Sunday, May 31, 2015

POOR SHAMING?


I have been seeing occasional posts on Liberal sites about "poor shaming". These articles seek to shame those who place restriction on welfare benefits for the poor. They see fiscal conservatism in this area as "poor shaming". The fact is that middle class Americans have been raped by big business and are struggling to maintain their comfy lifestyles of travel, entertainment and college for all their kids.
 
Kicking the poor to the curb is easier than giving the boss the finger and going out on strike for higher wages and better benefits. Kicking the poor to the curb is easier than demonstrating in the face of a militarized police force. Middle class Americans are not used to those risks. They prefer to babble on about the risk of being an entrepreneur. You know, like being a housewife who does video porn on the side.
 
On the other side of "poor shaming" are the generational poor, who have devised a means to survive within their own definition of comfort. Work avoidance, subsidized housing, having children for government child payments, lottery tickets, lots of fast food and beer. The food pantry industry would have you believe that the streets of urban America are lined with emaciated wretches with begging bowls. This is not what I see in my slice of urban America. I see grossly obese women with piled food carts, filled with corporate processed foods and red meat. They are paying for their food with government EBT cards, which I help pay for with taxes. They don't look the least bit ashamed.
 
Rather than focusing on the money, an American nearsightedness, politicians might focus on the causes of poverty. Addressing the causes may actually save their constituents more money than counting every penny that is doled out in the status quo. How about subsidizing poor girls from childhood who are willing to forego pregnancy until they have achieved a master's degree? Why not? Free charter school, free college, free grad school. Fast track acceptance, based on performance to state-funded institutions of learning. Throw in a living-expense subsidy to boot. Get them out of the ghetto and into a learning atmosphere on a college campus.
 
The same could be done for rehabilitated childless felons from poor backgrounds. The one condition being the recipients' contractual agreement to restrain from procreation until they have achieved a degree or vocational training and related job. Let's fill our public colleges and universities with the brightest young people from the poorest backgrounds.

Since the middle class has little respect for government and seems content with their state of decline, let them figure out how to get their children educated without government assistance. Meanwhile, we could educate generations of formerly poor Americans who can then produce self-sufficient families with the benefits of learning and maturity.
 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

RELIGION, NOT AN ANSWER


BBC, a worldwide news source, has taken lately to religiosity. Each PR blast from the Vatican, for example, is covered with sober absorption and comments on its profundity.This is a disturbing trend in global journalism. Obsession with the superstitions, prejudices and violent insanity of religions without question is not skeptical journalism. It is a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.

Today's treat, the ravings of an Italian carpenter who sees mysticism in the driftwood of wrecked migrant boats, is up there with Southern Americans who see Jesus in their pancakes. The difference is that the interviewer speaks with a dim reverence which is stunningly disingenuous. There is no questioning the carpenter on what he is really about. How is he maintaining himself without working as a carpenter? Are his crosses, made from shipwreck wood, a new business model? Perhaps he always wanted to be a folk artist?

I wonder if the middle classes of the world really believe that divine intervention will save them from the inevitable consequences of overpopulation, environmental decline and predatory capitalism. I know the poor do. That is why they are the easiest prey for telecast preachers. How has that been working for them lately in Ferguson, in Mexico, in Baghdad, in Syria, in Nepal, in Myanmar?   

Thursday, May 28, 2015

SPORTS

His Majesty Sepp Blatter, FIFA President.

The current FIFA scandal is just the tip of the cancer of professional sports. While I do not doubt that a friendly team game among children is a good training tool, I think adults pulverizing one another for money are nothing more than modern gladiators, a mass distraction. Gambling fuels most professional sports and the sports fuel gambling. That gambling is the province of organized crime.
 
Universities in the U.S. have become craven addicts to sports money. The money drawn from student loans is not enough to build five-star campuses. Big sporting profiles are used to garner alumni support, corporate sponsorship and media contracts. The vehement opposition to paying college athletes by universities belied their financial exploitation of sports for profits. College athletes who cannot read or spell do not present sterling role models to children.
 
Heterosexual male identity has traditionally been tied to organized sports. Bullying of homosexual boys by homophobic fathers and peers often begins when a boy refuses to participate in team sports. My own father, who had played professional minor-league basketball, pushed me to join sports teams to no avail. He was clear about his deep disappointment in my passive resistance to his pushing. It took a quiet word from two sports coaches to get him to stop.
 
The sports-promotion industry has brainwashed heterosexual males into equating sports with male bonding. Sports allow men to be together physically. They help many men to sublimate whatever male-male sexual feelings they may experience. They give many ostensibly heterosexual men a place of refuge from women and children in their lives. Sports events and gatherings are also places which encourage alcohol consumption. The alcohol industry has a great deal invested in promoting organized sports.
 
The wealthy 1% buy and sell professional sports teams for fun and profit. This alone should point to the corruption in professional sports. Sports, like the Roman games, are a mass distraction to milk and control the underclasses.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CRAZY AND VIOLENT



 
What do you do? You're on a subway train and two men start fighting without regard for the safety of you and other passengers. These four Swedish tourists, who happen to be police officers, subdued two men and held them for NYC transit police. If this was viewed out of context...four large White men holding down one Black man and calming another...there could be looting, burning and general mayhem as an overreaction by those who feel disenfranchised. However, those same rioters would probably be the last people on a train to unselfishly calm a situation like this.
 
What do we really see? We see four young men from an educated social democracy with a firm national identity based in centuries of evolving culture. We see four policemen who speak English perfectly, despite its dissimilarity to their native tongue. We hear a crazy man on the floor who tries to get released by feigning injury one moment and struggling the next. We see another combatant who seems appreciative of the intervention. Finally, we see harsh NYC transit police ordering people off the train in voices which contrast greatly with the voices of the Swedish policemen. 
 
Intervening to subdue demented violence, something I did professionally for nearly a decade, requires engagement, training, self-confidence and physical strength. These are not qualities I see readily displayed by our local American police. I see anger, entitlement, obesity and blunt disregard with few exceptions. Looking at this footage says volumes about how our society is missing the mark and falling behind. It is isn't all about race.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

INSIDE JOB


The mass media of my upbringing (1950s-1960s) was dominated by men who had come up from working class and lower middle class upbringings (1930s-1940s). They had lived the Great Depression and had lived through World War II. Men like Walter Cronkite spoke from personal experience of capitalist failure and violent madness which ripped across much of the planet.
 
Today's media are nepotistic country clubs of privileged children of the new aristocracy. Hollywood and New York are epicenters of these media and the breeding ground for the new privileged generation of producers, directors and actor-presenters. It is the 'it's all good' crowd for the most part.
 
This explains why mass media drip with insincere Liberalism while touting corporate capitalism, the source of much of the misery they decry. Media are not the only privileged places at the top of society in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. The money industry has long been a hive of privileged social networks. Hip tech companies are led by people touched by the Ivy League brush. Entrepreneur is a labelled applied to someone who makes the relatively short leap from the bourgeoisie to the aristocracy through connections.
 
Our society, displaying a resurgence of the domination of the very rich over 90% of the population, is being pilfered by that small minority. It is an inside job. Politicians are selling the country to these people. Media is covering it up as much as possible by producing fear through very selective coverage of the rest of the world. They are in the business of making us afraid of terrorists and each other, while lulling us into complacency toward the sources of terror, orthodox religions in places like the U.S., Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and Iran. Religion allies with wealth because religion lives parasitically off wealth.
 
Eventually the rest of the 90% will wake up to the harsh realities being addressed by all-too-awake Black Americans and other disenfranchised minorities. However, I fear this will come too late to effectively overturn the plunder which the top 10% are already getting away with. As we have seen in Detroit, Baltimore and other cities on the verge of revolution, the retaliation of the wealthy through corrupted government can lead to even deeper human misery.

Monday, May 25, 2015

DISTRACTION


Contemporary Americans are addicted to distraction. Electronic media are largely responsible. With the distraction of electronic media comes dependence upon it. With the distraction of electronic media, comes a distancing from reality. With the distraction of electronic media, can come a loss of practical manual and personal skills.
 
I have found it takes making the same recipe at least a dozen times over a relatively short period to get a predictable quality. I have gone years without baking a loaf of bread after becoming quite good at it. When I try to bake a loaf after that pause, it does not come out as well as I would like. It takes several loaves to get back at it in a predictably successful way.
 
If I spend my leisure hours distracted by electronic media, I am not practicing those behaviors which do not entail using electronic media. I am not maintaining other skills. I am not making things. I am not relating in real time with real people about real life.
 
I live a rather monotonous life. Most of my contemporaries would find my life boring. Some have not hesitated to indicate this. My physician regularly asks the same question on my quarterly visits. "Do you have any trips planned?" I always laugh when I reply "No, do you?" I have neither the health nor inclination to ride around a foreign country with a busload of bourgeois seniors, armed with baby pictures of their grandchildren.
 
I do not want to be distracted from the realities of my life. I want to be immersed in my daily life as it is. I want to understand myself, my environment and my companions. I have little time ahead to learn a great deal about life. Perhaps, if others spent less time being distracted and more time being wholly engaged in life's realities, the world would be a more peaceful place.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

PREDATORS

Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants in Thailand.

Discovery of mass graves in Malaysia, just over the Thai border, exposes a core factor in the current swell of illegal migration across the planet. Human predators are exploiting human ignorance and desperation for profit.

Imagine this. You notice as you drive down your street there is a camp of surly men with weapons on your corner. They are surrounded by pitiable homeless people in rags with screaming hungry children clinging to them. You decide to call the police when you get in your house. You find that the door of your house has been forced open. Several impoverished strangers are in your home. They do not speak your language. They have nothing. They are malnourished. They have no skill sets to even assist in their own support. Yet they look to you to save them from their situation.

You call the police. They tell you they are overwhelmed with complaints like yours. They tell you to cope with the situation until something can be done. They give you no idea of when that will happen. You call your local social services. They say the same thing the police said to you. You call churches, synagogues, mosques. You decipher the language the strangers are speaking. You call the embassy of their native country. Nobody can offer you any support or sound advice on the problem.

You look down the street at the armed men on the corner. They are counting money taken from the people they have placed in your home. They are laughing and drinking. You wonder how long it will be before they decide to take control of your whole neighborhood for their own needs.

Yes, migration is a complex issue as long as you have the luxury and distance to ponder it. But when it is in your face, that luxury no longer exists. You pay for the food to feed the strangers in your home. You pay for their health care. You pay for their children's education. You may eventually have to pay more for security to drive the traffickers off your street. How will you feel about the strangers in your home then?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BULLIES


I am currently dealing with a neighborhood bully. It is a minor case at this point. I hope to work to a resolution by simply asserting my civil rights under municipal regulations if my attempts to approach the bully civilly fail. I have had ample experience with bullies as a lifelong homosexual in a homophobic society. I am a nonviolent person. My activism against bullies has been nonviolent unless my own life or health have been directly endangered.
 
Ultimately I trust cause and effect as ruling principles in an otherwise chaotic universe. This means that bullies inevitably reap the effects of their bullying causation. I have had several incidents in my life which have supported this hypothesis.
 
My first overt and violent experience with bullies occurred in 4th grade. One of my classmates who lived in my neighborhood organized a gang of young punks in the neighborhood to beat me up after school. They ambushed me as I walked home from school. There were six of them. They tore my clothes, destroyed my books and pummeled me in the street. I fought back and eventually broke free after inflicting my share of damage.
 
My mother was furious when she came home from work and discovered my bruises and ruined clothes. Frankly, I think she was angriest about the clothes. She was thrifty. She called the mother of the bully organizer and threatened to send my father, the police juvenile officer at the time, to deal with her son. Her son was promptly taken out of the Catholic school we both attended and sent to public school.
 
Twenty five years later, the mother of my chief attacker was admitted under my care in the state mental institution where I was a nursing supervisor. She was psychotically depressed. I had never met the woman before that meeting, but I immediately knew who she was. I insisted on being her primary nurse, the person to coordinate her care during her stay. I did my best for her. She recovered and was discharged. Two decades later she approached my mother in their parish church after mass. She told my mother I had saved her life and that she would never forget my kindness.
 
Another incident with a bully also supported my hypothesis about cause and effect. I moved to a resort town on Cape Cod in my thirties. It was summer and rentals were difficult to find. I took a room in a private home of a gay man twenty years my senior after finding it advertised in a grocery store. The man also rented another room to a bartender and transvestite performer who was about his age. They were old friends.  It soon became evident they were both alcoholics.
 
I endured weeks of alcoholic behavior in order to avoid the time-consuming effort of finding another rental during peak season. The owner of the house loudly resented my complaints about being woken by drunken parties in the kitchen next to my room in the middle of the night. He soon began to bang on my locked door at night and eventually, with a chorus of his drunken buddies, threatened to gang rape me. I knew one of his drinking buddies was a town cop, so complaining to the police would have been useless.
 
I packed my things the morning after the gang threat, when I assumed my landlord was passed out. I quietly got into my truck and started my engine. Suddenly the landlord and the other tenant appeared. The landlord was carrying a kitchen knife. I drove off. They got into the landlord's car and careened after me. The neighborhood was a winding maze of crude streets. Finally I got to the major highway. They were tailgating my truck. I ran a stop sign and managed to get on the highway. I now assume they had followed in pursuit.
 
I remember hearing a noise behind me after I went over a hill in the road. I paid it no mind. I just needed to get away. I managed to secure an overpriced room at an inn in the next town. The following day, I read in the local paper that my landlord had been killed in a head-on collision and his passenger critically wounded. It came out later that my landlord and his passenger were heavily intoxicated. I occasionally saw the bartender/transvestite who survived. He was crippled for life and walked with a cane. We only spoke once very briefly. After I said hello, he simply said, "I'm sorry." We never spoke again.
 
Some people turn to religion to soothe the pain caused by bullies. Some people internalize the abuse and assume it is their fault. They can become masochists in all areas of their lives. Some people become raging bullies themselves, as though infected by the abuse. I have worked hard to realized that there is no easy answer to dealing with bullying, because bullies are mentally ill. This is why we have laws, police, mental hospitals, addiction rehabs.
 
Remaining nonviolent and persisting in responsible and educated behavior under the law to the best of my ability has been, and will be, my way of acting in the face of bullying aggression. Sometimes communicating with bullies is a useless exercise. Sometimes engaging civil authority immediately is the wisest course. But ultimately I am responsible for and will defend my own health and safety.

Friday, May 22, 2015

CONFORMITY

North Korean parade.


Mindless conformity is the enemy of innovation and civilization. Mindful conformity with justice and equality for all under law is the way of the good for the greater good. We are in a time when narcissistic aggression for exceptional consideration struggles against mindful conformity with justice and equality for all under the law.
 
The Age of Me struggles against the Age of Human Rights. Universal human rights cannot be the privilege of the aggressive, whether they are corporate CEOs or illegal migrants. Universal human rights can only be applied under law. Law can change. Nonviolent protest can succeed. This has been proven by history. Aggression simply reaps more aggression. Aggression suits those ignorant and/or unethical human beings who thrive in and through violence.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

NOVEL IDEA


Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has introduced a novel idea: The rule of law. Europe is reeling from an invasion by human traffickers and their clients. Liberals in Europe have fallen into the typical Liberal trap of defending the invaders as hapless victims of circumstance. This form of self-congratulatory compassion is not compassionate to those legal citizens of a country who suffer the consequences of an illegal invasion. In other words, it is not compassion. It is political posturing.
 
Progressives turn to progressive strategy, based in tested law. For example, it is progressive to grant the same rights to LGBTQ people that are guaranteed by general human rights law, since homosexuals are humans. It is progressive to tax the wealthy at the same rates as the rest of us by eliminating loopholes which allow them to avoid paying taxes. Mr. Cameron is being progressive when he applies criminal law to all lawless transgressors in his own country, including illegal immigrants. This ends the non-progressive immunity from law provided previously to illegal immigrants. That immunity was an injustice to those lawful citizens in Britain who were paying the price environmentally and financially for hosting exploitative illegal immigrants.
 
The recent migration of masses with no consideration on their part of the consequences of their actions upon the countries they wish to enter illegally is no different in its impact than previous colonizing by nations seeking empire in previous eras. Colonization, whether organized or not, disrupts a native culture and causes damage to the members of that culture. Those who defend the current attempts to colonize Europe or the U.S. with disregard for law on the basis of previous colonizing actions by previous generations are using false logic. The military colonization of the 18th and 19th centuries was damaging to native cultures worldwide. The de facto colonization of the 21st century by illegal migrants will be damaging to native cultures worldwide.
 
Globally negotiated and legislated immigration rights and policies could be a progressive gift to the human species. Current immigration policies are driven by corporate economics and politics, not scientific and ethical principles. More sensible immigration policies in developed nations could do wonders in alleviating conflict, poverty and overpopulation in underdeveloped nations. The current wave of illegal immigration does nothing to sustainably improve the human condition overall.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PLANTING



Back garden in 2014.

Planting seeds in my urban gardens each Spring is an exercise in postponed gratification. It has also inspired awe in me when I consider the life of people who farm acres of land each year.  I watched The Homesman on Netflix recently. Those who began farming the wide plains of Nebraska in the 19th century come to mind now as I tend my tiny plots.
 
Watching seeds cycle through their lives, Spring to late Fall, is a time-lapse reminder of my own life's inevitable arc. The bright green of cute seedlings, the bright colors of Midsummer, the fading maturity of late Summer and early Autumn. Harvesting the dessicated twigs for composting burial before the snow falls...all of this brings a sense of immersion in the reality of living on this planet.
 
Random planting of mixed seeds brings a lesson. Diversity and beauty are synonymous in a healthy flower bed. While cultured geometric plantings may be useful for harvesting a crop, a random patch of flowering plants in an urban patch is an oasis of life. Bees, beetles, worms, even slugs add a welcomed dimension to city living. Planting seeds in Spring is like setting the stage for a symphony of life, colors and smells. Learning to wait and appreciate the process brings deep personal rewards.

Monday, May 18, 2015

VALUES


I was saddened while listening to a piece on my local public radio station this morning. It wasn't presented as a sob story, like some of their more sentimental pieces. It was about a young Harvard graduate working in venture capital.
 
His venture capital firm is thinking of dabbling in nail parlors, currently regarded as possible fronts for drug distribution and prostitution, associated with human trafficking. They are thinking of turning the nail parlor "industry" into a chain business , like Starbucks.
 
I cannot think of a better example of how corporate capitalism is bringing down the human species. Intelligent human beings with privileged educations and money are focusing on nail parlors. Why? Because they are driven by profits without a greater vision of where those profits come from or what those profits contribute to the greater world.
 
Manicures will not save the planet. Pedicures will not solve the life-threatening problems of climate change and overpopulation. Corporate capitalism, centered in New York and London, has lost all sense of proportion and values.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

DEATH...NOT REALLY


The show trial of the Boston Marathon bomber ended yesterday with a death sentence. The first trial, that is. Many more hours and many more millions of dollars with be spent on appeals. It will be another monument to the ineptitude of American bureaucracy. American justice has been drowning in American bureaucracy for decades. Advances in science and technology have not managed to dent the juggernaut of political influence on a system which should be simply about truth-seeking and equal justice for all.
 
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will get three meals a day in a concrete box somewhere, probably in Indiana. No real effort will go into treating whatever ignorance or mental illness led to his crime. He will, in essence, be tortured for many years to come, because he will no know his fate. Perhaps this is fitting, but it is neither humane nor practical.

American justice is neither humane nor practical. It is mired in religious superstition. It is mired in political jousting for media attention. It is mired by Constitutional fundamentalists who are uncaring about science, technology or simple truths of the human condition. It is mired by lawyers. It is mired by too much money spent for all the wrong reasons in all the wrong places.

Friday, May 15, 2015

PRIVILEGE

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp personifies the hypocrisy and callousness of the rich. Posing as the perpetual hipster, Depp flew his Yorkshire terriers to Australia without going through the required quarantine procedures. In other words, he ignored Australian law. I am sure this will fall to some Depp minion, but my point remains that those with extreme wealth and celebrity do not really care about anyone else but their own kind. Not far from this posh pooch dispute, Burmese refugees are stranded off Thailand in boats. The simple fact that the Depp debacle rates coverage in international news alongside the plight of the impoverished says something terribly troubling about our human species.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

ETHICS IN ACTION


I wrote about government bureaucracy yesterday. I ended my post with a resolution to proactively clear up a bureaucratic issue I had concerning my house here in Boston. My 131-year-old house had never been recorded properly on city rolls. Hard to believe, but sadly true.
 
Navigating the arcane paper trail of this issue is frustrating for a minimalist obsessive compulsive like myself. The city Web site was more confusing than educating. My three phone contacts had not clarified. All I knew from one bureaucrat was that I had to go to the city hall annex nearby and do something on a computer there.

When I arrived at the office where this bureaucrat said she worked, I found she was absent. In her stead was a broody young woman reading at a desk. She barely turned when I stood at the half-door to her office and explained my presence. She pointed over her shoulder at a wall and told me that the computers which would fix my problem were on the other side of it. I stood there expecting her to get off her chair. She didn't. "Do you need help?" she asked, with a hint of derisive surprise in her flat voice. "I suppose so," I replied, "since I have no bloody idea what the hell this whole problem is about." She followed me to the wall-length counter of computers, all with dark monitor screens.
 
"The computers are down!" A woman behind a counter on the other side of the large space shouted. She then added some technical jargon about what the I.T. people were doing behind the dark screens. Without thinking, I yelled, "Jesus Christ!" into the open area where about twenty people, mostly contractors, were milling about with blunted facial expressions and forms in hand. There was a freeze-frame moment. Silence. People stared at me. A large security guard at a tiny desk looked intentionally down at his open magazine.  I continued, "I  pay $870 a quarter in property taxes every quarter and can't even get a permit to fix my roof because my house doesn't exist on record."
 
The silence persisted. I tried not to let the "he's crazy" looks get to me. Now people were going back to shuffling papers. The woman who announced the computer crash said, "Come with me, sir. I'll take care of this." I was somewhat mistrusting. The thought flashed through my mind that I might be hustled off stage to a locked room until the men in white coats arrived. Instead I was ushered into her private office and offered a seat.
 
My savior turned out to be an assistant city commissioner. She spent about thirty minutes on my problem. In the end, I paid two fees and had a permit for my roof in hand. My house is still disappeared, but I have been assured she would get my house materialized on record as soon as the computers are fixed. This remains to be seen.
 
I guess this experience has two educational aspects for me. First, it was a reminder that verbal protest against bureaucracy is sometimes necessary to kick start it into action. But, more importantly, I was reminded that there are some compassionate and ethical people in bureaucratic positions. The assistant commissioner who took the time and personal care to help me was obviously a person committed to acting on her own ethics, despite her burdensome work environment. I have written a commendation email to the commissioner, her boss. I felt this was the only ethical and compassionate thing to do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

BUREAUCRACY

 

American and British media enjoy talking about corruption in the bureaucracies of the less industrialized world. Well, people in glass houses should not throw stones. The level of corrupt bureaucracy in most American cities is blatant and atrocious. The most obvious examples come with a simple phone inquiry. Illiterate secretaries rudely place taxpayers on hold or simply say, "I don't know." as though this is a definitive answer to a legitimate question.
 
Yesterday, I called a supervisor of the local building department. A woman's voice explained that the male supervisor would not be in his office until Friday. The voice then stated baldly, "His line is not taking messages." What? This is a city employee who is acting as an autonomous agent. Who gave him the authority to ignore taxpayer inquiries, even if he is on vacation?
 
My city has made some attempts at increasing taxpayer access and departmental accountability. However, scratching below the surface of pothole repair reveals a rabbit hole of deep nepotism, indolence and blatant disregard for a taxpayer's right to expect expeditious services for his/her money.
 
The Libertarian solution is to further castrate government authority rather than push sustainable government reform. Democrats are notoriously on the side of corruption as long as it is done in the name of liberal causes. Republicans are perhaps the better reformers of bureaucracy but they shift corruption in favor of corporate power and subsidy. The burden of fault for bad government falls squarely on the shoulders of voters and taxpayers who tolerate abuse at the hands of bureaucrats.
 
Part of what I consider a humanist practice is to educate myself on the law and proper procedures of my local bureaucracy. Today I will be marching down to the local city hall annex. I plan to correct my current problem face to face. This is the only way I know to make sure I do not fall victim to bureaucratic abuse. It is the only way I know to effect change.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

WOLF HALL

Thomas Cromwell (1532-1533) by Holbein the Younger
 
Wolf Hall, a BBC production on PBS based on books by Hilary Mantel, has reignited my fascination with English Tudor history. This interest began in 1968 when I took courses about Tudor and Stewart history from a marvelously sardonic British professor. She resembled Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. It was a class I would never cut, no matter how heavy my work load as a premedical student.
 
The 15th and 16th century in England are a bloody lesson in family values. Family, as it is now, was the key to power and wealth. Family and government were intertwined, as we are still experiencing to a lesser degree in the U.S. with Bushes and Clintons. Family justification for murder and mayhem still existed in 2003 when Bush the Younger rushed into Iraq in part to finish what Bush the Elder had started in the Gulf War.
 
Thomas Cromwell is the antihero of Wolf Hall. A blacksmith's son who rises to become Lord Chamberlain of England and falls to beheading over his dabbling in failed royal marriages. Cromwell, in response to a courtier asking him if he is a Lutheran, responded, "I am a banker." How relevant to these times of religion in politics!
 
Understanding the aristocratic history of England leads to understanding the patriarchal underpinnings of American social and political culture. Cooing suburbanite housewives adulate the Duchess of Cambridge and her womb's issue. The more bourgeois, the louder the cooing. The concept of social ascendency trumps the concept of social responsibility in the U.S., perhaps more than it now does in the U.K..

Monday, May 11, 2015

WHAT IS IT?



What is practical humanism? Striving for personal decency in each conscious moment while learning from and living consciously in an indecent human world.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

VIAGGIO SOLA (I TRAVEL ALONE)

Viaggio Sola's Margherita Buy and Stefano Accorsi
 
Viaggio Sola, known on Netflix as A Five-Star Life, is a window into the evolution of global feminism. This European production exposes the isolated work life of a single middle-aged woman in a world where femininity is still defined by heterosexual mating and child-bearing. It also exposes the lifestyle of the global 1% who stay in 5-tar hotels. I found it interesting that it was sponsored by a luxury hotel chain.
 
Zooming out from the details of the film gives a clear view of the have-vs-have-nots world we in corporately controlled nations occupy. The relatively bourgeois main character is sandwiched uncomfortably between the haves and the have-lesses. She is sandwiched between those living conventional lives and those living above the fray. Her compatriots, those who actually work in the luxury hotels, are also her enemies and servants, since she is a spy, posing as a guest.  
 
I recommend it. I have noticed it has garnered mediocre critical reviews. I have to wonder if this relates to its challenge to conformist materialistic ideals in conformist materialistic times. I also speculate that American viewers cannot relate to its European worldliness.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

VOLUNTEERISM


George Bush the First was the king of exploiting volunteerism. He encouraged volunteerism to supplement government services while shifting a lion's share of the annual federal budget to the Pentagon. Sure, get the plebs to sweep their own streets while we give big bucks to the military contractor mafia. White-collar and khaki-collar welfare.
 
Today, Boston sees the annual Boston Shines event, devised by late Mayor Menino, who promoted this method of annual parks and street cleanup. This seems like a great idea until a wise person looks up the Department of Public Works budget and compares it with his experience. Do we see DPW trucks buzzing around like bees? No. Do we see DPW crews doing regular maintenance in all parks and neighborhoods? No. Do all neighborhoods get equal treatment by the DPW? No. Do we see DPW trucks parked with workers lounging in the cab. Yes. Do we see DPW trucks parked at Dunkin Donuts? Frequently.
 
Two years ago I volunteered for Boston Shines on a humid sunny day. Most of us were over 40. Several of us were over 55. There were no children or grandchildren of civic association members there. After two solid hours of strenuous gutter cleaning along a long stretch of a major thoroughfare, my team of three were exhausted. We were all over 60. One was in her eighties.
 
Several months later the civic association voted not to back a measure for weekly street cleaning in our neighborhood. The measure was largely defeated by older landlords who complained that they and their tenants would have to move their cars to the designated side of the street one day a week for 4 hours. The real reason, I suspect, is that many of these landlords rent to tenants who do not register their cars in Boston to avoid high insurance, even though this is illegal. Street cleaning and permit parking are enforced equally with towing on street cleaning days.
 
If we had weekly street cleaning in concert with property owners cleaning up in front of their properties, there would be no need for Boston Shines. Routinely cleaned streets encourage cleanliness. This has been proven over and over in city after city. The successful exploitation of volunteerism by governments does not keep taxes down. It simply leaves more money available for corruption. Citizens would do better to use their civic-engagement time to file complaints about poor city services, submitted with videos and photos from mobile phones.

Friday, May 8, 2015

U.K. ELECTIONS


The swing to elitism and obsession with corporate money is obvious in United Kingdom this morning. London has asserted its dominance over the British Isles. London is the domain of Russian oligarchs and Wall Street bankers. It is the European epicenter of corporate greed. "Hail, Britannia!" was once the cry of global colonial empire. There is a whiff of a desire to reclaim that past glory in the Conservative Party's rhetoric. It seems the method for such a reclamation would now entail first becoming a New Switzerland for the new money-based aristocracy, the global 1%.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

MEDICINE GOING ASTRAY

Michael Jackson promoted bad plastic surgery.

We are in an era as a species that encourages selfishness over social consciousness on a large scale. This can be seen in many areas of media debate and commentary. The predominance of corporate capitalism and its accompanying greed promotion enhances this wave of "me first" or "yes, but I want..." thinking. This thinking may well be the undoing of our species.
 
BBC World Service featured a piece this morning about a lesbian who describes herself as celibate. She mentioned having a female partner at one point, so I do not understand how she envisions her celibacy, but no matter. This woman is selling her eggs at 750 pounds a pop to a fertility company. She has sold 14 so far. He eggs have produced three children from other mothers.
 
I admired her frankness about her acknowledged incapacity for having or rearing children. This shows some personal insight and effort to develop as a human being in society. Society does not need more children, born of mothers who are not capable. However, I question her sense of responsibility to the planet and the rest of the human species.
 
The interviewer and the young donor on BBC repeatedly referred to a woman's "need to have children". This is most often trotted out by pro-life advocates and anti-feminists who maintain that this "need" to procreate is unmanageable, irresistible and harmful if not actualized. There is little or no hard science to support any of these old assumptions. In fact, childless women have been shown to enjoy prolonged lives, better economic profiles and decreased risks of some diseases associated with pregnancies, especially multiple pregnancies.
 
Much of the medical establishment operates on antiquated social assumptions. Medical culture associated with child-bearing is a particularly backward. The human species is vastly overpopulating the planet. There is absolutely no need for the medical establishment to be marketing artificial pregnancy, other than profit. It can be argued that it is actually bad for the natural biological evolution of our species. As long as fertility rates are still too high in underdeveloped countries, the medical establishment could ethically be promoting adoption over fertility treatments in developed countries. This could be a major step to controlling the current waves of illegal migration. However, the medical establishment is doing the reverse.
 
I no longer feel the medical establishment is living up to its touted guiding principle, "Do no harm." It is doing harm to the planet by encouraging overpopulation. It is doing harm to elders by promoting plastic surgery over education/support around aging. It is doing harm to some gay/lesbian people by promoting surgical intervention when homophobia is confused with "gender dysphoria", a medically devised notion to support that surgical intervention as a superficial solution to a more complex problem. The medical establishment has become enslaved by big pharmacology and bioengineering corporations.
 
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THREE SPRINGS

 
 
The plot of dry dirt under my bay windows was a wasteland of weeds, tired old tiger lilies and trash when I bought my house. It's not very wide, as you can see above in a picture I took yesterday. Passing, and pissing, dogs cannot resist it. Children find it riveting, perhaps because it is on their scale. Some neighbors look at it with annoyance. I haven't begun to understand that reaction.
 
This is my third Spring here. Because this plot is small, it was my first garden project. I had so many other things to do when I moved in. I pulled weeds, many large rocks and assorted archeological finds from the soil during those countless hours of waiting for contractors or escaping their havoc. The tiger lilies had naturalized into a hardy nuisance. I pulled them. In my enthusiasm, I disrupted too many established bulbs. Every time this happened, I cursed wildly. Working this plot may have established my reputation as an eccentric in the 'hood.
 
This plot taught Peter and me many things about compromise, respective tastes and patience. We began living together in this house after living separately for nine years. I had gardened before. Peter had done potted plants on a 9th floor concrete balcony. Peter detests certain plants. I have a more diverse approach to flower beds. Peter likes annuals. I prefer perennials. Peter like shrubs. I like vines. And so on.
 
Taking on a small challenge, like a rocky plot of city dirt, has brought me big rewards. It isn't about finishing anything. Most gardeners will understand that gardens are never really finished. It isn't just about making something beautiful. It is about the weeding, the digging and the learning from other living things in the earth. It is about a commitment to an ongoing daily process. It is about education and application.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THINKING


I spend a lot of time processing my daily experiences. I suppose I spend more time doing this than many people, judging from the human behaviors I see around me. I do not state this from a position of moral or intellectual superiority. I claim neither.

I am obsessive by brain chemistry. So, I have an edge in the processing department. The down side is that edge can become a wall of circular thinking. I have had to develop the mental and emotional skills to move on from some mental processes which could paralyze me. Pursuing the professional practice of nursing was a good step for me. It overwhelmed me in its early stages, when I worked as a nursing assistant in a hospital while attending nursing school. This flood of emotion and having to process them forced me to develop new ways of thinking and integrating emotions into my awareness of my own behaviors.

Thinking on my feet has developed over the years of working with people in difficult situations. Thinking on my feet simply means being thoughtful (mindful) in the moments of every day. It is a valuable form of internal multi-tasking. My daily meditation helps. It is that time every afternoon when I shut down my mind to a degree. This has increased my awareness of when my mind is working as I wish to and when it isn't. Meditation helps me to identify and correct stresses I am inflicting on myself.

More thinking and less doing would benefit our society, in my opinion. The constant distraction of electronica creates the illusion of doing something useful. It really is just an illusion. Doing nothing, meditating and reflecting are paradoxically productive. I fear that our "developed" civilization is headed down a path of producing more and more distractions at the expense of our humanity.

Monday, May 4, 2015

TROLLS


I have always thought the term "troll" is cast about too frivolously on line. I have seen people labelled "troll" in comment threads for simply bringing some objective statistical data to an argument. I have seen the term applied to commentators from an ageist perspective. I have also seen comments which have earned the label.
 
The other day I commented on an article addressed to a gay audience which had been linked to Facebook. The author was a gay Christian apologist for racial violence in Baltimore. The author and some commentators implied that LGBT people frequently used violent protest on the road to gay rights. This was historically inaccurate. The LGBT rights movement has been overwhelmingly nonviolent. The Stonewall Riot and the San Francisco riot after Harvey Milk's homophobic assassin was basically let off were anomalies.
 
One commentator from London called me a racist because I pointed out the inaccuracy. He then claimed that ACT UP was a violent movement. I corrected this new inaccuracy and shared that my source was my own witness of the events as an HIV-positive person. I will probably not read any further posts from that commentator on that thread. However, I am grateful to him for clarifying the term "troll" for me.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

OREO CONTROVERSY? REALLY?



A Colorado mother gained dubious celebrity recently by complaining to Right-Wing news outlets that her preschool daughter was sent home with a note telling the mother that Oreo cookies were not a nutritious lunch. The mother's defense of the Oreo diet, "I give them to her (the daughter) because she likes 'em." One Fox News commentator whipped this story up as some sort of Orwellian conspiracy. Really?
 
I see it as a story of Americans who are arrogant, stupid and resistant to education. I see it as an example of propagandist corporate media.
 
The mother in question is sending her preschooler to a lovely private academy on a public-school voucher, as funded by Colorado law. In other words, it is likely she could not or would not pay tuition for her daughter's preschool. The private academy, belonging to an educational genre usually lauded by Right-Wing Libertarian types, actively monitors nutrition of its students. Admirable. It then takes the trouble to educate the ill-informed parents about healthier nutritional choices for students. Another admirable thing.
 
This preschooler's mother, taking apparent public pride in her own nutritional stupidity, claims victimhood for herself and her daughter. Not an admirable thing.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

PERSISTENCE


Durable change occurs in reaction to persistent effort. I always think of fad dieting as a good example of poor strategy for durable change. Starving myself for a week or two can make a remarkable impact on my morning weigh-in. However, it is not a practical lifestyle, unless I want to be perpetually cranky and threaten my body's long term health. Durable change at my waistline requires sensible and persistently wise nutritional choices.
 
This philosophy is sadly lacking in today's digital age. There is no persistent progressive effort. There are simply actions and reactions, usually melodramatically reported in digital media. Melodrama is the driving force of our celebrity-crazed age. Durable change is neglected for immediate gain. The jubilant party atmosphere in West Baltimore last evening after the announcement of indictments against police officers is a startling example of a bread-and-circus culture.
 
Real issues must be approached with real determination and endurance in order to be dealt with progressively and rationally. Research, hypotheses, experimentation...these take time, concentration and resources. Show-trials in Nuremburg and The Hague may have exposed the issue of massacre, but they have not eliminated massacres. Awareness may lead to research, hypotheses and experimentation with anti-massacre methods, but that hard work must be done before a durable solution to genocide is reached. It is obvious from the history of our species that we will not automatically evolve away from violence and injustice.

Friday, May 1, 2015

MAY DAY


Revolutions of the mind are more durable than revolutions on the streets. One is not necessarily reflected in the other. One is not necessarily synonymous with the other. The French Revolution evolved for a nearly century before France reached some political and social stability. The Bolshevik Revolution's ideals were quickly smothered by Soviet bureaucrats. The American Revolution's success is measured by its Constitution, not its battles.
 
Christianity and Islam were both revolutionary ideologies in their times, as was Judaism in its time. The Reformation in Europe was a revolution against Catholic aristocracy. It was based in the concept that literacy, combined with Biblical tradition, would breed individual salvation for the good of society. The Enlightenment was a revolution based in the idea that science would dispel the dark ignorance and violence of religion, displayed throughout the Reformation on both sides. Today, Secularism is a revolution against a trend in the U.S. to regress to religious fundamentalism in politics and government.
 
Guillotines and firing squads are no longer revolutionary. ISIS and Boko Haram have illustrated this amply. The violence of mobs and gangsters is regressive, not revolutionary. Nonviolent assertion of scientifically sound (informed/intelligent) ideals through protest and technology is revolutionary. This is the way to hearts and minds. This is a way which requires unselfish persistence by individuals who are deeply committed to their ethics.