Time for a Refresh

There’s nothing worse than a stale blog.

Since starting Don’t Push Send a couple of years ago, I’ve struggled with its identity.   It wasn’t originally supposed to be overtly political, although the events of the last year and a half have driven much of what I have shared in that direction.  

Moving To a New Host

Moving to a new hosting provider was a great opportunity to rethink Don’t Push Send and start over.  Anyone who has ever had a blog or website knows that site migration is an involved process, and the question became “do I keep what is there and restore it on the new servers, or just start fresh?”.   Starting fresh felt like the right thing to do – but as I read through the existing material some of it felt relevant, even if subsequent events have altered the perspective or proven that my ability to prognosticate may not be as well developed as I would like to think.

In Case You are Interested

DPS, along with my other personal domains have been hosted for the last six years or so on a hosting service called “FatCow”.   FatCow is now owned by a large corporation that dominates the website hosting business with the ironic name of “The Endurance International Group” (EIG).  To put it nicely my satisfaction with the performance and support has dropped over the past several years as their prices have increased, their technical support has moved offshore, and their”bait-and-switch” offerings have become constant.  For those who might be looking for place to host a blog or website I strongly encourage you to read this article prior to signing up with FatCow or any of the other 80+ hosting brands owned by EIG . . . which you can find listed here.  They are, as Herman’s Hermits sang, “a must to avoid.”  

FYI, this blog is now hosted on Inmotion – a far superior platform and a company who has been great to work with during the transition.  One of the perks that comes along with the hosting package is the BoldGrid WordPress environment which is now the platform DPS is built on.  Again, highly recommended.

What’s It All About?

So, I’m hoping to expand my content, and do some writing about other topics that have become lost in the political noise.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t be commenting on the disaster that threatens our democracy and continues to erode confidence in our institutions.

Exactly what . . .  time will tell.

Right now I’m working on the mechanics of the new Don’t Push Send.

Stay tuned.

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“If we have them, why can’t we use them?”

This widely reported question from Donald Trump to national security advisers on the subject of nuclear weapons was chilling when Trump was an unlikely candidate.  It became alarming when he was elected.

A few short months later, with this oblivious man-child  in charge of the power to destroy all life on this planet, the idea of an actual nuclear war on the Korean peninsula – however improbable,  is now being held out as a possibility.

That this mentally challenged reality TV personality / real-estate branding tycoon has his finger on the trigger of mass destruction, and just weeks into his administration has moved us closer to the point where we are even having to think about this is . . .

is . . .

is . . .

There are no words.

There are no words.

We need to stop this now.

 

 

Remember when “Fly the Friendly Skies”  was the motto of United Airlines, when American Airlines was “Something Special in the Air”, or when Delta touted “We love to fly, and it shows.”?

The horrific treatment of a United passenger this past week shown in a viral video that took social media by storm and resulted in enormous losses for the airline and its stock holders may just be the wake-up call needed by the industry.   A friend of mine posted in his social media feed today:

“In today’s Wall Street Journal there is an article about United. One of their board members who is the former CEO of Air Canada is quoted saying that ‘United employees need to craft a friendly policy and make customers smile.’  What United should do is hire all of Southwest’s employees and fire theirs.”

Among the contributing factors to the sorry state of customer service in the sky is undoubtedly the massive consolidation of the airline industry over the last decade. This has seen the number of major carriers[1] drop from nine in 2005 to just four today, American, Delta, Southwest, and United – in that order.   (The fifth place carrier, Alaska Airlines, carries less than 30% of the passengers of United, the #4 carrier on the list.)  The result is an industry which no longer feels it needs to appeal to customers.  On many routes that used to be served by multiple carriers there are only one or two choices that don’t involve three or more connections.  When choices are limited the need to make customers happy takes a back seat, typically a three-across seat with limited legroom.   Furthermore travelers, already accustomed to the hassle and indignity of airport security procedures, typically arrive fully expecting to be mentally beaten down by the experience – and after stripping off belts and shoes, being x-rayed, dog sniffed, e-sniffed and patted down the treatment by the airlines is just one more abuse we have come to expect.

Perhaps, just perhaps the airlines can take a lesson from what just happened to United.  Perhaps it starts with using Southwest – alone among the major airlines with a good reputation for customer satisfaction – as an example.   Their employees, unusually well-treated and therefore loyal to the company, are friendly and easy to deal with. They go out of their way to make the flying experience as positive as possible, they make it easy to do business with them, and take care of you when something goes wrong.  In light of the now almost universal industry practice of charging a premium for everything and taking responsibility for nothing, Southwest is a refreshing change – even including your first two checked bags at no additional cost.

I’m betting United could quickly recover from its public image nightmare by adopting Southwest’s policies and changing the way they treat their employees – and the way their employees treat customers.  Then they should advertise the hell out of what they have done . . .  “We’re going out of our way to be the friendliest airline in the sky.” perhaps forcing the rest of the industry to follow suit.

What a great end to the unfortunate story of David Dao and United this would be.

 

[1] Major US carriers are domestic airlines with 2,500 or more daily departures and carrying 100 million or more passengers each year.

 

“Gee mom, you were right, all those people down there really do look like ants.”

“They are ants Bobby, we haven’t left the ground yet.”

About a month ago I was flying over the rocky mountains of  Colorado on my way to a business  event and a few days of r&r in southern California.  From 39,000 feet the sight of the awesome snow-caps, while impressive, could not even have approached the experience of looking up on 30+ foot deep walls of snow from the valleys below.

Had I been caught in an avalanche of that same snow, tumbling out of control, along for the ride and perhaps finding myself, still alive, buried under that same snow my experience . . . perhaps my last living experience . . . of that same snow would have been quite different.

Perspective is like that.  It’s like the story of the two friends, a chicken and a pig, walking down the road.  The chicken says to the pig, “we really do work well together, perhaps we should go into business.”  The pig replies, “What kind of business?”  “How about a restaurant?” responds the chicken, “We could call it ‘Ham and Eggs'”.  The pig thinks about this for a second and says, “It wouldn’t work . . .  I would be committed, you would only be involved.”

How one sees the now viral story of United Airlines and Dr. David Dao is all about the lens you choose and where you point it.   The lens each of us chooses, where we point it and how we focus is largely a matter of our existing biases which we would all rather have confirmed than have challenged.  This dynamic applies in almost every area of our lives from pastime preferences to politics, but the story of United and Dr. Dao is a great illustration of how it works.

Perhaps you identify with Dr. Dao and turn your closeup lens to his perspective.  Your likely position is outrage at how this could have happened.  He bought and paid for a ticket. He had already boarded the aircraft. He had done nothing wrong, was being denied the carriage he had paid for, and the root cause was what looks like the convenience of the airline in moving a flight crew where they were needed.  He was then violently dragged off the plane and sustained serious injuries.  How could this happen in America?

On the other hand, if you take that same lens and focus in on the letter of the law United did nothing wrong. Their policy – which you agree to when you purchase a ticket whether you read it or not, and which they followed – is United’s implementation of the federal regulations on the subject in 14-CFR-250(c). Read any other airline’s policy on denied carriage and it’s pretty much the same with very minor nuances. In this view it was the passenger who was at fault. He had a contract with the airline. The airline exercised their rights under the terms of the contract (“Rule 25”) and he failed to abide by those terms. The airline called security, the passenger resisted, he was removed from the plane.  His injuries were the result of his resisting the security personnel.

Move the same lens just a little bit and the actions of airport security become questionable. Did they really have to rough the guy up so much to get him off the plane? In situations like this should people skilled in defusing emotional encounters be used rather than brute-force personnel who are trained to deal with serious security threats and potential terrorists? Same lens, different focus . . . suddenly airport security doesn’t look so good. Unnecessary roughness. Five-yard penalty . . . first down.

Focused on the airline’s perspective we see an aircraft on the ground in Louisville that needs to take off in the morning.  There is no flight crew in place. Without a flight crew the plane doesn’t leave the ground, and depending on the type of plane this could impact 200 or more passengers. Does United inconvenience three or four passengers, or inconvenience 150, 200, or even more as the ripple-effect of a flight cancellation works its way through the intensely complex aircraft scheduling system.   Most of the time this flight has enough available seats for the deadheading crew, tonight it doesn’t.  This has happened before, and it has always been taken care of without creating an international incident.  Why should the airline not be able to enforce its contract?

Let’s snap a wider angle lens on the subject.  A somewhat less myopic United could have done any number of things to prevent this from happening. They could have seen the possibility of an overbooking problem (particularly knowing they needed seats for crew alignment) and asked for volunteers prior to boarding – contingent on actually needing the seats. They could have increased their compensation offer, and at some point they would have gotten the required volunteers. They could, upon learning that this particular passenger was a physician, have made an exception and moved to the next person in the list. They could have used any number of methods to deescalate the situation prior to having to call in the storm troopers. From this view United bears at least a degree of culpability for their own self-inflicted injury, if not directly for what happened to Dr. Dow.

This wide angle view opens up a whole pile of questions. Title 14 of the federal regulations which govern civil aviation is more than a little lopsided in favor of the airlines. Do airlines really need to overbook in order to insure sufficient revenue?   Most no-show seats are reserved by customers using non-refundable tickets.  They are paid for, occupied or not.  How about a mandatory compensation for customers denied boarding that is high enough to discourage the practice in all but the most dire of emergencies. Airline deregulation was supposed to increase competition and make air travel a better and more affordable experience, but mergers have cut the number of U.S. airlines down from 15 significant players a decade ago to only 5 major carriers today.

Then there are the forces that keep trying to pull our lenses wildly around, screaming “focus on me, focus on me!”  It turns out that Dr. Dao was convicted of some particularly unsavory behavior involving sex and drugs a few years back.  Or was he?   Reports circulated in both conventional and social media suggested that there were two Dr. David Daos – a common name in Vietnam.  Before those reports were debunked they had made the rounds of social media and, confirmation bias being what it is, those on one side or the other of the growing debate seized on the story to support their side of the argument.  Then there is the matter of the security team at O’Hare who were wearing “Police” jackets even though they were not police officers and had been told to stop wearing those jackets as recently as this past January.

Some hold that the drubbing UAL stock has endured – down 1.4 billion in market cap last time I looked, and still falling, is evidence of United being at fault.  Chicagoan’s are looking at almost certain multi-million dollar lawsuit against the city which employs the security service involved, and to many of them the issue of who is right and who is wrong comes down to dollars and cents.

So many lenses.

So many places to focus.

So many questions.

So few clear answers.

One thing is certain, going forward the airlines (and not just United) are more likely to remember that those ants are really people, regardless of how tiny they might look from high up in the corporate tower.


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A Thanksgiving offering . . .

We have much to be thankful for, and despite our current struggles, in the end we move forward, haltingly at times, but the future lies not in the mirror but on the road before us.

In 1853 Theodore Parker said,

“We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches that and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”

May it ever be so.

Amen.

elephant2porky-800

Republicans are now waking up to the worst hangover imaginable in the aftermath of their rather unconventional “convention” in Cleveland last month.  The brain-fog may be clearing but the terrible pounding headache resulting from the bizarre party “party”, the likes of which could only be attributed to a combination of cheap moonshine bourbon, kitchen-sink amphetamines, and some form of really weird acid, will linger for the rest of this election cycle.

With his poll numbers falling faster than a ball-bearing in the vacuum of his vapid policy proclamations and Putin pandering it is becoming increasingly obvious that Donald Trump has little chance of victory in November.  Real Clear Politics numbers show Clinton having a comfortable and growing lead in every battleground state, and the books in Vegas are now giving Clinton 76 / 24 odds.   Most polls are also pointing to at least a 50/50 split in the Senate (Vermont independent Bernie Sanders and Maine’s Angus King caucus with the Democrats) and the very strong possibility of this becoming a 51 or 52 seat majority.  Only the House seems safe for the party with the Republicans securely gerrymandered into control until at least after the next census in 2020.  The GOP itself is in disarray with some leaders still offering a tepid support of Trump’s candidacy for the sake of whatever semblance of “party unity” remains as they try to seize control of their speeding locomotive rapidly approaching its inevitable head-on collision with reality.  Others have distanced themselves or outright declared that they will not vote for the party’s standard-bearer in November.   Only the true-believer neoconservative lunatic fringe remain as his actual allies, and the question becomes one of what happens to the GOP come January now that the most fractious election in modern times has laid bare the wide gulf between pragmatic party regulars and the various far-right factions.

One beneficiary of the looming Republican train-wreck is Gary Johnson and the Libertarian movement.  With no real chance of victory this November despite his beyond-unlikely strategy to seize sufficient electoral votes to throw the election to the House, Johnson and the Libertarians may be the new face of a viable center-right party in the future.  Some have suggested that Johnson might actually capture the six electoral votes in Mormon dominated Utah this year, a normally solid red-state where The Donald is as popular as a chlamydia outbreak in a monastery, and perhaps a couple more in Nebraska, one of two states which allocate electors by Congressional district.

With its philosophy of individual liberty and small-government friendly politics, the Libertarians are a natural refuge for disaffected GOP voters and center-right independents fed up by the party’s pandering to social conservatives and race-baiting xenophobes spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric.  If many disaffected Democrats are “feelin’ the Bern” in the aftermath of revelations that the DNC rigged its nomination process in favor of the establishment candidate, even more Republicans and center-right independents are fried to a crisp over the meltdown of the GOP and its complete abandonment of principle for the sake of pandering to the worst instincts of its most extreme elements.

Political historians are not in solid agreement as to whether the party alignment we have been working with since the mid 1960s represents a “sixth party system” or a continuation of the “fifth party system” that emerged with FDRs New Deal, but by whatever designation it becomes known it is almost certain that a new party alignment will emerge in the aftermath of what is clearly the most disruptive election since the end of the gilded era and perhaps since reconstruction.

The Democratic Party has some serious soul-searching to do, and its leadership and direction will doubtlessly be shaken up in the wake of the duplicitous behavior confirmed in the recent email leaks. That being said, the Democrats will emerge in an evolved form as they heal the internal infection and work on the long overdue integration of  the more progressive stance represented by  the ongoing Bernie Sanders revolution.

The GOP faces a far more existential challenge, and who ends up owning the Republican brand remains to be seen as does how much that brand continues to look like the elephant we have come to know or how much it begins to resemble the staunchly independent and individual-affirming Libertarian porcupine.

This will be a story for the history books.

Stay tuned.

trumpistparty-dino

 

Now that the Republican and Democratic conventions are behind us we begin gearing up for the general election.  The tone and tenor of this election has, up to now, been disturbingly substance-free.   Focused on personalities rather than policies and minutiae instead of the crux of the issues at hand, the primaries consisted almost entirely of inter-party and intra-party ad-hominem attacks, dirty tricks, and manipulation.

The Republicans have, on the surface, been fighting a Trump vs. “anybody else” battle where Trump has emerged as an icon for everything wrong with the GOP.  While the Democrats are fighting for the soul of their party, the Republican Party has already lost its soul.  That struggle is over.  The zombie party that remains may be reincarnated as something else – but clearly it now exists in the land of the undead with Trump serving as a placeholder candidate for a party unable to nominate their own from deep inside a mausoleum of their own creation.  Torn apart by the internal power struggle between the party establishment, tea party conservatives, economic libertarians, and the religious right, these factions dug their own graves and in the final abandonment of principle have unleashed a political Jacob Marley to wander the earth dragging their chains behind them.

Donald Trump is not undead, he is very much alive.

Donald Trump is not really a Republican.

Donald Trump is not a conservative.

Donald Trump is something different.  Donald Trump is the first candidate of the “Trumpist” Party.  What will be left of the Republican Party in the aftermath of this is anybody’s guess – but it will look nothing like the GOP of the past.  Regan’s big tent is down and the elephants are being retired from show biz, no longer useful in the one-ring circus that is the party of Trump.

It’s certainly not lost on anybody who doesn’t have their head firmly up Donald’s derriere that Trump doesn’t have anything resembling a developed philosophy of governance, a handle on policy, a fundamental grasp of economics, or the basic understanding of international affairs we would expect of an eighth-grade schoolchild.  He does not understand the Constitution nor the separation of powers that lie at the very core of our system of government.  He lacks any respect for an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, due process, or the rule of law itself.  He also has no regard for facts and doesn’t care if anything he says is true.  Just Google “factcheck trump” for confirmation of this.  None of these assertions are idle conjecture on my part, they are clearly evidenced in statements he has made and continues to make on an almost daily basis.   His recent call for the Russians to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email which has brought his deep ties to the Russian oligarchy into focus is just the latest example.  There will undoubtedly be more.

One of the first orders of business at party conventions is the passing of the party platform.  The platform of a political party states its undergirding philosophy, aspirational goals, and sets forth its intended policy initiatives.   While it is not uncommon for a party’s nominee to pay little more than lip-service to some of the platform, typically the standard-bearer will at least sign on to its core initiatives.  If you have read the platform passed at the RNC which calls for turning back the clock on just about every social initiative and advancement in economic justice you might consider this a good thing.  Rebranding “trickle-down” as “economic freedom”, calls to once again deregulate Wall Street (“freeing financial markets”) and selling LGBT+ discrimination as “religious liberty” among other outrageous positions, one might consider Donald’s overall lack of interest in this platform to be a good thing although that may be more due to the fact that his now infamously short attention span would likely prevent him from getting past the second paragraph of this ponderous 58 page prescription for returning America to the stone age.

Donald Trump has his own platform.  It’s not written down anywhere because much if not all of it comes from his head as he thinks about it, but Trump’s platform is not the Republican Party’s platform.  It’s the Trumpist platform.

Welcome to the age of the Trumpist Party.  Formed by the genetic engineering of the Tea Party with a desire to return to a bygone age of simplicity and lack of structure, the Trumpist party is in the process of procreating in a political Jurassic Park of fearsome creatures long thought to be extinct.

The Trumpist party doesn’t have a written platform because writing things down makes your positions less fungible. The ability to change ones stance for the audience you are trying to please is far more difficult if you have to answer to a written statement making it much harder to claim that you were just joking.  The Trumpist Party doesn’t have a written platform because writing things down holds one accountable.  A quick review of Mr. Trump’s history shows just how much he believes in accountability – at least for himself.

The Trumpist party doesn’t have a written platform because writing a platform requires that you have a plausible philosophy that will withstand logical scrutiny and is somehow based on facts.

Most of all, the Trumpist party doesn’t have a written platform because Trumpism appeals to people who only care that someone is telling them what they want to hear.  That what you are saying has absolutely no basis in truth doesn’t matter, and the bigger the lie and the more frequently repeated the more likely the masses are to believe you because, in the words of one of the most notorious demagogues in history . . .

“All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”     – Adolph Hitler . . . Mein Kampf (Vol I, Chapter X)

We have clearly seen that the Trumpist Party has fully adopted this philosophy and used it to its advantage, and like the party created by the despot who defined “the big lie” the Trumpist party appeals to the masses by validating their fears, providing an object for those fears, and offering itself up as the only salvation from being assimilated.  It extols the virtues of nationalism and national exceptionalism while promising to make a once proud nation “great again”.

Where will the Trumpist Party take us?  With any luck we will never find out, but with a compliant congress and the ability to nominate multiple justices to the Supreme Court we might find liberties we take for granted impotent to save us from the intentions of a leader whose only aim is power and control.

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Over the past several months I have tried to put into words the reasons why Donald Trump should not be the Republican nominee, and the level of existential danger his candidacy poses to this nation and to the world. I have explained this to friends and acquaintances who were or are on the fence either about Trump himself or whether or not they should/could/would vote for the only individual who, based on the reality of electoral college mathematics, stands between us and this unbelievable peril.

This editorial by the Washington Post lays it out far better than I can.  As they put it:

” . . .  In an ordinary election year, we would acknowledge the Republican nominee, move on to the Democratic convention and spend the following months, like other voters, evaluating the candidates’ performance in debates, on the stump and in position papers. This year we will follow the campaign as always, offering honest views on all the candidates. But we cannot salute the Republican nominee or pretend that we might endorse him this fall. A Trump presidency would be dangerous for the nation and the world.”

Cutting through the smokescreen of falsehoods and fallacies the Post editorial board has written an indictment of this man who must be prevented from coming anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Regardless of your party affiliation please read this, and if you share anything of a political nature please share this on Facebook or on your Twitter feed.

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Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy
The Washington Post


https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/opinions/donald-trump-is-a-unique-threat-to-american-democracy/2016/07/22/a6d823cc-4f4f-11e6-aa14-e0c1087f7583_story.html#

stonewall

I’ve had several requests to share the text of the sermon I delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden (Connecticut) on July 10th.  By way of explanation, lay-led worship is a long-standing tradition in many Unitarian Universalist congregations and the sense of shared ministry runs deep in our roots.  The idea for this sermon came to me in the aftermath of the Brexit vote to sever the ties between the United Kingdom and the European Union as well as in the context of the current debate in this country about building walls and excluding those who are not “like us” and who are perceived by some as posing an existential danger.

I had no way of knowing at the time I began preparing the sermon of the events that would take place between then and when I was to deliver it, particularly the police shootings of two more black men and the subsequent massacre of five police officers in Dallas Texas just two days prior to this service, leaving those in attendance this Sunday feeling wounded and raw.

Early in the service I shared the poem, “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost.  For those not familiar with this work it might be helpful to read it first HERE as my words refer back to his idea that, “Something there is that does not love a wall, and wants it down.”  and to his questioning the need for the walls we erect.

“Bridges and Walls” – Jeff May
Delivered July 10, 2016
The Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden

 

“. . .  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”           – (Robert Frost)

 

The house I grew up in had an old stone wall in the back yard.  It was a pretty substantial stone wall, and it ran quite a distance, marking the boundary between not only our yard but the yards of our neighbors and the land beyond, some overgrown former pasture, some wooded with evergreen and oak that my mom used to call “the deep dark green forest”.

Like the wall in Frost’s poem this one had gaps from frost heaves no doubt, and those from children like myself.  Like Frost’s wall it no longer served the purpose for which it had originally been constructed.  Mr. Hunter, who apparently had once owned all of the land including that on which our neighborhood had been constructed and whose name the street we lived on, “Huntervale Avenue” bore – had long since passed away by the time I came along.  The cows that had once roamed his pasture beyond the wall were gone and in their place thickets and brambles had grown, stands of pine and scrub maple in which we would create our make-believe fortresses and villages, wild blueberry bushes – tall shrubs and low ground plants ripe for the picking in the summertime.  Here there was a stream passing under an ancient rock bridge along a winding path.  We used to make “boats” out of sticks placing them in the water upstream, then moving quickly to the other side to watch them emerge from beneath the giant stones as the lazy stream took them on its journey toward Eel Pond and the ocean at Sawyers Beach.

Bridges and walls.

When a wall is constructed it is generally put there for a purpose.  Our houses have walls marking the boundary between inside and out, between dry and wet, warm and cold or hot, and surely walling out insects, mice, mischievous chipmunks and squirrels, and marking the private place that is our castle – our space for family and into which we sometime invite friends.  Inside our walls we make the rules of how we work and play, how we interact with one-another, when and what we eat, when we rise and when we sleep.

Ancient cities often had walls.  The oldest we know of was the wall around the Neolithic city of Jericho dating to some 8000 years before the common era – long before the other wall by that name central to the story in the Biblical book of Joshua – and probably built, according to archeologists, for some combination of flood control and defense against hostile tribes, but like all such walls whether after decades, centuries, or millennia it fell into disuse and disrepair and like the later wall in that place of legend, like the wall in Frost’s narrative, like the walls around pastures and fields, the walls around states and nations this wall came tumbling down, stone by stone until finally it was no more.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

As Frost suggests, when we build a wall it is important to consider what it is we are walling in, what it is we are walling out, and whom as he asks, we are likely to offend.  In our current political debate there are those who call for the construction of a great wall between this nation and our neighbor to the south – a wall to keep out people who apparently are so different from us, so frightening, such a threat to our way of life.  I shall not bother to repeat the vile characterization of our neighbors used by the most vocal of these current wall proponents.  It is, we are told, because these neighbors will come to take our jobs.  I have friends in California who insist that this is so, but is it really about jobs or economics?

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.”

Are those who live beyond this boundary to be walled off, on the other side of the Rio Grande or that sharper, more arbitrary line with a few angular jogs between El Paso and San Diego – are those people so different from ourselves?  And what threat do they pose that we should build such a wall?  Is it actually the taking of employment desired by “worthy Americans” we seek to protect, or is it really something else, something harder to define?  Is it really a wall of economics or is it more a wall of culture constructed out of fear that “our way of life” is being threatened by those who speak another language, whose customs differ from those passed to us by our European forebears?

We build walls – real and virtual, communal and personal, physical and psychological to mark the boundaries between safe and threatening, me and thee, mine and yours, us and them.  And certainly there is a need for boundaries – for a safety zone within and around our own skin defining our personal space.  But when we build walls we really need to ask – and be honest with ourselves what it is we are actually walling in or walling out and if the wall we are building is likely to be successful or be filled with gaps.  In a world ever more connected by technology enabling easy travel and technology facilitating instant communication of ideas, the notion that we can build a wall like our Neolithic forebears to preserve the comfortable and familiar against the different and the alien is both ludicrous and futile.  These walls have been breached ere they have been constructed and are porous from their conception.  Our cultures are merged and continue to merge, our ways of life are evolving as we ultimately realize and experience our common humanity.  As dark as it may seem right now, this is a step along the way to the aspirational Sixth Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all”.

The Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Tree of Life congregation in McHenry, IL writes,

“The sixth Principle seems extravagant in its hopefulness and improbable in its prospects. Can we continue to say we want ‘world community’? ‘Peace, liberty, and justice for all’? The world is full of genocide, abuse, terror, and war. What have we gotten ourselves into?

“As naïve or impossible as the sixth Principle may seem, I’m not willing to give up on it. In the face of our culture’s apathy and fear, I want to imagine and help create a powerful vision of peace by peaceful means, liberty by liberatory means, justice by just means. I want us to believe—and to live as if we believe—that a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all is possible. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, but I can assure you that we will improve ourselves and improve the world by trying.”

I began writing these remarks several weeks ago – born of frustration with the current political dialog and what I believe to be the preposterous notion that we are better when we are separate.  It gained focus in my mind with the vote of Great Britain to sever the bridge so carefully constructed with the rest of Europe; and like the proposed wall between this country and Mexico ostensibly to protect Britain from the threat of refugees that might carry the seeds terrorism and threaten jobs and the economy, but likewise really an attempt to retain a sense of autonomy – the way it used to be.

Make England great again.

Make America great again.

But in reality is this really possible?  Can we really turn back the hands of time to the days of nation states containing tribal members who look alike and whose habits and language and cuisine and religions are uniform and unquestioned within the secure walls of national identity?

And to what would we go back?   Back to a day when black people were enslaved and treated as property?  Back to a day before workers had rights?  Was America greater when those who are gay and lesbian lived in the shadows and were denied the right to marry who they love?

What great America would we return to?

What great Britain would they return to?

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.”

In the past week our senses have been violated yet again – and multiple times by more of our black brothers being killed under the guise of law enforcement, and by those whose uncontrolled anger causes them to strike back and kill those whose job it is to protect and provide security.

So frequent are these atrocities that we can scarcely name them all.  We wake up each morning wondering what form of brutality we will hear about, what innocents will have perished, what children will be fatherless, motherless, botherless, sisterless.

And then we log on to social media, we watch our Facebook feeds streaming with memes bearing slogans defending one side or the other of the social debate – attempting to claim that Black Lives Mater is an affront to other lives or an attack on law enforcement, smearing half-truths and outright falsehoods across the digital landscape in an effort to stake sides in the battle between the way the world is and must go, and the way it used to be, or at least our romanticized imagination of a better time now lost.  And in our frustration and out of our own fear and rage and desire to feel safe we burrow ourselves in our own safe psychological wall – shouting back across cyberspace, friending those with whom we agree and viscously lashing out at those on the other side, fortifying our walls of difference and tearing down the bridges of connection.

“If you talk about that again, I’ll unfriend you!”

Until about six months ago I was not a Facebook user – I somewhat famously avoided it, and in the interest of time I won’t relate the journey that brought me to that platform right now, but as a consequence of becoming a Facebook user I have renewed connections with family members I haven’t spoken with in years, and friends and acquaintances from long ago.  One such acquaintance – a woman named Barbara – was a girl I went to school with from the time I was in first grade.  Now living in California she and I have reconnected, and while most of our exchanges have been cordial we differ significantly in our political and religious outlooks, she rather conservative in both regards and I, as most of you are aware quite liberal and progressive.  Last week in response to a meme she shared regarding the FBI decision in the supposed email scandal. I responded that I differed in opinion, posting a link to an article I had written on my blog a few days before, addressing this particular issue.  She posted the following on her timeline:

“A fellow FB friend posted today about moving on with the conversation regarding the political arena. 
This is what I have say.

You may not agree with me, you may not like what i have to say and you have that right as I have the same right to say…

Power To The People

My ancestors came over to this Country for purposes that this Country is so far away from that they are rolling over in their graves! How is it you are willing to say move on!

For the people, by the people!

We have been so complacent over the years that we/I, actually think my “Voice Matters”! Not

And to my original comment on her meme she replied, “Jeff I’m sorry –  I don’t see things the way you do.”

I responded:

“That’s quite okay . . . we’re allowed to differ.

And to a point I saw you post elsewhere, I didn’t say “move on”, and I am not implying that people shouldn’t speak up for what they believe in. I’m also not suggesting we ignore the problems and challenges. I believe you finished that post with the imperative, “Say what you mean, mean what you say.”

Exactly.”

I went on to explain how the debates that we were having struck me as superficial, and that what we seemed to be arguing about was not really what we were arguing about, and then continued:

“My point is that there are very real challenges we face both here and abroad and instead of talking about those challenges in a meaningful way we (as a society) are expending most of our energy arguing about peripheral issues trying to inflict wounds on the “other side”. I don’t care for either of the two major candidates we are presented with. I believe America can do far better and I believe we need far better – but the system we have in place leaves us with the choices we have, in no small part because we allow our dialog to be limited to partisan barbs that can fit in a 140 character tweet or fit on a 300 x 400 meme.

All of this is a long way of saying that I’m not suggesting that we move on, I’m suggesting that we move deeper.”

Her response was heartening –

 “Thank you Jeffrey for sharing. I better understand now what your post meant. Thank you God for bringing further answers to that of which I was needing. I appreciate your words Jeff.”

No, Barbara and I still don’t see eye-to-eye, but now we are talking – building a bridge where there was the potential of having a wall.  Continuing the type of connection and conversation we need to have with each other in these unsettling times.  Conversations we all need to have if we are to move through these unsettling times.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

We move closer to the vision, aspirational and inspirational of our Sixth Principle when each of us, takes the risk to reach beyond our individual perspectives, place ourselves in the heart of another – not surrendering our own identity or our own truth – but allowing the other person space within their own personal wall for their truth.

In the words of a benediction familiar to some of us here:

“Despite our differences and beyond our diversity there lies a unity that makes us one and binds us forever together, in spite of time and death, and the space between the stars.”

There is hope.  We are hope’s agents.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

Each of us can choose to build a wall, or build a bridge this day and each day.

Let us be conscious in each moment of how we make that choice.

And may you live in blessing.


stone-wall

 

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
                         – Robert Frost

Here in  New England they are ubiquitous lines of stacked stone which wind along country roads and are sometimes found deep in the woods, often marking the boundaries of what used to be farms long since overgrown in birch, maple, and pine.  Closer to civilization these walls may be well maintained, perfectly shaped stones interlocked to form an architectural masterpiece upon which one might set a level and have the bubble float squarely in the center.

Robert Frost, the 20th century poet who loved this place and knew the trails and woods of the New England landscape intimately, penned “Mending Wall” in 1914.  Textured, multilayered, and as complex as a Vermont stone wall as it is with so much of Frost’s poetry,  Mending Wall builds these iconic structures of granite and limestone into a metaphor for human relationship and boundaries – both personal and societal, and calls us to think closely about how we apply  the wisdom of ages and adages passed down by way of our forebears.

“One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.”

 This poem, taught to me by my mother when I was a child of perhaps 11 or 12 growing up in a small New Hampshire town comes to mind in light of current events;  the calls by one who would pretend to be our next President for a mighty wall between the United States and our next-door neighbor Mexico, and the somewhat more virtual  one erected in the minds of Britons with their recent decision to separate themselves from the European Union.

“Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall . . .”

It being one week before the Forth of July the sounds of fireworks in nearby back yards punctuate the evening calm.  Our golden retriever Kalani, averse to things that go “bang” in the night is back in the house, sheltering in what she believes is the safety of the bathroom.

Such are the times we live in. 

Striving to maintain our comfortable walls of familiar patterns, connections, and traditions in  world ever more complex, ever more interconnected, ever more interdependent – we find ourselves seeking to rebuild the stones torn asunder by the frost heaves of human evolution –  the disquieting fireworks in the dread of uncertainty, convinced that our safety lies in maintaining walls that clearly define the lines of distinction between me and thee, mine and yours, us and them.

Yet, something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

Perhaps, as Frost suggests it is wood-elves of our times, using trickery to divert our attention from their evil intent, devilishly tearing down the familiar boundaries so firmly etched into the landscape of our psyche, and yet such an anachronism in a world of gigabit fiber-optic connected social media and a global matrix of financial dependencies that the then 40 year-old Frost could have scarcely imagined.

No . . .  Frost, transported to our times would find himself in a world totally foreign to him.  He would be like his horse in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”,  strangely  out of place, not understanding where he was, or why he was here.

And yet, he knew.

“He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Boundaries are necessary.  Understanding the lines that define me from thee are essential to our humanity.  Connections of family, community, and nation ground our understanding of who we are.

At the age of 89, Robert Frost passed into that great mystery that is death in 1963.  He never saw the photograph of the planet Earth rising over the horizon of the moon, but he got it.

We are connected as inhabiters of a small blue island in an infinite cosmos, it is our ultimate connection, we forget this at our peril.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

We need to “get it”.

Jeff