Saturday, July 2, 2011

Some of my best friends are conservative

Bachmann“Obama has just been a disaster,” asserted my friends, warming to the topic.  I pointed out that their predictions of a socialized automotive sector hadn’t come true, and that health insurance reform was delivering some genuine improvements (although skyrocketing premiums).

“Unemployment, wars, the debt','” They ticked off the visible sins. All started by Republicans, I countered.  Besides, who has a better solution?  Bachmann?

“Absolutely.”  I was astonished. You can’t be agree with her views?  “Can you tell me which of her views you disagree with?” they asked.  Not a clue; I’ll have to get back to you.

Fortunately,  the Financial Times Weekend profiled Candidate Michele today.  But the article didn’t illuminate her stands by much: it was long on personality and character, short on issues. 

Her official web site is scarcely more helpful:

My top priorities as a constitutional conservative:

  • Restore our economy and create millions of new jobs.
  • Repeal Obamacare and its unconstitutional mandates.
  • Achieve deep cuts in spending to reduce America's debt.
  • Strengthen the family and defend marriage.
  • Rebuild respect for America as the shining city upon a hill.

I dug on into the site.

She clearly declares No Debt Ceiling Increase, correctly identifying “the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare alone – two programs which already consume 95 percent of federal revenues – have recently been estimated at more than $45 trillion”.  So how would she solve it?  Congress cannot and should not vote to increase the borrowing limit for the government unless serious steps are taken to reduce spending, and most important, the full repeal of Obamacare, which will add at least $1 trillion to the budget.

A 2% impact on the problem, gained through cutting a program she loathes, then, well, raise the Debt Ceiling.

I slog on through the Issues with her: Defense, Energy, Health, Jobs.  In each case, similarly clear principles;  circular and vague non-solutions.

So what do I disagree with?  With no actual point of policy to discuss; I’m not sure what issues to go back to friends with.

Also last weekend, Ira Glass presented a segment on This American Life (439), profiling the state legislative race in a small Wisconsin town.  And it was here that I found my answers.

Spring had been difficult:  The sign waving, fist pumping anger over politics, economics, haves and have-nots had arrived.  People were shouting one another down, undermining campaigns and reputations.

Only these were people from a small town, people who had known one another their whole lives and had always, previously, respected one another’s viewpoints and compromised to find some shared middle ground.

Not any more.  In taking a position, Governor Walker had forced people to make a choices, pulling them apart.  By denying that a center existed, State Republicans and Democrats deprived people of finding common solutions.  He replaced it with winning.  Or with losing.

Ms. Bachmann’s stands on principle are similarly divisive, her rhetoric similarly polarizes society around her.

And, worse, she takes pride in that.

So,when I seen my friends, I won’t tell them what issues I disagree with.  I will say that I disagree with the effect that she wants to have on the rest of us, whether from inner principal to or to take outward advantage.  I’ll  disagree with forcing people to take sides rather than to seek understanding and compromise.

Friday, July 1, 2011

‘been a week…

With days consumed by Dutch classes and nights dedicated to work, everything else has suffered a bit, from correspondence to blogs.  Still, it was a productive week in Maastricht and good to catch up with friends and activities.

I have really been working on vocabulary; drilling into The Green Book (The Delftse Methode), setting up my VTrain flashcard program for Dutch, and compiling a list of new words.  I got the core elements of the first ten chapters of the green book entered along with works that I’m noting from class, e-learning, and newspapers, about 2000 in all, so far. (I’m happy to share them if anyone is trying to do the same and doesn’t want to replicate the work; I’ll probably donate the set to VTrain when I’m done).

It’s making a difference.  I’m doing a newspaper each day and I can see a difference in what I can do, week to week.  Where I was struggling with a couple of words per sentence, I’m now down to a couple of words per paragraph. 

I’m also writing daily paragraphs to my Dutch neighbor, which she corrects and sends back to be.  It’s about ten sentences on whatever topic is of interest that day ( but more of a Tumblr-post than a blog entry).  Again, it makes a difference: I’m getting to where I can pick words and phrase thoughts so that I can express them.

Friday, we each had an in-class assignment to compose a tour of Maastricht for a hypothetical group of 20 people, then read it out loud and take questions.  It had to have meals, attractions, costs, times…I quickly ran into complications like We will meet (ontmoeten) then we will meet again (treffen) that were wholly new to me, but support things I tend to say all the time.  I was really happy with the progress – the class is still ahead of me by a few chapters, but I’m holding my own.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sun, school, and storms

Maastricht has been sweltering in tropical conditions for days, with temperatures over 30C (nearly 90F), humidity barely a breath of wind.  I’ve been managing the front and back windows trying to encourage a bit of cross-ventilation, but the heavy air only drifted into sodden piles between the rooms.

The college wasn’t much better, the tiled halls seemed to trap the heat.  The lessons revolved around a grocer fainting from a fever after ‘going postal’ and throwing lettuce at a pedestrian for shopping at another store.

I dutifully noted boos, koorts, and sla into my notebook.

Break time: students were torn between jumping out into the heat or staying in among the lessons.  I looked at the schoolyard, the fences, the regimented lifestyle, the wire in the windows, (the food), and counted the similarities between inburgering and prison.

The afternoon class was dedicated to finding a job.  Since vocabulary is still at the NT1 level, our coordinator broke it down into Dutch that we could understand:

Plan v. aanpak:

  • Weten wat je wilt gaan doen?
  • Bedrijven zoeken (internet, netwerk, krant).
  • Bellen / schrijven vijf stage bedrijven

Gardening was starting to look good.

DSC04911 Stitch 

The sky was darkening as I pedaled back to the apartment; an occasional rumble of thunder growled from the south.  I beat the rain home, but strong winds flung open the windows as I arrived, toppling a desk and scattering papers.  The clouds had a oily, pouchy look that would have sent us towards the cellar back in the Midwest, but none of the swirls that suggested real trouble.

DSC04892 Stitch (1500x754)

The wind, the rain, brought welcome relief.  The lightning flickered into the night, the rain beat on the windows, the temperatures dropped.  The world gradually tipped back to it’s proper axis.  I skimmed the Limburgs Dagblad, sipped a summer beer over salmon, and pleasantly surprised at how much more sense the paper was making after a few weeks of study.  Coffee shops were being closed a few blocks away and I understood why; camping gear was on sale and I knew where.

Its starting to feel like progress.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Zondag, naar Luik

Liege Station

The Eurostar slid into Brussels Midi a bit after 3; I tugged my suitcase off the doorway, three long steps above the platform, and incanted Ik stap uit de trein.  It probably cuts no ice in the French-speaking capital of Europe, but the parallel Dutch narrative helps with vocabulary (and to find words that I need to learn).

The connectors trip me up more than the nouns and verbs.  If, actually, then, because, except, though, like… I think in compound thoughts and fidget when my sentences don’t have phrases. 

It’s not just the words (als, eigenlijk, dan, omdat, behalve, toch,  net als), but the way they affect word order, when to add an ‘e’, the form of the verb.

And by the time I sort that out, I’ve lost track of the sentence or the conversation has moved on.

Still, with practice.

I tuck my earbuds deeper: I should be listening to Niewslijn, but NPR takes less concentration in a crowded terminal.  I scan the boards for Liege, find Luik, and head for track 4a.  A bathroom break would be nice, but I’ve got 20 euro and 40p, a bad combination for the 50p entry fee.

The commentator drones about the new wave of male waxing.  Apparently limited to chest hair, it still sounds very affected.  Nearby, John Travolta dances with Princess Diana on a magazine cover – I shake my head.  Urban Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever: He was the king of affect, of becoming someone you want to be just by changing your costume.  A sidestep, really, that keeps you 70s eventfrom ever becoming who you want to be.

The 70’s rolled into Cambridgeshire last weekend; everyone (over 50) dressing up in big hair and loud colors. 

I don’t think that the British ever did disco, really, so the music is Beatles and ABBA.  I wonder whether our music will survive once our generation is gone; even now it sounds cliché.  Multicolor lasers flicker from robotic hardware: scientists in the 60’s would have killed for this kit.  Now they pulse to YMCA in a simple village hall.

Still, it’s a familiar rhythm and happy memories follow from every melody.  And it doesn’t feel affected.

The train is late, but the sun is out and it’s nice to sit along the platform, watching the people and the transport. People ask if I get lonely, and I suppose that a birch-bark blond fifty-something, alone on the platform with a suitcase beneath his legs, evokes something of that sentiment.  Certainly there are ideas I’d talk about; idle chit-chat to share.  But at the same time, I am busy with notes and narratives, plans and sketches, and the time passes quickly.

Finally, the train arrives, and Ik stap aan, then off to Luik,  frowning at my computer screen as I try to adopt the new spreadsheets that my accountants want me to use. 

The steden en dorpen slide by against the green countryside:   Leuven…St. Truiden…Huisen… Hasselt…Genk ?  I realize that the line has swung far north of the main line if, indeed, I was ever on the right train to begin with.  Damn.

Nouns, verbs, no problem.  It’s the connections. that throw me.