Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Series on Atlas Shrugged

Ok this one is for real, I swear!

With the upcoming release of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's magnum opus, to the silver screen and the increasing popularity of Rand's ideas in the political right the novel has taken on new importance and relevance for modern Americans. While I personally reject most of Rand's philosophy I have to admit that I have not actually read any of her books. To fix both the problem of being something of a hypocrite for criticizing something I'm going to read Atlas Shrugged.

Now this might sound like total wankery to post on a blog, "Hey guess what I'm reading a doorstopper!" To be fair it is pretty arrogant to boast about reading some huge book. What I'm going to be doing is not just reading Atlas Shrugged but reviewing the book, one chapter at a time, on this blog like Slacktivist's excellent piece by piece reviews of the Left Behind series. I will have one chapter done each week, hopefully on Mondays. Since this isn't exactly the most gripping prose ever written for the sake of my sanity I'll be tossing in some humor and opinions of Rand's philosophy from a Heathen perspective.

So strap on in, grab some popcorn, and enjoy!

Monday, March 14, 2011

State of Fiscal Emergency

To say the states of the Union are facing fiscal problems would be an understatement. With nearly every state in the country facing serious budget deficits as the recession takes its toll and stimulus funds drying up states are doing whatever they can to stay above water. Whether through steep cuts in spending in Texas, structural reforms in California, or weakening public unions in the Midwest all are united in their search for an answer. Nowhere is a more radical effort being waged than in the state of Michigan.

The Republican-controlled Michigan State Senate recently passed a highly controversial bill to address the fiscal crises facing state. In the name of fiscal responsibility a group of state officials appointed by the governor known as emergency financial maangers would gain virtually unchecked power over all aspects of the local government in their charge. Some argue these powers are necessary to address the multitude of fiscal problems in Michigan by giving the emergency managers the extra leverage needed to get the job done. As they see it emergency managers are necessary to clean up the state's problems and they have been used successfully in Michigan previously. This does not answer the question of if the new powers, or the changes to process, go too far.

The first line crossed is in the process of declaring a state of fiscal emergency. The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act grants a considerable amount of unchecked power to the governor's office. In the new bill the governor would have the final say on if a local government is in a state of fiscal emergencyi. The governor have the sole power to appoint the emergency manager with no outside review or confirmationii. The new manager, once appointed, could only be removed by the governor or impeachmentiii. The law goes further by giving emergency managers full immunity from any legal liabilityiv.

So why would the emergency managers need protection from legal sanction? The Fiscal Accountability Act gives the emergency managers unprecedented authority over their municipalities. The list of powers given to the managers is staggering in its breadth and scope. Once in place there is little the emergency managers cannot do. From the outset they completely control the process being given the sole responsibility of developing the financial plan for the municipalityv. The plan does not need any outside approval of any kind; the public has no opportunity to vote on the issue. The state fiscal emergency remains until the emergency manager declares the crisis has been resolvedvi.

During this time the manager is charged to issue “all orders necessary” to make the plan happenvii. This is backed up by substantial authority explicitly spelled out in the bill. The manager is given the power to create the budgetviii, sell or transfer local government assetsix, and remove non-elected local officialsx at their sole discretion. They handle all contract negotiations and, at their discretion, can unilaterally terminate themxi. If a manager is put in charge of a school district they are given the power to set their educational planxii. Any municipal official deemed by the emergency manager to have “not reasonably” carried out an order can be barred from access to municipal facilities, mail, and internal informationxiii. In spite of being in a state of fiscal emergency the municipality is required to foot the bill for the emergency manager's pay, expenses, and staff for the durationxiv.

These powers, while staggering in their totality, are not the most potent they receive. With the approval of the state treasurer they can waive any need for competitive bidding on any contract over $50,000xv. Based on their sole discretion and judgment they can recommend the municipality be declared a debtor and placed under their complete controlxvi or worse yet be legally dissolvedxvii. The governor alone makes the final call. Most astonishingly the law makes legal appeal of any of these actions impossible. The only chance given to the local government is during the investigation process which requires the municipality to request appeal with a 2/3rds majority votexviii. Once an emergency manager is appointed the locals have no legal recourse between the manager's legal immunity and the law's restrictions.

What is happening in Michigan could be waved away as unique, radical measure born of an economically devastated and desperate state. It could be argued given Michigan's genuinely terrible situation extreme action might be justified. This all assumes that what happens in one state will remain in one state. Currently 44 of the 50 states of the Union are facing serious fiscal problems. While Michigan's situation is especially grim they are not the only state with local governments facing serious deficits. We have already seen how Scott Walker's union-busting bill in Wisconsin has been copied in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, and is being seriously considered in Maine. Public outcry proved, in the short term, to be in vain in Wisconsin and other governors press ahead in spite of the lack of popular support. If Michigan puts this law into effect what would stop other states from considering their own version of the Michigan solution?

Also published at PAGAN+Politics

iSenate copy of Michigan HB 4214, Sec. 15(1)

iiIbid Sec. 15(4)

iiiIbid Sec. 15(5d)

ivIbid Sec. 25(1)

vIbid Sec. 18(1)

viIbid Sec. 24

viiIbid Sec. 17(1)

viiiIbid Sec. 19(1b)

ixIbid Sec. 19(1r)

xIbid Sec. 19(1n)

xiIbid Sec. 18(1c)

xiiIbid Sec. 17(1)

xiiiIbid Sec. 17(2)

xivIbid Sec. 15(5e)

xvIbid Sec. 19(3)

xviIbid Sec. 23(1)

xviiIbid Sec. 19(1cc)

xviiiIbid Sec. 15(3)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Leben, Leiden und Asatrú

Link zum Artikel
übersetzt von Erin Banks

Unabhängig von Glaubenssystemen ist Leiden ein Problem, mit dem wir tagtäglich konfrontiert sind. Ob es nun persönlich ist oder das Leiden anderer, die Frage des „Warums“ ist eine universelle. Jedes System hat seine eigene Art, die Ursachen menschlichen Leidens zu erklären. In der vedischen Kosmologie ist das Karma, die Resultate des eigenen Handelns in diesem oder früheren Leben, der Grund hierfür. In den abrahamischen Religionen wird alles Leiden auf die ein oder andere Weise dem Willen Gottes zugeschrieben. Sogar die Präsenz einer widersacherischen Figur in diesen Systemen ist letztendlich Gottes Wille. Asatrú hat seine eigene Auffassung von menschlichem Leiden und den Herausforderungen des Lebens, die genauso einzigartig sind, wie jede andere. 
Um die Natur des Leidens im Asatrú zu verstehen, muß man zuerst die Fundamente germanisch-heidnischen Glaubens verstehen. In den germanischen Weisheitsüberlieferungen der Götter, haben diese – im Gegensatz zu den abrahamischen Traditionen – keine absolute Macht über das Universum. Die Asen und die Vanen sind nur zwei der mächtigen Stämme, die in den Gefilden des Weltenbaums leben. Die am mächtigsten, und den Göttern nächsten, sind die Riesen, im Altnordischen auch bekannt als Jötnar oder Jöten. Die Jöten sind die uralten Gegner der Götter. Ihre Rivalität und Konflikte mit den Göttern gehen auf den Mord Ymirs durch Odin, Vili and Ve zurück, wie es in der Völuspa geschrieben steht. Im Ragnarök werden sie die Hauptgegener der götter sein, welche durch Surt, den Feuerriesen, geführt werden. Trotz dieser langlebigen Rivalität der Götter und Riesen, respektieren sie die Heiligkeit der Gastfreundschaft und viele der Götter haben RiesInnen geheiratet und mir ihren riesischen EhegatInnen Kinder gezeugt. Spirituell gesehen sind sie verantwortlich für die schlimmsten Tragödien, welche die Menschheit befallen, wie bespielsweise Erdbeben, Hurrikanes, Hungersnöte und andere Naturkatastrophen. 
Am Fuße des Weltenbaums verweilen die mysteriösen Nornen. Die Nornen sind die einzigen im Universum, die alle Geheimnisse der Vergangenheit, der Gegenwart und der Zukunft kennen. Während sie selbst Jöten sind, sind sie doch auch eine unabhängige Gruppe für sich. So wie die Drei Schicksalsgöttinnen in den hellenistischen Weisheitsüberlieferungen haben die Nornen das letzte Wort bezüglich des Schicksals jedes einzelnen. Sie bewässern oder „gießen“ den Weltenbaum und kümmern sich um den Brunnen des Wyrd. Sie halten Distanz zu allen und allem und ihr die Gründe für ihr Einmischen in die Geschicke anderer kennen sie allein. 
Es gibt noch andere/s im Universum als die großen Mächte. Asatrú ist recht animistisch in seinem Verständnis der natürlichen Welt. Eine Vielzahl an Elfen, Naturgeistern, Zwergen und Geschöpfen sind heimisch in Midgard. In führeren Tagen waren diese Land- oder Naturgeister die Hauptempfänger von Gaben vorchristlicher geramnischer Stämme. Diese Geister haben weniger Macht, jedoch mehr Auswirkungen im alltäglichen Leben. Ähnlich dieser Geister sind die Thursen besser bekannt als die Trolle. Diese sind auf Menschen bezogen bösartige Geister. Wie andere animistische Geister sind die Vaetten (Natur- und Landgeister) und Thursen den Naturgewalten zugehörig und bewohnen Midgard.
Zusammen mit dem Wyrd und dem persönlichen Orlog ist die germanische Kosmologie recht bewegt. Die Götter sind die mächtigsten Wesen sofern es die Menschheit betrifft, doch die Vaetten und Thursen dürfen nicht unterschätzt werden. Die Kosmologie des Asatrú ist eine mit sehr aktiven Kräften, große und kleine beeinflussen das tägliche Leben. Wie sie auf das Leben jedes einzelnen Einfluß nehmen, kommt darauf an, wer sich wie verhält. Es stellt auch nicht die Menschheit von ihrem Handeln frei. In keiner der überlieferten Weisheiten werden Individuen oder Gruppen von ihrem Handeln freigestellt. Jeder einzelne ist seine Taten. Menschliches Handeln treibt das Handeln der Gruppe in vieler der späteren Heldenepen mit ihren Streitereien, Kämpfen bezüglich Erbschaften und Landfragen in Krieg und Schlachten. Wenn man eine Welt hat, die so geschäftig und komplex ist wie diese, ist es nicht schwierig zu erkennen, warum es Leiden in der Welt gibt. Mit derartig vielen Mächten und Persönlichkeiten, die von göttlichen oder riesischen Taten zum Handeln anderer Menschen reichen, kann eine ganze Anzahl von Dingen passieren, gute und schlechte. 
Dies soll nicht bedeuten, daß das Universum ein kalter, gleichgültiger Ort ist, an dem die Menschheit von der Gnade größerer Mächte abhängig ist. Die Götter, Thor im besonderen, bekämpfen die Riesen, um sie aus Midgard fernzuhalten. Es gibt vielfältige Möglichkeiten, auf welche Art und Weise Menschen kämpfen können, die Mächte Midgards sogar verzaubern oder bestechen können, so wie Eisen oder einen Thorshammer zu benutzen, um Thursen fernzuhalten. Im germanisch-heidnischen Verständnis des Lebens gibt es viele Arten, wie das Schicksal zuschlagen kann. Ironischerweise für eine Welt mit derartig viel Kuddelmuddel ist die Antwort auf die Frage nach Leiden wunderbar in seiner Einfachheit: Stelle Dich dem Problem und löse es. Unabhängig davon, ob es Arbeitslosigkeit, ein Hurrikane oder Ungerechtigkeit ist, zeigt die überlieferte Weisheit stetig wie sich Helden und Götter den Ursachen ihrer Probleme stellen. Thor kämpft regelmäßig mit den Riesen, um sie aus Asgard und Midgard fernzuhalten. Beowulf flüchtete nicht vor den Monstern, die ihn plagten und sogar im hohen Alter noch zögerte er nicht, den Drachen zu besiegen, der Götland heimsuchte. Die Taten unserer Vorfahren sind sich alle gleich. In der Kühnheit Hermann des Cheruskers (auch bekannt als Arminius), der die drei großen römischen Legionen besiegt, Leif Eriksons Entdeckungsfahrt nach Neufundland und den Kriegen gegen das römische Reich in der vorchristlichen Zeit, wichen die Germanen niemals vor Schwierigkeiten davon. Dies taten sie allerdings nicht immer durch kämpferische Kraft. Genauso wie Sigurd den Witz besaß, Fafnir eine Falle zu stellen und Odin sich seinen Weg zum Dichtermet zauberte, liegt ein direkter Ansatz zur Problemlösung nicht immer im körperlichen Kampf, Angriff oder dadurch, das offensichtliche zu tun. Götter, Helden und Menschen vermeiden den Kampf nicht und halten die andere Wange hin; sie stellen sich allem direkt und pragmatisch, egal, worum es sich handelt.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life, Suffering, and Asatru

Available in German, translated by Erin Banks
Regardless of belief system suffering is an issue we all face every day. Whether it is personal or the suffering of other people the question of why is a universal one. Every system has its own way of explaining the cause of human suffering. In the Vedic cosmology karma, the results of deeds in this or a previous life, are the cause of human suffering. In the Abrahamic religions all suffering is attributed in one way or another to the Will of God. Even the presence of an adversarial figure in these systems is ultimately God's Will. Asatru has its own take on human suffering and life's challenges as unique as any other.

To understand the nature of suffering in Asatru one must first understand the basics of Heathen cosmology. In Germanic lore the Gods, unlike the Abrahamic traditions, do not hold absolute power over the universe. The Aesir and the Vanir are only two of the tribes of mighty beings that live on the realms of the World Tree. The most powerful and nearest to the Gods in stature are the Giants, known in Old Norse as the Jotuun. The Jotuun are the age-old adversaries of the Gods. Their rivalry and conflicts go as far back as the slaying of Ymir by Odin, Vili, and Ve as described in the Voluspo. At Ragnarok they will be the principal opponents of the Gods with the Fire-Giant Surtr leading the charge. In spite of the long-standing rivalry the Gods and Giants mutually respect the sanctity of hospitality and many of the Gods have married and had children with their Giant spouses. Spiritually they are responsible for the worst tragedies to befall humans such as earthquakes, hurricanes, famine, and other natural disasters .

Dwelling at the roots of Yggdrasil are the mysterious Norns. The Norns are the only ones in the universe who know all the secrets of the past, present, and future. While They are Jotuun themselves the Norns are a group apart. Like the Three Fates in Hellenic lore the Norns are the final say on anything's doom. They water the World Tree and tend to the Well of the Wyrd. They remain distant only involving Themselves in the affairs of others for reasons known only to Them.

There are more in the universe than just the mighty powers. Asatru is very animistic in its understanding of the natural world. A myriad of alfar, landsvaettir, dwarves, wights, and other powers walk in Midgard. In the old days these land spirits were the most common recipients of offerings by the pre-Christian Germanic tribes. These spirits have less might but more immediate impact in day to day life. Similar to these spirits are the thurses more commonly known as trolls. These are malevolent spirits as far as humans are concerned. Like other animistic spirits the vaettir the thurses are usually associated with nature and make their homes in Midgard.

Along with the Wyrd and one's personal Orlog you have a lot going on in Germanic cosmology. The Gods are the most powerful as far as humanity are concerned but the vaettir and thurses are nothing to sneer at. Asatru's cosmology is one that is very active with the powers great and small influencing daily life. How they influence daily life depends on who is doing what. This does not exempt humanity's actions as a cause. In none of the lore are individuals or groups ever absolved of responsibility for their actions. One's deeds are one's own. Human action drives the action of many of the later heroic sagas with feuds, struggle over inheritance, and land disputes leading to war and strife. When you have a world as busy and complex as this it's not hard to see why there is hardship in the world. With so many forces and personalities ranging from Godly or Gigantic action to the deeds of other people any number of things can happen for good or ill.

This is not to say the universe is a cold, uncaring place where humanity is at the mercy of greater powers. The Gods, particularly Thor, fight the Giants to keep them out of Midgard. There are many ways humans can fight, charm, or bribe the powers of Midgard such as using iron or a Thor's hammer to repel thurses. In the Heathen understanding of life there are many ways tragedy can strike. Ironically enough for a world with so much going on the Heathen answer to the question of struggle is beautiful in its simplicity: confront and solve the problem. Regardless of whether it is unemployment, a hurricane, or injustice the lore consistently shows heroes and Gods confronting the sources of their problems. Thor regularly does battle with Giants to keep them away from Asgard and Midgard. Beowulf did not shy away from the monsters he faced, even in old age he does not hesitate to face the dragon rampaging in Geatland. The actions of our ancestors are very much the same. In the boldness of Hermann of the Chercusci destroying three Roman legions, Leif Erikson's expedition to Newfoundland, and the wars with the Roman Empire the pre-Christian Germanics did not shy away from struggle. That said they did not always do so by force. Just as Sigurd had the good sense to ambush Fafnir from a trench and Odin charmed His way to the mead of poetry a direct approach does not always mean using force or doing the obvious. Gods, heroes and humans do not avoid struggle or turn the other cheek; they face it directly and pragmatically no matter what the cause.