Thursday, October 30, 2008

"If mommy is a commie...."

"If mommy is a commie, then you gotta turn her in."

Maybe it's just my brain defragging and bringing bits and pieces of old files together, but lately I find myself remembering "The John Birch Society." Not only the1962 Chad Mitchell Trio song, but also the extremist idea that there is an enemy, a socialist, Marxist, communist enemy, lying in wait to take over the country. Could be anybody. Could even be your mommy.

"He keeps on preaching brotherhood, but we know what he means." ;>)

The irony of course is that in an attempt to free a nation from subversive radicals, we turn that very nation into what we fear. A visit to Cuba would show you that. Oh wait! I forgot that the US government doesn't permit the liberty of travel to Cuba. We are punishing them for being communist. That may be an oversimplification, but the end result is that we help to perpetuate a system where there are informers and the kind of suspicion that John Birchers think is prudent. The circle of life.

I visited Cuba in 2000, when Elian Gonzalez was in Miami, and couldn't help but feel for the sad, decaying beauty of the country. As I walked through crumbling Havana, I was several times taken for French because few Americans were seen on those streets even then. Havana, remember, is as close to our shores as Charleston is to Hilton Head. To have children there approach me and rub their forearms with their hands, a sort of sign language request for soap, and to have them also make a scribbling gesture request for pencils is unforgettable.

The point is that we should be careful about throwing around words like "radical", because certainly our Founders were radical, and "communist", because we often don't know what we are talking about. Life for some in Cuba was no picnic before their revolution or there wouldn't have been one. Life in Cuba after the fall of the USSR has been no picnic either. The danger, in my opinion, is ideology taken to an extreme in either direction. Social justice is not a leftist value. It's a human value. And it was a mainstream value in 1962.

Monday, October 27, 2008

This is why:

"We can do this. Americans have done this before. Some of us had grandparents or parents who said maybe I can't go to college but my child can; maybe I can't have my own business but my child can. I may have to rent, but maybe my children will have a home they can call their own. I may not have a lot of money but maybe my child will run for Senate. I might live in a small village but maybe someday my son can be president of the United States of America.

Now it falls to us. Together, we cannot fail. And I need you to make it happen. If you want the next four years looking like the last eight, then I am not your candidate. But if you want real change – if you want an economy that rewards work, and that works for Main Street and Wall Street; if you want tax relief for the middle class and millions of new jobs; if you want health care you can afford and education that helps your kids compete; then I ask you to knock on some doors, make some calls, talk to your neighbors, and give me your vote. In Colorado, you can vote early right here, and right now. To find out how, just go to And if you stand with me in nine days, I promise you – we will win Colorado, we will win this election, and then you and I – together – will change this country and change this world."
-- Senator Barack Obama, Denver, Colorado October 26, 2008

That's what Barack Obama said to 100,000 people who went to listen to him yesterday. If only a fraction left that rally feeling called to working toward a better America, then no one's time was wasted. There are so many reasons why not, but this is why: Because it's absolutely true that we are all Americans and that we rise and fall together. The politics of division, "us" versus "them", have not served us well. It's way past the time to try something else.

And it's why I'm making phone calls to seniors today and probably will every day for the next week. I have a LOT of cell phone roll-overs.


Added October 28...From now on comments will not be shown. I repeat: I am not interested in arguing on this blog. Nor am I interested in being lectured. If you don't like what I say, make a mental note not to read what I write, imagine an "L" on my forehead and move on.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's over.

It’s over.

Yesterday was the last time this year or ever that the Bluffton Farmers Market will happen in the “park” next to the Old Oyster Factory. I went there about an hour early, taking as I often do a mini-vacation to scenic Bluffton. It was such a nice afternoon, coolish early fall temps with only a few high clouds. If you saw me there, you may also have seen me parked by the Church of the Cross, drinking a Coke and reading the local papers.

The Church has become quite an attraction, and this week has offered tours with box lunches. In the time I sat there, I saw license plates from probably a dozen different states. I like the Church too, but, honestly, in accordance with my frequent signature line, “I liked it better the way it was.” It’s very nicely manicured these days, with what looks like a carefully chosen and applied paint job. I guess that’s a good thing, as Calhoun Street properties like Seven Oaks set a higher tone. But one of the things that attracts me to old Bluffton streets is its random and sometimes ramshackle sights. Many of the newer, and more carefully assembled neighborhoods just don’t do it for me. And, then, of course there are the trees and Spanish Moss and overgrown plantings that I love. No accounting for taste.

My plan was to go to the market and maybe buy an Arts and Seafood Festival tee-shirt. I’m pretty well stocked on the other things that might be for sale in late October. And I’d already had lunch so the wonderful prepared food didn’t have its usual appeal. But for whatever emotional reason (now there’s a contradiction in terms), I just didn’t feel like hanging there, even as I enjoyed the smells and the sights and the people setting up. It has been a wonderful season at the Market, even when for a few weeks, it seemed to start showering every Thursday afternoon around three o’clock. I may never forget the welcome offered on one of those rainy days by a group of women in bright orange hats who seemed to be directing the parking. And I hope I never forget the lovely public thank you letter that was written just a few weeks ago by a young people’s group for the way they had been treated as volunteers at the Market.

I understand the reasons why the Bluffton Farmers Market has to find another location: the unprecedented numbers who came, the parking, etc. But it will be hard to replicate the charm that is part of the draw, along with the wares. I’ll be back next year though, and I will wish the effort success. I will hope for those moments when I bump into someone I haven’t seen in a while, and when I spot a must-have plant or cookbook or whatever among the local produce that originally brought me there. Thank you to everyone who gave me those moments this summer.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Years ago I worked for Professor Albert Shapero, who occupied an endowed chair in the School of Business at The Ohio State University. He taught and researched small business, and his position was unique in that he didn't have a PhD in a business-related discipline. His degree was actually a Master's in Mechanical Engineering. He didn't have a PhD, but he did have a corner office overlooking the oval and his own assistant (me). That would be a feature of academia: "professors" who bring in money get perks.

Anyway, one day Professor Shapero said something to me that has resonated and has never seemed more true than it does today. He said that MBAs would ruin the world. Keep in mind that he saw aspiring MBAs every day. This was back around 1980, when a business education was what many students wanted, and an MBA seemed to be a guarantee of future success. To this day, liberal arts undergraduate degrees and the breadth of their scope are often denigrated.

Why what Professor Shapero said that day resonates, and I honestly am not sure if he meant it the way I am now understanding it, is that as I look around at the wreckage of a world economy, I see nothing more than an over-emphasis on narrow expertise that fails to see the bigger picture. And then there is also the emphasis on profits, paper profits. Whatever widget is being made, its quality and reason for existence are less important than what profit can be squeezed from it. Whatever the facts of a balance sheet, accounting machinations become more important than what the numbers truly reveal. From the early 1980s we easily move through two decades of mathematical models and paradigms so that in the end what is being sold doesn't even exist: credit default swaps among other derivatives of mortgage-backed securities and God knows what else that hasn't yet been discovered.

Two years ago another professor, Nouriel Roubini, was dismissed by his peers as too pessimistic when he predicted the economic collapse to which we all are witness:

"On Sept. 7, 2006, Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, stood before an audience of economists at the International Monetary Fund and announced that a crisis was brewing. In the coming months and years, he warned, the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession. He laid out a bleak sequence of events: homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt. These developments, he went on, could cripple or destroy hedge funds, investment banks and other major financial institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

What Professors Shapero and Roubini have in common is that both were basically outsiders. (I'm using the present tense here, but Professor Shapero died some time ago.) Shapero earned his position by doing innovative against-the-grain research that demonstrated the importance of small enterprise to capitalism. Roubini had a peripatetic youth and therefore brought an outsider perspective to his studies at Harvard and later to his research. What else they share is the use of subjective, non-technical ideas as they reach whatever conclusions they do. In other words, along with their understanding of innovative data-based ways of seeing the world, they also trust their gut. I bet that's characteristic of prophets.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Us" and "Them"

Us and Them

So, analyzing the way I think, which is based on what I believe I see, sometimes from this couch, sometimes out in the world, I notice that one big thing that gets to me is intentional, self-protective division, not "dissent", "division." It seems to me quite primitive to lump people into categories based on what we think we know of them. For some people, fear of others reaches such a level that anyone who does not fit into a very narrow definition of "us" is relegated to the category of "them," and is therefore suspect.

Long ago I realized that the concept of "judgment" as in judging other people and their choices and their lives doesn't work for me. It follows then that neither does the concept of "blame." My contention about both of those is that we can never know enough or go back far enough to establish cause to be absolutely sure that we are right. Oh, we may THINK we are right, and I have certainly been there, but years of looking back at situations with new information have shown me that I didn't know what I didn't know. Try doing a jigsaw puzzle that has no shape and no picture so you really don't know what pieces are missing.

If I'm not going to judge people and/or blame them, how am I going to get through a day that cries out for both of those just to make me feel comfortable? I can judge a situation, maybe, and I can hold people responsible, maybe, but even those are flawed endeavors. Sometimes, though, common sense demands that you judge risk and the likelihood that someone might put you at risk. However, I can live with those compromises for safety's sake.

I can't live with putting people in categories because they look a certain way or because some spinmeister makes a case or even because I see someone doing something I wouldn't. I don't know these people's hearts. I leave that to God. I don't know at all where they fit into His plan. One example that comes to mind is the hated atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, whom I know only from her writing and tv appearances, many times on Phil Donahue's show. (OMG, I still have the couch from those days too. Please don't judge me for having old stuff.) Anyway, I often thought that there was a possibility that O'Hair was walking a path that God had chosen for her, despite her rejection of Him and anyone's ideas about Him. He's a pretty clever deity. I wouldn't put it past Him to set up a sort of Devil's Advocate, love her cooperation in His set-up, and welcome her to heaven at the end. Who's to say? And that's my point. Who's to say?. But in certain circles, she definitely fell into the "them" category. I didn't like her personality, but so what?

As to blame, well, for some people there is no difference between guilt and responsibility. To me, the differences include intention and mental ability and physical condition and some others that we don't yet have the science to know. Do I think George W Bush and his administration are responsible for a lot of what the USA looks like now? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean I blame him. "We're tired of the blame game." blaming, but what about responsibility? He didn't have the capacity to do a good job, maybe, but he chose to do it. In my mind he's not blameworthy for not knowing what he didn't know, but he is responsible for whatever conscious decisions he made. Had it all turned out better, the concept under discussion would be "praise" rather than "blame", but in either case he would be responsible.

Someone I know very well is serving time. He probably doesn't care whether he is blamed, and I think he probably wouldn't argue with those who call him whatever "them" name, but he does care about taking responsibility for what he did and trying to redeem himself. It's part of his faith walk. I get that. It's also part of his humanity.

If we are going to get along with each other in a world where many different interests must be served, we really need to figure out what concepts help us be our best selves, when someone is watching and when no one is. I vote we abandon judgment and blame and don't argue with the people who say we are practicing those. Lots of people don't think. "We" and "they" are easier for them. Maybe that's part of the plan for them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm thinking of going negative.

I'm thinking of going negative. Reading all this stuff about McCain's negative advertising, which is now 100% of his advertising, compared to Obama's maybe 35%, I see that the mistake I have made on the BT blogs is to not call attention to the facelifts and weight problems of many of my opponents there. It doesn't matter that I don't really know what they look like. What matters is that I knock them off message.

I heard Gov Sarah Palin, say "It's not negativity. It's truthfulness. And American voters deserve to know." She didn't say what it is that American voters need to know, just kind of left it open to question, planted that seed of doubt so to speak.

However, I'm not concerned with what American voters need to know anyway. I am not involved in a high-stakes political campaign. I live in a "red" state, which will pretty much give its electoral votes to John McCain no matter what I say. What I am concerned about is shaking people up so that they question their own sanity and hate my guts.

I know I swore off blogging at BT, but things change. "Big" people start pickin' on "little" people, and I can't take it. I think I've seen a couple of other sworn-offers there too. If that's the case, and if I offend you with my aggression, well, please understand: It's not negativity. It's truthfulness.