I live in a suburban area not too far from a major thoroughfare. Fortunately there are a large number of trees and a nearby creek. Some what secluded, it’s one of those places that, were civilization to suddenly disappear, the resident wildlife would quickly and happily take over the area. In addition to about two hundred homes, there are hundreds of birds, at least one coyote family, skunks, raccoons, gray squirrels and an unknown number of possums.
It is a great place to walk, and due to the stay at home order, lots of dogs are out walking their humans. This morning I ran into a gaggle of adolescent turkeys out on a morning walk with Mom. We often see groups of turkeys on our front lawns. One nearby road even has a Turkey Crossing warning sign.
We are living through a terrible time. It isn’t the result of just one thing, but many things interacting. The less- than- stellar response to the new corona virus and the horrific death of George Floyd have served to highlight the fact that there are social and economic problems that we have failed to address. And the price for those failures has now come due.
In this country, we do have the ability to address our problems, if we so choose. In fearful times, it is more important than ever that we use the powers given to us by our laws and Constitution. One of the most important of those is the right and duty to vote. You probably won’t find a candidate for any particular office you agree with completely (unless you write in your own name); but remember, by not voting, you are giving up your power to someone else – someone that may have positions on critical issues that you cannot support.
(apologies to singer Olivia Newton Johns’ recording of PHYSICAL)
I don’t much care for President Trump. I’ve had a hard time determining whether my dislike stems from his personality or his policies. I didn’t particularly care for former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s personality or all of his policies. I’ve never felt that the main quality of a President should be whether the voter would want to sit down with the candidate and have a beer; nor would I choose a doctor or dentist based on them being a “nice person.” Our current crisis has made it clear to me why I don’t care for President Trump; I don’t like the way he “answers” questions.
During one of the recent press briefings from the Covid 19 task force, one of the reporters asked the President if he had a message for the Americans who are frightened and confused about Covid 19. The President responded by a personal attack on the reporter, chiding him for asking a “nasty question” and asserting that he, (the reporter, not the President), was a terrible reporter. Absolutely no answer was given to the reporter’s question.
Contrast the President’s response to the reporter with one of the members of the Covid19 task force who was also on-stage. A reporter began by quoting three health workers. All three indicated a concern that the protective gear used by health workers was in short supply as were the testing kits. They were worried about the escalating numbers of infected people and the possibility that they would not be able to treat all who needed attention. The profession responded by empathizing with the health workers, then very clearly outlining the best way to get the needed supplies at the local level.
He did not make false promises (e.g. the kits have been shipped). He did not attack the reporter or question the validity of the concern. He accepted the question for what it was – information about how the process looked to those in field, actually dealing with the disease. He treated the question as an opportunity to provide needed information.
In teaching, questions from students are treated as important because they show what students do and do not understand. It provides the teacher an opportunity to clarify and provide additional information so students can learn.
In other words, true adults respond to questions as opportunities.
Less evolved people treat every question as a personal attack.
As a school principal, I once had a conversation with a parent from Ukraine. His child was in my office because he had refused the bus driver’s direction to sit down when the bus was in motion. The boy showed he had mastered at least some of the English language when he swore at the bus driver.
The father was incensed that his son was in trouble. After all, he asserted, the United States was a place where people were strong, assertive and independent. His son didn’t like where he was sitting and wanted to change places. He was just (literally!) standing up for himself, the way any American would. He knew this was the American way, he said, because he watched Westerns on television.
I like to think the discussion that followed led him to disavow his badly skewed view of American Society, but the view of the U.S. society as a collection of self-centered, non-cooperative individuals does persist.
Our current crisis requires cooperation and concern for others, as well as ourselves. We are all connected. No one person or group can survive long-term if we act primarily as individuals.
We do have great expectations of our society. We often claim that Americans can solve any problem, no matter how difficult: but this is true only if we work together. The failure to do so leads to grim reality.
Popular culture is inundated with Super Heroes. D.C. comic re-writes abound. Most Super Heroes emerged as a result of some societal trauma. WWII brought Captain America.
All of the Super Heroes have one thing in common. In one fell swoop they are able to solve problems we, as typical, weak, humans are incapable of solving. The current crop of Super Heroes has evolved to explore “flawed” Super Heroes. What would happen if a Super Hero switched sides and championed evil instead of good? There is even a new TV program this season in the US simply entitled “Evil”.
Too much focus on Super heroes can be toxic. It misleads us into thinking that the picture of everyday people as weak, fearful and incompetent is true.
I have a solution for that tendency – apply the Goldilocks Rule to your viewing and reading habits.
It goes like this:
TOO LITTLE: The complete absence of Super Heroes results in a dull world, devoid of inspiration.
TOO MUCH: The over abundance of Super Heroes and their adversaries leads to despair and a feeling of being unable to cope with even daily problems.
JUST RIGHT: Results in inspiration, minimizes despair, encourages seeing the possibilities rather than focusing on failures. It builds confidence rather than paralyzing fear.
If you are like me, you probably have things you say when you don’t know what to say. For example, I went through a phase where I commented “It is what it is” to almost everything. Of course it is what it is, it can’t be what it isn’t. I realize the phrase has a deeper meaning, but in the shorthand of today, that deeper meaning is usually not conveyed nor understood. We’re left with a shallow saying rather than true communication.
Language is always changing and evolving. Context changes rapidly and that affects meaning. One of my ‘favorite’ sayings illustrates that point- ‘the exception proves the rule.” On the face of it, the phrase is not logical. But, the meaning of the word ‘proves’ has morphed over time. It used to mean ‘tests’, but now we tend to use it to mean ‘support’.
Maybe next time I don’t know what to say, I should remember that “Silence is golden” – and offer a sympathetic nod or hand pat.
My husband, William B. James, a talented thinker, teacher and writer, passed away on September 2, 2014. For the past five years, I’ve left his now ten-year-old laptop computer on the desk in the room he used as an office. The computer could not be linked to the wi fi printer, the programs could no longer be updated and the screen was beginning to show that watery look that indicates it will not last much longer. Most of the time, Bill chose to write on yellow legal tablets. I have placed those in storage, but there was one short draft that was on his computer. I saved it to a flash drive. It appears below. It was good to hear his voice again.
For me, liberal means that we are committed to meeting the basic needs of life for our citizens. This means food on the table and a roof over our heads and then a civil society where education, work and free communication is valued as a way of life. If your first interest is your racial or ethnic group’s advancement, then you are not a liberal; you are a conservative. You are retreating back to your racialized group for comfort and support. Usually it is similar to your family in culture, religion and language. There is a predictable loyalty transference especially if your family has been good to you. This is understandable in hard times but it is not liberal. A liberal is more bold. Liberalism requires that you reach out beyond your ethnic or racial group and make alliances for a better society.
It may make sense to retreat to ones’ own racial group in hard times. New immigrants groups have a long history of racializing their identity and grouping together but this, once again, is not liberalism.
It requires you to be able to think of the citizens of your society as a family when it comes to basic human needs. if you see them as only competing individuals, then liberalism is impossible for you.
If I were given the power to delete one word from public discussion it would be “Deal”. The dictionary definitions of deal are fairly straight forward. In addition to “distribute”, “to have to do”, “to administer” , “to consider or attend to”, there is “to do business, to trade”. It is this last definition that concerns me. Not everything should be monetized.
In addition to the dictionary definition, words have connotations – in effect a word reputation.
In American English, deal’s reputation is not all that great. “Deal” brings forth the cartoon image of two cigar-smoking older men shaking hands to close a deal made for some nefarious purpose. We talk about “double dealing”, “shaky deals”, “raw deals” and “dirty deals”. The connotation of a “deal” is that one party wins and one loses.
In diplomatic language we speak of “agreements” rather than deals. An agreement is reached through discussion. It can allow both parties some wins some and some losses. This is how our very diverse world, at best, avoids wars and other armed conflicts and provides a reasonable chance of human survival
A picture book (pb) is a story book, usually of not more than thirty-two pages, well illustrated, designed for an adult to read to a child. One of the purposes of a pb, is to help children develop vocabulary and understand the world around them by interacting with adults. The rhythm of the language, sometimes the use of rhyme and word play all add to the experience. Wonderful illustrations help expand the story. Consider the power of the Dr. Seuss books.
There is a current trend in pbs to limit the number of words to five hundred. Recently, a book was published with one ‘word’ – La. This syllable is repeated on every page. I understand the illustrations are beautiful, and I have no doubt this is true, but as a parent, I’m not sure I would want to spend much time “reading” this story to my child. I have heard that the rationale for limiting the text in pbs is that today’s parents really don’t have the time to read a longer story to their child. I hope this is not true. Words matter, even in picture books.
Mr. Nguyen and his family arrived in the United States from Vietnam in 1988. After a long wait in a refugee camp, Mr. Nguyen, his wife and children were given visas to relocate in the United States. Mr. Nguyen had served in the South Vietnam Army and this permitted him and his immediate family to go to the United States. Other members of his extended family went to Canada and Australia where they joined family members who had immigrated earlier and were able to sponsor them.
The Nguyen family had been fishermen in Vietnam. Not likely to make enough money to support a family by fishing as they did in Vietnam, Mr. Nguyen and his family formed a gardening service. That business has lasted over thirty years.
In spite of the family being scattered over two continents, they were determined to be true to their culture and family traditions. Mr. Nguyen’s parents remained in Vietnam after all five sons and their families emigrated. The brothers worked hard to arrange visits to their ageing parents. When the parents passed away, the brothers pooled their resources and time to build a memorial to their parents in Vietnam.
Life has not been easy for the family. They are hard working and resourceful. Family members support each other. Living in Canada, Australia and the U.S. has given them a better life than they would have had in Vietnam. Their presence has enriched us as well.
Vigils, comforting words, support and speeches decrying the terrible loss of life have become common place in the United States. So much so, that they are in danger of losing meaning. What would be meaningful is taking action to stop the violence. In spite of the official claims of ‘helplessness’, there are steps that can be taken:
Outlaw the hunting of people. Babies, mothers, fathers, grandparents, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts; people of all kinds, should be put on a national endangered species list. What turns people into prey is the easy availability of weapons that are sold for the sole purpose of killing. A deer hunter would not use this type of weapon for hunting because it mangles the prey. The shooter in Gilroy, California, used a weapon purchased legally in neighboring Nevada. That weapon was outlawed in California. A federal law against the manufacture and selling of such weapons to the general public is necessary
Stop electing people to public office who are warped and miss-informed, such as the state representative who blamed the horrific increase in mass shootings on gay marriage and drag queens. Unlike disaffected loners, these people are pretty easy to spot.
Watch your mouth in public and private and demand your elected officials do the same. Recall those who don’t.
Perhaps we could have those officials who feel that freedom can be found at the end of a weapon, wear yellow vests with red targets painted on them as they shop at Walmart, attend concerts, go to a house of worship and otherwise go about their usual weekend affairs with the rest of us.
If you have traveled outside the U.S. within the last five years, you may have realized that you need to develop some new travel skills. While this is particularly true of visits to more well-known places such as Paris, Vienna and New York (Yes – coming from California, I do consider New York a foreign country), those are not the only places where new skills can come in handy.
The skills? 1) Wait and stand and 2) Body Blocking 1A
I recently had the privilege of going on a fourteen-day tour of seven Baltic countries. The area has a long, rich, history and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip. There were three destinations where the new skills came in handy. We visited the Hermitage and the Summer Palace in St. Petersburg as well as the museum in Gdansk, Poland. This was my first experience with “over-tourism” on such a grand scale. We employed the “Wait and Stand” strategy as we waited for the long line at the entrance gate to snake its way through the entry and in to the building. Next, we employed “Body Blocking”.
I was reluctant to employ “Body Blocking” at first. After all, one should wait patiently, say excuse me, and above all take turns. But when I discovered that this strategy resulted in an elbow in my stomach and the inability to keep my feet under me, I reconsidered. My elbow came out, I stepped down even though someone else’s foot occupied the area, and I never said “excuse me”.
Although we toured these sites during national holidays in Poland and Russia, most of the people employing the ‘new skills’ were fellow tourists from countries all over the world.
The last few days, the press has been discussing “Over-tourism.” Plagued by tourists in Vienna who jump into the canals from the bridges and tourists who dress “inappropriately,” Vienna is considering levying a fine for such behavior. In an interview, an airline steward remarked that tourist seem to forget common courtesy when traveling. Another commentator blamed “Over-tourism” on the availability of “cheap flights.”
I don’t have a solution to this situation. It would be a great loss if people stopped traveling. Travel is an eye-opener. It can makes us more tolerant, more informed and better world citizens.