Monday, February 28, 2011

Choosing Wisely the Vessel in which to Cross the Sea of Debt

Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel escape a pathless wood and hunger’s ache, only to fall into traps set by a horrible witch. The clever, determined children prevail, however, hoisting the witch on her own petard and filling their empty pockets with her treasure. Surely nothing more should stand in their way, but something does: a body of water so large that mere perseverance and perfect wit cannot save them. Fate can and indeed does by delivering a white duck that serves as both vessel and captain to take the children safely across.



Folklore and perhaps Aesop tell a slightly different tale, this time featuring a scorpion that stands on the shore of a large body of water. A frog, not a duck, appears, but the frog hesitates before offering to rescue the scorpion.

“Will you sting me?” the frog asks.

“No, I will not. If I sting you, we will both drown. Why would I want to harm you and therefore myself?”

The frog sees that the scorpion’s reasoning is logical and allows the scorpion to climb aboard his back, only to be stung before the two are safe on the other side. Before drowning, the frog croaks, “Why?”

“It is my nature,” says the scorpion.



Therein lies a lesson for the American voter. We stand on the shores of a huge body of water, rising ever higher every year. This ocean of debt threatens to flood our futures, and for decades, through countless Presidential administrations, we have ignored its swell. Now we, the people, like Chicken Littles, run hither and yon crying that the sky is indeed falling and demanding immediate solutions for the financial woes created by entering into wars we cannot afford and offering tax cuts we cannot sustain.



We Chickens run for our lives, away from the waters creeping higher and ever higher under a heavy sky, in search of a lifeboat, captained by a man or woman who not only braves the waves, but also promises to stay afloat. In such hysteria, can we honestly discern the true nature of the captain and his vessel? His craft may be a white duck that means us no harm, but what if there is a scorpion on board? Its sting could render null and void the contracts between the people and their representation. We must look closely before jumping lest we drown after being stung.

I do not wish to drown. I want government and its representatives to insure that the vessels in which I travel will not crash, sink, or crumble. I want government to regulate contractors so that buildings built will not break in whole or part, crushing innocent bystanders. I want them to insist that the bridges I cross will not break and send me to a watery grave. I want government to oversee roads so that I do not harm my vehicle or myself while driving from one place to another. I want government to watch over moneylenders so that the deal is fair and usury illegal. Government needs to keep its promises when it takes my money for Social Security and health care in my old age. In short, I want government to protect me from those who would harm me whether they are foreign invaders or domestic terrorists. I want them to make corporations and Wall Street respect my pension funds, not raid them, and honor my very human need for clean water, air, and food rather than allowing protections such as Halliburton loopholes so that it can make my world toxic and not be held accountable. And I want judicial remedy if I am ever forced to demand responsible accountability. Perhaps most of all, I want government to provide for the public education because well-informed citizens are essential to my safety and the domestic peace.

I am very willing to pay for all this government, and I know it’s expensive. Just as my heating and cooling costs have risen, so has government’s. Just as the cost of housing has climbed and fallen, so has government’s. All of those people who oversee industries and goods, who teach my children, catch the criminals who seek to harm me, those good men and women who raise a weapon against my enemies and fight the natural disasters that come my way, be they fire or water or wind--yes, all of them need to be able to share in the great American pie. I do not wish them harm because they are willing to serve my needs, and I do not resent their benefits because I need those who will perform society’s most unpleasant tasks. I wish them well, and I know I must pay.

Apparently, paying is not enough, and this should slow down the Chickens. They must continue to tread water while examining closely the real nature of the vessel that carries those who promise lifeboats. Are they white ducks with clever children on their backs, or are there scorpions aboard for surely, if they are scorpions, our survival is not in their natures. Be brave, Chicken Littles; think of yourself and your fellow man. Above all else, be prepared to sacrifice, but not your lives.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Be Patient. Deliberate.

While playing with a kitten new to our household, I saw him finally sit back and watch the pattern of the feather that I dangled from an elastic string. Instead of wildly following the feather and wearing himself out, he held still and planned his attack as he might if he were allowed outside and his life depended upon hunting birds. I was proud of his newfound restraint as it signaled a new level of maturity in him.

The American voter should take a lesson from my kitty. Each and every one should learn to hold in.

The party that does not hold the Executive branch enjoys an uptick in House seats at every mid-[Presidential]term election. Granted, the GOP gain in 2010 was, as everyone now says, “unprecedented,” but a gain is not. Why? I dare not answer the question definitively; there are just too many variables. I will however assert that fickle voters--the ones who cannot hold in--is one variable.

President Obama inherited a world of hurt. Even before the votes had been cast, the economy tanked and stimuli of all sorts--with no reckoning or accountability attached--were doled out. He coolly walked into the Oval Office after dancing the night away, surely reeling from a raised consciousness about Iraq, Afghanistan, the U. S. economy, the deficit, the number of big businesses teetering on collapse, the number of suffering Americans out of work, foreclosed upon, and in need of a job.
And what did the American people (anyone else tired of hearing those two words?) expect?

Apparently, we, the people, expected President Obama to wave a magic wand, kiss our boo-boos, and make it all better before Spring drifted into Summer. We had no patience for the time it takes for democracy to work--and that is a painfully long stretch indeed. If you want quick solutions, look to your nearby autocrat. He will decide without asking you or anyone else for another point of view. If you want some momentary chaos and healthy frustration with a measure of success in the end, then democracy, not autocracy, is your game. The results are usually worth waiting for, but waiting is not something we, the people, like to do.

We lack the patience to reserve our judgment, often shown in the voting booth, until all the facts are in. Here’s a case in point:

Ask yourself if government officers and media celebrities have ever overstated, understated, misrepresented, or outright lied in order to gain, maintain, or increase power. If you answer that question with a “no,” then please find a boat, step in it, throw away the paddle and GPS so you may lazily drift away to La-La Land because surely the currents will guide you home (or more likely, lead you to an unpleasant end at the hands of an autocrat, also known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing).

On the other hand, if you answer that question with a “yes,” then throw cold water in your face and apologize for rushing to judgment no matter which man or woman, party, or celebrity currently holds sway over public opinion. Tell yourself that you just better become well-informed if you hope not to be the victim of overstatement, understatement, misrepresentation, and lies. Tell yourself that you will open yourself to other points of view because you, my friend, can discern the truth when you have the facts. I place my faith in you.

For example, is it true that Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Barney Frank are responsible for the collapse or near collapse of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and charities or pension funds worldwide? Someone told you so, but was that someone right? No! That claim is “arithmetically, factually, demonstrably not true,” according to Charles Ferguson, writer and director of Inside Job, speaking on Talk of the Nation, NPR, February 17, 2011 (http://www.npr.org/2011/02/17/ 133842361/Filmmaker-Sees-Inside-Job-In-Wall-Street-Crash).



Re-read those three adverbs--arithmetically, factually, demonstrably--that Mr. Ferguson chooses to refute a commonly held myth placing blame on government policy with Democratic leanings for the economic debacle. Ferguson says he can prove his assertion using math, fact, and evidence. Them’s bold words, and it is your duty not to repeat or uphold the commonly held and widely spread myth until you have examined the math, fact, and evidence, until you have read Dr. Ferguson’s critics and his rebuttals (e.g., http://blogs.ft.com/economistsforum/2010/10/the-director-of-inside-job-replies), and until you consider who has the most to gain by suppressing math, fact, and evidence. In other words, you must hold in, restrain your impulse to judge, especially if the facts seem to fall in favor of your world view, and examine the facts before choosing sides.

This is what people of courage and compassion do because they believe that Thomas Jefferson, the wordsmith and Founding Father, knew something about our future when he crafted a document that has granted us more rights and privileges than many other people enjoy. He said, “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will” so withhold judgment until you have the facts. Please--for all of us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Heart of the Matter

My husband and I have reached an age and a familiarity with each other that provoke salesmen and physicians to ask, “How long have you two been married?” We usually say thirty years—just rounding up, but the real number is 29 years, 3 months, 3 days. Sometimes we add, “Why do you ask?”

The salesman said that we treat each other like newlyweds, that we are considerate of each other unlike most old marrieds he sees in his line of work. (Yes, he racked up points; we bought more than we otherwise might have.) In fact, I was very considerate and patient that day. Any woman who has taken a man shopping for clothes knows that he tries on clothes unwillingly and many men, mine included, prefer comfort over fashion even if comfort involves fashion that has long since passed from memory. So to prevent my man from walking out the door too soon, I was solicitous, cooing “honeys” and “sweeties” more than usual while shlepping one size after another back and forth between showroom floor and dressing room.

The physician and her nurse almost certainly asked because I was present during my husband’s exam and repeated what they said in my own unique and emphatic way. My husband, even with high quality hearing aids in both ears, has trouble hearing. Worse, even when he can hear, he listens selectively. For example, if he does not wish to change his behavior or follow through, he will deny that any advice or request or message was ever sent. Knowing this—and motivated entirely by the desire to be helpful, I swear—I reiterated advice that he had ignored, especially if it was advice I had previously offered, solicited or unsolicited. I’m sure the medical staff wondered how long my put-upon husband had been ignoring me.

In Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver explains bonding as the function of biology and pheromones—at least for two of her characters, Deanna and Lusa—and she makes a compelling case. For months after I read this delightful novel, I was convinced that relationships of any duration are merely the result of animal instincts. I let the idea fade when I caught a whiff of my man after a particularly long workout on the elliptical.



Folks in much earlier ages were fond of believing that our eyes, windows to the soul, could draw us on to our destruction. Cupid fired his arrow, and we were doomed to fall in love, driven and perhaps even enslaved by Eros. For many other folks from earlier ages, love had nothing to do with romance, eyes or souls. Love grew after a marriage entered into for mutual benefits, including money, property, and prestige. Love was the result of a conscious effort to transform perceived flaws into felicities, according to Joseph Addison, who also advised men and women not to look too closely so that they might never see flaws in each other.



For my part, if pheromones attracted me to my mate, so be it. If his eyes drew me in, that’s fine. What interests me—and apparently others like Addison—is why we have endured so long, and I think one of the foremost reasons is personal honor. I take my vows seriously, and I know my man does as well. Although in the heat of anger or the winter of despair, I have contemplated life without him, I have emerged committed because once I said, “I do” love you, honor you, and promise to share sickness as well as health, poverty as well as wealth (I wish), and sorrow as well as joy until death do us part.

Yep, he’s still the one because of who I am as much as who he is. May you too have honor. May you be together 29 years and counting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

For Our Children

Recently my husband and I returned to Oklahoma’s Ground Zero in downtown Oklahoma City. Now it is a place of remembrance and peace, a tribute to those lost on April 19, 1995. Like the symbolic phoenix that rose from the ashes of domestic terrorism, a new building has taken the place of the first Murrah Building.

Our first visit to the Heartland's Ground Zero took place just days after the bomb tore apart 168 families. Even then, the hearts and minds of people from around the world were made manifest by the gifts, flowers, and teddy bears given to honor the victims, including 19 children lost.

My husband and I returned to bear silent witness at the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial once it was complete. One hundred and sixty-eight chairs, never to be filled by those in whose name they were constructed, attest to the vitality and promise erased in seconds.

We visited once more in order to tour the museum adjacent to the outdoor memorial. Inside, photographs and tributes commemorate those 168 lives. Whose heart is so hard that he would not be moved by the smiling faces and untroubled expressions photographed before domestic terrorism stole them from us?

What is more moving, however, are the acts of those left behind. Police officers, fire fighters, emergency workers, and ordinary citizens bore their labor stoically. Families forsook bitterness or anger to make hurt babies strong again. Jim and Barb Denny, for example, let go of a career and sold a home to care for Brandon and Rebecca. Their lives will never be the same. Whatever ambitions they had for themselves and their children have been rewritten, and they abide in faith, grateful for each other.

The lives of the Dennys and Nguyens and McClouds and Webbers and Allens could have been stunted or broken by the events of April 19, 1995, but their children survived, and children require resilience of us. They demand courage from us. They hope to be reassured by our approach to the future. Let us hope that we can all live up to what children need.