Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A "Just and Lasting Peace"

Quakers at the 2014 St. Pat's Peace Parade in South Boston.
My heart breaks, along with so many others, at the war in Gaza. My heart breaks, and I feel helpless. What can we do? What should we do? There are no easy answers. This is not a new problem.

This past Sunday, I worshipped with the local Quakers, as I sometimes do when I have a Sunday "off". I love the Religious Society of Friends, and feel a strong affinity with them. I suppose the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because when my father was deciding which religion was for him back in the 50s, he was drawn to both the Unitarians and the Quakers. Ultimately, he became a Unitarian Universalist (after the 1961 merger of the Unitarians and Universalists). But it was a close call! And I totally understand.

There are a few things about the Quakers that I really love. I love that they are a "peace church" with a strong stand against war. I did not always feel this way; I am a Navy veteran, after all. But nowadays, I sometimes find myself wishing that the UUA were a "peace church".

In any case, the Quakers -- and specifically the American Friends Service Committee -- have put an enormous amount of energy into thinking about the issues of war and peace.  I appreciate both the commitment to peace and the thoughtfulness.  At this time, I find it helpful to read the AFSC piece on "Principles for a just and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis" (linked here). Perhaps you will find it helpful, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stop the Pipeline!

Photo I took at the Dracut rally/march today.
Today I went to a "Stop the Pipeline" rally and march in Dracut. Concerned citizens got together to rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline that would run through several towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  This was all part of a "rolling march" that has been going across the state.

If you want to learn more about the proposed pipeline, here are some relevant links:

No Fracked Gas in Massachusetts
Mass Plan (PipelineAwarenessNetwork)

Those Blasted Towns 

There will be a "Stop the Pipeline Action Day" in Boston this Wednesday, July 30. Learn more at the event Facebook page.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Friends New Underground Railroad

Picture found here.
There has been so much tragic news lately, with wars and planes crashing or being shot down, and so much more. It is easy to let the news get you down, but it's important to "remember the helpers", as Mr. Rogers would say.

One shining light that I learned about recently are the American Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) and the "Friends New Underground Railroad", which is helping LGBT Ugandans to reach safety. You can read about their amazing work in this Newsweek article. What an inspirational effort!

I have always loved and admired the Friends/Quakers, and this just reinforces my feelings.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Praying for peace in the Middle East

This is a sad time. I am at a loss for words, so I share those of UU minister Rev. Linda Hansen:

"We pray for the power to see that we are all connected ... and that we ultimately help or harm ourselves in helping or harming one another. Out of this vision, may we have the will and the courage to work for a just and peaceful world in which every individual is treated with dignity."

(This prayer was offered, among others, at an interfaith prayer event in Milwaukee this week. You can read more here.)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Mad Men"'s Don Draper: Sympathetic?

I have been binge-watching Mad Men this summer. I'm only a little ashamed, because it really is an amazing show.

If you haven't seen the show and are planning to watch it on Netflix (or some other means) in the future, please stop reading as this post will have spoilers. (And I do recommend watching it!)

Now. Don Draper. The main character of Mad Men.  Is he a sympathetic character, or not?  I've read some other online commentary on the topic (asking if he is "likeable" and such). And I've read actor Jon Hamm's own take (he does not find Don Draper sympathetic). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course.  As for me, I do find him sympathetic, ultimately, in spite of his many flaws.

So, let's acknowledge some of the flaws. First of all, he assumed the identity of a fellow soldier after an explosion in the Korean War. In the process, he upended the life of the original (or "real") Don Draper's family and his own family of origin too. Also, therefore, he is technically a deserter.

He's a horrible womanizer, throughout the series.

He's fairly ruthless in his work.

He doesn't appear to care about much other than life's creature comforts... he doesn't seem to have much social consciousness, and the 60s is lost on him in many ways.

There are other things, too, but those are some of the most obvious flaws.

Now, his central secret of having assumed another man's identity? Ultimately, I find this oddly sympathetic. He was very young, in shock from an explosion and the terror of battle, and he makes a quick decision. His punishment, really, is having to live with this secret and the stress it produces.  He does, of course, also become close to Anna Draper (the "real" Don Draper's widow) and helps her out.

It's harder for me to overlook the other flaws, really. But we also know that he grew up in a horrible and miserable situation that wounded him deeply. In that sense (and literally I suppose) he is a survivor. And so he has learned to "look out for number one" at all costs. Again, not a pretty picture, but somewhat sympathetic when you know how tough his start in life was.

There are two scenes that stay with me as summing up Don Draper's tragic predicament. One is when Marilyn Monroe dies. In one scene, Don is in the elevator with Peggy, discussing the death and how surprising it was that she was so miserable in spite of outwardly seeming to have it all. The elevator operator says, "Some people hide in plain sight". And that, of course, could be referring to Don Draper himself. If Marilyn Monroe was miserable "hiding in plain sight", surely so is Don Draper. And so I find him sympathetic in part because one of the tragedies of his life is that his first priority is taking care of himself and being successful and comfortable, but in spite of his efforts, he's clearly miserable. (As is noted here, of course, the elevator operator himself is "hiding in plain sight", being an "invisible" African American in a White Man's World.)

The other scene that stays with me is when he reads Frank O'hara's Meditations in an Emergency (pictured here). He sees someone reading it in a bar, asks about it, and the person reading it says something like "you probably wouldn't like it" (probably assuming Don Draper to be square or what have you). Later, we see him reading this very book. And we hear lines from the poem "Mayakovsky" (you can read the poem here): "Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern." We get the sense that perhaps Don Draper feels that beneath it all, his personality is a bit of a catastrophe. He seems outwardly confident, but deep down he's full of self-doubt.

And so, in spite of his flaws, I wish Don Draper well. I want him to stop being miserable and hurting himself and others in the process. I want him to assess where he's "a catastrophe" and work on setting it right.  We've seen hints of his good side (e.g., when he's with Anna Draper, and his daughter Sally and son Bobby; when he's helping Peggy's career, etc.); I want him to bring that out more. Hopefully he'll learn (as Bert Cooper sang in the season 7 "half finale") that "the best things in life are free". I eagerly await the final episodes. I do hope that somehow he can find peace.

Friday, July 11, 2014


Image found here.
Today on Facebook, political economist Robert Reich posted this:

"One of the most enduring American traits is our belief in progress. Even in the direst times – the Great Depression, world wars, the Cold War – polls have shown a majority of us believing the future will be better, we and our families eventually will do better economically, our children will be better off than we are, the nation as a whole will progress, even the world will become a better place. But over the last two decades, that fundamental belief in progress has been shaken. Polls show fewer and fewer optimists, to the point where now a majority no longer believes the future will be better. This is one of the most fundamental changes in American character in history with all sorts of implications for how we act. (For the record, I'm still a strong believer in progress, and I’ll explain why in a future post). How about you? Do you believe the future will be better, and why?"

This is truly worth pondering. I think Reich is correct that optimism has always been an American trait. But there are a few things here that make me want to back up a little. What does "a better future" mean? What does "progress" look like?

If "a better future" means endless economic growth -- children making more money and having more possessions and a bigger home than their parents -- then no, I don't think that's going to happen. But I also don't think that's better.  We've based the American dream on materialism for too long -- on boundless growth and expansion. But it's time for a new American dream... or better yet, a new dream for the world, for all its peoples. Do I believe that we might "progress" to a future based on new and better values than endless material growth (and the environmental degradation that comes with it)? Yes, I do believe that that "better future" is possible.