Thursday, January 8, 2015

Robbing Oxygen

A few weeks back I was in a Cracker Barrel restaurant south of Atlanta, Georgia. The place seemed crowded for a Monday lunch, but it was the week following Xmas.

Our family waited in line. Kids were antsy. Traffic had been bad. We weren't expecting to wait for seating. April and the kids fidgeted. I stood still to take in the surroundings, eventually studying the party behind us in line. They knew a person from the party ahead of us. All locals. Their familiarity belied them. Their accents were spot-on. Their uniforms commingled golf shirts and real tree.

They spoke of the holidays, family health problems, trivial frustrations. Then, they spoke of politics. Libya and Russia, something or other.

"Well, he ain't my president."

"He ain't MY president, either!"

The first, and older, protestor then told a story I couldn't make out. I heard only bits about monkeys throwing each other on the train tracks followed by a reference to our President. As a monkey.

Relating this later to April at our lunch table she was appalled. She hadn't heard any of it. Thankfully.

I watched the table of men across from us. They were unconnected to our line studies. I observed their interactions with the African-American waitress serving them and us. I noted their tone with her. No quintessential "southern courtesy." No lilting 'ma'ams' or 'why, yes pleases' or any other stereotypical southernisms we glorify and prop up in our cultural rhetoric.

Come to think of it, I only witnessed those 'isms' as a young person, and we now only see those interactions in movies and such, occurring between white people.

In fact, I witnessed among those three fellows a restrained, yet wholehearted, lack of civility in the face of what was clearly a hellish day at a restaurant with ill-equipped management. In the faces of these white men, bodies bedecked in ridiculous modern garb glorifying golf, camouflage, and their agribusiness employer, I instead saw the faces of entitled gentry marooned on a tract of land over two centuries ago. The reassurance of dominion and sovereignty fresh from the mouths of their forebears ebbing their domineering arrogance.

I felt a slight twinge of shame I hadn't spoken to the good ole boys behind me in line earlier. But I remembered I would not have had the restraint to be civil. And civility is paramount, in the South, even when one speaks of racism, sedition, or hypocrisy.

Picking battles. Saving energy. Like not wasting air on oxygen thieves.

At the table, as our family endured the longest wait for our food, I had plenty of time to look around. At the multiple black families. At biracial couples and kids. At the table of eight that included an extended family of Asians, including grandma including small children. I studied this scene. I thought about the men in line.

I concluded my silence meant nothing. Because the ultimate reality would correct the situation. In due course and given time.

The reality frightening these small-minded relics is not even new. It is not a result of moral decline, a departure from precepts, or some prophesied nonsense. The reality is reality. It has been happening all along. Centuries long.

People exist, and love, hate, kill, and fuck. And live and have to go on. Color and religion and class don't matter so much as circumstance.

My South, my home, you are the hallows of ancient circumstance on our nation's shores. By god, you have so much to learn, so far to go.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year.

I resolve to be kind. Kinder.

I resolve to fix as many broken things as possible. Rather than buy anew.

Corporate idiots are telling us to not think. Not fix. Instead, buy. As usual. Worse yet, they are instructing us to be afraid. Afraid of things that are statistically implausible.

Ebola. Terrorist attacks. Race riots. Societal dissolution.

Their masters have instructed them. They have bought and paid for our elected officials, our government. We should all see this, but we don't.

We keep buying.

That is how our capitalist culture makes money, after all. We begrudge the necessities of life while glorifying the ostentatious. Oh, it sucks to fix a furnace, while two weeks of well earned vacation are vanguard. Why deal with the NOW when you can masturbate on the titillating unknown?

(Not that we should eschew the downtime; our culture is pathetically lacking in time off.)

Those of us who can should try to live like people beyond our means. Which, like those above us, means disregarding the rest. We've worked hard. Screw the moochers.

America, "middle class America," you cannot look beyond your small-mindedness enough to glimpse the sad truth.

You/we are now propping up a lie. And we are helping the liers to rob the cookie jar dry.

Here is an idea. Holistic thinking. Man, that sounds liberal and new age, doesn't it?

However, it's more a matter of survival. Holistic thinking means examining the long view. Does something really make sense for you, your family, your community, your town, your state, your world?

Take Wal-Mart as an example. Folks celebrate the arrival of a new Wal-Mart store in their town. Cheap stuff that is readily available. But the average shopper doesn't realize they are subsidizing those cheap prices. Whoa. That's liberal talk. Right? A $.50 avocado is a $.50 avocado.


No matter what you are buying at Wal-Mart, you should add at least 20-30% to the purchase price. You are buying an illusion of low prices.

When you buy an item from Wal-Mart, or other discount retailers who market on price you are subsidizing their underpaid and under-benefitted labor force in the form of federal and state subsidies, like food stamps. And other public assistance. Yep, that's the truth.

You think you are getting a good deal. You get to travel down the road and vent your frustration in an entirely different, and seemingly unrelated, venue when you bark about handouts. Welfare. Damn those ne'er do wells. Sucking off the system.

But too many of those 'ingrates' you bemoan are actually gainfully employed folks trying to make a difference. They want to support their families; they care about their communities.

Reference the fast food workers' movement. It ain't all high school kids looking to get a break, people. Mothers and fathers are trying to live off those jobs.

You have been fed lies again about the mythical underclass who loves to not work and be handed everything. A beautiful lie since it makes you go to work and work harder, against benefits and recompense, to defeat them. That mythical underclass is a tiny percentage of people. Yet enterprising politicians inflate it to get you worked up (while they siphon monetary kickbacks that would boggle you).

Everywhere I have used "you" I mean "we." I, and all of us, play a part here.

Let us all make good decisions in 2015 that support sustainability.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Open Letter to Someone My Elder Who Posted on FB

Hello Mr. M---,
I hope you and N--- are well. I will be nothing less than upfront -- this message could go a couple of ways. Meaning you might be offended and choose to cut off communication. However, I can assure you respect is in the forefront of my mind as I type.
I'm motivated to send you this message after your latest post regarding Obama releasing 12M illegal aliens to compete with US citizens for jobs. In fact, let's go just a bit further back. I am compelled to send you this message because many of your posts concern me from a factual standpoint. (A couple of which I have replied with refuting links citing actual facts.) Bear with me. This could get lengthy.
It's the memes (that would be an image with a single-sentence slam against someone or some group). They are hardly ever a way to convey real, tangible information. Instead, they incite or perpetuate anger, fear, hatred. Yes, I am left leaning, and many left-leaning news camps are not without useless memes either. I disregard or challenge those, too. (I am not exclusively pro-Obama or Democrat, by the way, but progressive in nature.)
Here's the core issue -- no complex topic can be reduced to a single graphic; no viewpoint can be refuted in a single rebuttal. We're all guilty of this reductionism, but it defies intellectual examination. There are two sides to a story, they say. I'd add there aren't only two sides, but myriad facets to a story.
When I was a young man you were a role model for me. I recall visiting your home several times. I admired its modesty and your matter-of-fact way of approaching life. But above all else I admired your penchant for collecting knowledge. You had books -- books spilling off shelves, books on tables. Everyone in the M--- household read books. This made a major impression on me in a positive way. It was a hallmark of how I wanted to live my life -- in pursuit of knowledge; real nuggets of truth with which to filter my interpretation of the world.
Now, at that time I was young, impetuous at times. Throughout though, I was also respectful of the elder members of the church my late father chose to attend. I listened and absorbed and later tested messages and behavioral examples against my growing faculties of discernment. There was much I could not reconcile. Hypocrisy, that timeless human condition, abounded.
Late to this Facebook game, my sister, H---, linked me with a lot of old church friends. That process has been wholly mixed. And, here, our viewpoints may seriously differ -- too many people I became reacquainted with have stagnated as if they stopped questioning empirical reality some 25 years ago since I last knew them. A few did not surprise me (although R-- W--, another role model for me, proved to be little more than a bigoted stooge). I challenge you -- are you as such?
The World Wide Web is a fantastic place in this simple fact alone -- we have no excuse for ignorance in the information age; ignorance is now a choice. The means to cross-examine any issue are available to everyone who does not reside in a fascist state like China or Iran. Every meme -- from left or right - can be quickly fact checked. Rest assured, I have as many lefty friends I blow off. Blinders work equally well no matter which side of the track you are wandering off toward, and the lens of truth gets equal application.
This leads me back to the immigration question. OK, estimated 12M immigrants -- illegal, undocumented, what-have-you -- running loose in our country. Level it -- they aren't going anywhere. If we choose to round them up tomorrow and send them back to Mexico, Ecuador, Cuba, wherever -- it would suck our tax dollars. If we eradicated their labor force in our country -- documented or otherwise -- it would drain our tax system some, but GDP big time. Do you realize what these desperate people are willing to do in our economy, like mop floors, slaughter meat, process our trash and hazardous waste? Do you realize how many of them are educated professionals with no future in their home countries, but with skills that could advance ours? Are you afraid for your job? I don't think you should be. Seriously.
Do you further realize that a strong majority (4 in 5, GOP and Dem) support a path to citizenship but differ in what stipulations we should assign to achieve it? It's not an Obama issue, it's an American issue. The immigration problem has been rearing its ugly head for generations, long before Obama was a teenager, perhaps even born. Why do you blame him exclusively?
In any of those voluminous tomes on your shelf, was there anything about ancient cultures -- Greece, Rome, Britain? Did you not read in those the consequences of isolationism? The inevitable fall from shutting off borders from fear that peaceful invaders (immigrants) were the sole reason for collapse? Historians have not been so kind in citing the truth about nationalist behavior and its contribution to the decline of a state.
The means of collapse are among us, my friend. (I can call you now my friend because of this -- once you were my elder and I respected you. We are now peers because I am a father, I have weathered the proclamations of you and yours, and have wisdom to share with you.)
Instead of spewing your hate (not a christian value in any form, by the way) toward Obama and immigrants, why don't you do a little research into GOP corporate interests and how the favorable tax breaks, lobbying statuses, and various policies contribute to the expatriation of American jobs? Why don't you explore that those most vociferously calling for the sealing of our borders are the same that seem to cry for small government yet vote for billions in corporate welfare? If you are outraged by paying welfare, why is it that food in families' mouths outrages you, but CEO bonuses (and lack of prosecution/penalties when they gamble with taxpayer money) does not?
These are not Republican or Democratic issues. I suspect we agree a lot when it comes to national politics. On both sides of the aisle we are being sold out. Knowledge can counter the side-taking. We ALL should be outraged by what's going on. My request is this -- be a part of the solution, not a polarizing contributor to the problem.
You inspired me. You are above that.
Respectfully and with love,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Benefit of the Doubt

I'm a little surprised I remembered how to wander over to this corner of the internet. My password still works, so I guess I'm good to go.

I just "Unfriended" three folks on Facebook. I could no longer take the fundamentalist christian posts nor the tea party rhetoric. I know, I'm a weird idealist who thinks of FB as a place where some actual discourse might happen. And while most people on FB don't give a shit about a substantive conversation, I guarantee many people who think they do are actually stunting, not advancing, honest dialogue.

Since it's been nearly 11 months, and surely no one is following my blog anymore, I can be honest, right? For many, many years I've had to actively work against anti-christian sentiments within my own heart. I have, at times, had to curb my anger channeled in a desire to defame what I see as hypocrisy and hatred amongst those who would label themselves so. Frankly, christians are lucky they have themselves because they're not winning many friends at large as far as I can tell. This political season isn't helping one good, goddamned bit.

These folks I culled from my FB friends list were acquaintances from a radical church my dad dragged us off to when I was an adolescent and teenager. It was a mindfuck of an organization. My dad was no posterchild for the congregation either. He smoked. He drank. He was a womanizer. All things that don't mesh so well with those sorts of fundamentalist cults. Why he felt compelled to keep attending I will never know. I tried my best to focus on what I regard as the core beliefs -- kindness toward others (ALL others), respect for the earth, service, and humility. Precisely the things I see are lost in the popular christian stance on our nation's debate stage.

I still remember the utter shock I experienced when I moved away for college (a mere 4 hours away, but far enough). All of a sudden I could do what I wanted to do. I had freedom from this artificially imposed belief system. I turned to the mountains and began backpacking. Then, eventually, climbing, kayaking, canoeing. I turned those passions into a career. I joined that affinity for time spent outdoors with my spirituality. In short, I opened my mind to new places, new things, new people. I have rarely glimpsed backwards.

I remain deeply troubled for and by those who cower beneath a narrow stricture of beliefs. While I would be labeled a pagan by most, an atheist by many (neither should possess morals, right?), I do not believe hate is an acceptable response. This includes hatred of the narrow-minded, who, if given their ways, would lord over the masses of infidels in some bloody old testament play of vengeance and submission. Even if the most vocal of christians seem to have forsaken the core teachings of their Christ (a person I will acknowledge was a bodhisattva, an advanced being) I cannot hate them back. I will not allow myself that crutch with which to prop an atrophying intellect. No, I will forbear.

But I damn sure don't have to read their ignorant shit on Facebook anymore.

Be well, all. But most importantly, be kind to one another.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Basic Humanity

An issue that has planted itself in my thoughts of late is the vitriolic rancor sweeping America. This thought has been triggered by the myriad welfare bashing posts that were a minor trend on Facebook a while back. (They still pop up from time to time, ocassionally from my own family which grates me to no end.) There seems to be a commonly accepted myth that everyone on welfare is a crack addict who milks the system and sits back letting the government pay their ways. It’s not unlike Reagan’s favorite stump speech about the “welfare mom” that hatched in the 80s. The story was proven to be hype. But people latch onto such images, mindlessly repeating them as truths with little concern for the hatred and contempt that is bred as a result. Perhaps it's human nature to despise the notion of someone getting something for nothing. Especially if we “hard working” Americans are getting squeezed ever tighter in a recession economy.

This profiling manifests itself in many ways, like support of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients. It’s also present in the call for bounties on welfare violators. I’m no fan of people acquiescing to a lifestyle of defrauding the system. However, the popular backlash among many rank and file Americans smacks of hatred, divisiveness and gross labeling. It does little justice to a system that has helped countless Americans better themselves over the years. Growing up it helped my family from time to time. I feel fortunate that we had that assistance and I am lucky to have a firsthand knowledge of some of welfare’s benefits. I believe too many people clogging the airwaves in dissent have no clue. They'd rather spread lies and hatred in an effort to protect their piece of the pie, I suppose.

This is a difficult time in America. It’s made only more difficult when we citizens mimic the infighting and partisanship that our supposed leaders in Washington have made a standard operating procedure. One of my favorite bumper stickers of all time reads “If the people lead, the leaders will follow.” It is as true to me today as it was the day I first saw it. But we are not leading. We are choosing to blame everyone and everything we can, not unlike our "leaders." It’s Obama’s fault, the government’s fault, big corporations’ fault, immigrants’ fault and , now, poor people’s fault.

We must break this cycle of blame, forge and hammer it, refine and focus it to something useful that will propel us forward. Surrender non-productive ideologies for the sake of tangible progress. Quit arguing religion and political party alliance. This movement to vilify the less fortunate among us disgusts me. It’s hatred and resentment personified and it is wrong. Americans engaging in such chatter would do well to focus attention on our leaders and their coddling of the most fortunate among us. Press them to revise tax code in a way that makes the uber rich pay more of their fair share.

Furthermore, quit worrying that someone’s stealing your cheese. A miserly approach to living is never healthy. In our recession climate it will only help ensure we bleed and starve to death a large segment of our citizenry on whom the sun has set. Our insular habits and self-protectionism will be the demise of us all.

On a related note -- long live the Occupy protesters! Our government leaders and business leaders need to realize the people are speaking, even if it's a message they don't want to hear. These people are my heroes because instead of turning their ire on the other (the phenomenon described above) they're directing it at corrupt banks, corporations and leaders who have usurped the Dream that underpins our nation's legacy.

For better or worse questions are being asked, accusations fielded. We'd all do well to get behind that.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thanks, Dad ... & Super Glue

I was an accident prone kid. I had well over a couple hundred stitches before I started school. Really. (That's counting a major eye injury as well as "normal" dermal sutures.)

My Dad was a carpenter and a pragmatist. He was always getting injured -- from minor to seriously minor. He never went to a doctor. It didn't help that we were chronically uninsured. Doctor visits were reserved for life-altering moments. Blood loss and strong illness were not necessarily those sorts of moments in his regard.

Much to the chagrin of my Mom, Dad would tape flaps of skin back onto fingers using duct tape. For infections he was not unknown to patronize the local pet store and purchase tetracycline. He dabbled in poultices occasionally and generous doses of alcohol were part of the prescription. His pain care regimen was old school -- like teeth clenched against a stick.

I used to think he was a total hard ass. I cut myself mowing the lawn once during my teenage years. While pushing up a hill in our backyard, my footing slipped and I came down on my knee which fatefully planted onto a shard of glass. He met Mom and me in the emergency room as the doc was numbing me up for sutures. "Next time wear blue jeans," was his advice. Then he left to return to work. No matter it was late July in Tennessee -- "Blue jeans, you fucker?!" I mused. Being sixteen, I suppose I would have thought him a jerk no matter what he said.

(I want to insert a caveat that we have taken our kids for all recommended and necessary care, as well as the frivolous visit or two [in retrospect] because we were paranoid. However, in terms of my own personal injuries I have adopted a more liberal policy of professional attention that I owe in no small part to my father.)

Not long after starting college about 20 years ago, I embarked upon a serious interest in rock climbing. Like everything I take on, I read lots to supplement the actual practice of the craft. I learned knots and studied stories of climbs. That's when I first learned that cyanoacrylate -- Super Glue -- can be used to seal wounds in place of sutures. Sounds painful but cool. Like many things any of us read that information was filed into the cabinet of my twenty-something brain.

Being that I have a shop space (and more than a few lacerations occur in my shop courtesy of edge tools), I've had reason to recall that knowledge. I have Super Glue on my adhesive shelf anyway. In addition, I recently read an article about how to properly glue shut a laceration. I've tried it out. It works wonders.

(Let's pause a moment for another parenthetical paragraph. I'm not talking about injuries from powered blades or serious cuts that affect more than soft tissue [read: tendon, ligament or bone]. Rather I am referring to the deep cuts where one cannot quickly stop bleeding with pressure or a bandage so as to resume normal activity. If I retained a lawyer, s/he would thank you for reading that statement.)

Last Sunday morning I stopped by a friend's house before proceeding to the grocery store to get some grillable grub for dinner. I took a stupid spill in the alley hopping an obstacle. I landed on my left hand, elbow and ass. It hurt like hell, but like most accidents on a bike, I jumped up quickly and tried to walk off the pain. It wasn't until I grabbed my brake lever that I realized that wet, slippery grip meant I was bleeding a lot. I must have landed on some glass or something because my left palm was deeply gashed although it hurt nothing in comparison to my hip. Still, it needed attention.

I rolled home and applied first aid. April suggested, and I agreed, that it could use stitches. (One telltale clue is the depth and visibility of fatty tissue.) I told her I didn't want to spend four hours in urgent care on a Sunday and a few hundred dollars to mend something so minor. We have decent insurance, but I value my time. Besides, I've spent plenty of time in hospitals over the course of my life. They all smell the same.

The first application of glue peeled off yesterday. This evening I decided the wound was still flexible enough for another closure. I washed and dried it thoroughly and went to work:

The key, according to an MD whose article I recently read, is to gently hold the skin closed and glue across the laceration in criss-crossing strips. Let dry without gluing your uninjured hand's fingertips to the skin. Bingo!

My dressing consists of a Band-Aid smeared with Burt's Bees Rescue ointment applied over the laceration, and then tape holding the opposing sides of the wound closed (a band all the way around the knuckles). This is then supported by another band in an X configuration opposing any propensity for the cut to re-open, as well as the Band-Aid to peel off, with normal hand movement. Keep in mind this will only be in place for the next 12-18 hours. No need to leave it tightly bandaged longer than that since skin needs air.

Why am I sharing this? Honestly, I think it's good if we realize we don't have to rush off to the hospital at the sight of blood -- even flowing, dripping blood. Save your time. Don't forget the ER staff's time since they have fun stuff like trauma and gunshot wounds to deal with. By the way, hospitals use Super Glue all the time, so this isn't like some wacko application.

Please remember, I'm no doctor, so take everything you read on my blog with a grain of counterfeit French sea salt. That said, next I'm going to work on my skills at reducing dislocated digits. I've got a toe injury that still hurts from two years ago. Something tells me I didn't self diagnose that injury very well.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More Great Press for Biking & Infrastructure

Stories like this often make my day -- NYT Economix: The Bicycle Dividend. You see, when cycling is part of one's everyday transportation equation it is often easy to get into a rut. This can be due to a number of factors: The emotional effects of dealing with belligerent drivers; the physical effects of riding a bike over distance in all types of weather; fielding off-base comments from non-cyclists who regard bike transportation as freakish; and generally concluding that society is not moving more in support of cycling, but simply polarizing the parties involved into more or less 'for' and 'against' positions.

But when an article like this comes along it reminds me of two things: 1) There are numbers, the result of more frequent study and analysis, that support the benefits of biking on many different fronts (health, environmental, economic) as well as the benefits of investing in bike infrastructure; 2) These articles are popping up more often on higher profile news outlets which signifies greater awareness and interest in the topic. The article is a short read and well worth the time.

I'm not expecting motorists to cheer me or stop and ask to shake my hand any time soon. However, I will bask in the glow I feel whenever I read one of these articles. While the pro-cycling message is agreable to me, that is not the biggest theme I take away from such press features. What really brings me hope is that Americans are beginning -- out of necessity and lack of legitimate counter-argument -- to examine the myriad destructive legacies of building our culture and shaping our daily lives around the automobile. Bike lanes and trails are good, but this realization is the source of truly profound change yet to come.

The article closes with this quote: "Hats (and helmets) off to the bicycle activists and policy makers who work to promote bicycle paths and lanes. They are spinning us all in a good direction." Agreed.

I'd like to take a couple revolutions backward, however, and tip my hat to the vigilant cyclists who have quietly maintained a road presence in the decades up to now, before cycling (specifically for transportation) was enjoying more frequent and positive PR. Many such individuals have been my role models and sources of inspiration. No matter their motivation for biking, they're visionaries all the same.