THEN, SHE SAID “CHRIST DIED SO WE WOULD BE NICE TO EACH OTHER”

IN MEMORY OF MARILYN BAKER, MY FRIEND WHO IS GONE

I had a very dear friend who recently died. When I first wrote this, she was going through a terrible time. The thing she feared the most had come to pass. Her husband was sick, never likely to get better, and her children were pulling them out of the home they’d shared for more than 60 years.

marilyn baker 2

Her Christian faith never wavered. She remained calm, unshaken, even though her world was being disassembled. I was heartbroken. Inconsolable. I knew I’d never see her again. We both knew.

She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other — even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled, and sipped from her cup.

Marilyn Baker

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Especially then. Because maybe you’ll never see them again.

 

OLD BRONZES – SACRED ART FROM ASIA – MONOCHROME

CEE’S BLACK & WHITE PHOTO CHALLENGE: SCULPTURES, STATUES, CARVINGS

Photographing small, antique bronze sculpture turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected. I’m sure setting up some lights would have helped, but I put away my lights a few years ago and the idea of climbing into the attic to dig them out did not appeal to me. Nonetheless, I thought this was a good opportunity to finally make a few good pictures of some of my most prize possession, my Asian sacred art bronzes.

Vishnu rides garuda bronze macro sepia

Vishnu Rides Garuda. Tibet.

Old Bronze buddha, Tibet, date unknown, Maybe 18th century.

Buddha. Tibet. 

THE PROBLEM WITH CONGRESS

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

congress in session

When the Constitution was written, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest into government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs or part-timers. Learning the business of governing takes years.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. It failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families. That’s why term limits were rejected by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Their aim was to encourage professionals to enter government service.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It morphs into a hard temp job without a future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

They are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. “What?” you cry, “How can that be?”

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right.

Skill and experience matter

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by courts and other members of congress takes a long time. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of experienced lawmakers who understand how the system works, know how to compromise. Can work with an opposition party. It’s every pol for him/herself these days … and that means no one is there for us. You know. The people.

Experienced old-timers got old. They retired. Or died. And were replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it takes to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and work miracles. Newly elected members of congress hope to build a career in politics. With luck, some will become great legislators, another Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate any chance of finding great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be there

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates to run for President? Look at some of the bozos who are trying to run right now. Not exactly the best and the brightest.

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one wants.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means . Term limits won’t fix the problem. Because that’s not what’s broken.


POSTSCRIPT: FROM GARRY ARMSTRONG. WHO WAS THERE AND KNOWS HOW IT WORKS. really.

I read all the comments before jumping into the fray.

First, this is a cogent and thoughtful post. That’s the old reporter not your husband speaking. Second, as the old reporter, I’ve had first hand, up close and often personal time with members of Congress and folks who’ve occupied the White House.

Former “Speakers” John McCormack and Tip O’Neil shared stories about the business of working both sides of the house to get things done. Party affiliation was put aside as veteran “pols”, guys who knew each other, brokered deals to get bills passed that helped their constituents. Younger pols, clearly just looking to make their bona fides and move on, were muzzled. These were the “term limit” people so many seem to want today.

Senators Ted Kennedy, Bob Dole, and others often talked about the lengthy but focused verbal card games played to avoid grid lock and, again, get the job done.

Garry and Marilyn at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s VineyardI’ve had the good fortune to spend time with Presidents from JFK through Bill Clinton. The brokering stories were repeated, regardless of party affiliation. Even Richard Nixon, in rare and calm moments, shared his beliefs about how to get the job done, using experience, collected favors and insight on what was important with the clock ticking.

I think my favorite pol was LBJ. I spent some very interesting personal time with Johnson, including a stint in Vietnam where he shared “off the record” insight into the job of running the country and assuming responsibility even if it would eventually cost him his job. (And it did cost him his job.)

So, you’ll have to forgive me if I have little patience with folks who spout opinion with little knowledge of how government and politics work.

Yes, we truly could use some people who really understand public service, have the desire to devote themselves to the demands and collateral damage of the job and want to help their constituents.

Enough of the sound and fury signifying nothing. Back to sports.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY FOR DINNER?

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET AND MAYBE DON’T WANT TO

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere, now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent, “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the bacon that has passed through our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”

“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”

“Not so much,” I admit.

“And for a living you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?”

I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN 100 WORDS – HAPPY BIRTHDAY U.S.A.!

The Revolution was about money. Like all wars. Mostly about taxes, especially on tea, which was huge until we discovered coffee. And who should pay what to whom.

We believed we should keep all the money. King George felt otherwise. We offered to split the difference.

96-FLAGS-GAR-73

George said “Hell NO!” Then we fought a war.

France, pissed at England, came with warships and troops. They helped us beat the British, then went home. In a later skirmish — “The War of 1812″ — the British returned to burn down Washington DC. We survived.

Next, we become a real country. The rest is history.

HEY MOM! THEY’RE ALL HERE!

In Israel, they have a word that translates loosely to “close-far.” It refers to the tribe of “almost relatives” by marriage or informal adoption. This includes all the rest of the folks who claim some sort of relationship to you, like your cousin Alfie’s second wife’s husband’s niece.

Picnic-Crowd

I recommend we have a Gathering Day during which we collect all these “relatives.” The ones who are related by blood, albeit so distantly we are unclear on lines of descent (but are sure they are there, somewhere), the kids mom and dad fostered while their parents were getting a divorce. The related-by-marriage to second and third cousins and their off-spring. The brothers-in-law of our sister-in-law, twice divorced and their adopted children’s children from their third marriage.

A mighty big picnic. With guitars. And booze. Lots of burning meat. A sing along to which everyone brings their favorite dishes.

Ya think? We get a day off from work during the best time of year for warm, sunny weather and do it in a public park. It’s safer in public.

We will call it Extended Family Day. It would be a huge hit! The greeting cards and invitations alone would generate a ton of money and maybe some new jobs! No downside unless you are unlucky enough to come from a family dominated by bad cooks.

Who’s ready to jump on my bandwagon?

Don’t be a spoil sport. Even if you have no known relatives or none you want to know, you can invite all the fake aunts and cousins — or hook up to another group and be one of the almost relatives in someone else’s clan. Anyone for whom you feel even the vaguest familial attachment will suffice.

On this special day of days, water is as thick as blood!

DECLARING INDEPENDENCE – A TIMELINE

Today is America’s Independence Day. It celebrates the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, our formal statement to King George and Great Britain that we no longer were willing to retain our status as colonies.

declaration_independence

There’s more than a little confusion about which event happened when regarding the Declaration of Independence, so here’s an historical timeline, Not everyone agrees on this precise timeline, but it’s close enough for a general consensus.

JULY 2, 1776: John Adams, a leader for independence, gets the delegates to the first Continental Congress to unanimously ratify the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson had written the draft document as there was general agreement that Jefferson was the best writer of the group.

JULY 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is signed. Thus July 4th became the U.S.’s official independence day, although John Adams argued it should be July 2nd, the day the document was ratified (rather than the 4th on which it was signed). But Adams argued about everything.

JULY 4, 1776 through August 2, 1776: Following its signing on July 4th, the Continental Congress announced the Declaration of Independence. It is distributed and read across the colonies. The process of reading the Declaration — getting the official word out — was not instant. It took about a month.

By August, a more attractive document displaying all the delegates’ signatures had been produced. In any case, whether or not the colonists had read or heard the document read, everyone knew what was happening. The “official word” took a month to get, but men on horseback going from town to town to tell their friends and family were faster and more thorough.

And of course people talked in pubs. Just like they do today, but without Twitter.

JANUARY 1777: The first printed versions of the Declaration of Independence for general distribution appeared. By then, the colonies are fully engaged in war.


Jefferson’s original draft, with changes by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, as well as Jefferson’s notes of the changes made by Congress, can be viewed at the Library of Congress.

You can see the most famous version of the Declaration, the hand-written signed document, at the National Archives in Washington DC. This is the version which for which the signing was completed on August 2, 1776.