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How different the explosions in Boston and West, Texas, and our reactions to them.
Here is a quote from Amy Goodman:
“The first blast in Boston occurred behind a line of fluttering flags from around the world, reflecting the international stature of the oldest annual marathon in the country – flags that reminded me once again of the words of Howard Zinn:
There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
The blood in Boston is on the hands of one or two people, driven beyond the bounds by some extreme ideology or twisted personal thinking, we assume. Tiny drops from West are on all of our hands. Nitrogen fertilizer was responsible for the largest industrial accident in US history, in Texas City 66 years ago. Fertilizer has made cheap food for the US possible, and fed most of the world, except Africa. It has also polluted more than half of the rivers in the US, created a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and sickened the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, among others. And more people die in the US every year from industrial accidents than have died from terrorism since 1970.
Maybe it’s too uncomfortable for us to think that the factory (or the coal mine, or the power plant) next door, that employs our neighbors or friends, or even us, and supplies, directly or indirectly, our electricity and our food, is more dangerous than terrorists. But it is true, and maybe we need to be working more to prevent death by changing the way we do things every day.
It is one thing to read about the Holocaust, about the banality of evil, about the ordinary Germans who turned on their neighbors, about our own internment of Japanese citizens, about lynchings in our South, about many horrible things that people have done to people in fights over territory, principles, and even in the name of religion. It is entirely another to have it brought home that those thoughts are here today, in ordinary people, friends, neighbors.
Last fall, I quoted on Facebook
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Martin Luther King Jr. delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City
I was taken aback at one response, from a vocally Christian friend:
Get the radical Islamist, Russia, the Taliban and the Sunnis to agree and I am all for that. Oh…I forgot to mention the Chinese, the Serbs and the others who want to kill us….
And then, late last night after a weekend church workshop and a wonderful evening service, I found this Facebook comment on someone else’s post in my mailbox, from a retired teacher, friend of a Facebook friend:
Our government is out of control !! Look at how they have imprisoned 4 United States Marines for pissing on the bodies of those traitors/terrorists !!! I find our soldiers’ message appropriate and true from our hearts !! It is against the Geneva Convention ?? Obama and Hilary take exception and APOLOGIZE for insulting those fork-tongued ,treacherous devil-worshippers ?? WTF !! How about those heathens’ practice of beheading our soldiers and dragging their bodies through the streets —I guess that is okay and not that big a deal—they are just Americans.
These are the most extreme of what I have heard lately, but almost every day someone says, with vehemence or, more distressing, casually, something that judges some individual or a whole group of people as Other, irretrievably different, lesser, immoral, evil, to be scorned or annihilated, violently or slowly through neglect or abuse. I belong to a denomination whose first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.” My daily meditation is the Metta Sutra. But working on my own compassion for all seems like not nearly enough. It feels as if we are going down yet another dark and shameful maze of twisty little passages, all alike. How can I, how can even we, heal the hurt, the anger, the fear, the mistrust?
For millennia, all across the northern hemisphere, human beings have huddled in the cold and dark as the winds picked up, snow fell, and the days grew ever shorter. Hunting, gathering, farming done, they gathered together, kept up the fires, visited, told stories, sang, and feasted as much as they could.
All across Europe, the Yule log, the largest and straightest to be found, gave warmth through the longest night of the winter. From Rome to Ireland, holly wreaths were worn at solstice celebrations. In Egypt, palm trees brought indoors symbolized resurrection; from Rome to the far northern reaches of Norway, evergreen branches were brought in and decorated, celebrating life in the dead of winter. In Germany in the 17th century, people started bringing in trees on December 24, the Feast of Adam and Eve, to represent the Tree of Paradise.
In northern Germany and Scandinavia, the Julebok is everywhere. Originally it symbolized the goats that drew Thor’s chariot, which he sacrificed to feed his guests and resurrected the next day. Made of the straw left from the harvest, it was burned at Yule.
Mistletoe is the ancient Norse plant of peace. The death of Baldur, the god of vegetation, by a spear of mistletoe wood, brought winter upon the world. Baldur was resurrected, and his mother Frigga declared that it would be a plant of love, not death. Enemies meeting by chance in the woods beneath mistletoe had to declare a truce, and people kissed beneath the mistletoe to celebrate life and Baldur’s resurrection.
The new year begins in late fall in India, with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. The house is cleaned, family gathers, and dozens of small oil lamps burn all night. Jews light Hanukkah candles, to commemorate the rededication of the Temple, for eight days starting on a day in the dead of winter, chosen because it was the day when Nehemiah had miraculously rekindled the altar fire from remnants of coals hidden generations before, when the Jews were taken into their Babylonian captivity. At the very end of winter, just before the spring equinox, Iranians of all religions prepare for the New Year with a Festival of Lights, jumping over bonfires and crying “Give me your beautiful red colour and take back my sickly pallor.”
We gather in the cold and the dark with our friends and family, decking our halls with evergreens and lights. We tell each other stories of love, hope, rebirth, and the return of warmth and light. We sing and feast as much as we can. Jesus’ birth is part of one of the old, old stories of death, sorrow, love, and rebirth.
Let all of us say to each other many greetings and not begrudge one another the warmth of love in the dark and cold.
An apparent high school suicide in our community, attributed to bullying, has emotions running high, and a lot of memories of our own young experiences coming back.
I did some looking around when it was said that the school involved had no policy, and in fact had a “no tattling” policy, so that children were discouraged from reporting. What I found was that there is a state anti-bullying law, a statewide policy, and local policies and programs. I also read a good bit of teacher discussion on “no tattling”, and found that teachers are aware of the need to distinguish between tattling to get someone in trouble, and telling to get someone out of trouble. But I didn’t agree with the approach the laws, policies, and programs seem to be taking. I think we may be emphasizing “fixing” the bullies too much, and strengthening our kids in how to react, too little.
When I was young and harassed, I was repeatedly told “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now, apparently, we are telling children, and each other, indeed, words can hurt us. When I was young, I never quite got what it meant. I could see part of the difference, but the words did hurt. Being excluded hurt. It didn’t help that my mother’s mantra was “What will people think?” I couldn’t wait to get out of my home town, where it seemed hardly anyone understood or liked me.
In my twenties, I read Albert Ellis’s book A Guide to Rational Living, which includes “Ten Irrational Ideas” which I wrote about here. Putting what he said into practice changed my life. His irrational ideas are things that people tell themselves that make them miserable. The first one is “It is a dire necessity for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he or she does.” Aha! Words hurt because I tell myself they do.
I think we need to be telling our kids – at home, at school, at church, in clubs, on teams – that it not a dire necessity that everyone love or approve you. It is not achievable, and the desire to make it so will make you miserable, possibly suicidal. Much of the harm from even physical and sexual abuse comes from the “awfulizing,” both by the community and the victim. We tell child abuse and rape victims “It’s not your fault, and you are not a bad person because of it.” We need to tell harassment victims “It is not your fault.”
It’s not your problem – it’s their problem – if they don’t like you or say mean things because you are tall, short, black,white, gay, red-headed, cross-eyed, rich, poor, fat, skinny, smart, stupid, or ugly. If it is sticks and stones – physical – report it; that’s not acceptable. If it’s words – consider whether it is something you did, something you can change, that caused it – if it wasn’t – that’s their problem.
Of course, we don’t want to raise kids who are self-righteous, or be that ourselves. Not everything is “their” problem, either. Human society doesn’t work without people considering other people’s needs. If we are inconsiderate ourselves, that’s our problem. Bullying works because of that – we always have to consider if part of what they say is true, or if there is something else we do that makes us a target.
Bullying never goes away. There is a whole literature on bullying in the workplace. At work, as at school and home, it is a tempting way to gain power, and there are grownups as well as children who just gain pleasure from hurting other people. So bringing up children to deal with it is a life skill. It is a life’s work, and the work of our religions, to learn what truly hurts us and others, to examine our consciences and learn what is important to change and what it is important to ignore.
Wandering about the web on a Sunday morning, pondering (well, trying to ponder – pondering is probably calmer than my current thought processes) Bill O’Reilly’s definition of what Occupy Wall Street is about
In other words, these folks want our stuff.
Throughout history, there have been human beings who did not want to compete in the marketplace. That sentiment drives a hatred of capitalism. The American economic system is a meritocracy. If you work hard and do well in your job, you usually will prosper providing you practice patience. If you don’t work hard and smart, you will be out on your keister — unless a union saves you.
Well, no. We want a fair share of the increased American productivity over the last 30 years. Most people in this country have worked hard and smart over that time, and very few of them – the top 1%, and, really, the top one-tenth of 1% – have gotten the gains. Do people really believe that every currently unemployed construction worker in the country was a lazy SOB who didn’t work hard – or is the implication that they are all stupid? Perhaps if they were smarter, they would have been hedge fund managers in the first place. And, while it is relatively easy to move up and down in the middle class, it is very hard to move up out of the bottom 20%, and very unlikely that you will fall out of the top 20%. Pick your parents well.
At any rate, I went to look up the definitions of “capitalism” and “socialism”.
1: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
Collective caught my eye.
6: shared or assumed by all members of the group <collective responsibility>
Aha! A corporation is ownership by a group. Must be socialist!
All of which brought me back to something I have known for decades: the key is responsibility.
An individual or collective of individuals – a sole proprietorship or a partnership – can be sued for something the business does and lose everything they own individually, and can be criminally convicted for the actions of their business. Enter the corporation, which protects those individuals.
Stockholders in a corporation have limited liability. They can only lose their original investment. They cannot be sued or arrested for anything the corporation does.
A group which jointly owns a business and has shared responsibility is a collective, and therefore that awful thing, socialist. A group which jointly owns a business and is, by law, incorporated and therefore exempt from responsibility as individuals, is a corporation, and therefore, that wonderful thing, capitalist.
So we have a situation where a collective of individuals are responsible for the actions of the business. But the owners – stockholders – of a corporation are not responsible for the actions of the business, and the board and employees are only responsible for making a profit for the shareholders.
It is indeed a wonderful world in which people demand individual responsibility while praising a system where no-one is responsible and condemning a system where people are.
I’ve been using almost all my writing energy for months on other sites and Facebook. But yesterday I ran across something I want to share my (lengthy) thoughts on here – this UU minister’s thoughts on why he is not joining or even supporting the Occupy movement, entitled Occupation? I am not picking on Rev. Matt; I just happened to run across his post which is typical of some ideas I disagree with.
My first thoughts are on his objection to the word “occupy,” which he associates with “the language and symbolic practice of the violence and oppression that we oppose” and “the militaristic language and practice of occupation.” I think that today we more often think, not of occupied Europe or even the occupied West Bank, but of the occupation of Tiananmen Square by non-violent student demonstrators for democracy.
And the first definition of “occupy” in Merriam-Webster is “to engage the attention or energies of .”
The misunderstanding of the name leads to another misunderstanding – many people, like Rev. Matt, think the purpose of the movement is
To try to topple our own nation’s economic infrastructure through an admittedly anarchic strategy of occupation is to commit social and cultural suicide. It is knocking down our own house of cards rather than building it stronger. If these efforts are successful, we will all suffer.
What I see is not an “anarchist” strategy; anarchy, being “a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority” is much closer to libertarianism than to the democratic consensus process that is being used in the occupations. Likewise, it is the Tea Party, the right wing, and corporations who are calling for the defunding of government and lessening of its authority. The Occupy movement is calling for taking back our democratic government from rule by corporate interests.
Others have commented that the movement wants to tear down the system with nothing to replace it, which would indeed be anarchy. But you don’t have to be a tailor to see that the Emperor is naked, and pointing it out without being able to design and sew a suit of clothes is not to say that you want the Emperor to remain naked.
This post by Rich Yeselson, The four habits of highly successful social movements, points out that the movement needs sustained organization, people to “teach the less experienced and expand the circle of competent leadership”, doable solutions that will “have an organic connection to the pressing concerns of millions of people”, and people “explaining and defending the Wall Street demonstrators to curious Americans.”
Now that those in the streets have engaged the attention and energies of more and more people, those of us who have the skills and experience to help should do all of the above as we are able.
I think it is overly optimistic to think, as Rev. Matt says, that “Those of us with some leverage CAN make a rapid difference by rapidly changing our spending and voting habits with which we feed the system.” We need to do that, but it is not nearly enough. Many of us who were activist in the 1960s and 1970s have been trying to live lightly, sustainably, and lovingly our whole adult lives. It has made a difference, but not enough. I agree with what he says next, but it is not enough to “want” it – we need to help.
I want the “occupiers” to be successful in tearing down oppression. I just want them to be smart, careful, clever, and creatively subversive. Much like Jesus was. Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables too. But that was a small part of his revolution. His was a revolution of the mind, body, and spirit. I see people taking to the streets. I want to see people occupying hearts and minds with justice, equity, and compassion.
The now-nationwide demonstrations, with their long hours together and their General Assemblies (sound like town hall meetings to me) are opportunities not only to gain attention for the issues, but for the demonstrators to discuss and learn from each other. Those who can be there in person should be. But that can go on virtually, too. So, my contribution to the cause is to occupy my little area of the web on this blog and others, and on Facebook.
I think most people truly don’t know how much of the wealth this country has produced in the last 30 years has been diverted to the top 1% rather than being shared among everyone who made it possible. Clearly Americans don’t know that wealth is distributed less fairly than they think it is, and far less fairly than they think it should be.
from a study by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely
Other misconceptions come up continually, and I’ll be doing my bit to research, contradict, and educate.
Three posts across my desktop:
Remove the wild from our outer lives and in our hearts and souls we suffer, our compass goes awry. All who still revere the wild know this, as Henry did; he recognized it as the greater part of the soul. So now, some 150 years later, where has it gone? Is it out on the lawn? On the hiking trail? In the Winnebago window, the satellite image, nature video, national park, endangered species, inner child, urban shaman, modern warrior, rabid zealot? Is it caught on the Net? Can it be seen with commuter eyes?
- Robert Brady, “Where is the Wild?”, from a mountainside in Japan
Those who regularly play in outdoor settings with lots of green (grass and trees, for example) have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments, the researchers found.
And “Unchurched“, a poem from Dave Bonta, who lives in the woods on the eastern edge of western Pennsylvania.
Time to start posting our adventures again, but first some housekeeping and updates.
Long ago, our first home Internet connection (not counting Compuserv) was a dial-up with a shell account at Illuminati Online, which had started, before the public Internet, as a dial-up bulletin board for Steve Jackson Games in Austin. SJG had been famously busted and equipment confiscated by the Secret Service, and was part of the inspiration for the first local chapter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It gave us a wonderfully short email address, email@example.com, and I built a family website which eventually expanded to include hundreds of pages of family trees for both of our lines.
Alas, IO was sold to Prismnet years ago, but io.com remained, until this month. In June, we were informed that the io.com domain was going away July 1; it had apparently only been on loan. Now, we have had a DSL account, in Austin and then here, for at least 5 years, so a dial-up account to an Austin phone number was a bit silly, especially since our only land-line is a Skype account with a local number (so that local people don’t have to call our cell-phones long-distance – they are still Texas numbers for complicated reasons having to do with a family plan for people living in three states – the calls forward to our mobiles if we don’t answer at the house.)
Where was I? Oh yes, despite the redundancy of the account, I was attached to IO, and moving the website seemed like work. But with the loss of the domain, I gritted my teeth and moved it to the website that came with our Frontier account (which had been Verizon when we got it, which complicated things no end.) So, the site has moved to http://myplace.frontier.com/~degh, and I had fun learning to build a site map to give to Google so it would be indexed right away. I still need to dig out my old Perl scripts and update the family trees – we’ve done a good bit more research since I generated them years ago.
In other developments, an on-line friend shared a Google+ invite with me, and Robert and I are now set up. So far it seems to suit me better than Facebook, where I don’t post or look much anyway, beyond linking this blog to it. I will be using G+ rather than Facebook for any sudden urges to share things with the world (or smaller circles, since an attraction of G+ is that I can limit who gets something – I’m sure many people are not interested in every single thing I have to say). I think I have managed to set it up so that my blog posts appear there, and my public G+ comments will appear in the sidebar here. (I hope it doesn’t go into an infinite loop.)
And while I was doing all that, I mistakenly updated my Thunderbird mail reader, even though a key add-on, Thunderbrowse, wasn’t updated yet. Things are a bit broken, but I managed to set things up so that G+ appears in a tab, I can check out links that appear in mail and news, I cleaned up my RSS feeds, which is how I read news and the blogs I follow, and finally figured out how to easily share posts I’m reading there in Google Reader (which then appear in the sidebar here, and I think will appear in G+ – I haven’t seen anything the last couple days I think is worth sharing.)
So, my virtual life is reorganized. We’ve been reorganizing the yard and garden, too, but that’s another post.
The first time I came home from Chicago in the spring, after spending most of a year among gray limestone and very little green, I was overwhelmed by plants that seemed to be taking over. The Woods Hole Institute has analyzed satellite data and produced this image of where the woods are in the United States. Having grown up in the midst of the large swathe of dark green in the East, which is the Appalachian mountains and foothills, I think of the woods as normal. Looking at the map, it is clear how unusual it is.
The Appalachians are a billion years old. There are more kinds of plants and animals here than anywhere except the tropics. I am so privileged to be here for another Appalachian spring.
My father’s favorite scripture, which we had read at our wedding:
I may speak in the tongues of men or angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may dole out all I possess, or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.
Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful, nor conceited, nor rude; never selfish, not quick to take offense. Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other men’s sins, but delights in the truth. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, its endurance.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7, New English Bible
The second part is what is most often quoted, but I think the opening is more important to remember: no matter what we do, if it is not done from love, it is useless.
Here is the Buddhist equivalent, the Metta Sutra. Metta means “loving kindness.”
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
Translated from Pali by John Richards