Have We Lost Our Moral Compass?

People are worried that the separation of church and state is bad for America, or there is a movement afoot to make America a Christian nation, maybe even a fundamentalist Christian nation. I read an article on Sunday that seemed to suggest that we are misinterpreting the 1st Amendment. Texas is trying to rewrite textbooks. Many seem to believe that America has lost its moral compass, that, without religion in government, evil and depravity will seep into government and into our everyday lives. In fact they believe this has already happened.

I do not believe that one must belong to any particular religion or even any religion at all to be moral. The entire idea of America is based on humanistic ideals that build in morality. It doesn’t matter what religion you study. All religions have acceptable morals and values. Even atheists probably do not condone murder and mayhem. We need to live a life of morals and values because we believe “all men are created equal.”

It is our dual nature as humans, our flawed nature, that leads to moral slippage in society. We know the right way to behave but we are led astray by human desires. And, it seems, there are a lot of gray areas. Even very vivid images of Hell did not create highly moral societies. An existentialist existence with all its baggage of personal responsibility still does not allow one to do anything one pleases without some expectation of consequences. Existentialism has just as great a chance as the Heaven-Hell belief of engendering either morality or depravity.

People came to America seeking a freedom of religion that was definitely lacking in Europe. I’m fairly certain they were all or almost all Christians. Our forefathers did not consider Muslims and Buddhists, etc. because they were not on their radar. So they left us with an idealistic Constitution, with ‘morality by design’, a morality not necessarily of any one religious tradition, rather a morality of humanism. There is very little difference between “all men are created equal” and “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Live the “Good Life”

Underneath our everyday energy and our cheerful demeanors we are carrying around the sorrows of our world. We have sluggish bands of thick oil rolling around in our guts, in our hearts are our soldiers who risk their lives everyday for all of us and for America. In our heads run images of Haitians, and Africans, and North Koreans, and Iranians and all the places where one group of humans oppresses another group of humans. This underlying sense of dread makes it difficult to enjoy our lives. It makes us feel guilt at the way we continue to pursue a prosperous and happy life.

I have come to believe, however, that holding out the example of people who get to pursue a “good” and happy life is important for all the people who are in the midst of living with these demoralizing conditions. When America experiences problems with economics, with squabbling, we add to the sorrows of the world by removing hope. It seems counterintuitive, but if we keep America strong and hopeful, leading satisfying, productive lives it makes the whole world feel more stable. It is also the best thing we can do for our soldiers. It must be more difficult to defend a country that seems to be slipping. I would think it gives our soldiers strength when they see that they will get to come home to a healthy America.

Therefore, it seems, it is our patriotic duty to solve our current problems, to clean up the awful oil spill somehow, to get our economy moving again and to heal the rancor between the various segments of our population. If we can’t solve all of this right now, we can at least put on an optimistic face. I guess we just have to live with the dichotomy. We can’t ignore the valleys, but we still need to look forward to the peaks.

Carousel Mall

The addition to Carousel Mall, “the big empty” as it has been called, is such a terrible waste of resources, of potential business, of hopes. It is so revealing of the financial situation in America, but especially in Syracuse. We suspect that Mr.. Congel is a sort of charlatan and megalomaniac, but he is our charlatan, our megalomaniac. He’s getting old. He needs his dream fulfilled. We need his dream fulfilled.

What started a a “green” project has been stripped of any possible “green” advantage it might have had. It now represents wasted money, wasted time, wasted materials, and wasted potential. Take down those “Emerald City” signs, which none of us like to begin with. The Emerald City in Oz did not exactly represent truth in advertising or any other very admirable traits. We haven’t earned it as environmentalist either, maybe SU, but not the city. It’s an embarrassment.

We elect and pay so many people to be our brains and to care for our city and county, to. Can’t all these great minds get together and fill up at least this one empty building with the businesses it was intended to hold. Then maybe we can move on to the next empty building. If this is all about politics, our politics stink.

NYS – Green, Prosperous, and Fun

What if New York decided to become the playground of the Northeast. We would spend money to make money. We could turn our weather extremes into attractions – summers of camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, golfing, concerts, ballets, art exhibits, flea markets, craft sales – winters of skiing, snow shoeing, tubing, indoor water slides, shopping trips, gambling, festivals – falls full of beauty. Come to NYS to enjoy yourselves! We could become a great big service state, we could “suck up” to our guests, treat them like royalty (without turning them into spoiled brats). We could give people a fun experience and become a vacation destination. Come to NYS to unwind, to regroup, to reset. The services would need to be real, not just advertising. We could all get jobs feeding our guests, babysitting their children, guiding them on tours or excursions, teaching them skills, entertaining them, massaging them, making them beautiful, outfitting them for sports, housing them, bringing them cold drinks or hot chocolate, plunking our guests down in mountain lakes, on flower-filled patios, in hot tubs that look out on snowy lakes or mountains. We wouldn’t all be professionals, but we might enjoy life more and improve our tax base at the same time.

We would need a centralized guest services office that could coordinate resources all over the state to give a guest the exact experience they wanted. We have so many wonderful resources that are probably sometimes underutilized. Once we got rolling I’m sure we would need more hotels, spas, campgrounds, etc. Maybe if would give all New Yorkers something in common and stop us from being so competitive that we undermine each other. I know it sounds like pink bubbles and rainbows, but I am actually serious. We are not attracting industry and we are all the cleaner for it. This kind of business preserves our environment (if done properly) and brings in revenue.

Oil Spill Variation

We haven’t offered to help BP or the people in the shellfish industry or the people who have to clean up the animals and the beaches. We haven’t held any concerts, no celebrities have been visible, organizing fund-raising efforts.

Most likely there are several reasons for this:

1. We don’t know how to clean up the ocean or the animals and feel we should leave this up to the experts.

2. We don’t like our corporations. We see them as rapacious and as unreliable partners, and they have been both. We may even look forward to seeing them losing millions/billions.

3. We have had so many crises to deal with lately that our pockets are a little bare.

If we get behind BP and help them with contributions the way we do in other catastrophes maybe the BP people would feel a partnership with us all, instead of just having to swallow the blame (and, I don’t know about you, but I do blame BP). Instead of having to act defensive and prideful maybe they could put all their energy and resources into the task at hand – getting the oil shut off and cleaned up. Perhaps it could be a matching funds arrangement or some contract that still required that BP use its own money in addition to ours. When they were providing a product we needed we liked them well enough. We suspect they have been greedy since they posted huge profits while our gas pumps prices continued to rise. They have been heedlessly careless of our environment with their “need for speed.” It might be a good thing to have them “owe” us.

It does us no good to withhold our charity from BP because they will refuse to feel the shame we wish them to feel. They are much more likely to come up with creative and effective solutions if we are behind them. Maybe we can at least try to encourage a new, more responsible corporate style. Maybe allowing another corporation to fail or sending another corporation running for the hills is not in our best interests. Besides, while we are busy blaming BP a whole important ecosystem is dying.

Books

Island
This month I am reading these fiction books:

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews. This is chick lit, a story which begins with a young woman who is used by an unscrupulous boss and mildly abused by a self-absorbed father, but who proves herself and learns what she must.

The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson in which two elephants transported to 18th c. England from India by ship are purchased by a British noble. He puts the elephants in the charge of one of his horse handlers, a young boy named Tom. Tom writes of his experiences with the elephants. This book is unusual and Tom shows great sensitivity to his elephant charges.

Miss Julia Delivers the Goods by Ann B. Ross. Although most people think they will not enjoy a book with an old lady as main character (heroine). Miss Julia is different. I am always entertained by her adventures, and there are a number of Miss Julia books. (at least 9)

The Summer Kitchen by Lisa Wingate. A nearly empty nester from a dysfunctional family loses her uncle who was like her “real” parent and her adopted son leaves school and the family at the same time. The way she finds her way out of this life crisis is through an encounter with children who are up against forces way harsher than her own.

The Lace Makers of Glenmora by Heather Barbieri. A young American woman, disappointed and broken-hearted, returns to Ireland to grieve for her mother and retrace her mom’s steps. When she meets the lace makers of Glenmora some Irish magic happens, sort of.

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. On the cover it says, “the sweeping story of an unforgettable woman – a slave and concubine determined to claim her own destiny against impossible odds. There is usually more than a little South American magic in Isabel Allende’s books. This is the most literary of the books I am reading and will take me the longest to read.

While I have enjoyed reading all of these books, I wonder which I will remember months from now, not sure, but it is one of my tests.

Nonfiction reading”

Escape from Freedom by Eric Fromm which I read long ago and which I mentioned in one of my blogs about Freedom.

Abortion Issues

If we ever really try to hash out our abortion issues it could end up splitting America in two. Right-to-life Americans are totally inflexible in defending the unborn over those already born. They will never see this as an issue of American liberty. By making it, as they say, a moral issue rather than a religious issue they hope to avoid the separation of church and state. If you define the moment of conception as the beginning of life, as they say, then abortion is murder. Murder is a crime in, I’m guessing, every culture. It is almost impossible to argue with this logically. The only way to argue is to reset the point at which life begins (say after a fetus is viable) or to sidestep the issue of when life begins (an argument which can’t be won) and argue for freedom of choice in a land that respects freedom, respects choice, respects women, and respects religious freedom. Leave the choice up to women, who have always been most affected by the random nature of conception and by child-rearing, respect the laws of our democracy, and keep your nose out of other people’s business. Freedom always carries with it the existential dilemma of being responsible for your own choices.

By subverting the intent of the new health care reform, by tinkering with the details to guarantee that no federal money will go to abortion you are undermining America and asserting a tyranny of belief over the fate of women. This patriarchal wrath is archaic and inappropriate. It is a sad fact that America can not have a dialogue about abortion, probably ever. It is a polarizing issue, which could divide America from the inside if we let it. We almost have to ignore the tactics of the right-to-life group because they have become sort of strident and scary. Will we drift back into the dark ages of women’s rights. This issue is key to the freedom of women. Who decides? That is the crux of the issue. Does the church decide? Does the government decide? Does a special interest group decide? Does the woman decide?

Being Green

My sister and I are planning a vegetable garden. Actually I have four sisters but this is my sister who lives with our mom. We are trying to be green and we thought Mom would enjoy watching the garden grow too. Who knew there were so many decisions involved in planting a garden. Will it be a raised bed or will we roto-till a patch out of the lawn? Will it be round or square or rectangular? Exactly what quadrant of the yard will it occupy? Will we rent a roto-tiller or till by hand? What will we do about the woodchuck? Everyone tells us he will eat every thing. Everyone tells us he can climb up a raised bed or dig under a chicken wire fence. Still we plan.

What will we grow? How many sisterly squabbles will we have before the garden is planted? How did those hippie communes do this? I bet those meetings were long. Perhaps altered states of consciousness, lots of tea and guitar music made for peaceful farming. I vote for tomatoes and lettuces, my sister doesn’t like tomatoes but will tolerate some tomato plants. She wants cucumbers, but I don’t like them. I would rather have zucchini (although Mom loves cucumbers, so I may give in on that). My sister wants to plant melon. That’s OK with me. We both want some beans.

Last weekend it snowed on Mother’s Day. This weekend was beautiful. We spent a whole sunny weekend happily digging. We moved the black-eyed susans to two raised beds and turned the flower patch into our new garden. We had almost no squabbles and the cat enjoyed all the activity. Now I’m anticipating our delicious veggies.

Public Utilities

On Wednesday, while I was visiting my mom, a young woman came to her door selling contracts for a power provider. Since then public utilities have been on my mind, especially natural gas suppliers. When the courts, the government, whoever, decided to break the monopoly our local power companies enjoyed they did a terrible job of it. Now we have a plethora of people who can supply natural gas, which was supposed to help consumers, but this deal did not create a level playing field. These companies do compete, but the consumer is left to choose from a bewildering array of prices that are actually almost identical but have so many decimal places it is difficult to comprehend how the rate will affect your costs. There is a web site http://energyguide.com. where you can see most of the rates listed but it is like comparing apples and oranges. There apparently is little regulation. These people come to our doors with badges that make it look like they are from the public utility. They call on the phone and trick elderly people into saying “yes” to things they don’t want. Picking an energy provider is closer to gambling than it is to shopping. Actually it feels like it is closer to highway robbery.

In addition to making the process as confusing as possible all of these companies (except the public utility) force you to sign a two year agreement and they charge a penalty if you want to switch providers before the term of your contract is up. If you guessed well and have locked in a low price, not a bad deal, but if you jumped the wrong way and locked in a high rate, the two years can be costly. The increase in the number of choices has resulted in increased delivery fees from the utilities to offset losing customers to other providers. By increasing their delivery fees, they can also afford to keep their rates low. In this manner they win twice, they keep most of their customers and then they charge more for delivery. The utilities do not require customers to sign timed contracts. The whole system is a zoo. If we can’t do a better job of breaking up monopolies than this then let’s keep the monopolies.

House Shopping III

I’m supposed to put out positive energy into the universe in order to attract positive things to me. Heaven knows I try. I’m programming myself to believe that I will sell my current home, sending little pretty fireflies, fireworks, bubbles, giggles, out into the universe. I am a positive person – beam those success rays right at me. I am “imaging” me in my new house, working in my new kitchen, lighting a fire in my new fireplace, reading in my new “library”. All the little positive ions around me are vibrating at the same wavelengths as happy music and great conversation or a sunny day. Am I positive enough yet? Oh, you say my energy doesn’t quite ring true. You don’t think a suspicious, paranoid worrier like me can project positivity over a prolonged period of time.

Well I am the “little engine that could.” I am a positive person. In spite of all the insane things that happen every day and in spite of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road I still want to know what will happen next. But am I positive enough? I’m not a go-on-cruises, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”, rock-wall-climbing, party-all-night type. I just don’t have the habit of being a really sunny positive person. Maybe you could send some positive energy out into the universe on my behalf. As you can see, I could use a little help. Thank you in advance for your efforts.