Saturday, September 17, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 4

Green is an equivocal color. It is green that lightens our hearts as winter gives way to spring. It is also the color of sickness. It is the lush, vibrant color of life. It is the dark, foreboding color of the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.

My original thought was to compose a couple shots that hinted at it. Because that is the insidiousness of envy. It eats away at us, gnaws at our sense of ourselves, destroys families, communities, drives a wall between populations in entire nations.

Yet, it is rarely named. We stare at the world through the green-tinged eyes of envy, without ever realizing that, like all monsters, it becomes smaller, more manageable, once it is named.

It is, also, empty - it convinces us we are empty when, in fact, it is a hollow shell, a bottomless pit into which we cast our lives and fortunes, only to discover they have failed to fill it.

So, a somewhat adequate representation on our dry-erase board of something green. With a tedious, pedantic explanation.

Friday, September 16, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 3

I guess I really don't know those strato-cumulo-nimbal things at all. Clouds? Sure.

I was thinking yesterday afternoon I should go out and snap a photo or two of the beautiful little white puffy things floating in an otherwise clear blue sky. I awoke this morning and the sky is . . . overcast.

On the one hand, it does make it easier to take a picture of clouds. All I have to do is point the camera up and click.

Hazarding a guess, this isn't exactly what the folks who designed this had in mind. Or, maybe it is. I went back and cropped a picture I took last weekend from the balcony of my hotel room over looking the Chemung River Valley, to highlight a couple small clouds on the southwestern horizon.

I'm a lousy cloud-picture-taker because when I look at clouds I see . . . water vapor in the sky. I don't see shapes. I don't think poetic thoughts. I don't have whimsical notions. Clouds are just clouds. So, these photos, especially the final dim one, are kind of fitting. As much as I'd like the photos to be something more, they are, in the end, just clouds.

Lisa's clouds are more diverse, tinkered with, and yet . . . condensed water vapor. I'm so boring.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

30 Day Photo Challenge, Day 2

The subject for today is "what I wore". Since it is prior to me wearing anything at all (well, you know what I mean; or do you . . .), I thought I capture them "before" - set out on our unmade bed - and "after" - what they will look like heaped on the floor right before I climb in to that unmade bed some time tonight.

Setting is everything, I think. A messy bed, rumpled clothes both before and after - complete with holes! - say much about me. Or maybe they say little more than I was in a hurry and haven't yet got around to pulling the comforter up. Who knows?

UPDATE: Lisa is wearing stuff, too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Something Completely Different, & I Mean It This Time

I am so freaking bored with politics. Tired to the bone. My theology posts generally feel like I'm going through the motions. So, in lieu of anything better to do, I'm taking the 30 Day Photography Challenge. You have Mrs. Golden to blame, or thank, for this. I'm no one's idea of a great photographer, but I thought, "What can I lose?" So, here are the rules for the next month:

Because I can't decide, I thought I'd post the least worst of the several shots I took sitting here at my desk right before I started this post:

See what I mean by "least worst"? So, over the coming days, it'll be clouds and hands and close-ups and animals and someone I love and the clothes I'm wearing. It doesn't say I have to be in them when I take the picture, though.

Before, During, And After The Flood

So we left last Thursday evening, heading to the latest natural disaster.

The last exit open on Interstate 86 was for my hometown. Just a few miles east, from Nichols all the way past Binghamton, the highway was swamped as it snakes its way beside and over the Susquehanna, which hasn't flooded like this in 40 years. They were helicoptering families out of the Cannon Hole area of Barton. The Tioga County seat, Owego, saw its historic courthouse square under several feet of water, along with much of the rest of the town. Athens, PA, which suffered so much 39 years ago during the Hurricane Agnes flooding saw much of it, again, inundated, along with various stretches of US 220, particularly between Milan and Ulster. Bridges were washed away, roads undermined, houses floated away. In Owego, several homes burned because fire crews couldn't get through several feet of rushing flood waters to stop them.

Meanwhile, Congress dithers over providing disaster relief. What was a routine part of law-making life - providing assistance to people who need it - has now become part of the larger nonsensical game of politics. Which is not to make a blanket condemnation of "politics" or "politicians". Rather, it is to make the far more pointed argument that, at least for the moment, we should all probably pick up a phone and make a call to our US Representative (the Senate passed disaster relief last night) and urge a "Yea" vote on disaster relief. Send a message to the nutjobs in Congress that it might be nice to have them act less like sociopaths.

If you are reading this and are on Facebook, even if you aren't a "friend", go find the page for Henry Dunn Inc. and click "like". For every "Like" they get, they will donate a dollar to flood relief. This is very real, and you can "unlike" in a few days if you have no desire to get updates from an insurance company. Every little bit helps, right?

Help On The Way (Live, Boston, 1991) - The Grateful Dead
Love's Recovery (Live) - The Indigo Girls
Loose Heart - Riverside
Deutsche Messe - Franz Schubert
After the Ordeal - Genesis
Still - The Commodores
Giants Under The Sun - Yes
Revelation - Symphony X
Cosmic Fusion - Ayreon
GOUDEAMUS (All Saints Day) - Gregorian Chorale of Eglise Querin

This is where folks from Binghamton, NY to Harrisburg, PA are right now, living after the ordeal. Do what you can to help 'em out. It might even make you feel a little better.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Military, Part I - Supporting The Troops

A few months back, commenter Edwin Drood yelled at me to stop pretending to support American military personnel because, being a liberal, I obviously didn't care about them. This came in response to a post I had written which was all about supporting the troops. In other words, he seemed to be insisting the entire post was a fabrication, questioning the integrity of my stated positions as a facade, a public ruse. Why he did this I do not know, except perhaps out of the knee-jerk conservative idea that we liberals and lefties hate the US military.

With all the folderol surrounding the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001, one part that has been strangely absent has been commentary about the wars that flowed from that event. One, the invasion of Afghanistan, heated up yesterday with a Taliban attack on the US embassy in Kabul. The other, our war of choice in Iraq, while winding down, still sees 43,000 American service personnel stationed in-country, with debates over whether the December deadline for final withdrawal could be modified to leave behind as many as 3,000 American troops - too small to be really effective, just large enough to be a nice target for the on-going, low-level insurgency.

In the intervening years, the stories of the official neglect of our armed forces have been legion. From former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's choice to do the Iraq invasion on the cheap - too few troops, too little ammunition, thin supply lines susceptible to interruption, too little body armor, too little armor on personnel carriers - to the stage-managed stories of heroism that turned out to be false, to the lack of adequate troop presence in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein to prevent both massive looting (including Iraq's world-important museum of antiquities) and a rise in sectarian and sectional violence, creating a state of de facto civil war for nearly a decade. In the intervening years, the parsimony toward the troops has included lack of adequate training in local customs, lack of support for troops facing the psychological strains of low-level combat, and, of course, the horrendous conditions facing troops who muster out of the service only to find the Department of Veterans Affairs to be insouciant toward everything from nagging battle wounds to PTSD. Even the physical plant of DVA hospitals has been found wanting, crumbling, peeling paint, to go along with a lack of adequate care for everything from the psychological toll of battle on young men and women to making snap judgments that deny care to vets.

All of these, and more, have been on-going under both Republican and Democratic Administrations and Congresses, so it isn't partisan. While we can listen to silly people who spout slogans, the fact remains that this has been done under what can only be termed moderately to extremely conservative ideological conditions.

Just before the Iraq invasion, I attended one of those silly, pointless "debates" on the issue, this one at Illinois Valley Community College. One of the people at the debate, who claimed to be a philosophy professor, insisted we who oppose the war cannot claim, simultaneously, to support the troops, as he put it, "qua troops", because as soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen, their job was to do the very thing we opposed. Thus, it is intellectually inconsistent to insist that we both oppose the war and support the troops. I found this position to be one of the funniest, most infuriating things I have ever heard.

The wars we are still fighting are not the fault of our military personnel. Despite what far too many ignorant folks on the left believe, the military does not make policy. Sure, they recommend various policies, including military contingencies - that is their job, after all - but they do not make the decision to go to war, nor do they, in the final analysis, determine either strategy or overall battle plan. Because the military is under civilian control, responsibility for that lies solely with the Executive Branch. When the President, the Secretary of Defense and various civilian underlings make a decision, the uniformed service chiefs and their staffs do the only thing they can do - they carry out their orders, to the best of their abilities, with their eyes on doing so in such a way as to ensure minimal casualties, and bring about as swift a conclusion as possible. That is their duty.

Furthermore, the US military, for all the Defense budget really is a bloated, unmanageable blister - it is literally impossible, even for all the accountants and auditors in the Department of Defense, to keep track of all that money - since the end of the Cold War, the amount spent on actual service personnel has declined, and continues to do so even in a time of war. Our current fiscal situation is a reflection of our national refusal to support our troops, to set the nastiness and ugliness of war to one side and carry on our national affairs as if we were a nation at peace, rather than one which has committed hundreds of thousands of our young men and women to combat in far-flung places, risking their lives with inadequate funding, inadequate equipment, and inadequate official support (not including the lack of either a strategy or, as the saying goes, an end-game, particularly in Afghanistan). No amount of repetition of these realities seems able to change this situation. Our politics is just too warped, too entrenched in multiple unrealities.

In 2003, weeks before the Iraq invasion, I gave a talk to a group of folks in a church setting in which I spoke against the impending invasion, and in which I declared that the stated reasons for the invasion - the presence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction - were a lie. One person came up to me after and was quite visibly enraged. As he spoke of his son's presence in Kuwait, preparing for the invasion, and how my words had "dishonored" him, I asked him, "Why is a speech insisting that our troops should not be risked on a lie a dishonor? Isn't it a greater dishonor to risk one's life for a lie?"

I understood, even then, that the emotional investment so many Americans have, once our troops have been committed to battle, is far too high to entertain questions about the motives and methods of our politicians. We are simply to remain silent and "support the troops". Since that time I have come to realize the phrase is empty as long as there is not a sustained commitment to think through what the commitment entails, the sacrifices we all must make to ensure their mission is carried through expeditiously, and that the civilians who control the military have done all they can to plan, provide, and protect our young men and women in uniform. They have volunteered to serve us, to set their lives and fortunes aside in order to make sure the United States is safe. The least they deserve is competent civilian management and the attention from the public to their sacrifices so that, before, during, and after the guns go off, they get what they need.

Virtual Tin Cup

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