wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

wake up, America: juggling despair & privilege

Today I’m trying to juggle the despair I feel for the island of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands (which evacuated to Puerto Rico – did you know that?), with the happiness I felt all day yesterday as I sat w/ a dear friend & my family over a lovely brunch.

I have known since I was a very young child (8? 9?) that I’m privileged. Standing on one side of an iron gate to our villa, only blocks from the ambassador’s residence, I watched a young ViệtNamese woman – certainly not twice my age – tell me in the unmistakeable language of hands & eyes that her infant held close to her flat breasts was hungry. And she had no food. That was my first encounter w/ my own privilege.

These days, as friends & family from around the country drive or fly to visit us in our beautiful new home, w/wages they earn at secure jobs, I remember almost daily how rare this is for most of the world. Two of my three sisters have come to visit – one has come twice! The third is coming in two weeks. I live blocks from my healthy, well-fed grandsons & their parents. Tomorrow I will get in the car w/ my beloved daughter-in-law and go to a nearby pumpkin patch to gather pumpkins w/the four-year-old in our family. We have plenty of gas for such luxuries.

In Puerto Rico, there is no electricity. As a friend of a friend noted, this isn’t because the power is ‘out’: it’s because the lines are shredded. There won’t be power again until the infrastructure is rebuilt. Such an innocuous word, infrastructure: EVERY POWER LINE. EVERY water facility. Dams, and roads, and… 

I can’t get my heart around what my head knows. In my everyday life, I’m looking forward to my sister’s visit. Basking in the time I spent w/ a dear friend who was here for the weekend. Figuring out what I’ll fix for dinner tonight. Anticipating an elective medical procedure fully covered by (admittedly crappy, but still extant) insurance.

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNN

But in this time of far too prevalent American refusal to care about our fellow Americans, I’m heartbroken for mothers, grandmothers, sisters. Women (& men) who have only the spectre of cholera to anticipate. The end of paychecks, because FEMA has commandeered all island fuel for hospitals. Meaning: noooo offices can open if they could otherwise. Hence, no $$. (You did realise that the currency of an American territory is dollars…??)

In this time of ‘fake news’ – so often perpetrated on us by our own government – I can’t forget that these other Americans, whose only ‘crime’ is being where a massive hurricane hit, are without food. Without water. Days away from a cholera epidemic. Living among the decaying remains of a thousand thousand drowned animals. A million million pieces of trash. Fecal matter floating in the water.

I hope that totally disgusted you. Because I know of no way, other than the words I’ve practiced using for decades, to wake America up. To outrage the status quo, so that we INSIST  our government do something more. And please: don’t insult my intelligence w/ the ‘big ocean’ crap. EUROPE is significantly farther away, but they’re already rebuilding. Us? Who cares about brown folks who REALLY probably aren’t even Americans. Well,l French president Macron does. In the ravaged Caribbean, he was there less than a week after the hurricane hit. Our inglorious leader (I can barely manage to think his name…)? More than two weeks LATER: 3+ weeks AFTER THE HURRICANE STRUCK.

The population of Puerto Rico is about the same as my home state, Oklahoma. And let me assure you: the majority of that state where I’ve lived for decades, where I was born, could care less about sending their $$ to a place almost half of them don’t even realise is American. After all, that’s true at the national level. And I don’t think Oklahoma is any better.

I can also assure you that Oklahoma (& its legislators, please note) would NOT be ‘okay’ with the treatment Puerto Rico is receiving if the state was devasted by a category 5 tornado, a phenomenon much like Hurricane Irma. If the entire state of Oklahoma lacked any hope of electricity for the next several months, and cholera was in the water, and the children of the state were doing w/out asthma inhalers, food, medical treatment, et al…? The state would be in arms. Quite literally, I assure you. Like the guys in Florida who shot at the incoming hurricane

Puerto Rico

Courtesy CNBC

I’m trying to moderate my visceral anger with my Buddhist tonglen. But truthfully? It’s almost impossible to breathe in my anger and breathe out peace. When (& if…) I succeed, it’s when I’m able to think of my anger as only a fraction — an infinitesimal nano-fraction of the 3.5 MILLION Americans — of the anger & fear felt by a thousand thousand parents, grandparents, siblings: … I breathe for them, hoping I can somehow take on their rage & grief.

What about you? How do you reconcile our privilege with the heart-shattering plight of Puerto Rico? I’d love to hear something I can actually do, besides just throw my privileged $$ at this horrific tragedy…

taking back the flag: a progressive rant for true patriotism ~

taking back the flag: a progressive rant for true patriotism ~

In the wake of the Fourth of July, I’ve been thinking. A LOT. Wrestling with a contemporary conundrum: just why (& when…?) progressives became stereotyped as not patriotic. Because it’s just not true.

But apparently, if you don’t support the neo-conservative platform(s) — unregulated guns & ammunition, Christian religion in public schools, charter schools supported by public funds, racial profiling, anti-immigration, sexism in health care, and more — you’re not patriotic. Please note: not being patriotic doesn’t seem to correlate w/not liking the president: we saw far more of that under Obama, from these same neocons, than we do from liberals & progressives with the current administration. Obama has the sad ‘glory’ of receiving the earliest death threats, as a junior senator running for president. He received at least as many death threats as G.W.Bush, whom neo-conservatives often insisted was the target of many liberal-backed conspiracies of assassination.

So it’s not simply that progressives don’t like #45. We don’t, but that didn’t seem to make the haters of the Obamas feel they were unpatriotic. No, it has to do w/something else, and I don’t know exactly what. But I want to make it very clear: the progressives & liberals I know are VERY patriotic. We are veterans, the children, wives, husbands, & parents of veterans who have given much for this country (unlike the current president’s family, none of whom have served, FYI). We believe in  the American dream — we just no longer believe it’s possible for most Americans. And we still cherish & hold dear fundamental Constitutional rights.

US Armed Forces sealsMy two sisters are veterans — one retired after a distinguished career in the Army, the other serving in the National Air Guard. My nephew is an Army vet. My father was an Army lifer, written up in history books for his contributions in WWII’s  Battle of the Bulge. My beloved is a ViệtNam vet, U.S. Marines, thank you. My uncles all served in WWII, or Korea. Or both, as my father did. So don’t even start on how progressives don’t ‘get’ veterans’ issues. We’re not the ones cutting benefits, or lying about the status of veteran hospitals.

I grew up overseas — from the time I was 8 years old until I graduated from high school. Then my beloved & I lived for 10 years in the Middle East. I am more aware of the privileges that accrue to an American citizen (especially a woman) than most Americans, I guarantee you. I can vote (and do, every election, for every issue). I can own property. I can work w/out permission from my family. I have a safe home, in a safe neighbourhood, and I can travel where I like (within limits not imposed by my citizenship, but by my concern for safety). I can worship (or not) as I please.

These are what I think of — these practical elements of American life — when folks say liberals aren’t patriotic. No, I don’t fly a flag. Why not? Because the folks I know who do hold none of the American values I cherish in common with me. They no longer believe in public education — they’re advocating for charters, many of which are based on Christian curriculum, in direct defiance of our amazing American Constitution (‘separation of church & state,’ remember?). They want to discriminate against those who look different and/or worship differently: I can’t tell you how often I’ve been horrified to hear someone talk trash about Muslims, then questioned them only to find they don’t even KNOW any Muslims. No, it’s what they heard on TV, or in church, for cryin’ out loud!! When did the Christianity of my mother, my father, my grandmother & the rest of my family become license to let fear trump the Good Samaritan’s compassion??

I grew up in a time when we had civics classes. And government classes. And our history classes included reading the formative documents of this country: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, JFK’s inaugural address, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. Unlike the Trump supporters who thought NPR’s excerpts from the Declaration of Independence were ‘propaganda,’ I’m familiar w/ our country’s incredible written history. Not simply the parts that appeal to me. I understand there are divergent readings of the 2nd Amendment, for instance:US Constitution

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Conservatives see carte blanche for gun rights. Liberals want regulation, and feel this in no way compromises the 2nd Amendment. Progressives are often in-between, as Bernie Sanders has been in the past — some regulation, but not perhaps as much as other non-conservatives might desire. NO ONE in the progressive (or liberal) camp wants to take away guns. But that’s the myth, and it contributes to the ‘anti-Constitution/non-patriotic’ labels.

I’m also not ‘pro-abortion.’ I am, however, pro-choice. And please explain to me: how do you talk individual rights (bearing arms, for instance) & legislate another person’s body?? And how do you claim the title ‘pro-family’ when your party refuses to clothe, shelter, feed, or educate children? When you are cutting back on all support networks for mothers & children? When your idea of healthcare makes it very clear that children w/ disabilities (the very ones poor women might have decided they could not afford to care for medically) are not worth medical insurance? That’s patriotism???

I believe in so many of what I think of as ‘original American values’ (as do most of the liberals & progressives I know): the great outdoors free from pollution; clean air & water; the right to a good education; the right to walk without fear of being shot for the color of my skin (the shooting of Philandro Castile has shown us that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to black men, not to mention the numerous unarmed victims of racial profiling); the right to a free press (which is, by the way, the FIRST Amendment), currently made a mockery of by the administration’s refusal to have cameras inside government offices; the separation of church & state (also in the 1st Amendment, and later clarified in an 1802 letter by President Thomas Jefferson). I could go on, but these are NOT what neoconservatives seem to mean when they speak of patriotism.

Conservative patriotism appears to have more to do w/exclusion than not. The current frenzy re: ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance, is trumped up: The clause is added in 1948. It’s not original, & gained traction with the support of a Catholic (re: religious) order, the Knights of Columbus. It’s not, in other words, what I consider a legit test of ‘patriotism.’ It is, however, Christian. But there are thousands of Americans who are not. As of 2015, almost 6,000 American troops identified as Muslim, and there are reports of Muslims serving in the US Armed Forces as far back as the Revolutionary War. And yet my hometown wanted to ban Muslims from marching in the Veterans Day parade.

This is a lengthy post for a blog, I realize. But I am sick at heart to be labeled as ‘unpatriotic’ because I believe in the Bill of Rights. It’s like being called non-Christian because you live by the Beatitudes (preached by Jesus) instead of the Old Testament’s Leviticus (currently the ‘law’ in many Christian churches).

Personally? I am taking back MY flag, folks. I’m no longer going to sit silently (or even quietly, & maybe not politely!) when folks go off on progressives & liberals for their ‘non-patriotism.’ And I hope you won’t, either.

tea, & the comfort of ritual ~

tea, & the comfort of ritual ~

I’m drinking more tea these days. Often in the morning, I want the jolt of espresso — and we have a bangup cappuccino machine. But lately, I crave the comfort of tea, the ritual of measuring & steeping. The choice of a tray, a tea cloth, a cosy to blend. Rock sugar, honey, or Demerara? Or maybe a green tea, w/ no sweetener at all…?

It’s a hard time. I’m not happy with my country, & I have no recourse other than to keep on keeping on. I withdrew from FaceBook; my social media ‘outlets’ are Instagram — where I can post pics of teapots & my grandson!! — and Twitter, where I sometimes post current events, but mostly poetry & arts links. FaceBook became a place of such…anger. At least for me. I can’t feel the same about people I once liked well, knowing they elected a man who is, to me, a veritable monster. The lack of logic, & the double standards, visible in the totally unpresidential Tweets, media, et al…. I can’t handle them.

So I’m thinking about our upcoming move from the house where we’ve been so very happy these past many years. I’m creating gardens in my head, and tea in glass & china pots. I ordered a new tea cosy, with cats! I’m snuggling with our own two in my chair, & trying to ignore their ceaseless kneading (with their none-too-tiny claws!). It’s a wonderful way to spend time, infinitely better than considering a political situation rife with injustice.

Tea is good for all kinds of situations, from the grief I feel for a world gone crazy with greed & hate, to the discombobulation attendant on moving. I hate moving, as a process and as a situation. I will love being settled in our new house by the grandson(s), but getting all moved up? UGH. Shades of my itinerant childhood!

Hence the tea tray, the tea cloth, the choosing of a strong black tea. The pouring of milk, the measuring of sugar. And the temporary escape so very necessary some days!

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

There’s a lot of media attention these days to ‘false news sites.’ I taught research for more than 20 years, and I used to call such sites ‘underwear sites.’ Because anyone can set up a website. You don’t have to be knowledgeable in anything much: you can do it in your underwear. And the information is worth about as much.

For the most part, students HATE research papers. They’ll kid you that they like research (and to be fair, a few actually do…a very few). Then they’ll whine (A LOT) about the research paper itself, how it’s artificial (yes). How it has to be done certain ways (yes again). And how they’ll never write another research paper (possibly true, although not nearly as true as they’d like to believe; we just don’t call them research papers at work…)

But here’s the deal: only in the research paper process do you have the opportunity (indeed, the moral obligation) to teach students about source evaluation. And hold them responsible for being users of credible reearch. Something it’s evident most voters — on both sides of the aisle — are woefully incapable of. Because it’s NOT ‘credible, authoritative information/research/evidence to support your argument’ if you can ONLY find it on personal blogs. Or on only one news source (whether that’s For or democraticunderground). At the very least, in such cases, the ‘news’ is highly suspect — usually downright false. You must be able to locate the same information in multiple sources, none of which are what I taught my students to call ‘agenda-ed.’

Because we don’t tend to think of sources WE respect as ‘biased.’ Even if they are. I was horrified when I realised that 2 websites I quite enjoy aren’t totally objective. They have liberal agendas (which isn’t exactly the same as bias, as I used to explain to my students). The KKK is NOT a reliable source of information about civil rights, or African American history. Or much else, honestly. They are overtly biased against African Americans, and against anyone who isn’t, no matter how they pretty their racism up with euphemism. They also have an agenda: they want to return the US to a whites-only country (the fact that it never was is apparently not relevant).

The American Cancer Society, on the other hand, has an agenda — to cure cancer — but isn’t biased. It won’t tell you lies about things that cause cancer. It will publish what it finds, however, including new research. The KKK will tell you lies about various African American historical figures; the American Cancer Society will not lie to you. There’s a caveat here: research unearths & re-evaluates current knowledge. So what the ACS told us about cancer 30 years ago may not be at all what today’s research reveals. That’s the whole basis of science: it reflects the LATEST data, parsed by experts. Hence climate change.

This is a very difficult concept for many people to get their heads (& hearts) around. Entire political campaigns have been run on bias (if you’re anti-immigration of all Muslims, that’s not an agenda; that’s bias). You may think you have good reasons. You may even have read ‘research’ on your position(s) in various media outlets, from TV news to newspapers to websites. However, it has both bias (Muslims=bad) and an agenda: to ‘rid’ America of Muslims. And the people behind these websites are pretty obvious. IF you take the time to dismantle the ‘About Us’ section at the top of most sites.

Digression: most Americans under the age of 50 (and many well over) consider themselves tech-literate. Yeah, maybe. I’d have to disagree when it comes to evaluation of online sources, however. As noted, I’ve taught research for years, and have been a heavy computer & Internet user since the first linked systems. I still get hoodwinked by fake news sites, primarily humourous ones, but still…! A LOT of satirical websites want to fool you — they think it’s funny. Unfortunately, many of us are believers before skeptics. So we (unknowingly) ‘buy’ fake news. And it’s now such a common occurrence that we have entire articles devoted to it.

I love research. Always have. I read science & nature writing for fun, untangling the braided skeins of data that go into studies taking place over years. I continue to try to unravel ‘real’ news from ‘fake,’ even when the fake stuff comes from (ostensibly) American ‘leaders.’

So I’m repeating this for folks who believe that religion, or faith, or what’s said in a religious text, overrule science & reason: No. They call it ‘faith’ because you have to believe it. It isn’t ‘prove-able.’ I can no more prove the miracle of the loaves & fishes than I can disprove it. Same with miracles credited to other wisdom traditions (and every religion has them): I can’t prove Buddha’s reincarnations (no weirder to contemplate than heaven), or Krishna’s magic powers (no stranger than powers attributed to relics of the saints) or the mercy of Allah.

You may want desperately to believe that X politician is a crook, because another pol you adore said so. But chances are, unless you can find that info on credible, reliable sources lacking ANY agenda or bias (Reuters isn’t bad), it’s false.

You may agree w/ it. It may even be your innate faith. That does NOT make it true. (That’s why they call it faith: you have to BELIEVE it.)

Sorry — scholarship has spoken 🙂

We’re still the world…

We’re still the world…

It’s been a hard year, this election year… And it gets harder. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is an election that has set family members against one another. In some cases — I’m thinking of a colleague at a conference last weekend — husband against wife. That, on top of so many almost daily occurrences of police murdering innocent people of colour, on top of Hurricane Matthew, on top of…

It’s all just too much. So I got sick.

Now, please note: I didn’t get sick on purpose. ???? But I do believe that illness has its own reasons, and often you’re sick because of something in your life. In my case? I’m just bloody exhausted & overwhelmed. So I got sick enough (baby flu, for what it’s worth — I’m not dying here, but I’ve been pretty punk) to require long naps & not much more activity than opening a can of soup & reading an e-book (no pages to turn!).

And I stayed off of most social media, preferring to look at the floor plan of a house we’re buying only FOUR BLOCKS (!) from my beloved grandson, or dreaming of a new garden and bird habitat. Or beginning to say goodbye to this life I love, right here in the messed up heartland. The red, red heartland…

The universe, thinking I needed something to leaven my days, sent me this song. And I remembered: remembered how we came together to feed a continent riven by drought, starving to death. Remembered how music became a rallying cry for generousity that saved thousands & thousands of lives. Remembered how it felt when I first heard that mantra ~ we are the world, we are the people…

Because we STILL ARE. All of us — and we need to get back to saving our own lives, together. We need to somehow move beyond the miasma of hate that’s masquerading as a political campaign for so many, and reach out. TAKE CHANCES. Get to know that ‘other.’ You know: ‘the’ African American; ‘the’ Muslim.’ The autistic kid in your kid’s class, or the guy on the spectrum at work.

We need to look around and see PEOPLE, not terrorists or thieves or whatever political BS is trying to separate us.

I’m verrry lucky to have lived over much of the world. So that when other people are able to talk of Muslims hatefully, lumping that vastly diverse group of nationalities & ethnicities together as if Baptist were Catholics, I see Salina from Algiers, who lived across the apartment hall from me. Who taught me how to make mint tea, & was my friend. Or Yousuf, my husband’s friend, who had us over for dinner, and served us lamb on platters of silvered brass, shouting with laughter at bad jokes. Or Soha, whom took her doctorate in TESOL Education at OSU, in her 2nd language. And who is a better person than almost anyone I know: funny, kind, compassionate, a grateful mother, and a dear dear friend.

“Mexicans” to me are my beloved daughter-in-law’s family, who actually are Hispanic Americans, multiple generations of land-grant & Pueblo land owners in New Mexico. They are her mother, who has two Masters. Her grandmother, one of the most devout Catholics I can imagine.

Or a nurse who stayed with my husband when he was in the hospital, who  was putting herself through nursing school. Or dear sweet Fannie, a professor at the university where my son & DIL teach, who came from Mexico to study math education, and stayed to teach and marry.

These ‘others’ are US, America. They are my friends, my family. They are the people I visit with on FB & Twitter, the people I ask for recommendations on LinkedIn. “They” are not ‘them.’ Each of the people in the world has a name. Had a mother, a father. A place of birth. A story that began with a birth. How have we forgotten that???

So today? Please — listen to the swell of the music. And remember: WE ~ each of us, every one of us ~ are the world. And we need to get busy. We need to be saving our own lives, folks. And let me tell you: hate will not do it.

What we need is a lot more love. More compassion. And a lot more music. Otherwise? We’re going to be very sick. For a very long time ~

 

anger, ‘out-groups’, and Buddhism ~

anger, ‘out-groups’, and Buddhism ~

When I was a very young woman, I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. Really. It was during the 70s, and the Neo-Nazi party was demonstrating (or trying to) in Skokie, IL. There was a huge outcry, because (you probably don’t know this) more than 1/2 of Skokie’s population was Jewish. In addition, a large number of the Jews who did live in Skokie were Holocaust survivors. In other words? A tragically incendiary situation.

I was a journalist for years. And as a radical liberal — if there is such a thing! — I defend freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. They are building blocks to a liberal democracy. So I sent money to a financially strapped ACLU; liberals weren’t happy to see ‘their’ organisation defend Nazis, and there weren’t many donations coming in. My friends were horrified.

But I remembered someone had told me, in a class I had once on ethics in media, that freedom of speech wasn’t about defending the things we agree with. It’s about making sure that even the things we HATE are also given the right to air. Even things that make us crazy angry.

I still believe that.

However, it’s just not that simple anymore. There are, of course, limits to free speech: you can’t yell fire, as we know. And you can’t incite riot. And yet… Surely this political season, we have seen many ‘leaders’ fomenting hate: saying that entire groups of people should be deported, even (possibly) executed, if ‘necessary.’ We have seen jokes made (in verrry poor taste) about guns and various candidates, followed w/ ‘wink/nudge’ that ostensibly excuses the ‘joke.’

We’ve seen people with, ostensibly, the same political goals make accusations without any basis. Families (once safe from mud-slinging) are fair game, and spouses are attacked w/ impunity. A man’s father has been impugned as an accomplice to murder, a woman’s husband’s affairs alleged to be ‘her own fault.’ Debates have disintegrated into finger shaking and eye-rolling.

And it’s not just ‘them.’ It’s all of us. We’re all angry.

Yesterday, my younger son sent me a link to an article I’m posting here. It talks about ‘in-groups’ & ‘out-groups,’ & how we range ourselves against the ‘out-groups’ of our choosing. It’s not a new (or even overly recent) article: Scott Alexander, the author, posted it back in 2014, almost exactly 2 years ago. But it’s never been more relevant. For the next week or so, I’ll be referring to it more than once. Alexander so neatly articulates the tension these days: liberals are just as apt to forget freedom of speech as someone from the ‘other’ side.

As a Buddhist, I know about ‘attachment.’ Upādāna (it literally means ‘fuel’) is the fire that arises when we cling fiercely to a longing, a wish for things to be different. Maybe it’s a desire for $$, or freedom from pain. In my case? It’s a visceral ache for justice for all: equity (which is NOT the same as equal treatment, per se: equity is levelling the playing field — quite different). I want that kind of ideal fairness to EVERYONE. And so those who work towards that goal are my ‘in-group.’ If you’re not working for equity? You’re in my ‘out-group.’ And I’m almost certainly angry about it.

Equity also means that you can’t be a racist, or a homophobe. You can’t be a misogynist, or indifferent to your own privileges, racial or class or gender derived. I don’t think I’m any of those. But as Scott Alexander notes, I get no ‘virtue points’ for being ‘tolerant’ of differences like race, gender, class, religion. Unfortunately, I also get no virtue points for being tolerant of my out-groups(s), because I’m not. Instead, I’m angry. Almost all the time.

I”m leaving this here for now. Next blog? More on trying to live a Buddhist life of non-clinging while remaining socially engaged, and activist.