Nice Guys Finish Last

One could get the impression that the world is not a kind place.  News reports provide constant evidence that the cruel, powerful, greedy and shameless are running the show.  As Leo Durocher once said, “Nice guys finish last.”

Today I read a news article (from a reputable source) that a large bank weaseled out of paying its fine for abetting the mortgage meltdown of 2008.  The Feds ordered the bank to pay 1 billion in cash out of a 5 billion levy.  The rest had to be doled out in debt forgiveness to homeowners in financial distress.  The bank figured out a way to shuffle accounts, canceled debts on properties it no longer owned, and saved 4 billion.  The article noted that this institution has holdings valued at 1/8 of the United States economy, implying that there was no financial need for this subterfuge.  The officers in charge felt no remorse for helping to cause the Great Recession and no need to make a pittance of amends.

Last Sunday our pastor at Winter Park Presbyterian preached on passages from 4 Philippians in which Paul advised his readers to be unafraid, to pray constantly to God and give thanks, and to focus on everything that is good, pure and just.  Pastor Micheli noted that this letter was the last that Paul wrote as he waited in a Roman prison to be executed. Micheli expanded on the passage and spoke of turning to God in troubled times as a source of comfort, as the one true rock on which we can stand.

I was struck by Paul’s faith and knew that I would never be able to match his courage.  I’d spend my last days and hours looking for an escape, making bargains with God to save my sorry butt, and sweating in full blown panic. As I sat in the pew I felt a longing for the peace and sureness of conviction of those who have a strong relationship with God.

I’ve rarely been able to sustain a life centered on spirituality, but now I see the necessity.  I might be deluding myself, but my wavering agnostic path no longer seems to be working.  And I’ve noticed that the company is a lot better when I hang around with people who believe in something more than blind self-interest.

Last place doesn’t look all that bad to me.







Gross Domestic Well-being

The Democrats are still looking for a new motivating concept to rally behind, a new theme for their election push in 2018.  I’ve already suggested that they run as the reality party, as the grown-ups willing to do something constructive about climate change, income disparity, crumbling infrastructure and health care.

Here’s another idea:  run on the idea that the main business of the United States government isn’t raising the GDP.  Make the well-being of Americans its business.  Measure progress and success by the Gross Domestic Well-being.  Count how many people are healthy, educated, working at meaningful jobs, working at jobs that pay a living wage, living in nonviolent communities, free from race and income based oppression, heard and heeded by their representatives in the House and Senate.

The crew in charge right now claim to be patriots working for the benefit of our country and its citizens, but vote instead for programs, budgets and tax schedules that benefit the few.  Politicians are bought and paid for by wealthy elites and their corporations, and the needs of the many get ignored.

This is obvious, and our representatives resort to increasingly ridiculous arguments to justify decisions designed to do harm to the majority.  Some recent advocates in the House of Representatives for their heinous health care bill (actually, their denial-of-health-care bill) have stated that good people don’t get sick.  Bad people indulge in harmful habits and bring their fates upon themselves.  And only the wicked, if this line of “thinking” gets carried a bit further, suffer accidents and genetic diseases, contract infectious pneumonia and influenza.  Health insurance would be unnecessary if all the underlings just behaved better and kissed up to God properly.  The stubborn and wicked should just accept their punishment and die quietly and inexpensively.

We all know that reality doesn’t work this way, but elected officials spew this nonsense with straight faces and self-righteous attitudes.  I’ve never heard that one of them has put the theory, that the righteous need no health insurance, to the test.  Instead, they remain enrolled in their government paid programs.  (Do they doubt their logic, or do they doubt their own state of righteousness?)

Here’s a few ideas about how to achieve  better gross domestic well-being.

  1. Limit military spending to fund forces capable of success in defensive wars for our country and our allies.  Foreign adventures in regime change would be outlawed.
  2. Take the money saved from a reduction in arms spending to pay for higher education and health care for all citizens.  Raise taxes on the ridiculously wealthy to cover a short fall.
  3. Political funding would be provided by a government managed slush fund so that corporations and wealthy individuals could no longer dominate elections.  Amend the Constitution to prohibit “free speech” by corporations in the form of political donations and propaganda programs disseminated by shell organizations.
  4. Favor countries with good human rights records with better trade agreements.
  5. End military style training for police departments and encourage neighborhood foot patrols.
  6. Ask companies producing new products to give estimates of product durability.  If a new stove or a car is expected to last less than ten years, then the company must pay a waste fee to cover the cost of disposal.
  7. Encourage the redevelopment of repair trades to fix and maintain products to increase longevity.
  8. Tailor the energy economy to renewable resources, and tax providers who stick exclusively to fossil fuels.  Do not allow them to pass the cost of these levees onto their customers.
  9. Make all wages livable, and prosecute employers who hire illegal immigrants in order to cut payroll costs.
  10. Judge any new piece of legislation in terms of its effect, for good or ill, on the whole population.  If more than 5% of the population would suffer, then rewrite the bill.





A Spoonful of Covfefe (By Kellyanne Poppins)

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the agreement fall down,

Paris fall dow-wown, the agreement fall down.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the agreement fall down,

In the most atrocious way.


A senator blustering his views says that we’ve an awful lot to lose

While China can go on its merry way.

He claims the science won’t be complete till the ocean laps his feet.

Then he’ll get—a tan—when the shore comes to Spokane.


Just a spoonful of covfefe makes the science seem wrong,

The science seem wrong-ong, the science seem wrong.

Just a spoonful of  covfefe makes the science seem wrong

Until we all get washed away.


A Trump man feathering his nest has very little time to rest

While gathering his bits of slime and gross intrigue.

But he tweets out his pursuits and English convolutes.

He knows—a lie—can turn the Russian (rushing?) tide.


For a spoonful of covfefe makes Jim Comey disappear,

Jim Comey disappear-ear, Jim Comey disappear.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes Jim Comey disappear.

But did he really go away?


Poor Spicer is surrounded and on every side he’s hounded by

reporters making up outlandish news.

But for every question that he takes he knows his job’s at stake.

He groans—he sighs—he sputters and denies.


For a spoonful of covfefe makes democracy fall down,

democracy fall dow-wown, democracy fall down.

Just a spoonful of covfefe makes America fall down.

Let’s hope we can come back some day.

The Reality Party

s-p-painting-2Self-Portrait, oil/canvas, 12×9″

Reality is a slippery thing.  Every time I paint a portrait I discover that my mood and the mood of the sitter creeps into the paint. The expression of a painting can completely change if a slight twist of the lips or a squint in the eye is added.  How do I catch the reality of a person if they keep metamorphosing right in front of me?  Objects in still lives are easier to pin down, but if I look at them long enough I discover hidden shades and colors that I hadn’t noticed before, and my perception of the whole is changed.  Landscape subjects flicker and move continuously with every stray breeze or the passing of a cloud.  What then is real about a street or a tree?  Nothing is still and unchanging if I’m really paying attention.

Is it worthwhile to keep looking for reality?  I think so.  Reality is a process of discovery, of finding new things in what appears to be obvious and familiar.  It cannot be circumscribed or pinned down, but its open-ended nature makes life that much richer and mysterious.  Art critics have long ago declared that realistic art is dead, and those who persist in this tradition are morticians applying cosmetics to a corpse that should have been buried long ago.  But of course the naysayers are not practitioners in capturing reality and have no idea that it is an ever expanding field.

DSC_1215                         Bust, charcoal, 17×14″

I’ve been following the news about the Democratic Party and their search for a new message that will revitalize political fortunes for its brethren.  I’ve also been thinking about the Republican drift into fantasy and anger driven polemics.  The GOP has based its political fortune on stoking the fury of its adherents by offering them false narratives.  Scapegoating, denying science, flag waving in the service of suppressing dissent, and ignoring the facts of recent history are some of the tools they’ve employed to seize power.

If the Democrats truly want to distinguish themselves and to set an original agenda they could identify themselves as the Reality Party.  Search out the real, proclaim it, and offer concrete solutions in response.  Never try to recreate a world that has long past, but respond to problems as they arrive with a clear eyed resolve to do the best for the most people.  Never promise a one size fits all solution to any one dilemma facing our country, but attack any difficulty with all the tools at hand.  If there are no tools, then figure out how to make them.

Wouldn’t it be great if politics graduated from its current practice of engaging in ceaseless dogfights for cash, influence and power?  What if Lincoln’s vision of a government that is “by the people and for the people” came to fruition and our elected officials focused on doing practical things for the benefit of all?  I’d vote for any candidate that fit that bill regardless of party affiliation.

I sometimes tell my Drawing I students that I’m teaching them to search for What Is.  They often prefer to hold onto What They Think Is There.  They struggle with the basics of perspective because they refuse to draw what they see and hold tight to drawing what they thing ought to be there.  Some get upset when they discover that their assumptions about reality are wrong or do not predict all possibilities.  But if they stick with the process they discover that What Is is a wonderful field of open inquiry, of ever expanding horizons. And isn’t the “pursuit of happiness” most likely to succeed when it’s based on such a search for reality?

dsc_0112     Bougainvillea Looking West, oil/canvas, 20×24″

A Poet Wore Black

My friend Kathy wore black on the day after Ronald Reagan’s first presidential victory in 1980.  She told me that she intended to dress like a widow until she no longer felt the need to mourn a political world gone mad.

Kathy was an English major at the University of Dayton.  She wrote poetry and frequently used the words “bone” and “ash” in her free verse to give her writing an air of grim melancholy.  She lived by herself in an off campus apartment and kept her rooms dim by blocking light from the windows with sheets hung from curtain rods.  She cleaned and aired only when the smell of dirty clothes, sour milk and stale cigarette smoke overwhelmed her.  It took a lot to overwhelm her.

I had a crush on her, nonetheless.  I had spent three years dating Midwestern girls who expected me to conform to their middle class expectations, and Kathy presented a bohemian alternative.  But she remained steadfast in her resistance to my overt and covert maneuvers.  Instead she favored the company of Sheila, a fellow English major who glared at me with narrowed eyes whenever I spoke to Kathy.

Two days after Reagan’s election I came across Kathy smoking a cigarette as she sat on the steps of the student union by a statue of JFK.  She squinted through the smoke and coldly studied me.  She knew that I was a Dayton native and once asked me if the world ended for me just beyond the city limits.  She believed that the locals suffered from the delusion that nothing worth knowing existed outside of Dayton.  She coughed and ran a hand through her tangled hair as she continued to appraise me.  She finally said, “You wanna come to a meeting with me?”

“What meeting?” I asked.

“Reps from the Communist Party are giving a talk here at noon.”

“Okay,” I said.  I was glad to be given a chance to prove that I wasn’t a rube and to spend time with her.

The commies, a man and two women wearing gray and black coats, set up a card table in the square near the art building.  They had stacks of pamphlets and flyers at their elbows and looked as grim and determined as revolutionaries should.  The man spoke for twenty minutes and told us that capitalism was doomed and that our lives were exercises in folly until we genuflected before the teachings of Karl Marx.  He didn’t offer any evidence for the imminent downfall of the American system and failed to mention Stalin’s legacy of horror.  I asked him if Reagan worried him.  I knew that the president elect had testified against fellow actors during the McCarthy witch hunt era and had fought against unions in Hollywood.  The communist didn’t hesitate to answer and told me that one American president was much like another.  Reagan was no different than Carter.  I didn’t challenge him.  I thought, “Why argue with a fanatic?”

Kathy went to England during Christmas break.  I saw her at the beginning of the next semester.  She no longer wore black and looked almost cheerful.  I invited myself over to her apartment that evening, and we sat in her living room and drank wine.  I asked her to tell me all about her trip.  She hesitated for a long moment, closed her eyes and said, “I’ll tell you one thing, but I want to keep the rest of my experiences for myself.”  It appeared that anything revealed would lose its magic power to inspire her, and she was only willing to give me a scrap.

I no longer remember what she said–maybe she visited Charles Dickens’ home and saw his writing desk.  But I do recall that a little door closed in my mind as I listened to the rise and fall of her voice.  I made my excuses a few minutes later and left.

During that semester I no longer sought her out.  And whenever I ran into her outside a classroom I nodded a hello but said little.  I no longer considered her much of a friend or had any desire to pursue a romance.

A few years later I ran into an acquaintance who had known both of us at UD.  Pat knew that I had been interested in Kathy and told me that she was still in town.  I was surprised as she had vowed that she would never become trapped in Dayton like so many graduates of the University.  The town was a narrow minded, cultural wasteland that would do nothing to nourish her poetry.  Pat went on to say that Kathy worked at a bar in the Oregon District, a trendy strip of night clubs on the southeast side of downtown Dayton.  She dressed in gypsy skirts, wore a head scarf and did Tarot card readings for the well heeled patrons.  He waited for me to ask for the name of the bar, but I just started to laugh.


Happy Hitler Puppy Song

I’ve recently been reading Sri Aurobindo.  He teaches that in the supracosmic state there are no binary oppositions, no contradictions.  Right and wrong, love and hate, truth and falsehood no longer stand in contrast to each other, no longer mutually define their qualities in antithetical tandems.  I decided to experiment with that thought, given that we are being told that we live in a “post fact” world, and combined images of innocence and evil into a charcoal drawing entitled, “Happy Hitler Puppy Song”.


The song below accompanies the picture.  Its tune is bright and bouncy like a kid’s toy ad  from the mid 60s.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing it when all things go wrong. 

Your dreams are dead, your future’s gone. 

Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


It started up in Queens in a small genetics lab.

They sang it to a beagle, a Schnauzer and a Lab.

It really started growing in a Dachshund culture tube.

Now he’s got a will of iron and he’ll wag his tail for you, wag his tail for you.


Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing loud, sing it strong.

We’re so far right we can’t be wrong.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


You’ve got to have this puppy, no matter what your views (Arftung!).

Your life is really crappy, and you’ve nothing left to lose.

He sometimes snarls and lunges, and barks and bites and chews,

but he’s always sweet and cheerful when Brite Bark’s yipping news, Brite Bark’s yipping news.


Happy Hitler Puppy Song, sing it when all things go wrong.

Your dreams are dead, your future’s gone.

Happy Hitler Puppy Song, Happy Hitler Puppy Song.


Have a supracosmic day (if you can).

The Reign of Error

This political season had its full share of outright lies, evasions, rewritten history and underhanded maneuvers.  The results of the election left some jubilant and others distraught, but most felt a sense of relief that the bombardment of propaganda had finally ended. I think that we all have an inner thirst for truth and sincerity, and they’ve been scarce commodities during the last 18 months.

Quakers don’t have a creed, but they do have a set of testimonies.  The testimonies are time tested guidelines that, if followed, help a spiritual pilgrim make his/her way on a path toward communion with God.  One of the testimonies deals with personal integrity.  Good Quakers tell the truth simply, lead lives that involve no secrecy, and attempt to treat everyone they meet with open good will.  The benefit of living this way is an easy mind that carries no unnecessary burdens. A person blessed with a straight forward life has nothing to hide, no lies to remember and no dubious schemes to promote and defend.

I don’t claim to be a good Quaker, but this testimony rings true for me.  Both sides of my family came from German peasant stock.  The truth was delivered directly, bluntly when I was  a child.  The words and punishment often had a harsh edge, but I knew that at the heart of things my parents and grandparents wanted me to have character and integrity.  I’m concerned that these values no longer are accorded much honor.  Success at any cost and by any means appears to be the accepted goal these days.

But I’m not going to point fingers at certain parties who turned the election into farce for two reasons:  1. I’m not perfect; 2. my personal outrage has little influence.  Instead I’m going to rely on my wife’s advice.  She tells me that when she’s upset by bad behavior she examines her own record.  She tries to recognize times when she has been guilty of similar acts of bad faith and vows to never engage in such behavior again.

I told my kids when they  were little to help me bail water from incoming waves back into the ocean.  When they got older they realized that this was a joke, a comic exercise in futility.  Striving to maintain a straight forward, honest life in the face of this rising tide of Machiavellian scheming and shameless deceit may also be a pointless gesture.   But I tell myself to hold tight to a high standard of integrity, and I believe that every time I do so I commit an act of true defiance against this advancing reign of error.