state economy to put teachers, experienced teachers on the street. Thanks Republicans.
Of course, if Kris’ job is eliminated she’ll look for another. It’s not likely that she’ll be able to find another job in education. The jobs just aren’t there. In an instant our income will be cut in half. Let’s see what a wonderful gift that will be to the economy, all thanks to the Republicans.

If Kris loses her job we’ll be cutting back and/or not doing any travelling. I was planning on a trip to see my son this coming summer. That’s a $2,000 trip, most of it paid in the airline tickets. So my little contribution to the travel industry is going to be cancelled. Thanks Republicans.

Right now I’m fairly generous with my cash. I give to a number of environmental organizations, political organizations, Rotary International, the church and the college. Yes, I give a portion of my salary back to the college, as well as make my own contributions to my retirement plan. I also put money aside for drugs and co-pays. All of the extras will go. I’ll keep my political contributions, since I think that may be the best investment of my money for the long term. But in the mean time I have to cut. So the contribution to the college will go. Some of the environmental groups will suffer. It’s not much, but it is my way of helping keep someone else working. That will have to go. Thanks Republicans for refocusing my attention on myself.

I’ll reduce what I put in medical cafeteria funds, and I’ll reduce what I spend at the Dentist, the optometrist and the drug store. I won’t let my health go down, but I will definitely think twice about going to the doctor and about taking every prescription the doctor says is good for me. I definitely can postpone going back to the eye doctor, and I can probably do only what is needed at the dentist. That’s all going to help our economy. Thanks Republicans.

I have too much pop culture at home: digital cable TV, home internet. Going to have to find a way to reduce that, if not eliminate it altogether. That’s going to help the local economy. It’s also going to help my teaching, you know, I don’t teach anything about the interface of popular culture and high culture. Nah, I don’t need this to teach Mass Media. Well, regardless, I’m going to be doing without. Thanks Republicans.

Of course we’ll get to choose health insurance options for Kristine should she lose her job. We can either buy a very expensive policy on the open market – which will exclude any pre-existing conditions and have a waiting period before she can even go to the doctor. Or we can add her to the policy I have with the college. Of course, we can just do without and gamble that she’ll stay healthy for the next fifteen years, until she qualifies for Medicare. I know that our friends in the Republican party are working to eliminate that too, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be strong enough to privatize that program before we retired. In the meantime we have so many choices in health insurance, thanks to the Republicans. And they’re all so good for the Isaacson economy, not to mention the state economy.

Did I mention the house repairs and improvements? We were going to insulate and close in the basement, using local labor. We were going to buy a new vanity and sink and three new faucets. We were thinking about installing new windows, maybe hire a local company to do that. Instead we’ll be buying health insurance. That’s much better for the local economy than doing something foolish like improving our home. Thanks Republicans.

Our Taurus, a 98, now has 180,000 miles. Kris’ job requires her to drive a lot of miles. Dwight Swisher tells us that this Taurus has got a “sweet little engine,” so we can put 200,000 miles on it, easy. But we were getting a little nervous about it and were thinking about trading. That’s not going to happen. We’re not going to contribute to the recovery of the American auto industry any time soon. Thanks Republicans.

So if you’re a main street business with whom I used to do business, sorry, but you won’t be seeing much of me. I won’t be going to Walmart of another of the big box stores instead of shopping with you. I just won’t be shopping anywhere for much of anything. Don’t thank me, thank the Republicans.
Teachers, who like my wife, are looking at being out of a job – or feeling very nervous about your future on the job – if you voted Republican, this is exactly what you voted for.

Parents who don’t like the educational system, who think that the schools don’t do enough to help your child excel in math and sciences and prepare to compete in the new world: with 30 in the class, how much attention is your child going to get now? If you voted Republican, this is exactly what you voted for.
Republican policies, Republican ideas, Republican politics are what have brought our economy to the brink of meltdown, thrown most of the middle class in this country to the side of the road, created agricultural practices that are focused on the seed companies and not on people who need food nor on land use that’s sustainable. The bad things that are happening to our country and our world are a direct result of Republican policies. Electing more Republicans will perpetuate the bad news of the 8 years of Bush misrule.

So gloat away Mr. Economist Ahlseen. Taking money out of the pockets of those who serve the public is not the way to help the economy. But thanks for giving me an extra hour of awake time to think about the issues and remember whom to thank.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Farm Jobs Too?

This week's LNR has a column by John Schlageck of the Kansas Farm Bureau. In the column Schlageck cites the increasing pressures on the grasslands, the water resources and the ability of the American farmer to produce crops at an affordable cost. Schlageck is obviously more competent to comment on agricultural issues than I, and he is finally tenaciously optimistic.

But he seems to accept the "invisible hand" theory of how the economics of agriculture work. There are mysterious market forces at work, not manipulated by agro giants, nor ordinary human greed.

Seems to me that there are forces, primarily the forces of businesses that can't accept good stable profits but are always demanding ever increasing profits at the expense of everyone else - in other words forces of Greed - that are pushing and manipulating the markets. The outcomes, as we say a year ago, of this unbridled greed are not good, despite Gordon Gecko's assertion to the contrary.

We've shipped the manufacturing jobs to China - and brought back the pests that are ruining the American ecosystem - at no costs to the importers, or the manufacturers. Are we now going to ship American agriculture elsewhere - and what will come back with the imported foodstuff? And with what will we purchase these goods?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Topeka Rev. Heading To Haiti

Topeka Rev. Heading To Haiti Read this one on I have to wonder about this guy's going to Haiti. He says he loves the Haitian people - just like Wycliff Jean - and like Jean he doesn't seem to have any skills in disaster relief.

It seems to me that none of us who aren't specialists in disaster relief need to be anywhere near Haiti right now. No matter if we have family we're desperate to find, nor if we love the Haitian people, nor even if we have decided that beyond physical relief the people of Haiti also need evangelical comfort.

If we aren't there to help with the physical needs of these people at this time, we're just getting in the way. Moreover, we're going to need food and water, which means that there are four or five more mouths to feed and hydrate.

So, big hearts, I'm guessing the best thing is to follow the advice of former Presidents Clinton and Bush and stay home and send your cash to work through one of the many credible relief organizations.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Hey! Wait for me!"

"Hey! Wait for me!"
Originally uploaded by Hannes R
We've lost all our snow. Perhaps seeing where the snow still lies thick on the earth, like a cold white comforter, will touch others as it touched me.

As important as the stories are coming from Haiti and Topeka, I need an occasional glimpse of the beautiful, the playful, or just something else, to help keep my spirits up. Life is full of hard knocks. I want to help, but I feel so powerless. Hey, wait for me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Being a Rotarian in Troubled Times

The church taught me that I should do good for the family of humanity.

The Rotary Club has given me the means of doing good. With the tragedy in Haiti it is imperative that we get together and do good for a near neighbor. Perhaps it is time to pull together and raise an additional $1000 for a shelterbox to house a family in Haiti. I wonder if I can manage to raise the funds to get that done in a hurry.

So many other tasks calling for my time, but none of them will mean life or death for other human beings. I wonder if I can do it, using the power of the internet.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Olberman's Terrorist Rant

Keith Olberman is on a rant about the New York Republican Congressman's suggestion that the Democratic President hasn't used the word "terrorist" often enough. Republicans are just lying their asses off, insisting that the President hasn't been willing to call the wars we're in wars, that he isn't willing to call terrorism terrorism, a terrorist a terrorist. Nice lies, Repugs.

Over on Fox news there was a ridiculous assertion that the only terrorists in this world are the Islamists. There is a fascinating piece on on the rise of the White supremacists in America. Those are the home grown terrorists, all of them claiming some kind of Christian allegiance and insisting that this is a White Christian nation. But the Repugs, when the Department of Homeland Security warned of a resurgence of these folks, screamed and yowled like little piggies.

Nice going Repugs. You don't deserve to be in office.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bush Did It Right?

Richard Reed, shoe bomber.

Torture and murder of those we kept in custody - some of whom were innocent.

Never got Osama bin Laden.

Made everyone take their shoes off and put their fluids in 3 oz bottles (because 3.5 ozs will blow up a plane).

The idea that we did things right under Bush and we're doing things wrong now is bushit. Trying to keep us scared shouldn't work. I refuse to be scared!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Family Portrait

Originally uploaded by Ike60
This is family. I feel fairly sure that this is family. But I don't know which part of the family. I got the photo on this visit to my sister's house, scanned it it, and took all the notes that there were to take. They weren't much. In fact, there were no notes on the photo.

It's from Haparanda, so it is probably family. It could be one of the uncles who came to America, or it could be my farfar and farmor. I just don't know.

It's a little frustrating, but at the same time a bit of a challenge. I like the challenge. It, along with a prompting from a cousin in Sweden, caused me to go looking for ancestors. Found only one on this search, but I've now reason to call the distant cousins who've done the work it takes to get to know the lost family.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rick Warren's Claim

Pastor Rick Warren announced that he was a little short this month - nearly a million short - and would we all mind kicking in a little more so his megachurch could go on with their mega ministries.

Suddenly, mutatis mutandis, a miracle and the Pastor got 2.4 million "all in small bills," or whatever.

I have some trouble believing his claims. Either the church wasn't a million short, or he didn't get two million in small change, found in the sofa cushions. I believe the church got the 2.4 million, but I don't think it was in spontaneous giving.

I also don't believe that the money is key to keeping open the ministries of care, like the food bank, support groups, etc. Warren is a real piece of work and I wouldn't believe much that he said. But maybe I'm just being cynical.

Just read Barbara Ehrenrich's new work, all about the perils of positive thinking. Warren's no better than all the contemporary Rev. Ikes she chronicles in her book. Highly recommend the book.


Twelve days away. On six of those days we spent the majority of our day in the car. We can make it from Lindsborg to the Twin Cities in one long day, likewise Chicago, but we prefer not. In fact, we have a couple of Iowa spots where we enjoy spending a night. One of those is Elk Horn, Iowa, at the center of the Danish Villages. It's our favorite small town after Lindsborg.

Last night we ate at Den Danske Kro, the Danish Inn. It was a Danish American smörgåsbord, decked out for a Saturday night. Lots of salad, pickled herring, frickadallen, rödkol, rolled pork, and prime rib. It was called "a Danish-American smögåsbord." It was a great model for what the Crown could have done. Ah, well. I'm not in charge so I should let it go.

Lots of video to come from this trip. I'll be posting a video that I call "the fail that wasn't" sometime tomorrow.

Glad to be home to our cat, our house, and even back to Kansas. It's not the only place I'd ever live, but it is better than other places I could be living. Here I can breathe the air and enjoy the stars.