Views on politics and current events

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Bridge

Edwin H. Friedman From the book "Friedman's Fables"

A Metaphor

There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he had begun to see clearly where he wanted to go.
Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often the applied all of his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked. And then at last it came! But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again. Eager to arrive, he started on his journey.

With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left it since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.

Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring. He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other was coming to greet him. He could clearly see, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist. When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.

The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, "Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?" Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it. "Thank you," said the other, who then added, "two hands now, and remember, hold tight." Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.

Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope's length, and from the bridge, the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.
"What are you trying to do?" he yelled.
"Just hold tight," said the other
"This is ridiculous," the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety. "Why did you do this?" the man called out.

"Remember," said the other, "if you let go, I will be lost."
"But I cannot pull you up," the man cried.
"I am your responsibility," said the other.
"Well, I did not ask for it," the man said.
"If you let go, I am lost," repeated the other. He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success? He examined the side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.

"What do you want?" he asked the other hanging below.
"Just your help," the other answered.
"How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you."
"I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier." Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.
"Why did you do this?" he asked again. "Don't you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have in mind?"
"Just remember," said the other, "my life is in your hands."

What should he do? "If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way, this will haunt me forever." With ironic humor he thought to die himself, instantly, to jump off the bridge while he was still holding on. "That would teach this fool." But he wanted to live and live fully. "What a choice I have to make; How shall I ever decide?"

As time went by, still no one came. The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make! A new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together, they could do it! Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as he, standing on the bridge, kept it still and steady. "Now listen," he shouted down. "I think I know how to save you." And he explained his plan. But the other wasn't interested.

"You mean you won't help?”
"But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don't think I can hang on much longer either."
"You must try," the other shouted back in tears. "If you fail, I die!" The point of decision had arrived. What should he do? "My life or this other's?" And then a new idea. A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking.

"I want you to listen carefully," he said, "because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you."
"What do you mean?" the other asked, afraid.
"I mean, simply, it's up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight. You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here." He began unwinding the rope from around his waist and braced himself anew against the side.
"You cannot mean what you say!" the other shrieked. "You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me!"

He waited a moment. There was not change in the tension of the rope. "I accept your choice," he said, at last, and freed his hands.

An Evening In Church

In the quiet that only comes with being alone,
In the gentle darkness, save for the rose window lit behind me
and the small red light that burns over the preacher's pulpit always,
after the light on the piano was turned off,
after losing myself for
I'm not sure how long.
How different this place is when here all alone,
than with it full of people praying and dozing and
children waiting impatiently for their agony to end.
Trying to recall the message given to the faithful earlier
but this house has silenced every word. This house will have none of it.
The darkness has washed this house clean,
with no trace of the morning's activity but for a folded bulletin
in a vacant pew.
The worshippers have gone, and this house now
breathes easy.
No matter how long I go on,
Until my fingers cramp and my mind grows weary,
this house will listen.
For that, and the rose window, and the small red light that
burns always over the preacher's pulpit, I am thankful.
And this house seems to bid me, continue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Liszt: Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses

I have been playing the piano for twenty-six years. For all that time I have consistantly chosen music to study that is slightly above my technical ability at the time, and now I have chosen two pieces from this set of pieces by Liszt. They are absolutely pushing my technique to the limit.

One of the pieces is 'Ave Maria' from the set. The technical difficulties of this piece are not so far out of reach, but the musical problems abound. Chordal voicing is essential. With a melody that is in the soprano at one point, the tenor the next point, and even falls into the bass, the danger is that the piece can be reduced to harmony that doesn't say much. And the composer's directions in the score must be studied very closely. Liszt is a composer that tells you what he wants in detail. The problem lies in bringing out the details without obscuring the whole of the piece. Not seeing the trees for the forest, or not seeing the forest for the trees is not acceptable. You must be able to see both, have them in balance. Not so easy to do.

The other piece is called 'Funerailles, Octobre 1849'. From what I've read, it is a piece that pays tribute to an attempted Hungarian revolt in 1849 and the subsequent brutal quashing of that revolt. It is a piece that begins with a slow introduction, with the sounds of bells and dissonant wailing. It slowly gathers momentum with an increase in velocity and volume. It finally reachs a climax, and a mournful funeral march begins, with the melody in the bass.

After the funeral march, the music is transformed into a lamentation marked 'lagrimoso'. A gentle weeping for the dead that is developed into a passionate weeping of the soul. This segues into a depiction of a calvary charge with the beating of horses hooves and the sounding of the military trumpet, all played in the major mode. It is this section that has prompted some writers to think that this piece was also a tribute to Chopin due to its similarities with his Military Polonaise. Also, Chopin died in Paris in October of 1849, so this is plausible.

The calvary charge ends in a thunder of octaves for both hands, and a recapitulation of the funeral march. But this time, it has turned into a bitter, painful repitition, with the melody spread out in both hands played in double forte dynamics and the accompaniment chords played in the low registers of the keyboard. It is not a pretty rendition, and a singing tone in the piano is not appropriate to my way of thinking. It should be ugly, loud and harsh.

This recedes into a repeat of the lagrimoso section, albiet with a key change. After a shortened version of this section, the calvary charge returns, this time in a minor key. It thunders under a direction of crescendo molto until it reaches a double forte diminished chord. The piece ends with two measures played pianissimo, with the final measure consisting of a bare octave in the bass on the 'F', the home note of the key signature of the piece, f minor.

While this piece has many of the excesses of the Romantic Liszt, it is also to my mind a bitter denouncement of the crushing of freedom. Even though the piece was written nearly 150 years ago, it still speaks to us of the ugliness of oppression and the cruelty of the powers that be. It is not a piece that leaves me elated, for it hits too close to home considering the same types of horrors we are witnessing today. The bare, dead, dry final octave leaves me in a state of near despair. But I have a driving urge to learn it, involve myself with it. The passions in the piece are passions I can relate to, even if I'd rather not.

The sorrow, ugliness, harshness, hopelessness of the piece seems to be helping me deal with my feelings about the present state of the world. Perhaps it is a catharsis. Perhaps it is necessary for me to get these passions up to the surface so I can deal with them, instead of having them buried within me to possibly taint my soul in the future.

In any case, my course is clear. Whether my technique is ever up to really playing this piece as I envision or not, the journey is what's important. This piece has much to teach me.

A Poem By Stephen Crane

A man went before a strange God--
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
"Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty."

The man fled.

Then the man went to another God--
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
and said, "My poor child!"

Stephen Crane

Yet More Thoughts About Social Security

The diverting of Social Security withholding taxes to private funds would add yet more debt to our deficit-riddled economy.

In addition, I believe the implementation of this plan would benefit current holders of stock and financial advisors more than anyone else.With nothing guaranteeing that this 'new' investment money would be venture capital (new goods and services) there would be a finite number of stocks available. With a finite number of stocks and increased competition to purchase them, stock prices would rise. Who would benefit by this? Certainly not the new investors brought about by the plan. Their rate of return would be lower than the 'older' money already in the market. These new investors would have to purchase stock at an inflated price, and the current holders of stock could sell it at a higher price. The rule of thumb 'buy low, sell high' would change to the reality of 'new money buy high, old money sell high'.

Financial gurus play the stock market for a living. What of the common working person? Do most working folks have enough knowledge to invest wisely? Look at the consequences if they don't, for this proposal is not a restructuring of Social Security. It is the first step in the process of eliminating Social Security. Perhaps a wise new investor would consult a financial advisor, but there goes yet more of their return towards professional fees. When there is no Social Security and people's retirement income depends on how much and how well they have invested, making good investments with a good return becomes crucial.

It takes tremendous non-partisan lack of foresight to allow a system that has been going for seventy years to teeter on the brink of collapse. The Social Security fund should be used only to pay benefits, and not looked upon as a general fund. It is time for the idea of tax cuts without budget cuts to cease. It is time for the programs that exist for the welfare of citizens to over ride pork barrel spending and other forms of government waste. It is time for fiscal responsibility and accountability by our elected officials, from the federal government on down to local municipalities. If irresponsible spending continues, Social Security will fail and the entire economy will follow in its wake.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

On The Privitization of Social Security

From what I understand, SS might not be in such a pickle if the congress gang would've kept their fingers out of it when it was over funded a few years ago. It shouldn't be a source to pay for anything besides SS benefits.

I don't see how privitization will help, knowing that it will create a situation where it will be 2 trillion dollars short of paying existing retirees benefits. Where will this money come from to keep the program solvent for current payees, let alone future payees?

Can't really brow beat the Republicans over this. Both parties have been guilty of wasteful legislation and spending over the years, and I shudder to think that both parties are gonna try and fix SS now. Without a more fiscal responsible attitude towards spending by the legislature and executive branches, SS is doomed. With far more people getting benefits then are paying into the program, higher taxes of some type are inevitable. And if this insane deficit spending isn't curtailed, higher taxes won't even help.

Do you like fried chicken?

In my day to day activites, I get a chance to talk to many people of many differing opinions. But despite the differing opinions, there is always something that we can agree on. Granted, it takes a bit of patience and exploration to find the common ground, but in the end it usually turns out that people in general have much more in common than they realize.

I call this the 'Fried Chicken' commonality factor. The question' Do You Like Fried Chicken?' is a good one to spring on folks with whom you disagree. Of course it could be a question about anything that is kind of off the subject of disagreement. The point of it is to find something to agree on. Sometimes it can lead to dialogue instead of finger pointing.


Hello to all in bloggersville! My blog is for the sharing of opinions. On what subject(s)? Any! With a world that seems to be fed by mass media moguls this blog is for the common person to express an opinion on politics, religion, the arts, whatever may be sticking in your craw, or even something that makes you happy! I believe in civilized dialogue, especially between people that do not agree. When we come together and talk we can not only learn about each other but more importantly learn about ourselves. I believe that all of us on this earth are interconnected by the fact that we are all human and all will suffer the same fate.

So this blog will be full of ruminations from my fevered brain. The subjects will no doubt be vast and various. Feel free to comment on anything.

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