CLIMATE CLIFF

By Paul

I wish I could take credit for the term “Climate Cliff,” but I cannot.  I first saw it referenced by an organization called “RootsAction,” which describes itself as an “on line initiative dedicated to galvanizing Americans who are committed to economic fairness, equal rights, civil liberties, environmental protection – and defunding endless wars.”  All of which, by the way, I happen to agree with.  If you’re interested in looking into them further, their web address is www.rootsaction.org.

But it was this expression, “Climate Cliff,” that most caught my attention.  There has been so much talk, so much air-time, so much energy spent of late on endless discussions of and worry about the so-called Fiscal Cliff that I have frankly become almost desensitized to it all.  I mean, how much can you worry about whether members of Congress will eventually stop warring with each other and, instead, actually sit down and DO something to help the people who voted them in?  I’m sick of it.  And, yes, I mostly blame the rigid, recalcitrant, and doctrinaire Republicans who seemingly will not budge on the one issue that everyone knows most Americans already agree on, namely, raising taxes on the super-rich.  How many times do we have to listen to Speaker Boehner and his colleagues say that this is nothing but a “jobs killing” measure?  Come on!  It’s clear to everyone that they are simply pandering to the richest of the rich, who put them where they are in the first place. 

But, you see, I’m already getting off track again.  Of course what happens with the economy is vital to all of us, because it means that it affects our livelihood and our ability to take care of ourselves and of those we love.  So, yes, it is important.  But in the larger picture, it’s frankly small potatoes.  In comparison with the looming Climate Cliff, which almost no one in Washington seems to be thinking much about, it’s the most myopic of short-term stuff indeed.  Note what even President Obama recently said on the subject:  “I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point.  I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that.”  Really?  “Simply to address climate change”?   As if that were a simple, or an inconsequential issue, or one that wasn’t in the end going to wind up devastating the planet.

The whole thing reminds me of something I once head a Catholic priest say many years ago, something which appalled me almost beyond words at the time, and which I still find hard to believe that anyone could have said.  Speaking about birth control or, more to the point, speaking against birth control, he reflected that we really didn’t have to worry about overpopulating the planet anyway, because God in his wisdom sent wars and plagues and mass communicable diseases to keep the population within bounds.  What a lovely concept, I thought! God says you can’t use condoms because – well to be honest I’m not exactly quite sure why – but on the other hand it was apparently OK for him wipe out millions of people, who already happened to have been born, but who lacked the money to defend themselves against one infectious disease or another.  Such was the reasoning of the Catholic Church at the time (this was in the late 1960’s), but I’m not sure if it has changed all that much since. 

Although it may be a bit of a stretch, worrying about the economy right now, as important as it may be to most of us, seems a little bit like that to me.  At least it does in terms of concerning ourselves with things that do not address the overriding issue.  In regard to birth control, the important issue really is that people have too many children, and not that we should (God forbid!) actually rely on wars, disease, and natural disasters to cull the population. And in terms of the future of the planet, we do need to be worried, very worried, about global climate change.  But what is so concerning is that I fear Pres. Obama may actually be quite correct in his assessment of things.  It probably is true that most Americans are totally focused on the economy, on jobs, and on growth, and the whole idea of what will be happening to the planet in the coming years and decades is so far on the back burner that it’s getting no attention at all.      

So, what I am suggesting is that we begin substituting the phrase “Climate Cliff” in our thinking, in place of “Fiscal Cliff,” in hopes that all of us, you and I and Pres. Obama and Wall Street and American corporations and political parties and civic organizations and religious groups and governmental and inter-governmental bodies of all stripes, will eventually begin to feel some of the same sense of urgency about global warming as we currently do about our collective wallets.  Not to put too fine a point on it, in the end money won’t amount to a hill of beans, if we’re all swimming in a sea of noxious gases, or literally in overflowing oceans, or we are unable to feed ourselves and our families because the ecosystem simply can no longer sustain itself in a healthy way. 

I used to think, or at least hope, that we would somehow come to our senses about all this because we wanted to preserve the beautiful planet we call home, because it is the right thing to do not to destroy magnificent forests and kill off whole species of animals who have done nothing to contribute to the warming of the globe.  But I have come to the conclusion that most of us most of the time are so engrossed in our own little lives that the majority of people cannot get out of the ego-cocoon that we live in.  Well, so be it.  Let us then worry about climate change for our own benefit. 

In the end, it does not matter much exactly why we concern ourselves with the issue; the only thing that matters is that we do something about it.  We are, indeed, headed toward a Climate Cliff, and no amount of worry about short-term fiscal matters is really going to make much of a difference.

CREATIVE RECYCLING: Make Art and Buildings with Junk

 

by Kevin

Robert and I are always on the lookout for junk and used stuff that we can repurpose to make art or to continue constructing our home and barn art gallery and other buildings here in the woods where we live. We just finished the polished stone wall, pictured above in the living room of the cottage we are building in the woods beyond the dead-end of our dirt road. This rock wall took us a little over a month of evenings and Sundays to build, and it is a solid example of a junk project.

All the double-pane, argon-filled windows in the living room are also salvage. The knotty pine wall and ceiling planking was purchased in an Amish “mud sale” auction. And the black walnut floor was a fallen tree processed by an old order local Mennonite lumber man.

Ten years ago from our moving car, we spied some jagged chunks of the beautiful polished stone sticking up out of the dumpster of a countertop business near where we used to live. We didn’t know quite what we would do with it, but we knew we had to have it. The manager of the place said we could take scrap out of their dumpster in exchange for bringing an occasional case of beer for the people who worked in the countertop business. We were enthusiastic dumpster divers for beautiful chunks of polished stone for several years, and ended up moving our heavy treasure to the woods when we sold our big house in the suburbs and moved here.

Using salvaged materials to make art and buildings requires an eye for beauty and value obscured by a layer of mud or rust, and a willingness to engage in creative problem solving while working through each customized project.

We still did not know what we were going to do with the polished stone. Eventually we purchased three acres adjacent to our original woods where we lived in an old trailerhouse. The new land included a small half-constructed hunting cabin that we decided to finish and turn into a cottage for ourselves. Then it hit us – the polished stone would make a beautiful accent wall in our new home. Six weeks ago we significantly strengthened the foundation supports under the living room to carry several tons of additional weight. We hauled truckloads of the stone to the cottage and lived with the rock puzzle pieces spread out all over the floor for a month while we constructed the wall.

First we had to cover the surface with concrete blue board secured to the studs with long screws every six inches. We found industrial strength mastic, especially formulated for heavy rock walls, and buttered the back of each rock as we installed it, with shim and occasional support screws in between. It took both of us to lift some of the larger 1.5”-thick stones into their places. When the entire puzzle was finally solved, Robert grouted the whole wall in one afternoon and washed it about 20 times.

We love our humble little cottage in the woods even more than we enjoyed our big fancy house in the suburbs. Yes, we are still sleeping in a corner in the unfinished kitchen and cooking with an electric skillet and a 50-cent garage sale microwave, but we have never eaten or slept better. Next summer maybe we will use some of our salvaged lumber to build a bedroom or two.

The hunting cabin itself was a piece of junk when we bought it. Friends strongly advised us to tear it down and start over. The previous owners were chain smokers with five indoor pit bulls and Rottweilers. They left mountains of the worst kinds of garbage and trash all over the property. The cabin itself smelled so foul that the only way we could plan and take measurements was to run in holding our breath and look around for 60 seconds before bolting out again to gasp for air. We had to leave the building open to the elements for over six months before we could bear to spend time inside and begin the massive cleaning chore.

So, we understood why people felt we should tear down the place and start over, but we could also see very clearly that the basic construction was strong and sound, and we knew that if we could purge and clean it, the skeleton would be a good beginning upon which to construct a new home for ourselves. Four years later it is becoming a real jewel, and the memory of the stinking junk heap it used to be has faded from our minds. Now we see only what it is today and what it will become tomorrow. We are using mostly salvage windows, doors, lumber and stone to build the house, and we do all the labor ourselves, so our costs are very low.  It’s a house made of junk, and we are very proud and happy to live in it.

If your couch and chairs and rugs are starting to look a little ratty, paint them! Robert’s painted furniture is very popular. Be sure to use water-base acrylic paints, because they remain rubbery and flexible and do not get brittle when dry.

All you need to become a “creative recycler” is an eye for interesting used materials that might be good for some future purpose. You have to believe that junk can be cleaned and repurposed to make something interesting and beautiful. The “outside settin’ sofa” and 3 straight back chairs and rug above were ready for the junk heap. So Robert painted them in his inimitable style with acrylic paints, and now they have a new life. It helps if you are willing to be a bit of a pack rat and store junk for a while until the right opportunity comes along to give it a new incarnation. We collect and store lots of junk. Two days ago we brought home a big truck and trailer load of used lumber from a country dwelling that was being demolished.

Flea markets and garage sales are great places to find valuable junk. I made the “Jeweled Christmas Tree” above almost entirely from junk jewelry and beads and fake pearls that I found at such places over a period of years. The finished junk jewelry mosaic is one of the most popular art projects I have ever completed. Everyone seems to want this pile of junk!

Another building on our 12 woodland acres that looked like it might not be long for this world was our 150-year old barn. The front wall had collapsed outward substantially, because the former owner cannibalized the major support rafter that held the building together, to use for other purposes. The first time we walked into the collapsing barn, Robert fell through the floor and into the lower level which was full of flood debris and disgusting trash. It turned out that all the full timber floor joists had been turned to powder by termites. The floor was nothing but dust! What a mess!

A lot of people might have left the old barn to fall down, but we discovered that the old oak frame had hardened to the consistency of steel and was extremely strong. So we decided to save the structure and turn it into our Barn Art Gallery. We constructed an entirely new load bearing front wall inside the original collapsing wall. We took out the floor and built a new one. Multiple rafters now hold the building securely together. We covered the interior walls with a puzzle of irregular shapes of salvage plywood that we bought from an Amish farmer after he removed a thousand nails from the 40 pieces. We constructed dormers and installed salvage windows. Today it is a beautiful and peaceful refuge beside our stream and pond, decorated with junk furniture and carpets that people were planning to throw away. Eventually we hope to expand the gallery to show more art.

We often get criticized for buying water and sodas in plastic bottles, but I have saved every single container for seven years, and I am starting to make art out of all of them. We personally drank all the water and soda out of the plastic containers that make up the somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Rose Window” above. It looks beautiful when the sun shines through it. I am still constructing a water bottle chandelier. Each of the 220 bottles glows with a tiny white LED light stuffed inside. I’ll add another 100 water bottles and hang the chandelier from the vaulted ceiling over our kitchen. I am also planning to make tall glowing cone-shaped trees of plastic bottles as outdoor sculptures.

Randy, our little pug puppy, fell asleep on the edge of his water bowl, slipped in and drowned. But Robert brought him back to life with five minutes of vigorous mouth to snout CPR. My 16″ x 20″ junkart construction, “Randy Valentine,” commemorates the joyous resurrection of our puppy. Randy is healthy and normal today.

“Randy Valentine,” above, is a small prototype for larger junkart pieces to come. Our pug Randy is immortalized as he looked when he was a puppy. Here he is made out of shredded junk mail paper mache with real painted egg shells for eyes. He is nestled in a yellow styrene chicken tray adorned with hearts cut out of used red plastic picnic plates and surrounded by flowers made of water bottles. I bought the glitter and beads and tiny plastic animals for pennies at our local dollar store before it closed.  The chickens are made of eggs shells.

Why make art and buildings with junk? We all know how important it is to recycle. The earth is smothering in our junk – especially the carbon emissions and greenhouse gas junk we are spewing into the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. If we want to leave a place where our children and grandchildren can live in the future, it is important to stop dumping our junk into the vital waters, soils and atmosphere of our home planet. It is time to buy and use less stuff, and begin finding new uses for our old junk that will otherwise end up in the landfill. It is certainly important to collect our plastic, glass and paper and turn it over to recycling systems that can convert those forms of junk into reusable pellets to make new stuff. With a little bit of creative thought and a new mindset that looks for ways to repurpose our junk, we can also eliminate the middle man and give our junk a whole new life on our own! And it’s loads of fun!

SECESSION AND OTHER POLITICAL CRAZINESS

By Paul

If it weren’t for what it brings to mind in regard to one of the bloodiest and most inhuman conflicts the country has ever had the misfortune of going through, namely the Civil War, it would almost actually be funny.  Imagine that more than 100,000 people in – where else? – the great state of Texas, and thousands of others in all of the other states, even places like California and New York, have petitioned the White House to secede from the Union.  Not to worry, of course, because it obviously is not going to happen; still, who even knew anyone was thinking about such a thing? 

It does, though, go to show the depth of anger, bitterness, and sense of betrayal engendered in many by the recent presidential race, leading up to the second-term election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  It has always amazed, puzzled, and frankly sometimes terrified me to see the depth of hatred – and I think that is not too strong a word – that many people in this country feel toward Pres. Obama.  Sadly, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that much of it is based on plain old bigotry, that is, racial animus and bias, exacerbated by what I would call the mildly liberal agenda of our current president. 

The difference is that I heard liberals say that, if Romney were to win, they would be the ones to move, probably to Canada.  Now, to be honest, that too is very likely as much of a load of malarkey as is all this secessionist talk.  In fact, I’ve heard the same thing from liberal friends about pretty much every conservative president from Reagan on down the line, and frankly I’ve yet to have the opportunity to go visit anyone who’s actually moved on to become a refugee, comfortably ensconced by the fire up in Toronto, or trying to stay out of the rain in Vancouver.  The difference, though subtle, is that progressives talk about moving, while the conservative strategy, apparently, would be to stay and keep their holdings.  Take Joseph Farah, as just one example of the many far right crazies out there, who recently said on his ultra-conservative website “World Net Daily”:  “I am convinced we’ve got to begin forming new communities of the faithful and declare our separation and independence once again, just as our courageous forefathers did 236 years ago.  We need to be prepared to defend ourselves, our families, our fortunes and our sacred honor.  Barack Obama was right about one thing:  America is no longer a Christian nation.  Our cultural institutions have been taken over by worshippers of other gods.  More than half of the population has turned its back on God’s Commandments.” 

You definitely do not hear the words “move on” or “leave” or “let’s get the hell out of this place” from archconservatives.  No!  Instead, it’s more like “declare separation,” “form new communities (where they currently are),” and “defend ourselves, our families, and (of course) our sacred honor.”  It fits right in with the conspiracy theorists, who are building bunkers and stockpiling canned goods, along with caches of ammunition and semi-automatic weapons, in preparation for the cultural Armageddon that is sure to come.  It’s kulturkamph, some would say, all over again, that attack in the 1870’s by Otto von Bismarck on the Catholic Church in which hundreds of priests and bishops, along with their faithful followers, were expelled from Prussia.  In fact, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even references kulturkamph, or its direct translation, “culture war,” in more than one of his written opinions. 

All this brings to mind another opinion, this one stated just yesterday by none other than the losing candidate, himself, Mitt Romney.  In a talk to his disappointed major donors, he is quoted as saying that “the Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that he hoped could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls.”  He goes on to specify who he’s talking about, namely, African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people.  I suppose he might have mentioned women, too, and maybe even gay people, if they even counted in his mind, which I very much doubt that they do.  But doesn’t this sound an awful lot like those moochers, those freeloaders, that 47% of the American population (according to his tally, anyway), who basically want to live off of the back-braking hard work of the God-fearing, money-making, tax-paying, overburdened straight white males, who do all the work in this damn country anyway? 

But what actually are these “gifts” that we’re talking about?  It can’t be anything other than the right to be educated, to find a job, to work to better yourself and your family, to be able to afford health care, such that if you’re sick you don’t have to go into bankruptcy, to say nothing of someday being able to buy a house, or at very least afford a rental apartment to live in.  Romney was pulling no punches.  Apparently he felt that there was no longer any need for him to dissimulate, sneak behind anybody’s back and say this only in the privacy of an exclusive banquet room.  No more need to try to make the public believe that he was some kind of compassionate conservative.  He went on to say that these were the people who made between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, but who want healthcare.  Can you imagine?  Poor people (or at least struggling lower middle class people), who actually have the temerity to think that they should get medical attention in the event of an accident or an illness.  Why, it’s unheard of!  And he specifies Blacks and Hispanics as those who are particularly pushy in this regard.  Black and brown people who want the same care he and his white family have always been able to afford – imagine!

He goes on at some length to list other such “gifts” that Obama supporters were essentially bought of by, things like “amnesty for the children of illegals,” and the extension of healthcare on their parents’ policies for people 26 and under, which supposedly brought many college aged women into Obama’s camp.  These are the “gifts” Romney is talking about.  But it’s funny, to me they just seem an awful lot like the things that a majority of the American people actually want and deserve.   You know, the things that a certain segment of the population has always had, and which they want to hold on to: education, jobs, health care, ability to afford a home etc.  And who wouldn’t?  That’s exactly the point, in fact.  These things are not gifts at all, they are basic human needs and desires that everyone wants and requires for themselves and their families.  And to have the audacity to refer to them as “gifts” merely shows how out of touch Mitt Romney is from so much of the experience of everyday Americans. 

So, if there were any possibility, I guess I would say that maybe we actually ought to let this minuscule portion of the population secede that seems to want to do so.  We could give them a couple of counties, maybe, someplace where the rest of us don’t want to live anyway, and see how well they fare.  But since even that isn’t going to happen, for now all we can say is let’s stop getting distracted by this secessionist craziness and get on with the business of attempting to deal with the innumerable problems that actually face this country.  Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, the nuns always told me in grammar school.  There’s no need to manufacture more. 

I only hope the Joseph Farah’s of the world hear that, and work with the rest of us, rather than trying to do everything in their power to bring about greater disharmony.  And let’s let poor Mitt Romney, too, slink off to one of his mansions, where he can pay for all the medical help he needs to lick his wounds and recover from the political pummeling he so richly deserved.

Ten Steps to Republican Rebranding and Conservative Redemption

by Kevin

Dear Republican Party and Conservative Friends,
 
I sincerely hope you are beginning to feel a little better. A week ago today you received quite a shock when President Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election by a very decisive Electoral College margin and a comfortable popular vote lead. To add insult to your injury, four pro-gay-marriage initiatives passed, pro-labor candidates won in Wisconsin and elsewhere, The “Rust Belt” voted solidly for Obama, and liberal women won lots of seats in Congress. We have all heard that Governor Romney and his campaign team are still shell-shocked and trying to understand what happened, because they had been in denial about a potential defeat. Their wake up call was sudden and brutal. Mr. Romney had not even written a concession speech, making his extremely gracious and noble final statement even more remarkable for its genuine dignity and apparent intentionality.
 
The GOP can have a bright future and win again if you will implement ten steps to Republican rebranding and conservative redemption. I have thought carefully over the past week about whether or not to publish these ten steps. As a liberal Democrat, I’m afraid you might actually read my advice, take it seriously and succeed. I have been a consultant to Fortune 500 companies (conservative Republican institutions largely) for 22 years, facilitating market research, new product development, branding, positioning, and strategic planning projects. The ten steps listed here do not come from nowhere. They are my professional assessment regarding the GOP path to future success, based on decades of analysis of disasters similar to the 2012 election in corporate settings. After thinking twice, I realized that it is healthier for the American democracy to have a thriving but reasonable conservative wing in politics. I consulted with Paul, my very dear friend and fellow blogger for Two Old Liberals, and he urged me to publish these ten steps. I have to agree with his reasoning: “One party rule is very seldom a good idea. People get cocky and arrogant; and they get lazy without an opponent to keep them fit.”  
 
Ten Steps to Republican Rebranding and Conservative Redemption
 
1. Embrace Hispanics wholeheartedly and become their partners in immigration reform with a path to citizenship. The Bush brothers (Jeb and G. W.) have known for a long time that the Republican Party must embrace Hispanics to survive the rapid demographic evolution of the American electorate toward a minority majority. The wages of ignoring this development became painfully evident for you in last Tuesday’s election. Unfortunately, when President G. W. Bush tried to move the GOP in this direction with friendlier immigration legislation, you rejected it. When the Tea Party extremists and Rush Limbaugh were allowed to hijack the GOP, your message to Hispanics became very hostile: “We don’t want you here. Get out or we will throw you out.”
 
A lot of Hispanic voters are conservative and would make natural Republicans if you would embrace them and become their advocates. Many Hispanics are devout Catholics who certainly do not believe in abortion or even birth control! Many are hard-working fiscal conservatives who hold very strong family values and would not be supporters of gay marriage. Does that portrait look like Democrats? No, it looks like Republicans, but you have forced them to vote Democratic in self-defense with your hostile rhetoric.

Oh, I know, I know… You believe that you ARE welcoming toward Hispanics and that it is just Democrats who make you look bigoted toward them. Well, Hispanics PERCEIVE hostility from you, and perception is everything in politics and in business. How can you change that perception? You could start by never nominating another candidate who talks about “self-deportation,” and by marginalizing the extreme voices in your party who describe Hispanics as lazy moochers. Support pro-immigration legislation with a path toward citizenship, and then move on to Step 2.
 
2. Nominate Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio as your 2016 presidential ticket. Or find another set of candidates who would be equally attractive to Hispanics. I recommend Jeb and Marco, because Jeb’s wife is Hispanic and they have a son, George Bush III, who is movie star handsome, charismatic, articulate, and Hispanic! Jeb is a center-right Republican who understands the imperative to adopt pro-immigration policies and befriend the exploding Hispanic demographic segment. Marco Rubio is young, good-looking, conservative, articulate, magnetic, and has a storybook gorgeous wife and family… and he is Hispanic. Unless you are ready and willing to become a minor regional party of grumpy old white men and crazy right-wing extremists, you will seriously consider nominating a pro-Hispanic ticket for the 2016 election.
 
3. Become enthusiastic supporters of women and empower them in society and politics. Stop the “war on women” now! I know, I know… You do not believe there ever was a GOP war on women. You feel that Democrats and a few right-wing wackos pinned that undeserved reputation on you. Okay… maybe so. But women PERCEIVE that you are hostile toward them, and perception is everything. How could you have let this happen, Republicans? Women make up the majority of the electorate, for God’s sake! You simply cannot allow this continuing perception that you want government to be able to intrude into women’s private lives and take control of their bodies. Issue a commandment to all old men in the GOP forbidding them from mentioning rape ever again. They lost that right with “legitimate rape” and rape that is “God’s will.” And any hint of trespassing into a woman’s control over her own body with ideas like “forced trans-vaginal probes” (speaking of rape…) is strictly forbidden, forever, period.
 
The Republican Party must enthusiastically support women and their right to earn equal pay for equal work and hold positions of power and authority in American society and politics. In this connection, it is time to aggressively seek and cultivate female candidates for office. The age of women in politics is thundering toward America like a tsunami along with the Hispanic and minority majority. You don’t believe me? Take a look at New Hampshire’s 2013 delegation to Congress — all women. Also in 2013, on the Democratic side of the aisle in the House of Representatives, women and minorities will comprise the majority for the first time in history, and it won’t be the last time.
 
When you look for female GOP candidates, run as fast as you can away from anyone who says she can see Russia from her house, or who urges citizens to exercise 2nd amendment remedies, or who thinks she might have been a witch at one time. Walk away from all these nut cases who have taken over your party and its messaging. Start looking for women candidates formed in the mold of hard-working, sane, professionals like Kay Bailey Hutchison, Olympia Snow, and Condoleezza Rice. You know they are among you. Bring them forward.
 
4. Exercise control over your nominating process to avoid extremists and run candidates who can win.  Republicans had a chance to take back the Senate in the 2012 election but you blew it again with extreme right-wing candidates who insulted and verbally abused the electorate. You cannot win elections when you attack the people you need to vote for you — women, Hispanics, gays, and other minorities. Stop it!

And your slate of presidential candidates in the Republican primaries this year looked like a clown car — Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, etc… Give us a break! Do you really expect the American electorate to take you seriously when you present a list of crazy candidates like those for the presidency? Weren’t you embarrassed? It was very amusing and entertaining for the rest of us, but also pretty scary, when we considered that you were actually proposing that one of these nut cases should hold the most powerful job on earth.

There were four reasonable candidates — Tim Pawlenty, John Huntsman, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Pawlenty was apparently too moderate and ran out of money and steam early and dropped out. Huntsman was too liberal for you. Ron Paul was too libertarian and uncontrollable. And that left only Romney who was pushed so far to the right by the endless primary debates with clown candidates that he ultimately did not have a chance in the general election, despite his desperate last-minute attempt to disavow everything he had said during the primaries and turn hard toward the center. Get a grip on your nomination and primary processes, GOP, or your clown car will be replaced by a new and more reasonable party of serious, classic conservatives. You cannot win with your current slate of Tea Party extremists and dogmatic right-wing ideologues.
 
5. Befriend the LGBT segment and support gay rights and marriage. I’ll never understand it, but apparently there are lots of us gay people who would like to be conservative Republicans. A “gay Republican” has always seemed to me, as someone once described it, to be “like a 12-point buck at an NRA convention.” But, be that as it may, there are lots of LGBT people who want to get into your club, and can’t do it, because you constantly tell us you don’t want us or like us and we are an abomination against God and nature. You didn’t want to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and you don’t want to let us marry each other. Now, I ask you, what American institutions are more conservative than the military and marriage? We are asking for the right to serve our country in the armed forces and enter into the commitment, stability and responsibility of the institution of legal marriage. As conservatives YOU should be applauding these impulses and helping us to realize them. Then you’d get lots of gay votes, which if I’m not mistaken, still count as much as straight votes.
 
Barry Goldwater understood this. Remember him?… your 1964 Republican nominee for the presidency? I’ll never forget him: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He also famously said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.” In 1993 on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Senator Goldwater said, “I see no harm at all with having gays in the military… I think that if you left it up to the American people, the attitude would be, ‘What the hell, there’s nothing wrong with a gay as long as he doesn’t misbehave himself.”  True classic conservatives want to get government out of people’s bedrooms and private lives and grant everyone fundamental civil rights for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Return to your classic conservative roots and the fundamental principles of freedom to win elections again, Republicans. 
 
6. Support clean renewable energy sources and the effort to stop and reverse climate change. My Nov 4, 2012 post at http://TwoOldLiberals.com entitled “Mother Nature Sends Sandy to Make Climate Change a Conservative Issue,” defines five compelling reasons why climate change is a conservative issue: A.) Loss of property;  B.) Extinction is bad for profits;  C.) Cost of preparedness and disaster response;  D.) Public and political pressure mounts;  E.) Everyone cares about the survival and happiness of their kids and grandkids.  Beyond that, what could be a more natural conservative value than leaving our children and grandchildren an environment that is at least as healthy and able to sustain life as the one we inherited? Conservatives are careful to maintain their home as an investment in the future stability and security of their families. The earth is our only home. It is time for conservatives to demand that we stop destroying this habitat for the sake of our children.
 
7. Work openly to reverse voter suppression and support the Voter Empowerment Act. You may have heard earlier in the campaign that there was an “enthusiasm gap” among Democrats. There probably actually was a disturbing degree of apathy among Democrats at that stage. But you took care of that by doing everything in your power to suppress the traditionally Democratic vote. You worked hard to make voting impossible for seniors, students, poor people, and anyone without a photo ID. You tried to shut down early voting and same-day registration wherever possible. You sent out disinformation about the date and location for voting. You did not provide enough voting sites, machines or ballots so that many people had to wait 2 or 4 or 6 hours in line, jeopardizing their jobs and their children’s safety. The net result was rage on the part of the people whose vote you tried to suppress. That anger more than filled the “enthusiasm gap,” and those folks came out like never before to vote. Your tactics backfired. Oh, I know, I know… You think that you did not do this at all… that it was some other nefarious force sabotaging voter rights to make you look bad. But these people PERCEIVE that you tried to stop them from voting, and perception is everything. How can you correct this perception? Work openly to reverse voter suppression, and support the Voter Empowerment Act. Become known as every voter’s advocate and friend.
 
8. Define fiscal conservatism as more than just eliminating taxes and regulations for business and banking. I know it is near and dear to your hearts, Republicans, but this continuing crusade to reduce taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Americans just isn’t going to fly anymore. At least 60% of Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. And since we have all been suffering through the Great Recession for over four years, we certainly do not buy the line that simply removing regulations from business and banking and allowing the free market to have its way will work at all. We know too much now. We know that greed is part of human nature and will take over if unchecked. We are also smart enough to know that the math for balancing the budget and paying down the national debt will not work if you refuse to add more tax revenues into the equation and insist on increasing military spending, as did Mitt Romney in his ill-fated campaign. 
 
A lot of people are naturally fiscally conservative — even some moderates and some liberals. But you are going to have to say more than just “no taxes or regulation,” to get more of the fiscally conservative vote. You will need to outline detailed plans and programs that define fiscal conservatism, in a way that makes intuitive sense to strapped middle class householders who are desperately trying to balance their own budgets, pay down their debts, and stay afloat financially in the midst of a recession. You will also want to explain to voters how your fiscal policies will help them to do that in their personal lives.
 
9. Revive the moderate wing of the Republican Party. After last Tuesday, isn’t it time to give the electorate a moderate option within the GOP again? I’m old enough to recall when there was a liberal wing of the Republican Party — George Romney was one of them, ironically, and, of course, Nelson Rockefeller. Today American politics has moved so far to the right that I sometimes feel I cannot find any moderates in either party, let alone liberals. But, of course, you do have moderates — very highly respected individuals within the GOP — Gen. Colin Powell, Ambassador John Huntsman, Gov. Chris Christie, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and others. If it is true that elections are won in the center, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to offer the electorate some centrist candidates? And while you are at it, stop holding so many debates in your primaries. They only force everyone to the extreme right.
 
10. Stop obstructionism and make an effort at bipartisan collegiality and communication. Ever since Sen. Mitch McConnell vowed that his only job was to insure that Barack Obama would be a one-term president, and the Tea Party substituted hostile obstructionism in place of governing, every last vestige of simple civility, let alone comity and collegiality has vanished from Capitol Hill. Serious professional legislators like Republican Senator Olympia Snow are leaving public service, citing the loss of a civil climate essential for governing as their reason. The entire electorate is sick to death of this obstructionism and lack of civility in public life. We miss the days when Senators Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy used to hurl barbed, amusing comments and insults at each other on the floor of the Senate by day and then go out with a bipartisan group for a convivial evening of banter and laughter over drinks and dinner in the evenings. That was healthy for the Republic. The hatred and despair that we see now on Capitol Hill are poisonous and ruinous to the future of governance. It must stop now.
 
Oh, I know, I know… You feel that this is all the fault of the Democrats, not the Republicans, and it has been pinned on the GOP by the biased liberal press. Okay fine. Let’s say you are right. But the electorate PERCEIVES the obstructionism and lack of civility as coming primarily from the Republican side of the aisle, and perception is everything. So how can you reverse that perception? YOU be the bigger people. YOU take the high road. YOU, Republican Senators and Congress people, should agree that starting today you will invite a bipartisan group of colleagues for drinks and dinner every evening when in Washington D.C. and make every effort to have a good time and maintain a civil tone in everything that is said and done. This is what the American people want. If you restore civility in public discourse and governance, you will begin to win again.
 
What will be left of conservatism if Republicans adopt these ten steps? Classic conservatism — the high-minded thinking conservatism of decades past — would have adopted all of these ideas without difficulty and considered them a natural part of conservative philosophy. Here’s just a partial list of what’s left: Strict constructionist constitutional interpretation; fiscal conservatism that seeks to balance the budget and pay down the debt; overwhelming military might seems to be popular across the political spectrum (I’m sad to observe;) permissive gun ownership rights (God help us;) capital punishment (God forgive us;) strong law and order programs; smaller centralized government; more power to local and state governments; pro-business policies; superpower policing of international law and order (ill-advised, in my opinion;) expansion of democracy on the planet; support for moral and ethical decency; religious liberty; and the maintenance of an unbiased, objective judiciary.
 
And… my apologies. I must end this long list of criticisms withone final insult that I hope my Republican friends will consider: Did I mention that it’s all about perception? Today the increasingly brown and young, modern electorate perceives the Republican Party as an outmoded group of very white, much too old, overly male, mean-spirited and grumpy, obstructionist bigots, who care only about preserving power and wealth for the white privileged upper class, and have no clue about what is really happening and changing in America today. I’m very sorry, but that is how you are perceived.

If you want to win again, listen to the young people within your own ranks. They see that America is quickly becoming a minority majority. They know that same-sex marriage is no skin off their own noses and inevitable. If you don’t believe me, listen to Megan McCain and her mom. Your own young people know that the planet is warming so rapidly and dangerously that the very existence of future generations is threatened. Republican youth understand intuitively that power is shifting to women and it is time to get on that band wagon. They know that civil discourse and promoting the right of all Americans to vote is the proper and honorable way to go. 
 
If you want to win the midterm and 2016 elections, you will need to adopt at least steps 1, 2, and 3. Please do, for your own survival. We liberal Democrats need you. We miss the debates and discussions we used to have with you. Those arguments helped both of us define ourselves. We all need the contrast with one another to know what we believe. The dialogue is healthy for democracy and essential for a vibrant America. So, come back to life and sanity, Republicans! Find your way out of the corner into which you have painted yourselves, conservatives! We all need you and we miss you. You are part of our great American family!
 
Love, – Kevin

LET’S GET ON WITH THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNING, AND OF SAVING THE PLANET

By Paul

Now that election 2012 is over, and the results are so promising, it’s time to get on with the business of exactly why we elect people in the first place, namely, to govern. 

Not so much governing has taken place for quite some time in this interminable run up to November 6th.   It seems as though that run up by itself has lasted for at least a couple of years.  So, it’s definitely time to get back in the saddle again.  It’s obvious that the first order of business has to be the so-called Fiscal Cliff, those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes which will go into effect in January of 2013.  In my view, it would be a complete disaster if they happen, as it would probably trigger at least a “mild recession,” according to any number of economists.   But even a mild recession, in the wake of the Major Recession we have just gone through, could be devastating.  In fact, it brings to mind the latest nor’easter to hit New York and New Jersey on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.  Ask the folks there, who were without power and literally under water, and who are again going through a similar ordeal, if another blow is an easy thing to take.  I think you’ll get an earful.  It would be the same thing if the President and Congress are unable to work out some sort of compromise to prevent us from heading over this fiscal precipice.

But that’s just the beginning.  There is a whole host of things on everybody’s plate that needs to be attended to.  It’s almost as if things have been on hold for two years, and now finally it’s time to get a move on.  The President has already said that Immigration Reform will be high on his list, and that is surely a good thing.  This country has actually always had a love-hate relationship with its immigrants, in spite of the comforting old myth of the melting pot.  Very few of the established Anglos wanted those damned Irish, or the Italians either for that matter, back at the end of the nineteenth century, just as many don’t want the Mexicans, or other Latinos, today.  And just as with the Europeans, so too with Hispanics, epithets such as “lazy” and “free loaders” are thrown around with nothing to back them up.  We won’t get to a truly fair and comprehensive immigration reform package, I believe, until we come to terms with how we really want to perceive, and therefore how we treat, new arrivals to this country.

Another major problem that has to be fixed is the economic one.  I am nothing if not a liberal, and I hope a progressive, but I do agree with conservatives that something has to be done about balancing the fiscal books.  We cannot go on spending so much more than we take in, and we most definitely cannot go on simply borrowing money from China and elsewhere in order to cover the gap between spending and income.  Toward that end, we have to be upfront and transparent about how we spend the money we do have.  One of the most despicable things about the administration of George W. Bush was how they hid the cost of two wars.  These military incursions were utterly unfunded; they never even made it to the budget talks.  And this is aside from the fact that, in my view anyway, they were both totally unnecessary in the first place.  But that’s another question entirely.

The only way to balance the books is some combination of reasonable spending cuts and equally reasonable tax hikes.  It also assumes that we will come up with a way to handle so-called entitlements, although personally I hate that word.  It always comes off to my ear as sounding as though people are getting something for nothing, something they don’t really deserve.  That is not the case in regard to Social Security, which those of us who receive it (myself included) have paid into for upwards of forty years, or however long a person has worked.  The same is true for Medicare, although in regard to medical costs in general the country has also got to have a very serious conversation about what is actually appropriate, and in the end, what we can afford.  This will not be an easy discussion, inasmuch as it concerns both ourselves and the lives of those whom we love, and just how much care is enough care.  But the topic has to be on the table.  These are things that adults talk about, and that we need to talk about.

Beyond these things, education looms high on the list, too.  For far too long we have been putting off decisions about comprehensive funding that will get our children – all of our children – ready for the highly competitive world of the 21st century.  It will have to be a discussion that takes place at the national, the state, and the local levels, since funding for education and decisions regarding how kids are educated happen at all three levels.  But when a baseball player (nothing against baseball, as much as I find it one of the most boring sports on the planet), or a football player, or a movie actor, or a CEO of a company that rapes the planet, earns millions of dollars, and educators are paid a pittance, it seems to me that there is something seriously wrong with our value system as a society.  And remember that politicians are really only reflections of ourselves.  We hire political leaders in the first place by voting them into office, and by keeping them in office (or not) once we’ve seen how they perform.  So, if we continue to elect people who do not value the things we say we value, then in the end we have to examine ourselves, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 

 I could go on with a long list of things that have to be dealt with, and no doubt anyone who reads this could add others, equally as important.  Clearly, the economy and jobs go hand in hand, and you do not fix one without the other.  And this includes jobs for everyone, including people who have been traditionally shunted out of the good life of the American middle class, people of color in particular who have suffered more profoundly than anyone else during the years of the Great Recession.  Other things come to mind, as well, things like the infrastructure of the country, which is crumbling, care for the sick and the indigent and those who cannot care for themselves, always a bell weather in terms of what a society considers important, and so-called energy independence, a silly pipe dream in itself unless and until we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  Which leads me to the final point that is on my mind in regard to the new administration, and the Republicans in Congress as well, because the latter can block almost anything they want with the majority they have in the House of Representatives.  And that topic is the eighteen thousand pound gorilla in the room, namely, climate change. 

Now here is a topic for the ages!  And not many more ages, in fact, if we do not somehow come to grips with its disastrous implications.  I have to say that I was appalled at both candidates during the presidential campaign that the words climate change or global warming almost never passed their lips.  It is, though, a topic that in the final analysis trumps all others.  And I do mean all.  Because we can do whatever we want to fix the economy, to create wonderful jobs for people, to educate our children, to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to grant equal rights to minorities, pay down the debt, and on and on, but if the planet rebels – in ways that I think we have only begun to see – then none of these other things matter.  If we do not have a hospitable planet on which to live and to raise our children, and even, God help us, to play baseball on, then everything else is for naught.

The old Republican adage of “drill, baby, drill” sounds almost like a hateful curse to my ears.  It is at very least the cry, and maybe the last cry, of the utterly deluded.  There are surely things that all of us can, and must, do in order to help play our part.  We can and should conserve and not be wasteful, find alternate sources of energy, recycle, and we absolutely have got to stop having so many children. At seven billion people and counting, the world already has far too great of a population for the planet to sustain.  And we must find a way to satisfy our need for power that does not, as a byproduct, pollute the air, the water, and the earth itself.       

All of this is necessary, and some of it can be done on the personal and the local level.  Even so, that will not be enough.  Governments, and whole associations of governments, absolutely must take this on as a priority – no, as THE major priority – because the ravages of catastrophic global climate change will not respect race or ethnicity, wealth or poverty, one economic system over another, or anyone’s arbitrarily drawn political boundaries.  It will get us all, if we do not take steps now to make a difference. 

So, I admire and appreciate President Barack Obama very much.  I also feel for him, and hope and pray that he will have the strength and the wisdom and the determination to take on these problems we are all faced with.  If we do not assist him in this task, then we are all to blame.  It is time now to act and to stop playing politics.  And if we do not, there is no doubt in my mind that we will all suffer the most dire of consequences.

Mother Nature Sends Sandy to Make Climate Change a Conservative Issue

by Kevin

The light yet shines. It is time for people of all socio-economic-political stripes to speak with one voice and demand that governments and fossil fuel companies switch as quickly as possible to clean renewable energy to save Mother Nature and leave a habitable planet for future generations. (Political cartoon by Kevin, 2012.)

The Two-Ton Gorilla in the Livingroom

For many years the very mention of climate change has been taboo for TV reporters and commentators. It was never discussed. Mother Nature has been trying to focus our attention on this issue, because it is killing Her. She broke off chunks of Greenland the size of Manhattan and we barely noticed as they floated away. She virtually destroyed New Orleans, but President W and “Brownie” and the rich and powerful paid no attention, because the masses that suffered and the thousand who died were mostly poor people of color. So Katrina did not work. Mother Nature deprived much of the country of a real winter last year, and everyone just said “thank you.” Finally, She decided to go really big with her attention grabbing statements, and last summer She burned up all the Midwest crops in a disastrous drought, reduced the mighty Mississippi River to a trickle, and charred huge swaths of the West with massive wildfires. There was still virtually no mention of climate change! What does a damsel in distress have to do to get saved these days?
 
“It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!”
 
Last week everything changed. Mother Nature really got her panties all up in a bunch because the presidential campaign was almost over and climate change had never been mentioned in the debates or stump speeches or lists of voter concerns. So Her hand was forced. She had no choice. Mother Nature sent Hurricane Sandy to Wall Street, the financial capital of the world, to wake up the rich and powerful. Wall Street and much of New York City were under water. Lower Manhattan was cold and dark for five days. Staten Island and Hoboken are still in deep distress at this writing. The New Jersey coast was destroyed. The storm was 1,000 miles wide! Mother Nature delivered Her unmistakable message loud and clear to Wall Street’s rich and powerful: “You will lose New York City and your Jersey Shore playground unless you come to my rescue and do something about climate change immediately!” 
 
Mother Nature has finally succeeded in focusing some attention on Her own dire plight. Suddenly almost every TV news reporter and commentator cannot stop talking about climate change. There are featured stories and discussions about it on cable news. New York’s Governor Cuomo made it clear in public statements that the Hurricane Sandy disaster was caused by climate change. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg belatedly and abruptly endorsed President Obama, indicating that the president was more likely than Romney to do something about climate change. Then Bloomberg was forced by public outrage to cancel the New York Marathon because everyone demanded that those resources be allocated to disaster relief.
 
Speaking Truth to Power and Money
 
Mother Nature has come to the sad realization that She has to take her plight directly to the doorstep of power and money if She is to be heard. Hurricane Sandy has made climate change a conservative issue. It may take a few more hits like this one where the rich and powerful live, work and play, on Wall Street and the Jersey Shore, and other bastions of wealth, power, luxury and privilege, but Mother Nature will eventually force conservatives to begin pushing for a halt and reversal of climate change.
 
Why Climate Change Is a Conservative Issue
 
1. Loss of Property — Nobody likes to lose their hard-earned, cherished property. New York City and the Jersey Shore comprise one hell of a piece of property to lose. Did you see the photos of all those yachts and luxury cars piled up on the Jersey Shore?… and all those destroyed weekend homes and resorts and vacation areas? Wall Street was under water and shut down for two days. This kind of sudden loss is a real shock to anyone who is attached to material possessions, and who is not? People are going to want to be assured that their property will be protected, especially when insurance is priced out of sight. They’ll talk about massive sea walls and gigantic ocean gates and fortress engineering for a while, but eventually it will become clear that Mother Nature will take what She wants if we do not stop killing Her by altering the chemistry of Her atmosphere and oceans and soil with carbon and greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels.
 
2. Extinction is Bad for Profits — The sad economics of ignoring escalating global climate change and ecological destruction, add up to a lose/lose/lose/lose scenario for A. Business/ B. Wall Street Investors/ C. Governments/ and D. The Electorate. The people who comprise all four of these elements of civilization will die off when Earth becomes a boiling, burning sci-fi planet, and there will be nobody left to play the game of capitalism. In order for commerce to work, we must have at least sellers and buyers. Without either one of those there are no profits and nobody to collect the profits. Then the game is over.
 
3. Cost of Preparedness and Disaster Response — Five days after landfall, on MSNBC’s must-watch weekend round table, “Up with Chris Hayes,” Klaus Jacob of Columbia said that in about 85 years the sea level in Manhattan on a calm sunny day will be the same as it was at the height of Sandy’s storm surge. Two years ago he wrote a study predicting every detail of what happened in Manhattan this past week, right down to the specific flooded tunnels and subway lines. Now he asserts that investing in preparedness engineering will cost 10 times less than relying only on disaster clean-up, but either way it’s going to be extremely expensive. The clean-up for Katrina was way over $100 billion. Losses from Sandy are estimated at $50 billion. Who knows how much the clean up and replacement bill will be? It seems only logical that conservatives will eventually ask how we can treat this problem at its root so that we can stop throwing obscene amounts of money at preparing for or cleaning up after the symptoms.
 
4. Public and Political Pressure Mount — Governments and political entities do, in fact, respond when the force of public opinion becomes insurmountable. Witness Mayor Bloomberg’s cancellation of the New York Marathon this week. He really did NOT want to do that. But the public outcry was overwhelming, and the mayor heard from virtually every significant city power center that he had no choice but to shut it down and reallocate those resources to disaster relief. So he did. As extreme weather disasters increase in size and frequency, and the media are inundated with images and stories of unbelievable suffering all across the socio-economic-political spectrum, the masses, including wealthy and powerful hard-hit conservatives, will demand a response, and they will get it.
 
5. Everyone Cares about the Survival and Happiness of Their Kids and Grandkids — It won’t matter whether people are conservative, liberal or moderate… When it dawns on everyone that their kids and grandkids may not be able to survive in the future we are setting up for them, everyone will pause. We will all have to ask ourselves why we are working, creating and procreating if there is no future — no civilization to build — no place or time for our children to live and carry on our legacy. We will all realize that it is time to stop and turn this thing around, if only for the sake of future generations.
 
Conservation is a Conservative Value
 
Aside from these five points, conserving the planet really ought to be a natural conservative issue. It seems like leaving our children a planet, climate, oceans, soil and atmosphere at least as healthy as the system we inherited from our ancestors is a smart, conservative thing to do. It’s sort of like investing money for our future financial security. Or maybe a better analogy would be doing due diligence on the maintenance of our house so that we can protect and sustain the investment we have in our home. Earth is the only home we have. The conservative approach would be to maintain our home for the security and wellbeing of future generations. It’s just the common sense responsible thing to do.
 
What’s Next?
 
What’s next? Conservatives, liberals and moderates will join forces and demand with one voice that governments and fossil fuel companies switch as fast as possible from extracting and burning fossil fuels to developing and supporting renewable clean energy sources and lifestyles. Last year Exxon-Mobile made more profit than any company in the history of money, and our government gave them your tax dollars and mine to subsidize that historic windfall, which is killing Mother Nature. Is that okay with you? Of course it’s not. Mother Nature will no longer allow escalating fatal climate change to be a polarizing political issue. This is a matter of life and death for Her, for us, and for our children. It’s time to join hands with our political foes and opposites and force governments and fossil fuel companies to switch to clean renewable energy. Talk it up. Make noise. Write letters to editors. Make art about it. Demonstrate on the streets. 
 
Three Big Things We Can All Do Right Now
 
First: Organize — Join 350.org and Bill McKibben’s efforts to stop climate change, or another group like Citizen’s Climate Lobby, or start your own local organization  to combat climate change in your own region.
 
Second: Boycott — Don’t buy any fossil fuels on Fridays — “Fossil Fuel Free Fridays.”
 
Third: Divest — Remove all your investments from fossil fuel companies, and demand that your churches and colleges and universities and other institutions do the same.
 
Buck up Binky… It’s time to exhibit some courage — It is tempting to feel overwhelmed in the face of humanity’s greatest survival challenge in all of history. “Eco-Anxiety,” denial and avoidance are natural human responses. But we are out of time. There is no time left to pretend that this will just go away. Extreme weather-related disasters, caused by climate change, are increasing rapidly in size and frequency. Many of the actions listed above are easy to do. We can all do them even if we are scared, depressed and overwhelmed. The good news is that governments and companies will be forced to respond even if only 10 — 20% of us join forces and demand change. It is NOT too late. We can do this together — conservatives, liberals and moderates. All together now… SCREAM BLOODY MURDER! Demand an end to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and a switch to clean renewable energy sources.

EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, AND MY 50TH CLASS REUNION

By Paul

I was born on the Day of the Dead, which has always struck me as more than a little odd.  November the 2nd, All Souls Day in the old Catholic tradition which I grew up with, is set aside to celebrate everyone who has died, or at least “all the faithful departed,” as it was said when I was young, since the unfaithful were damned to hell anyway, and there was little reason or need to remember them.

Somehow the notion of being given the gift of life (and it is a great gift!) on the very day dedicated to a special remembrance of death still strikes me as both curious and instructive.  Although as a child I thought of it as strange and a bit disturbing, as an adult, I have come to understand it in more of a mythic or symbolic kind of way.  It’s well known today, for example, that in traditional Mexican culture there has long been a close connection between life and death, and not necessarily a negative one either.  Indeed, almost all cultures which relied on agriculture, as opposed to primarily hunting and gathering, had a special place for death in the stories they told themselves about how to make sense of the world.  Everyone knew that it was only when the seed was buried in the earth that life could begin to stir.  Additionally, it did not take early farmers long to realize that the dead and decaying plants of the year before made excellent fertilizer, the very stuff in fact from which new life grew most abundantly.  So, the equation was a very natural one to make: from death came new life in a most dramatic and tangible way.  

In Aztec mythology too, Mictlantecuhtli, the god of Mictlan, the land of the dead and the lowest region of the netherworld, fought with Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent and bringer of rain, who had descended into Mictlan in order to gather the bones of the ancestors from the previous fourth world in order to make a new creation.  He was just about to escape when Mictlantecuhtli caught up with him, which caused Quetzalcoatl to drop some of the bones.  These bones fell and got smashed, which is why some people are shaped differently from others, and some are smaller, some larger.  The point to be made is that it was necessary to go underground to the abode of the dead in order to create new life.  So once again we see the emergence of these old agricultural myths playing out in the everyday lives of the people.  There is even speculation, as well, that elements of the Christian faith originate from these ancient mythic themes, with Jesus, the Son of God, who died and was subsequently buried in the earth.  New life sprang from him when he rose again from the dead, just as buried seeds do to this day. 

In Celtic mythology, too, we see the celebration of Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”) at this same time of the year.  Samhain was thought of as the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.  It was a time when cattle, those life-giving beasts for the old peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, were slaughtered both as offerings to the gods, and to sustain the people through the long, cold winter months to come. Bonfires were lit, and in some places still are, and the bones of the slaughtered cattle would be burnt therein.  It was also a time when the veil between the two worlds, that of the living and the dead, was considered to be particularly thin, and the dead could come back and walk among the living.  As with Mexicans today, this was not necessarily seen as all that morbid or lugubrious, but instead as a time to reconnect with loved ones who had passed on.  Even so, certain rituals had to be followed very closely, or great harm could come to the living.  The sídhe (pronounced “shee”), those remnants of old Celtic gods now called fairies, were also known to frequent the world of the living on Samhain.  Some of these fairies were not necessarily thought of as all that benevolent, to say the least, and people would sometimes dress up in disguises in order to fool the sídhe into thinking that they were other than who they actually were.  Herein, of course, we see the beginnings of the modern costumes worn on Halloween, which is celebrated the day before All Saints Day (Nov. 1st), and otherwise known as the “Eve of All Hallows,” or “Hallows’ Eve.”  

Much of this mythologizing has become commingled in my mind of late with another event in my life which took place recently.  I returned just this past week to New York in order to attend the 50th reunion of my high school graduating class.  However, to refer to it in this way is actually something of a misnomer, because the group that gathered was much more than classmates who happened to graduate from high school at the same time.  Instead, at age fourteen we had entered into what was then known in the Catholic parlance of the day as a Junior Novitiate, a kind of very strict religious boarding school meant as preparation for entrance into a religious order upon graduation.  This was followed by the Novitiate year, when one takes the robe, as well as a religious name, and becomes a novice.  This is a year of the strictest possible religious discipline.  We kept silence almost all of the time, and spent the majority of our days either in private or communal prayer, or in manual labor.  People still do not believe me when I tell them that I remember digging sumac roots out of the solid, frozen earth in the middle of a snow storm, simply because the Brother Director had told me to do so.  This was known as “holy obedience.” 

Very few of my classmates remained in the religious order I had joined.  Some thirty of us showed up for the reunion, several with their wives, who must have thought us all very odd indeed, and I will admit that, before going, I had some degree of hesitation about attending.  I was wrong to feel any hesitancy, however.  In the end, I rediscovered a very fine group of men, many still Catholic, but some of whom (as I think of it anyway) have now outgrown any need for organized religion.  But all of them have gone on to distinguished careers either in academia, or the sciences, psychology and counseling, the military (perhaps not so surprisingly), journalism, the arts, and in even politics.  The timing of the reunion, so near to the old Celtic New Year of Samhain, or the Mexican Día de los Muertos was, I am sure, accidental.  If you actually believe in accidents, that is.  But it nonetheless made me think of the connection between these kinds of events. 

First of all, there is a way in which all or most of us have, if you will, resurrected into a new life.  We have gone on to create these new forms of ourselves out of defunct monastic ones and made lives which now fit our contemporary individual needs and our own requirement to grow and prosper in ways that corresponded to our talents.  In the process, we learned what we needed to discover both about ourselves and the world around us, a world which, prior to our departure from “religious life” was a thing of mystery, full of anxiety and fear for most of us. 

Having entered upon this life at age fourteen, it is obvious that six or seven or ten years later, when most of us had finally left the confines of monastic life, we knew almost nothing about “the world.”  It was of course a place of wonder and delight for us, as much as it may have caused a degree of trepidation and consternation.  All of the things that boys are supposed to learn during adolescence, how to date, how to work for a salary and make a bit of money, how to travel, to explore, to investigate the world, and especially how to rebel against outside authority and to create one’s own inner authority, all this was new to us.  In that sense, I suppose it could be said that we were, of necessity, late bloomers.  But bloom most of us did, each in his own unique way. 

So, it may have turned out to be quite appropriate that our 50th reunion took place so close to these other events in mythic time that I have mentioned above, when one year is ending and a new one beginning, and when what has died is now celebrated as the beginnings of a new life to come.  Mythology, in this sense, is still very much alive and applicable to our everyday lives.  And maybe it wasn’t so bad after all to have been born on the Day of the Dead, if we think of that day as the ending of one phase, and the subsequent beginning (the resurrecting) of a new one. 

In the end, I am glad that I went back to New York for the reunion.  I did almost, but not quite, get caught in Hurricane Sandy on the way out, but even that can be viewed, if you have a mind to, in a symbolic way.  I had visited my past, and I saw that it was still alive and vibrantly contributing to my present.  And I had seen, too, that I had been able to escape the worst of the roiling, crashing, battering parts of that past, which can cause such damage and destruction in a person’s life.  That, to my mind, is the real meaning of the Day of the Dead, a time when the past rises and contributes in a positive way to the lives we are actually living.  It is a kind of Samhain of the saints, a new year filled with hope, and with a renewed eagerness to go on living, laughing, and creating – always, let us hope, creating.