Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Nation We Are Becoming

I sometimes wonder why would anyone run for President of the United States.  But then I realize the nature of the "political animal," as Aristotle so perfectly labeled us.  The power is seductive for those attracted to same.  The desire to sit at the top of the heap, call the shots, and perhaps most significant, to realize you have a place in history, must be all to much for those of us with enormous egos to be assuaged.  Occasionally, we'll see a genuinely selfless person throw his/her hat into the ring, but for most who give it a try, they all have that common denominator.
In this current campaign, we've seen some new lows.  Decorum be damned, most of the political discussions that pass for serious commentary quickly disintegrate into alley fights with people talking over each other smiling a smarmy smile until some kind of order is restored.  What I've seen on the networks lately, I wouldn't let stand in a classroom discussion.  Some role models we're getting these days.

I've been thinking, too, about what the real qualifications of the job might be.  Given life in America in 2016, seems to me that a whole new set of criteria are necessary.
Lets start with Empathy:This new President is going to have to deal with gun violence, and be the bearer of bad news to families as well as the nation.  Since we've taken our place as "The Gun Country," it's not unrealistic to think that our new leader is going to have a fair share of mass shootings to deal with.
Emotional Strength: Given the state and frequency of terrorism and the degree of paranoia currently present, our President is going to need to be level-headed under pressure.  There will be emergencies both human and natural (nature) aplenty in the next 4 years.
Intelligence:  A captain at the helm better know the lessons of history as well as the latest information about technology, geo-politics, climate change, and cultural sensitivity.  Speaking a few languages wouldn't hurt either.  I would add another characteristic here.  Who do these candidates surround themselves with?  What kind of people do they take for the finest minds out there?  Who will be in their sphere of influence.
Vulnerability and Humanity:  This quality would make some folks I know cringe, but I want to advance it anyway.  A President that the majority of the people can respect is crucial.  Being vulnerable and showing human qualities can do just that, in my view.  Our populace is so polarized now that it just might be too late for any kind of lasting unity, but someone in the White House that earns and commands respect by virtue of just being a human being with human frailties and sensibilities would be refreshingly welcome.
Come November 8, we'll see just what we get.  And...if there is any truth to the notion that the people we elect are the people we deserve, we'll learn a bit about the nation we are and are becoming.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Forever Elvis

I dropped Elvis in the slot
      His signature guarding my mortgage payment
on a journey to Southern California.
The stamp said Forever, like the inside of the Community Market resting for eternity in my brain.
As a 10 -year old, I purchased "Jailhouse Rock" for 69 cents. The 45s were in a bin near the cash register.
At 69 I hope to have 10 years in my home.
Elvis is forever

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Tree Without Roots

Yesterday I watched the President speak at the opening of the National Museum of African American History.  Long overdue is the understatement of the year; even in this year of the Trump!  Against the background of a nation building a shrine to the people and contributions that literally made this country came a couple of cringe-worthy news sound bites where people in the Trump campaign showcased their ignorance by making such outrageous claims as, "There was no racism before the Obama administration."
Where to begin?
That many people in influential positions do not know their own history is a good place.  This is the mission I was on when I decided to become a teacher.  I was fresh from a history textbook education when I entered college.  It just so happened to be 1966.  In the immediate years that followed, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement came my real instruction in American History.  Fortunate enough to find myself with the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the first African American history classes at UCLA (of course they were called Negro History back then) I recall saving all the reading for those classes until everything else was done.  I savored those book.  No matter that the subject matter was often brutal and gut wrenching, I read like Lincoln by candle light.  Black Cargoes, by Malcolm Cowley and Daniel Mannix. The narrative of Frederick Douglass, the novels of Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, the poetry of Dunbar and McCay, the writings of Dubois, B.T. Washington, Malcolm X,  Where were these texts when my love of history was developing in high school?  Where are they now, I wonder?

I'll never forget the first time I set eyes on this diagram from the book Black Cargoes:

I remember when I was a VISTA Volunteer, working in the worst areas of Houston, Texas, how one of the guys on my project set about making sure that some of the aforementioned titles and authors were available in the local public library.  It was his personal mission.  One thing that helped him that year was the fact that as employees of the federal government we were able to access what was called a "government book kit."  Part of the budget of the Office of Economic Opportunity in those "War on Poverty" days included a set of about 25 books, mostly paperback, that we could receive and distribute as we saw fit.  Some ended up in local libraries.  How gratifying it was to bring African American titles to the Jefferson Davis county library in Texas!
I'd love to see the federal government reinstate this policy and distribute some book kits to people who don't know their own history.  I've a few books I can suggest that might help hide our embarrassment when people who know nothing embarrass themselves and our image as a literate people.  As Malcolm X said, "a people without history is like a tree without roots. "  Now that so much of our country's history has been recovered and revealed, it's a shame not to spread it around.
A few books that would make any list would include:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Black Cargoes by Cowley and Mannix
White over Black by Winthrop Jordan
Slave and Citizen by Frank Tannenbaum
My short list is a mix of new and old.  There are hundreds of others in all fields from literature to the behavioral sciences.  Hopefully one read will lead to another.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Clear on the Concept

So here we are with the familiar lesser of two evils situation for a Presidential election.  So many people feeling the pull of "been there and done that."  Except that the done that part is different because they don't want to "do" anything.  They don't want to vote.
Dangerous thing. Very dangerous thing.
If we have a "both candidates suck," situation, shouldn't we work on how we got this way?  Shouldn't we realize that whether we vote or not, of the evils is going to be the next President of the United States?
Third parties are tempting.  They will siphon off thousands of votes this time, like they always do.  But they will probably do nothing to ease our dilemma.  Still, I hear, more and more, "Im not voting this year.

So what exactly happens when an individual surrenders her/his vote?  This time around, it makes possible the first candidate in a good while that is truly unfit for the job.  It makes the forces of all this evil easily able to propagate their questionable agenda.  It disrespects democracy.
Let's look at that last point.  When I taught U.S. Government, we were able to register 18 year olds if we had any in class.  Many would probably not make the effort themselves, but our on site registration would occur only after studying the history of voting rights struggles in this country.  I think many folks who are eagerly abandoning their vote this year could do with a review of this history.  It's almost impossible to sacrifice your vote when you know about the poll tax, the grandfather clause and, of course, the literacy test.  Those three were effectively used to deny Black Americans the right to vote for decades.  The documentation is all there.  "How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?" really was on a literacy test.  Of course, if that didn't do the trick there was always outright violence as a form of imitation.  How many lives were taken or permanently ruined all for the desire to do a little voting.  To acknowledge this and to learn from it means voting...every time.  Period.

Today we have what one writer recently termed a "National Emergency."  That's a direct reference to the Trump campaign.  He would ask people to vote for Clinton if only as a way to acknowledge this threat our democracy as the number one priority.  Cue flashing lights and sirens.  Some, no doubt, will do this. Sadly, others will not.  In the end, we will get what we deserve.
I'm reminded of a couple who lived in rural Kansas.  He was a Republican and she a Democrat.  Each election day they would drive for 3 hours to vote, and then 3 more hours after a lunch break to get home.  Though their votes always cancelled each other out, they never missed voting.  Now that's being clear on the concept.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three Creeks Lake Day 2

The weather changed and day two at this small lake high in the Cascades dawned clear and sunny.  The water was calm with only a twinge of wind from time to time.  Still the fishing was slow and all I got for my efforts was tired.  Nevertheless, it's wonderful to be there.  I thought the rainbow that appeared over the lake yesterday might be some kind of omen.  Just a brief beauty, that's all.  After about 6 hours in two visits, I decided that the fish were laying low and not eating much.  Maybe they indulged too much on Labor Day?

Then a dragonfly landed on me?  Another omen?  I was hoping.  By 1:00 I was hopeful of a hatch and fish rising to make landing something easier.  Not to be.  Then, in a heartbeat, it all changed.  A bump...was that a bite?  Well, just making contact was a relief.  I can stop second guessing myself.  Then that unmistakable feeling of a fish on; fish gone.  Finally a huge tug and the rod bends mightily. Suddenly it's over.  Lost him.  I retrieve my line and see that the fly is gone.  Either the knot failed or he bit or snapped me off.  The tug was strong.  The feeling of a wild fish unmistakeable.  That's what I have.  All I have.  Once the frustration and anger disappear.  I tally up the learning.  I made contact. I will always have the knowledge that I had that success.  I need no trophies.  I need no more pictures.  I would have loved to see the colors and size of that fish, but that will never be.  I must be content to own these memories.  I am.
Sometimes when I float on a lake I get to thinking about all the things that have to come together for me to feel a fish tug on the end of my line.  There is the travel time to get to the water.  There is the road and weather conditions.  The rod is assembles, the reel added and then line strung through the guides.  Flies need to be carefully tied on the tippet.  Try threading a needle with your glasses slipping or wind snapping in your face.  Inflate the tube. Change into waders, wading boots and ultimately swim fins.  Carry it all down to the water.  Don't forget sun screen, water, some food, your tools (line clipper, forceps, fly boxes) sunglasses, hat, landing net.  Now you're set.  Just add patience.  That instant you make contact with a trout, all the pieces fit together.  All the effort intersects with chance and luck and a little bit of skill thrown in.  Then it all comes undone until next time.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Two Lessons

I drove up to Three Creeks Lake this morning.  It was only a 16 mile drive because we've been staying in Sisters, Or for a few days.  I usually get up there once a year and put my float tube on that little alpine lake high in the Cascades in search of Rainbow and Brook trout.  It's a fickle lake offering up some of the finest days and then some of the worst. fly fishing, or rather the Zen of fly fishing, it all has meaning and my task is to be content to learn from what I get.  What I got this day was cold, wet, and very windy.  Wind is the foe of the fly fisher.  It's difficult to cast line because the wind will blow it off course, or back in your face.

 For the float tuber, like myself, it's a double whammy because you get blown all over the place and kick with your fins (we wear swim fins on our feet) twice as hard.  In the end I took a little break after a couple of hours kicking around the lake.  I went back for more, but after another hour, when the wind came up again, and another drizzle left me dripping, I decided to give it another try tomorrow.  The weather in these parts changes from minute to minute.  Life is like that, no?  Here's where today's lesson comes in.  Change is from minute to minute and we cannot predict how something will go.  Just because we've had one experience with a place or person, doesn't mean it will be the same next time.
On my way back down the mountain, in the couple of miles of "Rough Road," I decided to let a Forest Service truck pass me.  I like to slowly wind my way down that washboard surface and sneak a peak at the wildlife and bird life that abounds in that area.  So I pulled over and he went past.  Just as I was about to turn back on the gravel road, my wheels started to spin in a thick pocket of loose gravel.  I was stuck.  A couple who'd been hiking the nearby wilderness trail walked by so I rolled down my window.  The guy offered, "Back up and then go forward.  If you get a running start you'll have a better chance at getting out of there."  It worked.  I came spinning up and over the hindrance and back onto the main road.  For some reason I said to my new friend, "Much obliged."  Where did that come from?  Well, it is the wild West up there.  Lesson number two, sometimes we have to go backward before we can go forward.  Or at least right ourselves.  Pictures to follow.