Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dollars and sense

   Wealth disparity is old news, having existed pretty much as long as there have been people. Likely as not you, like most of the rest of us, are a member of the "ninety-nine percent." I read an article recently, which, astonishingly, more or less defended United States lack of universal health care. My personal takeaway was [author felt] individual greed, excuse me - comfort, superseded social responsibility. Cited, was American penchant for 'living large.' Not for U.S. citizens were apartment dwellings and small fuel-efficient cars - at least not while 4000 square foot homes and gas guzzling automobiles were available. It appears the want of the haves, outweighs the need of the have-nots.
   It would be bad enough if such as above were the sole offenses committed. As bad as wanton waste is, it pales when compared to mismanagement. Stupidity is bad; willful ignorance, worse; and perhaps cruelest of all is deliberate mismanagement committed to benefit bureaucracy. Examples are rampant, so let us arbitrarily start with what is pathetically called the "justice" system. Any sane and moderately compassionate individual can see that rehabilitation is more productive than punishment [read "revenge"].
   Jails are overcrowded not so much because there are really so many criminals as because prisons are profitable. Those who espouse law and order would have the public believe that locking people up is a means to securing "safety" for *average citizens* - whatever that means. It seems more about exacting revenge. Putting first-time and/or non-violent offenders in with murderers and sociopaths just gives latter group a new batch of victims. Prisons unfortunately seem all too often to attract personnel who are themselves inclined to bully.
   Recently I heard a program on NPR (National Public Radio) about theater in prisons. The play staged was Shakespeare's Othello. One of the cast members spoke of humiliations endured: he had to strip down and submit to a cavity search before entering rehearsal hall. He said it was a price he willingly paid because, once inside rehearsal hall, he was treated as a human being. How do people on the outside forget that? Maybe because all we hear are self-righteous people griping about how "easy" prisoners have it: *access to gyms, free health care, and three meals a day.* I would venture unless one is a white collar criminal, life in "the Big House" isn't all it is cracked up to be.
   Gym time is not like school recess; a clinic visit is not a hall pass; food is often unfit for human consumption. Prison is not a place one aspires to be, generally speaking: I add that caveat in interest of accuracy. As one on the outside, processing seems inept at best, deliberately wasteful and cruel at worst.
   During last full week of May 2017, heard a news report of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials dining at an Ann Arbor, Michigan restaurant, then going into kitchen and rounding up individuals. Panic ensued. Three of detained individuals had papers - but not on their persons. Fully a day after being taken into custody, these individuals remained in custody at a Detroit, Michigan holding facility. Don't know how many of you have ever been stopped for a traffic infraction and didn't have operator's license on you, but used to be in such case, one was issued a citation and had, I believe, 10 days to appear before court showing valid license and proof of insurance. Maybe now, one is thrown in the hoosegow until a third party produces necessary documentation; I don't know. What I really want to know is, where is the justice for these individuals? What of their lost wages; court costs (if it comes to that); mental anguish?
   Not being a scholar of criminal justice, I am unaware of the legalities involved but something is terribly wrong here. Surely there has to be a better way; a way that protects the rights and dignity of individuals and is more cost-efficient. We had better find it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Table for one - letter 130

Hello dear,
   Recently, I was dining out with a friend, as I do a couple times each week. Every time, I see someone dining alone - most frequently an older fellow. It has always been my nature to talk to people. Most of them seem to like it; at least no one has asked me to go away. There are people in need of what I have to offer. Talked this over with several persons of my acquaintance, saying I had thought of having cards made up to say I was available as a meal companion and conversationalist.
   An advantage of being an overweight senior citizen is, one is less likely to be picked up for solicitation. A couple people voiced opinion my idea had merit; one adding there was probably an online site for promoting myself, another suggesting possible names for said service. One possibility was Tea for Two - [or Lunch or Brunch]. It needs tweaking but a market exists.
   Humans are social animals, eating is a social activity. I have long maintained that dining in the company of others, improves the flavor of food. I don't know if there has been scientific study but it would not surprise me to find food consumed in company of others is more easily digested. There have been and continue to be times when I dine solo. At those times, I usually listen to radio, to hear other human voices. I believe that longing for companionship is why so many single people eat while watching television. Oh, I know some families do it too - but that, in my opinion, stems from a tragic breakdown of communication skills.
   Dining out provides a good deal of pleasure and it is nice to have someone pick up the tab. That said, I wouldn't want *ability to pay* to be an obstacle to receiving care. You know me dear: I'm more about people than profit. I believe we are here to do good in whatever capacity possible. It seems I have found my niche. Now I just have to let others know they are welcome to visit.
Until next time -

Au revoir et bonne app├ętit.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Less is more

   As I look around at various political situations - and it seems every situation has become *political* - I come to the conclusion Earth is One. Giant. Handbasket. (A reference to the phrase 'going to hell in a handbasket,' common in United States, which dates back to mid-19th Century.)
   When "less is more" first became popular, I believe it meant eliminating clutter and 'opening things up' - it was a good thing. Times change and definitions evolve. Lately, some decidedly undesirable aspects of "less is more"  have become apparent.
   "Conservatives" [in United States] say they are *pro-life* and want to end abortion. What they really mean is, they are pro-birth: all they seem to care about is bringing a pregnancy to term. The physical and psychological health and well-being of the mother and the fetus she carries appear to be of no consequence, nor do circumstances under which conception occurred. In pursuit of their [proclaimed] desired end, social programs such as Planned Parenthood are denied adequate funding, on the grounds some of the monies might be used to terminate a pregnancy. Planned Parenthood agency provides much-needed health care for people who could not otherwise afford it. Cessation of funding will ultimately result in higher infant mortality; abortions performed under less-than-optimum conditions; and other terrible consequences. This does not sound at all "pro-life" to me; must be one of those alternative facts situations - yeah, I'll bet that's it.
   Is it humane or prudent to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain a life form which will have no quality of life? What I'm talking about are those babies that are born with incomplete brains or other grotesque deformities which severely impede development.  How can a government simultaneously [at least threaten to] cut health care, including disability; punish women who abort an unwanted/ill-advised pregnancy; cut funding to programs which enable poor people to eat - and still have the unmitigated gall to label itself "pro-life?" Logistics is not my strong suit; please explain. Just who is supposed to pay for all the technology, medication, hands-on care, and whatever else is needed so people who are unable to tend their own most basic needs won't die? Would it not be better, not to mention cost-effective, to prevent such births? Oops, there I go being all logical again.
   How warped is a set of "family values" that deports a parent, creating an impoverished/unstable home, possibly sending children to foster care? Some families are lucky and can afford to visit a deported parent in country of origin. Would it not be better, even cheaper, to expend resources to make documentation easier to obtain?
   Less-restrictive environmental standards allegedly promote job growth. In all likelihood, less-stringent standards will result in more illnesses among plants and animals, from a polluted environment. It isn't as though this evil can be restricted to poor neighborhoods, though it might take a while to reach upper echelons. Poison ultimately knows no caste - though it can be diverted and somewhat delayed, by sending it to certain neighborhoods. During last week of April 2017, heard commentary by Jack Lessenberry that Flint [Michigan] water crisis probably would not have happened in cities which are more affluent and where majority of population is white. The casual disregard with which some people treat toxicity, apparently believing themselves insulated by *privilege* boggles any sane mind.
   Less acceptance=more misery. Lately, I have heard stories on NPR about homosexual men trying to get out of Russia to save their lives. How horrible to be hunted as criminal for how you were born. One's sexuality/gender identity is as involuntary as one's skin color and is beautiful, not cause for shame or shaming. One should not have to pass oneself off as a member of any particular ethnicity, sect, race/culture, or gender identity, just to survive.
   The bottom line is, it's not all about bottom lines.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Letter 129: When pacifists rebel

This has not been an easy piece to write because it is more subjective than I want to be. Journalists are supposed to be objective and downplay personal feelings. Granted, I am no longer a columnist in any establishment's employ but I hope I at least try to be fair and unbiased.

Dear one,
   I must make small talk for a while and sort of ease into this letter. I have sent out letters to long-time correspondents and those who are "new kids on the block" correspondence-wise. Received a missive, in past few months, which included drawings made by a couple little kids. Very recently, I got a letter from the man who served as vice-principal during my high school years. I have been illustrating several letters for a couple years now and folks enjoy my often primitive sketches. Drawing is another means of communicating and can stand alone or be coupled with words. Art is diverse.
   Conflict seems apparent, no matter where one looks: it seems one must diligently seek good news. Search results have been something less than satisfactory but I am an optimist by nature: it's what keeps me going. I also consider myself a realist. So, I have begun my "resistance" by defying convention in small ways: wearing socks and underpants inside out because my comfort in avoiding seams, is more important than what the world at large may think of my little eccentricities. Besides, it isn't as though my skivvies have a big viewing audience.
   Lying in bed one morning, I composed a new prayer: Entity of Goodness, grant we may see this world through your eyes: Then we will see that distinctions of, class; skin color; language; sexuality/gender identity; culture; religion, or whatever difference we may choose to judge a group of humans, are meaningless. There is no *other* - there is only one; and we are equal.
   Not being widely-traveled, not so much as owning a passport, I only know of other countries what I read or hear on the news. I realize there are other countries and cultures which trample rights of those who dare to be different and not conform: whether those be socially-dictated gender norms or some other arbitrary confine. What is so irksome to me is United States having the unmitigated gall to chastise others for inhumanity, while itself committing blatant infractions. I am not, at this point, advocating anarchy - but what would it hurt if everyone was free to choose how to live? Obviously, restrictions are needed, but they need not be punitive or dictatorial. 
   Let us start with marriage equality: what does anyone gain by denying another person the right to marry whomsoever they love. Miscegenation laws kept persons of different races from inter-marrying but the world did not end when those laws were struck down. For generations, convention dictated only persons of opposite sex could marry and, again, it was no great disaster when persons of same sex could be joined together by legal ceremony. If you are walking down a street and see a person whose gender is not readily apparent: what difference does it make? Now ask yourself that question with regard to religion, socio/economic status, ethnicity, and so on and so forth. If you are honest with yourself, you will conclude it makes not make one bit of difference, so long as it does nothing to damage or disrupt your life. And don't go all fundamental on me - I mean really damage. 
   Here in United States, there is a group of mostly [old white] men who fear power will be wrested from their grasp. They arm themselves by denying rights of poor persons and those of women - particularly reproductive rights. Calling themselves "pro-life," they seek to block access to safe legal abortions and legislate removal of funds from programs which provide health care to indigent persons. There is [effectively] no concern for these children once they are born: they, the legislators, simply cannot be bothered.
   It is time to employ the *Lysistrata* strategy. For those unfamiliar, Lysistrata is an anti-war comedy by Greek playwright Aristophanes, in which women declare a moratorium on sex until a peace treaty is worked out. It is probably unrealistic to believe this could happen in great enough numbers to be effective. What about using "safe sex" measures, geared not only toward avoiding transmission of infection but unwanted pregnancy? That sounds like a winning combination. Meanwhile, promote adoption - because every child deserves to be wanted.
  I don't want to believe I have become a jaded cynic but I am inclined to believe the main goal behind forcing women to have babies, is a continuously replenished supply of cannon fodder. Perhaps military might is some kind of aphrodisiac? If one is determined to build a war machine, it would seem logical to at least give the "grunts" what they need to do their jobs effectively. But no: instead of decent boots - which Powers That Be want "on the ground," and rifles that function well - money is spent on big ticket items like aircraft carriers which, bluntly speaking, do not deliver all that much bang for the exorbitant amount of bucks they cost. I am a person of peaceful temperament but believe anyone committed to doing a dirty job ought at least be outfitted with appropriate gear.
   There is bias in our educational system also: I doubt this situation will improve under current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who seems hell-bent on destroying public schools. Inequity of education has long been a problem and I saw example when mentoring through HOSTS [Help One Student To Succeed] program. A child from a home in which English was not parents' first language, was supposed to write down vowels associated with certain pictures. I distinctly recall one of the objects depicted was a golf club. Trust me, "golf" was not a word in this child's lexicon. Standardized tests and worksheets geared to affluent whites, are a piss-poor terrible way to measure academic achievement. We are supposed to be raising children, not little machines. I do not claim to have *all the answers* but encourage people to talk to one another and work towards empowering people, not beating them down. There used to be a slogan "A mind is a terrible thing to waste:" well, that mind may be in the head of a child who is not afforded quality education, due to parental poverty.
  I hear older [generally over 50] people complain about 'what the younger generation is coming to.' (This has been going on since verbal communication began - maybe before.) Well, make sure everyone has ready access to: potable water; adequate housing; a living wage; a safe environment. Because believe me, until you guarantee those minimums for everyone, pink hair, inked skin, and pierced faces, are the very least of your problems.
   This is a lot to mull over and we could talk until we are both hoarse, but we will let the rest go for now.

Rebelliously yours,

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Victims and oppressors - letter 128

Hello my dear,
   This missive was not born a fait accompli - it sort of evolved. I know I promised to send it when you came up in queue but it was your response to Mr. Y on 22 March, 2017 that directed me on this course. It is our communion which led me to believe this needed to be read by our comrades.
   I do not believe I have ever considered myself a victim and - even as a big sister, I doubt my siblings considered me an oppressor. Oppressors, like their subspecies pedophiles, tend to breed their own victims, ensuring continuous supply. As a close second, oppressors foster the system that does its best to keep people from escaping the ranks of victim status. There seems no end of means to debase individuals, and all one need do is convince a target audience that a certain class of people deserves to be degraded. Voila! a segment of the populace is seen as undesirable. Fortunately, this is not foolproof: in every age, in every culture, there is a rebel band that refuses to accept the notion of 'other,' knowing that all are meant to be one. I like to believe I have now evolved into a member of this band, though I was not always so compassionate.
   I have come to appreciate my good fortune and am aware of my privilege. During last two decades, have striven to use my position to benefit others. Though I rarely wear earrings now, at one time I wore 18 - and was pleasantly surprised how well multiple piercings were received. I also have several visible tattoos and am quite vocal in admonishing those who persist in demeaning and decrying those who wear ink. Seems to me people who have tattoos are not so different from those who, say, dress exclusively in red clothes. Personal preferences and fashion statements are marks of individuality: as such, they should be celebrated. What I'm saying is, "cookie cutters" are for dough and labels for promoting products: neither should be applied to people.
   One venue in which oppressors seem keen to build a pool of victims is United States healthcare system. A few years ago, when I moved into [this] HUD housing unit, there was a resident who paid full market value because her net worth disqualified her from receiving subsidies. Subject of healthcare came up in one of our discussions as we were playing cards one afternoon. She said, "With 'Obamacare,' you're doing as well as I." It was clear from her tone of voice she was distinctly disgruntled. Looking her straight in the eye, I retorted, "As well I should." Not bothering to take into account the luxuries her wealth afforded her, the unspoken attitude was clearly, *What's the good of being rich if poor people are treated the same?* What boggles my mind is that education, decent healthcare, and affordable/adequate housing are seen as anything other than basic rights. When people toss out "Well Jesus said, 'The poor you have always with you'," as some sort of just justification, my reply is that perhaps it was a challenge to those of means to step up and help the less fortunate. My opinion rankles some well-to-do persons: maybe I'm doing something right.
   As you contemplate the above, perhaps formulating a public response, let me leave you with a lighthearted scenario. Between St. Patrick's Day and first day of Spring, I telephoned one of our Texas friends to read a passage about defrosting a freezer which had greatly amused me. She chuckled delightedly and said it was funny I had read that to her - as she was dealing with same issue herself! Since I have been on something of a haiku kick, I came up with a bit of verse which, as most poetry can, be read on many levels.

A tyrant of ice,
smothers victims in its cold -
Defrost; set them free

Make of this what you will. I look forward to your reply - either on paper or online.


Monday, March 20, 2017

haiku/short poems

These verses have been written since I returned from Texas in 2011; some as recently as March 2017. Poetry, whether of epic length or short-form, is a means of expression as personal as individual writers and readers. These were written for my own enjoyment and are shared with you for whatever pleasure or insight you may find.

(A haiku of winter doldrums)
A song of darkness,                             
is sung in the key of sad -                      
Does anyone hear?    

(Getting the mail)

Bundle up, go out
shovel snow and chisel ice
trudge back, bearing bills

Pecking at keyboard

sort thru' glossy images:
cyber dating sites

Chimney standing watch:                       
a sentinel on duty, 
guarding the fortress                                             

Glimmer of sunshine
waiting for me on the banks,
Calling me homeward                                        

Remote start the car,
Wander out into the dark:
The morning commute

Old person wanders
confusion and loneliness:
Senile dementia

Icicles hanging
like the Sword of Damocles -
peril lies below!   

'Neath my feet, snow squeaks              
White stillness gleams in the sun,           
While winter surrounds me                   

Slice and butter bread                          
toast golden-brown in skillet                 
with cheese in between

Grilled cheese on rye bread
and creamy tomato soup
Comfort, sustenance                           

Coats, scarves and mittens                   
children stomping through the snow:      
Boots conquer terrain!                          

There, 'midst melting snow
a tiny bud is peeping
Crocus - breath of spring 

Clouds, like puffs of breath
Shadows creep in, daylight dims -
Evening settles in 

Pressure has formed ice,
snow is piled ever higher -

Darkness settles in,
the day's promise is fading -
yet hope still lingers

If I take these pills
does that make me a junkie? 
Please, just stop the pain.

Seeking comfort, warmth -

call familiar number,
"Thin crust, extra sauce."

framework, standing all alone,
will "wear" tomorrow

Moon riding aloft,
whispers a song to the darkness,
"Be at peace, dear one." 

I'm so very cold,
It feels strangely like death - but
Heart beats, breath fogs mirror

Another Sunday
just one of fifty-two, that I'm
glad to spend with you

Polar vorteces,
new-age plague of snow and ice:
Not Black Death, but white

Malicious snowfall
smothering Spring as it wakes
unrelenting cold 

Spectral melody
Whispering through dim-lit woods
a ghostly goodnight 

The next several snippets of verse were written as I sat by the bed of a hospice patient, a client.

Breaths which are shallow, 

chest rising, nearly imperceptibly: 
Death lingers near, as yet uninvited.

Snow falling outside
dancing, dizzy little sprites -
Winter's last hurrah!

New season summoned,
Brave crocus heralds the news:
Lady Spring has arrived

Warmth sings siren song
holds promise for which I long - 
It is Spring, at last!

Long-awaited Spring,
we thought you would never come -
How welcome you are!

Beguiling beauty,
intoxicating splendor,
I am enamored

From the porch, chimes sound -
stirred by a vagabond breeze:
Song of enchantment

Dead tree stands in the back yard:
limbs long since broken and burned;
laughter of children who once scaled its heights,
only an echo, a faded memory

Death waits outside the door, 
not knowing Its presence would be most welcome:
communication breakdown
Chilled beyond my bones,
cold consumes me totally:
Will I ever thaw? 

Light is not "hidden,"
but sometimes it is disguised -
look then, more closely

The labyrinth winds
Grace, smelling of spring flowers
Road to salvation

The path beckons me,
Silence of the Lamb of God,
meek, humble, I follow 

Birds, bees, flowers, warmth:
Spring has finally arrived!
"Really?" sneered Winter

I salute you, Goddess Moon,
your beatific smile and serenity comfort me,
your regal bearing enthralls me 

Sun shining brightly
its warmth is a loving smile -
a benediction 

Evening shadows fall,
melancholy, or watchful:
it's how one sees it. 

Sultry evening,
dark clouds on the horizon -
then rain is released!

The fire of love is burning bright
It beckons me on this lone, cold night - 
The cat's eyes blink in welcome

Shadows gathering,
speaking of wonders untold -
I am listening 

Geese honk overhead,
heralding the coming day,
flying before it 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Making friends with Black Dog - letter 127

   Through Facebook and other means, I am in contact with people throughout the world. It seems a large number are subject to bouts of depression, with episodes varying in frequency and intensity. My personal experience with depression was brief: it was situational in nature; a result of sadness at missing my Texas friends and surroundings. Following are my thoughts on the subject. Though I have a Minor in psychology, I am by no means "expert."

My dear,
   Though I address this letter to you, it is written for a lot of people, including myself. I do not believe anyone is exempt from at least short periods of dysphoria. There seems to be a school of thought which decrees one must be "happy" at all times. Rubbish!
   Have you not occasionally reveled in the gloom of an overcast day? Sometimes it just suits one's mood to give in to 'the me-grims' and be blissfully melancholy. Yes, that is a contradiction in terms. So what? Life is a contradiction in terms and the sooner we acknowledge and accept that, better off we are.
   Reviewing letters recently, I read differing views on phenomena of melancholia and depression. To be sure, they differ from person to person; culture to culture; even generation to generation. It feels unhealthy to me to encounter insistence on being upbeat all the time. The *road map* of life includes potholes, detours, and head-on collisions: naturally responses to these glitches will differ from those expressed at weddings, bar mitzvahs, christenings, and the like. The various states of human psyches are fascinating, confusing: nothing short of a glorious mess. Fears and anxieties abound and there are times a person requires medication to facilitate function. Sadly, pill-popping seems to have become a national pastime. Not a judgement, merely an observation. Thinking of several friends, acquaintances, and one very special black dog, I was moved to write following poem.

27 Feb. 2017
The Black Dog
I blamed Black Dog for taking my joy - did not understand it wanted to play.
But the games Black Dog played were strange to me: he was wrapped in dark veils, he hid behind trees.
Was Black Dog "Depression" - or just Melancholy? Modern folk do themselves disservice -
thinking they must always be *jolly.* (What folly!)
I learned to love Black Dog, who meant me no harm; Indeed, I find *weirdness* exudes certain charm.
Melancholia gives freedom to not be "on stage" - to take off one's makeup and let go of rage;
to wrap in the comfort of silky gray shadows, to walk in stark fields and storm-harried meadows.
When one goes thru' a Dark Night, the Sun comes out brighter. After burdens are shed, the soul feels lighter.
Black Dog is coming but don't run away: stand your own ground and then firmly say,
"My life, my rules: we can stroll in the shadows but beyond this grim field, I see a bright meadow.
I will walk there a while but will come back to you. We two share a bond, as friends often do."
I will linger a while as we shed wistful tears; we will know quiet times as we go thru' the years.
But you must let me go to walk in the sun - to dance and sing, mayhap even run.
I love you Black Dog, for I now know your worth; you're like rain and dark clouds, which help nourish Earth.
We need times of darkness to regroup and rest; then comes the Sun, to highlight the best.
"Bright" wouldn't be there, without times of sadness - eternal sunlight would surely bring madness.
I cherish your darkness, please bask in my smile. Let's play together, then part for a while.
We'll never be strangers; you're deep in my soul. We're half of each other; together we're whole.

   I hope you have been well served, dear; one friend has commended my insight. May you find the joy you seek.