Monday, October 31, 2011

Nina was a perfect Charlie Chaplin at her school halloween party today, and Julian's vampire was somber.

THE FOLLOWING COSTUMES get honorable mention from me. There was no contest today. Vampire Julian and Nina as Charlie Chaplin win my private competition hands-down.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some kids prefer a dog for a pet; others like cats. Our Jeremy settled for a tomato worm. As far as I know its name is Tomato Worm.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A curb
keeps the sidewalk
and makes sure
the road
where it’s supposed
to go

Friday, October 28, 2011

This morning at breakfast Margaret and I had the pleasure of the company of good friend Ann Karperos who has come down to San Diego for the wedding of her grand daughter. For many years Ann worked in the regional office of Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio. Visits with her always include a lot of talk about what's going on in Washington and in Sacramento.

A few weeks ago I was asked directly by a guy standing near the entrance to the grocery store with a clipboard, “Do you mind if I ask you what is your political affiliation?” Thinking he was collecting signatures to qualify a proposition for placement on the ballot in California’s next election, I turned to face him and tell him that in the first place it wasn’t any of his business and in the second place that I don’t sign petitions to get propositions on the ballot because I’m convinced that the initiative system in my state let’s legislators off the hook... gives them an excuse not to do the job for which they are elected. He stopped me short by looking me straight in the eyes and saying, “I’m not asking for a signature, and I’m not soliciting money for anything. I’m doing research to try to learn how much people know about our system of government and whether or not they vote, and if they do, how they decide whom and what to vote for. I’m a graduate student, and I’m not being paid to do what I’m doing,” he said, with a slight edge of exasperation... and then he grinned and said, of course, he hoped he’s get paid for it someday if he could manage to get a job after he gets his degree.

He seemed earnest and I was in no hurry, so I swallowed the little speech I was prepared to deliver and said, “Sure, why not.” I asked a couple of questions about his university and his research project... which led to a small conversation about how and why he had chosen his thesis ... which led to his saying he’d been at it, mostly unsuccessfully, since early morning and he asked if he could buy me a cup of coffee. Starbucks across the way is a magnet for me, so I said, sure.

After we’d talked about ballot propositions and the initiative process, I quickly learned he knew more about it than I did and was glad I’d not embarrassed myself by delivering my little condescending speech. I sat back and let him teach me how an initiative may alter the state constitution, or amend ordinary laws of the state, or do both... and how the initiative is brought about by writing a proposed law as a petition and submitting the petition to the state attorney general along with a modest fee ($200 in 2004), and then after obtaining signatures from registered voters amounting to 8% (for a constitutional amendment) or 5% (for a statute) of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor, the signed petitions are sent to the Secretary of State for validation of signatures. I decided not to point out that the system has been hijacked by people and parties wealthy enough to buy the needed signatures to get their initiative on the ballot. I knew he knew that already.

I asked what he thought about the initiative process, about whether it was a good way to determine how the state should do its business. He said he’d rather not answer until I’d responded to his survey questions... He said he wasn’t trying to convince me of anything, he just wanted to know how I go about deciding how to vote. He complimented me, perhaps in case the coffee hadn’t been enough to soften me up, by saying he could tell when he saw me walking toward the store that I was someone who votes. I told him to ask his questions.

He went back to the question that got my attention half-an-hour earlier, “What’s your political affiliation?” I told him that I’m a registered democrat. He asked if I considered myself barely a democrat, a bit more than moderate democrat, or a liberal democrat. I was emboldened to the point of going beyond just saying I am a liberal democrat, so I told him that I suppose I consider myself to be a democratic socialist. He wanted to know why I considered myself such, and I told him that I believe a large, stable middle class is important in a strong, healthy democracy and that the way to make the middle class strong and effective is to have a progressive tax system so no one is extremely, obscenely, unnecessarily wealthy and no one is extremely poor, a tax system that provided a security net in general welfare, health and education. I said some things about equity and justice, and we talked, and he wrote, and we talked some more.

There, I’ve put it in writing. It isn’t necessary for this journal entry to write out the details of the remainder of my conversation with Joe . I can say that I am definitely impressed with this young, twenty-something man whose goal is to make the country a better, safer place for all people. We talked for half and hour more. We finished our coffee, and he went his way and I went mine. The point is this: I don’t think I’d ever said out loud to anyone that I am a democratic socialist, but that’s what I am. I decided at that moment that I will no longer be afraid of the word socialism. I am determined not to pussy-foot around the concept any more. The Tea Party people use the word as a club. I am not going to accept a beating with it. I am going to accept the label gladly; and whenever it seems appropriate, I’m going to say that I consider the Christian Gospel to be a social Gospel which provides a clear outline for a democratic society.

When Tea Party folks wish to scare voters away from a political candidate, they call her or him a socialist. For awhile now they've been spewing out a litany that says President Barack Obama is a socialist. Mitch McConnell says his primary goal as a leader of the Republican Party is to make certain that socialist Obama is a one-term president. That seems to be the shared goal of all politicians who speak for the Republican Party.

I’ve gone back through my notes to find another e-mail I got from my friend Bob Smith in Alaska, because it seems to fit today's writing. Just after Anders Brevik killed 92 people in Norway, the question raised around the world was what the Republic of Norway should do to the killer. It’s no surprise that many Americans, actually a greater percentage of Americans than of Europeans, say he should be killed. My friend wrote, “Brevig’s random violence perpetrated against innocent victims is the very worst kind of violence; but if Breivig is executed, the act of killing him will be a validation of the idea that society’s first response to high crime should be vengeance. But vengeance is not justice and progressive, and pursuing vengeance ensures that civil society will become what it hates. That is not the answer. The solution lies in the moral courage expressed by Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg who recently said: ‘Tomorrow we will show the world that Norway’s democracy grows stronger when it is challenged, and that the answer to violence is even more democracy, even more humanity, but never naivete.’” My friend went on to say, “The exclusionary agenda of the far right breeds intolerance and fear in a multicultural, pluralistic world where diversity matters. Diversity matters not just because choice is a human right, but because we need it to provide the source ideas of change for a rapidly evolving world.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011


In response to the journal writing which I posted on yesterday's BLOG, my very close friend Bob Smith sent me the note which I have posteds below. His words are more appropriate for the BLOG today than anything I can think to say. Bob lives in Anchorage.

In some ways I benefit from the advantages and privileges of citizenship, gender, and race. I am a white male citizen of the USA and that puts me at the top of the socio political economic food chain at this point in time. All that is artificial in terms of intrinsic value as a human being. On most days I see myself as other, neither here or there, neither a citizen of a particular county, member of a particular gender or race. I am a person, a human being, like every other human being struggling to be part of humanity. There are no boundries really, there is no natural selection to privilege, there is no divine right of anyone or's just us...globally universally us! Sometimes it's just me and a man from another place on the face of the earth, our paths cross and for a rare and precious moment we travel together. That moment can have no impact or it can change my own course or worldview. The tension is always between believing in nationhood, race, gender, and any other artificial category or believing in life. I choose to believe in that my descendents can live peaceably alongside everyone else on this planet. Wise religious story tellers ascribed such a belief as a mandate from one they called God. And God said: "This day I call heaven and earth as my witnesses...I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..." The tension around your experience with the man from Honduras is the tension between the life you live and the destructive forces of naming another human being by nationality which is not where you live. A brother is a brother is a brother is a brother, you who have met many have met another one. I'm glad our paths crossed and I fully understand, appreciate, and celebrate the impact of our meeting. I'm glad to be your brother too. Bob

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BACK IN SAN DIEGO... Back from Washington with questions... about citizenship... about who the people are for whom I should feel empathy... about who are the people in the world for whom I should feel a sense of responsibility.

A few days ago I met a man who was/is obviously in “my country” without the appropriate documents to show that he is living and working legally in the United States. He is married with a wife and three children whom he left behind in a Central American country three-and-a-half years ago. He told me the names of his country and his city, but it isn’t necessary in this writing for me to say what they are. In his own country he worked full-time in a factory. The factory produces goods that are sold in the United States. He couldn’t earn enough in his job in his country to make it possible for him to feed, clothe, house, and meet other basic needs of his family; so he came to America, the land of opportunity. It took him six weeks to make the dangerous trip, the last part of his journey was a trek through a strange and dangerous border area. At one point he went sixteen hours without food or water. He thought he might die, but he kept going because he knew he had to take care of his family. In the U.S. he has worked for three years being careful to stay “under the radar.” He is obviously a gentle, good man who is devoted to his wife and children. He sends most of the money he earns to his wife in Honduras. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t beg. He worries about the teenage daughter. He misses his wife and worries about her. The youngest son, whom he hasn’t seen since the child was a toddler, is six-and-a-half.

Of course, I know that laws regulating immigration are important... and necessary. I am aware. I read. I think. Immigration laws in the United States are very much the same as comparable laws in most other countries. The laws are not unreasonable and cruel. So, what is my responsibility to my country... and to the man? I am not his employer; therefore, I am not breaking the law by not betraying him to the Department of Immigration.

The clearest and most consistent guideline from great prophets and philosophers, we may think of them as avatars, over the years of human histories is clear. I should project myself into the other person. I should do for him what I would like him to do for me if I were in his circumstance. I should see myself in him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LEAVING WASHINGTON... On the way to San Diego by way of Chicago. I've received quite a few positive responses to the possibility of National Service. When I get home I'll see about getting a group together to discuss the possibility of promoting the idea with political leaders.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The journal writing today has nothing at all to do with the photographs: Nancy's cats, Scooby and Lucky; and the dwarf zinnias and one lonely bachelor button in her front yard.

My neighbor Jim Fudge, an American patriot extraordinaire, came to mind a couple of days ago as I was thinking about what might be done to turn apathy into active interest among young people in our country. Jim was drafted into the military in 1942 when World War II was raging, threatening democracy in countries around the world. He was nineteen years old. I know some things about the Normandy Invasion because I’ve read about it in history books and have seen movies like “Saving Private Ryan.” Jim knows about it because he was there. When the war was over, Jim came home and went to college... all the way through to a PhD. and a teaching career that included distinguished membership in the music faculties of the University of North Dakota and Grinnell College. Four of my uncles and three of Margaret’s brothers served in the military. They all returned to civilian life more aware of the meaning of democracy and more committed to American institutions than they had been before their period of national service.

All of us can name others whose commitment to America was reinforced by national service. Our friend Jean Wright-Elson’s career as nurse in the military and Tom Respess‘ career as a chaplain in the military left them with heightened sense of citizenship responsibility. Senators John McLean and John Kerry and many other members of congress have followed national military service with distinguished political careers. My niece Tiffany Walker spent two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Cambodia helping repair the damage done by the Pol Pot regime. My friend and former student Antonio Garcia served on active duty in the Marine Corps. He was deployed twice to Iraq. For the rest of their lives these good people will continue to honor and serve our country. They are keenly aware of the privileges and responsibility of citizenship in a democracy.

On a recent trip to Greece, the birthplace of democracy, I learned that military service for 9 months is required for male citizens between the ages of 18 and 45. It’s too bad the national service extends only to the military and excludes women... sounds a bit like the Greece of 400 B.C.E. In Israel, secular Jews, both men and women, are drafted at age 19. Males serve for three years and females serve for two. National service is a rite of passage... except for Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Christians (a quarter of Israel’s citizens). It’s interesting that a majority of Israelis, including most Arabs, support expanding national civilian or military service for everyone. In Germany men only are required to serve and half of the 180,000 men drafted opt out of military service in favor of civilian service or foreign development or noncombat military work. Austria and Denmark also offer civilian service as an alternative to compulsory military service. In Taiwan males over 18 must complete two years of national service, either in the military or doing civilian work like policing, teaching, firefighting and on projects relating to the environment. the Diplomatic alternative Service Program sends Taiwanese me to work in medicine, agriculture and technology in countries like Chad and Macedonia. With a stated goal of promoting patriotism and racial harmony, Malaysia uses an annual lottery to select 85,000 recent high school graduates for three-month camp with military-style physical training and community service. Each group has 60% ethnic Malays, 28% Chinese, 10% Indians and 2% others-- a mirror of Malaysia’s makeup. In South Africa, before being certified to practice, junior-level doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists, clinical psychologists and dietitians must serve a year working in poor areas. Singapore requires military training for all male citizens and second generation male permanent residents when they reach the age of 18.

One of America’s most critical national problems is the disaffection of young citizens. Our society is afflicted with cultural malaise, coupled with ignorance about local, regional and national government that renders young people disinterested and impotent in matters of citizenship. When I get back home later this week, I am going to put together a small group of people to look into the matter of national service for American citizens. With BLOG postings I’ll let you know how its going. Stay tuned.