Dr. King’s Long Road

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I want to repeat this piece from five years ago exactly as it was then.  Much is still true, even in this much darker moment of despair.  We have a long road, and we are making progress.  It’s slow, but it is true.  The next generation will definitely do better.

At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.

But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.

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Darkness Into Light

Winter arrives on Friday at 22:23 UTC.  From that time forward, the Northern Hemisphere will turn back towards the light.  It has been another warm Winter in Minnesota, painted in dull tones of brown and gray.  This piece from 2011 captures the feelings then and now as this time of light and reflection wobbles back through the grace of our tilting planet.

It is dark outside when the alarm goes off, not at all a time to wake up.  The usual 8 hours and 41 minutes of daylight we can expect on a Winter Solstice is never enough to keep us going, even on a relatively warm and sometimes even bright year like this.  The brown Winter of 2011 is just as dark as any other.

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Vision

In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise if flung back in time to the year 2063 and has to return home. They quickly realize that this is a very important time because it is the moment that the Earth made first contact with Vulcan, setting up the entire universe as they would all come to know it. The great abundance, the wonder, the adventure all hinged on this one moment.

There was one problem, however. Earth, at that time, still used this thing called “money.” The great abundance had not yet kicked in and the crew of the Enterprise had a lot to learn about how to get things done if they wanted to get home.

It’s a great movie for many reasons, generally starting with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. But this vision of the future, made at that moment, is particularly compelling. Abundance so great that money isn’t necessary? It’s one vision of the future, certainly. But is such a thing possible?

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Not Correctness, Politeness

I’m still recovering from a surgery, so one more repeat this week.  This is from 2017.

Has “political correctness” run wild, threatening to destroy our language and culture? Certainly, it’s a pain to have to learn new terms all the time. And no one likes to be scolded for using the wrong ones. But is this all just a way of repressing free speech and making people more pliant and reducing the culture to nothing?

No. We are in the middle of a process of determining just what “polite” is.

That’s not to say it’s every gonna be easy. There is no “process” and no one gets to vote. It’s necessarily messy to clean up the language and make sure it works for everyone. We all have to agree at some point. And in the meantime, the one thing that far too many people seem to agree with is that politeness isn’t necessary at all. That’s the real problem.

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The Good Inside

This piece originally ran in 2016.

If you have a healthy news diet, you can easily be forgiven for thinking everything is going to Hell. Then again, that doesn’t seem too healthy. Perhaps “No news is good news” has a resonance far beyond the original intent of the folk saying.

Is there good in the world? Of course there is. People are helping each other and just being decent all the time. Yet in a world always closer together it seems as though there is a shortage of good things everywhere.

The difference, I believe, is what lies just outside of human scale. The world comes to us through machinery – ripped of context, stripped of humanity. It’s up to all of us to provide some context with our own empathy and judgment. Seeing good in the world is indeed about unplugging our brains from the noise and reveling in a good time with friends, a quiet moment alone, or even an hour passed in a patch of clover.

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When Economics Fails

I have been working on this, now what feels like a year overdue.  Look for more this week.

Economics is nothing more nor less than the study of the primary way in which people connect with society and get on with their lives.

In everyday life, you may interact with a few people – family, colleagues, and friends. But through the process of eating and paying the mortgage you interact, at some distance, with hundreds more. Because this interaction is entirely through something called “money,” a way of keeping score, it’s very tempting to look at it entirely through numbers. The dizzying details of tens of millions of exchanges every day makes a top-view in bulk the most desired method of analyzing how things are going.

Yet this process has proven wrong over and over again. The failure of economics, particularly macro-economics, is the primary reason why the only true study of an economy has to be a People’s Economics.

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Bread & Circuses

Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses!

– Juvenal, Satire X, “Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering”

The “Fall of Rome” trope has always been an easy one to dismiss. After all, we’re stronger and more connected than they ever were, yes? The public is more literate, our history is stronger, and times are simply different than they were back so very long ago.

Aren’t they?

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