Monday, December 17, 2012

It's too cold for you in Santa Fe! You'd hate it!

It’s cold out here southeast of Santa Fe, much colder than in Kansas City. Or, for that matter, Wichita, Liberal, Guymon, Dalhart or even Tucumcari, all of which towns I drove through, accompanied by Yonkel and Fry (neither of whom, it turns out, drive). There is snow on the ground from snows a couple of days ago, and the last leg of the trip, 40 miles up US 285 from I-40, was somewhat slowed by blowing and drifting snow (hey, the Galisteo Basin is a BASIN, flat, like high plains). Temperatures at night are in the teens, and in the 30s in the day. And it supposed to snow some more tomorrow or the next day. So stay in your nice balmy places further south or at lower elevation. You probably wouldn’t like it here.

On the other hand, there is the incredibly beautiful thing. I see great expanses of conifers (mostly juniper, but the piñons are beginning to return) white expanses, mountains in the (not too far off distance). And, of course, since we are not in Santa Fe, and you are frolicking in the warm weather, not a person around. I did drive to Eldorado for gas and groceries yesterday, but certainly not all the way (15 minutes) to Santa Fe, and today and probably tomorrow will stay here. I’ll go into town when Pat and the others get here, closer to Christmas.

We went for a lovely walk this morning through the snow, to the “back 40” (OK, it’s not 40, but it’s enough) to see the views over the Galisteo Basin. Fry is loving it; good old Yonkel stays closer to be near me. The black canvas duster with the sheepskin lining that Pat hates turns out to be perfect for keeping the wind out (oh, yeah, there’s wind too. Stay in Memphis). As long as your feet, head and ears are covered, the walk is great. Yonkel is barking at something I cannot see outside, but not too much last night. It was a “2 dog night” and they didn’t get up much.

I did, though. I opened my eyes around midnight and the eastern sky was full of stars. Got a little dressed and went out on the deck; no clouds in that direction, and so many stars I could barely find Orion in the middle of it all; most of the time, even down at the lake (and certainly in KC) that is all you can find. Among them, some planets, probably changing through the night. Straight east the Dog Star, Sirius, shining on my dogs, and right above the bright star Aldebaran from Taurus (they would have barked at that). This morning Sirius is replaced by the Morning Star, Venus. I couldn’t, of course, take pictures of the stars at night – it’s only a cell phone! – so I will share a couple of others, of the sunrise this morning, and of the reflected sunset on the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the northeast last night. I can’t write for long; the sun will soon be streaming into the “darkest” part of the house; the computer has been unusable in the main room since 7 am. It may be cold, but the sun is shining bright!

I guess I’ll just have to put on my cross-country skis and go see how the skiing is along the road. And then maybe it will be time for a nap.

Enjoy the warm weather!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fry dog: too smart for his own good!

So Pat just drove down to Santa Fe with the dog. It was going to be the dogs, and indeed started with the dogs, for oh, about 2 miles. To the gas station just west of the 18th Street Trafficway on Steele Road. Then she opened the back and Fry jumped out and ran off. He likes to do that; he’s part beagle. He is an escape artist; just let him in the back yard and he’ll find just where there is enough space between fence and ground to wriggle out. That’s the advantage of the small head; even if Yonkel had the motivation or smarts, he wouldn’t make it. Fry is smart enough to know when he can’t get out; he is fine lying around on the couch all day if he is in the house; he doesn’t get anxious the way that Yonkel does. Which is not to say he doesn’t ever get antsy or walk around in circles; he does. And, of course, if tied up outside he barks at everything. He is, after all, part beagle. But, unlike Yonkel, he has never chewed through his leash. Or chewed up the fender and mudflap of my car.

Anyway, there have been a number of episodes where Fry has gotten away and not come back for a long time. Several years back, I chased him up and down our street, and all the little dead end side streets. For an hour. Then I gave up as I was late for work. That afternoon I came back and he was in the building; someone had let him in. And there was the time at the lake, with Adam, where it was about a half-hour of chasing him around. And a few other times. So, at the gas station, there he is, wandering around, looking at Pat, and running away having a gay old time, playing.

And then, after an hour, Pat and Yonkel left. For Santa Fe. Goodbye, Fry, tagged and chipped hopefully someone will find you and call. I was stuck at work so it was several hours later and dark when I got home, half expecting to find him there – it is only a couple of miles. But no. So I drive to the gas station. And there, in the dark, lurking around the pumps, is the Fry dog.

I stop the car, and get out. He looks up and recognizes it, and comes back around the back. He is unsure of himself, if he is in trouble. I invite him in, and drive back home. He drinks a bunch of water, and I feed him dinner and he sleeps a while on the couch; we go for a short walk later. He is chastened, a little, maybe, for a while. Perhaps. In any case, he is out of a trip to New Mexico, and playing around in the desert for a week; I am flying and he is going to go stay with friends (if he is lucky) or a kennel.

But that is several days away. Now he is with me, wondering where Yonkel is. Pat goes away sometimes, but Yonkel and he are always together. Pat assures me, from Santa Fe, that Yonkel has no such stress; he is fine without Fry. So, today we drove down to the lake. And he recognizes it, and is happy, and is waiting not too peacefully for our walk. And so we walk.

Along the road that we always walk, down the west side of the lake from the little road to our house to the public dock. I let him off the leash, despite the new and (to me) ominous signs about every hundred feet on right on the other side of the road that said “WIHA. Walk in Hunting Area only. Shotguns and Bows only. No Fireams Deer Hunting”. Somehow, I was not reassured, but I didn’t hear any shooting or zings of arrows. I guess it is ok to hunt deer with bows, which is a good thing; for birds you need a shotgun, and I don’t think you’re going to hunt rabbits with a bow, unless you’re Catnip Everlast from the “Hunger Games”; even Robin Hood stuck pretty much to deer!

But I let him off the leash anyway, and he seemed to walk closer to me than usual. At least for a while. He didn’t really disappear from sight, not for very long, for the walk down to the dock. We did have a little issue as we passed the house at the next road, where there is a big dog that is protective, barks a lot, and has been even known to come out to chase and attack our dogs. He was there, and alerted by a new dog, a smaller dog, probably a cocker spaniel, whose job, it appeared, was to bark and alert the bigger dog. So out they came, and I am warning them back while urging Fry to move quickly on. And Fry needs to stop and pee on the tree right on their lawn. He must feel safe when I’m there, but they were still threatening and I kept warning them back and urging him on, and he felt he needed to stop and pee again. And now the lady of the house is out calling her dogs back, and I’m still warning them off and urging Fry on, so now he decides, of course, to make one more stop at the edge of their property to pee once more.

A smart dog, but not one with very mature judgment. Oh, well. Maybe he’ll enjoy being gone from us all for a week. It looks like he is going to have the opportunity to hang with some other dogs on a lot of land, and maybe even be tested on another beagle characteristic, hunting (or at least finding birds that have been planted).

This morning we went on another walk, following the beautiful sunrise. (OK, following by an hour and a half; I had to wake up, dress, make and drink coffee, eat breakfast – all those irrititating dog-walk-delaying things people do! Cooler, and a lovely walk; I really like it down here. Of course, Fry left less than halfway to the dam, and I worried as I continued to watch the WIHA signs and even heard a shot. I was wearing my RED jacket! He joined me again just before the same house; no dogs out today so he was even bolder, marking on the ground by their sign and thoroughly exploring (and I imagine marking more) their yard; I was on my way home. There is, in any case, a ritualistic nature to our walks; he will not leave our area to go up the hill unless I accompany him (which I only do a couple of times a day, despite his persistent hints, running a ways up the hill and looking back), but once on the road, he is on his own, and comes back on his own.

Now he is lying on the futon in the sun, and I am having another cuppa. J

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dogs, the lake and hunting

So we hear that the city and county have decided to allow hunting around our lake. But take heart: they have decided to not allow rifles, only bow and shotgun! Phew! Of course, they are allowing it right up to the road, which I walk the dogs on all the way down to the public dock. But today I hear that it is being done because the state of Kansas is paying them to do it. The state is broke, and cutting back on education, health care, senior services and everything else, but it has money to pay localities to encourage hunting! There’s something completely incomprehensible about that.

So yesterday, I walk the dogs in the morning as usual. I hope that their color of tan is not too much like a deer, but it is early on Saturday, and quiet. Amazing. No sounds of gasoline engines from cars, boats, planes, or lawn mowers yet. The walk passes without incident. Well, almost without incident. Fry, as usual, is off doing his thing. Every once in a while he comes back to check. We find our way to the camping/picnic area, and run into a lady with two mini dachshunds. Dachshunds are small with short legs, mini dachshunds are smaller, and these two were chub-balls so their bellies almost touched the ground. She was pleased to know that the dog down by the lake (Fry) was mine; Yonkel, she noted approvingly, stayed by me.

On the way back, though, in the woods around which the first housing road circles, Fry spied something and charged in. Yonkel, weighing prudence against excitement, hesitated a couple of moments and then followed. Not to be heard from for quite a while. I came home dog-less. After maybe 45 minutes I went out in the car, down to the public dock, and then back on that first road. There is Yonkel. He gladly gets in as I open the back of the car. A little farther on is Fry. He won’t get in, but is willing to trot alongside the car. I get tired of going so slowly, so leave him. He is back after another 45 minutes or so. OK.

This morning, we went out a little later, after 9:30am. By 10, they were both gone again, in the same woods, and I had kept walking and realized that they were not coming, so I headed home. They weren’t there. I sat down, worked for a while, worried about hunters. After about 45 minutes I went out in the car and re-drove yesterday’s routes. No luck. No dogs. No sound. Drove some more. Came back home. No dogs. Worked some more.

About 11:40, I get a call. One of my dogs had been stuck in the water and couldn’t get out, but this woman’s husband and another man pulled him out. Wow, am I grateful! I was wondering why at least Yonkel hadn’t returned! I quickly drive over there, to the first road. No dogs, but the two very nice men who had pulled them out are there; they say the one fell off the dock, they guessed. They have just headed off, generally in the direction of my house. I thank them and head home. No dogs. No dogs for a long time. I go back out and drive.

I go back to the same place, and the same two guys are still there. I just missed them, they say, they had headed out in the other direction. The older guy who lives there had heard the barking, and thought it was across the inlet at the picnic area. Then he looked down and saw the dog stuck in the water. It’s hard for him (the man) to get down the hill, so this other guy helps (not so young himself). He says that the other dog was sitting on the dock watching. I choose to believe that Fry was loyally staying by his friend. The one he had gotten in trouble in the first place.

I figure NOW they must be headed home; I can’t believe that at least Yonkel hasn’t had enough. But I go the other way to the public dock first to make sure, then come home. No dogs.

Finally, as the clock chimes 1pm, there is a scratching at the door, and there is a very wet Yonkel outside. Too wet, in fact, for this to have been from that episode over almost 2 hours ago. Incredibly, he must have been back in the water! How dumb can he get?

So I towel him down before bringing him in and putting him by the space heater, where he starts on the long process of licking himself off.  Now he is asleep. And still no sign of Fry yet. I figure he’ll get hungry after a while. In 2 or 3 hours. Oh, here he is! Couldn’t actually post the piece until he showed up (1:30)

And I was worried about them getting shot! They can get themselves into enough trouble without help!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cooler summer days at the lake

Summer has cooled off in Kansas; after the hottest July ever, with very few days under 100, we had a lovely weekend last week at the lake. On Saturday, the high was in the 80s, with little breeze. Saturday morning I went kayaking. I wasn’t sure if I would go all the way down to the streams that feed the lake, especially after passing through the gnat-covered surface on the biggest, widest part. But I did, and saw a lot of wildlife, including an otter. I was just turning into the feeder, when I saw something swimming to my left; at first I thought it was a turtle, but it swam for too long without going under. Then it turned left in front of the kayak and I almost ran over it until “slap” went its tail, and it went under.

Along with the heat has come drought, and the lake is several feet down, even lower this weekend than last. This has some good features for seeing wildlife in the morning, as the birds and animals can come further down, onto more exposed mudflats. On my kayaking this morning, for example, I saw a great blue heron in the middle of the lower (shallower) part of the lake, standing on a branch sticking up out of the water.

No gnats covering the surface this morning (by the way, they were gone on my return last week), but, in addition to a couple of barking dogs, someone a ways down thought mowing his lawn at 6:30am was a good idea; I was only a little bothered, but I’m glad I am not one of his neighbors trying to sleep in on a Saturday. So I pressed on, and as I passed the first cove to the right beyond him, I saw movement on the shore, maybe a deer. I slowly and quietly paddled in, and saw it, and the other one I had dismissed as a stick from farther away. And the great blue heron on a rock on my left, which flew off as I turned. (not my pictures! I’m not taking a camera out in the kayak!)
So I stayed close to the west shore where there are stretches with no houses because the road runs right by the lake; however, at that time of morning no cars to disturb things. Near the shore I saw the swimming I now knew as an otter, and paddled toward it. Rather than diving under water, it climbed up on a rock near the shore, giving me a great view of it! Then, down a bit, I saw another great blue a little ways off, and then a smaller bird on the rocks very near me – a green heron. It, unlike, the great blues, was not fazed by my presence.

And I continued south, still not sure how far I’d go, but continuing to see great blues (like the one on the log in the middle of the lake) and then, as I approached the end where the stream comes in I saw what first looked like two herons on the shore, then more, then more. I quietly approached, and more and more came out of the woods, until, as I got quite close, a flock of more than a dozen wild turkeys were on the mud flat.

That’s a lot to see in one kayak trip so I turned back toward home. But there, on the shore, near me, fully visible, another deer. And along a ways, paddling near one of the spits of land built out of rocks piled there for fishing, I again came within feet of the green heron (or its brother).  Then, more quickly toward home, ignoring the more great blues, but, as I approached the last point I saw “our” osprey soar overhead for the first time this year.

I left the kayak and walked to the house and the coffee I had set up to brew. And swimming by came three white geese with orange “bulbs” at the base of their bills. Not sure what species; if the bulb had been black, they’d look like swans.

In the house with my coffee. And my dogs. And Pat, still asleep.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Kansas Government has become yet more conservative

I know that there are not many people who consider themselves conservatives who read this blog. Largely, this is because there are not very many people who read this blog altogether. So nothing I say is going to surprise anyone, nor is it likely to change any minds. Still…
I moved to Kansas in 2002. I knew it was a conservative, Republican state. While I’d grown up in New York and lived much of my adult life in Chicago, I’d spent a number of years in Texas before coming here, so it wasn’t as if I was unused to conservative, Republican states. I also knew that there were a lot of good, hard-working, progressive people in Texas and there were certain to be those in Kansas, particularly in the Kansas City area. In Texas I lived in San Antonio, a Democratic city with a series of Democratic mayors, many of whom were progressive young Latinos like Henry Cisneros (before my time), Ed Garza, and now the dynamic leader Julián Castro. While the Governors, since Ann Richards, and Senators, since Lloyd Bentsen, were Republicans, my Congressman, who live in my neighborhood, was the venerable Henry Gonzáles, followed after he died by his son Charlie. While there were conservative  Congressmen from the area, Gonzáles was not the only progressive; Ciro Rodríguez maybe was more so.
And my state legislators made me proud. Also Latinos and Latinas, mostly young, they were unafraid to take on the big issues. In 2003, shortly after I left, Democratic members of both the Texas House and Senate left the state to try to block a redistricting plan that would favor Republicans. In each house, they were led by the people who represented my district, Leticia van de Putte in the Senate and Mike Villarreal in the House. While Texas as a whole has continued to move so far to the right that Governor Rick Perry’s pick to succeed him was defeated by a Tea Party candidate, and the Republican state platform calls for an end to the teaching of “critical thinking” in the public schools, good things continue to happen in San Antonio. When the Arizona Department of Education recently closed down the Tucson Unified School District’s Hispanic Studies program (Tucson is another place I’ve lived, a relatively progressive part of a very conservative state), it banned the poetry of Carmen Tafolla. Mayor Castro named Ms. Tafolla the first Poet Laureate of San Antonio. His brother, Joaquín Castro is running for Congress. The state representative from the district next to mine, Trey Martínez Fisher, is leader of the Democratic opposition in the state house.
When I moved to Kansas, I chose to live in Kansas City, KS. The “other side of the tracks”, it was not only near work, it was not the suburbs where most of my colleagues lived. In Johnson County, the wealthy county to the south of “KCK”’s Wyandotte County, everyone had to register Republican to have a say in the election. Wyandotte was, and still is, one of only two Democratic counties in the state (the other being Douglas, where Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, is located). We even had a Democratic congressman, Dennis Moore. A “blue dog” Democrat, yes; he was from Johnson County, but at least not breaking my until-recently string of never living in a congressional district represented by a Republican. In 2010 Moore retired, and was replaced by a conservative Republican.
When I first voted in Kansas, in 2002, I was shocked to find that there was no one running against then-and-now incumbent senator Pat Roberts. Knowing little about Sen. Roberts but strongly favoring the democracy that requires contested elections, I wrote in the name of a colleague. In 2002, Kansas was pretty conservative. It was led by Republicans, but had a history of support for core government functions such as education. The legislature was about 1/3 Democratic, 1/3 moderate Republican, and 1/3 “conservative” Republican. When I visited the Capitol the morning after the end of the longest-running legislative session to date as part of a KU-sponsored tour, we were addressed by a panel of commentators. One was the Lieutenant Governor, a “moderate” Republican, who, obviously exhausted, was strongly critical of the right wing of his party. Yes, he called them “the black helicopter crowd”. He noted that “moderate” were moderate because sometimes they liked to do things like go to their kids baseball games, or fish or hunt or do something besides “plotting in basements”.
Things have not gotten better. While that year we elected a Democratic governor, Kathleen Sebelius (Kansas had a history of electing a Democrat every 3-4 governors, while never ever turning over control of the legislature), the legislature became more conservative. Thomas Frank published his popular book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” in 2004 while Sebelius was still governor giving his perspective on the rightward turn of the state, which included the replacement of long-time liberal, Jewish Congressman Dan Glickman from Wichita, named by President Clinton to be Secretary of Agriculture, by a string of very conservative congressmen. It has become much more so now. Conservatives replaced moderates as Speaker of the House, and later were replaced by more conservative challengers. In 2010, Sam Brownback, the very conservative US Senator and former Presidential candidate, was elected governor. The House strongly supported his agenda, but the Senate, in a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats, blocked several initiatives. With his support, and the support of lots of money from Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers’ (they are from Wichita) funded group Americans for Prosperity (indeed, much of the COC money comes from AFP), conservatives ran against virtually every moderate Republican incumbent in the Senate.
The primary was yesterday, and it looks like most of them won. They only needed 3-4 Senate seats and got a lot more (presuming, of course, that the winners from yesterday are not beaten by Democrats in the general election, a pretty safe assumption). Even the long-time Senate President, rancher Steve Morris of Hugoton in the far SW corner of the state, looks like he is headed to defeat. Governor Brownback, the COC and the Koch brothers win. Health care and education, the two big items on the state budget, look like they will lose. Republicans sometimes accuse Democrats of “never having met a tax they didn’t like”; in Kansas this is untrue, but that the current Republican majority never met a tax cut they didn’t like is true. No matter how Draconian. After years of recession and state budget cuts stemming from inadequate revenue, projections were for a rise this year. The governor proposed, and the legislature passed new big tax cuts, especially (surprise!) for the wealthy. (The Senate also; word is that they thought they were “calling the House’s bluff”, but wrong. No bluff!) So this year’s and next year’s cuts in education and Medicaid funding will be even worse. And, of course, the Governor will not take federal money for Medicaid.
Why? Part of it is probably the trend that Thomas Franks pointed out is true and Kansans are getting more conservative (although at this point, the group elected are not “conserving” anything; they are simply destroying). A lot of it is likely that the big money contributions are effecting voters through their dominance of the voters’ main source of information, TV (and make no mistake; despite the media’s efforts to portray contributions by unions to the moderates as balancing, the funding from AFP and COC and others for the conservatives was several times higher). And a lot of it is that there are not many people voting, probably less than 20% in this primary according to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (himself an arch “conservative”, author of the Arizona immigration law). Voter turnout in this country is low, turnout in primaries is lower, and turnout among more “Democratic” constituencies such as the poor and minorities is lower still. The efforts to disenfranchise these folks by techniques such as photo-ID requirements (falsely sold as a counter to the non-problem of voter fraud) and decreasing the number of polling places (from having less state money) are likely to increase the problem.
I admit I didn’t vote; as a Democrat in Wyandotte County there were no races being contested for me. But I still usually would make a symbolic appearance, and this year, with no Democratic candidate running in the primary for Congress to oppose the Republican incumbent, I could have, as in 2002, written in my colleague. But my polling place, moved from the church down the street to farther-away-but-still-on-the-way-to-work a few years ago, has now moved a couple of miles in the opposite direction. I have a car, and even after a long workday would have definitely gone if there was any chance that my vote would have mattered. But a lot of folks don’t have cars or ways to get to the polls, or photo ID for that matter, and these are major obstacles to a large voter turnout.
I believe in democracy. If the majority of people want to vote for folks I disagree with, that is their right, even if it is not in their interests. It is too bad if they are convinced to do so by misleading-to-lying attack ads funded by billionaires. But efforts to restrict voting by any means, ID, or fewer polling places, or making it more difficult to register, or not having advance voting, is absolutely wrong.
Back in San Antonio, there was advance voting, and we could vote at the supermarket weeks before Election Day. Anything that gets more people to the polls is good, and a true expression of our democracy.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Meltdowns financial and physical: does global warming cause human blindness?

It’s a tough world. It’s always been a tough world. It’s tough for the plants and animals whose DNA has them programmed to just survive and propagate – it is, quite literally (as well as figuratively) a jungle out there.  And for people? Biologically also animals, we are special. Not special in the religious way (created on the seventh day, for example, in the Judeo-Christian myth, or in any other creation myth). Not special in the pseudo-scientific model that has people as the final, ultimate, and perhaps inevitable, outcome of evolution. That story is put to rest very articulately by the late Stephen Jay Gould in his wonderful book, “A Full House”.

Gould disproves directionality in evolution, observing that evolution is a response to local conditions. The fossil record shows a moderately evolved species (say jellyfish) are just as likely to evolve to less complex as more complex in response to those conditions. “Man” is not the inevitable result of directional evolution, but a small branch – a very small twig – on the evolutionary tree. If the “big bang” were to occur again, the unique sequence of events that led to the evolution of man would be extraordinarily unlikely to be repeated. It is, Gould says, not the Age of Man, but rather the Age of Bacteria. And, in terms of biomass and ability to survive, it has always been the Age of Bacteria.

But people are special. Their massive brains and opposable thumbs have led them to achieve things no other species has approached. Not as strong or fast as many others, not able to fly like birds, with senses that are dull even compared to household pets, they have changed the face of the earth, and changed it in incredible, wonderful and scary ways. People are special.

One way that they are special is in their self-consciousness. We know we are going to die. Other animals see death, even see the death of their loved ones, but they don’t know that they are going to die. Maybe at the end, but they do not understand it and its inevitability the way that we do.

The other way we are special is in our ability – and our realization – of destroying the earth. Beyond clearing forests for fields, beyond paving over the land, beyond causing the extinction of other species, we have, through the very industries that we are proud of, poisoned the earth, polluted the earth, led to such warming that the polar ice caps are melting and the snows of Kilimanjaro are only a winter phenomenon. People act, essentially, as a cancer on the earth, feeding on it, growing, and finally destroying the host.

Yes, it’s always been a tough world, for people too. The pestilences and plagues, for time immemorial, that have killed huge parts of our population. The oppression of people by other people, by the rich and their minions from feudal times to the present, when armies exist at least as often to suppress domestic populations as to fight foreign enemies. And, of course, it is the poor of both countries who are slaughtered while the wealthy do business with each other.

It is not so long ago that the “Doomsday Clock”, maintained by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was created in 1947 early in the cold war, and set at 7 minutes to midnight. Or when, in 2007, other threats such as climate change were added to the calculations which, in January 2012, had the time at 5 minutes to midnight. The threat of climate change grows, as rapacious people and the corporations they lead caused the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. It has continued to cause suffering, joblessness, and homelessness – and perhaps hopelessness – for huge numbers of people while those “masters of the universe” are well back on their feet, thank you.

So why do some many people support policies of repression and austerity? How can we have an entire major political party wedded to a “trickle down” that does not trickle? Probably these folks don’t think so much about such issues but are more focused on the social issues referred to by Thomas Frank (“What’s the matter with Kansas?”, 2004)  such as gay marriage and abortion, primacy of religion, of “freedom” meaning no restrictions on guns, meaning I am free to do whatever I want to do, including to restrict your freedom. This, of course, comes from fear. Fear of the truly powerful, sometimes, but guided by the powerful, through their control of media and their money, into fear of things that cannot as easily be controlled.

We could reverse Citizen’s United, and we could have public funding of elections. We could tax capital gains as income, and limit to exorbitant profits being made by the wealthy. We could have universal health care, and quality education for all, and guarantee the basic rights called for in the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. It would not be so hard if there were the political will.

But it is harder to guarantee that no one will start a nuclear war just as we couldn’t stop the attacks on the World Trade Center. And it is really a lot harder to stop global warming. It is scary, with record warm winters and hot summers, of tornados in February and more fires in the summers every year. This, says environmental author and leader of Bill McKibben, is what the global warming, in its early stages,looks like. (“While Colorado burns, Washington fiddles”, Guardian UK, June 30 2012).

Harder but not impossible. But harder every year. And harder as we focus on the economic crises brought on by the venality of the wealthiest and abetted by the politicians in their control. Maybe it is doomsday. Maybe it is the apocalypse. Maybe the turn to the right is an effort to blindly deny what we, not God, have wrought.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Warren Zevon, and the 7 Deadly Sins

Yesterday, sitting in our lake cabin with the wind blowing strongly (not “fiercely”, exactly; that is for winter!) outside, Pat decided to put on some music using “Pandora” on the computer. “What did I want to hear?” she asked. “The Warren Zevon channel,” I answered immediately, wondering if there was such a thing. Turns out she got one; as anyone who uses Pandora knows it wasn’t all Warren Zevon, but they do a good job of figuring out that if you like him, you’ll probably like some stuff from The Band, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Dire Straits. I did.

I like Warren Zevon’s music, and am sad that he died a number of years ago so that there will be no more. The stories about really bad people like “Excitable Boy”, “Werewolves of London” and “Mr. Bad Example”; the political/social/antiwar commentaries like “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”, “Leave My Monkey Alone”,The Factory” and (combining both) “Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner”; the “feature story” commentaries like “Boom Boom Mancini”; the commentaries on the celebrity scene like “Even a Dog Can Shake Hands”,Detox Mansion”, and the wonderful “Trouble Waiting to Happen”. And many, many others. I can’t figure which is my favorite (luckily there is no reason to choose), but I also really like the contrasting beautiful love songs: “Reconsider Me”, “El amor de mi vida, and poignantly released after his death, “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While”. I admit that the last, posthumous, album, “The Wind”, is strongly tied for me to the death of my son Matt, which was less than a year before Zevon’s own, and its release.

One of the songs that they played was in fact “Mr. Bad Example”, and it stayed in my head all night; I woke thinking about it, in particular the “seven deadly sins” with which Mr. Example is “very well-acquainted”; he mentions “greed” and that he has “no time for sloth”, but doesn’t list them all, so I kept trying to think of them. I knew I knew them (Dante, for one source; also the film “Seven”) but could only get Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, and Sloth. I left out Gluttony because I had lumped in my mind with Greed; in fact it occurred to me that Greed as in Avarice should be a separate one from Gluttony, although they have much in common.

So I started thinking about the ones that weren’t there, like Hate and Fear. Heck, this is all Christian theology, about which I know little and am committed to none. Hate is a big one, and I’m not even begin to go into all the evil things that have come from or been motivated by Hate. Almost as many as by the religious beliefs of Those Who Know. I recently saw a comment from on a blog about abortion who shared with us “I think the Creator would not want us to kill one of his creations.” I really thank him for his opinion on what the Creator thinks – not. Who cares? Well, those who are harmed or killed by folks that Know. While I’m sure (or hope!) this guy is not going around killing people, committing acts of terrorism, conducting Crusades, those all come from that same Certainty.

OK, fear is not really a sin (as far as I know), but really a lot of the bad in the world – including a lot of Wrath and Envy and Lust, as well as Hate – arises from Fear, transformed by the magic (from sports, about which I know more) of “the best defense is a good offense.” Fear of the Other is pretty common among Those Who Know. As a society, we could use a little less fear, and have a lot less to fear. And less Hate, and less Wrath, and sure as heck less Pride and Greed.

One of Zevon’s many iconic songs, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”, is of course sadly ironic now. RIP Warren.

And Matt. We love you and miss you.


And, for those not so familiar with Zevon, here are the lyrics to the refrain from “El Amor”, kind of bittersweet (“if only I could meet you”) which I have as my ringtone when Pat calls:

Tu eres el amor de mi vida
Si solo te pudierá encontrar
Con todo el corazón te diriga
Tu eres mi amor, de verdad.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Confessions of an Opera Lightweight

The gorgeous new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened this year in Kansas City, and it is spectacular. Striking from the outside, it houses two concert halls, the Muriel Kauffman Auditorium and Helzberg Hall. It cements Kansas City’s position as at least a second-level cultural venue. The funding wa all private, and fortunately secured before the recession hit, or it never would have happened. This year, for its first season in Kauffman, the Lyric Opera planned a gala season. We renewed our season tickets, although for the same cost as our row 8 in the left orchestra in the old Lyric Theatre, we are now in the balcony of the Kauffman Auditorium, on the left. First row of the balcony, to be sure, but not as good as the second row would be; the guard rail which curves in front of us slices the left-hand third of the stage off unless you lean way forward.

For its first opera, the Lyric chose Puccini’s Turandot, mostly famous for the aria “Nessun Dorma”, popularized by Luciano Pavarotti. I have read and am told that it was grand grand opera, with elaborate expensive staging; quite the production. I had to read and be told about it because we were out of town that week, and gave our tickets away. The next opera was apparently a significant change, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti, in a modern setting. Unfortunately, despite Mozart’s music, we found the plot thin; indeed, found it kind of boring, and left after the first act. 0.5 for 2.

For its third opera, the Lyric did a new version of John Adams’ 1987 opera Nixon in China. If you have never heard of it (as I hadn’t) you might think “Really? They make operas about that? I thought they were all old and in Italian!” Well, no. Some are new, and some are in English. As well as in German (like some Mozart – not Cosi or the wonderful Don Giovanni which are in Italian, but like the tremendously fun Magic Flute), French (Carmen) and other languages. Nixon is grand. And the music is impressive. But not to my taste. Kind of atonal. Like a lot (but not all) modern opera. I didn’t enjoy it, though I was able to appreciate that the music was impressive.

For me, kind of like Wagner. Grand, impressive music that might be fine to listen to in a concert if you like that sort of thing, but not exactly melodic. I like melodies. I like Italian opera – Verdi, Puccini, especially. When we used to live in Evanston there was a coffeehouse called “The Verdi and Puccini Opera Café” because the owner was also a fan. It was fun; a limited menu, but great pastries, and the waitstaff were all voice students from Northwestern. Every hour or so, they’d roll out a piano and two or three of them would sing, an aria or two each. Sometimes a duet. Not only Verdi and Puccini, but pretty much melodic songs. Not a Wagner in the bunch, nor any Schubert lieder or other art songs (which I also do not like); I assume the “art” is in the challenge to the singer, and I am equally sure that there are many people, maybe even some who are not music experts, who enjoy listening to them, but I am not one. I mean, I do like opera; we have had subscriptions to the Chicago Lyric when we lived there and to the Austin Opera when we lived in San Antonio (San Antonio didn’t have an opera company, but I liked to say we had season tickets to it – which meant we went to the one performance each year done by the New York City Opera traveling company!)

I don’t mean to be hard to please, but we also left after the first act of Nixon. Despite the fact that the plot involved real events that actually happened in my lifetime and the characters were real people (Nixon, Pat Nixon, Kissinger, Mao, Zhou Enlai) the plot was just as boring as a lot of the old operas that are about myths, heros, kings, and other stuff. I am a fan of democracy and regular people, so the Greek model of making stories about larger-than-life heros puts me off; however, I am willing to put up with operas about these kings and dukes and  if I like the melodic arias. Not, however, Wagner, and not Nixon.  This will not make my “fave” list of American operas in English, which, by the way, do exist. There are even many that are not atonal and are melodic and fun; Bernstein’s, for example, especially Candide. And Kurt Weill’s Down in the Valley, another one about regular people. Or Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

I might have like the spectacle of Turandot if we had been able to see it; I did like the spectacle of Aïda (Verdi) when they did it a couple of years ago, and it is Puccini. However, it is one of my least favorite Puccini, and it is about kings and princesses and heroes. The opera I really like most, mostly because it is just full of lovely melodies but also because it is about regular people, is La Boheme (Puccini). Once we even saw it done at Northwestern, and it was really fun because it was the only time I saw it when the singers were about the actual ages of the characters they were portraying.

So I am looking forward to the last opera of the season, which will be XX. More melody, I expect. And, while I like Verdi, especially La Traviata, and Mozart, especially Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro and I like Puccini, the fact is that Madama Butterfly is getting old, and Turandot is mostly boring. And most of them are about heroes and kings and dukes.

Maybe I should just stick to La Boheme.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring in Kansas City: Really nice, but what does it mean long term?

“It’s February, and spring has finally come to San Antonio.”

Reading these words in the Sierra Club newsletter in 1997, during a March (it came a month late) in which spring had definitely not yet come to Chicago, we had to laugh. Although we found, when we moved to San Antonio that year, that spring not only came in February, but that it was not always clear that there was a winter between fall and spring. The trees had not yet finished losing their leaves when the new buds appeared. Spring, in whatever month, is a great season, and we enjoyed it in San Antonio as we looked forward, with less than excitement, to May, when temperatures would start to hit 90, or June when they went to 100, not likely to come persistently below until October. Still, we thought, better than a Chicago winter.

But what are we to make of this year in Kansas City? Kansas City is never as cold in the winter as Chicago, but this year it is San Antonio. We have had hardly any weeks this winter where the temperature didn’t go above 40 at least some of the time, and much of it has been above 50. For the last few weeks it has been above 60, and this week 3 days of over 80. And this was before St. Patrick’s Day! Everything is in bloom: magnolias are already losing their flowers; the fruit trees such as apple and especially the Bradford pears are in magnificent bloom. There are daffodils all over, and the little groundcover wildflowers, the clover and violets, are all visible. It is March, and spring has come full-bore to Kansas City. The beautiful redbuds that mean “spring” in this city are already in bloom.

 We just hope there is no freeze, to wipe it out. In Chicago sometimes there would be a few warm days in April, followed by a frost that killed all the buds, and Kansas City is certainly known to have its share of ice storms. Still, this is not a freakish few warm days; this is the reasonable follow-up to a winter that normally belongs several climate zones south of here.

And that, of course, is a concern. I am not complaining about not having had a chance to use the new snow boots I bought on sale in Winter Park, CO, last summer, nor to be without icy winds in my face. Winds, on the other hand, we have; it is Kansas. The days of 40 degrees felt frigid with the wind, and when it first was in the 60s, we went out lightly jacketed to freeze in the breeze. But with 80, it’s, well, 80, so you really need a gale to make it less than pleasant.

And gales we have had.  A couple of weeks ago there were dozens of tornadoes in the Southeast US. In February. There were some last year, but this year was worse. New York had major snowstorms, and there were hurricanes. There has hardly been a month without a big weather disaster. Yes, there are tornadoes and hurricanes and snowstorms every year, but for the last several years they are becoming more common more freakish, and more regular; so much so that the freakish is not so freakish anymore. But tell that to folks in Joplin, MO, or the smaller cities that have been devasted by tornadoes and other weather events.

Amazingly, there are still climate change deniers. Some have harped on the phrase “global warming” – which it is over the long term – when the weather change has led to colder weather with more snow in the winter. They can’t argue that what we have in Kansas City – and all over the Midwest, where the temperatures are higher, and planting zones have moved north (we brought crepe myrtles in pots from San Antonio 10 years ago; despite being uncommon then they survived the winter with good mulching and are now doing well; turns out they have become common in KC nurseries now).

So I look out the window at the flowering trees, rub my eyes from early tree allergies, enjoy the warmth, and worry about the future of the planet.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Woody, Arlo, and me

In 1967, when I was in college, I spent the summer working as a “gateman” at the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. There were 6 of us with this job description, and 2 of us worked days and 4 of us worked nights; we rotated doing 2 weeks of nights and then a week of days. Both had their perks. Nights, 4pm to (more or less) midnight, were less real work; we handed out the tickets to those people who lined up for them, let people out and back in at the intermission, and put up the seats in the outdoor theater at the end of the performance. Not too hard, and we got to watch the plays – many times. I saw, for example (not all in ’67, I worked there ’68 as well) young Sam Waterston as Prince Hal, Stacy Keach as both Falstaff and Peer Gynt, Martin Sheen as Romeo; some folks who were more famous in other arenas too.  Judy Collins as Anitra in Peer Gynt, and Tom Tryon, then an actor but later more well-known as a novelist, as someone (?Hotspur? Maybe not.)

The “perk” was being able to hold tickets for friends and relations to pick up at the box office without waiting in line. It was the first time that I ever had any such clout, and it felt good. I also felt a little conflicted; I liked the fact that people were supposed to line up for the free tickets, and approved of the fact that it rewarded folks with more time than money. After all, everything else rewarded more money. It still does, and I don’t think there are many other venues where the reverse is true anymore. But I could do favors for my parents, or friends who were working for not much and thus had little time or money. I was getting what seemed like good pay; $4/hour, which, in 1967 for a college student, was not at all bad. The minimum wage in NYC at that time was $1.50 (I looked it up!).

Which was the good part about working days. It was much harder work than nights, as the two of us had to clean up the theater. As an outdoor venue, there was a lot of trash and it was hard, dirty work. On the other hand, there was no supervisor and we got paid for 8 hours even when we finished in 3 or4. Of course, in those days folks could smoke in theaters (even indoor ones) so a lot of what we had to pick up was cigarette butts, and I noticed that folks smoking regular cigarettes (say, Camels, or Marlboros) would have several butts at their seats, while those smoking the relatively new “low tar” cigarettes seemed to smoke a pack or more. I was ready to do a commercial: “I pick up all the garbage at the New York Shakespeare Festival, and I find more ‘True’ cigarette butts than any other brand. So – be cultured! Smoke ‘True’!” The reality was, as I knew from trying them, that it was hard to draw any smoke through the complex ‘True’ filters, so probably folks got not satisfaction from them, which is why they smoked more of them.

Anyway, that summer my parents took a vacation in their motor home with my younger sisters and drove up to Provincetown on Cape Cod. I told them I’d hitchhike up for the weekend and did; take the “Number 6” train to the last stop, Pelham Parkway, climb the fence on to the New England Thruway, and stick out your thumb. I didn’t get rides as easily as my friends who were young women, but this time it worked well. And we had a good weekend, and my parents paid for me to fly back (Provincetown to Boston Airways up and down, good thing as the weather was terrible, then the Eastern Shuttle back to LaGuardia. And the Q-33 bus to Roosevelt-Jackson to get the subway).

While we were there, we saw that Arlo Guthrie was playing at a coffeehouse, so we decided to go see him. Arlo was at that time just Woody Guthrie’s son, and also the son of Marjorie Mazia, who my sister (I think) and certainly friends took dance lessons from. It was afternoon, and the coffeehouse wasn’t too crowded, and we sat there as this young man sang, in particular a long and complicated story-song (not too common back in ’67) that went on and on, involving a restaurant, garbage, an arrest, and a Selective Service induction physical (yes, Virginia, there was a draft and a war on at the time!). That fall, his first album was released with that song, “Alice’s Restaurant”, as the title track. (By the way, when we heard him he sang, referring to himself, "the All-American boy from Coney Island"; on the record it has "New York City".)

I thought about this last night when Pat and I attended the Woody Guthrie Centennial Concert in Tulsa, OK, where the new Woody Guthrie Museum will be housed, not far from his birthplace in Okemah. It was an excellent concert; Arlo performed, along with John Mellencamp, Roseanne Cash, Jackson Browne, and a bunch of groups I knew less well (some of them from Oklahoma, but apparently popular, like Flaming Lips and HANSON).  Arlo’s sister Nora, who has maintained the archives and organized the concert was there (but not performing), but his son and grandson did perform with him. Yes, that tall, stocking-capped guitarist was his grandson – and I think he is only a year older than me! Heck, my friend Stefanie went to his bar mitzvah! So I have seen Arlo early in his career, and late (hopefully not at the end, but at least as the grandfather of a full-grown adult musician!) Tempus fugit.

What was a little disappointing about the concert, in addition to the entirely white audience, was the ratio of male to female performers. I mentioned Roseanne Cash. That was it. Including supporting performers. She played with her guitarist husband John Leventhal, and every member of every band was male. I mean, it was sponsored by the GRAMMY Museum, so maybe not totally progressive, but it was a Woody Guthrie memorial, and this was pretty amazing. I bought a CD, not of the concert, but of songs that consist of lyrics that Woody wrote and different artists put music to and recorded, none as good as the whole ‘Mermaid Avenue’ CD by Billy Bragg and Wilco, and ONE is by a woman, Ani DiFranco. It is depressing that even when lauding a real progressive (a conference that we missed during the day yesterday included talks on Oklahoma’s “different shades of Red”, from being a populist “red” state to a Republican “red” state”) we see such a lack of female performers. On top of having seen the film “Miss Representation” recently (highly recommended) it is incredible that so little net gain seems to have occurred in the media in the 40 years of the “second wave of feminism”.

But the music was good, the exhibit currently at the Gilcrease Museum was excellent, and it was a fun, 4.5 hour drive each way to Tulsa, with a nice stay in a Courtyard by Marriott that is a converted office building downtown. Maybe we’ll go back again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tucson and the birds

I am sitting in my sister and brother-in-law’s living room in Tucson watching the birds. The south-facing wall is almost all glass, and faces a walled courtyard filled with trees and bird feeders. Most of the trees are sparse because it is winter, and some, like the mesquite, are desert plants with small leaves anyway. It makes it easy to see the birds that gather in it, some of which I can identify from my years here: the red-chested house finch, whose name always struck me as too plan for such a pretty bird, its yellow cousin the goldfinches, the mourning doves whose heads are too small for their bodies. There are also a variety of sparrows, hummingbirds, a Gila woodpecker rocking the hummingbird feeder to slosh the liquid so it can get at it, some Gambel’s quail (blue-ish, so prettier than many varieties, with a distinct hanging topknot) who manage to get far enough off the ground to walk on top of the wall and access the feeder from the mesquite branch that serves as a bridge, and the occasional phainopepla, pyrroluxia, or cardinal (Tucson is one of the few areas that have both cardinals and pyrroluxia).

In contrast to the stark mesquite, there is a mock orange tree in the corner, lushly covered in dark green leaves and gaudily decorated with the oranges. Mock oranges survive well in the desert, and are often used as ornamentals. When I lived here there was a real orange tree in my backyard, planted in a raised bed built from bricks about two feet high. The first year, there were no fruits, so we watered it the second year. To our pleasure a number of real, tasty oranges were produced. The third year saw a profusion of small green oranges promising a bumper crop. Until, one day, my four year old son and his buddy appeared at the back door, all four of their hands proudly full of the small green fruits they had picked. It was just a little challenge to smile broadly and accept this gift with the enthusiasm with which it was offered, and to, in a really positive tone, suggest that next year it might be fun to let them grow even bigger before picking them! Of course, next year we were living in Chicago, and there were no orange trees of any variety.

This particular mock orange, apparently, was planted by a previous owner who had plans to graft multiple different citrus branches so that the one tree could bear oranges, grapefruit, lemon and lime. It never happened, but it is lucky for the birds that it is there, for it offers cover when (presumably) a hawk is spotted. Suddenly the mesquite is almost bare of birds, a little while later the leaves of the orange tree flutter as dozens of birds leave its cover to resume their feeding. The danger is, momentarily, past, but is ever present. Yesterday we sighted a Cooper’s hawk skimming down the road in front of their house only a few feet off the ground, presumably searching for ground squirrels or other rodents rather than birds on that trip, but quite capable of feeding on smaller birds. Last week, my sister took a photo of a hawk sitting in her back yard, quietly munching a dove, and unperturbed by her presence as she approached close to get a good picture. I have chosen to not include it in respect of the squeamish, but have attached another of a hawk perched on a
fountain in front of the house in the same yard I am watching.

There is a loud harsh machine sound that comes from behind me to the left, in the vicinity of the fireplace. It lasts several seconds and then stops. I wonder what machinery out in that direction, toward the driveway, has briefly clicked on, and then off. It happens again, grating and definitely mechanical, and then again. It isn’t the furnace coming on and off, though it sounds a little like that; it is in the wrong direction and is too brief. Perhaps there is a water heater out there? In these climates they are often outside the house in a little shed, but it doesn’t sound like one. Is there something a trash pickup truck might do that could make such a noise? It happens once more and then it is gone. Another mystery.

Until, just a few minutes later, my sister appears in her bathrobe (did I mention it was early morning?)
I ask her and she tells me that it is the Gila woodpecker trying to feed from the metal chimney. She notes it frequently alarms visitors. Ah. I note that it is not in the front yard any more. Mystery solved. Except the one about why the woodpecker has not yet figured out that there are no grubs to be had from the chimney. Better it should keep rocking the hummingbird feeder to slosh up the sugar water!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When do people doing bad things become bad people?

On a recent Saturday morning, at 7:15am, a car driving down my road swerved across the sidewalk and took out part of the chain link fence in front of one house and most of the white picket fence of the next house. I saw it when I was walking the dogs not much later; the policewoman was just arriving on the scene, and the owners of the house were standing in their little front yard still agape. “It sounded like an explosion,” the woman said, and I’ll bet that it did. The front gate was across the street and down about 20 yards.

It wasn’t a tragic event; no one was killed or even hurt. Still, it was pretty scary looking. Not only will it be a big job to fix, it emphasized their vulnerability. It is a little house with a little front yard; the damage extended to within 6 feet of their front door, much less than the distance that the car was off the street where it should have been. “I imagine alcohol was involved,” I observed somewhat inanely to the policewoman, who responded “Yes, still from Friday night.” She was not much less inane, asking the homeowners if they had gotten the license number. If they were not in bed, they were having breakfast at the back of the house; the car didn’t stay around.

So this driver did a bad thing. It makes me want to say he (“he” because there is no gender-neutral pronoun, and it is epidemiologically more likely) was a bad person, but that is not necessarily true. Probably, given that it was early Saturday morning (or for some, very late Friday night!) alcohol was involved, but it didn’t have to be. He could have been texting while driving, and lost control on this curving road. That’s pretty common; in Kansas it is not even illegal (the texting-while-driving part, not the hit-and-run part), and done by many folks who would tut-tut and condemn drunken drivers. In either case the damage is the same. It could have been the first time anything like this happened to him, or he could be a regular offender. But how many times would he have to be irresponsible, drive drunk, cause property damage, kill someone, before he went from being someone who did bad things to being a bad person? I imagine that both philosophy and theology have much to say about this concept, but some of it must have to do with intentionality. I doubt that the driver was trying to take out the front yard of this house.

I have been thinking about the difference between committing bad acts and being a bad person lately, as a result of the discussions over whether to raise taxes on multi-millionaires and billionaires and huge businesses, on the financiers and bankers who caused the economic crisis and have been doing just fine, thank you, despite the destruction that they have caused. Their flacks, both in Congress and in the media (and now themselves) are angrily denouncing Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and other critics for criticizing them for being wealthy. Jamie Dimon, CEO of Chase, says “Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it.” He is quoted by Edward Murray in The Huffington Post, “Nobody hates the rich…but everybody hates the bad”. Murray takes on this very issue, noting that there is no objection to people being rich, but answering a square “YES!” to the question that he puts in the mouth of these billionaires "Is it too much to ask that everyone just sit down and be nice while we destroy the middle class?" In a reference to the fictional Henry Potter, the rich villain in It’s a Wonderful Life”, Murray concludes that “…the Potters of the world aren't bad because they're rich. They're not bad because they're successful. They're bad because... they're just simply bad.”

I fear – and expect that Edward Murray would agree – that this is oversimplistic, or, more important, decreases the responsibility these folks have for their anti-social, destructive, selfish, and evil behavior by implying that they couldn’t help it because they are “bad”. There is a history in literature of evil rich people, who sometimes transform (Ebenezer Scrooge) and sometimes don’t (Henry Potter). Sometimes they are not “people” but non-people who it is easier to hate, and sometimes they transform (the Grinch) and sometimes they don’t (Sauron from “Lord of the Rings”). The comic books have a long history of often-deformed (maybe this is why they are bad) villains who we cannot imagine as anything but evil (Batman’s Joker and Penguin and the whole retinue of Dick Tracy’s Flattop and BB Eyes and The Brow), and we use aliens when we want to create bad guys who are really the “other”. And Nazis are always useful. The folks Murray writes about are certainly rich, but they show an amazingly antagonistic, selfish, non-caring attitude toward the rest of us. They are not the redeemed-becausethey-have-some-social-values rich such as FDR or the Kennedys or even Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. They are greedy pigs. They do lots and lots of bad things.

They are not bad because they are wealthy. They have done a lot of bad, non-productive things to get their wealth, these financiers. Far from being “job creators” (the Republican use of that term does not make it a synonym for “rich”) they are job destroyers, life destroyers. They do not manufacture or create, they manipulate money and people’s lives. Those are really bad things. What makes them seem like, maybe be, bad people is intentionality. They created nothing but wealth for themselves at the expense of everyone else, and they knew what they were doing. To say they are bad because they are bad implies that, like Sauron, they have no choice. They did. They could have been good people, or OK people, or reasonable people. But they weren’t and aren’t.

We call the house where the white picket fence was knocked down “Smokey’s house” because that is the name of the dog that lives there, a dog that ran around inside the small yard and barked at our dogs when we walked past. It will be a while before Smokey can be let out in that yard again because there is no longer a fence. But I’m pretty sure that the person who hit it, drunk or texting, was, while irresponsible and displaying poor or no judgment, not planning to destroy it. The financiers were planning to do what they did and remain unapologetic.

We should hate them and we should punish them. Not because they are wealthy, and not because they are “bad”. We should hate them and punish them because they did very bad things that have seriously and maybe permanently damaged the economies of the world and the lives of the people in it.

And they did it on purpose.