Silos and Bridges

While teaching a short course for older adults, many of them newcomers, in South Carolina government,  I invited them to turn in questions at the end of the first class and I would try to answer them in the following week’s class. I only got two—one for explaining an issue in education funding, which I am always happy to do.  The other one was quite different. The writer wanted to know how to participate in government as a blue person in a red state. Interestingly, the same day, a friend who shares my political views got yet another forwarded screed

So as I formulated my responses to  the student and the friend, drawing on my own many decades of experience as a transplanted Connecticut Yankee, I thought it would be worth sharing with my readers. While I am thinking from blue to red, it works equally well the other way if you happen to be a more conservative reader of my blog.

I have done a lot of public policy work.  Education and advocacy through the League of Women Votes. Testifying at legislative hearings. Collaborating in research with various agencies such as the Department of Revenue, the State Department of Education and the county and municipal an school boards associations. I have actually held public office as a city council member and have testified as an expert witness in a couple of disputed cases regarding education funding.  I was the most persistently center-left member of a pretty conservative academic department for 30 years. I live in a retirement community where those of a more center-left persuasion are a minority.

Friend first. I told her she was being witnessed to (a fine Southern religious term!) by this person and it was not only appropriate but obligatory to witness back. (I have had to do that with a family member who saw religion quite differently, and after that reciprocal witnessing, we remained close until his death two years ago.)  Silence is so often interpreted as agreement.  No need to be hostile. Say thank you for sharing your views and let me forward a column by someone who more closely reflects mine, The correspondent closed the subject with “I guess we will have to agree to disagree” but I’m betting she won’t be sharing any more.

So that’s one strategy: claim your silo, witness but be pleasant about it.  What else can we do?

  1. Find your people. There are lots of communities ranging from churches and bridge clubs and book clubs to neighborhoods and sailing clubs and amateur sports.  Eventually you will discern those whose leanings, political, religious, or philosophical, are more akin to yours.  That’s your silo, the place where you keep the food that gives you affirmation and support.  Silos have a role to play, but don’t be Rapunzel.  Let down your hair, cross a bridge, be in contact with people who think differently. Get involved in the community in ways that are collaborative rater than competitive. I know that my six colleagues as poll workers last November came from a variety of perspectives, but it had no bearing on the oath we took to conduct the election according to the rules and help people participate in their government according to their own values and priorities.  Serve on a board or commission, help build a Habitat House or rescue neglected animals, tutor a child.   Neither politics nor religion has a monopoly on making the world a better place.
  2. As for these other people living in different silos, be always mindful that they are more than their politics and/or religion.  They may share your enthusiasm for sailing, or quilting, or medieval history, or football or gardening or hiking.  Get to know the rest of them that isn’t politics. Learn to appreciate one another as human beings on the same journey through life.
  3. Find ideas on the other side that you can at least partially affirm, or common ground.  Often you will find that you have the same objective but different ways of achieving it.  As Stephen Covey would say, begin with the end in mind.  What are you trying to do with this law, this ruling, this policy? Is there another, better, more equitable and efficient way of getting the desired result? How can we combat homelessness, drugs, or violence in ways that are respectful of people’s needs, people’s rights, compassion, incentives, justice?   
  4. If you are left, learn to attack (an argument, not a person) from the right. If you are right, attack from the left. I once got into a discussion with one of my more right wing colleagues about requiring internet/catalog firms to collect state sales tax.  Oh, he said, you just want to raise taxes. Not at all, I replied. Cut the tax rate if it raises too much money.  I just want a level playing field between Main Street merchants who have to collect the tax while their state governments have to exempt their out of state competitors.  It’s not just unfair, it’s inefficient. (In case you ever get into an argument with an economist, you can always win by pointing out that his or her proposal is inefficient, the most grievous sin an economist can commit.) If you are the right wing person, attack the position from the left, invoking equity and compassion
  5. Find out what the other side is thinking, and try to understand their reasoning. If you are on the right of center, commit to watching MSNBS once a week.  If you are left, Watch Fox News or read the Wall Stret Journal. If you read any editorial columnists, don’t limit yourself to Eugene Robinson and Jennifer Rubin who will reinforce your thinking; check out Hugh Hewitt and Marc Thiessen for a contrary view.
  6. Get to know your legislators and public officials and find issues on which you can speak from authority or experience and bring about limited change. Tell stories—they are more effective than abstract arguments or statistics. But do b sure you have the facts.  Invite them to explain their position and listen thoughtfully.
  7. Finally, remember that we should not succumb to either optimism (this too shall pass, technology will save us…) or pessimism (we are going to hell in a handbasket and nothing I can do will make any difference).  Both optimists and pessimists are failing to exercise their free will on matters that they care about.  Theologian Joanna Macy tells us that the only appropriate attitude is active hope, the virtue that lies halfway between optimism and pessimism. Active hope calls us to define what we hope for and find ways to actively work to make it happen.  What do you care about, and what are you going to do about it? In the process of defining your passion, your concern, your hope, and developing strategies you can employ individually or as part of a group or as a citizen, voter, or elected official, you will find your tribe and can invite them for a  visit inside your silo!

The Muted Joy of Pronouns

I first learned about the pronoun problem decades ago from two sources of experience. One was feminism. The other was textbook writing.  The first problem was the word man, as in Darwin’s The Descent of Man. Jefferson’s “all men are created equal.” As a female, am I in or out?  With Darwin, I’m pretty sure he meant humans, but with Jefferson, I am not at all sure that he didn’t mean property-owning white free men.

Back in the day, say a millennium or so ago , a man in the emerging English language meant a human being.  A male man was a wer-man (as in werewolf and warlock), and a female human being was a wo-man..  Well, you can see where that went.  The folks with the Y chromosome co-opted the generic term. So I have become very careful about using the word man or men in my writing, limiting use to only the ones with the Y chromosomes. Just think, if we went back to using werman and woman, the term man could become gender neutral!

Other gendered terms have evolved.  Stewardesses and their male counterparts became flight attendants.  Chairmen became chairs. Actors and actresses pretty much became actors generically, as in one who acts, except for the still gendered academy awards. And the suffix -ette is a belittling term that is slowly going out of use. Remember the people with two X chromosomes who fought for the right to vote? They were suffragists, not suffragettes. I do accept the term dinette for a small version of dining room furniture and kitchenette for a very small kitchen, because they are non-gendered, nonhuman, and helpful descriptions.

As a female human being who is comfortable with my gender identity and a feminist, I have no problem being called she, her, female, woman. But I recognize that is not true of everyone, especially those who experience their gender as nonbinary, fluid, or transgendered. Unless people display their preferred pronouns on their name tags,  if they happen to be wearing a name tag , I have no way of knowing whether my use of gendered third person singular pronouns is offending someone.  That’s especially true with the second challenge as a writer.

As a textbook writer, I received help from my publisher in using a variety of techniques.  Alternate the use of he and she, her and him.  Use the word “one” instead of he or she.  Since economists are fond of illustrating principles or concepts with stories, give the characters names, perhaps gender-fluid ones like Sidney or Sandy or Terry. Use the plural—people, citizens, buyers, sellers, workers, or voters, so that the word “they” is its historical self, referring to more than one person of unidentified gender. Or more than one rock, building, or book.

Having said that, I am annoyed at being asked what my pronouns are. I am tempted to answer I, me, and mine. What about you (your, yours)?  Furthermore, I am offended as a lover of words and language and particularly our complex English language by the insistence that we replace the first person singular (he, him, she, her) with the plural (they, them, their). I channel my English teachers from many decades ago, putting a red mark on my paper for abuse of the English language. The language belongs to all of us, and while I am open to options, I reserve the right to find this change annoying, or unacceptable.

The choice of the third person plural to replace the third person singular shows a singular lack of imagination. What about hes (she putting he first for the nominative case) and herm (blending her and him) for the direct object? (Herm is particularly apt since a person or animal who has the secondary sexual characteristics of both genders is called a hermaphrodite, combining Hermes and Aphrodite.) What about going to another language to find a word—maybe ilelle combining he and she in French? Or Es, a gender-neutral pronoun from German?

What are your pronouns? And what would be your choice for a gender -neutral replacement for he/she, her/him, and his/hers?

The Housecleaning Holiday

Welcome to the only holiday that is celebrated by cleaning house!  Imbolc or Oimelc, February 1st or 2nd, means ewe’s milk and refers to lambing season, a first harbinger of spring. It is one of the lesser-known cross-quarter holidays on the Wheel of the Year. In addition to Groundhog Day or Candlemas, it survived as the feast of the purification of the virgin (Mary) after the birth of her son 40 days earlier and also as a day sacred to St. Bridget or Brigid. Bridget is actually the great Goddess in her maiden phase, converted to a Christian saint. The corn maiden from the previous harvest is brought out in her honor as a virgin once again, ready to encounter her beloved in the mating rituals of spring.

The purification part of this holiday was known in pre-feminist times as spring house cleaning. In ancient time among the Irish Celts, Imbolc cleaning consisted of removing the Yule greenery from the home and burning it, cleaning up fields and home, and relighting the hearth fire as well as burning old Bridget wheels and making new ones Most of us have already taken down the tree and put away the decorations from Christmas by February 1st, but if you haven’t, you can use Imbolc as the excuse for delaying it till now.  After Imbolc, you are at risk of being a lazy pagan if you don’t deal with the winter holiday residue.

Imbolc is an indoor time. It’s cold and still pretty dark, but it is the waxing period of light and warmth following the winter solstice. It represents a final stage of wintry inwardness before the crocuses and daffodils invite us to look outward again. Housebound, we have to find our spiritual practice within that space. It is the late stage of the hibernating season as we prepare for the cycle of life to begin again.

Spiritual practice has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent decades.  A spiritual practice is anything that is centering, mindful, focusing, and connects you to the sacred in a very inclusive sense.  Practicing patience with difficult people is a spiritual practice.  Listening attentively is a spiritual practice.  Eating mindfully is a spiritual practice. Meditation and prayer are traditional spiritual practices in many religious traditions.  But there is also a form of spiritual practice that invests the ordinary activities of daily life with significance in the way carry them out.

The essence of spring housecleaning as spiritual practice blends several Christian and Buddhist ideas.  One is humility; no task is too menial that we are above it, as in Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The second is mindfulness, to be engaged in the moment, to calm the monkey mind, to focus all our attention on the window being washed or the floor being swept. The third is letting go of attachment to possessions as an encumbrance on our spiritual life, passing them on to another use or another user. The spiritual practice of spring housecleaning can incorporate all three.

Housecleaning means two different things.  One is the emphasis on clean, as in wash windows, polish furniture, remove cobwebs, paint, scrub floors, clean woodwork, dust the books. That’s both the humble and the mindful part.  In the words of one contemporary Buddhist writer, “after enlightenment, the laundry.” The other kind of housecleaning is to declutter, simplify, recycle, let go of possessions no longer needed, like the greens from Yul in the Celtic tradition.  That’s the letting go part. 

For many years my Lenten practice, for the forty days that begin sometime after Imbolc and stretch to the floating holiday of Easter, has been to wash a window every day.  Then I moved to a smaller house, which taxed my ingenuity to find forty windows.  I included car windows, TV and computer screens, mirrors.  Friends helpfully offered their windows, but I did not wish to discourage their own spiritual practice.   There is something very satisfying, very symbolic in letting the light of the returning spring shine through a clean window, but it means more when it’s my window. 

A friend described a similar cleaning ritual, only she does it all on New Year’s Day.  She takes each of her many books down one at a time off the shelf, dusts it (and the shelf), and decides whether it stays or goes.  If books are a rich and meaningful part of your life, revisiting these old friends and deciding what role they still may play in your life and which ones should be shared with others  is definitely a spiritual practice.  This particular ritual embodies both humility (dusting). mindfulness (concentrated attention on the books and the memories and teachings they hold), and letting go (books to be passed on).

So, as the daffodils and crocuses pop their leaves through the ground, as the groundhog in Punxatawny ponders his forecast, we can prepare to emerge from the hibernating season by renewing the spaces we inhabit. Like the bluebirds, whose house I have to clean very soon because they refuse to return to a used next, let us be about the humble tasks of maintaining our habitats. Spring housecleaning only comes once a year!

Scarcity and Abundance

Scarcity blog

The annual release from copyright took place last week.  One of the songs that is now public domain is, somewhat ironically, “The best things in life are free.”  Don’t sing it to an economist, though.  Theirs is a world of scarcity, not abundance.

Right at the start of initiating students into the mysteries of economics, we introduce them to the central role of scarcity. (When we were developing materials for K-12 education incorporating economics, that concept was introduced to first graders.  One enterprising youngster believed that it was actually two words, Scar City. That precocious child undoubtedly grew up to be a philosophy major.).   

If wants are unlimited while resources are limited, society needs to direct those scarce resources to their highest and best use in order to get the most out of scarce resources of time, energy, materials, whatever.  Most is normally an adjective, so what’s the noun? Economists are rather vague what the noun is to be maximized.  Most happiness? Wealth? Well-being? Satisfaction?

Following 19th century utilitarianism (which is the foundation of economics), the most likely answer is welfare.  No, not as in aid to poor families.  Welfare is just a synonym for well-being.  Since economist like to be able to measure and compare, they generally use per capita Gross Domestic Product as a rather questionable measure of societal well-being. The Kingdom of Nepal measures Gross National Happiness as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product. I’M WITH Nepal.  The World Bank and other entities construct multiple measures of well-being, like life expectancy, access to health care, and education al attainment.  By those measures the United States does not do so well, because they measure outcomes or access to some of the good things of life—the ones that are not free.

But back to scarcity. More than one economist has observed that scarcity is a universal fact of life outside of paradise—which in their (warped?) view, makes paradise boring and reality more interesting. Scarcity forces us to make choices and tradeoffs, and stimulates competition, creativity, and innovation.  Scarcity forces us to conserve the scarcest resources and rely on the more abundant ones—substituting capital for labor when labor is scarce and vice versa, shifting to sun, wind and hydropower as fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive.  The price signals emanating from the market let us know what shifts we need to make.

HOWEVER…a mentality of scarcity gives rise to greed, and greed gives rise to poverty and inequality, something economists don’t talk much about. Most of what they teach is efficiency, which is how to get the most out of your scarce resources. Most being, implicitly, material goods, services, and other good things that can be purchased with cash.Or credit. So perhaps it is time to switch our attention from scarcity to abundance and efficiency to equality.

Yesterday I tested positive for COVID after escaping it from three blessed years. It’s not severe or incapacitating but the best wishes and offers of help from friends and family were overwhelming.  They did more to raise my spirits than even the over the counter remedies money can buy.

When I was growing up, my mother used to by Reynold’s Doughnuts. On the side of the box was a picture of a tree and two men sitting with their back to the tree.  One was facing a doughnut with a small hole, the other on the doughnut with a big hole.  Accompanying the pictures was the little verse “As you wander on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.”

Good advice from a doughnut box.

Reflections on a New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!  2023 was a pretty good year, all things considered, although our country and our world still need more cool, sane, calm heads in charge. Starting with each of us and moving ever outward and upward.

I have been making New Year’s resolutions since I was a child. I remember being ten and resolving to master lighting the gas stove, which didn’t have a pilot light and had to be lit with a match. And people wonder about my lack of interest in switching to gas Every New Year’s Day I go back to my journal from a year earlier and see how I did. Some of these resolutions I actually keep. The more generic I make my resolutions, the better the score I can give myself.  I did not do so well on managing weight in 2022, so it’s back to the drawing boards. I have been very faithful to my exercise regimen, so much so that it no longer qualifies as a resolution, just somewhere between a habit and a positive addiction. I’ve done a fair job of practicing various forms of mindfulness (meditation, mindful eating, focused listening) and doing what I can to further and protect democracy through teaching, writing, donating to political campaigns, and working at the polls. I have worked at simplifying my surroundings and being environmentally responsible and trying not to personally dislike or avoid people for supporting Donald Trump. And like the Girl Scout that I once was, I made a conscious effort to make new friends and keep the old.  Attrition among friends speeds up after age 80, so it’s important to enjoy and appreciate those we have and add to the roster.

This new year also marks a transition in my community volunteering life. After three years on the church board, two of them as president, I have sworn off serving on any more volunteer boards. Since 1968 I have served as president of nine volunteer organizations, some of them multiple times.  I estimate a total of 30 years of being president of something.  And countless years on boards.)   I am trying to refocus my volunteer activities to more hands-on, episodic things like planning and carrying out the League’s monthly programs, teaching at OLLI, managing social action activities for my congregation, and preaching here and there.

As you reflect on the year past and the year ahead, the good news is that there are many new year’s days during the year ahead when you can begin again. I actually celebrate many new year’s days each year. The new calendar year, the old calendar year (which began in April, hence April fool’s day), a new year of my life on July 1st that coincides with a new state fiscal year (only an economist would celebrate that!). A new Celtic year which begins at Halloween, a Jewish New Year in the fall, a Chinese New Year in early spring, and of course, the solstice.  I used to celebrate a new academic year in August.  One year I had a New Year’s Eve Party on August 14th, the night before the official start of the fall term. My ties to the academic year have dwindled since my second retirement, but it still lingers in my consciousness with the ebb and flow of some 27,000 college students in our little college town. In other words, there are many chances to acknowledge bumps along the path and get back on track with another new year. No need to wait till next January 1st. There are many chances to begin again!

However and whenever you celebrate, observe, or ignore the New Year, may it be a happy, meaningful, rewarding, surprising year for each of you.

Winners and Losers, Competition and Collaboration

Back om 1996, a left of center economist, Robert Frank, wrote a book called The Winner Take All Society. He was particularly interested in the labor market, where those at the top—athletes, movie starts, singers, CEOs, football coaches,… all get paid outrageously extravagant salaries while those who are not at the top get a small fraction of that amount. Most singers and actors have a day job. Careers in professional sports are often short for the non-super stars. There are a few very highly paid lawyers, but the majority just earn fairly ordinary incomes and spend their days dealing with wills and estates, or  work as prosecutors or public defenders while hoping to become a judge.

Winner takes all applies to other areas of our lives besides earning a living.  In fact, having a seven figure plus income and a stash of financial assets enables the lucky few to tip the scales further in their favor.  As major political contributors, they give us a lopsided tax law that gives special treatment to capital gains, even though capital gains are no different from a salary increase in terms of putting food on the table. They were fully supportive of Trump’s outrageous “favor the rich” tax bill with huge giveaways to corporations and a few measly bones thrown at the rest of us.  Adding insult to injury, the bones to the average citizens expire in 025, but the giveaways to the rich are permanent.

A second area in which the rule of winner takes all applies is politics. You probably know the old joke about what do we call the person who finished last in the med school class? Answer: Doctor. What do we call Loren Boebert, who won re-election by a scant 546 votes?  We call her Congresswoman, the Honorable Loren Boebert.  And the second -place person, by a tiny margin, is lost in the mists of history.  Who ran against her? The recount was only a month ago, but I had to look it up. (Adam Frisch).

Winner takes all is part of the reason why those who govern our nation are elected by a minority of the electorate. Some of that tyranny of the minority is built in the constitution in the two senators per state and the electoral college. Some of it is the result of gerrymandering. Some of it is the prevailing practice of electing by a plurality rather than a majority, as many states choose to do. (Frustration with runoff elections is a major factor in the spread of ranked choice voting among the states.) In particular, the prevailing Republican Party practice of winner takes all in presidential primaries allowed a candidate who was supported by a minority of his own party to claim the nomination from a crowded field in 2016.  It could easily happen again in what looks like a crowded Republican field in 2024.

The winner of the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel is known to just about everyone on the planet, but the cardinal who came in second is never even identified.  There is only one Heisman Trophy winner (at least the Olympic games honor three medal winners!), only one class valedictorian, only one governor or president. The winner takes all the power, prestige, and perks of office, just as the winner of a game of monopoly lords it over those whom he or she has forced int bankruptcy.

In January of 1832 when Jackson nominated Martin Van Buren to the prestigious position of minister to Britain, Senator Henry Clay denounced it as nothing more than the same patronage practices that had been practiced for years in VanBuren’s home state of New York.  In response, New York Senator William L. Marcy defended the appointment with his famous words “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.”

The winner take all practice of “to the victor belong the spoils” is enshrined in the firmly held American belief that competition is a good thing in all aspects of life. At least in some cases it’s a win for the team—football, political party, nation, or best decorated house in town at Christmas.  There are friendly competitions, and there is no doubt that competition can spur some of us to our best efforts.  But winners are always a small minority. What about the rest of us?  Is there no space for those of us who are good, or even very good, but not necessarily the very best, the top of the heap? Is there no way of organizing society to tamp down on the “winner at all costs,” “winning is the only thing” mentality that drives our culture?

There is an alternative to competition, cooperation or collaboration. Being part of a work, volunteer, social or familiar body that values each person for their contribution, their uniqueness, and practices that best line of Karl Marx, from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need.  Many years ago, I had a friend who had a full time job that didn’t pay very well, while her husband worked for the same entity in a much more admired and well-compensated position.  He pointed out that she was only earning a quarter of the family income, and her response says, not I contribute exactly what you do.  I give my job my all, my best.  That’s an equal contribution. It bespeaks a partnership in which each person’s effort is valued and appreciated and not measured in monetary terms.

I complained a while back that an organization on whose board I served had been taken over by the bean counters, an admittedly derisive term for those who are focused intently on the details. One of my friends, a member of the organization but not in a leadership role, reminded me that she was a bean counter, fascinated and absorbed in the financial details.  I had to amend my complaint to admit that at one time the organization was heavy with big picture people and also that the bean counters had an important role to play.  What was needed was the leadership that could strike a balance between the two.

A well-run business, corporate or other, would encourage the organization to compete without for the clients or customers, but use a thoughtful balance of competition and collaboration to get the work done within.  In an ideal world, so would the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate. The same is true for the other institutions of society.  We need more winners not fewer, but we also need to avoid the stigma of being labeled a loser. And we need to learn and practice how to honor the contribution of every member of the work team, family, community, or whatever entity of which we area a part.

Make it your New Year’s resolution!

The Legacy of Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry was an early governor of Massachusetts who created some very oddly shaped districts in an effort to control the outcome of elections. One famous district was in the shape of a salamander, and a newspaper quickly labeled it a gerrymander—a word that has stuck ever since.  A lot has been written, argued, and taken to court over the design of electoral districts from Congress all the way to county councils, school board, and city governments. The Supreme Court is hearing a case right now, and state courts are tied up with the aftermath of the 2020 census even as we got to the midterms with questionably drawn district lines.  Once these districts are affirmed or redrawn—and a number of states are still contesting the lines used for the midterm elections—they will be with us until 2032.  That sounds disheartening.  But it’s not as bad as you might think.

A recent article in Politico identified two consequences of the redrawing after the 2020 Census that may have had an unexpected effect on the relatively strong Democratic performance.  Both of them relate to the COVID pandemic, which began just as the Census was wrapping up.  During COVID, a lot of workers got to work from home, and many of those who had that option moved farther away from work, often from the center city to the suburbs or even small towns and rural areas.  Those who had that option were disproportionally Democrats, and they were moving in many cases from Democratic-leaning districts to Republican-leaning districts.  Apparently, that made a difference in some closely contested races—and it was a year of many closely contested races.

The second effect of COVID was partisan differences in death rates.  More Republicans died from COVID than Democrats, at least partly because of calls from Republican party leaders to refuse both masks and vaccines.  I wondered at the time about the wisdom of pushing a response o the pandemic that would kill off your most loyal partisans. 

Attention is now focused on the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices are considering the independent legislature theory that would vest all the power to redistrict in state legislatures without court oversight at either the state or federal level. That is certainly an important decision.  Beyond SCOTUS and the midterm 2022 elections, however, there are reasons to hope that the 2020 Census-based districts, drawn up by partisan state legislatures, may not have as much lasting impact as one might think.  Age cohorts die off and new ones come of age. The difference in voting preferences between the average 75-year-old and the newly enfranchised 18 to 25-year-old is quite substantial. Also, people move.  A district that might have looked safely Republican in 2022 could be very different by 2026 or 2028 or 2030 as voters migrate to where the weather is better or the job opportunities and cost of living are more attractive. . There has been a steady migration from the Northeast and the Midwest and California to redder states, turning parts of them purple—my favorite political color. The Elbridge Gerrys of 2030 will have a harder task squeezing as many of their opponents into as few districts as possible.

Economists believe that monopoly power is ephemeral, attracting would-be competitors to find ways into that monopolized market, encouraging consumers to find substitutes for the products and services of monopolized industries. Technology moves on and pokes holes in the flying buttresses and drains moats surrounding a castled monopoly.  Remember when cable TV was an evil monopoly? And before that, the “Big Three”—NBC, ABC, and CBS? The political equivalent of monopoly is tyranny of the minority.  It’s true that the Constitution, somewhat deliberately, provided excessive protections for the minority, , the southern states where enslaved persons only counted for 3/5 in the Census and couldn’t vote, the smaller states with two senators per sat regardless of population. But ultimately, the majority will find a way to prevail, sometimes by intent but more often by the changes carved by the flow of a moving population river flowing in and out of districts, bringing in changes in gender, politics, religion and priorities to districts which were once safely stowed in a particular political basket.

I never understood why economics was labeled the dismal science.  I think it is largely populated by incurable optimists, with deep and abiding faith in the forces of change. Like the fabled King Canute, who was (apparently wrongly) accused of trying to hold back the ocean’s tide, we know change is inevitable.  Good change, bad change, neutral change. Yes, it’s worth trying to direct the tides in the affairs of men (and wmen), but it’s also good to learn to go with the flow!

Reflections on the Season

At the behest of my daughters, particularly my oldest daughter, I am downsizing Christmas.  No, I didn’t fire Santa Claus, or his elves, but there will be fewer packages and less shopping this year.  Instead of everyone buying everyone else a present, we did a lottery for gift exchange among the eleven in the next two generations—three daughters, three sons-in-law, four granddaughters, and one grandson-in-law. My extended family of 12 will have seven physically present and five on Zoom, because several of them have to work over the holidays. The tree is smaller and sits on a table.

Downsizing Christmas has been an evolving process over the last few years. It makes me aware of what really matters.  One is reducing wasteful consumption. My daughters have been urging a shift to consumables and experiences.  Two of them are getting tickets to Stomp! Others are getting movie tickets, and gourmet chocolates. And always books, which I regard as a consumable, a few that may be kept and others passed on to libraries or book sales or friends.  A round of visiting the Global Giving website in which I invite each person to choose a project to support. A movie night for all those present (sometimes we can’t agree and have to split up into smaller groups!) A reading of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Baking favorite treats for those present and absent—gluten free cookies for my middle daughter, blueberry scones for my oldest grandchild, neither of whom can be present.

I remember what Christmas was like when I was much younger, with a family of five and an academic career. I used to complain that I couldn’t observe Advent during final exam season, let alone a less frenetic preparation for the holidays. Now I can observe Advent, alone with my cat, playing Christmas music, lighting an advent wreath, attending all-adult social events, and looking forward to a scaled down and less exhausting round of family-centered gifts, games, movies, church services, and food.

Which is better? Neither. Each has been a treasured place  place in my journey from wide-eyed child going into the woods with my mother, brother and sister to cut down a tree, to the 81-yearold grandmother with the four-foot artificial tree, from the delighted five year old with a doll house with real electric lights to an aging widow who makes a list of minor household repairs for two of her tree sons-in-law. But I do wish that I had come earlier to this awareness, urged on by daughters (especially the oldest) to simplify Christmas, to downplay the material side, slow the pace, and be present in the moment for those I love.

May you experience the blessings of this universal season of cold and dark as both a time to look inward and a celebration of the return of the light (pagan), the arrival of the light (Christian), the persistence of the light (Jewish), or whatever other meaning may speak to your heart and soul. I wish each of you a rich, tradition-filled, earth-embracing holiday season.

An Open Letter to Senator Tim Scott

Dear Senator Scott,

I watched your political commercials during the recent campaign, talking about how far you had come as a sharecropper’s son to the U.S. Senate.  I’m sure you did your family proud.  But did you know that in the Union states during the War of the Rebellion (that’s what they called it), there was a lot of support for sending your ancestors back to Africa? Even President Lincoln thought for some time that blacks and whites could not peacefully co-exist after all that history, and perhaps returning them to their continent of origin would help to keep the peace. But most of them had been born on this continent, and many of their forebears as well, so returning to Africa was not exactly going home.

Going home? They spoke English. They had accustomed themselves to different religions and food and history. Some of their descendants adopted the words of the song Blue Boat Home, “I was born upon the water,” because the middle passage shaped them as a distinctive people with a new homeland not of their choosing but in which they could make a home. They built a distinctive but rich culture within the American land of diversity, and many of them, like you, were able to thrive and prosper despite all the obstacles that faced them.

Today the U.S. Senate is facing a similar dilemma.  Today’s immigrants, especially Dreamers, may not have cone across the water, or be brought here as captives, but they did leave behind a homeland, a culture, a language, a history  to start over.  And some of them didn’t even make that choice, because they arrived as children.  They grew up in America, but like your African ancestors even after the end of slavery, they faced and still face obstacles in seeking the American dream. Dreamers, mostly Hispanic, are the ones brought here as children, who never knew a homeland in Mexico or Central American of the Caribbean or Venezuela. They went to school with our children but had far fewer rights and faced the threat of deportation.  Yet they filled important gaps in our labor force, learned English, worked hard, enriched us with their cultural heritage while embracing ours.

So as you contemplate pending legislation that would provide protection from deportation for the Dreamers, wrap them in the warm blanket of your own cultural heritage and give them the kind of opportunity you as a born citizen have always had.

What Voter Fraud?

On Tuesday, November 8th, in a fit of civic duty, I spent 14 hours from 6 am to 8 pm as a poll manager, which is less complicated than being a clerk (one of a few places where a clerk is the boss of managers!).  If you have any doubts about the security of your vote, sign up to be trained and serve at the polls just once and you will be enlightened.  The security precautions are awesome and the whole team pitches in to make sure that people have a good experience and are treated with respect.  At least, that’s how we run an election in South Carolina. Every ballot is accounted for, all tallies must match, and we worker bees have to witness the opening and closing o f the scanner that tallies and collects the votes.  For my part, I patiently explained from my station at the scanner what happens to your ballot, how it is tallied by the scanner and deposited in a safely guarded basket below to revisit in case of an audit.

 All signs and equipment are delivered before the crack of dawn and returned to the election office as soon as possible after the polls close. The seven seals of the Book of Revelation nothing to the number of seals are applied to every container and machine and we have to witness each unsealing and resealing.  I hope this safe, secure, and nonviolent election has put the fraudulent fraud claims and threats of violence to rest.

I spent the post-election day recuperating and watching the aftermath.  Democracy passed the test. I will never take it for granted again.