Saturday, August 11, 2012

For Hire!

I just sent the following email:

Mr. Stengel,

With the public announcement of Fareed Zakaria's suspension both from your own publication and CNN, I am writing to offer my services as a replacement columnist.  Having written daily on my web log, "What's Left In The Church", for over six and a half years, without ever once writing anything not my own words without attribution, I believe I come fully qualified not only as having proved I can produce the work required.  I can do so without any fear I might be yet another mainstream journalist/commentator caught in the plagiarism trap.

Hiring a blogger would also reduce your costs, as I would work for far less than I am sure you paid Mr. Zakaria.  Needing only to produce a single piece of writing once a week, I believe an initial fee of $100 per column would be more than adequate compensation.  That would, of course, be subject to review based upon reader response, the links from any columns I would write to other columnists, bloggers, and internet users.

Furthermore, hiring a blogger would mean little in the way of training on the mechanics of writing on the internet.  Since I do so every single day, I am well aware of how to use a variety of platforms, and would feel right at home almost immediately.

Finally, hiring a blogger would give Time immediate visibility and publicity.  It would attract a new and desired cohort to your readership as people might well check and see what, precisely, I might do for and in your venerable magazine.  It would create the kind of marketing buzz too few publications now have, as you made a daring move to include new voices more familiar with new technologies as well as various traditions already existing within the communities that discuss politics on the Internet.

The only requests I would make are two.  First, I would require complete editorial freedom as regards topics and approach.  While I certainly respect the right of editorial oversight regarding style, word limit, and appropriateness, I believe we as a nation are best served by as wide an array of viewpoints as possible.  With that in mind, I would only ask that I not be asked to approach subjects from any particular point of view.  Second, for the sake of my family, I would need to work from my home in rural Elgin, IL.  While the occasional visit to the offices in New York City would certainly be necessary, I see little reason to uproot my family and move to the New York Metropolitan Area.  The advent of the internet would seem to me to let this be the easier of the two requests I am making.

As of today, August 11, 2012, I have published 3,585 post at the following site:  You may look through them at your leisure.  Consider these my clippings in my application.  Thank you in advance for your consideration.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via my email address,, or my personal cell phone number, (XXX) XXX-XXXX.


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford
Yes, I really did send this off to Time.  No, I don't expect them to take it seriously.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghosts

Just in time for my usual late-summer/early-autumn foray in to my self-indulgent ghost post, along with sparing me the effort of working too hard here so I can get a whole lot of far more difficult writing done elsewhere, I want to relate an incident that occurred at casa Kruse-Safford last Wednesday night.

It was about ten p.m., and I had gone to the garage to make sure all the animals were inside for the evening.  I noticed the driver-side rear door of my car was open.  My first reaction was frustration with our younger daughter for not closing it.  Then, I realized that when she'd exited the car earlier that day, she had gone out the passenger side, because it's closer to the door from the garage to the house.  I then wondered why it was hanging open - not far, mind you, but clearly open, with the dome light shining bright - and figured my wife was perhaps rooting around in the back seat for something.  What, I couldn't possibly imagine.  Furthermore,  it was light enough and clear enough that if anyone was over there, I would have seen them.  There was no one there.

Still, I figured someone had to be over there, so I took a couple steps toward my car and called out my wife's name.

That's when the car door closed.  On its own.

Like most garages, ours is an acoustic nightmare.  The smallest sound becomes amplified by repeated echoing off the wood walls and concrete floor.  Not just the sight of the door closing but the audible "fwump" as it did so, with the automatic door locks engaging and the tail lights flickering to signal the car was now locked - all of that was both clearly visible and audible.  I stood still for a moment, and I won't deny a certain ill sensation in my gut.  Not so much frightened, I will admit to being more than a little unnerved by the experience.

Which didn't stop me from walking over and seeing who might have closed my door.  As I wrote above, the garage was lit well enough that another human being would have been clearly visible.  I saw no one.  All the same, there has been a rash of break-ins in our general area in recent weeks, so it was at least possible someone was checking out my dented, six-year-old Kia for any goodies it might contain (all the while ignoring the tens of thousands of dollars of DJ equipment stored out there, my wife's car, the other contents of the garage like lawn and garden tools) and I walked the five or so steps from where I had stood just behind my wife's car behind my own and looked down the driver side toward the front of my car and the rear wall of the garage.

No one.  No sound of someone trying to scuffle away.  No shadow of someone crouching behind the front end of my car.  I looked left and right, and I saw nothing.  There was no one in the garage except me.  I tried the handle of my car and, just as the lights indicated, it was locked (a safety feature on the Kia I happen to like; I don't have to engage the remote locks if the rear doors close after the front doors because they do so automatically).  Except, I hadn't locked my car when I got out of it that afternoon, and I had seen the rear door close and the lights flash indicating that the door locks had engaged.

I stood for another moment, looked around the garage again, then went in the house.  I locked the door behind me - again, something I do every night; we live in the middle of nowhere but safety first and all that - and, seeing Lisa at the kitchen sink doing some late-night dishes, said, "That was the freakiest thing I've ever seen," and proceeded to tell her what had just happened.

Lisa was more put out by the events I related than I was, to be honest.  Getting over the initial surprise of seeing something happen that shouldn't happen, I became, in a day or two, more intrigued by it than anything.  While I haven't started setting up cameras in the garage or returning each night at the same time, I would enjoy seeing it, or something similar, happen again.  Singular events such as this, while interesting, mean little. As I told my youngest sister on the phone, it's just a car door closing.  I do not for one moment believe our house haunted (although, if it were, that would be awesome; more on that in a moment).

I have come to the conclusion that, whatever the phenomena we label "hauntings" might be, there is little of which to be scared.  If, indeed, they are the physical manifestations of some non-physical remnant of human beings, then at worst they are little more than attention-getting devices.  Were our house haunted, it wouldn't be something about which to tremble.  On the contrary, it would demonstrate that someone loved this place enough to hang out after they were "gone" (whatever that might mean), indicating an emotional attachment linked to fond memories and pleasant experiences.  Far from finding such a thing frightening, I find solace in the fact that others who once lived in the space my family now occupies had such an attachment.  It bodes well for my family's sojourn here.

For what it's worth, that's what happened and how I feel about what happened.  It isn't something about which I worry or brood.  It isn't something that scares me, prevents me from going to the garage, makes me jump at each little bump and knock our very noisy house makes.  Should such an event or a similar such occur, it would mean for me that something might just want to let someone know it's still out and about, which I might well acknowledge with joy.

Last night, Lisa and I were waiting for Moriah to get home from a party.  We were sitting and watching Season 8 of NCIS on DVD.  The episode in which recurring character Mike Franks is murdered was on.  In a flashback, Franks and Gibbs are talking about the possibility that we see ghosts.  In a piece of writing that I find really beautiful, Franks says, "We see them.  Our lives are filled with them, not just the ones we kill, but the ones we remember.  That's why, wherever I go, I make sure the space is filled with lots of naked women."  The last part is a good line, but I like so much the idea that our lives are, indeed, filled with the spirits of those who have shared our lives at one time or another; the ghosts of our lives aren't just those who have died, but who have passed from our lives to whatever came next for them.  Lingering in our hearts and minds, we keep them close as we knew them in order to keep that part of our lives real.  It also serves to keep them alive as well, even if an arrested, attenuated life.

To live surrounded by such would not be a burden.  It wouldn't be frightening.  I wouldn't consider it a threat to my family.  I would welcome such experiences as part of the wonder and mystery that is our world, a celebration of life-in-death that, after all, resonates with my own Christian faith quite well.  Still, what happened isn't anything at all like that.  It was a car door closing.  Intriguing, to be sure, yet hardly anything to cast me running and screaming like a little girl from my own garage.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Soundtrack Of Your Life

It's been a crazy summer here at casa Kruse-Safford.  My ten day sojourn back at my Ancestral Villa was an unexpected break for me even as the rest of my family puttered about their busy lives.  The recovery of our equanimity has been slow, not aided by an impending trip by Lisa and Miriam to southern Illinois to visit Lisa's 98 year old paternal grandmother, in hopes of beginning the discussion that might bring her to live out her remaining years with us.  For someone for whom stability and routine seem necessary for psychological balance, the past five or six weeks have been a life-lesson in the need to cope with the sudden and rapid succession of change.

I was inspired to do this, in part, because I read Scott McLemee's review of The Mind's Ear, with his invocation of the soundtrack that accompanies reading any particular philosopher.

In order to help myself a bit, I'm thinking of reworking my "Thoughts on America" series of posts into a set of two or three more coherent, clear, and slightly longer essays with the intention of offering the final product for publication.  I was re-reading them yesterday, and despite many flaws, I think there are many more virtues there.  This will require a bit more work, so at least for today, rather than exhaust my brain on yet another blog post (I was actually considering highlighting yet another Romney campaign goof but the poor guy has suffered enough, I think) I thought I'd do something light and fun.

Moriah is taking AP American History, which includes quite a bit of summer work, both reading and writing. She has been dutiful and consistent, working through each day, the ear buds firmly attached to her iPhone as she does her work with the music that keeps her happy.  Lord knows I can't complain about that.  Doing homework to music was a necessity in my youth; I would put an album on the turntable, sometimes agonizing over which record to play.

Last night at dinner, Moriah confessed that she "didn't like" Bob Marley, although the only song she knew by name, "Three Little Birds", was one she did like.  I then told the story of sitting around the dining room table in my childhood home with my mother, my sister, and my niece, playing some of the songs I'd loaded on my iPhone.  The first one I played was Opeth's "Heir Apparent".
Moriah countered with her current near-obsession, the British boy band One Direction.

Miriam parried this with K. T. Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree".
Back at my childhood home, I also played for my sister Amos Lee's "Violin", because I know that's the kind of thing she would love.
And I played "Poetry Man" by Phoebe Snow for my family last night.
This diverse set of music reminded me of the wonderful differences among even those who share so much.

I should note that some music I reserve for special occasions.  Early mornings, in particular, seem fitted to jazz, the music of Vangelis, and other such things.  I can listen to Joni Mitchell and CSNY for hours on end during high spring, but that music seems ill-suited for late summer/early fall when different songs make their appearance (my personal favorite as summer winds in to autumn is October Project, a short-lived pop group featuring the marvelous lead singer Mary Fahl.  Her recording of an old Arabic wedding song is stunning.
What sets your mood, not just for a day, but perhaps for a season?  What keeps you going while you're reading or sitting at your desk either at the office or home?  What music, whether long ago or just the past hour, passed through your ears making you smile, keeping you going?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Thousand Words, At Least

As a follow on to this post . . .

I know it won't shut anyone up, but a nice dose of reality warms the soul.

When Accountants Run The Churches

I almost wrote about this story yesterday, but needed to get that overview of Romney-Thus-Far off my chest.  To say I was appalled is to add a mild descriptor to my reaction.
The General Board of Global Ministries' independent audit committee recommended at its annual meeting that the agency suspend funding to the United Methodist East Africa Annual Conference (EAAC).
In a report submitted to Global Ministries, the auditors noted that they had conducted three internal audits of the treasury of the EAAC in Kampala, Uganda, since April 2011. The most recent audit was as complete as possible with the available records. It was conducted during a two-week period ending June 30, 2012, and covered projects funded from 2009, 2010, and 2011.
The report stated in its recommendation "that all funds for the conference be suspended indefinitely, until such time as the EAAC is prepared to accept responsibility to be accountable and all internal controls have been put in place."
 The projects reviewed and affected by the suspension of funds include, among others, Humble United Methodist School, Humble United Methodist Vocational High School, Hope for Africa Children's Choir Music Academy, Mukono and Namunkanaga HIV/AIDS and Malaria Awareness, Trinity United Methodist Church in Wanyange, United Methodist Women Center in Jinja, and the United Methodist Empowerment Center of Jinja.
The audit report was emailed to Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who leads the EAAC. The Global Ministries audit committee will continue to seek resolution on the outstanding issues.
Global Ministries accepted the independent audit committee's recommendation and has suspended all funding to the EAAC effective immediately.
I wasn't sure about the boundaries, but the East Africa Annual Conference, according to the United Methodist Church's website,  include the nations of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda, with Episcopal offices in Uganda's capital of Kampala.

So . . . because the conference exists across the boundaries of nations living with varieties of internal strife, despotism, civil war and secession, the threat of the spread of militant Islam and terrorist groups (the northeast of Kenya, bordering the near non-state of Somalia, is pretty much an armed camp as Kenya defends itself from the radicals trying to move south), the ravages of neo-colonialism, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, endemic corruption, official neglect from their putative First World allies; for all these reasons, the United Methodist Church, in its infinite wisdom is going to punish United Methodist Christians who live and work in these countries.

It was a Capt. Renault moment for those auditors, announcing themselves "shocked! shocked!" that there might be problems with financial audits in countries with the abundant problems listed above.  Which, obviously, should not be read as a defense of any potential malfeasance on the part of church officials; since none is alleged that doesn't seem to be the problem.  Rather, the problem is the Conference doesn't have, according to their own auditors, "internal controls".  Without specifics, I'm guessing that means applying the rules for fiduciary responsibility contained in the United Methodist Discipline.

The list of ministries effected by the abrupt end of funding is not only long, but diverse, some of which address the most pressing problems across national boundaries.

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, St. Paul defends his ministry, apostleship, and his right to chastise the Corinthian congregation from a variety of attacks laid upon him by the nitpickers who insist he has no right or reason to act the way he has.  In the course of his defense, he insists that, rather than rely upon the abundant and contrary claims of human authority, he rests solely upon what he calls "the law of Christ" (in contrast, specifically in the text, to what he calls "the law of God").  He describes himself as willing to be all things to all people in order to do the one thing to which he has been called - spread the Gospel.

Rather than focus on the first part of the chapter, I think we should remember this last part in our dealings with settings and contexts with which we are unfamiliar.  Rather than cut off funding, wouldn't it be wonderful if GBGM decided to be all things to all people, so the gospel could be preached and lived in the nations of east Africa?  Wouldn't it be nice if it found ways to work with and around local conditions that create barriers for the kinds of accountability controls other areas consider necessary?  Rather than demand the churches in east Africa conform to a set of standards that would be impossible to apply, wouldn't it be nice if GBGM thanked the accountants for their work, sat down with the Bishop and the pastoral and lay leadership in east Africa and said, "What do we need to do in order more effectively to do the work of the United Methodist Church?"

That would take humility, though.  And wisdom.  A smattering of cunning, certainly, as well as a heaping dose of leadership.  This year has demonstrated an abundant lack of these virtues among "the leadership" of the United Methodist Church.  So, we surrender the ministry of the church in east Africa to the bean counters (I keep picturing the teacher in the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall for some reason).  Rather than work with them both to get them the funds they need to do their work but also to start to put in place those "internal controls" about which they seem so concerned, we're just going to punish the churches and the people they serve.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Romney Campaign

I think we should take stock of the presumptive Republican nominee for President and his campaign over the previous couple weeks.

He went on a foreign trip in which he insulted his British hosts, alienated millions of Palestinian and Arabs with a declaration that he will reverse decades of American policy on the status of Jerusalem, and managed to make it through Poland with the endorsement of an aging and unpopular former President.  In a year in which the single biggest issue voters care about is the economy, one would have thought such a trip might have been far more low key.  Instead, he managed to display a kind of ineptitude that was both glorious and appalling at the same time.

He returned home and, almost immediately, opened up two attacks upon President Obama that are demonstrably false.  First there was the whole Ohio voting suit.  The past couple days have seen him go after waivers the Obama Administration has granted to states on the administration of welfare funds and programs, waivers for which he applied when governor of Massachusetts.  Both stories, resulting in vigorous pushback from the parties involved, the press, and the Obama campaign, demonstrate - if any more demonstration was needed - how beholden Romney feels himself to the crazy wing of the Republican Party.

At the same time all this has been going on, his increased visibility has certainly changed the poll numbers.  Now, I have said in the past that I'm not a big fan of polling.  I'm not.  Recently participating in a phone poll conducted by Rasmussen, I can testify to the odd nature of contemporary polling practice and procedure, while I wonder at the statistical methods such companies use to evaluate the rather odd results that must flow from such a stilted way of conducting public surveys.  In any case, with all these caveats and warnings, the evidence from polling data, taken with as many grains of salt as one might think necessary, is clear: The more folks hear and see Romney, the less they like him.  His negatives have hit record highs, his personal approval numbers are in George W. Bush territory, and President Obama has taken a lead not only in those "swing states" that are so dearly loved by political reporters.  The President has a near-statistically significant lead nationally, with a huge majority in potential Electoral College votes.

With the Republican National Convention shaping up to highlight some of the most unpopular Republican elected officials - Nikki Hailey from South Carolina, Rick Scott from Florida, and John Kasich from Ohio - Party chair Reince Priebus (I had to check Google on the spelling) has made it clear he wants the single least popular Republican celebrity, Sarah Palin, to speak, something many of us would endorse.  Nothing would demonstrate the total disconnect from reality that effects the Republican Party like having Palin in a primetime speaking spot.  I read somewhere yesterday the Republicans are gearing up for a repeat of 1992, when they gave Pat Buchanan primetime and it destroyed the Bush campaign.

There is a whole lot of chatter about the effect outside money will have on the Presidential race, and it is true enough that the Republicans have a clear lead on this front.  All the same, while this might effect down-ballot races, I'm puzzled as to how Romney, so beholden to that part of the electorate that believes Pres. Obama is a socialist born in Kenya, raised by Marxist tutors and paling around with domestic terrorists, recovers from a display of their florid psychosis.

None of this should be taken as an attack upon those voters who call themselves Republican but are not ready for their dose of Thorazine.  It is, however, a warning.  There might well be many attractive Republican candidates for any number of offices, from US Congress to county coroner that deserve election.  At the national level, however, the Republican Party has become less a body uniting a coalition of groups in order to govern the nation by developing particular policies, and more a conglomerate of wealthy, powerful individuals who exploit fear and social and economic unease to ensure their continued wealth and power.  While the Democrats are beholden to many of these same groups, the money trail this year is pretty clear; the folks who write the big checks think the Republicans are stupid enough to ignore the many ways they will be screwed by Republican policies.

Romney cannot escape this reality.  That's why, as people learn more about him, Obama takes a clear lead.  The stars just aren't in their courses for the guy this year, I guess.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Gaze In Wild Wonder (UPDATE)

Depressed and saddened by the contraction of our national vision, the meanness and occasional idiocy of our politics, and the devout desire to remember our greatness as a country lies not in the banalities of commercial life but our ability to achieve what many thought impossible, I wrote this post back on June 11.
All we are currently offered by way of some consoling vision is the comfort of material gain.  We see so many threats around the globe, we no longer believe it possible to do much more than keep them at some arm's length, staving off the eventual disaster.

We have become more than cowardly.  We, as a people, have become blind.  We have lost the ability even to celebrate that which is best about all of us as a people.  We stagger through our days, hoping only that the collapse will come tomorrow, grateful at the end of each day that we have reached it safely.
In the middle of Sunday night, the Mars rover, Curiosity, made its marvelous, maddening, successful descent to the surface of the fourth planet, using a robotic sky crane that lowered the one-ton vehicle to the surface on its own smarts.  Among the first photos they snapped was this one from its forward looking hazard cameras.
In the distance lies the mountain at the center of the crater in which Curiosity sits, and to which it is going to travel.  The plan is to sample the old rocks at the bottom, to see if there are any traces of organic compounds, a sign that, at the very least, conditions once existed that offered the possibility of Martian microbial life.  Knowing the planet was once warmer, the atmosphere denser, allowing running water to run long enough to cut deep channels across the planet's surface, we continue to wonder if we may have once had some kind of neighbors in the solar system.

I do not think it wrong to take a moment to celebrate our vicarious return to Mars on a parochial, national level.  True enough, from the Martian perspective, what is the United States?  Yet, among the residents of the third rock, who else has flung orbiters and landers and rovers to snap a photo or two, to taste the Martian wind and sand, to do what needs to be done to answer the question that may be the most fundamental question we human beings ask: Are we alone in the Universe?

We Americans are living in troubled times.  Mass death, global warming, drought, civil war abroad, the stupidity of our politics at home that mocks those who have set aside their lives to defend our land and way of life, and the sense that we just can't do even the most basic tasks of self-governance: these are the realities that seem to mock our public life.  Curiosity, its engines getting ready to fire up and head out on its slow, deliberate journey across the bottom of a crater on another world, reminds us that this litany of national failure doesn't tell the whole picture.  We are a people who do indeed know how to do great things, marvelous things, wonderful things that make us all gaze in wonder at new places no one has ever seen, discovering things no one has ever known.

Over the next several days, as the first color, panoramic images come back from the many cameras on Curiosity, we all should stand and cheer ourselves.  In a time when we think we can no longer accomplish much of anything, Curiosity's pictures remind us that we do the spectacular quite well.

UPDATE:  JPL managed to piece together the following video from 297 still images Curiosity snapped as it descended.  It is truly spectacular.

Monday, August 06, 2012

On Those 15 Vet Groups In Ohio

This is kind of an update on my post Saturday on the lie going around that the President of the United States wants to restrict military voting rights in Ohio.  It seems Mitt Romney has joined the FAILelujah Chorus, displaying the kind of principled idiocy I haven't seen since Emily Latella's op-ed's on Saturday Night Live.

I'm sure by now there are folks who are saying, "Well, if Obama isn't trying to restrict military voting, then why are there 15 vet groups petitioning the court against the lawsuit?"

All I can say, yet again, is read the motion.
[I]n the event this Court concludes that Ohio’s current statutory scheme is unconstitutional, Defendants reasonably can be expected to seek to minimize the resulting expense to the State, disruption to the electoral process, and additional burden on election workers, see Blackwell, 467 F.3d at 1008, such as by asking this Court to reduce or eliminate the additional days of early voting for military voters. Plaintiffs, in turn, intend to seek an expansion of the early voting period through Election Day for all voters, which may impose substantial financial and logistical burdens on the State.(Italics added)
Those fifteen groups are merely petitioning to intervene in the case because they feel a ruling seeking, as they note quite clearly in the italicized portion above, to expand early voting to all citizens, might result in Ohio removing the early voting privileges for all Ohio residents, military or civilian.  The groups are intervening only to ensure that doesn't happen.

The above linked story on Mitt Romney's attempt to make up down on this case includes the following tidbit:
On Friday, the Obama Campaign actually signed a brief to the court that backed the petition of those groups – welcoming them into the case, because the Obama campaign says it wants to ensure that military voters aren’t kept from early voting.
I do so hope Romney continues to insist that the sky is green and grass blue on this matter, because it will demonstrate just how beholden he has become to the crazy wing of the Republican Party. 

Virtual Tin Cup

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