Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Waiting for the mail

Waiting for the Mail
After the nasty, cold and windy weather we've been having, this afternoon was an unexpected delight. Glorious afternoon for a walk, and this Great Blue Heron at Stricker's Pond was incredible. He was patiently sitting on what looked like an aquatic mailbox.

Everyone's talking, but who's listening?

I was in the car this afternoon listening to Jean Feraca's "Here on Earth" on Wisconsin Public radio. Her guest was Les Back, author of The Art of Listening, a book about being a good listener in a society that's overloaded with too many voices, endless stimuli and too much information. All too often, instead of really listening, we're saying to ourselves -- or even to the speaker -- "Get to the point, cut to the chase." If you want to listen, the mp3 will be up here for download soon.

Back talks about some of his ideas in this article titled "The Listeners."
"You do not interest me. No man can say these words to another without committing a cruelty and offending against justice," writes philosopher Simone Weil. To turn a deaf ear is an offence not only to the ignored person but also to thinking, justice and ethics. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner is cursed because no one will listen to his story. The Italian chemist-turned-writer Primo Levi was preoccupied with this fable because of his fear that on returning from Auschwitz people like him would be either ignored or simply disbelieved. Regardless, listening gets a very mixed press amongst critics and intellectuals. There is a suspicion of "wistful optimism" or the quasi-religious appeal to "hold hands" and play priest at the confessional. These qualms miss the centrality of listening to a radical humanism which recognises that dialogue is not merely about consensus or agreement but engagement and criticism. This is something that Primo Levi understood.
He's worth listening to.

Just barely holding on


This little creature was holding on for dear life on the sidewalk in front of the house this morning. A fierce, cold wind was blowing and the windchill seemed to have slowed its metabolism, but it wasn't going to let go. Although Madison has been more fortunate than most American cities, we have plenty of folks just holding on here as well -- and nationwide, all too many are struggling to hold on to jobs, homes and family. The butterfly knows what it means to hold on. So does Tom Waits. And so do millions of Americans.

Monday, September 06, 2010

This Labor Day, it will take more than prayer to protect us from the gathering storm

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Tea Party members and their Republican enablers talk a lot about freedom and the free market, but actually, fewer and fewer things are free. A growing list of police and fire emergency services, for example, are not. The Sunday NYT had a story about the so-called "crash tax."
ABOUT a year ago Cary Feldman was surprised to find himself sprawled on the pavement in an intersection in Chicago Heights, Ill., having been knocked off his motor scooter by the car behind him. Five months later he got another surprise: a bill from the fire department for responding to the scene of the accident.

“I had no idea what the fire truck was there for,” said Mr. Feldman, of nearby Matteson. “It came, it looked and it left. I was not hurt badly. I had scratches and bruises. I did not go to the hospital.”
These scenarios are being repeated moreand more often throughout an America deeply divided on economic grounds in which the rich can buy anything they need or want, while everyone else has had to cut back -- not just on what they want but, incresingly, on what they need. And the rich resent any of their tax dollars going to fill the gap. Call it a plutocracy, or call it a banana republic -- the result is the same. The Haves are getting richer and the Have Nots are getting poorer.

A few months back, Roger Ebert wrote a powerful blog post that he titled "The Gathering Storm" and illustrated with dramatic photos of approaching bad weather. This Labor Day seems an appropriate time to link to it.

Ebert also began by discussing the rapid growth in fees for municipal services as cash-strapped municipalities are unable or reluctant to raise enough tax revenue to pay for needed services. He went on to talk about the growing divisions between the Haves and Have Nots, and the unfairness of the way the pie gets divided.
We're in for some hard times. We need to pull in our belts, pay more taxes, demand more value for our taxes, and say no to an ideology that requires converting our health money into corporate profits. We should to raise the lowest wages, and lower the highest ones. We have to return to the saying my father quoted to me a hundred times: "A fair day's work for fair day's pay." No, I don't think everyone should be paid the same wage. If you earn a lot of money, you have a right to a lot of money. If you earn it. But when Wall Street bosses are paid millions in bonuses for bankrupting their firms, and their political tools in Congress oppose a better minimum wage, that's plain wrong. It's rotten. People who defend it with ideology are strapped to a cruel ideology.
I took this photo in Janesvilla a few years ago during a time when we were having a lot of bad weather, and at the time I thought I was taking a picure of an approaching thunderstorm. Since then, Janesville's economy has been further decimated by the closure of the GM factory there, and it's looking less like a photograph about meteorology and more like one about economics.

The American middle class was built on the notion of "a fair day's work for fair day's pay." Henry Ford jump-started the 20th century American middle class economy by paying wages sufficient for his workers to buy the products they produced. Ford was no progressive, but he knew that if a small group of people are allowed to accumulate most of the wealth in a society, there won't be enough money left in circulation to promote healthy economic activity.

That used to be just plain common sense. These days it's considered controversial. As the storms clouds keep gathering this Labor Day, we need to decide how this country went wrong and what to do about it. Prayer is not enough. Besides, they say God helps those who help themselves.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Big Dipper keeping watch over Wingra Park

Big Dipper Over Wingra Park
I've always sort of used the Big Dipper to get my bearings. Geographically, if you take the right edge of the ladle, extend its length upward five times in the same direction, you're at Polaris, the North Star. Emotionally, the constellation a familiar constant presence in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere. It reconciles change with continuity as it rotates gracefully around Polaris with the turning of the seasons. Now is when it's especially low in the sky, reaching down practically to treetop level.

My eyes were too big for my stomach at the Taste of Madison last night. I came home feeling like a big lead balloon, and walked into the darkness of Wingra Park to get some fresh air and look at the stars in the clear night sky. I was struck by how serene the Big Dipper seemed, set off by the darkness of Wingra Park and the warm lights in the distance. It seemed to watch over the park like a protective presence. I walked back home to get the camera and tripod.

Sometimes when you're feeling crappy, the best thing to do is to try to make something beautiful -- or at least try to borrow some of the beauty of the universe.