Friday, June 27, 2008

The Poor In The US Are Sick And Dying: Happy?

The Gini coefficient measures the distribution of income on a scale from zero (where income is perfectly equally distributed among all members of a society) to one (where all the income goes to a single person).

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also
leaks through the holes
in the roof
of this ruined house.


Getting rid of things and clinging to emptiness is an illness of the same kind. It is just like throwing oneself into a fire to avoid being drowned.


Yet do the lazy Snailes no less
The greatnesse of our Lord confesse.

---John Hall

Yesterday at noon I attended a support meeting that I like to go to when school isn't in session. It lasts an hour, is attended by a few regulars, and consists of sitting in silence---unless someone wants to share how the day is going. When that happens we're not supposed to comment back particularly, or offer judgment. It's just practice in offering up something about oneself honestly and simply. On this day, however, (and this happens sometimes) a young, strong-looking woman no one had seen before jumped in immediately. She had been clinging to the man she identified as her partner, rubbing him and caressing him. He was silent but obviously concerned she was coming apart. Her voice and the rest of her trembled uncontrollably as she told why she was there. She said they were not from here, but had traveled the hour and a half down from Columbus, to move in with her grandmother. They had lost their jobs and home, and had a newborn. Grandmother had taken one look at her, called Social Services, taken custody of the baby, and thrown them both out by court order. The girl had been off crack for 3 days, but---and here she began to cry---she knew no other way to deal with a hopeless situation except to drug, she'd relapsed before, and now she was here in this room, with us.

Any reader who has worked or volunteered in a religious institution or social agency of any kind, I'm sure, has had a situation like this land in your lap. Maybe you've been stung before when you offered food or cash. If you've referred the person somewhere else, you probably never did learn how it turned out. Maybe you're in a group, like the one I go to, where you actually get to see the person again and again, and possibly watch the miracle of a recovery occur---or not. Please forgive me if I insulted any reader with the title, which indicates more and more poor people in the United States are becoming sick, that this is one way of taking care of the "surplus population," and maybe that's OK with you. Maybe you don't know what else to do. Maybe you don't want to hear about it. Or think about it. Then surf on, reader, and be well---because a new article on the subject is out, and we need to go into it.

I was set up to read it, which is in the new issue of Harvard Magazine, by another article my good online friend Astrid sent me from yesterday's UK Guardian. The Guardian is another example of world press providing Americans with news we don't get to read over here anymore. This story was written by a correspondent in Los Angeles, about the increasing number of people who now live in their cars. There are so many of them now that a homeless agency in Santa Barbara has launched a "safe parking" service, so that people aren't hit with fines for trying to sleep in the streets. Many are middle class professionals who have been destroyed by foreclosure, and perhaps job loss too, stuff in storage, and maybe nothing left but a car. LA officials estimate they have 73,000 homeless, and a recent poll of 3000 of them revealed 250 are living in cars. How many of us could be in the same situation within a month, if such tragedy befell? From middle class to poor---who increasingly are sick and dying?

So what about this "increasing" thing? Is it so, and what is it about? That's where the Harvard article comes in, and if you have similar concerns I think you'll find it valuable~~~

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


If the "black box" flight recorder is never damaged during a plane crash, why isn't the whole damn airplane made out of that stuff?
Whose cruel idea was it for the word "Lisp" to have a "S" in it?
How is it possible to have a civil war?
---only 3 of the unanswered questions of George Carlin (1937-2008)
I saw him in person only once, but it's embarrassing to relate. It was in the mid-60s and he just was starting the kind of stand-up that eventually would develop into rants on a philosophical level. I don't know if it was in Boston or New York, but he was the warm-up for some other act---and I don't remember who that was. But I remember George. His microphone was loud and had reverb on it, like disc jockeys were starting to use---and he had been one himself, so he could do this DJ voice thing really good. He already had elements of words you can't say, and I remember him shooting them off at the end. I don't think there were all 7 yet, but it was so reminiscent of Lenny Bruce that I thought he must be imitating and wouldn't amount to much. Well, it turns out what he was doing was perfecting.
Bruce and Carlin (and we shouldn't forget Lord Buckley) still were called comedians, but they created their own stuff rather than employ joke writers whose work they'd memorize and deliver. That was hard enough to do and we still love that kind of comedy. How could Henny Youngman remember all those one-liners? George Carlin could have been one of those guys. He was great at making funny faces for instance. But it wasn't enough for him...and I'm not sure humorist really captures what these people do either. He made us ponder things...and now that the show is over, and there'll be no more "Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?", maybe we'll have to come up with some answers.
Here's John Nichols' tribute at The Nation~~~
George Carlin: American Radical posted by John Nichols on 06/23/2008 @ 10:29am
I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately. -- George Carlin where there are hyperlinks in the article and comments follow

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Piece Of The Pie

A monumental undulating steel wall by Richard Serra will be the first thing you see when you step inside the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Renzo Piano's three-story building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Dead, our white bones lie silent
when pine trees lean toward spring.
Remembering, I sigh. Looking ahead,
I sigh once more.
This life is a mist. What fame?
What glory?
---Li Po
But, but, but...The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation, the American Freedom Coalition and the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (among others) have been spending considerable time and energy explaining that all is well with the world and that things could get even better if we would only come to our senses and get government off the backs of corporations...
Government is harmful and corporations and corporate libertarianism are a boundless good. I mean, ask DuPont, Chevron, Mobil, Monsanto, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, General Electric, General Dynamics, Philip Morris, Chemical Bank, Texaco, Westinghouse, the Western Coal Council and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
---comment yesterday evening by Anonymous
So what does this kind of "individualism" mean? Freedom from government? Okay, then does that mean we don’t want any of the services only government can provide? Such as good roads, schools, parks, public safety, clean air and water, oversight, restaurant and food inspections, fire and police services, health care, etc.?
I guess once all these “intrusive” government services (which steal our freedoms) are gone we can finally begin to enjoy the blessings of true freedom. Remember: “tax dollars don’t belong to big government, they belong to you.” Oh yeah? Then who is government if not us, a reflection of who we are? Even if bought up by every corporate interest with a lobbyist we still choose our reps. Select them.
---comment yesterday by Paul Quintanilla
I have a colleague at work who talks all the time about his piece of the pie. He's also semi-retired, a few years my junior, which placed him in Viet Nam as a Marine. Nearly every day he boasts he's a conservative, and often identifies me, in front of faculty and students, as his "favorite liberal." He means it mockingly though, and is not known as someone who listens patiently to someone's argument against what he believes. He comes from coalmining stock around here, learned to work hard as a boy, took tough discipline knocks, and found out what he thinks is important in life his own way. He attends an evangelical church and doesn't like uppity women---and let's 'em know it. He didn't think America was "ready" for a woman president. I've never heard him mention the name Barack Obama.
I'm not sure what he means exactly by his piece of the pie. I don't think it's limited just to stuff he can buy with his hard-earned dollars. But that's a lot of it. He hates taxes that limit his spending because the money seems to go to lazy, no-good people through the hands of corrupt bureaucrats. He follows the boss' orders (unless he can avoid it by laying low) but generally doesn't tolerate being told what to do. He often mentions his distaste for anti-littering campaigns---but chastises students more than anyone else if they toss something onto the ground. He's a pretty average joe I guess, especially in his own eyes.
I used to indulge him in the past more than I do now. I think he's gotten the point, over the last year especially, that I won't good-naturedly laugh off his jagged barbs anymore, but now come back in kind. He's not sure what to do with that, since I'm not sure he learned anywhere that there are good things to come from open discussion. He prefers a chain of command I think, where rank largely has been earned through demonstrable accomplishment. Corporations have been filled with men like this in the United States...but as to whether women approve of this approach---well, that would be a different article. This is about that piece of the pie, whether such a pie really exists, and what you really need to do to be part of it.
I imagine I probably was conceived around the Fourth of July holiday in 1939. My parents had been married for 3 years, and I guess they must have planned to wait that long. It's one of those things people of my generation maybe never thought to ask about while Mom and Dad still were alive. I never heard they had trouble creating children. My sister was chosen from out of Eternity sometime around Thanksgiving of 1945. It seems they waited until the War was over, and possibly more sound economic footing. My family was practical that way, and made do with very little money. My mother had training as a registered nurse, but never used it professionally after we kids were born. So probably my birth in March 1940 was set up because they had enough money, rather than whether we were about to plunge into war. I don't know, but I'm glad I came when I did, that I had a chance to experience that wartime, and that I'm not a Boomer.
The changes I've seen in this life of course have been extraordinary. No need to list all that: there still are enough of us duffers around to go through them with you. But what I have seen and been a part of has been a huge change in education. I taught both social studies (which meant Western history and government then) and English. When I started teaching in 1963, no one diagrammed sentences on the blackboard anymore. Creative writing was starting up. Within 10 years I had repented my flirtation with open classrooms and all that, and gone back to sentence structure and grammar. And spelling! I guess it was too late. I get memos from superintendents and principals now---and English teachers---with errors they shrug off if confronted. Doesn't matter to them---even though I know a badly worded memo on the production line can cost a company millions.
In social studies I liked to teach actual documents of history but maybe I sacrificed dates and timelines. I worked contemporary problems of our society into my courses, and encouraged debate about solutions. I tried not to push an agenda in any classroom, but not hide behind a devil's advocacy either or some kind of anonymity. I always have felt citizenship is what we're in school to learn. We need to be able to read, so we can learn from the free press and take stands on pending legislation. We need to know how our government works and to insist on its legitimacy. We must discuss issues openly with neighbors and the community, and be tolerant. I believe these aspects of life are basic to civilization itself, especially this one we've tried to operate in the United States.
Lately I've been harping increasingly about a loss of focus on these responsibilities of citizenship. I've written on the Internet and said often to those around me that I feel the American citizen has been replaced by the consumer. I hated that word "consumer" from the first time I heard it to describe people---maybe some 40 years ago? I only could think of this huge mouth whining for more and more to go into it. The consumer definitely takes stuff in...with decreasing interest in what he's supposed to put out. We go to work, but are we still filled with the same spirit of dedication we had in the 1940s---or anything like it? What has changed?
I'm seeing more and more people talk about what sort of process led us into consumerism, and whether in fact such a condition of capitalist and even patriotic devotion interferes with citizenship. Some suspect a conspiratorial plot has existed for a long time to dumb-down the populace. As an educator of 45 years, I have some pretty definite opinions about that. So I was greatly heartened to see this article in the Spring edition of World Affairs Journal. The author fears Americans are giving up their sovereignty as a people...and, my friends (as McCain would say), that's as serious as it gets! I plan to get better acquainted with this political thinker, whose name is Benjamin R. Barber~~~

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flag Day

Truckers burn their vehicles in fuel strike in Europe.

You see what power is -- holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them!

---Amy Tan

Over the old wooden bridge
no traveler

---Henry David Thoreau

In studying the Way, realizing it is hard;
once you have realized it, preserving it is hard.
When you can preserve it, putting it into practice is hard.

---Zen saying

On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and in 1916 Woodrow Wilson proclaimed we should do it every year...and so that's the story of that. Today it follows Friday the 13th...and have you read the news today, oh boy! Where to begin?

I think I'd like to mention my concern for my sister-in-law Kirsten, who has lived for many years with her family near Iowa City. I did not hear yesterday whether or not there had been phone contact with them, but if not it wouldn't be the first time they've hefted a sandbag or 2---or perhaps they were among the university folk carrying the library's special book collection to higher ground upstairs. While the Cedar River is beginning to recede, the Iowa River won't crest until Tuesday. They're calling this a Five Hundred Year Flood in Iowa City, but I heard an Iowan on the radio yesterday say, "We getting a new Hundred Year Flood every year here now." People are dead in Cedar Rapids, and thousands have fled their homes, many of which have washed away. A railroad bridge across the Cedar River collapsed from the flood, and bridges throughout the state are closed. This is not the first bridge in this country's infrastructure to go down because there's no money for upgrades. Iowa's governor declared 83 of their 99 counties disaster areas. Governor Culver said yesterday the estimate of damage to Iowa's agriculture economy so far this summer is over a billion dollars. Combine this with the flood damage in Illinois and Indiana, and how is your garden coming along?

Is this weather ----and come to think of it, this still officially is Springtime in the US---actually the climate? People still don't talk about the Warming or the Change much here. We were near Toronto a couple years ago when a tornado blew through their downtown. The next day the Canadian version of the Weather Channel began giving hourly seminars on global warming, what it's about, and how it works. Down here at that time the Weather Channel never had mentioned the phrase. I'm still shocked to pick up something like The New York Times this morning and read through the headlines in boredom. But go to the UK and what do you see? Read the Guardian on Thursday, and get hit with this~~~
"Climate chaos is inevitable. We can only avert oblivion
At best we will limit the extent of global warming, but Kyoto barely helps. Does humanity have the foresight to save itself?
Mark Lynas
The Guardian,
Thursday June 12 2008
Sometimes we need to think the unthinkable, particularly when dealing with a problem as dangerous as climate change - there is no room for dogma when considering the future habitability of our planet. It was in this spirit that I and a panel of other specialists in climate, economics and policy-making met under the aegis of the Stockholm Network thinktank to map out future scenarios for how international policy might evolve - and what the eventual impact might be on the earth's climate. We came up with three alternative visions of the future, and asked experts at the Met Office Hadley Centre to run them through its climate models to give each a projected temperature rise. The results were both surprising, and profoundly disturbing."
· Mark Lynas is the author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
Or how about this item in yesterday's Guardian? Can anyone imagine something like this happening in West Virginia coal country?
"Climate change campaigners have hijacked a train carrying coal to Britain's biggest power station, swarming on to the roof of its 20 huge trucks.
The 40 protesters stopped the regular delivery service to Drax in Yorkshire disguised as railway workers in yellow warning jackets and waving red flags, having read up on standard railway safety rules.
The ambush took place at an iron girder bridge over the river Aire between the villages of Gowdall and Hirst Courteney at 8am BST. One group then used the bridge girders and climbing equipment to scale the 12ft high trucks.
They hoisted a huge banner reading 'Leave it in the ground' – referring to the coal destined for the power station's furnaces. The protesters carried food, water and even a portable lavatory with the intention of being able to remain on board for several days."
Move over to the UK's Independent Thursday, and we have Michael Savage's on-the-derrick account of the End of the Age of Oil. Wait a minute, this is not the ugly Yankee shock jock who loves to yuck it up about gays, other races, and Edward Kennedy's cancer. This is a young guy who still was a student in 2006, and joined The Independent's staff last year. Here he goes, out into the North Sea for the story~~~
"Fade to black: Is this the end of oil?
For generations, we've taken it for granted. But as prices soar and reserves dwindle, the time is fast approaching when mankind will have to live without oil. Are we ready to confront some really inconvenient truths? Michael Savage reports from the North Sea
Thursday, 12 June 2008
Aberdeen heliport is heaving. Dozens of rig men are waiting to board helicopters and begin a two-week stint in the middle of the North Sea. It appears that business out on the rigs, known simply as 'the job' in these parts, is booming. Eventually, it's our turn to board a cramped chopper, shoulder to shoulder with the solidly built workers who sit silently, psyching themselves up for a fortnight surrounded by cold, crashing waves.
Two hours later, we land at a rusting rig named Alwyn, 440 kilometres off the coast of Aberdeen. Ollie Bradshaw, the rig's burly production supervisor, meets the new arrivals."
Fortunately not everything in the American media mainstream is business as usual. Paul Krugman yesterday shook up the NY Times with a column that even mentioned the forbidden and dreaded word "socialism!"
"Bad Cow Disease
Published: June 13, 2008
'Mary had a little lamb / And when she saw it sicken / She shipped it off to Packingtown / And now it’s labeled chicken.'
That little ditty famously summarized the message of 'The Jungle,' Upton Sinclair’s 1906 exposé of conditions in America’s meat-packing industry. Sinclair’s muckraking helped Theodore Roosevelt pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act — and for most of the next century, Americans trusted government inspectors to keep their food safe.
Lately, however, there always seems to be at least one food-safety crisis in the headlines — tainted spinach, poisonous peanut butter and, currently, the attack of the killer tomatoes. The declining credibility of U.S. food regulation has even led to a foreign-policy crisis: there have been mass demonstrations in South Korea protesting the pro-American prime minister’s decision to allow imports of U.S. beef, banned after mad cow disease was detected in 2003.
How did America find itself back in The Jungle?
It started with ideology. Hard-core American conservatives have long idealized the Gilded Age, regarding everything that followed — not just the New Deal, but even the Progressive Era — as a great diversion from the true path of capitalism."
So how's the Kucinich impeachment legislation moving along? Did the press even cover it? Here's a guy at who decided to call up John Conyers and not only ask him why nothing ever seems to come out of that Judiciary Committee---but to accuse him actually of having blood on his hands too! Obviously Representative Conyers was shocked at this, but the rest of the phone call may interest you.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What To Do In The Belly Of The Beast

We're not a democracy. It's a terrible misunderstanding and a slander to the idea of democracy to call us that. In reality, we're a plutocracy: a government by the wealthy.

---Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

---Thomas Jefferson

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

---Abraham Lincoln

The photo, taken by Allison Zarcaro Walker last Saturday, is of the marriage of 2 families, the Carlsons and the Thomases.

Today happens to be the birthday of both Adam Smith, born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland (1723), and John Maynard Keynes, born in Cambridge, England (1883). These 2 pillars of the form of economics called Capitalism are for many in the United States the real Founding Fathers of our country. Smith said that market forces serve the public good, and that government regulation, for the most part, does not. Keynes wrote a book during the Great Depression that argued governments can put people back to work by spending lots of money, even if it means running a deficit. FDR tried it. Since Reagan, certainly continuing with the Bushes, and promised renewal by McCain, our country has received its direction from corporate boardrooms more than the Congress.

Somehow this seems the perfect day to reply to a very important email I received last month. It has been high in my priorities on this machine to do so, but the passion with which it was written needs to be matched by me...and that has taken some time to fuel up. The letter is from a friend and colleague at the school where we both work. I would love to identify him specifically, and maybe I will later if he gives me the high sign to do so. But I want to write this now and so I shall be vague. Besides his academic duties, this man coaches sports. Athletics is extremely important to him, almost as important as his family, living a healthy life and being as self-sufficient as possible. I've known him for 10 years, and I have to say that when it comes to my work with multi-handicapped kids I often turn to him, rather than psychologists and medical people, for an opinion on what challenges the student has to deal with. He can have a kid stand on one foot and tell me what processing is going on. So I trust him and we agree on a lot of stuff---though maybe not on whether theater or sports should get more funding.

Anyway, he replied to something I sent out about the environment and climate change. He said that increasingly his work, the chores at home, the plans for the future, all pale when he looks around at what humans have done, and continue to do, to this planet. He says a change in lifestyle is what's necessary, and few people I know are more serious about it. It's amazing to see someone make that change when they set about to do it. It's a huge commitment, and it might even mean moving somewhere else. People are starting to do that. But he knows he can't do it alone, and he looks to friends and family for support and cooperation. It's not always there. Other people we both see are not doing anything apparently. Many become hostile at the mere mention of the problems we see. They don't want to hear about it. It's not a topic for social discussion in a school.

He's a believer in school spirit, dedicated to and patriotic about the United States. He says, "I, too, feel a sense of 'change is a coming' and I aspire to be ahead of the curve when it comes. It is amazing to me how more people are not standing at the top of the mountain with lungs full of air ready to shout 'its time to act NOW!!!' Where is the leadership in this country? Of course we know where the lack thereof is. I think alot of people are waiting for the change in the WhiteHouse and are looking for someone of National Significance to get the ball rolling, to start making the sacrifices necessary to 'right the Ship'. I keep hope that it is not to late and that the 'American Engine' can lead the way again, but we need to shake this country to its foundation to do so, and the system seems very clogged with 'walk the liners and all will be O.K.'".

The series of storms we've had this week in Southeast Ohio may be something of a wakeup call even for the most hardened among us. People compare the tornadoes to ones we've had before, but no one ever has experienced 5 hours straight of ceaseless lightning and thunder. Skies never have looked more threatening around here...and yesterday in school there was a hush and little nervous laughter when we had the tornado drill. An hour later an announcement came for students not to leave their classrooms because of what was going on outside the building. During this entire year, administrators have had to figure out new guidelines regarding "calamity days," what they are and what to do.

The more conservative Americans feel that through hard work and heroic service you earn your piece of the pie. Once you have that piece you resent any interference from the "outside" that tells you change is necessary. You don't want to be told you can't throw your gum wrapper out the car window anymore, that the way you live may be bad, harmful, wrong. It goes against the grain. And yet, and yet...where did this attitude come from? What happened to the American who wants to help others? To give to a public cause and not just private charity? Was it Viet Nam that split us as a nation, totally and forever?

My friend, to whom this open reply is addressed, hopes this election season will be a rich time of renewal for our country. Whether we lead or control the world or not is not as important as who we really are. We have the chance this summer to review that---and in fact if the weather keeps this wakeup call going, we're not going to be able to avoid it. In the meantime, I enjoyed this poem this morning about what to do if you've been swallowed by a whale. Memories of Disney's Pinocchio came to me as I read it...but for those who wish to continue life-as-usual through it all, here's some good advice~~~

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whaleby Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fireswith the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each wayfor the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Revieweach of your life's ten million choices. Endure momentsof self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the soundof gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of allthe things you did and could have done. Remembertreading water in the center of the still night sea, your toespointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale" by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.