All posts by John Of Late

Something So Wrong: December 2017

  • On December 6, Trump declared that the United States would acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He also announced that the U.S. would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The announcement reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy and threatens progress toward a two-state solution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians have both claimed Jerusalem their capital, and previous U.S. policy has been that the status of Jerusalem should be decided by negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians as part of a larger two-state solution to the conflict. In response to Trump’s announcement, on December 21, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (128 to 9) to approve a non-binding resolution calling on all nations to refrain from locating their embassies in Jerusalem.
  • On December 22, Trump signed a tax cut bill crafted by Republicans and passed in Congress on a party line vote. “It’s going to be a tremendous thing for the American people,” Trump declared. The provisions that benefit individuals, including lowering the tax rates and doubling the standard deduction, will expire in 2025, while provisions that benefit corporations, including a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, are permanent. The legislation also eliminated the individual mandate to have health insurance under the Affordable Care Act—an action the president characterized as a “repeal of Obamacare.” He said, “We have essentially repealed Obamacare, and we will come up with something that will be much better.” The bill also opens 1.5 million acres of the Alaska National Wildlife refuge to oil drilling. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the tax bill would add $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit by 2027.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 77
    On October 6, the Trump administration announced an expanded religious exemption to the requirement that employers provide health insurance plans that include contraception services. The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide preventive care coverage (including contraception) at no additional cost to their employees. Religious institutions, religiously affiliated nonprofit groups…
  • 76
    The next chapter is tracking six focus issues during the current presidential election process. TNC has summarized the positions of the presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Now that the candidates have selected their running mates, TNC is looking at the positions of Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike…
  • 75
    After a decade of diplomatic effort, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany reached an accord with Iran earlier this year. These nations (known as the P5+1 or the E3+3), engaged in negotiations with the goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. A deal was signed…

Of Worms and Wisdom

I consulted the oracle recently. I mean, why not? The times we find ourselves in are as incomprehensible as they are disheartening for some of us at least, and we can only have faith in Bob Dylan’s vision that the times are indeed a-changin’.

My oracle of choice is the I Ching, the 3000-year-old Chinese Book of Changes. To be clear, I am not a scholar of Chinese literature, and my knowledge concerning the I Ching is—being charitable to myself—superficial. Nevertheless, part of the charm of the I Ching is that its insight and richness of interpretation are accessible to anyone with the power to imagine, scholars and skimmers alike.

I approached the oracle with a vague question at heart of how to make sense of this moment in my life when it seems that much of what I have held dear as social progress for over sixty years of my lifetime is being systematically torn apart.

The I Ching deals in images; answers are in the realm of the observer. What the I Ching “means” rests with how its images are interpreted. Thus, the interpretation says much about the observer beyond any objective truth supplied by the image itself and any textual explanation served up in the Book.

My post-Christmas consultation yielded two randomly-generated images (hexagrams). The first, at first, seemed only to mirror my malaise. It was Ku, the image of decay. The Chinese character ku, the translator says, represents “a bowl in whose contents worms are breeding.” Yes, I get the picture. In the United States today, we find ourselves mired in a bowl of worms.

Yet, the hexagram also has a hopeful interpretation, which is that what has been spoiled through the indifference of men and women in the face of the inertia of those in positions of political power can be made good again through work toward improving conditions. It is not immutable fate that has brought us into this worm-ridden bowl, but rather, the “abuse of human freedom.” Ultimate success depends on deliberation: “Decisiveness and energy must take the place of inertia and indifference.” Wrapped within the image is the idea that every end may be followed by a new beginning.

A few days later, I checked in with the ancient oracle, which this time rewarded me the hexagram Fêng, or Abundance. The image is one of greatness and abundance—a period of advanced civilization—produced by clarity amidst movement. Fêng is an image of arousing thunder outside and a flame of clarity within. Yet, a condition of abundance is extraordinary and cannot be maintained permanently. The essential thing is, at heart, to believe in the power of truth.

The image here does not seem to be a reflection of the times as they are. It seems instead to be a vision of times as they may yet again be. It is an image of abundance with an asterisk, for amidst the energy of abundance is the knowledge that times of abundance are often brief. To press the sustain pedal on the chord of those times requires a kind of joy coupled with wisdom.

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Some other stuff for later,

  • 74
    BILL. Do you folks have a faith? JEANETTE. We’re spiritual but we’re not part of any organized religion. … BILL. Neil, what about you? NEIL. My parents were agnostics. BILL. But do you have any kind of belief? NEIL. I’m not sure, Bill, when you say that you believe in…
  • 57
    I wondered sometimes whether I would lead my life any differently if I knew how old I was. It was a question not unique to exile, but in the time of exile, age was defined by death. At a younger age death had been more abstract than it now seemed.…
  • 47
    She surprises me every time she shows her face, and yet she has always been with me. Now that I am in exile, I know that she is closer, though perhaps she has always been this close. It may be that the only thing that is different now is that…