Friday, December 09, 2011

Aha! The truth comes to light.........

I read this article today on MSNBC. The article highlights how much US defense contractors stand to gain from the Iraqi government buying US weapons. I thought I would post it here along with a few cartoons from Michael Leunig. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one of my Leunig favorites, the one where a massive cargo truck with "LIES" emblazoned on the side is preparing to run down a small car with "TRUTH" written on it. I thought that cartoon was really the best commentary on the above referenced article. Enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Some interesting observations on unemployment

Today I read the article below and thought the author made some interesting observations about the current problem with jobs in America. See what you is an excerpt:

Yes, it's huge. But only 50 people work there.

Optimists argue that the solution to the US's sky-high unemployment and income inequality is more companies like Apple--the resurgent tech company that has revolutionized the digital industry and become one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Apple has not not only created amazing, beloved products. It has created enormous profits, vast shareholder wealth, and more than 60,000 jobs.

If only America produced more companies like Apple (and Amazon, and Google, and Facebook, et al), the story goes, the country's problems will be fixed. America can retrain its vast, idle construction-and-manufacturing workforce, and our unemployment and inequality problems will be solved.

And it is true that having more companies like Apple would certainly help the US.

But we would need a lot more companies like Apple to make a dent in our unemployment and inequality problems.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Network of Global Corporate Control

To go along with the preceding post, here is a fascinating scholarly paper brought to my attention by my colleague Greg Leffel. The article offers a very detailed accounting of how a very small number of transnational corporations exert tremendous control over the sum total of decision making capacity in the global economy. The bulk of the article is very highly technical, but has enough plain text to convey the central points. So, just try to look past all the mathematics (as I did!), and focus on the text. Here is a short excerpt from the beginning of the paper:

"The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers."

Poorest of the poor: Now 1 in 15 Americans

Though sobering and disheartening, this is a nice summary article on the deepening demographic realities of poverty in America. Here are a couple of excerpts:

"New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation's haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty.

In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America."

"For the first time, the share of Hispanics living in poverty is expected to surpass that of African-Americans based on the new measure, reflecting in part the lower participation of immigrants and non-English speakers in government aid programs such as housing and food stamps. The 2009 census estimates show 27.6 percent of all Hispanics living in poverty, compared with 23.4 percent for blacks.

Alba Alvarez, 52, a nanny who chatted recently in Miami, said she is lucky because her employer rents an apartment to her and her husband at a low rate in a comfortable neighborhood on the bay. But her adult children, who followed her to the U.S. from Honduras, are having a tougher time.

They initially found work in a regional wholesale fruit and vegetable market that supplies many local supermarkets. But her youngest son recently lost his job, and since he has no legal status, he cannot get any help from the government.

"As a mother, I feel so horrible. There's this sense of powerlessness. I wanted things to be better for them in this country," Alvarez said. "I (recently) suggested my youngest go back to Honduras. It's easier for me to help him there than here, where rent and everything is so expensive."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Down syndrome's rewards touted as new test looms

I saw this article today and though the title at first seemed counter-intuitive, I quickly thought, "Yeah, that actually does make a lot of sense." I really found the article to be an interesting and provocative look at what really matters in life and what values lead to the most lasting fulfillment.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Social Inequality

I've been reading Zygmunt Bauman's newest book called, "Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities In A Global Age." I've been finding it to be a pretty good and generally insightful read. At the same time I've been talking about these issues with my colleague Greg and listening to his reflections, as he's been reading a related book called, "The Spirit Level," that also addresses the topic of social and economic inequalities and how these dynamics affect the surrounding society. I hope to be posting some selects passages from these books in the near future. But for the moment I thought I would post a short but thought provoking article that I read today on MSN about the riots in London. It highlights something that is at the forefront of my mind every time I'm allowed to exercise the exorbitant privilege of travelling and seeing so many different parts of the world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Efficacy of Life

I seem to remember writing in this space some time ago about a book by Henri Nouwen called "Reaching Out." That book is one of the most important books I've ever read, and continues to reverberate within me to this day. However, I must admit that over the course of the last year I've been falling away from some of the vital disciplines that I learned in this spiritual classic. Any of you who've read the book will remember that Nouwen constructs his narrative around what he describes as the 3 critical movements of the spiritual life, viz. the movements from loneliness to solitude, hostility to hospitality and illusion to prayer. I remember how stunningly clear and navigable Nouwen's guidance made my internal geography seem at that time; and what followed were some of the most spiritually rewarding months I can remember. I was feeling profoundly alone going into this meditation, and as a result quite hostile to life and those around me, as well as lost in a number of internal illusions and illusory remedies. The realization that I needed to move away from my own pain-and trying to conform my life-world to the perceived needs arising from it-and move toward God in solitude, was as profound and cathartic a spiritual revelation as I've had.

So, why am I sharing about this at present? I'm sharing because a series of events over the last six-months has cast me again into that all too familiar space of loneliness; and though manifestly aware of past experience and clear about the contours of this rugged land, I've mostly tried to make my own way. Suffice it to say that such an approach only leads to the same old illusions. How slow we are not only in learning, but in remembering what we've thus learned!

So, today I'm on my way back from lunch, and as I approach the back of our office through the parking lot, I'm looking directly at the back of the building, as always. Only today, unlike dozens and dozens of other days over the last several months, I'm finally captured by the message of the very amateurish graffiti scrawled on the building a few months ago: not alone. I look at it, shake my head and have to laugh at how foolish I feel to have come to work every day for the last several months, looking at these words, and never once allow them to look at me. I guess the hand-writing is on the wall....the joke is on me.......and the efficacy of life and God's provision-however improbable it might be-is made plain once again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making Our Mark?

Here is a link to a fascinating article in The Economist about what some geologists are saying about the recent and accelerating impacts of humanity on the earth and some of its cycles.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reconsidering the "War on Drugs"

Over the past few weeks I've enjoyed reading a series of articles that address the topic of the "War on Drugs." It seems that there is at least a small groundswell of new reflection and debate about this longstanding policy and its implications for our country and our immediate neighbors. I'll offer a few links for those of you who might be interested in reading further. These links are to articles questioning the effectiveness and sensibility of the policy, and therefore take a critical point of view. Please feel free to post or e-mail me links or directions to dissenting opinions should you so desire.




Thursday, June 02, 2011

What Does Lady Liberty Mean Today?

Last night (when I should have been in bed resting) I enjoyed watching the last part of Lawrence O'Donnel's show. I especially enjoyed the message of last night's "Rewrite." While out of town this past week I was having a discussion with an acquaintance who works in investments. I was surprised when, in the natural course of the conversation, he stated very strongly that people need to realize that the long-term prosperity and strength of the American economy depends upon "opening the borders" to liberal (as in copious) immigration. We talked about it and I agreed with him that the long-term demographic picture for America gives it a potential advantage due to immigration. Obviously there are many other big long-term issues relating to sustainability and the like, but this is one particular case that is interesting to me because it says so much about how we tend to view things when looking only at the immediate circumstances. Anyhow, here is the link to the "Rewrite".

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coal....also helps put the lights out.....

Here is a link to a nice article in the NY Times about a tiny "mining" town in West Virginia that was forwarded to me this morning.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Missionary Attitude

Some well-worn and time tested wisdom that I encountered today, along with a picture of my kids from the UK Arboretum that somehow captures for me much of what is expressed below.

First, some thoughts from Thomas Merton (From "A Letter To A Young Activist"):

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specfic people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right.

...the big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them: but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that your have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ's truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappoiuntment, frustration and confusion.

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do his will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand...

Enough of is at least a gesture...I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best, in Christ, Tom.

And a few more from Oscar Romero:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about: We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, and opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen- Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The phrase "practical theology" should be a redundancy

Reading this week on John Wesley's theology and came across this:

"Thus, as Wesley understood and practiced theology, the defining task of "real" theologians was neither developing an elaborate System of Christian truth-claims nor defending these claims to their "cultured despisers"; it was nurturing and shaping the worldview that frames the temperament and practice of believers' lives in the world. Theologians may well engage in apologetic dialogues or in reflection on doctrinal consistency, but ideally because -- and to the extent that -- these are in service to their more central task."

Sometimes it's difficult to remember, while in the midst of writing my dissertation, exactly what purpose it's going to serve; so I'm grateful to God for these simple, daily reminders of who I am and what I'm to be about. And I'm all the more grateful to be blessed with advisors and friends who not only agree with this, but insist upon it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Some good news.....for me......

Over the last year I've been walking pretty closely with a friend (of many years) who is trying to put his life back together after an extended stay in prison. In respect of his privacy I will not go into the details surrounding his incarceration or his life in general. What I will say is that he, like most other "ex-cons," is finding it very hard to make the adjustment to life "outside the walls." As he looks for gainful employment and relationship, he drags with him every day the permanent ball-and-chain of "felony offender," as well as the deleterious effects of the enforced "institutionalization" mentality (and the related damage caused by "doing what you've got to do" to survive in prison). It is a difficult and perpetually painful journey for him that I can't begin to understand. All that I can do, as a person of quite considerable privilege, is to try to do my best to be present with him in the struggle and assist him in opening what windows of opportunity he can. He has undoubtedly made some mistakes, and he undoubtedly could have chosen to make some different choices at certain important points of time; but what anyone in my position cannot (in time) fail to recognize is that some of us undoubtedly pay a much steeper and more permanent cost for our mistakes than do others. What my friend is suffering at the moment borders upon and routinely crosses over into what Zygmunt Bauman calls, "Civic Death"-a form of life-long exclusion from the mainstream of society (quoting from Morelly's work entitled the "Code of Nature"). And it conjures up for me another further thought from Bauman's work on "The Human Costs of Globalization (from the section entitled "Factories of Immobility):"

"(Pierre) Bourdieu points out that the State of California, celebrated by some European sociologists as the very paradise of liberty, dedicates to the building and the running costs of prisons a budget transcending by far the sum total of state funds allocated to all the institutions of higher education. Imprisonment is the ultimate and most radical form of spacial confinement. It also seems to be the main concern and focus of attention of the government by the political elite at the forefront of contemporary 'time/space compression.'

Spatial confinement, incarceration of varying degrees of stringency and harshness, has been at all times the prime method of dealing with the unassimilable, difficult-to-control, and otherwise trouble-prone sectors of the population. Slaves were confined to the slave quarters. So were lepers, madmen, and ethnic or religious aliens. If allowed to wander beyond their allotted quarters, they were obliged to wear the signs of their spatial assignment so that everybody was aware that they belonged to another space. Spatial separation leading to enforced confinement has been over the centuries almost a visceral, instinctual fashion of responding to all difference, and particularly such difference that could not be, or was not wished to be, accommodated within the web of habitual social intercourse. The deepest meaning of spatial separation was the banning or suspension of communication, and so the forcible estrangement.

Estrangement is the core function of spatial separation. Estrangement reduces, thins down and compresses the view of the other: individual qualities and circumstances which tend to be vividly brought within sight thanks to the accumulated experience of daily intercourse, seldom come into view when the intercourse is emaciated or prohibited altogether: typification takes then the place of personal familiarity, and legal categories meant to reduce the variance and to allow it to be disregarded render the uniqueness of person and cases irrelevant (p.106-7)."

So, as I'm reflecting today upon my friends struggle (trying to stave-off the spectre of "Civic Death"), wringing my hands over the extensive ongoing implications of the (aptly) so-called "prison-industrial complex" and working to continue building my own estimate of the costs of the "glocalization" of society, I was reminded of that (now much deeper) statement of Jesus: "I was in prison, and you visited me." This is a statement that takes on a much deeper and far more expansive meaning when we account for the analysis of Bauman and others and come to understand just how deeply this exhortation of Jesus goes, and how far it must go to become the "leaven" that slowly works its way through the deepest recesses and abscesses of our world's dysfunction and alienation bringing healing and reconciliation (mixed metaphor intended:). This is the good news! In a society where all of the different strata and groups are in some way or another, or at some point or another, variously calling for enforced "justice" and attempting to throw one another into prison for their myriad "transgressions"-the white collars and the blue collars, the lefts and the rights, the 'socialists' and the 'capitalists' the politicians and the people-Jesus steps into this picture and says what? It truly must be one of his most revolutionary and liberating statements.......