Monday, November 29, 2004

Repetitions / Remembrances

When I first moved to Glasgow three years ago, I was initially struck by the relative 'sameness' of things. In fact, it took a good two weeks before the subtle differences really began to shine through and overpower all the similarities. Something very similar is taking place now that I'm (re-)adjusting to living in America again. To facilitate this, or at least to help me come to terms with it, I've decided that this week's blogging theme will be American Repetitions and Remembrances. How is America different (to me), having lived abroad for three years, married a foreign national, etc.; how is it the same? Are the things that are different really all that different ... the things the same really that similar? In essence, what is the role of memory -- the kind that chases us down more than we perhaps seek it out in moments of insouciant nostalgia , the sort we consciously try to forget while unconsciously embracing and/or projecting -- in shaping our life's repetitions and remembrances?

I wonder.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Most. Boring. Post. Ever.

Yes, I admit it, I lied about getting some blogging done the other night. What can I say, it was freakin' cold and my landlord had yet to turn on the heat. Sitting behind a computer in a cold apartment was not my ideal way of spending an evening. So, instead, I spent it elsewhere, throwing a bouncy ball to a chihuahua with Parkinson's Disease and drinking a couple of bottles of Westmalle Triples in quick succession. Really, you were far better off without me.

I hope everybody made it through the first round of their holidays without any cuts or burns or bruises, save for the mental and spiritual ones that November and December has for most of us in spades. Casa de Silentio was surprisingly fine. Lots of squealy children running about my parents' house, one of whom insisted on screaming in people's ears without any reason or explanation; but this was balanced out by the American Chopper marathon on the Discovery Channel, not to mention the new DVD player my dad shoved in my trunk just before I left. (All we need now, of course, is a television.)

Anybody buy anything today that they've decided to keep for themselves?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Back Online

Ahhhhhh ... the power of the internet has returned to my greedy little hands!! Blogging will commence this evening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Will Work For Food

I've not yet been able to bring myself to look at my site traffic, but I'm fairly sure it's pretty well near nonexistent. Ach well ...

I'd really forgotten how much I hate moving. Actually, let me rephrase: I'd forgotten how expensive it is to move. Finding an apartment in Cincinnati wasn't too bad, given the fact that just about any sane person who isn't intent on living there solely because of ridiculously good library access and cheap rent has already left the city years ago. Two or three days of looking, tops. Now, finding furniture, that's proven more of a worry. I have, you see, become quite spoiled. O'er in bonny green Scotland, for instance, the mizzus and I were regaled with the finest of ugly furniture, whose upholstery was tolerable only because it was faded beyond recognition; it was there when we moved in, and it remained when we left. Such is the beauty of furnished accommodation, so long as you try not to think about who has done what on various cushions and mattresses.

I only realized yesterday, in fact, that the only three pieces of furniture I've ever purchased are (in order): a $15 pasteboard bookcase (current whereabouts, unknown), a beautiful $100 desk from Office Max (current whereabouts, Rumpke dump just outside Cincinnati), and a dinner table from the ring of hell known as Ikea (current whereabouts, my old flat in Glasgow). When I moved out of my parents' house at the wizened age of 18, I enjoyed the comfort of furniture provided in my college dorm; upon graduating, I enjoyed the comfort of furniture stolen from my college dorm. In other words, you can imagine my horror at seeing mattresses priced at $600-$1000, sofas priced even higher, loveseats only slightly less expensive than sofas (which I find baffling), and myriad financing plans that boggle the tiny expanses of my mathematical mind. The only good thing to come out of my search, thus far, is the knowledge that Big Lots has either improved the quality of its merchandise, or I've become extraordinarily cheap.

Anyway, hopefully posting will return to semi-normality this week. I do need to crack out a much delayed, much overdue book review for a journal whose editor once had a semi-orgasmic reaction when I reeled off the names of a couple of Hollywood actors that I thought to be, in the words of her question, 'hot'; but, as has been the case for years, writing that will undoubtedly be the kick in the ass I need to keep writing. Which means that bloggy goodness shouldn't be far behind.

In the meantime, per Vaara's recommendation, take the time to download (via BitTorrent) the three-part BBC documentary that concluded last week, The Power of Nightmares. After finishing part-three last night, and then watching a bit of American cable, I've decided that I'm in no rush at all to buy a television.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Thy Name Is Ambivalence

This gives rise to two thoughts. First, I've finally re-discovered a reason to be out of Europe right now. And yet, second, I've also re-discovered a reason to go back there and get a job!

The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, currency traders have said.

The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar.


Speculative traders in Chicago last week racked up the highest number of long-euro, short-dollar contracts on record. Options traders have reported brisk business in euro calls - contracts to buy the euro at a pre-determined rate.

However, the market has been rife with rumours that the latest wave of selling has been led by foreign governments seeking to cut their exposure to US assets.

India and Russia have reportedly been selling US assets, as well as petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern investors.

China, which has $515bn of reserves, was also said to be selling dollars and buying Asian currencies in readiness to switch the renminbi's dollar peg to a basket arrangement, something Chinese officials have increasingly hinted at. Any re-allocation could push the dollar sharply lower and Treasury yields markedly higher.

Friday, November 05, 2004

What Room for Religion?

I'm still processing a reaction to this email sent out by Rabbi Michael Lerner. Some of you may be quicker to the draw than I. It's worth reflecting on, even if you have nothing to say or add.

For years the Democrats have been telling themselves "it's the economy, stupid." Yet consistently for dozens of years millions of middle income Americans have voted against their economic interests to support Republicans who have tapped a deeper set of needs.

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more-a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning-and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose.

Many of these voters have found a "politics of meaning" in the political Right. In the Right wing churches and synagogues these voters are presented with a coherent worldview that speaks to their "meaning needs." Most of these churches and synagogues demonstrate a high level of caring for their members, even if the flip side is a willingness to demean those on the outside. Yet what members experience directly is a level of mutual caring that they rarely find in the rest of the society. And a sense of community that is offered them nowhere else, a community that has as its central theme that life has value because it is connected to some higher meaning than one's success in the marketplace.

It's easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in ways that liberals find offensive and contradictory. The frantic attempts to preserve family by denying gays the right to get married, the talk about being conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies that accelerate the destruction of the environment and do nothing to encourage respect for God's creation or an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on preserving the powerless fetus and a culture of life without a concomitant commitment to medical research (stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and healthcare reform., the claim to care about others and then deny them a living wage and an ecologically sustainable environment-all this is rightly perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that makes them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have been moving to the Right.

Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for religion and tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that underlie the move to the Right, have been unable to engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly angry at the way that some religious communities have been mired in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, the liberal world has developed such a knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both marginalized those many people on the Left who actually do have spiritual yearnings and simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many who move to the Right have legitimate complaints about the ethos of selfishness in American life.

Imagine if John Kerry had been able to counter George Bush by insisting that a serious religious person would never turn his back on the suffering of the poor, that the bible's injunction to love one's neighbor required us to provide health care for all, and that the New Testament's command to "turn the other cheek" should give us a predisposition against responding to violence with violence.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk about the strength that comes from love and generosity and applied that to foreign policy and homeland security.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk of a New Bottom Line, so that American institutions get judged efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize people's capacities to be loving and caring, ethically and ecologically sensitive, and capable of responding to the universe with awe and wonder.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could call for schools to teach gratitude, generosity, caring for others, and celebration of the wonders that daily surround us! Such a Democratic Party, continuing to embrace its agenda for economic fairness and multi-cultural inclusiveness, would have won in 2004 and can win in the future. (Please don't tell me that this is happening outside the Democratic Party in the Greens or in other leftie groups--because except for a few tiny exceptions it is not! I remember how hard I tried to get Ralph Nader to think and talk in these terms in 2000, and how little response I got substantively from the Green Party when I suggested reformulating their excessively politically correct policy orientation in ways that would speak to this spiritual consciousness. The hostility of the Left to spirituality is so deep, in fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this way they often can't even hear what we are saying--so they systematically mis-hear it and say that we are calling for the Left to take up the politics of the Right, which is exactly the opposite of our point--speaking to spiritual needs actually leads to a more radical critique of the dynamics of corporate capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a mimicking of right-wing policies).

If the Democrats were to foster a religions/spiritual Left, they would no longer pick candidates who support preemptive wars or who appease corporate power. They would reject the cynical realism that led them to pretend to be born-again militarists, a deception that fooled no one and only revealed their contempt for the intelligence of most Americans. Instead of assuming that most Americans are either stupid or reactionary, a religious Left would understand that many Americans who are on the Right actually share the same concern for a world based on love and generosity that underlies Left politics, even though lefties often hide their value attachments.

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson-that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth-a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders.

A confession: I walked by an Episcopal church today, and had to will all of my secular energies to the fore of my body and mind in order to fight the urge to walk in and pray.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Pre-Bed Election Thoughts

As of 12.50 EST, it appears that all my confidence and hope are, like the residual elements of my religious faith, good for very little indeed. With that in mind, commence with the gloating and anger that only self-righteousness conservative and liberal zeal can muster; commence with legalized homophobia; commence with even more tax cuts; commence with still yet more fear, America's most favored of opiates -- if it's not Jesus bearing down on us with an apocalyptic gleam in his eye, it's Allah's bomb-strapped will; commence with a lot of liberals claiming half-hearted expatriation attempts, but only really managing to cross a few state borders; commence with conservatives finding new ways to blame the minority party for their policy failures; commence with me drunkenly wondering, to all willing to listen, how far away I am from this country's collective political will, and whether moving back here is really such a good idea.

Oh, yes, we all have much to look forward to.