Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Letter to Senator Cory Gardner

© HuffingtonPost.com

Clever. Clever, but cruel and cowardly to draft, in secret, healthcare legislation that will impact millions of citizens. Who could complain about a bill that they haven't even seen? Shucks, not even most senators have been privy to the plan. Maybe that is what the President means when he says this is a "mean" bill. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to do what? Rely on what the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is telling us? No matter, given past and present trends and tendencies of this session of Congress and this presidential administration, we can piece together what we are in for if this bill passes the Senate. So, please understand that the overwhelming majority of your constituents, including this one, are vehemently opposed to this bill and we expect your vote to reflect this. You need to defeat this bill.

May I politely, but assertively, remind you that you were not elected to guarantee increased profits for insurance companies, their CEOs and shareholders, and others who are affluent enough that they can pay for their own healthcare. You were not elected to argue for the interests of pharmaceutical companies, their CEOs, and shareholders, either. You were not elected to weaken environmental, consumer, and labor regulations so that the working class would face more risk without recourse to affordable healthcare. You were not elected to compromise the reproductive health choices of your female constituents. You were not elected to make firearms more accessible to citizens of dubious capacity who could endanger large numbers of citizens through acts of domestic terrorism. Indeed, you were not elected to shrink affordable mental healthcare. You were not elected to return us to the unsustainable era of fossil fuel dominance that has put us in a climate crisis of multiple yearly natural disasters. In short, you were not elected to put obscene corporate profits above the rights of individual citizens from all walks of life, rich and poor, men and women, children who do not even have voting rights, heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and people of all ethnicities, religions, countries of origin, and political party persuasions (or lack thereof). You do not represent lobbyists, either. We do not elect lobbyists, and our tax dollars are paying for you to listen to us, not them.

This goes beyond party politics. Democrats have also been all talk and no action, at least tacitly approving of legislation that undermines the welfare of our citizens. We can see through the rhetoric because actions speak louder than words and those actions of late have been highly detrimental to domestic and foreign policy. Right now, the "America first" slogan applies only to rich, Caucasian, and mostly male Americans, and everyone else is left to fight among themselves for the scraps from the feast at the top. This is an irresponsible, repugnant, and intolerable approach to governance. Charity begins at home, and that means that government should be concerned first for its most vulnerable citizens. Children, the elderly, and the destitute will suffer the most from the healthcare bill put before you now. How in good conscience can you approve of this oppressive bill?

A pre-existing condition of many politicians appears to be extreme focus on survival of the financially fittest, but even natural selection is a random force. Life is not fair you say, but I say that our purpose on this planet is to at least try and make it more fair, to increase opportunities for working class families and individuals to prosper. No one can prosper without good physical and mental health. Undermining options for healthcare only weakens the consumer economy. How can you and your colleagues not see that? Should you wish for your own political career to survive, it is in your best interest to start mirroring your home state citizens' wishes, and distance yourself from the influence of industry lobbyists. Thank you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Budgets

© SSAE16professionals.com

Most talk of budgets is centered on government appropriations, program cuts, and other headline-making, multi-million dollar decisions made by elected officials. How much thought goes into our own personal budgeting? Are we guilty of saying to ourselves that if deficits and debt are ok for government, then overspending should be acceptable on a personal level? I find my own situation the opposite of that. I do not have a spending problem, I have an earning problem.

There is simply very little I am capable of doing, or interested in doing, that could generate a consistent income. More to the point, I no longer have tolerance for most employers, workplace politics, and being a cog that generates wealth for executives and company shareholders instead of a more equitable division of profits. Oh, I am guilty of instigating workplace drama myself. There may even be former coworkers and supervisors reading this who can attest to my being temperamental, seeking romantic relationships with coworkers, and not always completing tasks in my job description.

At least my contempt for most businesses is matched by my lack of enthusiasm for spending. There is simply very little I am interested in purchasing in the way of material goods. Not that I don't have my weaknesses. My spouse can vouch for the fact that tasty-but-not-always-healthy food and beverages are near the top of my priority list when it comes to disposable income. Good thing alcohol is so expensive, or I'd be drinking daily. Maybe hourly. On a really bad day it might be all I would do. The older I get, though, the less "things" I find I need or want. In fact, I would love to liquidate most of my possessions in favor of more money to travel.

One of my greatest disappointments is that virtually none of my belongings has any appeal to anyone else. My parents got me the Matchbox® toy cars as a kid, not the Hot Wheels™, for example. I have a few autographs, but they are from the era when sports stars and Hollywood celebrities would personalize them instead of offering a generic signature. That's apparently a bad thing that diminishes their value considerably. I put a few of my old natural history books up for sale on a Facebook group and got exactly zero responses. I don't mind donating things, but that usually isn't even enough to warrant itemizing my federal tax return. If charity begins at home, then we could use a little help here, IRS.

Collectively, we like to create the illusion that we are doing better financially than we really are. I've written about this before, the metamorphosis of the Middle Class into the Debt Class. We are taught that we need to "keep up with the Joneses," and not to complain, or have envy or jealousy over the success of others. Back in the day, that might have been true, and we could advance ourselves at least incrementally up the ladder of affluence. Today, corporations and Congress are simply removing the rungs, right out from under where we are currently perched. They are also cutting holes in the safety net beneath the ladder while telling us it is all for our own good, that we will somehow be better off. Baloney.

Back to your budget. The first thing to do is stop judging yourself by your material assets. Friends judging you that way? Get new friends. You can start with me. You know what is important, and the overwhelming majority of it you cannot find in a store or online. It is the fabric of family, community, and the other organisms we share the land, water, and atmosphere with. All else is icing, and arguably even unnecessary. There. Doesn't that make the cable or satellite service a little easier to part with? Maybe it even makes the decision to strike out on your own business venture a more plausible possibility. Go for it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Addictions, Distractions, and Coping

© BrainyQuote.com

These days I am finding it almost impossible to find joy in anything. Instead, I am reduced to distracting myself from all the negative that permeates life these days, from world news to the incessant ear-piercing screams and screeches of unsupervised children playing just outside in our townhouse complex. Some of those distractions, compulsions, and addictions are productive, some are not. We don't cope well here in the U.S.A. That is our collective weakness, our Achilles heel.

Do I have addictions? Yes. What are they? None of your business. That is not what is worth discussing anyway. Specifics lead to gossip, judgment, shunning, shaming, bullying, and other social reactions that only reinforce addictions or drive people deeper into despair. What we need to be asking is how we have come to adopt addictions and other negative behaviors as coping mechanisms. We want to "check-out" without doing so permanently. Take away our coping skills, if you can call them that, and we might actually end it all.

Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that we have entire industries that profit by feeding our addictions: adult beverages, tobacco, marijuana (in some of our states), casinos and lotteries, adult entertainment....The list could go on and on. Sure, we pass legislation, have sobriety check-points, and institute other means of limiting our indulgences, or at least providing consequences for abuse that can affects others, like drunk driving; but the penalties are so minor and forgiving as to be an insult to victims. The treadmill continues.

Meanwhile, we desperately need new alternatives to alcohol, drugs (illicit and prescription), tobacco, gambling, and other avenues that usually compound our problems instead of alleviate them. The problem is, I am not sure there really are any. Individual brains are all wired differently, and what appeals to one person won't appeal to another. We make our suggestions, like exercising, going for a walk, going to a movie, volunteering for a charity, church, or other organization, but then chastise the person if they say no to our way of coping.

Even a good thing can turn ugly if one has an addictive personality. Why do I feel compelled to bring back images or other trophies from time I spend outdoors in nature? Why do I have to even justify time in the woods, on the plains, or elsewhere to myself? Why do I think that if I don't I have been wasting time? I need proof to show myself and others that I am not just goofing off, "bug hunting," or "birdwatching" or whatever. It would help if our society would stop stigmatizing positive behaviors like that. Ultimately, though, we have to make ourselves judgment-proof, and unless you are a complete recluse, that is extremely difficult.

What helps me a little is to make a weekly to-do list that I alone answer to. Some days, just doing a load of laundry is all the accomplishment I can muster. That should be ok, for other days I turn out an article, a blog post or two, or clean the bathroom, or all of the above. Having interests and skills that few others don't is both a blessing and a curse. Creative pursuits have their own schedule, which is usually no schedule at all, and the periods between those times can be depressing, lonely, irritating, and addiction-filled. This is not an excuse. It is a condition that I often fight daily, struggling between acceptance and shame.

No lifestyle today is free from external stress in one form or another, free of demands, responsibilities, and expectations, though we all should strive to liberate ourselves and each other from unhealthy degrees of those stressors. Ironically, we avoid or cope by adding self-imposed stresses in the form of addictions, distractions, and compulsions. What worries me is what if those bad habits and behaviors are all that is keeping one from losing their grip altogether. This is not a sustainable cycle, but we seem loathe to turn our culture around, to look to European nations and elsewhere for viable solutions. Nope, addictions are the American Way, and we'll be damned if we ever admit we don't have all the answers already.

Note: Thank you to all my followers here, new and "old," for your patience and support.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Not Fearless Enough?

© whotv.com

I am disappointed in Fearless Girl, that bronze figure in front of the iconic Charging Bull sculpture on Wall Street. Ok, it is my fault, actually. I took her symbolism in an entirely different direction than the artist who created her intended. Still, I find myself angry at the artist responsible for the bull wanting to evict the innocent child standing in defiance before his angry bovine. I wonder if this is just the beginning of art depicting culture wars.

When I first saw images of the pony-tailed pixie, I was delighted. My assumption, a naive one it turns out, was that she was a literal stand-in for the proverbial little guy. You know, those of us whose investment portfolios consist of a PayPal donate button on our blog, and two to four lottery tickets when the pot gets big enough to remind us there is a lottery. Those who in no way, shape, or form can participate in the stock market. That is who I thought our heroine was standing for.

Come to find out, the point of the diminutive Miss was to draw attention to the lack of women on corporate boards, let alone the near absence of females running those boards. Oh, boy. Oh, girl! While I am no sympathizer for male privilege, I could still feel my heart sink at this revelation. Not only that, but the statue was commissioned by one of the world's largest financial firms: State Street Global Investors, based in Boston. What I had thought might be more of a monument to the Occupy Wall Street protests turned out to be not the slightest bit sympathetic to the working class. She was installed on March 7 of this year, on the eve of International Women's Day, so I probably should have made the connection.

A circular plaque at her feet proclaims "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference." Conveniently, the "SHE" is not only gender-relevant, it is the acronym for State Street's fund's NASDAQ ticker symbol. I see, so she is an advertisement as well as (instead of?) art. To its credit the fund itself tracks the stocks of more than a hundred companies that State Street sees as exemplary leaders in promoting women in the corporate sector. The pure artist in me still views this as a sell-out.

Meanwhile, the creator of Charging Bull is snorting at having his creation upstaged by the kid. The original intent of his statue was to provide an uplifting symbol in the wake of the 1987 stock market crash. He donated the 3-ton work, and friends helped him install it in the middle of a cold winter's night, right in front of the New York Stock Exchange. It was almost removed by city officials who deemed it a traffic hazard and "nuisance," but public pressure resulted in the statue being relocated to its current place in Bowling Green Park, two blocks away.

© USweekly.com

The Sicilian artist, Arturo Di Modica, worries now that the meaning of his sculpture has been corrupted by the little squirt-in-a-skirt, saying that the bull now symbolizes male chauvinism. Hey, if the hoof fits....The bull will always symbolize to me how the ultra-wealthy throw their weight around. The china shop is the local economy, your neighborhood grocer, mechanic, hardware store owner, and every other business you used to be able to rely on before they got swallowed up by big box stores, and even bigger agriculture, banks, and fossil fuel barons. There is a wasteland in the wake of that bull, and we all know it. We still fear it, save for the few that occupied Wall Street for awhile, and maybe Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; but they still think the stock market can be regulated. One could argue it should be slayed.

Fearless Girl currently has a permit from the city to stay put another year. I do like that outcome, but when her time has come, if it comes, perhaps we should replace her with a matador sticking a few blades into that son-of-a-beast. When I win the lottery, or get enough blog donations, maybe I'll commission that statue. Heck, I'm even willing to make the bullfighter a woman.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Life Sentence of an Unhappy Childhood

© Teach-through-love.com

The other night I stumbled upon the movie White Oleander airing on television, near its beginning. I cannot say I like films like this, but I admire the writers, directors, cast, and crew willing to take on the subject of psychological cruelty, and the agony of undoing the hell that parent-child relationships can often bring. The ramifications of one's upbringing are profound, and so variable in their outcome that stereotypes are useless.

Children are unable to stand up for their own right to peace, quiet, dignity, and love that does not come out of parental selfishness. The result is denial of their situation, and latent hostility towards others. By the time they are teenagers "acting out," or twenty-somethings bobbing and drifting in the debris of their past, the damage is done. When strangers, or even friends, ask what happened, or how did you get here, your response is to ignore them or change the subject. Then you hit thirty-ish and you begin to recall the past with the clarity of an unsubstantiated alibi. After all, up until now you had been conditioned to believe that you murdered your own childhood. Suddenly you cannot help but tell your story. You become the crusader, but you still couch your own pain in a "desire to help others." As the battles dwindle and the war wanes, you are left with a vacancy unfilled, and go back to the flat-line flow that is your life, punctuated here and there with good times and devastating bouts of depression, for your remaining days....or until your parents free you by their own passing.

This perpetuated, and perpetual, guilt, vindictiveness, distrust, and dishonesty is the legacy of generations upon generations of parents ill-equipped to raise a healthy child because they were not brought up in a sane environment. The coping skills of blame, shame, withholding of love and affection, infliction of punishment, and the examples of smoking, alcoholism, and other behaviors are handed down time after time after time.

We have been instructed to believe that the hallmarks of a broken childhood are reflected in the adult child through substance abuse, and indeed the twelve-step programs and anonymous groups can be places to begin silencing the echoes of the parental recordings playing endlessly in your mind. You finally begin to see the "buttons" and start the long process of rewiring or disconnecting them. You react with a little less intensity when one of them is pushed.

Still, social dysfunction, in all its many forms, is the overwhelming result of following the patterns set forth like the ruts from wagon wheels lifetimes previous. Maybe you never have an enduring, loving relationship with someone else. Maybe, like me, you become unemployable, because you see the social structure of the workplace for what it is: every employee's attempt to make up for their childhood of want, woe, and war....and that includes yourself if you are not wary, or willing to expend the enormous amount of energy to just "deal." Lather, rinse, repeat.

Our childhood senses and minds lack the filters that come with maturity, and we accept everything our parents dole out as fact and reality, not the products of a disillusioned personality, itself the victim of its own trauma. There is no end to the insidious strategies invented to insure that a parent maintains control of their child. Surely the world would fly apart if the chain of child-rearing incompetence were ever to break. We cannot afford, hell, survive, the exposure of our flaws, nor properly articulate their origin. We were just kids when we learned how to parent.

At the end of White Oleander, the mother marches into a life sentence at a real brick-and-mortar prison. She finally relented from pressuring her daughter into testifying, thereby setting her offspring free from the prison she created in the girl's mind. Rarely is it that easy, that metaphorical, that decisive. Most of us still spend our days methodically sawing through the bars with mental files, provided we even recognize the cell that we are living in.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"Jobs" and Other Trigger Words

© Alternet.org

Remember when "sound bites" were all the rage, both in the popularity of their use and in the anger they incited in journalists? Those were the good old days. Today, politicians can use just a single word to evoke an emotional response that sways voters to support them, or to dismiss issues and concerns of their opponents. Is our collective attention span as citizens so short, and our reluctance to do a little homework so great, that we will allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated?

We are all familiar with certain trigger words. "Jobs" for example. We hear someone utter just that word and our gut reaction is "Good. Jobs are good. He/she is going to do something about creating jobs. We need more jobs." It is a word that reduces every other concern to something meaningless and expendable in the interest of creating....jobs. We never ask "how many jobs?" or "how long will those jobs last?" or "will our locally unemployed be qualified to do those jobs?"

The implications of "jobs" means that environmental health, and consumer and labor regulations may need to be sacrificed if you want more jobs. We all understand this by now. That is how powerful a trigger word can be. All of these emotions, issues, and actions can be triggered by just a single word. "Crime" is another. We understand that when a government official or political candidate says they will be tough on crime, it means that we will lose at least a bit of our privacy through surveillance, security checkpoints in public buildings, and data retrieval from our communication devices.

"Taxes" are perceived almost universally as a bad thing, and the word is now almost synonymous with "stealing" from our wages (income tax), purchases (sales tax), home ownership (property taxes), and every other aspect of our lives. Taxpayers have not been properly educated in the collective benefits we receive in exchange for taxes. Public education, parks, roads, public transportation, libraries, museums, zoos, and a host of other public services and facilities could not exist without support from taxes.

Still, politicians promise "no new taxes" or "tax cuts," meant to spell "relief" and appease those at the lower end of the wage scale. The reality is that most of those cuts are inevitably granted to those individuals and corporations, that are already highly prosperous. Tax law is another tool to redistribute wealth to the wealthy elite, the way it is currently being written and executed. We are so conditioned to think of "tax relief" and "tax cuts" as beneficial to us, that we don't think any more about it, we just react positively even though most of us will not see meaningful changes to our bank account.

I could go on and on just listing more trigger words and phrases like "immigrants" and "Islam" and "pro-choice," "pro-life" and "clean energy" and so forth, but I give my readers credit for being able to recognize the intent with which those words are chosen and used, like so many verbal bullets and bandages to provoke fear and loathing, or calm and soothe in order to create false empathy. Each side of a given issue knows exactly what the other side means when it uses a trigger word. The same word can be interpreted completely differently depending on your party or ideological persuasion; and used as a hostile epithet or a badge of honor.

How do we get over this language barrier? Can we? Honesty. That is the only answer. When my parents were divorcing, back in the 1970s, I remember the phrase "the best interest of the child" being a mantra. In contested divorces, when a parent says that, it really means not only that they believe they are the best parent to have custody, but that the other parent having custody is the worst thing that could happen to the child. Cloaking selfish interests in language that suggests altruism is repugnant and intolerable. We have to start speaking honestly and fearlessly.

Be honest in why you object to a public policy, political viewpoint, or other issue that ignites your emotions. Only when we see each other's real motives are we going to make progress, and take action acceptable to the majority.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Book Review: Vulture

© ForeEdgeBooks.com

Even if you do not already admire the Turkey Vulture as a master of sustained and effortless flight, and its willingness to consume the deceased animal life that would fester and overwhelm us were it not for these efficient scavengers, you will find Vulture: the private life of an unloved bird University Press of New England, 2017), by author Katie Fallon, to be well worth your indulgence.

Experience informs the advocate, and Fallon does a superb job at weaving her personal life experiences into the narrative of this story. The natural arcs would be the life history of her subjects, from egg to adult; or the migratory journey of a vulture. Indeed, Fallon employs these natural rhythms as elements of continuity; but it turns out not all Turkey Vultures do migrate, a fascinating aspect of the diverse biology of the species.

Familiarity cannot breed contempt in the case of vultures because people, including avian scientists, are simply not familiar with these birds. Much of the content in Vulture represents new information, acquired within the last decade or so, resulting from tagging studies. Vultures cool themselves by urinating and defecating on their feet, which quickly corrodes the metal ankle-bands used by scientists on other birds, hence the need to apply the wing tag strategy instead.

An unexpected and welcome element to the book is the frequent addition of information that applies to other vulture species. The Turkey Vulture is the main character, but our avian hero is also employed here as a messenger for other vulture species all over the planet. Fallon shares her own globe-trekking adventures as they relate to other vultures, like the Egyptian Vulture in India, where the birds have vanished from a sacred Hindu temple they once visited like clockwork. Old World and New World vultures are not as closely related as one might imagine, but they suffer, unfortunately, from the same conflicts with humans.

It is easy for advocates of any orphaned or maligned species to be overly zealous in their efforts to educate; or be too sternly admonishing in addressing those people who lack an understanding and respect for other life forms. Fallon should be commended for reining in her emotions while still managing to be assertive in her opinions and policy recommendations when it comes to vulture "management" here in the U.S. She backs up her statements at every step, and also informs the reader when there is a need for more study to conclude whether a given assertion can be proven.

Fallon should not be compared to any other writer. She confesses to her admiration for Edward Abbey and other predecessors, but her writing stands on its own merits, with a unique and welcome new voice. This book enjoys the personal qualities of a memoir, but those insights and life events are used like spices in a favorite recipe: Not as a dependent "crutch" or overwhelming element, but instead adding just a touch of flavor and eloquence to the literary dish.

This book is about vultures in the human world, but nowhere in the story does the human aspect overly intrude. The great birds are front-and-center, consistently painted in a positive and empathetic light. It is to Fallon's credit that she is able to coax the reader into the same love affair with vultures that she herself enjoys, without romanticizing her subject to the point of putting off her audience. As a male reader, I find this a tricky path that Fallon negotiates with precision and consistency. Her research is far-reaching and impeccable.

Vulture ends with an afterword that leads readers to the next step: their own advocacy for vultures and related birds of prey. It may seem naive to believe that one book could generate enough momentum to result in a surge of sustained interest in promoting vulture conservation the world over, but I have high hopes. Fallon seamlessly integrates the plight of vultures into the landscape of wildlife conservation in general. What we do for vultures we do for the health of entire ecosystems....but don't take my word for it, read Vulture for yourself.

Turkey Vulture over western Massachusetts