Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hazardous to Your Health

By chance the other day, I got word of a fairly new book with fascinating, if not stunning conclusions. Put simply, the rate of violence, especially in the form of homicides and suicides, rises dramatically when Republicans are in the White House.
Can't say I'm surprised, are you? But it's really no so much about war and the continuation of bankrupt policies, or outsourcing war, it's more in the area of socioeconomic stress that the data points

James Gilligan, in the book Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous than Others states his case. Not really looking to prove this thesis out the outset, Gilligan, a professor of psychology at NYU, says that the data surfaced rather by chance and he could not leave it alone. Apparently he was originally looking at other non-specific causes of violent behavior but the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.kept getting into the equation.
Of course there must be exceptions to these findings. Republicans have no monopoly on stressing out the populace. Certainly to my generation, the irony of Lyndon Johnson's presidency jumps out. I clearly recall people in 1966 saying, "We voted for Johnson and got Goldwater." At least Johnson had the foresight not to run for office again after his hands got so bloodied with the Vietnam debacle. The sad thing was always that Johnson fancied himself the incarnation of FDR and he was well on his way to getting there. He wasted no time getting JFK's Civil Rights legislation passed and actually did declare a war on poverty. I became a Vista Volunteer because of his efforts. It's those undeclared wars that do it every time.
So let's say that Mr. Galligan's thesis is right on the money. What could that possibly mean for the future? If Obama wins re-election, maybe the numbers will again tell their story. Already troops are on the way home from Iraq. That means fewer cases of PTSD as well as all the psychological consequences that come with the stress and anxiety of deployment, maintaining relationships, and dealing with uncertain futures. But what about overall health care? What about education? Not sure how that ties in, but it must. I keep thinking of all my former students in their mid to late 20s and early 30s with stellar degrees and no career prospects. Moving back in with your parents after college has go to be stressful.
That begs the question of demographics. Will Republican presidents become a thing of the past when more and more Latino voters join the pool? By 2050 what will this country look like and what will that say about who we elect? Third party movements usually fall as fast as they rise, but maybe now the time is right. Think of the possibilities of a political party based on principles of mental health. All quite fascinating.
There is one other elephant in the room. (Pun intended) That is, why don't more people know about this book? What is preventing other politicians from using this data to their best advantage? Certainly I don't expect James Gilligan to be a guest on Fox News anytime soon. Now, I haven't read the book, but I intend to. With a thesis like that, I'd surely like to know more.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Burning Woods

Christmas nears. The Fox network continues to predictably defend it and it's traditions while it repeatedly airs commercials that re-write traditional songs with messages and tidings of greed. I even saw one this year which flips and twists the notion that receiving is better than giving. Surprised? Not really. More evidence of this over the top culture, pushing boundaries of commercialism to new heights. Gatsby's green light shines...glistens...blinds.
But this year we have a new phenomena, the Layaway angel. People are coming forward and paying off items that the less fortunate (read less wealthy) are trying to purchase for the big day. I'm so tainted, I'm not sure I even believe these folks are on the square, as the old union organizers used to say. Likewise, the major news outlets and the local happy-talk teams are running stories about Secret Santas and first time food bank users. Where is the forest? Is everyone so focused on the trees that they don't see the glaring forest fire in front of them?
Yes, it's important to help those less fortunate; but ask why do they continue to be less fortunate? How can I help there? Why are there more folks living from month to month, depending on food banks or food stamps, or waiting for big box angels than ever?
Maybe it just comes with what's been called the "Season of Sharing." But does that mean we don't share the rest of the time?
Even those more informed or democratic institutions have joined the holiday chorus. I've noticed that most everybody wants to get a piece of the holiday dollar. Education organizations and publishing houses I support are urging me not to forget their products as Christmas gift-giving ideas this year. Hey, it's tough out there and the holidays represent one last opportunity to get in the black.
I'm thinking about this a good deal these days. The trick, of course, is not to raise the issue as a naysayer. Give from the heart, encourage others to do the same, but also figure out a way they can look for the forest. We nee to get in those woods before we can get out of them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For Love of Robert Creeley

I've been reading and listening to the poetry of Robert Creeley all afternoon. Relieved to find I still have an important little volume of his work, I found his voice all over the internet and You Tube.
He'd like that. I do.

Robert Creeley - A Form Of Women.mp3
Download at rapidlibrary mp3 music
Rapid Library Music

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twice As Deep

As often happens, two figures in the world arena have died within days. I don't know if these passings come in triplicate, only the next week will tell. For now the death of Vaclav Havel and now North Korean president Kim Jong Il represent a most fascinating juxtaposition. I think I'm correct in assuming Kim was the more widely known. It's fairly difficult to repress and oppress an entire nation without being recognized these days. But Havel, the former playwright turned politico may leave a more lasting legacy.

In the days to come North Korea may not even change as the son will take up where the father left off. But for how long? Even the most evil despots, the most pathological plutocrats all have a bit of a say in their own undoing. Perhaps in North Korea's case, the encroaching technology will open that country wide as a treasure chest as it appears to have done in China. But one person's treasure is certainly not always another's. I'm sure horror stories will follow. Hard to believe the power one person can have over an entire nation, but then even a cursory study of history reinforces that notion. Let's hope the son rebels. Let's hope he wants to travel. Let's hope he is well read.
As for Vaclav Havel, his words will live on. His experience and his ability to articulate it are already beginning to open eyes. In a speech given back in 1994, on the occasion of winning The Liberty Medal, Vaclav Havel noted:
By day, we work with statistics; in the evening, we consult astrologers and frighten ourselves with thrillers about vampires. The abyss between the rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective, the technical and the moral, the universal and the unique constantly grows deeper.
It's difficult to imagine many national leaders putting a couple of sentences like those together. It begs the question: what if more world leaders were writers?
Speaking today on NPR writer Ariel Dorfman noted that Havel was more concerned about moral authority than anything else. Makes him the direct opposite of Kim. Maybe the abyss, in some ways can be filled with some of Havel's ideas, his caveats, his wisdom.
Hard not to think about Fidel Castro as the third leg of this trifecta. We are just about 1/5 into the second decade of the 21st century. Let's hope the universal moves in tandem with the unique.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Over and Out?

I like a hero as much as the next person. The U.S. intervention in Iraq, which apparently ended today, certainly produced it's share of heroes. As the late Andy Rooney once wrote, "If war brings out the worst in people, It also brings out the best."
Lots of stories from Iraq about the best coming out. But then, that's human nature. While the media focuses on those heroic stories, the ones that feature dogs, kids, the maimed and psychologically damaged, they rarely look at the big picture. With this rather low ceremonious exit, especially during the height of the holiday season, I'm looking for more on the big picture.
Haven't seen it yet, but I will give it some time. Those of us who learned many lessons from the Vietnam War probably never expected to see U.S. troops involved in an unwinable war again. Too bad those lessons were altered and ultimately trashed. When Dwight Eisenhower coined the term "Military-Industrial Complex" I wonder if he had any idea that a foreign invasion, an undeclared war, could be outsourced. I wonder if he had any inkling that the industrial part of the equation could so heavily involve the private sector?
As writer Chris Hedges has so eloquently stated, "war is a force that gives us meaning." I guess that's why these little international interventions have their defenders. Why they continue to think that all the sacrifices of life and limb really do have a direct connection to their personal freedom. All this while they go to Ikea and buy cheap rugs and home decorations made in Vietnam, our highly rated trading partner. Do they realize that the factories that employ the young workers are built over the bodies of so many of their countrymen that had those same beliefs. Do they see the relationship between their decreased quality of life and the billions spent monthly on this immoral adventure.
The ability to sell war along with $300. sneakers is truly remarkable.
Got to admit, tying Iraq to the shock an awe of the 9/11 attacks was a handy piece of work.
So, 4500 Americans die, 30,00 are wounded, how many more psychologically destroyed forever? How many thousand Iraqis? How many lives knew nothing else but this war. Nine years. What happens now? Well, what do we know? Where do we look to begin to conceive an answer? And...of course, when do we go "over there" again for some vague objective that makes a few very wealthy.
A final question: Who will write this history?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Card

Found object...found art.

Sometimes the best "Christmas Cards" are right outside your front door. I've had my eye on this neighbor's display for a few days now, and when the sun came out today, I knew I had to grab the camera and get this photo.
My favorite things: the juxtaposition between two seemingly unrelated things. Here we have greed, love, forgiveness, intolerance, eternal war, heavenly peace.
I wonder how many people drive by this striking image everyday and simply just don't see it?

Yes Worries

What follows is an updated/edited version of an older post. Two additions here: first of all, I did hear from my "friend" and ultimately from my older friend, her father. All is well there. What wasn't so well is that the original illustration shown here needed to be removed because of potential copyright infringement. My bad. It was a wonderful rendering of a rather intense, pensive individual. Looked good here but apparently not for public consumption. No worries mate, it's gone.
I really haven't heard it anywhere else. I'm sure people say "No Worries" in other parts of the country, but I never heard it when I lived in California. In Portland, I hear it every day. Yesterday, I heard a young man say the phrase three times in about a minute. I usually say "No Problem." But worries, for me are not problems. I'm a worrier.
Most of my worry time is either early in the morning when I awake, or at the end of the day, if I can't get to sleep in a reasonable amount of time.
So what's on my worry list these days? A few things. I worry, of course about the situation right now in Egypt. My sense of history tells me that we haven't seen much yet. Today the revolution will be televised. It's a heady thing to see thousands of people in the street. Some ideas cannot be stopped when their time has come. Ask Frederick Douglass, ask French, Chinese, Russian peasants, among others. Ask Nelson Mandela.
I worry about health care in this country. And I have coverage. I can't figure out why we can't take care of our own people. Same goes for education budgets. Lots to worry about there. I even worry about seemingly unimportant things. Case in point, an email I sent the other day to the daughter of a couple I knew about 25 years ago.
I was playing around on Facebook and actually found this young woman while searching for her parents. They divorced some years ago, and their daughter is now in her 20s and living on the East Coast. I only met her once. She was about a week old and in her mothers arms. I got a quick peek and then thee friends moved to the Southwest. I know her mom is still there, but I lost track of her father. He was a wonderful writer, and I see that his daughter has aspirations of following in that path as well. So I sent her a message at the risk of being taken for everything from an internet predator to an "unwelcome" friend. I simply wat to know if her father is alive and well, or if not, what and when? Haven't heard back. I'm worried.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's All There

This is the time of the year I look for an old cassette tape of "alternative" Christmas music. I made the tape one Christmas Eve from a listener sponsored radio station in the Bay Area about 30 years ago. It's a wonder that the tape still plays, but it does if you stretch it out a bit by fast forwarding it up and back a few times. A good metaphor for me right now!
This year, I decided to forego my search for the cassette and went straight to the net. The tape contains all kinds of Christmas blues, gospel, country, bluegrass, music and a few things that defy categorization. So far my internet search has enabled me to find much of what's on that lost tape. There are all the great Charles Brown holiday classics, Elvis Presley's version of Christmastime in the City (pretty baby) Bill Monroe's Christmastime's a Comin' and wonderful spirituals by the Blind Boys of Alabama and Clara Ward. I found some Conjunto music with Flaco Jiminez and Freddie Fender as well. MyI top 10 alternative holiday music countdown can be found on my Facebook page if anyone wants to give a listen.
It still amazes me how easy it is to locate music, film and video on the internet. Time was when most folks, especially teachers, spent hours trying to find material for their classes. Used to be that you'd have to track down video material at libraries, through catalogs, word of mouth, or actually doing the legwork. If you wanted something rare or out of the ordinary, you paid. Being a fan of pop culture, I used to rent, buy or borrow short films, advertising clips, records, tapes, or other recordings to bring in the likes of blues artists, the voices of poets, films that were either labeled or thought to be dicey for use in high school classroom. So easy now. What used to be just another annoying ad is now a historical document:

Like everyone, I enjoy the technology. The beginning teachers I work with aren't particularly fond of my stories of how easy they have it when it comes to accessing supplementary material. I just hope they realize how difficult it is to type up a short story yo want to use, or how long it took to track down that out of print film clip, or an old TV ad that would really make the point you were driving at so vigorously.
Seems like not too long ago I marveled at having a recording of Woody Guthrie's "Jesus Christ" Today, when I looked on You Tube, I found three, not to mention a few cover versions.
I'd like to think that with all this exposure to previously difficult to find material we, as a culture, are going up the learning curve. Care to comment?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

33 Percent

In this difficult time, I'm constantly looking for things to feel better about, or at least feel some optimism. I'm a firm believer that when things look the most bleak, you've got to dig down a bit further. You know: if you fall off the horse, get back up right away. It's too easy to lose perspective on your own situation when it doesn't take too much to realize that many other folks have it a lot worse than you do.
I worry that so many of my former students must have placed their dreams and hopes on hold. Every now and then I see another college graduate, with increasing debt, and a new job at a temp agency. If I were in the classroom full time these days, I wonder just how difficult it would be to motivate kids given that the goal of a college education, and it's benefits, just might look a little hollow right now. And then this: From a recent Harper's Index comes this little statistic:
• Chance that an American who earned a bachelor's degree in 2008 will be paying off student loans in 2028: 1 in 3
I started thinking about my own history of student loans. After all, I paid for my entire college education myself. Through a couple of part time jobs I financed my undergraduate years. Of course, even as a commuter student at UCLA, the price of gas was a fraction of what it is today. But then minimum wage was under $2.00. I think I made about $2.25 at best in those days. Tuition at the UC system was unbelievingly low compared to today's figures.
When I secured a couple of loans and grants so that I could attend graduate school at UC Berkeley, I was motivated by the promise that if I secured a teaching position, especially in an under-resourced district with a diverse student population, that much of my debt would be deferred. That never happened because the government changed it's mind. The notion of a "National Defense" student loan morphed into a monthly payment and it took me about 5 years to repay it given I was making about 10k a year back then. What a bargain compared to today's costs.

If education becomes too costly for 1 in 3, just imagine how costly it becomes without it. Are we a nation that can't seem to meet the needs of our people without weighing whether or not we can afford it? Afraid so.
No, I won't vent here. I'm too lost in thinking how fortunate I've been. As a first generation college graduate in my working class family, I'm actually happy I bought the picture. I swallowed that star-spangled dream that promised a better life. For me it worked, to a degree. Retired teachers are hardly the epitome of the landed gentry. But with very few teaching jobs, even fewer factory or technology jobs calling the U.S. home, what's that leave? Service industry?
This morning I chanced to look at some children's books in a bookstore. Fresh from monitoring an online discussion on the Teacher's Learning Network about those Little Golden Books we all had as beginning readers, I marveled at how some are still in print. There are a few with copyright dates in the late 1940s and early 50s. Of course there are newer ones, but some of those like The Night Before Christmas still exist in their original form. Then I found one called Daddies.

Yes it was sexist, with all the jobs that men do. Kids were getting the message that only men were doctors or worked in factories, or were cops. You get the picture. The original drawings were just as colorful and charming as I recall. Those Little Golden Books are real treasures. Then it hit me. Most of those jobs that those daddies went off to don't exist anymore. Some do, but many were exported. That little book takes on new meaning. It's now a historical document. The way it was.