Thursday, October 30

The Hallowed Eve of the Election

It must be nearly Halloween. Leaves are rolling down the streets like little, rickety tumbrels. Squirrels are darting about in perpetual panic with large chunks of pumpkin engorging their cheeks. The sky seems permanently gray, and the windowpanes of my old house are rattling in a noticeably colder wind that makes even the young people walk with something of a old woman's hunched shoulders.

It's a frightening time, even though I am not scared of witches. My neighbors are probably witches, and they are some of the jolliest, friendliest and most kindly people I've met since I moved here. Last Halloween all four of them showed up at my door, four smiling and beautiful witches. That was the first time it occurred to me that they were really and truly witches. I've never asked them, but then I've never asked any of my neighbors about their religions and no one's ever asked me.

Halloween, for real witches, is the end of the old year, the beginning of the new. It's a celebration, most complete when commemorated with a large bonfire (aka "bone-fire") and a feast. And what holiest of feasts would ever be really and truly well-attended without setting a place or two for the dead: Oh my goodness, it's Elijah! Death roams the material world on this night, looking for those it may claim. Putting out food on your porch may help keep Old Man Samhain from knocking. He is not the one you want pulling out a chair at your table.

So light three candles and welcome the new year. This is the end of autumn, the beginning of the dark months, especially in the northern lands where the Celtic people lived, starting these ancient traditions. Light three more candles and add a Western tradition: Blow them out with one hearty puff and don't forget to make a wish. Make it a good wish, and none of that silly business about wishing for three more wishes. It's a scary moment in time, so make it a good wish.

Wish what? Wish for an Obama victory in four days' time. Wish for an Obama landslide, so we know he has a clear mandate. Wish for enough Democratic victories that some change will actually happen. Who cares whether you personally like Nancy Pelosi. We need change; we need real change. Wish for our future, for the sake of our children; for my friends' brand new baby who will enter this grand old world on just about the same day we count up our electoral tallies. Wish her a future; fill her bassinet with songs of hope and freedom.

Wish, and while you're at it, don't neglect to vote. This is not just about wishful thinking, not just about magic. But there is a little bit of magic hovering high in the air, so go ahead this Halloween: Make a wish and while you're at it, kiss a witch, for we are working here toward the elimination of the arrogance and intolerance of the global hatred that's accompanied an upsurge of religious fundamentalism. Make a wish that this will prove to be the beginning of a new year, one full of new intelligence.

This may be the scariest Halloween I've ever spent, not knowing the outcome of Tuesday's election. If you know any good spells, please let me know, keeping in mind that my pantry's low on eyes of newt and toes of frog. Maybe something with tofu?

Tuesday, October 28

BHO: The New Deal, Real Deal

Last night, I was enjoying one of my usual wild nights--you know, curled up on the couch under a pile of afghans with a heavy stack of books and a cup of chai whose heat didn't even last the short steps from the kitchen to the living room--and I came across some quotes that I found particularly heartening and wonderful. (OK. I was reading Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. It's a little better, isn't it, than spending nights reading the phone book? A little less pathetic?)

I'd like to share them with you now. You know, spread the excitement. Pass the chai. Or maybe we could switch to wine now that there are two of us gathered here huddled over the big brown book.

"These unhappy times call for the building of plans ... that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." FDR, 1932

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." FDR, 1937

"Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much." FDR, 1942

"It is not a tax bill but a tax relief bill providing relief not for the needy but for the greedy." FDR, veto message, 1944

Do any of these sound familiar, timely, relevant? Do they ring some bells? Somehow they bolstered me, lent me assurance that given sound and intelligent leadership maybe we will figure out a way to better times again.

One week until Election Day. I am still worried and working for Obama. As the little sign on my wall reminds me, "Pray like hell, then do something!"

Monday, October 27

In the Chute At Last

When you're running in a race with a big field, the finish line is usually set up in what we call "chutes." These are basically lanes, which channel runners in neat order over the finish line. Now, seeing the finish line in any race provides a swell of energy, pride and happiness, but after a really long race, entering the chutes is, well, it is my vision of what nearing heaven must feel like.

You see, there's this point in a really long race, if you're giving it your utmost, when your legs turn to stone. And when flesh and blood petrify like this, something obviously happens to the neurovascular circuitry that allows brains to send messages to muscles, because it becomes increasingly difficult to even keep those limbs in motion, to order them forward. If you've climbed in the high mountains, where oxygen is depleted, you've probably also known this phenomenon. Legs, never mind their terminating feet, might as well be miles away from the command center of the brain for all that they respond to orders like "Keep going!" or, more foolishly, "Speed up!"

And then you see the archway of the finish line, and hope swells. You find yourself thinking with longing about abstract ideas like putting on a final burst of speed, dazzling the spectators, winning your age group. Not too much of that happens usually, if you've been giving your all throughout the long miles preceding, until the chute lines enfold you. And then, like Dorothy and her entourage crossing into the Land of Oz, color returns, pain disappears, music becomes audible, doubt is vanquished. The battle's won.

We are entering the chutes of this election, and in the chutes, some of the pain and hysteria is already beginning to recede. Soon we will be done hearing about wardrobe expenses and renegade ministers, wondering whether McCain really does suffer from PTSD or just looks like it, fretting about how an unmarried teenage girl and her dropout boyfriend became role models for our families. We're in the chute. Obama is starting to give summation speeches, and I wish I could be there to hear one in person, since he had to cancel his last scheduled appearance here in Madison last week. We're in the chute, and the pain and pettiness and squabbles will start to fade away, in preparation for McCain's concession speech late on the night a week from now, in which we can hope he will reach out across the aisle once again.

Why will it be McCain's concession speech rather than Obama's? Not because McCain abandoned the integrity which initially drew supporters his way. Not because his proposed Vice President is a shallow and uninformed redneck wearing Gucci and Dior. McCain is going to lose because he simply missed the message. When he pounds his fist on the podium in front of him and declaims, "Barack Obama wants to share the wealth!" he doesn't hear the voices inside the skulls of even those who support him, those persistent voices telling those of us who, unlike McCain and his fancy wife, constitute the declining middle class of America, "Yes. and I would like that; I would like to share in the wealth of those few wealthy Americans, those few who aren't hurting, those few whom the Republicans have favored with tax breaks and corporate incentives and social policies that have hurt me and my family."

He totally missed the fact, and Obama did not, that the gap between them and us is enormous and growing and divisive. Redistribute the wealth? You betcha.

Monday, October 20

Helping Each Other Down the Stairs

Readers of the Wall Street Journal and other press-subscribing Republicans (mustn't take this for granted now that Joe the Plumber and Todd the Snowmobilist are the party's new standard bearers, replacing those disgraced investors) have long been familiar with Peggy Noonan, but I just made her acquaintance. I have to admit I never listened to the speeches she wrote for President Reagan. I didn't listen to any president's speeches back then. But lately, as I've struggled to understand what has become of the US and the global economy we've apparently driven into the ground, I've been paying attention to a lot of new voices. Right now, I'll accept wisdom from anyone, and I don't expect to find myself with a surfeit of it doing so!

Peggy Noonan has long written a column for the WSJ and recently she had a small new book published that for a week got a decent amount of attention. Patriotic Grace, it's titled, What It Is and Why We Need It Now. A plain-spoken, easily read book that is hardly bigger than a mass market paperback, it's her perspective on what we really need to be focusing on as Americans today, I mean, right after the banks get back to serving each other instead of us and oil prices start to bubble back up to unaffordable heights again. What is it Ms. Noonan would have us devote our best and brightest energies to addressing?

That old Republican gig: Armageddon. Yep. In one guise after another, whether it's a Rapture or Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Bomb in Iran or the Bomb in North Korea but heaven knows never the many bombs in our own arsenal, the right is always ranting about the last day, the ultimate destruction, the anthrax, the suitcase bomb, and oh yes the swine flu. I'm sorry, but I'm sick of hearing all this. Come what may, this is not what I will build my life around. I spent my grade school years covering my head with my skinny little arms, hiding in the coat racks of the elementary school corridors and under the little vinyl desks of the classroom, to save myself and my future progeny from the fallout of a nuclear bomb attack on America. I watched my neighbors dig an enormous hole in their backyard so they could survive the inevitable Russian attack. I am not going to live like that again, now that I'm an adult. It was strange enough to do so as a child.

Peggy Noonan's right about a lot of things, though; we will probably live to see another attack on us, probably on our own soil, probably every bit as horrible as the falling of the towers and the crashing of our innocent arrogance. And we are not prepared for it in terms of emergency procedures, and the Department of Homeland Security is a bumbling fool in a hall of mirrors. But she is wrong that this is what we should be concentrating on as a nation with one common purpose, one all-consuming patriotism. Forget the notion of building a sense of "Patriotic Grace" that will see us through a debilitating terrorist attack; let's start working instead on something altogether more encompassing: a sense of global grace. Let us start to work with other nations, and define ourselves and our mission not by how we respond to those who hate us but but how we respond to those who need us.

Noonan said her book was engendered at a moment when the Capitol rotunda was being abruptly and summarily evacuated because an errant plane had violated its protected airspace. In fleeing the building, she noticed an elderly woman in a wheelchair stranded atop the stairs until a pair of men picked her up, chair and all, and carried her down. In that, Ms. Noonan found such horror that she began to formulate this book, because "Before this is over, we'll all be helping each other down the stairs." But where Ms. Noonan finds that troublesome, I find it somehow comforting. As a Democrat, I readily confess that I've long had the hope that we will continue to find ways to take care of one another--perhaps to a Republican, that prospect is not as calming.

Saturday, October 18

Change: One Vote, One Election, One Candidate at a Time

At a tripartite talk last night by independent media darlings Bob McChesney, Jeremy Scahill and Amy Goodman, a packed theater of self-congratulatory Madison liberals, largely gray haired or beyond, applauded our apparently superior understanding of, well, almost everything. Though the event was held under the aegis of the seven-year-old Wisconsin Book Festival, it was really a fundraiser for two local media: WORT radio and WYOU television. Buckets were actually passed down the long rows of middle class activists; it was just like being back in church. I left feeling like the independence of the book festival had been somehow compromised, in sort of the same way Goodman spoke about the prevalence of private enterprise at both parties' national conventions this summer.

Now, I'm not out to trash Amy Goodman. I admire her enormously, and watching her long pale hands moving through the air like birds as she spoke, I was deeply moved by her unquestionable commitment, intelligence and integrity. If the left had more people like her, we would see less of people like Ms. Palin or Rush Limbaugh, less of the histrionics of Fox News and Ariana Huffington alike; we would have more understanding of the realities that impel political action in our world. The success of people like Palin and Limbaugh and media phenomenon like Fox rests upon ignorance; knowledge unseats them. And no one digs up knowledge as capably as Amy Goodman today.

Which makes me wonder what happened to her cohort, Mr. Scahill, whose talk was aimed at booting us off our computers and onto the streets. Perhaps it's his relative youth showing, but a lot of us have done the street thing; a lot of us in this particularly gray audience not only had plastic handcuffs clamped around our wrists, but had tear gas burn our eyes, truncheons pummel our shoulders. We don't run so well any more; frankly, we're better off writing these days. And indeed. How presumptuous to state that street action is the only way to really effect change. How traditional and how uncreative an approach is that! We have had street action varying from violent revolutionary action to silent sit-ins to marches large and small in all parts of the world, and this is still where we find ourselves today. Perhaps being on the streets, like being ensconced in a chair with a laptop, is insufficient.

Right now, we need to see the big picture, which is Obama's picture right now. We actually do need Obama to win the election in less than three weeks. We cannot endure Mr. McCain, the old man with PTSD and an anger issue backed up by little Ms. Voodoo with the Beehive. Yes, we don't want to exclude third party candidates, as young Mr. Scahill kept scolding us, but neither is this the historic moment to start building an addition in order to enlarge our living quarters! Everything these alternative media people said is technically correct, but they show no wisdom. Barack Obama is in the truest sense an African American. I don't think any of these speakers understand how big it is that he is about to win the presidency, maybe because they weren't part of the civil rights movement.

It is not time for the left to gather in halls and boo the shortsightedness of those who are working so hard to get Obama into office, to criticize them as being facile and cowardly and inadequate. The left, after all, could be there in masse at this night-time meeting because they had no meaningful political action on their schedule. Is it better to sit at a lecture given by speakers you have listened to regularly, to applaud them when they agree with you, even when they are advocating action and all you are doing is sitting on your butt in a nice old theatre? As we sat there, all across the country, thousands of earnest Obama volunteers and field organizers were still hard at work, calling voters, inviting them to talk, urging them to join the conversation American must have now and next January, when there's an administration ready to be part of it all. The gray hairs and young bloods are all too willing to criticize Obama for what he is not addressing; they don't really seem to care that we need him to get elected, because there is only one other imminent option, an utterly untenable option.

We must remember that Obama is an African American. Significantly, there were not many African Americans in the audience last night. There remains a different reality for African Americans. Obama cannot devote his campaign to talking about welfare and the poor, as these middle class, middle aged Prius drivers would have him. If he does, he is just another black man, someone to ignore, someone to brush off. To take his historic place, he has to be every inch a middle class man my parents might boast about when they call me up to say, "A black man joined our church this week. He seems very nice." These moments make us wince, perhaps, but we need to get through these moments, and bring the population with us. There are so many people out there who still don't want a black man as President. Sarah Palin can have a redneck, secessionist husband and an unwed, pregnant daughter and a prospective son-in-law who's dropping out of high school to work in the oil fields because she has the enormous privilege of being white. Obama doesn't have that. Obama has to be perfect.

And the alternative media, charged as they are with being the watchdogs of American government, as each of these speakers made clear, could better occupy themselves bringing us information instead of trying to tell us what to do with that information.

Thursday, October 16

Impolitic Impoliteness and Impotent Impatience

And another thing about the rudeness of Republicans in this campaign: Interrupting!

As both my children have told me many times over, people who interrupt are not really interested in listening; they are interested in telling. I've been working hard on being a better listener, which is a lot easier now that I live alone, I must confess.

But if either candidate is really to manifest the change they both profess to represent, they are going to need to listen, and after watching all the debates, I have to say that it's painfully clear that John McCain listens only long enough to find an opening for repudiation.

Interrupting another speaker is not a sign of importance, but impatience. Impatience is not a quality we seek in our leaders. On the website, "the largest site in the world on all aspects of how we change what others think, believe, feel and do," the experts on how to listen in order to influence others list the following two conditions atop their list of when NOT to interrupt: 1) When you think of something to say and 2) When they haven't finished.

Poor John McCain. He used to command respect. Now, he can't even hold on to his self-respect for the two minutes granted his opponent to reply, and his premature ejaculations from across the burnished table render him increasingly pitiful and certainly less presidential.

Wednesday, October 15

Rudeness and Self-Loathing on the Campaign Trail

If you've read many of my recent blogs, you may realize my take on this campaign season is settling in around one issue, and it's not, as perhaps it should be, the economy. It's rudeness.

Now I know full well that our present economic disaster is what really demands our attention, and I have probably been working harder than most right-brained artistic sorts to gain sufficient understanding of investment finance and free market economics that I feel capable of voicing opinions and expressing them to my representatives in Washington. But I'd rather you read people like Paul Krugman or Dean Baker or Joseph Stiglitz. They are all much smarter than I on the issues and are actually quite understandable when they try to be. Or, better yet, watch "The News Hour" on PBS. Meanwhile, I want to talk about rudeness.

It started raising its ugly head at the Republican convention, most notably when Giuliani began speaking derisively of Obama's community organizing. By the time Sarah Palin claimed the podium, the crowds were well-primed and juiced. They have hardly stopped booing since. If this is not a sign of negative campaigning, I don't know what is. And it's gone way beyond the simplistic put-down of booing, way beyond. In fact, when I hear what people are shouting out in response to the Republican candidates' baitings, I feel even sadder for our country than I do when I look at the Dow Jones vacillations. What is it in McCain's following that makes them so much more apt than Obama's supporters to shout out hateful, negative slogans and epithets and even vile and vicious responses like "Kill him!," "Treason!" and "Off with his head!" (see Frank Rich's column in the 10/12 NYT). And why do McCain and Palin just stand up there and smile or offer only the most tepid of reprovals in response to this surge of hatred?

The best commentary I've seen yet on this was from an article by Bill Bishop in the 10/13 You should definitely check it out if you're interested. He documents very well what's been taking place at recent Republican rallies and opens the door to discussion of how homogeneity breeds hatred. I read it and remembered what I'd found in researching the ethnic diversity of Republican delegates to that convention a couple of months ago a diversity that was basically non-existent (see blog archive). I'd like to take Bishop's insights a little further. I went looking for additional information in the dusty reaches of my bookshelves.

There, I pulled down a dusty reader's copy of a book published in 2004 called The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Though its title struck me as being quite the antithesis of what I've been thinking about crowds, I ran down the chapter titles and opened the book to the chapter entitled "The Difference Difference Makes." And there is was, right there in black and white in a book based on the premise that people in large groups arrive at better solutions than individuals do, "The key to this whole process is diversity."

Now I'll be fair. Surowiecki makes it clear that he is not talking about sociological factors when he cites diversity as being essential for good decision-making; he is talking, in his words, about diversity in a "conceptual and cognitive sense." Still. In a room full of white, middle class, fundamentalist and evangelist Christians, how much conceptual and cognitive diversity, seriously, are we going to find? In the McCain campaign itself, how many African Americans do we find at the top? How many Hispanics? If Joe Lieberman is McCain's claim to diversity, it is no wonder the campaign is so woefully lacking in the freshness of vision we as a nation need so desperately.

But hatred, which is what we are hearing arise from the crowds cheering in response to Sarah Palin's baiting use of words like "terrorist" or the Republican's deliberate mention of Obama's middle name (what other candidate can you think of whose middle name was ever used, except to distinguish W from Senior Bush?), is a great unifier. Tyrants and despots through time and across the globe have used hatred to hold together their supporters, virile hatred, hanging out hand-in-hand with its simpering fiancée, fear. "Common hatred," wrote Eric Hoffer in his landmark study The True Believer, "unites the most heterogeneous elements. To share a common hatred, with an enemy even, is to infect him with a feeling of kinship."

And what does Hoffer say about the origin of these hatreds? "They are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt, and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others... the most effective way of (masking this switch) is to find others, as many as possible who hate as we do." If my daughter was 17 and pregnant, and the father of her baby was dropping out of high school, you bet I would feel inadequate; I would feel that somehow, some way, I had failed my daughter as a parent. There are a lot of feelings of inadequacy out there, especially among people who haven't done too well in life. Why do you think that most of the people who are so keen for the Second Coming (and the Rapture!) are people who aren't doing too well economically?

It fills me with such sadness to see crowds of Republican supporters booing and jeering at good people like Obama and Biden, two men who have worked tirelessly to understand and to improve the stewardship of American values in the world and here at home. Neither fear nor hatred is an element of good health, whether you're talking about someone you love or a nation you love.

Tuesday, October 7

If You're Going to Be a Loser, Be a Good Loser

What is with the Republicans and all their booing this year? Have they always been this sophomoric and somehow I didn't notice, or is this a new twist, the reduced vocabulary of a bankrupt policy? Perhaps, to a ticket that does seem to believe "When you've said 'Budweiser,' you've said it all," booing is all that remains of discourse. I mean, take a look at the gilded woman standing primly behind Senator McCain at all those speeches, Little Miss Cindy "I Got Rich Filling Your Gut With Cheap Beer." She doesn't speak, but she sure does dress nicely, and I can't help but notice that gold is her favorite color and wonder just why that might be.

You know, I enjoyed a good long stint of Soccer Momming myself, which I originally assumed was pretty much the same thing as being a Hockey Mom, but I'm rethinking that. Sarah Palin smiles from the podium when her admirers course with boos against Obama. She feeds them lies to fuel this booing. She actually thrives on the booing. That must be a Hockey Mom thing, and if I'm offending any Hockey Moms out there, well I think you should really be complaining to Ms. Palin instead of to me.

One thing we worked on with the little-boys-becoming-young-men on our soccer team through the years of its existence was sportsmanship. Sportsmanship may be kind of an advanced notion for people who think shooting animals who can't shoot back is fair game, I realize, but what it amounts to is this: Be nice. Don't push or elbow your opponents once you're off the field, don't brag if you're winning and don't whine if you're losing. And don't boo. Booing is for people who have no vocabulary. It's like swearing. It's what you do when you don't have any intelligence left.

Which may go a long way toward explaining why Governor Palin and her admirers find it such a perfect means of communicating their positions. And that's all I have to say today.

Sunday, October 5

For Ambient Waves of Radio

Since I moved back to Wisconsin last fall, I have spent a lot of my weekends driving around the state. My travel has for the most part been necessitated by family obligations and celebrations, but the drives have been as important as the destinations. At a time when I don't even use my car in town any more, I love to drive at my new, gas-conscious pace hundreds of miles at a stretch just to turn around in two days and drive back again. I know that long weekend drives may be one of those luxuries our children and eventual grandchildren will find as unthinkably old-fashioned as record players and typewriters and family meals that take precedence over soccer games and high school musicals, but we can hope one part of long weekend drives may endure: Public radio.

Public radio is the best part of driving, no matter what kind of vehicle you're steering. I love it in my old Honda Civic every bit as well as in my sister's Beamer, though I grant that the sound quality's a little better in the German car. Even when you have the great good fortune to live here, where roads (with the notable exception of billboard-blighted Highway 41) take you through landscapes so stunning that sentimental types sometimes have to pull off to absorb the full impact of gorgeousness, public radio is the best part of driving. Yes, even when they're in the middle of a fundraising campaign. Wisconsin Public Radio, DoubleupeeR as we who love it fondly refer to it, reaches nearly every part of our state. It is among the best public radio networks in the nation, a fact shown clearly by the large number of national radio shows that originate here, in studios that you'll usually found tucked away into inadequately or overly heated corners of university buildings no one else would consider occupying.

Indeed, I love WPR so much that I count myself fortunate that I only listen to radio when I'm driving. You see, I have a strict rule about talking on the phone when I'm driving. So, on afternoons like today's, when I'm driving down a highway I drive so often I not only know every speed trap and produce stand, but also how long it took the farmer at the Bethel Road intersection to sell his dying father's Ford truck versus the farmer up the road a piece to sell his enlisted son's ATV, I am invulnerable to the pleas for financial support from my beloved WPR hosts. I won't pull out my cell phone; I won't succumb to the chorus of "Yesses!" that answers each and every argument of my favorite moderators and commentators as they tell me exactly why I should spend three minutes of my drive time donating money today.

I will, of course, pay for this great all-American pleasure, and once a year, I will send in my WPR donation, but it will not be done in the heat of a moment's ardor on a back road winding among the hills of maple and oak trees overlooking round little lakes reflecting a blue sky overlain with brilliant sunshine and the unmistakeable wingspan of an eagle silhouetted up high. It will not be done from the shoulder of this two lane highway where I have paused to catch my breath along with the snatch of a poem that's been buzzing like a nectar-drunken bumblebee among the ragged blossoms of my end-of-summer mind. I will drive home and then I will do it, under the influence of things like mortgage payments and health insurance premiums and the fact that my car needs another oil change from too many drives in the countryside.

You should do it, too. Life without the intelligent discourse of public radio would be travel without roadside wildflowers waving their charming and ebullient heads as you pass, school lessons without recess or jungle gymns or maybe just without mental gymnastics, sleep without dreaming or clean pillowcases, coffee without cream and sugar. Some things must be had, like an occasional weekend drive in autumn no matter what the price of gas, as long as the radio's working. All things considered, this American life would be less worth singing without the broadcasts of public radio.

Thursday, October 2

Harvest 1424: Reaping What Is Sown

Say a combine is rolling down the wheat fields. The combine uses an ungodly amount of gas and the exhaust it spews into the air is noxious, but hey, bread's good, especially freshly baked whole wheat spread with real Dairyland butter and dripping with sweet golden stickiness compliments of the mysteriously disappearing honeybee. The combine is rolling through the wheat fields.

But something goes wrong. Something's amok. The combine starts bucking like a rodeo horse, its powerful cutting tools gouging into the precious soil of our American farmland. It lurches across the rich loam of old Iowan riverbeds, the vast stretches of the Great Plains still alive with memories of the Dust Bowl, the arid eastern flatland of Colorado, where farmers are starting to think maybe windpower is what their land supports best, not corn for cattle or even corn chaff for ethanol. The combine grinds through the landscape of the heartland. The driver's thrown out and ends his life as another agricultural mortality. His wife, running to his aid, hearing his final lamentation piercing the roar of rogue machinery all the way into her kitchen, is also, we must regrettably note, chewed up by the wild and rampaging machine when she tries to extricate him. Sons, hired hands, daughters, brothers-in-law and kind and concerned neighbors: none can stop the machine it seems. It goes beyond the borders of this one farmer's land and continues wreaking its havoc in one neighboring field after another. Aghast, tired, and helpless, the community takes shelter and watches from porches, drinking cider on a early Fall evening.

But, behold. A lone rider comes over the horizon, riding the finest steed anyone on the porch has ever seen, chaps of finest leather, saddle studded with an uncanny amount of gemstones. "Help is on the way!"the tall, bald man shouts, waving a copy of a 3-page memorandum overhead. Soon enough, he is followed by a stampede of 435 men and women in suits. They come within sight of the rampaging combine, then throw up their hands, spin on their heels, and race back over the visible edge of the known world. The neighbors look to one another in uncomprehension. They bring out the harder cider, the one with the raised alcohol content. Hard times call for hard measures. Another posse draws near as the sunset begins to intimate the end of day here in the American heartland. Ninety nine members strong, they ride with a sense of majesty unimaginable to the representative gaggle that preceded them.

And what do they do? They fuel up the combine, shake hands all around, and ride away. The combine continues lurching its destructive path across the heartland. The people on the porch, having finished the cider, have now turned to moonshine.

I would like to thank Wisconsin's great Senator, Russ Feingold, for continuing to stand up for what is truly right, for valuing good decisions over fast decisions, for representing my children and me with such calm and intelligence. The bill passed yesterday by the U.S. Senate not only failed to address the causes of our crisis; it actually added to the debt load carried by American taxpayers and deepened our national credit crisis.

My choice of an agricultural metaphor/parable is not entirely arbitrary. One, this is a Wisconsin blog, after all, a little slice of life from the Midwest, so you must expect things like agriculture to surface from time to time, but there are interesting asides here, as everywhere, like the fact that forty-nine percent of farm accidents involved a discernible factor of haste. Does this sound relevant? Additionally, as the website informed me this morning, "The high accident rate in agriculture is not an accident; it is rather the predictable consequence of specific management choices."