Saturday, February 14, 2009

Signs of Spring

Mornings these days when I walk to work are beginning to show more and more light as the sun rises earlier each day. At first the light was barely perceptible. Now it's definitely twilight as I begin my morning sojourn. Yesterday I noticed buds at the end of a low hanging branch. Today I saw a small plant pushing its green leaves up through the soil. Mother Earth is slowly making her way into a new cycle of bloom and birth. We still have five weeks more of winter but the change is already well under way.

I will miss the dark, though. Something about the dark seems to render the rest of the world inconsequential and makes the space I inhabit more comfortable. Not that I mind the light at all but when I want to think or relax, the dark gives me that opportunity.

All this at the end of a day that was mostly volunteer work with the Nature Conservancy at the Thurston County Glacial Heritage Preserve. I spent most of the day helping a 17 year old Boy Scout (or maybe Explorer) lay out and mark planting grids. He is arranging test plantings as his Eagle Scout project, which will help the conservancy determine something or other about how to restore native species to the prairie there.

Last month Maggie and I pulled scotch broom, an invasive plant that once dominated the area and planted a bunch seedlings of some sort. Today was easier but still involved a certain amount of bending and, for the last hour, pulling scotch broom. Today's weather was cool but pleasant. The sun was out off (mostly) and on although by day's end, skies are clear.

Another day toward the Equinox.


I'm Shocked, I Tell You!

Coming soon to stimulus spending near you:

Design and engineering companies helping to build the nation's highways ran up millions of dollars in inappropriate charges at the expense of taxpayers, including bills for parties, luxury car leases and hefty paychecks for executives, according to auditors....

A main reason cited for the misspending was the reliance on private accountants paid by the firms undergoing review. The accountants in some cases appeared to put their clients' interests ahead of taxpayers....

The role of certified public accountants became a focus in part because officials from nine states expressed concerns about their independence. The auditors found that highway contractors sometimes hired accountants that were not qualified to perform the reviews required by state and federal regulations. In many cases, they "hired firms with whom they had existing relationships."

I'm sure nothing like this would happen at the Pentagon.


Friday, February 13, 2009

We Arm the World


Enough to make me think homo sapiens headlong rush to extinction will not be fast enough.


The Surge Worked!

For some people, that is.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

God and a Man Named Abraham

This being the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln, I came across a recent article on Lincoln’s religious beliefs that ends with this quote,

Lincoln believed God was the author of his life and history," said Jack Van Ens, a Presbyterian pastor, historian, and actor. "God drew out the plot and allowed Lincoln to punctuate the sentences.

The quote is an ironic end to a story that discusses Lincoln’s less than formal relationship with organized religion and the battle among Believers and non-Believers to define Lincoln’s beliefs in their favor. Giving the last word to one participant doing just adds a note of finality that I don’t think the article supports.

I don’t have a stake in this debate but it does interest me. Lincoln was a true wordsmith and some of his most profound words came from his spiritual beliefs; from his soul as well as his intellect. When I hear his words and reflect on the ideas underlying them, I recognize “the better angels” of religious faith: justice, compassion and sacrifice. I do not see the false gods of power, organization and control which have devalued religion throughout history.

What I know of Lincoln’s spirituality is limited but I do know that he was a man of his times. His times accepted the old doctrines of literal Scripture because that was the literature for most people. The explosion of scientific knowledge and mass distribution of information and ideas of the 19th century had not yet happened when Lincoln and his contemporaries began their careers. Unlike many of his contemporaries, though, Lincoln did not require a church or minister to understand the world and his place in that world.

Lincoln’s gift, in my opinion, was his ability to transcend the limitations of his times, to understand how the old certainties were no longer quite so certain, to realize that new knowledge and realities required new thinking. His intellectual suppleness is evident in his changing attitude toward slavery and its African-American victims. What started and the recognition of the inherent unfairness of a “you work, I’ll eat” system evolved, with reluctance, toward recognizing former slaves’ political and civil rights. No part of this evolution is inconsistent with the ideals of any religion.

Lincoln’s spirituality surpasses religious belief. It is the humility of a man who knows that, however powerful or exalted by others, he is human and prone to error and greed. Knowing this, he seeks other wisdom. Lincoln sought that other wisdom from many sources but at heart, that wisdom was a sense of right and justice that did not allow one man to exploit another.

Of course, that’s just my view, written to appropriate the Lincoln icon in accord with my own beliefs. Like all the others, I guess.

I do, however, take exception to the idea that God was the author of Lincoln’s life and history (or anyone else’s for that matter) and all he did was punctuate. Randomness and human agency are major drivers in life and history and, unless I am willing to believe in a heavenly being directing all that chance and all those human motives, I cannot believe in that god-written script. The idea has merit, though, in acknowledging the limits of human power and ability. I fully acknowledge and understand those limits. Knowing those limits, I recognize why Lincoln is exceptional among American presidents.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

The "Good" War

Obama has made it clear that he considers Afghanistan to be more of a problem than Iraq and has pledged to draw down American forces in Iraq in order to pursue al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. His solution: more troops and extended commitment to a war that most Americans still support. After all, "they" attacked us. Remember? Well, actually, it was their friends but that's close enough.

Never mind that Afghanistan is a place hostile to foreign intervention with a geography that that favors guerrilla tactics, the graveyard of empires. Instead, Obama will dive in, to build something that looks good to Americans that the locals don't really want and will in all likelihood resist. Not a good foundation for sustainable policy in my view.

But don't take my word for it. Tom Englehardt offers a very sober analysis of America's precarious situation in Asia Times. So does Jim Lobe. Robert Dreyfuss offered a similar analysis in The Nation which also carried a good article about the highly diverse forces that Americans call "the" Taliban.

If all that left-wing analysis doesn't convince you, then read about a month's worth of posts at Ranger Against War. Ranger brings a tactical and operational perspective that demonstrates wyhy Afghanistan is likely to be the tarpit of American ambition.

Trading a bad war that Americans support for an even worse wart that Americans no longer support is NOT an effective solution. Why in the hell do Americans not understand that.

Oh, right. Everbody is watching television.


It Goes Both Ways

Digital TV is no big deal to me but I did take heart in the decision this week to delay the end of analog signals. The poor, the elderly and rural areas are apparently not ready for the conversion and would be disadvantaged by the change, according to proponents of the delay. Personally, I don't believe anyone is disadvantaged by not having television reception but that's a particularly iconoclastic view and wholly irrelevant in this culture. Previous efforts to delay were met with the objections that delay would harm business interests. For once (and maybe again sometime) the political system acted in favor of the powerless.

This same week also brought an interview with Chris Hedges on Free Speech Radio News. Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning described Obama's first two weeks in office as disastrous: committing a crippled nation (think economic and military exhaustion) to a long-term war in Afghanistan while simultaneously supporting the "largest upward transfer of wealth in American history" in the form of economic stimulus.

Suddenly, keeping an analog TV signal for disadvantaged Americans isn't that big a deal.