15.10.07

Reflections from Within an Uncompleted Building

I hide away in the openness of space in this half-completed concrete skeleton—where my only companion is the wind. Ghostlike, she moves in and out between the naked girders—tugging here at loose frays of insulate and there at the clear cellophane of neatly-packaged parts. The un-walled space yawns ominously from one unfinished wall to the other. Absent of life, a skeleton. Studs like steel ribs. Exposed beams like giant bones. Tools abandoned. Scraps piled high in the open places, while everywhere a dust sanctifies the ground. Almost as if to say, “This place is holy.” Almost as if to remind us that man and his human pursuits are like dust—dust to dust, ashes to ashes—and I am reminded of Uzzah who, touching the ark, died with the unspoken message of God: “My dust is cleaner than you think.”

I move about and skirt the edges of this enclosure—in and out between the ribs. My feet echo on the back stairs and it seems to me this is not how God created. This cutting, molding, shaping, bending, welding, pouring, tying, and finishing of cement and steel and wood and stone, pressed all around with dirt and covered in grass. I imagine there were no discarded remnants like these piles of trimmings and broken pieces of pipe—but that when God said, “earth” and “water” and “animals” it was done. And He saw what He had made and it was good. There were no third-world angels allotted to the removal of extra stone and left-over trees—but everything in a place and a place for everything, with a dust that covered all in a sanctifying way. The dust blew. It settled. Then God called it together—a potter and His clay—and made the form of man, while the roofless sky let in the glory of heaven: the glory of God.

It will not always be so—this lifeless mass of open space that lets in wind and sun. These ribs will take on flesh, and these empty spaces will team with life. The lidless gaze of these open windows will shudder in glass to shut out the wind. In time, men and women will fill the silence with questions about God and prayers for the nations. In time, these walkways will be home to pastors, teachers, mentors, friends. And with time, even the hands that labored here will be forgotten.

Students will become teachers, and children will become fathers. Fathers will send sons and daughters, and sons and daughters, and on till even this unfinished work of man decays. It will pass. It will crumble, while over the rubble a great, gentle dust will fall—a sanctifying dust that was, perhaps, once man and, by God, might be again. For buildings will rise and nations prevail, kingdoms come and fall away. Generation will give way to generation—but the proclamation of the Lord will not cease till all things come to an end, till Christ is crowned and He declares, “Let the feast begin!”

The sun sets. A chilling breeze dances through the open space—telling me to go. I obey, and in my retreat take up some welder’s coins, these scraps of creation. I leave lifeless that half-completed beast.

In the hallway of an older building a friend stops to brush my sleeve.

“You are covered in dust,” he says. Indeed I am. I smile

“Let it be,” I say. “Let it be awhile longer.” For from dust I came and to dust I will return. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes—but the Word of the Lord lasts forever.

6.6.07

Behind the Bars

A friend of mine is in prison. I write to wish him well and ask how life is on the other side. He tells me the four walls closed up on him a long time ago and he can’t remember when he stopped dreaming of life outside. He got transferred from Kansas to South Dakota, and the only change is how close the bathroom is to his cell—that and the view through the bars. In group session, he shares how afraid he is of not making it—of not having enough to carry on. Contentment comes hard, and sometimes it’s enough to live from self-indulgence to self-indulgence, limited as they come.

A radio program on NPT talks about a new book call Richistan and about life on the other side.. The author writes about the woes of the wealthy and the struggles of the successful (deca-millionaires)—how the value closed in on them a long time ago and they can’t remember when they last dreamed of happiness. A move from summer home to winter lodge offers temporary reprieve but even then the fear that bars aren’t thick enough: to keep out those set upon their demise. In group session, they share how afraid they are of not making it—of not having enough to retire. Contentment comes hard, and sometimes it’s enough to live from self-indulgence to self-indulgence, excessive as they come.

I sit at my desk, tapping away the tune of a half-remember song wondering about life on the other side: I pay my bills and own my car, but the walls of my longing long since closed in on me and I can’t remember when all my dreams were linked somehow to money. It’s a prison of my own making, bound by fear—while in the group confessional of my varying personalities I confess that I’m not going to make it—there isn’t enough in this world to fill me up. Contentment is fleeting and it’s never enough to live from self-indulgence to self-indulgence.

And my friend hopes for a little more. And the Ricistan among us hope for a little more. And I—I hope that I can find the way out of thinking a little more will set me free. Like a self-blinded Dwarf, I have chosen cunning instead of belief such that my only prison is in my mind; yet I am in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that I cannot be taken out. (CS Lewis, The Last Battle).

“The outside isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” I write my imprisoned friend, probably lying on the floor to get a new perspective on an old view from his cell. “Our human struggle is mutual: Contentment. We both struggle against the temptation to self-satisfaction, discontent with the offerings of a Savior, who died for the sins He now watches me commit.”

“Yes,” I write, “I have more options for self-satisfaction than you, but more isn’t more when it makes less and less of a man than he was intended to be.”

25.5.07

Amnesty or Economic Stability?

The issue of immigration is not likely to be solved by the new immigration bill currently under consideration in both Houses.. Immigration is ultimately an issue of economics and social science more than anything else. The new law, like previous ones, focuses upon legality, security, and punitive actions. This law—no law—can be used to stop the valve when an imbalance between internal and external pressures has resulted in a vacuum. That is where the United States is.

Wages
In the US—as in most western countries—manpower is expensive while supplies are (relatively) inexpensive. Not surprisingly, in most developing countries, the opposite is true. Knowing this to be true, large companies have outsourced their labor or completely moved overseas in attempts to reduce costs associated with the human element of production. This reduction of midlevel jobs has resulted in an upward thrust in education: where 50 years ago a bachelor’s degree was sufficient in most industries (and 50 years before that, a high school degree was often sufficient); today, employment contends largely on a master’s degree. More people are getting higher educations, in turn hoping for higher salaries. With midlevel outsourcing, this creates a vacuum in low-level labor and services: housekeeping, yard-work, garbage, etc. These are the jobs that are essential but, nevertheless, difficult to fill—jobs that immigrants are rushing to fill because the prospect of $5 an hour in the US outweighs the prospect of $10 a day in Central America. This is the first part of the vacuum

Population
Growth within any nation must continue along standard-multiplication trajectories. Just as sudden bursts in population growth can send a nation into instability, so sudden declines in population trajectories creates a vacuum. In a socialistic system, when the benefits of one individual depends upon the taxation of more than one laborer, demand is met only by increasing GDP, wages, and a stable increase in the employment pool. Whereas many European nations have begun to decline in their population growth among the native peoples, the US employment pool began to decrease along a sudden, steep trajectory with the legalization of abortion. The US has aborted between 500,000 and 1.5 million children every year since 1972 (totaling 15-20 million children)—which further adds to the strain that already existed on the employment pool created by socialized benefits. This is the second destabilizing element that has created the vacuum for low-wage workers in the US.

Margins
Despite the massive growth of Wal-Mart and the like, the US economy depends largely on small to mid-cap businesses for a majority of the GDP. The margins of these businesses are thin as they are—but add in the inability to get someone who will empty trash and clean an office for less than $10 an hour and full medical coverage (benefits for which one used to require some education, but now being guaranteed despite the lack of education) and the environment is ripe within a plurality of businesses nation wide to the hiring of immigrants.

Resource Drain
Some argue that granting legal status to the 12 million currently here (and upwards of 60 million over the next decade) would only result in further drains to the US entitlement system. Consider that the low-education status of some of these immigrants would actually fill the low-wage employment pool that is already shallow in the US; in addition, it isn’t like these 12 million haven’t already been costing the US extensively through public education, through loss of taxes, through use of public facilities (uninsured hospital visits, or uninsured motorist accidents) and through any number of other illegal activities that illegal status breeds.

Amnesty
Many have criticized the new law as being little more than amnesty for lawbreakers. I don’t like it, But consider the other side: if the 12 million illegal immigrants were exported today, it would begin such a downward effect businesses that first wages would skyrocket—creating a strain on employment resources—then the weakest businesses would begin layoffs en masse—resulting in an unemployment bubble that would effectively send the economy into recession. Amnesty, as unattractive as the option appears to most, is the best bet the US government has to increasing tax revenue on already existing labor-pools without broad tax increases. Some have asked what happens to the billions or trillions that immigrants will pay to be able to legally stay in the US? At best, these funds will continue to feed the disproportionate entitlement benefit / employment issue at play. Either of the other options—exporting all illegal immigrants or simply ignoring their presence (and thereby allowing them to earn untaxed wages)—is a recipe for disaster. The only remaining option, in the environment that the country has embraced—of regular abortion, upward-movement education and wages, the socialized entitlement system, and loss of revenue through untaxed wages currently earned by illegal immigrants—is to find ways to repopulate the low-wage employment pool while still continuing to increase the taxable employment pool.

Conclusion
No, ultimately this new law doesn’t solve the long-term problems that we have created in our selfish myopia—but that would actually take some self-reflection and life-style change whereas this law just passes the problem beyond the scope of our lives to that of our children.

15.5.07

Green-M

Is anyone else surprised by the move at GM to join the United States Climate Action Partnership? This is GM, you know: one of the Big Three, long time bed fellow of oil producing companies, committed to improving emission quality at rates no greater than minimum EPA standards. Yes, we’re talking about the same GM. Whether or not there is credence to reports of 100 mpg carburetors or 200 mpg fuel injectors, the fact is that GM—like all major automobile manufacturers—has played a key role in keeping disruptive technology from making it to market. Between Big Oil and Big Auto, there just hasn’t been room for anybody else.

So why is GM suddenly turning green? Is $10.5 billion in declining revenues (FY05; with another $1 billion decline in FY06) a big enough reason? There is no renewed love of the earth driving the change. Rather, GM is surveying the unfriendly carbon-producing landscape and sees one of two options: stay the same or change. We all can imagine what staying the same will mean: continued plummet of revenues this year (as Toyota continues to dominate the market), and the next, and the next—and so on, until GM bonds are worth less than a well-used ‘72 Yugo.

But what about change? Not a chance in a thousand years of fossilization can we expect to see real change, like the mass production of hybrid battery & synthetic fuel vehicles populating the GM lots. Despite all the hype, the cost of producing synthetic fuel is still significantly higher than the value of the product itself ($1.75 per gallon, vs. .95¢ per gallon for gasoline). But GM knows there is still a lot of money to be made on the venture. Enter Uncle Sam with tax breaks for businesses in the business of turning things that run on black (oil) to green (biofuels). And green in the tank is green in the pocket for companies who look poised to birth the next big, environment saving product (whether or not they ever do seems to be irrelevant).

GM’s move to join the Climate Action Partnership is a hedging of bets, ahead of competitors Chrysler and Ford, against the potential downfall of a change in government next year. If republicans win, GM can rely on its old methods: cuts in business taxes driven by corporate advocacy groups. But if democrats fill the oval office, you can be sure GM isn’t going to be shy about broadcasting its trailblazing…er, trailsaving steps. I can hear it now: “After all, Mrs. President, we choose to join the Climate Action Partnership last year when those other guys (read Ford and Chrysler) we just about turning a buck.” (Stick out hand here to receive large tax breaks and federal aid).

What this means for stock holders—real and potential—is not much. GM is still burning through money faster than a hybrid can burn though the fuel produced by 10 acres of corn. So, go ahead GM. Hedge your best. While you’re at it, change your name to Green-M. Neither move will put you into better position against Toyota who, as it stands, just keeps making long-lasting vehicles: standard and hybrid. And if joining the Climate Action Partnership is what you call a 10-year business plan…well, let’s just say that—green or black—2007 promises to finish in the red.

29.4.07

Your Huddled Masses (pt2)

In the unfolding of grand scale events in the U.S., to ask Why is the quest for the undiscovered country and—by analogy—answers to that question are a Holy Grail. The violent killing spree of Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech at least exemplified this fact—showing again how quickly we process and absorb the whowhatwhenwherehow simple facts and, likewise, how quickly we come screeching to a halt over the conundrum of causation.

Causation—the why—is so distressing because it defies quick and quip-able answers in the face of tragedy. The issue is not that we ask but that we ask demanding explanation. Understandably so, tragedy leaves us feeling vulnerable. It is this vulnerability that we try to cover, like Adam’s nakedness, with the figurative leaves of knowledge. The interrogatives who, what, when, where, and how provide factual information but not knowledge. Knowledge is derived from the application of information in the act of relationship: a move from mere examination to relational experience.

A twofold problem remains. First, westerners’ typical means of acquiring information—bulleted summations of investigative findings and top-of-the-hour tidbits—leave us ignorant of causation. Growing in knowledge is just not something we’re accustomed to doing. Second, while understanding of causation is within our grasp —from 9/11 to VTech—knowledge is costly: ignorance is bliss. By avoiding communal participation in the full examination of causes behind Cho’s actions, we evade culpability. In so doing, we take the “high places”: the judge’s bench (to pass judgment). the jury box (to deliberate), or perhaps the peanut gallery (to be entertained). Yet the simple fact remains—we are co-conspirators in Cho’s actions by our willful ignorance and our blind neglect.

We are a bloodlust culture, in the arts and entertainment. Give us games and films of gratuitous violence and we are satiated; yet, confusticate, we cannot comprehend a reason beyond our borders of safety why one of our own would be employed in war. Our strongest protests against public wars are only as loud as our private fascination with violence. For many American-born people, such a contradiction is acceptable (if not in itself a type of cultural psychosis). But for those from the outside, who have been forced to live between the termini of purposeless production and mindless consumption—and have found such a life wanting, waiting somewhere in between at a stop for a train that never does—the theater meets the dorm room of the oppressed with consistency.

No line of demarcation exists between neglect and oppression. For the recipient, what is willfully subjected to the one (“He’s a freak!”) is passively applied to the other (“the Question Mark”). History demonstrates that there are two common responses to oppression: rebellion and retaliation. For an individual trapped in a cage of perpetual fear and isolation—even of his own choosing—rebellion may mean suicide. Had Cho chosen suicide, he would have just been one of many. Perhaps the local news would have run a blurb. Vague details of his death might even have scrolled across the bottom of CNN’s Headline News. And he would have been forgotten in a moment. Instead (and I believe, knowing this fact) Cho chose retaliation, and thirty-two died.

With such a line between rebellion (suicide) and retaliation (murder)—with as many as 10% of high school student indicating they’ve outlined a way to kill themselves—the issue of integration for the marginalized must be a community concern. Knowledge must drive us beyond collection of information. Human dignity demands that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” mean more than personal comfort and individual privacy. We must forgo the bench and the box for the dock in pursuit of relational experience. For what the government was never meant to do, individual citizens must—namely, enter into the lives of our neighbors with information leading to relational knowledge. Isn’t that the promise of the Lady of Ellis Island to all who died at VTech?

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

17.4.07

Your huddled masses (pt1)

It may prove no accident that the same week Don Imus was fired for his “racist comments” Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people—before killing himself—at Virginia Tech yesterday. Cho, a resident alien from Korean, apparently has been in the US for some time (his family continues to reside elsewhere in Virginia). Even as officials attempt to discern motive for the seemingly random violence, the case may yet prove the effects of social isolation on an ethnic scale, as well reveal the oft-ignored, negative impacts of globalization.

Unbeknownst to many, second-generation Korean-Americans (sgKA) are often one of the most dislocated segments of society. Talking to these young men and women, there is utter confusion on identity. Korean elders, often first-generation American residents or citizens, speak of the homeland as heaven: a glorious place to be replicated in every facet wherever one lives.—there is an unrelenting, and unquestioning, embrace of perceived Korean culture, especially in its respect for family hierarchy. Children of first-generation Korean-Americans are raised to speak English to some degree, to use the culture, to benefit from it, but never to fully embrace it at the risk of losing all that makes them truly Korean.

And yet, these second-generation members are not Korean: they have never seen the homeland beyond media representations. They have been raised with cultural expectations of fitting in at school, on the playground, in the workforce. Such integration requires an understanding, appreciation, and embrace of many non-Korean expectations. But they are no more fully American than they are Korean. At home, matriarchs and patriarchs often grow deeply critical and suspicious of American culture. In school and in the workforce, non-Koreans can become deeply resentful of cultural Korean expressions.

First-generation Korean-Americans carry with them the bond of home and tend to create subcultures of their respective locations. On the seminary campus where I work, it is not uncommon for the Korean students to do everything together, together and apart from other students. In situations where these people become long-term residents of the US, this sense of solidarity doesn’t often translate into the lives of their children, who live between two worlds: a country they’ve never known and a country they cannot own. This psychosis of identity is stamped on the lives of many sgKA.

John from Atlanta, an sgKA, tells of the abuse, mocking, and name-calling. Jeff’s teachers knew what to do with the “n****r” word launched at blacks. But these same teachers failed to grasp the implications of terms like gook and hangook, or chink (completely misapplied by students utterly ignorant of those they slandered) and the sometimes innocent / sometimes slanderous oriental. Another sgKA from St. Louis, Jeff, tells of having to battle his parents at home to respect his white friends, while at the same time having to defend his parents to his friends’ critical remarks about their clothes, food, and d├ęcor.

Was Cho Seung-Hui the butt of illiteracy jokes as a Korean non-tech major at a major technical college—and that’s why he shot up the Engineering building? Was it mental illness brought on by the intense pressure to perform? Was it something totally unsuspected by anyone at this point? Whatever is eventually concluded and divulged on the motive behind Cho’s actions yesterday, one can’t ignore the identity crises that sgKAs—and other second-generation individuals—are going through. The safeguards of earlier generations that allowed for a transitional period for immigrants simply doesn’t exist in our globalized world. Where, in generations past, immigrants of every ethnicity—Irish, French, German, Chinese, Hispanic, Latino, even Korean (and in more recent years, refugees from war-torn parts of the world)—sought and found identity in tight-knit communities of their own ethnicity; today, the expectation for assimilation doesn’t allow for the necessary transitions to offer security. This conclusion is evident from the 2005 riots in France to last year’s foiled plot in London to bomb US airlines.

Nor is this an issue likely to be addressed in the ongoing debates on tighter borders (as an aside, no borders are tight enough in a world where economic-market and informational borders are so open). Assimilation is eventually a community venture—and I don’t mean a global community. As author David Wells put it, “Modernization is progressively erasing geographical distinctions as a means of defining community. The modern individual is almost wholly rootless, bereft of any psychological connections to place. To be sure, the new freedom from various parochialism is in some sense exhilarating, but it does not come without a price. Those who belong everywhere can also be said to belong nowhere. They have been emancipated from the small town only to become anonymous, unconnected in our large world. Where the self wanders the earth is a vagrant, belonging nowhere. Something that is profoundly intrinsic to being human has been lost.”

17.3.07

Self-Restrained Strength and the Beauty of Fraility

What happens to strength when it is willfully restrained? Greater concentration of productivity and innovation are borne out of the same amount of work when a limiting occur: a city is better deigned when it must take in to account large green-reserves (untouchable to development for space or natural resources)—trees, parks, lakes, etc. Not that the steel, concrete, and the general strength of the city could not easily consume and conquer those reserves; they could. Willful restraint of strength is not weakness, but a tempering to art that which untrained appears as war. Willful restraint and concentration of strength is not a sign of weakness but of intelligence.

In a garden, pumpkin plants will take over if unchecked; but the limiting of these pervasive vines not only increases the concentration of production within that plant, but allows for a broader diversity of production across the garden.

In housing construction, the stacking of houses in ever-increasing proximity (diminishing distance between the homes) is limited not by grass and land, but by the thickness of walls and the average square footage of a given unit. But in granting that trees, grass, even some stones and open spaces will not be consumed in this venture (a limiting of power), there becomes the potential of previously unconsidered alternatives to spatial maximization.

I suppose it’s no different than mathematical problems wherein a formula renders a set of possible solutions when limited by only three variables; increasing variables effectively renders a lower corpus of solutions—but with each becoming more complex.

In music, it’s the same thing: one instrument limited by an octave of 8 notes can produce a range of music which is easier to produce, lacking nothing in the area of power. But the multiplications of instrumentation and orchestration, along with the additives of complementary octaves in fact eliminates easier patterns and more elementary musicians, but produces a more glorious sound. In this regard, a drum can crush the soft resonance of the hammer dulcimer, but the drum’s strength is proven in its self-restraint, allowing the tender sound of the strings to grow within an area unmolested but defined.

If the differences of men and women cannot be explained away or coached out through instruction—if the differences of men and women are real (and they are)—what would it look like in the field of medicine to allow women to research, study, and analyze in their own right: funded, not because they might compete with male peers but because their “intuitive nurture” is not just a pedagogy but, in earlier terms, an orchestration unto itself? And what would it look like for the dominant male research models to give self-restraint and respect to the insights of instinct (not less factual but certainly less theoretic) of female models of research and study (I will be branded sexist for merely suggesting as much)?

As it is, both are considered identical, which is far worse than to consider them fully equivocal: For identical-ity is redundancy, where even equals may be unique and varied. One should not hear the old adage of justified inhumanity, “Separate but equal.” Rather, it is in the combination of differing instruments that the orchestration finds incomparable unity among diversity. Why not in the sciences or in any field for that matter?

Lest one sound sexists, chauvinistic, or arrogantly male—I am suggesting that predominantly male models of research are hindered by the lack of restraint which female models of research offer: as the parks require city planners to think differently, so the parallel is made. And we lose the best part of ourselves in failing to see that she who organizes her dresser differently from myself might prefer an un-male approach to research, just as I would an un-female approach.

Separate but equal isn’t equal. Identical is redundant. But in the presence of self-restraint, equivocal but unique approaches will grant to us an understanding of the varied arts and sciences such as will never be attained in a world which scrubs away the uniqueness of males and females as though trying to scrub away some stain of history past. Time will reveal as much, as it has the $1 gold piece of the ‘20s. My grandfather and his brothers were each given one, but my grandfather—believing that metal is worth more than paper—worked to raise the money to buy his brother’s coins. In exchanging one paper dollar for one gold coin, there was no immediate gain. But in what was at one point considered identical has been revealed to have been once equivocal but inherently different, unique. Here, I raise my intellectual glass to the gold coin of difference and pursue a world where self-restraint of strength leads to a blossoming of frailty into greater and more complex constructs than steel-reinforced cement will ever produce.

19.2.07

Money Doesn’t End Poverty

While not synonymous, poverty and starvation are plights of common origin; that is, where you find one, you will usually find the other. Contrary to many posited views, however, the simple solution to poverty is not wealth any more than the simple solution to starvation is food. US social welfare programs have demonstrated that fact over its 61 year history (from conception in 1935 to reform in 1996). In short, Roosevelt’s New Deal (under which the US welfare program was born) proved a major impetus in the perpetuation of trans-generational poverty.

In the same vein, fiscal meddling by the IMF and World Bank have shipwrecked nations through their policies, usually anti-capitalistic: the presence of money doesn’t end poverty. In fact, quite the opposite, as seen in the case of Argentina. For those unfamiliar with the IMF and World Bank both serve as the world’s largest lenders to nations with “short-term credit crunches.” Recipients of these loans must adhere to the policies of these lending institutions—policies which historically have caused as much harm as good, environmentally as well as socially and economically.

Enter the biotech age of Genetically Engineered Organisms (read “crops). First introduced in 1996, GEOs accounted for approximately 1.09 million acres worldwide, largely in the US. That number has increased to nearly 200 million acres today. In 2006, it is estimated that “in the US…89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83% of cotton, and 61% maize was genetically modified varieties.” Ignoring for a moment issues of intellectual property—such as surrounded Monsanto’s Roundup Ready ® corn—the economic ramifications of GEO crops are massive. Higher resistance to certain pesticides, blights, or temperature swings do in fact allow crops to produce higher yields, upwards of 10% in most cases and as high as a 50% increase in yield in others.

The immediate response of most westerners when they hear such staggering reports is amazingly optimistic, assuming that such a pronouncement of higher yields is a declaration on the end of starvation. Such a response is truthy at best, and often completely incorrect.

This is where the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization’s talks comes in to play. In a recent article titled “Peter Mandelson says that a global trade deal is doomed unless the American President backs it today,” The Times reporters David Charter and Tom Baldwin suggest that the global impact of the WTO proposal is $287 billion by 2015. Frankly, that’s not much. Assuming (the huge assumption) of inflation rates at a meager 2-3% globally together with current population growth models, there will be 7.5 billion people in the world by 2015, of which 3.5 billion or more will be impoverished (living on less than US $2-3 per day).

Initially one might suppose that $287 billion divided by 3.5 billion is still an increase of $82 per year, per individual. If only such were the case. Unfortunately, it is at this point that GEO crops, government farm subsidies, international tariffs, population increase, poverty and starvation merge into a nexus of counteraction. Many western countries—the US included—offer tax subsidies to homeland farmers. This allows for a nation to ensure continued food production while maintaining a normalized (and affordable) level of commodity pricing. Governments internally purchase excess production of crops at set levels, only then to sell them off to other nations at discounted rates (discounted to national prices as well as international prices). In response to cheap crop imports, a government may add steep tariffs to these goods. In a country of relative size, such tariffs offset most of the economic impact these cheapened goods have on gross domestic production (GDP).

Not so impoverished countries. Even steep tariffs allow for the flooding of a market with goods from western countries, with negative impacts on already-fragile national economies of these second- and third-world countries. Remember, the presence of food doesn’t end starvation. In this case, quite the opposite: the flooding of small nations with surplus commodities actually bankrupts farmers who otherwise would depend upon the sale of their own crops. This ultimately drives them into further poverty and, eventually, death by starvation.

The removal of tariffs and subsidies has ramifications on socialized nations—whether that socialization is greater or lesser. In short, while the removal of tariffs and subsidies may grant some poorer nations a more-even footing, developed countries have so far structured the agricultural industry upon the presence of these monies. But this still does not take into consideration that while GEOs are increasing yield internationally, they are also increasing yield locally, creating a wash effect.

Case in point: Brazil increases produce of corn nationally, accomplished in large part to GEO. In order to capitalize on this surplus, Brazil depends upon the removal of subsidies in the US. Removal of those subsidies in the US—and other developed nations where large GEO crops are grown, producing internal surplus—results in a downward pricing structure of corn in the US. This in turn drives down the demand and value of Brazilian corn. Such a process could happen for one country or several or a conglomeration of countries without much economic impact, but never worldwide. Somewhere, the excess of corn would utterly impoverish local production in another country—actually creating poverty leading to starvation instead of eradicating it. Or to borrow the twisted adage, “Man does not live by Cornbread alone.” The issue becomes more complex when one realizes that subsidies and tariffs are actually two sides of the same issue, neither of which ultimately solves the issue of overproduction; therefore, the removal of either or both does not end surplus (and all its ramifications).

Consider now the brash supposition put forth by Peter Mandelson, that an embrace from President Bush is all that stands between global poverty and global peace, and one begins to see that such a un-thoughtful supposition is not only truthly and lofty but deadly and destructive. Even if Bush agreed to the $8 billion cut in subsidies, the EU does not have a track record of agreement—for those who remember the intramural dissention within the EU over this very issue several years back.

Far and beyond a simplistic removal of subsidies and tariffs, broad reform—slowly implemented—would have to take place: Reform which undercuts the driving engines of modern capitalism, marked by its rampant consumerism. Western and First-World countries are known for their high-cost of labor and low cost of goods. In Second- and Third-World countries, quite the opposite. Until the cost of labor and goods is more normalized, the increase of goods—even in the form of crops—cannot have the desired effect of eradicating poverty and starvation. Until the US and other First-World countries recant their compulsive consumerism, Second- and Third-World countries cannot bear the economic fruit of higher production. And until these and/or other solutions to national imbalances are taken into consideration, the current motions by the IMF and World Bank on the matter of poverty should not only be viewed with a wary eye by all nations alike, but dismissed in kind as policies that undermine stability.

5.2.07

Child of Grace

I’ve drunk the tears of sleepless dreams,
with longing thoughts as company
and made believe—a shadow seems
a dancing child! But no; a tree…

While friends abound in infant joy—
their laughter turns in me to tears—
a brown-haired girl or sun-kissed boy.
O Lord, thou knowest what I fear:

the always longing not fulfilled;
to hold a child and call him mine
and adding him—our family build—
three separate hearts will intertwine.

Then suddenly—like morning’s light—
a child is giv’n, and warmly I embrace
the one adopted with my feeble might,
and praise You for the bounty of Your grace:

that to this longing heart You grant
a child—so dear, so tender sweet!
Thus fruit is borne of faith You plant
in every heart You deign to meet.

1.2.07

Immovability and Irrelevance

To the observant driver, two phenomena play out on the Midwestern landscape. I call them immovability and irrelevance. The miles pass, on seventy going seventy, and field gives way to field and that to wood until the eye falls upon a line stretched between two trees. That line is an old bridge, the once only-way from here to there, wherever one went: Once the bridge that all would take, before the road moved. That old road is gone, and why one would leave the bridge standing there, between two trees—like a prisoner being guarded and ushered to death row—I can’t know. So I guess. I guess that the digging hands that pulled up old blacktop and stone came upon the bridge and stopped. Perhaps the sun hung hot and high in the sky. Perhaps night set on. Perhaps rain fell upon them. And in the sun-maybe-rain-almost-night someone said, “Let’s let it stand. Leave it be until it is surrounded by grass and tree and fallen leaves, as a joke, a gag, something to make the passerby think or, at least, laugh. Better yet, let it stand awhile and testify to the fact that the road always moves,” because the road always moves.

So it stands: that old line of a bridge of stone, grown over with vine and weed. Irrelevance. I doubt many notice it. Whether they do or not, certainly none come to it or go from it. Where once it was the way, the only way, no more. Irrelevance. Where once two friends might pass upon its trusses and greet with a wave as they pass, no longer. Where once a boy might kiss a girl and mark that moment engraved upon the stone, never again. Irrelevance: the road always moves.

Ominously, beyond the tree-guarded bridge that comes and goes nowhere—against the pale of the sky—a church stands. Here I am on a Sunday evening, driving through the wilds of Indiana and a church stands lighted from steeple to gilt like a light upon a hill. And yet, her windows are dark, empty. From the expanse of gravestones marked all around, she was clearly once a loved and attended church. Perhaps no longer. Perhaps none come to her and none go out. Perhaps she too has become irrelevant, lighted only on whimsy, as one saying to another, “Let her stand awhile and testify to the fact that the road always moves.” Perhaps…irrelevance.

But even irrelevance eventually meets immovability. Mile upon mile, the two sides of the interstate traverse the unbroken landscape, separated by a ditch of tall grass. Once can almost see the brutal hands of the woodcutters who made no end of sawdust and limbs and felled trees, whose bloodthirsty lust could not be satisfied till every last tree fell. Hands blistered as longsaws and hacksaws moved to and fro, as axes and hatches swung. Flames engulfed the carnage behind. One can almost hear the old tune: feed it and it lives, water it and it dies.

But then the insatiate met the immovable, and there rose a tree to defy the saws and axes and blistered hands. Sawdust stuck to sweat as the singing stopped; the fires died, and the men stood to face a massive oak some two hundred years and more. The ancient tree spread its boughs like arms and would not yield. “You shall not pass,” the tree seemed to say, like Gandolf upon the bridge in Kazadoom. “You shall not pass.” Immovability.

I imagine the blood-lusty men dropping weapons of destruction and falling to their knees in repentance. I imagine them turning back from their path crying, “No more. The roads need not run so close together. Let the tree stand. Let it be.” I can find no other justification for why, after endless miles of northwest running, the lanes would separate. Immovability.

So the road always moves and every bridge, every church, risks irrelevance; risks becoming a byway, a byword. Meanwhile, the road of culture, of bloodthirsty men, always turns from the way laid out before it—always abandons the invitation to come, find rest and easy of burden—and sets upon a path of its own choosing; that is, until it meets immovability. And whether it be some ancient oak or the imaginary Gandolf, or the man of God, when immovability meets the changing road and declares, “You shall not pass!” something happens. Men change. The road turns back. Axes and fires are abandoned as the once-futile take up farming and shepherding and bringing crops and life to the barren places of life.

So what will we be in the coming years: my family and I, the Seminary, the PCA? Will we be the symbol of irrelevance, the bridge to which none ever come and go, and only the passing eye occasionally glimpses in the setting sun? Or will we be known as the symbol of immovability, taking a stand against the ever changing road to say—with kindness and love, with compassion and grace, and the knowledge that today is the culmination of redemptive history—“You shall not pass!”? God only knows, though I am left to wonder—to wonder and to pray, and to wander in and out of the endless possibilities—as night falls, consuming all. Work while it is day.

31.1.07

A Growing Dilemma

Thirty-Million marriageable men. No women. Growing freedoms and disposable income, scattered across the world’s largest nation. Is this the trailer for the summer’s first blockbuster hit movie or the stage for international conflict by 2020?

In a less-than-surprising clip, CNN reported today on the growing gender imbalance taking place in China. According to the report, the Chinese government predicts that by 2020 there will be “30 million more men than women.” For comparison, the US anticipates that just over 69% of our population will be of marriageable age (ages 20-60) by 2020. Thirty-million marriageable-but-unmarried Chinese men would be equivolent to 14.5% of our adult population under 60.

This growing, gender disparity in China—referred to as “an unintended consequence of the one-child policy”—looms darkly on the near-future horizon (less than 13 years). Laying aside common, table manners, let’s ask what we might expect in such an environment. If you believe in God, then you believe God intended man and woman to marry, have sex, conceive, and fill up the earth. If you don’t believe in God, then you believe that sex, like other animal desires, is the “unintended consequence” of an unintelligent natural selection. In either case, men have a powerful drive. Deprived of the ability to engage in sexual activity within normal human institutions—i.e. marriage—desire often breeds compulsion and “social instability.”

Translation: rape, kidnapping, and the buying and selling of human beings for sex. If recent event has proven one thing, it is that—far from attaining an enlightened state of a peace-pursuing race—human beings are inherently broken. Humans will and do kidnap children, rape women (and men), kill, abuse, neglect, and abandon each other. When these offenses occur, we step back with hand to mouth and utter the predictable question, “How could this happen? Why did s/he do it?” The better (and rarely asked) question is, “Under what conditions does a fellow human being resort so such behavior?” The answer to this question involves self-reflection and, likely, the undesired interaction with one’s own needy state.

If cases—like that of Michael Devlin—are not so much freak accidents as they are the expression of a deep seeded brokenness within the human race (myself included), what extrapolations might we expect from 300 marriage-age/sex-deprived men? Invasion of countries with more women: war. Subjugation of other nations for their natural human (flesh) resources: pillage. Forced sex of subjugated women and often children: rape. In this 21st century, I confess that sounds more like a Medieval movie than a future possibility.

This future is likely but not inevitable. What the US does today matters. So, what if a nation—that has too long embraced the violent disposal of her unwanted people—birthed, nurtured, reared, yes even wanted her most vulnerable members; ceased the practices of abortion? What if in the next 13 years, all of the unborn children to be aborted were born (some 51% of them women)? What would it look like for such a nation to extend an outstretched arm to an enemy-at-arms and invite them into relationship: granting single-Chinese men two-year work visas, with the hopes that they might find in that timeframe a woman to love, to woo, to marry, and with whom to have mutually-willing sex? What if these men and their willing wives went back to China and raised a family of any gender and any size, breaking the destructive patterns of sex-selection and infanticide?

I’ll tell you what it would look like: War, rape, pillage and the sex-trade industry would be largely unbeneficial avenues for single men (Chinese or otherwise). The US would become one of the strongest influencers, from within the borders of the world’s largest nation. The result of an influx of forward-thinking, democratic women into a Communists society could put an end to the unfair treatment of other women and children, and bring freedoms untold to a country that has only known governmental subjugation. In due time, second- and third-generation Chinese-Americans in China would radically change the political, economic, and social atmospheres in this Red State.

I am sure that as soon as I write this, someone will start yelling, “He wants to sell American women to China, and use them to prevent war.” Far from it: I don’t expect the use or sale of anyone to effect global change in the human network. Nor would I expect there to be any forced aspect to such a tradeoff. The US would gain economically by employing some of the hardest working, most ambitious men in the world. US women in their own quest for identity may actually find greater attraction of such committed individual—and in a nation like China that prevents large families, women opposed to the idea of being “stay at home” would receive a welcome embrace. Besides, history demonstrates—from the tribes of Africa to the hills of Tennessee, and from the birth of the Nation-State to the end of Colonialism—that when your son marries your enemy’s daughter, this makes your grandchildren and his one in the same.

Here’s what we do know: There has never been a nation in history looking to address the gender imbalance that China—and perhaps India, in the not-too-distant future—now faces. Nations with an imbalance of resource, natural or human, will not self-rectify through internal restructuring alone. At some point, imaginary political borders just aren’t strong enough to resist the building pressure of a vacuum. There really are only two options ahead: War or Peace. In the (slightly altered) words of Winston Churchill, having established that, “Now we’re just dickering about the price.”

26.1.07

Intuits Respond to "Coaching the Alpha Male

Two paragraphs into the HBR article “Coaching the Alpha Male” and I knew: That is not me! Don’t get me wrong: I’m motivated, creative, insightful, and can multi-task with great productivity. There’s only one “problem:” I’m an Intuitive Feeler (an Intuit). With a label like that, Alpha Males immediately start wondering how to avoid me completely. After all, Feelers can’t be good for results, right?

But that’s not how Intuits work. Intuits don’t often lead large companies or corporations but that’s because we don’t want to. The very idea is a bore. We don’t wake up dreaming of the next ladder to climb, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t also on a journey of achievement. Intuits are like a 4D perspective in a 3D business world.

As the article points out, Alpha Males are rapid processors, “unemotional and analytical in their cognitive styles” and “they rely on exhaustive data to reach business conclusions.” Data collected, processed, charted, graphed, critiqued, analyzed, synthesized, organized, and addressed: That’s so 3D.

Contrary to popular presumption, the Intuitive Feeler isn’t anti- any of these things. (For the record, “Feeler” doesn’t mean prone to uncommon fits of giggles or tears.) In fact, Intuits depend upon thorough information for an accurate assessment of any situation. But Intuits are aware as well of 4D-aspects of data and information—call them the assumptions, blind-spots, or “environmental conditions” under which data was collected, analyzed, or presented. Sometimes Intuits function like a smoke-detector: We can identify smoke, but not (immediately) the source. Sometimes Intuits function like quality-control: We can tell when something is not up to par, but not (immediately) what is missing. Still other times, Intuits function like a metal-detector: We beep in the proximity of metal, but may not know (immediately) whether it is gold. When given a voice—and usually a little time—Intuits can offer insight that either prevents significant negative consequences, or more positively and powerfully advance institutional mission.

Even better, Intuits are often content to be in secondary roles: We don’t want that position. Let the Alpha type have it. In environments where job-security can be constantly challenged by the up-and-coming, Intuits are the Alpha Male’s greatest resource. Intuits want to support, but we need the cognitive space and interpersonal freedom to formulate ideas in ways that are very non-Alpha.

Who wouldn’t want such a person on their team? Oddly enough, many Alpha Males do not. For all that Intuits have going for them, they aren’t prone to rapid processing, usually lack confidence in their ideas, and are not generally authoritative—and therefore can seem (or be in actuality) insecure.

What’s more, we don’t understand Alphaspeak. Intuits are illustrative in their verbal acuity—that is, we like to use analogies. Give us a chart and a little time, and we’ll have you a narrative tale that captures every positive and negative element of the data, identifies oversights, weaknesses, or missed potential. On the other hand, give us a chart, shut us down, and dismiss us, and we’ll have you a resignation letter in less than a year.

There are opportunities within corporations today that could, I believe, double net income through revenue increases, expenditure decreases, and previously-unexplored markets, all contained in the unspoken mental conceptions of non-Alpha Intuits, male and female. This is what I would have added as the final point under “What to Expect from Coaching.” What Alpha Male wouldn’t be motivated by a statistic of such proportions?

I know much of what makes the Intuit tick sounds philosophical and abstract, un-chartable. It is, but that doesn’t make it illogical or irrelevant. Rather, the creative, non-linear, verbal and narrative approach to analysis is exactly what makes the Intuit a 4D player in a 3D world.

PS. So, when will do we get an article on that?

25.1.07

East

The path grows long behind.
The pace picks up. Shadows of younger years
fall upon the grassy places to the left
and to the right.
But I go straight on.

Above, and westward,
the golden light of the afternoon sun
breaks in with melancholy
and with the strain of some ancient tune gently
plucked from the strings of a violin.

Here, a creek bed gives up
the sounds of crystal
in the onward movement of water and stone.
I espy beneath its surface
the images of days now gone,
of recollections rolling onward, ever onward,
as the years tumble in and out of view.

What peace lies beneath the overhanging trees
of memory sweet, beside the stream of recollection?
What gentle rest is found at the place where water,
grass, sun, and memory all unite?

Delighted solace is found therein,
but in the end
I go on.

The sun travels onward, westward
while the creek runs onward, southward.
The wind stirs trees onward, northward.
But I go east.
East, across the distant lands of days unseen,
of years unlived.
East, across the far off hills
and vales of intersecting hopes and dreams,
where the constant melancholic strain of some ancient tune,
gently plucked from the strings of a violin,
sing of home.

20.1.07

Of Prayer and Poetry

Impossible it seems, it may yet be:
certainly, I am a tree—
a tree among a world of trees
on lands that live between the seas,
and each a little place to fill,
a forest, dale, or on a hill.
Some are given to live by streets
or mark the place where one road meets
another.

               Other trees live just to shade
a playground, park bench, or a glade;
still others gather into crowds
and live in forests ‘neath the clouds,
to make adventure of out places
otherwise just empty spaces.

I’ve never known a tree reproved—
though many trees have been removed—
for growing up where its seed fell;
nor ever known a man to tell
a tree, “You should be so much more—
not taking space outside my door—
another greater space to fill:
some princely park, some noble hill,
a royal road, a kingly gate.
You, poor old tree, could be great.”

Every tree grows where it was sown,
content to call a little space its own,
nor pass furtive hours with worry
that they fill a place of hurry
(some urban spot) than quiet woods
or near a stream where limbs, like hoods,
hang tenderly.
                         So why do I
worry so much, and ever try
to fill some greater space than this,
supposing it will bring me bliss,
compare myself to other men
and wish myself like them, when
in their own space they are consumed
by that glory which they assume
others have reached, but not themselves.

Determinedly, my conscience delves
to the deep place where root meets soil
and am content—in human toil—
to fill the spot allotted me:
not extend my span but tend to space,
nurture and feed with tender grace
that in the end men would remark
(not great words) how, like faithful bark
upon a tree well grown, I grew.
How in my shade the birds oft flew
and found solace from cold or heat;
how comfort found those at my feet,
whether to sit and rest or stand
to think alone, or in a band,
how dreamers climbed from trunk to top
searching the horizon and stop
only when tender limbs could bear
their weight no more.
                                        How great a care
was shown those with any need
generously; and without greed
given forth like heavenward prayers
whate’er I could to meet their cares:
to keep one warm—my limbs for fire;
for the poet—to inspire;
to shade the aged—every leaf
spread out to offer some relief.

That every child who feigns to play
may oft be known and heard to say:
“Ring, O ring, around the rosy.
Pocket full of colored posy.
Ashes to dust and dust ashes:
day is o’er when daylight passes.”
For others still, I’ll be a base
for them to run when in a race
or stand like Father’s Apple Tree
above the sound, “You can’t catch me.”

When life is spent, and branches die,
whenever my limbs and trunk lie
rotting, then let me fill a space
within a simple fireplace.
And on the wood that marks my grave,
let them carve, “Here lies one who gave
his everything for God and King,
taking what he’ven will let him bring:
people loved and friendships made;
sweet memories, and prayers once prayed,
and fading lines of poetry
once written, but now long forgot. “

And near the place where I will lay
let them plant a tree that day
to mark the space of life gone by
until, someday, it too will die.

For strange though it seems, yet certainly:
I am a tree.