Saturday, January 31, 2009

Beer better investment than newsprint

The news on newspapers continues to be bad. In fact, rather than waste your weekly paycheck on the daily newspaper, beer makes for a better investment.

According to Digital Deliverance, if three years ago you had purchased $10,000 worth of beer and then got drunk each day ever since, the value of the deposits on the beer kegs would have given you a better Return on Investment than if you had investment that $10,000 in almost any U.S. newspaper company. Moreover, you'd have plenty of beer left and would have had a much better time!

Using today's stock prices as your guide, buying beer and getting drunk night would on average have given you a ROI three times better.

Even worse (or better, depending on your perspective-JB), if you had invested in the McClatchy company, beer instead would have given a seven-times better ROI. Beer yielded a 12-times better ROI than the Journal Register Company. And beer toasted a 41 times better ROI than an investment Gatehouse Media. The executives of those companies are losing advertising, losing circulation, and losing the financial community's confidence. The executives can hardly make a case for being financially sober. In their cases, the 'empties' aren't the beer kegs.

I wonder how much better than three times my ROI would be on beer, vs. investments in Maine's watered-down dailies?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Rush Limbaugh is no economist

America's biggest patriot, Rush Limbaugh, wants our newly elected president to fail. That's what he said, and there's really no way to spin it.

So, if Mr. Obama fails, then that means that the majority of Americans, which would be the other 99 percent of us not in Mr. Limbaugh's top income percentile, fail. Yet, many of his listeners, and the many who lauded his recent WSJ op-ed, think that his idea of stimulus--a corporate income tax cut--is the way to boost our nation's flagging economy.

Interestingly, I found this written testimony, offered by Mark Zandi, from last July, when he was speaking before the House Committee on Small Business. Zandi is Chief Economist, and co-founder of Moody'

According to Zandi, Limbaugh's idea is the third worst, of 13 possible choices that Zandi highlights, indicating bang for the buck as it pertains to GDP. (see the bottom of page 5)

While Mr. Limbaugh is at the top of his field as an entertainer, and certainly isn't shy about stating the importance of the pablum he passes off each day, when it comes to economics, he should leave that field to the experts.

Despite Limbaugh's faux populism, and claims that he wants what's best for the average joe, his meteoric rise to the top of talk radio has more to do with his being first and foremost, a corporate shill.

Of course, Limbaugh's not alone when it comes to carrying corporate America's water--Bill O'Reilly has also shared his vast economic expertise, railing against directing stimulus where it might actually help, which when you carefully consider the facts, neither Limbaugh, or O'Reilly are at all concerned about. What matters to them is ratings. And nothing benefits ratings more, especially for Limbaugh, than having a Democrat in the White House to bash, on a daily basis.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another journalistic hatchet job on Lewiston, Maine

Most of us, regardless of where we come from, derive a sense of pride, and identity, from that place of origin. That same sense of pride can also exist for many who’ve adopted a new place to hang their hat, also.

I grew up in Lisbon Falls. For better, or worse, it’s the formative place that’s shaped who I am. Some of us run from our place of beginnings. Others, me included, have come to that place where we’ve made peace with whatever shortcomings we once associated with our birthplace, and have embraced that place where our roots go down the deepest. Folks in the big cities chide us local bumpkins for that sense of place; they call it provincial, or parochial, as in narrow.

I haven’t spent my entire life in Maine. There was a time when a calling and a need to get out beyond our borders drew me away. It’s been happening to Mainers forever. When I left in 1982, to go to the Midwest, I still gazed back fondly on the Pine Tree State. Over time, I missed the ocean, the special warm fall days that are unique to Maine, lobster, and most of all, I missed the people that make Maine special, in my opinion. There are good people everywhere, but the qualities that make one a Mainer (some of the same qualities that you’ll also find in other predominantly rural places) were missing in the greater-Chicago area where I had been transplanted. Population density will do that to you. I was happy to return to my home state in 1987, where I’ve been ever since.

One of the things that has never set well with me are people, writers in particular that come to Maine, use their associations with Maine to curry favor with the locals, and then savage them in an article, or produce an NPR profile that pisses on them. What also strikes me as disingenuous, particular a writer with some chops, is writing an article that knowingly misrepresents an area, or a community, only to score ideological points, or garner kudos from urban editors, who never bat an eye about perpetuating the same old stereotypes about rural America.

I don’t know Jesse Ellison (or Jesse Andrews Ellison), the Newsweek writer (represented as a “Brunswick freelance writer” by our local newspaper) that wrote the article, “The Refugees Who Saved Lewiston.” From what I can gather at this point, she once lived in Maine, and if she happened to grow up, or live in Brunswick for a time, it’s not surprising that she knows as little about Lewiston as her bylined article reveals.

Ellison’s article isn’t sitting well with some community leaders in Lewiston, like Chamber of Commerce president, Chip Morrison, and Paul Badeau, marketing director for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, at least according to the local Sun-Journal, Lewiston’s daily newspaper. As of this posting, the comments have been removed, as I can only imagine the kind of vitriolic, and inflammatory stuff being posted, I’m sure most of it done anonymously.

Lewiston is one of those communities that can appear insular from the outside. The former mill town has indeed had its struggles over the past 30 years, with the departure of manufacturing jobs, mainly shoes and textiles, disappearing. That’s just part of the story, however.

In a rural state like Maine, Portland is the closest thing we have to an urban community. Portland and Lewiston couldn’t be any more different than if they were located in separate states. Folks in Portland (and most from away) tend to look down their noses at Lewiston, and rarely venture out beyond their own provincial 10-15 mile radius for their entertainment, shopping, or culture. If they have contact with the community, it’s usually driving through, on their way to Sugarloaf, or via the turnpike.

For those that don’t live in Lewiston (or Auburn, across the river), the area tends to draw outside visitors in from smaller communities to its west, as well as traffic venturing down from the north, in Augusta. If Portland is urban, and sophisticated, Lewiston is gritty, and working class. Ten years ago, if Lewiston was a beer, it would be a Pabst Blue Ribbon, versus Portland, which would be one of the numerous fashionable (and pricey) microbrews that you’d find on tap at one of its many over-hyped dining establishments.

The beer comparison doesn’t work quite as well now, as Lewiston has young (and older) professionals that like microbrews—heck, Auburn even has a Gritty’s—and some of them even know the difference between a Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. Yes, the dual communities of Lewiston and Auburn, intertwined now more than ever before, have gone through their own metamorphoses the past five, or six years. None more so than Lewiston, as Auburn always was higher end on the income scale, where the bosses of industry once lived up Goff Hill, and could see the factories of Lewiston below, with its workers living beneath the shadow of the smokestacks.

Before the economy hit the skids, the communities of L/A had been “happening,” as the LAEGC’s marketing moniker testifies. The community was experiencing the kind of positive economic growth that tends to be lacking in Maine, outside of Portland, and a few other southern Maine communities.

If you’ve taken the time to visit Lewiston, the southern gateway has been developed, eliminating many of the previous eyesores. The Bates Mill complex, at one time a “white elephant” property, has seen revitalization with TD Banknorth, Museum L-A, and other businesses reclaiming the former manufacturing space. Speaking of manufacturing, local firms that are involved in the manufacturing process are thriving. Companies like WahlcoMetroflex, Inc. are growing, and adding to its well-paid workforce. Other small, niche businesses have been able to add as much skilled labor as they could find. The city now has several high-end eateries, including Fuel, Fishbones, and DaVinci’s. Museums, the Community Theater, and Bates College, all offer regular events and reasons for Lewiston to be considered an entertainment destination. Andover College and Oxford Networks have helped revitalize the section of town that the freelancer referred to as the former “combat zone.”

If you read Ms. Ellison’s article, however, you would know none of that. The arrival of Somalis in Lewiston began before the 2001 date the writer arbitrarily assigned. The influx of refugees into the community began several years before that, and it was more than one family that started the migration. Per capita income has gone up, but to use the term “soared” reveals her ignorance about the state’s ongoing economic struggles. While a few in Maine have soaring incomes, most of us struggle to stay afloat in the middle class.

There are so many other things wrong with Ellison’s article that I could easily spend several thousand words countering her inadequate 903. That an editor, at a national magazine would allot the same amount space allocated to local parking issues, and city code violations, for a complex, and multi-faceted issue like immigration, given the community’s prior history, speaks volumes about the kind of “yellow” journalism that Newsweek’s now practicing.

What was her motive in interviewing both Morrison and Badeau, and then discounting the context that I’m sure they offered? While I don’t doubt that there are benefits to Maine’s growing diversity in the long-term, the challenges of integrating large populations of refugees into a 21st century economy, lacking in an abundance of jobs that most newly arrived Somalis and other non-English speaking jobseekers could fill has presented problems. A more honest journalist might have spoken to Phil Nadeau at City Hall, to get a better handle on why 50 percent of this population is unemployed. With all due respect to Richard Florida and others that think all it takes to grow your economy is to import non-English speaking refugees, and presto! You’ve got a diverse economy. There’s much more to it than that.

What Ms. Ellison has accomplished, beyond showing her lack of skills in digging below the surface as a journalist, is to again kick a hornet’s nest and run, leaving those of us who are committed to the community’s future, dealing with the potential aftermath of her piece. If Ms. Ellison had done any homework, she’d know some of the history of the community, and recognize that strong feelings still run deep in this area, as evidenced by the comments in the local newspaper, and other online forums. Her article has done nothing more, in my opinion, than to fan the flames of anti-Somali, and anti-immigrant sentiment, and give certain elements in our area (and beyond) cover to run with it.

Given the difficult economic climate facing Mainers, and the mounting job losses, having some sense of history should tell her that rather than benefiting the Somalis that she writes about, articles like hers have the potential to set back some of the positive gains that the community has been part of in integrating a new population into the community. There are still many miles to go, but misrepresenting our community, and running back to New York, or wherever Ms. Ellison calls home, shows that if she was in fact a Mainer at one time, she cares little about the state she’s left behind.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

History Maker Mondays-03

History is the present. That's why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth.
--E.L. Doctorow

Calvin, John (1509-1564)

Few historical figures have made such a major impact, yet are as maligned and often caricatured (at least outside religious circles) as John Calvin. The French reformer’s long lasting legacy goes back 500 years, with 2009 being the quincentennial of his birth (July 10).

Next to Martin Luther, there is no more prominent figure in the Protestant Reformation, than Calvin. Yet, most Americans know little about either man. This shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve become a nation that prides itself on pop culture, and the minutiae of the mundane, not historical tenets tied to our nation’s birth.

The summer of 2001 was a seminal time for me. Having left a job in May, and underemployed during the languid days that make up a Maine summer, I read voraciously, taking advantage of the one resource I had—the luxury of time. I didn’t waste it, poring through a variety of classic books, including Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. A monumental work, by one of the Christianity’s great thinkers and theologians, Calvin’s ideas have had a profound effect in the shaping of western thought and ideas beyond theology.

The theology of Calvin, including his much maligned doctrine of predestination, came to America via the Mayflower. George Bancroft, a prominent 19th century American historian, calls Calvin “the father of America,” adding, “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”

The earliest leadership among the Pilgrims, and later, the Puritans, were all avowed Calvinists in their theology. John Endicott, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, the second governor of that Colony, Thomas Hooker, the founder of Connecticut, and John Davenport, the founder of the New Haven Colony, were all Calvinists. It has been reported that at the time of the American Revolution, two-thirds of the colonial population had been trained in the theology of Calvin. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Calvinists. All of the colonels of the Colonial Army except one were Presbyterian elders. The war for Independence was spoken of in England as “The Presbyterian Rebellion.” While not the kind of stuff found in public school history classes, apparently Bancroft knew something about Calvin’s role in the founding of our nation.

John Richard Green, author of the eight volume, History of the English People, and also an Anglican, had the following to say in the third volume. “It is in Calvinism that the modern world strikes its roots; for it was Calvinism that first revealed the dignity and worth of man. Called of God and heir of heaven, the trader at his counter and the digger in his field finally rose into equality with the noble and king.

John Calvin was born July 10, 1509, in Noyon, France, in Picardy, one of the country’s 26 regions. Charlemagne was first crowned emperor at the cathedral at Noyon.

Calvin was born into a respectable family of middle rank. Jerome Bolsec, an adversary of Calvin, who publicly challenged Calvin’s views on predestination, published his unflattering Life of Calvin, in which he provided a glimpse of both Calvin’s father, one who was “a most execrable blasphemer of God,” and young Calvin, who Bolsec wrote had been “surprised in or convicted of the sin of sodomy” and branded with a hot iron, in lieu of being burned at the stake as Bolsec intimated that he deserved.

While Bolsec’s biography makes for interesting reading, much more so than many of the hagiographical accounts of Calvin, his work rests largely upon unsubstantiated anonymous oral reports. Many modern scholars (including biographer Alister McGrath) consider Bolsec’s accounts of questionable merit.

Calvin studied law at two universities: Orléans and Bourges. At both places, he was enveloped bh the spirit of humanism that was prevalent in France, led by the teachings of Erasmus. His background in law (Bernard Cottret mentions Calvin as having the “soul of a lawyer), particularly the habits of thought related to the law would serve him well later, in his role as a Protestant reformer.

After graduating from Orléans in 1531, he moved to Paris in the summer of that year, planning to make his mark as a humanist scholar. He finished up a commentary of Seneca’s On Clemency, and self published it in April of 1532. It brought him neither the recognition that he sought, nor profit, instead resulting in a financial disaster, requiring him to borrow money from friends.

Reform in France was not looked upon kindly. The theological faculty in Paris spoke vehemently against the reforms of Luther and humanist philosophy. A man named Nicholas Cop, elected as rector of the University of Paris, gave an inaugural speech on November 1, 1533, embracing moderate reform. It caused a firestorm. Some believe that Calvin wrote the speech, and while unsubstantiated, Calvin was close enough to Cop to realize he was in danger, and he began moving around the French countryside. In May, 1534, he resigned his positions he held in the Catholic Church, which had supported him while in school. Now squarely in the camp of the Protestants, Calvin was associated with Protestants that had posted placards throughout France, attacking the Catholic way of celebrating communion, with one of these being posted on the King’s door. Reaction was swift and 200 arrests made, leading to many executions. Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, beginning an exile that would last the rest of his life, save for a few brief excursions to his home country. It was in Basel that Calvin completed his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

The Reformation shattered the world of medieval Christianity. There may be no other watershed event so grand in the continuum of history, and yet so misunderstood today by a soundbite culture, arrogant in its ignorance of the past. This would include many that call themselves practicing Christians.

A way of viewing Calvin is by comparing him to Luther. They were a study in contrasts. Luther, a rotund man, staunch defender of German liberties and wild appetites, and Calvin, ascetic, given to fasting; gaunt in visage. Luther would be someone that you would relish having a beer with, talking sports. Calvin would be eating alone, hardly touching his food, reading a book.

While in Italy with a friend, Calvin once again found himself needing to make a quick exit, when a scandal related to matters of reform broke out. He escaped arrest, by returning to France to settle some legal affairs, before heading to Geneva, where he hoped he’d have some peace. The city, French-speaking, had been engaged in throwing off the rule of the house of Savoy, and the politically appointed Catholic bishop.

With newfound freedom, Geneva would now be run by councils. Calvin, however, was walking into a volatile situation, with Savoy loyalty still running strong, and a significant portion of the city opposed to religious reform.

After being appointed as Reader of Holy Scripture, and later, as Geneva’s pastor by civil authorities, Calvin, along with his friend William Farel, drew up a confession of faith, which was approved by Geneva’s three councils. As had been the case, time and time again, things did not go smoothly for Calvin in Geneva. A man named Pierre Caroli accused Calvin with heresy, the charge being that of Arianism (a teaching that Christ was not God). Also, elections had been held and some of the new council members were not in favor of Calvin’s theological views. Refusing to have civil authorities dictate his theology, particularly around how communion would be celebrated, Calvin, along with Farel, was exiled from the city.

Calvin spent a brief time in Basel, and then he was invited to come to Strasbourg, France, to minister to French refugees in the city. It was in Strasbourg, where Calvin became the man that history remembers.

Bearing a new, thoroughly revised edition of the Institutes, Calvin’s theology was now fully formed, presenting a clear departure from Luther, Zwingli, and other reformers. His time in the city allowed him to write extensively, producing some of his best material. Calvin now saw the Institutes, more than anything else, as the guide for the proper reading of the Bible. His work presented a broad understanding of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the church. As McGrath wrote in A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture, Calvin’s work had “a new clarity of expression and breadth of vision.

Politics in the 16th century resembled politics in our own time in this way—parties came into power and consequently, fell out of power. Those who opposed Calvin, hastening his period away from Geneva, were gone. The council extended a hand to Calvin, requesting his return in 1541.

Calvin’s Geneva has become a place both revered, as well as vilified. It would be easy to write an equal amount of words detailing life in the city, after Calvin set up a church-based system of rule. That’s not the point of these historical exercises, with this one having gone on well beyond the point of whetting appetites.

Calvin died on May 27, 1564, months shy of his fifty-fifth birthday. His body was placed in an unmarked grave in accordance with his own wishes.

The stereotypes about Calvin continue to this day, though recent scholarship has been surprisingly kind to him, particularly in debunking many of the myths that have portrayed him as the “tyrant of Geneva.” There are those that argue that even the execution of Servetus, when viewed in the context of Calvin’s time, doesn’t seem as vicious as critics of Calvin make it out to be.

Regardless on one’s assessment of the theologian, pastor, and great Protestant mind, there’s no denying the historical force commanded by Calvin over five centuries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugurations and the search for good (ness)

No matter what your political leanings are, there is no denying that today is a day of historic proportions. Beginning this morning at 5:00 am, when I switched on the television and the first news reports had people streaming into Washington, DC before dawn, to midday, when a crowd estimated at 2 million packed DC to capacity, today revealed itself as a day that Americans, particularly African-Americans won't soon forget.

I lack the capacity to truly capture today's events. Better writers, like Justin Ellis, of the Press Herald are parked at the event's epicenter. They are better able and qualified to convey what's transpired and continues into the night.

After reading various politically-oriented posts, Gretchen Rubin's blog post, at HuffPo really captured what I'm feeling tonight. She nailed the story of my own personal transformation (and I'm sure the metamorphosis of many others).

I'm not a great writer, but I've written enough to be a good writer, developing right here in front of you at Words Matter. If nothing else, persevering as a blogger through 692 blog posts wills you to get better.

Because I didn't wait around for the muse of perfection to sit on my shoulder, I now have two books that I can call my own. A third one is in the gestation phase and we'll have more to share about that one at a later date.

Since I'm on a history kick, I dug Rubin's Voltaire quote: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." It's really not much more complex than that.

Happy America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

History Maker Mondays-02

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
--Robert F. Kennedy

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)

Bertolt Brecht is one of the most influential playwrights of the twentieth century. He may also have been the greatest writer emerging from the confusing cultural milieu of Germany’s Weimer Republic.

Writing his first plays in 1920s Germany, set against the backdrop of the economic deprivation visited upon the nation post-WWI, Brecht’s plays were not known, and their influence negated, until much later. His theories on stage presentation would find an audience in the west mid-century, when Brecht’s theories, in direct contrast to the dominant realism of Stanislavsky and the "well-made play" construction that had dominated playwriting, was embraced.

Born in Augsburg, Germany, February 10, 1898, and given the name Eugen, Brecht later attempted to detach himself from his childhood by using his other name, Berthold, and hardening it into Bertholt, or Bert.

While the Bavarian city of his birth was 75 percent Catholic, young Eugen attended a Protestant elementary school beginning at age six. He later claimed he was bored during his four years there, the bible lessons—and the stories his mother regularly recounted from her own Lutheran Bible—influenced the young Brecht. That knowledge of the bible, and in particular, its parables, would show up when he first began writing plays, and in the way that he framed his themes.

An experience with an early form master, assigned to teach German and Latin, left his mark on young Brecht. Franz Xaver Herrenreiter was a strict teacher, regularly springing unexpected tests on his young pupils. Failing earlier in his career to be a professor, Herrenreiter couldn’t conceal his pleasure when his questions defeated them. He’d also regularly disappear behind the blackboard and come out munching on a piece of cheese, in front of his hungry students.

Once per year, the headmaster sat in on an instructor’s lessons, observing their work. On one visit in Herrenreiter’s classroom, the students responded to each one of their teacher’s questions with a dull silence. As Brecht recounted later, “This time, the man took no pleasure in our failure. He contracted jaundice and, when he came back, was never the same voluptuous old cheese-chewer he’d been.” The lesson learned for Brecht, the student—the many had power over the one, however superior his position.

By his teens, Brecht was already writing regularly and hosting other literary aspirants to his attic “dungeon,” or meetings by the city moat, or riverbank, where they would read poetry, or excerpts from their plays. He was already developing his collaborative style, by loaning drafts of works-in-progress, for friends to make notes and welcoming their suggestions, in the margins. Early influences on Brecht were Rimbaud, Villon, Buchner, and Verlaine.

Later, Brecht would gravitate towards Marx, Shaw, and Upton Sinclair as prime influences. In fact, in his 1925 play, Im Dickicht der Staadt (In the Jungle of Cities), Brecht focused on the Chicago stockyards of Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Marx influence shows in Brecht’s embrace, and lifelong commitment to Marxism, and would show up in Brechts theory and practice of “epic theater.” It also resulted in having his German citizenship stripped in 1933, when the Nazis seized power, in Germany, requiring Brecht to go into exile for the next 15 years.

Brecht’s politics and religious ambiguity were on full display in an unfinished play, The Bread Box, when he states that “capitalism relies upon Salvationism (orthodox Christianity) to maintain the status quo.” Another common theme in Brecht’s plays was that of judgment. Courtroom scenes recur regularly, with audience members drawn into taking sides and reaching a political judgment of their own.

Brecht's most important plays included Leben des Galilei (The Life of Galileo), Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children), and Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (The Good Person of Szechwan, or The Good Woman of Setzwan), were written between 1937 and 1945 when in exile from the Nazi regime, first in Scandinavia (Denmark and Norway), and later, in the United States.

It was Brecht’s belief that theatre should appeal not to the spectator's feelings but to his reason. While providing entertainment, the performance should be strongly didactic and capable of provoking social change. This stands in stark contrast to much that passes for entertainment in today’s profit-driven world of corporate entertainment. Brecht’s Marxism seems like an anachronism, when placed side-by-side of the current U.S. political landscape, where a pawn of corporate power is called a “Marxist” by those who haven’t a clue who Marx was, and haven’t read anything approaching Marxist thought.

In the 40s, Brecht, along with his wife Helene Weigel, moved to Southern California. Many German Jews and other intellectuals fled Nazi Germany during the 1930s for religious, or political reasons, often to neighboring countries. However, as the National Socialists expanded their control throughout Europe, it became necessary for these same exiles to seek safety elsewhere during the late 1930s, and early 1940s. Those who were able to escape across the Atlantic finally found safety in the United States. Some of these writers, artists, and intellectuals gathered in New York; however, Southern California's warm, Mediterranean-like climate attracted many to live on the West Coast. Brecht and Weigel lived in Hollywood, and later, Santa Monica.

During his time in the U.S., Brecht’s politics would once more find him at odds with those in power. Since the Cold War was escalating and the country in the clutches of the "red scare", the House Un-American Activities Committee called Brecht to account for his communist allegiances. Soon finding himself blacklisted by movie studio bosses, Brecht, along with 40 other Hollywood writers, directors, actors and producers, was subpoenaed to appear before the committee, in September 1947.

Initially, Brecht was one of 19 witnesses who declared that they would refuse to testify about their political affiliations. Eleven members of this group were actually questioned on this point but, as Brecht later explained, he did not want to delay a planned trip to Europe, so he followed the advice of attorneys and broke with his earlier avowal. On 30 October 1947, he appeared before the committee and testified that he had never actually held party membership.

This decision by Brecht later led to criticism, including accusations of betrayal by fellow communists.

The day after his testimony, on October 31, Brecht flew to Europe, after being invited to return home, by the newly formed East German government.

Upon his return, he founded the Berliner Ensemble in 1949 with Weigel, as leading actress. It was only at this point, through his own productions of his plays, that Brecht earned his reputation as one of the most important figures of 20th-century theatre.

Brecht died on August 14, 1956 of a heart attack at the age of 58. He is buried in the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof on Chausseestraße in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin, overlooking the residence he shared with Helene Weigel.

[Most of this material on Brecht was drawn from Ronald Hayman’s excellent biography, simply titled, Brecht. Additional info was gathered from the Brecht entry at Wikipedia, and information found via a link, at this Brandeis University site.—JB]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Heavenly HR: God's inclement weather policy

Back when I was a regular churchgoer, particularly during my adventures in fundamentalism, Sunday church attendance was like the mail—rain, snow, sleet, or hail, we were expected to get through the elements and darken the doorway of God’s house. Apparently, He’s relaxed the standards since I left the fold. Either that, or security trumps all else in post-9-11 America, including theology.

Now, anytime a snowflake is forecast, churches of all stripes and denominations line up to see who can be the first to postpone Sunday services. I guess God’s hand of protection doesn’t apply to winter’s snow and ice. Seems a bit odd to me, not that I particularly care, at my current post-Xian juncture of life.

I found one local cancellation rather ironic this morning, watching the rash of church cancellations scroll across the bottom of the television screen, watching David Gregory spar with Rahm Emanuel. A local congregation, The Shiloh, was listed alongside the avalanche of other statewide cancellations. This group is mostly made up of residents of my town of Durham. The pastor lives about 300 yards from the church’s front door. Most of the congregants live within a six mile radius, with probably half about 3-5 miles from the church. It's obvious that safety now trumps salvation in today’s harried world.

This also proves John Walton’s theory about God—that you don’t need to show up at church, on Sunday morning, to glorify Him. You can choose to worship your own way, in nature, or sitting in a comfortable chair, next to the wood stove, since God doesn’t reside in a building, or something like that.

I wonder what Jack Hyles would say about that? Hyles was the megalomaniac pastor of the First Baptist Church in Hammond, and the founder of Hyles-Anderson College, where I attended in the early 1980s. Hyles would periodically get a rant going about people missing church. It didn’t matter that you had worked all night, at some shitty job, barely making more than minimum wage, and were attending his non-accredited school, with barely two nickels to rub together. On Sunday morning, you were expected to be in God’s house, which was his church. God forbid that you might dose off during his sermon, even if you hadn’t slept in 72 hours, because you had been street preaching all night in Al Capone’s former hangout of Calumet City. Rushing home, you changed shirts, put on your necktie, and off you went to Saturday soul-winning, after being harangued by Brother Godfry, at his early morning Fisherman’s Club meeting. Then, after fulfilling your three hour requirement to bang on doors in dangerous neighborhoods all over the greater-Chicagoland area (like Gary, or East Chicago), you then had to rush home, pick up your wife for her Lamaze class, and weather her glare (or worse, a punch) when you dosed off during the two hours of instruction.

In addition to sleep deprivation, I remember some pretty harrying trips my wife and I made, with a newborn son strapped in back, from Merrillville to Hammond, on bald retread tires, sliding over U.S. 41, or spinning my way forward after a red-light stop, other churchgoers blowing their horns at me, frustrated that Bible-boy didn’t have enough cash to equip his car with tires made for the snow, or ice. I was in church, by God, however!

I've come to the conclusion that the supposedly unchanging Jehovah’s gotten soft over the past two decades.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Coaxing you back with some happy thoughts

This blog post will reveal the "schizophrenic" nature of my blog posts of late. It's that kind of period of time. Hard to look at all that's going on in the world--war and rumors of war, as well as economic bad news at every turn. What's the choice for us?

Maybe, as Bruce Cockburn once sang, we should just "kick the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." Then again, he also sang of rocket launchers. Actually, once again, I think he was speaking about the duality of living, in this case, the two sides of anger.

Ok, so now I share a positive thought with you, courtesy of Lisa, from her HR Thoughts blog. BTW, did you know that the HR world is a source of some fantastic and informative blogging? Like Laurie's Punk Rock HR blog, for instance. Check out her blogroll.

Did you know. . .

"The happiest people have vibrant social networks. In several studies of individuals with self-reported high well-being, the number one strategy used to raise mood and combat depression was 'social affiliation.' People also report feeling happier when they are around others."

--Caroline Adams Miller and Michael B. Frisch, PhD, in Creating Your Best Life (Sterling) as published in Oprah Managazine, January 2009 issue

Time for me to throw a few logs in the fire and head off to bed (it's -20 in my corner of the universe, which is cold, no matter how you slice it!).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Having the correct views on Israel

Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, spoke on C-Span2's BookTV this weekend. I happened to tape it, and watched it this morning while doing a spin on the Lifecycle.

I haven't been able to watch any of the MSM's coverage of the Israeli invasion of Gaza, because it's so lacking in context as to be a joke--the only problem, the Twittering masses don't know that--they're too braindead to care about anything other than updating their Facebook page, or LinkedIn profile (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The Jewish lobby (read AIPAC) controls most of the dialogue about the invasion, and limits viewpoints on Israel, and its treatment of Palestinians. Any "alternative" views are restricted to the margins.

In doing a bit of research on Mr. Makdisi, who also writes for the LA Times, I found this, about an appearance he was to make at a well-known bookstore with liberal leanings, Politics and Prose, in DC, which ended up being cancelled, censoring Makdisi's views on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. (he made reference to this in his Book TV talk)

I'm planning on getting my hands on Makdisi's book, as I prefer to make up my own mind on issues, not looking for news that plays to my own preconcieved notions, which is now the American way.

For a bit more on Mr. Makdisi and his views, there this article from 2007, in Al-Ahram.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

History Maker Mondays-01

[Thus begins a new weekly feature here at Words Matter. Each Monday, for the next year, you’ll be greeted by History Maker Mondays. We’ll start with the letter A, and cycle through the alphabet once, and make another pass through before the end of 2009.--JB]

History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.
--David McCullough

Adler, Felix (1851-1933)

Adler was born in Alzey, Germany. His father Samuel, a rabbi, brought the family to the U.S. in 1857, where a rabbinate at Temple Emanu-El, in New York City awaited him.

Adler would attend Columbia University and graduate in 1870. He went back to Germany where he received his doctorate from Heidelberg University. Returning to the states, he began a professorship in 1874, at Cornell, in Oriental Languages and Hebrew. Two years later, he was asked to leave for what was considered his “dangerous attitude.”

In 1876, Adler would found the Society for Ethical Culture, in New York. The aim of his new religious movement was the advancement of social justice for all. He suggested that the movement should further the principles of ethics among adults and children through education and that members of the Society should express their religious consciences in moral and humane actions. Adler’s founding ideas remain the cornerstones of the philosophy of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, which was incorporated on February 21, 1877.

For Adler, on of the keys to his nascent movement was his observation that too often disputes over religious or philosophical doctrines have distracted people from actually living ethically and doing good. Consequently, "Deed before creed" has remained a motto of the movement.

Adler was passionate about education and developed schools centered around a progressive pedagogy that combined liberal arts education with specialized vocational training programs for students who opted for them. In fact, his model was an early incarnation of what has become our own vocational training/CTE model today.

While his blueprint was never fully realized in his various Ethical Culture Schools, it was picked up later by the New York City public schools in the creation of schools Bronx High School of Science, and similarly by what are now called “magnet” schools.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

In search of a progressive voice

I like Thomas Frank. I read Whats The Matter With Kansas, a well-written book about why working class, middle-Americans consistently vote against their own interests, when they chooose Republicans, most notably, neocons, like George Bush.

I knew of Frank pre-WTMWK, from his days, editing The Baffler, a journal devoted to cultural criticism, liberally sprinkled with a progressive political bent. The Baffler is no more, but I recommend Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler, a representative sampling of the publication's best writing.

These days, between working on another book (I imagine), Frank writes The Tilting Yard column for the Wall Street Journal, serving as the pro-market, pro-business publication's token progressive. He's a good choice.

Like today's column. Frank let's readers know that not every pol from Chicago is a Blagojevich (or an Obama). In fact, Frank makes a strong case for Thomas Geoghegan, running to assume Rahm Emanuel's vacated House seat (the one that Blago didn't fuck with), representing the city's North Side. He calls Geoghegan, "an unrepentent New Dealer," something that's rarer than an honest Chicago politician and/or lawyer--Geoghegan happens to be the latter, vying to also be the former. Granted, he practices labor law and advocacy for the poor, which if you know anything about the legal profession, is the bargain basement when it comes to getting rich from the practice of law.

This about Geoghegan, from Frank's column today, recounting how he first became aware of a man that he makes it to Washington, might dispel the cynicism that so many of us feel towards national politics:

I first encountered Mr. Geoghegan in the early 1990s, when he was a frequent guest on a Chicago TV show. And I still remember how shocking it was to hear someone defend organized labor in those days when everyone else was coming to accept the post-industrial order.

Maybe that's just what you're supposed to hear when you turn on the TV in a place like Chicago. To me, though, it was new and astonishing, a sort of revelation. Mr. Geoghegan's 1991 book, "Which Side Are You On?" -- the best book on labor to appear in the past 50 years -- continued my education about the blue-collar world. An "anti-world," Mr. Geoghegan called it, a "secret world." And so it was: the silent, suffering antithesis to the great choir then starting its hymn to omniscient markets and the ever-ascending Dow.

Now that conservative orthodoxy has collapsed in a heap of complex derivatives, I can't help but think what a refreshing dose of plain-spoken Midwestern reality Mr. Geoghegan could bring to the nation as a whole.

According to Frank, Geoghegan is a "big thinker," something that DC and just about every other seat of government is experiencing a dearth of.

Apparently Geoghegan is also a writer, and wrote a book, Which Side Are You On? that Frank says is "the best book on labor book to appear in the past 50 years." (Added to my ever-growing list of books for 2009)

Check out Frank's column, and keep your eyes on the crowded field of candidates vying for Emanuel's vacated seat. I'm hoping that Geoghegan gets the nod and heads to DC.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Getting my (generation) jones on

I feel like a heavy weight’s been lifted off my shoulders—the weight of carrying around the “Boomer” label for one minute more.

From a post at GenerationXpert (copped from Marian Salzman), I gleaned something new about the generational divide that’s all the rage in HR circles, and in various publications germane to work culture. Apparently those of us born in the 1960s, while claimed by Boomers, are actually “Generation Jones.” (the term was coined by Jonathan Pontell)

Apparently those of us born between 1954 and 1965 are in fact “Jonesers,” demographically attached to the baby boom that ended in the early 1960s. However, this has always been my own point of contention (and argument) with being lumped in with Wall Street brokers with pony tails, Al Gore, and Volvo drivers, is that “the events stereotypically associated with generational discussion of Boomers, including protests over civil rights and the Vietnam war and the emergence of rock music took place while the members of Generation Jones were still children or early teenagers.” (from Wikipedia)

Basically, I never identified with the whole Boomer mystique, feeling much more atuned to GenX, and the inherent cynicism attributed to that demographic grouping. In fact, it turns out, according to Salzman that Jonesers like me “value traditional notions of family but see men and women as equals in parenting.” Additionally, we long to go back to older American values like civility, community, responsibility, while at the same time, are comfortable embracing technology and we use the Internet naturally.

My two books, and many of my blog posts hearken back to what I consider a better, and less harried time. The flip of this is the need that I feel (as well as many others, apparently), to stay current on the technology front, even if it probably creates a tension for many of us in this demographic “tweener” category.

Generation Jones is feeling like a well-tailored suit.

Boatrockers that didn't Twitter

[I often wonder what made those that came before us (and provided us with the relative ease we currently possess) so much more heroic, and capable of enacting real change, not this watered down reformism of today.

Studs Terkel talked about the lack of a historical perspective today, which I posit has much to do with our fixation on technology, and lack of understanding about the importance of understanding our past.--JB]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Winter Classic 2009 (Old-time hockey, Part II)

Pro hockey fans in the U.S. know we’re part of a small, but hardy minority. Given our minority status, you’ll forgive us if New Year’s Day has taken on a whole new context, as the National Hockey League stages its second consecutive Winter Classic, taking its high-octane and spectator-friendly sport back outdoors.

This year the setting is Chicago, and one of baseball’s most hallowed shrines, Wrigley Field. The opponents, the hometown Blackhawks and the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Red Wings from Detroit, are two of the leagues original six teams. What adds intrigue to what I think is a great marketing move by a league not known for its ability to promote its sport, is Chicago’s return to NHL prominence, after a decade of futility for the once proud hockey franchise.

[Readying the ice surface, outdoors at Wrigley]

Last year’s outdoor maiden voyage drew the NHL’s best television ratings in over a decade, something that mustn’t be ignored for a league that has a paltry television revenue cache compared to rival leagues in football, baseball and basketball.

I stumbled upon last year’s game by accident. This year, my interest in pro hockey has been heightened by the revival of another original six franchise, the “hometown” Boston Bruins.

Come this afternoon, I’ll be one of hockey’s faithful, along with the curiosity seekers, perched in front of our televisions, watching hockey played au naturel, the way many of us remember the sport from our own days of pond hockey prowess.

For a local's up-close-and-personal take, I leave you with Wrigley Wrants.