Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Giving Feedback

Well, they asked, so I gave it to them ...

Some years ago I got on a Republican mailing list. It happened like this: The first time John McCain ran for President he was facing off in the primaries against G. W. Bush. Remember? This was the primary eventually won by Dubya, leading to the stolen election of 1999 -- not that we're bitter about it or anything. At any rate, convinced that McCain would be a superior choice if we HAD to end up with a Republican in the White House, my former wife bit the bullet and registered as a Republican so she could cast her vote for him in the primary, fully intending to then vote for the Democratic candidate, WHOEVER it turned out to be, in the general election.

The Republicans got wind of the fact that lots of people were having the same idea, and accused the Democrats of deliberately and maliciously trying to poison their chances by seeing to it that the GOP would run a loser as their candidate. (How's that sound as a way to welcome new registrants to your party?) I insist, however, that our intentions were pure, and we were only expressing our Constitutional preference for the lesser of two evils -- I mean, for our choice of who should serve as our leader for the next four years.

In fact, I would argue that the country would be better served by allowing everyone to vote in all primary races regardless of their party affiliation. This would seem to insure that lesser or fringe candidates would garner more votes and be able to keep their campaigns alive longer, thus continuing to present diverse points of view and keeping the field open closer to the actual election. We might even find independents or third party candidates winning some State and Federal seats, which could break the perpetual stalemate in the legislature.

Anyway, that's how I ended up on this Red State mailing list, and why I was selected to receive a "2010 Congressional District Census" (and appeal for funds) from said Republican Party. Rather than send it to the landfill, I decided to fill it out to let them know how I think they're doing. But, like all multiple choice tests, it left me feeling the need to express things more fully, to "attach extra pages if necessary," which they did not invite me to do. Here then are a few explanations and amplifications:

"Do you identify yourself as a:" Well, I'm glad there was an "other" box with a place to fill in the party of my choice. I didn't know that the recognized parties were called Conservative Republican, Moderate Republican, Liberal Republican, and Independent-voter-who-leans-Republican. Thanks for providing a line long enough to contain the word Democrat, even if it might not have been big enough for something like Socialist Workers.

"From what media source do you regularly receive your political views?" First let me say that my views are my own, I don't receive them from anyone else. I am, however, interested to hear other points of view. I found it very interesting that while NBC/CBS/ABC were lumped together there were separate check boxes for both CNN/MSNBC and Fox (subliminal: dummy shill for the radical right ventriloquist). I had always harbored paranoid suspicions about this, but it is good to have them confirmed. The omission of PBS altogether speaks volumes. Just please note that when I say "Radio" I am not alluding to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, and Oliver North. Instad I'm thinking NPR and the BBC. And what more delightful way is there of reviewing the week's events than Wait--Wait--Don't Tell Me! on Saturday mornings?

When you ask "How much does it concern you that the Democrats have total control of the federal government?" I am really non-plussed. Does it seem that anyone has any control up there? I am concerned that they don't know what to do with power when they have it and continue to wander around in a daze, but at least they are not deliberately breaking everything and canceling the Constitution like some other parties we could mention.

You will note that I put check marks in the Democrat column for nearly all categories under "which political party do you feel is best able to handle the following issues?" The single exception is "protecting traditional values." That's because I don't know what those are, and wonder, if they are so traditional, why they need to be protected. Also, I note that the Republicans are not protecting our tradition of Constitutional freedom, except the ability to carry guns, and I wonder what's up with that. So on this subject I selected "No Opinion," even though that is not really correct because as you see I have lots of them.

Finally the one that really stumped me: "Do you believe the Republican Party should continue to embrace social issues?" This is like the question, Have you stopped beating your wife yet? If I say Yes it implies that I agree the Republicans are "embracing social issues," and that I approve of what they are doing and want them to keep it up. If I say No it still implies that I think they are "embracing social issues" but that I think they should cut it out. If I say Undecided (the third and final option) it still implies that I think they are "embracing social issues" but I'm so wishy washy that I don't know if I like what they're doing or not.

However, I noticed the follow up question that could only be filled out if I answered Yes, so I changed my choice from Undecided to Yes so that I could register opposition to the following:

  • school prayer
  • a ban on burning the flag
  • a ban on human cloning
  • a ban on all abortions
  • prohibition of same-sex marriage

I went along with "faith based initiatives" because they're not all bad. Concerning the others I'd like to point out that there is no rash of flag burnings at present, so I don't know what all the fuss is about, and that human cloning is still in the science fiction stage, so we may as well ban Unauthorized Commerce With Alien Civilizations while we're at it. At least this list clarifies what was meant by "embracing social issues." Silly me to think of things like health care, education, drug treatment programs, feeding the hungry, and finding homes for the homeless.

So there you have it. Tomorrow it will be winging its way to Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee. I feel a lot better for having taken the trouble.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Fall of the Sparrow

Considering why each life matters ...

This past First Day, otherwise known as Sunday, our Miami Friends meeting was graced by the father and brother of Christa Brelsford, the American woman from Anchorage who was one of the survivors pulled from the wreckage of the earthquake in Haiti.

The meeting was a deep and emotional one. Among other messages, Taylor Brelsford, Christa's father, declared the miracle that it was for him and his son to be able to worship with us, and that compared to the life of his daughter the loss of a leg was "nothing." This echoed Christa's own sentiments as expressed in the CBS news story and video, and I'm sure we can all agree. When we are confronted with the difference between life and death, often so tenuous, it becomes very clear what is the important, essential thing. Beside it, all other concerns pale to insignificance. And faced with the loss of so many lives, we naturally celebrate each one that can be preserved.

Christa's brother, Julian, who was volunteering with her in a literacy program for adults and children, also expressed his heartfelt joy at life, even in the face of grief, and led us in the spontaneous singing of a hymn. This is a rare occurrence in meetings like ours, and when it happens it feels very powerful -- much less like reading from a book, and more like the expression of birdsong that greets the morning sun.

Julian, who was fortunate to receive only minor injuries himself, is mindful of the many in Haiti who perished or who are not getting the medical attention they need. He intends to return, and hopes for an outpouring of assistance from around the world, which seems to be materializing.

During the meeting I found my own thoughts wandering back to a small incident of the previous week. It may sound funny in the face so many human casualties, but I kept remembering how on my way to work one morning I had noticed some of the small lizards that abound here, temporarily immobilized by the cold weather, lying on the sidewalk. Positioned like that on the concrete, they were ready to be warmed back to life by the action of the sun. I stepped carefully around them and wished them well, only to find at least one of them flattened when I returned at the end of the day. Whether it was done with intentional cruelty or simple carelessness, some passer-by had simply snuffed the life from the tiny insignificant creature.

Aren't our own lives like that? We spend our time planning and building, then the earth moves beneath us and everything comes toppling down.

It is said that God notes the fall of the sparrow -- meaning each and every one of them. Even those of us who may not believe in a personal or personified Deity can still conceive of the idea that each life, no matter how small, is worthy of note, and that in some way each is accounted for in the great ledger book of existence.

If I could notice and feel a pang of regret over the demise of a creature so small, then how much more must each of those human victims of calamity matter to that Spirit of which we are all a part? If such a small life is worthy of notice, then surely, as tens of thousands of nameless men, women, and children are interred in mass graves, so must the life of each one be noted with sorrow in its end. And equally so, we should note the lives of those who are still with us, rejoice with them, and give them the care and respect that each one deserves by the simply virtue of being alive.

You can learn more about the work of Haiti Partners through their website at http://www.haitipartners.org/ where you can also make donations for earthquake relief and longer term community building in Haiti.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Roll Over Beethoven

Pardon me, boy -- is this the philharmonic station?

One of the things that should endear Ludwig van Beethoven to all of us who live in this latter day egalitarian culture was his insistence upon being treated as an equal by his "betters," meaning the nobility. Even though he may not have granted that courtesy to others, and even though he was decidedly upwardly mobile himself, still he chafed at the tradition of patronage that decreed musicians had to arrive through the servants' entrance, even if they were the greatest composers of their day.

I like the story that the "van" in his name, a pretension to noble birth, was added by Beethoven himself. It is also said that when his brother added the sobriquet "Land-owner" to his card, Lugwig countered by having some of his own printed with "Brain-owner." If invited to a party as a guest who was expected to perform, he refused; but if not expected, he would perform, like it or not.

I was thinking about him today, as I do almost every weekday, because when I disembark at the Brickell Metrorail station I am invariably greeted with the strains of the first movement to the Fifth Symphony. Due to the efforts of local Beethoven enthusiasts, including the local homeowners association and at least one County Commissioner, this recording has been playing between the security and train announcements for several years now. You might think that it would get tiresome after all that time, or that the endless repetition -- never a full performance, or any of the other three movements -- would have turned the immortal symphony into mindless Muzak by now. But so far it has never failed to strike me as new and vigorous every time.

Surely this is a testament to what an enduring composition this piece is. In a recent biography, Beethoven: The Universal Composer, author Edmund Morris relates a story about being on the campus of Harvard University in the middle of winter. It was the first day the sun showed itself after a week or more of blizzardly darkness. As the snow lit up, someone opened a dormitory window and placed speakers on the sill to blare out the triumphant final movement of -- what else? -- Beethoven's Fifth. Supposedly everyone who was close enough to hear it stopped in their tracks and listened as the music gave perfect expression to their joy at the return of the light.

So I often still find myself with an additional spring in my step as I leave the station, and find myself humming the other movements as I walk to my office -- the lyrically swinging second, the waltzing scherzo that imitates the opening theme of the first movement, and then the victorious fanfare of the finale that emerges from the misty end of the scherzo like a sun cutting through morning fog.

There's another irony about the playing of the Fifth at the metro station, though. At the same time they were memorializing Beethoven, the Brickell Homeowners Association, fancying themselves loftier than the rabble who must ride the bus, engaged in a successful lobbying campaign to nix the rental of some space at their train station to Greyhound. Now the poor slobs who drift into town that way must remain content to disembark among some warehouses near the airport from which it is a long hike to anywhere.

Poor Ludwig, who insisted in his Ninth symphony that "all men will be brothers" and that "this kiss is for all the world," must be rolling over in his grave.